NAXA Central Command

"I really hate driving in these things..." whined Emily as she dug the high heel of her black shoe into the floor while trying to readjust how much weight she was putting on the accelerator. "It's just so difficult to keep my foot steady on the pedal!"

"That's... not really something I wanted to hear at 120 miles per hour, Emily." sighed Mir heavily from her PET, docked on the center of the dashboard. Unfortunately, there was little more Mir could do about that after already enforcing the performance limiter her Operator's car had, preventing Emily from having the same technical difficulties with her shoes at 300 MPH instead of a relatively meager 120.

After her monumental discovery and subsequent career-making 2 years ago, one of the ways Emily patted herself on the back was buying a new car. That was one of the rare occasions Mir let Emily exercise her newfound riches, so with a bit of humor the genius girl put some research into the fastest (legal) cars in the world to celebrate her breaking of the speed of light. After some asking around and negotiation between Emily and Mir, the two girls eventually agreed upon this sleek silver, 2-door number for a cool 35 million zenny (a surprisingly reasonable price for the types of cars they were looking at).

"Relax Mir, it's an empty straight line for miles, and it'd take all day to get around to the command center if we weren't going at least this fast." assured Emily as she sped down the service road running opposite of a gigantic shuttle runway.

NAXA's main complex in southern Netopia was truly massive, its borders spanning a range larger than most cities. Emily had actually gone through the initial checkpoint 20 minutes ago, meaning she had driven a solid 40 miles all within the confines of NAXA property. Why, oh why, did the command center have to be on the far end of the complex? Honestly, most employees didn't drive in all that often. There was an airstrip and a few helipads not far from the research center adjoined to mission control, and more often than not people took to the air from a more convenient off-site facility. Some rather nice dormitories were set up next door to R&D, and quite often employees would elect to just stay in for a few days rather than make that commute day in and day out. Emily herself indulged in that offer every once in a while, but she just got home last night from Electopia and her car was fast enough to make the drive in about half an hour.

After a few seconds of silence, Emily added, "We could get there faster you know, if you just..."

"Absolutely not." rejected Mir in defense of her rights over the car's limiter. "We're perfectly on schedule as-is, so you don't need to be racing down the road at 300 just because there's no traffic."

Emily pouted in response to the denial, and a dull silence filled the car's interior for another 10 minutes until she finally drove up to the entry gate for the command center. The silver supercar slowed to a stop in front of the gate, and Emily opened the driver-side window to lower the barrier between her and the on-duty security guard. "Good morning, Dr. Delumia." greeted the male guard stoically.

"Good morning!" replied Emily cheerfully, her hands still on the steering wheel.


"... Dr. Delumia, I'll still need your passcode before I open the gate." informed the guard, since the natural order of this process seemed to have been derailed somewhere.

"Oh alright..." sighed Emily, who was hoping to get by on recognition alone. "Mir?"

"Already done. I wish you'd stop trying to fight such a simple matter." informed Mir, before lecturing her Operator briefly.

"It's so trivial, though..." moaned Emily, leaning her head back against her seat's headrest as she spoke.

"Ahem." interrupted the guard, "You're free to pass. Good luck with the mission today, Dr. Delumia."

"Ah, thanks!" said Emily with a smile and nod, leaving aside her petty issue and driving through the now-open gate and into the complex. An immediate turn left sent her on the route towards the underground parking, and within a few minutes she was parked in her reserved spot on the nearest floor (a privilege to all doctors on staff). Emily's high-end car was... rather out of place in the garage, compared to the other more... conservative vehicles present. She knew it was a result of every other doctor employed by NAXA averaged an age of 54 compared to her 23, but it was still an odd sight every time. Today offered a particularly large comparison, since so many of NAXA's upper staffers were on hand for the mission.

She had already turned the engine off, but Emily remained put in her car for another minute, just idly sitting in her seat with the seatbelt still across her chest. Without any sign that the prodigal scientist was about to move, and more importantly not remove her PET from the dashboard, Mir spoke up. "Nervous, Emily?"

"Hm...? Oh! Ah, no, of course not! Right...?" answered Emily in a rather uneven tone, being drawn back to reality by her Navi's question. Her attention quickly turned to unbuckling her seatbelt frantically, which was only proving more counterproductive than anything.

"You'll be fine, Emily. You actualized quantum particle theory, even pushing it beyond the old theories. Your calculations are never wrong, and I'm an AI telling you that." explained Mir softly, recounting her Operator's achievements thusfar. "And you'll send a Navi into interstellar space today. That seriously can't be harder than what you've already done, hmm?"

"... Yeah! That's right!" agreed Emily, who managed to calm down and unbuckle her seatbelt in an orderly fashion. She even managed collecting Mir's PET, grabbing her purse, and opening the door without incident, too. Her high heels clacked against the concrete floor of the subterranean parking deck as she stood up, finally stretching out her very professional ensemble for the first time since she left the house early this morning. She really, really wasn't the type for the formal business look, but given that this was the culmination of her life's research happening, Mir managed to convince Emily to step up from casual. That entailed those black high heels, pantyhose, a knee-length, soft black skirt, a white buttoned blouse, and of course, the mandatory NAXA-branded white lab coat. Emily straightened out the few wrinkles here and there that developed while she was driving, before bringing the white PET up to her face. "Thanks, Mir."

"Hey, consider how much work I've had to do to complete the test trials for this project. I am so not letting you waste all that suffering of mine!" chided Mir playfully.

"You're right, I need to repay you for that. So..." responded Emily before a pause for thought. "... Okay! Forget just reaching interstellar space, let's find an alien AI!" she shouted excitedly and loud enough for it to echo through the entire floor of the parking deck, leaving her Navi dumbfounded and at a loss for words in the process. Having vented both her nerves and enthusiasm with that declaration, Emily locked up her car and headed for the elevator.
The whole of NAXA's command center was bustling with activity, as to be expected of launch day. Technicians, assistants, and the like were scrambling about all over the place, running final checks and performing errands for the doctors. The main elevator split its doors open, and all that directed chaos froze for a moment as Dr. Emily Delumia stepped out. Dozens of eyes focused in on the director of today's unprecedented project, causing Emily to tense up nervously and grip the strap of her purse tightly. So much for that pep talk she and Mir had down in the garage.

"Um... Good morning?"

And just like that, the numerous NAXA staffers resumed their duties. A few replied; most just went about their business all the same as if they weren't staring at her in the first place. Emily had been working at NAXA for the better part of 2 years already, but it was still as weird a relationship for the other workers as it was for her. Forget being younger than her subordinates, Emily was younger than most of the interns. Commanding respect with a comparison like that floating over her head was a task, to be certain. "Hah..." sighed Emily lightly, before speaking into her PET, "Guess everyone else is pretty nervous too..."

"They'll only be nervous if they see you look the same. No one knows how this'll pan out better than you do, so give a little confidence to everyone, okay?" suggested Mir, who could relate to a lot of the non-scholarly employees of the NAXA institute. She knew how to fire the LTC, granted, but damn if she had any clue as to why it worked.

"Mm, yeah... and I really, really need to put up a strong front for the other doctors, otherwise they'll pick me apart." added Emily with a wry smile as she thought of the scholarly elite of NAXA, likely waiting in mission control at this very moment to observe the experiment.

"Grumpy old vultures... You'd think that as scientists, they'd be more accepting of new ideas." noted Mir of her Operator's colleagues. "At least Dr. Neimann's always on your side."

"That's true. Okay, let's go find Uncle Walter before the scheduled start time." agreed Emily before she finally started walking down the hallway, her high heels clacking against the tile floor quite audibly. "He should be in mission control already..."

Being the all-important observation and communication room for all spacebound projects, the path to mission control wasn't very complex. Just go left out of the elevator, down to the end of the service hallway, and turn right at the branch between the research building and command center. Mission control was situated directly in the middle of the command center, as would be expected of its functional value. Before Emily could make it there, though, her attention was diverted as a particular person entered the lobby from the front door. His custom-tailored black suit spoke as more of a fashion statement than a professional one, with the top two buttons of the jacket collar undone to expose his dress shirt and red tie. His parted red hair left showed his blue eyes glancing around the lobby, scanning pretty much the whole room before landing on Emily.

"Good morning, Glenn!"

Emily gave him a cheery smile, which he found a bit offputting despite her youthful charm. "You seem pretty upbeat on the most important day of your life, Dr. Delumia." noted Glenn in a rather blunt manner as he approached the girl in question. He didn't always refer to Emily by title, but when he did, there was always a slight sneer to it.

"Well, my project's astronaut is right on time, so I have reason to be happy." replied Emily as she turned her head up to meet eyes with the tall man. While that positive attitude was a very effective way to dispel the ill will Glenn often directed at her, it was more just a result of Emily's inability to read very deeply into the problem than an understanding of how to overcome it. "Is Apollo all ready to go, too?"

"Of course. Don't forget that the two of us are experienced astronauts. We know what to expect in space, so we're ready to go any time." bragged Glenn proudly as he patted the interior pocket of his jacket.

"Big talk from you when I'm the only one going up today." chided a deep voice from inside that pocket Glenn had his hand over.

Glenn shrugged, then pulled his own PET out of that pocket to address his Navi. "If they would've installed the transmitter on the space station instead of launching a whole new satellite, I'd be right up there with you, Apollo. Seems like it just doesn't work that way, though." explained Glenn, laying blame on the designer... who happened to be standing in front of him.

"Erm... Ideally we'd like to have manual control of Lumian transmitters, but we're just not there yet from a safety standpoint. Containing quantum particles is difficult..." mumbled Emily in response, defending her creation... and Glenn as well, as he'd likely kill himself if he was next to the real LTC when it fired. Since she loved to talk about her research, however, Emily's enthusiasm came back to life as she continued. "I'll keep working on it, though! Eventually I'd like to make Lumians the main medium of communication world-wide, so there's a whole lot left to figure out."

"Oh... Well, good then." said Glenn uncertainly, having been thrown off-track after Emily took his criticisms positively. He had planned to grill the little upstart a little more, maybe make her a tad nervous ahead of the launch, but Glenn's words left him all of a sudden. For better or worse, his Navi picked up the slack.

"You just make your pretty beam fire right today, little lady. All that other stuff can come tomorrow." commanded Apollo briskly. "I'm risking my thrusters to ride on that magic little mystery particle, so make sure that all goes right."

"Can't believe they assigned you to this..." grumbled Mir from her own PET as she heard Apollo speak.

"Huh?! Oh, what was that? I thought I heard a lab rat squeaking..." thought Apollo aloud, as if he didn't really know what that noise was just now.

"I said you're a pile of stage debris without a drip of fuel left in the tank, and ought to be scrubbed if you don't even know what you're being transmitted as!" snapped Mir fiercely, having as little patience for Apollo as he did for her.

"Big talk for a newbie little white-coat! Why don't you curl up in your precious little particle accelerator and learn what a few Gs feel like before you think you can get to where a pro like me is?!" barked Apollo in return, rumbling his PET enough to make it jostle in his Operator's hand. The two Navis continued to volley verbal rounds back at each other, leaving Emily fairly distressed over how to call a ceasefire. Glenn covered his mouth with his free hand, albeit only to stifle a laugh as he did generally enjoy it when Apollo and Mir got into a (rather regular) fight.

"Um...! Err...?! Ah! Hey now you two, we should really get over to mission control! Right?!" stuttered Emily before forcefully cutting the both of them off with a very logical suggestion. At this point, the whole project was only waiting on the project director and pilot Operator before getting underway. As it were, the two aforementioned were standing smack in this hallway while their Navis tried to kill each other with words.

"Hmph!" grunted both Navis in unison, before finally stopping with their argument. Glenn just shrugged his shoulders before heading down the hallway, regardless of whether or not Emily was in tow.
"Uncle Walter!" exclaimed a happy Emily, having discovered her uncle orchestrating project personnel from the back of mission control. The large room at the center of NAXA's command center was structured somewhat like a lecture hall, with each level raising up in steps towards the back wall to give everyone an equal and unobstructed view of the main monitor. Desks with high-end, non-commercial computers lined the steps at regular intervals, and each was manned by a NAXA technician measuring various rates and fluctuations in the atmosphere, project equipment, and local space environment. Along with the technicians at the desks, the assistants scurried all across the large room with their printout deliveries and various errands tasked to them, careful to not trip on any of the dozens of cables and wires strewn across the floor to connect the multitude of machinery. In fact, the only ones that didn't seem busy were the scholars, both those under NAXA's payroll and those brought in as guests, who only were haphazardly present as witnesses to Emily's project whether it succeeded or failed. They'd make use of the result either way.

The person Emily addressed, Dr. Walter Neimann, wrapped up his discussions with an assistant and turned to meet his niece. "Ah, Emily, there you are. Right on time, well done." he replied with a subtle smile of his own, the few wrinkles on his aged face creasing in the process. "Do remember to call me Dr. Neimann during work hours, though."

"Ah, right, I'm sorry! Hard habit to change..." apologized Emily sheepishly. Having called him Uncle Walter for the better part of her entire life, she still had trouble addressing him by title even 2 years into her position at NAXA. "Is everything ready to go, Un... err, Dr. Neimann?"

"Since you brought the good Mr. Casey with you... Yes, everything should be in place now. We'll be in the operative timeframe in a few minutes, so all that's left is for you to give everyone a few good words to start." murmured the doctor as he glanced down towards the main monitor. Glenn was standing down there next to a series of terminals, discussing with a presumably what was Apollo's jack-in procedure. Dr. Neimann pushed up his thick-lens glasses against his nose as he said this, then reached over to the desk and picked up a wireless headset. He held it in front of Emily, motioning for her to take it. "I figured you'd be up here eventually, but you should've at least let your poor uncle enjoy his golden years... Dr. Delumia."

Dr. Neimann scratched his graying hair as he added that bit with a coy smile, which in turn forced Emily to let slip a slight giggle. "Eheh... Don't worry, I'll be out of your hair once this test's done with." replied Emily as she pinned the headset's band behind her ears and set the microphone down in front of her mouth.

"Um... Hello? Testing?" she spoke into the microphone uncertainly, allowing that weak announcement to broadcast across the entire NAXA territory. Most of the people within mission control stopped what they were doing to look up at Emily, giving her odd looks for how she started that off. Emily gave a sheepish grin to her observers as an apology, then began speaking properly.

"Ahem... Hello everyone, this is Dr. Emily Delumia, director of today's Project Babel. Before we start, I would like to thank everyone involved in this project... that is, every member of NAXA for believing in my ideas and giving them a chance to come to fruition. I'd also like to extend a special welcome to the doctors, professors, and scholars from across the world who have joined us today to observe the launch. I hope we'll succeed to meet your expectations."

"So... With that said, the debriefing should have been fully circulated at this point, but I would like to quickly overview the mission plan in the minutes before we start. Today will be the first live use of the 'Tower' satellite we launched last month, and the Lumian Transmission Cannon housed within it. Using the LTC to overcome the limitations of lightspeed communication, astronaut Glenn Casey will be transmitting his Navi, Apollo.exe, into interstellar space with the goal of observing the galaxy as humanity never has before. All previous evidence points towards the existence of naturally-formed digitial networks out in space, and with any luck we'll able to land Apollo on one of them."

Emily paused there, lifting the microphone up and away from her mouth to take a deep breath and clear her throat before resuming. "Thanks to the combined efforts of the astronomy and research divisions, we have an estimated target in line with the Geminga neutron star. We will not be transmitting that far out due to the unknown effects gamma radiation could have on a Lumian beam, so to not endanger Apollo, we will be searching just the first 20 parsecs away from launch. Once Tower enters its optimal orbit arc, we will have 3 hours to complete the mission to the best of our abilities." Having said that, Emily was finally done recounting the mission plan and was able to drop the stiff and formal manner of speech. After moving the mic out of the way, Emily let out a relieved sigh to relax her nerves.

"Dr. Delumia, 60 seconds until mission start." announced one of the technicians sitting directly below Emily.

"Mm, alright, thank you." nodded Emily as the clock continued to tick. "Glenn, Apollo, are you both ready?"

"Ready." answered the two in unison.

"Mir, could you jack in here and help coordinate the data transfers?" asked Emily of her Navi.

"On it." replied Mir as she strapped her cannon to her back and dove into the near terminal.

"Okay then..." muttered Emily as she looked at the clock. 5... 4... 3... 2... and then, "Project Babel, start! Transfer Apollo.exe to the dish array and prepare for transmission to Tower!"

(Jack In, NAXA Net)