The invitation said the cabriolet would wait five minutes. Carly jumped into her moon suit. She said, “Stay,” to Heathcliff then dashed into the airlock and stopped. Just inside the pressure door stood a metal-frame wood-slatted bench.
She sealed the inner airlock door, depressurized the chamber, and sat on the bench. It backed immediately out through the airlock without the door opening. A near invisible bubble surrounded her and the bench, and separated from the wall of the Command Center bunker. The floating bench stabilized and rotated 180 degrees as the bubble glided away mere inches above the moon’s surface. Oxygen, air pressure, and temperature were benign Earth standard.
Carly willed calm, but her senses screamed on panic alert. Leaning back against the bench, she tried to enjoy the ride. The bubble made straight for the object she and Heathcliff had discovered, cresting and descending the ragged crater rim rather than taking the level path. Carly wondered as she scanned Jupiter in the open black sky; how might this look without her helmet?
Ahead Carly saw the smooth chalky protrusion of the metal blister on Callisto’s granular white surface. The bubble kissed the wall of the blister and pushed forward as the wall opened slowly like a waking eyelid. Her bench slid into a hall of closed doors. The wall sealed, and the bubble vanished.
Oxygen, air pressure, and temperature measured acceptable. Carly removed her helmet. Foot stamping told her the gravity remained one eighth that of Earth.
She counted thirty-six closed wooden doors, each with a place name. Most were familiar to her, but Kailash, Aksai Chin, Ladakh, and Tregrosse were not. Only the Virginia door was unlocked and open, deliberately she discovered, finding a hand-written note inviting her to select a dress. Hmm, the dressing room mentioned in the invitation.
All the dresses were fashionable, colorful, and her correct size with shoes to match. Carly laughed. She had no makeup or any way to fix her hair. Cheek pinching and finger combing would have to do. She selected a red satin dress with small black flowers, a scooped neck, and three-quarter sleeves, and low black heels.
A six-panel door with a brass handle opened into a vaulted, sun-lit room. High-stacked windows overlooked a tree-lined valley. She took a breath, held the brass rails on both sides, and stepped out.
She felt the weight increase instantly and locked her arms on the bars like a paraplegic re-learning to walk. Her body swayed, searching for a center of balance.
“Welcome, Miss Shellion,” an accented voice said. She looked up at a dark complexioned man in a white turban, short blue vest, and loose red pants tucked into high boots.
“Please,” he said and extended his arm.
“I just need a moment,” she said, taking his arm and trying a few steps.
“Raja Dakkar waits for you on the terrace.”
“Yes, shall I bring your martini?”
“That would be lovely.” She shifted her hold from the man’s arm to the doorframe and the rail leading out to the terrace.
A tall formally dressed gentleman rushed to her side and helped her to a low seat along the terrace wall.
“Thank you,” Carly said, her legs shivering. The man’s face was dark, his hair raven and brushed back into a mane. He was lean, athletic, and angularly handsome. His obsidian eyes glistened reassuring confidence.
“Yes, Miss Shellion. It was so good of you to accept my invitation.”
Carly stroked the edge of her chin and found herself lost for words. Still shaking, she took in the Earth-like mountain valley around her, the gentle breeze, and the scent of a forest in summer. The turbaned man brought a tray of martinis, raw oysters, and biscuits. She lifted her glass to Dakkar, he lifted his, and they sipped.
Perfect taste, perfect chill. She looked across the stone terrace wall, up to the tree-lined horizon then down to the valley floor. Every detail perfect.
“I suppose proper etiquette requires we begin with polite banter,” Carly said, finding her voice, “but at the risk of being curt, how can this be? This space inside Jupiter’s moon, your wall-traversing cabriolet moon-walker, this gravity, these fine amenities,” she raised her glass, “thank you very much, this virtual scenery? Are you human? In what century are we?”
Dakkar’s somber expression dissolved into charming smile lines. “I’m quite human, and we’re still working on time travel.” He took a savoring pull on his martini. “I’m afraid that to understand all you’ve seen might require a great deal of unlearning. Physics and philosophy are heavy dinner topics. Might we wait until later, after another drink?” He touched the rim of his martini glass, and the turbaned servant replaced it with a fresh one. Carly waved that hers was fine.
“My name is Roger Dakkar. I am an entrepreneur. I’m here because I have major business concerns on Callisto.”
“Did I hear your servant refer to you as Raja?”
“Rachit worked on my family’s estate in India,” Dakkar said, sliding an oyster from a chilled shell onto a cracker which he handed to Carly. “Do try this. I confess I checked your food preferences before sending you the invitation.”
“You know my food preferences, too?” Carly scowled and ran her hand along the line of her chin. “I’m at a bit of a disadvantage here.”
“I know this was sudden, but I thought explanations would be easier after your visit. Go ahead. Ask me what you will.”
“What is this place? How can it be so … so Earth-like?”
“Because this is Earth.” Dakkar waited for her next question.
“I see,” Carly said and pointed both index fingers. “So you don’t have a time machine, but you do have a teleporter.”
“Not a teleporter, but yes, our Myseko gate operates like a teleporter.”
“Where did you get it?”
“Viktor Myseko is on my discovery team. We discover what is already created. We believe that if one looks for it, the path of discovery is clear. All math and science link to it. Edison and Einstein both talked about following existing paths. Needing to see oneself, one’s institution, or one’s government as the ultimate creator is a great stumbling block.” Dakkar opened his hands and gazed upward. “What you see here is low hanging fruit generously provided. Reach out, and the products present themselves.” He looked into Carly’s wide expression. “Shall we eat?”
Rachit cleared the martinis and oysters and brought the first course of young greens, pecans, sheep’s milk cheese, and tomatoes. Crayfish chowder and seared foie gras followed then the main course of braised Strauss duck.
Carly found out that Roger Dakkar was twenty-nine. His father was Indian and his mother an American from Cincinnati. He had dropped out of Ohio State University and founded a successful software company. He became fabulously wealthy and run afoul of the US government when he refused to reveal his coding techniques. Labeled dangerous and greedy, he escaped the country before his assets could be seized and was joined by a host of similar outcasts.
“Who is John Galt?” Carly teased.
Dakkar laughed. “I believe Ayn Rand had my grandfather in mind when she wrote Atlas Shrugged. They were more than friends for years.”
The dessert was Cherries Jubilee served over vanilla bean ice cream with splinters of dark chocolate on the side.
“Could I—” Carly started to ask for tea as a cup was set beside her and a pot of tea poured. She studied it, lifted it to her nose, and shook her head. “White Bai Hao Yinzhen tea. Mr. Dakkar, you do amaze me.”
“Thank you, Miss Shellion. That was my intent.” He gave a head bow.
“You said your business brought you to Callisto. What business might that be?” Carly asked and took a bite of her ice cream and cherries.
“I hold the interstellar charter to harvest Mok on Callisto,” Dakkar said.