Ben Boulder raised a hand as if in a classroom. “May I start the meeting now?”
Everyone settled in, watching as the younger Boulder brother shuffled a few notes. No one believed he needed to do that; he was really just waiting for the room to quiet before he began. Besides extreme talent as a Sandfire Glass designer and engineer, Ben had the best administrative mind in the group. What’s more, amazingly enough, he actually enjoyed monitoring and organizing the thousand details that went into managing a smoothly running organization. Jeremy, who not so secretly hated minutiae, had been delighted to let his son Ben handle that end of the business.
Ben was a natural bean counter and great at chairing meetings. Go Ben go.
The younger Boulder could also have been, literally, a rocket scientist. At the age of twenty-two, he’d mastered all but one requirement for a Physics and Engineering dual degree with Advanced Honors from Louisiana State University at New Baton Rouge–old Baton Rouge being well under water these days. That one requirement involved a term paper which was actually a thesis worthy of a PhD candidate. LSU specialized in turning out Engineers, some of the world’s finest, and their Physicists weren’t bad either. It said so right in their course catalogs and on their recruiting website as well as on the ads they ran on the high dollar holo network, so the public (gullible as ever) believed it must be true.
Actually, that much was true. Some of the best did graduate from Louisiana State. But the so called term papers for Senior Seminar 444 were sneaky. For one thing, they were considered under both law and custom to be University property. LSU, it turned out, held incredibly lucrative patents on more advanced discoveries in several fields than most of the combined North American corporate powers could claim. The school was, in brief, a master thief. It stole brainpower from its best and brightest, as did most such institutions.
Incredibly, more than ninety percent of the victims, aka LSU alumni, remained committed to the view that doubting this academic policy amounted to heresy worthy of death by burning at the stake.
Ben Boulder, raised by parents who combined survival skills from two separate cultures, considered only one thing to be heresy: Stupidity. He simply could not abide idiots, especially educated idiots. When his own exploratory work toward his Senior Thesis uncovered something even he with his youthful brilliance had not expected, he chose not to graduate. Instead, he stole his own idea, all of his notes on the subject, all the computer storage in which his raw data had been assembled, the several computers themselves, numerous peripherals worth thousands of credits, and everything else that related even marginally to his research. Then, on the way out of town, he mailed in his resignation from college–a rather formal way of dropping out–and headed on home to Reno.
In his wake, the chemically enhanced and surprisingly untraceable fire in LSU’s Senior Computer Lab melted the rest of the lab’s computers down to one big smoky puddle. Arson investigators found themselves unable to state with any conviction that the fire had been deliberately set, especially since the Senior Chemistry Lab happened to be housed in rooms adjoining those of the Senior Computer Lab. No one even suspected young Boulder despite the fact that the postmark on his resignation letter was dated the day after the fire made national news. In fact, it was generally assumed Mr. Boulder had been discouraged at the loss of his research; his faculty advisor had frequently upbraided him for his repeated failure to make backup copies, either offline or in the Cloud.
It was clear the poor lad simply hadn’t been able to stand the pain of seeing all that good pre-thesis legwork go bye-bye. He obviously lacked the inner fortitude to carry on. After all, he came from the lower classes; how much could one expect from them, really?
Jeremy Boulder knew what to expect. He expected his boys to exercise their common sense until it had big body builder muscles, and he was not disappointed. All of the Sandfire Glass discovery patents plus the secret processes they deliberately did not patent were actually Ben’s work. He and his father knew exactly what they were doing. Louisiana State could hardly sue a lifetime glassmaker for accidentally discovering a new process. Ben went to work in his father’s business…and now here they were.
“That wraps up the routine stuff,” Jeremy said, and Sven realized he’d been woolgathering. There’d been something about continued growth while they were gone, and how Ben and Hallie were engaged to be engaged, or something like that. That probably just meant the young folks were hooked up, which was what engaged to be engaged people naturally did.
Except for a couple of fanatical virgins he’d known about twenty years ago, but that was another story.
Ben rose and went to the audiovisual table. His talk included slides, and he liked to do his speaking with the clicker in his hand. Gave him a sense of security, speaking as the authority to so many of his elders.
“Sven, Kate, and Gene brought back these items,” he began. “Here we have the Sorter…here the bin of blank chips…here the as yet unsorted chips still full of data…and here the three manuals. The biggest surprise was in the third manual. This volume is almost entirely in code–some of which we have cracked–and contains several sections of information despite its relatively small size.
“One of those sections does indeed contain the scientific blueprint for building The Box, another the operating instructions for The Sorter.”
Pete couldn’t contain himself. “Does this mean we can build our own boxes, bro? Oh!” He caught himself. “Didn’t mean to interrupt the professor. Sorry.”
Was that sarcasm? Ben couldn’t be sure, but older brothers could definitely be a pain sometimes, and Pete was no exception. On the other hand, the question had been anticipated.
There was a questioning silence.
“No,” he continud slowly, “because some of the materials and equipment necessary to tool up for such a thing are not within our means. Not now and probably not ever, not even if Sven finishes training Pete to bounce in and out of people–come to think of it Pete, you haven’t started with those lessons yet, have you?–and the two of them begin lugging everything they can carry into this building from every secret source in the blarging world. If I’m not mistaken, some of that equipment takes us a whole lot of cubic feet of space and weighs thousands of pounds. And also no, to head off your next question, I do not know why construction clues for one machine and operating instructions for the other were printed in the same volume. But that’s still not the most interesting thing in there.”
He paused to let the expectation build. Ah, how sweet the power of the performer, the audience mere putty in his hands. Not like Edsella’s standup comedy gig. That would terrify him. But this…this was different. He milked the moment until the last possible second, barely avoiding his father’s inevitable growl to get on with it.
“The most interesting thing…is the discovery, or I should say discoveries, the Jupies made before developing this technology.”
This time the silence had that definitely stunned quality. Homer Arbogast, supposedly a slow though deep thinker, got it first. “Then the Jovians….”
“That’s right.” Ben beamed at him, a teacher commending a star pupil. “Everything used by the Guild is Jovian technology. Or was in the beginning at least. Earth people may have refined it, but the concept originated on Jupiter.”
Cory Arbogast had an almost feral look in her eyes. “Would you guess it was a case of humans stealing this…concept…from the Stick Men…or was it more likely collaboration?”
Collaboration with the enemy carried an automatic death penalty anywhere in the known world except for Switzerland, which had declared itself neutral in the Jovian War until it was finally bombed back to the Stone Age by a joint task force of high altitude suborb jets. The United States, Russia, and all of the Arabic speaking countries had joined with Germany, France, Spain, and England in making the point that one could carry neutrality just so far.
Italy managed to abstain, but only because Jovian spores had decimated the entire boot and it would be a generation later before Rome or Milan could produce a healthy pilot of any sort.
It was said the only remainder of the Swiss nation was the winter wind as it flew screaming down the slopes of the desolate Alps, sliding over the ridges that had been turned into black glass in the space of a single day. The official histories had it that neither side in the Jovian War had used thermonuclear devices, but there was a footnote, a single exception when the world had risen up against the Swiss to point out that they were either with us or they were against us; there was none of this on-the-fence malarkey.
Of course, that hadn’t stopped the Jupies from using weapons we still didn’t understand to create the Blasted Lands.
“There’s no way I can be certain at this point,” Ben admitted, “although the clues so far do tend to point toward collaboration. There are a few parts where the translations almost have to be Jupie versions. That would mean at least one Stick Man was working with what appear to be American contacts in order to deliberately passs the info to our side.”
“But–” Kate couldn’t contain herself any longer. “–why would they want to do that. I mean, what did we give them for it?”
“Can’t say.” Ben shrugged. “But I’d like to get to my point here. It’s not about The Box itself or even the fact that this means we could all be shot as traitors despite the official change in policy after the War. The fascinating stuff relates to frequency. Hold on; I’ll try to simplify.”
“Basically, this technology solved the faster than light problem. It seems the speed of light is the threshold to the astral plane. As we all know, Sven has been teaching us about the various planes from the viewpoint of a Seeder and as a student of Zarism, both. The astral plane is the plane of emotions, the first major dimension higher than that of this Earth plane. A Soul who Travels consciously can directly project to the astral plane either outside of a human body–or inside a human body, because the human body is a microcosm of the greater Universe, the body of God if you will.”
Newcomer Hallie McKay looked totally confused. Kate understood how she felt; her own eyes must be glassy enough by now to use as marbles. Sven still tried to reassure her; with her high I.Q. level, it’d sink in naturally sooner or later.
She certainly hoped so. Feeling stupid really pissed her off.
Ben continued, completely oblivious to the fact that he’d lost part of his audience.
“Okay, so it appears that Jovian scientists were able to produce a device–the first Box–which could speed up the molecules within an individual’s body to that of the speed of light, or slightly beyond. When that happens, the person disappears on Earth, or Jupiter, or wherever, and appears on the astral plane. But according to the manual, this also killed the user every time.”
“Oh, great invention.” Kah Boulder rolled her eyes. “Must have gone through a lot of volunteers on that one.”
“I suppose they did, Mom. But then, maybe Jupies have volunteers to spare. Anyway, their net breakthrough was the tie-in with transfer to a living host. Maybe the first success was the transfer into one’s own inner worlds and jumping into another person came later. Don’t know about that; insufficient data. But it does appear that at first the inventors were limited to the emotional worlds, wither their own or those of others.
“Then came the discovery that there was another constant, which was the speed of memory. This correlated to the causal plane area. Once they had that, the pattern was established and it took very little additional time to discover the threshold to the mental plane.”
Homer Arbogast murmured, “The speed of thought.” His own thinking, it seemed to him, had speeded up a bit these days, whatever that meant.
“Exactly. The speed of thought. As Sven has told us, The Box has settings for one more area known as the Ehteric Plane or, in humans, the subconscious, also known as the unconscious.”
“I’d like to be unconscious right now,” Kate muttered. “This is making my head hurt.” She didn’t normally attend these meetings, nor did Gene, but since they’d been part of the team that robbed the Guild, she’d felt she had to attend this one time. Next time, she’d definitely stay home. Gene, she noticed with some resentment, seemed to be enjoying himself.
Sven asked, “So what’s the speed threshold for the Ehteric Plane, Ben? Warp factor nine?”
“Got me. There is a brief passage about it, but I haven’t worked it out yet. Not all that easy to interpret, you know, even once you know the code.”
“Okay. You’ve accomplished a lot in what, a day and a half? Sure as Hell more than the rest of us could have done, unless Hallie here is a closet physicist? Are you?”
“Not hardly.” The hard muscled girl’s lips twitched upward slightly. She had a nice voice. A tad on the masculine side, but nice.
“Well,” Ben went on, “That about does it for now. There are still several sections of that manual I haven’t cracked yet. Each section uses a different encryption to confuse the outsider. I just thought you’d all want to know what I’d found out so far.”
The Seeder rose and stretched, working out a few kinks he’d never noticed prior to the Guild raid. He looked over at young Boulder. “There is one other implication we should consider,” he pointed out to the room at large, “which pertains to Ben having now told us The Box is basically Jupie technology. That means their personal inner worlds have to be composed of exactly the same levels as those of humans. It has to be so, or their invention wouldn’t work for us. I could be wrong, but that’s my thinking. And that means, enemies or not, we and the Jovians are more alike under the skin than we are different.”
“I’ll leave the psych end of it to you, Sven,” Ben stated firmly. “The simple mechanics of The Box are enough to keep me occupied for a while.”
With that severe understatement, he closed the meeting, leaving Sven chuckling. Only Ben Boulder could consider the major miracle of Box technology to be “simple mechanics”.