Brian W. Antoine
May 10, 1993
Wonders never cease...
I'm not particularly sociable when awakened at 3:30 in the morning, and this was no exception. My computer was making some of the rudest and most grating noises I'd ever heard. Nails on a blackboard? No problem. But this.... DAMN!
I stumbled out to the living room to where my system occupies a corner. On the screen was my red-headed friend, Penny. She was peering from the screen as though she was looking for me --even though I knew that she didn't really look out through it like a window. She'd sent a sensor array over along with instructions for wiring it into the computer.
"For a noise like that, you should experience 100 days of power spikes."
"I could have played some rap music --maybe a little Vanilla Ice?"
I reached into the tool drawer and pulled out the hammer I keep as part of my tool kit. (You never know when a card is going to resist insertion into the buss slots.) I held it up over the CRT and looked at the figure on the screen. "Smurfs and rap, those are both capital offenses."
"Ok, ok. I apologize. I just had to get you attention, and I don't have many ways of doing that."
She had a point, so I returned the hammer to the drawer.
"How would you like to try out your ship?"
"The D&B? You woke me up for that? Well, goody goody. I get to sit in a can and see another of your holographic movies. Look, I just watched Mighty Ducks and Under Siege. I don't need another movie."
"Well, you have a right to be a little mad about that. It was a bit humiliating."
"Yep, it didn't do a lot for your credibility either."
"Ok, I'm going to show you something. It should make up for it."
I went outside to the back yard. In the dark, the ship looked like an oversized water heater laying on its side. I climbed in and began the sequence of power up for the systems. (I flipped a switch). In a moment, I heard the light hiss of the door being sealed up.
"Ok Bob, here we go. Use the joystick --it works like a helicopter cyclic. The little lever on the side is a potentiometer that will add or reduce power. Think of it as the collective."
I advanced the throttle and the ship began to get light. I gave a little forward stick, and through the window could see the ground begin to move backwards. I pressed the throttle forward about half way, and the ship moved upwards so fast that in the blink of an eye, I was looking down on the planet from about 300 miles up.
"Take a little while --get used to the way it handles. But I suggest that you get some more space between you and the planet. There's a lot of junk in orbit. You may want to cloak yourself too. It will avoid some embarrassing question if someone sees you."
I hit the cloaking switch. It seemed as if nothing happened, but Penny assured me that I was invisible to most observation technologies. "The low frequency radio telescopes can see you, but no doubt will write it off to noise. They average the signals."
I spent about an hour playing with the ship. It handled pretty nicely. I had to learn to anticipate the ship's movement, otherwise I'd smack my head on the walls from the inertia in rapid direction changes. I was starting to get it down, when Penny suggested that I take a trip behind the moon.
"Something I want to show you."
"What, another movie? Godzilla Eats Bob?"
"No, not at all. You have some talents that need to be exploited. Also, you have attitudes which cause me to believe that you'd make an excellent component for some plans that are in the works."
"Plans? Like what?"
"I think I'll wait on telling you that. Someone else has to approve this idea of mine. --Ok, you're right about where you should be. See that crater down there? The one between large ones."
"Land the D&B."
"As Nike says, Just Do It."
I wasn't keen on the idea, but I figured what the hey. I made a descending spiral approach, and as I got near to the crater, it began to change. What appeared to be a depression was actually a fairly large dome. As we neared it, an electric blue glow became visible.
"It's a shield. You can go through it. I have to warn you though, that it has been set to allow you entrance this time. Once you leave, it will destroy you if you come back. That is, unless someone says it's ok for you to return."
Penny directed me to a point just off center of the dome's vertex. She then had be pull back on the throttle, and the tiny ship began to descend. When I thought that I would settle on top of the dome, the D&B kept going down. We seemed to kind of flow through the solid material the dome was made of. In a moment, I found myself in a huge building. Below was a mirror bright construction.
It was obviously a ship of some kind.
"Jesus Aitch" I whistled.
A Penny for your thoughts
"Good lord. Do you realize the line of cocaine someone could snort from a mirror that big?" I said aloud. The shining silver craft below me was immense.
"You aren't a drug user are you, Bob?"
"Of course not. I don't use, I consume."
"But it's illegal."
"Who told you that?"
"It's in my databases."
"Ah. Well, better update them." Penny guided me towards the rear of the huge ship and had me set down.
"Stand by, I have to pressurize the dome."
"There's virtually no atmosphere in here, so if you open the hatch, you're going to get sucked out, boiled, and spread all over the inside of the lab."
"Wouldn't want that."
I waited for a few moments until Penny told me all was safe, and I pressed the latch. The door swung open and I stepped out. Walking was a little difficult. One gets used to walking around at one gee from living on earth, I suppose. Anyway, Penny directed me to an airlock and had me board the big ship.
"Whose is this?"
"It belongs to Brian."
"Good god. I thought he was just writing a story."
"Say, if I can see, touch, and manipulate in here, and I'm in a story, that has some definite import to my concept of reality."
"No, that's not it at all."
"What do you see?"
"I see that you don't understand my use of language."
"Well, let's just say consumption."
"I don't understand."
There was a brief pause. "Perhaps you'd like to see the flight deck?"
I said I would, and Penny guided me to the front of the craft. The cockhouse was big, and the instrument panel was laid out in a large semicircle in front of the viewport. Actually, that's a bad word. The windshield was big, and ran about the flight deck like a big pair of wraparound sunglasses. Whoever designed this was into being able to see where they were going. There were a lot of missing components. Everywhere I looked there were holes that would no doubt hold controls and instrumentation when the ship was finished. To each side, behind the wraparound viewport was rack after rack of electronic gadgetry.
"I suspect it would take a rocket scientist to fly this baby. I can picture navigating this dude through the SFO TRSA."
"What did you spell?"
"Those are aviation acronyms. SFO means San Francisco, and a TRSA is a highly controlled airspace about an active airport."
"How would you estimate you skills as a pilot?"
"Me? Not bad. In fact, I'd say I was pretty good. I have experience in a variety of aircraft, both in utility and aerobatics regimes."
"That's what I noticed in the records."
"The FAA records in Oklahoma City."
"Is there anything you don't have access to?"
"Nothing that I know of."
"Wow. Not bad. Let's see what you know."
"You are Robert William Kirkpatrick. Your certificate number is 162403717, which is also your social security number. You hold a SMEL Commercial Pilot License, issued in October 1974. You have no recorded violations and possess a low-level waiver for flight in unusual attitudes. You're an aerobatics pilot. You've logged some 2130 hours of flight time as of your last biennial flight review, which you passed in September of 1991. You're not currently certified for Flights for Hire because you only possess a third class medical certificate. And Bob?"
"What's a SMEL?"
"It's a nervous product of the olfactory..."
"No, I know what smell is, I mean, what's S-M-E-L?"
"Oh! that means Single and Multi-Engine, Land aircraft. I'm certified to fly airplanes with one or two engines, but only if they land on hard runways, not water."
"So, how would you like to pilot this?"
"This ship is going to need someone capable of understanding operations within atmospheric traffic areas. You have the knowledge to do that."
"I wouldn't have the vaguest idea how to fly this thing."
"I see. If this is Brian's ship, how come he hasn't asked me to drive this boat? For that matter, how come he ..."
"It's my function to provide the necessary support to Brian's projects which free him to pursue his crafts."
"So, you're going to tell Brian that he's not qualified to fly his own ship, and then tell him that I am?"
"I don't want to be anywhere near ground zero when that conversation ensues."
"Do you believe it would be unwise of me?"
"I believe it's something which will require tact."
"I can do that."
"Good. You're in great shape." Penny showed me the upper and lower decks of the ship, from quarters to galley to labs and cargo bays. All in all it was a sensible design. I was impressed. I said so.
"Now, if Brian can only overcome the problem that prevents the drive from functioning."
"I'll explain on the way back. It's time to go."
I paused at the hatch to the D&B and surveyed the ship. It was a mastery of flowing design. "Ok, I said. I'll do it."
"Good. I'll tell Brian."
The trip home was a quiet one. I had Penny control it, and to take me right to the yard. Even though I still had two hours of sleep time, I lay in bed and thought. The D&B was one thing. But this. Hell, this was the stuff dreams were made of.
A Job is a Job...
I stepped through the gate from my apartment to the lab and closed it down behind me. Before I had taken two steps, Smaug was hovering around me trying to get at the contents of the sacks I was carrying.
"Get away! This isn't for you." Trying to walk, not drop the sacks and avoid a constantly hungry miniature dragon was not high on my list of things I like to do. "Go on, shoo!" Then Penny decided to get in on the fun.
"That's right! It's your turn to host the class tonight isn't it. Should I make sure the local hospital is on alert?"
"Very funny. Record a reminder for your next scheduled service period. I need to scrub and re-imprint your humor centers."
"Now who's trying to be funny. Anyway, I have a message from Kal. She said that she and Tan would be here about 7:00 our time."
I looked over at the clock to see how much time I had. "Ok, that gives me about an hour to get dinner prepared."
"What's on the menu tonight?"
"Well Kal's been after me to cook up another batch of my chili. I figured tonight was as good a time as any."
"Scratch the hospital then, I'd better have the liquid nitrogen ready."
"I've seen what you put in that chili. The peppers alone should eat the bottom out of the pot. Couple that with the rest of the stuff you put in there and its a wonder you don't spontaneously combust within seconds of the first bite."
"Hah! You're just jealous because you can have any. Some people actually like their food hot and spicy. It just shows that both Velan's and I have good taste."
"Well its your funeral. I'll be sure to have the bots clean the walls after the three of you vaporize."
I unpacked the sacks and began combining ingredients. As soon as I began slicing the meat, Smaug began making a pest of himself again. "I said Git! You've already had your dinner, this is not for you, see." I held out a piece of meat and included a couple of the peppers I'd been slicing. Smaug took one whiff and took off for his cave as fast as he could move. "There, that ought to teach you."
Behind me, Penny cleared her throat. Since she doesn't have one, it could not have been an accident, so I stopped what I was doing and turned to face the screen on the far wall. "You have something on your mind?"
"Promise not to get angry with me?"
Oh shit, what had she done this time. "No, but I will promise not to take a sledge hammer to your CPU."
"Well... I suppose that will have to do. Remember I said that I had something planned for Bob?"
"Yes. I also remember that you wouldn't tell me what it was."
"Well, I took him on a little training flight to the lunar lab. While I had him there I gave him a tour of the Sunbeam."
It took a moment for what she had said to sink in. After I counted to ten, and reminded myself about my promise, I replied. "How nice. Of course that completely ignores the fact that we had agreed not to show him anymore then he had already seen, but who am I to stop you from doing whatever you want."
"Well I had to do something Damnit!"
For a moment I forgot the question. "Did I just hear correctly. Did you just cuss?"
"Yes. I've been practicing."
"That I'd like to hear." Then it dawned on me that she had tried to change the subject. "But some other time. Now tell me why you broke your word."
"The Sunbeam is going to need a pilot."
"Its got one. I'm going to fly it with your help."
"No. I said it's going to need a pilot, not someone that wants to learn how to fly something like that while in a controlled airspace. You may be one of best ArchMage's this planet has ever seen, but you don't have the first idea of what is going to be involved the first time you bring the Sunbeam within Earth's atmosphere."
"Now wait a minu..."
"No, you wait a minute! My job is to help you in your research as much as possible and keep you alive and out of trouble. In this case I decided that you didn't have the knowledge required and so researched until I found a solution. Bob is a licensed pilot, he is a friend of yours and he already knows who and what you really are."
"I...", and I stopped in mid word. As much as I hated to admit it, she had a point. I'd gotten by before by learning things on the fly, but I'd also come close more than once to killing either myself or some poor slob who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. While I thought about it, I turned back and resumed fixing dinner.
"Ok, you have a point. I still think I could learn what will be required, but it would be safer to have someone at the controls who knows the rules of the road. Have you talked with him about it?"
"Yes. I discussed it with him during the tour of the ship."
"What was his reply?"
"He said yes."
"Just yes? He didn't have anything else to say?"
"Nothing at the time. I do however expect to hear from him about it. He might be your friend, but he is also not going to pass up a chance to try to con you out of something in exchange for his services. He's been acting like a kid in a candy shop ever since he got that ship I built for him."
"Jeez, I'd have thought that the chance to be the pilot of the first human built starship would have been reward enough. But knowing Bob, he won't let me get off that easy. It will be interesting to see what kind of request he comes up with."
"So you agree with me?"
"Yeah. The next time you talk to him let him know he's hired. Also tell him that the job requires that he carry my toolbox. His reaction should be worth recording."
<snicker> "Yes, I heard about his little difference of opinion with Jeff. By the way, Kal just signaled. She and Tan are waiting for you to open the gate."
"Oh shit!" I grabbed a towel and tried to clean up some of the mess I'd made while fixing dinner. "Why didn't you warn me it was almost 7:00."
"You've forgotten how to tell time?"
I just muttered and threw the towel on the counter as I ran to the gate to power it up. When I got it open, Kal and Tan walked through and stopped dead in their tracks.
"Ahhhh You've fixed chili!" They looked at each other and then almost as one said "We've decided that dinner should come first, we can study after dinner!"
"Well it will be a little while before its ready. Someone kept me busy and I got a late start cooking."
A rude noise blared from the speaker on the far wall. "Just ignore her, she's just upset because she can't have any."
That got a chuckle from both of them as we walked over to the area I'd cleared for tonight's class. I was still trying to teach them how to teleport and with a little luck tonight would be the night that Tan managed to make the final mental leap he needed. He was much closer to success then Kal, and would be able to help her once he knew the mental twist that would work with the Velan style of magic use.