Geeks in Space
Chapter 3: There and Back Again

Copyright© 2011 by Sea-Life

Halfway through the month on Mars, Rob would have been happy to have been going a bit stir crazy. An endless series of minor accidents, lost scientists, overdue parties and everything else, clear down to dead batteries kept him pretty busy.

Those who had long speculated that the canyons of Mars might contain the Martian life that had long been speculated had to be disappointed. The deep and mysterious Valles Marineris canyons were mostly full of dust, eons and eons of slippery, dangerous dust. Perhaps there was life buried underneath the rivers of dust there, but it appeared that no one was going to be finding it on this trip.

Wendy and the other scientists with reason to be looking at rocks and digging in the dirt were still going strong, but Rob was growing a little tired of being a babysitter. Playing the tourist only did it for him for a while. Mons Olympus was awesome, the great Valles Marineris canyon system made for some incredible sightseeing opportunities. They even went and checked out 'the face', which people had been tweaking over since the pictures came back from Viking in the 1970's.

Rob imagined Andy sitting in front of Senator Montgomery again after their return, testifying to the mundane and unremarkable nature of the small hill. Still, the sides of the canyons, the walls and outcroppings within it were prime locations for some of the diggers, and he spent quite a bit of time hovering near or on them, watching happy scientists digging in the dirt.

Thankfully, Wendy's Martian rock bug was finally satisfied! Her interests were mostly metallurgical, and even that was only a marginal side interest. A 'hobbyist with a degree' was how she identified herself. Rob would have been less antsy about her prolonged absences if Jocelin Walsh wasn't still being somewhat over-friendly.

Wendy was an engineer at heart, despite her nano-metallurgical specialty, but still an engineer. The rock sampling let her get some fulfillment on an aspect of her education that she had not been able to on Earth, but now that her sample allotment was stored and ready for the return trip, she suddenly remembered a few things, Rob included, and suddenly his life was looking good again!

When the decision came down that the two portable drilling platforms were going to last, the third unit was unpacked and Rob got to take two side trips to Phobos and Deimos. Since Wendy was an experienced hand at operating the drill, she went along to take some samples. Both moons are pretty sad samples of their kind.

Phobos in particular is sad because it is definitely doomed. It orbits too low, too close to Mars, closer than any other satellite to its primary in the solar system at less than 6000 kilometers, and shrinking. In fifty million years or so, it will be gone, either crashed into Mars or broken up into a ring.

Deimos is in no danger of crashing into Mars, but it is incredibly small, the smallest moon in the solar system. Theories abound that suggest both moons are actually captured asteroids, and with their samples taken, perhaps someone would have a chance to make some comparisons in the future!

The explorers did find definite signs of water, both on Mars and on Phobos, but nothing that could be called 'free' water. Nothing flowing, though we saw signs that could have been interpreted as recent flows. Some people were suggesting a sort of hoarfrost that deposited on the sides of craters and then when the light from the sun hit them just right, the light got lensed into a focal point on the hoarfrost's interior, causing the internal temperature to hit a flash point, and suddenly and briefly, the water was liquid just long enough to run down the steep crater wall before finally flashing into vapor or sinking below the surface.

One thing Wendy was keeping track of was the number of moons and planets on which she and Rob had made love. Adding Phobos and Deimos brought the count up to five. Wendy felt slightly naughty just thinking about her keeping a running tally, and her thoughts strayed back to her favorite so far, when they managed to find the time while they were doing the OPEE training on the Moon. She wondered yet again about the identify of the poor UN engineer who stumbled upon them. 'I'm not sure he'll be good for much detail though, ' Wendy thought to herself. 'I think the sight of Rob's naked ass in the air left him pretty traumatized.'

The final fifteen days went very quickly for Rob. With the increased operational familiarity planet side, he got bumped 'up' off babysitter duties and back to full time shipboard duties. He spent those two weeks divvying up his time pretty equally between the bridge and the lab. Fred Wassermann had come up with a way to get multiple readings, with some automatic offsets and variances based in part on trends they'd seen in the data captured on the way out. It would in all likelihood at least triple the volume and double the 'quality' of the data they captured on the way back in.

Since Fred had the team inspired, and Alexandra had them all preparing for the new setup, Rob got to do some puttering around on his own. He worked on the small subset of research sensors that he had been capturing those anomalous blips and glitches on. The Sensor system was both notoriously non-directional, and infamously direction-sensitive. The contradiction is due to the multiple input sources the sensors are designed to capture. Some, such as light, are very, very directional. Some, such as radio waves, are not. Some, such as gravity, have overlapping sources that make it difficult to isolate discrete sources. Rob had to step back from the 'array' part of our sensor setup and develop a new system, almost from scratch. A system that was more about isolating and identifying the sources, no matter which type they were. That meant rewriting a lot of the code that he had originally developed, as well as the stuff that had been added and/or modified since the lab team had come together.

A lot of work had been done in giving the Gravy Geeks, and those who preceded them in the field of gravitics, the tools with which to manage, manipulate and study gravity fields. Rob went back to those and began studying them and how they worked. He had been only peripherally involved in the science of gravitics and the technology that had come out of it. It was time to take a look under the hood and get a better understanding of it. He hoped that maybe it would help him make better sense of the stray readings he continued to get as well.

My name is Wendy Fellowes, and I am a Geek. I am happy to have found someone to love, and who I can clearly see loves me as well. I wouldn't say I was exactly a wallflower, but I was used to being 'the brain' in school, until I got to Cal Tech. There I was either 'one of the brains', or 'the brain with the great ass', depending on who you talked to. Because I finally could, I took advantage of that ass and got myself some more experience. The guys who used the great ass modifier became tutors, though not all of them had the brains to realize their true roles. None of them even had the sense to feel objectified and cheapened by my use of them. Thank God that period in my life was over!

I was glad I had the experience I did when I met Rob. It allowed me to hold back and wait for something beyond the physical to happen, and amazingly, it did. Jocelin had confided in me a willingness to share him, since he seemed to be interested in us both, and while a part of me was at least curious about where that might have gone, I'm glad I acted as I did. Don't tell him, but Rob Young flips my switch in bed as much as he does out of it!

Being romantically involved with a genius, and I mean a scary smart, inspired, going-where-no-man-has-gone-before kinda genius, is its own punishment and reward at the same time. I've already had to deal with Rob being off in the zone, unaware of what's going on around him.

Personally, I think he needs me.

Well, he needs someone like me, and since I'm already here, no others need apply. He calls me Princess Nuts & Bolts, because I'm good at details, good at putting things together and good with the run of the mill stuff that life requires, like remembering to pay the phone bill or shut off the TV on the way out the door for the weekend. Rob is never good at those things unless it involves groups, and then suddenly he becomes detail oriented. Go figure!

I guess I'd been letting my recent life flash in front of my eyes, because suddenly there was a commotion in the room, breaking me from my reverie. Rob was at least half the reason for the commotion.

For a while, Earth had been one big party, with us all as the guests of honor. The celebrations, parades, parties and presentations did give way after a couple weeks to meetings and discussions. The big question was apparently what to do with the Pai Lung, and whether we would be involved.

This had been one of those meetings, a rare one with most of the build teams present; Power, Propulsion, Electronics, Hull, Sensors, all the original teams that had been gathered on Nauru and guided through the process of building the ship, as well as the two guys from the MIT Gravy Geeks who had come up with the design. In fact we were meeting at Andy and Cor's place in Somerville, and this was where Arne and Yuri's original plans for the Pai Lung had been revealed.

The ruckus started when Andy announced that he was technically the sole owner of the Pai Lung as well as the Zephyr and Sirocco. He wanted to know who would buy it from him, and Rob raised his hand immediately.

"Okay, lets say you've just bought my ship. What would you do with it?" Andy asked.

"First thing? I think maybe it would have to be The moons of Jupiter. Europa, Io and Ganymede." Rob answered. "Maybe play around in the asteroid belt on the way back."

That statement was what made Rob's half of the ruckus, and it raised a clamor in the room! Even the Power and Gravity folks, who had little incentive to poke around the solar system, could get excited at the thought of getting some hands on time on those three moons!

Frederick Wasserman was not the stereotypical dour Germanic type, he was in fact the lab staffs most committed and inventive practical joker. At this moment though, he chose to be the voice of doubt.

"Jupiter is a lot further away than Mars. It will take much longer. Maybe even a whole year away from Earth."

Yes, it threw a little cold water on the collective buzz. Maybe it was my nuts & bolts side showing, but we needed the dose of reality right now.

"Fred is right." I said. "There will be more room for error, and help will be much, much further away."

"We would not be able to use the two orbital transport ships as our emergency escape vessels." Brian Conroy, one of the power team added. "They would not be able to hold enough supplies for that long a trip."

In the end, it was decided that nothing needed to be decided immediately. Andy invited us all to meet him again in two week's time at the McKesson Group offices in San Francisco. Rob and I got invited to show up a couple of days early and spend them at his grandparent's house in Angel's Camp, California.

We stayed at the Somerville condo for an extra couple of days while Rob, Ike Dunham and Mickey Brooks dealt with a ton of paperwork involved with their invention of the Q-net and the Q-tap. Several McKesson Group lawyers had a huge stack of papers that needed signing, some decisions were left to be made on several optional pieces of the whole deal and some of the financial situations discussed. As much of the Princess Nuts & Bolts that I was for day to day things, I wasn't much interested in the money aspect of things, so when Cor invited DeeDee Ponders, Janet Dearing and I to spend a couple of days at a spa on Cape Cod, I said yes of course!

We went to a place called the Cape Codder Resort, and we were indulged with their 'Girls Bonding Time' package. Except Cor said she had 'enhanced the package a bit'.

Two days of facials and massages and hot oil baths, fine dining and walking through the landscaped courtyard, what was not to love? We were a little too late in the season for some of the in-season activities, but they still had a midnight bonfire every night, and live jazz in the wine bar the second night. Cor seemed to not like the wines, and stuck pretty much to the sparkling wine.

We played tennis the second day, something I'd been good at in high school, but too busy for in college. Cor was quite the physical specimen, and after sharing the spa and sauna with her, I suspected she had a level of fitness reserved for world class athletes. I was no slouch myself normally, but she was in a different class than me. Even all the work running the coring rig on Mars hadn't toned me up enough to compare to Cor.

We played doubles, and thanks to my high school experience, DeeDee and I managed to win both times. Cor and Janet ran us ragged both times though!

Cor had an ulterior motive in bringing us here, I discovered. Janet and her fiancé Ryan Ardmore were looking for a place for their wedding, and this one was high on the list of candidates. Both of them were from the Midwest, and had gone to college in Illinois, but they weren't tied to the area as far as their wedding plans went.

Still, number one on their list was a resort in Galena, Illinois called the Eagle Ridge Resort, and since Janet's parents were doing their parental duty, it would be convenient to do something relatively local. Janet herself had only a few friends from home she was interested in sharing this event with, and those friends she would gladly make sure could get to wherever she decided to be. All I knew was I'd be happy to help Cor test out any other resorts they were considering!

When we got back from our two days of luxury, Rob was wearing a very noticeable grin. A very wide, noticeable grin. DeeDee noticed Ike was wearing a similar expression, and since we hadn't been around to put those grins on our boyfriend's faces, we had to ask what had caused them.

Rob showed me his brand new credit card. McKesson Technologies had made a pre-payment, based on anticipated quarterly revenues from royalties, itself based on the current level of bidding by the existing telecommunications companies for access to the new communication technologies. This didn't even include governmental licensing, which they couldn't do prepayments for.

Doctor Fylakas had arranged a team of McKesson Group investment advisors to assist, but bottom line was that for all intents and purposes, that credit card had no effective upper limit. Rob could have actually paid for the Pai Lung if Andy had sold it for its real cost.

"I think you'd better take me home to show me off to your parents before the check bounces, don't you?" He said after we were alone.

"Really?" I said.

"Yes, and I think my parents should meet you as well. We've been sleeping in the same bunk in outer space for months after all, they probably know we're a couple."

My name is Wendy Fellowes, and I'm a Geek. But I'm not just a geek. Not anymore.

Rob's parents were closest, so after a couple more days in shuttling between Boston and New York, meeting a few people who were among the group that Doctor Fylakas promised would be making Rob filthy rich, they headed there first. Rob's dad had worked for the railroad most of his life, and still did, in Fort Dodge, Iowa, where Rob had grown up. They flew in aboard an Obsidian Research executive transport.

Perhaps its due to the highly regulated nature of the industries, but the move to grav cars for air travel and transport had seemed to happen overnight. Industry and government had both jumped in and quickly made changes to standards, both legal and technical, that encouraged and supported it. Still, the rapid change had caused a good deal of panic and pain in the transportation industry, and to those who worked in it. People like Rob's dad.

The rail industry had been one of the quickest to recover though, because they had all these centuries old right-of-ways that made perfect surface air car and grav transport corridors. They also had the infrastructure and people in place for tracking and managing the increased traffic. The old rails themselves gave the still developing air car auto piloting systems something to lock onto.

Bert and Katherine Young met them at the Fort Dodge Airport. Rob and Wendy's pilot Luke had instructions to keep his Q-Tap on and stay in the area. He could sleep, eat, play tourist or whatever until they were ready for him again. They had packed a small bag each, and the first thing they did was make a stop for lunch. The place they stopped, called the Community Orchard, was right next to the airport, and seemed to be have more of an emphasis on apples and ciders, but they served a nice light lunch, and their apple pie was delicious!

While they ate, they chatted.

The changes, good and bad, hit Rob and his family at the same time they had hit the rest of the people in the transportation sector. It had been the Young family's good fortune that Mrs. Young had a decent job, working as assistant principal at Fair Oaks middle school, when all the confusion hit the industry. They were able to live on her income for a couple of years while Bert 'got himself reeducated' as he liked to describe it. The Young's were very early adjusters, and Rob had been very young during those couple of transition years.

Over the next four days Wendy got the dime tour of all the places Rob grew up in, the barber shop, the burger joint, the swimming hole and the old high school. They met a few old acquaintances, but only a couple. After dinner the couple went for a drive, looking at some of the out of the way places Rob remembered, finishing it off with Fort Dodge's version of every American small town's lover's lane make out spot and they gave the high school kids a little competition, but only for a little while. Rob's room was at the complete opposite end of the house from his parent's, and Rob couldn't wait to fulfill a certain goal. Wendy didn't try to be quiet that night at all, and she thought Rob appreciated it, at least as much as she appreciated his efforts to make her be noisy. The resulting round of smiling and blushing faces at the breakfast table seemed to indicate success.

Over breakfast, Rob and Wendy gave them the news about potentially zooming off to the moons of Jupiter for a year or so. That news, coming so soon after our recent trip to Mars was hard to swallow, but we set them up with their own pair of Q-Taps, running off our pool of free addresses. It was still a bit complicated to tie into the existing phone system, but it was doable.

"With these, you could get in touch with us pretty reliably, even if we were playing around in Jupiter's orbit." they promised.

"Rob is one of the three official co-inventors of this new system, and he's probably going to be a billionaire by the time we get back from this trip." Wendy said with pride.

"don't tell anyone though, okay?" Rob asked. "You'll never get a moment of peace and quiet if people think you've got money."

The Q-Taps and a couple nicely printed and framed color pictures of the two of them together on Mars were what they left behind after their two day visit. Wendy got very nice hugs from both parents, and particularly Rob's mom.

"I'm so happy Rob has found someone nice." She whispered into Wendy's ear when they dropped the couple back off at the airport.

From the flatlands of Fort Dodge, they headed to Wendy's hometown of Port Angeles, Washington. In some ways it makes Fort Dodge seem like a large city. Nestled in the rain forests and mountains of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, it looks and feels small, but its actually more overpowered than anything else. It is overpowered by the sea, the trees and the mountains.

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