Graham tossed his keys on the console and marched into the den, where he kept his home office. It was now almost two in the morning and he was beyond exhausted, but he wasn’t ready to call it a night just yet. He set the tube down on his desk and plopped into his Aeron, sighing with pleasure. There was nothing – nothing – like the pleasure of a good chair.
Buzz jumped onto his lap and curled up.
“Buzzard,” Graham said, stroking the cat’s back. His tabby was named for Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, but his ex-wife had always called the cat Buzzard and over the years the name had taken. Every pet Graham had owned since the age of eight had been named Buzz.
Graham lived in Colonial Town, a cluster of cinderblock tract homes off Colonial Drive, about twenty minutes from downtown Orlando and across from the municipal airport. His home wasn’t anything fancy, not on a reporter’s salary, and his neighbors were always complaining about its outward upkeep, but the truth was that Graham just wasn’t home much, and he’d let it go ever since Beth had left. The inside wasn’t much better – “invitingly minimal” as a date had once called it.
Buzz mewed and jumped off Graham’s lap, trotting down the hall.
“That bad, huh?” He did stink. He would take a shower before bed.
But first things first.
He played back the recording of Tycho as he unlocked the tube and unfurled the electronic paper roll. He was still getting used to the idea of disposable computing. Smartphones and tablets –- mobile computing – had been the hot thing for a long time, and now the hot new thing in consumer media tech was ultra-personalization: voice control, disposability, and lifestyle ubiquity, tech-infused into otherwise ordinary objects. Regular paper wasn’t going away anytime soon, but the old world he had grown up with, which had seemed to move at a lightning pace of evolution, was fading fast. The next big wave was already here, autonomous self-driving cards and his tech journalist buddies were now predicting tactile holography and personalized robot assistants within the next five years. Sometimes he wondered how the human race would ever keep up with its own inventiveness.
The paper flickered to life as he flattened it out, and he found himself looking at a directory listing of files, with names like:
There were twenty-two images all told, but the one that caught his eye immediately was the one labeled “Hab_Master_BP,” if only because it had the word “master” in it. Graham tapped the icon and a second later found himself looking at a schematic – an engineering blueprint of what appeared to be some kind of remote installation. The schematic seemed surprisingly old school considering how Graham was accessing it.
The facility was starfish-shaped, a central hub with radiating branches. Not unlike the WuSpace Star Voyage hotel, actually. His first reaction was mild curiosity because no one went to this level of detail without intending to build the thing. But the schematics looked decidedly retro. NASA was currently focused on lassoing an asteroid and while the moon was still on its agenda, budget cuts and political disagreements over direction meant a lot of stalling.
“Just check out OASIS,” Tycho said on the recording, and Graham hit pause on the phone.
He swiveled back to his Macbook, which although only six months old seemed positively quaint compared to the electronic paper. He opened up Chrome and searched for “Oasis.” It wasn’t generally a term he associated with the space industry, but that didn’t really mean anything. It might be a project code name within NASA or some funky acronym that only made sense to whoever coined it. NASA did love its acronyms. His search yielded things like the official site for the rock band Oasis, a site affiliated with the University of Georgia, something called the Organization for the Advancement of Structure Information Standards and other meaningless names.
He tried “oasis NASA” and got more relevant results. There were listings from NASA pages for something called “Observation and Analysis of Smectic Islands in Space” and JPL pages for “GIPSY-OASIS”, which stood for GNSS-Inferred Positioning System and Orbit Analysis Simulation Software. Not what he was looking for, but at least in the field. Graham started up the recording again and went back to the electronic paper, clicked through more of the schematics.
Then Tycho said, “Somebody beat us to it.”
Graham leaned back in his chair, a scenario suddenly playing out in his head that was so far from possibility it was science fiction. He dismissed the thought immediately. It just couldn’t be. If it was one thing he knew from experience, it was that where space was concerned the future never got here fast enough. He’d spent his life watching, hoping, damn near praying that America would take a permanent foothold on the moon or Mars. That dream had driven him as a reporter to cover the space industry exclusively. Every President promised great things from NASA, but then they always cut the budget. Congress tussled over whether to send men to the moon or to an asteroid, and reality TV shows were now popping up promising to send humans to the moon and Mars. Reality television. And that was really the sad part, he thought; space was seen as a commodity now. Such thinking, such assumptions, was incredibly arrogant in his estimation.
For the last couple of decades, Americans hadn’t even been able to get to the International Space Station without hitching a ride with the Russians or on a private rocket, let alone escape Earth orbit. Man hadn’t escaped the Earth in fifty years. That was the hard truth. It was one of the great tragedies of the Apollo program that NASA had destroyed all of the Saturn V rockets. So whatever this facility was in these schematics, if it had been built, it had been done right here on Earth.
So Graham was curious but not enough to keep digging on it tonight, despite Tycho’s cloak and dagger routines and his cryptic doomsday proclamations. Tomorrow he would slip into the Sentinel offices, beg forgiveness from Brody and get some research help from Tina. He shuffled off to bed, but he couldn’t shake Tycho’s last statement.
Somebody beat us to it.