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It was what Walt Disney and Werner Von Braun would have dreamed up as a utopian "City of Tomorrow" two hundred years earlier. The once opulent city of domes, lying at the bottom of the solar systems largest volcanic crater, was just another, albeit the oldest, city on Mars. Its brilliant plasteele domes, once offering a breathtaking view of the craters west rim and the vast star field beyond were now sand blasted by raging windstorms to near opacity.
Heedless of the unrelenting shower, Dr. Shane Kessman of the Confederation Space Agency gingerly made his way through the narrow twisting avenues and cramped side streets created by the sprawling blanket of prefab buildings in the main dome complex. Mooring his ground effect vehicle, he got out and made his way to a non-descript door embedded in an equally non-descript box of a building He squared his shoulders. He inhaled deeply, held it briefly and exhaled slowly. He pushed the door open to a raucous party.
A pretty little mass of brilliant red hair, smeared lipstick and too tight jumpsuit over an ample frame pushed it's way through the milling crowd and planted a sloppy kiss on Shane's cheek.
"Shane, where have you been, Sweetie?" Karen, very attractive and very drunk slurred at him, "It's almost time. Can you believe it? After three years, it's almost time. This is your moment almost as much as it is Steve's" She kissed him on the other cheek and disappeared back into the undulating hoard of physicists and engineers. He dug his nails deep into the palms of his hands.
Three years? Try seven… Bitch.
Shane pushed his way past the throng to his workstation. When he had left work earlier, his computers had been carefully folded and stacked neatly on the left corner of his desk. Now they were scattered about and sticky, lying in a puddle of champagne spilling from an overturned flute.
Carefully he cleaned up the mess, tenderly wiping off each computer and replacing it in its proper place on the desk only to have Steve Adams, the man behind the Daedalus Mission and sole designer of the Global Exploratory Manned Module titan project, collapse on his desk sending his precious computers bouncing to the floor. Steve, the grand architect of GEMM. The architect of Shane's shattered life.
Shane scrambled to keep his computers from being crushed beneath the feet of the drunken scientists and technicians. "You should be more careful with your toys… dick."
The crude remark cut Shane deeply. He bit back a scathing remark. He could wait. After seven long and lonely years, he could wait a bit longer.
Prior to the launch of the Daedalus rocket, several probes carrying broadcast equipment were dispatched to the proposed landing site on Titan to bear witness to the first manned mission to a Saturnian body.
A voice broke in over the revelry. "Hey everybody quiet down, it's starting. This is it." The historical event was not just broadcast to the Confederation Space Agency teams that had made the mission possible, but to every citizen of Sol herself.
All eyes focused on the large TriD screen dominating one wall of the room. GEMM could clearly be seen slowly dropping towards Titans surface. This was a huge publicity campaign more than anything else. The fate of the deep space exploration program rested on the success of this mission.
The President of the Planetary Confederacy was watching the events unfold from his apartments on Phobos. A former cosmonaut himself, President Patrick Stark, through an ironic twist of fate could never set foot on a planets surface again. A congenital heart defect had made it's presence known while he was a young man building Xanadu, the first of the Lagrange Satellites of Earth. Normal planetary gravity would destroy his fragile heart.
He had staked his political life on this moment and the payoff would be huge. As he watched GEMM descend through the airless star filled sky of Titan he knew his administration's re-election was guaranteed for another eight years. He watched the TriD set with almost gleeful anticipation
The assembled throng stood in marked silence, transfixed by the scene unfolding before them. All watched as GEMM, carrying three cosmonauts from the founding member states of the Confederacy; Russia, the United States and Canada, slowly fell to the rocky surface of Saturn's sixth moon.
The craft resembled the 150 year old designs of the Lunar Landers of the Apollo missions to Terra's moon only superficially. This vessel was larger by far and more robust, enabling it to land in Titans considerably greater gravitational field.
Shane turned to look back at the assembled group. He saw Karen holding Steve tightly, her face was filled with admiration and reflected pride as she looked up into Steve's glacier blue eyes. He never took his eyes from the screen.
Shane watched the rest of the group as they savoured the moment. All of his friends. Some friends. He knew they secretly laughed at him behind his back. They had known what was going on all along. Bastards. Well, let them laugh.
Was it really seven years ago?
Seven years earlier, Dr. Shane Kessman had just been selected as the head of the R&D department for the GEMM phase of the Daedalus Titan mission. His track record was sterling. His unmanned probes to Ganymede were an unparalleled success. The descent and landing stages of his three probes had worked flawlessly. Not only had he aided in gathering crucial information on third satelite of the Jovian system, but it had paved the way for the manned deep space projects. The outer planets were finally within the grasp of man.
Not long after his appointment, a fresh faced wunderkind was assigned to his team. With youthful enthusiasm and brilliant recommendations from his colleagues at MIT, doctoral candidate, Steve Adams was warmly welcomed into the fold.
Steve regarded Shane as a mentor, almost a father figure. He ate dinner in the Kessman household more nights than not and was constantly fussed over by Shane's lovely young bride, a former graduate student of Dr. Kessman.
The team worked well together. Steve was as brilliant as his background showed him to be. He suggested several changes to the GEMM systems and eventually to the Daedalus project as a whole. Many of these changes had actually originated with Shane in all night discussions over coffee at Starbucks.
"Look Shane, I think I should be the one to pitch these ideas to the director. What have I got to lose? If they laugh at them, so what. What's the worst they can do? They'll just put it up to the "enthusiasms of youth" and forget about it. But you have a reputation to uphold. If this fails, the damage could be devastating to your career. See my point?"
Shane had to admit, the kid had a point.
"Besides, it's all for the good of the project. There's no 'I' in team. Am I right?"
Shane agreed that Steve was right.
Little by little, Steve spent less time working with the team and more time with CSA Director Ivan Semenov. When the rest of Shane's team complained about taking up Steve's slack, he just smiled wanly and told them it was all right, it was for the good of the project.
The spacecraft was nearly down, carefully balanced atop a narrow flaming spire. The flare from it's retro rocket kicked up a huge cloud of debris. The craft was completely obscured within a veil of smoke and dust kicked up by its own exhaust
After a gruelling round of disappointments at work, Shane and Steve had fought bitterly over several aspects of the program; Steve had won out in the end. Shane came home to find his beautiful wife waiting for him. Suitcase by her side.
"Before you say anything," Karen began, "I just want you to know it's not your fault. It's both our faults really. It's neither. We both want different things out of life. Besides, your eleven years older. I'm too immature for you. You need someone your own age. Someone who understands you better." Without a tear, she walked out of his life. A week later she picked up Steve in the cherry red Fiat Ground Effect Shane had bought her for her 27th birthday. Steve had had the audacity to smile and wave to him. He had won this round as well.
After what seemed an eternal wait, the blossom of dust began to dissipate and GEMM rested in all of her white gleaming glory on the surface of Titan. After another interminable pause, a hatch in its side slid open and a ladder dropped to the rocky ground below.
Shane watched with growing anticipation. Steve had stolen his wife, his work, his glory, his moment in the sun. He had casually walked into Shane's life and robbed it of all meaning. He claimed all of Shane's achievements for his own and relegated him to a mere footnote in the annals of space exploration. A footnote among men.
But GEMM was still his baby. Regardless of whether or not his name was attached concomitantly with hers, he had poured his soul into every aspect of her design. He had climbed through her and over her until they were one. He had given her a part of his battered soul. Prior to launch, he outfitted her with a token of his lasting love. A small gift to be sure, but a powerful one. In his desk he had secreted a keepsake, an exact replica of the gift he had given her.
Yuri Gagarin the Second, the great, great grandson of Earth's first human space explorer appeared at the opening of the ship. Throughout the room and indeed across Mars, Earth, Luna and the Belt Colonies, a single cheer was launched from every human voice as one.
Unlike his stoically proud forefather, Yuri disregarded the carefully worded statement of bold ventures and the surmounting of insurmountable obstacles. Instead, he waved to the nearest probe/camera cum audience bellowed a mighty, "Alley Oop," and leapt from the hatch to the ground. The worlds held a collective breath as he stumbled and landed on his face plate. He lay still for a moment before theatrically pushing himself upright, throwing both arms in the air and proclaiming, "I'm okay."
The two remaining voyagers, Paul Filipek of Canada and Alain Grubb of the United States were more cautious in their descent from the module and chose to use the ladder in an admittedly less heroic, but also far less potentially lethal exfiltration of GEMM. They gambolled about awkwardly in what they felt was proper cosmonaut fashion as the earlier pioneers to Luna and Mars had done.
Shane, Steve, Karen and the rest of the CSA Daedalus project team watched as the Titan crew planted the flag of the Confederacy. They saluted the flag smartly, then, as if of one mind, all turned sharply to the module. They appeared to be staring at it, then broke into a desperate run away from the craft.
The scene on the TriD suddenly blossomed brilliant white before filters cut in and reduced visibility to near zero before blacking out all together.
After a moment of stunned silence, voices pumped through from mission control atop the western rim of Mount Olympus could be heard over the TEAM Daedalus project office's internal communications system.
"What the hell was that?"
"Is there a problem with the feed?"
"I'm checking… there is no problem on our end. The problem appears to be from the Titan feed."
"Do we still have feed from the orbiting return craft?"
"Yes. Live feed is still active. Switching to live feed from the Titan Return Vehicle now."
The cameras from the automated TRV focused on the GEMM landing site below. Instead of showing the lander and the three cosmonauts, the only thing visible was a red glowing crater and series of ripples in the regolith apparently formed by shock waves radiating out from what appeared to be GEMM's last known position.
The members of Team Daedalus watched in stunned disbelief, the images being displayed. Not a word was spoken. All the engineers and scientists were struck dumb with shock. A phone rang. Somebody handed it to Steve.
"Dr. Adams. Sir, it's for you. It's the President." All eyes turned to Steve. With an imperceptible shift, Karen shied away from him as if she suddenly realized he was infected with plague.
"Yes Sir. I don't know Sir." A long pause followed, during which Steve's eyes widened as if to burst from his skull. His features went slack. "Yes Sir. I understand Sir. Effective immediately." The phone dropped from his hand and clattered loudly in the tomblike silence of the room. Steve, his face hollow, his body limp, turned away from the murmuring crowd, crushed. His career, his life, was over by presidential order
Shane smiled as he depressed a button on a small device in his hand. The mechanism sent an encrypted message to the package in his desk, an exact replica of the symbol of his love that he had placed aboard GEMM.
In the final moments before the explosion took his life, Steve imagined the shock waves radiating out from Titan. He could almost hear the beauty in the music of the rings
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