tagSci-Fi & FantasyF_Cubed Ch. 01

F_Cubed Ch. 01


The Fossil Fuel Fellowship

Chapter One: The Meeting

The conference room is located on the eleventh floor; it is designated only by a brass plate with the room number "1108." Inside the room two security guards are scanning for bugs, bombs, and buggers. The Master-at-arms is Robert Reeves and his assistant is Stanley Smythe. For this meeting they are wearing their dress uniforms. Both are uncomfortable. They prefer the comfort of a suit with loafers instead of the starched shirt and plain Oxfords. Those lace oxfords are even more rigid because they are fitted with steel toes. For this meeting their shoes have to be spit-shined as well.

Robert, who likes to be called "Bob," is busy searching the undersides of tables and chairs. Every so often he finds a piece of chewing gum or some dried bugger. Stanley, who likes to be called "Stan," is following with a vacuum cleaner and a test kit. Each foreign object is tested for toxins or heavy metals. Soon the participants will arrive and everything must be perfect. The participants are major actors in the energy market; the meeting will be more closely guarded than a meeting of the mafia bosses.

The room itself is spacious. In the center of the room is a large mahogany table. The table is of unique design. The table top is tempered glass with space beneath to slide a laptop or notebook. This way the surface is always free of clutter, save coffee cups and danish confections. Beneath the table top is a two inch thick steel plate, a Faraday cage and security shield. When the table is not in use, a huge centerpiece of flowers is present. The centerpiece is composed of endangered species as a tribute to the influence and authority of the participants.

Bob shoves the centerpiece into a black trash bag. There is a knock at the door. It is the caterer---expected, vetted, and trusted. Still the coffee, sweet rolls, and condiments are examined, some broken open, scanned, and tested. Bob, Stan, and the caterer set the second table, parallel to the first and against the northern wall, with the "eats and treats" for the meeting. Once done, the caterer leaves, taking the bagged centerpiece for disposal in an anonymous refuge container.

Bob tests the tint on the southern wall. To his left, on the eastern wall, is a portrait of some captain of industry and the massive, throne-like chair of the chairman. The only way in or out of the room is through a massive door on the western wall. When the participants begin arriving, Bob will check their credentials. There is a viewing screen that can be lowered for slide presentations and animations. The screen descends from the ceiling above and in front of the western wall. The windows are equipped with automatic tinting functionality. Everything is strictly state-of-the-art. The furniture is mahogany, thick and heavy, with a lustrous hue of old money.

The first to arrive is the office assistant, Jenny. Bob enjoys patting her down and scanning her marvelous physique with an ultrasound device. She has a slender neck, perfectly proportioned B-cups, a finely arched spine, lean, lissome, lithesome, lanky legs, and a carved ivory derriere. This specimen of womanhood could easily cause Pygmalion to cast aside his statuesque Galatea. This is the kind of woman who makes a man hurt in his intestines at first sight. Any man who would not feel the crass, carnal craving for Jenny is mentally ill at best. She is wearing a tailored business suit, high heel black shoes, and black silk underwear. Like all executives, she is carrying a laptop computer. Stan carefully examines the hardware. Bob, who is higher in rank, always seems to get the better assignments.

Jenny seats herself to the right side of the chairman's throne and plugs in her laptop. She sorts through files and lowers the screen, checking the video. She returns the screen to its hidden position just before the participants arrive. The first are the lower level bureaucrats and scientists. They dare not be late. The major players arrive stylishly late and all await the coming of the chairman. Bob announces the chairman: "Mr. England is present." All stand and applaud. Mr. England is the chairman of the Fossil Fuel Fellowship (F-Cubed). He seats himself and the group follows suit. The meeting is called to order. Jenny reads the minutes and checks the attendance.

Mr. England delivers the opening remarks: "We are facing serious problems. The crude oil supplies are dwindling and the ecologists are trying to restrict our coal and natural gas production. We have won political position with natural gas; however, the 'clean coal' initiative seems to be in trouble."

"We continue to pay lip service to the 'renewable energy' sources," the chairman remarks. There are some giggles and chuckles. "Solar energy has always been too expensive. Now that it has been fielded for some time, it has turned out to be an ultra-high maintenance item. No one ever thought to calculate the half-life or Mean Time To Failure (MTTF) of a solar panel. We pumped some money into it to satisfy the politicians and news media. But we don't need to anymore. Insofar as wind power is concerned, it has two major problems. First, it is intermittent. Second, it needs connecting transmission lines. The generated current has to be converted into sixty-cycle Alternating Current (AC). It turns out that this input to the power grid is difficult to synch. Clocks running on the sixty-cycle current are subject to losing or gaining time. The consumers will have to purchase new chronometers. The day of the wind-up grandfather clock has returned." The meeting breaks into raucous laughter and guffaws as the energy minions celebrate yet another renewable energy fiasco.

"If you recall from our last meeting, Mr. England remarks, "we asked for new ideas, albeit impractical, to satiate the lust of the politicians and news media. They demand that we support renewable energy sources: clean, cheap, copious. So, Jenny, bring up the slides so we can see what is being suggested. Remember, nothing will ever be superior to Old King Coal." The lights dim and the window tint darkens as the slide presentation begins.

The first set of slides depict an outrageous device. It is a piston, a meter in diameter that is driven up and down a hole in the ground to generate electricity and water. The idea is to burn dried grass and bushes in drought areas to clear the parched earth from fires and produce water from the hydrocarbon incineration as well as electricity. The combustion raises the piston, which is a magnet, to cut the lines of flux through the cylinder walls. Even the contributor admitted that it was a "Rube Goldberg" device. Mr. England joked: "Give them a thousand dollar grant. We can get a million in publicity. For a grand I doubt that they can even build a prototype. Call it an 'ecology-friendly' machine."

There is a break and sidebar conversations. There are problems with the populace as fuel costs continue to rise and global warming is causing catastrophic droughts, floods, and monster storms. While a select few executives in the crude oil, natural gas, and coal industries become billionaires, the vast bulk of the people are suffering in grinding poverty. Whispers abound about a need to calm the dissent and quiet the masses. The bourgeois must be silenced; there must be some opiate for the proletariat. One priest in the Church of England accurately observed that "Religion is the opiate of the people." Modern 3D interactive movies and fembots (gynoids) are the current "bread and circuses" to subdue the dangerous minds.

After the break a second set of slides is displayed. While Jenny is discounted as a simple office assistant, she picks up on the buzz of the managers. Their calloused indifferent to the needs of the workers is brazen. She adroitly displays the next set of slides. It is a solar furnace boiling sea water and collecting it in a tower to produce both fresh water and electricity. Several of the physicists have determined this blueprint to be impractical and unworkable. Still, Mr. England wishes to leave to leave no stone unturned. "Send it back for the inventors' review and tell them to produce a prototype."

Jenny brings up more sets of slides, few merit any consideration, however. Mr. English is becoming annoyed. He rudely remarks: "All we need is some populist revolt among the electorate. Let the masses decide to 'soak the rich' for their sufferings and we may all be in for handcuffs and a 'perp walk.' We need something that sells. Sex, of course, sells. But this is a different matter. Here we need to divide the scientific community and confound the politicians."

Other slide shows follow. None seems to please the gathering. Then appears an interesting proposition: An unpublished doctoral dissertation on the decomposition of the proton. The dissertation is copyrighted by Harry Sloan, a graduate student in physics. The narrator interjects some confidential information.

"This individual proposed a cheap, clean, copious energy source some time ago. The F-Cubed took immediate action to nip this process in the bud. Mr. Sloan lost his fellowship and teaching assistant ship." This is uttered by the narrator, the representative from "Ultra-clean and Environment-friendly" coal. (Isn't "Clean Coal" an oxymoron?) "We used to thwart alternative fuels, when we had a hegemony and gas was cheap. Now we have to pretend to support their ridiculous research."

While Jenny had been working at the headquarters office of F-Cubed, this was her first formal meeting. She had some uneasy suspicions from her first interview; however, the Fossil Fuel Fellowship paid well and offered a plethora of benefits. Even as an office administrative assistant she seemed to attract good vibes. The uneasiness is focused in this meeting. The narrator's mention of applying unethical or immoral means to obtain some end result seems out of place. Mr. England is also frowning.

"We don't discuss that side of the house in an open meeting," Mr. England retorted. "This is strictly sidebar. Jenny, purge those comments from the minutes." Bob and Stan are bored and wait patiently for Mr. England to get around to their assignment in this matter.

"Yes, Mr. England," Jenny replied. Even erased, deleted, and purged, the comments stuck in Jenny's mind.

"Bob," Mr. England speaks, "why don't you and Stan check out this Harry Sloan individual. If he's still alive, make him an offer. Meanwhile I want our scientists and engineers work this with a spin and offer it to the public relations people for examination. This might turn into a fine piece of propaganda."

"And you," Mr. England directs this remark to the presenting narrator. "You make sure that this is totally impractical and unworkable. Still, to the masses it must seem plausible. When experts disagree, who is one to believe? And our experts are masters at prevarication, subterfuge, and fabrication."

"Sir," Stan asks, "is it certain that this procedure is impractical, impossible, or ridiculous?" Several others in the meeting seem nonplussed as well.

"It is definitely a novel idea," the narrator droned on. "This is as unlikely as a perpetual motion machine. Otherwise, it would have been more difficult to bury the idea and toss that Harry Sloan out of academia."

Chapter Two: The Investigation

"How is the document search going, Stan?" Robert Reeves inquires.

"I have found the copyright document," Stanley Smythe replies. "I thought it would be twenty pages or so, like Einstein's dissertation; however, this behemoth is 350 pages long. It is mostly Riemann-Stieltjes integrals. He puts forth a number of numerical approximations to dimensionless physical constants. Somewhere is the claim that a 'non-linear driving function' can alternate the proton spin and cause it to decay. But it's all Greek to me."

Bob laughs. "Me also, but that's not the issue. The bosses want to generate the impression that they are courting alternate energy sources. Otherwise, governments might decide to regulate or socialize the drilling and mining. Or the populace might riot and attack the fossil fuel facilities. So we have our mission." Bob reiterates the obvious. Then he continues: "Harry Sloan is now seventy-eight. Soon he will be eighty and we know the situation there. His Social Security expires and he will become one of the subsisters."

"Didn't he work for some corporation?" Stan inquires.

"Yes, Khannibal Meat Exports, Inc." Bob replies. "He had the usual company pension for thirty years continuous employment. But, like all pensions these days, it expires when the retiree reaches 80. He belongs to the 'Four Score Club,' a place for subsisters. At any rate, the F-Cubed controls Khannibal."

Stan shudders. "I hate to think of turning eighty and being out on the bricks. My annuity crashed recently, taking most of my savings. It was another 'bubble' that burst. The hedge fund managers did manage to get hefty bonuses nonetheless."

"But we have one advantage," Bob retorts.

"What's that?" Stan asks.

"This!" Bob answers, slapping his 38 revolver. "I like it better than a nine millimeter... no shell casings to police up." Both smile. They know that F-cubed dare not mess with the enforcer side of the house.

"So, have you gotten recent data on our subject?" Stan queries Bob.

"Yes," Bob replies. "From Khannibal, I was able to retrieve his Social Security and medical records. They are supposed to be confidential; but the employer has every right to manage and control them. He is in a senior citizen apartment complex and suffering from Parkinson's disease. We should have no trouble coaxing him to sign over anything on his works forty or fifty years past."

"That is very true, Bob," Stan replies. "Let's hit the road."

Chapter Three: Harry Sloan

After suffering through Jackson's Electronics and Magnetism (E&M) and a potpourri of other mind-numbing graduate-level physics courses, Harry Sloan advanced to be a candidate for the PhD in physics. His theory on proton decomposition and the penultimate, quintessential energy source was soon observed by those industrialists investing in fossil fuels. The Fossil Fuel Fellowship (F-Cubed) sought to quash the dissertation and nip a competitive energy source in the bud. With nearly unlimited money for lobbyists, the every-ready minions hired by F-Cubed easily pressed Congress and the cackling pedants of academia to reject Harry's thesis and cast him from their pristine environment. Harry Sloan joined the legion of "All But Dissertation" (ABD) graduate students.

Years have passed. Harry Sloan spent the past thirty-five years working for an export corporation: Khannibal Meat Products, Inc. He worked testing the meats for salmonella and other bacteria. He monitored the irradiation to ensure that 99.99% of the bacteria were dead and all other parasites nullified. The corporation could not afford a massive, government mandated recall. Only the markets in Japan, Korea, and China were able to afford the highest quality meat products. Now retired, Mr. Sloan looks over his notes, tests, and papers from graduate school. He knows that they are his works because he recognizes the handwriting as his own. But the mathematical equations and various experiments are all Greek to him now. This is the result of 35 years of working at a no-brain, brain-dead, dead-end, end-game job.

A large black sedan pulls up in front of the assisted living community where Harry Sloan resides. The driver is a perfectly coiffured blonde, lithe silhouette, lean, muscular physique, and keenly observant. She is wearing a pin-striped business suit---expensive and tailored. She is the kind of woman one might see in an action movie---a true femme fatale. She stays in the car while two men in expensive suits exit and approach the entrance to the apartment building. The units here are for single occupancy, those who have retired from the work force and are living out their "golden years."

Psalms 90:10

The days of our years are threescore years and ten;

and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,

yet is their strength labour and sorrow;

for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

At the front desk the two men encounter a couple of young college students. They are working the comings and goings of the guests and their friends as well as the switchboard. There is a faint but perceptible trace of marijuana about the front desk. As many working students, these two are recreational drug users. They ask: "May we help you, Sir?"

"We are here to see Harry Sloan," one man states; he has a "lean and hungry" look. He is clearly a company man and ambitious to rise in the hierarchy of the establishment. The other man, younger and less forward, waits patiently for a reply; he is the man with the briefcase.

"Is Mr. Sloan expecting you, Sir?" The girl at the desk asks.

"Just tell him that it is about his pension," the company man states. "For sure he will see us."

"Yes, Sir," the boy at the desk answers. The desk clerks feel uncomfortable. They are not the type of men to visit a geriatric facility. They have the tidy and well-groomed look of corporate wealth and greed. For sure they could interrupt the sinecure enjoyed by the boy and the girl. It is uncomfortable moments like this that cause the couple to reconsider recreation drugs. But such transient paranoia is soon dispelled as the men appear disinterested in the service personnel.

The girl at the desk rang Harry's room. After a moment she spoke: "Mr. Sloan is in apartment 310," she responds. Then quickly she adds: "May we show you the way?"

The younger of the two executives interjects: "I'm sure we can find out way. This is a modular building with a directory."

"Please sign in and give us a little ID, please," the male desk clerk requests.

"Of course," the first executive replies. ID is presented; the signing the guest book is completed in a flash. The two quickly locate room 310 and knock on the door. An elderly man with a walker opens the door and invites the strangers in. "What can I do for you two gentlemen?" He asks.

"We are with corporate headquarters of Khannibal. I am Robert Reeves and this is my associate, Stanley Smythe." Robert reports. "May we come in?"

"By all means," Harry replies.

As they enter Stanley Smythe says: "Just call me 'Stan.'"

"Please call me 'Harry' as well," Harry Sloan requests. "Do be seated."

"Let us be forthcoming, Harry," Robert states. "We are confronted with some political problems. There is a hue and cry for alternative energy solutions. The corporate minds have unearthed a possibility for consideration. It is none less than your crackpot scheme known as 'proton decomposition.' Certainly you remember your doctoral dissertation?"

"I remember F-cubed, one of the conglomerates, tossing my ass to the wind! That was over thirty, no thirty-five years ago." Harry retorts. "And my Khannibal 401(K) tanking along with the reductions in Social Security and Medicare. Already I somehow managed to work until I was seventy for the most basic benefits. I belong to the 'Four Score' club, and you know what that means."

"We understand your concern in reaching the unfunded reality of being over eighty," Stan interjects. "But for you there is a promise. If you could piece together a preliminary plausible proposal for federal funding we might be able to extend and even enhance your pension."

"As much as I would like to better my meager marginal existence, my failing eyesight, Parkinson's disease, and other symptoms constrain any consideration," Harry replies. "I once had a house. The 'Reparations for China Act' moved a mainland Chinese family in and moved me out to this sterile efficiency apartment. It is mine to keep until I reach eighty, then I will join the homeless subsisters."

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