It's hard to leave home...
“Patti, Calm down, we’ve been over this! It’s all going to be okay. Your friends from school will be there too.”
Patti stood in the door of their empty house, cheeks puffed out and face turning red. She’d been holding her breath for almost a minute and holding onto the doorknob.
“Phil, can you please just grab her, we don’t have time for this.” Her mom said.
“I’m not going! I wanna stay here. I don’t care what you want!”
Patti shouted, then took another big breath and held it. She could do this all day. When she was four she she didn’t want to go to her cousin’s birthday party. She held her breath until she fell over.
She didn’t like change. Leaving home forever was the biggest change there was. It didn’t help that her brother Bobbi was excited about it.
“I’m not leaving Teddy here, I’m staying with him and you can all go away forever!”
The ratty old stuffed bear was her best friend, her grandma gave it to her for her first birthday! But it was too heavy because of the voice box, and they were only allowed 2.5 kilograms of personal items.
“We can print you a new Teddy once we are on the ship” Her mom had said. That just made it worse.
Holding her breath wasn’t working today though. Her dad grabbed her around the waist and slung her over his shoulder.. He got her buckled into the back of the car beside her brother.
“Calm down sis, it’s going to be fun, a big adventure! There’s going to be aliens and space monsters and robots!” He said to her.
“No there won’t. It’ll be cold and scary and boring and I DON’T WANT TO GO!”
“That’s enough!” Their dad said. “You will both be silent until we get there. Not another peep out of either of you!”
They both slumped back in their seats. Patti stuck out her tongue. Bobby did it back. Patti stuck her thumbs in her ears and wiggled them while crossing her eyes. Bobby pushed up his nose and snorted like a pig. Before Patti could respond, Mom interrupted.
“Enough! Here, you can play math games until we get there.”
She handed them each a small tablet. Their screen time was tightly controlled, Mom and Dad thought it was bad for kids to stare at screens all day. Which made no sense, since that’s what the adults did.
The Space Elevator is the tallest object ever made by humans. It reached up above the clouds. It was one of four elevators attached to departure station, moving thousands of people and cargo up and down 24 hours a day. The kids stared out the windows at the long thin cable for the last 15 minutes of the trip.
“There, there’s the elvator!” Patti shouted as she spotted a box descending through the clouds. They piled out of the car and grabbed their bags.
“I don’t wanna carry it, lets get one of those carts!” Bobbi shouted after they walked 10 steps.
“It’s not that heavy, just take the bag. When we get to Proxima you’ll have to carry your weight while we build the colony. You can start right now!” His dad said.
Bobby bounced away, his bag bouncing behind him. Dad just shook his head and lead the family chasing after.
Once they got through the baggage check things got better. She spotted her friend Daisy in the waiting lounge and ran over to her.
“Daisy! What are you doing?”
Daisy just kept staring at the painting on the wall.
“DAISY!” Patti shouted at her.
“What? Oh, Patti!” The friends hugged and high-fived. “Mom said this is what the ship looks like. One big round sausage.” Daisy pointed.
“It’s ugly and stupid. I don’t wanna go, do you?” Patti replied.
“I don’t know. It might be fun. We get to go where no people have ever been! I’m hungry, do you have any snacks?”
All the kids were grumbling about food. No breakfast before departure. 200 people all throwing up as the gravity changed wasn’t anyone’s idea of a good time.
A man in a blue dress shirt with a bright yellow tie tapped a button on his shirt and spoke. His voice rang out through speakers around the room.
“Welcome intrepid travellers, it’s time to board the elevator. Once we get through the hallway beyond this door I’ll ask you to find a seat and strap yourself in. Make sure you don’t have anything loose in your pockets, gravity gets interesting on the way up!”
Bobby pulled his dad’s sleeve.
“What does that mean?”
“Well, Bobby” his dad started, “You know how gravity pulls us down to the earth? Well once we get far enough off the planet, that gravity gets weaker, and we’ll start to float. But don’t worry, once we get to the station there will be gravity. The station spins to create gravity for us, just like the ship will!”
“Aww, I wanted to fly around like on TV!”
His dad laughed. “Don’t worry, there’s a low-g section of the ship, you’ll have plenty of time to play Batman.”
“Dad, not Batman, he can’t fly. That’s Superman!”
His dad laughed and tousled his hair. The crowd was moving into the hallway and it was time to follow them!
The corridor opened to a landing pad with 20 octagonal elevator cars. The first one was full and being connected to the thread.
“We are in car number 13.” Mom said, dragging the kids towards an blue line on the field with the number 13 written beside it.
“It smells like shoes in here!” Patti said, squeezing her nose. Laugher burst out from the people nearby who clearly had the same reaction. The inner and outer walls were lined with comfy looking chairs. Everything was a warm blue and grey. The family found four seats together and got them selves strapped in.
“How long is this going to take!” A kid said a few seats over. Someone else called out “I need to go potty!”
A voice came over the intercom.
“Everybody please pay attention to the following safety announcements. We are in line to attach to the ribbon and head up to Departure Station. Please do not unbuckle yourselves for any reason once the red light comes on. If you feel like you’re going to throw up there’s a bag immediately to your left. Anyone failing to use the bags will be very unpopular for the next few days.
Everyone Looked around for the bag. Somebody started crying.
“The trip up The ribbon will take approximately 8.4 hours. There is a restroom facility in the hub of the elevator car, please use it when you need to, but don’t take too long. There are a lot of us and only 2 bathrooms. Once we are up to speed underway you can get up and move around. I know you are hungry, we’ll bring around some snacks once the initial acceleration is done. That’s when the most people get sick. Your tablets can connect to the ship and you can enjoy a variety of videos and games provided by Starfare International, our network sponsor this month. If you have an emergency, please push one of the red buttons. Otherwise, sit back and relax.
People went to the bathroom and strapped back in. Whoever was crying finally stopped, but there were are few sniffles.
Launch was exciting. 30 cars launched up the cable. Everyone was pushed down against their seats as the cars got going, then the felling disappeard. Thirty minutes of boredom later the crew brought around food bars and drinks in spill-proof containers. The kids settled in to watch vids and wait for the trip to be over.
Chaos broke out 3 hours later.
As the ship got further from the earth, everyone started to feel lighter. Anyone not strapped in tight floated a little against the belts.
“Patti, I don’t feel good.” Bobi said to her.
“Get your bag out and use that if you need to throw up.” Dad said from beside them.
Someone else beat him to it. They were quick enough to get their bag out, but it started a chain reaction. Before long have the adults we’re also pulling out their barf bags.
“Aaaaaaaahhhh!” Patti cried as she watched partially digested breakfast shoot out of a kid two rows over. Someone didn’t get their bag in time. Before people got too worked up, a loud machine sound filled the room. The air in the room all got sucked towards the roof and bit’s of breakfast. After a minute the air went back to normal.
“That’s a good reminder about how important it is to follow instructions kids.” Patti’s dad said. “There are going to be a lot of new rules, but they are there for a reason!”
Patti just nodded and went back to trying not to throw up.
Someone else started crying.
An hour later people had recovered from the barf-fest. A trio of robot carts made their way around dispensing trays with three options. You either got Oatmeal and yogurt, pureed rice and vegetables, or “Facon and Almost Eggs (TM).”
“Why is it called that?” She asked her Dad.
“Well, you used to be able to eat the actual eggs of a Chicken, and meat cut from the flesh of a Pig. But Earth got too full for us to use land to raise food animals, so people got used to making food out of plants that was kindof like what they used to eat.”
“Ewwwww.” Bobbi said. “I don’t wanna eat an animal, that sounds gross!”
His dad laughed. “You ate your dinner pretty fast yesterday, and it was “Almost Steak and Beans (TM)”, and steak used to come from a cow! But you are right, most people these days would get sick if they tried to eat animal meat. We don’t have the right gut bacteria to digest it properly.”
Dad loved to read journals about health science and then lecture the kids about it. Lately he’d been learning all about bacteria. He said it was important for farming when we get to Proxima.
“Ewww, bacteria!” Bobbi laughed.
The crew members handed out little bags with a valve in them.
“How do I eat this? It looks gross!” Patti said.
Mom smiled, “They can’t hand out loose food in low gravity or it would float around.” She showed the kids how to squeeze their food out of the valve without spilling.
After breakfast they settled in for the ride. Mom loaded a card game on the tablets, and the family filled half an hour playing “Go Fish”. They tried playing speed, but Bobbi always won. A never ending chorus of kids whining about the boredom finally broke.
“We’ve reached the halfway point. As it’s approximately 9pm based on departure time, we will be dimming the lights. The recline feature on your seats is now activated if you’d like to sleep. Meditation headsets are available on request if you or your children need help getting to seep. Please be sure to fasten your safety harness as gravity will gradually lighten as we ascend. If you need to use the restroom please use the safety lines that are now lowering from the ceiling.”
All around the room chairs flattened up against the walls as the lights dimmed. Patti’s Mom and Dad both ordered meditation headset and stuck them on the kids.
“It’s too tight!” Bobbi complained.
“I can’t see anything, take it off!” Patti cried.
Then they turned on. An ocean scene rolled in front of their eyes, a calm emotionless voice rattled off random facts about dolphins and sea life. It took all of 2 minutes for the kids to pass out.
They woke 4 hours later when the elevator car slammed to a halt.
“What’s that?” Asked Patti as she got her mask off.
“I think we are at the station!” Dad replied. A few people undid their harnesses then almost flew into the opposite wall when they got up too fast.
“Cool, check it out, I’m floating!” Bobbi said, levitating off the seat in the loose harness. He started to undo the harness when Dad stopped him.
“That’s enough, everyone stay still.”
Patti let go of her meditation headset and watched it start to float away from her. It didn’t get far, a little light blinked on the side and it snapped up to the ceiling.
“Woah! How’d you do that?” Bobbi asked.
“I dunno, I just let go of it.” Patti replied.
Bobbi let go of his headset and watched it float away briefly until it too snapped up to the ceiling.
“Awesome! Hey mom, did you see that?”
Mom replied. “Yes, they have a motion sensor built in. If they float too far a magnetic receiver in the roof engages so they don’t float around and hurt anyone.”
“Mom knows EVERYTHING!” Patti said to Bobbi. He nodded in agreement.
“Passengers, we have arrived at Departure station and are in the queue to unload. Please stay seated and be patient.“
As the message stopped a child close to Patti’s age almost kicked her in the face as he floated by.
“Timmy! Timmy you get back here right now. Somebody grab him please!”
Timmy kept giggling right until a hand reached up from a nearby chair and grabbed his ankle. Instead of stopping, Timmy swung around in a circle and shot back towards his mom when the hand let go. He crashed into her and they both flew backwards. Luckily an empty seat was right behind them and a moment later (with a rather loud ‘oof!’) the two were seated. Timmy giggled and shouted “again, again!” As his mom just looked stunned.
Bobbi looked at Dad and said “Can we try? Please please please?”
Dad just stared and shook his head, then went back to reading his book.
“Thank you for riding the North American space elevator! If you’ve enjoyed your trip, please remember to leave us a 5 star review! Please remember to move slowly and use the guide ropes as you exit. Once you get through the docking tunnel, Departure Station spins fast enough to give you the feeling of gravity but it’s less than you are used to on Earth. Just move slowly until you get there.
Passengers heading for the colony ships please follow the red line on the floor. In system traffic the green. Your bags will be waiting for you at your destination ship. Have a wonderful day!”