May 30, 2010
"Clark, I think we have a problem," Clark 'heard' Chloe say in his head, as his peripheral vision caught the flicker of the 3 inch by 2 inch visual display forming on the bright blue right sleeve of his nanosuit.
The nanosuits, which their spandex versions from home had approximated until they could acquire the real things, had capabilities far beyond anything Clark had imagined when Chloe had originally described them. When he had returned from intercepting the runaway nuclear-bomb powered spaceship and had seen the almost dazed expression on Lex's face, he hadn't understood the true cause. But then after Chloe had helped him into his own suit and it had powered up, he knew he must have been displaying much the same expression.
The suit was much more than just a device to maintain a person's body temperature in the artic-like environment now surrounding most of the major cities of this ancient era. No, temperature control seemed to be merely a side benefit of its main purpose. The nanosuits were everyone's primary interface with this world's version of the internet. While the nanotechnology based suits couldn't provide the virtual reality simulation Chloe could achieve with her internal 'bots, they could, by monitoring and interacting with a person's brainwaves, achieve an effect similar to having a cell phone implanted in your head. It had taken Clark a few hours to master the technique of thinking the words he wanted the suit to pick up and transmit.
"What is it, Chloe?" Clark sub-vocalized as he brought his arm up so he could get a better view of the image of her the suit was displaying.
Before she could respond, all the lights in the observation gallery abruptly went out. The room didn't go totally dark, as the light flowing in through the panoramic windows from the Earth now hanging ten thousand miles below them was more than adequate. In less than four seconds, pale orange emergency lights sprang to life along the back edge of the room.
Clark shared a quick glance with Lex and Lana, who were standing next to him taking in the view of the crescent Earth which still filled a quarter of the sky down below. From the reaction of the others standing near them, this failure of the lighting must not be a standard occurrence. Whatever the problem was Chloe had started talking about, it must not be directly related to them, but must be related to this current situation. They had been back in Chloe's original civilization for a little over thirty-six hours now, but Clark still had this feeling inside that they were trespassing and at any moment this era's version of police were going to march up and try to arrest them. Therefore Clark almost relaxed a bit at realizing the problem wasn't directly related to them.
The display on his sleeve had momentarily gone dark, but quickly it had brightened back up although now Chloe's face was lit by an eerie orange glow which matched the emergency lights along this room's back wall. While they had come to this observation level to once again take in the spectacular view, Chloe had remained back in their cabin.
Clark saw Chloe's lips begin to move in the display, but instead of hearing her voice in his head he heard a deep male voice speaking in the local Rætic language but with a good simulation of an upper-crust British accent, "Sir, I apologize for the intrusion, but Glorious Salvation's A.I. has informed me there is a small problem with the electrical systems and has requested everyone return to their cabins until the situation has been corrected."
"Thank you, Jeeves," thought Clark, as he recognized the name of this space elevator, or 'Sky Tether' as they were called here. "We will head there immediately. Could you please restore the connection to Chloe?"
"Of course, sir," came the immediate reply.
Clark couldn't fully suppress a grin as Chloe's voice was restored in mid-sentence. When his personal nanosuit had first powered up, Chloe had explained that they each came equipped with a built-in A.I. system to simplify interfacing with the suit's capabilities and to act as an intermediary when dealing with this world's version of the web. Since the A.I. was in many ways like a personal assistant and being a long time P.G. Wodehouse fan, Clark had immediately named his A.I., Jeeves. While Jeeves still spoke the local language, Chloe had been able to use her extensive linguistic and computer skills to add the appropriate British sounding accent to its speech patterns.
". . . wonky with the tether's power transfer system. You need to get back here," Chloe was in the middle of saying when her voice supplanted Jeeves'.
"We're on our way," responded Clark. "I just got a message that everyone is to return to their cabins."
Chloe's head nodded on the small display. "Yeah, me too. I will continue to see what I can find out about the situation until you get here."
Clark was nodding in turn as the display blanked out and his sleeve reverted back to its normal blue coloring.
"We better get back to our rooms," said Clark turning towards Lex and Lana. Even though he was speaking in the local language, several nearby people turned and looked in his direction as he spoke. He still hadn't adjusted to how most people in this civilization seemed to use their suits for most communication, even when talking to a person standing right next to them. He had seen a start of that with texting back home, but it was nowhere near this extreme. There were over one hundred people on this particular observation deck at the moment yet his powerful hearing only picked up three other audible conversations. His ability to eavesdrop on other conversations had helped them through several tight situations before, but that ability looked like it was going to be a lot less useful here.
"Yeah, I got the message, too," answered Lex, as he took one final look through the wide window.
It was hard to believe they were really here, ten thousand miles above the planet riding up to a transfer satellite in geosynchronous orbit in what was a glorified elevator car attached to a paper-thin ribbon of cable stretching over twenty-five thousand miles. Well, okay, thought Lex, 'glorified elevator car' was perhaps a bit of an understatement. He had heard of space elevators before this trip, but they had been so far from reality back in the early twenty-first century that none of the practical aspects of this system had yet been addressed.
This 'Sky Tether' journey was actually a two stage affair. The first eighty miles of the upward trek occurred in a streamlined capsule powered by ground-based lasers. Due to high aerodynamic drag and power limitations, four separate capsules each carrying five hundred passengers and traveling at a piddling 20 miles per hour were used to hoist passengers clear of the atmosphere. Since the lasers could only drive one capsule at a time, the unlucky passengers who drew the first capsule were left clamped to the cable just above the atmosphere for twelve hours while awaiting the arrival of the other three.
While these four capsules were lifting the passengers clear of the atmosphere, a larger capsule was descending from the station in geosynchronous orbit. Since this capsule didn't need to withstand the rigors of atmospheric travel, it could have a much lighter construction and be of a much larger size for more or less the same weight, which was fortunate as the next stage of the journey took nearly forty-eight hours even averaging 500 miles per hour the whole way. Additionally, while the atmospheric capsules needed a compact receiver dish to accept the power from the ground based lasers; this exo-atmospheric portion of the transportation system wasn't limited by such constraints. No, the outbound capsule, which had three large decks for its two thousand passengers, hung below a nearly mile wide solar array. To make the solar array more efficient and to account for the lower portion of the cable being in shadow for nearly twelve hours a day, a one hundred mile diameter array of mirrors and lenses was located around the geosynchronous terminus of the tether to provide a highly concentrated level of light on the capsule's solar array.
His suit, which Lex had named 'The Professor' and then after a couple hours of use switched from a stodgy old male voice to a sexy young female voice, had provided a lot of background data on the Sky Tether transportation system during the flight from the city where they had first arrived to the seaborne terminus of the Tether. At their arrival there, Lex had looked straight up expecting to see the one hundred mile wide mirror array, but in daylight it was virtually invisible. When he had queried 'The Professor' he learned it was even difficult to spot at night as the array was finely tuned to reflect all its light to the upper capsule array and rarely did any spill to the ground below.
However 'The Professor' did provide a brief catalog of man-made objects typically visible from the ground on clear nights. The largest object was located in geosynchronous orbit on the opposite side of the planet. It was the first in a series of 500 mile wide mirror arrays that would introduce additional solar energy into the biosphere to help compensate for the onset of the Ice Age. This first array was scheduled for completion in ten months. Fifteen more would be completed in the following five years and ultimately the plan was to ring the entire planet within twenty-five years. The scale of a structure 70,000 miles in circumference by five hundred miles wide nearly boggled Lex's mind – particularly since nothing he had seen in this civilization was really more than thirty or forty years beyond what could currently be achieved back home.
Unfortunately, despite all of the marvelous things he had seen, he couldn't forget that in a few short months all of this would be gone. This Sky Tether would collapse. The cities would be reduced to rubble. Most every person he had met or seen would be dead. Why did it all have to go wrong? This civilization was on the verge of a set of solutions to allow it to survive and even thrive despite the encroaching Ice Age. What could they have achieved if everything didn't collapse? In another seventeen thousand years they might have colonized much of the galaxy.
But it was again like the time he had had a conversation about slavery with Chloe in the carriage back in ancient Rome. He had challenged her as to why she hadn't worked to end slavery. And she had said he was welcome to try, but if he was successful, the future would change and they would be unable to return home. And the situation was the same here. They had the information necessary to prevent the accident which would destroy this civilization, but if they used it their future would never exist. The four of them had discussed the situation before coming downtime and had agreed it was this civilization's fate to fail and they couldn't change that, but being here and seeing all the things that would be lost and the people who would die a slow and agonizing death from cold and starvation made it a lot harder than when it had been merely a philosophical debate.
"Come on, Lex," said Lana. "It's time to go."
Lex nodded, but continued to gaze out the window for a moment while forcing himself to remember why they were here. It wasn't to save this civilization, but rather to get technical help from their supercomputer to allow them to successfully open a portal to Clark's home world before it was destroyed by the black hole so they could retrieve Clark's parents. Additionally, the plan was to use this trip to retrieve or at least figure out how best to retrieve Chloe's parents sometime after she had last seen them during the collapse, but before their deaths. After the unbelievable miracle Chloe had wrought in saving his Mother and Lana's parents, the least they could do was help retrieve Clark and Chloe's parents.
Turning from the expansive view provided by the large windows, Lex was again struck by the claustrophobic design of this upper half of the transportation system. The lower streamlined capsules had been claustrophobic in their own way with a tall, skinny configuration limited to a tight thirty-five foot diameter based on aerodynamic requirements and using a stack of ten floors with fifty people to a floor to accommodate their 500 person complement. But at least each level had had fairly standard eight foot ceilings. This upper portion of the transportation system had a lot more square feet per passenger spread across the three decks, but with only a few exceptions the ceilings were a uniformly low six and a half feet from the floor. Poor Clark had to duck through every doorway and his hair grazed the ceiling in every room.
Of course, the extremely low ceilings had been implemented for an entirely practical reason. As the capsules climbed up from the planet's surface, the gravity fell off with the square of the distance. After having seen all the video footage of the shuttle crews in freefall, he had at first expected to experience much the same thing when the lower capsules paused just outside the atmosphere at approximately the same altitude of the shuttle missions. But while using the Sky Tether, you weren't actually in orbit like the shuttle, but rather it was like being in the transportation system's namesake elevator. And at the mere eighty mile altitude where they paused to await the arrival of the upper capsule, gravity was still approximately ninety percent of the value at the Earth's surface. And the difference between ninety percent and one hundred percent was barely discernible while confined to their seats.
But as the upper capsule climbed further and further from the planet, the gravity steadily decreased. Now, ten thousand miles above the planet, the force of gravity was already less then ten percent of Earth normal. The six foot one Lex, who weighed 180 pounds back on earth, now weighed less than fourteen pounds. And as the pull of gravity steadily decreased, the purpose of the low ceilings had become obvious. Even with magnetic boots on their feet, everyone had a tendency to float up as they walked. With the lowered ceilings, everyone except the youngest children could keep one hand on the padded ceiling to stabilize their movements as they walked in the miniscule gravity field.
While the three of them had lingered by the windows, a near logjam condition had been reached at the three doors out of the gallery with everyone trying to return to their cabins at once. Since the situation didn't appear to be an actual emergency, they paused for a minute to let the crowd clear out of the way. While they waited, Lex glanced down and had to smile at his appearance.
Once he had mastered The Professor's interface, the first query he had for the A.I. was about men's fashions. He wasn't certain if it was her limited memories of these ancient times or if Chloe had just been jerking his chain, but he quickly determined the hideous yellow tights she had selected for him were not absolutely necessary. Oh, he had seen a lot of men in similar outlandish garb, but there had been a scattering of men in much more subdued colors. After a few minutes of consultation with The Professor, Lex had morphed his nanosuit with a design much more to his liking. Now it sported a jet black bodysuit, a dark gray cape, and a highly stylized double-L emblem in a dark blood red on the chest and on the cape.
Glancing over at his best friend, he couldn't help but wonder why Clark hadn't changed his costume into something a little more subdued also – perhaps he was keeping the design Chloe had selected because he thought she liked it. Lex wasn't certain but wished he would at least get rid of the 'red underpants on the outside' look and, well, the red boots, too.
At least of all the men wearing gaudy outfits, Clark was the best at carrying it off, Lex thought. And it largely seemed to be related to things that had happened three months earlier while he and Chloe had been lying unconscious on the floor of the Kent's storm cellar.
When he learned of all the things Lana had gone through during that time and in particular the millennia she had been trapped in the virtual reality universe while Sliviuh had control of her body, Lex had thought she was the only one who had experienced great changes and come out of it as almost a different person. But over the past three months he had discovered Clark had been changed, too. Suddenly, he had begun to project this image of calm, yet powerful inner strength. And while he had always come across as smart, now it felt like his I.Q. had jumped 50-60 points and he had passed by Lex and sometimes even Chloe with all her nanobot advantages. Perhaps it was simply that he had just matured so much, it felt like he had jumped straight from 16 to 30. And then there was the physical side. Clark had always been leanly muscular with what Lex considered a swimmer's build. But whatever Clark had gone through, and it had to be more than he had ever discussed in detail, now it was like he had added another forty pounds of hard muscle and was suddenly big and ripped like a hardcore bodybuilder. Did bench pressing battleships do that to you?
Tearing his eyes away from his friend, Lex took in the last few people making their way through the gallery's door. No, none of them or anyone else he had seen here held a candle to Clark, particular when every little flaw was on display in the formfitting outfits everyone wore. Of course, one of the other surprising things he had discovered here, although it had taken awhile to penetrate to his consciousness, was that everyone was in remarkably good shape. There were no big 'beer guts' on display under any of the ubiquitous superhero costumes of this era. When it had finally sunk in, he had asked Chloe about it. She had said a cure for obesity had been found over thirty years earlier and treatment for the condition had been mandatory. Back home making such a treatment mandatory would have been impossible and civil rights advocates would have screamed bloody murder, but this had turned out to be almost a militaristic society and many orders from the top were simply obeyed.
With the crowd thinned out, the three of them made their way to the gallery's exit. Lex had to fight down a touch of queasiness in his stomach as they began to move. The first few hours of the climb up the tether hadn't been too bad, but The Professor had warned him most people began to experience problems when the gravity fell below twenty-five percent of Earth norm. The Professor said it usually passed within twenty-four hours, but had recommended taking this era's version of Dramamine as a precaution. Lex didn't like the thought of taking unknown drugs from a long lost civilizations and was trying to just tuff it out. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, he seemed to be the only one afflicted. Chloe and Lana's internal 'bot systems were able to compensate for the experience. And Clark with his unique abilities like flight was totally immune.
It was less than a five minute walk down rapidly emptying corridors to reach the cabin Clark and Chloe were sharing, which was right next door to the one Lex and Lana had been assigned. At Clark's approach, the door silently slid open. At least something besides the emergency lights was still working, thought Lex as he and Lana followed Clark in to find out what Chloe had learned about the situation.
The cabin was extremely modest with the primary emphasis being on saving weight. Most of the room was filled by the double bed which was nothing more than a paper-thin woven web supporting a barely one inch thick cushion. Of course as their weight steadily decreased over the duration of their journey, Lex found the softness of the bed more than adequate.
The cabin also had a small table and a couple of chairs that looked light weight and uncomfortable, but which were fine when your apparent weight had dropped below fifty pounds. Each cabin also included a tiny bathroom facility that seemed straight out of a passenger jet except for the inclusion of a tiny shower.
One whole wall of the cabin was covered with a material similar to that used in their nanosuits. It could be turned into one big display, many little displays or left blank in the color of your choice. In their cabin, Lex and Lana had generally left it displaying a similar panoramic view to what they could see in the observation gallery. The view had looked just as real, hell more real, then what they had just seen, but still there had been something almost magical knowing you were seeing the view with your own eyes.
However the wall display in Clark and Chloe's room wasn't displaying anything at the moment, but was just a blank dull gray. Apparently whatever problem they were experiencing with the power systems, it had knocked the wall displays off-line, too.
Fortunately, the nanosuits had their own internal power systems. Chloe had swung her outfit's cape around and had it spread across the table to use as an alternate display. At the moment it was showing what looked to Lex to be a highly magnified view of some computer components. Or at least that was Lex's guess, as this era's computers were thirty or forty years beyond anything they had back home.
"What are we looking at?" asked Lex.
"This is where the vessel's A.I. has determined the problem to be. What you are looking at is the power coupling junction where the power from the solar array is connected to the drive mechanism and to the life support systems. There has been a total breakdown of the system," answered Chloe.
"Surely they must have a backup system," asked Clark.
"Four backup systems, actually, of two completely different designs for added redundancy, and yet they all failed simultaneously," said Chloe with a frown.
"What are the odds of an accident like that?" asked Lex quietly.
Chloe shook her head. "Low. Very low. From what I can tease out of the A.I., it appears to be sabotage."
"Why would someone want to sabotage this elevator? And is it a coincidence we are on it?" asked Lex in response.
"The bigger question is whether the sabotaging of the Bőlžtroi ship is related," stated Clark. Then turning from the display on Chloe's cape to look directly at Chloe, he continued. "Do you think it is 'them'?"
Before Chloe could respond, Lex asked, "What 'them'?"
Chloe glanced at Lex before turning to Clark. "Since you got the first part of this story first hand, do you want to explain?"
Clark nodded and then while lowering himself into the chair next to Chloe, he said to Lex and Lana. "You might want to take a seat, this will take a little while to explain."
After Lex and Lana had settled themselves onto the bed, Clark began. "Before meeting what turned out to be my great-grandfather, Var El, back in Nazi Germany, I knew almost nothing about the world I came from. I suspected, I'm sure like the rest of you, that that world had to be very different from Earth, if people with my abilities evolved there. Of course, it brings up the nagging question if Krypton was so different, why do people from there look exactly like people from Earth?
"I had many times wondered if my appearance had been altered as a child to make me look human once the destination of my spaceship had been established. It wasn't until I met Var that I knew for certain my appearance was typical for my people."
Lex smiled at the thought of Clark looking 'typical' on any world. But then he forced his attention back to Clark's words. He had wondered at Clark's origins from the moment he had seen him toss the massive stone obelisk back in ancient Rome and now, suddenly, he might be getting some answers.
"While we were on Var's ship, he told me a little about the Kryptonian civilization's history. On Earth, well the Earth of our times, recorded history only extends back six or seven thousand years. It is, was, similar on Krypton with records extending back nine or ten thousand years. However when you look back further in the past, things are very different. On Earth there is archeological evidence extending back millions of years showing the emergence of modern man and before him the Neanderthals, the simians, the mammals, the dinosaurs, and on to the first appearance of life billions of years ago.
"However, from what Var told me, it was very different on Krypton. Many life forms like the flame dragons can be traced back millions or billions of years just like life on Earth. But a select few life forms like Kryptonians and many of their domesticated animals like dogs don't do that. No, all archeological evidence of them just abruptly appears over a relatively short span of time."
Suddenly were this conversation was headed just clicked in Lex's head. "Let me guess, the first appearance of Kryptonians on Krypton coincides with this time period."
"So, some people here saw the end coming and managed to escape the Solar System before everything collapsed," extrapolated Lex.
Clark sighed. "I don't know for certain, but that is one possibility. However I think it is a remote one. First, this civilization is just in the first decades of space travel and it is unlikely they have the capability to successfully send a ship the roughly two hundred fifty lightyears to Krypton. Second, it doesn't explain how they would have altered their bodies to survive on Krypton. Third, it doesn't explain how Kryptonians of Var's era with their advanced gravity-lens telescopes were able to detect human looking inhabitants on planets circling at least another dozen stars.
"And finally, Var said the archeological evidence from the earliest days of Kryptonian life on Krypton also showed indications of the presence of another alien race. He suspects they were behind the seeding of the Kryptonian race on the planet and probably altered their bodies to be compatible with Krypton."
As Clark paused, Chloe took over the conversation.
"And the presence of an alien race in this era also provides an explanation to one of the big mysteries which has always bothered me. To construct the space colonies, a large amount of material was transported up from the lunar surface. The open pit mining techniques used in the process were easily visible from the Earth with binoculars and even with the naked eye when the moon was in just the right part of its orbit. And yet after the collapse of this civilization, all traces of this activity on the lunar surface disappeared. It was years and years later before I noticed it and millennia before anything like a telescope or binoculars were developed to verify it, but all evidence man had ever reached the moon was gone. And in no way could the metal-eating nanobots that destroyed everything here on Earth have caused this effect on the moon.
"So, it wasn't until Clark told me Var's story and then I talked to him myself that an explanation for all the anomalies I had noticed started to jell."
Chloe paused for a quick breathe before continuing. "I believe an alien race is behind the destruction of this civilization. They came to Earth and grabbed a group of individuals, or perhaps just DNA samples, to seed onto a number of different planets in this region of the galaxy. Then for some reason they drove this civilization back to the Stone Age and removed all traces a high tech civilization had ever existed here. It is hard to comprehend how a truly alien mind works, but the only explanation I can come up with is that they were doing some kind of a study of how humans would develop in a number of different environmental situations and wanted the humans remaining on Earth to act as the control group."
Chloe shook her head. "That is only my theory as to what happened. Since I don't have all the facts, I could be completely wrong. But it is the best explanation I can come up with which addresses everything we learned from Var as well as everything I remember of things back here."
Lex pondered what Clark and Chloe had just laid out and it was a lot to take in at once. However his mind quickly went back to how this conversation had begun. "So are you saying the runaway ship back when we arrived and now the problems with this tether are acts of sabotage directed specifically at us? How could these aliens even know about us or target us within minutes of our arrival?"
"Whatever their motives these aliens have to be highly advanced if they have interstellar travel capabilities and can remove all traces of this civilization's existence. Therefore let's assume they have time travel capabilities, too. Think back for a moment to how I retrieved Lana's parents. After I was stranded back in Rome by the time machine and was living through our era a second time, I made a point of recording detailed time and position data for them during the meteor shower so when the time machine was ready I knew exactly when and where to sweep the Portal to pull them out in the fraction of a second before the meteor hit. What if, in a similar manner, the aliens took detailed observation through this time period before they acted? They may think we have come back to interfere with their operations and believe they need to stop us."
"But we are not here to interfere," stated Lex. "If we do, we can't go home."
Chloe shrugged. "We know we want to go home, but do these aliens? Since we can't comprehend why they felt it was necessary to destroy this civilization, perhaps they can't comprehend why we won't interfere. Or perhaps the runaway ship and this power glitch are simply random events and it is purely a coincidence we were present both times."
Lex nodded. Perhaps they were trying to extrapolate too much from a limited amount of data. Hell, maybe aliens didn't wipe out this civilization and there was some other explanation. Perhaps there weren't even aliens.
"I guess you're right and we should just focus on the current situation until we have more information," began Lex. Then pointing to where Chloe's cape was still spread across the surface of the table displaying the damaged transfer coupling. "Any ideas how we solve the current situation?"
Chloe was just about to answer when Lana spoke up for the first time. "I think we may have another problem."
When the other three turned to look at her, they realized Lana was no longer sitting on the bed but floating about ten inches above it. And that was when Lex realized the queasy sensation he had been experiencing earlier had return with even greater intensity. Experimentally, Lex gave a slight push against the surface of the bed and felt himself floating up towards the low ceiling. He used a hand on the ceiling to arrest his upward motion, but then he just continued to hover near it. Even in the reduced gravity at this great altitude, his body should have started to slowly descend back to the bed.
"We appear to be in freefall," stated Lex as the implications began to sink in.
Abruptly, loud emergency alarms began to sound throughout the transportation capsule. Chloe turned back to the display on the surface of her cape were it was spread across the table. Quickly, images began flashing across it. After a few seconds she penetrated the security systems and managed to silence the alarms in at least this cabin. Then she turned her attention to the cause of the situation.
"Damn," exclaimed Chloe. "Both the braking system and the drive motors have also been sabotaged." She paused for about five seconds to stare off into the distance. "We will only pick up speed slowly at first due to the low gravity at this height, but it will steadily increase. I can only make a wild guess at the effect of the drag against the tether, but we only have about forty-five minutes before we will descend the ten thousand miles separating us from the atmosphere and we will be going very fast when we reach it. It will be a real disaster if we hit at that speed. And we will have to act well before then, if we are to slow the capsule at a rate that won't tear it apart."
From their arrival in this time period, Lex had thought this civilization put a little too much faith in their technology. The aircraft which had transported them out to the facility at the base of the tether had been fully automated without even the fallback option of manual controls. And this space capsule carrying them up to orbit was likewise uncrewed. Oh, it probably had a contingent of repair robots or similar devices under the control of the A.I., but doubtlessly they could be taken offline as easily as the power couplings and drive motors had been sabotaged.
Clark must have been having similar thoughts, as he quickly said. "I'll take care of stopping the descent and getting us up the station."
As Clark began moving effortlessly towards the cabin's door, Chloe interrupted. "Wait a second, Clark." When he paused, she continued. "This structure was never designed to handle more than 0.9 G's. So try to keep it below half a gee to give us a safety margin." When Clark nodded, she went on. "And I know you are not going to want to spend the next thirty hours pushing it up at its normal 500 miles per hour, but I have been doing some projections based on the temperature increases I am seeing from the drive motors dragging against the tether. At anything over three thousand miles an hour there is a high probability of either a complete failure of the tether or a fire in the drive motors or both, so you will need to keep the speed down to that level."
Clark gave a final nod. "I'll stay in touch via the suit."
As soon as Clark was out of the door, Chloe turned back to Lex and Lana with a grim expression on her face. "Under the constraints of speed and acceleration levels Clark will have to work to keep this flimsy structure from coming apart around us, it is going to take at least seven hours to get us up to the terminus in geosynchronous orbit. Unfortunately, with the main power offline, the backup power is only going to last three hours and once it is gone some of the older nanosuits are only going to keep their occupants alive for a couple more hours. If we don't get the main power back online, some of the passengers are going to be dead before we reach the station."
"I am sure the capsule's A.I. has called for help," stated Lex. "Couldn't they send a ship to evacuate everyone?"
Chloe shook her head. "Since we are not technically in orbit, it would be very difficult for a ship to rendezvous. It would have to kill all its orbital velocity and then have to maintain a constant thrust against Earth's gravity to hold its position. No, I don't think they have any ships that can perform that maneuver and carry two thousand passengers. It is going to be up to those of us onboard to get the power couplings fixed to get the life support systems back on line."
"Are there any passengers with expertise in this area?" asked Lex.
"I'll look, but we better assume not and get started on the repairs ourselves. I have accessed the necessary information on the equipment we will need and the procedures to follow."
Lana grabbed Lex's hand and pushed off the cabin's wall in the direction of Chloe. "I think Lex and I better handle this. With all the problems cropping up, you better stay focused on monitoring the overall situation."
Chloe reached up with both hands to prevent them from hitting the far wall of the cabin. Instantly, Lex felt Chloe bring his 'bots online and data on the necessary repairs being downloaded into his system. The information was coming so fast, he knew it wouldn't all be clear in his mind when she broke contact. But if Lana maintained contact with him during the trip to the exposed position of the power coupling system up on top of the solar arrays, it should have time to fully sink in. However the first few steps were already clear in his mind from Chloe's data dump: the route to where the equipment they would need was stowed and then the most direct route to the power couplings.
Clark flew down the corridor towards the nearest airlock exit from the capsule. There were a few people moving about in the corridors most with panicked expressions on their faces. Carefully he kept his speed down and followed a zig-zag course with occasional light touches against the walls to make it appear he was simply very proficient at moving in freefall rather than actually flying.
As the airlock came into sight, Clark sub-vocalized, 'Jeeves, please reconfigure to spacesuit mode.'
'Conversion is underway,' acknowledge Jeeves. 'The process will be complete in fifteen seconds.'
When the suit had first initialized back in Chloe's old apartment, it had morphed through several of its possible configurations as it had adjusted to his body. It had been an eerie sensation to feel the skin tight suit moving and adjusting almost like it was a living creature. And it still felt that way now as the material of his sleeves flowed down to cover his exposed hands. He could also feel the large cape slithering and crawling around his back as it transformed into a canister configuration and began sucking in and compressing air from the corridor. Finally, a layer of the nanosuit flowed up and encased his head. Unlike the large, almost globe-like helmets the twenty-first century astronauts used, the nanosuit version was almost skin tight yet flexible in much the same way as it behaved when it merely covered the body.
Clark knew from his experience carrying the nuke Sliviuh had attached to the Eiffel Tower into space that his body was immune to at least limited exposure to the vacuum of space. But since the nanosuit was available, it seemed silly not to take advantage of it. And besides, there was no point in revealing every aspect of his gifts if he could avoid it.
Just like the mandatory seatbelt demos on passenger jets back home, there had been airlock demos shortly after they had boarded the capsule. Clark hadn't truly understood the point of the demos as anyone exiting and then becoming separated from the capsule would quickly be pulled down and away by the ever present, if miniscule, gravity field. But now he was just thankful for knowing how to cycle through the lock to the outside without having to rip a hole through one of the walls and, as a result, depressurizing part of the capsule.
As soon as Chloe had reminded him of the flimsy nature of the large sprawling capsule and the extensive solar array mounted above the roof, he had known there was only one spot where he could exert enough force to move the structure without ripping it apart. And that point was where the drive units attached to the long, long tether. The structure of the capsule and solar array radiated away from this one point. The traction of the drive units against the tether had to balance the force of gravity acting against the whole giant assembly. So this was the one place where he could apply his incredible strength to stop the downward motion and then lift it up to the awaiting terminal at geosynchronous orbit.
After thirty long seconds, the light on the control panel inside the airlock changed from yellow to bright blue and the outer door began to open. Clark felt a light tugging against his body as the last vestiges of air in the compartment raced out through the widening gap.
As the door pivoted all the way open, Clark could see the deep black of outer space. The Earth was somewhere down below and outside his current view. As he stepped through the door onto the platform outside, the area was lit by the light of the Earth reflecting off the lower surface of the solar array that seemed to stretch over his head and far out into the distance.
The platform extended ten feet beyond the door and then wrapped around the side of the capsule until it disappeared from view. There was a guardrail along the platform's edge and a large collection of safety cables and harnesses attached to the outer wall of the capsule. Clark ignored all the safety devices and leapt off the edge of the platform. Of course, in case anyone was at any of the nearby observation windows or this location was under active surveillance by some kind of security monitoring system, he accelerated deep into 'speed mode' first.
Fortunately, after going through the 'Purl Nous' experience in Var's, or more rightly Virgil Swann's facility buried deep under a New Mexico mountain, Clark had truly mastered all of his Kryptonian abilities. Therefore he now extended his personal energy field just enough to fully encompass the nanosuit. This allowed him to take full advantage of all its abilities while in 'speed mode'. Well, all of its abilities except the ability to communicate with the outside universe. If he was only shallowly in 'speed mode', communications were still possible. But when he was deep in 'speed mode', the time dilation was simply too great. Oh, he and Chloe had done a few simple experiments and she had been able to improve the communication abilities by an order of magnitude, but when he was in a state where hours passed for him in what was millionths of a second in the real world, it just wasn't possible. And he decided, mostly unnecessary. Anything critical would be over and done long before anyone in the real world would be able to react to any communication from him or the suit.
As Clark took a brief sweeping tour around the capsule and large solar array, he requested Jeeves to record everything he was seeing so the data could be sent to Chloe once he had dropped out of 'speed mode'. If the power coupling, drive motors, and braking systems had all been sabotaged, there could be other things wrong that could only be discovered by a visual inspection of the exterior. Chloe should be able to compare these recordings to baseline data for the structure and hopefully spot any anomalies.
After his tour of the structure, Clark swept down and approached it from below. It took him a moment to find the spot where the nearly black tether exited from the center of the lower surface of the capsule and then extended down, down, down until it disappeared from view in the direction of the Earth. As he got closer, Clark had to once more marvel at the incredible engineering feat required to enable this transportation system. The large capsule with its two thousand passengers and its mile wide solar array was crawling up a nanotube ribbon which was barely five feet wide and two inches thick. Of course, the fact it was one hundred fifty times as strong as the best steel from his era was what made it technically feasible.
While flying up the cavity located in the central core of the passenger capsule through which the tether passed, Clark took in the circular array of windows surrounding him on all three passenger decks. Their group had made a pilgrimage to this location shortly after the transfer from the atmospheric capsules to see the tether up close. He knew from that previous experience how the drive motors were attached to the ribbon just above the uppermost deck. He took a moment to scan the observation windows and didn't see anyone nearby, but if the trip up to the station was going to take hours and hours, someone was surely going to wander passed and spot him.
Perhaps it was just his long ingrained fear of exposure from his life in Smallville, but he suddenly didn't want to spend the next few hours in a highly visible location in his extremely distinctive nanosuit.
'Jeeves, can you change your outward appearance from the current design to something monochrome . . . say a nice shiny white? Oh, and the head covering, too, just leave enough transparency at the eyes so I can still see.'
'Certainly, sir,' came the immediate response. 'Did you want to retain your family crest on the chest and back?'
'No, I need to be incognito,' responded Clark. However with this era's apparent fascination with emblems, logos, icons, and the like, just being a monochromic white might not be the best idea, particularly if he wanted to use the same cover again someday. 'How about a large, very light gray circular emblem and inside it, in just a slightly darker shade of gray, a bird in profile?'
Jeeves proceeded to display a series of samples on Clark's sleeve until Clark saw one that approximated what he was looking for. 'There, let's do that one.'
'Very good, sir,' answered Jeeves. Clark watched as the logo disappeared from his blue sleeve and then the sleeve and the rest of the nanosuit transformed to a brilliant white.
Turning his attention from the trivial issue of his nanosuit to the real problem that had brought him there, Clark flew up passed the windows to the drive assembly. Compared to the relatively flimsy construction of the rest of the capsule structure, the structure attaching the capsule to the ribbon looked massive. Quickly, Clark found a couple of handholds where the bracings should be able to withstand the large force he was about to apply.
While deep in 'speed mode', the tether ribbon and the capsule structure all appeared to be frozen together. But as Clark dropped out of 'speed mode', the ribbon was abruptly ripping up passed his elbow at an incredible speed. He realized if he wasn't careful and the ribbon touched his impossibly tough Kryptonian skin, the ribbon might tear apart and leave them in an even bigger mess.
As Clark started to apply the smallest possible braking pressure, he asked Jeeves, 'Can you give me a display on the inside of the helmet of the capsule's velocity, how many Gee's it is experiencing and the current height above the Earth?'
Without even a verbal reply, the requested data began appearing in Clark's field of view. At first, while he was concentrating on gently applying his great strength against the structure of the drive units, the display didn't make any sense. Then he realized even though he had been speaking in the local language he had subconsciously expected the display to be in English. Quickly he did the translation in his head. Height above the ground: 8000 miles. Downward velocity: 1500 miles per hour and steadily climbing even as he watched. Acceleration: 0.21 Gees downward.
Since he still had plenty of altitude and speed margin before the capsule would reach the 3000 mile per hour threshold of danger Chloe had determined, Clark slowly and steadily increased the force he was applying. The display was down to 6500 miles altitude and the speed up to 2100 miles per hour by the time he had balanced out the downward pull of gravity. The display was down to 5700 miles before he brought the capsule to a full stop and started it back up in the outbound direction.
As Clark started to accelerate the capsule towards its destination, he did the math in his head. It had taken him over an hour to brake the large structure to a stop without overloading it. Now, with nearly twenty thousand miles to go to reach their destination, it was going to be almost seven more hours to reach the geosynchronous station. Briefly he wished he could just pull the whole assembly into speed mode like he had done with the battleship back in Nazi Germany, but with this lightweight structure, if his control wasn't perfect this capsule could literally disintegrate in his hands.
Knowing he was going to be stuck there for the next seven hours was somewhat annoying, but he could at least stay in contact with Chloe and the others and he could also use the time to learn more about this civilization from Jeeves. Perhaps it was time to begin a little discrete research into whether there was any evidence of the aliens who they suspected would be responsible for the destruction of this civilization.
Lex waited with Lana for the airlock to finish cycling. The power couplings they needed to repair were located up on the surface of the large solar array.
Lex had to admit the thought of going out into the vacuum of space in nothing more than a thin nanosuit was more than a little daunting. Oh, he knew the suit was far safer than bulky spacesuits of the twenty-first century, but still it was space and mere seconds of exposure would certainly be fatal.
After the standard thirty seconds, the airlock status light turned bright blue and the outer door unlocked.
"Are you ready to do this?" Lex asked Lana.
He watched as she turned to face him from where she had already been leaning down to pick up the tools and supplies they had brought along. In 'spacesuit' mode, Lana's nanosuit had tightly encircled her head in a transparent layer and pushed her hair down tightly against her skull and back. Lex found it a weird effect – her hair looked similar to what it looked like when she stepped from a pool or a shower except it was still perfectly dry. He had to wonder for a moment how it made his own hair look. After being bald for almost a dozen years, he had finally gotten over his self-consciousness and hadn't normally thought about his lack of hair too much. But now after three and a half months with hair, 'how' it looked was back on his mind. And after all that time without hair, he had been letting it grow ever since it had made its seemingly magical first appearance back in ancient Rome after Chloe had introduced a set of her 'bots into his body to save his life. It was now halfway down his ears and he would soon have to decide whether to get it trimmed up or let it grow out the way Alexander wore it.
And as quick as that, he decided he would get it trimmed up at the first opportunity. It was weird enough to be in almost a ménage à trios relationship with Lana and the variation of himself that lived in the virtual reality world in her head without starting to look like Alexander, too.
Shortly after the night of the events in the storm cellar, Lana had tried to explain to Lex how from her perspective two thousand years had passed since she had last seen him. But it wasn't until nearly three weeks later, while they had been in Ennis, Montana to get away from Smallville that she had explained about her virtual reality life in detail and how it continued to exist within her head. And then she had used the 'bots in his body to take his mind there and he had had the shock of meeting Alexander.
Alexander looked like himself only on steroids. No, that didn't emphasize the apparent differences strongly enough. Alexander was like the 'Warrior Angel' version of Lex. Big and strong, noble and wise, he was everything Lex wished he could be. And Lana had thought of Alexander as her husband for twelve hundred years. How could he compete with that? Particularly since it was like competing with himself.
Meeting Alexander and experiencing the rich, vibrant virtual world which existed in Lana's head had helped Lex understand her difficulties re-integrating with the real world. If he had continual access to a world where he was all-powerful, he wondered if he could escape its siren-like call or would exist in a catatonic state in the real world.
But Lana was apparently a lot stronger willed than he and had slowly been able to find a balance between the real world and her virtual one. He on the other hand had struggled with the concept of sharing her with Alexander, as in every way except the inability to manifest in the real world, Alexander seemed the better man. Lex had joined Lana in her virtual reality world a few times, but it was depressing to see a version of himself he could never live up to. He was just going to have to be happy with the portion of her life he shared with her in the real world.
"I'm okay," responded Lana to his query. Then apparently reading something into his voice she continued. "Are you okay, Lex?"
With an effort, Lex pulled his thoughts away from Alexander and back to the here-and-now. At least it had distracted him for a moment from thoughts about opening the outer door and stepping into the vacuum of space. He knew agoraphobia was the 'fear of open spaces'. He wondered if there was a similar term for the 'fear of open outer space'. And he wondered if he actually had such a condition or if what he was feeling was just the normal, prudent fear everyone experienced in a dangerous situation.
"Yeah, I think I just have a slight case of nerves at the thought of stepping outside in nothing more than the nanosuit."
"Do you want to wait here, while I take care of the repairs?" asked Lana.
Lex forced himself to shake his head and reach over to the latch which would open the door. This was another aspect of the post-Sliviuh Lana he had had to adjust to. Back before the events in the storm cellar, Lana had been in many ways a typical sixteen-year-old girl. Even after having a set of Chloe's 'bots for a week, she hadn't thought of herself as a strong 'take charge' individual and sometimes didn't do what needed to be done – like the way she had almost mishandled the breakup with Whitney. But now she was like a different person. Throw her into an urgent situation and she was perfectly able and willing to take charge.
"No, the repairs are definitely a two-person job and I'll be okay once we get started."
They shared a quick glance and then Lex began pulling the outer door of the space lock open.
The door seemed to have barely begun to move when the chamber was filled with an almost blinding light. After barely a second the brightness began to fall. Lex wondered at first what the temporary flash of light had been. Then he remembered the large, hundred mile diameter mirror up in geosynchronous orbit he had tried to see when they had first reached the lower terminus of the elevator. The mirror's entire output was focused on the solar array on the upper surface of this elevator car. If it was one hundred percent efficient, the light would be ten thousand times as intense as standing out under the midday sun. And that thought brought back memories of using a magnifying glass and the power of the sun as a kid to start small fires and burn ants. Would stepping out of this chamber be the same as volunteering to be the 'ant' in the magnifying glass experiments?
But there was nothing for it; people would die if they didn't get the power couplings restored. Lex pulled the door the rest of the way open and again his vision flared briefly, almost to white, before damping back down to normal. And then Lex realized what he was experiencing was the lag in the nanosuit's ability to compensate for the sudden changes in light levels.
As he leaned down to pick up his share of the tools and equipment, he glanced at Lana. And he discovered the transparent layer of her nanosuit that had been encompassing her head had gone completely opaque. And not just at her head, now her entire body appeared to be sheathed in brilliant silvery chrome. Instantly he was reminded of the 'Silver Surfer' comic, or perhaps the T-1000 liquid metal terminator if it had been illuminated by a thousand spotlights.
"Lex, we have to hurry," exclaimed Lana, as she hustled past him with her armload of gear.
Lex wondered if Chloe had sent her a private message about some new calamity. Then he followed her out of the shelter of the space lock and received the full brunt of the mirror's power. He had heard of solar sails which used the infinitesimal pressure of sunlight to push them across solar distances. Intellectually, he understood the concept, but practically it had been almost impossible to grasp. How could light falling on a surface provide a useful push? But now he could understand its reality, as it felt almost like he had to lean into the giant mirror's light to move against it.
Then, after he had been out of the relative safety of the chamber for less than five seconds, 'The Professor', his suit's A.I., spoke up in the most urgent tones he had ever heard from it.
"Lex," began the female voice with what felt like a hint of hysteria. "I can only maintain a survivable environment inside the suit for eight minutes in this energy field. You need to get out of here, now!"
Lex watched as Lana bounded quickly away under the low 0.08 Gee gravity field that had returned since Clark had started doing his part to stop the elevator's freefall and get them headed back towards their geosynchronous destination. The solar collectors stretched away from their position for nearly half a mile in all directions, it had to be why she was risking forgoing the mandatory safety lines. Plus she obviously knew the time constraints they were working under. And in the worst case scenario they still had a safety net named 'Clark'.
"Sorry, Professor," subvocalized Lex, as he set off in pursuit of Lana. "We have a job to do, if everyone is to survive. Do what you can to extend our time and give me a running countdown."
"Yes, sir," responded the A.I. in almost a petulant tone.
Their destination was a small structure one hundred fifty feet from the space lock. Although as Lex got closer, he decided the term 'structure' was a bit of an exaggeration. It could be better described as a six foot by eight foot awning to provide shelter from direct exposure to the overhead light. It was located in front of the control panel on a eight foot wide by four foot tall box. By the time Lex caught up, Lana was already kneeling down and working on the latches that would release the front cover.
The area under the awning was still brilliantly lit by reflected light, but Lex was gratified to see the countdown time in his field of view jump from seven minutes twenty-eight seconds to eighteen minutes and change once the direct overhead light was blocked.
"Lex," said the Professor. "Please move your left foot six inches to the right."
Lex looked down and saw his foot was still exposed to the direct light from the giant mirror. He quickly slid over until he was almost hunched over Lana's back. The countdown timer did another jump to twenty-two minutes.
Lana got the last latch undone and pulled the cover panel free. Lex quickly took it from her and then propped it against one of the awning supports to block as much indirect light from one side as possible. This pushed the countdown timer up an additional twenty seconds and at this point Lex would take every additional second he could get because the Professor's original comment was starting to sink in. She had said a 'survivable' environment inside the suit not a 'comfortable' environment. Already he could feel the sweat rolling off his body as it felt like the temperature inside the suit had climbed beyond one hundred twenty degrees.
Lana handed Lex an insulated wrench and pointed to a fitting at the right end of the enclosure.
"Lex get that fitting loose while I work on the other one," said Lana in a much calmer tone then what Lex thought he would be using at the moment.
Quickly, Lex got to work. He had snippets of what needed to be done in his head from the brief nano-link connection he and Lana had shared with Chloe, but the whole process wasn't clear. Once again he found himself wishing he had a permanently active 'bot system like the girls so all the information in the system would always be available. And, of course, the instant healing benefits would be nice, too. Doubtlessly, Lana's 'bots would give her at least several more minutes of survivability in this environment than him. And with the vacuum of space surrounding the nanosuits, there was no way she could touch him to give him a momentary boost.
Lana and Lex worked hard and fast, but the countdown timer had fallen to a scarily low three minutes before the repairs were complete and Lex knew the timer would start descending at a precipitous rate once they stepped out of the shelter of the awning.
It now felt like a sweltering hundred fifty degrees inside his suit as Lex started to hand Lana the control panel's cover. She quickly raised a hand to stop him.
"Lex, the equipment will work without the cover and we are going to need it as a shield from the overhead light to make it back to the space lock. And my calculations show even with that it is borderline whether we will make it before the suits overload. I'm going to have to climb on your back to reduce the total surface area of our suits that is exposed. Can you carry me?"
It was becoming suffocatingly hot inside his suit, but Lex just nodded. Hopefully, in a tenth of a gee gravity field he could run a hundred and fifty feet with Lana on his back and holding the panel over his head.
Lana quickly jumped on his back and wrapped her legs and one arm around his body. She used her free hand to grab one corner of their makeshift sun shield.
Lex's timer was down to two minutes thirty eight seconds when he began the mad bounding dash for the air lock. Instantly after leaving the shelter of the awning, the timer dropped to eleven seconds. Eleven seconds to run fifty meters with someone on his back and trying to hold an awkward panel over his head while in a sweltering nanosuit that felt like being in the heart of the Amazon jungle on the hottest day of the century. Eleven seconds for fifty meters? Piece of cake.
Lex stumbled into the air lock with three seconds showing on the timer. Lana hit the emergency close button on the door and then sprawled on top of him to block as much remaining light from his body as possible while he lay collapsed into the corner. Lex felt like he was going to puke from the heat and knew he had to hold it until the air pressure was restored as throwing up inside the suit would probably be disastrous, or at least very messy.
As soon as the outer door was closed the timer began climbing and by the time the thirty seconds needed to restore the pressure had passed, the A.I. had turned off the timer.
As soon as the yellow safety light came on, the suit retracted away from his head. Lex gulped in the cool air and slowly the urge to puke faded.
As he got his breath back, he looked up to where Lana still lay sprawled on his back. Where the suit had previously compressed her hair down against the back of her head, it now hung down around her face all matted down by sweat and perspiration. Lex reached up and ran his left hand through his own sodden hair and could feel the clamminess all over his body. Boy, he definitely needed a shower.
"I hope we never have to do anything like that again," stated Lex. Although, as he thought about it, he realized at least he hadn't had time to worry about being out in the vacuum of space. Maybe he didn't have some debilitating phobia after all.
Lana climbed to her feet and then reached down a hand. "Yeah, I agree. But Chloe is calling and we need to get onto the next problem."
Lex nodded as he gratefully accepted her hand and the boost her activating of his 'bot system provided. He could hear Chloe's urgent message through his nanosuit's communication system, too.
"Aren't the people of this era capable of doing anything for themselves," he groused as he followed Lana out of the airlock at a dead run five seconds later.
Clark used his x-ray vision to watch as the large clamps locked into place securing the elevator to the large space station in geosynchronous orbit. It had been a long eight hours trapped in this one location pushing the elevator up to its destination while the others had scurry from problem to problem to keep the elevator's infrastructure functional against what was obviously a coordinated sabotage attack.
Of course, the important questions were still unresolved. Were they the target of this attack? And who was behind the attack?
So far Chloe had been unable to resolve these questions. And now that they had arrived at this intermediate space station on their way to the Pwóthgroć space habitat, the newest question was what kind of a reception were they going to receive. Based on his actions the elevator was arriving almost fifteen hours early. There was doubtlessly video evidence that someone in an all white nanosuit was responsible. If the powers behind this civilization were the ones behind the attacks, then they were in for a frosty reception. And if it was aliens who were behind the attacks, then they might be welcomed as saving heroes. It certainly looked to be one extreme or the other.
Clark released the grip he had been maintaining on the drive unit support structure and transitioned back into 'speed' mode. He had plenty of practice at hiding in plain sight and knew it was best not to linger here. Quickly he flew back out the bottom of the elevator and then looped around to the airlock he had used earlier.
Without damaging or depressurizing the elevator, there was nothing he could do but drop out of 'speed' mode for the thirty seconds it took for the airlock to cycle. While he waited, he took the opportunity to use his x-ray vision to further study the space station to which they had just docked. It was large. Well, at least by twenty-first century standards, although the habitable portion was dwarfed by the elevator's mile-wide solar array and it looked absolutely miniscule next to the one hundred mile wide mirror array that powered the elevator.
Obviously, some things never changed like the need for artificial gravity if people were going to maintain a long term presence in space without damage to their bones and internal organs. And apparently, the same solutions occurred to people whether they lived seventeen thousand years ago or in the present. For the space station looked extremely similar to the 'ring' space station from the classic movie, '2001: A Space Odessey'. Oh, there were differences as the central zero-gee hub was much larger and designed to have the space elevator dock on one side and space craft dock on the other. And this space station had a total of four spinning rings with the first two from Clark's perspective rotating in a clockwise direction and the furthest two rotating in a counter-clockwise direction doubtlessly for some torque-balancing reason. But overall the design was remarkably similar to the old movie.
The yellow safety light came on and Clark shifted back into 'speed' mode. No point in leaving a video trail leading to his cabin while he still wore the white camouflage coloration on the suit.
Quickly he retraced his way back to the cabin he shared with Chloe. Slipping through the door, he found his three friends all congregated in the small room. As he dropped out of 'speed' mode, he asked Jeeves to convert back to normal from space-suit mode and revert back to his standard blue and red motif.
As soon as the others realized he had returned, Chloe pushed off from the nearest wall and flew into his arms. As Clark watched, he was forced to remember they were now in zero-gee's. He caught her and pulled her into a hug, but knew if they were in public he would have to let her inertia push them across the room.
"Miss me? I missed you," Clark whispered, as he pulled her into a kiss.
After about ten seconds, Lex coughed discretely.
When Clark and Chloe turned in his direction, Lex said. "We should go now if we are going to try and mingle with the others who are departing."
"Any sign of a reception committee?" asked Clark.
"Not so far," responded Chloe, as she disentangled herself from Clark's arms. Even with the advantage of her 'bot system, this trip was still her first experience with zero gee's and it took some thought to compensate for life-long habits.
"Any word on what is going to happen to the passengers next?" asked Clark. The whole space program of this civilization was as optimized as the train system he had experienced back in Nazi Germany. Most of the people arriving on the space elevator were destined for the L-5 space habitat and this was intended to be only a brief transit stop for them. The space elevator from Earth arrived and then two hours later the spacecraft carrying them on to their ultimate destination departed. This space station wasn't designed to host an extra two thousand people for days or even hours. In fact, few if any of the passengers would ever visit this station's spinning rings which provided artificial gravity for the space station's permanent personnel.
"Well, they had seven hours notice since you started to push the elevator up, so they have been able to tweak their schedule and get the space ship here early. But I think everyone is going to be sitting over there for an extra fifteen hours before departure to get things back on schedule," answered Chloe.
"So we have fifteen hours to wait to be discovered," said Clark.
"And then another five days of zero-gees on the next space craft waiting for the next attempt against us," commented Lex.
Clark looked over at Lex. Even with Lana using her 'bots to give Lex's body the occasional boost; he still looked a little ragged around the edges. And from the way he was maintaining a white-knuckled grip on the bed frame, it was obvious his body hadn't yet fully adjusted to the zero-gee environment.
Then Clark turned and looked at Chloe. "Still no idea who was behind the sabotage?"
Chloe shook her head. "Unfortunately, no. All I can say is that it was all preprogrammed into the elevator's A.I. sometime before its last departure from the space station. But I have no idea who did the programming."
"If we are stuck on the next space ship for fifteen hours before its departure, do you think you can spot any similar alterations to its programming?" asked Clark.
"All I can do is try," shrugged Chloe.
Clark glanced at Lex again before continuing. "And you're sure if we run into serious problems and have to abort the mission, the Portal Machine can create a doorway home from out here in deep space."
Chloe grinned one of her big grins. "You know me, Chloe 'Cautious' Sullivan. I may not have let on that our destination was a giant space habitat, but I did a number of tests before we left home. I used the Portal device to transport objects to both the L-5 orbital location and to the surface of the moon. I never tried doing it over seventeen thousand years, but I did transport them several hundred years into the past and then retrieved them after they sat there for a hundred years. So, yes, I am one hundred percent confident I can open a doorway home from outer space."
Clark turned towards Lex. "So, Lex, are you okay with continuing, or do you think we should abort the mission?"
Lex stared back at his friends for a moment. His personal choice would be to abort, but he knew what this mission meant for them. For Clark, the knowledge the computer up in the space habitat might possess could be the only answer to being able to open a portal to Krypton before it was destroyed in hopes of someday retrieving his parents. And this trip might also result in the recovery of Chloe's parents as well. After Chloe had rescued his mother and Lana's parents from death, could he just give up at the first hint of danger?
And while being out in space was certainly scary and death could be nearly instantaneous, was it any worse than what they had survived back in ancient Rome? He had nearly died there and Lana had actually died. Yet, they had survived. And now they had the nanosuits for protection and they each had several of the emergency recall devices. So, on the whole, the risks were probably less than back in Rome.
"No, I don't think we should abort," responded Lex. "I understand the importance of this mission and think we should push on."
Lex recognized the grateful expression in Clark's eyes as he nodded.
As Clark turned and pushed the button which would open the door leading out of the cabin, Lex wondered why, if this civilization had spaceflight, it couldn't have transporters and impulse drives like 'Star Trek'. It would be nice if it didn't take almost ten days to travel a distance equivalent to from the Earth to the Moon. Ten days of opportunities for someone trying to kill you.
With a sigh, Lex released his grip on the bed frame and pushed off towards the doorway.
End of Chapter 2
Well, hopefully the techno-babble hasn't been too overwhelming, but I thought it would help with the feeling that they are in a place different than our present. I'm afraid that is going to be the nature of this story which, while set in the distant past, could also be forty or fifty years into our own future. I do think it may tone down a bit in future chapters after we get passed this setup material and into the heart of the story.
Have a great day,