Saturday, November 28, 2015

Earthrise: Chapter 10

She awoke on the low promontory that went out to form the bay. There was a battered old fishing shack on the lee side, away from the harbor itself, that she awoke in, the gray metal and sun bleached wood forming a structure against a similarly gray outside. In her hand was a pistol, a revolver and she picked it up to look at it.

"That is a Webley," she whispered to herself. She could feel that the gun was of here but not made here, but in some other land.

"Who or what is a Webley?" she asked herself. Without thinking she shifted the cylinder to the side and ejected the cartridges finding one to be expended. That one she dropped on the ground and then examined the revolver to see if it needed to be cleaned. On her belt, on the left hip, was a holster for the gun and there was a pouch next to it that she knew, somehow, held cleaning supplies. On the right hip was a pouch with ammunition stored in it, and she replaced the unspent cartridges and took another cartridge from the box inside the pouch, so that all 6 cylinders were loaded. With a slow move of her free hand to the cylinder, she slid it back into the frame and then rotated the cylinders one by one to ensure that they each registered at a firing stop. With that finished she holstered the revolver.

As she got her feet under her, she saw that she had on a black shirt, gray-blue work pants, a belt going through the belt loops under the holster belt, and leather boots that had seen better days.

"Why am I armed?" she asked softly to herself, and saw a satchel that her head had been resting upon, and it was of worn leather with dark stains on it, front and back, as if something had dripped on it and slowly flowed. Where her head had rested there was wearing away of the leather, as well. Within the satchel was a package of thinly sliced, dense black bread, a small jar of olives, a bottle of water, and a piece of sausage that had one end crumbling in the torn napkin that wrapped it. Next to that was a small wheel of cheese that was in a plastic wrapper, and a small paring knife in a plastic sheath. In a side pocket were pieces of paper, and she took one out to see that it was a handbill or circular for an airshow. Looking at it she saw the names of companies, the artist's depiction of the old aerodrome and the new vehicles, announcement of multiple Nations showing off aerial displays, and then the large number of company logos on the bottom. One of those logos featured a man with suitcases with winged sandals and winged helmet climbing a staircase to the stars, and he was looking back over his shoulder with a smile as he leaned into the stairs. Then she looked closer.

"He' me..." she shivered as she tried to understand just what it was that figure was doing. "I know him! I...what's his name? How can I know him without knowing his name?"

She shivered as she placed the handbill back into the satchel, took out the jar of olives and then stopped.

"What's my name?" she said so softly that only the air could hear her. "Who am I? Where am I?"

Carefully she opened the jar, fished a green olive out and then carefully nibbled at it after closing the jar again.

She stepped out over where a door had fallen in and the roof had partially collapsed and out onto the dry grass that led to dry ground down to the shore where the wine dark sea lapped against it, leaving trash and detritus along the shoreline.

"What's happened to me? Perhaps someone can help me..."

Stepping outside she turned to look up the slope behind her and climbed it to find a dirt road that led to the main road on the shore. She would find people there, but they would never find her.


Giving a soft kiss to Marissa's temple, she slid from the bed and put on the thin t-shirt and jeans laying over the chair next to the bed and her feet slid into her sandals. Lightly she stepped out so as not to wake Marissa and with the door to the bedroom closed she padded out of the apartment and then to the hallway, stepping more freely, easily, down the hall and then to the rear stairs going to the side meeting room on the main floor.

"She's exhausted," Diana smiled as she hugged Regina, Ares, Brent, and Tamara who looked to be in need of a few nights sleep. She gave each a long and loving hug, a soft kiss to each and with Tamara she held on a moment and looked at her.

"You shouldn't have driven here in that state," she said softly.

"It's been too long, sister," Tamara said and they hugged again. Letting her go she stepped back to Regina and they looked each other in the eye in the ages old fashion that needed no words, just a slight nod to each other and faint smile on the lips. Then a fervent hug that had them swaying back and forth slowly.

As they broke apart Regina said softly, "You need rest as well."

Diana half-shrugged, gave a rueful smile and nodded.

"Plenty of time for that later. Let me get a cup of coffee and then we can talk about the next phases."

Putting that to deed she stepped to the bar area, and grabbed a large mug from the rack behind it and then let the mug fill from the urn. Wrapping her hands around it she stopped as she saw that the seat at the head of the table was left open for her. She shivered involuntarily, nodded, and then slowly walked to the seat, pulled out the chair and sat down in it.

"First my apologies to all of you, and all of our families, and to both the personnel of Highflight and Ascentech. I had hoped to come back with Jasmine, but felt that if I did not deal with Marissa that there would be problems in the future for all of us. It required someone who knew how to deal with such a one, and I was that person."

"No whips or chains were involved?" Hermes asked with a smile.

"Only the lash of one's own sore and aching muscles, dear sister. Hard work is its own punishment and its own reward, yet it was the kindest way to deal with her of the venomous articles. While she is now older, she never grew up and that twisted her, as did her family and circumstances. Working through that cost me weeks to do, but as we all know if you come to me, I will not turn you away unless it is to do me harm. Now she no longer wishes to write and she is prepared for hard work. I don't want to take time out of your busy schedules, but if a ready set of hands are needed someplace in our endeavor, then do not hesitate, do not think twice, but just say that it is OK with me. And you all KNOW what is OK with me."

"Yes, we do," Tamara said, sitting next to Ares and holding his hand to look at Diana from the left side of the table, "and if no one else needs her, I can have her doing shuttle work for me as I need to be in 2 or 3 places at once. I doubt she knows how to handle people well enough for that, though."

"She doesn't, no," Diana nodded, "hard work. Assembly line, material handling, cutting, fitting, pulling wire..ready hands if somewhat worn down body."

"Worn down isn't the word for it after a few weeks with you," Regina said with a smile, sitting to Diana's immediate right and holding Hermes' hand. Diana reached out to hold her other hand and they squeezed them together.

"Yes, you do, beloved. Now, what's my schedule for Greece?"

"You leave tomorrow morning from the spaceport, I have a private pilot going to DFW who can drop you off there. Then you connect to Atlanta, then direct flight."

Diana closed her eyes and nodded her head softly.

"Effectively 9 days, if I hit the ground running," she said more to herself than anyone. Then she opened them to look at her family.

Ares let go of Tamara's hand and shifted to pull a bottle out of his pocket and put it on the table by Diana.

"I got you a month worth of drug used to allow pilots to stay awake continuously. Our metabolism doesn't see it as a poison, but I would take the recommendation of necessary sleep for at least 8 hours every week as mandatory. Solid, single block of sleep time. You can sleep and deeply with this medication as well."

Diana reached over to take up the bottle, examined it, saw that it was made out to her current name and by a doctor she knew in the spaceport. She slid those in the pocket of her jeans. Then she sipped at her coffee.

"You're cutting it tight," Brent said softly.

Diana nodded.

"Bankruptcy, nosy reporter, and all the little things that get in the way of going forward. I will try to cut some corners as I know my ways of finding her are effective, and I will just be putting in long night hours then daylight ones, to try and close in while she is asleep and then keep keen watch for her during the day."

"You'll run yourself ragged," Regina said, still holding her hand.

"I will deadhead on the way up to drop...we still have that going, yes? Or has that been another Foxtrot that I don't know about?"

"That is going well, sister," Hermes said, "we have the hot spare Athena II ready to go and the Ascentech field crew have finished going over the ALV-III that they have worked on from its drop last month. The next one in line ahead of it is going for the last of the engine pods and the environmental cabin. After all the hiccups, swearing and hunting down of parts or scrambling to get new ones, we are now on schedule. Mel dragged half her crew with her to get everything finished here, and then we begin expansion in earnest while we wait for replacement engines."

"Oh, that's wonderful!" Diana said softly, "Thank you, all of you, for doing that for them."

"They deserve, my sister," Hermes said, "besides it makes good sense and we need to consolidate."

Regina and Brent nodded.

"Ray will be putting up another 3 billets right after the Meridian," Ares said.

Diana looked at him and inhaled, then exhaled slowly.

"You really are going to fly that thing, then?" Diana whispered.

Ares looked at Tamara and they both nodded.

"It's necessary," Tamara said, "I'm getting some word from the contractor grapevine, just hushed right now, but someone, somewhere has taken a good look at Highflight and Ascentech."

"We think it is mil-side," Ares said, "so the Meridian has been gotten into prep to flight stage, fully outfitted, everything we can test is tested. It can latch into the ALV-III, the WorkPlat or either OASIS. Static powered tests give us a confirmed compression bubble and for loitering a low power Mach-Woodward effect for thrusterless station keeping. We don't want to risk a ground based ascent with the first of its kind, so an ALV-III drop is necessary."

"He's right," Brent said, "this is one of those things where no one knows just what the electrostatic compression effect is doing, but it does something to space and it may be some interplay between virtual energy and dark matter. What little has been looked at is speculative, at best, crack-pot at worse, yet the effect is there."

Diana shook her head slightly as she looked around the table.

"It is beyond me," she said, "I could never have designed any of this, and just know how to use it and do the repairs and restocking."

"Can you really get her to the airshow?" Regina asked.

"I'm not giving my word, Regina, save that I will do anything to get her into the CTD suit and into the Athena II loaded inside the ALV-III. If I can't then we reset and try again. By then we will have Meridian in orbit and Ray will have 9 shots in case he needs them. Of the few things that can stop us, only one we really have no immediate say over, and that is solar weather. What does it look like?"

"Last check, a few hours ago, that near equator grouping is coming around and will be on the facing part of the sun tomorrow. We will be at least on solar warning throughout this," Brent said, "and probably solar watch during the week to 10 days that group will take to transition our portion of the ecliptic."

"What's its output now?" Ares asked.

"Mostly some slow alpha particles and a few betas with it, barely ticking up above standard background. It will be transiting through a slower group on the solar northern hemisphere about the time Meridian flies and the OASIS/WorkPlat is approaching the Moon. Some worries there, but that should be above the orbital plane. Even a strong CME from that would pass above the Earth and just leave us with a scattering of trailing particles, nothing a storm shelter couldn't handle for the few hours of it."

Diana shrugged.

"If my twin were still with us, I would have no fear. Now I just understand it and know that there is nothing that can be done about it. Now I am tired and I would like to steal Regina for the rest of the evening, if everyone is fine with that?"

Hermes smiled and nodded.

"Go ahead," he said, "the rest of us will be heading off to bed, too."

Ares looked at Tamara.

"I'll get Kyle, and then I'm driving. Hermes can send someone around with my car in the morning."

By then Regina and Diana had carefully gotten up and walked out of the room to the rear, heading for the stairs.


Regina closed the door as she came into the room and stepped forward to hug Diana.

"I missed you," Regina said softly.

"And I, you," Diana said holding her.

Slowly they pulled apart and Regina looked at Diana.

"Diana I had to..." she shook and closed her eyes.

"What? Beloved, what's wrong?"

Looking at Diana, Regina couldn't help feeling awful.

"I told them, Diana."

Diana looked at her and then led Regina to the sofa in the room and sat with her.

"Told who about what?" she asked.

Regina pressed her lips together, then licked them.

"Our family about... the native story you took me to. It's was because Karl could see Athena on Jasmine's computer screen."

Blinking twice, Diana looked at Regina.

"Hold on a moment... Karl... Karl Odistold? He"

"Jasmine was working on trying to get a 3D model built up of Athena and just left the image up on her tablet display as she worked on it with her notebook system. Karl walked was morning and she was in the break room at Highflight...and mentioned the pretty woman on the screen and asked who she was. Jasmine said she was your cousin and Karl just took that and said maybe he could bug you for a date with her."

"He...ahh..." Diana looked confused and emotions were obviously working through her because she smiled, chuckled, look confused, shivered and just didn't know what to make of this.

"He said he was struck by lightning while he was in Germany, trying to get a Zundapp for his girlfriend back in California. He kept the smoking boots with him for a long time. Even has a local newspaper clipping showing where he was struck near the town square."

Closing her eyes tightly Diana shifted her head slowly back and forth.

"Struck by lightning?" she finally whispered.

"Yes. I remember that story pretty far back with him, too. Said it turned him prematurely gray," Regina said softly.

Diana opened her eyes and looked at her. "Could he be...? No, wait, you told..." She bowed her head down and Regina shifted closer to her and held her.

Diana shifted and put her head on Regina's shoulder, holding her tightly. She could feel tears on her shirt as Diana sobbed, and gently Regina leaned back so they could rest against the back of the sofa.

"So close..." Diana whispered, "...I'm so ashamed, Regina. I never meant..."

"Our brother, Dionysus, said that he knew wild women and that, after...what happened...there was a woman leading the Wild Hunt."

Diana clutched her hard and cried openly, sobs wracking her body.

"I never much...could never be..." Diana tried to say.

Slowly stroking her back and holding her, Regina shifted a hand up to the back of Diana's head, fingers spreading out and slowly stroking.

"You aren't to blame, Diana. They brought that upon themselves. And others sought you for revenge, didn't they?"

Diana nodded.

"So many...just red with...wild...uncaring...hunt them anywhere. So many hunts."

Pressing her cheek against Diana's head, Regina held her, stroking her hair as she cried.

"It ended, though. Its over. You're here, now."

"Yes," Diana gasped, "over, dissipated, force to sustain it. No more wolves to run with, nor lions or tigers, hyenas, jaguars, not a single hunt left on any land. They would find those...who threatened me...and I...Artemis was no more. I'm what's left after all the power and beauty got ripped from all peoples by me."

Gently, she kissed Diana's cheek and pulled slightly away and Diana could not look at her, had her forehead still on her shoulder.

"You are left, and you are more a sister than my own sister. And a lover unlike any other. I can't know that time you went through. But I do know you."

"It was evil of him to want me still alive, but fallen," Diana whispered lifting her head up to look at Regina, "death is preferable to that. I had no reason left to live, Regina, and just wanted the pain to stop...and all I had coming to me were those seeking to inflict more upon me. Use me. I lost all reason and nothing can make up for what I did."

Softly, Regina smiled.

"You want to save our sister, free her from a worse place than you were in. To do that you have made many lives richer and opened up a future for all of us. For that you repay in ways far beyond what there was that my generation and for many generations could never know. We all understand what happened, Diana. And love you knowing that is what happened."

Slowly Diana shifted and Regina shifted to get a box of tissues from the table beside the sofa.

"Thank you, sister," Diana said taking tissues out so that she could dab at her eyes and blow her nose, then drop the used ones behind her on the sofa. After a few rounds of that, she finally regained some composure and shook her head. "I would do it alone if I could have Regina. Never sought out those I suspected to still be alive. I will never, ever be...with a Wild Hunt or lose to wildness like it. I am forever haunted by that time."

Regina brought her hands up to cup Diana's face and leaned forward to kiss her, softly.

"In loving you are loved, and will always be," she said and Diana closed her eyes, lips trembling, "and, somehow, our sister will be released from bondage, for you have brought us together for that, and our love with you will be complete on that happy day. I love you, Diana. I can never know Artemis, but you are the one I love."

"I love you, me through this night and tomorrow, the time for release begins."


"Can you see the rod yet?" Jasmine called out across the nearly completed section of the ALV-III container to Marissa.

"Yes, the red dot is a few feet from me," she said looking into the conduit opening where the cover had been swung away to reveal a mass of cables destined for various parts of the system.

"Does it look hung up on anything?"

Using a small light wand she took from her belt, she looked into the conduit.

"Its going between 2 other cables, one green and the other orange," Marissa called out. In less than 3 hours she went from barely awake and missing Diana who had already left for her flight connections to being picked up by Tamara Culpepper as she dropped her husband and son off, and took Marissa off to Highflight. They were on a deadline and needed every spare hand to get the last of the cabling and tubing installed. After that, then start the process of testing out the circuits and checking for leaks in the fluid and air systems. In front of her a man and a woman were still welding wall sections to what would be the floor while just to her right 3 people were shifting interior ceiling panels into their spaces and then bolting them down. She got assigned to Jasmine to help her get the last control systems for the air cycling system that fed into the necessary panels so that there would be multiple back-up stations to operate the system in case of a breach in one or more compartments.

"OK, I'm going to pull it out. Let me know if it snags one of the cables while I'm doing that."

"All right."

She had a scant breakfast of two eggs, a slice of toast, a cup of coffee and an apple, which was about twice what she had for breakfast while staying with Diana in Alaska. Her job was a relatively simple one of making sure that wires got fed through the conduit cleanly, then putting a label on them as she used a tool to crimp on a connector and then use a small torch to heat seal it, but only after doing an end-to-end test with Jasmine. This was the 7th set of cables she had been working on, and after two more it would allow for the panels to be tested.

That was for someone else to do, while she and Jasmine went to the next conduit and repeated the process.

The work wasn't that hard, but required concentration as well as being mindful of who was doing what nearby you. She had already gotten one shower of sparks to her face when she forgot to put the face-shield down when welding had started near her for a wall panel.

Due to the amount of work needed to be done there were only 2 shifts which required some shuffling by everyone to keep things moving. She was used to working sun up to sun down, or even for longer in the land of the midnight sun, but that was a land without heavy equipment, high voltage welding systems, a variety of foams, metals and adhesives coming into play along with carbon fiber tubes and marts to serve as insulation and protect structural members. It would only be in an hour when they finished with this feed run for cables that she and Jasmine would take a break that Marissa would realize that the entire structure with boost engines, the delivery engines, along with living environmental space would all be in orbit in 5 days. Two days after that, Diana would be riding an Athena II inside an ALV-III to get dropped out so she could pilot a vessel to the OASIS I and then guide that to the WorkPlat and move it out of its current orbit and both systems start on an orbit to the Moon.

Diana's life wouldn't depend on this system, but someone's might. And that someone else might just be herself. Marissa wanted to feel sorry for herself, that she had been abandoned or snubbed or jilted. Her mind wasn't up to that task, not any more. Her writing career ended as of her last real pieces 3 months ago and now she couldn't even remember what it they were about. Now she was one of the crew helping to get one of the largest pieces of space infrastructure up and running, and with that awareness there was another feeling that she felt inside of herself. She couldn't name it, not immediately, but it felt very good to her and it allowed her to concentrate and start to press fatigue to the side as the long day of crouching, crawling, reaching into conduits, avoiding heavy machinery, protecting herself from nearby welders or those fitting panels was another feeling that she had never felt before. Even with such a small role in the affair, she could see she was miking a difference, not a key nor critical difference, but one that was part of something vital.

There would be only a short meal and then crashing on a cot for rest until just an hour before the next shift. Fun would be absent this day. The work, however, was becoming its own reward.

And she still missed Diana.


She placed the freshly killed mouse down next to the string bag of carefully packaged foods and then crouched under a ledge in the wall to keep an eye on spot next to the rock that was an old thing of importance now forgotten by all, save those who remembered. A magnetic compass would deflect badly, here, but beyond that there was nothing else to recommend the large boulder that ages past had jagged edges and now was worn smooth. It had been worn smooth even before it was placed there and the fact that there was a park that contained it was no accident.

The ancient city center let her know that she who was of this place was still here, and that meant looking for the brackish spring and then the place of the first olive tree. From there she came to here, the first of places outside the city that brought her forth to them in that misty time of her own childhood where she had stepped out from being someone normal, to being that which was of the wilderness. In black jeans, green tunic, and carrying a bow in slim case and capped quiver she looked to be some strange teenager who had affectations about her, and in a city such persons only garner passing attention as they do not look like anyone who is dangerous. Her bow was made in the ancient way, and was checked as a modern handcraft made in that way and it was given to her by a craftsman some years ago. The same with the arrows, and with those certificates and mild bribes, she was once more hunting in the old spaces between places that were now all simply places.

By day she would ascend into highrises, towers, and any high place that allowed her to observe the movements of mankind in the city. By twilight she had determined this place to still have some vestige of attraction for what was and left her offering to the memory of the city, the owls who knew. On the first night she had encountered a cat going for an easy meal, and she had to have a stern talking to it so that it understood not to bother here for some few nights. It listened, understood and purred as it could feel the attachment of her to all wild things and in attempting to tame cats mankind had introduced a link to the wilderness into their society. In its own ways, that none would ever understand, the message would go out to all of its kind and kin, that this space is to be left free of prowling for a few nights, because She That Hunted was there. The second night was empty, and fresh kill attracted nothing. She had wandered farther and faster that prior day to the second night, hired a helicopter for some hours to traverse the southern city from west to east. Unfortunately, there was only one shifting of crowds that might be of her passage, but the pilot could find no place to land nearby and when she was on the ground she could find no evidence of that which she sought. The third day did, finally, yield up signs in the way of spent shell casings, one along the harbor front which appeared to be out for some time, but another amongst the ruins of a shack just to the other side of it and it was fresher.

She jogged without sweating, without fear and with great purpose, the knife she had purchased locally being a beautifully crafted thing with well worn handle and keen steel, purchased for a pittance. It was there she asked if there were anyone who knew about firearms in the vicinity and that led her to a shop, a gunsmith, an Olympic marksman, a local shooter, a collector, then a historian with a possible lead and the end of the day and she hurried to be back by twilight to replace the mouse and food. On this third night, she waited for the sun to finally set and was rewarded with the flutter of wings and one of the owls come to inspect that which it had espied.

"No cats here," she whispered in the soft hooting that gained attention. It turned to look at her and blinked. And blinked again.

"For my sister," she said in soft hoots and it bobbed its head once, then ate the mouse swallowing it whole.

"Lead me if you will," she crouched and shifted from foot to foot, bobbing her head and the owl bobbed its in return. Hopping to the handles of the string bag, it grasped the light load and took to the air, the flutter of its wings and jostling of the tin of sardines against small glass jars something that she could hear. With that she ran, vaulting over walls, dashing down boulevards, easily clearing fences meant for privacy with simple vaults with two hands and a back flip. This was no wilderness but it was no longer the city in its prime, but now waning towards decadence and decay. As it expanded it decayed and the unrest of the recent years showed just what was in store for the city entire in the near future. She avoided the few lights, barged through gangs that didn't even know she was coming and couldn't identify where she had gone, and any so unfortunate as to come out to stop her or grab her soon found a knife slash as their ample and earned reward. This night keen hearing of the city heading towards sleep had an avid follower and if any had fear of the night, then she was that fear manifest as the light skinned woman hunting the streets by night.

Finally, a glint of light showed the owl going to a courtyard and depositing the bag on an enclosed patio. It then sat on the edge of it and as she turned the corner she looked up to see light and a shadow in motion. A sprint to steps, a hand on a drainpipe, another step on the first story wall and letting go and regaining a hand-hold on the pipe, then a vault to the edge of the second story wall and she landed with two feet, one on either side of the bag.

The old man seem startled, and had on a dark shirt and pants, with small golden cross dangling from his neck. His slippers were worn and the air from the apartment spoke of the tea of the highlands.

"Oh, my, how did you get up here?" he asked.

She stood and bowed her head as she looked at him.

"I'm looking for a woman and the owl led me to you."

He blinked as he stepped forward to peer at this strange, vibrant older girl or young woman, who was at once both attractive and strange in ways he couldn't name.

"She of the flowing black hair?" he asked softly.

She nodded with intense blue eyes staring at him and a slight smile on her lips.

"The very one," she whispered, "time is running short. I'm here for her, but she is hidden in plain sight and very hard to find."

"You...are you Death?" he whispered.

She shook her head from side to side, chuckling.

"No. Just her sister. I call myself Diana now. You may know me by another name."

He shivered as he looked at her.

" can't be real..." he whispered, "You don't exist or are some evil thing that only looks like a young woman."

She smiled broadly and chuckled. She offered her arm out.

"Care to pinch me? Oh, and the tea smells delicious, too! I've been trying to find her for 3 days and while I got one possible lead from a firearms historian earlier today but haven't had a chance to follow that up. The owl was much more willing to help and got me to you. Had to talk the cats out of the vicinity, of course, not much love lost between owls and cats. Dogs, too, though not as much acrimony, but they are much easier to deal with with a few pats, strokes and looking into earnest eyes to tell them I'm around. They aren't as handy with information, though."

"You talk to animals?" he asked softly.

"Sure. Everyone does. That isn't the problem, really. Getting them to listen?" she sighed, shaking her head slowly.

He chuckled and reached his hand out to her.

"I'm Father Andre Nikkopolous," he said and felt her warm right hand gently grasp his.

"Diana. Diana Sherwood. Pilot with Highflight and Ascentech, certified for ALV-I and Athena-I and II aerospacecraft. I'm here for the airshow, more or less."

His eyes grew quizzical as he gestured for her to come in. She picked up the string bag of food and handed it out, but he said to leave it there in case the owl returns. She nodded and was more than happy to do that, and she smiled as she looked at his front room and looked at where he had been sitting with the pot of tea on the shelf beside the small writing desk.

"Please, sit down," he said, "and let me get another cup so you can have some tea."

She unslung her bow case and capped quiver and set them down in front of the desk as she sat in the padded chair on the other side of it.

"They never fail me," she whispered and smiled softly as she looked around the room. She was used to hunts taking strange turns, and had come out the survivor if not winner of every one of them. She did have many regrets, of course, but once on the hunt she applied her skills honed first by power and then by necessity and then by craft until it became something that was none of those and wholly her own thing. At least this turn was merely strange and wasn't likely to get her thrown into a volcano or into some prison camp some place, she was pretty sure of that, but even those were just obstacles to her.


"And we have drop in 5...4...3...2...doors opening...1...extension...drop. ALV-III drop is successful and ALV-III turning to port," Alice said over the main system which was being heard not just at the shack she was in at the spaceport but also at Ascentech and Highflight.

"Booster system has ignited, and the WorkPlat engine pods are now ascending at 3g and will throttle up to 10g in another one minute," Kevin said as he watched his screen intently.

Harry Nordhaus leaned forward to look at the two screens.

"ALV-II drop in 5...4...3...2...doors opening...1...extension...drop. ALV-II drop is successful and ALV-II turning to starboard," Alice said.

"Booster system ignited, and the Lunar accelerator station and equipment is now ascending at 5g continuous."

"Both ALV's are now on scheduled course, ascending to and will return using minimal fuel course. All systems are green. No damage registered to either one. Handing over to automated tracking system."

Alice flicked her system over to the ALV-II pod tracking.

"ALV-III pod now at 10g," Kevin said, "tracking is positive at full boost level. Thank you to Highflight for getting this done on schedule!"

"Amen," Harry said, looking between the two and then sliding his chair back to bring up his tablet system, and called up Ray's feed from Ascentech.

"Ray the ALV-III with the Athena-II for the airshow will be loaded in an hour," he said, "and it will be doing a 50,000 foot ferry to Greece and then be ready to come down for a refueling there."

"Glad to hear that, Harry," Ray said, "how are the other two coming along?"

Harry brought up his schedule and looked at the tracking for the other two vehicles.

"The ALV-I advanced system is currently being fueled and will be ready in 6 hours after final check. The ALV-II is en-route with the show pod, and will arrive tomorrow for the Greek authorities to check it over at the aerodrome."

Ray looked off-screen for a moment and nodded at something, then turned back to Harry.

"Has all the paperwork been done for the ALV-III arrival? It isn't a passenger craft, as such, but I know we've had hassles with picking Diana up there."

Harry chuckled for a moment.

"She passed through customs 3 days ago and they will have a customs station set up at the aerodrome when she leaves. Just an official with a stamp pad. Everything else she wanted will be prechecked and packed, save the the CTD which will be put on as technical equipment."

Ray smiled.

"I don't know what you had to do to get that through, Harry. I'll be leaving here tomorrow. Status of the receiving and check crew?"

Looking at his schedule and then at Kevin who looked over his shoulder and gave a thumbs up.

"Kevin will be leaving here as soon as the pod is docked and locked, which is about 10 hours from now. About half of the air show ground crew is en route or leaving in a few hours and the rest will leave after the next ALV-III gets its primary check done in two days."

"God this is a busy schedule, Harry," Ray said.

"Yes, it is, Ray. Aaron sent over the framing rig for their drop, which looks like a heavily beefed up Athena II rig. We made sure the cargo system can take up to 120% of its actual rating, but outside of that structural steel load a couple of years ago, this is the first thing to go to the last pound of that capacity."

Ray shook his head.

"Did they give a name for it? Or is it still just a private drop number with us?"

Harry checked the prep list and the drop number was still there, but it now had a provisional title for release.

"It's called 'Peppermint Candy Drop #1'," Harry said chuckling.

"Peppermint..." Ray started laughing, "Yes, I can see all the peppermint drops filling that hold... and nowhere near reaching that capacity. That's just his way of saying 'mind your own damned business'."

Harry nodded.

"After the ALV-III lift at the air show, Kevin will be coming back and taking leave," Harry said softly looking at Kevin who just nodded.

"Yes, he is in on it, I know," Ray said, "Aaron has the expertise he needs to build something and the resources to do it, too. But they don't have a company of any sort, so I can't even know just who has invested in it. The prep crew will be the first to see it."

Harry inhaled trying to imagine just what was going up in that load and failing.

"By the time the show closes we should have some idea, Ray," Harry said.

"Don't count on in, Harry. I was always wondering just how fast that junk storehouse was going to fill up out there, but I never thought that it would be a construction shack."

Harry chuckled.

"Well, we did want to provide space on the cheap, Ray. And keeping that place going is about as low cost as you can get. Low overhead, too. And since its not a normal production facility, you know what that means."

"Likely to get them killed," Ray said.

"You think that with the people involved? To me there is only one thing coming out of a place like that with the people on that part-time team doing the work. And that is rugged. Fail safe. Durable. If it can come together there and work, then it will likely take the worst that they can think of being thrown at it."

He looked at Kevin who gave no indication of hearing him and was leaning forward giving updates on the ascent of the WorkPlat engine systems Alice just looked at Harry and shook her head from side to side.

"Won't work, Harry," she said softly.

"Then we will take it as it comes," Ray said, "and I agree with you, Harry. I've gotten used to surprises, and I really do hate surprises, but that is life."


He poured the tea out for his guest and watched her as she looked around the room at his shelved books and other materials

"There is honey and lemon on the shelf," he said softly as he refreshed his tea cup and took the prior pot back to the kitchen.

"Thanks, but the tea is fine on its own," she said as he finished dumping out the cold remains of the prior pot, sorted out the leaves and put them into the trash. After that he took down a small box of sugar cookies and carefully stacked a half-dozen on small plate and walked in with them, set them down on the desk and shifted his materials to a drawer. With a quick prayer he then looked at her as he picked up a cookie and nibbled at it.

"So you're...Diana? Artemis?"

She shrugged as she picked up a cookie and took small bites from it.

"Artemis died some time ago, at least the best of her. I'm what's left," she said setting the cookie down on the saucer of the tea cup. "You're a priest, I take it?"

He nodded, sipping his tea.

"The last time I tried to talk with a priest I found myself drawn, quartered and thrown into a fire in the forest. By the time my body reorganized those who chased me were long gone. It was not a pleasant experience, let me tell you."

He set his tea cup down, and the cookie on the saucer and looked at her.

"I find that hard to believe," he said softly.

She shrugged and smiled.

"And yet I was only teaching children simple ways to survive in the forest, the fields, what to pick, what not to pick, how to hand catch fish... for that I was a witch or demon or worse. I would have preferred it if they hadn't come after me, really. But if you can't teach children about herbs, fruits, vegetables, fish and game, then you really have little chance to teach anyone about upland rains and flash floods. They would have been perfectly safe if they just hadn't hunted me down, you know?"

He leaned forward to look at her and she just gazed at him.

"You do perspire," he said softly.

She nodded. "And I can do a fair amount with an axe in chopping down trees, too. These modern steel composites are very good, if needing a bit more sharpening, but that is only because no one really does much of the actual chopping by hand anymore."

He chuckled, nodding and leaned back.

"I know you must have thought I was some sort of demon or devil or some such when I arrived here," she said picking up the tea cup to take a sip, "But you obviously thought otherwise. Really I'm not here to steal your soul...I couldn't even find it if I had to or you put it on a silver platter for me...and it wouldn't help me get anything done and, lets just say that Nature keeps me as I am just as it does my sister. That is a quick conclusion to come to, really."

It was an implied question and he took it as such.

"The sneakers," he said looking at her sneakers, "they are worn-in, well used, look to be comfortable, and you wear them easily."

She raised her eyebrows and looked down at her running shoes.

"Too much broken glass in cities to go with even thin leather soles, and barefoot is just too painful to think about. I can't run on concrete and pavement like I can even through mud or fields or across desert sands."

"A devil would be wearing new shoes, I think. A demon wouldn't have to climb up a drainpipe. So that really does discount those sorts, plus taking tea with a priest would be something they would shy away from. Add to that not coming here about me or even yourself, but the Blessed Virgin of the City..." he stopped short as she raised her eyebrows.

"So THAT'S what is keeping her trapped here..." she said in a very soft tone and slowly shook her head as she set the teacup down.

"How do you mean?"

She pressed her lips together and looked at him with a sad expression.

"The love of her still is here. Yet this love can only sustain, it cannot heal. She needs to heal so she can get a future, a real future."

"I did suspect that, well, something had happened to her. I mean after the revolver was brought to a parishioner and then she brought it to me..."

Diana sat back and looked at him, thinking. And then nodded.

"She probably only puts a hundred or so rounds through it a year. Does regular cleaning, part of the observed knowledge and innate knowledge she has, I guess. I was never able to figure that out. And once a decade it needs a good inspection...and you did that, right?"

He nodded.

"I brought in an expert to identify it and check it over. He said it had been well maintained, frequently but not heavily carried, and that the leather needed some conditioning."

"You had that done, right?"

"Of course. I traced it through a British museum and I consider it, well, an artifact used to liberate Greece."

"Thank you," she whispered and looked at him, "and you put it out for it to be returned, right? Can't really explain why, either?"

"Yes, I did. I had no rational reason to do it..."

"It's hers and she is of the city," Diana said, "and you are in her city, or at least what's left of it. You would have no choice but to return it."

He was startled at this and now pieces of the puzzle which should have been obvious to him, clearly included in with the few pieces he thought he had, were now fitting into place.

"How do you know this?"

"This isn't my first time to find her, Father Nikkopolous," she said softly.

"Father Andre, please Or just Andre."

"Thank you, Fr. Andre. I can't take civilization or cities for long, and always need some break to the wilderness like getting Ascentech the help it needed to, ah, get off the ground. After a week or two of being with her..." she sucked in her lips "...I just can't take it. I love her too much to wish to see her blow her brains out every few days. Or kill herself in some other quite grisly fashion, to be overlooked by everyone while her body reincorporates as it was, the Lethe still in her."

"How did she get like that, Diana?"

"That is a long story, Andre. Let's just say that we stood up with the woman who had been like a mother to so many of us, to get our father to reform. Things didn't go well. So many..." Diana shivered looking at him, "...understand that my father is not your Father, yes?"

"Yes," he said closing his eyes and whispering before looking at her once more.

"She of the City who came from his very mind, with the best part of it, she stood with me, my brother, my cousins...and she was blown far away from the Mount, into a desert, and knew she would be his main target, the one who could deal with him if any of us could. By the time he arrived he had taken powers from others and the arms and equipment to fight her. She was wise in choosing a place he could get no allies to, and made it between them and only them. He had devastated the Underworld, changed the courses of rivers unseen, and they fought so as to split open a mountain and he fought her back into there where she could not defend herself so well. His blows crippled her, his lightning returned powers to him, and with her shattered head, he left her to drain into the Lethe. She was saved at least enough to recover, but the Lethe is still in her."

Sitting back he watched how Diana wasn't looking at him but at some other place, some distant time and saw the emotions run across her face.

"What you?" he whispered.

She came back to the present and her face softened.

"Nothing good, and some very bad, then I went savage until the savagery burnt itself out. I am not important at this point, Andre. My father couldn't kill my sister because she was of him in total. Kill her and he killed himself, so he had to cut off her power, cut her ties and hope that she would slip into the Underworld without him."

Andre nodded and turned to sip his tea as he thought about that.

"Please, Diana," he started, "it is hard for me to accept that you..."

"Father Andre, I'm not asking for your acceptance. Worshipers are useless to me. My life is as unending as hers, but I can at least know who I am, what I've done, why it was done to me, why I took the actions I did, and deal with them. I can't grow up, though, unless I can cut the bonds that tie me to this life, and she to hers. We are both just human, but were invested with simple powers, simple abilities, but for all of that at some distant time, we were just human although of the Olympian variety."

"You seek to...kill her?"

Diana shook her head negatively.

"I seek to free us to live out a normal life span, Father Andre. I have looked far and wide, across all the continents, even the frozen one, investigated tombs, talked with people who are ancient beyond what we know through their writings, and yet there is no cure for this. Lava won't kill me. Lightning outside of my father's hands, won't send me to death. Even the most modern of weapons only means a few days of reintegration as Nature puts the body together to bring me back whole. If not down, that leaves up. Out of the grasp of the Earth-Moon system and further if need be. I hope that out of that grasp we will sever the ties that keep us to perpetual integration until the sun dies and the Earth with it."

That stunned him as he had grown used to the news from America of the strange companies seeking to expand out into space, and next to the ones with megabucks, the small ones seeking simpler things had really escaped his attention. Right up to some months ago, or a year or two ago, he couldn't pin it down, when private companies were starting to put up things in orbit not meant for research, not meant for observation or telecom use, but to begin producing things in orbit and then living there.

"Why are you telling me this?" he whispered

She shrugged and sipped at the tea, then took bites out of the cookie to finish it.

"Who would believe you, Father Andre? You, for helping my sister, deserve some answers. I am just waiting for the echoes of a gun shot. Then I can ask the dogs which way to go, see which way the cats are looking and follow the owls to where she has fallen in yet another attempt to blow the Lethe from her mind. She can't heal here. But my fervent hope is that she can in space. And me, too. You have no idea what it is to live like this being so close to being human and yet so very, very, very far away."


Marissa was out like a light the day they got the WorkPlat system buttoned up and delivered, and she was on the delivery team to get the container into the ALV-III. The 6 to 6 shift system had broken down on the first day and by midnight she was asleep on her feet and told where to crash for the night. At 5 AM she woke up, her sore body demanding some attention and she took a shower, dropped over at the common break room and found most of the machines had been emptied and boxes of Meals Ready to Eat stacked up and opened along the wall next to the machines. She just took one from a box, not caring what was in it and only remembered half-way through the less than appetizing egg dish that it could be heated up in the microwave once it was out of its packet. The bread, at least, was edible and the coffee brewer was filled at the main kitchen and as people filtered in they all made use of it and someone got the next pot going.

By 6 AM she was more or less awake with aching muscles, sore knees, and had to stretch herself to get the kinks out of her back. Karl helped her for awhile and asked if she would like to do more than pulling wire and checking circuits, and she thought that would be great. So she got an impromptu lesson on MIG welding on some scrap aluminum and when she had satisfactory welds she was put on the floor welding and clean-up group, who would have people double-checking their work after they had basic welds finished. With the helmet, gloves, thick shirt, apron and sweatband she was put to work and a half-hour in Karl stopped her and handed her a water bottle and checked over her work and had her go over a few spots where the join wasn't that good.

"No worries, take your time, no rush. Do a good job and the double-checkers can get done faster. A good place to learn the basics and we just need the basics right now. I need someone to help out Dennis with the air-handling system and right now I have two exhausted welders. I don't care how long they take since that is vital."

In just 3 hours she was welding together ducting for the air-handling system and helping to get it fitted, and since she had the crimpers in her tool belt still, she was also putting on the final plugs to the fans, and hooking them in. Others were still snaking tubing and piping between the walls, while still others were getting the access boxes installed where they needed to go for each system. When her team with Dennis finished one compartment, the next group would move in to start putting in panels, fittings and make sure that there was enough insulation and other materials put in place for those sections that would be completely sealed off. Dennis gave them all a break at noon and at the kitchen Marissa found his wife Gemma, Herman Lassiter and Regina Lassiter fixing meals. The vending machines had been resupplied, the MRE boxes were put in the back, and there was some variety to eat from cold sub sandwiches to hot mac and cheese to roast beef and potatoes, with the roast beef being under a hot lamp and Herman making up plates to order. It smelled too good to resist and when she got there she had a few slices of the roast beef, some small boiled potatoes, coleslaw and a corn muffin, along with a large mug of coffee.

As she sat down, Karl walked into the room.

"The engine section is done, everyone!" he called out and there were a lot of cheers from the work crews.

"Nuada's doing the last check of the systems there, but I trust your work. That means the #1 Engine crew gets to move on to the tanking fittings and hook-up system for the WorkPlat. Those are in the big green truck at the side of the building and need to be carried in. Engine #2 crew goes to the fitting area along the seam to get the rigging and breakaways installed, then help on the finishing up of the crew section. The electronics crew, and you all know who you are, will be putting in the panels, doing circuit tests from the major hot points, and going through all the functions on all completed sections, which includes the hook-up to the engine pods. I need good work, not sloppy work. If you're exhausted, sack out. No fuck-ups allowed. Just tell me, or your crew chief or Nuada and out you go for shut-eye. Got it?"

Marissa nodded and there were various forms of assent from 'yah' to simple grunts to nods like hers.

"Good! I don't want work leaders calling out for specialized work, its too noisy as it is in there. So if you are available, get your name onto the big board by the side work bench and you'll probably get the wave in a few seconds. This is the big push to deadline, so the work schedule is gone. Sleep when you need it, eat when you need it, take a break when you need it and keep everyone informed. Once this bitch is out the door, then I'll need a transfer crew and everyone else gets a rest."

A muted cheer went up and then Karl strode over to Gemma, and was handed a sub, with a pickle, potato chips and a large glass of some cold, dark liquid. He looked around and gave her a nod, and she nodded back and in a few steps he was at the table.

"Doing good work, Marissa," he said as he started eating his sandwich, which most mostly cold cuts with just a few bits of greenery sprinkled in and some sort of oil and vinegar dripping from the bread.

"Thank you, Karl," she said, "I'm new here and have never done anything like this before in my life."

Karl nodded as he put the sub down and wiped his mouth, before taking a swig from his liquid.

"Yah, Tamara let Nuada know and you got stuck with the scut work yesterday. Well, needed to be done, that. Good hand with the MIG system, only a couple of buckles and easy to deal with. Slow but accurate, that's why you got moved. High marks, Dennis approves as does Jasmine."

She blinked not thinking that anyone was really paying much attention to her work. But they had to, everyone did on all the work that everyone else did.

"Thanks, I was too tired to actually get to know Jasmine yesterday," she said as she continued on with her hot meal, enjoying the roast beef and the horseradish which brought tears to her eyes.

"That's the way of it. Want to be on the delivery crew? Get you back to the spaceport and the Horizon. That's where your stuff is from what Tamara told me."

She smiled and nodded.

"Love to! I need to get my life sorted out, you know?"

Karl shrugged.

"Life's what you make of it. Me? They don't pay me here, and I make my living from the scrapping, teaching and custom jobs. Don't need much, don't want much and I get to meet nearly everyone from all the places. I've hauled out more good material from these places than I ever did doing it as a kid after working at the stamping plant then driving around to collect the industrial junk."

"They don't pay you for this?"

Karl looked around the room and shook his head.

"Nope. They have site insurance, and that's good enough for me. Look at me, don't earn enough to pay taxes, but my business does, such as it is, and I don't take money from that, either. Name me someone else who makes twice as much as I do who has gotten to work regularly in orbit and teach how to work in it. I can't. Diana and Aaron aren't really making anything on this, either, and they would be the only ones to qualify. Oh, they got resources, hell yes. But pay? Meh. Want happiness? Blow some money getting a dinner for everyone on the shift to blow off steam with them."

He started wolfing down his sandwich while Marissa ate quietly.

"But...but...don't they have to pay you?"

"I'm a volunteer! I'd pay to do this sort of work, but don't be spreading that around, OK?" he said with a smile and she couldn't help but smile.

"I won't. Promise!"

"Good, good! Diana said you were good and willing to work, and if you pass muster with her, you must be ready for more. Once I'm out of here I'm taking a few days off to work at the scrapyard. Another rush job. Then I get some real time off."

"Really? What on?"

"Ah. Can only tell you once you get there, and if you don't want in on it, then you promise to keep quiet. At least 'til its done and out, OK?"

She inhaled and thought for a moment, then nodded. "OK," she said, "but I need some real sleep after this."

"No problem! Need to be awake. Accurate work that's slow is better than fast, sloppy and needing rework," with a few bites his sub was gone, his glass empty and he was up and striding out of the room, clapping a couple of people on the shoulder as he walked out.

It was a long day and she finally called it quits at 8 PM, no longer able to concentrate and not that hungry, she found the cot she had used the previous night and was on it fast asleep. In the morning Nuada was by to wake her up.

"Time to get up, Marissa," she said softly kneeling beside her cot, "grab something fast to eat, and then we need all hands for the sealing up and loading. At least all hands who have some life left in them and that means you, OK?"

Marissa nodded and thanked her, decided against a shower and just brushed out her hair, which still had the straight cut that Diana had given it and as she looked in the mirror at the woman in the Highflight work clothes, with gloves, cap, belt, boots and tools she couldn't recognize who it was. That woman was lean, tired but not exhausted, hungry but not famished, and she was getting ready for a day of work delivering a major component of a space industrial complex to a spaceport.

"Wow," she said softly as she heard the door to the women's room open and saw Jasmine come in and look at her.

"You look like I feel," Jasmine said with a smile as she stepped over to another sink and splashed water on her face, and then pulled down some paper towels and dried off her face.

"I was about to say the same to you," Marissa said with a smile.

Jasmine chuckled and shifted her work shirt and re-buttoned it, tucked it in and did her best to look presentable.

"I'm a loss," Jasmine said then looked at Marissa. "You started with me, so I call dibs on the delivery. Everything is powered on right now, all the systems charging and when we finally button it up, I need someone to help on the shut-down and pulling out the connectors. I promise you won't get electrocuted."

"Sounds good," Marissa said, "where do I sign up."

"Come with me," Jasmine said and in two hours the pieces of the ALV-III container were latched together, slid into position and then slowly closed up with the work crew slowly rotating the lighter crew section onto the engine pod section. By 10 AM everyone going on the delivery run was either in the rig hauling that massive load, the front truck, the rear truck, or just standing on the flatbed to make sure everything was secure. She was in the rear truck, which was a van, with Jasmine, Dennis, Gemma, Regina, Karl and two other members of the work crew she didn't know.

Most everyone was there for show, since the Ascentech crew was the one that had the heavy job, and the looming ALV-III was moved into position to take the drop container off the support rig that had lifted it from the flatbed. She still had some work to do, however, holding on to lines to make sure that nothing got out of alignment as the load was slowly pulled into the ALV-III. After a couple of group shots, the ALV-III was sealed up and as it was reaching its launch window she saw the skin of it begin to tighten and then slowly begin to lift. An ALV-II also went with that, but it had already been prepared and followed after the ALV-III which would have the slower ascent. She did see the engines of both light up and then they disappeared slowly gaining speed as they gained altitude, finally disappearing over the horizon.

Fatigue caught up with her at the Event Horizon, where she had a good meal on the house, as did all of the work crew that could make it, Dennis was serving up wine and various drinks from the bar, and one of the local bands was playing some mix of Country and Western with some sort of spaceport jazz to it. Marissa danced, she partied, and by 7 PM she was out like a light back at her room, having unpacked nothing. In the morning she was bodily weary, but no longer as hungry as she had been and only had a light meal. She checked her cellphone and saw a deposit from Highflight into her bank account. She did take some time trying to get out suitable clothes beyond the work clothes of Highflight, found some old jeans, an old flannel shirt, thick socks and sneakers she used to exercise in. To her they looked pitiful, but that was what she had. A long shower, a chance to blow dry her hair, and then put it into a ponytail and she looked at this woman who looked out at her. The woman from the previous day was gone and what now stood in her place was a woman with a lean and hungry look. As she strapped on her belt, tools and put the gloves she had under the belt, she walked out, down the hall, down the stairs and into the main area of the bar and grill.

"Good morning, Miss Nash," the man behind the bar said, extending his hand, "I'm Brent Kelly."

She shook his hand with a 'pleased to meet you' and looked at the man in the strange family that he was a part of, in an unofficial way but committed nonetheless.

"Aaron is over with Tamara and Kyle in the other room, and would like to see you. And what do you want for breakfast?"

"Um, what do you recommend?"

"Steakhouse steak, eggs, and hash-browns, but only if you like them with lots of peppers, otherwise toast. Coffee and juice if you can stomach them."

She smiled and nodded. "All that, rare, over easy and lots of peppers. Toast if you have it, white. Bagel if you got that instead."

"Right! Just go to the front and turn left, can't miss 'em. Be over in 10 with your breakfast."

As she walked Marissa felt like the way things worked here was extremely informal for some, very informal for others and that if you just showed up, willing to work, then work could be found almost immediately. When she got there, had good morning greetings all around, she sat down at the table and looked at the couple.

"So, I heard you want to talk to me about something?"

Aaron nodded.

"Karl said you might be interested in more work. We're just about finished with our project, but need someone who can do what their told, keep track of instrument readings, and do a bit of welding here and there. You up for it?"

"I guess. Does it have a name to it, or is it just some half-assed project?" she blurted out.

Tamara chuckled and shook her head.

"Not half-assed at all. We got the full thing!" she said with a smile.

"Never go by halves," Aaron said.

As she looked at Kyle he nodded his head. "Yeah!"

"It's called Meridian," Tamara said.

"It's a corvette," Aaron said.

"Q-ship," Kyle chimed in.

"We launch in 2 weeks," Aaron said, "and since my cousin said you're decent with a rifle, we might need that, too."

"You can never be too careful," Tamara said as the smile slowly disappeared from her face.

"Gotta keep 'em honest," Kyle said.

The Marissa that started out in the late spring in a quest for her next juicy story would have run away from a family that was obvious stark, staring mad. Yet she had just worked on and helped deliver a major milestone in human space exploration and use, and the woman she was had been ground away to reveal this woman inside of her. The fluff was gone. The easy suspicion and hatred were gone, as well. And the evident love between family members, especially these ones, made her heart ache.

"I'm game!" she said.

"Good! Tamara gets to be Kyle's goalie for awhile. Your car hasn't arrived yet, and we'll pick it up at the station tomorrow when it gets here. Bring your keys plus a couple of changes of clothing, too."

"Can I have breakfast, first?" she asked softly.

"Of course you can," Tamara said, "I know you aren't used to this sort of thing, but when its crunch time, its the only way to operate. No one wants you to drop, but we do need help."

Aaron nodded.

"Kevin is tied up for a bit yet with the airshow. I want every major system tested before we launch and that means I need you, Marissa. My cousin said you are changing your life and that can take time. Hard work helps you get through it."

"Then food. Then fun."

"Only if you survive, Marissa," Aaron said.

"And we do want you to survive. I'm not like Diana," Tamara said, "but if you need other help, then I'm available, OK?"

Marissa nodded and her breakfast came out, and she ate heartily while the others made small talk and Kyle looked at her.

"You came with Aunt Diana," he said softly, "so you can't be all bad."

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