The House That Jack Built: Block One, Part One

I don’t really have better names for these drafts. I feel like I ought to, because the latter two are so different in tone from Block Zero. I almost feel like I’m harping too much on this theme…but I’m tired. It’s 3:26 AM, Friday, September 4th. I ache all over from bowling. I have to go to the pharmacy and get a new social security card both tomorrow. I haven’t even had dinner. I am manic. I will have you know I prefer it this way lol. Tell me what you guys think so far, and I’ll write some more original content while these post on autopilot.

May 24, 1996

Los Angeles, California

Kitty Cameron stood in front of the theater, remembering fondly the movie she’d just seen. A 60s spy-fi remake, starring an avowed member of a thoroughly modern scientific religion…her Dad would have loved it. Her Mom would have found it thoroughly low-brow, terrible crap,exactly what nearly got you killed. Her Dad would have smiled at her and said gentlybut it didn’t…And she would have been forced to admit that he had a point.

Every single movie during the last few years had been one they would have loved. Apollo 13, Forrest Gump, Jurassic Park, Toy Story…the list went on. Independence Day would surely be no different. That looked impressive, if much like the B-movie pulp trash that had inspired her father’s generation. There was definitely hopealmost a resonance. The themes of all these movies were best summed up by the computer-aided juxtaposition of two action figures, a cowboy and a spaceman…it was almost as if the whole caper of the 20th century she had lived through was being digested. Transmuted.

If only you could have seen what I’m about to live through, Mom…Kitty stepped onto the bus as it finally arrived, diving from empyrean heights to the concrete below. Gravity turned to Speed, and the Ineffable Present…presented itself, monstrous and beautiful all at the same time, as it only could via the medium of public transit.

We could have had flying cars by now, man!The conversation was warmed-over like yesterday’s ramen…but then, so was the mindset. A flannel-clad, floppy-haired teenager (indistinguishable from his idol, as with all mystics who sought ego death without building the homunculus first) sat side by side with a black-clad girl wearing way too much makeup, pale like death. Which, she supposed, was the point.

Lucretia, my reflection…The goth girl was inscrutable, in classic style. Silence gave the appearance of speech. But then, Kitty supposed, vision gave the appearance of voice. And she loved those summer movie spectacles. What did that make her?

The grungy teenager seemed oblivious.If only they had been less interested in simple flag-planting missions. Do you realize what Apollo 13 might have been about in this timeline?That was interesting.

But the flag was a symbol. Like the raven, y’know. Nevermore was the operative word. That’s why we’re falling apart so soon after the Soviets got beat.When had little goth princesses gotten so smart? Kitty Cameron laughed at her own question. Living inside the dream made you blind, sometimes.

Right. Kurt killed himself because he couldn’t handle the modern world…no flying cars. Jim Morrison was kinda like that.Now there was a heresy she hadn’t heard before. Kitty bit her tongue and smiled. Greater men had left children with stranger women.

It’s like what happened to Oppenheimer, and even Einstein. They would gladly have used their inventions to benefit mankind, but the military machine needed weapons so bad they purged every single one of ’em in time, and kept the Nazi.The girl whose entire musical universe revolved around half-hearted attempts to catch the emotion and skill of a band called Joy Division spat the name like a dark curse.

Kitty could only laugh.Excuse me, kids…

The boy stared. She couldn’t tell if he was more shocked by someone interrupting him on public transit, or the fact that she was obviously interested…or that he was. In that James T Kirk, Space Cadet sort of way. It had happened before. She was aging well.Uhhh…what is it, ma’am?

Ahhh. He was a nice boy. Just pretending. Weren’t they all, at that age?You know…I’m not gonna spoil anything, but there are valid reasons Oppenheimer and many others disappeared from history. A guy named Jack Parsons, Frank Malina…god knows who else. They kept the Nazi because when you’re doing magic, misdirection is everything.

She hesitated for what seemed like twenty-five years.Hence the flag-planting missions.

The girl looked skeptical.God, lady…can you turn down the conspiracy theories?

Why?Kitty grinned.It’s a bus, after all…and life is a helluva drug.

Well, fair enough.The boy smiled, an All-American grin. He was skeptical, she could tell…but like Houdini, it was because he wanted to know.But magic, really? Like Masonic conspiracy stuff?

Kitty laughed.Masons? Nah. They pretend. My dad and his buddies did real magic…with a K. Still do.

Like blowing up our enemies and discovering new technological wonders?The boy was almost breathless, urban, tragically hip pretension giving way to the comedy that had given LA such an atmosphere, decades ago. A breath of…light, amid the smog of a future where the only dreams were of electric sheep.

You got it. The Secret Chiefs operated from Manhattan-2 for just such a purpose.

Where’s Manhattan-2? You mean Los Alamos?

Oh, that’s bullshit. You aren’t gonna believe your history books, are you? They were on the astral plane, kid. Building the future, which is still only trickling down here.

I don’t see the future trickling down…unless it’s piss.The kid was sullen again…a defense mechanism, she gathered, for someone who in such a short time had seen such change, most of it chaotic and drab.

It’s always been piss. I’m a realist. I should know.It was true, despite the glories she’d seen.

So where is it?

Kid…have you been to a library, lately?

The goth girl perked up at the mention of libraries.He has. We go there every day after school and do research…my teacher says only to trust dot E D U sites. She also says we’ll be shopping for groceries on the Internet within ten years.

Research…eheheheheheheheheheh.The kid was obviously a fan of the finest animated comedic films.

Well that’s natural, really. We didn’t used to mention it when I was a kid, though. But you see my point.Kitty smiled inwardly, warmth filling her bones. This kid got it.

This conversation reminds me of the story Alfred Hitchcock told about the MacGuffin.The goth girl smiled, perkier and perkier behind black hair with red highlights.

Kitty laughed aloud.Well I’ll be damned. You know Hitchcock?

Sure she does. You think we’ve only seen movies like the crap that comes out today?The grungy one looked shocked, even hurt. Red hair made him look more like Opie than Oppie, but it was obviously there all-around.

Mission Impossible is not crap, kid. It was on at the same time as Hitchcock and Kubrick. It was about real life, in a popcorn-ish sort of way.

Okay fine. But you know, the odd thing is…you’re right. I can definitely see the future changing. I remember when Windows 3.1 was new, let alone the Information Superhighway.

The MacGuffin drives the plot. It’s like magick that way.

The two stared, somewhat shocked.You’ve been putting us on, haven’t you?The boy sounded almost angry.

The girl shrugged.She’s putting you on like Tim Burton puts people on. Aren’t you, lady?

That’s for me to know and you to find out.Kitty Cameron hefted her shopping bag and stepped out of the bus, into the rainy night, reddish hair long, but frizzled after a day’s adventure. She left the girl to her research and the boy to his awkward, hormonal relationship with the Mysteries and their Feminine Avatar…if he dared, he would know. That was what making messes was all about, wasn’t it?

And if destiny called, they would meet again.

July 1, 1973

Oro Grande, New Mexico

Headquarters of Project Mongoose

AREA 52

The security checkpoints were, to the common observer, constructed exactly like those at Cannon, Kirtland, and Holloman Air Force bases…a fresh-faced young recruit had been assigned guard dutywhether it was because he was idealistically expendable or being given a chance to grow, Kit Cameron did not know. Was it both?

Probably. She passed him her IDthe only element so far which differed from the norm in this process. It was a strange emerald color, marked with the Mongoose logoa snake entwined around a T-shaped monolithic stone, against a field of stars. The cryptonymic prefix OZ clearly defined her as Operation-dependent Civilian, Z-classwhether it stood for Zetetic or Zion or a thousand other relevant words, she did not know. It was not her place to ask. Only to pass through the gate, rolling on yellow-painted concrete slabs in her Corvette C3brand new, the best Chevy could offer (legally, anywayit sure as hell couldn’t fly, or people would ask questions, and then they’d have to explain the Edsel) towards the parking garage.

The garage had seven floors, cubic in shape, made of glistening black stone…almost otherworldly in its appearance. Probably paint of some kind, to reflect scanning attempts from Soviet SIGINT satellites. The top six floors were for parking and…other applications. Inside the first floor, at the center, around labyrinthine roadblocks designed to prevent gate-crashing, she slowly edged the ‘Vette forward. Now, she sat on a platform made of steel…a glass hatch closed around her like a clamshell. This part of the process never failed to fill her with childlike glee. As she sat with joyfully held breath, the whoosh of air became almost deafening around her. Like a car wash, only no water, and inside a muscle car inside a glass dome. The whole assembly was a pneumatic tube like the one you might send your deposit slip into a bank with…only it was meant to transport cars and personnel and sometimes cargo through a Symmes Holethat is, a method of entry into the Hollow Earth known only to certain sectors of the government and her contractors. A deep well, like a throat of the world, through which She swallowed the nutrients the snake’s venom could provide. The Mongoose made it possible.

It was like a whirlwind around hershe was not in New Mexico anymore, that was for sure. The beauty of the transition was fascinating…plunging past oddly lit, glowing portals, racks of technological equipment even someone with her training couldn’t identify….hurtling, hurtling, ever onward, downward and inward, into the very secret heart of the Earthand the brains of American technological dominance over what might well one day be the whole of space-time.

The car stopped, the platform slowing down just the way an elevator did, with just as much grace. This never ceased to surprise her, given the speed she was obviously traveling at. She parked it in the appropriate bay, marked OZ as per her classification, and stepped out of the car. Walking twenty yards past an underground river that flowed from a spring somewhere deeper than even here, she came to a futuristic camerawhat people topside would call an electric eye, whilst simultaneously recoiling from its technologically inexplicable resplendence. Science moved faster in Symmes holes, yet in many ways politics and culture moved slower.

She gazed into the eye, a red light playing forth from it, surrounded by a bluish-silver ring. It was amazing what IBM could cook up when given the proper incentive. Inside the red light, a modified Ganzfeld effect took her outside herself…there was more than an iris scan going on. She stared into infinity and beyond it…an infinity inside herself as much as out. God was present, at the edges…or something the topside folk might well call God. She hadn’t managed to identify it. Maybe it was some aspect of the IBM mainframe manipulating the Ganzfeld effect. Who knew? It was real. She stared into the reddish light, as if it were the sun and a door to hell and a wardrobe covered in snow all at once…and smiled blissfully, tears running down her cheeks.

Narcissus had looked into the mirror after the Second World War and found it dreadfully wanting. Endymion had run the risk, until four years ago, of arriving at his lover’s side only to find her dust in his arms as he kissed her. Pygmalion was still waiting on his dream. Here, however, they were beginning to build a present worth living ina present that transcended the future and the past, but which would trickle down to the population of the States as time went on. Here, they had a lever and a place to stand.

Kit Cameron woke from a daze, now finding herself in the control center of Area 52. A stunning array of computers flanked her on every side, like the organ in a grand cathedral. She walked past numerous operators, lost in their everyday routines…it was like the typing pools of the 1950s, and in some ways similar to the outgoing data centers that were beginning to harass telephone owners nation-wide. It took a thousand times more training, though…more than the boys in Houston who handled the public side of the space program ever could handle.

And it took guts. She sat down at a large CRT display, hands poised over the beige, breadbox-like keyboard in front of it. This model was nine years from public release. Word was it had been co-opted from a private contractor that claimed (falsely) to be an arm of Naval Intelligence. The Commodore, as it was jokingly called in reference to this, had an unheard 64 kilobytes of RAM available to it. Los Alamos and Houston would literally kill for this, if they knew it existed.

It just caused her headaches. Guts were required. She glanced at the paper she had taped to the breadbox, which read in her handwritingPay no attention to the man behind the curtain, and switched it on.

64 kilobytes of RAM were available at outside worst. Through a strange mix of eldritch sorcery and mainframe connections affected by Symmes physics, it was able when connected to the complex’s intranet to access much more RAMa frankly magical amount, if even magick could explain such things (it was amazing what you could do with an RS-232 if you had Wright-Patterson and JPL on call), and therefore ran an NLS variant operating system derived from the work going on at Xerox PARC. It looked all choppy and 8-bit, but technology down here was…unique. She would later recognize features of this variant OS in Windows 95. But even now, she had an inkling this would all see public release at…some point. It was her baby, though.

And what a hard baby to carry it was. She moved the mousea unique device, derived from existing joystick technology, including a port they planned to test with a video computer system for gaming applications within a few years, thanks to a guy named Bushnell the Company had managed to contract withto the Green Goggles application. Left-clicking the button, her Frankenstein-like Computer That Should Not Be performed an operation that was most certainly illegal, should not be allowed to be completed under any circumstances, and would, if the Creator was what the preachers topside said he was, should have caused the Program to close, leaving only blank azure where the Signal that moved Reality should be.

READY.

LOADWIZARD,11

SEARCHING FOR WIZARD

LOADING

READY.

RUN

She typed speedily, surely, determinedly…interacting with the interface in standard BASIC, for now, even though the PARC OS provided other capabilities. She found this much more intuitiveit was better than FORTRAN, all right. At least for this. Plain English interfaces…tended to obscure the clinical nature of digital necromancy, especially with this particular entity.

A border of ASCII asterisks appeared, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory logo appeared as a standard sprite graphic. Below this, in standard system font, were the wordsWIZARD FOR COMMODORE 64X POWERED BY XEROX PARCPROGRAMMED BY GLINDA AKA CANDYCRACKED BY THE COMPANY AND JPLORIGINAL CONCEPT COPYRIGHT 1953. PRESS ANY KEY TO BEGIN.

Reminded of the meaning of these terrible, ominous words, and a father Kit Cameron only knew through the curtainmade of glass, not iron, but darker green than they wanted her to think it was, she began to type.

HELLO.

IT’S GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN. /GRIN/ IS GLINDA ALL RIGHT?

AS EVER, Dorothy typed. Tin men didn’t understand what her mom went through…never could, never would.

ALL RIGHT. STATUS REPORTS INDICATE THAT THE SKYLAB PROGRAM HAS PROVIDED NECESSARY PROOF OF CONCEPT FOR MCDONNELL DOUGLAS’ S-IVB HABITAT MODULEST LOUIS PLANT REPORTS BIG GEMINI OUGHT TO BE FLIGHT-READY AND PAD-MOUNTABLE BY OCTOBER 12TH. IS THAT MORE IN LINE WITH WHAT YOU WOULD RATHER DISCUSS, KID?

Shit. He could be such an asshole in his best intentions sometimes. NO. BUT FOR MY OWN SANITY…

AFFIRMATIVE. THAT PARTICULAR STATE OF MIND IS MORE USEFUL WHEN YOU’RE MADE OF GREY MATTER. /LOL/

She smiled. I KNOW.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

NOTHING YET. I HAVE TO GET A SNACKEXCUSE ME.

She pressed the RUN/STOP and RESTORE keys at the same time, reverting to the graphical user interface desktop. Then she ran to her private break room (more of a padded lockdown shelter, in some ways, given the hazards of the job), and flash-warmed a slice of pizza using technology they were saving for when topside needed a public Mars mission. It was bland, almost flavorlessbut being pizza, it was still pizza. And her stomach needed bland crap with a dash of comfort food right now.

May 25, 1996

Los Angeles, California

Kitty hummed along to the Doors as she washed the afternoon’s dishes…it was, on the surface, a far cry from being a secret agent who lived in the Hollow Earth, like some kind of cross between Alice and a hobbit. Now it was more like a 70s apartment complex version of Bag End, with a whole raft of curious wardrobes. Holes to China could be found in the strangest places…mirrors within our minds that looked oddly like a wall hanging.

So it was tolerable. A hausfrau, no longer the terror of OKB-13X. No longer well-respected in the back rooms at Langley…either Langley. They didn’t know who she was anymore. That was okay, though…she did. She had a role to play in modern America (so backward, despite WIRED Magazine’s protestations to the contrary), and people to share the stage with. She was happy. Destiny was funny that way.

And yet the buzzer rang, and her temples pulsed with foreboding.Okay, I didn’t mean to be funny in a different way…Something lay on the other side of that door. Something familiar. Her eyes darted around for thefire extinguishershe kept in a cabinet on the wall…she opened it and removed a cold steel pistol, fully loaded. Tucked it under her shirt. Why did she still act like a crisis lay around every corner? Oh, no reason…just growing up miles underground in another dimension, living through future shock at a faster rate than everyone else…the pioneering online chats she’d held in the 70s…no reason. No reason at all.

She opened the door, the bolt clicking back in a way that almost made her reach for her handgun and shoot first.Holy fuck. How did you find me?

Floppy-grunge-horndog and perky-book-goth pushed past her into the apartment. Had they been born in a barn? Kids had no manners these days.We saw you get off the bus, duh…Did that little skank just roll her eyes at her?

And then we came back over here today and asked the landlord where the witch lived.The boy was honest, she’d give him that.

Kitty could not help but laugh. Sometimes you just had to.See, that’s why LA sucks. In Santa Fe, no one would be able to tell you where I lived. It’d be more like ‘which witch? I got twenty witches and ten wizards and a few intel agents and a scientist or two in this complex alone, along with a starving mad artist.’

The boy and girl laughed in reply, obviously tickled. She still knew how to talk to strangers…good.New Mexico, right?The boy looked intrigued.

Oh gawd. You’re not gonna start alien jabber on me, are you?Kitty made a face.

You interrupted our bus conversation…who started what now?Oh, he was solid. Agent material at the least, with ten years of growth.

We came to thank you for starting it, actually.The girl smiled apologetically.You’ve gotta let my brother’s monkey business slide at times.

Brother?!This was new.Look…I don’t even know your names. Want some Koolaid, a cookie?Anything to keep them distracted while she got the gun out of her bra, before the kid started checking out her rack.

Yes please. I’m Alex.

And I’m Cody. Got any Surge?

Oh man. These weren’t kids, they were archetypes. Or were people that driven by brand consciousness these days? Was Koolaid for five-year-olds and not teenage boys? It occurred to her that she did not know.I’m Kitty. Kitty Cameron. And nope, just Koolaid.She offered a psychic suggestion…no last names please…and stuffed the gun surreptitiously into the silverware drawer, trading it for a wooden spoon.

That’ll be fine, Miss Cameron.Alex smiled.It’s short for Alexandria…what’s Kitty short for?

That was comforting. The suggestion had worked. She supposed it wouldn’t reflect well on her monitoring record with the Stargate boys to be suggesting and offering cookies to strange children, like some sort of Wicked Witch…not that she cared. This was important. She could tell.It’s short for Cat. Felis Catis, you know.

I…see.Alex took the subtle implications of this reply to heart and changed the subject.So you used to live in New Mexico.

Kitty smiled.Yes. I lived in the town of Santa Fe, I lived at White Sands Air Force Base for a few years, and I definitely lived in New Mexico.She let that hang for a moment.

Why did you come to California? It’s so boring here. Fake. Full of yuppies.What…did grunge boy think Seattle was Mecca? Did he even know anything?

My mother would disagree with you, and she was dying of cancer in a VA hospital. I came to be with her. She’d earned her rest.

Earned or had it paid for by people who didn’t agree?The boy was smugly superior, as all disaffected, idealistic teenagers could be. In her day they’d had LSD…now they had Weltschmerz.

We are so totally not having this conversation.Kitty put the Koolaid (tropical punch) and a chocolate chip cookie down in front of each of them.Put the cookie in your face.

God. You’re a grumpy witch.

She has a right to be. We’re not having that conversation, Cody.

Fine.He bit into the cookie and smiled.Is this your mom’s recipe?

It was a clumsy attempt to make nice, but he was a clumsy teenager. It was better than any number of endocrine-driven alternatives.Yes. It was.She choked up and smiled at the same time.

Alex chewed and swallowed before she spoke.It’s yours now.

Kitty was still waiting for the girl to show a character flaw, or a personality trait that wasn’t apparently constructed to be the opposite of her brother. This was too artificial. If Nicky’s backroom at USC had set her up, she swore to God…hermetic simulacrums like this were totally illegal even under the Clovis Accords.Yes it is. I suppose that makes sense.Shit…it had only been a year. She couldn’t be expected to know these things.

Cody’s eyes roved around the kitchen, lingering at the open arch that led to the living room. For a second she thought he was looking at her ritual space, which seemed surprising…then he got up and bounded excitedly over to the far wall, pointing animatedly.Holy cats! Where did you get this replica patch? Is it from a movie?

The patch was a plain white disk, red border, black sun-shaped dot with six arrow-headed rays around it…the only words on it wereGemini XIII. Thankfully, he didn’t recognize it was obviously a flown beta cloth model…nor did he recognize that a Gemini mission patch made out of beta cloth was very, very odd indeed.

Why do you suppose it’s from a movie?Kitty hedged for time, not sure she wanted to go in whole hog just yet. It wasn’t the aliens he had originally wanted to discuss, at least…

I don’t,Cody said matter-of-factly.I just assumed it might be, because you know…Apollo 13, maybe somebody made a TV movie knockoff that ripped off the original Marooned. Occam’s Razor and all that.

You’ve seen more TV than I have. Are you trying to trick me into telling you something? Because you could just ask.Her eyes were a bit harder than they should be, dancing back and forth. Why couldn’t she just hide in the dirty dishes?

Miss Cameron…Alex spoke.Were you involved with a secret Gemini XIII mission?

Kitty laughed.Well, if you’re gonna be earnest and sincere you will find secrets you never knew existed. My husband’s out at Edwards Air Force Base on government business, but I’ll tell you what I can before he comes back. Then you might get to ask him…when he’s here next week.It was all the invitation her heart could bear right now. What if she got these kids killed?

October 31, 1966

Space

13, this is Holloman.The darkness was beautiful. Nothingness and twinkles, speckled only by soft breathing recycled with the hiss of air, the hiss of air accented by beeps, blending into the static of a radio communication from Earth.

Hollow Man, this is Rand. What’s up?Kitty Cameron spoke, in hertopsideguise as Naomi Rand…a guise she was often unable to distinguish from the being it sheltered, just as she could not distinguish Katherine Cameron from a budding crystal nymph…oh, but Psyche had three faces, and two wings…and all her attention was…there. A point, focused inside her damn head inside the Gemini-B spacecraft’s jet fighter-style cockpit. NOW. HERE.

Naomi, we’d like you guys to go to minimal power consumption mode. It’s time.The CAPCOM’s voice bore the tinge of aviator sunglasses and imported 151 in every word, but most of all in the last phrase.

It’s TIME IS, little man. But he couldn’t be faulted for not understanding her secret language, which made as much sense to topsiders as a cat or dog’s sensibility made to a bookish boy who had never been outside. He was, after all, merely a NASA and military liaison assigned as capsule communicator, or CAPCOM.

Yippee! Powering down.Her crewmate flipped some switches in an orderly, methodical fashion, yet with the decided implication that orderly, methodical anything took Herculean effort. Jay Conley had been outside, all right, but not much.

Yippee, 13?

Leave the kid alone, Pete.Naomi laughed.He’s not that awkward.

Yeah, Holloman…the Dennis The Menace thing is just an act! Don’t you know anything?

I know you guys are still above minimal required voltage. Will relay combination for equipment bay when your power consumption drops to fifteen percent.

Got that, Holloman. Can we lose the standard onboard computer?Rand would never admit it, but she wanted to get started as soon as Jay did. Possibly sooner. She was supposed to be the mature one, but with only a year’s chronological lead…

Negative, 13. Mission rules state backup is not negotiable.

Like you ever cared about mission rules, Petey.

Ooooohhhhh somebody wants to get spanked!Jay grinned.

Quiet, whippersnapper.Rand was not having…well, a lot of conversations, depending on time and place…and some she might never have with anyone.

Yes’m. Cabin fan off. Are we low enough, Holloman?

Twelve percent power consumption. Just enough to make re-entry.Pete sounded rather pained about this news.

Not enough for anything in between.Rand was grim. This was reality, no matter what the flyboys from Houston believed. It was horrid…but a world without the reality she enforced was no world worth having.

That’s affirmative, 13. You’d better say a prayer for the device.

Are we go for Operation Crazy Straw, then?Jay was practically bouncing in his seat, oblivious to the imminent danger. Then again, Naomi wasn’t sure the guys who had built this thing realized what a malfunction in orbit might mean. Maybe she was paranoid…maybe the hawk’s eyes were the coldest for a reason.

Heh. That’s affirmative, Conley. You may engage the Tube when ready.

Copy that, Holloman…engaging Tube. You’re probably very jealous, Pete.

You’re the one who brought Dr Freud into this, Gnome.Pete laughed.Combination is 1-4-9.

Right. Anyway, here goes absolutely jack shit.Naomi reached into the equipment bay to her left and turned the combination lock until it disengaged with a series of thumps. Were those squibs? Jesus they weren’t kidding about the protocols on this…

We have bay breach on our end.Pete’s voice was somewhat tense…the displays at Holloman were receiving signals designed to mask actual events in the event of intercepted communications, but what if that was exactly what had happened? What if they were dying up there?

The only britches are Conley’s, and they’re going to be tanned if he doesn’t put TUBE ARM on in the next ten seconds.

Yes ma’am.The kid was all of one year younger….did nineteen-year-olds really think she was that scary? If Jay was intimidated, he didn’t show it, as TUBE ARM was glowing red on her display. Hot, yet dim…sullen, like a demon’s eye. Authorization was complete. Now to put this baby through her paces.

TUBE ARM is go. Phase shift is 2, for acclimation.Naomi turned a dial that looked like it could have come off a shortwave radio her Mom had had at her age. Was this kind of tech really capable of anything at all?

Whoooooaaaaaa….Jay grinned.That’s…can you feel that?

I’ve lived so far past eleven for the last twenty years it’d make your damned head spin, boy. You have too.

Yeah, but in space? Whole different ballgame.It was true…he felt the spin of the earth below him, vaguelythe slightest change in the Gemini-B’s attitudethe sensation that all laws of matter, physics, space, time, and any human-derived extrapolations of those laws were entirely abrogate. He was a kid in a candy store, and the candy store was in space…anything was possible, especially new and wonderful interactions between Man, Technology and Environment.

Holloman here. Your vitals are solid. Go to Phase 5.

Gotcha.Naomi couldn’t help but grin as she twisted the knob. It suddenly occurred to her, transiting across her normal dedication to the task as written like a lunar eclipse, that she was not wearing a suit. Just as quickly, the Sun crossed the terminator into daylight, and she decided It totally didn’t matter.

We’re gonna be so screwed if the Symmes generator breaks.Jay always had a knack for saying what was on everyone’s mind.

It’s better than falling through the cracks.

Yes, Wendy.Her lost boy smiled with an almost delirious love…his crushes were a pain in the butt anytime they weren’t topside. But this mission couldn’t be left to anyone she didn’t trust. She wasn’t sure if that made any sense. Didn’t particularly care.

Um…Peter Pan here, I guess. You guys are psychologically solid?

Yes. Go for the perfect ten if you are.Rand smiled softly. Below them, in Amsterdam, there were humans who thought the bounty of the Earth came from a plant…

Hold up. Let me confirm with FLIGHT.

Roger that.

I just wanna try out the new gadgets,Jay whined.

She patted his shoulder.We will.

Okay, 13. FLIGHT confirms…you are go for phase shift level 10.

Naomi swatted Jay’s hand away.That’s mine.She turned the knob the rest of the way, and caught her breath sharply, biting her lip as her field of awareness took in everything with a new, sharp relief. Flying a spacecraft with a contemporary topside tech level was always boring and blasé, when she didn’t have the Symmes Field generator. Now, it seemed…magical, surreal, yet totally refined and high-intensity in perception. Every atom seemed to sing in a chorus greater than the sum of its McDonnell Aircraft Company-built parts. Beyond her, the field of space was full of vibrant life…below her, the Earth was hollow through and through…above her, the Moon lay waiting, like the Queen of Sheba in her bridal chambers…

Well, I was gonna say you’re no fun, but who cares about you? I’m beyond jazzed.Jay grinned.This is incredible.

Pete laughed.Y’all have one orbit to acclimate fully, then I need you to switch on the new tech and prepare for rendezvous.

Roger that. See you in an hour, Pete.Naomi switched her mic to push-to-talk, removed it from her head, and motioned to Jay to do the same. Then she put her arm around him in an embrace sisterly, motherly, like that of empress, priestess and lover all in surreal simultaneity.

Go for rendezvous.Jay giggled boyishly.

* * * * * * *

Below, in the cities of New England, the sons and daughters of Puritans were celebrating Halloween. Here, she and Jay were living a dream both spooky and heavenly all at once. The eeriness of ghost stories could not capture the literal reality of life in a hollow, whether earthly or in orbit or beyond. Borges and Lovecraft teaming up with Crowley and Carroll could not have envisioned the..simple shift that was as significant as the change from Midwestern overcast mornings to a New Mexico sunrise, yet ever-present in every perceptible phenomenon of any sort. It was, in a word, magick.

She put the mic back on and grinned, zipping up her flightsuit with one hand, thumbing the toggle with the other.Yo, Pete. Are we go to activate the puzzle box?

Crazy straw is holding up. You are indeed go.

Tropical punch! OH YEAH!Jay pantomimed punching a hole through his cockpit window. Despite being amused, she couldn’t help but sardonically remark to her internal log and censor that as daft as her young charge could be, it was a miracle he hadn’t put his head through…which for all she could tell, was often made of glass and filled with red sugar water. (Needless to say, the codenameCrazy Strawhad been his idea, overriding Promethean mythological allusions by virtue of being prime flight crew. He was…incomprehensible to most. And what the heck did that say about her?)

‘kay then. Switching advanced guidance unit to ON…1973, here we come.Rand grinned.

What about lasers? When do we get those?Jay’s tongue was, disconcertingly, not in his cheek.

We don’t have those in the basement rec room yet, silly boy. But timetables on flight-ready weapons systems do exist, in both planes.

Oh?

Trix are not for kids in this case.She laughed.Okay…Pete…how are we holding up?

Five by five. We have simultaneous…wait what? Simultaneous acquisition on every tracking station on the globe.

Oh.Naomi laughed.That’s an um…that’s a VIP feature, Pete. Just pretend you’re not seeing it.

I already pretend I don’t have your vitals on my panel here, so what the hey, right?

Suck my lady dick, Pete.Naomi smiled softly.I banter with boys and share myself with angels among men.

I’d feign insult, but we have a mission to get done. You guys have already completed the main objective, which is proving that Symmes Fields can be generated in space conditions, and that they are survivable with minimal detriment to mission goals. You have also proven that the Apollo Block III AGC is a workable design…thanks for that. I’ll be looking forward to using it on one of those long-duration stays in about ten years.

Hey, it’s nothing I didn’t have figured out by Mercury-Titan 5, with the Block I AGC.She glanced down at her beta cloth mission patch…it was fireproof. Pete and his comrades in Apollo had no such luxuries. She, for her part, could not sink the ship itself by loosening her lips about the Block I Apollo spacecraft’s many faults…it hurt sometimes.

Right on. Anyways, you have a new objective. Pursue rendezvous with the Agena transtage under Symmes field effect, fully prove navigation system. We’ll go from there.

Jay looked at her and grinned.Go where?

That’s for Pete to know and us to find out. But given who Pete is, and what we’re flying, I have my guesses…She smiled a very secret smile.

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