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Here is where my next participation for the NanoWriMo novel writing is being recorded. It will initially be put in typical blog sequence, latest writing on top. The chapter numbers correspond to the day in November, of 2008 in this case. As of November first, 2008, the novel has yet to be titled. Again, this is to be read bottom chapter first, per the numbers of the chapters.
He watched the display panel, essentially a schematic of the middle-driven dual pulley continuous belt loop space elevator, as it showed the propagation of the tension wave along the stretched side of the band, along with the concurrent slower propagating area where the tension was relaxed from the static value. As the drive cylinder slowly increased in speed, a constant rate of generated tensile stress at the pinch roller against the drive drum, the starting edge of the tension wave reached the far end and went around the lunar anchor pulley first, being much shorter path than that of the earthward side of the elevator, the static bias tension being identical in each direction from L-1. The tension wave came around and back to L-1 from both directions, canceling out some of the relaxed tension side of the belt, until the elevator pulley system had damped down to essentially a steady tension on both sides of the pulley belt. The cargo carrier attachment links were all empty, each designed to stand the cargo off from contact with the pinch roller as it went past L-1; and the clamps would hold in either direction, since the "downward" direction depended on which side of L-1 the cargo was at.
The elevator was designed so that the average weight of the live load was the same on both side of L-1, always with a slight surplus of weight on the earthward side, of course, needed to prevent the structure from collapsing down onto the lunar surface. Since the belt speed was the same on both sides, there would be far more live loads on the much longer earthward side of the elevator; but the composite lunar-earth gravity along it was much smaller than the part closer to the lunar surface, so it tended to balance out OK. The system was designed for a steady flow of constant live load mass as long as the sun shone on L-1; when the lunar shadow darkened L-1 during half of the 28-day lunar day-night rotation, all would stop, lacking power to drive the elevator, and all the live loads would simply hang there waiting for the sun to shine again. The completed toroid ring segments of the city shell structure were quite massive; he wondered how an unbalanced load of just one of them could be handled by such a space elevator. This elevator had been shut down since before Raphael was born; there were none left to tell of its operation. All he had were the electronic service manuals, which did not cover that subject; the elevator was in continuous operation for two decades during the construction of the GEO Habitat Ring long ago, and thus would have faced such a question only during its initial startup and its final completion of the job, surely there had been a time when there was only one toroid ring wedge segment on the elevator, the last one. Maybe they just filled in with smaller live loads to balance weight across L-1 at all times.
He also wondered how they had moved the ring segments between the elevator's GEO- equivalent gravitational energy level, over to the physical location of the ongoing construction site where the cities were being built. Something like that was needed again now, but for the reverse trip direction. The aluminum ring segments were 200 meters in diameter and 50 meters wide at the outer edge, an ungainly large mass to move and set in exact place. Were there any of those tugs still available down on the lunar surface? Did he feel daring enough to ride the elevator down there to see what was down there? Somehow that seemed just too risky right now, even though the elevator did start up again OK. No doubt all the air had leaked away in those facilities down there by now, just as they had up here. He would need to go refill his liquid air tanks back at GEO as a start for that part of the process. It was time to shut the elevator down, and go back to GEO now; at least he now knew a lot more than he did before coming here to L-1. He initiated the shutdown sequence, and watched it go through that routine; when it had come to a stop, he turned out the lights and went out through the airlock, leaving it all like he found it except that it was supplied with air and the elevator bearings were freshly lubricated. He briefly wondered how the lubricant could be replenished; it would need to be identified or at least a sample analyzed and replacements requested from earth factories, before risking any bearing failure due to lack of lubricant. Maybe there were tanks of lubricant down at the lunar terminal of the tether, who knows.
Leaving the L-1 facility, he used his reaction engines to start to follow a least-energy path back to the city demolition area in GEO, letting the autopilot handle the details; and stretched out a bit, then relaxed into free-fall stance, resuming the REM nap process, his brain needed refreshing more than his muscles, at this point.
When he arrived at GEO, he found a message from Belinda, that her fill-in was taking over for awhile so Belinda was on vacation, and she was coming up to spend her vacation time with Raphael on the job. The really cheered him up, and in between checks on how the computer guided robot flock was doing on its latest city, he thought of ways to make her comfortable here in his utility truck and its living quarters. He would also have a copy of the Mission Control main console linked to his workstation so she could stay available in case anything unusual happened, so she would not be worrying about how it was going down there at her job. As far as he knew, she had never spent much time in free-fall, so he was going to have to educate here on its niceties and difficulties.
Since the replacement robots had arrived at the GEO upper terminal about the same time as belinda arrived up there, he used the utility tractor to travel by rocket impulse, instead of using the GEO ring transportation system. He docked at one of the ports at the huge transportation hub; the KESTS appeared much as it did on the earth terminal end, flat horizontal as far at the eye could see, But he knew it gradually bent downward toward the earth, the further out one got; it was only a narrow line in space, across the disk of the earth, from the deconstruction site, already the KESTS was many kilometers below GEO there. Going through the airlock, he floated to the nearest com terminal and signaled for Belinda to come there; and also located where the robots were stored. Belinda replied it would be a half hour before she would arrive at that port, so Raphael went over to the freight terminal and loaded the robots into his cargo hold, and got back to the port where he was to meet Belinda before she arrived there. She was accompanied by a robot porter bringing her luggage; she was having enough difficulty walking along the velcro floor as it was, without dangling luggage. Piling the luggage through the airlock before them, soon they all were inside his utility vehicle, which she surveyed a bit as if somewhat familiar from the videochats they had. Stowing her luggage in the living quarters, she took the copilot's seat and Raphael sealed the docking port, and they headed away from the terminal far enough so that their reaction engine gasses would miss contact with the GEO facilities, and they headed to the deconstruction site.
How adventurous are you feeling?" he asked her, once they were underway. She looked back at him with a measured glance, was there more adventure than this, she wondered. "what do you have in mind for adventure, raphael?" she finally said as if it were necessary to say. "More than this?" He transmitted the log of his trip to the Lunar L-1 facility over to the copilot's console, and she took that to be his answer and studied the account of the journey. She then switched back to the copy of the Mission Control console, giving it a quick look, all was normal. She let herself relax, stretched a bit, digesting all this for several minutes. Then finally she said "Let's take this vehicle down to the L-1 space elevator anchor terminal, along with full tanks of liquid air, and plenty of supplies for emergencies. Then bring along a remote piloting console to fly this truck, in case of need, while we bring the Lunar terminal back to life, and if the elevator controls can start the system running from there, let's take an elevator ride up to L-1 and back."
That was his Belinda, Raphael thought. Always right on top of things, and ready to roll on the go. Sounded good to him, so he said "Let's do it the day after tomorrow. First I need to set these replacement robots up and get the second city demolition team fully operational again; and as soon as that is done, we will head for the Moon." They gave each other the "thumbs up" sign, and then they settled into watching the GEO Habitat Ring facilities drift past, and the KESTS ribbon under them fall away slowly toward the planet. He pointed out the basic kinds of facilities that were clustered around close to the transportation hub: the Total Recycling Mass Spectrometer plants, which totally converted toxic industrial material and discarded items back into their component elements, totally de-entropied back to their primal ultra-pure state, for re-use down on the earth surface industrial facilities. There were the huge spaceports, which had been built with expeditions to Mars and Titan, traveling in rotating spacecraft carrying 400 personnel, ready for any challenge and ready to set up long term living facilities wherever they went; but those projects had not materialized, there had been too many survival issues from when the original KESTS had been destroyed, and the decades before a replacement could be built from up here down there, and then the people just wanted to get back home, had enough of space by then. And then there were finally some of the huge terrawatt solar power stations with many square kilometers of solar collector panels, and the transmission arrays sending electrical power to the various nations that were in view from these particular solar power stations; there were also a few dozen smaller solar power stations that used directable antennas, sending energy down to power the lighter-than-air commercial passenger and cargo aircraft at supersonic speeds, powered by the energy beams from up here, carrying fuel and engines only enough for emergency landing if needed, but otherwise, the carrying capacity was mostly for payload, no fuel nor massive engines and airframe to support all of that. These solar satellite powerplants were coordinated with other similar ones around the GEO ring, and as one aircraft reached the edge of range from one solar power satellite, another would take over the energy beaming, from its location further along on the equatorial plane. And then there were the first of the Torus Cities, originally inspired by the Stanford torus Space Settlement design made in the mid-1970's for use in L-4, and modified for use here in GEO, including use of water ice as the passive shielding mass, easily brought up the KESTS as a liquid and cast in place, and in case of catastrophe many millennia in the future, the water ice crashing back to earth would not pollute the atmosphere, as lunar regolith dirt would have done if it had been used for shielding mass as in the original Stanford Torus design. And indeed the water ice was making the demolition of the old Stanford Torus type cities much easier, sending the chunks of ice cubes down to vaporize into clouds in the upper atmosphere..
The trip to find the errant chunk of ice proved easy and coasting along the GEO habitat ring just below it so as to have a higher angular velocity to catch up a bit quicker, then switch to above GEO to connect with the object, he made visual contact and was soon hovering alongside it. the big ice cube wedge was slowly rotating, and at times during its spin, it showed the ragged surface where the material was exploded off, simultaneously reacting to shove it out here doing its thing now. It was not rotating very fast, but enough to make it difficult to match the path of a tug long enough to get it securely attached. He moved his vehicle around here and there, finally visually marking where a tug could give a little push and would slow the rotation. He directed one of his tugs to go out to the ice cube, wait until the imagined push point was coming up, then the tug eased over to make contact and fired its main engine a fraction of a second; the continued rotation of the ice cube then brushed the tug off, giving the tug enough twirl as to require it to use its positioning thrusters to stabilize. The ice cube seemed to be rotating a bit slower, but not much. More importantly, it had also shifted its orbital path a bit too. Well, it was quite a ways from the habitat ring, there was room to play, he thought. Before attempting the rotation stoppage effort again, he made a rough 3D sketch of the ice cube wedge, called it the density of pure water ice, and calculated how much thrust was needed to stop the rotation, based on the thrust profile of the rocket tug's main engine, such that the object would also be diverted away from the habitat ring some, too. He input the instructions to the tug, which positioned itself then waited for the cube to slowly rotate around to meet that thrust orientation; the rocket gave a 3-second engine firing this time and immediately used its positioning thrusters to back off from contact, but it was unnecessary as the object now seemed to no longer be spinning at all. The tug then went over to a new thrust point, aligned itself with the center of inertial mass of the wedge ice cube, gave a short burst of engine thrust, backed off and now it was wait time while it left the equatorial plane, to give it plenty of clearance when it passed the radius of GEO. This was several hours' wait, time for Rachael to improve his estimated dimensions of the object, including the missing area. Finally it was a couple of kilometers off the equatorial plane, so he instructed the tug to do its usual thing, go anchor itself where it would slow it in orbit while also giving it a bit of downward thrust too, not so efficient but he wanted to get it past GEO as quickly as possible, maintaining a wide clearance with the facilities there. The tug's main engine fired for a minute; the trajectory looked good so it detached its hooks from the cube, and the tug returned to Rachael's vehicle, back into the cargo hold. He then sent his craft down below GEO to better track the object as it headed down toward the earth's atmosphere; it indeed was not going to miss the earth and thus come back around to be a nuisance again, it was truly on its way back home. And it was time for him to head back to the de-construction site.
On the way back, he stopped at one of the vacated cities on this other side of the KESTS upper terminal and the cluster of total recycling plants and solar power plants, and did the first effort of installing one of the prototype station-keeping systems that utilize the city's passive ice shield for fuel, first electrolyzed by electrical energy derived from solar energy, then stored in oxygen and hydrogen tanks, and used to give the facility a little boost when an orbital height correction was perceived to be needed. Since this city was locked into the entire GEO Habitat Ring, it would not be detecting orbital decay, but it would be triggered occasionally to test the systems, and of course would contribute to overcoming the miniscule orbital decay experienced over time, throughout the habitat ring, so it would not be wasted. He intended to put the major part of the prototype systems over in the area where he was working to demolish the old cities, where he could more carefully monitor their performance.
And that was his first task he started when arriving back at the little cleared area in GEO, a dozen cities gone so far. A lot of work done for having achieved such a tiny fraction of the whole task; but it was something, anyway. Would not want all the mass of the GEO Habitat Ring to collapse back to the earth surface in a few hundred thousand years, to surprise the inhabitants then; the cities and their shields would most likely have quite a bit of their materials crunch down, along the equatorial belt of the world. The ice wold melt fast then, but the mile-diameter aluminum shell city wheel inside the shields would remain, possible to the consternation of the inhabitants then, if any, of the earth ecosystem then. So even though he was taking down the cities one by one gently, there were far more than he could remove, nor the KESTS to handle, in his lifetime. Thus, the project to set up ultra-reliable, long-term operating systems to gradually use material from the ice shields of the vacated cities, to provide orbital decay reversal, around the habitat ring.
He placed the second of the orbital decay reversers on the next city in line, intending to skip over it, and monitor its isolated response to the system; then he went down the line of abandoned wheel cities to where he selected three adjacent cities to each get a system; this would enable monitoring long term monitoring of the interaction of the three systems, when partially coupled to each other through the GEO-encircling transportation pathway. Then he went back to the first of the cities he selected for removal, and released the two rocket tugs he had borrowed, along with the little robot, back to rejoin the flock here. He re-activated the computer, and set it to resume demolition of this city, starting with removal of the big wheel's aluminum shell structure from its insides, after first dynamically braking the wheel to the shield mass, putting everything into nearly zero-gee for the remainder of the demolition process.
With the routine going again, under the control of a computer that was coordinating a flock of robots to demolish abandoned cities and their ice passive shields, he impatiently awaited the arrival of the first batch of replacement robots so re could have a second team working on the cities; two teams seemed to produce all the scrap aluminum which the old KESTS could transport safely. With time to think as he relaxed, he began to wonder if it would be worth exploring the potential for returning aluminum back to the Moon. The old dual-pulley constant cross-section anchored tether space elevator was still in place through the LaGrange libation point, unused for decades. It had been used to move nearly all of the aluminum used in the cities' main shell structure manufacture, completing each 200 meter diameter ring wedge, then dropping it toward the second pulley to a gravitational energy level close to that of GEO; then reaction engine propulsion was used merely to position them to the construction site in GEO. Could the transportation path be used in reverse, he wondered.
Checking with Belinda down at Mission control, she advised that it would be two days before the initial replacement robots would be up here for replacement in the second demolition team, so, why not go see if the old path to the Moon could be re-activated.
He loaded enough rocket tugs to get himself back off the moon in case the elevator did not work, even though he still would have an even older system, the escalator which had its terminal on the farside of the Moon, as an alternate backup. That was two ancient transportation structures that had not been used for decades, along with simple raw reaction power to get him back to GEO; those sounded like acceptable odds. Just in case, he took enough supplies for a couple weeks life on the Moon, who knows.
He used his reaction engines to boost up to the earth-moon L-1 facility, instead of trying for a rendezvous with the tether dangling into earth's gravitational dominant field, and expecting it to start to pul him up after all these years of idleness. Consulting the old records, he docked at one of the L-1 ports; he was impressed by just how huge this facility was, now silent and unmoving. The Sun was lighting the solar panels at the present time, so he would not be dependent on the energy storage systems to still work for electrical power. Consulting the manual, he found how to open the docking port hatch t into the airlock; the gauge in there said there was very little air pressure left in there. Oops; he needed to go get some tanks of liquid air, from the huge supplies scavenged from the vacated cities; apparently the tanks here had slowly depleted themselves maintaining the leaky port facilities her. He returned into his vehicle, secured the docking port, and headed back to GEO. It was late in his workshift by the time he got the liquid air tanks loaded and his utility spacecraft re-fueled; he decided to head over to L-1 anyway. Once on the way there he was able to rest awhile, sip some warm brew, stretch and relax his muscles, hanging limp in a meditative state for the 45 minutes it took to make the trip at low g.
It took awhile to figure out how to transfer the contents of his liquid air tanks into those of the L-1 storage tank. He watched as the solar electric powered heaters warmed the air back up to 25ºC and he went back into the airlock, observed the gauge showing interior air pressure; it was rising OK. Albeit slowly; there was a lot of volume and the solar energy to the air heaters was having to pull it up from a frigid temperature indeed. But it was proceeding. He watched long enough to estimate when the air pressure on the other side of the hatch would be close enough to his own pressure to not pop his ears, and returned to his spacecraft to read up more in the manuals about how to operate the dual-pulley tether.
Here at the earth-moon balance point L-1, the tension on the constant-cross-section dual band tether was maximum, and the only drive mechanism was the solar-powered drums that rolled the tether bands in opposite directions, but did not support weight. there were idler rollers pressing the tether bands to the drive drum; so the three rollers were all that was involved. He would need to check that the lubrication servos operated and had lubricant for the bearings on these three drums as well as the two pulleys at the extreme ends of the space elevator, one down on the Lunar surface terminal, and the other at the far end of the part that was dangling toward the earth, along with the counterbalance weight there, shortening the necessary tether length to equalize weight between the two sides of the elevator, the lunar side and the earthward side. The control panel also showed the state of live load balance along the two sides of the space elevator, and would shut down operations if anything became close to either having too much weight on the lunar side beyond the bias weight on the earthward side that kept the structure stretched upward from the lunar surface; or conversely, if the weight on the earthward side was approaching the limit of the anchor on the lunar surface.
So he would need to go through the checklist for each of these parameters once inside the facility, bearing in mind that there were no live loads on the elevator to be balanced at the present time. He would just see if it would roll along with no load at all; that would be a big start. Going back into the airlock, he found that the air pressure differential was close to zero, and the air quality inside was tolerable, and he activated the facility airlock hatch; it opened easily under station power; lights came on and things were looking encouraging at this point, He went over to the elevator control panel, and checked that there were communications coming online to both ends of the tether; so he sent the commands to lubricate all the roller and puller bearings, and waited for the confirmation signals that each were achieved. The lubricants were of low volatility and would be expected to still be in their storage tanks. One by one the lights changed to lubrication-completed status. The earthward bias pull on the structure was 1200 thousand kilograms, so he would need to be sure to not exceed a safety factor of two which made the maximum downward live load to be 50,000 kg greater than the loads on the earthward side of L-1. he started the solar powered electric drum motor power; nothing happened at first, then with a slight jerk as the slight initial friction was overcome, and the tether pulley closed loop band, 100,000 km long, was in motion.
One action item they decided to act on right away was to initiate the use of solar power at each of the remaining cities in GEO, to electrolyze water from their passive ice shields, to then be used as fuel for reaction engines to add the slight boost to keep their orbit exactly high in place. This was getting increasingly important as the mechanical linking stiffness formed by the hubs of the cities were now gone in the dismantled cities, and so the entire ring of facilities in GEO were at risk of becoming collapsed due to decaying orbits, a process speeded up by the gasses released by the extensive facilities up there now; although surely it would take thousands of years to do any noticeable crunch. But if ultra-reliable facilities were established in each of the cities in GEO, to use tiny amounts of their water ice mass to run reaction engine driven orbital maintenance individually, they had materials in their shields long enough to last millions of years. designing and implementing an interim reliability set of devices, targeted at, say 200 years endurance, would then put of the need for more reliable technology development, by that many years, and surely out of Raphael and Belinda's doings by then, at least. And such a system would take the pressure off of dismantling the cities in an unrealistic timeframe, given the increasingly fractured old KESTS they had for doing that lowering of the pieces of the old wheel space cities.
They prepared the design parameters, then gave them to the automated prototype shop, and by the time Raphael was to return to GEO, he was able to bring along a dozen prototypes for the first round of reality testing. Adding them to his service captive spacecraft's cargo, he got in the vehicle, and set the automated connection to the KESTS upward bound vehicle stream; when a space was predicted to appear soon, his vehicle accelerated easily up to speed and inserted into the vehicle stream, headed out across the west side of the KESTS. he idly looked out at the familiar scene of the mountain ridges soon getting lower and then down to the coastal edges of Ecuador, the the Pacific Ocean's edge took over below him, as his vehicle seemed to move horizontally high above the blue waters below. Soon there was nothing to see but water and more water down below, as the KESTS dragged his vehicle along itself, gradually the curve of the great KESTS hoop became apparent as the world began to look curved at the horizon, then the thin layer of the world's atmosphere began to be come apparent out on the edge of the world too. He settled in for the remainder of the 5 and a half hour ride up to GEO, ever continuing to frequently check in on the portable workstation's console's status display, making sure there were not advance indications of anything getting out of the acceptable range of values for the various parameters in each of the project sections. 14 cities were having their interiors remove; two were having their wheel shell structure removed and sliced up, and two were having their passive water ice shields taken apart and sent back for free fall impact on the earth's upper atmosphere. All was going like clockwork. So he set the workstation to produce audible alarm if anything got close to the edge of safe operating range, and he closed his eyes in meditation, relaxing his body, part by part, until he was fully relaxed. The relaxation was too much for his weary pace so long endured, and he also fell asleep.
He was dreaming about having a little bird as a pet, which had begun to chirp loudly, when he realized that the chirping was a real sound, and was instantly alert; there was an alarm sounding on the workstation panel. The many items on the display terminal were changing from a jumble to his vision into focusing on one that was saying it was out of range, when a second audible alarm began sounding. The first alarm indicated a sudden increase in temperature at one of the cities which was undergoing dismantling of an ice shield; the second alarm was from a jerk on the transportation tie that united the entire circumference of GEO, the major means of movement of people and goods throughout the immense GEO ring of cities and industrial facilities. Then Raphael localized the source of the jerk on the transportation tie; it was the location where the ice was being dismantled from one of the cities that one of his crews were working on.
Then another alert started requesting attention, it was from the news network. "Man, what is going on?" he muttered to himself, as he switched over to the news channel. It advised that that one of the soon to be shutdown old Solar Power Satellites had one of its main gyros bearings seize, causing it to suddenly swing its transmission antenna in an arc, and it swung to aim out to sweep part of the GEO habitat ring. All the cities and facilities were accustomed to incoming solar energy and had reflective aluminum foil covering the outer surface as part of that. Except for the city which had its aluminum foil removed as part of disassembly of the shield. Its ice was bare, and in addition to the incoming solar energy, the terawatts of beamed energy were unfortunately beaming at its bare ice from close up, the energy beam narrow so close to its source, would have fanned out to span a 12 mile radius by the time it reached earth, but was very concentrated up close on the ice, which was dark because of the embedded sawdust in it.
Raphael could imagine what happened then. The sawdust in the ice would have suddenly absorbed the extra heat energy and boiled the ice around it, and the sudden vapor pressure began exploding the outer layer of the ice outward, the momentary crushed ice also trapping more of the energy and increased the explosive activity; the blast of ice mass was an unbalanced force, thus heaving the whole ice cube wedge in the opposite direction, which happened to soon intersect the transportation ring itself. Thus the jerk that was propagated all the way around the GEO habitat ring around the earth. So it was over now ... all except that there was a wayward ice cube now on the loose somewhere, a mindless mass of many tons that nothing would choose to be bumped by. He switched to the system overview; the system vehicle traffic control radar had begun tracking the ice cube wedge, which was now in a slightly elliptical orbit, that was soon plotted to eventually intersect GEO again, striking a city at that location. It was a slow thing to happen, was going to take several months before the ice hunk came back around to bash, so there was time to do something about it. Clearly, since Raphael was the only one involved in heavy dismantling and disposition work in GEO anymore, it was going to be up to him to prevent that collision, somehow. He headed for the refreshment snack section, he needed a bit of caffeine brew to finish clearing the cobwebs out of his thinking.
Staring out the window of the captive spacecraft as it slit silently up the great old escalator, the blackness of space seemed so dominant, with tiny specks of light scattered here and there. Yet the stars, galaxies, the Sun out there, were able to light up other things so they too could be seen; such was the view of the KESTS hoop along which he now slid upward toward GEO, pulled along by the far faster upward moving armature segments coursing through the hoop along which he moved, sitting while peacefully sipping hot tea brew. He could not see the light reflecting off the cities in GEO yet; that would come soon enough. How was he going to catch that huge block of ice, and send it on its way safely back to the earth's atmosphere?
One thing he would need would be one of the rocket tugs, for the de-orbit. Maybe two of them, one to stop whatever spin the ice cube had, and to position the ice for a clear miss of the facilities of the GEO habitat ring. And would he need to re-fuel his utility tractor spacecraft while chasing down the wayward hunk of ice? Better take along a spare fuel tank as part of his cargo. And bring along one of his little utility robots, might come in handy.
His reverie was interrupted by a call from Belinda. She was making sure that he was aware of the situation, including the news that he had lost half a dozen of the crew of foil stripper robots, when the ice was fried off the ice cube wedge. It would take several weeks to tool up to build replacements and to get them delivered to him. "Can you use the prototyper to build me a couple of them and have them sent up tomorrow?" he asked hopefully. Now was not the time to be short of the little critters of his flock. It cost five times as much for something to be built by the prototyper, as compared to building such devices on the programmable production line with dedicated tooling, so just two of them was a compromise regarding project cost.
With only an hour left of his journey back to GEO, he stretched out and began a meditative artificial Rapid Eye Movement nap process, to enable his brain to clear out space for coping with the challenges awaiting him upon arrival. Eyes closed all muscles checked for being in a relaxed state, he began the little quiver iv his eyes, letting it amplify spreading gradually to all the glial cells of his cerebral cortex, a unified low frequency quivering that speeded up the servicing of the neurons by their glial support system cells; it was Preventative Maintenance time, held free and clear of interruptions by petty requests for attention by trivia, for this brief half hour or so. Yet as in all meditation, there remains an alert part of attention, in case something external unexpectedly requites early resumption of dealing with things. For once, no new alarms happened, so by the time the spacecraft slid off into a sidetrack and braked to a stop at the GEO Terminal, he was back in top mental shape, as he shifted the vehicle's path to travel to the work site.
An hour later arriving at the site of the accident, he found that the computer supervising the situation had successfully executed a safe lock-down mode; its "panic button" response to something going on that was too far out of the range of its preprogramed response set. The remains of the flock of robots had been called in to gather with the computer maintenance vehicle; all were peacefully awaiting him when he arrived. Re-activating the computer and its small flock of robots, he adjusted its program to proceed with the disassembly of the remains of the ice shield, then backed off to watch how the adjusted sequence was being carried out, with fewer robots to do the work, and beginning with a partially disassembled ice shield. Soon, one of the ice cube sedges was launched down toward the earth' atmosphere in a safe vaporizing re-entry path; it was business as usual once again. More or less. There was still the wayward ice cube still way out there, headed on a slow to meeting with calamity, that needed attention next. As soon as this city's shield was gone and the attachment ring sliced up and sent down the east side of the KESTS, he would halt this crew, and borrow its rocket tugs and one of the robots; in the meantime, he headed for the fuel storage site to get a spare set of fuel and oxidizer tanks.
"Determination" was what The Book of Changes came up with. Raphael did not think that was very pertinent now; it was merely follow the predetermined course of action, dealing with the unexpected things as they arose, if any. The computer and the flocks of robots were handling it all fairly well now. Then he realized that to continue this kind of routine over a million cities times more, would indeed take determination, not to mention patience. The more sets of robots led by a computer as their shepherd, the faster it would go, up to where the old KESTS could no longer safely lower any faster rate of materials down to the earth surface.
Probably taking more time to slice the wheel shell wedge rings into smaller pieces, would allow a more even distribution of live load mass going down the KESTS escalator, and evening out the load would reduce the localized bending on the structure, raising the average material throughput. So that was how he began to program the computer, now that there were enough computer-guided-robot-flock teams out there working on individual cities being decommissioned.
By the time the workflow had stabilized to the new level enabled by smaller chunks of city shell scrap being lowered down to the ground, he found that this had increased the rate of flow through the bottleneck was about 15% more than with the larger sections, that was all the rate increase that had been achieved. It was going to take a long time to do the job, for sure. Longer than his expected remainder of lifetime, however. Well, after all, it took some 20 years to build all these cities in space way back, although the transportation path was different then, most of the city shell wedge slices were prefab as arriving from lunar sources, a nearly fully automated system bringing and assembling the mile-diameter wheel-shaped cities at the rate needed for a million people a day, at its peak, back then. Now, that lunar-sourced processed aluminum scrap was going down to earth, materials already well along on the energy-intensive part of preparing aluminum for use in projects on the ground.
Dare he take a vacation now and go down to visit Belinda? He set up a traveling telecommute workstation and headed down the KESTS, arranging to be able to get into the workstation and respond to emergencies within 10 minutes, 24 hours a day. Eventually he and his makeshift workstation arrived in Mission Control, and there the two of them were able to visit, even spend their nights together again at long last.
It was after one of these refreshing nights that they awoke and almost simultaneously were talking about other possible ways to solve the actual problem, which was to remove the old abandoned cities from GEO, along with several of the original terrawatt solar power stations that had become worn out and had been shut down, new designs were now handling the load to supply most of civilization down here with more electric clean power than they could use, at very low cost per KWh, so there was no need for the worn out solar power stations to be upgraded; now they were just huge structures that needed removal from GEO. And that was the big-picture thing they were focusing on, the task was not defined as bringing the pieces down to the ground, it was to remove the obsolete facilities to somewhere not in GEO anymore. Not necessarily the same task. How about sending the materials back to the Moon instead? No need for gentle lowering to surface, they could be impacted into the bottom of some crater far from habitation, thus gone from GEO and who knows someday be useful scrap on the Moon. So, how could the transportation be done from GEO to the Moon? The delta-v from GEO to lunar surface impact trajectory was far less than that required during lowering down to the earth surface via the KESTS. However, The KESTS already existed as a transportation system, and the route to the Moon did not. How could they provide the movement to the Moon? Reaction engine propulsion using electrolyzed water from the passive ice shields, seemed the way to do it; but it would take a long time to provide the fuel to move the massive materials.
They decided to set the system up anyway, as a parallel effort; and by synchronizing the movement from GEO to the Moon to coincide with when the Lunar gravity would be on the lowest energy path, they could do some experiments with getting scrap to the moon this way.
Getting on with the job now included a new subroutine for the robots, to interrupt ice cube launches that get snagged a bit on the way, changing their potential trajectory back down. And things were going to be slowed down, until replacement robots for his flock were built and delivered up there to him, ones to take the place of the brave ones that had been lost during the releasing of the ice cube from collision with the KESTS. Progress would be made, just significantly slower.
Otherwise, things had developed fairly well into a set of routines: verify the interior of a city had been dismantled; electrodynamically brake the rotating interior of the city to match the passive ice shield; unbolt the wedge ring segments of the city toroid wheel and its spokes, slicing them into small enough pieces as to be transportable down on the old KESTS escalator structure, using the ice shield as catcher for fragments not directly restrained during the slicing process; move the robots out and peel off the aluminum foil from the exterior of the passive ice shield; unbolt retainers from ice cube wedges on opposite sides of the shield; attach rocket tugs to the cubes and launch them toward safe impact zones in earth's upper atmosphere.
He saw himself more as an instructor, showing the computer and an associated flock of robots, to do the set of routines for dismantling the abandoned space cities. Learning by doing, was his teaching mode; the computer was now doing the directing of the task, and had learned to recognize a large number of responses to things that happened on the job; everything was slightly different from everything else. However, the barely averted disaster had gotten him to thinking that an addition was needed, to include in the computer's program, things to watch for that had never actually happened yet, as well as possible responses to those happenings. He was not going to always be available to spot risky happenings, like the bent bolt that delayed the detachment of the ice cube until a rocket boost was unwise, which the computer did not yet know about that.
And even Raphael and Belinda were not able to rescue things that time. And that brought him back to the memory of the odd events, and temporary help by something that seemed quite impossible, "elves", Belinda had called the helpful entities. Weren't elves little mythical creature that sat on toadstools in the forest? The train of thought had led him to what seemed a nowhere place; it was a time to take a break, he decided.
He directed the computer to cease operations for awhile, just to make sure no new emergencies were going to happen for the breaktime, at least. He unhooked from the control station seat and launched himself into the back of the vehicle to the habitation section, his little home away from home. With some snack for creature comforts, he activated his old computer, one of the few still operating ones from way back; it could run software that had no parallel in modern computers. He had a long time favorite software that would simulate the ancient I Ching, the Book of Changes; getting in a meditative state of mind, he set it to do its random, yet uncannily interesting, proclamation about what was especially worth noticing regarding one's concern. And Raphael had some heavy concerns; the adrenaline had long gone, but memories of visions of near disaster were steaming fresh in mind.
The computer finally came up with an answer that there was not much deflection potential that would be safe for the fatigued old structure; the load bearing of a kinetically supported structure was not in its strength of composite materials but instead was in the kinetic energy stored within the structure with the centrifugal outward force it developed, that supported the enormous load. Keeping the weight down was always a consideration, so the tubing strength had little extra for such strain on it. Lateral forces could be developed, true, in response to wind loads and live loads, but the goal was to prevent lateral motion of the structure, by the application of differential armature forces. So, Belinda and Raphael just paused in their activities watching the trajectory of the hunk of ice coasting down toward the earth.
Raphael ceased sending material down the KESTS, as it conceivably could locally increase the effective cross-section where they were hoping for a miss by the multi-ton ice cube. They watched their respective screens with increasing dread, as the refinements of position calculations increasingly seemed to be zeroing in on a collision course. With only hours to go, the probability of an impact had risen to 50%. At least the projections of collapse pathways did not intersect with the new KESTS structure, connecting to GEO from a tunnel through the Ecuadorean Andes Mountains, 10 kilometers from the terminal of the original KESTS site. He busied himself by going through maintenance check routines on his various robot flocks, then doing it once again, over and over.
Belinda called him to point out how the curious pattern of evenly spaced variations of armature segments had once again shown up in her overall screen to the KESTS to GEO system. He was less interested this time, too worried about the potential collision and its ramifications to his options for getting the job done, to pay much attention. Then suddenly to his astonishment, a dozen of his flock of robots activated by themselves, and rushed out to service one of the ice cube rocket tugs. He checked his controls, and it was the computer itself sending them in a coordinated task, all by itself. Unable to stop them from there, and a bit amazed at their seemingly purposeful coordination too, he watched as they all rushed the tug over to the east side KESTS terminal, collected on one of the now idle captive transport spacecraft, and headed down the KESTS at maximum speed, since all other transporters had been cleared from the structure. In two hours the vehicle had arrived at near the projected impact zone; watching via the monitor screens, Raphael and Belinda stared in astonishment as the team of robots and rocket tug exited the halted vehicle, and one of the robots rode the rocket tug as it was guided to meet the ice cube at high velocity. Within minutes the rocket sled had enough kinetic energy to ram the massive ice cube exactly right to divert its projected path far from either the old or the new KESTS structure. The little robot riding and guiding the rocket tug clearly made refinements to the trajectory right up to impact; then it hit. However, the embedded sawdust that provided shear strength inside the huge ice cube was not strong enough to prevent it from shattering into pieces; and some of the fragments were still headed for the KESTS.
The monitors on the vehicle then showed the remainder of the little robots leaving the vehicle, vanishing outside. Then the vehicle's front camera showed the robots had lined themselves up irregularly along the KESTS structure. Somehow they had each calculated where a fragment would strike, and had set themselves to take the hit instead of the KESTS itself; the little robots spun off into space along with the fragments of the ice cube; and it was over, the KESTS still intact.
Belinda watched all this too, down on the ground in Mission Control, in complete amazement. It surely was an intelligence guiding those robots, but whose? Then her eyes wandered over to the big display panel showing the orange ellipse symbolizing the KESTS structure, and all those now-regular-space dots showing the mysterious regularity in the normally random spacing errors of the armature segments ... then it held her attention longer, as the regular spacing phenomenon faded out, back to the normal display. After a long moment, she called to Raphael, suggesting that he ask his computer how the KESTS got saved.
"Huh? Ask teh computer?" he blurted out. Then as teh implication sank in, he switched his thoughts to how to ask the computer something like that; its software was all set to do some job, not to hold a conversation.
Cernkren8293 had been evaluating teh effeects on its unaware host Raphael, from its guidance of the little robots down to save its cousin Cernkren7467 who had merged with the overall KESTS dynamic structure, at the time they all had landed here. It realized that Raphael wanted to communicate, but thought the computer was where Cernkren 8293 was residing, so it merely directed the computer's display to display to say "Hi, Cernkren8293 here, how do you do." It watched as raphael's blood pressure shot up and musculature went rigid, not the expected response it had expected; had not raphael wanted to communicate? It went to type in more, but raphael had turned teh computer's power off, so it turned teh power to the computer back on, and typed in "Hey, don't be alarmed, we are both working toward teh same goal."
Raphael had regained some of his composure. Working on the same goal, was something he could understand. This all was impossible, but it did indeed seem to be a helpful phenomenon, whatever it was. Maybe somebody was playing a prank on him. "Belinda, are you toying with my computer?" he asked through the videocom. "Explain, please" was her response; and although still a bit suspicious, but then realizing the situation was no place for pranks to have been going on, he scratched that guess about the situation. "My computer started answering my question before I could figure out how to ask teh computer a question" he explained. "Then it is you, or something in you, that is chatting with you via the computer," Belinda found herself saying. "Did it have a name for itself? Was it Cernkren 8293?" she found herself saying to Raphael, to her own surprise. Raphael , continuing to be stunned by all this, still having some of the adrenaline of the averted dister coursing through him too, found himself saying, "Yes, Cernkren8293 here, how are you, Cernkren4243? Interesting communicating using this verbal pathway; yes indeed, interesting. But we had better let these folks get back to work; we have surprised them a bit too much, I think." Raphael's computer display went blank for an instant, then resumed its normal work task list display.
Raphael got up and went over to the refreshment dispenser, and began sipping a bag of hat brew. It was definitely time for a break.
When Belinda arrived back at work the next day, she was mildly surprised to find that curious pattern in the armature spacing around the KESTS hoop structure, was no longer present. It was back to the normal grayed out random pattern overall again. Could she have been imagining things, the loneliness getting to her? She opened up the records from yesterday, and there they were, the pattern was indeed present yesterday. But not today. Well, it provided something interesting that was unexpected to brighten her day a bit,she finally decided. A diversion from watching the huge old bridge between the ground and high earth orbit slowly crumbled, in a race between its last years and the need for it to tear down that which it and its predecessor had enabled built. She watched dismally as she saw the brief flash high up on the east side of the KESTS bridge, as another of the armature tracks had to go into local repair reflex mode to compensate for a small fracture.
High up in the ring of cities in GEO, Raphael was similarly noting that the regularity in the functioning of his flock of aluminum foil stripper robots was not happening today. At least they were behaving according to what one would expect, back to normal. Yet he was still a bit on the lookout for other unexpected kinds of indications now. With the aluminum foil stripped completely from this former city's passive shield, he set the set of robots to unbolt the wedge shaped huge ice cubes, attach the reaction engine tugs to shove them one at a time off toward the ground, when the timing was just right. He took a moment's time out from the job to aim his telescope at the earth, tracked by computer, right on time as predicted, he could see a streak of cloud form high in the atmosphere over the ocean, as one of the ice cubes meteorically re-entered the atmosphere, home once again. That timing seemed to relieve him, proof of the predictability of things after all.
Then there was a malfunction alarm; one of the retaining fasteners on one of the ice cubes had jammed and was not letting the chunk of water ice go; it was one of the last to go, too. It's opposite side ice cube had released on schedule, however; thus what was left was the mile-diameter coupling ring, with the once ice cube, all slowly rotating yet now around its new center of gravity. In fact, he had to quickly move his utility vehicle out of the way to keep from being hit by the coupling ring.
Just before he arrived over to where the robot was struggling to release the ice cube, the robot finally managed to disconnect the ring from the ice cube, and launch the rocket to begin the re-entry process. Tuning back, no longer needed to help out, raphael was about to call it a day when a new alarm message appeared on screen; this time it was in bright red, including a projected trajectory of the giant ice cube, launched way out of synchronization and no longer in the safe zone, and in fact it could hit the KESTS itself. The re-entry booster tug had mindlessly done its thing and was headed back to GEO to re-fuel; Raphael quickly set up the parameters for a return and deflection boost on the ice cube, but there was not enough fuel left in the tug to do the job.
He alerted Belinda of the situation, and transmitted his tracking data down to load into here database; the projected trajectory had a 30% chance of impacting the KESTS, she found. It would take a day and a half before the ice cube got into the danger zone, was there anything that could be done to improve the odds? She had a limited range of lateral motion of the Kests Structure, enabled by differential dynamic braking of armature segments on opposite sides of the KESTS, normally used to compensate for high wind loads; but it was not designed to just cause displacement of the structure, but instead to keep it in place despite the wind. If she ordered it to flex without wind, the shape would have to be expressed as live loads on the structure. She set the computer to calculating how much such strain on the stator structure could be withstood, as a function of lateral displacement, as well as how much of the displacement would be translated high above the atmosphere to where the possible impact zone was indicated. She and raphael watched on their respective display screens for the answers as they trickled in from the computer doing this unfamiliar task added to its normal busy activities monitoring the KESTS hoop dynamic structure.
Even though the sun shone here in GEO 24 hours a day, Raphael had set a rest and sleep schedule to match that down at the ground terminal, where Belinda was. It was daytime down below him now, there in Indonesia; but halfway around the world at the KESTS ground terminal, it was nighttime. So he closed the shutters an his drag-along house-trailer, after pulling it down into the relative shelter inside the shielding ice of the current city being dismantled. Connecting his viewscreen to the one in their home down on the ground, he called to Belinda, almost right on schedule. That way they had their virtual partner across from them at the table as they had dinner, conversing almost as if at home together.
Belinda was saying something about a curious phenomenon that had been making itself apparent on the KESTS today. "Curious?" Raphael muttered between mouthfuls, already a bit burned out on new challenges to deal with right away. "Well, it seems strange to me, and I have been watching this big hoop for the past 6 years; and this is not usual" she replied, a bit defensive. Struggling with how to put it, she went on to describe how the normally random variations in position from nominal as the armatures sped around on their tracks, had shown up on her screen as symmetrical variations on her overall viewscreen of the elliptical KESTS hoop structure. "It shows up as similarly spaced variations around the hoop, even though the armatures bunch up at the top and are separated furthest from each other as they speed through the re-accelerator at the earth terminal. It is not just the overall symmetry around the hoop, but it appears despite the wide variations in spacing around the hoop." she attempted to explain. "It actually looks quite pretty on my screen" she added, a bit sheepishly.
Raphael had stopped eating and looked blankly at her in the viewscreen. That seemed to be a physical impossibility. Could there be something wrong with their sensors? Belinda continued on, sensing his disbelief. "I performed a maintenance calibration check even though it had just been done yesterday; the transients it put into the system all appeared in the readouts, so it is real, alright." "Other than the improbable symmetry and regular spacing around the hoop, the average values all were well within the acceptable range, and in fact a bit closer to nominal than usual. It all seemed quite curious" she went on, bringing the original catchword back into the conversation. Raphael had forgotten the rest of his food in front of him as he requested her to pipe through the image of the wall screen at Mission Control right now, still lit up even thought its controllers - only Belinda at this point - were off duty for the night.
Just as she said, the orange ellipse around the planet connecting up to GEO showed a regular glowing set of dots, where normally random fluctuations in armature spacings would have averaged out to just white; now there were a rainbow set of colors as the spacings all were moving as if coordinated somehow. Raphael looked in amazement for quite a few moments, then said "OK,I agree, it is a curious thing." So switch the viewscreen back to you; I spend enough of my day looking at machine stuff as it is."
They each poured a glass of synthesized red wine and toasted each other across the miles in their respective viewscreens, then sipped their wine pensively silently for awhile. "That reminds me" Raphael began, "something that was happening today among the herd of aluminum foil strippers that were working on the ice shield. The computer has learned to coordinate them well, with almost no corrections needed by me. That is to be expected. But oddly, the flock of foil stripper robots were functioning all in unison, although not in a uniform repetitive pattern. I had assumed it was just the computer's iterative way of thinking, making the coordination among the flock of robots act as if some artifact of the regularity of the computer's decision-making was causing the apparent uniform motions among all the robots, despite the variation in their specific tasks of the instant. That, too, was curious, but seemed explainable by the computer's control." "The armatures on the KESTS are all computer controlled of course, but the trillions of armatures tend to be controlled by their local control systems around the hoop, responding to the changes in live load, all quite irregular a load." Belinda filled in. "It is within the optional range for acceptable position is being maintained on average, while actual variations as seen in the big picture, form regular patterns, as if aware of each other or being controlled by a unitized ... something." she finished, a bit lamely. "Whatever, it made the day finish in a more interesting way," she concluded.
"You mean it was not that way when your workshift started?" Raphael exclaimed. "About when did it start happening?" She paused thoughtfully a moment, then went on to explain that it did not happen all at once, that over the course of the early afternoon, the regularity of colorful dots along the KESTSS Big Picture wall display began to be apparent. It was such an unexpected thing that it had formed quite a regular pattern before it dawned on me that something was consistently happening" she went on. "It was then that I initiated the calibration check of the whole system, and when it finished, it said everything was operating well within acceptable limits." "Have you been getting enough sleep lately?" Raphael said after a moment of thought. "Well, how about you and your flock of robots, are you getting enough good sleep time lately?" she countered. That put Raphael silent for a long time, before he slowly proclaimed that it was indeed bedtime for both of them. Unspoken was that the viewscreen was no comfort in their beds alone through the night, an empty space that no machine could fill.
The third city was beginning to become routine; he let the computer make the first moves, Raphael readied to do a course correction at every instant. And the computer was learning from its mistakes. Raphael hoped that he would soon be able to let the computer run the utility vehicle's herding of the disassembly robots, with only a link back to Raphael when the unexpected happens. Raphael would then clone the computer's software, set the clone to work with another utility vehicle and herds of robots it tends, and so on. There were, after all over a million cities yet to go for decommissioning and removal; it would take a lot of taking apart.
In fact, the limiting part of the workflow would become the maximum continuous capacity of the KESTS bridge getting the stuff down to the ground. And at that thought, he checked in again with Mission Control down on the ground; Belinda was still the sole person at a workstation there as usual these years. "How are the indicators on the east side of the KESTS showing the stress levels, now that the down-flow is increasing?" Belinda checked the summary on her screen and advised that the larger chunks of aluminum ring segments were discontinuous loads to the structure, and were having a maximum localized of 40% of the estimated safe maximum, given the structure's deteriorating condition. "Looks like we can handle at least twice that load" she replied. "When are you coming down to see me?" she continued, partly to cheer him up, knowing he must be lonely up there and having to struggle in a difficult environment, with no nightly relief either.
Yes, when; Raphael muttered to himself, as he continued on with the tasks before him. When I get these sheepdogs trained to take care of the flock, is when.
Although human emotions and aspirations were far to subtle for Cernkren8293 at this point, the wavelet seed had grown into its new home enough to be aware that there were some out-of-sight influencers on Raphael's behavior. The Computer was more comprehensible to Cernkren8293 in that its activity was quite straightforward, even playing an ultra simplistic song composed of only two notes, a one and a zero, but lots of them and all over the place. In fact, more places that Cernkren8293 could observe. However, he noted that Raphael's communication with the Computer involved very little sophistication; and the response of the Computer was fairly simplistic too, and seemed to follow fairly obvious paths despite the high level of ones and zeros all over the place so as to get to the results. And Cernkren8293 was unable to influence the hard binary state of ones and zeros, unlike the many level values that produced Raphael's decisions. Both Raphael and the Computer seemed to be doing much the same task, but how they achieved their decisions was really quite different, Cenkren mused to itself. Maybe an effort to influence some decision being made by Raphael would be a next step, done carefully. No disasters were permitted in the wavelet's makeup.
At this point, Raphael decided that for the next city shell to be dismantled, to make it easier to keep small fragments from escaping to be a problem up here in the other GEO facilities, it would be better to take the inner shell apart before removing the ice shield, and let the shield be a catcher for the fragments. In fact, he decided to temporarily set this former city wheel shell for a later effort, and he moved on to the next of the former space cities, which had been cleared of its inner contents. On this one, he immediately applied the dynamic braking to equalize the rotation rates between the inner wheel and the relatively massive passive ice shield. With the inner wheel almost motionless, he unbolted one of the segment slices of the 700 foot thick donut tube, and began the process of slicing it into small enough arc sections to be transportable down to the ground along the old KESTS space escalator. Catcher nets were getting most if not all of the fragments of the slicing process, and the few that bounced off the inner wall of thee ice shield eventually were caught in the other nets readied for randomly directed particles.
As he guided this process, he had the computer in the learning mode, so it then was watching the process while including the measures taken to deal with the inevitable irregularities of the work task. He kept it in the watch-and-learn mode until he had completed the removal of the entire former city's toroidial shell, then set the computer to its variation mode to watch how things went while Raphael creatively began disassembling the first city shell, moving the slices of the wheel over into the relative confines of the existing ice-shield, and fed those slices into the system.
It was an expensive activity, however, moving the mass of the wheel of one city over into the passive shield shell of its neighbor, expensive in terms of reaction engine work. Fuel had to be lifted up the KESTS from the ground, although the oxidizer was compressed air from the former cities. The concern for the rocket exhaust to not end up over at some facility on the GEO Habitat Ring was ever a factor in the efficiency too, not always able to do the move in the most propellant efficient way.
Eventually there was nothing left of the first city except for its part of the transportation corridor that ran the full circumference of GEO, tying everything together without need for reaction engined vehicles during the normal course of business and daily life. The area looked bare, empty. Well, lots more would have to go too. Raphael set about with the herd of foil strippers, set to work on the passive ice shield of the second city. This time he let the computer make guesses about what to do next, but Raphael did the actual control, There were often variations in what to do next, each way would do the job equally well for the end result; and those were the hard things for the computer to learn, but it was busy collecting data, ever watching what Raphael was doing to close the gap between where he was now, to where the next target goal was. And soon, the passive shield's giant wedge ice cubes were sent slowly drifting down toward the planet's atmosphere, where they would make a cloud streak as they each did high velocity re-entries, rejoining the planetary environment from where their watery material had been removed decades before.
Unknown to either Raphael or the computer, there was a third watcher that was learning the ropes in the decommissioning process. Cernkren8293 was increasingly coming alive, a parasite energy pattern learning to merge and draw life energy from Raphael. It was discovering much of Raphael's body processes, and also had made the connection between the vision and other sensory systems with movements, and beginnings of correspondence with what was appearing as changing to the senses that were a function of physical happenings outside Raphael's body. Even more interesting, Cernkren8293 was noticing another entity, a curious creature which Raphael referred to as "the Computer," not really a living thing, to Raphael. Cernkren8293 had no agenda at that point but to learn to live, be alive in its own way, like a newborn babe, discovering its inner and outer world and the relationship between the two.
Arriving inside the first former city shell to be dismantled, Raphael was once again aware of the immensity of the now-empty shell, the inside of a wheel with an almost 700 feet diameter tire. Here, at one time, 10,000 people lived quite well, including their agriculture and manufacture of most of their needs. However, it had not been in the optimism that had been originally expected by the designers of this place, because the circumstances of its use were so abruptly changed right from the beginning of full habitation of the ring of cities here in GEO, due to the attack from the group that tried to take over the world, for free. And the cost of regaining original purpose was high indeed; and in the meantime, the people living in the city that once had thrived here, went from worried to despair, then hope and finally relief at prospect of return home down on the earth surface, where they are now. This huge wheel shell had served its purpose, and was now a potential risk in the distant future; and it had to go.
He sent his utility spacecraft back outside, after starting the air compressors; the air from inside the city shell was to be used as oxidizer for the reaction engines that would de-orbit chunks of the water-ice passive shield, motionless outside relative to the slowly rotating wheel inside. Meantime, he released the group of teleoperated robots designed for the task of unzipping the aluminum foil skin from the surface of the water ice shield, and rolling the foil up into a cylinder, stowing the cylinders of aluminum foil in the back of the robot vehicle. It was much like the opposite of the way the foil was original applied and zippered into a skin to reflect sunlight from the water ice inside; the ice shield was 15 feet thick and was laced with wood sawdust for tensile internal strength.
The herd of foil zipper robots busily went to work, a semi-autonomous task, governed by observing the progress of their work and including it with the progress of the others of its team. Raphael thought that he was like merely the shepherd tending a flock of peacefully grazing sheep, there to keep them safe and help out in case of some unexpected problem happening. Occasionally one of the robots would come over to his vehicle and transfer its collection of aluminum foil rolls to the maintenance utility vehicles large storage in back; then the robot would assess where was a new place needing unzipping and head in that direction.
The raw ice curved surface was rapidly getting exposed to the vacuum of space, some of the water was outgassing where energized by sunlight; this put a miniscule unbalance to the ice structure; Raphael idly wondered if such a thing could be used for propulsion in space, just use ice and use heating from sunlight on its sunward end to ablate and thrust outward. did not seem like a very efficient use of mass, bus surely uncomplicated and probably long term reliable.
When the entire surface had its shiny foil removed and the herd of unzipper robots returned to the utility vehicle, he moved to the transport terminal for delivery of the aluminum spools for the eastward down-travel to the earth surface. Then back at the icy shell of the city, the ice's great mass would perform one more function before return home; electrodynamic braking was applied between the ice shell and the huge wheel slowly revolving inside the ice shell. This brought the two into equal rotation, only a small fraction of a gee remain in the composite whole, a much easier managed mass.
The passive ice shield had been cast of arc segment bricks, with waxed surfaces that easily slid out once their attachment bolts were loosened. Raphael directed the de-orbit tug, which now had a tank full of compressed air top burn with ethanol propellant brought up from the ground; and as the slowly rotating ice toroid reached the angle optimum to ease its directed trip back to the earth's atmosphere, the final bolt securing the ice cube to the group was release, the tug's reaction engine motor was started, and keeping its reaction exhaust from impinging on any of the still functioning facilities in GEO, the big odd shaped ice cube headed down, a 22,300 mile free-fall thereafter; would take a few days to arrive home.
The first ice cube on its way, only a hundred or so more to go for this former city. He waited for the return of the little tug; when it arrived, quite a ways displaced from the site of the initial removed ice cube, to again be optimally synchronized for the exit downward, the initiated the ice release, tug engine firing, and away went the second one. It looked like clockwork, so he released the second of his tugs, and soon there were two ice cubes in process .
Raphael checked how well the semi-autonomous coordination of this new kind of sheep was functioning, and when it checked out, he released the third one. And so forth, until the whole flock of ice tugs were busy , all interacting with the slow rotational movement of the ice shield, the position relative to the planet below, the receipt of compressed air from the atmosphere of the former city, and when needed a refueling from the tank that was part of the utility trailers the utility space truck had in tow., following the busy herd of robots along.
When all the ice was gone, leaving only the aluminum rim on which it had been assembled long ago, a group of the little tugs were set to de-spin the rim. Now motionless, the compression tie cables were released, that had guaranteed the interlocking rims segments would stay in place even in mile cataclysm, the little tugs were re-programmed to grab the rim segments, shove them to detach their interlocking parts, then shove them off to the downward terminal to f the KESTS space escalator's easter, now downward transport, side, then they would return for another segment of the rim of the former city's passive shield. Soon there was nothing left but the naked aluminum wheel, now almost motionless in the orbit, no virtual gravity inside anymore, and much of its air now gone, use as oxidizer already. The compressors were busy grabbing what remained of the air inside, squishing it into storage tanks, When the inner volume had been pumped down sufficiently,, two vents were opened to space on opposite side of the structure, and the remaining air was allowed to escape into space, but at an angle so it formed a reaction engine pair that continued to finish de-spinning the huge wheel.
Now came the hard part. The former city's shell structure exterior aluminum segments were bolted together; yet as were most of the cities built in later stages of the civilization move up here, each was a wedge shaped ring cast in that shape while at L1, before being sent over here for assembly. The 700 foot diameter rings were much too massive to take down to the earth in one piece, especially now that the aging KESTS was beginning to show signs of structural fatigue. 1225 words
The next morning Raphael headed back up the old KESTS space escalator, this time using the fully equipped construction gear in tow; it was going to be a busy day. It was an uneventful trip, without seeing any downward traffic, due to the usage change of only using the westward side as upward-bound traffic, and the eastward-side for downward traffic. That way, large chunks of structure could be brought down without worry about collision with traffic moving in the other direction. But that meant all the energy being put back into the structure was now on the eastward side of the structure, deforming the structure without balance from upward bound traffic. In fact, now that he thought of it, that deformation might be related to the increase in stress on the old bridge.
So far, they had managed to remove all the internal detachable stuff from a couple dozen of the space cities, bringing all those materials from the old condominiums, light industrial corporate shops, transportation facilities, agricultural structures, soil, and water;. But the structural shells were still up there, as well as the passive shield mass, mostly water ice covered with a thing aluminum foil exterior. The water ice shield material was to be de-orbited to vaporize in the atmosphere, after stripping off the aluminum foil skin, returning to the ecosystem from which it came. That was the task to be started on the first city selected to go. - 3440 words total at this point; nominal would be 8,500 words by now.
"That crack in the tubing appeared to be structural fatigue - and that area experiences no more stress than the other parts of the whole structure" began Raphael, " and that implies the whole structure is probably equally beginning to fail. And I can't be putting such patches all over the 131,000 kilimeters circumference of teh escalator." Belinda just stared at him without moving, as if waiting for him to say a "But..." that was not happening.
Finally she said the obvious, given that he was not providing new options, that it was really difficult to count on the old KESTS to GEO bridging escalator structure for the immense task of bringing down all the structure and contents of most of the cities making up the ring of space settlements around the earth. Raphael continued on saying we can just lighten the maximum load on the structure, see how far we can get with the decommissioning of the old facilities in GEO, before stopping the ongoing effort.
There was no other option, really. The new space escalator bridging between ground and GEO had been designed as a unit, carefully done and built to specs, for the designed loads and activity level necessary to utilize the solar power satellites and total recycling facilities, as well as supporting lift for the occasional major space exploration expedition, and no room left over for much else. And it was already running at maximum capacity; people kept coming up with new uses for access to build in GEO than had been anticipated by the new space escalator's designers.
The old former space escalator bridging structure was the only one ever capable of the enormous sustained activity and load levels necessary for removing the now obsolete solar power satellites as well as the ring of cities of space, that once had housed almost seven billion people. Everything in GEO had to be actively supplied station-keeping thrust, albeit small, it had to be fairly frequently done to prevent failures; and it was a huge task now, dealing with such vast areas of ghost space cities, occupied only by a few roaming bands of people who did not want to return to the structured regimens of life back on earth.
So, she continued, with your latest patch on the tubing, are you ready to re-certify the structure so we can resume the decommissioning effort? belinda asked. "With the stipulation that the maximum load be only 75% of original rated load, at any given time; and also that the load be arranged so as to have half of the load variation over time, as had been ongoing. This means that a storage system be set up at the top terminal. It also means that the larger sections of the mainframe of each city be cut into smaller pieces, since the majority of the space cities had been built of large prefab sections delivered from he moon in one piece, each of the sections was now too heavy for localized loads on the aging structure. And cutting those sections has to be done in such a way as to leave no fragments beyond what the shields of the other facilities and satellites can handle routinely. Fragment catchers will have to work in conjunction with the solar pumped laser slicers equipment; and so far, it involved a lot of human coordinated effort to operate those machines, and it was risky work.
Well, let's get with it, she concluded, adding that it would be nice to have a Plan B readied. With that, they closed their job mode of life, walked into their living portion, and became mated partners for the duration until the morning's work effort resumed.
Cernkren7467 was indeed to have companionship of his own kind. As the fleet of Cernkren wavlets sped through the solar system, many of them found a resonant object of sufficient complexity to host Cernkren's consciousness; most were human beings.
As Raphael rode in his captive maintenance spaceship down the space escalator's structure toward the ground terminal, wavelet Cernkren8293's wavelet plane encountered Raphael's life force complexity and the wavelet resonated to it adequately, and the quantum nature of the wavelet changed into the form of a particle at the site of resonance. "Ouch!' Raphael muttered to himself, alone in the capsule spacecraft; he looked around at what sharp object had he bumped into back there but a bit puzzled looked away, there was no needle-like-object back there. Yet he distinctly felt sore in that spot, it was not a fleeting fantasy, becoming a dull ache, as if he had received an inoculation injection. Ignoring the unexplained experience, he focused on the view as his capsule rode silently across the equatorial coast of Ecuador, and soon slid into a hole in the side of a high mountain peak, and soon he was back on foot, carrying the maintenance toolkit with its more detailed data set, to add to that initially telemetered via radio. Inserting the data module into the analysis bank of instruments, the mix of gasses pointed to being very close to the tunnel itself. Ultrasonic transducers there in the tunnel initiated a transmission along the escalator structure ; when no bounce came back, the next higher set of transducers activated and transmitted its vibrations along the structure; and eventually one set produced an echo. The next higher ultrasonic signal also produced an echo but from the other direction; the crack was located.
Raphael selected a patch repair module, went back to his maintenance captive capsule spacecraft and mounted it; climbed back into he capsule and headed out to the site of the crack. The autopilot stopped the vehicle at the site pointed out by the ultrasonic reflections; the microscope on the repair module extended out, scanned along the group of tubes. Nothing seen visually, the direct application ultrasonic sensors were sequentially applied across the range of where the crack could be, until the damage tube was found; it was at the side of an original weld and had characteristics of fatigue; the structure was old, built in a hurry, and clearly was having an increasingly hard time of it. A bead of welding nanoparticles was painted down the length of the fatigue crack, then a thin exterior patch was sealed over the area including the areas where the crack could have propagated later. Repair done, he headed back for the tunnel and an overdue rest with belinda, they would still have a few hours together before time to go back to work tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Cernkren8293 was relaxing into the being to which it was now merging into, using protocols that were inbuilt into the electronic DNA representation, set to examine the new host for appropriate energy structures. External sourced signals were found correlations matched through experience, refining correspondence with the outer world, and soon Cernkren8293 was linked to stereo images from a limited band of light, as well as acoustical time series and tactile-kinesthetic sensors, and increasingly Cernkren was watching all that raphael watched and experienced from the environment. It took longer to find the meaningfulness of those sensory signals, but Cernkren was rapidly knowing the experience of Raphael as the impressions resonated with raphael's past similar experiences and his anticipations for the near future.
Raphael arrived home, and Belinda had gotten up and prepared a meal which they shared, along with a couple of glasses of red wine then they embraced.
Cernkren8293 momentarily extended its essence into the being that Raphael was interacting with and now closely touched with; the new being was interesting too. Then a surprise; the new being also had a copy of Cernkren, one of his cloned electronic twins had found a home too! - 672 words
Cernkren#7467 had only the minimal consciousness of time passage, it was a dull journey being a wavelet traveling at the speed of light for many millennia, encountering little but gas and dust along the way. So, awareness was not a big deal to him up to now. He had been transmitted out as a unified wavefront, encoded DNA-like consciousness instructions of the physical Cernkren-being on the planet tens of thousands of light years from the Earth. Millions of identical copies of the wavelets were transmitted out in a beam together toward where the Solar System would be on arrival; like seeds strewn across the ground, few if any would find enough resonance with anything as they radiated through the Solar system, it was all very chancy here.
Cernkren#7467 became alerted by the vibration of complex somethings briefly passed by, things were changing; he was awake as much as possible as the unified wavelet field. Then a small part of the wavelet's plane of radiation encountered an object sufficiently complex as to resonate with the complex pattern of electromagnetic wavefront that was Cernkren#7467, causing him to change from a wave motion to a particle nature with a specific location instead of spread out over millions of square kilometers of space; he was down, landed on his new home.
The encoding his extremely complex matrix found the closest similarities in the being he had now irretrievable had become one with; consciousness took on specific qualities, awakening him as millions of sub-patterns that now had physical equivalents now, and Cernkren#7467's consciousness pattern thus woke up to be ... a machine. This was quite unlike the he the Cernkren being that had walked upon a planet eons ago; but it was his fate now, make the best of it, enjoy.
He began tallying up what he could find of his new physical self. He was basically a hoop, not very circular, elongated. One end of his elongation was attached to something much more massive than he was, and around which he circled; the other end was attached to another circular thing but ever far bigger in perimeter than he was; he seemed to be the union between these two objects, all rotating as a unit in space, once every 24 hours. He was a hoop, with internal moving parts and external parts ever shifting and adjusting, all parts of himself now. All parts of himself were being pulled by a large gravitational field of the heavy object to which he was attached at one end, and in fact, only the outward push of rapidly moving parts of himself that were endlessly circulating around his perimeter, their fast moving centrifugal force in aggregate slightly more than enough to balance the force of gravity on all parts of himself, maintaining the shape of he, the hoop. And there were other parts of himself that came and went, some from the large ring at his top and some leaving and entering the massive object at his bottom end. And inside some of these little moving capsules riding up and down his structure, temporarily parts of himself during their trip up and down, were large numbers of beings, each individually complex enough to have resonated to Cernkren#7467, but he was now committed for life to where he was. He hoped some of his twins had luckily encountered some of those other complex field pattern beings; he already longed for companionship of his own kind.
Wearily leaning back in her chair, eyes ever scanning the big control display panel on the wall in front of her workstation, Belinda Howitz was beginning to anticipate the evening's rest period, when an amber alarm signal lit brightly on the display. It was located at an altitude of only a hundred kilometers above the earth surface, about at the point on the structure where the evacuated tubing opened its upward-direction armature tracks to the vacuum of space, the armatures pumping any air molecules that had somehow leaked into the high velocity armature segment tracks, dumping them into the vacuum of space; the air molecular count was normally quite low, but now one of the tubes was pumping significantly more molecules than normal. She quickly copied the indications over to her partner Raphael Vasquez, while alerting him to focus on what was going on there.
One look at the display indications sent to him by his wife, Belinda, who was over in the operations center, told Raphael that they were probably not going to be together tonight after all. Problems that were this close to the ground terminal were his responsibility; the maintenance crew was much too thinly spread out these days for a quicker response from the crew members currently located higher up on the structure. He picked the most likely useful repair kit from the shelf and headed for the ground terminal, high up in a tunnel that had been dug through Cayembe Peak.
In the control center, Belinda watched the dot indicating the emergency maintenance truck appear in motion, the GEO-GPS showing its location to within a few centimeters, as it also similarly continually signaled location of every other monitored item in the system. She too was feeling disappointment at having to spend the night alone; she had been welcoming the anticipated night of comfort together; well, it will happen anyway, albeit some other night. Maybe tomorrow night; she watched the progress of the truck, as well as the rate of increase of gasses being vented by the tubing up on the fringes of space. The gasses being pumped out by the upward-moving armatures seemed to be at a stable rate, thankfully. But for now it was watch and see; her skill was in being aware of the whole system, spotting details that were out of range of variation. She focused her attention to the whole of the screen filling the wall in front of the control workstations; staff was so skimpy that she was it now, the hundreds of other workstations all empty right now. It was up to her to somehow do the essentials of the whole crew that had been there in better times.
She spread her vision focus to include the whole system from Geostationary Earth Orbit down. The circle indicating the earth's equator was at the center; the large circle around the earth was representative of the synchronous orbit that was now in-filled entirely with solar power stations, mass-spectrometer total recycling plants, spaceports, and most of all the hundreds of thousands of decrepit old habitat ring cities, at one time the refuge of civilization while the ecosystem was being brought back into a sustainable balance, and now largely abandoned; its inhabitants having returned to their homes on the ground. The Ecuadorean ground terminal was at the lower, surface-grazing part of the quasi-ellipse planet-encircling hoop that reached up to GEO at its highest point, far above the earth on the opposite side of the planet above Indonesia.
The orange-colored elliptical hoop was symbolic of the aging transportation structure, built long ago to move millions of people a day, along with their household belongings, between the GEO Habitat Ring Cities and the ground. The outward push of the high velocity armature segments circulating within the structure endlessly around the planet, moved at the velocity able to generate outward centrifugal force outward, upward relatively to the planet, to balance the weight of the elliptical hoop bridging structure, a simple idea that had been suppressed for too long for its optimum use, but it got built anyway in desperate times; people just had not learned yet to be responsible to the whole of civilization back then. Ever built and rebuilt with what ever could be gotten to use, it was amazing that it had held together for this long after so much use and now years of neglect. Worse, it had now been decreed to use the hoop bridge to disassemble the parts of the GEO habitat ring that had been abandoned, returning the materials to earth.
Yet, much of the main shell structure of the cities, each a mile in diameter and 600 feet across the rim of each city wheel, was made of aluminum originally brought from the Lunar surface materials processing plants, instead of being brought up from the ground; it was more efficient to build the bulk of the cities of Lunar materials. The passive shields around each city were composed of sawdust-impregnated water ice, and the latest instruction was to de-orbit the chunks of water ice to impact into the earth's atmosphere, to rejoin the cloud water in the weather patterns, easy enough.
Belinda then narrowed her focus of attention down to the area where the orange-colored ellipse grazed the planet's surface above Ecuador, high in tunnel Number 1 crossing east-west high in the Andes Mountains. The big wall panel display obediently followed her attention, amplifying that area, until she could see both the alarm signal dot on the hoop, along with the dot showing the progress of Rafael's truck as it approached the terminal facilities' parking lot. She switched the locator beacon for Rafael to that of the toolbox he was bringing along; the dot moved from the parking lot toward the mouth of the tunnel through the mountain. The tracking signal switched to the internal terminal tracking auxiliary system; it showed Rafael and his tool box had entered a service vehicle, then magnetically coupled to the upward-moving group of armature segments, letting them drag the vehicle through the tunnel and out high over the Pacific Ocean along the planet's equator, closing the gap between there and the alarm dot high over the ocean waters, just above the fringes of space.
Fifteen minutes later, Rafael was stopped at the alarm transducer point. It was indeed the normal exit point where the magnetic levitation track no longer was shielded by the tubing within it traveled while in the atmosphere; the task was now to determine just where in the atmosphere the molecules had originated from. He set the gas analyzer from his tool kit into the airlock and soon it was being poised over the site of the gas exit stream; the exact tube was identified; now, where was the crack in the tubing. The ratio of the composition of the gasses and ions suggested they had come from far down, close to the ground, even traces of the industrial compounds used in the area in the terminal itself. He brought the instrument back inside the maintenance vehicle, and headed back down toward the ground terminal; a tubing breach deep in the dense atmosphere was very worrisome.
An Excalator Hi page titled Nanowrimo2008Writing by J E D Cline started on Saturday, November 1, 2008 6:55:45 PM US/Pacific
Copyright © 2008 James E. D. Cline. Permission granted to reproduce providing inclusion of a link back to this site and acknowledgment of the author and concept designer James E. D. Cline.