Authors: James F. David
Even the poorest general understands the importance of controlling the high-ground. Space is the ultimate high-ground.
THE HIGH FRONTIER
, WARREN NICHOLS
GILROY RANCH, OUTSIDE
OF CHRIST'S HOME, CALIFORNIA
fter his encounter with Christy Maitland, Bill Towers spread the word that the cult would be launching soon. With the rest of the media, Roland made his way to the Gilroy Ranch. The Gilroys owned property east of the Fellowship's compound. The Gilroys had farmed in the county for three generations before the Fellowship moved in, and they deeply resented the cult. They called members of the Fellowship "religionists" and had refused the cult's many offers to purchase their property. The Gilroy's farm included undeveloped land with a hill from which you could see into the cult's compound. The media were gathering there now, the Gilroys offering the use of the land free to their new "allies."
When Roland reached the Gilroy farm, crews were already working feverishly, the hill sprouting cameras, satellite dishes, and vans packed with the electronic tools of the trade. Tents had sprouted too and the reporters gathered under them drinking coffee and sharing stories from the media wars.
Roland circulated among the reporters, asking about George Proctor. Many knew of him but none connected him to the cult. It meant nothing. There was very little anyone knew about the Light in the Darkness Fellowship.
The sun came up at 6:30 A.M., and at 6:45 A.M. shouting sent them all running for their cameras. Through binoculars Roland could see the
being pulled out to the concrete pad. The video cameras around him whirred and the thirty-five-millimeter cameras clicked incessantly. Like before, the trailer was parked in the middle of the pad. A long delay followed and then the handlers backed away from the ship. Cameramen began to shoot stills, the clicks of the cameras steadily picking up the pace. Then the
lifted off its trailer. Reporters gasped at the silent lift-off even though they had seen the tape of the first launch many times. Roland watched in awe, knowing it was the first mission of a new space power.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?
FELLOWSHIP COMPOUND, CALIFORNIA
disappeared above her, Christy followed
the others into the hangar where chairs were set up in front of a wall-screen TV, the screen blue. A minute later a picture of the sky appeared with one of the
two spheres off to one side. Slowly the sky darkened from blue to a deep purple, then to black, and then stars appeared. The Fellowship cheered. Then the interior of one of the capsules appeared, showing Ira in full space suit, his eye patch showing through the visor.
"We are clear of the atmosphere," Ira said.
The view switched, another space-suited figure appeared, waving at the camera.
"Hi, honey, it's me."
Laughter filled the hangar, echoing from distant corners. Floyd leaned over and whispered, "That's John Henry. His wife Shelly is working in the control room."
Christy remembered the young blond woman working in one of the spheres.
"Shelly's pregnant, right?"
"It's their first."
John pushed his faceplate up and leaned close to the camera.
A little lump of gum appeared between his lips, then he pushed it out. The blue gob floated free. Suddenly his tongue shot out snagging the gum and slurping it back in. "Ribbit," he said.
The crowd roared with laughter. Suddenly Ira was back on-screen.
"Are you working or not, John?" Ira said crossly.
"Actually, you're doing all the work, I'm just sitting here."
The crowd giggled at the exchange. Then the screen filled with a picture of the Earth. White clouds were smeared over the mottled blue-brown surface. The silent view continued for a long time, the Earth slowly moving beneath them like the hands of a clock. The crowd grew restless, going for coffee and soft drinks. Popcorn appeared and soon there was a carnival atmosphere in the hangar. Christy passed on the popcorn but accepted a cup of coffee. The picture suddenly changed angle. Then the audio was back.
"Three miles and closing," John said.
"Roger," a voice replied.
Christy recognized the voice as Mark's.
"Zero five five," Ira said.
"Zero five five," Mark echoed.
"Two miles," John said.
Tension filled the room, the group leaning forward, straining to catch sight of the satellite.
"Zero three zero," Ira said.
"Zero three zero," confirmed Mark.
"I can see it," John shouted.
The crowd leaned even closer now.
"There it is," someone shouted.
Then Christy saw it, a shining spot in a sea of blue. The
was coming in from above the satellite.
"We're too high, Ira," John said.
"Zero two seven," Ira said. "I'll get us there."
"Zero two seven," came the reply.
The satellite grew, features soon becoming distinguishable. It was different from the computer simulation Mark had shown her. The second stage was still attached to the satellite, and the satellite still covered with a cowling. As they closed, the
dropped, coming down to level with the satellite. Now the camera clearly showed the engines of the second stage.
"Zero one one."
"Zero one one."
"Get the manipulators ready, John."
slowed as it approached, the end of the rocket now filling the screen.
"I'm deploying now," John said.
"Forward, forward," Ira said.
"Say when, John."
"Forward, forward . . . hold it! I'm going to grab her."
Nothing but rocket engine could be seen now, even the manipulator arms were off camera.
"Almost there . . . One is attached. Two is on its way. Closing, closing . . . got it."
"Lock them down," Ira said.
"Locked. I've got green across the board."
"What are you reading, Mark?" Ira asked.
"All right," John said. "We've got her by her bottom. Let's give her fanny a little shove."
The crowd laughed. John was clearly a favorite.
The audio went silent except for the occasional crackle of static. Christy could feel the tension in the room build as if they understood this was the most dangerous part of the mission.
"I read eighty percent field extrusion," John said.
"This is an open channel, John," Mark said. "Switch to the line."
"Sorry. I'm switching over."
They were silent again for a few minutes.
"I'm reading it nominal. Mark, what are you reading?"
"Acceptable. Let's move her."
"Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy," John said.
Laughter rippled through the hangar.
All they could see now was the rocket engine and they became restless as the long minutes passed. People left for the bathroom and others prayed softly in small groups.
Finally the audio was back.
"Hughes confirms orbital position and speed. Prepare for separation, John."
Cheering filled the hangar and people hugged each other and shook hands. The excitement was contagious and Christy stood, clapping her hands.
" . . . green, green, green, green. Manipulators retracted and locked," John said.
"Back her off, Ira," Mark said over the speaker. "Hughes Control is going to separate the booster."
The crowd watched in amazed silence as the
drifted back. The rocket engine shrank on the screen, slowly revealing the entire satellite. A flash and then puffs of gas and the booster began drifting toward the
"Let's do it again, John," Ira said.
"Goody, goody, goody."
"Hughes says it's wobbling a bit. Be careful," Mark said.
"I can see it," Ira said. "John, is it going to be a problem?"
"Not with these mitts."
The engine loomed closer again, this time the
closing much faster. The arms appeared, spreading wide to make another catch. The wobble looked much worse up close but those in the craft seemed calm. The
slowed as it approached, the end of the rocket now filling the screen.
"Forward, forward," John said. "Forward, forward . . . hold it! I'm grabbing her."
The image rocked gently, then slowly stabilized.
"I've got her again. Let's go."
The image of the rocket engine remained unchanged, and no motion could be detected.
"Stand by for release, John," Ira said.
"Are you sure there isn't some salvage value in this thing?"
"Are you working for me, John?"
"Yes, master," John said.
The crowd laughed.
"Release her, John."
"Your wish is my command." Static crackle filled the room, then: "She's free. Retracting arms." A minute later. "All green once more."
The image broadened and soon Christy could see the entire booster. The satellite was gone and nowhere to be seen. The Earth was below, closer.
"The Hughes people are ecstatic," Mark reported. "They've got the solar panels deployed and all systems are reading normally."
back and take a look," John said.
"No," Ira said. "Now we go home and check every system."
"Spoilsport. I just hope the love of my life is waiting there for me when I get down."
"You know I will be, John," Shelly said to the screen.
They were all there when the
returned to Earth.
Horror/comedies are a peculiar movie genre. In these movie hybrids, what begins as fear can quickly be turned into mirth and what begins as mirth can just as quickly be transformed into fear, thus demonstrating the fine line between the two emotions. Good and evil have much the same relationship.
A HISTORY OF GOOD AND EVIL
, ROBERT WINSTON, PH.D.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
o Simon, Manuel Crow seemed to have only one mood, solemn. The man smiled frequently but it was a practiced smile and empty of good humor. He would frown on occasion, too, but seldom seemed honestly sad. Perhaps it was his eyes that kept him from expressing emotion. Their icy blackness never changed and facial creases and wrinkles that normally accent emotions could do little to mask the piercing coldness of his stare. Crow's eyes were boring through Simon now as he reported on the cult.
"Gathering information on the Fellowship has been difficult," Simon explained. "I've been forced to rely on secondary sources: neighbors, relatives of members, landlords, public records. I've been unable to penetrate their computer network."
Crow rocked forward, stopping Simon with a raised eyebrow.
"You've never failed to hack into a computer network before," Crow said.
"The problem is they don't have a network to break into. There is some Internet traffic between branches, but mostly personal communications, nothing technical. The Fellowship doesn't have a Web site and I couldn't find a personal Web site for any key member. If they have a computer network it's localized within the compound with no Internet connections."
"Tell me what you do know," Crow said.
"Two men began the cult about twenty years ago," Simon said, pulling on his bow tie. "Mark Shepherd and Ira Breitling. I can't be more specific about the date of its foundation without further research. It seems to have been a cult of two for a few years, then grew slowly. They registered themselves as a church fifteen years ago to avoid taxation. When they showed up in San Francisco they had about two hundred members. They never built a church building until they took over Exeter. In San Francisco they leased a warehouse in an industrial park to use as a research facility. I believe they worshiped in the same building. One of their neighbors remembers seeing the place packed with cars on Sundays. I found the owner of the building but he was little help. He only went inside the warehouse twice when they leased it, but he did confirm it was packed with electronic gear. He also said they were running a small foundry. Two years later they moved to a bigger facility: another old warehouse. They don't go in for fancy. Three years later they moved to Exeter."
"What about their finances?" Crow asked.
"Until they began their launch business, they were dependent on donations,-however, it seems those that work for the cult don't take salary. The cult owns their homes, their vehicles, and even provides them food through company stores. It's economic slavery, much like how the coal companies operated fifty years ago."
"Have them investigated for labor law violations."
"That's a good idea, sir," Simon said, making a note on his yellow pad.
"I know there are branches of the cult," Simon continued. "One in San Antonio for sure, one in Florida, and at least one overseas—Australia. These might be tracking stations for their satellite operations. That's a lot to support on donations and at the same time develop the kind of technology they have. It suggests the cult is much bigger than it looks."
"How many do you estimate are supporting the cult?"
"Five thousand people donating, not to mention the profits of the businesses they own. Add to that the free labor and I would say it amounts to a considerable sum."
"Yes, sir, and now they have external resources. They were paid twenty million for rescuing the Australian satellite and they have two more launches lined up. NASA is screaming about the loss of business but they are undercutting NASA's prices."
Crow glared at Simon with his icy eyes, making Simon squirm in his oversized mahogany chair and fiddle with his bow tie.
"As you know, the stock market has declined sharply because of the cult," Simon said. "There's been a broad decline in technology stocks, even those not related to space industries. I was hoping the Fellowship had anticipated this and invested strategically. I could have convinced the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate them for manipulating the market but their investments are minimal. They're either spending it as soon as they get it, or they've got their cash stuffed in mattresses."
"Tell me about the leaders," Crow said.
"As I said, two men are at the core. Ira Breitling, who is rarely seen, and Mark Shepherd, who is the public spokesperson. Shepherd is the one selling interviews and he's the one the cult members refer you to if you start asking questions. The brainwashing is the strongest I've seen. The cult is absolutely monolithic in its refusal to talk to the press or anyone."
"Who is the technological genius behind the
"It's not clear. Mark Shepherd was military trained in electronics repair, specializing in nuclear weapons. He's a technician, not a theoretician, though. It would take an Einstein to make a breakthrough like this. Ira Breitling was a physical chemistry major and did graduate work in materials science, but never finished his degree. He was injured in a laboratory accident where he lost an eye. He's one of the pilots, by the way."
"The man with one eye flies the ship?"
"Yes. He and a younger man named John Henry went up together to rescue the Australian satellite. This Henry fellow has a master's degree in astronomy."
"Did he distinguish himself in school?"
"He was a good student, but no genius. Besides, he's too young to be behind this technology. He's been out of school for only two years. By the way, the cult paid his way through school. They have developed a lot of their own talent this way, paying for children of the members to go to college and graduate school. There is one peculiarity in their education patterns. The children of the cult only educate themselves through a master's degree; none have finished doctoral programs."
Crow leaned back in his chair thinking.
"That's very interesting," Crow said. "They don't care about the doctorate. They stay in graduate school only long enough to learn what their professors can teach them. Once they reach the point of making a creative contribution of their own with doctoral research, they take their creativity home to the cult."
"Those getting graduate degrees are all in the natural sciences," Simon continued. "Physical chemistry, physics, astronomy, mathematics, and quite a few in engineering. Mostly mechanical and electrical engineering, but also environmental and chemical. They've got two agronomists, although their farming operation is limited. For a fundamentalist cult they are pretty well educated, although it looks like a caste system could be developing—those with the degrees running the glamorous space program while the rest do the grunt work."
"We might exploit that angle," Crow said.
"If they open up a little I'll begin sowing seeds of jealousy. You know, asking the toilet cleaners why those at the top never have to dip their hands in the bowl."
Crow laughed, sending chills down Simon's spine.
"Very good, Mr. Ash. You do have a talent for creating discontent."
"Discontent is the agent of change."
"And of destruction," Crow said, smiling. "So you have no idea of who is behind their technology?"
"No single individual stands out as having that much brain power. If I had to guess, I'd say their discovery is the result of serendipity. They stumbled across the discovery of the century."
"Perhaps it was revealed to them," Crow suggested.
"Who would give away such a discovery?"
"Never mind, Mr. Ash. You've done well so far but I want to know more."
"I've got a dozen people researching. In a month I'll know more about the members of that cult than they know themselves."
"Double the number of researchers."
"Yes, sir." Then he nervously added, "I'll need more space."
"Lease a bigger facility," Crow said.
Simon suppressed a smile. He was feeling a growing sense of power.
"I'll bring them down, sir," Simon said.
"If you'll excuse me, I have another meeting," Crow said, dismissing Simon.
Simon jumped to his feet, excusing himself. Once out of the office, he hurried to the bathroom. Crow was his patron, but whenever he was in the man's presence, his sympathetic nervous system went into high gear. It was like the first terrifying drop on a roller coaster, but the fall never ended.