I'd like to thank TanteLiz, who's short story "Professional" inspired me to branch out into si-fi. Readers may notice how this story draws some inspiration from the Halo and Gundam franchises. A few fairly long chapters to start with, I don't know if that will be consistent throughout, we'll just have to wait and see. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoy.
Earth, Cape Canaveral Surface Station, Florida, USA
14:32 hours, 17th May 2347
Carl glanced out the window of the shuttle bus as it drew nearer to the looming hulk of the space elevator. It was one of fifteen that now stretched from the planet's surface up into the edge of space, each one anchoring a space station larger than anything constructed before the age of interstellar travel. They were built mostly of polyalloy sheets, a transparent plastic that was extremely durable and flexible. Although it was impossible to tell by looking at them, each space elevator swayed slightly as the planet's rotation caused them to drag. From a distance they didn't so much resemble the spokes of a wheel protruding from the surface, instead creating a kind of spiral pattern. And each one constantly carried passengers and cargo between the surface and the stations above.
The bus came to a halt and Carl joined the stream of passengers that wound its way into the station terminal. He slung his duffle bag over one shoulder; the rest of his luggage had already been loaded onto the next outbound tram. Once inside the terminal Carl found himself in a wide, stark metal corridor. He followed it at a brisk pace, taking note of the security cameras fitted to the ceiling at regular intervals. He joined a queue at the security checkpoint and waited his turn. When he reached the front he passed his passport, ticket and work permit under the scanner. The machine whirred as it processed Carl's documents against a database of billions and a second later a green light blinked on with a faint ping. Carl stepped through the gate into the full body scanner-a long, narrow booth with blank grey walls. As he walked to the other side a beam of light passed over him, recording his face and everything he wore and carried. As he reached the next gate there was another green light and ping and it clicked open to let him through.
He left the checkpoint behind, passing by a pair of grey uniformed guards, sub-machine guns held casually as they chatted. He continued on past a small seating area where several people waited on padded benches. The next outbound tram was carrying freight and priority passengers, and Carl's presence had been requested. He passed through the doors at the end of the hall and into the body of the elevator itself. Looking up he saw an endless tunnel of plastic and metal support struts, ringed by maintenance gantries. And before him, up a broad loading ramp, was the tram that would carry him up from the confines of his homeworld. It was a blocky, gunmetal machine, eight storeys high. Down the right hand side were lined sixteen huge clamps, prepared to lock onto the mag-rails that ran the length of the elevator. Halfway up the tram's length was painted a globe surrounded by seven white stars beneath which were the words TERRA SPHERE UNION.
There was no one else around except for a few more guards so Carl strolled up the ramp and boarded the tram. The interior was more lavishly decorated than the exterior would have let on, with thickly carpeted floors and gold and cream walls. He made his way to a bank of elevators, pausing only to chuckle to himself at the thought of elevators inside an elevator. As there weren't many passengers onboard he decided not to bother going to any of the public areas, instead taking the elevator up two floors to where his cabin waited. The decor of the corridors reminded Carl of a high end hotel, but the cabins looked like they would be more at home on a train, even if they were quite spacious. Inside were two wide couches with a desk between them. Above each couch was a shelf for luggage, and set into the underside of each shelf were three seperate overhead lights, each with a dimmer switch and a button to call a member of staff. Opposite the door was a large window with a shutter.
Carl stowed his bag on one the shelves and took a seat beside the window. Seconds later the tannoy pinged and a soft, computerized female voice announced, "Mag-rail tram to Cape Canaveral Space Station now departing, arrival in one hour. Thank you and have a pleasant journey." There was a low hum as the tram's artificial gravity generators engaged, followed by a loud whirr and clunk as the clamps closed around the rails. There was a moment of silence and then the tram lifted and began to trundle slowly upwards. It gradually gained speed until it was gliding smoothly along the rail at a comfortable sixty two miles an hour. Carl watched the view as he soared high above the surface. This place may not have seen the birth of manned space flight but it was widely regarded as its home, where NASA had once launched their primitive space craft. This view must have been what the first man who stepped onto the moon had seen as he left Earth nearly four hundred years ago. Carl wondered what he had thought, if he could have imagined how far into space humanity would one day reach. When everything below had faded into obscure green he sat back and quickly fell asleep...
...Carl was woken by a sharp jolt as the tram came to halt at its destinaton. The tannoy pinged again, "Now arriving at Cape Canaveral Space Station, have a nice day." Carl stood up and stretched, pulling his bag down from the shelf above him. He disembarked into a terminal much like the one he had just left. It only took him a few minutes to retrieve his suitcase from the arrivals hall and then he walked out into the station proper. These stations were primarily used as ports for ships coming and going from the colonies and looming above was the colossal dry dock used for constructing and housing colony ships. There was one half built here, already larger than anything Carl had ever seen. These ships simply couldn't be built on the surface, and not just because of their physical size. The amount of energy needed to launch a colony ship into orbit would be phenomenal, their triple banks of thrusters, each the size of a small city, would incinerate and scorch everything for miles around. Each ship was a self sustaining community in its own right, sent out to find a suitable planet to inhabit. Some ships never found a place to make a grounded civilisation, instead remaining as independant space colonies. Carl couldn't imagine that kind of life; sure the food was real enough but the water and air were recycled, the gravity was artificial, as was the sunlight that nurtured their crops, shining from a fake sky. He shrugged off the feeling, thank god he was headed for an already established colony.
He soon located the freighter bound for Callisto, the October Rain. A few crew members were still loading cargo onto it. Carl was greeted by a burly man with curly red hair and a thick beard wearing dark blue overalls. "Ahoy there." The man probably would have seemed less imposing if he stepped down from the machine he piloted. The Automated NanoGrid ExoskeletaL suit, or ANGEL, was a marvel of modern engineering, used mostly for heavy lifting, construction and industrial work. This was a MkIII, the latest model, little more than a boxy cockpit with limbs. Within, the pilot controlled the ANGEL from a device that was part seat and part harness, supporting him while giving him room to maneuver, the suit mimicking his movements. It was often described as being similar to walking with stilts on both your legs and arms, not very graceful and it took practice but it got the job done. "I was told we were expecting a passenger." The crewman said.
"That's me." Carl replied, "Carl Vega." Without thinking he held his hand out. Before he could realise his mistake a huge hand was already swooping down towards him, then, with a firm but surprisingly gentle grip, clutched his hand between two digits.
"McCarthy," The crewman grinned, "Pleased tae meet ye."
Carl stared at his uncrushed hand for a second before looking up, "Likewise." He muttered.
McCarthy chuckled, "D'nae worry lad, I've worked with these things so long the old girl might as well be a part of me." He powered down the ANGEL, the machine's legs folding neatly under the cockpit, and jumped down. "Captain's already set a cabin aside for ye. Come on I'll show ye the way. Freighter might nae be as cosy as any kind of ship ye're used tae, mind."
Carl followed McCarthy towards the ship, "It's not a problem." He said, "I hear Callisto Colony is fairly backwater anyway, why get comfortable now?"
"Hah! Ye're right there lad. They build a colony out in the middle of nowhere and act surprised when they start having comms breakdoons. But I guess that's why ye're here, eh? Aye, d'nae ken why they'd want to call a radio techy out on such short notice."
"I haven't heard all the details myself."
"Aye, well the colonial corps just loves a mystery, ye ken?"
"Hmm." As Carl boarded the October Rain he wondered just what kind of mystery he'd stumbled upon.