Breaking interstellar co.., p.12
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       Breaking Interstellar: Cosmic Lives Matter, p.12

           Michael Tobin
 
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  Chapter Eleven: An android’s work is never done!

  Wil rises from guard duty just before dawn. Not a creature is stirring, not even an alien mouse. Approaching the boys tent, he gives it a mighty shake. Shockingly, waking the brood within. “Rise and shine, you little monsters!” He exclaims quietly, not wishing to wake the Zenarawan village. For his efforts, he receives a chorus of complaints, as slumber is rudely attacked. After plenty of grumblings, and more than a few expletives, Harper throws open the flap, zombie-stepping his way into the new day. Soon, his half-asleep brothers also emerge, heading off to the nearby stream, with him in tow. A cold splash in the face, is just what the doctor ordered.

  Not far away, Nyla and Talia rouse the little princesses. They equally grumble at being awakened at such an early hour. Cooper is first to comply with the rise and shine directive. She exits the tent with hair pointing in all directions, asking as she rubs her eyes. “Nyla, what’s that smell?”

  “5am, young lady. That’s the smell of 5am.” Nyla responds, smartassingly. Soon, all are up and atom.... moving off to their own section of stream. A cold splash of water brings awareness back into their lives. With the toughest part of the morning behind, the androids concentrate on bringing forth something for the youngsters to eat, before heading back into the wilds.

  The morning meal goes well, without too much noise to awaken the village. Afterward, everyone pitches in, disassembling the camp, and packing it for travel. Dawn has brightened the forest with misty light, and the village begins to stir. Nyla takes the other androids to the side. “We have a choice to make.” She says, mysteriously. “We can either go back to the habitats, where none of us has much to do. Orrrrrrr, we can seek out the mountain that rumbles, and see what we can see.” She tempts the willing, adding. “After all, we’re probable not too far from it right now!”

  Her android buddies perk up at hearing the idea. Even though the old shaman woman had warned against going there, the temptation is strong. The idea had been on Wil’s mind for a good portion of the night. Why not extend the journey, he thinks. Why not offer the kids a chance to explore further, he ponders. There’s no real reason to head home just yet, he convinces himself. “Well, as long as this is a democracy, I vote for the mountain. My energy-levels are still high.” He voices opinion, looking to Talia and Omari with a hopeful expression.

  Talia speaks first. “Well, I definitely vote mountain! We don’t get out often, so let’s not waste this opportunity. My levels are hovering at 92-percent, so I’m good to go. What about you, Omari?” .... The only real limiting factors are Electrical energy, and food for the kids.

  “Well, I’m at 89, but feel like 94.” He jokes, making the others smile. “Yes, I like the idea. Let’s do it. Besides, the team back at habitat can live without us for a little longer. But, I do want to be back in time to help set up the doggy ovens next week.” He mentions the first attempt to grow 20 German Shepard dogs, in-vitro. The process is akin to that of growing humans, except the hormonal make-up requires recalibration, and the specialized embryonic-tanks need installation. Much work .... Sometimes it seems, an android’s work is never done!

  “That’s fantastic!” Wil exclaims, getting more excited about the idea. “We’ll be back in time, Omari.... Or die trying!” A look of concern from Omari and Talia. “Just kidding, just kidding! .... But really, we’ll be back in time.... promise.” Putting his hand on their shoulders as proof of his sincerity, his face beams with confidence. Nyla mirrors Wil’s enthusiasm, the thought of another adventure, grips her good. Her energy-levels are adequate, so all they need now, is extra food for the kids. She and Talia wait with the youngsters, informing of the change in plans, while Wil and Omari head off in search of sustenance.

  Keeping reign on the young humans becomes more difficult each passing minute. The plan to explore the mysterious mountain, brings barely contained excitement. Although, Nyla would swear that Jax had turned several shades lighter than his usual dark features, as thoughts of being torn asunder, run unimpeded through his mind.

  It’s still early, as the not small group, exits from the village. Staying on the outskirts, they slip away. Even if they were going straight back home, long-goodbyes are not desirable. However, this time the need for subterfuge is necessary. Even so, they’ll be lucky to get away with their change of plans. In a world of canny indigenousness, they are but clodhopper-wearing yokels in comparison. Leaving a trail that the ineptest of hunters could follow, the transgression won’t go unnoticed. However, planetary conquest is not for the shy. Toe’s will be stepped on, and feelings hurt. The Zenarawan’s spirit-mountain will soon have alien guests, no matter what the cost. And the earthlings will soon be able to put another pin in the map; for places explored.

  Two valleys beyond the village, the terrain slopes upward at an increasing rate. Eventually, topping out at a plateau leading to the mountain. Here, twisted rock-outcroppings prove testament to the ancient geology, tortured for millions of years by erosion and upheaval. If not for the tree’s, the mountain ahead would be visible in the distance. But, they march onward, hoping calculations are correct. The androids use internal data that was gathered during earlier mapping of the region while still in orbit, many years prior.

  The kids are behaving admirably. Nyla is impressed at how they’ve stayed focused. Apparently, the importance of such a learning experience is not lost on them, she thinks. After all, it just wouldn’t do to act like silly children, attracting attention, endangering the moment, due to juvenile hijinks. She senses something new. Something wonderful! Her babies are maturing! Or, at least they seem to be trying harder these days. The exertion heats her circuits, she doesn’t care.... Life is good!

  “Nyla, according to what Yilzzari told us, and comparing it with our data, we should soon be closing in on the area near the base of the mountain.” Wil informs, hoping the youngsters are listening. Nyla, has been paying attention to her own data-set, and already knew about their proximity to Yilzzari’s haunted mountain.

  “The day grows late, Wil. We should start looking for a place to set up camp. We’ll make the final push tomorrow morning.” She notices that the children had heard her, and were picking up firewood as they moved through the forest. Before long, each had a nice little bundle of sticks and branches. Ahead, the group enters a clearing that seems ideal for a camp, so everyone begins the process of clearing the area of debris, making ready the tents.

  “Do you think we’ll see the white cat tonight, Nyla?” Harper asks fearfully, as Ling and he assist with setting up the camp.

  Jax is nearby, and with wide-eyes, he listens intently to what Nyla says about the phantom-cat that stalks this part of the forest. “Oh, my dear Harper.” She says, bringing the boy close for a reassuring hug. “I’m afraid that’s just a superstition that the Zenarawan people developed as a coping mechanism for something that they don’t fully understand. We adults, hope to prove that there’s a perfectly logical explanation behind such a story.”

  “Oh, don’t be too surprised, Nyla.” Jax interjects quietly, “That old ghost cat might very-well tear through the camp tonight, looking for souls to eat. We’re in its territory now, and according to Razzi, it hasn’t eaten anybody recently.... so, it must be very hungry!” His words strike fear into Ling’s heart, who pokes him in the ribs with her walking stick. “Jax Krauss! Stop trying to scare us to death!” She scolds. “We’re going to be just fine! You’ll see! In the morning, we’ll all still be here, and won’t you look silly then!” She predicts, heartfeltidly.

  “She’s right Jax.” Nyla tries to burst his spirit-bubble, giving him the look for scaring the girl. “The disembodied ghost-cat only exists inside the mind, and can’t harm anybody unless they fall victim to hysteria and foolishness.” She shames, but instantly knows that the boy didn’t honestly mean any harm. He truly believed in the spirit world, and any amount of scolding will only reinforce such primitive thinking.

  “Come here, boy.” She dir
ects, giving Jax a conciliatory hug. “Why, if that mean old cat comes into camp tonight, I’ll fight it tooth and nail! I’ll let it bite me good, and we’ll just see how it likes a mouthful of hot electrons!” She informs with a hearty laugh. It seems to work, as the trio quickly forgets about what might happen that night, and concentrates on what must happen now, to get the camp ready.

  Aside from a few frightful gusts of wind, that shook tents ferociously at times, the night remained ghost-cat free. It soon gives way to a warm, fog-shrouded morning. And after a quick, fireless meal, the intrepid explorers are ready to shake a leg. They gather the tents and equipment, and quickly disappear uphill into the fog, with Nyla leading the way.

  “Braxton, don’t stray from the line.” She calls to the headstrong boy, who quickly falls back into position. “This fog will break soon, but until then, please stay close.” She advises.

  “Okay, Nyla.... Sorry.” The boy apologizes, getting a jab in the ribs as he crowds Cooper and Toby while getting back in line.

  “Hey chowder-head, get to the back of the line!” Cooper calls out, after almost getting an elbow in the face for not yielding to the head-strong boy.

  “Yeah glory-hog! You lost your spot amongst the obedient! Back of the line with you!” Toby teases, knocking the back of his foot with hers; causing the poor boy to nearly trip.

  “Jeez Brax, walk much?” Cooper inquires, just as the line is once again formed and heading up the forested slope, to the haunted mountain.

  Soon, Nyla motions for a rest. She plops her heated frame down onto a bed of soft needles on the forest floor. Everyone joins her, while Omari and Talia distribute snacks to the ravenous mob. The day had grown warmer, the fog a distant memory, as the rested group continues the trek to loftier heights.

  Three light-years away, at Titania Alpha. The ice-filled shells of the Faraday and Payne, are joined at the hip with the SPS Democritus. Their main function is to provide extra-mass and thrust to the elevator counter-weight system, which the three vessels have now become. By use of fusion rocket-engines, the counter-weights will provide tension and guidance for the elevator-cables suspended above the planet. Centrifugal forces playing a huge part. Without it, the immense gravity of the planet would bring the cable crashing down, and that just wouldn’t due! At an altitude of 500-miles, the retired motherships rejoin the workforce, providing invaluable service to humanity, and androids alike.

  As like a spider readying to create a web; the Democritus hangs suspended above an alien world with spinnerets pointed in the right direction. The Bouligand-type spiraling-fiber design of the cable is copied from the internal structure of the Mantis shrimp’s clubs. Those feisty earthly creatures, can fire their war-clubs at nearly the speed of a bullet. So, the clubs must be extremely tough to survive repeated punishments, and always be ready for the next walloping. Human scientists studied, duplicated, and found many uses for this fantastically strong, spiraling-fiber design of Mother Natures. From one of the tiniest creatures on Earth, came some of the greatest boons to humanity! Making the reach for the stars, that much easier.

  “Stand by for the last shot!” Commander Clara warns the team below.

  “Go ahead, Clara. We’re ready here.” Zoey informs. She, Tova and their team have retreated a safe distance from the anchorage, as drilling operations are performed from above.

  “Copy that.... Here we go, in four .... three .... two .... one!”

  A bright beam of light, illuminates the sky. The area is bathed in a reddish haze, as the Democritus drills deeply into the bedrock with her 18-inch laser. On the surface, all manner of vapor and ejecta, explode from the deepening wound. The only sound, a hissing, as Zoey watches the violent tempest in the distance. It takes about 6-minutes for the ships drill, to reach the required depth of 100-feet. The anchorage is receiving its 40th, and last hole. Now, looking like an empty pin cushion, it cools, waiting for the telephone-pole sized pins to arrive.

  “Okay, Zoey!” Clara informs. “We’re done up here, and the laser has been redirected. Approach the site with caution.... we wouldn’t want anybody falling in!”

  “Thanks Clara.” Tova replies with a laugh. “We’re heading over there now. Give us an hour, and we’ll get back to you.” The drill site crawls with 26 android-engineers. In teams of two’s, they inspect the anchorage holes with highly-calibrated equipment. It’s soon determined that all the shafts are within the limits, specified by long dead human-engineers. Each of the deep shafts has walls of unbroken solid granite, all the way to the bottom. Phase-two can begin immediately.

  “Clara, this is Tova; over.” He calls with updated information.

  “Hi Tova, I’m guessing by the tone, that all is ready for the cables to drop.” Clara, surmises.

  “You got it, sister.... I mean, commander; over.” He chuckles, before releasing the transmit.

  Clara winces at the insubordinate levity. But in reality, she understands that they are all in this together, and are equals in their own rite. She knows Tova is informal at times, not meaning disrespect. But when operations are so touchy, it’s always preferable to go by the book. She lets it slide with a sigh, but responds with a firmer tone. “Copy that, Mr. Tova. Standby for the first strand.” By ‘standby’ Tova understands that the process will begin, but the telephone pole-sized cable-end won’t be visible for another 6-hours.

  “Copy that, commander. Let’s hope for good drops.” Comes a more stoic response from below.

  “Justin; do you copy?” Clara calls her tug-pilot who waits for launch.

  “Go ahead commander.” A strong, male voice replies.

  “Begin phase-two, whenever you’re ready. And good luck out there.”

  “Thanks commander. We’re ready to start the ball rolling.” Justin quips, as he and first officer Allix, finish with a pre-flight checklist. It’s their task to pilot the tug-spacecraft which will remove the cables from mother’s protective bowels, one at a time, and give them a push into Titania Alpha’s gravity-well. Forty cable-strands total, will combine to make the elevator possible. Each cable-strand deployment will be like torture on their psyche. With cabin fever at a fevered pitch, having to dive toward the planet, only to swoop away at the last second, will grind their gears each time! However, they also realize that their transport is not designed for atmospheric entry, so that helps to not go too far. “Soon”, Justin tells himself.... “Patience.”

  “Okay Ava, we’re ready to launch.” Allix calls the hanger crew from within the isolated launch-tube. The Democritus has four such tubes that allow launching, without depressurizing the hanger bays. On the outer hull, a 35-foot-diameter spiral-hatch glides open with just the slightest of grinding. Clouds of space dust fly into the frozen void, as powerful hatch-motors laugh at the puny friction.

  “Please take us out, Allix.” Justin delegates to his first officer, and mate. With a deft grip on her joystick, Allix launches the vehicle out into the endless void. Except, the void isn’t so endless on this side of the spacecraft! Titania Alpha looms menacingly large! Her majestic and beautiful glory, unavoidable! It brightens the circuits of both pilots. After 175,000-years cooped up inside the Democritus, this bit of freedom is exhilarating. With euphoric glee, they’re shot into space. “Yeeeehaaaaaaa!” Each screams animalistically, completely unable to maintain proper dignity during such a critical moment of flight. But space is big, so they hit nothing solid.

  “I can’t believe we’re free of that tin-can!” Justin exclaims. “Just think, Allix! Soon we’ll be free to roam the wilds once again! All that elbow-room; can you imagine?” He dreams aloud.

  “Now, don’t go and get all cabin-fevery on me, Justin.” She warns, all the while re-gaining focus on her duties. “We’re not there yet. Another 5 or 6 months, so hang on a little longer. But that elbow-room in the wilds, does sound good!” She finishes, with an infectious laugh.

  Each pilot monitors specific data, as the tug is set to automatic and brought to hover in front of the first pin a
nd cable-strand assembly. This part of Mother’s hull resembles a pin-cushion, with 40-steel-poles sticking 20-feet past the hull-plating in a half-acre area. Beyond the 20-feet, and extending deep into mother’s hull, is another 80-feet of the 17-inch-diameter titanium-alloy anchor-pins. Attached to this multi-ton anchor-pin, is the planet-side end of the cable. The rest of the cable is coiled inside dedicated storage, and ready for deployment. It’s a plug-n-play system, that earthling scientists had developed to maximize user friendliness.

  “Mind the closing-distance, Allix.” Justin warns, as first officer takes the ship off auto-pilot and guides manually. The craft slowly closes with one of the anchor-pins, accepting it into a locking-tube that runs through the vessel. With a solid clunk, metallic claws grip the protruding pin. For all intents and purposes, the tug is now one with the first of the elevator cable-strands.

  “Green lights across the board, Justin.” Allix informs. “Just give the word.”

  Justin double checks the data, making sure proximity sensors are tuned correctly. They will announce warning, in advance of reaching the event horizon. A point where the tug cannot extricate itself, if violated. All, is as it should be.... “Okay, Allix.... easy does it.... let’s hope all that simulator training pays off!”

  The tug strains! .... Seemingly, not willing to move. Suddenly, it breaks the threshold of friction, holding the pin and cable in place. A cloud of space-dust explodes in protest, as the pin slowly follows the tug, and the cable follows the pin, as it uncoils from its ancient container deep within the mother ship. It’s not an easy chore, even for an android. After traveling several miles, and with the cable feeding out as pretty as you please, oscillations become too big to ignore. Like having a tiger by the tail, Allix taxes her ability to maintain control over the slithering snake that follows!

  “You’re doing great Allix.” Justin offers nervous praise, adding. “I’m ready to give you a break. Just say the word.” He puts his hand on her shoulder, she remains focused on her displays.

  “Thanks, but I’m good for a while longer.” The transport, bucks like a bronco several times a minute, as the cable uncoils. But at the 100-mile mark, oscillations diminish substantially, and the journey becomes nearly enjoyable. About 6-hours later, Titania Alpha is truly in their faces! The valley they seek is directly below. It blends with the others, collectively looking like giant claw marks across the terrain.

  As the tug nears the event-horizon, proximity alarms sound. “Okay Allix! .... Goose it! .... Just like in the sim.” He reaches, tightening her restraints.

  “Copy.... here goes nothing!” Allix exclaims, as she pours on the coals. With a heavy acceleration, the tug dramatically picks up speed, heading straight towards doom! At a targeted velocity, Justin disengages the lock with the pin, and the tug zooms forward and away. Making a tight U-turn just above the point of no-return, the intrepid pilots cheat death; Titania’s gravity-well reaches for the tiny morsel, but misses. They turn their backs on the beautiful planet, heading back towards deeper space and another cable-strand.

  Into the gravity-well the pin drops! Similar in fashion to the rod-from-god weapons, except this one is slowed by the mass of a 500-mile-long cable that follows dutifully. The tip of the rod glows red briefly, slowing and cooling as the long cable resists the descent. In this fashion, the first elevator cable moves through the upper atmosphere, seeking its home below.

  At the anchorage-site, androids watch as the blackened pin, descends through the atmosphere. Leading the nearly invisible cable, the 50-ton pin gets buffeted by the Jetstream, taking the cable several miles off course. But, low-level winds are favorable, so after making its way through the Jetstream, the pin stabilizes, dropping back on course for the anchorage. Above in space, the counterweight-platform, which is the three motherships joined at the hips, is not affected at all by this temporary deflection. Powerful fusion drives, adjust thrust levels to maintain stability.

  “Here it comes!” Tova yells excitedly. However, all are on high alert, seeing the oversized telephone pole swinging towards them.

  “Just let it stabilize, Tova!” Zoey warns, frantically. “You know the drill!” She reminds.

  The wind calms, the cable from space straightens. Soon, the pin is hovering over its new home. It takes many strong androids, to wrestle the behemoth into place. It amazes them to think about how just minutes earlier, the pin looked like a toy in the sky. But, now its towering mass, commands the utmost respect. The blackened tip of the pin lowers into its new home, gliding along the smooth inner surface of the rock wall. Only an inch of clearance, exists between the sides of the pin and the rocky surface. It settles onto the bottom of the hole with a bone-crunching sound, shaking the ground. It will go no further.

  “Okay, back away!” Zoey commands, to all. “I’m setting the barbs!” She reaches for a remote on her utility belt, enters a code and pushes a button; setting into motion a series of events that will lock the pin, preventing extraction. Along the length of the specialized pole, tiny explosive bolts detonate, releasing thousands of spring-loaded steel-barbs. They extend forcefully, gripping the inner surface of the shaft. Like a finger trapped within a Chinese-handcuff, the bedrock has a Kung-Fu grip on the pin! It will now take truly astronomical forces, to break it free!

  A team readies a cement mixture to fill in any gaps, minimizing future corrosion. The rod from god, has become a permanent fixture within Titania Alpha. For all intents and purposes, Titania Alpha and the motherships, are now one! By itself, one cable-strand is not strong enough to withstand the tremendous forces at play with a space elevator. But, with its other 39-companions soon to join, there will be strength in numbers. Strength enough....

  Above in space, Clara keeps an eye on the monitor that circumnavigates the bridge of the Democritus. A large portion of which, displays a beautiful blue-green world below. She’s thrilled to see the first cable extending to the planet. Tensioners within the cables old storage-compartment, have taken up much of the slack. Now, using magnification, she’s able to follow the cable all the way to the anchorage site. Android engineers can be seen scurrying to and fro, dutifully performing the tasks required. With a feeling of euphoria, she dreams of a time when it will be her turn to enjoy the freedom that’s so close, yet so far away. Mesmerized by the thought, she’s startled when a call comes in from the site.

  “Clara, this is Zoey; do you copy?”

  “Yes Zoey, I copy five by five; go ahead.” Clara hopes for news that all is ready for the next cable deployment.

  “You’re missing a beautiful day down here, Clara!” Zoey teases, as is her way.

  “Oh, I see what a fine day it is down there, little miss rub-it-in.” The cabin-fevered commander, retorts sarcastically. She wants freedom so badly.... she can taste it.

  “Sorry Clara. My bad.... I’ll stick to the script.” Zoey flinches inside, as she recognizes her insensitivity. “We’re ready down here, whenever you want to start lowering the next cable. That last one came through the Jetstream just fine, so let’s keep our fingers crossed for the next one.”

  “Copy that Zoey. I’ll let Justin and Allix know. As usual, it’ll take about six-hours before you see the cable-end, but I’ll keep you updated.” She informs; dearly wishing it was her down there waiting for a cable from the wide-open skies. Just to feel gravity again would be nice! Since almost forever it seemed, she had not the pleasure. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, when freedom is so near!

  “Okay.... copy that, Clara. We’ll be standing-by for the next one. Zoey out.” She keeps it short. The insidious temptation to tease, is too strong. She knows it’s hard for Clara and the others to remain above. Especially when 26 others had already made the dive to the planet. Sometimes duty falls in ways, that seem very unfair.... even to an android!

  “Justin, do you copy?” Clara calls the tug.

  “We’re still here; go ahead commander.”

  “Commence with the next cable. They’re ready for it below.”
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  With permission to proceed, the tug pulls out the next cable. Like a spider pulling a silken thread which dutifully follows, the tug plunges the next pin into the atmosphere. Others follow suit, filling the sky above the tiny habitats with dancing vines that extend upward, for as far as the eyes can see. Much work still lies ahead for the planet-side team. A tall base, next to the elevator must be erected so as to meet with the single cable, after all have been pulled together and joined.

  Above in space, the elevator-car is removed from storage and mated with the lengthy cable. Like a clam-shell, it closes on the cable and locks in place. The cable runs through a friction-tube in the center of the pressurized conveyance. Within this tube, thousands of motorized-rollers, grip the cable using friction, and this is how movement is accomplished. The journey is not a fast one. A one-way trip, takes nearly 6-days to complete. While test-runs prove the elevator is safe, not one android is willing to endure such a torturous ordeal when leaving the ship for a planet-side life. An exhilarating dive through hells-fire is preferable; and way more fun!

  However, the orbit of the counter-weight must be maintained. So, four androids at a time, beginning with some of the first to leave the Democritus, will ride the elevator into space for rotating tours of duty, lasting one month at a time. Another consideration besides maintaining proper orbit, is to defend the system if need arises. Robust defensive systems onboard, will ensure a sour-taste in the mouth of anyone brave enough to venture too close.... Time passes on the Democritus.... As crewmembers fulfil their specific duties, they earn the right to enjoy the freedom-flight to the wide-open spaces of Titania Alpha.

  Before long, Clara finds her ship nearly empty of life. A ghost ship.... with the telltale empty corridors to prove it. But even a dog, has one good day in the sun. So eventually, after the elevator is up and running, and watch-crew on duty. Clara finds herself in the hanger bay with her lifelong companion, donning flight-suits. It seems like a dream, one that has haunted her mind for millennia. It’s a magical moment indeed for the two androids, who have waited the longest of all. They enter separate teardrops, and are shot into Titania Alpha’s voracious gravity-well. “Yeeeeeeehaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” They yell the loudest of all, and enjoy the drop the most! The euphoria of freedom, gripping them good, as they tear the atmosphere a new corn shoot, on their way to a new life, on a new world.

 
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