May 25, 1993
"Ok, Penny. Throw me the numbers. I wanna tap into the tube as number five for the deck."
"Roll left twenty degrees to a heading of 190. Descend and maintain 2300. Your traffic is a Delta heavy at 11 o'clock, a United 737 at 1 o'clock and going low, and a Dash Seven on your three --also low."
"I have them."
"You're in the pipe and number five for the ground."
I checked traffic visually, and pressed the throttle in. The ship started up so fast it was disorienting for a second. "I'm bailing, Penny."
"Why? Did I give incorrect instructions?"
"Nope. You're right on the money and looking good."
Penny and I spent quite some time working on language. I had a way of thinking when I flew --it came from the days that my brother and I tore up the air together. We'd invented a kind of terminology we were comfortable with. We didn't really plan it, it just sort of came about on it's own. I've never been as comfortable in the air with anyone except him since then because I had to think too much about what was being said to me. Towers and the like, well sure. I could hear and understand them with ease. But there was something about relying on someone inside the aircraft when I was in heavy traffic that made me uneasy --except of course, for my bro. So, I taught the language to Penny as best I could. She caught on fairly quickly, but some of it was difficult, and we had to practice to get it right.
That's what brought us to Atlanta, the busiest airport I could think of. I figured if we could function together there, then we could work together almost anywhere. But it had an unexpected effect too. Penny was good, so good I almost felt like Greg was sitting beside me in one of the crates that we flew into places we didn't belong in, and getting performance from the airplanes that would have turned their manufacturer's knuckles white. I'd begun to drift into that haze of memory, and those memories were a distraction.
"I can't do this right now, Penny."
I tried to explain it, and perhaps she knows about missing someone who was a close part of you, and maybe she didn't. But she accepted the explanation with grace and silence. I explained about the good times we had, the close calls we survived, and about the day that a close call was too close and took Greg from me. He was killed when his Pitts S-2 caught an unexpected gust while landing at a tiny strip, and his wingtip caught a tree.
"I'm sorry, Bob."
"Thanks. Let's go home."
Penny gave me a course, and we pressed the ship to full power. The trip back to the west coast was a quiet one. As we were crossing from Montana to Idaho, Penny asked where Greg had crashed.
"A tiny private strip near La Center. That's about forty miles north of Vancouver."
"No, Washington. How come you don't have this in your files?"
"I do, I was trying to make conversation."
"Oh. Well, then you know about all there is to tell."
"I know that the most important part is the pain it caused you. I can detect the stress in your voice when you speak of him."
I had no reply to that, but knew it was true. I said nothing, but rolled southward to a course of about 200.
"Where are you going?"
"To the base of Mount St. Helen's."
Even then, what was left of the mountain was visible to us, peeking out to the left of Mt. Adams. We crossed the Yakima Firing Range quickly and I brought the D&B, or the 'It' as we called it now, low over the Cascades and slowed down to about 400 knots. We'd decided to call it It because the Don & Burt Special just didn't fit anymore. Thanks to Brian's sense of humor, it looked like the space shuttle, complete with tiles. But we didn't call it a shuttle, we called it It as an acronym for Intra-solar Transport. Intra-solar because the range was limited to inside the solar system.
I pulled the throttle back and pointed the nose towards the trees below.
"Bob, collision with the trees is imminent."
Just as we should have smacked into the trees, they opened up into a small clearing. One that made an airstrip hidden in the forest. The throttle came back to suspension idle, and I pressed the stick forward. The It settled to the ground and I shut it off.
"Where are we?"
Penny didn't reply, but cycled the hatchway open. I unbuckled myself from the semi-supine seat and stepped out onto the step on the skid. Had anyone been watching, it would have appeared almost like I'd just crawled out of an invisible hole. I walked about twenty yards back towards the trees we skirted coming in and peered up at a tall fir. About sixty feet up there was a missing limb. I just stood there and looked at it for a while.
"Who the hell are you, bud?"
I whirled around and found myself facing a stocky man. He was wearing a green plaid flannel shirt, old jeans and hiking boots. Most importantly, he had a shotgun levelled at me.
"I'm nobody. Just hiking around and looking at nature."
"This is private property fella. Where'd you come from?"
"Yeah? You walk all the way here?"
I knew that there was no way I could have --not and looked like I did. Had I been out on a hike that long, I'd have been pretty rumpled and would have been carrying supplies on my back. "No. I drove most of the way. Just been ambling around for a couple of hours."
"Didn't you see the signs, man? This land is posted. We don't want no strangers here."
"I must have missed the sign."
"Yeah, and the fence too. Keep your hands where I can see 'em."
I figured this meant trouble. Maybe he was growing pot, or maybe he was just into privacy. I didn't know. But he walked slowly towards me with his eyes narrowed and wary. Beyond him I saw two other men come out of the tree line and jog in our direction.
"You picked the wrong place to snoop, asshole."
"I guess so. I'll be happy to leave."
"Let's just say there's a maybe you won't be leaving here for quite some time."
I was wishing that I had taken a couple of passes over the area before I set down. Any pilot in his right mind would. But I'd been thinking of my brother, and that had distracted me. I was thinking that it was good I didn't stay in Atlanta taking practice runs when the other two men came up to us.
"What have you got here?"
"Dunno. Found him standing here. Says he was hiking, but he doesn't have a pack, and he ain't carrying any water."
"Maybe. Got long hair, but that don't mean much these days."
"I expect we should talk to him a while. See what we can about him."
The one who stood without speaking walked over to me, pulled a pistol out of his belt and hit me across the side of the head. Pain exploded through me and I slumped down on one knee. "Who the hell are you? You a cop or what?"
"I'm not a cop. I'm just out looking around." The pain made it hard to think, and the blow had been unexpected. I felt a wetness on my collar and reached up to feel where I'd been hit.
"Keep your hand down," he hissed. I did as I was told. He walked backwards to where the other two were standing. "We should just kill him."
The one who found me first raised his shotgun to me. It was then that all of them just kind of fell down. All at the same time. A half second later, the It was appearing in front of me and I heard Penny.
I stood up and dove through the hatch. As I positioned myself in the seat, I could feel the ship accellerate and move upwards.
"Penny, move the ship low and over the trees just north of the strip."
She did as I asked as I buckled in.
"You're bleeding, Bob."
"I know. I've got the ship."
Penny let loose her control and I rolled the It inverted and swung around to the west end of the clearing. The three men were all out in the middle, and were looking around. I expect they were trying to figure out what happened.
"Penny, how fast can I be moving by the time I move the 1600 feet from here to where they are."
"You have virtually no inertia, so you can be almost flat out. Why?"
"Ever wonder what a man would look like if he was hit by this thing at full accelleration?"
"If you attempt that, I'll shut it down."
"Don't worry. It's just nice to think of." I gently touched my head where the pistol had hit it. There was a good sized bump there, and my hair was matting with the blood from the cut. "What we will do is see what those boys are trying to hide."
I brought the It up to about 500 feet and looked around. There was a small clearing with a cabin in it just south of the strip. Had I made a standard approach to the strip, I'd have seen it.
I let back down, and moved the It into the clearing, and hovered at about three feet off the ground. Moving the ship sideways, I circled the cabin. On the whole, it looked much like any other woodland cabin. It was surrounded by waist high grass and weeds, and had a healthy layer of pine needles on the roof. There were windows on each of the four sides of the square structure, and it there didn't seem to be anyone inside.
"Penny, take control of the ship and move it up over the cabin."
"Don't ask why, just do it."
I rummaged through my pockets and found an old cash machine receipt. Flipping the cloaker off, I stood up through the hatch and got my cigarette lighter out of my pocket."
I didn't answer, but showed her. The receipt caught immediately as I touched it to the flame of the Bic, and then dropped it onto the roof of the cabin. Sitting back down, I closed the hatch and turned the cloak back on. Penny jumped the ship straight up to about 800 feet and moved it to the east a bit. I took the stick and rolled the It so I could see the cabin. The needles on the roof had already started to burn, and a cloud of white smoke was beginning to form above the cabin. I looked for the men, and saw that they were heading back to their roost. I lost them in the trees, and them saw them reappear in the clearing. When I saw them come out of the woods, they were running.
"Ever see Star Trek's Voyage Home, Penny?"
I could swear she giggled. The ship dropped with gut wrenching speed and Penny put it between the men and the cabin. When they were about 30 feet away, she kicked off the cloak and moved the It towards them. They stopped cold, and then dropped prone as the It flew over. She reengaged the cloak and brought the ship about in a rolling turn that had us inverted at the completion. I watched them down there, and knew they were trying to figure out whether or not to stay where they were or try to get to the cabin.
The decision was made for them. The roof of the cabin fell in on the building.
"That," I said,"is revenge. I don't know what they had that was so important, but they don't have it anymore. At least, not if it's in there."
We stayed in the area for about a half hour. I wanted to make sure the fire I started wasn't going to spread. There wouldn't have been much I could do if it had spread, but I felt I should hang in and see it through. When I was sure that the fire wasn't going any further than the cabin, I gave it throttle and pointed the ship northeast.
"You aren't someone I'd want to have angry with me," said Penny.
"Yeah, Jeff says that all the time. But don't worry, I'm only cruel to people I don't know."
Penny thought that over as we flew home.