downtoearthCh.5

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As Science Fiction adventures


"It's Down to Earth" 

By James E. D. Cline


Chapter 5



'Just why did you pick Malasia as the place to build a solid KESTS, Donna?' John asked one day, as they relaxed at home. 'Malasia does not quite even reach the equator, and does not seem to have high places from which to connect.' 


Donna looked up from her task of simulating trajectories of heat-shielded re-entry vehicles from GEO, thought back a minute, then mused 'It was just a quick imaginative guess, some place far away from the Ecuadorean area and the American continent which was taken over. I remember as a child reading stories of the Malay pirate's adventurers, sailing out from the islands to capture passing ships long enough to get goodies from them including taking off their beautiful women passengers. This was interesting reading among those of the Bulguarde Harem, where I was raised, bred to produce my children, and lived until menopause and then was sent to do bombship duty, which led to here. But now, as I do simulations for landing anywhere around Malasia to establish a supply terminal for a solid KESTS connecting up to here, I'm thinking of the peaks of some of the Indonesian islands of the Ring of Fire would be better, but some place which does not have recent history of severe volcanism or earthquakes. Borneo looks a bit too flat, and who knows what remains of their jungle or natives there who refused to move up here. Singapore could be a source of high tech stuff maybe, and is close to the equator. But hopefully from up here we can set down all we need for the terminal, establish the initial facility down there, scale the solid KESTS up just enough to haul water and hydrocarbons up here to last long enough for us all to figure out a better plan.'


'Eventually we will have to build a KESTS of equivalent capacity to the one that was originally used for populating and supplying the Clarke Belt Cities' John added. 'We eventually will need to move the majority of people back down the the surface and back to their homes, and the capacity of the original full-scale KESTS took 20 years to do that, and surely will need that long to return people and their belongings from up here. And long term it will need the structural strength to supply a push on the whole Clarke Belt Ring to make up for the orbital decay of the Ring, just as the now-destroyed KESTS had done previously. It is quite possible that we ultimately will have to re-capture and clean up the Cayenbe Peak terminal, to build such a structure. But I don't want to have to deal with the folks who might still be down there, at this point.'  


The got into their dual Holoterminal, and their light-essense joined up with that of the Mars Project facility, partway around the Clarke Belt. They input the modification parameters for an earth-atmosphere vehicular landing, and had the project's computer do the tweeking of the parameters of the design, starting with the ones initially intended for a large scale Mars colony landing from an orbiting space station circling Mars. In this case, the starting orbit was GEO, the gravitational field was that of the Earth, the atmosphere was that of the Earth, and the intended landing site was the peak of a mountain somewhere among the Indonesian islands. And the first mission was an unmanned descent, teleoperated landing.


The spacecraft assembly was done by the facility, out in the microgravity hard vacuum ust outside the nearest hub to the facility, built up by directed molecular beams, slices built up from the ionized bins of the various elements and compounds it needed. The sub-assemblies were then robotically connected, and a few days later the signal came that it was ready for the first test, telemetered to the extreme degree that the Holoterminal presence technology could do. The launch acceleration track was modified to provide a retrograde push instead of the originally intended boost to head for Mars.


At the timing selected by Donna's specification, the spacecraft was given a retrograde push sufficient to de-orbit, and down it went; drifting in free-fall, drawn in by the tenuous but insistent embracing arms of the Earth's gravitational field, up here only 2% of the gravitational field strength of that on the ground.


Eventually they were signaled that the spacecraft was experiencing significant deceleration as it entered the upper atmosphere. Its spin and orientation put its heat shield so as to lead the way along its path, a meteor coming back home. After a fiery slowing down, then the flying part of the spacecraft ejected itself from behind the heat shield disk, and the wings were swung into place and inflated to shape by the force of the onrushing air. As they watched through their virtual stereo cameras on the spacecraft, John took the pilot's role - after all, Donna had been trained to go up, not down; he pointed out to her with a smile - and the view was high over the ocean, a string of mountainous islands visible below, as the wings caught the air and the comparatively lazy glide down began, a gigantic machine-made seabird looking for a roost. 


Looking out at the approaching world through the virtual HoloPainted eyes on the gliding lander, what they saw looked like a stage set, just a facade, not quite real. They could not see beyond the face value of things out there. They still had enough altitude to make a high altitude pass over three islands, each seemed the peak of some undersea mountain range, just the top sprouting above water. One was quite pointed at the top, others showed a more complex terrain in the higher elevations. 'Let's set down on that one over there, it is high yet has sort of flat areas near the top, where we might land easier; and there looks like an easier climb down to seal level too' Donna suggested. That seemed reasonable to John, so he began a descent spiral around that island. But close up the flat-looking area became a jumble of broken volcanic rock; the craft was to low to go for another island so he used his last bit of flight time to land on a beach area at the base of the island. An abrupt stop, and they were staring at a beach and seacliff view; the camera optical surfaces had no provision to swivel, so they were stuck with that view. They admired the facade-like view for awhile, admiring their first earth surface view up close in three years. But nothing moved, except the lapping of small waves upon the beach, off to one side. No birds, no people, no palm trees swaying in the wind; except for the water, it looked as lifeless as the Moon. But that water - all that water! - looked really nice. Surely that great sea would not mind giving up a wee bit of its vast supply of water, say a few hundred thousand gallons? Would never notice.


Suddenly the view tipped, and all they could see was sky and off to one side what looked like an old fashioned primitive point of a wooden, fire-hardened spear tip that had appeared out of nowhere. Eyes wide, they watched while nothing stirred for a long time, then lots of jiggling and an occasional view of what appeared to be parts of a jungle man came into view, wresting his spear back out. Then he departed with his spear, apparently having decided that this bird was too tough for the stewpot.


Glad that it was not they which had landed this time and would now be unwillingly headed for some village stewpot, it was apparent that there was going to be more involved to this project than they had guessed. They knew that there would be people who had not been included in the exodus, like jungle people in isolated areas; and that the massive ecosystem collapse worldwide, including that of the ocean fisheries, would have made food scarce everywhere, and was likely that any survivors would be preying on each other by now, being the top of the food chain and not much left below them. Their circling landing craft must have caught someone's eye down there; watchful eyes must really be part of the name of the game going on down on the earth surface about now. 


Back connected to the Mars Project facility, they changed the parameters of the next lander to be built, to include optical surfaces enough to see all directions; and a slightly larger wing surface to extend their gliding range a bit more. When it was built by the facility, they launched it and down they went once again, along the same retrograde trajectory that had worked fine before. When teh heat shield had done its part, and the wings were deployed, suddenly they had eyes in all directions as experienced in their dual HoloTerminal, like they were really out there. Since they had no way to record the experience, they relied on memory of what they had seen the previous trip down. The chain of mountainous Indonesian islands appeared again, but this time they chose a different one to land upon. Once again they found just a jumble of volcanic rock where it had looked like sort of smooth landing could have been made; veering off, they again hurriedly sought some beach area to land on. Finding none, they chose an area near the edge of the island, where a stand of dead palm trees held their ground; they got in between the stumps without collision, and again they were stopped. To the HoloVision eyes in all directions, they seemed to be suspended above the ground a meter, with wings and tail surfaces sprouting out in places; they looked up at the sad remains of the once proud and luxurious palm trees. Sandy soil below them, and they were nearly on top of the remains of a seabird, its skeleton partially filled in with drifting sand. That suggested to them that this place was not a hunting ground for the savages, who would not have left something edible; although it had been a long time since the creature had made its final landing. Their bird, too, had made its final landing; and it was good for just looking but not much else.


Thinking back to how the upper parts of the island looked, the job of landing there and building an accelerator channel for a Solid KESTS in that jumbled hard basalt was not looking easy at all.


Go to Ch.6


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