Saturday, November 28, 2015

Earthrise: Chapter 18

As dawn arrived the ALV-I at the northeastern part of the spaceport was winched up a further 1000 feet as were the other ALV-I systems on their tethers. These were not just holding cables but also had communications and power cabling going somewhat more loosely around the winch cables. Inside the ALV-I, camera systems were sending continuous feeds down to the ground to give a very wide, if somewhat rough view of the environment of the spaceport and out to the ridge line beyond it. The second 1000 feet of cable also had another feature and it was metal cable netting attached between the ALV-I systems. These nets would span all but the last 20 feet to the ground to allow trucks, personnel and other equipment to pass through. Above that safe zone trying to fly low and hug the ground was no longer a good option for incoming vehicles like helicopters, aircraft or missiles. One thing that hadn't been easily noticed that each of the ALV-I systems had its bay doors open and that inside the bay was a solid platform that offered the ability to look down and out from under the ALV-I's and to quite some distance away.

Tamara Culpepper was on that northeastern platform with Jeff Dunnistar who was her spotter and the one that had planted helpful weeds around the entire perimeter of the spaceport years ago when sniper training had started. They were native grasses and their stalks bent easily to any wind, and from above Jeff could make out the wind patterns of the ridge and even get a decent view beyond it as it sloped down to the valley and camp laager.

"The arty is out of our range to the north," Jeff said laying down next to Tamara and using his spotter's scope, "they used the ATV trail to get them up there and it really is a great place to put them. All nice and high up, giving a commanding view of everything. Pity they are so exposed up there...must be freezing their butts off."

Tamara shifted her rifle and was concentrating more on the places she could see and counting out the weed spacing pattern and putting her mind into figuring out the grid pattern that they made. Anyone on the ground wouldn't see the pattern and, as it didn't lay out lines or even have weeds at intersection points, save for a few landmarks here and there that couldn't be moved, she could get a good feel for the 50 x 50 foot box pattern just by seeing how weeds lined up over distances. Other weeds were left undisturbed and the ones that had been planted went to seed, and those seeds didn't drop far as they were not the wind-borne type. Even with some irregularities between the planted weeds, the moment she laid a scope on the area, she clearly could see how it was arranged. This now put ranging data, wind direction and speed, and even minor things like known curvatures of the Earth and some magnetic and mass anomalies into play. In 3 years the entire spaceport had been properly surveyed, though not by surveyors for property, but by people who also did surveying for other purposes.

Between Tamara and Jeff was a small thermal blanket used to heat up the magazines and ammo, and to their right on the platform was a little clock giving them the time. The LED lighting was barely on inside the bay, and they had not lost night vision because of it. Now, with dawn approaching and the sun threatening its daily path along the eastern horizon, they would soon be in full sunlight.

A few minutes to the hour they heard Gen. McKay.

"What a moron," Jeff said as he settled in to getting wind speeds and looking at the table they had made up for the area.

"Look," Tamara said shifting as something caught her attention, "there to the south of their camp. It's like a ring of...yellow-red with a black center..."

Jeff shifted to look at the floating anomaly and used a small pair of binoculars to get a better view of it and then looked away.

"That is the distorted disc of the sun or what it looks like as it is coming over the horizon, which it now is doing. Don't look at it directly for long."

Tamara sighed, "Meridian is here."

"Shit," Jeff said, "it looks like something a UFO does...just not as pretty as Meridian is doing it..."

"Oh, they can go full reflective if they have to," Tamara said as she settled down again.

Then a new voice came on.

"My love," Tamara whispered.

"What are they going to do, though? I mean they really can't have something like a Spooky in there, right?"

Tamara shook her head, shifting a small bag filled with lead shot out a foot and to her right to block off the rising sun, and Jeff did the same.

"No, no Specter in there," she whispered, "can you get me a reading for that first in line APC?"

Jeff looked out.

"You got range, windage let me think," he said looking at the table, "from our elevation...about a third the normal deflection since we are shooting down... then wind... 6 by 3 and zero on that for a first try. My guess is you'll need between 6 and 7 then 3 and 4, but this isn't that normal, so you get what is on the chart to start."

"Good enough," Tamara said blocking out what Ares said just as she did for the General.

"Got IR on that lead APC," Jeff said.

"You know, I think everyone has taken their helmet off down there," Tamara said, "and some smoke coming from comms pouches and packs, too. That main tent has some smoke coming from it..."

Jeff shifted to his binoculars and took a look.

"Yeah, even the arty range finding truck, the guys there are in a hell of a mess...same with those on the ridge...what the hell is going on?"

"That is known as a warning shot, Jeff. Meridian is just clearing its throat. Eyes on the armor, please."

"Yeah," Jeff said going back to his scope and IR system. "Guys shouting orders, lots of pointing, a few people with fire extinguishers...someone is getting something organized..."

"Platform 2 to Platform 1, we will go on your lead," came a male voice.

Tamara used her whisper mic and barely moved her lips, "Roger that, 2, we are taking lead APC, you have lead armor, the moment that front tank moves half a length forward, it is GO, over."

"Copy that, 1. Meridian has arrived."

"Got IR on the lead armor...they're starting it up... everyone else is mounting up...moving forward, headed to the are GO..."

Tamara let a round go from her rifle, and watched it arc gracefully down, the arc much more flattened as part of the trajectory was working with gravity, not perpendicular to it. It hit just short and slight right of where she was aiming. The first round had been ejected and the next was automatically chambered and she gave some Kentucky Windage to it, and fired again. This round punched through the top armor and into the fuel tank, followed by an ignition of the fuel. A half-second later the forward tank stopped as a round had gone through the open turret hatch.

Movement in the air at the head of the canyon caught her attention and she saw that the fiery red disc was also illuminating the ground and a blue glow started to come from equipment everywhere in the camp. Small fires started wherever there was a concentration of electronics, wiring bundles or just anything flammable next to a stretch of thin metal. People started dropping packs, vehicle engine compartments started to smoke as did vehicle interiors where those on the inside were now intent on getting outside their vehicles as fast as possible. Slowly Meridian swept over the camp and it brought chaos, confusion, flame and destruction in its wake.

"Jesus Christ..." Jeff said, "what the...I know we hardened electronics, but that isn't stopping this..."

"Very difficult to stop an induced cavity wavelength at high frequency that runs the length of the cavity. And if you charge the ground then what you have is a current flowing through and around the cavity and resonating it. Even a Faraday Cage won't stop that, and actually makes it worse if it isn't complete and secure. Vehicles are not complete and secure Faraday Cages."

"There's one guy on the ridge...tossed off his helmet, comms god his watch, it has to be...spare optical set next to him...wait...he's doing something...well, shit, he broke off the antenna and put a white handkerchief on the end and planted that on the ground next to him. And we haven't even touched him."

"Oh, no, we've touched him. Now time for the dirty work. Anyone trying to get troops to move out, they are the target."

As she started to scan the valley beyond the ridge a sudden prismatic flash drew her attention and the men on the ground went for cover. Tamara drew away from the rifle and looked further north where a small spherical mirror was now floating just over the surface of the ridge, just a few feet above the ground...and going through the receivers of the artillery pieces and taking a perfect bite out of the gun showing the passage of the sphere. Only dust could be seen coming down around behind the sphere. In just a few breaths the entire set of 6 guns had been disabled in a way that meant they would never function again.

With a sudden prismatic flash, the sphere disappeared and no distortion was left to be seen.

"ALV Platforms, this is Ray. Cease fire. We're sending in the Sheriff along with our liaison and her second. Meridian has been in contact and they have exterior threats to neutralize since they didn't get word of what just happened. Take a break and good job! Minimal loss of life, maximum effect. It isn't over yet, though, so chill out but not down, got it? Good job to all! Ray, out."

Tamara started chuckling as she drew away from the rifle and put the safety on.

"It used to be 'smoke if you got 'em' but I ran out a week ago," Jeff said.

"That's OK, never did smoke. So game of poker?"

"Not with you, not ever again, Tamara...I can't afford to lose to you like I did last time..."

They both chuckled and Tamara took out a flask from her thigh pocket and sipped at it.

"Here, take a swig of that," she said handing it to Jeff.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Special from Dennis. He assured me it would both wake you up and keep you warm."

"Thanks," Jeff said as he took a swig from the flask and then put it down quickly so he wouldn't drop it as he tried to cough and swallow at the same time.

"See, works great! Now you'll be wide awake and warm, both."

Jeff was finally able to prioritize swallowing and then coughing, then wiped his mouth, then looked at Tamara.

"You have got to be hell to live with, Tamara, but in the best sort of way, you know?"

"That's what Aaron tells me," she said with a smile, "and cousin Diana, too. Really, they can't be all wrong about it, I guess."

Flashing lights far below drew both of them had them take a look, and they saw a line of vehicles started out from the spaceport. It was headed by a Sheriff's Office car, followed by another, then followed by van sporting the same insignia, and then by a series of buses from the spaceport, and then out to the west, the large rig used to move Meridian was moving out to parallel the procession of vehicles.

"Say, who is the liaison that Ray has out there, anyways?"

Tamara eyed him with a smirk.

"Jasmine and Tom Burke has been given temporary rank to help her out. They are there to accept surrender of the troops, if they actually realize that this isn't going to be a cakewalk, that is, which is why we are still up here."

"Oh, that'll be fun," Jeff said, "I mean if your helmet is a smoking ruin, and you've had to ditch your pants or shirt or both, plus you got burns on your ears, wrist, and various other parts of your body, plus scorched scalp...and that is looking to be every single one of them...why there is a good chance your rifle, side-arm and ammo pouches are also on the ground, too, although your IFAK has seen use. Looks like they had one guy with a pacemaker or something...shit if you have internal electronics..."

Tamara shuddered at the thought.

"Yeah, the casualty rate is low...but it sure as hell ain't zero, that's for sure. At least a dozen dead, maybe more. Almost everyone suffering minor burns, some with severe least they don't have to worry about radiation, right?"

"No, no nuclear stuff. Just the standard sorts of radiation...and maybe a few people partially cooked in their vehicles, too...microwaves will do that to you inside a resonance chamber..." she said softly.

"Dear god...and the only ones who fired shots were us..."

Tamara shook her head.

"As Aaron has said, there are worse ways to die, but dying isn't pretty no matter how many songs, poems or tales there are about it."


Ray looked at the monitor at the Event Horizon, which was putting feeds in from the ALV systems still aloft over the spaceport. He looked at Hermes who was at the circular table with him, as were Mary Weingarten, Regina, and Dionysus. They were also getting a live feed from a camera on Jasmine's shoulder and listening in on what was happening. The County Sheriff, Esmond Rosehill was framed next to a man with bandages around his head which included gauze pads over his ears. He was missing his shirt and part of his pants, as they had seen him walk in supported by another man who also had a bandaged head that showed scorched hair. There were burn marks on the second man's shirt and pants as well as large amounts of local dust.

"Are you General McKay?" they could hear the Sheriff saying in a somewhat louder than usual voice after he had a short conversation with Jasmine.

The man without a shirt had a jacket draped over his shoulders which showed the insignia of the Brigadier General and his name sewn into the jacket just above the pocket.

"I'm sorry, I can't hear you...I got my eardrums blown out by..." McKay was visibly shaken as he looked to the sky, "...that thing."

"I'm Captain Yates," the other man said, "and this is General McKay," he said looking at the General, "I didn't get it so bad and was able to get my helmet partially off but it hung up as I tried to get out of the turret..."

"Fine!' Esmond said with a smile, "Well, whatever the hell happened to you, its over now, right? No more stupid moves on your part is there?"

"No sir, not by us. We haven't been able to contact the flight supporting us or the USS Elmo though," he said giving a glance back at the men who now had some medical technicians from the spaceport staff coming from a bus to start tending to them, "and they had orders to, uh, continue the attack if we got hung up."

"Crap," Ray said softly as he looked at Hermes, "any luck with Meridian?"

"Just the one message that they were taking care of the immediate threat, which they sent just before they disappeared again," Hermes said.

"Not good," Mary said, "if it is one of their laser armed jets, then...they aren't ready for this."

"No, they aren't," Dionysus said, "while aircraft are very good with moving high amounts of electricity around the fuselage, they aren't made to be stop becoming a resonance chamber in an electric circuit."

"Or to take..." Regina started, "...that phased ion beam..."

"Particle beam," Hermes said softly.

"...much of anywhere, right? I mean at close range they can concentrate that down with the radar system, right?"

"Yes, they can," Ray said, "but I'm not worried about that. Their graves if they step into them. I'm worried about the Destroyer as it has cruise missiles and they could go anywhere. Would Meridian be able to track them and neutralize them?"

"A full compliment of 80 launches would be nearly impossible to stop, even for Meridian," Hermes said, "but that would exhaust the ready supply of missiles and while depots will have more, they are now a finite quantity. I would think a 'show of force' use of one or two missiles would be indicated."

Ray sighed as he turned back to the screen for a moment.

"...its up to you General," Esmond was saying and Yates was writing down on a notepad for the General to read, "...if you want to surrender to me, then we'll be booking you first with armed robbery, terrorism and attempted mass murder, and most likely piracy as well, and then have to find a federal judge for treason charges for you and your staff officers...or you can surrender to Miss Pennerton here..."

Jasmine started speaking.

"You'll get a full courts martial using the UCMJ plus our interpretation of the Hague and Geneva Conventions used by local militia when called upon for active service to the State. That will mean one National Guard Officer presiding and 2 militia officers at a minimum, and possibly 5 total officers between the State National Guard, and the local militias in service currently."

"That isn't much of a choice," Mary said.

Ray grimaced and turned back to the other members at the table.

"The immediate threat is blunted, at least, but with an on-going threat it is on to phase #2."

There was silence at the table.

"I won't stand for anyone who thinks dictatorships are a good idea, nor outright theft of property of civilians. The States can convene a new convention, but the active threat now must be served warning."

"Ace and Jack?" Hermes said softly.

Ray nodded.

"We can rebuild buildings. I don't want to be in a war to re-establish the Nation. Ace and Jack, it is time to pull them from the table, for those poor men aren't the cause of this..." he said gesturing to the monitor,"...they are in a hard time, where their family or even home town may not be there any more. They joined the services for one thing and now this happens. They are not to blame. I hope they take a Courts Martial as I'll plead for a general amnesty for the soldiers and Capt. Frank since I saw his surrender flag from Tamara's camera. The rest of them can go to hell, as I am sick of this petty power grab shit. I have paid taxes, lots of them, and filled out forms by the truckload. Yet at every turn it is a stumbling block, some bureaucrat using their petty power....and now this. I tried reason, and they sent force. Now I'm sending force back as anyone who is attacked has the right to respond, and I am, by god, responding in self-defense to take out the threat to everyone here. And I'll help bury the dead if I can get to them. This ends now. I will not be a slave to any government and any that tries deserves what it gets in return."

He turned to look at the screen as men started to lay down their rifles and sidearms, and give their name, rank and serial number to Jasmine and Tom.

"These poor soldiers deserve to find out if they still have a home somewhere...not sent on some stupid scheme to grab anything that is still working. Texas told them: Come, take. And they flinched and went for easier prey. Whoever sent them should have gone with Texas. Because I'm sending them to hell."

He turned to face the people at the table.

"If any of you want this job, you can have it right now. Otherwise its Ace and Jack, as our hand already has a Queen and I think the King is coming our way next, but we don't get to there until the Ace and Jack are gone. The spot and the knave."

Ray shook his head as he saw the others looking at him, and Hermes and Dionysus nodding.

"Shit," he said softly, "I was sure someone else would want this damned job."

"No, Ray," Mary said, "I think we all feel like that right now. You're just the one we put on the spot who can do the job."

"Thanks," he said turning to Regina. "Let Alice know the telemetry loop can stop. A minute or two after that, then the actual rebuilding can begin, and I am still going to get off this planet."


The image on the screen zoomed in and the coastline expanded, showing the street pattern and large blackened areas that were once buildings.

Diana shifted in the secondary position outside the pilot's area using the OASIS II camera's system to look down at Earth.

"How many is that?"

"Every single one," Diana whispered, "that was one place that might have fared better and you can see on the island it looks almost unscathed, but the city portion on the mainland is in ruins."


"Yes," Diana whispered as she shifted coordinates and looked down at Berlin. "Same, all portions, stretching far out to the surrounding suburban region...the swampland didn't do a thing to stop it..."

Athena shivered and placed her hands on Diana's shoulders.

"Passing into night..."

"Some places with a flicker here or there, hard to tell if its cloud cover..." the global map overlay appeared in outline form, then the weather readout from the satellite covering India, "...those might be remote villages. I wonder if any of them got ALV-I drops? Ray really had such high hopes for the Jade Group."

"The company that was going to license his designs?" Athena asked.

"Yes, the same," Diana zoomed out and saw a vast blackness that had Northern Lights still dancing near 45 degrees latitude. "Nothing...some lights there, Mongolia perhaps. There used to be over 2.5 billion people from India to China and now...a speck here or there of light at night."

A small screen to the side went from the Highflight OASIS II logo to showing a contact from the spaceport. The night region of Earth flashed from view and they saw Regina at the Highflight office at the Event Horizon.

"How is it going?" Athena asked softly.

"We're doing fine so far, Meridian disabled the attacking force...electronics getting forced current through them and other things that, well, if I didn't know it was Meridian, I would never believe it."

"We did get some voice traffic," Diana said, "but the automatic relay didn't really do so well."

Regina nodded.

"We think that Ares has taken Meridian to go after a laser armed ABM jet and a Destroyer in the Gulf of Mexico...Ray is...he is pissed at the people who want to do this. He's going to use the billets, a couple of them. Alice will be ending the return loop deadman switch, so the last orders get executed, so you might want to see if you can find the cargo station near the WorkPlat. I still have to tell her that."

Diana nodded.

"I would really like to get Ares on this," Regina said, "but he is still taking care of business."

Athena looked at Diana and they both looked at Regina.

"It sounds like you don't like the course Ray is taking, Regina," Athena said.

"I don't but then...trying to seize the spaceport for 'national recovery' reasons is just pure BS. Hermes and Dionysus seem to agree with him."

Diana chuckled. "I can hear Ares now... 'there are two ways we can get this done, the hard way and the easy way...' and he usually is right on such things."

Athena pressed her lips together.

"What is holding the military command system together, Regina?"

"Huh? Like personnel or what?"

"Not just personnel, though I expect there to be a dedicated corps of people to do this. But how can they still coordinate this with so much down?"

"Oh!" Regina said, "They have special satellites, most didn't make it but a few did. Ray really can't crack into those and doesn't want to. He hasn't touched them."

Athena let a slow smile grow on her face.

"Ah, I see. So there is a hard way to stop them and an easy way...and Ray is choosing the hard way going after the personnel and installations, yes?"

"Well, the White House and Pentagon. Penetrate to hard rock under them and then release all the energy..."

"But, really, wouldn't it be simpler to just...ah...take out the satellites? Do we have any arms here, my sister?"

Athena looked at Diana.

"Survival rifles in the Athena vehicles...mostly solid rounds, a few shotshells for each...they don't have enough energy to change orbit very much though..."

Athena smiled.

"But we do," she said looking at her sister who sucked her lips in and then started smiling as well.

Athena looked at the screen.

"Regina, we would like to do this to every single military satellite of every Nation on Earth, just to be fair about we have enough ammunition for that?"

"Yes, sister, you know Ares," Diana said with a grin.

"Fine! What is the best vessel here to do that with?" Athena asked.

"Well an Athena I, actually, much better delta V..." Diana whispered.

Athena smiled deeply.

"Ask Ray if that would suit him just as well, if he's handy..."

"Let him know its a suggestion from the OASES," Diana said, "and that its an all volunteer force."

Regina smiled.

"You will come back safely, right?"

"The tedium of spaceflight will not kill us," Athena said, "besides I expect I'll do much better at this than my sister after I get just a bit of training."

"I've never done anything like it before," Diana whispered.

"Oh, a competition! I will win of course," Athena said.

"I'm better with the fast moving targets, my sister, never forget that..."

"I'll be right back," Regina said, "hold on...I just have to do it so that Ray doesn't put me in charge..."

"You would do fine at it, Regina," Diana said, "I've always had full faith in your abilities."

"More than I had..." Regina whispered, "but give me just a couple of minutes."

Athena drifted away to another console and started calling up orbital mechanics, impetus, trajectories.

"For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction..." she said softly, "Well of course there is! Someone actually had to figure that out?"

"Putting numbers to it is the hard part," Diana said from her station, "of course natural instinct and reflexes can do much better if you bother to know how they work."

Athena looked over at Diana who was looking at her.

"I'm the better one with the placed shot on lumbering targets, my sister, don't forget that. You can do as you like but if you can't find the weak part you just end up with so many arrows in the beast it isn't funny."

"I've gotten better at that," Diana said with a wicked grin, "through practice, practice, practice!"

"You'll need all the skill you have, beloved," Athena said with a smirk.

"So will you!" Diana said back with a wicked smile.

"Oh, I have plenty," Athena said, "now what is the delta-V and fuel capacity of the Athena I? And stop looking at me like that!"

Diana widened her eyes and blinked, and put the comm station on standby, and opened the webbing straps that kept her in her seat.

"Like what?" she asked innocently, "I know all about how Athena reacts to good delta-V," she said slipping around seat and securing the webbing so it wouldn't float around the seat.

Athena shifted to look at her, "Diana!" she said trying to come off as arch and offended, and yet it sounded like something else entirely.

"Oh, yes," Diana said, "just giving the right thrust here, the right direction there, and getting the most impetus to ride Athena to great apogees and plunge to perigees, then back again." She had shifted to get her feet against a safe panel and then pushed off towards Athena. "So beautiful to ride Athena, to head to a lovely zenith of great lights and back to a nadir of enveloping darkness, and around to go with Athena, again and again and again, while all others never even think to look up and witness it."

"Diana..." Athena whispered now having shifted to look at her console, but her eyes unable to focus on it. "That's not..."

"It is all about skill, you know?" Diana said her hand softly grasping the seat Athena was in and then shifting around in front of her. "You always have great skill," she said moving to be between Athena and the console, one hand letting go of the back of the seat to have the other replace it and then her slim legs shifting slowly down, knees brought up and legs apart to begin to straddle Athena in her seat.

Athena looked into her eyes and saw the face she remembered so long ago, the sweet face of Artemis. Diana shifted her legs to slide around on either side and locked her ankles to the seat's support to brace herself.

"Yet there are things you aren't so skilled at isn't that right..." and then she whispered, "...Pallas?"

Athena gasped, her eyes widened and then she closed them tightly shut and felt Diana's hands slip to either side of her head, and that the cuffs of the coveralls were gently pressing next to her eyes, tears moving to fabric and away.

"You could not go to our beautiful sister Aphrodite, could you?" Diana whispered pulling closer, shifting to get dry material next to Athena's still closed eyes.

"No," Athena whispered, "she would not...understand."

"Yes, and truly she would not have had the mind to tell you what to do in your grief."

"She wouldn't, no."

"Our beloved foster mother, she would not have taken it well, would she? Be able to help you overcome the grief, she who was so grief stricken and sick with it?"

Athena shifted her head and felt Diana shift her fingers softly to press to her head, letting more fabric take the tears away.

"I couldn't...she couldn't..."

"And if not her, then our matron of the fields, she was too much of the way of the fields and family to know how to address your grief..."

"Demeter, oh I loved her...but no..." Athena said barely moving her lips.

"And the girls, the almost kindred but never fully, they were also beyond knowing how to understand such."

"True in all ways..." Athena said feeling Diana pressing to her.

"That left the youngster who, by fortune, was also inviolate. Who also had suffered loss like yours. Who also had passion that she had to learn to live with."

"Artemis," Athena whispered to open her eyes and then she saw the soft face of the girl, the loving girl, who welcomed her with open arms, "you made me..."

Diana nodded with a smile.

"You made yourself, beloved," she said in barest whisper yet Athena heard it clearly now and ages past, "and I would not ever let you suffer in such grief, nor ever betray your love. For all your skill in so many arts, you had none in this. Pallas succumbed to harsh passion of yours and you were bereft and none could know how to heal such a wound of a stolen life that you had taken. Do you remember how that worked?"

"Yes," Athena whispered.

"That was the worst and most foul act, beloved Pallas, that our father did. He made you forget her, and a void in your life opened up and consumed the all of you. Yet it could not be filled, but the only good was that it was the one name that you would still hear for yourself."

"Pallas," Athena whispered, "each time you visited with me, on every day you told me my name was...Pallas. And filled my heart with joy."

Diana nodded settling herself closely against Athena, who had her arms around her in turn.

"You loved her with all your soul, and yet you killed that vital part of you and it was beyond your reach. You came to me who had losses like that and I told you how to build that bridge. Our father could only make you forget the bridge was there, the bridge to cross, the bridge to become whole, but it never went away."

"I love you, Artemis," Athena said.

"Artemis loved you, Athena. She died when the pain became too much, the blood too deep, the sorrow to horrific and I am left. And then I followed my nature to Athens and there you were, the unclosed wound of Artemis' love still true, still there, still alive, just no longer able to remember who she was. Artemis would be at a loss at what to do...but she was gone and I was all that was left of who she was. We are but girls, after all, but you on the cusp of being a woman while I am not."

"You are very much a woman...Artemis..."

"Shhh...Diana...beloved the greatest gift of Artemis left to me is her love for you. And, like her, I continue my fealty to you in full."

"Always?" Athena whispered.

"Who was it that helped you bridge your life and abridge your names?"

Athena inhaled and her lips flickered with a trace of a smile.

"You did," she whispered, as Diana drew ever closer, eyes unable to see more than eyes, dark green looking into dark blue and looked into in turn.

"Who loved you to heal your hurts, and live with them?"

"You did," Athena whispered shivering.

"Who, even when she would torment you with so many little things, as girls always do, would be the one to help you with your grief, hold you while you cried and always be there as your shield for the war that has no arrows nor bows nor swords and yet cuts more deeply than any weapon that can ever be invented?"

"You are..." and Athena gasped as she said that.

"You may not understand why I do what I do, Pallas. Accept that I must do as I must do, but in all those things I will sacrifice anything, everything, and all things, to protect you. Because you are better than I am, and I love you deeply for what and who you are."

"But I'm not..." Athena started.

"No deprecation of self, beloved, you know this is true. No modesty between us as we are centuries beyond that. No deflection of what we have, because it is ours and ours alone. No nay-saying that it does not exist, for it does. No abasement for none is needed between us. I asked what I have always asked, as Artemis and now Diana, both. Acceptance of who I am and who you are to me."

Athena closed her eyes again.

"Always, Diana..." she opened her eyes to look at her. "You helped me become Pallas Athene...Athena... Pallas Athena Sherwood."

Gently Diana kissed her beloved and was kissed in turn and then looked at each other in the quiet space of the OASES, the place to retreat from disaster, the place where survival is enhanced and lives saved.


"Spaceport landing control, this is Delta Echo flight One Zero Seven requesting clearance to land, over."

Lt. Pete Schiller looked at his co-pilot who was just shaking his head.

"Unfreaking believable," he whispered.

There was static for a moment and then a man's voice came over the intercom.

"Flight Delta Echo One Zero Seven this is spaceport flight landing control, come again, please?"

"Spaceport flight landing control, this is Delta Echo One Zero Seven, our aircraft is damaged and we've been directed to land here, over."

"Copy that, Delta Echo, currently our main runways are sealed off to aerial traffic. Use packed strip indicated at Zero Eight Fiver, course Three One Three from your current heading. It has yellow and red landing arrows with mile markers and you'll have to do a visual on it, over."

"Roger that, Spaceport flight landing control, coming to Three One Three. Visual confirms the strip, we have transponder readings at the end for elevation, descending to land, over."

"Copy that Delta Echo, we will have ground crew to direct you to a taxiway where you will have to stay until things blow over. Do you have any personnel injuries, over?"

Lt. Schiller looked at his co-pilot and shook his head.

"We have three people with trauma to ears and head, as well as one with second degree burns over thirty percent of his body, and general hearing loss for all crew members, over."

He looked at his voice system's earphone rating which was at ten, the highest point on the dial. It was the only way he could hear anything from the set at this point.

"Copy that, Delta Echo One Zero Seven, medical crew will be standing by. If you don't mind, what happened to you, over?"

Schiller looked at his co-pilot.

"Nothing reflects that laser. Nothing," the co-pilot whispered into his set.

"Spaceport flight landing control, we had a run-in with a UFO calling itself 'Meridian'. It told us that if we really felt we needed to see if it was real we could fire on it, but they suggested to just turn back or land peacefully...ah...we lost most of our comms with we fired on it, over."

"Copy that, Delta Echo. What did it look like, over?"

"Spaceport control it looked...a few different ways but it was some sort of gray sphere when we fired on it and it, ah, reflected our laser back into the turret, over."

"Roger that, Delta Echo. We'll have a fire crew ready, just in case. Over."

"Yeah, we'll need that, I think. Doing one circle and then going to set it down, Spaceport control, over."

Schiller didn't go into the details of the awakening of the entire aircraft to a voice that sounded from everyplace at the same time. No one was going to believe that... bad enough to shoot at a UFO with a high powered laser and have the reflected beam cripple your own aircraft. Especially after you were warned that you were taking your life in your hands if you did that. He had expected something exotic, like maybe getting taken into a mothership or having lost time or even anal probes and suppressed memories. That he could have handled. This was far too matter of fact to ignore. And that made it even harder to bear. This UFO was real in a way that no one could ever deny.


Looking at the screen as Meridian hovered over the USS Elmo, Ares shook his head.

"I don't think you should have put as much in the way of amperage into that last message..." he said watching the smoke coming out of the open hatches of the ship.

Kevin watched the scene from the mid station and sighed.

"Well, I thought the sea water would conduct most of it around the ship...that's why I asked for the plasma engines so we could get a direct MHD boost..."

"And boost they did!" Karl said looking at a side monitor so he could keep track of what was going on. "I didn't think the plasma flux would flow around the interface like that, though, and go out with the boosted ion beam. It channeled the beam and gave it a plasma ring around it."

Ares guided Meridian slowly around the destroyer and looked at the damage to the mid-ship region and the hole going through it and down into the bowels of the vessel. From there was a neat line drawn to port rear which was the relative path of Meridian to Elmo when Ares first making his announcement. The hole was less than a foot across, and yet it cut neatly into the vessel at all points along its path.

"I don't think it reaches down to the nuclear power plants..." Ares whispered as he saw flames start to lap out of the line along the rear of the vessel.

"There are bubbles coming out from under the ship," Kevin said in a whisper, "and the...well...was that a hot or cold plasma? Because I don't think that cold plasma can, uh, do that to metal or composites... mind if we shift the alignment to let some of the lighter particles through? Should be safe enough at this distance, but if there are x-rays, then that will tell us everything we need to know..."

"Go ahead," Ares said as he watched water start to come up in small geysers along the hole that had been made, "but I think I already have my answer. Do we have an ETA on the coast guard?"

"Yeah," Kevin said, "about a half-hour."

After a brief shift of colors the scene of the Elmo became a bit clearer, and Kevin looked at his sensor readings, which were also going to Karl as well.

"Well let them know that if it can be salvaged, they'll need radiation suits. Beyond that there isn't one thing electrical working on that ship, not one bit of RFI to be seen beyond background."

"Relay that, would you Kevin? And let them know we can't really help much in rescue, since Meridian isn't made for that."

"Doing that, Aaron."

"These are the sorts of problems you run across with new designs, you know?" Karl said, "Normally they are on the failure side of things, but once in awhile you get something that surprises you in a different way."

Slowly Meridian pulled away and those men who had gotten on deck looked up at the swirling colors of the sphere that was the interface around Meridian.

"Back to orbit, and I think I know how we can pretty easily change our in-frame velocity when the interface isn't on," Ares said as the USS Elmo became smaller and then turned into a dot on the ocean and then disappeared as the curvature of the Earth appeared.

"Yeah, we'll have to drop some after that," Karl said.

"How are we going to do it?" Kevin asked.

"Simple. Gravity doesn't fail. Point away from Earth and we will slow down as gravity starts to cancel forward velocity. Point towards it and we will accelerate with the force of gravity. Turn on the interface, shift to where the velocity we have will get us an orbit and then go there. Simple. We can even get within 80 feet of the ground that way, but we still can't land. I never thought that this thing would ever be able to get back to the surface again."

"Yeah we just have to retrofit some legs on it, huh? And really big springs and shock-absorbers. Just a little side project, I guess," Karl said, "that we might get to some year. But I can see that having the world's largest plasma cutter will keep us in business for decades, since someone has to start pulling down those skyscrapers in the cities around the planet for salvage. And we have just the thing to do it! Meridian will more than earn her keep for a long time to come, just doing that."

"Why not just shift the ME part of the drive? We might use up our battery system, but all we need to do is overcome most of gravity and set it down on the cradle we built it on."

"That will need extra padding," Karl said, "hard rubber isn't bad for keeping something in place on the ground, but it isn't a good shock-absorber."

"How about different densities of foam?" Ares asked softly, "with some mattresses between the two cradle pieces and then layered dense foam then less dense foam and finally open-cell foam on top of that. Duct tape it in place and spray paint the cradle positions on it."

"Might just work at that," Karl said.

"How fast can we switch between the P-part of the drive and MEW-part?" Kevin asked.

"Why that is damned simple as all you need is the simple vibration capacity of the array! Orient the array up, turn on the MEW system and then cut the power to the P, and we should hover just as pretty as you please for a few minutes, maybe even an hour. More than enough for a decent pilot to get us onto a cushioned landing spot."

"That's a plan, then," Ares said, "now lets get a bit further out and kill some velocity...prepare to put the P drive on standby..."

"Ready when you are," Karl said.

"Kevin, get us ready for all the comms we can grab."

"Ready and waiting," Kevin said.

The reflective surface around Meridian high above Earth glowed in its blue, green, brown and white colors, while the white star that is the sun made a halo around it. Then it disappeared and the comms traffic came in.


Ray looked at Regina and then at the others around the table.

"She's serious?" he whispered.

Regina nodded.

"Yes, take an Athena I with survival rifle, which can also handle shotshells, and get within orbital velocity and aiming distance of every military satellite up there, and shoot its comms out."

"Actually, she could just get next to it and take one of the portable torches from one of the OASIS platforms," Hermes said with a grin.

"No, not all of them," Ray said in a whisper, "I don't need extra fights right now..."

"Give her some due, Ray," Mary said, "she came up with something a bit less destructive and yet just as effective."

Ray smiled and shook his head.

"Thank god I got to Darlene before meeting her," Ray said.

"So say we all," Dionysus said, "besides that is a fate worse than death, and Darlene is much better suited to you."

Ray looked at Regina.

"Would you like this job, Regina? I'd gladly hand it to you..."

"And leave you to take care of Mark and Lisa?" she asked with a smile, "and Herman and Brent to deal with?"

Ray looked at Hermes and Regina as they held hands.

"No, that's more than I can handle. A man has to know his limits. Tell Alice to stand down and give a Green light to Diana. Just as long as there's enough spare fuel up there to get her back down..." he said looking at Hermes who nodded.

"We have more fuel sticks, though not many. We're trying to find someone who can manufacture more of them either in Texas or Israel."

Ray shrugged.

"We'll blow that bridge up when we get to it. Give the go-ahead, Regina and...thank Diana for me on this. This way we can still settle things peacefully, and if they don't want to do that, then we can still hand their asses to them."

"Thanks, Ray. I'll be right back."

Regina hurried out of the Horizon's side room and to the rear rooms and went to the comms room, where she was now linked to the OASES and Meridian.

"We can handle this with single shots from the minigun," Ares said on the left portion of the divided screen.

"It was Pallas' idea, first," Diana said with Athena's arms around her and her body floating behind the comms station with her head next to Diana's.

Ares looked at the screen with the faceplate of his suit's helmet raised.

"Its a waste of fuel," he said softly, "we can finish the job in an hour, two tops. You would be days getting it done with an Athena I..."

"Besides its a one-seater," Kevin could be heard clearly from his pick-up, "how would the two of you do it with an Athena I?"

"Don't be stupid, Kevin," Karl said, "I know how I would do it and you see how close they are, right?"

"Oh," Kevin said softly.

Regina shook her head as she chuckled and decided to call up Alice first, muting the sound from the on-going conversation.


"Regina! Meridian contacted us and just wanted to get their comms shifted to you. Did you get them?"

"Yes, we did," Regina said looking at the small window on the main monitor, "Ray is giving the stand-down for the billets. Cancel them. We have other plans to take care of the problem now."

Alice breathed a sigh of relief.

"You don't know how much that means to me, Regina," Alice said shifting to talk to a man sitting in the chair next to her who nodded and started entering data into his terminal.

"And me. Now I need to intercede in a family squabble, so have to let you go, now."

"I hear you," Alice said with a smile, "Good luck with Mark and Lisa."

"I should be so lucky. Call back in a few. Bye-bye."

Regina killed that data link and then opened hers to the conversation going on between the odd assortment of people in orbit.

"You could just come by and we could jump to Meridian..." Athena was saying.

"If I may?" Regina said as she opened the transmission link and everyone stopped talking.

"Regina!" Athena said, "What's the word?"

"Ray has given the OK for Diana to take out US military satellites only, which you can easily get by a look-up on the list we sent up."

"Good!" Diana said with a smile. "That settles it, then."

"Still too much fuel use," Ares said softly, "and if you are really set on it, then it will have to be a 5-way match."

Pallas smiled. "Why, I welcome the competition," she said softly.

"We each get a shot at the same target. We'll use the flight systems to record hits and where they went, but we are stuck with whatever our rifles have and the optics available, which are all iron sights."

"You're turning this into a shooting competition?" Regina asked softly.

"Why sure, darling," Karl said, "it's all over except for the shooting. Haven't you heard that phrase before?"

Regina tried to not laugh, but the situation and its absurdities along with the real problems of reality became too much and she burst out in laughter. It wasn't hysterical laughter but it was hard to control.

"Right, I'll get us a decent orbital match for the OASES," Kevin said in the background.

"And while he is doing that," Ares said, "we need a quick conference, Regina. When you can get yourself under control..." he said with a smile.

" people! You're just all crazy, you know that, right?"

"Of course we are," Diana said softly, "and so are you. The rest of the world is just going to have to catch up."

"But it is serious, Regina. I've been looking through the data you've had for us on the ground, but there and at Ascentech, and once Lenny, Esme, Jasmine and Marissa get done hauling the hulks out of the valley, then we will need the crawler to be cushioned with mattresses, high density foam and low density foam."

Regina finally got her laughter controlled as she realized Ares was serious.

"OK, that should be easy. But why?"

"We are going to match orbital velocity with the spaceport, and then use the MEW part of the drive to descend the last 80 feet onto the cradle of the crawler and the crawler isn't built with anything to absorb the weight like that, and we need some cushioning. Once we are done with the competition, we'll let the two jump seats down in Meridian and we will all get back on the ground. We now have the next step of space travel, and it will beat anything the last generation ever created to hell and gone. Once we are on the ground we will all have to have a sit-down with Ray and start compressing timetables Meridian works, more or less, and the more part of it will now allow us to start a steep ramping up of work in space."

"Aye," Karl said, "and I've got a couple of ideas that I want to pass by Brent for using the thing for artificial gravity. Maybe not like in the movies, you know? But it should be good enough to keep people in shape."

"What?" Diana asked softly, "Really Karl?"

"Yah. Next up after that is talking to Dennis. Gravity, atmosphere, food and beer. We need beer up here. Priorities, you know?"

"You're all coming home?" Regina asked.

"Yes," Ares said, "We've put off things too long. It's time to get the hard work started."

"Of course," Diana said, "hard work, food then fun."

"Right after the competition," Athena said with a wicked smile, "nothing like a little friendly competition!"

"I'll contact Ray...then...just take care, OK?"

"We will," Ares said, "we've gotten the correct velocity for the OASES and are now heading there. We'll wait at OASES while you get things straightened out down there. Let us know when the cradle is ready for us."


"You know, I shouldn't be taking up your room here at the Event Horizon," Ray said looking at Hermes.

"Ray, I don't mind and since the CME I doubt that we will get parties big enough to warrant its use for at least another year or two," he said.

Seated around the table at the closed door meeting with Ray, Darlene, Karl, Alice, Bill, Kevin and Harry, were all the members of the extended family that had come together at the spaceport.

"Well, all of you asked to see us," Ray said, "and so we are here. What's up?"

"Part of it is business, Ray," Dionysus said as he looked at Gemma and then Jasmine who was sitting next to Athena, "but most of it is personal. You've met cousin Pallas after her return and we talked together about what to do, once things settled down. Since much of it meant things that were somewhat unusual, that meant having to bring in more people, and you are the first we need to talk to."

"Is this about what," she looked at Brent and Regina, "what we talked about?"

"Some, yes, Mrs. Kaplan. But it is more than that. Much more. The flight of Meridian is changing space travel for good, and that is part of it. But only part of our..." he looked around the table, "...we are a large family of sorts, aren't we?"

"Yes," Diana said softly looking at Athena then Jasmine, then turning to look at Alice. "After Ray, you've known me the longest, I think, Alice."

Alice nodded. "You were someone different, that's for sure. You helped us out more than I had ever expected."

"It wasn't easy, was it? I did not want to trample on your dream, but help to get them fulfilled. Forgive me for that?"

"Of course," Alice whispered, "I'm here because...of what you did."

"We all are," Ares said, holding Tamara's hand on the table, "and people that we did not know have grown to know us and be close to us because of that. Plus we got our lost cousin out of Greece," he said with a smile at Athena.

"Ray, Alice...there are just so many here..." Athena said, "I'm the newcomer and yet, my being here is the end of a long, long series of events all aimed at my rescue."

"Pallas, what had happened to you?" Darlene asked softly.

"For that, Mrs. Kaplan, you will have to know who I was...who I am. My name is Pallas, and it is suitable for me. But my family knew me as Athena, then Pallas Athene. Now Pallas Athena Sherwood. All of my cousins are, actually, half- or step- siblings to me, and I have but one parent who turned on all of our family. I could not have gotten to be here without the hard work of my brothers and sister who remained alive. Hermes, beloved brother and sister both, he was the one who found my body and kept it from being swept into the Underworld."

"What?" Harry asked softly.

Hermes pressed his lips together and looked at Athena.

"You stood fiercely, sister. I could do no more than rescue, as the Lethe had taken its toll, and I knew that I would be in for a similar or, indeed, worse fate."

"Are you saying...?" Alice started.

"Oh, my..." Darlene inhaled.

Athena looked at Dionysus who smiled at her and she smiled back.

"You weren't prepared but, which of us were, brother? Still we had all the warnings and when it came we were all caught off-guard," she said.

"Save one," Dionysus said softly.

Athena nodded.

"There is no shame in that, brother."

"Dionysus?" Ray whispered looked at the man he knew as Dennis Pennerton.

"The one with the ready shield," Athena asked, "closest to the confrontation after the death of Hera between Zeus and Apollo, was you fierce brother Ares. That caught me unprepared, to my utter shame..."

"No shame, sister. With the death of Apollo none of us stood and I was blown back as well. It was a horror as I've never seen before nor since. You were prepared just caught off-guard by the utter ferocity of what came and even the battle with Typhon was as nothing compared to that."

"But you're just..." Alice whispered.

Athena gave Jasmine a smile and then turned to Diana.

"And you, beloved one, you the one who helped me come to terms with my own inadequacies, you who were boon companion and fast friend even when we were isolated from each other first by city and then by wrath, you Artemis who is now Diana, are the one who said she would always keep her love for me above all else. After being fallen and seeing the fall of our brothers here, he then thought to use you in a way that could not be done, in the most painful of ways, demeaning beyond all end."

"Stop," Diana whispered as she closed her eyes, head bowed.

"You were then thought to be a prize by one who made a powerful force, but he knew not of its true power, he that made it and even the one that ran it. Yet in your fall, Nature herself provided the one thing to stop such pain, but at the cost of Artemis."

"Please..." Diana said softly, as Athena shifted her arm around Diana's shoulders.

"Wild Hunt it was called and you became its Huntress, you who knew so much of Nature that even with all that you were stripped from you, you still knew its ways better than the one who created the Wild Hunt by calling it into being. You made sure that there would be no others like us ever again, and sought out any that might harm you, threaten you, or seek to use you."

"Red...animal..." Diana whispered.

"Yes," Dionysus said softly, "Artemis in pain, betrayal, fallen, to be used by her Father to his then reacted as you must. Wilder than any wild woman, and wilder than any other thing was what you did with such a Hunt. I cannot hold one piece of blame to you, sister, for I would have collapsed into nothingness given what happened to you."

Alice looked at Darlene, Ray and they were looking at Diana.

"But you...Diana..."

"You hunted, sister," Ares said, "and the result is that in all my searching for centuries, I never found even the remains of any who were like Olympians. I had never thought that a single force could do that, but now I know better. I would have attempted and, this will surprise you Diana, fail. Because I would show mercy to any brought down and that would be the seed of future betrayal. But then Nature itself was something I could not use properly, and it fights by rules that are a horror and necessity both. You have always, even with your twin, the most dangerous of us all, Diana. And I do not mean that as a bad thing, either."

Athena kissed Diana's right temple and Diana shook her head.

"Sister, of frolic and song, of bow and beauty, when our father dropped you at our last battlefield I was shaken beyond all other things," Hermes said, "I had seen what he did to our sister, Athena, and then to see your form so ravaged and yet alive...that there was life after the fall..." Hermes shook his head. "I could not get to you."

"None of us could," Dionysus said, "though we did try, oh yes we did!"

"All of us," Ares said, "save for our sister, who had suffered something that I could only see much later."

Diana gasped and just turned to hold on to Athena, and the hand of Brent shifted to her shoulder as he stood up to stand next to her and then knelt there on one knee.

"Diana?" he said softly.

She shivered and drew away from Athena to look at him.

"Yes, Brent?"

"Knowing all I know, I am proud to be a human brother to you," he said reaching out to move her hair aside to look into her eyes, "and if you wish to share your sorrow with me, I would be proud to do so. Because you have given me a much better life than I had ever dreamt of."

Diana pressed her lips together and held out her right hand to Brent and pulled him close.

"Thank you, brother."

"Always, Diana. Growing up is hard enough, without all that happened to you."

"Aye," Karl said, "the same here, Diana. You do not realize it, but you go about saving lives wherever you go, you know? If all others of your kind could threaten you, then they deserve what came their way."

Kevin looked at Athena, Diana, then Ares, Hermes and Dionysus.

"But why tell us?"

"We had hoped that mankind was about to transcend just what has been bestowed upon you," Ares said softly, "that isn't the case in full. Yet now you have more capacity than we ever had. We are, apparently, doomed to live no matter what happens to us here on Earth. Space, however, offers final ends and the risk of them."

"Yes," Hermes said, "we are human of a sort, after all."

"Greeks," Jasmine said, "an older line, but still present in a large part of the Greek population. Or it was."

"We are fallen Olympians," Dionysus said, "each of us, separately, has done what we can to help our kin of humanity here and there..."

"Keeping the memories of past conflicts alive so you would not repeat those mistakes..." Ares said.

"Finding new ways to do commerce with you, while also showing how going faster is no horror," Hermes said.

"...for me it is helping to pick up the work of now long dead Demeter, and spread the things that can help you get through life beyond just food, but for imbibing and giving sorrows a place to drown."

"Aye, they do need drowning, they do," Karl said with a smile.

Athena looked at the others and shook her head.

"Zeus stole my memories from me so that each day, when I awoke, was absolutely new and I had no past, no future and a present I could not properly comprehend. A prison in which all but my closest family..."

"And animals, some children, those wounded or near death..." Hermes whispered.

"...yes, brother... I was forgotten by mankind but trapped in Athens."

"I saw you...but then I was struck by lightning, eh?" Karl said with a smile.

"I could not find out even what my situation in life was," Athena said softly, looking at Diana and the smiling at Brent. "But my closest love promised to never desert me, never betray me...and she pushed harder beyond all else to save me. Artemis made that promise after the death of Pallas at my hands...and I..." Athena caught her breath, "...memories flooded into me while I slept out of the grasp of dead Gaia. I was fighting my father. But I had strangled my closest love as OASIS moved out of Gaia's grasp. Yet she and my brothers had put enough effort in so that I knew where I was, what I had done and to see if this was a final end...or just something to do with me. It is the latter. I could not control my grief unless I did as she who I had killed had taught me. Even knowing she would regenerate, grief and self-pity nearly got to me. Until I added her name to mine. Pallas Athena Sherwood."

Athena took Diana into her arms and pulled Brent in with them, then kissed Brent's cheek and looked over at Ray.

"Forgive me my ways, Mr. Kaplan, I am sure they are strange to you. On our way back...Diana said that I had...helped you by suggesting we go after the satellites..."

"You were..." he looked at Regina who shrugged.

"Would you believe that Athena suggested it, Ray?"

Ray blinked and smiled.

"No. I was as surprised as anyone when Pallas stepped down from Meridian after Diana," he looked at Athena, "and you took a great burden off of me, thank you. I was blinded by the hatred of those who were trying to take my life from me."

"Now you know," Ares said looking around the table, "and we will be telling more locally until it is an open secret, and secret no longer."

Darlene smiled and nodded.

"That is a good way to do it," she said.

Alice turned to look at Ares.

"When you said you should have bailed out earlier, and that any sane pilot didn't make it down alive, did you?"

Ares shook his head from side-to-side.

"No human would have at that point. But ejecting just a minute earlier would ensure not just survival but one with no injuries, save for the injuries I already had."

Alice stared at him then slowly nodded.

"So much fits now...and..."

"We aren't better than you, Alice," Hermes said, "please understand that we are just as driven by passions as any other man or woman. Long life with no expectation of death is, actually, not something to be desired. One with risk, things to do and places to go, now that is the start of a good life and you have some assurance that you won't live forever, too."

Athena shifted and moved her chair out and picked up Diana easily in her arms.

"She has been through a lot," Athena whispered, "is there a place she can rest for awhile?"

Jasmine stood up and smiled, "Yes... Diana's room... follow me..." and with that she headed to the rear of the room with Athena bearing Diana close behind.

"The bravest girl that there ever was or will be," Dionysus said as he slid his arm around Gemma.

"I hope she gets to grow up some day," Gemma said softly.

"Athena, too, beloved, Gem. But for now, they have those who Diana knows and each other, and that must suffice."

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