We're at about 10 more episodes to the end of volume 3! (Don't hold me to that exact count—the episodes keep changing under my feet.)
Are you folks who asked for alternate delivery forms able to better use the EPUB and/or PDF for reading? How are they working out?Journey to the Sky
"Affirmative, Houston, lifting to orbit on my mark," Sophie said into her headset. For the people in the cockpit and passenger area of the Cosmic Orbiter, she tapped the large digital countdown clock above her head.
Nereid helped Lady Justice arrange her launch restraints and settled into her own couch next to Vector.
"Hey, your armband's slipping," Vector said, and reached over to slide the star-spangled black armband up to Nereid's bicep.
"Thanks," Nereid said, clicking her restraints into place. "The new costume material is really slippery."
"Still, it converts with you more easily, right?" Vector said.
"Yeah," Nereid said, running a hand over the knee of the blue-and-green washed material. "I don't have to think about it as much. Less nudity on the battlefield is good, right?"
Vector grimaced, and Nereid was immediately consumed with guilt for saying something typically stupid, having her own flashback to the horrible day a few months before when she, Sophie, and Pay had to rescue the team from an alien-enhanced pheromone-producing sociopath. She said, "Sorry."
Vector patted her hand. "No, it's okay. I… it just sneaks up on me sometimes. But if I can get to joking about it, that's good, right?"
"It's not something to joke about," Nereid said, squeezing her hand. "And it was thoughtless of me. I'm sorry."
Vector sighed. "It's not like it was a battle or anything anyway."
"Mark!" said Sophie. "Lifting now."
The engines revved up and the white noise flooded through the cabin. Nereid leaned over to say to Vector, grateful for the noise, "The therapist didn't work out?"
Vector shook her head. "He didn't… really understand. Not para. Or, um, queer."
"I know someone really good," Nereid said. "If she can't take you, she can recommend someone as good."
"Really?" Vector gave her a bleak look. "It… would be nice to talk to someone."
Nereid knew the feeling, and regretted that she hadn't really been talking to her teammates lately. She'd been focused almost entirely on keeping Sophie going day-to-day, making sure she ate and slept at a minimum, and dragging her out of the lab when she could. She wasn't feeling like she had a girlfriend so much these days as someone she had to keep boosting back up onto a tightrope of functioning. She understood
why Sophie was so depressed, she knew
why Sophie kept punishing herself by working obsessively, but… it was taking everything Nereid had to keep doing it. And she couldn't just walk away. And… yeah. Time for therapy again for herself, at least.
Nereid gave Vector as much of an affectionate headbump on the shoulder as she could, given they were pinned in their seats by the acceleration. "Let's go out after this," she said. "You pick where. We both need it."
Vector looked so grateful that Nereid felt nearly sick with guilt. They hadn't gotten off on the right foot when she joined this team, but then again, Nereid hadn't gotten off on the right foot with anyone
on the team except Pay, and she'd very nearly fucked that up too. But she had been quietly admiring Vector for a long time for the fact that she was maturing out of her stupid little mean girl phase into someone Nereid actually liked. It sucked that it had taken that horrible day to really make Nereid admit to herself that she liked Vector.
The acceleration abated and Sophie announced, "We're in orbit. We'll have some more accelerations when we need to alter our course, but for now, you all can unlatch. I'll let you know when you need to strap down again."
Nereid was very impressed by Lady Justice's familiarity with zero gravity. She knew she shouldn't have been; Lady J had been with the Gold Stars for so many years and they'd had so many outer space missions, after all. But it was startling and beautiful to go from watching Lady J limping awkwardly in Earth gravity to seeing Lady J navigating around the cabin gracefully, with just a few touches here and there. Without gravity to pull on the wrinkles in the veteran's face, too, Nereid could imagine what Lady J looked like as a young woman (live—she'd seen all the photos, of course).
Sophie gestured for Nereid to follow Lady J into the Orbiter's cargo bay, and turned away to discuss something with Mercury.
Nereid found moving in zero gravity easier to cope with if she thought of it as swimming. In fact, she'd floundered hopelessly until she figured out how to think of it that way. She just had to remember that she was not helped by friction here. She didn't move nearly as effortlessly as Lady Justice, but she did manage to follow her down the center tunnel of the ship and into the rear bay.
Lady J was hovering next to the cylinder that held Jane's body, one hand resting on its surface. When the door cycled shut, she looked up and smiled at Nereid.
"Thank you ki… all for helping with this," she said, the smile returning the wrinkles to their proper places.
"Sophie and I, at least, totally understand why you want to do this," Nereid said. "I hope someone will do it for me when I go."
Lady J's smile stuttered a little at the corners of her mouth. "I hope that's a long way off, Pacifica."
Nereid laid a hand on Lady J's shoulder. "Me too. I just… I think someone should do it for all the Class 10s. So no one tries to dig us up and, I dunno, clone us."
"A lot of people who aren't Class 10s have had that done, you know," Lady J said, looking back to the cylinder. "I'm mostly worried about keeping her out of the government's hands. Any government's hands."
"Yeah, she was a one of a kind," Nereid said. "Power-wise, I mean. I know she was as a person."
Lady J nodded, her face sad. "It's hard, not having her to see any more. Even when she wasn't all there, you know, at least I saw her, could talk to her—even if she didn't understand all the time, even if all she talked about was whether the lights stayed on all night, or what the weather looked like out her fake window. Everyone else is gone now. It's just me."
"You're not alone," Nereid said, thinking of Ira and Andrea, and all the other Forgotten Heroes, and still knowing that she was saying something for the sake of saying it, because she couldn't understand right now.
Lady J smiled. "I know, honey. Thank you."
They stayed there for a long time, it seemed, hanging in middle of the chilly cargo bay, Nereid holding Lady J's shoulder, and Lady J touching Jane's high-tech coffin.
Sophie's voice crackled over the speakers, "Please make sure the satellite is prepared for deployment. We'll be starting maneuvers to station-keeping position in half an hour." Code for them to get on with their secret mission. Nereid silently cursed the cockpit recording devices mandated for all para spacecraft.
Lady J reached up and squeezed Nereid's hand with the hand that had grown chilly against the metal cylinder. "I guess that's our cue to load her up, right?"
"Yes," Nereid said, "and Pay should be along in a moment to help."
He came through the door at just that moment, smiling broadly and beautifully as usual. "Indeed, here I am!"
The three of them unstrapped the coffin and gently angled it across the bay to the new satellite that the Cosmics had gotten permission to put into orbit. Pay opened the hatch to the main body of the satellite and pulled out the modular transmission equipment. Lady J and Nereid slid the coffin into place, and it fit neatly, just as Sophie had calculated.
Lady Justice lingered for a second, touching the end of the coffin, then pushed herself backward. Pay shut the hatch as gently as he could, spun the fastenings into place, and activated the hidden alarm that Sophie had fitted to this compartment.
As the three of them floated toward the door, Pay said, "I still do not understand why Doctor Thomas could not simply fly her up herself."
"Ruth is under a great deal of government scrutiny all the time," Lady J said. "As Jane was herself. If they saw her leaving planet with a body-sized item, they could put two and two together, and there might be repercussions for Ruth personally."
"The government really wants Jane's body," Nereid said with a shrug. "Everyone does."
"You have explained it before, Nereid, you and Brainchild," he said, "and I still do not understand why these people are so interested in violating common American death taboos. I mean, I do indeed understand
that they do
it, but I do not understand why
. It is difficult to understand these motivations."
"You have never spoken a truer word," Lady J said, patting him on the back.
Back in the cockpit, Sophie was playing one of the songs her friend Gogo had released on the underground online communities during what was now being called the Psychepirate Occupation (oh, the way the media picks up someone's Twitter contents and runs away with it with no citation—apparently Sophie knew the woman who started calling it that). This was one Nereid hadn't heard more than once or twice, with the chorus, "Arrest, Retry, Fail," running through the background.
Mercury and Gemini were chatting with Sophie, while Vector worked the navigation console, probably running the last calculations for maneuvers. Wire had her back pressed to a support pillar, staring out at the starfield moodily. She was fiddling with the black starry armband with her flesh hand; her metal hand—the beautiful shining prosthetic Sophie built for her—was tapping out the rhythm of the song on the plastic of the pillar.
Lady Justice settled back in her seat, and Pay went to see if he could help Vector (he'd been coaching her on translating her innate understanding of motion to numbers), so Nereid drifted over to Wire.
Wire glanced up at her from under her weird floating blue forelock (Nereid could never
figure out how she did that) and grimaced in greeting.
Nereid leaned against the wall nearby and said, "Long time, no chat."
Wire shrugged and looked away. "All this paperwork with Mr. Moneybags… hell, I mean Michael… to retroactively get us government-approved to be Gold Stars deputies and whatnot has been eating my schedule."
"The government is still
kicking up a fuss about that?" Nereid said. "I thought—" she dropped her voice just under the crashing chorus of the song "—Lady J was legally allowed to do the deputizing."
"She is, but one of the government nitpickers who doesn't like paras has discovered that Gemini is technically
a minor," Wire said, rolling her eyes ceilingward. "Apparently
, some parts of the government are still refusing to acknowledge that time travel happens."
"This is what you get when people who failed high school science run the technology committees," Nereid grunted.
Wire shrugged again, a little too vehemently, as the motion propelled her away from her pillar. She grabbed onto it with the metal hand and pulled herself back against it. "So, anyway, Michael's lawyers are working on getting Gemini declared an emancipated adult with alternate-dimensional standing, and we're working with the Gold Stars to get certified. Whichever happens first will get us off the hook, because the Gold Stars can just declare military necessity for Gemini."
"Wait, they can use minors as long as there's military necessity?" Nereid said, outraged.
"Only for para minors with Class 4 powers and above," Wire said.
Nereid gave her a dubious look and Wire said, "Yeah, I know. One of the Jane Liberty Laws from World War 2. Passed to retroactively make Jane's enlistment good."
"Oh, I didn't think of that," Nereid said. "Still, it's kind of… terrifying."
"Legal ways to make a para child army?" Wire said. "Oh, yeah. It only got used once that way, I'm told, to make the 'Liberty Girls', this little pack of underage bulletproofs who were all supposed to be Jane's sidekicks."
"Maneuvers in five minutes," Sophie announced, killing the music.
Everyone assumed their seats and strapped in, and there wasn't much talking as they waited for the final approach. Sophie concentrated intently on her controls. Vector was seated at her console, hands at her sides, sweat beading on her forehead as she used her powers to make microscopic changes in their kinetic energy and direction.
Finally, Sophie locked down her console with a loud click and said, "All right, opening cargo bay. Satellite deployment shortly."
People unstrapped again, and Lady J went to the window overlooking the cargo bay doors. Everyone but Sophie ended up drifting over there with her.
The robot arms of the cargo bay lifted the satellite out—almost reverently, Nereid imagined. The solar panels opened like flower petals, blooming from the skeletal supports and sprawling into an array that dwarfed the orbiter. A tiny (relative to the solar array) American flag deployed beneath the array, on their side of the satellite.
Lady Justice came to attention and saluted, and the rest of them watched in silence as Jane's penultimate resting place glowed to life as they turned the curve of the Earth and came into line with the sun's rays.
None of them would see the final disposal of Jane's body. The Ultimate would come here on her next space jaunt, first angling out to get away from the monitoring devices that usually followed her, then removing the coffin from the satellite and… taking it somewhere. Nereid guessed that she was going to toss it into the sun, or somewhere else it would certainly be destroyed and wouldn't contaminate anything.
The cargo bay doors shut and the orbiter rolled slowly away from the satellite, acceleration so gentle that Nereid hadn't even noticed it. Lady Justice wiped her eyes with a handkerchief, and Wire was blinking suspiciously hard. No one said anything, just returned to their seats.
There was really nothing to say, Nereid thought. Things could be said at the memorial in a few weeks.