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Inspirational Guide

Settings

EON is an epic novel and describes a wide variety of locations. We would encourage those of you who have not read EON to do so. It available in print from Amazon or as an eBook for US$8.99 from http://www.ebookmall.com/

However we don’t want to disadvantage anyone who has not read the book or who doesn’t have time. Here are some of the main locations you could choose to illustrate, render or incorporate in your trailer.

Alexandria - Second Chamber

Thistledown - Third Chamber

The Fourth Chamber

The Fifth chamber

The Sixth Chamber

The Seventh Chamber

The singularity (flaw)

The Death


Personal re-entry - atmosphere surfing on an air-sled

Olmy and a Frant meet Patricia


Tube riding

Axis City

The Wald

Neomorphs

Gate Traffic & the Axis City

Party in a flawship

Gate Traffic

Aliens gather for a Gate Opening

Blowing the cap

Additionally, click here to read selected 'EON' book chapters in full.



Alexandria - Second Chamber



Beyond the ramp was a two-kilometer-deep shelf of parkland, irregularly spotted by copses of trees and numerous broad, flat white concrete structures, resembling thick building foundations. Beyond the parkland, a narrow lake or river about a kilometer across ran east and west completely around the chamber. A suspension bridge with tall, slender, curved towers crossed the water, set between massive concrete anchors.

The bridge pointed toward a city.

It could have been Los Angeles on a very clear day, or any other modern terrestrial city, except for the surreal exaggeration. It was bigger, more ambitious and ordered, more architecturally mature. And scattered throughout the city, like bumpers on a pinball board, were the biggest structures she had ever seen in her life. Easily four kilometers tall, they resembled upright chandeliers made of concrete, glass and shining steel. Each facet of the nearest chandelier-structure was as large as entire buildings in between. The chandelier resemblance increased as she looked up and saw them suspended from the chamber floor overhead. Across the two layers of atmosphere, fifty kilometers away, the city became beautifully unreal, like a model behind dusty glass in a museum.

Top ^


Thistledown - Third Chamber



Thistledown City was astonishing… Here the Stone architects had allowed themselves complete freedom. Treating the chamber as a giant valley, they had strung cables from cap to cap and hung buildings from them in graceful curves.

Taking advantage of the upward slope of the floor, they had built arched structures fully ten kilometers long, bands of steel and processed Stone material interacting in patterns of silver and white, casting soft-edged shadows over the neighborhoods below. Some of the structures rose to the very limits of the chamber’s atmosphere; these were actually thicker at the top than the bottom, like golf tees.

Top ^


The Fourth Chamber



“Fourth chamber was a recreation center, as near as we can tell,” Lanier said. ”And of course, a reservoir and air-purification system. There are four distinct islands here, each with a different habitat. There were underwater habitats, too-coral gardens, freshwater ponds and river systems. Resort, wildlife preserve, fish farm-it’s all returned to an untended state, a bit wild but prospering.”

Top ^


The Fifth chamber



The fifth chamber was darker than the others. A canopy of flat gray clouds painted the cylinder’s upper atmosphere, cutting out half the robe light. Beneath the clouds was a Wagnerian landscape of barren mountains, resembling ragged lumps of anthracite mixed with dark-rainbowed hematite. Between the mountains were rusty abyssal valleys, cut by waterfalls feeding into quicksilver rivers. The mountains toward the middle of the chamber floor were startling in their contortions-arches, giant rugged cubes, broken-tipped pyramids and causeways of irregular slab steps.

“What in hell was this?” she asked.

“A kind of open pit mine, we think. Our two geologist's-you met Robert Smith, he’s one-speculate that when the chambers were hollowed out, the fifth wasn’t finished off. They left it for raw material. And the Stoners used it. These are the scars.”

“Perfect for fans of old horror movies,” Patricia said. “Can’t you just see Castle Dracula here?”

Top ^


The Sixth Chamber



The valley floor was layered with gigantic inert mechanical forms, cylinders and cubes and stacks of circular plates laid on edge, resembling a monstrous circuit board. Just outside the terminal building, a row of spherical tanks marched off to a distant wall. The wall was at least a hundred meters high, and the tanks half that in diameter. Below this level of the terminal, between the spheres and a parallel row of cylinders resting on their sides, was an immense gully filled with glistening water. The channel was lined with pipe ends and cyclopian pumping apparatus. Over it all, thick black clouds floated in clumps, dropping curtains of rain and flurries of show. Somewhere was a constant pulsing, less heard then felt, like the infra-sound beats of moving mountains or the grinding of distant sea bottoms.

Looking up at an angle, between decks of clouds, she could dimly see the opposite floor of the chamber, bumped and ridged with a carpet of mysterious mechanism.

“No moving parts in the whole chamber except for large pumps, and not many of those,” Lanier said. ”The builders relied upon a built-in weather cycle. Rain falls, picks up heat, flows down channels into shallow ponds, evaporates, carries heat up, and the atmospheric maintenance systems drain it off, we’re still not sure how.”

“What does it all do?”

“When the Stone was first designed, the sixth chamber was going to be another city, but the builders had specified that the Stone could only accelerate at three percent g. Just before the Stone was outfitted-and before the completion of the major excavation-they found a way to allow the Stone to accelerate to the limit of its power. The method was complex and expensive, but it gave the Stone a versatility the builders couldn’t pass up. So the sixth chamber was equipped with selective inertial damping machinery, which makes up a small fraction of what is here now.” He nodded at the vista through the glass.

Top ^


The Seventh Chamber



Ahead stretched an arrow-straight road, about half as broad as the sixth chamber highway and made of the same material. To each side of the road, sandy hummocks topped with stiff yellow grass dotted the floor for several kilometers. A short hike away were stands of low, scrawny trees. To the west, up the curve of the chamber floor, Patricia saw small lakes and what looked like a river emerging from one of the cap tunnels.

A few fleecy clouds clung to the cap. The landscape was equally homogenous and bland right up to the limits of the tube light both east and west. The plasma tube itself emerged from the center of the cap in a straight, unobscured beacon.

Patricia could feel the anticipation building in the cabin, centering on her. They were waiting for her reaction.

Reaction to what? if anything, this chamber was less impressive than the first. Her shoulders tensed. So what was she supposed to say?

Lanier reached between the seats to touch her arm. ”What do you see?” he asked.

“Sand, grass, lakes, trees. A river. Some clouds.”

“Look straight ahead.”

She looked. The air was clear. Visibility was at least thirty kilometers. The northern cap seemed to be obscured, not nearly as obvious as the looming gray presence in the other chambers. She looked up and squinted, trying to make out the end of the plasma tube.

It didn’t end. It went on, certainly more than thirty kilometers, getting dimmer and thinner until it almost merged with the horizon.

Of course, on a non-curved surface-as the cylinders were, viewed parallel to the axis-the horizon was much higher.

Given unlimited distance, the horizon would begin at a true vanishing point in the perspective ...

“This chamber’s longer,” she said.

“Yes,” Wu agreed cautiously. Chang nodded, grinning as if at some joke, her hands folded demurely in her lap.

“Now, let me get this straight. We’ve traveled about two hundred and twenty kilometers into the Stone, which is about two hundred and ninety kilometers long. So this chamber could be, maybe, fifty kilometers across.” Her hands were trembling. ”But it isn’t.”

“Look closely,” Lanier said.

“It’s an optical illusion. I can’t see the northern cap.”

“No,” Farley said, all too sympathetic.

“So?” Patricia looked around the cab. The others kept their faces impassive, except for Chang’s secretive smile. ”What the hell am I supposed to see?”

“You tell us,” Lanier said.

She figured furiously in her head, looking up at the opposite side of the chamber, trying to calculate distances in the strange perspective of the huge cylinders. ”Stop the truck.”

Farley brought the vehicle to a halt and Patricia descended from the cab to stand on the roadway. Then she clambered up a ladder to a platform on top of the cab and looked down the straight line of the road. The road went to its own vanishing point-no cap, no barrier.

Above, the rest of the landscape did much the same.

“It’s bigger,” she said. Farley and Lanier stood by the truck, looking up at her. Wu and Chang joined them. ”It’s bigger than the asteroid. It goes beyond the end. Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

“We don’t tell,” Lanier said. ”We show. It’s the only way.”

“You’re trying to tell me it doesn’t stop, it goes right on out the other end?”

She heard the touch of panic and high-pitched fascination in her own voice.

The Stanford professor, six years before, had been wrong.

Someone besides extraterrestrials and gods could appreciate her work.

She now knew why she had been brought up from Vandenberg, carried to the Stone by shuttle and OTV.

The asteroid was longer on the inside than it was on the outside.

The seventh chamber went on forever.

Top ^


The singularity (flaw).



“This is it,” she said. ”Where everything goes haywire in the corridor.”

It resembled a half-meter-wide pipe made of quicksilver, stretching off to its own vanishing point, not in a straight line and not in a curve, not moving and not standing still. If it could be said to reflect at all, it did not behave like a mirror, imaging instead barely recognizable imitations of its surroundings.

Patricia approached the singularity, trying not to look at it directly. Here, the laws of the corridor were twisted into a neat, elongated knot, a kind of spacial umbilicus.

It distorted her face as if with a gleeful malevolence.

“It doesn’t look straight, but it is. It resists penetration, of course,” Farley said, reaching out with a gloved hand to touch the blunt end. Her hand slid gently to one side. ”It seems to produce the force that acts like gravitation in the corridor. The net effect is an inverse-square force which is ineffective within the length of the seventh chamber but goes to work right outside the connection with the corridor. The transition is very smooth. Out in the corridor, the farther from the singularity you are, the greater the force, until you reach the corridor walls. Makes it seem like the walls are pulling you. Voila! Weight.”

“Is there any difference between walls pulling and singularity pushing?”

Farley didn’t answer for a moment. ”Damned if I know. The singularity stretches down the middle of the corridor within the tube. There’s speculation it has something to do with maintaining this plasma but ... honest, we’re all ignorant here. You have a wide-open field to explore.”

Patricia reached out with her hand. The twisted-mirror surface reached back to her with an out-of-focus something, not a hand. The hand and its opposite met. She felt a tingling resistance and pressed harder.

Her hand was gently pushed down the length until she lifted it away.

Patricia-somewhat to her surprise-understood the principle immediately.

“Of course,” she said. ”It’s like touching the square root of space-time. Try to enter the singularity, and you translate yourself through a distance along some spacial coordinate.”

“You slide along,” Farley said.

“Right.”

Walking on air - Thistledown.

“Going up will take some will power,” Takahashi warned. At the far end of the reception area were two open shafts sunk into the wall. ”Not recommended for those with vertigo.”

They entered the left-hand shaft. Takahashi pointed down and reached out with his foot to tap a red circle on the floor. The circle glowed.

“Seven,” he said. ”Both of us.”

The floor receded. With no visible support, they flew up the shaft.

Except for the appearance of motion there was no sensation whatsoever.

Patricia’s eyes widened and she reached for Takahashi’s arm. Above the reception area, the shaft was featureless. There was no way of telling how many floors were passing.

“Only takes a second,” he said. ”Don’t you love it? I don’t know how many novels I’ve read with this sort of thing in them. In Thistledown City, it’s real.” This was the first time Patricia had heard him express delight. He seemed intensely interested in her reaction: Another spaghetti worm mystery, she thought. See how the girl screams.

She let go of his arm just as a portion of the shaft became transparent in front of them. They were smoothly, gently deposited on the floor beyond.

Patricia swallowed hard. ”I am amazed,” she said with some effort, “how well everything is working here, while nothing much works in the second chamber.” Takahashi nodded, as if acknowledging that was an interesting problem, but he was unable or unwilling to provide the answer. ”Follow me, please.”

The hallway curved off to either side. It was round in cross section, and its color varied smoothly from rich forest green to dark maple.

Always they seemed to walk in a circle of warm light. Patricia looked down and noticed that their feet touched an invisible plane above the floor of the hallway. ”We’re walking on air,” she said, suppressing a nervous tremor.

Favorite illusion for the Stoners. Gets dull after a time.”

Top ^


The Death



“Hey, we have more pictures from the external cameras!” someone yelled. The wide-screen video was wheeled out and connected to the central cafeteria hookup.

Patricia did not look at the video screen. She had seen satellite and lunar telescope pictures of the conflagration in the Thistledown City library. Somewhere on Earth, in Washington or in Pasadena in Hoffman’s office-copies of those pictures were being embraced by the destruction they depicted, an ouroboros of doom.

Carrolson watched, however, eyes narrowed, lips drawn back.

One by one, the cities blossomed. The atmosphere rippled over each explosion, as if a giant steel ball had been dropped in a pond.

Over the western limb, beyond the Atlantic, a brighter-than-dawn glow was creeping, now yellow, now purple, now green.

The whole world was being swept by a crown fire, with the flames leaping not from tree to tree, but from city to city, continent to continent.

People were no more substantial than pine needles.

Top ^


Personal re-entry - atmosphere surfing on an air-sled.



Mirsky spun in his path to survey the city He had never seen such a city as his thrusters pushed him a hundred meters away from the bore hole, then two hundred, then three. He spotted the landmark he was after-the zero bridge spanning the chamber-circling river-and pushed himself away from the Potato’s axis, toward the thin glow of the plasma tube.

Other soldiers had already fallen free through the atmosphere barrier and the plasma tube. Their informant had assured them passage was safe, as long as they did not linger-but Mirsky trusted only experience and survival. He could not see whether his comrades were alive or dead when he saw them at all, they were too tiny to make out details. They were dwarfed-how could a few hundred soldiers command an object as big as a republic?

The perspective changed very slowly as he fell away from the axis.

Silence, not even the sound of wind yet. He prepared his air-sled, fanning out and locking its segments.

Then he noticed he was drifting some degrees away from the bridge.

He corrected with another thruster burst. There was so little sensation he might go mad and yet he had been falling for only a minute or so, very slowly...

He made one more thrust and then unfastened and discarded the rocket pack. Where it fell he did not care, so long as it didn’t land on him.

The sled jerked and whirled around. He blacked out for a moment, then came awake to a bone-crushing slam and a high-pitched, wavering scream.

Coming down.

The sled swung around again and bucked but was now committed to one orientation. He was pressed against its inner surface, padded elbows and knees braced, hoping he had broken no bones. It had been more violent than the falls from three meters in training. He tasted blood in his mouth. He had bitten almost through his inner cheek-he could flap the tissue with his tongue. He closed his eyes against the pain-(And gathered up his chute in the golden grassy field, smiling at the burning sun, looking for his comrades, shielding his eyes to spot the distant specks of the transport plane) - And fell. He hastily unbuckled from the sled. The air roared around him. Then he grasped the straps loosely in his hands.

He flipped the sled over and it was torn from his fingers.

Made it! From here on it was a simple freefall and parachute exercise.

He tucked to roll, and spread his arms and legs to flatten out and stabilize. The bridge was still only a line of white over the blue-black river. Was it really the right bridge really the zero bridge?

Yet he could spot the tiny speck of a guard shack nearby and make out lines of defense and sandbag emplacements.

And he couldn’t have fallen so far wrong as to traverse a third of the chamber’s area ... He was right on, too close in fact-he would have to drift away some.

The wind hummed mildly past his helmet now. He checked his laser and Kalashnikov and made quick surveys of his equipment belt.

Chute release had to be gauged purely by eye. There was no sense counting from the axis, since everyone would fall at a different rate.

He held out his thumb. It covered the length of the bridge.

He pulled the rip cord and the chute leaped away, billowed, collapsed and billowed again, spreading wide in the shape of a package of small sausages.

Mirsky jerked and dangled and gathered his guidelines in both hands, pulling one, then the other, spilling a little air from one side of the chute to move in one direction, then from the other side.

He saw with relief that he would land some five kilometers from the objective. Unless they had far more men than reported-and radar-aimed automatic guns within the chambers, which their informant had told them they did not-they would probably not bring him down.

He saw others coming down beside him and above him, only a few below.

In all, hundreds of them.

Top ^


Olmy and a Frant meet Patricia.



“Miss Vasquez?” Patricia turned to face a man she had never met before. He sat on the concrete edge of the underground entrance. His hair was black and short and he wore a close-fitting black suit.

“Excuse me,” she said, her eyes not really focusing on him. She was in the grip of a powerful working state. ”I don’t know who you are. I can’t stay.”

“Nor can we. You must come with us.”

A tall creature with a head almost as narrow as a board and jutting eyes rose from behind the ceiling. Its shoulders were wrapped in silvery fabric; otherwise it wore nothing. Its skin was smooth as fine leather and just as brown.

She stared, inner concentration evaporating.

“Things are in quite a riot here, aren’t they?” the man said.

Patricia realized that he had a nose but no nostrils. His eyes were pale blue, almost blank, and his ears were large and round.

“Excuse me,” she said more softly. ”I don’t know who you are.”

“My name is Olmy. My companion is a Frant; they don’t have names. I hope you don’t mind our intruding. We’ve been watching everybody very closely.”

“Who are you?” Patricia asked.

“I lived here, centuries ago,” Olmy said. ”And my ancestors before me. For that matter, you could be one of my ancestors. Please. We don’t have time to talk. We must leave. Down the corridor.”

“Really?”

“That’s where my home is. The Frant and his people come from elsewhere. They ... well, working for us doesn’t quite describe it.”

Top ^


Tube riding



“Let’s go,” Lanier said. They hooked their safety lines to a long pole stretched out near the aircraft and kicked away one by one to enter the hatch. Two people fit into the airlock; they cycled twice, Lanier waiting until last. With the hatch sealed and air pressure restored, he removed his suit and folded it into the compartment beneath the airlock controls.

With only four passengers, the aircraft interior was spacious.

The forward part of the cabin was filled with boxes of scientific equipment; Carrolson and Farley checked them out before strapping in.

Lanier joined Heineman in the cockpit.

“All fuel and oxygen cables clear,” Heineman said, checking the instruments. ”I’ve run the diagnostics on the tuberider. Everything’s go.”

He looked expectantly at Lanier.

“Then go,” Lanier said.

Heineman swung out the pylon which held the tuberider controls and locked it before him. ”Hang on,’ he said. Then, over the intercom, “Ladies, barf bags are in the pouches of the seat in front of you. Not suggesting, you understand.”

He depressed the clamp controls. Slowly, smoothly, the tuberider began to slide along the slender silver pipe of the singularity. ”A little more,” he said. Lanier felt himself pressed back into his seat.

“And a little more still.”

They were heavy now, lying on their backs in a cockpit and cabin suddenly upended. ”Last bit,” Heineman said, and they effectively weighed half again more than they would have on Earth. ”There’s a rope ladder I’ll unroll down the aisle, just in case anybody has to go to the bathroom.” He grinned at Lanier. ”I don’t recommend the lavatory in these conditions. We didn’t get enough specs to design for comfort. I’ll let up on the clamps if anyone gets desperate.”

“Count on it,” Carrolson said from the cabin.

Lanier watched the corridor moving slowly, majestically around them.

Through the windscreen, the floor of the corridor merged in the distance with the pearly central glow of the plasma tube ... stretching perhaps forever.

“The ultimate escape, isn’t it?” Heineman asked, as if reading his thoughts. ”Makes me feel young again.”

Top ^


Axis City



Directly ahead, a section of the barrier bubbled toward them and dissolved in a scatter of red pulses. They passed through.

Her first impression was that they were suddenly underwater.

The plasma tube had ballooned out in all directions, widening by several kilometers and glowing the oceanic blue she had seen around the circular barrier. The floor of the corridor was still visible on all sides but reduced in definitionand overlaid by the plasma’s new color.

Directly ahead, two broad cubes were strung in succession along the pale thread of the singularity. Each of the visible faces of the cubes were marked with a broad horizontal cleft; the front of the foremost cube welcomed the singularity through a large hemispheric dimple, marked by glimmering spokes. At the center of the indentation was a red hole, and there the singularity was engulfed.

Beyond the cubes-and several times as broad-was a cylinder, rotating around its central axis, the line of the singularity. Its outer surface sparkled with thousands of lights; the side facing her was dark but for a series of five radiating arrays of beacons.

Next in line after the cylinder, three curved vanes stretched outward to the structure’s maximum radius, perhaps ten kilometers. The vanes seemed to touch or support the plasma tube, making it glow blue-white around the outermost edge of each vane. Whatever else was beyond the cylinder was effectively blocked from view.

“Home,” Olmy said behind her. She turned and looked at him, blinking.

“The first segments are navigation and power stations, all automatic. The rotating cylinder is Axis Nader. We can’t see them from this perspective, but beyond lie Central City, Axis Thoreau and Axis Euclid.”

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“We’ll enter a dock in Axis Nader.”

“How large is the city?”

“Do you mean, how extensive, or how many people?”

“Both, I suppose.”

“It stretches forty kilometers down the Way, and it has a population of about ninety million-twenty million corporeal, embodied; seventy million stored in City Memory.”

Top ^


The Wald



The Presiding Minister of the Infinite Hexamon Nexus, Ilyin Taur Engle, kept his quarters in one of Central City’s six broad ventilation shafts, buried deep in the spreading Wald.

Olmy had never wished to settle into a primary home, but he envied the P.M. his quarters nonetheless. There was such an air of isolation and peace in the Wald, and such a fantasy of elegance in the quarters themselves.

The six shafts ran straight from the outermost facets of Central City to the governing spheres at the precinct’s core.

Within each shaft, as many as ten thousand corporeals lived among the winding paths through the Wald. Their homes varied from thick clusters of communal glass floats anchored to the broad aerial roots, to small free-moving cells adequate for one or at most two homorphs, or no more than four of the average neomorphs.

The Wald was both decoration and a nod to Naderite philsophies; about a third of Central City’s atmosphere needs were taken care of in the shafts, with Geshel-designed scrubbers doing the rest. Thousands of varieties of trees and other plants-some food-bearing-had been genetically altered and adapted to weightlessness. Fully a third of the Axis City’s biomass was botanical and concentrated in the Wald.

One of Olmy’s great pleasures was to tarzan through the Wald, flying from root to limb, drifting down the paths without benefit of traction fields. There were designated sport paths and quickways with many exercising homorphs and a few whizzing neomorphs and virtually no vehicles; he had timed himself on a thousand different occasions on the more difficult of these and had honed his time down to as little as fifteen minutes from outer facet to shaft bottom.

Plastic tubes containing thick luminescent soups of bacteria, known as light-snakes or glow-worms, wound through the Wald, each a meter thick and sometimes half a kilometer long.

In glades, they would macrame across one side in dazzling bright patterns, proximity making some glow peach and red, others dull down to a rich dark gold. Homorphs often gathered in the glades to bathe in the light from the patterns; Olmy barely glanced into the few glades he passed, intent on his steady progress down the shaft.

It took him twenty minutes to reach the Presiding Minister’s quarters.

He left the main path by way of a narrow fork, and drifted through the flowering hoops formed by a tormented root. The quarters floated in the middle of the P.M.’s private glen.

The residence was designed like an old eighteenth-century terrestrial English manor house, with many modifications to allow for the lack of up and down. There were three roofs, and ways to enter the house from six different angles. Bay windows opened on three axes.

Geometric cypress growths screened one window against a glow-worm pattern at the far end of the glen.

Monitors flew up to him as soon as he emerged from the flowering hoop tunnels and identified him positively, retreating to their other duties: hedge trimming, insect watch and keeping track of the P.M.’s pets.

Top ^


Neomorphs



Olmy braced himself into a dormier and watched with a mix of condescension and boredom a brief picting of the household’s recent activities. When the pictor cleared, he saw an unfamiliar neomorph preceding the P.M. into the waiting room. The neomorph, vaguely fish-shaped, limbless, regarded Olmy with a crystalline fox face and pitted casual greetings, but no ID. Olmy returned the greetings with a similar deletion, recognizing one of Toilet’s aids. The neo-morph exited through the bright door, surrounded by its own midge-cloud of compact monitors.

“Getting more and more daring, aren’t they?” the P.M. asked, extending his hand. Olmy shook it. ”Now I ask you-would you trust somebody you can’t shake hands with?”

“I’ve not trusted many I could shake hands with,” Olmy said.

Top ^


Gate Traffic & the Axis City



The seven of them watched in silence as the Axis City was projected before them in hypnotic detail. They seemed to approach the city from out of the north, swooping along very close to the singularity-the flaw-and passing through several dark shields.

Their point of view then fell to very near the wall of the Way, until they seemed to hover a few hundred meters over the flowing lanes of traffic. Heineman twitched when he saw rushing tank-like cylinders conveyed along multiple tracks below them, each cylinder equipped with a circle of brilliant forward-facing searchlights on the nose and three.bands of running lights along the side. In the distance, a four-kilometer-wide gate terminal accepted thousands of the cylinders from all directions. (A visual appendix briefly showed them the interior of the terminal-maze of multilevel switching yards, cylinders being rerouted, guided into sheds to be loaded or unloaded, the contents being transferred to different containers for their trips into the gate. The gate itself was much wider than the ones they had encountered-a stepped hole at least two kilometers wide, resembling an open-pit mine but more regular and much more crowded with machinery.) The Axis City was awesome from any angle, but from near the surface of the Way, it was overwhelming. The pictor highlighted the northernmost parts of the city and explained their functions, then their point of view moved south.

The farthest southern extension of the city was a broad Maltese cross, extended from two cubes mounted one behind the other on the flaw. The center of the cross accepted the flaw, which then extended through the cubes. Here was the machinery which powered, propelled and guided the city along the singularity. The same effect that could move the city along the flaw, and had propelled the tuberider, also provided much of the city’s energy. Generators within the cubes were spun by turbines whose “blades” intersected the singularity and were subjected to the spatial transform.

Beyond the two cubes was a wineglass-shaped buffer, the broad end placed flush against the first spinning cylinder, Axis Nader, where their quarters were located. Axis Nader was the oldest section of the city. After the final transfer of the orthodox Naderites from the Thistledown, they had been moved into Axis Nader, which became a kind of Naderite ghetto.

The then-expanding populations of neomorphs had moved north to Central City and the other rotating cylinders, newer and therefore more desirable in terms of real estate. Axis Nader rotated to produce a centrifugal force at its outermost levels about equal to the force in the Way. Its population was still largely orthodox Naderites, which, it went without saying, were almost entirely homorphic.

Beyond Axis Nader was Central City. The geometry of Central City’s architecture was dazzling by itself. Lanier’s curiosity triggered a graphic breakdown of the shape, beginning with a cube.

Each face of the cube supported a squat pyramid, the “steps” rotated slightly with respect to each other, creating a half-spiral. The overall shape could fit within a sphere about ten kilometers across and was rather like a Tower of Babel, as conceived by the twentieth-century artist M. C. Escher if he had collaborated with architect Paolo Soleri; in all respects, Central City was the showpiece of Axis City. The “twisted pyramid” motif seemed to be universal; it was also the shape of the gate terminals.

Beyond Central City was Axis Euclid, which contained a mixed population of neomorphs and homorphs of both Geshel and Naderite sympathies. Axis Thoreau and Axis Euclid counter-rotated to offset the rotation of Axis Nader, which was slightly larger than either of them.

The projected point of view returned to the Maltese cross at the southern end of the city. Within the center of the cross they found themselves in a docking facility, witnessing the outfitting of a much larger, much more sophisticated version of their own destroyed tuberider. Called a flawship, the craft was about a hundred meters long, shaped like an ocarina pinched in the’middle. The two segments of the spindle were almost featureless, one shiny gray-black, the other blue-violet.

Top ^


Party in a flawship.



The flawship’s interior, crowded with privileged citizens and dignitaries, was even more free-form than Olmy’s craft.

The surfaces varied from oyster pearl to abalone gray, and there seemed to be no edge or corner; only one spacious, long cabin, wrapped around the three-meter-wide flaw passage and propulsion machinery.

People of a bewildering variety of body styles tracted from point to point in the cabin, exchanging picts or conversing in English or Chinese. Some sipped drinks from free-floating charged globules of fluid, which somehow managed to avoid passersby with both grace and anticipatory intelligence.

At the midpoint of their journey, after accelerating at just under six g’s, the flawship was traveling some 416 kilometers per second; it then began to decelerate.

In another two hours, the flawship had slowed to what seemed a crawl, only a few dozen kilometers an hour. Below, many of the broad silver-gray disks flew majestically above the lanes. Four large twisted-pyramid structures were discernible in the distance: the terminals coveting the four gates to Tunbl.

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Gate Traffic



The disk was little more than an enlarged version of the cupolas that had covered the gates just beyond the seventh chamber; except for a webwork of glowing lines, it had no visible lower half, and to Heineman’s consternation, no platform or support to rest on. The party simply floated in the space immediately beneath, suspended in an invisible and all-enveloping traction field which was in turn shot through with smaller visible fields. All that separated them from the vacuum-all that lay between them and the walls of the Way, twenty-five kilometers below-was a battery of subtle energies.

Lanier saw several homorph and many more neomorph pilots and workers at the edges of the disk, segregated from the entourage. He watched a spindle-shaped neomorph weaving its way through purple traction sheets, followed by boxes from another section of the flawship. On the opposite side, the eight Frants also waited to disembark. Their own Frant had returned to its fellows and had already homogenized with them, rendering Heineman’s question academic.

Lanier reached out for a tenuous purple traction line and twisted around to look at Heineman.

“How’re you feeling?” he asked.

“Lousy,” Heineman said.

“He’s a sissy,” Carrolson said, a little pale herself.

“You should love this,” Lanier chided him. ”You’ve always been in love with machinery.”

“Yeah, machines!” Heineman growled. ”Show me any machines! Everything works without moving parts. It’s unnatural.”

The disk began its descent as they spoke. The clusters of passengers excitedly exchanged picts; Patricia floated with arms and legs spread, one hand grasping the same taction line as Lanier.

She stared down at the terminal, watching the disks enter and exit ports near the base from four directions. Many more disks waited in stacks like so many pancakes, or fanned out in spirals within a holding column.

The disk descended slowly, giving them plenty of time to inspect the wall traffic around the terminal. Most of the lanes were filled with the cylindrical container-vehicles of many diverse shapes spheres, eggs, pyramids and some of a blobby appearance, composed of many complex curves.

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Aliens gather for a Gate Opening



Within four hours, the researchers, representing seven of the species that utilized the corridor, had gathered around the scaffold.

Each of these species had demonstrated its usefulness to the human patrons, though by no means their subservience; they were full partners in the venture of the Way, and they came in a wide variety of forms - though not necessarily much wider a variety than the neomorphs of the Axis City, Lanier thought.

There were three Frants, cloaked in the shiny foil jackets that seemed to be their usual clothing away from Tunbl. A being shaped like two upside-down U’s connected with a thick, gnarled rope of flesh-lacking visible eyes, its skin as smooth and featureless as black giass-stood unmoving on its four elephantine feet a few meters from the Frant, surrounded by a red line of quarantine. It apparently did not find the atmosphere uncomfortable, however.

A Talsit researcher stood on its eight limbs beside Yates on the north side of the scaffold, surrounded by a traction bubble containing its particular mix of atmosphere-very little oxygen, with a much higher percentage of carbon dioxide, at temperatures low enough to make condensation form on the field’s flexible boundaries. Its mossy “antlers” were in constant motion. All the other nonhuman researchers were surrounded by similar fields, the most striking being a sinuous, snake-bodied, four-headed being suspended in coils in a levitated sphere of deep green liquid, like a preserved specimen.

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Blowing the cap.



The grips of Axes Thoreau and Euclid were withdrawn, and the huge cylinders coasted south toward the seventh chamber cap at just a little over forty thousand kilometers per hour, or eleven kilometers per second.

The detonators reached their appointed microsecond.

Within the seventh chamber, there was a noise beyond human description. Billions of tons of rock and metal rushed in toward the axis from the seven charge points, and immense fissures shot outward to the vacuum of space.

Around the northern pole of the asteroid, dust and debris spread out in a wide circular fan, followed by a white glow more brilliant than the sun. The glow faded to red and purple.

A seventy-kilometer-wide monk’s cap of rock was propelled away from the asteroid. The asteroid withdrew much more slowly from its severed end, and for the briefest moment, between them, there was a hole in space, filled with the light of the plasma tube, showing an infinite perspective--out of which flew the linked precincts of Axes Euclid and Thoreau, barely missing the asteroid itself, shunting aside debris with conical traction fields. Through the fading glow and spinning chunks of rock and metal, the precincts passed out of range of the Thistledown’s Beckmann drives. The drives then fired to maneuver the Thistledown into orbit.

The Way was now an independent entity. The hole in space began to heal, wrapped in a thousand varieties of darkness-violet and sea green, carmine and indigo-venting winds mightier than a thousand hurricanes into the vacuum.

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Technical Guide


In this Challenge entrants are encouraged to depict small subjects against a vast backdrop. This requires good composition and good command of depth cues. Here are some notes on the two fundamental depth cues: atmospheric haze and depth of field.


Atmospheric Depth

Depth haze arises from the scattering of light by particles suspended in the air. The physics of scattering is well known and is worth noting. Scattering will reduce contrast but does not blur the background image. Selective scattering and absorption of different wavelengths also leads to shifting of color towards the one background color.

So, to achieve atmospheric depth to an image all you have to do is add more of a single color with increasing depth. The color should be the same light color of the distant sky. The result is that the foreground is always darker with more contrast and saturation. With distance, the contrast drops and the image lightens towards the distant sky color - but things in the distance are not blurred.


Depth of Field Blur

Blurring of images in the background and foreground is both an artefact of lenses and an artistic technique. It is not based on any real atmospheric effects. Camera lenses (and the lens in our eyes) all have some focal length where the image focus is sharp. As you move away from the focal length (both closer and further away) the lens will progressively blur the image. The performance of the lens will also vary depending on the wavelength (color) of the light which can lead to color fringing in the out-of-focus areas.

Until recently, macro lenses used for close-up shots of small objects have had a very narrow focal length. Viewers have been trained to associate large amounts of out of focus blurring with macro shots. This is not to be confused with light-scattering which gives rise to distance hazing. Lenses with extremely wide depth of field have become more popular recently. However, the images they produce are often viewed as “trick photography” and can be confusing if there are no other strong depth cues.

Deliberate blurring (sometimes extreme) of the foreground and background is a technique that both photographers and artists often employ to draw attention to the main subject. Combined with selective lighting this can result in images that are characterized by terms like: warm, romantic, or atmospheric.


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