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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Launch Rail Ticket (Part 3)

This is part 3 of a short story. Part 1 was posted on Monday and the story concludes on Friday.

(Start with Part 1)

Jumping was not an option until he untied himself. He reached for the coil around his left arm, but stopped. All the money and effort would be wasted. And how could he give up when he was on the cusp of success?

He breathed deeply, and in a few minutes he found he could look at the ocean again without panicking. He started to enjoy himself. Riding the launch loop was like flying, but better, faster. The accelerating box pulled his arm taut, and the growing wind buffeted him, but these were bearable discomforts. Looking over the edge of the box was like some surreal dream. The sun rose like it always did, but today he rushed toward it over a giant blue spinning marble. The launch loop glittered in a graceful silver line, stretching up into the sky before him. It was such a thin little thing, to be doing all this work. He had read that the track surrounding the loop ribbon was only about half a foot in width. He had found that hard to believe. However, here it was, his track to the sky, flying even faster ahead of him as his mount worked to catch its pace. He wondered at the dynamics of the magnetic system propelling the box and keeping it level. He had not read every section of the documents he had downloaded, but had focused on the basics. He knew that the rail was held aloft by its own momentum, and restrained at its height by long cables tethering it to Earth. He also knew that there was a small rocket on the underside of the box that would lift it into orbit once it was at max velocity at the top of the loop. Lastly, he knew that the constructed launch loop did not exactly follow the original, theoretical design that had been thought up years ago by Keith Lofstrom. However, he didn't know exactly how the design deviated. You could only do so much homework.

He repositioned himself to ease his restrained arm, and the raw fear of flying bit at him again. This time he laughed it off like a maniac. With any stunt, you had to let go of your natural fear of failing, or you would fail. His mind screamed little tidbits of information at him, like, "Max ground-relative speed of approximately 21,000 mph," and, "Max height of 36 miles," and "You are being held aloft by a pole you could wrap your arms around and slide down like a fire fighter in his little red house, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!"

He politely listened to the screaming little part of his mind, then pushed it away. Jeremy continued his ride into suborbital heights, taking in the beauty of the world as the rail lifted him. He did not notice the slight whistle in the breathing apparatus of his helmet, the device that kept oxygen pumping out of the ever-thinning atmosphere, and the one thing saving him from decompression sickness and death.

(Continue to Part 4)

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