Mason stepped out of the long bed pick-up with crew cab at the entrance to Event Horizon, which had a parking lot that had only a few vehicles in it. He looked over at Margaret, his wife after a rocky divorce at the start-up of SLSR when one more move became one move too many.
"Well, here we are," he said putting the vehicle into park and turning it off.
"I didn't know they had apartments on the upper floor," she said as she looked at the building, "I mean I knew there was an upper floor, but thought it might be a dance hall or something."
He shook his head as he opened his door and she opened hers, with both of them stepping down to the pavement, closing their doors in unison.
"You know Herman," he said.
She smiled at him looking up at the sky just as the sun started to disappear to the west.
"Yes, a good man...or woman...either..." she said with a smile, shaking her head. "He does know how to economize, though."
Mason smiled and held out his hand to her as she came around the front of the truck.
"Yes, he does. He gave me some help on the legal side and how to arrange finances when the firms were originally spun off from DOGIS, and that we have such success is partly due to him. I thought for sure that Ehrlich would be put in charge of one of the sets of spin-offs, but he was just in charge of breaking DOGIS apart."
"Before my time," she said as they walked towards the front door. There they pushed through the doors and when they were inside they were met by a waitress with what appeared to be tattoos of a biker, but the rest of her outfit told her to be a waitress.
"Hi, I'm Liza, table for two?" she asked.
"Ah, actually we're here to see Herman...although I know he should be arriving later...and Brent is probably at the spaceport..." Mason started.
Liza nodded as she looked at him and Margaret, trying to place them in the people who normally came in looking for them.
"I'm Mason Newcomb and this is my wife Margaret," he said.
"How do you do?" Margaret said.
"And I'm from SLSR..."
"Ah, got it!" Liza said, "Follow me..."
With that she stepped over to the main bar and grill area on the left and led them along the side wall to the kitchen and then called out.
"Dennis! Gemma! Got visitors!"
From over to their left, beyond the front-line cooking area they heard, "Be right there, I got it, Dennis," and in a moment Gemma appeared around a set of ovens and she walked between the 2 cooks on the front line and the one tending to the fryer. She wiped her hands off and smiled as she got to the group.
"Mason! Margaret! I'm so glad you could make it!" she said giving each of them a hug, and then pulled Liza over to give her a kiss on the cheek.
Liza smiled and looked at her. "Really, I'm not family, you know?"
"Close enough," Gemma said as Liza shook her head and excused herself to get back to her job.
As she turned to Mason and Margaret, she let the smile fade.
"Tamara told me you might be coming here," she said softly.
Mason looked at Margaret and she said, "Even if its nothing...better safe than sorry."
"You'll probably end up staying at their place, just a bit further out."
"That'll be fine," Mason said as he looked at Margaret who nodded, "We spent an hour packing, brought supplies. Made sure the tank was filled up with a couple extra 5 gallon jerrycans. Radio reception went to hell about an hour after we left."
"All the satellite feeds are down. The repeaters for television are still up, but the signals are awful, when there are signals, and we haven't had any for the last 3 hours. We get some effects here, but nothing we can't handle so far. Let me take you to the offices and I'll get in contact with Tamara."
She led them to the upstairs area and the offices to get the couple situated, and they would be some of the last to arrive.
Ray stepped out of the container followed by Alice, and then he walked forward to the waiting arms of Darlene.
"Its good to be back," he said softly as they hugged.
"I missed you so much," Darlene said, "I was worried you wouldn't get back."
They kissed each other and then held on for moments more as other members of the staff came off and the ground crew started to unload the container. Slowly they let each other go and he looked at her.
"The authorities didn't want us to go...said it wasn't safe. We just bribed the man at the passport booth and got our passports stamped and didn't listen to them. By the time they got anything official in motion, we were looking down from 10 miles up and powering up the engines. Those things are loud," he said with a wry smile.
They turned to look at the ALV-I which was moored a bit further along and they saw Brent, Mike, Lisa and a few others waiting there as the container was locked into place on the ground. The doors opened with Regina and Herman stepping down from it, with the children running up to meet them followed by Brent who walked slowly towards them.
"We're back, all back," Ray said, "our up-links went out about 3 hours ago, not a one to be had. All we had was ship to ship comms. What's it like out here?"
Darlene looked at him and then motioned for him to go with her towards the group with Herman and Regina.
"Bad enough. We lost most of our satellite comms about when you did, and then radio and TV started getting bad, shortwave is sporadic at best. The only reliable link out is the maser link to OASIS II and it is pretty well buttoned up."
"Any word from OASIS I or Meridian?"
Darlene shook her head. "The last message from Diana was just before the nanosats went out, and that she is planning on riding it out since that is what the IS in OASIS means, Increased Survival."
Ray shook his head glancing at Harry who was waiting for them closer to their ground field building.
"Nothing from Meridian. That last track just isn't credible, Ray. Nothing we know of does that or can do that sort of velocity."
He stopped them before they got closer to the building and turned to look at Darlene.
"I talked with Herman, love," he said softly, "they were going through a test routine, Darlene, and didn't know exactly what to expect. Its not just what we thought it was, but also a real research platform. He thinks that what happened is well within the survivable."
She looked at him trying to take that in.
"But how? They would have been killed by the g-forces involved."
"Not if they shifted the entire space around them as a relative frame. Then they would only feel any internal acceleration their ship already had."
"That's...Ray that's only in science fiction," she whispered.
"Ever notice how we've caught up to where science fiction was when we were kids? And even surpassed it in some ways?"
"So, where are they, then?"
"They would make that decision based on circumstances. Wherever they went, they chose the perfect time to test it as no one will be able to observe them, and that is pure dumb good luck."
Darlene raised her eyebrows.
"Good for them, maybe. Not so good for us."
"True, true. Now lets see how the company is doing, and if the outside world is coping with this."
Together they walked with arms around each others backs towards Harry Nordhaus, ready for whatever the news from him was.
"Our frame speed was relative to the Earth," Kevin said, "but that included the Earth's relative frame to the sun. To be in orbit around Earth we had to have its velocity to be in orbit around the sun..."
"And the sun's velocity relative to the center of the galaxy," Ares said.
"Which is why it took a couple of hours of dinking in and out, and now we drift out from its orbit," Karl said, "no one said this would be easy."
Ares looked at the monitor that Karl had with the main camera tracking the distant blue dot that was Earth and the smaller dot that was the Moon. Around the northern and southern polar regions a dance of colors circling around it was moving down to the mid-latitudes which was just barely visible on the daylight half of the dot, but clearly visible on the dark half of it.
"This will take awhile," Ares said softly as he watched the screen.
Karl shifted in his chair enough to see it and then back again.
"Yah, a few days at least. Still we're just a few thousand miles an hour faster in Earth's orbit than Earth is, and now we're slightly sun-side. Easy enough to get back."
Ares looked at him and then Kevin.
"We are fatigued, even with trying to catch some sleep here on the journey out on the ALV-III, we have had a long day and need to get a few hours of actual rest in. The CME is above us and we're only getting some of the side spray from it here, so we're generally safe for awhile. After we've slept and had something to eat, then we can start going through all the settings that Brent indicated and since the disc system is safe for an enclosed frame we can then test from there."
"I am wiped," Kevin said, "going from testing this thing in a relatively safe orbit around Earth to a relatively safe orbit where Earth is fuzzy blue dot with dual halos, wasn't what I was expecting."
"Me neither," Karl said, "and we can start getting our gripe list together of the things that need improvements and my first will be getting a decent head in this thing. Waste freeze-drier slash incinerator is nice, sure, but the fittings aren't really all that friendly."
"Air is good, though. When you're on a limited budget and working with hand-me-downs and excess stuff from experiments, you can't complain all that much. The big stuff works and that's what we are here for."
"Working being a relative term," Kevin said, "working like we need it to work? That's another matter, entirely."
The main display began to be taken up with the Earth, beneath, and on the dark side there were a host of small lights that looked to be on some sort of web, with bright dots and fuzzy areas around them and then little beads of light before coming to another large drop of light. From the co-pilot's seat Athena watched the side camera display as Diana began to apply thrust to OASIS I.
"It's beautiful," Athena said.
Diana glanced over at her and breathed slowly, and then turned to concentrate on her job.
"It is, always beautiful on the night side..."
As they passed over the Earth the camera swiveled and then Athena saw it, a halo of light around the terminator and then beginning to wash down. Under the great force of the CME the Earth's magnetic field was being pushed in and down, which was starting to have an effect at the highest latitudes.
"Diana the lights...up there and...they're going out."
"Yes, sister," Diana whispered tracking the turn-off point where OASIS I would then adjust its attitude for coming out from behind the Earth, "30 seconds and then we end thrust."
"Even with what I've read, what you've told me...how could such technology not be...protected?"
"Hubris. Nemesis. 10...5...shutdown, beginning attitude corrections, establishing sun tracking."
The view of the night side of Earth slid away as OASIS I corrected its attitude and sped out from behind Earth as the fastest manned object that had ever been sent into space, if the frame relative system of Meridian was not counted as that, of course.
"But what will happen there?"
As zero-g returned, and OASIS I came into its proper attitude, Diana took her helmet off and unstrapped herself from her seat.
"Now mankind will find out what spending so much time trying to shift money around for political power means when it meets up with Nature's indifference. Those results are never, ever pretty."
"Anything recent?" Hermes asked as Brent came into the banquet area of the Event Horizon.
"Nothing beyond the Ham operator Rondo in El Paso," he said looking at the room that held people from companies at the spaceport, and almost all of them were down the corporate ladder outside of Highflight and Ascentech, which was Thomas Burke a senior VP at X-CAL. The corporations with the largest percentage of people in the spaceport at the time of the flare or getting in just after it, the ones that had made the spaceport home, and not just a set of offices to visit, were the ones with the most senior personnel present. Ray was present this morning with Darlene at the hangar, and she kept Alice and Harry there while Bill Mankin got sent along as one of the other initial investors who held a high position in the company. Hermes was in town with Brent and Regina, as it was decided to suspend normal operations but continue on with expansion with what was available under Nuada and Mel. Thomas Burke was present as well as his main designer Philip Zaroski. The problems at Z-Flight meant that very few executives were at the spaceport due to legal problems, which left Mary Weingarten as their most senior person as she was the General Manager of their facility and operations, which had not been sending much if anything up the last two years.
"He's a good one, even with the problems they have had there, its nothing like what they reported from across the river," Philip said, "has the fire there been put out yet?"
Brent shook his head as he sat down a few seats from Philip so that he could be close to the door. In the rear of the room Dionysus was tending to the bar while Gemma sat between Ray and Hermes.
"No way to put it out without power to get water pumped, and they ran out of diesel after the first fire was put out yesterday," Hermes said, "any city that doesn't have a back-up power supply to get water out of the ground or out of a river, will not make it through this if they depended on the grid."
From a few seats down near the wall of the room, Mary looked at him with a puzzled look.
"Surely you mean not unscathed?"
Hermes shook his head negatively.
"He's right," Thomas said, "look at the Great Quake in San Francisco. The quake didn't level the city, the fire did. Even that one in the '80s had fires that got out of control and they were having to put hoses together to get to a fire boat off shore so that they could get pressure inland. We've all seen the smoke on the horizon to the north and what we've gotten from the south winds isn't industrial pollution any more. We all know that."
"We're at 5 days in, and we're past the worst of the gamma and x-ray part of it," Ray said, "now its the heavy stuff. Even knowing something was coming I know it was a shock to see the northern lights across the northern horizon. Worse when they were overhead. Last night they stretched to the southern horizon which is unheard of. We had to cut gaps into our chain link fencing when we realized that deer were getting shocked unconscious by it."
"Had to do that for the spaceport perimeter," said Erol Johnston who was the head of spaceport general operations, "no one remembered that fences are long pieces of wire and they will carry a charge from the ground now that the ground is generating one."
"I'm just glad that we got PVC pipe for here," Regina said, "Carla went to get the compost bin moved up and she got next to the inflow meter and got a bad burn on her forearm as a result."
"Erol, have we had anyone else trying to get to here since 2 days ago?"
Erol shook his head negatively.
"You know I'm just the guy in charge here as a job. I didn't like turning them away but...that's policy."
"That needs to change," Thomas said, "X-CAL was one of the founding companies here, but that only put us first on the ground and we never imagined that so much surrounding territory would be grabbed up by other companies looking to make this a home. Most of us don't actually live here. Hell, my official residence is in Ft. Worth, so I don't even live here in a real way, just keep a room in the corporate pre-fab. I don't think any of us...well Ray, you and Herman brought up the need for contingency plans when you came here."
He looked at them and shook his head. "Thanks, you're pushing us to get real about operations here at least got us to store enough to keep everyone going. X-CAL would be in bad straights if it wasn't for you two."
Ray looked at Hermes who gave a half-shrug.
"Cousins Aaron and Diana insisted on it," he said softly, "started to shame us into doing it by laying in emergency provisions for everyone. I've never had to do that before," he said looking at Regina and holding her hand.
"Diana's our largest investor after me," Ray said, "and when she suggests something, just suggests it, I listen very carefully. She saved Ascentech by stepping in once with cash, a second time with Aaron, and then got Herman in to actually show us how to make money, then Dennis on how to keep everyone alive once things got moving."
Coming in through the front door were the figures of men and women in hunting outfits, and they had a deer suspended on poles, plus a number of rabbits.
Jasmine stopped to open her light green and red jacket and looked at everyone around the table. "Just passing through. We have 2 more deer on the cart that we will get processed through. A patch of wild berries down to the south, so we picked those clean, too."
"Thank you, Jasmine," Gemma said, "any news from Carlos or Banion?"
Jasmine nodded as some of the work staff at the Horizon helped with getting the deer carcasses through to the rear butchering area that had been set up to handle this.
"Carlos is fine, said they are planning some winter gardening and sent over some plans for our greenhouses. Say, thanks to all of your crews for helping out on that!" Jasmine said looking at the meeting of the major people at the spaceport. "That aluminum strut isn't good for much, but its great for building a greenhouse. Not much glass but plenty of clear sheeting, though."
"Glad to have my people help," Mary said, "we've just been spinning our wheels for months, now."
"They are great on this, thanks! And Gus Sorwald, he's from X-CAL, right?"
Thomas nodded with a smile, "Line engineer, a good man."
"Great for that! I know that dad was a bit sparse on what needed to be done," she said looking at Dionysus.
"It is pretty simple, Jasmine," he said as he came around the bar with a glass of water in his hand for her.
"Thanks, dad," she said softly, "but the plans are shaping up great and we left them with Gus. There is a good chance we will at least have some fresh vegetables this winter. Luck holding."
"Miss Pennerton?" Erol turned in his chair to look at her.
"Yes, Mr. Johnston?"
"Ah, its never been clear to me who told you to start doing this."
"Its in the plans that the militia set up," she said looking at him, "and since nobody wanted to get off their butts, I did. Someone had to start laying in for the long winter, you know?"
"I...well I know that there is a militia, yes, but you aren't like the survivalist types?"
"No, this isn't Idaho," Jasmine said, "but it is one of the things that everyone agreed about...3 years ago? Made sure we had duties, ranks and all that stuff? If you were in the military, you at least got to a Sergeant rating, but we elected officers."
"What's your rank, Jasmine?" Thomas asked.
"Lieutenant, put in charge of hunting and provisioning, scouting if we're in the field," she said softly.
"Who's the CO?" Erol asked.
"Colonel Raymond Kaplan, he's in charge of the organization. I had to get started without him and just got his approval when he got on the ground."
Ray nodded and realized that everyone was looking at him.
"What?" he asked softly.
Thomas looked at Erol.
"I think we just found out who should be setting outside policy here," he said with a smile, "as I don't even get a rating since I don't live here."
"You're a Private for the duration, Mr. Burke. If you are stuck here, able bodied, and can handle a firearm, or even if you can't, you get a place to help us out. When you can return home, then that goes away," Jasmine said looking at him.
"Ray? It sounds like you have...another operation going on here," Erol said.
"We're just here to defend our lives, our property, and the spaceport, Erol. We're a militia, not a military organization. I mean we're only active because of the state of emergency that got declared just before the CME hit. We're just taking prudent steps in case the long-term worst case is what we have. And I'm glad Jasmine stepped up to do it, she really needs a promotion out of that."
"Erol, I have nothing against you," Thomas said, "but this is far outside of the normal administrative realm that we hired you for, you know?"
Ray looked between them.
"I'm not liking where this is headed," he said softly.
"Oh, I think you'll do fine being the man in charge here..." Dionysus said coming up behind Gemma. She looked up at him and then over to Ray.
"Besides, you are the one loaded for bear, aren't you?"
Ray licked his lips as he looked at Gemma and then Herman.
"He told you, didn't he?"
"Who told who what?" Mary asked.
"Well, I did suggest it to him in the first place to suggest to you, Ray. I didn't want to make it seem like meddling."
"Wait, what did you suggest?" Thomas asked.
"The supply platform, S-Plat," Hermes said, "a place to store consumables and some of the heavier materials needed in the future."
Ray nodded and then put a serene smile on his face.
"That's why I had a quick turnaround on the ALV-III that we had here, I needed to get another billet up."
"A billet of what?" Thomas asked.
"Ah, a bit of tungsten-titanium matrix alloy wrapped around a depleted uranium core, all coated by some of the high temperature ceramics we use on our vehicles. With a nice solid core, vectored thrust unit installed in the rear with a basic inertial guidance system able to take updates if they are available."
"But what are they for?" Erol asked.
"Oh, space shielding, don't you know?" Dionysus said, "I had that one ready for him, you see. A fine and decent cover story."
Thomas took up his glass of iced tea and sipped at it.
"Ray, what do you have up in orbit that is so important to get there while a major CME is pulling things down around our ears?"
Ray leaned forward and whispered.
"Rods from god. Karl suggested we call them Mjolnir, but then there was only 1 of those."
There was silence in the room, although there were smiles from those in the know which included Jasmine.
"For god's sake, why?" Mary asked.
"Very simple, really. If I'm going to defend the spaceport, I have to have the high ground. And once Meridian returns, then we will secure it."
"Meridian?" Thomas asked.
"The vehicle that Aaron, Kevin, Karl and a few others were working on for the last few years," Herman said, "with some help, of course," he said squeezing Regina's hand and looking at Brent.
"But didn't you lose track of it?" Philip asked.
"We really aren't set up to track something that goes a million miles an hour as a vehicle," Gemma said softly.
"What the hell?" Thomas said looking at her and then coming to realize that there was more going on than he had suspected.
"A million...that's..." Mary started.
"You all saw the tracking data," Ray said, "or if you haven't we can get you a read-out of it. That is what is known as a 'startup test'. It worked, too. They didn't expect the CME either, so I expect they are off someplace, maybe in the shadow of the moon or in Earth's shadow, testing it out. And believe me, I didn't know about it until I got back here after the airshow. Not all of what it could do, at least. It was a shock to me, too, and it is for research, too."
"What's it for?" Erol asked.
"Oh, I think Kyle Culpepper summed it up best when he told me what Aaron told him. It's to keep them honest. I'm just loaded for bear, Erol. He's loaded for everything else."
Ray sat back and smiled.
"Because you know the maxim of fighter pilots," Hermes said, "speed kills. And he has the most speed of anything this side of light. And I'm making no bets on light keeping its position in the future."
"Sending out the camera balls," Karl said from the rear position in the cockpit as a series of 8 exterior camera balls left via a recessed hatchway on the upper surface of the fuselage.
"Right," Kevin said, "we have all 8 feeds, multi-band. Give them a couple of minutes to get to their station-keeping positions at 250 feet away."
"They're showing up on radar," Ares said tracking the near-limit system meant to be used for docking of Meridian, "and at 250 they will just give a return. They are also showing up on IR."
"And visual now that I've locked the tracking system on them," Kevin said, "can we get phased array feedback from the forward one, at least?"
"Yeah," Ares said, "shows up distinctly in a few bands, somewhat dispersed in others. Locking that into the system. Radar is locked as well."
"All right," Karl said, "now if I've read it correctly, all we need to do is sync up the plate system's program to this plate diagnostic program," he said as he got the program up and running, "then...Kevin, how's the overall sensor program working?"
"Just getting the feeds integrated and tagged. About another minute for that as the phased system can actually go through in-band searches as part of its capability and those all need fingerprinting," he said.
"Then I'm waiting on you," Karl said.
"A lot of possibilities to get defined," Kevin said having to let the system get its target designation tracking system tuned, "I'm going to try bringing the forward ball in just a few feet, still outside the compression shell if that's what it is, though."
"Affirmative," Ares said as he watched the ball take on a small amount of impetus towards Meridian, and then use its micro-thruster system to stop.
"Good enough," Kevin said, "we are now getting decent feedback for the size of the object. Now I'm synchronizing the system and let me give it a full run-through just to make sure it works. First manually then automatic."
"Karl, how fast can the plate configuration change?" Ares asked.
"Oh, that doesn't take long, Aaron. A whole bunch of tenth of an inch movements to shift the virtual 3D fractal topology across plates, done per plate, and then getting the feedback from them. After that we need to define the compression capacity of each of them, too, but that won't take much energy. First sensors so we can see where we're going, aye?"
"Yeah," Ares said, "I don't want to be running into anything with this working. The results will not be pretty."
"And now the automatic, which takes...done...right that is sensor positive feedback system, and the recording for it will take in the disc positioning. Positive feed from the camera balls, positive check from Meridian's sensors, and it is all locked up and ready to test."
"Aye, got the feed, kicking up the feedback system, you should be getting it at ZERO across the board."
Kevin nodded to himself.
"Zero it is, charge is zero. I'm set and recording is automatic. It'll eat up a bit of our active on-board memory for awhile, then I'll store it off to removable, and compress the rest, and ditching the null returns."
"Duplicate the back-up, just in case," Ares said, "far too many things go wrong with just one back-up."
"Isn't that the truth?" Kevin said, "Luckily the solid state drives don't weigh much and we have terabytes to fill. Got the first one in to dupe the live feed. Karl the show is yours."
"Great! Charging system. Starting auto-sequencer. And initiating."
Outside Meridian space started to show different effects from blackness around them to shifting flecks of blue in front and red behind, to smeared out images in a ring around the center of the ship, each done and over in less time than it takes to blink an eye.
"So now we wait for 10 hours. Did anyone think to put a poker app on the system? Because now we have time to kill. And the fun part is to test compression ratios we get to do this all over again, although we only need three of the cameras for that for basic triangulation and timing."
"You know, when I was a youngster I used to see space travel as glamorous and romantic, with starships going all over the place."
"Engineering it takes all the romance out, doesn't it?" Karl asked.
"Needs to be done," Ares said, "otherwise you learn to live like this. The maxim of fighter pilots is days of pure boredom punctuated by seconds of living hell. We are in the boredom part. The goal is to make that state permanent."
"Aaron I'm afraid that will never happen," Kevin said, "and we do have a poker app on board. Anyone up for a few hands?"
"...with the last of my fear burnt out, the Wild Hunt had no purpose and its power dispersed. I was no longer who I was by then, she was done and gone, my sister."
Athena had shifted to move the webbing around her, as Diana opened a compartment to get a blanket that would stick to the parts of the webbing with soft material that was the counterpart to the soft blanket.
"You're different than you were?"
Diana nodded and shifted to start pressing the blanket to the webbing.
"Yes...with no one left to lash out at I was..." she shook her head as she shifted slightly down the webbing to make sure it was secured near her sister's feet, "...much of the joy in my life had been extinguished. I was a huntress with skill, that could not be taken from me." Slowly she worked the blanket around at the feet and had to disentangle it as she went along her sister's body. "One of my greatest feelings was knowing that any woman who was pregnant and expecting, if she was lost and bereft in the wilderness...if she knew my name and called out for me, at least a Priest or Bear Girl would know of it from me. And if none were present, I went myself, since no woman should ever be so outcast, so lost, in such a state as to be like that."
Slowly she worked her way up to the top of the webbing and shifted the blanket around her.
"No they shouldn't..." Athena said, "...but since then..."
"I cannot even hear them," Diana said softly, "even if you didn't know my name and just cried out in agony of childbirth for help in the wild lands, I often heard and was there. Now no longer. If for no other thing than that, one of the most fulfilling of purposes I ever had, I will never forgive our father, Pallas. I was the mid-wife of last call, last resort and I didn't care if you had the riches of a kingdom at your feet, or if your feet were bare and your clothing threadbare, I came. When I finally recovered...my teaching priests in the wilderness had disbanded, and no one taught my ways any longer."
She secured the blanket and looked at her sister.
"Show me where you can get your hands out," Diana said.
Sleepily Athena nodded and shifted to move her hands out of slits just above the center of the blanket.
"And where the emergency bubble is?"
Athena moved, using her hands on the webbing on the inside and turned to the panels behind her and used her hands to lift a red circled panel lid up and back, and reached for the inflatable plastic bubble that could be pulled around her in seconds and inflated. They had been through that drill and how to put on her spacesuit from the bubble, so that she would be safe in case of disaster. Diana had shown her where the emergency instructions were, and what programs to call up from them, and that was clipped to her spacesuit.
"Good," Diana whispered, "close it up and rest, now, my sister."
Pallas pulled the lid out and down, and a red ring appeared when it was snapped into place, then she shifted to look at Diana again.
"I am exhausted, Diana. Mentally, physically although beyond exercise I haven't done that much."
Diana nodded with a soft smile.
"Its the same with me, sister. Now that I'm up I'll be awake once you are finished sleeping. I'll darken this cabin so that I will still be able to see. Darkout blindfold is on the webbing above your head if you need it, and I do suggest it."
Looking back over the end of the boat Father Andre shook his head. The wine dark sea was still wine dark and the autumnal winds blew as they always did, and the waves continued to roll on oblivious to all. From the rear rail of the boat he watched as the black clouds slowly changed, and the redness from the west was replaced with flickering redness from below. On the small boat one of the sailors came up next to him to look.
"Where did it start, do you know?"
"No, the water went out with the lights. Yesterday the first hints of fire came from the west and south. I could pack very little on my way out, and could only ensure that the ikons and relics were stored, before seeking refuge myself."
The sailor in his white t-shirt that was now mostly gray from grease and sweat took a drag from his cigarette and then spat out behind the boat.
"Only the fishers know of the far landing," he said.
"My family is to the south, I'll get back to them, although its been years since I last saw them."
The fisherman nodded and then pulled on Fr. Andre's shoulder for him to get down as the pilot swung the boat around to tack across the wind.
"Yeah," he said looking at Andre, "need priests in a lot of places now. A few places, small places, got power still. Fuel, too, for them for awhile. Hospitals are running out, though, closing down wards to care only for the sickest. Many need a decent burial, need a priest. You're needed."
"Many are in need now, Dauid. The fires spread too fast along the west and the way to the harbor seemed jammed, so I went north to where my father used to go. It is, at least, not so close to trees and buildings."
"So many died in the harbor, they didn't know how the winds would blow, first across the ridge and then, with the western wind, into the harbor itself. Southern winds already had it there and many thought it would stop there, fled to ships that had no fuel any more. With morning the eastern winds took the fire from south and north and that was it."
"It was a horror..." Andre whispered, "far worse than what I remember of the war."
"Its all over like that. We got radio, at least, still, nothing much on. The phones are dead, too. Only that one station from last night, from Tel Aviv I think. Some time tonight, they said another place will be sending messages, so we'll listen as we sail."
Andre inhaled and looked at Dauid.
"I'll go below, maybe be of some help there."
"Yeah, that's good. I gotta move around, keep watch, you know? Not that there is much to watch for. We're the last from today, get in around midnight, maybe, luck holding."
"Keep a good watch, my son," Andre said turning back to the recessed cabin area of the small sailing vessel, and went down the steps to where Captain Nikodemos was shifting the radio dial searching for some sort of station.
"How goes it Captain?"
The older man in blue tunic and pants looked up at him and smiled as the lantern in the cabin flickered as it swung slowly on its chain.
"Fine Father Andre, sit down, please. I'm just searching for that station from last night."
"Dauid told me. Tel Aviv was it?"
"Yes, the Jews are keeping it together, but even they have problems from what they've said."
Andre sat down and as Nikodemos shifted the dial a musical tone sounded.
"Ah, there it is..." he said.
In English he heard a man speaking and Father Andre did a rough translation for Nikodemos. Then, with a start, he said, "I recognize that voice."
And so he started translating.
"Greetings to all that can hear the sound of my voice. Hope is not lost..."
"My name is Raymond Kaplan and I am the President and CEO of Ascentech. I am coming to you using every satellite resource that we could configure with help of the University of Texas, Texas Tech, University of Jerusalem, Hawaii Observatory, Honolulu University, the Observatories in Chile and Peru, Fairbanks Technical School, far too many Ham radio operators to even begin to list and our own people across companies here where I am broadcasting from, the United States Spaceport."
With a soft blue background that had the logo of the spaceport in white on it, Ray sat behind a plain wooden desk with a gray suit on, white shirt and black tie. In front of him were the cameras gathered from the various companies at the spaceport.
"From all indications the worst of the solar storm is past us as indicated by the GOES satellites, at least those that are still functioning. We are using a number of public satellites which were still dormant as of yesterday when we started to get the easy to use transponders that were still working up and operational. We have indications from a number of military bases across the globe that they are more or less functional, but not set up for a disaster on this scale. No one is. There is no place to run as this disaster is planetary in scale but limited only to the systems that depend on electricity generation on a large scale. Some are better prepared to deal with this than others, and anyone who can hear me tonight, take heart. You are not alone."
He inhaled and looked from one camera to another.
"We are using a number of side-band channels to send more information out, and if you are seeing me on television, then you will have a scrolling list across the bottom of the screen. We are attempting to get messages out via the worldwide Ham radio operators, and a number of them will be relaying stations that can be found for information on a 24 hour basis. If we are using your satellite, please contact us via the standard command channels for it, so that we can transition it back to you. We are using only what is not being used, and have no wish to co-opt your property."
"From our facility we have garnered a large number of educational programs and as many experts as we can gather from across all our locations to help bring you the information necessary to survive. For many who have never farmed, the time to learn is now and we will be providing that across as many climate zones as we possibly can and if you can hear us and get word back to help, then we do need your help."
"As I said, hope is not lost, and as there is no place to run to, that means surviving where you are with the help of your fellow man. The death toll from a week of this is horrific, already, and starvation with disease will make it worse. Thus we will be offering help on how to keep clean, quarantine diseases and care for the stricken."
"For our part, my company, Ascentech, will be working closely with the other space companies to quickly ramp up and expand our Industrial Work Platform that is in orbit. This will happen as fast as we can do it, and we hope that within 3 years we will be able to produce solar power stations in the megawatt range to beam power down to Earth receiving stations. We will do so based on your technical ability, and that will include contacting us on how to build such a station and utilize it. Within 5 years we will seek to have the first agricultural station in orbit growing food utilizing processed Lunar soils. That will be no easy task, and by then we will need much in the way of technical help on the Earth and individuals willing to train for a one-way trip to space where the rest of your life will be led in helping to develop a new extra-terrestrial infrastructure to help in the recovery of Earth and the expansion of our population into space."
"We cannot feed everyone from this system, and will start with those communities that demonstrate they are able to remain civilized in the teeth of this disaster. This will take years to stand up, so please realize that this is no easy task for us. Within a decade it is our hope, with a highly expanded and spiraling development of Lunar materials, to begin feeding 10 million individuals completely from those resources and those we take up to orbit. If successful we will continue spiraling that up a decade past that."
"This means that we must earn your trust by helping you now, and that cannot be done with those who decide to take for themselves and seek only limited survival and keep no technology nor civilization running in their hearts. I am no dictator, tyrant, king nor elected to any real office. I am one man running a company who cannot ignore the plight of his fellow man of all races, all creeds, all ethnicities and of any Nation that survives this. We will defend ourselves against any government that thinks it can take our works and lives from us as all governments, across this world, have demonstrated just how woefully unwilling they were to face disaster. Proper preparation would save billions of lives, and we expect that up to 2/3 and possibly as much as 3/4 of all people who went into this disaster will not be alive in 2 more months."
"To any spacefarer caught on the ISS, we offer you a safe haven to land. Getting you anywhere else is problematical, but you are welcome to stay if you wish. We are surrounded by desert which has limited capability to sustain life, and we will be working with the natives to this continent and those in the know in Israel on desert agriculture and horticulture to get crops enough to sustain ourselves. Beyond that we welcome trade with any who have goods to sell or that wish to buy from us what little we can produce for now. We have designated points on the access roads from here for that purpose, and even stores we are setting up for that. Any approaching us who are not authorized or that come along unauthorized routes, will be killed on sight. If you have skills, knowledge or survival capacity, we will gladly talk with you either via electronic means or face to face at the designated points."
"Hopefully, I will never have to do this again," Ray said leaning forward, "I am no spokesman for humanity, just the President of a company founded on a dream. That dream is still alive, and it is the dream of space, freedom and liberty for all mankind. We wish to share that dream with you, but that takes hard work. Our hard work is pledged to see us all through this, so that even if we, as individuals, do not cash in on it, that our children and grand-children can do so. Our company was formed on the premise of building on what works and building quickly, and that is how we are approaching this, as well. We can help you, but only if you are willing to help and invest in yourself and work with others to survive. It is a simple thing to ask, and extremely difficult to do."
"From the United States Spaceport, I am Ray Kaplan. Good-bye, and gob bless you all."
Alice shifted the connection to the automated program system that had been cobbled together, softly saying "Amen" as she did so.
Ray looked at her as the light went out, and only enough were kept on to allow people to see what they were doing. He then looked at Darlene who stood next to her.
"Well, hopefully I didn't screw that up too badly," he said with a smile.
"The most exhausting thing to do is sit and wait," Ares said softly.
"Yah, you got that right," Karl said, "but you get used to the mile or so back and forthing after awhile. I can't keep track of them its so fast, just watch the counter on the screen."
"We're nearly done," Kevin said, "and it is looking good! I think we have a good 10,000 very useful cross-indexed configurations here, and with a bit of meta-analysis, my bet is more than 100 will offer very good capacities. Just punch in the frequency ranges and out will pop configurations and what sort of compression ratios they offer."
Ares shook his head as he watched the counter moving down under 100. Sometimes the numbers went down quickly, other times it took a second or two for them to crawl by. Yet there was no real feel of motion at all inside their relative frame and the only thing of note was the indicators for the triangulation from the camera balls floating outside Meridian.
"Nearly there..." Kevin said as the numbers crawled towards zero.
"Ah, 10...3... Done!" Karl said, "Now lets start looking at what we have here...hmmm..."
Ares shifted his seat to face forward.
"Time to recall the cameras?" he asked.
"Yes, I think we are done with them," Kevin said, "and we have a really good listing of frequency openings by general side relative to the main axes of Meridian. You'll want the front ones for the phased array, ion boosted particle beam and mini-gun, I think, Aaron. We can always shift the compression bubble around us, so that any of those are available, and most are available on the central parts of a number of frames, not down to true flat space, but useful."
"Send them all by arrangement," Ares said, "you'll have to do most of the heavy work on that envelope shifting, Karl."
"Well, I can see that already," Karl said, "but I'm re-collating that list to arrange them so that all the easy ones that need no management beyond shifting the disc array, are grouped. And while most of those aren't in the million mile per hour region, you have them all the way from something you can actually have turtles beat all the way to a good half-million miles an hour. Plus a couple of spotty ones with some harsh direction changes even at the million mile per range," Karl whistled, "but look at that top compression would you?"
Kevin resorted his list after putting a whole hot-suite of comms ones into his system.
"That's... 30 million miles an hour? About 5% of the speed of light?"
Ares checked the list.
"You dropped a decimal space," he said softly, "that is 300 million, not 30. Just under half light speed. Not bad for a test rig."
"Uh-huh," Karl said, "and fully charged we got that for, oh, 3 hours, maybe. Its one of those that eats up energy as you go, and we would have to have the radiators open for that, too. Still not bad for a test arrangement, eh?"
"No, its not," Ares said, "the cameras are all in. Now we just need to lay in a course back to Earth...say, what is our frame relative speed to Earth, anyway? Has any of this changed that? I don't want to arrive and end up crashing into the planet."
"Not a nice way to go, when you come down to it."
Kevin checked his system looking at the last dozen set of readings from the cameras.
"I guess that we are going to be between geosynchronous and, maybe, 10,000 miles up. If we aim for 17,000 miles we won't be too bad off."
"Sounds good," Ares said, "can you get me a course and a good speed for frequencies, plus keep it slow enough to handle manually?"
"Can do," Karl said, "at least for speed, you have lots of choices now."
"Yes you do," Kevin said, "I need to get a list sorting by reflex time, though, which should help out a lot in an emergency."
"That can wait until we are in orbit. Because that is where we are going."
"Aye. Still no beer though. What is it with space stations and lack of beer, anyway?"
"Because that first drunken stunt will get you and a lot of other people killed."
"Well, if they can't hold their own on beer, then they really shouldn't be drinking, now, should they?"
Amidst lifeless trees that had sand covering their roots the figure stood with the hat on his head and ravens on his shoulders. Into the distance he stared, a distance where dust was still settling and would always be settling as it was now heaped with more dead dreams than could be held by any realm.
"Caw," the raven on his right shoulder said and he inclined his head and peered at it with his one eye.
"Of course," he said, "see how the horizon grows darker, ever darker? Just one point of light and it is coming to us now."
"Caw!" the other raven said.
He shifted his head to look straight out again.
"None of us here can ever reach there," he said breathing slowly in and out, "not after what happened to us all," inclining his head towards the point of light and shifting it to gaze into the horizon of forever, "she is the last to be able to come here and now the signs are clear, aren't they? There is no special vision here of any future," he stopped and squinted, "she made sure of that. Evil was what was done to her, and we are all to blame for what happened to us by her. She does not know what she does this time, but the course of events are obvious even from here."
"Caw!" the raven on his right sounded out.
"Oh, I knew what I was doing! Do you think I really wanted her to chase down to the Underworld full of living fury? She would, you know? Nothing would stop her in that, not a single thing. Not god. Not man. Not the dead. Not demons nor devils. While she is not chaste, she is inviolate and her father proved its power with his end. Already in our fall, our demise, she chased down to here, and the Hunt came with her, heedless of realm or domain. Even I could but lead that, she controlled it to our bitter end. Do you think it would not reappear with her? No, oh no, that is a prime mistake and she would eradicate all that is left to us, and clear out the Broken Lands and there would not even be sand to remain. Her footstep is power here, and we are better off yielding up the last of her kin than to give her reason to ever come here."
Without a word the ravens took to flight and he saw the glinting of the point of light.
"She comes," he whispered to himself and took steps towards the light as it approached. He then stopped at the edge of the copse of dead trees, near the empty tomb by the dead spring, and above her the two ravens slowly circled her, announcing her passage.
"Welcome!" he said with a loud voice and smile.
With sword in hand and shield on her opposite side, she stepped towards him.
"Where am I?" she asked.
"The Broken Lands," he said, "and I am Wide Hat, and you are befuddled as to your own name, are you not?"
She stopped 10 paces from him.
"Yes," she whispered, "I have no memory of this place."
"Of course you don't, because the horrific rivers that bring no life have touched your mind and allow it no memories. Yet you have the tears of the Shade of Memory within you."
"I do?" she asked softly.
"This is not your first trip here, oh armored woman with shield of intelligence and sword of skill. The time of your choosing is at hand, now. Although the confluence of events are awful they are also awesome as you are at their heart and all that is to come wheels around your hub, your core."
She tilted her head to look at him, a questioning look and a deep gaze of green eyes that he knew looked into him, not through him. This was a one you dare not deceive because of who she was.
"Wide hat, is it?"
He nodded, doffing his hat and bowing to her as he flourished his hat across his waist, "At your service, Miss," he said and then straightened, putting his hat back on.
"You have just one eye," she said softly.
"Ah, yes! To gain great vision and, it appears, greater blindness as well. Sad to lose that, but it is what came from the blind side that I could not foretell, and isn't it always like that?"
"I don't know," she said softly, "you say my memories were taken from me by...a river here? And that the key to opening them is, within me?"
"Yes!" he said with a smile, "That is your choice, you see. But I do give fair warning, if you get your memories back you will find them, as all find our lives, a mixed bag. But I shall and will say this: you are blameless in your misfortunes, not their author nor their cause. There is horror amongst them, however."
"But what am I without my memories?" she said in the softest of whispers.
"Forgotten by all. Unseen by all but a few. Being present, you are absent, and therefore you are always lost and bewildered with each new day dawning a great blank upon your mind. That is horrific to you, each and every day, and it was the rare day you did not seek the end of all your days, but that cannot be for you. So you awaken again, blank to what happened, blank past, blank future and each day blanked out."
"If I...get my memories back will I get...those as well?"
"Sadly, yes. They are as much a part of you as any other part, and only the Lethe within you keeps what you do from you. The Lethe is a river, however, and you are now where it can never flow in your waking time. Even there you would require assistance which has been rendered to you here, as your last visit gave you access to the wellspring of memory for the reborn, indeed for any who could get them. Now, where the Lethe cannot reach, it is your decision to accept your past in its full manner or continue on where you have only this present, and never a tomorrow nor yesterday."
"No...no one should be like that," she said in soft tones looking up at him.
"You least of all, Miss," he said letting his one eyed gaze meet hers.
"But how...how do I regain them?"
"You need to hear the name you cannot hear, because it is your name and that is the center of what makes you forget. Now, in this place, disconnected from the Lethe wellspring, being physically in that place no river can ever flow, and being here in this Broken Land, even here you could not hear your name. Until now. There is no magic in it, no power over you from it, and nothing that will be used against you contained within it, it is just who you are. If you seek it I shall whisper it to you so that you can be sure to hear it, where there will be no doubt, no question and your memories shall return and you will never return here again."
Slowly, a step at a time, she approached him, sheathing her sword and then shifting her shield to her back.
Looking up at him and he down at her, she nodded.
"Please tell me who I am," she said in a sad yet forceful way.
"It is your wish to take that path?"
She nodded affirmatively.
"Very well," he said getting on his knees and then leaning forward to her, the proud woman who would brave her past to have a future. He shifted his larger head to hers and placed his lips close to her ear and whispered.
"You are Athena," and he gave her a soft kiss on her ear before she screamed the loudest scream he had ever heard from any land, including those of all his kin. He pulled away and the ravens settled on her shoulders then she faded and the ravens took to air again, to settle once more on his.
He stood up and saw the sand shift slowly where she had stood, and on the far horizon the last dot of light blinked out.
"Now, maybe, we can rest in peace. Or at least without fear," he grumbled turning back towards the lifeless trees and the lands of chaos beyond.
"Come, father, do your worst! Do with me as you did Hera, Apollo, Demeter, Heracles, Aphrodite, Poseidon, Hades! Kin slayer I so name you and so you are!"
She could see him descending at the far end of the valley where she had landed, and recovered from the start of the battle. The air crackled around him, and light shone down to him and through him. She saw the trident of his brother and the net from Ariadne's making, the armor that only Hephaestus could hammer and she knew what was missing.
"My daughter, I am here and to you comes a deserved and fit ending," he said with a smile, "You were always there to be at her side, to take her side in so many things, and while you showed proper deference to me, it was only just that and the child's proper place was lacking in you for the city you did get."
She stood with Aegis, her shield with horrific face but knew that it would not shock her father nor turn him to stone, but its embossing protruded and deadly fangs with venom could still burn and paralyze. She stood with spear first and foremost, but kept two javelins across her back, and shifted the spear to her hand with the shield, keeping it in grip argive. Her javelins were not of lightning, had no thunder and yet were made with the keenest insight into their use. The first came readily at hand.
"I did all that was right and proper, father. I am fully of you, but you cannot take me back. I know this, as do you."
"Ah my headache gave birth, it did," he said with a chuckle, "and always was around to remind me of just what a headache it was. So we do meet one last time my headache daughter, and I shall take all that are the powers caught up in you, though none can take your birth right."
He stepped forward shifting the grip on his net and sidling towards her.
"I have the skill, my father, do not seek to threaten me for you shall pay with it with your life if you do," she said in a growl, her helmet shifted to give her full protection and she changed her stance to one where the javelin would come into play.
"Skill? Of course you have that, but first you need solid ground for its practice," he said and stamped his right foot to the ground and a great rumbling was heard in the valley as it shook. Rocks slid down from cliffs and the cliffs themselves shifted and broke and she knew that to take a single step would undo her as her father had the sure footed movements of one who controlled such tremors. As he came closer he lashed out with the net of finest web, which she countered with Aegis and then threw the javelin in the standing style, which was weak, but accurate enough to pierce between back plate and left arm then glancing off bone to fall to the ground.
As he pulled the net back it was with redness covering his upper arm and shoulder, and the net caught not on Medusa's snarling mouth, although strands did come undone by its hideous visage. By the motions forward and back across that face, even the web of Ariadne broke and suffered gaps, and the powerful trident blow came fully upon Aegis causing her to stumble back and lose her footing. She fell, she rolled and came up with a second javelin and jumped, pushing off with the spear, to aim at her father's neck and seeing it, instead, sail through skin where neck appeared from behind the breast plate. In mid air she twisted with her throw and came up with the spear at the ready, and as no trembling of the ground lasts forever, so, too, did this one subside.
"Ah, you get my blood first, daughter! Most skilled in defending yourself, and yet you do not attack in full as your brother would."
"Oh father, you show that he is still alive by not fighting like he could. Your plan is clear."
He smiled, "Is it, now?"
He feinted with the tines of the trident, and she shifted to raise her shield, and then saw that he moved his grip, letting the net drop and the haft came around and down to her side, sweeping feet out from under her and causing her grip to loosen on her spear. As she fell she could see the shadow of her father play and desperately reached out for her spear and snatched it just as the tines found the back of her gauntlet and tore it asunder, red blood following. With a twist and shift she rolled backwards, came upright and took a step towards her father to let loose the spear at his midriff. Instead the haft of the trident blocked it and deflected the spear so that it left a deep gash in the upper portion of his breast plate even while cutting to the skin beneath.
With the next feint of the trident she took that on the upper portion of Aegis and twisted it fiercely so that her father lost his grasp upon it. Her sword cut the head from the haft and used her booted foot to kick the head away. With an easy motion and smile her father took a longer, larger sword from its sheath and at glinted in the sun coming down to put a first real dent in Aegis, and forcing her back towards the cliffs that towered above.
"My headache gives ground! Skill in combat? Oh, yes, though not invincible, not by any means. Oh, treacherous wisdom held in you, for all you see you cannot know your end is near."
"Father, the sky is clear, not a cloud to be seen. And your lightning is not about you, and no ready javelins of it. That which you use so well, you have forgotten to bring it."
He leered at her and swung his sword again, and she attempted to deflect the blow and could see the shower of sparks given by metal on metal and twisted her body so that when she took her sword away, Aegis took up to blocking his swing. Yet the back swing put a gash into Aegis, just above her arm and it had been a near thing, that. With the back swing her spear was broken into pieces, the head hitting the cliff and landing amongst far rocks. Again she gave way, backing to the cliffs and took out her sword.
"You'll not attack me so well soon, father," she said defiantly to him.
Bellowing with laughter he simply brought his arm up and lightning flashed from his hand. With Aegis she blocked, its metal side firmly on the ground, and still she felt the heat of it through her left forearm and smelled that horrific smell of burnt and cooking flesh. The tip of her sword gashed his hand and his sword chipped across the top of Aegis and clipped the crest from her helm.
"Oh, I'll attack you even more now, headache. You will yield to me what is mine, never you doubt that."
Now her left foot felt solid stone and the cliff stood starkly above her and she smiled, using that backing to swing out hard to her father, and finding her blow parried by his sword. This time it was her advantage and as neither of them gave way, their swords did, in a cracking of shards that spun from their impact causing sharp pain to legs and arms where they found home. With that Zeus took one step back and smiled, raising no hand against her, daring her to attack him.
"What now, oh father? Your sword is still the better for the contest, but you use it not. I can see the gashes and blood from you, and lightning coming from you will do you great harm."
What had once been in shadow, was now not, and the sun shone down upon her and the great folly of being in it was now apparent. Pure light, blinding, heated and intense came at her and it was instinctive to cower behind Aegis, even battered as it was it still reflected much of the intensity.
"Ah, you forget there are other forms of lightning, daughter," he stamped his foot and a rumbling started once more and this time she dared not move as the sun would remove her flesh if she exposed it. Then her hair stood up, and she felt the dancing of static, the stone behind her cracked and from deep in the earth came lightning that she took fully upon her back and then to Aegis. With a sweep of his sword Aegis was sheared through and she was forced back into the cracked cliff face and onto a path of broken stone with darkness beyond. She fell backwards and knew a pain that went through her entire body after the wake of the lightning, not a piece of which ever reached her father. He carefully picked sword pieces from his arm and leg, and evinced no pain in the doing. When the trembling stopped he then stepped into the rock opening and light beamed around him as he did so.
"Now you are nearly done, my headache, to be assuaged and forgotten forever."
Further in she heard a sound, like that of a river flowing, felt cool, damp air which gave her strength to find footing and lash out at her father with the remains of her sword.
"Shorter better for swinging here, father," she gasped out as he parried her once, twice and three times before twisting his parry down and lashing up at her arm that held Aegis. Intense pain flowed into her and she shifted to press Aegis and its jagged mouth against his arm putting venom into it as he pulled it back. He bellowed, he screamed and the white light gleamed from him.
"For that, you shall pay, daughter," he said as his sword now battered at her, in such swift strokes that Aegis became bent back and only its weight pressing to her kept it in place.
Not all strokes found home, and many threw rock shards out that inflicted needle sharp pain, but he was oblivious to pain now, while she was its ready home. Another footstep back, this time with her right foot, and she felt sand! With a clever smile she stepped fully back on it, firmly set Aegis into it and twisted around to strike at her father. The tip of his sword flicked over the remains of the gauntlet on her fingers and she felt intense pain across them and her sword dropped to the sand. His left hand reached out to Aegis and held it and he pulled his sword back for a short swing and with a force of will forced her hand out to grasp his throat and squeeze with all she had left.
"I will kill you, father!"
Yet her fingers found not the rough skin of her father, but soft skin yielding to her fingers.
"If this is the cost, I accept," came out a sound that was more croak than words.
Her eyes flew open as she floated and she realized she was free of webbing, free of blanket and that her sister's neck was now firmly in her choking grasp. She let go and the limp form of her sister floated in the air in front of her.
"What have I done to you, Diana?"
Pushing her feet to a wall she drifted to Diana's form and held it as they floated towards the rear of the storm shelter of OASIS I.
Athena had fought her last battle and paid a horrific price, and its dividend was now in her arms.