May 14, 1993
One hot day in May
I was tired. After I got back from the tour of the lunar lab and the look-see at the Sunbeam, my mind was reeling. I was tired but I just couldn't sleep. So with a cranky air about me, I climbed out of bed after two hours of tossing and turning.
I moped around the house for a while. It was confusing that I could be so honored as to be asked to pilot a super-C ship, but was angry. Feeling like I could use a little drive, I grabbed the keys to the Honda and headed out the door. As I was getting into the car, I looked over the door and saw the depression in the grass where the little D&B Special was hiding under its cloak. I shut the car door and walked back to it. After thinking for a moment, I said "What the hell," and got into the ship. I checked things as best one can in a little tub like that, and fired it up.
I brought it about 70 feet off the ground and headed north to the freeway. Below, the traffic oozed down I-90 in both directions. I rolled left and followed the highway east. As I was passing Spokane, and coming up on the Sunset Hill, I noticed a Subaru station wagon in the left lane. It was doing about 40 mph. Behind it was a line of cars that wanted to go at least the 55 mph allowed, and this driver, whoever it was, didn't care. They just hogged the fast lane and dogged up the hill.
I was just about to roll right and head out towards Bowl and Pitcher and Nine Mile, when it hit me.
I was invisible. On the freeway below was a dip in the fast lane. When these two thoughts collided in my brain, I dropped the D&B down to follow behind the Subaru. I could make out that there was some old lady at the wheel, and saw that the car had Idaho plates and a Good Sam club sticker. My eyes next focused on the little Christian fish symbol, and the die was cast.
I dropped down to a foot off the ground behind the Subaru and inched up on her tail. After a few long moments, I felt the contact as I bumped into the rear of the car. As soon as I felt it, I rammed the throttle forward. Had I not been leaning up against the car, I would have been well on my way to Mars, but as it was, the station wagon and I were ripping up the hill at a sedate 185 miles per hour.
The old woman had slammed on her brakes as soon as she felt the car accelerate, but all that did was leave two black, smoking lines up the freeway. We created the hill and blew past a State Patrol Car that was getting on the Freeway from the Garden Springs ramp. He went to pursuit immediately.
I pulled the throttle back and gave a little tug backwards on the stick. The D&B rose off the deck another ten feet and the Subaru came to a screeching sideways halt. The WSP car came to a stop some 50 feet behind the Subaru and the cop opened his door, squatted behind it and drew his gun. I wound the D&B back behind the patrol car and bumped into its rear end. I moved the throttle forward a little and began to shove it up the road towards the Subaru. The cop jumped to the side when the car began to move, and now looked at his car with bewilderment.
Discretion is the better part of valor, so I didn't push the WSP car too far. Just enough that it put a good dent in the back of the Subaru. After that, I gave it throttle and made a rolling 180 degree turn and headed home. Nothing like inflicting a little misery on the two most annoying of traffic obstacles to relax a fella. I leaned back on the little soapbox seat and headed back to the house. The gentle hum was an added relaxant, and I was pretty groggy as I came up over the house, and dropped down into the back yard.
Yawning, I crawled from the machine and went into the house. A few hours of sleep would do me good.
Perhaps I should have kept it cloaked, but in my tired state, I forgot to. If I could have seen the back yard as I was falling into bed, I would have seen Ficus climb into the D&B.
Do you know where your kids are?
Ficus sat inside the D&B looking at the minimal controls. He saw the main switch, and he flipped it into the on position.
"INTRUDER ALERT! Unauthorized access attempted" thundered in his ears. Penny came on almost immediately.
"Self destruct has been initiated. System detonation in 10, 9, 8..."
"Wait!" Yelled Ficus.
"DAD SAID I COULD!"
"2 --destruction sequence halted. Please explain 'dad said I could.'"
"I know. What has that to do with this?"
"Dad lets me use his stuff. He said it would be Ok if I drove this."
Penny must have considered this, because there was a half-second delay before she responded. "You have Bob's permission to use this ship?"
"Sure. Make it go."
"You're sure I'm authorized to do this?"
"If you want, you can wake dad up and ask him. He won't mind if you wake him up."
Penny knew what kind of reaction waking Bob up got in the past, and decided that his own child wouldn't lie about something like this. "Override is engaged. Do you need instruction?"
"No. I can do this. It's just like a video game." Ficus had his eye on the joystick.
"Ok, have a good flight, and remember to cloak."
"I'll take care of it."
Ficus added throttle, and the D&B shuddered and started to rise. He gave a push on the joystick to see how it would react. The D&B, now some 30 feet above the ground pointed its nose down and plunged. The impact was painful for Ficus, the inertia threw him against the forward compartment, bloodying his nose. A little stunned, he tried to stand, and grabbed the joystick for support. At once, the little craft began to roll viciously to the left across the yard.
It took Penny five seconds to realize that Ficus' control was not intentional before she powered the systems down. "Are you hurt?" she asked.
"Naw. Not much. That was pretty scary."
"I thought you didn't need instruction."
"I don't --that was just a little mistake."
Penny unlatched the ship's hatch and Ficus crawled out. Once outside, he was able to get a look at the whole ship. The lawnmower motor had been knocked off and the front of the D&B was no longer cylindrical. The nose had been jammed at the bottom so that it had a wedge-like shape.
"Dad's gonna be pissed," said Ficus.
"As near as I can compute, 6 square feet of surface area have been damaged."
"Oh shit. Will it still fly?"
"Not in its current condition, no."
"Oh shit. Well, I guess I'll go visit mom for a while. At her house."
He trotted off, looking nervously towards the door to the house. As he left, Penny began to make her call-waiting noise on the computer in the house. At the same time, Aron was walking into the back yard throwing a ball up and then catching it. He stopped when he saw the torn earth where the D&B impacted and scanned the yard back and forth. He saw the ship and then noticed that the front was crumpled. Next, he saw the lawnmower engine. It was in two pieces.
I'm really happy you called...
I trundled my body out to the computer in the living room. Penny sensed me coming and spoke immediately. "Bob, I know you hate the noise I page you with, but I had to speak to you. There's been an accident."
"Ficus had an accident in the D&B."
"Oh my god. Is he all right? How did it happen? Where is he? Where is the ship? What hap..."
"Wait. Just hold on. Ficus is fine, but the same can't be said about the ship. It's in the back yard, and has suffered some significant damage."
"Ficus tried to fly it and refused any instruction."
"What do you mean he tried to fly it. You're supposed to have that thing locked up so NOBODY can get to it. Just me. What the hell were you thinking?"
"He told me that he had permission."
"You believed a child?"
"He's a *child* Penny. Kids will lie their butts off if they think they'll benefit from it."
"Bob, you must remember that I am, after all, not organic. While I have great power to communicate, compute and extrapolate, I require clean input for any valid output."
"Garbage in, garbage out. Yeah. I know. So, you had no information on how kids deal with life?"
"It hasn't come up. I find it strange that anyone would tell such a falsehood --they have to know that they'll be detected as imprecise."
"I've never heard it said that way, but you're right. It makes no sense at all. But kids will do that. The problem is in finding out when they're lying, and when they're truthful."
"How can you tell?"
"If their lips move, they're lying."
"Ok, I'll store that."
"No, wait. Kids do have their good moments. I guess it would be fairer to say it this way: If a child says something is ok, you have to weigh out the logic of their statement. If a child said he or she was allowed to fire an automatic weapon into a parade, would you believe it?"
"Are they members of any kind of law enforcement organization?"
"You're not getting this."
"Oh! They merely say that something is permissible, when I discern that it is unlikely."
"No, it would not be permissible for them to shoot at a parade."
"Well, it depends on who's marching in it."
"This makes no sense."
"I know. Welcome to parenting."
"I see. I'll have to discuss this with Brian."
"Do that. Ok, what's the deal on the D&B?"
"It was destroyed."
My legs grew weak and I flumped into the desk chair. "Oh no."
"Remember, the antigrav which powers it is built into, and spread all over the hull. It struck the ground pretty hard. I calculate a sudden deceleration of about 22 gee."
"Good god. That's about 35 to 40 miles an hour. How bad is Ficus?"
"His nose was bleeding, but he was ambulatory, and said he was going to his mother's house."
"Chicken. Ok, how the hell did he get into the damn thing? I thought it was protected from ambient discovery?"
"You left the power off, so there was no cloak active, and you left the hatch wide open."
"Son of a bitch." I felt pretty bad about this. My own inattention could have killed Ficus, and maybe someone else. "Well, we both screwed up."
"Existence is the continued compilation of data."
"Yes, Penny. It is. So, there's no hope for the D&B?"
"There may be some hope. If not, we can construct another one."
"No, building another would drain Brian's resources more than it already has. I guess we'll let it go."
"You don't have to dad," said Aron walking into the room.
"I was looking at it. If the busted part can be cut away, and the good part folded and stretched together, it will probably work just as good as before."
"The boy is lying."
"He's a child."
"I can see this is going to take some work. No, let's say that he's postulating."
"In that case, there is merit to what he says. I'll have to import a drone to perform the reconnection of the interwoven mesh of antigrav matrices, but his postulate has promise."
"In the future, I'd appreciate it if you sounded less like a math teacher."
"Noted. Let's take a look at this."
A drawing of the D&B appeared on the screen. Superimposed was a rendering of it in its current condition. I called Aron over, and had him show me the 'tuck and clip' he had in mind. It would change the shape of the ship so that the bow would become wedge like. He applied a 14 degree ramp down at the top, from about 30 inches astern of the nose. On the bottom, he indicated a ramp up of about 40 degrees starting 45 inches astern of the nose. I checked with Penny to see what she thought.
"You son is instinctively accurate. We'll have to redistribute some of the components, but it can be done."
"Can we put a forward facing viewport on it?"
"If we cut a small section out of it we can. It would entail some bending on the hull --we'd have to create a step in the hull, otherwise the window would be a skylight."
"I have no problem with that."
"It won't be the D&B Special anymore, you know."
"Well, that was a story. This is reality. Please make the necessary engineering calculations, and see if Brian will loan us what we need to fix it."
"I don't think he'll have any problem. He's mulling over something at the moment, and isn't doing any mechanical assembly."
Three days later, a completed ship sat on a pair of landing skids in the back yard. It was *really* nice. "You know, Penny. If it wasn't for the fact that this thing is round at the stern, it would look a lot like Brian's car."
Inside, the box had been replaced with a semi-supine pilot's couch, the joystick had been moved so that it sat on the right armrest, and the throttle was a lever on the left one. Instead of one big toggle switch to control power and systems, there were a series of backlit push buttons on a pad next to the joystick. Each of the subsystems were now on their own circuit. Penny had the construction droids put a little foam padding on the inside of the ship --to reduce injury in case of accidents, and to quiet the ship a little. It had lost the impression it gave of one sitting in an oil drum. On the seat was a small device that looked like a telephone pager. It was a remote control to turn the cloaking on and off, and also allowed the ship to be summoned.
"This is totally cool!" I said.
"Yes, it is pretty nice. You owe both Brian and your son a healthy thank-you. Aron was the one who suggested not only the shape, but the cockpit design. He has a flair for this."
"He said he wants to be an inventor when he grows up."
"It's too late. He's an inventor now."
"Yeah. I guess he is."
"You've lost a negligible amount of power. The reduction in surface area reduced the overall antigrav area. But for your purposes, it should be sufficient."
I couldn't help but give it a try, so I climbed inside. The window, which used to be the hatch was gone. Now, the upper half of the ship swung up canopy style. There was a small step on the port landing skid. Getting in was easy. I settled into the seat and found that all of the controls were in easy reach, and the view forward was excellent.
"There's another addition."
"What's that, Penny?"
"Brian suggested that a rear view might be handy, and had me install a superimposed scan image onto the base of the forward viewport. The switch is on the bottom of the pad by the joystick.
I pressed it. The image of the house and garage appeared, superimposed along the bottom four inches of the viewport. I pressed it again and the strip of rear-view disappeared.
"Seal it up" I said.
The canopy hissed closed, and my ears popped a little when it sealed. I flipped on main power, propulsion, and cloaking. The ship rose gently as I fed in throttle and pointed the nose up.
"Let's go ballistic," I said, and advanced the throttle to the forward stop.
In a half second, I was passing lunar orbit and was pointed towards Saturn.
"Screw Weight Watchers," I said. "THIS is living!"