With some difficulty, the events that had transpired on the MSS became clearer. Probing and questioning both ways, we learned about Gaea and she learned about us. My crew of six was having a ball while I was deep in thought about our situation. It appears that this woman has travelled through time.
Tony introduced himself. "My name is Antonio Valenti Mora, the resident astronomer on this crew. I come from Barcelona, Spain. My father is Italian, from Rome, in fact. My family has been in that city for many, many generations. Perhaps one of my ancestors knew you. Many of them were quite active in the public life throughout the centuries... This is amazing. Youre from the past! How could I ever have imagined? More unknowns than a black hole, I'd like to say. Anyway, have I rambled on again? I have a tendency of chattiness, or that is what others say. I think I have a wonderful imagination! It does wonders complemented with my profession--"
The others coughed in another reminder for Tony to stop talking.
"Here," turning his gaze towards me, "is our commander, Dr. William Boateng, from Christchurch, New Zealand. You know where New Zealand is? It is a small nation, made up of two large islands, in the south of the Pacific Ocean.
"Yes, I command this ship of international explorers," I added, in my not-so-perfect Italian, deep with "Kiwi" and my native African accent.
Tony continued, "And to my right is our flight engineer, Meola Bernal, from the Pacific islands called the Philippines. She's quite the history buff as you've seen!"
I thought Meola was in a rather early-morning frazzled state. Her long black hair was not tied up yet, so it formed an irregular mass around her head. I always wondered what would happen if I grew a beard in microgravity. No astronaut ever flew with a beard before!
"By the observation deck is Ogden Adams from England. He's a geologist and engineer, our all-around man."
"Pleased to meet you Gaea," replied Ogden in a rather unsure tone. "This is so absurd, Tony. Shes not going to understand a word Im saying." A mild-mannered man, Ogden felt a bit uncomfortable in the situation. He gave a quick smile and handshake before returning to the place where he was hovering.
"Above me is Dr. Vivian Freeman, freelance writer turned doctor and biologist, from the United States... uh... the New World? Ha, ha!"
Gaea looked puzzled when she saw Vivians glasses. "Youre wearing spectacles! I have not seen many of them. Are those lenses made from quartz? The lenses are such fine quality. Can I see them?" Vivian thought it amusing the young womans curiosity. Tony, being who he is, immediately explained to Gaea the scientific progress over the centuries on the development of the light wave theory and refraction.
"So that is why objects appear bent as they enter water?" asked Gaea. "I suppose because the glass is a different medium and therefore refracts the light so that the light focuses to one point? I have seen spectacles at home and they are shaped quite differently. Using these new theories -- Snells Law, you say? I think we could make quite an effective lens. Oh, if Signore Galilei knew about these discoveries I say, might a convex lens be used for those farsighted?"
Gaea seemed to figure out a number of physics properties there, but who am I to comment. Its quite remarkable. If one is in the company of Galileo, he or she ought to have some of his genius rubbed off on them. I was astonished by her speed of learning and that she bothered to spend time thinking about science after such an event. This conversation was particularly fitting as Vivians nearsightedness nearly disqualified her for astronaut candidacy.
"Oh, and there's Javier Serra from Brazil, a materials scientist, who works closely with Addie -- that's our nickname for Ogden -- on future surface operations."
It was a teaser in the Astronaut Office that Javier was Tonys younger brother. If you werent told otherwise, you would have been certain that they were siblings. They looked very much alike, other than Tonys rounder face and Javiers darker skin. Personality-wise, though, they were radically different. Tony is our resident comedian, a man of many words, while Javier is much more subdued in his actions. The two never actually met until the flight assignments for the Mars expeditions.
"And who can forget second-in-command Laure Duperré, pilot and communications officer, a native of Strasbourg, France."
Laure is a graduate of the world-renowned International Space University that is located in Strasbourg. Her background in flight systems and radar led her to test-piloting high-performance hypersonic jets. Being a military pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force myself, I would say Laure is one of the finest aviators Ive seen.
Tony asked Gaea, "Do you know what year this is? 2031."
"No, it can't be! It is 1613, a late-winter night at my villa in Padua," Gaea's voice tapering off as her face developed a look of uncertainty.
Indeed, it took a while for us to convince this Gaea de Rossi that she was in the future -- or in the present, however you take it -- or even ourselves for that matter. I mean, how could one imagine that suddenly a woman from the 17th century would show up on the MSS, the first space station around the planet Mars? Humanity and big business finally decided that venturing beyond the moon was important. With spectacular delays and opposition, we are finally here, the second crew aboard this orbiting facility, doing incredible research in preparation for the first humans touching down on the surface in 2047. At the ripe old age of 52, I have made it, or almost. I am at Mars. A few hundred kilometres away, but I say I'll probably never be able to set foot on the Red Planet. I'll see someone make this miraculous feat, but not myself. Either humanity was too slow or time was too fast.
After hours of discussion, we remembered to contact Earth on our next pass.
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