Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Forty-two
13th August 1966
Pohnpei Island, Caroline Islands
When Suga’s father had arrived on the island, she had fallen right into her accustomed role within the Japanese Court. It was something that both Freddy and Kiki had poked fun at her about. There was no malice in that, just the observation of how these things were ingrained into all of them. Kiki had dozens of stories about the absurd number of unwritten rules and expectations that she had been forced to follow as the daughter of Kira Kirillovna. Freddy had said he went through something similar, except for him it was as the Crown Prince, so there had been no lifting of them like there had been for Kiki after her mother had passed away.
As they had been talking, Suga had realized that Kiki’s entire life, her career, military service, and even her choice of swimwear on this trip were in rebellion against her mother’s dictates. Much of that would have been completely scandalous just a generation earlier. Louis Ferdinand chose to ignore the more risqué aspects of what Kiki was doing, focusing instead on her following through on her ambition to become an Emergency Surgeon. Only Charlotte had commented, saying that if Kiki had the body to wear something like that and wasn’t embarrassed then more power to her. The beach that the Imperial family was using was closed off from prying eyes, so it really didn’t matter. Ben Hirsch naming a Lunar “sea” on the far side of the moon for Kiki had come as a surprise, though not a welcome one. It had renewed speculation by the press about the extent of their involvement at a time when Kiki’s hope was that she could do her Medical Internship quietly over the coming months.
The conference had adjourned with the agreement that they would hold more conferences in the future. Considering some of the thorny issues that had been discussed, that was quite a good outcome. Afterwards, Suga couldn’t help but noticing that none of the delegations seemed to be in a rush to get anywhere. The reason why quickly became apparent, all anyone would have to do was look at the nearest television set to see why. Amicitia III was due to splash down in the Central Pacific and when the crew was picked up, they would be brought here after routine medical checks as had been planned months earlier. It seemed like everyone in the Eastern Pacific Region had an interest in the mission of Taxidiotis III. The Australians were perfectly happy to claim Captain Brown as a native son even if he was from Scotland. Doctor Kita was from Japan. The mission itself had been launched from Vietnam and the launch facility in Cam Ranh employed people from pretty much everywhere. At that very moment, dozens of ships and aircraft were converging on the patch of ocean where the splashdown was estimated to take place.
The thing that surprised Suga the most was her own parents when it came to Mirai. They had always been distant to Suga, now they were doting grandparents and she was having a hard time squaring those two things. It was also at odds with certain assumptions that Suga herself had made about how they would receive her daughter.
Pacific Ocean, East of the Mariana Islands
After a week spent with floating in space in microgravity, gravity had reasserted itself in a hurry as Amicitia III had plunged into the atmosphere. Ben had heard that reentry was the most harrowing part of the entire journey. Waltz Center in Peenemünde had wished them luck as they had passed over Europe on their way towards the Central Pacific. It had been then that Ben had the intrusive thought that it was the Thomas Kolman Waltz Research and Training Center, named for the first Raumfahrer who had died in orbit. The exact cause of his death was still unknown, it had been the botched reentry that had seen to that. Baikonur and Cam Ranh had checked in briefly right before they entered reentry blackout. Three minutes cut off from communication by an envelope of ionized air around the capsule.
“We’re in for quite a ride” Captain Brown said with a slight smile as the noise from outside the capsule grew louder and Ben wondered if Winkle really felt the confidence that he projected, or it was all a show that he put on for the benefit of others. Thinking back to the War Academy at University, Ben remembered what Major Armbruster said that the real meaning leadership was to be was found in the moment when others were frozen in fear, you were the one who moved forward and the others would follow for lack of better ideas. That was exactly what Brown was doing at that moment, though they were all strapped into what was about to become a meteor.
Ben watched the altimeter spiraled down and could see the glow in the corner of his eye through the window. He would have preferred to be piloting his own airplane, being the passenger really was the pits. Then the noise died down followed by the shriek of wind, then came a loud thud as the drogue chutes deployed and the shriek gradually lowered in pitch. Then the main parachutes deployed, and Ben could see the white and orange synth-silk canopies through the window.
“Welcome home, Amicitia” A voice said over the radio, “This is SMS Boelcke, do you copy.”
“This is Amicitia” Ben said into the microphone, “Happy to be home, over.”
A minute later the window was covered in water as the capsule hit the water and the flotation devices deployed.