Zagoran Energy

24 Nov

Boro Ivic waited watchfully for the vacuum-ship from Pozhega planet to dock at the giant station. He was the one and the only welcome for the off-world foreign geological expert hired to come to Zagora and help that backward society solve its crippling fuel and power problems.

There were always only a few passengers arriving at this backwater of the Balkan Federation. From its beginning settlement, Zagora had been labelled and thought of as a failure in both concept and implementation. It lacked the basic ingredients for extraction or production of anything of value to other worlds within this region of the galaxy organized and established by Old Earth’s European Union.

It was no surprise that no one immigrated to Zagora after its initial occupation by exploration units, sighed Boro.

His eyes caught sight of a tall, skinny figure walking down the pedestrian ramp from the holding dock to which the vessel was now attached.

He marched forward to introduce himself to Dr. Zoran Stanic, the scientist who it was hoped had some magical solution to the economo-industrial problem paralyzing the retarded world of Zagora.

Boro took the expert to an apartment reserved for him by the Energy Authority on the periphery of the city of Spasna.

“You must be a hungry man,” grinned the compact little Zagorian placed in charge of taking care of the guest. “We have some very fine restaurants here in the capital. Let me take you to my favorite. It specializes in Old World cuisine that I am sure you will enjoy, Dr. Stanic.”

Boro drove his own electrokar to the bohemian quarter adjacent to Spasna University. Both of them ordered pig-in-a-blanket made of pork and cabbage.

Zoran Stanic appeared very eager to discuss the problem that brought him to Zagora, not waiting till the meal was finished before launching into the subject of fuel supply for the suffering planet.

“Of course, my knowledge of the situation is second-hand, a result of reading electro-web sources back home on Pozhega. It will be quite different to be here on your world and having the opportunity to ask direct questions and see things for myself.

“Your underground sources of cumur are all but exhausted, I understand. They are insufficient to keep your power stations supplied. Gasification in chemical factories is going to turn too expensive and uneconomical, it appears. And no one has yet come up with any answers or substitutes.”

Boro put down his fork and frowned. “We are up against a solid wall that limits the future of our entire planet, sir.”

Goran looked down at his almost empty plate. “I have studied your geography and geology as much as was possible off-planet. But to get a realistic feel and sense for the situation here, I believe that an inspection tour of scattered sites would be optimal for me.”

The other smiled. “I have thought of arranging such a schedule for you and have volunteered myself to act as your assisting guide. We could start out immediately, as soon as you are rested up.”

“I am willing to begin tomorrow,” declared the geologist.

“Good. We shall drive out to the mine and the facilities at Lazarevac.”

Outside Spasna, the landscape was bare and bitter. “Our aged shafts go deep under the surface,” said Boro as they neared the central building of the cumur-extraction complex. “Our miners dig and dig, but can bring up less and less raw material for the conversion boilers. It is an industrial tragedy for us.”

The pair exited the vehicle once Boro parked it in front of the main office structure. “I shall introduce you to the Chief Manager under the Energy Authority. You will hear from him the problems that beset Lazarevac and all the other mining locations on Zagora.”

The person in charge of the operations of the series of mines was an experienced man who had risen through the ranks to the top executive position, middle-aged Dejan Manic. Boro introduced him to the visitor and the mine manager asked them to sit down across from his chromium desk.

“I know why you have traveled to Zagora,” said the giant operator of the local facilities. “All of us are concerned about the gradual exhaustion of our main energy source, cumur. No one, till now, could come up with a practical remedy. My personal hope that we can find a scientific solution to the depletion of our underground resources, perhaps by extending the productivity that can be achieved through new methods of processing and exploiting the cumur that exists on our planet. That is what I envision to be the required solution to balancing the supply and the demand involved.

“What do you think of my interpretation of events in our industry, Dr. Stanic?” He looked anxiously into the long, narrow face of the scientist from Pozhega.

The latter confidently smiled as he replied. “I believe that I can give credible answers and advice only after a study of all aspects of the fuel and energy situation on your planet. It is impossible at this moment to formulate the conclusions that I pray can eventually be reached.

“So, please forgive me if I remain silent for now. I see myself more as a student than any kind of teacher. Such an attitude on my part seems wisest to me at present. Once I have something definite, everyone will hear it, sir.”

Manic, turning his eyes toward Boro, gave a laugh. “We have a very intelligent person helping us, I have to say.”

Shortly, Zoran and Boro left to look about above-ground Lazarevac.

The pair went through the large repair shop where gigantic mining burgia, kopaci, and sverdlo were worked on by specialized mechanics, welders, and electronic technicians. Boro explained how these complicated devices allowed underground miners separate and transport huge, heavy chunks of carbon ugalj that were then shipped by truck or conveyor belt to factories near Spasna.

“That is where this raw material is converted into practically useable electrical energy,” said Boro as the two walked to the elektrocar they had traveled in. “But we will have to leave the refinerija of Cumur Corp. for tomorrow.

“We have used up today’s daytime hours here in Lazarevic, and I can see that you are as hungry as I am. So, if we return to the capital at once, you and I can have a delicious Zagoran meal at a traditional eatery in the old area of Spasna, the first part settled by our early pioneer settlers.”

Zoran and his guide climbed into the tiny car and headed back to the city.

After a full diner of stewed gjuvec and dumplings, Boro gave a description of what the scientist from Pozhega could expect to see the following day.

“Cumur Corp. enjoys a total monopoly over the generation of electrical struja and tok for the entire planet,” he explained in a cold, hard voice. “It has been that way from the very founding of habitation several generations ago.

“The individual in charge of the energy behemoth is Mr. Slavko Dedic, one of the primary shareholders in the company. As you can see, the mines fall under the direct control of the public Energy Authority and is a non-profit enterprise. It has been so from the beginning and enjoys certain governmental powers. But Cumur Corp. is the absolute opposite.

“We have an appointment to meet with its C.E.O., Dedic himself. You will find him an impressive character to have to deal with, Zoran.”

“What do you mean?” asked the latter with rising apprehension.

You shall see, my friend,” sadly smiled Boro. “Tomorrow, you shall see.”

Leaving Spasna soon after the break of a brilliantly red dawn, the two reached the main condensation-distillation plant of Cumur Corp. at Kretnja, where a team of technical specialists were waiting to accompany them through the facilities with selected informational commentary.

Zoran, walking next to Boro, looked into a series of boilers, separators, and crushing apparati. At the end of the series of installations, the group reached the thermal generators from which the capital received the bulk of its electric energy.

A round, bulky man with a completely bald head was waiting beside the exit from this final facility.

The technician leading the visitors halted and introduced the figure in a yellow silk business suit.

“Gentlemen, the C.E.O. of Cumur Corp. has taken the trouble of coming down here to meet and great both of you. So, it is now my happy duty to introduce you to our company’s top officer and managing director, Mr. Slavko Dedic.

“I therefore hand you over to the individual who possesses the finest knowledge of what we accomplish here at Kretnja in supplying electrical energy to the people of our planet.”

Dedic, his face as solid as a wall of ugalj, stepped forward at a slow, almost ceremonial pace.

All at once, he broke out in a dramatic, beaming smile as if he were a seasoned stage actor.

“Welcome to Kretnja, Dr. Stanic. And it is good to see you here too, Mr. Ivic.

“Since there is much that we have to discuss among us, I propose we repair to my office in the central building only a short distance from here. Shall we go there now? My personal staff has prepared a small lunch for us to share. It will be a most friendly occasion, I assure you.”

He spun around and starting walking, Zoran and Boro a little way behind.

The industrialist was the one who did most of the talking once the three got down to serious business.

“Yes, the planet of Zagora will soon be suffering a serious and painful shortage of the cumur that has always been the fundamental resource from which we obtain our electrical power. What are we to do? How can we hope to cope with this grave situation?

“Our scientific cadres tell us that we possess no possible substitute for our traditional use of that uglenik material. Once it was abundant and very cheap, but today the situation is completely changed. Supplies will become more and more limited. As a result, the price of cumur will soar upward. There is really no alternative to that.”

Dedic focused his gaze on Boro and spoke directly to him.

“The Energy Authority will have to ration its electric distribution in the future. I advise a doubling of power rates in the days and weeks ahead. That is the only way that your system will be able to pay us the elevated prices that we here at Cumur Corp. plan to be charging.

“This notice shall be sent by us to the directors of the Authority early tomorrow. My personal hope is that you people will see the necessity that these steps be taken immediately, both on your part and on ours.”

The executive then turned to Zoran and addressed him personally.

“I advise you, sir, to urge Mr. Ivic and his associates to accept the pricing and rationing program that I have outlined and described. My hope is that the Energy Authority sees the light and cooperates fully in the implementation of these necessary measures.”

A heavy, total silence fell over the office they were in.

Boro sprang to his feet and headed for the door, followed by Zoran.

Neither of them said anything to Dejan Manic who glared at their disappearing figures.

The geologist from Pozhega enjoyed very little sleep that night.

He felt mired in unforeseen difficulties that seemed beyond his capacity to deal with. What could Zagorans expect him to do for them?

There was no way that a stranger from another Balkan Federation planet could find a solution for the energy shortage that they were destined to face in the days ahead.

Nothing appeared to be an alternative to what Mr. Dedic had told him and Boro was soon to occur.

The economic destruction that loomed on the horizon was inevitable unless someone could come up with a surprise answer to this planet’s dilemma, Zoran realized.

His conscience tortured him with the ghost of his inability to do anything.

Zoran racked his memory concerning what he knew about how other Balkan planets faced problems of obtaining fuel and power.

Shumadija was a world where wind and ocean tides furnished kinetic energy that was transformed into electricity, both current and potential.

But Zagora lacked any seas whatever, and mild weather conditions failed to provide almost any wind at all.

The geologist then considered what he knew about the planet named Kvinska, which had constructed half a dozen large space mirrors that focused light rays from its sun down onto generating plates on the desert areas of the planet.
That was an optimal solution for Kvinska, which was close enough to its primary to receive sufficient solar energy, but not too near to prevent normal living by inhabitants.

Zagora is at an inconvenient distance from the star it revolves around, Zoran had to admit to himself.

It was hours later that he thought of the planet called Lika, famous for its exploitation of geothermal energy and power buried deep away from its outer surface, down into the central core. It had a very expensive system of shafts and tunnels that extended far into the nucleus of its tectonic structure. This particular Balkan planet had little in common with the way that Zagora had been formed and shaped by natural forces. It was not at all a model with any practical application in this complicated, difficult situation.

Stymied by what appeared to be a hopeless, unsolvable problem, Zoran decided that he had to return to Lazarevac and have a good look at the charts and echo-wave surveys of the underground that were probably stored among the mine archives there.

He phoned Boro and asked him if he would drive him back to the cumur complex.

It took several hours of careful searching before the geologist from Pozhega happened to come across what some foggy intuition hinted might be in the depth echographic mapping.

Boro was the first individual he informed about what he had found far below the surface of planet Zagora.

“If the echo probes go down far enough, they will indicate the presence of liquidic deposits between the solid silicon rock. And the substance within these layers has all the attributes of a familiar hydrocarbon that has practical uses in areas of the Balkan Archipelago and further out, elsewhere in the galaxy of the European Union.

“Can you guess what I suspect that hydrocarbon might be?” he asked the other.

“No, I have no idea,” confessed Boro.

Zoran smiled. “The gas known as methane, what people often refer to as the natural gas that exists in scattered galactic locations and was utilized by our ancient ancestors back on the primal world named Earth.”

The pair stared at each other in silence a considerable time, considering what such deposits might mean for the crisis being experienced there on Zagora.

The first person to whom the pair went with this discovery was the man in charge of cumur mining at Lazarevac, Dejan Manic.

The middle-aged giant was astounded when he heard about the presence of methane gas in deep subterranean deposits far below the mines he was in charge of.

“You mean to say that there is a potential fuel source buried far below the planet?” he asked the two.

“It appears to be very far down, a distance of many miles,” declared Zoran. “But if there were wells drilled there, I am certain that the gas could be recovered and brought up to the surface.”

Dejan Manic pursed his mouth. “I will see whether the Energy Authority will approve an experimental digging into that area of rock,” decided the mining director.

Zoran did not stay on Zagora to see the results of what he had uncovered in the echo-wave charts at Lazarevac, but returned home to Pozhega on a vacuum shuttle before the first deep well was in operation.

Boro sent him a series of periodic messages on magnetic channels concerning the developing outcome of the new project aimed at obtaining methane as fuel and energy source.

“If the drilling goes deep and far enough, there appears to be enough natural gas to replace a great amount of the cumur in short supply,” reported Boro to the foreign geologist. “It will be a spectacular defeat for Slavko Dedic and Cumur Corp. The price rise is being rescinded little by little, no question about that. The monopoly has been broken once and for all.”

On faraway Pozhega, Dr. Zoran Stanic broke out in a justified grin of victory.

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