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June 5, 2393
Sy awoke just before she was hurled out of bed by the force of the turbulence. The mini transport module was flung around violently by the gale force winds, and she cursed Mitz silently as she rose painfully to her feet.
"Mitz!" she bellowed as she staggered to the control panel at the front of the craft. "Mitz! Get your tin butt in here, now!"
The craft jumped and bucked, throwing her to the floor again. She cracked her head hard on the control seat as she went down. More curses, this time not so silent, were directed at Mitz as she struggled to her feet once more.
"I am apologetic, Sylver!" Mitz whirred as he finally glided into the tiny control room. "I am a pathetic piece of metal, as you say! I am apologetic!"
Mitz quickly made his way over to the control panel, a probe already disengaged from his small round metal body so that he could plug into the computer terminal. A whistling sound sang through the tiny space as he brought the craft back under control, stabilizing their flight through the rough winds with the mindless mathematical ability that was inherent in models of his kind.
"What took you so long? I thought I told you not to leave the control panel for any reason while I was sleeping! Can't you follow a simple order anymore, or must I have you reprogrammed?"
"My humblest, deepest, most contrite apologies, Sylver. I was below..."
"Below consorting with the data interpreter, I imagine! Must I have it reprogrammed, then, so that you will be able to stay on task?" Sy knew that she would never send either model to the 'Scramble Shop', as they called it, but Mitz didn't. He hadn'tquite mastered the art of sarcasm--yet. She knew that the longer he was with her, the more he integrated her own personality into his program, so it should only be a matter of time before he caught on to her sarcasm.
She sighed and shook her head. When she'd first purchased him, this new model that was so 'owner friendly' that it could incorporate the actions and responses of a human counterpart into its program, she had thought that he would be a great robotic droid to have around. She had been able to imagine all sorts of things that he could do, all of the time and effort that would be saved. How could she have imagined at the time what Mitz would be like? How could she have known that he would take into account her own flaunting of authority, and not obey her simple commands? But he was almost a person himself now, so much so that she knew she could never have him reprogrammed.
"No! You must not! I grovel at your feet, Sylver!" Mitz lowered his altitude until he almost touched the floor, his sensor lights turning from green to a dark worried purple. "I will perform at acceptable levels in the future if you do not."
"Oh, knock it off. Just make sure you don't leave your position again when I have ordered you not to! It's fortunate that we only hit turbulence. We could have run into the surface, you know!" Sy tried to frown at the small robotic machine hovering in front of her, but found it hard to do. Not that he would care if she did, anyway, he had not assimilated the ability to read body language yet, either.
Sy turned and left the control room, making her way to the cleaning terminal in the back of the craft. After removing her sleeping suit and tossing it carelessly into the recycle bin, she stepped into the small, cylindrical tube of the cleansing chamber. The curved transparent fiberplex door closed and sealed behind her with a whoosh.
"Cleaning shower, medium hot," she said. Immediately, an ultra-fine pressurized mist of heated water began to spray from thousands of tiny holes in the top of the tube.
"Music, Mozart, random selection," Sy requested, as deliciously warm water flowed over her. The strains of Mozart's Symphony Number 31 filled the chamber.
"Ultrasound massage, medium density." Sy sighed with pleasure as the mist and music swirled around her, and her sore muscles were soothed.
In ten minutes, the music, water and massage all ceased abruptly, precisely as it was programmed to do. The warming lights switched on, and a current of heated air began to swirl through the tiny room. Sy turned her face up to the glowing orange-yellow light, knowing that all too soon she would be on the planet's surface, shivering and half-frozen despite her Polatex parka and Solarboots.
"Moisturize, ultra-violet block, scent," she directed after the drying cycle switched off. A microscopic ionized mist shot out of the ducts at her sides, coating her body with time-release microbeads of moisturizing scented sunscreen.
"Exit," Sy commanded, and the fiberplex door whooshed open again. She hurried to the compact storage area, flicked on the wafer-thin viewscreen mounted on the wall. She touched her fingertip to the appropriate articles of clothing as each appeared on the screen, choosing a magenta serpentine suit, the one emblazoned with her rank and origin in iridescent holographic gold,; charcoal gray Solarboots; and a white Polatex parka. As an afterthought, she ordered a Glaciashield face protector, and self-heating micro-thin undergarments in holo-pink. Just in case, she told herself. It couldn't hurt to be prepared, could it?
She punched the 'select' button, and within seconds the automated filing system delivered her selections to her via the small square opening above her.
She loved the gadgetry of her mini-transport, and though her superiors had often suggested that she park it and use the particle transport units instead, she never would. No, thank you! No particle transports for her! She knew it was faster, but as for reliability, well, she just didn't trust them. It would only have taken her seconds to arrive on Venus if she had used a one, instead of the three hours it took her in the transport. But she knew that, unless she was forced, there was no way she'd ever step into a particle stimulator.
Many accidents had occurred when they had first been invented. She could still vividly recall the news accounts of passengers arriving on the other side missing important body parts, or worse yet, with some parts in the wrong place. None of that for her! No way! Not in this Millennium! She'd stick with her transport, and besides, she liked traveling with all the comforts of home at her disposal.
"Trajectory update, include arrival time," she said to the air as she wiggled into her undergarments.
A pleasant male voice came from the earring in her left ear, the one linked to the transport's computer. "Arrival time in twenty Earth minutes. Trajectory correct. Docking unit ready. Contact host?"
"Yes, JayK. That is all." Sy grabbed the laser stick from her grooming table, pointed it at a seam of the serpentine suit she had pulled on, changed the setting to 'join', and pressed the button. The broad-beam laser sealed the fabric in an invisible line as she moved the beam up her leg over the seam. She finished sealing the rest of the garment, then stomped her feet in the Solarboots. The reflection screen opened as she bent over the table, allowing her to see her image as she took a few swipes at her long, silver-blonde hair with a forced-air brush. The frizzy ends immediately fell into place. She glanced quickly at her makeup, unable to stop herself, then smiled at the now obsolete habit.
It had only been a week since she'd opted to have pigment implanted into her lips and along a thin line to outline her lashes, and she still forgot that her makeup always appeared perfect now. The fibers that they had melded to her lashes made them appear longer and fuller than they ever had before. Her nails were permanently tinted, now an opalescent silver, but by using an ultra-spectrum light bar, she could change the color whenever she wanted. Sy couldn't imagine why she had waited so long to have the procedure done; after all, it was completely painless!
The reflection screen receded back into the wall as Sy stood and strode back into the control room. To her amazement, Mitz was still there, hovering over the panel and minding his duties.
"You are dismissed for now, Mitz. I will take over. Please go below and ready the Trover for my use." Sy slipped into the seat, punched in a landing sequence, then sat back to wait.
Her nerves bunched as she thought about the upcoming appointment. She hadn't wanted this responsibility, but her superiors had insisted that she be the one to meet with Hargrave. She had argued, but they had persevered, saying that since she was the only geo-thermal investigator that they had, it had to be her.
She jumped to her feet, and began to pace the tiny room, trying to formulate exactly what she would say to Hargrave at this important meeting. She knew that the surface of Pluto could support life in the geo-bubble, but he wanted to know if it were possible for CosmoTeck to Catalyze the atmosphere into a permanent change, as they had Mars and Venus three years ago.
She didn't think he'd understand when she told him that the plan just wasn't practical. Jupiter was their next target for global adjustment, not Pluto. CosmoTeck had chosen Jupiter for its immense size, alone. And that size would determine the length of the adjustment period.
Since the population of Earth had outgrown the size of the planet one hundred years ago, CosmoTeck had searched for a way to make the other planets in the Milky Way livable to humans. Their first viable solution had been the geo-bubble, which allowed an Earth-like atmosphere to be synthesized under a hundred-mile canopy of geo-fabric. This allowed scientists and geo-thermalists to live and work right at the site.
Eight years ago, they had discovered the holistic atmosphere ray, Zerxon. Their first target had been Mars, and it had been a challenge! For that planet alone, it had taken five years of intensive studies and therma-glacia therapy with the Zerxon ray. Sylver herself had lived on the planet in a geo-bubble for two of those years. Not something that she would ever want to repeat, but she would have no choice if Hargrave insisted on Pluto. Her superiors had all but ordered her to take over the Hargrave account, and that meant that she would be basically on her own. Besides, there was no one else at CosmoTeck who could control the ray, only her.
She sighed, raked her long fingers through her hair, and paced more vigorously. Surely she could think of something to change his mind? Some indisputable point that would prove he was wrong in his desire to Catalyze Pluto? Her mind scrambled for a solution. Pluto could be Catalyzed at the same time as Jupiter, she supposed. She knew that she would have to do at least two week's worth of testing on the actual surface of Pluto before she could say that with any certainty. No, she was unlikely to be able to think of an excuse good enough to stop Hargrave. When he set his mind to something, he never changed it.
She had primarily rejected the idea of Catalyzing Pluto because she did not want to spend any amount of time at all with Hargrave. The obstinate man! They had met before on numerous occasions, and his personality always abraded Sylver; as well as the fact that he never seemed to be able to keep his thoughts to himself. She could not abide his arrogance and not-so-discreet interest!
"Docking in five seconds," the pleasant male voice of JayK intoned into her ear.
"Thank you, JayK, that is acceptable."
Sylver hurried below, stopping only briefly to grab her overnight case, parka and shield. She strapped the small, square case to her shoulder, grateful for the ionic compactor that could fit so many things into such a small space, then jumped into the forced-air tube. In seconds, she was standing on the under-deck of the transport after gliding to a stop on a cushion of air.
"Is the Trover ready, Mitz?" she asked the droid as she strode by him.
"Yes, as you requested, Sylver."
"Excellent. Thank you, Mitz. Please see to it that the transport is taken care of in my absence."
The transport gave a tiny lurch as it bumped the docking bay. Sy reached down to enable her Solarboots before opening the departure hatch. The Trover, hover mode already engaged, stood waiting, a shining sleek aero-bot finished in holo-silver. After climbing in, setting the directional controls and closing the fiberplex pilot's cover, Sy settled back for the trip to the surface of Venus. The Trover blasted out of the departure hatch, soared over the docking units, then dropped straight down towards the planet's surface. The temperature, despite the comfort control heat indexulator, plummeted with it.
That was something that the Zerxon ray had not managed to reconcile yet, the extremes in temperature. Though the surface was still livable, and was indeed already home to millions, it was still exceptionally cold on the dark side. Sy estimated that it would take another three years for the atmosphere to completely stabilize.
She sighed, then shrugged. What did it matter, anyway? Her Solarboots had already adjusted to the temperature, as had her undergarments, so she was now exactly the same temperature as she had been before. And, once she was on the surface, she would use her face shield until she entered Hargrave Enterprises, so her skin would be protected from any chance of frostbite.
The magenta serpentine suit contracted suddenly with the increase of G-force generated from the speeding craft, then evened out the pressure over her entire body surface, preventing unconsciousness.
The Trover came to a screaming stop on the landing pad, a few hundred meters from the front of the Hargrave Enterprise Tower. The compression from her suit relaxed, and Sy took a long, calming breath. The latch popped on the pilot cover, and she jumped from the seat of the Trover. She grabbed the electronic key, her Polatex parka and the gossamer thin face shield, then locked and re-latched the cover.
A frigid wind whipped her hair about her face and burned her cheeks with searing cold. She quickly donned the parka, and settled the thin fabric shield over her head before she punched the glowing buttons on the electronic key. A series of blips sounded as the hover mode shut down, and the Trover slowly settled to the landing pad. Its holographic paint glimmered brightly in a series of blinks before it disappeared from view entirely, concealed and in lockdown mode.
A sharp gust of wind buffeted her, hurrying her along toward the Tower. She would have liked to loiter just to buy herself a bit more time, even though the meeting was less than fifteen Earth minutes away, but the wind was merciless, and so she ran the short distance to the entrance.
A personal escort was there to greet her as she divested herself of her parka and shield, handing it over to the Venusian gratefully. The holographic emblem on her suit proclaimed her importance, and the escort immediately showed her to Hargrave's office.
"Sylver! My dear! I had hoped it would be you that they sent. I requested it, as a matter of fact. How are you?" Hargrave's deep voice boomed at her from across the huge room as soon as the heavy door shut behind her.
Sy suppressed a grimace. "I am excellent, Hargrave, just excellent. And yourself?" Sy barely managed to keep her perfectly straight teeth from grinding together as she exchanged pleasantries with the man.
"No complaints here! I see you are on time, for once!" Hargrave rose from the huge, hover chair that he had been sitting in as she crossed the room towards him. "I'll never understand your aversion to the particle transport, Sylver, my dear. It would be much quicker, you know."
Sy tried not to sneer at his handsome face as she replied. "Yes, I do know, but thank you for informing me, yet again. I prefer my transport. And, Hargrave, I am always on time!"
And I am NOT your dear anything! As for the particle transport, if Hargrave wanted to use them at his own peril, well, she could not think of a more fitting end for the odious man! She hoped that his demise was particularly unfortunate; perhaps the transporter could put him back together inside out?
Not a very pleasant thought, Sylver, Hargrave's thought erupted into her mind.
She sent him a glare, not even bothering to tell him to restrain his thoughts. She had asked him previously on several occasions not to harass her that way.
He moved closer to take her hand in his, and she clenched her teeth harder against the pain of his touch. He kissed her wrist lightly, holding her hand firmly as she tried to pull away.
Sy couldn't help her inelegant snort at his gesture. "Please, Hargrave! You've resorted to hand-kissing, now?" She tried again to jerk her hand back, but he only gripped it tighter, a hard smile curving his lips.
His impossibly green eyes glittered at her. "I see that you've finally gotten your nails done." His fingers stroked lightly over her permanently tinted nails before releasing her hands.
Sy resisted the urge to wipe them on the fabric of her suit, valiantly ignoring the tingle of awareness that sizzled through her along with the sharp sting of emotional pain. Damn him, why did he have this effect on her? Why must he always ignore her request that he not touch her?
"Yes, I have. Can we get down to business here, Hargrave?"
He shrugged, then motioned for her to have a seat on one of the five hover chairs clustered around the presentation table. "Suit yourself. My associates should be here shortly."
Sy took a seat, as far away from his place at the head of the table as she could get. Hargrave smirked at her knowingly as he took his own chair, but did not intrude upon her thoughts again.
He punched a few buttons on the arm of his chair, and the black, glassy surface of the presentation table lit up, showing the first image in his presentation.]
Sy noted that it was a particularly effective image. The live link to a digi-cam showed a very crowded part of Earth, the people shoulder to shoulder as they straggled down a wide sidewalk. Hover cars filled the sky, blasting and blaring at each other in the horrendous traffic. An endless sea of skyscrapers towered over the pedestrians, all but blocking out the sunlight.
Sy turned to Hargrave, her eyebrows arched. "So, that's the stratagem you'll take, hmm?"
Before he could answer, the massive doors opened, and the escort ushered three men inside. Each nodded to Sy as they passed her, coming to the table to take their chairs.
After each man was seated, and the heavy doors were closed again, Hargrave stood.
"Gentlemen, let me introduce you to Sylver Dreeming, the foremost geo-thermalist at CosmoTeck. She is here to decide if our plans for Pluto will become an actuality. You are here to provide your expert opinions should she need to be convinced as to the merits of our plan."
After the introductions were completed, the meeting moved along smoothly. The images that Hargrave brought up on the presentation table were numerous, every one showing the terrible results of overcrowding. The population increases on both Mars and Venus, despite their inhospitable climates, were also growing at an alarming rate. Hargrave argued that they needed to step up their pace in Catalyzation of the planets. Even if Jupiter was their next target, Pluto would still be Catalyzed eventually. And since Hargrave Enterprises was the sole owner of the cold, little planet, he thought it should be now, rather than later.
He pointed out that since Pluto was farthest from the Sun, it would undoubtedly be the coldest planet that would be habitable after the Zerxon ray treatment--at least for the first ten years or so. After that, well, who could tell? He wanted to completely automate and industrialize the tiny planet before the atmosphere stabilized. In order to do that, it would have to be Catalyzed in the near future.
The meeting lasted for an hour. During that time, Sy did not voice a single argument. Hargrave had all of them answered already.
She couldn't help an internal sigh; he had won. She had known he would. There was not one firm opposition that she could make, either. What could she say? That she didn't want to Catalyze a planet because that would entail spending an extreme amount of time with Hank Hargrave? And that she did not want to do that because she didn't like the way that he always pushed his thoughts on her? That she didn't like the telepath's unwanted attentions?
She could just see CosmoTeck buying that one! Sy silently accepted her defeat, consoling herself with the fact that her three-month off-duty time was due to be activated in less than two weeks. On nine months, off three, that was her schedule, and she liked it that way. Surely, during those three months, she could find a way to inure herself to her own feelings for the aggravating man?
Hargrave finally grew silent, and Sy chose that moment to rise to her feet. "Gentlemen, I believe we are in agreement on this: Pluto needs to be Catalyzed. I will set the date for five months hence. Any questions?"
Hargrave gave her a hard look. "Why so much time, Sylver? I had hoped to start on this right away."
"I will have to schedule a geo-bubble to be set up on the surface, then I'll have to do my studies there to check compatibility. That should take about two weeks. After that, a second Zerxon ray will have to be constructed, if we are to Catalyze Jupiter and Pluto simultaneously. I am uncertain how long that will take, undoubtedly at least two months. It should be finished by the time I am back on duty again, which will be in approximately two weeks and three months." Sy shot Hargrave a look, daring him to object again.
He conceded with a nod. Sy nodded in return, then excused herself. She had much to do.
We'll talk later, my dear. Hargrave's thought followed her out, but she ignored it, only walking faster in defense.
After retrieving her coat and shield, she returned to her Trover without preamble. Originally, she had planned to spend the night on Venus and meet with a few of CosmoTeck's people to discuss the progress of the atmosphere, but now she felt that she did not have time. If she were going to take her off-duty time as was scheduled--and she had no desire for delays where that was concerned--she would have to make the most of the next two weeks.
As soon as she returned to the transport unit at the docking bay, she set new coordinates, ordered Mitz to see to the Trover, and used her ear-link to contact CosmoTeck. That geo-bubble on Pluto needed to be set up within the next few days. After contacting the set-up crew, who would send out a group of droids to set up the bubble, she linked with the supply department and ordered her Cruiser to be readied and stocked with supplies and equipment that would be needed on Pluto.
She did wish that she could just take the transport unit instead, but it was simply too small to carry all of the supplies that she would need, even with the use of an ionic compactor.
"Incoming up-link request from Venus, Sylver. It is Hank Hargrave." JayK announced.
Sylver sighed heavily. Didn't the man know how to accept victory gracefully?
"Open the link, JayK."
"Sylver? Just wanting to know why you didn't make use of your overnight accommodations here at the Tower. There really was no need to hurry off like that." Hargrave's booming voice seemed to be right in her ear, much too loud. She'd have to check the modulation on the earpiece as soon as the call was over. It was supposed to adjust noise levels automatically. Perhaps it was just one of his telepathic tricks, though she hadn't thought that he could do that sort of thing from this range.
"If you want this project underway in five months, I have to get the ball rolling. Now. I'll be on the surface of Pluto in less than three days."
"Good, good. I had wanted to ask when you'd be leaving for Pluto, but you rushed off so fast that I didn't have a chance. I'll be joining you there in four days, then."
Sy gasped. He would do no such thing!
"And before you voice the objections that you are sure to have, I have already cleared it with your superiors. You have no choice in the matter!"
She could hear the amusement in his voice. Damn him! "The hell you say, Hargrave! It's not going to happen. I'll be linking up with my office as soon as you are offline."
"As I said, see you on Pluto in four days, Sylver." The link subsided into silence, and Sy cursed roundly.
"JayK, connect me immediately to my office!" she hissed.
After a frustrating and completely futile round of links, Sy had to admit defeat once again. Hargrave had gone all the way to the top with his request, and it had been granted. There was no way to rescind the order. Damn! The next two weeks were going to be sheer torture!
She only hoped that he would find living in the geo-bubble as undesirable as she always had. Perhaps that fact alone would keep him away while the planet was undergoing Catalyzation. Not that she thought he'd be able to feel the atmospheric moods as she did, but she could always hope, couldn't she?