Friday, February 18, 2022

Emerald of Earth – CHAPTER 7: Emerald and the Beanstalk

Almost-thirteen Emerald Marcillon lives with her parents, who have dug up evidence of aliens in Chicxilub Crater in Yucatan, they have found artifacts that point to a long-ago alien war. An alien artificial intelligence called Inamma has survived that war. It tries to steal the artifacts that when assembled, can destroy all of Humanity. But it can’t find them and kills Emerald’s parents. Emerald escapes and is taken into Earth orbit to the SOLAR EXPLORER. Inamma follows Emerald into space, and the ship’s captain, who is also her great-aunt, tries to hide her from Inamma. Emerald holds the key to the artifacts. Emerald is not the best at making friends, but manages to make a few on SOLAR EXPLORER. When her friends and crew members find what Inamma is, they fight together to protect the artifacts.

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The hydrofoil ride had been mostly uneventful, except when the captain had taken them around a pod of blue whales. The creatures dwarfed the boat and they had to slow down to a normal speed and retract the foils to avoid hurting the whales.

Even from twenty kilometers away, the Ascensor Errante was visible. What seemed to be a silver high-rise apartment building rose into the clear sky, growing narrower and narrower, until it became first a pole, then a rope, a needle, and finally vanished into the sky.

By the time they caught up with the platform, it was local night and the Ascensor was studded with lights, some red, some white, some yellow; some blinking, some steady, some sweeping spotlights. For a moment, it took her breath away. Rashida looked back at her, smiled and waited at parade rest until Emerald shook her head and followed her again.

By the time she and Rashida got off the boat and Rashida – Rashida, Emerald had started calling her silently – she’d gotten over her first amazement. At least Rashida hadn’t asked her what she thought and gushed about how amazing the Ascensor was, and wasn’t it fabulous that they would be going up there. Emerald grudgingly appreciated that.

But Rashida had saluted the captain as they arrived at the actual launch platform. Emerald muttered, “Civilian my butt.”

They made their way from there to the launch point on a moving sidewalk. It took only a few minutes, but during that time, Emerald had hacked into General Magnetics public database and downloaded the general schematics for the “Beanstalk Car”, which is what would actually crawl up the Ascensor Errante and into space. Rashida had casually asked, “What’cha doin’?”

Emerald had replied, “I don’t want to leave the best music back on Earth if I have to go on some crazy Solar System tour!”

It had been a risky move. If Rashida had decided to scan the playlist of her ipik, she’d have known, but Emerald had no intention of staying nicely coddled. A few illegal passcodes she’d hacked from a couple of sites would let her choose when and where and what she did.

The passenger and freight car resting on the landing pad that wrapped around the base of space elevator was roughly ten stories tall, shaped like a hexagon, about ten or so meters across. Windows faced away from the carbon nanotube cable from three faces marking five levels in the middle of the car. She estimated that there were three lower levels without windows for freight and two on top, one for luxury passengers, the other, topmost probably the command deck – or the bottommost was the command deck. Which one was the command deck probably depended on what direction they were headed. But would the command deck face up on the way up, or down? She shook her head. It could go either way: the people who believed that the captain and crew of a falling vessel should be the first to die, or the people who believed that the captain and her crew would come up with a miraculous, life-saving solution at the last minute only if they WEREN’T worrying about being the first to die.

Everyone entered at the lowest passenger level. Rashida had taken her hand as they walked up the boarding ramp. Emerald stopped in the middle of the ramp and looked up, leaning all the way back before Rashida laughed and caught her. She said, “I did that the first time I ever went up.” She set Emerald upright. “Only I didn’t have anyone to catch me.” She nudged Emerald back into motion and they continued up the ramp, Emerald edging a bit further ahead with every step.

It was spectacular, she had to admit. But that wasn’t the reason she stared up the tower into infinity. When she figured Rashida was suspicious, she turned and smiled over her shoulder and said, “Can we get a seat by the window?”

Rashida laughed and said, “Let me check our tickets.”

As Rashida swung her small travel bag around, unsealed it and looked inside, Emerald dropped her necklace, exclaimed, “Oh no! My necklace broke!” She bent over to pick it, then dropped to all fours and scurried away, weaving through the moving legs. Passing over the threshold into the car, she turned across the traffic and scooted around the outer wall until she came to the AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY panel she’d noted on the car’s floor plan.

“Emerald!” Rashida called. Her voice was low – not in tone but to the ground, as if she were crawling.

Emerald looked over her shoulder to see Rashida’s hands land on the floor. She started to stand then dropped back down when Rashida’s hands came up. The woman had been trying to flush Emerald out!

Emerald crab-walked past the first door. There weren’t as many people now and she sprinted then, still keeping low to the ground but no longer crawling. The next access hatch she reached, she was already standing as she jammed her ipik into the key slot. The door mechanism popped open instantly. She slipped in and closed it, cutting off the rumble and mutter of pre-boarding. It also cut off the cry of, “Wait ‘til I get my hands on...”

Emerald shivered, breathing in gulps, pulse hammering in her ears. She knew it was more than being chased. When she was small, whenever they flew, Mom and Dad – she paused as a sharp spike of loss speared through her – had always drugged her nearly senseless.

She shook her head, saying, “Focus, Emerald! Focus!” Even her low voice echoed up the access tube. It was a bit over a meter wide, but she stood on a narrow ledge. She could see all the way to the bottom of the car, three stories below. She looked up. Bangs, creaks, hums, hisses, whines and creaks echoed loudly in the empty space that reached six more stories up.

“No time to wallow!” she said, then clamped her mouth shut. There was a good chance the tube was wired to pick up sound. For a moment, she felt relief flood over her as well.

She was finally alone; just as alone as she’d been the night her parents were murdered. She ground her teeth. No need to dig there. Dr. Jekyll had tried that already and Emerald had managed to stay away from those feelings. Of course, Dr. Jekyll had only been trying to help. They wanted her to cry to cleanse her emotions, but she hadn’t mentioned that Dad always said, “Crying is fine, but for Marcillon’s it is NEVER a public event.”

Besides, since the attack by the knife-footed robot at the station, she hadn’t been alone for more than a few seconds. Even when she went into the bathroom, if she stayed too long, Dr. Jekyll, Rashida, or some other busybody was pounding on the door asking if she was OK.

It was true that her heart ached for the sound of her parent’s voices, even raised in argument. Her lower lip trembled.

No one was watching her now. No one knew where she was. She leaned against the door, tears sliding to her chin. Something heavy thudded against the airlock door. Startled, she leaned forward, nearly over balancing, then swung around and grabbed hold of the rungs of a ladder welded to the side of the tube. She started to climb down. The cargo bays would be the safest place to hide in.

She’d only gone two floors when the lock on the bottom level swung open, pouring bright light into the tube. A man stepped in looked up, saying, “Everything clear above. We can dog the hatches and evacuate the bays for the trip up.” The lock closed again and she could hear solid thunks as it was sealed. The other locks proceeded to lock as well, moving up one level at a time until they stopped at the top.

She blinked in surprise. The database hadn’t said anything about sealing the vertical access tube! The entire car jerked suddenly, a high-pitched whining filling the tube with a deafening, resonant wail. After a moment, the pitch dropped until it became a low rumble. The car moved, swaying slowly, shivering at times, but otherwise was steady and silent. Outside, the lock wheels only held the car to the ribbon of carbon nanotubules that made up the Ascensor Errante. The energy that moved them up came from banks of solar cells orbiting above at the top and they would slowly accelerate to its cruising speed of 600 kilometers per hour.

Emerald stepped on to one of the ledges and leaned back, until her breathing steadied and she made sure her ipik was sealed in a pocket and that her hands were dry. Then she started to climb.

She’d counted past three levels when the tube was flooded with blue lights. A voice boomed into the silence, “I know you’re in there, Emerald! Come out or else!” Emerald snorted. That eliminated the possibility of there being cameras in the tube. She ignored Rashida’s demand and started climbing again. The lights suddenly changed color to red. Rashida continued, “The access tube is now flooding with ricin gas. It’s a standard procedure to kill off any vermin that might come aboard.” The air at the bottom of the tube swirled as a cloud of white dust was carried into the air. It stayed there until fans at the bottom of the shaft started up.

Frozen while watching the powder, she scrambled up the remaining two levels in less than two minutes reaching a white DANGER! painted on a round, blaze orange hatch. Patching her ipik into the car’s systems again, she tapped in the code sequence of numbers and letter, then held her breath.


Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other works, go to For an interview about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: