By James E. D. Cline
Ch.1: Crisis on First KESTS
- A Science Fiction story by Jim Cline -
The sound of heavy winds and lashing rain battering on the windows and wall of the prefab structure high in the Andes Mountains in Ecuador woke Techerson a little, snuggled closer to his wife, thankful for this warm cozy place, sleepily. The metal walls rumbled with a particularly hard gust against it, and suddenly the comm link sounded urgently for attention. There has been a system failure, his boss said, control central in Houston reported the system’s safeties had shut down all but operations necessary for its own survival. It had been lifting a series of cargo spacecraft carrying hot-weld components in an ongoing construction task; the spacecraft were stopped, locked in place hanging on the outside of the KESTS, far below GEO, and the buffer supply of hot-melt components being used in assembly would run out in 3 hours, and that system would have to shut down too if no resupply by then, and it would take weeks to get it going again if that happened. The project did not have weeks to spare; they had to get the first Satellite Solar Power Station online in GEO before the last of the quota of petrochemical fuel was alloted for the project had been fully consumed. That SSPS could then power the KESTS, independently of earthsurface failing energy supplies, and could be the start of recovery of the civilization built on easy cheap energy, now starving to death for lack of adequate energy.
Kissing his wife goodby quickly, he put on his maintenance environmental jumpsuit, went out the double door lock into the storm. It was so beautiful here normally when he went outside to go to work, but now barely recognizable in the darkness and rain being hurled against his environmental suit, splotches of wet splaying on his faceplate erratically. His hand guided by the cable set in posts along the rough-hewn pathway along the cliff face, soon he got to the edge of the tunnel aperture in the side of the mountain, and looked at the horizontal tube extending out from the tunnel horizontally as far as one could see, even in daylight. The KESTS tube was already over a meter in diameter, yet much smaller than fully operational size, its scaling-up construction temporarily halted to prematurely start building a solar electric power station in GEO with material lifted by this first KESTS to GEO, due to political turmoil as nations made the final power grabs for the remaining fuel oil reserves. If it did not manage to get its own solar energy derived electric power going before the oil for energy allocation ran out, the project would be shut down, and mankind would be forever chained by gravity to the earth’s surface, not even fuel for one manned rocket launch thereafter.
But something had gone wrong, the KESTS’s fault monitor system alarm had been sent, the system had shut down its transportation of cargo spacecraft. The wind boomed resonantly into the tunnel’s cavern face, as if challenging the right of this intruder KESTS to take root here in its domain. He turned the tunnel service lights on, and stepped into the tunnel tram, went to the maintenance control room. Glancing wistfully at the unfinished holosystem control station, he went over to the tall dark racks of electronic control racks, built of old technology scrounged for the task, the economy already shutting down on development funds. Its glowing lights and numeric displays by the thousands, the failure probably causing alarm indications far down the line from where it actually was. Intently looking at the computer display screen graphic of the overall system, it showed a small circle symbolizing the earth's equator, which was encircled by a large circle symbolizing geostationary earth orbit, about seven earth radii out from center of the earth, and the KESTS structure which was symbolized by an ellipse around the earth, touching the equator at one point and touching GEO above the opposite side of the earth. It showed a red splotch on the ellipse that symbolized the KESTS transportation structure very close to where it touched ground. This was confirmed by the earliest indication on the alarm lights pointing to a section of the KESTS about 35 kilometers out from the tunnel, still deep in the atmosphere, storm still battering the structure even there. A layer of the KESTS tubes was ruptured, probably by the lateral servo control exceeding its capacity in compensating for lateral wind forces with the rain as hurled battering mass, and the high velocity armature segments had hit the wall and blown out the tubing.
Techerson looked at the pattern of failure lights, guessed the deepest mass stream tube had blown and took out the 14 of them above it to the outside edge of the KESTS, as built so far of many layers of armature mass stream tubes, scaling up bootstrap toward full capacity size. He checked to see that the safeties had indeed automatically switched the incoming armatures of the 15 tubes as they were incoming back from their run to GEO, so the only armatures lost were the 35 miles of them that had been past the accelerator in the tunnel. It would take about 5 more hours to finish the dump of the armature segments from the damaged tubes; the overall fate would be decided long before that. He climbed into the emergency maintenance gondola, its battery and traction motor would last for several hundred miles and he preferred not to start up the KESTS vehicle lift coupling yet. The gondola moved down through the long Andean tunnel, then exited through the darkness into the storm’s fury, vibrating the gondola as it swept out over the Pacific Ocean along the equator. He would rather have waited until daylight and storm abatement, but neither sun nor storm would change much in the few hours available to get the KESTS going again.
The maintenance spotlights of the gondola glared upon the patch of torn up tubing at 2 o’clock on the KESTS girth. Sealing the hatchway to the KESTS surface was easy even in the storm, a hatchway seal that would work in the hard vacuum of space far above the planet. Cutting into the tubes identified by the monitor system, he pulled the outer ones up, followed back to where the tubing was still undamaged, made clean cuts, and spliced in new sections of tubing, using the splicer he aligned the maglev trackways to tolerances invisible to the eye. First the deepest tubes, sealed down into precise alignment within the KESTS structure, then one by one the ones outside until the outer layer was patched. He climbed back out of the hatchway into the gondola and activated the hatchway release, the electrically switched chemical bonding adhesive suddenly switched to their slippery mode, and pulled back into the gondola. Reversing his path, the gondola cruised back along the KESTS toward the mountain tunnel; he was dimly aware of the unseen dark ocean a couple of miles below in the stormy darkness.
An hour and a half had passed, about that much time yet to go at max. As the gondola slid along the KESTS into the mountain tunnel again and docked to the maintenance control room, Techerson stepped out toward the bank of antiquated equipment make-do control panels, equipment which had done their automatic job well so far. He selected one of the outer tubes, directed it to stop the dump of sliding armature segments, and instead to allow them to continue on through the tunnel toward the area he had patched. At 30 Km/s it was but one breath’s time until the repair site was passed by the high velocity armature mass stream segments; he breathed a sigh of relief when no new alarm light lit. He then picked the innermost repaired tube, it too passed successfully. One by one the remaining tubes were re-activated. He began the rev up sequence for the full dozen of armature maintenance storage rings adjacent to the tunnel, to bring replacement armature segments up to speed for injection into the KESTS mass stream when the gaps began to appear, which would start soon as they finished their full loop around the Earth, so the gap in the armature segments would be re-filled when that part of the mass stream had gone around the loop to GEO and entered the tunnel.
He carefully looked over the pattern of LED indicators and numeric displays, compared values with those before the break happened, they seemed within acceptable ranges, well below the failure point loads. Moving over to the spacecraft lift local control panel, he got on the comm and told his boss it was time to re-start the lift, turn on the upward drag inductive lift for the spacecraft which was highest first, go slow and minimum spacecraft lift energy consumed while its internal stored energy was needed to cope with the severe lateral wind loads of the rainstorm. Too much energy was being consumed to compensate for the high lateral storm loads on the KESTS, so just get the lead cargo up to GEO in time before the 3 hour storage glass melt hopper was emptied, then limp subsequent cargo spacecraft upward so they would arrive just in time, until the storm had abated, and full transportation capacity could be restored. Before leaving the facility, he entered the log data which had real values now, of how much load the KESTS could take, a combination of being put into service long before up to design capacity girth, four spacecraft on the structure anyway between ground and GEO, and severe rain lateral loads from rainstorm across a hundred kilometers of KESTS atmospheric tubing. Signing the facility log, he then stepped onto the tunnel tramway and headed for the tunnel entrance, and out into the storm along the rocky path to home.
Ch. 2 Crisis on KESTS 2
As part of the emergency on-site team, Techerson's wife Nona spent the time at the lab in the home shelter, monitoring Techerson's progress and biosigns caringly, the telemetry signals were all she had for the moment of her lover, as he had headed out for the emergency repair task. Setting the voice com between Techerson and Houston Control to speaker so she could listen for any alerts for her, then decided to spend the time on her pet project, the Holoterminal prototype she was building and testing as she went along, designing and building creatively, more by intuition than by much advance planning. The Holoterminal was her lifelong dream, something she seemed compelled to create, the basic lure was there even in her childhood play expression. It was shaping up as part of the KESTS maintenance system, at least in her imagination so far. The vision was to experience being the KESTS as if it was one's own being, in all its aspects. To grasp the wholeness of the KESTS then flow consciousness into whatever parts were of interest each instant, look as narrowly deep or wide as one chose in the flow. She hoped that the Holoterminal would obsolete the data readouts and computer data displays and colored lights all with their messages that still had to be put together by the maintenance technician so as to provide meaningful direction to the tasks. The Holoterminal, she intended, would convert the sensors of the KESTS farflung trackways and live loads, billions of data bits each second, into something that could be perceived as part of oneself, each stimulus bonded with its meaning, patterns pre-processed as needed. She had gotten the specific approach she now compulsively used, long ago when meditating: be a rose, what are your petals like, your stems, your roots, the garden you are in. Decades her creative mind gathered pieces in mind of what might be put together to achieve the result of a dynamic machine communicating into a person's "being" picture. That everything is interconnected into a web where everything affected all other things, a sneeze shook the universe ever so lightly, and she had found how a machine's "sneeze" could be felt by a person. She just knew that this would be useful, make life more interesting and effective, for maintenance purposes as well as other fascinating uses she only felt luring her from the depths and heights of existence.
A moment's attention to the com panel and the ongoing chatter between Techerson and Houston, not likely things would need her attention there for a few moments, so she sat into the crude holoterminal, its virtual spatial fields blooming into her mind like fog burning off to reveal the view beyond. Blended seamlessly with the signals from her real eyes and other senses, she shut her eyes to totally be with the holovision, her experiment had only run a bundle of fiber optic cables from this terminal in their home, out to the maintenance room deep in the Andean mountain tunnel, where the transceptors felt out the maintenance room and the KESTS and the tunnel shaft, a few hundred meter radius sphere of awareness. Be a rose, how are your stems and thorns, your roots, your garden... she became the tunnel, the KESTS, the control room, Techerson was getting in the maintenance gondola for a trip out into the night storm along the KESTS nearly horizontal outer layer. The interaction between her attention focus and the subject of her attention seemed to make it glow with life, as if every part was eager to share its ongoing story with her. The KESTS was made up of thousands of individual KESTS, all the same small crossection, more layers of tubes made for ever expanding payload lift capactity. It had not been intended that by this time all the tubes would be the same as the original one that worked reliably a mere decade ago; they were to exponentially increase in girth for greater efficiency and simplicity, reliability. But money had run out for everything technological along with the economically recoverable petrochemical energy was running out for civilization, they had not been able to build the manufacturing facilities for newly engineered tubes every few months. Like the Space Shuttle 40 years before, they had to stick with the prototype that worked, make it the workhorse design for freight, if it isn't broken don't fix it type mentality. The interior of each KESTS tube glowed with dynamic life, the armature mass streams flowing through their hard vaccum inductive maglev tracks at 35 Km/s as they sped through the earth surface terminal and re-accelerator mass driver complex. Except for a cluster of tubes at 3 o'clock on the KESTS crossection, they were dark. It was taking a lot of electrical power to generate the electromagnetic fields to divert the armature mass streams from the 15 tubes the sensors showed were blown out, 35 Km out over the Pacific Ocean. The fail-safe had begun the strenuous dump of the incoming mass stream for those tubes as soon as the failure was sensed by the KESTS monitoring system.The huge magneticaly curved storage track area normally was used to hold only a dozen tracks worth of armature mass streams for routine maintenance on the armature segments.
Stepping out of the Holoterminal prototype, she went into the kitchen and poured another cup of coffee. A glance at the kids' room monitor showed they were still asleep, OK. Much like their coffee grinder, she set the coal grinder to pulverize enough to provide for the unexpected load of the maintenance problem on the KESTS, the pulverized coal being fed to power turbines that ran their emergency electric power generators whenever their oil fuel energy allotment was exceeded, like now. Some of the energy also went to charge their car's battery, although pulverized coal dust provided most of the energy during the long run down the mountain to get food and supplies once a week. She charged up the car's batteries as much as possible, the stationary electric power plant had scrubbers to collect much of the coal's mercury and sulphur, unlike the car's system, too energy-intensive for efficient pollutant scrubbers. She tried not to think of the pollutant effects of each weeks' drive in their coal-powered car to get supplies, statistically added to the worldwide similar usage, their trip would cause neurological damage to one human child, destroy half the leaves of a tree in a forest, and teeter several life forms a bit more toward extinction; yet, theirs was a mission of mercy, if the KESTS got a solar power plant up in time, the pathway to GEO for building all the electric power plants the world needed for electric power would be begun, and coal fired turbines would be a thing of the past, and healing could begin. If they failed, they would only have speeded up ecological ruin a small amount.
Back at home, awaiting her husband's return, the kids asleep, she returned to her other research, that of finding why there was such a long delay in beginning the KESTS to GEO system with its enabled applications.
What were the general factors causing the delay in starting the KESTS to GEO project, and thus causing the current high risk emergency version of the project, she wondered, and so she initiated a search into the world database for the pieces of the puzzle; then would go for the specific details.
She had written software, and built the hardware experimentally, of what became known as the "holosifter", which would find correlated patterns in large data sets much as image correlators do. The general patterns sifted out into familiar ones: the archetypal ancient struggle of the bully gang-leaders aggressing against the loners who sought to advance human civilization's thriving well-being for all, and who were missing the makeup that urged physical strife as a way of success. It was a spectrum which had the extremes of the bully at one end, the dreamer on the other end. Bullies were a perversion of essential people making civilization, the ones who emerged as group leaders getting things done, corporate management often utilized these skills usually by placating the bully's desires through supplying the paychecks with which the bully bought all that his/her superego craved, instead of resorting to physical violence to get those things from others. On the other end of the spectrum was what she called the "dreamer", one who could see the ways to make civilization more harmonious and comfortable for all, yet were quite unable to be physically visible enough to gather people together enough to get the dreams going; these tended to be socially dysfunctional, gentle, naive men and women. The bullies were irritated more at the dreamers than even their immediate rivals, because the dreamers were a bit too smart to always be fooled by the bulies, and were likely to tell of what they had seen or figured out that the bully did not want known, as he/she protected the bully's image in other's minds, the image that kept the bully supreme. The struggle generally ended one way, since the dreamer not only could not protect him/herself against the onslaught of the bully's group-utilizing machinations, but also could not really believe that anyone could be like a bully. The bully was motivated by the simple fact that it was much more efficient to grab something away from someone else, than it was to make it themselves. The bully only had to be socially attractive and ever interactive, and be a bit fearsome to any who might oppose; and for the "dreamers" who "did not get it", the bully's tool of manipulating social images of him/herself and other people, so as to vilify the dreamer, would foment eventual destruction of the dreamer, whether it be through assassin or court of law's misinformed power. It all brought a surge of powerful satisfaction to the bully who felt the fall of the dreamer, whether by his own knife or by public execution. And so civilization tumbled along, the dreamers lifting up mankind's vision for awhile, then the bullies ripping off the goodies brought forth until the system became crippled, then the dreamers would come along again, cycle after cycle, as recorded in thousands of years of history.
Continuing to modify the Holosifter's pattern-seeking for the specifics that still could be found (it was not just the winners of wars that re-write history's records), she went for the specific details of the inventor's struggle and fall, yet still somehow getting the KESTS to GEO concept into civilization's consciousness enough to get at least the current implementation going. She could not sleep, while Techerson, her husband, was still out there alone in the onsite KESTS construction & repair coordination facility in the high cold Andean mountain tunnel through which the KESTS met the earth surface, immensely useful link to high earth orbit's civilization's extention-to-be, connecting far above the opposite side of the planet.
It was strangely hard to find information in the archives regarding that delay. The concept had been originated by an impoverished social fringe man, who had almost been erased from history, but not quite. The corporations had racked up their patents, sold stock like crazy; the powers that be even in governments saw the immense business and profits potential via KESTS to GEO, and the record was only of their powr plays and business ploys jockying for the best of the best.
There was no public awareness of what the originating lone inventor was trying to do: enable humanity's very high-quality survival. His ideas would have been a "mover and shaker" of civilization, but the powers-that-be had no intention of letting anyone who had not clawed his way up the hiearchy ladder to do any "moving and shaking" of civilization, that was their earned right and domain, they believed, and made it so.
The inventor slowly perished both financially and due to lack of a woman, as lovemaking with happy woman was his only joy experience, and the artificial reputation being spread upon his image made whatever women he encountered, to already be "warned" about him, no chance would he have of lovemaking or even witness by a woman who could discover the truth about him: kind, loving, helpful parental type to children, gentle loving even of all humanity, courageous despite the weird-seeming reactions he increasingly got from people he met. Yet the multiple fasceted rivalry was immense, he had no chance. Even corporations waited, even hurried where possible including blacklisting him regarding employment in technology, his perishing so they could take over the KESTS to GEO as part of their business game solely-profit-guided operations, because they could not admit to paying hundreds of PhD's $100,000 a year salary while they left the real inventor in near poverty over the many years; their path was set, maintaining high prestige was paramount to maintaining their high standard of living.
Book closed, satisfied she now understood the petty greed and power struggles that had caused the delay in starting KESTS to GEO causing the desperate world situation and even had almost cost her husband's life a few hours ago, sleep came. Knowing the true past now would help her prepare a better future, she believed.
Copyright © 2006 James E. D. Cline