soon as I stepped from the transport I knew this was going to be a
special duty in more than one way. Bronson got to pick where he wanted,
like all the rest of those first - in - their - class nozzles, but I got
this and I can't tell anyone about it. I'm not even sure I have the
right security level to set foot in this place, but I guess Command
knows what it's doing.
know Indian Summer means hot, but damn! I thought survival training was
tough with its ugly terrain but this beats that all to Hell. No, this is
Hell. Even with the reputation of this place, I'm still glad to be just
be passing through. I hope. I have enough time for a cold one, but there
sure doesn't appear to be any place around here for that kind of thing.
After I situate my bag on my shoulder, I turn my attention to the
Lieutenant J.G. that's here to greet us and note his nametag - P.R.
to Groom Lake, gentlemen. Follow me, please."
wonder whom Lt. Grayson pissed off to get assigned here? If you're not a
pilot, and he's not, this place would be, well, Hell. These other three
from the transport must have to stay awhile, too, poor suckers. I'll be
happy to see this place in my rear view; I just hope the 'temporary
courier duty' on my orders really do mean I'm not stickin' around.
know that voice. I turn around, snap to attention and automatically
render a perfect salute. "Commander Jenkins, sir." What's he
fall behind him and leave the little troop from the transport. He must
be the reason I'm here. I thought he liked me - I hope I'm not wrong. Oh
crap, I hope he's not gonna ask that I be his assistant or something! I
wouldn't stay here for all the tea in China. At least he's taking me
inside out of the sun - thank the Lord for air conditioning. At least
now it doesn’t feel like this collar’s gonna choke me to death.
is great - the photos on the wall are fantastic! Those planes must be a
kick in the butt to fly!
Ensign, are the recent prototypes developed and flown here at Area 51. A
bit radical, wouldn't you say?"
sounds amused. "Radical isn't the word I'd use, sir. These look
like something from science fiction."
glances back at me and cracks a smile over his shoulder, the first smile
I've ever seen on him. I guess he normally has to keep a stern face to
try and scare the crap out of us cadets; I'm an Ensign now. Guess I’m
privileged enough to see he’s human.
they are rather unique. You were briefed on security protocol? You can't
name this place, confirm it exists or disclose that you've been
sir." I don't know anyone in his right mind that would want to come
to this dump to stay, even with the reputation it has. Well - except
maybe to fly those. "Sir? Those planes - do they really
that smile again.
Ensign, they do. But not outside this facility."
can play this game. "Yessir."
Jenkins finds an office and hitches his hip onto a desk. He motions for
me to close the door and I obey.
probably wondering why you're here, aren't you Ensign?"
that thought had crossed my mind about a zillion times since Pensacola.
"Yes, sir, I was."
took his time in replying and studies me for a minute. I don't look
noticed you in flight training, Ensign. You have talent, but are
undisciplined to the point of almost being insubordinate. That's the
only reason you placed 5th in your class."
loser, I automatically think. "Yes, sir."
are good behind the stick. You have a natural feel for flight that can
be honed to a very useful skill. On the ground, however, you are a rogue
and that's what will sink you if you don’t straighten up."
can feel the old burn starting in my cheeks and will myself to stay
calm. So what's wrong with wanting to live a little while I can? Did
this guy have to get a surgical operation or was he born with a stick up
his ass? As I thought before, I can play this game, buddy, just watch
me. "Yes, sir."
know what you're thinking, Ensign."
surgery? I hope not.
can see it in your eyes."
like me to believe that, wouldn't you?
called you here to give you a little incentive."
God! Not an assistant - a janitor!
want you to see what's coming for you - and the Navy."
a second… huh? "Excuse me, sir?"
hands me a photo. "Look at this."
a picture of the most beautiful thing I've ever laid my eyes on. Those
lines, the profile! And what a pair of . . .
see you noticed the engines, Ensign Calavicci. She can hit Mach 2
without a shimmy and is as smooth as silk. She's called the A4 Valiant,
and is the only one of her kind."
a beauty, sir." And she is. Why are you teasing me? I can't fly
this. I feel my anger flare, but keep my cool.
Jenkins nods at the picture. "I'm flying this baby from here to
Edwards in California. I want you in the second seat."
my God, I've died and gone to heaven!
no, no, no. Not yet.
away. Ten more minutes!
Get up, dear! You overslept!"
I don't wanna. "Huh?" I rub my eyes in an effort to get them
open. It's our fifth day here; we rarely get this kind of time in
Wolfsberg and I'm really getting into this relaxation thing. Is this
what retirement would be like?
I finally crack my lids, I can see Beth standing next to the bed. Behind
her is a large, arched window that is now open and letting in lots of
sun. At first I curse the light, but as my eyes focus I can see that the
sunlight goes right through the thin material of Beth's nightgown. Her
beautiful body is perfectly outlined just for me, and suddenly I do feel
like rising. Completely.
stands with her hands on her hips and a cocky smile on her lovely face.
Her hair is mussed and she looks absolutely perfect. I lift the sheet
with a leer. "Come on, honey, and help me get up." I pat the
mattress with my other hand.
But she's giggling. "What am I, your alarm clock?"
certainly have my alarms going. Come on!"
moves toward me and gets close enough for my arm too catch her waist.
She laughs again, and puts her soft hands on my cheeks as she bends down
to kiss me. I pull her down.
have morning breath!"
much the better to breathe down your neck with, my dear!"
laugh is throaty and inviting when the phone rings. Neither one of us
acknowledges it and we continue our heavy necking. My hands slip under
the diaphanous gown and all over her warm, soft body that always smells
slightly of vanilla.
the phone," she mumbles between the kisses to my chest. Her lips
are warm and damp and show little sign of stopping. Must be following my
lead - oooh, this is heaven!
one of us can hear the answering machine pick up downstairs. "The
butler got it," I mumble between tastes of her skin and the feel of
her hair between my fingers. The nightgown is now a feathery drift on
the floor and my pajamas are somewhere loose in the bed. Beth's skin and
mine meet and heat where they rub together, our hands exploring every
inch of each other.
Project wrist communicator makes a noise from the nightstand. I ignore
it. Beth tastes wonderful and I find myself falling into that heavenly
state of . . .
Ziggy? I disconnected Ziggy's voice in this house.
Calavicci. Dr. Beckett has leaped."
I didn't disconnect the communicator . . . I can't.
What?" Damn! Beth freezes in place, her breathing heavy on my
chest, her legs tight against my hips. "Ziggy?"
Dr. Beckett has leaped and Dr. Beeks has evaluated the Visitor. It is
important that you get here as soon a possible."
my urgency has switched tracks. Beth retreats to the other side of the
bed, her face flushed and simply. . . intoxicating.
Dr. Beckett is about to be involved in a plane crash."
I leap to my feet and grab the communicator, fumbling to attach it to my
wrist as I glance hurriedly around for my clothes. My dear, sweet, sexy
wife is doing the same. "What plane crash? What happens? Can't
Sammy Jo cover for me until I get there?"
tell us, Admiral. It appears that Dr. Beckett has leaped into you -
Bingo - again, and we can't get a whole lot out of Bingo Calavicci. I'm
having trouble locating the details of this incident. We need you."
freeze and stare at the device. The slight breeze from the window
combined with the news cause goose bumps all over my body. A chill zings
up my spine. My earlier excitement has instantly changed into cold fear.
"What's the date, Ziggy?" My voice sounds flat.
God," I whisper, scrubbing my face with my hands. It all rushes
back to me and I feel sick. My knees wobble as I grope for the clothes
Beth is holding out to me. I dress automatically as my mind races.
"What time is it, Ziggy? Has Sam taken off yet? Are they in the
Beckett has leaped in during the preflight check."
won't find much on record, I can tell you that. I'll fill you in on what
I know when I get there."
on my way." I can just make it if I skip a shower and shave. The
wrist device goes dark and the fear must be clear on my face because I
can see exactly how I feel in Beth's beautiful eyes. She's just as
scared as I am - and I hate the way it looks on her. I have to touch her
face to reassure myself that I am here, in the future; I hadn't even met
Beth yet in Sam's time. My touch causes a tiny smile to appear and some
of the fear to dissipate from her eyes. "I have to go." My
voice sounds husky.
nods. "I know. I'll be in soon." She knows better than to ask
details right now. "I love you, Al."
get to the Project in record time and I'm sure I look like Hell. None of
the guards give me a second glace - they're too well trained to do so. I
finally contact Ziggy in the elevator.
I'm here and going right to the Imaging Chamber."
has it ready for you, Admiral." Even Ziggy's intimate use of St.
John's name doesn't faze me today. "I will inform Dr. Beeks that
you are on site."
There's no reason for me to talk to the Visitor. I think I already know
why Sam's there."
are you going to tell me?" There's a definite pout factor in Zig's
tone. "I am having difficulty finding information on this
doubt you'll find anything, Ziggy. I'll brief you after I speak to
reply. She's definitely pissed.
startled looks the civilian personnel give me are many; I'm not often
seen in jeans and polo shirts. Hell, I don't even have socks on.
The glances in the Control Room are more amused than shocked. St.
John holds out the link automatically and I take it on my way to the
Imaging Chamber without pause.
it, St. John."
the Nevada Desert
October 16, 1956
words are barely out of my mouth when the world spins for a moment. When
the vision settles, I find myself among the clouds. I can't help but
smile - my second home.
There's the back of a jet seat in front of me. I know exactly where Sam
is, and pass through the chair and turn around. My back is now to the
pilot, and I can see Sam's wide eyes locked on me through his helmet
goggles. He can't talk because he has his oxygen mask on. "Can you
nods. I can see he's not real happy to be here, I guess I can't blame
him, but the pang of jealousy I feel lets me know that I'd switch places
with him in a New York second. "I know you can't talk. You're
hooked up to the pilot on intercom, right? Commander Jenkins?"
nods again. I can see the questions in his eyes - he's ready to burst.
I know why you're here. Do you know who you've leaped into?"
familiar furrows form between his eyes, and he shakes his head. I'm not
surprised - I'm sure all he's been called so far has been 'Ensign' and
his nametag is under that flight suit. I take a steadying breath.
"You're me again, Sam." Sam's eyes grow big again, but this
time from shock. I'm sure that information only brought forth more
questions in his mind. "It's 1956. I'm an Ensign in the Navy."
nods slightly. I can read his mind: Why am I here?
me tell you what happens and we'll take it from there. In about 15
minutes, this plane is going to crash." Panic makes his eyes huge.
"You - Bingo - survive. You get ejected. So does the Commander, but
he doesn't make it, Sam."
blinks several times and starts to fidget. I'm sure he's probably
feeling a little sick right now - I know I am!
Commander’s tinny voice barks through the lines and Sam twitches,
startled. "Ensign! Check the radar. Looks like there'll be some
turbulence up ahead."
nod at Sam to reply.
can tell Sam's pretty shook up. A rough ride isn't going to make this
any easier - he's gripping the armrest so hard he's gonna rip 'em off.
"Look there, Sam, while I talk. The radar screen. There." I
point to the small, circular screen to his left. It looks so primitive,
I note to myself. "Tell him there's cells gathering to the north,
and he should change course two degrees south/southwest."
repeats my words after a cursory check of the screen. He obviously has
other stuff on his mind.
now listen to me." I have his full, worried attention now.
"This is what happens: We hit the turbulence and something goes
caca. This is a prototype experimental plane, Sam, so I didn't know what
happened back . . . er, then . . . now. . ." Sam rolls his eyes and
I get my mind out of the semantics trap. "Anyway, all information
on this design is non-existent. I never found out what really happened,
but the 'official' statement was pilot error. That always ticked me off
- blame the dead guy who can't defend himself. His reputation ended in a
sour note, and he didn't deserve it."
eyes are now windows directly into his calculating mind: He's thinking
fast and hard.
never been able to find any report in writing about what happened. Now
that I've been involved in secret projects, I know that it's still very
unusual that nothing can be found. Sam, I think you're here to stop a
cover up; one I've suspected for years but have never been able to
prove. You’re here to clear Jenkins' name."
cocks his head and puts his hand over his heart, patting his chest. I
get what he means.
know you're a medical doctor and all, Sam, but I don't think you can
save him physically." His eyes burn into me. "OK, I can't say
that for sure, I don't know! I was a stupid, cocky Ensign with only
basic first aid training and I was knocked senseless myself. You figure
that part out when it comes, but for now I need you to look around and
start using that photographic memory of yours. I'm gonna tell you what
each gage and dial is for - well, those I know for sure anyway - and you
need to remember what they read up to the point Jenkins ejects you. I
think I can figure out what really happened, Sam. I think that's why
eyes glare at me and he makes a circle motion with his hands. I don’t
get it; I frown. He repeats the motion, and points to the radar, then
way south out the narrow canopy window. He wants to tell the pilot to go
around! I shake my head. “No way, Sam. No way the Commander is gonna
listen to a cocky punk. This is gonna happen, whether you like it or
bump and a twist abruptly take Sam's attention from me and vanquish the
glare; his eyes grow panicky again. "Sam! Listen to me! We don't
have much time! Look over here!" I manage to drag his attention to
the part of the console he can see. I point and name each component.
ride is getting rough now. "Ziggy! Record these numbers!" I
start reading dials and numbers that are in front of Jenkins that Sam
can't see. Everything is swinging wildly and I start feeling a bit
seasick from the motion. I see Jenkins grappling with the stick like it
was a deadly, writhing snake, but I’m focusing on the indicators -
they’re doin’ stuff that I’m glad I’ve never had to deal with.
over the foothills and the winds are creating havoc. "Sam! Check
the readings!" I'm doing the same with my part of the console. In
reality, I don't want to look into Jenkins face. All these years I
believed he was confidant and determined to the very end - I don't want
to see fear. The jet yaws sickeningly to the right and everything seems
to be happening at a blinding pace. My fingers are dancing on the link
to keep sightline on the controls. I keep reading out loud, ignoring all
else. I don't want to think about how scared Sam must be. I see Jenkins'
motion to the eject lever for Sam.
your arms in, Sam!” I scream. “Arms tight against your body!"
words are barely out of my mouth when there's a deafening explosion and
suddenly I'm in the middle of a tornado of rushing wind and noise when
the canopy blows. I look over my shoulder and squint into the maelstrom
- Sam's seat is gone. The vibration and rotation of the jet are abnormal
and vicious; my gut rolls, but I keep on and focus back on the control
can see the mountains clearly in my peripheral vision and know that the
end is near; Jenkins is probably preparing to eject. Instinctively I
yell, "Arms in! Arms in!" as Jenkins disappears in another
explosion. I can barely hear it in the roar of rushing wind.
jet spirals and I can hear pieces of metal screeching in pain as they
are ripped from the jet's frame. The spinning is so violent I can't see
anything - there's a flash and a loud boom, and I can't help but cover
my ears and duck.
heat of the fireball and choking smoke don't affect me as I stand
amongst the catastrophe. "Center me on Sam!" I yell to St.
an instant the conflagration is far off to the right in the most barren,
hilly desert I've ever seen. The only dot of color is the billowing
canopy trailing from a still form not far away. "Sam!" He
can't be dead, or I wouldn't be here, would I?
sprint over and kneel by his side, wishing I could cut away the cords
that could have held his shroud. "You okay, Sam? Sam?"
can see that he's breathing and there are some red marks around his
eyes. The goggles and oxygen mask were ripped off by the wind shear
during ejection. His arms look okay - they could easily have been
dislocated at the shoulder by the same shear. He must have heard me yell
at him to tuck his arms in. His head rolls to one side in the dirt and
Come on, wake up, buddy." In a natural movement, I try to shake his
shoulder, but my hand passes right through him. "Damn! Sam?"
groans again, and I see his eyes crack open. It takes a couple of
seconds for his eyes to lock on me. "Al?"
buddy. It's me and you're okay. Can you move?"
friend moves slowly, obviously in pain, and I tell him how to disconnect
the parachute. He fumbles, but finally gets it undone. In jerky motions,
he pushes himself to his hands and knees, his head hanging down.
my back," he groans.
it's a rough landing, but you'll walk away. Jenkins’ must have ejected
you earlier. When it was me, I couldn't move for hours." That
memory has always been vague to me; typical, I guess, of the injuries I
had. "Looks like you fared better, Sam. You probably just pulled
pushes up to his knees and lists to one side with a sharp hiss. He
slowly straightens and unbuckles the helmet which falls to the ground
with a dusty thump. He squints, his attention drawn to the roiling black
smoke of the crash site. Suddenly, his eyes widen and he struggles to
is he, Al? The Commander! Where is he?" Before I can answer, he
sees the flapping silk of another parachute and stumbles in that
direction. He’s not walking very well and tends to pull to the right.
I don’t think there's anything you can do! He ejected too late in the
original history. He was dead on impact." I frown. "That's
what I was told, anyway."
very stubborn friend continues on, grunting and puffing, supporting his
back with one hand and dragging a leg like Quasimoto as he goes. Or is
that Igor? With a shake of my head I center myself on the Commander.
He’d ejected too late and didn’t have time to separate from his seat
– I remember he’d died in the pilot’s seat. Looking at him now, I
see that his mask and goggles have also been ripped away. I look a bit
closer and am shocked to see motion in his chest! "Sam! Hurry up!
He's still alive!"
takes Sam awhile to get to his side and when he finally does, he's
immediately in doctor mode. His lips are in a tight line as he checks
for broken bones and I can tell by his expression that things aren't
good. He checks Jenkins' eyes three times before gently placing his
hands on the man’s shoulders; his glance to me is filled with sorrow.
pupils aren't responding equally. He has severe head trauma. The way
he's breathing and the uneven heart rhythm indicate there’s swelling
or direct injury to the brain and the autonomic systems are starting to
be affected. There's nothing I can do, Al." His eyes are wide,
shiny and full of sympathy when he turns to me. “I can’t save him.
I’m so sorry.”
know.” My voice sounds gruff. “Talk to him, Sam. Let him know you're
here, at least," I gulp, shaken to the core. I wasn't expecting
this; my eyes are burning and my throat has seized up.
turns away and ducks his head so he’s eye to eye with Jenkins.
"Commander!" he calls softly. "Commander Jenkins!"
the man's eyes open and I see what Sam means by the uneven pupils; I've
never seen that before, and I feel myself staring. Even through my
watering eyes I can see that his breathing is uneven and ragged.
commander rolls his telling eyes to Sam. His mouth gapes for a moment,
and Sam leans in closer. "What?" Sam asks him.
mouth works silently, and his eyes wander from Sam to me. He looks
directly at me, right into my soul, and I automatically straighten up
and salute because I don’t trust my voice.
hisses something with his last, rattling breath. He says it directly to
me as his eyelids slide shut, but it was too soft for me to hear. After
a few long seconds, his broken body relaxes into itself like a sigh. Sam
doesn't have to tell me he’s just died.
checks his carotid pulse and shakes his head. "I'm sorry, Al."
he could do anything about it. I nod anyway and keep the burning tears
from falling by grinding my teeth until it hurts. When I think I can
talk again, I say what I have always believed. "I thought the shift
two degrees south would keep it from happening." My voice sounds
gruff to me. “I’ve always thought that. I’ve relived those past
minutes a million times, and always thought that would do it, that it
wouldn’t have happened.”
hesitates a second, then leans carefully over Jenkins and pulls in the
silk to drape it over the body in respect.
the term 'shroud lines' a little more clear, doesn't it?" I say
lowly after we both observe a moment of silent respect for the man.
you did say he died on impact last time,” my friend says softly. Sam,
on his knees and supporting his aching back with both hands, turns his
attention to me. "Maybe his living this long was the difference you
maybe everything I heard was a lie.” The bitterness in my voice
results in Sam studying me for a moment. I notice he’s lookin’
awfully pale. I was going to ask him if he’d heard what Jenkins said,
but suddenly Sam’s swayin’ in the wind. “Sam? You OK?”
nods shortly and sinks to the ground, but stays seated. He rubs his
happened next?” my friend asks softly. “In the other history, what
into the dark recesses of my mind, I try to separate out fact from
fiction. I've learned over time how memory can be fooled, and it didn't
help that my chimes were rung pretty hard that day. "I was
recovered much later. It took awhile because it was a super secret
mission, and we were on radio silence. Very few people knew what we were
doing. Very few people were allowed out here." I begin to pace a
small circle, and I can feel Sam's eyes on me. I give him a sideways
glance. "You know how you feel now, Sam?"
nodded after a moment, and continued to massage his back. "I feel
like I've gone a few rounds with a truck," he says quietly.
multiply that by ten or so. I couldn't get off the ground. They found me
where I fell when they finally got here. Even breathing hurt like hell.
I wasn't able to walk for days, and was on heavy meds, so my personal
memories are foggy. I only know what I was told."
part I know well. I've gone over it more than a couple of times in the
past years. "When the recovery team got here, they collected the
pieces they could find, including me, and took it all back to Groom Lake
where it was examined and the cause of the crash determined. They
rebuilt the jet and it was renamed the Vigilant."
head dropped wearily, but I was on a roll now and begin to pace in front
of him. “Usually jets aren’t renamed unless they’re redesigned,
and that's a point that's been bugging me all these years, “I
gripe.” They said no, they didn’t change the design. But
historically, they don't rename it unless it's redesigned. I couldn't
find anything on the prototype for comparison. Even now."
presence of Commander Jenkins' body was both eerie and satisfying. I
usually don't like dead bodies, but for some reason its like he's there
with us in the conversation - maybe he is. I get the feeling that he
appreciates our being here. It takes me a second to realize that Sam is
You OK?” I’m just about to go get a closer look when he suddenly
keels over to the side. “SAM!” I’m next to him in a heartbeat, and
see that he’s out cold. “Ziggy! How long before help gets here?”
leap is going all caca. “Just what is the point of this?” I yell to
the heavens. “Why are you torturing me with this again? Why? What can
own words suddenly strike me. I can’t help Sam right now, and I
certainly can’t get the help here any faster.
I can walk where no one else can tread.
a determined stab at the handlink, I put myself in the middle of the
smoking remains of the jet. There has to be something here. I’ve got a
few crash investigations under my belt now and a much more experienced
start a simulation with the numbers I gave you. When Sam is able to give
you his information, we should have a good picture as to what happened.
The 50’s sure didn’t have the advantages of computer simulations;
let’s see what we get.”
seems there's no information on the Valiant design of this aircraft in
military records, Admiral. I will have to compare the matrix to the
can tell Zig is pissed. "Fine, that's fine for now." I pocket
the handful of components that look like the mashed Gummi bears I've
seen on the floor of the cafeteria thanks to little Stephen Beckett. My
mind is pulled from the frivolous thought - something that Zig just said
bothers me, but I can't pinpoint what it is. It must be the fact that
I've had this whole affair in the back of my mind since 1956, and
dredging it up again disturbs me. I shake my head in a surprised
realization: Good grief, I sound like 'Bena!
among the burning carcass where no man can tread, trying to piece
together a puzzle with a million flaming parts. The brain of this
Project is passed out in the dirt, and Ziggy is in a snit. How much
better can this get?
I walk through the jet graveyard I study each piece, surprised at how
many I recognize - some things just never change I guess. There has to
be a clue here. My eye is drawn to a large section of wing and I try to
correlate what I remember on the gages without much luck.
flash in the distance catches my attention. It’s the cavalry, storming
across the desert in a long, dusty row. By the time they reach the site,
I have a good mental picture of the wreckage. Anxious about Sam, I pop
back next to my friend and tell him help is here even though he can’t
hear me right now.
try to pick out who is who. The docs are easy enough to pick out,
because the bee line to Sam and Jenkins. I know I need to see how Sam is
doing, but there’s something about the rest of the arrivals that
bother me. I study the dozen men carefully, and then a thought strikes
read off the names of the recovery team - these guys that just
a bored voice, the egotistical number cruncher begins the list:
“Alexander Streeter, base commander, Gregory Allen, squadron
commander, Milton Ritter and Lesley McCain, Mercury Aeronautical, James
Carvelle, Paul Litton and Steve Ellis, all lieutenants. The Medical
staff members are . . .”
that’s enough. I knew that guy looked familiar.” James Carvelle, the
guy that rose through the ranks like lighting. He’s a four star
Admiral now and doesn’t need to be. He’s got enough money to run a
small nation, but stays on as a lobbyist for the Military for shits and
grins. He’s good at what he does - his lifestyle proves that.
I’ve dealt with the man several times and always feel dirty
afterward. He’s never mentioned he was here; then again, this jet
isn’t supposed to exist, either.
find my eye attracted to the man, and some unanswered questions in my
mind start to fall into order, ending in a bit ‘what if’ scenario
that I’d rather not believe. Snatches of scuttlebutt I remember
hearing at the time float into my brain as I follow the small parade
around in the debris. I try to recall anything I heard about the
original report that I never saw. I try to put this all together as I
walk through thick smoke and plane parts.
orders in Sam’s area get my attention. They’re getting ready to move
him, and I know I have to stay with him. An ambulance backs up,
practically running over Sam, and they load him in the back on a
stretcher. He’s still not awake yet, and now I’m beginning to worry.
But I’m still here . . . I lay my hand flat on my chest to acknowledge
pop into the ambulance, which is asses-to-elbows with hovering docs.
They brought enough staff to treat two men, but reality strikes and now
Sam is benefiting - I think - from over-doctoring.
the suit,” one man orders and a medic jumps into action. Another is
fitting Sam with an oxygen mask and the two docs are hovering over his
lungs and checking his eyes.
memory of Jenkins' eyes gives me a chill. I’m relieved to see that
Sam’s look normal. My friend’s body jerks a little as the final leg
of the flight suit is laid open like the pages of a book.
Sam’s body tells a story that slaps me in the face - hard.
soon as I see the huge bruise, everything -the scuttlebutt at the time,
the redesign question, all of those questions that have plagued me since
1956 - comes together in a snap. I feel my fury start to rise.
adds to one big lie, and I plan on exposing it to the world. It wasn’t
was a cover up and I’m pretty sure I know who orchestrated it.
April 10, 2005
I need are facts and those are best found with Ziggy’s simulation. The
absence of the official report doesn’t help much, either, but I have a
hunch about where I may find a copy. But first I’m putting together
two and two.
Zig, let’s see the show.”
me for the holographic simulation are Tina and Sammie Jo. A floating
picture of the pre-crashed jet hovers in the Imaging Chamber.
a Vigilante,” I note out loud.
told you I had to use this, Admiral.” Ziggy’s silky voice snaps
giving the clear impression that she’s not happy dealing with idiots.
women look at each other, then at me with carefully neutral and
expectant faces. Wisely, I bite my tongue. This is too important. “OK,
jet moves and bounces, caught in the imaginary turbulence. I mentally
recall what I saw with what I’m seeing. Something doesn’t match.
“Zig, can you enlarge this and put me in the pilot’s seat?”
Instantly I’m surrounded by pitching, yawing aircraft. The girls let
out a simultaneous squeak of surprise. I can’t help but grin, but my
attention is elsewhere. The quivering holographic stick is in my hand
and I watch it carefully as the world around us explodes silently into a
mountain. “Ziggy, something is off with the roll.”
Tina questions in that weirdly sexy-annoying-lusty voice of hers.
I reply automatically, my eyes locked on the dials. “There’s pitch,
roll and yaw. The elevators control pitch, the rudders control yaw and
the ailerons control roll. The roll readings on the gage aren’t
can only work with what I have,” Ziggy explains in a tone reserved for
the imbeciles of the world. “I extrapolated unknown data from known
the Vigilante design specs,” I finish. Another puzzle piece falls in
place in my mind and I look up to see two sets of very lovely, but very
confused, eyes. “The stick action doesn’t match the bruise I saw on
Sam’s body. The stick should be locked to the right. His entire right
leg has a very vivid bruise from the stick from when he was ejected.”
. . and this means?” Sammie Jo questions with a come-on roll of her
means there’s fox in the hen house. A very rich fox that I intend to
buddy rolls his head slowly with a wince. He’s hurtin’, and I can
sympathize. I just gotta get a couple pieces of information from him
before they dope him to the gills. Medical staff buzzes around him like
Look at me!”
eyes crack open and I can see they’re still clear. I got to him in
time. “Sam, you gotta remember something. Sam? Hear me? I think I have
this figured out!”
. . . what?” The stubborn scientist tries to sit up but a medic
carefully pushes him flat again.
in the Groom Lake sick bay, where he . . . I mean, me . . . will be for
awhile. They have to make sure my faculties are fully intact before I go
so I can perpetuate the illusion that this never happened. God, I’m
beginning to hate secrets.
don’t move or they’ll shoot ya full of knock out stuff. Look at
does so, his hazel eyes bright with curiosity, put the tiny lines that
surround his eyes tell of the pain he’s in.
know you hurt and I know it’s hard, but you have to remember something
for me. The gages on the jet, the ones I told you to memorize?”
short nod indicates he understands. He also twitches as a medic inserts
an I.V. line; I don’t have much time.
me what they read.”
begins to mumble degrees and speeds and other numbers that designate
speed and direction. The damn medic must think he’s nuts because
he’s patting Sam’s cheek and calling my name. Sam keeps his eyes on
me, ignoring the distraction until he’s done. Then he turns his
attention to the medic and gives him a look that does me proud. “Atta
boy, Sam. Let ‘em know I’m not nuts. One more thing - did you hear
what Jenkins said before he . . . you know . . .”
Sam says immediately.
I run the word over my tongue and a sudden grin jumps on my face.
“Ail. Could it have been ‘ail’?”
nods. “You know what it means?” he asks softly, obviously in pain.
The medic gives him a worried look; his patient is speaking to thin air.
yeah. That’s the missing bit I needed. Good job, Sam!” I punch the
handful of electronic mashed Gummi bears in my hand and bark commands.
“Ziggy, I want you to check the files of Admiral James Carvelle.
Specifically, any old personal files he may have and any banking details
in this period. Correlate the two by date, and pull the contracts being
handled by Mercury Aeronautical at the time. Take these numbers,” my
fingers fly as I speak, “and input them into the simulation. It will
stray from the Vigilante specs. And lock me on to Carvelle’s
location.” I turn to Sam just as his eyes begin to droop from the
freshly injected medication, but I see a satisfied smile on his lips.
“Sit tight, Sam, I’ll be back.”
I’m at the scene again. As I expected, Carvelle and the Mercury
Aeronautical guy - Ritter? - are noggin to noggin over by the jeeps. I
barge right in and begin to take notes.
I am the lead investigator,” Carvelle says boastfully. “That’s
excellent insurance. It should be incentive enough for you to take care
of this. Your company would lose a lot of money if this contract were
lost. I don’t think the amount I named is anywhere near what is at
stake for Mercury.” The bastard checks his manicured nails like he’s
at a cocktail party instead of Commander Jenkins impact crater.
. . I don’t know. This doesn’t seem right . . .” Ritter is
wringing his hands and glances over his shoulder to his partner.
what’s not right? You’re going to fix this problem so it doesn’t
happen again, right?” Carvelle tilts his head toward the seat of the
jeep. “You are going to save lives. Isn’t that worth something?”
clench my jaws in anger and glance in the jeep. Sitting on the seat is
the charred, pitted remains of the aileron actuator - the reason the jet
rolled into the mountains and clear evidence that the crash wasn’t
pilot error. The ‘ail’ of Jenkins’ last words. He told me himself
the cause of the crash.
what about that young man’s career? The one in the second seat?
Isn’t it pretty much ruined if we call it pilot error?”
laughed. “He wasn’t a real pilot yet. Calavicci was only along for
the ride. And I can make sure he’s out of the investigation
completely. He’s not important.”
it, I’ve heard enough! I pound the link and yell at the sky. “Ziggy?
Let’s nail this bastard!” Then I turn my eyes on one lousy excuse of
a Naval officer. “Say hello to your worst nightmare, buster.”