She had awakened in a decrepit building, a place that had once been a store in a community ravaged by desperate poverty.
And no one could see her.
She had the handbill in her satchel and walked to the north since she saw that its time was coming near. All avoided her be they rich or poor, men or women, no one saw her and yet she could see her reflection, feel hunger and know that she had a real body and was no phantom nor ghost. When she tried to remember what had happened just a day ago, she failed.
She had no name.
She could remember no birth day.
And while the city felt familiar she could not pronounce its name, and yet could pronounce the name of any other place that she had seen on a map, even those at long distances from here. Her day was long and arduous, walking streets bustling with people and yet she was more alone than any prisoner in the deepest dungeon.
How could she have no yesterday? And what was there of tomorrow?
"How did I come to be here, like this? What ill is so great to require this as my prison? I barely know the people around me and they cannot even see me, the nameless woman who isn't there. What is the wrong that I did to put me here?"
Sliding down inside an interior doorway to a decrepit place, some factory that was now just a burnt out shell with broken windows, walls and missing doors, she cried.
"Yet I am given the means to end this existence, the revolver from a far off land and yet has a home here. It has been cleaned, has supplies in its pouch, the leather is well conditioned. Who would put me into such a horror? I might escape, maybe, if I could but know how I came to be this way, bereft of past. Without that I have no future. The day grows as weary as I do."
In grief at her condition which had no cause she could name, that was what the Blessed Virgin of Athens had become this day.
Every single waking day was new, afresh, her memory fled and she was no one in a great city now becoming a decaying place done by those who lived there. Other cities have faced this over the ages, and no matter how great their start, their end is assured once living off the city replaces living in the city.
"And will tomorrow be just like this, no better, no worse? Starting a day alone, ending alone, cast out from the people of the city while in the city. I can only swim so far and only walk or run for so long. Then another day like this?"
Taking out the revolver she looked at its worn surface, but without pitting and only those marks that indicated some use over years.
"Ah if only you could tell me your past..." she whispered, "...and yet yours is the only voice that can address me, and I won't be hearing it."
She arranged herself as best she could, so that she would have some dignity if only for the rats to discover.
She detested the thought, had second thoughts, and yet the inability of others to even acknowledge her as being before them chilled her in ways that the night air could never do. This night she chose the voice that could address her, that she would never hear.
The day was done.
Sipping tea and nibbling the last of the cookie she had on her saucer, she smiled at Father Andre.
"This is a lot to take in," he said softly to her.
Nodding, she picked up the cup and sipped at the tea, which was made with an old mixture she had taught to those in the mountains long centuries ago when she was someone else. Someone who didn't see exactly what would come, only that something was coming.
"Of course it is, and its right not to believe me! I'm just here to see what the connection is to my sister and now that I know, I really should be moving along," she said finishing the cup of tea.
He blinked at her and frowned.
"Ah, there is so much I should ask you..." he started saying, "...what of the actual person of Agamemnon or Odysseus or Achilles..."
She raised her eyebrows and shrugged.
"No taller than me, each of them, though they weighed a bit more. A son of a king of bandits, a bandit and a warrior bandit. But then I'm biased, since I backed the losing side, there. They weren't so much suckered into a war as their greed sucked them into it. Helen, very beautiful, was no slouch, though. Didn't care much for her husband and while Paris was no real winner, she would have a better position with him than where she was. A political step up, and if you think she was just a pretty face then you aren't seeing it the way she saw it. They all paid a price for the escapades, the brutality, the thieving, the sacking, the burning and then everyone wondered what happened to the thriving trade once so many islands had been depopulated. My brother introduced attrition warfare because it was necessary, he said. It would have been figured out sooner or later, I guess."
She shook here head. "That is the way things go."
Standing up she slowly looked at the books on the shelves and smiled.
"Oh, that's a really good one," she said pointing to one of Andre's scriptural works he used for references.
"You've read it?" he asked softly.
She turned to him with a soft smile, still sipping tea.
"Of course I have. Just because I keep busy doesn't mean I'm illiterate and don't have time to read. A good part of that...in fact most of the works here...were composited in cities, but original works were done out at small villages or, for some, on the run. Of course that was after becoming Diana, but something like it had been in the winds and written on the seas for generations. My father tried his hand to be the single one, and, thankfully, failed. I wish he had never tried."
She turned back and slowly walked around his cabinet where he kept items from his family and childhood.
"But what did happen to you all?" he asked.
"I like the matching salt and pepper shakers," she said softly looking at him, "no dragons around, but still beautiful depictions."
He nodded with a wan smile at a set that his mother had favored.
She stood and looked at the other items.
"The youngest child is always ignored, especially if she isn't slated to grow up any time soon," Diana whispered, turning and wending her way back to his small desk. "No one listened...save my father, of course...and that warning just marked me to be a special victim, to him. He had already figured it all out and knew the day would come when he would have to do what his father couldn't. That was recapture all the powers that had been brought into being, pull them together into himself. What is a bit of murdering your family when the stakes are for everything, I guess was his viewpoint. He could get the power, with some work and destruction, but knowing how to use them?"
"So if you are going to set yourself up, you will need an avatar, more than just some priest but someone who can speak for you. Those get noticed if they are of a virgin birth, you know?" she asked.
He nodded slightly, not liking where this was heading.
"Once you have lightning, the sun, and death, along with the power of the seas and earthquakes, why, nothing will stand in your way, will it? Flash off love and beauty to vapor in the initial struggle, envelop that which oversees the crops to dust so it is yours, render your wife lifeless her body put out of the reach of any who would say what happened and then you have a good sole claim to everything. He did have to deal with his better part, however, she of this city. Then there were just a few others, war, commerce, intoxication and the young virgin girl who would, assuredly, bear the avatar and then, sadly, priests would need to take her away as she was clearly not all right. Maybe translate her to the Underworld or get a small cult to form around her, nothing important, of course, and of no use to her, but a gesture..." she trailed off, "...as I said he was my father, not yours, but the path is obvious."
"That is...hideous..." he said.
"Oh, I led him on a merry chase, but he outclassed me with so much of what he had brought within him from those no longer living. Finally his lightning stole meager powers of mine and he then took me with him to the expected last confrontation, to vex and torment those few survivors in opposition. My brothers fought well, with cunning, guile, swiftness, and even blinding him with rage. My feeble dagger was only a distraction and got me lightning once more to quiet me. By the rerouted underworld he pushed them off in the boat on the Lethe and I was fallen at his feet, and then he took me back out..."
She shook her head as she set the cup down. She looked at him with dark eyes and a sad expression.
"He forgot just one thing, and that is that I am inviolable as virgin. Even my own desires cannot end that. His own status was long lost, of course, and once gone it cannot be retaken nor absorbed nor that which lost it cleansed enough to regain it. In trying to take me he took his own life, Nature reached out and turned him to dust. I was left vulnerable to others who were like my father or those of us before the fall, and they found me to be just the same as I was left, and sought their lusts, first, and maybe ask questions later. They never got to that part after the first one, and my bow still had enough of my original capacity to deal with the other 2 and they left behind that which I then was, a wild, wild girl afraid of all such things like they were. And I led a wild, wild hunt across the world."
He saw that she no longer looked at him but into the infinite horizon.
"Only once the Hunt was satiated with no more targets to hunt, did it end, and I was left..." she shifted her gaze to look at him, "...no longer who I was. She had burned with a wild and savage heart, showed no mercy and slaughtered her way through all that could harm her. Every. Single. One. No exceptions."
"None?" he whispered.
She shook her head from side to side.
"That was no good thing to do," she said in a low tone, "necessary to the girl I was, yes. She had enough of being ignored, abused, and then used to evil ends. What she did...I did...I cannot make amends for, Father Andre. I brought about the very conditions I had feared. My brothers at the last stand, they figured out how to thwart the ferryman and returned before that entrance to the Underworld collapsed due to its being unstable. I only learned that...in truth and a fact...just a few years ago. They had been sentenced to be undying reminders of what they were in the Underworld, and yet thwarted our father. His lust consumed him. And then I brought the rest to ruin. Your father is welcome to the remains, Andre. And may we all hope that the day of the Wild Hunt does not return, because if I am stuck leading that again, then I make no promises as to what will happen. Nature will find me if such a thing happens, so better to be peaceful and amicable. You need not accept what I say as any form of the truth. But it is a promise."
Watching her with a frown he didn't know what to make of her, save that she was serious in a way that he had never seen anyone be serious in his life.
Her head quickly turned to the doors to the overhang, the small patio as such and a faint smile came to her lips.
"Did you hear it?" she whispered.
"Hear what?" he asked.
She stood up and walked to the edge of his desk then turned to him and held out her hands and he took them, his old hands in hers that were not those of a woman nor those of a girl. She leaned forward and kissed his forehead, then let go of his hands and stepped over to her bow case and quiver, and slid them on.
"I'll take the bag of food with me," she said as he started to get up.
She looked at him as she opened the doors and there, on the outer railing, was an owl.
"The shot, Father Andre. Sharp but faint, to the north. I'm off to get my sister," she said turning to the owl and softly cooed to it and it hopped down to pick up the string bag of food and then beat its wings to get into the air and start flying off.
"But, will you be coming back?" he asked going towards her.
She looked at him with a smile.
"Only if you come to the ALV-III lifting the Athena II, with me as its pilot at the airshow. Come to me there if you wish to see me again. Who knows, I might even have a gift for you. After that...who cam say? Now I need to get to her so I can get her back to the hotel and tend to her. Time is short and precious, don't waste it. Good-bye and thank you for the tea, Andre. I miss that tea!"
With two steps she had her hands on the outer railing and flipped over it into a handstand and pushed off to land on her feet in the small common lawn beyond it. By the time he got to the patio all he could see was a dark form running north and up through the alley on the other side of the common area and then into the night.
He felt a twinge of regret that he hadn't really gotten to know her.
Finally, when not even the echo of footsteps were left, he moved back and closed the doors and went back to get the dishes to the sink, and he would do them tomorrow. As he prepared for bed and finally pulled the light blanket up he looked up into the darkness.
"I've looked into the face of her and known what the ancients saw. Words failed them. I think I will find time to get to the airshow so I might see her one more time."
"Thad, I'm leaving this in your capable hands for a couple of months," Kevin said at the Ascentech hangar which, for the first time in nearly 2 years, now had its floor space showing once more.
Thad looked at the crew as it started the dismantling of all the 'temporary' support structures which hadn't moved since the Lunar Project started, and they were all being neatly tagged, identified and stacked in the out building. An ALV-III container would be arriving in a few days after a light going over from Highflight in Arizona, and the single rod support system was being fabricated off to the far right side of the hangar.
"We have the schedule, Kevin," he said looking above at the ALV-IV, the Pegasus which had been delayed once when it became obvious that an intermediate platform in the way of the ALV-III was necessary, and then by the Lunar Project. Yet the metal still glistened close to the top of the structure, where the outlines of the largest system ever made by Ascentech was at its #2 milestone, at 30%. It had been stuck at 30% for years. "First we have to clear the Lunar stuff out, then swing the intermediate scaffolding and gantry system away or move it to the far end. Then we have to pull all the old supports for it out, set them up, let the parts down, put the intermediary stuff back in place, and start up in earnest again. Not just a piece here or a piece there in our spare time, but push to get this on track for flight late next year. At some point we will need final engines for it, though."
"The mount system will take either liquid bi-fuel, monofuel or one of the Highflight hybrids. Although those latter need to be scaled up a bit or put into clusters. I'm coming to like the monofuel and hybrid systems, Thad. Lots of energy in a small space, safely packed, and hardened against transfers which are damned easy to do. So long as we keep it above -200 F and below 350 F we can feed fuel reliably with nothing seizing up. No chillers, no large amounts of waste heat, flick of the switch operation. We lose a lot of lift if we go for the older systems, even with them being more energetic per amount of mass, we can pack a lot more of the monofuel into a tighter space than we can ever do with liquefied bi-fuels."
"Oh, I'm sold on them as well, Kevin. Eddy is running the everyday stuff while you're out?"
Kevin gave a sidelong glance at Thad while looking up to the ALV-IV pieces.
"Yes, you don't need to be inventive for the lower ALV loads, and he has shown capability with the ALV-III, plus he is meticulous. All boxes properly accounted for and checked off. Not the most personable guy on the planet, true," he chuckled and Thad shook his head as he looked around the hangar, "but for bread and butter flights, you don't want inventive any more. He has got you and the people here for that, or the refit group at the field under Sandy. She's good at that and knows the systems well, so she deserves the buck up. So do you, Thad."
Thad looked at him and he brought his gaze down to look at Thad.
"That sounds kinda permanent," Thad said.
"Because it is. Someone has to run crews at the WorkPlat, now, don't they?"
Thad was at a loss for words.
"Sheila's good with that?" he finally asked.
Kevin nodded with a smile.
"The space bug is spreading, Thad. I made sure she wasn't immunized. Gives you a whole other view on this screwed up world. I prefer to live with my own screw-ups, not those of other people. And that is just what I will be doing. But first, a vacation."
"You two deserve it, Kev," Thad said with a smile.
"It's a working vacation," Kevin said slowly, "but then, aren't they all lately?"
He had never been to an airshow before and while this one was not as large as the one in Paris earlier in the year, it had many other participants that tended to have interests in the eastern part of the Mediterranean. Still it was a great sight to see so many aircraft and aerospace craft in one place and the bustle of the crowds out in the early autumn was brisk. An aerial acrobatics team from Italy was showing off overhead, their jets roaring above the aerodrome, and large tents with companies giving presentations featuring the aircraft on display or others from their companies left a low level din going on in the background. A shuttle operated between the aerodrome and the old Olympic venue which had been partially leveled some years previously, and that was the venue for two of the aerospace companies that worked together quite a lot: Ascentech and Highflight.
Father Andre took that shuttle to the somewhat more low-key area that also had some of the commercial aerostat companies and smaller drone companies there, as well as those companies that made smaller vehicles for residential or indoor use. From radio controlled helicopters to the large venue that held an Alternate Lift Vehicle Model III, there was something for everyone there. In addition a model of the next vehicle, the ALV-IV, was on display as a model and shown in relationship to the prior 3 types of craft. Ascentech had also taken over an old media building that had been used for the Olympics and that building featured live feeds from their Space Industrial Work Platform or Work Plat. Tonight the ALV-III would be lifting an Athena II which would rendezvous in space with the Highflight Orbital Aspect Station Increased Safety I which would act as the tug vehicle for the Work Plat.
Highflight shared the main viewing area and on the left side were their screens and the right Ascentech's, which showed their respective space stations. The WorkPlat had a few minor reports on it during the last month with some news being leaked that they would be putting some sort of small sampling station on the far side of the Moon. He walked over to the main booth shared by the two companies, and as there was mostly just the feeds and a few people answering questions and not much of a crowd, he easily got the attention of a man who worked for Ascentech. He was a black man, well dressed and with an easy countenance about him.
"May I help you, sir? I'm Ray Kaplan, President of Ascentech," he asked in English which Father Andre only had as a second language.
"Ah, yes, I'm Father Andre Nikkopolous. The pilot for tonight, ah, Miss Sherwood, said that she might see me before she departed."
Ray nodded, "Let me hand you over to Mrs. Lassiter of Highflight," he said, "just a moment."
Ray raised his eyebrows, looking at him and nodded, then tapped on the shoulder of a woman standing next to him and whispered to her.
"Father Nikkopolous, this is Regina Lassiter of Highflight," Ray said introducing the young woman who extended her hand out to him.
"Pleased to meet you, Father Nikkopolous," she said.
"And the same, yes, Mrs. Lassiter."
"Regina, please," she said softly stepping around the front of the booth and gesturing him to follow her.
"And Andre with me, yes?" he said as they went to chairs by the side of the room that held the larger venue.
"How can I help you, Andre?"
They sat down together and he looked at her.
"I had a visit from, ah, Miss Sherwood, you see, and she said that if I had a chance to see her that I should come by before she departed."
Regina inhaled and nodded.
"Of course! We talked just yesterday as things were getting arranged and she said to bring you over to the preparation area for the launch tonight," she said standing up, "come and let me get you a pass and then we will go and visit her."
He stood up with a smile.
"Thank you, very much," he said.
From there they went over to the booth and he had his picture taken and then she asked him to spell his name so she could type it into the system. She then walked over to a printer that had a lamination machine next to it, and in a few minutes she came back with a VIP badge for the Highflight and Ascentech areas. He looked at it and then clipped it to the lapel of his suit coat.
"There you go, and that will get you through the rest of the airshow, too," she said, "and if you present it at the main gate, they have been informed you are due a refund."
He blinked at her as she came around the desk and stood next to him.
"Really?" he asked not knowing what to make of this sort of treatment.
She nodded at him and held out her hand to usher him forward.
"Yes, really. And that goes for meals here, too. Order what you like and its on us."
He walked with her as she showed him the two space platform miniatures, which had been made up by her husband, Herman Lassiter who was the founder and President of Highflight. After that she took him to the side exit and they walked across the open area venues and then to the large area beyond that which had the Ascentech and Highflight vehicles out with individuals showing them to small groups being taken on tours. When they reached the Athena I which was on display he stopped to look at it and read the information on it, which was also translated into Greek next to the English description. This was not uncommon at the show, of course.
After reading it and looking at the vehicle he looked at Regina.
"This is the one that had the accident?"
"That was the prototype of this vehicle. Even as that prototype was being tested, major changes to the airframe and engine types were being done for safety and reliability issues. Our Athena I vehicles have seen the most use with nearly 300 flights for everything from Astronaut Pilot Certification runs to Orbital work delivery for improvements and outfitting of our OASIS I and II platforms. None have failed since that first prototype, and the pilot survived that due to the safety features of it."
He nodded looking at the sleek lines of the wingbody.
"Who decided on the name of it?"
"My husband, Herman."
He blinked looking at her.
"Oh. This is the one launching tonight, yes?"
She shook her head negatively.
"No that is in the temporary hangar beyond this display. Come with me so I can hand you off to Herman and I can get back to work on coordinating tonight with Ray."
He nodded and they walked to a small door in the closed building which had been hastily refurbished from some prior Olympic venue. It was a huge building, and the ALV-III barely fit in it. Its bay doors were open and the bracing system had been extended down for the Athena II vehicle which had its wheels on the ground. A large number of people were there wearing company jumpers and they had tools, equipment and many tasks that must be to get the two vehicles ready for tonight's ascent and launch. The two vehicles looked as if they were related in type, but had very different purposes. The ALV-III was massive and yet, for all that, looked graceful to him, its wings extending out far and yet were large and almost protective to the Athena II beneath it.
Approaching the rear of the building Regina took him to a desk that had a set of screens behind it for different things: 2 tracking orbits, a few were interior cameras in the ALV-III, another held some sort of readouts for the vessels, and a larger one had a schedule and below that status reports to show completion of items. Standing at the desk was a an athletic looking man and he came around the desk when he saw Regina to give her a hug.
"Good to have you back here," he said to her.
"I do have to get back to the front desk," she whispered to him and Andre made to pay no attention to them, looking at the screens.
As they broke apart, Regina turned to look at Andre and he shifted to look at her.
"Father Andre, this is my husband Herman," she turned to Herman, "he is the one Diana told us to be on the look-out for."
Hermes nodded slowly and held out his hand.
"It's good to meet you, Father Nikkopolous, thank you for helping my cousin," Hermes said.
"I..I am pleased to meet you, ah, Herman," he got out as he was now putting things together in his mind and the man before him had many feminine qualities that bespoke of his background.
As they let their hands drop, Hermes gave Regina a kiss on the cheek and a pat on her behind, "I'll handle this love."
She shifted her hips and gave him a pinch on his cheek and nodded, then turned and held her hand out to Andre.
"And I thank you, too, Andre, you were a great help."
"Of course, Regina," he said carefully and gave a moment's glance as she walked away.
"Father Nikkopolous," Hermes said softly, "Diana is resting but I think that she would like to see you, and, ah...well she has some things to give you."
"Please, follow me," Hermes said as he walked to the left and went out one of the rear doors. Behind the building a number of buses used for touring were parked, some idling and others hooked up with power connections. Herman walked past the first row of these and they came to what looked to be a large cylindrical container. They walked up two steps to a platform and Hermes gave a soft rapping on the door.
"Diana?" he said in a voice that was much softer than Andre had heard previously. "You have a visitor, Father Nikkopolous."
"Send him in," came a voice from inside the container, "I'm decent, more or less."
Hermes rolled his eyes and opened the door. Inside was a room, not a large one, but with a fold down table on the left and cooking area on the right, then a short hall that had doors on either side, and a door to the rear. From that door Diana came out, dressed in a short cut-off t-shirt and a tied off shift around her hips, along with sandals on her feet.
"Come in, already!" she said giving a nod to Hermes as Andre walked in. Andre found himself hugging Diana or she hugging him and he in no position to refuse, which was the case, and he felt the warmth of her as she held him.
"Thank you," she said softly and then slowly let go. "Do you need anything? A bite to eat? I think I have some wine in here, someplace..."
Shifting to more familiar language was a help to him and he smiled.
"No, no, I haven't gotten hungry yet, as I haven't been here more than an hour. It took awhile to find this part of the show, it being at a separate venue."
"Of course! I didn't even know that, so couldn't tell you...please sit down."
At the short table there were also fold down benches and he sat on the one nearer the way he had come in and she slid onto the one on the other side.
"You found her, then?" he asked.
She nodded with a smile.
"A mess, but I half expected that. Getting her back to the hotel took awhile, but when I'm in contact with her, I get the benefit of people ignoring her. I had to bandage her head up to stop bleeding and packed in some of the things the owl brought over, since they help in the body's rebuilding. The carrying wasn't so bad if it wasn't for the hills and the pavement, and I couldn't run just walk as fast as I could."
"But how does your body recover?"
She shrugged. "How did it ever when we had our full powers? In fact back then it was nearly impossible to take real damage that was lasting, and had to get into a large mess to even take that. We paid no attention then and even when watching it I have no idea how Nature does it. Once snuffed out there is no coming back to the living, and that destruction takes something on the order of my father or plunging into the sun, that should do it. There are ways to die, its finding a meaning in life that can be troublesome."
"I see, yes, mysterious ways are the subtleties of it. So how is she?"
"Once I saw that she was recovering well, I packed her into my functional CTD suit..."
"CTD? What is that?"
Diana smiled. "Crash Test Dummy. It is a full life support suit, pressure suit, with a number of extra fittings for sensors and electronics. Beyond that it is orange. My cousin had it made up a few years ago for doing biological testing and its been handy in that. My sister will be that package this time. Would you like to see it? It's in the prep room."
"I would, yes, but a moment, if you can?"
She nodded slowly.
"Diana your descriptions and, well, all there is about you says to me you are not an evil person. Even with what you say you have done."
"Thank you," she said softly, nodding.
"I have no reason to doubt you, in fact just the opposite. You are doing something quite, quite hard and it must take much courage to do it."
"No," she said softly, "not courage, Andre," she looked at him, "If I didn't do it, then I would be truly worthless to myself. Seeing her as she is that's...I at least can approach what I did and know why I did it, how it came about and deal with what I did. She doesn't even have that. Each day fresh, new, and then learning no one sees you...that you can have little effect on anything...and that you are alone. Condemned for something you don't know about. For reasons you can't know about. Sisyphus never had it so bad because he could at least remember that there was a yesterday, that he had a past and knew why he was there."
Andre looked at her with more than some tenderness.
"I had suspected something like it, but never how expansive it was. There was no way to do that from what little could be found on her. So I prayed for her salvation...not knowing if she existed or not, just the thought of something close to that bad was enough for that."
She reached out and put her hands on his.
"Thank you, Andre. That means a lot to me."
He shifted his hands to hold hers.
"And I will for you as well," he whispered.
She nodded and gave his hands a gentle squeeze, closing her eyes.
"Most gracious..." she opened her eyes, "...I do what I can because I must. Necessity is no great joy."
He smiled as he looked at her, "And yet you have brought joy to others, I can see it in the eyes when even your name is spoken."
She nodded and inhaled a ragged breath. "They know my love is wild, fleeting..."
"Persistent, though. It never goes away. What you do for her is just that and you have worked for it a long time."
"It is..." she inhaled a breath to steady herself. "Come, let me show you the suit she is in. I can only take such kindness in the smallest of portions."
He shifted to stand up with her and followed her down the hall.
"Why is that, Diana?"
As she got to the door she stopped and looked at him.
"Because it is what I deserve, small portions," she opened the door and went into the room and held it open for him to take in the bed and entrance to a bathroom on one side, and the other holding a table with equipment around it. On the table was an orange space suit. She shut the door and went over to it, and looked at the readings.
"I've set the oxygen pressure low enough so that she won't wake up but will suffer no damage for her body to address," she said letting her fingers bring the readings to life, and watching the slow movement of the chest which indicated breathing.
He saw this and that the helmet's dark glare guard was down, a shield that would block out most of the sun's rays and protect the eyes during work outside a vehicle. He pressed his hand on the right arm of the suit and looked at the chest unit and saw indicators for breathing, blood pressure, heart rate.
"The suit, it allows her to be seen?"
Diana shrugged. "You are seeing a suit, with movement but really don't know who or what is inside. So long as you don't know for certain, then it remains for you to see. If you think you can stand it, I'll shift the visor up and the moment you look into it, then it will vanish and you will forget about it having been there. I've seen the reaction with Regina, so I know what to expect and will need to remind you about it once the visor is down again."
He looked at her across the suit and she had a serious look on her face.
"Please," he whispered, "I've never seen her before."
"And you won't now, either...but if you want to, then come here and look into the visor as I lift the shield up."
He did so and as she lifted it up he never saw the face or the suit, just the table. He looked at her.
"Ah, so where is she, Diana? She is obviously not here."
With a faint click the visor was back in place and the suit reappeared.
"Right here, just as I told you," she said taking her hands from the visor, "I lift it up and you forget she is even there. Put it down and now you can suspect she is there, but never truly know. I think it has something to do with physics, but that is only a guess, really."
He tried to remember, and he had told her and he had...the suit had been there...but he swore it wasn't there...but he remembered that it had been...and she warned him...
"Diana that what has happened to her can even get to me..." he shivered as he looked at the suit.
"It will do that to all but the very, very, very few, Andre. We who are her fallen kin, we can see her because we are what we are. Now you have experienced just a hint of what she has had for centuries, save that she cannot even remember yesterday or even who she is. What would happen if that one brief gap you experienced engulfed all of what you had and knew? I want to get her off this planet and out of its grasp and see if some normal healing will happen and let her body start to repair the actual damage and get rid of the Lethe."
"Of course...has there ever been such commitment before?" he whispered.
"Look to that which hangs around your neck, Andre. He suffered for all sins of mankind. She suffers for no reason at all save her father gone chillingly horrific. Jesus could weep for the sins of man as he died on the cross. I must do what is necessary to save my sister who does not deserve this fate at all and if I die as a consequence, so be it. Mankind will have to make its own way, but I will get this done."
"With my blessing, Diana...Artemis...thank you."
She gave a wry grin.
"Let me get her things. You really should have the pistol back, and remember the man who died in your country to rescue it. She took it up to do that after he fell. After that...best keep it to yourself."
Karl looked at the monitor he had hung up over the work bench in the main area of his building. From beneath the forward stubby wing he saw the ALV-III start its engines and begin its forward path to the east and slowly south.
"Well that's gone well," he said looking up at it and then carefully swinging the panel he had lowered from the under-body of Meridian back into place, feeling it shift slightly until it was locked into the structure.
Marissa watched from the cockpit, using the feed from the cabling attached at a lower, rear point, which had an interface for the OASIS series of stations. The small screen to the left of the engineering station, which was the last of 3 seats, had a few screens and this was one that could take external feeds normally used to track how well the interface of Meridian with an orbiting station was proceeding.
"That is a huge ship," she said as the ALV-III started to shimmer in the night sky and only its engines, thrusting at low output, allowed her to track its ghostly form as it ascended into the deep night and headed towards the horizon.
Karl walked out under the forward portion of the wing, watching the monitor and raising his hand to rest on the wing edge.
"Aye, it is. You see it up close and you still don't get the size of it. You put it next to some buildings and you get a real idea. Watch it go up, and it takes a long, long time to get small enough so you can't see its outline even on a clear day with sunshine pouring over it. Bill, Herman, Alice and Brent put long hours into getting that monster into something that was stable at any speed. If this was 20 years ago, it wouldn't be possible. Just 10 years ago you might start thinking about something like it," he turned to look at Meridian, "and this sleek thing took awhile to really understand. You get physical effects and no one investigates them and then the guy Pare in the garage or scientist doing spare time work get no attention. Yah, I know how that is. No one gives a hot damn about you if you aren't with some huge company or government, you know?"
He didn't mind talking to himself, since most of the work on Meridian was done in just that way by whoever had some time to put into it. Having someone there was an added bonus, and helped to get the items on the checklist marked off. The long, long, long paper sheet checklist now ran to nearly 5 books of over a 30 items per side, front and back, of each page and each book had hundreds of pages in it. When the big book of ship had been come to the 5th volume, the last item to check off was START ENGINES, FREE FALL. And there it ended.
There was another book, though, and it was much shorter and in software on Meridian. Just a series of things to try out to see what worked as expected and what didn't. With luck someone would be back to check off the last box.
Marissa stood up and looked over the side of the cockpit area as Karl watched the screen above the workbench.
"She'll be all right, won't she?" she asked and Karl turned to look at her and gave a wry smile.
"She's not the best pilot, because that's Herman. At least so far. Aaron's the one with the real hairy-scary experience though, but Diana's no slouch there. She's learned all she could from me about working in space, so she isn't tops there, either. She isn't the best at any one thing, but if I had someone I needed to rely on for a hard job...well after Aaron, it would be her," he turned to look at the screen.
"Hmmm?' he said watching the screens shift to flight tracking as the ALV-III went over the Sinai.
"She said...she would like for me to be in space with her..." she said softly.
He glanced over at her and smirked.
"Well, what the hell do you think we've been training you for, Marissa? You're no good if you can't do the hard work, you know?"
She chuckled and nodded.
"Then eat..." she whispered.
"Right, and its a good time for lunch! We'll keep it light so we can get right back to the checklist."
"OK, sounds good."
As she put systems on standby in the cockpit, she whispered to herself, 'Then dinner...then...well...fun is what you can find...'
Dionysus sat in the Highflight ready room at the spaceport facility after getting back from Arizona. He went with Gemma while Jasmine decided to go with the work crew that Mel had assigned to the Highflight build facility and from there she had picked a ride up with Ares to the spaceport, before he headed home for the night. Her father swiveled in his chair as she came in and Gemma stood up to hug her.
"Glad you made it in one piece," she said.
"Long trip, we did a stop over for about an hour for late lunch," she said letting go of her mother and coming over to Dionysus to bend down to hug him. "So where are we at?"
"Ah, we are just minutes from separation," he said giving her a kiss on the cheek before she let go and pulled up a chair. "All the systems are go and our sister is awake on the Athena II. I've been tracking the CTD suit's readings and done a few minor remote adjustments to it, but our other sister appears to be somnolent. Some readings indicating deep REM sleep, and just a few moans. She's handled the separation from her city pretty well physically, at least."
Jasmine bit her lower lip as she swung around to her father's left side, while Gemma came up to his right.
"Hermes said that she was at least 100 miles from Athens for her separate confrontation. Would some background familiarity just bring her naturally back to Athens?"
"Ah, now that is something I did explore to some degree, you see," he said softly giving Gemma a side-long look, "stupefaction did wonders for her and we had left the city as it was...it has been years since I last went there...why that must have been between the wars!"
He pressed his lips together and shook his head, a sad expression on his face.
"She wouldn't know, dad," Jasmine said to him as she put her hand on his shoulder.
He smiled albeit glumly.
"No, she wouldn't. I do, however. Of us I think it is Ares that has sought her out the most..." he pressed his lips together into a smile and his countenance brightened somewhat, "She is a wounded comrade-at-arms, you see. Oh, they had their disagreements, arguments and, truly, somewhat juvenile spats with each other," he smiled remembering those days, "but she bucked him up when he needed it and he did the same with her. There was always respect and understanding between those two. Not much more, yes," he shook his head, "but that was enough. I haven't pressed him but I think he would forgive our father what he did to him, but never for what he did to Athena."
"Nor do you," Gemma said softly.
"Oh, I'm not so magnanimous, Gemmy! I can't forgive him for what he did to all of us, because not a single one of us deserved that wrath. And I forgive him least for what he tried to do that cost him his own life...may Cronus laugh at him in the Underworld and mock him unceasingly! Sadly once you arrive there you lack the spirit to do that..." he sighed.
The countdown sped through the last minute and in an instant the Athena II was away and its engines started. The ALV-III rolled slowly to starboard as the Athena II rolled to port as Diana throttled it up to maximum output. Dionysus shifted his gaze from the main image window to the side window which had the down-link data for the CTD suit.
"Pulling 5g..." he said softly, "...there, boost to 7g for another 2 minutes..."
"She's pitching up just a bit," Gemma said, "going in hot just the way she always does," a smile came to her lips, "not impatient just not wanting to waste time."
Jasmine watched each of the sub-windows when she could no longer get a visual on the Athena II itself.
"Cutting back to 1g, using thrusters," Gemma said.
"Good, good! That was almost enough to wake her up, but still just a bit oxygen shy. Not a true coma, though and her heart rate is strong," he looked at Jasmine, "she's always had that fitness to her and always on the move when she's on the ground. The sad end to so many days, though," he shook his head, "that was something against which I am powerless. We all are."
Jasmine nodded, "If you can't remember what happened just the previous day, then there is nothing to build on mentally. But she adjusts to the way things have changed, isn't that right?"
Dionysus nodded. "There is something with that. A few people have had brain damage to particular portions of their brain which causes something similar although the duration is usually less than with Athena. Hers is not damage, as such, but an active antagonist complex that has become embedded in her brain and that then was sustained by how her body recovered. If there is nothing to sustain the complex, and if it does have something to do with both distance and restarting the normal recovery of the brain's system, then the body may be able to clear it out. Of course the Well of Memory would have done that in the Underworld, but very few would ever find that on their way to the entrance to Elysium. Now no one can get to that realm..."
As he looked at the screen he thought for a moment.
Gemma shifted to look at him.
"That was her threat, wasn't it? Storm the Underworld if she had to?"
"Hermes cannot find any entrance to it and all the ones he knew about were sealed by our father or by the disruptions he caused," the orbital track for the Athena II had replaced the visual tracking system and the course to OASIS I was now a green line. No further thrust was being used at this point and he knew that Diana was busy with vehicle checks to make sure all the systems were functioning.
"She could have found one, couldn't she?" Jasmine whispered.
"Oh, yes. Indeed yes, my daughter," Dionysus said, "Notice that she is not traipsing around in some wilderness dragging our sister with her..." then he chuckled, "...no, that is exactly what she is doing!"
Then he started laughing.
"Ah, dear, dear sister of the wilderness! There are, indeed, ready ways to the Underworld nearly everywhere when death is so easily at hand! You are still a tricky, tricky girl and that is why I love you so much, and fear you some, as well. Yet the Lethe cannot run into space, can it? It is stuck here, on Earth, and out there..." he sat back his eyelids drooping, "...out there is a new life. But did you get to Mnemosyne and her Well, dear sister? You would dare much, but could you stand to see all those we loved, even your dearest twin, as mere Shades in the Underworld? That is why you chose this route."
He slowly inhaled and exhaled looking at the screen.
"Dad are you OK?"
With eyes half-closed he looked at his daughter.
"There are times when it is very painful to be sober, my child. It allows me to think clearly. And, truly, that is a very tiring thing to do."
"I have a GREEN lock status at 3 points, interface with OASIS is GREEN on Athena II #2. I have the air system up and running, and have transferred the CTD to its hook-up and now have the power systems deployed. How is the telemetry, over?"
Diana hadn't had time to do more than get her helmet off as she got back to the comms console near the instrument cluster just forward of the engine systems. The double lock went into the safety compartment that was large enough for 6 people if they didn't move around much. As this was the spartan 3rd back-up control area, it only had what was necessary for comms, life support and orbital maintenance. What it lacked in the way of high resolution screens and highly automated interfaces it made up for with practical functionality. With the main water and gas storage tanks in front of this volume and along its sides, it was this part of the OASIS I which was also the emergency solar storm shelter.
Regina's voice came through the system.
"Looking good, Diana. You are 1 hour from your first orbital change point to rendezvous with OASIS II and off-load the Athena I and all but the emergency spares, plus transfer fuel sticks, over."
Diana pursed her lips together and looked at the cluster of static readouts and the small screen that had a simple orbital representation.
"Right, I'll be busy, then and the system is set to give me a 10 minute notice. Once the Athena I is free, you'll be able to handle it, over?"
"Yes we can," the voice of Hermes came through the comm system, "and Karl moved fuel sticks from it so that it has enough for a return journey. The night crew at the spaceport can handle it once it is aligned, over."
"Night crew? Who the hell is manning that, over?"
Diana heard some chuckling coming from Regina.
"Mel is in town and she put a few of her best down at the spaceport. I don't know if it was smart to leave her and Nuada alone, but we couldn't get it done any other way, over."
"Right, be prepared for a place under reconstruction and construction when you get back to the main facility. How are the feeds from the CTD coming in? I had a nice long chat with Dennis and company and they said they were getting all the data cleanly, over."
"So are we," Hermes said, "Once you depart OASIS II, we will handle the insertion to get to the WorkPlat and you should have a couple of hours to spare to deploy the full CTD system. Over."
"Acknowledged. I see that we have gone from Solar Warning to Watch, over."
"It's expected," Hermes said, "there is one spot to hole cluster crossing and if that gives us anything it will be just as you're departing the Moon after doing a fly-by. It has migrated to the solar equator in the last week. Over."
Diana nodded to herself.
"Acknowledged. Now I need to get to work, automated transponder will keep me informed and updated, so you can get to me just through the system. Send my regards to Aaron, and I hope that Marissa is working out OK," her voice lowered, "my love to all of you, over. On stand-by."
She reached out as she pushed off with her feet, after putting the system on its transfer mode, and grabbed her floating helmet and went to the open hatch at the forward part of the compartment, going past the one area with an efficiency toilet system and where partitions would allow for much darker sleeping. She had set the lighting system to one of 8 hours of twilight which required local lights to read non-illuminated systems, and that was bracketed by 2 hours of getting lighter or darker, depending on cycle, until full lighting was on.
"We copy that, Diana. Show control, out," Regina said.
After going through the hatch she then shifted to the #5 lock which would gain her exterior access so that she could start moving all the cut-out parts, tubing, excess tanks, and any other equipment that she, Karl, Aaron and Hermes had taken from the old bi-fuel systems of the ALV-I containers. Things that were hot spares or ready spares were clearly marked and put in the #4 container and then the #6. Once on the inside of any of the containers, the older air handling system was still in use, and she had been getting that warmed up ever since she docked the Athena II/02. Once she got inside, she brought the lights up and synchronized it to the main ALV-II container that was the heart of OASIS I.
"Karl has been busy," she said to herself looking at the metallic mesh nets that had system components contained within them. She started smiling as she made a quick assessment, and saw that the connecting system between #5 and the secondary rear lock had been brought up but not installed, and after going between the locks that formed a ring around the ALV-II connecting all the ALV-I containers to look at #6 did she realize that she had just enough time to install it and connect the entire ring of containers to the main body. The device itself had 3 gaskets on either side and mating pins that ensured a close connection between hatches, and the external system featured an accordion collapsed tube that was triple insulated and sealed so that it would take more than a clumsy movement of equipment to break through it.
As she went to the #5 sub-control system she brought up the schematics, made sure that #4 and #6 were closed off and started the evacuation and atmospheric capture systems for them, so that it would be a simple matter of attaching lines and using a winch to get materials from the containers to an OASIS II container, which was in the #4 position. It would be a forward to forward docking of the smaller OASIS I to its bigger descendant, and while she would transfer materials and take back spare fuel sticks, Hermes would shift the spare Athena I to mooring points on the OASIS II.
By the time she had finished the installation of the interconnecting tube, she got her automated warning. With the last of the seals connected and the tube reading green, she let air into it from the #5 container, and once it was fully inflated she checked for leaks with a small aerosol spray of water which lost its initial impetus against the atmospheric drag and sat in mid-air until it started to coalesce into one drop. With that she started proper air handling for the connecting tube and took off her helmet and went into the main body of OASIS and forward to the main control area, which was similar to a pilot and co-pilot's seating arrangement towards the #1 side of the main body. With a few switches pressed the entire set of panels for the two seats came on, and she strapped herself in, and put her helmet on once again.
"Pilot Diana Sherwood, now at main control," she said, "Starting transfer orbit in 3...2...1..."
To the rear of OASIS I the main engines and 6 external engines came to life, first with ion beams and then with cones of purest white plasma. To the #4 and #5 sides thrusters came on as the OASIS I slowly shifted from its current orbit to speed up to transfer to that of the OASIS II and get in its path, catch up to it, then slowly overtake it, and then turn around and use thrusters to match velocities. No one had done that with vehicles of this size in orbit, before. Diana didn't care about that as it was just a job to do. One of many on the path to a new future.
She eased the control lever forward and watched as the course correction started and actual weight pushed her against the seat.
Within a minute the course correction was finished and she went through the shutdown process to ensure that all the engines were powered down. Then she brought up the emergency items alert list and made sure that all the collision avoidance systems were active, including the on-board radar system and up-links to various space agencies, brought up the calibration timing notification in case something happened to any of the GPS satellite constellations, ensured that any change to the solar weather was properly set, and then established the private encrypted comms alert so that those closest to her could get through to her immediately. A final check of the CTD suit ensured that her sister was still doing well, and she made sure of this by checking the sleeping web it was in.
Slowly she undid her own suit, and winced as a few of the more personal fittings were removed.
"Some day a real suit has to be made that isn't so intrusive," she said to herself.
After fitting her suit to the air cleaner, waste removal and sterilizer, plus power systems so that it would be fresh and fully charged, she then went back to her sister who was resting inside the CTD. Her fingers came up and stroked the helmet slowly.
"Soon, my sister, very soon. If you can dream, dream well, because when I get you out of there, then we shall see if time, distance and what our brother sent with me will finally break the hold of the Lethe upon you. But first I need to rest, and then all of us will be ready to talk with you. After so long without a family, with no past nor future, you deserve to have at least a future if nothing else."
With that she drifted over to get a meal packet, added water and microwaved it. Then she also needed rest, and used but a single strap to keep her from drifting and to keep her close to the one she loved.
"...getting final alignment, all coordinates are zeroed in," came the voice of Alice over the television set in the distance.
"What's the reading on the panel now for MHD #2?"
"I'm getting 12 volts, 0.1 amp," Marissa said looking at the display for the lit up panel of the Meridian. She was sitting in the rear seat of the cockpit, and the rear panel to the cockpit was off so that the cabling could be checked.
"Good," Ares' voice came to her bouncing around the inside of the more than hot shack that served as their building site for this craft. This was her second day of work on it and the sheer size of the thing was amazing. An Athena-I could fit into an ALV-III container if it had to with lots of space to spare, but this vehicle only had front and rear fittings for the bracing system that would go inside an ALV-III. With the rear panel off she could see some complex set of bracing for something that seemed to sit in the geometric center of the vessel, but all she could see was the bracing and panels for it, that protected whatever was inside. The 4 engines were of the type she had seen at Highflight, hybrid ion monofuel plasma type, but these had a different feed system for the fuel hexagons. She had seen one of those demonstrated as it was sealed in a clear plastic sheet and then heated until the carbon fiber finally yielded to the internal pressure of the fuel and the entire thing swelled up to the size of a basketball. It was explained that this was not the decomposition of the monofuel, merely its expanding to size under 1 atmosphere of pressure. A small amount of water was put into a similar sealed sheet, heated and as it was boiled to hot steam, it was barely the size of a hardball or stress squeezeball.
"I"m moving the leads to the alternate feed," Ares said.
The readings for the MHD #2 went dark.
"Docking in progress," came the voice of Kevin, "cross-connectors lined up. One foot... 10 inches...5 inches...1 inch... engine pods #3 and 4 are docked, locking process starting...completed."
"Affirmative, main systems indicates slots 5 and 6 are now equipped and reading as engines," Alice said.
"Crew cabin lined up," came another voice.
"Jasmine," she whispered.
"Yes, shes a good kid," Ares said, "readings on the panel?"
Marissa brought herself from staring forward and into the cabin and her eyes back to the panel.
"MHD #2, readings... 12 volts... 0.1 amp," she said.
"Good! Got that on both digital and analog displays?"
"Yes. A bit harder to read on those small analog ones, but the same...at least within tolerance since they are barely off the zero mark."
"Good enough," Ares said chuckling, "we have regulatory circuits to deal with that, but those are the raw readings panels. We can't trace problems without those. Sealing up MHD #2, going to MHD #3."
"Tanks are in position and moving into the lattice," Jasmine's voice came through, "angular fittings shifting, locking. That is at 6 inches, creeping forward... 3 inches and all indicators are of positive alignment....1 inch and initial contacts are being made... LOCK, all locks are indicating red and now locked into position. Positive feeds coming from WorkPlat system."
"Affirmative, there are readings from Slot 14," Alice said, "and it is registering as OTHER which means we have to program its actual function into the system."
"Positive feedback on control systems for power," Jasmine said.
"Affirmative," Kevin said.
"All power systems now in feed through, testing initial deployment of the panels," Bill said.
She heard Ares climbing up the ladder beside the Meridian and saw him look in.
"Lunch break," he said with a smile, "we can re-watch the show, but it sounds like everything will be a go."
Marissa nodded her head and shifted the chair she was in and then crouched down as she came forward.
"There aren't as many panels on this like I've seen on some jumbo jets," she said as she came forward and used the drop down step to get over the edge of the cockpit, with Ares steadying her as she stepped over it and onto the ladder's top platform. He started moving down steps as she found the next rung and started down after him.
"I like the Athena II design, mostly," Ares said, "and this isn't as complex as a jumbo jet or even a jet fighter. At least not if you have a crew of 3 on board. Secondary displays allow for a crew of 1 or 2 to do the job of all but the pilot, but if it is only the pilot, then every single instrument you can see in 270 degrees is vital. That's why there are more instruments up front and they get sparser to the rear. A solo pilot needs every damned thing available."
Marissa nodded as she stepped down and found Ares at the bottom steadying the ladder as she came down the final few rungs.
"I know you flew for the Marines," she started and he nodded, "but could you actually handle all that up there on your own?"
"Yes," he said softly, "not easily, not quickly, but yes. Come on, lunch. Nachos good for you or need something blander?"
"Mmmm... Nachos, please!"
She followed him out to the living area of the building. He didn't walk like Diana, no one did. But he walked in a way that showed that he knew each and every step he took. And meant it.