"...I'm too valuable to send out," Hermes said looking at the screen where Ares was working out against the resistive units that could be used for upper body, lower body or full body stress calisthenics.
"Well that is the way of it," he said as the screen gained a smaller picture of Kevin who was back at the comms station after doing his daily workout, "you actually are too valuable to be out in the field. Still you are an excellent shot and if anything got as far as the Horizon, you would be able to deal with it."
Hermes leaned forward as a picture in picture appeared and he swapped them to see Kevin at the comm station after he had finished his daily workout.
"We have a beacon notification from the TDRS array," he said, "its OASIS I giving its current position and trajectory."
"Let me check here," Hermes said as he shifted back to look at a smaller screen off to the side that was linked to the field satellite system. "Yes, its there and...it looks like you will have visitors in a few days."
"Really?" Ares asked slowing his workout and stowing the carbon fiber system back flat against the wall and closing the panel over it. He used a towel tethered to his belt to mop at sweat. Kevin turned to look at him and he floated out of range of the small camera at the workout area and into the one at the comms station.
"Yes, they will be coming back into the Earth-Moon system gravity well, going around the Moon and doing a braking thrust there. Right now they've done a relatively long but low-g system engine use, and are now using the ion system for fine tuning the orbit. Let me get Brent up here," he wheeled the chair over to the small table the auxiliary system was on and hit the intercom and called for Brent to come up to the comms area.
"Is it the automated system?" Ares asked Kevin softly.
"No idea," he said, "its the same software we have here, so we could run a model on OASIS I and see..."
"Brent will know," Hermes said, "to me it looks like the automated system...but Brent can do the larger analysis...any other signals?"
Kevin shook his head from side to side. "Nada."
"That's probably why no one could find it," Ares said, "they aren't on the programmed orbit, and they're going to cut a fine and close pass by the Moon, which we didn't have planned for the inward leg. Plus they are just a bit lower than expected, to make a good rendezvous in our orbit."
Brent softly opened the door and Hermes got up and hugged him.
"OASIS I just signaled with tracking and orbit data, coming back to co-orbit with II, and you are the expert in the package," he said softly, "I'll go let family know while you handle this."
"Thank you," Brent said hugging the man who now had some of the softness, roundness of a woman, "make sure everyone who needs to know does. I'll handle this part."
With a soft kiss they hugged harder and then Brent let go and Hermes smiled and nodded. "Don't worry, I shall."
Hermes left closing the door and Brent sat down taking in what was going on.
"So we have their flight data?" he asked sitting down and pulling up the software simulator package.
"Yes," Kevin said, "just since they first linked into the system again...about a half-hour ago. There were a few handshakes they had to go through since all the nanos are dead. At least all the ones out there."
"Right," Brent said pulling up the overall orbit schematic to find out just what satellites the information was coming through. One link went to the ISS, but it wasn't relaying the transponder properly since its crew evacuated for Earth just before the CME hit. Another set went to NASA satellites for down-linking data, but they weren't getting much in the way of instructions, so they were just bouncing the data between themselves looking for orders to get the data to something on the ground. The spaceport was on that list, and so was the WorkPlat and OASIS II.
"Well there's the problem," Brent said, "the NASA linking satellites aren't tracking the spaceport very well, and since both OASIS II and the WorkPlat have good links, its going through you two. Give me a moment to let the spaceport down-link office know that the constellation is suffering some drift and needs updated coordinates..."
"Sure," Kevin said, "We're going to lose direct link in a few minutes."
Brent had sent a message with coordinates via the network to the down-link office, and the person there responded that they would send up a new set of coordinates. Also that there was a problem due to the lack of GPS satellites and other back-ups for the NASA systems to calibrate with.
"You should get a re-link in a minute or two," Brent said, "once I have that I'm going to do a ping-back and get the flight profile from OASIS I. That should have all the data if its stored on their system. Plus it will let me know how things are going there."
There was a brief scrambling on the screen and then a message about satellite links testing frequencies, then the screen cleared to show Kevin and Ares once more.
"There! Should have full down-link capacity for a few hours, at least," Kevin said.
"Yes we should, and I'm now doing a ping query for data to OASIS I..."
"Brent, what have you made of the Meridian data?" Ares asked.
"Its just amazing stuff..." Brent said shaking his head, "and damned thorough, too. Its hard to get such good field data like that. I have a separate system churning through it right now, so we should be able to get you a fine tuning in, possibly, another 6 to 8 hours."
"Major amount of data just gut dumped here," Kevin said.
"Same," Brent said as he watched the data stream into his system and then into the modeling package. "Great! Their initial change was more or less to profile, giving a good week to cut across Earth's orbit inside to outside. They were supposed to go a bit further out and let Earth sweep in and decide if they wanted to match then...that would be in another 10 days for that window to open and then they had 2 days before it closed...so they are just two days in the outside track and then changed course...about 3 hours ago. Got good telemetry locks, or as good as they can get, and then did a a half-g retro and are continuing with ions since they are going to do a swing-by the moon at..."
Brent looked at the screen.
"10 miles?" He let out his breath, "they will turn-over to kill velocity during that, so they should have some leeway, but that is just...close..."
"Very," Ares said, "is there any margin for error on that?"
"The automated system package would look at 50 miles out, do a use there and then another 3 around Earth to pull into the OASIS II orbit. It looks like there was a minor correction use about an hour ago to shift from 50 miles to 10 miles. And with the way the CME has left everything, that is the equivalent of zero error, and 50 miles is actually cutting it close."
"Diana," Ares whispered as he closed his eyes.
"Has to be," Brent said, "she's going to economize on fuel but...has she ever done anything like this before?"
Ares opened his eyes and chuckled.
"That is how she has always lived from what I can tell. Sparing use of materials, accepting risks, and then following through. It doesn't always work, though. My guess is she is going to do a radar return adjustment when OASIS I comes in close. That is dangerous."
"Is it too late to have them change course?"
Brent worked the simulator and ran it back and forward a few times.
"She will have another window at turn-over, delay braking by a minute and she gets a lot of leeway, but at 2 minutes she is then flying out on a large orbit and swinging back in, about 2 weeks. That window is at a bit less than 1 day...19 hours and a few minutes."
"Someone needs to get a link up and talk to her. See what her plans are...maybe, I don't know...she's awfully hard to convince. You know?" Kevin said as he looked at Ares.
"You can't, not easily," Ares said, looking back at Brent, "get Jasmine there. Tell Ray that she's needed so that OASIS I doesn't put a new crater on the Moon."
"Will do," he said standing up, "I'll get someone to be here in a minute or two, while I get a hold of Ray."
"Roger that, Brent, standing by," Kevin said.
"Will she even listen to Jasmine?" Kevin asked Ares softly.
"That is the question, isn't it?"
"Wouldn't it be better to just message them?" Athena asked as she looked at the screen in the forward cabin.
"Possibly, yes. What we have gotten, however, is necessary attention and a demonstration that someone has cobbled a system together for getting data and messages. We are too distant for a maser link or for direct broadcast as we don't know what is working, and our signal would just be background at the spaceport that is having to deal with the last of Earth's magnetic field oscillating from the CME. Actually, that is worrying as the field is so weak that it would have strong initial effects and then die down quickly. Our readings aren't showing much of the CME now. But the strength of the magnetic field is below where it started."
Athena shifted from the co-pilot's seat and looked at Diana and watched as she brought up displays. They had gone through a piloting training session of how to at least help the on-board piloting program to get some better results with minimal intervention.
"So you're saying that waiting for them to contact us and giving them a reason to do that is better than trying to contact them?"
Diana looked at Athena with a smile.
"We know our capabilities and that response we just got for more data means they have something up and running. If we are sending messages and they can't receive them, then it is wasted effort. They know what we have, and I suspect that is Brent, Hermes, or Ares getting that data off our system. So we know they have data link capacity, but that is low bandwidth. You've seen what sort of bandwidth we have from the relay satellites..."
Athena remembered that review from what satellite telemetry was giving them. The fact that there wasn't much telemetry was worrying.
"So our choices would be to try and figure out what is working and tracking properly, which isn't good. Try and get a direct signal to something we know is working, like OASIS II..."
"But they don't know where to look for us since I made the course change," Athena said and Diana smiled.
"And, really, I can tell that the very high bandwidth stuff is in use, at least a few satellites are, and they are getting signals from a few places on Earth. They aren't beaming at us, however, and if we pull into geostationary orbit to do something with one of those, then we just might lose some capacity that is desperately needed now."
Athena shivered thinking about the limited options they had available.
"So a course correction on a somewhat dangerous course... means that we are asking for some priority?"
"Yes! I know the GPS is spotty, they know the GPS is spotty, and someone will think about how we are going to do this skimming the surface of the Moon fly-by...and a little piece of mail going to our systems just might not get attention..."
"You're tricky," Athena said smiling, "you were always tricky, sister."
"Is that a complaint or a request?" Diana asked softly.
"An observation, maybe? But you are worse now than I remember you being..." Athena inhaled and closed her eyes, "...so many memories..." she opened her eyes, "...I love you, sister. Deeply. But you are still very tricky."
Diana shrugged. "I love you. I'll take it as a compliment, then. Besides there are some people that we need to test things out on, and I really don't want it to be Kevin or Karl..."
"Seeing me, you mean?" Athena asked.
"Yes. Jasmine, Regina, Brent, Tamara..." Diana inhaled and closed her eyes, "...I hope they have come through all of this well," she pressed her eyes shut, "losing any of them would be..."
"Hard," Athena said softly as she watched Diana.
"Yes," Diana said opening her eyes, "our human family is not like us. I think the place you were in that made you absent...with your memory back you should now be...visible to all. Not just close family."
Athena nodded and then saw Diana smirk.
'Oh no, another tricky part," Athena said with a sigh.
"Not on my part! I'm just wondering if anyone still has any pictures of you from before...because you are in them and if you re-appear to our human family, and all humans, then you will start showing up in the visible records." Diana made a sour face then. "If any survive...the fires..."
"Don't dwell on that, Diana," Athena said, "we could do nothing about what happened."
Diana shook her head slowly.
"I wanted to prevent another Dark Age, sister."
"We cannot save the dead, beloved. We can but try to salvage the living," Athena turned to look at the main display which was now showing part of the night side of Earth with the Moon coming into view, "savages we can't help. The civilized we must help. It is so hard to get civilization going, that it is never completely lost and this time we have something that can help show how to rebuild the right way."
"Yes," Diana whispered, "that is the dream of our brother/sister. To leave this system entirely, for all who can and want to. I started out only thinking about...our state of being...saving you..." Diana looked at Earth, pressing her lips together, "and was willing to go further if I was...wrong..."
"You aren't wrong, Diana," Athena shifted from looking at Earth to her sister once more.
"But I am, sister," Diana said in a distant voice, "nature is much more present in us than just Earth. I was wrong. Very wrong. About us. About mankind being ready to join us. The only thing I am right about," she turned to look at Athena, "is you. I haven't failed with you."
"None of this is a failure," Athena said opening up the straps and pushing off to Diana who watched her.
"You did so much...no one could ask for more from you..." gently Athena grasped the straps of the seat Diana was in and pulled herself closer as Diana looked at her, "...I am proof of that, beloved. My sister. My spirit. My closest of all in sorrow and joy."
"They will only have normal lives..." Diana whispered, "...and I love them so much. All I wanted was...to be human out of this. Share their risks."
Athena pulled herself to Diana who she could see was shaking.
"You have opened your life to them, and your love," Athena whispered, her face so close she could feel the heat of Diana, "I don't know if I could have done that if I had to achieve something like this. You were fearless to do this, to save me."
"I wanted to save us all," Diana said softly, tears blurring over her eyes.
Athena inhaled as she said that.
"You...beloved," she shifted her legs around the seat, her arms moved around it and she pulled herself to Diana, "that is impossible for you to do."
"I had to try. For you. For me. For our family. For everyone," Diana whispered, "because no one else was doing it and it needed to be done."
Athena was at a loss for even when they were what they had been, no one of them would have even attempted this, least of all herself. The one who gave civilization a home, a beacon, a shield. Even she would not attempt such a far reaching goal. Her father might if he ever had a good mind about him, which he was lacking and paid a dear price for that. And she never would have thought that Artemis, especially after going through so much, would take on a task that far reaching.
"Because it cannot be done. Surely you know that?"
"Yes," Diana said softly, "I still had to. I couldn't stand it...if I didn't..."
Settling herself on Diana's lap, her legs keeping her in place, Athena shifted herself and brought her arms forward to undo the release to the straps and gently, slowly, move her arms around Diana who was limp in her arms. Pulling her free she moved her legs and pushed them towards the entry. Diana moved slightly to get her arms around her back.
"You are the best of us, my sister," Diana whispered.
Athena shivered but still made her way to the sleeping area keeping Diana in her embrace.
"If you fall short it is only because of such high aim," Athena said softly, "and I doubt that I ever would aim so high. You fell short of forever, dearest. You only hit the far horizon. Something I would never attempt you achieve. Hold me beloved, and know that you are loved, for your pain is, like mine, something that will not heal over easily, if at all. That is also worth doing, and I would love to do it with you. We can always fall short of that, and yet always be working towards it and that...will take us beyond the far horizon."
Ray sat next to Alice and Bill, with Kevin visible on screen via the satellite up-link
"How many does the WorkPlat have left?" Ray asked.
"Exactly 8 nanosats left inside it. Those were meant as future replacements," Alice said.
Ray nodded, "Kevin you said that 3 of them would get us better coverage and bandwidth beyond simple messaging and telemetry, right?"
"Well 3 from WorkPlat. There are still 5 left on the Lunar orbiter and that should be at least 2 from there, so 5 out of 13."
Ray nodded and looked at Alice.
"Will that help stabilize the comms sat situation?"
"For awhile it will, yes," she said looking at the orbits of the Geo positioning satellites from the different arrays that had been lofted in the prior decades, "we will coordinate between the systems and that should, finally, allow us a few years or good comms function up and down all the way out to the geostationary ones that still need some station keeping adjustments from time to time. No orbit is completely stable and the nanosats will help to track that and get better positioning data back to the major comm sats."
"Bill, what do we have on-hand to replace the nanosats that have been lost?" Ray asked.
"They are pretty simple, Ray. A can, a mini-collector, some circuits, a sail and a tiny carbon dioxide thruster system. They are meant to be disposable, and if we had to put together say maybe 10 in the next month and get them lofted from an ALV-I we could do that with plenty of mass to spare."
Ray pursed his lips looking at Kevin.
"And you say that OASIS I should be within range of some of the outer satellites for better bandwidth? Beyond simple commands, that is."
"That's it, Ray. Most of what was put up pointed mostly down, to Earth, not very much up and out into space. For the space probes multiple telescopes across the planet were coordinated to gather signals and data, while stuff landed on the Moon could just go in via the tracking sats, and then use closer satellites to feed video. Most if not all of the latter are not responsive, and what was at the Moon, unless it was in shadow during the CME, is toast electronically. If we want to look out with signals reception beyond simple Earth-Moon space, we need to re-position a working satellite or use nanosats to start cobbling one together."
Raising an eyebrow, Ray looked at Alice and Bill.
"I'm betting that another Athena II drop will be necessary at some point, which means an ALV-III. We will do a delayed small canister drop since the Athena II doesn't go to the edge of our lofting limit. Once its dropped, we will have a ton or two for a separate but small drop, and that will be nanosats to send to the WorkPlat or just the storage platform. We can find out what Highflight and X-CAL have in inventory, too, since they both use nanosats, although not the same type in the case of X-CAL. Those need conversion."
Bill nodded. "Can do, Ray. With a small booster system or even just a solid booster, we can do that."
"Ask around for systems, Bill. Plenty of stuff out there now that the competition has dried up and we are the only way to space," Ray said turning to Alice, "Drop as many nanosats as you need to get connectivity. This isn't just for OASIS I but for Meridian, as well. THAT has the capacity to get out of the Earth-Moon system and fast. Yet if they have to get comms back to us, a good functioning nanosat system feeding back to working comm sats will be a requirement. It actually was one from when Meridian returned, so that gets going, pronto. Keep Highflight informed. Once the nanosats have feeds out, I expect they will want bandwidth back, and even low resolution video is better than living on telemetry."
"Will do, Ray," Alice said looking at Kevin.
"Ray, we're going to take Meridian over to WorkPlat once it is in a stable orbit, just to check it over and deal with any technical glitches, because a couple have come up."
"Right," Ray said still trying to adjust the scale factor for what Meridian was capable of doing, "Say, could you do a check-over of the Lunar orbiter and see if you can get some images of the lander sites? I know we have automated systems working, but if there are any surprises it would help to know about them now."
"Well, since the landers are in sunlight now, the entire thing should be putting down anchors and setting up the accelerator. First loft from it is supposed to be in near the end of its daylight hours in 12 days."
"That's why I want eyes on it. No surprises. Nature gave us a huge surprise, and I'm not liking it. Lets keep the surprises down and the functionality up, OK?" Ray said looking from Kevin then to Alice and Bill.
"You got that right, Col. Kaplan," Kevin said.
"Cut that out," Ray said looking at the screen, "I didn't ask to run this place, don't like doing it and have enough headaches as it is. And more are on the way...there are always more on the way. At least the ground currents have died down to a minor annoyance, now. By next week we will know just how bad it is...and if we are still running most of the satellites by then, it will be very, very bad."
"Hatch reads closed, got a visual on that, Karl?"
"Yah, closed and red. All the fittings detached, and retracting."
"Good," Ares said, "Kevin do we have the updated profiles up and running?"
"Yes, we do, Aaron. It looks like a thorough review with a few dozen Brent wants retested, but nothing serious. It looks like he has a good feel on the disc geometry and charge alignment."
"It isn't simple," Karl said, "I know that from watching the mill carve out the tracings and then having to dope them before putting them all through the polishing heads on the mill. Not long per disc, but the number means time adds up."
"Right," Ares said, "I have the orbit of WorkPlat. If it was any other vehicle I would be using the ion drives or plasma full drive. Right now its just thrusters to get distance from OASIS II. Kevin, let us know when we are at a safe distance to activate the main drive...and that is strange to say as the plasma system used to be the main drive."
"And still necessary for large energy use, Aaron," Karl said, "although we do get frame relative velocity to worry about. The interface follows the array and that means we can be pointing forward but facing sideways relative to exterior motion. Or backwards, or any direction, because our frame encapsulation is relative to the interface."
"Even after working with the simulations, it is still hard to get used to," Ares said.
"We are at the safe distance now, Aaron," Kevin said.
"Good. Karl, charge up the discs and get our interface up. We will do one of the leisurely low compression ones that actually allows visual observation. Those can take the low compression changes better than higher."
"Aye, charging the system. A good one has a relative forward while we are at a right angle to it, so we can get the best window view forward as we go around the WorkPlat structure."
"Good, we'll take that. Can we get a real-time visual back to the ground?"
"Let me check...Karl there are a good cluster of relative positions where we have side frequencies as well, just a few miles per second."
"Ah, good, Kevin! Yes, the one with the good visual and low distortion mid-band is what we want, eh?"
"Yes, that's it," Kevin said as he saw the selected arrangement on the screen in front of him.
"I like it," Ares said, "from that only 3 discs can be shifted to a much higher compression ratio."
"That's it then, Aaron," Karl said, "you're the pilot."
"I have never flown facing in one direction while the vessel is going at 90 degrees to it, with no apparent thrust. I'm going to my full internal helmet display as it is disorienting looking forward and piloting sideways."
"A bit like driving a car with the steering wheel, brakes, and gas facing out the passenger side window, maybe?" Kevin asked.
"Yes, save that I have 3 dimensions to work with. Piloting facing forward is one thing. Doing it sideways will take some getting used to. Now, my system is on linear. We are moving away from OASIS II."
Kevin watched the rear cameras and then right side track OASIS II as it shifted and distorted as Meridian left the vicinity.
"Karl make sure we get some use out of the panels, OK?"
"Got it, Aaron. Deploying side panels. I need to make up a quick something to help open and close panels as our frame shifts. An optimal energy tracker of some kind to keep panels oriented in the general direction of the sun to track it."
"Kevin we are shifting orbit, right?" Ares asked.
"Yes, we are."
"Good, frame compression is constant. If I want a higher speed, I need better compression and then have to hold it. Karl, I think something with a bit higher compression is necessary if we don't want to spend a few days at this."
"Checking," Karl said, "fine, see the one I've highlighted, Kevin?"
"Yes, I do. It looks good."
"Fine. Aaron I'll switch to that, and you'll want to re-zero once its done."
"Yes. Switch when ready."
"Good, switching alignments."
For a brief moment colors, darkness and skewed dots of light wheeled around Meridian.
"Still good reception?" Karl asked.
"Yes," Kevin said, "good enough, at least."
"Putting us in a higher orbit...yes, far more responsive..."
Kevin watched his navigational screen as Meridian moved at a rate that was overtaking orbits and passing satellites and debris. In less than half an hour the WorkPlat came on his screen, with Meridian closing on it from behind.
"In a a couple of minutes I'll want one of the pinning configurations or one with very low rate of motion and transparent to as much as we can get on the visual end. Thermal if it can be managed.
"I have it queued up already," Karl said, "quite a few to choose from with almost no power used, so we can loiter as long as you want."
"Fine by me," Ares said, "Kevin do you have a course for this, or just complete coverage as close as we can get?"
"Framework display is up and tracking, and that should give us a visual cone so you can section it off for data capture. At 250' we should be able to see everything except minor stress fractures, and it has to have a couple of those. If there are any critical ones, then a thorough repair and inspection will need to be done, and that will require thrust to match orbits."
"Aye, suit thrusters should cover it, though, if we don't have much delta to worry about from the start. I've been playing with the modeling system to see if we can't get normal frame velocity from this set-up. I don't think we can, not easily, at least, mostly due to the safety geometries that Brent used for this."
"That would be extremely handy," Ares said, "now I need the new alignment."
"Yes," Ares said checking the thrust levers to make sure they were at the static zero point.
"And, that's it, new alignment in. Not going to get better than a run with this one, but it is very good for sensors and comms."
"Relative stop," Ares said, "Let me know when we are good to start, Kevin."
"A moment. I'm putting an auto-focus routine on the visual sensors. IR is good. Using the phased array system to give me distance. All feeds are go and recording, we can start whenever you want as the model and capture are linked. Keep us under 3' per second to start."
Meridian started its slow motion survey of the WorkPlat. Ares looked up to see that one of the released nanosats had opened its mini-array and was changing orientation as it moved off into space. Most short lived equipment in orbital space he didn't like, but the nanosats with their sails would fly further and further out from Earth and slowly above the equatorial plane long before they became a navigation hazard. Most of them would never reach far beyond Earth, being tugged at by larger bodies. Most would wind up close to Jupiter and then either impact one of its moons or be slowed by diffuse plasma around the giant planet until it grazed the farthest reaches of the actual atmosphere. Jupiter was large and greedy, a fitting name for the planet and its role in the solar system.
Across from the sleeping alcove came a persistent note. On and off and on and off...Athena opened her eyes and saw that Diana was asleep and slowly shifted to open the webbing then close it as she drifted to the edge of the alcove and pulled a privacy curtain across it. As she did so she also reached in for a coverall that she had left clipped to the webbing next to Diana's and slid her way into it, zipping it up as she pushed off against the wall and towards the comm terminal. There she saw a schematic of satellites and that a connection was being requested from Highflight down-link auxiliary terminal EH. Pulling herself into the seat and then putting cross straps on, she then pulled out the sound blocking piece next to the seat and turned the lighting on at the terminal.
"Well, it is the right place and I can be on...so..." she hit the accept area on the screen, then a moment of blurred static was followed by a picture of Hermes and Jasmine sitting in front of their terminal.
"This is OASIS I, good evening, my brother and sister, over," she said softly.
Jasmine glanced from her tablet screen for a moment and then stopped as she stared at the main screen.
"Greetings, sister. That answers so many questions there that I cannot say just how many it is, over," Hermes said with a deep smile.
"Yes it does, my brother. And hello, Jasmine, it is obvious that the other question is also answered, isn't it, over?"
Hermes looked at Jasmine who was still staring directly at Athena.
"Jasmine?" he asked her softly and she just shook her head once.
"Wow..." she whispered, "even what the program showed...you're...its like...wow..."
"She does have that effect, Jasmine," Hermes said, "no one would have settled at Athens with the brackish spring of Poseidon if it wasn't for her being there. Beyond the harbor I never could figure out what they saw in the place."
"Quite a lot, my brother. It was a good place to establish a new beginning, a new way to do things, and our human brothers and sisters deserved that after so many trials and tribulations. I can still see them with their crude shields and bronze knives and spears, ready to take on anything. Ah memory blessed and accursed, both," Athena sat staring at the screen, entranced by the young woman staring at her, "and, yes Jasmine, I do look somewhat like Diana's sister and that is because I am. Younger and older than she, that is how it came to be and that is what it is."
Jasmine looked at Hermes with wide eyes, "Even with Diana I still had, something, somewhere...reservations...but this?"
Hermes leaned over to hug her and she him, and then they looked at each other then both looked at the screen.
"Yet another one lost to the beauty that is Athena," he said with a smile.
Athena lost some of her happiness and looked at them. "Not Athena unalloyed, my brother."
"Of course, Pallas Athene."
"More than that. In the modern way, Pallas Athena Sherwood...I acted out my last coherent memories as I awoke, brother, and...you found me after father broke my grip, my arms and then used his sword to break open my head, though at that point it was just sheer white agony and blackness after it. I have no memory of you getting me out, brother. But before he broke my grip I sought to choke him and that memory reached beyond his grave...and it was Diana I was choking who was coming to soothe my dreams, my awakening, and I did not know."
She watched as Jasmine and Hermes both took that in and their joyous attitude went to one of disbelief and fear.
"That is the other part, she has recovered as you all have...I have...after our fall. Something broke the hold of the Lethe here on me. I am back with the domain of Earth and it has not returned. Diana is recovered but, she sees her larger mission as a failure, over."
"But it can't be..." Jasmine whispered, "she...what she wanted..."
"More islands of life for mankind," Hermes whispered, "to her the chance happening that is regular and that Earth barely escaped many times...she will see it as her fault, her cause...civilization dealt a horrific blow, billions dead, to save her sister."
"You know her so well, brother," Athena whispered, "it is more than just that. She sought to finally thwart our father to give each of us the chance to have a normal life. Yet the reach of what he has done is, obviously, beyond simple means. I cherish her, comfort her, and seek to give her joy, but she is caught up in thinking that this is her failure and her fault, both. Yet it is neither."
"Diana..." Jasmine whispered, "shes so...strong..."
"And fragile," Hermes said, "even with what happened to her, her ways of a child are still not gone and may never be gone until all dies and even matter no longer exists. There were flaws in that simple approach, Jasmine, but it yielded so much...how could I gainsay success? It worked..."
"Continues to work," Athena said, "sorry this delay is slightly irritating. Diana set course to get someone on Earth to take some notice of us...to see if anyone was still there...I disagreed with it but, as you say my brother, it worked. To set your minds at rest, I know enough to put in the delay necessary for a course where we can count grains of moon dust as we pass by the Moon."
Hermes chuckled as he heard that and Jasmine smiled.
"Please do, sister! Diana is resting?"
"Yes, my brother. I will be getting her, ah, as involved as I can...ah, Jasmine you do understand, yes?"
"I would do the same if I was there," Jasmine said, "for all her strength of character and attitude, she is a lot of fun to be with. Remind her that it is time for hard work..."
"...then eat and play," Athena finished and smiled and saw Jasmine nod as she realized that Athena had talked over her, finished the sentence even as she was doing that.
"Anything else of note, my brother?"
Hermes inhaled and nodded.
"A bit. I'll send a compressed review of what we are sending out for the people of Earth. Someone needs to spread hope and we chose Ray Kaplan as the face of that. He is a very good man. In space, our brother's ship, Meridian, has checked out and Brent has gone through their recordings to fine tune the workings of the vessel. They are currently..." Hermes looked off screen, "...around the Moon checking out the Ascentech orbiter and lander missions there. They finished up the WorkPlat survey, and it looks good and is being powered up. You can find all that on the telemetry for the piloting area. The last part is the governor for New Mexico showed up in a helicopter to meet with Ray just an hour ago...no idea what that is about, but it is a good sign that more than just Hawaii, Alaska and Texas have made it through with some functioning government. At least enough to coordinate for telescope time and work with the satellite constellations. We are not out of the woods yet, to use a modern phrase, and this is still the dark time of Earth."
"I know a bit about civilization, brother," she said holding her thumb and forefinger barely an inch apart, "but you are doing right there. Hope first. Knowing that you aren't alone in misery helps ever so much."
"Yes, it does," Jasmine said, "let Diana know that...we will always have someone here for her if she wants to talk. And you. Or, ah...both...I think I can handle that..." she said with a bit of uncertainty at the end.
"Oh, you can, don't worry," Hermes said, "you are my brother's daughter, and he has raised no fearful idiots. Although we don't know if Nicholas, his son, and his wife made it through."
"Send my understanding and love to him and Gemma."
"I will," Jasmine said looking at Hermes who nodded.
"I'll sign off here, and get Brent over, in case you run into any problems on the course correction."
"Yes, my brother. That is next. OASIS I over and out."
She put the terminal on standby and then lifted the sound barrier and shut the small lights down. After that she pushed to the forward cabin and the pilot's seat to strap in and call up the course alternatives that Diana had laid in, and chose the one with a wide margin for safety. There was just a minor change from the ion engines as that happened and Athena smiled.
"I am coming to like this space travel. Really, I do have to learn more about it."
"...and my wife Darlene," Ray said introducing the woman who was dressed in a dark red pantsuit to his wife at the Ascentech Hangar Office.
"Pleased to meet you, Gov. Oroko," Darlene said shaking her hand.
"And me to meet you, Mrs. Kaplan," Fernanda Oroko said.
"My General Manager, Harry Nordhaus," Ray said.
Harry reached across the table to shake hands.
"Its good to have you here, Governor," he said.
"Glad to be here, Mr. Nordhaus."
"Dennis and Gemma Pennerton, heads of SLSR's Space Habitat Engineering group, and both in charge of our current agricultural work," Ray said.
"I hope your trip was well," Gemma said.
Fernanda shrugged, "It could have been worse, much worse," she said softly.
"I have no doubt, Governor," Dionysus said reaching out to shake her hand, "this is a hard time to live through."
She gave a pressed smile and a short nod.
"Finally Mary Weingarten, General Manager of Z-Flight locally and head of the spaceport integration project," Ray said looking at the well tanned woman who had been through much, and had herself volunteered to start changing the operations by the multiple companies at the spaceport.
"Pleased to meet you, Gov. Oroko," she said
"The same," Fernanda said with a smile.
Fernanda looked at the group of business people, engineers, managers, and hands-on technical staff present in the office.
"I brought Charlie Renton with me, he was the Assistant Speaker at the Legislature and was vacationing near our cabin when the CME hit. I tried to direct evacuations but..." Fernanda shivered remembering the scene on the third night and watching the flames jumping from building to building, and people screaming for help when they weren't just running in terror, "...my chief of staff shoved me into a helicopter and told the pilot to get me the hell out of there."
"Pleased to meet you all," Charlie said, "I had just caught the flu and my family demanded some time from me, and since no real important legislation was moving through, I decided I could be spared."
"That and getting your re-election campaign going," Darlene said with a smile and Charlie smirked and nodded.
"That, too," he whispered.
"Sit down, please," Ray said, "we do have coffee to go around, and some chips with salsa to the side. We're a good two months from growing our own plants for the salsa, and what's in stock won't last and be fresh for much longer."
"Ice water and tea are also available to the side," Gemma said, "though it is unsweetened as we can't use sugar like we did."
"Nor salt," Dionysus said.
"Thank you, can Jason, my pilot..." Fernanda started.
"Welcome here, but I think he would like some time looking around, and I'm sure that Thad will be glad to show him around, and he can have the run of our small commissary area."
"You are most gracious, thank you, Mr. Kaplan," Fernanda said.
"We got word a bit earlier that a few parts of the State government are working," Ray said, "but nothing direct. I take it the full government didn't fare well?"
Fernanda looked at Charlie as he stood up to get some iced tea and she just indicated for ice water.
"No, it didn't, Mr. Kaplan. This late in the year fire can be a real hazard and...modern buildings...even with suppression systems..."
"Those are meant to slow down large fires or put out small ones. Once," Mary said softly, "Fires that have already started and are moving can be held up by them, but only if there is a good firefighting response can they be stopped."
"They couldn't be stopped and...I had thought that getting the legislature to...attend to business was very important. I'm afraid that I'm responsible for a number of deaths because of that."
Charlie put the glass of water down for her and set his own glass of iced tea down.
"No, you aren't, Fernanda. Our buildings weren't fire traps, but the cities..."
"Yes," Dionysus said, "no fault of yours in thinking cities will withstand anything. So durable on the outside, but take such great protection that we forget they are temporary to the elements that are everlasting."
"Governor, we each have to deal with those we haven't heard from or those we may have put at risk because of our decisions," Ray said, "my own grown children I haven't heard from them, nor Mary from her grown son, nor the Pennerton's from their grown son's family. We don't know what happened to them and while we hold out hope, we know that this is not a time to bet on survival if you aren't prepared for it."
"Yes, Mr. Kaplan," Charlie said, "even where we were at...a resort, really...it wasn't prepared to stand more than a few days of being without any connections to the outside. And Fernanda's family vacation home was close, and when I saw the helicopter landing at the clearing there, I decided that it was time to take my family to her."
He looked at her and she nodded.
"By good grace we have our families," Fernanda said.
"And now need to work hard to keep them together," Gemma said.
"Yes. I'm not just a politician and my powers as Governor rest on what I'm allowed to do. Yet the National Guard, I thought that they would be in a better position..."
"Only if they were prepared for it, Governor," Harry said.
Charlie looked at him and nodded.
"We've cobbled together some capacity, but...nothing would have stopped the fires once they started and the transmission ability of the 2 units that at least could get a few dozen people together is mostly gone. Back-up generators out of fuel...wasted trying to communicate for days when no one could."
"Its a shock, I know, Mr. Renton," Darlene said, "and when we first got here no one was making any plans. Yet Herman Lassiter and our largest investor, Diana Sherwood, plus their cousin Aaron Culpepper made the case for everyone here to at least get enough food, water and supplies laid in for a year of disaster, and more if we could afford it. We had to deal with the original founders of the spaceport to get them on-board..."
"I thought it was insane at the time, truthfully." She said, "But some of our technical staff started to chime in and they were in-favor of it, even willing to start their own family caches...then X-CAL signed on and we followed. Within 3 years we had supplies laid in for our personnel and operations."
Fernanda looked at her and then at the faces of the people sitting across from her.
"You aren't...this isn't an emergency for you?"
"Oh, no, Gov. Oroko, it is," Darlene said, "a horrific one and we've had suicides here and people just walk out, taking their personal vehicles and leaving. We are not immune to the horrors happening in the rest of the world. However we are not in a local emergency, but coping with the more general one in the very best way we know how. It is an emergency for the world, but for us it is just another damned obstacle being put down for us and we intend to get over it and past it."
"No, we aren't," Ray said, "we are addressing them."
"We heard your message...messages...a couple of days ago..." Charlie started, "there are a few places where they can't transmit anything, but have receivers, satellite dishes for television. Mostly remote homes, and one warehouse area miles from anything as it was a truck depot. Your message just repeats every few hours on the one channel, and the others...."
"Ray," Fernanda said, "a lot of people stopped running, stopped killing, when they heard you and hear you. Supermarkets have been raided, of course, stores cleaned out...but there are stores that sell lumber, hardware, fittings, pipe...home improvement stores...I've seen them where people have organized around them, protect them and then show what can be done with modest amounts of material. One area was close to where, well, call them rioters but they were mostly just seeking to steal anything, kill for food, where they were stopped permanently by a group surrounding a store like that."
Ray looked down the table and saw Dionysus and Gemma look at each other with a smile.
"In fact that is how we contacted the Texas government and that's why I'm here. There are generators that we can get working again, but no fuel. We can't go far with that as we don't have any large supply of transformers around, but even in just a few neighborhoods, there is that need and Texas is willing to supply fuel from their working refineries for that purpose. They would like to put a depot in here at the spaceport so that they don't have to go all the way north, but can have a central distribution point here."
"Mary?" Ray asked.
She looked at him.
"I'm just the one doing the external stuff, along with some other necessary things. I really don't see a fuel depot in the vicinity of the spaceport as a problem, and Ascentech can donate land to that purpose. What we will need is to divert labor for it, and I don't want that to interfere with our survival here."
Fernanda exhaled as she realized she had been holding her breath.
"No, we don't want to stop your work or hurt it," she said, "we can get some people together to do this, although we will need to go further south to get some heavy equipment."
"That we can lend you, Governor," Mary said, "and we are short on labor in many areas. If you can supply the labor, we can loan you vehicles, and if Ray has land for you, then it should be OK."
"Good," she said with visible relief, "now there is one other topic. The President has declared this a National Emergency and is wanting to use facilities to organize for a recovery effort."
Ray shook his head, "We haven't heard of that, Governor. Plenty of military sites they can use, even ones nearby."
"Ah, Ray, they are looking at the spaceport as hub out to the southwest beyond Texas."
Ray leaned forward.
"Does he have anything signed off by Congress for this?" he asked softly.
"No," Charlie said in a whisper.
Ray shook his head.
"Governor does it look to you like the spaceport is in a crisis? I'm more than willing to give you a tour of it, so you can see for yourself as we are a bit out from the center of it."
She looked at Charlie who nodded.
"I would like that, quite a lot, actually."
"Good!" Ray said with a smile, "Because I expect to have your signature on a document saying so. Then we'll contact the sheriff's office to let him know we are still working to keep things in order and enjoy working with his deputies."
Fernanda frowned as he spoke.
"But why, Ray?"
Ray smiled for a moment and then sat back.
"Because I'm also Col. Kaplan of the local militia and my job...my duty...is to protect the lives, families and works of the people who live here. Not to hand them over to any government, yours included."
"But, Ray, its perfectly reasonable..." Fernanda started.
"No, its not," Harry said.
Charlie and Fernanda looked at him.
"Congress has not authorized any such thing," Harry started, "and at this point does any legislative body have that sort of legitimacy considering what has happened? The majority of those that elected them are dead or fleeing their homes because of the decisions that were made or not made to prevent this."
"That's the thing," Darlene said, "you came here asking for help, Governor Oroko. And Ray got elected,"
"Stuck with the job," Ray said shaking his head.
"Dear, you are very good at what you set your mind to," Darlene said looking at him and then back to Fernanda, "He was elected after the CME to organize the protection of the spaceport and help get its internal works going. You aren't telling us what to do, Governor, and we welcome anyone who wishes to work with us."
"Most welcome," Gemma said softly.
"You see, Governor," Dionysus said leaning forward, "Ray is doing this not because he wants to, but because we asked him to do it. This is a hard decision and it effects every man, woman, child, ship, building, power supply, water supply, indeed everything that hard work has put into place here. You do not go from dusty road to spaceport without a lot of hard work being put into it. Survival is very hard work and we know how to survive and not screw it up that badly."
Ray chuckled, "We still make mistakes, but we do learn from them," he said and then turned to the Governor.
"You see there is this little document we agreed to live under, called a Constitution. To take land requires the State to agree to it, and an act of Congress to request it. With your signature, you are saying that this is well run private property that is, at the same time, welcoming to those who wish to help us. We aren't up for grabs, especially power grabs. And the militia will resist with all we have."
"And then some," Dionysus whispered.
"Living within the Constitution, Governor," Harry said, "and you may want to read it just a bit further in that first part and go past all the things it allows. It is speaking to you and our situation right now."
"To our situation? But how can it do that? It was not made when there was such technology, such conditions..."
"Ah, you see, Governor," Dionysus said, "there are two unchanging things it addresses. Man and Nature. I've given it a perusal myself, here and there, and I will say it isn't all that bad a job in addressing them, although there are many, many worse ones, as numerous as grains of sand on the beach."
"You would put your lives on the line for this?" Charlie asked.
"Sure. If they start seizing property without due process of law, then that is part of your life they are taking. The next thing is your entire life, and that isn't far behind. Better to get that settled now, during hard times, so that we can work to more civilized ones with that as a basis of understanding."
"They have tanks, aircraft, missiles...Ray...I thought that you would be reasonable," Fernanda said.
"And I am! You came to me asking for help, Governor. It sounds like they want to tell me what to do and you know something?"
Fernanda looked puzzled at him and shook her head.
"We have an entire Amendment that addresses THAT situation," Ray smiled.
"Besides," Harry said, "we have the one thing necessary in any fight."
"What's that?" Charlie asked.
Ray chuckled and nodded.
"The high ground."
Jasmine had her tablet system on a stand at the table as she slowly worked at the hunter's stew that she had started down at the outdoor kitchen for Event Horizon, which was tended by someone day and night for those coming in at odd hours from patrols. She had been working in the main area downstairs and got a chance to meet the State Governor who was being given a tour of the major part of the spaceport by Ray and a group of people he had chosen to meet with her. Event Horizon had become the one place that everyone knew they could get any news, get some decent food and check in with Tom Burke who was running the work clearing boards and helping with the design of new greenhouse systems and agricultural systems. This work was now extending out to local ranchers, farmers and those who owned property and were clearing it for use. Jasmine had been able to shift scouting and hunting duties for time at Horizon, so she could be present to keep the OASIS I and II links open. She had then been drafted by Tom, Dennis and Brent for different projects and was coming to think that she was better off scouting and hunting.
Marissa stepped out from the bathroom area with a green robe on and steam followed her as the hot water was supplied by the solar tanks on the roof, and she seemed a bit refreshed after her 3 day trip to meet local farmers and ranchers, do an exterior perimeter patrol, and to help fence off a portion of the extended spaceport for the small herd of cattle the spaceport had started to collect. Pigs, chickens, and even goats were now being tended to outside of the main spaceport environs, and Marissa's team was tasked with getting some help on the understanding of how to properly care for them. The knowledge was available amongst the spaceport crews, but insights into the particular environment of central New Mexico would help keep livestock healthy and that was something nearly no one had. Marissa was using a brush on her hair and she smiled looking at Jasmine.
"That smells delicious!" she said.
"Not bad," Jasmine said, "we really do have to get potatoes growing soon, plenty of buds and we're nearly completed with the local sheeting project.
Marissa smiled and moved to the chair across from Jasmine as she worked at tangles and snarls.
"Diana cut it back in August," she said, "and now its just at the point where I need conditioner but don't have any..."
Raising her eyebrows as she was taking a piece of venison from the stew, Jasmine looked at her as she chewed at the meat, nodding.
"If you want, I can do that for you," Jasmine said softly.
Marissa stopped brushing her hair and started taking the hair that had been pulled out by the brush from it, and put it in a robe pocket. Looking at Jasmine she smiled.
"I would like that," Marissa said in something above a whisper.
"Give me a moment," Jasmine said getting up from her chair to go over to the bathroom.
"Don't leave what you're doing for me," Marissa said.
"It's no bother," Jasmine's voice came out somewhat muffled from the bathroom.
When she returned she had the comb and scissors she used for cutting her own hair.
"Let me use the comb," Jasmine said, "I can find the snarls and see if they can be worked out, first, before cutting."
"OK," Marissa said as she felt a towel drop around her shoulders and then saw Jasmine putting another on the floor behind the chair. Jasmine worked first with the surface hair and then slowly, stroke by stroke, deeper, stopping when she found a snarl.
"Sorry for the pulling," Jasmine whispered.
"I don't mind," Marissa said. Slowly she relaxed as Jasmine continued to comb and work out snarls.
"Jasmine?" she asked softly.
"Why did you...want me here?"
There was a silence as Jasmine slowly slid the comb through a section of hair.
"You mean with me?"
"I guess that, yes. And, you know?"
"Work routine, you know? Its habituating after a few nights."
Marissa closed her eyes.
"So just...for that?"
She felt Jasmine slide her fingers up under her hair and they gently massaged her scalp and she moaned softly.
"No, Marissa. I researched you with Diana. I know what you did, how you operated...and what you were probably looking for, too."
Marissa winced but she didn't hear any malice or hatred in Jasmine's voice.
"I don't...understand..." Marissa said as she felt Jasmine continue with the combing, though much slower.
"That was a very brave thing to do, Marissa. Incredibly stupid if you meant to harm her, you know?"
"Yes," Marissa sighed and realized the effect this was having on her.
"And for dirt it would either be Liza or Candice, and Diana ruled out Liza and said you wouldn't be able to find her."
"No, I couldn't," Marissa said and opened her eyes, "but you knew what went on, didn't you?"
Jasmine worked at another snarl and this one she had to clip out.
"Oh, in some detail on the events side, yes. Herman, Regina, my folks, Aaron, Tamara, Nuada, Mel...the actual events, of course, I knew. So I knew what Candice knew, and Liza knows, and Diana would not tell me details of her relationships...say, that is one of the big reasons I wanted you here."
"It is?" Marissa said with a soft start as she heard the scissors near her left ear cutting at a tangle that was just too bad to tease out.
Jasmine looked around to look at Marissa.
"Here's a question for you, and you don't have to answer. Ever. Would you ever say what the personal details of your relationship with Diana actually are?"
Marissa shivered and slightly shook her head.
"No," she whispered, "not ever."
"Same here," she said shifting back to stand up straight and continue working on Marissa's hair. "And Candice didn't tell you any of those juicy details, did she?"
Frowning Marissa thought for a moment and then said, "No, she didn't. Always...avoided that."
"That is a major fact. I would never invite anyone in my life who would try to pry such details out of me. It has been a real killer on possible relationships and partners..." Jasmine sighed, "...Regina can because Herman and Brent respect her no end. Same with Aaron and Tamara. And I think something a bit more complex is at work with Nuada and Mel, but them, too."
"So because I can keep a secret?" Marissa asked.
Chuckling Jasmine looked around from the right at Marissa.
"I know your career, Marissa. But it isn't that, not one piece of that. Imagine if you had told someone about details, how would you feel about yourself?"
Marissa had never thought about that and with that question she saw a vast abyss open in front of her.
"I would have just betrayed...who I am. Our relationship. Its...I wouldn't be able to live with it," she said staring straight ahead. Slowly Jasmine came around to get in her line of vision and then stoop down, with her arms on her shoulders.
"I know," she whispered, "it wouldn't be betraying her. But making yourself worthless to yourself. I will never ask you about what you did that is personal, Marissa. It isn't about secrets."
Looking at her, Marissa nodded.
"Its about...so much more..."
Slowly Jasmine shifted her legs around and straddled Marissa and settled on her lap.
"You gave up the life you had," she said softly, "and took a new life she held out to you."
Marissa shifted her arms around Jasmine's back as she came closer.
"And so did I, Marissa. Its very scary moving into a new life, a new future. I couldn't let you do that alone because I saw that you wanted to lose yourself in work. Someone had to remind you about you. I wouldn't have anyone else like this, save Diana, and when we sleep together in her room we have made, she is there with us even when she is farther away than any other has gone."
Marissa leaned forward to hold Jasmine and she held Marissa.
"Thank you, Jasmine," she whispered.
"Always," Jasmine whispered, "you are someone worth holding on to. You wouldn't be here if you weren't."