TC37


Ithuriel dug a large chamber in the precise center of his ice ball, and there he constructed from scratch a number of research macros. He also built a pair of hand-held macros for defense, much like the Golden Gift (or the silver copies that were the newest armament of House Gerash) in the event of a home invasion by their neighbors.

Ithuriel remembered vividly when, as a five year old child named Edgar Shybear, Yeshua brought his older self back about fifteen years in time to explain the workings of the Golden Gift to Robyn and Dory. The older version of Edgar had ferreted out the secret with no input from any of the Elohim, to their great pleasure.

“There are two realities, ladies,” Edgar the Elder began. “The first one is our everyday world up here on this scale, where things change smoothly. The second one the sub-microscopic world where things act with little discrete jumps. Down there things behave in ways that go totally against common sense, and we usually never see it. But sometimes the strangeness of that quantum behavior is magnified up to our macroscopic level. That’s why I call this gadget a macro.”

“Like superconductivity?” Robyn suggested.

“Correct. We’ve known for decades that if we get a loop of wire cold enough, resistance falls to zero. An electric current will actually flow around inside it forever. Also if you get liquid helium cold enough, it will become super-fluid. Viscosity, which is the gooey property of syrup and ketchup, literally falls to zero. Start the stuff swirling around inside a beaker and it will never stop moving. Call it superfluidity.”

“How does that really work, Edgar?” Dory asked. She remembered these concepts vaguely from the excellent private school in Selleck operated by the Church of End Dome.

“That part is still not very clear, even today. The electrons in the loop, or the helium in the beaker, join up in pairs that talk to each other somehow, instantly, no matter how far apart they get. We say they are entangled. When one electron or helium atom zigs, the other one zags, and the result is no net resistance to their flow.” “How does that tie in to the Golden Gift?”

“Directly, mother, directly. I fired quantum-tangled pairs of electrons from a super-conducting ring at quantum-tangled pairs of super-fluid liquid helium atoms in a little glass lens, and I got quantum-tangled pairs of light bouncing off it, in the form of twinned photons of purple light.

“So it combines every form of super-blank-ity-blank-blank!” Dory said.

“Yes! One of the twin photons corkscrews right, the other one left, and if they hit a target atom, the atom doesn’t know what to do so it just sort of stands up at right angles to the rest of our universe, and for lack of a better term I’ll say it’s ‘phantomized.’”

And after that leg up the B’nei Elohim were off and running on a new track.

Chivalrous was well-stocked with canned and frozen food from Palato and the Jovian system, but even the large stores scattered throughout the ship and now also the interior of the ice ball were not sufficient to tide them over on the long inbound crossing that Ithuriel proposed to do. So Jabniel became something of a gardener. The prospect of starving to death halfway between Saturn and the asteroid belt focused her mind on this new hobby to a very intense degree.

In his man cave Ithuriel set up a sodium “fountain” with a laser trap, which was one of his favorite toys. This used a laser tuned just below the natural emission lines of sodium atoms to supercool them to the point where individual atoms could be seen by the naked eye. It wasn’t their small size that made atoms invisible (the eye only saw the individual photons they cast off anyway) it was their rapid motion. At room temperature, atoms in a gas buzzed around faster than a speeding bullet. With a laser trap like the one in Ithuriel’s lab they could be slowed to just a few inches per second, or even slower.

Ithuriel’s apparatus worked because the laser frequency he chose wasn’t high enough to cause the atom to immediately re-emit the light after absorbing it, so the sodium atom, seeking to drop to a lower energy state, made up the deficit with the excess kinetic energy of its own motion. Eventually the sodium atoms grew so cold that he could actually see a fountain of bright yellow dots rising in the vacuum, and if the ice ball was much bigger, or under acceleration, he would also see the atoms falling back under their own gravity.

But there was one thing Ithuriel had never found time to do before, and that was to combine a macro with his laser trap. He did this now because he was attempting to find a modification to the basic macro design that would convert the sodium atoms to dark matter on a temporary basis, rather than permanently.

Ithuriel pressed a button to cause a glass ceiling to slide into place in the middle of the fountain. The sodium atoms in the fountain struck the glass and bounced off (or adhered to the glass in some cases) but they went no higher.

After that, Ithuriel turned the macro effect on, which intercepted the fountain under the glass ceiling. After the sodium atoms passed through the black beam they no longer bounced off or adhered to the glass, but passed right through. All of this stuff he already knew. The macro made whatever the beam touched into phantom particles. The sodium atoms continued on their way, right through the glass barrier and even through each other, interacting only with gravity, of which there was practically none.

But to Ithuriel’s great surprise, almost seven seconds later the atoms reappeared again in the same position they would have been if they hadn’t been struck by the beam or blocked by the glass.

Interesting, he thought. The dark matter made by the Golden Gift had been unstable all along. How did I miss that?

The answer was immediately obvious. None of the samples he had phantomized before had been brought so close to absolute zero. In seven seconds, most of the atoms of a room temperature target would be scattered in a sphere between ten and twenty miles in radius, with half of that sphere under the surface of the Earth.

But something was bothering him. Phantom matter could lead to remarkable advances of propulsion and weaponry, as he alluded to Lord Kirodiel when he received his commission. But if the process of making matter into phantom matter was repeatable, in perhaps a closed loop, then it would lead to a situation where far more energy could be extracted than went into the setup.

Ithuriel’s favorite quote of all time, the maxim by which he composed his life, was written by Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington in 1915:

“The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.”

With this bit of wisdom foremost in his mind, Ithuriel modified his experiment to cause the sodium atom fountain to pass through a second macro beam after the 6.8 second decay back to normal matter had transpired. And as he suspected, none of the atoms could be persuaded to undergo phantomization a second time.

And that by itself was remarkable because it revealed a property of subatomic particles that no one had stumbled onto before. There was a bit of information associated with each one (Ithuriel visualized it as a little mailbox flag) that was set when the particle was phantomized and could never be reset.

When Ithuriel had a chance to tell Mark Felton about this, Mark would probably proceed to make one hell of a dense read-only data storage system. In the meantime, he took great satisfaction at knowing he had solved the problem Lord Kirodiel had set before him.

But brilliant as he was, Ithuriel was still only human, not even nephilim. He made a small but crucial mistake during the assembly of the macros he built for himself and Jabs as personal defense.

One time when Ithuriel was working in the central chamber he was caught off-guard by one of Stratis’ henchmen, Azkeel, who had managed to get into the ice ball by stealth. He had Ithuriel in his cross-hairs, dead to rights.

But Jabs, working inside the Chivalrous, happened to see them together on a screen so it became her turn to be Ithuriel’s knight in shining armor. With a stab of her finger on a nearby button, the air quietly began rushing out of the central cavern. Ithuriel caught a ruffle of paper, realized what was happening, drew a breath, and held it.

Azkeel, however, did not know what was happening so he continued to breathe in and out as the air rapidly thinned. Black and white dots danced across his vision as he grew more and more confused, and too stupid to drop the faceplate on his helmet. In a few seconds after that he was unconscious.

Still observed by Jabs, Ithuriel grabbed his hand macro and turned it on the prone Azkeel. But nothing happened. The intruder’s chest did not disappear.

Ithuriel’s macro was working, but the beam used photons with frequencies a full octave down from factory-spec. Azkeel’s chest was phantomized, yet the atoms remained in place, and after that they could not be phantomized again, even if Ithuriel could lay his hands on a macro that worked according to the original prints.

Jabs hit another button to begin restoring the air to the cavern. In less than a minute Azkeel stirred back to awareness.

Generally, water inside the human (or nephilim) body is not free. It’s mostly trapped in the spaces between knots of proteins, which are like tangled phone cords. Even blood is just a thick syrupy mess, almost a gel. If Ithuriel had fired his faulty macro beam at Azkeel’s gut he might have just run a slight fever.

Instead Ithuriel fired the macro at Azkeel’s lungs once again and even though his chest could not be phantomized anymore, the fresh air in his lungs was being phantomized for the first time. All the air molecules in his lungs found they could drift right through each other instead of bouncing off each other like before. So there was no more pressure. His lungs became like bottomless pits ready to accept any additional amount of air.

So Azkeel took an involuntary final gasp that went on and on as long as the macro continued to fire, until maybe ten times his lung’s normal capacity was crammed with phantom molecules of air in quantum flux, all superimposed one over the top of each other.

Then, seven seconds after Ithuriel turned the macro off, all those molecules started obeying Pauli’s Exclusion Principle once again, which said they couldn’t occupy the same space at the same time. All that suddenly superheated high pressure air came roaring back out of Azkeel’s mouth like rocket exhaust, taking flaming bits of what used to be his delicate lungs along with it. It was an incredibly painful but relatively quick death. And that was the end of their intruder problem.

“Fools rush in,” Ithuriel muttered, “where angels fear to tread.” The same principle that had killed Azkeel was the principle Ithuriel would one day propose to drive Mastema’s warships.

Jabs entered the ice cavern armed with her own macro, and found that the stranger was already dead. “Who the hell was he?”

“Probably one of our nosy neighbors. I don’t know how he got in here, but I don’t want to wait around for another try by those guys. We have no choice. Get ready for departure.”

Some time later, Ithuriel realized the mistake he had made with his defensive macro. He actually considered it a feature rather than a bug. Ithuriel called a macro that did not break internal chemical bonds a sub-macro and thoughts of many future applications presented before his darting mind. It also stood to reason that if a sub-macro maintained molecular integrity, a super-macro would be able to break atoms apart.

There had been no news from Azkeel since Stratis dispatched him to Ithuriel’s iceball, but he knew something was up. Predictably, when Ithuriel started his burn, Stratis shadowed him with his own ship.

Ithuriel’s navigation calculations involved the use of a right triangle. One leg of the triangle was the 4 miles per second of velocity change Ithuriel needed to get from their circular orbit in the A-ring up to escape velocity. The other leg of the triangle was the 3 miles per second of velocity change he needed to get from Saturn to the Gravel Pile. The third leg of the triangle, then, 5 miles per second, was the bottom line, the total velocity change he needed to come up with. It was going to consume about half of the ice ball’s water as propellant just to get the journey underway.

Now anything in orbit around Saturn that wasn’t flying exactly along the equator will cross the equator twice on each circuit, once going from north to south, and again going from south to north. As the ice rock began moving away from Saturn, at every equatorial crossing Ithuriel skillfully wove through narrow gaps in Saturn’s A Ring where the sheet of floating ice was thin or non-existent.

It took many days. After each ring crossing he had a twelve hour rest period before preparing for the next one. During those down times, Ithuriel pieced together what happened with his macro and the intruder, and this suggested a narrow path out of their predicament, but he had to work quickly.

When they were free of the A-ring and emerged into empty space, Ithuriel stopped weaving the iceball by manipulating the exhaust stream and sailed straight and true.

Stratis saw Ithuriel’s random maneuvering cease. He said, “Loreth, you may now register our displeasure with this Jabniel bitch for the loss of our colleague Azkeel.”

They lobbed a shell from their railgun, which flew across the intervening space and hit dead-center, right between the six roaring engines of Chivalrous‘ hexagonal drive section. The back door was taken out in the explosion, and air began to rush out of the ship.

“We have lost hull integrity,” Jabs said, striking buttons that would close a series of hatches between the habitation module and the service tunnel to the rear.

“If we survive this little tussle,” Ithuriel said, “I’ll go back there in a suit and repair the damage.”

“Return the gesture,” Jabs told him. “I thought this was a Gerash warship.”

“I’d love to, dearheart, but this Gerash warship has its nose buried in six hundred feet of ice and its ass sticking out in space. We’re going to have to just try to evade them. All I can do right now is program random course changes and hope they won’t be able to connect with another round.”

And there was another problem looming. The F Ring, focused by shepherd moons, and even braided in spots, was too dense to plow through, and too wide to hop over on the ascending and descending nodes. It sat out there at the edge of the ring system like the Great Barrier Reef sat off Australia.

But the F Ring only blocked the slower descent ellipse used to get an ice ball from Saturn to the outer edge of the asteroid belt. The faster ice balls headed for Mars or Earth-Luna just missed grazing the outer edge of the ring. Due to this basic fact of astrodynamics, no one ever actually tried to send ice from Saturn to the outer asteroids until Ithuriel’s current stunt, certainly not Stratis and his ilk.

After setting the nav console to weave randomly when it flew, Ithuriel left with Jabs. They floated to the simple spherical cavern at the exact center of their ice ball, reached by a long thin tube melted into the ice.

As the ship whipped the iceball this way and that to evade more of Stratis’ incoming shells and the cave seemed to turn around them, Ithuriel and Jabniel suited up as they hovered in free fall next to a pair of new gadgets.

As they reached final approach to the F Ring, Ithuriel gave his wife a heads’ up. “Here goes.”

Ithuriel’s entire ice asteroid, including Ithuriel himself, his wife, and the Chivalrous, was sub-phantomized by an omni-directional burst from the first gadget. The air in the small room, no longer confined by collisions with the walls or by collisions with each other, rushed out almost instantly. Ithuriel and Jabniel found themselves in a total vacuum.

The actual passage through the F-ring took far less than one second.

Ithuriel and Jabs felt nothing. Nor did they see anything but a momentary blankness. With even their retinas sub-phantomized, their retina did not block photons of light, just as their bodies did not block the ice of the F-ring as they passed through. But seven seconds after Ithuriel’s gadget pulsed they could see again.

Some liquid oxygen prepared by Ithuriel beforehand was quickly brought to a boil by the second gadget and filled the room with air again so Ithuriel and Jabs could raise the faceplate on their vacsuits.

“We did it!” Ithuriel cheered as they accomplished their breakout to clear space beyond all further obstacles. “We made it through!”

“No collision,” Stratis’ one surviving henchman Loreth said on the pursuing ship. “The F-Ring wasn’t so much as ruffled by her passage!”

“Jabniel must have found a hole,” Stratis concluded. He recklessly steered his ship in after her. Not a glimmer of the truth, that they used a macro to penetrate the F-ring, registered in his mind.

“There’s no hole!” Loreth screamed at the last instant. “Veer off!” But it was far too late.

A red glow infused an arc of the F-ring. It came from kinetic energy as his unlamented ship disintegrated and the broken fragments ping-ponged through the ice, followed by secondary explosions as his disintegrating magazine of railgun rounds detonated. This time the F Ring was ruffled. And that was the end of Ithuriel’s Stratis gang problem.

“Fools rush in,” Ithuriel muttered, “where angels fear to tread.”