"Did you actually see her?" Chloe asked.
Father Andre sat in his study with Chloe and Iris, trying to explain just what had transpired and what the meaning of the Athena II flight was.
"How can I say if I did as I have no memory of it? Just before the visor was raised, I have good recall, but then the next thing I knew is that the entire suit with her in it had vanished and the pilot was leaning over the table looking at me. Then the visor went down and the suit reappeared. If I saw who was in the suit, then I cannot recall it."
Iris leaned forward on her chair and looked at him.
"But that pilot...Diana Sherwood, yes?"
He nodded and sighed knowing what was coming.
"She could see her, yes?"
Nodding he looked at Iris then Chloe.
"Between us, I did not truly believe her until that moment. She had come to me the night before in search of her, and told me about herself. To me it seemed...fantastic...but she said she was not here to cause harm to me nor to anyone, just save the forgotten one."
"Andre," Chloe said softly, "what is her name?"
He smiled wanly.
"You already know that, both of you do. No one played up the release of the ALV-III or cared much about the space vehicle going to that station. We seem inured to these things, as they become normal, even routine. Yet so few have gone into space that this should seem amazing to everyone. Her name is there, though I doubt that her last name has any real meaning."
"Diana..." Chloe whispered and then looked him in the eye, "Artemis. In English that last name... Sure of the Woods, yes? Sherwood."
Shrugging he shook his head, "I am not so sure of that sort of name, Chloe. But she does live in the wilderness in Alaska, yet backs companies going into space. She told me she was here to...ah...well...rescue..." he trailed off.
Iris shivered looking at her mother and Father Andre, as this was now something beyond what she had ever imagined as possible.
"She is also...Blessed Virgin, yes? Artemis... Diana..."
Chloe brightened and looked at her.
"My, yes, she is! Oh, isn't that wonderful, Iris? Perhaps now we can finally have her here..."
Andre looked down at the table between them that held their cups of tea and pot he had set there, along with the honey pot and small plate that held thin slivers of lemon. His work as a Priest had given him many duties to perform, all in service to God and to help his fellow man. Duties were duties, good, bad and merely tedious and now he felt as if this was yet another duty to perform. Looking at Iris then Chloe he cleared his throat and sipped from his tea cup.
"Chloe...in talking with Diana she indicated that much harm had fell upon her, ah, sister," he started.
Chloe shifted and looked at him, nodding.
"And that she was trapped in a situation not of her own causing, but to stand up to defend, ah, another. The city, her namesake, she had already stepped away from by name so that we would not strike out at friends with fervor of passion. Yes? That is one of the stories, I know."
"Of course," Chloe whispered, "the killing of her friend, Pallas. Still she was Pallas Athene."
"That is the way of it, yes," he said, "she returned to the city of her name, drawn by familiarity after she was so badly hurt. The city began to reflect her, forgetting about her in small ways then large, and now, even with some festivals, pageants and such held sporadically, she is largely forgotten by the city, itself. She could not leave as the city had her as much as she had it."
This was new to Iris and her eyes widened.
"Diana told you that?"
"Yes, she did. She had her own...ah, misfortunes, lets say. And to, well, perhaps atone or at least make-up, she sought some way to restore her sister."
Nodding, Chloe looked at him. "So sad and yet, so beautiful."
"There is no way to take her away from here without her returning, but that is limited to ways by land and sea. Thus she remains...each morning she has forgotten the prior day. Each day is new and isolated, where she can see us but prevents herself from intruding on lives. We cannot see her, so great was the harm done to her, yes? As she forgets each day, so we forget her a little more. The way to break that is to break that tie and it can only be done by going out of, ah, the domain of Earth."
"Above," Chloe whispered looking up to the ceiling.
"In a literal way, yes," Andre said, "it is the last hope she has of any recovery."
Looking at Iris and then him, Chloe looked serene.
"That is good, Father Andre."
He closed his eyes and inhaled, opened them and spoke plainly.
"Diana did not know if this will work, or what its outcome would be. She is willing to risk herself for a chance to save her sister, and yet both may perish. This is not known things even to such as her."
Looking at him Iris spoke with some trepidation.
"Father Andre if she of Athens is tied to this city, then what happens to the city when that tie is broken?"
He looked puzzled for a moment and then looked at her.
"I have no idea, Iris."
Chloe looked at him and then Iris.
"She will be free, Iris. And so will we. And that is always a risk, yes, and a great thing all on its own. A final gift perhaps, and a curse, for now we will have to behave ourselves as there will be no Blessed Virgin to protect us. That is a good thing, I think."
"Let us pray, so," Father Andre said, "for we have no other choice in this. What happens, happens. We can only pray and work towards a better day tomorrow."
Ray looked backstage at Alice who was using the up-link system to coordinate between Ascentech and Highflight. Next to her were Regina and Hermes at separate consoles, in communication with Diana on the OASIS I. He gave a glance to the clock on the wall and looked at Alice who had her hand up and then gave a thumbs up sign and she nodded as she whispered to Regina. With that, he walked out on the small presentation platform to a less than full media room. He stepped up to the podium and looked out over the audience as the large screens behind him came to life. The main feed was a nanosat a few miles out from the Work Platform and showed not just it, but the OASIS I.
"Hello, everyone! We are running a number of live feeds and I think we even have a couple of human translators on separate feeds which you can find by our local net menu."
There was a slight flare of thrusters from the OASIS I as it slowed on its approach to the Work Platform.
"My name is Ray Kaplan and I am the President and CEO of Ascentech. We're the people who drop cargo anywhere on Earth and you may know us by our services to the cremated or from the construction work we support," as he was speaking smaller screens came to life showing families watching funerary dispersals, pods being dropped into rain forests or to mountainous terrain, and small field facilities ranging from automated monitoring stations to small power systems to field hospitals, "but we are more than just that. Yet it is this part of the business that is vital to us and to our customer base. We have gotten enough demand for this work to license our vehicle designs to the Jade Space Corporation of India and the the Apple Blossom Group of Japan, which will be dealing with the markets we just can't handle on our own."
With that images of those two companies and some of the loads they have dropped and worked on began to appear.
"As part of our endeavors we are now turning our attention to the full space community and its orbital needs. Two years ago we started with the lofting of the Industrial Working Platform or WorkPlat for short. Like all of our systems we don't do it in a single large piece but build up to a final result," as he spoke other screens started to fade out and the different loads with their deliverables to the WorkPlat came up. He stepped out from behind the podium and walked in front of the screens. "We do it this way because we don't have lots of money to spend. Nor do we pay top dollar for talent, preferring to stay with a small and dedicated group of people and then expand only when necessary to meet customer demand that we can ensure will by repeated. We do that and we do it damned well, if I may say so."
As he turned the screens around the main screen showed the loads that had been delivered to the WorkPlat in the last 6 weeks. Smiling he turned to face the audience.
"You may notice that these are all loads dedicated to the Moon. Tonight, the OASIS I will be the tug that will take the WorkPlat out of Earth's orbit and into a transfer orbit to the Moon...and I would like to introduce Herman Lassiter," the smaller screens shifted to showing pictures of various races featuring various types of cars, motorcycles and aircraft, with video of Hermes accepting trophies, "the man responsible for getting the Orbital Aspect Station series known as OASIS lofted and running."
There was some applause as Hermes went on the stage and shook Ray's hand. The Highflight logo flared live on half the surrounding screens and the Ascentech on the other half.
"Good evening, and I am, indeed, Herman Lassiter, co-founder of Highflight, and its President. My wife, Regina, is behind the scenes as CEO making sure everything is running well and without her hard work we wouldn't be where we are today. Our business is getting those drop loads put together for Ascentech to drop and our safety codes for terrestrial and space drops set the standard for all our competitors to meet. And we do have competitors and we are thankful for them as we couldn't do it all ourselves. There are lots of ways to get a slice of this ever expanding pie and when the opportunity to start in this business was apparent I jumped at it. And that got a DeSoto dropped into the Pacific Ocean!"
There were some chuckles at that, and the multi-point video of the DeSoto drop flared to life on separate screens.
"In just over 6 years we have come a long way from that, let me tell you. And we have had to keep pace with Ray's business so that when he gets a new delivery vehicle made, we will have something to be dropped from it. In our range of business we expanded to include astronaut pilot training, which has allowed us to certify nearly 75 astronaut pilots for our Athena series of vehicles," videos of different drops of Athena I and Athena II vehicles along with drop dates started to replace the logos on both sides of the main screen. "Tonight one of our premier pilots, my cousin Diana Sherwood, is piloting the place to shelter in safety if your vehicle or space station has a problem, our OASIS I. Anyone following our presentations this morning will have seen her dock the OASIS I to the OASIS II and then transfer equipment and fuel between the two stations. The OASIS II is operational to the point of being an Increased Survival rated station against solar storms. We finished a full retro-fit of the OASIS I earlier this summer and it now has a total of 10 of our GEN2 Monofuel-Ion Hybrid engines on-board, replacing volume for volume, control for control, mass for mass the prior bi-fuel, hydrox system which has been venerable and well known to the space community for 2 generations. It was time to try something new, and Ray is now giving us that opportunity."
He looked over at Ray and he looked up at the main screen as the distance between the two systems decreased to less than 10m.
"Thank you, Herman. As many of you know Diana Sherwood was a major investor in Ascentech and still is, along with a small amount that Herman also has and I have in Highflight. We are not competitive companies, but work together but with different goals and sometimes they match up. In a very real way we would not be at this point without her and tonight she will be taking our systems out for one of the rare manned missions to go around the Moon."
Hermes stepped up next to Ray and looked out over the audience.
"That is something we hope to change."
Behind him the distance closed to under a meter and the voice of Diana could be heard.
"1m, 3 degrees, closing at 2, over," she said.
"Copy that, OASIS I," Alice said, "50 seconds to contact, all GREEN on WorkPlat, over."
"Roger, GREEN signals on WorkPlat. Compensating, -1 degree, 30 seconds to contact, over."
"All readings GREEN, continue to contact, OASIS I, over."
"Roger that, closing...10 seconds, final retro...5 seconds all aligned...contact and lock. OASIS I docked to WorkPlat, over."
"We copy that, OASIS I! Good work, Di!" Alice said in excited yet muted voice.
"Full cycle check. There is integrity and energy feeds that are continuous. All sensor feeds are showing GREEN. All power feeds are showing GREEN. Let Herman know that I'm going to start on a full rating on the ion cycle to change orientation, over."
"Copy that," Hermes said looking up at the two systems and the camera inside the OASIS I showing Diana in her spacesuit with the controls glowing in reflection off the faceplate. "Go for advance to full rating, over."
"Roger that. Use of full integrated power, starting at 10% thrust. I'm showing GREEN and full check, starting power up to rating, over."
"All right, Diana, start the countdown to full hybrid use in 10 minutes, over," Regina said as she watched the screen.
The voices muted and the nanosat view showed the faint blue glow of the ion engines as both vehicles slowly shifted in its field of view. Thrusters allowed the nanosat to shift the field of view to keep the combined systems in view until only the thrusters of the OASIS I could be seen.
"In just over 9 minutes we will be seeing a 1g thrust to start the transfer orbit," Ray said, "and our feeds will continue live for the rest of the airshow. In two days we will have the separation of the OASIS I and the WorkPlat, and then the deployment of the accelerator and prospecting units, as well as the loader unit. After that will be the orbital power array and control system plus nanosats that will put our systems in full contact with us on a continual basis. The day after that the WorkPlat will shift to its transfer orbit."
Hermes looked at Ray and then out to the audience.
"We will have more on the next loads being dropped for us after the airshow," he said.
"And that will include," Ray said, "the first 3 person vehicle from a private group, which we have as PCD #1," he said with a smile, "and for both our groups normal cargo, certification and maintenance drops will be on the schedule over this period. You can check the Ascentech flight calendar at our website. Are there any questions?"
Ray saw a hand raise in the front row.
"Popular Space Mechanics, isn't it?"
The reporter stood up, "Yes, Conrad Salter, Ray."
"God, how have you been? You haven't been by in nearly a year. Gotten bored with us?"
There were chuckles around him and Conrad shook his head.
"Not at all, Ray. Just trying to piece together what you are doing with the WorkPlat. What's it all for, anyway?"
"You mean beyond doing fancy things like mining the Moon?" Ray said with a chuckle and there were gasps from the audience.
"Oh, come now, you shouldn't be surprised! That is, not if you have been following our presentations the last couple of years. You HAVE been doing that, haven't you?"
"I have, Ray," Conrad said, "but beyond some of the proof of concept deals you lofted early, the entire purpose of the WorkPlat has been rather hard to figure out. Could you talk about that a bit?"
"Sure," Ray said and looking over to the side, "Alice could you cue up HF number 3?"
Behind him the docked vessels moved off to the side and a CGI representation of the WorkPlat came up. On board was a smelter and processing system along with a plasma etching system with gas deposition system.
"This is what is on-board the Work Plat today. That and the lathe and milling system we sent up last year complete our Industrial Base - Small Project. This will be able to take compacted regolith, catch it in our deceleration system, then accumulate it in our solar smelter system. We have gas capture with that, so that nothing goes to waste as we heat the regolith up to the point where it all melts. Then we let it cool with or without a spin so that it will then have elements separated by cooling temperature. Once fully chilled we get pure elements by using a set of diamond cutters on the lathe, and those are separated by element and isotope of element. After that our smelter can recombine elements, mix them, and send them on to our lathe again, our mill, or to a thin film drawing system, or to a wire drawing system, depending don what we need. Our first thing that we will be building is a large smelter processor system, which will be twice the size of the original,"
As he spoke the various systems went through animated motions showing how each piece of the system worked.
"We can make new control circuits, higher density motors, and even new power systems, although after the lofted systems from the last 6 weeks, we shouldn't need to do that any time soon. After a larger processor we will then make a larger prospector, compactor, accelerator and set of rovers to send back to the moon, and that second group will go up from a few pounds per load to nearly 100 lbs. per load. By next year we will be needing an actual work crew to help manhandle some of the systems being made which will range from automated and remotely operated system arms to new parts of the WorkPlat itself. We will also work with Apple Blossom to identify scrap left over in orbit that can be easily reprocessed, be it bits of junk from old orbiters all the way up to dead satellites. You name it, if it is inert and generally classified as junk, we will take it in for scrapping. Waste not want not."
Hermes stepped over to the podium and brought up the Highflight next gen system, that would go into the Pegasus or ALV-IV. This was a direct flight to orbit system with payload bay that was only the size of the ALV-I for deliverables, but that would include a 10 passenger system for the OASIS or WorkPlat.
"On our side we will be adding in systems to the ALV-IV, plus putting up larger passenger versions of our Athena line of vessels and the next gen one going up as a test system next week. In 3 years we will be offering passenger service to the OASIS and WorkPlat stations, as well as the ISS and hotels being offered by another group. At that point an expected 50 passenger per month payload system is not unreasonable."
Hermes was enjoying this as the cooperative effort between Ascentech and Highflight was starting to show more than trivial results.
"We will also be supporting the Asteroid Group, which will be identifying mining potential in the asteroid belt."
"Yes we will," Ray said, "we would like it if they used our ALV line to do that, but we do have competition for lofting payloads from here in Europe, the US, Japan, China, Russia and India. With that said, we expect to beat their prices per kilo by almost 30% if not 50% if you can take a week to get it to orbit. The longer you can wait, the lower we can do on pricing. We aren't the immediate, rocket to orbit deal, if you need it instantly, expect to pay through the nose. If you need tons in orbit over 6 to 8 months, give us a ring as we would be happy for your business."
"Wait a moment," Conrad said, "are you saying you will be putting in payloads from competitors?"
"Sure!" Ray said, "Space is vast and we want competition. Hell, we'll help you get it up there and design it, although that also has a price tag, it isn't high. By the end of October we expect to be lofting fully private space vehicle to orbit that is neither Ascentech nor Highflight based."
As he talked the presentation was ending for the HF 03 and the main live feed returned which was counting down to under a minute for orbital insertion. As the last minute ticked down to zero, the plasma engines came to life and the WorkPlat was being maneuvered by the OASIS I for the first of 2 burns.
"And that is our presentation for tonight. I hope you all have a good time at the airshow and come by to check our detailed presentations and displays out," Ray said.
"We will be more than happy to answer all your questions," Hermes said as he stepped off the platform with Ray.
"Although there will be a few people and companies none too happy with the answers, eh, Herman?"
"Oh, there will be lots of unhappy people by the end of the week, Ray. And we can expect to see a major uptick in business as well."
She felt as if she were floating and that a strap was tight across her chest. Not a wide strap or one that was wrapped around her, and there were light touches that indicated she had clothing on. It was not dark and she opened her eyes, and then blinked. She saw that she was floating with a thin strap around her chest and that pressed against a blue jumpsuit with a patch on her chest, above her left breast, that said 'Highflight'. To her left was a dark curtain that stretched from floor to ceiling, although as she rotated slowly it could as easily be left to right. There was a white and silver set of panels across the room from her which might be 10' away. To her right another set of panels, these white though two had what must be handles inset into them. Above and below were more of the same. She tugged and shifted to see that there was a large metal and glass door, and inside of that was a large orange figure with white helmet, that had some sort of clear visor. Tubes and wires ran into it. On the door was stenciled in white letters 'Spacesuit Storage/Maintenance 02'. There were more silver and white panels, although between them she saw where the strapping that crossed her chest was tethered and it was a simple thing to pull towards that ring. With slack she realized she could easily slide out of it.
Around panels she saw that there were thin lines of color that went around each. Some were in red, others in blue, and yet others had green around them, while some places had insets or handles that had white surrounding them. This was very strange.
Then came the smell of food, of some sort, although eggs were a part of that. As she shifted to start moving the harness she found that each motion to move it also moved her body, but in the opposite direction she was pushing. Her foot touched a panel to what had been her right, and was now beneath her.
"What is this place?" she asked herself softly. Then, through the air, the sound of motion, a mechanical sound, maybe, some hissing and then a small ding. A voice came softly through the air.
"OASIS course track GREEN, time to separation in 2 days, 18 hours, MARK."
She slid out of the harness and let herself drift out to beyond the panels to look at the room. Just ahead and to her right there was a door, or perhaps a large hatch, that led to another room and that was open. To her left was an open area, with another open hatch going to another room. There she saw a shadow move across a light in the distance.
"Is someone there?" she asked out loud.
"Yes there is," came a young woman's voice, "and I'll be right there."
She watched as the shadow changed into a young woman wearing a blue jumpsuit like hers. She had pale skin, black hair, and appeared to be more girl than woman, and she moved with grace and agility, both. She pushed herself off from the door frame, used a white outlined handle in the ceiling, although it was also to her right, and the came towards her but aiming just to the wall beyond the alcove she was in. There she grabbed a white outlined handle and slowed herself to a stop.
"Good morning! How are you feeling?" she asked.
"I don't know. This is all very strange."
She gave a short nod and looked at her.
"Any queasiness? Nausea? Ringing in the ears? Full bladder feeling?"
Looking at the young woman she saw that there was a name under the Highflight patch, and it said 'Diana'.
"Not really. Ah, Diana?"
"Where am I?"
"You are on the OASIS, an orbital station that is meant to increase the survival chances of anyone who is in orbit but has lost life support or who lacks solar storm shelter. Orbital Aspect Station, Increased Survival. OASIS. You are here for recovery."
"Recovery?" she blinked trying to get an idea if she had been injured. "Recovery from what?"
Diana raised her eyebrows and looked at her, then smiled.
"From our father cutting your head open to leave your brain in the Lethe while you fought him after he went on a rampage as we stood by the woman who, while mother to neither you nor me, was just the same a mother to us both."
"What?" she asked softly.
"You knew he would come for you, and yet could not kill you as that would mean his death as well. What he did to you was a horror. Those few of us who survived have tried every other thing to help you recover, and now we are trying this. Would you like some breakfast? Its reconstituted, but I made sure that it came from what I caught and made."
"I am hungry but... Diana?"
"Ask me anything you like," she said.
"Who am I?" she whispered softly.
"Well the name you took up, after you killed your dearest friend in a pique of anger, is the one you wanted for yourself to memorialize her. That is Pallas. Your actual name, you cannot hear because of what happened to you."
"Pallas?" she said softly trying the name out in her mind and not finding it rejected.
Diana nodded as she drifted slightly away and then flexed her muscles to come closer again.
"But when did this happen?"
Diana inhaled slowly and held out her hand.
"You are about to receive a shock, Pallas. Please hold my hand as I must ask you a question."
Puzzled she reached out with her free hand, still holding the strap with the other, and felt the warmth of her touch.
"What is the last thing you remember?" Diana asked softly.
She smiled briefly as this should be easy. Try as she might she could bring up no memory of anything.
"Can you remember anything the moment before you woke up here?" she asked very, very quietly.
"No," she whispered softly and Diana squeezed her hand.
Gently Diana shifted and she let go of the strap.
"What happened to me?"
"Your past has been stolen from you, Pallas. Now I want to see if you can at least build a new future and remember from here on out everything you do."
Slowly they embraced and she was so afraid of what wasn't there in her mind.
"I don't even know if this will work. But it is one of the last things I have left to try. If you do not want to try, tell me before we deliver the station we are taking to Lunar orbit. I will send you down to where you will never have a yesterday and be unable to make a tomorrow for yourself."
"Is that...how I've been?"
"Yes. And I will do anything to help you out of that, but you must want it as well. If I fail I will continue searching for a way to cure you because I don't think anyone should be left like this."
The great void of where her past should have been, any past, was not there, a blank that offered nothing to her.
"Please, yes," she said softly, shifting slightly and Diana did the same so they could gently hold each other by their forearms. "Just make that blankness of no yesterday go away."
"You will do that. One day at a time. But first we have to get you out of just one day and never another. If you would like some breakfast? We can talk for a bit and then I need to get some readings done, get the mission centers updated, make sure the orbital path is good, and do all the little things that need to be done here. I can leave you some videos to play back of the last two weeks we spent together about 10 years ago. You gave me the OK to record them and I wanted to have them in case...well..."
Diana shook her head.
"So I could know what happened," Pallas said.
"And to remind me of why I must do as I do. Come on, I'll show you where it is safe to push off, where it isn't, and some of the basics of moving around. Outside the food prep wall is good for that, since its meant to be a communal eating area."
Pallas nodded as Diana pointed to the little inset handles.
"Always safe to push off, change course, and do whatever else you need to do while moving around. The blue ones are also safe for that when they are up. Most of them can be opened, as well. Green ones show air handling and its best not to use those for anything major. The red ones are safe to just hold to drift with, but shouldn't be used for much else. You can try to minimize equipment, but no way to make it totally safe, and that is more for the sake of equipment than you."
"It seems simple enough," Pallas said.
"It is, pretty much. Hold my hand and I'll get us to the eating space. Show you how to reconstitute food, heat it, get drink balls filled, dispose of trash...all the discomforts of home..."
"Do I have a home?"
Diana gave her a glance and shrugged.
"You did and it imprisoned you. Now you can decide just where you want to be. Lightly hold my hand and let me help you navigate to where it is safer to learn your way around."
Pallas nodded with a smile.
"OK," she said.
With a simple pushing off, she was trailing Diana, and saw the door or hatch approach. This was not impossible to learn. If she could remember it.
Karl walked under the right wing of the underbody that reflected light from the overhead flood lights. Behind him walked Esme who held a tablet computer and was going through the checklist, using a stylus to mark off items.
"Right lateral panel extension zone, retracted," she said.
"Looks to be," he said stopping and looking up, "Say, Marissa, what is the readout for the right lateral?"
Marissa was sitting in the rear seat of the cockpit and looked at the readout.
"Retracted, locked," she said examining the icons by it, "Zero volts and amps."
"Check," he said walking out to the end of the wing.
"Right lateral end panel extension, retracted," she said.
"I heard that Karl, " Marissa said, "Retracted, locked, zero, zero."
"Excellent! Check." he said and looked at the end of the wing.
"End cap, one of."
He looked up at the smooth end piece.
"There's no readout for that, Karl," Marissa said.
"Yah, its stationary and the end panels come down to it to lock in place."
"Oh," Marissa said softly.
"That's it for the power section, Karl," Esme said.
"Good, good! What's next?"
"EMW-P System?" Esme said in a questioning tone.
"Ah, yes! A whole bunch of static checks, yes?"
Flicking up through pages of items, Esme looked at Karl.
"I have no idea, Karl. What is a 'Multi-Plate super-phase electrostatic compression, secondary phase compression neutralization'?"
Karl ran one hand over his beard while taking up his gloves from his belt.
"Ah, now that's the question isn't it? We'll need Kevin here for that, but we can at least get the access panels off to give the thing a final inspection," he looked up at the cockpit area. "Marissa, you can undog the rear panel, 4 simple push and twist to the vertical locks on it. Swings a bit in and then rotates up and back. Then there is another one beyond it, same procedure. I'll get to the rear accessway and give it a look-see since I know Kevin will need to have readings fore and aft."
"All right, Karl," Marissa said, standing up and having to crouch down to get to the locks and started undoing them. In a few seconds she gave the panel a push via its central handle and it went back and swiveled up automatically. As she stooped down in the low light of the next tunnel she started undoing the second panel. While she worked on that she heard Karl moving the rear panel out.
"You get in there better than I do, Esme. Just get the inner one open, OK?"
Marissa was lifting the next panel out of the way and heard Esme clambering up via her boots hitting the decking. In a minute the rear hatch was open and in the center of the craft was a spherical framework that had a long cylinder suspended by two semi-circular supports. There were electric motors at the end of the supports to the first semi-circle, then to where that was supported by the next one and then there were larger ones where that one fit into the spherical framework. The large central cylinder was nearly as wide as it was long, and it was encased in what looked to be a clear plastic. Small spotlights came on, illuminating the cylinder which was going from the upper left to lower right of the sphere and about 30 degrees off-center. As she shifted her head she saw light glinting off of thin metal rims of what looked to be discs. Tens of discs if not hundreds of them, perhaps thousands, all evenly spaced and quite thin.
She heard boots coming up the ladder and then feet land on the floor in the cockpit, and she turned to see Karl coming in.
"Well, what do you think, Marissa?"
"I have no idea, Karl. What the hell is it?"
He smiled as he looked at her and then at the cylinder inside the framework.
"Oh, that is about 2 years of work, after testing at small scale, of course. Had to make a special jig for the large mill I cobbled together with Kevin. We got a discount price on the blank discs, from the solar people Herman works with. That was the easy part. Milling out the fractal geometry framework, getting the variable resonance system set up, and then doping the milled fractal recesses before smoothing and sealing...that was 2 years. We've put it through a huge number of tests to get an idea of just what its parameters are, of course."
She shook her head and looked out into the spherical space at the center of the vessel.
"How does it work, though?" she asked.
"Eh? Not up on virtual charged particles of a vacuum? How about virtual parametric mass? Compression of charged space?"
She looked at him.
"No, I'm not, Karl."
"Good! Neither am I! And I've spent time reading up on the stuff, too. Still what that is supposed to do, at the very least, is give us some thrusterless impetus as an EMW system. The electrostatic stuff with all the geometry, gets us to gay Paree! More or less. Supposedly pulls charged virtual particles towards it from space, and then space compresses to allow the opposite charge to get to it. Just a lot of experiments, no real theory on that yet."
"Thrusterless? But how do you do that?"
"Oh, making mass go away for a bit and then come back when you need it. That's the oscillating part and we have a wide range to check out."
"And space compression...are you saying that's..." she looked back at the cylinder in a sphere, "...a warp drive?"
"Well now, we won't know that until we try it out, will we? Might be that. Might be something else. This is a research ship, you know? Want to do that way up in space where we won't, you know, pull a piece of the ground off or something. Not safe to test it down here, you know?"
Slowly she looked back at Karl who had a smile on his face and a gleam in his eye as he looked to the rear of the vessel.
"But...but...doesn't that take, like, more energy than the sun puts out in like...billions of years?"
He glanced at her.
"We're just compressing space, Marissa. Gravity does that by, you know, interacting with mass. We're just doing it without gravity, much safer this way. Less energy, too. It'll either work or be a total dud, my bet is on the latter, which is why we got the plasma rockets and ion thrusters. They also give a real nice kick to the electrical system. If it does work, then we should be going places, fast. If it doesn't then we'll just be going places."
Slowly she turned to look at the system at the center of the ship.
"You're all crazy, aren't you?"
"Oh, aye! But are we crazy enough, eh? That's the real question."
"...it automatically transmits and its encrypted. We'll have someone available here during your flight if you need someone to talk to," Dionysus said looking at the face of his sister Athena on the screen. "Go for the Blue Highflight logo on the screen, touch it and the connection is made."
There was a brief delay and he saw Athena nod.
"Diana explained it to me and it seems simple enough."
"Oh, it is, it is! Our main problem is seeing and hearing you for those who are close to us but not from our generation, you see? Even having someone here doesn't mean you can talk with them."
"It is strange," Athena said, "and hard to understand or believe."
In the down-link room at the Event Horizon, Dionysus looked over to his daughter and motioned her over. She smiled and came over with her notebook system and sat down next to him as he zoomed the camera out to include her.
"This is my daughter Jasmine and she has been working on that problem in her copious spare time, haven't you?"
She looked at him and shook her head.
"What spare time? All I had a chance to do was download an animation package to hook into a live video stream and then tack on a speech to text app."
"Hello Jasmine," Athena said.
Dionysus just waited and looked at his daughter who was getting her system up and running.
"You see, that is the problem. When Diana first showed her a static image of you, Jasmine had to do some real work to get anything close to your image to show up..."
As the applications started to come up Jasmine looked at her father.
"I still do, too. It should be OK for a video window, but I wouldn't want to try it on a 360 interface as that is just too much to process through in anything like real time."
"But what will it do?"
Dionysus looked at Jasmine and asked her, "Could you outline how this works?"
"Sure! What the software does is take the incoming video image, and then creates a dynamic point cloud for surfaces, and then puts together a dense TIN...a triangular, irregular network...that depicts what it has taken in. From that there is a routine to find human outlines and then re-render them based on anything from animated figures to simple tonal and hue adjustments, with some lighting added in. So while I can't see anyone on the screen, the software can and it does an automatic replacement for that individual. The speech to text app is just a standard one for chat environments or used in conjunction with a translation package. Right now it is only for English as I didn't have time to integrate a Greek to English translator app...and those aren't really great for conversations..."
Athena listened to this trying to understand it all.
"I have no idea what that means," she said softly, "it sounds like magic."
He looked at Jasmine who was just getting the interfaces up and running and then looked at her father and nodded.
"And it is to me, too, sister. Now we will also be sending you back a sub-picture feed of what we are seeing...or Jasmine has up on her notebook since the main screen will still be dedicated to normal functions. We don't want to be playing around with brother Hermes' fine work, you know?"
"Oh," Jasmine said inhaling as she looked at the notebook's screen, "Wow! I...wait let me get the feedback going..."
A small image appeared before Athena on the lower left of her screen and she put her finger on the screen's surface over that and drew the size of it out. She saw that she had been replaced with something like a statue done in alabaster or marble, although with black hair and some hints as to eye color. Her blue Highflight jumper had turned into a light gray, while her surrounding hadn't changed at all.
"You can do this?" she asked softly.
In a second and a half that appeared as text at the bottom of the small image as she spoke.
"Hello, Pallas," Jasmine said, "and this is used for some video chat systems, advertising and promotional purposes, mostly. Although some people use it to make animated videos, too. Believe me, on the main screen, all I see is the chair you are in and the panels of the wall behind you. And its like my blind-spot in my eye, the panels look to be whole pieces, across the rear, but I know that they are divided, so when you are there my mind just makes it look like they are single large panels. Its weird."
"You can't see me or hear me normally, in truth?"
"No, I can't..." Jasmine whispered looking at her screen, "no one can...well, there is Karl but he was struck by lightning."
"Struck by..." Athena blinked for a moment and paused.
Dionysus leaned forward, "Not by our father, assuredly," he said softly, "rest assured, he who you came from is dead. He couldn't kill you but could die himself, after he stole all but your life from you."
"I can't remember him...or you...or Diana..."
He leaned back into his chair and looked at Jasmine and then back to Athena.
"That, my sister, is something we are all trying to remedy. To me it seems impossible to cure, but then I haven't been to orbit, either. Plus I've had to do a bit of research to see if there might be something that can be done to help clear the Lethe from you. So far..." he shrugged.
"Ares gave Diana pills to take for keeping awake for long periods of time," Jasmine said, "the form you have are pretty interesting and while they moderate the serotonin system in the brain, no one knows exactly what they do."
"Yes, Diana tried to explain those to me, but really didn't know how they worked."
"No one does, my sister," Dionysus said, "and haven't since they were discovered in the 1960s or thereabouts. We do know they are safe to take, non-toxic, not addictive and generally just do that job of extending your waking hours."
"But how will they help in...this?" Athena asked.
"I think," Jasmine said, "and its just speculation, that Ares reasoned that for you, Olympians that is, in your state, you can't die and what you get are blank periods when your body needs to recover. They aren't sleep, as such, because your brain is not organized again. Organizing memories and encoding them is modulated by sleep. If your sleeping cycle is broken and you can get any memories encoded while awake, then there is a chance that what is going on with you can be ameliorated if not halted. Once your subconscious has actual memories, even new ones, to work with, it can't just blank out what you learned that day."
"We are loading your mind up with memories, with any luck, my sister Pallas. This is the first time we have had you isolated enough and away from the city you call home to try this. Brother Ares said he did try this out on you in the late 1980's but that he lost track of you after 2 days. In orbit you can't disappear."
Athena smiled at that.
"I don't want to," she said, "I didn't even know I had a family..." she trailed off.
"You do, dear sister."
"Yes, you do," Jasmine said, "and now that we who aren't your direct sibs or Olympians can see and talk with you, I think you will want to meet them all. And now that we know what the problem is, if this doesn't work, then we will not stop until we find something that does."
"Such...devotion...for someone you don't even know," Athena whispered softly.
"We see how much your brothers and sister love you, Pallas. And once I got that first image of you..." she looked at Dionysus who smiled at her and shrugged, "How could we not want to save you, too?"
"When I saw the videos Diana recorded of her last visit with me..." she trembled as Dionysus leaned forward.
"They are a shock to you, yes. Sadness at your condition and my limited abilities yielded no better. Nor did our brothers do better. Diana, at least, you couldn't lose as she is, perhaps, the best tracker of us all."
"She had recordings as we walked through crowded streets and how...no one saw us and yet she could take two steps away and be seen.... and then back with me disappear even from people she had been talking with. Is that really how I've been?"
"On good days, yes. Not so many days ended well for you, sister. Yet you could not die even by your own hand, nor could you thwart what was in you. The sadness of finding you after those incidents I cannot express."
"As Diana explained it to me," Jasmine said softly, "to you it seemed like a sentence passed on you for something you couldn't know about. And that is as close to an understanding as you actually had."
"And not far from the actual truth, really," Dionysus said, "but that was it. Physical skills you retained, but actual memories, you didn't."
Athena shivered looking at Dionysus.
"What...was I? Before this?"
"Ah," Dionysus smiled, "Beautiful. Glorious. You, dearest sister, were the heart of civilization, the loving young woman of the promise for all that is good if we but remain civilized. The promise of love, of hearth, of home and the one who would see it through to the other side of any conflict, intelligent in war in a way that required forethought not brute force. You didn't care much for myself or brother Ares, true, but got along famously with Hermes and Diana. We have all changed since those days, though."
"We only learned about you in stories," Jasmine said, "and those were garbled, a lot, from the originals..."
"Oh, my yes!" Dionysus whispered leaning back in his chair again and then turning to see the door open and he smiled waving to come in.
"...but you only had a rare anger and you protected everyone who came to your city, as best as you could, at least."
"But I'm not like that any more, am I?"
"Nor are any of us. My sister this is my wife Gemma," he said as she pulled up a seat next to him and he shifted over and let her and Gemma sit more towards the center of the console area. "And if anyone keeps me from going adrift, it is her. She can recount my myriad faults more than anyone, just so you know how it is."
Facing the blank screen and seeing the notebook system that her daughter moved up on the console, she had a hard time not concentrating on that screen.
"Hello, Gemma, how are you?"
"I'm fine, though tired, thank you, Pallas. And seeing this for the first time, I understand just what you must have been going through, at least in some small way. My mind doesn't see you, can't hear you, and what that must have done to you even if you couldn't remember it, must have been depressing to you."
"I don't mean to have you lose sleep over this, Gemma. Jasmine. Dionysus."
"What are a few lost hours of sleep if we can bring a better future from it?"
"Its nothing, believe me," Jasmine said, "Organic chem labs lasted far longer into the night than this."
"And living with Dennis," she said looking at him, "who is my husband Dionysus, and his late parties..." she sighed, "...someone had to finally close them down to take pity on the truly exhausted."
He chuckled looking at her.
"But most were just getting started by then!"
Jasmine sighed and rolled her eyes, shaking her head.
Athena smiled watching this.
"I think I'm going to like this family," she said softly, "if I can but remember it."
"Its been a long day," Ares said looking at the screen and saw both Diana and Athena in the comms area with Diana working at something, most likely getting feeds through to the airshow via the nanosat system, "and I'm glad you had a chance to talk with Tamara, earlier."
"She was a delight!" Athena said, "I learned so much about where she had been, and what her life was like, and the projects she worked on and her life after meeting you."
"Pallas, I don't want to wear you down as even pleasant company can do that, and with the medications used for long piloting trips the pilots are able to get some sleep in. Most don't try to get through the entire period awake. It's been tested that way, but that's not its normal use."
Diana looked back over her shoulder and then drifted towards where Athena was tethered to the wall and grasped a piece of webbing there. He watched as she and Athena looked at each other, which was something he was sure he would never see again. This was something that he had missed from the days before their fall, and the rapport between the two was something that, to him, was fascinating as they were unlike in so many ways and yet compatible in so many others.
"We've filled her in, brother," Diana said softly, "Dionysus and Jasmine did a long going-over as they are also concerned about the effects. They aren't lethal at that long stage, but if there were complications we would have to get back to Earth orbit and get her proper medication. Only if she were no longer like we are...and me with her, I expect..." she said shifting to give Athena a look and they held hands for a moment before letting go. Diana then pushed off from the wall to head to another part of the OASIS.
"I'm not concerned, Ares," Athena said, "it hasn't been continuous talking here, as you know, since Diana does have to use some of this part of the communications system to be in contact with our brother and sister, there at the airshow. Brent has been more than pleasant company for shorter periods, and he is also overworked, but also invigorated by it."
Ares smirked and nodded, taking up a cup of coffee that Brent had gotten for him and sipped it.
"Well if you know Tamara's end of things, then mine are rather dull by comparison, I expect. I've done a lot more travel, of course, and once you get past the last couple of decades that information gets to be merely historical in nature. I did take your advice from...before...though."
Athena looked puzzled. "You did? What advice did I give you?"
He raised an eyebrow. "It was on the order of 'such brutish war that you recommend is a horror and these warriors need to conduct themselves better'," he said trying to get her tone that she had used with him. She smiled placidly as he said that which caused him to shake his head. "Plus some pointed comments of at least acting civilized. This is of no help to you now, but you were right, Pallas. Attrition war that I helped to introduce is a horrific although sometimes very effective strategy, especially if two sides are at long-term loggerheads. I can't erase the introduction of it, but I did seek to find ways to turn warriors into true soldiers, and to get more civilized circumstances to war, itself. That has been a long-term goal that I'm always working at, and its a real fight to keep conflicts from backsliding."
"Just how bad is war? I mean how many are there?"
"Currently we are at a historic low with only 2 declared localized conflicts, as many as 5 undeclared local or regional conflicts, and 1 undeclared low level global conflict threatening to go hot at some point. This doesn't include inter-cultural or inter-ethnic conflicts that are at varying degrees of unofficial conflict."
Athena seemed taken aback by that.
"And this is a historic low?" she asked softly.
"Yes," he said in a careful tone, "during the last century there were 3 general global conflicts of note, 2 of which were hot ones. The total number dead due to just those conflicts is on the order of 120 million, military and civilian casualties. Though it is hard to know just how many deaths some leaders wanted to attribute to the wars and what they were hiding at home via those numbers."
"That's horrific," she said staring at him.
"I agree. The cold struggle was nowhere near as bad, although the arsenals of the 2 super-powers threatened a death rate that would have to be measured as percentage of global population if their arsenals were ever utilized and that would be in the 40 to 60% rate."
"Mankind can do...that?"
"Death toll in the billions? By the end of that cold conflict, yes. While any of us who are Olympians can survive the very worst of those weapons, that isn't..."
"You are speaking from experience? That's the way it sounds."
He gave a lopsided grin and shrugged.
"I had to. I always have to. It might actually kill me permanently and I've done as much as I can reasonably do to help civilize warfare."
"What...was it like?" she asked.
"A thermonuclear blast? Bright, hot, then vaporized, then a period of missing time while my body was reintegrated by nature at sea. I'll give it this, its faster and more effective than nerve gas, standard bombs, poison, or just being eviscerated. Much cleaner and neater form of death than freezing to death, that is certain. Far, far less painful than most of the ways our human kin have invented and they have been most inventive, let me tell you. For us its not permanent, however, and I doubt that getting closer to the blast would change that."
She just stared at him.
"I didn't mean to shock you, sister," he said softly.
"You said I told you that war was a horror and that it needed to...change?" she asked softly.
"Yes," he said softly.
"And this is what its come to?"
"Just how bad was it that this is an improvement?"
He looked at her steadily.
"Very, very bad. Progress is getting military commanders to understand history and not to repeat the same damned mistakes over and over again. That first global conflict they forgot that, forgot the basics, forgot the fundamentals and millions died needless deaths for something that should have been ended quickly if they had but listened to observers of other wars. I cannot make military high commands do their jobs, although I do try to get into a position to suggest it once in awhile."
"I...millions dead? Men and women like Brent, Jasmine, and Gemma?"
He slowly nodded.
"I cannot force people to be civilized, Pallas. That is something that even you realized was beyond your grasp before all of this. We are like the rest of mankind and it is part of our nature just as much as it is a part of humanity's. What we have now, we who are the fallen, is experience and time. If it weren't for the effect of being somewhat more civilized, those millions dead in those conflicts would be much, much more. If civilization could even have survived getting to that capability, which I doubt. Without the effects of civilization, such wars would not be possible, nor would the place you are at right now."
"You mean that as...civilization expands, and capacity increases...war becomes larger?"
"They do go hand in hand, sister. It can't be helped. How to curb the truly awful, sadistic, murderous and wanton chaos of war to something restricted and more pointed, that is the goal. I see only one way out for it, and even that will not eliminate war."
"You do?" she asked still trying to get over the concepts he had just handed her.
He nodded once.
"What is that?"
"Put ourselves, which is mankind, into space where the very first mistake means rapid and hard death. There is no biosphere in space, no atmosphere, and the first truly stupid person will either be killed for the safety of everyone, or accidentally kill him or herself and many of the people with them. That will not end war, but by making the results so unforgiving it will give pause to those wanting to wage it. It is one thing to be vaporized into atoms, quite something else to die via vacuum asphyxiation, long before either the heat of the sun or the coldness of space do you in. That is much worse, and more personal, and it is the impersonalization of war that has made it more horrific. And normal life will allow for that same stress to be at work constantly upon the mind."
She looked puzzled and stared off for a moment before focusing in on him again.
"Is there no other way?"
He shook his head from side to side. "Don't try to appeal to the better nature of anyone you don't know. Its a crap shoot, and the dice are loaded against you. We have a couple of global conflicts to demonstrate that. Appeal to that during peace time, and you might get a bit less horror in war, if you are lucky. In space, there nature shifts from neutral to antagonist, and that makes all the difference to make wars less likely, not more. At least that is my suspicion, but I can't prove it for a fact."