Copyright C 1998 James E D Cline
As a military man, John Forsythe had been against there being space trains from the beginning. They were much too vulnerable to attacks from sabateurs and hostile groups in wartime; the dispersability of a multitude of free-flying space vehicles was strategically much better than the lumbering space train rail system so immobile and predictable as to position. Yet here John was, on his fourth cycle of patrolling down the eastward side of the kinetically-supported rail track, thoroughly committed to playing out the deadly duel of nukes if an attacker suddenly appeared in his sphere of action.
Armed with a guided missle with a nuke warhead, he would be able to vaporize an incomming bombship before it impacted the rail structure, saving the space train but not its live cargo in the vicinity nor John himself. Nor the pilot of that incomming bombship, but then, those pilots knew they were near their end at the moment they launched, one way or the other. He swayed the trajectory a little, adding another component to the randomness that weaved side to side of the rail structure, getting an unpredictable peek at the part of space that was shadowed moments before by the rail structure. His reaction engines kept him close to the structure, but maintained a trajectory that if dead-sticked somehow, it would not impact the space train rail structure. Down John drifted in his fighter spacecraft, gradually to circle halfway around the planet while losing the 22,300 miles of altitude from his starting point in the Clarke Belt Habitat Ring, now out of sight far above him.
The massive rocket engines suddenly thundered beneath her, and the brief moment of dismay at surely being now on a suicide mission, quickly gave way to the intention that she, Donna Bullguarde, would be the proud one to finally bring down the KESTS, the hated spacerail link between the arrogant Clarke Belt Nation and the great Sovereign Nation of Earthsurface.
She had been taking her turn atop the massive rocket, as usual, to play the simulation games in the pilot seat on her 4 hour shift, as she had taken her turn so many times in the past year. Always before, when the launch sequence got to that point, there were only simulatied sounds and instrument readings; they were the same now except that the thunder and shaking was for real this time, no doubt about it as she was pressed down into the acceleration couch beyond any simulation. And so she knew that although the game would be the same as those she had played in this very seat so many times before, this time there would be nothingness for her at the end, and glory with her name added to the list of heros engraved in the hall of honor, maybe even be the one to have a statue made in her image as the one who finally achieved full sovereign separation from those above. She would bring honor to those of the Harem of Bullguarde, honor to the Daughters of Landsworth Breeding Man from whom she was traded to Bullguarde Breeding Man and produced child for him before being put on this assignment years ago. To Donna and Landsworth would be the Glory!
She would play the game with much practiced expertise, game of dodge and subtrafuge with the KESTS patrol spacecraft which was even now unwittingly on its way down, 21,000 miles above her. She was assured of blotting out that patrol craft and its pilot, along with the million or so of current riders of the KESTS at the moment when she detonated her nuke; and if she could dodge the patrolcraft enough by some miracle, she would also sever the KESTS spacerail bridge and down it would fall. And the planet's surface would forever then belong to the Harems and each's Breeding Man, evermore honoring the name of Donna Bullguarde, greatest bombpilot of all. She smiled grimly and clenched the joystick a little tighter, as her mind began the practiced solutions of the equations that paralled those of the guidance computer, she then began to sometimes slip in an unpredictable factor into her trajectory, intending to outwit the piloted patrolship and its computer.
John Forsythe relaxedly again thumbed his randomizer thruster a bit, getting to the other edge of the KESTS spacerail to get a quicker peek beyond that which it had shadowed moments ago. And he instantly froze a second or two while he observed and mentally digested the blip that he saw headed his way. He knew he was good as toast already, for there was no preventing that nuke from torching all life on or near the KESTS now; but he would be able to save the spacerail itself if his skill held out long enough, if he nuked the intruder before it could ram its nuke into the KESTS bridge structure. All his predecessors had made that sacrifice and had saved the KESTS itself thereby; now his number was up to do it too, his bad luck to draw this patrol shift. He quickly analyzed the probable trajectories and his mental calculations paralleled his patrol spacedcraft's computer guidance system, minimizing intercept time to fire his nuke at the upcoming intruder before it could reach the KESTS. John's skill would attempt to gain those two seconds toward intercept of the incoming piloted bombcraft, mere seconds quicker than the calculable intercept to the KESTS, in the game of dodge and subrafuge now desperately ongoing.
His thoughts flashed back to the warm hug and kiss of his wife 2 years ago, just before she launched in her patrol craft on an also unlucky numbered mission, just as this one has now become. His grief at her loss required many reminders of why this all was happening, and now he again resorted to remembering why this had to be played out to the end.
The KESTS spacerail bridge had been built from the ground up to GEOrbit to save civilization along with the earthsurface ecosystem, a few generations ago. Earthsurface-like interior space habitats were robotically built from raw materials brought from the Moon, constructed at a rate adequate to provide new fine living space for one million people immegrating each day for 20 years, so as to enable civilization to prosper anew on space resources while the planetary ecosystem was to be lovingly nursed back to balanced health, saving as many species as possible from the moment the decision was made to go this route, to create a planet-wide National Park. But toward the end of the upward movement of the population, a few tough renegade men began to kidnap women before they could get to the KESTS ground terminal, and created huge harems of them, and formed the Sovereign Nation of Earthsurface. And there became a warzone that eventually balanced into a boundary to define limits to where the Clarke Belt Nation people could travel to around the KESTS earth terminal, in their conversion work to restore the land to the ideal ecosystem National Park condition. But the vast majority of the nearly vacated planetary earthsurface had been taken over by the Sovereign World guerillas, rejoicing in their windfall possession of a worldfull of vacated cities and industries, now wealthy beyond their wildest dreams through their piracy. All they had to do now was to sever the KESTS bridge, and the planet would be forever theirs, to pillage and squander as they always had done before the plan to move to the Clarke Belt was approved by the majority of mankind, thinking to save their planet and to save their civilization, so sad to leave their homelands, all of them. But now ownership of abandoned property was theirs, these militant Sovereign Earthsurfacers, so clever. And the game of Destroy/Protect KESTS evolved to that of the present moment; now it was up to John and his lone patrol craft to once more protect the bridge between the 12 billion person Clarke Belt Nation and the home planet it ringed 22,300 miles above the equator.
Donna wished that she, too, had a launchable nuke like the enemy patrol spacecraft would have, but there were only a relatively few of the great reaction engine powered launchcraft left over from before KESTS was built, and they had not been intended to be bombers. So she had to contend with the warhead being lashed onboard in the cargo bay, requiring her spacecraft's impact with the KESTS spacerail bridge before detonating it, to bring down the KESTS. Short of that goal if unreachable, she would detonate it anyway, frying the enemy craft, herself, and all life on the relatively unprotected KESTS, usually about a million people traveling on it at any given time. Hers was the glory of the moment, and in only a few minutes she would know just how big a winner she was.
Donna faked a quick move from around the shadow side of the KESTS relative the the patorl craft, then quickly reversed at the last instant, hoping that would lure the patrol craft to fire its nuke but not risk the missle to hit the KESTS.
John took the bait and fired his nuke missle at the upcoming bombship, but the intruder uncannily dodged back behind the KESTS structure at the last instant; John had missed his chance. Dismayed only for an instant, he too faked a move around the KESTS, reversed and surprised the upcoming spacecraft. In remembrance of his fallen wife he hit the thrusters full blast and rammed the intruding spacecraft in its cargo bay area, hoping to damage the nuke's firing mechanism before it could be detonated.
Donna elatedly reached for the bomb detonation switch just as
she was about to contact the KESTS bridge, but was slammed to the side
from an impact from something. A second slam indicated she had collided
with the KESTS; she then hit the detonation switch but nothing happened.
Checking the viewfinders, she found that her craft was bent around the
spacerail bridge, tangled with the patrol ship's wreckage. She closed her
helmet's faceplate to conserve air, and began to crawl back to the cargo
chamber to inspect the nuke there, and set it off manually if possible.
She was illuminated by the glare of the headlight of a spacetrain which
had stopped just short of the wrecked spacecraft tangled around its maglev
track structure as she clambored in her spacesuit toward the cargo bay
door area. The light also then showed the figure of another spacesuited
figure as he exited from that cargo bay. John had managed to disarm the
nuke, and was surprised to be accosted by the attacking pilot who began
a free-fall wrestling fistfight right there with him, kicking at him until
passing out from lack of air in the spacesuit. He dragged the limp figure
from the tangled wreckage, and held it by one arm while he jumped to the
spacetrain's airlock door, and soon they were inside, surrounded by a crowd
of astonished passengers; opening the faceplate of the attacker, John found
the unconscious beautiful face of Donna, former Haremmate of Bullguarde
of the Sovereign Nation of Earthsurface.
B'wana Tregorre uneasily studied the ancient history leading up to the building of Clarke Belt Nation and the KESTS spacerail system that made it possible, the umbillical cord with Earthsurface. To get into the spirit of the events, he decorated his cubical with momentos from that past, his favorite was the one with the saying to the aspiring ecologist " When you are up to your crotch in alligators, it is hard to remember you came to save the swamp.' So appropriate now as back then 50 years ago, it was about those who struggle to save civilization and earthlife when having to get its denizens to be the ones to build and survive happily in the result, when all those critters seem to want to do is to jostle around for a bigger hunk of whatever unfortunate was becoming the meal of the moment... often targeted was those who struggled to save the future of them all. The Confederacy of Clarke Belt Cities, all 1,500,000 of them ringing the planet in the Clarke belt synchronous orbit above earth's equator, would be voting on an extremely serious matter: the abandonment of their committment to restore the earth's surface ecosystem back to an enduring genetically diverse balance, as part of the international decision to build the Clarke Belt Cities, even to development of the KESTS. Then, as now, there was the problem of coping with, then integrating with, those who thrived on aggressive powerful cunning to usurp the maximum for their ends... the alligators, sharks, of the human world. The Sovereign Nation of Earthsurface was the latest bunch of alligators, no more, no less.
In the late 1990's, when the possibility of restoring Mother Earth's ecosystem while greatly expanding human civilization became appearant, the odds against getting it to actually happen seemed impossible. esentially everyone saw the concept as a ripoff of their homelands, a forced exodus from the surface of their home world to go into concentration camps life inside machines in the sky; corporations saw it as unable to make a profit in their management time frame, and would make their existing space transportation technologies mere history, sending their hopes for fame and fortune into ruin. Those who would benefit by the concept, the people of the future and the species of the earth's balanced ecosystem to be, could not vote on its implementation. So the concept of a ring of habitats in GEO, connected by a massive transportation system bridging the ground and that ring of space cities, had to be developed out of sight of the reigning overseers of technology; by the end of the '90's, covert spy technology was so insideous and pervasive that the lone inventors could not invent anything without the monitors and burglars becoming aware of it even as it developed in the inventor's garage; by the time the inventor could try to patent it, impressive engineering documents were in place to "prove " that some corporation had developed it first and had it applied for patent days before, and the inventors gradually starved due to failure to get reward for thier creative work. Where would they find the many creative minds to do the vastly diverse design of a new transportation system, and of building self-sustaining cities in near space to make good life for 15 billion people? Engineering employees of corporations all were sworn to give over any invention of theirs done on or off the job to their employer as a pre-condition of employment, so none of them could be used to create such a project. Yet the technology needed to be a demonstrable real possibility, somehow, by the time civilization woke up to the fact that it had almost eaten itself out of house and home and had trashed out what remained, and there was clearly nothing but ruin laying before them. Sadly, the corporate managers knew the truth that it was much cheaper to suppress competitive technologies than to improve their own. And the researchers themselves learned early in their careers that one does not get so creative that one's work strays far beyond the boundaries of the established set of concepts, if one hopes to not be rejected by the staid peer review process.
Sure, they could fight over the scraps of what was left of the planet, but by then little would remain to sustain the winners, and the chains of long term ecosystem balance would have been long broken in many places by then. Before then, a way out had to be secretely created and presentable to a dazed and panic-stricken civilization which had lost the first utterly essential resource, and reality had to be faced. So how did the proverbial ecologist back then get the alligators to stand up and rebuld the swamp, instead of having the ecologist for lunch and letting tomorrow take care of itself? Recorded history did not have much to say about how the success happened despite the covert suppression of those who naively first publically proclaimed the concept in the late 1980's, thinking an earth full of intelligent people would rally to the opportunity to save their heritage's future and their planet's sustainable ecosystem upon which life depended. Instead, those creative but naively optomistic few found a planet full of powerful, aggressive TV-addicted people committed to maintaining the status quo that supported their power, ignoring the impossibility of doing so for much longer; those powerful people merely believed that forcing population growth to zero would solve the problem. B'Wanna wondered if those authoritarian people also believed that if they ran their automobiles at a constant speed they would never run out of gas... sure, it would save gas, but eventually the tank would run dry anyway. They might even have believed that burying their garbage and trash would make it not haunt the future eventually. Up here in a Clarke Belt City of 8,000 people, every bit of living processes was integrated into recycling processes, and what little that did became too intractable to continue to be recycled economically, went outside to be added as radiation shielding mass to the non-rotating outer hull of each city. Many of the recycling technologies used up here would work down there on the surface, although many recycling processes depended upon the immediate wide availability of hard vacuum processing in a wide range of gravities ranging from zero to 1.1 g's, and a sun that shone 24 hours a day if not shaded, seven times as much solar power than the average solar influx on an equal area on the ground. But still, there were a lot of technologies developed for Clark Belt Nation that could have helped the technologically-generated trash accumulation down there, and delayed the inevitable for a generation longer, perhaps.
Focusing his thoughts back on the situation here and now, he had to
postulate that there was a solution to the mess.