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Into the Light Snippet #16

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Into the Light Snippet #16
Post by runsforcelery   » Fri Aug 16, 2019 4:50 pm

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.XVI.
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
Canada


“Right here,” Constable Jamie Ibson said, pointing to the fast food restaurant’s oversize parking lot just off Highway 2 in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He buttoned up his jacket as the driver turned the massive vehicle into the parking lot, leaving enough room for the second truck with the crane to pull in alongside. Since each truck was over thirty meters long, the two of them easily filled two-thirds of the parking lot.

The trip from Regina had gone fairly smoothly. The Trans-Canada was still open and in pretty good shape, and the small portion of the Manitoba Expressway they’d had to traverse had been plowed earlier in the day. Still, he knew the race was on, as the area around Regina was prone to extremes.

It had been +48°C, or “stupid hot” as his friend, Stephan Blackwolf, had said, on their arrival for training at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Academy in July. As the country headed into the throes of winter though, he knew there would be storms where the temperatures would reach “stupid cold,” or about -40°C, as well.

Ibson pulled the toque over his dark brown hair, flipped up the hood of his jacket, and then pulled on his gloves. As prepared as he could be, he climbed down from the giant transporter and walked to the southeastern corner of the lot and shook his head. The railroad overpass had decided that the coming of winter was a good time to fail, and had done so as the train bearing the relief supplies for the refugee camp at Medicine Hat, Alberta, was going over it.

In addition to the failure of the overpass, which cut the key trans-Canadian rail line, the resulting derailment of the train had snarled everything going into the yard at Moose Jaw. It was a mess, and people were going to die, hungry and cold, if he didn’t get it fixed. While they had pulled the train clear of the yard and removed the rubble from Highway 2, the rail bridge was completely gone, and the tracks were a mangled, twisted mass on both sides.

He shook his head again. Rebuilding overpasses wasn’t something that was normally in the job description of a new graduate of the RCMP academy. Usually, a graduate wasn’t even considered a fully trained constable until he'd had another six months under the guidance of a coach. In the aftermath of the Shongairi invasion—with winter coming on full bore, though—the position had been 'adjusted' slightly.

When the call had come for able-bodied men and women to help with the relief effort coming in from the “United States”—whatever part still existed, anyway—the RCMP had volunteered all of its graduates. They didn’t really have jobs yet, which made them more expendable — or dispensable, at least — than the seasoned RCMP officers they’d have had to pull from the field.

So Ibson had become a relief worker.

He’d overseen two convoys of aid going from the Regina supply depot out to the hinterlands . . . and his presence had been necessary on one of them when they’d come to the “tariff station.” A band of locals at one of the small towns along the route, who didn’t have enough supplies of their own, had been enterprising enough to set up a roadblock where they said they would “just take a small amount as tax.” Judging by the vehicles he could see in the area, the tax was on the order of 100%. While his mandate allowed for distributing some of the supplies along the way, if necessary, showing up without anything would not have endeared him to his boss, so he had respectfully declined.

While the hunting rifles the men carried had been effective against the earlier passers-through, the C7 assault rifles Ibson and the two army privates he commanded carried — and the C9 light machine gun mounted on the Iveco VM 90 leading the convoy —had dissuaded the men from any further tax collection. Permanently, when they hadn’t taken “no” for an answer.

He 'd returned from that trip to find out that he was now a bridge repairman. He'd complained about being the wrong person for the job—he didn’t have the knowledge or skills for the job—and he’d been right. Until they’d brought one of the Shongair neural educators along with the bridge repair kit that had come in on the next Starlander.

So now he had the knowledge, if not “the skills.”

Now all he needed was the manpower, which, as he turned around, was just pulling into the parking lot as well. Two large passenger vans with “15 Wing, CFB Moose Jaw,” on the sides stopped next to the transporters, and twenty men piled out. They were young airman from the airbase on the south side of town, who knew even less about fixing bridges than he did. A man who looked a little older than the rest came over to him while the rest shared a couple of cigarettes, each taking a drag before passing it to the next person. The man had three stripes on his uniform jacket and piercing blue eyes; everything else was protected by several layers of clothing.

“I’m Sergeant LaCroix,” the man said. “You Constable Ibson?”

“I am,” Ibson replied. “Thanks for coming, eh?”

“Well, we’re here, but I don’t know what good we’re going to be to you.” LaCroix jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the group of airmen. “Simmons over there was on a road crew for a summer after a . . . shall we say, minor indiscretion, but no one else has any experience with roads or railroads, and no one has any heavy construction experience. We’re jet mechanics for the Thunderbirds demonstration squadron . . . well, when we have planes again, we are, anyway.”

“That’s all right. I think I know what I’m doing.”

“You think you know, eh?” LaCroix asked. “What are you, some kind of civil engineer?”

“No, I’m a Mountie, but I did stay at a Shongair Inn last night, and they gave me the info I needed to show you what needed to be done.”

“How long’s this going to take?” LaCroix asked. “It’s going to get cold once the sun goes down.”

“Yes, it is,” Ibson said, nodding. “And I’m sure you’re looking forward to getting back to your nice, warm barracks. But it’s also going to get cold in Alberta when the sun goes down, and all the people there don’t have fuel, because it’s stuck in Regina while this bridge is out. Those folks are going to get cold, too, when the wind starts whipping across the plains. Really cold.”

The man looked down at his boots, realizing he was probably lucky to have them, and Ibson let him reflect for a moment before he added, “We need to get this bridge up, but the aliens at least made it easy on us—a lot easier than it would have been. I know how to do it, but I’ll need your guys to manhandle some things.”

The sergeant looked up and took a deep breath, squaring his shoulders. “What do you need us to do?”

Ibson chuckled, then motioned toward the restaurant. “Less than you might think, believe it or not.” He nodded his head at the two massive transporters, where the crane operator on one of the vehicles was already lifting the giant synthetic crates down to the ground, under the supervision of his driver and with the assistance of Ibson’s driver. “It’ll take them a little to get all that stuff off the transporters. Why don’t we go inside where it’s warm and talk about what needs to be done over a couple of pizzas, and then come back and open up the railway again?”

“Sounds good,” LaCroix replied.

“Then, when we’re done, there’s a bar next door, too. The first round’s on me.”

The sergeant looked over as they walked and nodded. “Now you’re talking.”



* * * * * * * * * *



“Here’s the deal,” Ibson said to the crowd of twenty young men, about a half hour later as they stood looking at the various piles spread across the parking lot. Once the transporters had been unloaded, the drivers had moved them down the street so they wouldn’t be in the way. "The Puppies left us the plans for fully automated, self-directing engineering vehicles." He pointed to the oversized synthetic crates. “That’s them. I hear that these things run on something called 'brilliant software.' It’s like the next, best thing to having a fully sentient artificial intelligence.”

He could see several of the men’s eyes glaze over, and he tried again. “Put simply, these things are robots—smart robots—that can almost do the entire job by themselves.”

“Then what the hell are we doing here out in the cold?” one of the airmen muttered.

“Good question,” Ibson replied. “I’m glad you asked. Even though they're really smart, that’s not entirely the same as being able to think for themselves, and, as I understand it, they aren’t always programmed for everything that needs to be done. We’re here to help them and provide a certain level of safety and quality assurance.”

“What’s that mean?” another airman asked.

“Would you like to go over a bridge built entirely by robots that no one else ever looked at to see if it was done right?” Ibson asked.

“Uh, no,” the airman replied.

“Me, neither. So we’re going to make sure the bridge is built right.”

“But I don’t know anything about building bridges,” a third said, to the agreement of most.

“I understand that,” Ibson replied. “And, to tell you the truth, I don’t either. But you guys do know about fixing planes, and joining metal and circuitry together, and you can tell if that’s been done right, eh?”

“Well, yeah.”

“And that’s most of what I need you to do. Stay out of their way, watch what they do, and make sure it looks right, as much as you’re able. Got it?”

The airmen nodded, and Sergeant LaCroix raised his hand. “So what do we need to do first?”

“Stay there, and I’ll get them started.” Ibson walked over to the first crate, about two meters to a side and three meters tall. which had a giant number “1” marked on all sides. It was made of something that looked like white plastic but was a lot harder. He’d seen the chemical formula for the synthetic; he had enough of a chemistry background to know it was well beyond his ability to comprehend. He found the touchpad on the side of the crate, turned it on, and entered the activation code he’d been given.

The side of the crate opposite the touchpad folded down, and a giant, quadrupedal robot nearly as large as the crate marched out. The robot turned to Ibson and asked, “Are you the supervisor?”

Ibson nodded, dumbstruck. While he’d been neurally educated on what would happen, it was a lot different to see Robocop walk out of a box and ask you a question. The robot was a shiny silver and generally humanoid — or maybe the right word was "centauroid" (if that was a word) — although its four arms and four legs announced it wasn’t “human.”

It continued to look at Ibson, and a red light blinked on its chest.

“Yes, I'm the supervisor,” Ibson said when he realized a nod wasn’t good enough. He pointed to the sergeant and added, “That is my assistant.”

“Noted,” the robot replied. “What is the task?”

“We need a new train bridge across that opening.” Ibson pointed to the former overpass. “The bridge cannot obstruct the vehicular traffic lanes that go below it.”

“I understand you need a bridge. What is a train bridge?”

“A train is a vehicle that runs on the tracks — the steel rails — that lead up to the where the bridge used to be and then extend on the other side.”

“Understood. What weight must the bridge support?"

"Uh." Ibson frowned. Somebody should have given him that information, and no one had. So how —? "Can you analyze the old bridge and see what weight it was designed to bear before it collapsed?"

"That is possible," the robot replied.

"In that case, build the new one to support a weight twenty percent greater." Better to build in a safety margin than rely on a machine's minimum estimate, he figured. "Oh, and be sure to leave the lanes under it clear. Can you do that?"

"Yes."

"Good, and once its built, you need to lay these tracks—" Ibson gestured at the small mountain (well, hillock) of gleaming new tracks stacked to one side "— across the bridge. Please."

It felt strange to say “please” to a robot, but it would have felt even stranger if he hadn’t.

“Understood. Analyze original bridge. Build new bridge to cross gap and support one-point-two times original bridge's weight. Do not obstruct lanes beneath bridge. Lay track and connect it to other side. Are these directions correct?”

“Yes they are.”

“Shall I assemble the team and begin?”

“Yes, please.”

The foreman robot walked to the next crate, extended one "finger," and plugged it into a data port on its side. When it did, Ibson realized all four of the fingers on that hand were subtly different from one another.

The robot that emerged from the second crate looked nothing like the first robot. This one had long limbs, like on a forklift, that snapped down as it emerged. As it cleared the crate, additional limbs snapped into place on its opposite side, although these ended in claw-shaped appendages with three “fingers” opposed by three “thumbs” on each. After a brief pause, it rolled over to one of the piles of steel girders on its tank-like treads, picked up a load, and began carrying them to where the bridge would be built.

“First thing I need your guys to do,” Ibson told LaCroix, “is you better go stop traffic, eh? Looks like that robot’s heading to the street and we don’t want anyone to run it over . . . or cause a wreck while they’re trying to figure out what it is.”

By the time the sergeant had four airmen on traffic patrol, the construction foreman robot had opened another three crates, and more robots were on the job. One robot had some sort of torch, or laser, or something that cut metal, and it was slicing through the existing bent railroad tracks as if they were made of butter. A second was preparing the site for where the bridge’s support structure would go, in between the lanes of vehicular traffic in the underpass, and a third robot—one that was build lower to the ground, with four sets of tracked wheels and a bladed appendage—was leveling the ground on the closer side.

“So . . .” the sergeant started, then his voice trailed off and he pursed his lips in thought.

“Yes?” Ibson asked.

“What exactly are we supposed to be doing now?”

“Staying out of the way of the robots while they work, mostly,” Ibson said. “We’re supposed to manage the big picture—like stopping traffic—things that the robots might not be familiar with. They know how to build bridges, and the foreman's smart enough to look out for the things that are dangerous in building a bridge, but they don’t know anything about humans.”

A new robot rolled onto the site and started slamming the ground with an appendage.

“What the hell is that one doing?” the sergeant asked.

“Measuring the density of the ground?” Ibson asked. “How much it’s going to flex when a train rolls over it? I don’t know. Hell, I really don’t know any more about it than you do. I do, however, know that this one’s on me.” He pointed toward where a man was cautiously approaching the site with a deer rifle in his hands. Although Canada’s citizenry didn’t have as many firearms as their counterparts in the south did, firearms did exist, and it looked like the man was trying to decide whether he should shoot the strange, alien things which appeared to be taking over one end of his town.

Ibson glanced over his shoulder as he approached the man, then turned back to smile at the newcomer's obvious confusion. The site was now a hive of activity, with twenty separate robots working on various aspects of the bridge. Most of the support structure on Highway 2 was already built and in place, and the first girders were being positioned by a robot with a mini crane on its back. It was the damnedest thing he’d ever seen.

“Can I help you?” he asked as he approached the man, keeping his hands in plain sight. The man appeared to be in his early sixties, with white hair and a beard. He also was quite heavyset, and he would have almost have looked like Santa Claus . . . if not for the weapon.

“What the…what the hell is going on there?” the man asked, motioning at the bridge with his rifle.

“It’s a robot construction crew,” Ibson replied.

“What the hell’s it doing?”

“They’re rebuilding the railroad bridge.”

“Didn’t know robots could do that.”

“They’re new. We’re just trying them out for the first time, eh?”

“Is that safe?”

“We think so, but it’d be safer if I watched them,” Ibson said, pulling out his badge. “I’m Constable Ibson. Now why don’t you just go back to your house and put away the rifle, and let me take care of this.”

“You’re a Mountie?” the man asked, apparently noticing Ibson's RCMP parka for the first time. He seemed happy to have something he understood and could count on.

“Yes, sir, I am, and I have this all under control.” Even if I don’t understand half of what I’m doing.

“Well, okay then,” the man said. He turned away, shaking his head. “Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“Last one,” the robot foreman said.

Ibson nodded, amazed to have the task completed so quickly. He looked at his watch—he hadn’t even been on-site for six hours, and they were already finished.

“Clear?” asked one of the three remaining robots.

“Your call,” Ibson said to Sergeant LaCroix, who stood on the other side of what Ibson had come to think of as the “pile-driving robot.”

The sergeant nodded and gave a quick scan. “Clear!” he called. “Fire!”

The robot fired some sort of coilgun on its arm, and a spike emerged from it to slam into place, holding the final rail to the tie. Not satisfied with the spike’s placement, the robot’s sledgehammer arm descended once, driving it the rest of the way home.

“Satisfactory,” the robot pronounced.

“Satisfactory,” LaCroix agreed.

The pile-driver robot turned and began rolling toward its crate at some unspoken signal from the foreman robot, who was networked in with all of them. Except for their interaction with the humans, the robots worked silently, based on the electromagnetic orders given them by the foreman.

“Bridge to cross gap completed,” the foreman informed Ibson. “Lanes below bridge remain unobstructed. Track in position and connected to original track on both sides. Job complete. Do you agree?”

“I agree,” Ibson said. “It was a job very well done. Thank you.”

“We are ready for the next task. Two units will require servicing after that,” the robot said, then walked to its crate and backed into it. As it came in contact with a switch inside the box—Ibson had looked earlier—the crate sealed itself, just like all the previous ones had.

“Now what?” the sergeant asked.

“Now I get the drivers to load the crates back onto the transporters, and we head back to Regina.”

“I think you’re forgetting something, first, though.”

Ibson scanned the job site, looking for something he missed. “No, I think we’re good.”

The sergeant chuckled. “No, there was also the mention of a beer, and the fact you were buying . . .”



.XVII.
Cold Mountain,
Transylvania County, North Carolina
United States




"It's good to see you guys," Dave Dvorak said as Daniel Torino and Pieter Ushakov walked into the dining room.

"No, it's not," Sharon Dvorak said. "I can't think of two people I'd less prefer to see."

She smiled as she spoke, and crossed the room to wrap her arms first around Ushakov and then around Torino. She kissed each of them on the cheek, then pointed imperiously at chairs while a platoon or so of children laughed.

"This is not the proper example to be setting for dutiful children." Ushakov glowered at the audience — especially at Zinaida Karpovna — although the severity of his tone was sadly undermined by the twinkle in his eye.

"I tell her that," Larissa Karpovna, Zinaida's mother, said mournfully. "But it does no good, Peten'ka." She shook her head and smiled at Sharon; she'd learned to do that again. "She cannot help it. She is American."


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: Into the Light Snippet #16
Post by phillies   » Fri Aug 16, 2019 9:19 pm

phillies
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Posts: 1930
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Location: Worcester, MA

Robots are stunning.

Isn't there something about putting the rail cars back on the track, or waiting for the careful load test? Perhaps that would not be needed in the story, only in real life.
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Re: Into the Light Snippet #16
Post by Joat42   » Fri Aug 16, 2019 9:49 pm

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phillies wrote:Robots are stunning.

Isn't there something about putting the rail cars back on the track, or waiting for the careful load test? Perhaps that would not be needed in the story, only in real life.

The robots are probably a Chekhov's gun, someone is going to use them unwisely later.

---
Jack of all trades and destructive tinkerer.


Anyone who have simple solutions for complex problems is a fool.
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Re: Into the Light Snippet #16
Post by Bluesqueak   » Sat Aug 17, 2019 6:56 am

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Posts: 369
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phillies wrote:Robots are stunning.

Isn't there something about putting the rail cars back on the track, or waiting for the careful load test? Perhaps that would not be needed in the story, only in real life.


Given that the refugee camp is without heat until the supply train gets there, they may have skipped the tests - or be planning on doing them on the journey. Emergency situation.

My granddad's war stories included doing the final testing on newly-built planes while the ATA pilot was flying it down to its airfield. Yes, his war stories also included discovering some part had been put in upside down, emergency landings and a couple of outright crashes - but they needed the planes badly enough to be willing to risk a percentage crashing on the way.
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Re: Into the Light Snippet #16
Post by Bluesqueak   » Sat Aug 17, 2019 7:02 am

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Joat42 wrote:
phillies wrote:Robots are stunning.

Isn't there something about putting the rail cars back on the track, or waiting for the careful load test? Perhaps that would not be needed in the story, only in real life.

The robots are probably a Chekhov's gun, someone is going to use them unwisely later.


Yes, a situation where supervisors have only theoretical training, limited experience with the robots and an emergency on their hands simply screams 'industrial accident a'comin!'

I don't know why, but I'd thought Daniel Torino had gone with Steven and Vlad.
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Re: Into the Light Snippet #16
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sat Aug 17, 2019 8:42 am

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Like! :)
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Re: Into the Light Snippet #16
Post by phillies   » Sat Aug 17, 2019 10:09 am

phillies
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Location: Worcester, MA

Bluesqueak wrote:
phillies wrote:Robots are stunning.

Isn't there something about putting the rail cars back on the track, or waiting for the careful load test? Perhaps that would not be needed in the story, only in real life.


Given that the refugee camp is without heat until the supply train gets there, they may have skipped the tests - or be planning on doing them on the journey. Emergency situation.

My granddad's war stories included doing the final testing on newly-built planes while the ATA pilot was flying it down to its airfield. Yes, his war stories also included discovering some part had been put in upside down, emergency landings and a couple of outright crashes - but they needed the planes badly enough to be willing to risk a percentage crashing on the way.


Better to test while the robots are still there to fix.

As the illustrious author was referencing nitpickers, the Canadians use French Imperial measurement units for temperature.
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Re: Into the Light Snippet #16
Post by Bluesqueak   » Sat Aug 17, 2019 12:42 pm

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phillies wrote:
Better to test while the robots are still there to fix.

As the illustrious author was referencing nitpickers, the Canadians use French Imperial measurement units for temperature.


Well, if we're going to be nitpicking, the entire project should have come to a screeching halt at at least two points before there was any need for testing - firstly when the robot didn't know what a train bridge was, and secondly when Constable Ibson realised he had no idea how much a freight train weighed.

In a perfect world, this job would have been done by the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers. In the imperfect post-Shongairi world, they're almost certainly mostly dead, if not all dead. Any surviving Military Engineers are busy. Very busy.

So in the imperfect post-war world, this bridge is being built by a RCMP baby Constable who only has theoretical training and has no senior Constable to back him up or tell him to get advice. A baby Constable aided by a bunch of aircraft mechanics, who repair stuff rather than build it from scratch. And a collection of robots, who may have had their safety programming tweaked a bit so that they don't have as many safety precautions built in.

What could possibly go wrong? :twisted:

This scene does have the feel of 'industrial accident coming up', but it will BE an accident. Caused by people who didn't know what they're really doing having to do it anyway - because the people who did know how to do this stuff were murdered by the Shongairi. And the bridge was down. And the robots looked amazing. And Alberta needed that fuel.

I mentioned my granddad's story because it's one of the nasty truths of emergency situations. Sometimes the calculation is that lives lost through the delay to do the appropriate safety tests or extend the appropriate training are likely - over the entire country - to exceed the lives lost by one of those untested bridges failing. So the training will be rushed and the tests will be made by taking the train over the bridge - or flying the plane to the airfield - and people die.

[And as a lighter moment before we get all righteous about the benefits of always, always testing, try googling the Millennium Bridge (London). And they tested that one. :lol: ]
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Re: Into the Light Snippet #16
Post by phillies   » Mon Aug 19, 2019 10:24 pm

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It had been +48°C, or “stupid hot”

48 C is 118 Fahrenheit.

For Canada this sounds excessive. The country's record high temperature, set in 1937, is 45 C (113 F).

Perhaps there were a lot of politicians in the vicinity when the temperature was measured.
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Re: Into the Light Snippet #16
Post by George J. Smith   » Tue Aug 20, 2019 2:03 am

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I would think with all the debris thrown into the atmosphere as a result of the kinetic strikes there would be a "nuclear winter" effect.
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