Exotic Energies, Inc.
Negg rose from behind his desk to shake my hand and welcome me. He offers the dime tour, which I cordially accept, and he leads us through the narrow cubicle-lanes of the office space, introducing people a cluster and a department at a time by their job and function. Here Logistics, and there Contracts, all the normal operations of a small business growing larger. Everyone smiles and nods, key-cards dangling from belt or lanyard. In fifteen minutes we’ve gone through most of the office workers, and Negg swipes his card at an unmarked door, leading us on toward the work area.
The factory space is large and mostly empty, vast cables looped and bunched feeding into the great machines, small piles of packing material and obsolete equipment set up in out-of-the-way corners. A group of small blue men bask in the heat of a bright green filament, obviously customers examining their wares. Negg calls them Owens or something, but hurries me along toward a pile of plastic crates. He clips a grounding strap onto one wrist and pops the locks. Inside, lying on the charcoal grey foam padding and shedding a pale blue-white light, lay a thunderbolt.
Zero point five million joules, I hear Negg explain, in a region of shaped, highly charged space. One of the company’s earliest and still best sellers. Negg reached down and picked it up out of the cradle, light as anything. The ‘bolt was nearly massless, he explained, the standing wave bouncing back and forth within the spatial pocket, the charge unable to cross the weird physics barrier that defined the region until outside forces provided a path. Light would leak through, a few lumens worth, but it still has a projected useful lifespan of thousands of years. Negg lays it back down carefully, closes the case and unclips the groundstrap. Old technology, but still potent.
Up above, Negg pointed out the chunks of frozen sunshine hanging from the metal railings on the ceiling in place of lamp. Another of the company’s early products. Exotic energies were something of a misnomer, says Negg. Energy is just a measure of something unseen, a quantum of measurement. He goes on about how those outside the industry perceive energy as some fluid or force that drives things, and of even talented engineers who talk of solar energy when they mean sunlight, and chemical energy when the talk of the potential in a glass of water. Then Negg showed me the machines. The subatomic smashers.
Great coils disappeared into the cement wall, probably the tail end of the rest of the context. A sole engineer or technician monitored the screens, the absurdly simple and rough graphics listing particles created, captured, and combined. An engineering tool, so advanced that no ergonomic programmer had ever been allowed near it to pretty up the interface, since the public would never see it. Negg introduced Lippan, one of the main energy mechanic engineers, and asked him to explain his work.
The main forces of our universe, Lippan says, are transmitted via subatomic particles—the gauge bosons of gravity, electromagnetism, the weak and strong forces. One method of creating artificial forces is to combine these subatomic force carriers into custom composite particles. Lippan showed his watch, an old thing with a clear carapace to expose the faint lines of the active circuit, glowing blue with Cherenkov radiation. A custom “energy” with properties mostly similar to electricity, he explained, sold to a government that wished a national monopoly on certain technologies by way of a proprietary power source.
Negg and I let Lippan get back to work, and seeing that the Owens had left, took me over toward the green filament. It is, Negg explains, one of their biggest and most complex jobs—saving only ones like the classified Project Caliburn, that required Exotic Energies to contract with a material-based firm, like their sometimes-rival sister company Exotic Matters, Ltd. The green filament was a charge holder for the proprietary “energy,” which was fairly standard, but the buyers had also desired a specific form of neural interface to allow the user to control the release of the energy from the charge container and to self-program the parameters of the “energy” volume in real-time. It was a serious challenge—the physics-spaces and thresholds for the frozen sunlight and thunderbolts were all created under laboratory conditions, and no one had ever tried to produce such effects in the field. I heard Negg chuckle as he looked forward to the challenge, and probably the many hours of billing still to come on the project.
Finally, Negg and I strolled toward the ray displays. Rayguns continued to be Exotic Energies’ bread and butter, making up the bulk of their sales—both to governments and individuals. I pick up a small, silver-finned field transmitter with a tapering flange that glowed brightly with a full charge, admiring the workmanship. Negg takes it from my unresisting hands, and with practiced ease field-strips the device, showing the basic workings. Each ray is more or less a variation on the company’s patented E/N-wave. In its most basic form, the E-ray is invisible, the composite subparticles barely interacting with the four major forces, and almost completely harmless, but with a wave-nature similar to electromagnetism. Moving E-ray charge particles give rise to a standing N-field, which gives forth to an E-field, and so on. By programming specific field modulations, Negg explains, Exotic Energies’ engineers can essentially target the E-rays to specific macrostructures—certain atomic structures, or complex molecules like DNA and RNA, for example—to apply force directly to one category of target but no other.
As he finishes the explanation, Negg re-assembles the weapon, pointing the raygun at me. See for yourself, I hear him say, and for a moment me world goes red.