The Phoenix Project – The Last Hope

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The Phoenix Project – The Last Hope

Postby Miki Yamuri » Wed Apr 03, 2019 8:56 pm

The Phoenix Project – The Last Hope

All Characters played by: Miki Yamuri and Veryliljennie

After thousands of years of rampant deforestation and hundreds of years of overpopulation, strip mining, pollution, and nuclear waste, the Earth had finally reached the point of no return and was dying.

Only a few had noticed the massive die-off of the amphibians. Even fewer recognized the fact that the bird’s song was seldom heard, And even fewer still noticed that the summer nights were no longer lit by the firefly. The worst thing was what had happened to the Pacific Ocean … which now was now a dead radioactive sewage dump.

Big business still fought over global warming, even though the mean temperature worldwide had risen 5 degrees. Nor did it daunt them that the polar ice caps had receded to nonexistence, or that the seas had risen to completely inundate many low-lying areas and coastal cities or that the deserts now covered most of the planet’s surface not covered by ocean.

The governments of the world apparently could care less as they were bribed into submission by the large corporations who were the true powers now.

The atmosphere was choked by massive amounts of industrial pollutants, and very little could survive in the open. The once-sparkling streams ran muddy brown and gray with the precipitants that filtered into them from the soil and sky.

A summer rain could sometimes be fatal if someone were caught out in it as the pH approached that of sulfuric acid at times. This was rare, but was shown to happen at varying places over time.

This was the last desperate hour of mankind, the last desperate stand of a few who were determined to preserve the human species.

It all started with someone reading an article in a science magazine about how mankind was starting to set up a colony on Mars. Things weren’t going well for the colony because of the lag time between the outbound trip and inbound trip. They had gotten it down to a year in both directions. The Mars Colony was being abandoned and the personnel would be arriving back at orbital station within a few days.

A young man had an inspiration. He wasn’t a PhD, nor did he have a master’s in engineering, so no one would listen to his theory. A theory that would revolutionize space travel … for him.

He took a simple research tool, a computer and an internet connection, and began proving the world wrong.

His name was Trevor. He was 30 years old when he made his remarkable breakthrough. Trevor loved space and all the wonder it held. He was a very good amateur astronomer and owned a rather expensive 40-inch telescope to marvel at the heavens through. He could see many of the high orbit craft that circled the earth, and on occasion he saw one when it blasted its way from orbit … on a relatively clear night which happened less frequently as time passed.

One night, he spotted an object that was not listed in any of the trajectory databases. He made a quick calculation and discovered that the object would most likely collide with Earth. After some more observation to discover whether it was large enough to cause major damage, he concluded that it would likely be spectacular but not greatly destructive. More calculations -- and he was surprised, so he double-checked them -- told him that it would strike about 45 miles outside of his town.

Trevor quickly packed an overnight bag and threw his bow and arrows with his pup tent into the back of his van. He saw a bright trail in the sky in the distance ahead of him as he navigated the back roads. Finally he arrived at the spot about 25 minutes after the object had crashed. There was a large crater, still smoking, with debris all around.

Trevor used his sensor pad to check for radiation and found that it wasn’t higher than the average anywhere else on Earth nowadays. He carefully climbed down into the crater, feeling radiant heat all around him, and examined the large object at the bottom. It was scarred and blackened from its descent and impact. Ice had formed on the outer surface caused by atmospheric compression as it plummeted to the ground. Trevor smiled at the seeming paradox and picked up the object. He could feel radiating heat and cold at the same time through his thick gloves.

Climbing out of the crater proved to be somewhat difficult because of the size of the object. He managed to get it to the van, put it inside, and closed the door.

Just as he left the area and had gotten back on the highway, a huge group of reporters, military, government, Space Agency vehicles, and personnel passed him on their way to the crater.

Trevor smiled and said out loud to himself, “A day late and a dollar short, my friends.”

After he had arrived back at his workshop, he took the object and began to examine it. He discovered that the outer shell was made of nickel, silver, and some kind of metallic carbon allotrope. Within the core, there was a never before seen crystalline form of hydrogen interspersed with neutrons, and in the center of that crystal was an also never before seen isotope of liquid helium. This crystal gave off unbelievable amounts of energy and glowed with a soft blue pulsating light.

Trevor discovered that striking this crystal with varying wavelengths of sound produced differing levels of energy output. He was sitting alone in his workshop with a tank full of water, huge electromagnets, and a pure sound generator-synthesizer. There were 126 separate and distinct frequencies produced by the synthesizer and distributed evenly throughout the electromagnetic spheres produced by the electromagnets.

All of this gracefully surrounded the sphere that made up the tank of hydrogenated water. At the very center of all the oscillating frequencies within the tank of hydrogenated water was the crystal. He couldn’t seem to find the proper frequency to make the object produce a stable energy output.

To help him think, he was playing his guitar and had accidentally turned on the synthesizer’s amplifier with his elbow when he reached for the guitar.

He played a D chord, and its harmonic vibrations were taken up into the electromagnetic spheres surrounding the water tank by the amplifier, creating a soft blue fire within the center of the crystal.

Trevor jumped up as the soft blue light filled the workshop. When the sound of his guitar had died away, so had the reaction within the crystal in the water tank. He again played the chord, and again the soft blue glow filled the shop. He checked his power readings on the console. To his amazement, it was off the scale. There was no hard radiation either, just pure, clean energy.

“Wow!” he said to himself, “this is my dream come true. Since they didn’t want it when I offered, I’ll keep it for myself.”

He took the synthesizer and reproduced the pure tone D chord. He put it in continuous loop playback and engaged the amplifier-electromagnetic mixer. The blue fire ignited within the crystal inside the water sphere and grew to fill a ball within the exact center of the hydrogenated water. It stabilized and appeared to become solid.

The sound of the D chord became self-sustaining and he turned off the amplifier. The fire didn’t go out. He turned off the electromagnets, and to his surprise, the electromagnetic frequencies had become self-sustaining as well. The device sat and hummed a perfect D chord softly as it produced more power than Trevor could measure with his equipment.

Water, all Trevor needed was water. Didn’t have to be pure or even drinkable, just water. He hooked a water hose to the reactor sphere and set it to fill. He rigged a simple float that would turn the water on and off when it had reached a certain level. To his amazement, the sphere seemed never to need replenishment. He ran power cables to a step down transformer and utilized the power for his house.

After several days of continuous use, there had been no need for any refilling. He also discovered that the device was producing breathable oxygen. It was doing all of this and at room temperature. Had he discovered a working cold-fusion reactor? Mankind’s dream at last had come true, although what Trevor had truly discovered had nothing to do with fusion at all … but centered on zero-point energy transferrances and sonoluminescence.

Trevor had a friend named Barry who owned a mining operation on the far side of the moon. Barry always complained that there was never enough power to do what truly needed to be done. The biggest complaint was the fact there was no engine that would safely make a transit in less than 2 days. He also was one of the few that knew that the days of humans on Earth were numbered in almost single digits.

Trevor contacted Barry and asked if he had any engineers that were truly artistic. Barry said he had a lot of them and wanted to know why. Trevor told him that he had a small present to trade if the engineer was truly gifted. The agreement between Barry and Trevor began mankind’s greatest adventure.

Barry sent a 23-year-old woman by the name of Taun. Her full name was Taunya … but everyone had shortened it and it stuck. Taun had been a dreamer since she was in grammar school and had made many attempts to build truly advanced engines. The only problem was that no power sources existed that were powerful enough in a small enough package to make them workable.

As the shuttle glided to the Arizona Spaceport, Taun was busy trying to figure out why Barry wanted to ground her. She couldn’t remember anything she could have done that would make Barry send her back dirtside. All she could do was sit and stew until she met this character Trevor and set things right.

The Challenge

When they landed, the day was a rust-colored gloom enhanced by a dust storm. Earth was the last place a space cowgirl like Taun had hoped to be. She saw a young man standing by the arrival console where the guy she was supposed to meet was to be. It surprised Taun that this guy was as young as she was and really cute.

“Is your name Taun?” asked the man as Taun emerged from the shuttle and removed her flight helmet.

“That’s right,” Taun said. “And you are …?”

“Name’s Trevor. Barry told me about you. Most creative engineer he’s ever met, he said.” He held out a hand in greeting.

Taun walked by without shaking hands and looked aghast at Trevor’s beat-up van. “You’re traveling in … this?”

“Can’t judge a book by its cover,” he said and opened the door for her. His van was quite different inside. There wasn’t a surface that wasn’t covered by equipment of some kind -- from radio receivers to computers to weather readouts and high-end audio amplifiers, not to mention his fuel blending apparatus for his experimental engine.

“Not … what I expected,” said Taun and sat down in the passenger seat. “And, I think, neither are you. You’re not just some college friend of Barry’s, are you?”

“Well, I am that,” Trevor said, buckling in and starting the van, “but we’ve worked on a lot of projects together. I’m not a partner in his company -- by mutual agreement -- but I’m not sure it would be where it was today if not for some conversations we’ve had. Not to toot my own horn or anything.” It didn’t take them long to get to Trevor’s house, lights shining brightly out the windows.

“How can you afford to be using all this electricity?” Taun asked.

“Make it on site,” Trevor answered, “and that’s just why you’re here. There’s something that you have to see. But I can’t do what I think could be done with it.”

Opening his door, he led her through corridors of old electronics, some still working, to his water tank. It still hummed its perfect D major chord, as it had since he’d activated it. “This is it. Not that I’m sure what it is. But it’s producing energy -- and no radiation. Seems to just use water.” He told her the story of how he had found the core of his reactor in the heart of a meteorite.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this,” said Taun, amazed. “If we can figure out how to make more of these … it could revolutionize everything.”

“Now the way I see it, making more of these would take research, and that would require energy, so the best use of its energy right now is probably just that -- figuring out how to make other ones. Not sure I have the gear for that here, though.”

“No, but I know where it is,” said Taun. “Unfortunately, it’s in orbit. And the fuel for launching anything into orbit is extremely expensive nowadays -- not likely to be going down again, either. That’s why I was so upset about being sent dirtside -- it could have ended my career in space. But … I don’t think that anymore.”

Trevor smiled as he indicated another double door with his hand, “If you will kindly enter that area, I think what’s on the other side will … let’s say, pique your interests.”

Taun eyed Trevor suspiciously for an instant before she moved to the door’s sensor range and it opened with a soft airy whoosh. Taun stopped suddenly as her eyes grew large at what this huge room contained.

In the very center was the frame and partial completion of a very sleek and beautiful aircraft, that also appeared as if it was being made for spaceflight as well. Taun saw the makings of an interesting reactionless drive system she had actually been designing a version of herself. Her interest flared as her mind began making adjustments and improvements she had never thought of before to the under construction equipment.

The new power source Trevor had stumbled upon would work exactly perfect. It produced, in huge quantities, the exact type of liquid electron flow required to make the motivational part of this engine work to perfection. Taun knew exactly what to do to make this entire thing work, and it would be more efficient and produce more liquid electrons. Taun wasn’t sure at this point how much power it would produce, but she knew beyond any doubt this was the solution to Barry’s energy problem on Darkside Base.

Taun turned and looked at Trevor with astonished eyes, “How on this earth did you manage to get the money to afford such up to date equipment? Steal it?”

Trevor walked over to the side hatch and climbed the steps, “No theft. Remember that new test bed ship that crash landed a year ago?” Taun nodded, Trevor motioned for her to follow him into the craft, “They agreed to allow me to clean up the crash site and to keep what I gathered as payment. Most of the flight deck and crew compartment were intact.Some of the engine components were damaged, but that didn’t matter since I intend to use a different type of propulsion unit. The components I used anyway and didn't have to buy them.”

Taun entered the hatch and followed Trevor the short distance to the Command Deck. She stopped as she looked around in total amazement. Her mind immediately began to make plans and additions that would make this perhaps one of the most advanced ships Earth had ever produced.

She pointed to the gravity couches and commented, “OMG! You even managed to get a pair of Neertel gravity couches. That was a lucky break, since they are top of the line.”

Trevor walked over and sat in the pilot’s couch. He began to turn on some of the systems, which powered up immediately. The control consoles came alive and many of the screens flickered to life.

He said, “My new reaction vessel would fit perfectly in the RpU shell since we don't require heavy radiation shielding.”

By this time, Taun was in heaven. Her mind was in super warp drive as she contemplated the myriad of things she could now do with all these resources available. She also knew there was method in Barry’s madness and sending her dirtside was by no means grounding her.

Trevor leaned back in the couch and said, “The only real issue might be water. I haven’t had to replenish the water level in the reaction sphere so far, but then again I’m technically not using any power from the unit based on consumption versus total output yield.”

“Water?” Taun asked. “One of the most common molecules in the universe. There’s water on the Moon. There’s water in comets. Some asteroids have water -- not all, though. Besides … maybe with enough study we can figure out why it’s water that it needs and perhaps discover something better. At any rate … let me show you some thoughts I have.”

It wasn’t until late that night that they realized they were hungry -- they had spent hours on the computer altering the plans and running simulations. “I’m sorry, you must be exhausted,” said Trevor. “I’m giving you the best room in the house to stay in -- it’s up here.” He went over to a hallway that led to a staircase going up. “I hardly ever go up here. I like it better downstairs.”

“Oh, an attic room,” said Taun. “Closer to the sky.”

“I cleaned it out because you were coming,” Trevor said. “I use it for storage normally. Um, don’t go in the closet. Not that there’s anything scary in there … you just might not be able to close the door again.”

Laughing, Taun said, “I’m sure I’ll be fine. It’s not like I travel with a dozen changes of clothes.”

“OK, let’s have something to eat and then get some shut-eye,” said Trevor. “I can’t wait to get started with putting some of these ideas into action. For now … umm … pasta?”

As time passed, Trevor proved over and over how good he was at scavenging parts and materials. It was fortunate he had contacts within the testing community and they allowed him to have their scrap. Didn’t mean the material was junk, however, just that when a test project terminated, everything was classified as scrap and Trevor managed to get it at a steal if not for free.

The ship took shape and form as the carbon/diamond hull plating had all been installed. It was now time to perform the full pressure test of all systems.

Trevor called over the comm, “OK, Taun. Am bringing the internals up to 14 PSI nominal. Keep a sharp eye out for any fall offs or red lights.”

Taun called back, “Check, bringing pressure to 10 PSI and awaiting stabilization.” She slowly turned the knob and watched the pressure gauge closely as it climbed. When it reached 10 PSI she held it there and called, “Ok, Trevor, 10 PSI and holding.”

Trevor watched his pressure gauges and several other indicators for a few minutes before he sent back, “OK, bring it up the last 4 PSI … so far it isn't leaking.”

They repeated this test at higher and lower pressures and even left it for several weeks as they continued installing the pleasantly humming reactor. By the time this installation had completed, Taun showed up with the remaining components to the Null Reaction Drive.

Trevor watched and studied the plans Taun had drawn. He was amazed at how talented she had turned out to be. He would have never thought to have many of the design changes she had made, and calculations showed each had improved energy output. He also began to realize what the core of the reactor was, but had no idea how to recreate another.

It had taken about two more months, but finally the aircraft was ready. It had passed all the power on tests well above anything calculations predicted. Time was at hand for a power on test flight to see how it performed.

Trevor pulled the garage door open, and they wheeled the craft out on its landing gear with the help of Trevor’s trusty van. “Well,” he said, “guess it’s time.”

“Guess so,” said Taun. Then she suddenly made a run for the cockpit. “I call first at the controls!”

“Fine, fine,” said Trevor. “Somebody’s got to monitor the engine anyway.” He took his place in the rear, near the power connections.



“Fine, I’m powering it up,” said Taun, and Trevor carefully watched the screens for any irregularities, although at this point nothing was happening that they hadn’t tested dozens of times already. The reactor quietly hummed its D major chord. They’d tried different harmonics, but this was the one that seemed to produce optimal performance and was self sustaining.

“And applying thrust,” Taun said, lightly pressing a pedal with her foot, and without much fuss the craft gently lifted off and hovered about 10 feet off the ground.

“Getting a bit of vibration in the frame,” said Trevor, “but if that’s our only problem, we’re doing great. How about a bit higher? Maybe some forward acceleration?”

“OK, but I’m taking it easy,” said Taun. The pedal was very sensitive, as it turned out, and after just a bit more pressure they were 100 feet up. She pushed the wheel forward slightly, and they started drifting forward. A bit of a twist to the left, and they rotated. “This is not like the LBV-180s I’m used to at all,” she said.

“Everything’s steady back here,” Trevor reported. “Maybe give it a bit more oomph?”

Taun replied, “Ok, am going to push it one full notch and see what happens.”

Trevor started to say something. Before he could utter a single word, he was thrust back into the soft embrace of his gravity couch with such force it reclined. Trevor found himself pinned helplessly to the couch until inertia had caught up with the craft.

Trevor’s couch automatically righted itself. He stared at the speed indicator, seeing that they had gone hypersonic. According to readings, the outer hull of the craft radiated some form of energy field that defended it from friction, and judging by some of the deflective plasma being created, formed some sort of deflector of sorts.

Trevor called, “Whoa, slow down. Not sure if we won’t burn up under this type of acceleration.”

Taun replied back, slightly breathless, “Sorry, that’s actually the lowest setting. Gonna have to work on that quad a bit and make adjustments. Backing off to one third of that.”

Trevor felt it as the craft slowed and banked sharply. Gs mounted rapidly until the craft had completed its 180 and headed back towards Trevor’s shop.

In a surveillance tower several sleepy aerospace traffic controllers sat at their scopes and drank what passed for strong coffee to keep themselves awake during another long and boring shift. The only incoming or outgoing craft were the normal routine space planes moving to or from orbiting space stations, or the moon’s mining operation. The Mars Colony had failed long ago due to the inability to reach it in under a year, so those shuttles no longer were flying and the last one had arrived weeks ago.

Without warning, the scopes all turned red and several alarms sounded as they picked up a very fast traveling UFO. From indications, it was moving above hypersonic and headed north faster than the Houston Shuttle could under full thrust.

One controller hit the comm button. He was going to notify Nordicon of this contact. Whatever it was bore immediate attention. An extremely board sounding voice replied, “Northern Orbital Defense and Interdiction Control, Lieutenant Paxon, How may I serve you?”

The controller replied back breathlessly, “This is Alex Divilian at Northern Quadrant Orbital and Air Control. I have a bogey in the weeds … heading due north, and well above hypersonic at this point. Sending data now.”

This time Paxon’s voice was anything but bored as he replied, “Have the data … attempting to track. Sensors can’t seem to lock on.”

Alex replied, “Roger that. If you search for the plasma wake and not the actual craft, can at least get a speed and location indication.”

“Roger that, Controller. Keep tracking. I haven’t seen anything move that fast since the comet exploded over the Arctic ten years ago. Will keep close tabs on the bogey. Have a tracker satellite on it now. But … there is no plasma wake. What the ... is that?”

“OK, let’s see if I can get us within 100 miles of your house without overshooting,” said Taun, turning the wheel very carefully.

“Wait,” said Trevor. “Let’s set down somewhere secluded.”

“What?” Taun asked, completely focused on piloting the ship, which took a lot of concentration. “Why?”

“Because I’m sure we just lit up every radar screen in the hemisphere.”

“Oh. And they’ll have us on sat tracking.” Taun checked the navigation. “Any suggestions?”

Trevor was looking at the nav screen too. “We’re currently over some tiny town called Yancy. But there’s a lot of forest to the southwest. Let’s slowly go in that direction. The people in town might be seeing a small hovering object, if they’re looking, but let’s take it slowly so they don’t see a small hovering object that zips off at incredible speed.”

“OK, I’ll try … slowly …” The ship rotated, then lurched a bit as Taun got them moving toward the southwest. Once they were above the forest they lowered down between some trees where no ordinary plane or even helicopter could have landed. They were in some kind of natural clearing, barely large enough for the ship.

As soon as the ship was stationary, Trevor grabbed something and headed up the nearest hatch. “What are you doing?” Taun called out after him.

“They’re going to be looking for us,” Trevor said. “I’m covering the ship with this old parachute.” He had unpacked a camouflage-print parachute and was spreading the fabric over the ship. “I figure we can lay low and work on the control sensitivity, then wait until nightfall and head home at a much less insane speed.”

“That’s assuming nobody watched us land,” said Taun. “If they did, they’ll be searching the forest on foot. We’ll probably see search planes first.”

Paxton frantically manipulated the controls. Several of the other board controllers noticed his feverish actions and came over to look. One of them spoke up and said excitedly, “Whatcha taggin’, Pax?”

Paxton replied as he increased the signal gain on the only satellite he had managed to almost get a scan of the bogey with, “Not sure. Got a call from Northern with a bogey. Damnedest thing I’ve ever tried to track. For some reason, I’m not getting any real feedback bounces. It’s traveling well above hypersonic, but it’s leaving no plasma trails of any kind. As if it were frictionless.”

Several of the others had logged in by this time and were attempting to track the craft. Try as they might, all they got was something the computer analysis section IDed as a sensor ghost, or some form of atmospheric anomaly.

The head controller said, “Hay, Pax, this thing seems to have some sort of stealth. It’s nothing like we have ever encountered. Even the computers are saying it’s an anomaly.”

Without warning, what faint, ghostly readings they were getting vanished as the craft dropped below tracking altitude and the surrounding terrain interfered with the signal returns.

Paxton immediately picked up the phone and dialed the emergency corporate number. The CEO of Galactic Aerospace had to know about this. They were the ones that ran the entire northern block. Pax knew that within a few short hours a massive search team will be scouring the area for any trace of what this thing might have been if he could talk to the CEO. Just from the signatures and speed, it was advanced beyond anything they currently had on record.

“Mr. Green’s office,” said a calm feminine voice.

“This is Lieutenant Paxton calling from --”

“Nordicon, yes, I see the caller ID,” said the woman. “Unfortunately Mr. Green is in a conference at the moment and cannot be disturbed. If you would care to leave a message, I can make sure he gets it just as soon as he’s free.”

“This is the high-priority line!” said Paxton. “I’m not calling about some bird. We detected a significant signal. Get him off the massage table or whatever and put him on the line!”

“Yeah, no, I’m afraid he really can’t be disturbed,” said the woman. “But I can tell him about your concerns, and I’m sure he’ll get back to you just as soon as he feels it’s important enough. Byeeee!”

“Of all the --” said Paxton.

“Got the ‘he can’t be disturbed’ runaround?” asked one of his fellow controllers. “You know exactly how likely it is that he’ll ever call you back. Right around zero.”

Paxton sighed. “Yeah, and I’m sure this is something big. I just have this feeling, you know?”

“Well, are you sure it couldn’t have just been some kind of reflection or atmospheric effect?”

“I’m as sure as I’m sitting here talking to you. You know how it is. We get instincts, from doing this job day after day for years. We know the difference.” Paxton fell back in his chair. “This is not over.”

Trevor sat in the comfortable gravity couch at the engineering station and shut down main systems. The less signals they gave off the less likely it would be they would be found before dark. Besides, it would be easier and safer to work on the thing’s innards with them shut down.

As he went over the readings, he discovered that the water within the vessel had changed into some form of gel. And it had begin producing water as a byproduct of the enhanced liquid electron flow from central core.

Trevor asked Taun, “Do you know of any old abandoned outposts or … maybe some space station or something?”

Taun replied as she disassembled the throttle quad, “I know of several outposts at the equator of the moon. If I’m not mistaken, the Lagrange Mars Shuttle Facility has been abandoned along with all those habitats on the surface of Mars. What you got on your mind, sug?”

Trevor replied as he stood and walked to the mess scattered around the cockpit from the recalibration, “I know most who deal with flight already know our biosphere has had it. I was thinking of making some form of Space City … you know … call it Centauri 42 or something.”

Taun laughed as she carefully took several output readings, “Why ever 42?”

Trevor laughed as he replied, “Dunno. Seems to me to be the answer I would suppose.”

Taun replied as she pushed the throttle handle to the first notch and observed the readings of potential output, “I would suppose that would depend on what the question is.”

About that time, one of the scan screens lit up with an energy reading … a very strong one. Trevor sat in the pilot’s seat and focused on the readings, “Looks like someone is very interested in us and is using the Satscan system to try and locate an energy reading.”

Taun snorted, “Good luck to them. Whatever that core you got is made of, it seems to have a field the entire hull is permeated with and it sort of … leaves no signature for them to find.”

Paxton activated the most powerful surveillance satellite at his disposal. He knew this was a major hit and whatever the thing was needed to be found. The apparent massive technological advancement demonstrated by seeming frictionless travel at hypersonic speeds and being almost totally able to hide from detection made this something he knew would get him promoted to Master Operator. He would then be in total control of the northern block surveillance and defense contract.

With all three satellites, one of them being the most powerful one available, he still couldn’t find a whisper of the ghostly energy wave he had been tracking. The monitor in front of him filled with static for a few seconds, then a very clear picture formed.

From 22,500 miles up, the picture was remarkably clear, although resolution did suffer now and again because of the thick particulate pollution. All he could find were trees, a small creek, and more trees, at least what passed for trees these days. He did get a heat signature ping on one of the other satellites, although that only turned out to be a small campfire, just like a hundred others … Paxton forgot about that … wasn't worth the time to investigate. He had a much larger thing to find.

“So … what’s your goal?” asked Taun as they sat on opposite sides of their campfire, about 15 feet from the camouflaged hull of their spaceship. “Space city, then what? I mean, I suppose you’ll have to find people who want to live on a space city, then find a way of getting them there, but then … what?”

“Well, sure,” said Trevor, “and it has to be livable -- it has to be a place where people would want to live. But then, THEN, things get interesting. You see …”

He was interrupted when Taun started to cough. And kept coughing. She couldn’t seem to stop. “I’m … sorry,” she said in between fits of hacking, wheezing coughing. “I’m not … sure what’s … going on …”

“No, I’m sorry,” Trevor said. “I shouldn’t have insisted we come out here. The air filtration system was protecting you. I’m more used to it, I guess. You’re used to breathing processed air. Let’s get you back inside.” He helped her get back into the ship, where the air was more sterile and less interesting, but also not full of particulates and pollutants.

“Whew, thanks,” said Taun. “But how can Earth keep up like this? Is it dying?”

“Earth?” asked Trevor. “Naw, Earth’s fine. It’ll be just fine.” He paused. “Humans, on the other hand. Life as we know it. That’s in trouble.”

“Um, that’s a problem,” said Taun. “There are a few who’ve been saying that for a long time. Most people just say no, everything will be all right, keep doing what you’re doing. But from what I’m seeing, it’s not just getting worse, it’s accelerating.”

“That’s why we need a space city,” said Trevor. “To save people. So there will be humans left.”

“But it would have to be huge! How would you even build all of that? And … could it really be self-sustaining? People need a planet. A real ecosystem. Not an artificial one.”

“Well, we either need to fix Earth or … find a new one.”

“But that would mean a massive exploration project!” objected Taun. “That’s something humanity hasn’t managed to do. Now you think you can do it yourself?”

“Well, you have to try,” said Trevor. “Let’s try to go home. Strictly low power. Nothing fast. They’ll think we’re an old-fashioned biplane. Flying in the dark. If they see us at all.”

The trip back to Trevor’s workshop hanger took considerably longer than getting to where they had touched down to hide. By the time the sun had risen again, a nasty bit of windstorm had arisen and more particulate pollution filled the sky. Due to friction, this also caused major ionization and in many cases large high level energy discharges.

The trip was long and bumpy, but uneventful since they were now stealthed from any observers that might have been looking. The little bit of energy that might have possibly been detected was well masked by the dry lightning storm.

After Trevor had used his trusty van to push the aircraft back into the workshop hangar, he opened a panel Taun hadn’t noticed before. Within was one of the most advanced comm centers she had ever seen.

Trevor sat at the transmitter, “Lunar Darkside, this is Trevor calling, can you read me Barry? We having another dry lightning storm, not sure how good the connection is.”

After a few minutes of squeals, an intermittent static, and other noise intruding on the connection, an answer came back, “Hi there Trevor, this is Barry. How’s Taun working out?”

“She’s working out so well I think I’ll keep her.” Both men laughed, though Taun did not. “I’m calling to ask if you happen to have access to an abandoned mining facility anywhere near you? I would like to make it my new base of operations. I don’t think being here now will be to my best advantage.”

Barry asked, “Why? What happened?”

Taun answered this time, “Barry, you will not believe what this man has built. He actually has the solution to your biggest power issue if we can find another core like the one he found.”

Barry came back, “You both better be very careful. NorDICon is on high alert currently and has most of the air defenses activated. From the chatter, seems an alien or something has landed. And now I think I have an inkling why.”

Taun laughed, “Not an alien, but you will not believe the advanced ship he and I built.”

Barry replied, “I don’t think I can help with fuel from here …”

Trevor interrupted, “Barry, fuel isn't the issue anymore. Inertia is.”

“Inertia? Just what have the two of you eggheads come up with?” Barry asked with incredulity in his tone.

Taun asked, What’s the record for travel from ground launch Earth to Darkside Base?”

Barry replied, “Just at a day and a half if you are doing a one way. Otherwise all the fuel is gone and you have nothing left for orbital insertion or retrobraking.”

Trevor said with a happy tone, “What if I told you we could be there in about 6 hours?”

Barry laughed as he replied, “I would say you were nuts.”

Taun said, “Make a pot of coffee, we’ll be there in 6 hours or less.”

“OK, things are reprovisioned,” said Trevor. “Oxygen supply charged up, emergency batteries too, even packed food even through we’ll be there in 6 hours.”

“Great!” Taun replied. “I’ve retooled and tested the control systems. Not only is there much finer control, I can take the granularity down any number of logarithmic steps now. Want 1 billionth the thrust? We can do that now. Precision should be possible.”

“OK! I think we’re ready. Wait until nightfall, or go now?”

“Nightfall’s only in about 2 hours,” said Taun, checking the computer. “I say we wait.”

“I tend to agree,” Trevor said. “OK. Keep things powered down until then; we don’t want to be detected.”

The sky was giving up its last shades of orange when Taun asked, “Think it’s time?”

“Yeah.” Trevor got ready. Flight suit, oxygen mask just in case, tool kit … everything was in place. He got into the copilot seat and strapped in, as Taun was doing the same in the pilot’s seat.

“Ready?” she asked.

“I’ve been ready for this for so long.” Trevor pressed the remote to open the launch doors.

The doors slid back slowly. The darkness was once again lit by flashes of lightning off in the distance as more High Energy Discharges sent jagged tendrils across the distant sky. Trevor nodded to Taun after doing a systems prelaunch.

Taun pushed the recalibrated throttle quad slowly forward. The ship gracefully respond and rolled out onto the runway as the hangar doors slowly closed and sealed behind them.

“Hang on -- since air defenses are active, I’m going to have to make this fast and dirty. We haven’t added any type of weapons so we can dogfight.”

Trevor flipped several switches as he replied, “Go for it. Just don’t crush us. I think I know how to deal with this inertia problem. The hull of the ship radiates a field. I believe it can be manipulated to counteract inertia due to the reactionless nature of our drive. But we need to arrive alive at a place where we can do the research and try and recreate the core of the power unit.”

Taun was perhaps one of the very best pilots currently licensed and could see on her scanners the many active searches going on all across their intended flight path. She smiled. She knew this craft was faster and more maneuverable than anything currently in Nordicon’s defense network. She also knew most of their defense plans and could out fly any of those air bound stick jocks anytime of the day.

She engaged the throttles slowly forward. Instantly the craft flashed down the runway and leapt into the air. The vibrations of the gear retracticting and the covers sealing were felt for a moment. Both were pinned as Taun brought the nose of the craft up and pushed the quad to hypersonic level one. Both of them were pressed hard into their gravity couches as they automatically reclined.

One of the many air defense satellites picked up the strange ghostly energy signature it had recently been programmed to search for. It immediately notified ground control, who in turn scrambled fighters; some were already in orbit and launched from their defense grid platforms.

The ground-based fighters were thought to be the fastest on the planet. In the three minutes it took for them to get airborne, the bogey had already attained orbital velocity, and seemed to be accelerating even more, well beyond what was thought of as hypersonic into a new realm of atmospheric speed, just before exiting the atmosphere.

The space-based defense platforms managed to get within close enough proximity to capture some rather clear images of the craft as it entered high Earth orbit in total defiance of what they thought orbital dynamics should have dictated. From those photos it was more than obvious that this was either a radical new advancement in spacecraft, or an alien one. Either way, this had to be tracked down.

The spaceborne fighter pilots watched their scopes in total amazement as the craft seemingly ignored Earth’s gravity and flashed off and vanished in what was extrapolated, based on last contact and headings, to be a deep space destination. This time, however, they had some idea of the point of origin and immediately contacted Paxton at Nordicon control.

“What? Another contact?” asked Paxton. “Have you notified Galactic? The usual reports? Those will take days to get to anyone who’ll do anything! Just a second, I’m getting another call.”

“Paxton. Mr. Green! I was just going to try to call you again, Sir; it seems -- well yes, that’s what I was going to -- yes, I saw it before, but when I tried to call -- you want me to what? You’re transferring me to what? Yes, Sir! I won’t let you down, Sir!”

“You do know that Green’s not a military officer and you don’t need to call him ‘Sir,’” said Paxton’s coworker at the next scanner.

“Er, well, yes,” said Paxton. “But he does have the authority to hire and fire any of us. Anyway, I’ve been transferred to Special Investigations! I suppose I should clean out my desk.” He began doing so.

“Oh -- well, good luck,” said his now-former coworker. “I hope you find whatever it was.”

“I’ll find it,” he said. “No matter what it takes. I didn’t get this far by following the rules to let some upstart get ahead by thumbing his nose at them.”

“Or her nose,” said the coworker. “Don’t forget inclusivity training.”

“Right, thumbing their nose. Whatever! They can run, but they can’t hide from me … not forever ...”

The Lagrange Mars Shuttle Facility was dark and quiet. All systems had been shut off, and in fact other abandoned satellites and space debris had accreted to it or were drifting nearby. At the Earth-Moon system’s L5 point, it enjoyed a stable orbit; it had been left in place because it would have required more fuel to de-orbit it than to simply leave it there, in case it was needed sometime in the future.

Glowing with a greenish energy, a small craft approached, a flattened capsule shape made out of recycled scrap metal and experimental transparent plastics. There were two people inside. One was flying the vessel, while the other was taking video as the ship passed near an airlock. Then the ship’s engines flashed and the vessel departed again.

“That’s what I thought,” said Trevor. “Standard international G-332 interface architecture. We can refit and dock with it if I can rustle up the right connectors, and they’re pretty common.”

“Meanwhile, we took such an unlikely route to get here that I doubt anyone knows where we are,” said Taun. “If we head out to the L2 point, we can approach Darkside Base from that direction, and nobody from Earth will be able to spot us.”

“Only the satellites,” said Trevor, looking at his navigation computer, “and they’re sparse and have well-known orbits. We can avoid them. And we’ll still get there within the 6 hours I promised Barry.”

Barry sat at his scanner console. The more he watched each sweep, the more he thought Trevor and Taun were nuts. There was no way they could possibly make the trip from Earth launch gravity well to the moon in less than 48 hours if they were going to have a safe retrobrake and orbital insertion.

From what appeared to be deep space and a course that placed the moon exactly between earth and the approaching … what was it? All he managed to get as hard and finely he tuned the array, was some form of strange ghostly energy reading the computer told him was a free hydrogen anomaly possibly created by a solar ejection … only problem with that, it was approaching Darkside Base from totally the wrong direction, and the speed indication … it was incredible.

Whatever it was totally ignored any type of orbital dynamics Barry was familiar with. It approached at a significant fraction of relativistic speed, before it retrobraked and settled onto the pad on the perimeter of the Base.

Comm came alive, “Dark Side Base, this is Exper 42, do you read?”

Barry jumped in surprise as he hit to return button, “This is Darkside, Barry speaking … Trevor? Is that you?”

Trevor replied back, “Affirmative. Requesting permission to enter Base Ops and get a cup of that coffee.”

Barry checked his chrono. It had been exactly 6 hours since Taun had informed him they were on their way. He called back, “Sure, by all means and Welcome. I think you and I have some things to talk about.”

Trevor replied, “That we do. I also think we can solve your power production issues once and for all. See you in a bit.” The comm went dead.

Barry sat for an instant or two and stared at the comm unit with incredulity. This had to be some kind of prank. The Airlock indicator showed someone had entered and it was pressurizing. Barry stood and hurried as fast as the lower gravity would allow him to without bounding off. He had to see this craft.

The forward airlock opened up like some kind of robotic mouth, and out stepped Trevor and Taun into the landing bay. “OK Trevor, you’re gonna have to prove you’re solid and not some kind of hologram or something,” said Barry, approaching with a huge grin.

“Solid enough for you?” said Trevor, vigorously shaking his old friend’s hand.

“Yeah, and now you’re gonna have to tell me how you made it here in record-smashing time in … that thing that looks like some kind of trash can.”

“I did melt down some trash cans while I was refining the metal to make the hull,” Trevor admitted. “And a garbage dumpster. And a few cars. And one snowmobile. All legally salvaged, by the way.”

“You’ve always been the best at making use of what was around,” said Barry. “And Taun! If I’d known he was planning to go to space in a hunk of recycled junk, I’d … well, I’d have told you and let you make your choice, I guess, but I’m betting you had a hand in building this thing’s engines.”

“Took months, but sure enough!” Taun said. “Got all kinds of new ideas!”

“Trevor’s like that,” said Barry. “His ideas rub off on you. Hey, let’s get some coffee and you can tell me how in the frozen hell of space you pulled this off.”

“So, if it hadn’t been for some kind of meteorite, none of this would’ve happened?” Barry asked after they’d told him their story.

“Now we have to figure out how to duplicate the thing,” said Taun. “I haven’t got the first idea how to do a thing like that, though.”

“That’s always been more your area, Barry,” said Trevor. “I’ve got ideas, but you’ve got, well, more concrete ideas. That’s why you went into a practical business while I scrape stuff together and make it work.”

“OK, well, if you’ve got any experimental data to show me, that’ll get me started,” said Barry. His comm beeped.

“Done and done,” Trevor said, pressing and swiping on the screen of his own comm. “Have a look at that.”

“Hmm … electron liquid … metallic carbon … crystalline hydrogen … heavy liquid helium … multi harmonic vibration ...” Barry went silent as he read. “I’ve got a few ideas. We can talk about them. I’ll show you to the lab after we’ve all had some time to rest.”

“It’s great to work with you again, Barry,” said Trevor.

“It’s great to get back into space,” said Taun.

“Log entry, time code 98117, Lieutenant Howard Paxton reporting. Am flying a space-based fighter craft along the probable path of the unknown craft designated X-113.”

“Wow, you’re taking this super-seriously,” said his partner, 2nd Lieutenant Sherri Shaw. “Considering X-112 turned out to be a bunch of balloons, and … Zeta Wing just reported that X-114 was a solar mirage.”

“This one’s different,” said Paxton. “I saw the readings myself, and there were photos. This is an air/spacecraft of unknown origin and technology capable of heretofore thought impossible acceleration.”

“Isn’t that a pretty unlikely grammatical construct?” asked Sherri. “‘Heretofore thought impossible?’ It verges on passive voice, too. Who’s doing the thinking in that phrase?”

“It reached unheard-of speeds in an unheard-of short time, OK?” Paxton responded with frustration. “We don’t have anything that can do what it did. So, Galactic wants it. And I want it, because I think it’s some hotshot pilot-wannabe who’s breaking all the rules.”

“Wouldn’t they also have to be, well, not just an engineer-wannabe, but a fantastic engineer? After all, they obviously built engines better than anything anybody’s built before. They didn’t just wanna. They did.”

“Still, there are procedures for these things, as well as flight regulations,” said Paxton, “and they totally ignored all of it.”

“So how are we gonna find ‘em?” Sherri asked. “Seeing as how they don’t leave much of a trace at all.”

“We’re gonna do what detectives call legwork,” said Paxton. “We’re gonna ask every possible witness. There are ships and mining colonies that might have seen something. The computer can tell us who was where at the time it would’ve passed by. If they can give us any information about where it was going, we can refine our search.”

“Do detectives really call that legwork? Even nowadays?” asked Sherri.

“Look, it doesn’t matter what detectives call it, really,” said Paxton. “It’s what we’re gonna do. And Gunderson Corporation’s mining colony #7 was in the right place at the right time. We’re gonna visit them and ask to interview employees and look at their scanner readings.”

“Why would they wanna help Galactic?”

“Galactic’s put out a reward.”

“Nice! I bet it’s more than we get paid.”

“It’s not only about the money.”

“For you, maybe,” said Sherri, stretching. “I’m not spending all day in a tin can unless I know I’m getting paid pretty well for all the training I’ve gone through.”

Back at Darkside Mining Base on the far side of the moon, at their small shipyard, what was obviously a major construction project had begun. All the many years they had to operate under energy starved conditions, were now a thing of the past.

They never found any of the fissionable minerals they had hoped to find, and were forced to use a low power He3 fuelcell. He3 theoretically produced more power than fission, however the powercell they had was many magnitudes smaller than such a fission reactor would have been … and far less hazardous.

At this point, the new power supply Trevor had devised, which they were calling the “Tonal Reaction Module,” supplied what seemed to be unlimited power to any project Barry had come up with. The largest, of course, was trying to make another Tonal Reaction Module -- which meant they had to either find another deposit of the crystal at the core … or figure out how to create the components and build one.

Taun discovered that by twisting the light frequencies before passing them through a quantum lens of various molecular compositions, she could produce a massive energy beam. With the almost unlimited power available, this would prove to be a weapon far more powerful than anything Earth had conceived of in any reality.

The liquid electron flow was held as a coherent beam within the twisted light. The twisted light acted like a conduit and delivered the high energy yield with great precision over an astronomical unit. This was also unheard of before. Time displacement still counted, unfortunately, and it would still take 8 minutes to hit a target at extreme beam range. Taun wasn’t too worried about that, by the time that would have become an issue, many beams would have been fired with the most incredible results anyone on Earth had ever witnessed.

Taun and Barry also discovered how to create the necessary metalic hydrogen and liquid He3. A unique use of diamond laced C64 in a fullerene shape contained the hydrogen at the proper frequency. Within the sphere, the helium was compressed using a 40 petawatt laser array, then sealed off. The internal pressures within the manufactured sphere were incredible. Many tests proved, however, the C64 shell maintained integrity under the worst conditions the three of them could devise.

“I don’t understand,” said Paxton as they flew on. “The last mining station said they’d seen a blip on their radar, but it had been heading for the orbit of Mars -- but Mars isn’t even in that direction right now.”

“Hundreds of asteroids are in any direction at any given time, though,” said Sherri.

“Fine, sure, but why would they want to go to one of those?” asked Paxton.

“Minerals?” Sherri suggested. “Or to hide out?”

“Maybe,” said Paxton, but he sounded unconvinced. “There’s always the possibility that it didn’t come from Earth and it went back where it came from, but … I don’t buy it. Somebody discovered something. There was a report of a meteor that fell a few months back, in the area that the trail we first detected came from. Nothing scientifically useful was found in the crater, but …”

“You’re thinking someone else found it and what, there was a super powerful starship engine in it?” said Sherri skeptically. “In a meteor? That’s almost as far-fetched as an actual starship of alien origin.”

“I don’t know,” said Paxton. “The crater may have been nothing. But going on the assumption that it was someone from Earth, Galactic wants it. They want to take it apart and build more of them. More importantly, they don’t want some random individual, maybe even a political extremist or terrorist, to have it. But of course they might know that. If I were them … I’d lay a false trail.”

“You think they went in that direction until nobody was watching them, then doubled back?” asked Sherri. “How much fuel do you think they have?”

“Depending on what they discovered, it could be more than enough,” said Paxton.

Back on earth, a major upheaval happened as a volcano in what was left of Russian territory, erupted blowing massive amounts of more particulate matter high into the already seriously polluted atmosphere. The devastation for many miles around the mountain was almost total as massive pyroclasts fell like bombs exploding with molten rock, fire, and poison hydrogen sulfide gas. Massive lava flows ran like fiery thick mud for many miles.

Randal sat at his station and stared at the readings with a serious mixture of fear and doom. From the readings he now saw, much of the planet was going to be thrust into a nuclear sort of winter. The massive cloud would reflect enough sunlight to more than likely bring on another global ice age.

This time, Mr. Green’s eyebrows rose as his phone on the desk began to ring. He rose from his bed where he had been snuggling with a young and very pretty starlet, put on a house coat, then walked over to the comm unit and hit the switch, “Green here. This better be darn well important …”

An excited voice interrupted, “Sorry sir, you did say nothing but the end of the world … well this probably going to do it.”

Green’s eyes grew large in surprise as he replied, “Just what in the south side of hades is that supposed to mean?”

The voice replied back, “Satcom has just recorded a massive volcanic eruption somewhere in the southern part of what used to be Russian territory. From what I can tell on this preliminary data, around two thirds or more of the planet that is currently mostly arid deserts will be covered in snow and ice within maybe a year. Bad news is, the rest of the planet will be in that and worse conditions within 2 to 3 years after that.”

Green flopped in his chair. A very pretty brunette sat up in the bed and held the covers over herself as she said in a cute voice, “Come back to bed sweetie. It’s play time, not talk on the phone time.”

Green smiled as he replied, “Give me a few minutes, I have someone to talk to … now.” he flipped another switch on the comm at the incoming call, “Green here.”

“Sorry to bother you sir. You told us if we found anything to let you know immediately. We had two comm satellites that also have military sensors on them that detected that strange hydrogen anomaly approaching the far side of the moon.”

Green said, “Thanks. Contact Paxton on freq 7777.”

“I just don’t understand,” said Barry. “We’ve got the C64 to crystallize into a metallic state that I hadn’t even guessed could exist, and we’ve got a heavy helium isotope that I didn’t think was possible either, but it seems like we’re no closer to the crystalline hydrogen -- and that power cell won’t work without that. What aren’t we doing right?”

“I can’t think of what it could be,” admitted Trevor. The experiments were shut down for now as they tried to come up with new ideas.

“Neither can I,” Taun added, having a sip of reconstituted fruit juice. “We’re putting it at what looks like the right pressure conditions, but it’s just not behaving the same way …”

Alarms went off all over the complex. All three of them stood up and looked around at the instruments and screens. “That’s a proximity alert,” said Barry, running to the control panels. “What --? Those are Galactic ships! A lot of them, too!” He turned to Trevor. “Are you in trouble again?” he asked, half joking.

“Don’t think so,” Trevor said. “We probably registered on a few scanner screens, but we tried to avoid them when we could.”

“Still, they probably put two and two together,” said Taun. “I’ll bet they want our ship. And they’re not above doing some piracy to get their paws on it.”

“I’ll … I’ll sue ‘em!” said Barry. “I may not have laser cannons to shoot ‘em down with, but I’ll file the mother of all lawsuits! I’ve got lawyers! They’re on the wrong side of the law anyway! This is an outrage …” His voice suddenly turned calmer as he activated hailing frequencies and pressed the transmit button. “This is BNC Mining Lunar Darkside Base. Please state your intent. Over.” He set the console up to repeat the message and alert him if there was a response. “As if I don’t know!”

Trevor was running for the hangar where the ship was. The power core wasn’t in it, but he and Taun had put a lot of work into that ship. He didn’t want some lawless corporation coming and taking it. Or at least … not all of it.

There was a crashing, clattering sound as the hangar doors were forced open. Trevor saw out the ship’s windows that they’d set up an oxygen tent outside the door to protect the base. What they were doing was illegal, but it wasn’t murder, and it looked like they wanted to keep it that way.

He grabbed what he’d come for and tried to get out of the ship and back into the base’s interior, but when he emerged, there were six figures in space suits pointing laser rifles at him. “Step out of the ship and surrender your possessions immediately. We do not wish to fire, but we will unless you comply.”

“You can’t do this!” said Trevor. He put down the objects he’d recovered. “Taking a man’s private property. What right do you have?”

“I’m sorry, Sir, we have our orders.”

“From whom?” asked Barry, emerging from the interior door with a laser rifle of his own, though he was vastly outnumbered. “On whose authority are you here? Those are Galactic’s ships out there. Does Green really think he can send people out to take whatever he wants from other companies? That’s piracy!”

“I have not been instructed to make any comments on behalf of my employer, whoever they may be,” said the voice.

“Um, Sir, all he took out of the ship was this guitar and this audio system,” said another of the soldiers.

“I’m not gonna let you take my tunes,” Trevor spat at them with fury. “Bad enough you’re taking my ship.” They had landed a transport vessel and were rigging up a flatbed dolly to roll the ship into the transport on.

“Leave that stuff,” said the one who seemed to be in charge. “We’ve got the ship. Those were the orders. Let’s go.”

With multiple laser rifles trained on them, Barry and Trevor watched helplessly as they wheeled the ship out onto the lunar surface and into the transport. The hangar door closed. They left the oxygen tent.

Taun was waiting when they came back inside, holding her beam emitter contraption. “I was just waiting for them to give me an excuse,” she said.

“Probably best you didn’t,” said Barry. “That thing could’ve vaporized every ship out there. But there would’ve been questions, and more ships later. They didn’t get the power cell. They don’t even know about it. That’s for the best.”

Trevor sighed deeply. “At least they didn’t get these.” He brought the guitar and audio system inside. “This isn’t just an audio system -- it’s got all my data in its storage. They don’t need to have that. And I don’t know what I’d do if I lost my guitar … wait.”

“Wait what?” asked Barry. “I know that expression. You’re getting an idea.”

“My … guitar … chords!” Trevor looked excited. “Chords! Vibrations! Harmonics! The power cell activated with a D major chord! I’ll bet that means it was created with those harmonics too! We just need harmonics to create another one! Let’s try that! Let’s make a Tonal Reaction Module in A Minor!”

The construction of the manmade core took very little time. The three of them sat in anxious trepidation as Trevor flipped the power switch to the tone synthesizer. A very melodious Am chord began humming softly through the liquid within the core tank.

Almost instantly, after weeks of failures, Am was the proper chord that sparked the reaction. A small strawberry pink spark ignited in the heart of their reactor. Within another instant, the room filled with the pleasant pink light as the reaction became self sustaining and hummed a very pleasant Am chord. Barry turned off the power to the synthesizer now that it was no longer needed.

Taun said with awe in her voice, “Wonder why this one required Am whereas the other was a D major?”

Barry replied, “That resides within the tonal variations of the material we made our vessel and core from versus the natural one Trevor found. It would make sense now that I think about it. Different materials and shapes oscillate at different frequencies.”

Trevor said with a slight touch of heat in his voice, “Now that we know how to duplicate this reactor, I think it’s time to build another ship. Go and retrieve mine from those thieves. That new energy weapon Taun built should do that trick nicely.”

Barry laughed, “Why build another ship? Why not just retrofit an actual fighter with the new engine and power core?”

Taun giggled as she clapped her hands in joy. “Come see this thing Barry managed to salvage from a mishap with an asteroid.”

Trevor followed Barry and Taun out of the reactor lab and down a long descending hall. When they came through the double doors and entered the hangar bay, Trevor stopped with his mouth open in shock.

Trevor said, “How in this world did you manage to get your hands on a Velos Strike Fighter?”

Taun replied, “We found this one wrecked on asteroid Cl213A. It apparently slammed it kinda hard and killed the pilot. The radar and lidar section along with several feet of hull plating around the cockpit were severely damaged, but the rest of it was intact.”

Barry patted the hull of the sleek craft as he said with pride, “My shipyard may be small, but I keep it as up to date as any. With the new weapons pods and energy core, along with the new Null Reaction Engine Module you guys built, I think Galactic has a few surprises in store.”

Trevor nodded as he said, “Let’s see how well they handle NR Drive and Liquid Electron Cannons.”

“I’m sorry, but there’s no possibility this vessel could have produced the signal you detected,” said the Galactic engineer. “We’ve gone over it for a week. Its batteries are of unusual design, but they’re still of average capacity. There’s no physical way their power, even fully charged, could have produced accelerations of the sort you described, Lieutenant Paxton.”

“It has to be,” said Paxton, looking at the small ship, resting in a repair bay on one of Galactic Aerospace’s orbital stations. “The size is perfect; the signature was identical; it pointed right at that Darkside mining base … are you sure?”

“Well, there is one more possibility,” said the engineer.

“Two, if you count the one where you’re nuts,” said Sherri. Paxton ignored her.

“Er, the vessel may have had an additional power generator of some sort,” the engineer continued.

“And why didn’t you mention that before?” asked Paxton.

“Because it’s impossible,” replied the engineer. “The power cell, whatever it might be, would have to be the size of a walnut in order to fit within these power couplings here, and it would have to generate more power than the world’s largest nuclear reactor. Without vaporizing the ship, I might add. Nothing known could do that. We’d been assuming this empty coupling was for an extra battery.”

“But that’s exactly why I was trying to find it,” said Paxton. “It’s obviously got some kind of engine or power supply that’s far beyond anything known up to now. No wonder Mr. Green assigned me to do this. But … this water tank. This peculiar thrust turbine.”

“Ah yes, the turbine,” said the engineer. “We thought at first that it was water-propelled. Ridiculous, really, given the maximum amount of water such a small ship could carry. But we’re at a loss as to what the turbine would emit to produce thrust.”

Then everyone was scrambling in panic. The station rocked like a catamaran hit by a tsunami. The lights dimmed, and alarms went off. “Get to the interior corridor!” shouted the engineer. “That’s an imminent decompression alarm!”

Paxton and Sherri put on their suit helmets quickly. Their flight suits could keep them alive in the vacuum of space for several minutes, longer if something shielded them from radiation and impacts. They both drew their laser pistols.

“We’re clearly under attack!” said Paxton. “I’m betting someone’s boarding us to take this ship back. We’re going to stop them.”

“Oh, we are, are we?” asked Sherri. “With what?”

Paxton was on his comm, talking to the station’s command center. “Control, are you tracking the threat? Can you counterattack?”

“Negative, Lieutenant,” said the station commander. “Target is either too small or emits too little waste energy. Damage to the exterior airlock in your area.” The engineers had all retreated to interior rooms and corridors. Paxton and Sherri were the only two people still on the repair deck.

The station was once again rocked by another impact. None of the tracking and defensive equipment could find anything that even closely resembled a threat. From the best any on the station could determine, a major damage situation now existed at launch bay 32C.

Trevor watched his Tactical board closely. He knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that these orbital Stations of Galactic were armed to the teeth. He also knew his ship’s hull radiated a field that not only made the ship invisible for all practical purposes, but the new weave Taun had developed conducted enough of the liquid electron flow to nullify inertia and act as structural integrity enhancement. They had already seen how the field acted like a deflector field against the debris and flotsam they encountered in free space. He had little concern about being detected much less fired upon.

Taun expertly brought the fighter to the damaged launch bay doors. Trevor, who had suited up in the new EVA Suits Barry had devised, exited the airlock and slowly glided over to the jagged opening. Trevor maneuvered his suit until he saw his ship. He could tell it had many of its internal systems dismantled, but everything was within the hull and could be retrieved.

Trevor worked quickly and fastened the small attractors to the hull then signaled Taun, “Ok, I have those modules attached. Enable the recall and my ship should follow the signal along the twisted bond energy beam.”

Taun giggled, “Yea, like a tractor beam or something.”

Taun flipped the switch and started turning the rheostat up. As the power rose within the emitter, Trevor saw his small ship begin to move. Slowly at first then with more and more speed. Taun expertly guided the small ship to its towing location on the underside of the fighter. Trevore returned to the fighter and sat in the engineers gravity couch.

Trevor said, “Ok, Taun, Punch it. Show those idiots we are better.”

Taun smiled as she pushed the throttle quad forward. The fighter developed a pretty strawberry pink aura around its hull, before vanishing in a swirl of speed mankind only dreamed about before this in Science Fiction.

As ready as Paxton and Sherri had thought they were, neither had even noticed Trevor enter. They did notice immediately when the ship began to move … that was before the oxygen began to run out and they lost consciousness.

A fast defense squad showed up and found Sherri and Paxton lying unconscious near some stowed equipment. They quickly attached a small emergency canister of oxygen and started doing a fast meatball exam. All indications were neither were injured in any way, just suffering from lack of oxygen. The only problem they would have was a severe headache for a while after they woke up.

There were many orbital fighters and defense satellites ready to defend. None of the station’s battle boards nor tactical satellites could detect anything it could classify as a target.

The fighters’ sensors told a tale of severe damage to this particular airlock. None of them could believe a single ship, as they were told, could come in under their noses and do this kind of damage without any of them getting in a single shot. The recon satellites had images of the attacking ship that convinced several high-ranking officials that there might be an alien presence.

“Aww, they took the power coupling completely apart,” said Trevor. “Well … on the good side, it needed redoing anyway. I had some better ideas.”

He, Taun, and Barry stood in the hangar at Dark Side Base, looking at the homemade ship. “You know they’re going to come back, of course,” said Taun.

“Oh I’m sure,” said Trevor. “We need someplace where we can work in peace. Hey Barry, you wouldn’t have any G-332 airlock couplings, would you?”

“I’ve got some G-532s, which are compatible,” said Barry. “Why? Got an old base in mind?”

“Yep,” Trevor said briefly. “Let’s fit up the fighter with one of those.”

“And you didn’t verify the identity of these people?”

“No, Sir,” said Paxton. “My orders were to secure the ship --”

“It doesn’t seem very secure right now, Lieutenant!” Mr. Applebaum, the Galactic representative, was fuming. Of course Mr. Green hadn’t come himself. He was far too busy to go through all the prep necessary to get to this space station. “Did you even take any pictures or video of the people at the BNC base?”

“Err, well, our suit cameras …”

“... took a few very blurry images,” said Applebaum. “One of the people present might be Barry Connors, the CEO of BNC Mining -- and considering it’s his property, it’s hardly informative that he’d be there! Another might possibly be Taunya Hailey, a known employee of BNC Mining and thus another uninformative ‘discovery.’ You say there was a third person present, and you say you had no idea who he was. Is that correct?”

“Yes, Sir,” Paxton said. “He --”

“Yes, he removed some equipment from the ship before you took it. And you allowed him to keep it! Without finding out what it was, who he was, or even taking a decent still image of him.”

“Well, what he removed was a guitar and a sound system --”

“A musical instrument that could easily have had anything hidden inside it, and an electronic entertainment system that likewise could conceal any sort of electronics or data! Your investigation was sorely lacking.”

“I wasn’t ordered to investigate anything; I was ordered to capture the ship, which I did.”

“And then promptly lost it again!” shouted Applebaum.

“The engineers had it for an entire week …” Paxton said.

“And it is clear that the unknown individual had already removed everything of value! Right under your nose!”

“Sir, the engineers said there was no way that whatever had been removed could have been taken out that quickly,” Paxton explained. “They said it showed none of the signs of hasty work.”

“Mr. Green wants facts, not signs!” Applebaum yelled. “Now, the fact is that the engineers did obtain quite a bit of information from that ship in the short time they had it, and they’re already speculating what to do with it, but Mr. Green wants results, not speculation! The only reason why I’m not here to fire you is because you are the one who suspected that this technology existed, and you turned out to be right. And you did get that ship and bring it here, and the base showed no sign of having weapons of the sort that later attacked this station, so you had no reason to suspect the magnitude of the attack.”

“So at least you’re not one of those guys who thinks it was aliens,” said Sherri, who had been quietly enjoying Paxton’s grilling up to now.

“Aliens, Lieutenant Shaw? Pfft. Ridiculous. Mr. Takayama and Ms. Klieman can believe whatever they want, but I don’t work for them. Mr. Green told me to find out who the third person in those videos was and to get whatever technology they’re using so we can reverse-engineer it. You’re going back to that base, and you’re finding out what’s going on there.”

“I’m … going to need some better defenses,” said Paxton apprehensively. “This station wasn’t able to lay a finger on the one single ship that attacked it, and who knows how many ships they might have there? BNC Mining’s clearly got something going on. That’s no ordinary mining base. In fact, they might have let us take the ship on purpose to throw us off the track.”

“You will have whatever forces you need,” said Applebaum. “This is top priority. Make your requests known via the proper paperwork, of course.”

“Naturally,” said Paxton.

“Yep, paperwork, that’s how we do things in space,” said Sherri. It was lost on Applebaum.

Paxton was in a temporary office space on the space station, filling out personnel request forms in triplicate, when he got a mysterious call on his comm, the number blocked. Intrigued, he answered. It was not, as he had suspected, some recording promising low credit-card rates. He saw two of the highest controlling members of the board of Galactic Aerospace.

“Ms. Klieman, Mr. Takayama,” said Paxton. “How can I help you?”

“We’re calling you on an encrypted channel to caution you about what you’re doing,” said Ms. Klieman.

Mr. Takayama added, “Contrary to what you may have heard, we don’t truly believe that alien life forms were behind the attack on the space station. We were simply willing to entertain the possibility. Not that there aren’t some who are saying that’s what it was. But that’s why Farnham is head of the Entertainment Division.”

Ms. Klieman said, “But back to the point -- you’re between a rock and a hard place, Lieutenant.”

“Don’t I know it,” he said. “Ma’am.”

“Green is determined, but he’s also got unrealistic expectations,” she said. “We know you’re under a lot of pressure to succeed no matter what, but we’ve seen the numbers on that attack. You could have been vaporized by whatever weapon that ship used. You survived because they were merciful. Attack them in force and they’ll defend themselves by any means necessary. Don’t let Green pressure you into getting yourself killed.”

“Why all this concern about a mere employee?” asked Paxton.

“That’s our business,” said Takayama, “but let’s say you don’t fulfill Green’s every fantasy and he lets you go. There are tasks that we may have need of a good pilot and investigator to perform. There may be another division of the company that you may be better suited for. Also, if Green fails, he may not survive his next evaluation as CEO by the board.”

“Of which you two are members,” said Paxton. “I see. I will, of course, pretend this conversation never happened.”

“Of course,” said Ms. Klieman. “We value discretion in our employees very highly.”

“We will be monitoring your progress,” said Takayama, “and we will contact you if necessary. Good luck. And stay alive.” Paxton nodded, and the comm screen went dark.

Paxton brooded darkly as he thought of his options. He brought up the Satellite images they had managed to take during the attack on the station. The amount of damage that single ship had caused was incredible. The fact that the best surveillance equipment on the planet had only managed to get pictures of something shimmering a strange pink color, and no real hull also was worrisome.

He had no idea what form of energy the weapon had used either. It produced more power in that one shot, than the station used in several years and perhaps more.

Paxton smiled as a devious plan came to mind. Since Green was on such … precarious footing, what if he launched an attack designed to lose? One that was just to waste money and valuable resources.

With that thought, he completed filling out the requisition forms, with one major change. He wasn't leading the attack … Mr. Green was in total charge, and Lt McElroy would lead the attack.

“Although I will of course be involved in carrying out the orders, I cannot assume full authority due to my earlier failure,” he wrote. “My past work with Lt. McElroy has led me to believe that he is much better suited to lead this sortie. I heartily endorse him for command.” McElroy was a mouthy arrogant idiot anyway … and the world would be a better place without him.

About 30 minutes after he submitted the resource requests, Paxton heard the battle alarms going off. Time for this new attack and to see what kind of defensive ability a simple mining operation would have.

Lt McElroy sat back in the comfortable command gravity couch of Earth’s first and only Space born Battle Cruiser. He couldn’t believe that idiot Paxton had actually given up a guaranteed Admiralty and endorsed him. McElroy smirked; Paxton always was stupid, and this time, McElroy was positive he was going to be the boss now.

He shook his head as he looked over his weapons console. At his disposal were some rather nasty 40 petawatt laser amped plasma cannons, laser pods, along with some of the newest cutting edge railguns. Of course the usual nuclear tipped missiles and scatter bombs were also available to spice up the game.

McElroy said, “Tactical. What’s our group consist of?”

The young man at one of the consoles directly behind and well within earshot replied, “The Group Leader is of course this ship, the DuguBuhey. Fighter support is 12 SF450’s and 12 of those new ones … the SF2020. Both are fully loaded with attack and siege weapons.” The young man rotated slightly and punched a few keys rapidly on another console. “We also have in support 4 Charley Class tankers. Fuel will not be an issue as long as we can defend the tankers.”

McElroy swiveled around to face the forward screen as he said with a snap, “Helm. To Mark 121 by 345, bring rotations to war time mode, then engage full thrust.”

“Aye, Captain, war rotations enabled, 121 by 345 mark … on your command.”

McElroy waved his hand as he said, “What the … ever … just do it.” Several of the Ensigns smirked for an instant before they snapped back to strict attention at their stations.

McElroy’s smile deepened as Navigation gave him time for arrival. This transit should only take a little under 48 hours, including retrobraking and orbital insertion.

He was feeling the tingles of pride of being commander of the very first Space Borne Battle Cruiser going on her very first combat mission. Visions of medals and promotions danced in his head.

Paxton watched the battle group leave from the station’s forward observation deck. He was a bit sorry for sending the only battleship in to be destroyed, not to mention the lives of the men … however, if this went the way he thought it would …

Paxton smiled as he saluted, “Here’s to you, McElroy, you total stupid idiot.”

Paxton turned and walked back toward the elevator. He had to get to Research and Development and see if there were anything someone might dream up in a wild fantasy that might help.

Darkside Lunar Mining Facility had changed in huge obvious amounts over the last several weeks. Now that Taun, Trevor, and Barry understood how to create the cores for the new power source, it was easy to make many. The results showed in the number and locations of the strangely alien-looking weapons emplacements that had sprung up all around the base over the past two days. Taun thought it was cute that the base’s new power unit hummed along in C minor and caused the base to glow brightly with a soft golden aura.

None of the mining personnel were prepared for the instructions to hide in the deepest parts of the mines until further notice.

Two sleek and powered up aircraft sat at ready in the launch bay. One glowed a very pretty blue / green and hummed a D Major chord. The other glowed a strawberry pink and hummed an A minor chord. Both had new equipment installed and new armaments.

Several new satellites also orbited the moon. In the soundlessness of airless space, no one would know the frequencies they hummed, but each glowed with a different color due to the unique power unit each carried that afforded them almost unlimited power.

Barry turned from the scanner scope and said, “Here they come. Looks like they’re bringing in some heavy stuff. They will begin retro in about …” Barry checked the chronometer. “... In a little less that 23 hours. Just in time for the welcoming party.”

Trevor had just finished helping Taun into her flight suit and fastening the connectors. He grabbed up his helmet as he headed out the control room’s door with Taun hot on his heels.

Taun said just before the door whooshed closed, “I think we’re gonna need to invent a scrap collector. It’s gonna be a junkyard out there shortly. Might be a better idea to meet them in free space, make the junkyard out there. Then we can clean it up on our time.”

“Hmm, a scrap collecting rover would be simpler,” said Trevor. “Try to knock stray pieces toward the surface.”

Trevor beat Taun to the launch bay and commandeered his ship. Taun didn’t really care which ship; she was just determined to be pilot of one of them, and it didn’t matter which. When the volunteer members that were chosen to fill the engineer’s position showed up, they were totally mind blown at the engineering stations and the data it gave them.

They were all familiar with spacecraft and how to pilot, but nothing like this. Of course, on the other ship, none had ever been in a craft quite like it before either, not that any had actually ever seen a Velos Strike Fighter, since they were mostly top secret military hardware.

Barry replied, “I agree. Gonna be a lot of junk shortly. Don’t get cocky, we still not sure how this deflector thing is gonna do in actual combat. We already know how well the weapons work.”

“We’ll find out,” said Trevor. He launched, then vanished in a twinkle of bluish/green light.

Taun said to her newbie engineer, “Hold on to your panties, dear. We’re launchin.” With this, she pushed the throttle quad to Hyp-2 setting. A tingle of inertia washed through their bodies as the ship leapt out of the launch bay and vanished in a twinkle of strawberry pink light.

McElroy’s musings were interrupted when Tactical spoke up, “Sir. I’m having technical issues with the scanners. They keep refusing to lock on and do a normal quad 3 scan.”

McElroy swiveled around so he could see the tactical screen. The computer programs that identified objects were having most of its scans interfered with by what it was calling a CME cloud of electrified plasma. Only problem, it was in the totally wrong place and headed in totally the wrong direction.

McElroy snapped, “Target those locations. Launchers 3 and 6 loadout scatter bomb low yield nuclear. Launch when ready.”

The forward view screen filled with tracers of the rocket motors as the scatter bombs sped off to deliver their death. The blast shields darkened as the protective screens closed when the bombs reached their target area and detonated. About a dozen low yield nuclear explosions went off basically in the same locations after about 15 minutes travel time. Their combined explosions merged, creating a massive, boiling miasma.

Scans discovered 2 strange and ghostly anomalies that it could not get enough of a reading on for the threat assessment software to even make a determination, so it was dropped from the importance list.

McElroy snapped, “What do scans show now? Did that have any effect?”

The young officer studied his equipment intently, “I don’t know, sir. Sorry. The scatter bombs have disrupted the area, and sensors can’t get any good readings.”

About that time, Comms spoke up, “Sir … we’re getting a message on all normal comm channels and several military ones.”

McElroy’s eyebrows went up in surprise as he said with a strange wondering tone, “Put it on speakers.”

“ … Intruding warships, stand down and evacuate this area immediately. This space is free space and you have sent a first strike showing hostile intent. We will defend ourselves. Again, stand down and turn back, or you will be attacked.”

McElroy laughed as he said, “Launch all fighters. Find and attack whatever idiot that is.”

“Yes, sir.” said the Comm operator as he sent the appropriate messages to the Tanker / Carriers.

24 of the nastiest space fighters Earth currently had swarmed from the hangar decks of the two tankers and began search and destroy sweeps looking for any target they could find.

Jennie, Taun’s Engineer, said with excitement, “They launched. I’m tracking 24 of ‘em, all headed this way under full burn.”

Taun replied, “Just make sure you target them and keep the board updated. Don’t want to miss anything.

Trevor commed, “I’m going to be Big Blue. I’m on those 12 that seem to be breaking off to quad Baker. Good hunting. Show them who’s boss.”

Taun replied as she brought her craft to bear on her 12 fighters, “Time to make scrap.”

Jennie giggled, “We’ll see just how … scrappy they are.”

Both women giggled as Taun’s craft approached her selected group of fighters at very high relativistic speeds.

McElroy flinched when the first enemy salvo impacted. It had hit so hard it knocked the battleship from its programmed course. The main lighting flickered several times before going out and being replaced by battle reds.

Damage control was alive with massive damage reports. Apparently one whole section near ordinance storage had been hit by some massive energy form that had torn a sizeable hole in the hull. The Dugubuhey was by no means a small ship, so the size of this damage was very significant.

The young officer at tactical said, with much fear and excitement in his voice, “Sir, enemy origin is unknown. Scanners are unable to find anything to lock on to. Massive damage amidships. Decks 3, 4, and 5 all been severely damaged. Total personnel loss currently unknown due to the severity of the damage.”

McElroy was beginning to wish he’d read the reports about the ship that had attacked the Galactic station. “These guys are out of a mining colony,” he said. “They’re taking advantage of some kind of magnetic debris cloud. They must be. Find them -- visually if you have to! Fighters, what’s going on out there?”

“Target is … tiny … untouchable … lost three …” came the voice of one of the pilots, amid thick interference, which wasn’t surprising given the lingering aftereffects of the recent nuclear explosions, plus the magnetic debris cloud that McElroy assumed existed.

“Looks like … ...dified Velos Strike Fighter … defensive barrier … energy off the scale …”

“Did she say Velos Strike Fighter?” McElroy asked.

“I think so, Sir.”

That was impossible. There was officially no such thing. He’d heard rumors of a top-secret military craft, but he’d dismissed them -- after all, the military was mostly a non-entity nowadays, now that private corporations ruled Earth, including aerospace defense.

“Unknown vessels,” said the same voice that had hailed them earlier, “you have now entered the airspace of a BNC Mining facility. I strongly advise you to turn back, as we will continue to defend our territory. This is your final warning. If you continue on current trajectory, we will be forced to destroy your ships. Under international agreement, we will allow unarmed rescue vessels to collect your escape pods.”

The crackling and whining noises the hull was making were getting louder, and then there was a massive shake, followed by an eerie calm and silence. “What was that? Report,” ordered McElroy.

The young officers on the bridge had been looking around for any sign of what was going on, but some of them now focused on their partly-functioning instrument panels. “Sir, I’m getting no reading from any of the decks beyond the third line of bulkheads -- no reading whatsoever.” The young lieutenant paused. “I think they just cut our ship in half, Sir.” The terror was obvious in his voice.

Trevor and his Engineer, a pretty girl named Miki, watched as the blast shield engaged and blacked out the massive detonation ahead of them. Directly midline, Miki had managed to score a direct hit on an open missile pod hatch. She wasn’t sure what type of particle beam weapons Barry had armed this ship with, but she was more than impressed by its explosive yield.

The forward screen normalized as it removed the bright flashes from the view and toned them down to levels that wouldn’t blind. The two of them sat in awe as they watched the huge battleship break in half amid huge showers of molten metals, debris, bodies, and plasma / oxygen blow offs from the severely damaged hull.

Miki was super impressed by how well Trevor danced and wove through the other fighters’ weapons fire. Even the scatter and cluster weapons had no effect. Whatever that weird blue glow around the ship was, was an extremely effective shield against what the fighters were throwing at them.

The 12 fighters Trevor had gone after were either expanding spheres of molten metals and debris, or were massive chunks of inert metal free floating as inertia pulled it.

The last of the other fighters received a huge surprise. Out of the blue, a large beam of some sort flashed from a location none of the attacking force had scanned. A small satellite, almost a micro, that glowed a very pretty and sharply bright magenta had just fired one of its weapons at a fighter. The group of 3 suddenly was a group of 2 escorting a massive fireball in their middle. Each in turn broke off, away from their lost comrade’s ship. It was then they noticed several more of those strangely glowing satellites moving into attack position. None of them showed up on any scanner. Last thing the pilot’s minds registered, was the brightness of the beam that slammed into their canopy.

“Ooo, look, they’re ejecting,” said Jennie, noticing that the last remaining fighter had done so, and the battleship was launching its life pods.

“Took ‘em long enough,” said Taun. “Their captain must be a real piece of work, refusin’ to give up for so long under that kinda beating.”

“They’re gonna land … in the Grissom Crater area,” said Jennie, checking trajectories. “Far away from the base. Rescue craft won’t have any excuse to come near and take pictures.”

“Won’t be anything to take pictures of,” said Taun. “Feel like a side trip?”

“Ooo, where?”

“How about the old Mars Shuttle base?”

“Wow, I’ve never seen it! Is that why you put the new airlocks on these things?” Jennie was wide-eyed with excitement.

“Sure is,” said Taun. “Trevor thinks it would be a good secret base. We can make more power cores, and maybe there are some usable shuttles we can refit.”

“You are bringing my engineers back, right?” said Barry on the secure channel once Trevor and Taun had told him. “I do need them, you know.”

“Hey, in a couple of days we’ll either have at least one more ship, or we’ll know there isn’t enough to salvage,” said Trevor. “We’ll either bring ‘em back in the new ship or one of these.”

“Looks like you two ladies got yourselves into some kind of adventure,” said Barry. “I won’t take it out of your vacation time -- but I’m not paying you hazard pay either.” Miki and Jennie giggled.

They took a roundabout way to the Mars Shuttle Base, in case someone was visually tracking them -- the power sources played merry hell with sensing devices, but it could still be possible to track them the low-tech way with a telescope due to their bright glow. But as long as they ran on low power, that glow was dimmed down to the level of a ground car’s headlights, so someone would have to be looking in just the right place to pick up their trail.

Trevor and Taun didn’t have to tell the two engineers to suit up. There was no guarantee the airlocks were still airtight, nor that there was atmosphere on the other side. The base had been shut down and abandoned for a decade. They were all ready for the environment aboard the base to be hard vacuum -- once they had adapted the power cells to the base’s systems, the next priority would be to get life support active.

“Here goes,” said Trevor, tightening the clamps and pulling the levers. To his partial surprise the airlock was still in decent repair. “Hmm,” he said. “Guess not too many big meteoroids have bounced off it. Well, in we go.” He climbed inside, and Miki followed him in. He then went to work closing the outer hatch while Miki took stock of the inner one. Meanwhile Taun and Jennie were at another nearby airlock doing the same.

They managed to run a jumper circuit from the ships locking ring into the Mars shuttle airlock. Once there was power within the airlock, Trevor brought over one of the new power cells and began to hot wire it into the main junction panel within the station.

Once he flipped the switch, the entire Airlock came alive. There was no pressure on the interior of the Base. Miki typed in the standard open request. The exterior door slid shut silently in the vacuum then the inner door slid open.

Except for the light spilling into the passage, the interior of the base was blacker than black. They all more or less knew the layout of this Shuttle Transfer Base, so they pretty much knew where they had to go.

Trevor and Miki turned on their suit lights and began floating down a short passage to the next door. It was marked Power Cell. They looked at each other for an instant before they undogged the hatch and entered the small opening. It was a good thing there was no gravity, that would have made their heavy EVA suits almost impossible to maneuver within these tight spaces.

Where the RPU ( Radiological Power Unit ) had sat, there was an empty slot. The station had been abandoned in normal shutdown procedures and the most important parts were removed before all personnel left.

Taun had shown up by then and aided in the installation of another power cell.Trevor sat at one of the consoles and started flipping switches. Many of the screens began to glow as static and lines flipped through them.

Trevor said, “See if you can find where the main junction box is. I think they removed the cores there as well or those two screens should be showing readings.”

Jennie replied, “Give me just a minute. Gotta find the place.” She drifted out into the hall, only to return a few minutes later. Jennie went to one of the control consoles, flipped several switches, and began to turn a dial. The lights within the room came on as many of the screen’s display cleared and began showing recognizable data.

Miki said, “There. From this diagnostic panel, it shows we do have some repair and upgrading to do, but this hulk will still function if we give it some power to the engine module.”

Back on Earth, the environmental issues were getting worse. The massive volcanic plume had entered the high altitude winds and was spreading rapidly. Global temperatures and weather that had gone nuts before, was total chaos now. Snow had begun to fall in several of the new desert regions, and had started to accumulate as temperatures fell.

Ms. Klieman and Takayama sat in a conference room and watched the reports of the ever worsening situation. Takayama commented, “Paxton has reported the attacking force was totally destroyed.”

Ms. Klieman replied, “I do hope Paxton can find a way to procure that new tech. From what I see, humankind needs it desperately by any means possible.”

Mr. Takayama said, “I do not even particularly care whether we at Galactic Aerospace are the ones who control it. It has become amply clear that carbon is a destabilizing factor in Earth’s ecosystem. Too much has been liberated. Carbon must be recaptured, and in large quantities. The problem, as you know, is that it takes a great deal of energy. A powerful energy source that does not rely on releasing carbon …”

“... may be the only way to save the human race,” Ms. Klieman finished.

“Look at this,” said Trevor. “An Olympus shuttle. 20 years old at least. They were gonna fly people to Mars with these. Would’ve worked too, if not for lack of political will.”

“Let’s not launch into a three-hour rant, Trevor,” said Taun.

“Oh. Right. Yeah. What would happen if we got this thing up and running with the new power cores?”

“You could fly a lot of people around,” said Jennie.

“Or a lot of equipment,” said Miki.

“Or a lot of raw materials,” said Taun.

“All of that and more!” said Trevor. “These were designed to be multi-purpose. I wonder how good shape it’s in.” It was in the facility’s inner docking ring, so it was still exposed to space, but it did seem to be fairly airtight and intact.

“Let’s find out!” said Jennie. They all got to work running down the list -- everyone who worked in space knew it. But as with the rest of the station, the shuttle required only a few repairs. Most of the effort had to go into refitting it to accommodate the new power cores.

“How about … a G major seventh?” said Trevor, synching the tonal synthesizer up to the core crystal and activating it. The core thrummed to life, a verdant green. “All right! Time to go. We can come back here as a backup base, but I don’t think we should hang out here too much, in case they find us.”

“Agreed,” said Taun. “Besides, you two have to get back to Dark Side Base.”

“Aww,” said Miki. “We liked having an adventure!”

“Yeah!” said Jennie.

“Well, there’s nothing that says this is the last one,” said Trevor. “But let’s get going. Systems check.”

They ran through the usual procedures, then shut down the stations systems and took the power cores before leaving. “No sense leaving these for just anyone to pick up,” Taun said. “Let’s go!”

Radiating a serene green nimbus, the old Olympus shuttle released its docking clamps and started back toward Dark Side Base, with Trevor’s makeshift ship and the Velos Strike Fighter strapped down in its cargo bay. If anyone was looking for those, they wouldn’t find them. “Hey, Barry,” said Trevor on the encrypted channel. “Guess what we found!”

Barry sat back into the couch at the comm station after hearing about the transfer shuttles. Not only was he elated there had been shuttles still docked at the Mars Shuttle Facility, but that they were in enough working order they were still space worthy. If Trevor and Taun could build such a sleek craft as they had from scrap, and make a highly advanced fighter craft even more deadly, he was positive they would be able to refurbish those shuttles into something that would more than adequately transfer whatever was necessary.

Barry looked up to the forward port and saw this extremely bright green object approaching at tremendous speed. Of course, the scanner software found nothing it could reasonably ID … and its best guesses were whimsical at best.

As Barry commed the known frequency to insure it was his crew returning, he watched the Mars Shuttle approach the landing pad, ignoring everything Barry had ever thought he knew about orbital dynamics, extend its articulated landing pads, then settle softly onto the pad without raising any type of dust cloud.

“Wow!” Barry gasped, “And it’s operational, too. That, my friend, was actually the only problem we hadn’t solved yet. Shipping and transporting.”

Jennie spoke up this time and said, “This thing is huge inside. We could fit almost a dozen Velos in here if we wanted without being crowded. It’s almost as if this thing were originally built to do just that.”

Paxton stood in front of the double doors leading into the huge conference that was going on over the Green Scandal, as it had come to be called. McElroy had physically survived the destruction of the Battle Cruiser and the total loss of the entire strike force, including all equipment. He hadn’t survived the scathing after-action report on his act of attempted piracy, total incompetence, nor the amount of lives lost, not to mention the many billions in advanced hardware lost.

Green was not only ousted as CEO of Galactic Aerospace, but now the Northern Block Provincial Commonwealth had brought many serious charges against him. For whatever Green’s life was worth now, Paxton was sure his testimony in a few seconds would end that. Paxton also knew what the very next vote was going to be and that he was guaranteed to be the next CEO of Galactic Aerospace Inc. and control the entire northern block aerospace defense.

The door opened. A huge crescent-shaped desk wrapped around the outer edge of this large office space. Ms. Klieman and Mr. Takayama both sat side by side to the left and to the right of the central seat, the one that would belong to him.

Takayama said, “Come in, Admiral Paxton. We have a few important questions to ask you about that scandalous act of piracy perpetrated by former CEO Green. I and all the board would also like to extend our congratulations on your latest promotion.”

Paxton entered the room. He could feel his ears burning and the moisture as it formed about his neck and forehead amid all the applause. Without a doubt, the next hour or so would be one of the most important ones in his life.

“So we figure we can start building at one of the Lagrange points,” said Trevor. He and Barry were relaxing in Barry’s office in Dark Side Base. “It should be one that nobody’s built anything at yet. Maybe the Sun-Mars L4 or L5 point.”

“That could take you pretty far away from Earth at times,” said Barry. “You’re going to need --” His comm system rang. “What the …? Incoming call from the CEO of Galactic Aerospace?”

“I’ll be in the next room,” said Trevor, getting up from his chair. “Hope you don’t mind if I listen in.”

“Oh, be my guest.” He pressed the answer button. “Barry Connors.”

A man Barry didn’t know appeared on the screen, with a military mien, dark hair, and a no-nonsense expression on his face. “Mr. Connors. I’m Howard Paxton, CEO of Galactic Aerospace.”

“Mr. Paxton,” said Barry. “I’m pleased to meet you, although I thought the Galactic CEO was a man named Green. Of course, out here we aren’t always up to date on the latest news.”

“It’s an honor to meet you too, Mr. Connors,” Paxton said. “And yes, there has been a bit of a shake-up here at Galactic recently. I’m not going to beat around the bush -- yes, it does have to do with the recent action against your mining base. Green was somehow obsessed with some kind of technology he suspected you have, and he took actions that were both unethical and illegal.”

“I’m sure you understand that if I am in possession of some sort of technology, I’m not able to comment on it,” Barry said.

“Of course,” said Paxton. “And likewise, if Galactic had technology capable of rescuing Earth from its current plight, it would certainly not allow it to fall into the hands of competitors.”

“Are you insinuating something?” asked Barry. “If so, I’m afraid I’m completely missing the point. BNC Lunar Mining is just that -- a mining company. We have a handful of mining installations. It’s not as if we’re capable of that kind of thing.”

“But what I’m saying is that the resources of Galactic, combined with the technology that you’ve exhibited, could easily do great things,” Paxton said.

Barry looked down at a message that had just come in on his desk. Then he looked back at the comm screen. “I’m sorry,” he said, “there is no technology of the sort you’re describing at this or any other BNC base. I certainly hope you don’t succumb to the same obsession that took down your predecessor, Mr. Paxton.”

Taun and Trevor were flying rapidly away from Dark Side Base in the Mars Shuttle. “So, Sun-Mars L5 point it is,” said Taun. “Nobody’s ever set up a base there -- all that’s there are some rocks and … one very old and very defunct satellite.”

After a roundabout flight to confuse any who might want to try and visually track them, they arrived at the L-5.

“Come with me,” Trevor beckoned Taun to follow, “Need some help off loading the cargo.”

Taun stood, grabbed her helmet from the place it was kept while off and followed. They left the command deck and entered the hatch to the storage hold. Within were many many large transport cases, each one able to perform double duty as a habitat. Neatly arranged in large stacks in the huge hold were many metric tons of other types of supplies and materials.

Trevor began undogging the doors on one of the containers as he said, “This is an old-style inflatable habitat. From this, we will expand and build the basis for a new city.”

Taun walked to the other side of the door and undogged it, saying, “I want to try out one of those silly-looking builder pods over there.”

Trevor laughed as the door swung open, showing the neatly-packed gray item within, complete with inflating and oxygen / power production equipment all glowing a radiant grape color. Don’t worry, we will all get our fair share of pod time before this project is over.”

Back at Darkside Base, Miki called Barry on the comm, “Yo, Bossman, gotskies a priority streaming newsies for you to look at. It has the ETS symbol on it. If it’s important enough for the Emergency Transmit System to activate … “

Barry flipped the switch on his receiver as he interrupted, “Yea, send it to my station. Would want to view it.”

The holo-screen appeared floating above the desk. The images flipped and were staticy for an instant before it cleared up. Barry watched as a global Extinction Level Event disaster unfolded. A massive volcano had erupted, and there were even worse high-altitude energy discharges caused by the many miles of ash and other debris tossed into the atmosphere mixed with the heavy particulate pollution. This would have been bad enough by itself, but the human race had nearly destroyed the environment’s ability to recover. Massive hurricane blizzards were spreading across the world.

Now Barry completely understood what the call from Galactic was about. Apparently, that Paxton character was unable to come right out and tell him or ask for help for some reason. Barry also understood the absolute need for a huge power source.

“Well, there’s no way to build another power core here without one of the existing ones,” Barry said to himself. “But it won’t be long before they can start making more where they’ve gone. Then Earth will really see something amazing. And it won’t be coming from Galactic Aerospace.”

“Mr. Connors?” asked Jennie, knocking on the door. “We’ve got the workshop reconfigured.”

“Oh -- thanks, Jennie,” he said.

“Do -- do you not like Galactic Aerospace?” asked Jennie. “I mean, they did attack us -- twice. But it seems like you didn’t like them before that.”

“They were only doing what they always do,” said Barry. “They steal other companies’ innovations, and they’re so big there’s no government that can stop them. What Trevor’s found could shake their foundations. They must never get one of those power cores -- at least, not until everyone else on Earth’s already got one. If they had a monopoly on them, they’d take over the world, and their rule would be unstoppable.”

“I can believe that,” said Jennie. “Is that what Trevor and Taun want to do? And you?”

“Yeah,” said Barry. “Trevor’s a good friend, and we’ve always seen eye to eye. What he’s found … I think it was sent to us. I don’t know who sent it. But I think they sent it so we can save ourselves.”

“And Galactic won’t do that?”

“They’ll save themselves first. Then maybe they’ll throw the rest of Earth a bone. But I say Earth first.”

“That’s beautiful, Mr. Connors,” Jennie said. “Miki and I got the workshop all ready. We can make machines that run on those power cores -- machines that do whatever we want. Carbon sequestration, water desalination and distillation, even just emissionless ground cars. All they’ll need is the power core.”

“Excellent,” said Barry. “We’ll get started soon.”

“Mr. Connors did not sound like he was lying,” said Mr. Takayama.

“That just means that their ships, whatever they are, had already left by the time we called,” said Paxton. “The question is where they went. Some other base on the Moon? Somewhere in space? How do we find that out? They’re so devilishly hard to track!”

“R&D says that they … may have something,” said Ms. Kliemann, looking at her comm screen.

Back at L-5, Trevor and Taun were both in the lady bug looking pods. Each had 6 articulated arms with grasping appendages. The two of them had removed the huge gray item from the shipping crate and maneuvered it out into free space from the cavernous cargo hold. Taun assumed the parking location of where the habitat was to stay. Trevor released his gripper from the front of the gray cube and moved to the inflation unit. The grape purple glow of the power pod insured it was operational.

Trevor used one of the manipulators and activated the inflator and the environmental unit. Immediately, the huge folded gray cube began to unfold and enlarge. Within 10 minutes, a huge floating habitat had inflated. It was made of carbon fiber bonded diamond. One of the hardest substances known.

Taun was closest, she entered the airlock first. To her amazement, it worked under automation. Tiny micromotors and infusion pumps made it possible. Except for the built in equipment and control panels, the interior of the place was empty and very spacious. It was time to start transferring other necessary equipment and get this construction platform built.

Taun shook her head slightly as she smiled. Who would have ever believed she would be the one to build earth’s first Space City. Now she and Trevor have to come up with a proper name. Call it Answer 42 or give the whole project some kind of name. Taun giggled to herself as she depressurized the airlock and exited the habitat.

With the aid of the builder pods, and the almost limitless power their power unit provided, the platform construction proceeded quickly. Most of the platform was modular and came together like snap together furniture. During this construction, Trevor got a priority call from Barry.

“Supp, Barry? And why the drama with a Priority call? Far as I know me and Taun are the only ones on this frequency.”

Barry’s reply came with a few minutes time lag, “There’s a clip of a video I think you should see.”

Watching the video of the latest news from Earth, Trevor said, “It’s … it’s worse than I thought.”

“There are always volcanoes erupting, right?” asked Taun.

“Yes, but the atmosphere can only absorb so much particulate matter without grievously affecting the climate, and humans keep pumping so much junk into the air,” said Trevor. “There was a period of heightened worldwide volcanic activity in the 18th century that gradually cooled the Earth, and then came the massive eruption of Tambora in 1815 … 1816 was called ‘The Year without a Summer,’ because the atmosphere had reached its limit. Once the volcanic activity leveled off, things returned to normal, but this time …”

“This time it’s not just volcanic activity,” said Taun. “Are we going to have an ice age instead of all the global warming we’ve been seeing?”

“No idea,” said Trevor. “The entire atmosphere of Earth is too complex a system to properly model, so it’s really hard to predict. Which is why it’s bad to experiment. It’s the only one we’ve got. At the moment.”

“We’re going to build another environment?”

“I hope so,” Trevor said. “But we could also try to help Earth recover, before too many species die out. I doubt the entire ecosystem will collapse. There will always be life on Earth. But … will it be compatible with human life? What happens if there’s nothing left that humans can eat, and we can’t breathe the air either? Earth will continue … but maybe without us.”

“Can we … do both?” asked Taun.

“Maybe?” Trevor replied, with a shrug. “We can try. If we build a space habitat, we can make sure some humans survive. That’s the contingency plan. And if we can build something that can help clean up Earth and prevent this from happening again, maybe we won’t need the contingency plan.”

“Well, we have a good framework built here,” said Taun. “Now we need some bioengineering. It’s not a habitat yet.”

“Nope, but it will be,” Trevor said. “Except … we need to gather some supplies.”

Barry sat back in his couch and took a sip of synth-coffee. He was thinking about the call he had gotten from that guy … Paxton. Something had to be done now, within a year or maybe two at the most, the atmosphere disruption would more than likely make the surface of the planet uninhabitable without some form of massive interventions.

Barry commed Trevor back, “Give me a little time. Am going to make a call. I think we actually have the reason to get the emergency access to the Arctic Arc Vaults, among other resources.”

After the normal time lag, Trevor replied, “Don’t take too long. From what I saw in the news clip, time is at a premium. L5 Yard out.”

Barry sat for a minute to collect his thoughts, then punched in the tag number for that Paxton. The system buzzed twice and Paxton’s face appeared on Barry’s screen, “This is Paxton, how can I help …? I thought you had nothing further to say to me.”

Barry replied slowly, “Here is my deal, take it and Earth lives. Refuse, and my team will be the ones to repopulate it. Am I clear?”

Paxton sat back in his own couch as he replied, “Understood. I know you won’t believe it, but I and my company do most heartily apologise for what that idiot Green did. Piracy, even under these conditions, is wrong and totally illegal.”

Barry snorts, “I want access to all the stores within the Arc program. I also want a team from your company that is able to do construction quickly and safely. First thing I’m going to do, is build a carbon sequestering tower. Its components are mostly modular and basically snap together. Should take a total of 3 weeks to build enough to start making a difference. No horse over it or the world dies a horrid death. We agree?”

Paxton nodded his head, “Agreed. I will supply you with anything in the way of materials or personnel you might need.”

Barry said sternly, “And any BS with any of your crews over anything … can prove to be very bad.” with this Barry broke the connection.

He commed Trevor, “Darkside Base to L5 … do you read?”

“Yo bro, this is L5. What’s up?”

Is it possible to retrofit another of those Mars Shuttles so we can transport lots of heavy supplies?”

After a few minutes delay Trevor’s reply came, “Its already done. We have both shuttles ready for heavy transporting.”

Barry replied, “Bring one of them back here. We have a sequestering tower to build and power.”

“We can do that,” said Trevor. “We’ve got enough setup here for a while. Mars L5 out.”

“That’s … that’s a Mars Shuttle, isn’t it?” said Paxton, standing in front of the huge window of the Galactic space station. “What’s that green light around it?”

“That’s the power supply. It has a way of … suffusing what it powers with its field.” Barry paused. “But that’s neither here nor there. Are the parts ready?”

“They are,” Paxton said, “or so I’m told. I hope you have a really good energy source. Carbon sequestration was abandoned once insufficient solar radiation was reaching the surface to power it. Powering it with a carbon-based energy source would be a losing battle.”

“That’s already been dealt with,” said Barry. “We’ll get this tower assembled. I hope it’ll be proof that we can work together effectively.”

“I hope the same,” said Paxton. “Switching to ground cameras.”

Paxton watched through the cameras on his company’s vehicles on the ground, while Barry watched through Trevor and Taun’s cameras, keeping in constant contact with them.

The Mars Shuttle atmospherically braked to suborbital speeds, its energy field dissipating the heat into the air around, then slowed to impossibly slow speeds for a vehicle of its type due to new thrusters that Trevor and Taun had devised and installed. It landed vertically right next to the construction site and opened its cargo bay doors.

When the construction pods came out, shimmering with their red and orange colors and humming in their interlocking harmonics, the Galactic employees stared.

So did Paxton, on the space station. “Are you getting this, Sir?” asked one of the ground employees.

There was a pause before Paxton said, “I am,” and they all watched as the pods quickly and precisely lifted the tower components into place and connected them.

Less than half an hour later, Trevor said to Taun, “OK, ready to fire it up?”

“Sure am,” said Taun, hovering by the tower’s main power module. The entry doors were open, though the module was 50 feet above ground. She took a metallic container from her pod, stepped into the module, and went to the main power terminals. “Now I’ve gotta hook this up to these archaic power connectors,” she said, but it was easy work for her by now. Soon an F major seventh chord hummed to life and the entire tower began to take on a golden yellow glow. “There, that’s got it,” she said, stepping back onto her pod and activating the door locks.

The power module’s doors slowly closed, then locked with a resonant mechanical ka-chunk, and Taun entered the locking code they’d agreed upon. Above her, at the top of the tower, the device’s machinery began to spin up.

“Looks like we’re in business,” said Trevor. Carbon dioxide was difficult to get rid of because there was so much energy in that double bond between carbon and oxygen. But with enough energy, it could be cracked, producing just carbon and oxygen. Likewise, ozone could be cracked into just oxygen, while sulfur dioxide could be cracked into sulfur and oxygen. The oxygen could be released into the air, while the solid elements could be retained for other uses.

The builder pods could mostly build the towers autonomously and could assemble a completed and operational sequestering tower every hour. The air of the small valley in which the towers had been built began to clear. Particulate matter had vanished from the air in a large way and it began to loose that nasty acid smell it had developed for some many years.

Carbon was being removed from the air by the ton, along with many other chemicals. The free O2 was released back into the atmosphere, and the free water was allowed to flow back into the large muddy red lake nearby.

There were also several large devices that had been built along side what used to be a huge reservoir lake until it had become muddy brownish red with pollution. For the first time in many of the young engineer’s lives, the water had actually changed colors. There were still massive muddy red streaks at times, but it was more than obvious the water had become cleaner. The current water filtration equipment mankind had been using to gain drinking water even recognized the massive and rapid change. It too had to make major adjustments to its processes as the water cleaned.

Taun hovered over a large section of moldering and bubbling volcano blasted area. The disaster was enormous. She knew they would eventually be able to halt the progress of the nuclear winter, but not before a very large portion of the earth got snowed in deeply. The hurricane-blizzards were less powerful now that the towers were in operation, but the storms were still very severe.

Meanwhile, there was at least something she could do. She used the pod to dig channels and redirect the flow of lava toward unpopulated areas. But then she realized something else -- what if she could do something like this with the weather?

“Taun, where are you going?” asked Trevor. “I thought you were checking out the volcano damage.”

“I’ve got an idea,” she said. “Just a second.” She flew the pod toward part of the world that was being threatened by one of the hurricane-blizzards. Buffeted by high winds, the pod was a bit unstable, but it had enough power to make it through. She took data for a while, recording the wind speed and direction at many points within the storm, and ran it through the computer. She tried modifying the parameters and running predictive weather models -- standard software that came with most computers nowadays -- and figured out what the optimal terrain would be in order to divert damaging weather away from a nearby city while still allowing more gentle winds to pass through.

Then she programmed the pod and let it go. It reshaped the edges of the local hills and mountains just slightly, then deeped an uninhabited valley just a bit. It took about an hour, the storm blasting all around her, and then she noticed that the storm’s progress was changing direction slightly. Smiling, she realized that it meant that only the very edge of the storm would brush the city -- if it had been affected earlier, it would have completely missed it.

Then she looked at the worldwide weather data. There were five more such storms going on right at this moment … and 17 more were predicted for the next 48 hours. What was more, the models predicted hundreds more probable locations in just the next two weeks; there were thousands of potential sites in the long-range models. That was when she realized the true scale of the problem that Earth faced.

“Trevor … we’re not going to be able to stop it, are we?” she asked on the comm channel.

“What?” Trevor asked, then realized what she was talking about. “No, I’m afraid not … all we can really do, I think, is try to remove the causes of it and let Earth heal herself, now that she can.”

“And maybe save a few endangered species,” Taun said.

“Yes, I’ve picked up that package of seeds, genetic samples, and soil samples from the Arc repository,” said Trevor.

Her heart still heavy, Taun said, “I … suppose I’ll meet you back at the shuttle.”

“Have you found out what powers their tech?” asked Paxton.

“No, Sir,” said the workers on the screen. “Scans were inconclusive. Obviously there’s some kind of electromagnetic leakage when their devices are in operation. But we have no idea what can cause that. We’ve never seen anything like it before.”

“Have you attached the tracking beacon to their shuttle?”

“Yes, Sir,” one of the workers said. “We’ll at least be able to figure out where they’re going.”

“Good.” Paxton said. They were building a habitat somewhere; that was for sure, or else they wouldn’t need those seeds. “Any luck opening any of those towers?”

“They disabled the back-door security locks,” said another worker. “We make good products, unfortunately. We can try to disassemble the door.”

“Get in there, and get one of those power sources out,” said Paxton.

“We’ll keep trying, Sir.”

The huge shuttle pulled into its parking berth at the L5 construction. As Taun expertly snuggled the docking ring into its proper attitude, Trevor hit the interlock and seal mechanism.

Taun unstrapped herself and floated from the couch, back towards the airlock, “Hurry up Trevor. We have several tons of those seeds and genetic samples to off load and store.”

Trevor snagged his helmet and put it on as he headed into the airlock behind Taun, “Don’t gotta tell me twice. I call dibs on Ol’ Yaller.”

Taun laughed as she enabled the seal on her helmet, “Good, cuz I want Pinky. She’s cute too and the AI has a female personality. I called it Sally.”

The two of them exit the shuttle into the huge airlock, the door closed and sealed, then the other door slid open, Trevor was off like a shot to one Pod, while Taun hurried just as fast for another. One took on a bright golden glow as it hummed along in a deep bass C. The other began to glow a bright and cheery strawberry pink as it hummed in its F minor.

Within minutes, the two of them were out in the construction area, building a huge platform from the many materials that had been harvested out among the asteroids. Many automated spider-like builder bots crawled along assembling rapidly one of the many habitats BNC was going to try and establish.

There were many containers that had been arranged into their modular habitat configurations along with much new construction. The entire thing was actually habitable now even though massive construction still continued at warp speed. As soon as the Bio-dome could be assembled enough so the first of the flora could be established, the faster they would become self sustaining.

A very lonely and rusty red dusty place. As far as can be seen, barren landscape. About a dozen 40 foot dome habitats, including a large hydroponic and gardening pod stood silently near a high rising cliff face. A strange ladybug like pod with six articulated arms settled into the middle of the habitats, not even arousing a dust cloud.

A panel opened and a video camera emerged and began to make video of the area. Barry watched as the snow and static on his screen cleared. The pod at the abandoned Mars Colony showed everything seemed to be in order. At least nothing was damaged that it was obvious. Even what could be seen of Hydroponics and Farming module showed a wild, but verdant growth.

Barry hit the call button, “Jennie? You and Miki get yourselves up here. I have something to show you. I think there might be another adventure waiting for the two of you.”

All Barry heard in reply were the two girl’s screeching voices fading quickly away.

“Well, there’s what they’ve been building,” said Paxton. “Sun-Mars L5 point. Kind of far from the Sun, especially for growing plants, but with their energy generators, they can pretty much build whatever they want.” They were looking at screens showing views of the large growing habitat in space, taken from remote surveillance probes with long-range cameras.

The Tech working the scanner next to Paxton kept making adjustments to his equipment. He finally said with some exasperation in his voice, “I’m not able to get any clearer resolution on that construction than that. Not sure what the interference is, but it’s even affecting visible wavelength light.”

Paxton shook his head slowly as his comm unit came alive once again, “Sir, this is Dev … I managed to open the door and have access to the power core. I’m not even sure what this thing is, much less how it works. Me and couple of my crew disassembled the power coupling and removed that weird glowing thing from it. As soon as we touched it, it stopped humming and the light went out.”

Paxton said a small curse under his breath then replied, “Bring the thing back to the lab. See if your men can gather up whatever else that thing was inside of and bring it too. We must figure out how they made it.”

A small cargo shuttle settled onto the landing pad at the abandoned Mars Colony. The bright white glow around the ship faded as the side cargo hatch opened. Two suited figures worked rapidly with small cargo movers and unloaded a power sphere from the cargo shuttle. It glowed with a very bright piercingly white light.

The two figures manhandled the glowing sphere to the entry airlock of the largest dome and drug it inside. After what seemed like a very long time with no other movement or external actions noticeable, the Dome began to glow with a pure white light as all the external lighting came on.

It was just a few short minutes later before the lights within the Biopod came on and shadows could be seen moving across the clear plexi-steel window panels.

Jennie and Miki stood and looked at the wild growth within the biopod. What little energy was left in the pod’s RPU had managed to maintain a very good environment. The plants and other biotics were left to their own devices and created a self sustaining biosphere as long as there was some form of light. Light issues along with power were more than well solved.

At least they had potatoes, tomatoes, and several other kinds of veggies in large quantities. Another wonderful thing, the bio tanks that held the algae that produced oxygen were very healthy and performing their tasks to perfection. That system now could be modified to perform other tasks since the new power cell produced oxygen.

“Power cell 417 just went dark …” said Taun, looking at one of the screens in the control center. “The only way that can happen is …”

“Galactic extracted one,” Trevor finished. “Probably from one of the towers. As expected. Oh well. Let’s call it home.” He entered a command on his keyboard.

“Test number four,” said a scientist into her voice recorder. “Crystallography. Now powering up the X-ray tubes … Interesting readings … almost as if it contains a crystalline form of hydrogen …”

There was suddenly a piercing golden light from the test chamber. “What?” the scientist said. “Readings are making no sense … oh! It’s reactivated itself somehow …”

The power core quickly broke free from its moorings and shot into the air at an angle, making a beeline for the sky and smashing through everything in the way. There were crashing and crunching noises as it drilled a hole straight through the office and laboratory building that Galactic had brought it to. Before the scientist could make it outside, it had already launched itself most of the way into space. She watched the fading point of golden light with fascination. “Wow. What makes those things work?”

“What makes these things work?” wondered Trevor aloud, looking at the newest power core, a bright pink one that had just been completed. “If we knew how they really did what they do, maybe we could make them even better.”

“Number 417 is back,” said Taun, keying a command into her keyboard that brought the errant core down from the beacon and back into the center. “Well, how much quantum physics do you know?”

“I mean, I’m not the world’s leading expert,” said Trevor, “but I know my Feynman diagrams. We still don’t have a theoretical handle on how they do it. Energy from basically nowhere shouldn’t be possible. Not even the most advanced theories explain this. And there are crackpot theories out there, of course, but not even the craziest one of those describes what we’re seeing happen every day.”

“You read all of those?”

“Sure,” said Trevor. “You never know when some outsider will hit upon a good idea. Most of the time they’re just magical thinking, though.”

“Well, these things work almost like magic,” said Taun.

“There’s no such thing as magic,” Trevor said. “But if you have advanced enough technology, it can seem that way. Energy can’t be created from nothing, but … it can be transformed from one form to another, moved from one place to another, and converted from matter. One of those three things must be happening.”

“The most efficient is if it’s just being moved,” said Taun. “Converting it from other forms of energy or from matter is inherently inefficient unless it’s done on a massive scale.”

“Which means,” said Trevor, “that somewhere there’s a generator creating all this energy that we’re tapping into -- transmitting it to the power cores. Barry might be right. Somebody’s helping us.”

“That’s assuming your logic is right,” said Taun. “It’s certainly a possibility. But it’s not the only one.”

“That’s true.” Trevor took a breath. “I wonder if Galactic found anything out.”

Paxton sat and stared at his screen with incredulity. From what it was telling him, Barry had invented some way to create a crystalline form of hydrogen never before seen. Indications were the central core was surrounded by some form of liquid under extreme pressures … but actual understanding of the data was inconclusive due to how little of it made sense.

He did recognize the C64 matrix with the hexagonal sphere shapes surrounding another form of Helium-3 never theorized before. Paxton sat back in his chair and put his hands to his face and rubbed it tiredly. He was positive there was something missing in all of this.

The best minds at Galactic had no clue how several of the components could even exist, much less how this thing worked. Paxton went over the data carefully once again. There was nothing he could glean from the examination of the sphere before it powered on and left, that gave him any clues. Even the energy it radiated was alien to the monitoring equipment. None of what that data had to say meant anything reasonable.

Back at the Mars Colony, it had started to look less abandoned as Miki and Jennie brought the place back online and set up the housing areas. It was now time to see if they could find people willing to repopulate. From what the news feeds were saying, things were getting pretty bad back dirt side.

Jennie had already taken stock and inventory of perishables and consumables. The Colony site was now able to maintain about 100,000 individuals on a self-sustaining basis. It would be tight at first, but Miki had already programmed several of the builderbots to start new slagcrete dome construction. These domes would be inside the sheer cliff face across the way from the current site for added protection from meteorite strikes and solar radiation during a solar event, things that Mars’ thin atmosphere didn’t protect against as well as Earth’s denser one.

Jennie and Miki had huge plans for malls and Bio-parks beneath the domes, and even a stream with a small waterfall for aeration purposes and a medium sized pond. The pond would serve several duties both as a food production area and water storage, to name the most obvious.

Meanwhile, in the space-based habitats, Trevor and Taun weren’t sitting idle. They had robots building the structures according to the blueprints, so meanwhile they were testing their theories about the power cores. They knew that either their energy came from fuel contained within them … or it didn’t.

“If they’re converting some kind of fuel to energy,” said Taun, “there would have to be some kind of decrease in mass over time, and I’m just not detecting that -- not even with the most sensitive equipment. Not even with the first power core, the one you found.”

“Then maybe that could shed some light on it,” Trevor said. “Look at this.” He slid a tablet toward her, open to an e-reader showing a page from a quantum mechanics text. “Quantum entanglement. Doesn’t matter if the energy source is a million light-years away. If the power core’s linked to it, it’s like it already has all that energy at its beck and call.”

“Wait …” said Taun, looking at the page for a moment, then scrolling to the next. “If this is right … it could explain everything. After all, what have we been doing to make more cores? Adding to an existing one, then splitting it off. The new one is entangled with the previous one, meaning it’s also entangled with the energy source, whatever it is.”

“And how have we been activating them?” asked Trevor. “Harmonic vibrations. Each with a unique spectrum. No two can have the same spectrum exactly, or they’d interfere, and one of the two would stop working.”

“So … what’s the power source?” Taun asked.

“Hard to say,” Trevor said. “We’d have to carefully measure minute fluctuations in the power cores’ energy output -- it can’t be perfectly smooth -- and compare that with the fluctuation patterns in observable energy sources. Maybe it’s some supergiant star somewhere out there.”

“Oh, so we’d only have to compare it with every star in the universe,” Taun said sarcastically. “Easy as pie.”

“Then we’d better get started now,” Trevor said with a grin. “The sooner we start, the sooner we find it. Or rather … the sooner the computers start.” He started typing on his keyboard, writing some code. “They can do it a lot faster than we can.”

“And if it isn’t any source that’s visible from here?”

“Then that’ll be good to know too,” Trevor said.

“OK,” said Taun. “Meanwhile, I have an idea about how we might, maybe, be able to start our own quantum-entangled network of devices. We’ll start small -- maybe with transmitting something low-energy, like information.”

Barry was driving his eight-wheeled lunar rover across the Moon’s surface. “Interesting theory, Trev,” he said. “Let me know if you find the star.”

“I will,” said Trevor’s voice from the comm panel. “Meanwhile, you’ve got the status report. Things are moving along. Soon we’ll be ready for some adventurous people to join us -- both out here and on Mars. Take care! L5 out.”

Barry was exploring for new veins of metal ore to evaluate and perhaps mine. He slowed down once he approached the next point on his planning map, then stopped and activated the ground-penetrating radar, noting the results. “Hmm, looks like we’ve got some iron over there, could be nickel here … now what in the Moon is that?” He looked at an echo pattern more closely.

The readings indicated a huge fabricated structure buried several hundred yards beneath the surface. Barry switched to a narrower band and readjusted the setting for a finer look-see.

Best he could determine, this was some kind of underground habitat with its own version of a hangar. The area was shielded in some way, so he couldn’t get any readings on what might be inside.

Barry hit the secure comm, “Hey, Trev, Barry here. I found something rather interesting about 25 miles from Darkside. I never went this direction because of the good veins of material in the other direction.”

Trevor’s reply came back after a brief delay, “Might be a good place to set up a ship construction yard, if the mineral content is high.”

Barry responded, “I didn’t find minerals -- what I found is some type of underground habitat. It’s huge. I’m releasing 2 of those digger and construction critters you and Taun came up with. They mine rather well, for bots.”

Trevor’s reply, “Be careful. No telling what you might find in one of those old places they constructed early on. I seem to recall rumors of some weird stuff. Also, Taun came up with a way for us to have FTL comms. She’ll be sending you one soon to test out, I’ll bet. L5 out.”

Barry sat back in the gravity couch of the caterpillar-like exploration vehicle. He unstrapped his harnesses and slowly went to the rear cargo hold. Once there, he chose two of the best constructor pods he had and turned them on.

After programming them to search and remove regolith from above and around the buried structure, he wanted them to search for an available entrance. As the bots emerged from the storage area onto the lunar surface, Barry returned to the control deck and strapped himself in.

He reached over and turned on one of the observation monitors. It opened with a split down the middle. One window showed the camera images of one pod and the other the other. They were using IR night vision, as they were currently in the depths of the Moon’s two-week-long night.

Excavation proceeded quickly as the two bots’ joined AI performed its task flawlessly and rapidly. It wasn’t long before the auto airlock doors to the hangar were unearthed and cleared enough that Barry decided to suit up and go see it in person.

After making his way to the excavation with large low-gravity bounds across the Moon’s surface, Barry hopped down to the hangar doors and looked more closely at them. It was quite dark, but he didn’t want to risk being spotted by any spy drones that Galactic might have surveilling the area, so he didn’t turn on any standard lighting. Drones could have IR cameras, of course, or even UV, radar, or microwaves, but he had the rover set to watch for that kind of thing, and it hadn’t detected anything. So he briefly risked brightening the doors up a bit with an IR light to take a still image, and what he saw made him gasp.

The logo on the doors was that of the Velos Project -- the then-top-secret military project from decades ago that had developed the legendary Velos Strike Fighter, in violation of every international treaty against the militarization of space.

One of Earth’s old governments had decided to go rogue and be the first, afraid that some other nation had already done so, and then one of the others had responded with this. There had been rumors and even leaked videos, but the Velos Strike Fighter had never been used in combat -- with the possible exception of the crashed one that Barry had found and restored.

Nobody had ever found the project’s secret base, and here it was in the last place Barry would have thought to look, a mere 25 miles from his own company’s main facility. Technically, this place was on his own claim, meaning that by salvage rights he owned this abandoned base and everything in it.

“Well, time to find out what I’ve got here,” he said to himself. The place was completely powered down, of course, so it took him a little while to jury-rig some power to the hangar doors, but he was a Moon miner; jury-rigging was what he did every day. With a spare power core that briefly lit the doors up with a deep indigo, he opened the doors just wide enough for him to get inside, then disconnected the core again.

Once inside, he held up his IR beam to illuminate the area, reflecting it off the ceiling, and his suit’s enhanced visual display showed him the results in real time. The hangar was full … of Velos Strike Fighters. There must have been at least two dozen of them. “Holy …” said Barry to himself. He counted. There were 29 of the legendary vessels.

Barry permitted himself a brief moment of exultation. “Yes!!” he shouted, inside his suit where nobody could hear him, pumping his fist in the air and jumping, forgetting for a moment that he was in Lunar gravity. When he landed, it was not on his feet, but at least it was a slow landing and didn’t hurt much. “Nobody saw that,” he said as he picked himself up. “Never happened.”

Back on earth, deep underground in Galactic’s Survival facility, many of the world’s remaining scientific minds sat in a large room with many readouts, books, and sketches scattered all around.

One of them said, “It is not possible to have a form of heavy Metalic Hydrogen … or Crystalline Hydrogen for that matter, it … just isn’t possible.”

Another of the scientists stood and shoved a binder over to the one who had spoken. A very clear photo of the power unit powered down, and another with its bright glow as it tore out of the laboratory. “We have no clue what makes that thing work. According to all we know, it can’t exist.” He tossed a handful of papers on the table in front of him, “And those readings … the figures … they plain and simply do not make any sense.”

A young woman said softly, “How would we make that metallic hydrogen? To the best of my knowledge, it takes unbelievable amounts of pressure to create such a thing in the lab. I have no idea how to make a framework to contain a liquid using a metallic form of Hydrogen.”

Another of the scientists who had been observing a monitor said with worry in his voice, “I don’t know about any of that right now … what concerns me is can we make some kind of better deal with the mining company so we have access to the tech? If we can’t do something very soon, none of us will live much longer.”

The video on the monitor showed a massive hurricane blizzard with winds almost 145 MPH. Visibility was only possible due to the type of frequencies the cameras operated in, otherwise no video would be available.

The storm had also blown away much of the structure the camera was housed in and the video began to degrade as the storm appeared to worsen. The temperature readings were well below zero, and with the added issue of wind chill the cold was such that nothing of flesh would survive it for very long without some way to get out of the wind, and keep warm.

Flying debris was a critical issue, since several hundred pounds could slam into something at 100 MPH or greater and cause massive damage. High level energy discharges had become almost global and had increased in severity with all the friction caused by the Hurricane Blizzards. This rendered almost all ground launches dangerous at best. Those in the orbiting stations looked at the ever worsening disaster spreading rapidly around the globe with much fear. As much as they were self sufficient, they also needed certain amounts of support from Earth-based facilities to fill in the gaps.

The storms had caused much damage to the above-ground facilities; however, due to the ever worsening above-ground conditions over the many previous years, mankind had built elaborate underground structures. The problem was that they had designed the facilities to deal with the warming problems and severe droughts, not massively sub-zero temperatures, colossal amounts of snowfall, and wind speeds in excess of 200 MPH at times.

The massive snow falls began to accumulate in the power turbines and freeze, stalling the helical wheels from turning. Water intakes began to freeze as the water turned into slush and ice. It had not yet passed the critical stage; however, all it would take was one major breakdown, and all would be lost.

“Are the towers not helping, then?” asked Paxton.

“Sir, calculations show that the towers are doing what nothing else could have -- they are reversing the atmospheric damage,” said a scientist. “The problem is that the damage is so great … it will take them years to stabilize the climate. Of course, it will get better over time as they work … but that is assuming that there is anyone left to appreciate it when they are done.”

“I … see,” Paxton said. “What else could we do? To … save as many people as possible.”

“If we had some kind of space habitat, or if the Mars Colony hadn’t been abandoned, or any number of projects hadn’t been canceled by short-sighted politicians many years ago,” the scientist replied. “The atmospheric scrubbing towers are an incredible boon and may prevent the total extinction of most mammalian land species. The oceangoing debris collection robot ships are making a difference and may prevent the extinction of all marine life.”

“Even if there were space habitats or a Mars Colony, it would take vast amounts of fuel to launch even an appreciable sample of the human race off Earth,” said Paxton. “I just don’t see how it could ever happen.”

“Activating shunt in 3 … 2 … 1 … Mark,” said Trevor, and Taun entered the final command on her keyboard.

“Taun? Trevor?” came a voice through a makeshift ring-shaped metal device that glowed, framing an image of the hangar at Barry’s Dark Side Base. “Is this working?” There was a bit of a breeze blowing through.

“I’m hearing you, Barry,” said Taun. “Here. Test number 1.” And she threw the paper airplane she’d been folding through the image, where it sailed through and became part of the image.

“Holee smokes,” said Barry. “This is not even … it wasn’t even on the drawing board. What did you do?”

“Quantum-entangled graviton flows,” Trevor said. “Basically the same thing the power cores do, only they transmit energy from a distance away. These transmit matter as if distance were nothing. Taun’s idea, really.”

They saw Barry now, walking into the hangar and scanning the paper airplane with a handheld device. “Not even radioactive,” he said. “Hm.” He picked it up and threw it back through the portal, where it sailed back to Trevor and Taun’s lab on the space habitat.

“Haven’t tested it on anything alive yet,” said Taun, “but that paper’s organic material that used to be alive, so it’s a very good sign. We’ll have to make sure its molecular structure hasn’t been scrambled or anything like that.”

“I bet you’ll be walking from Earth to Mars within the week,” said Barry. “What are you doing with all the spare momentum and energy?”

“The power core linkage is handling the energy,” Trevor said. “As for the momentum, there’s a small asteroid that gets knocked around a bit, but it all evens out.”

In one of the low cost survival units located in the Northern Block, a strange holo-ad appeared throughout the compound. In a loud and excited voice the message said, “Come on an adventure of a lifetime! See a new world, a new habitat that is a garden. No more storms or freezing cold temperatures!” a large panoramic view of a lush garden complete with a mountain waterfall appeared, “For more info, please enter your tag code into the receiver. One of our representatives will speak with you very shortly.”

Clean air, water you can drink straight from the streams. Slowly crawled across the top of the screen. Many people stopped and stared as this began to repeat.

One individual went to the hovering device that was making the holo-ad appear and entered his tag number on the small keypad. Immediately, a new holo-screen opened in front of the man and the face of a pretty young smiling woman appeared. She said with a cheery smile, “Hi, my name’s Miki. We were wondering if living in a colony or a huge space habitat would interest you.”

The man snorted once then replied, “Lady, if it would get us out of this sewer and into a safe place where I can raise my family .. no way I wouldn't jump at the chance.”

Miki giggled then replied, “Very well, sir. All you have to do is register with the Colonial immigration board.” a form appeared on yet another screen with a small keyboard, “Please enter the requested data. Make sure your requirements for accommodations are properly entered and the proper pick up location. Bring whatever it is you wish to have with you. It’s a one way trip.”

“I’m sorry, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Helen. “There’s no such thing as a passport to the Mars Colony. I’m afraid you must be the victim of a fraud … oh? Nobody’s charging you any money? A … practical joke then, it must be. Yes, have a great day, Sir.” She pressed buttons on the screen to answer the next call. “Galactic Aerospace customer service, how may I help you?”

“Has this been going on all day?” asked Paxton.

“Oh! Sir! Um, yes, it has,” said Helen. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, but there is no need for a passport to Encke Space Habitat because there is no such thing as Encke Space Habitat … I’m afraid you’re the victim of a prank … have a good day!” She turned back to Paxton. “I don’t know what’s going on, Sir; we’ve just had a huge rash of these calls.”

“So I hear,” Paxton said. “That’s why I’m here. What are they all about? Space colonies? Mars colonies?”

“Yes, Sir, there are both kinds. From what I gather, they had to fill out some kind of online form and were told their ride would be there for them at some specific time, so they should gather their belongings, and then they called us to make sure there wasn’t any extra paperwork we had for them.”

“Every Galactic call center has been slammed by these calls today,” said Paxton, pinching his lip in thought. “And we must assume that there are many people who didn’t call us -- either they didn’t think they needed to, or they’re not in our customer area. Maybe they’re calling one of the other companies.”

“Mr. Takayama,” said Paxton into his comm, “you may want to step up monitoring of incoming traffic from off-world. Just in case someone does come to pick them up …”

At the precise time, the stars came out -- even in parts of the world where it was daylight. Thousands of bright motes of light spun their way down from the sky and attached themselves to door frames, or even formed free-standing frames right there in alleys, on sidewalks, beneath overpasses, in tunnels. Every one of them glowed with its own shade of color, hummed with its own music. And everyone who had responded got a message. It said:

“The appointed hour has come. You are welcome to begin your adventure. Simply open the door.”

Sam Halford opened his door … and saw not a gray, cracked sidewalk leading through a yard full of dead grass out into a dingy city full of dirty snow, but a crisp white floor with people walking in all directions beneath a crystalline ceiling high above, a lighted framework shining down making everything bright, and beyond it … the stars …

“I don’t believe it,” he said. “And yet, somehow I do. Alice! Get your bags! It’s here!” Sam went to find the bags he had packed.

And in a few moments, Sam and Alice stepped through into a shining city in space.

Shortly after that, the glimmering mote detached itself from their doorway and moved on to another house, apartment, condo, or homeless shelter.

“Found it!” whooped Trevor exultantly. “Found it, found it, found it!”

“The lottery ticket you lost 23 years ago?” asked Taun sarcastically.

“No, the energy source! I’d be willing to bet. The power fluctuations match exactly. It’s a blue supergiant star 1300 light years off. Its name is just numbers in the catalog. But that’s where all our energy’s coming from -- just a drop in the bucket compared to what that star puts out every second.”

“That’s great -- maybe we can send a probe to find out who sent us that meteor. Meanwhile, the robots and employees are both handling the influx of colonists.”

At the Mars colony, many thousands began arriving. Compared to the squalor the survival facilities had devolved into over the years, this was absolutely a fantasy come true. There were many large domes including an entire facility underground.

A huge agri-dome stood in the exact center of many other large domes arranged in a circle around it. Many lighted connections ran to a central hub, where the main Galleria and all the social activities were.

Within the agridome, many types of birds and animals none of the new arrivals had ever seen outside a zoo or a museum ran free and did the things nature intended. The air within the huge dome didn't smell like processed air, and was nothing anywhere like what they had to endure back on Earth.

The dome was so large, infact, it even had its own hydro-cycle. The huge lake had slowly stabilized and its habitat became self sustaining and even contributed to the oxygen supply.

There was a perfectly timed light cycle maintained by some of the finest AI powered computer systems in the solar system. As the light became that of early morning, a small random rainshower began. Many reacted in terror at first, before they realized this was actually rain, and not that horribly acidic thing that sometimes fell back on earth.

Barry patted Taun and Trevor on their backs as he said with pride, “Good work there, guys. How many have we gotten so far?”

Trevor replied, “We managed to convince about a million divided among Mars and L5. The Mars colony is many times bigger now than when I found it too.”

“What do you mean, gone?” asked Paxton. “People don’t just vanish. Why aren’t the corporate peacekeepers just investigating them as kidnappings or murders?”

“No, Sir, that’s just the thing,” said the investigator. “They are. This is why this went all the way up to you. Nobody has any idea how it happened. There’s no sign of foul play, and no trace of where they went. And there could be up to a million of them ...”

“A … million? Look for signs of cult activity --”

“We already tried that, Sir,” the investigator interrupted. “These are people who are just suddenly nowhere. Along with many of their possessions. They packed their belongings and took them with them, to all appearances. Single men and women, couples, entire families in some cases. And here’s the thing: social media.”

“They vanished from social media too?” asked Paxton.

“No, they didn’t. They’re all still posting messages, as if nothing had happened. But they’re just not responding to questions about where they are. They just say they’re in ‘Paradise’ or ‘the Promised Land’ or something like that. Which brought us back to the cult angle, but there’s no sign of a common belief system or any past cult activity.”

“Wait. Let me see if I have it,” said Paxton. “Have you seen one of these?” He put up a photo on the screen, one that someone had taken and sent to him. It said, “Come on an adventure of a lifetime!” Paxton continued, “We got a number of calls about this, people asking us if they had to get a passport or visa of some kind. We were telling people it was a scam. What if … it wasn’t?”

“Wait -- Sir, you’re not suggesting they’re somehow off-world?”

“That’s what I’m suggesting,” said Paxton, “but at the moment I’m unclear on how they would have pulled something like that off. A few big transport ships, or a lot of little ones, would have gotten our attention. But there was nothing -- nothing that we saw … on our scanners ... “ He trailed off.


Paxton swore vilely.

“Uhhhh … Sir, should I be hearing that?”

“Never mind. An announcement will be coming shortly. But there’s someone I have to call first. Paxton out.”

Barry sat in his comfortable chair in his brand new outpost. He now had 30 of the nastiest fighters that Earth ever produced, all upgraded and massively armed with whatever that liquid electron weapon was Taun came up with.

He checked over the many new turret implacements on the scanners along with the many new shield satellites now in orbit. Barry’s eyebrows went up in surprise as his comm announced an incoming call … From Galactic.

Barry hit the call switch and replied, “This is Darkside Base, Barry speaking. What is it you want this time, Mr. High and Mighty CEO?”

Paxton’s face showed a major surprise for an instant before he regained control and his poker face reestablished itself, “There has been a strange …”

Barry interrupted, “Are you talking about the mass disappearances? Strange happening, isn’t it?”

Paxton leaned back into his chair and took a deep breath to calm down. He knew beyond any doubt anger would definitely get him nowhere, ”I was sort of wondering about that, along with a great many other people.”

Barry smirked as he replied, “From what my scans tell me, Earth … or rather mankind on Earth, has a rather serious problem. The location of your main office on the planet is currently sustaining heavy snow, 144 MPH winds, and temperatures including wind chill near 85 below zero. Most of the ground-based facilities were built with global warming in mind, not global snowball.”

Paxton replied, “We are coping and adapting here. From where I am in orbit, weather conditions are so poor, we are unable to resupply the orbiting stations. Almost all air traffic is grounded. Conditions within the Southern Block are deteriorating rapidly. Many will freeze to death and die. I am asking for help.”

Barry laughed, “I seem to recall a tower that went nonfunctional because some idiot removed the power unit. Remember?”

Paxton sighed, “Yes, I remember.”

Barry replied amid the ever worsening weather on Earth, “I wouldn’t worry too much; I hear freezing to death is an easy way to go.” With this, Barry broke the connection.

Miki said in a whimper, “That’s rather harsh.”

Barry replied, “Don’t fret, Miki. I’m just giving the idiot something to think about while we build more habitats.”

It was normally difficult for Sarah to scavenge for food anyway. She had a place to live, a ramshackle hut on a small plot of land that had belonged to her husband before he’d been killed on the job in a warehouse accident. Her children were always hungry, and Sarah sometimes went without so she could feed them. But now … the weather had turned so much worse. In one way it was better, because the cold prevented unwanted food from spoiling in the dumpsters, but it also meant she had to be out in the driving snow and sleet. The home’s walls weren’t much shelter against the wind.

That was when the singing robot came. She didn’t know where it had come from; it was just there one morning. It had fixed the largest broken window already -- somehow -- and it was in the process of mending the roof when she found it. “Wait,” she said to it. “We don’t have electricity -- we can’t plug you in.”

It glowed a bright shade of blue, a color that the sky had once had, not as if anyone now alive remembered those days, and it hummed musically. But although its small body paused in its labor for a moment and its head swiveled to look at her with its large luminous eyes, it didn’t respond. It just went back to work. It was somehow patching the damage without external materials; it looked as if it were somehow turning broken metals and plastics into new parts.

It worked quickly, too -- the children were able to go into rooms that they hadn’t visited since they were born, because the floors were now intact, there weren’t any protruding metal shards or screws, and the broken glass was now a solid window. Before dark it had completely fixed the house. There was still no electricity or running water -- or heat -- but then it did something else.

The robot hovered over to one corner of the living room and came to rest on the floor. A charging plug extended from its back and connected with a socket it had earlier built into the wall there. And then the lights came on. Soon Sarah and the kids noticed that the house was warming up, too. It must have fixed the heating system along with everything else. The robot had somehow improved the insulation. The walls, windows and roof were holding the heat quite tightly.

Sarah felt a little silly, but she tried talking to it again. “We … we have a house again,” she said. “Thanks to you. Are you going to stay? What is your name?”

“You are welcome, Sarah Veklovsky,” the robot said. “I have come to help your family. I am … without a name. You may give me one, if you wish.”

“You’re about the size of Michael and Susan,” Sarah said. “You’re really going to stay?”

“Affirmative, Sarah Veklovsky. BNC is sending us to help as many as we can.”

“I don’t know BNC,” said Sarah, “but maybe I could call you Bernard?”

“I am content with name ‘Bernard.’ Name registered in storage systems.”

Food was still scarce, but at least Bernard helped. Sarah brought back whatever she could find, old broken protein packs or calorie bars with bites taken out of them, and Bernard would sterilize them and reform them into something edible, even good-tasting. And they were no longer in danger of freezing to death in their own home.

Miki and Jennie were off duty. They’d decided to take a stroll through the domes of the colony. There were children playing outside one of the elementary schools, flowers were blooming in the gardens outside the row of low condominiums around the edge of this habitation dome, and the vegetables were growing in the greenhouses. If one didn’t look outside and see the red soil, one wouldn’t think the city was on Mars.

“Oops! Somebody lost a ball!” said Jennie, stooping to catch a playground ball that had bounced over the fence. The kids had run up to the fence and were looking to see where it had gone. “Here ya go!” She drop-kicked the ball back over the fence, and the kids turned and ran after it.

“We don’t have the perfect mix of colonists, really, but it’s close,” said Miki. “At least we’ve got some teachers.”

“And some engineers,” Jennie said. “I’m glad we were able to train some others to keep the equipment running, or we wouldn’t be able to take breaks!”

Back at the Galactic Orbital Headquarters, Paxton sat at his desk and fretted. Due to the ever worsening atmospheric conditions, shuttle resupplies were impossible. The station was able to become fully self sustained, but conditions would degrade to extremely deplorable states within a year or two without ground based support.

Paxton felt a tingle of desperation and frustration run down his spine as his comm chimed, he knew who this was and dreaded the conversation, “Galactic CEO Paxton, how can I help you?”

The concerned face of Mr. Takayama appeared on the screen. The comm was very poor as the signal kept breaking up due to the severe atmospheric disruptions and massive dust from the eruptions, “Mr. Paxton. We here at Galactic Earth are … having rather serious difficulties. Have you been completely unable to negotiate with the mining company?”

Paxton rubbed his face tiredly as he replied, “I’m not sure he has forgiven us for Mr. Green’s actions. On the last comm with BNC, they basically told us to freeze to death.”

Mr. Takayama shook his head sadly as he replied back, “That may well happen. Temperature outside is registering in at about 80 below zero. We’ve had to add heating units to the water intakes and power turbines to keep them from freezing up. It almost works, but someone still has to go out and break the accumulation from time to time.”

Paxton replied with concern in his voice, “Mr. Takayama, Sir, if I can’t get that Barry character to agree to help, I’m afraid we in this station are going to have a severe issue within a few months.”

Mr. Takayama nodded sadly as he replied, “Best call and grovel at his feet. I think that’s what I’m going to do. Without his help, all is lost.”

“There’s an issue we’re going to have to face,” said Trevor. “Entropy.”

“Waste heat,” said Taun, nodding. “I know what you mean. The more of our power cells are in use on Earth, even if they’re not using any of Earth’s resources, they’re still dumping energy into Earth’s ecosystem, and it’ll end up as waste heat.”

They were in the lab in the first space habitat they’d built. Not many people lived here, as it was the smallest and least self-sustaining. But it was where they made their ongoing stream of innovations, such as their automated zero-g assembly factory and their constructor bots. They had been getting raw materials from various small asteroids and building the special robots they’d been sending to Earth to help people in need -- those robots, of course, also had functions to help clean up the air and water and recycle the trash that centuries of unchecked “growth and progress” had left behind.

“It started with the carbon sequestration towers,” Trevor started, pointing at a screen showing a graph. “They’re making a difference, although it’s slow, of course. But they’re also expending energy, some of which radiates into space, but some of it is absorbed into the environment as waste heat. Now with all these robots, even more of that is happening.”

“Do your models show that it’ll make a difference to the climate?” asked Taun. “Because the freed carbon is already doing that.”

“The carbon that was stored underground as fossil fuels was released as CO2 … that caused first a warming, then increased volatility, in the global climate. Just now the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing these hurricane-blizzards; the Southern Hemisphere is just having lots of regular hurricanes. This heat dumping effect could warm things up a bit -- which isn’t necessarily good; that could mean more powerful hurricanes in both the north and the south.”

“But it’s just heat,” said Taun. “It’s not as if it’s a pollutant that binds to molecules on Earth. It’s just energy.”

“True, it’s constantly being lost to space,” said Trevor. “But more is constantly being generated too. We just have to watch the difference between the two rates. If we get to the point where more is being generated than can escape, we’re going to cook Earth.”

“OK, solutions?” Taun asked. “Some kind of radiator array -- a big heat sink that sends the heat out into space?”

“How would the heat get to the heat sink?” Trevor asked. “How about sending it back via the quantum coupling that already exists?”

“It would make a hot star a bit hotter,” said Taun, “but not noticeably -- let me see -- yes, it would be millions of years before it would make any sizable difference.”

“OK, we can make some adjustments. I love it when we work out the bugs.”

Barry raised an eyebrow in surprise when he answered his comm to see one of the highest ranking Board members of Galactic, Mr. Takayama. Barry said in a professional tone, “This is Barry. To what dishonor do I owe this call?”

Mr. Takayama sat back in his chair and smiled thinly as he replied softly, “I am calling with a plea for aid. I realize you have no reason to help, but on whatever it is that you hold as true …” Mr.Takayama looked down as his face took on a very human remorse, “We can hold out here at this survival center for a long time if nothing major happens. Conditions would rapidly get to the point where the living would envy the dead. Especially on the orbiting stations, we have no possible way to resupply them or even launch an aircraft in these storms.”

Barry’s expression turned softer as he replied, “I do want you to know, as far as corporate leadership is concerned, your system is now broken.”

Mr. Takayama smiled as he replied, “Think of the parallelism and of the irony of the situation. Galactic may be out. But what about the new corporation that will and already is, filling the void left.”

Barry replied, “What corporation? I don’t have a clue what your talking about.”

Mr. Takayama’s smile broadened as he replied, “When children are playing on the playground, the one with the more expensive toy rules.”

Barry responded, “What does that supposed to mean?”

Mr. Takayama replied, “BNC is the one who is in control. You have the power. I am just a humble idiot come to beg you for aid. Aid, that if we don’t have soon, none of us will be here to regret it.”

About that time, the signal began to waver and fill with snow. The voice went away and was replaced by squeals, pops, and much white noise.

Barry could plainly see the new satellite system data on earth current weather conditions. Galactic Earthside HQ’s location was right in the middle of a monster of a hurricane blizzard.

“And that’s the last thing he said to me, Trev, right before the signal cut off,” said Barry. “Things are bad down there.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” said Trevor. “We’ve got eyes down there. People are desperate. Our robots are trying to help, but there are only thousands of them compared to billions of humans. We’re making more, but we can only make them so fast. There’s a lot of catching up to do.”

“Are your habitats at capacity?”

“They were, but they’re growing,” said Taun. “We’re building more space-based habitat modules, and the others are building more domes on Mars, but we can’t take another million yet. Soon, maybe.”

“You know,” said Barry, “political ideals are great and everything, but when people are dying … look. My goal has always been to get the people back in charge and not big corporations. I don’t want Galactic and other gigacorps like it to have our power cells. Not until there’s no possible way for them to monopolize them. And they still could. Imagine if they got them and put them in every one of their fighters. We’ve got a few dozen Velos fighters, but they’ve got thousands of ships -- imagine each one powered with the star cells. They’d just come destroy us, then rule Earth forever. We can’t give the cells to them until they’re absolutely commonplace. If everyone has them, Galactic can’t lord it over anybody. Neither can any other gigacorp.”

“You were just saying that people are dying,” Trevor reminded Barry.

“I know!” Barry said, pinching his lip with his fingers as he did when he was under pressure. “I just don’t want to make a decision that’s going to end up causing a bigger tragedy later. I mean, so the human race survives, only with a corporate boot stamping on its face forever.”

“There’s no question of the human race as a whole surviving now,” said Taun. “It’s going to. The only question is how much of it. How many will die.”

“Well, why can’t the star power cells be everywhere right now?” asked Trevor, then answered himself, “Because they can’t be made quickly enough.”

“What if …” Taun began.

“Yeah?” asked Barry.

“I mean, what if they could multiply like actual cells?” asked Taun. “Or … what if our robots could make more of themselves? One becomes two become four become eight.”

“The only limit becomes resources at that point,” said Trevor.

“We can transport resources,” said Taun. “We can transport anything.”

“That’s … very interesting,” Trevor said. “However, we have to consider that we’d be adding mass to Earth. We’d need to implement a total-mass limit.”

Without warning, a blue flash lit up the room they all were sitting in. A strange humanoid stood, wearing a white environment suit and helmet. He held out one of his hands. In the gloved palm rested a small sphere that glowed softly teal.

Barry, Treavor, and Taun had stood then backed slightly away from the figure. It moved its hand indicating it wanted someone to take the item in its palm. Taun, being the brave woman she was, stepped forward and took the sphere from the being’s hand.

It was so warm, and it tingled as it rested in her hand. Within her mind, she heard a soft jumble of … sound was the only way she could have described it. It cleared up shortly, and a voice with a really strange accent said softly, “Greetings from Meekpak to Earth. Do not be afraid or apprehensive. I have come with more aid to help your species survive.”

Taun gasped in shock as her mind raced with a million thoughts. The feeling of the reply was one of cordiality and mirth, “Relax, I will give you the answers … if you can ask them coherently one at a time.”

Taun finally manage to form her thoughts, “Who … I mean why … have your people decided to help ours?”

It replied, “We have been observing your people for many of your centuries. Your people are not so different from ours. We too, in our ancient history, suffered from the same growing pains. If we don’t give you a nudge in the right direction, your whole species could die out. We managed to develop a white hole using frequency-modulated pure light. When we figured out that putting it within a … you called them Dyson Spheres, except these are small, not solar-system sized. The Spheres are constructed to maintain a high central pressure to insure the helium stays in a liquid form and to convert the energy into something akin to a liquid. The metallic and crystalline hydrogen is there because its frequency modulation peaks perfectly and the molecular bonds within them and the blue giant star we chose for you allow for the instantaneous transfer of energy on demand to be modulated at certain frequency spectra maintained by the metallic crystalline hydrogen framework.”

The being took an item from his chest plate that looked like a neatly folded piece of black paper and folded it out. To the amazement of all, it was some type of device. While he did that, Taun filled the rest in on what was going on.

Trevor suggested, “What if … we all hold hands around that device so all of us can hear.”

The being turned on the device he had been adjusting, producing a bright flash of blue-white light accompanied by a musical tone from the sphere in Taun’s hand. All could hear the conversation now.

“Greetings. I am here with more aid for those suffering on the planet you call Earth. Can you scan the planet’s surface? In short order, many large stations will arrive. On them are the necessary science and engineering labs to reform the surface … and save many of your people.”

“We were just discussing how we could save more of them,” said Trevor. “There are so many, and we’ve only had a limited amount of time.”

“A monumental task, to be sure,” said the being. “However, you did manage to ensure the survival of your species, with your orbital habitats and your colony on the fourth planet. Because of that valiant effort, there are some among our people who argued that your world deserved further assistance. I have no doubt that, given more time, you could have built platforms similar to those that are about to arrive. There is, however, simply no more time.”

Several lights began to appear on their situation monitors. Taun pressed controls on the screens, and other monitors began to show live images from their micro-satellites in Earth orbit. Immense stations seemed to emerge from empty space directly into the vicinity of Earth, already in stable orbital positions.

“I am aware that your world is currently governed by an anarcho-capitalist oligarchy,” said the being. “Your friend made an interesting decision to delay giving the secret of the white hole conduits to the large conglomerates. They will obtain it sooner or later in any case, but so will many others, and no entity will gain advantage. Because of his decision, many more will have the energy conduits and devices powered by them before the conglomerates do. However, at the same time, the process of rescuing individuals and repairing your world’s environment has taken longer, because you do not have the manufacturing infrastructure that the conglomerates have. It is difficult to say which strategy would have cost more lives, although, to be fair, your friend chose the path that was reversible.”

“Because we could always have decided to give the power cells to the gigacorps later on,” said Taun. “But if we’d done that earlier, there’d have been no way to get that genie back into the bottle.”

“Ah, cultural references,” said the alien being. “It is as you say. But for now, the most important task is the salvation of your world as a habitat.”

Many habitat stations, much larger than the ones Trevor and Taun had been building, now appeared at the Lagrange point between Earth and the Moon, and in Mars orbit. Their central cores appeared as a space station most were familiar with. Attached were many spheres, each obviously some sort of bio-habitat. The central core contained the drive, engineering and manufacturing sections.

Paxton sat at his control console and stared at the reading he was getting. To his utter amazement, a fleet of large ships had just seemingly arrived in Earth orbit, appearing from nowhere, and now he was getting reports about more.

Paxton’s comm chirped, “Sir, this is Ensign Pery, I have an incoming comm from BNC Mining wishing to speak directly to you.”

Paxton raised an eyebrow as he replied, “Patch it in.”

The environment suited picture of … someone appeared. The white environment suit the being wore was something Paxton had never imagined. A soft, strangely accented voice spoke, “Greetings. A person named Barry has asked me to inform you that shortly something will arrive and attach itself to the hull of your facility. Do not be alarmed. Have all personnel within the station to have brought whatever they can carry. It is time to see your new home.” The screen went blank and gave Paxton no chance to say anything.

Just as it had said, scanners showed a glowing object seeming to appear from thin space, then attach itself to the hull exactly at the personnel quarters section of the station.

A few minutes later, one of the station’s security officers entered Paxton’s work area with another person, “Sorry to bother you, Sir, “ the man said as he indicated the pretty young woman with him, “This young woman is named Jennie. There’s another named Miki on the … umm .. other side, waiting for us to transfer.”

Paxton stood as he asked, “Other side? Other side of where?”

Jennie giggled, “The other side of the portal, dummy. Hurry along, we have many more to rescue besides you and this station.”

Paxton didn’t much appreciate being called a dummy; however, judging from the completely awed incredulity the security officer looked at Jennie with, this had to be something to see. He followed tentatively, examining Jennie closely for weapons or some such, although he found none apparent.

When they arrived at the personnel quarters section, Paxton stopped with his mouth open and eyes wide in total disbelief. What he saw was a perfectly round hole in the wall that led … to what he could see was some lush garden. The smell of many flowering plants drifted wonderfully in.

“What is going on?” Paxton asked, completely lost.

“It’s very simple, Pax,” said the voice of Barry, coming from Jennie’s comm tablet, which she held up for him. “Turns out some helpful aliens saw the trouble Earth was in and gave us the key to start solving it. Luckily a private citizen who happens to be a friend of mine found it, instead of someone from Galactic or one of the other gigacorps. You’d just have turned it into some kind of weapon or other profit-protection scheme. We turned it into habitats, environmental reclamation, and … transportation. Along with a weapon, though we didn’t harm anyone with it until we were directly attacked.”

“And now? What’s this?” Paxton asked.

“We passed the test,” said Barry. “We still couldn’t build enough habitats to save everyone, or enough reclamation machines to fix the environment before Earth became uninhabitable. Not in time. But the aliens saw we were trying. So they came to help us finish the job. Those stations have enough real estate to house everyone. Everyone in the world. Everyone gets to survive, and they get food, shelter, clothing, clean air and water, and even health care. Meanwhile, the ones in Earth orbit can begin the process of cleaning up the ecosystem. Not sure how long it’ll take, but sooner or later we’ll be able to go back.”

“What of those who refuse to go?” asked Paxton. “Will they be left to die?”

“Don’t ask me,” said Barry. “Ask the company you work for, or one of the other ones, that didn’t lift a finger to prevent any of this. You know, the ones that put profit ahead of having a planet to live on. I’m just a Moon miner. Nobody’s making you go anywhere -- yeah, it’s a Hobson’s choice, but if it weren’t for the aliens, and my friend, it’d be no choice, and we’d be looking at the utter extinction of the human race. Instead, it’ll be a rebirth. We’re calling it the Phoenix Project. A new world born from the ashes of the old.”

Mr. Takayama and Ms. Klieman sat in a large, well furnished conference room. They wore heavy coats and thick gloves as they talked.

Ms. Klieman said with a slight chatter in her voice and steam from her mouth as she talked, “Has there been any word at all? According to the current external readings, it’s 70 below zero. At least the storm has passed and it isn’t snowing any longer or the wind howling.”

Mr. Takayama replied through purple lips, “I haven’t heard anything from that Barry person since the storm blocked all comms. He didn’t sound very much like he was going to help.”

Ms. Klieman replied, “Is there anything we can do to get the power turbines working at full capacity anytime soon? The temperature in here has already dropped to 34. We have enough energy to operate the lights, and some of the emergency equipment, but without the full operation of the turbines, we are going to freeze.”

It was then that an exterior facing wall began to glow a bright white for an instant, then a large circular window of sorts just opened in the wall. Warm air began to breeze past the two of them with the wonderful smell of many types of flowers and really clean unprocessed air. Two young women stepped out of the portal into the room and looked around for a minute.

The pretty redhead waved and said cheerily, “Hi, I’m Jennie.” She indicated the pretty blonde next to her and continued, “This is Miki. We have come to rescue you from this freezer and take you somewhere warm and safe.”

Ms. Klieman and Mr. Takayama had stood and backed away from the glowing hole in the wall. Through it, they could see trees, grass, and many flowers, and could even hear actual birds singing happily.

Mr. Takayama said with a slight tremble in his voice, “Where are you taking us?”

Miki spoke up and said softly, “We are taking you to a Phoenix Project habitat. Until we can get a handle on this runaway weather problem, all of the people and other critters we can save will have to live in one of the Phoenix Project colonies. Don’t worry, they are all self-sustaining and fully equipped to handle all of the many peoples and creatures. Each one even has huge saltwater and freshwater lakes so we can preserve those creatures as well.”

Ms. Klieman and Mr. Takayama approached the portal. “This … isn’t a trick, is it?” asked Ms. Klieman. “It’s not just some kind of virtual reality simulation? Or a hallucination?”

Jennie said, “Well, if this were all a hallucination, I’m afraid there’d be nothing I could do for you, because I’d be part of it too. But what would it hurt to go along with it? If you’re going to freeze to death anyway, but there’s a chance that the way out might be real, why wouldn’t you take that chance?”

“Quite logical,” said Mr. Takayama. “Very well, I will take the chance. If I die, I will at least die with a vision of happiness before my eyes.” He strode toward the portal with his eyes wide open, taking in the beautiful sight.

“It beats staying here and freezing to death,” said Ms. Klieman, also walking toward the portal. “What about … everyone else?”

“About 60% of the living human population is on the habitats now,” said Miki, walking with her. “We can’t usher them all in ourselves, just the two of us, so we’ve been recruiting help. There are a lot of helpers to choose from now!”

As soon as they stepped through, the air was instantly warm and smelled sweet. The portal closed behind them, but they didn’t notice. They were in a plaza paved with some sort of stone-like tile, with a flower garden in the center. Surrounding the plaza were tall trees. Squirrels scurried up a nearby trunk, and birds perched in the branches, chirping and singing.

“Where … do we go now?” asked Mr. Takayama.

“We’ve got housing for you already,” said Jennie. “Just hop in.” She and Miki climbed into a vehicle about the size of a golf cart, but it didn’t seem to make any contact with the ground beneath. Mr. Takayama and Ms. Klieman got into the back seat, and Jennie drove through the plaza, avoiding the pedestrians strolling around, until they reached a tree-lined street that led away from the plaza and toward a row of moderate-sized residences. The ride was absolutely smooth and silent.

“Here you are,” said Miki as Jennie slowed to a stop before a pair of unoccupied homes. “Now, I’m not assuming you two want to live next door to each other forever. We’ll get to transferring people to bring families together soon. But for now we’re just in rescue mode. Meanwhile you can use the comms system inside to contact people.”

The two newcomers looked around, agog. The streets were attractive but were geometrically laid out. But more surprisingly, they could see the terrain in the distance bending up into the sky, with more streets and plazas, then wilderness areas and even bodies of water hanging at impossible angles, even directly overhead in the far distance, too far away to see individual people or even houses.

Ms. Klieman and Mr. Takayama looked at each other. “Well, neighbor,” said Ms. Klieman, “let’s have a look at our new homes.”

Sarah Veklovsky walked into her family’s new home, astonished. “We can just … live here?” she asked.

“Affirmative, Sarah,” said Bernard. The small robot hovered, staying out of the way as Sarah’s two children, Susan and Michael, went around him to explore the house. “I have been informed that the home’s comm unit will make it possible to connect to your family and friends, once you have signed in, and once they have done likewise. In time you may, if you wish, transfer to be near one another.”

“And we’ll have food to eat?” asked Sarah.

“Of course,” Bernard replied. “Everyone is to be provided for.”

“How did you know …?” Sarah asked. “I suppose the company that sent you must have told you.”

“Affirmative. The Phoenix Project is well under way, but it is a huge endeavor. The robots of my kind were asked to assist in bringing their families to the new habitats. I wish to protect you all until such a time as you can return to a restored Earth.”

“How long will that take?” asked Sarah.

“Predictions difficult,” Bernard replied. “Given the advanced technology of the Meekpak, there is likely to be considerable acceleration of the process, but I calculate that it will still take an absolute minimum of twenty years.”

“Then I might live to see Earth again,” Sarah said.

“Affirmative,” said Bernard. “This is highly likely, given your current age of 37 years.”

Sarah touched the large viewscreen in the living room, which immediately lit up. “Greetings, Sarah Velkovsky,” said a pleasant voice. “Would you like to register yourself and your family at this time?” Sarah looked at Bernard.

“I suggest that you do so,” Bernard said.

“Very well,” she said to the screen, which had begun showing time and date information, as well as a local weather forecast, to her surprise. “What should I do?”

“Merely answer a short series of questions, designed to ascertain your identity and build a voice profile,” said the screen. “I will assist you through this process. In addition, I am told that you have other family members to register.”

“Yes,” Sarah said. “My children, Susan and Michael, and our robot, Bernard.”

“I am honored to be considered part of the family,” Bernard said.

“Nonsense,” said Sarah to Bernard. “You probably saved our lives several times over.”

“Family registered, Sarah Velkovsky,” said the screen. “I will now begin the questionnaire.”

“Well,” said Trevor, looking at the big screen in their command center, which was showing a world map, “it looks as if there are now only 1,979 living humans left on Earth. Sadly, a few million died during the time it took to evacuate … 3,355,748, to be exact. The ones that are left are the ones that refused to go.”

“All we can do is wish them good luck, I guess,” said Taun. “The reclamation process will start making things better, but it won’t be instantaneous.” They watched as the alien orbital platforms released clouds of landing drones. These would alight on land or float on water and release smaller drones into the air or sea or onto the land, capturing and recycling refuse, filtering the water and air, and reshaping the land. Human-made materials would be transformed back into their basic elements and compounds, stored for future reuse.

“It’s gonna be a very different place,” said Barry.

“Indeed,” said the Meekpak, who was also observing. “The drones do know the difference between structures and refuse, and we have extensively researched important landmarks, which will not be disturbed. Still, Earth will be quite a different place -- it will be quite a bit more difficult for this problem to recur. Much of the carbon will be removed from the ecosystem and stored offsite -- on the Moon, perhaps.”

“You’re going to remove the fossil fuels, aren’t you?” asked Trevor.

“Yes,” the alien being said. “With the star cells, you will no longer need to burn anything for energy, but even if you do burn wood, while camping, for example, that is a renewable resource.”

Back on Earth, the 1,979 living humans, left dirtside by their own refusals to leave were not abandoned. The Phoenix Project offered all of them the opportunity to move into a totally refurbished underground survival facility as a massive hurricane blizzard raged above ground. It was many hundreds of times larger than any of the others on the planet, and Galactic wouldn’t be needing their main office installation any longer anyway.

Of course, not all of the remaining humans wanted to leave their homes. “We’ve lived here for generations,” said one man. “We’ll tough it out.” Miki and Jennie, wearing environmental suits to protect themselves from the cold and weather, looked at each other. They could see his wife and children inside the house, which was indeed sturdy, but with a massive storm heading straight for them, neither one of them could imagine that it wouldn’t be flinders by morning.

“Very well,” said Jennie, “but I want each of you to have one of these -- you, your wife, your kids.” She tossed out a handful of small pink loops made of some kind of plastic. “If things get bad, press the button -- it’s a distress beacon.” The loops, as if alive, rushed through the air to the wrists of each family member and fastened themselves snugly around each of their wrists. “We’ll send someone to find you and get you to safety. But we really don’t have much more time. Good luck!” They stepped back through their portal, which closed again.

Still, over 1600 of the holdouts elected to come to the habitat. The project had radically changed the Galactic facility’s entire layout. There were many domes filled with verdant flora and fauna. Creatures the people had never seen except in museums or online pictures cavorted everywhere, as nature intended.

The facility was so large, in fact, that it had developed its own self sustaining biosphere, complete with a hydro-rain cycle. The two huge reservoir lakes aided tremendously with this, and ensured an oxygen supply that was fresh, with no processed smells.

The freshwater lake had stabilized and a huge, self sustaining creature biome flourished to the point fishing was a self sustaining food production means. Same was true for the huge saltwater lake.

Several large Agri-Dome’s interiors were covered with lush fields filled with all types of grains, vegetables, and many types of exotic seeming fruits none had ever seen before. It was almost impossible to tell they were buried deep underground as well built and as stable as the habitat was.

At the very heart of all of this seeming dream fantasy rested one artifact, looking like a very tall slender crystal with a narrowed middle that was connected to the floor by thin beams of visible white light. It hummed the most wonderful musical tone as it softly glowed a very pretty Violet / Rose color.

Having run themselves ragged for days, Miki and Jennie were very tired by this point, but this was their last job before taking a well-deserved rest break. “These row houses are for you,” said Miki to a group of the refugees. “Each one has an information system. You can use it to contact each other or people on the space or Mars habitats. You can also look up information about the habitat or the Phoenix Project. It’s all there. There’s a sign on each house with your name, to guide you to the right place. You can apply for a transfer if you want to switch houses, or move in with someone else, or even move to one of the off-world habitats. It’s up to you.”

As the people split up to look for their new homes, Miki and Jennie hugged each other. They’d saved as many as they could, and they knew there was nothing more they could do. They could go back to their beds and sleep. Jennie made some gestures with a finger on her wrist pad, and a portal opened for both of them to walk through, leading them back to the BNC base on the Moon.

Even though the information systems showed that one of the biggest hurricane blizzards yet was raging above them, the only sounds that could be heard were the songs of birds, the rushing of a distant stream, and the voices of the new residents talking as they adjusted to their new lives.

Paxton sat in a familiar gravity couch, but the station had radically changed. It no longer was the strange cylinder with many protruding solar panels, but was more like a flattened bubble shape.

He studied the readings of the brand new Power core that had been installed. Nothing the data said still made any kind of sense. He sat back and took a deep breath. It had been many years since he had actually smelled a flower’s oder.

Whoever that Trevor individual was, Paxton knew he owed him … along with his entire crew, a debt that he would never be able to repay. His two crowning achievements now ment nothing since neither Galactic, nor the Military existed. The trade was more than acceptable as he thought of his last meal. He couldn’t remember when the last time he had even tasted a fresh tomato, much less lettuce. As far a centralized rule went, Paxton wasn’t too awful sure who was in charge, although he knew true enough any that managed to break the basic laws he and others had come to expect, justis was true and swift. Crime happened, but very seldom, since no one could actually get away with anything due to the way the habitats were monitored for maintenance and other purposes such as diurnal lighting and weather.

Paxton put in a call to Barry. Barry’s face came on the monitor, “Darkside Base, Barry … oh, it’s you. What do you want?”

Paxton said cordially, “Well, good to see you as well. Let’s make a deal. Since I have not actually done anything to you, lets us get off on a better footing? First off, I wanted to thank you for what you and your crew managed to do. I have as yet been unable to talk to the Meekpak individual. Apparently they have something against me.”

Barry sat back in his couch and looked at Paxton’s image for a minute before he replied in an even tone, “As far as the Meekpak, they only seem to contact us. I’ve not been able to find a way yet to contact them.” Barry took a sip of real coffee grown in one of the many bio-domes, “This is what we have been attempting to do from the beginning. Save humanity and as much of our planet as we could. The volcano eruption was a serious twist we had no idea was coming.”

Paxton smiled, “But, somehow you and your company managed to pull it off.”

Barry replied, “We had a bit of help towards the end. Many more would have died if the Meekpaks hadn’t helped.”

Paxton said conspiratorially, “What type of government is ruling … mankind now?”

Barry thought this over for a bit before he replied, “I’m not real sure what type of government exists currently, however, the basic law of the land I grew up with still stands and is immutable.”

Paxton nodded as he replied, “Shouldn’t it behoove us to at least have a ruling council so the people can voice their opinions? As it stands now there’s no input, and although I guess there aren’t taxes, there’s no real law enforcement other than those robots you all have. And who controls those? And so on.”

“You know,” said Barry, “you’ve got a good point. But anything we put together’s gonna have to be accepted by at least a large majority of the people, or they won’t abide by it. So suppose we start like the founders of America did by getting together a council made up of representatives from each region …”

“Region of Earth where they’re from, or region where they live now?” asked Paxton. And the discussion went on into the night.

~~~ The End ~~~
Miki Yamuri
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Joined: Mon Jun 23, 2014 3:06 pm

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