"...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.
"...is 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.
"ENTRANCE TO AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY"
"This Protective Equipment MUST BE WORN ON THIS SITE: SAFETY GLASSES, HEARING PROTECTION, SAFETY SHOES, HARD HATS, HI-VIS VEST"
"ABSOLUTELY NO RECORDING OR PHOTOGRAPHY PERMITTED"
"ALL VISITORS MUST BE ESCORTED AT ALL TIMES"
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."
"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."
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.
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?
"...as 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?”
“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.
I open the door into the gym at The Den, intent on getting Kian's lunch order.
"Hey cutie, we are ordering Thai, what would you like? Moira wants pad thai, no peanuts, tofu, medium, and bubble tea."
As I enter the small room, my eyes find Kian. She is in the middle of doing pullups, her arms and abs straining with the effort, her skin shining with perspiration. I stop, mid-step, my jaw dropping and my cheeks burning.
Moira sat in a private meeting room at a coworking space, anxiously watching for her friend to arrive. She idly fidgets with a black and silver pronoun pin on her blouse. Before her on the table, a single sheet of paper. A stylized logo of a single-edged polearm underlined a company name in the right header. The document laid out the fundamental principles of the company Moira wishes to start.
I close my eyes and lean back into the dingy couch, my fingers interlaced behind my head, stretching up and back. This place is a good place, a home away from home.
The pungent smell of laser-ablated leather mixes with notes of cutting fluid and oak sawdust. Over the powerful hum of the vent fan exhausting the laser cutters' noxious byproducts, I hear the crackle of a MIG torch making a beautiful noise, harmonizing with the drone of the planer in the woodshop. The venerable CNC mill takes another deep facing cut, adding its guttural spindle rumble and the tinkle of chips hitting the guards to the symphony of creation around me.
Janais padded sleepily into the kitchen, failing to stifle a yawn. She plonks her forehead into Kian's mid back, wrapping her arms around the woman's bare midriff.
"Hey cutie, breakfast is almost ready. Is the blue-eyed one up yet?" Kian rumbled, deftly turning several eggs over in her pan as her diminutive partner shook her head.
"No, she was still firmly wrapped around BLÅHAJ. You left!" She softly headbutted Kian, giving her a squeeze and then disengaged, heading for the kettle.
"I did! Poor Moira, she must have been having bad dreams. She kept kneeing me in the back all night, and I eventually had to get up and move to the couch."
"Aww. Unrelated, jasmine or rocket fuel?" Janais inquired, sifting through the assortment of tea bags, pulling out two red bags of Irish breakfast tea.
"Nah, I gots mine" Kian waved at a brilliantly green energy drink on the counter. "Had to do the drugs anyway, might as well wake up and make some breakfast."
"Tower information papa. Automated weather observation one one five three Zulu. Winds one five knots at two five zero degree. Visibility one zero. Sky conditions few at seven thousand. Temperature two one, dewpoint one five. Altimeter three zero one three. Approach runway two seven left in use on the left, departing runway two seven left and runway two seven right. Prior to departure contact ground control one two one point niner. Clearance advise on initial contact you have information papa."
I looked over the displays around me. Blue status indicators everywhere indicating nominal conditions. I changed from the ATIS information service at 125.025MHz to call ground control at 121.9MHz for clearance to depart.
"Pontiac Ground, Gamma zero two four India Oscar experimental, is ready to taxi, VFR, information papa" I called over the radio.
"Taxi to runway two seven left via Charlie, Charlie one, Gamma four India Oscar, and contact Pontiac tower" came the response.
"Gamma four India Oscar, taxi to runway two seven left via Charlie, Charlie one"
I selected 120.5MHz on the radio and called the tower, "Pontiac tower, Gamma zero two four India Oscar experimental, taxing to runway two seven left"
"Gamma four India Oscar with you, clear for takeoff runway two seven left. No further ATC service available, monitor UNICOM on one two two point eight zero zero"
"Cleared for runway two seven left, Gamma four India Oscar"
I grinned. "Go time, Lucille!" I reached the C1 hold point at the end of runway 27L.
I keyed up again. "Gamma four India Oscar, moving to UNICOM on one two two point eight zero zero, bye bye" and switched to 122.8MHz.
I taxied onto the runway, facing into the brisk west wind. Pushing the throttles forward, I felt the twin GLAIVEs behind me ramping up smoothly.
"OK, girl, you can do this" I whispered to Lucille, the first flight-ready Gamma-class. Reaching takeoff thrust, I released the brakes and Lucille began to roll forward. Watching the groundspeed indicator, I eased the stick back as we hit takeoff speed, passing The Company hangars as our wheels lifted.
Lucille leapt into the air gleefully, pressing me into the seat as we ascended quickly.