Science Fiction Adventure Speculative

They met in Neds’ large dining room. His wife Maria had removed the adornments from the long Elizabethan table and with seating for 12, it was more than adequate. Young, tanned, and svelte, Jack Compas sits on one side next to the stunning, and also young, Becky Newsom. Across from them sits the middle-aged Chinese couple Bao and Yang Chong with Yang imposing a sour expression. Also middle-aged, Ned Bates heads the seating while his wife Maria chaired the far side with pencil and notepaper at the ready.

Four of the six had recently been favored, or cursed, with information and abilities passed on from the dawn of time. Four of them knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the human race would soon come to an end by way of nuclear war and they only had an enhanced IQ, uncanny perception, and almost hypnotic powers of persuasion to stop it. The wives Maria and Yang are loyal to their husbands but have less conviction in the mission.

“All right, let’s get this show on the road. How do we stop the coming war?” Ned started. He had no idea how to proceed; he senses failure in the future but needs to carry on no matter the cost.

“I know! I know!” Becky piped.

“All right, what’s your idea, Becky?” Ned acknowledged.

“I could be an influencer! I could open accounts on all the social apps and tell my followers about the coming danger. I could wear my low-cut midriffs with tiny silky shorts; when I do that I get a lot of attention! I could get a million followers doing what I say in no time. I could have them talk to the president?” Becky offered.

Young Jack got the picture. He had been changed but he wasn’t dead. “I’d like to see that!” Jack visualized.

“That sounds wonderful, Becky,” Ned moderated. “You may very well gather enough followers to influence the American government but there are other governments involved. We have to dissuade all those with nuclear weapons and even those that could quickly gear up. We have to get to the whole world.”

“The web is worldwide. Her influencers will help.” Jack said in support.

“Okay, Becky, you should start right away. I don’t think these influencers will be enough to solve the entire problem. Maybe I just don’t think we should put all our eggs in one basket. How do you think Becky’s accounts will go over in China?” Ned asked Bao, a Chinese native.

“I think she may compete with local apps and may be barred for that reason,” Bao said.

“There are lots of pretty girls in skimpy clothing on the Chinese app TicToc,” Jack added helpfully.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Bao suggested.

“You sign on to her apps and I’ll have your balls in a bottle,” Yang, Bao's wife, threatened.

“Did you take that down Maria?” Ned asked, after a moment of silence. Jack sniggered but stopped quickly and Ned lost his smile.

“Yes, well, Becky can start her work but is there anything else we can do? Any suggestions?” Ned asked.

“I have an idea,” Bao said.

“Yes? What is it?” Ned answered.

“I don’t remember the whole story, but there is an AI in this system. Perhaps we could appeal to it for help?”

“I don’t remember an AI computer. Is it Chinese?” Jack asked.

“No, no! It’s an ancient machine leftover by the previous civilization of Earth, the big one! The starfaring race that built the moon and Phobos.”

“I don’t remember hearing about that in ‘heaven’. Only sentient people were reconstructed and I don’t remember any conversations about big ole computers,” Ned added.

“We were in heaven a long time and our brains are only so big. I bet we only got a sampling of our knowledge back, meaning we would have different memories. I don’t remember meeting any ancients but I do remember exploring back a few thousand years through my lineage,” Betsy supplied logically.

“Do you remember any more about this sentient computer?” Ned asked Bao.

“I have inklings.”

“Where is it? In the center of the Earth?” Jack asked.

“No, I think it’s in space, camouflaged and stealthed.”

“What’s it doing? Is it messing with our DNA?” Ned questioned.

“It isn’t doing anything. No one is messing with our DNA,” Bao asserted.

“I’m not sure about that!” Maria burst out.

“Maria and I watch conspiracy theory shows about aliens. Mutilations, crop circles, temples, and ancient manuscripts provide compelling evidence,” Ned added.

“Yes! I remember aliens from heaven! I didn’t meet any that visited Earth but the ones I did engage with were a bit dull. They aren’t that smart; they let their computers do most of their thinking,” Jack put in.

“What are you saying? Are you saying that visiting aliens don’t interact much but their computers decide to do experiments with crops, animals, and us?” Maria demanded.

“There are some aliens that land and spend time. Hindu, Sumerian, Egyptian, and Aztec civilizations all had written stories of Gods descended from the skies passing out knowledge. Skeptics stand in front of exquisite carvings of genetically modified freaks accompanying the stories of their creation and say ‘where’s the proof’?” Becky said while Ned and Maria looked at her in astonishment.

“I think about aliens too,” she added smugly.

“I don’t think about aliens or phantom sky calculators as I only have time to serve my party,” said Bao.

“Let’s hope your superiors don’t decide that we are betraying our country and have us killed,” Yang said ominously.

“Yes. That is in my thoughts. Like Ned, but worse, our unpredictable actions have ruined our strengths in normal channels. Working my way, our way, up through my chain of command will take more time than I think we have. Actually, I don’t think it will even be possible to influence them away from their preordained plan of financial, then physical, conquest. I think we have to come up with something faster and out of the status quo.” Bao stated.

“Then we should try contacting the AI right away. How do we do that? Where is it?” Ned asked.

“Do you think it’s in the moon, or on it?” Maria added.

“No. It’s just a hunch but that seems too close,” Jack answered.

“Pluto or Saturn?” Becky offered.

“I would have to agree that those are very possible. Any of the planets and moons. Less likely is any one of a billion asteroids; two million of which are larger than one kilometer across,” Ned added.

“You know that off the top of your head?” Bao said with admiration.

“Actually I googled it while we talked.”

“Sounds good! We’ll get hold of a tight beam transmitter and start sending our signal as soon as possible,” Jack enthused.

“What signal. We haven’t recorded anything to send,” Becky said.

“Maybe the girlie can film a farted request while in the nude,” Yang offered.

“In English?” Becky countered, displaying her ability to deal with jealous wives.

There was a short pause, a deeper consideration.

“I’m ok with Becky doing it in the nude,” Jack said, but the joke didn’t go over.

“The frequency should be 155 MHz,” stated Bao.

“That’s the rate where they search for aliens?” Ned asked and received several affirmative nods.

“And we should send it in several languages,” Ned added.

“Just English will be fine,” Bao offered. “But I know a little about the building of artificial intelligence, an AI. It seems to me that this thing isn’t listening. Latin. Mandarin, Hanyu, Spanish, English, it doesn’t matter! I don’t think it even knows these languages. It doesn’t care.”

There was another pause, this reflection lasted much longer. Finally, Ned said something. “What if we do this. What if we start with math tautologies expanding into proofs that explain a language, for instance, English. After we teach it the language we send our plea followed by an internet interface where it can learn our nuance if so inclined?”

“I guess that could be done and it has a chance, I would say a small chance, of working,” confirmed Bao.

“Betsy can make our pitch,” said Ned, informing Yang that Betsy was, and will remain, an honored member of the team.

“She can do it in business casual,” Jack helped.

“Unless it has some kind of sex drive simulator even I know a silicon chip isn’t going to bone up over a bikini babe,” Maria added logically.

“A suit will be fine,” Betsy put in. “I can rock one of those too, even if I do it just for spite.”

“Okay, I suggest we get started as soon as possible. Everyone agreed?” Ned asked.

“To make a program that teaches English to a computer isn’t going to be easy. We have to man a software company with quality coders who have enough self-respect to keep working without constant supervision and educated enough to figure out how to impose syntax on a complete set of words,” Bao said.

“Who won’t quit halfway through to demand more money,” Yang added.

“And enough of them to get the job done quickly,” Jack added.

“Shit, shit, shit!” Ned wailed. “I don’t have that kind of money!”

“Maybe I can find an angel or two? I’ll get started right away. I’ll just tell the whole story, what we are going to do, and ask for lots of money. That may be enough to fund us but it won’t be immediate. How much do we have to work with?” Becky asked.

“The mortgage takes a large part of my salary. I have little in savings, relying on the parachute for retirement. My cars are company perks and they’ll be gone in weeks. My vacation condos’ are rentals. I can pay for this house for three months and then another three as I fight foreclosure,” Ned supplied.

“I can guarantee within three months, I think, enough income for the mortgage and a car rental or two,” Becky supplied.

“I was thinking about a job even before this happened. The Denny’s manager hinted that I could work there. That will pay enough for our food,” Maria offered.

“That is all well and good but what about the programmers?” Ned continued.

“I have an idea. I have a friend in R&D business development. Once we contact that big brain in the sky we will ask it how to divert the upcoming conflagration while we promise the Chinese government riches beyond measure. The AIs forecasting abilities and materials knowledge will be very, very valuable,” Bao explained.

“Why the Chinese? Why not our government?” Jack asked.

“They're too stupid,” Ned said bluntly.

“Wait a minute!” Jack interjected.

“I might be able to swing a long shot due to the incredible payoff in exchange for a few dozen programmers on a temporary assignment. Name one thing that your government has done for your people in the last fifty years?” Bao confirmed then asked.

“We are moving away from fossils fuels in favor of renewables, saving the planet from global warming,” Jack gushed.

“Is that what you're doing?” Yang supplied.

“Well, the change was suddenly forced on everybody. A lot of people say it is the price we have to pay,” Jack argued.

“The elites say that. The rich say that as do your government workers with inflation-adjusted salaries and car service. They say you have to pay, we pay” Becky surprisingly burst in.

“Management at Alamo is meeting to find a way to remain solvent during these changes. We have deep pockets but it might not be enough. Our current fleet is now worthless. We have to buy expensive electric vehicles to rent to a severely diminished customer base that can afford our new rates,” Ned complained, shaking his head in woe.

“What they don’t tell you,” Bao crowed, “is that the electricity to charge this wonder car is going to cost even more than gasoline. Gas at its’ all-time high price. Electric generators burn more than a fillup to convert it to a fillup of electricity!”

“It sounds true enough and, as you said, I had never considered that cost,” Maria agreed.

“What about solar and wind?” Jack cried in desperation. He already knew Bao was going to find a flaw, a fatal flaw.

“The information your government provides is the energy output of these devices not including the large energy expense it takes to produce them,” Bao argued, stressing the ‘your’,. “The metal frames of solar cells, the glass, the refined silicon, the copper wiring all require high temperature to make, or, a lot of energy. These heavy and bulky things are useless shortly after two decades and have to be disposed of and replaced. Wind generators are very large and destroy the tranquility of the areas where they are placed. For home power sources they both require long distances of heavy copper wire and hugely expensive and dangerous battery banks.”

“But this is the best we can get!” demands Jack.

“So not true. There are simpler options,” Bao continued.

“Sure. The nuclear option. Like you never heard of the Fukushima disaster,” Betsy sneered.

“That was a horrible event. Just when the Japanese were gearing up on delivery of their revolutionary neighborhood-sized power plant. All nuclear power drops across the globe and just when the small reactor market is ripe again - guess who is geared up for their manufacturer?”  Ned accused.

“True, the Chinese are still angry over the murderous invasion by the Japanese during WWII. Now, since we will profit, some think we are implicated by the Fukushima catastrophe. I assure you I know nothing about it,” Bao opined.

“But it was a tidal wave,” Jack added.

“There is a weapon that can do that without leaving a trace. Put a nuke inside a tunneller and trigger the bomb when it reaches a depth of two miles,” Ned informed quietly.

“What about these smaller power plants?” asked an interested Betsy getting back on track.

“They are small, safe thorium reactors buried sixty feet underground with a one hundred year lifespan and no required maintenance. They’re like a big battery. Located closer to the thousand, even twenty thousand, homes they supply, they don’t use huge power cables slung between towers and there are no regional blackouts,” Bao told them. 

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Maria said.

“It isn’t, it’s much more efficient,” Bao said. “Then there is the next generation, IV, safer nuclear power plants called an LFRs. That’s a fast neutron reactor that can be fueled by depleted uranium or thorium matrices.”

“Maybe that will put more juice into the grid?” Becky enthused.

“But your leaders won’t do it, they too stupid!” Yang sniped.

“So what’s the big deal Chinese plan for the future?” Maria snapped.

“I’ll tell you what I know. When the time is right we will use our resources to transit to hydrogen while skipping the cumbersome and inefficient batteries,” Boa said.

“So what’s so good about hydrogen?” Ben asked.

“A tank of compressed hydrogen has potential energy nearly the same as a similar tank of gasoline. The gas can be trucked to a station where you pump it into your car, much like gasoline.”

“But hydrogen is explosive! Didn’t you see the Hindenburg disaster?” Jack countered.

“I saw the blimp burn. I didn’t see an explosion. The two fuels have nearly the same energy potential and if the conditions are right, either one can explode,” Bao said before speaking into the reflexive pause. “There’s more. If you insist on windmills and solar cells, hydrogen can be manufactured onsite by electrolysis then trucked out! No batteries and no new power cables!”

“Well, that is convincing. Hydrogen burns with zero emissions. I agree that if our leaders were smart they would go in that direction, too,” Ned agreed.

“We got off track but I think you proved your point, Bao. So we let Bao give the AI to the Chinese after we get out world-saving answers. Anyone who disagrees should speak up now.”

“They are going to use it to rule the world,” Jack warned.

“It could be worse and if we don’t do it there won’t be any world to rule,” Bao interjected.

“Okay, Bao goes back to China and makes a deal, Betsy tricks some guys while working out of the house, and the rest of us will start a corporation to tackle the world energy problem, hopefully with help from the AI. All agreed?” Ned asked.

There were no objections.

March 10, 2022 21:05

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