This is the tenth section of the first chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here
What I will say here is apologies for the content of this section. It was literally the first thing I wrote. Well apart from another short story yet to be posted. I think this is my lowest point of the book, but I couldn't remove it for sentimentality sake...
Tom stepped off the train, “So I’ve been meaning to ask you since I decided to seek you out for this trip” said Tom pocketing his notebook “what exactly is m3 class?”
“I know I keep saying this,” Said Laurence struggling to get his bags onto the platform “but not to be rude, if you’re so interested in this sort of thing, why didn’t you study this at school? Or even easier look it up wherever the hell you got all my personal information from?”
“Wouldn’t know where to start for this kind of thing, besides much more sociable to ask someone, bit of human connection eh what. So, e3 class?”
“Where did you get that then?”
“From the ticket, it seemed to be something we have in common”
“And you say you’ve travelled from Earth a lot and you’ve not come across this before?”
“No, this is only my second trip, first was when I was a wee child”
“Oh, I got the impression you were a seasoned traveler”
“I am, but between the various stations, although I try and avoid the Habitat”
“Oh I see, well by e3 you mean the flight class designation,” Tom nodded at this question “Maglev three Gee acceleration.” Laurence saw again that increasing familiar blank look on Tom’s face. ”The first stage of the trip into space involves acceleration the ship down a maglev track. Different passengers and cargo can cope with different acceleration profiles. Pure cargo has a peak acceleration of up to twenty Gee. That’s twenty times normal gravity, so approaching two hundred meters per second per second. Do you know what I mean by that?”
“I know what a Gee is, you forget my calling in life.” Said Tom turned and walking off towards one of the station exits.
“I’m not sure I ever knew what your calling in life was” said Laurence, following Tom towards the exit.“You did interrupt me as soon as I started asking about you”.
“Ah Low Gravity Acrobatics. Pretty much self explanatory except that you can also mix in dance and other weight disciplines. So yes” said Tom for the first time with some scorn in his voice,”I’m very familiar with the principles of acceleration.”
“Fine,” Said Laurence taking a brief rest by sitting on his bags waiting for a trolley to find him. “Anyway most humans and quite a bit cargo can’t cope with that so there are other profiles, ten Gee cargo, five Gee, three Gee and one Gee. Five Gee is hardly used these days, it used to be very popular in the early days when only the chosen few would ride into space now it’s a bit of an anachronism. You and I both being on the younger and fitter side of the population can ride the three Gee option, there is also the one Gee option for the sub-normal population. For those who struggle with even that there’s the T option that doesn’t use the maglev at all and therefore cuts out the most strenuous part of the journey. Of course that’s a much more expensive option” Finished with his explanation he got off his bags so that the trolley could load them.
Tom stood back himself to let the trolley do its work and load the bags onto itself. “What so we get to be under stress and at greater risk to save a bit of cash? Glad they tell you this in advance.”
The two of them both headed off together. “Not true. The more you accelerate on the Maglev the safer you are. It’s the more expensive e1 trips that are more dangerous and heaven help you if you’re on a T flight and things start to break. No once you’ve got up to a decent speed then you’ve options like gliding to a landing. If you’ve not picked up enough speed by the end of the maglev though you’d better hope your engines are fully working because otherwise you’re going for a swim or colliding into a mountain range.
“Look” Said Laurence carrying on talking “don’t worry there’s not been a fatality on these things for a good decade. Yes it’s the most dangerous form of transport we have, but one death in every 2 million people launched isn’t at all bad. Look do you worry about contraceptives failing, or being killed by a meteorite or the train we were on derailing?”
“Yes, yes and yes.” said Tom quite flustered, “Things out of my control. Come on I’m the kind of guy who worries about the robots revolting and making us work in sand and carbon mines. So go on then, while you’re in the process of scaring me; what should I expect from this flight then?”
Laurence grabbed Tom and pushed his way through the other people making their way to the spaceport to get to a window, “Okay look out the window there. What you can see of the ship is the carrier craft. On top of that that you can’t quite see from this angle is the orbital craft that actually takes us up to the first station. The carrier craft takes us up into the upper atmosphere and more importantly in the final burn takes us up to just over mach five. All the way it is very much like a traditional aircraft, air breathing and supported aerodynamically but the largest and fastest such craft ever built. The orbiter then separates and accelerates eventually up to orbital speed. The orbiter being purely a rocket propelled craft, lifting body and able to therefore make a partially powered controlled descent at any part of its flight.”
“There must be more efficient ways of doing it than that elaborate complex scheme?”
“It comes down to what you were saying earlier though Tom, it’s all about the safety. The system is massively over engineered so that countless things can go wrong and there still be a number of different ways to escape. For example should something go wrong on the maglev section then brakes can be applied. Alternatively if it is going too fast for the brakes to work the carrier craft can start its own engines to take off as a normal plane would and then land at the runway. If that fails if there is enough speed then the carrier craft can glide to an emergency landing in the emergency landing area to the east of here. If that won’t work then the orbiter can separate at any point in the flight and make an emergency powered takeoff and landing itself. If that fails then the entire passenger section is jettison-able and has its own escape rockets and parachutes.
“Of course this little trip of yours will burn more fuel per person than you would otherwise normally use in a decade of normal living, but water and energy is cheap so who’s counting?”
“Well all the waste heat can’t be good”
“Indeed, but we’re working on that one” said Laurence smiling.
“What do you mean?”
“Ah, I thought you’d have known this one from all your research on me. My physics doctorate was based upon an enhanced refrigeration process. In layman’s terms we were producing a semiconductor junction that emitted infra-red radiation. Now they’re common as muck, but this one had the curious property that we managed to get it to actually scavenge heat from the surrounding area. There was a lot of concern that this messed with the laws of entropy, but my doctorate was based on the principle that this didn’t break the basic laws of the universe because there was an effect where the energy carriers were being swept into a concentrated low energy state, analogous to what you get in a bipolar transistor.”
“Not a clue what you said there”
Laurence chuckled, “Doesn’t surprise me, what use do you have for basic quantum physics, it’s not as if it’s important for your life. It only affects every single aspect of your life with every piece of technology you use.”
“Come on what about you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well I bet you’re totally ignorant of music and art and all the things that matter.”
“How do they matter?”
“What is the point in life if we don’t enjoy it?” said Tom, somewhat louder than he planned, “Music and art are what brings pleasure to life, why else strive to have more people or reach to the stars if we don’t bring joy and beauty with us?”
“Finished?” asked Laurence
“Not at all.” Said Tom indignantly
“Well let’s just say I agree with you. I can’t see any flaws in your argument and I’ve no care to have a discussion that better philosophers have done a thousand times.”
“Jolly good, time for a drink then before the flight?”
“Yeah why not?”