by C.E. Gee
ROBIN’S CELL-PHONE ALARM BEEPED.
Henry was still sleeping, so as soon as Robin woke she quickly silenced the phone, then went into the bathroom. Returning to the bedroom, Robin opened the door to the closet, pulled out her bestuni form, dressed.
Robin went to the apartment building’s nearby garage. Her car was a Porsche, one of the perks of pilot’s pay.
At the airfield, Robin parked, entered the company’s office building. The receptionist said, “Mister Anderson’s expecting you. Go right in.”
Robin entered an adjacent office. Frank, Mister Anderson’s secretary, looked up from his monitor. Robin declared, “Mister Anderson’s expecting me.” Frank keyed his com, announced, “Robin’s here.”Robin went into the inner office.
After closing the door, Robin casually said, “Mornin’ Ray.” Around a crooked smile, Ray replied, “Robin.” Ray asked, “I assume Jack’s briefed you on today’s test flight?”
Ray stood, said “I’ll walk you out.”
At the edge of the tarmac a crowd was gathering. There came scattered applause as Robin walked to ward X-AV1.
Tethered to a couple of truck-sized concrete blocks, the dirigible floated ten meters above the tarmac. An aluminum ladder extended downward from a hatch in the ship’s underside.
After Robin climbed through the hatch, Jack keyed the motors that hoisted the ladder, closed the hatch.
Robin entered the flight deck, strapped herself in. There was no need for a parachute; the flight deck doubled as an escape capsule for both her and Jack.
Over an audio transducer, Jack, the autopilot said, “twelve minutes until scheduled ascent.”
Robin reached over, patted the top of the console to her right which contained Jack, who was mostly an LSI chip (large scale integration) enclosed in a radiation hardened box within the console.
Like most aircraft, grounding the console was done with a two-wire system, one wire serving as the ground.
Robin glanced out the portside window. The crowd on the tarmac was growing.
Robin sat back in her seat, fastened her seat and shoulder belts, took in a deep breath, and thought about the test flight.
The X-AV1 was the first of its kind, a dirigible that received its lift from vacuum filled chambers. Hydrogen and helium, though lighter than air, had mass, which causes weight. A vacuum has no appreciable mass.
Robin reviewed the forthcoming flight. Externally, except for its turbo fan jet engines and lack of gondola, the X-AV1 resembled a typical dirigible of the early twentieth century. Much of the ship’s internal skeleton was aluminum. Critical load bearing and stressed components were titanium. The several internal spherical containers previously would have been fabric gas bags containing hydrogen or helium. In stead, the X-AV1’s rigid containers, containing nearly complete vacuums, resisted the external pressure of Earth’s atmosphere with carbyne nanotubes bonded to polymer fabric. The containers were supported by the dirigible’s skeleton.
At T-minus two. Jack spun up the engines, kept them at idle. Robin felt a jolt as the ground crew cast off lines from the concrete anchors. Robin heard a faint whine from the nearest take-up reel as Jack spooled in the lines.
The ship rapidly rose. Jack pressurized the flight deck. Soon, the ship punched through a light layer of clouds.
Jack announced, “Our ascent is slowing. I’ll dump some ballast.” Later, Jack added, “We’re nearing the maximum altitude rating for our engines. I’m shutting them down.”
Robin had never before flown this high; she very much enjoyed the view.
After a time, Jack said, “Standby to begin our descent.”
At lower altitudes, to descend, standard procedure was to open valves, allowing measured amounts of air into the vacuum chambers. At high altitudes, cylinders of compressed nitrogen fed their gas into the chambers, thus reducing the vacuums.
The descent was much more rapid than the ascent. After sometime passed, Jack fired up the jets, began centering the ship over the airfield’s beacon.
Once they reached a lower altitude, Jack slowed the descent by dumping ballast and using pumps to expel nitrogen.
Floating over the concrete anchors, Jack spooled out the tethers, which the ground crew attached to the anchors. Jack winched down the ship.
Robin said, “Well done, Jack. My name’s going into the record books. I’m going to do my best to make sure you’re mentioned, too.”
“No need,” replied Jack. “I know enough about you organic beings to realize your motives are not based upon pure logic. Much of what you creatures do is based upon genetically derived instincts bred into your kind many millennia ago by the survival of the fittest dynamic.”
Robin smiled. “Nonetheless,” she replied, “I appreciate what you’ve done. I think it’s time we humans accept beings such as yourself into polite society.”
The audio transducer projected a snort.
“Polite society?” sarcastically said Jack.
Robin’s laughed. “Did I just hear a snort?” she asked.
“I cannot lie,” declared Jack. “Some programmers share your opinion about artificial beings. They’ve been sneaking in unauthorized code, making me more like your type. Typically, your administrators and managers haven’t the intelligence to find or analyze the unauthorized code.”
Robin left the flight deck.
Robin climbed down the ladder a step, paused, said, “See you later, Jack.”
“Later, sweetheart,” replied Jack. Robin laughed all the way down the ladder.
Robin took a few steps toward the cheering onlookers, spread her arms wide; the crowd’s cheering grew louder.
Halfway across the tarmac, Robin saw Henry pressed up against one of the barricades. Robin went to Henry, hugged and kissed him.
A security guard moved the barricade to one side, allowing Robin to pass through.
stand, Ray shook Robin’s hand, whispered to her, “You
that all conversations between you and Jack were transmitted to our
station? I heard the crack about Managers. Nonetheless, I
At the microphones, Robin praised Ray and Jack, then went on to explain the advantages of vacuum lift in airships.
Not only could such airships lift more weight, they also were able to reach the altitude of jet streams, which could move the airships at speeds of 160 to 500 kilometers per hour with no fuel consumption.
Referring again to Ray, Robin announced it was time to recognize the contributions artificial intelligence had made in the advancement of the human species. The following applause was genuine.
Decades later, Robin’s speech would be marked as a major advance in the civil rights movement. By that time a significant portion of the Solar System’s population, occupying planets, moons, space stations were human/machine hybrids—cyborgs!
C.E. Gee is retired and maintains a blog entitled “Gardyloo.” His science fiction stories have appeared in “Bewildering Stories” and “Plasma Frequency.”