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Space Rise

Tom Jolly is a retired astronautical/electrical engineer who now spends his time writing SF and fantasy, designing board games, and creating obnoxious puzzles. His stories have appeared in Analog SF, Daily Science Fiction, Compelling Science Fiction, New Myths, and a number of anthologies, including As Told By Things and Shards. He lives in Santa Maria, California, with his wife Penny in a place where mountain lions and black bears still visit. You can discover more of his stories at silcom.com/~tomjolly/tomjolly2.htm.
"It's so quiet up here!" Harold leaned out over the portal window mounted a meter above the center of the floor, looking down at the Earth four thousand miles below them.
The only noise the space elevator ever made was a soft hiss as it rose through the atmosphere, but anywhere above fifty miles, it made no noise at all. You could hear a whisper, or a pin drop, or every now and then, you might imagine that you could hear a tiny pop as the contained antimatter core let loose a few atoms to combine with real matter. The elevator capsule floated free, rising quickly through space with no cables or rockets attached.
"First time for you, huh?" Morgan said. "Imagine if this space elevator had been built with giant cables 42,000 kilometers long, the way they had originally planned. We'd be shouting to be heard over the sounds of the motors vibrating the cabin as we climbed the cables!"
"So how does it work?" Harold asked, watching a white-haired calibration tech on the other side of the capsule curiously as the man made tiny adjustments to the containment field. The man grunted every now and then as though satisfied.
Morgan enjoyed explaining this to the newbies. They were always so awestruck, treating the technology like magic. "You remember the ALPHA experiment back in the 2020's, testing for the gravity of antimatter, right? And they found out that it pushed against regular matter instead of being attracted to it. So, they just had to make enough antimatter to counteract the load they wanted to take to the space station up in geosync orbit." He waved his hand at the capsule they occupied. "This capsule, you and me, the tech, and a containment field for the antimatter are the load. We just needed an equal mass of antimatter to lift it."
"Isn't antimatter kind of dangerous? Like, doesn't it explode when it touches normal matter?" Harold asked.
Morgan snorted disdainfully. "We've had the containment field technology nailed down for decades. This is routine. Five or ten thousand kilos of antimatter, no big deal. Ten space elevators running for over five years without incident."
Harold relaxed a little.
"What's great about this technology," Morgan added, "is that we have cheap-access-to-space. We're finally a space-faring civilization. People used to wonder why we never encountered any alien civilizations before; the Fermi Paradox, you know. Scientists speculated that there might be some cataclysmic event that kills off each species as they reached for the stars, like a nuclear war or a manufactured killer virus, and so on, and that was the reason that no aliens were around to talk to us. This was their answer to the paradox. Ridiculous. Here we are, past that imaginary cusp, ready to explore the rest of the universe." He smiled widely, nodding toward the control panel. "I'm proud to be working for SpaceRise."
The calibration tech said, "Huh," and tapped at a digital display as though loosening the needle on a sticky analog meter. "You guys might want to..." he started.
Five thousand years later and five thousand light years away, astronomer Ponkutuli observed a distant star produce a sudden burst of gamma rays, which disappeared in a matter of seconds. Not very bright. Not very bright at all. Just a ten-thousandth of the star's normal output. But it was a curious anomaly. She rumbled softly, reached for a data pad with a slender tentacle, and noted the data file for further study and analysis. Certainly, someday they would see a signal that might indicate intelligent life out there, somewhere.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, May 13th, 2019


This story is an amalgam of two story ideas I've had drifting around in the vacuous cavity of my skull for a while. One involves Fermi's Paradox; why haven't we seen any evidence of aliens yet? They should be as ubiquitous as Facebook ads by now, if they ever existed at all. The other involves antimatter, which, despite our ability to produce it, we still don't know whether it attracts normal matter gravitationally, or repels it. If it repels, well, that will be very interesting, but also results in a potentially massive species screwage (yes, a brand new word), as this story describes. I explored another solution to Fermi's Paradox in "Fermi's Slime," in Analog SF, in the Nov/Dec 2017 issue. It's a fun topic to speculate on, just because it so desperately begs a good answer.

- Tom Jolly
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