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Beating Pete


A soft chime. “Yes, Moira?

"Please begin the checklist for transition into hypersonic regime."

A display to my left blinks and is populated with a scrolling, indented checklist. Artemis quickly runs through all items it can check, highlighting the ones I need to verify. Once done, unable to suppress a grin, I strap my O2 mask on and prep the G-suit for the batshit thing I am about to do.


A soft chime. “Yes, Moira?

"Please begin all-channel recording for Gamma Flight Test One-Eighty-Eight. Pilot's notes: Fifty-six years and four months ago today, Pete Knight set the as-yet unbroken human speed record of Mach six point seven. I, Moira McIntyre, fully intend to break that record today with Gamma zero two four India Oscar."

With that done, I glance across the various blue and orange gauges on my instrument panels. Lucille is flying stable and clean at thirty thousand feet at a comfortable Mach 0.85. Below us, the Atlantic Ocean sparkles in the noon sun. I toggle off the autopilot, taking the sidestick in my left hand and lightly resting my right hand on the throttles and engine mode selector. I take a deep breath of O2-laden air to clear my mind, then breathe out "Poyekhali!"

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A soft chime. Artemis says “Janais, Kian would like you to meet her in the synth. Do you accept?

A half-hearted weary groan from under a mountain of blankets and plushes. Then nothing.

Ten minutes pass. A soft chime. Artemis says “Janais, Kian would like you to meet her in the synth. Do you accept?

A weak mumble and the top of the mountain twitches slightly. Still nothing.

Ten minutes pass. A soft chime. Artemis says “Janais, Kian would like you to meet her in the synth. Do you accept?

"Mrrrrrrr...?" comes the first verbalization from the pile heard in the room in over eighteen hours. "Fuck. What time even is it, Artemis?"

A soft chime. Artemis says “Janais, it is now twenty-one thirty-four on Tuesday, February third, twenty twenty-six. Also, Kian would like you to meet her in the synth. Do you accept?

"Yeah, alright. You are just gonna bother me until I do, right?"

Yes. Kian asked me to remind you every ten minutes that she would like you to meet her in the synth until you accept.

"Uggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Fine. Not gonna put pants on though."

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RIP Sir Ciaran de Pouncealot -- April 1, 2016 to October 13, 2023

You were a good cat. A powerful demon beast without fear and with the intense bravado to make friends and/or fight anything and everything.

How will we know you loved us if you no longer show us with bite and claw?

Making the decision to put you out of your abject pain and misery this week was one of the worst I have ever had to make. But at the same time, I knew it was the right choice, for you and for us. You passed away quietly and quickly between us, content and purring.

We will miss you, Ciaran.

Trailer Ablaze

Dark morning freeway

Stars losing ground above to the faint skyscream of cityglow

An ululating flash on the horizon

Stretchers and fire, tractor ripped from trailer, shattered glass and smeared rubber

Darkness again



"Anna, this is your sister, Janais."

"My sister!? I get a sister!"


A young girl with orange hair sits at a folding table in a field, excitedly explaining to her younger sister for the thirtieth time that morning what was about to happen. Their dad calls out, asking if they are ready. She nods vigorously, and carefully extracts one hand from a knit mitten into the crystalline air, the better to operate the controls.

"Count it off, Anna!" the stocky man says encouragingly.

"Tee minus ten seconds! Arming ignition!" she intones, trying to emulate the even tones of capcoms everywhere. She cautiously flips open the controller in her hand and turns the keyswitch to ARM.

"Tee minus five seconds! Igniter check: GO!" she calmly calls, witnessing the green status light indicating the ignition circuit is continuous and ready.

She and her younger sister call out, excitedly and slightly out of sync, "Four! Three! Two! One! WE HAVE IGNITION!"

And they do. As Anna presses the button with a trembling, blue-white finger, the shining silver rocket a hundred meters off suddenly develops a tail of brilliant flame and hurls itself into the air.

The girls can barely track the fast-moving rocket on its trajectory, but Janais shouts first when she sees the violet parachute deploy exactly on cue. They immediately start running, each trying to be the first to capture the falling rocket. The man chuckles and reminds Anna to put her mitten back on.

"But Daaaaaaaaaaaaaad, it's my rocket and I want to catch it first!" she exclaims, frustrated with the delay even as her hand is growing numb from the bitter cold. He just raises an eyebrow, and she reluctantly puts the mitten on, then races off after her sister.

The silver rocket lands gently in two connected pieces, slowed perfectly by its large violet parachute. Anna manages to just get to it first, benefiting from being nearly a foot taller than her sister. Even still, the rocket is nearly her size as she lifts it triumphantly.


A warm summer evening. A large crowd of family gathered at a cozy cottage on a lake. Anna sits at a table in the corner of the large deck overlooking the placid lake, intently staring at a small laptop, one earbud in her left ear, entranced by the gleaming white-and-black spacecraft dwarfed by its dull orange fuel tank.

Meanwhile, someone produces a bodhrán, and someone else a fiddle. Janais watches intently as the fiddle is tuned, then a joyful tune is played to the time of the drum. Various voices join in with the words, drifting in and out of harmony but a pleasing experience nonetheless.

Janais' dad calls her over during a quiet moment between songs, and hands her a fiddle, showing her how to move the bow and her fingers to play a simple, recognizable tune. The crowd chuckles and groans, but a tall, willowy man laughs and begins to riff slant rhymes and puns to the tune.

Anna watches the ISS supply mission successfully launch, then stands and joins the circle, lending her voice to the group.

Happy family folk music drifts over the lake for hours more.


Anna hurriedly opens her locker, trying to swap books between classes.

"Why!? Why do they give us such a short passing time!?" she bemoans to her friend in the adjacent locker.

Jen smiles to her magnetic mirror, touching up her lip gloss, then grabs her own books and says "IDK but I hate it. See you in chem!" then hurries down the crowded hall.

Anna sighs, then reaches past a portrait of Gus Grissom to get the rest of her afternoon books, then closes the locker and rushes off.


The gymnasium rings with excited chatter. Rows of folding tables are decorated with a riotous collage of three-panel folding presentation boards. Dozens of students stand near their exhibits, proudly, anxiously, desultorily.

In an unremarkable section of the gym, an exhibit with eight long, slender rockets, mostly gleaming silver with fins in shades of oranges and pinks. Anna talks with a pair of judges, beginning to despair at the sheer ignorance of those put in charge of her future.

"OK, but what does the, uh, nocks do?" one judge asks again.

"The nitrous oxide, or NOX, is the oxidizer for the hybrid rocket motors. It provides the oxygen needed for the rocket motor combustion, which provides thrust." Anna explains wearily.

The other judge asks "And the hydro-, uh, hyxdrl..."

"Hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene, or HTPB, is the low-energy fuel, and I mixed in varying amounts of fine aluminum powder into the castings to act as a high-energy fuel. This was my primary variable, the percentage of aluminum in the motor, with all other variables controlled to the best of my ability.

"The launchpad is a commercially-available electronic one, which I patched in a controller that synchronizes with a computer. My sister wrote some software to log data from the pad, a sensor pod for temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure, and a four-hundred-thirty-three megahertz radio that links with the rocket onboard telemetry unit. This lets me control for air density at the pad, and map propellant composition with both specific impulse and overall achieved altitude."

The first judge impatiently looks at her watch, then at her colleague. "Well, that is, uh, very impressive. Good luck!"

As the judges leave, Anna sighs, looking at her rockets and dreaming of piloting one herself.


A hubbub of con-goers. The click and whir of a towering marble machine, continually being built and rebuilt by several people. Several frantic constaff attempting to pin the entire schedule onto the wall as a set of hundreds of printed pages.

Janais walks steadily and happily through the chaos, her fiddle slung over one shoulder. She hears a guitar being tuned to her right, and wanders that way, hoping to find a filk circle forming.

A staggeringly large woman with a maroon headband barely constraining her mess of dark brown braids leans against a column, one foot on the carpet, the other flat against the column behind her. A well-loved acoustic guitar hangs on her shoulder from a faded rainbow strap, several stickers around the bridge in a variety of colored stripes, mostly in hues of pink. Her face is twisted in concentration as she carefully tunes each string in turn. She mutters something Janais does not quite catch about transatlantic flights messing up wooden instruments, then, seemingly satisfied enough with the tune, looks up and begins to play slowly.

After a contemplative introduction, her rich contralto accompanies the guitar in a powerful and accelerating tune about the progress of mankind. Janais is transported by her performance, her head filling with the images of humans moving from subsistence to agriculture to empire to spaceflight.

Soon, the song ends. The woman chuckles and says to Janais, "I see I have bound you with my spell. Care to lend your talents to mine?"

Janais blushes and nods, stepping closer and pulling her fiddle out of the soft case.

"What do you want to play, mon cher?" the woman asks.

" you know 'Dawson's Christian'?" Janais suggests.

The woman looks up in thought for a bit, then asks "Duane Elms1? Yeah, I know the chords, but I think I only know the lyrics for the chorus."

"Great! I can get the rest of the lyrics and you can join me on the chorus." She plays a few notes and the woman quickly joins in on guitar, tapping one big foot lightly on the column for percussion. Janais draws a breath, then begins the first verse in an even, lilting tone

Jayme Dawson was the Captain of the Christian and her crew

And he flew and fought the Christian in the War of '82

Now the Christian was the finest ship 'tween here and Charlemagne

And the crew of Jayme Dawson was the same

As the song progresses, Janais adds some wistfulness to her voice, singing

No one living saw that battle though the fleet was quick to leave

But at the site they found a scene no sane man would believe

Three light cruisers cut to ribbons, wreckage scattered all around

But no trace of Dawson's Christian could be found

The woman's contralto joins her own alto for the chorus

There are stories of the Dutchman, the Celeste and Barnham's Pride

There are stories of the Horseman and the Lady at his side

But the tale that makes my blood run cold, the more because it's true

Is the tale of Jayme Dawson and his crew

Yes, the tale of Dawson's Christian and her crew

Janais' voice changes, tinged with anger and pain as she tells the tale of the beset-upon Hera's Dream

Well I thought our fate was settled, for they had us four to one

And you can't fight bloody pirates when your freighter has no gun

So we stood by to be boarded by a party yet unseen

When another ship appeared upon our screen

Then she changes again, to a haunted awe, turning to fear, as an unknown ship shows up to save the beleaguered freighter, winning handily against the pirates, but revealing itself as the Christian

There were thirty holes clear through her, and a gash along one side

And we knew that when it happened, every soul on board had died

Then she rolled to show her markings, and we read them and we knew

The fate of Jayme Dawson and his crew

She was the Christian... and a grave for all her crew

Then she turned as if to leave us, but instead began to fade

First her hull, and then her bulkheads, as we trembled there afraid

But there are twenty men who'll swear with me, the last to slip from view

Were the bones of Jayme Dawson and his crew

Dead white bones of Jayme Dawson and his crew

She fills with elation as her voice intertwines with the guitarist's on the final chorus, barely hearing the growing crowd's contributions to the harmony. As the last few chords echo through the foyer, she turns to the woman and says "Thank you. My name is Janais."

"Kian. Kian Reynardine." The woman deftly produces a business card with a dizzying array of contact information, services from email to ICQ to IRC to myriad others Janais does not recognize, as well as a block of hexadecimal digits that assuredly must be a GPG fingerprint. Janais accepts it, then impulsively pulls out her phone and texts the number on the card with a "hey cutie with the guitar want to go hang out somewhere? i have room 706 all to myself ;-P"

Kian's pocket buzzes and she pulls out a battered flip phone, reads the text, and tosses a smile at Janais with just a little tooth behind it. Janais' stomach flutters, and she blushes again. Kian rumbles "I was going to just try to couch-surf anyway; the bank transfer failed for my room reservation, and the baggage fees at de Gaulle wiped out my cash reserves. I would be pleased to take you up on your offer, and we can see where we go from there."

Neither party attended any panels that weekend.


Tears stream down Anna's face as Atlantis successfully touches down at KSC. Wind whips her short hair in the dim dawn as the last orbiter rolls down the runway.

She texts her sister "It is over. We have lost the ability to fly. When will we relearn?"

Janais' reply comes quickly, simply as a crying emoticon.


"...and so we can see that, while the Hohmann maneuver often uses the lowest possible amount of impulse to accomplish the transfer, it requires a relatively longer travel time than higher-impulse transfers. Any questions?"

Anna scans over the small lecture hall, trying to gauge whether her astrodynamics class was attended by students interested in learning, or by zombies. Mostly, it seemed, the latter. She sighs and glances at the clock. Nearly 17:00, may as well end class. "OK, folks, have a good evening and I will see you all Thursday! Make sure you check Blackboard for the homework, and feel free to stop by my office hours tomorrow afternoon if you have questions."

As the last students file out, she opens her laptop again and pulls up the live feed from Baikonur Site 1. Soyuz TMA-12M is launching imminently, with the crew to supplement Expedition 39 on the ISS. She watches, envious and yearning, as the slender white rocket spears through the dark Kazakhstan night to the stars.


Anna proudly walks into the dean's office. A knee-length floral skirt compliments her black crocheted cardigan and violet blouse. A two-page document is clutched in her hand.

The dean looks up from his computer and greets her, surprised to see her in person. She says, handing him the resignation letter, unable to suppress her smile, "I quit! I have been accepted into Cobalt Star's cadet program for the upcoming Phoenix capsule flights!"

She turns on her heel and leaves before the dumbfounded dean can say a word.

She gets to her car and calls Jordan. "Hey, love! I know you are at work, and I know this is sudden, but I QUIT MY JOB!"


"Yeah, so, I got a call from Cobalt this morning-"

"HOLY SHIT! I am so proud of you!"

She smiles as her partner explodes in elation for her. "I figured I should let you know as soon as I could. See you tonight. Love you!"

"I love you too. You are getting all the hugs!"


Anna ignores Hank and Justin as they jeer. She knows they think she is too old. Too weak. Typical Navy pilot jocks. What do they know?

She pushes through the physical training course, then successfully toggles the correct sequence of commands on the simulator console. She runs her gloved fingers through her close-cropped orange hair as the training capcom calls out "Great work, Anna! Best time so far!"

Hank and Justin are silent as she places her equipment in the rack, levels a gaze at them, then heads to the locker room with a satisfied smile and a pleasant ache in her muscles.


Anna looks up from the sea of technical documentation in front of her. Hank is looking at her expectantly, apparently having just asked a question. "Sorry, lost in thought. Could you repeat that, please?"

"Ah, sure, sorry. I am having trouble with the docking system. Could you help me in the simulator later today?"

"Sure! Do you want me in the capsule, or as capcom?"

"Justin is gonna capcom with Douglas as specialist. I would really appreciate it if you could be my joint ops."

"OK, shoot me an invite once you book the sim."


"I GOT IT!" she bellows.

Jordan and Janais enter the room, hearing the shout.

Janais rubs her sister's shoulders. "What did you get, sis?"

The taller woman stands from her computer desk, an email client open on the left screen and several technical documents open on the right. "Lee announced the Phoenix crew roster! I got spacecraft commander! Hank is gonna be joint ops, and Justin is backup. Douglas is capcom."

Jordan picks Anna up in an exuberant hug, kissing her furiously and saying over and over "I am so excited for you! My girlfriend, in spaaaaaace!"


Janais looks around the room and smiles. Her family is gathered as usual, full of another Thanksgiving dinner that could not be beat, and ready for the traditional folk circle than inevitably forms any time more than a few of the Brown extended universe assembles in one area for more than six hours. She draws her bow across her fiddle, and begins to play a slow, heartfelt tune, and her voice rings out after a few bars

Back in 2004

We set out to explore

Our galaxy sector by sector

A freak asteroid bump

After hyperspace jump

Cut short our incoming vector

Anna and Kian join in and harmonize with her, with her dad providing the bass and various aunts and uncles hitting the chorus.


Anna sits in the Phoenix capsule Columbia, waiting through the sequence with her crewmate, Hank Gatlin.

She hears the voice of the mission capcom, Douglas Greene, in her headpiece. "Uh, folks, looks like NASA is in fact scrubbing the mission due to the lightning forecast. We will get tower crew up there to get y'all settled back down here."

She sighs and responds "Roger, we will start shutting things down up here."

Hank checks that his mic is only broadcasting on intercom, then says drily "Good old NASA, too scared of everything to make history, eh?"

Anna looks at her crewmate next to her in the spacious cabin. She shrugs as far as is permitted by her seat restraints and recovery suit, then begins the scrub procedure. "Faster we are done up here, faster I can get out of this MAG."

"I hear ya on that, Brown."


Another launch window. Anna tempers her optimism; the weather forecast today is similar to Wednesday's scrub. Despite this, she has a hard time avoiding a hopeful smile as she preps and suits up, is driven to the tower with Hank, and gets settled once again in the Phoenix capsule. The capsule is more of a home to her than any other; her folks' cottage in western Michigan, the old room in the "married couples' quarters" at the university, the apartment she shares with Jordan near Redmond, or the crew quarters here at KSC.

She and Hank exchange pleasantries with Douglas as the sequence progresses. To her surprise, soon enough it is clear no delays will occur. The weather moves off early, and the ground crew is proceeding smoothly and competently.

Almost before she knows it, Douglas is calmly reciting the launch countdown. She has a brief flashback to two young girls in a park with a massive model rocket, and then the engines ignite.

She focuses herself again, turning her attention to the controls and readouts that, as spacecraft commander, she is responsible for during launch. She answers the capcom's request for status with a brief, strained "Columbia is nominal. Heck of a bumpy ride so far, tell Fremont to work on that for Gen Two."

The ride progressively worsens as the craft approaches max-Q. The pressure on her chest eases for a moment as the first stage separates from the stack, presumably splitting into its component boosters and returning for refurbishment somewhere below her. Then she is pressed back into her seat, HARD, as the second stage kicks in with liquid smoothness for the orbital injection burn. She watches the readout of their trajectory compared to nominal; the deviation is under 0.1%. The counter to stage separation rolls down steadily until the pressure again eases. The spacecraft rings with a series of bangs as the pyrotechnic bolts fire, separating the second stage from the capsule and putting the stage into a trajectory to deorbit it.

For a few moments, Anna and Hank float in microgravity. Anna busies herself monitoring the navigational systems as the Phoenix determines what perturbations need to be corrected from the separation before the final burn. She feels the reaction wheels twist the capsule a little to adjust for rotation. She looks at Hank, and he signals two thumbs up. Then capcom asks again for status, and she reports "Columbia is GO for delta-vee correction burn."

The little engine on the capsule fires, raising their speed and thus their orbital period, and she watches from her seat as the trajectory display changes shape until it precisely intersects that of the ISS. "We are going to a space station!" she thinks, the eight-year-old inside her giggling uncontrollably at the thought.

Hours later, the ISS looms in view. Hank runs the docking system, effecting minute amounts of delta-vee to match the station's orbit and attitude exactly. The station slowly stops visibly rotating on the screen, and he calls out to Anna and to mission control "Houston, Columbia is GO for docking."

"Copy that, Columbia, proceed with docking."

Anna switches one of her communication channels to the ISS. "ISS, Columbia. We are GO for docking."

"Columbia, copy. We are waiting."

She smiled as she recognized the voice of Alice Lian, the current mission commander aboard the ISS. Alice was a joy to work with, alleviating tensions with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. It will be good to see her again.

Hank carefully but assuredly brings the Phoenix into docking position with the ISS. A firm rattle vibrates the capsule as the docking rings make contact, and then automatically engage.

After a few hours of mutual pressure exchange, Anna floats up to the Phoenix hatch and opens it, to find Alice doing the same on the ISS Harmony module.

"Permission to come aboard, commander?" Anna asks.

"Welcome, Columbia. Permission granted. Good to see you, Anna and Hank."


Anna and Hank bid goodbye to the Expedition 63 crew and floated back through the Harmony module into the Phoenix capsule.

Alice shut the hatches on the Harmony side, and Anna shut the Phoenix hatch.

Joining her crewmate in strapping herself into her seat, Anna says "Looking forward to going home?"

Hank replies over the intercom "Yeah, I like space but it will be good to have some ground to walk on. You?"

Anna is unsure. She revels in microgravity, and flight itself is the one thing that has always called to her, her whole life. She replies after a long while "Maybe. But I am definitely coming back."

Hours later, she is convinced. The glowing reentry veritably ignited her soul. And being helped out of the capsule by the crew of the Mary Celeste recovery vessel was like being born again; wet, painful, and awkward for everyone involved. She could not wait to get back up there.


Anna sits in the Phoenix capsule Resolute, waiting through the sequence with her crewmates, Justin Franklin, Hank Gatlin, and Douglas Greene. Anna is again spacecraft commander. Hank acts as pilot; Justin and Douglas as mission specialists.

The launch goes smoothly. Fremont did indeed look at the data from the prior mission and tuned the first stage booster turbopumps to reduce oscillation. It is still a lot like sitting on the world's biggest firecracker, but much less bumpy than had been the prior flight.

During the orbital injection burn, she watches the readout of their trajectory compared to nominal. Worried, she calls over the common channel to both her crew and mission control "Uh, trajectory deviation is almost three percent. That seems high..."

"Resolute, Fremont. We see it too. Please stand by." She cannot tell if Shane is concerned; it is a common joke that all capcoms are bequeathed nerves and voices of adamantine on their first mission.

A minute passes. The deviation rises to 5%. "Uhhhhh. Fremont? We see five percent now."

"Copy, Resolute, we are looking into it. Please stand by."

She switches to intercom-only. "Crew, thoughts?"

Justin drawls "Well, hard to say. Not like we have burn control up here."

Hank agrees "Yeah, until SECO-1 I got nothing."

Douglas sits silently for a moment, then says "Anna, status?"

Anna looks at the display again. "Goddess. Up to eight percent now!"

Douglas groans and mumbles something Anna cannot catch.

"Resolute, Fremont. Uhhhh. We are going to adjust the EMR controller. Please stand by."

"Fremont, copy." Anna switches back to intercom-only. "They are reflashing the engine mix controller firmware. Hold on to your butts."

The spacecraft spends nearly the next two minutes bucking wildly from full burn to weightlessness, but at the end, the deviation reduces to only 1.9%. As the engines cut off fully, the spacecraft rings as the pyrotechnic bolts fire to separate the second stage.

Anna calls "Fremont, Resolute. Holding deviation from nominal of one point niner percent. Do we have the delta-vee aboard to correct that?"

"Resolute. Yes, we are sending Hank the updated sequence."

Hank replies "Fremont, I copy. Sequence received."

Many hours and several burns later, Anna again watches as Hank deliberately pulls the Phoenix capsule into docking alignment with the Harmony module.

Luka Popov welcomes her and the crew aboard after pressure exchange.


Anna, Hank, Justin, and Douglas bid goodbye to the Expedition 65 crew and floated back through the Harmony module into the Phoenix capsule.

Once Luka has secured the Harmony hatches and Anna has secured the Phoenix hatch, Anna joins her crew in the seats and prepares for reentry. On the intercom, Justin jokes "Hope this ride is better than the last one."

Hank chuckles and begins carefully putting distance between the ISS and the capsule.

As a surprise, the crew of the Mary Celeste recovery vessel is accompanied by both Lee Lanau, the CEO of Cobalt Star, and by Viktor Grigorev, head of Roscosmos.

Lee pulls Anna away from the crew into an empty cabin. He produces a document and a pen. "Anna, I have been very interested in your career thus far. I apologize for the trouble you had on the flight up several months ago, and I am willing to make things right. Please, read this offer over and sign it. Naturally, whether or not you accept, this conversation must be in the strictest confidence."

Anna reads the document. Amid the legalese and the promise of a frankly staggering amount of money (tax-free, even, somehow...), a clause jumped out at her. "This is contingent on me allowing Cobalt to cover up my death should it occur on a flight!?"

Lee winces. "Yes, I argued that point for hours with the legal team, and I got them down to that. Again, no harm, no foul if you decide to walk away."

Anna considered. It is a lot of money. She signs.


"Over a dozen flights, rýbka! How do you feel?"

Anna smiles at Luka's voice over the intercom. She is again spacecraft commander, with Hank as pilot, and Luka and Shane as mission specialists. Douglas and Justin will be taking the Columbia with on the return flight, with Shane and Luka staying on with Maki Rokuro to form the Expedition 169 crew. Anna herself will stay a few weeks longer, then return in the currently-docked Resolute with Hank and Alice.

"I feel pretty great. Looking forward to meeting Maki!"

The capsule quiets as the countdown dwindles to stage one ignition.

After a routine flight, Anna watches Hank begin to adjust the spacecraft velocity to dock with the ISS. She can see the station in the distance, with the Resolute docked on the Harmony zenith docking ring, a crescent Earth hanging behind. A doubt begins to form in her subconscious. Something is off...but what?

Hank grunts from her right.

She turns from the screen and asks over the intercom "You OK, Hank?"

Hank does not respond.

Luka is watching the mission zero-gee indicator, this flight a toy plush in the shape of the goddess Artemis. He slowly calls out "We are not correcting in the usual way."

Hank appears to be struggling with the controls. Alice sees the station moving on the screen, in wider and wider swings. Artemis bobs on her tether and bounces off the control panel, as the Phoenix rapidly accelerates with a combination of reaction wheels and thrusters.

"Hank, report!" Anna demands firmly.

Through gritted teeth, Hank replies "The fucking controls are all fucked up. I do not understand what is going on."

"Columbia. Fremont. Hot mike."

Hank almost growls "Fremont. Columbia. Kindly fuck the fuck off or help."

The acceleration is becoming dizzying. Anna hears someone vomit. Shane makes a short, clipped comment on the intercom before clearly shutting off his mike. "Oh motherf-"

Luka groans.

Anna watches the screen, faithfully rendering the kaleidoscope of Earth, station, sun, and blackness swirling together in incomprehensible velocity. The pressure on her makes it impossible to think.

Hank shouts to her something. She sees a hand, maybe hers, reaching up through the vast tunnel between her and the control panel. It was easier when she could take her mitten off, but Dad says not to.

A glimpse of the station, frightfully close, frightfully fast, the enormity of the Earth behind it.

"But Dad, it's my rocket and I want to catc-"


Still no comment today from Cobalt Star CEO Lee Lanau on the horrifying tragedy yesterday that claimed the lives of eight astronau-


-bute to the fallen heroes of the sky tomo-


-her thirteenth missio-


-emorial service on Friday at Arlington National Cemetery. President Helena Goode will attend to commemorate the deaths of NASA astronauts Commander Douglas Greene and Commander Shane Brunel, ESA astronaut Alice Lian, Cobalt Star astronauts Flight Commander Anna Brown, Flight Commander Hank Gatlin, and Senior Flight Specialist Justin Franklin, Roscosmos cosmonaut Commander Luka Popov, and JAXA astronaut Maki Rokuro-


Kian gently but firmly removed the remote control from Janais' numb hand and turned off the TV. She sat on the couch next to her frozen partner and enveloped her in a warm, comforting embrace.

Kian wept quietly. After an unknowable amount of time, Janais relaxed and joined her.


A gentle tinking on a glass and the room quiets from its already-subdued conversations.

Janais is barely standing at her seat, seemingly only by the strength she derives from Kian's large hand on her back and Moira's warmth to her left. "P-please. I. Uh. Fuck. We would like to, uh, we would like to share a memorial with you that Kian helped me, uh, helped me write." She briefly nods at Jordan across the room, who is already in tears but nods back.

Kian scoots back from the table and produces a worn guitar and a well-loved fiddle. Janais takes the fiddle and, haltingly at first, but becoming more fluid as the song and the emotions well up, begins to play, Kian's gentle strumming and tapping keeping her in time and moving forward. Kian begins the first verse after a dozen bars or so, while Janais finds the words to harmonize by the first chorus.

Anna was eight when she built her first rocket

Her dad said her heart never came down again

When her friends pinned up Justin and Ben in their lockers

Fifteen-year-old Anna had Grissom and Glenn

Glued to her laptop, ignoring her thesis

She watched every mission, until the day when

Those noble old sisters were grounded forever

At twenty-two, it was the first time I'd known her to cry

She asked if I thought we would ever again learn to fly

She walked off her job on the day they announced

They were going back up after nine long years' wait

The college professor drew snickers in training

"You're too old, you're too soft, it's too hard, it's too late"

Ah, but no one could ever tell Anna it's raining

Or stop her from being first out of the gate

And her family all said she should try

Was there doubt she would pass?

She was top of her class

And they made her the offer to fly

In the gantry's tall shadow, her love said, "I'll miss you

But we both know your place is the sky

I'm standing behind you, when I need to find you

I just have to lift up my eyes"

And she kissed her brave lover goodbye

The missions came one on the heels of another

Farther and farther than ever before

The head of her crew and the pride of her family

Once tasted the stars, she could only want more

We were none of us shocked when they built a new system

And the call came for all volunteers to explore

She said she'd return, that we'd see her again

But I think that she knew

And she knew we did, too

That it was a lie

The day that Anna learned to fly


A soft chime. Artemis says “Moira, Janais would like to call you. Do you accept?

I sit up incautiously and strike my forehead on the hydraulic cylinder just above me in the port wing of Lucille. "Ow! Fuck. Ass. Yes, put her through."


I slide out of the access hatch and almost land on the floor as intended, only falling over a little bit. "Hey cutie. How are you holding up?"

"not great. i could use a girlfriend." Her voice is dead, drained by despair and fatalism, as it has been since that awful Tuesday two months ago.

I look around at the hangar shop on the Oakland County Spaceport grounds. Lucille sits in all her turquoise glory above me, the port wing access panels entirely stripped and her nervous and muscle systems exposed. No horizontal surfaces exist about me; every bench, toolbox, floor, and instrument has parts, tools, and other miscellany strewn across it. I have absolutely no idea what time it is, nor how long I have been working. I figure I can ask Artemis to remind me what I was doing the next time I come in. "OK love, I am at the hangar right now, but I can be home soon."


Author's Note Hey, so, thank you for sticking through that. Also, many, many thanks to Duane Elms1 for "Dawson's Christian", Andrew Eigel for "Uplift", Wolf von Witting for "Wish I Was Back Home On Terra", and Vixy & Tony for both "Anna", the inspiration for the character and this segment of the story, as well as introducing me to "Dawson's Christian" and "Uplift" through their covers on the album We Are Who We Are. 100% please go share some love to them.

Note 1: 2023-10-27: I have no idea how I got the credits so incorrect.

  • While Dr. Jordin Kare did win two Pegasus Awards and was very active in filk throughout his life, "Dawson's Christian" is originally by Duane Elms, who won a Pegasus Award for it in 1989.
  • Raymond Arnold did cover "Uplift", but Andrew Eigel wrote it and won a Pegasus Award for it in 2008.

EV Charger Thoughts

So I bought a Kia EV6 a while ago, and I now have Thoughts on the common EV DC fast charger networks.

Electrify America


Generally my preferred network. Usually one or more 350kW chargers, in good places like near a Meijer or Wal-Mart. Decent prices, and I got like 1000kWh free with the vehicle purchase. Usually easy to tell what power level is available before pulling into a stall.


Most often one or more of the chargers at the station are broken, and months go by without attention. Usually only one of the connectors on a charger will work at a time; no simultaneous or split charging.



Often one or more 350kW chargers. Decent prices, and supposedly 100% green power (though prooooooobably through carbon credits, which, ew). Program card means I can leave my phone in the car. Multiple connectors on the charger are almost always simultaneous and not split.


Basically impossible to tell power level without reading the charger manufacturer faceplate or looking in the app; the chargers are rarely marked otherwise. Locations are much more varied and often not as convenient, and the position of the station is often wrong by hundreds of feet. In stations with only one charger, it is often an older 60kW unit.



Uhhh. They are everywhere? And they do do split charging, but...


Multiple connectors on a charger will split the available power immediately when a second vehicle plugs in. The station owner sets pricing, and often this means that you pay a) a session fee just to connect b) a per-minute rate (rather that the per-kWh rates that most other networks use) regardless of actual charging speed c) far higher rates in general and d) sometimes even per-minute parking fees alongside the power fees. It is not uncommon to find chargers that are the equivalent to $5-7/gal. The overwhelming majority of chargers are either newer 125kW (which splits to 62.5kW if two are plugged in) or <=60kW. I have even seen ones rated out as little as 20kW which is barely an improvement over the 48A 11.1kW AC rate the onboard vehicle charger can handle. Easily my last resort network.


Weird network aimed at commercial proprietary owners. Apparently easy to fuck up the initial setup, making them hard to actually pay for. Usually only AC chargers.

GreenLots / Shell Recharge

A small network, kinda pricy, also pays money to an oil company, but decent enough.


Literally never had one work. All three I have ever tried just failed to talk to the car, much less any of the billing infrastructure.

Unemployment And Other Thoughts


About a month ago, I was brought into an 07:45 meeting with my team at work, whereupon all of us were informed that, effective immediately, the entire department was dissolved and all of us were laid off. Cool. Over 13 years of work for the same department across three corporations, poof.

So I guess I am looking for work now.

Cider Trip

A few friends invited Jasper and I up to Houghton to make apple cider, as had been a tradition when we were all in school up there.

The trip was great. The colors were close to peak, and the weather was good, that satisfying briskness of fall. My EV6 was a fine car to make the trip in, with charging stops in Bay City, Gaylord, Mackinaw City, and Escanaba. It will be nice when they put one in Marquette.


Partway through the trip, Jasper turns to me and says, "OK, so, today is a bad brain day... And I feel better up here than I have in years downstate. I hate my company and job, and you are not currently tied to a job. Wanna move up here? We can invite Jamie too!"

Which was a hell of a thought. So now I am looking into realtors and other relocation information (available options for internet and transgender healthcare, in particular).

Jamie was ecstatic when I invited her. We had already been talking about her moving over to SE MI to be closer anyway, and especially after our (dramatically interrupted) trip to Wausau to visit kumi's polycule household, both of us have had idle dreams of a polycule commune.

But she is also apprehensive of such a comparatively rural area as the UP, even if we choose somewhere like the Marquette tri-city area.

So some discussion needs to happen.


As we were departing Houghton, Jasper again turns to me and says something to the effect of "Wanna do a wedding up here next fall?"

Me being already thinking about the possible relocation, I simply replied "Maybe" to a nonplussed boyfriend.

Several hours later, as we left Escanaba after our first charge stop, my subconscious helpfully prompted me to answer correctly, and I clarified that, yes, I was in fact interested in marrying Jasper, and I had been over focused on moving stuff. We laughed and all was well.

Thomas Benjamin Wild Esq.

I sorta recently discovered a new artist and I have yet to hear a single one of his that is not somehow a random Brit guy distilling my thoughts into song.

Read more…

Things That Make Things

"...This is the beginning of a new era for mankind. The era of man's cosmic existence..."

The voice cuts off as I put Lavernge into park and turn her ignition off. A massive building, covered in blue glass and white steel, looms over us as I get out of my yellow car. I immediately wrinkle my nose; the neighboring property is an active landfill, and even with the prevailing winds blowing towards the dump, it is uncomfortably ripe. I grab my backpack and enter the building with haste.

Ashe looks up from their tablet and smiles when they see me. "Good morning, hun. How are you?"

"Frankly terrified, but excited." I glance around the expansive two-story lobby, my eyes catching on dozens of displays and demo components and processes. "This place is..."

"Overwhelming?" my friend offers after a bit to fill my silence.

I shake my head. "No. Amazing!"

I start at a sudden voice behind me. "I'm certainly glad you like it. Ashley, Moira? I'm Fred Valentina, one of the technical account managers here at Spitfire Aerospace."

Ashe stands, her tablet vanishing somehow into her tote bag, and a business card materializes in her hand. "Fred, Ashley Garcia. CEO of The Luminiferous Motor Company. I believe we spoke on the phone a few days ago, about soliciting a bid from you for production lines. This is Moira McIntyre, founder and chief aeroframe designer."

I try to smile and fumble in my backpack for my cards, before finding one and handing it to Fred. Upside down. Of course. I feel my cheeks burning already.

Fred smiles gently as he hands each of us his card. "Not sure if you celebrate--we do, in our way--but happy Sputnik Day!"

I perk up. "Indeed! Sixty-seven years ago!"

Fred leads us through a dizzying labyrinth of offices, bullpens, 3D and 2D printers, plotters, and a server room before directing us into a small conference room, apparently called "S.6B".

"You can set your things down here. Would you like anything to drink?"

I shake my head, as does Ashe.

Fred introduces us to the others already seated in the room. "Ashley, Moira, this person to your right is Jim Llewellyn, one of our project managers." A stout man with silver hair and years etched into his face stands. We shake hands and exchange cards as Fred continues.

"Next over is our head of process design, Stephanie Horland." A tiny, slim woman with brilliantly orange hair waves from her wheelchair and slides her cards across the table to us.

"And last, but certainly not least, our head of controls Molly McGuire." A husky, tall woman with long braids of salt and pepper stands and smiles, shaking our hands firmly with calloused fingers, taking our cards and giving us hers. A black and silver pin at her lapel indicating her pronouns catches my eye, and her smile widens when I deliberately reach up to touch my own.

Suitably introduced, we sit down and Ashe mysteriously and suddenly has a stack of presentation binders in their hand. They hand me half to pass to my right, as they pass the remainder around to their left and begin the presentation.

"These are our preliminary combined bid packages for the production lines for the GLAIVE propulsion and Gamma aeroframe systems. Our goal is to produce ten GLAIVEs per day, and two Gammas per week.

"We own in full the former sites of GM Global Propulsion Systems, GM Pontiac Metal Center, and GM Orion Assembly. Pending vendor acceptance, we propose the following retooling and retrofits:

"The former Pontiac Metal Center will continue as a stamping plant, for the titanium and stainless steel panels and structural members of the aeroframe. Some machining, coating, and finishing stages should be present here as well; ideally, all parts exiting this plant are ready for assembly.

"Building C of the former GPS will be converted into a casting and machining center for the GLAIVE parts, as well as final assembly of the engines. If needed, final assembly can be done at the former parts warehouse to the northeast of the property; this building is also slated to be a production center for a different system at some point, but those plans are flexible.

"Orion Assembly will be gutted and retooled for final assembly of the Gamma aircraft. It would be useful if we can reopen the rail link between the Pontiac campus and Orion Assembly to move sub-assemblies from Pontiac to Lake Orion.

"Finished aircraft will be loaded onto rail for transport to other customers, or onto truck for transport to Oakland County International Airport, where TLMC-run flights will be based.

"Liquid hydrogen and oxygen for in-process engine testing will be available shortly, from the combined fuel, heat, and power plant we are onlining next month at the Pontiac campus.

"The rest of our requirements and thoughts should be in the bid package, and of course the system math data files will be shared shortly once Janais activates your account on the file-sharing system.

"Any questions at this time?"

Molly leans back in her chair and stretches. Oh, wow, she is pretty. Shit. She clears her throat and says "Well, this is definitely one of the better bid packages I have seen in a long time. The immediate question I have is, do you have any preferences for brands or technologies? Robots, PLCs, drives, vision, and so on?"

Ashe looks at me and I stammer "Uh, well, no. Not really. We are interested in whatever is cost-effective, performant, preferably with US-based distribution and stores, and ideally that the local workforce has some familiarity with to minimize training needs. In short, we bow to your expertise."

"Well, we do have an excellent partnership with a company just up the road that does bespoke automation training, as well as some other things that might end up being of interest," Molly replies, then continues, thinking aloud to herself as much as talking to any of us, "Seems like ABB would probably be the right choice for the most part for robots, and they pair nicely with Siemens PLCs, drives, CNC controllers, HMIs...Profinet for all the I/O...Yeah, I think we can do this!"

We discuss the myriad aspects of the project for several hours until there are no more immediate questions. Stephanie and Jim excuse themselves, while Fred and Molly take us on a tour of the building.

"Roughly half of this site is office space and prototyping, as you have seen. The other half..." Fred pauses dramatically as he proudly swings open a door for us, leading to a second-story platform overlooking a vast industrial shop with several production lines in varying states of assembly and testing.

" our production and runoff area." Molly finishes, standing just behind me. Her voice is quiet and full of gravel. "We use this space to build customers' production lines and get them running and debugged, then we tear 'em down and ship the lines to their final plant and reassemble them for production."

The shop is amazing. The mixed scents of cutting fluid, chain lube, and welding float through the air. I am awash in the sounds of impact drivers, servos whining, pneumatics hissing and clunking, welding crackle. The floor below is a study in organized chaos, a riotous skeletal system of blue and white steel columns and beams punctuated by yellow safety rails and keep-outs, strewn by the nervous system of gleaming EMT conduit, encircled by the circulatory system of brown and yellow air lines. Yellow and blue robots dance in a careful orchestration of Production! It is thrilling to be here, even at an arm's length.

Molly is beaming as I turn to her, completely forgetting Fred and Ashe even exist. "Can..." I begin.

"Of course. Do you have eyes and ears and toes?" Molly asks, referring to the personal protective equipment I would need on the floor, safety glasses, hearing protection, and safety-toed shoes.

"I do, actually. Aluminum alloy cups on my shoes, and eyes and ears here in my bag," I eagerly reply, fishing around for the latter as I speak.

Fred chuckles and suggests to Ashe that they go work on the remaining contractual work.

Molly takes me down a flight of stairs to a large double door emblazoned with placards.





Molly hands me a hard hat and a brilliant yellow vest and dons her own PPE, then waves her badge past the reader at the door. The doors swing toward us and I am greeted by the most wonderful sight. Production!

She tours me through the areas I am permitted to see, pointing out various automation equipment and contextualizing much of what is going on in the current line to what the Gamma and GLAIVE will need.

As we walk, a periodic, deep thrumming begins to resound in my chest, sweeping up through my feet from the concrete. I turn to her and raise an eyebrow and she grins behind her glasses and gestures. We round a corner and I am transfixed by the immense machine before me.

Through white-spattered viewports, I can see what appears to be an enormous face mill carving chips the size of my hand off a workpiece, though the part was obscured by the deluge of flood coolant. I glance at Molly. She deftly dances across the aisle, looking both ways to avoid forktrucks, then gestures for me to do the same.

I reach her just as the mill begins another pass. The thrumming of the cutter engaging is nearly overwhelming; I can feel my heartbeat adjusting to match its rhythm. Over it, I can just barely hear the thudding tinkle of the chips bouncing off the inside of the machine's protective enclosure.

Molly ducks into a squat for a moment, then returns, now holding a beautiful spiral chunk of metal, blue from heat and curled into geometric perfection. She hands it to me, and I nearly throw it, not expecting it to be as light as it is.

She pulls close to me and shouts past my ear, projecting over the noise and earplugs "Billet titanium grade five! Two-hundred-fifty millimeter facing cutter with sixty fast-feed inserts! Spindle speed about ninety rip-ems, almost nineteen-hundred millimeters per minute feed rate. Depth of cut over three millimeters!"

My jaw practically falls open. I shout back "What, nearly forty-five kilowatts on the spindle!?"

Molly beams. "Actually she will go up to one-fifty!"

I toss the chip back onto the chip conveyor and smile. I like this company, and I look forward to doing work with them.

I meet Ashe back in the lobby and we walk out to our cars. They look at me and sigh. "You made up your mind already."

"I mean..."

"It's OK, hun. I like them too, and all the paperwork checks out. I just hope their pricing is reasonable."

Months and many, many meetings later, Ashe, Kian, and I are in a conference room in Building C, looking over Spitfire's quotation.

After a hour of discussion, I lean back and say "Well, here is how I see it. On technical merits, Spitfire's proposal is not only the most comprehensive but the closest to the Takt time we asked for, and is designed for expandability in the future. I like them as a partner organization as well, and from what I have seen of their partner for quality systems and training, they have their shit together too.

"Are they the cheapest? Hardly, though honestly they are nowhere near as high as I was sort of expecting. And they are only about fifteen percent higher than the next quote, which only runs at a third of our requested Takt time.

"So, yeah, I like Spitfire. Can we afford them, Ashe?"

They shrug and run their ringed fingers through their teal hair. "Yes, we can, though only with the sales of LH2 and LOx to Airgas and Praxair. Good work, by the way, Kian. I was hesitant when you told me your plans for that plant of yours, but the op-ex you are saving us on heating, power, and the revenue stream from the fuel production more than offsets the hoops we had to go through to get the SMR permitted."

Kian smiles. She is justifiably proud of the three small modular reactors she set up as a standalone company on premises, which each generates around 300MW of electrical power, but around a gigawatt of thermal power. Through some clever engineering, some of this heat is siphoned off to run the Pontiac campus' centralized heating system. A large amount of the remainder is used in a very clever arrangement for high-temperature steam electrolysis, making the hydrogen and oxygen we will need to run the Gamma from basically nothing, meaning the vast majority of our system will be oil-neutral. And, when we are not making fuel, the power goes to run both our operations on campus, and exported to DTE for distribution into the local grid.

For myself, I cannot enter the SMR building at all. Something gets into my brain about the radiation and my legs lock up.

Ashe continues, "So, while I personally would be happier with KUKA's quote, if you say Spitfire, we can do Spitfire."

"I do."

The next year or so is a hectic frenzy of contractors and construction and permits with three cities and so many decisions.

But now, the day after Yuri's Night 2026, Spitfire has handed over the keys to three gorgeous new production lines. One builds GLAIVEs, four a day as designed. One stamps titanium and stainless steel into body panels and structural members. And one wondrous machine in Lake Orion, that one takes all those parts from Pontiac and other vendors, and builds my birds. Two Gammas a week. Right on schedule.

For now, they mostly get sold to charter and freight airlines; a three-passenger suborbital plane has a lot of attraction, especially burning clean hydrogen, and freight companies have taken note because 2500kg payload is nothing to sneeze at, transported across the world in less than two hours.

And many are lining up to buy our GLAIVEs as standalone engines.

But my fingers itch for the stick in my hands and the next phase of this adventure to begin.

The Explainer

Moira fiddles with a nickel-sized black-and-silver enamel pin on her lapel. Across the conference table, the man whose name she has never remembered is apparently still talking. Alan? Aaron? Probably something with an A...

With great reluctant effort, she wills herself to focus on him.

"...package combines the leading-edge GNSS engines with a device that actually measures your acceleration in six different dimensions, would you believe it! And it also has a three-dee compass, which tells you where you are going, anywhere in the world..."

Maybe Arthur? Also, was this guy for reals? Such a smarmy ass. Moira fidgets as she feels the stress building.

"...nothing like this on the market; we would know, we have a combined eight years of industry experience on our team and I think you will find we can help you solve even your most complicated navigation problems-"

Moira has had enough. "Bullshit."

"-excuse me, little lady? I assure you-"

"No. You probably need to do more market research if you think a combined avionics package with a nine-axis inertialmagneto unit and GNSS is anything revolutionary or special. I mean, I built my own as a de rigeur lab assignment as an undergrad-"

"Well, that sure is a special little project, girl. I can guarantee that our system is like a Porsche to your tricycle though! You see, we take the results from over three different sets of satellites and using advanced math, we can..."

What. The. Fuck. She grits her teeth and interrupts the guy. Arnie, maybe?

" I was saying before you interrupted, you also have yet to tell me what I actually asked, which was: " she ticks off the points on her fingers for emphasis, "1. whether your systems are certified for vacuum; 2. what your systems' behavior is above a hundred kilometers altitude; and 3. what your systems' behavior is above Mach two. If all you are doing to do is condescendingly explain to me things I know better than you, we are done here."

The man sputters and turns violet, "Look, now, little lady, there is no need to get bitchy with me-"

Moira's voice is so cold, the air crackles. "You will cease patronizing me, Arnold, and you will immediately exit the premises, either voluntarily or with a police escort. You have successfully rendered yourself and any future company who stoops to employ you barred from doing business with The Luminiferous Motors Company in any way. Shannon will see that you find the nearest available exit."

She stands, turns on her heel, and leaves the room. An aching, frigid, siren of crystalline anger has descended upon her and she knows she must avoid taking any further action on Arnold for fear of an uncontrollable escalation. She calls out as her fury takes her down the hall. "Artemis."

A soft chime. “Yes, Moira?

"Please ask Shannon to escort Mr. Arnold Loria of Synergistic Guidance, LLC from the premises with all due haste."

Ok. Shannon has been notified” followed by a soft chime.


A soft chime. “Yes, Moira?

"Please add Mr. Arnold Loria to the permaban database, and set up a company ban filter active if he is on their payroll."

Ok. Banning Mr. Arnold Loria and any company for which he is on payroll” followed by a soft chime.


A soft chime. “Yes, Moira?

"Please alert Ashe priority-one about the new bans, and attach the logs from conference room 3-lambda from the past hour."

Ok. Ashley has been notified” followed by a soft chime.


A soft chime. “Yes, Moira?

"Call Janais."

Janais is currently in a meeting with priority-two do-not-disturb set. Is this priority-one?

"Ah, shit. Belay that, call Kian."

Calling Kian on your earpiece” followed by a soft chime, then the characteristic sound of the telephone network connecting her to her partner.

"Mon ciel étoilé, what is it?"

"Need physical affection. Had an angry. Probably cannot relax alone. Available?"

"I just hit a stopping point with this network analysis, sure. Where are you?"

"Building A, third floor, leaving conference room 3-lambda to the west."

"Hey, ok, I am over in Building C. Can you make it there? Otherwise, I can get over to the lounge in about ten minutes."

"Please? Crashing." And she is. The fury is dissipating fast, leaving her drained, numb, and shaking. "Lounge good. Love. Bye."

"Be there soon, ma mie." A click, as Moira finds the lounge, enters and locks the door, and collapses into an exhausted, overwhelmed heap on one of the large, cozy beanbags scattered about the room. Empty, hollow sobs shake her small frame.

The door lock clicks open, and Kian enters softly, closing and locking it behind her. She walks over to the sad heap in the corner, gently sits on the beanbag next to her, and caresses Moira's head. "Moira, love. I'm here for you, what do you need?"

Moira shifts a little to sit up and free her arms, and signs. «Uncertain. Nonverbal. Soothe?»

Kian asks "Do you need me to sign as well?"

«No, you are fine. Brain not working right. Stupid head vendor and I got angry.»

Kian pulls the trembling woman into her arms and squeezes carefully and tightly, helping Moira center herself with the comfortable stim. "You're my shining little one, and my life is measurably improved with you in it. I love you dearly!"

Moira leans into her larger partner, tangibly relaxing under the body hug and sweet nothings.

After twenty minutes or so, Moira takes a measured deep breath, then releases it quickly. She rubs the smooth arms encircling her to wake Kian up, then signs «Much better now, thank you love. Still nonverbal but we can probably go home.»

Kian unwraps herself from Moira and stands, stretching tired muscles and distracting Moira immensely. She offers a hand to Moira, who takes it and then smiles as she is whisked to her feet (and a little beyond!). "OK, love, your car or mine?"

«I can drive.» Moira shakes her body to get the sleepy out, then opens the door for Kian.

The pair head to the front parking lot, politely wishing Shannon a good day as they pass her desk in the foyer. They reach Moira's car Lavernge in short order, and Moira hops into the driver's seat. The second Kian is buckled in and the passenger door is closed, Moira rockets the car backwards from the spot in a 90° arc, deftly shifts to forward, and tears out of the parking lot smoothly and with vigor. Lavernge whips down Joslyn Road and then Perry Street. Moira fidgets at the light on the Loop, then at the green light, presses both into their seats as she accelerates around the northernmost section of Woodward Avenue. She takes the turn onto Orchard Lake Road more cautiously, and waits for passing traffic to clear before turning onto Bagley Street. Kian is tossed into Moira as she takes the corner onto Gillespie Avenue, then into the door for the turn onto Branch Street.

As Lavernge slows up the driveway, The Den opens the garage door automatically and Moira carefully centers Lavernge in the garage, then shuts her down.

Moira giggles, opening the door into the house while The Den closes the bay door behind the car. Kian smiles at the first audible communication from her partner in almost an hour. "Feeling better, ma mie? We really need to get you a track day again..."

Moira has already gotten half a donut into her mouth, but mumbles around it anyway, "Yesh quite." Swallowing, she continues. "And yeah, I was thinking this weekend that we could go play with cars out at Milford?"

Kian thinks it over briefly. "I can make that work, love. Janais too?"

"If she wants to. She threw up though, last time I took her on the Circle Road."

Kian smiles, remembering the weekend several months ago. "True. And I think she was saying she had a Moonshot install this weekend anyway to make the cluster better for the next round of design work."

"Ooh. Gamma gen-two!" Moira practically bounces with glee, thinking of the increased capacity that would let her generate refined versions of the control surfaces for the nascent spaceplane.

Kian pulls Moira towards her, deftly spinning her in a swing move, then kisses the top of her head. "OK, love, unless you need me for something, I'm going to work on the GLAIVE monitoring and control system in the homelab."

"Nope, have fun with sims!" Moira longingly watched Kian's backside retreat down the hallway.