Friday, August 16, 2013

Part Sixty-Three, Chapter Five - Unlimited Power

Hours later, Heller emerges bathed, rested, but still in his radiation coveralls.  Gris is still able to see Heller's pallor and expression, and there's no mention of a mask or helmet.  So none of these characters are in danger of losing anything important.

When Gris asks about his choice of outfit, Heller admits that the space around the ship is still "pretty hot."

"Hey, wait a minute," I said.  "You must be suspecting leaks or you wouldn't be in hot coveralls.  I'm totally unprotected!  Are you trying to sterilize me?"

I'm curious as to why Gris is more worried about his ability to reproduce than, say, dying from radiation poisoning.

"Thanks for calling it to my attention," said Heller. He picked up the cat and took it to the chief mate's room and when he came back, the cat was wearing a scarlet blanket.

"You're absolutely heartless!" I snarled.

"I didn't know you cared," said Heller. But he unchained me from the pipe and took me to one of the engineer's cabins and let me go to the toilet.

Yeah, that's the train of thought.  Guy complains about being vulnerable to radiation, so let him use the bathroom.  Heller does give Gris a disposable rad suit after this, but I'm not sure why the crapper was his first reaction.

After Gris changes, Heller tosses him some rations, "throwing them down on the table like he might have done for a dog."  Then he positions the tug, the umbrella thing, and the towed black hole about five hundred miles above some newly-constructed buildings in the "Devil's Playground," in the Mojave Desert.  Finally, with some tractor-beam, compressor-beam, and tension-beam work, Heller situates the little black hole in the center of the cage under the umbrella-thing.

Then, a page of explanations on how this will all work.

1. The black hole, situated in the cage, will act as a motor, i.e. a device that produces movement.  At no point will it actually be described as moving, though maneuvering jets on the space umbrella will help keep it in position.  Presumably Hubbard meant the black hole will act as a "dynamo" or "generator" or something like that.

2. The mirrors on the underside of the "umbrella" will reflect the undefined energy somehow emerging from the singularity.  Corky was talking about black holes emitting gamma radiation earlier, so it's possible that's what the mirror is supposed to be reflecting.  Now surprisingly enough, it's possible to build a gamma-ray mirror, it's just going to be many meters thick, while Heller's mirror is not described as such.  Another possibility is that the black hole is somehow generating pure electricity, which the mirror is supposed to bounce back to Earth, though that's not something mirrors can do.  Or maybe this is supposed to be microwaves, which reflect off metal.  Again, the author doesn't specify.  I'm going with magic.

3. The ring around the middle of the umbrella is a "converter-ring," which sends the magical energy from the mirror down to the Earth's surface, "hot-spotting" on the "pile" in the desert.  I'm not sure what Hubbard means by "hot-spotting."  I'm not sure what he means by "pile" - certainly not a radioactive pile, right?  Radiation is bad.  But harmless from the neck up.  Ferromagnets are mentioned later, and while it's possible to use them to produce power, it sounds like more of a "pulse" thing than a constant amount.  And I'm not sure where black holes come into play.

4. The lowest ring around the umbrella's base is a simple set of weights, which use Earth's gravity to keep the thing in the right position.  According to Wikipedia, 800 miles up means that the umbrella is still in Low Earth Orbit, where objects experience weightlessness due to centrifugal acceleration cancelling out acceleration from gravity.  So this is probably a wasted gesture.

Gris is incredulous that Heller's going to leave the umbrella sitting in orbit for a billion years, but Heller reminds him that the thing's still thirteen minutes in the future, presumably on the logic that nobody else will be able to enter the time distortion as he and Gris just did.  Besides, he put a sign on the thing.

No Trespassing
Hands Off
High Voltage

See?  Completely safe.

Heller takes the tug out of the time wrinkle and calls Izzy, who puts on engineer Dr. Phil A. Mentor as Heller checks how the Devil's Playground power site is doing.  Its ferromagnetic pile is "hot," which is to say that it and a nearby truck have completely disappeared, and the "time step-down capacitors" are fully operational.  Microwave power is coming out!  It's being beamed into the sky to be relayed by mirror to where it's needed!

Aaaaand that's it.  That's how a black hole power plant works.  That's all the author tells us.

I'm totally stumped. 

Since this miracle energy is costing them nothing but maintenance costs and installation, Izzy plans on selling electricity for a penny a kilowatt, with industrial rates a quarter of that.  But this causes two problems - they're gonna have a lot of money to invest, and Rockecenter is going to be sad that nobody's buying his coal or oil.

Heller's not too concerned, and wants Izzy to go ahead with that plan to option every sale of oil stock on the planet - because he wants to make those shares go down from $80-$100 apiece to a dollar or less.

"Oy!" said Izzy.  "Mr. Rockecenter will be broke broke."

"That's the idea," said Heller.  "Broke plus broke equals bankrupt.  So what I want you to do now is obtain an additional set of of options to buy all the oil shares in the world at one dollar."


"You heard me.  Your sell options will go for a fortune.  Then, when the bottom is out, your buy options will put you in control of every single oil company in the world."

"Oy," said Izzy.  "Our dream of corporations running the planet is going to come true!  I hope Fate isn't listening in on this conversation."

Izzy, you're supposed to be Jewish.  Gris is the one ranting about Fate being out to get him.

"We'll make it come true somehow," Heller reassured him.

 Yay?  All hail our new corporate overlords?

When Izzy mentions that cheap electricity in itself won't bring the stocks as low as Heller's wanting, Heller alludes to his next project that will make it happen.  Ominous.

Gris is gibbering about poor Rockecenter, whose energy monopoly must be protected in order for the Apparatus to get drugs.  Then he "suddenly" remembers that the Russians have invented "satellite killers" (I'm guessing an anti-satellite missile) and realizes that he could help them locate and destroy Heller's space umbrella.  Unfortunately the first step to that end would be escaping from Heller's clutches, and Gris has been failing to make any progress towards that for several chapters now. 

But there's one important implication from that.  The satellite is located in a timeshifted bubble produced by its captive black hole, but Gris knows a missile could kill it.  The satellite is also beaming magic towards a power plant, despite the aforementioned time bubble.

So, Hubbard.  Remind us again how a similar black hole's time (bleep)ery can protect the Voltarian capital from attack? 

Anyway, that's the chapter.  Free, nigh-infinite energy is as simple as using a time-telescope and tractor beam to grab a tiny black hole from thirteen minutes in the future and putting a mirror behind it to reflect its energy at a pile of magnets, resulting in microwaves to be conveyed via more mirrors through the air to power stations.  Human civilization is now totally dependent on alien technology it does not understand and cannot duplicate.  Millions of people stand to lose their jobs from the collapse of every other energy industry.  International politics are about to be flipped on their head now that oil-producing nations just lost their primary source of income and greatest bargaining chip, not to mention the fact that the new miracle energy source seems to be located in one country.

And Heller's just getting started.

Back to Chapter Four 

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