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Winter Happy Hour

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Hey there Grating Gang,

Winter is approaching, which can only mean one thing: The Stanford Optical Society is hosting another homemade happy hour! Specifically a happy hour that will be at 5PM in the Shriram tea room.

This time we've got 3 different homebrews coming your way from master brewsmiths Stephen and Colin: 2 beer varieties and 1 batch of spiced hard cider. In addition, based on feedback from last year, we've opted to go for one giant pot of hot chocolate, with homemade marshmallows, of course. There will also be some store-bought varieties for the less adventurous as well as an array of snacks, particularly cheese, crackers, and Italian meats (charcuterie, thanks spell check).

It's at times like these that we think back to when our ancestors weren't afraid of the ice-eating nanites and truly appreciate the risks taken by the technicians who hold them back.

“Hey Rick, you hear about that mutation in Florida earlier this morning? Apparently lost a few thousand tons of steaks. Real shame, they were already expensive enough. Glad they didn’t send us to clean up that mess, the smell’d probably stick to us for a month. I bet Trish and her crew get a bonus for taking on that monster.”

Rick and Julio were standing in a small white room laboring through the process of putting on their heated suits. If you could breed a space suit with a hazmat suit, it’s pretty close to what these two were dealing with. After strapping on the air supply and circulator, they did a thorough check of their seals and made checked that their thermal systems wouldn’t crap out on them. Time was an important factor with these cleanup jobs, and they couldn’t afford to wait for the warehouse to thaw. If anything dangerous leaked out, it was a real mess.

Rick closed up his face-mask and gave a thumbs up. “Com check, you read?”

Julio gave a thumbs up. “Loud and clear.”

“That’s a shame, I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to hear you babble, but as long as we’re stuck with each other, you can tell me all about the powdered steak in Florida. First, though, what’re we dealing with in here? All I heard was that it was a straightforward job, no residue, nice and clean, didn’t get a chance to read the briefing”.

A hissing noise sounded and a digitized voice droned “Warning: EMP cycle starting, please discard all electronic devices. Last update November 12th, 2116.”

The door to the airlock opened and Julio gave Rick a shove into a dark warehouse full of plumbing and tanks, somewhat reminiscent of the engineering bay in a fictional starship. Every gauge read empty, and no machinery ran. Not audibly, at least. Julio sliced through the eerie silence. “Do I gotta do your briefing every time, numnuts? It’s a water treatment getup for one of those high tech cold bars that’s been all the rage lately. Way I see it, you’ve gotta be out of your mind to drink there. They’re lucky as hell that the error showed up in the water treatment, and none of them waltzed in with some live bots in ‘em far as we know. One sip of your frozen drink and it’s a damn horror show. You ever touch an ice cube, Rick?”

Rick flicked on his helmet lights, the beam’s path through the air was illuminated on a uniform haze permeating the room. “Oh bug off, Julio, I’ve heard your ice story. You show off your robotic index finger all the damn time. I bet you spend half your paycheck on attachments for that stupid thing. They’ve got some crazy safety systems at those bars, you know. My sister’s in town next week and I was considering bringing her to one, although I guess this one’s off the list of possibles. Unlike you, I’m not crazy enough to play with an ice cube using a homemade zapper. Speaking of which, come back to the airlock and help me with this big hunk of glass and metal.”

The two suited men dragged out a large cylinder of thick glass covered inside and out with probes and sensors. An attachment which was effectively a very large coil sat on top. Rick went back and retrieved a very thick power cable feeding back into the airlock and shoved it into the base of the coil. The chamber lit up and a logo appeared on the side of the glass before fading into various numbers and graphs. The display’s light diffused into the haze reminding Julio of neon lights in heavy rain. “Jesus, haven’t seen air this bad since that indoor swimming pool lost heat in Minnesota. Go ahead and cycle some of this air through it and hit it with the November 12 patch.”

Rick tapped a few commands into the cylinder and a green laser became visible shooting across the chamber indicating that ambient air had been introduced. The same robotic voice lazily read “Warning: EMP cycle –“.

“Sorry forgot to mute warnings. Didn’t get my coffee this morning.” Rick had a pretty clear image of Julio’s disapproving look through his visor. He had a way of making his mustache look like it was judging you which really freaked people out.

A few of the readouts spiked and died down repeatedly, various waveforms were displayed and swept through different frequency bands. A mechanical pump started evacuating the air from the chamber through a special filter and the laser beam disappeared again. A hissing noise was heard as filtered air was slowly reintroduced, and the beam reappeared, although decidedly dimmer.

“Looks like we got some serious resistance to the patch. Makes ya feel real safe, huh Rick? Whatever, the boss said that we should avoid using the modification they rolled out last week in Vancouver. They say it’s too non-specific or some crap like that, and it’ll leave less options if they evolve around it. Rumor is they may quarantine the whole city at some point. Not much of Canada left no more, better visit while ya can.”

Rick handed Julio a pair of safety goggles and switched off the green laser. A new red laser switched on, focused on a point within the chamber. The air was pumped back out and a black and white image appeared overlaid on the other readouts with a small scale bar reading “10nm”. The shape that they saw made no intuitive sense to anyone who didn’t stare at them for a living. It looked like a sort of bulbous bug with some sharp outcroppings that could be considered “legs”, but the rest of it was a somewhat random assortment of shapes and cavities.

After studying the nanite for a few minutes, rotating it various ways and comparing with other iterations, they came to a decision “looks like this is the same stuff that shut down that fish storage down in the LA area. Should be manageable with 10.1THz sawtooth variation 3. Better yet, we should be able to ditch the 10.2THz sawtooth variation 2 that’s takin’ care of the 2114 variety, so we got that one back in the arsenal. Go ahead and check so we can write the report and call it a day.”

Rick cut off the electron microscope, opened up a list of waveforms and frequencies being used in the current EMP patch, and made a couple edits. Some fresh air got let back into the cylinder with a hiss, and the readouts spiked up again. The green laser switched on again, and clean air was cycled. The laser beam did not reappear. “Looks like we cleared most of ‘em out, go ahead and hit it with the slush test.”

High pressure slushy water squirted out of a one way valve within the chamber, splattering the walls. After a few tense moments, it began to sizzle and shrink away before quickly exploding off of the chamber walls into a cloud of dust. A green beam shone mockingly through the hazy chamber.

Julio sighed and shook his head. “Get comfy rick, it’s gonna be a long day. But if you can get me out of here by happy hour, I’ll buy you a cold beer.”

“You wouldn’t be caught dead in a cold bar, how the hell do you plan to achieve that?”

“It’s just somethin’ my granddad used to say. An old expression, I suppose.”

Shriram Tearoom
Friday, November 18, 2016 - 17:00