Author : Jim O'Loughlin
It’s like flying a kite, Sheila thought. In a way she was right. Just a thin strand of carbon nanotube stretched out of the launch pad, rising into the sky, and continuing out of sight. She accepted that the cord reached through and beyond the atmosphere, where it eventually attached to the space station in low orbit. But that had always seemed an abstract fact, like the knowledge that the earth revolved around the sun or that dinosaurs once ruled the earth.
Yet, now she was going to board the shuttle for a 100,000-kilometer trip up this flimsy looking strand, and there was nothing abstract about that. But it was important that she kept her cool, because her husband was starting to lose it. Palik stood next to her, his face flushed and his hands trembling, and they hadn’t even boarded the space elevator yet.
“Hold it together, bloke,” Sheila said.
“I’m not afraid of heights and I’m not afraid of small places,” Palik said. “But I’m not sure I can do the two together. What would that be, acroclaustrophobia?”
“I think I’m suffering from fear of bullshit. Does that have a name? Here, take this. It’s a special new anti-anxiety pill. Just don’t tell anyone I gave it to you.”
“Where’d you get this?”
“I know people.”
Palik swallowed the pill and looked relieved. It was only a sugar pill, but Sheila wouldn’t tell him that. She appreciated the power of suggestion more than most. It was one of the ways she had risen from rural Aussie schoolgirl to doctor in a semi-illegal clinic to Governor of this island. And it’s how she had been able to talk her way onto the space elevator for one of the first trips open to civilians.
She knew that despite his complaints, this trip meant everything to Palik. Of course, Sheila was excited to go into space, too. Who wouldn’t be? But for Palik, getting up the cord meant something more. She tried to fully appreciate what it had been like for him, growing up on the island where the economy, the culture and the schools all revolved around the cord, even though so few people ever got to go up to the space station. His whole life he had been staring at this sky-bound string, knowing it went somewhere he couldn’t go. It had left a core of bitterness in a man who was otherwise caring and decent.
Palik craned his head up the length of the cord.
“It’s a long way to go,” he said.
“About five days, they told me.”
“No, you and me. It’s a long way to go. I never thought we’d end up here.” Palik placed his arms around Sheila’s waist. “I’m ready to fly, and I can’t imagine what happens next.”
Sheila smiled. He was right. He couldn’t imagine what he was in for. She hadn’t told him the half of it yet.
“Enjoy the view. It’ll be a while before we see this again.”