Once more Marissa was moving her furniture, clothes, and all that she still owned. This time it was just down the hall of the upper floor of Event Horizon and she had help. The relatively large apartment she had been in, at least by her standards, was needed for other things, which included making a small interior greenhouse out of it with a solarium that would go from the ground to the roof.
That renovation was being led by Regina and Gemma, and they were looking at producing most of the herbs, peppers, and various other small vegetables on-site. By the time the large pieces of furniture were going out, mostly her bed, a sofa and a couple of bookcases, the stripping of the walls and floors had begun. In a week the modular racking would be in place, scavenged from a small start-ups offices, Therotech, which had no one actually at the spaceport or even tending to its office space. There weren't a lot of buildings at the spaceport, but the few that had held just outlets for larger firms were now considered 'fair game' for stripping and renovation to apartments or to other uses. Using dollies and hand trucks with the help of Brent and Jasmine, Marissa was moving to her next abode.
It already had an occupant.
Jasmine Pennerton had told Marissa that it was either there or Karl's and she wasn't so sure they wouldn't both end up at Karl's place until he came back. Being one of the members of Dennis' family and not wanting to share her living space with them, at a small pre-fab just a half-block down the street, meant that she had gotten a relatively large apartment and something closer to a suite, although it didn't have a dividing wall with door. After moving in from her apartment where she had been during her college years, Jasmine didn't have very much and the refrigerator/freezer was one she had cadged from Karl's outdoor remains, and just re-did the insulation and put in a new compressor after he checked the tubing out. As Marissa moved in she saw that her relatively new system looked like a stark white piece of gleaming metal compared to the monster that had most of its paint taken off by sand over decades.
"Which stays?" Marissa asked as Brent wheeled it into the apartment. Jasmine was there and looked at her system and then Marissa's, and took out a tape measure.
"Open the doors," she said and Marissa did that with her system and Marissa measured it out. Then she went over to her refrigerator and measured that. "This one," she said pointing at her refrigerator, "can go to the solarium. Marissa's is better suited to here."
"Fine by me," Brent said as he pushed the new refrigerator to the side and then helped Jasmine get the food out of the old one and onto counters around the kitchen. After that the recreated monstrosity was disconnected and the wheel system that Karl put in on the underside let it roll smoothly out. In a few minutes the new system was in place, plugged in and the two women were sorting out the food to be kept in it.
"You don't have much," Jasmine said softly to her.
"Neither do you," Marissa said looking at Jasmine.
"Well I got used to Diana's..." Jasmine said shaking her head and shrugging.
"So did I," Marissa said with a smile.
After that the sofa was easy to place, as were the bookcases, and small pile of boxes. When Marissa came in with her clothing still in dresser drawers she looked at Jasmine, who was looking at her.
"Ummm...where do I sleep?" Marissa asked softly.
"There's the room I use as a sort of office, but all of that can come out here. What size bed do you have?"
"Cal King, extra firm," Jasmine said, "dad got it for me," she smiled, "it's the best piece of furniture I have, really."
Marissa nodded, "Need to be able to sleep hard after..."
Jasmine picked up, "...a hard day's work and some fun afterwards."
They locked eyes and smiled at each other.
"I, uh, you know, I'm not..." Marissa started in a halting fashion.
"Me neither, but..." Jasmine said as they still looked at each other. "Your bed can fit in the office space, and most of the equipment can stay there, not that there is an Internet to connect to anymore..."
Marissa swallowed and then gave a very short nod of her head.
Brent came in wheeling the dresser on a dolly.
"So where does this go?" he asked looking at the two women, who turned to look at him.
"My room," Jasmine said and then glanced at Marissa, "our room."
"Yes," Marissa said softly, "our room."
Brent shook his head as he looked at them, both had their hair growing out from the flat cut across the shoulders that they had gotten early in the summer. And the look in their eyes was something that he had learned to identify very easily, after seeing it in action so often.
"Right," Brent said, "Diana's room."
"Brent!" Jasmine said loudly smiling at him while Marissa just blushed and looked at the floor.
"Yes," she whispered, "Diana's room," she then looked up at Brent and then Jasmine. "I miss her so much...I hope she's safe..."
"Me, too," Jasmine said softly.
"And me," Brent said, "I love her like a sister. The best sister I could ever ask for."
"Lining up for docking, OASIS II ports are lined up," Ares said, "last meter... docked. Interlocks connected. Docking port secure. Karl, you're up for entry."
"Got it, Aaron," Karl said moving towards the hatch above the rear portion of the cockpit and waiting for it to go to green status. When it did he opened the hatch and heard a slight inrushing of air as he drifted into the airlock. "Now let me close Meridian up, just in case," he said as he dogged the hatch closed and shut. "And there is the emergency entry code, just like Herman said it would be. Well let me just use that..." he said punching in the numbers on the keypad and hitting the enter button.
"How's it going, Karl?"
"Sounds like air moving in, probably needs to be warmed a bit though. Got a wait on the cycling...there, going to the inner hatch. Outer closing behind me. Still got comms?"
"Loud and clear, Karl. There should be a comms relay control on the panel in there. We are number 1-5-1-7."
"Got it, entered. Right, got pressure reading, and temps just a bit lower but good. Inner hatch opening, lights coming on."
There was a minute of silence.
"Are you OK, Karl?" Ares asked.
"Yah. This place is huge, you know? Compared to the Athena's or Meridian, its just huge. Right, going over to the main power board. Right we got maybe 10% from the panels, which are down to reduce exposure during the storm. Kevin are the readings from Meridian still good?"
"Roger that, Karl. Panels should be a GO now."
"Fine, just a simple mechanical opening, don't need to spend any power on servos for this. Atmosphere is good, air handlers working, we are good to go for transfer. Might as well come over...looks like the comms system is active, so that needs to be checked for messages."
"Yeah, see if the maid can make it up this week," Kevin said as he moved to the hatch after putting Meridian into stand-by and prepared to receive power from OASIS II, after closing the wing panels up.
As he cycled through, Ares made sure the piloting system was on local mode with network support. If he needed to he could call on the functions of Meridian from the pilot's station on OASIS II.
Once he got over, he drifted over to Kevin while Karl checked the status of the thrusters and engines, in case they were needed.
"Looks like most of the GPS system didn't make it. Not enough to be reliable, anyway, with rare times of 3 point coverage, and mostly 1 or 2. The outer data relay system seems to work, though, but there isn't any real traffic going through it save some voice and a few video channels."
"Do we know where those are coming from?"
Kevin brought up the full system and started linking OASIS II into the few active data relay satellites.
"The Spaceport," Kevin whispered, "there are some other feeds, voice mostly, from other points, but almost all of it is going through the spaceport. Not Johnson, Marshall, Ames...a few observatories...looks like some universities, maybe a commercial station or two...but 90% looks to be routed from the spaceport."
Ares smiled as he looked at Kevin.
"Give them a 'hello' from us, and ask them what they need us to do, if anything. Let me know when Herman, Dennis or any of my extended family wants to chat on an encrypted system. I want to find out what happened to Diana since OASIS I isn't anywhere around here."
"We need to get a full download to Brent once we got comms bandwidth. Every single thing we recorded. All of it. Herman or Regina if not him, but we do need him to be able to start modeling what actually works here, in case we missed something."
"You got that right. I'm always worried about slapping space time frames around, since they might slap back some day."
"I'll get up to the forward cabin and start bringing up the rest of OASIS II. A lot of sensors don't go directly to you, but through that system, so its faster to get them up from the pilot's station."
"Got it," Kevin said.
Karl drifted forward with a smile on his face.
"The toilet here is much better than on Meridian. Damp cloths do a wonder for the smell, too, and I recommend it. Now all we need is artificial gravity and some beer and it will be home from home. And if we can't get the gravity, the beer would be appreciated anyways."
After turning on the sensors at the pilot's position, Ares shifted a low power optical telescope to start taking readings from Earth to get a spectrographic analysis.
"Not good," he whispered.
Karl drifted through the entry and went to the co-pilot's position, looking at readouts as they were taken.
"Far too much carbon used to get those lights," Karl whispered, "its bad."
"You have to hear this..." Kevin said turning the main comms on.
"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."
They listened in silence, looking at the view screens that showed Ray alone, at a desk at the spaceport.
"A very good man," Ares said softly.
"Aye, those will be hard to find in very hard times, you know?"
"Its on repeat on this channel," Kevin said, "first time stamp was 2 days ago."
"Well, now we all know what's next, at least," Ares said, "because Herman would have to back him for this to happen. It looks like our efforts are about to get merged."
"Yup," Karl said, as he drifted away from the co-pilot's position, with Ares coming after him. "So you know what's next for us?"
"You mean beyond some hard exercise?" Kevin asked.
"Well that, too. But they will have to troubleshoot the WorkPlat and guess who is already up here?"
Ares shook his head.
"I don't think Ray is compressing his time-lines enough," Ares said, "although nothing will be fast enough to save the majority of mankind. I think the WorkPlat will be a second job, Karl."
"Really? What's the first?"
"Beyond keeping them honest, that is," Kevin said since they were all agreed upon that.
"Yes, there is that, too. But there will be those who want to pull it all down into a final good night. They are prepared with some very nasty weapons and defenses. Yet none of those are prepared for Meridian. I'm afraid we may be very busy over the next month...after that things should stabilize some, but Earth will not be a pleasant place to live."
She pushed off from the cabinets going to the first aid station in the shelter and she knew that for all of her skills, that she had never dealt with a crushed windpipe and broken neck. With her hand in a recessed holding point she floated next to a panel she had brought up to access the supplies. She pressed back the urge to cry, to scream, and gained control of herself. And then she remembered, ah precious memories and cursed as well, that their bodies could recover from things far more hideous than this. Even without a heartbeat, if the body were intact, blood would flow. Calming her shaking fingers was an act of pure willpower and with them no longer trembling she carefully placed them on Diana's wrist.
"You said we might be cut off...from...what preserves us..."
Dark images from her living nightmare tried to crowd in on her and those she had to deal with as there was madness trying to creep in on her.
"No, I will do this," she said to herself with eyes closed and concentrated to still her mind, her thoughts and just feel what her fingers told her. Head bowed against her sister's chest, she slowed her breathing. She could feel her own pulse, strong, sure, slowing. "Slower still..." she whispered and waited for her body to follow the sure lead she gave it. Only with the darkness of her eyelids did she finally feel what was there as it was there.
"Slow. Sure. Moving even here."
Athena opened her eyes with the faintest of smiles on her lips.
"Even beyond the grave that he sent himself to, he tried to get to you through me by what he did to me. Oh, it is an evil unspeakable thing that our father did. You have thwarted him many times and I, not once."
She slid down the door to the first aid supplies and pulled herself with her sister to where they kept the meals.
"Now in this state...you told me...our brothers told me...nature takes what it needs from around it and that requires sustaining the rest of the body. If our brother could survive being vaporized and you the grotesque horror of a volcano, then what the body needs is that which sustains it. Nature takes it from what you have and what is nearby..."
Lifting the panel she looked at the packages and took out one, and moved it to the small hot water and steam tap, carefully inserted the tap into the package and set it for a 5 second fill. The thin brown bag inflated and as it finished she took it from the tap, shook its contents for a minute and then carefully opened its top just enough to let steam escape. Once chilled just enough to touch she slid the pouch down under her sister's coverall suit, closed the food station and went back to the first aid station. There she retrieved tape and scissors and carefully made sure that none of the mixture inside escaped as she pressed tape around the opening and that against her sister's chest. With two pieces of tape around her sister's wrist, she then wrapped it once around the lid and closed it.
"I suspect that time varies for this," Athena said, "and this is an emergency, and you left me instructions...oh, sister, to be able to remember! Forgive me for leaving you like this for a moment or three."
With a gleam in her eye she went back to the sleeping alcove, the webbing ripped open and with that she paused. "That material is strong, very strong, yet I..." she looked at her fingers, raw with some redness yet, and looked at the frayed ends of the webbing, the ripped blanket still partially attached to it, floating freely. She pulled at an unbroken length of it and put both hands to it and concentrated on pulling the webbing apart. Putting her fingernails to it she pulled harder and felt the pain go through them and then cried out as the material finally parted. She looked back at Diana and, again, had to stop the flood of memories trying to engulf her.
"No... I will not succumb...it is what I did... even unknowing...I shall not pity myself for such a thing...ever."
Her face became stern, hard and her eyes opened with purpose in them. "I am Pallas Athene. Athena."
Her gaze shifted back to her sister and tears finally started to distort her vision and she had to wipe them away as they would not flow through tear ducts properly.
"Pallas Athene," she said in a whisper.
With more tears came wiping at them and the bloody place her father left her at flashed in her mind's eye as did the horror of who she was choking to still that life. She shivered along the whole length of her body.
"No," she whispered then inhaled slowly, opening her eyes, wiping the threatened tears away again with the sleeve of her jumpsuit's right forearm.
"I. Am. Pallas. Athena."
She looked at her sister's body once more. Sobs wracked through her.
"No...not self pity. Not once nor ever."
Pressing her lips closed she gathered control of herself, used the left forearm sleeve to clear the tears, and now looked directly at Diana.
"I. Am. Pallas. Athena." her voice faltered but she kept her gaze steady.
"Sherwood," she said softly and then smiled, nodded, and the demons of her memory fled before her.
"Pallas Athena Sherwood. And that is my sister and I so claim her widely and to all, and she is beloved in more ways that I can ever say and I will not fail her. I remember all the times she and each of my brothers came to me, I remember the hard times, the soft times, the times where I sought to end my very life, each and every one and those memories are loving, awful and precious because they are MINE. I will not end our lives like this through cowardice at my own memories. And may woe betide any who seek to try otherwise."
A final wipe with her sleeve and a confidence returned to her. Not defiant. Not haughty. If her younger sister could brave through so much for so long, then she would do the same for her.
Pulling on the webbing she smiled and turned from her sister and to where the spacesuits were kept and went to the orange one for her and started up its small tablet computer and detached it from her suit. There were emergency instructions. She saw the main categories and this was not a radiation leak or other radiation event. This was not a puncture through multiple hulls. This was not a major hull failure and loss of the forward part of OASIS...
"They have plans even for that?" she whispered and shook her head, using her fingers to scroll down the categories. "Biocontainment...Main Engine Malfunction...Loss of Orbit...Thruster Malfunction...Total Crew Incapacitation..."
She stopped there and looked at her sister.
"That fits, I guess," she said, and pressed that menu item and came up with a series of questions.
"No there is no skilled pilot available...No Engineer on board...No Pilot on board...No skilled technical crew on board...No I'm not a technician...Get everyone still alive into space suits. Well there are even diagrams for that, although...ahhh," she glanced from the tablet to look at Diana, "well if you were that personal with me, then I can have no shame with you, now, can I? There can be no shame between us from here on out."
In the next 10 minutes she had herself in her orange suit and Diana in her suit, and had her put on a thruster pad and that was then strapped into position so that it wouldn't collide with any surface using the webbing material she had already pulled apart. After that she went to the small pilot's area in the shelter, and started accessing programs, pulling up navigational charts and then started the routines for analyzing her position, distance, fuel load and other concerns. That then required a specialized program which she brought up, and that interacted with her tablet system.
"Is anyone in critical condition in need of hospitalization within...3 days? I don't think there are any hospitals left..." she said. She hit the negative on that.
"Can any injured personnel sustain a high g return? Now that's...no she needs to mend and low gravity... I think she can handle that, so no on that item."
"Now do I want the OASIS I standard orbit, a co-orbit return with OASIS II, a co-orbit return with the ISS...what is an ISS?...a geosynchronous orbit over the spaceport...or other? Hmmm..."
She looked at a side screen that she had seen Diana use and turned that on to get to a general interface for what was on the computer system. She called up routines on orbital mechanics and was instantly at a loss. Then she went to a more generalized definitions item called the encyclopedia and looked up terms.
"Ah, I see. More energy used to get to lower orbit, less for higher but more distant and harder to reach. And that only because so much energy has already been spent to get OASIS I here. And I take it I'm impossible to reach here...ah, International Space Station! Sounds nice but I have no idea if anyone is there. The OASIS I orbit is lower than that, so that takes more energy to get to...and between them is OASIS II. Well, I'll take that, since it isn't so high you can't get to it, not so low as I waste fuel, and should be compatible with this station. Plus it is my brother's design. I trust in that."
She hit OASIS II co-orbit as her destination.
The system acknowledged that, brought up an orbital display, and showed that the time to the first engine start-up was 3 minutes, and that full ion use would be done for 2 days, with final main engine use after that and then tracking of OASIS II and co-orbit thereafter.
She waited in the seat until the thrusters kicked in and the attitude of OASIS I changed and the ion engines stared. Then came a half-g thrust which pushed her into the seat but softly.
Looking out and behind her she saw the padding and webbing that held her sister settle back, and that stopped well short of the wall. After 5 minutes of that, the ion engines continued and there was a very weak feel of gravity, that was easily overcome. It gave a direction but even a full length, all compartment fall wouldn't bruise anyone.
"I think space travel would be more enjoyable if it were less unpleasant," she said to herself in a soft tone. "Now, I'm hungry. And then after that there is a checklist for the rest of OASIS for me to go through."
At the Highflight comms room the automatic system recorded the OASIS II signal and shifted it to the ground based fiber optic link that was still functional as its repeaters were electrically isolated via an automatic cut-off from ground currents. This was used to protect it from lightning and from the induced ground currents still surging through long conductors. Only those conductors under 10 miles in length were seeing few effects from the ground currents beyond feedback into items like transformers. For want of a few dollars per transformer, most of the inhabitants of planet Earth now found their lives without power. Even those who had put some forethought and planning into trying to survive a disaster found minor problems blossoming into full-blown, lethal disasters. None of the electric grids on the planet were immune from this and only those that put in safeguards at transformer stations, along power lines, at distributed transformers and on power generation facilities might attempt to come back on line in another week. Small, isolated systems that had built-in interrupts on feedback, or that were able to use other means of conduction, or that lacked any conductive parts that were above a mile or two long were immune to these effects and the spaceport was one of those, and even there overlooked hazards had to be dealt with.
That signal went from the comms room at Highflight's preparation hangar and then to Event Horizon which was one of the larger places at the spaceport that could easily hold over a 100 people, and could open out to its parking areas so that even more could have a swinging good time or hear the announcements and jobs that needed to be done in and around the spaceport. From comms shack to second floor up-link room the system then announced an incoming message. As Hermes was considered 'vital' to operations of multiple facilities, that meant he was more or less tethered to Event Horizon and he didn't have rank to pull, like Ray Kaplan or Jasmine, to do more than manage Highflight, Event Horizon, make sure that the schedules between Ascentech and Highflight were properly merged and get out to the Highflight construction facility which now had more than its share of personnel with the groups that had been sent over by Mel from Arizona before the CME.
It was coming time for Ascentech, Highflight, X-CAL, Z-Flight and SLSR to face the fact that their actual companies outside of the capacity at or near the spaceport might no longer exist, at the 10 day mark after the CME. Somewhere between 14 and 29 days the ground current being caused by the oscillation of Earth's magnetic field should no longer be a problem for normal equipment and power lines. The lack of transformers, power stations, and actual long-line conductors that could still conduct electricity, however, would be the major problem for technological civilization on the 3rd planet from the star Sol. From the few satellites that could be coaxed to hand back imagery over the last 3 to 4 days, there were large concerns about the major cities and their populations. The HAM radio operators were tallying up who was still left, and all the stations that were no longer available at this point were assumed to be gone for good. Most of those operating were either in rural environs, an island, Texas, Israel, or one of the 'survivalist' encampments that were now finding out what they hadn't counted on and having to deal with ground currents. Some of those that had gone underground found that steel-reinforced concrete and conductors throughout tunnels meant that their concrete slowly began to heat up, and that instead of safe place their underground lairs were becoming cookers and as fuels used to run generators rose in temperatures, they could become furnaces at a moment's notice. Technological civilization and all the networks that made up 'The Grid' inside of continents had been dealt multiple body blows, an upper-cut and was now down on the mat bleeding profusely while vomiting at the same time. The suspected immediate death toll was unknown, and any place that had survived fires now was in the midst of the reversion of human nature to its most basic level. That was as true at the spaceport, although the number of individuals who could actually find it by more than accident were very few, and all that could be told to those wandering to the area is where they might be able to work for food... mostly in growing and raising crops, husbanding animals and praying for charity. There basic human nature was tempered, finally, by charity and outreach to those who could demonstrate civilized ways and understandings.
The spaceport still had a good year's worth of supplies for all there. And everyone was busy trying to get enough in the way of agricultural infrastructure up and running that the day that the supplies would run out could be put off. When it could be put off one day, that was a day of survival earned. Do that over and over, and you just might find time to do something else.
Hermes was doing something else, however, running the main restaurant, declining bar capacity and general knowledge of how to get food into an edible state at the location of Event Horizon.
"OASIS II this is Herman at HEVGC, how did the flight go, Kevin, over?"
"You mean beyond the 'what the hell just happened?' part? It was dull beyond that, having to get away from the CME and just put the system through its paces. We got back just a few hours ago, and have been getting situated. What's the status report from there, over?"
"Hanging on, day by day down here. Since the CME there are large blank spots on the map where nothing is being heard from anyone. Can you use the optical system to do a look-down on a few places like major cities? Over."
"Aaron here, I've been doing that about as fast as I could get on it, after we got in. There are still a number of places on fire, and I'm sending those coordinates via the data link. Also we are sending the entire flight profile of Meridian via same, over."
"We have it on capture here, Aaron, thanks! Rather get bad news as fast as possible so we can cope with it, but everyone will be glad to hear you are OK. How is Meridian, over?"
"Karl here, we really over-designed on the energy profile. Got about a half-ton of batteries that take up a lot of space that could be used for something else. But then energy is its own good thing. Still no beer, though. No artificial gravity, but I'm looking at what we recorded from our tests. Have Brent comb through that data, over."
Hermes raised an eyebrow.
"He's at the construction facility, overseeing the truncated expansion and putting down ground cover to start capturing evaporated water from the soil so we can plant seeds under it. Plus get a drip system going out at the mesa. I'll swap places with him so he can get on it, probably tomorrow, over."
"Anyone gone missing? Over," Kevin asked.
Hermes sat back and looked at the screen which was now split between the three men.
"Everyone that was here for the ALV-III launch with Meridian, is still here. No one has heard back from Diana at OASIS I. Nothing can actually get a reading out that far. We're doing optical scans for it at night, but nothing so far. Any help would be appreciated, over."
"Roger that, Herman," Aaron said, "I'll set the look-down optical system to automatic and have Karl comb through it. Then use the other optical system to see what can be seen. She should still be transmitting and I don't like the loss of data from OASIS I. Over."
"Roger that, Aaron. Let me get everyone informed here of your status, and then get someone else to talk with you. Have someone here in a few minutes. Herman over and out."
Hermes inhaled slowly as he got the confirmation, left the transmit link open and then hurried out of the room and down the hall to start telling people.
Meridian was OK, and all aboard it fine, the ship in working condition. They were bringing up OASIS II.
Still nothing from OASIS I.
Nuada and Mel looked out at the road as the lone figure on a motorcycle sped down it and then slowed to turn to the road to the Highflight facility.
"I called her in when I found out, Mel, had to send her to Event Horizon so she could have something to do while we started to lay out our plans," Nuada said.
"Where has she been? I mean after we left she had a lot to figure out, so did Candy...last I heard she had bugged out of San Fran going north."
The motorcycle sped up and the rider ignored the cattle guards which were taken at speed, and then came down the expanded paved road, slowed and then turned into the main parking area of Highflight.
"Come on, lets get out to see her," Nuada said.
"Yeah," Mel said with a faint smile as they walked out from under the small roof of the entrance area and out into the waning sunlight of the day.
Liza pulled up the motorcycle and stopped it in the parking area reserved for them, shut it down and took her helmet off, putting its strap across the handle bars and shaking her hair out. Smiling as she saw the two women approach her, she swung off the motorcycle, stretched her back for a moment and then walked towards them. In a moment it was like years melted away as hugs and kisses were exchanged.
"God its good to see you two, again," she said as they hugged each other.
"I've missed you, Liza," Mel said, "lots...but, you know?"
Liza shook her head and her smile, though faded, was still warm.
"I know, Mel. I didn't want to be...shit...I love you two!" Liza shook her head and looked at Nuada. "You're the one that got me here but only after..." she shivered and her face went slack and she looked off into the distance for a moment before centering herself on Nuada again. "She found me up in some damned town nearly dead after the lumbering stopped. Just walking through the woods, still trying to deal with...I..."
She looked at Nuada and then Mel.
"I've changed...changed, had to after that. Candy is just...was just..." she looked out to the horizon again and shook her head, "...so much went on. Is going on."
Nuada came up next to Liza and slid her arm around her back, and Mel did the same, so that they were on either side of Liza and she put her arms around their shoulders.
"Lets go inside, we don't have to hear it all," Nuada said, "I thought you might want to do something different, which is why I called you after Christmas."
"You did? But why didn't you tell me?" Mel asked.
"You know why, Mel. I knew Liza best," Nuada said and Liza looked at her.
"Shit, yeah, you did. Up, down, in, out, back, forth... she shattered that. I'm sorry but I'm just not...that any more."
"Yeah," Nuada said giving her a half hug.
"Neither are we, Liza," Mel said, "I bitched, I moaned, I complained, and then, well, Nuada wanted to find out where she was going, and I...needed something..."
"You still bitch, moan and complain, Mel," Nuada said and Liza giggled.
"OK, cut it out you two! I'm not your older sister and I don't break up fights..." then Liza went silent, "...wasn't too smart to want one, though."
As they walked inside the air handling system was in a low power mode which meant that the air was filtered and cycled through the piping system from the outdoors, but little else. On the inside the area that had been front office space still was, but the structure around it had been severely renovated and what had been a hall to the rear of the hangar by the old airstrip was now something that promised to be a full-blown production facility even if not exactly the one they had planned on.
They stopped as Liza did to just look at it once they were inside.
"Wow..." she whispered and looked at Nuada, "You're the manager of all this?"
"Me and Mel both, now," she said looking at Mel, "I know I shouldn't have bugged you after Christmas, but...I was at wits end, Liza. I knew you could do the basics and, shit...I didn't think you would get stuck at the Horizon."
Liza chuckled as she looked at Nuada and turned to Mel.
"You know, I always wanted to get on staff at Viceroy, right? I liked the place and Carlos, well... great guy and all that, but just not the same," Liza said, "but you know the kicker?"
Mel shook her head, "No idea."
"I ran into Karl's old bitch who was bad-mouthing him earlier this year. I, uh, started another fight..." she smiled and looked at Nuada, "Punched her lights out but, um, waking up in a hospital and seeing Diana on a chair holding my hand... that was January...no, first week in this past February..."
"You what?" Mel asked.
Liza looked at Mel and shook her head, then blushed.
"I had a crush on Karl from the day I met him, way back when at the club, you know?"
"Shit," Mel said softly. "Did she...no, of course she did!"
Nuada looked at Liza and beamed.
"I'm no match-maker, Liza, you know that. Suck at it all the way around. Thought you might like something here or at the spaceport...only knew you were in town just a couple of days ago but I was closing out stuff last month and was just, you know, sightseeing until ..."
"Got here just as everything was going to hell," she said looking at Nuada, "and Herman's name is like magic if you know where to say it. No phone to contact anyone, not anymore, though I think someone is working on that for just local stuff."
"I just thought you might like a change, Liza," Nuada said.
"I did," Liza said shifting from looking at Nuada to Mel, "I needed one desperately. Plus I knew that if I was here I might, ummmm...do you know its hard to get privacy in a hospital?"
Mel raised her eyebrows.
"Helps if you got a look-out," she said with a grin.
"Shit, yeah," Nuada said.
Liza nodded, giving them each a grin.
"I know. Still, the back of the Suburban was just fine with me. Just, um, 'light exercise' you know?"
"Yeah, we do," Nuada said, "glad you made it, though. Didn't know all of this shit was gonna happen."
"You saved my life, Nuada...even back where I was, I'd be dead by now. Not just a pleasant change of scenery, although I like that, too. But this is bad. Thanks for sending Lenny out with a message once you got word I was here, Nuada...Mel... I know you two are tight now...and I've got some space over at the Culpepper's, spare room that used to be a closet, but fits a bed. Pretty packed there right now, but I don't mind."
"We'll work out something," Mel said, "besides, I'm sure Karl would love to have you out at the scrapyard."
"In more ways than one," Nuada whispered, "say were you able to swipe the Zundapp off his old bitch?"
"Your just awful!" Liza said looking at Nuada.
"So where did you put it?" Mel asked.
"YOU!" Liza said turning to Mel, "I did NOT swipe her Zundapp! Really! Didn't see her SOB boyfriend that blind-sided me, but it was in a bar so I got taken care of, you know? But I did not get the Zundapp...not to say that I would of if she hadn't had that sneaky boyfriend in tow, though..."
"Always with an eye to the main chance," Mel said with a smile.
"Yeah, I just never see what the hell is coming...blind-sided by a boyfriend...taken down by a cute girl with a bow and arrow..." she whispered. "I have got to pick better fights."
"We've had the timing sequence for an hour now, Ray," Alice said swiveling in her chair at the Ascentech field down-link room. "It is on time, on fuel budget, and apparently lost no function due to the CME."
Ray smiled as he looked at her and then the screen which showed the path of the WorkPlat.
"And it is relaying messages from the Lunar orbiter system. The nanosats are toast, though. But the landers are still going through the initial positioning routine, and only get a small amount of beamed power from the orbiter."
"We expected that," Ray said, "and that we would have enough people to start deciding on what to do next. I think you, Harry and Bill are on tap for that, right?"
"That's what we had on the schedule, yes," Alice said looking at Ray, "Harry can be spared for here, right?"
Ray pressed his lips together and nodded.
"He can. Bill is working with the Pennertons to get the drip irrigation system designed and laid out. We'll be farming out fittings to anyone who has a lathe or mill here..."
"Maybe see if we can get some talent from one of the other firms, maybe?"
Ray gave a sad grin and nodded.
"It takes some getting used to, Alice. There may be no other real firms here. Even X-CAL didn't have offices in any of the places we can still reach, but Mason has an energy group in Texas..."
Alice watched Ray think through this.
"You know, she really is the best on the ground person Mason has," Ray said slowly, "but I don't want to drag her away from the Horizon now that her husband is back in contact with us."
"The fuels group was in California, right?"
Ray nodded. "And Wyoming...say, you know, we've had HAM contact up there, a couple of them. I have to ask if Cheyenne made it through or is just..."
"Smoldering ruins from a fire," Alice said in a flat tone.
"Yeah. That," Ray said, "You know, no matter how good we are here, we really can't save everyone. That hurts, Alice."
"Its got us all, Ray. Thankfully a few people realized that hard work meant we wouldn't be one of the dead. Just a couple of people cut off from family, loved ones...we've been damned lucky. I never knew that she..." Alice hesitated for a moment, "...Diana...had an in with some of the tribes. We've been blessed with a chance to get through this."
Smiling, Ray nodded.
"I know it, Alice. How Col. Kaplan got co-opted into leading this is beyond me."
"Because, Ray, you are a good, honest and hard-working man. And she trusted you and made good on your dream with you. To get co-opted you had to be those things and be able to handle the heavy load of responsibility that comes with them. There were lots of other places she could have put her money and other people to place it with. She chose you...and I've known you long enough to think that you were the right man for that. Just as you are for this. You know you can fail, but you also know how you can succeed and put those together and you have a great combination."
He raised his eyebrows and smirked.
"Darlene always said you could sweet talk a mountain out of its diamonds, Alice. You're right, just keep on doing what's next and keep the goal in mind."
Alice gave a short nod, "And that is the WorkPlat. That and at least OASIS II, the storage platform and Meridian."
"We are still on the same road. Let me get over to Horizon so I can rope in Tamara and get some face time with her and up-link to Aaron. Kevin and Karl, too, since they are already up there...we just may have to start cannibalizing material in orbit in the next couple of weeks and once we start that, then we will know the full depth of where things stand. So much was spent getting it to orbit, and I'm not going to just let it sit dead in orbit when it can be used for better things."
Alice turned to look at the position of the WorkPlat as it transitioned between the Moon and the Earth's orbital paths.
"Much better things," she whispered, "and hope for those who survive. This will not be a tragedy that will end us, just a nasty milestone on the way to space."
"Is the radiation meter in the GREEN region?"
Athena used one hand to support herself looking at the tablet system tethered to her spacesuit's arm while looking at the panel which had the bio system meters. This was part of the necessary daily systems check that could be done from the shelter room. The time indicated that this was the 3rd time she had checked the system since she had awakened.
"Yes," she said entering it into the system. "So the main cabin is safe for use...well that is a start, I'm sure," she said going over to the hatch for the main part of OASIS I and opening it and then the next hatch. The storm shelter was double sealed and self-contained so that if everything else was breached, this would be the last place to go that had a chance of being safe. "Oh, clean air!" she said and then looked back at the shelter room which, while as large as it could be, wasn't something she would want to live in forever. She looked at Diana who was now slowly breathing and had a heartbeat, but otherwise didn't stir. The first meal had disappeared and Athena then taped some moist bars to Diana's cheek, still in their wrapper so they wouldn't get messy, and easy to take off if she woke up.
"All right now in the main section," she indicated that on the tablet system, "and go forward to the Pilot's seat...oh, whoever did the artwork did a wonderful job!" she said, pushing off against the minor thrust of the ion engines, "So easy to find your way around and everything so clearly labeled, too!" Going through the main cabin to the forward cabin she went to the pilot's position and worked herself into the seat and strapped herself in as indicated by the tablet system.
"First bring up the main flight display," she said looking at the buttons to push and went through them in the order indicated on the tablet. "Ooooo! Is that...?" she said looking at the main display that was at the very forward part of the piloting cabin. It featured a quad view with one of a dimmed out sun tracker, another showing Earth, the third the Moon, and the last at the bottom right an overhead view of where OASIS I was and what the course was.
"We're going to go around the Moon, do a braking thrust there and then another...perhaps two of them? Then match orbits with OASIS II. Now there are a bunch of other things out there...hmmm..."
"Next is making sure the radar system is active and working," she looked at the tablet and brought up a small screen to the right of the pilot's area, "and it is. Collision avoidance system, active. Next up, data links. Hmmm... I'm getting nothing on that. What are they for?" She hit an information space on the tablet system.
"Oh! Fine tuning the orbit so we don't hit anything! Well that is important," she said looking around, "actually that is very important to avoid things out here, isn't it? So lets start at the top since there is nothing active. First is to check for GPS readings, of which I'm not seeing any. Hmmmm... run diagnostic scan, then start targeted scanning by region? Looks easy enough..."
Taking her time to go through each selection, find each button and carefully hitting them in sequence, she saw the diagnostic scan come up on the main screen, and then, when the internal system checked out, she visually saw where the comms system was looking for signals in the space around Earth. After a minute it had 5 signal sources and announced it was updating the flight plan. There was a slight shift in the blue line of OASIS I, a slight shimmer amongst the other objects and a few slight changes to numbers indicating use of the engines.
"Fine, that's done. What's next....can I establish a data-comm link with a nanosat? Hmmm..." another set of buttons and the system showed that it was scanning but couldn't find anything. She then ran a diagnostic which showed that the system worked but there was nothing to find. "I think Diana said something about that...so none to be found. What's next? Establish data comm link with Tracking and Data Relay Satellite constellation... Well first it has to be turned on..."
Athena smiled as she saw 3 points in geosynchronous orbit come up and she then established a data comm link with them.
The system started to handshake with the satellites it could reach and then started to download tracking data from them and send them its current position. Athena pulled up information on this system.
"...register OASIS I and its orbital path or travel path with other systems for future avoidance..." Athena looked at the main screen and thought for a moment. "Just how much is in orbit, anyway? You would think that if collisions were such a problem that there would be more people up in space..." she shook her head. She went back to the checklist.
"That's it for navigation and safety. So I've done shelter and main system air, waste and water handling, radiation checks, navigation checks, automatic orbital adjustments...and have taken about...10 hours?" she whispered. "But Diana does all this in just a half-hour or less. Let me see if I can take a rest period now... Yes! And a half-hour of exercise, too! I can take off the space suit, and put on a normal coverall, then put on force and impact trackers to track my exercise..."
"I think that the only thing left to chance here is...chance itself. And the first piece of bad luck is probably your last. There is a lot to be said for that. But just when, exactly, do you get to live a real life?"
Sharply her gaze looked out as her eyes opened and she looked through the opened hatches from the shelter into the main body of OASIS I. She saw Athena, in a coverall with exercise trackers on moving into and out of sight as she caromed off of walls, did mid-air somersaults, twists and generally move as much of her body as fast as she could to get the proper amount of exercise required for space living. Diana had done the same, and had shown where the stationary equipment was that relied on simple magnetism and force induced electromagnets to offer resistance. Athena was, amongst many things, the active embodiment of skill at war, skill at peace and skill at home and she would not shirk from learning skills in orbit, it appeared.
"My sister?" Diana asked softly and, as Athena went by in the main chamber she shifted to look at Diana and then, in a moment, came speeding towards the hatches, grasped the edges of the out hatch to slow herself and the edges of the inner one to orient herself to come at Diana with hands outstretched to grab the webbing.
"Diana," Athena said with a sad, soft smile, "forgive me for my actions for memory flooded into me when I slept and I dreamt of...my confrontation...and I tried to...I never meant for you...your neck..."
Closing her eyes Diana took stock of the suit, and the fitted padding was around the back of her neck to keep her neck from moving inside the helmet.
"I would accept death from you, beloved one. How long was I out?' she asked opening her eyes to look at Athena.
Athena glanced at the side station in the shelter and the screen above it.
"Nearly 2 days. I could make little out of the medical equipment, save to keep your neck from moving. That was vital."
"Very, yes. Now I do need to be unmoving until I can see the results from the portable x-ray machine. It is behind the panel below the medical supplies, on the right hand side, in a red bag that has a radiation warning patch on it. If you could get that out, I'll instruct you on how to use it after you remove my helmet. On Earth simply laying down would be enough, but here I must ensure that nature is doing the same."
Looking at Diana, Athena hesitated.
"Diana, you were dead. I had killed you in my rage at our father."
Pressing her lips together and closing her eyes Diana felt a chill go through her body. She opened her eyes looking at Athena.
"Of course, I've had many similar episodes save...I knew I could only run to escape him...no way to clearly aim a bow at him...too mighty, too swift by then and with your powers, I could not distract him via other means for long. Our sister, Tamara, has told me that our brother Ares wakes in a cold sweat but never...attacking her. Gemma says the same of Dionysus, and Regina and Brent about Hermes. We are not allowed to forget the cause of our being here. You are forgiven, my sister. If any could still kill us as we are, it would be you, who is the closest to the final fall even with the days between then and now."
Athena drifted in and shifted her head to kiss Diana, and while awkward she was just able to perform that action.
"Thank you, Diana. I...alone...with you...like that I felt...there was that door that opens to madness, self-pity and self-hatred that is within me. How could I live with myself knowing what I had done?"
Sucking her lips in she gave her sister a sad look.
"You did...how did you do it?"
"The only way I knew how. You knew me as Pallas Athene... Pallas who is Athena. Now I am Pallas Athena Sherwood. Pallas Athena who is your sister. And always will be."
"And always have been," Diana whispered, "now, before I need material to wipe my eyes, please let us start on finding out just what nature is doing to me. And then the the status of OASIS I. I can barely see the forward section screen from here, more due to tears that will not flow than distance. You have been busy."
With a smile, Athena twisted and tumbled in the direction of the medical panels and went to the one that would be under the thin artificial axis line that ran around the interior of all compartments, with a thin white line at 90 degrees along one surface and a blue line going along the other so that there was an up and down. In space there was none, but everyone who grew up on a planet needed to orient themselves and such lines helped no end.
"Very busy, once I did what little I could and knew that...nature was now restoring you. The packet I taped to your cheek, it came loose and is now sticking on the inside of your helmet, just to your left. I had put another pouch on you of scrambled eggs with cheese...ah, red bag, and that warning label says radiation and appears to have yellow and black in sections around a central circle."
"That's the one. Tether it to your belt so it doesn't get away from you."
"Yes, at first I didn't know what to make of such a belt until I started to do things, and found I always needed something that was somewhere else and that had a small ring on it to snap into another ring, which my belt had. That is very useful!"
Diana chuckled. "Ares designed it with Hermes' approval. Lightweight plastic loops and snap catches, along with caribiners, all fit on D-rings so easily. Still most equipment should be put away, but if you need a repair kit, then the belt is vital in keeping it from floating all over the place."
Drifting into view and holding onto the webbing, Athena looked at Diana.
"First my helmet, and make sure the snack bar doesn't hit my eye."
Athena reached in to take out the snack bar in foil wrapper and found that the wrapper was empty and the tape partially disintegrated. After putting the wrapper into a pocket with hook and loop closure, she then gave a twist to Diana's helmet and let it drift somewhat away.
"The suit is nearly out of power trying to maintain my body temperature," Diana said, "but before it, I must see what the condition of my neck and spine are. I feel OK, but that means little as this is not our normal environment."
"No it isn't...yet its so rapid."
"Really no need for a lot of exterior material, just some sustenance to keep things in motion. Now the padded brace should have some give as my neck is just a bit small for it. I'll need the screen for it clipped to my suit's helmet ring, then the flat plate with its wire slid down between the padding and my neck on the right. Make sure the black side is against my skin."
Shifting Athena moved above Diana and clipped the small display to the helmet ring and deftly slid the plate down as she was instructed to do.
"Good! Now for anyone else you would use the enclosed lead sheeting to surround my shoulder and head on the left side, leaving an opening for the larger piece with its round end to point through the padding at the brace, aligned with the piece on the other side. I can recover pretty easily from radiation, and for small amounts so can all humans. We are a bit more durable, so no need for that."
"I need to learn, Diana," Athena said, "I will do it the right way."
Diana closed her eyes, smiling.
"Of course, my sister," she said softly, "I'm always in haste, you are always in assurance."
Taking out the sheeting, Athena unfolded it and saw tiny pads that had little removable pieces and she saw that those were adhesives to secure the sheeting. In zero-g things tended to stay where they were but, save for air motion inside the cabins and the gentle thrust of the ion engines making things move slowly towards the shelter's rear wall. But for ease, a simple placement to guard the head and rest of the body from the area the x-rays would go in was simple.
"Then take the main device with its round output, and bring the sheeting up around that. It has a default switch that always goes back to the OFF position on the back and that needs to be moved two places along its path."
"I see it...there."
"Yes, the screen is on. Now hold it with the grip and your thumb will rest on a red switch on the back. Press your thumb down on it."
A slight hum came as Athena pressed it and Diana looked at the screen.
"Shift just a bit to your right...stop. Let your thumb go off the switch."
"Yes," Athena said as she lifted her thumb and the other switch went back to OFF.
"Now we repeat from front to rear. You'll need to clip the display to my hair, and I should still be able to see it."
"A moment while I re-position everything. The plate against the back of your neck, then?"
"Yes. You are doing wonderfully, my sister. And thank you for taking over and...I'm sorry that I had to take liberties with your body to get you here..."
Athena chuckled as she moved the sheeting and then the plate.
"No, Diana, there is nothing to forgive on that. We have not been modest with each other...for some time...a long, long time..."
"Too long, beloved," Diana whispered.
"Yes," Athena whispered back, "I hated to admit how much I loved running with you in the forests, the mountains, swimming with you anywhere... and our times together after that..."
"The same," Diana whispered as she saw Athena slide before her and move the sheeting around, taking the display off the helmet ring, and then look at her, gripping the shoulders of her suit and pulled in closer for a loving, deep kiss. As Athena pulled away, Diana looked at her. "The suit is most uncomfortable," she whispered, "believe me, don't get...excited...when all the fittings are in place."
"I'm sorry," Athena said pressing her lips together as she moved the display and clipped it to strands of hair she pulled from the mid-sides of Diana's head. "Will that work?"
"In a cross-eyed way, yes. No worries. But I think the basic order of things needs to be established."
Before moving the sheeting completely around the front of Diana's head, Athena stopped and looked at her.
"But, what is that?"
"Simple, my sister. Hard work then eating and then fun. After that rest. Really, it works ever so well. And I am becoming extremely uncomfortable in my suit and it has nothing to do with the low state of its batteries, either."
"Agreed! Lets finish the hard work," Athena said, "because, as the days of days rest heavily upon me, I now realize just how much I have missed having someone to truly talk to. And of our family, I missed you the most of all."
"Yes...again, setting 2 and repeat."
When all was in position, Athena switched on the device.
"I'm fine. Fully healed, probably a simple fracture and crushing of the larynx and windpipe. No more readings needed. While you pack up the x-ray kit, I am getting out of this damned space suit. Because I am hungry. Ravenous. Of course then there is the food, too, a quick bite of that, first."
"I do know what you mean, beloved. But we should, at least, get you caught up on where we are at."
Diana laughed as the last of the sheeting was pulled away along with the screen and read-out.
"Oh, we'll do that, don't you worry. Though I am rather fast with the checklists. You have to be if you want any time at all for sleep in this place."
As the parts of the kit were stowed, Athena zipped the case shut and drifted to the open panel, while Diana was opening her suit from the inside and dealing with the plumbing situation and her body as she opened it.
"Karl is right about artificial gravity. But I want a good space suit that doesn't need all the fittings. I love nature and this," she said taking out cleaning wipes while stripping out of her coverall which was in tatters, "this just isn't natural. It works, yes. But nature should provide a better way. Since you're over there, can you grab me a set of coveralls?"
After pushing the kit into its space and closing the panel, Athena looked back at her sister.
"Do you really need them?" she said with a grin.
While detaching the suit, Diana looked at her sister.
"The 3rd or 4th time you come across a rip in your coveralls, or find something that wasn't polished smooth, you will then understand that blood floating around is a true nuisance, and must be cleaned up. So, yes, they are necessary. Although I won't be keeping mine fully zipped up...how about you?"
Finding a set of coveralls in their bag, Athena tossed them in a straight line to Diana who snatched them easily with one hand.
"Wow...I forgot you so often...threw things and they always got to where they had to go....but you..."
Diana opened the packaged coveralls, put the wrapping into a pocket of it, and then smoothly put it on, always keeping in easy arm reach of the webbing and partially detached suit.
"I'm the one that could snatch your arrows by jumping up to grab them or simply catching them as they came at me faster than I could see. Guess what? I still can. So no running away here, OK?" Diana said with a smile.
"No running away. You are far too good at finding things...people...me..." Athena trailed off.
"Always. Now lets get this to the main compartment suit locker for refreshing and recharging. I'll have to get rid of the webbing, though, too much in a bad state...but we can share the one set that is out..."
"Good! So after that, the checklist. And while doing that you can then distract me all you like."
"Mmmmm...I won't be too distracting..." Athena said as she pushed off towards the hatch as Diana was taking the last of the webbing from attachment rings on magnets. "But aren't you actually going to use the, ahh, zippers?"
"Why bother?" Diana asked as she bundled the rest of the webbing up while holding onto the suit, then pushed off towards her sister, "Or don't you like what you see?"
"We'll never get the list done," Athena whispered.
"Of course we will," Diana said as she shifted to slip through the hatches and smiled passing Athena. "Hard work always comes first. Always. I never said it would be hard for me, though."