View Full Version : Into the Cosmos

2008-Dec-07, 05:10 PM
As some of you know, I've written a series of stories on Marvel.com about space exploration in the Marvel Universe that can be found here (http://www.marvel.com/boards/viewtopic.php?t=125040&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0), here (http://www.marvel.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=137142&postdays=&postorder=asc&start=50), and here (http://www.marvel.com/forums/viewtopic.php?p=3386717&sid=d5d4b29fc4864f1d1a4dffa6aa2ac20f), with a lot of help from you guys in terms of accuracy.

On PraedSt's suggestion, I'm serializing the latest story, and putting it on this thread.

So, without further ado, here's the first installment:

February 1, 2003, 8:58 AM Eastern Time, over Palestine, Texas

They never knew what had happened. They would never find out why.

The skies were blue over Texas as Columbia, the first United States space shuttle and the pride of the shuttle fleet, was 16 minutes from landing after a successful 15 day Earth-observation mission. The crew joked and passed around a video camera, filming the heat of re-entry outside the shuttle’s windows. Observers on the ground saw flashes of light as the shuttle tore over their heads at Mach 19.5.

Flight Controllers at Houston’s Johnson Space Center guided Commander Rick Husband through the landing checklist. The years of training on both parts were apparent as the team transmitted their latest orders.

“Roger, uh, bu-”

The sentence would never be finished.

2:04 PM Eastern Time, Mojave, California

The hangar was unremarkable, giving no hint of what lay inside. Besides, an average observer would have seen nothing more than a very strange airplane, painted white, with a raised teardrop-shaped cockpit that bore a bevy of small round windows rather than one large windshield and a very long wing that was supported by two strange “legs” that held the landing gear, with red decals here and there. It looked like something from the future, and, in a way, it was.

A casual observer, however, might have been able to guess that this plane, known as the White Knight, was important by the care with which the workers were poring over it, inspecting every detail of its exotic body, as they had been doing all morning.

“How’s the tire pressure, Tessa?” Asked a worker in a baseball cap decorated with the logo of Scaled Composites LLC, the company that owned the hanger and its unusual contents.

Teresa von Braun, a young woman who was kneeling by White Knight’s wheels, looked up.

“It’s A-OK, Tim, just like everything else. Burt will be pleased to hear that, I’m sure.” She answered, referring to Burt Rutan, the designer and their boss.

“Don’t be so modest, you helped with the design, too. Just think, in a few months, this baby’s going to be carrying our spaceship.”

For that was the secret of White Knight’s strange design. It was built to carry a small rocketplane known as SpaceShipOne that would separate and fly just past the boundary of space, carrying three people along. If the system succeeded, they would be making history. If they failed… nobody wanted to consider that possibility.

But they were still a long way from that, at least a year by Teresa’s best guess. White Knight wasn't set to fly with the spaceship until May, and they wouldn’t practice mid-air separation until at least August. Still, they were making progress.

And I wouldn’t trade this for the world. Teresa thought, as her walkie-talkie suddenly squawked to life.

“Guys, get over here! Something happened to the shuttle!” Came the voice of a co-worker.

“On our way, Mike.” Tim said, picking the walkie-talkie up from the ground. Teresa was already out of the door and headed for the main building. He was glad that Scaled employed superhuman mutants without discrimination, but it was hard to get used to having a co-worker who could run at supersonic speeds.

Could something really be wrong? Nah, Mike probably just caught some documentary on the Challenger disaster. That was this week, wasn’t it, back in ‘86? Gosh, I hope they don’t show that picture of the tangle of smoke and debris. That one makes me queasy every time I look at it. It looked like the scars those killer jellyfish in Australia leave.
The thoughts flew through Teresa’s head as she pushed open the door to the room where the TV was…

Everybody was gathered around the old set and there was indeed footage of flaming debris on the screen. But it was in three straight lines, not a tangle, the date was today, and President Bush’s voice was playing over the horrible film:

“…A short time later, debris was seen falling from the skies above Texas. The Columbia is lost.”

“There are no survivors.”

“Oh lord, no…”

2008-Dec-07, 06:05 PM
Teresa works for Scaled now?! :)

A good start. One question- why the 5 hours delay?

2008-Dec-07, 11:23 PM
Teresa works for Scaled now?!
Not works, used to work, this is 2003, as the date headings say. She mentioned working on SS1 in AotP.

2008-Dec-08, 12:02 AM
Not works, used to work, this is 2003, as the date headings say. She mentioned working on SS1 in AotP.

2008-Dec-08, 11:01 PM
What I mean is, at the time of this little story, she works at Scaled, although she doesn't now.

2008-Dec-09, 04:28 PM
You're an excellent writer, girl!

BTW, it's "hangar." :o

2008-Dec-10, 11:48 PM
You're an excellent writer, girl!
Thank you! I fixed the spelling mistake.

January 14, 2004, 3:20 PM Eastern Time

The accident investigation had been the subject of much attention by the press and public. At first, many had suspected foul play. The work of HYDRA, or AIM, or Doctor Doom or Magneto or... the list of “suspects” that were mentioned went on and on. But when all was said and done, the official report revealed that Columbia’s loss had not been the malice of any villain, but a simple accident.

During launch, part of the foam coating of the shuttle’s fuel tank had fallen off and hit its underside, damaging the sensitive silica heat tiles that lay there. These tiles were specially made to protect the crew from the intense heats created by the friction of speeding through Earth’s atmosphere on their way home, but that was when they were working perfectly and nobody had noticed the damage during the mission…

“If only someone had looked.” The painful sentence was repeated over and over again. If only…

But despite their mourning, the team at Scaled had continued their work. SpaceShipOne didn’t use the tile system, but another, special one, there was no rational need for them to worry. Yet worry is seldom rational, and the following months often found Teresa and her co-workers crowded around the TV again, following the developments.

They were there now, as the President was due to make another announcement. Teresa pushed back a strand of her hair- dyed green- as she listened.

“Today I announce a new plan to explore space and extend a human presence across our solar system. We will begin the effort quickly, using existing programs and personnel. We'll make steady progress -- one mission, one voyage, one landing at a time.”

“Who does he think he is, Kennedy?” one of the engineers whispered.

“Uh, no.” Somebody whispered back.

“In 2010, the Space Shuttle -- after nearly 30 years of duty -- will be retired from service.
Our second goal is to develop and test a new spacecraft, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, by 2008, and to conduct the first manned mission no later than 2014. The Crew Exploration Vehicle will be capable of ferrying astronauts and scientists to the Space Station after the shuttle is retired. But the main purpose of this spacecraft will be to carry astronauts beyond our orbit to other worlds. This will be the first spacecraft of its kind since the Apollo Command Module.
Our third goal is to return to the moon by 2020, as the launching point for missions beyond.”

“WHAT?” The room collectively shouted in a mixture of elation and disbelief, as if they all had been told they had won the lottery by an untrustworthy cousin. Teresa rubbed her eyes.

“The MOON? The crazy MOON?” they shouted with one voice, as if they were united not by a crazy dream but a hive mind. The overmind suddenly reached a conclusion-


I mean, surely he can’t be serious… Teresa thought, reeling.

“With the experience and knowledge gained on the moon, we will then be ready to take the next steps of space exploration: human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond…”


Teresa’s first following thought, the stupid pun that the President’s name wasn’t Shirley, was swiftly swept away. Mars? Sure, people had talked about it for decades, plans had been made, deadlines set and forgotten, projects scrapped… but here was the President on worldwide television, saying that he wanted NASA to send people there… maybe it really was a New Century.

“What do you think Zubrin will have to say about this?” somebody muttered.

“As our knowledge improves, we'll develop new power generation propulsion, life support, and other systems that can support more distant travels. We do not know where this journey will end, yet we know this: human beings are headed into the cosmos.”

“Who are you and what have you done with our President?” somebody shouted.

And now, there was a new thought in Teresa’s head, a simple one:

I want to help.

2008-Dec-13, 04:25 PM
It's the night before the X-Prize, and Teresa's having second thoughts...

October 3, 2004, 11:47 PM, Eastern Time

The moonlight shone down onto the desert grass, turning everything outside a ghostly blue. Teresa stood in the moonlight by the hangar, thinking. Early tomorrow morning, if everything went well, SpaceShipOne would make its second flight into space, making history and earning the prize that the Iranian Ansari family was offering. Being drowsy during the flight was the last thing Teresa wanted, but worry kept her awake, not just about tomorrow, but about the days to follow.

Everything had gone smoothly five days ago on the first flight, as pilot Mike Melvill had rocketed up at Mach 3, cut the engines and coasted into suborbit, and even found time to take some pictures before re-entering the atmosphere. It was then that the spaceship had started rolling wildly, spinning like a thrown dart. Melvill had never been in any danger, he’d landed safely, and they'd all investigated and corrected the problem, but it added to the nerves that the whole team was feeling.

But it’s going to be okay. We can do this, we’ve practiced. You’ve worked on this bird since the beginning, Tessa, you know how tough it is. We’re going to succeed.

And then?

That was the question that had been haunting her since the announcement back in January.

Well, Richard Branson’s probably going to have us build spaceships for his airline. I guess I’ll stay here and help with that. Put ordinary people into space. Be part of history.

And yet… she climbed out of bed and walked to the window. The moon was up, and if Teresa squinted, she could pick out the dark lava plains called maria, or seas.

Serenity, Fertility, Nectar, Tranquility… Tranquility. That’s where Apollo 11 landed. And who built the rocket that got them there? My grandfather. The new moon program will probably go there at some point, check out the old flag, the footprints in the moondust… Oh, who am I kidding? I want to go there! Or at least build the hardware that gets them there, like my grandfather did.

I’ve got a commitment here, a commitment to Burt, to Scaled, to the whole SpaceShipOne project and whatever comes after, and yet… there’s another piece of history being made right now, and I want to be part of it. Burt will understand… At least, I hope he will... I’ll ask him.

She walked into the hangar where SpaceShipOne lay, white epoxy decorated with a blue star pattern and their sponsors’ logos- Virgin, Stark Industries, M&Ms and others. Her boss was standing before it, running his hand gently over one of the wings.

“Tomorrow’s the big day, eh?” Teresa asked, causing Rutan to turn around.

“Yes. I can hardly believe it myself.” He answered.

I’ll approach the topic slowly…

“Seen that moon tonight? Nearly full. You can see all the maria and everything.”

“Oh yeah? I’ll have to look at that.” He walked outside with Teresa and looked at the moon.

I don’t have to do this. This guy hired me, despite the whole mutant thing. Gave me a great job, let me build spaceships, and here I am, wanting to throw it all away and go work for the very big companies he’s competing with. And yet- I must!

“So, what do you think of that new moon program Bush was talking about? The Crew Exploration Vehicle or whatever he called it?”

“It’s an exciting prospect. I’ll certainly try to keep up on it. I’m thrilled that we’re going back.”

“Would you like to go to the moon?”

“Of course. I remember watching the Apollo missions when I was a kid. Although I doubt they’re looking for astronauts my age.” He chuckled.

“How about the design work? I-er-you could do that, couldn’t you?” Teresa asked, making a Freudian slip.

“I could, I suppose. But I’ve already got a job. This is the sort of thing I’ve dreamed about doing since I was a little kid, playing with model airplanes. I’m committed.”

Here goes nothing. Teresa swallowed hard.

“Am I committed? I mean, I’m absolutely going to be there for you guys tomorrow, but after that, the partnership with Branson... would it bother you terribly if I went to work on something else, because there’s some other projects that-” The words spilled out.

“Other projects? Are you trying to tell me you want to work with NASA for this moon project?”

There, it was out. She’d said it.

“Yes, and I want to know what you think.”

“What do I think…” Rutan looked back, at SpaceShipOne in the hangar. “That rocket in there, that’s my dream. It’s been my dream for years and now I’m making it real. You’ve built it, and I thank you for your help. But it’s my dream, not yours, and I don’t want you to feel at all bound or enslaved to it. Once it flies, you’re a free woman, Tessa. If the moon’s your goal, go ahead.” He looked her in the eyes now.

“Well, then, let’s light this candle and go home.”

2008-Dec-15, 03:00 AM
You're an excellent writer, girl!

BTW, it's "hangar." :o
And it's much ado, not adieu.:)

2008-Dec-16, 01:39 AM
Fixed. What do you think so far?

2008-Dec-21, 03:08 PM
October 4, 2004, 8:05 AM, Local Time

The sun had not yet risen, and the moon was setting. The sky above Mojave Airport seemed a dull, uniform darkness, the stars drowned out by the floodlights on White Knight. A few people were crowded around the plane, making last-minute checks. Teresa was one of them. SpaceShipOne sat nestled beneath it, and the configuration looked odd, but complete.

She really is a beautiful old bird.

From behind the perimeter, a few people with cameras snapped pictures. There would be plenty more where they came from today.

A hush fell over the engineers and onlookers as two figures approached White Knight. One wore a navy blue flightsuit, the orange-and-gray straps and connectors of the emergency parachute on his back clearly visible. In his hand, he held the flight plan and a folded American flag. This was the test pilot, Brian Binnie. The other man was older, with gray sideburns, wearing a leather jacket. At first glance, one wouldn’t have guessed he was as, if not more important, than Binnie in the coming events. He was Burt Rutan.

“Hey, good luck up there, Brian.”

“Today’s the day.”

“Break a leg.” Teresa and the other technicians offered encouragement as Binnie climbed into the small graphite-and-epoxy rocket. A cameraman with a huge shoulder-mounted recorder followed, capturing the moment. Teresa hoped he didn’t run out of film. Today would be full of moments.

Rutan stuck his head inside the tiny cockpit to deliver his own words.

“Use a driver. Keep your head down and swing smooth.” He said. That was golf-speak for “Give your best performance, but also be accurate”. While she didn’t play golf, a lot of the others did, and Teresa had gained an understanding of the terms.

As Rutan walked away, the hatch was closed. The cameraman got a “hero shot” of Binnie through the window, wearing his helmet and oxygen mask.

“Everything’s ready, Burt.” Teresa said, walking alongside her boss as he circled the plane, making sure of that fact. Secure in the knowledge that it was indeed true, he sat down for a rest on the yellow portable scaffolding that the pilot of White Knight would use to enter. He looked up at the place along the airplane’s body where the markings showing its past achievements were, like the tally marks showing the number of “kills” on fighter planes from World War II.

“What are you thinking?” Teresa asked.

“Right now? I’m a little anxious. But we’re going to do it. Today’s the day.” He answered, smiling, and starting to climb down.

Teresa nodded. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so anxious. Certainly not since she’d started working for Scaled. Not since her days at the Xavier Institute, on missions with the squad of X-Men-in-training known as the New Mutants…

The sky was lightening, turning a rich blue. The tailfins of jumbo jets on other runways could be made out, silhouetted against the sky. The technicians rolled the scaffolding away.

A voice suddenly jolted her out of her reminiscences.
“Excuse me, but you work here, don’t you?”

Teresa turned to see a reporter with a laptop.

“Yes, I was on the design team.” She said.

“Tell me, what’s the mood of the crew this morning?”

“We’re ready for this. There really was a calm mood, yet excitement- of course.” She said, trying to echo Rutan’s comments.

“Understandably. Thank you.” The reporter said, hurrying away. It was nearly time for take-off.

White Knight started to roll along the runway, picking up speed until it became airborne, taking off into the ever-lightening sky. Two chase planes followed, passing briefly in front of the rising sun and making dramatic silhouettes. One was a strange, white, delta-winged craft known as the Beechcraft Starship, a previous Scaled project. They were there in case anything went wrong, and, next to Binnie and the crew of White Knight, the pilots in the chase planes would enjoy the best view of what was to come.

Hundreds of eyes watched the climbing white contrail through binoculars or the zoom lenses of cameras, both film and digital. Some people in the crowd held signs showing their support. One man wore a blue t-shirt with the words “Go, Burt, Go!” written on it in white.

Two of those eyes belonged to Teresa in the ground control room. In the rough hour it took White Knight to climb to 47, 000 feet, her eyes darted between the view through binoculars, the altitude meters before her and the faces of the others in the room.

At 47,000 feet, roughly twice the height of Mount Everest, the atmosphere is much thinner than at sea level, or even at the 2,791 foot elevation of Mojave Airport. You can already see a glowing white haze at the horizon, the first indication of just how thin the atmosphere really is compared to the Earth. The sky above you is a dark grayish-blue. There is a feeling of being halfway to space already.

The order was given. An engineer inside of White Knight released SpaceShipOne. Binnie was now in free-fall, falling towards the brown desert below…

For all the spectators, even those without superhumanly fast reaction times, those seconds of free-fall felt like an eternity until Binnie’s shout over the radio:

“Arm and fire!”

The rocket engine ignited.

Binnie was thrown back in his seat by three times the force of gravity as SpaceShipOne’s engine shot him upwards, kicking out 18,000 pounds of thrust. Within a few seconds, he was supersonic. The craft soared upward, leaving a white vertical contrail of its special fuel- rubber and laughing gas. White Knight peeled away, the two white trails making a crude “v” in the blue southwestern sky.

Soon, the rocket could not be seen with the naked eye, only binoculars. As the 90 second burn came to a close, it was only a speck atop the smoke trail, even with optical aid. From here on, the spaceship would glide.

Teresa’s eyes turned to the altitude meter now, as there was nothing more to see out the window. Now, there was only to imagine, based on Binnie’s reports over the radio. They passed one altitude record… then another… higher than the last flight…

And then, there was perfect peace. The air hose on Binnie’s mask started floating. SpaceShipOne was in space.

Cheers broke out, before Rutan gave them all a look.

“That’s for when he lands. We’re not out of the woods yet.”

Knowing that he was right, the room fell silent once again.

“I’m taking some pictures for you guys.” Binnie’s voice broke the silence. “I can see the Earth curving away and the atmosphere… it’s all so, so beautiful. If only… if only everyone could see this view. Just wait until you see these pictures.”

Almost too soon, Binnie’s three minutes in space were over. SpaceShipOne’s tail moved into the upright re-entry position as it prepared to re-enter the atmosphere. This would slow it down so that the friction- and the heating- wouldn’t be a problem.

We’re coming in at a much safer angle than the space shuttle does, so- why am I thinking about that, anyway? I just hope that spinning doesn’t happen again. Stupid worrywart brain of mine.

Trying to keep her mind distracted, Teresa looked out the window at the crowds watching. She could see Binnie’s family watching eagerly for the first sight of the rocket. It was plunging back through the atmosphere now, the heating at its most intense, the pilot feeling five times the force of gravity…

Now it would be exiting re-entry mode, the tail going horizontal again, beginning the glide…

And then, somebody saw the speck. Small and white, so small Teresa wasn’t sure at first if it was just a trick of her eye or a hopeful hallucination. But as it glided in, details came into view in her binoculars- the wings, the tail, the blue stripes on its white body- and small cheers began, in spite of the previous order.

Binnie’s family shielded their eyes against the sun; his wife had her hands over her mouth and her eyes looked watery. His mother was beaming from ear to ear. His brother saluted. The chase planes came in, using special oil that left a trail for visibility so they wouldn’t get in the way.

One thing that SpaceShipOne did have in common with the shuttle was that it was designed to land without using its engines. Gliding in for a landing saved fuel, but it also made the pilot’s job trickier, especially here at the end, when he had to circle around several times to slow the rocket down.

With the loops completed, Binnie began the final descent, extending the landing gear. It looked slightly silly, breaking the craft’s streamlined shape. Cameras started going off like crazy again, to capture this beautiful machine, returning from the edge of space victorious, landing in a world different from the one it had left. The shadow went ahead, gliding over the desert grass, and then the tarmac, until the rocket and shadow met and pulled to a halt on the runway.

Now the enthusiasm could not be contained. Teresa was out of the door before the other engineers were halfway to it, but they followed at their own, more modest speeds. An Arab couple wearing all black ran toward SpaceShipOne from the other direction, flashing their passes to a guard.

Pretty good sprint, considering she’s wearing heels. I think those are the Ansaris. Well, I hope they liked what they saw.

“That was fabulous! Amazing!” the woman gushed, pushing her designer rimless sunglasses higher up her nose.

My hope was well placed, apparently. Who says I don’t have psychic powers?

“Thanks.” Teresa said, blushing a little bit.

The crowd from the control room was at the runway now, and two mechanics stepped in to open the hatch. Binnie stepped out, with a blinding smile on his face.

“Best ride of my life.” He said, as Rutan congratulated him:

"Nice drive, Brian."

2008-Dec-23, 11:53 PM
I've tweaked the text of the third post in my computer and I'll upload the changes after the holiday.

2008-Dec-30, 02:21 AM
Okay, the edit to the part on the night of the X-Prize is up. Other parts will be soon, after I write them. I don't have a lot of ideas for the hiring scene yet. I might have Tessa at The Cape for the Return to Flight, just for the closure factor.

2008-Dec-30, 06:12 AM
You are a talented writer, congratulations. :)

2009-Jan-02, 02:16 AM
After the X-Prize, Scaled (and Tessa) face the media:

October 4, 2004, 11: 34 PM, Local Time

The reporters surrounded the group that stood by SpaceShipOne, holding out microphones and bombarding them with questions. It was practically a Who’s Who of the X-Prize: Rutan, the Ansaris, Binnie and his family, Sir Richard Branson, Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder who had been the main sponsor, and Peter Diamandis, the man who had first suggested the prize.

Teresa hung back, feeling a slight pang of guilt in spite of Rutan’s reassurance the night before.

There was a feeling in the air, now, a feeling of history and great importance. Someday, they could all look back on this day and say it was where it had all began. Even though she wasn’t going to be part of “it”, Teresa was sure she’d never forget this day.

“What was it like, Mr. Binnie?”

“It's hard to describe. It's a fantastic experience and it culminates when the motor shuts down and you realize you are no longer encumbered, there is darkness outside the windows and it is contrasted starkly by this bright pearl that is the greater California area, which is the view from up there. ... It's a fantastic view, it's a fantastic feeling. There's a freedom there and a sense of wonder that- I'll tell you what, you all need to experience."

It was funny, in all her dread about leaving and her worries about the flight itself, Teresa had forgotten what she hated most about these press sessions. Somebody would want a quote from her. Which was fine, if it wasn’t asked with ‘as a mutant’ tacked on. Which it always was.

It wasn’t like mutants in space were news. The X-Men had flown on the shuttle back in the early days, and that radiation-absorber guy Gazer was doing research on the International Space Station at that very moment.

In one sense, she couldn’t blame the reporters. Fifty years ago, if she’d been African-American, they would have asked the same questions, mentioned it in the reports, and commented on it just the same. But all in all, she saw herself as an engineer who happened to be a mutant and not a mutant who happened to be an engineer. The whole discrimination issue didn’t really interest her. If it had, she’d have stayed with the X-Men.

So she braced herself for that question, waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. That way, it didn’t hurt as much when it finally came. But it still hurt:

“Mr. Rutan, a lot of people have criticized your tolerant attitudes toward mutants- especially your company’s close relationship with the Xavier Institute. How do you feel about the criticism and do you think it will have any effect on this space tourism project?”

If the question hurt Rutan, he showed no sign of it. He took a deep breath and turned to where Teresa and the other workers stood.

“Teresa, get up here.” He ordered in a quiet voice.

In front of the reporters- I can’t, I won’t, I-

Even as her mind protested, she started walking to the microphone, stopping when she reached her boss.

Rutan nodded, as if to say “Thank you”, and turned back to the reporter.

“How do I feel about the discrimination? Well, I want you to know that at Scaled, we do discriminate. We are biased in the favor of those who are dedicated, imaginative, and intelligent.”

The spectators laughed. Rutan continued after the laugher died down:

“This young woman next to me is Teresa von Braun. A surname that is familiar to many of us aerospace enthusiasts. Some of you might know her better as X-1 of the New Mutants. I am proud to say that she was a principle member of the team that designed SpaceShipOne. But I didn’t hire her because of her genes or because of her last name. I hired her because she is dedicated, imaginative, and intelligent.”

She felt guilty again. Guilty for leaving when her boss spoke of her work like that. Proud. He was proud. They wanted her to stay, she couldn’t go, she-

“Dr. Von Braun will not stay on for the Virgin collaborative project. She is leaving soon to seek employment with NASA and I support her. However, her innovations will be included in our SpaceShipTwo vehicle. If somebody refuses to ride a spaceship because a mutant designed it, then that is their problem, not ours.”

Outwardly, Teresa gave a faint smile. But inside, she was beaming from ear to ear.

2009-Jan-09, 01:48 AM
DISCLAIMER: This next installment may cause you to become emotional.

July 25, 2005, 12:36 AM Local Time, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

The large mirror of black granite reflected the noontime sun as Teresa stood before it. She had come to do something she’d wanted to do for two years now.

She was here to remember.

The Space Mirror was a memorial to the 18 astronauts lost in American space flights over the Program’s history. Their names were carved into acrylic panels on the surface of the mirror, seeming to hover in the reflected sky.

“October 31, 1964- Theodore Freeman.” She whispered, reading from a card she’d written the names and dates of the casualties on.

“January 27, 1967- Virgil Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee. Apollo 1.” Teresa continued. Her eyes started to cloud up, making it hard to read the card. That didn’t matter. She had the next one memorized.

“January 28, 1986- Francis Scobee, Michael Smith, Ronald McNair…”

The tears started to fall. She remembered the day so clearly, she’d been at Xavier’s, dealing with the Beyonder situation, but she and Kitty Pryde had managed to get away to a television and watch NBC with Henry McCoy, their science teacher. NBC was the only station showing the launch. McCoy had complained about that.

“…Gregory Jarvis…”

Teresa pulled out another piece of paper from her pocket, an old photocopy of a handwritten letter…

“…Christa McAuliffe, Ellison Onizuka…”

They’d all been excited about the launch, as science enthusiasts, but Teresa more so than the others, because she’d sent a copy of the letter to the crew’s one female veteran astronaut-

“…Judith Resnik. Challenger.”

She made no attempt to stop the tears now, they came in torrents, as if Teresa’s eyes were connected to Niagara Falls.

Endeavoring to keep the letter as dry as possible, she stooped down, placing it near the edge of the mirror.

I think you’re as much of a superhero as anybody in the X-Men, or even the Avengers. She had written in the letter.

There hadn’t been any costumed superhumans at Cape Canaveral that day; they’d all been dealing with the Beyonder. But then, there hadn’t been any for the past few launches either, other threats had been judged to be of higher priority than protecting a vehicle that had previously had only perfect flights. It was routine, an Avengers spokesperson had told the investigation board.

“February 1, 2003.” She managed to choke out. “Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla…” The crying started again, remembering Mike’s call on the radio and the images on the TV screen at Scaled.

“…Michael Anderson, Laurel Clark, Ilan Ramon. Columbia.”

She hadn’t cried since that day, but now it all was coming out, gasping for breath before another waterfall began, until she had cried all she could cry.

She dried her eyes.

And now she reminded herself of the Vision and of her new dedication.

“You are not forgotten. But this is the last day I cry. Tomorrow we return to flight. And tomorrow, I return to work, continuing the journey. Honoring the legacy. As you would have wished.”

2009-Jan-25, 01:12 AM
At long last, here is the seventh part of Into the Cosmos:

July 26, 2005, 7:00 AM Local Time

This was it. In a few hours, a space shuttle would lift-off from Cape Canaveral for the first time in two and a half years. For the first time since Columbia’s loss.

Discovery was on the pad, waiting patiently, nine miles away. She was a good, dependable ship, the third shuttle orbiter built. She had been the first to fly again after the Challenger disaster in 1988, launched the Hubble Space Telescope back in 1990, docked with the Russian Mir space station in 1995 and flown the hundredth shuttle mission in 2000.

It had taken a lot of begging to get Teresa away from Rocketdyne’s facilities in Alabama, but she wouldn’t have missed this for the world. So there she stood, in the crowd outside of the crew quarters, waiting to catch the public’s last glimpse of the astronauts before take-off.

The crew would fly to the space station to install some equipment and exchange crewmembers. And, most importantly, while attached to the station, check Discovery’s heat tiles for any sign of damage and fix them.

The astronauts stepped out in their orange pressure suits, waving to the crowd. The commander and pilot, Eileen Collins and Jim Kelly, were first, walking slowly to the silver van that would take them to the launch pad. It would be their job to fly the shuttle to the station and land it when the voyage was over. The mission specialists, the ones who would spacewalk and do most of the experiments, followed.

Commander Collins smiled and waved to the crowd as she entered the van, the sort of confident, fearless smile Teresa knew well from her time with the X-Men. A person-especially a woman- didn’t become a shuttle commander without superheroic determination and commitment.

Speaking of superheroes…

Teresa glanced across the road at the two familiar figures in dark blue uniforms. Johnny Storm and Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four were also watching the silver van as the astronauts climbed in. Johnny was saying something over a walkie-talkie, probably talking to the KSC SWAT team. Dr. Michael Griffin, NASA’s new head, had specifically requested a superhuman presence for the mission, citing the need to have multiple back-up plans in the event of an emergency. (‘Redundancy’, in engineer-speak)

The Avengers hadn’t been able to come. They’d disbanded after all that trouble with the attacks on their mansion, but the FF had answered Dr. Griffin’s call instead. It was fitting, given Reed Richards’ history with the agency.

She slipped over to where the two superheroes stood, using a little super-speed here and there.

“Hey! Um, you may not remember me, but…” Teresa started. Sue looked her over, and bit her lip for a few seconds. Then, her eyes lit up as she vaguely remembered.

“Weren’t you one of Professor X’s students back in the 80’s? The pyrokinetic?” Sue asked.

“That was Amara. I’m Teresa, the mechanic.”

“You mean, the super-speedster!” Johnny said. Teresa winced. She didn’t like it when people called attention to her powers.

“Oh yes, that’s right. We ran into your team during that whole business with the Beyonder. So what are you up to these days, Teresa?”

“I’m actually working for one of NASA’s contractors right now- and on that note, I’m really glad you guys came to help us.”

Us. It feels strange talking about NASA as “us”. At Scaled, it was “them”. Not in the antagonistic sense, just that it was… Other, unconnected to what we did. But now it’s Scaled that’s unconnected to what I’m doing. Even though I’m still in touch with Burt and the others, they’re Other now… I’m still getting used to that.

“It’s the least we can do. How better to use the gifts we gained on a flight into space than by helping others who do the same?” Sue smiled.

“Yeah, and we get to trail the shuttle from 20 miles away and fly circles around the other chase planes!”

Sue gave him a look.

“Chill, Sis. Reed never said we couldn’t have some fun while we look for foam dropping from that, um… big…orange thing… with the technical name… that I forget.”

Teresa chuckled. “That’s the fuel tank.”

“Uh, yeah, I knew that…” Johnny looked at his shoes, abruptly ending the conversation. Sue politely led him away.

Well, there’s still a few hours to kill before launch. Maybe I should check out the museum. Or I could people-watch. The First Lady’s supposed to be here… nah, the museum sounds more interesting. But first, I’ve got to get something to eat. I was in such a hurry to leave the hotel that I forgot breakfast. ‘Stupid one-track mind of mine…

Finding one of the food stations in the visitor complex was easier than she’d expected and soon, Teresa was eating a chicken sandwich near the outdoor displays of historic rocket replicas. Little kids ran to and fro, others stayed close to their parents, clutching rapidly melting popsicles. Parents tried to fit into replica capsules, attempting to act out their childhood dreams.

Such a joyful scene, so far removed from how she had felt yesterday. Teresa couldn’t help but grin between bites.

“Hey, Dad! Look at that big silver one with the red-ladder thingy on top!” a boy in a Captain America t-shirt called, pointing. Teresa turned her head to see which display he was pointing at.

“Yeah, that’s like the one John Glenn rode in, Timmy. Atlas or something.” A red-haired man next to him, who must have been his father, said.

It was indeed. Teresa nodded to herself.

“What about the red-ladder thing! What’s that?” Timmy asked.

“Um, that’s the, uh… argh! I knew it in ’61! I can’t think of it right now Timmy.” The father said, wondering if this was the first sign of early-onset Alzheimer’s.

“*Cough* Escape tower. *Cough*” Teresa vocalized, louder than she’d intended to.

Timmy and his dad looked at her.

Uh oh. He probably thinks I’m choking. And an impromptu Heimlich is the last thing I want today.

“Um, its okay, I’m fine. I was just saying that the red thing on top of the capsule is the escape tower. It was a mini-rocket that could fire to get the capsule out of danger if anything went wrong during launch.” She said, quickly.

“Well, thank you, Miss.” Timmy’s father said.

“Is your hair really that weird color?” Timmy blurted out. His father shot him a “that’s-very-rude-what-have-your-mother-and-I-told-you” look.

“No, I dye it.” Teresa said, laughing.

“Oh, ‘cause I thought you might be like that magnetic girl from the X-Men…” Timmy’s father rolled his eyes.

“Polaris.” Teresa said.

“Yeah, that’s right! She’s cool.”

Well, she’s a bit unstable now… but yeah, she’s a very nice person. We used to play checkers together.

Noticing the pass around her neck, Timmy’s father asked “Do you work here at the Cape?”

“Well, actually, I work in Alabama. I build rocket engines.”

“You’re a rocket scientist? That’s impressive. Isn’t that cool, Timmy?”

“Have you met any superheroes? I heard the Fantastic Four are here today.”

“You and your superheroes…” Timmy’s father said, leading him away.

“Yes. I saw the FF earlier today.” Teresa called after them. And I saw seven other heroes, too.

2009-Jan-30, 02:04 AM
And now, the Return to Flight!

July 26, 2005, 10: 30 AM, Local Time

It looked like either a human traffic jam of epic proportions or the audience for a very strange rock concert. But binoculars and handheld radios are rarely in either of those situations as numerous as they were here, on the causeway connecting the island where the space center was located to the mainland.

The road over the Banana River was the closest public viewing area for space shuttle launches, six miles from Pad 39 B. Through the binoculars that she was clutching tightly, Teresa could make out Discovery’s orange fuel tank, framed by the pointy-topped white booster rockets, with the white winged spacecraft itself in front, attached to the side of the tank.

“T-minus nine minutes and counting.” Her portable radio reported. “Ground launch sequencer is now in control.”

Well, this is it. Here we go. Deep breaths…

She played with the focus knob on her binoculars, trying to make the view as clear as it could be.

“T-minus eight minutes and counting. The onboard fuel cells have been connected.”

Although she was no Jean Grey, Teresa could tell what everybody else watching was thinking:

Oh, please, oh, please let nothing go wrong this time!

Because she was thinking that, too.

That’s silly, though. They’ve got the foam problem under control, and if anything else goes wrong, they can always abort.

Unless it goes wrong before the boosters fall off.

Don’t think about that. Just don’t think about that. I am such a stupid worrywart.

“T-minus seven minutes and counting. The access arm through which the crew entered the orbiter is being retracted. The arm can be re-extended in a quarter of a minute should the need arise later in the countdown.”

Once solid fuel rockets, like the boosters or ordinary fireworks, start burning, nothing can stop them until they run out of fuel. They normally burn up all their fuel and separate at two minutes after liftoff. Before that, there is no stopping.

I mean, the FF are here, they’ll be able to do something, won’t they?

“T-minus six minutes. Pilot Jim Kelly is preparing to switch to internal power.”

Of course they will, Tessa. And from this point forward, I’m going to shut up and enjoy the launch.

Trying to distract herself, she turned the volume on her radio up.

“T-minus five minutes. The Pilot is now turning on the internal units, which will power the shuttle’s hydraulic systems. Commander Eileen Collins is configuring the fuel valve heaters for launch.”

I bet the guys back in Mojave are watching. Kitty’s probably watching, too, wherever she is. We used to watch all the launches together.

I haven’t seen her in ages. I really should shoot her an e-mail sometime, see if we can meet sometime. Maybe see some show in New York or something…

“T-minus four minutes. Hydraulic systems are being prepped.”

…Or maybe she could come to see me in Alabama. That’d be nice, too. Go to the museum in Huntsville and look at the stuff on display. We could talk about machines, just like old times, maybe set off a few model rockets like we did at Xavier’s… just not like that one that went through the window of the Headmaster’s office! Man, those were the days.

“T-minus three minutes. The main engines are in launch configuration, the vent hood at the top of the fuel tank is being removed.”

“Well, here we go.” She smiled in spite of herself. Inside of the orbiter, the crew was completing the final items on their checklists, flipping the last few switches. What was going through their heads at this moment? Were they afraid? Teresa couldn’t guess. Had Brian and Mike been afraid as they’d been inside of SpaceShipOne, waiting to be dropped? She’d never asked them.

I’d be afraid.

But would I let that stop me?

I can’t say.

“T-minus two minutes. The astronauts are being instructed to close and lock the visors on their launch and entry helmets.”

It doesn’t stop them.

Now things were happening fast, Discovery was switching to internal power, and all systems were being prepared. It all was happening so terribly fast now and yet each moment was so significant…

“T-minus one minute. Computers verifying that the main engines are ready for ignition.”

And then, much too soon:

“T-minus thirty-one seconds…”

At T-minus sixteen seconds, there was a crashing roar as thousands of gallons of water poured into the 300-foot-deep tanks beneath the engines to help suppress the intense sound that there would be at lift-off and protect the shuttle from it’s own vibrations.

“T-minus ten seconds, go for main engine start.”

Teresa had a vise-grip on her binoculars now, keeping them trained on the pad.

“Seven, six…”

Go get ‘em, Eileen.

The main engines at the bottom of the orbiter were starting to burn, creating transparent columns of orange flame in a noisy shower of sparks.

“Five. Three engines up and burning…”

The columns narrowed, and inner blue cones of flame known as mach diamonds appeared within.

“Three, two, one… and liftoff!”

The boosters ignited and she was off, wreathed in humungous clouds of smoke that the shuttle rose above, riding a firey trail hundreds of feet long!

The vibrations were intense, rippling across the swampland and water. Even three miles away, the onlookers on the causeway felt the vibrations shaking their teeth and bodies.

“Liftoff of Space Shuttle Discovery, beginning America’s new journey to the moon, Mars, and beyond! And the vehicle has cleared the tower!”

Discovery turned as it rose, helping to get it on course. Four seconds after launch, it was already traveling four hundred miles per hour and already at twelve thousand feet.

The engines throttled down as the shuttle went supersonic, the boom cracking across the Cape. Some people covered their ears. Teresa didn’t. To her it was a natural, familiar sound, like the sound of an instrument to a musician who plays it.

Now they were going nine hundred miles per hour.

“Discovery, this is Houston. Go at throttle up.”

Teresa slightly winced, as she did whenever she heard that line. But nothing was happening this time. The shuttle flew on, now it was eighteen miles up…

The solid boosters burned out and separated, their parachutes opening as they fell towards the sea to be recovered and repaired for use on a future mission. Teresa breathed a sigh of relief. The crew became able to see the curvature of the Earth for the first time now.

“Altitude sixty-seven miles now.”

Space. They were in space. And after only four minutes. Remarkable.

“All engines operating nominally. Go for main engine cut off.” The tank was no longer needed, it would separate soon.

“We’re back. Our people are back in space.” Teresa whispered, awed despite herself. She was crying again. But this time, it was out of joy.

2009-Jan-30, 08:10 PM
Kai, great writing.
May I share some knowledge of test flights, that I've read in different biographies and autobiography of astronauts? Most of our astronauts started as test pilots, early on.
From those readings, I've learned that something wrong with a test flight is investigated and fixed, before the next flight.
So, may I suggest that you mention investigation and remedy, after the spaceshipone went into a spin during re-entry? That would add to the story.

2009-Jan-30, 08:38 PM
Can do, Salty! Thanks for the tip. Do you like the rest of the story so far?

2009-Feb-02, 12:07 AM
Tessa against the forces of nature:

11:37 PM, October 23, 2005

For the most part, Florida is a good location for space launches. The weather is usually clear and warm, being close to the equator gives rockets a 900 mile-per-hour boost when launched east because of the Earth’s rotation, and used up boosters can fall safely into the ocean without danger to surrounding communities. There is only one real problem with Cape Canaveral’s location…


On average, the Kennedy Space Center will have to close down about once a year because of hurricanes and, on average, damage is usually minimal. The hurricane season of 2005, however, could scarcely be called average, however, and the management was bracing for the worst when Hurricane Wilma was predicted to hit southwest Florida.

And that was why Teresa found herself inside of the hangar with the wind howling outside, watching over Space Shuttle Atlantis. She and the handful of other NASA employees in the ride-out crew were the only human beings at the Cape.

“You know it’s bad when the names get to ‘W’ and hurricane season isn’t over yet!” Jenny, the dark-haired woman next to Teresa remarked, shouting to be heard over the wind.

“It’s over in a week, though. Officially, at least. And good riddance, with what this season’s done.” Geraldo, the other person in the hangar with her, shouted. “After Katrina chewed up New Orleans and then trashed our facilities on the Gulf Coast just ‘cause she felt like it back in August.”

Teresa nodded. Although Discovery had landed safely, the damage to the factories that made shuttle parts meant that nobody could be sure when the next mission would be. If Wilma were to hit the Cape at similar intensity…

Did we return to flight only to loose it all over again?

And, though nobody said it, they all knew that the strength of the recent hurricanes was why Teresa had been called away from Marshall to come here.

Like it or not, with Gazer back in space, I’m the only superhuman the agency has at the moment. And between cleaning up New Orleans and all that stuff going on in Genosha, everybody else is too occupied to lend a hand. So it’s just me. But hey, help is needed here, and I can give it. Doing anything else would be selfish.

Jenny unclipped a walkie-talkie from her belt and held down the “Talk” button: “Hey, Kenny, how are things going over there with Endeavour?”

“This is Bill. Kenny’s not in here! He went out to count the sandbags and he hasn’t come back in! I’ve been calling his walkie-talkie, but there’s no response!”

“The bloody idiot… if the hurricane doesn’t kill him, I’m going to!” Geraldo muttered “What was he thinking, Category 3 means you don’t go outside!”

Teresa took a deep breath.

“I’m going to look for him.” She turned towards the door. She could feel Jenny and Geraldo staring at her back. “Look, guys, it’s got to be me. The flying debris can’t hurt me if I run faster than the wind is blowing it.” Not as much, anyway.

“She’s crazy, too.” Geraldo muttered, as Teresa slipped out the door. “Everybody’s going bloody crazy around here.”

Outside, everything was eerily empty. If it wasn’t so loud, Teresa might have compared it to a ghost town. The wind was bending the palm trees over and sending bits of random rubbish flying as fast as cars on the highway.

And this isn’t even the worst of it. We’re miles and miles from the eye walls.

She took another deep breath and started to accelerate down the path that ran alongside the hangars. The rain was falling diagonally now, hitting her left side first.

To anybody else, this would feel like needles or arrows. To me, it’s like finger pokes. Thank you, X-gene.

Off in the distance, she saw what looked like a dark funnel cloud. Hurricanes were known to spawn tornadoes…

But even I’m not tough enough to survive if that thing hits while I’m out here. So I’ve got to find Kenny and get inside.

She was at Endeavour’s hangar now, and she slowed, her eyes still darting from object to object, looking for any possible hazards.

“Your greatest strength is your reaction time. But it does you no good if you don’t stay alert, Tessa.” She remembered Professor X’s words in the Danger Room, years before.

“Kenny? Kenny? Are you okay?” The wind nearly drowned out her words. “Where are you?”

There! Was that…

“Here! Here! Help!” It sounded nearly like a whisper, coming from nearby, by the trees… Teresa sped over, feeling hopeful.

Kenny was lying among the tree roots, his leg bleeding. He looked ecstatic when he saw Teresa.

“I put my walkie-talkie down for a second to count the sandbags and the storm took it away. Yeah, I know, stupid move. I chased it over here and then a pipe hit my leg.” He explained “I think it’s broken, it hurts when I move it.”

I can’t run at my top speed carrying him, but we’ve got to get out of here before things get worse!

She grabbed Kenny and braced-

The tree next to them abruptly gave in to the punishment, palm branches ripping off and flying in their direction.

Okay, it officially just got worse! She was off like a shot, across the roots, back onto the asphalt path, turning to reach the hangar door- all in a matter of seconds. She banged on the hangar door three times before Bill let them in.

“They’re back now, they look okay.” He told Jenny and Geraldo. “Yeah, crazy, I know. But crazy in a good way.”

Up next: It's brains on vacation!

2009-Feb-02, 03:57 AM
I'm a wanna-be writer with different unpublished manuscripts. I think you write better than I do.

Uh, on the problem and remedy for SpaceShipOne's spin-out? Would a defective hydraulic line from the trim-tab's controls to an aerilon do ya? They just switch out the hydraulic line, to remedy it (I scanned your earlier text, and didn't see anything).

2009-Feb-02, 11:34 PM
Uh, on the problem and remedy for SpaceShipOne's spin-out? Would a defective hydraulic line from the trim-tab's controls to an aerilon do ya? They just switch out the hydraulic line, to remedy it (I scanned your earlier text, and didn't see anything).
I'd added "they'd all investigated and corrected the problem". It wasn't really something I intended to go into detail about it, as Rutan himself didn't in the National Geographic article he wrote on the flight, although further revisions are certain, so I might include your scenario.

2009-Feb-03, 05:07 AM
I'd added "they'd all investigated and corrected the problem". It wasn't really something I intended to go into detail about it, as Rutan himself didn't in the National Geographic article he wrote on the flight, although further revisions are certain, so I might include your scenario.

I guess I scanned too fast. I like the way you did that: I have learned that I go into too much detail. Writing reports at work, several supervisors worked with me, to bring my wordiness down to concisely written reports.
Now, the new management wants more details...oh, well.

2009-Feb-07, 08:17 PM
December 17, 2005, 1: 34 PM, Local Time, US Space and Rocket Center, Alabama

A group of nine-year-olds dressed in dark-blue replica shuttle flightsuits ran around the souvenir shop, looking for something to show their families back at home. Anywhere else, the sight would have drawn attention, but not here. After all, the Center was the home of the original Space Camp. The campers didn’t give a second thought to the two “thirtysomething” women standing by a nearby display case. After all, they were old.

“So that’s the prototype you guys will provide the engines for?” Kitty asked, gently taping the glass with her fingernail.

“Yeah, that’s the latest model of the new moon rocket. Of course, the finished product probably won’t look anything like it… not at this stage. Luke Skywalker had a beard in the first character sketches Lucasfilm did, after all.” Teresa answered. Celebrating Wright Brothers Day at the museum, just a few miles from her office at the Marshall Space Flight Center, with her old friend was a dream come true.

“Did you see Revenge of the Sith? I saw it with Kurt back in May.”

“Yes. Thirty years and the circle is finally complete. I hear they cut some scenes with Mon Mothma in them, though. I would have wanted to see that.”

“What about that scene with Yoda in the Senate? He threw those guards aside with a gesture and then fought Palpatine to a standstill!” She switched to a voice resembling Yoda’s: “Mess with me, do not.”

They both laughed as Teresa led Kitty through a plastic door, flashing her employee badge at a councilor, who nodded and let the friends pass.

“This is the sim floor, where the shuttle and station simulators for the campers are.” Teresa said “It is impressive, isn’t it?”, she added, seeing her friend’s awed expression. It’s like that kid’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie- If You Take a Nerd to Space Camp...

It was indeed impressive. Four space shuttle models, near-life size, in various states of completeness and several space station modules, connected like hamster tubes, were arranged around the large room. A mural of the Earth from space with LED stars decorated one wall. Above the payload bay of one of the shuttle models, two kids in mock space suits were working to “repair” a model satellite.

“Where was this stuff when we were kids, Tessa?”

“It was here, but we were at Xavier’s! Pretty sure we could have copied this in the Danger Room if we’d wanted…”

“Yeah, but the Prof would have given us a lifetime supply of demerits for it!” They both started laughing again. Teresa knocked on another door on the side of the sim floor. A councilor let them in.

“This is Mission Control.” She whispered to Kitty. Seven older campers were seated at computer stations reading off checklists. Black signs above their stations indicated each of the “Flight Controller’s” jobs.

“AOA. Perform an AOA and land in California.” The boy whose sign read “Capcom” read into his microphone. In this case, AOA stood not for “Age Of Apocalypse”, but “Abort Once Around”, or “Land after only orbiting the Earth once”, an emergency scenario.

“Roger that, Capcom.” The “Commander” confirmed. Teresa glanced at the video screen to see which camper was “flying” the shuttle. It was a girl with long red hair who looked vaguely familiar.

Kitty and Teresa watched for a few minutes and then left to avoid disturbing the campers.

“So, what do you want to do now? We could check out the IMAX Theater.” Teresa said, picking up one of the brochures detailing the shows for that day. “Oh, my gosh! The next one is The Dream is Alive!”

“Burr, that’s kind of spooky, Tessa…”

September 7, 1985, 4:02 Local Time, American Museum of Natural History, New York

“You two have three hours to spend here in the museum while Rahne, Dani and myself visit the Met. You may eat at the cafeteria in the basement, but do not leave the museum.” Ororo Munroe told Kitty and Teresa as they stood in the Roosevelt Rotunda lobby underneath the giant Barosaurus skeleton. “You may not run off to the Marvel offices to have that writer Claremont or whatever his name is sign your Star Wars comics or anything like that, understand?”

“Yes, Ms. Munroe.” They said, nodding to their chaperone, who smiled and walked out with the other girls.

They immediately turned to each other and broke into huge grins. Two hours in the Museum of Natural History, all by themselves? Awesome! They sat down on the wooden bench that encircled the Barosaurus display to look at a guidebook Kitty had bought on her last visit. Kitty had visited once or twice before when she had come into the city with her teammates, but one can visit a museum dozens of times and still not see everything.

“So, what do you want to see first? The blue whale is really something.” Kitty asked “It’s life-size.”

“Life-size? But aren’t they a hundred feet long?” Teresa asked.

“Yup. And so is the model.”

“Now that I’ve got to see!”

They hurried to the Hall of Ocean Life as fast as was polite. The blue whale model hung from the ceiling, filling the two-level exhibit hall. The model was so lifelike, with wrinkles around its eyes and barnacle markings on its back, that for a moment Teresa felt as if she was actually floating in the depths of the ocean, looking this ancient and marvelous creature in the eye.


The other dioramas in the room were stunning as well, including a large one of a coral reef in the Caribbean. The diorama stretched across both floors, with the top floor showing the surface, and the bottom, the reef itself, with colorful coral and tropical fish. Just a few steps away from the coral reef was a polar bear on an ice sheet, hunting seals. It was a bit disorienting to step away from one environment to look at the next after having stared at it for a long time. If you stared at one long enough, you almost felt as if you were there.

When they had finally seen everything in the Hall of Ocean Life, the next stop was the Hall of Meteorites. It was very dark inside, with the space rocks themselves spotlighted.

“Lucky us! There’s nobody else in here.” Teresa whispered. Whispering feels natural in dim light. Indeed, except for the two young mutants, the exhibit hall did seem to be empty. They moved in to check out a 34 ton chunk of iron from Greenland near the room’s center.

“The sign says those supports under it go right down to the museum’s foundation. Must have been a hassle getting it in the front door.” Kitty said.

“Peter could probably lift it.” Teresa offered.

“He could!” They giggled.


It was a loud noise, something metallic hitting the tiled floor of the next room. Teresa and Kitty stopped in their tracks.

“Jeez, Joey, you want half the museum to hear you?” A male voice said, from around the corner.

“Sorry, Matt.” Another voice said.

“Now don’t do that again or the guards will hear.”

“Did he just say what I think he said? Because that’s the Hall of Gems and…” Teresa whispered.

They crept to the corner and looked into the next room. Like the Hall of Meteorites, it was almost empty, except for the two men dressed like janitors opening a display case containing a large sapphire. Their backs were to the entrance, and one was placing a small metal box carefully into the plastic trash can on the cart between them. That must have been what he had dropped before.

I’m peeking around a corner with my best friend spying on jewel thieves. Since when is my life a Nancy Drew book?

“They are robbing the museum!” Kitty whispered. “There’s only two. We can take them.”


Matt, the taller thief, felt something suddenly slam into his back at high speed, knocking him to the floor.

“What the-” Dazed, he looked around, just in time to see Teresa grab one of the mops attached to the janitor’s cart and hit him on the head with the handle. That was the last thing he saw before he blacked out.

Joey, the other one, turned to see Kitty reaching for the trash can where he had hidden the diamonds under a layer of garbage.

“Oh, no you don’t, you little…” He tried to tackle Kitty, but found himself falling to the ground as she became intangible.

“@#%^! A ghost!” He shouted.

“Not quite.” She said, taking the mop from Teresa and repeating the process. “Go find a guard before they wake up.”

That wasn’t very hard at all, because the noise of the brief fight had echoed in the hallways, drawing the attention of a guard who shortly walked through the door.

“What’s going on in here?” The guard asked, looking at the open case and the unconscious thieves dressed as janitors.

“Well…” The girls both said, recounting the story, sans any mention of their superpowers.

A few minutes later, Kitty checked her watch “So, we still have an hour to kill, what do you say we celebrate by seeing a movie in the IMAX Theater? I hear they have that new one they shot in space onboard the shuttle.”


December 17, 2005, 2:07 PM, Local Time

Those were the days.

“Do you really think we should go see it? I mean, Judy Resnik’s in it, remember?” Kitty asked.

“Look, she wouldn't want that to stop us from watching. Anybody who goes into space knows they might not come back, Kitty.” Teresa said, remembering her moment at the Space Mirror back in July

“You’re right.” Kitty said, nodding.

So they bought tickets and found a seat in the theater behind another group of campers, midway up the seating. The whole theater smelled like popcorn, but they didn’t mind. The lights dimmed and everyone in the theater was silent. The two friends cheered at the launches and laughed when the narrator, Walter Cronkite, said “Soon, we will begin to build a space station…”

And when the lights came up, they looked at each other and saw that both of them had misty eyes. But Teresa had kept her promise. She hadn't cried.

“Hey, um, want to check out the lunar gravity simulator?” Teresa asked, standing up.

“You bet!”

The more things change, the more they stay the same…

Up next: There's a Civil War raging, but whose side is Tessa on?

2009-Feb-09, 10:35 PM
Sometimes the people without powers are the ones you least want to mess with...

June 16, 2006, 2:30 PM, Local Time, NASA Headquarters, Washington DC

Much had changed in the past few months, Teresa mused, as she sat outside the door of the Administrator’s Office. First of all, the skeleton plan that the president had outlined back in 2004 had been steadily filling itself in, gaining timetables and a name: Project Constellation. Other names had appeared as well- the crew capsule would be called Orion, after the winter constellation, and the launch vehicles would be called Ares I and Ares V, after the Greek god of warfare, who the Romans had called Mars, officially because Mars was the program’s ultimate goal. Unofficially, employees half-joked, for the uphill battle that Constellation had faced getting support in Congress.

It was the Ares vehicles that were responsible for Teresa being where she was. The Rocketdyne company had sent her, along with a company big shot, to negotiate for the contract to build their engines. Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the second way things had changed…

The room was mostly quiet, though they could hear muffled talking from the office and Nena’s song “99 Red Balloons” playing from somewhere.

“So,” The representative said, trying to kill time “What do you think of that whole thing in Stanford?”

He was talking about the disaster that had happened a few months before in Stanford, Connecticut. A battle between the superhero team the New Warriors and a group of supervillians had taken place near a school, and an explosion had killed sixty children playing nearby. The incident had encouraged the government to pass the Superhuman Registration Act. All superheroes had to reveal their secret identities and sign up to become officially recognized law-enforcement agents. The defense agency SHIELD was dealing with those who chose not to comply.

Polite way to approach the subject, but I know darn well he’s only asking because I’m a mutant.

“Those poor kids. I feel bad for their families.” Teresa said, tersely.

“So, uh, did you register?”

She chuckled “What difference would it make if I did? My identity’s already public and I already work for the government. I don’t really have an opinion.”

This response clearly took the representative by surprise.

What people don’t get is that part of my life is over. I haven’t been a superhero since I graduated from Xavier’s in ’91. Just because I once knew all the big heroes, that doesn’t mean I still hang out with them. I hardly follow what’s going on with them, really. This- Orion, Constellation- is my life now.

“Come on, you must have an opinion. Whose side are you on? Who are you with?” He sounded a bit like a parent trying awkwardly to speak in youthful slang.

“I’m on Mike Griffin’s side. I’m with NASA.”

The representative opened his mouth to say something, but the sound of a secretary’s voice from inside the office caused him to pause:

“Maria Hill from SHIELD said she wants to talk to you. She’s going to call in five minutes. What should I tell her?”

“What should you tell her?” A man’s voice repeated, quietly, but with a hint of anger.

“Tell her that I’m fed up with her actions.” He spoke louder now, but still somewhat restrained. His tone could best be described as “passive-aggressive”.

“Is that Dr. Griffin speaking?” The representative whispered to Teresa.

“Yeah, I think so, but…”

“Tell her that my organization had enough budget troubles without all the money her precious registration act is siphoning away. While she’s running around locking up superheroes for no good reason, we’re hard at work trying to finish the station and put people on the moon. I am trying to run the equivalent of the Apollo Program on food stamps. Food stamps! This nation cannot adequately fund both Project Constellation and the Registration Act. Something must go. And as long as I’m in this office, it won’t be Constellation that goes, so help me!”

“Remember your blood pressure, sir.” The secretary cautioned. There was a mechanical beep, then, barely audible: “This is Director Hill now.”

“Tell her to wait. I’m busy seeing the Rocketdyne representatives.”

“Uh, Dr. Griffin’s in a meeting. Please hold.” The secretary said, gesturing for Teresa to enter.

“Did he just put the director of SHIELD on hold?” The representative whispered to Teresa.

“Sure looks that way.”

“That’s… impressive.”

Up next: Tessa and Kitty await news of an important decision in a short and silly installment.

2009-Feb-10, 01:31 AM
So Kai when are you going to submit your stuff to Quesada?

2009-Feb-10, 01:55 AM
He'd probably think it was too "niche"/ "nerdy".

2009-Feb-10, 03:58 AM
He'd probably think it was too "niche"/ "nerdy".

And Brand New Day isn't!?!?!?

2009-Feb-10, 11:53 PM
And Brand New Day isn't!?!?!?
As much as I dislike BND, most people who are regular comics readers will know who Mephisto is, but they probably won't know (or care) who Mike Griffin or Burt Rutan are.

2009-Feb-13, 12:29 AM
What could possibly get girls who've faced Magneto and the Juggernaut nervous? A little thing called Resolution 5A...

August 23, 2006, 10: 29 PM, Local Time, Huntsville, Alabama

Teresa sat on her bed, anxious. She twisted her hair around her finger and, when she could bear it no longer, called Kitty on the phone by the side of the bed. Her friend picked up by the fourth ring.

“So, they’ve already made the decision, right?”

“Yeah, it’s already done. They’re going to announce the decision tomorrow morning. We always knew it could happen. Especially since that whole mess with the Museum of Natural History back in 2000.”

“I know, they’ve been debating it for years, but I never thought anything would come of it, Tessa. After all, last time they voted not to. But this time, they’re really going to do it.”

“Yeah, it looks like they’re really serious about it this time. But we’ll know by tomorrow. It’s going to be so hard getting to sleep tonight.”

“It’s really only a semantic difference, nothing will really change. It doesn’t really matter at all. I keep telling myself that, but I feel as if I’m waiting for some horrible storm to break. It’s for the better, though. He’ll be in a better place now, with his own kind. He never did fit in, not even in our day.”

“These are his last hours as he is now, then. Well, then, we should embrace change, shouldn’t we? It is for the better. Bye, Tessa.”

“Bye, Kitty.” She hung up and fell back on her bed, trying to sleep. Somehow, after a lot of tossing and turning, it came. Before Teresa knew, it was morning, and the phone was ringing.

Remembering last night, she picked it up hesitantly.

“That you, Kitty?”

“Yup. Turn on the TV.”

She did, and saw the newscaster announcing the decision that had been made the previous day.

“So that’s it, then. They changed him yesterday, Tessa. They’ve finally gone and done it.”

“Yes, they have. Yes, they have. They’ve gone and demoted Pluto to a dwarf planet. But we’re going to accept it, remember? Change is the essence of science.”

Up next: Teresa goes back to Mojave- but not under the best of circumstances...

2009-Feb-17, 02:28 PM
July 27, 2007, 6:34 AM, Local Time

The summer morning was clear and sunny as Teresa sat in the diner, looking out the window. It would be absolutely scorching by mid-day, that was certain, but for now the heat was manageable.

And thank goodness I’ll be in my nice, air-conditioned office by then. You’d think I’d be used to the humidity after working here for three years, but I’m not. She thought, alternating bites of raspberry muffin with sips of tea.

Behind the counter, the waitress turned the dial on the scratchy radio, trying to find the news station. There was an item about a flood in the UK and another about a gene therapy study the Food and Drug Administration was conducting. Teresa half-listened, finishing her muffin.

“In other news, three people were killed and three more injured in an explosion at an airport in the California desert yesterday.”


Now calm down, Tessa, they didn’t say Mojave…

“According to Tony Diffenbaugh of the Kern County Fire Department, two of the victims died immediately in the blast, while the third succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.

‘Our units arrived on the scene at a remote test site in the northeast portion of the airport. What they found was six victims of an apparent explosion with various traumatic and burn injuries,’ Diffenbaugh said.”

Mojave is Kern Country! Remote test site… Please don’t be Scaled, please don’t be Scaled, please don’t be Scaled, please don’t be-

“The blast occurred on Thursday at 2:34 p.m. PDT (UTC-7) while Scaled Composites was conducting cold flow test of a rocket engine. Scaled Composites is in a partnership with Richard Branson's company Virgin Galactic to build SpaceShipTwo, which hopes to become the first commercially available passenger space tourism…”

“No!” She shouted, choking on the word. The other patrons turned to look at her. Most people in town worked in the aerospace industry, to be sure, but that reaction still seemed a bit intense…

There was a loud whoosh, and the waitress at the counter turned to see a blurred figure speeding out the door. A few dollar bills were lying on the table where Teresa had been sitting.

July 29, 2007, 12:00 Noon local time, Mojave, California

It was high noon in the western town, but showdowns were the last thing on Teresa’s mind as she walked through the airport gates for the first time in years, headed for the hangar.

What are they going to say when they see me? Hopefully, anything but “Look, there’s the girl who sold out and went to work for the Feds.”

The door was open, and she slipped inside. Nobody seemed to be around.

“I should have been here on Thursday. I could have saved them, I could have done something.” Teresa said, somewhat loudly. It echoed against the metal walls, hopefully to where the three dead workers could hear it.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself.” A familiar voice said from behind her. Teresa turned around to look at her mentor. He didn’t look as if he’d gotten much sleep in the days since the accident.

“I shouldn’t have left, Burt. Maybe I could have run in and pushed one of the guys out of the way of the shrapnel, I don’t know. And now, I’ll never know.”

“Yes, but- if we’re playing ‘what if’- you might have been killed as well. None of us knew about the faulty valve. You were doing your job down in Alabama; don’t beat yourself up over not having been here.” Rutan told her. “And before you say anything else, yes, we have checked all the other equipment for similar flaws.”

“Will this affect SpaceShipTwo?”

“At this point, I’m not sure, frankly.” He sighed. “So, what’s new at NASA? I’ve been following that moon program of yours. You’re using separate launch vehicles for the crew and the lander, I read.” He changed the subject.

“Yeah, see, the crew go up in a capsule on the Ares I, their stuff goes up on the Ares V, and they rendezvous in Earth orbit.”

“The ultimate in packing. Very innovative… I can guess who thought it up!”

“Well, partially. Some other people were suggesting the same thing. How about you guys?”

“Fossett’s going to try and set a land speed record some time in the fall. Maybe you could show up and make it a race.” Steve Fossett was an adventurer friend of the company, an entrepreneur who spent his free time trying to break world records, and Scaled had built an aircraft he’d used to circumnavigate the world a few years earlier.

“Somehow, I doubt the Guinness folks would appreciate that.” Teresa said, laughing.

“Well, come anyway! I’m sure Steve wouldn’t mind the moral support.”

“I hear SpaceShipOne’s on display at the Smithsonian now. How’s that feel?”

“Seeing it right next to the Spirit of St. Lewis is certainly something. And it’s pretty close to the Voyager- your old favorite.”

“Yeah, the Voyager…”

I know what I have to do to Fossett, but I don't WANT to do it...

2009-Feb-22, 01:44 AM
November 5, 1986, 3: 39 PM, Xavier Institute for Higher Learning

Teresa lay on her bed in the room she shared with Kitty, reading her Popular Science magazine. It was mail day, and she had rushed to the front door as soon as the mailman had rung the doorbell. She was still wearing her black armband, and it could be seen on her upper-left arm as she turned the pages of the magazine.

There was a short piece near the front of the magazine about Robert Goddard. Goddard was an American scientist who had been born in Massachusetts in 1882.As a child, he had been fascinated by both science fiction stories and the fireworks his family set off on the Fourth of July. When he was a teenager, a local newspaper had serialized War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells’ classic novel about hostile Martians invading Earth. Not long after, he was told by his parents to climb an old cherry tree and prune off dead branches. He had climbed the tree, but started daydreaming instead, thinking about how wonderful it would be to build his own vehicle capable of flying to Mars.

Goddard went on to create the groundwork for modern rocket flight, and for the rest of his life, he honored that day, October 19th, as his “Anniversary Day”, the day when he discovered what he wanted to do in life.

Having read that section, Teresa turned to the first of the main articles. A large picture of a white airplane, essentially a single thin wing interrupted by a cockpit and twin tail booms, greeted her eye.

What a strange-looking plane.

“The Voyager is a unique aircraft purpose-built to complete only one task: to fly around the world nonstop without refueling. Largely built of fiberglass, reinforced carbon and Kevlar, Voyager was built and tested over the course of five years in Mojave, California by volunteers working for a company called-appropriately enough- Voyager Aircraft. Sometime next month, Voyager will take off from Edwards Air Force Base in California for its attempt at circumnavigating the world. The pilots will be Jeana Yeager (No relation to Chuck) and Richard Rutan, whose brother, Burt, was Voyager’s principal designer.”

Around the world in a plane that’s not even made of metal? That’s so crazy that- that-

That I can’t miss it. I’m totally going to follow this. That Burt Rutan guy sure thinks differently.

Maybe he even understands people like us.

The magazine printed the address of these Voyager Aircraft guys so you can send fan mail, hmmm…

She found a pencil and some paper and started writing:

“Dear Mr. Rutan, I am a high school student who is very interested in aviation. I read the article about your Voyager airplane in the November issue of Popular Science and am writing to request further information about the plane itself and its upcoming flight…”

She’d gotten a response, which had led to other letters, including one, shortly before graduation, asking for a job, but that was all in the future at this point. Now it was only the beginning, just like Goddard’s daydream…

2009-Mar-02, 08:41 PM
September 4, 2007, 4:12 PM Local time, Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama

The small metal model of the Ares I stood on its steel pedestal, facing into the cold wind. Dye swirled through the air, flowing over the surface of the object in a strangely beautiful manner.

Outside, Teresa and her co-workers peered through a window, watching what was going on inside of the wind tunnel with great pride. Their design was holding up well in the simulation.

“Maximum strength and it’s doing fine. Tell Francine to turn it down. We’ve got all the data we need for today.” One of the senior workers ordered. Teresa volunteered and hurried towards the control room, reminding herself to keep at a normal human’s jogging speed. The janitor had gotten so angry last time, and all over just a few little scorch marks on the tiles…

She was halfway down the hall when another worker saw her go past and stuck his head out of a door to yell:

“Hey, Tessa! You’ve got a phone call! From Nevada!”

She stooped in her tracks. Nevada? I don’t know anyone in Nevada.

“Are you sure it’s for me?” She asked.

“Yeah, and the guy on the other end sounds pretty shaken up.”

That doesn’t sound good…

She took the phone. “Hello. Who is this?”

“Tessa? Thank god, this is Mike, from Scaled.”

“Why are you in Nevada? Does this have to do with that land speed record attempt Steve Fossett’s doing?”

“Yes. Fossett’s car is here, and they were going to start tests around here soon.”

“Were? What do you mean, were?” She asked, feeling a wave of cold worry wash over her. Sometimes there’s nothing more frightening than the past tense.

“Fossett took off from this ranch in one of his planes for a joyride yesterday morning, just to unwind. He didn’t come back. The people at the ranch were searching all night. They called Burt at about two this morning.”

Why? First that explosion and now this! Does fate have it out for Scaled or something?

“We need your help. You have experience in rescuing people, after all. Branson says he isn’t worried, but you know, if he’s in trouble...”

“Yeah, he can take care of himself, but… just in case… I’ll do everything I can. ‘Bye.”

Teresa turned to her co-worker. “Tell the boss I won’t be in tomorrow. I’m putting my vacation days to good use.”

September 10, 2007, 7:47 PM Local time, somewhere in the Nevada desert

The sun was slipping below the rugged mountains, the orange-red glow making a landscape that could already pass for Mars even more alien in appearance. Soon the area would be left in cold darkness.

Teresa didn’t look at the sunset as she blazed up the steep slope, sending small rocks and sandy soil flying behind her, catching the fading light. For anyone else, it would have been a hard hike, taking hours. But she stood at the summit within minutes, opening her backpack and pulling out much needed water and high-energy rations.

That’s it, tear the wrapper… oh, it tastes so good. I have to get some carbs back into me; I’ve been going supersonic for hours, ‘same as yesterday. And the day before…

She had been in Nevada for almost a week now, searching for any trace of the downed plane, but without success. Searchers kept pouring in, and satellite imagery of the area was being posted online with the hopes that somebody would spot Fossett, yet morale was starting to decline.

I haven’t run this hard since my days at Xaviers. I must have set a few personal distance records today, probably endurance records, too.

Teresa lifted her binoculars and scanned the area for wreckage. Sand and rock seemed to stretch on forever in all directions. They had found several other planes in their search, some that had crashed decades ago, but none related to the disappearance.

Nothing. Once again, nothing. I’m trying my hardest, but we can’t find any trace of Fossett! I’m superhuman, but I’m just one person, I can’t do all of this on my own-

She felt her eyes becoming slightly misty.

-then I’ll get help. If I do a big cry now, I’ll dehydrate myself.

She pulled out her satellite phone and dialed the number for the Xavier Institute. It rang a few times before she heard Hank McCoy’s familiar voice answer. After answering her teacher’s many questions about how she was doing, Teresa requested to speak to Scott Summers, alias Cyclops, the field leader of the X-Men.

“Hello, Scott?”

“Glad to hear from you, X-1. How have things been since you left? I hear you're working for NASA now.” He said “left” as a person might say “robbed” or “cheated”.

Codenames. He always uses codenames.

“Just Tessa, please. I’m in Nevada right now, with the group that’s looking for Steve Fossett- I’m sure you’ve heard about it on the news. But we’re stretched to our limits and we really need help. The terrain’s much rougher than we thought it would be.”

“I’m sure it’s very rough, X-1, but the team’s too busy to come look for a missing pilot right now. I apologize, but-”

Again with the codenames.

“You don’t have to send the whole team, just a few people would really help. Peter, he can hike for a long time without stopping, Ororo, she’s experienced in the desert, or maybe Logan, nobody’s a better tracker than he is. Any of them, please.”

“We really can’t spare anyone. Good bye.” A click.

“Well- well, things must have really changed since I was an X-Man, then. Because I thought being in the X-Men was about helping people, no matter what!” Teresa shouted. There was only silence. Scott had hung up.

Fingers shaking, Teresa dialed the number for Avengers Headquarters.

“Hello, Avengers Tower? I need to speak to Iron Man.”

“And who, may I ask, is calling?” It was a woman’s voice, and she sounded quite stressed.

“Doctor Teresa von Braun. I’m with NASA and I really need to talk to him. It’s very serious.”

That’s not a lie. I do work for NASA and this is something serious. The two just happen to be completely unconnected.

“Right, then, I’ll get him. Mister Stark, sir!”

There was some muffled talking away from the receiver before Stark finally picked up.

“Hello. What seems to be the problem?”

“I’m sure you’ve heard of Steve Fossett’s disappearance, Mr. Stark. The searchers are having a lot of trouble with the rough terrain and we really could use some help.”

“Look, Miss, with reinforcing the Registration Act and all, I’m afraid the Avengers are busy. So is SHIELD.”

No! I will not let it end like this! I won’t take no for an answer!

“You do some of that World Record stuff yourself, don’t you? In fact, I think I remember you were one of the biggest competitors for that solo-no-refueling circumnavigation a few years back, weren’t you?”

“Yeah, I was, until this Civil War business. But what does that have to do with anything?”

You know bloody well what it has to do with this.

“If you’d gotten lost on one of your world-record attempts without your armor, you’d want the Avengers to come look for you, right?”

“What I would want in a hypothetical scenario is not the same as what the Avengers are able do in reality, Doctor. Good bye.” Another click.

They’re all so busy fighting other superheroes that they can’t even help a person in distress. Isn’t that what superheroes are supposed to do?

She picked up the binoculars again and resumed searching.

2009-Mar-08, 12:44 AM
October 15, 2007, 3:27 PM

In the airport, Teresa watched the TV screen in the lounge as she waited for her flight back home. They were replaying the interview that Richard Branson had given earlier that day.

“Do you think there’s still a chance your friend will be found alive? You wrote that ‘retrospective’ piece for Time.” The interviewer, Karen Tockman, had asked.

“I’ve pretty well given up hope. I think the chances are that he’s no longer with us. The authorities out in the southwest that I’ve talked to feel the same.”

And it was that simple.

Once again, for all my supposed power, I was helpless. For once, I was in the right place at the right time, and I still couldn’t make a difference!

I couldn’t save Doug Ramsey. I couldn’t save Judy Resnik. I couldn’t save the crew of Columbia. I couldn’t save those guys in Mojave.

And now, it looks like I couldn’t even save Steve Fossett.

Somebody gave this situation a name, didn’t they? Samaritan Syndrome, like that guy in the comic Astro City? Easy for The Samaritan to say, at least he saved Challenger!

Teresa made her right hand into a fist, and started to move it downward, to punch her other hand out of frustration. But she stopped in mid-punch.

Wait, am I getting steamed about my life not being like a comic book? Anything can happen in fiction.

This is reality. No re-dos, no reset button to press. Just people doing the best they can.

I can play “ what if” all I like, and even if such a world actually exists, like in Alternate Reality books, I’ll never see it.

I have to live in this world, just like everybody else. I can think about the past, but from now on, I’m not going to gripe about it. My job is to make the future, and that’s what I’m going to do.

“Oceanic Airlines Flight 714 to Memphis, now boarding.”

Teresa stood up, shouldered her backpack, and walked to the gate.

One year later, Steve Fossett’s remains would be discovered miles from where anyone had been searching.

Investigators determined that he had been killed instantly by the crash. There was no chance of rescue.

If you caught the Tintin reference there, give yourself a pat on the back.

2009-Mar-17, 10:57 PM
January 23, 2008, 10:50AM, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville

It was incredible, inspiring and a public relations dream. Seven months after the accident in Mojave and five months after Steve Fossett’s disappearance, Virgin Galactic was going to reveal the final plans for SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo in a big, televised event in New York City.

Teresa and some of her coworkers were gathered around her work computer, trying to watch NBC’s live feed, but so many people were viewing the page that the video was stopping and starting annoyingly.

“I don’t know how you find the time to check up on what all these private companies are doing. I mean, I know you worked for them, Tessa, but that was four years ago...” Joel, one of the older members of the team, said.

“There’s nothing wrong with keeping up with old friends. Why do you think people attend High School Reunions?” Francine defended.

“I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with commitment to old friends, but when those old friends happen to be our competitors…”

“Competitors? Jeez, Joel, I think there’s enough room for everybody in space. I mean, those Virgin guys aren’t even going into orbit- right, Tessa?”

“Just a pop shot. Straight up, five minutes of weightlessness, then straight down.” She nodded. “Just like Alan Sheppard.”

I really have come full circle. To them, Scaled is Other. And with Joel, it’s not even necessarily in the “unconnected” sense… More like Us and Them.

“Hey, look, they’re ready!” She pointed to the screen, where Rutan and Richard Branson were standing before a wavy metallic curtain.

“Three!” Branson shouted, swinging his fist. They got ready to pull the curtain back.


“One!” He looked over at his friend for a half a second, and then pulled…

A large model of a two-cabined aircraft with the familiar one large wing was hanging from the ceiling, sporting blue and black detailing, especially on its twin tails. Carried underneath the plane in the same configuration Teresa remembered was a shiny, silver craft looking like SpaceShipOne scaled up with a pointier nose.

“It looks so… Buck Rodgers. You can’t tell me that system doesn’t look cool, Joel.” Francine declared, as the two shook hands in the light of flashbulbs.

“Eh, it’s okay. But will it be safe? That’s what I want to know. Griffin might trust those private guys, but I’m not so sure. Just look at what happened at their factory.” He said, full of contempt.

You’re cheesing me off. You won’t like me when I’m cheesed off.

“It was the valve they were testing with that exploded; there wasn’t anything wrong with the spacecraft itself.” Teresa said, clearing her throat. On the screen, reporters were holding out microphones.

How ironic. Everybody criticizes us, if they care to think about us at all, and then he turns around and hates on Virgin Galactic. It’s not government vs. privates. Why can’t I support both? Like Francine said, there’s room for everybody in space.

“We’re tremendously excited about the prospects for this system. We’re excited about everything it will be able to do.” Branson said. “Our first WhiteKnightTwo vehicle will be named The Spirit of Steve Fossett, after my dear friend, who, as you all know…”

Teresa felt something in her throat.

Everything, everything they went through in this year, this, this… horrible, terrible year... I can’t think of any happier ending than this. Burt’s going to get his dream.

“That’s so sweet. He didn’t live to see it, but, symbolically, it’s… wonderful.” Francine whispered.

Somebody pointed another microphone at Rutan “We’re going to start construction of WhiteKnightTwo as soon as possible, with test flights as soon as the end of the year. And by next year, we hope to have SpaceShipTwo flying. This will be the year of the spaceship. We’ll be able to carry six passengers and two pilots.”

The crowd in New York clapped. Teresa and Francine joined in. They shot Joel “don’t-be-a-killjoy” looks. Reluctantly, he began clapping along.

“And as for safety-” Joel perked up at hearing that. “-I guarantee that SpaceShipTwo will be at least as safe as the airliners of the late ‘20s.”

“The ‘20s? Why not today?” he asked, drowning out what the reporter was saying.

Evidently, though, they had asked something to the same effect, because Rutan responded:

“That’s not a level of safety we’re comfortable with. Don’t believe anybody who tells you that the entry level of new spaceships will be as safe as the modern airliner…”


“… we’re aiming to be hundreds of times safer, and we won’t settle for less.”

Joel turned slightly red. “Uh, well… he sure seems certain he can protect those astronauts, then. They will be official astronauts, won’t they? I mean, flying over 62 miles and all…”

“Yes. They’ll be astronauts just as surely as anybody who ever flies on anything we’ll ever build. I mean, once you get into space, it doesn’t matter who sent you or where you’re from. You’re just a traveler from Earth.” Teresa said. “We’re all from Earth, we’re all flying into space, we’re all in this together.”

All who fly up there, fly together. We are one.

2009-Mar-23, 12:06 AM
This one's got it all- a celebration, a battle with a supervillain, and Teresa's somewhat unique Apollo memories:

January 31, 2008, 1:03 PM, US Space and Rocket Center

Fifty years ago today, Explorer 1, the first United States satellite, had been launched into orbit, four months after Russia’s Sputnik. Explorer 1 had later discovered the Van Allen Radiation Belts surrounding the Earth. The Space and Rocket Center had chosen this most auspicious anniversary to hold the opening party for their new exhibit hall, the Davidson Center.

They finally restored that old Saturn V moon rocket that’s been lying outside, deteriorating for years, and now it’s in the new hall! “The Mighty Saturn”, they call it. Teresa thought, as she showed her pass to the guard at the door.

The other reason the event was a big deal was that it was the kick-off to the year-long celebrations of NASA’s 50th Anniversary. Somebody had even designed a spiffy logo combining a galaxy and an eclipse that Teresa and all the Marshall employees were wearing on black, long sleeved shirts. She walked through the door and came face to face with the massive engines.

The rocket was hanging from the ceiling, supported by what must have been very strong steel cables, in separate stages. She could hardly see the people at its other end, more than 300 feet away. Even being so familiar with rockets, even having seen this very one when it was displayed outside; there was still something in Teresa that made her go…

“Wow.” “Mighty” seemed an appropriate description indeed.

An older man noticed her expression. “Do you remember any of the landings? Or were you too young?” he asked.

“Well, I sort of remember the last one, Apollo 17, but just bits and pieces. I wasn’t even two at the time.” Teresa said. Normally, she wouldn’t have been able to remember it at all, but Jean Grey, a telepathic instructor at Xavier’s, had done some mental probing…

Her parents had held her up, to see the two men in white suits bouncing around on the gray surface. They were in the Taurus-Littrow highlands and smooth gray hills rose behind the crew as they gathered rock samples. Their names were Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan, and Schmitt was the first trained geologist on the moon, but she would learn all of this much later. At that moment, there were just the white-suited figures moving in that magical, dreamlike way.

She had made appreciative baby sounds.

There was a beep as Schmitt communicated with Mission Control on his headset: “’Never seen anything like this one. ‘Very strange color. I’m picking it up now-”

Teresa’s mother adjusted her grip on her daughter’s body. “I think she likes it, Peter.”

“Oooh, it’s so in-ter-est-ing!” Her father cooed, nodding…

“You’re lucky to remember it, then.” The man said, jarring Teresa out of the memory.

“I guess so.” But it wasn’t really luck. Except maybe being lucky enough to meet Jean. She walked underneath the Saturn V to check out the exhibits on the other side. There was a display about her grandfather and his work with a nice engraved-glass portrait by the door.

It’s not the genes that make me a mutant that most people here care about. It’s the ones that make me Wernher von Braun’s granddaughter that they make a fuss over. Sort of like space nerd royalty or something, I guess. But sometimes I wonder if they think my ancestry is really more important than my mutation- or if it’s just what makes them ignore it?

Teresa shook off those thoughts. She was here to celebrate, after all! She looked her grandfather’s portrait in the eye.

“We’re going back. We’re building the rockets right now. You’d be proud.” She whispered.

She had barely gotten the words out when she heard the sounds of breaking glass and screams. Teresa turned her head towards the noise, near the podium at the other end of the rocket…

A figure in dark blue armor was standing there, having just crashed through the class wall. The eyeslits on the mask that covered the intruder’s face were glowing a sickly green.

“Hey, what’s up with this?”

“This wasn’t in the event description.”

“Who is that guy?”

Single voices, easily picked out, because most people were silently staring just as Teresa was. The long moment hung in the air, full of tension, like the pause before a judge declares a victim’s guilt or innocence… and then it all happened at once.

The intruder thrust their arms towards the podium, creating what seemed like a sudden gale, blasting the podium against the wall, where it splintered into toothpicks. They followed with another wind gust, knocking over the tables and chairs under the Saturn V that had been set up for the guests.

Guests and employees screamed, rushing for the doors. Only Teresa and a few guards ran in the opposite direction, towards the mysterious armored vandal. He let loose yet another blast, knocking a chair into a plastic model of the moon rocket, which went falling towards the floor.

Accelerating, Teresa reached the rocket model as it fell and lifted up her hands to catch onto it, straining from the weight as she lowered it more slowly to the ground.

At least I don’t have to lift the real one, knock on wood. Now I wish I’d brought my suit.

“Stop! This is government property!” One of the guards shouted, as a group charged the culprit.

“I won’t stop until they’ve paid! Not until they’ve all paid!” The villain shouted, in a computerized voice, propelling a table at the guards and knocking them halfway across the large room. “Fear the power of the Dark Dreamer!”

Dark Dreamer? Lame. But then, psychos aren’t known for their creativity.

As the Dark Dreamer continued his rampage, Teresa sped across the ever-changing landscape towards him, jumping over overturned tables and sometimes on debris in mid-slide.

If he wrecks any of our displays about the Ares I, I’m gonna be so ticked…

When she got close enough, Teresa let loose, punching the villain in the back three times before he could respond.

Ouch! No matter how many times I do it, hitting metal never hurts any less. I should count my blessings- punching metal at that speed would have broken an ordinary person’s bones.

She paused briefly to examine the dents she had made.

Not briefly enough. The Dark Dreamer unleashed a wind blast, knocking her back.

Blast it! ‘Shouldn’t have paused! I’m really an idiot sometimes!

The Dark Dreamer threw a small object to the ground. Before anyone could react, a horrible-smelling smoke filled the air.

Hurrying to her feet, Teresa squinted, trying to see through the gas, but it was hopeless. By the time it had cleared, the only sign of the villain was several black cards scattered across the floor.

And now the wacko’s gotten away. Bloody-

The cards were about the same size as Pokemon cards, but when Teresa turned one over she was greeted not by a cute Japanese monster but the words “Happy Anniversary” written in blood-red letters. The background looked like a painting of an exploding planet.

People were running over now, calling her brave, looking at the cards. One of the Marshall officials stared at the image on the card for a very long time.

“The police need all of these for evidence.” A security guard reminded him.

“Oh, here you go. It just… well, it just looked sort of familiar.” The official responded. “Probably nothing.”

2009-Mar-28, 10:59 PM
February 15, 2008, 12:24 PM, Marshall Space Flight Center

Teresa held one of the “Happy Anniversary” cards down to the surface of her desk, examining it with a magnifying glass. If she could just find some trace of an artist’s signature, it might help them find more information about the Dark Dreamer. The salad she had gotten for lunch lay next to her, untouched.

She went slowly. Two weeks of badgering had finally gotten the police to let her examine one of the cards, and she wasn’t going to blow it. But so far, she hadn’t found anything new. There were some smudgy letters along the side, but they didn’t seem to spell out a name. She couldn’t really make out what the writing said, although it looked sort of like AISP or AIPB.

“Give it up, Tessa, you’re not going to find anything the police couldn’t. You’ve been going on and on about this for two weeks now.” Francine said, hovering over her desk.

Teresa looked up to meet her gaze. “Maybe you’re right. So what should we talk about?”

“Um…” Francine suddenly realized she hadn’t thought that far ahead. “Well… uh… are you following any of that election stuff? Any ideas on who you might vote for?”

“Not really. None of the candidates have said what they think of Constellation yet. There’s still a long, long way until election day.” Teresa responded. She wasn’t really into politics.

“Hey, Tessa, the Director wants to see you in his office.” Another worker said, sticking their head through the door.

“What? Oh, sure thing!” She pushed in her swivel chair and hurried out the door, keeping at a janitor-friendly speed.

I know I should be focusing on my work, but it really does bother me that I’m a rocket scientist and I still don’t have a clue as to who that guy was. She mused.

She entered the director’s office somewhat cautiously. This was only about the fifth time she’d actually been inside it since starting her job at Marshall. Framed photographs, both color and black and white, and mostly from the Apollo-era, decorated the walls. Her grandfather’s face stared back confidently from some of them.

“Take a seat. I don’t remember the last time I received this much e-mail. The reporters don’t care we’re going back to the moon, but when a supervillian attacks us, they jump all over it. And that construction company, Damage Control? You would not believe now much they charge…” The director sighed.

“Is that why you called me in here? I mean, does it have to do with…” Teresa trailed off.

“…With what happened in the Davidson Center?” He finished. “It does. The police found out that our mysterious friend was wearing a prototype powered armor called the Windburn suit, recently developed for SHIELD for use by their Superhuman Restraint Units. It vanished during transit about three weeks before the incident here. Unfortunately, the details of the suit are classified and intergovernmental sharing of information is not what it should be, so we don’t expect to find out if it has any weaknesses any time soon.”

SHIELD tech? I was beating myself up over not catching him before, but if that suit was really designed to take on superhuman criminals, maybe I should be thankful that I escaped with my life!

“Had they run into him before? Did he commit any other crimes before this?”

“No. Nobody had heard of him before the attack. Between that and the cards, it seems like-”

“-Like he’s targeting NASA specifically!” Teresa gasped.

“Exactly. And Administrator Griffin is worried that he might show up at the next big anniversary event, in Houston on April 12th. The anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight.”

Yuri Gagarin, as Teresa knew very well, was the Russian cosmonaut who had become the first person to travel into outer space in 1961. April 12, or Yuri’s Night, was a popular time for parties among the more hip nerdish portion of society.

“And because of that, considering your, um… abilities, Dr. Griffin has informed me that he would like you to attend in a sort of- what words did he use…‘official troubleshooter capacity’, yes, that’s it…”

“Are you saying… are you saying Griffin wants me to superhero for the Program?” Teresa stuttered, stunned. “I mean, I work for this agency and I’m prepared to help and defend it in any way I can, but I’m really just an engineer, sir. I’m not a superhero.”

It’s not that I don’t want to- I just don’t want this to become a permanent thing. In isolated circumstances like this, or with that hurricane, sure, but my real job is here, designing Constellation.

I do not want to go around saving crashing planes and spaceships when I could build planes and spaceships so that they won’t crash in the first place.

“It’s not like that at all. This is only until the Dark Dreamer is caught. Your job description is going to stay ‘engineer’ unless you want it otherwise.”

“You’re sure about that?”

“Yes. I know how important this is to you. So, what do you say?” The director reached out his hand for Teresa to shake.

“Right then. You’ve got yourself an official troubleshooter.” She shook his hand.

2009-Apr-02, 11:38 PM
It's panic in the park as Teresa fights to save Yuri's Night!

April 12, 2008, 7:52 AM, Challenger Memorial Park, Houston, Texas

A white-armored stormtrooper addressed a red-shirted ensign.

“So, I give you ten to one somebody’s going to get superpowers from that Large Hadron Collider thing they’re building in Geneva…”

They both broke into peals of laughter.

Several other people dressed in costumes stood around for pictures with the crowds who had showed up for the 5K run that would kick off Houston’s celebration of Yuri’s Night.

I wonder if that guy’s in the 501st? It would be soooo cool if they had a whole troop at the Space Center party tonight. Teresa thought, remembering what she’d heard about the group of Star Wars fans known as the 501st Legion who dressed up like the villains of the film series for charity events.

She was wearing a costume of sorts- a white-and-orange microfiber speed suit, plus a white motorcycle helmet she’d bought the day before for disguise purposes and quickly decorated with some orange paint so it would match. All the better for the Dark Dreamer not to recognize her with.

A few little kids ran past her, towards a blow-up astronaut balloon. Their parents shouted after them to save their energy for the race. A nearby speaker delivered the sounds of a band elsewhere in the park starting up their next song, Donald Fagen’s IGY.

Everything seemed calm, but there was a slight tenseness that could be felt, hanging over the event. The people who worked at the Johnson Space Center knew about the brass’ fears, and they’d probably told their friends, who had told their friends…

Teresa kept walking, scanning for any sign of anything out of the ordinary. If the Dark Dreamer was also disguised, she might have no change of preempting his attack.

A crowd was gathered around a booth where people could sign up for a raffle to fly on a “Vomit Comet” jet. The jet would fly straight up and straight down in parabolic arcs, giving those inside a feeling of weightlessness for several minutes. Of course, there was a reason the plane was called the “Vomit Comet”… many passengers became airsick during the experience.

The next booth down had prints of photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope. She stepped inside to look at them. A salesperson was talking to a client about some posters:

“That’s the famous dust pillars of the Eagle Nebula, and here’s the Sombrero Galaxy. Oh, and this one is the Tiger Moth Nebula, M20.”

“Attention, runners, the 5 kilometer run will begin in five minutes.” A voice announced over the loudspeakers, interrupting the song. “The race will begin in five m-” a loud burst of radio static drowned out the last part of the announcement.

Instinctively, Teresa knew something was wrong. She whipped out her pocket map to find out where the stage was, just as a familiar, synthesized voice boomed through the loudspeakers.

“Hello, Houston. You’re the ones with the problem now. Happy Anniversary! Mbwahahaha!”

I’ve got to stop him before he hurts somebody- and if he keeps making puns like that, it’s inevitable!

She raced toward the stage, accelerating down the path that had been cleared for the race.

The loudspeaker controls were near the stage in a white tent. Teresa could see the Dark Dreamer holding the microphone with some organizers cowering in fear behind him. The cord between the microphone and the speakers snaked across the grass, giving her an idea…

“Revenge will be mi-” the villain bellowed into the microphone, the speakers failing to transmit the last syllable of “mine”. He tapped it with an armored finger. No change. The problem wasn’t the microphone itself.

Blasting through the tent in frustration, the Dark Dreamer found the unconnected cable near the edge of the stage, which the frightened musicians had recently vacated. From her hiding place behind one of the large speakers, Teresa watched him get into position-


Using all her strength, she rammed the heavy speaker, sending it off the stage in the direction of the Dark Dreamer. She took a deep breath, sighing from the effort.

‘Good to know I haven’t lost my tou-

At that moment, a full-force wind blast tore into the platform, splintering the boards and sending equipment everywhere. Teresa just managed to leap off in time and catch some flying nails that had been headed in the direction of the crowd.

“Thought you could win by being sneaky, did you? I shouldn’t have expected anything else from you backstabbers!” Despite the mask, Teresa could tell that he was glaring at her as he said these words, punctuated by another blast that sent more nails and sharp splinters in her direction.

“Look, buddy, I don’t know what you have against NASA, but you can’t go around attacking gatherings of innocent people like this!” She dodged, running away from the stage and booths.

‘Got to get him away from the visitors. And then I’ll… then I’ll… uh…I’ll think of something!

Behind her, the Dark Dreamer crashed through trees and bushes, blasting those that were especially annoying.

He must have some sort of strength enhancer in the suit, because it’s got to be heavy and he’s still moving like that- plus the fact that the heavy speaker hardly slowed him down. But he can’t fly, or he’d be flying after me right now, he wouldn’t waste time running.

Dodging flying debris left and right, Teresa briefly found some shelter behind a large sign displaying a map of the park.

So I’m here, and that path goes to the pond… perfect!

“Hey, bozo! Catch me if you can!” She shouted, darting out from behind the sign and racing in the direction of the pond.

Ah, wetlands.

She stopped near the water’s edge, waiting for the Dark Dreamer to approach.

They’re good for the environment-

He advanced towards her, until the swampy ground gave way under his heavily armored feet.

-And also for stopping armored supervillians!

The Dark Dreamer took another slogging step before realizing the deception.

“You think you’re so smart, do you?” He pulled out what looked like several of the gas grenades that he had used in the Davidson Center and activated them.

I’m not going to fall for that trick twice, buster…Teresa charged into the smoke, although she couldn’t see anything.

Out of the smoke, a wind blast hit her face-on. It felt as if she had run straight into a wall at her top speed. Everything went black.

“Pathetic. And you all call yourselves rocket scientists.” The Dark Dreamer’s synthesized voice came, from somewhere behind the smoke.

By the time Teresa came to, both the smoke and the villain were long gone. More of the cards from before were scattered around. Her helmet was cracked and she had a nasty bruise underneath.

He got away again. I was stupid, I never even considered that he might do something like that.

Look at me, I’m lying on the ground bruised all over and dressed like a Power Ranger. I did this stuff back when I was a teenager. There’s a certain kind of person who can do these things their whole life, a specific mindset.

And I realized a long time ago that I’m not that kind of person. So I left. Got a degree. Which begs the question- what am I doing here?

2009-Apr-08, 12:25 AM
June 12, 2008, 2:05 PM, Marshall Space Flight Center

“You see that concession speech Hillary Clinton made?” Francine asked, as she and Teresa walked to the director’s office. Teresa nodded slowly and walked faster, not wanting to get into a political discussion.

“Isn’t it so cool how she said she wanted to be an astronaut when she was a kid? Who’d have thought she was a nerd girl?”

“Yeah, it’s cool. What exactly did the director say he wanted to see me about, anyway?”

“He just said it was really important. I think it has to do with that whole… thing in Houston.” The Dark Dreamer’s attack in Challenger Park had been all over the news, and it was still something Teresa didn’t enjoy talking about.

Teresa pulled open the door and walked in. The director looked even grimmer than the last time she had come to see him.

“The bad press that whole debacle in Houston is giving our organization is unbelievable. Simply unbelievable. Editorials asking how we expect to keep astronauts safe in space when we can’t protect our own organized events on Earth.” He looked as if he had a bad taste in his mouth.

“Was that what you wanted to tell me, sir?”

“No, that wasn’t it. The one bright spot in all this is that SHIELD finally gave us the plans for this Windburn suit, and, as it turns out, it does have one very significant weakness. The prototype that our little friend stole hadn’t undergone weatherproofing yet, so it’s extremely sensitive to temperature. Get the suit cold enough, and it becomes useless. The joints freeze, the electronics shut down, everything.”

It’s that simple? All this time, it’s that simple? I got beat up twice by a guy I could have defeated by locking in a freezer? Razzle frazzle…

“So if I had some sort of weapon shooting liquid nitrogen or something, I could beat him?”

“Apparently. But that’s not all. We also have some idea of where he might strike next. Hey, I kind of like this superhero briefing stuff. I feel like that boss lady from James Bond.”

Teresa looked at him. “Superhero?”

“Sorry, troubleshooter. Anyway, since the Dark Dreamer’s goal seems to be ruining the agency’s anniversary celebrations, he’ll probably be at the biggest celebration of all, the Smithsonian Gala in September. If you were there with a cold-based weapon, do you feel that you’d have a chance?”

Teresa was unsure. She flashed back to lying bruised in Houston two months before.

But this time, I have an advantage. I have information about him and information is one of the most powerful weapons of all.

“I’ll be there.” She said. “In addition to all of that sleuthing, did you by any chance find out anything else about who he might actually be?” She added, hopeful.

“No. That painting on his cards looks somewhat familiar, but…”

“Do the letters AISP mean anything to you?” Teresa asked, remembering the smudged writing. “Something something space project? All the programs have official artists, right, people to do conceptions and stuff like that?”

“Yeah, back in the eighties, we even had that artist in space program thing…”

“That’s it! Artist In Space Program- AISP! What if the painting was made by one of the candidates in the program?”

“It’s certainly a possibility, but I what would that have to do with the Dark Dreamer?”

Whoops. Sometimes I forget that not everybody thinks as fast as I do…

“Okay, so suppose there’s a painter who submitted the painting. Our committee likes it and makes him a finalist for the spaceflight. Maybe he even does the astronaut training. But then all the civilian programs got canceled for safety reasons. So the guy doesn’t get to fly into space. He gets mad. He looses it.”

“I see where you’re going. He blames NASA and plots this whole thing… So help me, Tessa, I’m going to find out who this guy is by the time of the gala, mark my words.”

2009-Apr-13, 09:13 PM
A contemplative moment, as our heroine prepares for battle...

July 19, 2008, 3:20 PM, Huntsville

Teresa pulled the cardboard box down from the shelf in her bedroom, blowing off the dust. Her mementoes from her time with the New Mutants lay inside. Somehow, she felt the need to look at them again, now that she was preparing to face a supervillian.

She set the box down on her bed, opening it up. Atop the pile was a small object wrapped in old newspapers. She unwrapped it carefully, looking at the white body, the foam-board fins, the plastic nose cone. And, most of all, the multicolored signatures all over it.

A reminder of the day she had left the mansion…

April 3, 1991, 7:29 AM, Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, New York

The sunlight streamed in through the windows of the Headmaster’s office, turning everything golden. Teresa sat, facing Professor Xavier. Most of her teammates were “graduating” today, joining the main X-Men team or Cable’s X-Force. But not Teresa.

“I see you’ve packed your things. When does your train leave?” Xavier asked, looking her in the eyes.

“Not until four. I’m going to spend the night in New York before flying to California.” She responded. “Are you sure you’re fine with this, sir?”

“You were a devoted member of this team for eight years. If you want to move on now, that’s perfectly alright. I’m proud of you for having the courage to admit that.”

“I’m glad you understand. I really want to thank you for everything. For forming the team, for the training- I met so many people, I had so many experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise.” They weren’t all pleasant, but still… “Thank you.” She got up and headed for the door. There was one last bit of packing to arrange.

The dorm room felt empty with her various posters and photographs taken down. Kitty was inside, as she’d expected, holding the folder that contained The Autograph Project.

“So it’s settled, then? You’re leaving?” Kitty asked. “You’re sure?”

“I’m sure. When I was thirteen, it was fun, but I’m twenty now, and I’ve realized-”

“’-how you want to spend you life, and it isn’t doing super heroics’. You’ve said it before. So, no putting it off- take your autographs.” Kitty held the folder open. They’d always known something like this might come, that was why they’d always asked for two photos.

“Ana Fisher… Shannon Lucid… Sally Ride… Rhea Sheldon… Kathryn Sullivan… Mary Cleave… Ellen Baker… We succeeded, didn’t we, Kitty? Almost every name we wanted.”

The “almost” and what it represented hung painfully in the air.

“Yeah, we succeeded. Remember when we first met? I hardly even talked to you!”

“You called me an X-Baby! Until we started talking about computers.” Teresa reminisced. “And they I mentioned model rockets and you asked all those questions…”

Kitty’s eyes lit up. “Your kit’s still here, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I’ll have to leave it. They don’t let you take the engines on planes.”

“Could we do… one last launch? Is there time?”

“Absolutely!” Teresa dashed over to the kit and pulled out an engine about the size of a roll of pennies and a white plastic body with some foam-board fins already hot-glued on. “What sort of paint job should we give it?”

“Let’s have everybody sign it.”

10:30 AM

Kitty, Teresa, their classmates, and a few of the senior X-Men team, as well, were gathered by the mansion’s basketball court, behind a small wall. The plastic rocket sat six feet away, on a small launching stand. A cord ran between the stand and the wall, leading to a box that Teresa held with the firing button on it.

“And you’re sure this is perfectly safe?” Cyclops asked, remembering several early attempts that had broken windows, including his window. That incident had led to a ‘They’re going to blow us all up!’ rant while waving the remains of the rocket under Professor X’ nose.

“Yes, we’re sure.” Kitty and Teresa said, simultaneously. That was years ago. We’re better at this now. “Is everybody behind the wall?”

Everybody responded that they were.

“Well then, here we go. Leaving our past behind and rocketing to new adventures. Everybody count- ten…” Kitty started.

“…nine… eight…” The group joined in. Teresa looked around at the faces of her friends. Rahne… Sam… Dani… Illyana… Xi’an… Amara… Roberto. They felt like family now.

“…seven… six… five…”

I’ll keep in touch. I’ll have to.

“… four… three… two…”

She felt like a runner crouched for the starting gun, her finger lightly touching the firing button.

Who knows, perhaps they’ll come to Mojave someday. Maybe they’ll need our help to fix the Blackbird or something.

“…one… GO!”

Teresa pushed the button, sending an electrical charge down the wire to light the engine. For a few long moments, nothing happened.

WHOOSH! The rocket soared off the stand, leaving a trail of smoke as it climbed higher and higher. Soon, it was higher than the top of the Mansion.

So this isn’t really goodbye. It isn’t really an end. Just the beginning of all of our new journeys. Sort of like our launch, if you will.

At about 150 feet, an ejection charge blew with a pop, separating the rocket’s nose cone from its body. A small red-and-white parachute pushed its way out, blossoming out as everything floated gently down.

Teresa looked back at her friends.

And wherever we fly…

She looked back to the rocket and parachute.

…I hope that we all will land safely.

2009-Apr-16, 09:46 PM
Here it is, the final showdown against the Dark Dreamer! But who will be found victorious?

July 10, 1976, 11:00 AM, National Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C.

The new museum looked impossibly large to four-year-old Teresa as she walked up to the entrance with her parents. The official opening had been nine days before, but there was still quite a crowd outside.

“We’re going to see the airplanes, we’re going to see the airplanes!” she sung to herself, holding her mother’s hand as she picked up a map from the help desk. The lobby was dark after the bright sun outside on the National Mall.

The first gallery, however, was full of light, with the roof and far wall made entirely of glass. The shadows of the panes fell across her face as Teresa’s eyes darted around, drinking in every detail. The room was full of airplanes!

A bright, orange plane, small and shaped like a bullet, caught her eye.

“What’s that orange one, daddy?”

“That was the first plane to fly faster than the speed of sound, honey. Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1.”

September 24, 2008, 7:30 PM, Smithsonian Udvar- Hazy Center, Chantilly, Virginia

Multicolored spotlights shone down, sometimes blocked by the airplanes hanging from the ceiling, giving the museum a slight air of mystery and excitement. Formally-dressed guests crowded the halls, some talking to each other, some trying to make out the display signs.

At the center of the Space Wing, Teresa was admiring one of the museum’s prized artifacts- Test Shuttle Enterprise. Used only for landing tests in California, it had never flown in space, but it was still technically the first space shuttle, and, as such, very cool.

I remember seeing this fly on TV. They were going to call it Constitution at first, but then all the Star Trek fans wrote in. Enterprise is a much better name, anyway.

This new center had been built to hold objects too large for the building on the National Mall she had visited as a child, such as the Enterprise or the Concorde jet and SR-71 Blackbird in the Aviation Wing. (Now that plane brought back memories…)

She checked her watch. The speeches were supposed to start in a few minutes, and the rest of the guests were filing out of the Space Wing.

I’d better hurry. If our little friend decides to strike, he’ll do it where most of the people are. Plus, Neil Armstrong’s going to be giving one of the speeches. And, seeing as he’s such a private guy, that’s big. ‘Can’t blame him, though- if I was in his position, I’d probably want my privacy, too.

Teresa found a place to stand near the back of the seating area. Most of the people were already seated. Administrator Griffin would be first to speak. She surveyed the area, looking for any sign of trouble. In a second, she might have to spring into action, so she was wearing her speed suit underneath her pantsuit. In the distance, there was a faint whine as a jet took off from the nearby Washington-Dulles Airport.

The spotlights dimmed, except for the ones pointed at the stage. Griffin stepped out to a black podium bearing the anniversary logo. He was skinny, with graying brown hair, wearing reading glasses. There was a picture of a spacewalking astronaut on his blue tie.

If I hadn't heard that rant in Washington, I wouldn’t believe he could yell that loudly. He doesn’t look as if he could. He looks like a Math teacher.

“People like to talk about doing the jobs they’ve always dreamed of. Well, when I was a child, I aspired to be a part of this agency. Now, I am thrilled to be leading it, despite our trials and tribulations.”


“And today? Today, we are doing well. We are completing the space station. This is the greatest engineering project yet undertaken by the human race. We have three spacecraft functioning on Mars- the Spirit and Opportunity rovers and the new Phoenix polar lander. Dawn is going to the asteroid belt. New Horizons is going to Pluto. Messenger is going to Mercury.” He turned each statement into a bold bullet point, confident in defiance of the fear he knew the Dark Dreamer wanted him to feel.

“Yes, today we are doing very well.”

Suddenly, everything went black. The spotlights had been cut.

“Mbwahahaha!” The familiar evil laughter echoed through the museum. “That’s what you think!” Something fell to the ground with a thumping noise.

Where was he? Teresa squinted to see in the dark, her eyes adapting faster than those of the other guests, but not as fast as she needed. A few points of light indicated people pressing the emergency buttons on their cell phones.

There, in the direction the thump had come from- there was a shape, a standing human in armor just beyond the seats!

He must have jumped down! I can see him, but over here, I probably look like just part of the crowd to him, even with night vision! The ball’s in my court!

Let’s play.

The Dark Dreamer was advancing toward the stage, moving down the aisle while the guests were still in shock. None of them could stop him. His target was there, behind the podium, equally confused. He would destroy their dreams as they had destroyed his.

Griffin’s eyes became adjusted in time to see the figure standing just below him. They extended their arm, towards him, and he could hear the machinery powering up for a bone-crushing blast-

“Happy Anniversary, Doctor Griffin.”


The Dark Dreamer was knocked down by the sliding table Teresa had slammed into him at full speed.

“Look, buddy, I don’t think that armor falls under ‘Business/Festive Attire’ like the invite says.”

“You!” He shouted, in that computerized voice. “I’ll destroy you, too!”

“I don’t think so.” The object she pulled out looked like a large, industrial strength hairdryer. He started to stand up just as she pulled the trigger, surrounding him with superchilled gas.

There was a grinding sound of gears failing and the loud pops of electronics suddenly shutting down.

And then the Dark Dreamer lay helpless on the ground, weighed down by his dead equipment.

“You horrible, little-” he protested. Without the aid of the computer, his voice sounded small and whiny.

“Me? You’re saying I’m horrible?” Teresa asked, her voice rising. She let it all out: “You’re really pathetic, you know that? You were going to kill this man, ruin our anniversary and destroy our property, all because of something that happened twenty years ago! I mean, seriously! Do you realize how pathetic that is? It sounds like a joke! Like something from a bad movie! Get. Over. It.”

A janitor found his way to the fuse box and the lights flickered back on. Teresa surveyed the crowd, pleased to see that everyone was safe. She turned to make sure that Administrator Griffin was, also. A thing like that could give a person a stroke for sure.

He was calmly straightening his glasses and dusting his suit off.

“Thank you. Now, where was I…”

2009-Apr-26, 10:03 PM
A comedic ISS Interlude...

November 4, 2008, 7:31 PM Central (Houston) Time, International Space Station

Most people hardly give a second thought to the fact that every second of every day, there are humans in space. And on this day, that was perhaps understandable, as it was the date of one of the most hotly anticipated presidential elections in living memory.

Yet, nonetheless, it was still up there, two hundred and fifty miles above the tousled heads of the people on the ground as they thought of politics. Silently, as it had for nearly a decade, the International Space Station continued to orbit.

And, as below, voting was on the minds of those aboard…

“And we’re sending them to you now.” Dr. Greg Chamitoff announced into the radio. “They” were two electronic absentee ballots that would, once the people at the Johnson Space Center received them, be counted in the state of Texas.

“We’re receiving them now and sending them on to the clerk’s office. We’ll keep you guys posted on how things are going down here.”

“Thanks. Over and out.”

Turning from the radio, he looked at the other American on board, Commander Mike Fincke, who was floating by the window.

“So, Mike, who’d you vote for?”

“Sorry, Greg, I can’t say.”

“What do you mean, you can’t say?”

“We both have to be up her another month until the shuttle comes, and I don’t want to spend it arguing over politics.”

“Come on, that’s silly. For all you know, I could have voted for the same person you did.”

“Well, that is possible… But just in case, I won’t tell you, and I’d like it if you didn’t tell me.”

There was silence. A pencil floated by.

“You sure?”

“Positive, Greg.”

“A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin- a world was connected by our own science and imagination.”

2009-May-01, 06:17 PM
Something to consider. You might have a super villain have some type of anti-gravity dampening field so that Reed Richards flying car and all the fantasic Tony Stark tech fails, meaning old fashioned rockets must be used to visit the dampening field satellite.

2009-May-01, 07:29 PM
I might do that, it's a good idea. The first classified shuttle mission in 20 years.

2009-May-03, 09:39 PM
Okay, this one's going to take a little bit of explaining. Nikki Howlett is a fan-fic character created by one of my friends on Marvel.com. Her story is sort of complicated, but suffice it to say she's a mutant with powers resembling Wolverine's.

Now then, on with the story!

December 23, 2008, 4:29 PM, Marshall Space Flight Center

“Okay, let’s all open them at once. On three, because we hardly ever count up around here…” Francine said. It was the last day before Holiday vacation and Marshall’s employees were enjoying the finale of their office party.

“One… two… three!” The sounds of tearing paper filled the room as everyone dug into the gifts they had received from each other.

“The Clone Wars animated series on DVD?” Teresa gasped.

“A replica Star Trek communicator? You shouldn’t have!” Francine exclaimed.

“You’re the best!” Tension between Trekkers and Star Wars fans is really much rarer than the media makes it out to be.

Taking their gifts, they began to walk towards the door.

“So, they say Griffin’s submitted his resignation. His term’s up in January, isn’t it?” Teresa asked, pulling on her coat. I mean, that whole thing was embarrassing, but everybody ended up okay. We did pretty darn well if I do say so myself.

“That’s what all they’ve all done when a new president takes office, Tessa. It’s just a formality. I’m sure Obama will let him stay on.”

“Hey, Tessa, you've got another phone call!”

She tensed up, remembering the call about Fossett.

“Is it from Nevada again?” She asked, hurrying to take the phone.

“Nah, Canada.” The other worker responded, leaving. He was eager to begin his vacation.


“Hello? Teresa von Braun speaking. Who is this?”

“Nikki. Nikki Howlett. I don’t know if we’ve met, but my friend Wolverine said you used to go to Xavier’s…”

“Yes, that’s right; I did know Logan back in the day.”

But what could she possibly want with me?

“My husband and I are going to a holiday party in your area tomorrow night. We needed somewhere for our kids to stay for a few hours and Logan remembered seeing your face on TV a few months back…”

“Uh… how many kids?”

“Five. Lana, Vincent, Gabrielle, Shawn and Tayla.”

Five kids? She must be superhuman.

There is no way on Earth that I am going to be able to babysit five mutant kids on Christmas Eve. I just can’t… What am I, Scrooge?

‘Tis the season and I’m going to do the right thing, even if it gives me a few gray hairs.

“Are they… behaved?”

“Oh, yes. They’re very well behaved.”

With Logan as a family friend, they probably are. And it’s going to be nighttime, and they’ll have been traveling, so they’ll probably all be really tired.

“Sure, I can do it. My apartment’s at…” She started rattling off her address and then signed off.

December 24, 2008, 8:40 PM

It hadn’t been as hard as Teresa had feared. Shawn and Tayla, the real babies, were already asleep in the bedroom and Gabrielle was starting to yawn as she lay on the floor, drawing scribbles. Lana and Vincent were playing Sorry! at the table in the kitchenette. The radio was on and softly playing seasonal tunes in the background.

“11! I get to swap places!” Vincent declared.

Lana rolled her eyes, coming to notice the calendar hanging on the wall beside the table.

“What’s ‘A8 +40’?” She asked, noticing that Teresa had scribbled that designation over today on the calendar.

“Today’s the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission.” Teresa said, looking up from the old National Geographic she was rereading.

“Apollo 8? Was that the one they made the old movie about with Tom Hanks in it?” Vincent asked.

“Uh, no, that’s Apollo 13.” Teresa laughed. And it’s not an “old” movie- it only came out in 1995. Looks like I have to go into “teacher mode” here.

“Apollo 8 was the first time people traveled beyond the Earth’s orbit. They didn’t land on the moon- that happened on a later mission- but they did become the first people to see the far side.” Far side, not dark side. It’s not always dark there, only sometimes.

“So they were away from home on Christmas Eve? ‘Must have been rough.” Lana said.

“How did Santa bring them their presents?” Gabrielle asked, lifting her head.

“Well, the commander did say at one point ‘Houston, please be informed that there is a Santa Claus.’, so I think that was taken care of.” Teresa laughed. “You know that picture of the Earth rising over the lunar horizon, the famous one? Not the one with Africa in it, the other one? Well, they took that picture on Apollo 8, exactly 40 years ago today.”

“Yeah, I think I’ve seen that…”

Teresa dashed over to her desk and wiggled her computer mouse to make the SETI@home screen-saver go away. A short search later, she had the famous photograph up.

“This one.” She said, as the kids came over to look. “I think there’s an animated comic about it the mission on the main NASA site, too, if you’d like to see that.”

“Sure thing!”

“It was 1968, and the clock was ticking on President Kennedy’s challenge to land on the moon by decade’s end.” The narration began.

How did the people feel as they followed the mission on TV? Pretty much everything else about 1968 stunk, according what my parents told me. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot earlier that year and the war was still going on in Vietnam.

They must have felt so glad to be watching something so positive on the news for once. To see the Earthrise image, a world with no borders, all alone in space, it must have given them hope. Hope that we could all unite instead of fighting.

“Anders snapped the iconic Earthrise image, which gave humankind a new perspective on their home planet. And, the crew took turns reading from the Book of Genesis…”

They must have been all together around the TV screen, kids and adults… sort of like we are, right now!

“…Before closing with a holiday wish.” The animation switched to a recording of the voice of astronaut Frank Borman: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth!”

Something about the way Borman had said those last few words, the emotion conveyed in this message from a man looking back at humanity’s only home from two hundred, forty thousand miles away made Teresa shiver.

God bless all of us, he said. All of us. Not just one country or one race. Everyone. Men, women, black, white, mutants- all of us on this good Earth.
__________________________________________________ ______________________

“This latest notion may have other consequences. Formed as it was in the minds of heroic voyagers who were also men, it may remake our image of mankind. No longer that preposterous figure at the center, no longer that degraded and degrading victim off at the margins of reality and blind with blood, man may at last become himself.

To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold -- brothers who know now they are truly brothers.”- Archiebald MacLeish, December 24, 1968

2009-May-06, 01:12 AM
If Obama cancels Constellation as the UT article suggested, I have no idea what I'm going to do with this story.

2009-May-11, 10:14 PM

2009-May-12, 09:31 PM
I haven't quite polished this installment, but because you demanded.

In this bit, I attempt to cover the presidential inauguration without offending anyone. (The mentions of SHIELD having a new director are references to Marvel's current Dark Reign storyline.)

January 16, 2009, 4:56 PM, Marshal Space Flight Center

As if playing in an imperfect loop, portions of Administrator Griffin’s speech from earlier that day could be heard playing from numerous computer and TV screens as Teresa and Francine walked slowly to the door.

“…Today is my last chance to visit with everybody, and I thought I would finish up my term in the way that I started…” That was from behind a tan-colored door, partly open.

“Well, looks like you were wrong back before Christmas break.” Teresa said, trying to crack a smile. “I mean, it wasn’t your fault. Even the best analysts can’t predict what politicians will do.”

“Hey, if it hadn’t been for your quick moves at the Smithsonian back in September, we’d have been looking for a new Administrator a lot sooner, Tessa.” Francine said.

“That’s true.” Teresa chuckled.

Another snippet floated down the hall, this time from the door of Joel’s office:
“And nothing, nothing in the world is harder than picking yourself up after a cataclysm like that and moving forward, and we have done it.”

“He wasn’t without flaws and it’s not that I won’t support whoever replaces him, it’s just… I don’t know if this is the best time for us to be without a leader. With all these changes going on, I mean.” She added.

“So, as we come to a time of transition, what I want to ask of everybody who supported me- and those who didn't- is try to find common ground with the new leadership, whatever that is, whoever that is, and whatever it is we are asked to do as an agency. We must accept change.”

“You mean that whole business with SHIELD’s restructuring and their new director? ‘Can’t blame you there, Tessa.” Francine shook her head. “The guy doesn’t exactly have a record that inspires confidence.”

“Makes me glad we’re not in the military.” Teresa responded.

“Ah, Teresa! Just the person I was looking for.” The director (Their director, that is) called out, walking up to the two friends. “I hope I haven’t interrupted anything.”

“Oh, no, we were just talking about Griffin.”

“I see.” He paused, then came back to his original point “As you’re both probably aware, President-elect Obama wants us to be represented in the Inaugural Parade. He asked that the shuttle crew that went up in November be there. Now, every Center was supposed to nominate one or two people for our group. Since, after what happened in September, the most visible non-astronaut NASA employee is-”

“Teresa!” Francine declared, throwing her arm around Teresa, who was still shocked by where this was apparently going, and squeezing tightly. “She’s going to Washington?”

I’m… from… D.C…. hug… too… tight….

Seeing her reaction, Francine let go.

“Well, yes, she was the obvious choice for Marshall’s representative and my superiors seemed to agree with that statement.”

“Isn’t this great, Tessa? You’re going to get to wave to the president! You’re going to be on TV!”

Me? Little old me as Marshall’s representative? At the Inauguration?


January 20, 2009, 7:30 PM, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC

Some of the other marchers shivered as they walked, but Teresa was used to the temperature. It felt good to be back in the city she’d called home for the first 13 years of her life, although she’d never seen it quite as crowded as it had been today- or quite as worked up. She’d gotten the chance to duck into a cybercafé earlier and seen a satellite photograph of all the people who had gathered on the National Mall as the president had been sworn in.

And, apart from that whole business with the Chameleon earlier, everything had gone off without a hitch. Teresa had practically jumped for joy when the President had announced “we will restore science to its proper place.”

Right now, however, she was in last place- the group representing NASA was the last group in the parade. Just behind Teresa and the other marchers from various centers, the space shuttle crew was walking, wearing sweaters and gloves under their familiar blue jumpsuits. Behind them was a prototype moon rover that had previously undergone testing in the Arizona desert.

Now, I always like to assume best intentions, so I think the President wanted us as a finale.

The group was approaching the Receiving Stand in front of the White House now. The weather had driven the President’s two daughters inside hours before, but the President, Vice-President, and First Lady would still be watching as they went past. What would they think? Had they already seen pictures of the rover during its desert tests?

No time to wonder, they were nearly there! Teresa gulped and kept walking, helping to hold up the banner with their logo on it.

“The National Aeronautics and Space Administration!” The parade announcer said, as they approached the stand. The dull roar of the crowd that had been there before increased in volume.

She could see through the bulletproof windows of the Receiving Stand now. The President was wearing a maroon scarf over his black coat and smiling sort of neutrally. As the astronauts walked past, the First Lady waved energetically back to them, giving a thumbs-up with her green-gloved hands.

The whole group moved to the edges as the rover glided up, moving quickly and smoothly over the pavement on 12 wheels designed for much harsher terrain. It was white, with a boxy body and a large, somewhat egg-shaped cockpit from which the two drivers looked out through large windows. An American flag on a pole was attached to the back and two spacesuits with people inside were there as well.

The last words of the Inaugural poem from earlier that day came back to Teresa’s mind-
“In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,”

As the rover did a graceful 360 turn, Teresa saw the eyes of the first couple grow wide. One of the space-suited astronauts on the back of the rover stepped down off it, and faced the President, giving a salute. The crowd cheered loudly. The astronaut picked up the flag and walked away with it, as the shouting continued. The rover turned, and glided after him, with the remaining astronaut on the back smiling and waving her hands.
The parade was over now, and the group walked on, alongside the rover. Teresa took one last look at the President. His smile was large and sincere.

He likes us! He really, really likes us! Whatever happens, I think everything’s going to work out just fine.

“Praise song for walking forward in that light.”

2009-May-16, 05:19 PM
Ooops. I read your first reply, and missed this edit.

2009-May-20, 11:58 PM
Okay, this is sort of a strange request, but the next story arc will involve a historical superheroine active in the Mercury era, and I have two major areas in which I need specific information:

1) Other than Aurora 7's landing off-course and Liberty Bell 7's sinking, what are some accidents/incidents in which our heroine could have helped to save the day?
2) How much detail did the media include in their accounts of the astronauts' training? What details would only somebody who had also undergone the training know?

2009-May-21, 01:40 AM
I don't suppose you would ever consider a superhero? :neutral:

How about as a lowly sidekick?

2009-May-21, 08:15 PM
Are you saying you want to be in the story?

2009-May-21, 08:56 PM
Are you saying you want to be in the story?
:lol: As a sidekick? Never!

You could try asking your questions separately in Q&A. That might help.

2009-May-30, 11:24 PM
I hope your excuse is 'revising for exams'. *taps fingers*

2009-May-30, 11:26 PM
Actually, yes. I'm in AP everything except Math, and I'm also taking the World History SAT Practice to make my mother happy.


2009-May-31, 03:10 AM
What's AP, why not maths, and no need to be sorry. Nail them.

2009-May-31, 03:17 AM
What's AP, why not maths, and no need to be sorry. Nail them.

AP= Advanced Placement, basically taking college level classes while stile in High School for college credit with an exam at the end. I took the History and Chemistry courses my Junior year.

Good luck on your exaMS.

2009-May-31, 06:21 AM
why not maths,
American vs. English usage.

American "math", English "maths". Same thing.

2009-May-31, 12:07 PM
College credits? Cool. More spare drinking time when you get there. :p

American vs. English usage.

American "math", English "maths". Same thing.
Yeah, my bad. I was actually asking why she wasn't taking maths AP. The bold was a gentle dig at American spellings. :)

2009-May-31, 01:35 PM
What's AP, why not maths, and no need to be sorry. Nail them.
Because I'm only average at Math and better than average at most other subjects. It's about a 20 point difference between my Math and English grades.

2009-May-31, 04:58 PM
I'm also taking the World History SAT Practice to make my mother happy.
Last question (promise). You need history for archaeology don't you? I'm only asking because 'make my mother happy' suggests you're not. :)

2009-May-31, 08:45 PM
I love history and I'm in AP World History, which means I'm already taking a special AP Exam and a final exam, and now I have to take the SAT on top of that.

So, I love history, I just have problems with standardized tests.

2009-Jun-01, 04:11 AM
I'm not a fan either.

2009-Jun-01, 03:31 PM
I love history and I'm in AP World History, which means I'm already taking a special AP Exam and a final exam, and now I have to take the SAT on top of that.
Oh I see. Makes sense.

2009-Jun-22, 05:23 PM
Okay, you wanted it, you demanded it, you finally got it! Introducing the mysterious Perigee!

March 17, 2009, 9:34 AM, Huntsville, Alabama

“And we’re coming to pick up all the memorabilia this lady is donating to the Center’s library why again?” Joel asked, climbing out of the car. “I could be planning for that Ares I-X test flight this summer…”

“Uh, because we’re nice.” Francine responded, as Teresa was already racing up to ring the doorbell. “And everything’s going fine for Ares I-X, you can’t hide behind that.”

“Besides, don’t you guys want to see what cool stuff she has? I bet she’s got the old newspaper articles on Sputnik and John Glenn’s flight and everything.” Teresa called back.

“Why do I always get roped into helping them?” Joel groaned, walking up to the door with Francine.

A wrinkled old woman answered the door. Her white hair was tied up in a bun and she was wearing a black dress printed with a pattern that looked like little white flowers.

“Here already? My, y’all young folks are fast. The stuff for the Center’s downstairs.” She said, welcoming them in. “Why, I remember when the army first came to town...”

The trio headed downstairs. Cardboard boxes full of old newspapers lay stacked against the concrete walls.

“These look like they’re in good condition.” Francine said, opening a dusty box and sneezing.

“I bet they’re full of spiders. Ugh, I hate spiders. Do you two bleeding-hearts know how many people one black widow spider can kill?”

“No, and we don’t care, Joel.” Francine said, as Teresa opened up another box. She pulled out the top newspaper, from 1949. The headline was about the election of a new mayor for the city. She put it to one side, making a mental note to put everything unrelated to the space program in that pile.

And here’s the classic one from the day Explorer 1 went up: ‘Jupiter-C Puts Up Moon’ We’ve got like a dozen of these in the archives. Everybody and their sister saved a copy. Well, the archives people are still going to want-

“Hey, guys, come look at this!” Francine called, holding a newspaper up. The headline read “Perigee Leads Carrier to Aurora 7 After Tense Search”.

“Perigee? What’s that supposed to mean?” Teresa asked, moving over to get a closer look. The picture at the top of the page looked like a typical 60s scene- a astronaut in the silver Mercury spacesuit stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier after splashdown, talking to the crew, who were all in white dress uniforms.

The unusual thing about the picture was the figure standing near the astronaut. The woman was also wearing silver, a silver uniform with half-sleeves and a miniskirt. Her boots and gloves seemed to be made from the same material, as was the cap from under which her dark hair ran out. A pair of darkened goggles hid the woman’s eyes, and she was flashing a confident grin.

In her best 50s-newsreel-announcer voice, Francine began to read from the article: “‘After successfully completing America’s second orbital flight, Navy Lieutenant Commander Scott Carpenter splashed down in the North Atlantic yesterday. But great tension followed re-entry, as his capsule, Aurora 7, landed outside the prime recovery area. With no communications from the astronaut, rescue ships combed the area for nearly an hour until-’”

“Yeah, yeah, the helicopter saw the raft and the frogmen jumped down to save him. But who’s the chick in the crazy get-up?”

“I’m getting to that, Joel. ‘-until the crew of a rescue helicopter from the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid encountered the familiar high-flying superwoman known as Perigee.’”

“Superwoman?!?” Teresa and Joel both exclaimed.

I never heard anything about a 60s heroine named Perigee helping the Mercury Program. Spider-Man saved that one flight, but I never heard anything about this woman…

“‘After greeting the pilot, she led the chopper to Astronaut Carpenter’s position, where he was calmly sitting on the rescue raft, reviewing scientific notes he had taken during the flight. Once the skin-divers had brought him safely back to the Intrepid, the astronaut received a radiotelephone call directly from the president himself.’”

“Yeah, but what about the superhero?”

“The reporter asked Carpenter about her: ‘Well, after I had been waiting for a while, checking my notes, I saw something shiny flying towards me. As it got bigger, I saw that it was Perigee. She flew down to make sure I was okay. ‘Glad to see you made it back alright, Commander. We got worried when your capsule started spinning like the MASTIF.' (Astronaut Carpenter then explained that the MASTIF is a series of spinning cages used by the astronauts to practice regaining control of a spacecraft in an emergency.) Well, after I’d asked her ‘How did you get here?’ I decided to be a good host and pulled out a water container to offer her a drink.’

‘This remark was met with great laugher from all of us in the media, but, true to her mysterious reputation, Perigee refused questioning and flew away shortly after this photograph was taken, calling back ‘I’ll always be there for our Program!’.”

Both Joel and Francine looked at Teresa, expecting information.

“What? Why are you guys looking at me? I’ve never heard of this Perigee woman before in my life!”

“Are you sure? The reporter and Carpenter both clearly knew who she was, so she must have been an established hero. Dig deep, Tessa.”

“I’ve been digging deep, but I swear, I never heard about her before!” This can’t be real, this has to be some kind of hoax. But…

But what if it isn’t? What if there really was a superhuman helping NASA back in the Mercury days?

It would be nice to know somebody went through all this before me.

2009-Jun-22, 05:55 PM
What did Spider Man do?

And I'm glad about the miniskirt.

2009-Jun-22, 07:41 PM
What did Spider Man do?
It's sort of an in-joke. In Spider-Man #1, he saved the character John Jameson, who was depicted as being on a Mercury flight. As these details clearly peg the story as taking place in the 60s, and Marvel likes to pretend all their heroes have only been active for about 15 years, the story is rarely refrenced.

2009-Jul-14, 12:34 AM
At long last, the next issue! We've got Ares angst, Hubble Servicing Mission 4, and more clues to Perigee's identity! Oh, and if you're wondering who Peter Corbeau is... (http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix4/corbeaupeter.htm)

April 28, 2009, 2:09 PM, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

The room was filled with large pieces of white metal, in various shapes and forms, some stamped with logos. Control units, the capsule mock-up, the escape tower, the explosive charges that would let the stages separate… what all of the components of the Ares I-X rocket had in common were that they dwarfed the hard-hatted humans who worked around them.

From the high, dark ceiling, a large American flag hung down, as did a white banner with “GO ARES I-X!” written on it in large red letters.

Beneath it, the team from Marshall was examining the engine parts that had just arrived, making sure they had survived the train journey. All of the parts had come to Florida this way, traveling by guarded train or truck from their respective NASA centers.

The past few weeks and days had been crammed, preparing the components for travel and then accompanying them. Even with her super-speed, Teresa had only been able to steal a few, too-short moments to investigate the mysterious Perigee.

But, they look okay now, which means maybe I can ask some of those KSC old-timers I traded e-mails with about her! She thought, as the group had a discussion reaching that exact consensus. After a quick talk with their supervisor, the group was free to disband for a well-deserved break.

While the urge to cut loose was tempting, Teresa opted to keep subsonic as she ran towards the main space center complex. It was hard to believe she hadn’t been to The Cape in four years.

Sometimes, I worry. Most of the guests who come here are hearing about Constellation for the first time ever. But ask them who Norman Osborn’s dating…

And if they’ve never heard of it, how can they support it?

She pushed herself faster, trying to outrun the doubts. It was a gorgeous day, and a sea breeze was just ruffling the leaves of the palm trees. And, looking toward the sea, Teresa could just make out two orange blobs that were themselves rather historic.

Two shuttles prepped for launch at once. Of course, they’ll hopefully only have to send up Atlantis for the Hubble mission, Endeavour’s just ready in case anything goes wrong.

Still, two shuttles on the pad for the last time ever!

Nearly at the main visitor area, Teresa slowed down, not wanting to attract undue attention. She’d arranged to meet her first old-timer at the museum.

As Teresa waded through the crowd, she felt someone tugging on the right leg of her pants. She looked down to see a brown-haired girl who looked about six years old.

“Are you that superhero girl who fought the Dark Dreamer on TV?” the girl asked, looking up in a very cute way.

“Well… sort of.” Teresa said, unsure of how to respond.

“Can you fly?”

“Um… yeah. I love to fly. I have a pilot’s license.”

To judge by the look on the girl’s face, this was not quite the response she had expected.

Teresa had already spotted the older man waving near the entrance of the Visitor’s Center and uttered a quick goodbye before leaving the girl trying to clarify what she’d meant by flying.

“Dr. Corbeau? Glad to see you. First of all, I want to say that I’m honored…” She put out her hand for the man to shake it, mentally reminding herself to slow her speech.

But I mean, seriously! If it wasn’t for this guy, there wouldn’t be any mutants in the space program at all! He was buddies with Professor X when I was still in diapers and he saved the whole team during that Project Armageddon debacle.

“Equally, Ms. Von Braun. Your career track has been rather impressive. Superheroics, then civilian science. Most people do it the other way around.” Corbeau laughed, and started walking.

“Coming from someone with two Nobel Prizes and five spaceflights, that’s quite the compliment, sir.” Teresa responded, following. “Now, can you tell me anything about this Perigee?”

“Perigee… Perigee was a little before my time. Not that they weren’t still talking about her when I joined the Astronaut Corps in ’65…”

“Why did she stop helping us? What happened to her?”

“Now that’s the big question. Nobody ever saw her after ’63. Once Project Mercury ended, she disappeared as mysteriously as she’d come.”

For some reason, Teresa felt a touch of worry mixed with sadness.

That doesn’t make any sense. I never knew this woman, I don’t know her real name, and she might have died eight years before I was even born. And yet, I feel a sort of empathy…

“You said she was mysterious. What did people know about her? Did anyone know her identity?”

Corbeau bit his lip, trying to remember.

“Not a whole lot. The astronauts who met her said she seemed friendly and confident. Power-wise, from the way she flew and levitated objects, it looked like she could manipulate gravity. But from the strain she showed lifting Gus’ capsule, her power definitely had limits.”

“She levitated a capsule with somebody inside?”

“The very first time she showed up- it was back in July of ’61… Project Mercury was just getting started and Alan Sheppard had already made a short spaceflight back in May. Gus Grissom repeated the feat, but after he splashed down- well, you probably already know this story.”

Teresa nodded. “The capsule’s hatch blew off while it was floating in the water, waiting for the rescue divers, right?”

“Exactly. There were already several ships and choppers in the vicinity, but as soon as the hatch blew, the capsule started filling with water before they could respond. It was sinking fast… until, suddenly, the nearest helicopter crew saw Perigee flying in. The capsule started to rise, and they saw her straining from the weight of the metal and water. But she kept it above the waterline long enough for Grissom to climb out and swim away. The minute he did, she let go and it started sinking again.”

“Perigee flew right over to make sure Grissom was okay while he was swimming. She told him ‘Couldn’t have you go in the Dilbert Dunker, Commander.’ The way he told it to me, he was still in shock over being rescued by a superhero.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, what’s the Dilbert Dunker?”

“It was part of the Mercury training equipment. A model capsule on a rail that got sent down into a pool and turned upside-down with a trainee inside. Then the trainee had to escape while underwater. Believe me, it’s not a lot of fun.”

“So, what happened after that?”

“Once Grissom got back onto one of the rescue ships, everybody started asking him what had happened with the hatch. Some of them thought he’d panicked and blown it off himself with the capsule’s emergency trigger. He insisted he hadn’t, and Perigee agreed with him, before she flew away. She knew her stuff, because, as all of the trainees vouched, there was no way to use the emergency trigger without injuring your hand, and he wasn’t hurt. Now, how Perigee could have known that, I have no idea, and neither did Gus. It just added to the mystery.”

2009-Jul-30, 07:09 PM
Since I was away, this one's extra long! (I would just like to state that the Cronkite references were written before he died.)

May 24, 2009, 11:25 AM, Headliners Newsroom, New York City

It’s the last mission to Hubble and everybody loves the Hubble. I understand that.

So it’s gotten way more publicity that most of the other recent shuttle missions. Mike Massimino was even posting on Twitter from space. I’m all for that.

So Karen Tockman wanted a NASA representative as a consultant during the touchdown. And that’s great. The more outreach, the better.

Ignoring all those protests from the wacko groups took great courage on Tockman’s part- those signs the Friends of Humanity waved declaring NASA stood for “No Abnormals Sent Away”. I won’t deny that.

And I may be the first mutant scientist to be an expert on the news about something that has nothing to do with superhuman affairs. That’s historic.

But seriously, this whole “most visible non-astronaut” thing is getting old…

Teresa tried to look natural behind the consultant desk as the camera crew counted down the time until they would be back from the current commercial break. A blue-tinged map of the world was on the screen behind the desk, which was a shinny maroon. Beyond where the cameras could see, a screen played the NASA TV stream she would be offering commentary on.

Just please, oh please, don’t let them drag in a “as a mutant” question!

Karen Tockman, the anchorwoman, walked back to her place and practiced smiling in her trademark creepily artificial way. She had even kept it up while detailing the escalating gang violence in Australia before the commercials.

Nothing fazes her. Walter Cronkite rubbed his hands together and went “Oh boy!” when Armstrong walked on the moon, but I can’t see Karen Tockman ever doing that. I’ve seen robots with more emotion.

“We’re live in 3…2…1… On the air!”

“Welcome back to Headliners with Karen Tockman, where we get up close and personal with the people behind the news! In slightly less than 20 minutes, the Space Shuttle Atlantis is set to land at California’s Edwards Air Force Base after a dramatic repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. With me is Dr. Teresa von Braun of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, who’s here to talk with us about the agency and the mission.”

“Hello, Karen, it’s good to be here.” Teresa said, giving a much smaller, shier smile. You know, except for the whole stage fright part. Perigee seemed so calm in the pictures and Corbeau’s story. How did she do it?

“So, first of all, your agency has a new leader now, doesn’t it?”

“Well, sort of. President Obama nominated General Charles Bolden to be NASA’s next Administrator yesterday, but he’ll have to be approved by Congress a few weeks from now. Bolden is a former astronaut and he flew four shuttle missions before his retirement.”

“Congratulations to him, then. Could you give us a summary of what exactly Hubble has meant to scientists and the public?”

18 minutes to touchdown. Endeavour would be feeling the most intense heating at this point. If only she could just stop and watch the feed- to keep quiet in suspense and not have to worry about losing her cool. Teresa bit her lip and tried to string together a coherent answer:

“The Hubble has certainly given scientists a much better look at the origin and structure of the Universe. Quite simply, it’s allowed them to see further into space in greater clarity than ever before. And, though the pictures, the public’s been involved in all of it. A lot of the Hubble’s fame obviously comes from the successful 1993 repair mission and all the great pictures that it’s taken since then.”

“Now, the 1993 mission- that was the one that fixed the broken lens, correct?”

“Yes, once the spacewalkers did their work, Hubble’s vision was much clearer. That was the first Hubble repair mission, this one that’s ending now is the fifth and last.”

The audio indicated that Altman’s piloting was going smoothly, though Teresa still remained tense. Atlantis was heading towards the California coast now, if anyone was floating in a boat in the right part of the Pacific, they could see it streaking through the air, surrounded by a plasma fireball.

“What exactly happened on this mission?”

“They replaced the aluminum ‘space blankets’ that help the Hubble’s instruments stay at a constant temperature and installed a new camera that will allow the telescope to photograph in infared and ultraviolet light.”

16 minutes. Columbia had been lost at 16 minutes to touchdown. Under the table, Teresa’s tense hands formed fists, her fingernails digging into her palms.

If anything’s going wrong, I’ll know directly now, the feed’s right in front of me. But I still feel so helpless…

“Now, what exactly is going on with the shuttle right now, Doctor?”

“They’re re-entering the atmosphere and the vehicle is very hot now because of friction. The crew is being protected from that heat by the tiles on the underside of the shuttle orbiter. These tiles, if you remember, Karen, are what failed in the Columbia accident back in 2003.”

Teresa took a discreet deep breath, realizing that she was beginning to talk more quickly than usual. Chill, Tessa. What are the nutters going to say if it looks like you can’t control your powers on live TV?

“But there were no signs of serious damage when the tiles were inspected earlier in the mission, so we feel there is little danger for the astronauts onboard Atlantis.” Teresa finished. Not that it stops us from worrying, though…

13 minutes. About six hundred miles from Edwards and 34 miles up.

“Okay, Doctor, I’m going to split the screen now and let you talk while the video plays. Tell us about what we’re seeing.”

Now, the public could see the feed as well. Many flight controllers were sitting by computer screens around a large room.

“Uh, well this is the Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas. The flight controllers are all helping Commander Scott Altman through re-entry.”

“What can you tell us about Commander Altman?”

“He’s a Navy pilot and he did a lot of the stunt flying in the movie Top Gun. This is his fourth shuttle mission and his second as Commander.”

10 minutes. Atlantis would be visible soon, and the video cut to an expectant empty blue sky over the landing strip.

“Now, Atlantis is going to land in California because the weather in Florida isn’t very good right now. How often do you have to redirect these landing opportunities?”

“Landings are split about 50-50 between Kennedy and Edwards. When the shuttle lands at Edwards, it’s carried back to Cape Canaveral on a special 747 jet.”

And, unlike what you saw in Superman Returns, the orbiter is not capable of taking off from the back of the carrier plane. A jumbo jet also couldn’t maintain cabin pressure in space, but I’m not here to critique the science of a superhero movie.

I don’t want to talk right now. I just want to focus on the orbiter!

Eight minutes. In the deep blue sky, a small discolored dot appeared, subtly, barely perceptibly lighter than the sky around it, but still blue.

“And that dot that we’re seeing now is Atlantis. They’re about 140 miles from the landing strip now. ”

Everything was silent. Even Tockman seemed to be impressed as slight rumbles were heard in the desert air. The object was now clearly white and an oblong shape, becoming more visibly triangular with every passing second…

6 minutes. 18,000 feet and falling, although the sky looked so much like the sea it almost seemed as if the orbiter might be rising from the bottom of the ocean, preparing to break the surface.

The delta-wings started to become clear, and the color difference between the orbiter’s white top and black underbelly was apparent. The tiles there were charred by the heat of reentry, but they had held, and Teresa silently cheered.

“It’s shaped like the shuttle now, you can see it.” Tockman said.

4 minutes to landing. Louder rumbles could be heard now, and Atlantis’ pointed nose and rear engines were distinguishable. It was about as high as a regular jetliner now, but coming in much faster, at a supersonic 700 miles per hour.

The Commander took direct control over from the computers now, and the camera cut to his view from above the clouds with a green guidance display overlaying the desert floor.


A camera operator got a panicked look on his face before he realized the bangs were only the twin sonic booms heralding Atlantis’ arrival.

The sun glinted off the orbiter’s surfaces as the crew guided it through a circle to burn off speed. When the light was right, one could make out the dark patterns on the tail and nose. This was the space shuttle. There was no mistaking it for anything else. No other craft on Earth looked like that.

And no other operational spacecraft could land as Atlantis was doing now, the far wing becoming visible as it closed the loop, turning towards the camera.

“Field in sight at ten thousand feet.” Commander Altman’s voice, over the radio.

I sound just like all those promos from when I was a kid, but it takes off like a rocket, and it lands like an airplane-

-and that’s really cool.

Seven thousand feet. The cockpit camera showed the runway coming up as the slow glide continued.

Two thousand feet. The orbiter’s nose moved up, the large wings providing a sort of “break” by catching the air.

Three hundred feet. The landing gear popped out as Atlantis floated the last thousand feet to the runway.

And then, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, the wheels made contact, small clouds of dust trailing as a parachute deployed from the back of the orbiter. The nose pitched down smoothly, until the front wheels also made contact-


Atlantis rolled along, trailing the inflated parachute, until it came to a full stop.

“No matter how many times you see that, it never gets old.”

A nod. But it seemed more sincere than the usual Karen Tockman fare. Had she really felt something? No, impossible…

“The final Hubble Servicing Mission is complete, but the Hubble’s mission of discovery is still continuing.”

“Indeed, Doctor. Before we go to a commercial break, could you please tell us what your favorite image from the Hubble is?”

That’s it? No mutant questions? Teresa sighed in relief. She’d been prepared to answer this one, and held up a print out.

“I’d have to say this one, the Deep Field, where the telescope looked at an apparently empty area of the sky and found it was filled with this amazing diversity of astronomical objects. It’s beautiful enough to look at, but what’s really amazing is that at this magnification every point of light you see in this image isn’t a star but an entire galaxy full of stars. And any one of those stars might have planets and civilizations…”

2009-Aug-08, 11:51 PM
Okay, the next big event in the story is supposed to be the Ares I-X test, and that's not until October, so I guess I'll do more on Perigee. The Apollo 11 40th tie-in will be up soon after a bit of polishing.

2009-Aug-11, 12:12 AM
This one's got it all- answers, a tribute to Apollo 11, and a walk-and-talk that would make Aaron Sorkin proud:

July 20, 2009, 8:34 PM, US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama

It was the time of day when things were winding down. The very youngest Space Campers were already preparing for bed back in their dorms, and the museum itself had been closed for hours. Janitors were cleaning crushed popcorn and spilled soda out of the IMAX Theater. Outside, fireflies darted around in open areas, like the stars that were beginning to come out. And next to the upper stage of a Centaur rocket that was on display not far from the campers’ dorm, Teresa and Francine were taking a detour on their way home from work.

“What I can’t figure out is how Perigee could have known about blowing the hatch hurting Grissom’s hand.” Teresa said, walking somewhat quickly towards the open Space Shuttle Plaza in front of them.

Francine rolled her eyes, trying to keep pace.

“-I mean, the MASTIF and the Dilbert Dunker would have been things the press would have covered, but Corbeau said only the other astronauts would have known-”

“Tessa-” Francine started.

“-And obviously, none of the Mercury astronauts were women, they didn’t allow women, which is what makes it so mysterious-”

“Tessa! You’ve been going on about Perigee for months! We’re here because it’s the anniversary of Apollo 11, remember?” Francine declared, exasperated.

Teresa stopped and signed, staring up at the full-sized space shuttle display to their left. The orbiter, Pathfinder, was a test model that Marshall’s engineers had used in the 70s to test the cranes and crawlers that would carry the real shuttles, while the boosters and tank were flight-ready hardware. Although Pathfinder could never be launched, in the growing twilight, the spotlit shuttle stack seemed ready to take off at any moment.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Maybe I have been getting a little too obsessed.” She said.

“A little? Every second you’re not at work, you’re at the library, looking at microfilms. And considering that you’re somebody who gets a lot done every second... look, I had this teacher back in middle school, Ms. Rowland, and she always used to say that sometimes the best way to solve a problem was to step back for a bit and wait for inspiration to strike out of the blue.”

“Out of the blue, eh?” They both looked up, at the darkening sky, laughing, and continued their walk. The lights were still on in the cafeteria nearby as a janitor cleaned up, and older teams were still on the sim floor completing missions.

“No lightning.” Francine muttered.

“’Sure would be nice if the moon was up, though. I’d love to pick out the Sea of Tranquility with some good binoculars. And then Shackleton Crater.”

Shackleton Crater was a deep crater near the moon’s South Pole, named for the Irish polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. Because of its depth and position, the bottom of the crater was almost always in darkness and radar from probes indicated that it might contain water ice. If the ice was real, it would be a prime site for the first Constellation landing.

“Well, that new Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter hasn’t actually found out if there’s ice at the pole yet, so maybe not there. Unless those are some really good binoculars.”

“Really, really good binoculars.” They walked past the cafeteria, into an open area known as Rocket Park where various replicas of space hardware stood on display. There was the distant sound of cars on the highway. Francine took a long look at one of the larger rockets on display, a Saturn I sitting on top of blue metal supports. A “little brother” of the later moon rockets, it had done its own admirable part in the early Apollo missions.

“Hey, Tessa, do you ever stop and look at the Apollo hardware and realize we’re doing the same thing right now? Well, not exactly the same thing, but sort of. We have the same goal they did.” She asked.

Teresa was staring out at the Saturn V model next to the Davidson Center, brightly illuminated.

“All the time, Francine, all the time. What we do is easier because of what they did. They didn’t have a precedent, a baseline to look at for help. Nobody had gone to the moon before, they did it all from scratch. The problems we’re facing now, like for Ares I-X in the fall… are small potatoes in comparison. It’s… inspiring.”

“Is that why you wanted to come here so bad?”

“Yeah, kind of.” They walked in the direction of the Saturn V replica now, headed for the entrance to the Davidson Center.

“You mean there was another reason?”

Teresa walked faster, not saying anything. Francine jogged to catch up.

“Well, what is it, Tessa? Think you’ll see your grandfather’s ghost or something?”

“I don’t know, I just wanted to be with the Saturn V on the anniversary. To… connect, I guess. To feel the past, to feel like I was there. It’s hard to describe.”

They were in the courtyard around the model now, the engines dwarfing them. Teresa sped over to hold the door open for Francine. The stairway to the display area had a bright orange-and-yellow painting of the moon rocket itself firing at liftoff.

“I think I get it.” Their footsteps on the metal staircase echoed in the empty building. “Apollo was incredible. From suborbit to the moon in only eight years. Even when Grissom and Chaffee and White died in the fire, they kept going. What a vision, what a quest…” Francine trailed off as she realized Teresa was stopping to read the quote written in white on the wall at the top of the stairs.

“‘The rocket will free man from his remaining chains, the chains of gravity which still tie him to this planet. It will open to him the gates of heaven- Wernher von Braun.’ You must have read that a million times, why do you stop and-”

“Well, when I was in school, I took art appreciation once. And we had a teacher who was talking about the great cathedrals in Europe…” She pushed open the door to the main museum.

“You think this building is like a cathedral? Well, maybe a little, I guess…”

Underneath the Saturn V, a group of campers were receiving a lesson in space history from a councilor.

“Not the building, no.” Teresa muttered, distracted as she wandered beneath the hanging stages in awe.

“What then, the Saturn?” Francine asked, tapping her co-worker on the shoulder.

“What our teacher told us was that in the Middle Ages, nobody who designed a cathedral could ever hope to see the finished structure. They’d work their whole life on it and teach their children to be engineers and keep building it, and the same with their children and so on.

“And then, however many generations it took, somebody from that family would be there to see the cathedral when it was beautiful and finished, with all the carvings and stained glass, and they’d remember their ancestor who first dreamed it up.” She walked towards the model of the Orion capsule that had recently been added to the museum, running her hand across the outside.

“And that’s what I feel sometimes, a sense of being part of a legacy like those medieval architects. Like space colonization is my cathedral, my grandfather’s legacy to me.”

Francine nodded. “Hey, some kid forgot their workbook!” She picked the book up to take back to the councilor, showing it to Teresa.

It was open to the space history section, the page about Mercury in particular. The camper had taken some notes, but what caught Teresa’s attention was a photo of a group of women at the bottom of the page.

“Thirteen female pilots known as the ‘First Lady Astronaut Trainees’ or ‘The Mercury 13’ passed the same tests used to select the seven Mercury astronauts, but were never invited to join the astronaut corps.”

That’s it!

2009-Aug-11, 12:59 AM
Very nice! Also, I think Ares IX been pushed bact to October 31 :( . I like Mercury 13 bit, they're rarely mentioned in literature.

Also, when the Pathfinder shuttle was first built, It only had the rough size, shape, and weight of an orbiter. This page from A Field Guide to American spacecraft shows Pathfinder in both its current and original shape:

Finally, minor nitpick, the Saturn in the Rocket Paark is a Saturn I Block II rocket however there is Saturn 1B on display at a rest stop on the AL TN border. Also, there's a small rocket park at MSFC, which has a Saturn I Block I on display as well as several other interesting rockets. I haven't been to it in years though.


2009-Aug-11, 09:19 PM
Very nice! Also, I think Ares IX been pushed bact to October 31 .
I think I wrote September the day before the announced the push-back. Just fixed it in the story. Nice excuse to dress up like an astronaut for Halloween, though.

I like Mercury 13 bit, they're rarely mentioned in literature.
Since I've started writing, I've done a lot of research about female astronauts, engineers, and pilots, to get an idea for the kind of people Tessa would look up to, and I found the Mercury 13 so fascinating I just had to include them somehow.

Finally, minor nitpick, the Saturn in the Rocket Park is a Saturn I Block II rocket however there is Saturn 1B on display at a rest stop on the AL TN border. Also, there's a small rocket park at MSFC, which has a Saturn I Block I on display as well as several other interesting rockets. I haven't been to it in years though.
Also fixed.

Thanks for the feedback and help. Especially since I saddled your hometown with a superhero and all. (At least she doesn't have much of a rogue's gallery.)

2009-Aug-11, 09:42 PM
Well, Huntsville isn't my home town, but I'll be spending a great deal of my time there starting next week.

2009-Aug-12, 11:00 PM
I guess I just assumed based on how much you talk about it.

2009-Aug-13, 02:18 AM
no problem. :)

2009-Aug-13, 09:01 PM
I'll make sure all the superhero battles take place while you're out of town.

2009-Aug-17, 03:45 PM
Teresa: "I'm worried about what Norman will do."
Francine: "Osborn?"
Teresa: "No, Augustine!"

I really do have no life...

2009-Aug-30, 05:28 PM
The "theme song" for this chapter is probably Starship's "We Built This City", both in reference to the struggles of the Mercury 13 and those of Teresa and her friends.

August 27, 2009, 3:24 PM, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

A sense of tension hung over the Cape, not because of any approaching hurricane, nor related to the shuttle that was due to launch in a few days. Tourists at the Visitor Center continued to laugh and joke as their children lapped up quickly-melting ice cream, but among the Center’s employees, there was an undercurrent of worry, barely perceptible, but certainly there.

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I’m worried about what Norman’s going to do regarding us.” Joel confessed, between slurps of an icy soda in the cafeteria.

“And you don’t mean Osborn!” Added Max, the avionics expert who sat to his right, earning a laugh from Teresa and Francine.

“Exactly, Max. I mean Augustine.” He said, wincing from a brain freeze. It was an occupational hazard of working in Florida in late summer.

Norman Augustine was a former Lockheed Martin official who was the head of the president’s commission on the future of spaceflight. For the past month, they had been listening to testimony from experts and insiders. When the committee finished, they would release a report to the president on what NASA and its partners should do in the next decade. This might- or might not- include exploration of the moon.

And it was that uncertainty, similar to the night of Pluto’s demotion, which created the tense mood at KSC.

“We’ve been working so hard to get ready for this test, and I don’t want to see it all turn into a house of cards and collapse.” Joel elaborated.

“Well, we’ve got to be prepared for anything, don’t we? Prepared to start from scratch if need be.” Francine said. “Right, Tessa?”

“Uh huh.” Teresa muttered, already taking her tray to the drop-off line.

“Leaving so soon?”

“There’s an expert on the Mercury Program speaking in half an hour, and I managed to work things out so I can see him beforehand and ask about-”

“-About Perigee and the Mercury 13, we know, we know.” Joel finished, rolling his eyes. “I never did go in much for history, but if it floats your boat…”

“You know the cliché, Joel. Those who don’t study history are forced…” Francine countered, although her friend didn’t hear any more, as she was already out the doors of the cafeteria and headed for the auditorium.

The entrance to the auditorium was in the main Visitor Complex, with a poster outside advertising upcoming events.

It wasn’t that the Augustine Commission didn’t worry Teresa, but since there seemed to be little she could do about it personally, she felt worrying excessively would be a waste of energy.

Yesterday, Sean G Christopher presented about Cassini… and today, Keith McDonnell talks about Project Mercury! She speed-read while showing her identification to the security guard at the door. Inside, a brown-haired man was connecting a laptop to a PowerPoint projector at the front of the room. Teresa was behind him in a flash.

“Doctor McDonnell?” She asked, startling the man, who looked right and left before turning around.

“Right! Ah, yes, that’s me.” He put out his hand to shake “You’re the woman from Marshall who said she needed help?”

“Yup. Pleased to meet you.” She shook his hand. “What can you tell me about the Mercury 13?”

Dr. McDonnell turned back to the laptop and brought up a slide covered in small black-and-white portraits of women with 60s haircuts.

“Here they are. In the late 50s, William Lovelace was a medical expert tasked with assessing the fitness of astronaut candidates. Since the capsules were so small, and women are generally smaller than men and require fewer consumables, he thought female pilots would make great astronauts and asked record-setter Jerrie Cobb-” he circled the cursor over a picture of a blond woman “-to take the same tests the official group of male astronauts were taking.”

“What sort of tests?”

“Reaction time, calmness, immunity to motion sickness- that one involved having cold water injected into your ear-, heat and cold tolerance, psychological health… One of the tests involved how a trainee reacted to isolation by having them float on the surface of a water tank in a completely dark room without any sound or light. Most people cracked after several hours and started hallucinating things.”

‘Sounds like a supervillain’s torture device.

“How did Cobb react?”

“She passed with flying colors. Cobb came out after ten hours completely lucid. Dr. Lovelace was convinced and asked her to recruit other pilots she knew to take similar testing.”

“Did they use the Dilbert Dunker and learn about the workings of the Mercury capsule?” Teresa asked, scrutinizing the faces of the women on the screen. Several had dark hair like Perigee, including two who looked very similar. “Are those two twins?”

“Yes, Jan and Marion Dietrich were identical twins from California. And yes, those were two elements of the training.”

“How about her?” She asked, pointing to a picture in the top left corner. The smile seemed sort of familiar, although Teresa admitted that might have been just hopeful imagining.

“That’s Janet Quincy. At the time of selection she was an assistant engineer and former calculator living in Chicago, who-”

“She was a calculator?”

“In the 50s, a ‘calculator’ meant someone good at math who worked in a lab checking the figures, sort of like a secretary. And, like secretaries, calculators were mostly female and underpaid.”

Worked in a lab, huh? Could it be…

“What kind of lab did she work in?”

“The serious kind. Los Alamos.”

“The place where they built the atomic bomb?”

“The same. Although the specific project Ms. Quincy worked on was a peacetime effort involving domestic fusion energy. Needless to say, they were unsuccessful, and the project was disbanded.”

She worked on a nuclear energy project?

Okay, it could be just a coincidence, but seriously, it would be easier to count the science heroes who didn’t get their powers from lab accidents. It’s a chance, a lead to follow.

“What did she do after that?”

“Quincy moved to Chicago and took a job as an assistant engineer for an electrical company. She also participated in several air races, which was how she met Jerrie Cobb and got recommended for the program.”

The guard stuck his head in through the door, informing them that the first guests would arrive shortly.

“What happened to the Mercury 13? I mean, I know they didn’t get to be actual astronauts, but what happened in the end?”

“The customs of the day just wouldn’t allow it. Institutionalized sexism. There was a government hearing, and President Johnson decided to shut down the training program.”

“Wait, one more thing- what do you think about Perigee?”

“I’m not the biggest expert on her; superhuman history was never my strong suit. Sorry if I can’t help you there.”

“Oh, that’s okay, Doctor. I think you told me enough already.” She turned to leave as the first guests came in. Joel and Francine would already be back in the Vehicle Assembly Building.

So, suppose Janet Quincy was in some kind of accident at Los Alamos back in the 50s. Let’s say she did develop superpowers because of this. Maybe she was Perigee in Los Alamos or Chicago but she didn’t do anything big enough for Corbeau or the Huntsville Times reporter to hear about it.

But still, if I could find a newspaper article or something…

2009-Sep-20, 03:06 PM
It's the 3 billion dollar question, and an answer seems to be hard to find...

September 18, 2009, 6:30 PM, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

The temporary workstations the Marshall employees had been given at Kennedy were small, but adequate. Especially if all you were doing was watching C-SPAN on a desktop after everyone else had gone home.

“Mr. Augustine, you can say it till you're blue in the face. I can say it. Bolden can say it, but the American people are going to listen only to the president. If we're going to have a program, it's going to have to be on the president. He's going to have to put the juice to the program." Florida’s Senator Bill Nelson argued, in a replay from the day before.

The Commission’s report had been hopeful, but blunt: “Human exploration beyond low Earth orbit is NOT viable under the Fiscal Year 2010 budget guideline. Meaningful human exploration is possible under a less-constrained budget… up to approximately 3 billion per year above…”

Three billion dollars. Three billion bloody dollars… or nothing. Teresa thought, watching the video while sighing. That was why the follow-up hearings were so focused on asking the government for the extra money. At least Augustine seemed to find the Constellation system practical if the money could be found:

“If it were to be abandoned, we think there ought to be compelling reasons to abandon it," he said. "Constantly changing programs is one of the worst things you can do. You should only make changes for very compelling reasons."

“Hey, Tessa, you ready to go home yet? Francine sent me to ask. The janitors are going to be coming in pretty soon!” Max called from the door.

“What? Uh, yeah, I’m coming, just a second.” Teresa closed her browser and set the computer to shut down, pulling off the large, black headphones. The rubber-insulated curly wire connecting them to the monitor coiled up as she placed them on the tabletop and pushed the swivel chair in.

Francine and Joel were waiting near the door to the outside. Joel was in the bad mood he had been for days, glaring at everything in sight as if he considered it a threat, even the pushpins on a nearby bulletin board, and he seemed to be in the midst of a long rant that Francine was doing her best to tune out. It seemed that Max’s volunteering to fetch Teresa had been as much out of the desire to get away from Joel as from simple kindness.

“… and what are we going to end up doing if they cancel the program? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to end up working at Burger Doodle! I refuse to flip burgers! It’s beneath my dignity! Besides, I have very sensitive skin and the fry oil…”

“Hey, I’m ready to go.” Teresa said, giving Francine a sympathetic look.

“Hello. As I was saying, it’s disgraceful the state this country’s in. Convicted criminals are serving as Avengers, but honest people like us are begging for a bit of good will to continue everything we’ve worked and dreamed of on for years…”

“Joel, do you want to rant or do you want to go eat? The pizza place closes soon.” Max protested, cutting off the incoming barrage. Teresa opened the door and they stepped out, into the night air. Jupiter could be seen to the southwest, a bright point of light.

“Of course, some of us can’t just go back to Mojave.” Joel added, under his breath. Teresa pretended she hadn’t heard that part.

“So, uh, anybody read any good books lately?” Francine asked, trying to break the tension as they walked down the sidewalk.

There was a long pause as they continued walking.

“Jeez, don’t all answer at once. Well, I read something very fascinating the other day about Admiral Byrd. You know, the guy who explored Antarctica back in the 30s?”

“That sounds interesting. What exactly did you read about him?” Teresa added, hoping to keep the conversation going.

“The interesting part was how they said that Byrd’s second expedition in ’34 was actually followed by more people than his first. It was during the Depression, obviously, and everybody sort of needed something positive to focus on and make them feel better. Escapism, y’know?”

“So?” That was Joel.

“So, I was thinking that’s kind of like our situation. Maybe times like these, with the Civil War and that Skrull business and now all this stuff with the Avengers… that’s when our budget always takes a hit, but maybe… maybe that’s when people need us the most.”

“Like Admiral Byrd. Or Apollo in the 60s with Vietnam and all the other chaos.” Max nodded.

“Hey, if I hadn’t had the shuttle to follow, school would have been a lot harder for me, I hear what you’re saying.” Of course, my schooling was a bit more stressful than most…

“Eh, yeah, yeah, that touchy-feely stuff is great for you guys, but the bean counters don’t think like that. You can’t measure inspiration, you can’t put a number on it.” They were almost at Max’s car.

Teresa turned to look at the VAB, spotlit in the distance. Inside was the Ares I-X test rocket, now fully stacked over 300 feet tall. Just a few hours before, they had stood underneath, feeling immensely small before it. No living thing except the tallest California redwoods was anywhere near that size. They had felt such pride before their massive creation. But what if it was all for nothing?

What if Joel was right? She didn’t consider that long.

All things considered, I beg to disagree. The Hubble servicing mission back in May wouldn’t have happened if people hadn’t pressed the management to keep Hubble going, and look at that new data we just got from the improved instruments.

There’s a value in that.

A familiar image filled her mind, of her younger self sitting at the desk in her room at Xavier’s, feeling overwhelmed by a tricky bit of chemistry homework from Dr. McCoy. She looked up, at the poster of the solar system that hung by her bed, and smiled.

There’s something to be said for inspiration.

2009-Oct-06, 11:32 PM
Okay, there's a very good explanation for why this thread will be updated less frequently now- I've gotten to the present day, and I obviously can't write about LCROSS or Ares I-X until after they happen. Once I "clear" those, I will be able to write about the more distant future in less detail.

2009-Oct-09, 08:17 PM
Very nice! Also, I think Ares IX been pushed bact to October 31 :( . I like Mercury 13 bit, they're rarely mentioned in literature.

Also, when the Pathfinder shuttle was first built, It only had the rough size, shape, and weight of an orbiter. This page from A Field Guide to American spacecraft shows Pathfinder in both its current and original shape:

Finally, minor nitpick, the Saturn in the Rocket Paark is a Saturn I Block II rocket however there is Saturn 1B on display at a rest stop on the AL TN border. Also, there's a small rocket park at MSFC, which has a Saturn I Block I on display as well as several other interesting rockets. I haven't been to it in years though.


I must have missed that Saturn IB...

2009-Oct-18, 05:54 PM
A short comedic segment dealing with the unique travails of working at NASA in the Marvel Universe:

Constellation Quarterly Progress Report, October 1, 2008, 3:10 PM, Marshall Space Flight Center

“Okay, we’ll take a few questions.” The division representative said, having finished the wrap-up of the progress made on the various projects related to the Vision that had been made at the different NASA centers in the previous few months. A larger-than-usual group of reporters sat before the podium.

He called on a blond woman near the front of the room.

“Michele Peters, sir, Associated Press. I understand that you’re going to crash a probe into the moon to look for water. Will this affect the werewolf community in any way?”

“You’re referring to the LCROSS probe next week, I presume? We’ve actually researched that possibility very extensively, and our resident expert, Mr. Jameson, has assured us that LCROSS will be completely harmless in that respect.”

The reporters scribbled down the answer in their notebooks as the representative called on a short man with dark hair on the left side of the room.

“I’m with Space.com, sir- what do you believe we have to gain from returning to the moon?”

“Well, with the Apollo missions, we returned a lot of strangely-colored, superpower-granting rocks that unfortunately were stolen from the Lunar Receiving Lab before they could be analyzed. If we could recover more samples to study in greater detail, think of what that could do for our energy crisis.”

“Mr. Representative, what are some of the difficulties faced in going to Mars?”

“One of the biggest is the amount of time the crew would be exposed to cosmic radiation. From prior experience, we have learned that in the event of a severe radiation event without proper shielding, astronauts would stand a one-in-four chance of being turned into a rock creature, a risk level we find unacceptable.”

“Sir, our readers want to know- on future sample-return missions, what precautions will be taken against hostile lifeforms within the extraterrestrial material?”

“All samples will be examined under the strictest security in isolated quarantine labs, possibly even in orbit. In the event that a Symbiote is encountered, sonic and heat-based weaponry will be available to all the researchers. However, in all of our previous sample-return missions, not so much as a single extraterrestrial microbe has been returned, so rest easy, you’re not going to catch Mars germs.”

Is that all? Usually there’s one guy asking something totally off-the-wall…

2009-Oct-31, 03:54 AM
I was playing around GIMP recently and made a cover.

2009-Oct-31, 04:04 PM
Wicked! Thanks! I wasn't sure if I would treat it all as one book or the story arcs as separate books, but that certainly puts me in favor of the former.

2009-Nov-03, 12:11 AM
Okay, at long last, the Into the Cosmos LCROSS issue, featuring my other Marvel character, Martin Nebula, as well as the Californian teen hero team known as the Runaways. Enjoy!

October 8, 2009, 10:29 PM, Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, California

Dr. Martin Nebula took a moment to just soak in the moment. In just a few hours, the LCROSS probe would drop its spent booster rocket into the crater Cabeus, near the moon’s South Pole, creating a plume of debris that would hopefully be visible from Earth. By examining the debris for chunks of ice, they would know if there was usable water there… or if there wasn’t.

It felt so strange to think that these were the last few hours of not knowing, that people now going to sleep would wake up in a world that might know the answer to the question that burned through the minds of all the people who had come to watch the live coverage of the impact. He had come in from nearby Pasadena to help explain the event to them, really an extension of his astrobiology job at CalTech, although LCROSS wasn’t a Jet Propulsion Laboratory mission.

“When are they gonna smack the moon, Nico?” A young voice asked, from behind Martin. Following the sound with his head, he saw a brown-haired girl of about eleven tugging on the sleeve of an older girl whose favorite color, judging from her clothes and makeup, was black.

“I don’t know, Molly, I’m not a scientist.” The older girl said. Three other teens stood nearby, a blond girl in a Beatles t-shirt, a tall Hispanic boy, and a shorter boy who was also blond.

It’s good to see some kids with an interest in this sort of stuff. Martin thought, walking over towards the group.

“The main impact is supposed to occur around three-thirty AM. Did you all come as a group?” He asked.

“Yes, we’re a group.” The taller boy said, laughing a little bit.

“We come here a lot.” The blond girl added. “You look familiar. Weren’t you in that Discovery Channel show about Saturn?”

“Probably, I’ve been in a few. I work at the university analyzing the data from the missions as it comes in. I’m Martin.”

“I’m Karolina. He’s Victor, and he’s Chase.”

“So, when the rocket hits the moon, we’ll be able to see it from here?” Victor asked, checking the current time on his digital watch.

“Yes, there will be a live feed from cameras around the world on the screens in the museum. Observatories in lots of countries are participating, in addition to the Hubble in space and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which will be very close to the debris cloud.”

“Didn’t you already find water on the moon, though? I thought I heard about that on the radio a few weeks ago.” Nico asked.

“Well, what we found was water in the soil in some parts of the moon. While it would be useful to colonists, extracting that water would be much harder than melting polar ice would be. Would any of you be interested in visiting the moon someday?”

“That would be really cool!” Molly shouted.

“It would be very cool.” Martin smiled, as Chase whispered something to Karolina.

“Um, we’ve got to go, but we’ll try to come back for the impact.”

“See you, then.” He said, waving good-bye to the group. It was a school night, after all, and they were kids… still, it was nice to see that they’d come at all before running away.

Perhaps one of them would go to the moon someday. It all depended on what would happen in the next few hours, and then the following weeks and months as the observations were analyzed. And what they would find then- only time would tell…

2009-Nov-08, 09:44 PM
Here it is, Ares I-X!

October 28, 2009, 7:27 AM, Kennedy Space Center

After three years of planning, construction, budget woes, supervillain attacks, bad weather, doubts, the previous day’s scrub, and lots and lots of hard work, it was finally here. Ares I-X was on the pad and ready for launch, with no weather more extreme than a slight breeze off the sea.

And in the shadow of the great rocket itself, the members of the Marshall propulsion team were completing their final checks.

Teresa lifted her hard-hatted head upwards, past the gantry arms and cables, up the 327-foot length of shinning white metal stabbing the turquoise sky.

Six years ago, this vehicle wasn’t even a glimmer in an engineer’s eye. Three years ago, it didn’t have a name. Six months ago, it was a collection of parts in various states.

And in a few hours, it’ll be 150 miles away, bobbing in the ocean.

And we built it, together.


“Final report, guys?” A manager in a suit asked, his mind more on the bolts and rivets than the bigger picture.

“All clear for launch on this end, sir!” Francine answered, excitedly.

Being “nonessential personnel” beyond this point, the group walked quickly to the bus that would take them to the special “employees only” viewing stand.

Teresa tried to be calm as she took her seat, but her X-gene-induced inclination for hyperactivity showed itself as she tapped her fingers rhythmically on the side of the seat, averaging about five taps per second.

Nearby, Joel was droning on about how the cashier at McDonalds had refused to give him a discount on his breakfast sandwich and iced coffee because of the occasion. Francine’s face suddenly lit up as she remembered something and began to rummage through her backpack.

“Oh yeah, Tessa, I bought you these yesterday…” She handed Teresa a small blue case, which held a pair of retro, polka-dotted, sunglasses.

“Thanks for the…60s sunglasses? They’re nice, and I needed a pair, but… why the style?”

“Because of the Apollo legacy, silly! Remember that pic with your grandfather and President Kennedy watching the Saturn I go up? Everybody was wearing shades like this.”

“The pictures from the visit a week before he got shot? Yeah, that’s right. Thanks.” She put them on. “How do I look?”

“Goovy!” Francine pulled out her camera-phone. “Now say something in a German accent.”

“No way. That’s just lame and weird.”

“C’mon, please?”

“No, nuh-uh, nix, no way…”

11:19 AM

T-minus four minutes and holding. From the bleachers, the Constellation workers had an excellent view of Ares I-X on the pad, surrounded by even taller lightning towers, but binoculars and cameras with white zoom lenses still predominated.

These are actually the same pair I bought for the Return to Flight back in 05. It’s a wonder I didn’t lose them or anything. Teresa thought, examining her black binoculars.

This time, however, a prominent loudspeaker took the place of the portable radio. The Flight Controllers in the firing room would soon complete their final readiness check, at which point the countdown clock would restart with four minutes to launch.

Had her grandfather felt like this at the first Saturn I test launch?

In the old pictures Francine was talking about, he was wearing one of those real fancy sixties suits with the shinny shoes and the hankie in the pocket, and he had a Rolex and…

She looked down at her own sneakers, beige Capri pants, and t-shirt bearing the Ares project logo.

… of course, I don’t see President Kennedy sitting next to me, so perhaps I have an excuse for not dressing up. And the slicked-back thing doesn’t look good when your hair’s green.

Believe me, I’ve tried.

But did he feel this tense despite knowing he’d built everything as well as he could?

There’s just so much that could go wrong. “On what wings dare he aspire, what the hand, dare seize the fire?”

“A poll of the Launch Authority Team here in the Firing Room says that we are go for launch. T-minus four minutes and counting. Flight data recorders are being turned on.” A voice came over the loudspeaker.

“Here we go.” Joel said, in an odd combination of a sigh and a cheer.

Everyone in the viewing gallery seemed to tense up. While the engineers themselves were largely silent, the noises of conversations from elsewhere at the Cape seemed to suddenly decrease, to a low hum, as if a magic spell had been cast. And, through binoculars, the Ares I-X did bear a slight resemblance to a high-tech wizard’s staff.

“T-minus three minutes thirty seconds, solid rocket motors and flight termination system are now armed.”

Flight termination. Let’s hope we don’t need it.

Teresa adjusted the knob on her binoculars, bringing the long, thin, white rocket into the clearest possible focus. It looked odd to see what had been a virtual animation or a concept drawing for so long as actual, physical reality. She could make out the five decals on the upper stage- an American flag, NASA, the Constellation project, the Ares symbol, and a special Ares I-X logo that had been created for the test flight.

For the first time in almost 30 years, something other than a space shuttle stood at Pad 39B. Ares I was digital no more.

“T-minus two minutes. Ares I-X vehicle now switching to internal power.”

Nobody was inside, of course. The Orion “capsule” was just a dummy, or “boilerplate” as the engineers liked to say. But despite the Augustine Commission’s statements that Constellation might not continue without more funding, Teresa could see the rocket’s white dummy upper stage as an orange fuel tank similar to the space shuttle’s in her mind’s eye. And just faintly, six astronauts seated inside of the Orion capsule, their darkened helmets hiding their facial features. Just imagination, or a vision of the future?

What happened next might determine the answer.

“Control has been transferred from the ground computers to the flight computers within the rocket. T-minus one minute to launch.”

Now, all was silent. Teresa felt tense and heavy, hanging on every passing second… but also a crackling kind of joyous calm. A deep stillness mixed with an urge to rush ahead. Perhaps no living being could know the feeling better than a woman who ran at Mach 4 for relaxation. This was an electric Zen.

“We are go intertial, the navigation system has been activated.”

“Onboard power units have started.”

“T-minus sixteen seconds, sound suppression system activated.” With a whirring sound, the water spilled into the tanks.

“T-minus ten… nine… eight…”

This is it! Now the engineers talked again, but only to count down with the loudspeaker:

“Seven… six… five… four…”

Unlike the shuttle, there was no waiting. Everything looked perfectly still on the pad until…

“Three… two… one…”

The booster ignited with a roar, steam spilling across the pad as it hit the water in the sound suppression tanks!


There were no few seconds of waiting, wreathed in its own smoke, Ares I-X immediately above the cloud it created at the pad, atop a burning white column.

“And we have liftoff of Ares I-X, testing concepts for the future of new rocket design!”

In four seconds, the gantry was cleared, in seven, the rocket’s blazing end was above the lightning towers. The rocket burn sounded like a constant, persistent hum, with measured ticking sounds as it rolled to change course.

It was in the sky now, level with the puffy clouds, an ever-growing pillar of smoke beneath it as Teresa tracked with her binoculars.

Go! Go! Go!

“Altitude now two miles.” Two miles in half a minute. Ares I-X was nearing the region where it would experience the greatest structural pressure, right before going supersonic. A white halo of shocked water droplets appeared around the top of the rocket, growing larger and longer, until the rumbling sonic boom could be heard in the viewing stands.

This time, however, Teresa was not the only one with her ears uncovered. Everyone here had contributed to the test flight, and they wanted the full experience!

The shock halo receded, and then vanished, as Ares I-X continued to climb. Just over a minute into the flight, it was at Mach 2 and ten miles high. The flame became paler and more ragged. If anyone had been onboard, they could have seen the curvature of the Earth at this point.

It became harder to track the rocket as it moved behind clouds, already 32 miles away, 20 miles up, and moving twice as fast again. Even Teresa could have hardly kept pace with that kind of power on the ground for long. But Ares I-X was not on the ground. It was ghostly behind the clouds as the solid booster brightened and burned out. The upper and lower stages separated, tumbling away from each other.

In just under three minutes, Ares I-X had climbed to 23 miles. But with this planned surrender to gravity, it could only travel downwards from this point on.

“Ha, ha!”


A messy squiggle of smoke hung in the air, like a small child might make by running with a crayon down a hallway. The clouds moved in to cover it, as the long fall continued.

“Not too much to report, the vehicle is gently returning to Earth.” The loudspeaker voice announced, stating the obvious.

“We did it, we really did it!” Francine shouted, as spontaneous handshakes, fist bumps, back-thumps and jumping air-punches broke out.

There was a splash on the horizon as the upper stage hit the water.

The sounds of applause could be heard, echoing off buildings.

Everyone’s clapping… and they’re clapping… for us!

As a superhuman and an aerospace fan, Teresa’s biggest complaint had always been not being able to fly. But at that moment, buoyed by the cheers and the sheer, unadulterated joy at the Cape, she felt she could have rocketed off just as quickly, and kept going and going and going. Never mind that her feet were firmly on Earth, never mind that Francine was hugging her tightly, in her mind Teresa was flying free, and nothing could drag her down.

It was time to go back to the launch control building, and the others were filing down the walkway, still excited. She grudgingly let the moment pass and followed her friends out.

“Yeah, yeah, it’s amazing and all, but you heard what Augustine said, what we end up flying to the moon might be something nothing like this. I broke my back on Ares for three years and what if this three-minute flight’s all I’m ever gonna get?” Joel muttered, to another man from the Marshall group.

It was pure emotion at this point. Pure emotion as Teresa opened her mouth.

“Joel, we built that rocket. We spent three years on it, we worked late, we bit our nails, we drank too much coffee, and we did our best. We made something that we were proud to say we worked on. We launched it, and it flew perfectly. So you know what? You know what, we just did something very impressive. And even if it doesn’t matter to the world or to history, it matters to US!”

Joel was silent.

“Tessa’s right. We did something very hard and we should celebrate. Who wants to go to Disney World?” Francine asked, beaming.

And, Teresa followed, processing all that had just happened, she realized she was crying again. She remembered her promise at the astronaut memorial what seemed like centuries before.

“Just like you’d have wanted, Judy. All for you.” She whispered, looking up into the blue Florida sky as the smoke trail faded, blown by the new wind that carried it out to sea.

2009-Nov-12, 09:36 PM
Halloween Special, Part 1:

October 30, 2009, 7:31 PM, Kennedy Space Center

It had been three days since the successful test flight, and the technicians from other centers had been allowed to stay at the Kennedy Space Center to take part in the follow-up. But at the moment, most of the Constellation personnel were taking advantage of a free moment to decorate their workspace for Halloween, in the festive spirit that still remained.

Max and Joel stapled orange tissue paper to the bulletin board in the hallway, while Teresa hurried around the cubicles, gently placing a mini-pumpkin on each desk. Francine and a KSC employee named Jenny were hanging up a poster of a witch on a broomstick.

“Perfect!” Jenny shouted, placing the last tack. “How’re you guys holding up?” She asked, looking down at Joel from her ladder.

“Just finished.”

“Well, then, I’ve got a DVD player and some movies in my drawer, want to watch a Halloweeny B-movie?” Max asked.


“Of course!” Jenny shouted.

“Right on!”

“Halloweeny’s not a word.” Joel protested.

“Joel...” Jenny glared.

“Uh, but, sure, let’s see a movie!” He quickly responded.

“Okay, what do you want to see? I’ve got Night of the Living Sled, Zombies in the Aquarium, Invasion from Planet X, Attack of the Spaghetti Sauce Monster…” Max counted off on his fingers.

“Wasn’t Invasion from Planet X on Mystery Science Theater 3000 once?” Francine asked.

“Yeah, I think I remember that. It was pretty funny.” Teresa said.

“Yeah, they did a good job mocking it. And since it was filmed right here at KSC back in the 50s, maybe we can do even better!”

“Heh, that’s right. Planet X it is!” Joel said, thrilled by the idea of mercilessly complaining about something in a socially acceptable setting.

Max set up the portable DVD player on his desk, as the others moved their swivel chairs into a rough horseshoe around it. The turning off of a few desk lamps created a makeshift movie theater.

A very fuzzy black-and-white photomontage of outer space appeared on the screen.

“The infinite reaches of space! As man begins to plumb their secrets, he discovers many wonders. But the cosmos can also hold many perils-”

“Like gamma-ray bursts, Near-Earth Asteroids, and black holes.” Jenny muttered.

“And bad, pre-Hubble, unfocused images of galaxies.” Joel added.

“But man’s first cautious steps into space have not gone unnoticed!”

“-Except by the media.” Max said, making the others laugh loudly.

“Yes, far out in the inky depths of space, on a world so mysterious it is known only to Earth astronomers as Planet X, strange and insidious minds are drawing plans against our species…”

The movie panned to a painting of the Earth in space, zooming in on the United States, and then to Florida.

“Oh no, the camera’s coming to get us!” Teresa joked.

“Can humanity ever hope to survive an INVASION FROM PLANET X?”

“I don’t know, you tell us, dude.” Joel said.

The picture changed once again, to a nighttime view of KSC in the 50s.

“Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. None of the men at work here could ever imagine that tonight they will face an unprecedented threat-”

“Budget cuts so soon after Sputnik?” Francine asked.

A light flashed across the sky. Inside of an office, a bored-looking blond woman sitting at a desk was filing her nails while a military-looking young man looked out a window.

“I tell ya, Robby, working for Dr. Leberecht is swell an’ all, but half the time, I can’t understand a thing he’s sayin’. This morning, he was going on an’ on about the gyre, the gryo- the gyro-somethings.” The woman said, in an accent straight from New Jersey.

“Gyrostabilizers, Clarissa. Essential for proper spacecraft navigation.” The man answered.

“See, you understand these things, Robby. That’s why you’re in the astronaut program. But do ya really understand everything da doctor says?”

“Jurian Leberecht is one of the best scientists our missile program has. He’s an asset to this nation. And I know enough to know I love you.”

“Action hero with airhead secretary girlfriend. Clichéville, dead ahead.” Jenny muttered.

The lights flickered in the office, and a bright light flashed from the window. Clarissa hurried over to look out.

The light in the sky streaked above the building, vanishing beyond the nearby trees in a brighter flash.

“Oh, Robby, what was it?” She hugged his arm as she asked the question.

“I don’t know. Probably just a meteor. There aren’t any rockets taking off from the range tonight.”

“No, we like our Vanguards to blow up in bright daylight, thank you very much.” Joel said, referring to the Vanguard rocket that had exploded just after launch in 1957.

“You know, if they haven’t closed the cafeteria yet, I think I could get some popcorn.” Francine said, standing up.

“Sure, sure, you just want to leave before all the scary stuff happens.”

“No, I just think we should have some popcorn. Movies are better with popcorn.” She headed for the door.

The screen now showed what looked like a mass of silver foil and painted plywood lying in the swamps near the space center.

“Oooh, littering in Canaveral National Seashore, they’re gonna get in trouble…” Jenny said.

Dark slime oozed out of the “alien pod”, bubbling and churning.

“And toxic waste, too? Where’s a park ranger when you need one?” She added.

The slime formed the shapes of two dumpy-looking blob creatures.

“This is the planet they sent us to conquer?” The first alien said.

“Yes, our Supreme Leader fears they might become a threat if they expand into our territory. That is why we must assume native forms and infiltrate their space program.” The second alien replied, oozing away.

“I don’t know whether to be flattered that we’re considered worth infiltrating or upset at being infiltrated by such lame aliens.” Joel muttered.

The scene changed to a hallway inside of the space center, where three interns in shirtsleeves and ties were talking.

“I know, right? The Yankees totally should have won last night.” One skinny man said, waving to the others as they left.

“See you tomorrow, Brian.” They said, waving back and turning the corner.

The alien slime was seen oozing across the tiled floor.

“Clean-up in aisle twelve!” Max called.

The two interns stepped carelessly into the slime, which engulfed their feet, pulling them down to the ground, out of frame.

“Ah! Agggh! Oh god! Help!” They shrieked.

“They finally realized how their flat-top hairdos really look.” Jenny said.

The actors portraying the interns stood up stiffly, with stern expressions on their faces.

“The forms of these workers will serve our purpose nicely. Now let us go to gather information.” The taller man said, speaking in the voice of the first alien.

They walked off, the camera panning down to the slimy footprints the two disguised aliens left on the tiled floor.

Meanwhile, outside of the workspace-turned-cinema, Francine was making her way towards the cafeteria. Everything seemed so creepy on Halloween at night when there was nobody else around. She briefly scolded herself for getting so worked up over the movie. The aliens on the DVD cover didn’t look scary, even in the classic exaggerated style of monster movie poster art.

Francine’s eyes darted back and forth, just to make sure nothing was going to jump out at her. She was so busy looking from side-to-side that she ended up never seeing the man she collided with-

“Eeeeek! Oh… sorry. Nerves… Halloween… you know how it is…” She apologized to the toolbox-carrying electrician, who nodded knowingly at her embarrassment.

Laughing at her own foolishness, she walked on, turning the corner to the cafeteria, which had, luckily, not yet closed. Striding over to the vending machines, she pulled out her wallet and paid for five mini bags of popcorn. Francine was just about to check for the cheesy kind that only Joel liked, when she saw a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye, near the food counter of the empty cafeteria.

It was probably nothing, but still, she had to check…

2009-Nov-13, 07:43 PM
Halloween Special, Part 2:

On the DVD player’s screen, a janitor was humming to himself as he mopped the hallway, coming abruptly upon the slimy footprints that the alien “interns” had left.

“What in the world…” He muttered, cleaning up the trail and noticing that the footprints extended all the way down the hall.

The janitor followed the footprints until they came to a door with a large glass window in the top. Through the glass, he could see the two interns shaking the knob to a door marked “Classified, Restricted Entry”, and finding it locked.

“Well, gee, you can’t leave classified stuff lying around where dumpy-looking aliens could just waltz in and see it.” Teresa said.

After conferring with his partner, the shorter man sighed, and the camera cut to the janitor’s horrified expression. In his true form, the slime alien slithered under the door.

“He’s not human!” The janitor whispered, horrified, running away as fast as he could.

“No duh!” Everybody shouted.

Still running for his life, the janitor nearly crashed into Clarissa and Robby, who were walking up the hall with a white-haired man in a lab coat.

“Hang on now, where’s the fire?” Robby asked, holding up his hand to stop his progress.

“I saw… I saw…”

“What did you see, sir?” Clarissa asked.

“Your face.” Joel suggested.

“I saw two of those slide-rule boys trying to break into a classified room…”

“Are they spies for… The Other Side?” Robby asked, horrified.

“Wait, The Other Side like the afterlife? So they’re alien ghost spies? Awesome!” Jenny asked.

“He’s talking about Soviet Russia, stupid.” Joel said.

“Uh, sarcasm?” Jenny countered.

“No, no, they’re not even human! They’re some kind of monsters!” The janitor said, eyes wide open in fear.

“Monsters? Vhat kind of monsters are zhey? Vhat did zhey look like?” The old scientist asked, provoking laughs from the four viewers.

“See, how’s that for the German accent Francine wanted?” Teresa asked.

At that moment, the room was plunged into darkness.

Francine found herself caught behind the salad bar when the lights went out. Screaming, she ran for the red “Exit” sign, knocking over a jar of relish on the salad bar that shattered on the floor. Slipping on the relish, Francine fell to the floor, still screaming, as the lights turned back on.

“It’s just… that electrician testing… the fuses. Thank… gosh.” She breathed heavily, standing up and gathering the popcorn bags that she had dropped when she slipped. Seeing the broken jar, she decided that finding a janitor was an important priority and hurried off into the hallway, leaving footprints of green relish in her trail…

“Ha, ha, just like the movie. Very funny, Francine.” Joel said, looking up to the door, expecting to see his coworker at the light switch near the door with her popcorn. “Francine?”

“She’s probably hiding behind the door to freak us out.” Max suggested, pausing the DVD. Teresa sped over to the door as only she could. “Hey, joke’s ov- she’s not there.”

“Let me see…” Joel stepped out into the hallway, affirming that Francine was not there. “But there’s some funny stuff on the floor by the corner.”

“It better not be green slime.” Jenny said, as they walked over in a group to the corner to see just what it was.

Just then, the lights went out again, but only in that hallway.

“I’m getting out of here!” Joel shouted, hurrying back to the well-lighted corridor that led to their office block, and slipping on the relish in the process. “It IS slime! Like the movie! Like in the movie!” The lights turned back on, revealing his panicked expression.

“Joel, you can’t seriously believe…” Teresa started, looking down to see the “slime” closer and to smell it “This is just pickle relish.”

“Uh, well, no… but just in case, Max, how does that movie end?”

“Dr. Leberecht, the old German guy in the lab coat, figures out that the aliens are burned by the touch of Jello. Robby, Frank the Janitor, and Brian the intern manage to lure the aliens into a room and drop a big garbage can full of Jello on top of them, which kills them.”

“Jello? You’re serious?” Jenny asked.

“It wasn’t on MST3K for nothing.”

“Well, then, why don’t we go to the cafeteria? Not because I want to get Jello, just to, uh… to see how Francine’s coming with that popcorn. And now that you mention Jello, I think I’d like to eat some, too.” The fright in Joel’s voice revealed his blatant lies.

“Oh, alright. If it makes you feel better, we’ll get some Jello.” Max said, rolling his eyes as they headed for the cafeteria.

“Guys? Guys? Hey, I got the popcorn, where are you?” Francine asked, walking into the workspace after having found a janitor. The room was empty, and the DVD player was paused. “Guys, please don’t jump out at me, that’s not cool, you know how sensitive I am.”

About a minute of silence passed. “Okay, you know what, it’s late and I really should go back to the hotel.” She left the popcorn on Max’s desk with a sticky note describing this plan, and headed back out into the hallway.

Still not sure if she was being tricked, Francine headed for the exit in a state of high alert. She was almost at the door when a nearby movement caused her heart to skip a beat. A man about as tall as she was stood near the exit sign. He hadn’t been there before… or had he?

“Sorry, did I scare you?” He asked, smiling. The clean polo shirt and crew cut suggested he was from the military, maybe the Air Force. His eyes looked kind of small and squinty, but not in a way that suggested dishonesty.

“Yeah, I was watching this monster movie with my friends… have you seen four techies around anywhere? I don’t know where they went.” Francine asked.

“A woman with green hair, a dark-haired woman wearing glasses and two men?” The man asked.

“Yeah, that’s them. Tessa, Jenny, Joel and Max.” Francine said, excitedly.

“They were headed for the cafeteria, looking for you.”

“Thanks a million! Hey, has anyone ever told you that you look kind of like Gus Grissom?”

“Actually, I get that a lot.” The man answered, smiling again, as Francine hurried off. “Happy Halloween.”

Back in the cafeteria, the janitor was working on cleaning up the relish off to the side, an angry look on his face.

“What happened to him?” Francine had asked, after her friends had caught her up on everything that had happened.

“Oh, Joel burst in here shouting ‘Die, alien, die!’, and generally acting like a headless chicken, and that didn’t go over so big with him.”

“Did you seriously think the movie had come to life?” Francine asked. Joel said nothing.

“Well, now that we’re sure there are no aliens here, what do you say we finish the movie with our popcorn… and our Jello?” Max asked. Everybody laughed.

2009-Nov-20, 01:03 AM
November 24, 2009, 4:32 PM, Chicago, Illinois

Janet Quincy was born in Chicago in 1940. She had no siblings. From childhood, she showed a talent for math and science. While still in school, she received a commercial pilot’s license and later competed in several air races, which brought her into contact with Jerrie Cobb.

In 1959, Quincy took the only scientific job she could find that was available to a woman- serving as a calculator at Los Alamos National Laboratory. In mid-October 1960, an accident occurred during the fusion experiments she was helping with. Intervening, Quincy prevented a disaster, but was exposed to dangerous amounts of radiation and hospitalized. Shortly afterward, the fusion project was canceled due to lack of results and most of the personnel were transferred to the group working on the Gamma Bomb.

After the end of the project and her recovery, Janet Quincy moved back to Chicago and became an engineer’s assistant, although she often ended up doing just as much work as the men she was “assisting”. She discovered the changes the radiation had done to her body, including her power of gravity control.

While attending an airshow, she used them to slow the fall of a pilot who crashed in front of the crowd, saving his life. This “miracle” was reported in the newspapers, but because she had acted secretly from within the crowd, it was not connected with Quincy.

About a month after the incident at the airshow, an attempted robbery after-hours at the Field Museum was thwarted by what security guards described as a “flying woman in a silver suit.” A few weeks later, Jerrie Cobb was asked by Dr. Lovelace to contact outstanding female pilots she had encountered. One of her letters went to Janet Quincy.

Agreeing to the tests, Quincy undertook preliminary astronaut training at the Lovelace Clinic in Arizona, including orientation with the systems of the Mercury capsule. After passing with flying colors, she ended up being invited to Gus Grissom’s launch, where she saved him from drowning and became publicly known.

But while she actively aided the Mercury pilots as Perigee, Quincy’s chances of flying into space herself began to slip away. A dispatch from NASA to President Johnson about the training of Quincy and the other Mercury 13 was filed with the president writing “Let’s stop this now!” across it in large letters. Along with Cobb, Quincy went to Washington for a series of congressional hearings on the future of the female astronaut program. Ironically, Scott Carpenter, the man she had saved as Perigee, was one of those testifying against allowing women into the astronaut corps.

The decisions ended up being against the favor of the Mercury 13. No American woman would fly into space until Sally Ride in 1983. Janet Quincy returned to her job at the electrical company in Chicago, but found herself feeling weaker and weaker after a few years. The radiation that had given Quincy her powers had also given her an undetected form of cancer.

In 1970, Janet Quincy died and was buried near her home in Chicago.

It was cold and rainy in the cemetery and the stones were small and ordinary, with little distinguishing one from another. Teresa wrapped her coat more tightly and consulted the index card with directions the local historian had given again. The third row back from the ornamental pine trees…

The grave she was looking for was sixth in the line, near some relatives.

“‘Janet Quincy, 1940-1970. Daughter, Aviator, Friend.’” Calculator, Superhero, Almost-Astronaut. She added, silently, placing the flower she had brought.

Again, she felt that strange sadness for someone she could never know directly.

It could have been different, if she’d been born later. She could have gotten a real, important scientific job instead of being a calculator or an assistant. And she wouldn’t have had to deal with all the criticism.

Reporters said things like “Women in space? If I had my way, I’d send all of them there, one-way!” Nowadays, nobody could get away with saying that. There’d be a huge outcry and that reporter would lose his job.

She could have joined the Program and flown. They all could have, now.

And, it’s funny, but all the research I’ve done hasn’t made me hate the male Mercury 7, though. They were products of their time.

They were white, male, nonmutant test pilots. They had The Right Stuff.

But now we know that those two facts aren’t mutually exclusive.

Now, we know better. Now we have women in the astronaut corps, people of every racial stripe, even a black Administrator… now we even have mutants. But if not for the work that Perigee and her teammates did in opening up the way, maybe we wouldn’t.

Jerrie Cobb’s still alive, so are lots of the other surviving Mercury 13 trainees. They’re old now, of course, but they still want to fly. We don’t have a lot of data on how weightlessness affects aging, only what was recorded with John Glenn on the Discovery in ’98.

But we’ve already got the last few shuttle flights planned out, and that’s not in the program. And by the time we get Orion ready, some of them may have passed on.

Still, if only there was something…

She pulled out a satellite phone and dialed.

“Hey, Sean? This is Teresa. I need to talk with Burt.”

“Yeah, glad to hear from you again, too, SpaceShipTwo’s almost ready to fly, right? Things here are good, but that’s kind of why I called….”

2009-Nov-29, 08:51 PM
December 7, 2009, 11:34 AM, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville

It was once again time for the monthly “Employee Suggestion Drive” that the Center’s director was so fond of. He had gotten the idea from some leadership book- every month, he would e-mail a question to all the Center’s employees and then meet with the people whose responses he took a particular interest in. So far, it hadn’t gone over very well.

Teresa was quickly walking down the hallway to get back to her office to watch the video feed as Virgin Galactic unveiled SpaceShipTwo at Mojave Spaceport. It was hard to believe that in a few months time, it would be carrying tourists into suborbital space, just as Brian Binnie had five years before.

It was even harder to believe that it had been five years since she’d left Mojave.

“Mr. Jacobson, I looked at your responses to our Employee Suggestion Drive earlier today, and I must say, I was very disappointed.” That was the director’s voice, coming from inside of Joel’s office.

“You were?” She could hear Joel asking, with a tinge of worry.

“The question, Mr. Jacobson, was ‘How can we better appeal to the younger generation?’ I think you will agree that this is a very serious problem for our Center.”

“Yes it is, Sir.”

“Right, then, yet somehow you wrote ‘When the astronauts go on talk shows, we should have them wear body glitter and plastic vampire fangs.’ Plastic vampire fangs?”

“You don’t think that would work?” Joel sounded mortified.

“Mr. Jacobson, that idea is, quite frankly the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Even stupider than what you wrote for last month’s question-” there was the sound of paper turning.

“Last month, I asked ‘What do you think we should do if a comet is headed for Earth?’ Certainly a very serious question, and your opinion as an engineer is of great value in this matter. But what did you write? ‘Since comets are mostly ice, the best defense would be to send up a giant space hairdryer to melt the comet.’ Do you think this is funny?”

“Um, well, kind of…” From the tone of his voice, Teresa could tell that Joel wanted to disappear instantly.

“The future of NASA is funny? Saving the human race is funny? They’re both so funny that you couldn’t take a moment to actually write in a serious suggestion? You are not a sketch writer, Mr. Jacobson. I hope that next month, you will actually be able to write something serious when I ask you a serious question. Good bye.”

The door opened, and the director stepped out, passing Teresa. She heard him mutter under his breath: “Body glitter… stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

2009-Nov-30, 09:17 PM
Nice dig at the recent Twilight fad.

2009-Nov-30, 09:42 PM
The idea just popped into my head and I ran with it.

2009-Nov-30, 10:30 PM
Also, I did get to see Mr. Lightfoot (the MSFC director speak a while back at the Von Braun Memorial Symposium that I attended back in October. I also got to meet Dr. Bolden there as well. On a related note, I saw Dr. Griffin the day Ares 1X launched at the math building while I was trying to do my homework in the courtyard, which was in the shade as there were to many spiders around (not a fan). I then packed up my stuff and finished the rest of it in the Apollo courtyard underneath the Saturn V.

Sorry to go off on a tangent there, but I look forward to reading more.

2009-Dec-01, 12:11 AM
The funny thing is that because "The Director" in this story is the highest-ranking person the characters routinely interact with (And because he has to put up with quite a lot.), he's purposefully never named and not meant to be Lightfoot or anyone who has previously held the office.

On a related note, I saw Dr. Griffin the day Ares 1X launched at the math building while I was trying to do my homework in the courtyard, which was in the shade as there were to many spiders around (not a fan). I then packed up my stuff and finished the rest of it in the Apollo courtyard underneath the Saturn V.
That is a really cool story.

Sorry to go off on a tangent there, but I look forward to reading more.
I don't really know when I'll have more to post, as I started some of the 2010 arc, but it's based around a SpaceShipTwo flight, and I just found out the tourist flights aren't going to start until 2012, so I'm in a minor panic over what to do...

2009-Dec-01, 07:15 PM
In the meantime, I may post part one to latest installment of series, which covers the build up and launch of the USS Sagan in 2036.

2009-Dec-01, 09:52 PM
Just read that, very nice. If not for the multi-decade difference in setting, I'd recommend a cross-over.

2009-Dec-01, 10:17 PM
Well, I am planning a quasi-crossover by making a reference to Into Cosmos.

2009-Dec-01, 10:54 PM
I'm looking forward to it.

(Was "Kate Eaves; archeologist; Hadley Rille" some kind of shout-out or am I just crazy?)

2009-Dec-02, 12:43 AM
I'm looking forward to it.

(Was "Kate Eaves; archeologist; Hadley Rille" some kind of shout-out or am I just crazy?)


right about the shout out thing, that is.

2009-Dec-03, 12:00 AM
Phew, I was worried I was just paranoid/vain.

2009-Dec-04, 10:04 PM
Looking forward to this as well.

2009-Dec-04, 10:18 PM
Looking forward to this as well.
Well, most of my characters don't get out quite that far, although they may feel fallout.

2009-Dec-11, 10:43 PM
As far as 2010 goes, I have several possibilities swarming in my head:

* Teresa saves the Falcon 9 from saboteurs.
* Joel has a dream where he's a James Bond-style spy, writes it down, and forces Tessa and Francine (and us) to listen to the story.
* In a tie-in to the Dark Reign/Siege comics event, the Green Goblin has become a powerful leader in politics, and he plots to discredit NASA and have his personal military projects inherit their tech.

2009-Dec-26, 04:00 PM
Perhaps I shall start posting the 2012 story now, just to keep give everyone something to read. We can flash back to 2010 after the arc is done.

2010-Jan-08, 10:24 PM
Submitted for your consideration, a handful of seemingly disparate lives, scattered throughout the world at the begining of the second decade of the 21st Century. None of them is now aware of the growing connections that will bring soon. them into contact with the others. For now, they are alone, each in a moment of relative happiness, with no thoughts about these small degrees of separation...

April 17, 2012, 10:28 AM, Mojave, California

The hybrid rental car was nearly alone as it made its way down the baking freeway. The driver, Linka Drakon, heeded the instructions of her small, store-bought GPS, ignoring the conversation her husband Dimitri was carrying on in Russian with their eight-year-old son.

< “Are we there yet, dad?” >

< “Almost, Alexi. We’ll be at the Spaceport before you know it.” >

< “That’s what you said an hour ago.” >

< “Read your comics. They’ll help with your English.” >

< “But dad, I already read all of them twice!” > The little black-haired boy groaned, gesturing to the stack in the seat next to him.

< “Alexi, do you know what this trip means to us? We are going to be part of history! I bought these tickets years ago, the moment Mr. Branson announced they were for sale! You had just been born, but I said, ‘When Alexi’s older, he’s going to really be glad I bought these.’ This is a great-” >

< “- a great opportunity, I know, I know. Because back when you were a kid, all the cosmonauts had to train for like a million years and climb in the tiny little capsules and the tickets cost you all this money and you had to negotiate with the principal to let me leave school and we’re on the third passenger SpaceShipTwo flight ever and I’m gonna be a spaceman just like Captain Schirra from Galactic Strike, but right now I’m really bored and-” >

< “Alexi! You are going to stop complaining or no video games for a month once we get home!” > His mother shouted, squeezing the steering wheel tighter.

< “But mom-” >

< “No buts. Read your comics again or look out the window for the road sign for the Spaceport.” >

Grumbling, the small boy wished he had somehow been able to bring his video game system with them on the trip. It wasn’t that Alexi didn’t want to ride on Mr. Branson’s spaceship, but the flight from Moscow to New York had been long, and he had gotten airsick. Once they were in New York, Alexi had hoped they would get a chance to stay in the city for a little bit, just long enough for him to catch a glimpse of Spider-Man or one of the other heroes he had read so much about. But the Drakons had boarded the connecting flight to Los Angeles too fast for him to see anything other than the inside of Kennedy International Airport.

The hotel the Drakons had stayed at in Los Angeles had been nice, and the 14 hours of flying had certainly made him tired, but with the time difference, it had seemed like far too early to wake up. Of course, once they were in Mojave, it would be really cool seeing the Spaceport and the SpaceShipTwo and starting their pre-flight training, but at the moment, all there was for Alexi to do was look out the window at the desert and the distant mountains, punctuated here and there by rows of wind turbines. Well, those were kind of nice to watch, all white and shiny, but too far away for him to get a really good look…

< “We’re here, guys!” > His mother shouted from the front seat. On the left, a large concrete sign framed with desert rocks dominated Alexi’s vision. “Welcome to Kern County, Home of the Voyager” it read. Alexi wasn’t sure what the Voyager was, but he could see buildings coming into view now, and long train tracks where dusty freight trains hauled long chains of train cars.

< “It’s like a cowboy movie! Mr. Lonchakov works here? >

< “Sure does, right at the Spaceport. But I don’t think we’ll get to see him.”>

They passed another sign at the barbed wire perimeter fence, this one reading “Mojave Spaceport- Home of SpaceShipOne” with a mural of the older vehicle underneath.

< “I think they need to update their signs, dear.” >

The sheds and hangars came into view, as the car approached a checkpoint where a security guard stopped them.

“We’re the Drakon family, from Moscow, here for the SpaceShipTwo flight?” Linka told the guard in English, who checked his computer for their names.

“Go straight, make a left turn, and keep going until you see the buildings with the Scaled Composites symbol. Have a nice flight!” The guard said, waving them through.

Following the directions, they found several cars already parked by the Scaled buildings, with the other passengers already talking to the pilots and technicians. A red-haired woman with a clipboard hurried up to the car as Alexi undid his seatbelt.

“Dimitri and Linka Drakon? Good morning and welcome! We’re glad to have you here with us at Virgin Galactic!” The woman smiled wide, consulting her clipboard. She made small talk with Linka as Dimitri moved to let his suffering son out of the car.

“That’s a very nice necklace you’re wearing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of stone before.” She pointed to the glassy green stone that Linka wore around her neck.

“It’s a Moldavian tektite from the Czech Republic. A meteor hit there millions of years ago and the impact turned the local rocks into decorative stones like this.” Linka explained, as her son reached her side. "They're not expensive, just very pretty."

“And this must be little Alexi, right?” The Virgin Galactic representative asked, bending down to look him in the eye.

“Yes, I am! May we go to see the spaceships? I really want to see the spaceships!” He responded, eager to show off his English to the woman.

“Now that’s the kind of spirit I like to see. You’re a very lucky young man, I can promise you, this flight will change your life!”

12:36 PM, Equatorial Pacific, near Guam

The water was clear and blue as far as Typus could see. He opened his mouth wide, catching a delicious mouthful of microscopic creatures. Soon, it would be Migration, but for now, Typus swam happily. It was his twelfth year, and, while still a juvenile, he had long since gotten used to the ways of the ocean.

He didn’t think of himself as Typus. Whale sharks don’t use names. He was just him, and every other shark was whoever they happened to be. As long as they didn’t eat his plankton, he didn’t care.

But to some, telling one twenty-meter creature from another matters quite a bit. In fact, it mattered very much to the inhabitants of the small motorboat that was carefully approaching from behind Typus. They cut the motor, so as not to hurt him by accident, and, in a blizzard of bubbles, two strange creatures appeared to Typus’ left, divers in matching blue wetsuits.

He didn’t mind, he’d met divers before. They would swim around him, perhaps try to get a ride, flash some bright lights at him, and then leave. They were harmless and seemed to have no interest in even the richest plankton, so Typus tended to ignore them.

The first diver circled above Typus’ back, photographing his fine white cross-hatches and spots. The second made markings on a dive slate, before swimming back to the boat. Her partner followed. Typus gave the creatures one last look before going back to feeding.

The female diver showed the dive slate to her friend:

“Specimen 145, personal name ‘Typus’, from species name, Rhincodon typus.”

5:02 PM, Marshall Space Flight Center

“See, isn’t it something? Isn’t it amazing? I told you it was great! I told you and you said-”

“Cut it out, Joel!”

“Actually, yes, that was what you said…”

Francine and Teresa were in the Center’s parking lot, watching Joel show off the new red car he had purchased the day before.

“It is a good-looking car, I’ll admit that, Joel. And it’s good that you bought an electric model.” Teresa said, looking at her face reflected in the shiny red metal of the door.

He may not care about shrinking his ego, but at least he’s shrinking his carbon footprint.

“Only the most modern for me! No highway CO2! This baby runs on batteries!” Joel announced, thumping the rear where the battery motor was kept.

“Double or triple A?” Francine joked.

“Ha, ha. Neither- lithium-iron. And they’re rechargeable. And is it ever fast!”

“I’ve got to say, it’s my second-favorite electric car I’ve seen all day.” Francine said, smiling like she had a secret.

“You saw another electric car today? Where, at the Center?” Joel asked, taking umbrage at the idea that somebody could have beaten him to the punch.

“Yup, over at the museum.”

“You saw an electric car at the museum? Who’s car is it? That stupid Greg from Shuttle Ops?” Joel was getting mad. “And how could you like it more than mine? At least mine’s red. His is probably some stupid color like puce.”

“Well, it’s a lot more durable than yours, and it has a lot more mileage, too. But it’s battery-powered, just like yours. In fact, it’s kind of trailblazing like that.” Francine said. Teresa’s face lit up as she caught on.

“Yeah, I saw that car, too. But it’s not at the museum, it’s in the museum.” She said, trying to clue Joel in. Sadly, he remained clueless.

“Greg’s car is in the museum?” Joel asked, now puzzled in addition to angry.

“Not Greg’s car, she’s talking about the first practical electric car ever- the moon buggy!” Teresa explained, feeling the joke had gone on long enough.

“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… well, if this baby was spaceworthy, I could drive circles around that old moon buggy. The moon buggy is like this baby’s great, great grandfather. I could…” He went on bragging, not noticing that Francine and Teresa were walking away.

“You really shouldn’t have done that, he didn’t get the joke.” Teresa told her friend.

“Well, it was nicer than the other joke I had in mind- with all the hot air he’s blowing, it’s a good thing he’s got an electric car!”

“Nice one.”

6:23 PM, Central (Houston) Time, International Space Station

The station had passed into the Earth’s shadow, leaving the continents below dark masses scattered with the winking pixie dust of cities and roads. Here and there, a meteor would flash, or the aurora would dance above the poles, and Ekaterina Choulas found herself trying to enjoy the fantastic view.

Not everyone gets to see this, you know.

They don’t let just anyone come up here… not everyone has 20 million dollars to burn…

But I do. The Cypriot businesswoman smiled to herself, patting the tie that kept her long black hair in a floating ponytail in the station’s microgravity.

Vacations don’t get any more exclusive, and lord knows I’ve waited long enough… Anger flashed through her eyes, remembering the frustration.

Now relax, dearie. Deep breaths. You got here yourself. Your money, your patience. Yes, patience. That Space Adventures travel company sunk you deep in the waiting list, but you never complained… all just because you were a little forceful with their representative on the phone… being the only one in the world doesn’t give them leave to act like that to their customers…

The anger returned, her hands balling into fists.

No, I never complained, I never complained… I remained quiet while they sent up all those twits first… Laliberté, the clown, and that computer geek Lonchakov… they even let Simonyi fly twice before they let me go… and worst of all-


I signed up before her. I was supposed to be the first woman. I was going to get the record books, but they sent that stupid Anousheh Ansari! Never mind she’d was getting her own little space program in that godforsaken California desert, she wanted the big leagues and they sent her first!

First female space tourist. She was in the papers. She got the record books. She-

Choulas gritted her teeth and grunted, before wiping her brow and looking around at the module.

No need for that. I’m up here now, aren’t I? And I’m going to enjoy it.

2010-Feb-03, 02:11 AM
Quite frankly, I don't know where I go from here. Either I do an Alternate Universe with the stories I've already planned or I wait for more data and write about the new stuff.

(It's Joel's fault. Somehow.)

2010-Apr-17, 12:05 AM
Whiped up this in the LOLcat maker... (http://www.bautforum.com/album.php?albumid=137&attachmentid=12816)

2010-Apr-28, 11:07 PM
Energized by the new plans, I can indeed tell you that there will be more ItC chapters coming out in the future! (The title now should be seen as a straightforward descriptor rather than a quote from a speech.)

2010-May-09, 08:00 PM
Some of what follows is based upon real things I said, thought or did on the day the story takes place or in the subsequent weeks or months. The [Political Comment] tags are to mantain the political neutrality of our story and add a touch of humor, not to suggest that the story was censored in any way by BAUT.

Without further ado, the first issue of Into the Cosmos 2010- Sting of the Scorpion, Part 1...

February 1, 2010, 3:03 PM, US Space and Rocket Center

It had started off so well. Administrator Bolden had begun his speech on NASA’s approved budget for the next fiscal year with the announcement that they would receive a 6 billion dollar funding increase over the next five years and detailing the commitment to R & D that they had been authorized to embark on. But something had clearly been off.

“We both agreed that as NASA moves forward into this still-young century, we need a renewed commitment to invention and development, to the creative and entrepreneurial spirit that is at the core of our country's character and that these things would be good for NASA, great for the American workforce, and essential for our nation's future prosperity.”

Even as he spoke the hopeful words, Teresa had noticed a concerned tone in the Administrator’s voice, making his smile seem almost forced or insincere. There had to be something else, the Marshall employees all had thought, as they had listened to the teleconference attentively, within the small conference room, and the fear of what that “something else” might be had them on edge.

“…we are demonstrating our commitment to extend the life of the International Space Station, likely to 2020 or beyond. This will keep a commitment to our international partners and develop the full potential of this amazing orbiting laboratory where humans regularly do things we have never done before.”

Waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop is never a pleasant state.

“…Imagine trips to Mars that take weeks instead of nearly a year; people fanning out across the inner solar system, exploring the Moon, asteroids and Mars nearly simultaneously in a steady stream of ‘firsts;’ and imagine all of this being done collaboratively with nations around the world.”

But the dropping of that shoe is always more painful still.

“Now let’s discuss the Constellation Program. The Program was planning to use an approach similar to Apollo to return astronauts to the Moon some 50 years after that program’s triumphs. The Augustine Committee observed that this path was not sustainable, and the President agrees.”

Just the simple use of the past tense had been like an electric shock to the engineers, driving them from nervous anticipation to full on mournful dread. Nobody wanted to hear what was coming next.

“So as much as we would not like it to be the case, and taking nothing away from the hard work and dedication of our team, the truth is that we were not on a path to get back to the moon's surface. And as we focused so much of our effort and funding on just getting to the Moon, we were neglecting investments in the key technologies that would be required to go beyond.”

“No!” Someone in the room had shouted. Who it was didn’t matter. They had spoken for everyone.

“So this budget cancels the Constellation Program, including the Ares I and V rockets and the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle.”

“Burger Doodle…” Joel had muttered, turning very pale.

“With my deepest gratitude, I commend the hard work and dedication that thousands of NASA and contractor workers have given to Constellation over the last few years. Their commitment has brought great value to the agency, and they will have a pivotal role to play in our future path. Many of the things we've learned will be critical as we move forward.”

All of this had been an hour before. Now the speech was over, and the engineers were filing back to their offices. Some spoke, some yelled or cursed, but most just shuffled along, wide-eyed, in a stunned silence.

Joel was not one of the quiet ones.

“Where do we go from here? Where are we supposed to go from here? They just cancelled everything!” He was shouting in the hallway, at the center of a small crowd.

“Not everything. He said we were building a new heavy lifter…” Francine whispered, her voice barely audible. She seemed very close to tears. “‘A steady stream of firsts’, he said…”

“I spend six years of my life on this, thinking I’m creating the future, and then I come into work today and they tell me it’s all for nothing. I thought Ares was going to be in the history books. But all we’re ever going to be is just another forgotten footnote problem that left behind lots of cool videos and concept art and promise, like the X-33!”

“What’s the X-33?” A woman in the group that had gathered around Joel asked.

“Exactly! Nobody remembers it!” He snapped. “And you know who’s fault this all is? [Political comment deleted] !”

“Oh, come on, Joel, you can’t seriously blame anybody for this. What will be, will be.” Francine argued.

“[Political comment]! [Political comment]! We’re all going to be working at Burger Doodle and nobody’s ever going to leave LEO again!”

Francine opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out. She put her hand to her mouth and started sobbing.

“It’s okay, Francine. You’re right, he’s wrong.” Teresa said, patting her friend on the back. “Joel, you’re overreacting! This isn’t the end of the human spaceflight program. Bolden said we’re going to Mars and-”

“Shut up! Shut up, you don’t know anything about this! You’ll never understand! Just go back to Mojave! I’m sure Branson will want you back there!” Joel shouted, eyes blazing with rage.

In the heat of the moment, Teresa acted on her first instinct.

She turned and ran in the other direction, down the hallway, not as fast as she could, but fast enough. Fast enough that by the time Francine could say something, she had already turned the corner and pushed open the door.

“I hope you’re happy, Joel. That… that was uncalled for.” She scolded, between tears.

She didn’t know why she’d run away, or why she kept running. She knew logically that Joel hadn’t meant what he’d said, that he didn’t really see her as an outsider at Marshall, but emotion was in control now, not logic.

And though the words stung, she didn’t hate him. She didn’t hate the politicians who had made the budget decisions, either. She didn’t hate Norm Augustine, he’d just pointed out things that were already true. And, thinking back to the sound of Administrator Bolden crying as he ended the conference, she certainly didn’t hate him. He was just the messenger, feeling everything all of them felt- but with one difference.

He had been the one with the responsibility of telling the world.

He was crying. He flew the space shuttle. He was a Marine for Pete’s sake and he was crying.

The red clay pulverized under her feet, leaving a trail of dust behind Teresa as she raced across the grass, headed away from the office buildings and into the actual testing range surrounding it. The dust was clinging to her jeans, but she didn’t care at the moment, any more than she cared about the cold wind blowing in her face.

She just kept running.

What hope do the rest of us have if he was crying?

It’s not even about the hardware. I knew that might change at any moment, that we might go back to the moon in something that looked nothing like Ares at all.

It’s just that I always thought we would be going back.

She sort of hated herself, as strange as that sounded. For doing all she had only to have it come to nothing.

Maybe Joel was right. Maybe I should have stayed at Scaled to begin with. Burt always said it was so much easier being part of an independent company.

Maybe I should go back…

And even as she cried, she hated herself for crying.

Crying is for when people die. Crying is not for when projects get canceled. We’re all going to be reassigned, anyway, we’re not going to end up working at Burger Doodle.

When Teresa finally stopped for breath, she realized she’d come all the way out to the old abandoned test stands from her grandfather’s day. In a few months, flowers would grow in this field, all around the old metal platforms and cinderblocks. Now, it was barren, only grass and bare trees in the distance.

She sat down in the grass, in the shadow of the abandoned structure. The last time this area had been used was when they’d been testing the space shuttle’s motors in the late 70s. When Columbia was still under construction out in California.


That was today. Seven years ago today.

She remembered the events of that day so clearly, the repairs to White Knight, Mike’s call on the walkie-talkies…

“Guys, get over here! Something happened to the shuttle!”

Her running to the TV room, believing he was mistaken and talking about Challenger, only to see the news footage and hear Bush’s sober words…

“The Columbia is lost. There are no survivors.”

“Oh lord, no.”

It had been because of the disaster that they’d finally realized the need to move beyond the shuttle. And that had been a wise decision. Despite today’s announcement, the shuttles were still set to retire in the fall and go safely into museums.

And they’d all been in the same room when the Vision had been announced a year later…

“The MOON? The crazy MOON?”



I want to help.

She had helped, there was no denying that. And Burt had supported her fully, she knew, as her tears kept falling to the cold ground.

“Once that flies, you’re a free woman, Tessa. If the moon’s your goal, go ahead.”

She’d come to Marshall, and then, a few months later, been at Cape Canaveral to watch the Return to Flight mission take off and resume construction of the space station. And she’d cried then, made peace with her lost heroes, and promised to continue in their name.

“Rest in peace. You are not forgotten. But this is the last day I will cry. Tomorrow we return to flight. And tomorrow, I return to work, continuing the journey. Honoring your legacy.”

“As you would have wished.”

As they would have wished. She’d repeated the sentiment after the Ares I-X test… was that only four months ago? It felt like forever now.

“Just like you’d have wanted, Judy. All for you.”

We promised we’d go back in the name of those we’d lost. Did we fail them? Did I fail them? Did we dishonor their brave legacy?

And did I fail my personal, family legacy? Did I fail my grandfather?

She pulled her legs to her chest and shut her eyes tightly. Her grandfather would have supported her, like Burt. In the short time they’d known each other, he certainly hadn’t been anything but loving.

She could remember it very clearly…

2010-May-09, 08:30 PM
Awesome stuff!

2010-May-09, 08:40 PM
Thanks. It's going to be one long issue on Marvel.com, but I broke it up here, because of our post limits. I'll have the next bit up either later today or tomorrow, where we'll actually see what Teresa remembers of her grandfather for the first time in the series.

2010-May-10, 12:49 AM
Part 2 of "Sting of the Scorpion".

June 8, 1976, 2:09 PM, Alexandria, Virginia

There was nothing besides a sign on the side of the road to indicate where the District of Columbia ended and the state of Virginia began. Alexandria was part of the Washington metropolitan area, so a familiar view of streets, cars and urban buildings rolled by on both sides of that invisible boundary line.

“Now you have to be on your best behavior, Tessa. Your grandfather is very sick.” Her mother said, turning back from the front seat to look at her five-year-old daughter.

“Okay, mommy.” Teresa chirped, nodding.

“Tell him about the Concorde if you want. Show him your models. But you can’t scream or run around.”

“Okay, mommy.” Teresa repeated, nodding again, clutching her toy airplane tightly. It was an acrobatic jet, painted in the navy-and-gold color scheme of the Blue Angels, and her father had bought it for her on her birthday, three months before. The painted metal felt pleasantly cool against her small fingers in the early-summer heat.

She acted out an airshow routine as her father parked the car, complete with sound effects.

“And now, the loop-de-loop! WuhSHOOOOOO!”

“Don’t spit, honey.” Her mother said, opening the car door and straightening Teresa’s red sleeveless shirt.

“Can I show grandfather the loop-de-loop?” She asked, bouncing along, still doing tricks with the plane in her right hand as her mother pulled her along by her right.

“Sure thing, sweetie.” Her father said, opening the door.

She didn’t really remember much about the living room, just the thick brown carpet that tickled her sandaled feet. Like a big, brown field, with the little plane flying over… she sat down to play while her parents handled all of the boring greeting stuff that adults always thought was so interesting.

The plane flies across the big, brown desert, carrying the critical ice cream shipment to the remote village…

“She’s grown so fast, Peter...”

Oh no! A thunderstorm! The plane shakes and shakes! The thunder and lightning are scary!

She shook the plane wildly, making storm sounds.

“’Really takes after you. Look at her with that plane.”

But the pilot is brave and she is not afraid of the scary storm. She flies as fast as she can and leaves the storm behind!

“She hardly touched any of her other birthday toys. The only other one she plays with at all is the Scuba Adventure Barbie.”

“He, he. She has good taste.”

She delivers the ice cream on time and saves the day! Hurray! Now she has to leave for the airshow…

“Teresa? Come over here and say hello to your grandpa.” Her father called, disrupting her pilot fantasies.

“Okay!” She ran over to the armchairs where the adults were seated and tried to climb onto her grandfather’s chair. Everyone laughed as she wriggled up and sat on the armrest.

“You’re getting a little big for that now. The next time you try it, the chair might fall over!” her grandfather said, and she turned to smile at him. His hair was white, not as slickly styled as in earlier days, but still combed neatly. In his youth, it had been blond, like hers, but Teresa would not know that for several years. At that impressionable age, she believed old people had simply always had white hair. His face was wrinkled, but despite the encroaching cancer, his blue eyes still smiled back at her.

“I got this plane for my birthday! It flies really high and fast, and it does loop-de-loops, like this!” She demonstrated the turns and flips again, making engine noises. “Kiki at school’s dad is a pilot for TWA, and she says he flies to London and Paris and everywhere!”

“Well, not everywhere.” Her mother corrected.

“Yeah, airplanes can’t go everywhere. Like, they can’t go to the moon and stuff. Then, you need a spaceship. Daddy told me that. So maybe I want a spaceship and not an airplane.” She beamed, placing her fingers on her chin to imitate the way adults always looked when they were thinking.

“She’s yours, alright. She wants a spaceship.” Her father said, laughing.

“You want a spaceship…” She shifted as an arm reached past her to pick up a magazine from the bookshelf behind her. Wind blew in her face as her grandfather thumbed through the pages, words way too small for her to ever read. She could read the little books at school with big words pretty well, but grown-up books and magazines with little tiny words were way too hard. There were so many. How did they ever read them all? “Aha.” He whispered.

He showed her a page with a large black-and-white sketch of a planet in space, dusty pale with white icy caps at its poles and a deep, dark ditch running along its middle. Her teacher had pictures of the planets hanging in the classroom in the science corner.

“Do you know what planet this is?”

“It’s Mars! That’s the next one after Earth!”

“That’s right. I’ve wanted to go to Mars since I was very small.”

“Could you go in a spaceship?” Teresa asked, blue eyes looking into blue.

“I don’t think I will. But someday, not very far from now, there will be an expedition to Mars. And the spaceships will leave from the Earth or from the moon, and go far, far out. They’ll travel for a long time, and when they finally get there, the people will step out and see the red sand and the mountains…”

Later, she would learn he had made and abandoned detailed plans for Mars trips several times throughout his life. After Apollo 11, he’d told an interviewer that if a serious effort was made, astronauts could be walking on Mars by 1982. But at that moment, all Teresa knew was that her grandfather was telling a wonderful story, full of emotion.

“And on that expedition, they’ll need brave and smart people. Maybe like you, eh?” He patted Teresa on the head.

“It’ll be the best thing ever.”

February 1, 2010, 6:42 PM

“It’ll be the best thing ever.” Teresa repeated, reopening her eyes. It got dark early now, and the sky was already fading to black. In the southeast, Sirius could be seen, and above it, blue-white Rigel, the star marking one of the feet of the constellation Orion. Orion was the mythical hunter, and Sirius, the blazing eye of the best hound that obediently trailed its master’s feet.

Orion was the second constellation Teresa had ever learned, right after the Big Dipper. (Technically, the Big Dipper isn’t a constellation- it’s only part of a larger one called Ursa Major, the Great Bear.) When she’d heard the Constellation crew capsule would be named for it, she’d thought it was an excellent choice.

But according to the star myths, Orion had faced one beast even he couldn’t kill- Scorpius, the gigantic scorpion that lurked in the southern half of the summer sky. Orion had been fatally stung, and he had fallen…

She felt her eyes becoming wet again. The subtler scorpions of fate had struck another sort of Orion down.

Except… Orion’s death wasn’t the end of the myth.

The gods placed his image in the sky so that all would know of his past glories and celebrate his name when they looked skyward.

So that they would celebrate and not mourn. They would look skyward and know that Orion was not gone forever.

And it isn’t. The Saturns built on what was learned with the Atlas and Titan rockets and the shuttle built on what was learned with the Saturns. We’ll be using the things we learned in these past five years to build the new heavy lifter and whatever goes with it. They’ll have bits of our Constellation work in them.

Living on, in the sky, for all to see.

She stood up.

My grandfather always wanted to go to Mars. Every parent and grandparent wants their kids to do better than they did, to reach higher. If I landed on the moon like he did, he’d think it was great, sure.

But if I managed to go farther, if I actually help build that first expedition to Mars…

Then I’d make his story come true.

And that’d be the best thing ever.

She turned back towards the offices. The test area was on a slight hill, and the lights of the city could be seen.

Huntsville was rather remote, to be sure. And it was unbearably hot and humid in the summer. But it was her home now, as surely as Mojave and Westchester and Washington had been.

The holiday office parties, the random craziness, the cheering at successful tests, just the thoughtful conversations over lunch with Francine…

She belonged at Marshall. She belonged here, making her grandfather’s dreams come true in the same place he’d done so much of his work.

And she’d better start as soon as possible.

Taking a deep breath of the cold twilight air, Teresa began the run back to the main building.

The corridor was silent as she walked back to her office. Some doors were open, some closed, but if anybody was talking inside, they were doing it in whispers, which made sense. Somebody had tacked the evening edition of the Huntsville Times up on the bulletin board near the water cooler.

“New NASA Budget” the main headline read, with “Ares Axed” and other smaller headlines covering the main page. The only thing that seemed unrelated to Bolden’s speech was a small box reading “Avengers Invade Asgard, see A-22.”

The lights were on in the office, and the door was half open. Teresa could see Francine’s “120 Days to Bellus- Waste Anything But Time!” poster hanging over her friend’s desk as she walked in.

Joel and Francine looked up from Francine’s workstation.

“We’d been waiting for a while. You must be freezing.” Francine said, standing up. Her eyes were still red-edged, although they looked like they’d been dry for at least an hour, which was good.

“Yeah, it’s cold out there.” Teresa nodded, walking over to join her friends.

“Look, Tessa, I’m sorry about what I said before. I was angry, and I’m still angry because of this-” Joel said, the words unfamiliar to his mouth.

“Joel.” Francine shot him a look as his voice rose.

“Sorry. But I’m not angry at you.” Joel put out his hand to shake.

“Apology accepted, Joel.” Teresa said, shaking.

“See, now was that so hard, Joel?” Francine chided. “They’ve got some hot chocolate in the cafeteria if you want to get some. Joel wanted to go, but I insisted we wait for you so he could apologize.”

“Sure thing.” They headed out the door together. “And thanks. For everything.”

“You’re not leaving, are you?” Francine asked, looking scared “Joel didn’t mean it before when he said-”

“No, I’m not leaving. I’m just saying thanks because you guys are my friends.” Teresa felt happier tears coming to her throat, but pushed them away. This was a time to be strong. “You guys are… great friends.”

“Oh, anytime!” Francine gave her another tight hug, but then withdrew, remembering what had happened last time. “Sorry.”

The end of a poem she’d learned in school ages before floated back into Teresa’s head, Tennyson’s Ulysses…

“Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved Earth and heaven, that which we are, we are.”

“So it’s destination Mars now, I guess…” Joel said, doubtful and still with an edge of sadness and anger.

“One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will.”

“Exactly. Marshall will probably get that heavy-lifter project. It sounds cool.” Francine said.

“Next stop, Mars!”

“Exactly, Tessa! See, she gets what I’m talking about, why can’t you lighten up for once and…”

“To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.”

2010-May-12, 09:34 PM
I whipped this cover up in Photoshop for the first chapter:


The eye's from Clip Art, the Columbia debris trail is from some site I've forgotten the name of, and the newspaper front pages are from here (http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/default_archive.asp?fpArchive=020203).

2010-May-14, 02:56 AM
Nice work! Speaking of Huntsville, I'm really going to miss living up there this summer (not going to class though). Even with all of the really scary things that have occured this year ( getting a handgun waved in my face while sitting at a traffic light and at biology professor taking out half the department) the place kinda felt like home. Also, where else do you run into the former NASA administrator on a regular basis (I've heard mixed reveiws on his teaching) and the guy that runs the school machine shop build parts for LDEF ? Also on the subject of VonBraun, one of my dads friends was his chaffeur in the early 60s. I always enjoy when people and places I'm familiar with feature prominently in works of fiction.

2010-May-14, 10:16 PM
I figured that with the Constellation cancelation, Teresa's would face the choice of staying or leaving, and my biggest problem with writing the issue was how to give it something remotely resembling a happy ending. I realized that the best note to end on would be an acknowledgement that the announcement was a begining, not an ending, and with her realizing how much she's come to love Marshall and the friendships she's made there. And the final lines of Ulysses seemed to fit that theme very well.

Also, I realized I'd never shown the elder von Braun in the story, even though he's mentioned so often by the characters. (Partly because, in general, I try to keep real people off-screen unless they're doing things they actually did, because I'm afraid of "writing them wrong".) So here we finally see him "on-panel", with sort of an explaination of why Tessa always thinks of him simply as "Grandfather".

2010-Jun-20, 11:18 PM
The ItC 2010 arc is not yet all-written, but I'll have the next chapter up soon, just so you guys don't think I've given up.

2010-Jun-25, 01:29 AM
March 27, 2010, 12:31 AM, US Space and Rocket Center

The feeling that had infested Marshall’s corridors and offices for the past two months was unlike anything Teresa had seen since her arrival. It was the same tense anticipation as during the Augustine hearings, but now a sense of listlessness and depression joined it. Joel’s behavior couldn’t really be described as atypical, but even some of her more even-tempered colleagues were looking strained. Genna had snapped at Francine earlier that day just for dropping a pencil.

A more formal plan would be announced by the president on April 15th, and if the Center remained a pressure cooker until then… well, Teresa wasn’t quite sure what she’d do.

We need some kind of certainty.

Something to hold on to.

We need another Vision.

When I was a little kid, it all looked so simple. The engineers build rocket ships and the astronauts climb in and fly away to have fantastic adventures. It seemed easy and wonderful.

I never realized back then how many hassles and how much wrangling and political stuff and craziness had to happen before the wonderful part.

And that was part of the reason she had chosen to come to the visitor center on her lunch break. To forget the chaotic present and uncertain future for half an hour and hopefully draw some semblance of strength from the events of the past. Even though it was a Saturday, the museum was mostly empty, as the weekend Space Camp programs, taking advantage of the present fair weather, were outside performing model rocketry experiments.

No daylight penetrated the gallery Teresa was now inside of- this part of the museum was a converted missile bunker from Huntsville’s early Army days, and as such, the concrete walls blocked out any hint of what time it was outside. It might just as well have been midnight, the only lighting in the large space was artificial.

Not that I’d ever go in a museum at midnight. I might get stabbed by an albino monk or ambushed by miniature cowboys...

Some of the exhibit signs were themselves slight relics of their time- many displays had been there since the Apollo days- but the diversity of typefaces and fonts gave the museum a slightly eccentric charm. Teresa stopped before a model of a white wedge-shaped spaceplane, something like a flattened shuttle. She ignored the plaque, as she already knew exactly what she was looking at.

Lockheed Martin X-33. Just like Joel was talking about…

I shouldn’t think like that. If we’re going to get something better, we shouldn’t complain. It’s stupid to cry over losing an apple if you’re going to be given a nectarine, because the nectarine is so much more juicy and delicious.

Teresa walked on, into the section of the museum dedicated to the space shuttle, pausing to look at a 1/16th scale plastic model of a shuttle on the launchpad, complete with fuel tank and booster rockets. Posters of female astronauts covered the concrete walls here, making it look a bit like Teresa had shrunk and fallen into the autograph folder from her days at Xavier’s.

She made eye contact with Judith Resnik’s poster, trying to mirror her old heroine’s casual, confident smile.

“Next stop, Mars. We’ll try our darndest. For you.” She whispered, climbing the stairs to the second floor of the shuttle exhibit. Teresa began to read the information on a display about shuttle EVAs, or spacewalks conducted from the shuttle, when she felt a light hand pulling on the back of her t-shirt.

“Um, excuse me, Miss…” Teresa turned to see a girl of about eight or nine who wore her brown hair in a ponytail. “Could you take my picture on the jetpack chair?” The girl thrust a small, silver-and-black digital camera at Teresa very earnestly.

“Jetpack chair…” Teresa looked around, trying to figure out what the girl was talking about. “Oh, the Manned Maneuvering Unit! Sure thing!” She said, realizing that the girl meant the white metal replica at the shuttle gallery’s center.

“Thank you, Miss!” the girl said, hurrying over to the model and sitting down in the chair.

The camera was fairly typical, although it only had a screen, rather than a viewfinder, something that always annoyed Teresa, as LCD screens had a way of showing the view as brighter than it really was.

“Hey, see those levers on the arms? Put your hands on them like you’re really flying the, uh, chair!” Teresa suggested.

“Really? Okay, Miss!” The girl took the pose, giving a wide smile. “I’m Audrey, how do I look?”

“Just like a real astronaut, Audrey.” Teresa said, smiling as she snapped a few pictures.

“Really? Cool, let me see!” Audrey ran over to look at the pictures on the camera’s screen. “Do astronauts really use jetpacks like that?”

“Well, kind of. That one specifically is a Manned Maneuvering Unit, which they haven’t used since the 80s.”

“Why? Why don’t they use it anymore?”

Teresa sighed “I know, spacewalking unfettered with a jetpack looks like a lot of fun, doesn’t it? But the experts realized it would be too dangerous if an astronaut went too far away from his spaceship and ran out of fuel. Then what would happen?”

“He’d just be… stuck.” Audrey seemed to wince briefly at the thought of floating helplessly in deep space.

“Exactly. He’d be stuck. So now, the astronauts spacewalk with a tether- that’s a rope- between them and the spaceship. But they have a smaller jetpack for emergencies, just in case their tether breaks.”

“But they don’t get to fly around free anymore?” Audrey asked, looking sadly at the suspended model.

“No, not anymore.” Teresa said, quietly. It was sort of sad when one thought about it, even though the change had been for safety reasons.

“You sure know a lot about space stuff, Miss! You must be really smart.” Audrey chirped, the tinge of sadness gone from her voice.

“Well, thank you. I work here, I’m a scientist. My name’s Teresa.”

“You work at the space center? Cool! So you probably know all about, well, everything here, right?”

“Uh, I wouldn’t say everything-” Teresa started, but Audrey had already grabbed her hand and headed in the direction of a display case “What’s this junky-lookin’ thing?”

Inside of the case was a scale model of the old Russian Mir space station with the space shuttle docked to it, as had occurred several times in the late 90s after the fall of communism.

“Junky-looking” was indeed a fair description of how Mir had appeared at that late date in its life, as several modules that had not been in the station’s original plan had been added later, meaning that solar panels and reflectors stuck out at haphazard angles. (The inside had been a bit ratty-looking, too, but the model obviously didn’t show that.)

“That’s the Mir space station.”

“A space station? I thought space stations were all shiny and stuff, like in Buzz Lightyear. Do people live in it?”

“Not anymore, but they did for 15 years.”

“15 years? But you said not anymore, because it’s not around?”

“Yeah, it fell down into the atmosphere and burned up.” Okay, that’s a horrible oversimplification, but I think the physics of atmospheric reentry are a little beyond the reach of an 8-year-old.

“Yeah, my dad says all the cool stuff in this museum is from when he was a kid and all the new space stuff’s just pretty computer pictures.”

“Computer pictures?” Teresa asked, unsure of what Audrey meant.

“You know, like pictures they make on the computer.”

“Oh. Renderings. Concept art. Well, it’s true that we make a lot of those to show spaceships we want to build… and sometimes we don’t always get to build those spaceships....”

“So all the cool stuff is from the past? Like that jetpack?” Audrey asked, a deeper sort of sadness than the one before coloring her face. “The past sounds sooo much cooler…”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that. There’s plenty of cool space stuff in the present.”

“Really? Like what?”

“Like… where do I start…” She ran her hand through her hair “…okay, like the fact that right now, there are five people in space.” Teresa knelt down, holding out her hand with the fingers extended for emphasis.

“Right now?” Audrey asked, intrigued.

“Right now.”

“Like, right this very moment while we’re talking? They’re up there right now?” The excitement on Audrey’s face looked positively angelic.

“Right this very moment. And do you know what else?”

“What?” Audrey leaned in closer.

“There are some more people going up the week after next. And then there will be 12 people up in space.”

“Where do the people go?”

“They go to the new space station. It’s much bigger and better than that one-” Teresa gestured at the Mir model “-and the parts were built all over the world, some right here in Huntsville.”

“New space station… is it shiny?”

“Well, you can see for yourself. We have a model of it downstairs. I’ll show you. Just don’t run.”

Audrey obeyed Teresa as the scientist led the way down the stairs… by only walking fast. The International Space Station model was in the last room of the “Rocket City Legacy” gallery. It stood in the middle of the room, atop a pedestal and under glass. Unlike the Mir model, where the station had appeared to be roughly the same size as the shuttle docked to it, here the model space shuttle seemed neatly cradled by the larger ISS.

“It is shiny!”

“Yup. And there have been people living on it every day for almost ten years. Not the same people, they just live on the station for a while and then go home to their families, and other people come up and take over for them. So there’s always somebody on board. How old are you, Audrey?”

“Eight and a half.”

“Well, that means, that every single moment of every single day that you have been alive, there have been people living up in space on this station. Even right this very moment.” Teresa tapped the glass of the model. “Isn’t that incredible?”

For a while, Audrey said nothing, she just stared at the model. Finally, the young girl managed to nod. “Yeah.”

I know that look very well. Very well.

“And you know what else? You can see the space station in the sky if you know when to look. It looks like this big, bright star moving quickly across the sky.”

“When? When do you need to look?”

“Uh, there’s a website where you can look it up. Let me write the address down for you…” Teresa pulled a notepad and pen from her jacket pocket and scribbled down "http://www.heavens-above.com."

Audrey took the paper and read it to herself. “Thanks!”

“Audrey? Are you in here?” An older female voice called from the main gallery.

“That’s my mom, I’ve got to go. Thanks again!” Audrey ran off, clutching the paper tightly in her hands. Teresa waved good-bye.

The wonder in Audrey’s eyes had been so pure and beautiful, Teresa thought, realizing that she, too, had better be going. She’d gotten it backwards before. The core, the real heart of space exploration, was that wonder. The really important thing wasn’t the stressful parts, but the amazing ones. Because without that wonder, none of it would even have existed.

“Did you have fun at the Space Center?” Audrey’s mother asked, as they walked back to their car. It was a warm early spring day, and birds sat in the trees, chirping from atop branches covered in new, green buds. The sunlight felt good on Audrey’s face after the dark museum.


“What’s that paper you’re holding so tightly?”

“A nice lady gave it to me. It’s a website to tell us where we can see the space station!” Audrey said, as her mother clicked her remote, unlocking the car’s door with a small “beep”.

“The space station, huh?” Her mother pulled open the door as Audrey sprang inside.

“Yup, I saw a model of it in the museum. It’s really big and shiny and the parts come from all over the world and it’s up going around the Earth all the time!”

“All the time? Like right now?” Her mother said from the front seat, more focused on her seatbelt at the moment.

“Yeah, right now! It’s up there right now in the sky, the lady said! And there are five people on it!”

“Five people? Really?”

“And, and the lady said that people have been living on the station for ten years, and I said I was younger than that, and she said that means there have been people in space every day I’ve been alive!”

“Every day you’ve been… that’s right. I never thought of it like that, but that’s actually very interesting, Audrey!”

“Can we find out when to see the space station and then show Hailey tonight?”

“Sure, honey. But we have to go to get my prescription first.” As the car drove to the pharmacy, Audrey kept her eyes on the bright blue sky out the window. People were up there right now. It made her kind of tingly to think about. When the car stopped in the pharmacy’s parking lot, she climbed out next to her mother.

The clerk on duty was Mr. Albins, a gray-haired older man who had worked there for many years. “Hello Audrey. How are you today?” Mr. Albins asked, noticing the girl beside her mother.

“Great! I have a sleepover with Hailey tonight and we just went to the space center and I met this nice lady and she told me all about the space station!”

“Did she now?” Albins asked, opening his eyes wide to humor her.

“Yeah! She told me it’s all new and shiny and as big as a football field and there’s five people on it right now!”

“Five people? Over our heads right now? That’s… well, that’s pretty impressive, Audrey.”

“Audrey, we have to go now.” Her mother said, pulling on her sleeve lightly.

“Okay. Bye, Mr. Albins!” Audrey skipped happily away.

“Five people. Right now… my, my, my…” Mr. Albins muttered, as they walked away. He looked around. It was almost his lunch break anyway, and he’d be able to hear it in the back room if anybody came in…

“But they are up there… they would be…and she found out at the museum… those clever young folks down at the Arsenal, bless their hearts.” He muttered, opening an Internet window.

“Right this very moment. Five people.”

He wasn’t that good with computers or remembering URLs, so he just typed in “NASA.gov” and waited for the page to load. There was a large picture of the Space Shuttle Discovery on the launchpad, being prepared for its upcoming launch. He clicked on that picture and read the accompanying article. It was actually quite interesting. Albins opened an e-mail window to share the link with his friend.

He had no idea that his actions would save the lives of people he had never heard of, six months later and far away.

2010-Jun-25, 05:37 PM
“It’ll be up there, Mommy?” Audrey whispered. She was standing out in her backyard with her parents and her best friend Hailey. The sleepover had gone well so far. The girls had played Jenga, watched a Scooby-Doo movie (Hailey had guessed the culprit correctly!) and eaten chocolate fondue. Hailey had been particularly eager to show Audrey her glow-in-the-dark Supergirl sleeping bag. Meanwhile, Audrey’s mother had visited the website Teresa had given Audrey, found the next available sighting, and gathered coats and flashlights.

“Yup, right about now.” Her father whispered back, double-checking the paper with the flashlight he held. They didn’t know why they were whispering, it just felt right, there beneath the stars. When you looked up for long enough at the darkness, it almost felt like gravity had turned upside-down and you were about to fall out into the sky, Audrey through. Like you were about to fall out into forever…

“’Stars are pretty bright, though. That’s the Big Dipper over there.” Audrey’s mother pointed out.

“Follow the Drinking Gourd…” Hailey and Audrey started to sing. They had just learned in school about how runaway slaves had used the Big Dipper, or “Drinking Gourd”, to find the North Star and guide them to freedom in the days of the Underground Railroad.

“I think that’s it now!” Audrey’s father shouted, pointing to the eastern horizon. A point of bright light was steadily rising, like a star, but brighter, and moving.

“Is it a plane?” Her mother asked, not wanting to chase a red herring and miss the real flyover. But even as the small light moved overhead, they heard no jet engines, and the light never blinked or swerved, it just continued rising, in that perfect little arc. “I didn’t think it was so bright. It looks like God’s shining down a flashlight.” She whispered.

“I think it looks like Tinkerbell!” Hailey shouted.

“That’s it! That’s really it!” Audrey was jumping up and down now. “The space station! And there’s five people on it!”

The four of them stood out in the yard for a long time, even after the light had disappeared beyond the western horizon, heading west across the US, towards the waiting dawn over the Pacific.

Selected Twitter “conversations” from that night:

MaxedOut78: My uncle in Alabama sent me these pics of the space shuttle. Pretty sweet.
6 hours ago

CoralLexie: @MaxedOut78 Cool pics of the Space Shuttle Discovery. We saw a launch in school once.
6 hours ago

Tangerine_Notebook: Followed @CoralLexie’s link to NASA site, found these pics from the Mars rover. Check ‘em out.
6 hours ago

GremlinGuy: @CoralLexie- Cool, which one? I think we saw the one where they fixed the Hubble when I was in 2nd grade.
5 hours, 30 minutes ago

VolcanicPushpin: @MaxedOut78- Great stuff! Tell your uncle I said thanks!
5 hours, 30 minutes ago

WhyteKnightAiry: @Tangerine_Notebook- Wicked! Got 2 show my cuz when she comes home. Did you hear 1 of the rovers is stuck?
5 hours, 20 minutes ago

CoralLexie: @GremlinGuy- Think it was the one with John Glenn. That was the Discovery, same as this. Better check Wiki.
5 hours, 10 minutes ago

WeaselWorlds: @WhyteKnightAiry- Had not seen those yet, thnks, Airy! “Space, the final frontier…”
4 hours, 40 minutes ago

UranChad: Went 2 NASA site following @Tangerine_Notebook, look, Saturn is preeeeety…
4 hours, 30 minutes ago

Leon-Roars: @VolcanicPushpin, @MaxedOut78- Cool, space rocks!
4 hours, 30 minutes ago

Sailor_Star_S: @UranChad- Pix of Saturn from Cassini probe.
4 hours, 10 minutes ago

Dave_The_Clam: @Leon-Roars- Cool, I sent the link to my bro.
4 hours ago

March 22, 2010, 1:49 PM Avengers Tower, New York City

It had been a good Monday for the clerk. He liked the job he did, the government paid well, and even when the tower was attacked (which seemed to be quite frequently), the floors were so well-insulated that he seldom even heard anything down in his office. It was a small office, but there was heat, Wi-Fi and a nice view out the window, so he didn’t really mind.

The morning had been productive and he’d managed to transfer the records of the last five Thunderbolts missions into the “T” cabinet, putting them in order by the alphanumeric code Director Osborn had assigned. He knew nothing of the missions besides their codes. He handled classified secrets every day, but he was not the sort to be curious about the contents of those countless manila file folders. He wasn’t paid for that.

At lunch, he had taken a break to check his e-mails and found some photographs of the space shuttle being prepared for launch that his brother had found online. While he’d never really been fascinated by that sort of thing, the images themselves had been clear, and the shuttle was indisputably a good-looking machine.

So, he thought, walking up the steps to receive his latest assignment from Victoria Hand, it had been a good Monday.

Hand was busy on the telephone, but the folder was there on her desk, with a sticky note saying it was a copy of briefing materials for a HAMMER agent that had been delivered a few hours before and that this copy needed to be filed before the end of the day. The corner of a photograph stuck carelessly out of the folder’s mouth, probably part of something smaller than normal paper that had slid around inside.

Normally, the clerk would have thought it was nothing, pushed the photo back in, and forgotten it. But there was something familiar in the small bit of the photograph he could see, something he remembered from his e-mails at lunch. The edge of a curving white-and-black wing…

He looked up. Hand’s back was turned.

Just pulling that one photo out couldn’t hurt. He’d put it right back.

Once he saw the whole view, the clerk realized his hunch had been correct. All that distinguished it from the earlier photos was a red circle around part of the cargo bay and the words “See fig. 3”

Another look up. Hand was still busy. And this was rather interesting. He’d just see what “fig. 3” was…

He opened up the file. There were several other photographs, of the vehicle, of the processing facility… of smiling people in pressure suits that he didn’t recognize… technicians dressed in what looked like surgical whites… a mission insignia that was also unfamiliar to him... charts for a device of some sort… he looked closer at the writing on the chart.

What? Why would they need that on the… the only purpose something like that could serve would be…

And surely he didn’t think they wanted to do that, did he?

Of course not, and the actual message from Osborn would certainly clear that up…

He speed-read, knowing Hand could turn around at any moment, and a tongue-lashing was the last thing he wanted. She surely wouldn’t buy his explanation, it was a completely nitwitted idea… But his eyes moved faster and faster the further along he got.

“Oh no. Good god, no.” He shut the folder quickly, with shaking hands. If the were really planning that, he had to tell somebody. He had to do something.

The clerk took the file and hurried away from Hand’s desk. He didn’t know what he could do.

But he knew he absolutely couldn’t let that plan go through.

The real Audrey was a fourth grader I met at the Cradle of Aviation Museum shortly before the first link-up between the International Space Station and the Long Island area.

This chapter is for her.

2010-Aug-29, 08:55 PM
April 13, 2010, 7:47 PM, Huntsville, Alabama

“Who wants to hear a story?” Francine asked. Her seven-year-old niece, Anita, shifted forwards, snuggled in her sunflower-yellow comforter and nodding enthusiastically.

“Can Tessa tell the story tonight, Aunt Frankie?” Anita asked, looking at Teresa, who knelt beside the bed next to her friend. She’d volunteered to help Francine watch Anita so that they could work on their paperwork for the transition to the heavy lifter project.

“Well, what kind of story do you want to hear?” Teresa asked.

“I want a scary story!”

“A scary story… well, um…” She looked at Francine, who mouthed the words ‘Not too scary’. “Has Francine already told you about what happened to us at Cape Canaveral on Halloween?”

“With the slime aliens and the Jello? I already know that story, I want a new story!”

“A new scary story…” Teresa tried to think of a ‘scary’ story that wouldn’t be too scary for Anita. “Actually, I don’t think I know any scary stories. I don’t like them because they scare me.” She pretended to shiver, which made Anita laugh. “Maybe your Aunt Frankie knows one?”

Francine bit her lip for a minute, then spoke “Actually, I know a really good one. It happened to me a few weeks ago. But it’s super-scary. Are you sure you want to hear it?” She winked at Teresa.

“I’m sure!” Anita beamed.

“Are you really sure?”

“I’m really sure!”

“Are you super-ultra-mega-gonzo-absolutely-positively sure with a Saturn V on top?”

“Yeah! Yeah! I want to hear the story!” Anita shouted, practically leaping out of her bed.

“Okay, so a few weeks ago, I was in my apartment all alone at night when I heard the phone ring. I picked it up and I said ‘This is Francine, who’s calling?’ On the other end, I heard a man’s voice, very deep and spooky. And he said to me ‘I am the viper and I’m coming to your apartment.’ And then he hung up.”

“The viper?” Anita asked.

“The viper.” Teresa affirmed solemnly, having heard this story before.

“So I thought it was somebody from work trying to trick me, and I went back to watching TV. Then, a few minutes later, the phone rang again. I picked it up, and I heard the man’s voice again. ‘I am the viper, and I’m coming to your apartment in twenty minutes.’ Then, he hung up again. I thought that the prankster must be really determined, so I ignored it.”

Just then, there was the sound of the phone ringing downstairs, in the kitchen.

“Oh no! It’s the viper! It’s the viper and he’s coming here!” Anita screamed, burying her head in her blankets.

“Don’t worry, it’s not the viper. You don’t even know how the story ends yet. If the viper got me, I couldn’t be telling you this story, could I?” Francine said, gently pulling the covers off of Anita’s head as the phone rang again.

“Yeah, you couldn’t…” Anita said, sitting up again.

“How about I tell you the rest of the story while Tessa goes to get the phone? I’m sure Tessa can protect us from any old viper, huh?” She looked up at Teresa, who nodded and ran out the door.

She could still hear Francine’s voice as she hurried down the stairs…

“Ten minutes later, the phone rang again. I picked it up, and it was the man again. ‘I am the viper, and I’m coming to your apartment in ten minutes.’ So now, I was a little bit scared, but I thought that if I ignored it, he might not call again.”

Teresa turned on a light as she looked around the kitchen for the phone. It was near the door, on the side of a polished wooden cabinet.

“Dalmo-Harrison Residence.” She said, holding the white plastic receiver to her ear.

“Are you Teresa von Braun? I called the Center and they said-” It was a man’s voice, and it sounded winded and nervous. The voice didn’t sound familiar at all, and the tone made her uneasy.

“Yes, I am. To whom am I speaking?” She didn’t know why she maintained the formality, as it clearly wasn’t a wrong number, nor was it related to the Dalmo family.

“Call me Boisjoly.”

“Bo-zhuh-lay…” She repeated the syllables in a shivery whisper because of the memories they conjured up.

Roger Boisjoly was the engineer who predicted that the rubber seals in the shuttle’s booster rockets could fail in cold weather. His warnings went unheeded, Challenger was launched on a cold day… and we all know what happened.

“That’s not really your name, is it?” An alias like that didn’t exactly ease Teresa’s anxieties.

“It’s not. But that’s not important right now. I know things, things some very powerful people want to keep secret.”

“Look, if this is some conspiracy theory-”

“This is not a crank theory. This is real. I need your help, or, next month, six of your astronauts are going to die. And shortly after that, NASA will cease to exist.”

Teresa felt a sudden coldness, as if all warmth was draining out of her body. She could hear Francine going on with her story upstairs in the sudden silence.

“And it was the guy again, and he said ‘I am the viper, and I’m on your street.’ So I called the police, and they said they’d be there right away.”

The conversation upstairs seemed like a world away, she barely even registered her friend’s words as she heard them, trying to process what she’d just heard. Six people? Next month? There’s going to be six people on the Atlantis flight next month!

“Are you with one of our contractors? Because if you’ve discovered something wrong with the shuttle, I’ll totally help you get heard, but making calls under an alias in the middle of the night isn’t the right way to-” They’re not going to add another name to the space mirror on my watch if there’s anything I can do about it.

“It’s not a problem like that, it’s nothing like that at all. It’s worse, so, so much worse. There’s a plot, there’s a plan, there’s- Oh, GOD. They’re here. They’ve found me. I have to go!”

There was a click as the caller on the other end hung up. Quickly, while the number was still on the Caller ID screen, she grabbed a sticky note and pencil and copied it down, only now realizing that her hands were shaking.

“Caller Unknown”, it says. The police can find out where it came from, I’m sure.

“So, finally, I heard a knock at the door, and I went ‘Phew, the police are here!’”

“Was it the police, Aunt Frankie?”

Teresa headed back upstairs, as she heard Francine take a deep breath to build suspense for her story’s climax.

“I called out ‘Who’s there?’, and I heard the man’s voice say ‘I am the viper!’, so I screamed really loudly.”

“The viper!”

“And then, the voice asked ‘Vhy are you screaming? I am just ze vindow viper. I come to vipe und vash ze vindows.’ So I threw open the door… and there was this little German guy with a mop and a pail of water!”

Anita and Francine howled with laughter, collapsing onto the bed.

“Um, Francine…” Francine looked up to see Teresa standing in the doorway, looking grim. She mouthed the words “we need to talk”. Francine stopped laughing and stood up.

“Anita, I think Tessa and I have to discuss some work stuff, just sit still for a minute and yell if you need us.” She said, closing the door behind her as Anita kept giggling on the bed.

“The vindow viper! Ha ha ha! Vash the vindows! Ahha ha ha ha!”

“Who was on the phone?” Francine asked, whispering.

“I… I don’t know. He wouldn’t tell me his real name.”

“Someone from the superhero, um, scene?”

“No, probably not. He wanted me to call him ‘Boisjoly’. And yes, I think the allusion was intentional, because he seems to think… he seems to think there’s a plot… a plot to kill six of our astronauts. I think he meant the shuttle launch next month… is involved… somehow.” She had caught her breath, but she still spoke slowly.

“A plot? By who?” Francine’s eyes grew wide.

“He didn’t say. He got cut off while he was talking, he said somebody was after him and they’d found him, so he hung up. What do you think?”

“Well, it does sound sort of vague, and I can’t think of why anybody would want to kill astronauts… but I think we should take this seriously. It’s better if we act like there’s a threat and find out there isn’t than if we blow it off and find out too late the threat was real. Did you get the number?”

“Yeah. I wrote it down right here. The police can trace it.”

“We can call them up now.” Francine said, heading for the stairs. She shivered, turned around, and looked back at Tessa. “I feel sort of like a character in a thriller… This doesn’t feel exactly real.”

“I know what you mean, Frankie. I know exactly what you mean.”

2010-Aug-30, 02:50 AM
The plot thickens...

as a side note, I remember doing the "Viper" skit at Scout Camp one year.

2010-Aug-30, 11:55 PM
I read it in a book of "silly scary stories" called Velcome when I was younger and I thought it was hysterical. Shortly before I wrote this chapter, I was talking to a friend about Apollo and he told the "I vonder vhere Guenter Vent" joke. I told him that I loved that joke, and that it reminded me of the "Viper" joke. My friend had never heard that joke, so I told it to him, and realized that since my story also features a mysterious caller and Anita is just the right age to enjoy the humor, it would be fun to throw it in.

2010-Nov-04, 08:50 PM
Okay, a long wait, but to make up for it, quite a lot happens in this chapter! Also, "Project Sagittarius" IS my personal suggestion for the name of the new space plan. Just saying...

April 15, 2010, 1:56 PM, Marshall Space Flight Center

“It was from here that Space Shuttle Discovery, piloted by Charlie Bolden, carried the Hubble Telescope into orbit, allowing us to plumb the deepest recesses of our galaxy. And I should point out, by the way, that in my private office just off the Oval, I’ve got the picture of Jupiter from the Hubble. So thank you, Charlie, for helping to decorate my office.”

The scene in the little room was much as it had been three months before, but the atmosphere was rather different. The Marshall employees laughed at the President’s joke as they watched the speech he was giving at Cape Canaveral. It was hard to describe, but some combination of the jokes and the temperate Florida visuals made the room feel vaguely… warm.

“It was from here that men and women, propelled by sheer nerve and talent, set about pushing the boundaries of humanity’s reach.”

“That’s the story of NASA.”

Perhaps it was mere wishful thinking after three chilly months of confusion and stress, but Teresa certainly felt an inner warmth as she sat behind a technician named Will who she knew worked in Space Station Operations. A feeling like something good was coming. Not just something good, but something great.

She’d never have believed, crying out in the fields that February afternoon, that she’d have nearly forgotten the date of the President’s announcement, but after the call from “Boisjoly” two nights before, she’d been distracted, waiting every moment for a message back from the police about where the call had come from.

“In 1961, President Kennedy boldly declared before a joint session of Congress that the United States would send a man to the Moon and return him safely to the Earth within the decade. And as a nation, we set about meeting that goal, reaping rewards that have in the decades since touched every facet of our lives. NASA was at the forefront. Many gave their careers to the effort. And some have given far more.”

But now she was here, and for the first time in 48 hours, the mysterious caller was on a mental back-burner.

He had claimed that in the next month “NASA will cease to exist”. Well, whatever the truth in that man’s frantic claims, she knew that she could be sure that what the President said next would determine the agency’s future… or lack thereof.

“And so, as President, I believe that space exploration is not a luxury, it’s not an afterthought in America’s quest for a brighter future -- it is an essential part of that quest.”

“You tell ‘em, Barry.” somebody muttered, approvingly.

“So today, I’d like to talk about the next chapter in this story. The challenges facing our space program are different, and our imperatives for this program are different, than in decades past.”

“We’re no longer racing against an adversary.”

“We’re no longer competing to achieve a singular goal like reaching the Moon.”

“In fact, what was once a global competition has long since become a global collaboration. But while the measure of our achievements has changed a great deal over the past 50 years, what we do -- or fail to do -- in seeking new frontiers is no less consequential for our future in space and here on Earth.”

“So let me start by being extremely clear: I am 100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future.”

A small cheer went up from the assembled engineers.

“…we will extend the life of the International Space Station likely by more than five years, while actually using it for its intended purpose: conducting advanced research that can help improve the daily lives of people here on Earth, as well as testing and improving upon our capabilities in space... in order to reach the space station, we will work with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable.”

Teresa could hear Joel muttering something unpleasant under his breath, but she ignored him.

“Now, I recognize that some have said it is unfeasible or unwise to work with the private sector in this way. I disagree. The truth is, NASA has always relied on private industry to help design and build the vehicles that carry astronauts to space, from the Mercury capsule that carried John Glenn into orbit nearly 50 years ago, to the Space Shuttle Discovery currently orbiting overhead.”

Joel made a noise that sounded like a vague combination of embarrassed gagging and choking, perhaps a sound unique to situations when the President of the United States seems to have personally read your mind and told you in no uncertain terms that you are wrong.

“In addition, as part of this effort, we will build on the good work already done on the Orion crew capsule. I’ve directed Charlie Bolden to immediately begin developing a rescue vehicle using this technology… And this Orion effort will be part of the technological foundation for advanced spacecraft to be used in future deep space missions. In fact, Orion will be readied for flight right here in this room.”

Orion living on in the sky for all to see. Just like the myth.

Just like the myth.

Teresa felt the warm feeling growing inside of her as she clapped loudly.

“Next, we will invest more than $3 billion to conduct research on an advanced “heavy lift rocket” -- a vehicle to efficiently send into orbit the crew capsules, propulsion systems, and large quantities of supplies needed to reach deep space. In developing this new vehicle, we will not only look at revising or modifying older models; we want to look at new designs, new materials, new technologies that will transform not just where we can go but what we can do when we get there. And we will finalize a rocket design no later than 2015 and then begin to build it.”

Louder cheers, as the anxiety went away. They had lost dreams they had held for six years… only to be given something much better, much stronger.

"Early in the next decade, a set of crewed flights will test and prove the systems required for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. And by 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the Moon into deep space."

Beyond the moon. Yes, he'd said it.


"So we'll start- we'll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history."

"Heck yes!" somebody shouted.

"By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it."

Yes, Teresa's intuition had been right. This was something good, something great, this was…

"It'll be the best thing ever." She whispered, drowned out by the shouting and applause in the room. She was sure her grandfather had heard it, though. And that was what mattered.

In the myth, Orion was put into the winter sky to be seen by all. But Scorpius was imprisoned in the summer sky, so as to be as far away from Orion as possible.

And to make sure Scorpius never escaped again, he was put under the guard of Sagittarius, a centaur armed with magic arrows. And now in the sky, we see Sagittarius with another arrow knocked in his bow, aimed right at the bright star Antares that marks the blood-red heart of Scorpius.

So that no living thing need fear Scorpius ever again. Because Sagittarius, the avenger of Orion, is standing guard.

In time, this new program will have a name. And whatever name they give it, I'm sure it will be a good one, a noble one.

But I think calling it "Project Sagittarius" would be appropriate.

Despite the announcements of partnerships with private spaceflight companies, even Joel seemed to have caught the euphoria that filled the room, cheering with the others.

"Asteroids! Near-Earth Asteroids!"

"We're going go-ing to Mah-ars, we're go-ing to Mah-ars…" Somebody broke out into a spontaneous Snoopy dance.

They had a plan.

They had a vision.

And it was a good one.

"Dr. von Braun? Dr. von Braun?" Teresa felt someone shaking her shoulder.

"Yes?" She turned to see another worker.

"There's a call for you from the police. They've traced that number you wanted."

2010-Nov-05, 02:26 AM
Always nice to see an ItC update; I'm really interested in seeing where this goes. I need to get back to work on TTFS! before I forget where I was going. I may have some time tomorrow since a bit of car trouble has me stranded at UAH.

2010-Nov-05, 11:08 PM
Always nice to see an ItC update; I'm really interested in seeing where this goes. I need to get back to work on TTFS! before I forget where I was going. I may have some time tomorrow since a bit of car trouble has me stranded at UAH.

I'm still writing the 2010 arc, but hopefully I'll have it done before Christmas. I always try to have at least one completed chapter (or "issue", as we call them on the Marvel boards, because these are comic book characters) ahead of the one I post.

Also, for best effect, listen to Cher's "Song for the Lonely" while reading this chapter.

I put a lot of my own personal feelings into this chapter/issue and the one related to the cancellation, and I hope that makes for emotional authenticity.

2011-Feb-01, 02:49 AM
Okay, so it wasn't ready before Christmas, but I'm nearly done now!

2011-Mar-12, 02:06 AM
Note: There's a few shout-outs in here in terms of people's names and one look-alike. Have fun trying to find them!

April 21, 2010, 3:21 PM, New York City

“And where is this pay phone again?” Francine asked, as she and Teresa consulted a street map.

“Corner of West and Culbertson.” Teresa said, as a rather nippy breeze blew in their faces. It was a bit cold for late April, and she felt glad for the yellow sports jacket she’d grabbed on a whim. It was an old thing, with something like shoulder pads inside, but fortunately, it still fit.

If “Boisjoly” had really been on the run from some enemy, it made sense that he would have used a pay phone to make the call to Anita’s house. It would make it harder for his enemies to find him. But it would also make it harder for Teresa and Francine to get information about their mysterious informant.

We just have to hope that somebody saw him making the call. Because otherwise, we’ve got nothing to go on.

The pay phone was in rather better condition than usual, it sported no obvious dents or graffiti, although the usual amount of pastel-colored lumps of chewed gum clung to the underside like small, squashed, stalactites. A few stickers advertising rock bands or similar pop-culture allegiances were stuck here and there along its sides, ripped and faded.

But the two friends were less concerned with the physical appearance of the pay phone and its shelter than they were with its surroundings. Unfortunately, the street corner where it stood seemed to see very little traffic even now, in the afternoon, and people routinely crossed without bothering to look either way. Storefronts were on both sides, but they were the small sort that filled their window area with displays and signs and had little space for looking out.

“Why don’t we split up and ask at the different stores along West so we can cover more ground?” Teresa asked, looking towards the left side of the street, where a red sign in the window of the nearest shop read “Corrigan’s Grocery”.

“Sure thing. I’ll take the left and you can take the right?” Francine asked, taking a deep breath to prepare for the work to come. “I just hope we’re not doing all of this to find some crackpot…” She said, more quietly, as she turned to leave.

Teresa thought the same thing as she took a long, investigative glance at the right side of the street. There were definitely cranks out there spouting all sorts of crazy delusions in print or online.

They were a lunatic fringe, and their claims were usually too ludicrous for any rational member of the mainstream public to believe- that images from Mars probes were doctored to hide evidence of a Skrull colony, that the moon landings had been only Hollywood special effects, that weather satellites were broadcasting mind-control waves, even that NASA itself was under the control of the Red Skull or some similar evil mastermind. Such patent nonsense rarely prompted the attention of any real scientist or engineer. (Beyond those in the psychiatric field, of course.)

But Boisjoly, or whoever he was, hadn’t said anything completely strange or obviously impossible, compared to all of those ideas…

Could some supervillain be plotting to destroy the shuttle? It was likely enough, similar things had happened in the past, although they’d been averted long before reaching fruition through the intervention of SHIELD or NASA’s own security. Whatever internal problems the shuttle might have had, it could be said with confidence that external ones had typically been prevented most competently indeed in the program’s 30-year-history.

Clearly, the man on the phone had believed what he’d told her, and he’d been determined enough to find out where she would be staying that night and then seek out the number of the Dalmo-Harrison household. If there wasn’t a threat, that was dangerously obsessive behavior, behavior that suggested stalking…

But if “Boisjoly” had been telling the truth, the risk was too great to second-guess. They’d told the Director about the call, and he’d given them free reign to go and investigate, but unless they actually uncovered a potential threat, he was against taking any action.

She headed for the nearest shop, a rather small place selling periodicals, souvenirs, and snacks. Stacks of the major global, national and metropolitan papers lay near the door, beneath a hand-lettered sign warning customers that they couldn’t read an entire paper and then put it back without paying for it. Teresa, knowing the clerk behind the counter would be more eager to talk to her if she bought something, picked up a copy of the Times and got in line, skimming the articles as she waited.

The Violet Avenger had been reported safe after going missing under mysterious circumstances… Parliamentary elections were coming up in Austria… stock in Whyte Pharmaceuticals was down, with their CEO’s frequent absences stated as a possible cause… a former president of the International Olympic Committee had died…

“Can I help you?” Teresa heard a woman’s voice ask. She looked up to see the cashier, a middle-aged woman with brown hair that she wore in a ponytail under a Yankees cap.

“Yes, I’d like to buy this.” She placed the paper on the counter, and then turned around to see what the view out the window was from here. The phone booth was just visible…

“Five-twenty-five. Anything else?” The woman asked.

“Actually, yes. I’m from the government, and maybe you can help me with somet-”

The cashier looked around to make sure nobody else was in the store, and then turned back to look at Teresa sternly.

“I already told the agents everything I know.” She whispered, acridly. “This is about Wilcox, isn’t it?” She added, seeing the scientist’s puzzled expression.

“Um… I haven’t heard that name before, but it might be. Who’s Wilcox?”

Great. I’ve probably stumbled into some sort of local matter for the police…

“Emil Wilcox was one of my regular customers. A really quiet guy, always came in on Thursdays to buy a Time and a jelly donut. Always strawberry jelly. Always the same thing. Every Thursday morning. Oh, he was polite enough, very sweet, made conversation and all, but about a month ago, he started acting real jittery. Wouldn’t say more than two words in a row, always looking over his shoulder- oh yes, definitely acting like someone was after him.”

“A month ago, huh?”

“Of course, then, a week ago yesterday, he came running in around nine at night, wearing a long coat, sweating and panting, begging to use the backdoor. Now, since he’s with HAMMER, I assumed he was in some sort of danger, so I was going to offer to call Avengers Tower or something, but he just shouted ‘Don’t tell them you saw me!’ and ran past me and out the backdoor, into the alley.”

A week ago yesterday… that’s when Boisjoly called me! And just before nine here would be 7:50 in Huntsville, which was when he called!

“What happened then?”

“Just after he left, two HAMMER guys came bursting in, asking if I’d seen a man run in here. I said sure, I’d seen Wilcox, who was one of their guys, but nobody else. They asked me where he’d gone so, I showed them the door. Then they ran out, no thank-yous, nothing. I barely had time to shout that I hoped he ended up alright. I heard gunshots a little later. Haven’t seen him since.”

“You said he worked for HAMMER? Did Wilcox tell you that?” Teresa asked, trying to process what she’d just heard. If Wilcox had been the one who’d called her, and he worked for such a large law-enforcement agency, why had he been franticly fleeing after discovering whatever he’d found? Why had he confided only in her? Surely his own employers could have protected him and acted appropriately.

And, most alarmingly of all, why had he seemingly been on the run from agents of the organization he apparently worked for?

“Yeah, he said he worked in records, nothing glamorous. Did the same thing for SHIELD for a few years before that. Just your typical paper-pusher, I guess. No offense- that’s not what you do, is it?” The woman apologized, remembering her guest had said she worked for the government.

“It’s not, it’s not.” He worked in records? “Did he every say anything else about himself? Like where he lived or anything?”

“Yeah… he said he had an apartment two blocks from here, by the overpass. He complained about the noise from the cars, said it disturbed his sleep all the time.” The woman answered, looking up as she heard another customer enter the store.

“And what street is that?” Teresa asked, turning to leave.

“Whitson. I hope you find him!” The woman called.

“Thank you.” I hope I do, too… if he’s really who I think he might be...

One Hour Later, Whitson Street

“It doesn’t make any sense! If he’s just a clerk or bureaucrat or whatever, how would he discover a plot against the shuttle anyway?” Francine asked, as the two friends walked down the street. Teresa allowed a loud diesel truck on the overpass to drive past before answering.

“I don’t think any of it makes sense. Why would he come to me if he worked for HAMMER? Believe me, I’ve got no lost love for Norman Osborn, but if the lives of American astronauts are in danger, a group like HAMMER has the duty to act and investigate that threat, real or otherwise.”

“Exactly. He could have just walked down the hallway to report it, but instead he was sulking around like Deep Throat… that’s just not sane behavior. Maybe he really is a crackpot.” Francine shook her head sadly. “Maybe he had a breakdown at work that day, and that’s why the agents were after him. He just went AWOL.”

“We don’t even know if he’s the one who called. The lady at the periodicals shop never even saw him in the phone booth.”

A rouge HAMMER employee, possibly insane. It was a frightening thought. Both friends shivered and were silent for the rest of the short walk to the apartment building. The landlord’s room was on the third floor, and they took the elevator up.

The elevator, like the building, was several decades old, but clean and well-maintained. Perfect for a pencil pusher’s salary. The floors passed slowly, with quiet beeps. Francine spared a moment to check her hair with a pocket mirror.

There’s a scarier possibility, though. What if Osborn’s somehow involved in the plot against the shuttle? With all of his power, it wouldn’t seem to make much sense, but he still might allow a plot by someone else towards some different aim, he might turn a blind eye…

Teresa thought, swallowing hard.

But that doesn’t make much sense. He signed contracts with us for the launch of HAMMER satellites from Cape Canaveral just a few weeks ago. If he disliked NASA, why would he want to work with us?

The doors opened, and they stepped out. The landlord was a tall man with graying red hair and a thick mustache, who wore a cowboy hat and had a habit of pausing as he spoke. He looked somehow familiar, but Teresa couldn't think of where she might have seen him.

“Wilcox… good guy, always paid his rent, never caused any trouble, seemed perfectly ordinary. But in the past month, he was a little… jittery. I bumped into him in the hallway a few times and it really seemed to shake him up, make him jump. He nearly dropped the library books he was uh, carrying. I asked if he was feeling all right, and he said he his job was making him stressed. It must have. He had dark circles under his eyes, but it wasn’t my business to ask any further. I haven’t seen him for about a week, went out and never came back.”

He had given them the key, and they’d headed to the fourth floor, room 25.

Francine knocked on the door. There was no response.

“’Figured we might as well try, I guess.”

Teresa tried the key, pulling on the metallic doorknob to open the door just a crack. She saw only darkness.

Teresa opened the door all the way now, noticing that Francine purposefully allowed her to enter first. It was stupid how afraid they were when there might not be a plot at all…

She could see that the darkness was because the blinds on the room’s two windows had been pulled down. In the dim light of the window outlines, she could make out a bed, a dresser, and a desk. Behind her, Francine felt along the wall for a light switch.

“Aha!” The fluorescent glow of an overhead bulb illuminated the room, and in that same instant, both engineers gasped at what they saw.

Along the room’s walls, and across the floor, there was scribbled writing, done in various colors, with crude drawings of some sort here and there, and what looked like pages from magazines were taped here and there. Along the far wall, near one of the windows, Teresa could make out the word “ICARUS” written in blue.

“Are you sure we’re not dealing with a crackpot?”

2011-Mar-21, 01:49 AM

I'm tempted to photoshop the logos of MARVEL corporations on to Huntsville buildings (ie Stark Industries in place of the Lockheed Martin facility across from campus).

2011-Mar-22, 12:24 AM

I'm tempted to photoshop the logos of MARVEL corporations on to Huntsville buildings (ie Stark Industries in place of the Lockheed Martin facility across from campus).
Well, Marvel's approach to real-world things is that their creations exist alongside the real thing rather than in place of it, so presumably both companies exist (and are in competition?)

2011-Mar-22, 10:54 PM
True, I was just making an example.

2011-Mar-22, 11:38 PM
Although, the version of Stark Industries we see in the Iron Man movies does have a logo that's somewhat similar to LM (http://negative99.com/general/iron-man-movies-Stark-industries-is-clearly-a-spoof-of-lockheed-martin/).

2011-Aug-22, 08:02 PM
April 21, 2010, 4:34 PM, New York

Teresa looked closer at the writing on the far wall that had caught her eye. Some words were written large, other small, so she had to lean in to read everything.

“‘APOLLO burning, ICARUS falling, pieces of PHAETON’s chariot, no more, no more…’” she read out loud, shivering slightly.

“That’s Greek mythology, isn’t it? I know Icarus was the guy who tried to fly using wings made out of wax, but they melted and he died.” Francine asked, looking around at the other scribblings. The myth was familiar to aviation enthusiasts, although that ending usually tended to be glossed over... “Where’s Robert Langdon when you need him?”

“That’s basically it. He and his father, a famous architect, were trapped on the island of Crete and they escaped using wings of candle wax and feathers. Icarus ignored his father’s warnings and flew too high, so his wings fell apart and he fell into the sea and died. As for the others…” Teresa explained, biting her lip to help her remember the myths she’d learned more than two decades before.

“The moral of the story, I guess, is never exceed the engineer’s specifications.” Francine was looking at another piece of writing that seemed to be upside-down. “‘So dark the con of man…’“ She muttered, jokingly.

Personally, I have trouble watching that movie, because I always see Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell, no matter who he’s playing…

“What about Phaeton, who’s that?”

“Phaeton was the son of Helios, the sun god. He wanted to impress his friends, so he begged his father to let him drive the chariot of the sun across the sky. He was unskilled, and the chariot went off-course. It came too close to the Earth, threatening to burn up everything, so Zeus had to throw a thunderbolt and destroy it. Phaeton and the pieces of the chariot fell to Earth.” Teresa said.

“Cheery folks, those ancient Greeks. Lots of little boys falling to their deaths.” Francine muttered.

“Now, Apollo was the god of light and genius, and associated with the sun, but-”

“‘Apollo burning’- that’s not mythology, that’s history.” Francine said, pausing for a moment in respectful silence.

The Apollo 1 fire, true, but I don’t think that’s what Wilcox meant. These are all references to mythology, not to modern technology. If he was referring to Apollo 1, then the other two would have to be-

“Francine, that’s it! They’re all history!”

“Huh? What, Tessa?” Francine turned, surprised by Teresa’s sudden shout.

“You were right, Apollo burned, and that’s the first thing it mentions, because it happened first! That was NASA’s first major accident!”

“So the next one would be Challenger, but it says-” Francine tried to process the information at Teresa’s lightning speed. She knew how quickly her friend thought, but she wasn’t entirely sure what she was saying made any sense at all.

“-Icarus. They were flying up, like him, but then the booster burned through, destroying the shuttle and its wings, and the parts all fell-” Teresa explained, caught up in the enthusiasm of solving the puzzle.

“-into the ocean!” Francine finished with her. “And then with Columbia, they lost control and burned up, like the fiery chariot, and the pieces were scattered across the Earth, like Phaeton! The mythology is a code, and he’s really saying-”

“-‘Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia, no more, no more’. No more disasters. He doesn’t want anyone else to die.” Neither do I, but that doesn’t explain why he thinks there’s a big bad conspiracy against the Atlantis launch.

They looked around at the rest of the detritus in the room. Books and loose papers were scattered across the floor, some partially covering up more scribblings in permanent marker. Francine stepped over a book open on its spine, picking it up gingerly, as if it might fall apart. Disasters and Accidents in Manned Space Flight she read off the cover. It was open to a page about the Challenger disaster, and various sticky notes were stuck in the book, with penciled notations written on them in the same shaky handwriting as the walls.

One note showed arrows bracketing a sentence in the text- “The result would be a catastrophe of the highest order - loss of human life.” Another had an arrow that pointed to the name “Boisjoly” in the text, and the words “TRUST” and “LISTEN TO THIOKOL” written in the same shaky handwriting. Morton Thiokol, Francine knew, had been the contractor reasonable for the shuttle’s o-rings, the one the real Roger Boisjoly had worked for, the one that had ignored his warnings. Emil Wilcox most probably had no connection to them whatsoever.

Francine turned to the next page, where a lime green sticky note was stuck across a photograph of the Challenger’s last crew. “ICARUS FALLING” was written and underlined several times. This was the kind of thing that happened in thriller novels, not real life, Francine thought, shutting the book with a shiver. A sticker on the spine indicated it was from the public library and she turned to the inside back cover to see when it had been checked out. It was due in three days, and she made a mental note to return it after she’d checked for more evidence.

Teresa found a torn magazine page taped near the window frame. It was stuck at an odd angle, and from a larger article, so the writing started mid-sentence, but what drew her attention was what had been written over the magazine text.

Six men, middle-aged, one bald and the others dark-haired, one of whom had a widow’s peak, stared back at her, smiling widely. Except for the orange pressure suits they wore, the men would not have seemed out of place among the dads in the stands at a High School soccer game, they seemed ordinary, average even.

But, across those smiling faces, in red ink, a frantic, jittery hand had written “SAVE THEM”.

“‘Commander Ken Ham, Pilot Tony Antonelli, and Mission Specialists Garrett Reisman, Michael Good, Piers Sellers and Steve Bowen will launch this May aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis, carrying a Russian-built research module.’” Teresa read the caption, although she’d recognized the faces before that.

Under the picture, over the printed text telling about the mission, there was more writing, in the same red ink, but in smaller letters-


Teresa shivered again. She’d seen things like this a thousand times in movies and crime dramas on TV, but those had been just stories, just acting. But this was far from being a novel or a game. Emil Wilcox was deadly serious about what he thought was going on.

The fall of the hammer. So the HAMMER organization is involved. Or at least Wilcox thinks it is.

“Hey, Tessa… c’mere, I… I found something…”

She turned to see Francine on her hands and knees, holding another book and examining something on the floor. Teresa hurried over to see what it was.

In black permanent marker, on the floorboards, four symbols were drawn, three mostly circular and one in the shape of the unique silhouette of the space shuttle orbiter, arranged like a cross or plus sign.

“It’s… the patches.” Francine whispered. “This guy is really kooky, I don’t like this one bit, Tessa…”

Her friend’s words trailed off in Teresa’s mind as she focused on the symbols. The artwork wasn’t award-winning, but the likenesses were clear enough. An Apollo capsule orbiting the Earth. A shuttle flying away from the planet with a comet overhead against an American flag backdrop. A shuttle outline filled with a curving horizon and the astronaut symbol- three converging lines topped by a ring and a star.

Every space mission had an embroidered patch, designed by the astronauts in collaboration with an artist or a team of artists. The patches from Challenger and Columbia’s final missions, Teresa would know anywhere, and Apollo 1 was familiar to her, as well. She’d felt that sudden sense of warmth draining out of her body again, stronger this time.

Those three patches, she’d seen before many, many times, especially when the anniversaries came around in the last week of January. But it was the fourth image that had provoked Teresa’s reaction. Her ears popped as the wave of cold washed over her, and, faster than even she could stop it, her mind raced, feverishly darting back through time…

"Booster ignition and liftoff, we have liftoff!"

The fourth patch, ironically enough, was the only one that suggested an ending. It was nearly circular and showed a space shuttle flying above a darkened horizon, into the sunset. The mission designation was written under the shuttle, clearly visible-


The sound of the engine fire drowned out every excited thought in Teresa von Braun's head, as if she was sitting under Niagara Falls. With supreme effort, the teenage mutant could move her eyes inside of her white crash helmet, but the g-forces kept the rest of her blue-jumpsuited body pinned to her seat as a distant reporter announced that the shuttle had cleared the tower.

In reality, Teresa fell to her knees, staring straight ahead at the four patches drawn on the floor. But in her mind, she was a teenager again, reliving a nightmare from twenty-five years before.

Around her, she could see the other astronauts, similarly dressed, also being pushed back into their seats by the forces of launch. The cockpit was small, and just in front of where she sat, she could see the Pilot and Commander going through their checklists. She could even hear them responding to Mission Control’s advice.

“Roger, roll program.”

“Why didn’t you save us?”

“What?” She asked, thinking the Commander had misspoken.

“You are go at throttle up.” The voice from Houston cut in.

“Why didn’t you save us?” The voice repeated in a monotone, although the man did not turn his head. And then, another voice, but from the same body- “Roger, go at throttle up.”

And then, without any warning, it happened. So suddenly even her superhuman reflexes could hardly react. The shuttle was coming apart, exploding around Teresa and the others in a growing fireball!

All that Teresa could see was smoke and fire, it was all around her, and she was burning, just like everything else. Now she was outside, in the sky, surrounding by the flaming debris, and she was falling.

“Why didn’t you save us?” The voice, again, although she couldn’t see anybody else.

Cape Canaveral's shoreline was below, and it was getting closer every second, she was hurtling towards the ocean below...

The patches seemed to fly past her- Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia, and then STS-132 Atlantis.

“Why didn’t you save us?”

She saw the magazine clipping that had been on the wall, the photograph of the STS-132 crew with “SAVE THEM” written across it, those smiles…

“No!” She shouted.

“Why didn’t you save us?”

The waves were so close now, there was no time to do anything, all Teresa could do was scream and brace for the impact--

“TESSA!” The scream and the hand violently shaking her shoulder brought Teresa back to reality.

“Kitty?” She turned to see Francine’s very concerned face. It was 2010, not 1986, and she was in Wilcox’s apartment, not in her bedroom at Xavier’s. She took a deep breath and tried to shake the nightmare off.

“Tessa, are you okay? You were totally spaced out and you’re shaking like a leaf.” Her eyes were still wide as she helped Teresa to her feet. Teresa noticed how tightly her friend held on to her arm, out of concern.

“Yeah, it was… I was remembering a dream I had years ago… a nightmare, really. It was about the Challenger, I hadn’t had it for years, I hadn’t even thought about it, but…” Now of all times I need to be strong and I’m having waking nightmares? What’s wrong with me?

“Do you want to get some air or something? It’s awfully stuffy in here and I can understand if you need to clear your head or go lie down or-”

“No, no, I think I’m fine…” Teresa rested her forehead on her hand for a few seconds “… I think I’ll be o-”

The insistent electronic ringing of her mobile phone cut the sentence short, the ringtone a reproduction of the Star Wars theme. She pulled it out of her jacket pocket and looked at the screen. She didn’t recognize the number, but she pressed “SEND”.

“Hello, who is this?” She asked.

“Boisjoly.” It was the same voice as before.

“How did you get this number? Are you Emil Wilcox?” Francine’s eyes grew wide, and she motioned for Teresa to give her the phone. Teresa complied.

There was a long pause on the other end. “That’s not important right now. Are you in New York?”

“Yes, we’re in your apartment, or Wilcox’s anyway! This is all very mysterious and creepy and you’d better give Teresa and me some answers, you little-” Francine said loudly into the phone, going into full “scolding” mode.

“My Lord, you people are good.” The man said in a quieter tone, with a definite sense of admiration evident. “I promise you, I’ll explain everything tonight, but you have to do exactly as I say.”

“What does that mean?”

“Do you know Star Station Delta?”

“Star Station Delta…” Francine repeated, trying to remember where she’d heard the name before. She looked over at Teresa for help.

“It’s that Sci-Fi theme restaurant… I think there was something about it in the papers once?”

“The cheesy restaurant for kids in Times Square?” Francine asked, remembering. She mouthed a silent “thank you” to Teresa.

“That’s the place. Be there at six tonight. You have to be there, I need your help. I’ll explain everything, I swear. Six tonight.”

“Wait, you want to meet us at-” Francine asked, but there was only a click and then silence. The man had hung up.

Teresa looked across at her friend in disbelief.

“Did he just tell you he wants to meet us at-”

“That’s right. We’re going to Star Station Delta tonight.”

2011-Aug-23, 11:01 PM
April 21, 2010, 5:54 PM, Three blocks from Times Square

The steel spires covered with garish blinking neon lights stood out among the more staid restaurants along the street as Teresa and Francine approached. A few of the bulbs had burned out, and the resulting holes subverted the intended futuristic effect. Between two of the spires, an LED screen proclaimed “Star Station Delta!” in a flashy and colorful looped animation where the words changed appeared in front of a green starburst, and then changed into an arrow pointing to a staircase at sidewalk level that led down to a small courtyard.

A young boy ran ahead of them, pulling his mother by the hand towards the stairs. “Hurry up, I wanna see Captain Starbeam!” he shouted. The mother briefly turned her head in their direction and rolled her eyes skyward, a gust of cold wind briefly catching her hair.

“That’s not encouraging.” Francine muttered under her breath. “He definitely said ‘Star Station Delta’- he repeated it twice.”

“Well, once we meet ‘Boisjoly’, you can chew him out over his choice of venue.” Teresa affirmed, as they headed for the stairs.

“Do you have your speed suit on underneath?”


“Just making sure. I don’t know, Tessa, I’ve got the heebie-jeebies...”

The courtyard was concrete, with a single rather sad boxwood tree reaching for the light inside of a circular planter. The tree reached its scraggly branches towards street level as if it was embarrassed by its surroundings. As Teresa looked around the courtyard, she couldn’t blame it. The banister on the staircase and the outside of the tree’s planter were some sort of metal with a covering that would have resembled chrome rather convincingly if it had not been dulled and dirty.

Sweeping sculptures of a similar false chrome ran along the courtyard walls, decorated with more neon bulbs that glowed in clashing shades of bright orange, pink, and green. As above, some of the lights were burned out, evoking a feeling similar to seeing a poorly-maintained Apple product gathering dust.

The sculptures pointed the way to a double set of gray doors in the side of the courtyard, around which more lights flashed. A pattern of concentric circles decorated the plastic of the doors, which the mother ahead of them pulled open for her son. Teresa sped over and caught the door to hold it for Francine before it could close.

“I guess they couldn’t afford sliding Star Trek-y ones.” She muttered. The room they now stood in was done up in similar plastic and fake chrome to give it a Sci-Fi feel, including a “window” through which they could see a faded photograph of a starfield.

“’Could have at least afforded a Hubble poster to tape there. That one looks ancient.” Francine commented.

A man dressed in a lab coat with his face painted green stood near another door on the other side of the room. A green starburst logo was outlined on the pocket of his coat. He was wearing large fake glasses and a curly orange wig from which two sad-looking “antennae” stuck out.

“Kush Na Blooga, Sentients! I’m Professor Dzork, your friendly Galactic Ranger training chief!” He shouted, sounding as if he’d had too much caffeine.

“Any relation to Björk?” Francine whispered.

“Or Bjorn Borg?” Teresa added, giggling a little bit in spite of the circumstances of their visit. When faced with such sheer cheesiness, laughter was the only appropriate response.

“If you wish to visit Star Station Delta, the seeeee-cret headquarters of the Galactic Rangers, simply board the transport star-shuttle through this door. Please refrain from flash photography, smoking, and…”

The little boy ahead of them pushed the door open before the “Professor” could finish his speech. Francine and Teresa followed, into what was clearly a simulator on a hydraulic base. There were four rows of seats, each with three seats, but since the boy and his mother were the only others who had entered, they were mostly empty.

A television screen in front of them turned on, showing the New York skyline in what had been cutting-edge computer graphics about 15 years before.

“All clear for flight to Star Station Delta! Star-shuttle, prepare for liftoff!” a computer voice announced.

“Have we given these guys a COTS-D certification?” Francine whispered, as the room shook slightly and the screen showed a view of the skyscrapers falling away and being replaced by clouds, then stars.

“I think launching from the middle of Manhattan would take enough paperwork as is.” Teresa suggested.

“Engaging hyperspeed!” the voice announced.

“Hey, it if worked in Star Wars…” Francine muttered, as the screen filled with bright, flashing colors, and the room shook again. There was the appearance of flying though a brightly colored tunnel, a flash of light, and then they were looking out at a large space station seemingly floating in empty space. The same green starburst symbol that had been on “Professor Dzork’s” lab coat was visible on the outside of the station.

“Welcome to Star Station Delta, home of the Galaxy Rangers. Please remain seated until landing.”

“Well, that was quick.”

The little boy in the ride with them suddenly began shouting and cheering very loudly, despite his mother’s efforts to calm him down.

I certainly never thought I’d end up in a place like this when I woke up today. Teresa thought. A Sci-Fi Pete R. Pizza with a money problem. I bet Woodward and Bernstein never met Mark Felt at Star Station Delta. He had the sense to pick a nice, quiet parking garage without neon, people in costumes, and hyper little kids. This is certainly the last place you’d expect to rendezvous with a paranoid informant.

Of course, that might be why he chose it.

She thought back to her memory in Wilcox’s apartment. Why had she suddenly thought of it then? It had been years since she’d had that nightmare, Jean Grey’s psychic counseling had helped her conquer it, lock it away. But thinking of that creepy monotone voice still made her shiver. Nothing like what any of the astronauts’ voices had actually been like, but cold and alien-sounding.

“Why didn’t you save us?”

I’m not falling, I’m flying. I’m not falling, I’m flying. She repeated the mantra Jean had given her, focusing on the sensation of floating above the Earth.

The last thing I need is to have a breakdown right now. Back then, I was just a student. I had Kitty and all my friends at Xavier’s to help me get over the nightmare, and Kitty didn’t even make me get help from Jean until several weeks after the accident. Hank was willing to let me postpone my presentation. I had such a support structure, I could afford to wait, to take as much time as I needed to recover.

But now I’m an adult. And Francine and I are the only people working on this problem. Besides the Marshall Director and the police, we’re the only people in the world who even know “Boisjoly” called. It’s just us.



Nobody else is going to help, nobody else is going to do anything, at least not at this point. If we find something and report back on it to the Director, we’ll get action right away, all kinds of security people… but none of that’s going to happen without us.

And we can’t take as long as we need. The shuttle’s set to launch next month. If this plot is real, and we don’t act before that- She shivered, and shook the image out of her head before it could form. No jellyfish-sting smoke clouds, not now. She needed to be lucid.

Because there’s nobody to act except us, and no time, except now.

The door on the other side of the simulator room slid open, jarring Teresa out of her thoughts. Clearly, they hadn’t actually gone anywhere, but, judging from how quickly the boy was up and hurrying his mother out the door, he didn’t know that.

“You okay? I saw you making some faces.” Francine asked. “And believe me, I totally understand. The idea of meeting this guy after seeing that apartment of his gives me the willies, too.” She put her hand on Teresa’s shoulder.

“Thanks. Yeah, I am a little nervous, you’re right.” They stood up and walked through the door.

They were standing in a hallway that looked down on a large space decorated in the same chrome-and-neon scheme as the rest of the restaurant. People sat at tables eating, while performers in alien costumes milled around, amusing them. Through a few painted “windows” on the walls, stars were visible. A few statues and props broke up the décor, and a few secluded booths were visible towards the back of the area. Clearly, this was meant to be the actual Star Station Delta.

Suddenly, a burst of light and sound effects broke out at a large table full of excited seven-year-olds and the alien characters ran over and began to dance as several waiters rushed in with a large birthday cake and began to sing.

“Let me tell you, Tessa, the past few months have done a number on my nerves. Everything changed so quickly, back when… back on the first of February. I don’t really feel like I lost anything, not with the President’s new plan, but I just feel sort of… disrupted, y’know?”

“I hear you.” Teresa said, as they headed for a flight of stairs leading down to the dining level. “Disrupted” describes it perfectly.

A bored-looking waiter in a silly-looking blue spandex costume was waiting at a desk near the bottom. The green “Star Station Delta” logo was on the chest of his costume.

“Just you two, or are you ladies expecting somebody?” He asked.

“Um… we’re actually part of somebody else’s party. There should be one guy already here. Mr. Wilcox?” Francine asked. The informant had never told them how they’d find him, only to be at the restaurant.

The waiter checked his computer monitor, made of a scratched, off-white plastic.

“There’s no Wilcox listed here.” He said.

“Um, what about Boisjoly?” Teresa asked. Would he have risked using such an unusual-sounding name? Given what she’d seen in that man’s room, she wasn’t quite sure what went on in his head.

The man checked again. “Oh yes, came in a few minutes ago. He’s in the booth right by the other stairs, over there.” The waiter pointed to one of the private booths on the other side of the large room. A statue of a tall humanoid alien with armorlike skin, talons, birdlike feet, and a strange frilled head that ended in sharp armored points neatly blocked it from view, and the booth was indeed close to a small flight of stairs to the upper level similar to the one they had just come down.

He wants to be close to the exit, in case something bad happens.

The waiter led them over to the booth, around the statue. It seemed vaguely familiar to Francine, but she couldn’t quite think of where she might have seen that sort of alien before. It wasn’t from Star Trek, her main area of expertise in this sort of matter. She’d have to ask Teresa or Joel if it was from Star Wars or Wormhole: Pegasus.

A short man with heavily gelled, graying black hair was sitting in the booth, twitching nervously. He didn’t take up much space in the booth in his dark blue windbreaker. It appeared that he had sunk into the cushion, trying not to be noticed, and his eyes jumped from place to place until he saw the waiter approaching with the two women. The veins in his eyes were visible, and there were heavy bags underneath, but his eyes seemed to light up when he recognized Teresa.

2011-Aug-23, 11:03 PM
April 21, 2010, 6:19 PM, Star Station Delta

“Are these the people you said you were waiting for?” The waiter asked.

“Yes. Yes, they are. I-I think we’re ready to order now.” The man in the windbreaker stuttered. His voice sounded different in person, but it was definitely the one Teresa knew from her mysterious phone calls. “S-sit down.”

The two engineers complied. “But-” Francine started.

“I want to order before we get started talking.” The man said, making the “hold on” signal with one hand and handing her the menu card that lay in the middle of the table with the other. “I’ll have the Celestial Chicken Salad and a Purple Slug.” He told the waiter. “No dressing.”

“Okay, I’ll have the same.” Francine said, passing the card quickly to Teresa. The sooner they ordered, the sooner they could get some answers. Fortunately, Teresa was uniquely able to scan the entire card and make a suggestion within half a minute.

“I’ll take a Blast-Off Burger, medium, and a diet soda.” She said.

“Well, then, I hope you enjoy your stay.” The waiter walked away quickly, eager to put some distance between himself and these rather strange people…

“Okay, then.” Francine turned to the man in the windbreaker and whispered harshly. “You have a lot of explaining to do.”

“Yes, of course. I just had to make sure he-” the man gestured in the direction the waiter had gone -“wouldn’t overhear anything. Thank God you’re here! I’ve been so afraid, these past days, I haven’t stopped running. I’m no spy, I’m just a clerk, I can’t live like this much-” The man paused to collect himself. “My God, my God, I knew I could trust you, Dr. von Braun!” He whispered energetically, clearly emotionally agitated.

“So you’re ‘Boisjoly’?” Teresa asked. “And Emil Wilcox?”

“Yes, I should have started with that.” He put out his quivering hand across the table to shake “I’m Emil.”

Francine shook it. “I’m Francine Dalmo, and I work with Teresa at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.”

“Thank you. You’re both so kind, and so clever, to take this kind of fuss. The other name, well, I started reading all I could about the space shuttle as soon as I found out, and it seemed so relevant, his story seemed so similar, well, you know, not the end I guess, but- but the motivation, and I thought it would help get my message across-”

“As soon as you found what? Can you start at the beginning, Emil?” Teresa asked, kindly.

“I’ll try…” He said, looking both ways furtively. “A-about a month ago, I was a-at Avengers Tower doing my ordinary filing work. It was a regular day, and my-my brother in Wisconsin had sent me some photographs of the space shuttle being prepared for launch that he’d found on one of your NASA sites. Now, I’ve never been very into that sort of thing, but I’m still a big fan of all that work you guys do, and I thought it was pretty cool. I was called up to get a file from my boss, Victoria Hand. It was a copy of orders that had been sent to a HAMMER field agent straight from Director Osborn earlier in the day, and I was to file it for the record.” The stuttering decreased as Wilcox went on, he seemed to be gaining more confidence.

“The-the corner of a photograph was sticking out of the edge of the folder- pure coincidence, you understand- and I recognized the shuttle’s wing in that photo. I pulled out the whole thing, and sure enough, it was a photo of the shuttle Atlantis, but there was writing on the photo, ‘See Figure 3’. Now, I was curious about what ‘Figure 3’ was, so I looked back in the file. There were more photographs and diagrams of the shuttle, and the-that place where they get it ready for flying where they wear the white smocks- I think it’s called the clean room, in the Orbiter Processing Facility?”

Teresa nodded.

“Right! But there were also diagrams that appeared to be for the construction of a remotely-triggered bomb.”

“A bomb on the space shuttle?!” Francine exclaimed, nearly forgetting that she had to whisper.

“That’s right. I was shocked, too. So I found the actual note from Osborn, because I wanted an explanation, and I discovered that the orders were for the agent to plant the bomb in the shuttle’s payload bay, disguised as a component of the module they’re carrying up, the Russian docking thingy. Shortly after liftoff, the agent was then to detonate the bomb, resulting in-”

“LOCV.” Francine whispered, her face pale. “Loss Of Crew and Vehicle.”

“Exactly.” Wilcox said “I was horrified. I left as inconspicuously as I could and made copies of everything in that file. I filed it, as I was supposed to, but kept the copies hidden. I knew I had to tell someone, but I had no idea who. I-I’d heard stories about what Osborn does to people before, but I hadn’t believed them. Then I remembered seeing you on television last year, at the Presidential Inauguration and on Karen Tockman’s show talking about the Hubble. I knew I had to get in contact with you, but it took weeks to find the right information. I had the copies I’d made of the file hidden in my apartment, and I was terrified they’d be discovered. I did further investigation into the HAMMER computer records. I became a nervous wreck. I hardly slept at all.”

“You did all of those drawings on your walls, we saw.”

“My behavior started to show, and my superiors began to investigate me. I was followed home a few times. Somehow, they found out. I left the messages in case they captured me before I could contact you. If- if they were incoherent… you’ve got to… I was half-asleep. I smuggled a gun from work. When I finally found your information, I took the copies with me and fled. I called you from a phone booth by-”

“-by the corner of West and Culbertson, we know.”

“They found me before I could tell you everything. I escaped through a store and ended up having to fire a few shots before I lost the agents sent after me. Since then, I’ve been hiding out with friends and relatives, staying just ahead of them. I’ve been running since then, trying to get back in contact with you. I threw away the gun when the ammo ran out. It took some hacking to find your sat phone’s number. But once I knew I’d be coming to dinner, I made sure to wash up and fix my hair. Heh heh, see?” He gestured at his oddly combed and gelled hair, and smiled shakingly, relieved to be unburdened of his secrets.

“And you have those files here with you?” Teresa asked.

“I haven’t let them out of my sight.” Wilcox pulled a battered manila folder and a blue plastic thumb drive from the inside of his jacket with shaking hands. Teresa took the folder and began speed-reading the contents, while Francine took the thumb drive.

“But… why? Why would Osborn do all of this? And why a bomb? There’s a lot of other ways the shuttle could be fatally sabotaged that would be easier to conceal and less risky. And, I mean, I’ve heard he’s insane and unscrupulous and all that, but what could he possibly hope to gain from destroying the space shuttle in the first place?” Francine asked.

“Your organization.”

“What?” Teresa and Francine both asked.

“He wants power, as much as he can get. You’ve seen this with the attacks on Asgard, he’s got a good chunk of military power as Director of HAMMER, but it’s not enough for that maniac. Ground troops, naval forces, airpower, all of that he can get in a snap to crush his enemies. But he wants more. He wants the heavens- the satellites and the crucial information they carry, and the ultimate high ground in any potential conflict- orbit. He wants to strike his enemies down from above, to be godlike. He wants what you have at NASA.”

“And we’re beyond his sphere of influence-” Francine started, explaining the common misconception that she heard so often “-we’re not part of the military, we’re an independent agency within the Executive Branch.”

“As you exist currently, you are. The codename used in Osborn’s memo was ‘Strikeout’, like in baseball. Three strikes and you’re out. I presume he finds that funny. He has whole speeches written out, a whole plan of attack for after he destroys Atlantis. He’s made a whole show of being involved in your work- he arranged for you to launch HAMMER satellites a few weeks ago, didn’t he?”

Teresa nodded. So that’s all it was- a smokescreen!

“It gets worse. He has extended an invitation to your Administrator, Charles Bolden, to participate in a videoconference with him during the Atlantis launch, just so that monster can claim he had a serious emotional reaction to the accident. It’s sick, I tell you. Sick."

"He would claim a third shuttle accident as evidence of NASA as an inherently flawed organization. HAMMER and his Avengers are so popular now, so charismatic. That’s why he’s using a bomb detonated just after launch- to ensure it’s all seen on worldwide TV by the public that loves him. He would have the agency dismantled and militarized, reformed within his jurisdiction. I’ve seen the plans for after that and they scare me to death.”

Both Teresa and Francine were speechless. It was much worse than either of them had seriously imagined. For a moment, neither of them said anything.

“Good Lord.” Francine finally whispered, breaking the silence.

“Okay… okay… okay… we need to get these files to our Director at Marshall.” Teresa said, speaking quickly. She was processing as she spoke, and her hands were shaking.

“Francine’s got her laptop, she can get the files off your thumb drive and e-mail them to him. He’ll get all of our people involved, and the other security agencies, the ones not controlled by Osborn. And they’ll work out what we’re going to do about this. They’ll get you somewhere safe, Emil. We’ll find the bomb and remove it before launch. But we’ve just got to get out of here as soon as we can, and-”

Emil Wilcox made a choking noise. Francine looked at him.

“What is it? What’s wrong now?”

“Those two men, the ones coming down the stairs now, the blond and the Asian man. They’re the agents who’ve been on my tail. I thought this would be the last place they’d ever look, but they’ve found me.” He whispered, his face white.

2011-Aug-24, 06:35 PM
April 21st, 2010, 6:28 PM, Star Station Delta, Several blocks from Times Square

Emil Wilcox had thought his long, hazardous quest was over.

He had eluded the HAMMER agents on his tail long enough to meet with Teresa von Braun and her coworker Francine Dalmo, inform them of Norman Osborn’s plot to destroy the Space Shuttle Atlantis in flight, and pass along to them the stolen files that proved he was telling the truth.

But that was before he’d glimpsed the familiar faces of the agents he’d been evading for two weeks heading down the stairs towards his table.

And suddenly, Emil Wilcox, alias Roger Boisjoly, had known he was far from home free.

“Can they see us?” he asked, voice trembling.

“No, I don’t think so. That alien statue hides us for now, but they’ll come looking back here eventually, and I don’t think we can get to the other stairs without being seen.” Teresa whispered back, her eyes darting back and forth as she appraised the situation.

It was ludicrous to think they were in such danger in a place like Star Station Delta, a rather cheesy science-fiction themed children’s restaurant full of performers in brightly colored silly-looking alien costumes. Waiters and waitresses in blue spandex “Galaxy Ranger uniforms” scurried about, carrying fries and burgers on trays.

“Hang on, I’ve got an idea…” Francine suddenly announced, waving her hand to get the attention of a passing waitress.

The two HAMMER agents stepped off the stairs and onto the dining floor, scanning for any sign of their target.

“Wilcox’s really lost it if he’s hiding out in a cruddy place like this.” The blond man muttered.

“Maybe he’s finally snapped and he thinks he’s Buzz Lightyear…” His partner added, chuckling.

“Hah, good one. ‘Guess that makes us that purple guy in the armor, whatshisname? Zerg?”

“Well, our Lightyear’s not going to be doing any jetpack heroics at the launch. Once we find him, he’ll be quite… grounded.” The Asian man laughed cruelly under his breath at the thought.

“You take that side and I’ll take this one. Remember, Osborn wants him dealt with as soon as possible, so don’t get squeamish.”

“You’re talkin’ to the wrong guy.” He laughed coldly again, and started to walk purposefully to the side the other man had indicated. Suddenly, all of the lights on the dining floor dimmed. Strobes in the ceiling flashed as spotlights swept over the diners.

“Attention Galaxy Rangers, attention Galaxy rangers- we have an incoming BIRTHDAY! I repeat, an incoming BIRTHDAY!” A pre-recorded voice screeched over a loudspeaker.

“Heh, just some little kid having a par-” The blond man snorted. The spotlights all suddenly focused on the two men. The employees dressed in alien costumes rushed over, surrounding them.


“Kush Na Blooga! As Fleet Commander of the Galactic Rangers, I, Princess Nerida, am pleased to extend Star Station Delta’s hospitality to you on your special day!” A woman in a purple wig announced. Her face was painted blue, and she had several fake gems glued to her forehead in a pattern resembling a flower.

“I think there’s been a mistake, I didn’t order-” The Asian man started, but he was drowned out by the cheers of the onlooking children as several waiters rolled in a cake topped with a flaming candle that resembled a classic finned rocketship.

“Galactic Rangers, will you join me in singing the customary Earth birthday song?” An individual dressed in a face-concealing costume that made him or her resemble a lizard man asked loudly.

The children cheered again, before bursting out:

“Happy Birthday to you,

Happy Birthday to you…”

“…you both look like monkeys, and you smell like ‘em, too.” Wilcox added, under his breath. From where he stood on the balcony level, he could see and hear the events occurring below, but was trying very quickly to leave them far behind. Along with Teresa and Francine, he was walking quite rapidly down the corridor, in search of an exit.

“Frankie, I’ve got to say, that was genius. Thinking all of that up on the spot…” Teresa said, as they rounded a corner, following the overhead “Return to Earth” signs.

“Well, it just sort of came to me- we saw part of another celebration before, and did you ever see a place like this that didn’t make a big deal over birthdays? And I even remembered to leave a tip for the waiter.” Francine blushed. Now that they were around a corner, the trio moved more rapidly, still not running all out, as that would have attracted attention, but doing something of a jog.

“That’s not going to keep them long, though. What’s the plan?” Wilcox asked.

“We get out of here, we get a taxi, we get back to JFK Airport, we get a virtual copy of the files to our Director, and then we get on the next flight to Memphis.” I can’t guarantee there’ll be a regular flight to Huntsville, but the Director can probably arrange us a transport in the time it takes to fly to Memphis.

And if push comes to shove, I’ll track down a hobbyist in Memphis, throw all our money at him to borrow his Cessna, and fly us home myself. Whatever it takes.

The “Return to Earth” signs now pointed towards the entrance to a room over which a red neon sign read “Astro Arcade”.

“Just another way of getting the customers to spend more money. The only way out is past the games.” Francine commented, as the trio entered.

The arcade was empty, as the children who had been celebrating their own birthday party earlier were still in the dining area. The game demos played obliviously to the empty room, filling it with the sounds of racecar engines revving, jet planes whooshing by, laser guns zapping, bells ringing, and various other effects. Lights flashed on the various machines. Teresa noticed that one demo movie showed a secret agent crouching to avoid enemy soldiers on what looked like a Greek island.

“Brave the dangers of Monster Castle! If you dare… bwahaha!” a voice suddenly announced from one machine, causing them all to jump.

“Kinda creepy in here, isn’t it, Tessa?” Francine asked, walking past a row of Skee Ball machines. If they hadn’t been on the run, she’d have stopped to play- she liked the game and was quite good at throwing the balls into the targets.

“Let’s just hope we can get out before the agents show up.” Wilcox whispered, maneuvering past a claw game.

Teresa was about to say something, but she never got the chance. There was the sound of footsteps behind them, a metallic click, and then-

“Thought you could escape us, eh, Wilcox?” A mocking voice asked from behind. All of them whipped their heads around to see the two agents standing in the arcade, holding guns.

It’s gonna be a long night.

And then, things happened fast.

“Get down!” Teresa shouted. Francine and Wilcox dove, sliding for cover.

Francine slid between the Skee Ball machine and an air hockey table, looking down at the dirty gray floor tiles for a few long seconds. The sounds of her own racing heart and heavy breathing sounded tremendous. For the thousandth time since Wilcox’s original phone call, she asked herself how in the world she’d gotten involved in something like this. NASA engineers weren’t supposed to dodge gunmen or investigate conspiracies straight out of Seven Days in May, that was spy stuff, movie stuff, stuff for secret agents with weapons and training and backup and-

And then, there were gunshots, and the sound of a screen shattering as a bullet hit it.

And, oddly enough, that was when the first rational thought returned to her mind- she wondered what on Earth they were thinking firing guns in a children’s restaurant. People would hear, there’d be witnesses, it would be a huge mess for Osborn’s PR people to handle, a Public Relations nightmare…

Nightmare. The word made her think of Teresa’s breakdown earlier that day, how seeing the mission patches had caused her to zone out and shiver, and the newspaper clipping taped to the wall that had shown the Atlantis crew in training.

They were still training now, Francine thought, at that very moment as she lay curled up on the cold floor next to the Skee Ball machine. Or maybe with their families. They didn’t know about the bomb, didn’t know about the plot, didn’t know their lives were in danger…

“Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia. No more, no more."

And for their sake-

She had to do something.

Francine pulled herself up, looking over the edge of the Skee Ball ramp. The blond man was about ten feet away, on the other side of the room, gun at the ready. His back was to her, but he was searching the machines on that side, trying to find Wilcox. She leaned on the machine to get a better look, placing her hand by the coin slot-

And got another idea. But she’d have to be quick, and silent.

Wilcox had jumped behind a pinball cabinet when Teresa had yelled to take cover, and that was where he was at the moment, staring at a pink cartoon bunny painted on the side. The character’s smile seemed to be mocking him, mocking him for coming this far only to be-

“He-llo.” The blond man stood in front of Wilcox’s hiding place, grinning smugly. “No more tricks now, are there, Emil?” He asked, chuckling.

“Y-y-you… you-you’re a monster!” Wilcox stuttered at first, before finding enough confidence for one final act of revolt “You know he’s going to kill those people and you’re just going to let him do it! That is so completely away from goodness that-”

“-Finally found a backbone, eh, you slippery little eel? I should have taken care of you that night you made the call.” He raised his gun.

“You are the scum of the Earth.” Wilcox narrowed his eyes.

“Better late than n-UGH!” Something struck the HAMMER agent in the back of his head, causing him to drop his gun.

“Leave him alone, you jerk!”

Wilcox felt a surge of adrenaline and dodged past as the man fell to the floor, unconscious. For a few seconds, he breathed heavily, still in shock at having escaped death so narrowly. So this was what it felt like to look the Reaper in the eye.

It was only then that he looked to the ground and saw the hard plastic ball that had rolled away and now lay innocuously underneath the air hockey table, and Francine standing nearby, looking rather shocked herself.

“Did you- you just- threw- him- knocked out- with- with that- saved me?” He asked, the words spilling out of his mouth.

Francine nodded “yes”, still in disbelief that she’d managed to hit the agent’s head. She stared from her hand, to the unconscious man, to the Skee Ball under the table, and back to her hand. “Did… I… just… do… that?”

“Well, th- what about the other one?” He turned around for the first time as the realization hit him.

However, the other agent already lay on the floor near the Monster Castle machine, while Teresa appeared unharmed and had just turned to face their side of the arcade.

Teresa had never heard the gunshots. She’d sprung into action as soon a she’d yelled “Get down!”, heading toward the agents in a blur. The Asian man had briefly said something that she hadn’t made out, as it had sounded incredibly slowed down, like a tape played at lower-than-normal speed. (To a regular ear, it would have sounded like “Hey, she’s that girl, the one who- Oh --”)

The bullets had been aimed at her, but she’d avoided them easily, outracing the agent’s gaze before speeding behind him. Everything around became silent and still now, except for Teresa’s own breathing. It was hard to turn quickly in such a small space, and to avoid running into a machine or a wall at that speed, but her mutant reflexes were designed for exactly that sort of maneuvering.

This was her element.

She’d come up behind the Asian man and knocked him out before he could have reacted, only then stopping to take a breath after the sudden activity.

For a few seconds, Teresa stared blankly at the unconscious agent and the triumphant-looking Francine.


“She knocked him out with a Skee Ball!” Wilcox announced, looking incredibly relieved that the men who had hounded him for weeks had finally been defeated.

“It was really cool, Tessa!” Francine said, seeing that her friend was still puzzled.

“Right. Why don’t we share stories on the way out?” Teresa asked, indicating that they still had to move.

A little over five minutes later, a taxi sped away from the sidewalk entrance to Star Station Delta, headed for Kennedy Airport. In the back seat, Francine pulled a sleek silver laptop from her bag and began composing an e-mail. Beside her, an exhausted Emil Wilcox collapsed into the dirty black cushion.

And, for the first time in over a month, he slept soundly.

2011-Aug-24, 06:36 PM
April 22nd, 7:09 AM, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

The sun was still rather low in the sky this early in the morning, making the surrounding air comfortably warm, rather than the scorching heats it could reach later on in the day. Still, that air was dry, and the weather reports indicated that a thunderstorm might blow in from the south that night.

But for now, the sky was clear and bright, the sort of blue that went on forever and seemed as deep and lovely as the nearby sea. It invited you to run along the shore as fast as you could, energized by the sound of the waves, until you finally jumped in and started to swim- or to fly.

Looking through his office window, it seemed to Robert Cabana to be a perfect day for flying. The space center’s compact, gray-haired director looked back to his desk for a moment, verified that the desktop computer was still not fully warmed up, and returned his attention to the view and the weather.

If only the weather could be like this on the day of Atlantis’s launch the following month. They were on schedule for the targeted date, the payload had already arrived and been prepared, and by the end of the week, Atlantis would be on the pad with it safely sealed inside her cargo bay. By all accounts, things were going well for STS-132.

Cabana’s own first launch had occurred on such a day, a warm, clear October morning almost twenty years before. The air had been full of that same tensed dryness, and he’d breathed in that same faint tinge of electricity waving to the crowd before climbing into the van to the launchpad as a rookie shuttle pilot. And, most strongly of all, the former astronaut recalled that before boarding, he’d seen the orbiter Discovery silhouetted against a sky of that same brilliant blue.

Coming back to the present, Cabana looked back at his computer, to see that his e-mail page had fully loaded. He returned to the desk, sat down, and began reviewing his new messages. There was the noted historian Keith McDonnell writing to say was available for another talk at the center that August, a few items related to the conversion of an older launch pad for use by the SpaceX company, some miscellaneous business associated with the transition between Constellation and the unnamed new space plan, a memo from one of the launchpad supervisors that there had been a small problem with the shuttle’s fuel hoses…

And a message from the Marshall director marked “Extremely Urgent”.

He opened it up and began to read, his eyes widening with each unbelievable sentence. Cabana’s first instinct was to assume it was a rather- no, an extremely- tasteless practical joke, but April Fools’ Day had been more than two weeks before. He clicked on the attachment, the files the Marshall people claimed revealed the details of this plot.

The diagrams… the Orbiter Processing Facility… the payload canister… no, this was certainly no joke.

Immediately, Cabana weighed the possibilities. Fighter pilots who were in the habit of hesitating all too often ended up part of the ground. He’d been trained to react rapidly in an emergency and he’d have to act quickly if he wanted to prevent the consequences outlined in the e-mail.

He went back to the e-mail from the supervisor about the fuel hose problem and started to compose a reply.

“This could become quite serious, inform the press that I have called a brief halt in launch preparations until the hoses can be fixed…”

2011-Aug-25, 07:25 PM
May 14th, 2010, 1:57 PM, Avengers Tower, New York

“My fellow citizens, I, along with the rest of the nation, was shocked by the recent events in Florida. I was shocked by the sudden explosion itself, shocked by the tragic loss of life, shocked by the destruction of such a historic spacecraft and the six brave men it carried. But beyond that, I was shocked that the sort of broken and backward agency that would allow the sort of negligence that could cause an accident like this would even be allowed to exist in our federal government. At first, what I propose today may sound radical, but I feel certain that it is what the late Commander Ham and his crew would have wanted, along with their seventeen fallen colleagues from decades past.”

“Director Osborn, the video link to Florida has been established. The NASA people say they’re ready when you are.” Victoria Hand announced, breaking her boss’s concentration.

“Tell them I’ll be there in a moment. I want to run through the speech one more time.”

“Also, I think you should look at these transmissions from Asgard when you get the chance.”

“Asgard can wait.” Osborn turned to the nearby mirror to check his tie once more. “a la espada y el compas, mas y mas y mas.” He muttered, quoting the conquistador Vargas Machuca. It might be a fine unofficial motto for HAMMER’s new space division “By the sword and the compass, more and more and more…”

Kennedy Space Center

It was another prefect flying day, another day of endless blue sky and light wind from the sea, just light enough to keep the throngs in the viewing galleries cool. A select group of them were invitees, individuals who’d been lucky enough to win an online contest and come view the launch as guests of NASA. All they had to do in return was post about the experience on Twitter. These excited guests, from the looks of things, were quite happy to oblige.

To most of the spectators, there was really no difference between this and any other launch. To be sure, there were only two or three more space shuttle launches scheduled before the end of the program later that year or early in the next, which lent every remaining one a bittersweet sense of importance, and the fact that this was the last scheduled flight of the orbiter Atlantis created a sense of nostalgia, but that was all that distinguished it.

However, to a small group in the “employees only” viewing stand, it was far, far more important.

“… I mean, I was scared out of my skull! But he was about to shoot Emil! So I put a quarter in the machine, grabbed up those Skee-Balls, and hurled one at the guy- and it knocked him clean out! Clean out! Jenny, you should have been there, it was so crazy!” Francine made various wild hand gestures as she enthusiastically explained the story of the fight that had occurred within the Star Station Delta arcade.

“Yeah, it sounds like you two were pretty awesome back there.” Jenny said, sitting next to her on the bleachers. “I can’t believe all of that happened to you guys just in the six months since I saw you last! We’ve been pretty busy ourselves, between the launches in February and April and the president’s new plan, but I mean, compared to mysterious phone calls and gunfights with secret agents, all that stuff seems pretty boring.”

“I wish they’d let me have a piece of the action, too. If I’d been there, I’d have given those HAMMER goons what for, lemmie tell you-” Joel declared.

“Oh, you mean like your oh-so-heroic stand against the invaders from Planet X at Halloween?” Max cut in, prompting everyone to laugh, except Joel, who looked at his feet.

On the surface, their friendly laughter seemed no different than it had been before the Ares I-X test flight. But underneath the jokes, each of the five was deeply focused on what would transpire in the coming minutes- and deeply worried about it. Today’s accomplishment would be far more clandestine- and with far greater consequences in the event of failure.

“Well, you two did have a role in the action, so you can’t complain.” Teresa pointed out, addressing Max and Jenny.

“Can’t deny that. It was intense. And you’re about to see our handiwork.” Max announced.

“Just you wait, this is going to be epic.”

2011-Aug-25, 07:26 PM
New York

Osborn settled into his seat as Ms. Hand told him to test the small microphone clipped to his shirt collar.

“Can you hear me now, Mr. Administrator?” He asked, staring at the videoconference screen before him. It was split in half, with one side showing the shuttle Atlantis sitting on the launchpad and the other, Administrator Bolden in the Firing Room in Florida. The feed on Bolden’s end would be the same, except that it would show Osborn’s face.

“Crystal clear, Director Osborn.” The NASA chief replied, smiling. “I’m thrilled that you’d take time out of your busy schedule to watch this launch, and I’m honored that you’d want to talk to me. It’s not often that officials from other sectors of the government show such interest. It’s quite refreshing, actually.” He laughed.

“Well, I’m quite supportive of all the work you do. Access to space is what will determine our future. You seem rather excited yourself.” Osborn said, trying to sound interested.

“I really am, Director, I really am. Every time one of these- well, have you ever seen a shuttle launch before, Director Osborn?” Bolden asked, smiling again. His voice was full of enthusiasm.

Osborn paused for a moment, trying to recall. Of course he had, on TV, but not in the past year or so, he’d been too busy running HAMMER and the Dark Avengers. But he thought he remembered catching one as he’d been flipping through channels once during his time with the Thunderbolts- or had that been a movie? The one with Bruce Willis? It didn’t matter. He abandoned the train of thought.

“Not for a while, but I’m looking forward to this one. I’m sure this final flight of the shuttle Atlantis will be a very memorable day in the history of NASA, as very few have been before.” He said, grinning.

“Well, right now we’re about ten minutes from launch, and the Flight Controllers have said it’s all systems go. I’m glad you’re here to see this, because this is NASA at its best. Every time we launch one of these shuttles, it’s the product of so much work and preparation. To even get to this point, we have to solve so many problems, some quite unexpected- as you’ll see, it’s really a testament to the dedication and skill of all of our employees.” Bolden emphasized the words, sounding like a proud parent at a soccer game.

Osborn scrutinized the man’s face as he talked. Surely there had been some mistake in the dossiers Hand had provided him with. When he’d read that Bolden was a former general in the Marine Corps, he’d expected someone far sterner than the smiling African-American man with the gray hair and mustache he was speaking to. Back in his early criminal days, he’d have called someone like this a soft touch, an overly-emotional fool.

No matter. That would make it all the sweeter to watch his response after the explosion. He’d have to take a screenshot of the look on the man’s face. The thought amused him.

“We’re just under 8 minutes and counting. If you can see on the screen, they’re retracting the walkway the astronauts used to enter the shuttle.” Bolden acted out the motion with his hands, holding one upright and pulling the other away. “They can put it back in place very quickly if something goes wrong later on.”

The arm was indeed moving away, back towards the main gantry structure, where it would be protected from the blast of launch. Now the shuttle stood on its own on the pad, the black-and-white orbiter that most people thought of as the shuttle proper with its large orange fuel tank and twin pencil-shaped solid rocket boosters.

“So, Administrator, I read you were an astronaut, what’s it like inside of that shuttle when it goes off?”

“You know, a lot of people ask that question. There’s a shaking like a runaway freight train, and the most tremendous noise all around, and you’re forced back into your seat- it’s like there’s a gorilla sitting on you. I was the pilot, so I had a notebook in my lap with a list of what I had to do, and it felt like it weighed about a million pounds there…” He trailed off, as a hissing sound could be heard from the other screen. “That’s the helium purge, and if you look closely, you’ll see them move the engines and hydraulic surfaces to prepare for flight.”

Osborn feigned interest in the engines moving slowly from side to side. He hadn’t realized it took so long to go through all of these things before the actual launch. In the movies, it always happened quickly. Perhaps he should have gotten that briefing on Asgard after all and come in a bit later.

“Two minutes to launch. You can see they’ve retracted the cap that was on top of the fuel tank. This is when the astronauts are lowering their visors and locking them. I can remember it so strongly, I had butterflies…” He took a deep breath. “From about a minute to go until the boosters fall off, I really can’t talk. I’m just going to have to watch and listen, if that’s okay with you.”

“It’s fine, General Bolden. Go right ahead.” Osborn saw the other man reach over and turn up the volume on the video feed of the shuttle. He’d instructed the agent to detonate the bomb while the boosters were still attached, so that they could be seen as a possible cause of the explosion. Of course, there would be a governmental inquest, but investigators who got too close to the truth could be… silenced.

“And of course you must have known the astronauts who were on the Columbia? Do you ever think about them? What about Challenger?” He added, in a tone he hoped sounded more like respectful, and less like sadistic, curiosity.

“T-minus ninety seconds.” An announcer said.

Bolden was silent for a moment, before answering. “They were personal friends of mine, and their legacies will always be a part of me. I try to do my best to build on their work for this agency.” He took a breath. “Now, things’ll happen fast. You’ll want to watch now, director.”

“T-minus one minute. Computers are verifying that the main engines are ready for ignition. The sound suppression water system is now armed.”

“T-minus 31 seconds. Auto sequence start!” Osborn had no idea what that meant, but he, like everyone else watching, was waiting for what would happen next.

“T-minus sixteen seconds.” Water poured into the tanks beneath the shuttle’s engines. Shortly afterward, it would be turned into billowing clouds of smoke and vapor by the immense heat that would hit it.

“T-minus thirteen, twelve, eleven-” there was a spray of golden sparks beneath the main engines, burning off any lose hydrogen fuel to prevent an explosion, “-ten, nine, eight- go for main engine start-” the sparks gave way to red-orange transparent columns of fire- “-six, five, four, three-” the columns narrowed, into white-blue triangles of flame- “two, one-”

“-and zero, LIFTOFF of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, reaching the crest of its historic achievements in space!”

Clouds of white steam poured out of the trenches underneath the launchpad as the shuttle rose with a roar. It had cleared the tower before the announcer had even finished his sentence. It climbed through the sky, the area directly beneath it a thick yellow-white pillar of flame from the booster rockets that fanned out like a pyramid. Below the fire, there was gray and tan smoke, a long tail that grew longer every second as the roar continued.

The shuttle turned, the radio chatter between Commander Ken Ham and the ground controller audible. The thinner trail of smoke from the main engines turned with it, twisting around the main smoke column and briefly full of glowing Mach diamonds. The shuttle continued to shoot into the sky, followed by the fire and the smoke.

“The three main engines have now been throttled down as the orbiter prepares to enter the region of maximum dynamic pressure on a vehicle in the lower atmosphere.” This was when the structural forces on the orbiter would be the greatest, when the most damage could be done. Osborn found he had unconsciously squeezed the armrest of his chair quite tightly in anticipation. His agent would press the trigger in the next minute-

“Atlantis, you are go at throttle up.” The voice from Mission Control came. A moment later, Commander Ham responded:

“Copy. Go at throttle up.” The Challenger had been lost shortly after that step in the shuttle-to-ground communications, and there was a small gasping sound. Osborn would not realize the source until later- Bolden was holding his breath.

There was a long silence now, filled only by the roaring of the engines.

Over a hundred thousand feet below, on the ground at Cape Canaveral, an inconspicuous-looking man pressed a button concealed by his jacket.

“All three engines looking really good right now.” The announcer reported. “One minute, thirty seconds into the flight.”

Osborn ignored the announcer’s prattling about the functioning of the engines and auxiliary power units and focused on the image of the shuttle, already nineteen miles high. The explosion would be very sudden, starting from the orbiter’s payload bay, beneath the cockpit where the astronauts sat, it would happen any moment now-

And he saw nothing. But any second now-

The flame of the booster rockets grew raggedy and brightened intermittently, their fuel nearly used up. They brightened, and then separated, falling away from the orbiter with their ends still blazing.

Osborn couldn’t believe his eyes. The boosters tumbled end over end, trailing fat sparks. He barely heard Bolden’s sigh as the veteran astronaut began to breathe normally again.

Everything had been in place, his agent had assured him that despite Wilxox’s escape, the bomb had been in place when the shuttle’s cargo canister had been loaded for transport to the launchpad. The launch itself had gone completely according to schedule, there had been no mysterious delays, no indication whatsoever that anyone had discovered the plot-

Yet the shuttle Atlantis flew onward, its three main engines white-hot as it climbed towards orbit. They seemed to be mocking him, the whole blamed spaceplane seemed to be mocking him as it impossibly grew smaller and fainter in the deep blueness of the sky. He sunk into the chair without realizing he was doing it, his muscles just suddenly lost their tension as the HAMMER director felt the emotion he’d sworn he’d never know again- defeat.

“Did you enjoy watching that, Director Osborn?” Bolden’s voice broke the HAMMER leader’s focus.

“I-I-it-it was- wasn’t… ss-supposed… wasn’t…” Various emotions flashed across the face of Norman Osborn as he stuttered- shock, rage, despair- and he scrambled frantically to his feet, wanting to terminate the videoconference as soon as possible and save his image. Only the sound of Bolden clearing his throat caused him to look up at the screen again.

“I hope this has been an educational experience for you, Mr. Osborn, and you’ve learned quite a bit about what NASA is really capable of.” Administrator Bolden smiled. “Goodbye.” That side of the screen suddenly went black.

After that, neither Hand nor Osborn saw anything.

But back in an office at the Kennedy Space Center, Bolden breathed a sigh of relief and turned to the blond-haired woman operating his end of the computer link.

“Lori, you did get a screenshot of that expression, didn’t you?” He asked.

The woman smiled widely and gave him the “a-ok” signal with her right hand.

“Turnabout is fair play.”

2011-Aug-26, 03:00 PM
May 14th 2010, 2:28 PM, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

“T-plus ten minutes. Atlantis has now safely arrived in space for its final planned voyage after a quarter-century of flight.”

A cheer went up from the viewing gallery as the announcement was heard over the loudspeaker. Many of the NASA employees were already on their feet, but those who weren’t quickly jumped up.

“I think Mr. PAO is forgetting… ‘and the most epic prank in NASA history’!” Jenny shouted, full of pride.

“Man, oh man, I’d give money to see Osborn’s face!” Joel chimed in, provoking affirmative shouts from the engineers around them.

“We owned him! We owned that stupid pile of whale barf so good!” Max punched the air.

“We saved the shuttle! We really did it!” Francine jump-hugged Jenny.

“That’s right. That’s right. We did it…” Teresa said, as loudly as she could muster with the growing tightness in her throat. “…together.”

I think I’m going to cry again…

But if it’s from happiness… that’s okay. Because if that’s the only reason I cry today-

-It shows that we won.

“KSC! KSC! Represent!” Max had started a chant that the rest of the Kennedy employees had taken up, including Jenny, who had managed to tactfully break away from Francine’s crushing hug. (Never an easy task.)

We tried our darndest and we saved the astronauts and we came out on top.

“Teresa von Braun?” The unfamiliar voice woke Teresa from her thoughts. She looked behind her to see a woman with shoulder-length reddish-brown hair wearing sunglasses.

“Y- Yes, that’s me.” She said, trying to banish the tears so that as not to embarrass herself. The other woman wore an identification badge marking her as an assistant to the Space Center Director. “I’m sorry, I got a little emotional and-”

“It’s fine. You’re supposed to come with me, some people want to talk with you.” The woman said.

“Um… sure. Okay.” Teresa said, surprised. “I’ll try to meet up with you guys back at the visitor complex.” She told Francine and the others in a louder voice, having almost to shout to be heard over the chanting.

“Sounds good! And dinner’s on me, I know this great place in Titusville!” Jenny shouted back.

Teresa followed the other woman past the bleachers, to the road on which she and her friends had come from the main visitor complex in a tour bus. Another bus was there now, which seemed to have fewer people in it. The woman climbed inside and spoke to the driver, then motioned for Teresa to follow.

The air-conditioned interior of the bus felt good after the heat outside- even in April, central Florida could get quite hot indeed- but Teresa couldn’t help feeling uneasy as she took a seat near the front of the bus with the brown-haired woman. There weren’t many other passengers, and all of them seemed to be more formally dressed than the t-shirts and polos of the technicians and engineers. This, coupled with their identification badges and the fact that most of them seemed to be checking handheld electronic devices, suggested to her that they were involved in management or administration.

Teresa thought of asking the woman who exactly it was that wanted to talk to her, but she already seemed engrossed in a conversation on her satellite phone.

“And the post-launch press conference is at four…”

Instead, she looked out the window, at the swamplands of the space center as the bus passed them by. In a channel of water, she saw an alligator, satisfied that the noise of the launch was over, crawl lazily back onto the bank to resume his interrupted nap.

The bus turned, headed towards the looming Vehicle Assembly Building. The coastal land was so flat and devoid of tall buildings that the immense size of the VAB never really seemed to sink in until one was right up under it. Teresa had been told it had more interior space than the Pentagon, but she hadn’t really believed it until she’d been inside to help with the assembly of the Ares I-X components the previous spring.

The large glass windows of the Firing Room were visible as the bus approached the cluster of offices and hangars that surrounded the VAB. The bus pulled into the parking lot and the doors opened. The brown-haired woman stood up and headed out, and Teresa followed. She remembered the building they were headed towards from her work the previous year- it was were various offices were housed, including those of the Center’s management. The guards at the door seemed to recognize the woman and allowed them to walk past. The woman led her down a corridor to a door guarded by two more guards, told Teresa to wait, and stuck her head inside.

The presence of the guards surprised Teresa- she’d never seen guards in front of the offices before. The entrance to the Center was considered well-guarded enough, and those who worked there low-profile enough, that such security had never been needed. Bodyguards at NASA were relatively uncommon- it was only after the assassination attempt against Griffin at the Smithsonian that the Administrator himself had begun to travel with protection.

“Alright, he’ll see you now.” The woman said, holding the door. Teresa walked inside. It was a large office, with a window facing the shuttle launchpads. Gray smoke still drifted off the one Atlantis had departed twenty minutes before.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Dr. von Braun.” She recognized the quiet voice just as well as she recognized the suited, gray-haired African-American man standing behind the desk.

“Administrator Bolden?” she asked in surprise, stepping incredulously towards the desk. “Sir, I’m honored to meet you, I-”

“Would you like a jellybean? Bob Cabana keeps them around, it’s his office.” He waved his hand towards a glass jar on the tabletop filled with multicolored candies, next to a white cardboard box with sides about a foot long.

“No thank you, sir.” Teresa whispered, unsure of what to say.

“Please, call me Charlie.” Bolden said, smiling. “I’m quite thankful to see you, myself. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you and your friends did to uncover Osborn’s plot.”

“Dr. von Braun, I’ve been reading a lot about you. How you were one of the New Mutants and in training to join the X-Men until the Challenger was lost. And how you chose to give up your aspirations of superheroing because of that event. You chose to become an engineer when your schooling was done and you went to work for Burt Rutan in Mojave. You dedicated your life to preventing another such tragedy even though it meant facing anti-mutant prejudice. And your story means a lot to me.”

Bolden turned his head to look out the window.

“When I was studying at the Naval Academy, over forty years ago, I remember the day I heard that three astronauts had died in a fire a few miles southeast of here at Launch Complex 34. Apollo 1. I wouldn’t see the pad for myself until years later, when I was an astronaut myself. There was a black-and-silver plaque on one of the columns of the old concrete base of the launch tower. And on it, I read the names of the crew members, and a Latin phrase- 'Ad Astra Per Aspera’- ‘To the stars through adversity’.” Bolden’s voice sounded softer now, a hint of the teary tone Teresa had heard on the day the budget was announced creeping in.

He turned back to Teresa “And I wondered why there wasn’t anything else, more of a monument. I wondered about that for a long time. You know, I waited to apply to become an astronaut, because I thought I wouldn’t be accepted. But I met a very smart, very persistent young scientist named Ron McNair who had already been accepted by the astronaut corps. He was involved then in the first designs for the space station project, and he told me to go for it. So I did. I’m sure you remember that Dr. McNair was sadly-”

“-onboard the Challenger when it was destroyed.” Teresa finished.

“That’s right. And at the time, it seemed like Ron’s plans for constructing a space station had died, too. How could we build one if we didn’t even know if the shuttles were safe to fly? But, almost a decade later, I found myself talking to cosmonauts onboard a space station- the first time we ever did a space-to-space audio hook-up between Mir and the shuttle. And as I’m also sure you also know, that was just the first step in the collaboration that has led to the International Space Station.”

Teresa nodded.

“The monument to all of the astronauts we’ve lost, the greatest monument we can give them, is to continue their quest and to work to ensure safety in the future. The answer to my question was also a Latin phrase- ‘Si monumentum requiris, circumpice’- do you know what that means, Teresa? If I can call you that?”

“It’s fine. I learned some Latin at school- ‘If you seek his monument, look around you.’” She translated. “In St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, that’s the inscription on the tomb of the cathedral’s architect.”

“Exactly. Because when I was looking for a monument to Apollo 1, I should have looked around me. Look at all this out there. That’s their monument.” He said. Teresa obeyed, walking up to the window. “It’s those active pads, it’s the hardware in space, and it’s the dedicated people who keep on working- despite adversity. People like you.” He looked straight at Teresa, seeming very serious.

Teresa was unsure of how to respond, but managed to get out a quiet “Thank you, sir.”

“My immediate predecessor, Dr. Griffin, gave you a position as an Official Superhuman Troubleshooter for this agency during the Darkwind crisis, is that correct?”

“He did.”

“And you didn’t have much say in the matter, did you? I understand you were worried you would be seen as a superhero rather than an engineer.” He asked, gently.

“I was indeed, sir. I don’t want any sort of special status because I’m a mutant. If I’d wanted that life, I’d have stayed with the X-Men. I came to NASA to be an engineer, just like any other applicant.”

“I fully understand. And that’s exactly how you and your coworkers pursued this Osborn situation- as engineers concerned about your fellow NASA employees and the future of your agency. You did it out of your own compassion and courage, without a directive from me, or your Center’s Director, or from any other official. And there is- excuse me…” Noticing that his voice was getting weak, the Administrator paused for a moment. “Teresa, there is nothing more that I could possibly ask for in a troubleshooter than that.”

He suddenly hugged Teresa, taking her completely by surprise. After her boss had pulled back, he noticed her look of shock and explained himself.

“I hug. It’s a sign of peace. My predecessor considered himself a bit of a Vulcan- he didn’t like to have emotions get in the way. There’s nothing wrong with that worldview, but it’s not one I share- I’d love to be as cool and steely-eyed as some of the people here, but when I get emotional… I just can’t do anything about it- I have to hug or cry or express it somehow. I think it’s important to be passionate about something, and I can tell you’re passionate about NASA. That’s why I want you to have a look at this.”

He picked up the cardboard box and handed it to Teresa.

“Um, thank you… I think?”

“Open it.” Bolden said, in a tone that made it sound more like a hope than a command.

2011-Aug-26, 03:04 PM
May 14, 2010, 2:42 PM, Kennedy Space Center

Teresa set the box down on the table and opened it. A blue motorcycle-style helmet with a gold visor was sitting inside. She pulled out the helmet and examined it more closely. It was light in her hands, but it felt very solid. Small white dots appeared here and there on the surface of the helmet, resembling a starfield. The area around the visor was outlined in red, and above the two top corners of the visor, the red color swept slightly upward and outward before ending in a sharp point.

“Is this a space helmet?”

There was no response, so Teresa set the helmet down on the desk and looked to see what else was in the box. She removed a pair of fingerless gloves, similarly blue with the star pattern, although there were red chevron shapes on the palm areas, and then, a folded jumpsuit.

“Go ahead, check it out.”

She unfolded the suit. It looked similar to those she’d seen the astronauts wear during their training, with a zipper up the front and pockets on the legs and arms, but the material seemed thicker and more padded. It was mostly the same blue-with-stars as the gloves and helmet, but there was an incomplete white oval outline on the chest area, the sort of symbol artists often used to suggest an orbit.

“I reviewed the reports of your fight in New York, and I found out that white suit of yours was more than five years old and a little worn. So I figured the least I could do was have the spacesuit techs whip up something a little more modern. There’s some of our very newest materials in there- it should much lighter and more durable than McCoy’s microfiber.” Bolden explained. “So… what do you think?”

It’s for me? He had them make me a new suit?

“Well… I can see where it’s inspired by the NASA logo- the blue, the stars, the orbit, the red vector thingy, but why all the decoration? It looks a bit more NASCAR than NASA. Why not just make it white and orange like my old one?”

“Because I want people to know who you’re working for.” She opened her mouth to ask a question, but Bolden held up his hand. “Please let me finish."

He looked at the window again and took a deep breath. “Great changes are coming, Teresa. This plot against the shuttle Atlantis was only one aspect of Osborn’s schemes- he’s overstretching on nearly every front, and from what I’ve seen on the news, it looks as if Asgard will be the turning point. He can’t survive much longer. The last decade was hard- both for the space community and the superhero set- but it looks as if things are finally turning in both of our favors. With the new plan, we’ve got a new direction, a new objective- I feel that now is the time for action.”

Bolden looked back at Teresa. “We have such vast capabilities- there is so much that we can do, so much that we can offer. We’ve been tracking the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in real time with our satellites and giving the data to the governments and cleanup groups who need it most. I’ve been constantly sending messages to make sure of that and monitoring the progress- my Stark-Phone hardly ever leaves my hand for more than five minutes. Such an awful thing.”

“I read about that in the news.”

“It’s just the beginning, though. This new plan is an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and put our technology to the greatest positive use possible. Before, we believed we could go it alone. Now we know that’s not the case- if we’re going to make this plan work, if we’re going to get out there beyond low-Earth orbit, we’re going to need a lot of strong friends and allies.”

“We’re already working to create partnerships with other nations and with private spaceflight companies, but I also want us to become a full supportive partner for the superhero community. There’s help that only we can offer them, help we’re not giving, but that we should be- providing improved materials for uniforms and equipment like your new suit, offering satellite guidance and mapping, being able to offer our full sensing compliment to search for anomalies or hidden objects, and otherwise offering our technology and aid in whatever way we can. Because we’re both in the business of understanding and protecting our world and Universe and we should be working together to do it.”

“And to serve that role, we’re going to need someone with experience in all of these fields- someone who knows NASA, knows superhumans, and knows private space. I would like to reactivate your position as NASA’s official superhuman troubleshooter and representative.”

Teresa sucked in a long breath.

“But, let me emphasize, on a purely voluntary basis. Unless you desire otherwise, your official job title will still be listed as ‘Engineer’. I’m not going to force you to do anything, Teresa. All I want is to ask you to keep doing what you did with Mr. Wilcox- respond to what you see as developing situations- and you’ll be able to do so with my full support behind you and any assistance you may request. The only difference is that you’ll be sent information on possible assignments and problems related to the agency’s work- and you’ll always be able to refuse them.”

“So, what do you say, Teresa?”

The afternoon sun felt good on Teresa’s face as she sped down the road. The clouds of smoke from the shuttle launch still lingered in the air, but they’d been stretched out and dissipated by the coastal winds. Soon, they would fade into that perfect blue sky, but for now, they remained there as visible proof of Atlantis’s survival and successful launch.

She could test the helmet later. For now it was too hot and too nice of a day to confine her head. The new material would take some getting used to, but she could already feel that it provided more freedom of movement than her other suit. Most of the buses that had carried employees and guests out to the viewing areas had already returned, leaving the straight strip of asphalt invitingly empty. Teresa decided to accelerate a little.

The whip-crack of the sonic boom woke the sleeping alligator again, and he opened his scaly eyelids to see a blue blur speeding off into the distance, towards the Visitor Center. Then, there was silence once more and he fell back into his comfortable nap in the warm mud.

Was it really only three months ago that I was crying at the test stand?

She thought back to the posters in the museum at Marshall, and fixed the official portrait of a certain dark-haired woman in her mind.

That’s right, Judy. We’ll try our darndest. And even Osborn can’t stop us.

I couldn’t save you, I couldn’t save the Challenger, and that’s always going to hurt. But today I saved Atlantis and her crew from joining you and it. They won’t be adding any names to the Space Mirror today. And I’ll never forget that, either.

I still can’t be certain about exactly what’s going to happen to NASA or exactly what these new missions and disruptions… these changes…these reinventions will mean for us or for me, personally. But I have a good feeling about them.

And besides, if we weren’t heading into the unknown, we wouldn’t be explorers, would we?

So we’ll try our darndest. All of us, together.

Let’s go.

She picked up her speed again. It was a good day to fly.

2011-Aug-27, 03:59 PM
I'm nor going to lie, that was awesome, thanks for posting. As a side note, I think you really nailed the differences between Griffin and Bolden (Coincidentally, I saw both of them at an event I went to last night at the Space and Rocket Center. Bolden was a guest speaker and Griffin was at the other table reserved for UAH.)

2011-Aug-31, 08:57 PM
Thank you, Gem. That's high praise indeed. We didn't actually get to see much of Griffin's personality in ItC, since he was only "on-panel" for one installment, but as I learned about how different the two men are, I thought it would be a good element to bring up in this chapter. Both ways of leadership are equally valid and both men got their own moments of glory in showdowns with supervillains, but I was definitely just trying to show the contrast between Leading with Logic and Leading with Heart.

2012-Apr-30, 12:45 AM
If I haven't posted here in a while, it's because I was doing an ItC team-up on another site with a really great Marvel fan-fic writer who I admire immensely. I would have posted it here, but every other issue was written by her, and I didn't feel comfortable posting her work on another site without her permission.

Anyway, in that team-up, at one point, Max the KSC worker states that while the character Gazer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gazer) is, in Marvel's history, the first mutant to become a NASA Astronaut, he believes Gazer was only the first OFFICIAL mutant astronaut...

Alright, Francine asks, so who do her friends think was the REAL first?

Jenny: “Story Musgrave (http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/musgrave.html). Have you seen that guy’s resume? Six doctorates, computer programmer, brain surgeon, imagineer AND astronaut? Nobody’s that good.”

Henry (a waiter at the restaurant where they're eating near KSC): “Hoot Gibson (http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/gibson.html). I honestly don’t think there’s a better pilot anywhere in the world.”

Max: “Steve Hawley (http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/hawley.html). Mike Mullane pretty much says it flat out in his book. Right here, on page 113 of Riding Rockets. Mullane said, and I quote, ‘No human had a comparable brain. In just a glance, Steve could commit the most complex shuttle schematics to permanent memory. … He was a maestro in simulations, directing responses to ten different systems failures simultaneously.’”

These "speculations" were just a one-off joke, until another friend of mine wrote his own little STS-41-D fic, totally unrelated to ItC, prompting me to wonder what would have happened if Dr. Hawley really HAD been a mutant. Would the X-Men have discovered him? It might have gone a little something like this little tale of satellite-watching, Kansas (the band, not the state), and teenage Teresa...


The Anomaly

September 1, 1984, 7:32 PM, Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters

“Early in the morning sunlight, floating on the wings of dawn…”

The commotion echoed through the corridors of the mansion, disturbing an otherwise unusually quiet night for the building that played host to two of the world’s premier superhero teams. The veteran X-Men team had just returned from an away mission in Antarctica, while the younger New Mutants, the institute’s true “students”, were all enjoying some relaxation after a long day of training.

All but one, that was.

“Here I’ll live and die, with my wings in the sky…”

Several of the mansion’s residents were jolted from their relaxation by the sound of doors being slammed open, and, a moment later, the rushing of air as a young woman sprinted through corridors and down staircases at supersonic speed.

“And I, I won’t come down no more!”

Kerry Livgren’s voice echoed in Teresa von Braun’s ears as she made quick turns and skids, keeping one hand on her headphones to stop them from slipping off. To the credit of its makers, the Walkman clipped to her belt was performing splendidly under circumstances surely outside of its design specifications.

Full of excitement, Teresa yanked the door to the mansion’s south lawn open and dug in her heels to reduce speed. Finally coming to a stop, she took several deep breaths, glanced at the bright orange face of the Swatch watch that adorned her left wrist, and turned down the volume on her music for a moment.

Outside, it was nearly as tranquil as it had been inside before Teresa’s interruption. Only a few crickets chirped in the dusk. She spared a moment to stare at the colors of the sunset in the western sky.

“Still ten minutes to go.” She said, to no one in particular. “Great, but where’s--”

“Hey, Tessa!” Teresa looked up to see a brown-haired girl about her age running through the door she had just opened. The other girl shut it and finished jogging over. “Guess you win. I thought for sure I’d have gotten here first by phasing through the floors. ‘Still, just as long as we’re in the right place…”

Both girls removed their backpacks and started digging around. Teresa turned the volume back up and began singing along as she searched for her binoculars.

“Borne on wings of steel, I have so much to feel and I, I won’t—“

“Kitty, Teresa! What in the world do you think you’re doing, disturbing the whole institute like this?” Both girls looked up to see their instructor Ororo Munroe, better known as Storm, floating over their heads and glaring sternly.

“--- come… down… no… more?” Teresa gulped, nearly dropping her binoculars. She fumbled to pause the tape and remove her headphones.

“We’re sorry, ma’am. But the space shuttle--”

“The one that launched on Thursday with the woman aboard?” Ms. Munroe asked. Together with their instructor Hank McCoy, the girls had gathered around a television to watch the launch and invited their teammates to join them. A few, Storm among them, had.

“Yup, the Discovery. It’s going to pass overhead in a few minutes and we wanted to get out here in time to see it.” Kitty explained, holding the piece of paper on which they had calculated the time of the flyover up towards the darkening sky.

“Well, it is rather historic, and the Professor does wish for you to be interested in current events.” Munroe said, relaxing. “However, would it not have been more prudent for you to have come downstairs in advance, instead of resorting to your powers to rush out here?”

“But… it’s more fun like that!” Kitty protested, earning another stern glare. She looked at the ground. Both girls had a feeling they were in for a lecture and several demerits.

“However, now that I’m out here, I hope you girls will not mind if I watch as well?” Munroe asked, descending to the ground.

“Oh, no!”

“No, no it’s fine!” Both teenagers quickly affirmed. They didn’t want to get into trouble and miss the flyover.

“You should see a bright dot rising in the east, above the trees. They say you’ll know it’s the shuttle because it won’t blink or change direction like a plane.” Teresa explained.

“They just dropped off a communications satellite yesterday. And tomorrow, they’re going to test a solar array like the ones the space station will have someday.” Kitty added. Both girls were looking intently to the east, trying to spot the point of light they knew would appear soon.

From somewhere in the nearby forest, a bird called. A welcome breath of wind blew up from the lake.

“I understand there are scientists onboard, conducting experiments?”

“That’s right, Charlie Walker is doing an electrophoresis experiment. Steve Hawley’s an astronomer and they say he’s got a brain like a computer.” Teresa said, quickly. Any other time, she would have been glad to give a whole spiel about the astronauts, but not now. As much as she liked seeing that Ms. Munroe had an interest in the mission, she didn’t want anything to distract her right now.

“And the lady engineer onboard, she is a role model of yours?”

“Judy Resnik? Absolutely.” Teresa said.

“Well, it is good that you can appreciate the achievements of non-powered--”

“There it is!” Kitty shouted, pointing at the treeline.

A small point of white light was climbing quickly, rising into the sky. A moving star in the greenish-hued eastern sky. Teresa put her binoculars to her eyes and tried to find it in the field of view.

Even though the binoculars, it was just a dot, but she knew it was a spaceship, one on which six people were travelling, who she envied more than anyone else in the world. The newspapers might say that her team or the X-Men were heroes, but Teresa thought nobody deserved the title more than the six souls riding on that point of light.

Two floors underground, within the underground chamber that housed the sophisticated Cerebro computer, Professor Charles Xavier scratched his chin thoughtfully.

“… incredibly strange, Scott, it must be a malfunction. For a few minutes, Cerebro detected a mutant signature one hundred and eighty-four miles up!”

2012-May-01, 06:10 PM
That was fun, thanks!

On a related note: Just after I met Story Musgrave in '08, I was walking away when a white-haired man approached me and asked where Story was. I looked behind me where Story had been a few minutes ago and he had already vanished. I'm pretty his name tag (everyone had name tags at the event) read "Charlie Walker."

Btw: Good luck with your exams!

2012-May-05, 04:32 PM
Just skipping through. Did you include Statolaunch?

2012-May-06, 12:37 AM
Just skipping through. Did you include Statolaunch?
I will when I get to Fall/Winter of 2011 in the story, especially because we haven't seen Rutan "on-panel" for a while and it will be nice to have him show up again. The last issue I have chronologically deals with the STS-135 launch.

2012-May-07, 01:21 AM
If you haven't seen the Avengers, NASA is featured in the movie.

2012-May-13, 10:39 PM
If you haven't seen the Avengers, NASA is featured in the movie.
I haven't, because I don't go to movie theaters (I find them too overstimulating), but I will have to check out the DVD when it comes out if this is the case.

2012-May-18, 01:23 AM
Here's a little teaser I made for the Fear Itself ItC tie-in:

Now, I don't know how many photos of the Earth you've seen from the ISS Cupola, but I think you all probably know-- it's not usually THAT color...

2012-May-18, 03:22 AM
I should hope not. Looking forward to the next installment.


1) Fire in the Sky is an awesome song, thanks for introducing me to it!!

2) Was "Star Station Delta" inspired by the Mars 2112 restaurant? I remember seeing the sign for it when I was in NYC on a band trip back in '07.

2012-May-19, 09:32 PM
I should hope not. Looking forward to the next installment.


1) Fire in the Sky is an awesome song, thanks for introducing me to it!!

You're welcome! It's one of my favorites.

2) Was "Star Station Delta" inspired by the Mars 2112 restaurant? I remember seeing the sign for it when I was in NYC on a band trip back in '07.
Yes, I've eaten at Mars 2112, and I rather enjoyed it, even if it was a little silly. My mental image when writing about "Star Station Delta" was "Mars 2112 if it really sucked."