The shuttle's takeoff proved uneventful. It lifted slightly, engine blades humming, then subsequent acceleration happened primarily along the horizontal axis. From inside, the sensation didn't feel much different than an airplane. Sam had hoped for something more exotic. The reports all mentioned how the Angmari shuttles didn't fly right. Not only were their engines were too small to lift the vessel, but the fixed orientation of their nozzles meant they couldn't be responsible for the forward movement. Some scientists speculated that ionic propulsion could be responsible, while others pointed out that the shuttle's lack of wings meant no lift would be generated.
Though Sam followed all of the theory-mongering, she thought they overlooked a key fact: none of the Angmari spacecraft had ever been observed to release exhaust throughout their decelaration or any of their maneuvering into orbit since then. They obviously had some sort of reactionless drive. Why wouldn't the same technology be used on a shuttle during atmospheric ascent? The science advisors being interviewed on television seemed so eager to dissect the secrets of the aliens that they were hell bent on assuming those secrets were something within their grasp.
Jess interrupted her ponderings. "How long does it take to get into orbit?"
"Hours." Sam twirled her finger. "It flies eastward until it builds up enough speed to reach geosynchronous orbit."
"Oh," Jess said. "It would have been a hundred times cooler if our first experience with spaceflight involved windows. This is . . . boring. We're just standing in a room."
A heavyset black man eyed them. "Well, don't expect it to stay boring, ladies," he said with a distinct lisp. "The Angmari crew have been taking people aside for reasons unknown. I'm hoping this is where we get indoctrinated in their superpowers."
Sam roller her eyes. "Superpowers?"
"You heard me right. The Angmari delegation to the White House did some supernatural demonstration, got the POTUS all excited to earn himself some superpowers. That's why the US is just letting the Angmari recruit citizens like it is. All the top dogs in the government are selling the country out to become little godlings." The man held out a hand to execute a limp handshake with each of them. "I'm Lawrence Smith, by the way."
"I don't really believe in the supernatural," Sam said.
"That's fine, honey. I love saying 'I told you so' every chance I get."
Jess stepped between them. "Lawrence, where did you hear about the superpowers?"
"What you might call back channels. I got a brother who works in the Pentagon. It is supposed to be a whole process to awaken these abilities. Or at least that's what the Angmari tell us."
"Do you know anything about where they came from? Were they responsible for the stars changing?"
"Now that I do not know," Lawrence said. "They don't seem open to sharing their secrets any more than necessary."
Sam turned away from the conversation to search out their Angmari chaperones. It was indeed as Lawrence had said. The Earthers were being secluded one at a time in a back room, then brought back to the general population after a few minutes. Some of the other candidates had begun to socialize in small groups, but many remained in self-imposed isolation. As she scanned the room, a certain commonality in everyone selected struck her. Not that they were all nerds, because not all were. But that everyone present seemed to have a certain personality type . . . namely that they were agreeable, passive, and even a touch timid. At least one of the selection criteria the Angmari used was how easy it would be to keep someone in line.
She smacked her forehead. After her computerized test there had been a half hour where she sat quietly to await further instructions. She had done nothing other than wait expectantly, which must have been how she passed that particular test. "I'm a sheep," she groaned.
Lawrence clucked his tongue. "A sheep? Do tell."
"I waited a half hour without so much as a peep for someone to get me after I finished my test. The Angmari recruited me because I'm a push-over."
Jess blinked. "No way. They moved me three times to different computers and I had to restart the test each time. I didn't say anything . . . and here I am."
They both turned to Lawrence, who sighed. "Fine, I'll confess. I was walked around in circles by a clueless intern trying to find an interview room."
"Did you complain?"
Lawrence shrugged. "Thought about it."
"But you didn't," Sam said.
"I did not."
"We're all push overs," she pronounced.
Lawrence waved it away. "Doesn't matter. We're in the space fleet. This is some Luke Skywalker shit right here."
Sam winced, causing Lawrence to frown in response. Jess jumped in to explain. "We're more Star Trek girls. You know, human progress towards a technological and social utopia, instead of aristocracy and chosen one mythology."
"Uh, ladies, I want some Force powers and a lightsaber. And I wouldn't mind some Ewan McGregor while I'm at it."
Their conversation skidded to an abrupt halt as an Angmari man approached them. "We're taking everyone aside for a quick briefing. Which of you wants to go first?"
Sam found herself standing out front as her two companions each took a subtle step back. The man snorted a laugh at that. "Just like a cartoon, right? Well, thanks for volunteering anyway. This won't take long." She followed the man towards the back of the room and through a door into a cozy office. She took the seat at a gesture and the man reached forward to take her head in both hands.
He smiled down at her as she froze. "Don't worry, friend. This isn't anything dangerous. I'm just going to do something to make sure you don't get into any trouble."
As Sam attempted to work out something to say in response, the sensation of a train ramming into her brain caused her to gasp. She reached up to cradle her head, but the pain was already evaporating. She opened her mouth to complain but then felt the urge to stay silent. The Angmari knew what was best for her. She shouldn't question their methods.
The man smiled, then pointed towards the door. She obediently went outside and slipped through the crowd to where she had stood before. The man took Lawrence with him back to the office.
Brow drawn down in concern, Jess took Sam by both shoulders. "What are they doing in that room?"
Sam smiled to cover her indecision. She had no secrets from Jess. But . . . she shouldn't betray the Angmari man. No, everything would be for the best if Jess remained ignorant. "Nothing unusual, just more biometric scans."
Sam shrugged. "Don't worry about it. We're going to have wonderful lives among the fleet. You'll see."