As Science Fiction adventures

"It's Down to Earth" 

By James E. D. Cline

Chapter 6

Searching the news archives from the period just before the building of the Clarke Belt Cities, they discovered an interesting news item. There was an Indonesian mountain peak where one of the Lorbital ring pressurized steel towers had been built to connect that part of the world easily to the Cayenbe KESTS terminal port. But before the tower was built, Indonesia had started to build their own KESTS to GEO, but had given up and chose to use the Lorbital path instead. Had the tower survived the loss of the Lorbital ring's collapse when the KESTS had fallen? Maybe they could use the abandoned site for their Solid KESTS terminal. 

So their next lander design parameters were optimized for maximum glide time in the altitude range of 10 to 5 miles high. The Mars Project's fabricator again built up the lander's subassemblies in the zero-gee hard vacuum, streams of various elements and compounds were sprayed on the ever-growing sub-assemblies until they were finished, then the pieces were robotically put together, and set on the retrograde launch tracks, and away it went downward.

Again in their dual Holoterminal, their light essense merges with the optical surfaces on the lander, once it was freed from the heat shield and was on its glide path down along the equatorial plane, 15 miles up. They focused their efforts on finding what might be a complete Lorbital tower, 15 miles high steel-skinned balloon, its internal pressure holding up the immense high narrow structure, which was used to lift conventional counterbalanced elevator cars between the ground and it top, where the Lorbital ring had been flowing, a primitive Solid KESTS type thing itself, a solid ring of steel that was spinning around the planet at slightly faster than the orbital velocity at ground level. The ring continuously circulated around the world in the thin air at 15 miles up, providing a monorail-like support for vehicles which continuously rode it, providing efficient transportation from any of the pylons around the world, to arrive at the pylon that was located next to the KESTS terminal at Cayenbe Peak in Ecuador. This part of the worldwide transportation system that was built primarily to move the 7 billion people from around the world, over the Cayenbe and then up to the Clarke Belt Cities. There had been many such Lorbital rings, since they did not need to be necessarily built in the equatorial plane, like the KESTS to GEO had to do; so the network of Lorbital-linked pylons were built an many places  making easy access from all the major nations. But when the KESTS was destroyed, in its fall it destroyed the equatorial Lorbital ring and all the rings that had crossed the equator up there 15 miles high. Probably most of the pylons had been punctured by the fragments of the associated Lorbital rings, losing internal pressure and thus collapsing to the ground, like any deflated balloon does. They hoped the one marking the Indonesian Lorbital tower had survived, to mark where the old attempt to build a KESTS terminal could be found. But they found no tower remaining standing in their glide across the islands and mainland, no such luck.They doubled their glider back and they strained to see the ground below for remains of a collapsed tower, as they continued their one-way glide down. taking turns at flying the path while the other concentrated on the ground passing below.

Then they spotted the remains of a tower, was it the one they sought? They circled the site with the last of their altitude's energy, and managed to land it near the base of the tower's remains. The last glimpses befoe landing had shown a hill area nearby with some warehose-like structures alinged along an east-west direction, which seemed to have been avoided by the network of new streets and hastily constructed building that were once a busy new city at the base of the tower. They were down in the middle of a street. It was a ghost town, nothing stirred. 

Donna shifted her attention in in the Holoterminal over to the main bulletin board system of the City Ring, asking for presence of any who had used the Indonesian pylon elevator and could help with some identification. Within minutes, they discovered that the lander down there was the focus of attention of tens of thousands of people who had left their homes down there in Indonesia. When they learned of the lander's gliding descent's visual view, the Indonesians requested another such lander be built just for the experience of them all watching as it circled around the country on its way down, and would just be for the purpose of them seeing their long lost homeland once again, if only in glimpses. Their excitement soon focused on the other two landers where they lay on the islands; just a view of the ground, real-time, was an instant major even for them.

Eventually as the excitement subsided, some of the people returned to the original question of any knowledge of having seen anything that might have been the remains of the effort to build an Indonesian KESTS. It was looking like they indeed had found the site. 

It was not just the Indonesians, but close to 5 billion people in their Holoterminals on the Clarke Belt City Ring that had their light presence with them as Donna and John made their next virtual descent down to the planet. This was to be partly a tourist excursion for the entertainment value of those other people, so they made their re-entry further north and then turned back down so they could sweep across more of Indonesia, the energy of excitement of billions of people, tens of thousands of them eagerly looking for a glimpse of their home town along the way, was intense. At the last minute, John did not have the heart to finish their landing at the desolate tower remains, so instead he quickly diverted their path to a landing in front of one of Indonesia's most cherished places, then he and Donna left the craft's presence to return to their project, while much of the rest of the population rejoiced at the fantastic view from the lander there on the ground.

By the time they had determined the new parameters for their next lander, they found that they had to wait in line at the Mars Project assembly facility; people from all around the world wanted a lander to be built and flown down for a view of the places they had left years ago, thinking to be up here only a half dozen years, only to find they had been cut off from their homelands by the treachery of those who wanted to own the wold for themselves, a dying world or not. So now was their chance to get peeks of how things are down there now real time, via landers. John promised to fly the next lander down, partly as a training mission for the thousands of former pilots among them, who would thereafter fly the 'tourist' landings, in return for being let next in line for use of the Mars Project's facilities to build a lander.

Donna did not go down on that flight training mission with John, as she was busy collating the hundreds of bits of reports people had supplied about what they had seen or knew of the aborted KESTS project in Indonesia, there at the base of the fallen tower. The folks who had been first in line at the Mars Project assembly facilities were a bunch of former aerospace people from Southern California, and they wanted a fly-around which made its final landing in Exposition Park's Rose Garden in Los Angeles. The retrograde launch tracks had to be adjusted to do what it could to get re-entry closer to that area, a bit slower descent so the lander could drift half way further around the world before making its dip into the atmosphere. They could imagine the double-boom spreading across Southern California, the first since the space shuttle and private spacecraft vehicle landings had ceased landing in the Mojave Desert. High over San Diego they swerved northward, circling the Los Angeles basin, noticing that there was no smog, a strange sight in itself. Past City Hall's old towering pointed roof building and the higher skyscrapers of downtown LA, across streets and freeways which were strangely motionlessly vacant everywhere, over the USC campus and around over the colosseum oval to finally land in the remains of the Rose Garden, as requested. There, the myriad virtual presences of the Clarke Belt Cities population stared out at the rectangle of lifeless soil, the dry circle of the fountain in its middle, the surrounding structures of the dome of the old Natural History Museum and USC oddly silent, motionless, a vast ghost town where nobody, nothing lived anymore, not even the roses in the garden. Silent leafless hulks of once great trees stood in the corners; all else was dust. The waiting line at the Mars Project assembly facility suddenly shortened by quite a bit after that; but the remainder needed to take a randomly selected priority for their lander's construction.

It looked like it was going to be a long time before they could have another lander built after this one, so John and Donna put extra effort into the design of this one. The Mars Project had been set up originally to include a pair of solar powered roving vehicles which would go explore further, and they shifted the design parameters for these to be built for use on the ground on Earth, simplified for direct operation via the Holoterminal system, and some battery power storage for exploring the hoped-for tunnel. The design included a LED headlight that too could be operated at least briefly, and a stereo pair of virtual acoustical pickups so they could hear what was going on while they moved around down there via the lander's vehicles.

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