Two months later…
I was on the moon with Sam, Richard, and some of the other engineers on the team. We were sitting in a conference room, watching two feeds. One was of the working prototype, a ten-foot long barrel attached to a massive goniometer and rotational stage. A multitude of thick cables were attached, ranging from the base to about halfway up the barrel. These were connected to massive batteries and a modest-sized synchrotron, which was itself connected to another slew of batteries and other sources. It was an ugly setup, to be sure, but if it worked…
The other feed was connected to a massive target, about 15 meters in diameter. The target had even more cables coming from it, each connected to various pressure and heat sensors on the back of the target. One of the engineers was on a computer, monitoring the stream of data coming from the sensors. A second engineer was controlling the targeting system for the cannon, making miniscule adjustments to the direction and angle of the shot. Although it was automated, we didn’t want to trust the computer with the first shot that the system fired.
The security officer for the building walked into the door with a military officer. “Dr. Clark, you and your team have been cleared to fire.” Clarke looked over at me, and nodded. I tapped the targeting engineer on the shoulder, giving him the go ahead.
“Target acquired,” He said, “Charging for the shot. Firing in ten seconds. Five seconds. Three…two…one…”
The left feed flashed a bright white, completely over saturating the camera. A second or two later, the second camera flashed the same white, and the sensor engineer’s interface lit up. She began tapping and clicking franticly. The cameras were both giving proper visual again. The target had mostly been reduced to slag. Due to the atmosphere, there was no significant smoldering of the target, although some areas were still glowing red-hot. The cannon itself was also glowing at the muzzle, but there didn’t appear to be any significant deformation in the barrel.
“Cannon is recharging. Estimated time until ready state is two minutes.” He looked up at the feed, and whistled slowly. Sam was silent, while Richard and the military personnel were staring at the screen.
“Sir?” The sensor engineer spoke up. “Based on the point of origin of the heat and pressure spikes, it appears that the blast struck the target about 1.5 meters below the intended location.” She looked at the blast as well, and didn’t look away.
“That makes sense,” Sam chimed in, “Did we account for gravity in the targeting algorithm?”
“Yes ma’am,” he said, “but I don’t think that we included the variable in this test specifically. We have it set up that after proper calibration, the algorithm will be able to properly account for whatever gravity it needs to.”
“We don’t want to be firing this too many times” I replied, “A bit expensive and dangerous. Let’s see if we can do some modeling, get the variables as close as possible without needing calibration.” I turned to the military official. “What do you think, sir?”
“I think you and your team have the start of something brilliant here. We’ll need to do stress testing, obviously, but I think that this is exactly what the doctor ordered. And I heard that you had a portable version in the works?”
I glared at Sam. “We do, but we have no plans to implement it further. The application of this type of weaponry is so highly limited, I can’t imagine a time where you would want to use one.”
The official laughed. “Bring some footage of it to the final presentation. I and the others will be the ones to decide that.”
A bar on the bottom of the targeting computer switched from red to green. “Cannon is primed to fire.” The engineer looked over at the rest of us. The official spoke up.
“The target is only mostly destroyed. We can’t leave a job half-done, can we?”
The engineer grinned. “Firing in ten seconds…
“Sam, can I ask you why you told him about the hand cannon?” We were in an adjacent conference room. I was fuming. The hand cannon (or at least its components) was what Sam had shown me after the conference call a few months back, and I had not-so-kindly reminded her that I did not support or condone the design or usage of that device. It sounds like she had different ideas, however.
“He asked whether a small-arms version was possible. I told him what we had so far.” She continued after trying to gauge my expression. “I also told him exactly what you said, that there was no real practical application, but he didn’t care. Military boys and their toys, right?” She smiled.
“This isn’t funny. I don’t want any of us testing that device. I’ll tell him that we deemed it unsafe to use.”
She looked away.
“You already had someone test it, didn’t you? Archer, I’m betting?”
“Syrus, actually, Archer’s currently on Mars testing some landskimmers. We have some preliminary data and video already collected for it.” She started speaking quickly. “I know you didn’t want to test it, but it seemed like a really promising lead, and I thought it better to just do it and ask forgiveness rather than permission, because I thought you’d say no, and – “
“Stop, please.” I rubbed my temples. If it hadn’t worked, we’d have a casualty report with no authorization. It would’ve been an HR nightmare. “After we finish the presentation and you take your vacation, I’m pulling you off of the project.” She started to protest, but I continued. “Misappropriation of company equipment and personnel, putting an employee at risk…I could have you and Syrus fired for this, you know.”
Sam stared at me in disbelief. “Yes, sir.” She replied flatly, and walked out the door. I sat down in one of the chairs and pulled a small flask out of my pocket. Taking a swig, I tried to relax. But the high of the project had been replaced by the harsh reality of things – This was not a project I wanted to continue. Not with the direction that it was going.