"He's smiling and winking at me, I know it," she said sitting on a bench with the glossy advertisement in her hands. "At the place, the aerodrome? I don't even know where that is."
She tried to think about what she had seen that day, the lack of interaction by people and their inability to see or even hear her. Yet she lived, breathed, ate, excreted and wore clothes that had been on her from the start of the day. It was frustrating to be like this as it wasn't that she had amnesia, exactly, but assumed that she had been living a normal life when whatever it was happened to her. Yet she had no identification, no money, no car keys and no phone to use.
She watched people pass by, intently gazing into their phones and working their fingers and saw them bump into each other and not even say a word or even look up. She had wondered about some of the padding put on trees, lamp posts, even metal sign posts right up to the moment she saw people running into those. Shaking her head, she smiled.
"Somehow they avoid me but can't avoid something that doesn't move, like a tree. I wonder if they even know who is around them or if they are being transported to some other world, their bodies left to wander nearly aimlessly here?"
These puzzles within mysteries were as vexing as them not noticing her. Looking at the flier once more she noticed a small map that showed the city as a simple star...or perhaps only the city center? A little arrow pointed in a direction and she assumed that was North. A quick glance up at the sky let her know where the sun was as it moved into mid-afternoon and it peeked between high rise buildings. Thus South, East and West were known and looking left meant that she was looking North.
"That's the direction to go, I think," she got up from the bench, turned left and started walking as she glanced at the map. "Now those markings on the left, which are my left now, I think those are hills or maybe mountains. The route to the aerodrome goes around those. On my right is the sea but it should be a long way away."
At a cross street she looked right and could just catch a sparkle from water in the distance.
"Too close to the sea, perhaps? I will just have to go over to the left every few streets and get closer to where the hills or mountains are. Then I will have some idea how far it is to the aerodrome."
She did that the rest of the day and when night came she realized that this might be an effort in futility. Walking between buildings she saw a small stoop at the corner of a building in the rear and there was a light on over it, and a small meal set out under a cloth napkin. Looking around she only saw a cat on a window ledge across the way and it looked at her and simply blinked.
"I think this is for me," she said softly, and sat down to a meal of a cup of cold tea, thin slices of bread, small packets of cheese spread, a tin of potted meat and bowl of olives and tomatoes, whole. She ate her fill and then carefully arranged everything as it had been and continued walking into the night until exhaustion finally forced her to stop and she stopped at a dry culvert and worked her way down to the dry stream bed and huddled in the large pipe.
Tomorrow would be a another day.
And another direction to go in.
Marissa checked to make sure that the fires had been put out, the dishes put away, the flue to the chimney closed up, and all the windows secured. As she went through the lodge, the lights went out and closing the storm shutters meant that the rooms got very dark one by one. After securing the front door and putting up the shutters over the front windows, as well as planking and the chains around those, she went down the stairs and looked under the porch and dragged out wooden planks with nails that went through them. One by one she laid them out on the porch and then on the steps and looked at her handiwork.
There was a sound of motors far to her right and she looked across the garden area beyond the comms shack over to the solar panels which were now slanting slightly. She walked around to the side door and found planks with nails under the steps there and when the door had been secured she placed the planks down so the nails faced up. Then with the other planks there she put them under windows. By the time she had finished with that side of the lodge, Diana had emerged from the comms shack and doing the same tasks there. Hurrying, Marissa finished the rear and far side of the lodge and went over to the Suburban parked by the far wood pile. Diana was already there and re-arranging the rear area to clear out some space before lifting the rear gate, again.
"That's it for the lodge," Marissa said, "what's left?"
Diana pressed her lips together and looked around.
"I locked up the boathouse before breakfast, so that's done. The house guns are in safe storage, so that's no problem, and the ones we have with us I'll drop of at Ken's so he can send them on ahead to Washington so we can pick them up, since customs gets picky about that."
"That it then?"
Looking to the rear by the storage cave Diana thought for a moment.
"We'll take the motorcycles. I have block and tackle there and we'll secure them to the roof racking system and put those plastic shells around them so that they don't catch debris as we go."
Marissa nodded. "Meet you there."
Diana nodded and went over to the Suburban to start it up as Marissa walked up the trail to the cave, so she could open it up. They had stored a lot of material in here the past week, and all of the foodstuffs were in crates and then had plastic sheeting secured around them. All of that was put in a lower part of the cave that Diana called a carbon dioxide trap, which meant that if you spent too long there you collapsed for lack of oxygen. They took turns clearing the dead squirrels, a raccoon and various insects out of it before they lowered the crates into the depression. Today it was just the outer portion of the cave and it had chain link fencing with metal bars through it, and all she had to do was unwrapped the chain so the gate could swing open. She pulled the pulley on its steel rope overhead until it was over the entrance to the cave, which took enough time for Diana to back the Suburban under it. In 20 minutes the two motorcycles were in their shells, and secured to the roof rack, and after pulling out to close the gate, Diana went out, shut it, wrapped the chains around it and then secured a lock that had been hanging on the fencing to the chains.
Marissa was just getting settled in the passenger's side seat, which was a replacement for the original and a very comfortable seat to be in.
"If you want to nap, I'll wake you up when it starts to get dark," Diana said as she got in and secured her seat belt
"I'll watch the scenery and maybe nap a bit later. How'd it go in there? I knew you had a message."
Shrugging Diana released the parking brake and put the vehicle into drive, and slowly pulled out from the upper path to the cave and onto the road out.
"I had forgotten that I left all the assets I had in Ascentech to just roll over, putting the earnings back into the company. Everyone else has to have money to live on, so that grew my share over the last 6 years. Turns out I have the majority of the company," Diana chuckled and shook her head. The Suburban started to bounce on the dirt and rock road enough so that Marissa grabbed the support over the door to help keep herself from being tossed around.
"No shit? Really? I mean as in 'own' own?"
Diana nodded as she shifted the vehicle into one of its low gears to slow it down a steep grade that ended in one of the crossings they had repaired.
"So what are you going to do with it?"
"I swapped shares with Mason and Herman, plus funded the bio-support group Dennis and Jasmine started up there. Kicked a couple of million to Aaron for his little side venture, too. Though that is strictly for fun, no profit involved."
"Really? What is it?"
"He's putting a bit of heat on for the space race. And testing out some technology a couple of scientists talked about early last century."
Marissa blinked and decided that sunglasses would be needed once they hit the main road and put them on.
"What kind of technology?" she asked after getting her glasses on and made sure they wouldn't bounce off.
"Woodward effect thrust drive. A couple of nice men talked about it way back when."
"Really? Who were they?"
"Maybe you heard of them? Ernst Mach and Albert Einstein?"
Marissa just looked at Diana.
"No? I mean they aren't as well known as they used..." Diana started saying with a smile.
"Albert... THE Albert Einstein?"
"Are there others I don't know about?" Diana asked sweetly.
"And Mach, like in Mach number and The speed of sound and all that?"
Diana shook her head a couple of times, which may or may not be due to her own driving.
"You're joking, right?"
"Nope. A couple of scientists spent lunch money testing what those two talked about and made a device on the cheap that gave them thrust by using electricity. Clever stuff, really, the one who started it and documented it was Woodward all about transient mass effects. Aaron has just scaled it up and used some innovations demonstrated by a man in Nebraska. Scaled it up big time. That and the plasma ion jet engines that Herman designed should do the trick for their craft. Going to be the greeting party on the way back from dropping off the Ascentech equipment on the Moon."
Marissa was silent trying to absorb everything she had just heard.
"So how does it work?"
Diana drove around a tight bend and then straightened the Suburban out before having to reverse the maneuver
"It's one where apparent mass is moved out of phase with real mass to change the moment of inertia and gain thrust in a direction. Obeys all the laws of physics and everything. Of course with only a few discs a couple inches across you don't get much. Scale that up to 10 feet across and get a few thousand of them, then you have something there. Real thin discs, true, but they have been tested on OASIS II and work, so Aaron is doing the 'go big or go home' concept. The second man utilized 'V' shaped systems with fractal geometry throughout the structure which added an internal resonance system into the design."
"Ummm... 'apparent mass'? What the hell? How can you lose apparent mass?"
Diana gave her a quick glance before straightening out to go over a bridge.
"Did you have any to lose in the first place? That's the real question from what I can tell. Don't ask me, really, it is all relativity, frames of reference and what happens if you are the only object in the universe sort of thing."
"Why hasn't anyone heard about this?"
"Who pays any attention to what scientists do with their lunch money on spare time projects? No big names, no big funding, no big lights up in the sky, no book tour, no TV programs...yet its still science. But who pays attention if it doesn't cost billions to do? You would think that people would understand that science is what you do, not how much you spend on it. Instead you publish papers on the projects you spent your lunch money on and everyone thinks its trivial. Why people think like that is something I just can't figure out. I mean a man in a garage can't create a warp drive, now, can he?"
Marissa was looking at Diana who kept a straight face. She was about to say something when Diana softly said, "Yes, I am."
"It was just rhetorical, you know? I just can't believe it."
"Ever see a small energized disc with a thick rubber coating go from nothing to nearly super-sonic speed in less time than it takes you to blink an eye?'
Marissa shook her head from side to side.
"I have. That was the smallest test rig that could be flown up with me and it didn't puncture the OASIS I container system, but it left me with a really nasty bruise. No one is bothering to publish that because it is all out in the open."
"But no one... I mean I haven't heard of anyone doing research..."
"Hiding in plain sight. If it doesn't cost at least millions to try out, then it can't be taken seriously. Only expensive things deserve that. Money makes the world go around, you know?"
"Is that why you...ahh...agreed to having me up here?"
Diana shrugged and looked at her for a moment going over a less rough part of the road.
"I didn't need an interview, Marissa. And you didn't need a story. You were volunteering and I accepted. As simple as that. Now that you don't want the interview and have walked away from that life, you can get an idea of what happens to people that cross me. I doubt you will go public with this, though, since you don't have the time to write and no one will believe you if you did. Seeing is believing. It is time to open up some eyes and that is only done by hard work. I like hard work! Don't you?"
"Do we even take military loads? Not relief loads or electronics, but actual munitions?" Darlene asked looking at Ray who was settling in to his breakfast of 2 eggs and a single waffle, plus a large mug of coffee.
Ray looked at her and raised his eyebrows.
"It isn't a military load, but a civilian one. And we have lofted our own multi-purpose loads, love. Those billets just aren't single purpose."
She looked at her partially finished melon, berries and toast, and decided that her coffee seemed a better idea and sipped at that for a few minutes.
"Do we even know what it has?" she asked softly.
Ray shifted the tablet system in its stand, and flipped across his news stream.
"At least 2 or 4 of the original sized drives Herman made. I know they had a few they used for testing and tinkering. If the mass is right that might net them 6g. Fits in the ALV-III bay so I doubt it is a single person vehicle. And he is doing something with that science experiment they did on the OASIS a few years ago."
"That's not what I'm asking, Ray," Darlene said.
He drizzled some syrup on his waffle and ate a bite, then followed that with some coffee.
"I know, love, and I can't say because I don't know. I don't even know how many people have worked with them on this, and by 'them' I mean Aaron, Karl, Kevin, Herman, Regina and Brent. I would guess Dennis, Gemma and Jasmine, too since it needs a life support system. Most likely Diana, as well. After that? The Nordhaus kids, maybe?"
"Lenny and Esme?" Darlene asked.
"And they must be keeping it at Karl's place, which isn't too hard," Darlene said, "since he has that large pre-fab storehouse and acres of outdoors to use. Everything from trucks, cars, motorcycles and even a couple of airframes salvaged from god knows where."
Ray started in on his eggs with pieces of his waffle as Darlene talked. She looked back at her melon and decided to start in on it for at least a few more bites.
"It's armed, isn't it?"
Ray looked at her as he sat back, and smiled.
"Well if it's a Q-ship, then it looks totally civilian. And no one bothers to check this stuff as it's all private enterprise, and my guess is that it is dual-purpose, too. When you consider some of the amounts of energy we play around with just to get things moved around and begin processing materials, the idea of 'armed' isn't so cut and dried. A pretty hefty cutting laser could do a number on anything over 20 miles up, and give a truly harsh sunburn to someone on the surface. A good sized phased-array system could be tuned to start doing a number on electronics over a small area all the way to the surface, but that is just a high resolution mapping system and would look just like it and act like it, unless it had a few extras with it in hardware and software."
Darlene thought about that as Ray leaned forward.
"Love, you know what 100 tons of high density metal coming in at 15,000mph does when it hits the surface from orbit. We went over that. In orbit, though, those are just slowly lumbering chunks of metal. I know why he told me, too."
She looked at him with a puzzled expression.
"Why?" she asked softly.
"It's a test," Ray said looking at her, "making sure we don't have any ulterior motives beyond what we've talked about. If we balked at him, then that would mean we do have an ulterior motive. Luckily we don't."
Darlene thought about that for a moment while looking at Ray.
"But can he be trusted with a small warship in orbit?"
"It's a test, Darlene. You've known him as long as I have. Tamara, too. And Diana...all of them. It isn't so much a warship as just something to have to, well, quite a few Nations have taken out orbital systems from the ground. This isn't just a test for us. It's a test for everyone once people start to figure it out. Aaron has flown combat missions, too, so he has been in the belly of the beast, so to speak. You tell me if he seems like he has an ulterior motive."
"To keep them honest..." Darlene started, "...he's a hard man to figure out. But he has helped us all and I doubt it was done to harm anyone outside of flying combat missions." She started smiling as she thought about it. "No, he loves Tamara, Kyle... and with his cousins, they even call each other brother and sister when they think people aren't listening. And that is no cabal trying to run the planet, that's for sure. Pretty much just the opposite, really."
"It is a high stakes game, this getting to space business. He may have realized that there is no way to keep them honest unless you get there first and make sure that they are kept honest. This isn't about this country, but of him being up there to defend himself, and that he is doing against those who want to restrict space access and threaten not just him but everyone with force. Because the first Nation that squawks about him having a small warship in orbit will just have told us that they have other aspirations about those on Earth, while he is just one man utilizing the tools at hand to make his own defense in this new frontier. And heaven help anyone who tries to take him down."
Darlene inhaled and shifted her head slightly.
"Because he will stop them?"
"No, love. He knows that WE will stop them. Because we both want access to space to be unlimited for all of mankind. Without anyone trying to tell us what to do, adding cost on it, putting regulations in place, how to get there and how to live there. I thought that the big news was going to be our systems, getting the first Lunar mining operation going that can spiral up in a few years to be a real operation with its own orbiting power system and delivery system to get raw materials to orbit. Instead the man who is going to be patrolling out there, I think that once that is figured out, that what we do will seem simple in comparison and he will become the subject of interest far more than our operation."
"There's a new sheriff in town, and he has a family. Best not to mess with such a man," she said with a western drawl.
Ray chuckled, looking at her.
"He's just a heavily armed civilian, Darlene. And he isn't looking for a fight, just telling others that he means that and letting everyone know what that means to him. And if we've guessed right, then nearly every single one of that strange extended family will be pulling duty doing that. I doubt that vehicle will ever be back on Earth. They are putting their lives on the line and raising the stakes in the game in a way that no one else is ever going to see coming."
"That's why he told you," Darlene said softly looking at her husband, "now we get to be a step ahead of everyone else."
"Too bad we have a tight schedule," Ray said, "but I'm not going to do a single thing to stop him. It is time to see just who the players are and what they really want."
The ALV-III container was being lowered into the empty portion of the building, which included the area cleared out from the active work space, which meant that other projects were now lofted into the rafters. The first thing that Nuada had the work crew do was to lift the top portion of the container from the bottom portion, so that the engine mounting section would be completely exposed. Then the top portion was carefully split apart, the two solar panels lifted slightly up after being bagged so that nothing would damage their surfaces, and then rubber wedges put in to keep them in that orientation.
Dionysus looked at the forward section of the separated piece which was now on two mobile platforms so that it could be worked on from below. He didn't even have to duck under it as he walked in to examine it, and Nuada was close behind.
"Yes, the core of the OASIS II was huge, and we had the entire forward section to play with. What we have here is closer to the OASIS I in volume," he said as the work crew started to place flood lights pointing up into the body of the container.
She looked up at the surface of the container and shook her head.
"Right, first we need the strut supports for the interior put in place, then lay down the insulation mats and secure them. Then we need power conduits, also insulated..." she started going through her mental checklist of everything that needed to be done.
"Ah, Mel will be able to handle this, Nuada. Really most of it is now prefabricated on the partial shell over at the main building."
"Yeah, Dennis, I got it," she said with a smile looking at him, "This is a hell of a lot of work to get done in so short a time."
He looked at her with a smile.
"Nothing like what you have with the engines in New Mexico," he said shaking his head, "then when we match the pieces up, you will have to make sure that it all goes together, just so," he said with his hands out in front of him, cupped and then brought together.
"That won't be so bad, I think," Nuada said.
"So you say, so you say. We will get this done, that I'm sure of, now. The large problem will be getting the tanks to match up between sections, and Mr. Mankin has given us quite exacting specifications so that there can be insulated piping going between the two halves once it is mounted," he sighed looking up into the space of the empty piece. "They did put in a number of mounting points on their platform so that many different systems can be shifted around it. Now we get to see how good that work is."
Nuada shook her head, "Bill did it. It will be good."
She looked around and looked out the open doors to see a flatbed being backed into the parking area.
"And there we are! Mel is on time!" Nuada smiled watching the truck being guided to the lower half of the container which was now being raised to fit on the flatbed.
Dionysus put has left hand on her shoulder and looked at her.
"I know you and Mel have missed each other," he said softly, "and you work well together. I will have a talk with Herman to see if we can't get our plans advanced to expand the New Mexico facility and close up shop here. You both deserve it and I like working with both of you."
Not many years ago she would have been offended by the familiar gesture, that was who she was then. Now she turned to look at the quite attractive man and his heartfelt expression. She also liked working with him, Gemma and Jasmine and her time that she could spend with Mel meant some delays in their schedule, which Dennis and Gemma had covered very well.
"Dennis, I think the schedule calls for it in two years," she started saying and he shook his head.
"Don't worry about Herman or what the schedule was. Ascentech is paying a premium for this, and that premium can be put to work immediately, there is no longer any reason to wait. Part of what I do is to make sure Herman has a conscience beyond just the business, and we all owe much to you and Mel for the hard work and separation you both suffer with. After this, the two of you can work on the design for the expansion together. I do have my ways, after all."
Nuada bit her lower lip looking into Dennis' eyes which were as dark a green as Diana's were blue. "I...you know, I think I know what Gemma sees in you, you know?"
Dionysus chuckled and shook his head.
"Yes, the forgetful, lazy, over-imbibing man who doesn't know when to stop. That's me! But I promised to be sober for this, and so I am. I'll put this rare time to good use since you are a boon to all around you, you and Mel are, and for that a bit of brow beating with my cousin is the least you deserve."
"Thank you," Nuada whispered softly as he nodded.
"Now time for you to do what you do best! Raise your voice, raise hell, get the work done and then come back and remind everyone that the work is over and it is time to blow off some steam!" he said with a jovial voice.
She nodded as he slipped his hand from her shoulder and she took just a moment to shift her hand to hold his.
"Gemma is a very lucky woman, Dennis."
"Oh, I wouldn't go telling her that! She needs to be the level headed one, and you can't do that with a swelled head."
Nuada let go of his hand and started laughing, knowing that she would have to tell Gemma just how lucky she was.
As they walked out from under the container, workmen were moving rolling ladders under it as well as beginning to erect scaffolding. They saw the truck slowly backing in as Mel had the door open to look behind at the man directing her. When he waved his arms from side to side at hip level, she stopped, swung out the door, turned and dropped to the ground to start walking towards the building.
"God I'm going to miss her," Nuada said watching Mel as she waved to Nuada who waved back.
"That makes the reunion so much sweeter, now, doesn't it?" Dionysus said.
"Oh, yeah," Nuada said in low tones as she walked towards Mel, "Lots sweeter."
Esme was under the vehicle's forward section using a light to look at the forward generator system.
"Is it on?" she asked as she brought out the small leads to the voltmeter attached to her belt, which had readouts on the leads as well as the face of the meter.
"Yes, just a trickle, not more than a milliamp," Ares said from the next to the access hatch.
"All right, keep the contacts on. Lenny? Shift the positive to number 12."
"OK," Lenny said with his voice echoing inside the large pre-fab building. "That's it."
"Yup, 1.2 milliamps," Esme said.
"Good," Ares said, "Lenny, attach the lead to 12. I think we screwed up on the numbering, everything has been off by 5, so lets try swapping 8 and 13."
"Give me a moment," Lenny said, "have to snug it down back here."
"Dad?" Kyle's voice could be heard.
"Yes, son?" Ares said watching his son coming towards him with a box of flat, square objects.
"Is this the box you wanted?"
Ares nodded as he looked at the box containing the Lithium Sulfide cells.
"That's the one! Where did it get to?"
"It was in the back seat of the Buick," he said putting the box down on the table next to the readout system Ares was working on. He shook his head smiling as he knew that Karl had a haphazard system of receiving incoming materials.
"I'm glad you found them, Kyle. Now would you like to help Esme get them placed in their mounts?"
Kyle nodded yes and picked up the box heading towards the ladder when he felt his father's hand on his left shoulder.
"You're forgetting something," Ares said softly but firmly.
"Oh," Kyle said looking at his father.
"Harness and helmet, no falls allowed."
Kyle nodded and turned and put the box down on the table and walked over to the locker area to get out the necessary safety harness and helmet.
"I hope you don't mind to much, Esme."
"Not at all, Aaron," she said looking at him, "even my hands are a tight squeeze in there," she said with a gesture to the interior of the compartment, "and that is before those cells get in there. Once they start going in it will be slow going."
Ares nodded as he turned to make sure Kyle was putting the harness on correctly and not backwards and upside-down.
"Shifting to 8 and 13," Lenny said.
"Let me know when you have them connected."
"Esme, shift over to them. Current is off."
She nodded and shifted contacts as Ares knelt down in front of Kyle to make sure that everything was snug and secure.
"You are good to go, son. And remember,"
"Shift, lock and step! I will, just like last time!"
"And don't forget to unlock the one you will shift only after you have locked the other one."
"I won't forget," Kyle said with a smile picking up the box and then heading towards the ladder.
"Ready," Lenny said.
"Leads attached," Esme said. "1.2 milliamp."
"Switch the last of them around by the fives, then we can start with the feedback from the cells."
He watched as his son slowly went up the ladder, shifting the box up step by step and only unlocking one side of his harness after he had clipped it off on the other side.
"It will go faster from here," Ares said, "hopefully we got the numbering right on the other 8 banks."
Esme smiled as Kyle got to her level and put the box on the platform between their rungs right under the top of the ladder.
"Hi Kyle, glad to see you," she said shifting the contacts.
"Nice to see you, Esme," he said looking up into the open space where a metal box was open on its hinges and Esme was working the test leads across a beige, flat board with evenly spaced slits on either side.
"Think you can get up to the top slot up there," she said indicating the farthest up point, "with one of those cells and push its tabs into the slots?"
Kyle looked up and leaned his head to one side and then the other.
"I think so..." he said slowly, "but I gotta be on the top for that."
"I'll steady you, don't worry."
"Let us know when you're done, Lenny," Ares said.
"Another minute, just doing them one at a time to make sure the numbers go on right."
Kyle looked at Esme and nodded.
In a few minutes the circuits were checked out by the numbers and then the individual cells started to be fitted by Kyla and checked by Lenny. Ares checked the schematic on his system and watched as the first fast cycle discharge through ion beam pumped phased array radar system was being put together. Just 3 years ago he had tested this using only two microwave transmitters, the tiny experimental beam and older style batteries. At 100' he had burnt out the electronics of a cheap watch and at 1000' he had disrupted a computer so that while energy still registered on some of its circuits, others were so disrupted as to be non-functioning. From that he started testing shielding because he knew, at some point, that would be necessary as well since the only thing more important than generating high amplitude wave forms was disrupting them. Jasmine had been a great help to him, as well, although what he needed was much, much simpler than her biological components in carbon nanostructures. Mere metallic atoms in suspended cages with exterior integrated atoms meant a way to contain, diffuse and divert incoming high amplitude waveforms, which meant eliminating tons of metal from the final design.
And he put those tons to very, very good use.
Karl watched with a smile as the ALV-III container half was slowly moved into the facility.
"Now we finally get to clear the rest of this crap out of the way and get it into there," he said looking at the cradle and gesturing to one of the work crew to shift the forward section by a few inches.
Nuada had stepped off the truck after she parked it in the parking lot and came through the entrance just as the doors started to close from above. Their overhead gantry system was not as large or capable of the one Ascentech had, but then they didn't have so much space to operate with, either. The Athena I and II hulls and one nearly completed vessel had been taken up to the sides and then suspended where they would be out of the way, with tarps over them to keep them from getting any of the materials that would be in the air once serious work started.
Karl watched as she walked around the cradle structure and looked up to see the engines which had arrived the day before.
"We're behind schedule," she said not to anyone in particular and with the noise she doubted that anyone could hear her.
"Not a bit of it, Nuada," Karl said with a voice that came to her perfectly and she smiled as she looked at him.
"We have the foam sections ready to place, the support system, braces and all the engine mounts prefabricated, and they need to be placed and joined. But that only comes after all the power and control feeds are put in place, and then fitted to the bracing system, which we can't do without the actual container here to do it with. Then we lower the engines in, and build up the framing system for when the other half gets here and then marry them up, which will be a true pain. Mel is the one under the gun, but she has 2 days head start and, with any luck, in 3 days her half will get here and by then the tank system and connectors will all be in place. Easy as pie after that. For us getting the 2 plasma engines and the boost engine in are simple in comparison."
Karl turned as he heard voices and saw Herman and Brent walking and talking about the next load after this one, which was their private load. After watching how Herman ran this business, Karl realized that he really wanted a part of the space business, but not the part that anyone else was working on. He didn't even want to be in the space business, actually, just enjoyed custom vehicle fabrication. Thus he had an unpaying hobby that took up spare time, money and work. He wouldn't earn a dime from it, but the reward was far more than what mere pay could offer.
They got to where he was standing just at the same time Nuada did and they all gave quick hugs and Nuada hugged him as well.
"Good to have you back, Nuada," Karl said.
"Yes, it is," Brent said looking up at the now fully lowered container.
"Cousin Dennis has gotten in contact with me, Nuada," Hermes said with a smile, "and once the work gets started here, we need to talk about the expansion of the plant. And we'll snag Mel for a couple of weeks here, too, when she gets here with the habitat portion."
Karl looked at Herman and Brent who held hands as they talked and to Karl this wasn't strange at all. He had gotten used to the waxing and waning of Herman's cycles long before he came out here to help him out. Still there was some incompatibility between them, but that was merely Karl's outlook on life, and he held nothing against Herman. It took dedication to make the 3-way relationship they had actually work and now it did. He knew their children would be with Regina, and she would be minding the club while they minded the main business, and then they would reconfigure on the fly and everyone would still know who was doing what.
"And well they should!" Karl's voice boomed out, "They have more experience with building these things than anyone has, and they will make this place right and work and as safe as you can be."
Herman raised an eyebrow looking at Karl and Brent shook his head.
"Listen up, everyone!" Karl said, "We will finally get our act together so we don't have to spend days going between facilities! Steaks are on me at the Horizon tonight, if you can get there."
The work had stopped for a moment and Karl's voice carried throughout the building.
There was a moment of silence and then some people clapping with work gloves on, others taking a moment to remove them to do the same, and others calling out about it took a long time.
Karl looked at Nuada who looked at him wide-eyed.
"And I'm happy for you and Mel," he said softly, "because its been a sticking point for you two for years."
"I really had hoped to make an official announcement..." Herman said with a smile.
"And delay it until after the build," Brent said with a wide smile.
"Screw that!" Karl said, "You want things done faster and better? Let everyone know now and they sure as hell will NOT screw up on this job."
He looked at Nuada.
"No, we will make schedule. Even if I have to drag the container over the desert to the spaceport on logs. It will get there on time."
Looking at the small overhang outside of the rear of his study, Father Andre was carefully placing down the things that seemed to be the ones that could invite a visitation. With the small sting bag with cheese, sausage, a small loaf of bread and a bottle of water also went a camera that he mounted on a standpipe. This was a game trail camera that was on loan from a parishioner, and if it detected any movement, it would snap a picture once every 10 seconds while something was in its detection range. A week in and he found that he was taking a breakfast of bread, sausage, cheese and bottled water, which was disheartening to say the least. Each morning he checked to see what the camera had captured and only once did it capture the motion of something, but it was not on the second story overhang and only a light grayness indicated that it might be something going by the camera. Unfortunately the blur was just that and gave no indication of distance, which meant it could be the wing of a moth or a bird or just a piece of paper floating by in the mid distance.
Tonight he placed the small bag down once more and this time also put out an old pair of jeans, a shirt he used when he visited relatives to the north, and under those he decided that the one obvious attractor would be the revolver in its holster. The man that they had contacted about the weapon earlier was more than willing to give it a check-over, a cleaning, and restock its cleaning supplies with fresh ones. Fr. Andre had also used a leather restorative that he used on the boots he wore when visiting those same relatives, and made sure to clean and buff off the remains of it.
Given the walls around the overhang, there was no real way for anyone to see from below if he placed anything out and he doubted if anyone from across the way could look down and in at it, either.
"Truly I do not know what to expect," he said to himself as he placed the items out and adjusted the camera and ensured that its battery was still charged. "It is difficult to offer prayers up for someone you cannot say for certain exists, yet I do so because nothing else fits."
Gently he closed the doors as the gathering darkness arrived and sat down to work on letters for those he knew well. To him this demanded written material, not e-mail which he considered too cold and impersonal for those closest to him. That took some hours and he was tired, and turned the radio on low to listen to music as he prepared himself for bed. His prayers included one for the woman who may or may not be there, and if she was then her salvation. He realized that he had just recrafted a prayer for the innocent gravely injured and afterwards knew that it was appropriate if all he thought were true.
He then climbed into bed and started to doze off right before he fell deeply asleep and as he reached out to turn off the radio he heard the beginning of the local news which started with the crimes of the day and usually had one local interest piece at the introduction to the program. That introduction had included a report on the preparations for the upcoming airshow, and what was being done to help prepare for it. With that he turned the radio off and turned over in bed. Soon he was asleep and dreamt of someone racing through the city who then jumped upwards, gained wings and passed into the sky overhead.
The next morning that dream stayed with him and he could not shake it from his thoughts. When he opened the door to the overhang he saw that all he had left out was gone. All other thoughts flew from him as he took down the trail camera to review what it had captured and for the first time he saw an owl. Then two. Then a dozen. The last showed one large owl taking to air with the pistol belt, and then there were no more pictures taken.
"Owls...her bird. Perhaps they are the ones sent to look after her?" Then he realized that she is, indeed, someone out in the great city, itself. Somewhere. Anywhere.
"This will require much more prayer in search of guidance. For how can you find someone like her?"
Billy White Claw waved as the Suburban pulled out of the circle from in front of his house, along with his wife, 3 sons and 2 daughters, the eldest of each having their own spouses on hand along with the 3 grandkids for their arrival.
At that point they had spent 2 days on the Alaska Highway, which had been known as ALCAN and still had markers to show how long it had taken to build that road. At Watson Lake in the Yukon, Marissa had been beat tired after they switched positions after trading furs that had been gathered that season, and Diana offered Marissa $100 for her part in the mass of skins they had sold off. It wasn't much, but would help for her immediate prospects, and while she still had credit cards and a debit card from her bank, she knew that she would have to switch institutions in the near future and had already diverted bills to the spaceport's post office to a place called Event Horizon. Marissa had giggled when she realized that the address given was that of a bar and grill, run by Herman Lassiter's family. She had gone from respectable, if small, apartment in Boston to a bar at the spaceport.
Highway 37, the Stewart-Cassiar Highway didn't look long but her GPS tracker let her know that this was going to be one long stretch of road. She was on it nearly 10 hours and beat tired, and realized that her entire music collection had grown boring to her about an hour into the drive. It was beautiful land, however, and she couldn't resist stopping where she could easily do so, and a few times Diana had awakened from her sleep on the passenger's side to join her. Asleep, truly asleep, Diana looked like someone different to her, and her relaxed face grew somewhat rounded, softer and gentler. She had never thought that she would be in such a position in her life, and while she did have a car that was being shipped from Boston to the spaceport, it was just a two-seater commuter hybrid vehicle, not this land yacht that Diana drove. Yet this land yacht had performance upgrades, very adjustable bucket seats, added in seating in the rear that folded out of the way, cargo capacity and at least two gun safes that were empty, their contents being forwarded to Billy White Claw in northern Washington State near the border.
At Kitwanga, BC, they had stopped off at a home of Harold Cossican, who had a wife and 3 children, 2 of them grown and now living out in the oil fields, and the last, their daughter Kim, was just finishing up a set of courses in remote sensing and seismic prospecting so that she could seek work outside of the area. Kim's age was hard to estimate, being somewhere in that late teenager range but showing that she had grown up used to wilderness living which made her look more in her early-20s. Just a decade ago she might still have been in a school system, or going to college, but that world had been transformed via open coursework, certified class credit accumulation and then testing accreditation via an open framework system. That meant that only a few colleges had survived the great tumult of the distributed education era, and they were either research institutions or institutions that lived on due to conservative management of endowments and their names.
Marissa was introduced as Diana's friend and traveling companion, and Elsa Cossican said that it was much better to drive down with someone than to do it alone like Diana normally did. Diana had just shrugged it off and said it wasn't a bad drive, but was glad to have company. Too bad they couldn't stay over, but a hot meal, a couple of hours to stretch the legs and take in the scenery was welcomed by Marissa. She had revived some, but that was only enough to make her realize just how tiring doing nothing but driving could actually be, and after they had walked off a steak cutlet, pan fried vegetables, serving of boiled potatoes and sauerkraut had any of the reviving started. They were offered a room to stay in and Marissa would have loved to be able to sleep the prior 2 days and night off, but Diana was on a schedule. From the passenger's side she watched the Skeena flow beneath the bridge and then Diana turned to take them on the Trans-Canada Highway headed South or East depending on which highway you were on since a couple of them used the same highway. She had tried to stay awake but the deepening blackness in the sky and long stretches of road soon got the better of her and she was asleep. Once she felt something, but then snuggled down under the double blanket, the last clear road sign was for Houston... British Columbia.
Dreams were not that vivid to her, just a feeling of maybe being in the Boston Commons and then meeting friends to go shopping, then a nightclub, but all just a blur. Going alone through the turnstiles on the Red Line she boarded the subway train and as she stepped through its doors she was stepping through the doors from the boathouse on the lake, her packages and outfit shifted to a satchel and the thin t-shirt, vest and cut-offs of her first week or two with Diana. Then came a blur of working, weeding, sawing wood, placing logs, hunting deer, running trap lines and through it all the presence of Diana standing next to her, working with her, and then falling asleep next to her seeking refuge from the fears that had begun to consume her.
Light filtered in and she awoke to see that 100 Mile House was only a few miles away, and Diana had asked how she slept. It wasn't good sleep but it was some sleep, and dawn at 100 Mile House meant that they would be exchanging positions but only after breakfast and stretching their legs for an hour or two. Diana hadn't driven straight through, but she didn't want to disturb Marissa's sleep and would have stopped again if she needed to relieve herself or just get out of the Suburban for a bit. She couldn't remember just where it was they stopped for breakfast, and Marissa just had an egg, toast and coffee which was just what Diana was having as well. Then the filling up of the gas tank, which she had received the simple instruction of gassing up whenever they were under half a tank and there was a gas station available to fill up at, and this was yet another one of those stops as well. All the fluids checked and then Marissa was driving again. Then a couple of hours later the toll and customs check at Osoyoos, then going to Oroville in Washington State, and then directions to get to Billie White Claw's house near the National Forest.
Today was south again.
"Why are we going to Walla Walla?" Marissa asked.
Diana looked over at her from the passenger's side seat, her eyes taking in the road ahead and then Marissa.
"Just a quick lunch with Nicholas and Sharon, cousin Dennis' first born son and his family. They run a nice shop for the local farmers and vintners, and they will get half of the smoked meat and fish we have. Plus those two bottles of raspberry jam you made. After that we have a day to stop off somewhere for a good day of stretching our legs unless you are up to push on through to the spaceport."
"You put in a day just for us?" Marissa whispered. "I mean we don't have a lot to talk about, really. You're private about your early life and your family, although you do give out some bits here and there. It's like you all knew each other growing up and then drifted apart."
Diana looked forward at the road again.
"Well, so did you," she said softly, "no harm in that. We did have time together and broke up when the father or uncle of the larger family... he had fidelity problems and when we tried to support his wife... to just get a better relationship and stop the wandering around...he didn't take it well."
"Oh," Marissa said softly.
"I still have some problems with that, but time does begin to heal over things. I was the beloved youngest and yet saw that he was...not acting properly with anyone, really. We survived, but not until after all of us had suffered."
Marissa took off her sunglasses and pulled the vehicle to the side of the road to look at Diana, who was looking straight ahead.
"That's awful," she whispered looking at the young woman staring straight ahead.
"Oh yes," Diana said softly, "beyond awful in ways I really can't tell you about. I can't hate him, and have no love for him either, just see him as the thing he had become. And being the one he cared for the most, I was the one who would feel the brunt of his wrath. He died because of that and..." Diana shook her head to look at Marissa, "...he deserved it because he brought it upon himself."
Marissa saw this young woman who had such strength and capacity, a loving hold as well as a steady one, tremble, shiver and then close her eyes at the memory of what she had been through.
"God..." Marissa whispered.
"Exactly!" Diana sobbed, and then turned her head to the right to look away. "I will be that better person he wasn't capable of being or die in the attempt, Marissa," she said turning to look at Marissa again.
Marissa unbuckled her seat belt and reached over to hug Diana.
"Forgive my reticence," Diana whispered to her as they hugged, "but that is not to be shared beyond the bounds of those I care for."
Marissa realized that she had a story, a part of a story, and it was something she wouldn't tell anyone that Diana didn't trust. Not all stories can be told openly, and some harmed people when they were. In realizing that she now saw her life in a way she had never seen it before and held Diana tightly, because the full amount of harm she had done to others to get recognition, to get fleeting fame, to feel important to herself, that had cost her friends over time and did things that really should never have gotten headlines. Now she felt sick at what she had done and couldn't ever trust herself to do straight reporting because of those past stories she had told with such relish.
"I forgive you," she said to Diana, "it wasn't your fault."
Diana pulled away to look at Marissa.
"He was who he was, Marissa. I supported his wife, knowing it was the only way left to try and get him to change. I loved her although," Diana gave a slight smile, "not like you...you see?"
Marissa nodded with a smile.
"He reserved a special wrath, a special kind of hatred for that with me. I was too young to know that, then. And yet, if I had it all to do again, not knowing the outcome or...yes..." Diana shook her head, "...even knowing it and that there was a chance he might change... for all the horror that followed, it was worth that single chance. Because I would never, ever side with him."
Marissa's eyes widened looking at Diana, trying to imagine what it was she lived with and failing.
"Diana if I knew, before what I did how my stories would..." Marissa shook looking at Diana, "...I just couldn't. I don't ever want to be the person I was two months ago. Not ever again."
Nodding Diana slid her arms around Marissa and they softly kissed each other. Marissa shut the vehicle down and they walked to the side of the road, out into the tall grass that was starting to dry out in this season before winter and after summer, and then went to the ground to just hold each other. Once back on the road the silence would no longer be one that hung in the air, but a silent compassion between them, of holding hands while one drove with one hand and the other was held. They didn't need to say words except for the mundane things that needed to be done, and the joyous arrival at the Pennerton shop, to see Nicholas, Sharon, their nearly grown up children and to greet the old cat that still prowled the shelves to keep the store tidy and vermin free.
That would be the free time in the schedule, spending the night with the close family before driving through to the spaceport.
Marissa realized, at some point, that she was beginning to feel accepted for who she was, not what she wrote and the fame or notoriety that went with it. It was a strange feeling that she had never experienced in her life before. And a very hard one to accept as she didn't feel worthy of it.
Regina was behind the bar, hoping that Brent or Hermes could get back soon with Mark and Lisa because she knew that today was the day she really wanted to be spelled off. It had been months and months since she had even seen her and there was that void in her life that was so far away. She was watching the door and saw Ares come in with Kyle, and he waved to her and she smiled back and nodded over to the large table that she had reserved for anyone who could get time free to be at Event Horizon.
Sherwin Cooper, the regular mid-day bartender looked at her and nodded.
"Go ahead, Regina, I can handle the bar and the floor with Cindy," he said nodding at the waitress who was taking orders from a couple of workers at Avalon Spacetech who were off early from work, "and know you have family coming in."
She stepped over to Sherwin and gave him a hug.
"Thanks! I'm just so...well...you know," she said with a smile.
"Yeah, its obvious. Remember to get the orders and get them over here, OK? The last time this happened Mark was running back and forth and that just didn't look right," he said watching Regina chuckle as she took off the bar apron and walked to the end of the back bar area and hung it up on a hook, and then went around the end of it to greet Ares and Kyle.
Ares was sitting down and Kyle was pulling out a chair next to him and looking at Regina.
"Hello, Aunt Regina!" Kyle said standing by the chair.
She nodded, smiled and went to Kyle and hugged him.
"Howya doin, Kyle? Raising any ruckus lately?"
Kyle shook his head.
"Naw, just out with dad at the junkyard, working on stuff there," he said.
Ares stood up to give her a hug across the pulled out chair and gestured for her to take it.
"Hello, sister," he said softly.
"Hello, brother," she said in return and held him for a moment longer and then broke with him.
"Kyle decided the seating arrangement, at least for you and me. You get the corner so you can forget to take orders back and forth. I'm next to you and he is next to me. Tamara can't make it, she is tied up at Highflight."
Regina nodded as she started to sit down and Kyle pushed her chair in.
"Thank you, Kyle," she said giving him a glance.
"You're welcome, Aunt Regina!" and once she was settled he moved behind his father who had already sat down and got the chair next to him out to sit down. In the background the sound system was playing country and western music, but who was playing or what the song or ballad was, that was something that only an expert could figure out.
"Any messages beyond the call last night?"
He shook his head.
"Not so far. It was a short conversation as she didn't want to wake Marissa up," he said with a shake of his head.
Regina chuckled and nodded.
"What do you think's been going on? I mean we started to get her stuff at the loading dock yesterday."
"I have no idea, at all, Regina. But if she says that Marissa is ready for hard work, then we do have need of someone who can understand instructions and at least hold material. If she has the frame for it, I can have one of the Nordhaus kids start teaching her the ropes, although I don't want anyone who doesn't know what they're doing going in to check fittings with a multi-ton drive system suspended by chains right above them."
Regina smiled, and looked at Kyle.
"Have you gotten to your paced material today?" she said referring to the customized teaching software system used by a large number of people of all ages.
"Ummm...some, I guess," Kyle said.
"What's the topic?"
Kyle looked at his father who looked at him and gave him a shrug.
"Ahh...storage cell watt-hour ratings and, umm, dynamic state change?"
Regina blinked and looked at Ares.
"Isn't that a little advanced for him?"
"He wants to work with us out in the shack, he has to know what he's dealing with. I agree with his uncle that there needs to be backing for hands-on work. He's been a real help getting the last of the modulated pulse systems up and running. Next up is a simple range check, then full power-up."
Regina shuddered trying to think of what sort of math was involved for what Kyle was learning and even when it was simplified, it wasn't easy.
"How are you doing on the pace feedback?" she asked him.
"Its OK, I guess. Says I'm at 10th level," Kyle said.
Regina blinked as that was a generalized level rating for the old educational system.
The main doors were opened and Kyle looked in that direction, smiled, jumped up on his chair, put two hands down on the table and did a flip that landed him on the floor on the other side and at a dead run towards the door.
"AUNT DIANA!!" he yelled as he ran to her to be caught up by her and swung up and then down, his feet still moving in the air.
Regina gave a glance to Ares.
"I do wish she hadn't taught him how to do that," she whispered.
"You wish? You wish? There's a reason our tables either are next to a wall or out in the open at home, you know," he said in return as they both stood up and shifted their chairs to greet their returning sister.