Episode Eight: Battle of the Aurora

GOOGLE DEATHDEALER - HIGH ORBIT

The Google Deathdealer Dreadnoughts looked a lot like the Battlestar Galactica from the old TV series with some Imperial Star Destroyer features tacked on at the last minute. This was because that was exactly what happened. Sergey Brin really wanted to go full out Battlestar Galactica because the Star Wars Tie Fighter based Google TOGs had become a running joke in the chat rooms. Google's new FANG, another short range space fighter, was modeled heavily on the Battlestar Vipers, which turned out to be a more practical form. So sticking with a Battlestar theme made sense to Brin for the mothership design, but at the last minute Larry Page freaked out and insisted on the new ships looking like Imperial Star Destroyers, which was impossible given the Google's timeline for the assault on the Aurora. Sergey did what he could to placate Larry by adding a completely useless conning tower but the whole thing ended up looking like a mess. Even worse, there wasn't time to build enough FANGs. So half the short range fighters were old TOGs and the fighter fleet had no consistent theme at all. On top of that, Larry and Sergey got into a huge fight about what FANG stood for. Sergey just felt it stood for Fangs of Google, without the Google part. But Larry wanted it to be an abbreviation for Falcon Attack Next Generation, which just seemed stupid to Sergey since there never had been a first generation Google Falcon. Moreover, Sergey would just die if people thought it was supposed to be based on the Millennium Falcon which would be chat room hell all over again.
The only good news was they had succeeded in getting the jump on the Aurora and Amazon's new battle fleet and it looked like it would be a pretty easy slaughter, which was how Sergey preferred his space battles.
Amazon's own attack fighters were demolishing the lousy TOGs one by one, but the new FANGs were more sturdy and Sergey was sure they would win the day thanks to superior numbers. The new Deathdealer plasma torpedoes, much to Sergey's surprise, managed to hit their target rather than self-imploding as they had in tests. If the Deathdealers could manage to get a second volley off without falling apart, the Aurora would be doomed, along with the leaders of every major Google competitor.
But despite imminent victory, Sergey was pensive as he paced around the flagship Deathdealer's bridge in his squeaky Iron Man costume. Larry rarely left Google's Tower of Doom in the Googleplex anymore, so Sergey was leading the attack. Away from Larry he could dress however he liked and Iron Man was his favorite. Even though his suit couldn't fly, the fake ARC reactor glowed on his chest and that looked pretty spiffy.
"You seem sad, dear." Eve said as she ran a sympathetic hand over his armored shoulder. "Penny for your thoughts." She was dressed as Kitana from the Mortal Combat video game, without the face mask, of course. The skimpy blue silk revealed every delicious curve on her body and she smiled at Sergey winsomely. Sergey couldn't resist but to briefly smile back, then quickly forced his lips to straighten.
"It's nothing. Nothing. What's the status on the plasma torpedoes?"
"There are some problems loading in the second volley.  They seem to be overheating in the chambers.”
"I knew they would screw up! They were glitchy all the way through development! These new state of the art weapon systems can not be rushed and we wasted all that time attaching the stupid Star Destroyer conning tower!"
"Serg, baby, relax. Your plan is working brilliantly. The Aurora is already in flames. The FANGs will be able to finish it off, even if we can’t get the torpedoes working again. What's really bothering you, my love?"
Sergey sighed. "I don't know. I just… I feel so alone."
"Even with me at your side?" Eve said warmly.
Sergey abruptly turned away and burst. "You're not really Eve! You're just a stupid robot Eve! I want the real Eve!”
"I'm better than the real Eve." The robot Eve said firmly.
"She has to be on the Aurora. She must have managed to get the Pogo Rocket there after destroying the TOGs we sent for her. How she did all that with an unarmed ship I can't imagine. She’s so incredible.”
"If she is on the Aurora, then she will soon be dead."
"But Larry wants her alive!"
"You don't have to do everything Larry says. You're better than him!"
"I am?" Sergey asked softly and slowly turned back to her.
"Much better than him." Robot Eve said, taking his chin in her hand.
"You're just saying that because I programmed you to say it!"
"Sergey, listen to me." Robot Eve held his chin and looked deeply into his eyes. "I'm serious. I am a testament to how great you really are. You are a genius. Like Tony Stark."
"I can't even get my Iron Man armor to fly!" Sergey said, tears welling in his eyes.
"You will. You will, dear. Now stop thinking about Larry, and stop thinking about the real Eve. She's dead. I'm the real Eve now and I love you. Focus on what a great leader you are and let's defeat those Amazon turds. Okay?" Robot Eve smiled again and Sergey's heart melted.
"Okay." He said, feeling better.

HOTEL SUITE - AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP

Back on the Aurora, in Bezos' hotel suite the real Eve could see through the floor to ceiling windows that Amazon’s space fleet was mounting a counterattack on Google’s. But it was too late to save the Aurora; the docking hub in the center of the space station was burning uncontrollably and the fires were spreading though the carousel spokes toward the outer loop of the hotel. The entire station would soon be gone. Her thoughts were confirmed when the windows in front of her started cracking from the structural damage and air began to escape.
Bezos hit a button on his Space Admiral armor and a retractable helmet and visor sealed over his head, Iron Man style. He looked at Eve with a smug smile. "And you thought this was too much, didn't you? It wasn't vanity. I like to be prepared."
Eve said nothing, but silently admitted he was right. She rushed over to the suite's emergency station and grabbed a stock helmet for herself and snapped it into her Virgin Galactic spacesuit. The cracks in the windows were spreading rapidly.
Bezos radioed into his helmet, "Amazon Fleet, this is big leader. I'm safe and will be joining you soon." He turned to Eve. "You'd better take one of the lifepods while you still can. This station is doomed."
"What are you going to do?" Eve asked.
“I’m going to join up with my fleet and try to hold them off until you and the others can escape.” At that moment, the windows completely shattered and what was left of the air in the hotel suite rushed out in a single burst. Eve grabbed onto the bar to stop herself from going with it. Bezos hit a button on his armor and a jet pack on his back fired up. He rocketed out the missing window and flew into space. Right toward the raging battle between his fleet and Google’s.
The room’s gravity was fading and becoming unsteady as the spinning station wobbled and slowed without the balance of the demolished hub. Alarms flashed everywhere and a message came over the loud speakers: “Alert! All personnel head to the lifepod stations for emergency evacuation. This is not a drill." Eve was only modestly surprised the recorded voice was again Panther, the hip-hop star who had done the countdown. Branson liked his celebrity connections. Eve rushed out the suite.

CORRIDOR - AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP

Despite the chaos, the Virgin staff was highly professional and organized as they directed the guests to the hundreds of lifepods situated all around the circular hotel facilities. Guests helmets and spacesuits were checked before being loaded into small four person lifepods which were sealed and shot down to Earth. The craft would be easy targets for Google's fighters but there were obviously no better alternatives.
Arianna spotted Eve and rushed over, grabbing her arm. "Quick, this way. I saved a spot for you on Branson's private ship."
"I've got to find Yuliya."
"There's not room for two more. She'll be fine with the others."
"I can't."
"Suit yourself." Arianna rushed off, grabbing a dazed Leo Laporte and leading him away.
The corridor went black as the power cut off. Small yellow emergency lights kicked on. Eve rushed past hotel staff as they tried to direct her to the lifepods. She scanned the crowds, searching for Yuliya.
A voice came up in her helmet radio. "Eve? It's Oliver! Are you okay?"
"Yes! Where's Yuliya?"
"I've got her. We're at life station 5."
"Then go ahead and leave while you can!"
"Yuliya won't go. She won't get into the lifepod without you."
"Okay! I'm coming!" Eve had feared as much. She ran down the curving corridor checking for the numbered life stations. She ran past station 8 and then station 7. She picked up speed as once she knew she was going in the right direction. Another explosion rocked the station and what tiny fingers of gravity had been holding her feet to the floor fell away.
Her momentum floated her up into the center of the corridor but she soon began to slow and drift. She frantically tried to swim herself forward but it was almost useless. Damn, that smug Bezos with his jet pack, she thought. She finally drifted far enough to what had been the roof of the corridor that she was able to kick something solid and propel herself forward and down to the floor. As she flew down to the former floor, she fiercely kicked off again, forward and up. She continued on in the same way, ricocheting between the floor and roof until she finally reached station 6. Everyone, including the staff, were gone. All the lifepods had taken off.
Oliver's voice came through her headset again. "Eve?"
"I'm coming! I'm close."
An even larger blast tore through the station again. This time bursting the corridor in front of Eve and filling it with fire and fury. The concussion from the explosion send Eve hurling back through the tube, like a bullet shooting out of a gun barrel. In the wrong direction. Eve shouted into the headset as she tumbled past station 7. "Oliver! Oliver! I can't get to you! You have to go now! Drag Yuliya in if you have to! Tell her I order her to go! Tell her I order her!"
Before Eve could hear a reply, a defining sound and flash of light followed by more fire and shattering particles enveloped everything around her. The force of it crushed her body like being squeezed in a giant burning fist. She blacked out.

HIGH ORBIT

Eve regained consciousness slowly. She felt pleasantly warm and sleepy, drifting in the zero gravity like flying in a dream. She heard what sounded like distant knocking on her bedroom door, as if her mother was trying to wake her in the morning. She forced herself to open her eyes, she didn't want to be late for school.
She instantly snapped back into reality. The Aurora was completely destroyed, reduced to chunks and bits around her. Small pieces banged into Eve's helmet with loud thumps. She felt warm because she was freezing to death, her space suit was not insulated enough to withstand prolonged exposure to the coldness of the airless vacuum. She knew she had been right to be suspicious of its sexy form fitting design. As she moved her body, every bone and muscle ached in sharp pain. She checked the spacesuits bio reading on her forearm display. She had about five minutes of oxygen left.
Eve never feared death; she had come so close to it so many times fighting for Apple she usually was more surprised when she lived. But she hated being helpless, and as she assessed her situation she couldn't come up with any possible plan that might offer even a shred of hope. She was floating without any possibility of directing her path and no nearby refuge to seek even if she could. There was simply nothing to do but wait until her oxygen ran out, or she froze to death first.
Out past the ruin of the Aurora, she could see the spectacular battle still going on between the space fleets of Amazon and Google. She now had time to study the odd design of the Google Deathdealers, which looked if someone had changed their mind midway through construction. She took note of the new Google FANGs. Not being a Battlestar Galactica fan, she didn't recognize them, other than to note the design seemed more practical than the fragile TOGs. Amazon's fleet was made up of three types of space craft, none of which were based on any comic books or movies. There was the mid-sized Amazon Battlecruiser, similar in design to their standard cargo/passenger craft but more heavily armored and bristling with weapon's systems. The Amazon Hammerhead was their two person light attack fighter, deriving its name from the heavy armor plating on its front. Finally there was the Amazon Man-of-War, their largest craft and the mother ship for the Hammerheads. It was longer than five football fields, but still a third of the size of the Google Deathdealers.
In terms of force strength, from what Eve could tell Google had gone into the battle with a enormous numerical advantage. She had counted at least ten Deathdealers back in Bezos hotel suite and hundreds of attack fighters. The Amazon forces she had viewed upon her arrival at the Aurora consisted of two Man-of-War, six Battlecruisers and a few dozen Hammerheads. Now, from what she could tell, five of the Deathdealers were missing, at least three destroyed and the field was littered with demolished TOGs. It didn't appear that Amazon had lost any of its capital ships.
Despite the loss of the Aurora, the tide seemed to be turning in Amazon's favor. During the war briefing Admiral Bezos had reveled that Amazon's space weapons strategy was very different than Google's. Google's weapons were all light based, mazer and laser. (Eve would only learn later about their new plasma torpedoes.) Amazon had a few beamed weapons, mostly for anti-missile defense, but their main attack weapons were kinetic railgun cannons that fired depleted uranium shells that could cut through just about anything. On top of that, Amazon had invented a reflective coated and heat shielded armor that stood up well against Google's light based weapons.

SILVER KNIGHT - AMAZON MAN-O-WAR - HIGH ORBIT

On Amazon's flagship Man-O-War, the Silver Knight, Admiral Bezos was also assessing the battlefield, though more pensively. The railgun cannons had turned out to be very effective against the Google TOGs, but much less so against the new FANGs which were better armored, faster and more maneuverable. Thanks to their own armor, Amazon had not lost any big ships and most of their fighter fleet was intact. But Bezos was concerned about this powerful new weapon Google had. It had wiped out the Aurora in just a few shots but for some reason they had not turned it upon the Amazon fleet. Even more mysteriously, five of the giant Deathdealers had blown up on their own, or at least Bezos had no information to indicate it had anything to do with their counterattack. The remaining Deathdealers seemed to be holding up well against Amazon’s attacks, if only due to their huge size. The biggest question in Bezos mind was how many more Deathdealers there might be floating in orbit and what other secret weapons systems Google might have. He started to worry about the safety of Amazon's own half-a-dozen space stations. So far there were no reports of impending attacks on them.
Bezos knew he had to fight Google off long enough to give the executives on the Aurora a chance to escape on the lifepods. But they were long gone and the Aurora itself was a total lost. With no clear victory in sight, Bezos made a decision not to chance any significant losses.
"Let's get the hell out of here." He said to his Executive Officer. "There's nothing to fight for anymore.”

GOOGLE DEATHDEALER - HIGH ORBIT

"They're retreating." Robot Eve told Sergey.
"Good! We'll hunt them down like dogs and give no quarter." Brin said, bursting with confidence. But his face filled with doubt as Robot Eve looked at him with arched eyebrows. "Don't you think?"
"No." Robot Eve said. "We'd better cut our losses while we can. We took care of the Aurora. We need time to regroup and study the fight data.”
Sergey paced unhappily. Robot Eve was right and he knew it. Amazon's fleet was not made up of helpless sitting ducks like the weaponless Virgin Pogo Rockets and the Aurora. They seemed to have armor systems that held against the mazers, and their railgun cannons were deadly. The only thing that would have worked against Amazon's big ships were the new plasma torpedoes, but five of the Deathdealers had self-destructed because of torpedo malfunctions. Fortunately, Robot Eve had quickly sent orders to stop using them before the entire fleet was gone. Meanwhile, almost every TOG had been destroyed; Sergey was actually grateful for that, but there had been a significant loss of life on Google's side. That was not good for morale, even within an evil empire.
"What do you think we should do?" Sergey asked.
"Head back to the Wrath of Larry." Robot Eve said firmly. "This Amazon fleet is much bigger and more powerful than we suspected. But wasn't built to defend the Aurora. They had to have to be planning an attack themselves. They probably want to take out the Wrath of Larry nuclear deterrent."
"Yeah, I worried about that too." Sergey sighed.
"We have to get the plasma torpedoes perfected. And while we're at it, we can go full out Battlestar Galactica. You can tell Larry the conning towers were a problem in battle."
"Wow!" Sergey bubbled. "That's a great idea. We'll blame everything on the conning towers!"

HIGH ORBIT

Eve watched as the two warring space fleets, the largest by far ever assembled by mankind, almost simultaneously abandoned the zero gravity battlefield and left in opposite directions. As her body continued to succumb to the dizzying warmth of hypothermia, she felt mildly disappointed. Not that she had held out any hope either side could have rescued her. She was merely one speck out of a million in the expanding cloud of rubble from the Aurora. But she missed having a show to watch and a side to root for. However significant, or not, the losses Google suffered, they had succeeded in destroying the Aurora, and it appeared the Amazon fleet had fled first. Google supporters would be insufferable for days on the social media.
Her oxygen lamp flashed red to indicate her air supply was gone. She had tried using her helmet radio to contact the Amazon fleet, even hacking it through her forearm controls to test different frequencies, but it appeared to have too weak of a signal. She took what she imaged might be one last long look at the distant sun, so amazing and powerful from space and then at the moon, so mysterious and cold. She then shifted her eyes to the beautiful Earth, which had created her, wanting her last images to be of it. Her breathing grew shallow as the last traces of oxygen disappeared and the remaining carbon dioxide began to poison her. She wondered how the ultimate battle between Apple and Google would play out. Steve Jobs had been overtly pessimistic the last time they had spoke. “It is always easier to destroy than create,” he had said. Once Google had shifted all its remaining financial resources to mayhem and death, there was little that could be done to stop it, he had told her. Yet she couldn't help but think Jobs had some trick up his sleeve; some rabbit he would pullout of his magical hat, like he did with the iPod when Apple was at its lowest. She hoped he would do it once more before total darkness descended upon humankind.
That was when she spotted it. A tiny shadow of a space craft heading toward her, silhouetted by the blue Earth. It was a Virgin lifepod. As it neared, the polycarbonate canopy split and the rear slid back. A space-suited figure floated out attached to a safety tether. Eve knew instantly it was Yuliya, though her visor simply reflected the bright moon, with crystal clear crafters forming eyes, a nose and even the curves of a smile.
As the lifepod drew closer she could see Oliver piloting it, determined, but concerned. Yuliya continued to float upward, the momentum sending her toward Eve. She was just barely a few feet off in her trajectory, and they both reached out to clasp hands. Yuliya quickly pulled Eve close and snapped another tether onto Eve's belt loop. She did it with such confidence and precision Eve would have assumed she had a lifetime of astronaut training, rather than a hasty pre-rescue briefing from Oliver.
"I can't believe you found me." Eve said through the helmet radio.
Yuliya's face appeared through the visor, gleaming even more brightly than the moon had. "I had to. I love you."
Eve looked into her eyes, sadly. This time, there was no escaping the message her silence sent. Yuliya got it, and it clearly hurt. "Let's get you inside." Yuliya said and went back to business. She began to pull on the tether and drag them both back to the lifepod. Oliver did the same on his end.
Eve's body was so stiff from the cold, and her blood oxygen so low, she could barely do anything to help. She had never been rescued by anyone before. Oh, there were many times in battle where her life had depended on the brave actions of others, Steve Jobs many times, Jony Ive, Tim Cook, and Zuckerberg in Paris. People had covered her back, sent in timely reinforcements, or slaughtered an unseen enemy before they could do Eve harm. But she had never been "rescued" in the sense of being totally helpless and certain to perish without assistance. Even when Jony Ive destroyed the giant Googlebot with a .50 caliber sniper shot to its motherboard just before it pounded down on Eve's head; there was still a tiny chance Eve might have rolled away in time. Assistance had always come while Eve was in battle, and in battle anything was possible. In Paris, when the Google riot suppression offer had a garrett around Eve’s throat, there was still a chance she might have flipped him, even if Zuckerberg hadn’t axed him first. Before there was always at least a sliver or possibility of a different outcome. But this time, with her oxygen gone, and only seconds to spare, it was clear Eve would be dead if Yuliya had even hesitated in her determination to rescue her. And as much as Eve hated being emotionally blackmailed into saying "I love you," she hated being rescued even more. The embarrassment of it made her otherwise dizzily warm body shiver uncomfortably. She fainted.

VIRGIN LIFEPOD - REENTRY - EARTH

When Eve awoke her helmet was off and Yuliya was gently wiping her forehead with a warm towel. Any trace of hurt or disappointment had fallen from Yuliya's face and was replaced by a motherly satisfaction that Eve was safe and doing better. Eve decided she didn't much care much for that expression either.
Oliver monitored the lifepod controls as it tilted its heat shield in the direction of its fall and began reentry. The craft shook as the gravity of Earth grabbed it firmly and pulled it downward. The dark skies of space rapidly turned blue.
"We're going down. It’s going to be a little shaky. All strapped in good?" Oliver said and glanced back at them. Yuliya double checked the belts holding Eve to her chair and nodded. "You doing better?" Oliver said to Eve, seeing she was awake.
"You took a big chance coming back for me." Eve said, her throat painfully dry.
"You have no idea how big. We barely had enough fuel to left to get down to Earth. And we almost got nailed by a few stray shots from the battle. But Yuliya was sure you were alive and we could find you. A sixth sense."
Yuliya nodded and Eve turned to her. "Thank you." Eve said as sincerely as she could, hoping to make up a little for other missing words. Yuliya excitedly popped a big kiss on Eve's lips and then triumphantly strapped back into her chair, mission accomplished.
The blue sky outside turned to red flames as gasses from the thickening atmosphere were compressed by the lifepod’s heat shield until they exploded into fire. Eve took deep breaths to refill her body with as much oxygen as possible; even as she pondered the oxygen burning up outside the ship. Feeling returned to her fingers. "Where is this thing going, Oliver?"
"It's on autopilot to our hotel on Necker Island. Once we land, and a doctor checks you over, you can have a complementary two night stay, or we can fly you anywhere you want to go."
"There's no time. Can you override the controls?"
"Yes but…"
Oliver looked back concerned. "If you're worried about security I can assure you the island is a fortress."
"I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about the Earth. We have little time left to save it."
Oliver nodded. "Where do you want to go?"
"Africa. I have to find someone. And there’s not a second to spare.”



To be continued…
Next episode: Into the Heart of Darkness


Episode Seven: The Fellowship of Tech

VIRGIN POGO ROCKET - HIGH ORBIT


It didn't take long for Eve to kill the two Space Soldiers.
The Space Corps were Google's most elite fighting unit. They were protectors of the Wrath of Larry, Google's orbital platform backed with nuclear weapons ready to unleash terror upon the Earth at any moment. Space Soldiers were required to be over six feet tall, and in top physical condition. They were highly trained in every fighting art and pumped full of every muscle building steroid and drug enhancement known to man. Their body armor was state of the art, and their laser pistols the most deadly sidearm ever manufactured.
But they were human.
So they were not much of a challenge for Eve. Besides, Eve was pissed.
She was pissed that her stomach still hurt from Cleona's titanium fisted robot punch. She was pissed she even considered flirting with the creepy Google sextoy. She was pissed that Yuliya was almost killed. And pissed she had to deal with these guys so she could get the ship powered up in time to replenish Yuliya's oxygen supply. But mostly she was pissed that Google had ruined her first Virgin Galactic high orbital luxury trip with an elaborate kidnapping trap and then were so stupid they thought they could capture her…
… with only two soldiers.
Who the hell did they think they were dealing with?
Besides, deep down, despite all the training, drugs and military indoctrination, they were just Google scum. Pathetic nerds who happened to be a little taller than most and without enough coding skills to get a real job at Google. Let alone Apple.
They menaced Eve with their pistols, assuming she would back down or… something. She didn't hesitate, didn't even bother to try to fake them out. She just grabbed her floating wrench, leapt through space to the closest one, slammed him up to a bulkhead, and hammered his visor with a blow so powerful it instantly shattered.
Technically, it shouldn't have been possible. The visor was made of forged alumina, the strongest clear substance known to man. A point blank shot with a .357 magnum would barely scratch it. A mathematical analysis of the weight and compressive strength of the wrench, the theoretical force Eve could apply with its application, the absorption of the energy by the armor suit and the bulkhead wall would determine the visor could clearly withstand the blow. Eve knew, she had done a quick calculation in her head. But if there was one thing Steve Jobs had taught her, it was that the physical materials of the world can be bent to the will of those with the focus and determination to dominate them.
The soldier with the shattered visor let out a terrified cry that was instantly snuffed out as his lungs were ripped of air. Blood bubbles popped out from the cuts on his face from shards of alumia. He was toast.
The remaining soldier fired his laser at Eve in a panic, completely missing and burn a smoking hole in the empty leather pilot seat. Eve did not miss as she ripped the pistol from the weak fingers of the dying soldier and fired back. She burned a hole right through his armor plating into his heart, and kept the trigger pulled until she saw light emerge from his back in a cloud of blood.
There was no time for a victory spike. Eve strapped into the still smoking pilot's chair, only half keeping an eye on the two soldiers to make sure they finished dying without bothering her. She kicked on the ship's power supply and started up the engines.
One of the Google TOGs was visible ahead of her, and the other was probably lurking behind the rocket’s stern. She didn't turn on the running lights, but probably it wouldn't make a difference. She wasn't completely sure what kinds of sensors the TOGs had, whether they could detect her powering up. But it was a pretty sure bet that the second she activated her radar they would know it. And she would have to if she was going to pull this off.
She did take a second to glance back on Yuliya and was pleased to see Oliver had already taken charge and gotten her plugged into the now active oxygen reserve. Yuliya seemed to be stirring, but Eve had no time to wait. She kicked on the radar and cranked up the rocket boosters.
The Pogo Rocket took off like a… well… rocket. Eve headed straight into the TOG. She couldn't resist a tiny grin as she imagined the terrified pilots inside gasping as they spotted her rushing to ram them.
At the last millisecond, Eve veered the rocket ever so slightly to port. Just enough so the fuselage missed the TOG, but the port engine didn't. It smashed right into it, and the engine erupted into a terrific fireball as it ripped clean of the V-tail and the solid fuel ignited. The TOG's own small nuclear engine blew up and it disappeared in smoke, light and a cloud of metal particles.
The Pogo Rocket's four engines where now three, and the cross had become a "T." Still, Eve found it surprisingly maneuverable and flipped the ship over in a backward arc toward the second TOG she had detected on her now activated radar. The TOG tried to get away, which was the stupidest thing it could have done. Eve was worried about its mazer cannons, but they didn't fire. Instead the TOG turned on its tail and started to pick up speed, but it wasn't fast enough. Not nearly.
Eve rocketed past, this time smashing the port rocket into it. As the second engine was likewise ripped from its V-tail, it burst through the center of the TOG and entangled as it spun. Metal crunched, fires flared, but for a second it looked like it might not explode as nicely as the first. Then it erupted into a burning nuclear fireball twice as bright as before.
The Pogo Rocket's cross was now an "I" as it roared off with two engines remaining. To Eve's amazement the rocket was pretty stable. She checked back and saw Oliver and Yuliya smiling. They had been able to watch the action on their video monitors. The two incinerated TOG clouds were still sparkling with radioactive particles as the rocket escaped into the distance. Yuliya's voice was hoarse, but she purred happily. "Fireworks!"

CORRIDOR - AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP


"I heard you had a bumpy flight." Arianna Huffington drawled in her famous accent as she welcomed them. Eve had just pulled off her helmet and was settling into the artificial gravity with Yuliya and Oliver. "Google is getting rather bold, aren't they?"
Eve nodded wearily.
"I can't believe they would dare to attack a Branson rocket. Even to capture a prize like you. You look like you need a hug."
To Eve's surprise, it sounded like a good idea. Arianna opened her arms and they hugged warmly. Eve had known Arianna for some time and they had a cordial if not close relationship. They had participated together in many "Women in Tech" conferences and Arianna had badgered Eve into writing a few opinion blogs for the Huffington Post. The Huffington Post was a major powerbroker on Earth and while technically neutral in the wars, it had published some pretty damning exposes about Google's pillaging of the Rhineland and their destruction of cultural monuments in Florence. Their Apple product coverage was generally fair, if not overly enthusiastic.
"So what is Jobs announcing at the Keynote?" Arianna whispered in Eve's ear. Eve smiled. It was always quickly back to business with Arianna.
"You know I can't say anything," Eve gently admonished. But the truth was, Eve didn't have a clue. She had completely forgotten about the upcoming Keynote. Even if she had been paying attention, Eve wasn't in that highly secretive loop inside Apple. Obviously, there would be an update of the iPad X and iCom, at least a memory upgrade and faster processors. Beyond that she wasn't sure. There had been a lot of talk about an Apple flying car, and Eve knew some marvelous ones being tested, but she was pretty sure they weren't ready for market. Eve felt a tinge of guilt in her lack of interest. Was she becoming so jaded she didn't care about the Keynote anymore? Was she so focused on winning the war she had lost sight of what was really important: Apple building the greatest things the world had ever known? But wasn't the threat of Google's ultimate destruction of Earth a more pressing concern than the Keynote? How could people buy products if the world fell into total anarchy and darkness? Perhaps Jobs was even going to cancel the Keynote. He had never missed one before, even after the bombing of Cupertino, but this surely was different. Apple needed to focus all its resources now to stop Google once and for all.
"Just kidding, dear." Arianna said as she patted Eve on the shoulder. Only half-kidding, Eve thought. Arianna continued, "You'd better freshen up, the meeting will be starting soon. Everyone is here."
"Everyone" was quite an understatement. It was the biggest gathering of the most powerful tech leaders in world history, all the more fascinating because it wasn't taking place on the world, but high above it.

AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP - HIGH ORBIT


The Pogo Rocket’s two remaining engines had almost been out of fuel when it made visual contact with the beautiful, gently spinning Aurora. The hotel was designed in the classic carousel style, classic only in imagination and film until finally realized in stunning detail by Branson. It was the first serious effort at creating artificial gravity in space and was spectacularly successful, both from a technical and artistic standpoint. A bright white circular tube containing four hundred hotel rooms and suites, five shops, three restaurants and conference facilities, rotated around a bright Virgin red hub containing a space port and power generating plants.
Eve had radioed ahead with details of the attack, the ship's damage and loss of life. An emergency team was standing by. Beyond the space station she noticed a large fleet of Amazon ships. She knew those ships had weapons. While no great friend of Apple, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos hated Google even more and didn't trust them at all. He wouldn't go into orbit without packing some serious firepower.
Eve coasted the Pogo Rocket into the center of the space port's hanger. An emergency team in space suits floated out quickly to secure it and help the remaining passengers out. The hatch was damaged from the battle and they had to burn it open with laser tools. Yuliya was pulled out first and then the emergency team's leader looked in on Eve. He radioed into her helmet. "You are some amazing pilot, Dr. Zachara. I can't believe you got the ship here intact, let alone right into the center of the hanger." He offered a hand.
Eve motioned for Oliver to exit next, but he wouldn't have it. "You first, please."
Eve was about to climb out when suddenly Oliver's arm was grabbed and he let out a yelp. It was Cleona, or what was left of her, a garbed swirl of wires and flailed artificial flesh. The hideous thing clutched on Oliver like a ghoul rising from a grave.
Eve rushed to rescue him, and the thing grabbed on to her with its other arm. Eve was about to fire into it with her captured laser pistol, but it became clear Cleona wasn't trying to hurt them. It was trying to communicate. A tattered electronic voice sputtered, "I'm sorry… I'm sorry." It released Oliver and its grip softened on Eve. As the mangled machine floated it pathetically asked, “Why… why does Google hate… Apple?"
"I don't know." Eve answered.
"Does… not… compute." The robot muttered and its fingers uncurled and went limp.

HOTEL SUITE - AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP


The hotel suite was unbelievable. Despite everything that had happened, Oliver insisted on personally handling all the details of checking them in and making sure the room was perfect. During the check-in, a security guard noticed Eve's laser pistol and almost said something but Oliver waved him off. That was a good thing, because after this serious security breach, Eve had no intention of letting it go whatever Branson’s rules might be. She did however, slip it into her flight bag to be less conspicuous.
The suite had a giant living area with a sunken couch, dining platform, bar and floor to ceiling windows looking out over the Earth. There was a huge bedroom, two bathrooms, four sinks, a Jacuzzi tub and a two person shower. Eve couldn't help but wonder what the other rooms looked like. With all the VIP's in attendance, this had to be on the middle to lower end of the scale. Eve's position in Apple granted her quite a bit of cachet but she was hardly a big shot compared to the legendary figures who she knew were attending the conference.
Oliver showed them around and went over some emergency procedures. He made sure there was ice and the mini-bar was fully stocked. As he headed out he paused. "I'm sorry about the whole… the…"
Eve smiled, "Killer robot?"
"Yes." He smiled back. "Please try to enjoy your stay and if there's anything you or Yuliya need, just ask. Don't forget, there's complimentary wine and cheese in the lounge at 5pm. I'll… double check to make sure all the staff is human."
Eve and Yuliya showered together, and despite the time pressures and the close call with death, they ended up making out. The gravity in the hotel was only about half of Earth's, so everything, from the gentle spray of the warm water, to the lightness in their feet and the ease blood pumping through their hearts, made it feel like they were making love in a cloud.

CONFERENCE ROOM - AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP


Sir Richard Branson sat in the middle of the high tech conference room with the glow of the moon and the sparkling Milky Way out the windows behind him. At 82, he was in top shape, and spoke in his classy English accent with the gravitas of a major business leader in more than a dozen tech industries. But every now and then his eyes would twinkle mischievously and his sly smile would betray him as the fun loving playboy who got his start in the music business.
"Arianna Huffington, I want to thank you for helping me organize this meeting here today. And also the other heads of the tech families: from Facebook and Instagram, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos from Amazon, and from Twitter, Dick Costolo, Larry Ellison of Oracle, Drew Houston, Elon Musk, Doctor Zachara representing Apple, Marc Andreesen, and from the TWIT Network we have with us Leo Laporte and all the other associates from the blogosphere and social networks. Thank you."
Eve scanned over the impressive assembly. There was only one major tech leader missing and unrepresented, but Eve knew where she was and wasn't surprised she had failed to attend.
Branson continued, "How did things ever get so far? I don't know. This whole Google thing. How could it have come to this? They seemed like a couple nice boys not so long ago. It's all so unnecessary."
"We should have killed them while we had the chance." Zuckerberg said bitterly. "Now it is probably too late." Zuckerberg avoided looking at Eve with his remaining eye, but Eve sensed the remark was shot in her direction. A large ragged scar ran from the top of his head down through his black eyepatch and across his cheek. His right hand was missing from the wrist, and replaced with simple black iron hook. He had thus been mutilated while battling in the streets of Paris during "The Unfriend Revolution" when the population of France rose up against Google's purchase of the country, only to be brutally beaten down. Eve had been there. She had fought by his side and knew his courage to be second to none. His hand had been chopped off by an axe welding Google riot suppression officer, who then tried to finish him off with a chop to his head. But Zuckerberg had been hit, blooded and then captured the ax and turned it back on its owner with his remaining hand. He then when on to rally the resistance fighters for a new attack. And despite desperate odds, the Facebook founder had almost pulled it off, almost freed the long suffering French people. But in the face of a massive air attack, the revolutionaries were scattered. It was the only time Eve ever had retreated in the middle of a battle. She had been ordered to by Jobs. She knew Zuckerberg felt betrayed, by her and by Apple. She didn't blame him. But it was disappointing because he was one of the few true tech warriors she looked up to other than Jobs.
"What good does it do to regret the past?" Dick Costolo said, almost echoing Eve's own thoughts. "The question is: what should we do now?"
Marc Andreesen jumped in. "I want to know why Steve Jobs isn't here. We all made this a priority. What, he thinks he's better than us? Couldn't he have at least sent Tim Cook or Jony Ives?"
Eve didn't bother to react. Larry Ellison replied instead, "There is no better representative of Apple in the Google Wars than Doctor Zachara. Her knowledge of the ground campaign is second to none."
Branson also waved Marc off. "I've been assured by Mr. Jobs that she has Apple's full proxy."
"We don't need Steve Job's permission to do what we need to do. Apple is over extended anyway. They don't have the resources to lead the fight against Google anymore. They've fallen back into a completely defensive position." Jeff Bezos declared. "Isn't that right, Doctor Zachara?"
Eve dodged the question. "As I understand, Amazon has a proposal."
"Yes we do. An all out assault. We have the reserves. We are prepared to attack. Both on Earth and above it. But I want assurances from the others at this table that we are united."
"What assurances do you need?" Elon Musk asked. "At this point we are all in danger from Google. How can we not be united to stop them?"
"Yes, but if Amazon strikes and bears the brunt of the fight, I need to know no one will take advantage of the situation to move into our territories. And, with all due respect, Sir Branson, I am speaking particularly of you and your industries."
"You have my word." Branson said. "Let us take a vote around the room. Are we united in a final effort to be lead by Amazon? To solve this Google thing for good? And to make no individual acts to benefit against each other's interests until the war is won? Arianna?"
Arianna nodded firmly. This was no surprise to Eve. Branson continued around the room. "Drew?" Houston nodded. "Facebook?" Zuckenberg quickly nodded. "Twitter?" Dick Costolo nodded.
And one by one the others agreed. Even Andreesen, who had strongly defended Google in the past. The unanimous vote was finally determined when Leo Laporte softly answered, "Aye."

WAR BRIEFING - AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP


After the vote, Bezos outlined his attack strategy in a colorful powerpoint presentation with holographic illustrations. Amazon would lead the principle assault on Google's space operations, headquarters and North American business centers, with all the other tech companies simultaneously attacking Google's positions in different markets around the world. Speaking for Apple, Eve promised to drive Google out of Central Asia, which would not be too difficult given Apple's strong position in China, particularly if Google were distracted elsewhere. Branson and Musk would work with Zuckerberg and Arianna to retake Europe and Ellison would drive Google's guerrillas out of Central and South America.
Eve found herself standing next to Zuckerberg as they both looked over European troop deployment plans. Without turning to her, Zuckerberg dryly said, "We'll always have Paris, Eve."
It was meant as a joke, and a slam. And Eve took it as both. "I'm sorry, Jeff." She had said it many times before and hoped this time he might finally acknowledge it. He raised his iron hook.
"If you hadn't tied on that tourniquet, I would have bleed to death." Eve stared at the cold black half circle with the sharp point on one end. She almost said something, but stopped herself. Zuckerberg read her mind anyway, "Why don't I get an animatronic artificial hand?"
Eve nodded.
"I like the hook. It's simple. Pure. Dependable.” Zuckerberg's eye burned with determination. “I hope I can depend on Apple this time. It's our last chance to stop Google. If we fail, the Earth is doomed."
Branson interrupted by approaching Eve and putting a warm hand on her shoulder. "Why haven't you asked?"
"Asked what?" Eve answered.
"Where is she?"
"I know where she is. I didn't expect her to be here."
"I tried to talk to her. But she's determined to fight them on her own terms. I think she's gone a little crazy in the jungle." Branson said with a sad shake of his head.
"The jungle can do that to you."
"We need her, Eve. We can't pull it off without her. We'll never take Europe with Africa under Google control. You've got to talk to her. Get her to turn her forces North to the Nile.
"Why me?"
Zuckerberg answered for Branson. "You're the only one she'll listen to. She respects you. And Apple.” He added under his breath, “Why, I don’t know.”
Branson agreed. "You have to go to her in person. It has to be your first stop when you return to Earth.”
"I'm not sure I'll even be able to find her."
"You have to." Zuckerberg said. And in that moment, a silent deal was made. This was the way Eve could make it up to him. It was an impossible task, but somehow she had to do it. For Zuck.
Eve nodded.

CONFERENCE - AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP


Eve knew the attack planning had devolved into pointless chatter when Drew Houston started geeking out by suggesting the alliance be called: "The Fellowship of Tech." Soon there were discussions of a T-Shirt and logos and Eve started for the door. "Email me the rest." Arianna nodded and it was the cue many were looking for. The meeting broke up.
Leo Laporte button holed Eve before she could make it out. "So, Dr. Zachara… " He paused under Eve's withering stare and then fumbled. "… all for one and one for all, right?"
"Don't try to kiss up to me, Laporte. You are so two-faced."
"What have I done? I'm one of the biggest Apple fans there is."
"And Android."
"I'm a reporter. I have to cover both sides. I liked the openness of Android. But obviously, with the world in jeopardy, Google has to be stopped."
"Is the TWIT network really behind this? We're not going to win this on the ground and then lose it on the blogosphere are we?"
"Eve, we're a hundred percent behind this. I promise."
Eve shook her head skeptically. Laporte smiled, “So I guess you’re not going to tell me what Jobs is going to announce at the Keynote?”
Eve was about to say something rude, when Arianna caught up and pulled her aside. "Admiral Bezos wants to talk to you. Privately."
"Admiral Bezos?" Eve said, raising an eyebrow.

HOTEL SUITE - AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP


Bezos' suite was indeed larger than Eve's, but not by much. Eve took that as a complement from Branson. By the time Eve met with him, Bezos had grandiosely changed into a Space Admiral Uniform. But, that being said, it was reasonably restrained. Light gray body armor with an Amazon logo and yellow gold epaulettes. He headed to the bar and offered her a drink.
"What's your poison?"
"I'm fine. You wanted to talk to me?" Eve asked briskly. She needed to get back to Earth. She needed to make plans for the battles ahead.
Bezos slowly poured himself a scotch and soda, pausing to indicate he was in charge. He took a sip and then looked at her levelly.
"So you have Steve Jobs proxy?"
"I never said that. No one has his proxy."
"Then how did you just vote for him?"
"He already knew of your plan and told me I could support it."
"How did he know?"
Eve folded her arms. Bezos shrugged. "I guess it was impossible to keep something this big a secret. Alright, so here is the deal. There's a price for Amazon saving the Earth."
"Oh?"
"Yes. We want the moon."
"You do?"
"Yes."
"Why are you telling me?"
"Because that's the deal! We save Apple's ass and Jobs gives me the moon."
"I'm not authorized to give you the moon."
"Branson signed off on it."
"That has nothing to do with me."
"Look, Eve, let's be real. I have to get something out of this. At least the darkside of the moon. We'll split the Earth side with Apple. Deal?"
"Jeff, I'm not in a position to give you any part of the moon. Speaking for Apple or for the people of the planet Earth."
"Then we're going to take it, Eve! You tell Jobs that! Amazon is taking the moon!"
"Alright, Jeff. I'll tell Steve you told me that you are going to take the moon."
"And we will!"
"Anything else? Mars maybe?"
"What?! Is Apple going to Mars?"
"I was joking."
"I know Apple has a space program! Don't try to tell me it doesn’t! I know! And if you start for Mars, we will beat you there too!"
Eve said nothing, hoping the conversation would end and she could get going. Bezos downed his drink and make another. "Jobs is going to make some big space announcement at the Keynote, isn't he?"
"I honestly don't know anything about Keynote announcements."
"This is not going to be like the goddamned iPad! You know how much money we invested to get the Kindle up an running only to have Apple jump in and steal the tablet market and the glory?! Well, that's not going to happen again! You try to move into space and we will blow your ships to bits. Understand?"
"Why don't you start with Google?"
"We will." Bezos said with firm determination.
Eve nodded. She believed him. "Alright. I’ll drink to that.”
Bezos smiled. His anger faded.
“Same as yours, if you please." Eve smiled.
Bezos mixed her a scotch and soda and handed it to her. “I guess you are a good sales agent. You just sold me.” Bezos mused. They both raised their glasses in a toast. "To the end of Google."
But before their glasses could clink together, the first plasma torpedoes hit the Aurora and explosions rocked the hotel. Alarms went off and the room shook. The entire station began to shift and the artificial gravity became unbalanced. Eve and Bezos looked out the windows. Half a dozen giant spaceships were attacking. Spaceships neither of them had ever seen before.

Google Deathdealer Dreadnoughts.

To be continued…
Next episode: Battle of the Aurora

Episode Six: Tip of the Spear

VIRGIN GALACTIC SPACE PORT - SAN FRANCISCO


When the United States Government collapsed, dissolving into little more than business support association with less power than a local branch of the chamber of commerce, space exploration and development became the primary domain of private enterprise.  While Google made grandiose announcements of their future space plans, most of it turned out to be vaporware but for a rickey orbital platform stuffed with nuclear warheads and some crude tie fighter ripoffs that occasionally fell out of orbit and killed farm cows.  While the low rent tie fighters, officially named T.O.G.'s for "Talons of Google," were mostly amusing in their geeky pretensions, the nuclear warheads were less so.  Google claimed to have twelve former USSR Tsar Bomba that they had stolen from an airbase in Russia.  Despite their age, at fifty megatons each, they are the biggest hydrogen bombs and the most powerful weapons of mass destruction every built.  Modifying them for a quick launch from an orbital platform was well within even Google's shaky technical capabilities.  While still not powerful enough to destroy the entire planet, they would certainly be able to wipe out major world capitals and kill millions.  Steve Jobs took the threat from the nuclear platform serious enough to agree to the truce that ended the second Apple/Google war and divided the planet into competing territories.  If it wasn’t for the nuclear deterrent, Apple would have undoubted prevailed a decade ago.
Since that time, Apple hadn't developed its own space program, at least openly.  Eve wasn't sure exactly why and Steve Jobs always brushed off the question when she asked.  Perhaps he didn’t want to give Google an incentive to ramp up its own efforts, or perhaps he had made a secret deal to avoid a preemptive attack from Google's nuclear platform.  There were rumors of a secret race to capture the moon, but Eve had seen no signs of it, other than the large landing pads at New Cupertino.  Though Eve wasn't in product development, it was difficult to believe she wouldn't have noticed something if Apple was anywhere close to building space craft that could reach the moon.  Apple didn't even build their own fighter planes, which was frustrating to Eve, since she knew Jony Ives could design something to rule the skies.  Again, perhaps Jobs had felt it would be too militarily provocative despite Google's frequent violations of the truce.  Most likely it was his continuing insistence that Apple not build weapons on principle, relying instead on third party companies to produce armament necessary for its military operations.
With Apple staying out of the competition for space, and Google faltering, the orbital business had predictably been dominated by Amazon.  They had build a fleet of large supersonic cargo/passenger craft which could take off from Earth and reach low orbit.  They had several orbital warehouses, mostly for show, and recently branched into space tourism by attaching budget hotel space to some of their warehouses.  It was still unclear if there were any economic benefits to warehousing or transporting cargo through orbit, but it was a pet project of Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos.  He was also rumored to have aspirations of a moon base.  The hotels were even more of a question mark.  Eve had visited three of them, and while the rooms were large, they smelled vaguely of urine due to plumbing issues.  Aside from some comic book conventions, they were generally not booked up and it was believed Amazon was taking a serious financial loss on the entire space program.
Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic provided the only real competition, but in an entirely different economic category.  Their Virgin Pogo Rockets were smaller, two pilot, four passenger luxury spacecraft that could take off and land vertically and reach high orbit.  He built a single Virgin space hotel in high orbit, the Aurora, for very rich people only.  Eve hadn't had a chance to visit it; it was a little too pricey for her budget and she never had any spare time.  But it was supposed to be spectacular.  Not just the finest hotel in space, but it was said to rival of the nicest of Branson's hotels on Earth.  And Branson had some pretty amazing hotels, ranging from exclusive islands to private castles.  So, end of the world or not, Eve was hardly disappointed she was finally going to get a paid business trip to see it.
"We're really going up into the stars?"  Yuliya asked innocently.  She was dressed in a simple tan business suit, white blouse and sensible pumps.  With her hair pulled back in a bun she really did look like a sales consultant.  Eve had coached her in some basic answers for any question she might encounter.  She was supposed to alternate between: "We're in the process of evaluating market developments," "Our goal is to stay ahead of our competitors," and "We're focused on emerging opportunities."
"We're not going to the stars.  We're just going high into the sky around Earth.  It's called orbit."
"I've always wanted to see the stars up close."
"They are very, very far away.  It would take years and years to get to the nearest one.  If you could even build a ship to reach them.  But out of the atmosphere they will look much brighter and you'll be able to see more of them."
That seemed to satisfy Yuliya as Eve guided her Porsche 911 GT9 Hybrid into the Virgin Galactic spaceport.  The facility exterior was magnificent, if a little over the top compared to Apple's preferred architectural style.  The walls and curved roof were all chrome with huge glowing signage of rockets flying out of the galaxy.  As she pulled up to the valet, she snuck her HK machine pistol and tactical knife into the glove compartment and code locked it with her iCom.  She hated going anywhere unarmed, but Virgin Galactic had a strict no-weapons policy that even with her Steve Jobs connection she couldn't get overruled.
The interior of the space port was almost like a hip nightclub lounge with some very good music playing from hidden speakers.  They were promptly greeted by a very attractive, almost too handsome, male space concierge.  He was wearing a black, form fitting space suit with the Virgin Galactic logo over his heart.  "Doctor Zachara, welcome, I'm Oliver.  Mr. Branson sends his regards.  I'll be accompanying you to the Aurora.  Your rocket is already on the launch pad and ready to go.  The changing room is this way."
While Amazon prided itself on trying to make its space travel as similar to taking a commercial jet as possible, which included no space suits, Virgin went the opposite direction with a retro space launch vibe.  In the changing room, Oliver helped them both strip down to their underwear and put on silver "VIP" space suits.  He was so obviously gay, neither thought to complain as he gently adjusted and settled their breasts in the form fitting zippered front.  At first, Yuliya seemed a little disappointed to have to change out of her new business attire.  But Virgin's space suits were very comfortable and pretty darned cute.  Yuliya's eyes lit up when she saw herself in the mirror glowing in silver with the snazzy red Virgin logo over her heart.  They both looked too adorable for Eve, like sexy space kittens from a 1960's movie.  She seriously questioned how well the suits would hold up if something happened to the pressurized cabin.  She suspected they were more for fashionable theatrics than safety.
"Oh, no, no no."  Oliver said when Eve implied as much.  "These are real deal.  They're airtight, and shielded for gamma rays.  With half an hour of emergency oxygen and you can plug into the ship's supply directly.  Best space suits ever built.  Of course, there are quite a few rock stars that wear them for clubbing.  But that's another story."
Oliver carefully folded and packed their street clothes into complementary Virgin Galactic flight bags.  They took a short elevator ride to the roof and stepped out onto the launch pad.  One of the advantages of the Pogo Rocket was that it could take off and land on a normal sized helipad, unlike the Amazon supersonics which required an extra large landing strip.  Thus the spaceport could be build into a commercial district in the heart of San Francisco, not far from the Embarcadero.  The launch pad had a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge, which could have upstaged the rocket itself, but instead emphasized the charming retro modern design.  Painted bright Virgin Galactic red, contrasting against the international orange of the bridge, it looked a great deal like a prototypical rocket ship toy of the 1950's, with a streamlined fuselage sitting atop four v-tail engines that formed a cross.  And, in fact, a toy model kit sold by Virgin as a promotion was a huge seller.  Once Eve had made the mistake once of complimenting its playful appearance in a conversation with Jony Ive and Steve Jobs, only to have them both firmly berate her.  Neither had much patience for retro design, and they explained at length why the ship had an impractical and valued outdated form.  It was the closest either of them came to showing an interest in space ship design.
As they neared the rocket they were greeted by a young woman who was also in a black spacesuit.  "Hello, I'm Cleona, I'll be providing complementary food and drink service during the flight."
"Cleona's in training.  But she's very bright.  And she's going to do a great job for you." Oliver said, upbeat.
"It's my first actual flight."
"Mine too!"  Yuliya enthused.
"Then we'll both have fun!"  Cleona said and gave Yuliya's hand a friendly squeeze.  She was an absolutely stunning creature, with what appeared to be natural red hair in a page girl cut.  The form fitting spacesuit accented her buxom but slim waisted body.  But despite the warm welcome, Eve's gaydar warned her, with a tinge of disappointment, that Cleona was probably hetrosexual.  Which was all for the best given that Eve didn't need any more complications from Yuliya's wandering eyes.  In fact, given how hot Cleona was, Eve had to mentally order herself not to view her as an interesting challenge.  This was a business trip.
Unlike typical VTOL, the Pogo Rocket had a fixed vertical orientation, so they all had to climb a detached stair ladder and crawl sideways into the hatch.  Under Oliver's direction, Eve and Yuliya scrambled into their vertically oriented seats using various hand holds.  While awkward, it added to the sense of space adventure wealthy tourists happily paid for.  The interior was compact, but once Eve settled into her seat it was very comfortable, like a million dollar sports car.  Oliver helped them strap in.  Above them, at the top of the ship, was the control room/cockpit.  In front of it, sunlight poured through a polycarbonate canopy which was the only actual window on the ship.  The male pilot and female co-pilot were already strapped with black spacesuits and visored helmets.  They waved back a greeting.  Through the clear visors Eve could see they were also ridiculously good looking, as if Virgin had hired them out of central casting.  Branson's eye for luxury detail clearly extended to his employees.
The pilot clicked through some controls and sealed the hatch.  He spoke with an assured British accent.  "Doctor Zachara, everything is looking good for launch.  It will take us about forty five minutes to reach the Aurora.  We accelerate very smoothly so you'll only experience about three to four g's, which is what you get on a fast roller coaster ride.  Once we get into zero gravity you'll be able to move through the cabin a bit.  I've heard you're quite a pilot yourself, so if you'd like to checkout the cockpit, we can do it at that time."
"Thank you, I would be curious."
"Absolutely.  So if you're ready, put on your helmets and we'll initiate launch procedures."
Oliver and Cleona handed Eve and Yuliya silver space helmets to match their suits and showed them how to secure them and patch into the ship's oxygen hoses.  Small video screens built into the cabin allowed the passengers to see what was happening on the outside and Eve watched as the support staff wheeled away the stair ladder and disconnected fuel lines from the engines.  A pre-recorded countdown began, "Virgin Galactic Flight Two from San Francisco to Aurora.  Launching in ten, nine, eight…"  Eve instantly recognized the voice, it was Panther, a hot new hip-hop artist who was currently at top of the charts.  Branson's music connections rivaled Steve Jobs.  Colorful graphic overlays flashed down the numbers.  "…three, two, one!  Take off!  Have a great flight!"  A Panther song kicked in as the rockets ignited.
The Pogo Rocket shook and swayed and rose in the air.  Eve and Yuliya watched the launch on the video screens.  The four engines blasted white hot fire onto the launch pad as the rocket picked up speed and flew into the sky with the beautiful view of the city and bridge beyond it.  Earth bound automatic cameras tracked it until it disappeared through the clouds, heading into space.

VIRGIN POGO ROCKET - HIGH ORBIT


It only took about five minutes before the blue sky outside the cockpit canopy turned to black and then filled with stars.  Yuliya's face lit up like a kid riding Hyperdeluxe Mountain at Disneyland.  Eve found herself sharing the enthusiasm.  It would be the furthest she had ever been from the planet.  And, as promised, it had the feel of an exciting roller coaster ride with them pinned pleasantly to the back of their seats as the ship pulled away from the grip of Earth's gravity.
The pilot hit a button and disengaged the engine's turbo boosters, which were only needed for launch.  He then pulled back on the thruster lever until the engines settled into a warm purr.  Eve assumed that at this point they were beyond any atmospheric fiction and with the ship's current momentum they could probably coast to the moon or beyond.  The seatbelt light went off and Eve's felt the relaxing sensation of zero gravity.  "You can raise your helmet visors now."  Oliver told them and demonstrated by clicking a button  on his own helmet.  
They all raised their visors, disconnected the oxygen lines and unbuckled their seat straps.  Yuliya giggled as she floated up from the chair.  "It's like magic!"  She said.
"We're over five thousand miles from Earth."  The pilot said with a smile and motioned for Eve to come forward.  She headed for the cockpit to check out the controls as Yuliya tried spinning around in the air.  Cleona floated to the ship's small galley area where she unfolded some food preparation cabinets.  "We have wine, red and white, and cheese.  Fresh fruit.  And I'll get the chocolate chip cookies baking."
Eve quickly engaged the pilot and co-pilot in a conversation about the layout of the controls and the ship's capabilities.  The ship had been commissioned by Virgin from Elon Musk's SpaceX, which also helped build the Aurora, but had previously focused only on unmanned vehicles.  The pilot was very candid and seemed unworried about any proprietary technology issues.  Virgin and Apple where on very good business terms, even though they competed in some areas.  They sold a Virgin branded version of Google's Globemaster, which actually had better sales in some territories than Google's own label.  But everyone knew Branson and Jobs were friends and that Virgin's neutrally in the war was strategic, not philosophical.  The only subject the pilot dodged was the ship's capacity for warfare.  Eve noticed two blank panels in the cockpit and half-joked they were for future weapons systems, but the pilot stated that the ships were unarmed and knew nothing about future uses.  The co-pilot however gave a silent wink, indicating Eve's guess was probably right.  On top of that, Eve's gaydar flashed positive with her.
Meanwhile, Cleona was finishing slicing up fresh fruit with a sharp knife, no simple task in zero gravity.  Oliver offered Eve a few choices of wine in pouches with one way straws.  Eve picked a Italian pinot grigio that she assumed would compliment the baggy of cut Port Salut cheese he also offered.  She had barely taken a sip when she noticed Yuliya had already finished off a pouch of Zinfandel and was accepting another.  Eve gave her a firm look and mouthed, "That's the last one."
Suddenly, a warning light flashed in the cockpit and a buzzer went off.  The pilots began checking their displays.  "I think everyone better get back to their seats and strap in."  He said in a calm voice, but his body language was anything but calm.  He and the co-pilot were frantically glancing back and forth through the canopy down to their radar while they zoomed in with a front mounted video camera.
Eve saw two tiny objects, very far in the distance but rapidly approaching.  Then the camera caught one, completely filling the video screen: A Google T.O.G.!  Light burst from it and inside the Pogo Rocket, all hell broke loose.
It was the most powerful mazer beam Eve had ever witnessed and it burned a bowling ball sided hole right through the polycarbonate canopy and hit the pilot's helmet, instantly exploding his head to bits.  A second blast was equally accurate and deadly, hitting the co-pilot just below the chin and tearing her head right off.  The  entire cabin instantly depressurized as the air rushed out through the shattered cockpit.  Blood gushed from the two dead bodies sending large bubbles of red floating throughout the cabin.
Eve felt as if she had been punched in the stomach.  It was the air being ripped from her lungs by the vacuum of space.  She hit the button and closed her helmet visor and emergency air was pumped in.  Barely catching her breath, she jumped over to Yuliya and sealed her visor too.  Oliver managed to get his own visor closed even as his eyes bulged and his skin turned white.
Thinking quickly, Eve rushed through the bubbles of blood to the cockpit controls and unbuckled what remained of the pilot.  She pulled it from the seat and it floated away, arms waving limply as if saying goodbye.  She climbed into the seat and was about to activate the engine boosters when she saw the T.O.G.'s bearing down for another attack.  There was no time to get away or outmaneuver them.  Instead, she cut off the cabin lights.  Then the running lights.  Then the ship's main power.
To her amazing relief, it appeared to work.  The  T.O.G.'s slowed and didn't fire.  They split apart and passed right by, probably to circle around.  If they had wanted to destroy the rocket they should have blasted the engines first.  The fact that they had so precisely targeted the pilots could mean they wanted to take the ship whole, perhaps as a war prize.  That gave Eve some time before a boarding party arrived.
"What are you doing?"  Cleona asked as she joined Eve in the dark cockpit.
"I want them to think we're disabled."
"You'll have to surrender.  If you want to live."
"Surrender to Google is worse than death.  Don't you know…"  Eve turned to look at Cleona and cut herself off.  In the starlight she realized her normally dependable gaydar had completely failed in assessing Cleona.  She wasn't heterosexual.  She wasn't a lesbian or bi.  Because she wasn't human.
Cleona's spacesuit, like Eve's, was sticky from passing through the floating blood.  But unlike Eve, her bare face was also splattered with red, because her visor wasn't closed.  She didn't need oxygen.  She had the fruit knife in one hand, ready to stab Eve.  Her eyes were cold as glass.  She was a robot.
She raised her other hand in the Google salute, a bastardization of the Vulcan salute, with the thumb over the palm, supposedly in a "G."  She chanted, "To the Greater Glory of Google and the coming of a thousand years of Darkness!"
A blast of thoughts tore through Eve's mind like full auto machine gun fire.  This was by far the most convincingly human robot Google had built.  It was always a mistake to underestimate them.  They could use robots like this to infiltrate businesses everywhere, maybe even within Apple.  They must already be using them as sex toys.  They'll make billions selling them to perverts.  Was it anatomically correct?  How much did they cost to build?  Was this a one-off or were there factories already churning out hundreds of thousands?  The bobbed red hair and disproportionally large breasts should have tipped her off.
Eve forced herself to focus.  A single cut from the knife would finish her off if it punctured her suit.  But the creature must want her alive or she would have already stabbed her.  That gave her a tiny edge.  Eve had defeated at least a dozen Google robots before, but never unarmed.  The others had almost indestructible titanium frames, coiled steel cable muscles and were very fast and strong.  Computer fast and forklift strong.  Eve prayed this one was built of softer materials.  She would have to find out.  Now.
Eve grabbed the robot's knife hand by the wrist and using a jiujitsu move Steve Jobs taught her, flipped Cleona overhead.  All the easier in zero gravity.  She whipped her around to get momentum and then pounded her head into a metal support beam.  The space helmet shattered.  A human would have been dead or at least crippled.  The robot simply laughed.  A pre-programmed laugh of sheer evil.
"You've already surmised that I've been ordered to take you alive."  Cleona said as she let go of the knife and ripped what remained of the broken helmet away.  As she did, the upper collar of her spacesuit was also torn off, exposing a sexy bare shoulder and her absurdly full fake cleavage.  "But nothing prevents me from breaking every bone in your Apple loving body!"
Cleona kicked off from a wall and threw herself into Eve, punching her in the stomach.  It hit Eve like a sledgehammer.  She then grabbed for Eve's arm, but Eve  dodged and kicked her in the face, sending her flying back.  It occurred to Eve that Cleona might not have been lying when she/it said it was her first space flight.  Eve had some experience fighting in zero gravity, and might take some time for the robot to adjust.  The robot jumped and punched at Eve again, but Eve captured the punch with an open hand and allowed her whole body to absorb the energy and as she flew back into a cockpit wall.  She landed on her back and then double kicked Cleona in the shoulder, sending her spinning backwards.  The trick with hand to hand fighting in zero gravity is to make sure that when you strike your opponent a part of your body is contact with a solid part of the space ship.  And that when your opponent strikes you, you aren't.
As Cleona struggled to pull out of the spin, Eve found a steel emergency tool kit strapped to the floor near the co-pilot seat.  As she unstrapped and opened it, she caught a glimpse outside the canopy.  One of the TOG's was on a parallel track with the drifting Pogo Rocket.  Two space suited figures were coming out of it and jetting toward them, dragging tether cables behind.  It would not be long before they boarded the ship.
"They're coming for you!  Google cannot be stopped!"  Cleona shouted.
Eve instantly determined the best weapon from the tool kit, a heavy wrench, and then hurled the box into Cleona's face.  Cleona knocked it away before it hit, but the sharp corner tore through the soft artificial flesh covering on her hand.  It exposed metal bones on her fingers and enraged the robot.  "You'll pay for this!"
Eve locked a foot under the co-pilot chair and readied her wrench to strike.  But Cleona sensed what she was up too and leaped out of the cockpit back into the passenger cabin toward Yuliya.  "I can't kill you, but there's nothing stopping me from ripping your playmate's head off!"
To his credit, and Virgin Galactic's, Oliver leapt in Cleona’s path to try to protect his customer.  But Cleona batted him off with an iron fisted blow to the helmet and he went flying.  She then grabbed Yuliya's arm and swung her around as a warning to Eve.  "Surrender, or I will…"  
But before Eve could act, or even consider what to do, Yuliya fiercely stabbed Cleona in the stomach with the fruit knife all the way up to the hilt.  She must have captured it after Cleona let it go.  By the time Cleona's circuits processed what was happening, Yuliya had pulled the blade and stabbed her a second time.  This time, wires followed as Yuliya ripped it back out.
"You fool, I can't be killed with a knife!"  Cleona screeched.  She grabbed Yuliya's visor in her mechanical fingers and began to squeeze like a vice.  The polycarbonate began to buckle and crack.  Wisps of leaking air jetted into the vacuum and turned white as the moisture in them froze.  Eve rushed back to attack Cleona with her wrench.
But Yuliya was hardly done.  Even as her limited oxygen supply bleeded rapidly from her helmet, she stabbed at Cleona again.  This time deep into Cleona's right eye.  Then immediately into the left.  As blade came out, the left artificial eye came with it, dangling from wires.  At that moment, Eve reached them and pounded Cleona in the head with the wrench, busting off a chunk of her red wig.  Neither of them let up on the attack, even as Cleona's angry screaming began to waver and sound piteous.  Eve would be the first to admit Yuliya was the most dangerous adversary.  As Eve pounded the robot's head again and again and ripped her eyes out from their wires, Yuliya shifted back to the stomach and gutted her like a fish, finally ripping out a circuit board.  There was a flash of sparks and Cleona fell limp.
Eve pulled Cleona's mangled remains away from Yuliya and it floated off with loose colored wires drifting from its head and stomach like a three dimensional Jackson Pollock.
The circular puffs of leaking air from Cleona's helmet where rapidly shrinking in size.  Eve tried putting her gloved hand over the biggest crack to slow it down, but it was useless.  Cleona looked into Eve's eyes, already out of breath.  Exhausted by the fight, she seemed accepting of a final ending.  But Eve wasn't ready to give up on her.
Fortunately, neither was Oliver.  He quickly opened a utility cabinet and produced a spare helmet.  "God bless you, Oliver!"  Eve shouted and double checked the seals to see how to remove Yuliya's damaged one.  
Oliver joined her side.  "It's going to be a little scary, but I think we can do this.  You remove the old helmet as quickly as you can, and I'll snap on the new one.  It will take a minute for her to get her air back."
Eve looked into Yuliya's half closed eyes.  She was already fading from lack of oxygen.  "Just hang on.  You're going to be okay, trust me!"
"I belong to you."  Yuliya said softly and her eyes glowed with warmth even as ice particles dotted her face like white power.  "I love you…"
Eve swallowed, unable to say what she knew she should say back, even if it wasn't true.  For a brief millisecond she wondered if she hesitated because perhaps it was true, or could be true.  Eve had never told anyone she loved them before, at least not in any romantic fashion.  But she didn't have time for such thoughts.  Rather than answer, she popped the seals on Yuliya's helmet and ripped it off.  The last wisps of air disappeared quickly in a puff.  Yuliya fainted.
Oliver popped the spare helmet on and they both worked frantically to seal it.  Once it was secured, Oliver checked the monitoring display on the suit’s forearm.  "The pressure is coming up.  She should be getting air soon."  Yuliya was completely unconscious, but the display indicated her heart was still beating.  Faintly.  For some reason, Eve suddenly became aware of her own heart pounding in her chest.
"There's only about three minutes of air left in her suit.  You're going to have to power up the ship so I can connect her to the main air supply."
Eve nodded and glanced back to the cockpit.  That was when she saw the two bulky Google Space Soldiers in armored suits kicking out what was left of the clear canopy.  They pulled themselves inside with mazer pistols ready.  One of their voices echoed out electronically from a helmet speaker.
"Doctor Zachara, we are from Google.  It is useless to resist.  Surrender, or DIE!"


To be continued…
Next episode: Fellowship of the Tech