645. Lassiter Triumphant

Sometime in the eighties as part of Cyan, I wrote the story of Lassiter, discoverer of Lassiter’s anomaly, destroyer of the final vestiges of Einstein’s version of the universe, and inventor of the space drive that powered all the starships in the novel. He was quite a character, and soooo not a hero that he was fun to write about.

Unfortunately Lassiter’s story took up too much space in a novel that was already verging on excessively complex, so I reduced the explanation of his space drive to 236 words on pages 64 and 65, and left the man himself out altogether.

I had already made this cut long before I retired from teaching and used OCR to get the half-completed paper Cyan manuscript into the computer. Somewhere in the dozens of boxes from the pre-computer half of my career, Lassiter remains. It would be nearly impossible to find him this late in the game.

There are a lot of paragraphs, pages, and chapters like that, irretrievable in the outer world, but still resident in the dust bin of my mind. I enjoy rummaging around there and experiencing them again, even though you can’t see them.

Now that I am writing Dreamsinger, I have a chance to resurrect Lassiter from memory, and this is the attempt. If things go well, I will finally be able to commit him to print within the novel. If not, at least you get to meet him here.

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Lassiter was a funny looking guy who loved women, and had more success with them than you would have thought possible. He had a big nose, big ears and a receding hairline. He was five feet eight and skinny, but he had a big personality.

His pursuit of women was not predatory, but he always wanted more. As soon as he had enticed one woman into his bed, he was ready to look for another.

Lassiter was also a fine engineer, and in his work he was as steady as he was unsteady with women.

If he had been less of an engineer, he would never have been able to develop a whole new way of looking at the universe. If he had been less horny, he would never have worked as hard at chasing fame.

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Lassiter collaborated with an established ghost writer to produce his biography, which they called A Man of Gravity. It was not humility that kept him from writing it himself. Lassiter had no humility. It’s just easier to get away with bragging if you say “He did this . . .” instead of saying “I did this . . .”. For example:

Lassiter was fuming when he barged into Linda Volstone’s office. She was the vice-administrator of the Lunaire Pile, the Morris reactor which provided power for the entire Lunar colony. Lassiter was the senior engineer at the project, and he was a frustrated man.

“Lin,” he said, “you’ve got to do something about Dahlgreth.”

Volstone was slender with night-black hair. She had shared Lassiter’s bed two — no three — women ago, and she still had a weakness for him. She said, “What is Dogbreath up to now?”

Dahlgreth was not a popular administrator.

Lassiter said, “He still won’t let me publish.”

from A Man of Gravity, page 27

In fact, it is doubtful that this exchange ever took place. The real story was about a diligent engineer who discovered an overage in the power output of his reactor, and could not explain it. It was only a fraction of a percent, but it haunted him. It was real; it should not have been there; there were no errors in his instruments nor in his calculations. Something was happening that Einstein’s equations could not account for.

After a much research, he concluded that reduced gravity was the reason. Nothing in any theory supported him, and he was all but laughed out of physics, but the fact remained that no reactor on Earth showed the overage, but Lunaire did and the Chinese reactor on the back side of the moon did.

He published his findings and ran into a wall of opposition. Einstein had been under siege for more than three decades — but by theoretical physicists, not by some upstart engineer who had a few facts and a theory, but did not have fifty pages of unreadable mathematics to back him up.

A lesser man would have crumbled. So would a greater man, but Lassiter was motivated by something normal physicists would not have understood. He wanted fame. More than that, he wanted to be so rich and famous (and the rich part was extremely important) that women all over the world would throw themselves at his feet.

His biography did not say this, but everyone who really knew him understood.

He made himself famous by casting himself as the little guy that the establishment was afraid of. He built a brash persona, and then grew into it. He became the relentless voice of simple reason.

He gave interviews. He wrote op-eds. He was a favorite guest on talk shows. Everywhere he appeared he had the same message: the overage is there, lesser gravity is the only thing different, let’s outfit a probe and settle the matter.

The probe Dirac settled the matter. As it moved outward from the Sun, the output of its mini-pile grew. Measurements were made, conclusions were reached. It turned out that a larger portion of the reactor’s fuel was being turned into energy the further the probe moved outward from the Sun’s gravity. Somewhere beyond Uranus, the probe’s reactor could no longer handle the overage and it exploded. The nuclear fireball continued until every atom of the probe was consumed.

Once the metaphorical smoke cleared, it became apparent that anyone who could initiate a reaction beyond thirty-seven light minutes from the Sun would have a self-sustaining nuclear torch that would eat ice, asteroids, cosmic dust — anything.

Gravity was the only thing holding matter together. No one could explain why, but there it was. Start a hot enough fire, far enough from the sun, and Lassiter’s anomaly would bring about the total annihilation of matter.

It would provide a stardrive; not FTL, but good enough to allow starships to visit nearby stars. That brought enough fame to satisfy even Lassiter. And enough money. And enough women.

For the rest of his life, Lassiter basked in his accomplishment. Money poured in. Women adored him, or at least adored his money and fame. By the time he was ninety-seven, and still hanging on to life with apparent gusto, he was the second most famous man on Earth and the second richest, both following Saloman Curran.

When the nukes came down, his story ended with billions of other stories, but during his lifetime he lived driven by his gonads and never paid a price for it.

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When I was young, probably in high school, I ran across the following observation:

If a race of intelligent beings evolved at the bottom of a sea of mercury, they would be unable to discover electricity because every build-up of charge would be immediately dissipated.

I don’t remember who said that, or what book I found it in. Actually, I have mentioned this before, and asked if anyone knows where it came from. Do you know? I’m still listening.

That observation stuck with me and is the basis for Lassiter’s anomaly. What used to be called weightlessness and is now called micro-gravity is not the absence of gravity, but a balancing act within a gravity well. When we reach the empty spaces between the stars, what will we find there that has always been masked by the gravity that defines our perceptions?

Lassiter’s anomaly? I doubt it, but who knows?

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