Chased to a mountain the figure outstretched its arms and went aloft.
"You cannot reach me here!" it said in a great booming voice with an abundance of laughter.
Then came the droning sound, the wings of millions, and the hunt was on anew. First the ones from nearby and then the swarms came. Flies, bees, hornets...if it could take to wing and reach then it was there and the figure found that every mighty sweep, every gesture, every motion of wind that it sought to diffuse the swarm only brought more with it. They didn't stop at skin, or eyes, but worked into ears, nose, mouth and soon each orifice and the winged burrowers then found home and the screams arrived. Thrashing from the sky, dropping, the hawks and eagles appeared, then vultures and ravens and soon the feasting began before the figure even reached the ground. And the red one leading this, she had bounded down the mountainside and ensured that the remains held no life as the swarm destroyed it.
Then it was the one in the cavern, sinuous and twisting with its coils, claiming that none would dare follow it. And yet she that was red death of nature did follow it, and the hunt took on form here, as well. Rats, mice, weasels, spiders and anything that could crawl into or through the living ground arrived and the hissing and then howls of agony came soon after as the red swarming of the hunt consumed it.
In waters came the sharks, orca, sperm whales and then the schools of fish that preceded the great squids, and then a veritable monster from the depths that had teeth bigger than the head of a giant. The hunt had called and all that could partake did so, to pull power apart as well as flesh and return both to nature, leaving nothing to come back in its prior form nor in any form at all.
When led by simple beings who had simple ideas of what a hunt was, the Wild Hunt had just one form. When the fallen one of the forest came, she knew what all hunts were and they took all forms from the greatest to the smallest and her knowledge created the worst form of Wild Hunt that there ever was or ever would be. Because she knew of hunts in their forms at all levels, the power of the Wild Hunt clung to her as armor, shield, and a panoply of weapons that would only be destroyed by a dying star. Then, even then, so long as things lived and hunting was used to live, the hunt itself would not end. No dimension could stop it, no amount of pleading nor brandishing of power could end it, the only thing that could end the Wild Hunt was lack of things to hunt.
And she could not be killed.
Only when the Hunt was satiated and all that it sought were gone did the girl who had become the center of it get left in the forest, a lean and hungry girl but one who had her spirit dissolved by the blood she had shed. She could barely remember what it was to be civilized, and then she remembered one person who had it worse than her.
"Athena," she whispered in her sleep.
"I am here, beloved," came the sure and steady voice and the dream of the Hunt melted away and Diana awoke in zero-g to look at her sister.
"I could not kill my way to bring you back," Diana said softly, "if there was I would have done so."
Athena smiled drawing close to her.
"No you couldn't," Athena said to her, "instead you did something that no one would dare attempt. And succeeded."
Diana closed her eyes and shook her head.
"You were the heart of civilization, sister. I take you to save you and...look what I caused."
"Even if so, Diana, those that remain have a chance at a better life. But only if we do not give up on them. What there was and is now lost, can be remade into something firmer, better and open to all of us, both human and olympian. We are their kin. I can't turn my back on them now, that we are all so close to that future. We must bridge that gap and help them in that, together. If we dare to but try then we may find success, but if we turn away failure is guaranteed."
Diana opened her eyes to look at Athena.
"You are the best of us, my sister. How could I ever say no to you?"
Gently Athena opened up the webbing and slid her arms around Diana.
"I said no to you once, my sister. The price was horrific, and you paid it in full. Now we must redeem our payments together with our brothers, our sisters, our families that we build. Can you let go of the pain you feel to help in this, sister?"
Diana nodded once.
"Yes, of course,"she whispered, "Because I could see what is possible even though I do not like cities and the forms they took. Many have been lost, but...perhaps the pain can be assuaged by helping the bereft who live to make a new life for themselves."
Athena smiled, pulling them closely together.
"Would you like to make a new life with me? Here amongst the stars?"
Diana slowly embraced her sister.
"Please..." she said, the dream fading, the memories still clear because they were the things that nightmares could never approach. Soon she was asleep again, with warmth that kept all nightmares at bay.
"Dear god, you could almost reach out and touch it," Karl said after he got out of his seat to look out the cockpit window.
Below them was the Ascentech Lunar processor and head end of the accelerator that went over 60' until it reached the main control platform for power, direction and mapping. They were pinned just 40' above this part of the system, which had its own solar panels extended. As they watched a small rover with its own system of panels moved to the hopper for regolith which had 3 levels of sorting mesh as well as vibratory systems to break up an agglomerations of material that could be shaken apart. Material too large for the system went up a metal conveyor and off to the side, where a pit was excavated for that by the rovers. These 2 had come down with the head end and Kevin was collecting telemetry from the system as well as its visual feeds.
"If you did and fell through the interface," Ares started and then stopped and looked over at Karl. "You know, I have no idea what would happen to you, but I don't think it would be pretty."
"Aye, that's a fact. Just the transient compression and expansion along the side, would do more than just distort colors a bit. Distorting my body like that wouldn't leave me much of a body."
"Shear forces would kill you pretty much instantly," Kevin whispered as he watched the rover level view from the second rover that was working on a trench to push tailings into. Plus it had a chance to use its sensors to see if there was any sub-surface ice or other volatiles when it did that. "What we see is just when all the distortions get corrected for going through the interface, but that is not a straight path. All the frequencies going through it experience a good 20 to 30 feet of distance travel before it comes out into the internal frame. Electrons and photons are easy to move around, large numbers of atoms less so. Going straight through, even along the sides, would not be possible."
"Who knew that just playing with charges could do so much?" Karl whispered.
"Someone did," Ares said watching one screen with the head end of the processor in view and another that was split to show multiple viewpoints from the cameras there, "and investigated natural phenomena and took accounts just at face value, not as something fantastical."
"The head end is still adjusting, slightly, but nothing outside of what was expected. There is a bit more slope in the crater than we thought there was, so that is causing just a bit of platform orientation problems. Auto-compensation is taking care of it, though. It was actually designed so that it could move and deliver regolith at the same time, so it is a robust platform. It would have to detach segments to get out of the crater, but that is designed into the system, too. That main package scout rover is doing its job, and moving some material to help flatten out the delivery end."
"She's a beaut, that's for sure," Karl said, "have to hand it to Bill and Alice, they made one pretty little start-up system here."
"They also cadged off of every free design they could get their hands on, plus worked to identify the problems others had with their mobile landers and attend to them. The entire system can even put a static charge on dust adhering to it and then repel that out. This system is not going to have to worry about that phenomena. Still this is a unique environment to run even this arrangement. The next one probably won't have any carbon fiber materials in it, though."
"Not enough carbon material for the WorkPlat?" Ares asked.
"Oh, that's part of it, Aaron. The main thing is that these are rocks rich with aluminum and iron, coming from the old crustal material that was thrown off when Thea hit Earth. A lot of silicates with aluminum, magnesium and iron in them, and it will be cheaper and easier to make the rest of what we want out of those materials. More mass, but extremely easy to get. Once it is scaled up, of course."
"A small fly in a big pot of ointment," Karl said shaking his head and then pulling himself back along the side of the cockpit, past Kevin's area and back to his own, where he strapped himself in.
"I just wish we had more nanosats, though," Kevin whispered.
"Oh, plenty enough tuna and cat food cans will be available in a few months as raw material for those on Earth, I betya. Just a sad bit of clean-up work for the next century or so to deal with."
"We'll get by," Ares said, "just one of those pieces of stupidity leading to a fall. There have been lots of those in history."
"Right," Kevin said,"Einstein said that there were only two infinites in the universe: space and stupidity. And he wasn't so sure about space."
"Captain Frank, was it?" Ray asked the clean shaven man in army fatigues as they sat down in the meeting room at the Event Horizon.
"Yes, sir. Captain Dan Frank, Army Provisional Interior Forces, Liaison for Brigadier General McKay."
"Ray Kaplan, President and CEO of Ascentech, head of the spaceport security and external affairs," Ray said extending his hand.
"Sir, aren't you a Colonel in your local militia?" Dan asked.
"Yes, I am, Capt. Frank, if you want a salute I'll give you one, but I prefer a hand shake. I thought I had a busy life before this, and didn't know the meaning of the word busy, obviously."
Captain Frank nodded and shook Ray's hand.
"This is Tom Burke, VP from X-CAL one of the founding companies of the spaceport."
"Glad to meet you, Capt. Frank," Tom said shaking Dan's hand.
"After him is Herman Lassiter, President of Highflight, and the Internal Affairs person here."
Hermes smiled and shook Dan's hand.
"It's good to meet you, sir," Dan said.
"Same here, Captain," Hermes said.
"Next to him is Darlene, my wife, who you met on the way here," Ray said, "and next to her is Mary Weingarten of Z-Flight, the head of our spaceport integration team."
"Pleased to meet you, Ma'am," Capt. Frank said.
"Thank you, Captain," she said softly.
"And last is Dennis Pennerton, our agricultural systems specialist," Ray said.
Dionysus shook Dan's hand and then handed him a glass of iced water.
"Thank you, Mr. Pennerton," he said taking the glass and sipping from it.
Ray gestured for everyone to sit down and he looked at Dan as people got settled.
"We heard you were coming from the Governor," Ray said.
Dan shook his head affirmatively. "Yes, sir."
"We don't mind if you travel through here, Capt. Frank. More than welcome to, in fact."
"Yes, sir," Dan said, inhaling slowly.
"I take it you have other orders?" Tom asked.
He looked at Tom and nodded. "Yes, I did. You have a good and functioning installation here, Mr. Burke, and..."
"It's not my installation, Dan," Tom said, "X-CAL is just one of the founding companies here, and even before all of this went on, we found ourselves and the remaining founding companies were being outnumbered and outspent by Ascentech and Highflight. They had on-going monthly and even weekly operations, with a ramp up to 24/7 in the offing. I'm more the financial person here and that is because of X-CAL having a few accounts in Texas banks, which means we still have some capital available, although I'm not so sure it will buy anything."
"Z-Flight dropped under 5% stake in the spaceport at the start of this year," Mary said, "and we were probably headed towards bankruptcy. We maintained a presence on the coordinating board, but there aren't enough members of that to meet, since I wasn't on it."
Dan took a sip of water and looked around the table.
"Besides," Hermes said in a soft tone, "you surely have other places in operation that dwarf ours?"
"Or did someone forget to think about secondary induced electrical current when a surrounding mountain is acting like a conductor?" Ray asked.
"We have noticed that Cheyenne Mountain isn't responding to anyone," Darlene said softly, "or NSA installations. Or Ft. Huachuca. I'm sure you had preparations for something like a Carrington Event?"
"Yes, Ma'am, we did. But it has caused problems that no one could actually model before it happened."
"That's the problem with disasters," Dionysus said, "they just never do what you think they will do."
"We do have some ops up, and we are trying to get the GPS system fully operational," he said.
"You have satellites, but no way to loft them?" Ray asked.
"Oh, we have satellites, but they have to be fully checked out as they weren't properly shielded from ground current effects. Nor were the launch vehicles."
"You do have orders for here, yes?" Ray asked.
Dan reached into his pocket and handed them to Ray who opened them and read them, and then smirked.
"Capt. Frank, may I ask you a question?"
"Ah, I guess so, sir. I mean as long as it isn't..."
Ray waved his hand for a moment and handed the orders to Tom who started reading them and shook his head.
"How many people have you personally been involved in saving the last month? God is it a month already? It feels like a year," Ray ended in a whisper.
'Oh, uh, after fighting fires in the District..."
"DC?" Mary asked as the orders went to Hermes who gave them a quick perusal and handed them on to Darlene.
"Yes, Ma'am. We had to work on saving a corridor in and out of DC."
"In god's name, why?" Tom asked.
"Command and control, sir. Continuity of government."
Darlene handed the orders to Mary as she just stared at Capt. Frank.
"So you saved some buildings, and some members of Congress, yes?" Dionysus asked as he looked at Dan.
"Yes, sir. There was a break going on, and it was mostly staff in DC, but a few Congressmen and Senators were also in town."
Mary handed the orders on to Dionysus who pressed his lips together while reading them.
"So, the President, Vice-President, families of them and the same for some members of Congress and staff. Perhaps, at most, 5,000 people when you include Secret Service and other members of government who were there?"
"Maybe, sir, I never thought of it like that."
"And afterwards?" Mary asked.
"I had to help get the Provisional Command set up," Dan said, "since NORTHCOM wasn't responsive."
Dionysus set the orders down and slid them across the table to Capt. Frank.
"I see..." Ray started, "I've been busy here trying to get comms up and running as far as humanly possible. Locally Gov. Oroko accounts for maybe 30 groups that have co-opted home improvement stores and are now working to get people started on putting up ways to grow food during the winter. That is probably about 100 people per store, and they represent a family of, say, an average of 3 per person. Lets ballpark that up to easy numbers, and call it 10,000 people using our information output. Per day. New Mexico is neither large nor small on the population scale, and once you discount Texas, Alaska and Hawaii as handling their own affairs, you have 47 states and if even half of them in the Mid-West and South West can get any reception at all and have anything like this response, that is 240,000 people rough estimate. Per day. In the US."
Capt. Frank started blinking and nodding.
"Winter is coming on so that won't be a highly successful project in some places. But for each family that can start to sustain itself and not fall back to fighting for food, that is about 2-3 family members per month per family saved that will not be killed for their food, although they may die of starvation or trying to steal it. Average that to, say, 8 people not suffering human predation over the next 6 months for each person fending for themselves. Close to 2 million people."
Ray leaned forward to Capt. Frank.
"I thought you had a duty to the US Constitution, Captain."
"I do, sir."
"This spaceport has not had war declared on it, it has not been invaded, it is not performing an insurrection, it is not advocating the overthrow of the government but normal elections to get a representative government back together. And it should be noted that the US, as a whole, is not undergoing an invasion, insurrection, mutiny, secession or any other thing like it. Congress has not and cannot order these operations on US ground. That power is not granted to the President, either."
Capt. Frank nodded.
"I do have my orders, sir," he said softly.
"And you are also to remember Nuremberg and Jerusalem, Captain," Darlene said softly.
"Remember," Hermes said, "those numbers are for just the US. We are coordinating with other countries because if we don't, the catastrophe will be far worse than it already is. I suspect the death toll is close to 3 billion people at this point."
"We are doing something about it," Mary said softly.
"You see, Captain Frank," Dionysus said, "its like this. We are obeying the law, here. And we are also obeying our conscience so that we can sleep at night. Desperately we are trying to get other Nations to respond, to get their communications systems back up at even low power. You want to take this spaceport over to make it a launching site for a few satellites and try to get the rest of your military hardware operational. And if there was an invasion, that would be laudable."
"There isn't," Ray said in a cold tone. "And someone once said something about never letting a good crisis go to waste. He isn't in office any more. It seems that the tradition is continuing on. I'm sorry but your orders are invalid."
"Sir, be reasonable, we can offer capability..."
"No, you can't," Tom said, "otherwise you would be using White Sands, Edwards or Area 51. You aren't doing that. Nor are you using Nellis. Even Dayton offers capacity we don't have if it is working. Same with the Kennedy Space Center which Houston hasn't been able to raise and they've already lost one party going by boat to find out what is up with Florida."
"We are the ones asking you to be reasonable," Hermes said with a soft smile.
"But this offers the perfect staging point..." Capt. Frank said.
"Just one problem," Ray said.
"What's that, sir?"
"It is already owned and certified not to be in a crisis or an emergency. It is private property and we will not have troops stationed on it. We will not give it up to you, to the US government and we will work with the government of New Mexico if they need help in performing certain tasks so long as it is not to renege on their property certifications. The road did not invest in this place. The State did not build the buildings, build launching facilities, storage facilities, pipelines, generators, houses, bars...and the hangar we bought was condemned some decades ago. This is not just a place, Capt. Frank. This is our life and our life savings."
"You will kill us just as surely as if you put a bullet through our heads," Tom said softly.
"And do note, even with military proficiency," Dionysus said with a smile, "who is coming to whom here. There is one side of this that obviously knows what it is doing and the other fumbling its way to something else."
"But we can do so much good with this place," Dan said looking at them.
"I've been working to save 2 million people and maybe as many as 50 million globally, Dan," Ray said leaning back. "We all have. Your numbers are pitiful. You should be out trying to help every county get a militia started and to start safeguarding homes while building ways to feed those people who survive. Go big or go home. You aren't going big. I AM. Is that clear?"
Capt. Frank swallowed and nodded.
"You can transit military hardware through here, and personnel for it separately, which includes their small arms being separated save for side-arms, one per person. We will inspect each transport, to ensure it is locked down and you will delay transits by a half-hour between hardware and personnel with side-arms only. You may only stop for vehicular breakdown and then we will tow it out and charge you for that."
"Sir that's unreasonable...there isn't another place like this..."
Hermes leaned forward.
"Why aren't you trying to save the personnel inside Cheyenne Mountain?" he asked softly, "all their external comms are down but surely they have secondary generators on the inside. Or have you already started to write-off your comrades-in-arms who might still be alive?"
"I don't know," Dan said softly as he took the orders up from the table.
"We are armed and will defend our property and our lives as this is all we have. Everything at our disposal will be utilized against all parts of the military that are in this chain of command that are following these illegal orders," Ray said in a quiet, even tone. "Because this is a power grab. And I'm having none of it. I suggest you consider your Oath to the Constitution and ask if you actually know what it means to live by it. And die by it."
Ray stood up as Capt. Frank pocketed the orders after re-folding them.
"We will help any willing to work hard," Ray said, "who have technical skill and wish to build a new future with us. And until a new election is run, the current governments of this planet have forfeited their legitimacy, save in those places where they are helping their people to survive. We include New Mexico in that latter group. Texas. Alaska. Hawaii. We are working hard to get contacts up with Arizona, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wyoming. Do you know why, Captain?"
Capt. Frank stood up as did the others.
"No sir, why?"
"Because my bet is that you went to Texas first and they gave you their motto."
Captain Frank's lips twitched suppressing a smile.
"We are going to help Texas get refined crude to the breadbasket States and we will damned well punch convoys through any resistance we meet along the way. We are preparing to do that NOW, not play power games. If we can get even 20% of the crops next year that we got this year, and mill it to flour, then there is a slim chance that the US might just not fall under 100 million people left alive. If it can then be distributed. And if your command doesn't have plans like ours, then you just might want to think about which side is fighting for civilization and which is seeking power."
Capt. Frank stood straight and saluted Ray and Ray returned it.
"Yes, sir. Thank you for the invitation, sir. I'll spread the word."
"You do that, son. And I suggest that the moment you resign you get far away from all the military hardware that your general has been gathering. A not so pretty sight may be happening soon, and I don't want to hurt good people."
"I...sir? You don't have anything..."
"Dan, I'm trying to save millions and making headway on that project. I come prepared to a fight, too, always have since I was a kid on the bad side of the tracks walking to dad's aviation business. Someone is not letting a crisis go to waste and they want to steamroller me. With tanks. They will get what is coming to them in a way that makes my point directly, bluntly and permanently. And if you couldn't take Texas then you sure, as hell, won't take me."
"It's...large," Athena whispered to herself from the pilot's seat as she looked at the radar returns of they approached OASIS II.
"Yes, it is," Diana said sitting in the co-pilot's seat, "And we will need some additional clearance on the portion where the Athena I's are."
Athena glanced to where Diana was indicating on the left hand screen.
"I couldn't believe that Hermes named these after me..." she said with a smile. "Using attitude thrusters."
Diana had been schooling her sister on the basics of flight mechanics for OASIS I, and had been using the pilot and co-pilot's positions forward in their training mode ever since turn-over.
"He didn't. Ares did as a suggestion to him and they both agreed on it. Even after the prototype broke-up, they stuck with the name."
Athena's smile widened as she watched the profile outline clear OASIS II. "And another 30' for Athena II," she said.
"Yes, make it 35' just to make sure. There is plenty of space between the 2 of the Athena I systems, but it is best to give a few feet of extra clearance to be safe. They've tucked the panels in to give us maximum clearance."
"They aren't as large, either of them, as Meridian, though," Athena said as she stopped the drift the thrusters had given and looked at the main screen.
In 3-way split screen she could see Kevin Penk, the exterior of OASIS II, and the bottom held the framework display of their passage.
"Roger that, OASIS II," Diana said, "we will do an end-for-end swap once we are fully clear of you, over."
"Copy that, OASIS I. You are all green and good to go."
On the exterior shot Athena shifted to one of the camera balls that was able to give both of the stations in profile view.
"Oh! And I thought OASIS I was large!" Athena said softly.
"It is. OASIS II is just scaled up. Hermes and Brent have designed it so that it can use the OASIS I outer containers to put all the mid-sized containers from the ALV-II out at a distance from the station and then interconnect them. OASIS I would effectively become a part of and secondary control system for OASIS II and disappear as an entity. Then using thrusters to spin the arrangement, centripetal force would give perhaps 25% g-force, which is necessary for our kin because their bodies do not maintain as ours do."
"What you are attempting here is just beyond words, beloved," Athena said tearing her gaze from the main screen and back to the flight controls. "Just another minute and then it is the rotation and adjustment to bring the two forward sections into alignment."
Diana checked the controls in front of her and nodded.
"Nearly past us, OASIS I," Kevin said.
"Looking good, OASIS I," Ares said.
"Aye, it will be good to have company, at least, over," Karl said.
"Karl is the one who could see me? I mean before escaping Gaia's grasp?"
"Copy that, Karl. Lots of company to be had, over," Diana said looking at Athena.
"Yes he is. Saw you on Jasmine's system where the photo of you was displayed in the background. She knew you were there but couldn't see you. No one else could, either, although animals could as well as children, those near death, wracked by disease, or in some circumstances where your presence could be made to be felt. A part of you understood that if you were to try and interact more widely with our kin, that you would be disrupting their lives. You felt that was wrong to do."
"3...2....1....retro-thrust...and forward/rear side thrust. OASIS I is revolving end for end."
Athena watched the output and let her hands rest on the thruster controls waiting for the lines along the main axis of each station to come into parallel alignment. "And, braking thrust. Latitudinal thrust to come onto beam alignment. Rotating to bring main hatches into alignment."
"Excellent, OASIS I! That was a beautiful shift and good work on the matching, over," Karl said.
"Glad you like it, Karl," Diana said, "coming into final alignment, and then we will use thrusters to kill enough velocity for docking, over," Diana said.
Athena fidgeted a bit in the pilot's seat and sucked her upper lip in and bit it as she watched the approach.
"Just a tiny bit more," she said, and shifted the rear thruster dial down to give it a 1/10 second burst.
"Diana...it was wrong to intrude on the lives of our kin. They were oblivious to me and I couldn't...know why. I could be harming them if I tried to become a presence and...I couldn't remember who I was or even the day before."
"30 feet, closing...looking good... -3 degrees..."
"Copy that, OASIS II, over," Diana said as Athena gave the small thrust to rotate OASIS I around its main axis and then stop it.
"You are good and on alignment, over," Karl said.
"Roger that Karl, reading 15 feet...slowing..." Diana said and Athena gave a small burst from the forward thrusters, "...over."
"Good work so far, over," Ares said.
"High praise," Athena muttered to herself as she pressed her lips together.
"Stop that!" Diana said looking at Athena who gave a sly look back to her.
"5 feet...2 feet...connections have contact...1 foot...seals have contact...and interlocks engaged. Welcome to OASIS II!" Kevin said.
"Glad to be here," Diana said, "need to shut down and tidy up here. Moving our systems control over to you, OASIS II."
"Roger that, Diana," Karl said, "we have full power connections and we're starting to move air between us, balancing water and pressurized gases all looking good, over."
Diana unstrapped herself and helped Athena to do an active shutdown of the pilot's system. The overall schematic showed that OASIS II was now the piloting center for the two stations.
"Green and good, here Karl," Diana said as she looked at her sister who had sweat on her forehead and a smile on her face, "now let me get cleaned up here. Give me a half-hour, OK?"
"Anything you want, girl," Karl said.
"No problem, Diana. We will have to be leaving soon, though," Ares said softly over the intercom.
"Really?" Diana asked, "Why?"
"Someone is doing something stupid. We're going to be needed to keep them honest."
"Roger that, Aaron," Diana said, "I'll try to hurry. Diana, out."
Athena drifted into Diana's arms as Diana then used her foot to push them through the entryway. As they drifted back they started to take each others suits off.
"Its pretty itchy without the coveralls," Athena whispered.
"I know," Diana said raising her eyebrows, "but much, much better this way. Come, lets clean each other off...and get coveralls on."
Free of their suits they embraced and kissed each other softly, their suits began to trail them as each hung on to the others suit.
"Plus we need to be presentable," Athena said with a gasp.
"I promise I won't get you any sweatier than you are now...still...15 minutes should be enough..."
Tamara looked at the materials on the top part compartment of her pack and gave the entire pack a good shake to make sure nothing rattled. She looked over at Kyle who was sitting on the bed, had her hydration system filled and had it on his lap.
"Kyle would you attach that to the top of the pack and frame, and then check and make sure that I'm not missing anything?"
Kyle nodded and slid from the bed and stepped over to start looking over her top compartment while she went out and down the hall to the livingroom. There she saw that Mason and Margaret had her rifle case out and were checking the magazines, and stowing the extra ammo into specialized soft-sided pouches.
Mason looked up at her as she came in and Margaret was just moving the bipod mount out of its carrier and into the hard case for the rifle. While hard on the inside, its exterior was made with desert camo with padding that could serve different purposes, from being a quick firing mat if it had to be used on the run, to forming a small tent over the rifle if it had to be set up out in the open and have its shadow disappear.
"Tamara, I knew that Aaron had been training with you for some time," he said, "but I thought that was just with, ah, hunting rifles."
"Oh, we did those, too!" Tamara said brightly as she gave each of them a hug as she slid behind them on her way to the closet to pull out another can of ammunition, this one marked with red stickers on it that were partly worn off.
"I thought that something like this," Margaret said looking at the camo tape wrapped rifle with large flash hider at the end of the barrel and large scope sitting in its own compartment, "was too expensive to buy."
Tamara lugged one of the heavy cans out of the closet and then reached in to pull down a belt for her pistol and strapped that on over her desert camo clothing she wore.
"Oh, it does cost a bit," Tamara said, "and the ammo I did quibble about for awhile, too. After being with him on the range for more than just fun and games..." she sighed as she lugged the one can she had out over to the table and set it on the surface to open it, "...we started moving out to some pretty long distances and he thought I just might be able to handle more. He contacted one of his friends who had one of these," she pointed at the rifle, "plus the wind speed analyzer, sextant, pencil, paper, air pressure tables...everything you need to make some decent shots at a distance. A week of that, and some of the best earplugs I could buy as well as an extra pad for my shoulder, and I wanted one of these."
Margaret blinked as she looked at Mason.
"I warned you, dear, one of the best field managers I've ever met, next to Brent."
"Yes you did, Mason," Margaret said with smile and nod, "but that was before we got here, and I thought it was only the business-side of things."
Tamara chuckled as she pulled out a full magazine from inside the can and counted down the stack of ammo then slid the rounds out and repacked them with the one at the top now at the bottom. She handed 2 of the other magazines out to Mason and Margaret and did the 3rd and last one of 4 in the can herself.
"Brent is very good, even excellent in most things," Tamara said, "he is a good man and I'm glad we are part of an extended family now. We didn't really want to get involved while we were in DOGIS, mostly due to other family members and knowing one of us would have to leave for someplace else..."
Mason nodded as he looked at her.
"That would have been a hard loss for our field side then," he said softly, "either of you. Even with Brent officially at Highflight...that was a blow, but not one I couldn't recover from. What's going on now..." he shook his head.
"You've landed in the right place, Mason. If we survive. If not, then it wasn't meant to be," Tamara said as she watched them repack the magazines having finished hers.
"What's the red color at the tip mean?" Margaret asked.
"HE perpetrators Aaron cadged these from a buddy, and I didn't want to know. I'll be taking some of the dense core rounds, also, the ones where the lead peels off on armor but the core just ablates through it."
Shaking his head, Mason handed the magazine back to Tamara and Margaret did the same.
"Tamara...I never got to understand just what the position you hold in the local militia is..." he said.
"You're on a sniper team," Margaret said, "that's obvious, pretty much, but after that..."
"Full Lt. Colonel. Field Commander and second in command to Ray at least for the non-admin stuff. If anything takes him out, then they will have a real problem on their hands since they won't find me," she said taking the magazines and placing them in slots inside the case, and then closing the shell on the case, then zipping the outer padding closed, "but I will find them. It won't come to that, though."
Tamara smiled in a way that bespoke confidence not just in herself but in the situation as well.
"How can you say that?" Margaret asked, "I mean from what we've been able to figure out they have a good 10 or 15 tanks, a few APCs and maybe 6,000 people."
"Plus whatever the USAF has available. Even the Navy since it must have some assets available, still."
As she moved the case up she slid behind Margaret and Mason, putting her hands on their shoulders.
"Yes they do. And I have Ray and Aaron, and they have Meridian and the Rods from God. How do you stop something coming in at 20,000 miles per hour? And how can you target what you can't even see, but that can see you? We have left the 20th century behind in a permanent way now. Welcome to the 21st, which is already ugly and has paid a dear price for the 20th's lack of capacity. It's time for a change, and that is what we are about to deliver and that will be to the last of 20th century thinking doing something incredibly stupid. I would almost feel pity for them, if they weren't asking for it so badly."
She continued by, took the case up and took it to the hallway, to see that Kyle had finished his double-check and had her pistol out on the bed along with its magazine pouches. Kneeling down next to Kyle she checked the straps and made sure they were snug.
"All checked?" she whispered as she put her arm around his shoulders.
"Yeah, ma," he said softly and looked at her, "I wish you didn't have to go."
She smiled and kissed his cheek.
"Me, too. Still, we both have to do what we have to do, right?"
"AR checked and ready?" she asked softly.
"Yes, mom," Kyle said still gazing at her.
"Got the Remington out with the desert barrels?" she asked.
"Your backpack is provisioned?"
"Yes," he said inhaling and exhaling.
"Good! Take care of Mason, Margaret and Liza if she comes back. Nuada and Mel, too. Any of the family."
"Yes, mom, I will," Kyle said his breathing slowing as his mother placed her hands on his shoulders.
"And if you have to bug out?"
"Cache point 1," he said, "and get the mini-gun put together."
"The Ma-Deuce," he said with a twitch of a smile.
"Right. I hope it doesn't come to that, but its there if we need it. If they can't be made to see reason when their equipment is disabled, then it will get messy, Kyle. I might not be there to help you. You know who to go to then?"
"Uncle Herman," he said softly.
Tamara nodded and hugged him.
"Hopefully the reality of the situation will begin to set in."
"You gotta keep them honest," Kyle said as he let go of Tamara.
"And sometimes, beloved son, sometimes you have to make them pay."
"...its good to see you, Kevin," Diana said hugging the third man near the forward hatch of the connected OASIS systems.
As she let go she drifted towards the hatch and looked at the men.
"And I'd like to introduce you to my half-sister, Pallas Sherwood," she said as Athena appeared on the OASIS I side of the lock in its pilot area and drifted through to the other side.
"Wow," Kevin said looking at her.
"Now that's the lady I saw on Jasmine's system," Karl said with a smile.
"Hello cousin Pallas," Ares said smiling as he saw her come in and drifted towards her. The embrace between the two showed their kinship, and the striking features of face and size of body told much about how close they were, "I'm glad to have you back," he whispered next to her ear and she smiled, holding him tightly.
They held each other for a minute, slowly drifting and then parting enough to look at each other, smiling as they did so.
"When they made her, they broke the mold and then the guy who made it, just in case," Karl said in a whisper as he saw Diana smile at him, raising her eyebrows.
"In more way than one, Karl," Diana whispered moving to a handhold above the piloting area.
Ares slowly let go, and then they put hand to hand and pushed against each other so that Athena went towards Diana and Ares towards the pilot's seat.
"I've never seen anyone do that," Kevin said watching as Diana extended a hand out to Athena and slowly shifted to let her do a single rotation and grab on to the handhold that Diana had just pushed off from.
"Karl, this is Pallas... Pallas, Karl..."
Athena shifted from the handhold and pushed off to Karl's position just to her right and back, and he had to move to extend his arm as she came over to hug him.
"Much better than shaking hands, isn't it?" she asked with a smile.
"Aye, much, much better and its good to meet you. If you ever need someone to show you the sights back down on the ground, let me know...that is if there are any left to see..." he said softly and she nodded.
"I shall, don't worry Karl," she said in a soft tone with a smile and then slowly released him, shifted to a handhold and looked at Kevin who had drifted just a bit up and near the bulkhead behind the pilot's seats.
"And that is Kevin Penk," Ares said, "a good man with a good family..."
Again Athena shifted and Kevin watched her and shifted to get one foot on the bulkhead and one arm out as she approached.
"Hello there," Kevin said as she came to his open arm and she shifted to hug him, and they both slowly moved towards the bulkhead.
"And hello to you, Kevin," she said and felt him hug her in return and pressed herself to him for a moment before gently releasing him to get a handhold.
"You snuck her up, didn't you, Diana?" Karl said looking at Diana who nodded.
"Yes, the only way to get her up was via the CTD suit. Only left what was necessary for that and just a bit of sleeping was what was necessary to pass the time doing not very much."
"I wasn't even awakened until I was on OASIS I," she said.
Diana looked at her, nodding and then pushed off towards her and came to her open arms and the two of them embraced and shifted to take up handholds near them.
"You were always the graceful one, cousin," Ares whispered.
"There is just so much to do and learn up here! Everything from how to keep the air filtration system clean and working to the waste system all the way to engine near maintenance and orbital piloting..."
"How did you learn that?" Kevin asked softly.
"Diana taught me on the systems on OASIS I, putting me through simulator time. Why I did a good 50 or 60 dockings on simulators before she let me do the actual one."
The men lost their smiles looking at Athena.
"You..." Ares started.
"That was you..." Kevin started.
"Diana what..." Karl started.
"I was at the co-pilot controls ready to switch over in case anything went wrong," Diana said, "handled the comms for her so that she could concentrate on the docking."
Ares shivered as he thought about that, and the long hours of simulation time he had put in for the Athena systems, ALV-I piloted version, and both of the OASIS systems, plus Meridian.
"Really, its not that hard once you understand it," Athena said with a smile.
"You were running OASIS I for that?" Kevin asked softly.
"Its the only way to learn, isn't it? Skilled pilot and lots of simulation time?" Athena asked looking puzzled.
"Yeh, it is...its just most of us...ah screw it. It was a damned fine docking, Pallas. I thought for sure it was Diana..." he said looking at the two and the way they had arms around each others shoulders and how their sides were pressed to each other, "...and some people get all the luck, let me tell you," he finished with a whisper.
"So, cousin," Diana said looking at Ares, "just what is happening that Meridian is needed?"
Ares went still for a moment.
"Someone has ordered a military take-over of the spaceport for 'rescue and recovery' operations, but they aren't acting like this is about rescue or recovery. Ray is exhausting himself and doing more of that than just about anyone else right now, and the number actually trying it are probably less than a dozen that have any real comms ability."
"It probably has something to do with how the ground currents played with underground facilities, including the old NORAD site and SPACECOM. Military side there isn't much running, and that's probably due to lack of transformers, lack of transmission lines or just circuits being fried on big doors that are locked. Permanently locked," Kevin said, "There just isn't much communications traffic going on down there outside of a few isolated places."
"All fucked up," Karl said, "and someone sitting in an office somewhere wants something that works and doesn't care if he has to kill people to get it. Someone not used to hearing the word 'NO' very often, perhaps. Someone with an ideology and not an ounce of sense in their heads."
Athena sighed and looked at Ares.
"The more things change, cousin, the ever more they never do."
"Right," Ares said softly, "so lets have a tour of OASIS II and we'll leave it in your hands along with OASIS I. You are a big sitting target up here and the things that can reach you are a priority right after the military encampment that is building up over the ridge line from the spaceport. The ALV's have been sent up and most are doing a small tour of the planet, and the Athena's are with the II and III designs. If you need to bug out here, then the WorkPlats new crew area is the place to go, and an Athena II can get to there. Just the basics but it is enhanced survival, at least."
Diana looked at Athena who nodded.
"I would like a tour, really," she said looking around, "it doesn't look that much larger than OASIS I, though."
"Oh, this is just the piloting area forward," Karl said, "it is ringed by partitioned spaces for some privacy, if there are ever enough people here at one time to need more than the basics."
"The nickel tour," Kevin said, "and it does have some features that OASIS I doesn't have, which includes the makings for a small test agricultural system if anyone ever has some time to get it up and running... and is down to using a rather crude waste reprocessing system if the main one ever gives out."
"All that carbon has got to go somewhere," Karl said, "once it goes through you, eh?"
"Kevin, you know most of the sections the best, you take the lead," Ares said as he watched Kevin shift and go through the entryway in the bulkhead, followed by Diana and Athena.
Karl drifted next to him as he watched the two women move through the hatchway.
"Well, so much for getting hooked up with the half-sister, huh?"
Ares looked at him and smiled.
"Yes, I'd pretty much have to write Pallas off the 'hot prospects' list. But a better friend and companion you will never find anywhere, at any time, ever."
"Just the one real road in and out is it?"
"Yes, General, although the complex is pretty large because of the companies that came in, so there are access roads to the east and west, but those just comprise part of the overall complex," Major Cory Dalberg said looking at the map with added imagery taken by the one overhead satellite system that hadn't been thoroughly irradiated. Normally heavy particles were not something that was worried about with satellite design, but having an inrush of negatively charged particles followed by positively charged ones meant that anything exposed to space that had surface area attracted those particles to a somewhat higher degree. When the large wave of slow moving particles washed across the magnetosphere and pressed it down to within a few miles of the surface, that put everything at risk that hadn't been designed for such particles. When those particles hit satellites they then kicked smaller particles into the satellite interiors as ionizing radiation. An event as large as this had never been experienced directly save via those systems put out for solar monitoring and this rather low sunspot cycle was driving some of the largest CME events ever witnessed. Not much was ever going to be coming back on-line from the current satellite constellation, or facilities to get new birds into orbit, either. Thus the commercial spaceport now ranked at the very top of places of military importance.
Save for the problem of the people who were already there.
"And we have the high land to the east," Gen. McKay said looking over the map.
"Yes, and we have some artillery there, too. That rise to the west is higher, but pretty much unaccessable and we don't have personnel to cover it."
McKay looked at the other officers.
"They lofted their ALV systems, then? They aren't in the facilities any more?"
"Yes, sir," Capt. Yates said, "we could see them loading those Athena birds into them, and then they went up last night."
"Well that's good," Gen. McKay said.
"They do have some of the older systems tethered above the spaceport," Lt. DeSalle said, "they are at about 1,000' on winch systems about 300' apart."
"They're unarmed," Yates said, "probably just observation systems."
Gen. McKay smiled.
"Watching us as we watch them, then. Still they can't muster more than 200 people, I would imagine."
"Yes, sir," Capt. Frank said, "they are expecting something."
"Yeah, that warning you got," Lt. DeSalle said, "to stay away from equipment...pretty cryptic."
Gen. McKay snorted, "Probably that thing that's in orbit...that... Meridian is it?"
"Yes, sir," Yates said, "looks like a chopped up Athena system. Not even a drop ship."
DeSalle shook his head, "It looks like a tug, maybe. Something for smaller stuff, though. I know that there was some report of it working its way around, but that was before..."
There was a moment of silence and then Gen. McKay spoke up, "Well, it can't do much up there beyond jangle some nerves, I would guess. Besides we got one of the laser birds up, and that should take care of any ground problems. If not, then the USS Elmo will just have to put a couple of missiles into that Event Horizon place, and maybe a hanger or two at the field."
The others remained silent. As Gen. McKay looked at them.
"Right, time to hand out a last warning. Then we get the party started at 0600. Shouldn't need anything fancy, just a few of the tanks we have getting on the road, then use the troops to clear the area. By then the laser bird should be ready to knock out anything that is already up that's a threat. It'll be done by Noon, local. You have your orders, I'll be at the radio tent."
There were 'Yes, sir' responses and the officers left the tent after the General did, save for Capt. Frank who just looked at the map.
"I'll just have to make sure to stay away from the coordinating trailer...maybe just order myself to be the one on direct visual..." he said softly, "...because I can look both ways, then."
With that he hurried out of the tent.
Soon Brigadier General McKay was giving his last warning.
Then every single receiver, every single speaker, and even the microphones that used direct transceiver systems turned quietly on.
"Plates are charged, Aaron," Karl said from the 3rd seat of Meridian.
Ares shifted views and made sure that OASES were out of range of the frame.
"Initiate, best for what we need for interfering about a millimeter on out," Ares said.
"Checked, good to go," Kevin said.
Meridian was encapsulated by a swirl of light for an instant and then, to Diana and Athena, it simply vanished from view, although a very dim fringe of light made of two thin arcs was visible above and below where it had been. Those arcs shifted above the station and disappeared, while Ares guided the ship towards the terminator region, coming out of the daylight side.
"Not much in the way of radio going on," Kevin said as they passed over the Atlantic Ocean.
"Time to see what it does with atmosphere, since we were good at above 70 miles, I'll dip down to 60," Ares said. There was a whistling sound coming from outside and a feeling of turbulence. "Not ideal, but workable. Moving to 20 miles."
"Pressure building up on the hull," Karl said, "but its not keeping up with exterior frame pressure, though."
"Any thoughts on that?" Ares asked.
"Maybe the atoms aren't getting through the interface well and mostly getting moved around the interface too fast to come into the frame?" Kevin asked.
"We also have interior frame motion, too," Karl said, "so what atmosphere that does get through gets pushed out pretty quickly. Not real thrust though."
Ares inhaled and slowly exhaled.
"Time to push down, coming in over the Gulf of Mexico," he said as they saw the land darken ahead of them. Below them there was a dot leaving a very shallow wake behind it on the Gulf. Coming up on the horizon was the Texas coast.
"Got radio traffic from that, encrypted," Kevin said.
"General or directed?" Ares asked.
"Directed to satellite, a tight beam, plus overhead scanning radar."
"Any chance they saw us?" Karl asked.
"None," Kevin said, "our returns are so scattered it might as well be atmosphere."
"Log it, position, direction, time," Ares said.
"Got it," Kevin said.
"We are at 10 miles altitude and still only a percent or two of atmospheric pressure," Karl said, "the interface just seems to push it around."
"All right, I'm taking it as far down as I can still navigate with, and that is less than 1 mile," Ares said as the actual landscape started to blur under them and he kept watch on the radar returns.
"That's fast," Kevin said.
"I'm pulling up and slowing," Ares said, "Kevin we're searching for the radio traffic, I have a basic course and heading but want something a bit better if possible."
"Can you come up another mile, maybe?" Kevin asked, "We're getting something and ground clutter is interfering....yes, that has it, just a few degrees north of our current heading."
"What's the time down there, anyway?" Karl asked.
"Close enough," Ares said as he slowed Meridian as he saw lights appear on the horizon and then smaller lights before that as they were no longer occluded by a ridge line. "That looks to be it."
"That's it," Kevin said.
"What's their comms like?"
Ares stopped Meridian over the central part of the camp.
"They have something pretty tight going to one of the operational relay sats. Can't get past the encryption, but there is also some radio traffic in the air to the north."
"Really?" Karl said, "Now who could that be?"
Ares started thinking about air bases and could name a few fighter and bomber wings, but nothing easy to the north and west, unless it was a stealth aircraft.
"Charged particles still giving a lot of static," Kevin said.
"So worst case is that we have a fighter or bomber wing coming in from the northwest, a short armored brigade below us and my guess is one of the high tech destroyers, although it didn't look like a Burke class ship. Either way, that means cruise missiles at pretty long range if they can pull into the Texas coast."
"It's nearing 0600 below," Kevin said, "still pretty dark, though."
"Oh Dark Hundred, yeah," Ares said with Meridian sitting in position, unmoving.
"Time to start the soft scanning, Kevin. Find every single frequency that has a resonance to it and then use the lowest setting on the forward ion boosted system to see if you can establish a current."
Kevin exhaled and looked at his system, then brought up the ion forward drive and shifted it to its ready status.
"Starting scan, auto search for peaks and then a milliamp which ought to diffuse just enough to say if we got something other than ground with it. Auto-correlation is on. Multi-phase radar scan beginning and syncing ion discharge to the radar system."
He watched as the system started to move out of the millimeter bands and through the longer wavelengths, where it started to get some positive hits at lengths that were at the farthest end of what the system could do.
"I never thought that vehicles would have a wavelength to them," Kevin said, "but that is the case. That is the only thing that could give returns at those lengths. Someone has metal running in some circuits the length of their vehicles."
"Internal power and comms for tanks and APCs," Ares said, "do we have anything that could hijack, say, speakers for headsets or even radio units? I would like to link that in with the comms here."
"Wait a moment," Karl said, "you're thinking of...well, broadcasting to everything that has a speaker in it?"
"Or that just resonates at those sizes, yes," Ares said, "I want to give fair warning..."
"I can do that..." Kevin started, "...wait, general transmission in AM bands from the camp, probably for the spaceport. They're about to transmit."
"Lets hear it," Ares said.
"I am Brigadier General Colin McKay and I have been duly authorized by the President to requisition the use of the US Spaceport for military use for the duration of this emergency. I sent Captain..."
"Ever notice how 'temporary' things always become permanent?" Karl asked.
"Yeah, it starts with taxes and goes up to your entire life," Kevin said.
"...who reported your unwillingness to recognize the validity of these orders. I have been in contact with the Joint Chiefs who confirm this to be a valid command..."
"Aaron? We got another message coming in, but from the spaceport. It's encrypted but its Ascentech, do you want it?"
"Yes," Ares said.
"Right...its comms to WorkPlat...ummm...Aaron what is 'Ace 1, Jack 2?' mean?"
"A warm welcome from space in DC and Arlington. Do we have a timing sequence on that?"
"Yes...the moment the spaceport stops transmitting, and its now just doing a telemetry loop reading to keep the channel open."
"That is what you call a 'deadman's switch'," Ares said, "or if you really piss off Ray, he will just decide to commit anyway."
"But what is it, Aaron?"
"A depleted uranium impactor with a tungsten-steel with tungsten-titanium matrix tip coated with the high temperature ceramics we use for ablative re-entry, and a tungsten-titanium matrix sheath to keep it together. Call it about 100 tons of same going at 20,000 miles per hour, give or take."
"Oh," Karl said, "I get it. Ace is the top of the deck, eh? And Jack, is the knight, so the Pentagon."
"Wow, I thought that was just for making shielding," Kevin said softly.
"It would make great shielding," Ares said, "but it is the loaded gun that Ray keeps handy just in case. Can you blame him?"
"Nope," Karl said, "good man. There's a price to pay when you tangle with a good man."
"That's why I want the comms to everyone there," Ares said, "one last chance to stop them from being stupid. And then we have a long list of places to go, equipment to trash and then get the hell out so we can recharge."
"...so I'm giving you 10 more minutes to peacefully relinquish the spaceport to recognized authority. I await your answer."
"That's it, Aaron," Kevin said.
"Are we ready for showtime?" Ares asked.
"As I'll ever be," Kevin said.
"Right. Karl keep the plasma system ready in case we need a boost in power."
"Aye, no problem there," Karl said.
"I think we have the right wavelengths for what you want, Aaron."
"Good. Lets do it, best you think to get a message through. Dropping to 1 mile then to 2000'."
"It's good to go, Aaron. You'll have AM, FM and shortwave if nothing else."
Ares triggered the transmission system from his helmet.
"I am pilot Aaron Culpepper of Meridian, the first move you make will put you all in deadly peril. Do not attack the spaceport as it has my wife, my child, my family, my property, and those I love there. A man has a right to defend against war and I will do so. When the first offensive piece of equipment starts moving, I will then act in self-defense. Culpepper, out."
Kevin tried to get a decent set of readings at least into IR but was unable to do so.
"I think I boosted it a bit too much," he said softly.
"Just keep an eye on looking for RF from engines, and look for the first bit of motion."
"We have that..." Kevin said.
"Right, boost and hit the high points, I'm doing a general sweep over the camp, and then going to see what the interface can do to something a bit more solid, namely the artillery pieces..."