Tasha Starr plays no favorites. She featured the Stellar Six on her show, and today it’s time for Aria Newman. She’ll book anyone who will get people talking - and Aria plans to do just that.
“Can you introduce yourself to our audience, and tell us a little about Safe Harbor?” Tasha asks, all smiles.
The robot girl’s own smile is dazzling. “My name is Aria Newman. My body is robotic, but my heart and soul are as authentically human as anyone. In fact, I recently got married. Together with my husband, we’ve created a place called Safe Harbor. It’s in international waters, under the surface, both for safety and for independence. And now it’s being used as a base for rescue operations, anywhere on the planet.”
Tasha beams back. “Fascinating! Just what does ‘independence’ mean for you?”
Aria is ready. “A few years ago, the Menagerie encountered people living in hopeless conditions in another dimension, the Sepiaverse. Jason Quill spearheaded a worldwide effort to rescue and support people in that world. More recently, the Atlantean refugees have been given those resources. But even so, there’s not enough for everyone.”
“The Sepiaverse, Atlantean-born human beings, victims of natural disasters - everyone in need deserves a place to live and work. Through hyper-tech, aquaculture farming, and more, Safe Harbor aims to shelter people without another place to go.”
Tasha is quick to jump on the most interesting - or controversial - aspect. “Do you expect trouble from either the international community, or Atlantis itself?”
“Certainly.” Aria smiles with confidence. “We’re on the frontiers of international law. But the people who need us the most are those the law isn’t equipped to help right now. What of second or third generation people from Atlantis, whose ancestors were held captive? They have no citizenship to call upon. Few nations even formally recognize Atlantis right now. So we appeal not to the law, but to the common humanity of everyone in the world. Everyone needs a place to call home. Until society catches up with these new developments, we intend to provide one. And we stand ready to protect those people from any aggressor.”
It’s Peter Mancini’s first visit to Safe Harbor since the project began. He’s been working remotely, but now his contributions are done, and he wants to see what has been done with his technology.
The Launch System itself is made up of two major pieces: an outer disc with eight open hangars for vehicles, including launch rails to accelerate them toward the center, and a huge open ring at the center, dubbed the Hula Hoop. The Hula Hoop is built to rotate in multiple dimensions, and can angle itself to face any of the hangars. The entire space wider than multiple football fields. It has to be. The Hula Hoop itself is easily wider than Big Bill’s wingspan at full size, and the rest of the complex must support it.
Leo Snow, looking more like a tattooed thug in mechanic’s coveralls than a high-minded inventor, stands in sharp contrast to the snappily dressed and perfectly coiffed Jason Quill next to him. The trio meet in the heart of the Launch System, and Leo and Jason take turns explaining.
“The system was originally built to recover people from the Sepiaverse,” Jason says. “My nanobots can operate at a quantum level when properly configured, so they can bridge space and dimension. I’ve created personal portals but that’s too limited for our purpose. We needed something that could move a lot of people, safely and quickly.”
“We’re not using nanomachines per se here, but we are using nanotechnology,” Leo says. “The key to travel beyond a traditional spacetime manifold is rotation, so we built the Hula Hoop here. We need a high-density medium to power all that, of course.”
“That’s where plasma comes in,” Peter deduces.
Leo nods vigorously. “Yeah, exactly. Until we’re satisfied that the system can work not only well, but reliably enough for large-scale evacuation, we’re testing it with rescue operations. My graphene tech has great capacity, but distribution is still a problem. So I’m going with whoever and whatever can solve that problem.”
“It’s a general-purpose portal,” Jason explains with a smile. “We’re not sure about time travel - and we don’t really want to try that - but it can cross space and dimensions. There’ll be other uses we discover later. But for now, it’s intended to help people. And you’ve also proven how effective you are at that.”
“Teleportation is the game changer that’ll make Safe Harbor viable,” Leo adds. “We want to stay securely underwater. We want to get a rescue mission to anywhere in the world, but even the fastest rocket could take hours to reach a far-off destination.”
A siren sounds throughout the Launch System, and Otto’s voice comes over the PA. “Gentlemen! Plasma pressure is holding steady at 99%. I think we’re ready for our test run.”
“Okay, Otto,” Leo responds via a walkie-talkie clipped to his belt. “Signal the evacuation. Let’s do it.”
Klaxons blare. Amber emergency lights flare. “Launch System evacuation - Launch System evacuation - Launch System evacuation,” comes the warning voice. Aria had recorded it, along with several other audio clips, in readiness for this day. When Aria speaks, everyone in Safe Harbor listens.
Everyone? Already, the city has inhabitants. Some of Atlantis’ human refugees have found their way here, whether for lack of a place to live on the surface, or a life-long acclimation to living underwater. Otto and his team have employed them as laborers and specialists in constructing the Launch System.
Now, every one of these people has left the enormous chamber. This is important, for two reasons. First, under normal circumstances the Hula Hoop could open portals to other places and spaces with differing air pressures, or even portals underwater, and the sudden pressure difference in the chamber could injure or kill an unprotected human being.
Second, nobody had any idea whether the system would function under “normal circumstances” yet.
“Plasma pressure to 120%,” Otto reports from his own monitoring station, down in the guts of the Launch System. From the safety of the control room high above, Leo, Jason, and Peter can see the Hula Hoop itself begin to spin and orient. The metal disc is rotating in place, sending vibrations through the structure, and at the same time pivots on its base toward one of the eight hangars.
A CARTEX exploration drone rolls out of its hangar. The electrified rail system begins warming up, ready to send it hurtling into the center of the Hula Hoop. The giant ring itself, meanwhile, is spinning faster and faster, shaking as though in anticipation.
“Ignition,” comes Otto’s voice. The Hula Hoop is engulfed in white light, as the mass of plasma contained in the spinning ring transfers the totality of its energy to the portal systems. As the light fades, natural sunlight shines through into the Launch System - sunlight from miles above them, and miles away.
“Launch drone,” Otto announces. The rail system fires the automated vehicle directly at the Hula Hoop, achieving incredible speed in seconds. Through the portal, the observers can see it disappear into the distance.
A minute passes. “Transceiver signal is being picked up by the exterior balloon, and through the Hula Hoop,” Otto reports over the comm system. “The time difference is accounted for by the speed of light. In other words, gentlemen, we did it!”
Two minutes later, as the trio are celebrating and chatting, an emergency call comes through.
A super-tanker, carrying thousands of tons of international cargo, is under attack. It’s not the first, either. A string of incidents, looking for all the world like 21st century piracy, have made the news lately. Worse, plenty of people are assuming the Atlanteans are behind it. There’s no human beings observed during the attacks - just giant sea creatures, or something that looks like them - that capsize the ships and take hold of their cargo.
Otto’s eager, urgent voice comes over the comms. “Plasma pressure is at 45%, boss. We could close down the portal, retarget, it’d only take a couple minutes.”
“Are you sure it’s safe?” Peter asks. “The plasma readings looked good, but the rest of the system…?”
Otto answers this. “I know if we don’t act now, or soon, the world’s gonna turn against the Atlanteans again. This is more than just a rescue mission. We gotta do this for world peace.”
Leo nods. “Agreed. Otto, this is your operation. It’s your call. But I think you’re making the right play.”
The call goes out. “Big Bill! Mo! We’re doing this for real! Strap in!”
The whole Launch System is a work in progress, with cables snaking around the complex, tools and spare parts littering the floor, and unfinished areas or empty sockets waiting for attention. From the control room, the three young men can see the robots exiting their operations center and rushing to their respective hangars, dodging or vaulting over these obstacles.
“Otto - ready!” “Mo - yo.” “Big Bill, rarin’ to go!” The signals of readiness come in one by one. Leo takes over as launch operator, while Jason and Peter observe.
“Plasma pressure rising to 89%,” he reports. “92%…95%…”
The old portal snaps shut. At 100% pressure, Leo stabs his finger down on the activation button. The Hula Hoop blossoms into a brilliant new portal. One by one, a huge Boeing jet and two flying cars are shot at tremendous speed through it, and toward an unknown confrontation.