Author Topic: Chapter 16  (Read 7070 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 16
« on: July 21, 2022, 03:01:54 AM »
Chapter 16

After breakfast the next morning, almost all the guys in Harmony gathered near the airlock. Only the toddlers or younger were being left behind, meaning there were nearly forty of them all told. On Noah's instructions they all put on breathers and headed into the airlock. In groups, of course. The small room could only hold eight or nine at a time.

Outside, Noah led them uphill towards the shore. They were northeast of Harmony, going in the direction of the mainland. For one irrational moment, Simon wondered if he wanted them to swim to the larger continent. Once they got to the top of the hill, everything became clearer.

A tube, like the umbilicals linking some of the smaller domes to Harmony, had been cut into the hillside. Struts extended down from it as it went out over the water. They were made of steel most likely, and looked strong enough to hold all of them at once, easily. The white tube extended out of sight to the north, crossing the water almost immediately. It seemed Noah had been busy.

"This way, everyone," he said confidently, and led the way downhill towards the tube. "The whole transit system isn't complete yet, but when it is, you won't have to use breathers at all. This tunnel will connect directly to Harmony itself, and you will be able to use it without my assistance."

That was fascinating and all, but he still hadn't told them where they were going! Every time he'd been asked, Noah had dodged the question. Their schedule had been cleared for this morning, and the only note on it said 'class trip'. Despite his curiosity, the engineering student within Simon had to admire this tube's construction. It was seamless and completely straight for some reason. He was reminded of the aqueducts built in ancient Rome.

It wasn't until they actually got down to the entrance that he could see why. It wasn't just a tube or a tunnel, but a railroad line! Or something like a railroad, anyway. Simon could see a vehicle inside it that looked a lot like a train car.

"This is so cool," Bez said predictably, staring at it once Noah had allowed them into the tube. The others seemed just as impressed, and even John's eyes were wide. He usually didn't get excited about anything outside of a Bible verse.

"Everyone inside," Noah ordered, and the whole group stepped through the open door on the side of the train car. "Once the tunnel is complete, there won't be any need for breathers. This shuttle should be able to take you all back and forth in just a few minutes. For now, we'll need to take it slow and breathe shallowly." He pushed his way gently to the front of the train car, and reached for the controls. The door to their left sealed shut, and then the car started moving. Slowly at first, but it gained speed rapidly after that.

"This is magnetic levitation, isn't it?" Bez asked, and Noah nodded up ahead. At the curious looks from some of the others, he went on. "Maglev, they called it on Earth. It was supposed to keep a train car from actually touching the tracks, so it could go much, much faster than normal trains. One of these suckers can get up to four hundred kph!"

"We won't be going quite that fast," Noah put in with a good imitation of wryness. "Not with how far we're travelling today. Besides, I want you to be able to see something else on the way."

The train car was moving pretty fast by now, and Simon started thinking back to how ill he'd felt during that plane trip. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on his breathing. A collective gasp from his classmates was able to get him to look out again, though.

To the east, something huge had just come into sight from around the hills. It was... a dome. Much like Harmony, but far, far bigger. It wasn't complete, either. Only the walls near the edge were done, and the triangular segments to the dome were being fitted above it. Simon guessed that it was maybe a quarter done.

Noah slowed them down a bit, and left the controls. "That is this planet's first city, people. Or it will be. Harmony, as beautiful as it is, is just too small to handle more than a few hundred kids. You'll need room to grow, and when Greater Harmony is complete, that's where you'll move. Not all of you, perhaps. Eventually, there will be domes like that all over the continent, and then the rest of New Eden."

Simon had always known that he and the others in Harmony were the seeds for a human civilization, but he'd never really known what that would look like, exactly. Seeing Greater Harmony, even before it was ready, was truly breathtaking. "Uh, how many people, d'you think could live in that?"

Noah smiled at him. "Over three hundred thousand, based on my estimates. That's why it's so far out here. Vast tracts of land around it will need to be cultivated in order to plant food for so many people. The dome will be completed in another five years, but I don't expect the city to reach capacity for another hundred or so. Probably longer."

The in-progress dome was fully in view by now, and they could all see flying drones moving towards it and away from it. Some were working in tandem, hauling materials between them. Simon had never seen anything that big in his life. None of them had.

"Wait," another voice cut it. It was Rhys, from the back of the group. He too looked surprised, but his eyebrows were furrowed in concern as well. "I read about domes back on Earth. The biggest one is tiny compared to that. Barely three hundred meters in diameter. How do you plan to hold that thing up? Is Atlas going to show up and hold it up for us?"

"Very amusing," Noah commented. "And impressive. I knew you'd been expanding your architectural studies, but I didn't expect you to be so far along. In answer, the domes on Earth were designed and built by humans. I can do a bit better. Perhaps you can guess how I plan to support such a large structure, Mr. Aspiring Artistic Architect?"

Rhys paused, and some eyes focused on him as he studied the massive construction project out there. It was fading behind them now, but he didn't seem to notice. "You'd need support beams for parts of the dome, and a lot of them." He took in a sharp breath. "The skyscrapers! You're gonna use them!"

"Very good, Rhys," Noah commented. "I won't be using every one of the skyscrapers of course, but I will build a series of support beams inward from the walls. Eventually, tall buildings will be built around them."

The construction was out of sight by now, but some of the kids were still staring out the back window. Simon was shaking his head. And he thought that Argent was thinking big. Noah was working on a whole other level!

-.-

It was only a few minutes later before they'd apparently arrived. The maglev train slowed considerably, under Noah's careful control, and then came to a stop. There was a dome so close to the side of the train, Simon could practically spit on it.

"Eventually, I'll set up an external airlock here, so that you can disembark without needing breathers, but for now we'll need to walk." Noah did a quick once-over of all of them, checking to see if everyone's mask was in place, before opening the door. Again, they filtered out in smaller groups, entering the dome eight or nine at a time.

This one was different; Simon could see once he was inside. Unlike the one under construction, this was sized more like Harmony itself. It didn't have any walls though, aside from the outside one. It had grass growing on every square meter of ground, but nothing else. Why had Noah built an agro dome that grew nothing but grass? It made no sense.

Noah stepped up in front of them. "Up until now, the physical activity of every human living on this planet has been restricted. Inside the domes, you never had much space to run around that much. Outside, you had to wear breathers that didn't allow you much oxygen to really exert yourself. That's what this place is for. Welcome, boys, to New Eden's first sports field!" He extended his arm to showcase the entire thing, and the group let out noises of appreciation.

Simon had seen sports teams in movies from Earth, and had sometimes envied how much space they had. Track and field teams in old schools had allowed kids to run for kilometers on end without coming to a stop. The playground back at the old settlement had been enough for them at that age, but this... this was what Harmony had really needed for a long time now.

Before they could all start running around on the grass, Noah raised both arms. "Hold on a moment. I've brought some sports equipment to start you off." He paused, and his expression constricted slightly. "I can't tell you how hard it was to make some of this without animal products, but I hope they'll be acceptable anyway. Now that you have this facility, I expect a much greater proficiency in athleticism from all of you."

Four more caretaker drones were walking towards them from another airlock, carrying wire-frame containers filled with things Simon couldn't identify at first. Noah saved him the trouble. "Soccer balls, baseballs, footballs, lacrosse balls and sticks, volleyballs and nets, tennis balls and rackets: there's enough for everyone to use, but not enough for everyone to do the same activity once. Divide yourselves up in groups of six to eight, and start familiarizing yourself with this equipment, please."

For once, Simon needed no encouragement. He ended up with Adam, Torin, Tycho, Yuun and Cade. They were given baseball mitts and balls, and instructed to play catch.

There had been a basketball hoop outside the old settlement back in the day, and Simon remembered bouncing that thing around and trying to get it through the hoop. He'd been terrible at it, but it had been fun at the time. This was orders of magnitude better! He tossed the weird little ball over to Torin, who clumsily grabbed at it and missed. It didn't go far, and he retrieved it with a smile. All around them, kids were throwing, kicking, running, swinging, jumping on this wide-open space that Noah had given them. All without breathers, and free to work up a sweat without worrying their masks might slip off!

As expected, Simon's reflexes were terrible, but he got a lot better over time. Before long, he was catching the ball without much difficulty. He and Tycho were teamed up now, and throwing harder, to give each other more of a challenge. Right then a strange, piercing noise cut through the groups, and Simon winced in response.

It had come from Argent, who was standing over by Noah. He was holding something small and brown in his mouth, and grinning from ear to ear. Looking around at the others, who looked just as mystified, Simon moved over towards him.

"This is a sports whistle," Noah explained, pulling it from Argent's mouth gently and lifting it up. "It's simple to make, and effective at getting attention. When you hear that noise, it means I want you to stop what you're doing and come over to me. Argent, if you would demonstrate again?"

'Gent took the whistle and blew it sharply, but not as long this time. "As you can see, it requires lungs, which is why I required his help. For now, if you hear that noise, I want you to drop the equipment you're currently using, and move to another area. Try a different sport. I want everyone to try every sport out for a time, today. We'll organize more formal competitions later on."

"Here," Massimo said loudly, tossing one of the only non-spherical balls in Simon's direction. Simon clumsily caught it with both hands. He was still examining this 'football' when Massimo charged right into him, driving him to the ground. It was a soft fall, but a totally unexpected hit, and Simon saw the football fly up into the air. A few of the other boys laughed or snickered.

"That's enough," Noah reproved gently but firmly. "We're just playing catch for now with those. When we do set up football teams, we'll start with flag football instead of tackle. I don't want too many injuries early on," he added wryly.

Even with the wind knocked out of him, Simon smiled and let Massimo haul him up. They tossed what should have been a pigskin around for another few minutes, before moving on to the next, and then the next.

He found that he liked lacrosse most of all. He was a much better aim with the stick than he was throwing a football or baseball. It hurt pretty bad when he got hit with a lacrosse ball or stick, but he was nimble, too. Besides, lacrosse players weren't supposed to aim at their opponents.

Noah had played some footage of various games over the years, and Simon had found them to be a little hard to understand. Not the rules of the games: they were easy enough to follow. No, for Simon it was the whole point of them. He liked running around, and totally planned to come back here often just for the open space. But according to the social database, there had been people on Earth whose entire lives had been based on one sport! Professional athletes whose job it was to play, and win, over and over and over. They were entertainers, he'd decided, though they'd probably disagree with him.

At least Rhys could entertain without risking being crushed on a football field, or having to constantly compete against other artists. He could paint what he wanted, when he wanted, and his audience was free to like or dislike whatever he did. There was no pressure on him, so he could be free to explore other mediums, like architecture as his most recent goal. Simon was an artist too, in a way. A person's code-writing style was as unique as a fingerprint, and he'd already started to see traces of different people in Noah's code. Still, Simon wasn't an entertainer. His work wasn't openly meant to amuse or anger or enlighten other people.

Another shrill whistle rang out, and the boys stopped what they were doing. Out beyond the dome, Simon saw the maglev train approaching again. He hadn't even noticed it leave. Noah spoke up before it could come to a stop. "All right, everyone. That's enough for today. I can set aside time tomorrow for some of you, and eventually we'll get a schedule going. I don't want to waste train trips on fewer than four people though, so work with each other if you want to come out here again." He beckoned to them with both arms, and they all started to move towards the airlock.

It opened on its own before they got there, and a group of girls came through. Sarah and Naomi were there, along with half a dozen younger girls. They all wore dresses, but not the social kind he'd seen during movie nights and dinners. These were more drab in color, and more practical in cut.

"Right," Noah said, as if remembering something. "The other airlocks are too far away. You'll all have to use this to get in or out. Mingle if you want, but only for a few minutes. I want the train filled and ready to go in ten minutes, people!"

The younger kids immediately merged into one big crowd, speaking their incomplete phrases and poking or playing with each other. Sarah held some of the older ones back, and after a moment, Naomi followed her example. Adam stepped out to face Sarah, and bowed formally. She gave a slow smile, and then curtsied in response. Only then did they step away from the others, conversing quietly.

Simon waited impatiently for the next group to come in. Diana was there, along with Abigail and a few others. She grinned upon seeing him, and walked up to him briskly. She looked like she wanted to give him one of her usual hugs, but stopped short of it.

Abruptly realizing how sweaty he was, Simon grimaced. "Sorry."

"It's fine," she assured him, looking up at the dome and out at the grass. "Noah said there was grass and a big dome, but I didn't think it would be so beautiful. It looks great!"

"It is, trust me. We've been here all morning. Now, I guess it's your turn."

Diana looked rueful. "We're only doing calisthenics," she said sadly, as they watched the drones rounding up all the sports equipment and moving it to one side. "Sports are a boy's activity only."

"Still, it'll be good to stretch your legs without having to wear a breather. I'm not even a sports guy, and I've had fun. You'll probably end up loving it." He paused, trying to get her mind off the topic. "Did you see the city on the way over here?"

Her eyes went wide. "Oh yeah. It's really something, even before it's all done. Makes you think about what we're doing here in the first place, doesn't it?"

"I know exactly what you mean." He leaned forward slightly. "Have you been using the... setup I made for you? I'm always so tired that I can never stay up late enough to check in on you."

She grinned. "Every chance I've had. I've put in like twenty hours now. Thanks for uploading those flight scenarios from Noah's flying drones. It's not easy keeping that thing up in the air, especially in bad weather. One of them even has lightning striking the plane!"

Simon looked around them nervously, but no one was paying any attention to them. The fourth group of girls was arriving now, and soon the boys would be heading out. "It's even worse on Earth, from what I've read. Huge storms smashing into one another, with lightning bouncing between them and hurricane-force winds. We've got it easy here." He paused briefly, and quirked a smile. "I'll thank Noah for his attention to detail."

She smiled in turn. Noah still had no idea he'd been training Diana, not Simon, as a pilot. She'd even left the piloting manual in the simulator closet, so she'd have fewer things in her room to draw suspicion. "Oh, could you ask him for more close-terrain simulations? I need practice following the ground down low."

"Sure, but why? It's not like you'll be getting into fights in the air or anything."

Diana just shrugged. "I want to do it all, and be good at it all. You're the same way, with your coding."

That reminded him. "Speaking of, I found something big when looking at Noah's code." The whistle cut through the air again, and Diana winced and looked surprised. He could sympathize. Even now, the crowds were being separated, with the girls heading towards the middle of the dome and the boys heading out. "You'll get used to that whistle thing. I'll tell you about the coding thing over the console tonight." He reached out to shake her hand goodbye.

To his surprise, Diana hugged him briefly anyway. "I'll talk to you tonight," she whispered, and then was pulled away to the others. He took her final smile with him, all the way back home.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2022, 03:11:00 AM by Daen »