|Escape to Spock Mountain! -- Reported 1998-11-13 13:13 by Baron Earl|
Anti-gravity car (Artist's conception)
It was early in May last year when I first heard about Spock Mountain Research Labs. I was working on a story about a Hungarian scientist's new approach to nucleopeptide synthesis when I got a call from my friend Albert.
"What are you working on?" he asked me.
I told him.
"Yesterday's news man," Albert drawled, "I've got a tip for you that you won't believe. If you want to cover history-in-the-making, drop whatever you're doing and come with me to the Ozarks this weekend."
"Yeah right," I said, "As if there's some cutting-edge research going on there."
"You don't know the half of it." Albert said mysteriously. "You know how in the 40's the Department of Defense set up labs and research centers like Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Area 51? Well, they built a lot more labs than just those two, a lot more. Back in the Ozarks in 1952 the DOD built an ultra-top-secret research lab. The lab was isolated, perfectly secure, no one except hillbillies goes way back into the deep country so the security forces could watch everyone who came in, and everyone who came out. Perfect Security." You could hear the capital letters in his voice.
"Are you telling me that you're going to get someone in the government to let us in to a top secret lab site? Then they're going to give us a demonstration of some new, super-secret, cutting-edge technology? They'll do that AFTER they went to so much trouble to keep the very existence of this lab a secret? There's no way they'd let us in."
"No man," Albert said, "the DOD abandoned the lab back in the early 90's. Budget cuts and all. They packed up and left."
"What are you talking about then?" I asked.
"The hillbillies, man, the hillbillies. They've moved in and taken over the whole complex."
Albert started filling me in. "Living in the lab complex is much nicer living than living in your typical tar paper shack. At first they just lived in the lab - squatters. Then their kids started getting curious and fiddling with all the machines. They've got old Arpanet connections to their computers and those connections in turn connect them to the Internet. They started reading and learning and exploring. Turns out that they never had anything interesting going on in their lives, so they never did much. Once they caught a glimpse of the world beyond the Ozarks generations of pent-up curiosity started pouring out. You wouldn't believe how fast they've learned about the world outside, about science, history, the arts. It's unbelievable. There's this one hillbilly, Jed Sanders, that you have just got to meet. He's the one that got them all started. He's the founder of Spock Mountain Research Labs."
"Spock Mountain Research Labs?" The name sounded ludicrous.
"Yes. Spock Mountain Research Labs. Spock Mountain is where this particular clan of hillbillies lives. At least that's what they call it. The mountain's got a different name if you check a map. More government secrecy - the DOD changed the name on official maps to make it harder to find."
"OK," I said, "So they've got an Internet connection. Big deal. I've got an Internet connection and I'm not a great scientist. I just write about great scientists." I guess I sounded bitter. Maybe if my parents had been able to afford to send me to a top-flight college I could have been a great scientist. Instead, I went to UC Berkeley. I had talent, but not training.
"You still don't get it," Albert replied with a grinning, smarter-than-thou sneer, "The DOD left behind all of their old equipment. The lab didn't even have enough money left in their budget to haul the equipment away and store it. The hillbillies have all of that cutting-edge equipment at their disposal. Imagine what you could have done back when you were a teenager if you had all of the information on the net at your disposal, along with your very own cyclotron, tunneling electron microscopes, machine shops, and supercomputers."
"Geez." The possibilities started to sink in. "I'd be out doing science rather than just writing about it." I replied.
"Exactly." Albert said, smugly.
"So what have these hillbillies discovered that's so earth-shattering?" I asked.
"How much do you know about anti-gravity?" was Albert's reply.
The next day we were supposed to meet our contact, Ed Sanders. He was going to take us to the lab to meet his half-brother (on his sister's side) Jed Sanders. We were supposed to meet him at Jim's Pool Hall and Bait Shop, right at the corner where the map showed the dashed-line gray road intersect with the dotted-line gray road.
About half-past noon an old battered Ford pickup truck pulled up to the bait shop.
"That's Ed," said Albert. "Or maybe Ted or Fred. These people are so inbred it's difficult to tell them apart unless they've got a real obvious genetic deformity."
Ed climbed out of the truck. I couldn't help but notice that he was also carrying a shotgun and a couple of canvas bags.
I said hello to Ed/Ted/Fred. He looked me over and spit on the ground. "Put these on and get in the back of the truck." He handed us a couple of old gunny sacks.
"Why?" I asked.
Ed spit again. "Security," was all he said. He raised the shotgun up and then sharply down, loading a round in the chamber with a sickening clack-clack sound that was all too familiar. Familiar from television that is, most of my interviews do not go like this.
I guess watching the DOD bring people in and out of the labs for years had taught the hillbillies a little paranoia and gave them a few lessons in security. Albert and I climbed in the back of the pickup and put the sacks over our heads.
After a bouncing, rambling, jolting, nauseating, three-hour ride we stopped. "You can take off the bags now," Ed said.
I removed the bag from my head and took in the view. We were high up on a mountainside. Looking down I could see the valley floor far below. Looking up I couldn't see the top of the mountain because there were too many trees in the way. Just in front of us was a break in the trees that led to a small gorge carved into the mountain. The lab complex was built into the sides of the gorge. Lined up in front were people, obviously related, wearing old, worn-out clothes and smoking corn cob pipes. Whatever they were smoking smelled like hashish. I could see a clothesline with the day's washing hanging out to dry. I could also see smoke rising in several places from several small campfires and one honest-to-god moonshine still.
I imagined that with all of the trees around that from the air you probably couldn't see any buildings or people at all. Without an expert guide to bring someone in or out, no one would ever find Spock Mountain Research Labs.
"Greetings Human!" Came a booming, yet timid voice. "Welcome to Spock Mountain Research Labs! You must be Baron Earl."
That was my first meeting with Jed Sanders, hillbilly genius. Or as he later became known, the first of the cyberbillies.
First Jed gave Albert and I our own corn cob pipes to smoke and a jug of 'shine to swig. "Hos-PEE-tal-I-tee." Jed said, so I lit up my pipe and took a swig from the jug. I'd never had 'shine before, and was expecting pure ethanol. Instead I got a mouth full of what tasted suspiciously like Guinness. So much like Guinness in fact that I took a few more swigs.
Jed started introducing us to his family. "This is Aunt Linda, and Aunt Mary, Cousin Billy Bob, Cousin Billy Ray Bob, and Cousin Billy Ray Ray Bob Bob Ray. That woman over there is my Aunt Carla, who's also my sister and a cousin. That girl over there is Betty Mae, my half-sister by my brother Ed. Uncle Joe is Linda's son by Uncle Fred, but he's also her second husband. When they got divorced she married his grandfather on his brother's side, so he's actually his own grandson." Jed turned his back for a moment and Betty Mae flashed her tits at me. Jed continued, "These three fellas here are my brother Jed, and my other brother Jed, and my other brother Jed." I looked at him quizzically. "When Ma wants one of us in particular she just uses our last names," he said, answering my unstated question.
After the introductions were over and after a few more hits off my corn cob pipe, I asked the question that had been nagging at the back of my brain for the past 24 hours. "Albert tells me that you've made some amazing breakthroughs in anti-gravity research. What's the story?" I asked.
Jed shot a glance at Albert. "Well," he said, "I asked Albert to contact someone he could trust. Someone who could tell our story without giving away too many of our secrets. You've got to realize just how valuable anti-gravity technology could be. It's like when that guy, what's-his-name, discovered electricity. This is like the discovery of electricity all over again. I don't want our research to be stolen. I want the profits from this technology to come back to the Ozarks. I want to get Aunt Mary an electric washer, and Ma really wants a shiny new pink refrigerator, and Ed's pickup won't last forever. Me, I just want some real Guinness beer, instead of having to drink 'shine all the time."
It was a dream I could understand. Jed's vision of a better tomorrow for himself and his family. Jed Sanders was not only the world's first cyberbilly, he was a generous and loving family man as well.
"So show me what you've got." I said.
"Well, I've been readin' up on gravity research and the like on the Internet. Now most of them approaches use new-fangled superconductors dipped in liquid nitrogen. Well, we didn't have any fancy superconductors here, but we do have liquid nitrogen. Big vats of the stuff down in the basement. Don't know what the government was doin' with it but it got me thinkin'. We don't have superconductors, but we do have lots and lots of varmits."
"Varmits?" I asked.
"Varmits." Jed said seriously. "Possums and squirrels and jackrabbits and mice and raccoons and such. I figured, what would happen if you dropped a possum into a vat of liquid nitrogen? I asked everybody around, and nobody knew, so I said 'Well, we'll just have to try it then and see.' That's what scientists do. They try things and see what happens."
"Well, the first varmit I managed to catch was a squirrel. I dropped him in the vat of liquid nitrogen, pulled him back out, and measured his resistance. I got the figures right here and, well, let's just say that squirrels don't make good superconductors."
"Next I tried a jackrabbit, then a mouse, and finally a raccoon. No luck at all. Every one of them critters still had some resistance left in 'em even after they was super-cooled. Then I got lucky. I caught a possum. I dropped him in the vat and quick-froze him in no time flat. Pulled him out and hooked him up to the ohmmeter. Dammed if the readout didn't just drop right down to zero-point-zero-zero-zero-zero-zero!"
"And the frozen possum made anti-gravity happen?" I asked, incredulously.
"What are ya, stupid?" Jed scowled. "Ain't no way a frozen possum all by itself it going to make anti-gravity happen. You got to spin that possum, real fast like, and spin it inside a pulsating electromagnetic field. You match the pulses to the speed of the spin, tune it in, and the possum'll block gravity, sure as rain on a July Sunday."
And then I saw it, Jed's brother Ed came driving out in an old Studebaker. Or rather came floating out I should say. Where each of the Studebaker's wheels used to be was a super-cooled frozen possum spinning so fast you could hardly tell its tail from its head. Surrounding the possums were electromagnetic coils. The coils were hooked up to the speakers of an old 8-track tape player blasting Credence Clearwater Revival. By speeding up or slowing down the tape the car would rise in the air or settle back to earth.
"Amazing," said Albert.
"This is truly a historic moment," I gasped. "This is history happening, right here and now. I can't believe I've been lucky enough to witness this." I turned to Jed. "You bet I'll tell your story," I said. "I'll tell the whole world. I'll tell them that high up in the Ozarks, a new breed of man is appearing, the cyberbilly. I'll tell them about what you've accomplished here today. The whole world will know the name Jed Sanders and about your amazing anti-gravity possums. Everyone will know about Spock Mountain Research Labs, and they will speak the name with awe and wonder in their voices."
"And the Guinness?" asked Jed.
"There will be imported Guinness beer on Spock Mountain," I replied, "Of that you can be sure."
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