Chapter One Thousand Seven Hundred Forty-Three
15th August 1966
The early morning hours were mostly good ones for Gang Ji, even on Mondays. He typically worked over the weekend, so he didn’t understand the complaints of people who hated this day of the week. For Ji it was just another day where he tended to wake up before the sun came over the horizon and walked to the store from his apartment. Han Suk wouldn’t be in until later in the morning, so all Ji had to do was open the store and mind the counter until Sun got in. That usually happened just as the morning multitudes who made up the morning commute arrived looking for food and drink before they started their day.
That usually meant that Ji had a couple hours to get the store ready. Today, there was a bit of a commotion out front as he entered through the back door. A lorry from the company that delivered the day’s newspapers had just pulled up. The driver was cussing at the crowd that had gathered in front of the market, telling them to wait their turn and let him do his job. It wasn’t until he got the hand-truck loaded with stacks of newspapers that Ji saw what the deal was. TO THE MOON AND BACK! the headline for the Berliner Tageblatt read in massive print. The rest of the newspapers followed a similar theme. There were photographs of the Raumfahrers and announcements about what was upcoming in the Taxidiotis Program. The tabloids echoed the serious newspapers but speculated on the personal lives of the men and women involved with the Program to a much larger extent.
By the time Han Suk got to the market all the newspapers had been sold along with whatever else the customers had bought while they were there. Whatever else was going on, Suk liked profits and the truck pulling up to deliver the next editions of the papers was welcome indeed. When noon rolled around, Ji left the store and headed for the Trade School that he had been attending. That evening he would return to the market and help Soo-Jin and Bora close the store, then escort Soo-Jin with Suk to the bank to drop off the day’s proceeds.
The term “Trade School” was a bit of a misnomer these days because while Ji had originally intended to study heating and cooling systems, he had swiftly moved into electronics when Fürstin had pointed out that was where the future was. Computer Science followed. The reasons behind that was obvious to Ji when he looked at the daily papers with the Space Program dominating headlines. Not just Germany, but the entire world needed Engineers, in this country they were making a concerted effort to produce them.
17th August 1966
Pohnpei Island, Caroline Islands
After a few days aboard the SMS Boelcke being subjected to every medical test imaginable plus a few that Ben suspected that the Doctors had made up on the spot, the crew of Amicitia III were flown to Pohnpei. Emperor Louis Ferdinand was present, as well as a few other Emperors, Prime Ministers and Presidents. All of whom had been interested in meeting with them. Still, there was only one meeting that Ben had been interested in setting up and he had gotten it just a few hours before the crew were to be presented with Polaris Medals from the ESA, or whatever they were calling it these days now that apparently they were taking people from just about everywhere who made the cut. A bronze disk with Polaris represented on one side, the date on the other and only issued to those who had been into outer space. There were also a handful of medals that they would get from member nations, the fact that Ben was up for a PLM seemed astonishing. Captain Brown was to get a star device for his Polaris Medal and there was talk that the Queen of England was going to Knight him.
The car that brought Ben from the hotel in Kolonia pulled up to the villa in pouring down rain and he was escorted through the building. Entering an office, Ben immediately that it wasn’t who he had wanted to see today. Louis Ferdinand was looking out the screened window into the forest outside, a deep overhang preventing rain from getting into the room.
“Kristina isn’t here” Louis said, “After you named that mare on the moon after her, the jackals from the tabloids swarmed her. You know what happens when she gets too much attention.”
“She disappears” Ben answered.
“Yes” Louis replied, “That is why I sent her elsewhere in these islands, to give her a bit of space and put her time to constructive use.”
“If you could tell me where?” Ben asked, “I would like to see her.”
“I’m sure you would” Louis said, “Just in a few weeks she is supposed to start her Medical Internship in Anhalt, the last thing she needs is to have it become a circus because of you and a misguided romantic gesture.”
“I had to though” Ben replied, “I wanted her to be a part of this.”
“By turning her life upside down?” Louis asked, “Give me one good reason why you thought that was a good idea?”
“I did it because I love her” Ben said. That was the truth, it just sounded very clumsy to his ears though.
“Then you understand just how private she is” Louis replied.
How many times had he been warned about that by Kiki herself? Ben had no idea.
After Ben left, Louis opened the louvered door to the next room off his office. “Did you hear all that?” He asked, “Because it is something that I’m not going to do for you again. I even took the blame this time.”
Kiki was seated on the floor with her back to the wall, her knees pulled up to her chest. “I heard enough” She replied.
“I know that this whole thing is scary for you” Louis said, “But you cannot avoid that boy forever.”
Kiki sat in silence.
“We need to figure out what we are going to do” Louis said, “Because the status quo is unfair to everyone including you, but especially Benjamin.”