(Written by Kokuten; posted April 4, 2007)
"Oh, hell. Enter!"
The door whooshed open, revealing the rotund form of Mr. Sparky, a broad grin on his face.
"No... well. Maybe?" I made a sharp gesture of dismissal. "I was trying some of the meditation techniques I picked up during the Boskone War. They really helped to keep me stable then, but these days... I just end up sleeping."
"Heh, that's because you're not stressed like that anymore, thank Bob."
"So true. So what you got, Mr. Sparky?"
"Come on down to Storage Five, I think we're going to go operational, and I want you on hand for the first full-speed test."
"Oooo!" I bounded out of my chair eagerly, and the two of us went hustling down the halls of Hephaestus, headed for the central-most storage bay in the 'underside' of the giant chunk of Alaska that I called Home.
We fetched up in front of the final door with matching grins, and Mr. Sparky opened the door with a flourish.
"Allow me to present the Sparkman-Hermes Fluidic Bearing Reactionless Drive Electrical Turbine!"
I've never failed to be impressed by something that deserves to be referred to in Initial Capitals. This certainly qualified. Down the center of the bay was a device that looked like nothing so much as a massive beer bottle, with it's neck stuffed in a steel doughnut. The 'base' of the beer bottle, however, was a lovely air intake, smooth and polished, with vanes that looked sharp enough to cut light in half. The outer surface was also smooth and polished, a glossy mirror that threw distorted reflections of my own awestruck mug back at me.
I grinned at Sparky.
Sparky grinned at me.
"So what'd you end up using for the bearing material for this bad boy?"
"I stole some ideas from the turbine generators dirtside, which is where the air bearings come from, but primarily, the whole turbine thing... well, check this out."
Sparky cranked up a simulation on his laptop, showing a rapidly increasing heat spectrum in the generator core, followed shortly by the cheesy cartoon-boom-boom effect Hermes liked to use as shorthand for 'catastrophic structural failure'. We got into the technical side a bit more, and I walked down the massive air return channel for a few yards, before it started really sloping into itself.
"So where does the air go from here?" I asked, peering into the jet black, vaugely fuzzy depths.
"Goes through an air maintenance block, and then a series of radiators that should be able to lose 200% of the heat load from the generator, if we can keep them in the shade, then back to the front of the room."
I nodded sagely, and we went back to the laptop and ran through a couple more simulations of the new turbine system. This time, the generator's heat spectrum stayed in the blue, with some minor yellow hotspotting in the generator core. Sparky pointed out on the real deal the heat sinking that should take care of those hot spots, and we ended up at the front of the room next to the door, laptop in hand.
"So... we gonna fire it up?"
"You bet, WG!... but we're gonna get to a safe distance first!"
We went to a nearby control room, the one for the vacuum lamination line, which wasn't in use at the moment. Sparky had a short conference with Hermes, and the panels and screens came up to show a myriad of views of the big turbine, with a big red button on the center MFP.
"Have at it, Boss!"
"No, Mr. Sparky - this was your project, it's your button."
Sparky grinned, and pressed the virtual button firmly and confidently. I was expecting lights to dim, rumbles to rumble, something impressive. But, instead, the turbine on the displays lifted slightly ("Magnetic suspension, really, not 'air bearings'" Mr. Sparky revealed), and began spinning.
It turns out, the necessary power to start such a significant mass turning, while certainly not a sneeze, doesn't put a major load on Hephaestus' current electrical system. None of the lights went dim, and the power gauges on the panels barely flickered, regenerating swiftly.
The digital readout for RPM ("are we really going to need all six digits of that? Shouldn't there be a decimal place in there?") rose slowly and smoothly to 3000 RPM, and hesitated there.
"Here goes... First Stage Turn On!" Mr. Sparky intoned dramatically, grasping the first lever of a throttle quadrant with his right hand and rolling it forward. The RPM meter spun up slowly and smoothly again, passing 6000 RPM and sitting at 15k RPM when Mr. Sparky let loose of the throttles.
"Magnetic suspension nominal, Energy flux approaching unity, temperatures well below expected range - I'm locking out a couple radiators from the flow matrix" Hermes chimed in, and I started paying closer attention.
"Looks like everything has evened out, folks" Sparky stated cheerfully, eying the collection of readouts. "I'm gonna go for Stage Two spinup."
"Go For Stage Two" Hermes agreed, and Sparky grasped the second lever of the throttle quad, and rolled it forward, slowly and smoothly. I was so distracted by the care he was putting into it that I missed the RPM meter, and when I looked at it afterwards, it had leveled out at 30k RPM and change.
I sat back and studied gauges and meters as Sparky did likewise, and he turned to me with another repetition of his heartfelt grin. "Everything's stable as a rock, but the amount of air we're flowing through this... well, I wouldn't wanna be a dust bunny in there, lemme tell ya!"
I grinned back, and Sparky turned back to the controls. "I think we look good for Stage Three, Hermes, but let's let this soak for a few minutes. How's heat looking?"
"Heat's well within tolerances, but I'm getting a bit better efficiency off of the radiators than we'd planned, so we're actually a bit cold."
"I think we'll leave it that way, at least until we've soaked the system at full speed for a day or two."
"I concur. Boss, whaddya think?"
"I think this is awesome, guys!" I replied cheerfully, ignoring the operational question that Hermes had posed to me. "How much juice are we gonna be able to get out of this, again?"
"oh, a terawatt, final spec, if we run it up to overload. My best estimate says 750 gigawatts sustained, for as long as you care to." Sparky said nonchalantly, and winked at the video pickup. While he and Hermes shared a chuckle, I considered those numbers.
I'd read them in the emails Hermes and Sparky had shared with me regarding this project, but it hadn't really sunk in, until Hermes compared us to Hydro Quebec, calling them insignificant, saying they could only generate 'a mere 30 megawatts sustained'. It was madness, really, but we had a couple projects on the board that could use that incredibly amount of juice, and that's not mentioning the speed increases we'd see in shifting to straight electrical furnaces instead of solar-fired...
"Hermes, I think we're ready for Stage Three, now."
"I concur, Sparky, temps are low and stable."
"Initiating Stage Three." Sparky said, grasping the third throttle in the quad. He rolled this one forward excruciatingly slowly, and I was still able to see the meter slide upwards almost disturbingly quickly. 60k passed by, and Sparky finished the throttle at 72k RPM.
"That's... signifigantly fast."
"You ain't seen nothing yet." Sparky stated, arms folded across his expansive chest as he watched gauges and readouts steady. "Temperature still seems a bit low, Hermes, did you open up all of the radiators?"
"No, Sparky, I still have two banks closed off. The eight remaining are operating at 165% efficiency from estimated"
Sparky shot me a raised eyebrow look that I returned with interest, then turned back to the console, his fleshy fingers tapping rhythmically against his knees.
"What do you think about Stage Four, Hermes?"
"I'm good with the idea. Everything looks stable here."
"Let's do it. Initiating Stage Four." Sparky matched word to deed, laying his hand on the final throttle in the quad, and taking a deep breath before creeping the throttle down its track. The RPM meter held my eye, swiftly spinning past 100k, and finally stabilizing at 155k RPM.
"Green?" Sparky asked, a hint of nervousness in his voice.
"Green. Temps still low, And getting lower. I closed off a third bank, and have an estimated 180% efficiency rating vs. initial estimate on the radiators."
Sparky removed his hand from the throttle quadrant and dropped the lock bar in place, then asked Hermes to deactivate the throttle control. She acknowledged, and Sparky turned towards me.
"155 thousand RPM, that's, oh, 2500 revs every single second... and it's stable. The only thing left is to make actual connections and start sucking juice out of the generator, and we've got all the electricity, in any amount we'll ever need." Sparky finished his speech and leaned back in his chair, whoofing out a heavy breath.
I got up, leaned forward and clapped him on the shoulder. "Good work, killer work in fact. Build two, and rig the power for changeover. Draw any resources you need." I said. Straightening, I turned to head for the door. "Oh, but one thing, Sparky."
"Two week vacation before the build starts. You need it, you deserve it. damn fine job, bro, damn fine."
I walked back to my room whistling, pondering the possibilities inherent in damn near unlimited free electricity...