Art by Melissa Mead
by Eric James Stone
Freefall was the best part of a jump.
As she fell, Gina Wright looked down at Earth, half shadowed beneath her as dawn crept toward her landing target in Kansas, and relished the knowledge that she was about to demolish the world freefall record by more than 20,000 miles. This was going to be so much better than her spacejump from the old International Space Station. She would have forty minutes of freefall before she even entered the atmosphere.
Using the gyros in her pressure suit, she turned away from Earth. The space elevator cable stretched like a strand of spiderweb past her toward the rotating hub-and-spoke wheel she had jumped from: GeoTerminal 1.
A brilliant flash behind the terminal forced Gina to blink even as her visor darkened to compensate. After her visor cleared, she saw a ripple moving down the space elevator cable.
Had the cable broken? No--the LED lights strung along it were still on, so power still flowed from the terminal. With a dad who was chief engineer for the elevator and a brother who drove one of the crawlers, she knew more than she wanted to about the elevator. "How high is it?" and "Can I jump off it?" were the only things that really mattered.
She told her suitphone to call her dad.
"What?" he answered.
"What's going on? I saw a flash and--"
"Working on it. No time for idle curiosity." He hung up.
Typical, she thought. If I were Kyle, he'd explain things, expect me to help solve them. But no, I'm the idle child who wastes her life jumping.
She shouldn't let her dad's attitude spoil the thrill of the jump. Activating the gyros, Gina turned her back on the terminal.
Minutes later her suitphone beeped. She answered it.
"Gina?" Her father's voice was strained.
"Sorry about before. We lost the counterweight."
Gina sucked in a sharp breath. The geostationary terminal had to be at the center of mass for the space elevator. Without the asteroid counterweight beyond the terminal, the weight of the cable would pull the terminal--and all the people on it--down to Earth. "How'd it happen?"
"That's for later. What matters is what we do about it."
If the terminal was falling, that meant her dad was falling with it. "Dad, do you have a way to evacuate?"