He’d watched from the window of the mag train as they’d approached the central tower of Star City it could be seen from over one hundred and fifty kilometres away stretching up into the sky, to make out the actual elevator shafts you had to be a lot closer. Still, it was a magnificent sight to behold. The tower stretched more than eight thousand meters into space the elevator cables themselves were tethered to five platforms out in space, not only did the elevator allow for safe, clean transportation on a vast scale between orbit and the ground, but it also provided unimaginable amounts of power. A mixture of solar collectors, wind turbines and energy from the very act of cutting through the atmosphere, the vast shaft was an awe-inspiring contraption and by no means the most impressive that humanity had achieved. Not by a long shot.
Getting closer to the facility and into the city itself you could see people in the streets below going about their lives millions upon millions of people all making up a part of the wonderous system that was the space elevator. He could make out the domes of the interstellar trade college, the buildings of the interplanetary council and the united world’s renewal initiative, everywhere he looked there were examples of the fantastic successes of the species it took all his might not to just wander around with his mouth permanently agape.
The train slowed to a halt as it reached the clean and sleek station in the midsections of the tower, context-sensitive maps covered the walls. Other intent sensitive devices and projections mapped over objects and indicated directions, Gura directed him that his car was at elevator 27B as he acknowledged the notification a message appeared in his vision asking him to confirm his destination, and he did. A line with arrows pulsing along it materialised. He set about following it while taking in all the sights many other tourists clearly following their companions mixed with staff that moved with a purposeful grace stopping to ask anyone that looked lost or concerned if they could help and giving directions.
He reached the elevator and checked the departure time, and it turned out he had an hour to spare.
“Gura, what’s there to do around here?”
“There’s an observation post about a ten-minute walk from here where you can see out over the city, that seems like something up your street.” The cartoon shark girl pulled a telescope out of her pocket, put it to her eye and pointed in a direction.
“Observation lounge it is then.”
Looking of the observation deck made it even more evident the scale of what had been done massive warehouses stood to store the vast resources ferried down from space the city itself stretched for miles upon miles and all around it a lush, vibrant rainforest regrown and cultivated, he shuddered thinking about the monumental effort that had gone into it all smiling as he stared.
“Ding, dong, you have twenty minutes!” The cartoon shark girl leapt into view.
“Ah yes, on my way.” He headed back to the elevator, an attendant led him to his seat, the car was huge and had multiple floors so could easily carrier several thousand people in a single run or an equally vast amount of cargo though when it could be liquified a shipment was and then pushed down pipes instead.
He got into his seat and looked about the car, row upon row of pairs of seats an isle either side, at every side of the elevator were collections of vending machines and toilets there was also a toilet and vending machine cell in the centre of the car. Sat next to him was a little old lady.
“Why, is it your first time going up the well?” The old lady held a white paper bag up to him, he eyed it a moment.
“Go on, dear, have one, and me? No, I live on Lazy Pleasants, it’s a retirement colony.” He gingerly put his hand in the bag and pulled out a boiled sweet.
“Oh, thanks, what’s it like?” He looked at it a moment.
“Go on, eat it, it’ll help when you feel your stomach turn upside down,” she smiled a big toothless grin, “and the colony, oh it’s wonderful they set the gravity a bit lower, so it isn’t too bad on the old bones you see.”
“Oh, why were down here then?”
“Ah I had to see my great great great grandson, he’s helping with a large ocean revitalisation project in the southern ocean. So why are you going out of the well?” She smiled again popping a sweet into her own mouth and sucking.
“I’m joining the Space Adventurer’s Training academy.” He said beamed. The little old lady looked a bit shocked.
“Oh, o, well good for you young man, good for you. Well, enjoy the trip” She opened her bag and got out a ball of yarn and a set of knitting needles. He nodded and fired up an external view of the elevator, he’d already seen it on the network dozens of times or in holovids. Still, he thought that it was probably a bit different when you went up yourself, and he was right. As the elevator accelerated upwards first the tower began to whizz past as the elevator ejected out of the top like a rocket, then it got smaller and smaller as they rocketed through the clouds. Then through the atmosphere, the slight red glow as the car maintained its constant rate of acceleration only getting faster as it got further and further from the gravity of the planet below or was it above now? His heart was pounding at the exhilarating experience, Gura would zoom in on satellites she knew he’d be interested in as they passed the low planetary orbit one a ring of platforms clear as day around the equator, some of the elevators would stop at this early point to let service the work crews that had to manage that level of space installations.
Gura zoomed in on some of the orbiting installations at layer two including the administrative station for the search and rescue service a vast station covered in advanced sensor grids and communication arrays the inhabitance of the station were tasked not only with search and rescue in low planet orbit but also for dealing with rogue and out of control stations and satellites. Though compared to some of the stations out at level four and five and those outside of the effect of the gravity of the planet altogether, it was tiny.
The car slowed as it reached the second tier and some people got off, and others boarded, and he got to experience Zero-G for the first time. He didn’t’ feel sick at all; he looked at the little old lady who nodded with a smile. For the next couple of hours, the elevator trundled further and further out of the planet’s gravity well he looked down at the planet below using the car’s cameras as it got farther away from the latticework of satellites, orbital launch rings and other low orbit installations he thought about his mum and sister as he left the station, even Mary seemed a little perturbed to see him go. He leant back in the seat and thought about how wild the future was going to be now.
The old lady got off at level 4 the car though remained full as people had joined on other tiers and the fifth tier was the largest of the near planet stable rings of settlement.
“Gura, what’s the number of settlers in low orbit?”
“Approximately thirteen billion.”
“Just on Tera or all planetside settlements?”
“Just Tera please”
“Approximately three billion.”
He let out a low whistle.
“We’ll be reaching the level five station in a few minutes Colin.” Gura wagged her finger at him, prompting him to check around himself in case he’d left anything lying around as the lift cars announcer chimed.
“We will shortly be reaching Gateway station, the last and final stop on today’s journey, please check that you haven’t forgotten anything and we hope you enjoyed your trip with us today.”
The platforms of Gateway station were magnetic the station was at the centre of an O’Neil cylinder so if you were going into the station proper you’d have to take a lift. He headed towards the welcome lounge aware that he had gained a collection of useful information about the dialect used there thanks to an array of intelligent viruses that were in the atmosphere. Of course, everyone spoke human but depending on where you were, the dialects could shift and new words added or changed. Hence, they used intelligent viruses to update the information. Also, they would include things like local laws and customs. Every central transport hub used them to ensure proper behaviour and reduce misunderstandings.
Gura fed him a chunk of information on where he had to go next, and he made his way to the space dock at the other side of the spine of the colony that once again required a trip on a mag train. The station was just under four miles long making it very small by modern cylinder standards. Still, it was also prime real estate and one of the first permanent space habitats constructed around Tera. The spaceport itself was impressive the walls were all one colossal viewscreen letting you see everything that was happening in the vacuum side of the port. Giant cargo hauliers mixed with passenger cruisers, small scouts, police cruisers and a dozen over ship types Colin had no idea of. Still, he noted each one in his memory to look into later.
“You’ll be late if you keep dawdling'” Gura said impatiently tapping her foot on a non-existent floor, he smiled and followed the painted line to the airlock. When the airlock came into view he could see the patrol cruiser with the Space Adventure guilds crest on its wings the ship was a sleek quad engine design, brand new and designed for atmospheric work as well as high-speed space operations.
“Wow!” walking sideways, he didn’t notice the four people stood outside the door.
“Colin, right?” The voice snapped him back to his senses.
“Are you sure?”
“Ah sorry I was off somewhere else.”
“I could tell, don’t worry, I’m Handsome” Colin was taken aback at the man’s bold claim, Colin couldn’t take it away from him but still.
“My name!” He said with a laugh.
“Of course!” They laughed and shook hands, it finally sunk in that there were four people in front of him, a woman, a girl about his age, another lad his age and thins Handsome chap. The woman was stifling a laugh.