A Few Things Ill Considered

The Bottleneck Years

by H.E. Taylor

Chapter 69 Table of Contents Chapter 71

Chapter 70

Sunbugs, February 12, 2058

We adjusted slowly to the changes in our household. It felt funny sleeping in dad’s old bed. Edie didn’t say a word when I got rid of the old mattress and rearranged the room. I think she understood perfectly. The guest room became Anna’s new bedroom. She was proud to have her own room, until it came to sleeping alone. It was not unusual to wake up and find her curled up beside us.

My sex life with Olivia had been boisterous and exuberant. With Edie, love making was quieter and more intense. I marvelled at how natural it all felt.

When I told Jon of our changed circumstances, he just laughed and said, “It’s about time!”

I was working in the greenhouse on the weekend, when a scruffy looking guy on a scooter pulled up in the lane. He saw me stand up and approached with a package in his hands.
When he got close, he froze in what I recognized as F3 shock. “I promised your brother to deliver this to you,” he said with a start and handed me the package. As soon as I took it, he turned away.

“Wait.”

He stopped about five meters away and looked back over his shoulder.

“How did he die?”

“I don’t know.” He stared at me for five or ten seconds. “He told me you would look just like him, but it is strange.” He held up his hand to forestall the questions on my tongue. “I owed him a blood debt. He saved my life. Last fall he told me how I could repay him. And now the balance is level.”

He turned on his heel and left without another word.

It all happened so quickly I was a little shocked. I looked at the package. It was marked from South America, from some guy I had never heard of — Raphael Correa.

I took the package inside and opened it at the kitchen table with Anna watching. Edie was out visiting friends. The carefully wrapped and padded box held yet another carefully wrapped box. Inside the multiple layers was a small, clear plastic case holding what looked like a collection of silvery, shiny bubbles.

To say I was puzzled was an understatement. I wondered if they were the ‘baubles’ Carman had mentioned. At any rate, they appeared to be harmless. I put the bubbles down in the middle of the table and went through all the packaging again. There was no note, nothing to say what this was about.

I was picking some wrapping up off the floor, when Anna’s exclamation of surprise caught my attention. She must have opened the box, because I looked up to see Anna watching wide-eyed as the bubbles floated lazily toward the ceiling. She clapped her hands in glee. When the sun caught the bubbles, a slight hum could be heard.

I reached for one of the bubbles and it shattered in my hand. They were incredibly fragile. Pieces of ultra thin glass-like material stuck to my fingers and a darker wafer landed on the table.

“Don’t touch it!” I said to Anna.

I leaned over to look at it more closely. It looked like a computer chip without the packaging.

“Be careful. They may be sharp.” I warned Anna as she reached for a shard of the bubble. It fractured in her fingers and turned to dust.

Overhead the tone of the bubbles changed. I looked up at them and a light on the wall caught my eye. It was indistinct at first, but slowly it resolved itself into a sequence of numbers. The sunbugs were projecting a number on the wall. I picked up my padd and put it on video record so I would have a record. As I gawked at the numbers, it dawned on me that this was a 128 bit IP address.

“Anna, go to your room.”

She started to object.

“Right now!”

She went. Reluctantly, but she went.

The ultra fragile shards were too delicate to pick up, so I slid paper under them and then jiggled them off onto another piece of paper. The dark wafer I picked up with tweezers. Dad had an old fashioned cake plate with a heavy glass cover. I put the paper with all the pieces I could find on the plate, covered it and took it into the library. Anna was standing at her door peeking out into the hallway.

When I had the shards out of the way I very gently herded the floating bubbles back into their box. I took it to the library and put it on a high shelf.

Then with damp paper napkins I wiped down the kitchen table and floor where I had broken the bubble. I wanted to catch any residue I might have missed.

When the area was as clean as I could get it, I turned my attention to the IP address I had recorded. I didn’t know what I would find, so I telnetted over to take a look around first. There was a single 47 megabyte file: listen.ogg. I grabbed a copy with the house system and then loaded it on the padd.

Ogg was an ancient audio format, but I had a collection of players on the house system. I set it up and settled back to listen. Anna was still in her room where I had sent her. Matt’s voice spoke.

This is a failsafe message for Luc Fontaine in the event something untoward should happen to me. I have left several cookie crumb trails to this file, so don’t worry if you should come across other crumbs. They all lead here, to the witches’ oven. Split this file at 7,538,464 bytes. The second portion is a multimedia file with text, video and design docs. I have reason to think I am in danger and the sunbugs are too important to lose to corporate greed. Use them on your climate and energy problem. Tell Jon Adam Smith was a gormless twit. Good luck. The rest of this section is filler.

A minute or so of reggae played, then the file degenerated into digital noise and I stopped it. I did the split and renamed the second half sunbugs.mmf. The text, audio and video worked fine on the padd but there were holo sections and others I didn’t recognize which needed specialized hardware. From what I gathered, the files described a molecular manufacturing technique.

But what were the sunbugs? I didn’t find the answer until I came across a short overview text file.

The sunbugs are swarm robots that function in two distinct modes: reflector and collector. Depending upon the gas density they are given, they will rise to a given height in the atmosphere and either reflect sunlight or convert it to microwaves, which they aim at a signal emitting ground station.

This was a geoengineering technique I had never considered. I sat back staring out the front window. I was not the person to follow this up. My expertise was genetics and ecology, not material science. If I were going to develop this, I needed a physicist or a nanotechnologist partner. Someone I could trust.

For the ten thousandth time I wondered what had happened to Matt. Had he been trying to sell sunbugs? I was missing so many details. What had he meant by ‘the sunbugs are too important to lose to corporate greed’? Who would oppose the idea of sunbugs? A rival power company? A millenial cult? Maybe ConSec had had him eliminated.

It was potentially a long list and I had so few real facts. Matt was dead. That was the one irreducible fact I couldn’t escape. Matt was dead. Damn!


Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor

For further information, see
A Gentle Introduction.

If you want a copy, see
The Deal.

Last modified December 10, 2013

Comments

  1. #1 carol cowan
    denver, Co
    January 11, 2014

    Cute! What other science fiction have you written?