They had spent 2 hours going for firewood, and anything to fill in between a few rocks so they could make a windbreak with survival blankets and reflect some warmth back to their improvised shelter. Some snow got added to the coffee pot and the emergency ration bars were dry and almost tasteless, except for something like almond which was neither good nor bad. Together they huddled and watched the still form of Ares who was next to the fire and just in front of them. Grey day had arrived and while darker than night it was not allowing them to make out much of the landscape around them.
"Regina?" Tamara asked.
"What happened between you and her?"
Regina looked at Tamara and then out into the grayness, able to see some rocks, scrub brush and other forms that came and went as wind whipped snow and dust together.
"The Green," she said softly.
Regina inhaled and shook her head.
"I feel so... look, I have gotten a lot of, ah, experience with Herman... Hermes... in a lot of things, OK?"
Tamara nodded, "I expect you have."
"I mean I wanted a club... you know, a place that had dancing, drinks, meals and stuff? I was just a kid, and I mean that I got my diploma, skipped grades to do it and scampered from home as fast as I could... stupid Goth phase... really stupid and dreaming..."
"And you got involved with someone who knew what they were doing and liked you, right?"
"Uh-huh, and how! He... well then I didn't know, that came some time later... he liked the idea and wanted to do something different and we just fell in together. Taught me all the stuff that I didn't ever think about... and after a couple of years things started to click and, uh, well... we got close and I got experience."
Tamara chuckled. "Did you like it?"
"Shit, yeah!" Regina said, "Once I got unshocked. That first time even after he told me... ummm... I... liked him more than a lot, loved him. Even when he..."
"Is a she, too?"
"Right! That meant I had to... be flexible. And was, too, no great shakes but got to know the basics there and the club was going good... maybe a few questionable partners in both here and there... and I'm not someone wanting the stage, you know. Although I can probably sing better than a couple of the singers in some of those bands, but nothing to actually want to do."
Tamara looked at her and tilted her head. "No, I can't imagine you on stage."
Regina made a cross with her fingers to ward off the idea.
"Whew!" Regina said.
"She, like... you know she took down the lady gang that Nuada and Mel were in, right? First night?"
"Uh-huh. They wanted to put moves on her and you can kinda guess what its like with her and bow and arrow. Of course they had knives out and thought it would be easy for them... to intimidate her..."
Tamara arched her back to relax it and shifted back to where they had stuffed some dry grasses behind the survival blanket to protect it from a rock they used to anchor the left side of the shelter.
"If it were him," she gave a look at the body of Ares, "I can't imagine any one surviving that."
"Oh!" Regina said looking at Ares, "Um, yeah. Be dead ducks, I guess. Diana she just... stuck an arrow through a foot to keep each of them from getting closer. Four times faster than I can snap my fingers, which I can't because of the gloves and it being so damned cold."
Tamara chuckled, shifting her coat and then moving some of the coated survival blanket over her legs. She looked at Ares and sighed as the other survival sheets wrapping his body glistened with reflected firelight. Regina got up and went to the fire and pushed a bit more of a log they had found into it now that the end that had been in the fire had burnt back. A few more limbs found scattered by trees were added as were brown discs that were, presumably, from cattle that had roamed the flatlands. Those burnt slowly and kept a steady heat in the round of rocks they had assembled to protect the fire from wind, and yet have just enough go through the cracks to keep the embers red at the bottom.
Regina took off her gloves and warmed her hands by the fire, and looked at Ares.
"Almost all the scratches gone, now. The one gash is healing over."
Tamara shifted trying to get comfortable, but finding that difficult.
"What happened after she was done?"
Regina nodded to herself as she looked at Ares.
"She was, like, turning around almost immediately to help them. Get boots off and feet unstuck from the floor, bandaged them and for one of them she had a bit of work to do because it really did go through the foot, not just graze toes. Hermes... I knew he was fast but... he was in the booth two floors up one moment and the next he was with Diana coordinating things, getting one of the ladies looked after. Just total shock... the police took statements and had a dozen people, maybe, saying that the ladies had come armed to intimidate her... and as she was armed... I mean, bow and arrow.... they should have known better... no one was going to press charges, either..."
Tamara raised an eyebrow.
"Really? I mean San Fran is pretty weird about things, but I thought they were Puritans in that way."
Regina shifted to watching the fire and shifted her fingers, wiggling them.
"You'da think so...mostly the cops were glad to keep the paperwork down, I think. Thats a big part of their lives and keeping that down really helps them. A lot. By the time I kinda started to figure out what was going on, the cops had left and he was leading her up the stairs and introducing her... and I was freaking out. And then she said I would be the mother to two families..."
Tamara gasped and looked at Regina by the fire, her body visible against the grey skies and drifting flakes of snow that appeared. The wind whipped over them and down across the flatlands. Regina sucked her lips in and then got her gloves back on and went back under the low top to their shelter to sit further in and next to Tamara.
"She said that you..." Tamara asked softly.
"Yes," Regina whispered, "and I hated her for that. For being his sister and knowing nothing about her. He even offered to give me the club when he decided to leave to follow her."
"Why didn't you take him up on that? I've seen how he works and what past we were able to dredge up in DOGIS shows he does honor his commitments."
Regina looked at Tamara who was looking at her.
"I wanted..." she blinked and shook her head, "I don't know what I wanted but I wanted to be with him. And Diana she... wanted to make it up to me. She..." Regina trailed off closing her eyes.
"I know she did, Regina," Tamara reached out to hold her gloved hand, "and you accepted it."
Eyes still closed Regina nodded.
"More than just making up," she squeezed Tamra's hand and looked at her, "I didn't think I was... she... was so open with me... all the way up to the Green."
"What is the Green?"
Regina smiiled deeply.
"The Green River. She took me on a trip to see a native run... camp I guess... for boys and girls to teach them wilderness skills. They put on a play... I didn't know it then but it was about what happened between Diana and Zeus at the end. It was a weird play with a girl being chased by a large man and he did... things... just stuff to represent.... well... Zeus using lightning on Diana at close range but not killing her."
"Oh my god," Tamara whispered, "Did they know... no wait, of course they did, this was to honor her, it has to be."
"He had taken the girl away and then came back for a second time and she...had recovered some but he made sure she couldn't do anything... and then tried to... he got on top of her and then rolled away and a bag of flour blew apart in the air."
"The death of Zeus," Tamara whispered, "trying to rape his own daughter."
"Yes," Regina whispered, "Other men came, tried to do things to her but she.... got her arrow and bow and... more flour in the air with each of them. They had a dog with them and it then went with her... Diana passed out watching it, the memories it must bring back to her... but I didn't know that then. I had no idea what it was all about. We had fun before that and after it, and she is just so..."
Tamara looked at Regina and took her gloved hand away and took her glove off to wipe a tear from Regina's cheek.
"She took me to the Green River, where the gorge is pretty deep, the river fast... it was beautiful... to be with her...then she told me that I had to take the vehicle we had gotten at the camp and take it back, and then take the Suburban home."
Tamara looked puzzled and slid her hand back as Regina looked at her.
"That night, just at moon rise, she... put on a light pack and jumped out... down..."
"Oh god and no explanation?"
Regina shook her head from side to side.
"I thought she was dead," she said at the barest whisper, "no one could survive that leap like that. No one."
"I... oh... oh! That's why you wanted to come with us!"
"Yes," she whispered, "I had to see... it was just so incredible, impossible and she was so.... enigmatic. I was puzzled, hurt and yet I... I do love her, you know?"
Tamara shifted and hugged Regiina.
"Yes, sister Regina."
They hugged for a moment longer and then parted to look at each other.
"She couldn't tell me outright. I would never have believed her... and I still had doubts... but now..." Regina looked at Ares, "now I know. I would have been freaked to see her anything like him and recovering like that. It would have sounded so impossible her being... what she is."
Tamara looked at Ares and nodded, that first return of him not reappearing as his body had to knit itself together. In some hours the body would be nearly whole and it was no easy thing to sit and wait.
"I can't imagine what she went through, jumping like that," Tamara said, "but I can imagine what happened to her afterwards, now."
The low wind rustled the emergency blankets wrapped around Ares and a slow breath was taken away before it had a chance to form into vapor. It would be an hour before either of them realized that he was breathing and that his Nature had stopped him from perishing yet again.
Cold darkness had grasped at him and he struggled out of it, and its icy hands slid off of him as he arose from the depths.
Warmth he could feel, now, resting on something and being somewhere. It was cold beyond that and for a brief moment he thought he was in that avalanche Rommel used to kill off the force he was with up in the high mountains. But he had awakened from that while his comrades had fallen to it. This was not Italy. Nor was it the cold winter of Wyoming where he had been left in Boot Hill, dropped there by his killers who had no use for him. Not the road back through Poland from Moscow, either, and he would drop from a bullet in an ambush and lay amongst the dead of Napoleon's army, once grand now beaten.
That he could remember them showed that this was none of them and it was not where the chill winds blew down from Olympus carrying the wrath of his father with it.
Yet there had been that other cold just before this one, a palpable thing that was out there and willing to take the unwary and foolish. He had been both, he realized.
He could hear voices softly whispering nearby.
"... but how will we get her?" came a soft voice he knew and loved followed by another.
"...arrange it if we can get Ray on-board, I think," was another voice of another woman, a recent sister.
"We will take years to pull it off until my pregnant sister gets her family going and the stations built. At least 5 years, I think, so we do have time."
Inhaling he found that clotted blood was still in his lungs and he awoke with a coughing fit, bringing up a bloody mess and turning to spit it in the embers and low fire at his left. He was covered in emergency blankets, space age and thin they also had a woolen blanket on top of him which was not in contact with his skin. His underclothes were gone, of course, to his bodily needs, and parts of his suit that could be broken down by that strange process Nature had within hiim had done just that. Yet he felt other things that had been on his chest, wrappers of various sorts. and as he shifted the blankets off of him to cough more, he saw that they were MRE wrappers.
With a large cough he spat out the last main obstruction to his breathing and, while very painful, he could breathe once more. Taking in a ragged breath he fell back on the blanket covered cushions and felt more of his suit come apart under him.
"My love," he heard Tamara say as she rushed to his side and he turned to look up at her. She held a blue mug that had some coffee in it from the pot suspended above the fire pit he was laying next to. Sand had been built up around his side to protect the polymer sheets and allow warmth to slowly seep through on his side. Beyond her was not open sky but more of the sheeting and only that glance told him that heat was being reflected back and concentrated beyond him to those who were his new family. "Can you drink, it is warm?"
He nodded, needing something to clear his mouth and throat and with the warm coffee came a refreshing feeling of knowing tha his insides had knit somewhat together and had not been torn apart by his coughing.
"Thank you, Tamara, my love," he said after a few short sips and then lay back. He saw Regina crouch next to her and then Diana stand just at the edge of vision at his feet.
"It's been nearly two days, my brother," she said, "you must have really been torn up inside for it to take that long."
"Yes, large blasts can do that. Ones that just... destroy the body... are the worst of course."
"Yes, they are," she whispered.
"But mangled up inside from a nearby explosion takes time for the body to re-organize. It is all there just not where it should be."
He looked at Tamara and Regina.
"I'm sorry you had to see me like... that," he said softly, "... deeply sorry. None of you should be here. I do have back-ups in case of disaster. I would be back in touch in a few months."
"I know," Tamara said, "but what happened to you couldn't keep me away. If humanity gains the capability to do anything like this then...I want to see how it is with someone I love."
She used her fingers from her free hand to brush his hair back from his forehead.
"Diana didn't want me to see her... after she... well... after the Green... and I just had to," Regina said, "and now I know its true." She looked from him to Diana who looked down at her feet and shifted from foot to foot. "Now I know what happened and that I... can't lose her that easily...or Herman... Hermes..." she looked at him again, "... or you."
He was not used to seeing compassion from Regina and it shook him that she was showing that now, to him, the most detested of the Olympians. Fallen he had attempted to mend his ways, but he knew that his past was a hard one to live with and an even harder one to share. While he had experienced passing in many battlefields and due to many events beyond them, he had many dead at his feet as well.
"Tamara is lucky to have you," Regina said softly and looked at Tamara who smiled at her, then she looked at him again, "as am I as my brother."
"Hopefully we will be with you for a long, long time, Aaron," Tamara said, "and we will learn to get past our differences. Even if we don't get to what you are, maybe we can find something better than that. It is our future, now."
She bent down to kiss him softly and he shifted to keep in contact with her warmth.
The kiss ended and he laid back again and was able to take the cup from Tamara to sip on his own.
"I will be ready to move in a few more hours, my sisters," he said after that.
Diana stepped around the fire pit and took another set of tree limbs and placed them into it, to rouse its flames once more.
"Good," she said and looked at the others, "because the storm is nearly passed and I expect that someone with a helicopter will be by soon to investigate. Never good to be in a helicopter with winds, dust and snow in the air. If not we will get back to the Suburban and drive out. Really easier if we do that."
She opened the pack that sat out of the reach of the heat and took out a can of coffee and then lifted the dangling pot from the fire with tongs and put in handfull of grounds. She took a canteen that had been sitting close to the fire and dumped its snow melted water into the pot.
"The flight was a success," he said finally, "at least for everything that matters." He looked from Diana to Regina. "My brother and Brent will need to make a few changes, and that will set us back to the next flight which will give time to loft more refuelling tanks into low orbit. After he recovers from birth... he will want to go to low orbit and back. Safely. It can be done by us."
Regina smiled and nodded.
"You are the one to know," she said, "and he will not be the only one, once it is demonstrated, either."
Tamara looked from him to Regina.
"Can you really make money on this?" she said, "I would think the market is limited."
Regina put a hand on her back, and let her know through the glove and winter coat the there was assurance there.
"If anyone can, she can... he can..." Regina shook her head, "... you know its hard to talk about Herman in any reasonable fashion."
Ares chuckled and so did Diana.
"Always, yes. Tricky words for a tricky person," he finally said.
He handed the cup back to Tamara who stirred the pot over the fire and then refilled the cup and set it down on the ring of stones next to him.
"And what is next after that?"
"A lot of hard work, my brother," Diana said from his left as she knelt next to him, looking down with a soft smile on her face, "and I need to get away from all of this for a time. Get my motorcycle out of storage in Alaska and revert the property there back to the trust. Spend some time in the wilds of Washington with Dennis, Gemma and their children. Then time in this area with my friends from ancient ties. Perhaps remind a casino manager here and there just who it was that helped them get on their feet with some cash a few decades back..." her eyes twinkled as she spoke.
"A year or two, then," he said.
"Oh I'll be back and forth, just more forth than back. I really do need to get away from it all for a few stretches, though. I have nothing against my brothers and sisters," she said looking from him to Tamara and Regina, "but I don't like crowds. And when we get the plans rolling and Ray gets his plans in motion... the Princeton... then the next real plan begins."
He nodded as he listened.
"I'll go with Tamara and scout out Greece, my sister. I heard you talking."
Diana sucked in her lips and nodded.
"I fear time is against us, my brother. Humainity is about to go insanely stupid once more. Yet the future beckons."
He closed his eyes and laid back, remembering the feel of the icy chill of nothingness. Of space.
"Diana... I felt..." he shivered as he spoke in a bare whisper.
"What my brother?" she asked.
"It is... we may not be able to break all our bonds, Diana," he said opening his eyes, "but it is worth doing to break those ties. If it can't be done for all of them, then the way to doing that is open. But for our lost sister, it may just work. And that is worth any sacrifice, at all."
He opened his eyes and saw that Diana had closed hers.
"Athena failed to get you back... but we can't fail her... it is why... I do this."
"And me, my sister. And for Hera. And to escape our curse. Rather to die like a man than live a fallen god."
She watched him as he struggled out of the last pieces of his spacesuit and into the thin set of overalls that had been in the emergency pack that Diana had retrieved. There were places where his skin was thin across his chest and the deep redness that had been the gash across his forehead still had fluid coming from it, staining the small pad that had been wrapped around his head. The synthetics of the actual suit had fared better than the scant remains of his underwear, socks, and silken pants and shirt, all of which were just ragged pieces of cloth that had fell away as he stood up.
"I can't imagine what it must have felt like," she said softly.
A soft snore to their left indicated that Regina had finally fallen asleep after a long day and night. Diana had catnapped and then went off to make sure the trail to the Suburban was still clear. Wind still whipped through the canyon and dust picked up with it still mixed with the last of the snow in the air.
"Mostly I didn't feel it, after number two engine went. Blacked out and then struggled to consciousness enough to take stock of the situation. I knew that the prototype wasn't going to get down in one piece, but I could choose how to get down and possibly make it look survivable."
As he shifted on the emergency blanket, he sat down to put on his boots, which now had duct tape wrapped around them to keep them from falling open. She got up and then knelt on one knee next to him and reached out with her mug to pour some more coffee into it before sitting down next to him and looking around for something suitable as a coat.
"Could anyone else have survived that?"
He shrugged as he tied laces together and set them aside as he took out the survival knife he had on his shin and worked holes into the material of the boots after applying squares of emergency duct tape from the emergency kit Diana had retrieved.
"Anyone smart would have ejected long before I did," he said, "and I would have if the jarring of debris changing the direction of the craft wasn't making me black out. As it is I think I nearly cancelled out all descent at about fifteen miles up when I bailed. Dynamic stress made something give and that would have killed anyone else, I'm sure. The entire cockpit took most of it and then the seat took some of what remained. The hot shrapnel that ripped through it and me demonstrated that this descent was not something easily survived when I ejected. Put it even a mile away and I would have met you at the highway."
She chuckled as she put down her coffee and then picked up the survival blanket to wrap it around him as he threaded laces through the holes he had made and then cinched them tight. Shivering he turned to her and reached out to hold her.
"My love, it had to be done, succeed or fail. People can now count my survival to dumb luck, and that is success. I doubt that the recorders were getting any suit data after the loss of the engine. Only the added redundant connections to power the engine controls and one of the flight computers let me get down. That was a close call."
He hugged her tightly and she made sure that the blanket stayed around him as she pulled away enough to kiss him deeply. They held each other for long minutes saying nothing.
"I don't know... if I could have taken that..." Tamara said as they finally began to break their embrace.
He closed his eyes for a moment and thought for a moment, then opened them.
"That is why I rarely show myself as I am or settle with a woman. It is an intimacy that I know will be bittersweet for both of us because, as she gets older, she knows I will not. I do my best to make sure that she will be cared for when I stage my leaving, and then keep away long enough for any children to grow up, grow old and die. This time..." he shook his head, "there is a true future for us, unlike all the rest of my life, Tamara. Our future, yet shared with a growing family, may be within reach. For all of what happened with my father.... I..." he furrowed his brow and she reached out to him, sliding her fingers along his cheek. He closed his eyes to rub his cheek against her hand. "I've missed having... family... true family. Living longer as I am is something I do not like. Becoming mortal and long-lived, I have no fear of that."
He inhaled and reached out to her, cupping her cheek. She felt his warmth and closed her eyes.
"Its hard to understand," she said, "I don't know if I can... take that long view."
"You will have it much better than I or my siblings, Tamara. You will not be doomed as we were by our father. If I can finally lose those ties he made for me, then... it is a choice to live and enjoy life... and a fight to survive as life is not guaranteed but purchased by struggle. That I appreciate. That will make life worth living."
"But you would... die..." she said.
"I certainly hope so. And if we can be cut free of our doom, then we will also be cut free of our Underworld. True death, won by right of struggle, that is something that is not welcomed but is a welcome end. It marks a final failure, no, better a final end. A dive into a star would be an assured death..." he paused for a moment, "because I would dislike it greatly if it wasn't and I recovered after nature had put me back here for more of the same. That would have put my father's power beyond what I can imagine if that happened, and the true scope of it would be a vast sentence beyond any I dare imagine. I'm sure the pure heat of a star is a final bond breaker, but I would prefer something more mundane than that because his reach was as limited as his grasp of what he was doing. There are limits to them and to him, and I hope to find them with you."
"As my brother," she whispered.
"Whis is no bar to being my wife as well. If we must ever part our ways alive, then we will also understand that we are to learn from my father on how not to do it."