(Originally written in November 2006, while also writing a technical paper on space elevators; and daily chapter writings put on http://jedc2006nanowrimo.blogspot.com/ while in participation with NanoWriMo 2006.)
a Science Fiction Novel by James E. D. Cline
Ch. 1 Catching the nano space elevator tether
Looking up into the clear equatorial Pacific sky intently, Improy could see nothing but blue and more blue. The radio direction finder had tracked it down to where it was now 30 meters somewhere above the floating artificial island made of a converted pair of surplus deep sea oil rigs. It ought to be visible by now, he thought. At least it was finally over the platform, the instrument indicated.
The implications of the existence of the tiny object up there were impressive. A month ago it had been high overhead, 36,000 km, 22,300 miles, over his head up there, as it began its decent as the weighted end of a 120 GPa strong tether material being lowered. Another shorter tether with a heavier weight on its end had simultaneously been de-spooled in the opposite direction from the satellite, to balance the forces on the satellite from pulls up and down from tether masses in motion in a gravitational field. But the one interesting to Improy right now was this one on the downward tether's end. It meant that there now existed something that had never existed before in the history of civilization's great construction works: a continuous physical structure spanning the gap between high Earth orbit and the Earth's surface ... well, almost was so, and would be so when the object on the end of the tether got captured and secured here. The carbon nanotube tether filament itself was far too small diameter to be visible, of course. Even the 3 cm diameter shiny sphere was almost invisible against the bright blue sky over the Pacific Ocean, hardly telling of its recent journey across tens of thousands of kilometers of the hard vacuum of space, and then its dip down through the high atmosphere, all the way down to be paused here, as if uncertain if it really wanted to make the landing.
So he sent a beamed command straight up, which was received by the satellite far overhead in GeoStationary Earth Orbit. The satellite immediately obeyed and its solar panels pulled some of in the Sun's radiant energy to slowly unlock and restart the immense pulley drums, now almost empty of tether fiber. They slowly payed out two paired triple strands of single fiber carbon nanotube from its remaining turns on the drum, one set of strands going upward while the other triple wound strand went downward. The drum with the upward strands wound on it was much smaller than the drum despooling toward the ground, as the upward strands went a shorter distance and also had a counterweight on it, the Earth's constant rotation angle's centrifugal force on the counterweight far beyond GEO delicately balancing to near equality at the GEO machinery.
Down far below there, on the Earth's watery surface, Improy waited a bit impatiently for the propagation inertial wave of immensely tensioned falling strand travel across the 36,000 km to where he was intently staring upward. He had been doing similar juggling for the past two weeks, and he was about to finally achieve his goal.
His gaze shifted over to where the still rough outline of where the third oil rig had been months ago, when this same kind of scenario had been playing out when a chunk of orbiting debris from a war-destroyed GPS satellite had severed the strand below GEO, and the falling carbon nanotube impacted that other floating oil rig island section, sawing it in two with the meteoric microsaw blade. After that happened, all but he and his co-worker had left the island; the necessary technique and equipment had been proven anyway by that time, so now just the two of them were daring the fates.
It would be dawn tomorrow morning before the positioning would have stabilized enough for the capture attempt, so he calmed his impatience by going through the checklist and equipment calibrations for the big event. He wondered if he would be able to sleep this night, already tensed for action tomorrow; his shift would begin with the usual overlap of half an hour when their shifts swapped, and would be timed to do the hoped-for initial capture in that time. With only two of them, and half an hour overlap at each end of their shifts, it still made the workday 13 hours long for each of them. Meantime, he knew that if the tether overhead got severed again, his partner would sound the alarm and they could hopefully prepare to survive it again. That was not likely to be happening again, was an improbable event last time. It is just that the memory of the impact last time was too impressive even now.
Below deck, Catalie was a bit impatient to get on with her duties, yet it was important to have one's 12 hours well spent in rest, rejuvenation, and self balancing. Her turn to shoulder all the responsibility would come soon enough. And one needed to be in the best shape possible, to cope with what was expected to happen and the things unplanned that might happen too.
In fact, this second attempt would not have happened at all if it had not been for her efforts. The improbable event of a severed tether at such a critical moment, causing the loss of the tether, part of their floating island, and three crewmen, had shaken all of them. The breakage had flung the GEO drum satellite out into distant space, while the earthward tether segment came violently down, so at least the space again was clear for another conventional launch vehicle lift of the backup Tetherdrum robot satellite into GEO. But Ownma Corporate management had been all too eager to call it quits; she did not understand that. If they were so easily swayed to end the project, why did they start it in the first place? The lost resources were insignificant in relation to the massive wealth of the Corporation, so cost was not the real problem. Therefore, it surely had to do with politics or multiple motives. She never could comprehend the motivations of the rich and powerful, who bent their human intellect not for the advancement of the ecosystem and civilization base upon which they thrived, but instead on acquiring ownership and power over all they could possible grab by any means. What a wast of talent, was her opinion. Yet, fact of life, that those guys were the boss. Power and wealth must be as addictive as the hardest of illegal drugs, to get people to do that kind of thing, ignoring the often harsh consequences to such a vast group of people and living ecosystem. Surely their higher education had taught them that "absolute power corrupts absolutely" and thus ought to have enabled them to bypass that problem; but no, they just got sucked into it as if they had been taught no wisdom along with the raw facts.
Time for her shift to start finally arrived, and she climbed up to greet the late afternoon sky. Half an hour they had to transfer over the duties of the task, and little time was left for companionship. Improy pointed up into the sky, and yes, there was a flicker of reflected sunlight off of something in the sky. They inspected the autorecording log of position of the object, found the expected shrinking average separation as well as the rhythmic rise and fall of their own position with the lunar tides. There was enough general pattern in the log's curves, so that another correction would be sent to the GEO satellite overhead about midnight, which hopefully would result by midmorning the next day of the centering of the glittering tiny object's position over the vertical shaft in the floating platform, within which the tether end attachment would ride up and down with the tides and waves, as the project began its next phase.
The next morning the two of them stood watching the three cm diameter tetherball, seeming to hang from nothing, the microscopic tether with which it was suspended invisible against the blue sky. Inside the tiny tetherball was just a high powered ID tag, which was briefly powered up by a continuous beam of energy, which was received and converted into energy to power a transponder pattern modulated transmitter while it was receiving the power beam, sending its identification signal out for radio position location. It signal was only to show where the end of the tether was at, providing the data by which it had been guided to where it was now, on average over its target on the floating island.
Improy picked up his fishing rod, which had been outfitted with a capture snare loop fishing line, and he brought the end of the fishing rod up near the tetherball, which was not standing still, due to all the motions involved from wind and waves and tidal action. Back and forth the snare loop went, while he got a bit of practice with the sport. Then a couple more intent motions, he had the tetherball snagged on the pole's fishing line. Catalie documented the moment of capture in the facility log, and marked the video recording moment. As simple as the thing was, it was a historical momentous event, in reality. It was the instant of the first connection of the earth surface and high earth orbit, by a continuous physical structure!
He transfered the fishing line down into the vertical tube going down below deck into the floating former oil rig, while Catalie went below deck to connect it to the plunger that was the next phase of the connection permanently to high space locations. Then he transmitted the command to the GEO satellite overhead to again lower the tether, this time some ten meters worth. Going below deck too, he did a QA check of the work Catalie had done as the last part of her shift. With ten minutes to spare, they celebrated together in happy embrace, and each had a small glass of red wine to toast the achievement, all alone far out here in the vast Pacific Ocean.
The next day, they had the end of the carbon nanotube dual triplet strand tether locked into the vertical shaft. All work done on it would be done remotely, as the end of the tether rode up and down the tube in response to the everchanging environmental conditions. The next step was to begin the unwind process, to separate the two triplet helix strands from each other, which would begin down here, and gradually unwind all the way up to GEO. The 120 GPa strength nanotube material was plenty strong enough to bear its own weight to GEO, thus enabling a very simple scaling technique.
But first the remaining tether material on the drum in GEO would need to be despooled downward until its final loop was all that was on the drum, which thereafter would act as a pulley. The untwisting of the original nanotether needed to be finished after that, ending with two parallel nanotethers consisting of three wound strands of monofilament carbon nanotube material. That done, a strong splice would be done at the bottom joining the two triple-strand tethers to form a continuous single loop between ground and GEO. The electric motor on the drum - now pulley - in GEO, powered by solar energy, would pull the belt around, and another strand of carbon nanotube would be fastened on at the bottom and would be pulled up alongside the rising side of the belt between the pulleys. Gradually the girth of the tether belts would thus be increased until it was able to carry useful payloads to GEO, solar powered lift at that. Much easier than use of climbers, and far more energy efficient.
Ch.2 Scaling the space elevator up
The drum in GEO had finished de-spooling the remaining twisted carbon nanotube tether, leaving only the half loop around the drum, and all the tether material was now dangling toward the Earth.
And on the floating artificial island, Catalia and Improy had their hands full. they had to do everything remotely into the tube which constrained the motion of the tether's end, in the relative motion from wind and tides. The two triplets of twisted nanotube monofilaments, almost invisible to the eye, were separated out, and each was securely clamped to the unwinder fork. Then the two sets of strands were slowly unwound, counted to match the number of twists applied during the original manufacture of the spooled tether. The number had to match exactly, otherwise there would be a crossover somewhere, and abrading would happen once it went into motion as a belt between the two pulleys. At the same time it was untwisted, there had to be absolute restraint of both strands sets, or there was risk that when they were finally untwisted completely, one strand would be slightly heavier than the other and begin to fall down, raising the other strand set up, making it even lighter, and causing cascade failure collapse of the structure, dumping it all back to the Earth surface.
And they had to splice the two triple monofilaments together as a final step, attached together so securely the joint could bear the load of the entire weight between GEO and surface. The splice had to be made when the two strands were freed from one another, their most vulnerable time for weight unbalance pulling one side down. And the excess length had to be snipped off to a length that would never bottom out in the vertical path constraint tube on the floating platform.
Although the whole process had been thought out long ago, it had never been done in physical reality. So each step was part per the book, and part was winging it as the process unfolded in physical reality, truly massive forces in delicate balance.
The couple now worked on the same shift, as the tasks required their close coordination hour after hour. Catalie's intuitive sense of the overall wholeness of the ongoing unfolding events, was balanced by Improy's continual referral of the procedure, and entry of data or marking of checkboxes. Occasionally they would modify or insert the instructions to some facet newly become apparent.
When some stage of the procedure allowed them relaxation time, as lovers they renewed their bonding so helpful in the ongoing tasks of the day too, contributing greatly to its chances of success. What they were doing would have taken dozens of experts normally, but those experts were fearfully far away, memory of the destruction in the previous attempt keeping them away. The internet provided access to their advise, as well as a way to give them updates on the ongoing progress details. But the lover's sleep together time and recreation break moments were theirs alone, and savored to the fullest.
During one such break time, Catalie called Improy over to look into the stereo microscope. She had a hobby of observing a particular kind of sea critter, a kind related to the little rolley-polley bugs in her garden back home, yet which had amazing diversity on the vast sea floor. Peering into the microscope, Improy was immediately plunged into the microscopic world of marine crustacea, and he saw one of the males, with its pair of tail-like hind structures and a pair of horn-like structures on its head, scurrying around with three small versions of itself on its back. "See how the youngsters scurry to get on the back of the large male when a threatening situation comes along", Catalie guided. "There is more to the lives of these sea creatures than one would expect. See how their big eyes sometimes seem to be aware of you looking in the microscope down at them." Improy grunted something non-commital, but then looked over at the computer display which was the output of a tiny camera mounted on the outside of the floating platform's shell, long encrusted with the makings of creatures that inhabit the pilings of waterfronts around the world. "Somewhere, sometime, in its past, this oil rig must have been located off the California coast. These are the same Sphaeromatid species I found on the marina pilings in the Los Angeles area a couple of years ago", Catalie chattered on. "No way could have gotten here through the ocean on their own." She too watched the computer video display of the busy lives of the teeming microvillage on the hull of their floating island, one of her favorite relaxations. In so many ways they are like bunches of people. "Yet they are so tiny, and look as strange as the "bug eyed monsters" of early science fiction writers fantasizing life on other planets, yet here it is, right here." Tiny but cute bug-eyed monsters, neighbors only tens of meters away from where the adventure of connecting to high earth orbit was unfolding. She turned off the microscope light, picked up the petrie dish and carried it off, and soon Improy could see the little crustaceans dumped back into the view of the micro videocamera mounted on the outer hull, where they scurried around frantically until re-discovering their homes.
Breaktime over, they went back over to the structure which had once held oil drilling machinery, now housing the mechanisms preparing connection to far above instead of to far below. The untwisting of the pair of triple-monofilament carbon nanotubes was getting close to competion. The exact untwisting was determined by sending a pulse up the separated pair of tethers, which would send a reflection back down early if the two crossed somewhere below GEO. When there were no lower reflections happening, the untwisting ceased; the tether was allowed to stabilize then to verify that indeed the two sides were parallel and no crossing existed anywhere in the 36,000 km length.
Halfway down the 50 meter long vertical tube in the seagoing platform, a fresh pair of clamps were applied to the two strands as security. Then just below that, they severed the excess tether length, unraveled the three monofilaments, then re-wove them into a section of six interwoven monofilaments to form the splice. The spliced area of the tether was then surrounded by a vacuum chamber, where it was pumped down to a hard vacuum, then a flood of carbon atom gas was deposited all over the splice area, the atoms aligning themselves to unite across the original strands, strengthening the bond within the splice. A plastic sealant was then applied over the area, a plastic that would protect the area from oxidation during its ascent through the atmosphere into the hard vacuum above, where the sealant plastic would vaporize, its job done.
Then the big test began. Command was beamed up to the drum satellite in GEO to roll the pulley, lifting one side of the pair of tethers and lowering the other side, it all in a great loop at this point. Clamps had been removed down below, so the splice went up and soon through the atmosphere, as the continuous belt went around between the two pulleys, one in GEO and the other in the tube on the floating artificial island. It was days of wait, as the drum rotation was constant and the distance great, The load on the splice increased to a maximum as it reached GEO, then was bent as it passed over the GEO pulley, then supported the full weight of the downward tether. And it held.
Their next milestone was to attach a fourth carbon nanotube filament to the upward moving side of the loop, seamlessly laying it along the twist of the original triplet of filaments as it rose. This required a bobbin containing the entire length to be emplaced for a full up and down distance, 72,000 km of nanodiameter carbon nanotube filament. Splice of the added filament ends were arrange to be ten percent of overall tether distance, so as to not overlap yet being of some assistance as the original splice neared the top of the tether. This was the proving out of the scaling up construction process, key to an economical construction of a Space Elevator of sufficient girth to be able to lift the materials needed for huge constructions works high in orbit.
When two more strands had been added, they were able to begin adding two new strands per loop movement, exponentially increasing the rate of increase of girth of the overall tether pair. Eventually the additions were done laterally, gradually forming the tether into two parallel ribbons that flowed between the earth and space pulleys.
When the weight of another layer of ribbon girth equaled the weight of a solar panel for the GEO satellite, for the next several circuits of the tether loop, instead of tether material going up, solar panels went up, clamped on the ribbon as it left the deck of the floating island, and stripped off just before reaching the pulley in GEO. The original design of the GEO satellite had provision for robotically distributing and attaching the added solar panels, which enabled lift of greater loads up thereafter.
The increase of tether crossectional girth then resumed, until the tether could lift a small spacecraft carrying a person to GEO. The limits of the original chemically powered launch vehicle emplaced satellite to expand itself had been reached, and construction of the larger facility in GEO required human presence from then on.
Tugs brought in more surplus floating oil rigs to be lashed to the original remaining pair of platforms, and an influx of personnel flowed back to populate the increasingly large artificial island there in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. The continuous existence of the dual tether increasingly gave people confidence of probable survival, especially as its girth and therefore strength became quite substantial and would be able to take a hit from increasingly large orbiting debris and still survive to be repaired.
The scaling up of strength of the tether again ceased, as more solar panels were sent up, then Improy was lifted up the tether in a mini-habitat.Arriving in GEO, the habitat module was unhooked from the tether, and Improy spacesuited went out to begin assembling the new solar panels to increase the power of the drum lift, and soon a second electric motor was lifted up and joined to increase the lift power of the tether. The rate of tether loop movement was then speeded up, reducing the lift transit time; more components of the initial permanent manned facility were lifted along with sawdust-laced water ice which was placed around as a passive shield against solar storms that eventually would pass their way.
Improy had only a week up there before the DNA repair mechanisms were getting used up in his body, so he went back down to the artificial island to recuperate, providing excuse for a huge celebration of having shown human travel to orbit and back on a space elevator for the first time.
Ch.3 Building too briefly in GEO, and a small solar power satellite
The porthole tunneling through the 3 foot thick shell of ice shielding the small habitat in GEO, was unwaveringly centered on the disk of the Earth far below, as all other directions were at risk of radiation coming in. Munching a sandwich, Catalie stared at the watery planet below thoughtfully. "Why did they say to stop lifting ice for shielding here?" she asked Improy. He paused from getting into the exterior access worksuit, grumped that he did not believe Ownma Corporation really wanted this project to succeed. The corporation's long time big holdings were in the conventional rocket launch technology aerospace technologies, that is where they made their big money. "Every time we have had a big success here, Ownma management makes a big show of handing out bonuses to its regular launch system personnel, and pointedly passes us up. They make clear to everybody, that reward only goes to the staid conventional folk, no matter that we here have done almost miracles to keep the project going." He finished assembling the worksuit around himself, went into the airlock, and soon was out in the environment of deep black and brilliantly bright complex structures.
# Well, today was not a miracle day for achievements per management far below; but to the visionaries of the 1960's, today would have been a dream come true. He inspected the microwave power input connector tightness with the torque wrench, then moved over to the hinge pont of the 200 meter long truss, and activated the motor that began the slow deployment of the immense diameter, but low mass, parabolic antenna. When it was extended out straight, he sent the signal to switch to active gimbal positioning, so that it was essentially decoupled from the motions of the truss arm.
Back in the habitat, he found Catalie having an internet video chat with their 7 year old daughter, Idealiana, who was down on the floating island. We will be back home with you in just a few days from now, don't worry, she soothed her child. Improy floated over to the power console, and saw that the oscillations in the big antenna out there had dropped to an acceptable amplitude, so he activated a video link to the rectenna receiver site in the southern California desert near the Salton Sea. "Coming at ya" he said and activated the relay which switched half of the solar panel electric power output to the microwave generators driving the antenna he had just deployed. "Got it!" came back the reply from the ground rectenna site. "Three megawatts, we are now dumping into the California power grid!" continued the report. It had been easier to use the power grid as the initial load, rather than a huge bank of resistors for the brief test, so right from the first, they were making money. Not much money, true, but at the current cost of basic energy of a half dollar per kilowatt hour, every little bit would help. And this was very clean energy.
Approaching the little artificial island was one of Ownma Corporation's finest executive yachts, on time for the expected test of solar-derived electrical power input to the commercial power grid. Relaxing in the immense lounge of the yacht, Stebler pondered the potential effects if the test succeeded. He oversaw the company's vast holdings of coal-fired electrical power plants, as well as the fuel suppliers for the major chemically powered space launch facilities. The cost of their operations had been going up steadily with the drop in coal and fuel resources that were economically recoverable, and the CO2 production and particulate pollution control costs were driving up expenses to a level where the major stockholders were registering complaints about him. Stebler had the responsibility or maintaining everything in steady balance, consistency of results was paramount. And his competancy was like the Rock of Gibralter.
Theo, the brilliant genius who locked the workings of the Ownma Corporation's vast empire into a sound theoretical basis, joined Stebler in the lounge, receiving a refreshing drink as he sank down in another of the plush chairs. Without preamble he said "If Solar Power Satellites do become reality, they will disrupt the financial foundations of the Company. Large amounts of very clean energy derived directly from the Sun's energy as received in space high above the earth, and beam-able to customer nations all over the planet, will cause our customer base to shift to that source of energy, abandoning us."
Stebler stared at him for only a few seconds, then spoke with his deep commanding voice "That would de-stabilize everything. It would be a terrible thing. Such disruption would reverberate throughout the world, causing incalculable damage to our corporate foundations. It must not be allowed to happen." A pause, then "This is our own project, why did we start this in the first place?"
Theo shifted uneasily in the plush chair, torn by conflicting data, memories of decisions long ago, finally speaking. "In the year 2000, despite our long suppression, a paper got published anyway. It outlined a way to bypass the requirement of superstrength tether material for building a transportation structure linking ground to high earth orbit, that would enable cheap construction of Solar Power Satellites and other huge facilities for utilizing space resources thus attainable, perhaps even a vast space based commercial empire.
"As long as people believed there was no way to build a Space Elevator, our corporate economic vista remained solid into almost forever, we would become the ultimately powerful, no one could challenge us. The world would become ours, no question. Civilization depends on two things: abundant energy and abundant knowledge. We focused on the energy aspect. without plenty of easy energy, knowledge would become increasingly uninfluential, ceding control to those who controlled energy.
"So we chose to revive the original anchored tether space elevator concept. Carbon nanotube technology looked like it might result in extreme strength to mass ratio material eventually, so it would seem plausible to put money out there to get people focused on that kind of physical space access structure. And the key result would be that any interest in the concept of building a lifting structure between ground and GEO by using kinetic energy stored circulating centrifugally within a structure, to become forgotten, even considered a rival. And it worked. The old guy who was trying to get public awareness of that concept faded away, and given a few extra pushes into obscurity along the way by our staff's guidance.
"But we were stuck with having to show progress in making an anchored tether space technology work. There were plenty of ways for it to fail, yet there were a few determined people who did not comprehend the reality that it must eventually fail, so as to maintain the world energy supply status quo upon which all rests."
Stebler also had a refreshing drink as he listened to this, reclining in the sumptuous chair. Silence passed, minutes. "This I have known from the beginning. What I need to know is why hasn't the project failed already? It is a wacky idea, space elevators and all. I don't believe all this is happening. But stability will be restored, all will become back to normal. Have no doubt."
On the little floating island, little Idealiana chatting with her Mom so far above in GEO, also watched as the huge beautiful yacht grew close, then the biggest helicopter she had ever seen landed on the deck of the island. A pair of men got out of the flying machine, spoke briefly with a greeting congregation, then headed straight for her. She returned her attention to the image of her mom on the internet video connection, chatting a bit less happily.
Up in the GEO habitat, Catalie listened while Idealiana said someone wanted the internet chat connection with the GEO station; then Catalie saw the powerful figure of a wealthy dressed man go onscreen. She quickly called Improy over to continue the link chat. Improy cheerfully started the conversation by saying they were now making $1,500 dollars an hour off the energy they were supplying to California. The heavy commando voice replied back "This project has been costing us $3,000 a day, and stockholders want their money and now. Switch the remainder of the solar panel output power over to the power beam, and return to the ground. Your job is over" and the screen went blank.
Improy and Calalie stared at each other a moment, then he said "See what I mean, they reward success with rebuke. Makes no business sense. We are now set to go for a full sized Satellite Solar Power Station construction here to make the big money delivering the finest electrical power around the world, and instead he wants to chop it right here."
Improy went back to the link to the rectenna site, and said "Here comes $3,000 dollars an hour at ya, enjoy, 'cause that is all you will get from us. The Big Boys have spoken." He shut down life support and the construction engines, switched all the solar power except enough to power the ribbon pulley drum for the vehicle's return, over to the big dish antenna out there. They hopped into the lift's captive ribbon capsule, and with a longing look back inside the station they had created so lovingly with daring courage, sealed the hatch and down they dropped toward the watery blue ball far below in the vast night.
Ch.4 From tether to torus
When the tether belt had lowered them to within a few miles of the ocean's surface, Improy pointed out the gleaming shape of the Ownma Corporation's mammoth yacht cruising northward from the tiny floating island which it had dwarfed. When the Armed Services had been privatized, Ownma Corporation had been ceded the U S Navy, and the Corporation promptly had one of the nuclear powered aircraft carriers modified to be a luxury yacht for their management to sport around in, travelling to and from by air. "At least we won't have to endure the "in your face" insults from management this time," he quipped. He had learned the hard way that is a favorite sport of the Big Boys who ran the Corporation, the in-your-face put-downs, putting you back in your place if you had done something unusually well. Even knowing it was just the playout of an inborn psychological quirk of the bullies that compulsively went for the domineering of others that brought them the easy good life, still did not take the sting out of that kind of "reward."
Silent for most of the decent, Catalie replied that they had experienced some wonderful life together in this adventure, surely reward enough in itself. And Ownma Corporation had enabled that to happen, she reminded him. "They only did this to watch us fail in desperate effort, and the best we could do is to deprive them of that goal," he grumped. She shrugged her shoulders, saying "Well, I had fun, and still am having fun. This is one of the greatest rides I have ever had, for instance. Can't you just enjoy this ride?" Improy just stared out the window into the air, then said "I remember long ago working with a man who had a phrase he liked: 'Easy as taking candy out of a baby's mouth' which I think says something about the mind behind the person, it does. Ownma Corp bosses did this project for the same purpose they would put the candy in the baby's mouth in the first place, just to get their kicks out of taking the candy away again, what power they relish" he bitterly muttered. "So what are they going to assign us to do next?"
A month later they found out. The plane carrying them landed at Holloman Airport in Alamagordo, and then they were delivered by van to Ownma's White Sands desert holdings, granted to the Corporation by the government when privatizing the former missile test facility, where American's had gained rocket expertise by test firing German V-2 rockets they had captured at the end of WWII, then learned from test firings of missiles they designed and built on those principles. Now it was a spaceport for the chemical fueled rockets that were a mainstay of the Corporation.
At least the couple got to work in the same facility, so they could have lunch together in the company cafeteria. Munching lunch while looking out the window at the rugged outline of the Organ Pipe Mountains, Catalie chatted that she had been assigned to work in one of the strangest shaped kitchens she had ever seen. The kitchen was one of two that together prepared food for a thousand people, all of whom would exist in a mile-diameter wheel being assembled out in the desert near the launch facility. She was told to contribute to the design evolution of the kitchens, while bearing in mind that each section of the wheel-shaped tubular building, would be reconnected after being twisted around 90 degrees, so that the floor would later be where the outer perimeter is now. Additionally, the tubular sections, which were 10 meters in diameter and 40 meters long each, had a peculiar design that insisted that everything be sealable into the wall areas, keeping the central area clear; and there were strong bulkheads at each end and one internally, although oddly not making equal size sections. "That is because", Improy commented, "each of those tubes will be filled with liquid, one section with combustible fuel and the other with oxidizer, and the whole thing will for awhile become a huge fuel tank for its own launch into Low Earth Orbit." "Lets take a walk over to the hangar, before we go back to work."
In the hangar, he pointed out there were two kinds of vehicles in there. One was a sleek pilotless aircraft with huge airbreather jet engines. The other was a short stumpy lifting body winged shape that was mostly three huge engines with wings, which clearly had inspiration from the old Space Shuttle re-entry vehicle, but without much of a fuselage, and also no place for a pilot. "What is to happen, is that the kitchen you are helping debug now, will be one of the individual modules that will be set upon one of those short stumpy vehicles with the huge engines, the nose fairing will be transferred over to the top of the module for the trip up." Pointing over at one of the sleek aircraft with the two big engines on its wings, he continued "And one of those airbreathing boosters will be strapped onto the module too. The insides of your kitchen, or whatever habitat module being launched in the moment, will be filled with fuel and oxidizer, each in its own section, separated by that inner bulkhead you mentioned." Taking off vertically from the launch pad over there, the airbreathing booster will use up nearly all of its fuel by the time it reaches 30 km altitude, then it will disconnect in the upper atmosphere, and fly back to land on the airstrip here, while the stubby engine tug module will continue to burn the fuel coming from within your kitchen module or whatever. Put that way into Low Earth Orbit, each of the modules will be teleoperated precision docked to the previous habitat module already up there, gradually assembling a spoked wheel a mile in diameter. The connection up there, however, will have rotated the kitchen module so that its floor is now on the outside rim of the big wheel." The engine tug module will disconnect from the habitat module, accept the nose cone which had been disconected from the module before it was docked, re-attaches to the engine tug flyback module, which then de-orbits and returns back here to White Sands airstrip. They expect to launch three modules a day, on average, this way. Ninety modules a month. And when there are vehicular losses as inevitably will happen, there are spare modules and boosters to take their place." Catalie did the math in her head ... 1 mile diameter ... 125 feet per module ... 150 flights including for spokes ... 90 modules per month ...."So we are going back into space in two months when this thing is finished put back together in a circle up there?" she asked. He nodded a yes.
In reality they were another two months debugging the wheel-shaped Centristation space habitat as it sat on the ground. Its solar panels received only a tenth of what they would have in space, so the energy to run air conditioning inside was marginal, during the hot summer days of New Mexico. Debugging the far too many interactive systems, both machine systems and living systems, all of which had to operate within certain ranges of the parameters, had some wild swings in some values that had to be stabilized adequately before it would be ready to be put into space. And the first test launch of a basic module failed, the coupling between the engine tug module and the module wobbled when the extra thrust from the airbreather was suddenly stopped, causing fracture of the coupling and requiring destruction of the vehicle by the range safety officer. Reprogramming the airbreather thrust profile so that it tapered off gradually before disconnecting solved the problem, and the second test launch achieved the orbiting of the habitat module used for the test, an essentially minimally equipped module to be used as a recreational facility. Yet there it was, in Low Earth Orbit, with an orbital path that would take many years before risking collision with the tether of the Space Elevator.
Two months later, Improy and Catalie were approaching the torus space station in a Rutan passenger space shuttle, both equipped with space worksuits like the one he had used at the GEO faclity. Their first task was to attach one end of a fiberglass cable to the outer perimeter of the wheel, then she sent her worksuited module along verifying that the cable correctly slipped into a channel along the outer perimeter, while Improy guided the cable bobbin despooling around the 5,000 meter circumference of the wheel. When the full length had been roughly laid, they went along and secured a pair of u-clamps at each place where modules had docked together.
With that emergency ring in place, they then similarly put a pair of aluminum ribbon cables around the perimeter, made of the same material as the module shells were made of, for thermal matching. With a small space scooter he used its rocket thrust to work the plane of the wheel so that its axis of rotation would be normal to the direction of the Sun when spun up, making it a giant gyroscope. Then they both moved off to a safe distance while Improy activated the rocket engine mounted on the outside of the huge wheel, and it began to rotate. They only brought it up to a 5 minute rotational period, which temporarily would provide a usable artificial gravity inside, while they began the internal setup of the facility.
Approaching the hub where the spokes joined in the center of the giant wheel, they pulled the first of some 400 bulkheads that would need to be removed, off of the end of the hub module, exposing the airlock built in there. The bulkheads would have to be secured along the outside of the hub one at a time as they were removed from the interior, brought through the interior and out through the other end of the hub module. They verified that this could be done, clearing the path from the hub down to one of the modules of the torus wheel itself, the winch operating easy in the small artificial gravity.
At that point, they sealed the airlocks at one half of the hub, filled it with air, opened their space worksuits in which they had now toiled for days, and breathed new air inside the module. Lights on powered by the solar panels outside, air conditioning stabilizing internal temperature, they activated the computer terminals linking the station with Houston by radio link, and was greeted with the fanfare blare and video clip from Clarke's "2001 Space Oddysey" movie, showing the rotating wheel envisioned so long ago.
Ch.5 Tedious removal of internal bulkheads
Lounging in the habitat module which they had made habitable as a 1/5-g shirt-sleeve environment, Catalie was in one of her rare philosophical moods. She mused outloud "I would think that people could rally around a project, like this one or the Space Elevator we worked on. But maybe the reality is that people only rally around other people. Even 'rally around the flag, boys' is actually rallying around those who are happening to be carrying the flag, the flag being more easily seen and identified as a direction to go toward, a symbol vaguely defined as 'here is where the goodies are, follow me'. A project has no ability of its own to get anything done. It is people that do things, not projects. The closest it gets is when an individual uses the project, as if a flag, to get people to rally around him. A project getting done is an indirect thing, then, at best. Even though it is the project, not the person pushing the project as if it were a symbol of himself, that fills the needs of people."
Improy was only partly paying attention, being engrossed in setting up an instrument. "So why did this space station get created?" he absently countered. "A project starts as a dream, a non-physical fantasy, yet is a map to where the goodies ought to be found. Isn't following the trails on a map, making it happen?"
A timer sounded, ending break time. The assembled their worksuits around themselves, pumped the air from the room back into storage, opened the bulkhead, and moved out into the well lit wheel interior. Moving around the rim at 1/5-g, it was more a hop, little different than Lunar gravity Moonwalks of the early 1970's.
They were still at the tedious task of removing all the interior bulkheads, stashing them lashed to the outside of the central hub, for now, just to get them out of the way. Their material would become raw material for fabricating things when the workers arrived and began living their lives here; but for now, the bulkheads were just in the way of progress. Arriving at the next sealed bulkhead, The both worked together to loosen each bolt just one turn; then paused as the remainder of the former propellant still in there was vented through the cracked seal, expanding down through the open channel to the spoke and out through the open airlock at one end of the hug. When no significant gas flow was observable, they finished removing the rest of the bolts, pulled the bulkhead off, and together hauled it down the rim until reaching the nearest spoke tube, attaching the bulkhead to the electric hoist's cable, and Improy rode it up so as to steer the thing so it did not swing against the wall of the spoke's interior. Catalie joined him where the spoke joined the hub, and they slowly pushed the bulkhead, now in free-fall yet with considerable inertial mass, out through the open airlock while a security line on it, took it outside and lashed it to the exterior of the hub. Then they went back in, reversed their path, back to the newly opened habitat module. They then inspected the module for damage, and opened all storage doors to vent any residual propellant. when the newly added 40 meter section gas level was down to nearly zero pressure, they headed for the next bulkhead. Since the space behind each module internal bulkhead, or behind each double bulkhead where two modules had docked together, was alternating fuel and oxidizer, so they wanted very much to have essentially all of the preceding chamber's gas gone, before letting in the other component of propellant into their space. Although the partial pressure would surely be far too low for combustion, they took no chances, for there were plenty of tiny sparks happening as switches and relays operated, such as those providing their lighting.
It was dull and repetitive work, yet needed to be done carefully, and in places laboriously. When they reached a juncture to the next spoke, they would open up that spoke all the way to the hub, shortening the distance needed to hustle freshly removed bulkheads up and out. There were six spokes to the wheel, so there were 21 modules to go through, each providing 3 bulkheads, before getting to the next spoke.
When they had three spokes cleared, it was time to change the activity for awhile. There were six of the modules which had airlock double doors built in where the inner bulkhead would have been, one door was sealed during the launch, serving the function of a bulkhead separating fuel from oxidizer during the ascent. So they returned to the originally cleared out section and sealed off the airlocks at each center point between spoke connections, and closed the airlock at the hub connection of the spoke, making an enclosed area. They filled this enclosure with air, and activated the life support systems for the almost 840 meter long livable habitat area. From then on they were able to return to this shirtsleeve environment for breaktimes and sleep periods, a very welcome improvement in their lifestyle.
They were able to utilize some of their rest periods for testing of the life support systems. One such was to activate heaters pouring a large amount of heat energy into the enclosure, equivalent to the heat given off by a thousand people, and watch the air conditioner system adapt to that situation without oscillation beyond tolerable temperatures. Such a situation could actually happen, if one 60 degree arc of the wheel became the only habitable section, and so all thousand of the personnel would have to cram into the 800 meter long section.
Catalie was first to point out that since there were only two kitchen - restaurant areas in the whole wheel, what if the only habitable area were one of the other 4 sections that had no food facilities? She had instinctively had them seal off a section which had been pre-equipped with kitchen facilities, since that was where they would have breaktimes and meals, as well as sleep times. "So what happens if it is not this section that survives a disaster, and everyone has to hole up in the next section? How will they eat? There is more to life than just working and hanging out motionless until ext time to work, you know." Improy paused, looking a bit startled. "Yes, they have inputs and outputs that occasionally need to happen, to live. even some private space and time for lovers to bond for sanity renewal ... yes, how will they have that if they are holed up in the machine shop area next door?" They included this insight into the next evening's report back to headquarters at Ownma's White Sands facility.
The reply came back several days later: since the launch system comprised of the airbreathing booster, the engine tug flyback module, and the habitat module had been perfected to great reliability during the construction launches, they had modified the basic habitat module to have no mass consisting of built in facilities, and was instead configured to be a one-way space bus for some 33 people each. Since the personnel were nervous about being launched into space and docking up there in a vehicle without a pilot, they were going to test the modified vehicle several times, so expect to have some modules show up which had porta-potties and bins full of prefab foods and drink, to be distributed to segments lacking in restaurant facilities. Each of these test modules, assuming they arrived as planned, would have to be unloaded, and the empty cylindrical module lashed to the wheel's hub for later use as raw material. "And, the third launch once the system has proved reliable, will bring up 33 brave souls who are wiling to fly without a pilot, and join you as early crew members, living in the section you have proven out responsively livable. Get ready for company."
When a porta-potty shipment arrived docked temporarily with the hub a few weeks later, Catalie noted in the log that there was an unusually long time between arrival and actual docking clamp activation. Improy grunted some comment about it was because the vehicle considered it beneath its dignity to be ferrying outhouses, probably projecting his own feelings about having to tote them manually all the way to positions within the wheel's circumference. But Catalie put it on her worry list. A second delivery of the "one-way space bus" system also had a similar unusually long stabilization time before the now essentially automatic teleoperated docking, human operators no longer needed to pay attention to the docking process.
Both of them were in the Embarcadero, as they called the port control facility, watching as the first shipment of live people hove into view, video links showing a bunch of tense-looking people inside the cramped passenger area. The automated docking, however, was taking a very long time to lock together. The video link showed people's heads and bodies being swayed a bit in their seats as the positioning thrusters jerkily fired again again. Catalie exclaimed "the docking feedback loop is phase shifted by the shifting masses of the passengers!" "and the system is in oscillation mode." Improy saw it was so, and checked to see how much thruster fuel remained. None, actually. They looked out at the space bus module, just less than a meter from the docking port, but now out of docking positioning fuel.
He bolted for the airlock, dragging his worksuit along with him, got into the midsection of the airlock, assembled the suit and sealed it before the air was pumped out of the airlock midsection, the outer door opened, and he saw the nose of the huge cylinder had drifted another meter away and twisted at a 5 degree angle, getting worse by the second. Connecting his safety tether to the station, he scrambled over to the storage to get some of the tie downs used to lash the bulkheads to the outside of the hub. Clamping one end of one of the tiedowns, he jumped to the nose of the 10 meter diameter space bus, ran the tied down rope through one of the still closed docking clamps, secured it. He radioed Catalie to tell the passengers that h=they were going to stay up here for now anyway, but how to get them connected and inside was yet to be determined. She radioed back that the perspiring passengers inside were visibly relieved to know that they were not going to become part of a meteor re-entering the atmosphere after all; it was not designed to return gently to Earth.
Improy went back inside and de-suited, crisis over for the moment and he had been on excess adrenalin long enough. "The mass of that thing is far more than our worksuits can control", he pointed out to Catalie, once he had stabilized his heart rate. How can we get it back aligned with the docking port, and brought against it to fire the docking clamps? They have no airlock or spacesuits in there, they have to come through the docking hatch." They were silent for awhile, thinking. Improy asked, how much air they had left in there ... no one knew, but not likely much, as it was not intended for long term occupancy. And the porta-pottys delivered before had no need for oxygen. Not likely this one had extra oxygen either. They watched the tense faces inside the module, on their computer terminal screen.
Back in his worksuit, he went into the airless part of the hub, and disconnected three of the winch hoists that were used to haul up bulkheads thorough the spoke tubes. Back through the two sets of airlocks, and he used more tie-downs to fasten the winches to the hub and each of their winch cables to the flanges that had held the nose fairing during the lift up her through the air. Thanking the urge of designers for standardization of connectors, he was able to find power outlets for the three electric winch motors. Opening the outer airlock door inward, he toggled the power of the three winch motors until one part of the 40 meter long tube bumped against the port area, then he carefully toggled the remaining winch motors, pivoting the huge tube slowly around, against the docking port, hoping the inertial mass would not tear out the initial contact winch tiedowns. The lashup held, the tube was held to the docking port. But Improy was captive inside. He told Catalie to get in her worksuit quickly, and depressurize the whole section, fast! Then open the inner airlock hatch, let him in, then close the two airlock hatches and tell ground control to fire the docking latch assembly. He scrambled into the open inner hatch, swung it closed again, began the pressurization of the section. By the time it was up to pressure, the docking was activated, and the outer airlock was opening. Then the inner opened, and they looked in to see a bunch of wide-eyed sweating half asphyxiated people, who wasted no time getting loose from seat belts and straggled tumbling in free-fall into the Embarcadero.
Ch.6 A loose bulkhead makes a hole in one
That first space bus load of brave people took up occupancy of the 60 degree segment of the wheel, as versatile a bunch as they were courageous. Each had been trained to do three job functions, including the initial setup of the prefab habitat's related inbuilt mechanisms which had been built into the two meter deep walls, floors and ceiling. A two meter transportation corridor went completely around the wheel. That left over a 4 meter space for each special function facility, such as the kitchen restaurant and commercial shop areas, which were included in this first habitable area. The 838 meter long 60 degree arc, 4 meters wide, made for 3,300 square meters of working floor space. The residences were sprinkled all through the facilities, in amongst the shops and light industrial sections. Only the two areas intended for agriculture were lacking in residences, because it was less shielded from incoming solar energies. Normally there would be living space for 250 people maximum in this first habitable section, each person had personal space 2 meters wide along the corridor, was 4 meters deep and 4 meters high, so each was built as a loft-augumented living space. Couples had adjoining areas and were able to remove much of the adjoining wall, creating a room 4 meters by 4 meters.
Improy and Catalie had taken up one such double room, the residence nearest the airlock into the area in which they continued their work of removing bulkheads and de-gassing habitat segments. The 33 new people had their pick, at least temporarily, of the remaining 248 living quarters. Most of them clustered near each other, an unconscious reaction to the really unnatural world they were now in, a small fragment of the teeming population for which it was designed and built. All of them had participated in the debugging of this area when the wheel of habitats was assembled on the New Mexico desert floor before launches, so it was not that strange in some ways; but that the gravity was so small compared to what had been there during the test habitation, it was a weird change to the otherwise familiar. And, there was some coriolis curvature of the path of falling objects and poured liquids. That curvature would become more apparent when the wheel was spun up to full speed to simulate Earth surface gravity.
For now the rotation rate only provided 1/5 g, to make the job of hauling bulkheads out much easier. Yet, work was still dangerous. Just as Improy had gotten one of the bulkheads to the hub end of a spoke shaft, the attachment point of the winch cable, overworked during its emergency earlier use during the rescue of the space bus module, gave out, and down the bulkhead went through the shaft, building up speed, bouncing against the inner channel of the spoke as it went. risk of that happening was why Catalie always took a different path to the hub to meet her partner for the placement of the bulkhead outside the hub. There was a bottom, of course, and the heavy bulkhead had spun to an edge on orientation when it hit the floor, slicing through the flooring, service channels under the floor, through the module's outer shell, and out into space, gone. The two aluminum circumferential bands were undamaged, but the central glass one had been severed. The work area was still exposed to hard vacuum inside, so there was no venting of atmosphere.
But, there was this big hole.
Some of their propellant allocated for the full spinup had to be spent instead to de-spin the huge wheel, for there was no way to do work of this magnitude on the outer shell while it was spinning. Their choices were to pull the whole habitat module, replacing it with another launched up to replace it from the ground; or to patch the damaged one. Since it was one of the six which were built for attachment of a spoke to it, there were no spares on the ground, so one would have to be built from scratch and launched up; it would take months to do. Neither option looked desirable. A patch job was looking better all the time to them, despite the need to fix all the service tubing in floor and ceiling, and splice the fiberglass cable around the outside. And to seal the hole itself, at least as strong as new.
Since the damaged site was not in the one which was equipped for light industrial use, they decided to extend the habitable area to include it, since the machine shop area was adjacent to the 60 degree section now occupied. That would make it a lot easier to make the pieces needed to do the repair, although the facility was designed for use in artificial gravity. They gathered the new staff members who had any machine shop or even hand tool aptitude, moved them into the newly activated section of the wheel's interior. The accountant was pressed into service there, to keep track of all the spares that were used from the original launched storage cabinet areas, were recorded and sent to ground for sending up a stash in the next space bus launch.
But there was not going to be such a launch for awhile, as they had not found a way to prevent the problem that happened with the docking of the original one. How do you convert people into rigid objects anchored to the spacecraft? That meant that instead, the steering thrusters for the docking had to be modified to enable a mode of much smaller thrust. That would take a longer time to dock, but ought to work. Meanwhile there was a sudden scarcity of people volunteering for the next ride up, having watched while the first bus load almost was doomed to a fiery re-entry, and they did not have confidence that Ownma Corporation considered the workers much differently than the launch vehicle: expendable, easily replaceable property.
Since they had to send up a replacement fiberglass circumferential cable anyway, the severed one not being repairable with sufficient strength using the facilities on hand up there, the decision was made to modify the docking thrusters to have half the original thrust per pulse, and to send up a dozen agricultural section workers, along with small livestock consisting of breeding pairs of quail and fish, and feed enough to last until locally grown feed would be expected available. This would give the agricultural workers something to practice on, and would provide some real home grown food, besides grain and vegetables, for the personnel there if all went as planned. Shipping food up there was quite inefficient. The Corporation paid for huge insurance policies for the benefit of the agricultural workers, and gave bonuses on the spot.
The standard configuration vehicle was set up on the launch pad, tug booster flyback module on the bottom, the habitat module as modified to be a space bus on top of that, and a sleek airbreather booster strapped on the module, and up it went.
In the Embarcadero as they called it, the airlock dock facility, Improv and Catalie waited, already partly in their space environment worksuits. The space bus module hove into view, began to nuzzle up to the docking ring, the slower steering thrusters and modified feedback loop worked. Soon there were a dozen more relieved-looking members of their population, along with crates of seed and fish and quail, all needing homes soon.
Ch.7 Back to zero-gee for repairs
A real Stanford Torus space settlement for 10 times as many people, built somewhere further up and so far out of the protection of the Van Allen belts, would orient its plane of rotation to maximally use its mass to shield from solar storm particles, and get agricultural sunlight in by way of a sloped optical mirror surface; but here in the somewhat radiation-protected Low Earth Orbit, given as simple a design as possible, the orientation was to let the sunshine in through shuttered windowed panels along one side of each agricultural section. The louvered shutters could then be adjusted inside the windows, to control and re-direct the incoming sunlight energy for the growing plants.
That was the first problem they found: the sunlight came in horizontally with reference to the ground level formed by the centrifugal force of the spinning wheel-shaped habitat. The plants closest to the window got the most sunlight, shading the ones behind them. This had not been found during the test period when operating on the ground before launch, since the Sun did its normal arc over the sky as it has always done there. But up here, the Sun was essentially motionless, sunlight coming in from the side wall window areas. Like houseplants in the windows of homes on the ground receiving morning or evening sunshine, the plants up in the wheel habitat grew to an orientation tipped over, toward the motionless light source to the side. This effect was discovered when activating one of the agricultural segments, even while the wheel was in the non-rotating mode for now, while repairs were being made.
So while sections were cut out of the original space bus casing, they also cut some strips of habitat tank casing to be used as terracing walls, and brought it into the remaining, still open to hard vacuum, section built to serve agricultural purposes. They brought in twice as many strips as would be needed there, intending to use it in both agricultural sections, once the whole wheel was pressurized.
Outside the huge, now-motionless wheel, Improv and Catalia in their space worksuits cut a patch panel for sealing and strengthening the exterior wall where the ragged gap had been torn by the exiting edge-on bulkhead. Deciding that it would be easier to do some of the interior repairs from the outside, they cut away the jagged area of the hole, big enough to enter and work in there. At that point they decided to also melt the original but severed fiberglass security cable, to be replaced by the new whole cable brought up with the agricultural shipment, back together so as to still be able to encircle the perimeter of the wheel, but would be loosely anchored to the shell, and so would be usable as an overhead cable from which to hang and ride along so as to be able to travel around the wheel's outside even when spinning full speed. That would enable some repairs and inspections, not to mention a bit of an amusement thrill ride. A cable was dangled from near the hub airlock to tie to this added perimeter cable to access it, but also they used the opportunity to use the two doorframed hatches from the two spent space buss modules to make the double doors of a new airlock there, to go direct out to access the outside even when spinning.
When they had the service plumbing pipes and utilities repaired in the below-floor part of the damaged area, and the new airlock built, they sealed the new section on the outside to cover the exterior hole up. Then they repeated the placement of the fiberglass cable around the perimeter of the wheel, using the new cable. They also secured the "cablecar cable" loosely around, using newly placed hangars spaced around the wheel.
Finishing this as quickly as possible, to minimize the distress to their new companions in space including fish and quail, wearily they went through the hub airlock, disassembled their worksuits from around themselves, advised everyone to take up positions near what would become the floor, and they once again fired the reaction motors mounted on the outside of the wheel, and it again spun up to partial gravity, to the 1/5-g as before. They had yet to complete removing all the bulkheads, along with the venting of any remaining propellant trapped in those sections, so the lower centrifugal force was still needed. Besides, they only had enough remaining propellant to eventually spin up to 3/5-g, anyway. Someday re-supply of rotation motor propellant would be allocated and sent up; but that would not happen for some time. A quick tour of the machine shop and agricultural area to assure that everyone was more or less secured with having a bit of gravity orientation, the pair were soon fast asleep in their quarters, a well earned long rest.
The agricultural workers were getting their first practice in the moonwalk-like gravity locomotion movement. Water in the fish tanks again had a top surface, bubbles would now rise, making aeration of the water easier, although still slow motion. Being mostly ground birds, the quail's stress levels clearly were going down too, with there finally being a "down" and a ground surface. They built a small terraced section from raw materials stored in the original supply section of the machine shop, and planted a few seeds along them, a head start. Their mission profile had not expected such an extended duration without full 1-g artificial gravity, so it was not known what seedlings would do at 1/5-g; but they were going to find out soon. They also began a manual routine of opening and closing the louvered shutters so as to provide a simulated day-night cycle for any circadian rhythms that might be happening in the agricultural area. Eventually they would find what could be grown productively in endless, high intensity sunlight; but for now, the directive was to simulate as near as earth-normal conditions as possible.
The next morning, the task of removing bulkheads was resumed, a long and tedious task, still as risky as before. They had learned to examine the winch cable end connections, putting that on each day's checklist. Then the routine began again: crack the bulkhead bolts, wait until most of whatever gas pressure remained inside had vented out down past them, down the corridor and spokes and out into space. Then finish removing bulkhead bolts; haul the bulkhead down the corridor to nearest spoke shaft, winch up the shaft, take it outside the hub and lash it to the outside of the hub. Return to the freshly opened module section, open each bin or storage section to verify no remaining propellant in there. Then go down to the next bulkhead, and do it all over again. Boring, routine; but no time for not paying attention to what they were doing. Memory of the effort expended because of the broken winch cable and errant bulkhead. And that bulkhead was somewhere out there in space, not something a spacecraft would survive if hitting it. Luckily space was very much bigger than the bulkhead, so chances of missing it were quite favorable. But not 100%. There was a lot of "space debris" left over from earlier space launches by many nations. Adding to the hazard was not something to be done if at all possible. So they slowed down that dull and routine task just a little, to pay a little more attention to each step. It was not just winch cable breakage that could cause calamity.
Each newly opened module was something to be explored a bit, a minor diversion from the routine. They had already opened up at least one of every module configuration, so it was not that new. Each of these modules had been built down on Earth, assembled into a wheel shape, been occupied by a teeming population of a thousand busy people out in the New Mexico desert summertime; then each module was disconnected, bulkheads installed, hauled to the launch pad, set vertically on top of the engine tug flyback module, filled with extremely cold liquids, booster airbreather latched on, then jammed hard upward by the engines, juggled this way and that to orient to end up on target to dock with the previous members, then docked to the one which had arrived before it, then waited there in the space environment until another module came up and docket at its other end. And now the people were pulling bulkheads off of it. The internal configuration of each module, installed equipment, and stored materials had all been selected to survive the freezing of cold fuel, launch shocks, and exposure to hard vacuum.
Or at least that had been the intention. Occasionally they would come across something that had been put in place during the debugging process, getting all the systems to cooperate together. Not all of these got documented and removed for later re-installation, and upon opening the module up, shattered remains of things like rubber balls that had been frozen in liquid oxygen then launch vibration had squeezed it shattering it into many pieces, which had to be cleaned up.
Eventually, they finally came full circle, around the wheel to the bulkhead which had pressurized occupied living space on the other side of it, which had been their first cleared area. So they went up to the airlock on the other end of the hub, and closed it, then closed all the emergency airlocks remaining in the areas of the wheel that were still not pressurized. One at a time, the released the compartment's stored air from the tanks sent up with each prefab module, until it was up to pressure. In a few more hours, the entire wheel with its spokes and hub, were all pressurized, and temperature within occupancy range; the air cleaners declared the air was pure enough. So they removed the bolts from the last bulkhead, and took it to the machine shop for raw material for fabrication, as it would be difficult and wasteful of effort to take it outside and lash it down with the other some 400 bulkheads stored out there.
It was celebration time. All 47 of them gathered in the restaurant-kitchen area, and the chef prepared the fanciest meal she could with the limited foodstuffs on hand. Wine was dispensed from the plastic shipping bags, and a toast was given for all their achievements. Lively music from the vast music library onboard was played a bit loud, and with the help of the wine they learned how to dance in 1/5-g, partying for hours until spent they went to their quarters, weary but in a good mood.
They all took the next day off, vacationing except for minimal monitoring duties. It was back to work the next day, and Improy and Catalie were again partially suited up in the hub's Embarcadero, ready to receive or rescue another space bus load of 33 people, a full test of the modified docking thruster settings and feedback control values. This time, immediate variation in the feedback parameters would be done by Catalie as she watched the realities of what the docking progress was doing each instant. The people inside were only wearing seat belts and shoulder straps, and so was the same risk of phase shifting from internal resonances situation that had nearly cost the lives of the first bus load.
As Catalie watched on the camera monitoring screen, the newly arrived module accurately targeted the docking assembly, within the allowable alignment parameters. Contact was made, triggering the docking clamps to latch, she did not have to do anything. Opening the airlock, Improy went in to greet the new arrivals; the hub door closed and sealed, then the outer door opened inward, then the door was opened into the space bus. All seemed calm so he had Catalie open the inner hatch, and soon the new crew members were entering their new home, 33 more people, mostly couples.
Down on the ground, the "space bus" modules were being built as fast as possible, now that a proven design existed, at a rate of three a week. So that set the rate of population increase for the next couple of months, about 100 new arrivals per week.
A launch of fuel for the spin reaction motors was delivered, and was something new for Improy and Catalie. The fuel supply module arrived and docked, but then instead of passengers, Improy suited up and went out to connect the transfer lines of the two liquids, and pumped the propellants through the tubing, down one of the spokes utility channels, and into the fuel storage tanks near the reaction motors. The emptied module was lashed as the other spent modules, a large supply of raw material had accumulated outside the end of the hub, and this new one joined the collection of spent space bus modules.
Finally it was time to go for full artificial gravity. Everybody was alerted to find a stable place, backs toward a support surface, although the actual acceleration was not all that great; the mass of the wheel was huge. The agricultural workers monitored the water sloshing in the fish tanks, and the antics of the quail as their world started doing something weird again. Eventually a full 1-g was achieved at floor level, which felt quite sluggish after acclimating to the 1/5-g for so many weeks.
The quail seemed quite puzzled about it all for awhile, but soon their legs regained strength, and coordination was back as before. The two agricultural segments were terraced with the strips cut from the first modules and stored in the second agricultural module; a full set of seeds was planted. Soon, quail eggs were produced, and put into incubators; the quail as yet were not comfortable enough to hatch them themselves, but in time it was hoped they would do so. Meanwhile, incubators and brooder equipment was put into use, to expand the quail population to match the expected grain harvest soon to appear, in the very plentiful sunlight which was always bright like high noon and never a rain cloud to interfere.
Ch.8 Prepare to be doubled in size, but it is not yours
Improy and Catalie were out riding on their "bicycle built for two," which they had had built in the machine shop for machinists' practice in the new environment; the wheel rims were overhead instead of below them, however, as they were hanging from the fiberglass rope around the outer perimeter of the giant space station wheel, the spectacular universe getting seen in its entirety a dozen times during one full circle trip around to their starting point as they pedaled. Enjoying this outside sport, they were radioed that Ownma management was on screen in the control room, demanding to talk to them. Since it took 30 minutes to climb back up the half mile to the hub airlock to get back in the normal way, they elected to go through the special airlock they had installed where the hole had been made by the out-of-control bulkhead months before. Ownma management seemed to have an uncanny sense of the most inconvenient time to make their demands, and this time was no exception. They would have to return to their bicycle by the same route, but no matter; more adventure. Even this time was going to be a bit scary.
Stopping their bicycle below the outer hatch, Improy accessed the control panel so as to have the internal air pumped down to 1/4 atmosphere, saving some of the precious gas. But they were in a hurry, so they vented the remainder into space, then he had to stretch from the bicycle pedal base to operate the airlock hatch, swinging it up inside. At this point he had to briefly unhook his safety tether clip, stretch up again to hook it again on the internal safety hook. Catalie handed him her safety tether clip too, he connected it then he had to pull himself up into the hatch. The outward centrifugal force was slightly greater that 1-g there, so it was like being suspended from a high ledge and having to pull oneself up and get up onto the ledge. He helped Catalie similarly scramble up into the hatch, the immense universe was where falling would go to, a very long ways "down" to their senses. They closed the outer hatch, let air into their chamber, opened the inner hatch, and hurried down to the control center, still in their space worksuits, helmets tilted back.
This time, it was Theo's face onscreen, whose form of egomania at least was rooted in the theoretical foundations of things. "We are going to build a second wheel next to yours, with a connected hub bearing assembly joining your wheel with the new one. The direction of rotation of the new wheel will be opposite yours, and so the combined hub shaft assembly must accommodate the gyroscopic torque forces when the combined wheels have their orientation changed in space. Soon the hub bearing assembly will arrive there, and you will have to figure out how to very securely attach it to your airlock on the shaded end of your hub. The next modules docked up there will be the six spokes, and then the modules will be brought up to form the second wheel's ring. All that will get done without human help up there, just as your wheel was first built up there without human presence there. Once you have the new secondary hub connected through the bearing assembly, the hub modules will arrive for you to attach to yours through the bearing. Then the next shipment to you will include a new pair of space worksuits and pair of people who you will train to do your job, but over in the new wheel." The screen went blank, no chance to ask questions. Ownma management did not consider employees as capable of asking worthy questions, so why would they allow time for questions?
"At least we won't get stuck with doing hundreds more of the bulkhead removal processes," Improy muttered. Catalie's thoughts were off in a different direction: "Why didn't they tell us that another wheel was to be part of this facility? Sure, that kind of design has long been envisioned, so as to be able to spin up and back down, by torquing at their hub bearing instead of expending reaction engine propellant mass to get spinning. It would have been a lot easier to have built the hub assembly that way right from the start." Improy replied that one thing that Ownma management did well was to plan far ahead; but they also played their cards close to their chest, as the saying goes. "This must be a new project direction; or else they did not expect us to succeed at this task so it would have ceased long ago if we had failed." Catalie went on "How will the added wheel receive sunlight for its agriculture? Either all agriculture will have to be done in our Sun-facing wheel, or the whole pair of wheels will have to be kept in a slanted orientation, so that some sunlight will come in past the edge of our wheel, for partial sunlight each revolution. What a crazymaker to plants, to have the sunlight come in sweeping rapidly from a steep angle during 20 seconds, then going into total darkness for 40 seconds until the next 20 seconds of intense sunlight. Will they adapt?" Improy replied that the livestock will have to be provided artificial lighting, powered indirectly by solar cell panels sticking out so as to not be shaded by our wheel, not very efficient use of their solar energy resource.
Relaxing after dinner that evening, Catalie went on as if the conversation had not been interrupted, "If they had just wanted to be able to spin up and down by pushing against an opposite wheel, much smaller mass could have been used at each airlock site, and just spun up much faster, to the equivalent reaction. So they must have other purposes in mind."
That their guesses were almost entirely wrong became clear when they received the construction plans. Both wheels would be mirror images of each other, including the incoming of sunlight through the side panels of one side. Both wheels would be fitted with a huge flat mirror at a 45 degree angle to the wheel. That meant that the whole dual wheel would have to be edge-on toward the Sun, and the two mirrors sticking out from each hub would have to be de-spun constantly to be motionless reference to the direction of the Sun. It still would take reaction motor propellant mass to make up for losses in bearing friction, unless they could use nearly frictionless maglev bearings there instead of roller bearings. Why go to all that trouble? One wheel was surely enough to research out the interactions of all the kinds of machine and living systems.
Catalie began to have suspicions that Ownma Corporation was going to move them somewhere else; but where, and why? There were a bunch of places that came to mind. "Where do you think we might be getting sent to, in our small city of a double wheel, Improy?" she asked out loud.
He looked startled for a moment, a far away look in his eyes. Then replied that nowhere that would not need more shielding than was economical to ship up here by reaction engine powered vehicles. "GEO would be the lowest energy boost. Then there would be the Lagrange points L4 or L5, at the distance of the Moon. And then there was the possibility they were going to be sent to orbit Mars, no turning back. None of those destinations had any benefit he could see for Ownma Corporation. And without shielding ... wait, what if all those spent space busses were placed between the edge of the wheels and the major source of solar particle radiation? And, edge-on, part of every rotation would be shielded by the rest of the wheel's mass, further reducing average exposure. Yet, cosmic radiation comes from all directions." Her reply was that she wondered if their daughter Idealiana would continue to chat with them everyday via the internet if they went to Mars, the round trip transmission delay becoming a real slowdown to chatting. "Maybe they would send us to L-1, the balance point between the Earth and Moon, and anchor our dual wheel city to the Moon for stability, since only a fiberglass cable's strength would be needed for that." Actually, would maybe risk using the wheel's mass as a counterweight to hold the tether up, an unacceptable risk to the city, in her opinion. "Maybe they just want to get our huge mass so far away it will never possibly come down as a meteor to the ground."
With such thoughts, they drifted off to sleep, in well earned snuggling restfulness.
Ch.9 Receiving a hub extension for the space station
The odd-looking module hove into view, aimed at the shady side's airlock docking port. It did the usual pop off of the nose fairing and reel in to the front of the engine tug module, yet the docking end of the module had an odd ring around it, a meter from the vacant-looking docking end. It hung there as if poised for docking, on their viewscreen. "OK, there it is, let's lock our helmets down and head out" Improy said, heading toward the shaded side airlock. They exited out to view it in person a moment, then moved their security tethers to fasten outside the hub, a few meters from the airlock's opening. "OK, we are clear, close the airlock" he spoke into the microphone radio link to the now-acting port supervisor. Seeing the hatch swing closed, he spoke again, requesting that Ownma White Sands Control Center resume the motion of the new module. A bit apprehensively they watched and waited. The big engine tug module would normally have long ago disengaged from the module and headed back toward ground. Instead, they could see a blur at the rear of the engines, and the huge module headed square at the end of their hub module. Wham! They almost lost their grip on the handholds, as the shock reverberated in their module's structure, quickly damping down. They then began to inspect the impact joint, it appeared to have seated well around the outer edge of the end of the module. Giving the OK to disengage, he saw the huge engine tug glideback module release its hold on the far end of the module, and began its de-orbit sequence, was soon out of sight, going back to get another module to help bring up in a few days.
Their instructions were unusual even more. They then took sledgehammers and went around the perimeter of the joint, driving in large threaded nails that had been provided partially pre-embedded in the newly arrived module's nose fairing. Next they ambled along the safety rope along the hub's exterior, and entered their own hub by the usual sunny side airlock hatch. Inside, they left their suits on, again going out but this time through the shady side airlock. They connected the power connector, lighting up the cylindrical space there, to the tank bulkhead down a ways. The used a caulk gun to seal around the joint's perimeter, then used a ratchet wrench to secure a locking nut on the protruding ends of the threaded nails they had driven in from the outside; then more sealant on each of those places. They went down the cylinder to get a look at the huge odd ring mechanism there; then they went back inside and had lunch together in one of the cafeterias.
Between munches on a sandwich, Catalie read the instructions outloud to Improy, as he was eating a two-fisted grip huge quailburger. "Next we go back out to the far end of the new hub module, open the airlock there and go inside, de-gassing the interior and taking out the internal bulkhead, go activate the remaining airlock in there. Then we remove the locking sleeve from around the bearing inner perimeter, and inspect the clearance, needs to be between 0.05 and 0.1 cm all the way around. Plug in the power to its control box, and start its temperature control system, along with the beginning of current input to its superconductor magnet rings. We monitor the progress of this from our normal control station for the next few days, and if it all looks stabilized by then", pausing to munch her sandwich, "we go outside the hub, remove the outer shield sleeve, and give it a shove to see if the module begins to rotate slowly. And we will occasionally monitor its angular velocity for the next few days to see if it is adequately frictionless."
Ch.10 A plague is loose inside and there is no way out
The next day they went out to inspect the new hub and its immense 10 meter diameter magnetic levitation superconducting bearing. They had started it rotating the previous afternoon, and it was still rotating, and sensors measured only a loss of 0.001%. So it was off to an effective start. What it would do when it coped with the combined masses of two mile-diameter wheels twisting on each other at times, was yet to be determined.
They went into the center of the new hub, and inspected the six bulkheads that they needed to remove now, preparing for the arrival of the new wheel's six spoke module sets. It would be interesting to see how the hub's bearing responds to the additions of unbalanced motionless masses, as the new wheel's habitat modules were robotically built up by the teleoperated dockings. Their role would be merely to observe, not participate in, the assembly of the new wheel. No one had been present when their own wheel was built up by such teleoperated dockings, and none were expected needed for the new one. If and when they needed to use their shaded side airlock, they would have to pass through the cleared hub module to the far end of the newly added hub's airlock's open hatches, was all. The six holes into space, were created by their removal of the bulkheads; they stopped the rotation of the new hub, activated the small feedback loop motor that would keep the hub motionless for the easier docking of the spoke modules.
They thought of volunteering to take out the bulkheads from the upcoming modules as they were docked, but decided to wait and see if they were directed to do that. Ownma Corporation really ought to send up another pair of space adept workers along with more space worksuits anyway.
Returning indoors, Catalie chatted with Idealiana via the internet chat system, while Improy checked through the latest directives from Ownma White Sands. When they got back together over lunch, Catalie reported that Idealiana's tenth birthday was going to be spent in Girl Scouts summer camp in the mountains. Improy reported that any new space worksuits would have to be made up here, since the facilities that had built the two they now used, had long been scrapped. They had found documentation for their manufacture, however, and had forwarded a copy up to them. There were some things that the station's shop could make right away, but the specialized fabrics and flexible joint materials and fabrication technology was going to have to be developed from scratch. It made sense to have their own fabrication capability for spacesuits up here where they were needed; but some foresight ought to have been prepared for that eventual capability need's fulfillment. He would try to recommend a change in the new module equipping for that, but Ownma did not have any real way to process ideas and recommendations that were unsolicited from non-management employees.
It was like the Suggestion Box on the wall in employee sections of Earth-ground corporations, where the suggestion forms put into the slot in the suggestion box merely slid down into a wall chute down into the basement's trash dumpster; the intent merely to make employees think they were smart enough to think of an idea on their own, and thus work harder, even though Management personnel were clearly the only real smart ones. Maintenance of social stratification was key to sustaining the wealth of those inclined to be bullies, and egos were honored supreme, as part of that game.
Having space worksuits made, was obviously not currently part of Ownma management endless partying, at the moment. So Improy asked Catalie to set up the requirements for facilities for long term manufacture and maintenance of space worksuits. She replied, after a sip of coffee, that they could start with testing the use of emptied food containers of all kinds, along with finding out what duct tape would do when exposed to the space environment, holding such containers together. And send down a requisition for bolts of the special fabrics that might be adaptable for the suits, along with specs for fabrication of the fabric's industrial equipment. How about the complete infrastructure for making and forming materials like Kevlar and Teflon, could they get them from the ground? Improy muttered that he would send requisitions, while he was distracted by the thought of having to patch his space worksuit with duct tape and tin cans, looking like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz story, while he was trying to perform an emergency space rescue.
Just before they got up from the lunch table, he noticed that there were only about half as many people there in the cafeteria as usual about this time. So, back at the Coordination Center, he checked into what was happening, and found that many of the station personnel were still in their quarters, had not showed up for work that day; a huge increase in people on sick leave.
The station's doctor, his wife, and the nurse were all among the ones on sick leave, Catalie found. She chatted with the doctor, one of his many callers of the moment; he said it seemed to be a rapidly spreading flu epidemic, and was also spreading down on earth surface. Apparently some of the latest space bus load of people arriving brought beginnings of the illness with them, unknowingly. And the epidemic was looking real scary down there on the ground; they had no suggestions for use in the space settlement's version of the problem. Call back in a few weeks, they had told him, might know more then. And so their station doctor said that for now everybody was on their own, and even he was down and out at the moment, could not help anybody else, although he was trying things out on himself to see if any of their medications on hand would help. Aspirin made it worse, was all he had found so far. He thought that might be because the normally small internal bleeding aspirin causes, might be letting the pathogens into the bloodstream through those small lesions past the protective lining of the stomach.
Catalie did a check of the current population roster, found that indeed all of the latest space busload were out sick, and the people they had contact with since arriving were also more likely to be out sick today. She tuned into the web newscasts from the international news sites, and found that it was top news all around the world. The 1918 epidemic was nothing compared to what was happening now. More ominously, a few of the normal web news sites had not even published today, presumably because of lack of staff to prepare it. Even though much was done in home offices these days, they were not able to do the work in their own homes, so they must be real sick for that to happen.
She noted that the epidemic was spreading less rapidly in Asia and Mexico, but was just as severe an illness when it did strike there. Researchers were sharing data worldwide, which she followed as much as possible.
Improy called her and asked for help outside, there was a new kind of vehicle arriving. Out in their space worksuits, they found the unmanned vehicle was already hovering near the airlock, its nose cone swung out for docking access. It appeared to be a module that was permanently part of its tug booster engine module, and it itself had airfoils on it, and it was all covered with re-entry tiles. It was the first of a modification that was entirely re-usable, for delivering supplies without having to leave behind the 40 meter long 10 meter diameter fuselage each trip. This would make re-supply much cheaper, an entirely reusable launch system that would not require extensive refurbishing between trips, or so it was hoped. They would see how this one survived its trip back home. Meantime, they had to manually unload its contents. Going back into the airlock, they requested ground control to resume docking. They were not sure why it had not actually docked on arrival, but it had given them a chance to look it over first.
No response from ground control. Bad sign. So they pulled the vehicle into alignment with the docking port; Improy stayed to watch so that it did not drift out of alignment while Catalie went down to the far end of the new hub section to re-enter the station. She activated the emergency docking mechanism sequence; then, joined by Improy, they opened the airlock hatches and began hauling the shipment into the hub area, loosely floating around secured by netting for now. They had to hurry, and get the vehicle loose, as that was the only real access for space busses or anything that remained, now that the new hub assembly was using up the other airlock dock. Finally they released the vehicle, and for now lashed it to the outside of the hub cylinder, added to the huge array of old space busses and supply modules already lashed there.
Dinnertime and they were comparing notes, Improy had not been able to find anyone to help haul the new supplies down to the wheel rim storage, so he had moved a few containers, called it quits for the workday. She was following the medical crisis, and news was that the pathogen seemed to be caused by a sharing of genes between the Cytochalasin B immune-lowering fungus found in pasta, and an influenza virus. So it was being spread both by way of airborne and food vectors. They had been spending most of their time recently in their worksuits, and did not eat pasta, so for now were spared the illness. She had to prepare this dinner herself since the cafeteria was not open, the cook and other workers there all were too sick to operate the eatery.
By the next day they were the only able-bodied people in the station, and they could not run it by themselves. And sharing the same air with the others, eventually there would be some spores that would get past the air filtration system and they would be sick too. The facility's medical staff no longer answered their calls. "We are going to have to play doctor ourselves" Catalie commented over breakfast, examining the latest reports on the terminal there. "What can you and I do that the rest of the world has not done, that would fix this mess?" complained Improy. She replied that one thing to their advantage is that they knew what did not work. It acted like a bad case of the flu, but one in which the person did not get better at the normal rate. Therefore was likely the fungus immune suppressor was the cause of its lingering nature. Improy remembered some experiments in electrohealing which had attracted his attention even though it was not an approved medical thing. He hurried over to his closet and brought out a signal generator, and got on the computer terminal. "Those early experiments came up with a Cytochalasin B frequency of 77 KHz frequency followed by a 91 KHz frequency, and the signal was applied through metallic conductors held in the hands, covered with wet paper towel material for a few minutes." Soon he had wired himself up and had applied those signals to himself, pointing out to the dubious Catalia that the 10 volt signal could not even be felt. She was quick to repeat the signals on herself. But they had not been sick before, so all this test had indicated was that it did not hurt them. "There are a bunch of signal frequencies to destroy flu pathogens too, but they mutate fast and so is unlikely they are easily found," he continued. Let's see if we can find anyone who is willing to hold these electrodes for a few minutes.
By evening time they had gotten 45 people to do the electrode thing for ten minutes each. There were over twice that many yet to try it. The doctor would not try it, he just lay there in weak misery like the others. The next morning they went around to see if the same people were interested in repeating the electrode thing, and found that each of the ones who had tried it earlier had been even more sick in the night, but drinking a lot of water, they were now actually feeling better, and seemed to be in a normal recovery from the flu. All of them were eager to try it again. Improy had them do a third signal, an offset pulse waveform of 30KHz for ten minutes, which he had read was a general helping signal, according to the same research data. The next morning the 47 of them were up and around, the only ones in the station doing so. Catalie went to the station doctor, advised him of the happenings, and he weakly held his hands up a little as if to hold the electrodes, so they applied the three signals to him.
Catalie made a direct call to Idealiana, down on the ground, at Girl Scout camp in the mountains. They were unaware in the mountain camp that there was a crisis worldwide rapidly going on; she would ask the camp cook to not make the sphaghetti for dinner after all. Catalie said it looked like a little electrical gadget might be very helpful; Idealiana reminded her Mom that Girl Scouts no longer just learn how to start a fire by rubbing sticks together, but also such things as how to do some machine shop and simple electronic design and construction. So Improy got on the connection, sent the electrical gadget's schematic and usage tips so far found, and Idealiana signed off and headed for the log cabin where hand tools and electronic hobbyist stuff was kept. Catalie and Improy collapsed into bed, what a hard day and what would tomorrow bring?
In the middle of the night, there was a weak knock on their door. They were surprised to find the doctor there, using a walker; he asked to be given the signal generator and shown how to use it, immediately. Breakfast the next morning, they discovered that there were some emails from the doctor, as well as from those who had originally agreed to try the electrodes; with their help, the signals were being applied to everyone on the station. And the doctor advised his colleagues down on the ground of what had been discovered, that seemed to be helping a lot up here. He was advised that although people were not dying down there of the illness immediately, that they were perishing from lack of care, no one was left strong enough to care for the others, even to provide water. The few doctors still online began to search for the resources to generate the three signals. Then there was communication silence.
By the time a week had passed, all the station's staff were up and about, although most were still weak. They all showed up for turns holding the electrodes once a day, and time to chat while doing so. It was like their coffee breaks before, but they called it their "healing breaktime." Some web news sites were coming back online, and the first messages out were descriptions of the required electrical equipment and its use, asking people to search these things out, or build them where the skills existed. There was a massive effort to get the equipment for use by everybody, but there was little still functional, without personnel that had not already gotten the electrical signal sequence at least once. Yet, things were on the upturn now.
Ch.11 Don't expect Corporate thanks for saving them
Idealiana made a call to them, saying that she was fine, that everyone in Girl Scout camp was fine, although some had started to get sick but had used the electrical signals to their hands, even though it seemed strange to them. She had built the basic 30KHz pulse generator, and had used a small computer to get it to run at the 77 and 91 KHz signals. Some of the other Girl Scouts had told their families over the internet chats about the electrical thing, and a few of their parents were building the gadget, already getting a bit sick; and then also more of the parents started arriving at the mountain camp to get to use the gadget that Idealiana had built and used, as word was out by then of the worldwide epidemic, and no pills or shots had been yet found to fix it. In fact, she and the other kids there had decided to not leave camp to go back home yet, as things were really bad elsewhere. Since there were no more computers adaptable to controlling the frequency settings, she and a few of the other Girl Scouts there built a bunch of single-frequency signal generators, which were used by folk who sat or stood in a line, someone calling out time of 7 minutes each, then each person passed the signal generators to the next person; keeping the same handholds until having done all three signals, discarding their wet paper towels, handing the conductive pipe handholds to someone else, done with it for the day.
Another thing that saved thousands of lives was that an old mountain man had remembered that several brands of old survival kits had contained an electrical thing whimsically called a "Zapper" that was part of a combined flashlight, radio and emergency signal transmitter and which was powered by a small hand crank, which at least provided the 30KHz basic first aid part of the system, at one time had been considered as essential to remote emergency first aid as were aspirin and bandages. He directed people to the collapsing old site of a former Forest Service warehouse facility, where hundreds of the kits were to be found, thus eventually saving thousands more lives in the current widespread emergency.
"So it looks like we already have earned our keep" Improy commented to Catalie, "by finding out a way for saving millions of lives in the epidemic." Catalie replieded a bit distractedly that the Ownma management personnel were taking credit for the healing technique, never mentioning them or that it had been first used up here. She continued "Ownma Corporation management people really do believe that all good ideas can only come from themselves, not from employees like us; and in fact much of management believes that ideas come out of thin air and therefore have no value." In fact, since all corporations like Ownma were based on sifting all communications between unsuspecting people, searching for anything usable for profit or power over people, Ownma Corporation routine snooping had snagged the messages Catalie had sent to her daughter about the electrical gadget, and later those from the station's doctor, and immediately had the devices built and distributed to corporate management personnel and their families, thus none of them perished. As usual, they did not keep records of where they had gotten the knowledge; they just made it theirs. Their belief in their superiority over employees was so stratified it had been made into something like a religion, where they are taught that their corporate ancestral father was a great bull of a man, who declared that all his male decendants were chosen to own all that there was to be owned, causing all other people to fade away in destitute servitude, rightfully so because he said so. How could anyone doubt it, since their obvious great wealth and power's luxurious living was there for all to see? Facts are facts, unquestionably. Therefore there was no need to give credit to anyone other than themselves, for anything. Including the idea for the unorthodox use of an electrical gadget to heal people during time of epidemic crisis.
"Catalie, my love," Improy implored,"think of it this way. Ownma Management people have little to do in the way of work, except to monitor all our doings, including sifting through all the records of our conversations and all the recordings from the videomonitors which are everywhere. The little tidbits they find among the vast fields of our conversations and doings, is little different to them as it is to us when we wander in a field of wildflowers, picking the best for ourselves as if they belonged to us, and not to the flowers that bore them." "The Ownma Corp people have just as much brains as us, they are different in what they do with their brains" he went on, "it is what a person does with one's knowledge, is what makes the difference. We utilize out knowledge and skills to directly cope with the needs of life; but they have genes that predispose them to use their knowledge and skills to wrest the goodies away from others who created them, politely if possible, as usually they do to us nowadays. They have lots of isolated groups like us who actually create the things, and Ownma Managemtnt just uses what it gathers from us to augument what other groups do. And they are ever mildly assaulting each other, like the pecking order of older creatures' social systems work, which hones their abilities and inclinations to assault as a solution to everything. Those of us who show signs of being unhappy about that, have the DNA-resonant communication system targeted on them, so as to have a communications channel to find out the intentions of the person and to switch their focus at key junctures of their life activiies, endlessly causing them extra weird struggles in daily life and thereby making them ineffective, thus no further problem to the Ownma Managers exclusive right to rule. They rationalize excuse for such subtle-level harrassment by fantasizing claims that their target person is a thief or child abuser or some other ugly motived person. So be careful, don't let them get the idea that you might be antagonistic to them, or they will put on the list for such hazing, too." Catalie just stared at him briefly. He went on: "The effect on the target "blackballed" person is that the person trips himself up on and on, as if struggling with opposing purposes. Life seems to not be able to work out, and they appear a bit sedated, slower than normal. The hazing is kept up until the person is on their knees, no will remaining to oppose anymore. And it is all done remotely, the abusers out of sight; a clever technology originally designed for a somewhat more honorable purpose, that of behavior modification of persons with addictive disorders. But it works just as effectively and bafflingly on anybody they choose."
"You are just being bitter. Get used to the situation, and roll with the punches." he later said to Catalie, "That which is more useful is for us to go bring down the rest of that last shipment of supplies, and see what goodies Ownma sent us. It is likely the last supplies we will receive for a very long time." So they and a couple of the more recovered of their co-workers retrieved the containers from the net securing them in the free-fall of the hub area, and moved them down to the supply receiving area of the wheel's rim. Among the goodies was a small polymer casting, extrusion, and weaving facility, "I wonder if we can make fabric usable for space worksuits with this machine?" they said almost simultaneously. They headed out to find a couple of people who would become fine fabric makers, and they would all spend some time figuring out how they could use this machine with what resources they had for making raw material for it, focusing on making material for space worksuits. Its extrusion capability also looked like it had potential for making spacesuit joints that would be far better than making them out of empty food containers.
They scavenged raw material from the cushions and seat belts from some of the one-way space bus modules that were lashed outside the station's hub. And some of those empty plastic food containers were beginning to look better for use in making spacesuit parts, once processed by the machine.
Among the containers in the last shipment were found one contaminated with a half dozen of small tan-colored cockroaches. "Wait, don't kill them!" Improy shouted, as one of the workpeople was about to squash them in revulsion. Staring in wonderment at the little beasties, Catalie added "Cockroaches can be raised cleanly in confinement, like snails are for Escargot; and they have a fine protein composition that could augment our nutrition, which is now limited to a few grains, vegetables, fish and quail." "And cockroaches have a hard shell material which might be useful for making spacesuit material, who knows" Improy chimed in. "The cockroaches can be used to recycle much of our agricultural wastes, and they can be cooked and ground up for additive protein in our soups and quailburger."
Ch.12 Surprise: you all were sent on a one-way trip
Cockroaches are experts in the activity of escaping and surviving in unappreciated co-habitation with people, was unfortunately re-discovered. Although as a source of nutrient proteins that supplied some missing ones from their interrupted supply of agricultural species, the little cockroaches also were experts at colonizing little nooks and crannies, of which the station had an abundance. Occasionally that would result in jams and failures of machines and electrical systems, so that they had to re-design and modify those areas that had been, or might become, handicapped by the busy presence of the little critters. On the whole, however, people grew fond of them to some extent, as they were a bit of increased life in the otherwise heartless behomoth machine in which they lived.
At breakfast one morning, Catalie was watching what appeared to be the same little brown German Cockroach that appeared every other day in front of them at the table, apparently attracted by the aroma of the food. It was a lone male, as indicated by the two appendages at its tail end. She and the little animal had taught each other that if she would place a small speck of her warm moist rice breakfast cereal in front of the critter, it would come over, tap it with its antennae, grasp it and pull it a few inches away from them, then munch it while Catalie and Improy finished their meal. It seemed to appreciate a drop of their beverage too, even coffee. Soon they would notice that the speck of food was gone, evidently dragged off to be finished the next day somewhere. A day or so later, their tiny visitor would re-appear in front of them at mealtime, not unlike people showing up at mealtime in a cafeteria. Its presence was a little like a pet, something that both of them missed in their high technology living environment.
"I hope their population does not expand so much that we have to use insecticides on them", Improy commented. "All insecticides are neurotoxins to people too, and the buildup of such substances in our sealed environment is likely to deteriorate our mental functionality to the point of not being able to cope with the rigors of life up here. Then we would make some fatal goof, the end of all of us." Catalie replied that people had successfully struck a compromise balance with insects throughout civilization's history; neither had to exterminate each other. Where synergistic rationality prevailed, both kinds of species prospered better by the presence of the other. For example, think about our problem here with no honeybees available. The busy hundreds of perfect little pollinators that bees are, have to be replaced by people doing it by hand. And, we have no honey to sweeten things, either. I don't complain about the lack of mosquitos or ticks up here, however.
"You know," Improy mused out loud, "me in the protective shell of my spacesuit reminds me a lot of that little cockroach in its exoskeleton. I wonder if the designers of our space worksuits got the idea of putting the augmentation muscles attached to the outer shell of the spacesuit, from the insects' use of the outer shell as the rigid structure from which the muscles pull, that increases our strength when in the worksuit." She replied that it would not surprise her if that were so, since people often have gotten inspiration from nature's wonderful variety of mechanisms. Improy began calculating how many of those adult cockroaches would it take to get enough exoskeleton material for the plastic casting and weaving machine to use to make an experimental torso shell for a space worksuit. A lot of them.
It had been half a year they had been on their own, following the epidemic down on the surface, when internet communication was suddenly restored to them. It was through one of the Asian links, apparently activated when equipment in general was brought back into operation. But the internet had its feelers into the whole world, even into the employee base of Ownma Corporation, which otherwise was in a zone of silence, including transmissions to the orbiting wheel station.
They eagerly looked for news of what had been happening down there, while they had struggled to cope up here. They found that in the epidemic, the megacorporations, like Ownma, had found a secret healing technique but were not sharing it with the rest of the world. The parts of the world where rice was the staple instead of wheat in pasta form, did not fail from sickness so rapidly as did the major part of the Ownma corporate employee base did, for example. Word of the electronic signal frequency set and way of applying it through handholds, eventually got out and so the Asian countries recovered first, and all the people recovered, not just the wealthy management types. And so, the internet link they were receiving was a lucky byproduct of that. The tremendous loss of life and general capability of non-management people in the Western world, had put the megacorporation Elitists in absolute control of the Western nations, a situation they greatly relished. The political situation was quite unlike anything the station personnel could even imagine. The plight of their families and friends down there was tragic, and there was nothing that could be done about it from up here.
Yet, corporate business depended on the servitude of the employees, so production capability was being brought back online, bit by bit. A mere 8 months after the epidemic, suddenly the wheel station got a command from Ownma Management, to ready themselves for arrival of the spokes for the secondary wheel. And in fact, as soon as two spokes were in place, the part of the wheel rim habitat modules would be arriving. As soon as that was in place, Improy was directed to pull the bulkheads and vent the area, then seal it , bringing it into a pressurized and habitable area immediately, and prepare for arrival of new one-way space busses of people for that area.
At first only one a day arriving, Catalie watched on the exterior viewscreens the teleoperated docking of module after module, first the ones for the first two spokes, then habitat modules which spanned those two spokes. Then the other spokes modules began to be sent up.
"That is really strange, they would build it up that way," Catalie remarked over dinner. "They seem totally focused on getting some space for people over there in the secondary wheel, while we only have 145 of our intended 1,000 people over here." Improy replied that it did not make sense at all, as they needed people desperately over in this wheel to have the space station functioned optimally.
They did as requested, pulling the bulkheads out so as to make the most rapid habitable area prepared in the secondary wheel station, including hub accesses. A space bus type module finally arrived, the first in a year and a half by then. eager to greet their new friends, Improy was surprised to find armed men exit the space buss, followed by a bunch of people bound as their prisoners. The armed men commanded that they be led to the new wheel segment, and instructed on how to live there.
When it was done, Improy was again having dinner with his wife, who was all ears about what was going on, so mysterious. With the appearance of someone who had been in shocked dismay too long, he related to her that the added wheel was being built as a prison for people given life sentences. This was a one-way trip for everybody here, not just for those prisoners, but their guards, and all the staff of the first wheel. No one was ever to come back. The megacorporations had determined it was far cheaper and secure to send prisoners up here to provide for their own survival on their own agriculture and industry, than to feed and house them in prisons down on the surface. And they would not need to worry about prisoner's escape. It was not unlike the ancient use of Australia, and of Alcatraz Island.
What bothered him the most, was that the majority of these prisoners given life sentences, were not actually bad people, but were only political prisoners, people who had led the rebellion of the employees against the megacorporate holdings, attempting to gain access to the mysterious healing technique during the epidemic's ravages of the non-management corporate personnel. The management Elitists had wanted the epidemic to so pound down the huge non-elitist population so severely that the remainder would never object to servitude again. But there had been an insurrection, easily put down by the well armed and healthy management elitists, and they wanted the leaders permanently put out of the way. Thus, the prison wheel in space.
Occasionally one of the two-way fully reusable cargo delivery vehicles would be sent up to dock with the original wheel, resuming its supply. Then more of their station personnel arrived on one-way space busses as before. More skills were being added, so less improvising was needed to fill in for the missing work functions.
A few of these new people were auditors, whose functions were to document all the workings of the first wheel, and transmit it down to the Ownma Corporate staff. From there it was modified a bit then sent to the new wheel's prison staff, assigning prisoners to carry out specific equivalent job functions over on the added wheel. "We are being copied," Catalied exclaimed to Improy one day, "copied, but as life imprisoned people!" "Are you sure we too are not imprisoned people over here?" was his reply. "There are no return busses from here, even for us."
It took half a year to finish building the second wheel and to bring up its full population of prisoners and prison staff. Then, vehicles ceased to arrive. Ownma Corporation severed communication with the station, but the links to the internet through the Asian countries still remained. What they learned in the news thereby was that Ownma announced that regrettably the space wheel station, including all its staff and prisoner population, had suffered disaster and was lost.
Ch.13 Extending the hand of friendship to the prison neighbors
As they stared at their "obituary" found via their fortuitous Asian internet connection, the implications slowly settling in, they realized that an effort to send messages that they were alive, would not be wise. Somebody big wanted the world to think they were gone, history. And permanently so. An effort to deny it would likely invite a missile coming up and silencing them, making it reality. As it was, at least they were alive. Wait and see, seemed the best mode right now.
They decided it best to make peace with their new neighbors, despite their initial rebuff from the prison guard staff, essentially telling them to stay out, stay away, don't come near us or we will shoot. How to connect with them? Probably they too had noticed that supply had ceased coming up, and presumably internet connection gone too. Were the staff members over there cognizant in advance re the abandonment, or were they just as surprised?
Catalie activated their one video link, put in when the first segment was made habitable by themselves. It had ended up being in a storage room, when the new wheel's arrangement was fleshed out by the new occupants, so it was pretty dull watching. Yet, it was the one link that still existed open between the two wheel space settlements. Eventually someone came into the storage area, and they recorded the activity, and examined it in detail afterwards. The person was in prison garb, so it looked like it was storage for prisoners use, not for the guards. Would the guards have the room bugged? Deciding to risk it, the next time a prisoner went in there, Improy used the voice link through the video monitor, to get the attention of the prisoner and tell who he was. And advise of the new turn of events, and the need to communicate as soon as possible. Survival of all was at stake. The man in prison garb paused, listened, then continued on with digging through the boxes and left the room, not making a response. A few hours later, two of the prisoners showed up, one the same as before, who stayed to fiddle around by the doorway, while the new prisoner approached the video monitor. Improy again used the audio link and said hello, and repeated who he was and a brief description of the situation and need for cooperation. "Do you hear me?" was the response. Soon they were having a conversation, albeit awkwardly. The prisoners were used to video monitors, but the watchers normally were hostile, suspicious, and never talked to them; just responded with a sudden appearance of armed men if they got suspicious. So, this was a novel experience. The normal guards did not seem to have the imagination to concoct this as a new form of torture, so they chose to go along with Improy's information, see what would happen.
The prisoners advised that efforts to contact the prison staff would be much like interaction with Ownma Management, in that they were utterly steeped in dogma of their innate superiority, all others being little more than farm animals to be used for profit. "So what's new" Improy commented. A description of the internal arrangement of the prison wheel was gradually provided. The prison staff actually was quite small, and held one segment extending between two wheel spokes, and the hub. They had airlocks separating the staff area from the prisoner area, and had threatened the prisoners with having their air supply being vented to space if they ever tried to rebel. In fact, they had demonstrated it not long previous, by venting the prisoners' air into space until they were gasping for breath; then air was returned to them. It was a convincing way to keep them in complete subservience, just as the guards intended. "Be careful of your contact with us; if the prison staff learned of it, they were likely to assault all concerned, perhaps even blow a hole into the original wheel to get rid of everyone there. Probably they would do that anyway, considering the new circumstance. Ownma Management had no toleration for any who opposed them, or even might oppose them in any way. The prisoners there knew of that too well. The "crime" most of them had been sent here for, was opposing Ownma just enough to try to get access to the means to survive the epidemic that was killing many of their loved ones. Going against the ultra-arrogant masters of intimate surveillance had always been very dangerous; but the lives of the employee's families had been at stake, and so were near lost anyway, so they tried. And failed; here they were.
A few weeks went by, and a good rapport was established between Number 283, as his uniform identified him, and Improy. The prisoner's affect visibly was cheering up, a bit of hope was enlivening him. His improved mood was having a beneficial effect on his fellow prisoners, too.
Unfortunately, the improved prisoner mood did not escape notice by the guard staff.
When the usual communication routine did not happen for two days in a row, Catalie got worried. "I feel something is wrong; we need to do something." Improy was a bit tense too, but said only that there was nothing they could do, except wait. They had to show good will to all concerned, especially to the prison staff.
One of the agricultural workers reported something strange out the sunward window, there appeared to be something moving rapidly out there, and whizzed past every few minutes. A camera was set up and captured the event. Sent to the control room, the image was of a man in prison garb, out there with no spacesuit, tethered by a foot, the body rotating around so the number 283 was visible from the agricultural area of the prison wheel. It was also sometimes visible in the agricultural area of Improy and Catalie's wheel, too. It was a message from the prison guards, obviously.
Catalie blocked Improy's immediate move to head for the spacesuit area. "Hold off", she urged, "get rational about this. You can't save him, you know that; he is long past that possibility. That it was a result of your effort to connect with them over there, is not the same as you having done the wrong. Instead, let's re-weigh the nature of the beast we try to tame, based on this reality test." Improy simmered down enough to stop there; then he went to the gym to burn off the adrenaline before it went toxic in his bloodstream.
The next day, their video monitor of their internal hub area showed a group of armed prison guards headed toward them. The guards activated the airlock hatches, both left open, as all the hub was pressurized. Improy realized that their space worksuits were at risk, the armed guards headed toward the Embarcadero section. But instead of stopping to snatch the worksuits from their storage containers, they continued on to the Embarcadero's airlock, and activated the opening of both doors, as if the outer hatch had been sealed by an arriving space bus. But there was no space bus out there to seal the opening. Clearly their intent was to vent the air from the whole wheel. They hurried back toward their end of the hub as the doors began to swing open to the hard vacuum of space. But the hatches opened very fast. The rush of pressurized air from inside the station roared past the guards like a tornado. And then the guards were nowhere in sight, blown out through the hatches, out into space.
Improy took the situation in, and activated the closure of the Embarcadero inner hatch from the control station. The rush of air was halted. Would another bunch of armed guards head out to finish the job? He closed the shaded end hub airlocks remotely, had Catalie stay there in case the guards re-appeared while Improy was out there. He hurried up the nearest spoke's ladder, up into the hub, and scrambled toward the now closed shaded side airlock. Reaching the power panel for the airlock, he popped open the circuit breaker, so the hatch could not open electrically. It could still be opened manually, however, from either side, including the attackers' side. Then he went into the Embarcadero, got their space worksuits, then returned to the wheel rim with them. From the control room, he activated the hatches sealing off all their spokes at the hub, then he re-opened the airlock hatch, venting the area to space. "That will keep them from getting into the hub to try that again, while we are sleeping" he coldly announced.
But the next morning, what he found was that the remaining hatch on the shaded end of the hub was open, manually unlatched from the other side. The whole hub was now open to space. "Now what are they up to?" he groused at Catalie. She replied that people who believed too much in their invincibility, would eventually learn of their real limits, or perish in their arrogance. Especially in areas where their surveillance did not give them secret info on where to easily hurt their baffled opponent.
The next evening they were surprised by a man in prisoner clothing coming back into the storeroom which had the video link. Not one they recognized, however. Was it a guard being tricky? The man seemed to not know where the camera was, so he just talked into the air. "Are you there, somebody? What is happening?" The man looked scared. Catalie remarked that no arrogant guard would ever do that, even to be tricky. But this might just be a stakeout, a guard just out of sight. Improy risked talking with him. The prisoner said that most of the prisoners were not being let out anymore to go to the restroom or cafeteria; and that the group of prisoners, including himself, that had been out last, have been out for a whole day. They had been carrying food and water to the still locked up prisoners. But the guards were not activating food preparation anymore, and it was getting desperate over there. At least the guards had not vented their area into space again yet, thankfully. "Can you help us?"
"Do we want a companion wheel full of dead prisoners, while we struggle to survive with provision cutoff from the Earth?" Improy asked Catalie. Catalie pointed out that from what they had learned, that there were two agriculture and associated restaurant areas over there, just like in their wheel station. And if neither restaurants were operating, then the prison guard staff was not eating either. Perhaps Improy could go over and bargain with the guard staff, offering to get the restaurant equipment running again, in exchange for peace talks.
Improy had his space worksuit, but there was no way to re-pressurize the hub from their control room, as the power was off the interior hatch, so it could not be closed from here. So they both got into their worksuits, went to the rim airlock they had installed where the wayward bulkhead had long ago torn a hole, and they climbed down onto the "bicycle built for two" they had left there. Pedaling around to where the rope ladder led to the Embarcadero's hatch, they climbed up it, and entered the airlock, both doors still open to space, and the Embarcadero in vacuum. Once inside, Improy proceeded down the hub, and closed the shaded side hub airlock hatches. Catalie closed the outer hatches and re-pressurized the Embarcadero. From the control station there, they looked in on the video link with the other wheel's storeroom, to find several prisoners in there now, who were greatly relieved to get a response from Improy. There had been no change in the situation over there, just getting worse, no food or water for anybody now.
Catalie said she was going with Improy; if it is a trap then she might as well end it then too. So the rest of the hub was re-pressurized, which took a huge amount of their air reserves to complete. "Why could that be?" Improy puzzled. "I hope we can negotiate for some of their air reserves, too." He lashed a small porthole-sized bulkhead to his left forearm, to fend off projectiles if necessary; then they proceeded into the prison half of the hub, finding the hatches open. They found a guard still with a deathgrip on the top of the spoke's ladder, clearly asphyxiated. Climbing down through the spoke, by the time they reached bottom, they knew what had happened. The guards had indeed attempted a sleep-cycle-nighttime repeat assault, but did not stop to check to see if the Embarcadero side was pressurized, when they opened the hatch into it. That would have unfortunately opened up the last barrier to space, and there were no airlocks between the hub, spokes and the wheel rim segment that the prison staff occupied. That they kept the airlocks sealed between their area and the prisoner's area, threatening to instantly vent the air from the prisoner's side, was what kept the prisoners from losing their air too; the airlocks work both ways. Examining the control panel down there, since everything was again pressurized, he soon had the airlock hatches in both directions open to the prisoner's area. Then he sent the control signals to open all prisoner doors, and activate the restaurant facilities. Then they went back up the spoke, no telling how the prisoners would react at first.
Back in their own little condo area, home at last again, adventure too much today for either of them, Catalie did activate the link to the storeroom video link, for a last look in the area. What they saw there, was a sign scrawled with a big "THANK YOU" on it. It was time to get some sleep.
Ch.14 Organizing after abondonment
Realizing that the 1,200 people living in the new wheel section had been living in the passive non-self-sufficient mode of prison cell inmates for a long time, and did not know any tasks for their own survival up there except tending the agricultural areas and associated restaurant areas, Catalie suggested that it was up to the people here in the original wheel to teach the former prisoners how to cope with life up there in the fullest terms. Eventually those 1,200 people could become helpful instead of a liability to them, she hoped.
All of them also needed to deal with their new status of being cut off from the Earth surface resources, even communication, except receive-only internet. While "playing dead" they also had to struggle mightily and creatively to live long term, if possible. From the former prisoners, they learned that after the epidemic subsided, only the mega-corporations including Ownma remained fully strong and functional, and corporate leadership power cravings had resulted in their now owning the governments of the world. Ownma had been getting money from the government to pay for the operation of prisons, but now that Ownma was government too, there was no profit to be gained by paying themselves to operate the prisons.
That was why they had been cut off from Earth, they were no longer a profitable enterprise for Ownma Corporation. For Ownma's ilk, it was mandatory to get rid of anything that was not maximally profitable. To them, declaring the wheel space station a loss was like taking a now useless domesticated animal out into the woods, leaving some food and water for it, and abandoning it there, forgotten thereafter. They really were on their own now.
Pep talks were in order. Improy set up a table over on the shady side wheel's rim near one of the cafeterias, with signs saying that their home here was now called "Leo Island", and to sign up at the table for duty, when they were ready. It was an instant success, everybody eventually filling out an electronic form at the table, providing name (without their previous prisoner number designation), their skill sets both basic and experiential, and a list of what they would like to usefull do at first.
Only a third of them were women, so except for the few couples among them, each of the women were randomly assigned multiple "husbands", and a beginning set of relationship rules were created for such marriages, including procedures for trading husbands, and for some husbands to be part-time husbands to more than one woman. And procedures for that group of people to change those rules by mutual agreements, based on how it worked out in reality. This way, no one would be left out completely, resulting in greater comfort and thus better productivity of everyone, and less strife potential, so long as all the members of a group relationship honored the needs of the other members.
Besides maintaining the agricultural, food preparation and housing functions, their abilities would need to become greatly diversified. Aiming at being able to establish a Leo Island capability to build and program computers to link everything in a coordinated way, each person was assigned time slots to use the computer terminal to input a description of how to do things that they already knew how to do, building a mutual knowledge base. The shady side wheel was re-arranged to nearly match that of the original wheel, establishing join-able living sections and setting up light industry sections. The industrial area was streamlined to head quickly for a semiconductor processing capability in integrated circuit form. A basic research into hard vacuum environment materials processing facility was also established there, initially aiming for total extraction of purified elements from waste materials not directly recyclable in the existing operation of Leo Island. All material was precious, for it was all they could expect to have for a long time; they had to overall have a Pack Rat attitude. A 14-hour workday was established for the time being, partly to maximize accomplishments and partly because there was no recreation facility as yet, except for the gym. The work was set up to be easygoing, and have frequent breaktimes and changes in the kind of work done, throughout each workday. Each person's areas of activity were based as much as convenient upon the person's psyche, their Temperament.
Back in their own half of the dual space wheel settlement, Catalie and Improy's staff focused again on making usable space worksuits. Their one fabric and extrusion casting machine was pressed into service using discarded food containers into bolts of clothing fabric. Materials derived from cockroach exoskeletal material were used for the semi-rigid parts of a working spacesuit, although not of the augmented strength type, a function beyond their capability yet.
A couple dozen of the multiple-person family units were moved into their wheel, so as to make room for light industry sections in the shady side wheel, bringing the population of the shady side wheel down to 970 people, and bringing their own population up to 185. The two populations would even out more eventually, as arrangements best suited for optimum productivity and comfort of lifestyle were found. It would be a couple of decades before room would be needed for children reaching adulthood, needing their own separate quarters. Lots of room for everybody at present, however.
Agriculture was the basic recycling system for nutritional hydrocarbon material, as in ancient times. But their species diversity was extremely limited. The agricultural species originally supplied to the prison wheel were different than those of the first wheel, so overall now included several new vegetables, peanuts, fruit-bearing bushes, turkeys and goats. An agricultural biology research station was created, first to document the knowledge they had amongst themselves to create a knowledge and skill base, then to fabricate microscopes and other tools for that area, headed toward a DNA analysis and synthesis capability as soon as possible.
The original prison staff area had been supplied with a telescope, for unknown reasons, probably related to their psychological makeup that hungered to monitor everything going on; even in space around them beyond the space station, apparently. Mounted on the sidewall of the wheel station, it had a nice de-spin mechanism and vibration de-coupling mount, and sent its pictures in digitally. Several people volunteered to take charge of it, make it useful besides peering at what people were doing on the ground. One of the early concerns was to compare their trajectory with the position of the anchored tether space elevator that Improy and Catalie had helped create several years before. They had known that the path would not cause collision with the tether for several years, back at the start; and it had been originally intended to occasionally use reaction motors to shift orbit slightly so as to pass by even if originally headed toward collision. All that had been lost now, however, and needed re-discovery. What to do with the information, however, was yet to be determined. They had no fuel for reaction motor driven position shifting anymore.
They chose to define their location as being in line with some place on the planet, as if a line between the wheel station and the center of the Earth, and where it intersected the planetary surface, was its location. They created a map, showing where they were, that way; and compared it with the known location of the old space elevator, which was anchored to a floating island on the Equator in the Pacific Ocean. To define where they were at any time, they centered the image of the planet, and that was where they were above then, what appeared center of the planet’s disk image. The couple who had chosen to volunteer for the astronomy task plotted this position as a function of time, using the time together in the observatory as a chance to get away from the teeming busy wheel station in general. Volunteer tasks were set up to provide little benefits like that to those who did the volunteering.
Most of the former prisoners eagerly chose volunteer tasks to do. It was a relief from the caged boredom of before; gave them a sense of doing something worthwhile and thus improved their self esteem; and the tasks often had a special little benefit to those who did them. At this point, everything that done was by volunteers. No formal employment status system had been created yet. That was partly because they had to first establish a monetary system.
Catalie started the subject with Improy one morning during breakfast. "Ought we pay the cockroaches for their contribution to the protein balance of our breakfast?" she began. Improy was silent while he munched more of his breakfast, at first trying to make some sense of the question that had come out of the blue from his beloved mate; then exploring the implications of the question. It took several more spoons full of breakfast cereal, and a couple sips of tea, buying time to make some rational reply. "They certainly made a beneficial contribution to breakfast nutrition, yes." he began, not sure where this was going. "What kind of currency would cockroaches be paid in?"
"Consider money as the ability to do work." she replied. "After all, money pays salaries to have people do some activity; and buying some product pays for the work in making it, including the work of obtaining its materials." She paused thoughtfully a moment, then "in Physics, energy is also defined as the ability to do work. So maybe the cockroaches could be paid in killowatt-hours, to be spent in making their environment more suitable for them and to provide better food." His reply was "Yet we get kilowatt-hours of energy from the Sun as converted by our solar panels outside, into electrical energy that runs our machines. How does this figure in?"
"All energy comes from solar sources. The fossil fuels that powered civilizations' rise to a technological system, derived their energy from solar energy received by vegetation hundreds of millions of years ago. And nuclear energy comes from energy forged in solar furnaces, fission from such furnaces very long ago. So energy is a flow. Just how much one's sails get a push form that flow is determined by how much energy is intercepted. That "intercepted energy flow" is the amount of work that has been utilized to modify your environment, whether it is to make the air warmer or to make a product for sale to someone else," she continued.
He began to feel that he was losing his grasp on this conversation. "Does this boil down to the situation that if the cockroaches no longer are used to improve our food and to make spacesuit and shoe raw materials, they get the boot into space?" he replied, "Like we were given the boot by Ownma Corp., when we no longer were profitable to them?"
"When one stretches out in the sunshine, the Sun gives them warmth, energy for making vitamin D and to tan the skin", no charge." she replied after a moment. "The source of all energy does not give anyone the boot." He responded "Yeah, but when one's paycheck gets terminated, so does the ability to buy groceries and pay rent, essentially getting the boot. So where does all this get us?"
"Why do we have a monetary system?" she asked. "If it is used to establish the value of something, what is the meaning of that term 'value'? Maybe that is what we ought to base the monetary system on, is 'value', not the ability to do work."
"Value is set by a bidding system, a bargaining thing. A game function. Do we want a monetary system based on such a capricious thing? A drink of cool clear water to a man dying of thirst in the desert has far more value than the same amount of water in a lake."
"What is the amount of work that has to be done to provide that drink of cool, clear water, to the person in the desert at that critical time, as compared to providing the same drink of cool, clear water at the lake source itself?" she pointed out."True, the provider of the water may hold out for hugs sums of money before giving the desperately needed water. So it is not just the work done to get the water to the one in need of it, but also the desperation of need for it, and the intent of the provider to extract as much value away from the person in need as possible, regardless of the amount of investment in the work of bringing it to the desperate person." "And perhaps there is a risk factor involved. For example, if two people do the work of bringing the drink of water to the point of need, but only one glass of water is needed; one provider gets paid, while the other provider has lost all reward for the effort done, it is wasted effort.'
"If reward is based on the amount of time someone has spent doing something, there is no equality between someone who lazily does a little bit of work during the same time another person does their work in a frenzy, doing many times as much product in that same time."
"At one time, the concept of 'Value Added' was thought to be a fair measure of increase in price. But in that concept, the buying up of all of a limited commodity, then forcing the normal users to pay more for it even though it was no more useful to them than before, would have added no value to it other than through artifically created scarcity, holding the material hostage, in a sense. No utilitarian value was added, but the cost went up anyway; someone made profit but did not increase the usefulness of the product handled."
"Well, how about making the unit of money to be equal to a certain fraction of the total worth of the system in which one lives? Then it ought to be possible somehow to derive a percentage value for any particular thing. Although actually I can't think of how, right now." So they finished their breakfast philosophizing with volunteering still as the basis for getting anything done, at this point.
Ch.15 A Corporation of employees
Most everybody was very glad to have the help of the others up here, improving the chances of making life work in this strange inhospitable place all have found them selves in now. Volunteering duty accomplishment was adequate thanks for tasks each person did, at least for now. At least they did not have to have money to pay rent or for groceries, at this point; instead, they had to pitch in to make food grow and the place stay livable. So for now the question of how to create a monetary system was put off, there were too many other things that had to be done each moment, just to survive.
The couple who had taken on the task of getting the telescope working to locate their position relative to the space elevator tether location, had been plotting their position over a map of the globe, not unlike the appearance of the old photos of Houston Mission control showing path of the Space Shuttle, many decades ago, overlaying the Earth's globe of land and sea with sinuous curves iterated across the map, orbit after orbit. They did not know exactly where on the Equatorial Pacific Ocean the tether was, unfortunately. They had made some wide angle telescopic images of possible places it could be, that is, of the former floating oil rigs which were the artificial island the tether was anchored to. They showed Catalie one such photo of an object in the ocean. "Yes, that's it!" she exclaimed, a bit too excitedly, no doubt bringing back memories of adventures there a few years before. So the next time around that area, they got a close-up image of the object, along with data relative to their orbit. Catalie pointed out that it looked abandoned, just the three floating oil rigs lashed together, and no boats docked, no people on the rigs. Had the tether fallen already? The couple had also done calculations that showed that if the tether were exactly above that spot, that it would be in the path of their space station wheel during an orbit happening only 4 months from now.
"That eventuality could have been why they abandoned the space elevator project, even though it was looking so promising" Improy mused, upon hearing that news. In a survival contest for rights of occupancy of a specific piece of space, the enormous tensile strength of the carbon nanotube composite fiber tether, already stretched to limits of its working stress, would be no match for the impact of this mammoth mile-diameter wheel of a space station traveling at some 17,000 mph relative velocity when they met, hundreds of kilometers above the blue Pacific. "Let it go", Catalie urged, "we probably won't even know the contact happened." But Improy continued to ponder on and off during the following weeks, how to possibly save some of the space elevator structure, of which he had given so much of his life efforts to make into reality. Nevermind that Ownma Corporation had obviously expected the project to fail during construction, and Improy with it; and so surely had never expected it to be successfully built, let alone now survive impact from objects orbiting below GEO. The Space Elevator was just an abandoned, forgotten White Elephant to Ownma Corporation at this point.
The original pep talk given by Improy, set a model for what became a routine focusing on their mutual goals, once a week. Catalie usually came up with a theme for each meeting, but this next one had yet to have the light of inspiration happen for its theme. Improy showed up as usual, in front of the gathered staff, still without knowing what to say, so he improvised on his own, on the spot. "This difficult situation we are in" he began, "is a result of the ultra-corrupt thing that Ownma Corporation has become. It did not escape the old adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Yet, our efforts here are being done quite differently than work done under the slave masters of Ownma Corporation; we are making it work. Yet, could such scattered efforts have ever created such a thing as this pair of space station wheels? A Corporation ought to be a form of government that is focused on getting products to be created and put in the hands of those who need the products. And that is the kind of thing we need to do right here and now, to have our efforts not just survive for the moment, but also to go for an even better situation for all of us. Could we create a Corporation .... no, not like the Ownma Corporation ... a corporation that is product oriented instead of profit oriented?"
He looked out on the faces, hoped he saw some of them shifting from angry memories of the bullying tragedies heaped upon them by the Ownma Corporation's elitist monkeybusiness, shifting to a more thoughtful look. "How would each of you design a corporation that got us to work more effectively together toward all our goals, and yet had safeguards built into the corporate structure so that it could not decay into the mess of Ownma? How would you do it? An Employee-owned and operated corporation, let's call it "Emplos Corporation" as it helps for something to have a name to become more concrete." So, that was the weekly meeting's assignment, to write how they would design such a corporation, in each person's individual words, whatever came up for them on the subject during the following week. It provided something to think about, besides how to do their still awkward tasks in such a strange machine world, so far from a home, and that home no longer had a welcome place for any of them. At least here they had food, shelter, companionship; and for now, had a tomorrow to look forward to. A tomorrow that perhaps they could influence its ways, too. Could it be?
Ch.16 Cockroach spacesuits
Emplos Corporation, comprising all the people on board the dual space wheel, had their first vote, even though all 1,345 of them had only the one computer terminal to vote on. They supported Improy's goal of creating workable space worksuits made from their own resources. And supported Catalie's goal of creating a capability of building and programming computers from their own resources. A third goal was added by the other crew members, that of examining the one sample re-usable cargo vehicle that was winged for a return that had not happened yet, see if it could be made into something that could return people safely to the Earth's surface, and if so, see if they could make more of them from the huge collection of spent one-way cargo and bus modules that were lashed to the hub.
To create return vehicles, it would be very helpful to have more space suited workers, and computers to assist their activities. It would also be helpful to have more than the two docking airlocks. In the small world they inhabited, it was fairly easy to see that everything was affecting everything else, every goal was affected by the progress of the other goals. There was so much to be done, that in the next week's voting they chose to continue the 14-hour, 7 day a week workschedule, with the easygoing work style which included frequent breaktimes and frequent complete changes in the kind of tasks each person did during the day.
The computer and electronics technology development and the spacesuit technology activities were focused on first. Semiconductor materials processing facilities were created to utilize the endless hard vacuum outside, the intense energy influx in the direction of the Sun, and the deep cold sink when aimed at the space between the stars. They pulled the teleoperation electronics and mechanisms out of some of the habitat modules in which they lived; that equipment had been essentially forgotten following successful docking of each module, so they had many hundreds of them, sources of radio parts and computer chips, even as sources of raw material when not adaptable directly. From these modules, they first built short range transceivers so necessary for communication when in spacesuits.
The first prototype spacesuits were nicknamed "Cockroaches" for the use of cockroach exoskeleton material for making the more rigid sections of the suit. For the first ones they used fabric processed already from discarded plastic food containers, but soon they would have to also make fabrics out of other components of the chemical marvel that was the little cockroach, which busily consumed agricultural wastes to make more of itself, quite a materials processor in its own right. The first prototypes were tested by putting them into an airlock, pumping it down, and observing what happened to the sealed suit. From that experimental data, some areas of the components were strengthened for the next prototypes. Eventually, Improy assembled one of the "cockroach" spacesuits around himself, tested its radio link, went into the airlock, and had Catalie pump it down while chatting with him over the radio link. When it appeared that the suit was holding up with a motionless person in it, he then experimented moving some joints. That was where it showed problems next, as an elbow joint was stiff at first, then cracked, air escaping through the crack, and Catalie quickly re-pressurized the airlock; back to the drawing board they went, having more data to guide them. And soon they had a basic space worksuit created out of their own resources, even though these ones they made themselves did not have the servomechanisms and super strength rigid materials needed to amplify their motions while working in space. At least now, they could start doing work outside to make the new multiple airlock hard vacuum materials processing module, needed to start work on the potential return vehicle design.
As improved designs were created for the Cockroach spacesuit, the prototypes got tested more severely in the airlock, Improy's frolics sometimes creatively comical. He even added some style features, such as the two little tails the male cockroach has and a rooster's crest on the helmet. They were going to have a little fun while doing their project. The suits that had failed in test were easily recycled, just given back to the little cockroaches who promptly considered them food. This also meant that the suits would need to be kept away from stray critters, during normal usage, too.
When they had three of the working spacesuits, three volunteers went outside in them with Improy, Catalie staying inside the Embarcadero, monitoring progress. They did this every other day until the volunteers had learned the safety rules out there and their reflexes had learned to deal with free-fall inside the suit, what made it all work fairly smoothly. Only then did Improy introduce his new crew to the one sample of a vehicle designed for use as a return cargo vehicle, a one of a kind since apparently Ownma lost the means to build them when the epidemic struck.
It looked like it might get hot inside on the return, based on the small airfoil surface, as compared to that of the earlier Space Shuttle Orbiter re-entry vehicle. The thermal insulating tiles looked difficult to make in all those special shapes, and tracking of manufacture looked difficult for their meager computer resources. Of course there were no facilities for people inside, all of which would need to be added. The discarded one-way space busses that had brought all the people here, had such seating and air supply systems; perhaps a good start on the envisioned vehicle. So the making of insulating re-entry insulation needed to be somehow created. Perhaps they could do zero-g casting of foamed materials, the lack of gravity enabling bubbles to cool hard before they burst.
Their design activity produced essentially an add-on component to the space bus: a large swept back winged structure cast of foam into shape, complete with cradle for the space bus, and the foamed structure covering the nose and underside of the passenger compartment. As the foamed part would be made from the material of the fuel tank area of the original one-way space buss, it would take little from the wheel station's resources to build. The large winged area would, they hoped, enable the vehicle to have little heat to endure while it bounces on and off the upper atmosphere, going all the way around the planet several times to lose velocity, until the vehicle could make an easygoing lazy glide down through the dense lower atmosphere to a slow, but skidding, landing, since they had no landing gear.
Providing reaction engines and fuel for the de-orbit and semi-powered trip to the ground, was the next challenge they needed to solve creatively.
The original sample return vehicle was the only thing that had any fuel for de-orbiting, and probably only enough for its empty mass. The slowing needed to be enough to drop not just to a lower orbit, but one that got them into the atmosphere for slowing down for the landing. The most efficient way was to build a launcher along the outer shell of the hub, as long as possible, and use stored solar energy to shove the vehicle backwards to slow it, while also moving the space wheel into a higher orbit at the same time, a double win. But that would not in itself be enough delta-vee to drop to the upper atmosphere. And there had to be maneuvering reaction engine power to guide the process back home. They needed to be able to get in the right attitude when reaching the atmosphere to enable them to pancake along, bouncing and maneuvering so as to be headed the right way when coming down again each skip and bounce on the upper atmosphere while they gently used up kinetic energy. The only reaction mass they could tolerate expending was ground up fuel tank material, so they had to come up with an efficient mass launcher of fine powder derived from more of the fuel tank material. Modification of the docking thrusters and their fuel tankage would be nice recycle if it could be made to work.
So it was agreed to proceed with making a casting with the hollowed shape of the wings and cradling thermal shield and nose cone, which would be clamped together and have solar-melted air-bubbled material from fuel tank casing injected into it, in a vacuum; then it would be cooled by radiating into deep space until hard, then the mold would be opened to remove the foamed shaped return vehicle structure into which a passenger section of a former one-way space bus would be secured. The controls for the rudder and ailerons needed to be routed to a pilot's position, vision via one of the thousands of security cameras that had been in the former prison facilities, A simulator would need to be built to train to fly the thing, as none of them were pilots.
It would take a lot of time to do all this; but they had a lot of time, and needed a vision of survival.
They also continued to make the space dual wheel able to have long term survival, increasingly refining the balancing of the homeostasis of the huge complex of living systems and machine systems. Some people might elect to live out their lives there, even raise families to continue on.
But their resources were meager as compared to that of the 10,000-person Stanford Torus design for which this project was originally conceived to prepare for. There was just not enough diversity of knowledge, of people skills, of agricultural species. They were determined to do the best they could with what they had.
Meanwhile, the encounter with the space elevator tether grew closer. Improy was determined to make an effort to salvages something of it. Refinements of the telescope's observations had been able to determine that they were going to hit the tether dual ribbon almost flat-on, so they rigged up one of the space bus cylinders to spin easily on its central axis, and placed it so it would do the initial impact with the carbon nanotube tether. This blunt edge that could spinup to roll along the tether, assuming the impact would jerk the anchor end up out of the floating island's guideway, greatly exceeding it s range of accomodation. It the tether ribbons did not break, and they began to roll along the improvised pulley they had rigged for the collision, if things worked out, the drag on the tether would keep it from immediately losing in the GEO station from heading out and instead start to be dragged along with the wheel station, whose angular velocity was far greater that that of earth. So they would have to reel in the tether and everything that was in GEO now and the counterweight beyond GEO. If anything snapped, they hoped to have captured a big chunk of the super-strength tether, anyway.
Then the moment of impact came. Improy had worked until the last hour to orient the huge pulley along their orbital path, rigged to their hub's orientation calculated existing at the moment of impact. Then everybody was ordered inside, to watch through the telescope's signal sent to the station's viewscreens. The telescope could barely see the black line of the tether, which rapidly grew more visible, then there was a tiny shudder of the whole station. Impact, the pulley was spinning increasingly fast, so the tether had been uprooted and had not broken so far. Their luck held, and they began to reel in their big fish. But the tether pair snapped, up high, where the tensile loads were already approaching working stress limits; and the sudden overload from down below pushed the tether beyond its limits, and broke. Unbalanced, the GEO station unfortunately would get pulled up and away by the counterweight above it, lost. But Improy was able to reel in hundreds of kilometers of tether ribbon from above and below them, a fine resource for future projects. So something was saved from it all.
Ch.17 A piece of tether can be useful
Improy was quick to get outside to inspect his catch, having saved a bit of the unfortunate Space Elevator, as soon as the telescope observations confirmed that the tether ends were not flailing around dangerously anymore, having used the initial differential velocity between it and the space station to wrap around the "pulley" like a tetherball wraps around its maypole. Measuring the overall thickness and estimating its packing density on the 10 meter diameter pulley-spool, that they had saved about 1,500 kilometers of the ribbon. "Just what do you plan to do with the stuff, now that you have got it?" Catalie asked him. He answered that he had hoped for retrieving some of the station, but would take what he got. "I have not figured out exactly what to do with it, but material resources up here are hard to acquire." He went on, "One thing I have thought of, is to use it to lower one of our manned return vehicles down to about graze the upper atmosphere a small but noticeable amount. At that position, our overall angular velocity around the planet ought to be same as it is now, but the station here will be slightly higher. The tethered vehicle will have significant "weight" felt in it since they would be going far slower than orbital velocity at that altitude, constrained to our angular velocity. Then they disconnect from the tether, drop into the atmosphere, and begin their skip around the planet awhile, until their velocity has slowed enough for a safe decent through the lower atmosphere. If they are willing to have an entirely unpowered glide return, flown only by their airfoil control surfaces by the pilot, the whole thing could be done without any expenditure of propellant for de-orbit. And the station here will be simultaneously boosted to a slightly higher energy orbit, same energy as if we had launched the return vehicle backward along our orbital path the amount to de-orbit, and the reaction shoving the station forward a bit into a higher orbit in the process." Catalie reflected that it would then solve the problem of lack of propellant for de-orbiting the returning vehicles. "Neat." she responded.
Minor re-design of the first several return vehicles was made to utilize this technique for de-orbiting. A nose clamp was installed that was releasable by either the pilot or the orbiting station control center by radio link. Hoping to avoid the need to build gyros for changing the vehicle's attitude in space, they prepared an empty area where a crewperson could deliberately spin around a certain number of times, then stop. While he was spinning himself, having pushed away from the structure of the vehicle, the vehicle would rotate in the opposite direction until he stopped spinning. Each change in the design prototype, they would go verify that it would work, but safely up here. And they tested out the idea of a person doing spins instead of using a gyro, which required both physical agility, endurance, and body mass.
It became a bit of a combination of testing, physical exercise, and a bit of adventurousness each time a volunteer would go practice the spacecraft attitude control that way. The effect was small, as the spacecraft mass was far greater than the person, but it did have an effect. Tubby people definitely had the advantage in that freefall environment sport.
Little by little during each test they lowered the tethered spacecraft further, practiced unlatching the tether while being secured by a safety line. Further down, they added testing to determine the minimum RF power needed for a directional antenna link, not wanting to have their signals picked up by Ownma staff on the ground. Finally they did a full length lowering test, so as to test how well the craft oriented in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Due to the slow solar-powered winch lift backup to the station, it took a whole week to do; and so air, food and water could support only a few people for the round trip. All of them volunteered for the test, and some hoped to be on the first real decent test to the ground later. Each of them had trained to be both pilot and gyro.
Exactly how far the distance would be to the effective beginnings of the atmosphere from where they were, was unknown, nor could they accurately measure the length of tether payed out. So the first data produced by the test was that they needed a way to tell if they had arrived or not. They did reach a distance down that their spacecraft seemed to be getting well oriented nose toward the path they were taking over the planet. Enough for one day, pull us up, they asked. The tether spool was marked so at least they could later repeat that distance, and they reversed the winch direction, and the return trip up was on its way.
A test data evaluation meeting with the returned adventurers produced some interesting suggestions. A drogue vehicle would help determine atmospheric density, say with a wind driven propellor rotation rate providing the data. That was expanded to become a propellor driven air compressor, storing air in a tank that would then get pulled up after the deployment of the return vehicle, and that way they could do some replenishment of their air supply. The release of the lowered vehicle would give energy to the station anyway, so some of that added energy could be used to scoop up some air.
So they got diverted to the task of building this scoop drogue, and testing it out by itself. Its tank would be significant mass and would have to be hauled up along with test airframe vehicles, slowing the winch up process, already days long.
Actually starting to believe that they might be able to return to the Earth's surface, planning as to where to go became an issue. Their monitoring of their receive-only internet link told of an increasingly powerful worldwide corporate takeover of most nations, in their various economies disrupted by the terrible epidemic. Ownma Corporation was foremost in this takeover, and appeared just as ruthless and arrogant as ever, as if they had won the world in a poker game and were raking in the chips. No compassion for the "chips" whatsoever. The need for survival of the masses was all that sustained the system, and the big corporations just sapped that life energy from the masses, easy. So where could they land? The physical requirements were one factor, the situation they would find there was another. Landing where Ownma found them would just land them in some prison down there again; and if the returning vehicle were found, they would realize what was happening and likely send up a rocket with a warhead to end the space station for sure. And the space wheel station had no way to duck.
Another issue they found was the determination of who to go first, and who second, and so forth. What they found was that there were plenty of brave volunteers, but none who actually wanted to go. As tough as life was up here, it was a far better life than any of them had experienced ever, and their self-determination form of corporation, their Emplos Corporation, was working for them, and nothing like it existed down there. So what happened was that there were endless design reviews, tweaking of the design, modifications to the return vehicles, ever making it more likely to succeed; but more importantly it was buying them all time to be together.
Occasionally they would send down the air scoopship drogue vehicle, gathering up air for the station, while conducting various tests of the tether system. They polished up the return vehicles, building more of them than very wise for an incompletely tested design, but they considered that once they starting leaving that maybe a lot of them would have to leave in a short time for some reason. They used the telescope to inspect potential landing areas, on and on.
They were also making a lot of progress on making the dual space wheel a long term livable place. The turkeys and goats were providing meat in lager quantities than the original quail and their tiny eggs, cockroach protein was still a staple addition to breakfast cereal; the goats also were starting to provide goat milk and goat cheese. The endless abundant sunlight provided luxurious grains and vegetables. Some otherwise decorative plants provided cleanup of the airborne toxins.
Solar power was their only energy source, but it was widely diverse in its ways of usage. It powered the growth of the plants, of course. It provided final distillation of their drinking water. Through solar panels it provided electrical energy. In many industrial processes, its heat input provided processing temperatures of whatever was desired. It provided laser excitation for some industrial applications.
Yet another workhorse application of solar energy was in its developmental stage, that which promised total recycling of any material, which would be extremely useful in their tiny closed ecosystem. It started with intense focus of solar energy onto the input waste material, several stages of heating resulted in the material in a plasma form. Gating into puffs into the hard vacuum produced a fairly consistent velocity of the material as it shot past a strong magnetic field, bending the trajectory of each particle according to its mass/charge ratio. Containers put at the location of each mass/charge ratio intersection with a perimeter, gathered just the material that had a specific mass for its charge. Too hot to be chemically combined with each other, the various elements headed into their respective catchers. When a catcher would become full, it would be harvested and a fresh empty one put in its place. The harvested materials were pure elements, ready for direct materials processing.
From such resources as these, a semiconductor facility was supplied, and gradually began to produce ever more complex integrated circuits, at first for sensors, then communications equipment, then computers, finally getting built. This had been one of their milestone goals, which enabled the next goals.
One of these was an education system distributed to everyone, wherever they were at at any time, per their desire. At their workstation, it provided data links recording their progress on each task they did during their workday; and in between when it was doing that, it provided simulation so as to teach the person new skills. Education was oriented to doing specific tasks which needed to be done; the rapid shift of kind of simulation enabled education on a huge variety of skills, often including "pure" science that was plug-able into many kinds of uses when combined with specifics of some ongoing task. The original input of each person's knowledge and skill base was thus sharable to all who needed it to perform some task right before them at the moment. This original knowledge base was then incremented by the results of each person at their workstations.
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Ch.18 Exodus contingency planning
The application of education being intimately applied to application on the spot each moment of the work task, was easily expanded to include other tasks too. Sports being learned, such as the "I'm a gyroscope" activity, for example. Rapid creation and inclusion of terminology to fit the education need was a key part of its success, for example, the terminology communicating the complex neuromuscular sequence patterns involved in "being a gyroscope", and had its variations among the range of free-fall to artificial 1-g at the wheel's rim, coriolis included. It also enabled rapid response to medical emergency, the education going right to the people on the spot, and later joined by what expert people were among them, if any. So the computer network was becoming a benign coordinator, by offering the accumulated knowledge in its database to every person at every instant, The rate of assimilation of that education on the spot, even in crisis mode, provided the limits of its effectiveness.
Sometimes that meant un-learning some part of what one already knew. For example, the computer input keyboard key designations used was inspired by the the Dvorak layout, so the people who had learned the qwerty form of layout needed to unlearn their earlier reflexive typing mode while adopting the more efficient movement typing mode. The increasingly complex and rapid real-time inputs and outputs required while performing a wide variety of kinds of tasks was rapidly indicating that the typing keyboard was not the optimum input device.
The best part of it all was that they were developing a working system that made up quite a bit for their limited number of personnel on the station, as compared to the wide diversity of skills, talents, and sheer numbers of workstations needed to operate a self contained world.
And it also became apparent that everyone was needed to make the space wheel go around without tripping over itself constantly. So if any of them took the return vehicles back to the Earth's surface, it would make it more difficult for the remainder to keep the whole system working best possible.
They came to the conclusion, during one of their weekly meetings and vote sessions, that they needed to gradually build an exodus fleet of vehicles, all leave for Earth at the same time. Agreed on this, they then were confronted by that standard exodus vehicle being an untested design. There were a lot of factors that would play out in the return trip, and how they would interact was not fully guess-able from what they now knew. And no doubt each flight would encounter somewhat different situations from the others, even if only the effect of precedence. The passage of a vehicle would change the characteristics of the path to some extent, for example. If a hostile entity spotted some of the re-entry vehicles, their attempts at assault would bring in even more kinds of factors, like, how to dodge rocket-borne warheads while also not leading the aggressor to one's new intended home.
Since they had plenty of tether belt material, they chose to have a primary decent tether that was a closed loop, and a secondary tether that was of the type they had already tested, but would take a cycle time of abut two days per vehicle. They had plenty of collected one-way space busses lashed to the hub, so they chose a comfortable design of only 5 people for each vehicle, with the idea that there might be an option to live in the landed vehicles for an extended time, that is, as homes from which to go to and from, while they built up a new city somewhere on the surface. So that meant building 30 vehicles, having one to spare. Fewer people per vehicle meant they could build sleeping accommodations and computerized education living systems into each vehicle, so they would be able to utilize their newly developed education system of linkage to real time activities. No doubt they would face severe adversities down there, and they needed all the advantage they could create beforehand.
They would also distribute their livestock and samples of their feed and seed stock among the various return vehicles. Getting this all planned and ready, bit by bit, without a scheduled exodus date, was the mode of living for a long time, as they psychologically accommodated to either staying up where they were, or leaving for the ground.
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Ch.19 Lurking bully in their midst
Their use of their mini-internet computer system to provide "instant education at the point of need" made up for their lack of facilities for higher education and years for everybody to devote exclusively to that schooling, then for them to try to remember what they had learned when they needed to do something new on the job. More that that, their computer network provided linking necessary for community to operate. The shared vision which provided their bonding of community. Yet there were many sub-visions, shared by some but not others. The computers helped identify where those sub-visions required the same resources exclusive use, too, and offered ranges of alternative resources to examine.
The vast majority of the original prison population, sent there as a life sentence without possibility of parole, were politico-corprorate prisoners, people who had opposed the corporate agenda that was causing harm to the masses of employees and consumers. These adapted seamlessly into the community vision sharing via the computer network.
But among the prisoners were a few who really were more ego-driven, whose visions were more of the type motivated by urge to gain by interfering with those who they perceived as rivals among the space station wheel people, seeing others' loss as their gain, and craving to show the girls who was the better man by being able to cause harm to the "rival". Although most of the time they found that their needs were fulfilled by going along with the group's shared goodies, and doing some tasks that supported what needed to be done for all their survival, sometimes their old conditioning kicked in and their egomania took over. The computer network struggled to cope with those erroneous inputs, as did the whole space station population, when that monkeybusiness was expressing somewhere.
Catalie was chatting with Improy during breakfast, pointing at the computer screen. "I have been testing out some pattern filling-in mode software for the computer network, that test for congruency." she began. "It has a hierarchy of shared visions as contributed by each person up here. Yours and mine are in there for all to see, as are each other person's visions. As a check I find that the computer indeed discovers the unanimous visions among us. It has also identified the parallel but inconsistent overall patterns, such as of making life up here very long term, vs exodus back to the ground. And it identifies quite a few sub-visions that disharmoniously overlap in places, such as agriculture's usage of water resources vs industrial's uses of the water. Yet, curiously it has found another pattern, which seems to be that of 'whatever Improy decides, I oppose.' It does not seem to care if it is inconsistent within itself, either. So it looks to me like it is a case of the old egobrain in someone here, attempting to depose the king, in its perception, no doubt per that pattern, to take over the kingship himself." Improy looked thoughtful for a moment, then asked if the computer pattern-filling provided pointers toward probable areas of damage the "rival" might strive to do. Having unnecessary struggles to cope with was not a pleasant prospect for Improy; battle for dominion was just a huge waste of precious resources, in his opinion, and best left to the lower animals to entertain themselves with, and was not fitting for humans to do anymore. Especially up here!
And the thought of someone considering Improy as a "king" was amusing to both of them. They considered themselves simply parts of the great combo of living systems and machine systems that was the space dual-wheel station.
Over in the shaded side wheel of the space station, Stable was thinking over his situation up here. His job was as the long term informer for the prison guards; but when they had all blown themselves out of the picture, he was suddenly all alone. Very sociable and talkative, he fit in fine with any group. Yet he knew of his situation, and the increasing spread of knowledge around up here was risking revealing his background. He had been born into Ownma Management, not of the Employees. But by the time he reached the age of the Testing, it was obvious that he would not pass. At the age of 14, all progeny born of the Ownma Corporation people, were put through the Testing. For one thing, he was short, only 6 foot 5" tall, and the passage minimum height was 6 feet 6 " tall. He was adequately psychic, so he could pick up on test answers in school easy enough from classmates, and guess their intentions before they knew themselves, so that part he passed. But he was only 230 pounds, and just could not get to the minimum weight for passage of 245 pounds of lean muscle and bone. He was from the most influential of Ownma men, however, so when it was time to put down all those who had not passed the test, Stable's parents saved his life by having him put in the position of lifelong informant in the prison system. He was disowned, of course, and all of his classmates who had not passed the Testing had been euthanized, for their genes could not be allowed to contaminate the super race that was Corporate Management, whose impressiveness was enforced by their eugenics program. He had nowhere he could go from here, he was dead as far as Ownma knew. Among the Employees, he was far the most powerful and cunning, aware of the activities and to some extent even the thoughts of those around him, a powerful person indeed, among these inferior species, the Employees. But that computer data gathering system, he feared, was too smart and would figure him out, and then these people would tear him apart in fury, surely. And, despite his superior strength, there were too many of them. Besides, he needed them to provide what he needed. Were they not rightfully his employees now, he the only Ownma Management here? The problem was, that there was no management here, for him to assault and take over their position. It was the computer network, and the leadership of Improy and his mate. He was bred to see his reality in terms of who was hierarchically above and below him, and to ever kick down those under him while striving to take over the position of the one above him, it had ever been that way, in the intensely person oriented world he perceived. "Things" like computers were almost non-existent to his awareness; it was only people that existed, in his kind of mind. So, Improy was his target to prove superiority by vanquishing. Possession of "things" came along with position in the hierarchy. So he set out to dispose with Improy in a way that showed the superiority of Stable. For now, he just observed everything that Improy suggested on the computer network, then Stable just said the opposite. That way he could look like he knew as much as Improy. Eventually he had to "get into" Improy's mind, to cause Improy to have an inner saboteur, weakening him, and knowing what Improy's next moves would be, so Stable could get there ahead of him. This kind of stalking and assault was bred into Stable's genes, that part passed the Testing. It was just that he was not quite big enough to have lived past the Testing. Of course, none of the men here would have passed the Testing; in fact, he sneered, none of them would have even passed the birth measurement criteria, to live another day.
Catalie set the computer network to have a threshold of tolerance for disruptive activity, and to signal her when something went past the quite wide threshold. Immediately upon setting this up, its first evaluation signaled an over-threshold event. Did she set the tolerance too low? she thought as she accessed the tagged event. Oh, she realized, it was just the oddity of some frequent differences of opinion with Improy's comments and suggestions. Looking closer, she was surprised that it was a 100% correlation; regardless of Improy's position on a subject, this same person was on the opposite side of the issue, even when Improy had changed his viewpoint then so did this individual change to support Improy's prior position. It made no sense. Was someone just being contrary, argumentative? If so, why?
She decided to do an experiment: she asked Improy to put a viewpoint on the network, that was a test case. Improy then put up an opinion that the shaded wheel should not be vented to space to get rid of any cockroaches that might have gotten over there, even though none had been seen there yet. Bingo, within minutes there was an opinion put on the network that the shaded side wheel should be vented to space to get rid of any cockroaches that might be hiding somewhere there, and to do it immediately, before anything else was done. The source was a man who was even in the shaded side wheel. So, it was someone just being contrary, argumentative. It was one of the former prisoners, although he had not yet been very helpful in volunteering at doing any of he tasks available. The profile on him said his name was Stable and that he was a very popular man in the area, a real people-person. So, why would he be doing the strange opinion activity? he had not shown any prior interest in any activity except being a buddy to everybody he could get near. That was an important function, she and Improy believed, uniting the space station personnel's efforts while enduring such hardships and high risks. But being a buddy was not consistent to being argumentative 100% of the time with someone. Especially someone so well known as a heroic problem solver as Improy was. They decided that Stable was a hypothetical "King de-poser." Trying to pick a fight to get rid of someone, to become "King" himself. He did not understand that there was no place for a king-function here, it would just jam up the works.
What to do about this guy? Improy said that they needed everybody, and that there was bound to be some people who disagreed sometimes; they came from different backgrounds. And a diversity of backgrounds was needed to have the best range of possible solutions when new problems came up. "I think the guy is probably a game-player and bored. Some people like to play chess or card games, and need someone to play with. I will just ignore the bait, and he will get bored with the thing and stop messing around. We are all in this together" Improy said, dismissing the whole thing from his mind.
Catalie decided that maybe the guy could find a sense of accomplishment by setting up a recreation facility for playing card and board games. So she headed over to the shaded side wheel, looking for Stable, guided by the computer occasionally. What she found after a while, is that the guy may not have technical savvy, but he was really good at not being found. Every place she looked that the computer had registered Stable was at, she would find he had just left there. Recalling a game she had played when a bit younger and unattached, she imagined she was attractive and needed a hunk right away; and she stayed put. It was mere seconds before a huge man, more hunk than she had ever seen, casually strutted by, apparently not noticing her while he casually flexed his biceps and adjusted his clothing a bit while in view of her. "Hi! Say, could you tell me if someone might like to set up a game room over here soon?" she asked the hunk. "We need a recreation room like that, so some people can relax and have fun at breaktimes." He turned and walked over to directly in front of her, looking down on her so she had to bend her head up to face him in response.
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Ch.20 Integrating a captive bully
"Are you someone who would like to volunteer to set up a game room around here?" Catalie asked, continuing on the original theme. The huge man continued to stare down at her for a moment, poker faced, unreadable. Then he asked "What is a game room for?"
Catalie shifted mental gears quickly, then replied "A game room is an area where people can go to relax in a special way. There, they have access to board and card games with which to have a structured interaction according to a few rules, during which each player attempts to be better than the other players. Some people find that stimulating, a relaxation from the difficult pressures of a job." Then she continued, "It is a friendly harmless way in which people can find out who is better than the other player, or players, at doing some interactive symbolic activity. It is something that your ego can have fun doing, and the results are not physically real, so the losers are not really hurt. Those who like to play games mostly enjoy the interaction with the other people, with the scores of the current game just something to pretend is important to their ego. Some games play for pretend ownership of property, too. The games all are designed so there are random factors which distribute the starting values for each player during each phase of the game, so that the results of playing the game involve both luck and the skill of the players." She paused, noting something in his expression ever so slightly revealed, then continued "Luck means random factors which happen to make it easier for you. And 'bad luck' means the random factors make it harder for the player to win. To win means to demonstrate that one was both better at playing the game and had good luck in that game play." She stepped back, turning, saying "I 'd like it if you would think about this volunteer task, and you can read up on the description more on the network under 'games'; then in a few days send me your decision though the network. I am Catalie, what is your name, so I can watch for your reply?" He was looking a bit interested as he said "I am Stable." Walking back toward the nearest spoke to the hub access to the other wheel, she was partly turned as she said, Oh good, I sure hope you will do this for me, this is something that would really help people relax over here."
Back in his quarters, Stable evaluated the new information. Up to know, he had easily sidestepped getting hooked into doing one of those stupid volunteer jobs, yet had a fine place of his own and plenty of food at the cafeteria. Yet, he had noticed that other people's egos were stronger when they were doing their stupid volunteer task well. But this volunteer job sounded interesting, a "game room" which he would set up and be boss there, and always be able to play games to show these guys that Stable was better than they were. It did look like he might have to actually learn how to do the game thing instead of surfing and skittling through things ever faking everybody out. But the games were not real, he said to himself. Even failing did not mean something bad, in reality. The whole thing was intriguing to him. He made his way to the nearest computer terminal, and for once was not there just to examine Improy's latest postings, but instead to look up the description of "game."
He found that there were too many things called "games" for him to gather them all in; there were sports games, card games and board games, each of which had a variety of rules and things played with as symbols of things to own and trade, or lose as a result of circumstance, and symbolic territory to be gathered or lost. One's position on a game board was meaningful too, often it involved traversing a path to reach its end before the other players did. This was looking real interesting. The losers would have to consider him better than they were, right? She had said something about card games and board games, that narrowed down the search a bit. Still, there were lots of both kinds. And each required some special equipment, such as decks of cards, poker chips, specially made game boards and game pieces, dice to roll, spinners to whirl, to establish luck. So he would have to get those things, and learn the varieties of rules for each. He could pick the games, it was to be his game room, so surely he could do that. The game called "Poker" looked like a one to start with, sine it only require the making of a deck of cards, which ought to be able to be done on the compute printer; and the game of trying to guess the cards the other players held, was something he could do psychically, and in fact would have to make deliberate errors at times so others could win occasionally. He would only win the really important games, and in the meantime he would be finding out how the other players minds worked. that would be something that always comes in handy when the real action starts in the real world.
When Catalie received an e-mail message from Stable, agreeing to take on the volunteer job of setting up and running a game room, and requesting assistance for making a deck of cards, she commented to Improy that progress was being made
regarding the incidence of "rivalry" that had been going on. She said that the guy had used a computer terminal for something other than provoking contest with Improy, in that he had searched for information about a subject on the network, and seemed to be taking an interest in doing something contributory on the station. And, she asked Improy if he could figure out how to make a deck of cards. They had no cardboard or paper up there, no printers, and no deck of card images from which to print even if they did. Already knee-deep in problems to solve with too few resources, he asked a bit exasperated if a deck of cards was really necessary. "I f you want to begin to tame a dangerous wild beast stalking among us" she replied, "a deck of cards and poker chips might be easier to fabricate than having to fix something destroyed in a worse game."
Improy found that there had been a standard set of cards for a lot of different games, and the one used in Poker was the same deck as used in a game called Solitaire, for which there was a set of images in an old computer game software. There were cards 2 through 10, a special number one card called an Ace, and three hierarchical people cards. And there were four distinct. sets of each. He had some left over spacesuit flat sheeting which he cut up into playing card sized chunks, He had a co-worker write the names of the various cards on the chunks of flat material, such as "Ace-Spades" and "Jack-Clubs." If the thing got popular, maybe they would try some images on the cards.
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Ch.21 Test and see if it works to do the job
The accumulating knowledge base stored in Leo Island's distributed computer network put out a request for descriptions of how to play card games of various kinds, including Poker and Solitaire. Stable was then sent e-mail showing where this information was. He was also invited to put an announcement online about his game room with its games available, when he was ready to host the game room.
Stable was intrigued with this idea of him having a game room, where people could go to test who was better than whom. He himself could then show these people who was better at games than they were. He also hoped to find companionship there, in a hierarchical system based on who was better; that was something he could understand. The system being used here in Leo Station was defined on who did what job and when doing it, instead of who was better than who; and that made no sense to him since it was not based on who was boss of whom. The idea of "games" felt comfortable to him; and despite his powerful physique and inbred ability to stalk and assault, he felt very much alone here, far from the Ownma people from which he had sprung, even though they had disowned him and considered him dead, destroyed as inferior genetics were always destroyed in Ownma's eugenics program. Among these Employee type of people up here, he felt that he ought to be supreme boss. But these people did not understand "boss" so it was a bit of a problem for him. Now at least he could be boss of the Game Room. And see where that would lead him.
Eventually Catalie mentioned to Improy that the series of votes that were in exact opposition to whatever Improy voted for, was sometimes not appearing on the voters readout of the day. It appeared that Stable was sometimes too involved with his Game Room activity to bother with the opposition effort against Improy. Hopefully the Game Room was providing him with a feeling of being a "king" of something.
Meanwhile, the dual directions of preparing for an exodus from the space wheel station, while also preparing for permanent habitation in the space dual wheel, was making progress. They had created a modularized exodus spacecraft design, so that as they came up with better versions, it was fairly easy to upgrade the spacecraft already built, to match the latest one's design. They began to use the computer network to do some of the routine chores in the agricultural area, using actuators to switch nutrient flow based on the various agricultural subsystems needs, while referring to a projection of trends in the needs of the station for food production and hydrocarbon organics recycling.
Since it was essentially a closed ecosystem of materials, powered by the conversion of sunlight short wavelength energy into long wavelength radient energy sent into the darkness of space by the heat radiators, materials were increasingly considered as something that merely was transformed from one form to another within an overall cycle that returned it to its original form. Use of the terms "waste material", "garbage", and "recycle" faded away, in favor of the terminology of the transformation series of forms of closed loops of material substances.
The transformation series of nutrients generally was separate from that of the industrial processes. The metals involved in industry tended to be toxic as a nutrient, so it was easier to keep them separate from food preparation discarded material, instead of having to expend energy to sort the metals out later, usually by the use of the huge solar powered mass spectrometer element extractor. Small adjustments to the radial distance from center of rotation of the wheel, as measured between the ends of liquid flow tubing, provided a simulated downward flow that moved the fluid material along at an optimum rate. That minimized the need for pumps; and pumps took much more effort to build than making a centrifugal force gradient along piping. Although their population of 1,145 was gaining capacity for accomplishment by the education system built into their daily work life, there were only so many people to do some particular thing at any given time. In general, the less effort it took to accomplish a function, the more desirable it was among alternatives.
Keeping people's spirits up was considered a prime function of their system, ranked in priority about equal to having adequate nutrition and safe, comfortable shelter in which to relax. And as with the improvisation they had to do regarding nutrition, so also they had to improvise on how to keep the spirits up. That everybody had a mate, was the prime means of keeping the feeling of well-being adequate, despite the need for some to take on multiple mates to satisfy that need, given the relatively few women they had in the population.
There was quite a variation in what the various temperaments among them required for a sense of well-being, and so similarly wide the diversity in the facilities and techniques that needed to be defined, set up, and operated. The Game Room had become an instant popular activity, despite the imposing operator of the facility who seemed to ever be watching them playing the games, almost as if getting into their minds.
The general philosophy of "test-and-see-if-it-works-to-do-the-job" that was working so well on technical goals, was applied also to the "well being facilities" of which the Game Room was the first. Adjacent to the cafeteria nearest the Game Room was setup a nightclub kind of facility, where people could go to socialize while also having some nutrition and watching entertainment. Some temperaments of people especially enjoyed this kind of thing, while other temperaments did not particularly enjoy it, but could endure it for awhile. Ethyl alcohol was biochemically produced and added to beverages, as part of the nightclub atmosphere; from the beginnings of civilization, alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine were utilized as a uniting force among diverse people, and was especially important up here to create a relaxed uncritical ambiance. A few people had some musical skills before their capture, and they formed a group to entertain at the nightclub. At first, they utilized existing objects that would ring resonantly and be tuned to some extent. Then some of the nightclub patrons volunteered their craftsmanship skills to make resonant objects that more nearly resembled conventional musical instruments, making it easier to play them and to provide a wider variety of compositions they could play. It was always "Amateur Night" every night at the nightclub.
All these activities and techniques were documented in the growing database of the computer network continually available to all. Drum design was recorded as it evolved from beating rhythmically on shipping containers, to better designs; Xylophone-like instruments were made with cut lengths of tubing, and ever refined as to tuning frequencies. People began to absently tap on resonant objects in their workplace as a relaxation technique while on the job, helping maintain their mental balance.
Electronic musical instruments were simulated by use of the omnipresent computer terminals, and software was written so that anyone could create a musical composition that the computer would play for them, and a "perfected" composition would be saved by the person as part of the universal database. It became a new "well-being" activity throughout the station, some people writing waveforms that simulated surf sounds on a rocky beach, as best they could remember them; even simulating the calls of larger animals and birds from their memory, and other sounds familiar to their free life on the Earth's surface so many years ago. Yet also the construction of resonant surfaces objects, tuned filaments and pipes continued to be used, as it stimulated the tactile-kinesthetic part of music; this then expanded into dance forms. Well-being was increasing.
Yet the stress of having to both strive for permanent residence here, while also striving to prepare for abandonment of the station in an effort to return to the Earth surface, reduced the general sense of well being among them. Votes were taken, and it was decided to complete the construction of enough return spacecraft for all of them and their agricultural animals, mothballing the spacecraft along with detailed plans for their usage in case it became necessary.
Dreaming and planning of the procedure for establishing a way of life down there, would continue to be accumulated in the database. Their receive-only access to the earth's internet system indicated that the stranglehold of the rich-elite owner-managers of the huge corporations ever increased the separation from them and the employees who did the work and lived in increasingly difficult ways. The planetary ecosystem had deteriorated so much that a quarter of the previously habitable areas had become unsupportive to life, making it even harder on the vast majority of working people. So they used their telescope oftentimes to search the uninhabitable areas, trying to determine what caused the ecosystem's dysfunctionality at each place, seeking places they might land and use their skills and techniques developed up here, to a new life down there, far from the iron fist of the corporations.
They again modified the design of the basic return spacecraft vehicle, to seat only a dozen people each, have pens for a few animals and seed stock, initial food supply and water for a month for all, and computer linking by tight beam. The thought was that the vehicles would return to the ground all near each other as possible while landing safely, then use the vehicles as homes for the dozen people in each one, while they set out to create new long term living space on the ground. So the vehicles were designed both for a safe and piloted glide landing, then be used as a starting point for building their new homesite.
Dreaming of how and where they would do this was a preferred pasttime for those who were finding it sometimes difficult to cope with life on the space wheel station. But most people found it uncomfortable to do this part of the planning, while their daily lives were spent in getting the wheel's environment to work together for all of their continued long term existence, and reasonably well.
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Ch.22 To stay or to go back
One of the recreation rooms had snacks, beverages and displays of earth internet news items. It was receive-only, since they could not risk it being known that they still existed up here. It was one of those times when someone was idly watching the news from below, while munching a quail & cockroach burger, that the news was announced. The mega-corporations had finalized their ownership of all that remained of civilization, and that henceforth the delineated territories of each of the mega-corporations were not to be crossed by Employees. And there was now an over-arching mega-corporation which also had the American territory formerly called Ownma Corporation, but now the new super-corporation was named TANFL, acronym for an old motto "There Ain't No Free Lunch" which was to be the guiding motto of the new organization. Everybody had to pay, or more correctly, every employee had to pay for everything they wanted, but the TANFL people did not, as they were all floating in the unimaginable riches of the corporation, and there was no need to do accounting of the little fraction they spent on their personal needs or adventures. Every Employee had to pay, and that meant they had to work for the Corporation, and accept the pay rate set by TANFL. There was to be no charity among the Employees, so there was no respite in case of simply inadequate pay rate or intolerable job assignment. No work, no pay, no food or shelter. The Employees must also pay for the disposal of those who starved to death in the street as a result, or froze to death without shelter, so as to keep the streets clean of those bodies.
Soon the news spread in the space wheel station about the turn of events down below. It was shocking to most of them, even those who had seen that kind of thing as a trend from long ago, the separation of the rich from the workers, a disappearing middle class. Now there was no middle class at all. And there was no social vote mechanism for reversing the class-based system.
Up here they had proven that people could work together to provide a safe home for all, retaining each person's individuality, and inviting the best from each person. They had created their own Corporation, one that was guided by product instead of profit. They each also being a consumer, the products filled their needs as best possible in the balance of all things. Everybody worked, none were the idle rich because there was no wealth to accumulate. Instant education to every person for any task, via their own version of the internet, along with the pooling of each person's knowledge and daily data gathering re the task being performed, built up the knowledge database. It was working for them. Why wasn't it done down below? Everybody up here lived much better than the Employees down there, and the resources up here were so very limited, in the dual space wheel that was originally outfitted to be part experimental station, part prison, a very difficult starting base. Surely despite the deteriorating world ecosystem down there, their Emplos kind of Corporation would provide a better life for everybody. Surely even the Rich Elite Owner-Managment class could find adequate pleasure without having to brandish their vast accumulated holdings as status symbols, they thought.
But then the people began to remember that the Rich-Elite had been long in a super-race eugenics program, and no longer considered themselves of the same species as the Employees, and that really altered their thinking patterns. It was comparable to the way the agricultural workers saw themselves different from the fish and goats they tended. The Owner-Managers were like the agricultural workers who tended the fish and goats, like the Owner-Managers tended the Employees. Not of the same species; and effectively had the power of life and death over them, without need to answer to anyone.
They all had loved ones down there. Catalie and Improy thought of their daughter Idealiana being crushed into some mold in that system. Surely there was some way they could help their loved ones?
A month later, a vote was called. The result was that they would initiate their Exodus, down to where they had a chance of helping out. They did not know how to help, but they knew it could not be done from up here, so vulnerable from even one warhead sent up in irritation by the TANFL Corporation, if they got to be considered a nuisance.
The accumulated musings on the subject were called up from the database. There were several places that had been abandoned by the corporate holdings as the environment had died; and the Corporations owned all the land that was habitable profitably.
More serious thinking was done on how they would survive down there, on their own as much as they were up here; and without the resources of endless solar energy and zero-g hard vacuum for materials processing, so essential for their survival up here. Much of the space station had been long in computer assisted mode, and it seemed possible to further modify the station to be a self-operating system for some time after abandonment by people. They decided to build microwave power beam generators to beam down the surplus solar-derived electical energy, no longer needed with the people gone; and they would remotely control the directing of that energy beam to lock on their sending antenna location, which would be in the middle of a rectenna they would build, so they would get a burst of electrical power everytime the station was within beam range, day or night or stormy, they would get these dumps of electrical power, that they would have to store somehow, and use on the spot in some processes.
They also rigged a link to direct the station's telescope at some location on the ground, and relay the digital images down to them. Meanwhile they continued to use the telescope up here to determine what was happening down on the surface. Where had Ownma gone, now TANFL Corporation? Repeated examinations of their launch site, Ownma White Sands, showed no sign of activity. It appeared to be abandoned a long time, and the desert was beginning to reclaim it. Sandstorms had drifted sand across the highways in places, and no vehicle tracks had left marks of passage across the sand drifts. All the cities in the area had been abandoned even before they were launched up here, as water became uneconomical to bring in there anymore, the water table fallen beyond recovery for even drinking water. In fact, if they ever hoped to be able to return to the wheel space station, it would have to be from White Sands, as the only boosters in existence were there. The landing strip that had once been used for the returning boosters that had lifted them up here, looked like a reasonable landing place for their return spacecraft gliders. Holloman airfield was not far from there and could serve as a secondary landing runway. Even the abandoned highways could be used in a pinch. They really did not know what difficulties would be encountered when making an unpowered landing down there.
The entire fleet of return spacecraft was inspected for inclusion of the latest modifications, and their basic provisions were refreshed. Their wheel population was divided up and assigned a spacecraft; as much as possible, whole family groups were sent in the same return vehicle, as they had already worked out their own internal team spirit among themselves long ago. Volunteering rosters were established to show who preferred to go among the first, among the last and in the middle to go. Improy and Catalie decided they probably were better able to guide the exodus from up here, at least until it was certain things were working reliably and smoothly, so they resisted their adventurous urge to go first to deal with the unknowns of landing. They chose randomly among those who had wanted to be among the first to go, based on their recorded skill in the landing training simulations, and their observations of them on the job up here, especially in highly stressed situations.
All the people in the station gathered around the larger network computer displays to watch the embarkation. The family crew members wore some of the few "cockroach" spacesuits that had been manufactured, as better protection during the re-entry stresses, although eventually most of them would enter their own vehicle in ordinary clothing, it was hoped. The spacecraft's nose hatchway was sealed, then the Embarcadero's airlock was sealed, and it was on camera for awhile as the spacecraft coasted away far enough for the nose cone to swing around and latch. The initial electrically driven thrust was delivered to the vehicle along an acceleration ramp backward along the stations's trajectory, slowing the vehicle in the orbit, and the tether ribbon's slack was soon taken up. The slight gravity on the spacecraft, going slower than the required angular velocity to be in orbit up here, reeled out the ribbon at first slowly then faster until an optimum decent velocity was reached, then they used dynamic braking to maintain the decent velocity. Their "human gyroscopes" were practicing pointing the spacecraft around into various attitudes, gaining a little more skill at this once sport activity.
The next day the tether had reeled out sufficiently to start slowing the decent rate on the spacecraft, and the human gyros were getting some practice at adjusting the spacecraft's attitude while also experiencing some weight, almost 1-g. Then the tether was allowed to unreel to the point where there was significant drag backwards on the tether, as indicated by the drag airscoops propellor rate instrument which was mounted a little above the spacecraft attachment to the tether.They practiced more at their gyro attitude adjustment, and measured the small amount of airfoil control surface effect on the spacecraft's attitude while being towed by the tether ribbon cable.
It was a tense moment for all. The spacecraft sent a radio signal up indicating they were going to commit to launch. They tilted up until it showed their lift supported their weight, and they activated the release latch. From there they had nowhere to go but down. Suddenly no longer towed forward, there was a sudden small jerk but continued with the same attitude; they went into almost free-fall again, building up velocity. A noticeable sense of slowing and direction of gravity built up as they maintained what they had guessed was the optimum angle of attack as they went deeper into the thin upper atmosphere. They experienced a little over one gee as the gliding spacecraft bounced back up on their first skip. They continued to skip up and down the upper atmosphere , slowing down some with each bounce. Having gone entirely around the planet, as judged by terrain below them at time of release from the tether, they sent a brief radio signal upward to the space station that they had gotten this far, looked promising. The cabin temperature was quite tolerable, as the craft's large airfoil glided them down so slowly.
Then the next critical phase began, as they made the last circle around the planet and swung into a large circle, remaining above the area where there were no people, staying away from the California coastal area where Ownma/TANFL Corporation had retreated to, gliding around and around, breaking the sound barrier as slowly as possible, keeping the heating down as much as possible by coasting, circling White Sands. Their pilot used the reflexes trained in the simulator, although the simulator never had produced the forces pushing one's body around during the moves, quite this way. Expecting that distraction, the balance between losing altitude, holding above stall speed, and orienting to be lined up with the landing strip's end when it all went to zero, and they were down, skidding along the runway.
They had no landing gear so there was no steering wheel for the ground guidance; the pilot called out "Everybody lean left! Everybody lean right! Front half lean left! to slightly influence the attitude of the vehicle as it skidded on its belly along the runway, slowing much too slowly without either brakes nor drogue chute. Off the end of the runway into the sand, they slowed much faster, then with a twist, they were stopped. They sat there, only popping open their seat belts, while their heart rates slowed down. The pilot pulled the spring release that threw the nose cone around its hinge, then cranked on the airlock dogs, and opened the hatch to the bright New Mexico sun. Filing out through the nose hatch, they went over to the shade of the nearest building, and proceeded to have their snack prepared for this event, which included a bit of ethyl alcohol with which they gave a toast to their safe arrival.
Their first duty was to split up into twos, and go search to verify there were no other people around there, and no security cameras announcing their presence. They had shed their spacesuits in the landing craft, so they looked reasonably normal, they hoped, in case they were on somebody's camera. The place seemed long abandoned, probably since the last load of prisoners was launched on a one-way space bus up toward the space station, several years ago. They followed the security cameras' cables to the security control room, which was found open, its door swinging back and forth in the wind gusts. All power was dead in there, but they methodically disconnected every connector they could find, then closed the door as they left. The electronics in that room would be valuable to them later, no doubt, for other uses.
Checking the time the space station would again be in line of sight while also not in the direction of any known habitation, they set up their dish antenna; and when the station was expected above, they transmitted the safe landing coded message up. And immediately received a coded acknowledgment beamed down to their location. It was done.
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Ch.23 Escaping back to Earth
Their next need was to get their landing spacecraft off the runway area and make it less conspicuous in case some TANFL aircraft, if any existed, flew over. There still was a partial circle of spare habitat modules over in the site where the modules had been set up and tested for systems integration as a living system within a machine system, before disassembly for launch of the individual modules into orbit; if they could get their landing craft over into the circle, it would be less conspicuous. Half the team took on the task of disconnecting the 10 meter diameter 20 meter long cylinder of the return module, that was built also to be their home for an indefinite period down here, from the cast aluminum foam wing and re-entry shield and landing skid underbelly.
The other half of the team went to one of the trucks that were used long ago to move the habitat module cylinders around, and to bring them to the launch pad assembly area. There was plenty of the pulverized coal fuel for the truck, and it was not long before the external combustion engine's flash boiler was belching black smoke as it began to bring its power systems back to life after several years of sitting idle in the desert. Its steam engine was in a totally enclosed loop through the turbine and then to the waste heat radiator, so it still had its liquid boiling fine inside, and it began to rumble off toward their landing craft. Its pair of transfer cranes swung around and belts slipped across front and back of the cylinder, now disconnected from its landing airframe casting; then the module segment was on the truck, and soon headed toward the partially finished ring of habitat modules. The module was set into the ring groove, although since access to their home was through one end of the cylinder, it was not placed up against the module there, so they could get in and out of their home. There was plenty of empty room on the ring for all the landing craft coming back.
They explored the remaining arc of habitat module space station segments, which appeared to be part of a third ring for the space station, but its construction had been halted and abandoned. It appeared to have been being built as another prison type facility, but it included two of the agricultural sections and a cafeteria section, although not set up yet to be functional.
The next time the space station was passing by overhead in its orbit, they sent up a message in its direction, saying that their return vehicle had been cleared out of the landing field and it was ready for the next landing; and also told about their discovery of the partial habitat module wheel set up which included agricultural areas and cafeteria, so bring down as much agricultural materials as they could stuff safely into their spare room. A coded beep message was sent back from the space station, indicating receipt of message.
It looked a lot easier to get the agricultural sections and cafeteria going in the partial habitat ring, than to set up some place there in the open desert to do farming to grow their food. The wheel station's agricultural area was designed for complete recycling of water, and water was going to be one of their critical shortage items.
They had brought down only enough food and drink to last them for a month, so they had to have another nutritional supply source going by then. They put their organic waste material into one of the partly-finished wheel's agricultural areas; the material would be almost as precious later for agriculture here in the desert as it was up in the space station.
Meanwhile, in the dual wheel space station up in Low Earth Orbit, The second return spacecraft vehicle had been brought out of storage and prepared for boarding by its crew. They had studied all the data sent by the first vehicle's crew during its pioneering decent, yet they knew that their trip would also be sprinkled with unknown variables encountered along the way. There was no way of knowing if the first landing had been through good luck circumstances. Weather was a variable quite risky, and although their telescope was able to see if sandstorms and storm clouds existed before launch, it could not see nor predict gusty cross winds existence. Once committed to the tether drop, they had only one day extra air reserves to hang down there in the fringes of the upper atmosphere while waiting for weather to clear up down below; and of course, if weather turned dangerous while they were in the atmospheric decent, they were committed to go down somewhere, one place or another, gently or not gently. The Earth's weather had long ago turned sour from the global warming greenhouse gas accumulation, but there were still some seasons of relatively calm weather in the White Sands area, one of which was occurring now. They needed to get the vehicles launched as fast as possible to take advantage of the weather window for landing reasonably safely. They prepared to do a launch every other day, which allowed half a day to bring a return vehicle out of storage lashed to the hub, dock it to the Embarcadero's airlock, finish its nutritional provision and clothing stocking, load agriculture and some light industrial machinery, passengers and pilot, send it on its way by tether, a controlled drop which took a day at least; then a half day to reel back in the 230 miles of emptied tether, damp its oscillations and connect it with the next landing spacecraft. It would take two days at least for each vehicle.
The second return spacecraft was lowered on the tether; they practiced their attitude control while dragging lightly along in the upper atmosphere, released from the tether and began the skip-and-bounce around the planet with their large foamed aluminum wings, keeping re-entry cool, until they slowed enough to circle White sands, and then they too were skidding down the runway to a stop in the sand beyond its far end. They got greeted by the crew of the first vehicle, and they all went to the shade of the nearby building and had the now somewhat traditional toast with a cup of ethyl alcohol in juice beverage.
The module carrier truck belched black smoke again as its coal-fired flash steam turbine engine spun into life, and within 4 hours the new module section was placed near the first one in the empty part of the habitat ring cradle in the desert floor. They moved the agricultural materials out of the module, which included some chunks of grain growing in its matrix, and put right back in the equivalent area of one of the agricultural areas of the abandoned modular habitat ring section, ready to resume growing now in the desert sunshine instead of that of earth-orbital space. A few quail were brought along too, a start on a new flock down here, a start again at providing a bit of eggs and meat. And of course, some caged small cockroaches that were so essential for both recycling of organics but providing protein nutrition supplements for both the quail and people.
The agricultural matrix was activated with their liquid organic waste materials as much as possible, and the returned grain sections were used as starts along the matrix, along with seed planting, so as to provide a harvest distribution.
In the first two weeks, they had landed the first 5 spacecraft return glider vehicles, so they had 10 of the extended families and enough agriculture to have a chance at long term sustenance of themselves. The calm weather seemed to be holding up OK, and the vehicles were coming in at an average rate of 1 every two and a half days; not all went smoothly and so took a bit of extra time.
From orbit in the space station, it could be seen that weather was getting ready worldwide to begin another stormy season that likely would reach White Sands facility area too, making landings more risky. They were sending down groups of the extended families. Since the population had been only 25 percent women overall, mostly each one had several husbands, which created an extended family. The members of these families had traded around from the original random assignments until each was in comfortable balance as a team. Some of the original space station wheel's crew were already couples of just one man per woman, so the remainder of the women had three or four husbands, making a typical extended family of 4 or 5 people. Each return vehicle carried two extended families, so the dual wheel's population of 1,145 people needed to launch 128 of their space return vehicles.
Improy decided to convert the tether into a full loop, leaving the drag airscoop down in the high fringes of the upper atmosphere, swung on a pulley. This way, as one spacecraft was lowered by the tether, tether material from the previous launch was being lifted up to get another vehicle. It took a week to make this modification, during which no vehicles were launched. When a test of the loop successfully lowered and launched the 6th return vehicle, they began to launch a vehicle about every day; then they tried lowering two vehicles spaced evenly on the tether, thus launching a return vehicle every half day, 14 each week. This clearly was not going to get them all down before the stormy season, so they lowered three vehicles at a time on the tether; but the winch motor was showing signs of overheating when they tried lowering four vehicles at a time, so their limit was three vehicles per day with that system.
Improy and Catalie were having to troubleshoot and solve technological crises that were going on in the space wheel as the evacuation of the wheels got into panic mode due to the increasingly dangerous weather down there at the landing site, so they were staying to be on the last return vehicle. Already they received some reports of vehicle overturnings as they skidded down the runway in gusty winds, destroying their foamed aluminum wings in the process, scattering the pieces around, and generally shaking things up inside, particularly the agricultural supplies and the equipment too hastily stowed.
The process of disconnecting the foamed aluminum winged re-entry sections from the cylindrical section, and hauling them over to the module ring, was already overloading the ground crew and single crane-equipped truck, so several of the crashed vehicles had to be left where they had stopped, although they had been up-righted by the crane so the occupants and supplies could be gotten out more easily. It was a big area, so it was unlikely a vehicle skidding in to the sand portion at the end of the runway would strike one of the crashed vehicles; but not impossible.
Improy and Catalie stayed to operate the tether for the last of the return vehicles lowering and release into the upper atmosphere. There were still a half dozen of the return vehicles remaining. Improy modified the RF link between the station and their descent vehicle, so that the winch and emergency release latch could be operated from the vehicle as it was being lowered. They went around the station wheels, verifying that the telescope could be controlled and viewed from the ground, that the solar-derived power beam was locking onto the target transmitter on the ground and was pouring out microwave energy at it during each pass over the White Sands area; and they verified that the internal mechanisms were all working well, including the robotic operation of the remaining agricultural area they had not been able to take down with them, to keep them alive as long as possible. The remaining agriculture consisted of the grains, some vegetables, cockroaches and a few quail families. The rest had been taken down to the surface already.
Improy and Catalie loaded up their return spacecraft, including use of the unused passenger space, lashing supplies and one of their space worksuits into the unused seats. Manually closing the Embarcadero's hub airlock hatches, they then sealed the nose entry hatch. Verifying the tether was properly attached, they allowed the craft to release from the dock, unlatch the spring-loaded foamed aluminum nose cone which then swung around and latched into position for the flight back. Then Catalie sent the signal to the winch to start lowering them, and away they went. They took turns doing the "human gyroscope" practice at orienting the attitude of the spacecraft as it was being lowered. Neither of them were very heavy, so they had to work at spinning around quite vigorously; the other descending vehicles all had had someone who was tubby yet athletic to some extent, and they had done the gyro attitude control. So they took turns, Catalie being the pilot calling out attitude numbers, while Improy cavorted in the center area being a gyroscope for awhile, then they would switch positions. When they reached the pulley bottom end of the bi-directional tether, they sent up the signal to stop the winch, and go into long term standby mode. Improy wanted to make it possible for a vehicle to fly up here and latch onto the tether to return to the space station, if that became possible and useful in the future.
They used the airfoil control surfaces and last bit of gyro activity to optimize the attitude of the spacecraft, then they released the clamp, and they were free and headed toward the planet. They repeated the long slow bounce mode of skipping across the upper atmosphere, gradually slowing the vehicle down without heating it up intolerably. This kind of re-entry had very much less kinetic energy to dissipate than a vehicle would have if de-orbiting from Low Earth Orbit altitude, since they were traveling with the same angular velocity as the higher station yet were not dropping except from a start in the upper atmosphere, instead of plummetting into it from hundreds of miles above in free-fall conversion of potential energy into kinetic energy. So it was relatively easy to cooly lose their kinetic energy and altitude potential energy, encircling the planet a couple of times gliding on their big swept back wings. But there were scattered storm clouds over the White Sands landing area. Catalie strapped herself into the passenger seat nearest the pilot, and Improy piloted the rest of the way down. He could see parts of the runway through breaks in the clouds. He circled until it was time for the space station to be overhead, then he sent up a command to temporarily cut the beamed microwave frequency to a wavelength that would be absorbed by the cloud water droplets, and fire the energy beam toward the rectenna targeting transmitter location near the landing strip. In two minutes a hole had opened up in the clouds, evaporated by the beam from the space station, then the station was out of range. But there was a lot more of the landing strip visible now for a minute or two, and he dove toward the end of the runway, coming in a bit too fast. They skidded on their foamed aluminum underbelly, Improy using the airfoil control surfaces to keep the vehicle horizontal until too slow to be guided by deflection of air, then they spun to face the wind, skidded a few yards more, and they were back home on Earth once again.
A welcoming reception greeted them as they emerged from the nose hatch, getting them over to the traditional building wall for the toast for safe arrival, though the wall was now a wind shelter more than a sunshade. Others emptied the spacecraft of its precious cargo and took it to the ring of modules. The crane truck was not to be brought out until the storm had died down enough to safely lift and position the cylinder to be hauled over to the module ring.
Inside the habitat module ring's cafeteria, Catalie and Improy found a Thanksgiving feast was prepared, awaiting their arrival. They gave thanks for their return to the Earth surface and the abundance, such as it was, that they had; and for their life that continued and hope that they could help their loved ones elsewhere on the planet.
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Ch.24 White Sands revives again
The next day, despite the storm ongoing outside, Improy went out to get started on two projects. One was to capture and store as much of the currently downpouring rainwater as possible. The other project of the day was to get started on building the rectenna to capture the solar-energy derived microwave electrical energy that was being beamed down from the space station whenever it orbited past overhead.
Rainwater was being captured and sent to downspouts from the old Ownma Corp buildings, an easy starting point for gathering rainwater. He and a volunteer crew willing to endure the battering of the storm, searched the buildings for any kind of container that was empty and could hold water, and set them under the downspouts of the buildings. They also put some tarps out that they had found in the buildings, to also gather rainwater and divert it into some storage containers. Some of the crew stayed to move filled containers to places out of the weather, and to empty the ones that looked like really clean water into the agricultural areas, then returned those containers back to where they had been getting water from the downspouts and the tarp's runoff. They needed water to expand the useful parts of the agricultural areas, particularly the fish tanks. And since they would no longer be a fairly closed ecosystem, with people going in and out of their homes and the partial station's arc facilities, they would be losing water to the hot desert throughout the long desert summertime.
The rest of the crew went with Improy to move the energy beam's target transmitter a bit further from their little settlement, then they set up the rectenna sections which they had built on the space station and brought down during their evacuation of the facility. The rectenna grid was mounted two and a half meters above the ground, permitting freedom to move around under it. Although it was only about ten percent of the full size rectenna array they intended to build eventually to capture most of the incomming energy from the Solar power space station, it was something the could get going quickly. They ran wires from the rectifying antenna over to one of the return modules that had been abandoned in favor of living directly in the unfinished partial space station wheel in which they had the agricultural areas starting to function. The pre-test space station wheels had always been powered by the coal powder flash boiler turbine s driving electrical generators, but the reserves of that energy supply would later be more needed to power their vehicles.
They had to find ways to efficiently utilize the brief periods of electrical energy from space. They measured about a megawatt peak power each pass of the space station, varying with the angle from which it was sent. Their few industrial processes that could use DC power directly at high voltage, were set up for this power source first. They tapped some of the DC off to be used in a DC to AC power converter, and voltage controlled it provided conventional energy for their fixtures, at least for 10 or 15 minutes a pass. They set up an electrolysis facility to use the DC current to convert some of the water that they were catching, into hydrogen and oxygen, gathered in separate bags for now. These gases could then be burned later at will for some industrial processes, and to heat a flash boiler steam turbine electric generator that had formerly been powered by burning powdered coal. This was not very efficient, but it did make it possible to utilize the energy whenever it was needed, all the time, such as for interior lighting and operating their computer system and small appliances, any time day or night.
Catalie set up a system that monitored the performance of each of the electrical power systems, creating a data base that could be used to make decisions for what to invest their resources for later fulfillment of their electrical power needs. Improy bemoaned the loss of the prototype Satellite Solar Power Station that had been set up in GEO on the former Space Elevator, as it would have been nice to have its steady electrical power beam to maintain an even supply of electrical energy for their use. Meanwhile, they were thankful for what they were getting from space, such as it was. Soon they sectioned off parts of the rectenna grid, so that during 80% of the typical energy input time, the voltage would be high enough to power a DC to AC converter mounted under the antenna on a support pole, and then send that directly useful electrical energy to the facilities. Catalie set up a sequence program for typical daily needs, so that heavier loads would be connected when the beam was coming in more intensely; then those shutting off while the others, such as lights, stayed powered for as long as enough energy was being received to power just them; this scheme had good efficiency while it ran during each pass of the space station overhead.
Soon they had enough steady electrical power to provide lights, air circulation and the computer workspace education terminals for everybody. This brought everybody back into their familiar linkage with everybody els and with all of what was happening at the moment everywhere, a powerful sense of belonging and contributing. Their Emplos Corporation was now revived in the new setting, delivering the knowledge needed to do each task at hand, and instructions for simulating the skills that would be needed for the next job coming up for each person. Knowing how they each fit into the big picture, and the daily voting to adjust that big picture, utilized each person's activities well, in a self-guided group coordination, as the flow of jobs progressed and passed between the people's workstations. They resumed their 12 hour workday schedule, with frequent breaks for relaxing and doing exercises designed to integrate the body-mind system, and chatting among themselves via the computer linking. They had no significant commute to do, which gave them much more time to achieve things.
Most of all, it greatly multiplied their ability to achieve great goals. And they indeed had many great goals they intended to achieve, somehow. One of their top level goals was to get their form of corporate function into action by their kind over in the Employee sector of the mega-corporation controlled world. They realized that such an activity would not be welcomed by the owner-management wealthy elite, probably thinking it an effort to unionize the employees against their bosses. The counted on acceptance when it showed improved productivity by the employees, therefor more wealth for the managers, and so an acceptance.
There was a transportation problem. They were 900 miles from the southern California coastal area into which the TANFL Mega-corporation had condensed as the environment died out from under them, inadequate biodiversity remaining to cope with the increasing toxic loads of civilization's waste products. The space between the two areas was littered with the waste materials of a dying civilization on a dying ecosystem planet, as they coalesced for a last stand. Emplos Corporation faced a difficult challenge indeed, just in getting over there, and then convincing the Employees to take up the Emplos ways, while fending off the hostility from the powerful owner-manager elite who considered the employees little more than cattle to be farmed for profit.
It was not that TANFL Corporation was unaware of the dire overall situation, having had to retreat. It was just that they had from the beginning chosen the proverbial "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow will take care of itself" attitude, ever reveling in their bully-gained wealth, sustained by cunning and brutality; they did not care which. It worked for them.
Emplos would have to be careful not to look the slightest bit like challenging the TANFL elite's position, but only to increase the wealth of the TANFL Corporation. Hopefully that would placate the Owner-Managers, while also improving the lifestyle of the Employees.
And all that, after figuring out how to merely get over there from the White Sands facility. They held a brainstorming vote on how to achieve those things from where they were at right now. They retrieved the photos their telescope had taken of the TAANFL-Employee city from the space station, It showed that the management lived in 3/4 of the city area, yet had very few members; while the remaining 1/4 land area was occupied by the many millions of employees, in crammed living space. They recalled the formal announcement of TANFL that their borders were closed to all outside immigration or abandonment by employees; TANFL like to keep things constant, made managing easier that way. From space, they had not figured out by what means the city perimeter was maintained; but that it was done so rigorously, was evident. Whatever it was, it surely would make egress by Emplos difficult.
Or maybe not, if the perimeter was maintained merely by limiting life sustaining utility access to just within the perimeter, no way to gain water, power, or sewage processing beyond the perimeter, would make life untenable beyond the border.
The more Emplos thought about it, the more they decided that was the means for maintaining the perimeter of the Employee area, and therefore might be easy to enter from the outside. Those of the Emplos Corporation who had become life prisoners and sent to the space station prison, had their implants removed, thus were non-persons as far as the system cared, thus unable to receive food, water, or shelter, and could not exist for long. But Improy, Catalie, and the others of the original space station still had their ID implants. No doubt as soon as setting foot into the Employees' area, the omnipresent security sensors would identify them, and TANFL would instantly have the knowledge that somehow they had returned, along with what that implied. So, the egress would have to be made by members of the former prison. Nearly all of them offered to volunteer for that task. The ones that were chosen were those who were fairly certain they would have family and friends still alive among the remaining Employee population.
Catalie activated the link with the telescope aboard the space station, and had it send digital pictures of the Employees' part of the city down to Emplos terminal network. What they found was that the occupied city perimeter was an artificial one, probably maintained by the desolation and lack of life support systems beyond the perimeter. So it seemed likely that if they could supply their own water, power, food and sewage functions, they could form an extension along the edge of the existing city. And Emplos people were experts at making an inhospitable placse livable, for sure.
Improy and Catalie had been spending a lot of time learning about how to restore launch facilities for the space buses. One purpose was to see it the airbreathing booster could be modified to get high enough to latch on the space station's tether, if they needed to access the dual wheel space station for some reason in the future. The other was to see if the airbreather booster could be used to transport people and goods over to the TANFL city perimeter. The booster as now configured was a drone, no pilot nor passenger space. And it was designed for vertical launch strapped to a habitat module filled with fuel, and then make an auto-piloted landing after it finished its part of the early launch phase. It was all wings, fuel tanks and huge engines. Unlike the cryogenic fuels needed for the main fuel tanks for the launch, the airbreathing booster used liquid hydrocarbon fuel like JP-4, and plenty of it remained in the underground tanks at White sands.
Not far from one part of TANFL City perimeter were some freeways that were fairly free of abandoned vehicles. So what they decided to do was to reconnect some of the return glider vehicles to their foamed glider wings, use the airbreathing drones to fly in the night to near the city, drop the gliders at low speed to easily land on the freeways, and set up the vehicles as homes and basic survival facilities not far from the Employees section of the city. The first landing would be focused on clearing a larger space free of abandoned vehicles a bit closer to the city for the next vehicles to go here.
They were able to observe the progress of the first landing's crew, using the space station's telescope. It went as they hoped. Then a group of half a dozen more gliders were landed on the newly cleared space on the freeway. They then set up their computer linking by beamed communications between modules, and so a mini-Emplos was established on the outskirts of the Employee section of TANFL City. Progress was being made toward their goal.
When the first foray was made to the edge of the city, what they found was that indeed there was no physical barrier there. It became clear that the Employee section of TANFL city was actually shrinking, as people died from deprivation. The survivors were moving closer to the Rich-Elite section border, as people died off. So the Emplos found the edge of the city was still supplied with the basic utilities of power, water and sewer, but no food. It required a ID implant that was on record as still being productively profitable to the corporation owner-managers, to receive food and thus survive.
So the Emplos team moved into the area which seemed most recently abandoned as the perimeter was shrinking, in the process having to clear out the corpses which had been brought out and left there. It was an unpleasant job but they got it done; then installing their computer linking systems in some abandoned buildings, and setting up their mini-agricultural systems to receive sunshine to grow some grains for food and for their quail and cockroaches, all in a fairly closed recycle system to preserve resources as was developed in the space station. They spent a few weeks there, avoiding any contact with the people of the city, until they had a going system functioning.
They found that the TANFL monitoring of the Employees out here was done entirely by sensors activated by the implanted ID devices in each employee, and did not bother with video or audio monitoring, as far as they could tell. Lacking ID implants, the Emplos people could wander as they pleased, essentially invisible to the Management monitors. They had clothed themselves in clothing taken from some of the corpses they had removed from their new quarters, so they looked like normal people, they hoped, to the average person among the Employees. And they had no intention of going into the Rich-Elite part of the city, where surely there would also be video and audio tracking of everything that went on.
Eventually they were able to locate trustworthy relatives and friends. It turned out that none of them knew why they had vanished, or even for sure that they were gone. So they were spared the effort of explaining they had been imprisoned in space, returned on spacecraft gliders and were trying to save the employees ... no, they were glad they did not have to try to convince anybody of such an implausible thing. But what they could do is bring some of their family and friends to observe their setup, their self sufficiency, their terminal continual education workstations, their computer interlinked team. And some of the employees liked that, wanted in on it.
The Emplos foray team had brought along a bunch of spare education workstations, for the purpose of training new people, and so this was done. In the employee spare time they came to learn how to interact with the combined education and productive work method of progress, and some even moved to be near the Emplos group. An old abandoned light industry factory was located nearby so they turned it into their first factory for producing the computer terminals, and for training new people how to use them. It was really popular with the employees and used it for their off-duty recreation time, far more interesting than watching old DVD movies on dying DVD players. Then the Emplos team suggested that the Employees form their own Corporation over here; TANFL philosophy was founded on the premise that Corporations were righteous by nature. So the beginnings of the re-trained Employees had a vote on their newly built computer work-education terminals, and chose to name themselves the "Three Musketeers Corporation."
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Ch.25 Ecuador is the place
The "Three Musketeers Corporation" was an idea that caught on quickly, and became the favorite pastime of the Employees of TANFL Corporation, which seemed to not notice it. The specified workload continued to be performed by the Employees during their daily commute by foot into the vast holdings of the RichElite of TANFL city's Owner-Manager section, which occupied 75% of the city land. The Employees did all the physical labor, the menial tasks, for TANFL. When their daily tour of duty was completed, they headed to their homes for a meal, then headed to the Three Musketeers Corporation areas, which were being multiplied throughout the Employee section of the city. Computer terminal manufacturing facilities were being set up in several places in the Employee section, each one set up and run as a self-managed group united by the integrated education-enhanced light industry workstations network that they were manufacturing.
The Port of TANFL shipping facilities were a part of TANFL that was not within the borders of the RichElite. The port served the freighters that linked the Mega-Corporations that had formed throughout the world, as well as was the port berthing the former aircraft carrier now turned private yacht for the RichElite Owner-Managers. The port's operations were handled by Employees who were being directed via video links by the managers who were in offices over in the luxury part of the city. One of the major trade routes was to Ecuador to obtain bananas, routine daily runs on the powdered coal fueled freighters. The port of TANFL City usually had a pall of black smoke hanging over it, which particles caused widespread lung disease and neurological problems from the mercury and other metal particulates laced into the coal that was burned to propel the ships, and also to generate the electric power for the city. The pall of smoke was long a part of Employees' life, shortening their life spans a lot. Some of the TANFL Employees were the sailors that manned the freighters, which had the benefit of usually having better air to breathe despite the atmospheric wake of heavy black smoke they left behind them. Management was only interested in the bananas and other commodities they received from the shipping, so the rest of the freighter operations was done by the Employees mostly on their own. The new Employee education-workstation terminals caught on quickly aboard the freighters, and each one leaving the port found itself newly equipped with the new linking network between all of its crew's workstations, crew quarters and recreation areas.
When out of radio range of the TANFL Corporation City, the freighter's were able to occasionally get brief radio communications with the Emplos Corporation people at White Sands, bounce relayed by the space station whenever it orbited overhead. During those times, the freighter's education-workstations were integrated with the ones at White Sands Emplos Corporation workstations, sharing knowledge and enabling chat with new people during the brief time spans, something that was enjoyed by people both on the freighters and at White Sands.
Although the RichElite of Ownma Corporation, now TANFL Corporation, had denied internet connection for the Employees homes, the Employees did sometimes need to access the worldwide internet connection when performing some kinds of routine jobs for the Managers. During the breaktimes while working over in the RichElite section of the city, Employees were allowed to access the internet and play computer games, saving the results on CD's. Some of the Employees began to download knowledge databases on the internet, bringing them home on CDs and DVDs. Brought on board the freighters by Employees returning from shore leave, the CD and DVD knowledge from the internet was uploaded via the space station links, to the White Sands Emplos Corporation memory banks.
Back at White Sands Emplos Corporation, Improy and Catalie started sifting through the somewhat random areas of knowledge that was being accumulated via the freighter satellite brief links, and organize it into their knowledge network. They were seeking ways to turn around the civilization that was dying along with the worldwide ecosystem it had disrupted too severely. This, too, seemed like an impossibly difficult task, but they were getting used to taking on impossible-seeming tasks, and achieving some significant success at the efforts. What could possibly have such a huge effect to be able to rescue a planet and its human civilization? Catalie found some forgotten ways for recycling and conserving resources, but little that they themselves did not already have better systems for small closed-loop internal environmental life support, developed aboard the space station.
Then she found information on the Space Elevator which they had participated in building and operating a decade past; among the theoretical documents was a description of another kind of transportation structure which did not require the super-strength carbon nanotube matrix ribbon material to build. It had an entirely different technique for providing a transportation bridge between the Earth's surface and Geostationary Earth Orbit. It would utilize a huge hoop which entirely encircled the planet, a hoop which internally had mass circulating sufficiently faster than orbital velocity everywhere along the hoop to create just enough outward centrifugal force to support the weight of the hoop itself and whatever payloads that were climbing up and down the hoop between the earth surface at the low point of the eccentric hoop, up to the high point which would be in GEO, far above the opposite side of the planet. It had to be built in the equatorial plane, in its simplest version. The writer of the concept had proposed one of the possible earth terminal sites would be anchored in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador.
Improy got excited about this prospect, as it looked like it was something that could be initially built small cross-section and then scaled up to whatever size filled a give transportation capacity need. The upward sides of the circulating mass within the hoop could electromagnetically drag spacecraft up between ground and space, so the energy for transportation was thus distributed all along the structure, so no inefficient lifting of the weight of fuel was used in the transportation process. Scaled up big enough, it could lift the construction materials needed to build enough solar electric power stations in GEO to beam down clean electrical energy anywhere in the world that wanted it. The burning of the petrochemicals could finally stop thereby, they hoped, beginning a turn around of the situation which was finishing off the killing off of the ecosystem upon which civilization existed. And with such a transportation capacity to GEO, they could build larger versions of their mass-spectrometer type total element separator plants up there, with which to convert otherwise unrecyclable toxic industrial materials and byproducts, back to useful pure chemicals again, powered by the Sun. Yes, it looked like they had found a way to possibly turn around the dying planet. And the mountain peak named Cayambe in Ecuador looked like the place to build it. A horizontal tunnel through that mountain in an east-west direction would be the ideal location to anchor the planet-encirclng structure, at least ideal in this hemisphere of the world. And Ecuador was a major destination of TANFL freighters, going for bananas.
The Three Musketeers Corporation was also going to Ecuador, but not for bananas; instead they were going there to try to save their planet's life.
Improy and Catalie chose to make side trip on the way to Ecuador. They set up another of their return spacecraft modules fitted to a set of cast foamed aluminum re-entry glider airfoils, like were used to land the group of Emplos people onto the freeway near TANFL city, but it was just going to be themselves, the space worksuit they had brought down, and some equipment they had built. They were traveling light, because they had to go far and fast. They rigged their spacecraft under the airbreathing pilotless booster which had been fitted for carrying such a vehicle, as well as using its landing gear to take off as well as land later. Improy was going to remotely pilot the drone booster from inside its own payload, then transfer remote piloting to the White Sand control center when they were done with it. They also had modified their spacecraft to have a set of guidance thrusters which had been removed from one of the spare habitat modules, along with the thruster fuel supply.
Strapped into their seats, they readied for takeoff down the runway, Improy piloting and Catalie navigating. The huge turbine jet engines roared into life, brought to operating temperature, brakes were released, and the dual craft leapt down the runway, the booster having much less than the load it was designed to lift through the atmosphere. Quickly airborne, the temporary biplane headed almost straight up, barreling toward space. at the greatest acceleration the two could tolerate. Catalie locked her navigation console onto the signal from the small transmitter they had left attached to the bottom of the tether pulley. It was higher now, having been lifted along with the space station during the dropping of the mass of the return spacecraft a year ago. Now, they were making a leap to grab onto the pulley assembly as it swung by overhead, tethered to the dual wheel space station far above it. Their timing had to be nearly perfect, and so the onboard computer continued to update their trajectory and adjusted course to optimize that, using its ailerons and rudder. Then the big jet engines began to have insufficient ozygen to continue to run, so they throttled down those engines, unlatched the conection to the airbreather booster, transfered piloting over to the White Sands ground control, and the drone was headed back to the landing strip. Meanwhile, Improy and Catalie continued coasting upward along a section of a parabolic arc that, onscreen, intersected with the path of the dangling end of the tether. Their direction finder kept locked onto the transmitter signal from the tether, and Doppler shift of its frequency gave them relative velocity data. The end of the tether hove into sight ahead of them, then Improy's skills honed on a simulator they had been using for months, used the docking thrusters to nuzzle up to the tether's latch from which they had been last to unlatch only a year past. Now they were again hanging on the tether. They sent the signal up to the space station to start cranking on the tether, bring them back up again. They did some stress relief exercises, munched the lunch they had brought along, and went along for the ride.
Improy had to use the docking thrusters again to get positioned to dock, then they were attached to the Embarcadero's airlock. Improy put their one spacesuit on, and they used a canister of pressurized air to make up for the air used to fill the airlock as Improy went into it and sealed the outer hatch. Once it was sealed, he opened the inner hatch, went into the Embarcadero control center, and normalized the air in there. Then he opened both hatches of the airlock and Catalie came in. They were back home again, at least one of their homes, they felt. Improy sealed off the airlock leading to the shady side wheel, and normalized the atmosphere and temperature in their wheel, and then made an inspection tour of the facility, particularly the agricultural section, recording how it had fared under automatic control.
The grain had expanded quite a ways into the vacated part of the matrix, and the quail population had doubled in size, feeding on the abundant grain. The cockroaches were as always balancing their population with the available resources.The temperature and humidity were a bit high, so Catalie adjusted the automatic controls based on the time span it took to balance at those higher levels, refining to gradually re-balance at the optimum temperature and humidity. There were enough there to feed the two people for a month and still have plenty of population members to restore their numbers easily.
Catalie assembled the other space worksuit around her, and they went outside again, this time down through the shady side wheel hub airlock. Using material from the huge collection of material from the space busses and supply vehicles, they made the arm for the tether upper pulley into a "V" with a second arm which attached to another de-spun bearing on the Embarcadero's end of the hub.
In the next few weeks they had built another of the solar-concentrator plasma generators like was used in the mass spectrometer type total recycler, and instead of its high velocity vaporized material output going around past a magnetic field, it was just magnetically focused into a reaction beam. They set up a chopper on the space station to methodically cut up the unused section of the space busses, left over from when the return spacecraft were made partly from the habitable part of the lift modules. These chunks of aluminum tank material were brought down the tether to the plasma generator on the lower end of the tether, slung on the pulley. They set up a remote position monitor and directional control on the plasma generator, to be controlled from White Sands when they were done with testing. They started up the tether moving, now functioning as a conveyor belt for the chunks of aluminum tank material being delivered from the space station down to the end of the tether. The chunks of aluminum were vaporized in the intense focused solar energy, ionized and escaped through the exit aperture as a high velocity stream of mass, in effect a rocket engine. Gimbaled to swivel back and forth somewhat randomly, the average thrust vector was controlled so as to be able to tow the huge space station, over a period of about a year, until it reached GEO, where it would be set to have the wheels rotate in the earth's equatorial plane. This had to be done so it would not be a hurtling big object below GEO, which eventually would collide with a structure that extended from the ground up to GEO. To make possible the original Space Elevator tether, Ownma had to first launch boosters to put the old long abandoned Freedom Space Station hulk up into GEO, to get it out of the way, too.
Saying goodbye, probably for the last time, to their little automatically tended agricultural facility in the wheel, the grain and cockroaches and quail, Improy and Catalie wore both space worksuits as they left the Embarcadero's airlock, re-entering their return winged spacecraft vehicle. They attached it to the descending side of the tether conveyor belt, joining the buckets of chunks of aluminum on the way down; however, they used their thrusters to guide them after release several meters above the solar powered rocket motor which was swung on the tether belt's lower pulley. They stayed far clear of the blast of vaporized aluminum headed downward, soon were out of sight of the end of the tether, and began their second bounce and skip across the upper atmosphere, losing velocity and altitude while staying reasonably cool inside their vehicle, much as they had done about a year before.
But this time, their destination was not White Sands. It was Ecuador, as close to Cayambe as they could land safely. They dropped below the speed of sound high in the atmosphere, then continued their glide on their big wings across the equatorial Pacific Ocean, past the little floating island made of oil rigs where the former Space Elevator had been anchored to the earth's watery surface, and then across the coastline to circle the huge white-capped peak called Cayambe in Ecuador. they continued to lazily circle like an eagle looking for prey, spotting the section of straight dirt road which they could see had been blocked off at each end by Three Musketeers personnel for the landing. They came in low over the heads of some of the astonished natives, and touched down, skidding down the dirt road's ruts until finally stopping. They took a few minutes to calm their heart rates, unhooked their seat belts, popped open the nose hatch, and stepped out into the Ecuadorian high altitude sunshine.
Among the Three Muskateers staff which had gathered at the nose of the spacecraft to greet them was a young woman, who cautiously said "Catalie? Improy?" to them. Catalie affirmed it was indeed them, back safely on the ground again, glad to be so greeted. The young woman said "I am Idealiana, your daughter, and I am so thankful to see you again!" as she rushed over to give them a big hug.
Idealiana had learned from rumors at the Three Musketeers Corporation meetings that Improy and Catalie were going to come to Ecuador, since they could never come to TANFL City because of the ID implant problem. So Idealiana had volunteered to go to Ecuador aboard a freighter, to prepare for the expected arrival of her parents, and so here she was. She would soon have to leave on the freighter to return to her job in TANFL City, as most of them there would also. The crew could report only a few crewmen had died on the journey each trip, as had been common anyway before the Three Musketeers had come into existence. The presumed dead personnel would then never be able to return to anywhere there were TANFL ID pickups. Idealiana had a job to do in TANFL City, two of them, actually. One was her usual job serving the TANFL RichElite masters, then her second job at Three Musketeers Corporation, building computer terminals, and now to prepare to make components for the new space transportation structure to be built here at Cayambe peak. She now, at least, had found her parents again, so long lost. And Catalie and Improy had found their daughter again, last seen when she was only 8 years old, that was 11 years ago.
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Ch.26 Maybe can escalate instead of elevate
While Idealiana re-bonded with her parents, she also was learning about the new kind of transportation system they were going to build. It seemed incredible, a non-tether structure so big it would reach from ground up to GEO and go entirely around the planet in so doing. The Space Elevator she understood from when she was a child, living on the floating island for awhile while the former small Space Elevator was being built and anchored there. The tether had its weight supported by mass swinging around, like a ball on the end of a string being swing around, centrifugal force. The upward pull from a counterweight located on the tether on beyond GEO, as it was being swung around by the rotation of the planet itself, to balance the weight of the part of the tether that was between GEO and ground, along with the weight of its live loads, the payload-carrying vehicles moving up and down the tether. With a strong enough material per its mass, the tether could be in the form of a belt rolling around between two pulleys, one at each end, thus the belt also functions as a conveyor belt hauling material up and down between ground and its upper end or points between, such as GEO. Quite understandable.
But this other way of getting a structure from ground to GEO, although it too was supported by centrifugal force, was quite different. It did not use the centrifugal force generated by the planet swinging a weight around. It used the centrifugal force of a stream of mass circulating around the planet along a track, mass going faster than orbital velocity, so that its velocity in excess of orbital velocity expressed as outward centrifugal force against the track that constrained its path, and that outward force was "up" relative to the planet that the mass was circulating around, and so supported the weight of the track's mass. Circulating mass traveling at twice the orbital velocity all along its circulating path, could balance a track and payload mass equal to its own mass.
It was a huge perimeter electric motor, she could understand that, as electric motors were a favorite subject of hers from when she was a child. The circulating mass stream was the motor's armature. The armature was given a push as it passed through the earth terminal, then coasted around the loop, given another push each time it passed the Earth terminal's accelerator site. The armature also could electromagnetically drag other mass up with it, giving up a little of its kinetic energy in doing so, which would be replenished when it went through the ground site accelerator next time. That way, the payload-carrying spacecraft it was lifting, did not need to lift the mass of an energy source on its way up. And it was all-electric so eventually it could be powered entirely by solar-electric powerplants in GEO, which it would make possible to build.
So it was like the tether Space Elevator in what it could enable done. But the electric motor's armature had to be in discontinuous segments, as their distance between each other had to vary as they exchanged kinetic energy with potential energy as they rose and fell in the gravitational field of the planet. Keeping those armatures from bumping into each other required the motor to be a synchronous motor. The whole thing seemed a lot more complicated than the belt loop on pulleys of the anchored tether Space Elevator. Why do it that way? Both techniques for getting construction material from ground to GEO were all-electric and so ultimately could be powered from the Sun's energy as received in GEO. Both could initially be made of small cross-section and then be used to scale itself up to whatever payload-carrying capacity was needed for the job at hand.
Both had the problem that the orbital space between ground and GEO had to be swept clean, eventually, to avoid collision with the structure; but with easy and cheap access to GEO, there was little if any need for satellites in Low Earth Orbit anymore anyway. That was why the space access structures had not been built back when they could have been built in time to have provided the resources to have prevented the big mess civilization was not in, since it would have competed with existing aerospace which used LEO for its business, and business profit was what ruled. People were so irresponsibly shortsighted, she complained to herself, and now they were a dying civilization because of it. And killing a planetary ecosystem along with themselves. Was mankind too powerful for its own wisdom? Or could mankind pull the fat out of the fire? It looked like it was up to this project to see if it could e done, since the powerful business masters were sunk in their ego-driven luxury, partying until the show was over. They wouldn't have lived forever anyway, right? Yuck, what monkeys, she thought. Just very powerful cunning monkeys, addicted to playing games with each other, what ego-driven fun.
The tether material was the problem. It was reaching the limit of physical substances' molecular bonds strength for the mass of the atoms involved. Since it was operating near its limits of strength, it had little resiliency for transients. And in real systems, there inevitably would be transients. Since the earth-encircling structure technique did not have this molecular bond strength to mass ratio limit approached anywhere in its structure, it would be more reliable in the long run, if its greater complexity was adequately coordinated. And the technology for the magnetic levitation synchronous track had yet to be proven, as it would only operate at high velocity in a hard vacuum.
She would focus on how to make those little armature segments the motor needed, that sounded interesting. And zillions of them would need to be made, a manufacturing task, something that was her speciality.
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Ch.27 Ecuadoreans pitch in and make it their project
The freighter, normally empty when it left the Port of TANFL to go get a boatload of bananas for the RichElite, this time had brought a lot of equipment belonging to Emplos and The Three Musketeers, and five of the original landed ID-less former prisoners had come along too as unregistered passengers, since their work was done in initial setup of the Emplos ways in the Employee sector of TANFL City. There were also three of the ship's crew that would be listed as missing and presumed dead during the voyage; a typical trip would lose that many of the crew anyway, back before the Emplos crew showed the Employees, and ship's crew, better lifestyles.
Idealiana had to be back on board the freighter by the time it was ready to leave with its freshly loaded cargo of bananas, so she said goodbye to her parents and the people who had made the one-way journey here with her aboard the freighter, and headed for the boat. She was looking forward to collecting more knowledge from the Emplos main group over at White Sands, during the brief moments the space station was above, they all could exchange chats and knowledge bases while at sea, but did not dare to do that when near TANFL City for fear the Owner-Manager masters might intercept the messages.
Catalie's focus was now on how to get the local Ecuadoreans to become involved in the new project. The country had not escaped the general economic and environmental failures that the higher latitudes had experienced, and had little government remaining and few people, but some natives were sticking it out to the end up here in their homes. It was hoped that they could become interested in the Emplos ways, and join in. The nearby town of Cayambe stil had over a thousand people struggling to live there, all of which would be very welcome members of the immense enterprise being started here, with such high hopes for helping mankind and the world ecosystem.
They negotiated ownership rights to part of the Cayambe mountain peak area, from the owners of the land, best they could determine in the circumstances. The village of the same name as the peak claimed ownership of the mountain area including the peak. THe villagers acted as if nobody who was sane would want the peak, however; but granted rights to part of it anyway, as requested. Improy's crew had determined the lowest part of the peak that was at least 200 meters higher than any other area in Ecuador or Brazil along the equator, centered that location on the western slope in alignment with the peak in an east-west direction, and started digging eastward into the mountain. There was a deep channel that led from the town of Cayambe right up to the site, which was as an extension of that valley. It was quite a hike up there from the town, but it was fairly direct. Having marked the location of the western end of the tunnel to be, they returned to town, and again negotiated for some land property, next to the place where the spacecraft had glided to a skidding stop; it was hard to move and was needed to be their initial home and office. They built a greenhouse for their usual mini-farm, populated by the grains and animals descended from those that had been in the space station wheel. They bartered again for some nearby dwellings, some of which were then set up to be computer terminal sites, and all the locations were linked by tight beam, forming their usual local network configuration. The moved off a few hundred meters and set up a targeting transmitter and a small rectenna array, so that when the space station was above there area and not beaming to White Sands site, it would beam them microwave energy derived from the Sun. They used the same storage techniques developed for use at White Sands, and so had a small amount of continuous electrical energy to operate their computers; and occasionally had a large input during which they could also run power tools directly.
Among the villagers were some engineers and other well educated people who had retreated up here as their normal world disintegrated in the dying world economy and world ecosystem. Catalie invited them to examine their instant education workstation setups, and invited them to participate by adding their knowledge to the system while having access to all knowledge already in the system, and delivered such that it was just was what was needed to do whatever job they specified at the terminal. The educated folk had their old interest in learning rekindled by the terminals functioning, and soon were gathering around 24 hours a day for their turn at a terminal. As now a familiar pattern, the first workstations were focused mostly on preparing to build more such workstations, identifying the raw materials and instructions for building up from there, each step presented after the preceding one was declared achieved. They had to partially cannibalize the spacecraft for some of the materials, as equivalents were not to be found quickly locally. The rectenna was enlarged to utilize a larger part of the microwave beam delivered occasionally, as the requirement for electrical energy at the Cayambe site increased.
They used the native's techniques as much as possible for providing clothing and shelter, and some metals, so as to put their high-tech materials to use in making more education-workstations. Some of the natives of the village learned of what was going on and wanted to be shown, and soon some of them were inputting their language translation and local lore into the expanding database. The workstations had text onscreen, graphics on screen, audio, and tactile-kinesthetic simulator input-output transducers, so a wide variety of kinds of knowledge could be input, including weaving of decorative baskets and preparing native cuisine. Since the school system had long since failed, the villagers appealed to let their children use the terminals to become educated. The agreement was always to trade knowledge for knowledge, so the network began to accumulate knowledge about how to play children games and find local fauna and flora. As the Ecuadoreans began to comprehend the whole system, some chased down the energy source to operate the computer network and terminals, and found it ended at the rectenna. They asked the terminals about the rectenna and discovered the whole larger picture of an abandoned dual wheel space station was orbiting the planet up there and when convenient it would beam some electrical energy down to the rectenna for their use. It also had the history of the space station, and the knowledge that it was slowly being towed to ever higher orbits by a solar powered ion thruster. It al was a bit hard to believe, but the electrical power that would suddenly appear at the rectenna site was an indication that it likely was true. So then the question came up, why had they come here, to this inhospitable location? Were they just still practicing at coping with inhospitable locations, or did they have something else in mind?
So then they were ready to be told that a horizontal tunnel needed to be made through the mountain peak near there, running in an east-west direction. And into that tunnel would be built the ground terminal of an energy supported structure that would encircle the whole planet, reaching up to GEO above the opposite side of the planet, from where little could be seen except ocean and little bits of land on the edges of the round disk. That place would be the construction site for the immense machines that perhaps could save their civilization and make it possible to take mankind's load enough off of the planetary ecosystem as to enable its resurrection as much as possible, based on whatever species that had been saved at that time. It all required a level of cooperation among all peoples, however. They did not know how to deal with the TANFL Corporations who had only interest in accumulating wealth, not in saving the system which provided wealth. All they could hope to do is provide the technology, the means, the transportation system and the machines up there in GEO to provide all the electrical energy people could possibly want, and without having to damage the ecosystem while doing so. Then they said they hoped all of the people of the village would join in on this effort with them, to whatever extent each was willing and able to participate. Because at this point it was mostly a volunteer activity.
The people of the village exhibited an amazing enthusiasm for the project, and in their spare time and when not on the education-workstations, were busy making a pathway up the valley to the site of the tunnel entrance marked location, and were building a dwelling there out of local materials.
They made the dwelling an outpost of the village; and powered by a hand crank generator, installed one of the newly built education workstations there, linked with the others by a tight RF beam, as the others were, but of a bit higher power. Some people began staying there for days at a time, hiking up there with food and water, then using the education-workstation in between using pick and shovel to begin the tunnel through the mountain. They had caught the enthusiasm of the Emplos Corporation, taking on a project even though it seemed nearly impossible to do; if the purpose was valuable enough, it was worth the struggle, they had learned, and so they were whacking away at the rock of the mountain chip by chip, preparing the way for a pathway to Geostationary Earth Orbit, place to build that which civilization needed to survive and even eventually prosper on a world again blooming with life.
One of the village refugee engineers had been a mining engineer, and knew of some mining supplies which had been long abandoned, but possible useful. So a group made the journey to there on foot, returning with the supplies, and soon the progress on the tunnel was being driven quite rapidly. More trips were made to the old mining site, bringing back the old tram that had been set up there, cables and all, hauled by some burros. Once it had been set up, the weight of tunnel debris in the downward buckets lifted people and goods up the us side of the tram, no motor required.
Meanwhile the banana freighters had been bringing down material from the Three Musketeers Corporation, who had access to the abandoned remains of the wider city around their outskirts for all sorts of materials as starting points for the building of the space transportation structure. It had been stockpiling at the Ecuadorean dock facilities, and eventually word got to Improy of the stockpile's existence, a crew from the village took on the task of getting it to Cayambe. It also made it a lot easier to build the education-workstaations, so much work was done to make them and install them in every home in the village that wanted one, which was most of the dwellings. These were powered by hand cranked generators, so they were operated only a little bit of each day, but it was a high point in each household where that was happening. Kids could do their schoolwork on the education-workstations, one would crank on the generator while another would use the terminal; then they would switch places.
Part of the charm of the education-workstations was that its data presentation was in a form that was cheerful and easygoing, as well as concise and integrated to the context of the work being done at the station at that instant. And the user had choices of preferred formats, including some were anthropomorphic, while others were more abstract without the personification of the significant items. This made it blend in with various ways peoples' brains were wired.
Word about this traveled to neighboring villages, and when weather was permitting, people were showing up at the villager's homes, asking to see the thing. Many of those people wanted the terminals too.The Cayenbe villagers by then were fully capable of building the terminals themselves, and easily looked up how to run a relay beam across the rugged terrain to other villages, and the system was expanding. They were bartering for supplies, materials and labor, as o currency was functional there anymore. In those terms of wealth, the village was becoming wealthy, materials which they hoped would help build the new transportation system as well as make their own more immediate existence better.
The dream of the new space transportation was spreading along with the education-workstations, too. And with it hope for the future. Catalie put out onto the network a request for people to save breeding populations of any species they could preserve, somehow keep them going for another decade or two, then things might have turned around enough to release them back into the environment in an orchestrated way. But they had to be alive still at that time; extinct would not work. Diversity was needed to give a re-seeded world its best chance to recover.
Hundreds of volunteers showed up each day to help do something. Most of then brought picks and shovels for digging in the tunnel, but since only a few could do tunneling at any given time, the volunteers chose to widen the foot trail up the channel, making it wide enough for two way traffic of wheeled motorized vehicles. Optimism was a characteristic of those who had been using the education-workstations with its database for whatever they needed doing, and were seeing it as a way out of the big mess things were in.
But they were ignoring the fact that at the present time, they were forgotten, left to die in the middle of nowhere, by those who were masters of collecting the wealth of others. Sooner or later, it was likely that the Mega-Corporation Owner-Manager masters would show up and rip it all off, having no regard for what it was needed to do, obsessed with accumulating their own wealth without end.
Life does proceed on when possible, so they continued to dig tunnel through the mountain, and improve the road to the tunnel, having gotten the dream of what it was for. Meanwhile they were continually getting a combination of education and skill simulation practice on whatever was interesting to each individual, on the education-workstations that they were now themselves also building, mere months from their peasant life in the high altitude refuge village state of life and mind.
The miners worked day and night, disregarding the stormy weather that sometimes made their trip to and from the construction site quite uncomfortable; yet they came and worked. And one day they broke through to the other side of the mountain, and looked out across the rugged canyons below them off toward Brazil. A milestone had been achieved. Through this tunnel would pass a structure which would reach GEO above the opposite side of the planet, as it looped around to the other side of this tunel. It would happen right here, in their home.
Word spread far across Ecuador and Brazil, about the education workstations and the transportation structure that was being attempted to be built. Donated materials began to come in, hauled on the remaining trucks that were powered by pulverized coal. Some of them carried sections of aircraft from an abandoned airport. Improy and Catalie used some of this material and the remains of the glider spacecraft that had brought them here, and built a new kind of spacecraft, one that had the same cast foamed aluminum wings, nose cone and underbelly, but was only a two seater and was equipped with a rocket engine. A former large solid fueled missile was found and brought over, its warhead removed, and set up to be a launch booster for the manned part of the vehicle. The rocket also carried a huge bobbin, wound with a tiny fiber that had rigid hydrogen-filled pockets spaced along it, and small magnets also periodically embedded along the fiber, and was overall lighter than air, designed to float at 15 kilometers altitude.
One end of the fiber was anchored inside the tunnel, then the fiber was strung down the mountain and out to where the launch vehicle sat atop its booster rocket; the fiber was kept taught so it was at a steep angle, well away from the exhaust plume that would come from the vehicles during launch. As soon as the vehicle was fueled and ready, Improy and Catalie climbed up the ladder and into their seats in the cockpit, again wearing their space worksuits. The solid fueled booster fired first, kicking the main vehicle vertically until it ran out of fuel, then dropped away; the bobbin's fiber had been madly paying out all the time. Improy ignited their own engines and kept heading up, a little toward the east, soon out over Brazil, and the bobbin was gust a blur of motion as layer after layer was pulled off, as the fiber was payed out behind them. They tilted more towards the horizontal, then their engines ran out of fuel. Then they began the now familiar bounce and skip across the upper atmosphere, coasting around the planet, leaving the trail of fiber behind them. Out across the atlantic ocean they went, bounced and across Africa, bounced and across the Pacific Ocean, losing speed and latitude. As they approached the Ecuadorean west coast, Improy used swung the glider to yaw to the side and the vehicle shuddered as it lost velocity and dropped rapidly toward Cayambe mountain. Beginning as wing around past the peak, he jettisoned the bobbin with the remainder of the fiber on it, then he circled until losing enough speed and altitude to once again come into a skidding landing on the road where that had landed before, that time back from a visit to the space Station.
Crews had already headed off to where the bobbin had landed, and eventually brought it back to the west end of the tunnel Inside the tunnel they joined the two ends of the floating fiber, now a strand that encircled the whole world, somewhat raggedly in shape, winds blowing here and there. They had not time to waste, so they placed the now continuous loop into the linear electric motor stator they had built through the tunnel, and powered by a coal-burning electric generator, the magnets along the fiber where alternately pulled and pushed by hall-effect-sensing driven magnetic pulses. Not too fast so as to bunch up, nor to over tension the part of the fiber off toward the west. the accelerated part was like a pulse of energy that traveled around the fiber, all the way around the planet, and when it had reached Ecuador from the other direction, the electric motor was speeded up again. And so the fiber began rotating around the planet, adding a centrifugal force component to its lighter-than-air urge to altitude.
Eventually the fiber was traveling at the fastest it could go, with the electric motor's power being expended by air friction losses, it all reaching a balance.
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Ch.28 Fibers circulating around the planet faster go further outward
They hooked another fiber to ride along the first fiber, a barbed point occasionally along the new fiber, which also had magnet inclusions distributed along it, the first fiber carried it with itself around the planet, back into the tunnel, and snapped onto itself to form another continuous loop. The second fiber had its own similar linear electric motor armature down through the tunnel, through which the non-floating fiber was diverted, then was accelerated faster that the floating fiber and as the faster portion traveled around the world the barbs unhooked from the floating fiber, and the thin fiber was being supported by its outward centrifugal force. When it was completely unhooked the floating fiber was cut and reeled back in as it finished its final circuit around the planet and back into the tunnel.
This finer fiber was then speeded up until the stator could push it no faster, overcoming air drag losses. But now this fiber was centrifugally reaching quite high, stretched into the upper atmosphere for half of its path around the planet, so the drag was much less there.
A similar fiber on a new bobbin was brought up to the tunnel, and driven by its own synchronous linear motor stator, laced to the loop already speeding through the tunnel, being carried by the first loop, which was dragged down somewhat for awhile in its higher areas, but as soon as the second lop had completed the circuit of the planet, it had been restored to the original shape, above the atmosphere on the other side of the planet.
The continuous form of armature could not be used for peak altitudes of about 170 km, since the constant velocity had to be about orbital velocity at its highest altitude, and the stress on the fiber's tensile strength had to take up the slack below that altitude. To go much higher, they would have to switch to discontinuous armature segments.
They had to proceed by small steps, learning with everything they did, and that being immediately spread to the furthest corners of the education-workstation network for any who cared to access it. Even a great many of the native Ecuadoreans were following the progress every step. They also had to wait for the dual wheel space station, being leisurely but surely towed by the solar powered ionized aluminum reaction engine on the end of the tether, to finally reach GEO, so as to be out of the way; and hopefully become the initial terminal when the new transportation structure reached GEO.
They were getting useful data out of the current continuous armature structure, however. And the reality of now having a structure that reached entirely around the planet, and extended above the atmosphere in part of the path, had its psychological impact. Something like when the first people flew in the earliest heavier than air aircraft. The moment when analysis and belief that something ought to work, is actually seen and experienced working firsthand.
The easily duplicated microminiature component manufacturing facilities that made the education-workstations, combined with the rapidly expanding competency and enthusiasm of the users of those workstations, began producing test prototypes of sections of laterally coupled magnetic levitation track tubing pairs, along with the microminiature sliding armature segments. When the continuous armature structure had been scaled up sufficiently to carry the passive load of one of these experimental tubing pairs, it was lashed to the speeding loop as it passed through the tunnel, and so it was strung around the planet and joined in the tunnel. It went through its own accelerator as each of the other fiber sections were doing, but this one was different. Once the dual tube track structure was a continuous loop, the synchronous linear motor serving the dual tube, began to pulse electromagnetic acceleration energy to the previously passive armature segments inside the tubes, but one set of armatures went backward to the motion of the supporting fiber motion, while the other set of armature segments in the other tube went in the same direction as the fiber moved. Flapper valves were on the tubing, allowing air to leave the tube but not to enter, and so when the tubing was high above the atmosphere above the far side of the planet, the air inside the tubing was vented to the vacuum of space, gradually creating a good vacuum inside the tubing. This allowed the armature velocity to be unimpeded by gas molecules inside the tubing, and so they were completely floating on their magnetic levitation microtracks. And being speeded up each time the came around through the accelerator in the tunnel, building up speed. In that way, they were able to establish values for the characteristic parameters of the system, including limits that prevented collisions between armature segments and collisions with the track or tubing walls, as they were buffeted laterally by gusts of wind on their journey around the planet when in the atmospheric area.
The real-world values for the parameters thus established, the slowed the dual tube armatures to a stop, and peeled the whole dual tubing off the continuous armature supportive fiber.
Back to the drawing board, for both the track, tubing, and armature segments. And for the tunnel's accelerator pair. Manufacturing the newly optimized value components, they again had the continuous armature speeding fiber strung around the planet, and its dual streams of armature segments in motion, and pumped down by the valves when above the atmosphere. This configuration held together until reaching to twice the orbital velocity all along the path. The average mass of the armature mass stream was the same as the mass of the tubing it passed through. Then the forward-moving armature segments were triggered to deliver a small portion of their momentum to the tubing through electrodynamic tubing through which it passed, speeding it a bit faster that the supporting fiber loop was going, freeing it of the distributed barbs, unzipping it free of the continuous armature fiber; then the velocities of the pair of armature mass stream was adjusted and braked such that the tubing became slowed, gradually reaching a state of motionlessness , while the armature mass streams inside it were going far above orbital velocity, their outward resultant centrifugal force balancing the weight of the tubing inside which it flowed. The targeted configuration had been achieved. The tubing was anchored to the inside of the tunnel, and a new characterization was made, refining the parameters of components for this motionless tubing track configuration.
Several more similar tubing pairs were put in place by the continuous armature fiber speeding structure, and each of these then were internally sped up to support the weight of the tubing, detached from the fiber, slowed to halt the motion of the tubing, and then it was lashed to the first tubing pair. In this way the armature segment form of structure was scaled up until it could support the weight of a passive pair of tubings that were caterpillared along the multiple tube structure, being dragged along by the dynamic braking against the upward-bound set of armature segments excess velocity. Eventually reaching around the planet, that new pair soon joined the bundle, adding to its scale up.
The dual wheel space station had almost reached GEO, so it was time to go for real. The started one of the tubing pairs moving forward, unhooking it from the rest of the bundle, and when it was an independent loop around the planet, its linear stator motor was modified to operate in a pumped down chamber inside the tunnel, where each side of the tubing was opened, its armature segments coasting in the vacuum briefly, re-engering the tubing on the other side of the gap and continuing on as before. In this gap they were able to able to spool a ribbon addition to the exiting tubing, the ribbon folding around and welded to form tubing after the armature segments had inserted in it; and additional armature segments were added in the same process. This was done in both directions of the motor accelerators exits, and thus the overall length of the structure was increasing. As the length of the loop increased, its armatures were speeded up correspondingly, so as to lift the structure ever higher in its planet-encircling loop. Up it went, bit by bit, until it reached GEO above the far side of the planet.
The similarly expanded another of the low altitude loop tubing pairs, to join the first one. And when the had the whole bundle extending between ground and GEO, they used the whole bundle to support the weight of an added pair of tubings. And when that bundle of tubings was able to support a dual tube of larger diameter and armature segments, the scaling up began to increase rapidly.
When the girth of the bundle had reached 30 square centimeters, they paused the scaling up to attache a tubing pair that carried an additional pair of magnetic levitation tracks on it outside. Then it was looped all the way around the planet, up past GEO and down around to the other entrance of the mountain tunnel, They placed a small test vehicle to slide on the tracks while being dragged along by the upward moving armature segments inside the tubings. Carrying a small video camera and a couple of transducers, it sent its camera and sensor data down the tracks to be picked up in the tunnel.
Watching the video as it crept up and around the planet, it looked down on the planet from GEO briefly, then continued on around and down the other side of the structure, eventually coming in the other end of the Cayambe peak tunnel. The first trip had been made from ground to GEO, carried by that type of structure.
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Ch.29 Limping along space access structure construction
The construction and use of the space access structure was energy starved. As there were no electric power lines existing servicing Cayanbe, the Ecuadoreans pitched in and got a powdered-coal fueled electric power plant brought in to the construction site, and while that fuel supply lasted, they could speed up the scaling up construction of the structure. At some point they would need to shift to using energy resources for lifting materials up to GEO to build a Satellite Solar electric Power plant, with which to power the transportation structure thereafter.
The supplies available to fuel the coal-powered electric power plant were rationed and getting less each week. So when the diameter of the KESTS structure to GEO reached 36 cm, they called a temporary halt to the scaling up process. At this point the mass of the structure was 4E10kg, and the structure was capable of receiving 600 megawatts per hour while lifting 20 million kg of mass to GEO each hour, so it was extremely underused, being only powered by the small powerplant on site. And that powerplant was running out of allowed fuel ration, too. They had to get to building the solar electric powerplant built in GEO as soon as possible.
They had instructed the old dual wheel space station to be towed to where it could continually beam microwave energy to rectennas to either the White Sands location, or to the Cayanbe location. They arranged to time share the energy beamed down from its solar power source, a kind of SSPS, but welcome addition to the petrochemical powerplant. They used the energy primarily to lift the construction materials for a SSPS capable of delivering 600 MW of solar-sourced energy continuously to the earth surface, If they could achieve that before their earth sourced energy supplies ran out, they could at least run this KESTS at full capacity, building more solar electric powerplants, and start negotiating with countries for delivered electric power, and start having an income. From then on, things would be easier.
As it was, the combined energy input from the coal-fired electric power and their average share of the space station's beamed energy was only half a megawatt, with which they could only deliver 15,000 kg to GEO each hour. They chose to build the main structure of the powerplant out of glass cast in a hard vacuum, which had enormous strength to mass ratio, far greater than the finest steel or aluminum, so long as it could be kept free of the atmosphere's molecules wiggling into glass surface microcracks, wedging into the glass until it was as fragile as it is normally on the earth's surface. They chose to melt the glass down at the KESTS ground terminal, and haul it up to the GEO construction site while still in the melted state, for feeding the extrusion facilities making the SSPS.
The structure had severe limits to the amount of concentrated load it could carry, however. It was very efficient at lifting a fairly continuous series of payloads of about equal mass, but the limits to concentrated mass load meant that they could not just haul up a solar powerplant ready-made. So Improy and Catalie went up in their little two-person spacecraft again, this time being lifted up by the KESTS, about its limit of a concentrated mass load. They only had a brief time they could work in GEO, being without passive radiation protection, and the injected DNA repair substance formula had long since been lost. So they used their space worksuits to assemble the solar-electric power panels into the glass main structure, and connected it to the microwave beam generator.
Looking down from the construction site, in GEO above the opposite side of the planet from the Ecuadorean mountain tunnel site, the world looked mostly watery. They were out of touch with ground facilities, and they dare not try to link into any internet signals that might reach up here. They then set up the silicon solar cell automated fabrication plant, which liked to be in zero g and hard vacuum, solar powered. Then they hurried back down the KESTS back to Cayambe peak tunnel, for a well earned vacation.
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Ch. 30 Houston returns to life
When the signal was received from the SPS construction site, indicating completion of the local fabrication of the require solar cells for the larger solar power array, Improy and Catalie again made the lift up the partially built KESTS structure, from the Cayambe tunnel in Ecuador, around the Earth upward to GEO above the opposite side of the Earth, where the Solar Power Station was being built, mostly automatically, but occasionally needed on-site human versatility for some specific tasks.
Assembling their space worksuits around themselves, they left their winged spacecraft and moved the huge batch of solar cells into the assembly hopper of the solar panels, for automated placement and electrical connection and testing of each one as installed. The microwave generator and directing array was already in place, all it needed was electrical energy, and lots of it. As the solar cells were hooked into the solar panels by the robotic assembler, the electrical energy of each one would be added to the energy available to the microwave generator and its control circuitry. They setup the manufacturing and transportation monitor equipment, which would continually evaluate the performance of all the systems up here in GEO and also of the KESTS electrodynamic transportation structure itself. THey put in known transients into each system and watched for the monitor's evaluation that resulted.
The systems were growing up here not just in size and complexity, but also in their multiplicity of functions, often interrelated. the Emplos corporation and the Three Musketeers Corporation had very limited resources, which limited what they could do even with their interlinked education-workstations which was still proving extremely powerful in raising the competency of people and their enjoyment of being part of the larger process. Catalie and Improy had a way they hoped would bring significant new resources to the system, so as their endurance time ran out up here unshielded in GEO, they returned to their captive winged spacecraft, rode the KESTS structure down to the fringes of the atmosphere, and set their winged spacecraft free.
They had to drop awhile in order to build up speed, then their large foamed aluminum glider wings rode the relative wind, and they once again did the bounce around the planet, losing altitude and speed slowly enough as to not get uncomfortably hot along the way. But this time their landing destination was neither Cayanbe nor White Sands; they were going to the long-abandoned remains of the space command center in the ghost town of Houston. They landed at the runway of the abandoned airport, skidding to their usual halt. They had to leave their space worksuits there in their glider spacecraft, too bulky for their long hike to the space command center remains.
Historical data was sketchy, as to what happened to the once proud Houston Space Command of NASA. When the mega-corporations arranged to fix the elections, and then have the country turned into a gigantic business instead of a country of people, everything was privatized, including NASA facilities. It was given by the new government to a giant toy manufacturer, the mega-corporations seeing no quick profit in any space ventures, so they got rid of NASA and gave its facilities away. The toy manufacturer saw the Houston space command center, with all its computer monitors, as being most nearly an arcade. So they sent a team in to make the consoles to run computer games for teenagers. The government-super-corporation gave each of its subsidiaries 3 months to streamline their takeover operation, and another 3 months to show a profit. By the end of the second quarter, the Houston space command arcade was not showing a profit, so it was abandoned, its doors closed, and walked away from.
The understandably frustrated kids had gave up trying to play their favorite computer games on the imperfectly modified consoles of the former space command center, and they had gotten in a fight with each other, throwing handy objects, some of which had hit the consoles. The place was then abandoned, decades ago. The world had been a state of collapse from even before that, little of high technological sophistication got built afterward. So Improy and Catalie considered the remains of the former space command a gold mine of parts they could use. The remote eyes and ears of the worldwide communications system was no longer working, of course. But hey did have some big dishes locally, and they manually set one up to aim at a relay link that they had positioned on the KESTS where line of sight existed both to the GEO assembly station above the equatorial ocean, and also to Houston, Cayambe, and to White Sands. Improy set up one of the education-workstations which they had brought along, and connected it through the KESTS repeater transceiver, and was immediately locked into both the home base at White Sands and the GEO assembly site. Indulging in only the briefest welcoming chats with the people at White Sands, Catalie went through the checklist of monitor functions and data output from the GEO site. Based on that data, she made some changes in the timing and sequense of the manufacturing process, and left the manufacturing assembly automation to run some more.
She then turned her attention to the monitoring of the KESTS transportation structure. There were two particular concerns she had right now, involving the structure's ability to servo-position adequately in response to transients. One kind of possible transient was that of the seismic wave of an earthquake; one such had been recorded long ago on the opposite side of Cayambe peak from the village of Cayambe, so it was possible to happen again. The other transient type was from winds causing shifting lateral loads on the KESTS structure in the atmosphere. Such lateral loads were compensated for by unbalancing the distribution of armature segment velocities around the perimeter of the cross-section of the KESTS, the lateral stresses produced intended to balance the stresses produced by wind loads. But the energy distribution amount the armature segments was set when they left the Cayanmbe tunnel accelerator site, and little was possible after that to change their pattern of sideway push against the structure from within it. Sudden and sustained wind shifts that had not been predicted adequately, was the big worry and so was being monitored and relayed to the ground for human evaluation, getting data for the computers that would do it automatically thereafter, mimicking the human's responses. The KESTS structure was essentially horizontal out across Brazil in one direction and the Pacific Ocean in the other, for a long way before the curvature of the earth surface was dropping away out from under the KESTS lesser curvature. If the winds broadsided the structure across a large distance, it could put quite a lateral wind load on the KESTS structure. And if the winds shifted to rapidly, it could cause possibly insufficiently unbalanced forces within the KESTS internal trackways. They were doing reality testing a bit more than she liked. So far, things seemed to be well within the limits of compensation.
Meanwhile, Improy was taking stock of the abandoned equipment that might still be useful. The electronics technology utilized in the consoles had become obsoleted with advances in technology for awhile, but then with the implosion of civilization, its technology became irreproducible. Some of the circuit boards population of integrated circuits would be best used as models, when put into the new manufacturing system used for making the education-workstations. Their imprint could be copied into the knowledge base, perhaps new things would result.
Whatever, Improy and Catalie were stranded here in Houston, no way to fly their spacecraft out any more.