Prologue Earth had made a breakthrough. Leading scientists from across the globe had successfully invented reverse-gravity thrusters — or RGTs — devices that could selectively reverse gravity in a certain area, providing instant and perfectly-controlled thrust, without any exhaust fumes or other pollutants. Instantly, fighter jets were designed and implemented with the RGTs, and they were found to be a huge success in the hands of a skilled pilot. They allowed for lightning-fast movement in any direction thanks to the 360-degree tilt mechanisms they were mounted on. Four years later, in 2024, The Western world announced plans to build a country in the sky — a massive, floating airship using the RGTs to remain stationary. Inside, the inhabitants would live a life of luxury with all of the latest technologies at their instant disposal. It was announced that a single airship could possibly house over thirty thousand people permanently at any one time, and that more would quickly be constructed. Construction commenced quickly on the prototype, but not before the orders to move in did. Demand for spaces was massive, and within a week, the airship was fully booked. Thirty-three thousand people in total were allowed onto the ship to live, and a further twenty thousand were given passports to fly up for a week at a time to work — maintaining the airship, cleaning, etcetera. This soon meant that the airship would have over fifty thousand people on it at any one time. The world watched intently via their television sets and the internet as the construction — or, as much as security would allow — was broadcast in real time as a gesture to the grand scale and technological achievement of the ship. Scientists and philosophers alike hailed the rise of the information age, even amid the cries of suspicion and fear from small sects of people who would not trust the RGTs, would not trust the absolute freedom of information on the ship. They cried that it would all go wrong, that the ship would fall. They were ignored. The airship was completed in 2029. The mammoth ship was launched on February the 13th, and the human population that still lived on the ground bade it farewell. The President of the United States joined the other major heads of state of the Western world in cheering it on its journey into the stratosphere — launching it, with not a small amount of irony, by smashing a bottle of champagne against its side, a nod to traditions gone past, and named it the HMS Victory. The thrusters whirred into life, and the ship shot into the air smoothly. The lights flickered on as it soared, slowly and steadily as to not upset the passengers, and onlookers gasped as the mechanics that had built the ship let off a celebratory volley of fireworks from the roof. It was the last time they could stand there without oxygen. The launch was a massive success — the media were raving for weeks about the various aspects — starting with the launch itself, they soon exhausted that topic, so they switched to the smaller things — like how a dog had jumped on board the moment before the craft had ascended, like how one of the fireworks had gone dangerously close to flying through the captain's open window, but instead bounced off the wall and exploded in a shower of sparks and flame. --- The next morning, one passenger's celebrations were cut short by the arrival of her baby — but not without complication. Helena Miller had been very ill prior to boarding the Victory and her condition had worsened despite her euphoria and happiness at being allowed on board. The birth was a difficult one, and despite all the infirmary's efforts, despite all the advanced technology, and despite being on board the shining beacon of the civilised world, she died before even getting to name her child. The nurses and doctors and administration teams conferred hurriedly. They had planned for everything — terrorist attacks, nuclear war, what would happen if there was an epidemic on board, they thought they'd covered everything. But they did not plan for an orphaned child. The father had long since abandoned them — as was, unfortunately, increasingly common, so the child was alone. One of the nurses picked the baby up and looked at it, searchingly. It was a girl, with fluffy blonde hair — as many newborn babies had — and she was sleeping silently, completely unaware of the fact that her mother had just died, and completely unaware of the uncertainty that clouded her future. The nurse was named John Jones — JJ to his friends — and he instantly felt a twang of sympathy towards the child in his gloved arms, who had wriggled into the crook of his arm, pressing her head against his plain white medical tunic and gurgling quietly before drifting back to sleep. Some paternal instinct gnawed inside him, and his mind hatched a quiet plan. Strolling to the administration block nearby, still holding the baby, he spoke to a senior officer in clear English tones, stopping occasionally to scratch his stubbled chin and consider his next words, weighing them up in his mind so they might have the most impact. The officer watched him from behind his beard and thick-rimmed glasses, his expression hidden both by his blank eyes, and by the mess or grey hair that covered his head and face. In the end, he surveyed the child — how she seemed happy in John's arms, and nodded, briskly. John himself broke into a wide smile at that point and virtually skipped back to his quarters. John Jones' room was just like the other twenty thousand on the HMS Victory at the time, but it didn't make it any less spectacular. The room was a dome — the roof of one half was completely glass, allowing the blazing orange sunrise outside to shine through the window and wash the room in a sea of orange. The room itself was split by large wall panels that rose out of the floor, which could retract back into the floor with the touch of a button. The section on the far side of the room was a bedroom, with a magnificent modern bed with white linen, and a huge chest of drawers on one side. Next to it was a white-tiled bathroom, shielded from the rest of the room, and from the outside, by several walls. In the centre of the room was a living area, with three large couches and a massive television. On the left of that was a kitchen, and on the right a study area, with a desk and computer. The study had already been used — papers littered the desk and the computer was still on. John had clearly started working as soon as he arrived. Finally, nearest the door was another room. This one was spare. John clicked on an earpiece, and tapped a button on the side. A smooth American-accented male answered. "Hey JJ, what's up?" "Larry, good to hear from you," John smiled. Larry was one of his friends from back on the ground. "Likewise, man, likewise. So, what can I do you for on this fine day?" "Well, it's a long story, but basically I've managed to get myself a baby. So that spare room needs to be fitted out for her now. Could you get someone to bring up some supplies?" "Dude, you did what? A baby? You've been here less than a day and you already managed to pick up a baby? That's just like you, JJ. You were always pickin' stuff up back groundside. Remember Juli-" John cut him off a little too quickly, "Yes, yes, I remember about Julia." "Hahaha, sorry man, can't help but pull that one occasionally." "Every time you get a chance, you mean." "Whoa, peace, dude, peace. Anyways, before the bossman hears me chatting, I'll send you down some baby supplies. Hell, I dunno what you NEED, but I'll ask one of the ladies. They'll be sure to tell me what to order." "Cheers. I owe ya one." John grinned. Larry was always a little chauvinistic when it came to "men's duties", but it was a trait you soon got used to. Even if Larry would remain single for the rest of his life because of it. "Like hell you do, my man. Hey, you'd better not get too wrapped up in baby stuff not to come have a beer with me sometime." "Heh. I'll try. See ya later, Larry." "Peace." John sighed. Larry had unwittingly made him wonder what he'd walked into. He'd made himself a parent in less than a day. It seemed like the Victory was more full of surprises than he knew. Stretching his legs, he wandered over to the fridge, grabbed a beer, and slumped back down again switching on the television. The baby still in his arms gargled as she woke up, and John looked down in realisation. "You don't have a name yet... do you?" The child stared blankly at John, who scratched his stubble again with the hand holding his beer. Taking a swig, he wondered what to name her. And, as he decided what to call her, there was a loud knock on the door. Putting the beer down, he wandered to it and opened it to greet a team of four or five workers, who bustled in and started setting up the baby's room. One of the workers, a jovial Asian man, turned to John after putting a cot together, a wry grin on his face. "You know, I didn't expect to see a new kid this early. She's pretty sweet. Looks nothing like you, though." John smiled, slightly. "She's not mine. Her mother died just this morning, and I've decided to take her in." "Well, that's very generous of you. I wish you luck, my friend. What's her name?" John felt a sudden rush of emotion, a feeling of power surge through his veins. He didn't know why, but naming the girl seemed to have a massive impact on him — it bound him to her, as father and child despite the circumstances of their meeting. It was both a responsibility, and a gift. "Her name's Claire."