“I,Q” outtake #4

(In 2012 I rewrote Twinmaker: Jump from Q’s completely different perspective, giving me new insights into her character in the process. “I, Q” is a slimmed-down version of that unpublished ms. This is one of a few fun scenes that fell by the wayside.)

IQ“I, Q” outtake #4 – Hard Light

(equivalent to Twinmaker: Jump chapter 47)

The mass-collection of solar energy was the other great paradigm shift that saved the human race from environmental collapse. Not ground-based solar power, however. The vast quantities of energy needed to turn back the tide (literally) came from Earth orbit, where enormous grids soaked up the radiated power of the sun and beamed it down to a thirsty world. The advent of d-mat had facilitated this development much more cheaply and quickly than previous space-transport methods could have. Once a freight booth was placed in orbit, any manner of satellite or vessel could be built in a matter of hours.

Prior to d-mat, a viable powersat grid would have been almost impossible to build; without a powersat grid, a world-wide d-mat network would have been impossible to run. The two advances ran in lockstep, breaking humanity out of its environmental prison.

One downside of the powersat grid was the means by which power returned to the Earth. Immensely concentrated microwave lasers were required, beaming constantly to broad receivers placed far from inhabited areas. The energy collected was then distributed via a near-lossless global superconductor network that, once the infrastructure was in place, cost very little to run. But the beams were dangerous, and in the days of air traffic would have posed a real hazard, from turbulence caused by atmospheric heating to the energy in the beams themselves. A direct hit could cook a wayward bird in an instant.

One such beam had just hit the Skylifter, and if I didn’t stop it, Clair would be cooked like the hypothetical bird long before the Skylifter fell back to the Earth.

I cast my mind out into the Air in search of a cause. I found a flurry of alarmed diagnostic agents noting the sudden shifting of the beam. It was a whole degree off-target–a dangerous error that had no immediately obvious source. Cascading chains of automated systems had failed, and were still failing now, as the beam remained stubbornly locked on its new target. Recriminations were already flying. No accusations, though. No one believed yet that this was a deliberate act. That would come later, when word of the Skylifter’s plight spread.

Want of a cause gave me no hope of finding an immediate solution. My one hope then was to rescue Clair. There had to be a way to do it. There had to be.

Hacking the beam itself would be too time consuming and conspicuous, and the Skylifter’s controls were beyond my reach, protected by the same shield that had excluded me from Clair’s meeting with Turner. Automatic systems were doing their best to keep the craft aloft, but heat and turbulence were taking a terrible toll. The Skylifter was spinning and listing at the same time. I feared for the occupants, and not just the one I cared for the most. There were no other aircraft in the vicinity. There was nothing I could commandeer to effect a rescue.

Unless . . . four airships were docked at the Skylifter’s base, sheltered by the mass above. They were unoccupied and their Faraday shields were inactive. Their firewalls were piecemeal things, with varying degrees of compatibility, incompletely patched. I forced my way into one of them, and through that one into the others, and quickly took stock of the systems available to me.

Telemetry revealed the dire nature of the Skylifter’s position. Whole chunks of its external shell were already sloughing away. Its upper observation dome had been breached, allowing the beam to burn deeper into the structure. Much of the interior was dark to me, but there were signs of movement in the docking spire. Someone was alive!

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