Chapter sixteen of Unknown North, a novel that will be published chapter-by-chapter until it’s done. All chapters so far: Unknown North.
Carlos sat in a meditative state, feeling light. Henry and Sophie lay on yoga mats near him, napping. Howard fidgeted across from him, unable to get comfortable. He found that one too many hotdogs had taken their toll and his legs were unable to cross, but he wanted to try out this whole calming thing before he headed to Carlos’s house for a couple of days with his son.
“Do you need a chair?” Carlos finally whispered, grinning. “Just go and get one.”
Howard did not reply, but slowly got himself back on his feet and retrieved one of the plain chairs from the hallway. He saw Luci as he grabbed it and smiled at her. She smiled back warmly and it occurred to him that her face had changed since she’d been on the project. She looked calm. Maybe even serene.
And the kids were amazing. They’d adapted to their new lifestyles very well. A sign of good upbringing, Howard thought.
Not only did the kids think being hooked up to monitors while they slept was awesome, Dr. Resua found that their acceptance of—and ability to accomplish—remote viewing was unparalleled among the hundreds of people who had attended his workshops. Even admitting that most of his workshop attendees were frustrated housewives or single men looking to give their lives some meaning, the kids were still head-and-shoulders above the most serious of his students—those being the ones paid by Uncle Sam and told to keep quiet about the whole thing.
They also were indirectly responsible for the rapid lack of real interest from the media and public about the PISA Mars mission. At first, pictures of children hooked up to monitors—that measured brain activity, heart rate, and (unbeknownst to the media) their electromagnetic fields—looked shocking, but once the media was given total access to them, and they began talking about “feeling like I was flying through the universe or something,” the public snickering began.
Then when Henry answered one of the reporter’s questions by saying, “I met someone named Ana-loop. I think it was a lady. I mean, she didn’t have a body, she was just like a bright light or something, but her name is Ana something, right, and that’s a girl’s name…?” only Dr. Resua’s heart rate had increased.
Still, the headline on the most respected science blog touted, “Bransen Labs’ Trip to Mars a Child’s Dream,” and from there on out, the “trip to Mars” was posited as nothing more than a crackpot—though harmless—study of dream states.
Mainstream science readily accepted this opinion as fact because they had never heard of remote viewing, or had quickly dismissed it, and never bothered to ask for clarification when the phrase was used by any of the doctors quoted. And no one asked to speak to Mouse, the biker who stayed in the background, slowly devising mechanical whirligigs based on the output of the monitors, which seemed to measure nothing more than the sleep patterns and dream states of children.
Instead, the respected science blogs and peer-reviewed journals once again corralled Dr. Moore after the announcement of the PISA mission to Mars, and the collective fears of a misinformed nation began to gather over Bransen Labs and the Private International Space Administration. And that made Admiral Thomas and General Rauchbach very happy—it was always better to let a mob of ignorant people sway themselves away from the truth without the overt input of the government.
The sticking point of most reports was the “mental health and well-being” of children in a spaceship for a year—assuming, of course, there was ever going to be a spaceship, in which case, the issue was just the mental health and well-being of children, period.
Bransen loved kids, but after the media started its spin, his own lawyers had got him rethinking it, and now the proposition struck him as dangerous. If anything catastrophic were to happen, the public would be able to excuse the loss of consenting adults—but the loss of two children? He wished now he’d never mentioned it to Luci; had instead done as Luci suggested and found himself a young, unproved, and unattached talent to take along.
But no—that tasted of prejudice. He wanted Luci for one reason and one reason only: She was the best. Everyone he’d picked for this mission was the best, and he wasn’t going to overlook that in Luci’s case just because they’d have to make the spaceship safe enough for children in order to include her. If that’s what they had to do to assemble the best team possible, then Bransen considered it done.
“There are always kids along for the ride in sci-fi movies, and no one cares,” he mumbled to himself, most irked by a culture that possibly sheltered its children too much even as it fantasized about doing the opposite. Bransen figured that if kids were treated more like adults, they’d grow up self-confident and willing to learn, which could only be good for everyone.
“What’s that?” Carlos wondered, not sure he’d heard Bransen mumbling as he stepped around the yoga mats.
Bransen only sighed and waved him off, then changed his mind and asked Carlos, Mouse, and Howard to meet with him. He needed to get something off his chest… or out of his head… or both. The door to the conference room snicked shut behind them, and the kids continued to nap.
Bransen quickly briefed the men on how the media and the damn lawyers had unhinged his faith in his plan to take the kids to Mars with them.
“I was just thinking about how they never have to worry about anything happening to the kids in the movies. Their ships blow up, and no one ever mentions the children!”
“True… But if anything like that happened to us, you wouldn’t be around to care,” Mouse offered helpfully.
Bransen gazed at him for several seconds, unable to argue, and Carlos finally responded, “He’s right. Just make sure your paperwork is in order, legally, to at least give your legacy a fighting chance.” He leaned in and added in low voice, “But we both know how important Luci von Embers is to this mission, eh?”
“I love having the kids around,” Mouse added, looking uncertainly at the other men. For his money, a microbiologist was a microbiologist, but if they wanted this particular one, far be it from him to argue. He would gladly admit that while he could build and repair just about any machine, he wasn’t much on the finer points of human resources.
“I’ll have my lawyers look at it again,” Bransen finally said. “They’ve already admitted that there’s nothing but public sentiment that outright precludes kids on a space mission. But if the kids do go, we have to add every safety measure and safety check imaginable—and then add more that are unimaginable. Right?”
It was the first time they’d heard Bransen be so curt and official. Mouse found it comforting. Carlos grinned mysteriously. Howard fidgeted and looked away. Bransen didn’t like doubting himself. He was used to making decisions and following through on them. Luci was on board. Lorna agreed. These men seemed to agree.
“Right, Howard?” Bransen checked.
Howard stopped fidgeting and looked at Bransen.
“Actually, I wanted to ask if we could bring my son into the fold, too…?”
Bransen’s right eyebrow raised almost indiscernibly.