Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Landfall Chapter 10

Chapter 10

Mason had gotten to one of the old tables under a stand of listless trees just across the street from Ascentech. It was a hot day to be out, but he didn't mind as the hot air was not as humid as the atmosphere in Huntsville was. For months he had been commuting first by plane and, more lately, by videoconference from his Directorate Offices in Huntsville. This being no overseas venture requiring months of time to be on the spot and on the job, meant that he had the opportunity to actually spend most of the time home with his family. Instead of weeks in Arizona and then days back at home, he now spent weeks at home and rarely got out to Arizona and Ascentech. He had asked Tamara and Brent to come with him to discuss matters and as they had gotten to one of the spots that afforded only intermmitent shade, that meant that anyone else coming over for lunch would head towards one of the tables with real shade. A bit of pulling the table into place meant that there was no easy carrying of voices further into the trees and an old barbecue pedestal and half wall garnered just a bit of privacy out in the open.

He smiled at Tamara who sat across from him and was in a white with green flower print sundress, her hair in a ponlytail and the thought of high heels having been replaced by sandals some time ago. Brent was sitting next to him with a blue short sleeved shirt, black pants and shoes, with a cap that had the Ascentech logo next to the HST logo that Mr. Lassiter's company had put together which featured a winged man in the air carrying suitcases. Tracking all of what had been going on had been a real challenge by Skype and VPN video services to the Hilton where they were located, but he had done that with approval from the DOGIS leadership.

"Well, its good to get back again," he said taking out the oriental cold beef salad he had picked up last night and putting with it a hot bag of chips and container of tomatillo salsa from a local vendor. Add that to the iced coffee and he felt positively cosmopolitan out under the desert sun under Mesquite and Desert Willow trees. "The operations have really changed and I just never knew how big Building #3 was. I mean I knew it was large from the outside, but that never gave me the feeling of space that the inside does."

Brent nodded as he pulled out a fast-food burger, fries, and covered cup of some liquid that was obviously cold but had water evaporate from it before it could form droplets on the outside.

"This warehouse park was first put up back around '43 for aircraft maintenance for planes that couldn't make it up to Washington State and couldn't be handled by the fields on the coast. You need something big to handle a Super Fortress and that was one of the buildings where they could pull a plane in by sections on that old rail line in the back of it and unload it."

"I think Mr. Nordhaus is looking to start using that again for transporting the ALV's to and from here," Tamara said unwrapping her sandwich and tugging open a bag of potato chips from a white bag she had brought with her. "A few of the ties need to go, I think, and the rails tested to make sure they are still good. The main problem is getting to a switching yard as the switches for this spur were ripped out north and south at the main lines some time in the '70's. Now it is a rail line to nowhere."

Mason smiled after trying the salsa with the chips and being very glad of the small pot of sour cream that he had gotten at the same time. Together the acid of the tomatillo and heat from the chiles needed the faint sweetness and cold of the sour cream to offset them.

"There may be money for that in the near future," he said while using a fork to press into the somewhat sodden oriental salad.

"Really?" Tamara asked opening her milk carton and taking a drink from it, "Is someone going to be using it besides us?"

Mason inhaled and put his fork down to look at Tamara and then Brent.

"You know I've been tasked with a few other things by DOGIS, right?"

Brent and Tamara nodded.

"Mostly presentations for DOGIS, isn't it?"

Mason nodded and dipped a chip first in salsa and then in sour cream before crunching it down, followed with a swallow of iced coffee.

"Yes, that's right. There are about six future technologies or emerging technology teams in DOGIS and we were all tasked for presentations to the DCP and MTT boards."

Tamara looked puzzled.

"The Boards? But why?"

Brent had a french fry between his fingers and looked at Mason.

"Is this having to do with... ownership?" he asked softly.

"I... not exactly, no... the Mars Technology Trust Board runs independently of DCP for the most part, made up of retirees from the VC world and a few moderate sized businessmen now out of the business. Ex-CEO types, with CFO and CTOs included. They get a few years on the Board by invitation and then get a stipend for Board expenses and a small payout at the end of their term. For each replacement the Board gets a decision amongst its nominees and then for the next one it is by nominees from the Executor of the Trust to put up nominees."

"Yes, that shadowy figure behind it all..." Tamara said softly.

Mason nodded, "Only the legal group representing him knows who that is, by the way. I don't think that anyone on the Boards has actually met that person. Or if they have, they won't admit to it."

"Or don't know who it is but do know him," Tamara said.

"That could be..." Mason said trailing off.

"Are you sure its a person and not some other group?" Brent asked.

Mason pressed his lips together and then nodded.

"Of that, I'm certain. Don't ask me how but... I know that each Executor names their successor ahead of time and puts down transfer arrangements under seal to be opened for the given circumstances of transfer. That must go to some one, not some group or organization, the way it is set up. So some one does run the DCP and MTT, but as a silent Executive with very few overhead duties."

Brent had taken a few bites of his burger and was idling through his fries.

"Do you think it could be Mr. Culpepper?"

Mason ate a few more chips as he thought.

"He is a tough man to pin down, Brent. He first shows up in 1992, apparently from Springfield. The problem is, which Springfield? Indications are it is Ohio, but it could be Oregon. He had been in the Marines in the late 1990's and then left the service and moved from his billet in Germany back to the States. Then he takes up a ranch in Wyoming and has stayed there after a stint in the Marines from 2001-05, mostly in Iraq. Try to backtrack in his life beyond the Marines and you don't get very far. He got associated with the DCP after that first tour in the '90s as a sort of roaming agent or headhunter for different groups in the MTT afterwards and appointed Dannaher once he stepped down from it."

Tamara looked at her half-eaten sandwhich and drank some milk.

"The Marines... I mean in particular the Marines... do that, don't they? What you did before you became a Marine isn't as important as being a Marine, right?"

Brent smiled, "That's what my dad said."

"Anyway, Mr. Culpepper got put out with... ahhh... a gaping chest wound from an IED at the end of '05. He left recovery in '06 and was, apparently, fully recovered."

"Really?" Tamara whispered looking at Mason, wide-eyed.

"Yes. Pretty horrific, I take it."

"But..." she caught herself and blushed.

Mason tilted his head and looked at her.


"I.... I..." she looked down at her sandwich and shook her head.

"Tamara..." Brent started, "do you know... something?"

She pressed her lips together and looked at each of them.

"Please don't ask how... I know... but he has no scars..."

Mason shivered as he locked eyes with Tamara.

"You... no... I agree, Tamara," he said pressing his lips together and looking down at her hands.

"Wow!" Brent whispered.

"No... lumps... scars... on his chest..." she said her imagination trying to put what she knew together with what she had experienced and failing.

"That's just weird," Brent said, "maybe a body double?"

Mason shook his head side to side.

"Fingerprints don't lie, Brent," he said finally putting a lid on his oriental salad, his appetite suddenly gone.

"Who is he?" she whispered.

Mason looked at Brent.

"That isn't an answer to your question, really, Brent. But, really, someone extraordinary must be running the MTT. Mr. Culpepper can now be put into that category. I didn't think so before today... but then I didn't know..." he looked at Tamara who was flushed as the leaves shifted under a warm breeze overhead, "...that much about him. He is a tough man to backtrack. There are enough Culpepper families in enough Springfields that trying to contact all of them is a formidable and extremely intrusive concept. And DOGIS wouldn't approve of it, and I don't have time to do it and wouldn't approve of it if it was done."

Tamara took another drink of milk and then started folding the plastic wrap on the uneaten half of her sandwich.

"He isn't... a bad man. Troubled, yes... I think he was... his family... had a very bad start and it sounds like his father was a domineering man who isolated his family. I think they were taken overseas," she said opening the paper bag and carefully putting the wrapped sandwich half in it, "and abused. All of them."

She shivered remembering the description of the family from what she was told.

Mason inclined his head slightly and watched her.

"Yes, they were, that I know, too," Brent said softly.

Mason turned to look at him and Tamara folded her bag and then looked at him.

"What?" she whispered, "How do you...?"

Brent took up his drink and sipped the dark, chilled liquid through a straw and set it down.

"I've spent some time with Herman and Regina," he said quietly, "they are a strange couple but... attractive in their own way."

"What the hell...?" Mason whispered, looking at Brent in disbelief. He was a young man, to be sure, but one of the steadiest operators that Mason knew and very technically competent. Any affairs he had in the past were quiet ones and usually involved locals in places like Poland, the Czech Republic or Los Angeles.

"I didn't... Herman is not all that forthcoming... he isn't... ummmmmm...." he glanced at Mason and then at Tamara who was just staring at him, blankly. "This is private, really."

Mason had to close his eyes and press his lips together, because he could feel some anger building and knew it must be kept in absolute control amongst members of his team that he respected. They were human, as was he, and they understood there were limits to their professional life and their personal lives. Finally, his mind worked through things and his anger drained away.

"We've been through a lot, Brent. Together. I like to think of you as close members of my work family."

Tamara glanced at Mason who tried to press a wan smile back as he turned to look from Brent to her.

"I don't want your private lilves to become an issue between us. You know about the problems in my marriage, how rocky it gets when I have to travel a lot and... when I am with you I miss them terribly and when I'm at home and you two are in the field... I can't help but worry about each of you."

Brent's face redenned as he turned to look at the other two who turned to look at him.

"I do my best to keep those private things... out of work," he said, "I've had to work so much with Herman and Regina that its natural..." his voice got a bit softer, "and Regina is younger than I am but... she isn't that flighty as she appears to be. She knows him well and related some of his story..." Brent shook his head, "no, that's not right either. Diana related some of their family history to Regina and..." he inhaled remembering some of that talk with Regina, "...Mason?"

"Yes, Brent?"

"I've got some interpersonal... entanglements... knowledge... really private stuff... yet..."

Mason shifted around on the bench to straddle it and look at Brent who looked pensively at him and then Tamara.

"Brent?" Tamara whispered across the table.

"Yes?" he said looking from Mason to her.

"It's OK. So have I... with Aaron."

Mason reached out to place his hand on Brent's shoulder and then reached out to Tamara who held his other hand.

"You are good people to work with and know," Mason said, "I'm not your father, just your boss. We aren't on work hours, now, and intimacies..." he gazed from Tamara to Brent, "... are your own. It hasn't impacted your work at all and if you have troubles... I'm more than willing to hear them or not."

"Thank you, Mason," Brent said raising his arm to Mason's shoulder and then their arms slid to a forearm hold in a manner of ages past.

"Yes, Mason, thank you as well. At least this... is in the open between us, now."

"I thank both of you, I think we can let the topic drop for awhile," he said quietly, releasing his hold on each to start putting his containers back into the carry box he had picked up with the oriental salad.

"There is one last piece from my presentations to the MTT," he finally said.

"Really?" Tamara asked, "What is it?"

"The MTT is going to... some of the overseas organizations are being liquidated due to the economy. Not land holdings, those must remain as part of the trust, but companies that are duplicative or not doing well are being shut down. DOGIS will be spinning off its Advanced Technology Groups into separate concerns."

Brent was finishing his burger and had to swallow quickly, following that with a sip from his drink.

"They are breaking us up?" he asked looking at Mason who nodded.

"Yes, active projects that seem to have potential are key to the plan. MTT is taking the two Energy groups, you know Preston and Altamire's groups?" they both nodded, "E-stat fusion and compression fusion, plus a streamlining of Gen IV nuclear reactor designs into smaller and safer Gen V reactors... they are being turned into an independent operation under Preston and Altamire with Preston getting CEO and Altamire COO. Our group is being given Space Support and Logistics and we get to amalgamate your work with our more traditional small business Space Support crew in Buena Vista and Santa Fe. I didn't ask..." he stopped and looked at the two of them.

"We're being spun off of DOGIS?" Tamara asked.

"Yes. We still have formal contractual courtesies for the first two years, so that there can be some personnel migration, just like the other groups have. But in the end, we are made an integral part of the MTT as separate units with independent operation within that framework. I've been asked to organize that which means moving out of Huntsville."

"That's wonderful, Mason!" Tamara said smiling.

"Fantastic! Mason, you're getting a pay raise!" Brent said.

Mason chuckled shaking his head.

"I'm setting the payscale, and what I was making is what I am making. I'll ask all the employees if I deserve a raise after a year. And since we only get a small amount of transfer funds, that means we have to start scrambling for a real income source. Renee Johnson in Buena Vista is our current transactional income chief, getting us a cut of the materials we can procure for the First Gen Space Startups and support for existing aerospace firms. In theory I should be in Santa Fe, but Flagstaff is much closer to this operation and not exactly half-way between all of them. At some point we will have to shut down our California operations so we can actually make some money servicing the older firms and First Gens."

"But... Mason... that's no way to run a company," Tamara said.

Mason shifted to stand up and take up the remains of his lunch.

"It's a small business and anyone who wants to be paid more than me will have to work harder than I do, Tamara. We have been given not just a stable income base with the Buena Vista side, but also a part going into the future. This is a great time to be spanning from past to the future and we are right here, on the ground, ready to support the first group and then to solidify it.

"Logistics..." Brent whispered and looked up at Mason, "... that's what Aaron said was important. The technology, its... its not the most important part. Supporting the technology, supporting it, pushing it forward. All of it is happening right here, right now, in this place and time."

Listening to Brent caused Mason to stop and then sit down again.

"Surely..." he started and then stopped.

"Yes... I...." Tamara said haltingly, "that is so simple. So right. He is the right man, at the right place... the right time."

"Oh, no... he isn't..." Mason looked from Tamara to Brent and then back to Tamara. "We were called in after he got here. I've talked with Ray... Alice, Bill, Kevin... each of them, all of them... it wasn't Aaron Culpepper... he wasn't here first."

"He... Mr. Culpepper... didn't he want Herman... Mr. Lassiter... to come here?" Brent asked in a bare whisper.

Tamara was shaking her head negatively.

"That leaves... no... that is just not possible," Mason said, "It just couldn't be... she had to be, what? 10? 11? When she inhereted the Wildlands Group from her aunt Selena. She's a legal adult, now, but she couldn't have the knowledge..."

"But it answers so much, Mason," Tamara said, "Who first invested from the outside in Ascentech? Diana. Who brought in the one man who could bring infrastructure knowledge to bear as well as more money? Diana. Who brought in the other family member that is a free-form designer of planes, cars, boats? Diana."

"At each and every turn, it is the same person," Brent said.

"Diana Sherwood..." Mason said as he looked at Tamara. "Is she the one... controlling DCP/MTT? She really did seem estranged from Mr. Culpepper. And from Mr. Lassiter."

"They were," Brent said nodding, "Regina told me that Herman had never told her about his family. She thought that he was an only child."

"Yes, and that jibes with what Aaron told me... he was surprised to see her. He had assumed that their father had, ahhh...killed her."

"What an awful family to come from," Mason said, "to do such harm and make such an impression on the survivors that the two who did survive together..."

"Three," Brent said, "Regina didn't know that a younger brother was also surviving until just a week or two ago after she got back from her trip with Diana. No one had told her that, either."

Mason was looking between the other two and then off into the distance.

"Who the hell are these people?" he asked.


Hermes had the old warehouse manager's office and space above it converted into something that resembled an apartment. He was working with Regina and Brent to get the movers to sort out the boxes and furniture that Frederico had shipped to them from the Viceroy. While he was in the back of the semi, he looked at the boxes which Frederico had packed, most likely with the help of a few of his friends, and they were all labelled as to which room they had come from.

"Those ones labelled 'Back Office' are all on the ground floor," he said turning to the one workman who had on a somewhat dirty uniform done in the blue and red of their freight company.

"OK. That's off to the side, right?" he asked looking at Hermes.

"Yes. Those ones in the back with 'Bedroom' on them you can use the freight elevator to the upper area and put it in the room there. We can figure out what goes where after that."

"Right, they're after all this desk and shit."

Hermes nodded.

"After that you can ask any of us where something should go."

"Gotcha," the workman said as he took a step further and hefted a box out destined for the front area of the converted space. Hermes walked out of the way and down the other side of the trailer, jumped down to the ground, landed lightly on his feet and went through the opened door that rolled aside that had their front office door inset into it. This was one of the old delivery freight platforms and served the need of office space for Hiflight's owner as there were few things that would now actually be coming in or leaving the building that was small enough to fit into that space. General deliveries were to the side of the building with another door from the old warehouse back there for such materials. He had been loathe to give up the footprint in the building to office space until Regina had pointed out that it was likely to be wasted space because of other space they wanted for their use. Anything made inside the larger structure had to fit past that converted space, which meant that the rest of front effectively became administrative space.

Just beyond where the door was open, Regina was standing next to Brent as they both directed two men with a sofa to the freight elevator as it was destined for the middle level above the office oriented space.

"Once the elevator is full, I'll unlock it and send it up with you guys," Brent said.

Regina nodded, checking over the inventory list that Frederico had sent to them the previous week. She looked up at Hermes as he walked in.

"Office or bedroom stuff next?" she asked.

"Office. I hadn't realized how much stuff I had back at Viceroy. Where I will put two desks, I have no idea."

"Two?" Brent asked looking at Hermes and then Regina. "Why two?"

"Well," Hermes said looking at Regina, "my upstairs office was for running things, while hers was the supply desk for our lower floor area. That was more the one the public saw most often, just behind the bar area."

"Someone had to keep track of the inventory," Regina said, "and do all the work of coordinating between the kitchen and bar for menus."

"She was wonderful at that," Hermes said, "and Freddy was our bar man, staff relations, customer service, and general manager. Regina picked up all the things between the financials, taxes, getting all the right people paid off and the general manager duties. I know I had to recommend Gavin to pick up those keeping the place in order duties. Plus we split up the talent scouting between us, and I did the scheduling."

"Consuela will do really well in the middle part I used to do. And Frederico will want to shift some things around as I know you had to keep him up on the regulations and I had to get him more involved with the inventory problems."

Brent looked from Hermes to Regina, smiling, as the two workmen were coming back from the freight elevator and they talked with the one coming from the truck, carrying the large box.

"You two make a great team," he said.

Hermes and Regina slid arms around each other's backs and she looked at Hermes as they did so.

"Thank you, Brent," Hermes said looking at Regina, "we do pretty well on our own but... we can't do everything."

She nodded and turned her head to look at Brent.

"I... we... the dream of actually having the Viceroy was more mine than his," she said, "and it was a dream, fulfilled. What we're doing now..." she shook her head, "...I'm picking up more than I really can handle. Herman can do a lot but he's not... well... a Frederico for the main part of this."

Hermes kissed the side of her head and she turned to look at him. Then they both looked at Brent.

"You are welcome to live with us here, Brent," Hermes said, "that middle level is more set up as a bedroom as studio than entertaining area for a company."

Brent shook his head, "No. I won't live upstairs with you two and the middle level has the same problem. Once the contract is over... I..." looking down he nodded, "to be with both of you, yes."

He looked up again and smiled wanly, "It isn't right to those that depend on me to have such divided loyalties. And I do want to see this immediate job done which is at least a year out. Then my conscience will be clear."

Together the three of them got the movers to put the right pieces in the right places, but Hermes made sure that the office space was truly an office, and that the middle rooms weren't dedicated to anything in particular. Just in case.


Regina walked out of the teleconference room at Ascentech with her laptop in a sling case over her shoulder and three long cardboard tubes plus a standard loose-leaf notebook, all of which she managed while having a headset on for her cellphone. She looked into the dimmed space of the Ascentech Design Office and saw that the only lighted desk had Tamara at it who had up designs for the Pegasus which had been decided could now enter pre-production procurement. Glancing at the clock in the room, its lit numbers indicated 7:21 PM and the only other sounds were coming from the assembly portion of Building #1 which had turned into a refurbishment and acceptance space for interior ALV components. Keeping her load balanced so as not to drop anything Regina walked into the room and Tamara turned to look at her from the only workstation that was occupied on in the room.

"I didn't know someone was using the TCR," Tamara said, "it was pretty late and I had to get some initial proposals for materials sorted out and since those are on Alice's revamped design of the Pegasus it meant cross-checking the design changes so the parts list reflected them. The automated system kicked out because of all the hand-made changes and I want that revised list ready for tomorrow's staff meeting for review."

Regina nodded, her work attire now featuring a silk white shirt under a black suitcoat and knee length matching black skirt, which allowed her some freedom of motion even if making her feel more like a mid-level executive of a company than the committed go-getter girl pushing a night club forward. Heading to a table just on the near side of the walking space in the open area of the room, she set down her materials, took her headset off and sat in one of the functional rollaround chairs the staff used as needed, where needed. Running her fingers through her hair, Regina reached into her notebook sling and took out a slim water bottle that was half-empty and took a long gulp from it.

"Bleah, warm water," she said making a face before setting the bottle down on the table.

"If you want I can get you a cold one from the break room?" Tamara offered, gesturing to her right towards the front of the office which had on only the dimmed overheads and the bright EXIT sign at the door.

"No need, this one was cold..." she glanced at the clock, "three hours ago. I'll get something to drink when I get out of here. Dinner too, since the last time I ate was uhhh... noonish," she said thinking that 9 AM wasn't that far from noon.

Tamara shook her head after leaning forward to get the hair out from between her back and the chair.

"You do know it is possible to eat more than two meals a day, right?" Tamara asked.

"Oh, yeah! I mean at the club I would have breakfast at, well, 1 or 2 in the afternoon, gnosh on something around 6 or 7 and get a real meal in around midnight! Switch off between drinks, beer and coffee in-between. Three meals a day, even if one or two of them is only an appetizer. That counts, right?"

Regina smiled as Tamara chuckled.

"Actually, I shouldn't talk. At your age I was doing pretty much the same when I was overseas for DOGIS, just trying to keep up with the rest of the crew. Except it was waking up at 5 AM, then, to try and beat the locals to work because we didn't have a mother or wife to cook for us and the hotels usually lacked in early morning staff. Some lacked in staff pretty much entirely, but that is the luck of the draw on the move. Get a bite maybe at noon if you're lucky and then, something small and plain around 7 PM except on Fridays when it was disco night or hitting some fancy place that you only find in guidebooks."

Regina shivered as she checked her cellphone before shutting it off for the night.

"My age? You can't be more than... what... 30?"

"Close enough for government work," Tamara said, "and you're 26?"

"Ummmm.... 24, but my folks wouldn't put up with me. Or me with them. And now..." Regina looked around her then at her clothing and the pile of materials on the table, "God! I'm turning into my mom! Mrs. Workaholic at the office and crash on Fridays."

"Welcome to the real world," Tamara said, "but I do envy you your time building up a club! That would only have been a fantasy for me in college and then I got the aerospace bug and," Tamara sighed, "the college parties are only a hazy memory now. And I can't say I enjoyed them all that much. The idea of just going off and starting something with no background to it... brrrr... I could never have done that."

Leaning back with the chair, Regina slipped off her black high heels and rubbed her feet.

"OK, these are really just good looking torture devices now. At least my old stilettos I could get custom made so they wouldn't chafe or rub. I can't wait to get back to normal production work and just put on work shoes..." Regina caught herself and shook her head. "I so do not want to become my mom," she whispered, "pretty please?"

"I know that you're the sales staff at HighFlight, but if you aren't going to be seeing people in person, why wear them?"

Regina blinked and nodded, "Had to give a prospective customer a tour of the facilities, such as they are. With the ALV-II we are starting to get some real interesting inquiries that go beyond, you know, dropping a car off someplace without gas stations or dropping out small clinics or parts of power stations. At 10 tons, you start to get a whole different cast of characters. We've had to sub out the making of the skeleton and even some framing for the ALV-I drop systems and that is who I was with for, oh, 4 or 5 hours in the TCR. They're east coast time and having to lay on staff for our production quota."

"Ah, the fun of contracting out work! Still if they can meet your needs and stay in budget, contractors are a big help. Believe me I know what you are going through from both ends of it."

Reaching over for the water bottle Regina took two gulps from it and then shook her head.

"Uh-huh. Then they find something that is lighter, cost 20% more and ask if we would like to use that on one or two test capsules. For such a light system we are lucky to get 3/4 of a ton as deliverable and from then on every pound counts. Herman decided to OK them for his test rigs, which means its coming out of his dwindling account. He's been talking of selling off his race boats which, at least, are only 5 or 6 years old and not totally out of date. He's kept them at a dockside storage facility in San Diego which costs less than running them and keeping them active. He even has a prototype from the last of his racing days he calls the SuperFoil, which sounds like amazing kitchen wrap but I guess is something with half-sonic speeds for surface racing. He says at that speed even a light wave would kill you. Plus he has the first prototype drop ship to do for the ALV-II and he is really looking forward to that test drop."

"You do have a lot on your agenda," Tamara said as she reached over to slide her finger over the touchpad surface for the system she was using and close up her software package. "Ascentech is getting its first batch of tested rockets in which will supplement the ones they have refurbished for the ALV-II. The first ALV-II prototype is too far along in development as a jet, so it will stay there, but the Mark 2 will shift over to their adaptable rocket system and augmented refurbs. Kevin is out in New Mexico taking one of the jets we had scheduled for the first batch of ALV-IIs and doing a hard retrofit of the ALV-I prototype. He hates having to move that to a different facility to get it fueled and wants all the ALV-I systems to be pure jets. Plus he gets to upgrade the prototype into a full Mark 2 version, getting us an airfleet of 5 ALV-I systems. We aren't expecting to build more than what is in Building #2, which is 3 more in partially completed stages and then enough for 2 more as test beds for alternate systems. And the price of Helium is getting high, so we have to start looking at Hydrogen which means better electrostatic charge bleeding and slightly different materials for bladders."

"Helium? But, how can you run short of that?" Regina asked.

Tamara sighed and leaned back in her chair stretching her arms out in front of her and flexing her fingers.

"It only comes from what is already in the rock. There are a few mines that have it as a gas effluent and it is captured there, but what you get is what the Earth gives up from its creation. Start filling party balloons, lofting deck chairs, and putting instrument packages up along with weather sensors and other things like that, and when the Helium escapes it rises and rises until it gets to space and the solar wind sweeps it away. Ray got a huge buy on Helium back when Ascentech started and the Helium was cheap, and has been getting canisters whenever possible if the price was right. He doesn't want to tap overseas sources and get dependent on them. And now the price has gone up and the ALV-II systems may be the last of the platforms for Helium that we can sustain for a decade with what is in storage. Every cubic inch lost is precious and we have specially designed materials that do their best to trap it or at least slow its escapement."

"I didn't know, I've been busy and distracted," Regina said, "I've been working to get the drop system design going smoothly, parts for the drop ship, working with contractors on the first set of drop systems, and then trying to get all the stuff we had in the club unpacked and the living area straightened out. I've got carpeting that needs to go in, electrical outlets that need to be installed, and soudproofing all of which needs to be up to code and not let the zoning Nazis know we are putting living space into a light manufacturing facility. We are just calling it a 'corporate break area' that just happens to have all the necessities of home in it."

Tamara laughed, nodding her head.

"That is the same the world over. It doesn't matter if it is Ukraine, Poland, Huntsville or Framingham, the bureaucrats are their own little dictators no matter where you go."

"Framingham?" Regina asked.

"Taxachussettes. I come from there and my mom moved down from there when I finally got a position with DOGIS. She has my official residence for anyone needing to get snail mail to me, and for tax purposes."

"Wait a moment..." Regina said holding up her hand, "are you saying that you are still living with your mom?"

Tamara nodded laughing and was joined by Regina who could barely catch her breath.

"Not that I see her much. When dad died in '93 doing one of his adventure hikes in the Andes, mom was hard hit because she couldn't be there and had to have AMEX get his body back to the States. She was laid up with a throat condition that wasn't cancer but convinced her to stop smoking, for which I am very thankful! A few years after that when I was at college, well, we kept in contact and the dating for a woman her age in Framingham is... ahhhh... limited. I'm not saying Huntsville is wonderful in that area, but she was tired of snow storms, stuffy officials, high taxes, and Boston Brahmins," Tamara said tilting her head and taking up a nasal intonation, " and we agreed to live at the same address but that neither of us would be there very much."

Shaking her head and still laughing, although much less, Regina got herself under control.

"I'm sorry about your dad, Tamara, that sucks."

"He was a good father, and I've missed him. I know he would have wanted me to excel in anything I did and to get my priorities in order. Mom wasn't at loose ends but really did detest the weather and climate, physical and social, and wanted to be near one of her children. My brother Larry had married and was Colorado and mom wasn't as much into the rock trekking as dad was. Cindy was in school and I just needed a place as an address and mom was willing to provide that and keep track of my stuff. After college I've been far too busy to actually settle down."

Nodding Regina sighed and put her hands behind her neck to massage some of the stiffness after the back and forth of the teleconference.

"Settling down sounds so... " she sighed and moved her head around as she massaged, "...I hadn't really thought that Herman and I would... I mean its not like we haven't known each other, ahhh, you know?"

Tamara pursed her lips together and shook her head.

"You are an odd couple. I know you two and Brent... he isn't that fast to fall in with anyone..." she closed her eyes and thought a moment. "No, I take that back, there was that girl in Prague, and then... hmmm... you know he really gives off the impression as not being ready to jump into bed with someone. He keeps it so low key that you start to think its just a platonic relationship. But the going-away parties," Tamara shook her head, "I usually end up alone at those but he always seems to have someone with him. Yet I'm seen as the party girl just because I get along with everyone."

Regina shifted her hands away from her neck and flexed her shoulders.

"Not this time, though, huh?" she asked.

Tamara inhaled and looked a bit off to the side at a few workstations across the room.

"I had only met Mr. Culpepper briefly at a DOGIS group meeting back when our team was about to head out to Europe. For all that its called a 'party', office functions are usually so structured that you end up being circumspect. He seemed... distant. Not aloof but unapproachable. Single, attractive, maybe not the tallest man in the room or that I've met, but having a... presence. You know?"

"Yes, its like what Herman has but he is more open so you don't notice it that much. Their sister she's.... I... "

Tamara leaned forward and looked at her with concern.

"Regina? What's the matter?"

Closing her eyes Regina shook her head and then licked her lips.

"Tamara has Brent talked to you... about Herman?"

"No he hasn't," Tamara looked puzzled tilting her head to the left just slightly, "I know he is working a lot with you two, but systems are his area and Ascentech has finally gotten steadier with theirs. Why do you ask?"

Opening her eyes Regina smiled and blinked a couple of times.

"Herman isn't... just male. Not a TV or CD or anything like that but... both. True both. My periods," she inhaled and pressed her lips together, "skip. I used to have a regular before I met him but after a few months my pattern changed to his. Or hers, for that, I guess."

At first Tamara looked puzzled and then nodded.

"That explains a lot.... a whole lot... Aaron had said that his brother was a bit more than he appeared... not needing to shave, softer lines in his face and body... I had just thought that he was... had exposure a bit more to estrogen in the womb. My period has been, its skipped twice now. Nothing to panic about since a stressful schedule can do that to me. But why would you ask if Brent...?" catching herself Tamara looked blankly at Regina and then whispered, "oh".

Nodding Regina smiled.

"Brent isn't... he is straight, Tamara. First hand I'll tell you that. Like I said I had to adjust to Herman early on and don't think much of it, now, although he doesn't go showing off. He thinks that sort of thing is just silly. And he finds good partners even when I'm not so... look, he enjoys women and men and I do what I want... which has been more than I expected... but its all just been for fun. I didn't want to see Herman leave, be without him." She made a sour face and shook her head, "I guess I just thought... I was acting like a spoiled brat, maybe, resenting that his sister..." Regina shivered and stared blankly at Tamara remembering watching the screens.

"What...Regina what happened?" Tamara leaned further forward trying to get in the line of Regina's stare.

"She walked into the club... one of the Girl Gangers thought... slim... lithe... with that silly buckskin... bow... arrow... a kid playing dress-up... until... Candice she is... was... hot, aggressive... then... so quickly on the floor..." Regina focused on Tamara, "Candice was flat on her back and Diana just walking as if she hadn't just put down one of the roughest women that haunted our bar... not even a struggle, a fight... one moment Candice with her knife the next... Candice unconscious."

"Diana? But she's so... that's..."

"Three of Candice's gangmates, they wouldn't take that, were out for blood... Herman had recognized his sister and left our oversight office but...that bow and arrow were not for show, not a prop. In California if you show you are armed, you can use them in self-defense... just most bikers are into chains, knives, that shit... no one takes a bow and arrow seriously, you know?"

Tamara slowly nodded her head.

"Did Diana... kill... no, wait you hired two women... are those...?"

Giving a short nod Regina said, "Mel and Nuada. When they went to go after Diana with Liza, people cleared out since they could see the knives. After that... a blur to me... she frightened the hell out of me, Tamara. She had pinned one foot of each of them to the floor and the shaft had even gone into the concrete sub-flooring. We had to bring in a couple of guys to chip them out afterwards. I couldn't unglue myself from watching the monitors until after the police left. Watching her tending two, Herman the other she had shot, while making sure that Candice was settled... she wasn't in it for killing. She broke off the shafts and kept the bleeding down, even made sure nothing was too broken. I've never seen anything like that, and the week after that was..." Regina shook her head, "... confusion, numbers, a couple of nights where regular bangers tried to get her, she took them outside, people disappearing, others scared witless. After each time she would come back to the bar, talk with our barkeeper and a few people who just wanted to find out... who she was, not that it helps any."

Tamara scooted her chair forward to be right across from Regina.

"Did you tell Herman how you felt?"

Regina nodded.

"He was going to give me the club, a fund to keep it going, more than enough..." Regina stared into Tamara's eyes, "...and when I asked why, he said to keep reading the information she had brought... it was all Ascentech stuff... I knew he had been a racer before deciding to retire to do something else... but he was never into this sort of thing."

"But he did... he came here."

"Yes. He said it was family. He loved helping me with my dream, loved me with it but Diana is family and her dream was important, too. It was all laid out in spreadsheets, cost projections, designs, all sorts of stuff I didn't know how to really know. I could only really do the stuff for the club but, its a business, input, outgo, overhead, insurance, making payroll, paying taxes... numbers. The club was... I knew what it took to make it and not just in the hand-waving way but in the get the permits, talk to backers, find suppliers, interview staff sort of way. He had taught me that. Diana had approached him with that, not, you know, begging and pleading but laying out a business in numbers to him. She could speak his language. And she was family."

"Regina, when I talked to Aaron about Diana he is, not expansive. He isn't that way on any topic. Not passive, exactly, just making sure that his few thoughts and wishes are known. I've had other relationships with men, even a couple of marriage proposals that I couldn't take seriously. College I just couldn't and while a nice businessman in Krakow was very handsome, smart, polite, sexy, I just couldn't see myself with him. Others have been for fun and some, PR," she made a sour face, "it goes with the territory, unfortunately."

Regina nodded, "Uh-huh. Been there, done that, some guys you gotta sleep with to get the work done and it sucks."

Tamara chuckled, "That, too. I know I'm seen as the promiscuous one in our group, but I can name of a couple of women who did more and said less and same for the men. Just don't bring it on the job and you can do a lot. I'm not a bio-clock ticker type, if I find someone compatible that is wonderful, if not then not. I love this kind of life and the work, even if some of the job parts really aren't what I want. I'm not prowling for someone and only have a very loose idea of what I'm looking for. I never really thought of myself as the type to look for the dead practical, extremely earnest and quiet type where romance isn't on the agenda on a regular basis. I loved my dad, think military guys are great, just not the type I want to do anything with on an other than have some fun on a weekend sort of arrangement."

Pressing her lips together, Regina leaned forward.

"I never expected to get married, Tamara, not ever. Herman is a great guy, even a nice woman when he is flowing that way, good in bed even with... ahhh... others. The look on his face when he spoke of her as family isn't one I'd seen before, you know? Not faraway but seeing something I couldn't see as if it was just happening with lots of regret. Sad maybe, but also something else. Family mattered to him and I knew that if I wanted to be with him I had to accept his family and become part of it. I was... I'm not the graspy, grippy sort! Once I made that commitment I knew I couldn't be afraid of his sister any more and she wasn't out to make me an enemy. She showed me... I... " Regina closed her eyes and tilted her head down, "I'm not... yet with her... I never felt that way for anyone, not even Herman."

She took a final gulp from the water bottle and shook her head.

"Ah, Regina I think... its a shock, isn't it? Finding out you can love someone like that?"

Looking up and opening her eyes, she smiled, "Yeah. Real shock. I don't see other women like that, Tamara, I swear. Never had before..." looking slightly beyond Tamara and into the distance she sighed.

"Now you have that look, too," Tamara said softly, "looking off, remembering something sweet and sad mixed together."

"Oh! Yes..." focusing on Tamara she chuckled, "I didn't mean to... just... being together... sudden parting not mean or mad just..." then Regina gasped. "My god! Now she's done it to me!"

Tamara shook her head from side to side.

"I catch myself doing the same about Aaron. He is physical, strong, gentle, not passionate about the things that I am passionate about but, when his passion is there I'm... its hot, intense, and sexy. I didn't think that going to an outdoor range was ever going to be something sexy, just matter-of-fact, concentrate and work on your breathing, aim, judge distances. Getting hot, wet and even... more, I do mean that even with all my clothes on its possible to feel that passionate. Plus he enjoys time with me, even if it is out dancing or bar-hopping, not that we can do a lot of that here. Yet he is never mad, never upset and always caring. He told me that Diana has a, he called it a 'wild love', to be careful of. He does know how women can be, and can defuse things that would normally get me upset... but I think he... looks for things that he can grasp and understand. I've known some girls... women... with that sort of deep, moving and wild love. Not intimately, no, but know what he is talking about."

"Its not like female bangers, thats for sure!" Regina said, "And not like most of the Drama Queens that flowed through the club, either. She doesn't like cities or even towns and is really someone else away from them. Away from people. She isn't like anyone... no one I know. Even growing up and Girl Scouts and stuff..."

"Not you!" Tamara said with a sly smile, "I can't picture you in a Girl Scout outfit!"

The serious expression on Regina's face left and she reddened shaking her head while smiling.

"Yeah, me. Cute little uniform and everything for a year until I could convince mom I couldn't make a camp fire or put a knot in a rope if my life depended on it. I had to lie about the knot part, but I was dying of embarrassment. The other girls and moms were OK but no one like Diana. Not once, not ever."

Chuckling Tamara looked at Regina, "I'm a little envious, really. Never got to do that sort of thing formally and my folks said I had to learn as I go when I went with them out trekking to Maine one summer. Fifty foot sheer drops and only that itsy-bitsy harness and a couple of ropes to keep you up... the Girl Scouts never sounded so good!"

"I would have stayed home or with the car if my parents ever did shit like that. Instead it was 'look good for the dinner, Regina' and 'you really need to get a steady boyfriend'..." Regina sighed, "Upper class suburbia! Getting to meet the nice clients in the three-piece suits with wives in slinky dresses, and its hard to tell which had the grubbier hands, you know? I wanted to scream every time I heard 'string quartet' or 'dinner at the Palace' or 'weekend at the bay'."

"And now look at you! Slinky business attire, high heels, carrying around a laptop with equipment designs, cost schedules, and helping to get a multi-million dollar business up and running, talking with a contractor staying after hours at a co-business. You ran so hard away from it you ran right into it."

"I know! I don't want to become my mom!" Regina said looking upwards at the ceiling before she started laughing.

"Uh-huh. So how about you and me go out for dinner? Aaron is out getting his ACES suit personalized in Florida for the next few days..."

"Herman is in Maryland, with our Hybrid Suit contacts," Regina said, "leaving me to run the place."

" why not have a girl's night out and compare notes? And maybe we can figure out what is up with that family you married into. You never know, I might just join you at the rate its going."

"What? No shit?" Regina whispered watching as Tamara pushed her chair back to the workstation and picked up her belongings.

"Yup, no shit. Believe me, any man who can get me to where I need to wash my panties after a day at the range is one I have to take seriously. He has found spots I didn't even know I had and I didn't even have to get out of my clothes for him to find them. Do you think I would pass up on something like that?"

Standing up Regina got her shoes back on and gathered up the materials she had brought with her.

"Now you're making me jealous," she said, "and, no, any man like that is worth finding out about. Just, you know, don't be one of those grubby handed types my parents used to have over."

"Never! I wash my hands regularly," Tamara said with a smile while raising her eyebrows, "always have to start out safe and sanitary!"


Ares sat in a small conference room and looked up as his brother was escorted into the room.

"Thank you, Mr. Chelton."

The other man with him was Andrew Chelton, head of special contracts at Orlando Aerospace Ventures, who was somewhat heavyset while being just a few inches taller than either Ares or Hermes. His black curly hair and dark complexion would lead one to think him more at home on a football field than in a high tech avionics and flight training school, and only the lack of long-term injuries indicated that any time spent in that area of pursuit was probably in his teen years if at all.

"You're most welcome, Mr. Lassiter. I'm sorry our front desk people didn't have someone to escort you in, but we have had cutbacks the past few years and all of us now do double duty when needed."

"Quite understandable," Hermes said walking in and seeing his brother standing up, "And Aaron, it is good to see you, too! I thought I would get lost amongst the buildings of Orlando once I was able to find the actual exit to the airport. I do detest commercial flights."

They shook hands as Mr. Chelton moved to his materials and took a seat across the table from the other two.

"Help yourself to water from the pitcher on the table," he said.

"Airports are a necessary evil," Ares said, "and I knew you wouldn't spend more than two days in suit measurement, and another two in initial fitting. That is why I asked Mason to get us hooked up with a flight group able to do get a more general flight systems package that can be adjusted for your drop ship."

Hermes poured a glass of water for himself before sitting next to Ares.

"We are glad for the business, Mr. Culpepper! OAV normally does work for the Air Force, NASA and places like Boeing and McDonell-Douglas, but cutbacks in government have had us scrambling for other work to stay in business."

"I was skeptical of letting Mason come here, as there are some very good groups in Nevada for this work," Hermes said, "but we had to be on the East Coast for flight suit fitting and it is best to consolidate trips geographically to make them productive."

Mr. Chelton nodded as he opened his laptop, and logged into the system.

"It is a unique place you are going, Mr. Lassiter. Most of our customers either go to the edge of space and want to stay away from a real vacuum, or want to go to space and treat atmospheric work as a necessary evil to get to space and back. You are doing something very different and OAV has been aware of what Ascentech and HiFlight have been doing this year. When Mr. Newcomb contatced us on your behalf from DOGIS, I knew that we had good staff that would be laid off if we didn't get more work in and they really appreciated doing something different. And the parameters of your drop-ship are very different, Mr. Lassiter. Unique in our experience."

Ares nodded opening the folder in front of him which held the few pages of material listings sent to OAV, which then had under it a few more pages of what OAV had done with the vehicle's characteristics.

"Yet your group is particularly good at that work," Ares said, "And I know that at least one other firm has employed you for this work on behalf of the Navy. While this isn't missile testing, it is trans-atmospheric work requiring a knowledge of how to shift from a flight envelope in an atmosphere to an orbital envelope without one."

"We do keep confidentiality, of course, Mr. Culpepper," Mr. Chelton said putting on a pair of reading glasses, "and we tend more towards models and simulations with movement of data sets to multiple flight simulator types. I'm just going over the overview today so that you two can get some simulator time in tomorrow."

"That is why I'm here," Hermes said looking at Ares, "since my brother and I have some disagreements of what is the best way to handle the drop-ship to meet initial flight goals. And that there are significant changes between the prototype and the final production system."

An overhead projector turned on and put up a display of the HiFlight Athena Project Vehicle on the far wall. Two variations of the vehicle appeared, one with a centralized top engine system which had the 'PROTOTYPE' label and the other which had four smaller systems in an arc across the top of the vehicle with the label 'PROPOSED FINAL'.

"When we first got the data, our group didn't know what to make of it until the necessary engineering descriptions came through. I will say this, Mr. Lassiter, we weren't set up for a bi-modal, bi-directional rocket pulse system. That you have two different types, one a more, ah, 'conventional' single exhaust sytem and the other utilizing four bi-directional aerospikes is not only unique but required nearly a month to just figure out. Your engine designer has been most... unwilling, shall we say... to part with more than the basics. How it actually works on the inside is something we can't even begin to guess at."

Hermes smiled as he looked at Ares.

"He is tight-lipped and for good reason."

Ares grunted looking at the designs.

"That is why I wanted OAV. They don't mind working with the unknown if it can be described."

Smiling, Mr. Chelton nodded, "Our mods and sims people don't like it, of course, but for purposes of getting flight characteristics together, it is good enough. They were struck that each of the design plans attempts to maximize the very limited aerofoil cross section that is available to your drop-ship. No matter what you do, that limitation means you are coming in 'hot' to your landing. We have some suggestions on hyper-velocity high altitude chutes to go with the negative thrust aspect of the craft, but realize that mass and space are very limited in either design and that a final approach chute is to be desired."

"That is another reason why I wanted your organization, Mr. Chelton. Can the final approach be done just on negative thrust?"

Hermes looked from Ares to Mr. Chelton and saw the flight envelope graphs for each of the two systems appear side-by-side.

"I can drag one of our engineers here, but thought that better for tomorrow's final briefing. The short is, Mr. Culpepper, that it can be done but with the Prototype I can't think of anyone who would risk it."

Hermes looked confused for a moment.

"Are you saying its possible with the aerospike engines?"

"Yes, it is, if they have slightly directional exhaust systems to the forward and rear. It is the more manueverable of the two and if you work it right you might even be able to approximate a vertical landing by using the outer systems to thrust forward and slightly down, and the upper systems to thrust to the rear and slightly down. At ten degrees you are very close to something like that, although the exhaust forward isn't something that will be pleasant to experience. That is true with either craft. Our flight people admire its ingenuity, but they wouldn't want so much exhaust thrust so close to their bodies, no matter what was between them and the thrust. No matter what you do, you do come down hot. It will take some getting used to."

"That is why I designed them that way," Hermes said, "and using a chute is a good way to slow down to move from flight to horizontal stall just a few feet above the landing strip and touch down."

"Or you could kill forward velocity and balance vertically, letting gravity bring you down and not depending on velocity and lift during re-entry. Nose down for velocity and pull up for lift. Let Earth gravity work for you," Ares said.

"No one flies like that," Hermes said turning to look at his brother, "Who would want to fly like that?"

"As you have an autonomous software package on-board, why fly anyone at all?" Mr. Chelton asked. "You do have configurations for both the prototype and proposed final Athena types. Although it hasn't been certified for this sort of work, it should do that job."

"And it will, for the first flight of the prototype," Hermes said, "it will go through the most stressful set of conditions to see if the Athena can stand up to what we are asking of it. Any failure with that much fuel isn't something I want anyone on without that sort of test. The amount of fuel available is at the very edge of what is capable with this vehicle size. With just near ten minutes of effective thrust time, everything must be tested thoroughly and the instrument package is put on the Inconel plate. After that, once proven, tested, the Inconel gets swapped out and the cockpit becomes fully functional. For that I want a traditional long, slow approach shedding speed by friction."

Ares shook his head.

"Friction and the chute do that. Simpler to kill forward velocity, deploy the chute at one-tenth of a percent of atmosphere and let that slow your descent until you get to ten miles, where it will be shredding to pieces in any event. Detach the chute and you now have speeds just over supersonic and twenty seconds of trim fuel left. Pull nose up, and that means lift, drag and loss of downward velocity for forward velocity. Deploy the main chute to kill the last of the speed and the trim fuel is used for final descent from five hundred feet. It can be achieved with the main production vehicle, not the prototype."

"Very true, my brother, but I'm not skilled at a vertical landing."

"I know. I am."

Looking between the two brothers Mr. Chelton understood how they were, indeed, brothers, each with a strong will and uncompromising attitude, yet able to make some allowances for each other.

"Now, you have both gotten the flight path overview for the prototype, and even as an unmanned vehicle it is fully available from our sims group for use. The main vehicle profile that is, ah, we are at 90% assurance on it and the actual flight parameters don't vary greatly, save for a few percent less drag because of the aerospike configuration. It is the aerospike systems that are, quite frankly, very hard to model in this pulsed mode and we aren't sure that our simulation and physics software is actually showing us what we expect in the way of turbulence of exhaust flow at the low end of pulses. At the higher end the pulses act much closer to continuous flow which our models handle much better."

"What are the turbulence problems you are finding?" Hermes asked.

"Mostly vortex turbulence due to these engines being closer to true spikes than linear vents. We have the numbers from the designer, but they don't model well."

"Nothing my brother does models well," Ares said with a lopsided smile, "but what he makes does work out. What are the main problems with the vortices?"

"These occur only at the fewer than 5 pulses per second range and they appear to be some form of collapsing vacuum behind the spike flow and only in atmospheric conditions above 3% of sea level and becomes more pronounced as you get closer to sea level pressures. The designer noted them as back-pressure influx to fill the vacuum space. No exhaust is pulled back in, however."

Hermes smiled.

"Yes, that is one way to get a small amount of turbulence thrust, which isn't much but does exist. As the exhaust passes through the outlet it begins to swirl as back-pressure pushes in. Somewhere near 10 pulses per second that no longer happens and at less than a percent of atmospheric pressure the effect goes to near zero. The aerospike design limits the amount of turbulence very well even at relatively low pulse rates."

Pressing his lips together, Mr. Chelton nodded.

"The group doing the sim transfer just didn't know what to do about it and left it in as a parametric set and put an adjustable damper function on it. They thought there might be other thrust interactions that would change that back flow."

"It is known, Mr. Chelton, and thank you and your team for handling it. Will that give feedback to the simulator platform?"

"To any of the ones that use a hydraulic feedback, yes. With simpler ones you will get some screen jitter and feedback pulsing. Only on a very limited system will it default to jitter only. We added in some of the standard simulator physical interface software to the package, so it should be able to tell the main simulator system what to do."

"Excellent!" Ares said, smiling, "There is an ANG training center near our Arizona sites that we can use for that over the next month."

"I was thinking of a commercial flight center, my brother," Hermes said.

Ares shrugged.

"Now I'd like to familiarize the two of you with our simulation area, show you the preliminary flight for the prototype, and then give you both the half-hour orientation before you begin using the simulator tomorrow."

"I can't wait," Hermes said, "the prototype flight won't fully test the envelope, but will show that within it the system can do what I want it to."

"And the main design, should be interesting as well," Ares said, "and I may just have to see if it can do a vertical landing and then teach my brother one of the few things about flight he hasn't learned yet."

Ares smiled as he looked at his brother.

"Oh, it will go both ways," Hermes said with a grin, "because you may just need to do the hot approach and our Athena will be one of the swiftest."

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