A short romp today, just to fill in a few cracks.
He opened his eyes, saw firelight flickering on stone walls the color of grainy old mustard, then he heard Doris singing Que sera, sera somewhere off in the distance. Then – he wrinkled his nose and sniffed the air…
“Hamburgers? Are you cooking hamburgers?” Henry asked.
“So what if I am?” a cranky, half-inebriated voice replied – only this voice sounded just like Thelma Ritter’s, the actress who’d played Alma – Doris’s ‘perpetually on the prowl for fresh gossip’ housekeeper in the film Pillow Talk. “You want maybe I should fix you a Bloody Mary?” Alma snarled.
“I want to fuckin’ wake up now,” Taggart grumbled, trying to sit up again, his head exploding like a Technicolor kaleidoscope – again.
“Take it easy, Sport,” Tony Randall said as he breezed through the ancient stone living room on his way to the kitchen. “Don’t push it. The first couple of days are the worst…”
When Rock Hudson came in the door Henry rolled onto his side and did his best to ignore everything about this place…until Doris came in and sat on the edge of the sofa.
“How ya feelin’, Hank?”
“Peachy. Let me know what you get the elephant off my forehead, okay?”
She chuckled. “Come on, let’s get you up and go for a little walk.”
Then another blinding flash hit and he was back in an emergency room…in the middle of yet another intricately choreographed life-saving ballet…
Collins was standing behind him, watching his every move. “Why does it feel to me like you’ve done all this before, Henry?”
“Because I’ve done all this before.”
“Indeed. Do tell…?”
But Henry had simply shrugged that question off – as he concentrated intently on all the things Pinky had shown him – which was, essentially, nothing at all.
“You’ll need to clear your mind,” she’d told him, “in order to make the initial connection. The reactor will automatically ramp up output to meet the anticipated demand based on your initial input…”
“And I still don’t have to do anything?”
“That’s correct, because the same process is at work here, just like we’ve been working on with the orca. Logical progression, remember? If you get in a panic and blow the order of operations you create a discontinuity, so just slow down and think about the next thing you want to do. The system is reading that information, remember? But it’s also programmed to look at the logical progression of operations based on your current thought patterns. Got it?”
“I think so.”
“Just remember this, Henry: discontinuities suck, big time.”
So he looked at the shuttle Discovery’s anticipated transfer orbit on one graph in the 3D interface, and then he looked at the diamond pattern he was going to make in order to get to the third Lagrange point – and then back to the airfield here in Washington – on the large central display, and when their own trajectory had been computed the lines inside the 3D display turned from red to blue.
Discovery was currently approaching Hawaii at a modest 17,700 MPH, and would enter North American airspace a few hundred miles north of Vancouver, BC in just a few minutes, and once the computer had made a few adjustments in its orbital calculations the blue annunciator on the main panel turned white – and then Henry did exactly what Pinky had told him to.
He leaned back and shut his eyes, visualized what he wanted to happen and then just let the computer take over from there.
Klaxons were blaring all around the airfield when a few people thought they saw something rise through the aperture and zip off into the northwest sky, but few had really thought it possible something so large could move so fast, or with so much speed milliseconds after lift-off…
He felt like he was caught in some kind of perverted tug-of-war – pulled into the light one moment, then back into flickering firelight the next – but once he felt Pinky there by his side he seemed to relax a little…
“You’re fighting it, Henry. You just need to let go, let it happen…”
“I’m not ready,” he cried. “I’ve got more things to get done.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, dammit! Let me get back to the boat! Please!”
He could see Discovery on the plot, then he realized he’d have to slow down, a lot, or they’d blow by so fast no one on board would see a thing…
And no sooner had he thought that than vectors started to shift on his primary display and their speed began to drop precipitously, and a moment later he watched as the two trend lines began to converge.
“What are you doing, Henry?”
“Did you guys paint any identifiers on this thing…anywhere?”
“Identifiers? What do you mean, like…”
“Anything. Like even a big fat Boeing logo somewhere on the bottom.”
“Yeah. Some of the guys put the Phantom Works logo on the bottom. Why?”
“Excellent,” Henry sighed.
And just then the General saw the shuttle a few miles ahead. “Taggart…what the fuck are you going to do…?”
“Time to play close encounters, Rupert.”
And a few seconds later the shuttle was only a few hundred yards ahead; so Taggart thought “match velocities” as they pulled up alongside…
“Uh, skipper, I hate to mention it, but you need to take a look at this.”
“What about that bus three under-volt?”
“Not now, Skipper.”
“What am I supposed to be looking at?”
The pilot pointed out his window and coughed once. “At the goddam flying saucer, sir.”
“Do I need to remind you this is a Top Secret project, Mr. Taggart?”
“It sure was, Rupert,” Henry said, standing and walking over to an exceptionally large viewing port. “Good job, too.”
Collins came over and stood beside Henry and they both peered into the shuttle’s cockpit; at least four helmeted heads were crowded around the cluster of windows on the shuttle’s starboard side, a couple of Nikons bursting away just for good measure, and Collins groaned.
“Swell. I wonder if this will make the front page of tomorrow’s USA Today.”
Henry fiddled with his belt and unzipped his pants, and his cargo shorts dropped to the floor…
“Henry Taggart! You’re not…!”
“Uh, skip, he’s shooting the moon. At us.”
“Takahashi?” the shuttle commander growled. “You getting all this?”
“Hai! 400mm make very big moon.”
“Skipper? It looks like the other one is going to do it, too.”
“Gotta be a couple of Air Force pukes,” the shuttle commander, a Naval Academy graduate, said.
Henry got back in his seat and rolled the craft to the right, exposing the underbelly – and the huge Phantom Works logo painted there – then he commanded the ship to make for L1.
“All right,” the commander snarled. “I want all your compact flash cards – NOW! And no one is going to say a goddam word about this, are they?”
Pinky had warned him, yet even so the sight was staggering.
There was another ship out there, already parked at L3, but this one was beyond huge.
“What is that, Henry?” the General asked. “It looks like another ship.”
“You knew about this?”
“Is it Pinky’s people?”
“No, General, but you should know that, uh, her people, well, uh, they borrowed the original spacecraft that you copied.”
“They…what? You mean they swiped a spacecraft – from these folks?” Collins said, nodding at the huge structure. “And we’re headed there now? In a copy of their ship?”
“Ah-yup, that’s about the size of it.”
“And is this going to be, well, you know, like First Contact?”
“Henry! You’re wearing cargo shorts and flip-flops!”
“My t-shirt is new, General. And…oh, before I forget, they’re telepaths so try to keep a lid on it, willya?”
“What’s that supposed to mean, Taggart?”
“Just try not to think about state secrets, shit like that?”
“Now Henry…just how the hell am I supposed to do that?”
“Hmm…you ever see Debbie Does Dallas?”
© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.