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Homebrew - A Blog Science Fiction Novel

Hand-tossing pizza in micro-gravity is an art. For one thing, even the slightest push to the side causes the spinning dough to drift away, far more rapidly than it sinks back down.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Homebrew - Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine
Fusing Cold

Why is everybody waiting for America when it comes to research?
-Martin Fleischmann

The paperwork to bring the shiny, new device up from Earth had been enormous. It filled nineteen 3-ring binders (mandated by the UN, as it refused to accept the 'permanence' of optical storage media) and weighed more than the reactor itself. And completing the paperwork had taken another month - a month in which the four partners chafed under the boredom of waiting for the VIP guests to show. Once again, problems had arisen groundside and the initiation ceremony delayed. Even now, rumors circulated that yet another delay would be announced.
On the one hand this gave the workers at OPS-1 a chance to finish the entire basic array, not the minimum necessary to deliver power to the receiving rectenna array. Only five work days, six at the outside, and the basic power arrays would be complete.
It also meant the group of pilots agitating for a guild had a month more time to convince their fellow pilots to organize and demand changes. Management knew about the lobbying efforts, but had not yet found cause to fire the agitators. They issued new regulations every day, trying to force the troublemakers to make an actionable mistake.
But these efforts, from both sides, had caused another problem. The regulations and petty rules changes also began to wear on the other workers. Some had started to discuss creating another guild or union for beam-walkers and sub-module assembly workers. Others were agitating to form a union for the clerical, medical and support workers. And the food preparation workers were talking about bringing up a representative of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union.
Dermot had been approached by other workers from three of the groups, each wanting to feel him out, trying to find out if he would support their efforts to unionize. And he wasn't alone, Ellen was cornered by people from all four groups, although neither of them could figure why the food prep staff felt she would want to join HERE. Dora was the most fortunate, only the beam-walkers had approached her for support, although she felt slighted she had been denied the opportunity to heap her scorn upon the representatives of the other three groups. He smiled as he remembered the breadth and inventiveness she had demonstrated as she flayed the proposal and the people making it.
He shook himself. Daydreaming about past events was no way to get the present work done. His task for today was to help J'Shawn install this generator in Bigelow Aerospace Sundancer, hull number 392-B. And then fire it up and test out the power generation and the circuit breakers.
"Hey, J'Shawn," he called. "Are you ready yet? I've got this baby up and humming. The meters are pegging at six megawatts of available power and the viewport is giving me a great light show."
"Keep your pants on." his friend replied. "I'm just about to dump the air in this chamber. Don't want to have a spark start a fire. How about you? Is your room at no atmosphere still?"
"You bet. And before you ask, I've got my suit on, or I wouldn't be having this wonderful conversation with you."
"All right, smart-ass. I get the message. Hey, I'm down to vacuum. Hold on a bit..." Dermot waited through the silence.
"There. That's got it. Okay, on the count of three, I'm going to throw the switch. You copy?"
"Is that on 'One, Two, Three and throw the switch' or 'One, Two, throw the switch, Three'?"
"Very funny. One. Two. Three." At three, Dermot saw the 'in use' light on the circuit breaker box mounted next to the reactor begin to glow a steady green.
"I'm showing power being pulled from the system at this end. How about you?" He waited for a response. "J'Shawn? Are you all right?"
Just as he turned to rush to the other room he heard, "Bojemoi," whisper from his speakers. Then, "Patrick, you must see this."
Dermot slowed his rush to the other chamber. At the hatch he stopped, stunned by what he saw. The magenta-purple glow danced across his helmet's faceplate, broken only by the silhouette of his roommate's outline.
"Where did you get that?"
"It's my Dad's old plasma ball. I had him ship it up when we decided to install these reactors. It's a real power hog for what little it does, but I figured with the amount of juice we have available, what would it hurt?"
"It's beautiful. I think I want one. Does it come in other colors?"
"I think so, but we might have to shop around. And I think it came in other shapes as well, if you dont' want a ball."
"No, no. The ball is fine. If we could get it in green or blue, I'd prefer one of those, but I like the ball shape. Imagine how impressive one of those would look on a shelf by my desk."
"Now you're thinking. Always impress the clients, Dora says."
"Hah. She's going to have you thinking like a marketing guru any day now."
"Not me. I'd rather work with my hands. And fly. Flying is great." J'Shawn turned and looked at him. "What about you? Are you going to be happy working a desk?"
Dermot thought about it. Finally he answered. "No. I'd rather grow plants or raise animals. And if not that, I'd rather brew beer."
"Brewing? Do you mean that?" The vehemence in J'Shawn's voice startled him. "Would you brew beer up here? Hell, could you brew beer up here?"
"Of course you could. They're operating a vodka still up here aren't they?"
"Yeah, but that's not the same as brewing beer. Don't you have to use yeast and some kind of grain? And, and... what's it called? Oh yeah, hops! Don't you need hops?"
"Of course, but you don't need that much hops. So that could be shipped up, as could the yeast. That leaves water and the grain. Most of the cheap commercial beers use rice, but the original brews called for barley or oats, both of which have been successfully grown in space. I suppose with the right planting mixture and lighting, it would be possible to even grow hops up here." He became silent as thoughts whirled inside him.
"That would be awesome! If we brewed it ourselves we wouldn't have to have it shipped up here." said J'Shawn.
"If you just brewed it here, you'd have to pay to have the grain, yeast and hops sent up. Better to grow everything here. However, the first batches would have to use purchased ingredients as it would take too long to harvest what you needed." He grinned at his friend, "How much do you think we could charge for a space-brewed beer?"
"They're charging ten bucks a bottle for the cheap stuff we can get sent up, so I wouldn't pay more than that."
"No, that's not what I meant. Or rather, it is, but I also want to know what you think a groundhog would pay to for a bottle of beer brewed in space?"
"Whoa! You mean market it down below? How would you do that? And where would you grow the supplies?"
"We've got two additional habitats, don't we?" Dermot's mind reeled with potential opportunity. He wasted no time whipping out his notebook, where he jotted down the ideas he and J'Shawn had discussed. When he was done, he asked his friend, "Do you think you could come up with a catchy name for it?"
"We've got to use 'Homebrew' in the name, but we could do something which ties into space, such as Low Earth Orbit Lager, or Aphelion Ale, stuff like that."
"Low Earth Orbit, or LEO, Lager sounds good. I don't know about Aphelion Ale. Keep thinking and I'll do the same."
"We should get Ellen and Dora in on the name, 'cause they'd know what would appeal to women. Dora was telling me that women form fifty-one percent of the consumer market Earth-side. We don't want to alienate half our market."
"Good idea." Dermot added the information to his notes. Then he had another idea. "Could we raise bees? Bees would do well for pollinating the grains and hops. And if we added clover or some of those miniature citrus trees, we could, maybe, collect honey."
"Honey? Why honey? I don't seem to remember any honey shortage in the cafeteria."
"Yeah, but they have to ship it up. And I was thinking that if we fit out one of the habitats as a truck farm, produce fresh vegetables and fruit that doesn't cost as much because it's grown in orbit, then we're going to need to pollinate those plants. And bees are natural pollinators. And since we'd have the bees up here for that job, why not also harvest the honey? Sort of a multiple streams of income approach." He could see J'Shawn considering the possibilities.
"Man, that's crazy enough it might work. Of course, we'd probably have to pollinate the first generation by hand." He continued, "And getting the seeds wouldn't cost near as much to bring up here, they're so small and light. However, I think we'd be better off buying already-started trees for the miniature citrus. I suppose we could even try our hands at raising grapes."
"Why grapes?"
"Because if we brew beer, we might as well try our hands at making wine. Give some class to the operation. The idea is growing on me. We'll have to run it by the girls, see if they can improve on it."
"I was thinking the same thing. And we could serve the beer and wine at that pizzeria you were talking about. Do you think we could get enough customers to make it worthwhile? After all, once the arrays are completely finished and running, most of our workers disappear, on to the next station."
"That's not as much of a problem as you think." J'Shawn stopped for a moment. "Patrick? How far would you travel for a decent meal? Would you take an hour or two, if it was good food?"
"Sure. I've traveled for three hours, over two hundred miles, to try out a fancy restaurant. But we're going to be halfway around the world from OPS-2. Will people come that far?"
"It's not that far. Not for an OTV or OCV. It's about a four-hour journey, but that's well within the range of one of those craft. And making the trip is far less expensive than dropping down groundside. Don't forget that OPS-1 is going to be the main orbital office for the entire UN-OPS program. That means we'll be getting all sorts of visitors up here; remember how they were talking about putting up an orbital hotel up here to house visitors? They'll want something different than what OPS will serve them. And let's not forget all the guests making the trip up to Bigelow's LEO Hotel. We're the same distance from them as we are from OPS-2. It would be quite a treat for their guests to say they ate at a private restaurant and drank beer and wine made right up here in orbit. Right now," he said, turning back to the glowing plasma ball, "we need to get this reactor checked out. If we don't have power for these habitats, we don't get any business."
"And no business means no money," Dermot finished the sentence. "It was funny the first time Dora said it. Now I have nightmares about not getting business, nightmares where people keep saying this to me as I stand helpless under a spotlight. Do you think we can talk Dora into using another comment?"
"Naw. And you better not tell her about your nightmare. I guess this is one of those things she learned at Daddy's knee. I get nightmares a lot like yours and I mentioned it just once. No sir! Not gonna talk about it to her again." He followed Dermot back to the chamber containing the SPS 6000-H. Together they finished testing the rest of the circuit connections and brought more of the habitat's environmental systems online using the new reactor instead of the built-in fuel-cells and solar-arrays. In another three hours they were back in 'Vuffie' and on their way to OPS-1.
"Say, roomie, besides tomato sauce, dough, veggies and herbs, what else do you need to make a decent pizza?"
"Obviously, you need cheese. And unless you're feeding only vegans, you're going to need meat. Those will be expensive. Meat and cheese are dense items, they'll cost a lot to send up here; I don't see a way around the expense though, it's not as if we can raise our own animals or make our own cheese." J'Shawn waited for a reply. As the silence dragged out, he began to worry. "You're NOT planning to raise animals are you? Patrick! Tell me you're not getting a crazy idea! There's no way to raise animals up here!"
"Why not? Oh, we probably can't raise pigs or cows, they're too land intensive, but a few goats would give us milk to make cheese, and chickens would let us add our own meat toppings. We could even farm shrimp, clams, lobsters and crawfish in tanks. They've done it Earth-side."
"Damn! When you think big, you think big, don't you?" He went on. "Are you totally bug nuts! Goats? Chickens? Lobsters? Who would buy them? Even more important, who's going to take care of them? I don't know anything about raising animals. Hell! I don't even know if lobsters, chickens, shrimp or goats can handle being in space!"
"We will find out." Dermot said, striving to be calm. His friend's outrage puzzled and angered him. Weren't they taking risks with all the other plans? Still, he was right about one thing to the best of Dermot's knowledge, no one had studied whether shellfish, poultry or goats could adapt to living in a micro-gravity environment, although he thought he remembered of several studies using bees - and if his memory was working right, they were successful.
"Okay. You have a point. We don't know how most animals would react in a micro-gravity environment. I'm pretty sure bees will do fine, maybe other insects, which means we should be able to raise perennial plants. Looks like we will just have to experiment." He grinned. "And maybe we can get a grant to help defray the costs. Are you willing to give it a try if someone else pays for it?"
"Now you're talking my language. I'll do just about anything if it's legal and someone else is willing to pay me."


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