The people gathered at the news conference were anxious to know what the press officer Guzman at mission control from UESC (United Earth Space Consortium) had to tell them. I wasn't that curious, as I already knew what he was going to say. I was there when the disaster happened with the first space test that was done with the new Dimensional Drive Thrusters and a Dimensional Power Module to power a vehicle in space. Of course I had been invited, as I had invented the DPM and was a consultant with the team that had developed the DDT. I'll never forget hearing the voice of Sanjiro Wakami, as he described what happened during his testflight.
A week earlier, during the DDT test
"Sanjiro, give us the stats please?"
"Hai, Synergy thrusters just shut down, rocket boosters have fired and are propelling me with 1000 kps outwards. The DPM has been checked and is online. I'm checking the DDT's now; they appear to be in order and standing by."
Moments later his voice came again, "I've shut down the rocket boosters, but will keep them on standby, just in case the DDT's don't fire. Hold on, firing up the DDT's now. No ... that is ... Oh my..." Then there was a screeching noise and the transmission cut off.
"Sanjiro, what is happening, talk to us. Sanjiro?"
Current time at press conference UESC
The press officer Guzman said, "We are still trying to ascertain what really happened, but all indications are that a piece of equipment failed."
Immediately the question started, "Was it the new thruster?" and "Did the power generator explode?"
"Please, we can't make any comments on what exactly failed and how. All I can say is that we are still investigating the matter." Guzman hastily interrupted all the questions.
As the reporters fired more questions at Guzman, who would be getting frustrated, I turned away and left the press conference. The UESC had asked me to sit in on the inquiry board of the accident. Partly, since I was present at the mishap and mostly as one of the leading scientists in the field.
I was worried about my children though. I had been away from them for a few days now. I knew they would be in good care with Gabe and his Mom, but still I liked being with them and taking care of them. Especially little Tommy, he was teething and though Mom in law is good with her bio powers, it still is a troubling time for kids.
However I also was anxious to see this project through. The DPM was my latest project and I was integral connected to the development of the DDT's. Nothing should have gone wrong, but it did and I wanted to know what and why.
I was so convinced that these developments where the ticket for our people to get out to the stars, and now it seemed to fall dead before it even started. I knew there were other companies trying to create technology that would allow mankind to reach the stars, but ours had more potential. Or at least I and some of my colleagues thought so.
Waiting for the next meeting of the UESC inquiry board, I relaxed in the luxury seat of the VIP lounge. Behind me I heard people whispering to each other. "They're going to kill the program. I just know it," a man said.
"I don't know, but I fear they may scrap most of it. You heard what they said, they couldn't find anything from the craft. It was totally destroyed. Like, it was transported out of there."
"Maybe it was aliens? They could've warped in and taken it. Then they warped out before anything could be seen from down here."
"Don't be daft, there's no such thing as aliens or Warp engines. No, I think the Chinese blew it out of space and it all got covered up."
A soft chime signaled the starting of the meeting and I got up fluidly from my seat. Those people back there were guessing wildly at what had happened. Though there might be some truth with it, the UESC might cancel the whole program and go with a competitor that had more crude, slow and more costly technology to propel vehicles through space. They didn't like it when people got killed which meant the better technology would be foregone in favor for more proven but more costly technology. I thought that there was something fishy about it all and wanted to see this through if only to satisfy my longing for knowledge and understanding.
"Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. This inquiry of the mishap from flight SES 34 is now in session." The leader of the inquiry board, Ronald Mosey said to the assembled crowd. (SES= Space Exploration Systems)
I was sitting next to Sarah McIntyre. Since our adventure from Tenkei, I had been in regular contact with her and I was glad that she was involved with the DDT program. I could clearly recall how we got started on the idea and the start of the program. I was having a quiet afternoon tea with Sarah just talking about technology.
Afternoon tea at Everybody's Place in Tenkei months earlier
"Did you hear about the new ideas they're launching for interstellar travel?"
"Aye, they'll no' get far with today's technology. The engines just ain't powerful enough, nae fast enough. Let alone fuel consumption. If only those thrusters of yours could work."
"Sadly my thrusters only work with pushing against something. In space there's just not enough stuff to push against. It's too bad since my new project the DPM might solve the fuel and power problem."
"DPM stands for Dimensional Power Module, right?"
At my nodding, Sarah continued, "But what if we could push against somethin' else?"
"What are you thinking of, Sarah?"
"Dimensions, I mean there are dimension boundaries everywhere, what if we could somehow push against those. I know we cannae see them or even know where and how they are, but we dinnae need that, we just need somethin' to push against."
"You might be on to something, unfortunately I have my hands full with the kids and my DPM, I can't take on another project like that."
"You dinnae have to, I'd like to explore this myself, if you dinnae mind."
"Why would I mind? Go for it. Can you use a sparring partner as a consultant?"
"I wouldnae dream of tryin' the project without your help now and again."
Current time at inquiry of flight SES 34, UESC
"As you can see, after we targeted some telescopes on the area, there was just a little debris in the general area. It seems like the craft piloted by Sanjiro Wakami disintegrated or vanished without a trace." Ronald Mosey concluded his presentation of the findings.
Someone directly asked the question I dreaded, "Do you think the Dimension doohickeys failed catastrophic and sucked the craft into another dimension?"
"There is no indication that something like that happened. But I'm not an expert in that field. I'll leave the answering of that to the leading scientists present here. Mrs. Kramer and Miss McIntyre, would you come forward please and answer these questions?" Ronald Mosey looked straight at us and though I didn't want to be in the spotlights, I realized that I had no choice.
Together with Sarah I got up and walked to the stage accepting a nano-clip microphone for the sound.
"I'll be answering any questions about the Dimensional Power Module or DPM for short." I said clearly to everyone. "My friend Miss McIntyre is head of the project Dimensional Drive Thrusters or DDT for short and will answer questions about that."
"Did your DPM fail aboard the craft?" an older man asked.
"Till everything has been examined and tested I can't be 100% sure, but all my tests didn't show anything like that."
"But this was the first time your DPM went into space?" A woman asked.
"Yes it is true that a DPM hasn't been in space before. Due to regulations and fear of unknown technology I haven't been allowed to have it tested in space yet. However it was tested with cosmic radiation and every other kind of possible hazards, short of hard vacuum. Since the DPM is installed inside a craft it would not have been in a vacuum."
More questions were about to be fired at me, but I continued, "However to make sure this wasn't the cause of any mishap I'm having a DPM transported to Tenkei soon with special preparations, where it will be undergoing more tests."
Some technical questions were quickly dismissed by the classic answer 'Classified' or 'read the manual'. I had prepared a short manual of the DPM that didn't reveal the workings, just what it was and how it operated.
Sarah got grilled afterwards about the DDT and fortunately she kept it low tech, as most people wouldn't understand her if she began to speak about how it would work. As it was, her accent already made following it a bit difficult for some people.
After the meeting we had another private conversation with Ronald Mosey in his office. He started with an apology. "I'm sorry that I have to tell you this."
I interrupted him, "You're not thinking of cancelling our projects, are you?"
He looked aggrieved at us, "Well, you see..."
Sarah looked like she was about to explode, "No! You're no shut this project down, not now! They're blaming it on us and we're going to prove 'em wrong. With or without your funding. If you cannae give us a little time, we'll find a way to do it ourselves. When we succeed, we'll sell it very expensive to every competitor we can find."
I looked at Sarah, we made a good tag team like this. Mosey looked even more pained in his expression. "You can't do that, all the research is classified and guarded. We can't have you take it somewhere else."
Softly with a steel undertone I answered him, "We can and we will. We both own the patents and rights of these devices. We are the only ones with the knowledge to make it and how it can be made to work. I don't want to threaten you, but if you can't give us time to prove our devices had nothing to do with what happened, we have no other choice to do what we need to."
Mosey looked at his desk for a moment before looking back at us. "The board already made up their minds about it, and they'll probably have my head for this, but I'm going to stonewall the paperwork for a few weeks. You have until then to prove your point. I hope you have an opening for a manager by that time if you fail in your efforts."
Once we were alone in an office, Sarah asked, "What are you proposin' to do now. We have nae go' a vessel to put our devices in."
"I know that, how about Todd? Can he help us out? Maybe he knows someone who has a space worthy plane for sale."
"Aye, that he might. I'll go ask him abou' it then. Are ye lookin' for somethin' special?"
I smiled, "Just big enough to put Synergy thrusters, DDT's and the DPM in along with a pilot and connections to a booster rocket to get us into orbit. It also needs to have a cooling system for the exterior, for the re-entry procedure."
"Aye, as if I didnae know tha'. I'll go give Todd a call, how are ye going to tell yer husband about this." Sarah smirked.
I frowned, I hadn't thought that far yet. I knew that I would have a tough time selling it to Gabe. But it was something that I wanted to do. To prevent anything going wrong I wanted to pilot the craft myself this time, which would only make talking to Gabe more difficult. I knew he would try blackmailing me out of it by using the children that I was responsible for. I do love my children, and I would give up almost everything for them, but this was something I had to do. I didn't underestimate the dangers, but felt sure that it wasn't as bad as everyone feared.
Kramer's family home in Sun City
A few hours later I was in a heated discussion with Gabe. I had just told him what I was planning to do and he reacted as I suspected. "How can you even think of doing something harebrained like that? I forbid you to do it."
I sighed, "You can't forbid me anything."
He was still fuming, "Think about our children, do you want them to grow up without a mother? You do love your children do you?"
'Just as I suspected, he is using the children to keep me from doing what I thought I had to do.' "Gabe, you know I love our children, and I love you, but this is something I just have to do. I'd never forgive myself if I didn't prove them wrong and held back humanity on this earth."
"But why does it have to be you, why can't you find someone else to pilot the ship."
I tried to kiss him, but he evaded me, "I'm the best qualified person for controlling the DPM and DDT's in action. I know the most about the systems and I can generate enough power if something isn't right. You know me, I can do this and I am the best qualified."
Gabe bowed his head, "Fine, go do it if you want. But don't expect me to be happy about it. I'm going to Amsterdam to fix some problems and I'm taking the kids and my mom with me. Mem wants to visit some old friends and she wants to show the kids around in Fryslận."
It was that I heard him use the name of his birthplace before, else I might think that he was angry with me. Well, he was upset, but not really angry with me. Softly I said to him, "Let me talk to them first. I'll explain as well as possible what I have to do."
Later we sat down for dinner minus Gabe. He went out saying that he had to do something at the restaurant and wouldn't be home till very late. Jessica, being the oldest of my children, knew that something was not right and Caitlin felt it as well. Jessica asked, "Memmy, are you and Heity fighting?"
I looked at Gabe's mom. She stared back with disdain, but stayed quiet. I turned to Jessica and Caitlin, "I have to do something that is a bit dangerous..." I snort from Gabe's mom interrupted me but I continued, " ... and Heit doesn't want me to do it. I love you all dearly, and wish I could leave it to someone else, but I feel that I'm the best and maybe the only one who can do this successfully. If I don't do this, my project will be cancelled and other people can never explore space like you see in the movies."
"Will you promise to be careful?" Jessica asked in a serious tone.
"Of course I will honey. I will be very careful and have a video talk with you every day."
Gabe's mom had a talk with me as well, after the children finally got into bed. "I know Gabe is upset with your decision. I'm not happy with it as well. But I do think you're old and wise enough to make your own decision. Please be careful."
I thanked her and explained to her what we wanted to do and how. She still didn't like the dangers involved for me, but knew that I had thought it trough and that Sarah would watch over the project to keep me save.
Gabe crawled in bed after I had already fallen asleep, and I only vaguely noticed that he was back.
The next morning I said my goodbyes and hugged and kissed my children. I turned to Gabe who still scowled at me, but didn't flinch when I kissed him. He was a bit hesitant at first, but then kissed me back. "I love you Maren, and I'd never forgive myself if something happened to you."
"Nothing will happen to me, I'll be fine. Just be careful in Nederland yourself."
Gabe smiled wryly, "Okay then, I know you well enough that I can't change your mind. Just be careful and take your uncle Feral with you. I'd feel better with him watching over you and your equipment."
I hadn't thought of that, it was a good idea. As my family went to the airport with our car I quickly went to the restaurant where I could find my uncle. He readily agreed to come with me and would keep an eye out for anything that might pose a threat to me.
Somewhere in Kourou, French Guiana
A day later I entered a hangar in Kourou, French Guiana. We could've rented a space in Florida as well, but this was cheaper and even closer to the equator. Though technically we didn't need as much of an extra push from the Earths spin as the old style launches did, it was still helpful.
I greeted Sarah who was waiting for me and saw Todd standing a bit further away next to something under a tarp. It peeked my curiosity, but I was patient enough to talk with Sarah first. "Hi Sarah, no problems in getting in here?"
"Ach, you'd think they'd never seen a hybrid before. If Todd werenae with me I'd still be waiting at security."
I smiled, they were a bit more lenient with me, since I was well known as a scientist. Still they were curious about me being a hybrid as well. Especially since they knew I had a power. "So, what's Todd got under the tarp?" I asked her.
"I'll let him tell you himself. He's looking forward to showing you." Sarah smiled back at me.
Together we walked up to Todd and he smiled warmly at me. "Hello Synergy, nice to see you again. It's been too long."
I snorted, "Yeah, a whole two weeks since last we saw each other."
"Like I said, an awful long time not to gaze on your beautiful you."
Sarah swatted at him, "Down boy, you're mine and she's married."
Todd just laughed, "So Maren, I was going to wait till your birthday to give you this, but you two forced my hand with this harebrained idea of yours."
He pulled the tarp from the thing under it. There was an elegant double box tail spacecraft revealed before us. "I am happy to give you this Synergy Spacecraft, that I procured from McGinnis III himself. It is the latest incarnation of his original Synergy aircraft. He assured me that it is perfect for what you want to do with it, provided that we enhance it in terms of cooling systems for re-entry, self-sealing skin and vacuum proofing it. You also need to take the engine out and install the thrusters and the DPM."
"I didn't know there was a plane called Synergy Aircraft. Thank you so much." I gave him a quick kiss on his cheek," eliciting a harrumph from Sarah.
But when I turned to her she was smiling. Quickly things turned technical as we started talking about the cooling and other stuff that we needed for our test flight into space. We started work on it right away and got so involved into our work that we forgot time. If not for Todd bringing us some food, we'd have gone hungry.
Near the end of the day, a big black panther strolled into the hangar and both Sarah and Todd backed out of the way in fear of seeing a ferocious predator slinking towards them. I looked up from what I was doing as I noticed Sarah backing up seemingly in fear for her life. Turning around to look at what was making her act like that I casually said, "Hi uncle Feral, did you have any problems getting here?"
In his gruff voice he answered softly, "They did try to stop me at the gate, but I quickly convinced them who I am and what I'm going to do here."
Sarah looked at me, "Yer uncle?"
"Oh, I forgot, you haven't met him yet. This is my uncle Lando Johns, also known as Feral. I asked him to do security at night. He's the best in that line of work. Don't worry about him, he's a real pussycat at heart."
Feral growled, "Hey!" But then hugged me as a greeting.
"Careful, you're so big and heavy." I warned him.
He extended his hand to both Todd and Sarah, and told them to relax.
They still were a bit apprehensive of him, but relaxed as he took a cat nap in a quiet corner and only watched us quietly. Only Sarah was still on edge, I didn't blame her, being a sheep hybrid, it was probably in her nature to be wary of big top predators. Sarah whispered to me, "He looks quite scary, your uncle, especially when he licks around his muzzle like that."
I looked up and saw Feral licking around his muzzle, staring at us. "Feral! Don't antagonize poor Sarah like that."
Feral muttered, "What? I'm not doing anything."
I turned to Sarah, "Don't pay attention to him. He's just teasing you."
Sara shuddered, "I still feel edgy. Don't worry, I'll get over it. Please tell me, are you a cat hybrid because it runs in the family?"
I laughed, "No, my uncle had some sort of accident or mishap which caused him to morf on a later time than me. Him being a cat is just a coincidence. He did have some problems afterwards but he's a valued member of our family. Especially the kids love having him around."
Feral growled from his spot, "Annoying little brats."
Sarah was spooked that he responded to our quiet conversation. But I reassured her, "He has exceptional good hearing, sense of smell and sight. But don't let his comment fool you, he loves kids and wouldn't do anything to harm them."
Sarah looked over her shoulder to my uncle and shuddered a little. I didn't blame her though; my uncle does look scary, which comes in handy in his line of work of course.
The next morning a truck delivered parts for our cooling system and Sarah started cursing. "How can they be doin this, dinnea they follow our specs?"
Quickly I went over to her, "What's wrong?"
"See for yerself, these tubin's are too short, they're no' as we specified them."
The man unloading the parts came to us with papers. "These are copies of the specs as the factory got them."
I looked them over and they weren't the same as ours. "These are not the same specs we sent them. Look here, this number is wrong and this one and this too." I pointed at the papers to point it out.
"I'm sorry," the delivery man said, "but this is as we have it. I don't know why they are different."
I did have a thought about that. "Someone has been changing them after we send them. This is sabotage. Some people want us not to succeed with this test. That is why I asked my uncle to guard the hangar at night as well. We need to oversee these things more closely or more things like this will happen."
Sarah agreed with me, "Aye, we need to be present at several stages of the parts production, but we cannae do all that and make the plane ready in time."
Feral slinked up to us, "Maybe I can help with that. I got some extra time and can watch some of the parts production for you."
Sarah jumped a bit hearing his voice, she hadn't anticipated it. I knew my uncle for a long time, and knew he would be close by all the time. "If you can, please help us out uncle. We can't afford these setbacks. We only have a few weeks and limited funds."
"I'll get right on it," Feral said determinately and stalked off out of the hangar.
Late in the afternoon he returned with a truck with the correct parts this time and we started working again on the cooling systems. We only stopped when Feral told us to quit for dinner and have a goodnights sleep. I felt much better having him around. The plane would be safe with him guarding it, and he was helping quite well with parts we needed. Todd offered to oversee parts production and delivery as well, so we were set for getting our plane ready in time.
With our helpers overseeing the production and delivery of parts, we made good progress in making the spaceship ready. Of course it helped that with my powers I could emulate tools for welding, cooling and even check inside materials with x-rays. I couldn't have done it without Sarah though. She was incredible with her meticulous approach and ability to think out all the problems before they could even arise.
Just as we were putting in the last systems before getting it ready, there was a commotion at the Hangar door. Feral went to check it out and within moments bounded back to me. "Maren! There are several reporters demanding answers and a view of your ship. I don't know how they found out, but I can get rid of them if you want me to."
I sighed and heard another sigh next to me. "How did they find out about our plans," Sarah asked to no one in particular.
"It is probably that mysterious saboteur again. He couldn't keep us from the launch by withholding the parts or destroy it here in the hangar. So now they're trying with the media."
I sighed again, "I guess we have to show them the ship, but at least we can keep them at a distance."
Sarah didn't like, well I didn't like it, but I couldn't see we had any other choice. Uncle Feral liked it even less. He positioned himself right in front of the spaceship to deter anyone from trying sabotage.
Together with Sarah I went to the hangar door and we found ourselves bombarded with questions. I cut them all off with, "Quiet everyone! I'll select a few of you that will be allowed inside and can ask us some questions."
Sarah selected a few reporters that she knew to be legit and favorable to our project, while I did the same with some of the people I knew. Soon we went inside the hangar with 7 reporters and press officer Guzman who was just as anxious to see our craft and hear what we were planning.
As all of us neared the craft, most of them were taken aback with the large black panther standing in front of it. One reporter asked, "Don't you think it is dangerous to have a wild animal guarding your space craft here? I mean, it might damage it without wanting to, or it could attack even you if you make a wrong move."
Uncle Feral growled hearing it before answering himself, "She's family, and I'm not a dumb animal as you might think. So keep your bigotry to yourself and grow up into today's world of hybrids."
The reporter went pale hearing the threatening tone from my uncle, so I quickly intervened, "Well, that answers that question. Feral is here to make sure no one is tampering with this spacecraft. We already had some sabotage efforts, so please keep your distance and direct your questions about the craft and our intended flight to us."
Moments after I had said that, Sarah and I got bombarded with questions. I picked out the ones I wanted to answer as did Sarah and we ignored the others. We told them a little about the systems and protection that we installed.
Then one older reporter asked, "I don't see any shielding against cosmic rays and other harmful radiation. Don't you think that may pose a problem or have you found a different way of shielding against that?"
I sighed, "You are right, there is no shielding against radiation. That is also why I'm one of the few persons suitable for flying this spacecraft. I'm an energy converter and I am able to withstand radiation. It even fuels my internal stores, so I thrive on it, instead of being harmed. Doing it this way also helps keeping down the costs and construction time.
While we were answering the questions everyone crept unnoticed closer to the space craft, till suddenly Feral roared and everyone backed away. Press officer Guzman was even on the other side of our space craft and jumped back so fast that he stumbled and fell down on his butt. One reporter managed a quick snapshot of that and most of them laughed. I tried to catch my uncle's attention, but he didn't seem to notice it. He roared again and together with Sarah I managed to herd the people out of the hangar.
As the peace and quiet returned, I went to uncle Feral and asked, "What was that all about?"
"They were getting too close and thought I smelled something peculiar. I tried to find the source but I can't seem to smell it anymore. I don't like it; you should do a full inspection of the craft, Maren!"
I thought it over but couldn't find a way to do it. "We can't do a complete inspection as we would have to take everything apart. But I will inspect everything that I can without disassembly."
Sarah contributed, "Aye, it would take too much time to take it apart now. We cannae afford that in the time we have."
We spent the whole afternoon searching the space craft, till Sarah told me to get some rest and sleep. "You'll be piloting the craft, so you have to be at your best. You go on and sleep, while I'll go over it again with yer uncle."