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And now, at Cape Canaveral in the year 2550…
Omar Panderyn is standing near the terminal gates, PDA in hand, speaking to his aide, Crumpton. “So, yes, I kept reading. Why am I even listening to your advice? You’re basically nothing more than a tadpole on two legs. It’s more ludicrous than I imagined. A society of evolved bipedal cats that manages to reach the stars? Seriously. You’ve heard of cats, right? Seen them at work? Recognize their modus operandi? They’re lucky if they can evolve to reach their crotch with their tongues.”
Kinako has been sitting on one of the benches by the impressive fountain, hands resting loosely clasped upon her knees. At the sound of Omar’s voice, she looks up. She rises smoothly, and carefully straightens the fabric of her loosely tailored suit. The sound of her sensible shoes upon the floor is barely audible over the station’s general noise level. After approaching to a polite distance of Omar, she clears her throat. “Ah, sumimasen, pardon me, Mister Panderyn-sir?”
Crumpton appears ready to rise to the defense of whatever work of literature Panderyn is criticizing, but the older man cuts him off with a wave and faces the young woman with a faint smile. “Ms. Kinako, right? Ready for your testing?”
Kinako clasps her hands together and bows, bending straight forward at the waist. “I apologize for any misunderstanding that may have occurred, Mister Panderyn-sir, but I must admit that I was somewhat surprised to be summoned for this testing, as, ah, I did not apply.” She straightens, and then tilts her head to the side. “…again, I offer my sincerest apologies for any mistaken applications that may have been accidentally filed on my behalf…?”
Tap… tap… tap… the sound of a cane against the floor of the promenade once again announces the arrival of Tilsworth. Spotting some familiar faces he turns to head towards them near the gates, adjusting his thick glasses on the bridge of his nose as he does so.
“I had a Chinese nursemaid when I was a little kid,” Panderyn replies. “Fantastic lady. Terrible wonton. You’ll fit in just fine.” A confident smile from the physicist.
There is a long, long pause, as Kinako’s facial expression cycles through varieties of puzzlement. It is almost as though she isn’t sure what to be offended by first, and over-fogged with confusion as to what exactly is going on in this conversation. Gently, she corrects” “I am from Japan, Mister Panderyn-sir.” Her tone remains polite, although the usual serenity in it is somewhat frayed. Ahem. “Are you in need of the services of a -doctor-, sir? If you are, I would be willing to hear the terms of the assignment and provide due consideration.”
Tilsworth steps up to the pair. “Good to see you again, my dear.” he says with a nod to Kinako, then a look to Panderyn. “And the same to you, Mr. Panderyn. A lovely evening, is it not?”
“We need a doctor,” Panderyn confirms. “Bob Busby insisted that I take you aboard. The terms are simple: You join the team on Ulm Station and keep everybody alive while they try to make history. No pressure, right? I assume they don’t have space allergies or anything in Japan. Mr. Busby reported that you did a bang-up job during that Ebola crisis. Could be we’ll need your know-how.” He waves to Tilsworth. “You’re up past your bedtime, aren’t you, sir?”
There’s that expression again, where Kinako’s trying to continue smiling and be serene in the face of mind-boggling… well… America. Her mouth finally works itself back into a position that allows it to speak. “We have the same allergies as found in other humans around the world, Mister Panderyn-sir,” she says, reclaiming a bit of calm and sounding more and more like a kindergarten teacher by the moment. “I very much appreciate Mister Busby-sir’s glowing recommendation and would have greatly appreciated a request for consideration prior to the public announcement, yes? Ah, how long will we be on the station?” She pauses to incline her head and offer a “Konban wa, Doctor Tilsworth-sir.”
Tilsworth chuckles. “Perhaps.” the old scientist says. “Though I do try my best to keep up with the youngsters that come through these labs.”
“At least six months to get everything up and running,” Panderyn replies. He hands the PDA over to Crumpton, then clasps his hands behind his back. “Let’s be clear, though. It’s unclear how long it may take to achieve our goal aboard Ulm Station. We want to break the light speed barrier. Humanity has struggled to do so for centuries. It is within the realm of possibility that the effort will go on for millennia. However, your boss and mine is banking a significant amount of money on the prospect that our team aboard Ulm Station will succeed where so many others have failed.” He shrugs. “You don’t like being drafted. I get that. I figure you’ll forget that inconvenience after they put your name in the history books with Armstrong, Ride, Young, and Gagarin.”
Kinako cants her head slightly to the side. “I will assist because assistance is needed. Glory, Mister Panderyn-sir, is for young men and souls uncertain of their value.” She says this in an absolutely gentle, earnest tone, clearly without sarcasm or malice. “Will we be expected to remain upon the station until the mission comes to its terminus, or will return trips be periodically allowed? Mister Busby-sir is not, after all, my only responsibility at this time.”
Tilsworth listens to the conversation patiently.
“We’ll work something out, certainly,” Panderyn says. “Still, expect to be onsite for at least a few weeks at a time.” He turns toward Tilsworth and crosses his arms. “You’re old. Not much I can do about that. But you’re a theoretical physicist. I’m going to have Crumpton take you to an Antarctic monitoring station and leave you there in a few days. Settle your affairs here, then drop me a note when you’re ready.”
“A few weeks at a time is more than acceptable, Mister Panderyn-sir, and I appreciate your team’s recognition for the need for my assistance,” Kinako replies, bowing again. “You will kindly send me the remainder of the details, provide the requirements, and set an appointment for any necessary testing, yes?”
Tilsworth raises an eyebrow, but shows no other sign of reaction at the statement. “Very little to settle… I have a communique to my current superiors prepared announcing my resignation. I have already notified my family of my decision, thus I am ready to depart at any time. Once I procure a supply of heated long johns.” he says, offering a grin. “I would presume this is intended to test my endurance?”
Omar Panderyn nods. “Crumpton will see to it, Ms. Kinako.” He offers a tight smile, then a nod to Tillsworth. “It’s intended to prove you won’t die on me. Good luck with that.” He then leads his aide through the terminal gates, saying, “Don’t even get me started on the matriarchal lizard people who want to conquer the galaxy. Women on the warpath? They wouldn’t need a fleet. Just a PDA and a book club.”