Difference between revisions of "Standard gauge"
(Created page with "I am unlikely fo finish this set of stories. None of them have a story arc. They were mainly a way to hang speculations about what future technology might do to humanity....")
Revision as of 01:23, 28 July 2020
I am unlikely fo finish this set of stories. None of them have a story arc. They were mainly a way to hang speculations about what future technology might do to humanity.
The first three chapters, including "The Clinic Seed," have been up for years on Teresem. The fourth is "UpLift," on this site. It is about power satellites, a space elevator to build them, and a little about a mining colony out in the asteroids. This bit continues the "what we did on our summer vacation" where the kids and their parents from Trenton, NJ requested a passenger train and travel to the west.
If you like similar speculation by a real author, try Accelerando by Charles Stross. A couple of Stross' later works also include humans going extinct. The characters in the novels originated as robot sex slaves, but have not fulfilled their design function for a long time. Certainly more original than my small remaining population for characters.
Seven-thirty a.m. the next morning, well after the sun peeped over the Eastern hills, Jim Brody drove a little electric truck over from Seton Hill and (with the help of a few kids who had woken up early) loaded the dining car in the middle of the train with breakfast and lunch. Dumping the wastewater tanks and refilling the water supplies in the cars would have to wait.
At 7:45, Ed Bledsoe lit off the diesels, cranking them from local power, and let them warm up. Even with metering automation, Ed knew the engines would smoke under load if they were not warmed up properly.
By 8 am, the last of the parents had straggled down to the station.
Half a dozen boys and two girls (early risers who had not stayed up past midnight) came out when the engine http://www.railfan.net/railpix/scott/subphoto.cgi?st-perris/e8fnt02.jpg was started. Jim Brody, ticking off the parents as they came aboard and consulting an unseen list of kids so they would all get at least one ride in the cab, picked out a boy and a girl and sent them up the ladder, letting the parents know where their kids were. He also pulled the connector to local power and put the conductive nanotube power cable back in its compartment.
Jim gave the proper historical hand signals to the engineer, backed up by the engineer being aware of his signal by mind-to-mind local area contact. As Jim closed the doors, Ed advanced the throttle slowly to 1/2 and then to 3/4. This woke up even the sleepiest of the kids. With or without the help of adults they converted the bunks back into seats.
They either trooped off to the dining car in the middle of the train or ate from the trolley pushed by two of the older girls who had talked Jim into letting them do it. The main choice (made up by the University dining hall kitchen staff the night before) was scrambled egg, cheese, ham and bell pepper mix rolled up in a steamed flour tortilla and a choice of fruits. The adults and some of the older kids drank coffee and the younger kids had milk or chocolate milk in historically correct glass bottles.
Being from Trenton, all of the older kids had been in both New York to the northeast and Philadelphia to the southwest on school outings. Like those two cities, Pittsburgh had been mothballed 50 years ago in the population crash.
Like all the major cities, the suburbs of Pittsburgh had become manicured parkland. With some exceptions, the houses had been encapsulated with diamond and sunk underground often with their occupants. The streets were visible in some places and replaced with grass in others. There were a lot of deer. They didn't see any wolves.
As they neared the more built-up center section of the town, the bigger buildings had the sheen of diamond sheeting when the light hit them right. Ed slowed the train to 40 mph so the kids could get a good look
An hour and a half after they left Greensburg the train pulled into the huge covered platforms in the Pennsylvanian Union Train Station. The platform roof had been partly removed at one time to accommodate a freeway. The train buffs had won out over the auto buffs, the concrete roadway beams had been replaced by thinner diamond beams and the train platform roof restored. http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/burnham/burnham5.html
The kids and adults spilled out of the train and walked through the hotel lobby--which had also been the original ticket lobby--to the rotunda that had originally sheltered horse carriages. Ed and Jim Brody went with the kids and parents.
Mike DeLong (fireman, brakeman, and alternate engineer) was left in charge of the train. He dragged a hose over to the idling E8 and filled up the oil tank, dumped the wastewater tanks on the passenger cars, and refilled their water tanks. The diesel oil today was from soybeans. Filling the tanks by hand was a concession to primitive technology that he didn't mind.
The train station had been built around 1900 and renovated 80 years later with the associated hotel being turned into condominiums. The condominiums were still “occupied” in the sense that the bodies of the owners were still in the building or more correctly under it. In the rare event one of them came out for a stroll in the physical world, their body was lifted to their condo before their consciousness was shifted into their warmed up brain.
The rest of the time, bodies were kept underground. “Occupied” buildings were reinforced with grown-in-place carbon nanotubes but the clinic AIs would be unhappy if their patients were not kept as safe as possible and that meant underground.
When Ed and Jim reached the Rotunda, most of the kids were clustered in the center looking up at the skylight with smaller numbers of them looking out the archways. The skylight was entrancing with the morning sunlight hitting the ridged diamond panes that had replaced the original glass. They were scattering rainbows all over the floor.
With some difficulty the children were rounded up and herded down the deserted streets, first south, passing in front of the Mellon Arena, fully ten times larger than the train station rotunda, then east on Forbes Ave toward the campuses of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. The three-mile walk through the deserted city streets took about 40 minutes with the adults carrying the smallest when they got tired. (They could have had carriages with real horses if they had wanted them.)
Like most urban schools, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University had been shut down in the population crash. When cities went under about 10 percent of their original population, they became just too depressing for humans to live in.
However, like infrastructure everywhere, the city and Universities were well maintained, roads and sidewalks clean, grass mowed, trees trimmed, and the buildings clean and without a broken window or a sagging roof anywhere. Electric power and water was on, gas as well though it was not used for heating, having been displaced by electric heat and super insulation. Unless buildings were in use by physical state humans, they were kept cold inside (but not freezing) winter and summer alike to slow down degradation of photographs, paper, and other physical artifacts from the pre-crash era.
As they were crossing the bridge on Forbes Avenue over the train tracks between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, Kenny caught up the engineer.
“Mr. Bledsoe?” Kenny asked as they walked along.
“Did they get the idea for the Krell planet from Pittsburgh?”
“In the movie we saw last night. The planet was deserted except for the machines.”
“Oh, you saw Forbidden Planet last night. No, Forbidden Planet was made a 100 years before Pittsburgh was mothballed.”
“Why do we call cities ‘mothballed’? Does it have anything to do with moths”?
“Actually it does,” Ed replied, as usual, happy to be educating children by the oldest method.
“The larvae of some kinds of moths eat clothing and blankets made of wool. More than 200 years ago, early chemistry workers discovered that a sharp smelling solid chemical from coal called naphthalene would keep the moths out of clothes. “
They paused at a Walk/Don’t Walk light turned on for the party’s amusement by one of the city’s AIs. Ed went on:
“It was sold in little balls (Ed held his thumb and finger apart about half an inch) called ‘mothballs.’ People would store winter clothing and blankets over the summer with a handful of them.
“Eventually ‘mothballed’ came to mean anything that was protected and stored for possible future use.”
Kenny looked thoughtful.
“How come adults know everything?” He asked.
Ed laughed. “We cheat.“
Thirty years in the past the AIs tasked with remembering and making presentations to CMU visitors would have run up a palace of utility fog on the mall and presented a 3D docudrama on the historical events around the emergence of AIs at CMU.
Now, in deference to the attempt to raise children in a retro environment with features of the 1950s, the adults were directed by messages to their neural interfaces to the McConomy Auditorium, a 110-year-old theater in Carnegie Mellon’s central buildings. The 20-minute presentation to the adults and older kids (the younger ones could watch or play on the lawn) was in black and white newsreels format, much of it converted from videos of press conferences.
“Even with a nearly complete historical record from those times, it’s hard to pin down when the first AIs became full personalities.” The narrator spoke in a voice-over showing primitive robots and computers.
“The problem isn’t unique to AI history, there is a similar problem about the first railroad." (Montage of drawings and photographs of early trains.) "About the best we can say is that what we now think of as AIs didn’t exist before 2032 and definitely did by 2036. In that year there were more than a hundred scientific papers co-authored by AIs. Carnegie Mellon was at the forefront of this effort." (Shots of University labs and bits of recorded slow interactions with early AIs.) "The key insight was to equip AIs with carefully selected human motivations."
“The two biggest problems of the early 21 century were energy and medical treatment. CMU researchers contributed to both.
“Solar power from orbit solved, in fact, over solved, the first by 2035.” (Shots of space elevators and power satellites in orbit, photos of rectenna farms.)
“Integrating AIs into nanomedicine clinics solved the medical treatment problem. It took only a few years. After that AIs and clinics could be “grown” at low cost and they did their own upgrades, a lot of it in the field in Africa. They were too late for the smallpox epidemics that swept out of the Mid East.
“A side effect of the clinics and widespread use of virtual reality caused a physical world population crash in the mid-2050s and the mothballing of the cities.” (Simulated video of dense freeway traffic dwindling to an occasional car and then none.)
The rest of the presentation was subtle propaganda mainly to the children and directed to the goal of them doing their part in enlarging the population.
After filling up the tanks, Mike backed the empty train out of the station. He operated the first switch he came to remotely, backed the holiday train under the mainline, down the Neville street tracks, under Forbes Ave. and stopped just north of Panther Hollow Lake. Stairs and a rudimentary platform had been installed along the depressed rail line.
Mike set the brakes and shut down the engines. Only the chirping of birds broke the quiet that settled over the train. Mike sent a message to Ed that the train was ready for its passengers when they were. Then, using a small bucket of utility fog for a mattress, he settled down under a shade tree and took a nap to make up for staying up most of the night with friends in Greensburg.