A Difference of Opinion

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Cartier walked up to Marta at the dining table for the executive offices and passed her a lemony nutrition drink.”Elise, my dear, how are your preparations for tonight going? I see all the maps scattered, and this looks more ambitious than chromium alone.”

“That’s right professor.” She tipped the drink toward him and nodded thanks before chugging a good portion of it down. Smacking her lips, she continued, “When Mr. Wing called to say he’d pack six ore cars in there, he based that on getting a really low yield ore. The Amigos can get the equivalent of refined ore through whatever means they use to pull the metals up. I’m trying to get my head around how they can dissociate the oxides and other chemical compounds and pull up only what they want. I mean, won’t that leave a crapload of free oxygen?”

Elise mentally switched off external communication and switched on concentration mode. In a minute’s time, she switched back suddenly to give Alain a quizzical look. “Professor, they do what the Breaker does, but a heckuva lot more efficiently! I mean, they did it some on the way here, but they can do it over vast areas.”

“Elise, you mean you think this mining business will release oxygen into the atmosphere as a byproduct? The Breaker employs pyrolysis at a couple thousand of degrees, there can be no comparison.”

She shrugged. “How can it not release oxygen? The Amigo process obviously uses some other method than pyrolysis to dissociate the oxides, but in the end if you break up oxidized magnesium feldspar for the magnesium, you get free ox out of the deal. Maybe they’re living fuel cells, or no, that’s backwards because a fuel cell recombines hydrogen and oxygen to make water. They’re more like the catalysts. I saw them do this up close in the pod on the way in, but never did quite understand it. I could always ask TaaTaa directly about it, but finding the right words is so darned hard.”

“You know it’s after dark, so they’ve all headed off to sleep or whatever else they do when the sun goes down. My guess would be that they’ll need the rest before the dark-thirty roll call; they altered the atmosphere in their dome for a reason, you know, and he said they needed to prepare.”

“Yeah, I hope going back out in the higher ox levels won’t hurt them. Remember the bad ammonia smell when the pod opened up? I hadn’t wee-weed all over everything; it was from them dissociating water from the bladders to produce air we could breathe. The excess hydrogen kept finding the nitrogen in the air and making ammonia compounds. Stinky, stinky and no way to vent!”

“Ronnie Sue said the best guess was that you’d tapped the troop air supply.”

“I did until we docked back at Frankie. Man, oh man, what a panic when it cut off! As it happened, the small volume in the pod allowed for my buddies to hydrolyze what I needed from those big water bladders we had in there and they must have done something with the CO2.”

O2 001

“They made your air?”

“We had plenty of air; we concentrated on increasing oxygen and decreasing carbon dioxide. TaaTaa asked what I needed and woke up his kin to do it. I worried that my air would be too high ox for them, but he said that while 15% to 17% was their ‘comfort zone’, they could accommodate a variance. Less than that they could hydrolyze water internally, but more started irritating them, and too much was poisonous, about 27% he said depending on age.”

“So the high 19’s are on the low side of our tolerance and starts to poison them?”

“TaaTaa said he’d been to many places mining where they had no air and where they had other poisons, I read that as sulfurous and methane atmospheres. We didn’t have the vocabulary then to go into it any further, but I gather they have air reserves in that carbon husk of theirs and are pretty resilient overall. He maintains they could stay out a while and be okay, but was evasive when I tried to pin him down on how long.”

“Hence the portico established in the front end of the pod for them.”

“That’s it, I know I slept better when I got here, in an atmosphere that suited me, and figured they would too. Maybe they’ll be able to recharge every night. TaaTaa seemed pleased with it.”

“I am more at ease now knowing you have retained your customary thoroughness. I see with these maps you have a long way to go to get everything. How long will this extended trip take you?”

“We’re at the mercy of the terrain for many of the sites, although we should be able to get to each one safely.”

“How recent are the maps? The desert is a sea of sand, with the dunes swelling in the winds. You have contingency plans for your route getting blocked?”

“Uh, I have up to date info and we’re going on that basis, with the easiest course and an alternate marked.”

“What about landmarks? You won’t find many, and once you get disoriented and without Topside assistance all you have is a compass. Direction is not location.”

Elise began shuffling and collating maps. “I think we have that settled to our satisfaction.”

He stepped closer and slapped her desk. “I thought you and Barto said no GPS? That any signals in the outback could be traced?”

She looked over and agreed. “That’s right. He’s not taking his tablet and our cells will be turned off. I want to introduce our companions in style, not out away from any support.”

She wished he would find something to do somewhere else, but he didn’t budge. He pursued with, “So you got updates from here and can get to your first site. Then the further you go, the less reliable your data. You could disappear in the sands on the way back and no one would ever find you!” He picked up a map. “Look at this! This is dated last year! What’s the update frequency? How much change occurs between updates?”

She took the map from his hand and laid it back down. “I started to do a trend analysis of the last three years and found these maps and the so-called updates don’t go into enough detail to be worth printing, except for the major topography like mountains.”

He crossed his arms authoritatively. “You’re not going out there with no better plan that this, little lady, no you won’t. I will not risk you, Barto and all of them. I’m amazed at you!”

“Why does everybody continually doubt that I know what I’m doing? You all thought I stayed behind on Van Damme, then you thought I had no air on the way here, then you thought I’d be a sitting duck in the wilds of town. When do I get a reputation for executing a well-laid plan? When will my track record start speaking for itself?”

He jabbed an emphatic knuckle at her. “A reputation does not guarantee the next project will run successfully on its own and this seems like just that. You came out all right before and have the conviction you can do it again as if charmed. It doesn’t work that way dear, the desert is hostile and can kill you all. They depend on you. How are you going to find your way all over creation and back?”

She reached around for her satchel. “Here are my annotated maps, and I’ll update the route to the next destination at each stop.”

“How?”

She hesitated, trying to find the words to explain that didn’t sound like hocus-pocus. “I dowsed for the information.”

He leapt up onto his toes in surprise, looking like a rooster about to challenge a rival. “You dowsed? Good grief! You risk all your lives on parlor games? You’ve been in low ox high cox too much, and your reasoning is addled.”

“Stop! Just because you don’t know how it works doesn’t mean it’s not a real phenomenon!”

He plunked into a chair and leaned far forward on his elbows, right forefinger in her face. “Give me a set of equations I can follow and get a repeatable result, a result that is meaningful and accurate.”

“You aren’t an equation kind of guy and wouldn’t know what you were looking at if I gave them to you. I can show you how to do it.”

“No! I want to see peer-reviewed literature that proves the premise is sound and useful for each application you want to use it for, including divining road conditions!”

Dr. Trogden wandered in with a dishtowel and as she dried her dishwater-wet hands. She asked, “Guys, what’s the matter? I heard you from the kitchen!”

“Oh, Ronnie Sue, I’m beside myself with this girl! She thinks she can water witch her way through the desert!”

Doc looked over to Elise. “You’re going out there for water? I thought you were going to bring all you needed with you.”

He barged in, “Ronnie Sue, it’s the route she’s dowsing. She’s rolling the dice for all of them by hoping her stick points the right way!”

“Alain, please calm down.” Ronnie Sue pulled up a chair on the side between Alain and Elise. “Elise, honey, please tell me what this is all about.”

“Doc, he asked how I was going to get map updates without alerting Topside. I told him I’d dowse for them. Then he went berserk and wrote me off as a lunatic.”

“Wait a minute!”Alain was a master at displaying indignity.

Doc gave him a hard look. “Shush. You calm down like I told you or you’ll get a sedative.” When he sat back with a deep frown and arms barricading his chest, Ronnie Sue turned back to Elise. “Now, what kind of dowsing? Surely not sitting on the rover hood with a forked stick, right?”

Calmly, Elise replied, “Map dowsing, with a pendulum.”

“Alain, now see?”

He continued frowning silently.

Doc Trogden appeared to be having excessive mirth at her expense, but Elise listened when she laid down the discussion rules. “Now, Elise, Alain, I want each of you to make one point at a time in turn, civilly. No immediate retorts! Make every turn count, because ranting is empty of value. Age before beauty. Alain, you go first.”

Alain: “Elise, you are a scientist, why this magical business?”

Elise: “Is it magic solely because you can’t explain it?”

Alain: “No, it’s because it’s not verifiable by scientific means, it depends on some secret power.”

Elise: “That is not true. Nearly anyone can access the communication. It is not a thing I do, some occult art, or a particular talent I uniquely possess. It’s more a sense like sight or hearing, but most of us ignore it.”

Alain: “How is it transmitted and from whom? I want to see the equations and perform an independent test. That’s peer review, if you recall. Many have tried with this trumpery and failed.”

Elise: “I can show you right now! Doc here can arbitrate!”

Alain: “No! I want to see it disassembled into known terms; what forces at what magnitude, what charges, what chemical reactions. I want to understand it.”

Elise: “What would that really prove? You have had all of that for fusion power for nearly 200 years and we still don’t have significant fusion reactors or propulsion beyond basic research. My method is not so clearly documented yet, but it is repeatable and does provide a usable result.”

Alain: “If it were finding water, I could understand it better, but damn it! You twiddle your fingers over a map and say abracadabra for something that’s supposed to be a thousand kilometers away and say you’re ‘communicating’? With some entity? Science does not depend on some distant ‘guiding hand’.”

Elise: “I do ask questions as if there is someone on the other end of the conversation. I admit I do believe in a continuum for our souls, that when we die our soul is recycled into a babe to learn more lessons. I believe our souls are the most important part about us, and the soul uses a physical body as the means to interact and grow. I believe I talk to the ones at the plane our souls go for recycling.”

Alain: “I am stunned, I am totally stunned. You think you can ask the angels where the gold is and go get rich? Why all the mumbo-jumbo, then? I suppose you never have to think about anything, you can let this entity do it all for you? Preposterous!”

“Alain,” Doc warned, “You stray from the subject for the sake of scorn, please abstain.”

Elise: “Thanks, Doc. Professor, say we are way overdue and you want to take a rover out a little way to see if there is any trace. You stop and get out to scan the empty horizon. You look down and see the corner of a little blue case sticking up out of the sand. You dig it out and it’s an odd-looking phone. You turn it on and a friendly voice says, ‘there’s an oasis south-southwest two kilometers from here, over two low ridges; you can save your friends if you reach them by noon.’button 001

She held out a hand to count off on her fingers. “One, you can take the advice, find the oasis and us, complete trust. Life wins. Two, you can believe you knew of the oasis yourself and deny the assistance, like innate intuition, yet still reach us. Life wins again. Or three, you can ignore the phone because you don’t know the Patriot number of who told you the information and grind it underfoot as you walk away while a guy in a black hood shakes a scythe. The phone was a communication tool, no more, no less. Instead of asking me who gives the instructions, think about who you want to win.” She whammed her right fist into her left palm with a sharp crack and whispered hoarsely, “Pick up the phone yourself or keep your locked mind out of my business.”

Excerpted from Pull Aliens Pull, a Sci-Fi Adventure!Pull, Aliens! Pull! Ecover

 

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