I haven’t been writing here all that much lately. This is one of the reasons why. Enjoy.
Chapter one. Awaken
Chopped strawberries in vanilla yogurt. As I opened my eyes that morning I could taste it. Simply wonderful. Just the right texture, smooth, slightly tangy and sweet. Then I left the realm of dreams and came back to reality. I realized, I didn’t even like yogurt. I had only eaten it twice and no one I knew much cared for it. Why was this food rattling through my mind and why did it seem like I have an incredible hunger for it all of a sudden?
Most people believe that the subconscious mind is a sea of random nonsense but my mind had not gone off on a tangent quite like that in years. Even when I was asleep the power of critical thinking had crafted my dreams from a wellspring of nightmares into a source of entertainment and the occasional answer to a question. Though the answer was usually rather obvious and delivered in an unsubtle way. The rest of the time my dreams were just my subconscious mind indulging in happy fantasies or pleasant memories. Also known as lucid dreaming.
This was something different. It didn’t even feel like a dream, it felt like real life. Although perhaps that was just the relatively boring backdrop of the dream itself. I felt like I had convinced myself that I really liked yogurt now, and I had no idea why. A faint memory suggested that I was enjoying that food with someone. Someone I really really liked. But who? I didn’t even know anyone who liked yogurt and I wasn’t going to pretend that I did for anyone I knew.
You don’t wake up on the morning that everything in your life goes all topsy turvy expecting what is to come. Well, unless the thing that changes everything happens to be the thing that wakes you up. There was nothing like that on that day. Just an odd taste in my mouth from a fading dream. I turned off the alarm on the clock right before its harsh tone rang out. I really needed to get one of those new ones that played a pleasant tune, told you the weather and did everything short of cooking you breakfast. All this one did was tell you the time and date. 7:23 AM. September 3 1931.
All that told me that something was off that day was the lingering memory of that yogurt. As I got out of bed the dream began to fade from my consciousness. I began my morning rituals, had some cereal and started stretching. It was about five miles from my house to where I worked, since I wasn’t one of the wrench turners on the factory floor I had to do something to retain muscle mass. That something was usually a five mile run to work.
Leaves were turning brown. Autumn was coming, I liked autumn. Even if it did lead to the howling frigidity of winter. As I began my run I was distracted by an aircraft landing in front of me. Some reckless fool was landing an autogyro on a city street. I snapped a picture with my phone, this idiot was going to get his picture thrown up on a couple of Internet sites as a reckless flier. Just because a quarter of the people on the planet own aircraft that is no excuse to land on someone’s else’s front yard. That was a good way to destroy someone else’s property or kill some kid walking down the street.
As my muscles loosened up I began to really enjoy my run through suburban Billings. Dad had moved the family business out here a little more than a decade ago for various reasons. One could live just about anywhere you wanted nowadays with telecommuting and virtual reality. I certainly had the money to live elsewhere. But the Interplanetary Expedition Company wasn’t just a job for me, it was my family. Though that certainly didn’t mean that I did not enjoy the occasional vacation. I had another fun one on the books in a couple months. I was planning to go to Carnivale in Brazil. A festival that I had heard far too many crazy things about to say no to anymore.
Billings sure looked different now compared to when I first moved here. It may not have been smashed flat during the invasion like so many cities in Europe and the east coast. It retained a kind of frontier town ambience. With all the cruddy buildings and shitty infrastructure you would expect to see in such a place. All that had been wiped away once the IEC moved in. Dozens of other major companies followed us here and as a result Billings had been transformed into one of the most modern cities on the planet.
Architecture had gone down some interesting paths after the Martian invasion and the Eutopian arrival. Builders in most of the U.S. were settling down into two rival schools of design. The grandeur and beauty of various styles derived from the work of Louis Sullivan and his prairie school of design. Versus the open and abstract style of Eutopian fractal architecture which was permeating just about everything that the finest minds from the planet Eutopos could get their hands on.
Earthling designed buildings looked better. Alien designed buildings tended to work better. Now the two styles were battling it out wherever enough money was flowing to justify their construction. Which by now was in the most interesting places. Out of the way Billings was just one of a new wave of modern cities that were going up in the Middle East, stable parts of Africa and even the cold vastness of northern Canada. Places where factories were being built to take direct advantage of local resources.
Central Billings was a city so dense and built up at this point that it could hardly be imagined without seeing it. IEC Main was out in the quieter suburbs. After all, you don’t want to have a major research and launch facility inside a major population center for a wide variety of reasons.
I was about halfway to work when an Eutopian ship blew over my head on short final. An Orion class escort cruiser. Right on time to pick up it’s cargo of various and sundry raw materials. Our alien friends had been building dozens of those beautiful, heavily armed hawk shaped ships. They were going to have a heck of a job on their hands with the upcoming anti piracy campaign in the outer rim of the solar system.
Once I got in the front gates I waited for the tram to come by. IEC Main sprawled over hundreds of acres. Warehouses, launch facilities, testing facilities, laboratories and so on. You needed at least a bicycle to get around. After a short ride I went up to my temporary office and recorded a short message to my father.
“Hey Dad, hope you are having fun on your little impromptu trip to Venus. I do hope you intend to say why you grabbed Boudicca and a couple of friends and blasted off with no warning. How the heck did you get the Lysander Spooner back up and running so quick anyway? That old bird hadn’t flown in three years.”
“Anyway you will probably want to know how the factory is doing. There was an unexpected heat spell over the past week so we have shut down the autoclaves making the hull segments on the Vietnamese mining ship project. I think I might give the design and fabrication teams the rest of the day off. If only because we are butting our heads up against a pile of technical problems which cannot be unwound.”
“On that note could you be so kind as to get all the information you can find on the Yonth’s largest ships from the Venusian database? If they were planning to colonize the universe when their civilization got killed then they had to have some pretty big boats on the drawing board at least.”
“Nothing else new to report, give Boudicca my best. See you in a couple of weeks. Katy Hammond at IEC Headquarters, out.”
I sent the data burst off to Venus space, turned around and looked up. What the heck was I thinking taking on this contract? The biggest spaceships ever built, four kilometers long. Even the Eutopian’s never built anything half this big. This thing probably should have been assembled in outer space. I suppose I was trying to outdo my father and stepmothers outsized achievements. Two years as CEO of the oldest and most prestigious spaceship manufacturing company on the planet and I just may have unwound all their accomplishments with this madness. I should have just let the French or the Russians or even that Kiwi lunatic Pearse and his huge commonwealth conglomerate Pearse-Lysaght handle this project. They were the ones who bothered to wine and dine the Vietnamese delegates. Bribed them by paying for their children’s educations, gave jobs to their idiot relatives. I didn’t even turn in the lowest bid on the contract.
Four months of work and all we had was a skeleton of a ship. Not even a very good skeleton at that. Constant experimentation was being done to figure out what to sheath the ship with. It needed to be tough. But also light enough to be able to be driven by the biggest antigravity drive available. There were hundreds of smaller technical issues to be solved. Normally if you were building a ship around an antigravity drive you could just build the ship like a bank vault and let the drive lighten the ship enough to get off the ground. This project bumped up against a problem that hadn’t been seen in years. That was no antigravity drive powerful enough to fly this thing.
Oh well, live and learn I suppose, tis better to dream great things and all those cliches. This problem would be unwound somehow by someone. Though by then we will probably have burned through an awful lot of cash.
I left my office and went down to the factory floor. Perhaps getting closer to this monster would give me some ideas. I ran my hand on part of the frame. Micro cracks, you couldn’t see them yet but you could feel them. Criminy, even the frame wasn’t up to this job.
A ridiculously overpowered arm snaked around my neck. As I fell towards unconsciousness I heard. “So big sis what brings you down to the factory floor to hang around with us knuckle draggers?”
“Can’t fucking breathe! Let me go you maniac!”
“Oops, sorry, sometimes I forget my own strength.”
Linda Hammond, my younger sister, born with half the DNA and all the strength, recklessness and good looks of her mother Boudicca. The living legend of the planet Eutopos. I ran the main office by day, Linda ran the factory floor by night and most of the day. Her abnormal strength was just enough to keep up with the robots, cyborgs and other machinery responsible for building these ships. Even under all that strain she still only needed five hours of sleep a night. God how I envied her sometimes. Disregarding that I asked.
“So how are things going, had any breakthroughs on your end yet?”
“Just between you and me, I would rather be back working on the supercollider.”
Gawd that project, 4 years straight of impossibilities that simply had to be resolved or else our knowledge of the universe was going to completely stall out. A project so big it drew in fifteen governments, twenty rival companies and countless universities.
At least that project had made regular progress. This was fast becoming a disaster. I pointed to the frame and told my sister to examine it. At first she didn’t notice anything.
“Look closer and carefully, use those damn bionic eyes of yours.”
After a few moments her face was an image of rage. “Micro fractures, damn it, we are going to have to scrap this entire frame!”
I shouted at the top of my lungs.
“Okay everyone, wrap up what you are doing right now. Night shift, it’s time for you to go home, let the fabricators run to a stop. We clearly aren’t getting very far doing what we are doing now, so let’s take some time and work on ideas.”
Linda hugged me from behind. Quite a bit gentler this time and stated.
“You know you are a very good at command decisions, shall we go to the park?”
Ark Royal park, built just off our main campus in Billings was named in honor of the British sailors from that ship who died in the battle of Delaware. When the IEC started building large ships we had to move to a place with lots of open spaces. Dad made sure that he set aside a lovely spot with lots of trees, soft grass and a half decent fishing hole as a memorial and a place for everyone to commune with nature.
I made myself comfortable under a tree and soaked up the late summer sun. Feeling much more at peace with the world than I had an hour ago. Then something eclipsed the sun, a huge Russian cargo hauler coming in. The Polijarny, coming in for a refit. The Ruskies had gotten amazingly good at building spaceships over the past decade. They weren’t quite up to our level yet.
The world had been permanently changed by the diffusion of advanced technologies. Antigravity, cheap and easy access to vast amounts of energy. Near instant mass global communications and exotic weapons like railgun’s and disintegrators made available to anyone able to pay the price proved to be far more disruptive to the social order than the long forgotten Martian invasion. The disruptive, triumphant, antigovernment philosophies of the Eutopian’s had torn down the world of the late 19th century. Where kings and presidents had presided over the stinking masses of coal soot stained industrial humanity. A new century had dawned, the last one was just a memory now. For some less pleasant than others. All I remember from that time was my mother Diane. I was very young when the Martians incinerated her. I still miss her.
Yet for all that happened I still remembered those insane events after the Martian invasion as clear as day. God that was terrifying, crossing all those miles to reach my aunts home. Then staying there with her and her husband. He was nice, but she couldn’t be trusted with a house cat. How the two of them ever got married was an enduring mystery to me.
I was rescued from that awkward situation by Nikolai, god rest his soul. My savior and mentor, Nikolai Tesla. Dead for five years now after a horrible lab experiment. I wasn’t there to see it, he was working on a large sophisticated robot arm when something malfunctioned. He and an assistant were half thrown, half liquified across his laboratory.
The IEC was immeasurably diminished by his loss. Hell the entire human race was diminished. The man was a true technological wizard. The inventor of both the antigravity drive and the zero point reactor, along with hundreds of other amazing things. It seemed that there was no limit to his ability to solve any mechanical or electrical problem. He probably wouldn’t have been driven half mad by this Vietnamese project.
Clouds drifted by, a couple of small piston powered aircraft raced by about 2000 feet from where I lay. My mind wandered to a more fun time, my nineteenth birthday. After saving money for years I was finally going to buy an airplane of my very own. I was going to buy a mildly famous old race plane. The Orange Twist, put in a new engine and use it to make a tidy profit on the informal air racing circuits on the east and west coasts of the U.S. By this time antigravity drives were becoming cost competitive with piston engines. Since they were inherently much safer than a collection of metal parts slamming back and forth. Piston driven aircraft were expected to fade out of production in a decade or so. But I still loved the obnoxious sound, stink and power of a good old gasoline engine. For all the smooth efficiency and effortless power of an antigravity drive there was just something unquantifiably charming to me about a motor driven by exploding gasoline.
I said goodbye to my father, hugged my sister and I was getting on my motorbike when Linda grabbed the handlebars and stated.
“I know you are going to the airport to pick up that old racer, but you don’t have to. I have a surprise for you.
The sky was rent with the sound of a roaring piston engine. A big blue biplane was orbiting over the house. It looked very fast, the enormous inline engine had to generate well over 500 horsepower.
“What is this?” I asked.
“Your new bird, big sis, do you like it? I built it myself. I call her the Twisted Blue.”
Now to put things in perspective here at the time Linda was twelve years old. But given that she had the strength of ten policemen, the technical ability of an Ivy League college and had access to a sophisticated factory… Well, normal human limits didn’t mean much to her.
The biplane landed in a farmers field nearby. I recognized the pilot, it was Fernando Fariñas. Chief test pilot at the IEC. For once I ignored his downright cliched handsome face and studied the plane he had just landed.
I spent at least ten minutes ogling the thing. Seven of which I must have been staring at the engine. Forged from the finest alloys, cryogenically relieved six stroke V12 with a Gresham high efficiency carburetor. Hand assembled with nitrous boost. This was an engine that squeezed every last drop of power that could possibly be extracted from a piston engine.
When dad came out I asked, “this is a joke right? You guys built this for some rich Texan or a trust fund brat from New York didn’t you?”
Dad smiled and explained.
“Nope, Linda built it by herself with excess capability at the factory. I helped a little, getting her a place to work, but she did almost all the work herself. It was a matter of pride for her to do this by herself.”
“How does it fly?”
“Fernando took her up yesterday to see if everything worked. A couple bits and pieces needed minor adjustment. How is she flying today mr Fariñas?”
Before he could say anything I interrupted.
“I really get to keep it?”
Linda almost shouted.
“Yes! Now for fucks sake can we go flying? I want to see what kind of monster I have created.”
I looked back at her, “I love you, I, I just can’t, I don’t know how I will ever pay you back.”
“Worry about that later sis, for now let’s see what she can do!”
The Twisted Blue was like nothing I had ever flown. I had been flying for over a decade, everything in the sky from powered box kites to a brief turn at the helm of an Eutopian heavy freighter. The Twisted Blue’s power to weight ratio was phenomenal, the turn radius was absurdly small, it flew like it was a part of me.
I shouted to Linda in the second cockpit.
“It’s like it’s reading my mind!”
“I know!” She replied. “I tried to look at everything how you would want it. Strong, but graceful, reliable but fast.”
We took a trip out to Oregon the next week. There was a racecourse in the mountains outside Eugene that I wanted to try. While we were there Linda and I were napping under the wings of the Twisted Blue at some Podunk airport when some guy walked up to us and demanded what we were doing there.
“Were on our way to the Finch track, what’s it to you?”
As we rolled out from under the wings I saw that the intruder was a notorious air racer. Larry Moffat, “well it just so happens that I and my crew were heading there ourselves. It’s a nice bird you got here, how fast can she go?”
“I take it you are challenging us?”
“Suppose I am, if you think you are up to it?”
“We are, so what are your terms?”
“Nothing too serious, just one run down the Finch track. First one over the finish line wins.”
“Now now, why say anything about steaks. Although I could go for a nice porterhouse.”
“Hardy har big man. How about if we make things interesting. Let’s say fifty dollars in gold to the victor.”
“Alright, good to know I will be able to pay for gas for the next few months. Just so you know I would have raced you to hell and back for a case of beer and I don’t even like beer.”
As he walked away Linda had an expression of awe on her face. She clearly didn’t know how to react to this kind of bravado so she blurted out. “Well what kind of booze do you like?”
“Mint julep, if you girls win this I will buy you a round.”
Later that day, we were above the Finch track. An insane route traced out down a mountain, into a deep river valley, across a lake then down a dam to the finish line. There were crosswinds, trees and as always lots and lots of ground to smack into. If you crashed on most of the Finch Track there probably wouldn’t be enough left of you to fill a jar.
Moffat’s racer was a flying wing, a bright yellow pusher monoplane with the name Madness. It was much more streamlined than the Twisted Blue, but we had more than double the horsepower. His crew were scattered all over the track except for two in a cargo plane who were performing the job of pace pilots.
We came alongside Moffat at race start and Linda waved at him. He flipped us the bird. With that we had a race.
Blasting down the mountainside he went a bit faster than I expected. I was hoping that our greater mass would equal greater speed in a dive. No dice, although we were keeping up. I almost caught him when our altitude leveled out over a beautiful little alpine meadow. But then he threaded a needle, right through a rock formation and we dropped down into the river valley.
The river valley was long and curvy. Allowing one to really test the limits of their aircraft. We were about six plane lengths behind him when we rounded a great stone tower that was the halfway point. It was then that I stopped messing around. I dropped lower and lower to get around him, but he kept going lower until I was almost touching the surface of the water. The dam loomed large in front of us. Thousands of tons of unyielding steel reinforced concrete. It wasn’t going to duck for us.
So I kicked in the nitrous.
I muscled her over the crest of the dam with feet to spare. Then aileron rolled down to the bottom of the dam where the finish line was waiting. I blasted through the line, a ribbon between two tall poles. Then climbed up and out of the valley to allow the engine to cool down. Linda was gripping the rim of the front cockpit looking like a scared squirrel. Her hands had bent the metal around the rim.
After the race was over Madness came alongside as we were coming in to land. Moffat radioed, “well done, you certainly made me look like a fool.”
I radioed back, “oh yeah, I think I owe you something.”
Then I flipped him the bird.
The rest of that summer was kind of a blur. With a plane like the Twisted Blue one could make a tidy profit hustling amateur air racers, so I did. Flew it from coast to coast. All manner of hotshots in streamlined monoplanes took one look at my biplane and figured that there was no chance that it could outrun them. They learned too late that this two winged beast was much faster than it looked and the pilot wasn’t too shabby either. Linda didn’t come along with, she claimed it was because she weighed me down. But I think that trip down the Finch Track left her spooked of air racing. Flying at those speeds over jagged rocks and water was a situation that could have killed her. The handprints she left on my plane were a silent testimony to that. Despite her recklessness when something came up that could actually hurt her cyborg body she became very adverse to risk. With their habit of doing the impossible as a matter of course Eutopian cyborgs had a reputation for being fearless. Having known them most of my life I can say that they did feel fear. Though it usually took something absolutely terrifying for that fear to kick in.
Of all the incredible moments of my life that race with Moffat was still the high point. A pleasant memory that I could always retreat to when things got a little too stressful or stupid. As I lay under that tree I seriously considered going and getting the Twisted Blue out of the hangar for a quick spin.
As I was contemplating this Linda suddenly materialized in the tree I was under. She never tired of showing off her physical prowess to anyone. Well, that’s how it seemed to me, to her though this was just how she was. She climbed down we talked of many things. Most of which seemed silly and mildly aggravating, badgering me for my lack of a boyfriend, or any kind of life outside the company. She may have been a wonderful person who shared half her DNA with me but in many ways we were two different species. I was introspective, she was an extrovert. Talked constantly about just about anything you could imagine and her romantic dalliances… Well, let’s just say that she had inherited the legendary Eutopian sex drive. And never missed an opportunity to badger me about my lack of interest in romance. Eh, I always felt that I was too busy to bother with thoughts of getting married or even dating. I was getting so annoyed by her questions that I decided to change the subject to something that I knew that she wouldn’t want to talk about.
“Lin, I have been meaning to ask you. What happened last Saturday. I keep hearing rumors that you did something really reckless, even by your standards.”
“Saturday? Nothing, nothing at all, I was just moving stuff into my new place.”
“Come on, I heard something about a motorcycle accident. I know you don’t like to keep anything to yourself so you must have done something really rotten. Just go ahead and tell me, you know I am going to find out sooner or later.”
“Okay, okay, I, well. I was moving a load of stuff into my new place. Amanda had just driven her truck away and I was carrying a bookcase up some stairs when some asshole drove by in a Rat Rod and grabbed a jewelry box I had left out. I got on my motorcycle to chase him and when I caught up to him he hit the brakes.”
“I wish I had film of this Katy. My front wheel hit his rear bumper and I went flying. I flipped through the air and landed right in the passenger seat. Grabbed his throat and told him that I wanted my stuff back. I agreed to not press charges if he didn’t tell anyone about it. You want to hear the best part? I landed right on the box. Crushed it completely. I forgot that it was full of cruddy costume jewelry. Not that solid gold stuff is selling that well nowadays.”
I shook my head. This was Linda being Linda. The colossus of Billings, willing to fight anyone who challenged her. Dad had to take her out of school when she was 7 because she kept getting into fights with boys and being a sore winner. After the third incident where a kid got his arm snapped Dad invested in a number of tutors to handle her education. I and Dad had hoped that as the years went by she would mellow out and settle into the typical routines of humanity on Earth. By her twenty second year it didn’t look like that was going to happen. All that could be done was to try to funnel her boundless energy and unbelievable strength into a productive direction.
She was staring at me, it looked like she was expecting yet another talking to. But that was pointless, I sighed and asked.
“We have been working on this big Vietnamese mining ship prototype for months now. One of a fleet of seven they contracted with us. That’s not even counting the support ships they have ordered. And all we have completed is the internal scaffolding. What the heck do you think the Vietnamese are going to do with these monstrosities and where did they get the money to pay for them? If they really wanted to use them for asteroid mining I would imagine ships a quarter the size could have gotten the job done.”
“I have been puzzling over this since before we got the job. I think they are going to put them to another use, as factory ships, perhaps they have some new scary weapon and we are actually building a new fleet of super battleships. Perhaps the Vietnamese have something as yet unknown up their sleeves. Something we can’t even imagine. Impossible just seems to be a word nowadays.”
I rolled over and looked up at the sky. “Yeah, it’s just a…”
My phone rang, “sorry, hang on.” An old friend was calling me, Lydia Shelly. She had been one of my tutors, she had taught me just enough of writing the English language to allow me to write slightly better than a gorilla. She was an entrepreneur, a jack of all trades, but her specialty was music. I hadn’t talked to her in months, she had been terribly busy. “Hey Lydia, it’s been too long, what’s happening?”
“Help, you gotta help me! They are all dead! It’s horrible!”
“Wait, what? Where are you? Who is dead?”