Pole to Pole

Space ColonyThe end-cap was shaped like a five-petalled rose, stretching from the searing heat of the central sun-line, into a great metal embrace that hugged the patchwork green of farmland and the compact conurbations of Ross Cylinder’s inner skin.

The sun-line used vast magnets to haul plasma, heated to incandescence by an array of mirrors outside of the Cylinder, from one end-cap to the other, providing light and heat and all the right sorts of radiation to its inhabitants.

The fliers huddled in a jump-off area within the end-cap, just inside the micro-gee mark. It was close enough to the sun-line for it to be quite balmy.

“I’m going to run through the safety stuff,” said a race official. Somebody groaned. She ignored the sound. “Wings to ride the thermals outwards,” she said. “Electromagnets to pull you back in towards the sun-line. If you touch the sun-line, you’ll get burned.” At this, somebody else made a sizzling sound with their lips. “Please pay attention,” she snapped.

“If you get too far out on a thermal, you may have trouble getting back in again. The security folks have said they’ll try to get a drone out to anyone in that situation, but they can’t make promises. Your best bet is to try to gain as much rotational velocity as possible, so that you don’t get a nasty road rash when you hit the ground.”

She raised a finger in the air. “The rules of the race are simple. End-cap to end-cap and back again. First person to get back here wins.”

The Ross Cylinder was ten kilometres in length, so that meant that the race was twenty kilometres in total. The fliers had to tack back-and-forth, pulling inwards with their magnets and then surfing the air thermals outwards though, so the actual distance was rather longer. The record to date was just under an hour.

The race official blew her whistle, and the fliers threw themselves outwards using both grab bars and each other for leverage.

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Fii was on the inward tack, her electromagnet on full throttle, when she spotted another racer far too close to the sun-line. She checked the temperature on her head’s-up display. Forty degrees Celsius. Already too hot for comfort.

“Hey,” she said. “Are you crazy? You’re going to get a third-degree burn.”

The other racer was tumbling now.  Fii raised her hands above her head and dove inwards.

“My magnet is stuck on,” the other flier shouted. This was rare, but not completely unheard of. On closer inspection, what had looked like an uncontrolled tumble now resembled a frantic attempt to ride any possible thermal outwards, from where the other flier would most likely abandon their suit.

Fii hit her emergency beacon to alert emergency services, and then throttled back as she closed the gap.

“Dump the suit,” she said. “I’ll tow you out.” Conveniently, she had a cable on her utility belt.

“Can’t reach the buckle,” said the other flier. The idiot was wearing a light-weight racing suit. It required assistance to attach or detach the straps.

Fii checked her display again. Forty-five Celsius. They were only a couple of hundred meters from the sun-line, and closing far too fast.

“Grab the rope,” she said. “I’m going to try something.”

Two thick electrical cables ran from the ultra-capacitor nestled at the join of her wings, to the magnets at their edges. Fii yanked one of her cables loose and pulled the other flier in close, using the rope. She touched the live end of her cable to the other suit’s controller unit and issued the seldom used command to dump everything in the capacitor.

There was a loud snapping sound, and her display went dark.

“I have no power. What did you just do?”

“I fried both of our systems,” said Fii. She waved with her hand. “At least we’re not being pulled inwards any more.”

“What are we going to do now? My system is completely dead.”

“Well,” said Fii. “Let’s just surf the thermals out, and with some luck they’ll get a drone out to us in time.”

My entry in the Jan 2015 LinkedIn SF contest. Yes, it’s derivative. Every story about space habitats has a flying scene like this. I added a stock-standard safety warning like those from a laser tag arena, and added a few sparkly descriptive bits. I’m pretty sure I accidentally stole those from various places too, but I can’t recall precisely from where. Honest!