Chapter 15: A Question Of Gravity
Chapter 15: A Question Of Gravity
The Holy Grail of normal gravity was first achieved in 2083 with the rotation of Unity Station, then four years later with Jeremiah Benton’s Graviton Plate. The difficulty of readjusting to gravity after prolonged exposure to weightlessness had affected the life of many astronauts. As plans were being made to rotate future space stations, Dr. Jeremiah Benton was working to simulate gravity harnessing natural magnetic forces via the graviton particle. His breakthrough came as he mixed specific metals with samples of muatainium. The resulting alloy had a gravitational type of magnetism when an electrical field wads passed through it. The level of gravity could be adjusted by varying the strength of the electrical field. The potential for deep-space exploration had opened up as never before. The Graviton Plate was like a magnet and could be placed on a wall, a floor or even a ceiling. Wherever the Plate was laid essentially became the floor.
Summer of 2090 saw Colossus completed and Unity towed to lunar orbit. Larger, more powerful craft made short work of the job as Unity reached its new orbit in only three days. When the day came for Unity to be released, I was on the rim of Shackleton Crater looking to the north near the horizon. Unity was shining in the sunlight as the largest star visible in the black sky. Thoughts and memories of K'neshia flooded my mind as I watched Unity’s release. Thoughts of my first flight on the Phoenix, her leadership on subsequent missions and, unfortunately, her untimely death in the airlock. OK, I admit it. She was the one woman that I had a crush on. Of all the women I’d known over the centuries, she was someone special. I only wish I would have told her so before... but it was too late. Then it hit me. I finally understood Frank’s obsession with Selena. Though K'neshia was human, I was infatuated—head over heels in love. But there was no way to tell her now.
My headset suddenly crackled to life. “Mason!”
What the...? There it was again. That voice. I reset my communication link and headed back to the crew quarters, hoping it was just a case of crew chatter or cross-talk. As I removed my helmet in the locker room, I thought I heard a woman laughing through the earpiece. I quickly looked around the room to see if anyone heard it. But no one was in the room. After my shower I headed to my quarters for some shut-eye.
Much of Colossus had already been in use as only a few flight hangers and maintenance decks remained to be completed. At four miles in diameter it was the largest vessel yet constructed. For the first few years Colossus rotated to simulate gravity at its outer edge. But with Dr. Jeremiah Benton’s development of the “Graviton Plate” alloy, gravity was produced in any intensity up to 1-1/2 times that of Earth. The device was perfected to the point where smaller versions were installed in space craft to allow enough gravity to prevent motion sickness in even the most vulnerable. Early failures occurred at the most unexpected times, such as dinner. Liquids were required to remain in sealed containers until the bugs could be worked out.
I was one of the first people selected to experience the new ship-sized generators. Dr. Benton also invited Frank Hughes, Tim Knighton, Unity Station Flight Surgeon Harry Summers in addition to various and sundry bureaucrats and politicians to the Riata for the demonstration. I noticed a couple of the political administrative assistants were Sandrite. While introductions were made, I was able to exchange information with them. Frank joined in some of the conversations and was a great help in setting up dinners and other times we could meet.
Before Dr. Benton’s demonstration, I cornered Frank. “It happened again... the voice. What do I do?”
“I told you to contact the Council and report it. Get in touch with Councilman Shondrahn. I’ll let her know you’ll be contacting her.”
Remember when I said before that I would give you more information on Jaleenah? I'm afraid you'll have to wait a bit longer. But suffice it to say my concern with Jaleenah wasn’t with her position, but our past—long past—relationship. For about 90 years we were considered an item. It was back in France during the 1700’s. We moved around a few times, but always worked it out to where we would meet in order to rekindle our relationship. She was, and hopefully still is, a good friend. But the romantic part of our relationship ended when she met and ultimately married a mutual friend. Isn’t that the way it usually goes? I made a mental note to contact her when the demo was over.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please hold on to the handrails for the duration of the demonstration as a safety precaution. What you are about to experience is a giant leap forward in technology, and a newly opened door to deep space exploration. Medically speaking, prolonged exposure to zero or micro gravity is a debilitating process. Gravity is required to maintain good bone health and good circulation among other health concerns.”
“Called the Graviton Plate, the device has been perfected by use on Unity and now Colossus. The technical information is available on your room consoles for your review, so I won’t bore you with the details at this time.” His grin spoke volumes. This guy was genuinely friendly and at ease with both himself and others. I wanted to spend some time with him and pick his brain. Well, not literally. I was leaning toward becoming a pure vegan.
Sorry... bad joke.
As he continued his presentation, he pointed out the panel which controlled the Plate. The gravity strength could be adjusted from zero to 1-1/2 times that of Earth. Why anyone would want to weigh 50% more than normal was beyond me. But after some thought I figured it would be great for training purposes on larger planetary missions. Besides, I’m sure Dr. Benton would be able to modify the system to increase the gravity for further mission training.
He had us position our feet on the deck in preparation for the increase in gravity. As he increased the power to the generator we could feel our feet contact the floor. I started to feel a heaviness on my chest. We passed the threshold of lunar gravity and made our way toward Martian gravity. I watched as Knighton let go of the hand rail. The look on his face was a comical blend of jubilation then terror as Dr. Benton pushed the generator to Earth gravity. Poor Tim... he’d been in space for so long that he wasn’t used to much more than lunar gravity. A couple of the politicians grabbed the hand rails tighter in an effort to keep from falling to the deck. As the gravitational strength hit the max, my normally 200 pound frame was now buckling under the strain of 300 pounds.
Glancing around the deck, Dr. Benton mercifully reduced the gravitational pull back to lunar strength. It felt so close to regular gravity that I could immediately see the potential for extended deep space travel. I was ecstatic! My life was going to be one exciting ride from here on out. But something was going to need to change soon: my identity. I’d been Mason Hammond now for almost 60 years, making me close to 90. Just one more thing to contact the Council about.
After returning to my quarters I pulled out the rounder. The rounder is the official Sandrite communication device, developed shortly before the fall of the Sumerian Empire. Of course it had been modified over the centuries and kept secret from the rest of mankind. I made contact with the Council and reported my request for Moon to create a new identity for me. Bahlnoor Al Kamir, the Council’s Communications Director, commented that he was wondering how much longer I was going to wait before calling in for a new ID. I had a habit of cutting it close, sometimes too close. There was the time in the early Roman Empire when I was going by the moniker of Romulus Berridius, and was caught some 45 years after leaving Rome when a former Roman Senator saw me in southern Gaul. He knew it was me, and I knew that he knew, and he knew that I knew that he knew it was me. Needless to say, Romulus Berridius met with an unfortunate demise later that night. Of course the body was burned beyond all recognition. But the size, weight and other characteristics matched mine, so Senator Jarris believed it was me.
Thank God they didn’t have any real forensics back then.