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Lite in the Sky

Lite in the sky, short story

The energy crisis, in the autumn of 1973, first inspired my idea.  Events throughout the world, at that time, had led to a shortage of natural fuels and my country had suffered extensively as a  result.  I am a naturalised citizen of the U.S.A. although I was born in Huntingdon, England, in 1933.  Being so technologically dependent, America felt the effect of such shortages more than many other countries.

I am Professor Everest, head of Technical Research in the Defence Department.  Because of my responsibilities in such a role,  I was fully aware of America’s vulnerability to the other big powers should her energy reserves be limited.

Some proposals were simple and effective, but the majority were far too complex and unworkable.  One idea was to reduce electricity consumption by introducing “Daylight Saving Time”; whereby, clocks were not turned back an hour after the summer.  I didn’t think this went far enough and set myself the onerous task of finding a more effective solution.  If energy requirements were reduced during the daytime, then wouldn’t it be better to extend those hours, rather than move them about?

Perpetual sunlight could solve many problems and, I realised, I had the means of creating such conditions.  Research in my department had led to the development of high‑powered lasers, primarily for military use.  The intensity of these lasers far exceeded anything else in the world except the sun.

The Japanese, who were also researching high‑powered lasers had already made an optical lens system which caused light from a laser to diverge, yet still retain the intensity of the concentrated  beam.  Together, these developments, could lead to a device which, if constructed as an earth‑orbiting satellite, powered by a nuclear reactor, would supplement the sun’s power.

Of course, it wasn’t that simple.  To create such light intensity would need a tremendous amount of research and money before it could become a practical proposition but, at least, the idea now existed.

I spent all my spare time working out the details of how to make it possible before I mentioned it to an old friend of mine, a scientist engaged in highly specialised work at N.A.S.A. He was one of the few people I could trust to give an honest and critical appraisal.

His enthusiasm was encouraging.  In his opinion, there were no insurmountable technical difficulties. He suggested that I documented all my findings in a report which could be submitted to Congress for approval.

Events moved very quickly after that.  The Laser Intensifier and Transmitter Equipment, (L.I.T.E.), as my project was called, was enthusiastically heard by Congress and a motion was overwhelmingly supported, allocating funds for immediate use.  The project had caught the imagination of all Congressmen and was seen as a panacea for all our energy problems, although it would take considerable time to become a reality.

I handed over all my information to the research unit and, although I wasn’t directly involved, I kept a keen interest in their progress.

Congress had stipulated that the project should be acceptable to the rest of the world, since the radiated light would affect more than just America.  The proposal was put before the United Nations Assembly which reported no objections.  In fact, the project created such interest that China, Russia and the E.E.C., suggested a combined venture covering a larger area with four earth‑orbiting satellites instead of one.

This was a big step forward in world co‑operation and, although my original intention was to give America a military advantage, I couldn’t help being pleased at the outcome.

It took three years for a research team to perfect the principle and a further seven years to construct the satellites.  By the end of 1988, four huge, white monsters were on the launch pad, ready for lift‑off.  Each rocket was sited in a different country and their launch times were co‑ordinated to project the satellites into the correct orbit.  I was at Mission Control in Houston and was able to watch all four rockets rise gracefully into the sky, scorching the earth with their angry, orange tails.

All launchings were perfect and, when the various stages had fallen away, the satellites were nine hundred miles above the earth and in a stationary orbit, relative to our sun.  After minor adjustments with boosters, they were in perfectly co‑ordinated positions.  Once fixed, they would automatically focus their lenses on the sun, intensify the light by laser and re‑transmit them towards earth.  Power was provided by a nuclear reactor which would only need refuelling every ten years.  Each satellite would cover sixteen million square miles of the earth’s surface, providing continuous sunlight for over three quarters of our planet.

When the lasers were energised, it was a strange, yet beautiful sight as the night sky slowly became streaked with thin fingers of pale gold, reaching out, groping for the earth.  It was like lightning, viewed in slow motion.  The voids slowly filled to give the sky an eerie glow as the laser built up its full intensity.

Throughout the world, lavish celebrations were held.  From then on, the world reaped the benefits of permanent sunlight.  The oil situation had steadily worsened, because of high prices imposed by Arab nations, and a shortage of new oil strikes.  In the past, man had plundered earth’s natural resources, believing that future generations would discover new energy sources.  Now, electric lighting was only necessary when heavy cloud masses greatly reduced the intensity of light received from the satellites.  So much fuel was saved that supply was, at last, able to satisfy demand.

Construction sites were able to operate on a twenty‑four hour basis without expensive flood‑lighting.  This created a much quicker turnover in buildings and assisted the house‑building programme.

A totally unexpected result of perpetual sunlight was the noticeable drop in the crime rate.  The reason was, simply, that most criminal acts were previously executed under Nature’s mantle of darkness.

Unlike the sun, the satellites’ energy had no significant heating effect yet, psychologically, it was warmer.  LITE had, surprisingly, brought peace and prosperity to mankind. Even guerrilla warfare was reduced.

As instigator of the principle, I enjoyed the honours normally bestowed upon much more eminent people with interviews for ‘Life’ magazine and television networks.

My whole way of life was altered by this sudden exposure to the public, in a way that frustrated and annoyed me.  Previously, my life had been devoted to science, but this mundane existence had changed to one of social gatherings and small talk.  My glory, however, was to be short lived.

I had expected some disadvantages of perpetual sunlight, but considered them to be far outweighed by the benefits.  I was fully aware that, after thousands of years, man had become accustomed to sleeping during the hours of darkness and would take time to adjust. Doctors’ surgeries became full of run‑down, over‑stressed people, their condition being emphasised by aggressiveness.  Anarchists used this state of mind to propagate violence and general unrest, resulting in the deaths of several thousand people.  The health of those who managed to survive the violence sank to an all‑time low.  Although a direct connection with perpetual sunlight was not proven, it was too much of a coincidence to ignore.

Urgent investigations were made by scientists who concluded that the metabolism of life would take several generations to adapt to the new conditions  we had created.  The inquiry also revealed that this affected more than just human beings.

Free running animals died in large numbers and for no apparent reason.  Those that did survive were of little use for food produce because of weight loss or very much reduced milk yield.  This, in turn, aggravated the already serious food situation and caused the death, by starvation, of hundreds of thousands of people.

There was still worse to come.  All plant life slowly began to wither and die.  Areas which had once been lush, green pastures were gradually being transformed into arid deserts, occasionally dotted with the pathetic skeletons of, once proud, sturdy trees.  Again, tests were carried out to find the cause of vegetable decay.  It was found that, because there was no darkness, plants were being deprived of precious oxygen, so essential to life.

Poisonous carbon dioxide, exhaled by man into the atmosphere, was formerly absorbed by plants during daylight.  With plant life fast disappearing, the only prospect for man was starvation and extremely agonizing slow death.

Few places in the world have escaped the terrible consequences of perpetual sunlight.  The areas around the poles were not affected, but the land was not conducive to the growth of vegetable matter. In time, the mantle of carbon dioxide would spread to the whole planet and, perhaps, cause the polar ice‑caps to melt, bringing even more devastation.

This tragedy is caused by forcing the laws of nature through too big a change too quickly.  The world has realised its mistake too late to replace the millions of precious lives that have been lost.  Lost by my inadvertent meddling with what God had intended for his children.

The satellites’ power has been shut down now, although they still wander through space in their endless orbit, waiting for the day when man is better suited to perpetual sunlight.

The rational people of the earth are now salvaging what they can of, near extinct, animal and plant life but it is too late for many species.  Never again will man have the use of cattle to provide food or the enjoyment of eating many different vegetables.  Farmers are praying that the weather will be kind for the next harvest, raised from the last remaining seeds in man’s possession.

Ironically, mankind is too occupied, struggling for survival, to engage in any kind of warfare, therefor, my original intention of giving America a military advantage has not been necessary after all.

There is only one person who, to everybody’s mind, is public enemy number one.  As instigator of perpetual sunlight, I must suffer the wrath of man for its devastation.  I am seen as a mass murderer, overshadowing anything that such tyrants as Hitler were guilty of.    I cannot blame them for wanting my life in return.  They shall have their wish.  The police cannot protect me forever.

I am leaving this letter of explanation as a warning to anyone else who thinks he can do better than nature.

Stuart Everest.

March 13th 1995

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