“What do you mean it’s bigger, now?” Jim Macomber scratched irritably at his grey beard. “We don’t have the budget for bigger. Frontier is already pushing the boundaries of everything we’ve got. We already scrapped Icarus to merge it into Frontier by using the gravity engine. Bigger means more mass, more mass means more fuel, and . . . you know this already. The elevator won’t be done for ten more years, and you don’t want to wait on this.”
“I know, Jim, I know,” Andrew Walker grimaced. “But you put me in charge of Frontier, and this is what I’m saying. We need the size. The gravity engine is bigger than expected, and Nina proposed putting a bigger telescope on the sail module.”
“Why a bigger scope?”
“It will be the first time we can actually look back at our solar system from a significant distance.”
“And just what data will that give us? No, that’s something we don’t need. I can’t sell the extra cost for a few pretty pictures that the Internet won’t pay attention to for more than a minute. The regular telescope will be fine.”
“All right,” Walker sighed.
“Did you ask him?” Jim heard a woman’s voice say.
Jim heard a hand cover the receiver, then come Walker’s voice. “Sorry, sir.”
“Who’s there? Ask me what?”
“Okay, what does she want you to ask me?”
“Um, well, I’ll just give you to her.”
“Fine,” Macomber said, pinching the bridge of his nose.
I never should have accepted the job of director for all of ISA.
“Sir, it’s Jenny.”
“Yes, I gathered. What is it?”
“Well, Charlie and I worked up another change to the design of the base module, we want to add nanosat launchers.”
“Nanosats? In God’s name, why?”
“Well, sir, we were watching this old vid from the 1990s, this movie about a tornado and some storm chasers. See, they wanted to understand the wind patterns of tornadoes better and they were competing with this other group of corporate-funded storm chasers—”
“Doctor, get to the point.”
“Oh, right. Well, they released hundreds of tiny probes into the tornado, letting them sail up so they could take sensor readings to understand the wind pattern. We want to do the same thing.”
“No, sir. There’s not space enough for that, but we could launch a couple of dozen. Charlie and I already have the designs for the nanosats. They have sails and a tiny RTG. Once activated, they’ll only send a ping transmission with their identity. Nothing else. By collecting all of the pings, we’ll be able to create a rough map of how the dark energy wind flows.”
Jim leaned back, considering, an image of a grassy hill coming to mind, one from his childhood.
“Sir, are you there?”
“I’m here. Do it. Get me numbers. I want an estimates of cost and mass for your two dozen, all the way up to a hundred.”
“A hundred, sir?”
“You heard me. This idea of yours could tell us a lot about the nature of the wind. Oh, and we’re calling your nanosats dandelions.”
“Yep. Good work, Doctor. Get me those numbers, quick. I have to go beg Congress for more money. They want to sink everything into Tranquility Base.”
Jim hung up, remember his childhood when he and his brother and sisters would blow dandelion fluff into the wind and watch them soar.