On the horizon, it looks like a line someone drew with a pencil.
Up close, it looks like a wall.
A dizzying, impossible wall of gemstones and light. The human brain has no frame of reference for it, no evolved instinct for dealing with something this size. First, you have to take in the tower. A four-footed tetrahedral lattice-work of advanced carbon allotropes, glittering anthracite-black and matte-gray, with roots that dig deep into the bedrock, tapping into geothermal heat for additional power. It holds one end of the beanstalk. Surrounding the tower, the city of Anchor, full of humans there to do business, to research and to petition to move on to the elevator.
And then above that, there's the elevator: the beanstalk, the magic kingdom, the impossible staircase.
Up close it's everything - the ground, the sky - and it seems to go on forever, a vast braid of titanic cables, a braid eight kilometers around. It has an end point, a top, but a normal human eye can't see that far, up through the heavens, through the clouds, past the atmospheric envelope, to where it is tethered to a cluster of asteroids in geosynchronous orbit.
On a clear night, you might see the Apex glittering in orbit like a far-off jewel.
Most people can't stand to look at it very long at first. For one thing, it moves. Not much, but it does; not just sways very slightly, but expands and contracts. The elevator breathes, like a plant breathes; it does many things the way a plant does. It gets worse when someone tells you that it thinks, too. The elevator has a brain - several brains in fact - somewhere way up there. Risers - folks from the suspended city of Earthrise, just inside the atmospheric envelope, will tell you that you get used to the idea of being tied to Earth at one end and tied to a space rock at the other. But even Risers go a little elevator-crazy sometimes, they need to shut off the view, retrieve into a cocoon. Humans were born on the ground, not suspended in space, on a giant living tower. As advanced as they are, Risers are, at most, transient guests.
You have to go up higher, above Earthrise, to find the people who really live there.
Halfway up is a halo of light and carbon and life. It's 17,893 kilometers above mean sea-level, the gateway to Earth between everyone out there and everyone from here. If you want to see what's at the Apex, you have to go to Apsis City first. If you want to come down to Earthrise, or even all the way down to Anchor, you have to go through Apsis City. Here we have perfected our link to the Library wells. Here we have gotten a grip on the Aspects and everything they might provide us. Here we greet the Strangers, and learn if they are friend or foe.
This is the beautiful world between what's legal and what's possible, first to see what arrives from the great beyond and the first to welcome Risers to the shining void.
This is Apsis City: part paradise, part purgatory.
Welcome to halfway to heaven.
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