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This page is for the composite of my ongoing writing of my 2008 novel written participation with NanoWriMo.org activity:
The Torus City Ice Shields Returning Home
By James E. D. Cline
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 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 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 him by his wife, Belinda, who was over in the operations center, told Raphael that they were 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 the tunnel 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.
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.
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!
"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.
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 thin 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.
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.
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 slicking it into small enough arc sections to be transportable down the old KESTS space escalator. Catcher nets were getting most if not all of the fragments of the slicing process, and the few that bounce 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, 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 it 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 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 would do the job, 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 shields 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 was 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.
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.
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.
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
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 the computer?" he blurted out. Then as the 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 the effects 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 Rafael'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 the computer's power off, so it turned the power to the computer back on, and typed in "Hey, don't be alarmed, we are both working toward the 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 the 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 disaster 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 hot brew. It was definitely time for a break. 1186 words + 7708 = 8894 total
Going back over to his computer terminal, he peered at it intently; all was normal, it seemed. He contacted his partner on the ground. "Belinda?" he spoke, not knowing what exactly to say next. Immediately she responded, "Yes, I know, I was there too, you know." understanding his baffled question. "The big overall system display here at Mission control has also returned to its normal look. Where were we, before the ice cube problem started? We have got lots of work to do, let's get on with it." she continued, realizing that Raphael's git-er-done personality needed some grounding and a gentle push in the right direction to get things going again. "The world has not changed, Raphael," she added, "we still have a big job to do, and maybe we have some new friends, some elves, that have dropped in and are helpful; but we still have work to do, so let's get on with it."
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.
"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.
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 EO, 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.
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.
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 in mind, 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 back down to 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-5, 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.
Belinda followed him around as he set up the programming in the replacement robots, linked their controlling computer in a utility truck to recognize them and include them in the work flow, and direct the whole team to begin dismantling the next abandoned torus city. This involved skipping over three of the cities which Raphael had installed long term stationing-keeping reaction engines fed by the city's ice shield water, electrolyzed by solar energy. The three cities were loosely coupled through the GEO transportation ring conduit, and their relative motions would be automatically documented and any oscillations they induced as a system being sought to be damped out by altering their individual reaction engine outputs. Belinda was enjoying seeing it up close, instead of just through the eyes of the cameras at Mission Control.
That task cone, they filled up the liquid air tanks from the recycled air from the cities being dismantled, and Belinda prepared the meals for the trip, including supplies for two weeks in case of emergency need. They were good at avoiding emergencies, and part of that was being prepared in case things went wrong anyway.
The living quarters in the utility vehicle was spartan, and the smallness encouraged the closeness they needed for the sleep period, comforts long overdue for both of them. They were in good spirits the next workday start, eager for some new things to do. Raphael did another check of both city dismantling teams; they each were performing well within the range of each of the design parameters. Each team's computer was programmed to transmit an alarm to Raphael's vehicle if any parameter was approaching its limits; and in this case the computer was to orient their antenna to point toward the Moon, for better signal strength. The utility truck's transceiver was set to ping the two teams' computers periodically, to assure the link was working and to confirm all was well. Currently, the first team was beginning to dismantle an ice shield, its inner rotating shell city was in final stages of being sent down the east side of the old KESTS; and the second team was just beginning to dismantle the inner shell structure of its first city tow demolish, the staggered work functions would help maintain a more constant average materials flow down to the ground, optimum for the KESTS capacity. Belinda copied the checking off of the items as Raphael did them, learning by being a copycat, in this case, while providing some initial practice as well.
Then they were ready to launch toward the Moon, supplied with enough rocket tugs to soft land there once, and take off again once. Not much safety factor, but it was all the utility vehicle group could carry. They brought along the two original prototype-machine-built robots again, although they did not know what they would use them for at this point, but it seemed like a wise thing to do. Perhaps they could be used to carry the rocket tugs that had their fuel depleted during the soft landing, over to the space elevator, and let the elevator haul the rocket tugs up to L-1 station, so their mass would not need to be lifted by their other set of rocket tugs when they headed back off the Moon.
This time, the trajectory was for a minimum energy delivery of themselves to the facility at the base of the space elevator; they would need to do some fast guessing as they made the final approach, as they did not know where the entrances were. There was gravity on the Moon, even though only 1/6 of the gravity on the surface of the Earth, it meant that the rockets would still have to be used to move the vehicle, as it had no wheels, intended for use only in space. The rugged cratered surface of the moon was getting larger in the viewports, the new dawn of the Lunar 14-earth-day lunar day just starting at the site of the space elevator's anchor base, casting long sharp shadows emphasizing the ragged terrain's profile. Then they were in the rocket-slowed descent phase of the journey, and Raphael set the vehicle into a slow spiral as they approached, intently looking for the entrances. There were huge warehouse type annexes that had the landscape flattened for as far as one could see; this was probably the pathway for the raw materials being brought for the construction of the city shell ring wedges; the doors to these facilities were wide open, no way to pressurize them at this point. Continuing to slowly circle as they dropped, they could see the regolith-covered passageways leading off to where an extensive underground city was located; it no doubt had all been pressurized for daily life here when this place was alive with people and machines for a quarter of a century, but now no doubt just a ghost town as left by the last people to say goodbye to it as they left to head for their new homes in GEO. But apparently those folks did not have exits to go sightseeing outdoors from anywhere in the city or the tunnel over to the elevator's lower terminal. Then having almost completely circled the lunar terminal's structure, Belinda spotted an oddity, what appeared to be a dirt road heading out across the landscape, and the trail ended at what appeared to be an airlock in the side of the terminal building.
Landing at the edge of the building next to the apparent airlock, they were committed to the spot; as they had used up their bit of extra propellant in the nearly full circle of the e facility. At least they now had a video record of what the full facility looked like, and their computer's graphic software quickly adjusted for the varying height and view angles as they spiraled down, and produce a thee dimensional model of the facility, with only a small area not in the model. Looking carefully at the model, they concluded that indeed this was the only airlock potential, unless going into the huge warehouse bays was possible. Belinda set to having the graphics analyze the road that led to this airlock, while raphael did a direct view of the airlock. He concluded that the airlock was put in from the outside and as an afterthought, with far less finesse that exhibited by the primary structure displayed. What are you finding out about the roadway, "Belinda?" he asked, noticing her intense scrutiny of the data being produced by the computer, too long in the inspection, something must be interesting, more than could be expected on some old dusty trail. "Raphael", she said, "look at this. It shows that this roadway has been used fairly frequently during the past decade, including most recently a few weeks ago." They requested a re-analysis of the data, and sought reasons for the anomaly in the data, partly derived from the slow alteration of exposed surface, from the background particles hitting them over the eons. The computer's analysis repeated its original conclusion, that the roadway had been used frequently over the past decade, including about two weeks ago. The vehicle general path was to go right up to the hath, apparently docking with it directly, with no interim ned to don spacesuits and go walking over to the airlock. "That would be nice, to be able to just open the door and go directly inside, without a spacesuit," Belinda remarked. She activated detailed measurements of what it would take to have a vehicle go over and dock directly to the airlock, and saved the info for future possibilities. For right now, though, it was spacesuit time.
Suited up, they both went out the airlock, to make a first evaluation of the hatch. Their first finding was that it was designed to not open if it was not pressurized on the outside, as would be the case if a vehicle had rolled up and docked with the hatch. It did not look like they were going to get in this way this time. The took some photos of details of the hatch structure and exterior opening mechanism; the prototype fabricator machines on earth could make something that would dock to it most likely, but it would take several days for it to make one, and then more days to ship up to GEO, Next trip, perhaps; they did request the design data be sent direct to earth , and requested it be fabricated and delivered to GEO high terminal, get going on it immediately. Even though they were going to have to finish this particular scouting trip without it.
The then trudged around the base of the structure toward the big open doors of the materials warehouse-looking structure, the only other opening they had seen. Walking in one of the huge doorways, lit inside only by reflected moonlight coming in through the gaping doorway, they saw a huge collection of large machinery, of obscure purposes at this point. It would take a lot to convert the raw lunar minerals into refined aluminum and to shape the aluminum into the 200 meter diameter wedge ring segments. The throughput of this immense facility had been enormous; during its peak years, it was producing the basic shell structure for Stanford Torus type space cities of 10,000 people each at the rate of a hundred cities a day; this must have been a busy place back then. Now it was dark, silent, unmoving. It was a long walk toward where the base of the elevator facility was itself, and they did not immediately find doorways through the walls there. Tis all clearly was built and maintained by robots, which did not need spacesuits. Weren't there ever people who came out to do anything in here? As they thought about it, chatting on their communicators back and forth, they probably arrived here via the the space elevator from spacecraft docked at L-1 complex, and never had reason to come out of their passively shielded areas. History about this part of the overall task of building the GEO HAbitat Ring were sketchy, and there was no indication that other than robots did any work outside; the robots prepared the facilities and made them livable for humans; then the people arrived to live and work there, already in shirtsleeve environs. So they recorded all that was in sight as they trudged around a bit more, then trudged back outside, walked over to the mounded areas where no doubt tunnels and city structures lay buried shielded under there. The looked for some windows, but even those were not to be found, at least where they were at. They did find a couple of surveillance cameras, however, one happened to be aimed in their direction; and after they had explore around a bit more, Raphael said " Remember that surveillance camera we passed by awhile ago? Well, carefully glance back at it, it is still aimed at us. It has moved." The casually continued their trek, returning to the edge of the manufacturing structure, then re-traced their steps back around to their spacecraft, which was out of view of the camera. Getting back in their vehicle, and shedding their space suits, and servicing them for another possible excursion, they looked at each other silently, no need for words.
"Most likely it is just a robotic thing responding to motion; no problem in designing such a thing to operate even after all these years unneeded" Raphael finally commented. She replied that it was a bit spooky, anyway. "The part that mostly concerns me" he continued, " is the freshness of the vehicle tracks coming to the hatchway over there, and the fact that it clearly was somewhat clumsily installed from the outside, not by folks using the normal route down on the space elevator. It does not make sense. Who would have to enter from the outside, and were they uninvited, done after this place had been abandoned?" "And", she filled in, "where are they living now, out there where those tracks surely lead."
Unless they were going to abandon the empty rocket tugs here, they were going to have to have their dead weight in place, for their launch back into space. The tugs were too massive to be carried around to the warehouse doorways; and to leave them here by this hatchway was to announce their having been here. Finally they decided to use one of their robots to lug each of the four rocket tugs over to against the structure, where it was in line of sight with earth and the GEO, and then with remaining energy stores, hide as if part of the pile of rocket casings, with its eyes watching the hatchway and the trail leading to it. The robot would transmit images if anything moved other than shadows. The set the robot to the task, and when it had moved the spent rocket tugs and had taken position hiding behind them, they calculated it would have power enough to keep watch for several months, and even afterward intermittently as it got re-charged by the lunar daytime's solar energy. They communicated with Mission Control via Belinda's local console, and verified the images were being received and recorded there on Earth OK. Resting awhile while they had a little bit of gravity to make things a bit normal for awhile, they finished a meal, then strapped themselves in to their seats, and fired the rocket tugs; they were on their way up again.
They decided to head back to GEO instead of making a stop at the L-1 facility, as their available impulse energy was going to be running on a slim margin getting back as it was. On the way back, Belinda sent the request for more rocket tugs be fabricated, a couple on the 2-day prototype machine, and the others on the 10 day assembly line, enough to replace the ones left behind, and to enable another couple of similar sorties if necessary. All that would not be readied in time for them to use it before Belinda's vacation time was over, but they would have time to make another foray , just to the L-1 facility, which would not cost any more rocket tugs to do.
Arriving back at the site where their two teams of deconstruction robots were busily proceeding along, Rachael checked their logs and found one of them had even handled a minor emergency while they were gone; the problem was somewhat like had happened before, when the attachment bolt was released on one of the ice cubes, it did not immediately let go of the inner scaffold ring. This time, the computer figured out what the risk was, and had set the ice cube aside, rather than risk sending it somewhere unwanted again. So Raphael and Belinda calculated a new de-orbit timing, and put it into the command sequence; it would delay one of the subsequent normal de-orbits by a short while, things could wait, for safety. They re-stocked their supplies, and took the last four spare rocket tugs, just in case. The airlock hatch adapter was not to be ready until too late for belinda to participate, and she was all eager for some more adventure; so they once again headed toward the Moon, but this time, it was toward L-1.
As they approached L-1, they circled around the huge facility, photographing it completely from the outside. The also did a long range photograph of the base area to see if the dirt road leading to the external hatch, could be tracked to its source. Examining the photo of the lunar surface around the base anchor point of the space elevator, they could see their stash of empty rocket tugs and their robot behind them; it had sent no signal indicating it had spotted any movement since they had left it there. The dirt road was at the resolution limit but was identifiable as it skirted around the rough terrain down there, seemed to follow a least-energy path, and it led to the edge of the photograph, still going. They took another photo off to that direction; the new photo lost resolution as it went toward the horizon, but as far as it could be identified, it was making a definite direction, but to where? The positioned the path on a globe of the Moon, and the assumed line did not go to anywhere there had been any known facilities built; although, curiously, it was on a Great Circle path, in that it would bisect the Moon if it went all he way around the moon. And since the space elevator was in the center of the side of the Moon that faced the earth, so that L-1 would be included in its span, the Great Circle line similarly crossed through the center of the far side of the Moon.
Belinda got the history books out on screen, and they found that some early construction materials for the GEO facilities came from the far side of the Moon, where a primitive space elevator had been built out through L-2. That was a conventional type anchored tether space elevator, supported by the centrifugal force of the rotation , of the lunar 28 earth day rotation around the earth. That was in contrast to the space elevator through l-1, in which the rotation of the celestial bodies played a minor contribution to positioning of the balance point, the location of L-1 was mostly the point of equality between the gravitational fields of the earth and Moon. "If we had the time and delta vee to circle the Moon from here, it would be interesting to see if that dirt road led there to the base of the L-2 space elevator site, it it still existed. That is sure the hard way to get around the Moon half way, crawling on the ground; but if it is by solar powered vehicle, they that would be the way to do it", Belinda concluded, more to herself outloud than to Raphael, who was busy docking at the L-1 facility. They brought their re-filled liquid air tanks inside, along with their robot; and they left the utility spacecraft on alert, its cameras watching for anything moving, including down at the base of the elevator.
Inside the embarkation room, it was still warm and had not lost any air since Raphael had left it. The control room showed a slight drop in air pressure, enough so that it had drawn a little air from the reserves which Raphael had put in its tanks. He examined the station automated log, and discovered that the elevator had been run again since he had been there; a double check repeated that entry in the elevator's log. He began to see what facilities were accessible from here; was that camera connected, for example, the one that had been tracking them while they were down on the lunar surface trying to get in from there. But the com link seemed to only extend along the elevator itself; he was able to activate the cameras that were at the earthward GEO-energy level terminal, and then also one that was apparently at the very base of the elevator, just before the elevator continued down to the loading point building area; the camera looked out toward the enormous staging area just outside the warehouse door area; nothing ing seemed to be moving out there. There seemed to be other camera sites but there was no power or lighting available for them.
So he again started the elevator ramp-up activation process, and in 15 minutes it signaled that it was ready to receive an unbalanced load of of 5,000 kg or less. "Let's go!" he said, but Belinda was already standing by the elevator door, ready for the adventure; she only had two more day of vacation left and she wanted to explore as much as possible while she could. They and their robot and one of the tanks of liquid air entered the huge elevator car; although the majority of the payload for this elevator attached outside, this service elevator went along for the ride too, when needed. A little inspection of the controls showed how to get the elevator car to engage to the elevator; they accelerated downward until the elevator car matched that the velocity of the elevator's ribbon, and suddenly they were back in the near free-fall of the L-1 environment. The space elevator was a one speed system, so it was an hour's wait to get down to the Lunar surface; meanwhile, weight returned to them, and as it approached 1/6 earth gee, they knew they were close to arriving. Moments later, the elevator car came to a gentle stop, and its door opened into blackness and surprisingly to air pressure..
Turing on the robot's searchlight it made a rapid raster scan of the view before e them and showed its composite in their spacesuit's display screens, a large empty room, except for some tables and chairs that were located just to the side of the doorway. As they began to search for some way to turn the lights on, their eyes began to dark adapt, and found that there actually was enough ambient light to see by, brighter than a moonlit night down on Earth. Raphael went over to a control panel next to the desk; the panel lit up at his touch, and suddenly the rooms walls were alive with camera images. They walked slowly around the room examining the video screens one by one; they seemed mostly of the elevator's mechanisms and doorways, even showed the room which they had been in before coming dow here. Several cameras were showing outdoor scenes; then they found what must be the scene of the camera that had been tracking them when they were on the ground outside a couple of days ago, and it was showing the view of the hatchway and the pile of rocket tugs. Nothing moved.
Belinda had been working with another of the terminals, and had found a layout of the facilities, along with some associated control info that was not yet obvious as to function. The layout was useful to them as they figured out where the exterior hatch was installed; it appeared to be into a large storeroom area. Still in their spacesuits, they went through the passageways leading over to there; each doorway involved an airlock; and interestingly, so far, all the rooms in the path were already pressurized, but they wore their spacesuits anyway, breathing their own air. They could analyze the air for basic content but not for pathogen content in the brief time they had to pass through each room. That the pressure was held at that of earth's sea level pressure suggested several things, including it was for humans and that there was plenty of air resources to compensate for leakage that surely must happen. After the decades of being shut down, both things seemed improbable, however. Finally the got to the storeroom which had one wall shared with the facility's outer wall; and there it was, the other side of the hatch. There was no airlock, so apparently the vehicle trundles up to the hatch and opens it. And that means the vehicle probably shares the same air pressure as in here, earth's sea level. If the analysis of the dirt tracks outside was correct, there had been people who had traveled through this hatch about two weeks ago. The photographed the hatch and room in detail; there was a jumble of containers and equipment in the room. There was an open crate near the hatchway; photographing its contents, it seemed to be spare parts for something, a machine of some kind.
Leaving everything there untouched, they then headed for their other point of interest, the area shown on the layout where it connected to the regolith-covered passageway that led down underground to where there might have been living quarters for the human operators of this facility many decades ago. Again, there was air in every room and passageway on the way there. The temperatures were cold, but tolerable to people wearing winter clothing. Before they had completely arrived at the location of where the passageway connected, they came into what appeared to be a large cafeteria, with meal preparation counters and sinks, food display shelves, and lots of tables with seats. All quite clean and emptied of any food or even any trash that they could see at first glance. There appeared to be seating for about 300 people. The doorway that corresponded to where they had seen the covered passageway leading away from here down into the ground, was closed and appeared locked. Peering through the window in the door,using his flashlight, he found it was a genuine airlock. With the help of his suit computer, Raphael figured out how to unlock the door; the inside of the airlock was pressurized, and similarly was pressurized on the other side of the other airlock door; the two humans and one robot continued on their exploration, but Raphael took the precaution of re-locking the door behind them, keeping things undisturbed as much as possible.
The underground facilities were clearly the long term, shielded, areas where people spent most of their time. There were many hundreds of rooms, they did not have time to count them all; looking into a couple of them, they found what appeared to be personal living quarters, for two people each. Two friendly people, as there was place for only one large bed. Kitchenette, bathroom, desk and entertainment center areas in each of these areas. Another place seemed to be an office area, full of cubicles; another was apparently a school or library area, with adjacent laboratory for practicing the physical sciences in a wide variety of experiments. There were many areas where shop equipment and chemistry labs now sat silent and cleaned, but no processes going on. In the machine shop, the concrete-like floor showed dark stains in places, probably from lubricants. Raphael pressed a spot on the floor with a few centimeters of his analysis sticky tape which quickly analyzed the embedded particles, finding they mostly were aluminum shavings. Here was a city, of at least a thousand people who were fairly self-sufficient; and when they had left, they left everything clean and neat; and in fact, they seemed to be the first visitors to this area in a very long time, unlike the prior areas they had been in. Maybe the complex lock had protected this area from being invaded by whoever had installed the hatch in the outer wall. The photographed and analyzed samples wherever they went; but they did not have time to find the full extent of the city; it clearly is now a ghost town.
heading back, they noticed a passageway that seemed to lead a long ways; consulting with their 3d map made from the total of accumulated data so far, the tunnel seemed to head for the crater wall. A laser range-finder found that it reflected off something about a kilometer away; so they decided to have a quick look see there before leaving the underground city. It was a long trudge, with featureless walls and arched ceiling; a set of tubes ran along the edge of one wall, but no lighting or receptacles along the way. Finally they got to the end; their map showed that they were now under the rim of the crater. An elevator of the old fashioned type was there at the end of the tunnel, but Raphael's efforts did not get the old machine to start up; it seemed to have no power to it. Furthermore, the elevator car apparently was at the other end of its travel, not here. The photographed what little was there to be noted and chemically analyzed, and headed back town the long tunnel. By the time they exited the city into the space elevator's anchor terminal cafeteria, Belinda was weary, and ready to call it quits for the day, enough exploration for now. They rested awhile at one of the cafeteria tables, sipping nutrition from their spacesuit refreshments; then they head through a different pathway to the bottom of the space elevator, documenting what they found along the way. So far, they were the only things alive and moving in this huge place. Raphael made a brief side trip to have a look at what apparently was the control room for directing the movement of the torus ring segments up onto the exterior clamps of the space elevator; it looked like the process could probably be changed to move them in reverse. Although it would take a fleet of cargo movers outside to get them away so more could be brought down.
Back at the elevator car access room, they saw that the elevator was still moving around on its endless belt's journey; that was a good sign that it could run unattended, self-stabilizing in its present working mode, although with essentially no live load. They got into the elevator car, and it rapidly launched up until it matched the upward velocity of the upward side of the elevator belt, and connected to the nearest clamping site, and they were on their way up. There were areas where thy could sit down, fairy austere but likely also served as shelving for things being moved, more often than serving as seating for people. It looked like the operations at L-1 could be done by humans, but clearly they did not spend much time up there, so it was teleoperated from below most of the time, apparently. Their weight dropped from the 1/6 gee down on the lunar surface, to free-fall; then the apparent gravity began to increase again, with the ceiling becoming the floor; it too had cabinetry that served as seating. Checking the control panel, Raphael saw that it required a request to stop at L-1 or it would continue on to the GEO-energy-level embarkation facility; there was no intermediate turning around, so they were going to get to see more of the elevator than they wanted to see. The elevator belt moved at a constant speed, and it was a lot farther to the earthside terminal. At least they had a tenth of a gee, a down orientation now. An hour later, they had stopped at the earthside embarkation facility; so they looked around there and documented all they saw; this normally saw only the bringing up of the 200 meter diameter torus ring segments and were somehow moved from here by reaction engine vehicles over to GEO. Could it be made to work in reverse?
They did find a spaceport docking facility, and as luck would have it, there were two of what must have been the space tugs used to move the ring segments over to GEO, still in the docking port. . That was really good news! the photographed and analyzed the spacecraft, fairly unglamorous rocket machines, no room for a human in them, all robotically controlled no-nonsense git-er-done machines. If they could get one of them over to GEO, it could be reverse-engineered, and more of them built. Raphael was getting quite tired too, noticed as he checked over the possible ways to get the elevator car over to the downward-moving belt side of the elevator. Belinda pitched in with the guessing game, inspecting the controls. The car could go either way from here; apparently to go out to service the counterweight on the earthward extreme end, or the facilities there. They did not want to get back in the elevator car and have it head that way; they were done with this adventure. Finally inspecting the track mechanism, he was able to get the elevator car to move over to the downward side of the endless belt loop. Then more inspecting; surely there were only a few options as to what this elevator car can do. Carefully documenting all the mechanisms, and using his wiring analyzer which irradiated the circuitry with millimeter waves and mapped a 3d graphic of the conductive circuits, and similarly it enabled isolated electrical charges to flow very briefly in isolated sections of the circuitry so as to measure semiconductor junctions, the functions of the circuitry was increasingly clarified toward a 90% accuracy level, when they decided to make a test of it. Getting back into the elevator car, closing the door, activating the controls, the car rapidly launched toward the Moon and latched onto the downward-moving belt. With a sigh of relief, they took their seats; the robot standing impassively needing no seat, of course. The long ride back to L-1 was plenty of time for Raphael to be quite sure of how to get it to disconnect at L-1 so they could get back to their spacecraft.
About a half hour into the ride, an alarm message was received; it was from their robot down on the ground. It transmitted what its camera was seeing, an object off in the distance, apparently something moving slowly along the dirt road, headed its way. Raphael directed the robot to conserve its energy, and only send a single camera frame at pseudo-random intervals, to make them harder to be detected. Their display software interpolated between frames and made the video appear to be fairly stable and consistent. By the time the elevator car had reached L-1, the object still was far off; it appeared to have a large solar array on its top, so it was moving slowly through the energy-dissipating lunar dusty roadway. They then commanded the robot to send camera frames even less often, but now aimed to be received at GEO while Raphael's utility spacecraft headed back to the construction site, where they had another night together; tomorrow, Belinda would have to head back down the KESTS to resume her job at Mission Control.
With their rocket tugs and another robot returned to them, the two city demolition crews were complete again and proceeded a bit more rapidly. The KESTS was operating at full capacity on the east side, aluminum scrap from the cities' shell structures were stockpiling down on the ground; this aluminum had come from the Moon's minerals originally, and now were making aluminum prices quite low on Earth surface markets. However, it was being brought down far faster than it could be hauled away to market, so they had to build a special conveyor system to move the aluminum pieces over to the edge of the peak, where it was dumped down the side of the mountain, just to keep it from making everything else at the earth surface transportation center unusable. It was even being given away on site to anyone who would haul it away, so the native peoples were taking a small portion of it, who knows what for, perhaps sale as scrap somewhere; although they were quite ingenious and likely were handcrafting it into interesting art and useful things.
Up in GEO, Raphael was less needed for supervising the demolition crews than for planing what to do to more rapidly get the abandoned Torus Cities out of GEO safely and economically. Taking the ring segments back to the Moon in reverse to the way they originally came from there, was looking more complicated; there had been a hundred people being fed at the facilities at the base of the space elevator, and was assisted by a lot of automation; the associated city held at least a thousand workers, and there was a mysterious invader there too, of unknown friendliness. The adapter to connect to the hatch leading from the outside of the facilities at the lunar space elevator's anchor site arrived from the prototype machine, so he decided to go give it a try.
Loading up the utility spacecraft with supplies for up to two weeks, bringing along a long range camera, and borrowing enough rocket tugs to land and take off again from the Lunar surface, and taking along one of the demolition robots, he headed back toward the moon. This time, however, he chose to circle the moon to see if there was anything noteworthy at the L-2 space elevator anchor site nowadays. He headed for the edge of the Moon to speed the trip up a bit, but not much over the minimum delta-vee needed for the journey, to nearly circle the Moon and dock at the L-1 facility. Setting the long range telescopic camera, he was ready as he approached the center of the farside of the moon; making sure he would not strike any existing space elevator there, he had the camera take a string of photographs including some close-ups of the elevator's anchor itself, along with wider views that were of enough resolution to observe dirt trails of the type seen at the base of the L-1 elevator. He could not detect anything without a telescope as he went past, it was too far away.
Immediately looking at the photos that were taken during the pass over the facility, he quickly saw that there were indeed a lot of dirt roads in the area, including one that cold easily be the other end of the path leading to the L-1 elevator's base. Furthermore, he saw several vehicles outside the facility, and the computer analysis building up a 3D model of the facility, showed one of them was in motion while the recon run was being made. It looked like he had found the source of the visitors to L-2 anchor facility, alright. As soon as he had cleared the edge of the Moon, he transmitted the images and data to Mission Control; Belinda came online and took a quick look at the 3D virtual model on screen and agreed that was probably the source of the visitors to the L-1 anchor facility.
He spent the rest of the time in orbit around the Moon until docking at L-1, scrutinizing the data gathered at the L-2 anchor site; it appeared that there was still indeed a single-cable space elevator in place going through L-2; and one of the camera frames had caught what appeared to be the cable itself, very small cross-section, clearly only of the type needing climbers to transport up and down it, a very low transportation payload throughput, but still far more efficient than reaction engine propelled vehicles. The facility had been the source of some of the first construction materials for the GEO Habitat Ring, before the large scale L-1 space elevator was built, a design far more efficient and of vastly greater load capacity since it had the circulating belt method of lifting and lowering payload. He wondered if the old L-2 space elevator was still serviceable; there was little history describing it; if there had been more,it had been lost in the frantic struggle to build the Torus Cities in GEO; and then the even more traumatic struggle when the polygamist pirates had blocked the original plans to restore the earth surface environment back to long term sustainable functionality. People were much too stressed those decades to bother with history like of L-2 activities, since the population was far more worried about survival than anything else. As usual, it could all have been prevented by getting going on the project long before it had become of emergence status, and having been more aware of human nature that was running the megacorporations that had taken over the world by then, and did not consider the world's ecosystem their responsibility to lovingly tend, but instead to merely be maximum predatory upon it for power and greed. Humanity had been quite capable of higher modes of existence long before that happened; Raphael wondered why they had sunk back into power and greed modalities again, and big time at that. So much of the subsequent tragedy could have been prevented, if humanity had been more "civilized." Life progresses, then the monkey-men take over again and rip everybody off, then fade back to let people build it back up again before making another monkey-men raid. Maybe it is a natural cycle, he mused, just as the L-2 facility came into view.
He circled the L-1 facility until he could photograph the base of the elevator, to see what was happening at the hatchway. Then he docked at the same port he had used before, but did not immediately go inside; he wanted to evaluate the photography results in detail first. It looked like the pile of rocket tugs were undisturbed and the robot still behind them; but there was an odd looking vehicle now attached to where the hatchway was located. It appeared to be the same one they had seen approaching along the trail when he and Belinda had been here; it had a huge solar panel covering most of its upper area, so that was what he saw mostly in the photograph, with the docking nose now sealed to the entranceway at the elevator's lunar-side terminal. Somehow, he felt a bit uncomfortable going in there; yet, these people might well be friendly and helpful for his project. Or they might not. It had been apparent that the elevator itself had not been operated for a very long time when he had started it up on his first visit here, so it did not seem likely that he would find somebody on the other side of the hatch up here at L-1, but he did not know. Did he have any way to defend himself? Old fashioned guns were not welcome in space, as a bullet hole letting the air out could ruin everybody's day. He made sure his remote control link was working in his spacesuit, then sealed its faceplate and entered the vehicle's airlock, then cycled into the L-1's docking port's airlock; hesitated a moment more then opened the hatch into the L1- facility; was dark in there so he used his suit's wrist flashlight to examine the room, which seemed to be empty. he closed the hatch behind him as he headed over to the control panel and turned the lights on, and also the viewscreen on then quickly turned off the room lights, but continued to look through the viewscreen, not wanting to attract attention down below by his viewscreen lighting up from the room lights. He found the room where the hatchway was located, was transmitting a picture, the room was lithe could see the hatchway was open, but there seemed to be nobody inside the room. So he took a brief look at the other rooms where he had explored a week ago with Belinda, one by one, until he found one that had its lights on. And there were people there, and they were not wearing spacesuits, but instead had on some odd clothing. In fact, it looked like they had never had spacesuits on, apparently confident of the life support systems both in their vehicle and down there in the abandoned elevator's lunar terminal facilities.
He wondered if they had provided the air in those rooms, or was the air still being replenished automatically by the facility automation, maintained from decades-old storage tanks, or maybe some chemical processing of lunar materials. The ratio of oxygen to nitrogen was a bit higher than earth normal, so probably the oxygen was being augmented from the abundant oxygen locked in the lunar materials. He watched on the monitor screen what they were doing, what could be worth trekking halfway around the Moon under solar power. They were rooting through some crates in the room, yet appeared to be leaving things undisturbed when done. Raphael watched them until he as too sleepy to watch anymore, having decided that the intruders were inventorying things rather than removing things. Their lunar crawler would not have much room for taking things back, to probably they were just seeing what was available among the huge collection of crates, probably spare parts for the space elevator here. In fact, some of them might be crucial to his being able to use the L-1 space elevator to return the now-surplus aluminum back to the Moon from where it originally came. There was a huge amount of aluminum to be brought back, and the space elevator would surely need repairs in the process of bringing the aluminum back to the lunar surface; it had taken some 20 years of full capacity running to move the aluminum to the construction of the GEO Habitat Ring cities, and likely would need the same to reverse the process, now that the cities were no longer needed. Probably spare parts could be made on the prototype fabrication machines on earth, but samples would be needed, which would need to come from those spare parts the intruders were digging into.
There seemed to be a half dozen of the intruders in the room, all men. If he went down there to confront them and seek their help in restoring the L-1 space elevator, they probably would assume they could easily overwhelm Raphael - which was probably true - and so maybe would set aside attack until learning more about Raphael's intentions. On the other hand, Raphael had already concluded that the intruders wanted some of the spare parts made for L-1 elevator, to keep their L-2 elevator working. And that brought up another question, if the L-2 space elevator was running, for what purpose, what was being done? There was no indication that such traffic was going on. There were some major pieces in the puzzle to be filled in. He transmitted all this data, and copies of the video information, back to Mission Control, to get more opinions. Although they seemed to be coming to the same conclusions as did Raphael, they requested that Raphael listen in on the audio in the room where the intruders were. So he puzzled over the display, realizing that the wrong button might send audio to the room instead of listen into it. The controls were numbered, and there was no operating manual. Finally he switched to a room where the elevator was running to, and risked doing the beginnings of the elevator start-up sequence, while he punched buttons until he found one that produced audio; now he knew what the number was for listening. He shut the elevator down again, and switched back to the spare parts room, to listen in. He connected in as soon as switching and piped the audio also direct to Mission Control. After a few minutes he realized that the intruders were not only chattering away, many talking gat once, but also that they had ceased looking in the crates. The men down there were acting quite different now than they had before; no longer the methodical rooting g in the crates, writing things down, and replacing the things back where they were found; instead, they were looking around the room, as if hunting for something. He switched the monitor off immediately, lest they find some indicator light lit, showing that they had been observed, perhaps.
Now what, he thought, wearily. Then Belinda called from Mission control, saying the audio had found they were talking in some unknown dialect of English, and would probably be understandable to Raphael, and they would be able to understand him, although would surely know he was from a strange dialect place, different from their own. He switched back to the room at the base of the elevator, unoccupied by the intruders, and did some more button pushing while he was saying something, looking for an echo from his talk, in the audio received from there. Finally he found the number of the talk switch. He was testing this again to verify the echo, saying "who?" as the test signal, when the room lights came on, and another voice spoke immediately afterwards, "Who is there?" Raphael watched as one of the intruders entered the room, looking around, looking puzzled. Then he looked right at Raphael, or the camera anyway; it must have had an indicator light showing. After an intent look a bit longer, he whirled and left the room. Raphael switched over to the room where the intruders had been, and found they were not there. he then switched to some rooms between there and the elevator's access room, and found them; something had attracted them over there. Then he realized that the vibration of the elevator's starting up would have vibrated throughout the facility; that must have been what aroused these folks to stop what they were doing, and to go looking. The elevator had been shut down by then, but the intruders had figured out where the sound had come from anyway. He wearily leaned back, indulging in another "now what" mutter to himself. He surely was safe up here, as the elevator was not running, and the solar powered moon crawler down at the base surely had no ability to rocket up here. He needed some sleep, so he set a monitor link to the elevator room,s panel, which would show him if the elevator started moving; then he went back into his utility spacecraft, securing the airlocks behind him. Going back into the living quarters section of the vehicle, he stretched out in t the zero-g free-fall curl, and went to sleep.
It seemed that he had just gotten to sleep when he was awakened by a call from mission control. Sleepily he answered; it was Belinda, asking what was happening out there; it had been 6 hours since he had gone to sleep. And they were having strange indications from the elevator control panel that was being monitored. Raphael looked at the linked information, and found that the space elevator was in motion. He examined the indicator in detail and determined that an elevator car was headed up, but did not know how far it had progressed. He stretched, sipped some stimulating brew from a refreshment pouch, while he stared at the screen, still not fully awake. Belinda was chattering at him about the analysis they had been making of the comparison of the photos they had made when they were in the rooms down below, as compared to the monitor videos showing the intruders, and had discovered that the intruders were between 7 and 8 feet tall and were of excellent physique, apparently were of the group that had taken over the earth surface back at the start of the problem with the polygamous pirates; it had been assumed they had gone extinct when they had killed off the ecosystem to where they cold not survive. But those men had also been in space too; apparently some of them had gone to the L-2 site decades ago. And from historical records, these were men genetically selected to not only be huge and tough, they were also cruel and vicious beyond comprehension of civilized man. Belinda suggested he get out of there pronto. Raphael decided he ought to turn the lights off and make it look like the elevator had not been activated from up here, then make his escape.
He went through the airlocks and turned out the lights, then headed back to the airlock hatch when the elevator door opened, and a pair of enormous men flooded the place with flashlights, spotting Raphael, who was scurrying into the hatch, but one of them caught him. Raphael managed to hit the emergency release button signal to the utility spacecraft, which immediately closed its airlock and cast off to hang in space just out of reach of the L-1 facility. Meanwhile, the lights had gotten turned back on in the L-1 control room, and Raphael was being arm-locked by one of the brutes, while the other was trying to get the airlock to open, but found that there was no way to open the airlock now that there was vacuum on the other side. "I come in peace." Raphael said, as an opening effort in conversation. One of the brutes snarled in response, with an odd accent, "you will come into pieces, for sure."
"Come on, Rationallo, don't rip his arm off here" Guardiano said. "That would splatter this place with blood droplets that might cause malfunction somewhere eventually. And it would ruin a good spacesuit; there aren't many good ones left." Rationallo paused, still furious, but replied "How dare it steal a spacesuit and hitch a ride over here and attempt to escape using this space elevator! We have to teach them a lesson!" Guardiano countered by saying that it would be easier to have it walk under its own power than for them to have to lug it themselves to the digestion tanks; they can't afford to lose any precious protoplasm. That seemed to calm Rationallo; they shoved Raphael into the elevator car, turned out the facility lights, and headed down the space elevator.
They ignored Raphael as they rode the elevator down. Raphael was busy in his thoughts too, digesting the implications of what he had just experienced. They had left his spacesuit on, apparently figuring it was easier for him to ware it than for them to carry it. These guys were efficient, even if utterly ruthless, apparently. Digestion tanks -- that was something he remembered from the history, that just prior to the exodus to the GEO Habitat Ring, the world had been taken over by a megacorporation, which had been focused only on maximizing profit without regard to environmental or social cost, and had succeeded in killing off the food chain; and had used a digestion process for all hydrocarbon recycling, including the dominant remaining hydrocarbon, deceased people. The upper crust, the eugenics-bread hulking large people, ate the better tasting part of the resulting nutrients, and left the remainder to keep the "normal" people alive, essentially slaves to the upper crust. Fortunately the people prevailed, got the KESTS built and then the cities in GEO, bringing the current level of civilization to be. But apparently some of the people of that upper-crust had taken refuge at the old L-2 space elevator city complex, and were surviving by still using the digestion tank food recycling technique there. And that right now, he was seen as a portable self-propelled chunk of about-to-be digestion tank fodder. Along with a spacesuit carrier. An "it" not a person, he now remembering their terminology referring to him. And they thought he was an escapee from L-2; they were apparently oblivious to spacesuit design differences; thus their world view must not be checking reality out very much, leaving the details to the normal folks that were their slaves. This had rapidly developed into a situation he did not like; it was a big glitch in getting the L-1 space elevator to help out in the dismantling of the abandoned cities in GEO, not to mention his own apparently abruptly shortened life expectancy. But possibly the brute arrogance and reality blindness of his captors might provide some means of dealing with the situation.
As they thrust him roughly through the hatchway into their lunar crawler, Raphael sent a quick command to his spacecraft and to his robot that was presumably still hiding behind the stack of rocket casings nearby. He waited until the lumbering crawler started up, and Raphael started moving around jerkily and griping about his treatment, hoping to cover up any motion and sound when his robot climbed carefully onto the crawler; it seemed to work, he got hit hard and knocked into the back of the storage area in the vehicle as response to his efforts, and the shaking of the vehicle from that internal activity apparently concealed and added motions from the robot's joining the trip. The indicator panel in Raphael's spacesuit showed that the robot indeed was accompanying them; and also that the utility spacecraft had left the L-1 site and was headed back to the GEO habitat ring construction site.
It was a long trip halfway around the Moon in the solar powered lunar crawler. Rationallo and Guardiano did not offer Raphael any food or drink while they feasted at times along the way; fortunately Raphael had some of the suit's nutrition and stimulant drink he could sip at those times. He stayed silent, still hurting from the arm twisting and the getting knocked into the back of the vehicle; these guys were as physically strong as they looked, and had no desire for his companionship, clearly. He was just animal meat on the hoof to them, a livestock animal. From what he remembered from the history lessons, these were the same guys that had brought on the huge mess, and were assumed extinct except for a few Amazon harem-cities that remained, possibly finding ways to make offspring for themselves, or maybe they had faded away too long ago. Raphael decided they were not the best company, even if the only company around right now, except for the robot hanging on outside the vehicle.
The lunar crawler suddenly jerked and spun sideways, its treads on one side spinning on some slippery gravel across a flat rock surface. There was lots of cursing from up front, and rocking of the vehicle as they moved violently about. Then they sat down and glowered at the control panel. Raphael crept over to the front and looked at the control panel; his captors merely noticed his existence, but did not interfere. Raphael tried reversing the treads direction, then forward several times, while instructing his robot outside to get off and push a bit, then climb back on. The noise and jiggling of his movement of the treads concealed the shove given by the robot and its climbing back on as the crawler lurched back along the path. His captors resumed their seats, things were going under their control again; they continued to ignore Raphael. Not even some thanks, or even a glance at him; they were accustomed to their slaves servicing their needs while being unnoticed as they did it, apparently. He went back into the cargo area again, being an obedient servant type. Maybe they would remember his usefulness and delay the digestion tank thing. Whatever, he did not want to perish in that vehicle stuck out there on the lunar surface, with those two hulks getting hungry.
Eventually the lunar crawler came to a stop, as it made a sound from the engagement of the docking hatch. Raphael sent a new instruction set to his robot outside, as he was thrust through the hatchway. There were several normal looking humans there waiting, who immediately began emptying the trash from the vehicle and preparing it for its next use; Rationallo glanced at Raphael the briefest moment, then his two captors strode away, ignoring him. Apparently they assumed he was back where he stated from; and was more useful alive than being digested, for now.
However, Raphael was just standing there, not knowing anything about the place. One of the people who were servicing the crawler, stopped and looked at the spacesuited Raphael; the captors out of sight, Raphael risked another "Hello, I am new here, can you tell me where the bathroom is?" conversation starter. The man blinked, looking more carefully at Raphael's spacesuit, apparently familiar with such things as spacesuits, then looked keenly at Raphael's face. He paused a moment longer, then resumed his labors there; but in a few minutes he found himself being urged to follow a couple of them along somewhere. The arrived at a room where there were other spacesuits, so Raphael took the suit off, removing its service packs and also his remote controller, which he stashed in his pocket when over at the waste disposal area, cleaning the service packs. The fellow who had led him there was busy looking at the spacesuit, and when raphael returned, the man asked him where he was from. Raphael tole him he was from Earth and the GEO Habitat Ring; the man just stared at Raphael uncomprehendingly. "Where?" Raphael tried another way, said he had been captured at the L-1 elevator site. Than made more sense, apparently, and so he went on to explain that he needed help in finding how to live here. The man nodded slowly, then said his name was Thornby. Raphael introduced himself, "my name is Raphael, and I am a deconstruction supervisor" and keeping himself from going on to explain what that exactly involved, in a place this new friend did not know existed. Gesturing to stay there, Thornby left the room; a few minutes later he returned with a set of clothing. "Go over in that closet and put these clothes on, and leave you old clothing in there, in this bag." handing Raphael a little sack. Raphael took note of the way Thornby wore the clothing; they were the exact style as were the ones handed to him. In fact, now that he thought of it, all the "normal" folks he had seen wore the identical kind of clothing, apparently a uniform kind of thing. He transferred his pocket controller into a pocket of his new clothing; now what. "Come along with me and copy what I do; we will finish unloading the cargo of the vehicle, then you can follow me to the living quarter section of the city", Thornby said to his new found friend from some place far away.
The two went back to the hatchway and into the crawler's cargo hold that raphael was a bit too familiar with, and picked up some boxes just as Thornby did, and followed Thornby over to a stockroom quite a ways away; they returned to the crawler and continued to transfer the items that had been taken from the L-1 space elevator's spare parts stores, over onto shelving in the storeroom of this L-2 space elevator's maintenance area. Thornby asked him if he knew anything about how to fix a space elevator; raphael replied yes, although not necessarily the type that was here, but he could surely figure it out. Thornby looked pensive for awhile, then led Raphael to another place quite a distance away through a maze of passageways. Looking into several doorways as he went along, he found an empty one, and told Raphael that this is his room, note carefully its name on the doorway; then he led Raphael further to a dining area. Observing the manners of those around him, Raphael soon was eating some very odd food, but it's taste was not too bad, and he was very hungry. Conversing with Thornby seated across the table from him, he was taught the routine he was to lead, all coordinated by something like a wristwatch that was part of the clothing. The symbolism on the wristwatch's display was explained to Raphael, in terms of what it instructed him to do and when and where. "This device also is sending data to the main computer all the time, logging your whereabouts and activities; you will need to show a normal pattern over time, or eventually the computer will flag you for inspection by TANFL management, and you do not want that to happen. Meanwhile, you dare not follow me for much longer, or that will get flagged too." He described an initial set of things for Raphael to go do, watching the wrist logger's display to see how it compared; then Thornby told raphael to go over to sit by one of the other folks there, while Thornby went off doing something different from Raphael was doing. Meanwhile, the new person Raphael sat across from stared at him a moment, then requested raphael follow him over to bring his food tray and trash to the recycler chute and dump it in there.. Raphael was instructed to follow the new person around for a few minutes, then transfer his following along to a third person who will be gestured toward; Raphael's movements were getting randomized, he realized; this was a place where every move was recorded and evaluated by some entity.
A couple of days later, Raphael had settled into a work routine, and had learned of a library of old paper documents; this was not input to the compute system, and was ignored by the monitoring system. Raphael managed to spend a few minutes in that library, finding one document that seemed to tell of the early history of this place; he read it quickly in there, then replaced it just where he found it, and randomly selected another document to back back to his quarters to read. That evening, he stared at the borrowed document while actually recalling the history of this place; it had been built as a space elevator for some construction project long ago, and had a large materials supply infrastructure associated with it, which now serves to provide the metals and chemicals needed by the people of this place. Then a group of TANFL management had arrived, bringing a load of normal people along to be their slaves, and the L-2 elevator base city was transformed into a luxury area for the TANFL folks, and the rest as a place for the slaves to live and work. It was similar to the arrangement that Raphael had read in the history lessons long ago, of how things were before the KESTS and GEO Ring existed. The name TANFL remained, originally an acronym for "There Ain't No Free Lunch" but there did not seem to be any remnants of the workers organization, The Three Musketeers here.
The immediate survival concerns taken care of at least for now, Raphael contented himself with doing the routine chores assigned to him; they were easy but uninteresting after awhile. He was trying to appear to not be observing his surroundings too much, in case there were visual watchers. Then he was taken to be shown how to service the digestion tanks, a chore of which everybody had to do in turn. Two workers at a time were inside the room; it had an obnoxious odor despite the pump-down by the air system when people were not inside the room; though the air cleaning was more for extracting of valuable trace volatiles than for worker comfort. The sludge inside the tank was slowly stirred by a series of impellers in the tank, which also sluiced off some of the liquified sludge into a series of other tanks, each of which contained a different set of enzyme-secreting microbes, until finally a group of storage containers were filled by the processed material, the liquid part having been removed just before that step. Each tank had to be serviced by hand, using paddles assigned to each tank, , the sides and bottom of the tanks were periodically scraped to remove any material that clung there, to get it to move on along. A series of automated chem lab instruments were preparing flavor additives; these only went into the food that was destined for the TANFL quarters. The part that interested Raphael the most was the large shallow tank that was exposed to the lunar day's sunlight; this section was bypassed during the lunar night's two week period. So the food quality must vary over the lunar cycle, he reasoned. The windows that let in the sunlight were to be squeegeed as part of the routine, and at those times, Raphael could see outside through the windows; it was the only windows he had seen in the whole place. It gave him a sense of there being more to the world than his now routine life world, all lived under the shielding of the lunar regolith.
Meantime, Belinda was working on the problem. She had the photos made of the base of both space elevators, as well as the photos and audio recordings of the TANFL crew when they were raiding the stores at the base of the L-1 elevator. She also had the records from Raphael's utility space truck,which had been sent back to the GEO deconstruction work site. She got her substitute worker to take over Mission Control for a few days again, as Belinda rode the KESTS up to GEO, then rode the transportation loop around to where the space truck was located; she brought along her spacesuit and a replacement for Raphael's if needed. Inspecting the space utility truck, she replenished its stores, loaded two of the deconstruction robots as companions, and headed for the Moon. As she entered orbit around the moon, she set up the long range camera, and photographed the whole path the lunar crawler had made on its journeys between the two Space elevator bases; and as she passed near the L-2 elevator site, she beamed a quick query down, and got no reply from Raphael, but did get the update from the utility robot that was stationed out of direct sight of the L-2 elevator's base facility, detailing the adventure up to the point where the lunar crawler had connected to the port in the side of the facility. She released a lunar satellite to pass within line of sight of both space elevators, but with no collision with the elevators, and it was not of sufficient mass or density as to inflict significant damage on either elevator if it did impact in the distant future; she planned to retrieve the satellite eventually; but for now it would ping the robot down at L-2 base site, then re-transmit whatever reply it got, when it was back around the Moon line of sight with the Earth, back to Mission control once each orbit. The satellite was also set to download messages to the robot stationed outside the L-2 base; and she included a message to Raphael's pocket communicator, in case it too was in radio range when the satellite passed nearly overhead.
Inspecting her records of the trail between the two elevator bases, she determined that there were no crawlers along the road, nor one at the base of the L-1 elevator. The robot which had hitched a ride on the lunar crawler had recorded the path also, including average speed and length of trip; she was sure there would be no crawler interrupt her in the next couple of days. She landed on the lunar surface next to the pile of spent rocket tugs, and had one of the Robots load them in the utility spacecraft; then she headed back to GEO. When arriving there, she had the robots unload the rocket tugs at the refueling facility, getting them back in service; as well as the eight rocket tugs she had used in here landing and launch from the Moon this trip. Securing the space utility truck at the base camp for the deconstruction crews, she cleaned up the utility truck, replenished its supplies with long term storage types enough for several people, left the two spacesuits it it, and exited into the GEO loop transportation system, headed back to the KESTS upper terminal.
The next day, when Belinda showed up at work at Mission Control to resume her post there, she found the first downloads from the passes of the relay satellite that was pinging the L-2 site robot area; the robot reported no changes observed; and no message had been received from Raphael's pocket terminal. The robot had sent the same looking photo from its station in hiding down on the Moon; she displayed it on the big screen there at the control facility, although here was only she and her coworker to stare at the sight of the L-2 lunar space elevator base site. She sent a brief coded message for Raphael's pocket communicator, one that would make no sense to anyone but Raphael. Task done, she settled back in her routine of monitoring the progress of the various construction and deconstruction activities currently going on in the GEO Habitat Ring.
When back cleaning in the digestion tank facility, when the sunlight was being let in, Raphael risked a quick check with the robot he hoped was still outside; he had just clicked on his transceiver in his pocket, not looking at it, having learned the paranoid mode of the folks around him here as slaves in the L-2 base city. Then when back in his quarters, he finally had a chance to pull the communicator out of his pocket, and he found the robot was listening and had also forwarded a coded message. The message was from Belinda, describing the orbiting relay satellite that she had put in place, and that she was back at Mission Control, and had retrieved the rocket tugs which had been left at the base of the L-1 elevator. Very relieved that there was a communications path sort of available, he slept better that night.
The next day, he was over near the hatchway that led to the lunar crawler, and again risked keying the pocket communicator to ping the robot, but waiting to see if anything had happened, when he was in a more private place; he had previously composed a message acknowledging Belinda's message and a brief recount of his situation here. If all went well, the message wold be transferred from the robot up to the orbiting relay satellite whenever it passed in range, and then later when out from behind thee Moon, it would transfer it to the earth receiving station and be received by Belinda at Mission Control. It was comforting to him to think that such technology would likely work well, in contrast to his current lifestyle. It was not that he was living a hard life now; in fact, his tasks were easy; but he had a big job to do in getting the GEO Torus Cities out of GEO ASAP, and he could not do that from this situation, a slave and unwitting prisoner risking discovery by cunning ruthless powerful masters of a type thought extinct. His realities were not matching up well at all these days. But he plodded along in his daily duties, learning more each day about the life here, a place that had been unknown to exist. Or rather, was known to exist; but thought long abandoned and lifeless, far away from mankind's concerns, if thought of at all.
Back at Mission Control on Earth, when the message from Raphael showed up, Belinda rejoiced, he was still alive. And the situation there was even worse than she had imagined, even having guessed that his huge captors were survivors of the brutal rulers that were thought extinct nowadays. If nothing else, this awareness was quite an achievement, so she alerted people that the TANFL management was alive and well on the Moon, and reminded the people of the enormous competence and cleverness of those brutal cunning folks, having even achieved total control of the planet twice before, and so the world was probably at risk once more. It made major news around the world and in GEO.
However, the situation was not quite so severe. The TANFL masters of L-2 base were not aware that there was anything left of humanity, as they had destroyed the KESTS to GEO long ago, leaving the people up there to have perished long ago; and the earth's ecosystem had already perished by the time the TANFL management had escaped to the L-2 site using the last of the big launch vehicles on earth, three decades ago, bringing along reproductive slaves to do their work. Rationallo had prepared the Lunar L-2 elevator site for that purpose back when he was headquartered in the early GEO facilities, realizing that the trend of things was not going well on the Earth even then.
And now Rationallo was feeling a bit weary; it was time for another infusion of the life extending brew. He put in a request for a volunteer from among the peons in the worker quarter, with the usual reminder that there would be someone taken by his choice, unless they willingly provided someone as a sacrifice. When Raphael heard about the call for a volunteer, he asked Thornby what that was about, he learned that the TANFL masters were immortal and needed certain molecules only produced by a healthy human, who would be killed so as to extract the substances; and the rest of the unfortunate person would be tossed into the digestion tank. It was the way life was there, had always been. Thornby clearly was upset about it all, and when the subject was continued by Raphael to see what was the problem, Thornby said that four years ago, there had been no volunteer for the call, and the TANFL masters had grabbed his wife, who was working as a housemaid over in the TANFL area at the time, and had sacrificed her. Thornby got to pay his last respects to her by doing duty in the digestion tanks, where her crushed remains were floating for awhile. All the slaves there were aware of what had happened, and since then had endured someone volunteering to go, rather than having someone be indiscriminately chosen to extend the life of some TANFL master. Everybody went out of their quarters to the common meeting area; and someone raised his hand as volunteer; and all thanked him, before he went resolutely to the exit door, somewhat haltingly, facing his fear and grief as he went. Life in L-2 base city was that way, always had been, as far as any of them knew.
Back in his quarters that evening, Raphael prepared a message to be relayed to Mission Control, describing the event; and the next day, when he was servicing the the digestion tank and observing the crushed remains newly floating in there, he pressed the button to send the coded message off to the robot. He did not know what to do about the situation; but what he knew of the TANFL masters abilities, it would be better that they never learned that earth was again teeming with renewed life, or the TANFL powerful cunning might again figure out a way to return to rule the world. As the only person there who knew of the existence of the renewed earth civilization, he saw himself as a risk to the world; what a complicated situation it was getting to be. There seemed no way for a rescue to happen; and if the L-1 space elevator began heavy usage to bring the Torus City ring sections back to the lunar surface, surely TANFL would discover it was happening on their next trip over to L-1 base for spare parts. And once they were aware that there was a planet full of new people to enslave to their glory, they would probably once again figure out a way to once again bring calamity to the planet, in their insatiable craving to control others that was matched by their ability to do it.
Over in the TANFL 3/4 of the city, Rationallo was feeling much better now that he had had the infusion of fresh new life in him. He was feeling extra powerful and vigorous. He went to the gym and did an extra long workout, making sure that none of his 8 foot tall, 285 pound frame was none other than pure muscle and bone. He indulged in some karate and Jai Lai, then sat for a chess game for long enough to show that it was to be won by him in three more moves. He joined in on an ongoing verbal debate, and out-talked them all. Yes, he was in fine shape and it was a great day. Already in the mirror, he could see that the age lines that had begun to creep in, were already fading. He went to his office to do his job, for everybody had to work as always, or they immediately went to the digestion tanks; his job was to review and approve the workings of the TANFL organization's daily doings, and approve of them, a task that took him 15 minutes to do. His job done, he headed for the sole swimming pool on the Moon, a luxury beyond imagination on this desolate place where all water was recycled from every source; there were no new sources of water in existence. They always brought back a tank of water from the supplies stored at the old L-1 elevator's base facilities, was the only source of replenishment. Which reminded him, it would be fun to go get some more stuff from there, now that he was feeling great again. He contacted his friend Guardiano to prepare the lunar crawler; Guardiano suggested they bring along that same worker in a spacesuit, who was so handy when they almost got stuck out there on the road, would have perished there if it had not been for his help. Rationallo agreed, but said he would have to come without the spacesuit, lest he get an urge to try to escape using the space elevator again.
Raphael was told that he was to help supply the lunar crawler for another trip, and that he would be going along, so bring his own food and water. He was to drive the crawler; the seats had been built for normal sized people, and the huge frames of TANFL management folks were a bit cramped in the driver and co-driver's seats. Raphael prepared a coded message for the robot to relay, but had no chance to send it, until helping supply the crawler; then he bumped the transmit switch when out of the shielding of the base facility. He put in the supplies as listed in the instructions, and included some packaged food and drink from the workers' cafeteria, to take along for himself. He also got a spare set of clothing and tight fitting gloves, and a couple of small belt tools in case he would have to make some repair along the way. One thing he had learned about the TANFL masters is that all their power and cunning was designed to assault other people, but were not competent at repairing things, or even making things. They craved the adventure of conquest, apparently their joy in life. That they considered normal people like himself as being about the same thing as farmers' livestock, was also a data point, also making him a bit uneasy. Was he being brought along as an emergency food supply, he wondered. He had learned to mimic the curious dialect that was spoken by the workers here; he did not expect to have to say much , however.
When the TANFL master pair arrived, the custom was for the workers to line up and salute as the huge men sauntered past, climbing into the lunar crawler's hatchway. Then Raphael went in too, and shut the airtight seal of the facility and of the vehicle. One of the seats was empty, the other occupied by one of the hulks. The hulk in the co-driver's seat backed the vehicle away from the hatchway, then turned the vehicle around, and headed out down the lunar trail. The hulk doing the driving was clearly also showing Raphael how to drive the thing; OK, he could play dumb and there were surely some details that were not obvious to him from the start. One was a lever that periodically brushed the lunar dust from the videocam by which they drove the vehicle. He thought he detected a little lurch that might have been made when the robot climbed on the back of the vehicle, but was not sure. In fact, he was not even sure that the robot had received his concealed transmission of instructions, and might not be along for the adventure after all. Soon, he was gestured to take over the driving task; and when he showed skill, the hulk climbed in back to join the other one, in the relative comfort for their big frames for the trip, ever rocking back and forth and lurching along the rough lunar trail. When got too tired to drive anymore, he went back to take a rest, he muttered "need to sleep" as he went past the two hulks playing some game together; they seemed to understand, so one of them went forward and drove; the TANFL management hulks also never slept, it was said. After Raphael had slept in exhaustion, awakening and eating some food and drink, he went forward, this time with some snacks for along the way; the seat was relinquished to him and he resumed his driving task. Ever compensating for the smoothes path way required constant attention, having only the flat two-dimensional video screen to use to guide the trip.
On the third day of the trip, he noticed it was the area of flat rock where they had nearly stalled permanently last time; he deliberately went to the side a bit, throwing extra gravel onto the flat rock, maybe useful as an emergency tactic on the way back. Another day and they were approaching the base of the L-1 space elevator; he stopped short of the docking, and gestured for someone else to do the actual docking, as he did not know how to do that. Soon the crawler had rammed hard into the docking site, possibly to force the docking clamps to seat solidly. Then the hulks went forward and opened the two hatches, and went into the storage room. Gesturing to Raphael to come along, he trailed the two as they followed their familiar path through several rooms, then came to a room with lots of small containers; the two were busy documenting the contents of each and putting them back where the found them, one by one. Occasionally they would set one aside, and gestured to Raphael to cary it back to the crawler. This was the routine, he found; and sometimes he would take a different route to the room being inventoried and taken from, and he spotted the cafeteria room he had been in before. And on one trip he used his pocket communicator to check in with the robot; yes it had come along, and had been keeping Mission Control aware of what was happening. Raphael looked carefully at the inside hatch, looking for a way to seal it from the inside; and then he kept his eye out for something to use for that task, but none was found. Finally he remembered his belt tools; one of them would work nicely. He prepared a plan of escape and sent the info the the robot outside, telling it to remain on the vehicle so it would not be spotted when the vehicle turned around and headed back down the road. Raphael had Plan B and Plan C too, none of which seemed all that great, he would have to see how things developed.
Finally the crawler was stuffed full of spare parts from the L-1 stores, and they had filled their water tank from the emergency waste supplies stored at the facility. read y to leave, he took his position and saluted the two hulks as they passed and went into the hatchway. Then Raphael quickly slammed the hatch and jammed the hatch so it would not be opened from the outside, and sent a command to the robot at the same instant. Then he was taking no chances and he ran to the cafeteria, pulled out his pocket communicator and got it to open the door to the underground city, then shut the door. Now it was wait time; he had a few snacks and sips of water in his pocket, not enough to last long. Better than going to the digestion tank, he thought.
Meanwhile, the lunar crawler had backed away from the hatchway, apparently the two were convinced that Raphael could go nowhere without a space suit; they headed back down the lunar trail about a hundred meters when the robot got off, lifted one side of the crawler up in the air, and flipped it over on its top, The crawler's tracks spun in the vacuum; the robot returned to wait out of sight, in case something further developed. He waited until the tracks and controls ceased to be operated from inside, then he used his city demolition tools to remove the vehicle's treads, then it =s wheels, and its videocamera. Then he busied himself by taking the vehicle apart, piece by piece. The robot sent pictures of what he had done, and sent them direct to Mission Control. The robot was good at taking things apart, although used to working on much larger items.
At Mission Control, Belinda called for her substitute to take over the workstation, while she went on a rescue mission. Grabbing some snacks and other prepared items, she headed quickly for the KESTS westside transportation terminal, and when a captive spacecraft was available, she headed up the KESTS; 5 and a half hours later she was at the KESTS upper terminal, immediately heading down the GEO Ring's central transportation corridor, and in an hour exited to the utility space truck, which was already outfitted. Immediately launching for the Moon, she set the autopilot for any noticed variations, then sat back and meditatively let herself relax into artificial REM nap mode; it had been a long day and she would need to cope with who knows what at the end of this jaunt.
Arriving in Lunar orbit, she made one orbit of the Moon, photographing the entire path of the lunar crawler and the two lunar space elevator bases. Before docking at the L-1 facility port, she used the long range camera to photograph what it looked like down at the hatchway location; she could see the robot and a neat collection of assorted shaped pieces, apparently the vehicle's component pieces and its contents, all laid out in a neat row, on the harsh lunar vacuum landscape.
Belinda then docked the spacecraft to the elevator;s port, donned a spacesuit, and brought along the second one, as she closed the hatch behind here ant went over to begin the startup sequence of the elevator. When the elevator car arrived, she shifted it over to the downward side and she headed down the elevator, carried by the endless loop belt. It seemed a long ride; when she opened the elevator door at the bottom, ready for anything, there was nobody there, thankfully, so she turned on the monitor screens and looked through the facility; the light was on in the hatchway storeroom, but the hatch was closed, all she could tell from the videocam. All else was dark. She used her flashlight to hurry through the various rooms until coming to the cafeteria,then to the door there; she paused and sent a message through the door's window. Moments later she got a response from Raphael; she opened the door, and shoved a spacesuit at him along with a quick kiss and a fresh pack of refreshment juice for the suit. He put it on quickly, and they shut the door and locked it behind them, and the two made their way back to the elevator and up to the L-1 facility, and into their space utility truck, and undocked. Finally feeling probably safe, they opened their spacesuit helmets, both took a deep sigh. Then relaxing a bit, Belinda showed him the view down on the outside of the facility's base, of the motionless robot and his proud disassembly work's results. among the rows of parts, were the boxes of parts from the elevator's stores, the tank of water, seats, and two humanoid shapes, all laid in a neat row. Raphael doubted that the two TANFL hulks, strong as they were and resourceful, were able to survive in the hard vacuum and currently scorching hot sunshine environment, small sample to what they had done to the Earth's ecosystem long ago. They sent a signal to the robot to move off to the side, they were coming down to retrieve it.
Briefly landing long enough to have the robot climb into the cargo area, and to jettison the two rocket tugs that had lowered them down there, they used the second set of rocket tugs to launch again, and they were on the way back to GEO Habit Ring. There was a big job to get done, that was waiting for them.
Having alerted everyone who might be making a trip to the Moon, to stay away from the L-2 space elevator site, lest the TANFL management discover the existence of Earth's rejuvenating civilization and ecosystem, the task of removing the abandoned torus cities from GEO needed to increase its rate of demolition and removal. As the old KESTS was already operating at its maximum safe carrying capacity, and the new KESTS to GEO was fully dedicated to the maintenance and supply of the new generation of solar power satellites and mass-spectrometer type total recycling plants in GEO, other means needed to be found. The use of the lunar L-1 space elevator seemed the best way to expand the rate of materials removal, taking the aluminum ring sections back to the moon the way they came. The spare parts store there had been raided by the TANFL folks for an unknown amount of loss of spare parts and supplies, but perhaps earth's prototype facilities could fill in to make spare parts, if they had samples to copy.
So Raphael headed back to the Moon in his utility truck spacecraft, again accompanied by one of the demolition team's robots, to get samples of existing spare parts for use as templates for the prototype machine, or the larger mass production facilities if the materials were used up at a high rate. Arriving at L-2 and docking there, he continued to wear his apace suit even though the facilities were now mostly pressurized; he was not sure of the place, perhaps having had too many unpleasant experiences there recently. After using the long range camera to document the area down where the lunar crawler had been so expertly disassembled by the demolition robot, it appeared unchanged, including the neat rows of carefully laid out parts and contents of the crawler, including the boxes of elevator spare parts that were being transported, along with the two TANFL management members; seemed no change that he could see. The start up of the space elevator belt worked fine once again; he set his mind to figuring out what could need routine maintenance especially under full load, as well as parts that would wear out and need routine replacement. The lubrication of the bearings was already being done; he made a note to seek samples of the lubricant, whatever it was and find out if it was the same lubricant used in the different environments and load conditions at the lunar anchor pulley, the L-1 drive rollers, and the earth-side counterweight pulley. Noting the possible maintenance needs of the elevator car transfer rollers and rails at L-1 facility, and of the elevator car's equipment while on the way down, he also decided to request a small version of the robots, small enough to travel along with him inside the facility; the demolition robots were far to big to get inside and pass through areas designed for humans.
After arriving at the elevator's lower terminal, he first made a visual check of all the rooms in the facility, using the video-cams; then he headed for the storeroom where the hatch was located, put there by the TANFL bunch to enable access during their raids. He removed the tool he had put in to prevent the door from being opened from the outside; then he returned up the elevator to L-1 returned to his spacecraft, and used rocket tugs to soft land the vehicle at the lunar tower base. He had the robot pick up and carry the airlock over to the hatch, and installed it over the hatch opening; then he went inside the airlock and then inside the L-1 base facility storeroom; this would enable access from down here by his utility spacecraft, but not for the lunar crawler type hatch. He had the robot go over and retrieve the boxes of spare parts from among the rows of pieces of the former lunar crawler, along with the tank of water; and putting them in the airlock, he took them back into the storeroom. Instructing the robot to keep a watchful eye out for any movement outside, he took his spacesuit off, so as to be better able to handle the various spare parts; and he began the long tedious task of documenting the designations of each box of parts, taking one sample out and documenting it by weight and size and a photograph, then placed it in a container to be taken back to earth for reverse engineering so as to be able to make them down there if needed.
He set a timer to alert himself the end of four hours of the inventorying, enough for one day. When the time was up, he had meantime thought that there might be some data storage in the facility, that might contain useful things such as parts lists. Remembering that this elevator, like the L-2 elevator before it, was built with the blessings and partial management of TANFL,it would have been well built and austere; the only luxury places were the TANFL parts of cities. All else was mercilessly strong and efficient. Management and control systems for keeping track of everything by the TANFL masters were everywhere, back then. And here too, he stopped to think a moment. Those systems would still be in place all over here, he would think, although maybe not operational after all this time. Another thing again occurred to him, a nagging question, that of why TANFL chose L-2 base instead of this one? Possible to stay better hidden, but the buried city here was quite unobservable from any distance out, as to internal activity, at least. Lots of loose ends to this puzzle. For now, accessing data records would be helpful, although they may all have just been automatically sent via radio to TANFL management on Earth, back then, and not stored locally at all. Yet, where were the data terminals used to send that minute by minute operational data?
He opened up the 3D map model they had been making of this place on their original exploration here. There were lots of areas not filled in, so he began a methodical exploration of those areas, photographing and measuring each place, one by one, until almost every part of the 3D structure was filled in. Except for a large area in the upper levels along one outside wall edge, that is. So he made a sustained effort repeating entry of every adjacent room; there were no entrances to that remaining area. Could there be access only from the outside? He accessed the earlier photos made while making a circle of the facility in the spacecraft, was not highly detailed, but did give him a view of that area of the outside; yes, there was what appeared to be an open cargo bay and landing area along that wall. The cargo bay did not have a ramp leading up to it from the lunar surface, so he could not just go outside and go exploring of it easily. He checked his spacesuit, put it back on, made sure it was fully supplied, and went out thorough the airlock. Pausing a moment, and recalling the horror stories of what happened to people who defied the TANFL masters, he waited while he had the robot dig a trench and bury the two TANFL brutes under the ground, a hundred meters away from the lunar crawler's disassembled pieces. Just in case there were a way for more of them to get over here, even though it had looked like there was only that one lunar crawler, and one road leading here from L-2 base facility. Then he and the root hiked around the huge building, through the immense staging area for the components being hauled up to send to the GEO city assembly areas, and finally over under the landing stage he had observed was associated with the possible entrance to the mystery room. He had the robot lift him up to where he could clamber onto the landing area, and began photo-documenting it all, including dimensions. And yes, there was a hatchway in the wall there, of the same design as the one at ground level that had been used by the lunar crawler. Identical; it no doubt required a pressurized external connection, and thus would lack an airlock.
He had had a long day already, and was weary, but this mystery was obsessing him now. He sent a progress report to Mission Control; then had the robot unbolt the airlock from the original site, and carried it around to the other side of the building; he directed the robot to collect things until they made a pile sufficient for thee robot and Raphael to clamber up onto the landing stage, bringing the airlock along with them. Bolting the airlock onto the hatch there, Raphael went inside it, pressurized it, from the air tanks, and activated the hatch. It was dark in there, so he shone his flashlight inside, photographing as he looked. It looked unoccupied by living things anyway, although quite a lot of things were in there; He decided against looking for a light switch, even though the vast cavernous room was a bit spooky somehow; it was not like any of the other rooms in the facility. He found chairs, workstations, even recliners; sitting in a couple of them, his feet would not touch the floor; he realized they were built for giants. The TANFL masters wold probably fit in these places, he realized. This must be where TANFL masters stayed, yet physically separate from all the human workings elsewhere. In fact, without the 3D map technique, he would have never realized it existed as part of the facility. Eventually he found a workstation that seemed to be actually turned on and doing something, its display screen and indicator lights lit up. Raphael made a quick look with his flashlight around, to make sure he was not about to be pounced upon by the operator of the workstation; no one seen. So he climbed on the huge chair, and looked over the control panel, the writing there; photographing it all. The screen was lit, but had a blank image. Finally he found a switch titled "sleep/awaken" and he toggled the switch; the screen turned on and the workstation itself was lit, although it now was an illuminated island in the darkness. He peered into the screen, what was it? Must be from a camera somewhere. There were moving things shown... a housemaid walked past. Then there was the sight of a huge man ... A TANFL hulk! The camera most likely was a communicator terminal to there; he quickly toggled the switch to the "Sleep" setting, and the screen went blank again. Where was the corresponding vidocam for this workstation? He found the lens, and managed to cover it to make it blind, just in case. Were they somewhere in this place, if so, where? He began a methodical search of it all, he found luxurious living quarters as well as the workstations. He found no quarters for human-normal sized people however, where had the housekeeper come from.\? Maybe it was showing a long ago scene. Or, maybe it was showing scenes over t the L-2 base city. Had his activation of the terminal been recorded over there, giving them a clue that someone was here? His hopes that the existence of people beyond their little empire at L-2 would remain concealed from the TANFL masters over there, were now in jeopardy. He used his flashlight-autoranging-camera to make a few scans across the floor and ceiling in a few places, then hurried over to the hatch and into the airlock. Closing both hatches, and pumping the airlock down, he exited it, and had the robot unbolt it, and bring it along, as they returned to the other side of the facility, and restored the airlock in place there again, checking for any signs of tracks in the lunar dust, other than their own. Did not want to find surprises inside. Back through the airlock and into the storeroom, all looked as before, almost a welcome familiarity. Yet he now knew that it was quite probable that this room was prepared to be watched from that mystery TANFL room, although probably not actively anymore. But, possible.
Satisfied that all was back to normal there, he went back out to his utility truck spacecraft sitting outside, and sent the report in to Mission Control; in a minute, the 3-D model of the TANFL control room was added to the model of the L-1 base facility. He could now enter the virtual model of that darkened room, which was made of stripes of walls and ceilings and floor and workstations, wherever his flashlight had briefly shone, was not painted into one lit room, with emptiness wherever the flashlight had not shown. Belinda came online too; she said that an oddity had been found, that the walls and floor and ceiling of the TANFL control room were all rated thick enough for having the hard vacuum of space on the other side, all of them, not just the one that was shared with the overall structure's exterior strong walls. It was if they had prepared for subjecting the entire interior of the facility to a vacuum, except their own room. Why would they do that? No reply.
It was long past time for Raphael to get some sleep, so he instructed the robot to keep watch outside and alert him if anything moved; and he quickly drifted off to sleep. When the timer awoke him, he arose and began his arising routine, refreshing himself with food and drink, and sat at his spacecraft workstation to check the status of things. The two teams of disassembly robots were still doing well tearing apart and removing the old cities; all was well. He put in a request for a second identical airlock to be made on the prototype machine, along with a pair of human-sized robots, to be able to enter the hatches of this place and be helpers. Then he did his evaluation of the local situation, and decided that this project was getting too complicated again; it was just supposed to be an excursion to verify operation of the L-1 space elevator functionality and usefulness for bringing the torus ring segments down onto the lunar surface for disposition, getting the material out of GEO without having to haul it all down the KESTS, which was taking far too long; and the old KESTS structure was a creaky old thing that was not likely to last long enough to complete the job. As immensely capable as it was in the beginning - enough to transport a million people a day along with their household belongings - in its heyday, its safe capacity was significantly less than that now; and it was never meant for this kind of load, to go on year after year. Tear it down and build a parallel new larger KESTS to GEO was not in the budget of the earth civilization right now; they were happy to all be back in their homes on the ground, breathing renewed fresh air, seeing the wide open spaces; they were done with living in the torus cities, roomy as they had been. And in fact, the whole thing was in the hands of Raphael and Belinda; all others were very busy rebuilding their world, using the stored seeds and DNA of extinct species, and modeling ecosystems that were interlinked , and learning how to make it all sustainable, suing the experience gained in the GEO Habitat Ring, which had been self-sustaining for 7 billion people for two decades, even though it had not been designed for such a occupancy in mind. They did learn what it takes for large systems to remain long term viable, however, and they were applying those techniques to the whole world now, and everybody was maximally busy making it happen.
So it was just he and Belinda having a brainstorming meeting over the situation down on the Lunar surface. It was still the problem of getting the L-1 elevator to run again reliably after all these decades, but also to cope with the two mousetraps needing avoiding, the L-2 elevator facility and the TANFL control room in the L-1 facility. Raphael's real-world encounters with a couple of live TANFL masters had not diminished their almost mythical power and cunning's invulnerability in either of their minds. That there were no two less of them was seen as not of a lessened risk, but of a risk of making the remaining ones hopping mad, something no one had ever dared risk. Risk had been done, and some survived, long ago;invincible but they made every effort to conceal or disguise their activity; normal humans just were no match with the TANFL masters who had bred themselves to be absolute invincible rulers of all, and considered nothing as inviolate, especially human life and undertakings; all was pawn for their endless power games. A few people had outwitted the TAANFL masters briefly, including now Raphael; so far he was still alive and doing things, but history recorded that every time someone had even briefly defied the TANFL masters, they became prime game target for the entire TANFL regime, and they had always mercilessly sought and pursued, as with endless memory and obsessed endurance, every nook and cranny and idea was sifted through until they solved the problem. And Raphael had now essentially gotten two of them killed, something no one had ever done. The whole thing did not alt all help Raphael's feeling of security right now. Yet it was more than his own safety, but that of all earth and GEO peoples safety and well-being that was now at risk. It was not that Raphael had deliberately poked a stick into the hornets' nest. But poked it had been. The problem wold not respond to being ignored.
Belinda also advised him of a new event: the relay satellite circling the moon in sight of L-2 and L-1, had photographed activity at the base of the L-2 space elevator, and had recorded an elevator car having gone at least part way up the tether. It was on the tether for several successive orbits; it appeared to climb the tether slowly and had not gone nearly up to L-2. But something was changing over there. In fact, the components being taken from the L-1 stores were of the types adaptable to a climber type of space elevator, so it had been their intention to get the elevator going even before Raphael had stumbled upon the scene. What were they doing? Belinda reminded him that the space elevator basic concept was far inferior to a KESTS structure for transportation to GEO or a lagrange point like L-1 and L-2, but its counterweight far end was potentially a way to be flung out from a very distant end, using the planetary or lunar system rotation to power a launch very efficiently and to very far away, so long as the path was along the orbital plane. The TANFL masters could be planning quite a voyage. Mars? Probably just escaping from what they assumed was a dead earth and a lunar colony life with existing limits.
Raphael again wondered why had they not taken over the L-1 underground city too; possibly it was just timing, and once at L-2 base, no way to move them all over here. Especially if they had only one lunar crawler that was working.
But, they had been collecting lots of spare parts, some for the crawler too, not just the space elevator's restoration. They needed the relay satellite to photograph the road between the two elevators, in case another lunar crawler got into running condition and headed this way. Belinda pointed out that with an operational L-2 space elevator, they could put their own recon satellites into lunar or even earth orbit using it. Raphael decided the TANFL menace was far more important that the speedup of the city demolition was right now, and he loaded the robot into the utility truck spacecraft and headed back to GEO. There he refueled the rocket tugs, and requested a dozen more of them be build down on the earth surface assembly line; lots of them would be needed, eventually, even bigger ones. He requested some samples of ones powerful enough to shove a 200 meter diameter shell ring out of GEO and over to dock at L-1.
Then he launched for the Moon again, only this time, he went around the moon, and stationed his vehicle next to the L-2 point facility, documenting it by ranging camera and flashlight on its dark areas. They reviewed the dynamics of something that was brought up almost to L-2 and then cast off; it would tend to de-orbit back to the moon but after a very long orbital decay, circling the moon a huge number of times over the eons. If an object were taken a little above the L-2 point and cast off, it would also tend to long term stay n orbit around the moon, until orbital decay eventually brought it down eons later. If taken high enough above L-2 before releasing, the object would be flung off into a higher orbit, probably coming around to be captured by the earth's gravity field in a distant orbit; if released high enough, the object would escape the earth-moon gravitational system. If he could install an obstacle on the tether far enough below L-2 so that a released object would fall the the lunar surface before going half way around the Moon.
This time he headed back over to the ongoing city de-construction site, and after verifying all was going smoothly with his two teams busy there, and a check-in with Belinda down at Mission Control, he indulged in a long sleep break.
The next day, he picked the deconstruction crew that he had been borrowing robots from, and began modifying the program of the supervising computer, so as to have them cut the next city's aluminum torus segments up into an increasingly large set of chunks of ring segment pieces, and then leave the rest of the ring segments whole, just unbolted, and constrained to their former ice shield, which was being left intact for now. He also designed several types of possible things to clamp on the L-2 tether to prevent climbers from getting any higher than what would prevent a free-falling object from getting around to the L-1 base site. He made a trip to the KESTS GGEO terminal embarcadero to pick up the fabricated airlock, but the person-sized robots were not ready yet, taking longer to fabricate them. He indulged in some shopping at the revitalized shopping centers there, including buying some nutritional supplies that were more flavorful than his normal fare; he also replenished his long term storage food supplies. By the time he had finished shopping, the first prototypes of the clamps for the L-2 elevator had been delivered so he made a second trip over the the terminal's freight depot to pick them up. Then it was back to the deconstruction site.
Retrieving his companion robot from the deconstruction crew, he had it load two of the smaller chunks of pieces of an aluminum torus segment, which had attachment points on them that would match up with those on the L-1's belt, which were vestiges from when the torus ring segments had originally been lifted of the lunar surface up past L-1 and loosed at the earthside counterweight and transportation terminal, dangling toward the Earth, far from the lunar surface. He headed back toward the moon in his utility spacecraft, this time rendezvousing with the L-1 space elevator's earthside terminal. Staying in the vehicle, he directed the robot to move the two pieces over to attach them to sequential attachment hooks on the downward side of the belt. Then they went over to dock at the L-1 site facility. In his spacesuit, he went through the airlock into the control room, and used the security cameras to check out things, did not find any indication of any visitors since he was here last time. He then opened up the elevator control panel and photo-documented all he could find out about it, and made a preliminary design for remotely operating the space elevator; he wanted to be able to start and stop it from his spacecraft, especially when he was about to subject it to new live loads. Returning to his spacecraft, he had the robot fasten the new airlock assembly on the outside of the facility, and they headed over toward the L-2 elevator area.
As he approached the L-2 elevator base, he used the telescope camera to document it and to verify there were no elevator cars on the anchored tether at the present time. Evaluating the photos himself, lacking the processing link to earth computers, he decided that there were no elevator car climbers on it. Using his rocket tugs as stationkeeping thrusters, he edged over to the tether below the point of cutoff to be in any orbit around the moon if released from that height, and the robot reached over and tried first one of the clamps, then the other one; that one seemed to grab onto the tether solidly, and hopefully would be an obstacle to a climber car heading up it. Goal achieved, he used the thrusters to follow along up the tether, on out to the L-2 docking area, then on out. Recording as he went he had almost decided to end the monotonous inspection when he spotted an object further on out on the tether, perhaps the end counterweight, so he continued on towards it; he soon saw that the tether kept on going on outward past it. As he got close, he saw it was moving, albeit slowly, toward L-2, which was "up" at that point. The climber had solar power panels; if that was what was driving the climber's motor, no wonder it was going so slow. But it was bad news, the climber being out here, and he had already blocked passage all the way down. So he circled the elevator car; it was not very big. He decided to grab it, put it in the utility truck spacecraft's cargo area, so he edged of=over and had the demolition robot disconnect the crawler from the tether and put it in the cargo bay; then they headed back to GEO by the lowest energy route, as the rocket tug fuel remaining delta-vee was getting low.
Arriving at GEO, he put the crawler directly into a cargo-sized airlock, and into a pressurized inspection area. He was eager to see what was inside the crawler. The demolition robot fit through the cargo airlock too, and so Raphael had the robot open the hatch; there was no repercussion at that point, so he went over with his flashlight-camera, and began a sweep of the interior; it appeared to be a simple workstation desk and chair, and on the floor was a human. Quickly going over the the man, he observed that he was breathing, and even stirring. must have been low on air to breathe, but now he had air. As he looked more carefully, he saw that it was his friend Thornby, from the L-2 base slave camp. Raphael removed his spacesuit helmet so Thornby would recognize him; as the man raised himself up, looking a bit glassy-eyed, first at the desk and seat, he struggled to get back in the chair, then he looked around at the place where there had been a hatch, and saw Raphael. Immediately raphael Greeted Thornby in the manner of the slave camp people; he also reminded that he was Raphael. Raphael signaled for an emergency medical team to come, and by the time they got there, Thornby was saying a few things, but seemed to be incoherent. Surely it must be a weird thing happening as seen from Thornby's perspective right now.
The emergency medics arrived and made an initial analysis of Thornby, giving Raphael some questioning looks too. The told him that Thornby was drugged and had been suffering from low oxygen for quite a while; they administered oxygen and a detoxifier to the dazed man. Meanwhile, Raphael was reporting all this to mission Control, while also adapting to the unexpected turn of events. The medics then reported the drug used on Thornby had been in his system for over a day, which also lowered his metabolism so that he could live on low oxygen. They checked the little oxygen tank in the inside of the crawler, said it was empty. Raphael was beginning to guess that either Thornby was being used as a guinea pig to see what would happen while crawling up and down the space elevator; or more worrisome, this was a present sent to Raphael by a wrathful TANFL management, who reputedly had ways of monitoring everything that went on, ways that were almost magical. Raphael advised the area be put on the first stage of an alert, just in case. Eagerly he began to talk to the man who was showing signs of detoxifying already; finally Thornby replied a few coherent words. Looking with renewed clarity at the medics and Raphael, then fearfully all around the area. "There are no TANFL masters here, Thornby" Raphael said, guessing that was what was going on the man's mind. It did not have an immediate calming effect, however; Raphael then realized that this man had never known a time when TANFL was not monitoring what was going on. Finally, Raphael spoke the name of Thornby's lost wife.; this silenced Thornby, digesting the existence of that word here and now. Finally the man asked what was happening. Raphael sidestepped the complexity of that answer while also getting on with his more immediate question, and asked Thornby what had been happening that he was in the crawler. The reply was that there had been a call for another volunteer; and so Thornby was full of grief both for loss of his wife and now his new friend Raphael was lost too, so he went. But the TANFL masters did not take him to the life energy extraction facility, but instead took him to some kind of equipment room, and injected him with something, then they had put him in this little box and shut the door. the box started moving around, and he had gotten lethargic and sleepy. And now he was waking up.
Raphael sighed, a relief that it was by choice, not by getting picked out, that Thornby was here; although the mind control powers of the TANFL masters might have who-knows-what abilities to manipulate from a distance. Similarly, there was a slight chance that Thornby was being monitored even now by the TANFL masters. How much did he dare learn, in that case. Raphael requested a full subtle energy check of Thornby, an unusual procedure; but the medics consulted their equipment and reset it to do the testing. With a surprise, they announced that Thornby was radiating strongly at several subtle energy levels; it was coming from an ampule injected under the skin. The removed the ampule and bandaged Thornby. After some consulting with Mission Control, they re-inserted the ampule into one of the rabbits brought from the GEO livestock areas; then the caged rabbit was put inside a larger box that was soundproof and had no light other than its own supply; with food and water , hey prepared to keep thee rabbit here, well tended. Then Thornby was again inspected for subtle energy connection, and was found to now have just the normal human levels. The medics administered fluids and nutrients to help start normalizing Thornby's internal system, as he had been malnourished for a very long time. Raphael brought Thornby into a refreshment area, a table, and brought over some standard foods to share with Thornby. But the man just looked at the sandwiches and dessert treats, asking what they were; that it looked like the food the TANFL masters ate, forbidden to worker people. Going over to the cafeteria to get some soup that looked a bit like standard worker gruel, he brought it to Thornby, who then ate of it gingerly, then exclaimed what a strange taste it was. But it had a nice quality to it and he eager ate it. Raphael brought him another bowl of it, a bigger bowl this time, as well as some crackers. He showed Thornby how to dip a cracker in the soup then eat the cracker. After some stares, he copied the action, then ate more of the crackers and soup, until he was too full to eat any more. "I'm trying to get you to realize that you are no longer where you had lived before, Thornby, and you have much to learn here, that you may find interesting" Raphael explained. He also explained that he was a worker too and had a lot of work to do, and would not be able to spend a lot of time with Thornby, but would visit occasionally. An apartment was found for Thornby, and he was shown how to provide for himself in there; Raphael showed him the communicator terminal, where he could have a videochat with Raphael even though Raphael were somewhere else. He also connected a three-way connection to include Belinda, down at Mission Control, she had been eagerly wanting to get in on the new fun going on up here in GEO; and soon conversation was increasingly coherent.
Raphael went back to his worksite and resumed his duties, occasionally linking in for a videochat with Thornby. And he had worried chats with Belinda, of how he was worried that the ampule that had been in Thornby had been tracked all the way over here. That the crawler would not return to the base of the space elevator was surely a data point to TANFL, at least. And TANFL masters were incredible masters at monitoring and controlling events, and would tolerate no one interfering with their plans. Raphael indulged in a little complaint to himself, why had the project gotten so complicated, instead of simpler? He and Belinda were experts at making things simpler and do-able; but this was not working out that way.
The next day, he was able to pick up the two human-sized robots, fresh from the prototyper and brought up on the KESTS. They were in many ways like the demolition robots he had been working with, except had the same room for the neurological functions, but the other parts were scaled down. He decided they could function as a demolition robot, only slower. And could not reach so far, of course. He loaded the same computer program into them that was in the demolition robots, and included the added experiences of the two robots that had gone on special expeditions with Raphael. He set them to re-calibrating for the lengths of their appendages, and left them to work that part out for themselves, including exploring some known objects in the area, as to size and mass, relative to their own. He wondered how the prototyper would handle the other request, the one for robots able to easily handle a whole 200-meter ring segment all by itself; even the relative mass would be a factor, there in microgravity and often with nothing to push against that had overwhelming mass for the maneuver. But they were still being built by the prototyper; was making two of them too, and would automatically archive the specifications for making many more of them by the automated assembly line, a much more economical system for large quantities of anything.
He contacted Thornby to have him change to more earth normal clothing, yet keep the slave worker uniform ready for being worn; he showed how to have clothes washed; but Thornby pointed out that washing by anything than just water, would change the nature of the uniform, so that was what it got washed in, just water. Even then, it did not have the same aroma that items had when washed in the contaminated rinse water from the digestion tank processing there at L-2 base. Yet already his internal system had been detoxified and cleaned out by drinking pure water, that he was able to detect the difference in aroma of things, including his original clothing.
As soon as the two man-sized demolition robots had settled down to knowing the extent of their reach and mass relative to other things, Raphael loaded his utility spacecraft vehicle once again, but this time taking only the two new smaller robots as companions back in the cargo hold, He had a couple more of the smaller chunks of toroid city shell segment, along with another four of the rocket tugs, fully fueled, which he wanted to have available for emergencies over at the L-1 site. He headed for the Moon again, more refreshed this time; but more worried and alert, too. First, he returned to the L-1 facility, and attached the spare rocket tugs to the outside of the facility; giving the smaller robots some real-world experience in working in the microgravity here at L-1, yet at the huge facility, too. Then he and one of the little robots went inside the facility through the airlock, leaving the other robot outside, on the alert for intruders of any kind. Inside, Raphael went through the procedure he had developed for looking in all the rooms down below via the videocams, then going through the start-up sequence for the belt-type space elevator. He showed how to have the elevator car shuttled back and forth between the lunar side movement or the earth side movement. He wished he had more robots so he could leave one here too, but that was not reality of the event. The both got into the elevator car and headed down toward the lunar surface terminal; presumable out on the earthside connection terminal, the two pieces of scrap were also headed toward the lunar surface, but starting way out there. On the way down, he programmed the little robot on some possible responses to unexpected events, as well as programming it how, in general terms, to run the elevator from the lower terminal, and to function in the planned part where the two pieces of scrap would be removed when they arrived down at the lunar anchor point terminal. It would be a learning experience for both of them, and now the robot had a form of expectation framework which it could update as real world events provided data to modify the original expectations.
They arrived at the lunar surface floor and the elevator car automatically disconnected, then the two got out of the elevator car, knowing that the elevator was continuing to lower the two pieces of scrap down the same path. They needed to be ready to receive it; so they went out the airlock that was still attached to the surface level hatchway, and they hiked around the building over to what must have been the staging area for lifting the ring sections up the elevator, many decades ago. They then backtracked to a smaller staging area that had been ignored previously; it must be for the downward moving freight being picked off the moving belt. Familiarizing themselves with the probable functioning of the downward-arriving freight, Raphael realized that it must be entirely automated, at least in the original usage; but would it work after being idle all this time. So far, only the lubricants had to be told to dispense the first time, but once things were running, he had found they were dispensing themselves at periodic intervals, just part of the overall clockwork. Hopefully it was the same way here too. The freight unloader seemed as ready as they could determine it could be at this point, so they took the remaining hours wait, to temporarily move the airlock over to the TANFL room hatchway again. Leaving the robot outside to watch for intruders, Raphael went back inside the spooky place, and again used his video recording flashlight, this time to do some filling-in of areas not panned across before. he also looked at the terminal that had shown him what apparently was a scene in TANFL quarters; Belinda had pointed out that the housemaid seen previously was wearing the same kind of uniform as did Thornby, so it was a clothing standard that had been set for use at the L-2 base city; and so was probably a live video connection. And thus a possible risk of discovery if activated again. The terminal appeared still as he had left it. Just being in this place, built for the TANFL giants, made him remember the first meeting with one of them, Rationallo, who was about to tear Raphael's arm off right then and there, clearly powerful enough to do that with his bare hands. It would not be nice to be found in here by one of them. However, he was looking for something, surely they had some kind of shield that allowed the elite of the elite to have privacy from the subtle energy spy devices; he checked around in the sleeping quarters, and in the most luxurious one, he found a curtain that was across the walls, even though the walls were without windows; the curtain could be drawn back and forth. Handling it he discovered it was incredibly thin; in fact, it looked like carbon nanotube cloth, perhaps. So he removed the curtain, and indeed it all folded up into a small space, easily fitting into the spacesuit's carrying pouch; mission accomplished, he hurriedly left the room built for giants, and he and the robot hauled the airlock back around to the hatch and bolted it on there again.
They went back for the freight removal event, and when the first section of scrap approached, the robot scampered up the belt to meet it, and he inspected the latching mechanism there, and evaluated its interaction with the unlatching mechanism on the unloading dock; it looked like it would work, so it let go and dropped down to the deck, bounding around a bit, learning how to control its landing better. Then the two came over to watch the unlatching to take place, able to see from there but probably safe from flying pieces if not. The scrap got unlatched nicely, and a conveyor belt automatically kicked in and trundled the chunk of scrap metal off to a loading platform., getting shuttled off to the end of the platform. Then the second piece of scrap came down too, and it too was unlatched cleanly, and the conveyor belt set also shuffled the second piece over to next to the first piece, without colliding, either. Looked like it was working. So they went back through the airlock and started up the elevator again, toward the L-1 facility.
Back up at L-1, it was time to bring down the other two pieces of scrap, and the second airlock. They went out of the L-1 facility airlock and together they set the three items up to get caught by the latches when the next one went by, one by one; then the three pieces were headed on the way down. The two robots were learning to function as a cooperative team, part of the hard wiring built into them, to seek that kind of function. Raphael mused that it would be nice if humans had that hard wired into them too, instead of having to learn it the hard way. Leaving the second robot as a lookout again, Raphael and one robot got back in the elevator car, shifted over to the downward side; this would be an unbalanced load, the elevator car and airlock and two pieces of scrap aluminum, all on the downward pat of the space elevator below L-1, with no balancing weight on the earthward side of L-1. He wondered if the elevator had a built-in differential stress mechanism that would not allow an unsafe unbalance, or an overload itself. Or was it assumed the operators of the facility would keep track of that. He had noted that the latches were controlled electronically as well as mechanically; the unlatching down at the unloading dock had been unlatched automatically, but he had not been sure whether it was done by the mechanical design unlatch mechanism or by the electronic actuation. It was quite possible that the elevator would refuse to latch new live loads if the overall load, or the differential load, was getting anywhere near to the safe limit of the structure. He did not see an immediate way to test to see if it would work, however, and did not want to risk overloading the structure.
He was also aware of the fairly large city associated with this facility, dwellings for maybe a thousand people here; he and a couple of robots were not going to be able to handle the tasks of so many people. But many of they were probably involved in the materials processing and fabrication of the torus city segment ring wedges, which he did not need to do; he just had to get them out of the way as fast as they came in, eventually. Then he got to wondering, where did they make those 200 meter diameter assemblies anyway? And where was the delivery system that got them to the loading dock?
They arrived at the base of the elevator, and latching his helmet shut and checking for air pressure, he and the robot went out through the airlock, and hiked around the the receiving freight dock. Even before they arrived there, they could see that three more objects had been added to the neat line of items set off to the side of the receiving dock. It worked perfectly, at least for relatively small things.
The little robot was not quite strong enough to carry the airlock by itself, even though it was about twice as strong as Raphael, so the two of them lugged the airlock around to the TANFL room's entrance way. They bolted it in place from the inside but did not pressurize it; no sense in wasting the air as he did not plan on going in now. The less time in there the better, as far as he was concerned. Yet its very existence was a nagging worry to Raphael; and the fact that it had a live link over to the L-2 base TANFL quarters suggested that there might be links from there watching over here too. Part of the back of his mind was ever busy on the task of what to do about that, including how to evaluate the communications link of which he could not even guess how it was working. There had been rumors of a mysterious communication system created by the developers of the original KESTS bridge used to do the original colonization of the GEO Habitat Ring, but there were no remaining examples of it. Maybe the secret was there in that room; TANFL would have acquired the technology, if it existed.
They went back around to the receiving dock and lugged the four chunks of scrap off the receiving deck to make room for future deliveries; the system worked great for what it did. The space elevator was built as a massive workhorse transportation system, yet it was good only for moving materials one direction, from the Moon to earth or earth orbit. As such, it was a perfect match for use in delivering materials for constructing the enormous amount of living space in GEO. Even the high efficiency of KESTS to GEO would not have enabled lifting those construction materials in so short a time; the KESTS did well to move most of humanity, some 7 billion people and their household belongings, up into GEO homes, in two decades. The lunar dual-pulley space elevator filled in the gap for the rest of the structural construction materials to build the torus shell for those homes, enough for a million people a day to move in. Even now it seemed an impressive feat. But the people had little choice; the generation of people before them had allowed the irresponsible powers of greedy folks to ruin the earth's ecosystem so severely that the ecosystem was no longer to rejuvenate itself, and the world was dying. And mankind was eating everything in sight. They had to get out of there to where they could have controlled sustainable agriculture systems, enough for 10,000 people in each of the torus cities. And despite further irresponsible power plays from the TANFL management bunch, the ecosystem was finally jump-started back toward sustainability, although it still took the efforts of a quarter of the world's population to keep the ecosystem fully sustainable. Having lived inn the Torus Cities, all people were intimately aware of the balance of all the living systems in there including their agriculture, and how it was all powered by the sun's energy, they overall absorbing sunlight energy at high frequencies, and re-radiating the energy as low frequency heat energy out to space, and making everything work as the energy trickled down toward the heat level. Measuring every aspect of it and adjusting so as to keep everything within sustainable limits, was part of everybody's life when in the Torus Cities in the GEO Habitat Ring; and they carried those habits when they returned to the earth surface, the planet was just a large sized version of the same thing, powered by the high frequency energy from the sun and re-radiating the energy back out to space as low frequency heat frequency energy, and making all life and weather be powered by that. There was other input such as the thermal energy from the still cooling planet's interior, along with the lunar tidal energy primarily on the water of the oceans; and radioactive decay energy, also heating up the interior of the planet, but all those things were insignificant to the huge amount of solar energy the planet basked in every day.
Lugging chunks of aluminum scrap seemed to be almost a waste of time, but they established a scrap pile off to the side, picking the place where the disassembled lunar crawler's pieces were laid out; Raphael briefly wished the lunar crawler were still working, so it could be used to explore the area, following the worn roadway out to where the materials came in that provided the torus ring segments; he needed a way to get the incoming ring segments hauled out of there and completely out of the way to make room for the subsequent received ring segments. There must have been huge vehicles hauling the pieces into here; maybe they could be gotten to haul them back the same way. Hiking on the Moon was not an efficient way to travel, especially carrying one's life support system with you. However, the two of them hiked out to about the quarter of their maximum range without re-supply; it was just well-worn lunar roadway, as far as they could see.
Returning the the L-1 base, the robot re-charged its batteries, and Raphael ate his dinner. It had been a long time since returning to his utility vehicle to get a situation update from Mission Control, and inspect the latest photos made by the orbiting relay satellite; but he chose to delay that by another couple hours, to give them time to begin a more thorough evaluation of the underground city and its capabilities. Maybe some of the mysteries could be resolved there, too.
The went thorough the locked door at the cafeteria, careful to lock it behind them; apparently TANFL had not gone in here, when they were making their parts raids. Although maybe that was just because they did not need anything in here. Instead of re-mapping the halls and doorways as before, this time Raphael went into the first clearly multipurpose room, and systematically recording everything about it. Locating a workstation terminal, he noted that it was of a quite different type than in the TANFL management control room; but it clearly was a terminal of some kind. Without power, it was not very useful. However, there were several small LED indicators that were glowing; and there were some fairly large handled switches next to them; maybe they were the master circuit power switches, to connect to the elevator facility's solar power system. He removed the panel, and measured the voltages; yes, large aluminum conductors connected to the switches, and there was voltage on one side of the switches, and non on the other side. He made a note of switch position versus on-of condition. Replacing the panel, he went looking for some device powered by electricity; finding a microwave oven, he found it had been left in the "off" state, although that was probably the default condition if it lost power, to minimize start-up load when power is restored in an emergency. Pulling a panel off to check the room lighting power, he found that it too was in the "off" state. So he decided to risk turing the power on what appeared to be the main power to this area; operating the switch, nothing happened except different LED indicators were now lit. He went over and activated the room lights; they came on; so he turned his flashlight off. The robot automatically turned its lantern off too, in response to the lighted room.
Going over the the display terminal, he turned it on. Its display screen just showed the activation of some unknown items, but showed no graphics; possibly something had to be turned on at the other end for it to communicate. Well, at least it looked like things could be revived down here in this city, if needed. He turned off the terminal and the room lights, and shut off the main power switches; all seemed as before they came here. They headed back out through the cafeteria door, making sure it was locked behind them, and headed over to the elevator; and soon they were patiently biding their time as they rode the elevator car back up to L-1 facility.
The robot was having a little trouble adjusting to the change of gravity, zero gee here at L-1; Raphael was quite familiar as he understood gravitational fields, but the robot did not. However, the robot went through a re-calibration of itself moving its own mass around, as well as some sample objects; soon it was satisfied it understood the mechanics of moving again as before. They went out through the airlock, Raphael going into his vehicle's shirtsleeve environment, and the robot going back to join its partner in the cargo area. Raphael activated the comm link to Mission Control, and transmitted his record of the day's adventure's findings over to Belinda; then downloading the info from Mission Control that it had received from the lunar relay satellite, they discovered another object was out on the road, heading this way. Chatting with Belinda, he also learned that up in GEO, the research into the ampule that had been transferred from Thornby to the rabbit, had yielded unexpected results: the ampule suddenly showed receipt of a burst of data, which was recorded by the scientists on the project, but then the ampule exploded; it would have killed Thornby; they had known that it contained the potentially lethal charge, but had not figured out what it was for yet. Now they knew: it was to dispose of wayward slaves.
Belinda also suggested that probably the two buried TANFL bodies might have locator ampules in them too, so that it was likely they could be found, such as by the approaching vehicle, which was about a day and a half away. Again leaving one of the little robots on the lookout from the spacecraft at L-1, also to relay messages from Mission Control and the relay satellite to the lunar surface, Raphael and his companion little robot returned down the space elevator. Raphael used the time in the elevator car to program some subroutines that might be useful in various situations including emergencies that looked possible. By the time that they got down to the bottom of the elevator, Raphael decided that something had to be done about the TANFL corpses, still aware of the atrocities TANFL had historically done when merely defied; to have eliminated two of them would likely bring even more problems than otherwise. So they left the airlock and located where the TANFL corpses had been buried; linking to Mission control and the scientists who had removed the ampule from Thornby, they teleoperated the robot to remove the ampoules from the two corpses. The scientists used the limited measurement apparatus that was part of the miniature demolition robot and determined that these too had the detonator in them; apparently TANFL did not fully trust even themselves to be fully obedient. Then the robot hauled the corpses to a distant area and re-buried them. The remote scientists then had the demolition robot start to open one of the ampoules to inspect it further; but when the outer shell of the ampoule was breached, the thing exploded. So the second ampoule was similarly breached while inside a solid container, and all the pieces were collected for further analysis; but suspicious of its mysterious tracking powers, the fragments of both of them, such as could be found, were put into a cavity of one of the pieces of aluminum scrap, and was welded shut by the robot, sealed hopefully from the locators of the TANFL management.
The vehicle coming over from the L-2 elevator base was still estimated to be a day away from arriving, so it was decided to continue the evaluation of the underground city. Back through the airlock and cafeteria door, Raphael and the robot returned to the room they had looked at before, and turned the power switches on. Evaluating the terminal, it still showed no graphics, just some data that had no meaning yet for Raphael. They then went exploring for another room that had a terminal workstation in it; all the rooms had a terminal but seemed more of an entertainment type of device. The room had a dozen such terminals, apparently a worksite. Turning one of the terminals on, it powered up quickly, so there was not distributed power, apparently from the previously accessed room with the main power switches in it. Returning to the first room, there was now a new small symbol showing; Raphael found a way to move the cursor over to the new symbol and click on it; the display now showed a video of the room in which they had turned the terminal on. Progress being made. Raphael sent the robot back to the more distant room and instructed it to first approach the powered up terminal, then turn the power on at the adjacent terminal, and another terminal several workstations down in the room; Raphael saw the image of the robot appear briefly, then saw two more symbols show on screen. They were not in sequence, but the location suggested that the screen was a potential display for quite a large area. He experimentally clicked on an empty space on the screen that was between the third terminal no on over in that room, and in a moment, a symbol showed up there. He teleoperated the robot to go look, and yes, another terminal was now on, a fourth in the room, and was not turned on by the robot. Then Raphael teleoperated the robot to turn one of the terminals off, while he keenly watched the display; one part of the symbol lit up briefly before vanishing from the screen, so he clicked on the same corner of one of the other displays, and it too vanished from the screen. He similarly did the other two symbols, then requested the robot check and indeed all the terminals had turned themselves off.
So he began a visual exploration of the rooms on the map, one by one, recording the view and screen location for future reference, until he found a room that had some huge tanks in it. The robot was sent down to that area, and teleoperated, its vision sending pictures back to Raphael's spacesuit computer, found that one tank was labeled "hydrogen" and the other one labeled "oxygen". They were huge tanks, apparently designed to hold considerable pressure. The robot continued exploration and found input piping from an external source, and an output that went to a piston-driven reciprocating engine that drove an electric generator. Raphael was getting the picture of a solar powered breakdown of water into hydrogen and oxygen, that was pumped into those tanks; and then the gas was used to drive an emergency power generator, with the exhaust being the water again. The robot followed the exhaust piping, which went out along with the incoming tubing lines, apparently headed back to be reconverted into the two gasses somewhere outside that received solar energy during the 14 earth-day lunar day. Ahh, he thought, this is how they stay powered during the 14 earth day lunar night; this is their power storage technique.
That seemed like enough discoveries for now in the underground city, so they shut everything down, locked the cafeteria door, and headed back to the space elevator. When they got to the L-1 facility, Raphael began installing an adapter on the control panel, intended to be able to start and stop the space elevator by a laser beam comm link command. It would also link to the video displays to examine the rooms in the various parts of the facility. He was beginning to see the relationship with screen locations and the terminals to which it could link, and wondered if any in the city could be accessed. Not likely, with the main power switch turned off, but maybe the power generator could be started up remotely to bring the underground city to life, but he was not sure of that. Maybe there was a separation there, for a reason. For now, he and the robot returned to the utility spacecraft, and used the laser link to access some of the screens down in the elevator base area, including views of the freight receiving dock; it looked like they were ready to make a test run of the delivery and lowering of some more scrap, while not actually at the facility.
The lunar crawler was reported only a few hours away now, so Raphael Activated the shutdown sequence for the elevator, and observed that it had indeed stopped running after about a quarter hour, came to a stop. Then Raphael linked into the videocam that looked at the hatch opening; it was working. Raphael and the two robots then stayed in the spacecraft, using the long range camera to visually watch down at the base of the elevator from there in safety.
The lunar crawler came into view; it trundled over to the airlock adapter that had been installed by raphael and the robot. However, the hatch was adapted to Raphael's type vehicle, not the lunar crawler's type docking hatch. After repeated collisions with the hatch on the airlock, the lunar crawler backed off, and sat still for several minutes. Raphael wondered if the huge TANFL folks had spacesuits made for themselves; he recalled hearing that most of the spacesuits were getting worn out, that were used by the normal humans there in the TANFL slave camp, so maybe spacesuits were not part of TANFL available equipment. He recalled that the system of direct docking to the hatch into the L-1 base facility, used no airlock, no spacesuits; it was all shirtsleeve environment. The lunar crawler again attempted a violent docking collision with the airlock, and of course it did not latch, being incompatible. Part of the airlock's function was as an adapter so that Raphael's type vehicle could dock to it, as well as space-suited folks access through the same pathway. The lunar crawler then appeared to give up on entry; so it began wandering the terrain in the area, pausing at the site where the two TANFL corpses had been originally buried; then wandering around some more, pausing briefly at the scrap pile where the remains of the two TANFL ampoules were welded inside a cavity in one of the pieces of scrap. So apparently the ampoules were traceable through thick aluminum even after their detonation. How could that be, he wondered. Finally, the lunar crawler headed back down the dusty trail toward L-2 base.
After all this data had been evaluated at Mission Control and by the scientists evaluating the ampoules, they concluded that it was the ampoules that provided tracking of individuals, and somehow worked across distance and through solid materials. Also it was noteworthy that the actual re-burial site of the copses apparently was not observed, so far; and equally significant, there was no attempt to access the TANFL control room facility around on the other side of the huge base facility. Of course, the lunar crawler would not have been able to access the hatchway without the now-existing access ramp; when the control room was in use, apparently it was done only through some tall vehicle or from a soft landing spacecraft. Since the landing deck and access hatchway was not in view of any of the work areas of an active elevator, it was likely that the comings and goings of TANFL management was unknown by the human-normal folks running the elevator.
Raphael decided he had enough stress for one trip, so he headed back to the GEO worksite with his two robots in back; enough was enough. They had achieved a lot of things this trip, and had managed to accidentally fend off an attack by TANFL management too, enough excitement for now.
Back at the deconstruction maintenance facility headquarters, he sent the two robots in for recharge of their energy packs and servicing of their joints, and to have their initial evaluation of wear and performance after real world usage. While that was being done, Raphael went into his living quarters in his vehicle and got some long high quality sleep, long overdue.
The next morning at his breakfast, he accessed Belinda's image on the table's viewscreen, for some companionship at the table. She came on screen and immediately was talking about the lunar crawler; its progress on the road back to L-2 elevator base site, had suddenly stopped. It appeared to be about the same location where Raphael had made his rescue of the first crawler; then Raphael remembered deliberately scattering gravel across the smooth rock face as the road went downhill there, as an emergency way to keep from going back to L-2 in the first lunar crawler with Rationallo and guardiano; perhaps the second crawler had gotten stuck on that uphill section of now slippery road section.
The first set of large rocket tugs had been delivered up to the top terminal of the KESTS, so Raphael made a trip over there in his utility spacecraft to pick them up, and while there in relative civilization he did a shopping trip at the mall to get supplies for the next outing to the Moon's L-1 facility. He also got the extra fuel for the new rocket tugs, but was going to continue to use the air scavenged from the dismantled cities as oxidizer. Heading back to the deconstruction site, he had a teleconference with Belinda down at Mission Control, requesting a half dozen of the new small robots - that was enough to have their design transfered over to the assembly line facility - and requested another dozen of the full sized demolition robots. These would be for manning the L-1 space elevator's exterior activities, while the small robots would generally be useful both outside and inside the facility. While teleconferencing, the two brainstormed on what it would take to build a full servicing facility for the robots at the L-1 site; and some sections of that were then requested of the initial prototyper facility down on Earth. While he was thinking of provisions, he also put in a wish list for the food and utensils to get the cafeteria going at L-1 base; he was not sure if that would be needed, but it would be wise to have it as an emergency facility for people, just in case. Raphael briefly remembered the Digestion Tanks at the L-2 base facility and shuddered a bit at the thought. "In fact, Belinda," he began, "let's see if some real live food could be grown down in the L-1 underground city, using the power storage system there, to provide energy to grow plants as energy input to the small living system which would include some aquatic life too as part of the nutritional closed loop. Closed loop living systems had been thoroughly studied and practiced in the years of the GEO Habitat Ring cities; it involved quite an extensive biolab to keep making the checks to make sue things stayed within the bounds of the sustainable levels of each of the parameters, lacking a world ecosystem to do all the recycling. This would include two adult humans as part of the living system closed loop. Maybe Thornby would volunteer to be one of the two people; he had been having difficulty adjusting to the enormous variety of stimuli in the civilization over here, and was not able to cope with the gravity down on the earth surface, having been been born and grown in the 1/6 gee Lunar gravitational environment; he could only visit the earth surface on a gurney, not any fun for him. He preferred the zero gee of the deconstruction worksite to either the earth surface or the earth-normal simulated gravity of the spinning Torus Cities.
Back at the deconstruction site, he chatted with Thornby about his options for living space. He described the vision of the experimental closed loop to be be made down at the underground city at L-1 elevator base; but Thornby was too accustomed to human company to consider going that alone, despite the new and interesting foods that would be provided. Then raphael suggested that Thornby be given a job at a facility to be built along one of the spokes of a rotating Torus City, the location on the spoke would be placed to simulate the 1/6 gee of the lunar surface gravity. A job would be created for Thornby to do there, and would have the ability to visit here at the deconstruction site any time he wanted, by traveling along the GEO Ring Loop transportation system; also from that spoke facility, people could come up to bring him supplies and visit him. And, Thornby could try exercising on out along the spoke toward the full-gee area, see if some strength could be built up. Thornby agreed eagerly to that suggestion, so Raphael arranged for the facility to be built at one of the supply cities that thrived near the top terminal of the KESTS.
Raphael finished making some estimates of how much imbalance the L-1 belt type space elevator could have between its lunar-side and earth side weights, and determined that it was able to handle the weight of one third of one ring segment, the size of the locations of the bolting sites on the ring segments, spaced 120 degrees apart. It looked like the normal transportation flow when in full operation was to have a continuous string of the 13/ ring segments come up from the lunar surface to L-1, where they would be bolted together and sent on down the earthward side of the elevator, then being released at the minimum energy transfer point along the earthside part of the elevator, to be shuttled over to wherever the current construction site was ongoing at GEO. It looked feasible to do that process in reverse. If the belt elevator could be sustainable operated in the reverse direction, the downward terminal would be back at the former upward terminal, with its massive materials handling facilities. It looked like the next item on the critical path to achieving the goal, was to go determine it the elevator could be made to run backwards; the latches clearly worked in both directions, but would the drive motors go in reverse, and all the associated safety sensors and control systems also go backwards? Raphael studied all the data that had been collected in his prior visits, especially examining the control systems. Motion sensors clearly worked in only one direction, was one problem. Maybe they could be mounted upside down or something. It was looking risky, the more he looked into it; the elevator was clearly optimized for one directional belt rotation. Could have been built otherwise, but wasn't. Maybe they would have to just use the small scale freight receiving facility that had already been proven working; and somehow be able to haul the ring segments away; there would be some 100 million of the 1/3 ring segments to stash by the time the job was done.
Could the full sized demolition robots carry the ring segments away from the freight receiving platform? The robots were designed for use in free-fall, but had shown the ability to work under lunar gravity too; probably it would take two of them to hoof one of the big aluminum segments away, a very inefficient usage of the robots, wearing them out fast. So he came around once again, what transportation system had been used on the lunar surface to bring the ring segments there; and where had they been made, anyway? So he put in a request to the lunar relay satellite, to take photos of the area further away from the L-1 elevator base site.
The relay satellite's photos were showing the worn path to the loading facility of the L-1 space elevator, but the road seemed to come from nowhere. the road curved around the edge of a crater, and then vanished. It was the best the satellite's camera could do. So Raphael decoded to go make a soft landing to learn more.; well-worn roads just do not go nowhere, he reasoned. Loading his spacecraft with the usual emergency supplies, the two small robots, and enough rocket tugs to soft land to a maneuvered place, be discarded for later pickup, and another set of rocket tugs to get back to GEO.
Approaching the area of where the roads had vanished in the photographs, he did not have a lot of maneuvering fuel remaining, so he headed for the place at the edge of the crater where the wide road just vanished, setting down toward that area, when he glimpsed a shadowed area, a line across the road right at the crater's ragged edge; and with the last of the fuel, landed only a few tens of meters away. Releasing the spent rocket tugs to fall to the ground, ready for a fast launch if necessary, he then used the vehicles telescope camera to record the area in detail, as he watched the results. The road vanished into the shadow swath in an undercut of the crater wall. Checking his spacesuit's readiness, he requested one of the robots accompany him, and out they went. A short lunar walk over to the shadow, they turned their lights on and continued walking down the now dark road; looking to the sides and roof, it appeared that a collapsed lava tube had been grazed by the meteor's impact, and the road now was inside the cave formed by the lava tube. THe height and width of the cave got ever larger; and far away they could see small lighted areas, probably from holes letting in sunshine. After a jaunt that had used a third of the spacesuit's endurance, they came upon a row of large vehicles; here they were, ad this was their parking lot, Raphael mused. But why go so far; outside would have worked too. Watching his reserves of oxygen and suit energy, he found some more tanks, a copy of the hydrogen and oxygen tanks he had seen in the underground city at L-1 base. So this was probably where the vehicles tanked up on energy to do their work. Photographing while waving his flashlight back and forth so that the computer could fabricate a partial 3D model later, they headed back to the spacecraft. Reaching the safety of his utility spacecraft with little to spare, he replenished the suit's supplies, and let the computer create its 3D model of the "parking lot" he also transmitted it on a tight laser beam back to GEO and then it went to Mission Control's records.
Examining the virtual model, made of swaths of lit surfaces from several points as Raphael had moved along, he could count at least 30 vehicles, huge things 25 meters tall, with enormous wide wheels. And the two hydrogen and oxygen tanks, and the piling that led to them; one set of tubes went off toward the source of light coming through the ceiling, and the other set of tubes heading off into the darkness, roughly in the direction of the buried city adjacent to the L-1 space elevator anchor base facility. Could those tubes go all the way to connect to the tanks in the underground city, did the lave tube network go that far, he wondered. And, what was supplying the electrolyzed water delivered down those tubes? He resolved to swerve the spacecraft a bit in the direction where those openings in the cavern's ceiling would be, as he headed back to GEO.
As he lit the rocket tugs to propel his vehicle off the lunar surface, he adjusted them to tilt in the directions of the center of the crater to where the hydrogen-oxygen piping was headed from the cavern, photographing as he went, but not making visual examination as the task of shifting the trajectory off and back on was taking all his attention; there was little reserve energy as it was. He headed directly back to his deconstruction facility in GEO, to make sure he had enough energy to get there to refuel. On the way there, he put in another order for more of the rocket tugs; he did not know when he would have the spare energy to go get the ones he had to leave behind at the cavern's entrance.
Arriving at GEO, he immediately began to refuel the rocket tugs as well as the spacecraft's own fuel, mostly for the low delta-V jaunts around in GEO during a workday. He had the two little robots hook up for a re-charge and checkup, while he looked at the photos of the lunar terrain that had been captured during his launch maneuver, before getting some rest. The photos showed a crater floor that looked oddly flat, and as he looked more carefully, an odd color too. The camera had automatically zoomed in and out, so there were samples of close-ups from the telephoto lens, and he put one of them that had focussed on the crater floor through the computer's image analysis software, and was surprised to find that indeed it was flat, in fact, the whole crater floor was of re-melted lunar glass. And the image analysis showed that there was a regular pattern under the glass, something man-made was under that crater floor, a regular grid, probably a photocell array of immense proportions.
So that was what was involved, he thought to himself. It was a huge array of solar cells, made from native lunar materials, and protected by a ceiling of lunar glass, many square miles of it covering the crater floor. It would only operate during the lunar day, and the angle of the sun would vary, and lots of sunlight wold be reflected off the glass surface; but it apparently provided lots of solar-originated power when the sun was overhead, and the whole time it was busy using the electricity to convert water into its component gasses, which were put into their respective tanks to provide energy in fuel cells and internal combustion engines, the water vapor condensing back into water to be sent back to the electrolyzed again, a closed loop system providing electrical and propulsion energy even in the lunar 14 earth-day night. So those were the vehicles down in the parking lot in the cavern, that he needed to revive; and to make them fueled, he needed to get the solar powered hydrogen-oxygen system going again.
He had one other thing to discover, to fill in what he and Belinda considered to be the probably scenario of how the lunar materials got used to build the GEO Habitat Ring Cities: the rocket tugs that finished the move between the earthside of the L-1 space elevator, over to the specific construction sites ongoing in GEO. Where were those spaceships? They probably were optimized in design for their purpose, and thus likely could not land even on the Moon. That means they might still be in space. Could they have been docked at L-2, say a halo orbit around L-2? He had been to see the L-2 facility, and had not noticed them, but he was not looking for them either, and space was big. So he directed the lunar relay satellite to direct its telescopic camera to photograph the area around l-2 on its next pass; and when it returned those pictures, nothing was seen. Well, there were three more Lagrange Libration sites in the earth-moon system' and both L-4 and L-5 had halo orbits that would be long term stable, unlike at L-2 where energy would be needed to provide station-keeping long term. In fact, the archetype of the Torus City was said to have originated in designs for toroidal cities to be built in L-5, back in ancient history, although apparently none got built there. But a fleet of big spacecraft could be parked there. After a thorough sleep and refreshing normal meal at the deconstruction field station, He took one robot along for the ride, as he used the rocket tugs to get him to L-5, a nowhere nothing place which had been the dream home of early space colony wannabe's due to its stable balance location in the rotating earth moon system. As he approached the empty space location, he found it indeed was not truly empty; vast as the volume where stable halo orbits potentially could exit at L-5, there were a large number of objects, all tied together. He diverted his course to rendezvous with the cluster of objects, photographing as he went.
And there they were, hundreds of the ungainly looking vehicles, clearly rocket propelled and featuring frameworks for grabbing onto the 200 meter diameter ring segments; and many rocket motors in various directions, some for orienting the rocket tug and its load around their center of gravity to make precise orientation, and larger engines for making the big boosts back and forth between the L-1 dropoff point and GEO. And each of the rocket tugs featured pairs of tanks feeding each of the engines; they were hydrogen-oxygen fueled engines. And most likely, the fuel came from the lunar solar array he had just found, and/or from satellite solar power stations already built in GEO, splitting water into its component part using solar=-electric energy, and re-used to provide the delta-vee to move the construction materials around in space. And the KESTS was able to cheaply bring almost endless amounts of water up from the ground into GEO, most of it going into making the passive water ice shields for each of the torus cities being built. The same water ice that his deconstruction crews were de-orbiting back to re-join the earth's atmospheric water these days. But some of it had been expended in rocket propulsion. He transmitted the photos back to Mission Control; then he and the robot attached his vehicle to the ties holding the bunch of rocket tugs together, and made a detailed photo-inspection of a couple of the rocket tugs. What would it take to get them going again, besides bringing fuel and oxidizer over here? What piloted those behemoths? The two vehicles that they had documented looked like they were identical, made on an assembly line, would have interchangeable parts; so knowing one would likely enable knowing them all. Although every machine had its own individual quirks, he knew from long experience; wear and dings and minor manufacturing variations made them each unique to some extent. But just one would be a big step forward; he explored around until locating the clamp release to free one of the big old rocket tugs, and he clamped the tug to his utility spacecraft, and he headed for L-1.
It took awhile to get there, since he did not have a lot of fuel remaining in his borrowed rocket tugs, so he had to coast a long time before decelerating to dock at L-1; approaching L-1, he noticed how the odd configuration of some of the docking ports there, would probably match up perfectly with the docking port on the old rocket tug; and so on impulse, he maneuvered the tug to join with the docking clamps at one of the ports of the L-1 facility. He instructed the robot to change two of his vehicle's small rocket tugs for two of the four tugs he had left stored here, to make sure they could get back to GEO; he kept the partly-fueled tugs in the cargo bay anyway, to refuel them back at GEO. AS tires as Raphael was , he was not about to slow down before looking inside the old rocket tug, having come this far. He and the robot went inside the L-1 facility through the airlock of the port they had docked at, then the made a quick check of the security of the L-1 elevator, then went to the docking port airlock where they had attached the old rocket tug, and went through the airlock into the old rocket tug. Using their torch lights, they lit the interior up, photographing as they went; to their surprise, they found that the vehicle was a manned vehicle, that was how they were guided. There were four seats, and in the back are were facilities for four people to live. Inspecting the instruments, apparently everything was unpowered; and there was no oxy-hydrogen left in the tanks to even generate electrical power to operate the instruments. The left the vehicle, went outside, and got the images and measurements for the re-fueling connectors; noticing a pair of coiled tubes near there, on the L-1 dock, he found that they could be easily pulled over and would snap connect to the tug;s refueling connections. Could there be any hydrogen still stored here at L-1 after all these decades, he wondered, not likely. But he knew where there was some, down on the lunar surface.
Then re looked through the 3-D models made of the L-1 facility, previously a jumble of often meaningless machinery; it became clear that part of operating the elevator automatically brought up tanks of oxygen and hydrogen to be dumped into tanks up here, before riding back down to the lunar surface. It seemed to be all a mechanically operated automatic system. So maybe there was fuel in those tanks; how to then transfer to the old tug's tanks? He found a pneumatically operated system that controlled the valves, powered by the respective compressed gas involved; he pressed one control, the button stayed depressed for a few minutes, then popped back out. He did the same for a blue colored pneumatic switch; it too popped back up after a few minutes. He went back inside the old tug, this time leaving the robot in the L-1 facility. Inside the tug, he immediately noticed that the instrument panel was lit up. He documented the display readings for later analysis; things were looking up. Back in his utility spacecraft, he and the robot headed back to GEO, transmitting the photos and data they had accumulated, to Mission Control; and requesting the prototyper down on earth surface to be set up to make another two of the facility maintenance robots, of the type that serviced the vehicles and other machinery in GEO including the robots; these two new ones would also be partly programmed to connect to the oxygen-hydrogen fuel lines and be powered from a small oxy-hydrogen internal combustion engine that could also recharge its batteries and provide the hydraulic pressure to operate the big robot's manipulators. These e were going to be expert robots on the maintenance of those big old rocket tugs. But, where was he going to get crews, he wondered.
After getting rested up and having some good meals at the field station at the GEO deconstruction site, he was chatting with Belinda vis their tele-chat during breakfast, when she announced that she was coming up to go with him on his next trip to continue the examination of the old rocket tug. She also had paused the further prototyping of their own effort at rocket tugs, leaving the number built so far at four, which were being delivered to the upper KESTS terminal tomorrow; she would arrive there about the same time and would he please come pick she and the new tugs up then? That really made Raphael's day, expecting his mate to be with him for awhile. He changed the provisions and compressed air to almost triple the usual amount, brought along extra rocket tugs for the trip, planning to leave the extra over at L-1 facility, whatever was remaining when they headed back here.
After picking up Belinda and the four new very large rocket tugs at the high terminal, they went back for a review of the progress of the deconstruction going on, and to have some bonding time together, long overdue. Belinda told him that she also wanted to examine the programming and function of the computer that was supervising each team of deconstruction robots, to see if a similar teamwork could be arranged for crews of the old Lunar-GEO rocket tugs, considering that a possible option instead of human crews, as were the original means of operating them.
The next day they headed over to the L-1 facility in the utility spacecraft, loaded with supplies and the two small robots. Docking at L-1, leaving one robot at the vehicle as a lookout, the pair and the other robot went into the L-1 facility, space-suited as usual. All seemed normal there including air pressure, but they kept their spacesuits on for the few minutes it took to use the video monitors to inspect what was happening down below at the base facility, as well as a quick look at the earthside drop-off point on the elevator. Nothing moved; and the robot on their vehicle relayed the telephoto of the exterior of the base facility far below; the airlock was still in place. And the lunar orbiting relay satellite's photo showed the lunar crawler was still stuck on the road headed back to the L-2 base. All seemed clear, for some new activity. Careful to look for anything that look disturbed, Raphael went into the docked old tug, verify it had been completely fueled by the still operating automated refueling from supplies automatically sent up by the belt from the ground. He had done an evaluation of the photographs from his first visit in there, and had an expected function of the various controls, so he shut off all circuit breakers except the ones associated with the power panel itself, and started the hydrogen and oxygen flowing; it did not go to a fuel cell, but instead to a reciprocating internal combustion engine whose exhaust was condensed and sent to a collection tank, to be automatically dumped back for taking down to L-1 base for solar powered recycling, all closed loop. The motor drove an electric generator; and he measured the voltages being produced, adding them to the data base. He then switched the power to the cabin lights, and the place lit up. He noted the curious variety of light sources, involving light emitting diodes, fluorescent bulbs and the old incandescent bulbs used in different places. The incandescent bulbs seemed to have their heat output used to temperature stabilize some yet to be determined instrument, for example. The performance of the LED's had no doubt degraded some, in the unshielded spacecraft all these decades; but all of them lit up; many were indicator LED's and all were in pairs, always one lit to show the on-off state of some control, proving power was applied and available there. There appeared to be significant reliability and resilience designed into the old vehicle; probably with concern for its human crew.
At this point, he let the eager Belinda to join him in the cabin, leaving the robot out in the L-1 control facility as another lookout. Belinda quickly took in all that Raphael had already determined and tested; then took on the task of checking out the survival and creature comforts aspects of the vehicle. She quickly found the magnetic field generator that provided significant protection of the crew from charged-particle radiation; Raphael did a quick analysis and then activated the magnetic field, requesting both robots to check if any effects were noticed at their stations; none was noted by them. The radiation level went down considerable, almost as good as was used in Raphael's utility spacecraft. But one had to beware of possible induced energies in external objects the vehicle approached and contacted. Clearly, the facility was designed to expect the field generator to be active. The crew quarters were designed for the full crew of four to be asleep at the same time, as well as all awake and active at the same time; although the vehicle had only two places for a pilot and engineer to we actively working at any one time. Most likely they alternated shifts, yet at times all of them were needed for some tasks; and other times apparently the spacecraft was idle, just hanging out somewhere in space, awaiting the next load to be moved. There were heating and cooling facilities for food preparation, and a large space for food and drink; Belinda opened each of the storage bins, and was surprised to find some containers of wine, apparently left over from the celebration of having completed their job of building the GEO Habitat Ring torus cities, many decades ago. She took a couple of the containers out to take back for analysis, how had the wind fared in such an environment for so long, she wondered. There were also some other packages of food, which did not look in very good shape, but she took samples of them too. In fact, as she looked, there were samples of lots of things left over from that last voyage, out to storage in L-5. These all would be of historical value for museums on Earth, as well as of some scientific value as to effects of so long storage under the conditions unshielded at L-5.
Belinda was especially interested in one of the sleeping locations, as it was associated with a variety of instruments that appeared to be of medical purpose. Surgical instruments, and a bank of vials for injections; all of that was connected to a radio controlled telemetry link, including a stereo videocam; it was clearly all to be utilized by medical professionals located elsewhere in space. , All except one instrument, which seemed to be autonomous, or applied through the remote control too. The autonomous section even had a high farad energy storage, apparently the instrument could be used even if all other power failed; it must be quite an important instrument, she decided, but what was it? Asking Raphael to come over and use his circuit evaluator on it, he turned the device on, and it seemed to have no means of movement by itself, but had various straps with electrodes, so he measured their differential levels, some seemed to only be sensor electrodes, while others delivered low pulsed mono-polarity waveforms, of a variety of frequencies; the signals were so low power that he did not see how they could do much to a person. Mystified, he wandered off to inspect other things. Belinda continued to ferret out the instrument, finding some engraved notes in the autonomous section, describing how to connect the electrodes to a person in various ways, and indicating which frequency and waveform type setting to be applied under manual control, and it had an automated control option too. She was not aware of any such instrument in use today; there had been much knowledge lost in the struggle to regain their planet that had been hijacked by the elitist pirates. Yet they were the same human beings as they were before, and so the devices ought to be applicable even now. She decided to experience the device herself, since some of it clearly would only do something if all the electrodes were connected, she set her instruments to record it all, and activated the instrument. But it was still going 20 minutes later when raphael came by to check on her, so she disconnected the device, more investigation would have to wait. She had lots of data for the analysis computers back on earth, anyway. She did not notice anything happening while hooked up to the instrument, so she felt a bit disappointed, but data was data.
They found that the microwave oven would still heat things up inside it; but the refrigerator did not cool anything, apparently the refrigerant had all leaked away. There was a section which did work, however, a pre-cooler container that used Peltier Effect devices, and was already noticeably cooler, now that the vehicle had power in itself, once again. The vehicle was clearly designed for long term service, probably of an evolved design created out of years of service of earlier types, then ones like this one that were built to operate for many decades, almost continuously.
There were two basic positions for the navigation controls, Raphael found. The two corresponded to quite a different set of center of gravity configurations; so one was for the trip from L-1 drop-off point, over to GEO, lugging the enormous 200 meter diameter wedge ring along with it, then to had the ring off to waiting assembly machines in GEO, chunking the ring wedges in series to complete the circle, creating the toroidal basic shell structure they were building about a hundred such shell structures a day, during the two decades of Habit Ring construction. The second instrument control setting was for the trip back, with no ring segment attached, quite a different responding vehicle. And that took a lot of the ring segments shuttled by tugs such as this one, busy times those must have been. The two pairs of crew on this vehicle must have worked shifts continuously, day after day, week after week.
Now, could they reverse the process? What would it take to get the huge tugs to work perfectly once again? A few things would not be possible to restore, such as the remote medical station; but the electrode instrument apparently would work regardless, if they could figure out what it did, why it would be used. Raphael was especially concerned about the hydraulic lines to the grapplers, and the bearing in the joints; from his initial inspection, the hydraulic lines had all decayed The joints and bearings of the huge grapplers would have to wait for the arrival of the maintenance robots being built right then, down on earth. They had not attempted to pressurize the space tug's cabin, so Raphael went out the airlock with no air to be concerned about; he removed a sample hydraulic line and got some samples of the hydraulic fluid remaining inside, to take back to earth for replication after analysis. He made rough estimates of the length of all the flexible hydraulic hoses, to get an idea of how much of the stuff would need to be made. He removed a small manipulator that seemed a miniature of the big grappler assemblies,, to take back for analysis, and to see what it would take to make it into tope operating condition once again; he expected that the info could be extrapolated for making g a first estimate to recondition the big grappling arms while up here at L-1.
They shut the vehicle's power down, and restored it back to the hibernating condition, except it now had full fuel and oxidizer tanks; Raphael had found he could connect and disconnect them from the supply lines coming from the L-1 storage tanks, controlled from within the spacecraft, so he disconnected the lines, thinking that was a wise step, not knowing what would happen next. Leaving the tug spacecraft, sealing it behind them, back in the L-1 control room, they again made a full videocam inspection of the facilities down at the base; all seemed unchanged. returning to the utility spacecraft, they left the two robots on lookout, while the two got some well-earned time together in the rest area.
Belinda was also eager to go visit the "parking lot" and solar power facility hinted at in the photos. Raphael suggested they take another approach, rather than require leaving more of the spent rocket tugs over at the cave entrance, it they could avoid it. He had a guess that there might be physical access from the underground city over to the solar power area, so they decided to explore that possibility, again wearing their spacesuits and taking one robot along. Starting up the space elevator's belt for the trip down and back here to L-1, Raphael first took time out to inspect the presumed automatic refilling of the oxygen and hydrogen storage tanks, sent up from down below. After documenting that was indeed happening and photograph-measuring the mechanisms involved, they headed down the elevator. Reaching the L-1 elevator's anchor base terminal, the made a quick inspection of all the rooms via the videocams, then they headed direct for the cafeteria. Going through its door to the underground city, and locking the door behind them, they walked down to the end of the explored area, following the three pipes that led to the gas storage tanks, engine and back out with water for re-converting. At least they would find out how far they could follow the pipes, and have that info added to their virtual 3D model of the facility. The came to another of the heavy doors, which responded to the came combination code as did the one going into the cafeteria; then they closed and locked it behind them as they continued on down the passageway.
The passageway had narrowed to only about 2 meters wide, when some of its walls changed to the appearance of the smooth surface of a lava tube; and eventually the excavated tunnel had ceased and it was a lava tube they were following the pipes path in. Belinda was adding the location path data to the 3D model in their suit display terminals as they went along, and it showed approach of the area that would be under the floor of the crater that appeared to have a lunar glass covering with photocells below; and indeed, they came to an enormous area, lit by sunshine coming through heavy glass panels 7 meters overhead that were supported by a forest of pylons, which also supported solar panel arrays, between which the sunlight lit the floor of the vast cavern through which they now walked, still following the pipes. Raphael remarked that there was no indication of any wires here; everything was pipes and pneumatic actuators; probably a wise thing given the hazardous nature of the combination of the two gasses being produced her out of water's hydrogen and oxygen.
They documented the solar-electric electrolysis facility, and its three tanks, one of water , one of hydrogen, and the third of oxygen; the whole system was a closed loop when including the reciprocating engines that were powered by the compressed gasses and returned the water back here for recycling later. This whole area was exposed to the vacuum of space; following the second set of pipes from the storage tanks toward the "parking lot" the path changed to a man-made passageway that had its ceiling open to the lunar surface environment, probably to let any gas molecules easily find their way to space before collecting enough for any combustion. The passageway led into the back area of the "parking lot' with its hulking tractors standing motionlessly.
This time, Raphael also noticed that one area of the huge lava tube cavern, had been walled off artificially. Going over to that area, the shadowed wall actually had moveable doors of enormous size as well as small ones; going through a small door, their lights showed a huge manufacturing facility, no doubt the materials processing facility and assembling plant for the segments from which the Torus city ring segments were made. This seemed to complete the basic picture; so they went out the parking lot's entrance onto the lunar plain, and had the robot pick up two of the four empty rocket tugs that had been left there on Raphael's initial visit there in his utility vehicle; the little robot could easily carry the two empty rocket casings along, to bring them back so they could be returned in the utility vehicle for refueling.
Having verified that there was a foot path all the way from the L-1 base over here to the manufacturing and power source facility, they headed back, but this time taking an indirect round instead of following the pipes through the vast artificial glass ceiling cavern occupying the lunar crater floor, to gather more data points for their virtual 3D model of the L-1 space elevator's extensive complex. They would need to make sure the solar power system would operate smoothly and reliably, to provide fuel energy for the big tractors and the big rocket tugs. Before leaving the glass ceiling cavern area, Raphael made a side trip to see if the quantity of water reserves in the big water tank there was adequate for an extensive usage, considering it had maintained fuel energy all these decades to the powerplant supplying the underground city and the space elevator's base facilities, involving thousands of connectors in the tubing pipe system; all being replenished through the stored water in this tank; and indeed, the tank was only 10% full. Yet even that was amazing to have lasted so long, unattended. It also provided a new problem to solve, how to get so much water back into that tank. Belinda remarked it was interesting that there was such a water shortage here, yet they were having to dispose of water ice in vast amounts, de-orbiting it with significant difficulty back down into the earth's atmosphere. Maybe the big rocket tugs could also be used to haul water ice over to the L-1 space elevator and somehow get it over into that tank, to replenish the water the power system needed to maintain the electricity and propulsion here at the lunar ghost town.
As they walked through the connector trench that was open to the lunar sky, Raphael transmitted an inquiry for the status report from the robot that was on the lookout, up in the utility spacecraft at L-1. The reply came back that the lunar relay satellite had photographed activity at the L-2 space elevator site; somehow the obstacle had been removed, that Raphael had installed, and elevator cars were regularly going up and down the elevator. And the lookout robot also remarked that there had been meteors landing around the base of the elevator, throwing up puffs of lunar dust when they hit.
Raphael relayed this info to Belinda, suggesting that they speed up their trek back through the tunnel, underground city, and get back up to the L-1 facility as soon as possible. They had the robot set the rocket tugs aside as soon as they had been gotten past the door into the underground city, so they could travel faster. "It looks like we are under attack from the L-2 city folks" he explained to Belinda. "They are apparently bringing lunar rocks up the L-2 space elevator and releasing them at the elevation that would strike the lunar surface over here. That also means that they are aware of the existence of this place, and consider us worth their effort in destroying us. I wonder how they got so well informed," he mused half to himself as he continued the explanation to Belinda.
The hurried through the underground city, into the cafeteria, and got into the elevator, began the tedious long ride up to L-1. finally at the L-1 balance point facility, they hurried into the utility spacecraft, loaded their new data acquisition results, while getting f better picture of the bombardment. The lookout robot had marked where the "meteors" were landing; they seemed to have fallen short and far, and scattered to the sides while doing so; but generally they were getting closer, being bracketed in. That meant the folks doing the targeting were able somehow to determine where their missiles were hitting. How could that be? Belinda agreed that there was no time to take her back to GEO now; they would have to deal with this together in person. They did have two fully fueled rocket tugs that they already had stored here at L-1, the beginning of an intended reserve stash; so they could make a sortie over to the L-2 elevator and be able to return here to L-1 and still have fuel to get back to GEO from here. They had to do something quickly to slow the bombardment down, as the puffs of lunar dust were hitting within a few hundred meters of the base facility now. The launched on a fast path to L-2 elevator; arriving there decelerating using fuel, their energy reserves for hovering were small, but the g-load up here was not a lot either. Raphael consulted his earlier calculations of the height on the L-2 elevator where dropped objects would not be able to reach the vicinity of the L-1 base; they saw there were two crawlers on the L-2 anchored tether space elevator, and one was currently at the critical height, while the other one was a kilometer below it. They sent their utility spacecraft to hover alongside the lower crawler elevator car, and directed one of the robots to climb on top of the crawler, and put one of their tie down clamping straps around the crawler and the elevator tether, and tighten up the strap's clamp; it worked, when the strap was fully clamped tight, the elevator car was pressed hard against the tether and was no longer climbing down, stopped, so it could no longer go bring up more lunar rocks to the launch site up above it on the tether.. T\ Then they quickly headed back to L-1, a little more efficiently on the trajectory this time, using less fuel to decelerate to dock at L-1. There they waited while the area around was observed; a couple more puffs happened below, one only 50 meters away; then the dust puffs from the missile impacts stopped.
Raphael did not think that his quick fix would last over at the L-2 elevator, since they had been able to free an obstacle before. So, their time of respite was limited. They swapped two of their nearly empty rocket tugs for the two that were stored here at L-1, ready to head back to GEO. Insisting that Belinda stay with the utility vehicle, in case another rescue was needed, raphael and one robot gathered some things and headed back down the space elevator, after replenishing the robot's energy storage, and his own space suit supplies. He was already weary; it had been a long day. So he meditatively relaxed his muscles consciously , regenerating a bit as they waited out the long drop to the lunar surface level. Making another quick exam of the videocams, they headed out the airlock and walked around the outside of the facility to the makeshift ramp up to the landing pad for the TANFL landing deck. Raphael hesitated, should he leave the robot out here, or bring it in with him? Deciding that all resources were needed inside right now, both of them went into the airlock; opening the hatch into the TANFL control facility, he let the robot go in first, while he dug the hank of carbon nanotube cloth and pulled it over himself before going into the facility; he could not cover them both. Then he had the outer hatch of the airlock also open a crack, then wider; soon all the air from inside the room was gone. He then directed the robot to start cutting the power cables to each of the workstations, starting with the one that had appeared operating when Raphael was there the previous time; being open to space now, the gasses from the hydrogen-oxygen cutting torch was able to expand out instead of pressurizing the room unbearably. One after another of the control workstations was de-powered, until all were done. Yet Raphael did not fully trust that all was disabled, recalling the mysterious way the ampoules were able to show their location, even when they had exploded into little pieces; there was something about the material itself that was somehow being communicated back to TANFL headquarters. Letting only the robot's torch light do the illuminating, Raphael followed behind while covered with the carbon nanotube shielding cloth, directing the robot as they went, recording the visual scene while also peering more closely into storage areas. Some items were reacting to not being in a pressurized environment anymore. Finally he had the robot torch through the bases of the chairs at the workstations; if TANFL got back here, they would find no easy comfort to do their dirty work at least for awhile. The went back out the airlock, leaving both hatches locked in the slightly-ajar position, to maintain a hard vacuum environment inside the control room; since the walls shared with the rest of the L-1 base facility had been made to resist a hard vacuum on the inside of the facility while maintaining comfortable pressure on the TANFL side, it would work back the other way, too.
Raphael and the robot hoofed it around to the facility airlock and inside the base facility, hurried to the elevator and headed back up. Arriving back at the utility spacecraft, Raphael plugged the data recorder from his spacesuit's instrumentation and that of the robot into the main computer, while sipping some hot brew in a bag, while Belinda provided a status report, primarily that there had been no further missiles hitting down below them, and that the relay satellite showed that both of the L-2 crawlers were now together at the site where the one had been lashed to the tether. Their utility spacecraft was low on delta-vee energy; they had to get back to GEO to replenish fuel and supplies, so they undocked and headed back towards GEO, and a long overdue break time.
An Excalator Hi page titled The_Torus_City_Ice_Shields_Returning_Home by J E D Cline started on Saturday, November 15, 2008 6:53:52 AM 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.