This is scheduled on Tuesday, as Leo/Adam head off to talk to Vector
Summer is enjoying the job at Blintzkrieg. She knows, selfishly, that some of this is because of her body.
No, it’s not that customers are hitting on her less (or more). Rather, it’s because she doesn’t get physically tired, can hold hot or cold cups without too much discomfort, can stand on her feet for hours. Sheets of graphene in her core soak up the steady flow of electricity from her Casimir fractal, then redistribute it throughout her system via ionized fluid traveling down nigh-indestructible channels of carbon nanotubing. She doesn’t need to take breaks except for her mental health, and she can clean the espresso machine out faster than anyone else behind the counter.
She still has some physical needs, and a few unique problems. Every time someone uses the remote control to change channels on the TV, she feels like sneezing. There’s a power pole outside the store, and the shitty insulation on the transformer makes her itch when she’s too close to it. She can see the flicker of the CRT monitor the manager still uses in the office, and it’s annoying.
None of these things threaten her feelings of humanity. She enjoys the ordinary things she does with her coworkers, like trying out new coffees and teas for the taste. She likes watching blintzes being made, though she isn’t allowed to do it herself yet - proving herself will take time. Every time the old woman with the service dog comes in, she asks if she can pet it, and the woman always assents. The dog sniffs at her, then starts licking her hand, every time. And when she goes home, she’s mentally exhausted, even if she can’t feel fatigue poisons accumulating in her muscles.
She hasn’t been at her new home long either, but the routine is already familiar and comforting. Unlock the door (“remember to wiggle the key a little bit to hit all the tumblers”). Announce that you’re home, so there’s no surprises. If nobody responds, that’s their problem. Go to the bedroom. Lay down on the bed. Undock from the carbon-allotrope shell that Leo made. That moment, when she’s able to float weightlessly, feels like a butterfly escaping its chrysalis.
She doesn’t resent using that shell at all. It’s a wonderful gift, and she feels bad sometimes for not being more grateful. She’s just gotten used to the feeling of freedom the drone shell provides. It feels like the physical symbol of her rebirth from Pneuma to Summer, the way Aria is living her post-Pneuma life by dressing up more fashionably, working more on business matters, being more aggressive in pushing Leo toward a financially secure future. She remembers the Pneuma that was gentle and kind and loving, and both she and Aria are still those things. But they don’t do it the same way. Instead of mirror images, they’ve become parallels, counterparts, but not quite opposites. Venus and Serena Williams. Elizabeth and Jane Bennet. Elsa and Anna.
Do you want to build a SNOWMAN?
It’s time to think about something else.
Summer got herself a cheap laptop, and Leo was kind enough to supply a selection of his technical files. With these, she has been working on projects like reverse engineering the levitation system in the drone. She’s also spent time working to understand the principles of hard-light holography. If she can master that, she might even be able to use the drone as often as she does the more passable (but heavier) carbon shell.
And besides, I know there’s glitches. I would always catch Jason staring at my shoulder. Well, at least he wasn’t staring at my chest.
Quantum electrodynamics is simply the theory of how light and charge interact. Feynman’s QED book is the logical starting point. After that, learning quantum electrodynamics takes you to authors like J. J. Sakurai and concepts like the Lamb shift. Go down this road long enough, and build a machine based on it, and you get the Casimir fractal itself, nestled deep within Summer’s body, that transforms a quirk of the cosmos into a stream of electrons.
The inventors of hard-light holography did something similar. The Breit-Wheeler process, put simply, is Einstein’s equation - E = mc^2 - flipped on its head. When you convert mass to energy, you get things like atomic bombs. But the equation can be rewritten - m = E / c^2. Energy goes in, matter comes out. Shine two high-powered lasers together in the right way, and you get electrons and positrons, with mass and charge and everything, neatly paired like dance partners. Interaction between solid objects is mediated by electromagnetic force. Her projected body is little more than a mirage, literally lighter than a feather, but she can still punch someone in the face and make it hurt.
And Aria’s so proud of how little she weighs. Hah. I have her totally beat.
She’s figured out the source of the glitch. There’s a thermal vent, for cooling down the lasers used in the projector. It’s tiny, and if it had been mounted in a wall like it’s supposed to be, there’d be no problem. But nooo, Summer had to have a holographic body, so she pestered Jason into hacking this thing together. As a result, she looks like a defective. So when the vent is active, which is all the time because seriously, these lasers are constantly lasing, there’s a slight air current that messes up the beam. Fixing it is going to require a complete rebuild.
Summer glances around her room. She has a meager collection of cheap IKEA furniture, a bag with spare body parts (that’s not creepy), and a used bed that someone donated out of considerable charity. There’s a rather glaring lack of tools or tech. Summer can’t quite bring herself to crawl back to Jason and beg for lab time - she made what she thought was a graceful and dignified exit, and even so, Jason has been looking at her like a wounded puppy at school ever since. Leo will be no help either. He’s just one step above living out of a car, who happens to be his best friend.
I just need that molecular lathe he has. I could build the tools to build the tools to build the tools…
She follows the thought along a meandering path. The molecular lathe is little more than a 3D printer that can work at the atomic scale. It’s called a lathe for its versatility - the actual operation is quite different. Like the Casimir fractal and other tools Leo uses, it’s a simple workman’s tool. Summer has read about more advanced systems, and even seen a few at Jason’s house. Third-, fourth-, and fifth-order projectors of forces. Cyclic polylasers. Chromodynamic deregulators. Shit, she doesn’t even know what one of those does.
I can’t build my own lathe. But if I had one, I could build another one.
She thinks a bit more. The hard-light holographic system - it can project a two-dimensional outer shell of electron-positron pairs at the intersection of lasers. The positrons don’t immediate blow up the surrounding area. Summer’s still not sure why, but there’s a couple of components in the projector she still doesn’t understand. Could it lay down a scaffold for atoms, with atomic precision? Probably.
I could make the perfect god damn espresso with a molecular lathe.
Somewhere along the way, she realizes something. A gas-dynamic laser doesn’t use anything except a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen - elements found in the atmosphere. It’s the rocket engine of laser tech - a simple, brute-force, get-things-done system. But it has two properties. First, it can lase at energy levels high enough for the Breit-Wheeler process. Second, it can be produced with the same elements that Leo’s carbon tech already uses.
Leo doesn’t need to have just one lathe. He could make a million of them, out of nothing more than dirt, compost, and air.
She hops up, docks with her shell again (she can press a laptop’s keys as a hologram, but she always worries about static discharge), and starts writing an urgent email.
author: Bill G.