A Eureka Moment In Time

Chapter 9

Jack, Allison and Kevin were sitting at the dinner table finishing up the evening meal. Jack tried to show an interest in his stepson's school work and projects.
"So how did it go with that research rocket you were working on with Henry?" Carter asked.

"Are you familiar with Murphy's law Jack?" Kevin asked.

"A little. It usually has do with bad luck, if I remember correctly." He said.

"Yeah, well it didn't go very well. The rocket got up a few thousand feet when the gyro's tumbled or something, and then the first stage engines sputtered and reignited. The rocket flipped in flight and headed toward the ground. I couldn't abort the flight, the radio remote control system went out. I was sure it was going to hit the school building, but it ended up in the woods. Must have changed direction in the last few seconds." Kevin replied.

"You know, that's the second time in two weeks that something nearly crashed into the Tesla school, only to end up in the wooded area back there." Jack remarked. "We still haven't figured our what went wrong with Edison's drone, or how it missed the school, other than Tobio Tenma's hand prints being on the wreckage."

"That's funny. I invited Tobio to come watch the launch, but he must have got to the launch site late. Maybe he took a short cut through the wooded area, because he was in there when the rocket crashed. He even told me that the thing practically hit him. Anyway when we went to pick up the pieces, Tobio walks out of the woods carrying what what left of the upper stage. He looked like he had been on fire, and smelled of rocket fuel. I thought that I had almost killed him!" Kevin wailed.

Dr. Tenma put his test instruments away after examining his son.
"I don't see any damage from the explosion, Tobio. I guess you didn't injure yourself. Now please tell me again, what happened?"

"I intercepted the rocket in flight before it crashed into the school. I was able to divert its flight into the woods by hanging on to it to steer it. Guess I didn't let go soon enough before it hit the ground and exploded."

"You know, I had no idea just how dangerous this town was going to turn out to be when I took this job." Tenma laughed.

Ethan Edison and Henry Deacon had been burning the midnight oil the going over the core dump from the Drone's on board flight computer. Henry had ruled out a mechanical fault for the Drone mishap, and now it seemed that a computer malfunction wasn't entirely the cause either.
"There's nothing wrong with the on board computer, at least not from a systems standpoint." Henry explained to Dr. Edison. "Which leaves the computer software. Unfortunately I couldn't find anything wrong with your source code."

"So where does that leave us?" Ethan asked.

"The unthinkable. I've been going over the binary dump and I've compared it with the what was on the lab system where you assembled the drone. They were identical. So I rebuilt the system from source using a backup copy from your computer from a few months ago. I then found a small difference which I've isolated. I then ran a pattern matcher on the bit of binary code that was different. Seems you've picked up a virus, Ethan".

"I'll have my lab computers quarantined from the network and run a scan on them first thing in the morning." Dr. Edison replied.

"Actually, Ethan, I've already reported the problem to the company IT geeks, and they are on it right now." Henry said.

"Good thinking, Henry." Ethan said. "We can't let a virus infect the rest of GD."
Ethan scratched his head in thought.
"You know, I heard that there was a rocket crash in the woods this afternoon. One of the student's research projects I think."

"Yes, that would be Kevin Blake. Damn, I helped him with the rocket engine construction. It should have been a perfect flight." Henry sighed.

"What was he using for a guidance system?" Edison asked.

"Kevin showed me this miniature flight computer he was adapting to control the rocket with. Hey, come to think of it, he was using one of your drone designs. Do you think?..."

"It's possible. Kevin was in my lab a week ago. He probably programmed the rocket's flight computer using my equipment. He could have picked up the virus as well." Edison said.

Jo Lupo found herself in William Greenblatt's office at a much latter hour than she was used to. The Global Dynamics computer geek was in charge of network security, and he took his job seriously.
"I'm sorry to get you here at this hour Ms. Lupo, but company protocol requires that I get in contact with the head of security the instant I become aware of a breach in our computer system. It seems Dr. Deacon has discovered a computer virus infection in the Military Aeronautics laboratory computers. He discovered it indirectly when he was doing a postmortem on Dr. Edison's drone, indicating that the lab computer had been infected for some time."

"I guess thanks are in order then. Is the problem isolated, or has it spread to other systems?"

"I can't tell yet. I'm going to have virus scans ordered for all laboratory computers in the company first thing tomorrow morning. I realize that some projects may get delayed and miss deadlines, but we simply can't take the chance of another systems failure like Edison's drone." Greenblatt replied.

"Good idea. Can you determine how this infection got into the system?" Jo asked.

"That usually is the result of human error. All it takes is an infected un-scanned flash drive to be mounted on the wrong computer. I keep sending out emails detailing proper protocol for our high security systems, and nobody seems to read them!"

Zachery Smith entered the final command into the breeder reactor's control computer and checked the monitors. All looked perfect, the starting fuel was being enriched with just a bit too much U232, and a trace of Pu239. Just enough extra fissionable material to create a run away reaction if the reactor was set to run above 75% power. Smith set the system on automatic and turned down the lights. It was late and he needed to come back early the next day to readjust everything before Dr. Putzburger showed up and discovered his tampering. In a few days the experimental power plant would be tested. Smith knew that Putzburger would probably go way above the planned 60% power test while the super enriched fuel was still in the reactor. They would probably have to encase the building in concrete after that! Just the kind of disaster the oil tycoons were paying him for.

Smith locked the laboratory behind him and left for home.

Deputy Andy lived in the sheriff's office building. Being a robot he really didn't have any need for the kind of home environment that people did. What he did need were changes of clothes, a way to recharge, and some oil.

There was a recharging station in the back room of the building that served as Andy's residence. He had a closet for his clothes, mostly deputy uniforms, and a place to lie down while recharging. He did that overnight, which made it the robot equivalent of sleep for him. Andy poured himself a glass of an oil compound, actually it contained various lubricants and cleansing agents. He drank it slowly, savoring each swallow. As far as he was concerned it tasted like fine wine.

He undressed and put on a robe for the night. Andy climbed into his bed and plugged the recharging cable into a socket just above where his navel would be, if he had one. The socket was behind a small panel that the Deputy had just popped open.
"Lights out please," Andy said, and and the building's computer complied.

The hum of the charger unit was like a lullaby to the robot, and he closed his eyes and fell asleep, or at least powered down and ceased to be aware of his surroundings. He did dream, though it was mostly mathematical in nature.

Early the next morning Dr. Fargo had a small conference in his office. Dr. Henry Deacon, Jo Lupo, Sheriff Jack Carter, and Dr. Ethan Edison were sitting around Fargo's desk when William Greenblatt walked in.
"Let's make this quick so I can get back to work!" the computer geek said as he entered the office.

"Look, just fill Dr. Fargo in on what you told me last night" Jo said.

"Sure. I discovered a strange computer virus in Dr. Edison's laboratory system, the same computer which he used to program his drone prototype that shot up Main Street and nearly took out the top floor of Tesla High School. So far it looks like it was isolated to his laboratory, but I've just started scanning the rest of GD's network. It might take a few days to fully insure that nothing else was affected. I think we should stand down all critical operations till we know that their systems are clean."

Dr. Douglas Fargo scratched his scalp, and removed his glasses to clean them. He replaced them on his nose and cleared his throat.
"We have a few critical operations running right now. Can you give high priority to clearing those systems right away?" he asked.

"Sure, Dr. Fargo. Give me the list of those and I'll see to it."

Over at the Nuclear Engineering unit, Zachary Smith finished checking the status of the breeder reactor. The slightly over enriched fuel was just a bit more slightly enriched than he had planned, but it would work. Smith reset the controls back to normal and started the shutdown procedure. By early afternoon it would be possible to remove the rods of nuclear fuel from the reactor and package them for shipment to the experimental power plant.

On the other side of the complex, Alan Putzburger and Zane Donovan had finished their inspection of the prototype power plant's Thorium reactor and had started to load the initial charge of Thorium fuel. An industrial robot handled the mildly radioactive material, and the two engineers stood behind a thick pane of leaded glass to observe the fueling operation. Once the Thorium canisters had been loaded, the next step would be the placement of the U232 fuel rods which would generate enough heat and free neutrons to convert a controlled amount of the Thorium into more U232. At this point the reactor would be self sustaining, generating enough heat to transfer to a boiler driving a steam turbine and dynamos to generate about 1 megawatt of electrical power. When the power plant was fully operational, Putzburger planned on connecting it to the local distribution lines and take a good chunk of Eureka off the state power grid. He'd demonstrate the experimental power plant by supplying some of the towns electricity.

Dr. Tenma was more than mildly surprised to see Zane Donovan smiling at the entrance to his office.
"It's been a while since you last threatened me, Mr. Donovan. Have you come back to bother me some more?"

"Actually I came to invite you over to witness the new power plant start operation in a few days. Dr. Putzburger and I have just completed loading the primary fuel, and we expect to have the starting fuel installed by tomorrow. We've been working on this project for two years now, I thought you'd be interested in it." Zane smiled.

"If you are trying to impress me, it will probably take a larger effort. Still, I've been waiting to be introduced to Dr. Putzburger, this will probably be as good an opportunity as any. I'll be there to observe your work." Tenma replied.

"Good, you'll be impressed. By the way, I understand that the advanced physics class over at the high school will be invited to watch from the engineering floor. I believe your 'son' is in that class. He'll get a front row seat." Zane added.

"I'm sure Tobio will be interested. He's quite the technology buff, you know. It's in him actually."

Deputy Andy and Sheriff Carter stopped by the garage to find Dr. Deacon running a systems check on the garage computers. He looked up as the law enforcement duo walked in.
"Hi guys, what's up?"

"Andy's been acting a little weird lately. Nothing is really wrong with him, he's just, well ..." Jack started to say.

"I seem to have more strength than usual, that's all." Andy added.

"Well let's check you out then." Henry said. "I thought that Dr. Tenma just examined you, he's the new robotics expert."

"Yeah, well that's the point." Jack injected. "This all started AFTER Tenma messed with Andy. He gave him some kind of upgrade or something."

Henry opened Andy's chest panel and hooked up a measurement cable. He then used a syringe to extract a small amount of oil from Andy's lube reservoir.
"OK now let's see what's up." Henry said.

Dr. Deacon ran through a set of measurements using the computer instrumentation built into Andy. A funny look appeared on his face.
"You seem to be putting out about 50% more power than per your specifications. Some kind of efficiency improvement in your power cells it would seem."

Henry placed a small drop of the lubricant fluid on a microscope slide and slide it into the video microscope on his work bench. He focused the image which appeared on a large screen monitor on the wall.

"Holly cow, that's not supposed to be there!" He cried.

"What's that?" Jack and Andy asked in stereo.

"Your oil seems to be infected with nanites. They are microscope sized robotics that can reproduce themselves. These things could reach any part of your mechanical systems and effect repairs, or even modifications. I bet they explain your increased abilities. Tenma must have installed them during your examination. I don't think that you have a problem here, though Dr. Tenma should have informed you about what he was doing as this procedure is highly experimental. I hope he'll call you back for another examination to monitor the progress of this."

"So what does this mean?" Jack asked.

"It means that Dr. Tenma has figured out a way to give Andy here a built in self repair system that is also effecting certain improvements in Andy's systems. I have no idea how far this will go, but so far it seems all for the better."

As soon as the truck carrying the rods of nuclear fuel left the Nuclear Engineering Unit, Zachary Smith started to pack his things. He and Putzburger had operated the remote control robots to load the fuel rods into the shielded packing crate, and then two burly men in haze-mat suits carried the crate over to the flatbed truck and loaded it in the back of the truck. Putzburger drove off and followed the truck, heading over toward the power plant.

It was getting late in the day now, Zach figured that they wouldn't load the starting fuel into the reactor until morning. That gave him plenty of time to leave town unnoticed. No one would be looking for him, until the unthinkable happened in a few days.

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