Alone Together

Part II of the Dawnwalker Cycle

"A Spearfish Lake Story"

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009

Chapter 13

May, 1999

Just a little to their surprise, when they showed up for work on Monday morning, Angela sent them back to their old office they had used the summer before in Building Seven. It was familiar, they knew a lot of people there, and there were various greetings, congratulations and newlywed jokes as they hit the coffeepot in the end of the hall, and walked down to the office.

Like it had been the year before, the office was pretty barren; desks, chairs, computer workstations, this yearís calendar on the wall, the same poster of the Grand Canyon. They couldnít help but notice a significant change on the sign next to the door: Project HMI-03, Jon Chladek, T. M. Chladek.

"Molly must have been busy," Tanisha smirked as she looked at the sign.

"Looks like weíre going to be working for Hadley-Monroe again this summer," Jon snorted. "Iím beginning to wonder if I can ever really get free of that place. Canít be the screw machine controller, I think they did that last winter. Oh, well, they have other stuff."

"Weíll just have to see," Tanisha smiled. "Iím not worried, Iím ready. Jon, this minute is what Iíve been working toward for years, since clear back in grade school. After everything, itís really happened, and itís just so much nicer that I have my husband with me."

"Yeah, I guess it is," he agreed. "Everything has been built up toward this." He put his arms around her and said, "Now we can really rock and roll."

"Ahhh, I caught you two lovebirds," Stan grinned from the doorway. Congratulations, and I think itís a good deal. Iím glad youíre back early, I can really use you."

"We had a little trouble in Atlanta," Tanisha reported, "But I think we worked it out."

"Yeah, Molly said you had," he replied. "You didnít break any laws, did you?"

"No, just speed records in packing up and blowing town," Jon said. "So, whatís the Hadley-Monroe project this year?"

"Bench shaper controller, something a little different," Stan told them. "After just a quick glance at the specs, it looks like a cookbook adaptation of the controller you designed last year. Iím actually figuring on having a couple of the second-year interns working on it when they get here, but thatís a couple weeks off. You two will be the de-facto project managers, and Jennlynn will front for you like last year."

"Do you have something else in mind for us?" Tanisha asked.

"Yeah," Stan nodded, "This project is just something for your spare time, if you have any, but I hope youíll at least be able to give the kids some guidance."

"Whatís the new project?" Jon asked.

"In a minute," Stan smiled. "Did you get the security lecture?"

"Yes," Tanisha said. "Molly spent a good half day with us Friday. She was supposed to get the ID badges set up for us today."

"OK, Iíve got íem," he said, reaching into his shirt pocket. "Here you go. I guess you know you have to have them clipped on and visible all the time youíre on the back lot. I canít say much about this project up front here, so letís head out to your other office and Iíll fill you in. Bring your coffee."

Stan led them out the back door of Building Seven, through a guard post, where their IDs were checked, then past several other buildings to one at the back, Building Four, where there was another security guard. There were a number of offices clustered near the front of the building, and indications of a shop toward the back.

More noticeable were the people: there werenít any. The building was dead quiet; there were several empty desks out in front, and several office doors stood open, empty as well. It was just a little eerie. "Quiet in here," Jon commented.

"Too quiet," Stan nodded. "Everyone has been reassigned. Look, I told Griz and Jennlynn to come back out here, but theyíre both tied up at the moment on something else, so I might as well fill you in on the background. It was my asshole idea in the first place, and you two are about the last hope I have of keeping me from shooting myself in the foot."

"Weíve heard hints that there was a project back here in trouble," Jon said without elaboration.

"Yeah," Stan said sadly. "Iím not real sure where to start, so I might as well fill you in from square one. Back in the eighties sometime, a couple of pilots were flying a couple of jets over what was then West Germany on a hedgehopping training mission over West Germany. I guess they got off course, and they flew pretty close to the broadcast mast for Radio Free Europe. You ever hear of that?"

"Iíve heard the name," Tanisha said. "Thatís about all."

"It was a propaganda deal," Stan told them. What they did was broadcast programs into Eastern Europe, behind what was then called the Iron Curtain, in most of the local languages. I kind of have a soft spot for RFE, it was one of the deals that got my father thinking about getting out of Poland in the first place back before I was born, but thatís neither here nor there. The important point is that the RFE tower put out a hell of a signal. I donít remember the numbers, but it might have been something like 250,000 watts, maybe even more. The biggest transmitter allowed in this country is fifty thousand, and there arenít many of them. Iím told that thing was so strong you could hear it on your fillings miles away. Anyway, these two jet fighters flew pretty close to the mast, something under a quarter mile, and crashed not far off. What happened was they were on an autopilot that was coupled to a terrain-following radar. When they got too close to the signal, it fried the electronics, and both planes went in before the pilots could even say ĎShití, or whatever it is they say in German."

"Radio frequency interference?" Jon nodded.

Stan nodded. "That was the first evidence that you could actually shoot down a modern warplane with a radio beam," he continued. "My guess was, and still is, that itís got to be even easier today. After that incident, people who build planes started hardening the electronics to be able to stand off RF interference, but theyíve also added a hell of a lot more electronics to the flight control systems. You literally could not fly a modern warplane today if the flight controller computer was fried. But hardening the electronics and like that only goes so far; if you hit it with a hard enough signal, itís still going to fry. I mean, a microchip runs on like a third of a watt. Hit it with, say, 300 watts, and thereís nothing left but smoke. The flight controller systems are hardened enough that theyíll withstand stuff the other electronics canít, but hit the secondary systems hard enough and youíve got a plane thatís not mission capable, and thatís almost as good as a kill. On to the next point. Have you ever heard of the Aegis system?"

"The Navy uses it on guided missile cruisers, right?" Jon said. "About all I know about it is some stuff I read in a couple of Tom Clancy novels."

"Clancy got the general idea right but fudged on some of the details," Stan told them. "But yeah, thatís a good introduction to the idea. OK, the thing is that the Aegis radar is huge, they call it a billboard radar, because itís that damn big, even bigger. But, itís also damn powerful, although it takes a shipís engines to kick out that kind of power. Wide open, it kicks out something like seven million watts down a field about ten degrees wide. Of course, it soon starts running into inverse square signal strength problems, but up fairly close, say a few miles, at full power itíll knock a plane right out of the sky. They donít often open it up with anything like that much power, and theyíre always pretty careful about it. The Navy doesnít like to admit theyíve shot down a couple of their own fighters with the Aegis system over the years. Even at a decent range, double digit miles, it has the capability to do a pretty good job on subsystems and make the pilotís wife have FLKs."

"FLKs?" Tanisha frowned.

"Funny-looking kids," Stan said. "It is radiation, after all. As far as I know, nobodyís ever actually proved that there have been birth defects as a result of a father being hosed by an Aegis or something, but itís at least a paper possibility. But for our purposes, thatís neither here nor there, either. Now, the primary point of an Aegis system is not to be an antiaircraft system by itself, but to be a controller for return missile fire against air or missile attack. Missile guidance systems are pretty well hardened against RF interference, too, but still, you hit some components with enough power, youíve got a dead vampire. The Navy has in fact shot down sea-skimming cruise missiles in tests with Aegis radar. Itís not quite as easy as it sounds, it takes the system up at full power, and at full power things start to break. And, while itís fairly easy to knock down a single incoming vampire, the Aegis system has other things to be doing at the same time, especially if thereís a pot load of vampires to deal with, not just one. Due to the technical limitations of the Aegis system, the incoming target has to be within a certain range, which is a little too close for comfort, has to be at the right angle to the system or it canít be hit with full power, and other considerations. Still with me?"

"I think so," Jon said. "Youíre talking about a dedicated system for air defense."

"Exactly," Stan said. "My original idea was to come up with a system that doesnít try to be a radar, just an RF generator, but one that kicks out a much narrower beam, then use the Aegis system to aim it. The problem with a billboard system is that itís bigger than a billboard. Well, the Navy was mildly interested in that, but theyíre not as worried about Russian Backfires launching a shitload of Kelts or whatever at them as they were, say, ten years ago. What they continue to be worried about is surface-to-air missiles. So, I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations, and figured we could scale the size down to where it could be mounted in an under-wing pod on a jet fighter. At a minimum, it would work a hell of a lot quicker than an anti-missile missile, and would do a number on missile launchers and radar sites. The nice thing about a speed-of-light weapon is that it works at the speed of light, and being RF instead of visible light wavelengths, you donít have to worry as much about clouds and stuff. Frankly, if you get a system you can boil down into a pod a couple feet wide and maybe ten or fifteen feet long, well, other ideas appear pretty quickly."

"Yeah, a couple come to mind right off," Jon said. "And the only thing I know about weapons systems comes from Tom Clancy. It sounds like a hell of an idea."

"The Navy thought it was a hell of an idea," Stan said glumly. "For two years, theyíve funded us to develop the system; we call it the ĎButterfly.í That doesnít mean anything, it was just a name randomly assigned by a computer in the Pentagon. Weíve thrown a lot of effort at it, stolen assets from other projects for it, and brought in people who are supposed to know what theyíre doing to try and build an RF generator with something approaching the power of an Aegis and the size of that pod I mentioned a minute ago. The only problem is the goddamn thing doesnít work."

"Doesnít work?" Tanisha frowned. "With that kind of power, it ought to do what youíre talking about."

"Thatís not the problem," Stan frowned. "Where I screwed up was I forgot that Lambdatron deals mostly in microchips, not megawatts. I guess I was a little dazzled by the idea, and set out to break a paradigm when I shouldnít have bothered. Weíve built eleven versions of the core. They all failed, and did so rather spectacularly. You get that much damn power in that small a space, and weird things can happen. Everything has to be dead-ass on, and it never quite is. A fingerprint in the wrong place, a dust mote Ė well, letís just say that every time weíve tried to test the system, itís been in a bunker out in the middle of the desert at China Lake, the Navy test range over in southern California. The bunkers came out the worse for wear."

"Yeah," Jon said thoughtfully. "I guess I can see how that would happen."

"The damn thing is so damn delicate and so damn dangerous that Iíve come to realize even if it worked thereís no way it could be turned into a battle-worthy system. I mean, itís stuff that has to be able to take sailor quality maintenance, a catapult shot off a carrier deck with all the shock involved, and generally stand up to all the abuse a weapons system has to take before you get a chance to fire it, and then still have the pilot press the button with a fair confidence that heís not going to blow himself out of the sky as a side effect. Anyway, the Navy project officers weíve been dealing with have come to the same conclusion, too, and they cancelled the project and the contract a month ago. Weíre going to get our basic costs covered, but not all the stuff we stole from other programs, and weíre not going to get any more than that thanks to a non-compliance clause. Thatís what Jennlynn and I were doing at the Pentagon last week, trying to limit the hit weíre going to take. Worse, up till now, weíve had a pretty good track record with the Navy, but booting this project is going to make it a lot harder to get others in the future, and weíre going to be on a real tight rein."

"I can see that," Tanisha said. "So where do we fit in?"

"Iím not quite ready to give up," Stan told them. "Weíre to the point where we canít throw a lot of resources at it, but right after the contract got cancelled, I got a wild hair. That is, throw the two of you at it."

"But Stan," Jon protested. "Weíre mostly microchip and mechanical people ourselves. We donít know much about radar, RF, or high-power electrical systems."

"Thatís exactly the point," Stan smiled. "Break the paradigm, Jon. I know itís not your area. That means youíre not coming at it with preconceived notions. Youíll have to spend a little time on the Hadley-Monroe project, but mostly what I want you to do for the next couple months is to be a Tiger Team to go back over all the work weíve done on Butterfly, to see if we made some damn stupid error or oversight we should have seen. Itís the last shot in the locker and itís a long one. But, you two kids have a synergy between you that might just turn up something. I mean, if you donít find something, youíre just falling on your butts like the rest of us have. But if you do get lucky, itíll be a hell of a feather in your caps. You up for it?"

Jon glanced over at Tanisha. Once upon a time Jennlynn had speculated that the two of them could read each otherís minds. Jon wasnít sure he was reading hers at the moment, but things seemed pretty clear. It was a hell of a challenge, and it was a long shot. "Pretty long," he mumbled in her direction.

She nodded. "Potential . . . " she smiled. She was probably thinking like he was, that there wasnít much to lose, and potentially a lot to gain. Under the circumstances, though, itíd be foolish not to take a chance. Stan was right, there really wasnít much of their reputation to lose, but Lambdatron stood to gain a lot if they got lucky.

"Yeah," Jon said. "Weíll take a swing at it."

"Donít you want to talk it over?" Stan frowned.

Tanisha shook her head. "We already talked it over as much as we need to."

* * *

Three weeks later, theyíd pretty well finished burying themselves in the documentation and the history of the Butterfly, plus talking things over with several of the people who had worked on it. Their conclusion wasnít any different from what Stan had told them the first morning: the idea had a lot of potential, but to retain the power while scaling down the size meant putting too much power into too small a space.

That didnít mean they hadnít worked hard at it. Theyíd put in long hours, sometimes working well into the evening, trying to understand the project. That was what they were doing this Wednesday evening, trying to make sense where there wasnít much to be found. Finally, Jon leaned back in his chair, shook his head, and said, "What it comes down to is theyíre damn lucky they didnít blow things up worse than they did."

"Yeah," Tanisha replied, upending a soda can. "All that work, down the tubes."

"Weíre just chasing our tail," Jon said. "Iím about ready to call Stan up in the morning and say screw it, it canít be done."

"At least we wouldnít be wasting any more time on it," she commented. "But letís hold off a couple days. Maybe we just need to sit back and let it gel for a while, maybe try to think creatively for a bit. We need to relax and get our minds off it."

"Yeah," Jon said, "Maybe go to a restaurant for a decent dinner, not just something in a bag from a drive through."

"I mean really get our minds off it," she protested. "Iím thinking, eat dinner out, yes, have a drink or two, go home, have a nice shower together and go to bed for a couple of days."

Jon shook his head. "Tanisha," he said exasperatedly, "Even after all this, youíre still insatiable."

"But right now, Iím more exhausted than insatiable," she sighed. "Give me a good nightís sleep and Iíll recover."

"Yeah," he agreed. "Maybe we just ought to call in tomorrow and tell them weíre playing catch-up, and try to get our minds off of it."

"Now youíre being insatiable," she smiled, "But it sounds like a plan. I think weíre just too physically and mentally tired to be creative. I canít get over the idea that maybe weíre overlooking something obvious ourselves."

"Yeah, me too," he yawned. "Weíre missing something. Maybe itíll take some unwinding. Letís get this crap in the safe and blow this pop stand. What do you think about that Italian place up the street from the complex?"

"I think Iíd eat so much that Iíd feel uncomfortable," she said. "I mean, Iíll go in there, and itís fettuccini Alfredo, and Iíll have to run from here to Tucson to recover. Weíve got to get out and run a little more. I think Iím putting on weight from the lack of exercise."

"Yeah, me too," he said. "Oh well, they have a salad bar and they have wine. What wine goes well with lettuce?"

"Beats me," she shook her head. "Youíre asking a preacherís daughter about that?"

"Donít suppose it matters," he said. "Itíll have alcohol in it, and thatís all that really counts." He shook his head. "Damn, I wish we could figure this one out."

"Letís try to get our minds off it," she suggested.

An hour and a half later, they were at home at the complex, with a small plate of spaghetti in each of them, along with a half-bottle of red wine, which did loosen them up a little.

They were loosened up a little more by the fact that they were in the shower together. They didnít always shower together, but often did; it still thrilled them just as much as it had over two years before, the first time theyíd done it back in Amarillo.

It wasnít a topic of discussion tonight, but had often been in the past Ė they knew that couples usually started out with very frequent sex, and then slowed down markedly. It really hadnít happened much with them. They had periods when it slacked off a little, like when theyíd been studying for finals, and in the past couple of weeks while theyíd been wracking their brains on this miserable bastard of a Butterfly. It didnít mean they enjoyed it any less or didnít plan on picking back up to normal as soon as things slacked off.

Almost always, showers together were the prelude to an evening of hot sex. Without discussing it very much, theyíd pretty well agreed it wouldnít be a long evening of it, but the feel of their wet, slippery hands on each other pretty well settled that there would at least be some. Maybe not the best they ever had, since the Butterfly would still be on their minds, but maybe they could drive it out for a while.

"Hey, you know what I keep thinking about doing?" she smiled. "I keep thinking now that weíve got a little money to spend, maybe we could hit Victoriaís secret, and get some hot underwear or something, just to juice things up a little."

"You donít need hot underwear to juice me up, babe," he smiled. "All I need to do is glance at you and you do that."

"I know, youíre insatiable," she smiled. "Iím thinking, maybe something like a bustier and some hot panties, maybe a garter belt and some net stockings. I could put them on in the morning and wear them all day. You and I would know theyíre there, but we couldnít do anything about it till we got home. Weíd drive each other wild."

"Thatíd do it," he shook his head. "Yeah, I can think of a few toys thatíd be nice to have, just to branch out a little, now that we can afford it some." He let out a sigh. "But maybe weíd better not do it just yet. It might get in the way of thinking about the Butterfly."

"Maybe thatís what we need," she smiled, "Something to get our minds off it."

"I donít know," he said. "Neither of us likes distractions very well. I mean, thereís a part of me that says while this is fun and itís what I want to be doing, thereís a part of me thatís buried in that fucking system."

"I know," she agreed. "Itís sad that weíre so obsessed with it. What do you say that we dry off and get sweaty? Maybe thatíll help."

"Yeah, maybe," he agreed, using one hand to shut off the shower. "At least the neighbors arenít home."

"There is that," she said. "I donít know how lucky we were to get neighbors who both work second shift, so we donít have to keep the noise down."

Before too much longer, they had the covers folded back on the bed, and were holding each other in their arms, kissing, exploring each other once again. The damn Butterfly was still laying there in the back of Jonís head, and he tried to brush it aside as he felt her hand grip his penis, at least as hard as it had ever been. Oh, God, how he loved that Ė how he loved this woman heíd married. In a brief but undeterminable time, he found himself on top of her Ė not a night for trick positions that sometimes didnít work too well, but just some straight, hard missionary. Tonight, of all nights, he wanted to be in her harder and longer than ever, if for no more reason than to concentrate on her, rather than the Butterfly. Once again, he found himself sliding up into her, soft, warm and wet and deeeep. The thousandth time? No it had to be way more than that. It was always wonderful, always new, always different. He sort of remembered Jennlynn saying men were like waves, all of them different, all of them special, but each time with Tanisha it was different too, and always special.

As he slid into her, deep and hard, he heard her moan Ė not just a moan, but a word: "Focus."

Absolutely, the part of him that was making love to her thought. I want to keep my focus entirely on you, screwing you hard, sending you higher than Iíve ever done before, higher than Jennlynn could dream of in the Lear . . . yeah, right, you get right down to it, the real problem with the Butterfly was the beam was too broad, no matter what tricks they pulled with wave guides. That meant they had to dump too damn much power into the system . . . oh, God, this felt wonderful to be making love to the woman he loved . . . the stupid thing was still a couple degrees wide. At any kind of range theyíd need a shitload of megawatts, no wonder they couldnít keep it under control . . . "Tighten," he moaned, and he wasnít exactly talking about the area between her legs that he was enjoying so well.

"Oh, Jon!" she moaned again. "Harder! Faster! Oh, my God! Jon! Coherent!"

Jon upped his stroke rate, with her helping him every inch of the way, ramming himself into her harder than ever . . . yeah, that would do the trick all right, a coherent beam like a laser, you could dump a lot of power out in a real narrow beam that way, you wouldnít need all that much on the head end . . . Oh, merciful heavens, that felt wonderful, whatever luck that had managed to lead him to Tanisha, it was the best thing that ever happened . . . the problem with something like a laser, though, was that the wave length was too short. They needed something down in the radio wave length, the microwave length. "RF?" he moaned at her, panting a little as he stroked at her so hard.

Oh, God, this was wonderful. He could do this forever, Tanisha was right, he was insatiable and so was she, and wasnít it wonderful. He could feel a strange power building inside him, the familiar power of getting about ready to have a serious orgasm, but another power, even stronger and stranger. He tried to hold it off, fight it off, try to give her the longest and best ride he could, but suddenly, he couldnít hold it off any longer, his world exploded and he could feel her buck under him as she came too, as they both moaned the same word together: "MASER!"

"Oh, God, I love that," she moaned. "Oh, God, Jon, thatís it, thatís it! That was the best ever!"

"Yeah," he babbled, "It might be. That was wonderful! Oh, God it was . . . itís never been better . . . masers are pussycats next to a big laser, but they can oscillate RF, and in a helluva tight beam."

"Has anyone ever tried to build a big one?" she asked, panting hard herself, then answered her own question: "No, not that I can think of. Theyíre used to amplify RF, but those are piddly little things."

"McDermott just skimmed over masers," Jon babbled. "The throughput is better at shorter wavelengths. But Thomas . . . "

"Do we have the textbook?"

"Letís go," he said, springing out of her and off of her, running for the door as she followed on his heels. In but a moment, they were in the office with the lights on, stark naked to anyone who might be looking in the back window but not caring as Jon frantically pawed through a textbook for one of their masterís level classes from last fall. "Here it is," he said. Both of their eyes rushed down the page. There really wasnít a lot, a brief discussion of Charles Thomas and his discovery of microwave emission by stimulated electron radiation in 1952. It was the first step toward the development of lasers ten years later, and people knew a lot about lasers, now Ė Jonís dad, after all, had developed an application using them a quarter century before. "By God, I was right," Jon summarized. "He said it would be possible to up the output by several factors, and hints about how, but says it would be too difficult to design the cavity. Itíd take too much computer time."

"Jon!" she yelled, running for her clothes, "Nineteen fifty two!"

"By God, yes!" he yelled, snapping the book closed, but carrying it in his hand as he ran for the bedroom behind her.

* * *

"Delta 4, one five dot three seven three four," he heard Tanisha say.

Jon typed furiously on the keyboard of the workstation for a few seconds, hit "Enter." In an instant, the response flashed up on the screen. "Yeah!" he purred. "Romeo dot romeo four seven five four five one dot four two. Fourier?"

"Go for it," she agreed.

Jon tapped a few more keys, and hit "Enter" again. "Rock and roll, baby," he said, leaning back. He gave a big sigh. It would take a bit for the process to run. What else was screaming for attention? He glanced over at Tanisha at the other work station, surrounded by scattered papers, piles of paper, scribbled notes, open books, empty coffee cups, a couple of candy bar wrappers and other loose clutter. Her hair was a mess, and she looked at least as tired and excited as he was. Under the circumstances, sheíd never looked prettier. His own desk didnít look any better, worse if anything; his hair was a mess too, he could smell himself, and he really needed a shave. It was possibly the most wonderful heíd ever felt outside of making love to her . . . but it was close.

Both of them gave a start at the sound of Jennlynnís voice: "Stan, theyíre reading each otherís minds again."

Jonís head snapped around, to see Stan and Jennlynn standing near the door. Jennlynn had a Silex full of fresh coffee, and Stan was holding a box of doughnuts. He glanced up at the clock; 9:45, it read, but whether it was morning or evening he wouldnít have wanted to bet. Must be morning, or they wouldnít have doughnuts, he thought. "Where the hell did you come from?" he heard Tanisha say, a touch of irritation in her voice at the interruption.

"You really should have a sign on the door," Stan grinned: "ĎDanger! Maniacs at work!í As long as Iíve been here, I know what it looks like. Have you been going like this all weekend?"

"I was in here half an hour ago," Jennlynn smiled. "You never noticed. I saw you were out of coffee, so I went and got some, and brought along Stan with the doughnuts. Weíve been standing here for ten minutes, waiting for you to take a breather. You found something, I take it."

"Yeah," Jon let out a breath, "We licked the son of a bitch!"

"Licked it?" Stan smiled. "Iíve heard those words used around the Butterfly before. Are you sure?"

"About as sure as we can be without building one," Tanisha said. "You were right, the old system would never work, at least not with current technology. But that doesnít matter, we broke the paradigm on it."

Stan shook his head as Jennlynn found a couple of coffee cups and started pouring coffee. "Youíre still not saying anything," he said. "Whatís the deal?"

"Like Tani said, the old rig, itíd never work, so we started with a clean sheet of paper," Jon yawned. Now that he wasnít concentrating, his exhaustion was catching up with him. He waved his hand loosely at a nearby desk, which was piled with papers and sheets of fanfold computer paper. "Thatís the specs and outline for a new core. The guts of it is a four-inch chlorine maser."

"Maser?" Stan frowned. "You mean like microwave amplification? I ran that idea on the back of an envelope when I first dreamed up the project, but I never put it in the formal project notes. It wonít work, for at least two reasons."

"Wanna bet?" Tanisha smiled wanly. Jon could see that she was exhausted, too, now. "Break the paradigm, Stan."

"You canít build a maser that powerful," he protested. "Yeah, they work down in the wave length we need, but you go right back to Thomas, and he said that in theory a more powerful one could be built, but in practice it would be impossible to do it."

"He was right, with the technology he had available," Jon smiled. "We went back and dug the original paper out of the library in Building 2. What he actually said was that it would take all the computers in the world to run the Fourier analysis to design the cavity."

"Yeah, I remember reading that paper, years ago," Stan nodded.

"He wrote that paper in 1952," Tanisha yawned. "Thereís more computer power out under the hood of the Monte Carlo than there was in the whole world when he wrote that paper."

"The mainframe runs it in about five minutes," Jon smiled. "Itís doing one right now, just as a cross check. He also didnít have a lot of the theory and programs and shit have been used during the last forty years of developing lasers, like ray trace programs. Even the concept hadnít been invented then."

"All right, I get your point," Stan nodded as he held a cup of coffee up. "Yeah, thatís a classic paradigm break, all right. So how powerful is it?"

"Weíre not sure yet," Tanisha said. "It needs some testing and optimization. What we picked out of the old Butterfly was that things seemed to stay together comfortably at a megawatt, so weíve been working with that as a test case. The throughput efficiency is right up in laser country though, so weíre talking a megawatt output, less a hair."

"Top end is probably quite a bit higher, but you get into system heating and some of those other side issues you came up against in the old Butterfly," Jon added. "Weíre talking a strobe effect, maybe a thousandth of a second, fired off a capacitor ring. You come out with quite a bit less heating and side issues. The cycle rate ought to be pretty high, though itíll depend on the capacitors, the input to them, and how the system stands up to the stress."

"Well, thatís part of the problem," Stan nodded. "I mean, I can think of a lot of things you can do with a coherent megawatt RF beam of that power for a thousandth of a second, so thatís a huge winner by itself, but it still doesnít solve the Butterfly problem. I mean, youíre talking about a beam dispersion down in laser country, right? I donít remember the numbers, but it isnít much."

"Right," Tanisha said. "We really havenít looked at that issue too closely, but if anything it might be a touch less than a laser, since the longer wave length is going to be less affected by atmospheric extinction as long as we stay out of atmospheric absorption frequencies."

"Yeah," Jennlynn pointed out, seeing Stanís point. "But for practical purposes, a four-inch beam at the system is still a four-inch beam at target ranges. Aiming is good, but itís not that good. You need a broader beam, more like a shotgun blast than a rifle bullet."

Jon leaned back, took a sip of his coffee, yawned, and said. "Yeah, we thought about that. Break the paradigm, Jennlynn. We figured out three different ways to diffuse the beam a little. Two of them are just brute force, we havenít even done anything on the back of the envelope, but theyíre so simple theyíre sure to work. The problem is theyíre pretty well fixed for beam dispersion. But we went right back to Thomas on that one, too, and came up with another way."

"Itís a little more technically elegant," Tanisha explained, "But you can just dial up the beam dispersion you want. You need more power the wider you open up the dispersion, but itís still a fraction of the throughput. You might not be able to aim a four-inch beam that exactly at a tenth of a mile, but with a megawatt maser at a beam dispersion of say, ten minutes of arc, youíre still laying more RF on the target than you could have ever dreamed of with the old Butterfly."

"All right, youíve sold me," Stan said. "But itís still a paper airplane. We built a lot of paper airplanes that wouldnít fly for the old system."

"We realize that," Jon nodded, and yawned again. "Thereís a lot of things we donít know, and this thing is still based on the assumption of a megawatt input, and we might be talking out our ass. Itís going to require some serious design, a fair chunk of optimization, and some testing."

"Thatís sort of a problem," Stan frowned. "Weíre not spending the Navyís money anymore."

"We know," Tanisha sighed. "What weíre working on now is a one-inch system that has a lot less input, but it should run at around twenty or thirty kilowatts. We ought to be able to test a lot of our assumptions with that, come up with some better numbers. It ought to be simple enough to build, and we can determine some of the limits empirically. I mean, system stress, for example, we can smoke test that."

"Youíre saying just jack up the power until it blows up, then back off a bit on the next one?" Jennlynn smiled. "Thatís one way, but thatís kind of expensive."

"Doesnít have to be for a breadboard pilot project," Jon grinned. "A lot of the stuff should be available off the shelf. Weíd have to build the actual core, but you know the funny part?"

"Go on," Stan said, shaking his head. My God, these kids . . . if a tenth of what theyíd dropped on him in the last few minutes worked out, there were a lot of possibilities.

"Weíre still working on the specs," Jon smiled. "But it looks like itís actually easier to build the masing cavity than it is to design it. Weíd have to write a few software patches and change some tooling, but itís well within the capabilities of the new controller running a Hadley-Monroe laser die cutter."

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