The webpage that answers the immortal question, What if Arenak was for real?

By Roger M. Wilcox
Last updated 21-March-2008

arenak – the transparent metal described in E.E. "Doc" Smith's 1928 novel The Skylark of Space.  It is 500 times stronger and harder than the strongest and hardest steel, and does not soften even if heated to the surface temperature of the sun.

Known properties of arenak

Arenak is the unobtainium, the mithril if you will, of "Doc" Smith's Skylark of Space universe.  It is fantastically strong and hard, yet is more transparent than the finest glass.  It is obviously a fictitious substance that does not — so far — exist in the real world.  But still, the consequences of the very existence of such a substance are staggering.  Smith himself only focused on its use as spaceship armor for his story's intrepid heroes.  Even in Skylark DuQuesne, where Smith mentioned shortages of arenak, he failed to follow through on the profound implications that such a supermetal would have on technology and society.

We know that arenak is transparent, and that it's 500 times stronger and harder than the strongest and hardest steel.  Smith also said that arenak is a "metal," and described the ultra-powerful explosive shells necessary to breach the arenak hulls of space battleships.

  • Manufacture

  • The manufacture of arenak is described in chapter 19 of The Skylark of Space, when the Kondalians refitted Seaton's spherical spacecraft with a 4-foot-thick shell of arenak armor:

    The sphere, grooved for the repellors and with the columns and central machinery complete, was molded of a stiff, plastic substance.  This soon hardened into a rocklike mass, into which all necessary openings were carefully cut.
         Then the structure was washed with a very dilute solution of salt [ . . . ].  Platinum plates were clamped into place and silver cables as large as a man's leg were run to the terminals of a tight-beam power station.  Current was applied and the mass became almost invisible, transformed into transparent arenak.
    The "stiff, plastic substance" described above is elsewhere named the "matrix" for arenak.  It can have pigments added to it so that the resulting arenak at the end of the process will be an opaque, metallic color rather than transparent.  Presumably, non-metallic colors are also possible for opaque arenak, although Smith didn't explicitly mention any.

    Apparently, the arenak craftsman has to work with the matrix in much the same way as a potter works with modeling clay.  He can shape it into any shape he desires, and cut and chisel it after it dries to get every nook and cranny into the exact contours he desires; but once he coats it in salt water and applies an electric current to it, watch out!  It's now 500 times stronger and harder than the strongest and hardest steel.  No cutters or chisellers are going to be able to reshape it then.  So you'd better make up your mind as to exactly what shape and size you need your piece of arenak to be before you commit to that final step.

    There is one monstrous creature mentioned in The Skylark of Space called the karlono, which somehow has evolved so that it grows arenak on its outer surface in much the same way that a fish grows scales.  Due to the Kondalians' lack of knowledge about chemistry, they have never analyzed the biological process by which this beast creates its own natural arenak shell.  If this secret is ever discovered, it may yield some insights as to how to improve the arenak manufacturing process (perhaps so as to require less electricity).

  • Heat resistance

  • In chapter 21 of The Skylark of Space, Smith described how incredibly hot arenak had to get before it would soften, let alone melt:

    Although the interior of the ship stayed comfortably cool, the armor was so thick that it simply could not conduct heat fast enough.  The outer layers grew hotter and hotter — red, cherry red, white.  The ends of the rifle barrels, set flush with the surfaces of the arenak globes holding them, began to soften and melt, so that firing became impossible.
    [ . . . ]
    Arenak doesn't begin to soften until it's radiating high in the ultra-violet.
    By "radiating," Smith is referring to the phenomenon of blackbody radiation, whereby an opaque object at any temperature above absolute zero gives off radiation (i.e. light) at some frequency.  Ordinary room-temperature objects give off radiation primarily in the infrared range; a hot stove element gives off radiation primarily in the red or orange portions of the visible range.  While it's true that even a stone-cold object will give off a few ultraviolet photons via blackbody radiation, we'll assume that when Smith talks about arenak beginning to soften when it's "radiating high in the ultra-violet," he means that the arenak would have to get hot enough that its peak blackbody radiation wavelength is "high in the ultra-violet."

    By "high in the ultra-violet," we can probably assume Smith means within the vacuum ultraviolet range, which starts at 200 nanometers.  Now, for an object's peak blackbody radiation wavelength to be 200 nm, it would have to be very hot.  There's a formula for determining how hot a blackbody is, based on its peak wavelength, called Wien's Law:

    T = 2,898,000 / λmax

    . . . where λmax is in nm and T is in degrees Kelvin.  Plugging in 200 nm for λmax, we find that T, the temperature at which a substance would glow with a peak wavelength at the lower end of the vacuum ultraviolet range, is 14490 K (which works out to 14217°C or 25623°F).  For comparison, the surface of the sun is only 5800 K.  And this is just the temperature at which arenak begins to soften; its melting point would be even higher.  Arenak is obviously capable of standing up to ridiculously high temperatures.

  • Transparency

  • Arenak is highly transparent.  The chapter 19 passage above describes Seaton's new arenak spaceship as "almost invisible."  It is so transparent, in fact, that two paragraphs later, Smith wrote:

    Columns, members, and braces were painted black, to render them plainly visible.
    If a spaceship were made entirely out of glass, its occupants would have no trouble seeing its various interior parts.  Although transparent, glass bends light enough so that glass objects can be plainly seen.  Air, on the other hand, hardly bends light at all.  The degree to which a transparent substance bends the light that passes through it is measured by a quantity known as the index of refraction.  Some typical indices of refraction are:
    mediumindex of refraction
    air (1 atm., 20°C)1.0003
    grain alcohol1.36
    crown glass1.52
    dense flint glass1.66
    The greater the difference between the index of refraction of a substance and the index of refraction of the medium it's immersed in, the more visible that substance will be.  It is diamond's high index of refraction, when compared with air, that makes a diamond stone sparkle when viewed through the air.  If you dunk a diamond in water, it won't sparkle as brilliantly.  If you dunk a crown-glass rod in a liquid whose index of refraction is 1.52, the rod will seem to disappear entirely.

    The fact that arenak is so transparent that arenak objects need to be painted so that you don't accidentally bump into them implies that it has an index of refraction almost identical to that of air.  This would mean that arenak would make for lousy gemstones or lenses.

    Unknown properties of arenak

    Unfortunately, there are some details that are crucial to understanding arenak's implications and limitations which Smith did not mention.  For example:

    Implications for aviation

    Since arenak is 500 times stronger and harder than the strongest and hardest steel, it's usually thought of in terms of providing a nearly indestructable layer of armor plating.  Replace an inch-thick layer of steel with an inch-thick layer of arenak, and your tank or armored personnel carrier or gunboat is now protected as well as if it had a 500-inch-thick layer of steel around it, right?

    But there's another important implication: If you only wanted a layer of metal that was as strong as one inch of steel, you could do it with 1/500 of an inch of arenak.  That's roughly the thickness of a sheet of aluminum foil.  Imagine how light such a layer of arenak would be!  Even if arenak were as dense as, say, platinum, a square meter of aluminum-foil-thick arenak would have a mass of only 1 kilogram.  Arenak has a very very light weight-per-unit-of-structural-strength.  Even assuming a conservative estimate of arenak's density being equal to that of platinum (two-and-a-half times that of steel), arenak's strength-to-weight ratio would still be 200 times that of the strongest and hardest steel.

    Airplane airframes today are typically built out of aluminum, because that's the lightest metal that has any decent amount of structural strength.  But if the same airframe were made of arenak, the surfaces and supporting structures could be made so thin that the weight savings would be enormous.  Supporting rods that used to be made out of solid aluminum — or steel — could instead be made of hollow arenak.  And, since arenak is transparent, the passengers would no longer have to put up with looking out through tiny windows — the fuselage would be one big window.

    And the weight savings on an airliner's jet engines would be even more enormous.  Arenak's heat tolerance makes it ideal for the combustion chamber and exhaust nozzle, and its low weight-to-strength ratio means that the turbine blades, central shaft, and outer housing could all be made much much thinner and lighter than a typical steel engine of today.  200 times lighter, in fact.  An arenak jet engine every bit as powerful and as tough as a modern 8,283 kg Boeing 777 jet engine would weigh in at only 41.4 kilograms — light enough to be lifted by one man.

    Supersonic airplanes would gain a modest, if important, benefit from arenak also.  The leading edges of a supersonic airplane's wing and fuselage are subjected to such extreme air friction that they heat up to incandescence.  Normal aviation-grade aluminum is not up to the task of withstanding such heat.  It simply melts.  The leading edges of supersonic aircraft have to be built out of titanium instead, which is substantially more expensive.  Arenak would alleviate this problem.  It stays hard and strong out to fourteen thousand degrees Celsius, after all.  Furthermore, arenak's great tensile strength would allow jet engine turbines to spin at much higher speeds without danger of flying apart, which may aid supersonic aircraft in being able to produce the thrust they need more efficiently.

    The incredibly high strength-to-weight ratio of arenak also means that airplanes could be built to answer the complaint voiced by every two-bit stand-up comedian since the founding of the NTSB: "If the black box always survives a crash, why don't they build the whole plane out of the black box?"  The traditional answer was that if you built the plane to be as tough as its black-box flight recorder, it would be too heavy to get off the ground.  Well, now, with arenak, we no longer have that excuse.  We really could build a plane out of arenak that was so tough it could survive any crash, yet still remain airworthy.  In fact, an arenak airframe tough enough to survive a 400-knot impact with the side of a mountain would probably be lighter than a typical aluminum airliner airframe of today.  Mid-air collisions would no longer be disastrous.  Gear-up landings would never again twist or crumple the body of an airliner.  The cabin could be pressurized to sea-level pressure at all times with no danger of rupturing.  Military aircraft made of arenak would be more well-armored than a modern tank, and would be able to withstand anything the enemy threw at them short of a direct hit from a small nuclear device.

    But there's still a problem.  Even though an arenak airliner would be indestructable, its passengers wouldn't.  Sure, if an arenak airplane has a head-on collision with a limestone cliff face, the airframe might come out of it perfectly intact, but the abrupt stop would turn everyone onboard into pancakes.  After the first such accident, a hue and cry would go up to install shoulder harnesses and airbags in every seat.  Perhaps folks might even insist that "crumple zones" be built into the airframe at key points to absorb the force of an impact.  Such crumple zones could not be made out of arenak, of course.  And this leads into:

    Implications for cars

    Cars and their internal-combustion engines could also be made out of arenak instead of steel.  The weight savings and resulting increase in gasoline mileage would be enormous.  The human occupants of the car would become its heaviest part, with its gasoline supply coming in a close second and its coolant coming in a distant third.  Arenak engines would wear down much more slowly than their steel counterparts, meaning that the same car could theoretically be on the road for centuries with little maintenance.  Domed transparent canopies over the passenger compartment, traditionally shown in showrooms of "futuristic" cars but balked at due to their lack of protection in a roll-over accident, could become a reality, once again due to arenak's transparency.

    And, as with airplanes, the body could easily be built to withstand any accident, but this would reduce the survivability of the passengers in a head-on collision.  Compared with modern steel cars, arenak cars would have an even greater need for air bags, shoulder belts, and especially crumple zones.  These zones would have to be built out of narrow bands of some soft metal (like soft steel) interspersed between wider bands of arenak — thereby reducing the weight savings.

    But once these passenger-protecting measures were in place, many of the modern safety concerns about speed limits would vanish.  People would have no qualms about hurtling down the highway at 300 kilometers per hour.  This, however, would reverse the gas mileage picture for arenak cars.  At very high speeds, a vehicle's fuel efficiency depends not on its weight, but on its aerodynamic drag.  Drag, in turn, is based on an object's outer shape.  An arenak car would create just as much drag as a non-arenak car with the same body design.  To have any decent fuel economy at 300 km/hr, a car would have to be bullet or teardrop shaped.  This would become the driving factor, if you'll pardon the pun, of the fashionable automobile body styles you'd see on the road.

    Due to arenak's heat tolerance, arenak cars would not be able to be welded together.  In fact, practically nothing made of arenak could be built by welding it together.  You'd have to cast the pre-arenak matrix into the automobile chassis you want, with everything already connected together, then give it the saltwater-and-electricity treatment to turn it into one piece of arenak.  Anything else you want to put on the car from that moment forward would have to be bolted into place — perhaps by "permanent bolts" formed by sticking pre-arenak matrix through the bolt holes, flattening out both ends, then giving it its own saltwater-and-electricity treatment.  However, as with modern steel cars, most of the bolts will probably be the kind that can be removed and reattached later, to allow for easy automotive maintenance.

    Arenak engines would also be a tremendous boon to auto racing.  The main limitation on the maximum RPM of a piston engine is the reciprocation mass of the pistons.  Every time a piston reverses direction, all the parts involved have to tug on themselves to overcome their own inertia.  If a piston chugs back and forth too fast, it's going to fly apart.  This is why modern racing engines are typically built with lightweight titanium piston heads instead of steel piston heads.  Arenak piston heads would, of course, be much lighter still — and the great strength and hardness of the crankshaft and various connecting rods would add to their ability to hold themselves together at very high RPM.  We might start seeing racing engines that cruise at 100,000 RPM and can run at up to a quarter of a million RPM for short periods.

    Unlike airliners, cars tend to go out of fashion very quickly.  It's not uncommon for American consumers to buy a new car every five years.  Those old, discarded arenak cars aren't going to be able to be compacted into little cubes at the wrecking yard, like modern steel cars are.  Not without a solid-arenak nuclear-powered car crusher or something.  They'll have to be dismantled bolt-by-bolt, and the solid parts that can't be dismantled will be discared in an enormous wrecking-yard heap that can never be compacted and will make the junkyards of today look tiny.

    Implications for submersibles

    No longer will the crushing pressures of the great depths be an obstacle to exploring the oceans.  Even 11 kilometers deep at the bottom of the Marianas trench, a centimeter-thick arenak shell will keep out all the water.  You won't even need to pressurize the interior.  And, as with all arenak constructs, you don't have to worry about installing windows because the arenak shell is one big window.

    And if these ocean-floor-scuttling submersible vehicles are practical, then permanent ocean-floor stations won't be far behind.  The fantastic transparent-domed underwater cities of speculative fiction will become a reality . . . sort of.  A mere dome covering such a city, which ends at the silt of the ocean floor, would not be sufficient to protect it, especially if you wanted the keep the air pressure inside the dome down to sea-level pressure.  The ocean floor itself would force its way in through the bottom of the dome and fill the place up in a matter of minutes.  Instead, the "dome" must completely enclose the city from the zenith to the ground beneath their feet.  It must be a sphere, with the bottom half of the sphere filled with dirt so that the air space within the sphere will be the familiar hemispherical dome.  (The dirt will also have to contain some heavy weights, otherwise the buoyancy of the air trapped in the sphere's upper half will lift it off the ocean floor.)

    Hypothetically, the arenak shell surrounding an underwater city wouldn't have to be spherical.  It could be cylindrical or cube-shaped.  But spheres have the advantage of distributing pressure evenly, and so have less of a chance of failure and can be made slightly thinner.  Even with a substance 500 times harder and stronger than the hardest and strongest steel, it makes sense to engineer an additional margin of safety into a structure that's going to have kilometers of water sitting on top of it.  The biggest engineering challenge for these enclosed undersea cities will be the doors necessary to let people in and out.  Docking ports for arenak submersibles, which will of course need their own doors, will probably pepper the shells' outer surfaces, and each of these doors' joints must be built to withstand the enormous water pressure outside.

    And why stop at the ocean floor?  With a hull 500 times stronger and harder than the strongest and hardest steel, that doesn't begin to soften until it's twice as hot as the surface of the sun, it might be possible to build an inner-Earth exploratory vehicle similar to the one in the movie The Core.  There would be two crucial differences, however: (1) drilling through the Earth would proceed much more slowly since we wouldn't have a 60-mile-per-hour super drilling laser like in the movie; and more importantly, (2) arenak isn't be a perfect insulator, like "Unobtanium" was in the movie, so the heat would have to be pumped out of the cabin somehow.  Either the Earth-ship would need an umbilicus stretching all the way up to the surface to vent the excess heat, or we would need some kind of refrigeration system that could keep the interior cool while the exterior was at 5000-6000 degrees Celsius.  Those of you who understand how a refrigerator works know that the only way to make the inside cooler is for the compressor to compress the refrigerant so as to be hotter than the outside, then let the less-hot outside cool the refrigerant until it's ready to be cooled by expansion so as to be cooler than the inside.  Here, we are dealing with an outside temperature up around 6000 Kelvin, and an inside temperature of about 300 Kelvin.  This would normally be a big problem, but with a refrigerator built of arenak it just might be feasible.  (The choice of a material to use as the refrigerant will be left as an exercise for the reader.)

    Implications for spacecraft

    The reason space launches are so rare in the modern world is that it costs about 20 000 U.S. dollars per payload kilogram to send an object into low Earth orbit.  Bulding a launch vehicle out of arenak may help to reduce the price-per-kilo to orbit by lowering the cost required to build robust liquid-fuelled rocket engines, and perhaps by making reusable launch vehicles into a practical reality.  The cost to orbit a payload might fall from US$20,000/kg to US$10,000/kg or even US$5000/kg.

    But the real boon that arenak will provide for space travel is a significant reduction in the weight of the payloads themselves.  Even if it still costs $20,000 to put a kilogram of payload into low Earth orbit, an arenak payload will weigh fewer kilograms.  A space capsule capable of carrying a human passenger and surviving re-entry, which would weigh in at around a metric ton today, might weigh less than a tenth that much if you replaced the structure, heat shield, windows, oxygen tanks, circulation pumps, etc., with arenak — and, of course, it would afford a much more panoramic view than any space vehicle yet launched.  Unmanned satellites and space probes would likewise get a significant weight reduction thanks to arenak.

    Arenak hulls on satellites would also be the answer to the growing "orbital junkyard" problem facing modern spaceflight.  Four decades of shooting material into low Earth orbit has resulted in a cloud of expended upper rocket stages, loose bolts, paint flecks, and other assorted junk whirling around the Earth at 7800 meters per second.  That's several times the muzzle velocity of a high powered rifle.  If any one of the myriad of orbiting bullets happens to collide with a normal space vehicle, it'll tear right through it and destroy anything along its path.  But a space vehicle protected by a millimeter-thick layer of arenak would have nothing to fear.  That's equal in protection to half a meter of the hardest and strongest steel.  No chunk of debris travelling at a mere Mach 23 is going to get through that!

    Of course, the reduction in the cost of space launches is going to result in a lot more of them.  Economies of scale will take over as launch vehicles are mass produced, driving their costs down even further — perhaps the cost-to-low-Earth-orbit will get as low as US$1000/kg.  Rocket fuel, rather than precision engineering, could become the cost-limiting factor in the long run.  Liquid hydrogen and oxygen may become as popular a commodity as the kerosene used in jet fuel is today.

    Implications for everyday items

    Items made from arenak present a new long-term problem, though: waste disposal.  Nowhere in the Skylark novels does Smith mention a means of "un-making" arenak.  When an arenak item or component is thrown away, it can't be melted down or recycled.  It's got a melting point over twice the surface temperature of the sun, remember?  It'll have to be hauled off to a landfill, and will probably never decompose.  Mountains of "waste arenak" are inevitable over the centuries.

    Implications for buildings

    Replacing the steel girders in a building with slender arenak supporting beams sounds like an obvious choice at first.  But there's a rub: Steel construction, particularly of skyscrapers, relies on the fact that steel isn't perfectly stiff.  A tall building has to have a little "give" to it, so that it will bend in the wind without collapsing.  Even shorter buildings need to be able to sway in order to survive an earthquake.  Since arenak is 500 times harder than the strongest and hardest steel, it's not going to flex very well at all.  Arenak buildings might have to be built with "rocker joints" at the base to allow it to sway.

    Or, perhaps, if you're willing to put substantial amounts of arenak into the building (say, using hollow girders with walls that are a whole millimeter thick or so), the strength of the arenak will be sufficient that the building won't need to sway.  It can just stand there and take it when a strong wind or an earthquake strikes.  Homes could be built along Tornado Alley in the American midwest, at reasonable prices, which would stand up to anything Mother Nature could throw at them.

    If you're willing to go that route, you can also get away with using solid arenak supporting beams that are a lot more slender than the solid steel supporting beams used in construction today, thereby saving a little bit of floor space.  But this doesn't mean you'll be able to make the arenak beams only 1/500 the diameter of the steel beams they're replacing.  The structural strength of a solid (rather than hollow) beam is proportional to the beam's cross-sectional area, rather than its width or diameter, and in general, the cross-sectional area of a beam is proportional to its width squared.  A round beam that's 2 centimeters across has 4 times the cross-sectional area, and therefore 4 times the strength, of a round beam that's 1 centimeter across.  So, a round, 1-millimeter-diameter arenak supporting beam would have the same weight-bearing capability as a round steel beam with 500 times that much cross-sectional area, which works out to a diameter of 22.4 millimeters (a little under an inch).  For most big-league construction, this isn't going to be strong enough.  You'd have to make the solid arenak beams a whole centimeter in diameter — equal in strength to a steel beam 22.4 centimeters in diameter — in order to make your building strong enough to stand up to a strong wind or an earthquake without the need to sway.

    Arenak also lends itself beautifully to the "all glass" exteriors so popular in modern office buildings.  The outer transparent shell of an arenak building could provide enough structural strength on its own that it wouldn't have to be built out of several "panes" separated by opaque support columns — the entire outer wall around an entire floor could be one big curved piece of arenak.

    This brings up an interesting question: Do you manufacture the individual arenak pieces of a building in a factory and then ship them as finished arenak to the construction site, or do you mold your arenak building in-place out of pre-arenak matrix, and then coat it with salt water and run an electric current through it when you're done?  Most likely, as the technology of arenak construction matures, a balance will be struck between some arenak pieces being molded in-place and others being shipped to the site prefabricated.

    But eventually, after the land has been liberally peppered with arenak buildings, the time will come when someone, somewhere, will want to tear down an existing arenak building.  Perhaps the building has outlived its usefulness and the land owner wants to put up a bigger one.  Or perhaps the locals want to use the land for a public park.  This presents one very big problem: How do you demolish a building that's 500 times stronger and harder than the strongest and hardest steel?

    If the building was built with hefty, centimeter-thick arenak struts, you won't be able to just set off small dynamite charges and implode the building.  Plain old dynamite has about as much chance of rupturing that much solid arenak as a butterfly does of breaching a brick wall.  If, on the other hand, the building was constructed with weight savings, rather than strength, in mind, you might be able to get away with it.  A lightweight building might have arenak supporting structures that are only a millimeter thick or so, equivalent to inch-thick steel beams.  These you could destroy with dynamite.  But.  The whole point of using demolitions to implode a building is to knock the supports out from under it and let the building's own weight bring it down.  A lightweight arenak building simply won't be heavy enough to collapse like that.  Blowing out its main supports would just create an unstable building-shell that was no longer anchored to its own foundations, which might fall over in a single piece but isn't going to crumble apart.

    "But wait," I hear you cry, "We could just load the building down with heavy iron or lead weights.  Then the building will be heavy enough to implode once the weight-bearing supports are taken out!"  Well, this might in fact work.  But there'd be an immediate danger in the vicinity of a buckling arenak building that you don't get with a steel building.  Steel is soft enough that it will bend and crumple when it can no longer bear its load.  But arenak is 500 times harder than the strongest and hardest steel.  That's substantially harder even than diamond.  If a substance that hard fails, it's not going to crumple, it's going to shatter.  There will be a myriad of tiny transparent metal shards shooting out like shrapnel.

    And once the dust and shrapnel cleared, you'd be left with the same long-term problem facing all other kinds of arenak trash: You'd have to haul it off to some kind of arenak waste dump.

    If the building was built for strength rather than lightness, though, you'd be out of luck.  Unless you're willing to detonate nuclear explosives in the middle of a crowded city, there's no way you're going to bring down a building made with centimeter-thick arenak support beams.  You'd either have to dig the building out of its own foundation, or just leave it in place.  Over the decades, more and more of these abandoned indestructable buildings would dot the landscape.  These might be a boon to future generations of archaeologists, but they'd be a hindrance to a contemporary city that wants bigger and better buildings in its already-well-populated areas.  Cities would eventually have to abandon their antiquated, indestructable urban centers and establish new urban centers nearby, which will feature their own indestructable arenak buildings.  And when those new buildings also eventually outlive their usefulness, they too will be abandoned in place and the city's hub will move yet again.  It will be urban sprawl on a scale never before seen.  Eventually, there won't be any more room for new construction.  Indestructable arenak buildings will become ubiquitous, permanent fixtures of the landscape, handed down from generation to generation, until no one is left who remembers a time when people could customize their living space.

    Implications for civil engineering

    Roadways, too, will feel both the boon and the long-term hidden costs of arenak.  Instead of laying down a layer of asphalt or concrete that lasts maybe 30 years before it needs resurfacing, road builders could lay down a few millimeters of arenak that would last for centuries.  Highway overpasses could be erected overnight instead of over the course of months.  Potholes would become a thing of the past.  Road construction costs would plummet, resulting in streets and highways springing up at a sprinter's pace compared with the reluctant, near-glacial pace of road building we see today.  Of course, it will be next to impossible to "dig up the street" to access underground water pipes and utility conduits, so access hatches would have to be built into arenak road surfaces at strategic intervals.

    Arenak suspension bridges could replace existing steel suspension bridges at a tiny fraction of their cost.  Cities which used to be reluctant to invest in a bridge across their local river or bay will now have arenak bridges criss-crossing the water everywhere.  Every boulevard could be extended across the water, eliminating the usual traffic bottlenecks experienced at bridges today.

    It will also then be feasible to build bridges spanning vast distances.  The Hawaiian islands could all be linked together.  If the problems of of building bridge supports long enough to reach the deep ocean floor can be solved, it might even be possible to building an arenak bridge stretching all the way from Japan to the east coast of Asia.  Or from Madagascar to the African continent.  Or from Australia to New Zealand.  Or even all the way from the Hawaiian Islands to the west coast of North America.  Every speck of dry land on the globe could be interconnected by a network of suspended arenak roadways, making a drive from New York to Paris into a real possibility.

    And along these super-long intercontinental bridges, there would be wide arenak platforms extending outward from the bridges every few dozen kilometers, where miniature cities along the way would be erected to provide fuel and automotive repair and food and lodging for the travellers.  But this lends itself to a new political problem: To which nation do these mid-ocean cities and their inhabitants belong?

    Bridges (and tunnels) between nations exist right now.  Usually, the issue of national jurisdiction isn't such a big deal, because the bridges and tunnels are just roadways.  The tunnel running underneath the English Channel between France and the British Isles, for instance, is considered British property north of the halfway point and French property south of it, and this decision was reached without much hand-wringing.  But when cities start to spring up along a trans-oceanic bridge — cities that generate revenue and can be taxed — national jurisdiction will be a primary concern.  Each nation on each side of the bridge will want whichever piece of the pie is bigger.

    Perhaps we'll end up with a political world not unlike the one in SeaQuest DSV, where the oceans have become the new battleground.  When the growing pains of the new political reality recede, the wars die back down, and the new national boundaries are settled, the oceans will begin to be covered more and more by arenak platforms, floating on the surface of the ocean or tethered to the ocean floor by slender arenak rods.  Although the arenak platforms themselves could be transparent, the people and equipment and habitations on top of them will not be.  Less and less sunlight will make its way down into the water.  The plankton that manufacture the bulk of the oxygen in our air will be starved of sunlight, and as a result the global oxygen content of the atmosphere may fall.  A new environmentalism will emerge, opposing new ocean-top construction at every turn out of a dire fear of global oxygen depletion.

    Got a problem with any of this?  Or any suggestions for the far-reaching implications of arenak's existence that I might have missed?  Then contact me at:  Just don't bring up those bastard metals dagal and inoson, m'kay?

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