After “Wings of Fire”

Yesterday I was rereading my own novella “Wings of Fire” from last June, and it got me wondering more about the backgrounds of the characters, their biographies and futures. In short, I think there are more stories to be told about these people, the intrepid crewmen of Artemis 1, the first manned moon landing in my science-fictional alternate timeline.

With the removal of a couple of months, I was able to take it in with fresher eyes, and I noticed some character traits and my mind was flooded with new possibilities for them I had not conceived of before. Yesterday I felt really tired and kinda sick, so I didn’t even feel like doing anything else other than working on Twitter. I actually feel sicker today, like those white blood cells are rampaging. *sigh* But I’ve compiled enough material to post some character descriptions. Is the term “character sheet”? Anyway, let’s get started…

Inigo Sturm

The biocosmonautician on Artemis 1 seems to be really opinionated and really like the sound of his own voice and lectures on sundry topics interminably. No doubt he has some sort of academic credential, likely a PhD, making him Doctor Inigo Sturm. “Doctor Sturm”. Sounds like a guy who would show up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but whatever.

No doubt he’s a top academic tweeter or whatever the equivalent is, and he might also have a popular video channel. He might have moonlighted as a professor, some sort of adjunct perhaps, at various universities, but his much greater celebrity after Artemis 1 opens up new possibilities. He will likely be granted a full professorship somewhere in central Europe, and may well be a pioneer in posting all his lectures on sundry topics online, being not only a biocosmonautician but also something of a polymath. Perhaps he even replaces Salman Khan to some extent in this timeline; instead of Khan Academy videos he might create Sturmschule, Sturm School, though perhaps his emphasis might be on college- and graduate-level study rather than Khan’s gradeschool and high school focus, being more complimentary than competitive.

He says with the great strides Argentina is making in spaceflight, “we all might be working for the Argentines one of these days”, so perhaps a few years after gaining his professorship in central Europe, and cultivating extensive ties in Argentina, he founds an entire new university and research center together with a consortium of patrons, scientists, and lecturers in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, with a particular emphasis on spaceflight and related sciences and technologies. It’s entirely possible, given he’s a polymathic biocosmonautician, that he’ll turn his interest toward cybernetics at some point, perhaps becoming a big presence in that field. Cybernetics becomes a hot thing in this world starting in the mid 20th century.

His Argentine project turbocharges the city’s growth, though the university itself will be located on top of a nearby mountain in the Andes, a brand-new ski town and resort being combined with it. Perhaps he even suggests a comprehensive city plan a la L’Enfant for Bariloche. This 1950s effort, which proves greatly successful, might prove the inspiration for Menteith Reinhardt to decades later found his political think tank (provisionally named the Leggett Institute, after William Leggett, the foremost Locofoco) in Jackson Hole, Wyoming atop the Tetons, though Gleichen goes further than Sturm by rejecting the university model altogether.

Sturm makes a point of becoming fluent in both Spanish and Italian for his Argentine lifestyle. With his great wealth from celebrity status, he enjoys a wine-sipping (he seems to have a taste for champagne too) ski-sloping polo-playing lifestyle in addition to his academic research work and activism for the various causes he believes in.

What do we know about Sturm’s views? From “Wings of Fire”:

Inigo chimed in “You know, this might sound like heresy, but I think it’s a good thing we’re doing this only now. Can you imagine if we did this 20 years ago or even maybe 10 years ago? We’d just be able to transmit a few lines’ worth of black-and-white video, and that would be most of mankind’s memory of the first lunar landing. I don’t know about any of you back on Earth, but I for one find the picture we’re sending back now much more inspirational than that would be.” […]

Gazing at the plaque, Inigo privately mused “How awful it would be if we hoisted a German flag or something, if we were asked to be like the most jingoistic explorers of old hoisting their colors on the first patch of soil we see. No, the VfR has better taste than any of that. And if nothing else remains of mankind, and a hundred million years from now some other race travels here, this will still be here; our testament to eternity.”

These evince a kind of humanism, cosmopolitanism, and cosmism, but he seems to be something of a snob who tends to look down on people. He’s also somewhat fearful and pessimistic by nature, thinking for example that Adelaide and Prospero weren’t coming back or that they wouldn’t survive the Sessrumnir’s impact, being scared of jinxing the mission’s success by saying the hard part is over, and the like. He smirks quite a bit, but I envision him as being something of a handsome “Chad” or natural alpha, as he can really hold a girl’s attention and make her happy with his pep talks and romantic gestures:

Inigio gave them a smirk as he sat in front of one of his experiments, telling them “I wouldn’t mourn the Moon too much. I’m sure we’ll be back someday.”

“You really think so?” asked Adelaide. Inigo answered “The Space Race has been joined for what, over ten years now? It’s not just Germany that’s in it. The Russians are right behind us, and even if they give up – which I doubt, considering how Korolev is hell-bent on Mars and the space craze is even bigger over there than it is in middle Europe – they’re not our only competitor. The Americans are right behind them, the British and the Japanese are already jumping in, and there’s even indications China is going to seriously ramp up a program soon. And let’s not forget the Argentines – they’ve managed quite a coup by being the first to launch a space telescope a couple years back. Those pretty pictures are already legend. And it was a smart move for them: at the rate they’re drawing scientists, we might both be working for the Argentines one of these days.” That elicited some laughter from both of them.

Inigo went on “But really, the point is it might seem like we’re moving so fast. Just twenty years ago some people still thought the idea of sending a man into space was far-fetched, and look where we are now. But despite how that might make it appear, it’s really the kind of race like a marathon with twenty men competing, not a sprint with two men, one loser one winner, with the loser packing up his bags and going home, the winner doing…I don’t know what. It would be a terrible situation indeed if there were only two competitors, Germany could declare victory, and that’s a wrap, human spaceflight is over. But notice there’s no sentiment of ‘if Artemis 1 makes it, that’s it, we won!’, because everyone knows there are dozens of companies, societies, associations, governments, you name it, that are right on our tail, and they’re not interested in resting on their laurels, for they have none; they must earn them. That’s why we will go. We will go back to the Moon. We will go on to Mars. We will go to the gas giants. We will go to the outermost reaches of the solar system. We will go to the nearest star. And then on to the next and the next, forever. Even if the Verein für Raumschiffahrt said ‘that’s a wrap’, a dozen more spaceflight societies would rise to take its place. No, I feel good about our future in space, and about your prospects for living on the Moon someday.” Adelaide and Vera smiled at all that, with Vera saying “After that pep talk, so am I.”

Inigo seems to have come into his own as a man, but should still have some handsomeness and youth left in him. Somewhere in his thirties (34?) would be a good age for him as of 1949. He squeezed Vera Petrenka’s hand, and there seemed to be a bit of spark between them during their time in the Senta.

Inigo I think will have grey eyes, very dark brown sexy wavy hair. Typical German skin tone and features I guess otherwise.

I’m thinking he might cultivate a close relationship with Oleg Losev too, the Russian mega-billionaire who invented and marketed both the LED and fiber optics in this timeline (likely the richest man in the country, and making Russia the global leader in those fields). He may well be the greatest patron by far of the Russian space program, becoming something like an alternate-historical Russian version of Elon Musk; he even looks a bit like Musk! Perhaps he provides much of the capital for his new university. Perhaps Losev has a habit of going into space himself, and personally accompanies the first Russian, and first human, mission to Mars in 1962. By that time he’d be 59. As of 1949 he’s already 46. No spring chicken, but roughly the same age as Elon Musk is now, so he’ll have some vitality left in him.

In particular, with regard to fostering international spaceflight connections, Inigo Sturm might form a secret society for the global promotion of spaceflight seeking to take in the best and brightest from all countries and coordinating them so they can work more effectively as one for the benefit of all mankind.

I’m thinking he’ll have a really big family together with Vera. I’m sensing he’s of the “sex every day, baby every year make a girl happy” school of thought, and he totally dominates her over time, much like Oberon does to Ilithiana in the far-future story I wrote about a year ago.

Vera Petrenka

Ukrainian test pilot who’s also an enthusiastic astrophotographer. From “Wings of Fire”:

Adelaide exclaimed “Oooh…you know, I should have known that. I’m supposed to be one of the scientists. You’re just a test pilot.” Vera laughed and said “A test pilot who’s also an astrophotographer. First got into it after I flew some scientists on one of those experimental supersonic passenger jets for a solar eclipse. November 1, 1948; we took off from Africa, and chased the Moon’s shadow clear across the Indian Ocean. Extended totality to much longer than anyone else saw it; indeed, at Mach 2 we extended it to longer than any solar eclipse could possibly last on the ground. That one was even more special than usual; when the sun got blocked out we saw a bright comet, right there! A new discovery! Hello, comet! That all really got me into the celestial motions of the planets and the stars and how we could see and capture them, and honestly that’s what got me enough into spaceflight to answer the call when the VfR came to recruit me for Artemis 1. No offense, Victor, but everyone knows they wanted civilians to be the first to step on the Moon, and they also wanted a test pilot, and…well, I guess that eclipse flight must have made me more famous than I thought it did!”

There’s a bit of a spark between Vera and Inigo when they squeezed each other’s hands, so for all we know it might go even further. If she has an interest in photography in general it might get him out of his head and into something much more artsy with her also having the kind of profession and passion (civilian test piloting) that he can respect, perhaps one of the few people in the world he truly feels admiration for. Her interest in photography might also help him a lot with his video efforts, and if she really admires his looks and he admires hers they might feed each other’s huge egos immensely, falling for each other like a ton of bricks. Helps also that she’s quite opinionated herself and loves the sound of her own voice but seems to love Inigo’s even more. From “Wings of Fire”:

Adelaide and Vera smiled at all that [Inigo’s lecture two quotes above], with Vera saying “After that pep talk, so am I.”

Vera seems a bit young and inexperienced, perhaps in her early to mid twenties as of 1949, and still figuring herself out. To meet Inigo’s high standards she’ll need to be a real beauty. Think the doll-like features of the north rather than the chunky stocky boxy features of the south. Think Felicity Jones in terms of her appearance; big cute eyes, luscious lips, fair flawless skin, luscious wavy brunette hair (that, unlike Felicity’s as far as I know) might be a bit strawberry-blondeish in the sunlight), petite build, and petite development of her figure (enough to look a bit luscious, but not voluptuous). I’m thinking she’ll have grey eyes, like Inigo.

She probably likes to braid her hair a lot (she likes long hair, but it gets in the way when you’re test-piloting), and may well be a hairstyling enthusiast. She may well popularize the “braid of steel” hairdo in this timeline much like her fellow Ukrainian Yulia Tymoshenko did in real life.

Maybe she has a really big family with Inigo, think at least ten children! She gets swept up into sex every day, baby every year making a girl happy school of thought, and it indeed makes her very happy, doing as much astrophotography and piloting etc. as a waddling pregnant mother with a bunch of babies in tow can. She becomes more luscious as a result of all her pregnancies, but she emphasizes taking care of her body like it’s a temple: makeup, cosmetic treatments, cosmetic surgeries, skin care, self-care, gym work, dieting, etc. as it becomes available, looking down on the rest of the population for not taking care of themselves better, much like Inigo does (he also emphasizes taking care of himself).

If she’s 22 as of 1949, let’s say she’s 23 when they get married and start popping out babies, maybe even as a shotgun marriage, as they have sex (albeit with neither of them being remotely virginal) and conceive a child on an exotic tropical vacation in the heat of the moment or some such. If she has a baby every year (on average; it might vary a bit) and stops at age 48 (as I understand it, a typical age for the end of fertility) that means she’ll have 25 children total by 1968! Woo!

They’ll become famous, especially for their view that the best and brightest need to start having a lot more kids, with Vera herself emphasizing in her videos that a smart capable woman’s first duty is to have babies (with a sperm donor if necessary, as a single mother by choice, if no suitable mate can be found), not to do science or art or whatever, as squandering the good blood that produces a good scientist or artist etc. is akin to eating the seed corn. Some must be left for the future! This expressly pro-eugenics view isn’t nearly as controversial in this timeline as in real life, but the extreme to which she takes it in her worldview is outré even in this world.

 I qualify the above with “expressly” for a reason; Elon Musk, for example, is fairly obviously a eugenicist, but doesn’t feel comfortable telling it except implicitly. Such views as his are common among the general public and intelligentsia even today, it’s just that they’ve been tabooed.

Anyway, raising over twenty kids might seem like a huge burden, but Inigo being wealthy means they have more than enough bedrooms for all the kids to have their own, they can have all of life’s little luxuries, all the menial work can be outsourced to servants, and so on and so forth.

Maybe they’re both raging narcissists at heart, to the extent they have pictures of themselves everywhere and the like, and each of them always goes asleep with earbuds in with their spouse reciting their daily affirmations, e.g. Vera listens to her husband’s voice all night telling her you’re so beautiful, you’re a good girl, you love being a wife and mother, etc. to the tune of some kind of hypnotic electronic beat.

She ends up becoming a total horse girl in Argentina; horsemanship becomes her passion. Every day she’ll ride out with the kids across the countryside, drink wine with every meal with all the kids, and read them the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the sagas, and the like at bedtime. The vibe should be similar to Ingrid Bergman in “Notorious”.

Adelaide Vogel

Geologist by occupation, presumably involved in some sort of scientific research before selection for Artemis 1. She thinks the moon is a dreamscape, loves it and wants to live there permanently, but is also willing to accept higher radiation in exchange for being able to live on the surface and gaze at spectacular landscapes. She herself says “I really like to drink!” and seems to really enjoy champagne. Cute enthusiastic type (e.g. she blows kisses at Kepler crater when she leaves) who is fully cognizant of how pioneering she is as a woman geologist. Keenly interested in future of spaceflight, space colonization, and nuclear technology. From “Wings of Fire”:

Passing the time, they discussed sundry topics, most of all what the future of spaceflight was going to look like. “You know”, Adelaide confided to Prospero in a moment of clarity, “Our stay on the Moon wasn’t intentional, so I guess you couldn’t call the Senta a habitat per se, but I honestly think it might be better if the habitat was mobile, a big space colony on wheels. That way instead of having to send out a rover with separate supplies and facilities we could take everything we had with us. Could even use that nuclear power I keep hearing people say is the wave of the future – sure would be a lot better than having to fool around with these solar panels. I know it’s the best we’ve got today – we’re a quarter million miles from the nearest gas station, after all – but I’m excited about the idea of getting something better. When I get home I’ll suggest that to Carlotta and Marina. And everybody else too. Betcha it would do great somewhere like Mars.”

This foreshadows the nuclear-powered roving colonies that later become prevalent on Mars. Perhaps Adelaide has a hand in advocating for that approach. Since Russia dominates the early Martian colonies, it’s possible she cultivates connections with Korolev and company down the road in the 1950s and 60s.

I think Adelaide Vogel lives on the Moon by the end of the 1950s at latest, and perhaps stays there for good. She has a penchant for not wanting to go back home when on a road trip, and a predilection for car camping.

She also seems to really like taking pictures of herself; betcha she has a great Instagram feed or whatever the equivalent in this universe is.

To balance out all the other brunettes, she’ll have the fairest most platinum natural shade of blonde; maybe she even dyes it to get it to go full platinum shine. Maybe she has a voluptuous hourglass figure, blue eyes, light akin, and likes to suntan a lot, the very picture of a buxom almost bimbo-ish blonde, which might be why she’s so keen to prove herself in science: because people are wont to not take her seriously.

I don’t have much idea of what her age is as of 1949, but considering the description she’d have to be in her twenties or thirties. Late twenties? I might go with that.

Marina Behrenberg

Cosmonaut on Artemis 2, walked on the Moon during the mission to rescue Artemis 1. I’m thinking she’s in her early 30s as of 1949 (perhaps 31; her flight might be in 1943 at 25, same age as Tereshkova, so 31 by 1949). Possesses an unshakeable faith in destiny and belief that they will not fail, to the extent she smiled as the electrical storm approached Sessrumnir 1 at launch. Has a romantic friendship (they’re best friends) with Carlotta von Frey, including tight hugs, massages, manhandling, and erotic whispers; likely kisses too. Also has close connections with Wernher von Braun and the people at the VfR; much fame and influence. Sort of a Valentina Tereshkova type. From “Wings of Fire”:

Carlotta’s mind then turned to Marina Behrenberg, her mentor, her role model, fellow skydiver, and the first woman to reach space, slated to fly on Artemis 1 before Mission Control thought, erroneously it turned out, based on a blood test, that she was infected by a nasty new strain of cold virus that was making the rounds worldwide that winter; her replacement on the flight was Carlotta von Frey, her star protégé, only recently trained and, at age 20, one of the youngest cosmonauts to venture into space.

Carlotta von Frey

Skydiver and sailor. 20 years old as of December 1949. Recently trained as of 1949, and one of the youngest cosmonauts to venture into space up to that point. Spent much of her teenage years sailing all alone across the world’s oceans in sailboats with nothing more than a sextant and the stars to guide her, which together with her parachuting experience is why she was selected as a cosmonaut. Has a romantic friendship (they’re best friends) with Marina Behrenberg, including tight hugs, massages, manhandling, and erotic whispers; likely kisses too. She lacks her mentor’s abiding faith in destiny, but otherwise seems to be much like a younger version of her. Has a fondness for cosmonaut poetry (which apparently is a whole genre in this timeline), especially the line “May the wings of fire carry me home”.

Conclusion

I think there’s some real potential to explore the lives of all these characters. Especially the leading couple of Inigo and Vera should prove very interesting; over the course of writing it he was honestly the breakout character. There are other characters, of course, but these five are all I’ve written up for so far, and are more than enough for one blog post.

Marina and Carlotta have what we now call a romantic friendship, which is stigmatized now by society’s obsession with sex and gay people, but this universe is not nearly as badly afflicted by it, and indeed ends up fully repudiating those views in the 1960s-and-later New Age great awakening (which is a much bigger deal in this timeline than it was in real life). The upshot is that a relationship like Marina’s and Carlotta’s is viewed in their world as perfectly normal, and indeed as a salutary part of wholesome feminine youth, even among what we’d call straight girls. The straight box vs gay box never becomes nearly as hegemonic as it did in real life, so in this world nobody cares too much, so while I envision both Marina and Carlotta as straight I concede that it is slightly ambiguous.

Whether either of them would ever want to marry anybody and/or have any children is another question, as is the question of whether they would ever allow anything or anyone to come in between their bond with each other. Considering the prolific breeding of Inigo and Vera I may well make both Marina and Carlotta child-free. Another possibility would be for them to use donors and become single mothers by choice instead of taking on any male partner, but that theme is a bit overused in my stories of late. On the other hand, I have a feeling that women having a child alone on purpose might be much more common in this timeline than it is in real life, so maybe it’s not overused. In any case I see Marina and Carlotta having at most one child each; they strike me as the type to have “one and done” families, not big families.

Adelaide’s future in romance and motherhood is a blank page as yet. She strikes me as the cute wholesome type that might want to have a traditional family and a baby. She wants to live on the Moon permanently, so I have a feeling there might be almost a frontier log-cabin vibe to her lifestyle. A fellow lunar pioneer would likely prove to be the best match. She had no romantic chemistry with any of the male characters, so it’ll likely be somebody who didn’t appear in “Wings of Fire”.

Not sure how any of this is going to figure into a story, or if I’ll even write any of it up as a story, but I thought it was interesting enough to share on here. Hopefully you enjoyed these character descriptions as much as I did.

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