Spheres Of Influence – Chapter 24

Spheres Of Influence – Chapter 24

Chapter 24.

          “I know it’s only thirty people, but that’s a hell of a crowd compared to us,” DuQuesne murmured. He glanced in the direction of the group that was waiting, mostly patiently, outside the entrance to the Guardhouse area, then looked back down at the cable he was rigging. Going to need a lot more power here.

          Carl Edlund paused in the middle of fixing the last brace for the table. “I don’t think they even outnumber you,” he said.

“Ha. Unfortunately it’s not that kind of outnumbering.”

“Be grateful,” Tom Cussler said, waving the first people forward. “They could have sent a lot more through, but I’m guessing they’re screening the first set very carefully.”

“I guess. And it’s plain as day that we’ll be needing a lot more people for everything we want to do. Just wish I didn’t have to worry how many of them might be more on Naraj’s side than ours.”

“Well, hey there, DQ!” called a cheerful voice.

DuQuesne stood upright, startled, and looked down at a woman who looked to be in her mid-thirties, hair done in streaks like a box of Neapolitan ice cream — brown, red, and white — with a dark tan and sharp hazel eyes. She had a large red duffle-bag slung over her shoulder and was gazing up at him with a broad grin.

“Tobin? You came to this madhouse?”

“DQ, once I heard you were involved, I had to come see what you’d gotten yourself into. After the Singularity project I’d thought the excitement was over, but judging from what I saw just on the way in, that was only a warm-up!”

“You know Doctor Tobin?” Cussler asked. “I’d heard of you by reputation, Doctor, but –”

“We worked together on the Singularity Power Project some years back,” DuQuesne said, still smiling. Damn, this is something of a stroke of luck. “Tom, Carl, and Steve, this is Doctor Molly Tobin, one of the best practical power engineering designers you’ll ever meet.”

“Another power engineer?” Steve said with some excitement. “Oh, that’s excellent! DuQuesne’s great, but he’s got so many other things on his plate that we have to practically beg him for help on this stuff.”

Tobin nodded, looking around, as Tom started getting information from the other two people he’d called up. “That’s DQ, all right; take on more work than any three other people and call it a good night’s work.”

“‘DQ’?” Carl repeated. “Never heard that one before.”

“And only Molly and about two other people get to call me that, so don’t start,” DuQuesne said in a half-serious warning tone. “What kind of equipment have you guys brought?”

“Couple more AIWish units and a whole bunch of key elements — the sort that’re harder to come by, not available in large quantities out on your upper Sphere, at least based on what you’ve sent us so far,” Molly answered promptly. “Efficient turbine designs and other components for various types of powerplants, of course, that can be coded direct to your AIWish. More power means getting more done, so we figured power engineering would be one of the key factors. Also brought a couple civil engineers, habitat analysis people, concept synthesizers, and so on.”

“That’s definitely going to help. A lot.” He glanced at the group more closely. “Most of ’em don’t look too shell-shocked, either. Been picking from the ones who don’t rely on their AISages, eh?”

“That was one of Ambassador Naraj’s directives, yes,” she agreed. “And based on what we knew, that made a lot of sense.”

He bent, finished locking down the cable. “You been briefed?”

Heavily. Enough that I just about believe this crazy place really exists, now that I’m here.”

He grinned at her. “Oh, it’ll get harder to believe before it gets easier. Well, we’ve just finished the survey above our Sphere and we have no fewer than eight Sky Gates. Simon’s preparing to send probes through to see what’s on the other side — hopefully one of them goes to Nexus Arena.” He turned. “Follow me, Molly. The others have to go through all the rigmarole, but I know you, you know me, and I want you to see the problem you guys will have to tackle first.”

He led Molly up through the Inner Sphere to the elevator. “Get ready to meet the Arena.”

“I thought the real Arena we couldn’t go to yet. This Nexus Arena.”

“In a way, yeah…” The elevator door slid open, and they walked into the foyer towards the door to the Upper Sphere. “But this is still part of the Arena, and the important thing about now is that you’ve arrived at night.

They stepped through the door… and Molly Tobin stopped dead.

Above the dark jungle, silhouetted against a distant horizon and spanning vision in all directions, was…

There still aren’t words, DuQuesne thought. Maybe my long-ago creator, that bombastic Doctor E.E. Smith, could have described it. But I can’t.

The sky of the Arena glowed above the Sphere of Humanity; a shimmering of clouds in the indescribable distance, flickering and flashing with lightning strokes that branched and stretched not for instants but long, long seconds of seething electrical fire, blue-white and fire-orange and gleaming pearlescent white against blue-black; a deep ruddy glow was visible in another direction, and against it a dark, trailing line of clouds edged in rose and blood. Directly above, a roiling, majestic sea of deep violet and velvet and sparking, shimmering blue. It was the sky of storms the size of worlds and of lights that might come from another world, a moon’s distance away in that impossible airy gulf, and faint, barely-seen movement that might be creatures, living beings that dared to live and fight and die and perhaps even think, wonder, and love in the endless spaces between Spheres.

“Oh… my.” Molly said finally.

“Yeah, that’s about all you can say. Or something like that. Even more if you’re here in the daytime first; looks pretty much like some place on Earth then, with the Luminaire up. You have to squint pretty hard to make out anything funny in the sky in the daytime. So then the sun goes down… and you suddenly know you ain’t in Kansas any more.”

“Or down the rabbit hole. This place seems just about that crazy.” She shook herself in a way that DuQuesne found amusingly familiar; most of the original visitors had done the same thing when recovering from a typical Arena shock. “So… besides that, what did you have for me?”


She cocked her head, and even in the dim lighting he could see her sudden smile. “Oh, now, that is hopeful. A waterfall?”

“And a big one,” DuQuesne said with an answering smile. “We’ve diverted a tiny portion of it so far with what we could rig up, but I know you worked on studying hydro plants before. My best estimate on this fall is it’s close to two million liters a second.”

“That is pretty big,” she said. “I admit… I’m having trouble grasping this. We are on top of a spherical construct, right? What’s all this… world doing on top of it, if you know what I mean?”

“It’s made to be similar to our home environment — though similar does not mean identical, so get that through your head. Near as I can figure, there’s a couple thousand kilometers of rock under us which acts like the actual mantle of a planet. Plate tectonics, the whole nine yards. You’ve got some kind of oceans out there — Simon’s probes were able to return some images, and we’re finally getting some idea of what the top of the Sphere looks like. Within the gravity area there’s some convection and condensation — but we’re not even close to figuring out how all this interacts with the stuff outside the gravity field.”

He shook his head. “It’s enough to drive you nuts, I’ll tell you. But the long and the short is, we get weather like Earth, pretty close, you get night and day like Earth, there’s volcanoes and earthquakes and all the rest like Earth, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t seasons to the … North and South of us, where the Luminaire’s light will be more oblique; I’ll bet its path slowly goes North and South over the period of a year, just like the apparent position of the sun varies due to Earth’s axial tilt. We’re pretty much on the equator right here.” He paused. “The effective equator of the Upper Sphere, not the actual Sphere’s equator. Damnation. We’ll need yet more new vocabulary.”

They stopped at the edge of the ridge overlooking the swift-running river. “That is impressive,” Molly said finally. “So you want me to design a power plant to use… that?”

“Figure we could get a few gigawatts out of it, which would go a long way towards giving us some comfortable independence here. And if there’s one waterfall like this, I’m betting there’s plenty of opportunities for water-power here.”

She nodded. “I can imagine the largest possible water power generator, actually.”

“What do… oh.” He suddenly began to chuckle, then laughed loudly. “Doctor Tobin, you haven’t stopped thinking bigger, have you?”

“It just seemed obvious to me, Marc,” she said, grinning back. “Given the description, there’s a wall, an edge, somewhere around this Upper Sphere, the point where the gravity stops keeping things comfortably on the surface. Go knock a hole in it and let the entire ocean start draining out until you reach equilibrium. With a few billion liters of water a second, I’ll start giving you some real power!”


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21 Responses to Spheres Of Influence – Chapter 24

  1. Steve says:

    I’m glad it’s obvious to her, me… not so much. Someone please recap for me the crazy Upper Sphere layout so I know what she’s talking about at the end there.

    • Ever see the Roger Dean paintings of the “Yessongs” mountains in the air, or the movie Avatar with the floating islands? Like that, except the mountain’s the size of a planet and there’s an ocean around the edge, held back by some sort of rim.

      • Doug Lampert says:

        Of course for maximum power generation you need to draw directly from the bottom of the rim ocean, and take advantage of all that lovely pressure.

        Unfortunately, you probably can’t siphon water over the top to get the same effect without drilling through given that there’s no gravity on the “outside” for the siphon to work. And if I were one of Arena’s builders the rim wall would be made of something I considered “unbreakably tough”, then I’d have the arena monitor it to make sure it didn’t break anyway.

        What you want to look for is the overflow spillway and see if there’s any way to open it manually or to get Arena to open it for you.

        • Actually, if you look at the diagrams that were provided in GCA, you can see that the gravity extends out to the sides by several thousand kilometers. If you have a gargantuan garden hose you want to hang over the side, you can do that.

          • Doug Lampert says:

            Right! Now all we need is the Unobtanium to make a garden hose that size and able to hold that pressure! Fortunately this is a super-advanced post-scarcity culture, so they can probably manage that.

            Pull/pump over the top of the wall (probably need pumps, on reflection I doubt that the wall is low enough for suction to do it), then down the outside in a contained tube, maybe hundreds of kilometers of pressure head if you can contain that and use it. May need to stage generators all the way down to keep the pressure managable, but it’s more fun to imagine one turbine at the bottom spinning at absurd force and speed.

            • It’s spinning OVER NINE THOUSAND!

              “RPM? That’s not so–”

              “KILOMETERS PER SECOND!”

              • Doug Lampert says:

                What?! Put some load on that system before the blades fail!

                But we’re drawing nearly 10 to the 14th watts as is! The shaft can only take so much!

                I knew we should have set up staged generators. What happens if we cut back on the pumps?

                Then we get cavitation at the top and the pipe freezes closed due to cooling from low presure evaporation. Whole system fails.

                Wait! We’re pikers! The Luminaire has an average output of almost 50 times that! And it’s in the zero gee area so we could set up static solar panels. If we could pull power from that….

                We considered that, but it’s likely that the arena doesn’t like people destroying the local ecology.

                The dialogue almost writes itself.

              • Steve says:

                Hmm, Dyson Sphere with a window? Just capture everything that’s not heating the liveable area…

              • Doug Lampert says:

                I assumed the Luminaire is already directional and only illuminates the sphere, otherwise you mostly see luminaires rather than spheres from a distance (which ruins a good visual), and you’re heating the whole space that much more (and there’s no obvious heat sink to keep the temperatures livable as is), and my energy output for the Luminaire, which was VERY conservative/low end anyway becomes ludicrously low.

              • The Luminaires are not directional. They’re miniature star-things. You can certainly see them from a distance, like the Spheres. You’ll see them slightly before the Spheres, but not too much sooner.

                Don’t try to tell me that visibility doesn’t work like that. It works the way the Arena WANTS it to work, just like general visibility is a LOT longer than physics allows.

              • Doug Lampert says:

                Well, in that case, yep, as soon as we can get the panels in place we got unlimited lots of Solar Luminaire Power, who needs Hydro?

            • Escape Zeppelin says:

              Sooo… what happens to the water once it goes over the side? Does it keep falling until it ends up in inter-sphere space because an ocean floating just below the Sphere would be one hell of a navigation hazard.

              • The gravity well extends quite some distance down, and there’s wind and other things involved. Basically it becomes part of the drifting atmosphere. You’ll note that a giant floating lake was one of the things seen in the obstacle course Ariane raced Sethrik through.

  2. Scott says:

    8 gates? Is that in total or is that what they have found so far.
    It will be interesting to compare other spheres and find out if the human faction has more gates than the average.
    At this point it’s obvious that the arena is slanting things in humanities direction I’m just wondering why?
    I’m also wondering if it is a good idea screwing with how the upper sphere is arranged, unintended consiquences and all.

  3. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Marc is nick-named “DQ”? Did he “pig out” at the local Dairy Queen? [Evil Grin]

    • Richard H says:

      It occurs to me to point out that he said approximately two people were allowed to call him that, and he called his Hyperion ex-girlfriend “K”. It could be a red herring, but usually that’s called a hint.

      I’m wondering what this singularity power project is, though… is it just what it says on the tin and someone was trying to make some sort of zero-point energy source?

      • Not ZPE, micro-black-hole.

        • Richard H says:

          Yeah, my bad on getting my sci-fi energy sources mixed up.

          My question is, though, did it work? Something tells me it didn’t, although maybe they just don’t trust it to work in the Arena.

          • Of course it worked. MARC C. DUQUESNE was working on a power source? Of course it worked.

            However, they only found the one micro-black-hole so far.

            • Richard H says:

              Aha… that’s the hiccup I’d missed: they need to mine black holes from space.

              (My “obviously it didn’t work” was because I was wondering, “Why isn’t everything in the solar system powered by them?”)

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