Marissa climbed down from the rear cab of the transport where she had been sitting next to Leonard Nordhaus. The transport for the vehicle they carried to the spaceport was built on the chassis of 2 M-60 tanks with a central large set of wheels that allowed the two chassis to swivel fore and aft to pivot around the central wheels. This had been cobbled together at the start of the project and the vehicle built on it started as soon as the second chassis was brought in. While the carbon fiber frame took shape, the engines of both chassis were thoroughly overhauled and Karl had to call in some favors from friends on the coast and Arizona to get them back into running shape. After that the transmission was gone through, the treads checked with old links replaced, the drive and carrier wheels tested, and then a new control system put in place to allow the entire transport to move.
Lenny was still sitting in the cabin guiding the transport sideways as its central wheels had been pulled up and the alternate set put down. As he did that there was a slow disconnect fore and aft to move the carrier system into the support frame that was set in place to take up the load of the vehicle under the large number of tarps. This had started at sunset and now, nearly midnight, the ALV-III was brought into position over the support frame and the attachment system lowered to the support frame. It was the attachment system that would take up the load and lower the vehicle while the ALV-III was in-flight, and then the support frame open and let the vehicle go free while the ALV-III would soar higher when it lost the heavy load. As the ALV-III was settling in place she saw Aaron talking to Darlene, with Tamara nearby and Kyle looking up at systems as they were brought into alignment.
"That is the rest of the first half, Darlene," Aaron said consulting a tablet system he had out.
Darlene was checking her system which was in its tablet mode and Marissa saw her nod.
"Hello, Marissa," Tamara said walking over to her and giving her a hug, "thanks for helping everyone out!"
"Its been a real experience, Tamara. You know 3 months ago doing anything like this would have been unreal to me," she said looking over to the vehicle as she saw Kevin Penk walk around it and then climbing up the support system to check the attachment points manually. When he did he indicated to a crewman with a walk-around button box with a cable snaking to a power truck and the vehicle began to lift up off the flatbed carrier. Kyle stood outside the yellow line area and then Marissa realized that Brent was coming around the vehicle with Mark and Lisa to look at it. As the generator running the winches growled louder he had to stoop down between them to point out parts of the underside of the vehicle.
"It must be a shock," Tamara nearly had to yell and motioned a bit further out so that they could talk without yelling. Darlene and Aaron were also doing the same which brought them all closer together.
"...a good part of it, at least," Aaron was saying to Darlene, "But it is for research and that is all that matters."
Tamara leaned over to whisper to Marissa.
"Dying to know the financials?"
Marissa frowned then turned to look at her and then motioned for them to get a bit further away, as she shook her head.
"If it were a few months ago, yes," she said to Tamara, "but after working so much...on all of this...so many lost hours, so little sleep, and just eating to keep going..." she looked back at the vehicle as, for the first time, all the tarps were being taken off of it, and it gleamed under the interior bay lights of the ALV-III. It wasn't metallic but nearly pure white, with crooked black and white sections above and below the wings. "...part of me is going up with them."
As she turned to watch the slow ascent of the vehicle into the ALV-III, she heard the generator whine down as the internal motors of the ALV-III took over. Brent had moved around and she saw the three children standing together to look up, watching as the vehicle came slowly to the central plane of the cargo bay.
"Same with me," Tamara said looking back at the scene and as they saw Ares and Darlene stow their tablet systems, they walked back to them.
"We board in 2 hours," he said, "drop is on schedule for the day after the airshow. Actually hours after it closes down."
"We got a call from someone at the FAA about it," Darlene said, "and we just told them it was a manned research test vehicle."
"Which it is," Tamara said with a smile.
"I can't be just calling it 'the vehicle' though," Darlene said with a smile, "have you at least named it?"
Marissa looked at Ares and Tamara who gave knowing looks to each other.
"Yes," he said softly. "Meridian."
It was the name that Marissa had heard a few times, but hadn't known it was something being kept from most anyone else. She had kept quiet about it, mostly because she was too exhausted to contact anyone and had severed all her ties. With some sadness, after going through the first week of sporadic messages from people she had known, none of them were contacting her any more.
"That's a strange name for a ship, isn't it?" Darlene asked.
Tamara shook her head as their walk slowed approaching Brent and the children of the two families.
"It divides one time from another," Tamara said, "one day from another."
"It's a good name for a ship," Ares said, "It is attached to no person, no Nation, no religion and it simply is what it is. Once flown it marks the end of one era, the beginning of the next."
"...worked on the MEWP, too!" Mark was saying, "Had to help Karl out getting the CNC mill working on the plates."
Brent shook his head as he saw the others approaching.
"I want to be on it, someday," Lisa said, "its so beautiful!"
"Well it started out as an Athena II," Brent started saying, "before we found out that batch of structural carbon fiber had defects. Then we were ready to scrap it and cousin Aaron decided to butcher it into that almost wingless thing."
"Its perfectly functional, just don't ever try to bring it back into the atmosphere once you leave," Ares said.
"Hello Uncle Aaron," Lisa turned to look at him smiling.
"Hello Uncle Aaron," Mark started, "You're the pilot for it, right?"
He nodded, "That's right. Now all we need to do is find Karl so our crew can get its pre-drop briefing done..."
Marissa turned and pointed to the carrier, at the distant forward cabin.
"Esme took over forward for him. He just dropped the bunk down and sacked out while they drove it here."
Darlene chuckled and shook her head. "You mean the Nordhaus kids drove it the entire way here?"
"Once we left the shack, yes," Marissa said. In the rear cabin they could see Lenny turning to watch the last of the Meridian being taken into the cargo bay. Esme wasn't to be seen, but the forward cabin was in near darkness as it was away from the floodlights.
"Want me to go get him?" Marissa asked.
"I'll get him, dad!" Kyle said looking at his father with a smile on his face.
Ares glanced at Tamara and she just smiled.
"All right. Wake up Uncle Karl. No water this time, OK?"
"Awww... OK!" and with that Kyle turned and dashed off across the tarmac towards the forward cabin of the transport.
Ares looked at Tamara.
"Make sure that Darlene gets the rest of the money on safe drop. Once engines go, the money can clear."
Tamara nodded, looking at Darlene.
"Tomorrow it is, then."
"Yes," Brent said, "and that means we have to get back to the Event Horizon and make sure it hasn't imploded. Come on you two, even with the excitement I know you are both tired and if you want to catch the drop tomorrow, you need to get to bed soon."
"OK, dad," Lisa said.
"Yes, father," Mark said.
"Good night to all of you. And have a safe drop, Aaron."
"No worries, Brent. Space if nothing else."
The women said good night as well and then Marissa looked at the transport vehicle and saw that Karl was now appearing at the door with Esme helping him to get up from the bunk behind the seats.
"Oh, he will be grouchy," Tamara said softly.
"Isn't he always?" Darlene asked.
"On his good days, yes," Ares said and then he looked at Marissa. "Come on, someone needs to spot at the center of the crawler to get it back into the shack and you're it. Lock it up for us when you leave, would you?"
"OK," Marissa said as the cargo doors closed to the down position while the bottom supports were retracted and the ALV-III took the full load of Meridian.
"And if you want a decent breakfast, you can stay overnight with me," Tamara said, "it takes 2 adults to keep Kyle contained. And I'm usually working with one and a half."
Marissa chuckled and nodded, giving a glance to Kyle and Esme getting Karl's bags from the cabin and handing them to him while Lenny stood outside the rear cabin, obviously enjoying what was going on.
"Sure. Still need to get some things from the Horizon, though. Just for overnight. Can I do laundry? I hate that industrial stuff they have at the Horizon."
"Of course. Whatever you need."
Marissa nodded and looked at her cellphone to catch the time.
"Great, see you in a couple of hours."
"OK, see you then."
Marissa passed Karl who had Kyle taking one bag while he took the other, and she gestured to Lenny and Esme who walked to her.
"Its back to the shack and lock up when we leave."
They nodded to her and she went with Lenny to the rear control area. As she climbed the ladder following him, she gave a last look out at the field and saw Tamara kissing Ares before she got Kyle's attention and left with him to the other side of the field.
There was a hunt going through the forest, a large elephant lumbering to get away from the tigers that were now chasing it amidst the emerald rays of the sun through the trees. In their lead was a thing of snarling death, going faster than the tigers and roaring with rage....in moments others would come to the aid of the elephant and all would be swept up in a bloody death...and still the tigers and the figure leading them came on and on and on...
With a gasp Diana awakened in the sleeping web and blanket attached with velcro to it. From the dimness of her sleeping area she saw, just beyond, a figure floating in the room, anchored by a foot to one wall, and she was gazing at her.
"I didn't mean to disturb you, Diana," Athena whispered, "Our brother Ares had to leave for he will soon be departing and I decided to watch some of the histories that you brought...full of triumph and tragedy, ever seeking more of something...I needed to just be alone with my thoughts and...you..."
"I understand, sister, perhaps we seek to give you too much at once," she said softly, unfastening the blanket and webbing, then refastening them and wrapping them to stow them behind a panel. "So many centuries have passed, no one could take it all in quickly."
"Sister, could nothing be done to help mankind?"
Slowly she turned to look at her sister and gently pushed off towards her.
"You can only help if you know what you are doing and where you are going, and have a trust in yourself for both," she said as Athena held out a hand to her and she took it, then Athena shifted her foot so they slowly rotated around where they held hands, slowly moving to the far wall. "After what had happened I did not have that within me, and neither did any of our brothers. What we could do is seek to offer some wisdom at the margins. The mighty corporations of today owe their very being to Hermes and his works of commerce. The vast farms owe so very much to wayfaring Dionysus, it is not even amusing to think about where we would be without him. Ares has sought to make war less horrific, and no matter how bad it can be, it was much worse..."
Instinctively Diana reached out for a handhold when they reached the wall and they stopped, looking at each other.
"And yourself?" Athena said pulling slightly closer.
Diana looked at her sister and saw Athena still intently gazing at her.
"Pallas, I'm the one who has given least of all. The girl I was...she had...more than she could handle and became...a horror. When her fear of being hurt, used, abused, was gone as none were left to threaten that then she...left me. At the margins of margins, there was little for me to do and I understood things least of all. My one goal was to bring the best of us who remained back amongst us...save her the torment of her past and give her a future to make for herself, because she is a better woman than I could ever become. The best of all of us."
"You do not live amongst mankind, do you? Because of that?"
"Not just that, but it is part of it. I wasn't fully civilized and I still have too much of the wilderness in me. In small amounts I can take being amongst men, but I am ever careful as I know my love can be a death sentence. I only wish to be able to..."she looked aside and said softly, "...grow up...I just don't want us both dead in finding that..."
Slowly Diana felt herself shift and moving towards her sister, who was gently pulling them together.
"It would be good to die with you, Diana, seeking that," Athena whispered, "You told me that I had liked you before all the tragedy befell us, didn't you?
Closing her eyes, Diana nodded.
"The fires you have gone through...to come out like this...if I loved the child you were, then how could this young woman you are not be appealing in her own way? Asking for so little, you seek the stars not just for yourself but for everyone. Because that is what you want, isn't it? To share the stars."
Bowing her head, Diana sobbed once and felt herself yield to embrace.
"I just want the redness to go away..." she whispered holding her sister first with one hand, and then two as she felt her sister take the handhold. Athena shifted them slowly until both her hands were behind Diana and both held onto the single hold.
"Share it with me, sister. I might forget after next I sleep. Or I might remember it and then you will know that I can sleep knowing the worst of what you were."
Diana opened her eyes and looked sadly at Athena.
"I've missed you so much...you can never know..."
"Tell me, Diana. I'm not afraid. You know the worst that can happen, which would mean repeating it all to me again at some future time. And on my next wakening you would know that I wanted this from you because you are worth knowing and having. That would not change, no matter how much I have forgotten."
Held in the arms of one she loved, Diana gave into that love as she always had done, because this was the one who could reach out to her like no other ever could.
"...to close the airshow for our part, and thank you for staying with us until this evening," Ray Kaplan said dressed in his gray suit with white shirt and black tie, gray pants and black wingtip shoes, standing on the stage in front of the array of screens at their pavilion, "because in..." he looked back at the main screen which held the view of the Moon from the WorkPlat which had a timing sequence counting down, "...10 minutes the OASIS I tug will be doing its final attitude change for the WorkPlat and then disconnecting from it."
He looked at Herman Lassiter who had on a blue Highflight shirt, white pants and black shoes.
"It is at that point that Diana Sherwood will pilot the OASIS I into a close fly-by of the Moon for a quick return trip to Earth orbit," he said as a side screen brought up the orbital trajectory for the OASIS I in overview.
Ray looked back to Alice and signaled for her to bring up the voice comms.
"Roger that, HSC, all ion systems are powered up and at 5% thrust, over," Diana said.
"Affirmative OASIS I, you are in the window for final adjustment of the WorkPlat, over," Regina's voice said.
"Diana woke up the WorkPlat for this about an hour ago," Ray said, "and we have been through a full check of its systems. When OASIS is a good 10 klicks away from the Work Plat, then the Work Plat will start its braking maneuver and will release 2 nanosats to take up synchronous orbit around the Moon to cover the landing site of our landing station. This attitude shift will put the Work Plat into an eccentric orbit and allow a detachment of the landing systems in 3 hours, and then in 12 hours the main orbiting power station will be released along with a series of nanosats to keep the landers in full time comms with it and from there back to our receiving network. By tomorrow the WorkPlat will then correct its orbit and then use its thrust systems to put it on a course back to Earth orbit, albeit at a somewhat lower rate of speed than OASIS I."
Hermes stepped next to Ray and then looked out at the crowd which had gathered for the free meal and drinks at the pavilion. "The nanosat program is a vital one to our comms system," he said, "as it gives us multiple wide and broadband sets of channels to be in communication with our systems without tying up other commercial communications networks. This system has been vital in tracking ALV use, and for Highflight has allowed us to conduct long-term experiments in controlled space environments and utilize those results to get better environmental systems developed."
"OASIS is 1 minute from attitude adjust, 0.5g to 10 degrees, and then detachment immediately after, using thrusters to change attitude, over," Diana said.
"HSC control, you are good to go, over," Regina said.
"Work Plat is synced, all systems are green, and ready for detaching, over," Bill Mankin said from the Ascentech station with Alice behind him, holding the back of his chair looking at the array of small screens behind the scene.
"Roger that, 30 seconds to course correction, boosting ion thrust to 100%, preparing for first ion injection on engines 2,3, and 4... in 10 seconds, mark..." Diana said in a soft voice, and the view shifted to a split screen of her at the pilot's seat with her suit and helmet on. "5 seconds..."
"You are good to go, OASIS I," Regina said.
"Roger, ion injection is go, thrust at 20%...throttling to 60% by stages..."
The interior camera barely quivered but the attitude of flight from the WorkPlat began to see the Moon on the right lower as the entire system inclined.
"3...2...1...and stop. Back thrust on 1 and 2 for stabilization, then power down of thrust systems to standby. Over."
"WorkPlat System Control shows 10.2 degrees, in margin of error, OASIS I. System is prepared for detaching, over."
"Roger that, WorkPlat Control. Auto-sequence starting as of, mark. 1 minute to detach, all systems are green. Over."
"OASIS I this is HSC, we see greens on our board, continue cycling, over."
Ray realized he had been holding his breath and looked over at Hermes as the entire pavilion was quiet.
"Energy systems transfer closed, detached. Locking system withdrawn, all green. Thrusters coming on-line in 10 seconds....5...4...3...2...1..forward thrusters are active..."
The screen shifted into quadrants with the WorkPlat lunar view in the upper left, Diana at the controls at the upper right, the WorkPlat forward camera showing the OASIS I moving away and the OASIS I forward camera showing the WorkPlat receding.
"Ion systems 1,2,5 and 6 are now active, 30% stepping to 100%, over."
"Copy that, OASIS I, you are good to go when clearance allows, over."
On the lower right quadrant the escaping thruster gas could be seen moving the OASIS I back and shifting its attitude down, then the faint halo of blue around the upper rear of OASIS I became apparent.
"Those ion systems are ever so handy for this sort of thing, Ray," Hermes said quietly even knowing it would be picked up by the loudspeaker system, "we owe a debt of thanks to the first generation of developers for that system."
"Indeed we do, Herman," Ray said softly.
In less than a minute the thrusters shut down.
"All ion systems are now online, remaining stepping up to 30%. Radar track shows clear, over."
"WorkPlat Control shows radar clear from our side, over," Bill said.
"All clear for you, Diana, whenever you are ready, over," Regina said.
"All right, ion injection engines starting immediately for 1g thrust, expect to be out of touch for blackout behind Moon in 30 seconds. See you on the other side, over."
"Roger that, OASIS I, break a leg. HSC over and out."
The screen dissolved to show a tracking camera from the lower part of the WorkPlat and the OASIS I could be seen below it moving forward and distinctively closer to the Moon.
"She's going to come out of there hot," Ray said.
"She always is," Hermes said with a chuckle and a number of the people in the audience chuckled and a couple of them whistled.
Ray clapped Hermes on the back and they both turned to look at the crowd.
"For Ascentech, I thank you for your attendance tonight, and tomorrow we will take all our toys and leave you in peace again."
"Thank you from Highflight, and good night to everyone, may you have pleasant dreams tonight," Hermes said waving at the audience and facing towards Athens in the south.
"Prepare for ALV-III cycling in 1 minute, Meridian, over," the voice of Susan Masterson said over the comms.
"Copy, 1 minute and minus, ALV control, we are green and prepared to cycle, over," Ares said.
"As ready as we'll ever be, at least," Karl said, "not enough stiff drinks to make you really ready for something like this."
"You've got that right, Karl," Kevin said, "Direct comms link shut down."
"Power taps closed," Karl said, "On internal power. MHDs on standby. Ion systems are charged and warmed."
"All cameras, check," Kevin said.
"30 seconds, mark, over," Ares said.
"We have green on our boards, Meridian, over," Susan said.
"20 seconds and green on Meridian, over."
They watched the countdown clocks on their screens in each of the sections of the cockpit.
"Ion systems ready for full power-up," Karl said.
"Thrusters read positive," Ares said.
In a flash the dimly lit bay of the ALV-III disappeared above the Meridian and Ares called on the thrust systems.
"Fuel injection is go, system at 20%, MHDs are online, charging MEWP," Karl said.
"Detach is clean and green, ALV control, thank you Susan and I owe you a dinner for the flight, over," Ares said.
He heard chuckling through the comm system from ALV control.
"Got it, Aaron, family affair...bay doors closed and Meridian is a pretty sight, over."
"Family always welcome and thank you, Susan, switching to sat up-links Meridian over and out."
"Say we don't have a ground control do we?" Kevin asked in a satirical fashion.
"MEWP is charged, and ready, Aaron."
"Give us the good Mach stuff, Karl, as much as you think it can take."
Karl shifted and as the main engines were boosting past 2g, he reached out and shifted the controls for the ME portion of the system.
"Ooof! Now that's a g!" Karl said.
"Got any more than that?" Ares asked.
"Only if you throttle up, its direct feed to the ME right now."
"Well we have the rest of the test to do, so divert the rest of what comes from the engines to the rest of the system."
"We are at 70 miles and ascending," Kevin said, checking the GPS readings.
"Right, ready for the rest," Karl said.
"Throttling up," Ares said.
"I do not like 5g," Karl said as he looked at the indicators for the MEWP system, "MEWP is online and active."
"Aaron, we've stopped moving in the atmosphere, stuck at 83 miles," Kevin said with a few gasps.
"What?" Ares whispered. "Karl, can you check the system?"
"Aye, let me just get...ahhh...just need to change the disc alignment...a moment..."
Inside the MEWP some of the discs shifted and rotated, powering down their electrostatic charges and then letting them flow through their structures once they were realigned. Invisibly the system reached out to the space around the vehicle and then blurred the stars overhead with the dimly lit horizon around Earth swirling and blurring as it did so.
"Shut it down," Ares whispered, "Now. Kevin, where are we?" Then he throttled down the main engines to just a bare injection of a fuel hex every 10 seconds, to give a somewhat jerky ride.
"Lost all contact with GPS...all comms...re-establishing... give it a moment..."
There was a pause as Kevin examined the systems.
"That's just not right..." he whispered.
"What isn't right?" Karl asked, "I don't have a damned thing to look at here unless I want to take some engineering functions off screen."
"Give it, Kevin. Where are we?"
"We took a straight line path along our trajectory, Aaron. Not an orbital trajectory. We are 3,500 miles above the Earth, although that is decreasing since we don't have the velocity to maintain it."
Ares blinked as the on-board system finally got fully re-linked to show current trajectory and orbit on screen.
"Karl, just how much energy did you feed into the MEWP...the WP portion?"
"Got the readings, it took only about 3 kilowatts to do that over about 10 seconds. Call it 300 watts per second, give or take, but most for the initial charging of the system. A bit less than a watt per mile in that configuration."
"Right..." Ares whispered, "...now can we use that to get back to the orbit we are scheduled for?"
"We had better do that," Kevin said, "because we are starting to get questions from a number of tracking stations trying to figure out where we are..."
"Wait a moment," Ares said, "Kevin we lost all contact with all comms when that was on?"
"After it was adjusted, yeah."
"Karl, can we get about a 0.5g and just turn the system on and not boost it?"
"Why sure! Even less than that now that its charged. Call it 0.25 or even a 10th of a g. That should do it."
"Feed it through, scaling up to 0.10g, Kevin, let me know when all contact is lost," Ares said. He shifted the timing of fuel hexagons to a linear feed and started moving the thrust system forward.
"0.05g" Karl said, "Shit that's barely drawing anything from the MHDs. We could run on the small solar panels on the wings to get that."
Ares smiled to himself.
"Lets do that and figure out just what we have here...Kevin you got the major orbits for satellites, right?"
"Yes, I do,"
"Make sure we avoid them...ah..because we aren't moving...relative to the Earth, but it is rotating beneath us. It is like we are pinned to a point in the gravity well, and I want to make sure nothing runs into us while we figure out just what the hell this system actually does."
"Ah, the joys of research! So much fun until someone takes an eye out by accident," Karl said.
"Deploy the panels, I don't want to waste fuel."
"Aye, deploying them, facing wing sets are up...shutting engines down to standby..." Karl said.
"Why is this always so much easier in the movies?" Kevin asked.
"They don't have to risk their butts doing it," Ares said, "we do. Now just what have we got here? And can we get to OASIS II?"
"They just vanished from radar, Diana. And I've got someone picking up the phones trying to handle the calls, over," Susan Masterson said as Diana looked at the flight control screen and then looked back at the navigational radar screen.
"Meridian isn't showing up on our radar system either," Diana said, "give me a minute to check out some of the other sensor systems, back in 2, over."
"Will standby, over," Susan said after a couple of seconds delay, which Diana used to move over to the area devoted to incoming sensor processing which offered more capability than the pilot's controls.
"What's going on?" Athena asked.
Diana smirked and looked at her, as she reached her destination in the forward cabin. Athena drifted to the wall above the pilot's station and worked her way towards the sensor read out area. Screens came to life as Diana started calling up visual feeds from some of the nanosats and using the other systems that went outside the optical range on-board OASIS I.
"Meridian launched successfully and then disappeared from all radar tracks between 80 and 90 miles up. No debris and no sighting of any explosion by the ALV-III that had dropped them. Our brother is up to his tricks it appears."
With her fingers in a handhold, Athena floated just above the main station readouts that Diana was using.
"Which tricks are those?"
"Experimental physics in this case, seeing if using a large electrostatic charge can distort space in conjunction with apparent mass loss or just separately. I believe the provisional answer to that is 'yes'."
Athena just looked at Diana who glanced at her with a smirk.
"That is possible?"
Diana nodded looking at the inputs fully once more.
"Gravity does it via mass. In theory space is filled with virtual particles coming and going so fast that they never appear, which is vacuum energy. A corollary to that is that charges also appear and disappear in space, which is vacuum potential charge. If you distort the charges in one direction or another, then the opposite charge drags space with it to annihilate with its opposite. That takes much lower energy to do, and allows for some cancellation of charges to form a sphere or envelope around something. If you compress ahead and expand behind the sphere, then it moves space while retaining its own relative frame inside the envelope."
"That's hard to picture, my sister," Athena said.
Diana looked at her and fatigue was starting to show up on her face with somewhat hollow cheeks and some puffiness around the eyes. She reached over to cup her cheek and smiled softly.
"Pallas, I don't understand it that well, either. It is a very complex thing to do while its simplicity is only in theory, because nature is difficult to work with directly. I don't think you can take it all in immediately and you need to hold out for another 3 days. At the media display system you can call up the project documents for Meridian that Ares sent along and look for the MEWP Drive section. I've only skimmed those documents over the years and they might tell you more than they tell me."
Athena shifted her hand along Diana's arm and pulled them close, and gave Diana a kiss on her cheek.
"Thank you, sister," she said softly as she pushed off towards the entrance and then guided herself through it.
In a minute Diana went over all the feeds she could get from the nanosats and then went back to the pilot's station.
"ALV Control, this is OASIS I. Susan I'm coming up negative on my search. No radar, IR or LIDAR is showing them out to 5,000 miles. It isn't much distance and visually the nanosat feeds aren't getting me anything, either, over."
In just a few seconds she saw Susan nod.
"Diana, they just vanished, and a lot of people are starting to breathe down our necks here. Thank you for your help, I just had to check and make sure I covered all my bases. ALV Control over and out."
"Roger that, all your bases and your ass, I understand," Diana said with a smile, "OASIS I out."
Shaking her head she pushed over to the entrance way, through it and towards her sister who was calling up the system documents from Meridian.
"You know what they did, don't you Diana?" Athena shifted to look at her.
Diana raised her eyebrows.
"I suspect what they've done, my sister. Electromagnetic waves will be distorted by space compression and expansion, and Meridian deals with different parts of the spectrum in different ways, which will make it nearly impossible to get active detection of them if their main drive is active. But what that drive actually does, and if it can create a envelope to shift a slowly traversing pocket on the inside without killing everyone...well that is a gamble our brother was willing to take, and so were the men with him."
"Oh," Athena said softly, "so what could happen to them?"
Coming next to Athena, she held her hand out and Athena took it.
"The failure states, they do vary. If a stable envelope didn't form then their atoms might be stretched out as a diffuse gas over, say, 100,000 miles, and I don't know if that would be enough to actually kill one of us, but it would kill the humans with him. That is just one failure state that can happen. Ares...well, none in the technical know, at least... wanted to test the system on Earth, and sought to get at least above most of the atmosphere to start it up. What little was done at here and OASIS II as tests showed that it could be safely made, but those were low power tests. What happens when you up the amount of power is anyone's guess."
Athena nodded as she looked at Diana.
"There were so many people at the presentation when we detached from the WorkPlat," Athena said looking at her, "Ray Kaplan...our brother Hermes... I saw Regina, Alice, Bill...and then the audience... a lot of people there to see this..."
Diana nodded as they drifted closer together.
"It was a good crowd compared to the first announcement, yes. I want..." pressing her lips together she let go of her handhold and rotated slowly to embrace her sister, "...you...to be able to remember them. Be with them. I can only deal with people one-by-one, Pallas. I'm not about...more than that. That is why I needed our brothers. It is selfish, but I need you, too. Because as this gets larger, one-by-one-by-one fails, and I know it. I just want to succeed at something...anything...once..."
Athena shifted looking at Diana and felt that no matter how much she put forward the front of an adult, that it was just a front and that, beneath that, Diana felt that she was not capable of maintaining that or even sustaining the effort to maintain it.
"I do not want to lose our brother I've so briefly met, Diana," she smiled, shifting her embrace to hold her, "or you. Because you have not failed me. And if all about us is not success, then the term has no meaning."
As Diana held on to her, Athena shifted her head to press her cheek against Diana's.
"All I've done is fail," Diana said softly, "so much lost...so many dead...because no one would listen..."
"I'm listening, Diana. If you could only see yourself as I see you, then you would know how much you have done has great meaning to more than just me."
The tears of reunion, the rejoicing together and now the fear that drove it were there, held by them.
On the incoming communication screen a channel went from Solar Flare Warning to Detected Solar Flare.
With ion drives on at a bare percent, OASIS I gathered velocity and in a few hours it would be doing a fly-by of the Earth.
Reveries were broken as the alarm sounded for the Solar Flare and the Earth became aware that what was headed its way would not bring a pleasant dawn.
"...but didn't you get a chance to read it?" Ares asked as he was going through the documentation that was in the computer system that Brent had sent along
"Oh, in my off hours here and there, what I've had of them, yah," Karl said, "there's nothing like going through electrostatic differentiation due to fractal geometry interacting with virtual vacuum charges, don't you know? Real beer and pretzels stuff, that."
Kevin shuddered as he got to the field geometry section that Brent compiled and started in from an angle he knew having to do the comms portion of the Meridian work.
"So, no, huh?" Kevin said.
"Well, not in the last, oh, month... all the projects and stuff that Ascentech dropped in everyone's laps and all that."
Ares was methodical and had enough physics background to understand the basics of what was being done, but the actual going through the equations in depth, which started to get into material that shifted into topographic analysis of charge vectors and their frame dragging effects of space time was slow going to say the least.
"But we did give him some parameters to work with, didn't we?" Ares asked.
"Yah, yah, we did! Has to leave an envelope that more or less encapsulates Meridian in its own space, which he obviously did. Then put the field together outside that envelope, so that's a big check off the Master List, too. We're still alive to check it off, don't you know?"
"Ah-ha!" Kevin said, "Field harmonics due to fractal resonance for compression, expansion and frequency compensated regions! Right here in, um, Section 5, Dynamic Field Distortion and Distribution, Section III...now lets see... 'Final field system alignment is based on frequencies generated to form standing charge waveforms at discrete distances as described in Annex 3 for variable compensated alignment of waveforms from plate spacing, distribution and fractal topology contoured across plates. Calibrated in Alignment Program from plate number and position in positive degrees from zero for each frequency and compression available from voltage increase and amperage push, detailed in Section II of Annex 3!'"
Kevin was smiling as he shifted over to that and called up the Calibrated Alignment Program.
"Aye, that's got it, Kevin! Right, we are on..." Karl read off what they currently were powering and then brought up the CAP to synchronize with that, "...safety neutral compression with, ah, lets see that is angles from forward with inclination and declination for frequency compensated holes, isn't it?"
Ares had shifted his reading system to the section Kevin had talked about, went to the Annex and tried to see if there was a proper disc schematic to bring up to show the way fractal geometries and electronic fields moved between them to form a standing electrostatic charge shell. He synchronized that to the current system readout and it picked out what was around Meridian and displayed that.
"Karl, can you grab my display 5 and see if that's what we need?" he asked.
"Yah, let me do that..." Karl was quiet for a moment.
"Got it, Aaron! Wow! And that's a live readout, too..."
"It is," Karl said, "pure genius, that. Nice work with the modeling package, too. Say, it has a preview function for different alignments, did you notice that? Someone has put some work into this thing."
"Looks like a pretty standard modeling display," Ares said, "very much like what Jasmine uses for her nano structure work."
They were quiet for a moment.
"You don't think she..." Kevin asked.
"The way Dennis works her?" Karl asked, "Well, maybe, of course she would need someone pretty skilled in this shit to get it to this point."
"Herman," Kevin whispered, "that figures. Nice, neat, tidy, everything you need gathered together. First couple are Herman, the rest Jasmine, Brent giving it a final going over."
"Now if I'm reading it right, then we have an internal frame velocity of... just a bit over 9,000mph which isn't really more than sub-orbital," Ares said glancing at the fuzzy display that was showing where Earth was, but it had none of the comforting colors or even tonal qualities of Earth, but was in the right direction and size for it to be Earth, "so if we get a gentle g or two..."
"Or even less, and just spread it out over time," Kevin said.
"Then we can adjust the plates to one that follows the gravity well curvature... say, Karl, do you have the configuration we first used to get in this mess?"
"Aye, bringing it up...say, that was one of the relatively low-end fields marked for future testing. Probably left it in the system after a beer or two too many," Karl said.
"Do you have to be drunk to run this thing?" Kevin asked.
"No, but it would help, that's for sure!"
Ares rolled his eyes and shut them and breathed slowly.
"We have our orientation in our envelope," he said slowly, "our frame relative velocity, and our current altitude. I can add in more thrust, and we need the ability to shift the field to something where we can remain relatively out of sight to everyone and then get to OASIS II, so we can then be in its shadow, kill the field and dock with a zero delta between us and it. That means a course, thrust, and getting the right field in place, plus guidance for attitude within the field and overall field attitude relative to the space around us. Preferably put through the pilot control system."
"Would you like fries with that?" Karl asked as Kevin chuckled.
"That is the goal for Meridian," Ares said carefully, "but I'll take what I can get at this point since our loved ones may be coming to the conclusion that we are a spread of vapor between here and the asteroid belt."
"True," Kevin said, "Karl if you can get the plate arrangement down, I can handle the compression and frequency portion for fine tuning, and Aaron can then get the general guidance part along with thrust management, while I compensate for course and show what each orbit at any single point will get."
"I can do that," Karl said, "and be looking through for a better configuration since we really do need to be able to communicate outside of our envelope. But first things first. The new alignment will need a bit of power from the MHD's or the batteries, and since we need relatively velocity, it had better come from the plasma MHD systems. Not much, 0.3g ought to do it."
Ares nodded and started bringing the plasma systems up from their current standby.
"Injection starting, ramping up," he said softly.
"Changing configuration in 3...2...1... its in," Karl said.
Around Meridian space shimmered and the vehicle shifted above Earth. Inside the cockpit the only visible change was some dark red coloration showing where the sun would be and the Earth as a reddish outline as they swept behind it.
"Correcting internal attitude, and envelope," Ares said working the main yoke for gross compensation of the vehicle and a side joystick that had a display lit above it on the left for correcting field direction. The field aligned nearly instantly and he had to carefully adjust it back while the internal frame shifted separately and Meridian with that.
"Can we get the orbits of anything between here and OASIS II?" he asked softly.
"Sure," Kevin said, "on the main feed now...not a lot, but...Aaron, I'm glad you are the pilot and not me."
Karl pulled up one of the side displays to see what Aaron was looking at and whistled.
"So you are guiding the compression field, the relative field to Meridian, Meridian, and thrust inside the field, plus matching orbits? Yeah, better you than me."
"Thanks. Karl, let me know when we start to reach the decay threshold of the envelope, and see if you can find one to take over at that point. Kevin, start looking up for comm and radar channel sub-frequencies to the main envelope so that when Karl gets a plate alignment you can adjust that for necessary feeds. Right now I'm flying by instruments and I don't like that. Some sort of visual system would be nice to work with, but I'll take enhanced sensors if we can't get that."
"Working on that," Karl said.
"Karl when you get your next likely, could you feed it to me so I can do the field shift searches?"
"Sure thing, Kevin."
In the next hour Meridian would finally match orbits with OASIS II and the moment they did so, the solar flare warning came through the system and then Meridian disappeared once more, since one of the easiest ways to avoid incoming energy was just to wrap it around the outside of their envelope, but this time they stayed in orbit next to OASIS II, while Kevin worked on getting a clear set of communications frequencies with OASIS II which was just under 100 yards away.
"...Brent is making sure OASIS II is snugged down from the ground office at the field, so mom and dad are at the Horizon, Tamara was at the Ascentech Hangar with Kyle and may be on her way back, Marissa is sacked out after spending most of yesterday not sleeping while getting her car from the delivery station, Mark and Lisa are out with Brent, so that leaves me. Regina, Herman, Ray and the rest of the crew that was out in Greece packed up into the ALV-I and ALV-II that were there, using the flight modules that were for cargo as their means home, since all jet service is canceled They are going to loiter along the daylight terminator and wait for North America to come to them in about 12 hours. There was a pre-flare event or something, a minor C-Class flare just a day ago and everyone thought this would be a repeat of that. It isn't, and now most of the major comm sats are snugging down, those that can, at least, and a number of other systems are also going into hibernation. The GOES satellites should take this OK, and a few other observatory systems that are also hardened are doing their jobs. This one is bad, possibly above an X30, and there is only a very slight inclination of the flare from the solar equator, so most of it will still be in the planetary plane when it gets here in approximately 6 hours, maybe less. Over."
Jasmine looked at the small screen which held both Diana and Athena.
"Thank you for the update, Jasmine. We've moved to the storm shelter at the center of OASIS I and now have the routines that Hermes put in place in case this happened. We're using the ion unit diversion systems to charge carbon dioxide, setting up a static charge under the skin of OASIS and Athena II, and then letting the charged carbon dioxide plasma build up over that. We've pulled in the panels and are just waiting with the majority of the mass of OASIS I to take it, over," Diana said.
Jasmine inhaled, nodding.
"Make sure that the water tank is as full as you can get it, that should do a decent job stopping some of what gets through, and the engines, gas system and the triple hull right after the engine system before that should give you good protection from the radiation and secondary radiation, over."
Athena and Diana looked at each other, and then Athena spoke.
"Any news of Meridian?"
Jasmine shook her head negatively.
"Not a thing. Some of the data was being teased out just before we got the flare warning, that's why Brent was at the ground office. He said there was a secondary distortion, but that it was too far away to place, so its possible they may have not only gotten to orbit but beyond it. If that's the case, then the MEWP may be the best thing around, if its working, if they are alive, and if they have its parameters figured out...which is a lot of ifs. No debris, no indications of catastrophic failure, no nothing. Over."
"How's Tamara taking it? Over." Diana asked.
Jasmine thought for a moment. "Stoically She isn't excited nor depressed. She said to dad that if Ares ends up coming back after being declared dead, they have contingency plans. Even if he doesn't, they have plans. I think they have plans for Armageddon. Their plans that they proposed to Ray and he proposed to the other companies here are starting to look prescient. The entire spaceport has disconnected from the grid, and that means everything. We're living off of the local generators and the solar facilities at Ascentech, Highflight, X-CAL, and Z-Flight, plus some of the grid-tie systems of locals with generators. We have aquifer pumps going to fill all the surface tanks, so we should be OK on that. Everyone is at low power use, though, so the real heavy work unless its done by gas or diesel, has stopped. Most everyone has been caught flat-footed and by the time most of the power companies get their act together, it will be too late. Over."
Diana pressed her lips together and looked off-screen for a moment.
"Jasmine, we're committing to our plans. The storm will be hitting just as we are doing the fly-by, and then we will spend time to use the plasma system, give us a recharge on our battery and fuel cell banks, then put the solar tracker on to keep OASIS end on to the sun. We are of no use down on Earth right now, and coming in during all of this will just distract from what needs to be done. So we are flying out and in as we track back across Earth's orbit we will slightly overshoot and then do a retro-fire. Then we use the Moon for getting a re-entry orbit to the system and use up a good part of the fuel to slow down and pull into Earth orbit. We will take stock then. It will happen with or without us as that is now preprogrammed into the navigational and flight system. Over."
As Jasmine watched the picture started to break up.
"There go the nanosats. My love to you both, please come home after all this. Jasmine, over and out."
"...OASIS I...out..." she heard before the screen went blank and the NO SIGNAL message came up.
Slowly she shut her tablet down and stowed it.
"Well, time to see what waitressing is like, although I doubt there will be many people here," she said softly before leaving the room and shutting the lights off and then closing the door behind her.
"So what's our best bet?" Ares asked as he drifted at the rear of Meridian with Kevin drifting next to Karl's system. Karl was still strapped to his seat as he said that gave him the best access to the controls around him.
"Well they woke up OASIS II and changed its attitude and put a solar tracking program in, that we can tell for sure," Kevin said.
"Yah, and after that it was obvious that the comms systems were being pulled in save for the inset ones that they can't do beans about. Not that we can get a comms frequency open."
"And we have to keep our distance so we can maneuver to keep the rear of Meridian facing the sun, too. It is strange to see the background radiation counter ticking off so rarely, though."
"Do we have other options, though?" Kevin asked looking at Ares then Karl.
"Not without having to drop the envelope to dash into someplace, like the ISS or OASIS II. And the emergency evac from the two inflatable facilities means they aren't storm worthy," Ares said.
"Those are junk," Karl said, "pure floating debris with some nice atmospheric tanks, maybe some useful solar panels and some other bits and pieces, but the rest of it is junk."
"Can we get to OASIS I, maybe?" Kevin asked.
"Get to? Yes. Match course and speed? With the envelope on, yes, but the moment that drops we need a pretty high burn as they have exterior frame velocity and we don't."
"Besides, Diana will have her hands full as it is. We don't want to be bugging her just as she is getting the thing snugged down, though I'm sure she would be glad to see us."
Kevin nodded, "I'm sure she would, but you're right, Karl," Kevin said.
"Plus we only have the general OASIS I orbital parameters, those will have changed and even minor changes will have large deltas this far out. She has to get OASIS I on solar tracking, so no mid-course corrections."
Ares looked at Karl.
Karl inhaled and looked at him.
"Pin us above the radiation belts on the night side, maybe? Safe, cozy, little battery use for the day or five this will take to pass. If we shift to any mode that lets radiation through, it will just get its normal frame velocity back when it is inside the envelope. We can delay it, but once it gets through it is still going through space at speed. It isn't like we are traveling away from it."
Ares raised his eyebrows.
"It's coming in just a bit above the plane of the planets, so if we get a few more Earth diameters below it, we can get out of the worst of it, keep the panels deployed and loiter in clear space. About 50 minutes at that setting that got us up here would do that and leave us plenty of power to spare since we thought it was going to take much more than that to run that system. We are incredibly overbuilt on that end."
The two men looked at him.
"I wish we could find a good way to get some frequency clearances going," Kevin said, "but with this storm we don't have anyone to talk to, really. And it isn't as if we can just loiter above the spaceport and wait since we can't drop the envelope due to our frame speed."
"Keep that in mind, though," Ares said softly, "its a good idea and may serve us well in the future. Until then, where would be the best place to start seeing if we can find a way to do that?"
"Away from Earth," Karl said running his hand over his now trimmed beard, which was why he was taking his time at the truck, "give it a good 50 or 60 minutes and then we play catch-up with the Earth every so often, so we don't lose it. Space is vast, you know? Most of the navigation stuff on-board isn't meant for deep space or really much beyond Earth when you get right down to it. Keep us out of the radiation and do some stuff in a relatively normal frame."
"Would that be easier for getting our comms straightened out?" Ares asked looking at Kevin.
"I think so, yes. We can cycle through a lot of different configurations like we planned on doing before the storm came. Work it out there, and then come in afterwards and see what the damage is."
Ares raised his eyebrows.
"I threw that out there expecting we could do that at the last of the Earth's shadow," he said, "but if it would be a help, then out of the reach of Earth we go. Kevin, get us a good course, and we can do an oblique declination to a trailing position, maybe a bit sun-ward for a bit better power generation. Then we flip open the radiator system, and start getting rid of waste heat. Once we get our comms straightened out, then we can head to OASIS II again, and dock for necessary waste disposal, suit cleaning, exercise and all the amenities of a spartan survival point in space."
"No beer there," Karl grumbled, "but you can't have everything."
Ares chuckled as did Kevin.
"I don't like it either, Aaron. But it is the way that makes sense. Plus we won't have ionizing radiation to screw up our readings just something closer to standard solar radiation, which we can handle."
"Agreed?" Ares asked and the other two nodded.
"Then that is the plan. Karl make sure we are ready for drifting and get ready for a shakedown of the MEWP. The situation is bad, but we can at least get away from it for awhile and do something useful. A fully operational Meridian will be a handy thing to have if this is as bad as the Flare Warning indicated."
Marissa woke up to a soft knocking on her door.
"Just a moment," she said and got out of bed, slid her feet into her slippers and picked up a robe to put on from the back of a chair by her dresser. She went out of the bedroom and into the main room, went right and down the short hall to the front door. She knew that only the working staff and Diana's extended family had access to this floor so it had to be someone who was relatively safe. When she opened the door, she saw Jasmine there and she had her tablet's satchel over her right shoulder and she carried a hard case that looked like one of the ones Diana used to transport one of her rifles.
"Jasmine, good...morning?" she said having not looked at the bedside clock.
Jasmine smiled, "Mid-afternoon, Marissa. You needed to sleep after pulling the long drive to and from the rail depot where your car was delivered. Do you mind if I come in? Its important."
"No, not at all," Marissa said opening the door and motioning for Jasmine to come in and then saw that there was a push cart with a meal on it, along with a pot of coffee in the hall next to her.
"Here, take the case, I brought you breakfast," Jasmine said handing the heavy case over to Marissa and then turning to pull the cart over to the door and turn it to push it into the apartment. After she had gone past, Marissa shut the door and took the case with her and realized it was one of the travel cases from her Suburban locker.
"So what's up?" Marissa asked looking at Jasmine.
Jasmine looked at her as she got to the small table in the kitchen and pulled up next to it.
"I brought you breakfast, and an update. A lot has happened since you pulled in this morning and you need to get caught up."
Marissa set the case down on the floor next to the counter, and went over to the table where Jasmine was pouring out a mug of coffee for her. By its aroma it was one of the darker blends that the Pennertons preferred and she said 'thank you' when she took up the mug while Jasmine started transferring the covered plates to the table. As she lifted them off Marissa could see and smell the eggs, hash-browns, steak, grapefruit half, sliced toasted bagel, and then the carafe of orange juice with small glass on top of it.
"How did you know that's...oh..." Marissa started, "you asked, didn't you?"
Jasmine smiled, "That works pretty well around here, especially with mom and dad in charge of things while Brent is at the field office."
"What...? Jasmine, what's going on?"
"Sit down and I'll fill you in," Jasmine said as she pulled out the chair across from Marissa and sat down, while Marissa seated herself.
Marissa continued with the coffee and then poured herself some juice, and took a pat of cream cheese from the condiments dish and applied that to the bagel.
"First is that Meridian is still missing. The processing shows what might be a track of it, but if it is then it went a bit over a million miles an hour to get there."
Marissa was just biting into her bagel and then bit off a piece and slowly chewed it.
Jasmine shrugged. "Someone was onto something and being laughed at. That's science for you, ignore results and laugh at the person getting them until they slap you in the face with something you can't ignore. If that was Meridian then it now has something that no one has ever seen before, discounting UFO's of course. And knowing cousin Aaron, if I were a UFO I would stay well clear of him."
Marissa swallowed the piece she had bitten off and followed that with some coffee.
"I never knew...I mean between working there, unpacking, having to get stuff from the delivery warehouse, then the trek to the depot...between working at Highflight and Karl's place, and all that's been going on...." she shook her head.
"Marissa that is understandable and right now you just have to go with the flow, so do start eating, I don't want that getting cold on you," Jasmine said and sat back while Marissa started to slice into her steak and savored the flavors from it.
"Your parents know how to make a great meal," she whispered after finishing the first bites of steak and hash-browns
"Thanks, I learned from the best."
Marissa nearly choked on her coffee and had to bring the cloth napkin up to make sure that it did all stay in.
"You? You made this?"
Jasmine smiled. "Hard work, then you have to eat, right? You have to learn how to eat well and I'm a fair hand at it."
After that Marissa had to cough and the cleared out any last problems that the coffee had caused.
"Keep on eating, do it slowly, you've had the highlight of the day, now comes the low lights."
Looking at Jasmine, Marissa realized that Jasmine was a good 5 years younger than she was, though she had never thought to look that up so it was only a guess. Realizing that if she wanted the food anywhere near warm, Marissa started to dig into the breakfast and just listen.
"Second is that the sun is giving us an X-class flare event that will hit just a bit off center of Earth and it promises to give us a week or two of the Northern Lights coming down to our latitude which is a very bad thing, and then below it with hard radiation coming in after that. Pretty to look at, yes, but what it means is not good at all. If this were a light storm doing this it wouldn't be much of a problem, but it isn't."
Marissa just nodded once while chewing.
"Third is that OASIS I is fine, and Diana will be passing overhead just as the main part of the storm gets to us from the sun. Ray, Herman and Regina, plus their short crews from here will also be coming back as will the ALV-I and ALV-II that took all that stuff there."
Stopping for a moment Marissa realized that whatever happened on Earth, that in space you only brought what you had to protect yourself.
"Will she be...OK?"
Jasmine refilled their mugs of coffee and nodded.
"OASIS I had my father, Herman, Brent, Aaron, and myself on the design team along with some assistance from the Orlando group, plus kibitzing from Kevin Penk and Bill Mankin. A lot of cross-feeds as we stood up the first OASIS and they were getting the WorkPlat started. Herman outfitted the skin of all the OASIS I with a fine mesh that can be charged to hold a cold plasma to the skin of it, out to about a foot to a foot and a half. Ionize carbon dioxide via the ion systems, slow it down and flood it out via exhaust diversions and it is the first cold plasma shielded vehicle ever devised. Most of the highest speed stuff won't see it as much of a protection system, but still every bit counts. Slower, positively charged particles will be diverted away from OASIS I. The heavier stuff shouldn't get past the outer few atoms of the skin, but that will kick off some secondary radiation and they have the entire engine, gas and liquid systems to protect them along with the flare shelter."
Marissa took the mug and said "Thanks" as she sipped it.
"Earth isn't so lucky," Jasmine said.
That's when Marissa's eyes widened.
"This is just a flare...right? Not a CME?"
"What do you think a large flare with large amount of charged particles going through the corona of the sun is?"
"The entire spaceport has taken itself off the grid, and we are now going by internal power systems, alone. Don't use electricity you don't have to use, which means all the excess stuff gets unplugged unless needed. Microwave cooking preferred over electric, and while the club has large storage for our propane gas systems for eating, those are to be conserved as well. We have solar heated water here from our roof tanks and the entire spaceport will continue to get water via the wells drilled to the aquifer Sewage can be handled for the small amount right at the spaceport and we have a septic tank and leech field for the club. Expect fresh food to run out in a week if everything goes to hell, but the local committee that got set up a few years ago made sure that all companies here are well provisioned for a number of months with a year being a goal for each of them for everyone here."
"Jasmine...I..." then she remembered the hard case and the rifle inside of it. "Oh, god."
"I've got a pistol in my satchel and will soon have something a bit less nice to look at to wear. I've got the sort of gear that Diana wanted me to get, and since you are fit, able-bodied, and able to shoot well enough to pass Diana's standards, you are now part of our local militia. So am I. Our great piece of luck is that the spaceport is not a major tourist stop, not in a major city, and pretty damned isolated past a couple of small towns."
Marissa knew better than to ask, because Jasmine was serious.
"What's going to happen...outside the spaceport?"
"You know the material," Jasmine said and Marissa nodded, "remember that the US is relatively well prepared when it comes to this."
There was a moment of silence as Marissa digested that.
"We're screwed," she finally said.
"I'll give you the places that have already taken better precautions. Texas and Israel. A few other places, some scattered towns and communities, of which we are one of the best prepared since we haven't let our biases get in the way of preparation and have some of the most technically competent people on the planet who spent some time working on these plans. We have greenhouses to put up this winter, miles of black plastic sheeting and drip tubes to get ready and then we go into desert agriculture. If we work well with the local ranchers, farmers and small towns and keep something clear to Texas then we get through this pretty well."
Marissa ate slowly and realized this would be one of the last fresh meals she had in a while.
"What's on the schedule, then?" Marissa finally asked.
"Check you out at the range, get one of uncle Aaron's bolt actions and you get to be on my hunting team, at least until Diana returns. We need to start a serious trapping system for rodents, make sure the absolute worst stuff is caught out, and any game we can bring in beyond that gets turned into jerky or salted. Winter is coming, you know?"
That caught Marissa totally off guard.
"Will there be any fun, at all?"
Jasmine leaned forward with her mug of coffee between her hands and she took one sip and smiled
"Only if you survive."