We continued our planning and work for two months. We watched with anxious joy as formidable Zheng He was pressurized and filled with all the possible necessities we could want for our new home. Crops for the greenhouses, animals for the farms, raw ore for the nano-feeds, linen for clothes and bedding, hydrocarbon chains for quick polymer synethsization… an endless stream of material that had been lifted up on the elevator from Terra went into her voracious cargo-hold maw. Noah would've been ashamed of how little he'd carried compared to our craft.
The third month rolled around. We now were within several weeks of our departure date. The GEO-AMS mood changed drastically as we realized that it was finally upon us. Human life was to gain a foothold outside of Terra's orbit, a sprinter's stance to spread out to the stars. Some were giddy, some were sober. Emotions for professionals in normally human-emotionally detached fields were new experiences. It was like waiting for a school bus to pick you up on the first day of high school in a new state, knowing you were going to be fine but not believing it at the same time. Our tension became palpable. Jon, a brilliant orchestral conductor of human emotions in our team, decided that he wanted us to come out and cheer for our departmental Zero-ball team and started scheduling dinner times when our families could join us en masse. The environmental emotional change was immediate and positive.
It was a week before the launch. I was burnt out, half-napping on my bed when I heard a knock on my suite door. I turned on the door's plas-film vid.
"It's Jon. I'd like you to come to dinner with us."
"Who's gonna be there?"
"Well, me, Stephen, Al, Mary, Celeste, Chimso, Vira, Jessica, Sid, Will… but the only person you should care about really is me."
I rolled my neck, cracking the fluid bubbles in the vertebrae. I heard it causes arthritis later on in life but I was willing to risk that to feel better.
"Wait, who? No, doesn't matter… uh, sure, I'll come, Jon. What should I wear?"
"Your finest P-suit."
"Hm, as I only have one is it okay if I wear my worst one instead?"
"As long as I get to see your beautiful mug, sure."
"Gimmie a minute or two, come in."
I rolled out of bed, landed on my knees, got up and yanked my P-suit from the closet. The suite door hissed open as Jon came in. I hopped around, pulling the stretchy fiber over my right foot before doing the same to the left foot. I rolled it up the rest of the way. Left arm, right arm. And, helmet.
I slid the door open again, and we walked out to go to the DFAC.
Once we got to the DAFC, Jon made introductions. All of them worked in different departments, so I now knew why I didn't know most of the names. I'd forgotten that even in a floating space-station of a few thousand people you couldn't know every single person who co-habitated with you.
Celeste, of course, was Jon's wife. Sid, ten years old, and Will, who had just turned fifteen, were their kids. I knew them pretty well, having dined with their family back on Terra more than once.
Mary and Stephen and their daughter Jessica, a recent graduate at twenty-five, had been nice enough to join us. Stephen I'd seen around the station before. I'd also read some of his papers when researching the best routes for nano-swarm programming. Stephen had been a pretty prominent politican back on Terra in the states, and was a pseudo-intelligence engineer.
Chimso and Alfred were a gay couple without any kids. Chimso was part of the atmospheric mining team, constantly monitoring the machines already set up by our landing site that pulled in a steady stream of molecules to sort from the weak Martian atmosphere. Chimso had made a name for himself in alternative energy after finding a practical way to cultivate sea-algae byproducts quickly.
Vira was the most interesting, to me at least. She was a nano-tech-nurse specializing in genetic and cellular repair techniques. Not only that, she had changed careers already: apparently piloting Boeing 858s hadn't been fulfilling enough for her intellectual curiosity.
After everyone had loaded up their plates with the haute cuisine of the GEO-AMS cafeteria, we all sat together at a table near one of the plas-films trained on Terra.
Most of Africa's cities were glowing before us as the terminator line drew its velvet curtain of night across the savannahs where homo erectus had originated. It would probably be the last time for me that I'd see a Terran sunset in person. Well, in honesty, as in-person as a plas-film screen could be. I was distracted from the first few minutes by its haunting beauty and lost in this train of thought when I heard Vira's voice asking me a question.
"Han, you there?"
"Wait, what? Sorry, I blame the sunset."
She laughed, her eyes smiling as she did. I felt a warm glow in my chest against my better senses.
"I wanted to know if you had the nano-swarms all programmed and ready to go."
"Yeah, more or less."
A quizzical eyebrow of hers speared me on my waffling. I lamely tried to spackle over what I felt was a conversational faux pas.
"It's more because I'm done with the Beta phase but not all of the swarms have had the distributed program patch. Some are still on the first and can function, because its back compatible, but…" I trailed off as I saw that her grin grew with my explanation. Now it was my ears which felt a warm glow instead of my chest.
"Its fine," she said, "that's more than I wanted to know but I'm glad you know what you're doing."
I nodded my head in agreement because I didn't know what else to do. Always felt somewhat out of tune with women, probably always will.
"So what do you do, Vira? Or did you do before coming a nano-nurse?" I knew she was a pilot but wanted to hear it from her. I'd heard it from John on the way down.
"I was a pilot. Flew 858s from Heathrow to Beijing over the polar ice caps."
"I'm sure you have a story or two to tell about that."
"Well, there was this one time…"