Author : Philip Berry

Carl insisted that he travel alone. The invitation was sent to him, the wording made it clear that they were interested in his ideas, and the fact that he was only fifteen made no difference. His ideas were mature, that was all that mattered.

Standing on the mile long causeway, limitless blue sea to the left and the right, he looked up. The Lance’s summit was obscured by violet tendrils of ion clouds, an almost permanent meteorological feature at this latitude. In Carl’s opinion, and in the opinion of many others in the blogosphere, the pacific archipelago was a very strange place to build a mesospheric needle. But all agreed the ambition was laudable. Since its ascension, the Jekatek administration had followed through on its vow to advance interplanetary transportation and system-wide habitation. The Lance, albeit poorly functioning, was a symbol of its commitment to move out and find an alternative source of phosphorous before Earth’s supply was finally depleted.

Carl joined three other invitees on the sweeping steps; a bookish boy, a punk girl, and an intense-looking thirty-something with no hair. A woman in dark red uniform escorted the group to a bank of elevators in the tree-walled lobby.

“256th floor. You will receive instructions.”

They entered a circular hall where the air glittered with numerous, suspended screens onto which the designs and visions created by the people below were reproduced in real time. As they were signed off, these plans were rendered three dimensional by a projector under the ceiling’s hub. Here they rotated on all axes and were scrutinised by a long line of surveyors and advisors who stood on a raised ‘whispering’ gallery. Then the designs were either transferred into a visible ‘shortlist’, or collapsed to a point of light and erased.

This was the competition. To design habitats.

Carl saw clichéd wheels spinning in space, paired canisters tumbling on wires, interwoven spirals a hundred kilometres long, tetrahedral lattices of interconnected households, excavated moons, magnetic wells, towering castles of frozen methane…

He walked to a vacant workstation and sketched. Half an hour later he sat back, pressed ‘SUBMIT’ and saw his vision take shape and volume near the centre of the room. A surveyor was evidently giving it a thorough examination, as the virtual model was spun around several times. Briefly, an exterior part was removed and the inner parts revealed. Then the hologram moved sideways to join the shortlist. An assistant tapped his shoulder and led him to a smaller room where Carl joined a hundred others. The chief scientific advisor entered.

“You represent the best of us. All of your ideas could work. Soon, we will need one of them. But only one. And that is the problem. We must all agree, and we must channel our resources in one direction only. Dissent will lead to waste, time will be lost. Our society cannot entertain competing visions. You are the best, but you must stop. We have made our choice.”

Carl looked around him. On every face, in every eye, disappointment.

“By accepting today’s invitation you gave over ownership of your concepts to the Western Hemispheric Government. Additionally, your departure today is contingent upon signing an oath that you will cease creating visions of the future.”

Carl felt the creative spark die within him. The punk girl, standing to his right, said,

“Yeah, well I hope the one they’ve chosen isn’t the same joker who built the needle in the Goddamn ion strata!”

And of course, it was. The chief scientific advisor. Envisioner-in-chief.

Carl moved away from punk girl. He wanted no trouble.