By Jeff Williams
Nightwatch created by Jeff Williams
Developed by Jeff Williams and Robert Moriyama
The chill January air streamed in through the open window,
along with some of the fat drops of heavy rain falling outside. The Nor'easter blowing up the East Coast
returned the fury of winter to
Simon's blue bathrobe hung from his body and was open at the chest, revealing a white Nightwatch T-shirt, heavily covered with tea and coffee stains. His silver-gray hair was sprayed in seemingly random directions on his head, and heavy, dark circles shaded the area beneath his eyes.
On a table in front of the open window, several pictures of friends and family members sat, each covered in tasteful if inexpensive frames. Each was also taking a beating from the rain, but, again, Simon made no attempt to move them to drier ground. Instead, he watched the rain, watched the drops, watched them seemingly slow down as his mind moved back.
It was raining when I came back from
It was raining when I went there, to my little storage house of horrors...
It was raining when I opened the door...
It was raining when I turned on the light...
Simon leaned back on the bed, placed his head on a bare pillow unadorned by even a dirty pillowcase. He shifted his eyes momentarily to the teacup, saw the steam rising in eddied swirls as the rising air mixed with the damp chill from outside. For a moment, he felt he could almost see the heat rushing from the cup, trying vainly to warm the air outside, fulfilling its thermodynamic destiny even as it drove headlong towards its death.
It was raining when I found the empty room... Almost empty... It was there he'd found the rose and the note, the note from Maria. The woman, his wife, who was supposed to have been murdered twenty-one years earlier. The woman who was, in fact, alive and well, alive and working with someone...something...to betray Simon.
He remembered the note: “Sometimes life doesn’t turn out like it should.”
In Simon's business as Nightwatch's go-to man for matters both open and official and clandestine and in the black, betrayal was a matter of course. Contractors betrayed those who hired them. Warlords betrayed those whom they'd promised not to attack while relief efforts were underway. Locals betrayed their neighbors if they thought it would mean greater aid divided among those who remained. Simon himself had dealt out betrayal on occasion, too, but nothing compared with this.
These betrayals were too much. In
The bastard knew, Simon thought to himself angrily. Callow knew all these years, but he wouldn't tell me...wouldn't give me a fucking clue that my wife was alive! Maria's body, the soft curve of her neck wrapped in the telephone cord in Chicago, suddenly collided with the sight of an obviously older Maria chasing down Jane Messenger and Jason Frost. Simon felt his insides tumble, felt the tears of sadness and anger trying to break through. Maria--the betrayal to end them all.
The teacup slammed into the far wall, nearly dislodging a clock/barometer which hung there. Simon withdrew his hand and then rolled over. Even as the phone started ringing, he remained in a loop of thoughts, of the things he'd learned. In the midst of his pain, however, another thought managed to make itself known, a thought that in some ways was nearly as raw and perplexing as Maria, something Callow had said outside the Drake Hotel. A single word slipped out casually, as if it didn't matter in the slightest.
Stephanie Keel turned off her cell phone and shook her head. "I don't even know if he's there. I don't even know if he's in town." She put the phone on her desk at the Nightwatch Institute for Strategic and Economic Studies and turned to look at the man sitting across from her. Tom Weldon, his muscular bulk barely fitting in the chair, sat as comfortably as he could and rested his chin on his left hand.
"Has anyone heard from his since he came back?" Tom asked. He coughed and took a moment to catch his breath. Tom had only been back on the ground for a month after his nearly year long voyage in space on the Cthulu mission, and at times the air pressure still got to him.
"Jared Molinski's secretary
talked to Simon long enough for him to beg off a trip to
Tom sat up. "What do you know about Maria? He's only told me a little over the years, even when he was talking to me on a professional basis." Stephanie leaned forward in her chair and clasped her fingers, her dark hair swaying forward. "He wouldn't say much more than he had to and then brushed the whole thing off."
"He was in
"Then," Tom finished, "the murder, the one that apparently never happened. Have," he hesitated for fear of sounding foolish, "have you looked for her, you know, using that voodoo that you do..."
"She died," Stephanie spoke plainly. "There's not much more to say, really. According to everything out there, she died. I found .PDF files, police records, public archives. There's even crime scene photos. I can show you a death certificate; pathology and toxicology files, autopsy report, police reports; a receipt from the funeral home... Everybody involved was clean as a whistle. The only shady figure I could find was, apparently, Maria herself, but then she could never have pulled something like that off alone, and whoever helped her fake this was...was damn good." She looked down at the wireless mouse. "Simon does have another storage building, you know. I just found out when I was checking his, um, records...I was thinking of going by there..."
"And you haven't gotten anything out of Callow about this?" Tom continued, his voice almost catching as he said the name. Stephanie turned and glared at Tom, who shook his head and smiled at his own foolishness. "Yeah...that, that wasn't the smartest thing I've ever said, was it." She tapped a few keys on her keyboard.
"At least he's eating," she said and then looked a little sheepish. "I...uh...took a look at his bank transactions. It’s how I found out about his other storage area, actually. He's ordered Chinese takeout and some curry a few times. But, other than regular bank drafts, that's about it. I tried his housekeeper, Mrs. Turner, but she's virtually impossible to reach at the best of times."
"Should we break in?" Tom asked almost too casually, and Stephanie again shot a skeptical look at the psychologist, all the while laughing inwardly at what she and Simon had apparently turned him into over the years. "Erm…excuse the slip of the tongue. Should you break out your lock picks and remove the impediment of the door?" Stephanie grinned despite her best intentions.
"Do you want to break in to a well-lit townhouse? Do you want to explain to the Georgetown PD that we're merely trying to make sure a friend is alright?"
Tom leaned forward. "Do you want to ask Squibb if there's anything he can do for us?" Stephanie looked at Tom blankly and pursed her lips.
"If Callow finds out," she said after a long pause, "he'll have your balls in a vice. I mean that literally."
"And you?" Tom asked, uncomfortably. Stephanie grinned widely.
"Callow knows better," she said matter-of-factly, and before Tom could respond, she stood up and left her office, turning down the hall and heading towards Melvin Squibb's office.
Your Ride’s Here: November 15, 1976
Martin "Marty" McKay stood at the Signers of the
Declaration of Independence Memorial in
"Mr. McKay?" a man called out. Marty looked up, taking his hands out of his pocket and waving.
"Mr. Harrison?" Marty said. The man nodded and started to cross the
narrow bridge to the monument. Marty,
however, motioned for
"Post said the sun should be out this afternoon," Marty said. A quizzical look crossed his face. "Forgive me, Mr. Harrison, but why did you want to meet out here? I always assumed that Rockwell was raking in the scratch. I mean, it’s a little troubling if you can’t afford a meeting room?” Marty said these words with a good-natured grin.
“Let’s have a seat, shall we,”
“Bit nippy today, isn’t it,” McKay spoke as he watched
“Corned beef sandwich,”
“Just a second,” McKay said as he leaned back on the
bench. “You haven't answered the
question, and I’m dying to know. Why,”
he pointed out around at the park, “why are we meeting here? This is, you gotta
admit, kind of strange for a job interview.”
“I work in
“Martin Phillip McKay, is that correct?” McKay nodded.
“I’m usually called Marty,” he said “unless you knew me in flight school. Instructors gave me the call-sign ‘Meatball,’ which, you know, wasn’t the most confidence inspiring thing.”
“Yes sir, in name only anyway,” Marty
said, “from ’66 to ’74.”
“You get a chance to fly?” he asked. Marty shook his head and looked up at another plane, this time a Boeing 737.
“Never happened,” he said with a slight twinge of
“Sorry,” he said sympathetically. “Pretty impressive, anyway. Pretty impressive, indeed. Johns Hopkins, MIT, a stint
at JPL. You’re an adjunct here at
“I’m hoping for something a bit more permanent,” Marty
replied. “Don’t get me wrong; teaching
has been a wonderful thing for me, but…”
Marty shook his head and laughed, almost as if
he felt he had been saying something silly.
“Anyway, that’s why I was so happy to hear that my application had been
rediscovered by Rockwell.” A cold breeze
blew over the Mall, and
“I hope to discover its therapeutic effects,” Marty spoke
though he seemed to withdraw a bit into his own thoughts.
“I worked with the Skylab rescue capsule,” Marty said matter-of-factly, “when we thought we might need it for Skylab 4. I actually sat in the command seat for a few minutes when they needed someone to verify initial switch settings. Some of the people who flew in Apollo told me they thought the things were cramped, better than Gemini or Mercury, but…” Marty had sounded nostalgic towards the end of the sentence.
“Oh, sorry, that’s right,”
“Lousy budgets and bad timing,” Marty said dryly. Again,
“You’d know it as Skylab,” Marty replied a little too
quickly. “If you’d
know it all, since you weren’t on the capsule side of things. It honestly seemed like no one outside of
NASA cared.” Marty shook his head and
shrugged his shoulders. “That’s what it
turned into anyway. A lot of the guys in
the agency didn’t care. Some of the fellas I was with were not amused at being put into AAP…er…Skylab. No
glory. Fair enough. I never minded that, though. I didn’t care, one
way or the other.” Marty smiled a
distant smile, and a wistful expression drifted across his features. “I just…I just wanted my ride.” He turned towards
“Apollo Telescope Mount,” Marty said, again quite
quickly. A slight smile appeared. “It was originally supposed to be a canister
we’d carry aloft on an S-IB, and then an Apollo ship would dock with it and
point it wherever was required. Probably
the best chance I ever had for my ride, really.” Marty breathed deeply. “When that was deep-sixed,
we moved it over to the wet…er…cluster…sorry…spent-stage
workshop. I wound up spending a lot of
“Not a problem, not a problem,”
“Just wasn’t in the cards,” McKay spoke. “I was too far back in the chain. Couple of vets from Apollo wanted seats, and no one was going to turn them down. A few others training for Apollo moved over. Then there was a physician, an astrophysicist… I just didn’t have the right degrees. Astronautics and rendezvous are fine specialties, but…” Marty sighed quietly. “The closest I came was support crew for Skylab 4. Not even back-up, just support. A little sim time, that one moment in the rescue capsule. A lot of research and testing.” Marty sat back in the bench. “But…no joy.”
“I truly am sorry, Mr. McKay,”
“I repeat my earlier statement,” Marty said, “this is the
strangest interview I’ve ever been on.
I’m a wingless ex-astronaut, Mr. Harrison. There’s nothing special about that. Some of the fellas
I worked with actually had hopes of going to the moon, and they never made
I just wanted a flight, any flight.
If they’d told me they had an Atlas and an old Mercury capsule, I would
have…” Marty shook his head but then
forced the smile to return. “As
heartbreaks go, by golly theirs is worse than mine.” Marty and
“Walk with me, Marty,”
“You haven’t seen it before?” Marty spoke as he looked around. Things were getting a bit strange, and he was starting to think that one of his old buddies from NASA—perhaps even Pete Conrad himself—had decided to play a joke.
“Oh, I’ve seen it before,”
“Not since I left NASA,” Marty said, a touch of irritation inflecting his voice. “You seem awfully obsessed with this particular subject, Mr. Harrison. Does the job involve much flying?”
“You fly anything high-performance?”
“I had to fly T-38s to qualify for the program,” he said in a clipped voice. “I broke the sound barrier—solo—a few times. Does that qualify, Mr. Harrison?”
“No need to be snippy,”
“Yes,” McKay said, deciding to bide his time and play along until he could figure out what was going on, “yes I did. Afterburners are truly wonderful things.”
“Pete Conrad,” Marty spoke, trying to gauge if
“Your experience, I believe, would be with the Saturns, wouldn’t it?”
“S-IBs,” Marty said plainly. “All theoretical, of course, since I was never assigned to an actual
“Well,” Marty said, smiling, “I’m way ahead of you there, my friend. Now, let’s have a chat of our own, shall we?”
“I didn’t realize,”
“You never had my flight instructor,” McKay said as he
doubled the pressure on
“CSM-115A,” he said with difficulty, “heard of it by any chance?” McKay loosened his grip slightly.
“Yeah,” he said cautiously, “I’ve heard of it. They thought about using it for Apollo-Soyuz before Congress finally cancelled work on it. It’s like everything else left over from the program, just a piece of wasted junk sitting in some museum basement. Now,” he said, tightening his grip further, “let’s try the part again where you tell me what you want?”
“Martin Phillip McKay,”
“And you can prove this?” McKay said with equal parts
skepticism and hope. “You can make me
believe that this is true?”
Nothing Serious Really, Just a Bit of a Hobby
Simon held the small picture, looking at the face of Maria smiling back at him in fading colors, and resisted the urge to crumple it and toss it out the window and into the soggy night. Something tore at him, gnawed at his insides, tried to compel him to throw the photograph away. It isn’t like this means much, anymore, does it, he thought, and his hand twitched before he withdrew it again to his side.
He’d held her name sacred too long, held her memory too tightly. Even with all the revelations, the thought of simply discarding the picture was too much. The phone rang several times, and as he had done virtually since he’d been home, Simon ignored it and lay down again upon the bed, his breath a rhythmic jet of steam in the freezing room. After the requisite four rings, the device grew silent, and Simon closed his eyes, trying to let sleep overtake him.
The phone rang again. Simon opened his eyes and stared at the red light as it flickered with each pulse of the ringer. Again, after four rings, the system switched to voice mail and then went silent. He stared malevolently before closing his eyes for the second time, just in time for the sequence to begin anew.
“If you’re selling something,” Simon hissed a split second after surprising himself by reaching over and picking up the handset, “I’ll sue you under every Do-Not-Call law in existence!” There was a pause on the other end.
“Er…Dr. Litchfield, I presume?” a slightly confused-sounding man asked over the line. Simon blinked. The voice was familiar, but he couldn’t seem to place it.
“Yes,” he said quickly, trying to both calm down and resist the desire to slam the phone back into its cradle.
“Oh, good!” the man said, clearly relieved. “After a response like that, I don’t think I could’ve taken it if this had been a wrong number. Goodness me, what a relief!”
“Get on with it, please,” Simon spoke impatiently. He pulled a damp blanket around his body.
“Oh, good God, sorry about that,” the man said, “this is Dr. Willis Eddison.” Simon blinked again. Despite his frame of mind, Simon was genuinely surprised by the call. Willis Eddison, the head of Nightwatch’s analysts, had never phoned Simon at home, and as he thought back over time, Simon could barely remember two calls to the civil engineer’s office at the institute.
“I hope you’re having a pleasant evening,” Simon spoke after a long pause.
“Good lord, no, I’m not!” Eddison replied with a chuckle. “Have you looked outside? Pure watery misery!” Again, Simon sat there, unsure what to say or even if he wanted to say anything at all.
“I’m a little preoccupied right now,” he said slowly. Simon glanced for the clock but found he’d knocked it onto the floor at some point.
“Oh, yes, sorry for bothering you this time of night,” Eddison said apologetically. “I wanted to let you know the January meeting of the Special Tasks Subcommittee has been canceled. I’m not going to be available, I’m afraid. Unavoidably detained. When I called Callow over in Institutional Effectiveness to let him know, he mentioned that you’d been under the weather. I hope you’re getting over whatever the nasty bug has been doing to you.”
“No,” Simon replied coldly. “No, I’m not. If you’ll excuse me…”
“Actually,” Eddison interrupted, “I have another reason for calling. I’m afraid the, uh, the bit about the committee meeting was just a convenient ruse.” Eddison chuckled lightly. “I apologize for the clumsiness.” Simon signed and rolled his eyes.
“All right, then,” he said through gritted teeth. “Why have you called?”
“That’s a good question,” Eddison replied, much to Simon’s annoyance. “You…Dr. Litchfield…how can I put this?” Again, there was a pause.
“Succinctly,” Simon replied helpfully.
“Oh, good lord, yes. See, if we’re going, we have to go soon.”
“Going…where?” Simon replied slowly.
“I’m getting to that, Dr. Litchfield,” Eddison said. “What I was trying to say is that you have a bit of a reputation as a problem solver. No one, of course, can ever explain what they mean when they say that, only that there are rumors here and there.” Eddison coughed. “Well, sir, I have a problem, or at least a curiosity to check out, and since you do not seem to be involved with anything at the moment…”
“Is there any chance you could call back in a couple of days?” Simon asked dispassionately.
“I’m afraid not,” Eddison
spoke. “Time is of the essence. I have…
Well, to put it delicately.” Eddison sighed. “Let
me just spit it out. There’s no other
way to say it.” He paused. “I have an interest in certain paranormal fields,
Dr. Litchfield. Nothing serious really,
just a bit of a hobby, but something…interesting…has come to my attention. In my department, we get quite a bit of data
from field units, and something most intriguing rose up from a station we have
“Aliens,” he said incredulously, “you’re calling me about aliens?”
“Just…just a wee possibility,” Eddison responded apologetically. “I know, I must sound like a complete cuckoo, but I think my reputation within Nightwatch should be enough to convince you I’m not totally insane.” That was true, Simon thought. Nightwatch’s analysts were a key component of the institute’s consulting side, and the reputation of that part of the organization was nothing short of sterling. “What I’m proposing is a quick trip down there to check out this signal curio. If it turns out to be a false alarm, well, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been disappointed. But if it is genuine…”
“Why do you need me to go?” Simon asked.
“Because,” Eddison chuckled, “if I show up there on my own, it’s going to look damned strange! You, on the other hand, are a civil engineer. As I understand it, the station is having a terrible problem with subsidence mucking about with the foundation, and they’re about to let a contract out to fix it. I just happen to, conveniently, have some reservations with that conclusion, and since part of my job is to forecast long-term costs for the institute…” Simon smiled slightly.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “right now just isn’t…”
“Besides,” Eddison interrupted again, “as I understand it, you’re a prime candidate for a quick vacation.” Simon looked around his bedroom and then out the window into the pouring rain.
“When?” he asked.
“About three hours or so,” Eddison
replied. “One of the compensations of
this job is the ability to commandeer Nightwatch One when
it’s in town. Good god, I remember a
time when the governor of
“It’s parked at Dulles?” Simon asked, an exhausted tone in his voice.
“I’ll send a car to retrieve you,” Eddison said enthusiastically. “I’ll also square things away for you here so no will question what you’re doing. I really appreciate it. Must run…busy, busy, busy.” Eddison hung up. Simon listened to the dead line, trying to recall when, at any time, he’d actually agreed to make the trip. He opened a drawer on the night-table and pulled out an institute phone directory. Just as he started to dial Dr. Eddison’s number, however, a strange feeling came over him, a set of emotions he couldn’t quite decode, and he sat there staring out the window as the phone beeped its displeasure at him.
“Are we clear?” Stephanie asked as Tom looked at the immediate area surrounding Simon’s townhouse complex. After a final quick glance through a monocular, Tom nodded, and Stephanie turned off his Hummer H5. Quickly, they exited and walked towards Simon’s front door, all the while trying to stay as much in the shadows as possible. It was a difficult task because even though the rain had temporarily stopped, the ground was still extremely wet.
“I’m suddenly feeling very insecure,” he whispered as they approached Simon’s front door.
“Physician, heal thyself,” Stephanie replied quietly just as they reached Simon’s home. “Give me the case,” she said, and Tom passed over the plastic box he’d been carrying in his right hand. “I’m just glad he hasn’t replaced the glass door yet,” she whispered.
“Well,” Tom said, “as much hail as we’ve had…” Stephanie removed two silver disks, each slightly thicker than an ice cream sandwich and equipped with suction cups on one side. Carefully, she placed one over the doorknob and one over the deadbolt lock. Immediately, a small keypad on each illuminated in dim yellow light. Stephanie punched a three digit number into each. Three seconds later, and after a series of quiet clicks and whirs, each keypad flashed green. Tom removed the disks just before Stephanie reached for the doorknob.
“Do you remember if he has a chain lock, too?” she asked with some alarm just before the door opened. Slowly, each of them walked inside. Simon’s home was dark and cold, something which made the both of them feel a little nervous. While Simon enjoyed cold weather, neither had ever known him to keep his house below 68 degrees.
“Should we call out?” Tom asked quietly. “It doesn’t look like he’s down here, if he’s home.”
“We’d better,” Stephanie nodded, “Simon has several guns stashed away here.”
“Okay,” Tom said as he drew in a breath, “here goes.” He opened his mouth to call out.
“Come on up,” Simon yelled down, and the two of them nearly had to pull themselves from the ceiling. “Sorry,” he yelled, “didn’t mean to scare. God knows I wouldn’t want to frighten anyone breaking into my home!” Still startled, the two of them started up the stairs, and though he tried not to, Tom still found himself giggling nervously.
As they approached the top of the landing, both Stephanie and Tom noticed a familiar if unexpected smell wafting in the chilly air, the sweet and warm smell of burning pipe tobacco. Tom looked over at Stephanie who just shrugged her shoulders.
“I’m in here,” Simon called out from the bedroom. As the two of them walked in, they found Simon sitting in a oak chair and smoking a pipe. The pipe was by no means ordinary, looking like a combination of Sherlock Holmes’ Calabash and a 1700s clay pipe. It was clear from the smell swirling about the room that the tobacco within the pipe was extremely expensive.
“I didn’t realize that you smoked,” Tom said with genuine surprise as he settled in by the doorway. He watched as Simon carefully inhaled the smoke and then let it curl out through his lips and into the room. Simon was dressed in his usual khaki outfit. In addition, however, he was also wearing his hat as well as a khaki cloak.
“Two, maybe three times a year,” Simon replied without looking at them, his eyes focused outside into the cold night. Stephanie sat down on the bed and shivered a bit. “No more than that since I don’t want to wind up addicted. I buy extremely expensive tobacco so that I don’t feel tempted very often. Tonight just seemed like an appropriate occasion.”
“How did you know it was us?” Stephanie asked. “I didn’t see any cameras outside.” Simon motioned towards the bedside table.
“Open the drawer,” he said quietly. As Stephanie did, she found a small box fitted with a tiny black and white monitor. A small light flashed next to a sign that read, ‘Proximity Alarm.’ She saw there was a perfect image of the front area on the screen.
“It’s hidden in the shrubbery,” he said. “A Christmas gift a year ago from Mrs. Turner, guaranteed to thwart jokers, thieves, encyclopedia salespersons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. I don’t normally have it on, but the last few days…”
“Simon,” Tom said, “I’m sorry we broke in, but we’ve been trying to reach you for days.” He scratched his head and suddenly felt quite embarrassed. “I mean, it’s not my usual therapy tactic. The fact is, we were…that is…Stephanie and I were…”
“…extremely worried,” she finished. “A little scared even, or at least I was,
after all that business in
“Or from me,” Tom said. “You and I…” Again, he hesitated. “We’ve talked before, and I’m here now, as always.” He laughed lightly. “If nothing else, I’ve been gone an awfully long time. We need to catch up.” There was a long pause before Simon spoke.
“My mind’s a jumble,” Simon said. “Scattered.” The rain started falling again outside. “I keep jumping from one thought to another, probing, examining, like a dentist sticking his damn hook into a cavity. There’s so much I keep thinking about. I even popped out to Darby’s garage just after I got home, to see if any of those boys knew what the hell was going on.”
“Darby’s garage?” Tom asked.
“I’ll tell you later,” Stephanie said quickly. Simon looked at the fat raindrops falling outside the window.
“Each raindrop,” he spoke. “Each little raindrop. How much, Tom," Simon spoke quietly as he smoked, "how much of my life has been affected by her...by Maria's...death?" Tom nodded and shrugged his shoulders. “I’m the one who found her, that cord twisted around and around… She was dead. I know she was dead.” Simon closed his eyes for a long time before opening them and blinking once. “But, then, apparently everything I know is wrong. How much…”
"Simon,” Tom started to say, “any trauma of this sort would..."
"I'm not finished!" Simon snapped, something which caught both Tom and Stephanie off-guard. "It's important that you hear this out! You’ve no conception of what I’m thinking. I saw my wife dead." He took another drag from the pipe, exhaling slowly. "How much have I lived my life in the shadow of that moment? I've been stuck on the same questions for days. Think about it.” Simon’s voice was almost a whisper. “Her name, Tom, her name was...is...Maria. Five letters...first letter M last letter A. Latin. Catholic.” He shook his head and looked down at the floor. “Morna...five letters, the M, the A. Irish. Catholic. Is that a coincidence?"
Stephanie started to reach for Simon's shoulder but withdrew, and she looked at him with pity. "It is coincidence. Just coincidence. Morna's a beautiful woman, a lovely personality. I've always understood how you'd..."
"Did I," Simon interjected, "deliberately try to bring her back from the dead in some sick, twisted way?" Simon tapped out the ash from the pipe into a small bowl. "And what about all the women? Even Jane? Was that all a coincidence?” Simon lifted his head. “Or was it more than that?" He turned and looked at Tom and then at Stephanie. "Was it deliberate on my part, or perhaps someone else's?" A look of recognition crossed Tom's face.
"You're wondering if meeting Maria was part of some plan, Callow's plan perhaps?" Stephanie sat back, a sorrowful look in her eyes. Simon nodded slowly.
"Well," he said, looking intensely at Tom, "you tell me. Was it?" Tom cocked his head quizzically. Then, a look of both confusion and alarm crossed his face. He pointed at his chest.
"You're wondering if I was part of some plan?" Simon smiled. "You gotta be kidding me! Believe me, if I was running things, I wouldn’t have stuck myself on a spaceship for a year!" Simon sighed and looked back towards the window. "I'm not part of some grand conspiracy! Simon, grief is one thing, but this..." Simon jumped up and spun around.
"...is a perfectly reasonable line of thought!" he roared. Quickly, he calmed himself down, shook his head, and rubbed his eyes. "Sorry! Sorry!" he said, waving his hands. "Sorry. I never said I believed it. This isn't an accusation, only a question." He sat down.
"Well, I'm not some sort of plant," Stephanie said, tones of both sympathy and anger in her voice. Simon forced a smile again before raising his hands and resting his head on them. "Do you honestly think anyone would go through that, with Gryphius, in that dungeon...willingly?"
"I have to ask," Simon whispered. "Maybe it is just paranoia. But since Maria, nearly everyone in my life, nearly everyone of any importance to me, I've met through Nightwatch. You." He glanced sideways. "Tom. Morna. So many... So very many." Simon laughed lightly. “This is why I haven’t been in. Irrational or not, I’ve got to clear these things out of my head before I can get back to work.”
“Then why are you dressed up?” Stephanie asked, and Simon immediately caught the tones of hurt in her voice.
going out of town for a few days,” he said.
“It’s Nightwatch business, well, actually, Dr.
I was railroaded into it, but
Tom and Stephanie waited there, almost stunned.
“It almost makes you wish you never came, doesn’t it,” she spoke quietly.
“He’s hurt,” Tom said though he didn’t sound much better off. “Sometimes, you lash out… I guess you don’t need to hear that. Come on,” he said, “the least we can do is help him drink his wine.”
“Whiskey,” Stephanie corrected, and they, too, headed down the stairs.
Fisher, Deming & Bayes: January 26, 1977
Marty McKay, despite the skepticism that had built up in him over Christmas, still found himself walking the icy streets of Warrenton, Virginia towards the almost deliberately nondescript, moldy brown and gray, wooden framed building on Waterloo Street. Stopping before the entrance—a flight of rickety stairs, an old and somewhat tattered screen door, and a maple colored door in slightly better condition—he checked the address a final time and then finally braved the last inches of the journey.
Rusty bells jingled on the door as he walked inside and closed the it behind him. A plain though attractive brunette in her late thirties or early forties sat at an old desk and talked on a heavy, black, rotary telephone. “Fisher, Deming & Bayes,” she said in a raspy voice, which immediately gave away her smoking habit. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Norwood isn’t in. May I take a message?” She nodded, and she looked down through her black, cat’s eyes glasses at a stenographer’s pad. “Yes, go on,” she said as she scribbled the message. “2:30PM tomorrow. I’ll get this to her as soon as she comes in. Have a pleasant day.” As she hung up the phone, Marty made contact with her green eyes.
“Marty McKay,” he said. “I’m here to see Mr. Harrison.” She smiled and then opened a thick, dusty ledger.
“Do you have an appointment?” she asked.
“Yes ma’am,” he said as she coughed slightly. She pursed her lips and scanned the page.
“Martin P. McKay,” she said, and she made a tick-mark with her pencil on the page. “You’ll find him up the stairs,” she said, pointing towards more wooden steps, “Office 6B.” Marty thanked her and then climbed the stairs, which seemed to give off a somewhat musty aroma as he stepped on them. Reaching the top, he turned onto the dimly lit hallway and almost immediately tripped on the old, burgundy carpet. Catching himself on the wall—itself dusty and neglected—he made his way until reaching 6B.
“I wasn’t going to,” Marty said matter-of-factly as he sat in the leather chair and glanced around. The room seemed to be cobbled together from a wide variety of sources—dark wood filing cabinets, plastic and aluminum desk covered with green felt and topped with a gray IBM Selectric, cheap chairs covered in even cheaper synthetics. “My class at AMU didn’t make, so I have time I wasn’t planning on having.” A metal wastebasket sat beneath what appeared to be an old night table—broken and then put back together with glue and electrical tape. Various innocuous art prints lined the walls.
Jack smiled and sat back in his leather rolling chair, which was nice save for occasional tears in the material on the backing. “Whatever the reason, I’m certainly glad you decided to drop in. I know you still don’t fully believe me, and I’ll do what I can to alleviate your skepticism.” He smiled.
“You have a helluva lot of work, then” Marty replied. “Okay, let’s assume I believe you’ve got a ride for me. My big question is why. Why would someone be willing to put up the cash and deal with the headache? You can’t tell me this is a NASA deal.”
“Um…no…I can’t,” Jack agreed. “The truth is, Marty, that there’s a great deal I’ll never be able to tell you. In fact, everything that’s discussed about this is classified, at least you are to treat it as such, anyway. Mrs. Cox downstairs has some forms you will be required to sign before you are allowed to leave this building.”
“That sounds like a threat,” Marty said, his blood pressure starting to rise. Jack shrugged.
“Not really,” he said, “just a cold, lonely little fact.” Jack pulled open a drawer and removed a manila envelope. “Let me assure you, however, that this is real. We have, in climate-controlled storage, CSM-115A, all set and awaiting final preparation. We also have an S-IB stage and an S-IVB and a number of component and structural spares from Chrysler and Douglas.” Jack scratched his note. “The two stages aren’t matched serial numbers, but they’ll do.”
“How’d ya get ‘em?” Marty asked. “I know from my days with the agency that they keep tabs on where their equipment is.”
“Let’s just say I hope no one from
“How’d ya get ‘em?” Marty asked again, slower and more deliberately this time. Jack rubbed his chin.
“Marty,” he said, “if I could tell you that, I would. But, as I said…”
“There’s a great deal you’ll never be able to tell me,” Marty interrupted. “Okay, despite my better judgment… Why me? I mean, you have your choice of any number of out of work flyboys.” Jack smiled.
“No,” Jack said. “You are the best choice for this. You are supremely qualified, in fact.” Jack opened the envelope and pulled out a sheath of papers. “Degrees in astronautics and rendezvous. But, more importantly, you have direct experience with the Apollo Telescope Mount, the Multiple Docking Adaptor, the Apollo capsule…”
“Skylab?” Marty said incredulously. “This is about Skylab?”
Jack nodded. “Yes, it is about Skylab. You are the most appropriate, flight qualified candidate for this mission.” Marty laughed and shook his head in disbelief.
“I was support crew,” Marty said, “not prime, not back-up. Support.”
“With direct involvement in two key components of the workshop,” Jack stated plainly.
“Something smells,” Marty sputtered and he moved uncomfortably in his seat. “This is bullshit! How am I the most appropriate? I can think of nine fellas more appropriate than me. I mean, hell, there’s Pete Conrad or Jack Lousma. Even Bill Pogue. If you couldn’t get any of them, there’s Bruce McCandless or Rusty Schweickart...”
“The nine guys you’re talking about flew on Skylab’s 2, 3, and 4,” Jack said. “Schweickart flew on Apollo 9. Vance Brand flew on Apollo-Soyuz. If something happens to them, if they even disappear for awhile, someone’s going to notice.” Jack leaned forward. “The rest of the back-ups are still with the agency. The rest of the support crews are still with the agency. You, on the other hand…” Marty raised an eyebrow and sat back, unsure whether to be impressed by the logic or offended by the sentiment.
“I left,” Marty conceded. “Therefore, I’m a nobody.”
“A supremely qualified nobody,” Jack added. “You have knowledge and anonymity in spades.” Marty sunk into his chair, his brow rumpled.
“So,” he said, clearing his throat, “what are we…you…hoping to do?” Jack smiled again.
“Rendezvous with Skylab,” he said, “perform an EVA, install some equipment. Simple really.” Marty laughed.
“That ain’t simple, Harrison,” he said, “and you know it. You’ve got to get the bird in the air, get in the right orbit, link up with the thing, presuming it’s even in any kind of shape to be docked with. And, you keep saying I’m qualified, but I’ve never flown.”
“You forgot transposition and docking,” Jack added plainly. Marty arched his eyebrows. “There’s an equipment module we’ll need to take along as well. Something you should be familiar with from Apollo Applications.” Marty shook his head and was about to speak when Jack held up his hands. “You have experience. You have time in the simulators. Okay, so there’s gaps. But you’re already way ahead of me. I’m having to learn all of this now.” Eddison grinned. “And, by the way, did you ever notice your vocabulary shifts when you aren’t interviewing for a job?”
“You’re supposed to go along?” Marty said incredulously. Jack again smiled. “Now I know this is bullshit. No way NASA’d ever let some unqualified bumpkin on one of these flights.”
“You’re right, of course,” Jack said, “but then, I’ve already told you this isn’t NASA.”
“I could tell you that from the digs,” Marty said, waiving his hand around the room.
“Such funds we have,” Jack said, “are being spent on the important things. Launch operations, training, the health of the…” Jack suddenly stopped speaking, and he knitted his brow and touched his lips. Then, picking up the phone, he dialed the number ‘7.’. “Mrs. Cox, please call Mr. Pearson and let him know I’m on my way. Thanks!” He hung up. “Come with me, Marty. There’s something I want you to see.”
“And just where are we going?” Marty asked.
“And I’m going with you why?” Jack looked Marty straight in the eye.
“Because, Mr. McKay, you didn’t join NASA to be a desk
jockey.” Jack put the papers back into
the envelope. “Because
you didn’t get all of that training to teach wet-behind-the-ears undergrads
about math or astronavigation.”
He pulled up a briefcase, the same one he’d carried when he first me
Marty at the Mall in
Marty, shaking his head, stood up and headed for the door. “I still think you’re insane,” Marty said. “I’ll promise to go as far as Dulles. After that…” Jack smiled.
“Good,” he said, “I’ll fill in a few more of the details on the drive. Now, hurry. We have a plane to catch.” Jack hurried Marty out of the room, stopping only long enough to turn out the office light.
The CV-880 jetliner was nearly empty, rows of vacant seats side by side with vacant desks. Marty sat in a comfortable if nondescript chair and looked everything over. Not bad, he thought. I bet Elvis' must be quite something. The engine noise in the cabin, however, was extremely loud. Seems like someone told me these are the same power plants they used on the B-58 Hustler, he thought as he looked out at the smoky engine exhaust.
The bathroom door closed, Jack having gotten up to use the facilities. As a flight attendant walked through the cabin, closing all of the window shades, Marty looked over and spotted Jack's open suitcase and the envelope within it. For a moment, Marty's sense of ethics engaged in combat with his sense of curiosity, and while the war both brief and bloody, curiosity won convincingly.
The envelope was heavy and nearly bursting with documents, the first set of which covered Marty and his career in pretty extensive detail. One that made his heart jump was the picture of his astronaut class from the first day they reported to the agency. Out of the group, a few had flown; Harrison Schmidt had been the most prominent, actually setting foot on the surface of the moon with Apollo 17. Most, however, were toiling away, waiting either for the Space Shuttle or for some other mission, a mission that may never come.
After a few more such documents, however, Marty came upon a memo, one stamped Confidential and Classified several times over. He skipped over the information in the stub, preferring to get straight to the content.
Results of Post-Flight Debriefing, Skylab 4: Mission Commander has been unable to explain actions Director Shepherd termed a "serious error in judgment" concerning motion sickness and vomitous bag. All crew have attributed much of their overall irritability and strained dealings with MOCR to this initial incident—the apparent attempt to hide the evidence of crew member illness and the discovery of their attempt, supposedly through the daily tape dump. Analysis of the debriefing shows continued lack of memory of the pre-docking incident, the existence of which was determined only through transcription of "B Channel" tape dump.
Conclusion: Post-event behavior mostly likely the result of psychological need to "fill in the blanks," to smooth over details forgotten either deliberately or as a result...
"Give me that, please," Jack said as he tore the document from Marty's hands. "I've already told you there are things you just won't be able to know." He threw the papers into the briefcase and scrambled the combination locks.
"Just what was that about?" Marty asked. "Jerry Carr screwed up, big deal. We all knew that, but it was a normal, human thing to do. Shepherd reamed him out on the air-to-ground loop—in public, in the open. What's all this business about Skylab 4?" Jack shook his head.
"I'm not at liberty to discuss that," he said, "and I never will be. I know you don't fully trust me, and I don't blame you one damn bit. But, there are just some things that have to stay a mystery." The plane grew quieter as it decelerated. "Ah, I think we're beginning our decent."
"Into where?" Marty asked, irritation dripping with every letter. Jack winked.
"You'll see," he said before making a sour face. "Ooh, well, actually, come to think of it, you won't see, not initially." Marty threw up his hands.
"Let me guess," he said. "I'm stepping out of this jet and into a windowless van."
"A+," Jack said.
"Yeah," Marty said, "A freakin' plus." The plane executed a left turn as it descended towards its mysterious destination.
We’re Expecting Someone From SETI Later Today
Nightwatch One sliced through the night air. The interior, Simon observed, was decidedly unlike his usual transportation, Nightbird One. While both planes were Canadair Regional Jets, Nightwatch One was considerably less sophisticated. True, the seats were leather, and instead of rows of seats packed together, there were clusters of seats interrupted by work spaces and computer workstations. Still, the distinct resemblance to a commercial airliner was still present.
He tried napping, but as he had found on nearly every plane that wasn’t Nightbird One, Simon couldn’t get comfortable, couldn’t completely trust in the knowledge that, in all likelihood, the plane would not crash without his waking mental energy focused upon the wings.
The cockpit door opened, and a heavy-set man emerged. He was dressed in a black business suit with subtle purple pinstripes. Wrapped around him was a deep-purple cloak. On his head was a black hat with a deep-purple band. The man moved slowly, alternating between holding on to the seats to his right and limping on his left leg, which was obviously causing him pain.
“We should be in
“There’s nothing big enough for us closer to the…er…island, Dr. Eddison?”
“Goodness me, no,” he laughed. “All of them keep coming up a 1,000ft or so short, blast it all. Don’t you worry, Dr. Litchfield,” Eddison said as he struggled over Simon and into the seat next to him. “Don’t you worry at all.” He patted Simon’s shoulder just a touch too hard. “We’ve got innumerable connections in the area. There’s a boat waiting for us in the port. So, all we have to do is get out of the airport alive, dodge the Hare Krishnas and Seventh Day Adventists, and pick up the rental.”
Simon laughed bitterly at how out of date Eddison was. The unpleasantness in 2001 had all but erased most of the religious lurkers from public airports. He almost spoke up but decided to let the matter drop.
“Fortunately,” Eddison continued, “we don’t have to rush too hard. The station isn’t expecting us ‘til morning, and the boat’s ours the whole night. Good thing with this gimpy leg of mine.” Eddison started rubbing the sore leg, almost as if he was trying to force blood to flow in a particular direction.
Simon spoke, "Dr. Eddison, not to be pushy,
but..." Simon sat up and pushed the
brim of his hat from his eyes. "WHY
are we going to this place? What exactly
"Ahhh," Dr. Eddison said,
lighting up with enthusiasm. "Excellent question.
Yes, yes, indeed.
So far, the trip wasn’t helping Simon focus on things other than his own grief, and he was beginning to regret not backing out altogether.
“Well, the state legislature paid a hefty commission for this,” Eddison said. “If they want to throw it out the window with everything else, fine. We’ll deliver what was asked of us and go our merry way. Yes, yes. Right. Good evening.” He replaced the handset and closed the armrest before focusing on a single point at the top of the cabin.
"Ah yes," Eddison said, suddenly full of enthusiasm. "Well, Nightwatch has been operating for quite awhile, yes, quite awhile, and, as you can well appreciate, we haven't always had this nifty-keen technology. Many of our field communications had to be carried out through, um, short-wave radio." Dr. Eddison cleared his throat and looked up towards a space on the ceiling where a television monitor was recessed into the ceiling. "My goodness! I hadn't realized they'd installed the PowerPoint display system!"
"I haven't had to use it often," Simon spoke with barely disguised irritation, "short-wave that is. So why do we still have a short-wave station?" Eddison looked over at Simon. Eddison's gray eyes suddenly widened, and the old man started laughing.
"Sorry," Eddison laughed. "My mind, uh, the little gray cells tend to wander, eh bien?" Simon forced a smile and then considered--strongly--the option of jumping out of the plane. "Anyway, yes, Dr. Litchfield, you are certainly correct. Yes, yes, yes. Most of the time, no matter where our field operatives are in the world, satellite phones will work nicely. But therein lies the rub. Most of the time. So, we maintain shortwave communications capability." Eddison laughed again before wiping his eyes. "Of course, we would be guilty of gross negligence of our fiduciary duties if we paid a full-time staff to man a short-wave transmitter/receiver, so we've added some other capabilities. Heaven knows, I wouldn’t want to give George over in financials a fit."
"Like what?" Simon asked, almost forcing himself to remain interested.
"Well," Eddison continued, "Dr. Mankiller's transferred some of her data processing chores to the personnel there." The mention of Dr. Mankiller nearly threw Simon into a tailspin. She sent me to Chicago, he thought, remembering her message from Jason Frost and her placing Maria's ring on the table in the library. Damnit, Simon, pull yourself together! Get over it! It's all dead and buried, he thought. Simon shook his head, almost as if he were trying to dislodge the feelings running around in circles in his brain. "Really," Simon stammered. "That's interesting."
"In all honesty," Eddison spoke, "I have a hunch that some in her department just want an excuse to vacation down here. Not that I can blame them!" Eddison, again, laughed out loud. "Buh…besides the data processing, we have upgraded some of the communications capabilities there. A laser communications system for instance." Eddison laughed again. "Also, frankly, Dr. Litchfield, we do...erm...intercept the occasional signal down there. Not that we're in the spy game or anything ridiculous like that, but the occasional beneficial signal intercept never hurt anyone!" Eddison laughed again.
"God," Simon said, forcing a laugh, "we've got enough to do without being spies too!"
"In any case," Eddison said, "it was on the new LaserComm system that this...intriguing...message was intercepted." Simon cringed inwardly.
"Just what makes you think that this could be..." Simon made a circle in the air with his finger. Eddison made a theremin-like whistling sound and smiled.
"Little green men, Dr. Litchfield?" Simon shrugged. "It's okay. I've long ago resigned
myself to knowing I picked the most misunderstood hobby of all. However, the signal was intercepted when the
system was being reoriented. It was an accidental intercept...apparently from
deep space. At least, so far, my
analysts haven't been able to correlated it with any
known source. Not that they really knew
what I was asking them to do..."
The Fasten-Seat-Belt sign flashed on.
"And then the boat," Simon spoke as he buckled himself in. "Just how are the seas tonight?"
"Small-craft warnings," Eddison spoke matter-of-factly. "Fairly heavy seas. Fortunately, we're booked on a medium-sized craft. Nothing to worry about at..." He looked forward and suddenly became intrigued by the electronics in front of him. "Well, well, I didn't know we'd ordered these, too." Simon blinked, and while he was growing more and more certain that Dr. Eddison wasn't quite right outside of an analytical context, Simon was certainly beginning to feel distracted, and he was thankful at that point for any distractions he could get.
plane banked as it entered the pattern around
came to a stop in the parking lot of the prosaically named Crystal Coast Data
Processing Center. Litchfield stepped
out, and in the bright sunlight, he clearly looked like what he was--a man who
had not slept well in quite some time.
He was pale, and the dark circles combined with the remnants of the
beating he had taken in
The parking lot and the surrounding grounds were still quite wet from the night's rain, and the entire area became like a sandy hurricane as a heavy wind blew over. Simon's hat nearly flew off to the grassy dunes, but he was able to grab it at the last second.
When the winds calmed, Dr. Eddison climbed out, wincing as he placed weight onto his bad leg, but the look of pain diminished as he propped himself on an ornate, ivory and oak cane. The driver of the car, Gene Kerry, also stepped out, and his blue denim shirt and blue jeans began flapping in the breeze. An older, African-American man stepped out of the building and started walking towards them as well.
When the individual from the station was closer, Simon kneeled down and looked at the surface of the parking lot.
“Cold-mix,” Simon said as he examined the asphalt around the station. “Looks like under-compacted cold-mix at that. Bad choice of aggregates for the surface layer, probably the same for the substrates…” Simon stood up and shook his head. “I’ll need a core sample, but I’m just about positive whoever paved this did a crappy, low budget job. No wonder there’s so much rutting and subsidence.” Simon looked back towards the road. “Of course, I can tell you, none of that surfacing out there—asphalt or cement—is high quality either.”
man reached over to shake Simon’s hand.
"Aaron Murray," he said in a deep, distinguished voice. "You must be Dr. Litchfield."
"Oh yes," Eddison spoke. "Yes indeed! Very nice gentleman. Picked us up promptly at the marina."
"You must have been in quite a hurry to brave a Nor'easter to get here?" Eddison smiled and placed a hand on his hat as the wind whipped up again.
"You have a request in for some renovations, rather urgent from what I understand," Eddison said over the rush of cold, salty air, "and part of my job is to help formulate financial plans for the institute. George Nathan-Gallacio plans the budget, but I examine the consequences of those budgets.” Eddison grinning, and his eyes seemed to twinkle in the morning light. “Believe me, though, I'm delighted that my previously planned excursion coincided with your very interesting news!"
you plucked the right date out of the hat,"
"Only that it appears substandard," Simon replied, "some of the worst that I've seen in a long time, at least in an environment like this one."
"Ahhh," Simon spoke. "Dr. Eddison, at this point I'm not sure, then, that I'd repave at all."
"We'll see," Eddison said as he limped along. "Mr. Murray, when do you think..."
can listen to the signal?"
The interior of the building turned out to be as unimpressive as the outside. Walls of institutional off-white served as a backdrop for plain faux-wood furnishings and metal-framed chairs covered in tasteful if dull light and dark-brown checks. Common prints hung on the wall: the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (back when the black and white striped structure sat precariously near the ocean) as well as images of pelicans and, incongruously, Governor Jim Hunt, who had been out of office since 2000.
I told you folks back in
“Hence the person you sent for from SETI,” Simon interjected. The surroundings were proving quite depressing in their own way, and he tried to force himself out of the mental box he’d locked himself in so much over the previous days. “Do you think we could listen to it now, just to get an idea for what we’re dealing with?”
don’t see why not,”
The control room of the station was the only place in the entire building that seemed up-to-date. New-model computers sat next to a set of sophisticated communications systems. The effect, though, was somewhat muted by the presence of several sets of shortwave radio equipment and their attendant, antiquated knobs, buttons, headsets, and mouthpieces.
stood by one of the modern consoles. Dr.
Eddison sat in a leather chair, his cane propped up
next to him. Kerry stood in the back of
the room next to a paper littered, coffee stained desk while
Bleeps, hisses, and assorted clicks and whirs sang out from the speakers. While the signal was unearthly and nearly unrecognizable as communication, a pattern in the sounds was clear and deliberate if one knew to listen.
In the back of the room, another set of technicians dropped a tool box, startling everyone. Murray and Kerry both shot ugly looks at the offending personnel.
"We're working here!" Gene said. The technicians were all dressed in white coats and black pants which seemed to scream yes, we are the embodiment of stereotypes.
"So are we," one of the technicians said, "but we'll try to keep it down."
who might they be?" Eddison asked as he pointed
to the workers.
"What sort of debt?" Eddison asked. "Nothing," he said dryly, "that has to be paid in cash, I hope."
"We had some technical problems," Gene said. "The primary recording system fried itself just after the signal came in. Normally, Chris would have been the only one here, and there's no way he could have responded quickly enough to contain the problem."
they arrived a day early,"
exclaimed as his face lit up.
"Well, well, well! I ran a
statistical analysis on them, once.” He
"Turn it up just a touch," Simon said quietly to Chris, who nodded and increased the volume. Simon knitted his brow as the recording continued.
"Which was?" Eddison queried.
"He hit the power button," Gene said, smiling. "I don't know about you, but I'd rather have ratty data from an improper shutdown to clean up than no data at all." Eddison laughed, reaching for his handkerchief in the process.
"Indeed," Eddison chuckled, wiping small beads of sweat from his face, "yes indeed. I'm presuming you've made multiple back-ups since then?"
"You bet your ass," Gene said. "So, changing the subject. Dr. Eddison, what do you think of our chances of getting the foundation fixed. You think you and Dr. Litchfield are satisfied that the situation is pretty grim?" Simon suddenly re-engaged with the conversation.
"Mr. Kerry, was it?" Simon asked, looking at Gene. Gene nodded. "I need to stay here for a few days and really dig in to the situation, if Dr. Eddison doesn't mind. I definitely need a couple of core samples from the parking lot."
"No objections," Eddison spoke. He closed his eyes and coughed slightly. "If you don't mind, though, I need to get to our accommodations. My leg is really pulling a number on me today."
"Ah," Dr. Eddison said as he hobbled out. "Does each room come with a personal masseuse, then? A chef? Perhaps full bar complete with bartender? Something they can overcharge the institute for?" The three of them left the room.
"How did you pick up this signal then, my friend?" Simon spoke as he noticeably relaxed, motioning for Chris to turn up the volume again as the signal looped around and around on the recording.
"The new LaserComm system isn't omnidirectional," Chris said. He opened a drawer and pulled out a chart. "It’s very powerful and very precise, almost too precise for its own good. Dr. Mankiller had some data scheduled to come in," he said, pointing to a notation on the paper, "so I was slewing the dish into the proper alignment. The thing is, this stray signal popped up, completely outta nowhere, and since the computer was expecting a signal anyway, it locked on to it."
"Hence our mystery," Simon spoke. Chris placed the chart back into the drawer, and as he was closing it, Simon spotted a couple of books. "You read Thomas Pynchon?" Chris smiled, an almost embarrassed look on his face.
"What can I say," Chris spoke, "I like a challenge."
was Crying of
"I'm still thinking," Chris continued, "that it'll turn out to have a rational explanation. This SETI professor should clear things up for us."
"Probably," Simon spoke again, "probably. Still, let me get a copy of this. I want to give this whole thing a little more thought."
"Just ask Mr. Murray," Chris said, motioning with his thumb to the hallway. "He's got copies stashed away everywhere but the men's room."
"Can't blame him, can you?" Simon asked as he stood up. Oh well, Simon thought, better keep up the pretext. "Well, let me take a look around here, see what kind of structural problems I can find."
you do want to check the men's
room," Chris said as the technicians on the other side of the room dropped
a wrench. "There's a crack in the
ceiling the size of
"Thanks for the tip," Simon spoke as he doffed his hat. He passed through the exit and into a short hallway, and then opened a door that had been cleverly marked with the letters 'XY.' Simon immediately saw the large crack on the ceiling, and as he moved a little further into the bathroom, he saw a series of small fractures in the floor tiling as well. It certainly is subsiding, he thought after running some mental calculations. They could be in trouble. Simon smiled and laughed despite himself, marveling at how easily he could slip into his 'normal' persona of the respectable civil engineer.
But what the hell is normal, anyway, he asked himself, and almost as quickly as it came, the good feeling he'd started to get vanished into the recesses of his mind. Simon turned for the sink, turning on the cold water tap. He cupped his hands under the water and then leaned forward to bring it to his face. Then, he grabbed a paper towel and blotted off the excess moisture. Simon was reaching for the handle when he was caught short by his reflection in the water-spotted mirror.
He looked like a ghost. Just like her, he thought. Worse than her. A shadow, a fragment... "A shard," he whispered. Broken and jagged.
The Last Ones Were Built in 1968: January 26, 1977
A shard of light cascaded into the darkened hanger, and the shadows of two figures stretched nearly as far as the light. The two entered slowly before disappearing in the darkness. Seconds later, the sound of lever being thrown echoed, and, slowly, the sodium lights suspended from the ceiling began their lengthy warming up. As the lights came up, Marty—who was dressed in a while coat, his head, shoes, and hands covered in protective covering and gloves—found himself walking towards a sight he never expected to see again.
The first stage of a Saturn IB was an odd contraption. However, the odd-looking rocket had been designed to elegantly skirt the financial constraints the Army's Redstone Arsenal had labored under in the late 1950s. The bulk of the S-IB was comprised of eight cylindrical fuel tanks from the relatively small Redstone rocket. The tanks, easily visible on the stage, were clustered around a much larger central tank taken from the Juno rocket. All of these fed eight engines arranged in two diamonds on the bottom of the stage. The inner diamond provided thrust only. The four engines of the outer diamond provided thrust as well, but the engines could also gimbal, providing steering capability after launch for the entire Saturn IB stack.
"Cluster's Last Stand," Marty said in disbelief. He walked towards the stage, which was on its side and secured in a giant cradle. He stopped as his hand rested on one of the angular stabilization fins at the base of the rocket. Above him was one of the outboard H-1 engines, one of the most powerful engines of its days though dwarfed in comparison by the later F-1 of the Saturn V. The nozzle was protected by a giant red covering. Scanning upwards, Marty took in the image, something he hadn't seen since his final weeks with NASA. Jack walked up behind him.
"What was that about a last stand?" Jack asked.
one thought the bird would fly," Marty said. He walked forward, taking in the entire
length of the stage, noting to his delight that the letters ‘
Jack followed behind, looking over the stage with admiration. "The last ones were built in 1968 and then stored away. Engines, S-IBs, spares, everything. Is Chrysler even in the rocket business anymore?"
"No," Marty said in a somewhat distracted tone. "I think they sold their aerospace division to..." He shook his head. "I...I don't really know who bought it to tell the truth." He walked the full 25 meters of the stage and then around to the top where the full effect of the clustered tanks could be viewed, the small ones for RP-1 kerosene, and the large central tank for liquid oxygen. Marty looked to his right and saw another stage in a cradle, and in a half-walk, half-jog, he went to see it.
"Marty McKay," Jack said as he caught up, "meet the S-IVB."
know, I know," Marty said, “we’ve met before.” Again, he walked 18 meters of the stage,
stopping at the single, giant J-2 engine mounted at the end. "Someone explain to me how these things are here." Marty looked around, closed his eyes, then opened them again.
Jack laughed. "Yeah," he said, "over there in the dark." He pointed towards an unlit portion of the hanger. "I didn't turn the lights on over there because the nice young men in their clean white coats don't want to be seen!" Marty squinted his eyes, and he could just make out a few individuals nearly engulfed in darkness.
"Where the Instrument Unit?" he asked, his skepticism beginning to boil away like liquid hydrogen.
"In a somewhat cleaner environment," Jack said. “There’s a clean room on the other side of the main wall.” Marty nodded and then pointed towards the near-invisible workers.
"They know," he said, "that I'm gonna wanna look at the plumbing, right?" Jack made a thumbs-up sign.
"I wouldn't believe it either," Jack said cheerfully, "unless I could climb up there and kick the tires. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re happy about you running around their engines, but…" Jack cocked his head towards the opposite end of the hanger. "Follow me. There's something else I want to show you." Jack walked towards the dimmer light, and Marty followed. Even in the semi-darkness, however, Marty could recognize the outer door of a vacuum chamber. He slowed down, unsure of whether to believe that this was happening. Jack disappeared through the door, and Marty heard another lever being thrown, saw another set of sodium lights warming up, and, finally, saw the top of another thing he never expected to see again.
Marty’s jaw dropped. Jack, laughing lightly, found a chair and sat down.
The Apollo Command and Service Module was mounted in the chamber, its giant engine bell near the floor, up to the main cylinder of the service module, up to the evenly spaced ‘quad’ of maneuvering thrusters, up to the cone of the actual capsule. Protective coverings were over all engine nozzles and other ports as well as the docking portion of the capsule. The entire 11 meters of the CSM, save for the engine bell and the white and yellow colored radiators, was a uniform, reflective silver.
“There’s no power, of course,” Jack spoke from his seat. “None of the external electrical connections are in place, and the tanks are dry. Otherwise, though, CSM-115A is a flight-ready article.” Marty, still dumb-founded by the sight, walked the circular catwalk around the CSM. Everything looked right, and while he knew that looks could definitely be deceiving, none of what was before him “smelled” wrong.
“Jack,” he called from across the room, “what the hell is happening here? How is this possible?” Jack smiled.
“You’ll want a look inside the capsule as well,” Jack said matter-of-factly. “Now, that will take some persuading on my part. They really didn’t want us in here until they had everything ready for the initial vacuum tests, but I know what’s going through your mind.” Marty shook his fist above his head.
“Like hell you do!” Marty yelled. “I don’t think you’ve one damn idea of what’s going through my head.” He pointed to the CSM. “This isn’t possible. By any measure of logic, this is a figment of my imagination.” He laughed loudly. “You’re damn right I want to see the inside of the capsule! And when it turns out to be real…”
“You’ll sign up for the trip?” Jack added helpfully. Marty grinned widely.
“God help me,” he said. “I’m getting ready to agree to something I understand NOTHING about. Is that crazy?” Jack stood up, blinking hard as he did.
“Probably,” Jack said enthusiastically, “but, by golly, it’s one hell of a way to go off your nut! Anyway, come with me. We’ll grab a bite in the cafeteria while our busy bees get everything ready for your inspection. After that, we’ll talk, Marty. Yes, indeed, we shall talk.” As the two of them left the room, Marty turned back and looked one last time at the CSM. Grinning again, he left to follow Jack, wherever the man would go.
To Be Continued…
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