Archive for November 6th, 2006

November 6, 2006: 9:55 pm: UMC

ISS 5 had been launched a mere three years before the war. The Fundys had control of Venezuela and were a growing threat at the time, so it had been built with security foremost in its design.  Chong wondered if that’s why it looked like a spiky grenade or if that was just an accident of design.
Aside from the foreboding appearance, the docking procedure was almost impossible. Any ship not pre-cleared with a double-authenticated one-time pad International Space Agency key had to wait two hours to dock instead of 30 minutes. Chong got a special demonstration of this security by bureaucracy in action as he watched Speaker Malinao’s ship arrive and dock while his UMC shuttle waited. He respected that it didn’t matter whether the President or the janitor was on board, he just thought the overall security was a little overdone for peacetime.
The shuttle finally received an assigned spike near the Speaker’s, and after one hour in space and two waiting outside their destination, Chong, Lawrence and their guards set foot on the ISS 5.
It was in fact, a historic occasion that went largely unmarked.  No UMC citizen, much less a President had been on ISS 5 ever. The head of UMC’s space agency had visited ISS 4 in the decade before the war, but the ISA was never excited about UMC personnel on board, and the war had frozen out any chance of UMC citizens finding their way over to the Earth’s prime space outpost.
It was really just jealousy.  UMC troops could have guarded the ISS 5 during the war but the ISA resisted. When the colonie shad united and rebelled against the Earth, they had also rebelled against the ISA which had overseen most of the missions that founded the colonies. Many of the Moon revolution leaders were members of the ISA. So it was natural for the remaining ISA members to see the UMC as a rebellious and ungrateful child. The most loyal ISA leaders accused the UMC of setting back space exploration thirty years. Martian missions aside, it was true that no new colonies had been founded since the Moon revolution. It was also true that the two attempts to found a newcolony at the Ambrosius site, one before and one after lunar independence, both failed for lack of interest. Moderates agreed that the UMC’s independence was more a symptom of the stall in colonization, rather than the cause.
That didn’t change the chilly reception as the President of the UMC set the first lunar foot on ISS 5. A single Lieutenant met them and barely greeted them before instructing the pilot on the conditions and procedures for leaving. Chong felt this was more than hint, it was a push.
Speaker Malinao cam erunning in with a few aides in tow, huffing and puffing out of breath.
“I’m so sorry we’re late President Chong… uh Chong. I know we look close form outside, but they docked us 5 stories up and the lift is in use for cargo or something ridiculous, so we had to hoof it. I’m so sorry.  Anyway, how was your trip?”
Chong thought it remarkable how much she glowed after a little excercise.  Further thoughts along these lines were quickly stamped out, but not before it became apparent he was staring.
“The President and I had a lovely trip and were impressed with the strength of the ISA’s security protocols,” Lawrence broke the awkward silence.
“Yes, quite a wait,” Chong managed. “How was your flight.”
“Uneventful.  I’ll show you the way to our ship.  You know these ISS types, always in a hurry.”
Malinao led the way to the stairs back up to where the US ship was docked.  Chong found himself walking up the stairs behind Malinao and struggled for all five flights with not only carrying on a conversation while huffing an dpuffing, but trying to decide where his eyes should focus.
“Welcome to the USS Sam Rayburn, my home in the stars,” said Malinao gesturing at her ship. “It’s been in use by Speakers of the House in the United States for just over fifteen years. But they didn’t make it for us.  Before it was given to the Speaker, it was used as the Vice Presidential shuttle for five years.  It’s old but it’s spaceworthy.  They’ve kept it maintained and upgraded.  It should fit six nicely, but since we have about nine it may be a little cramped.  I hope you don’t mind.”
Chong admired the enthusiasm that filled her deep brown eyes when she spoke about her ship. “I don’t mind at all,” he said truthfully.
Lawrence looked like he disagreed, but they all made way through the entry.  The interior was velvet red and to Chong’s Moon-raised eyes seemed mor elike it was built for 12 rather than six. But there were only six seats, which meant three of the guards had to strap themselves into wall spaces for the departure. One of the guards took the invitation of the pilot to sit in the cockpit after Chong said it was all right.
They departure protocols took all of five minutes, considering that they were leaving in a pre-authorized ship.  He wondered how long the UMC shuttle would have to wai tto leave.
“Your pilots should be leaving right after us.  They won’t waste time on the way out,” Malinao said as if reading Chong’s mind.
It was an hour trip to Omaha. After departure they would have about twenty to thirty minutes to float about the cabin before reentry commenced. Malinao took the opportunity to show them around the ship.
At one point, Chong found himself alone with Malinao, looking at a viewport at the Earth rolling by beneath them. He wasn’t really alone, but the guards were in the cockpit and Lawrence was conferring with the aides on arrival logistics.
“Don’t you ever miss it?” Malinao asked.
“I never had it,” Chong said.  He got this question a lot from Terrans. “I grew up with a black sky and silver light.  It’s all I’ve known. The Earth’s beautiful to me but so are many things.” He realized what he just said as he also realized Malinao was looking up at him.  He turned quickly away and thought he caught the hint of a smile.
“The Mona Lisa is beautiful. A Martian sunrise is beautiful, but I don’t particularly miss either one of those things. I appreciate them but I never had them.”
“So you have to have something, to miss it?”
He inexplicable feared answering that question.
“Well yes, I suppose.  At least when it comes to planets– I,” he was interrupted, saved, by the announcement that reentry would soon commence and all passengers needed to secure themselves.
“We’ll continue this later,” Malinao said as they made their way back to their seats.

: 8:13 pm: UMC
Chong sat waiting for the M train to leave Avalon on it’s way to New Canaveral. Lawrence had gone to talk to the conductor and make sure there would be no delays.  The shuttle waiting for them at New Canaveral would not leave without them, but Lawrence just liked to know what to expect.
The train was empty except for the guards. It was a regular M-line train though, except for having the President’s guards on it.  Previous Presidents had traveled on special trains or flown on ships. Not Chong.  He wanted to know how the two main transit companies were doing and what it felt like to ride in the manner in which 97 percent of the UMC population got around between colonies.
The door to the car opened, but instead of Lawrence, Chong saw a tall dark-haired, dark-skinned woman attempt to enter the car. The guards attempted to evict her, but she put up a pretty stiff fight.  Chong heard her say something about John Ford and stood up.
“Let her talk.”
The guards stopped pushing her but didn’t let her move any farther forward.
“What do you want?” asked Chong.
“I want to talk to you about John Ford.  I can help you figur eout why he’s doing what he’s doing.” The woman struggled a bit more.
“Is that right? Who are you?”
“I’m Sillhouette Johnson. John Ford’s wife.”
Chong told the guards to allow her to sit down but keep her guarded. He took a seat diagonal to her with the guards inbetween.
“Ford’s wife and children are dead. Why should I possibly believe you?”
“John sent me to the UMC during the war. I had been Fundy-controlled Omaha, trying to convince my parents to leave.  He put me on one of the last shuttles out before they cut off contact with the Moon. I haven’t heard from him since.”
“That’s all very good.  That still doesn’t prove you’re his wife, or why he thinks you’re dead.”
“I don’t know what’s happened to him. He was never like this before the war. But in the last days I was with him he became increasingly agitated.  He would get– I don’t know– jumpy.  Like scared of his own shadow. He was very distracted, often not remembering things we’d talked about the day before. One day he just came in and started packing and told us we had to leave right away on the Moon shuttle or we’d all be dead.  I thought he was coming with us.  He stayed behind and said he’d contact me shortly.  He never did.
“You can check the records to see my name. And I’ll let you run a DNA scan if you need to verify me.  But I have a suspicion about what’s going on. I want him back.  I want him back the way he was.  I think you’re the only one who can make him that way.  You’re his only chance.”
Lawrence had walked back iin during her soliloquy.  Chong turned to him.
“Lawrence, get me the records on the ident of John Ford’s wife and take a hair for DNA-vert.”
“Right away sir. We’ll be leaving in a couple minutes though.”
Chong rubbed his chin and stared at Johnson. “She rides with us to New Canaveral then. If that’s convenient with you Ms. Johnson?”
She nodded assent and let Lawrence take a hair for verification.
“All right, we’ll know soon enough if you’re telling the truth about who you are.  Meanwhile tell me what you came to tell me.”
Sillhouette sighed. “Minutes after our shuttle took off, the UMC bombing of Omaha began. I saw our neighborhood destroyed. But our shuttle was cleared by the UMC air command and we got away. We were all interred on arrival in Houston de la Luna for about six months. I used to think John thought I died there or didn’t make it on to the shuttle.  But it’s been too long now.  I’ve tried every means possible to contact him. He won’t respond.
“I think something was happening to him before we left.  Something was driving him mad. I think–”
She paused obviously unsure about what she was going to say.  The train car lurched as it began it’s trip to New Canaveral. She looked out the window as the car bulleted out of the colonial tunnel and the lunar landscape appeared on the viewports.
“It’s always so beautiful and lonely. Anyway, I think he did think we were dead at first.  It was a lot of confusion there in Omaha when we left. He may have thought we got shot down. And I think whatever was driving him mad, well, that drove him over the edge.  And now he’s so far gone, he won’t acknowledge that it’s me.  That we’re OK.  That he can’t use us as an excuse for whatever’s been driving him.”
She stopped again and satred at the passing scenery and billboards for condos in Septendecim, Cheap Loan rates, Discounted MedEnhance  Surgeries, and cheap home dome insurance for non-colony residents.
Chong broke the silence. “So what are you thinking.”
She looked very tentative. “I was hoping.  I was thinking you could take me along.  When John confornts you again, I could be with you.  I’d prove to him it’s me.  That I’m here.”
“I think that’s mighty dangerous.”
“Lawrence entered the car from the door between the train’s compartments.”
“She’s Sillhouette Johnson all right and Sillhouette Johnson is John Ford’s wife.  But she’s dead.”
This even surprised Johnson.
“What?  What do you eman I’m dead.  Do I look dead to you?”
Chong began to see that the calm facade was a practiced face she had worn for her confrontation with him. That swayed him a little more towards believing her.
“Well technically you’re dead and not dead,” continued Lawrence. “UMC records show you as a living resident of Avalon.  A refugee status with non-terminable but revocable residency. You have two children and a husband on Earth named John Ford, last known address in Omaha, Nebraska, FSA, now back to the USa of course.”
“That doesn’t sound like dead to me,” remarked Johnson.
“But Terran records differ with UMC records. They say you lost custody of your children and you were executed as a traitor to the FSA.  The date of the execution is after the date of your immigration to the UMC.”
“Well that explains a lot,” interjected Chong standing up. The high speed train was slowing down for entry into New Canaveral.
“Ms. Johnson, I will consider your suggestion.  I want to find out more about why you were supposedly executed and where your supposed children are now. I’ll need to go to Omaha to do that. Meanwhile let’s hope your husband doesn’t kill me before I find out.  If you wish, I would like you to leave your contact information with Lawrence here. We’ll be contacting you when we have mro einformation.  If that’s all right with you.”
“Yes, of course.  Thank you sir.  Thank you Mr. President.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” Chong and his guards exited the train leaving Johnson behind. He had more agenda items for Lawrence to add to the Omaha trip and he had a complicated and much more unpredictable situation now. But all he could think about was seeing Speaker Malinao again.