Dr Scure Stories - Chapter 1
(Written by Ace Dreamer; posted 26 June 2012)
Dr Scure - Season Zero - 22/Jun/2012
Eastercon 2007, UK.
"Why should I pay fifty quid for a recycled tin of Humbrol paint with a sticky label on it saying 'meta paint' ?" Brian looked up from his wheelchair at the enthusiastic man with the energetic black eye brows.
"Because... It's better than any paint you ever used! Really brings things to life!" Brian wondered, idly, whether a whispered shout was possible, because that was certainly what seemed to be being used.
"How do I know that paint is even suitable for miniatures?" Brian was getting intrigued. For reasons that worried him the voices in his head were shouting "Buy it! Buy it!". And, they didn't usually say much, except make mischievous suggestions.
Leaning closer the man looked down at him, then glanced down at his con badge. "Look, 'Brains'?", the man shook his head. "Look. I'll throw in a CD with some video and instructions. You won't even have to risk poking around in the web. Things are starting to happen. If you know what you are doing", and the man looked at a nearby table in the Dealer's Room, "You can have some real fun".
Brian looked around the room. It was busy, but still early on in the con, so it'd get a lot busier. The room was an interesting mix of books and other media, and Brian was sitting behind a table of science fiction miniatures, arranged in three different dioramas, advertising his services.
He couldn't be sure, but he thought the man was looking at a display of 'hentai' material, including imported Japanese figures. Brian'd been looking at a woman with a winged head, 'Silene', earlier. Maybe that'd drawn the man to him?
Brian wasn't sure about hentai. Yes, he was paralysed from the waist down but that didn't mean he was uninterested. The women seemed mostly schoolgirls, or due for really bad backs, later in life. Or both. And it tended to be the more obscure stuff that interested him, with a science fiction, occult, or just really strange, element.
"OK", he said, coming to a decision. "I'm here on a limited budget, but I'll give Roger over there", he indicated another table, "Ten pounds and you give him the CD and tin of paint. If I've done well by late Sunday, Roger will give you the ten quid and I'll give you another forty, if not he'll give you the ten quid and your stuff back". 'And I'll buy that classic SF collection from Roger he's been recommending to me', Brian thought.
The man was obviously undecided. "OK", he said finally, "Deal".
Summer, 2007, UK.
Brian, 'Brains', had bought the 'meta paint'. He'd watched the video. He'd read the instructions. Conservatively, he'd painted-up a surplus 2mm figure. Though a few smears had gone on a defunct diorama.
Now, he watched the figure stagger around that diorama. It was a World War II British soldier, carefully painted with a bandaged head, with red dot. The figure didn't seem to be able to walk off the landscape; near the edge he just veered away, and kept wandering.
He ignored a finger-tip waved in his face. If picked up he just froze back into painted plastic, again. Until he was put on that diorama, again.
"I don't think he's intelligent", Brian murmured to himself. "It's more he's doing what fits his surroundings. As if he's an animated part of them. This needs careful thought."
A week later Brian had thought more about the problem than even he thought sensible. The shaky videos of hovering or flying cars didn't interest him. Cars were, to him, four-wheeled tin raincoats. Not some mystical freedom device. But, he guessed being in a wheelchair might be colouring his opinion.
It turned out you could 'breed' the paint. You could even change its colour, if you were careful. Slowly feeding it more paint seemed to work best, along with an energy source, like a mild electric current, or strong sunlight; mirrors helped.
Ah yes. He was supposed to call it 'handwavium'.
Brains was worried about contaminating it with information; some suggestions of feeding-in SF books, or illustrations, was in the instructions. He'd tried to hide his browsing trail, but there were worrying hints that living creatures could be affected, and, unless very careful, strange things would happen.
Brian had turned to his best occult books, re-reading Wilson and Bonewits. Intention seemed critical, clear, maybe even fanatical, intention. No matter what some people said, Brian wasn't sure he could do 'fanatic', and he couldn't spend years developing a useful 'magical personality'.
OK, he didn't know how to get what he wanted, or where he wanted. But, he wasn't an engineer and a computer programmer for nothing. If you'd trouble starting-up something big, in a new environment, you started with something small, and boot-strapped.
He needed tools, to build the tools, to get what he wanted. And, they had to have safety features built in. And not decide to go Skynet or Nuclear Genie out-of-the-bottle on him. Which led to his current ritual.
Fortunately Summer thunder storms in his area were reasonably predictable - at least you knew they were on the way. His cottage, a dower house, had never been hit by lightning, but some careful engineering would likely fix that. He had a diorama of a 1980s computer room already, and with a little modification it matched that film, right down to the frantically scurrying operator.
He'd been collecting old SF films on video for a few years now. People were just throwing them away, even if they didn't buy a DVD replacement. He'd standing orders in a number of local charity shops. Somehow, he felt tapes were more 'solid' than DVDs, more like films; no reconstruction of images from compression which you hoped they'd gotten right.
The TRON video, still in its original box, was taped to the back of a blown-up to life-size, sepia, Victorian print, that looked very like Bagpuss's 'Emily'. So he'd get someone who'd bestride the virtual and real worlds.
Weird Science contributed the ritual (he hoped he wasn't supposed to have stolen the Victorian bra he was wearing on his head), he refurbished an original model of the PC used in the film, and carefully connected the computer room diorama. The trick was getting Emily, not Lisa (or a nuclear weapon). Hence, the sepia print, and no doll.
Bagpuss required an original as possible cloth cat, and he'd added a Bagpuss diorama, carefully missing the central character. The cat carefully resting 'in the arms' of the sepia print.
All in the scaled-up ritual circle, drawn as accurately as he could. With Emily and Bagpuss being the targets. Or, more accurately Emily, who had a cloth cat called 'Bagpuss'.
He hoped this was all obscure enough, and that his initials of 'OBS' for being 'Orlando Brian Severn' might help in some way. Names of Power.
"No, no, mustn't think about Murphy and Eris!"
SfX: Lightning Flash!
Summer, 2007, UK. Post-Thunder Storm.
Brains thought frantically. He'd come-around after the ritual to find that everything around him was sepia-coloured. And, a late teenage girl, in Victorian dress, was standing in front of him. Wearing a not too happy expression.
He swallowed. "Because the world needed you. You are part of it..."
She waited, and his mind churned.
"OK. I need you. The world is broken. I'm broken. Both need fixing. You get things fixed", and he broke down, crying.
She waited, until he regained his composure, stroking the cloth cat that she held in her arms.
She sighed, "You might be a god. You've created life, after all. But, I'm not a goddess. Or a fairy godmother. I'll let you give it a try".
She looked around, and the mess tidied itself up. Then a work table unfolded itself, and moved to in front of Brains. She carefully put the cat down on the table, and somehow reached inside it, pulling out a woodpecker bookend, a rag doll, a toad with a banjo on a tin, and finally, a mouse organ.
"Bagpuss, dear Bagpuss
Old Fat Furry Catpuss
Wake up and look at this thing that I bring
Wake up, be bright, be golden and light
Bagpuss, oh hear what I sing"
Then she turned around and walked out of the room, the colours gradually brightening back to normal, as she went out of sight.
Brains watched the cloth cat. He showed no sign of animation. No sign of waking. Finally, after about ten minutes, the room slowly faded to sepia again, as Emily walked back in, carrying a tea cup on a saucer.
She sipped her tea, watching Brains. This time he stubbornly waited until she spoke.
"Have you figured it out?" "No", he said sullenly.
She sighed, "Bagpuss never wakes when anyone is watching. They only ever repair inanimate things. Not people. You are not a 'thing'. Do you understand?".
"Yes." She looked at him with obvious compassion. "You can do this, but it will need Work. Alchemical Work. The sort that transforms the Worker as much as the material worked on."
"Call me when you need me."
She stepped forwards, blurring. And all that was left on the table was a framed Victorian print. Of a girl. Holding a cloth cat. Beside an empty tea cup on a saucer.
'Wasn't that cup cracked?', he thought.
Late Autumn, 2007, UK.
Brains would be the front of the queue. To agree that his first bootstrapping hadn't been an unqualified success. A great deal of work. His best efforts and much lack of sleep for more than a week. And, all he had was a framed Victorian picture of a girl, cradling a cloth cat. That scared the life out of him.
He'd gone back to first principles. He had to understand handwavium. After several attempts he had a toy tricorder which could detect even minute qualities of it. And, he was learning to interpret the display so he could tell how much, and of what type.
The Victorian picture did not show up at all on his 'w-scanner'. Nor did the area where he'd done the ritual, though he'd literally painted it all over. All totally clean. Thank you, Emily.
The weather had been quite kind, so far, but he was sure Autumn was going to bite, pretty soon. He'd made quite a load of money, lately, with animated dioramas for a number of TV channels. They were impressed by the accuracy he managed, and, how quickly he could provide them with high quality footage. They wouldn't believe him when he said he wasn't using secret cutting-edge computer animation. And, they really liked the individualism of the figures.
Careful investigation had lead him to the idea of a clay pit, such as used in many old episodes of Doctor Who. He'd been finding just what sorts of ultra materials he could handwavium up, and so far 'Doc' Smith's dureum led the pack for toughness, and Campbell's lux and relux for strength combined with exotic properties. The first having a density 200 times water, and the later two about a 100 times, meant he had to be very careful who found out about them.
He thought he'd been careful, but obviously not careful enough. He'd waved his wheelchair. Now it would fold not just to go in the boot of a car, but into a walking frame. What really worried him was he couldn't spot any downsides.
The MEMS tip alarm had become some sort of flight system. The rain cape which he'd jokingly referred to as his 'invisible forcefield' now was. His 'magic' hot cup provided pure water/ OJ/ tasteless pap labelled 'Nutrition'. One of his diapers had become 'ever clean' - some sort of waste disposal/recycling system; he suspected it might be feeding the hot cup. Too many late nights watching space flight on 'Discovery' channel...
Loggy with lack of sleep when he'd first noticed this, he'd remarked out loud that all it needed was air regeneration, and a (Niven?) electro-stim anti-muscle wastage gadget. Then found in the morning, after thirteen hours sleep, his 'keep fresh' ionic air-freshener and his auto-exerciser had somehow been incorporated. Sleep tinkering?
That was the final straw. He'd build a negative pressure hood inside which he did all his small-scale handwavium work, and, later added isolator gloves and waldos. At every break, and at the end of the day, he did a careful sweep of his workshop, and himself, with the w-meter. No food or drink ever went anywhere near the workshop, and he'd added an automatic w-alarm to the doorway. And an emergency shower unit for accidents.
He was wrong about the wheelchair not having any problems. Over the years he'd joked that being in a wheelchair made him invisible. As much as a six-foot tall, ex-Rugby playing, stocky build man, with brilliant green eyes and bright red hair could be. Now he found that unless he deliberately drew people's attention, their eyes just slid past him. This didn't apply when the chair folded into walking mode, but the shock of his sudden 'appearance', and several near heart attacks, led him to restrict this to climbing stairs, certainly where anyone could see him.
A wheelchair that made him more socially isolated didn't strike him as being the sort of 'self improvement' that Emily had implied he needed. But, it led him to thinking about means of going invisible, remaining undetected, which seemed wise given the fuss starting to be made about handwavium. Meta materials, with negative refractive indexes, bending light and radar around them. Super carbon black, absorbing all wavelengths. Seemed a good start.
He'd started to experiment with 5 micron mylar, polyester, sheet. Previously he'd used this for model work, sometimes coated with tissue, and he'd found its already amazing strength-for-weight could be boosted by waving. With careful use of heat and paint you could shape it, and make it look like anything. Taking this to the next level mylar could be waved into dureum, lux or relux, and become nearly indestructible.
Though, you'd to be really careful with the edges, and he'd developed a regime of carefully rolling them to avoid limb-threatening 'paper cuts'. You could probably take someone's head off with a dureum frisbee bowler hat...
The wheelchair had tempted him in ways he couldn't resist. It seemed to be able to fly, sliding through the air to cause minimum turbulence, at up to 300mph, then above 65mls go into some mode he thought they called 'speed drive'. The view from the edge of space had been spectacular. He could be anywhere on the planet in under an hour, and half of that was the journey through atmosphere at each end. The brief New Zealand visit, to watch his elder brother's family, from a distance, had been fun.
What annoyed him was he hadn't planned the wheelchair, so he didn't know how it worked, what logic it followed, even whether the batteries might fail at some unfortunate time. Careful study of SF space drives had led him to suspect Prof Laithwaite's gyroscopic anti-gravity. A test vehicle, literally a flying crate, seemed to operate happily using a pair of MEMs gyroscopes, powered by an old car battery, directed by a model plane remote control. One of the pair seemed to give zero gravity, the other thrust and artificial gravity, which seemed to include protection from acceleration.
The crate amused him because it reminded of Blish's "Welcome to Mars" - a boy makes the first Mars flight and human landing in a packing crate. But, the spin-dizzy of "Cities in Flight" also came to mind, and the idea of a city like New York going to the stars was a bit terrifying. Throwing planets around was probably best left to 'Doc' Smith.
The idea of spotting when people were observing you seemed a good idea, and an excellent way of checking if your invisibility was working right. The 'now you see me, now you don't' problem with the wheelchair proved an excellent tool for checking this. His 'obs-detector' seemed to work for humans, and gadgets, even AIs he later discovered, but not animals - strange... Maybe his initials being 'OBS' helped him develop this?
All this pondering, and R&D, led him back to his back garden, early one Autumn evening, checking he wasn't observed.
He'd assembled his 'work horse' a few nights ago, a 2m diameter cylinder, 6m long, 'cigar shape', and found its invisible hull worked fine. Then, the last few days out-fitting it, in the near-derelict garage, just beyond the edge of his property. Not as nimble as the wheelchair, but capable of hauling plenty of mass. The mylar pressure dome was folded and stored, on-board, as was the compressor, and, he hoped, all the bamboo poles and mylar rolls he'd need to use. And the paint. Couldn't forget the paint.
Ten hours later he was done with the clay pit. The shell of his new craft, curing nicely, and already properly invisible, was gravity-tethered over a nearby disused air field. Mylar sheet had become dureum strips, pre-shaped into hoops and struts. The pressure dome reduced the amount of handwavium being sprayed in all directions, and an electro-static charge directed it to where it was needed. Finally, fitting and spraying an outer sheath of layered dureum, relux and lux. His w-scanner said his wheelchair forcefield had kept him clean.
The 'work boat' as a 6m diameter cylinder, 20m long, 'cigar shape', should be good enough for any of his purposes, and he could spend the Winter months drawing and waving circuitry onto the insides, with the odd MEMs device, or focus crystal. Two floors, in most parts. Drive, accumulator banks, force fields, passive sensor array, emergency drive, emergency force fields, air and water regeneration... Then, in Spring, he could add living quarters and tidy-up the on-board workshop.
Later, he wondered if he'd made a mistake. His work horse was just too long to fit in the standard parking spaces used in Fenspace. But, maybe people wouldn't have liked a permanently invisible 'truck'. And, people trying to park where you already were parked might've got annoying.
At least he could be quite sure that neither his work horse, or boat, should develop AI. Emily had scared him off that; point-and-shoot navigation should be good enough for any journeys he planned. 'Doc' Smith technology at least had the great virtue of not needing any computer support.
Though, getting a very basic mobile phone, and waving it up to an all-band monitor and communicator might be wise? Hmm. Now, how'd he shield that, and any other electronics on board, so no one'd detect them? 'Doc' Smith or some other technology?
Of course, if he wanted to travel in real safety, something like an invisible 'Doc' Smith mauler would be nice. But, at 300m length you could really get lost in there. And, that's an awful lot of mylar...