"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step"
Chinese proverb Chapter 64 of the of the Tao Te Ching by the Chinese philosopher Laozi
Friday, 1 September 2152
It is a hot summer’s day in New York. Who am I trying to kid? It’s what used to be considered a normal day before they domed The City. But under the Bucky dome, the weather control has failed again, and it is rapidly approaching 40 degrees. To make matters worse, a burst steam pipe is adding to the near supersaturated humidity. Strange that there are still steam pipes in operation after almost 250 years. I guess it goes to show that even as NY changes, some things are done just like they have always been.
But I digress. There I’m walking down 44th from the Empire State Building towards the Hudson River Spaceport. I always liked wandering in the public areas of the HRSP, looking at the various pieces of old-style aviation. Every time he took me, my grandfather used to say that it “Kind of puts the world in order. Think about it: in one small area, you can see the Intrepid - an over-200-year-old aircraft carrier, the Concorde – one of the first commercial supersonic jets, the Space Shuttle Enterprise that inspired the classic 2d video show, the Virgin Galactic White Knight Two – the first suborbital shuttle, and the Serenity – the capsule that brought the first crew back from Mars.”
Boy, would he have loved to be here with me this time.
Walking downtown towards the passenger entrance, I walk past the dock where the Titanic finally arrived 200 years after its fateful only voyage.
Before entering the TSA’s automated Rapiscan Security Chamber, my wristpad is scanned to authenticate my ticket and identity. Entering the sealed, bomb-proof chamber, as the door closes I recall that I still have a multi-tool in my back pocket.
Not surprisingly it is seen by the scanner, which starts loudly beeping. Out of nowhere two armed agents appear and pull me aside. They call for a supervisor. Eventually, he comes and offers to let me try to mail it home. He tells me that the closest post office is about six blocks away on 42nd Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. He lets me out of security and says to me, “If you can’t mail it, you’ll have to toss it.”
Thanking him for the chance, I leave the security area and head to the indicated post office. When I get there, I find that it is closed for renovation. There is a sign saying that the closest open office is one kilometer north. Brain estimates it is more than one kilometer away and will take fifteen minutes to get there, and the branch AI says that there is an hour queue. Looking at the time, I see that getting there, waiting, and getting back will be too close to launch time, so I head back to the security check and toss the multi-tool in a trash bin.
Entering again requires a different supervisor’s approval as the computer indicates my chip has already been scanned today. I find that there is now a short line for being scanned. This time the security guards are visible. As I enter, I’m warmly greeted with, "I have a feeling of deja vu.”
As I leave the scanner, one of the agents asks about the multi-tool. I reply, “The post office was closed so I threw it away.”
“In the bin just before entering the security check.” He tenses up and starts lecturing me about how bad it is that I did so and did not give it to them to dispose of. What if someone finds it and uses it? So another agent pulls me aside and the supervisor is called again.
When he arrives, he and the agent move away to talk. After five minutes the supervisor comes over and said, "Have a good trip," while waving me to proceed.
As I head to the next security stop, the security AI confirms that I’m not a wanted criminal or dangerous to the ship. The system also verifies my medical and vaccination history from both my wristpad and the city medibase. Finally, I’m notified that as a passenger these are being duplicated to the ship’s sickbay AI in case the data was needed. Only then do the doors to the elevator open to let me ride up to the ship’s port.
Stepping out of the elevator and onto the gangplank (Or, since this is a spaceship, is it called a gantry?) makes a soft clang. Turning at the top, I can see the Empire State building through the dome’s transparent solar panels. From this angle, it is easy to see how it is holding up the center of the dome. For the first time, it is clear to me why they moved it ten blocks to the bottom of Times Square. It is hard to make out where they have replaced the old radio antenna with the safety access connected to the underside of the dome.
As I turn back to the ship, a loading crane is bringing up a load of supplies, probably for one of the colonies.
“Welcome aboard the L.S.S. Venture,” the Captain greets me at the top of the gantry (And it is definitely a gantry.).
As he is reaching out his hand, the strap on my wristpad comes loose and my wristpad falls to the platform. We both bend to reach for it, almost bumping heads. A scream comes from below as I pick it up, and we hear a loud, dull bang. Standing up, we see one of the cables from the loading crane has come loose and is swinging near us. There is a slight mark where the heavy steel buckle has hit the side of the ship.
The Captain scowls as he turns to call out for someone to come and check that there is no damage to the ship. He looks up to the person running the crane and goes off to deliver what looks likely to be a serious scolding. Staring at the clamp and the mark on the side of the ship, I look up to the load being lifted. I realize that I’m shaking as my eyes trace the line that it must have taken: swinging right next to my ear. I enter, trying to convince myself that it would have missed our heads. I can’t shake the feeling that I’m only kidding myself and we were almost hit in the head by a fast-moving, ten kilo, metal buckle.
Past the airlock, the ship feels more like a luxury hotel than any aircraft I have ever seen or traveled on. I’m not sure why this surprises me. It is not like anyone would think that an interplanetary ship, designed to hold and entertain passengers for a month, should look or feel like the hypersonic jet I rode for eleven minutes last month from New York to London, or the hour-long semi-ballistic flights to Sydney. Here there were fine carpets, recessed indirect lighting, even a grand grey marble staircase opening into the lobby from the gallery above. In school, they taught us that for every gram of mass you needed kilograms of reaction mass or fuel to get up from the surface into Earth orbit, so this looks like quite a waste of mass just for aesthetic value, but I guess the designer knew more about it than I.
The ship’s AI checks me in and directs me to the elevator so I can get to my room.