Victoria

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VICTORIA

Grant County Airport, in the arid flatlands near Moses Lake, Washington, was the designated point of entry for arriving spacecraft in the United states. This was due not only to the extraordinary length of the two wide, crossed runways, but also to the noise of the double sonic-boom that an orbiter always made when it came down, which would have rattled windows, dishes, and wall clocks, and generally disturb the good voters of a metropolitan area such as Seattle or Denver.

Brand and his family were traveling light, with just a carry-on bag for himself and one for Jabs, to make the ritual of passing through customs as easy as possible. People arriving from space was still enough of a rarity at the airport, with flights of no more than twenty passengers arriving weekly, that US Customs officials had the luxury of being extremely thorough. And of course, the bare fact that there even was immigration from space was classified. Each incoming passenger was interviewed separately in a small conference room in the airport.

Your documents, please?

Brand handed the inspector three passports and a sheet of paper declaring everything in their leather bags.

Barbuda, huh? he said, pursing his lips. How's the weather down there this time of year, Mr. Millet?

It was a game and Brand knew it. He wasn't interested in games at this particular time, so he stuck to the truth. I've never been there, sir.

The inspector shrugged. The Administration was planning to do something about the loophole soon but he was only concerned with existing Immigration law.

Who do you work for?

Astrodynamics Corporation.

He smiled at this. Astrodyne was known to have a close relationship with Femina Caelestis, but this relationship was not clear. Many female "citizens" of Barbuda with single names had come through this airport, and they always claimed to work for Astrodyne. What do you do there?

I'm a scheduler for teardowns and buildups on the Mark 17 Interconnect Module line.

A scheduler? And what is the purpose of your visit to the United States?

Pleasure. Sometimes you just gotta come back down here and look at the trees and take in the fresh air, do you know what I mean?

Yes. Enjoy it while you can, Brand. We're slowly catching on to you so there may not be a next time. With that point made he stamped their passports and handed them back to him.

When Brand, Jabs and Victoria emerged from the terminal and set foot on Earth for the first time in their lives, they marveled at all the cars and trucks driving on Interstate 90. Brand took to driving again like a duck to water. He used to drive up and down the roads in Fortuna with an electric drawn from the motor pool.

Jabs said, Driving. It looks impossible to do.

It's exactly like riding a bicycle, Brand said. Once you learn, you never forget how.

Great, replied Jabs. What's a bicycle?

When Roth decided to strike, about a month after the Millets arrived on Earth, it was against Brand's daughter, Victoria. He worked through a third party, with men unknown to Brand and Jabs, men who could watch Victoria all the time for a moment, any moment, no matter how brief, when Victoria wasn't being watched like a hawk by her parents.

They got her when the family was shopping in downtown Seattle. Brand and Jabs stopped to admire some blown glass art in a street-level window. One man whisked Victoria into a car with a hand over her mouth. Another man, unseen within, whisked the car away.

Ten seconds was all it took. And it took another ten seconds for Brand and Jabs to notice Victoria was missing. Brand was in a terrible rage at this low blow but he understood it as an escalation of the war between him and Wardian.

Jabs was an inconsolable wreck. She couldn't sit down the rest of that day.

So Wardian made his move, sha said. I just never thought he'd stoop to hurting Victoria.

Jabs wanted Brand to call the police. Sha wanted him to call Femina Caelestis. Call anybody. Brand decided to wait until Roth contacted him.

The next day, the driver of the getaway car arrived on their doorstep and gave them an envelope. I work for Mr. Wardian, he told them. The kid is safe. Mr. Wardian wants a refund. He'll be in touch.

Inside the envelope was a picture of Victoria, her face wet with tears, tied up in a strange room. Jabs screamed, Now call the police!

Strangely enough, I want Victoria back alive, Brand told her, shaking his head. I'll call my family instead.

So Jabs handed him the Gridphone Del had given her, and he flipped the lid open.

His sister Chayn arrived at their hotel within minutes, courtesy of a macro-powered Veetle. He was very happy to see her again after years apart. They embraced for longer than it took Chayn to hop to his location. If Del hadn't switched bodies he would have done the same thing with her. He loved both of his sisters equally.

When they released each other, Brand introduced his wife and sister to each other.

This Roth Wardian guy found your house, Chayn said when he told their story to her. That's an easy trick. We can turn that right back around and track him down. It won't be hard. They say he's wheelchair-bound from the gravity.

Show her the picture, Jabs said. Brand passed the envelope to Chayn.

She looked at the picture of Victoria closely, and then held it up to her blouse-button cam, which permitted everyone available on the Grid to try to match it. If Chayn had chosen to join Femina Caelestis like her twin sister she would have just looked at the image with her eyes, and it would have been available on the Grid all the same.

This was a problem personally important to Robyn, so many members of Femina Caelestis dropped what they were doing to help.

A few women recognized the walls behind Victoria as the interior of a certain power plant, and relayed this information to Chayn with a phone call.

We're in luck, little Victoria is being held in a macro power plant about two hours to the south. At the Trojan site, as a matter of fact. Any macro power plant is open to us. Maintenance. The FC can come and go at will.

Hunky and Dory showed up in a van, looking remarkably youthful and spry for two women who were supposed to be as old has his grandmother, in their 60's at least. They had two other FC troops with them he didn't recognize.

Jabs and Chayn were fitted out in Femina Caelestis power plant technician's uniforms to match the clothes Hunky, Dory, and the other two women were wearing. Jabs was more than six and a half feet tall, so she wore a man's uniform, but only for the fit, she was far too feminine to pass as a man. Brand went in his own clothes, but no one would question his presence among the FC team. He was to be a contractor tagging along.

The power plant was formerly known as the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant, and it had been the only nuclear reactor to operate in Oregon aside from the research reactor at Reed College in Portland. It was taken off-line in 1992. Dirty fission power was being abandoned with the coming of macros and more recently the ultrasafe SHe-3 "fusion". The old turbines and generators and giant cooling tower at Trojan were still used. Only the source of the steam was different now.

The FC team entered a set of doors using keys provided by Hunky and stood in a large glass-enclosed gallery looking down on a dozen consoles attended by technicians. The glass was very thick and they could hear no sound through it.

Just in front of this control room, Chayn told Brand, behind that far wall, is one of two jumbo macros which provide the power. Should one of those macros go down for any reason they can quickly shift over to the other reaction chamber until the faulty one is repaired by us. Which, as it happens, is the case right now.

Chayn led them out of the gallery and down a sloping walkway leading under the ground. In this place a window looked into a round room with a three-foot diameter rotating shaft running from the metal-grated floor to the ceiling.

This is the space between a steam turbine in the ground beneath us, Chayn said, and the generator above. The steam comes directly from the macro chamber and turns huge blades. The rotation is geared down to sixty RPM, as you can see.

They walked further on down echoing concrete passageways and took a glass elevator which faced back toward the parking lot. It burst from underground and rose eight stories to a skybridge which went clear across the gigantic space of the power house. They went went halfway along the skybridge and looked over the edge eighty feet down onto the generators. There were ten red-painted generators, and each generator was the size of a house.

There was no sign of little Victoria.

The FC team left Brand and Jabs alone, some doubling back, some taking an escalator down, others seeking a way to get on the roof. The skybridge led to a broad observation deck. Here the floor was covered in luxurious thick orange plush carpet and the walls and handrails were trimmed in bright blue.

There were various science exhibits scattered around, like a little museum of electricity and physics. Jabs pushed the button on a Jacob's ladder, a pair of rods like an old TV antenna. A series of electric arcs started climbing up it.

There was another exhibit with a screen activated by a button which was supposed to show video clips of the power plant in operation. A yellow sticky was next to the button, and on it was printed the name "Millet." Brand pushed this button.

The screen showed Brand and Jabs a live image of his little girl, who was tied up alone somewhere in the plant and in tears. For the rest of her life, four year old Victoria would tag this traumatic event as her first memory, not her time in space, and that was truly a shame.

Millet! Where's my god-damned money?

Brand fired a shot at the screen, in a tantrum. I know where Victoria is being kept now, he told Jabs. It has to be the inactive macro, the one on standby in case the active one went down. They both rushed down the stairs.

Brand and Jabs entered the chamber. Mommy! Victoria cried. There was no sign of Roth.

Roth Wardian saw them all on camera from the control room. He calmly activated the phantomizer, but Jabs and Victoria and Brand were all unharmed. You can't phantomize stuff twice.

Lucky shot, Roth said to himself, thinking the macro had been somehow destroyed by Brand.

Just as it didn't enter his mind at the time of the buy that Jabs' ice ball had been pre-phantomized, it didn't enter his mind now that Jabs and Brand had already been pre-phantomized, and Victoria too, by proxy. Surviving a macro went against everything he knew. He had no clue there was such a thing as a sub-macro that was more gentle with its samples.

This power plant's macros were not so gentle.

He came rolling down the ramp in his wheelchair, gun in hand, ready to kill all of them. And the instant he crossed into the chamber, he ceased to exist. His atoms were scattered to random spots within a sphere 14 miles across.

The momentum of the chair carried him all the way through. Half of his atoms were buried inside the Earth, the other half were scattered to the wind. And for Brand, that was the end of his Roth Wardian problem.

All and all, it was much too quick a death for Wardian, in Brand's opinion. After he killed the power to the macro, he muttered, Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Then Brand swept Jabs into his arms for an extended kiss.

Presently the FC team entered and saw to their great relief that they were safe. They respected Brand and Jab's intimate moment and gathered around Victoria instead, showering her with love.

Jabs absorbed this for a moment, then summed it up. So this was a family affair. The Millets solve their own problems.

Look at the sweet little thing, Chayn said. Niece, you have no idea what a happy, rich, spoiled brat you're going to be!

I want Victoria to be a happy, rich, spoiled brat, Brand said. She may be a jen but she's not my son. She's got nothing to prove to herself. She can grow up and fall in love the traditional way and spend the rest of her life with no worries about anything. Don't you see? Victoria herself, and her mother and their happiness are my life's reward!

Brand's high hopes for the happiness of his daughter didn't pan out, and his own pride played a big role in that. There was material security, to be sure. Neither Victoria nor Jabs wanted for anything, but the kidnapping incident was the last time Victoria saw any of hez father's blood kin in Femina Caelestis for a long time. And this cut off Victoria's only means of finding another jen like hemself. For che was a flex, and would only find true happiness with another jen.

Hez early school days were under the shadow of the attacks on 9/11/2001. In middle school and high school che had to be excused from physical education class because no one could figure out whether she should shower in the boys' locker room, or with the girls. It went without saying that hez early life was filled with an endless parade of bullies. Only the strong and steadt love of her parents for hem, fueled by their rock-solid love for one another, kept Victoria going.

The United States entered the Great Recession just when Victoria graduated high school. Che rode the worst of it out in college, on hez father's dime. While attending the University of Washington che sampled many pleasures, dating both men and women and reaching climax with both through oral sex, but true satisfaction eluded hem. None of the men she dated could bring himself to actually penetrate hem with hez penis waving at them.

As the years went on all of these things dragged Victoria's self-esteem in a straight line down into the gutter. The only thing che had going for hem was a fairly good and steady income doing inventory control for a local light industrial firm, supplemented at times from her father's bounty. This money did attract a ne'er-do-well named Frank Pritchard, if Victoria's penis did not. In 2022 Victoria entered her first marriage as a twenty-eight year old virgin. Che would still be a virgin eight years later when she married again, but there would be far fewer bruises the second time around.

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