Chapter 9

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Jupiter twisted in an eternal pirouette. Lightning flashed across its wide surface, bathing the dark sphere in momentary sparks of white. From orbit, the planet resembled a swarm of fireflies.

Theodora regarded the flashing lights from far above, safe within the glass and metal carapace of a rotating space station.

"Beautiful, isn't it?"

She turned to her colleague, a short, heavyset man by the name of John Brannon. He was another engineer for EXN, and worked on the Facem along with Theodora so many years before. Most of the others had scattered in the intermittent time, going on to retire or transfer to other projects, but John was always there.

"Each one of those flashes represents up to a hundred thousand amperes of electric current. That sort of power could fry a person to the point of turning them into a hunk of charcoal."

"I get it," he sighed. "Beauty is only skin deep."

Theodora paused. "No. It's only nature. If you want to call it beautiful, sure, but that's all it really is."

John stared at the planet for a moment before turning around and walking into the bowels of the space station. Theodora followed him.

Past the observation deck was a spacious room, decorated lavishly with false vines and trees. The walls were papered, red with flecks of gold, with half-columns every few meters. Banners displaying a red triangle with a blue streak down the middle hung from the ceiling. A chandelier fitted with LEDs hung from the ceiling, an ugly combination of ancient grace and new technology. In the center of the room, there was a large, circular table. Above the table, four models hung on invisible wires, each in the form of a different spacecraft.

The one closest to Theodora was a simple cylinder, covered in antennae, spherical tanks and fuel lines. It was a small, about half a meter across. Below it was a bronze plate that read: "EXN-150 001 Fillium". The next model as three times larger than the Fillium, and consisted of two thick engine blocks, and strung between them four spheres. On each sphere, a letter was written, spelling out the company letters, followed by a small United Districts of Sol symbol, puny compared to the blocky script. This was the EXN-150 002 Ascensus. The next model was almost five times larger than the Ascensus, about eight meters long. It had an hourglass shape, with two large cones connected by a relatively thin column. Once again, the Exonavis logo was written boldly on one side, adjacent to a much smaller rendition of the nine circles circumscribed in a larger one; the UDS. Below the huge model was a plaque bearing the Facem's exulted name. The final model, much smaller than all the rest, no more than a quarter meter long, was labeled simply as the Colossus. It looked primitive compared to the rest, sporting a traditional nuclear rocket engine, with a small habitat compartment. In the front of the spacecraft was a flowering hydrogen collector, shaped like a funnel and many times larger than the rest of the ship.

John spoke. "Interesting that they decided to install a model of the Colossus. You'd think the higher-ups would be too caught up in their own achievement to pay their respects."

"It's not as if they aren't already tooting their horn," Theodora said, gesturing to the banners that lined the walls. "It's nice that they've shown this little bit of modesty in this homage. You know, respecting the dead, honoring the exploratory attempts of the past.

A pause.

"So, these are all the ships humanity has ever built to voyage among the stars. And you worked on every last one?" said John.

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