Thorium powered nuclear reactors coupled with ion propulsion engines provided fast, efficient, and reliable transportation within the inner solar system. They also proved hideously expensive. Transport from Earth to Mars, Venus, or the Asteroid Belt proved unobtainable for anyone who was not directly connected to an Entente expedition. The development of cheap, reliable, and reasonably fast intra-stellar transportation, therefore, became a hobby horse for all manner of amateur inventors. -Prof. Duncan, The Histories
The bow of The Huitzilopochtli cut through the lunar dune sending a spray of fine lunar dust into Matt’s helmet. His ship was skipping with keen agility across the lunar surface. His solar sails were finally really working and for once he was enjoying the test drive not as a trial, or proof of concept, but as the fun excursion he had always intended it to be.
Mateo Hernandez was only 22 years old but he felt like he had been working on this project essentially his whole life. He had been born on Earth a few years before the war began. His family lived in a small fishing village on the Baja peninsula. When he was small, when the orbital uprising was a far away, distant thing, his grandfather had taught him to sail. His earliest memories were the spray of the surf on his face on sunny days in the sea of Cortez. He had a carefree and jovial childhood.
At least for a time.
Then the war came to Earth. While most nations quickly took sides, Mexico did its best to be a reliable neutral. They provided economic support to the US and profited where they could, but they studiously avoided fighting themselves. When the US collapsed late in the war the economic boom that had elevated Mexico suddenly evaporated. For a few years the old, bad habits of his country, political corruption, cartel aggression, and the general neglect of the common people had been held at bay. Without the Americanos’ money coming south the worst of those bad habits came back with a vengeance. Mateo and his family fled Baja. But instead of heading north, like so many, his father had had the foresight to see that south was the way to go. Using his grandfather’s sail boat they managed to make it all the way to Colombia. They traded the boat for passage to the Caribbean and eventually ended up on Brayden Holtz’s old island where the first people to be called Brayds took them in.
The journey had not been easy. Mateo’s grandfather died of exposure during the sailing trip south, his father had been killed by a jaguar of all things when his family was crossing through Columbia, and when his Mother, two older sisters, and he arrived on the coast to be picked up by the Brayds they were emaciated and infected with all manner of dangerous diseases. Still, they were alive.
When the US collapsed a huge border war broke out with most of the southwest led by Texas claiming to be the continuity United States and trying to secure their borders with Mexico and California. Meanwhile the Chinese were looking like they would be the new masters of Earth, having backed and sponsored the rebellion when it came to Earth. Then vengeful remnants of the US military decided to nuke China as well as Lagrange 5 which had become the orbital base of the resistance. There was some retaliatory strikes against New York and Washington, DC, but those cities had already been ruined and depopulated by the war.
So while the world burned and the chaos gradually gave way to the emerging Entente, Mateo was on Holtz Island recovering with his family. When it was built, Holtz’s island was a kind of secret Shangri La, a kind of Technologist Kashmir. Once Brayden died and his technology was seized and distributed, it became a ghost town with nothing special to distinguish it. When the Rebellion began to grow into the War of the Worlds devotees of Brayden including a few old employees moved back to this island. What to most was an empty rock, a dead zone whose cost of maintenance was too high and potential benefit too low, was to these old devotees an out of the way place to hide and rebuild. At first most people ignored them. Who cared what these delusional apostles of one of Hisotry’s most notorious cult leaders were up to? Let them have a ghost town in the middle of the ocean. Then the war turned bad for the US. The UN fell, the US collapsed, and all of a sudden an isolated location with self sufficient food, water, and electricity production became very, very appealing.
While most other people were fighting daily just to get a little bit of clean drinking water, Mateo was learning the technology on Holtz Island. He was only 12 when they arrived but everyone who could work was needed. He had an innate cleverness and knack for using technology. He very quickly became the star pupil to everyone of the first generation Brayds resurrecting the Island. During the day he became well versed in the technologies that would save Humanity after the war while in the early mornings and evenings he would sail the straights between the Island and the coast.
By the time he was 16 the world had settled down. The political, economic, and financial settlements that would come to be called the Entente had been signed. Armstrong on the Moon had fallen, and while Bandits and militia Warlords vied for local control in some places they knew their time was limited. Soon enough the Entente mustered its resources to put them down too. Mateo, now calling himself Matt, was also becoming increasingly independent. His oldest sister had completely assimilated into the Island. She had married one of the original Brayds and even taken a new name. His Mother and his other sister were making plans to return to the family’s hometown in Baja. Matt himself was growing bored and restless. He had already gained near mastery of the food synthesizers, water recyclers, and programmable manufacturing machines. While at the same time the small straight of calm water between the island and the coast felt more like a kiddie pool than a real excursion. He was a restless young man in search of adventure and where he lived was growing smaller and less challenging by the day.
But what about space?
Space was infinite and dangerous. Rebuilding Earth’s moon colonies would require a lot of skilled synthers and proggers, skills Mateo had just acquired. So at the age of seventeen he bid farewell to his home soil and immigrated to a new Earth Colony, Aldrin, which would replace Armstrong as the mining and refining hub of the Moon. So for five years he worked in various roles, mostly as a Journeyman Technician and training others on Brayden Holtz’s technology. He was critical to getting the food synthesizers online, he was the second to the chief technician for an ice removal project that not only opened up a critical vein of Thorium, but also provided a large bump to Aldrin’s water reserves, and he had even combined synthing and progging to provide cheap, durable clothing to the people of Aldrin. True, he was extremely young, and no he wasn’t nominally in charge of any of these projects, other people did get the credit for them. And it was true that he never could have accomplished these things on his own, but they also might not have happened without him. So by the age of 20 he had become a highly desirable consultant with a lot of free time. He even turned down offers from other lunar colonies, and even Mars, to stay in Aldrin and work on his pet project: Solar Sails.
Today was his tenth test drive. His ship, The Huitzilopochtli, named for the Mexica sun god, was a long narrow kayak on three large, narrow, stainless steel wheels. The mainsail was a triangle about five meters tall and two meters wide at the base. He had fiddled with all manner of materials and coatings looking for something that could absorb photonic energy the way canvass would absorb wind energy. He had faced failure after failure, each test drive ending in more embarrassing fashion than the last. Until finally today. Today he was skimming across the lunar surface with grace and speed, almost as if he was back in the Sea of Cortez with his grandfather. Matt couldn’t help but smile as his visor was splashed with a fine spray of moon dust each time his bow cut through a lunar dune. Today had been the day he had been striving for and for a few hours he enjoyed himself, indifferent to the concerns of reality that had weighed so heavily on him through his young life.
But eventually those concerns would not be ignored. After about three hours skimming the dunes he got a ping on his suit’s comm system. Then another, and another. He pulled in the mainsail and gently slowed his craft so that he could see what the el lio was about. It was a meeting reminder. His current consulting work was with a new private company that had been contracted by the Entente to manufacture space ship parts on Aldrin. There was a good bit of Titanium on the Moon and more was coming in from Vesta on the Belt each month. The Entente had designs on building a fleet, a real fleet, that could extend their reach infinitely. Mars, Venus, the Belt, perhaps even Jupiter and beyond could be brought firmly into the Entente’s jurisdiction. America had lost, it was time to reign in all this wild west nonsense. Today, this morning in fact, was a meeting to discuss the layout of the sheet metal stamping and shaping plant. Matt hated meetings. His love of Holtz tech came from the actual use of the machines. Sure his practical skill gave him insights that the suits with Entente badges needed, but he really could care less. Which is why he had forgotten about this meeting. He pinged his contact in the company and said he was running late, that he’d be there eventually. He had the wisdom to stay within visual range of Aldrin, but he was still a good distance away. Also he had been so enamored with a functioning solar sail that he had forgotten to figure out how to tack with a light powered sail. With a heavy sigh he opened up his sail and began the slow ride back to Aldrin. He was a long time in returning.
“Where the hell were you!” It was Trella Han, his lead company contact, “I was so embarrassed! People kept asking me all these technical questions I didn’t know the answer to! I could only say ‘That’s a question for Matt.’ so many times!”
“Sorry.” Matt replied with a tone somewhere between ashamed and annoyed. He really didn’t care for the so called work he was doing these days. To him sitting around talking and writing reports wasn’t work, it was an excuse to be paid. He had barely gotten The Huitzilopochtli into the maintenance hangar and gotten his vacc helmet off before Trella had found and confronted him. “I got caught up on my…project.” He said.
“Oh yeah!” She replied, “Your project! That stupid thing!” She hollered waving her hand at his Lunar skiff. “Why do you even bother with that crap? You have real work! Real work you are being paid A LOT of Prosperity Coin to do!”
Matt’s faced screwed up in a frustrated scowl. He really, really wanted to tell Trella to go to hell. He really didn’t tolerate anyone insulting his ship or his hobbies. To him it felt like they were insulting the one good memory of his childhood. Instead he kept his cool and simply replied through gritted teeth, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. Give me the specs on the new plant and I’ll submit an evaluation A-S-A-P.”
“You better!” Trella replied in frustration, “Remember, you may be a skilled technician, but you’re not Entente! You answer to the Entente and they don’t like being insulted this way!” With that she stormed off, out of the hanger back into the main concourse of Aldrin Station. Matt watched her go with frustration and anger. He wasn’t used to be talked to this way, and he really, really didn’t like it. These Entente types, they were so caught up in their own fake accreditation and made up status that they completely forgot that buried underneath the paperwork, bureaucracy, regulations, and discussions were real people doing real work. Real, necessary tasks upon which they were completely dependent.
After she left he did a once over inspection of The Huitzilopochtli. The first successful test drive had been hard on her. The monocoque titanium shell had been dinged up badly from the flying rocks, the wheels had shed a few shell treds, and the suspension had been shot to hell. The Sail though was in good kit. He had figured out a special lithium-xenon polymer coating that could catch photons, but in all of his other test drives where he got thrust the sail would rip itself apart in short order and he’d be pushing his ship back into the hanger. Which even in 1/6th G was tedious and demoralizing. This new double-layered hexacomb graphene he had devised seemed to be doing the trick. By layering a smaller hexacomb pattern over another hexacomb with larger hexagons he seemed to shore up the structural integrity of the sail. He wasn’t done refining the ship, not by a long shot, but with a good sail to build around the rest of the project would go quickly.
That evening things were not going quickly. He had spent all day in his tiny, studio apartment staring at screens. He was eligible to get a netbox fitted, but he couldn’t stand those things. They just seemed to get in the way. So Matt was working old school with a small tablet linked up to holo keyboards and wireless monitors. Except he wasn’t working. The layout proposed by the Entente was so stupid he didn’t know where to begin. It didn’t account for any of the practical concerns of passing material from one station to another or how the people would have to move to get everything around the shop. The limited space in the lunar plant was also a problem. He had no idea how to start and he had even less of an idea on how to diplomatically propose a solution. So after a few hours of going stir crazy in his room he left and went to the cafe on the main concourse of the Station. Aldrin had been meant to replace Armstrong as a blue collar Moon City, but since it was the Entente that funded, designed, and ran Aldrin a few touches of gentrification and creature comfort were thrown in for the benefit of whatever officials might end up on Luna. As he sat in the cafe drinking synthetic coffee and watching the small, but earnest population of Aldrin go about their days, Matt’s mind turned from his work back to The Huitzilopochtli. He had an idea to replicate the dual hexacomb structure of the sail in the monocoque hull. Only this time he could make it out of carbon-silicate-oxides which would handle rock impacts better. Then he could reinforce the hull with aluminum-magnesium alloy ribs that are structurally strong, but also light. After sketching up a few designs and planing some time in the machine shop to put it all together he had another inspiration. To fuel his new idea he migrated from the cafe, which had bad coffee anyway, to the local bar for something a little stiffer.
He was sipping on some Lunar Coolant, the nickname for an ethanol drink that was watered down to 5% ABV and imbued with a smokey, industrial flavor by the plastic and carbon fiber equipment used to produce it. He had completely forgotten about his real job and was instead working on the next step of his project. With the sails figured out he was no longer constrained to the surface of the Moon. If he got certain things just right he may be able to build a craft capable of lifting off of limited gravity planetoids, like the Moon or asteroids, and propelling itself through space. He was so absorbed in his ideas and the tablet in front of him that he didn’t even notice Trella barking at him.
“MATT!” Came the sudden shout from directly behind him.
“Ah!” He shouted as he jumped in his seat, startled from his creative trance. “What? Who?” He stammered as he spun around to see who was shouting at him. His face immediately dropped when he saw Trella glowering at him. “Oh, it’s you.” he said catching his breath, “What’s up?”
Trella gave him the evil eye for a moment before saying, “Matt, what are you doing here?”
“Working.” He replied flatly and picking up his drink.
“Working?” She asked with an accusatory tinge to her inflection, “Working on what?”
“The layout, Okay?” Matt began in between a sip of his drink, “I was going nuts in my room so I decided to come down here.”
“Uh-huh.” Trella replied skeptically, “What have you got so far?”
“Not much.” Matt replied, “I don’t think anyone in that room ever set foot in a machine shop or fab plant, have they? It’s the worst layout I’ve ever seen. Also you guys might want to ditch the finishing equipment for the panels. These are going to be space ships, no one is going to notice the high buffered gleam. Also whatever polish you do put on the hull sections is going to get discolored anyway when they get welded to the hull frame.”
Trella gave him a curious yet suspicious look. He seemed to be telling her what she needed to hear, but she didn’t trust him, not one bit. After a moment of consideration she said, “No, not one of us have ever been in a machine shop, or a fab plant, nor have we built a space ship, or any ship for that matter. That…” She said as she paused to gather her breath. Matt could see she was getting tuned up for a big one, he braced for impact, “IS WHY WE’RE PAYING YOU AN UNGODLY AMOUNT OF MONEY TO TELL US WHAT WE DON’T KNOW!”
Matt visibly recoiled from the verbal assault. Trella had a talent, a real talent, for cowing people with her voice. Matt was always astounded at how a 44 kilogram Chinese woman could be so loud. He briefly considered building a ship powered by her admonishments. It would probably be a lot more powerful than solar sails. After the assault he quickly recomposed himself and tried to extract himself from the conversation. “I know.” He started in a conciliatory tone, “I’ll have something for you in the morning.”
“You better!” She said pointing a finger at him, “We’re already behind schedule on the planning approvals. If we haven’t finalized this in three days construction and fabrication will be delayed two whole months!”
“How?” Matt replied with a quizzical look, “I can get a shop set up for you in less than a week.”
“No you can’t!” Trella replied, “This isn’t one of those make-do-and-mend frontier-engineering jobs you’re used to! This requires approvals, requisitions, official permission! The Entente isn’t subcontracting this project, they’re owning it, stem to stern! If we miss the submission deadline we’ll have to get reapproved just to submit plans! That’s a whole other bureaucratic process! We can’t afford any more delays.”
“Well now I know.” Matt replied turning around on his stool to face the bar again, “I’ll get you something soon.”
“What do you have now?” She asked reaching over him and grabbing his tablet, “I need to give my people updates.”
“No Wait!” Matt cried trying to grab the tablet from her, but he was too slow. He watched in abject horror as she stepped away from him and began scrolling through the designs on his tablet. Her face contorted in confusion as she struggled to understand his schematics. Then her brows furrowed in blind fury as she realized what she was looking at.
“MORE SAIL BOATS!” She screamed at maximum volume. Now the other patrons of the bar stopped and turned their attention to Matt and Trella. After all everyone loves watching a good flogging. Trella, now turned up to 11 continued, “THESE DAMN SAIL BOATS! THAT’S ALL YOU’RE WORKING ON?!?! URGGGHH!” She threw the tablet at Matt, the edge of the device hitting him with some force on his forehead. Matt winced, more out of surprise than pain. The tablet fell to the floor with an uncomfortable clattering sound. Trella then got right in his face, poking an accusatory finger into his chest like she was some kind of threatening mafia don. Which, in a way, she was. “Listen here Hernandez, if we don’t have a comprehensive plan from you by six hours you’re fired! You’re off the job!” She spun on her heels and began to storm out. At the door to the bar she stopped and turned around, “Oh, and remember this is an Entente contract! If you get terminated for failure to uphold your contract you will owe us the balance of your pay! Think about that!” She then stormed away an aura of burning rage following her.
The other patrons quietly went back to their drinks. The show was over. Except one man who was sitting a few seats away from Matt. He kept his attention on Matt as he picked up his now cracked tablet and began sifting through his designs to see if anything had been lost. When Matt was sitting facing the bar again, his tablet resting on the bar the stranger said to him: “Women, huh?”
“You’re telling me.” Matt replied absently as he checked his schematics. Thankfully nothing was lost.
“Girlfriend? Fling? Wife? Poly-Partner?” The man asked Matt.
“Worse,” Matt said turning to look at the man, “She’s my boss.”
“Oh no.” The man said. “Let me guess, Entente?”
“Oh yeah.” Matt replied.
“What’re you working on?” The man asked.
“Fab shop for hull parts.” Matt began turning his attention back to his tablet, “The Etente wants a fleet.”
“Of course they do.” the man replied. “Listen, buddy, I’m a pilot. I work the Vesta haul a lot. Mind if I take a look? Considering I might be flying one of those things soon?” The man got up and wandered over to Matt and peered at his tablet.
“Well, I–” Mat stammered.
“Sails?” The man asked picking up the tablet and staring curiously at Matt’s designs. “The Entente is going to build Space Sailboats? This thing is barely big enough for one person! How am I supposed haul tens of thousands of Kilo in ore in that thing?”
“You’re not.” Matt replied flatly. While Trella could hang the Entente contract over his head to cow him, this stranger was an unwanted distraction. Matt’s typical, disagreeable demeanor was now free to assert itself, “That’s not Entente. It’s a prototype of my own design.” He said snatching the tablet from the man. “I don’t know what they’re ships will look like. I’m just supposed to lay out the Fab plant.”
The man looked curiously at Matt for a moment, “You designed that yourself?” he asked.
“Yeah.” Matt said indifferently. “I have a land cruiser that works right now. This is the next step. But this Entente job is going to take up a lot of my time so I don’t know when I’ll get to build it.”
The man looked at Matt with an inquiring eye. He was sizing Matt up and weighing risks and rewards. He looked like a man trying to decide whether or not he should hit on 15. After a moment the man said, “Hey, can you swipe me a couple of those pictures? Nothing confidential, or secret. Just something to give someone the idea of what you’re building. I think I know someone who can help you.”
Now it was Matt who gave this stranger an inquiring stare. It was his turn to decide whether to play the odds or take a chance. Finally he said, “Sure. I’ll send you some concept sketches.” The man pulled his own palm tablet out of a pocket and held it up to Matt’s. Matt then swiped a few pictures from his tablet to the stranger’s.
“Thanks, buddy.” the man said thankfully as he drained the rest of his drink and began to saunter off, “My friend will be in touch.” Matt watched this stranger leave and then turned back to the bar. He closed all the files related to his Solar Sail project and opened the layout of the fab plant. Hunched over by the weight of his real job, he got to work.
It was a long night and an even longer morning. He worked all through the night, going through every conceivable configuration he could think of. He was good at the actual work, sure, but presenting intellectual efforts? He had no experience with such tasks. Eventually he just put together a layout of the best configuration he could think of and then went and bothered Trella at 4 and a half hours. He then walked her through his ideas, suffering her ignorant and condescending questions as best he could. The meeting began promptly at six hours and lasted about two and a half hours. Matt was mostly silent. He answered a handful of technical questions and offered one or two suggestions about practicality, but it was Trella who ran the presentation. That was yet another thing he hated about meetings. They had his ideas, they respected his knowledge. Could he please skip it? Why did he have to sit there quietly for two and a half hours?
At the conclusion of the meeting most, but not all, of his suggestions were accepted. For some reason the project managers insisted on having some kind of polish finishing for hull plates on site. Matt was able to bargain them down to at least putting the finishing work in an adjacent shop so that they didn’t clutter up the plant floor. They seemed happy enough with this and the rest of his ideas. By eight and half hours when Matt was stumbling bleary eyed to the cafe for a first meal he was exhausted. He had earned a reprieve, from Entente debt, from having a disgraced employment record, from being badgered to death by Trella, but he still felt like a dead man walking. For now he could relax, if only for a little while.
Matt ordered a synthesized omelet, that tasted like salt and soy protein, and some synthesized coffee, that tasted like salt and burned soy protein. As bad as the food was getting some energy and caffeine in him helped. Having earned a day or two of free time he opened his tablet and returned to his designs for The Huitzilopochtli. Though he was tired a little bit of food and some time to work on what he really cared about relaxed him some. Sure, they had asked for a layout to the new finishing shop. And of course this sudden display of competency had just skyrocket the demands on his time, but for now, this morning, he was able to forget his troubles.
Matt sat there for a few hours, immersed in his designs and sipping coffee. His attention was solely focused on his ship, his vision for a solar sail powered vessel taking shape on his tablet almost magically. Matt didn’t know from what ethereal plane his ideas were flowing, but he was euphoric that they were. Again he didn’t notice when a someone showed up looking for him.
The man had a hurried yet relaxed air about him. His walk, the way he swiveled his head, his hand gestures were all fast and impatient, yet his face betrayed no sense of distress or fatigue. He wore an air about him that suggested he was not impatient, he was just waiting for the rest of the universe to catch up with him. He was wearing a stealth gray business suit with a black, silk button down shirt. Both of which belonged to the antiquated style of the early 21st century Tech Entrepreneur. His shoes were also of the old style, white canvas sneakers straight out of mid-twentieth century America. He had thin black hair that was combed back and wore an unrefined three day growth of beard. He had that kind of copper-bronze complexion that could only come from coastal Latin America. There was something opportunistic about this man, but also something hopeful and idealistic. His hurried and impatient eyes glanced this way and that searching the handful of restaurants and shops on the concourse of the station. Finally he saw Matt through the window of the cafe. Matt was facing away from him and over Matt’s shoulder, past the back of his head, the man could see the faintest image of a hull schematic. Hurriedly, impatiently, the man strode directly into the cafe, pushing past anyone in his way, and right up to Matt.
“You.” The man said pointing a finger at Matt and shaking him from his creative trance with an imperative, but non-threatening voice, “You’re Mateo Hernandez.” It was more of a statement than a question.
Matt looked up a little startled, but more confused than scared, “I am.” He replied a little cautiously.
“Great!” The man replied throwing up his arms in excitement. His accent had that Carnival flare seemingly reserved for only the most exuberant South Americans. He then leaned in and grasped Matt’s right hand with both of his own and shook it with furious glee, “I’m Santo Paulicci! Most people call me Saint Paul.”
“Wait.” Matt said, his face screwing up in quizzical contortions, “The Saint Paul? The TV guy?”
“One and the same, companheiro!” He replied. He sounded like a child on Christmas morning surveying his presents, “And you are the smartest man I have ever met!”
“Wait, me?” Matt asked, “Why?”
“Oh, my friend, my friend!” Saint Paul said sitting down, “You do not know what you have done for me!” Saint Paul then proceeded to spin a tale. Yes had been a TV magnate in Brazil before the War. He had made a lot of money, a lot. Then when the war came and Brazil declared for the US, he used his money to make bullets and bombs, and he made even more money. After the US collapsed and governments around the world were suddenly thrown into crisis he stepped in. Using his fortune he shifted from weapons to food and water. By the time the final peace accords were signed and the Entente was established his companies were the de facto government of Brazil. With his new found influence and power he did the only logical thing: He bought up Brayden Holtz’s old island. With a guarantee of security and financial backing, the Brayds could focus on improving Holtz Tech and adapting it to the needs of the post war world. His plan was to use the technology and expertise that would be developed there to reinvigorate Brazil. That minor task accomplished he turned his attention to the stars. Space and space ships were the future. Just last year he had funded a mission to claim Vesta in the asteroid belt. His initial plan to use the Brayds as colonists never quite materialized, but there were some clever gauchos out there now mining up a storm. All they needed was cheap transport from Vesta to Luna. The freight rates the Entente was charging him for ore shipping were killing his margins. It would be difficult for Vesta to grow, to become independent if he couldn’t compete with the Entente’s stellar shipping union. Which, oh by the way, could Matt help? That solar sail thing of his was a cracker-jack idea.
Matt sat dumbfounded. He knew who Saint Paul was. He had probably watched his television shows as a child growing up on the Island. But to find out that much of his life, in fact his salvation on the island itself was due to this eccentric capitalist was a revelation of the highest order. It took him a moment to absorb everything and come back to the conversation.
“Wait, you’re the one who funded the original Brayds?” Matt asked still somewhat taken aback.
“Sim.” Paul replied joyfully.
“You know—You know–” Matt began, “They took me in. When we were refugees from Mexico. My grandad and dad had died on the way. My mother, my sisters and I were starving, sick. You guys took us in and saved us.”
Saint Paul waved his hand in an excusing gesture, “Think nothing of it, companheiro.” He said.
“My Older sister,” Matt continued, “She’s still there. She married into the Brayds, she has a couple kids now. I—I–” He paused, “I used to sail the straight between the island and the coast when I was younger. This whole solar sail is just me trying to do that again.”
“Ahhh.” Paul said leaning back and raising his eyebrows, “So you are Helios! I had wondered what happened to the smart boy who had braved the ocean alone. And so young when he did it to!”
“Helios?” Matt asked.
“The Greek good of the sun.” Saint Paul replied, “Each morning he would use his chariot, drawn by fiery horses to pull the sun up over the horizon. The light from the sun is what creates the winds that powered your sails. I remember hearing about you whenever I would check in on the island. They had great respect for you there, you know.”
“Oh.” Matt replied more than a little flattered, “Well, thank you.” He took a moment to sip his coffee and collect his thoughts, “So what do you want with The Huitzilopochtli? I mean it’s just a hobby for me. It’s really just meant for recreation.”
“Oh no, no, no, my friend.” Paul replied shaking his head, “You do not know. These sails of yours can be scaled up! We can use them to power Space Galleons! Certainly the reactor-ion ships will be faster and could carry more cargo and people. But at zero fuel cost our cost per kilo for shipping would plummet! This technology would revolutionize the Belt! We could decouple completely from the Entente!”
Matt sat back astounded. He had never considered the further possibilities of his invention. Like an involuntary spasm, his mind began to race with images and possibilities. Paul could see Matt’s mind at work and the strange billionaire smiled in a way that only an eccentric magnate could.
“I see,” Paul began, “That you understand now. So, you will come work for me, eh?”
“What?” Matt asked blindsided. So sharp was his surprise that his ideas instantly turned off as though a switch had been turned off. “Wait, work for you? I—I–I can’t. It’s impossible!”
Now it was Saint Paul who was startled. “Impossible? Why, companheiro? It is the simplest thing!”
“No, you don’t understand.” Matt answered, “I’m under contract, an Entente contract. I can’t break that! They’ll sue me into oblivion.”
“Phhh.” Saint Paul chortled with dismissive disdain. “Entente, Entente, Entente! Why are so many cowed by those paper-pushers? Let me tell you,” he said leaning in towards Matt and pointing a revelatory finger towards the sky, “I know the Entente. They’ve been trying to steal Brazil from me since they signed their fake treaties. They’re so enamored with their computers that they can’t see that the microchips are calculating the depth of their own os cu!” Matt chuckled. There was something recognizable, even admirable in this mad man. Matt was tired, worn out, and stressed out about his contract, but something about this stranger put him at ease. Paul continued, “You have a contract? I do not care. I can get you out of it. Sem problemas!”
“Really?” Matt asked. The thought of getting out of the job he hated had suddenly evaporated his stress. “You can do that?”
“Companheiro, I am Saint Paul, I can do anything!” The man said standing up. He then took a business card, another antiquated custom, out of his jacket and set it on the table in front of Matt. “Think about it. I have to go.” Then as suddenly and impatiently as he appeared, Saint Paul disappeared, quickly melting into the pedestrian crowd of Aldrin’s concourse. Matt picked up the business card and stared at it with a strange reverence. Paul was crazy, sure, but to Matt, in that moment, he was making a lot of sense.
Matt went back to his tiny studio apartment and got some sleep. He turned off every electronic alarm and notification on all his electronic devices just so that he wouldn’t be disturbed. He had found Saint Paul’s offer appealing, but had decided to sleep on it first. When he woke up that evening his cracked tablet’s notification light was blinking. He had several missed calls from Trella as well as a new work e-mail. With a low grumble he activated his tablet and swiped to his inbox. The new message was from Trella:
Matt, it began, I am sorry for the strict tenor I have adopted in our recent interactions. Your recent work has proven your value to this company and this project. I adopted a stern, demanding approach because I knew you had it in you to become a valuable member of this project and I thought you needed a little push.
“ ‘Little Push’? Ha!” Matt scoffed. He continued to read:
Your designs and ideas have caught the attention of some of the resources closer to the final decision approval checkpoint and they have come to a decision. On behalf of the Aldrin Fabrication Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Intra-Stellar Transportation Agency, a full participatory member of the Entente, I would like to extend a firm and full employment contract to you. You will receive full compensation for living and recreational expenses as well as preferential status for any transportation entity linked to the Entente. This offer is open and does not expire until your current contract reaches its natural conclusion.
Matt stared at the message for a long while, rereading the last paragraph multiple times. Were they serious? Did they really want him as an Entente Employee? Most humans, on Earth, Venus, Luna, even Mars and the Belt, would probably leap at such a chance. Joining the Entente was the surest path towards personal and financial security as well as an immediate path to luxury and leisure. It was a no brainer…for most people, that is. For Matt the thought of making what had been a necessary evil to fund his passion projects a full time job horrified him. He finally saw the inevitable end of the path he was on: a safe, secure, easy office job, and this made his blood run cold. Immediately he fished through the pockets of his clothes and found the business card Saint Paul had given him and dialed the number.
“Sim?” Said a jovial, impatient voice answering the call.
“Saint Paul?” Matt asked, “It’s Mateo Hernandez. When do you need a viable sail-powered shipping vessel?”
“Hmmm.” Mused the voice. “Um momento.” He said. Matt then heard him speaking Portuguese to someone else. He only heard Saint Paul’s side of the conversation, which as usual was hurried, yet somehow optimistic. “Okay.” Paul said speaking back into the phone, “If I can move ten thousand Kilo of cargo, either ore from Vesta, or water to the belt, every trip, twice each terran year I can break even. I need the first vessel heading to Vesta in 12 months. That’s new months, not the old months. So one and a half Earth years.”
“Hmmm.” Matt said considering the possibilities, “Ten thousand may be too heavy for the Sails. The sails themselves would have to be the size of Vesta. But I think I can build you a one thousand Kilo Clipper that’ll be cheap, fast, and making its first voyage to Vesta in four months.”
Again Matt heard one side of a conversation in Portuguese. Then came the reply, “Okay, companheiro.” Paul replied, “That may work. Go ahead and start. My paper people will bother you sometime this week. No worries with Entente. I will send you phone number. If they fuss, you tell them to call him. I must go now.” Paul then hung up. Matt immediately fired up his tablet. First he replied to Trella with the simple words: “I quit. Call this guy.” and then the number Paul had just sent him. Then he pulled up his designs for The Huitzilopochtli. He copied some of the more basic schematics to a new folder and began working.
In three and half months Matt stood on the bridge of The Helios, Paul insisted on the name, as the docking tower charged its lift off pulse. Take off from the surface has proved unfeasible so using his infinite fortune Paul had built a twenty-five meter tall docking tower two kilometers from Aldrin Station. It was connected to Aldrin by a simple, magnetic rail line. Adding a Holtz engine to the station was too expensive, but magnetic tracks were a cheap, practical alternative for transporting material too and from the tower. Mag locks in the large cargo elevator also enabled material to be brought up to and down from the ship. It was moderately expensive, sure, but not as expensive as a thorium ship, and it was infinitely reusable. The Solar Clippers were similarly inexpensive. Should this initial flight prove viable, and Matt had no reason to think it wouldn’t, Paul was ready to build ten more at ship yards on Lagrange 4. He had also prepared expeditions to Pallus and Hygeia, the third and fourth largest asteroids, to move Clipper production to the Belt itself. In the meantime The Helios was loaded down with 500 kilos of ice in uninsulated exterior tanks while another 500 kilos of consumable goods were packed into the hull. Matt had a crew of five, including himself, to handle the ship. All things considered it was a fairly streamlined operation.
A status message appeared on Matt’s console, the lift off burst had been charged. “Deploy the Port and Starboard sails.” Matt ordered. Dutifully his crew activated the sails and long, slender, telescoping arms unfolded from the side of the ship unfurling gigantic, v-shaped graphene sails as they extended. Each sail was twice as long as the ship itself and wider than The Helios’s length at their outer edges. Matt checked his sensors, the sails were already gathering photonic energy. When they reached 10% of maximum total thrust, the threshold for sustained travel, he gave the next order. “Activate lift charge!” On his command a pressurized burst of inert gases erupted from the tower, propelling The Helios into higher lunar orbit. Once they had ascended to 300 Meters Matt ordered the deployment of the Dorsal and Ventral Sails. Four more sails, two from the top and two from the belly of ship extended as well. When they were fully deployed the six sails formed a giant Hexagon whose diagonals from apex to center were twice the length of the ship.
Matt’s miraculous sails gathered the omnipresent sunlight and soon enough they were at 95%+ of total propulsion. Using the maneuvering thrusters he gently steered The Helios towards its flight path. The bridge was on the ventral side of the ship’s bow and as he passed over Aldrin station he stole a glance moonside at the still incomplete Entente fabrication shop, his lips formed a subtle, inimical smile.
They were climbing now, having easily broken the Moon’s weak gravity. They would ride the orbit, pick up speed and sling shot away towards the Belt. The whole journey would take about two of the new long months. As they rose higher and the horizon of the moon fell away Matt looked upward and onward staring directly into the blank void of space. Celestial winds, gravitational tides, and ionic storms awaited him. He smiled broadly. This was going to be fun.
For the barest moment he thought he could feel the spray of surf from the Sea of Cortez on his cheek. In all his travels, through all his travails and trials, he had finally found his way. He knew now this is where he belonged, at the helm of a ship, piercing the veil of infinity, riding on the breath of Helios. For the first time since his family had fled Baja, he felt like he was home.