by James Maple
Exaggerated scenario intended to examine human tendency to leap in the dark.
| Our businessman straightened his tie as he stepped unto the A station receiving platform. “Station A” was reserved for carrying passengers, and only passengers, up…and only up. Laborers and researchers descended on the Station B strand once every few weeks or so, though some would stay for months at a time. Scientists in particular often attempted to extend their visits; however, due to the GOPA Gate’s limited tenements, none aside from those individuals absolutely necessary for maintenance were allowed to remain permanently.
The gentleman craned his neck towards the sky and was greeted by the sight of a sparkling diamond in the sea green sky, descending upon what appeared to be a paper thin, crimson ribbon. Another few minutes, he supposed. Behind him, men and women entered the station still wearing paper masks over their mouths and noses. The facility was shaped like a giant “T”; the two passenger stations were located at the ends of the man’s hat, while the enormous C station was positioned at the foot of his leg. C station was responsible for transporting food and water, as well as research and construction materials. Its strand was nearly three times as thick as the lines leading up from Stations A and B.
Looking up again, he saw the lift approaching the end of its descent. As it neared the ground, cushioning jets of compressed air were fired at the ground. It landed in its cylindrical cradle with nary a thump. Elegant.
Along with the other passengers, our businessman awaited the opening of the cradle’s entrance. Behind the solid, heat resistant doors, they could hear the ponderous extension of the passenger passage. The crowd was impatient, tapping its feet, checking its watches, straightening its ties. Time passed, the doors noisily slid apart. The businessman stepped into the cradle’s walkway—a plain, square corridor not unlike those airplane passengers boarded to depart and board their flights.
Nonchalantly, the crowd filed into the lift, each choosing one of the comfortable, blue leather seats aligned along the compartment’s round sides. Like its cradle, the lift was cylindrical. Its walls and roof were a sterile, soft, eggshell white, interrupted only by a strip of thick glass that circled the chamber at roughly eye level of a sitting man.
Once everyone was seated, a voice boomed from a seemingly invisible intercom. “Welcome to GOPA Ascent. Your hour journey should be smooth and comfortable. However, for safety purposes, please buckle your seatbelts. You may experience a degree of weightlessness as we approach the GOPA Arrival Platform. Please refrain from moving about the cabin for the duration of your ascent. We hope you have a pleasant visit!”
With that, the lift came to life; an electric hum filled the room as they climbed the nanofiber strand attached to the GOPA AP. The voice had been correct. The businessman was far from uncomfortable; infact, he barely felt any change in pressure as they accelerated upward. He knew that the trip down was not nearly as calm; without wind resistant flaps, the cylinder descended at a staggering speed that would cause untrained men to slip from consciousness. Glancing out the window, he saw Earth gradually falling out from beneath them. Within half an hour, he was greeted by the grotesque sight of his homeworld’s disfigured face. Concentrated smog erupting from factories in the Northeastern United States infected the atmosphere, radiating outward like a tumor spreading its sickly green influence. But no need to worry. Soon, our businessman would be far away from the cancer. Look to the future; do not dwell in the past.
The businessman had willingly accepted his new assignment. He had no family nor lover, no attachments to the once beautiful blue planet. He longed for a land where he could walk without a flimsy paper mask strapped over his mouth. As they neared the AP, he looked down at his meticulously pressed black pants and grimaced. He plucked and dusted the imperfections from his clothing. Lint, unidentifiable white particles, blonde hair. When had that gotten there? Disgusting.
He did feel a slight shift into weightlessness as they slowed on approach to the platform, but it didn’t last long. The entire outside ring of the GOPA, consisting of the Arrival Platform, Departing Platform, and Shipment Dock rotated at a steady rate to simulate gravity.
As the doors of the lift opened, the passengers were veritably assailed by flashing light. An enormous television was directly outside the doors, displaying the Great Orbital Particle Accelerator Gate in action. Whether it was a live feed or a realistic animation, the businessman could not tell. Nonetheless, he was entranced by the spectacular image. The crowd assembled in front of the screen to witness the next activation. Within a few minutes, they saw it.
The center ring of the GOPA was, in reality, a massive particle accelerator, looped 4 times to increase the distance that particles could be propelled through so that it resembled a flattened spring. Gold nuclei were catapulted through the accelerator at relativistic speeds, until eventually they were hurled along tubes toward the center of the gate. The nuclei would collide and blaze a fiery violet as the quark-gluon plasma was formed. Then ultrahot lasers were fired from the rings of the GOPA and contacted with the plasma as it began to spread and cool. When these lasers hit the purple fireball, an interesting thing happened. Suddenly, the plasma appeared to solidify, almost as if time had halted. The plasma had gained enough energy to punch a temporary hole in space, a shortcut to anywhere in the universe.
However, after a few minutes the frozen indigo mass would dissipate, and a new gate would have to be created. Our businessman gazed in wonder as the demonstration concluded. Ah, how marvelous! This was the illustration, the face of human ingenuity—the façade of human progress. He was snapped out of his reverie, though, by the crackling of speakers. “Please proceed to the Gate Bus. The next departure will occur in 10 minutes.”
Caught in the center of the crowd, our businessman was swept along to the Bus. Much like the lift, the Bus was little more than a glorified triangular pod. The crowd boarded swiftly as the disembodied voice from above warned them that time was waning. Shortly after everyone was seated, shoulder and chest restraints not unlike those on roller coasters snapped down over the passengers’ heads.
“Restraints will remain in place until your Bus has docked with the SS. Nausea is not uncommon when passing through the gate. After docking, please proceed in an organized fashion through the left exit door. Bathrooms are available to your right once you have entered the station. Please, avoid vomiting on the tile floors. Have a safe and pleasurable trip!”
A panel slid back from the nose of the Bus, granting its passengers a final glimpse of the newly formed gate. Immediately, they slung out of the Bus bay, toward the frightening entity. It seemed far more menacing up close, a deeper shade of purple—black almost: an unknown umbra. As they neared the malicious object, the panel slid forward once more, apparently to spare the passengers’ eyes. However, this had the unpleasant effect of tainting the crowd’s previous nonchalance. Suddenly, an atmosphere of anxiety settled over the cabin, a collective claustrophobia. Our businessman, too, was affected. To ease his mind, he busied himself plucking yet more lint from his pantsuit. And then there was a noise quite like a mother tersely quieting her child and an odd pulling sensation. The world became blindingly white. And then there was ringing. Ringing, ringing…
The businessman reentered the world. He gasped for breath, his eyes snapped open, wide and brown, like the eyes of a fawn caught in headlights. The Bus window reopened, displaying a view of Spes Station. Around the basic structure were the beginnings of another GOPA. Since it was not yet constructed, and would not be for a rather long time, new arrivals were effectively stranded for at least a decade.
They docked with the SS and departed the Bus. Many men hastened to the bathrooms. Our businessman made his way to the Spes Departing Platform; exactly like the GOPA at Earth, the SS had strands connected to stations on the ground. He boarded the Descent Vehicle, anxious to see his new home. Its interior was identical to the pod in which he had ascended to the Earth orbital. But rather than a simple cylindrical exterior, it possessed four wing-like drag fins to slow its downward plummet.
As he descended, the businessman gawked at the landscape below him. This was Spes: a newer, brighter, grander world. This was the new Eden, the new hope. Already, humanity had begun to farm the land. Looking down through the window, he became instantaneously enthralled by the man-made quilt stitched across the planet’s surface. Near the ground, he could actually see the furrows of the farmland, shallow graves for lanky giants.
Spes, like all other groundbreaking discoveries, had simply been stumbled upon by accident. Scientists hadn’t the slightest how, exactly, they could change the destination of the gate; they had simply tinkered with it repeatedly, until one of their unmanned probes made the remarkable find: a planet akin to Earth—indeed, a near twin, better in health, certainly, than her counterpart.
Landing in the cradle was slightly jarring, though our businessman was far too enraptured to pay this any mind. He stepped outside the cradle, and instantly saw a man hailing him.
“Sir!” he said, as they shook hands. “It’s nice to make your acquaintance.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” said the businessman as they walked toward the exit. The sliding glass doors opened before them.
“I’m sure you’ll be pleased,” assured the enthusiastic man. “We are producing 200 terraforming units per day with the supplies we’re receiving from Earth. But even better, we’ve recently found a reservoir of materials in the nearby Pullus Tumulus, which will probably allow us to manufacture over 2,000 per day….”
The man continued to regale our businessman with facts, not realizing that the whole of his being was absorbed, captivated by the scene before him. In the distance, a gargantuan factory loomed. Inside that factory, machines were generated that would make Spes habitable for tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of people within the decade. It was a well-oiled engine.
The factory resembled a boat from afar, with a mainmast that billowed smoke into the air—smoke that spread like a wide, grey burial shroud over the pristine farmland. It would soil the atmosphere and seep, drip-dripping into the dirt; it would poison the water, plague the plantlife.
Our businessman breathed in the (now) fresh air and beamed. He straightened his tie. It was magnificent. It was beautiful.