A Lost Monument in the Sea
The construction crews continued to build the elevator in pieces. The technology for the panels included solar collectors, electrical wiring, and a complex set of windows. Everyone involved knew that one of the main draws for the elevator would be the tourism just from the view for the two week climb to the anchor in orbit. The panels were clear and shading elements could be activated with the push of a button to protect the passengers from the brightness of the sun. A happy accident in the development of the shading element found that it could be used as solar paneling to create a considerable electric charge. Developers also found the inside of the paneling collected static electricity from the moving cars and friction on the cables that could also be stored and used to power the complex on Elevator Island.
Dave was fixed to his TV set the day the tether was launched by rocket from Elevator Island. It had taken decades for the project to come to that moment and every angle had multiple cameras transmitting around the world. The destination for the tether was a geosynchonized anchor that had been launched a month prior. Images of the rapid unspooling of the tether from the terminal site as it slowly floated into the sky at the tail of the rocket captivated the earth. An audience of onlookers viewed the launch from a fleet of cruise ships a few miles away. Passengers craned upward from the decks with their mouths agape in awe while being served hamburgers and glasses of champagne. They watched the large tether dancing through pillowing white clouds as the rocket disappeared from view. Hours later, the rocket docked and astronauts carefully attached the anchor permanently to Earth.
The cruise ship passengers witnessed the tether going taut through their binocular views of the action. Re-entry of the astronauts into the Pacific Ocean capped three days of non-stop cable news coverage of the event. Workers at the terminal base started the task of building the cables and panels skyward. Dave’s wife had a terrible time trying to move him from the couch that weekend. She still loved that big nose of his.
Dave considered getting up to use the bathroom. He looked over at the sandaled man next to him hunched in a deep sleep. He debated whether he could climb over the man without disturbing him. No, that wouldn’t work, his legs were stiff from the flight and he knew that once he stood up he wouldn’t be able to reach his leg over. He could poke the man and wake him up. Or could he? No, he was not an assertive enough person to awaken a stranger. He would much rather lean forward to try to take pressure off his bladder and suffer as he counted down the hours before landing.
At the peak in public interest in the space elevator, Dr. Gunn decided to unveil the plan to bring the solar radiation catchers up as the first cargo up the space elevator, along with the modules for a great space port below the anchor. The space port would be an extension of the construction station that was to be sent up by rocket in the first year of the construction phase of the project. There, workers in space suits could work on the upper sections in near weightlessness as the Earthbound team moved further from away from the Earth. From the space port, the solar radiation catchers that would spread to miles in diameter could have been assembled, moved into position and lasers to transmit the energy back to earth could be installed. Targets on Earth would be heated by the lasers from space and convert that heat into electricity.
Initially, this idea had public traction. Energy companies could see the encrouching damage to the necessity of their products and launched their own marketing campaign against the Pacific Space Elevator Project. Ads were aired on TV claiming millions of U.S. workers would lose their jobs, predicted a crashing of the economy and a general loss of manhood that would result from completing the space elevator. They made claims that the whole project put the U.S. in greater debt to Japan and China, even though the project would have been paid off through the licensing the use of the elevator alone. They hired lobbyists, and funded campaigns of sympathetic politicians. In the end, they did not kill the elevator through their legislative acts based on these fears. Not directly. Not immediately.
Many of the anti-elevator candidates did win, and although they didn’t have the votes to stop the elevator, they did have other strong views. The candidates who were voted in tended to be more hawkish toward the military. It had been just over a decade since the last military campaign for the US. This was a period of peacefulness that the Pacific Space Elevator prospered from. The American people were able to focus their nationalistic pride in this goal of scientific achievement. Then, under the new congress, Russia destroyed two U.S. intelligence satellites and was accused of hacking numerous others. This had been common spy game activity between the U.S. and Russia, but these reports came on a slow news day. During the weeks following a mysterious death of an American diplomat, Rep. Sands, one of the anti-elevators, went on a cable news show and vented.
“Listen people! There’s a threat out there. They took our satellites, we all saw it, they can take what they want. We work so hard, and everything gets taken away. It’s like when you were a little kid. You saved and you saved and you finally got enough money to buy a nice baby blue bicycle with a banana seat. You rode it around half the summer, then all of a sudden one morning you go outside and it’s gone. You see some other kid riding a bike around and dammit it’s yours. You know it, you know it's yours. We can’t let the Russians just come and take our stuff. So dammit, if you didn’t have that bike, they couldn’t just take it out of your front yard. We’ve got a damn death laser we’re going to put into space to the tune of a couple hundred billion dollars and once we get it up there, you and I know, Jeanie, and the Russians are just going to go on their computers and take it away. And then they’re going to have our death lasers pointed right back at us. Don't you think they'll use them? I sure as hell know! When that happens it’s just going to be us and our friends trying to go somewhere and you don’t have a bicycle as they ride off to the movies, and I’m stuck out by the quarry when I wet my pants because I was so embarrassed. We don’t need a death laser they can just take and fry our asses into the dirt! We need to build up our military and fight back! We need stregth to not shoot ourselves in the head, dammit! We cannot be weak! I just want my damn bicycle back!”
Granted, this was gibberish, but somehow the idea of the space elevator giving Russia a death laser seaped into the consciousness of Americans. Cable news shows brought on talking heads to debate how soon Russia would fire off death lasers. Whether it was fear, ignorance, or a devious plot Rep. Sands’ position in Congress was elevated. He was considered the common sense congressman of his party. The public got behind a military build up to thwart Russia’s advances and within months the U.S. was in a military intervention with a tiny former soviet republic in an attempt to show their might. The war required the military to need billions in funding, and this money was found in a place whose public image had corroded because of just two words: “death laser.”
Dave was disheartened. He felt he had failed to consider the Pacific Space Elevator fantasy would be a tool of disaster that threatened him, and his whole country. He thought “good riddance” to see footage of the construction teams leaving Elevator Island. A year later a reporter went to the place in California where the cars of the elevator had been converted into apartment buildings. Media no longer felt the need to waste airtime rehashing anything about the project, and all was forgotten in the vortex of the news cycle.
Looking out the window Dave still marveled at the feat, yet felt sorry to see his child-like dream decay in the hazy distance. He could see most of the elevator had been completed, although a few panels were missing. Squinting to look up Dave could see many more gaps in the paneling until there was no casing around the cable at all.
A dull pain throbbed in his kidneys. He felt like he was stuck at Rep. Sands’ quarry. He thoughtlessly took another sip of his coke. Oh geez, he thought. He leaned forward, his arms trying to relieve pressure on his bladder. His legs were shaking, his fingertips tingling and he could feel sloshing in his belly. He finally couldn’t take it any longer. He stood up frantically asking the people in his row to let him out to the aisle. The man sitting next to him, comfortable in his flip-flops and shorts, looked out the window as Dave passed by.
“Hey, it’s that sky escalator!” The sandaled man snapped a picture with his phone as he noticed the landmark, “Neat.” He smiled as he looked at the picture he had just taken on the little screen of his phone.