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  • MENACE FROM SPACE part two

    Okay, I’m leaving out the Mr. Lao bits today- they come across as confusing out of context. Also, if you read the text pages of the Agents of Atlas miniseries, you’ll catch parts of this serial that were referred to. Back to our story!-JP

    ______________________________________________________________

    “What’s shakin’ Bob. Are those slide-rule jockeys hep on how to make rockets yet?” Jimmy asked.

    “They have a ways to go,” Bob Grayson answered with a grin. “Everyone’s still sweating over the Sputnik satellite program the Soviets are running. I told them the first one didn’t have anything more than a simple transmitter that pinged out the temperature, but those fellows at NASA are working around the clock anyway.”

    Realization landed on the face of one of the visiting agents. “Say, with you pitching in, we could have men up in space– on the moon in no time!” said Agent Derskin, suddenly rapt in thought. “Wow, the Ruskies would probably kill to have their own spaceman.”

    Bob lowered the intensity of his usual smile, indicating he was about to be serious for a moment. “Astronaut is the term they use at the Flight Center, actually, and-”

    “Star sailor?” asked Venus.

    “Yes,” said Marvel Boy. “…I don’t actively show the scientists how to build anything. Mostly I let them know when they’re on a trail that’s leading to dangerous results. Which is often. They’re pretty eager to get the Space Agency up and running, and the test pilots who have signed on to be the first astronauts are fearless. They’d throw themselves into orbit with a giant trebuchet if they could.”

    “Hah-ha, my kinda guys!” laughed Gorilla Man, busily scribbling his pencil on forms for tomorrow’s Kentucky Derby. “Heck, I’m just gonna put everything on Tim Tam, he looks good. Still, we ain’t ever gonna see the likes of Citation again. Now that was a horse! Wonder how late that bookie is up.”

    Unfettered by Ken Hale’s non-sequiter, Agent Derskin returned to Marvel Boy. “You can’t let those commies get ahead of us in the Space Race! Why don’t you just show ‘em the plans to your own rocket, the Silvery… Missile..?”

    “Silver Bullet,” replied Marvel Boy, now quite serious. ” Look sir, I know the country is gripped hard by the fear of the Reds, but I assure you they’re not ahead of the United States with their technology. They’re just being less careful. I’ll pipe up to keep good men from dying, sure. But it’s incredibly dangerous to give people technological advancements they weren’t ready to discover on their own. The people of Uranus will decide when they want to share their technology with people of Earth.”

    “Yeah, but you’re from Earth, right?” Derskin’s face grew more flushed. ” I mean, you’re still an American, ain’t ya?”

    “Legally speaking, I’m not a citizen of any country. I could pursue citizenship, but it might be tricky. If my father had never taken me from Earth, I’d be a German.”

    Derskin’s eyes bulged. “A German! No wonder you don’t have any loyal–”

    The words hung in the agent’s throat, stopped as his collar pulled up against his adam’s apple. He became aware that a gorilla was holding him in the air by the back of the neck. “Son, I’d remember who’s office I was in,” said Ken. ” Especially seeing how that window is still open.”

    Jimmy Woo got up from his desk. “I think you guys can head back to Washington, we can take it from here.”

    After the men left, Jimmy drifted over near the ape, again engrossed in his betting forms.

    “Ken, your expertise as a mercenary might be a help here.”

    Even under the massive brow, Gorilla Man’s eyes could be seen to roll in weariness. “I prefer Soldier of Fortune, thanks. Mercenaries will fight anyone for the right price. I like to think I’ve been a little more particular.”

    “We’d all like to think that,” Venus added with a big sweet smile. That was as close as she had ever come to a verbal jab, but the light teasing lowered Gorilla Man’s hackles. As far as anyone could tell, Venus was mostly incapable of delivering sarcasm, though she did appreciate it.

    “Sorry Ken, I get terms confused sometimes. I mean heck, you fought with us in Mongolia out of national loyalty with no promise of compensation. There’s no question about your principles, big guy- you’ve got plenty.”

    Ken put down his list of horses and raised up on his knuckles to have a look at the photos Jimmy Woo held. He seemed embarrassed that Jimmy felt it necessary to apologize.

    “Let’s have a look at those. I don’t know that I’ll be any real help.

    “Well look at this,” Jimmy offered. “This looks military-”

    “That’s a Coast Guard Cutter,” Ken blurted. His massive hands began flipping through the photos rapidly. And that’s a PT 728… that one’s an old PT boat too…”

    “So, do they have anything in common?”

    “They’re all pretty fast,” the ape replied, “and they all have cargo holds. My experience? Smugglers like to use vessels like this.”

    Jimmy turned to Marvel Boy. “Bob, do you think your rocket could track the equipment on any of these ships?”

    “Not likely. There’s nothing about the technology here- as I can see it- that would differentiate it enough to track just by its makeup. Your engineers are starting to use transponders on aircraft, but I doubt these ships would have them. Eventually you’ll probably have them in all vehicles working with a system of tracking satellites. Then any pilot or skipper will know their exact coordinates at all times.” Bob Grayson realized that he’d digressed into what Jimmy called “Criswelling” once again. The speculations were interesting but not always helpful, so he wrapped up his musing. “For now though, all you have is a Russian metal ball that pings.”

    “We’ll get cracking at six,” said Jimmy. “Everybody go visit the Sandman- we need to be rested up.”

    “Let me go phone this in,” said Gorilla Man, loping off with his Derby picks. Everyone but the robot soon left the top floor office and went to their private suites in the old Federal Building. M-11 stepped out of the large window onto the ledge and walked to the corner of the structure. His head pivoted methodically from side to side as he scanned the city for criminal activity. After five minutes at one corner he walked the ledge to the next and scanned from there. This would continue until daybreak.

    * * *

    Jimmy Woo found himself walking down a corridor, though the details of his surroundings were hidden by mists. He thought of how unreal it all felt and then realized he was dreaming. Attempts to pinch himself seemed to hurt, but he was still certain that he was in deep sleep. It occurred to him to try to fly- he had been able to do so before when Venus explained the concept of lucid dreaming to him. Then he realized he would hit his head on the ceiling of the corridor. He walked a bit further before remembering that the corridor was still a dream, and that if he were in control of things, it wouldn’t stop him from flying. He began to raise his arms and concentrate when he became aware of movement at his feet. Two large boa constrictors were slithering around him, winding ever closer. Looking up quickly he saw a murky form move closer to him from down the corridor. At ten feet away it became clear that the form was a human skeleton, walking as steadily as if it had complete musculature. Which of course, it did not. Jimmy not only could not fly, but he also couldn’t move– the two snakes had worked up his body and had him held fast. The skeleton walked closer until its skull was inches away from Jimmy’s face. No part of his body could move. He could only see the black of the cavernous eye sockets and hear a constant thumping. The thumping was steady enough that Jimmy thought it was his heart, and something in the back of his mind told him that it was knocking at the door of his suite. Opening his eyes confirmed this, and he raced over to open the door and thank M-11 for waking him.

    Thirty minutes later after coffee and a half-toasted bagel, Jimmy Woo grabbed his overcoat off the rack. “Okay, the bad guys aren’t going to come to us, so let’s do some footwork and see what shakes loose.”

    “Should I start up The Silver Bullet?” asked Marvel Boy, eager to be more help.

    “Nah, we’re taking the Ed. One of the boats was snatched from Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, that’s only a few minutes drive. Especially at this hour, no one’s on the road yet.”

    The five agents entered the dedicated freight elevator outside the office and descended to the basement garage. As the metal doors slid apart a slight reflective outline gleamed from “The Ed,” the 1958 Convertible Edsel that Jimmy requisitioned upon the group’s return to the States. The car was big enough to accommodate a party of five that included a rather bulky robot and a mountain gorilla. It had also been the suggested choice of Marvel Boy, who found all fuel-combustion engine vehicles primitive, but did acknowledge that this model at least showed some innovation. Soon the auto was rolling down Divisadero Street and towards the bay.

    Ken Hale’s large nostrils took in the smells of the shore. “Love that salt air. Look into that blue. It’s been a long time since I was out on the high seas. Now that’s living. Well, maybe not for the tin woodsman back there, he might rust solid.” Venus looked at the robot with concern. Sitting in the back seat, M-11 was so inert that it was easy to imagine he was merely a Hollywood prop, or perhaps some part of the car itself.

    “M-11 can’t corrode anymore,” said Marvel Boy. “I converted all the metal of his frame to a Uranian alloy that won’t bond with oxygen. I can’t think of many natural forces on Earth that could degrade his body.”

    Ken Hale scratched at his massive brow as Jimmy Woo smiled. “See Bob, that’s what we on Earth call a joke. Granted, I’m no Sid Caesar, but I’m just havin’ a laugh at our one-eyed pal.” Marvel Boy slid down in his seat a bit and pretended to pay no attention to the gorilla. One of his favorite things about being on Earth was the admiration and respect most people showed him. A few minutes of interaction with Gorilla Man always reminded him that he was still young and quite literally grew up in a bubble. Since joining Jimmy Woo’s team, Grayson was excited to be out in a larger world with it’s vast lands and people so he could get the kinds of experience unattainable in the controlled environment of the Uranian Colony. Yet the worldly wise Hale constantly made him realize how far he still had to go. The resentment drifted away quickly with a pleasant melody that made any more barbed talked seem ridiculous. Perhaps inspired by the view of the Pacific Ocean, Venus was humming Bali Ha’i. Jimmy’s made an extra effort to control the steering wheel. “Man, I usually think musicals are for squares, but then you make the song really go. You oughta cut a record, V.”

    Venus smiled with genuine modesty. “Aw, I’m not that good, Jimmy. Anyway, it would be kind of like cheating– but who knows? Maybe just a recording of me wouldn’t have the same kick.”

    Hale rapped his knuckles on the bench seat. “Huh. It never occurred to me to try that. Boy, if we could broadcast your effect over the Voice of America transmitters…”

    “Maybe we could create world peace!”

    “Uh… I was thinking we could stymie the Soviets, but yeah- same thing.”

    Bob’s confidence returned. “It wouldn’t work, unfortunately. Any more than pleasant music already calms people down. I’ve watched how Venus affects men we go up against. Her proximity determines the potency of the effect, so I think her biology figures heavily into it.”

    “I’ll say it does,” said Jimmy, winking into the rear view mirror. Venus gave the back of his head a playful swat as everyone except M-11 enjoyed a laugh. Soon the Edsel was entering the main gate of the Naval Shipyards. Jimmy kept trying to show the guard his FBI identification card, but the young ensign couldn’t stop staring at the unlikely group of passengers. His stare widened more as the gorilla in the front seat started speaking, and he realized the ape was in fact, addressing him.
    “Close that mouth son, you might swallow a bug. What, you haven’t seen an Edsel before?”
    “Ah…no, I–”

    “Check your day schedule,” Jimmy said helpfully.”I let Petty Officer Arlidge know we were coming a while ago.”

    The guard looked over at the flagged note. “Oh…yes. Yes, go right in, sir.”
    The convertible motored into the shipyard and eventually stopped at Dock 7, where the Coast Guard Cutter Cape Hedge had been taken. The group piled out of the car, which raised noticeably when M-11 stepped out at last.

    “You were a Navy man weren’t you, Ken?” Jimmy asked. Ken ambled along pleasantly, watching all the activity around the yard. “Naw. I was in the Merchant Marine though. I’ll tie any knot you want. Alright, let’s get this caper cracked by midday so I can go down to the bar and watch the race.”

    “Feeling antsy, Ken?” asked Venus.

    “Yeah… I think I put a little too much dough down on that horse. Ahh. Too late now.”

    “Ken, I gave you a formula three weeks ago that would predict Equine victory eight out of ten times. If you would follow that-”

    “Thanks kid, but I couldn’t make heads or tails outta that. It’s all Greek to me. I just put it up on my wall and called it modern art.” The team continued walking in shadow, and Gorilla Man looked up at what cast it- a large aircraft carrier in for repairs.

    “It’s just math- the universal language,” explained Marvel Boy in a louder voice to compete with the nearby sound of a motor.

    “I thought love was the universal language.” countered Venus.

    “Impossible. There are cultures that don’t have the concept of love.”

    “Well I wouldn’t want to meet any of those folks!” the silvery-haired woman returned, aghast at the very idea. Her hair was blowing towards the bay and briefly laid down as the breeze died. Now the sound of propellers could be heard growing louder. Almost as one the team turned to see a P-51 Mustang reach the edge of the Carrier and continue down towards them. It was already so close they could see that the pilot in the cockpit was a skeleton.

    Comments

    Comment from patrick hulman
    Time: March 11, 2008, 12:56 pm

    damn them coors commericals. everytime i read Silver Bullet that stupid commerical pops in my head.

    so theres a second AoA coming out huh?can you tell us when the general public will see a listing for it.