Monday, September 21, 2009

SUPPLEMENT #5 -- "Days of Night"

Tick. . . tick. . . tick. . . tick. . .

Jonas looked over at the taller man, and raised an annoyed eyebrow.

“Gotta check for the best spot, man. Don’t want the alarms going off on us.” The taller man, a former Master Sergeant named Lewis, answered the look before he resumed tapping the index finger of his right hand onto the glass door.

“Twenty says the alarms aren’t even active anymore. This place has been closed since about a month after L.A., man.”

“Please, the kind of treasure they got inside here, oh, I guarantee the alarms work. Besides, Lee said we had to get this thing with as absolute little fuss as possible. Hell, man saved my life, least I can do is not pull a smash-and-grab on a historic landmark, you know?”

“Just hurry it up, my balls are freezing.” Jonas comments, glancing all around him as if there was an army about to spring across the weed-strewn parking lot.

“Man, am I glad you weren’t at the Battle of Neryugn. Jumpy little bastard,” Lewis comments with a half grin as the screen on his right sleeve beeps.

“Bingo,” the larger man comments, pulling open the metal-framed glass door with the etching of some ancient aircraft on it.

“After you, monsieur,” he comments, bowing and pointing the shorter man into this part of the building, which appears to have once been a cafeteria and gift shop.

“Some days I really hate you, bro,” the shorter man comments, stroking his slim black goatee while his brown eyes scan the room they have entered.

Lewis retracts the probes from the door lock and stows them back inside his fatigues’ pocket before running a hand over his buzzcut. He walks up behind the younger man, who seems to be looking around as if lost.

“This way, hotshot. Please don’t tell me you’re lost already,” Lewis mutters with a shake of his head, leading the other man to the connected walkway towards the portion of the site they are looking for.

Once standing in the massive museum’s fifth hangar, still in remarkably good condition considering that it has been abandoned for almost ten years, the two men split up to find their goal, flitting amongst the almost spooky forms of the aircraft on display, now shrouded in perpetual darkness.

The museum was designed to let in very little outside light, as it could damage the historic aircraft, and the indoor lights had been shut down years ago. Strangely, however, the temperature in the hangar still seemed to be in the 70s, even though it was below freezing outside.

“Did Lee tell you WHERE this thing is supposed to be in here?” Jonas asks facetiously, meeting up with Lewis beneath the triangular shape of the 30-plus-year-old B-2A, the world’s first stealth bomber.

“He said in the old Innovations Gallery. That’s this place, where all the advances and prototypes were stored when this place was still open to the public. See, there are the F-23 and F-22 prototypes, over there is the ShadowKnight UAV demonstrator. . . oops. There it is. Uh. . .” Lewis trails off, seeing the one-of-a-kind vehicle that led to the creation of the Razor line of vehicles.

Though much smaller than the current Razors, the lineage is immestakeable. Painted in a dark grey Radar Absorbing material, the vehicle has a 360 degree swiveling camera on the roof, fairings and strakes along the body to help create downforce at the 170-mph speeds it is capable of, and bulletproof glass and body panels. Rumor had it at the time of its rollout that it could be remotely controlled like a UAV or used as a rolling command post. Lewis is sure that this is what Chris Lee and his 47 Echo have in mind for it, some sort of stealthy recon vehicle.

The only problem is, the Vapor Challenger, and its counterpart X-1 Mustang, are on a raised platform some fifteen feet of the ground, directly behind the XC-99’s high wing.

“Shit,” Jonas mutters succinctly. “How are we gonna get that thing down, again?”

“Ever seen the 'Dukes of Hazzard?'” Lewis asks with a grin.

“No. I was born in 1992, jackass. You go kill yourself, I’m going to go get that access door open,” Jonas points to the southwest corner of the massive building, then starts jogging that way.

“Well, I guess I can ignore the ‘no climbing on the displays’ signs, like I always wanted to do when I was a kid and dad brought me here,” Lewis mutters to himself, crawling onto the wing of an F-35C and using its additional height to boost himself up to grab a handhold on one of the XC-99’s ending intakes.

After a few moments of groaning and clanging around, he has hauled himself onto the wing and jogs across it, leaps onto, then over the fuselage, and down the length of the other massive wing before stepping onto the platform holding the revolutionary concept vehicles.

Well, "revolutionary" when they came out in 2009, at least.

Now comes the tricky part. In order to enter the Vapor, he has to pass a biometric scan to get the Lamborghini-style scissor doors open.

And, of course, it would have to be with his right hand.

Muttering to himself, Lewis affixes diodes to the fingertips of his black gloves and syncs their wireless, sending to the screen mounted on his coat sleeve. He then closes his eyes and touches his hand to the scanner imbedded in the door frame.

With a “whoosh” right out of an Enterprise door, the Vapor’s driver’s side door rotates upward and locks open with a “click” that sounds extremely loud in the silent aircraft mausoleum.

Lewis sits in the Vapor’s cockpit, looking for a key. Nothing. There is a thumbprint scanner near where the normal ignition would be, however.

“Worked once. . .” he comments aloud before pressing his diode-equipped right thumb onto the small square.

The massively modified hydrogen-powered Hemi V8 growls to life, the noise shattering the silence in the hangar until Lewis finds the engine suppressant, or “Stealth mode” button, and the vehicle quiets down to a faint purr.

Lewis grins to himself, then looks over the Shaker scoop in the hood, estimating distances. Not liking what he sees, he looks out the door at the space behind him and grins. Another five feet before the rear end would hit the hangar wall.

Lewis rotates the door closed once again and turns on the Vapor’s proximity sensors before dropping the manual transmission into reverse.

The car, riding on its carbon-fiber bulletbroof wheels and tires, is so silent that he doesn’t even realize he is moving until the proximity sensor beeps, notifying him he is within six inches of the wall. He stabs the four-wheel ceramic disc brakes and the Vapor stops so swiftly he is almost tossed out of the seat, his hand scrabbling for a handhold and grasping the ejection handle.

As soon as he notices that both seats in the Vapor are also ejection seats, Lewis pulls his fingers slowly off the handle so as not to activate the rocket underneath him.

Taking a deep breath, Lewis punches in commands on one of the three massive plasma touchscreens in front of him, and the hangar ahead of him takes on a ghostly green tinge as the whole windshield enhances in Night Vision mode.

I’m driving a kickass KITT, he thinks joyfully while shifting into first gear and placing both hands firmly on the control yoke, his left thumb over the “boost” button.

An experienced driver, Lewis is able to do an old F1-style launch, starting the vehicle off at a high velocity with almost no wheelspin on the rear drive wheels. Within a second of releasing the brake, the Vapor is racing along the top of the XC-99’s wing, heading for the large hump of the fuselage ahead of him.

Once he's almost certain he is going to slam into the fuselage, Lewis hits the boost button, and four small JATO-style rockets under the chassis fire, lifting the Vapor into the air and over the fuselage.

Unfortunately, it is also at an angle that misses the trailing edge of the opposite wing as well, and the Vapor sails over the XC-99’s pusher propellers and into open space as the JATO pods shut off.

“Ok. . . not good,” Lewis mutters as the nose-heavy Vapor starts to drop.

“Man, he’s gonna kill it. And me,” Jonas mutters, having gotten the door open enough to walk under, and seeing the dark gray form of the Vapor hurtling out of the air towards him.

At the last possible moment, Jonas dives out of the way, landing in the grass just past the hangar, and thereby not seeing the amazing landing his partner later takes credit for.

The landing had nothing to do with Lewis, and everything to do with the Vapor’s onboard AI-driven supercomputer and its self-preservation programming. Once the Vapor’s proximity sensors calculate the vehicle is within two yards of the ground, the front and rear JATO pods underneath the vehicle ripple-fire in a predetermined order, not unlike the landing thrusters on the Apollo LM's, and straighten out the vehicle’s trajectory so that is hits the polished museum floor and continues out the door without so much as a larger jolt before Lewis slews it to a sliding stop.

“Door,” Lewis comments to the younger man, then heads the Vapor towards the front of the abandoned National Museum of the United States Air Force, pulling the sleek grey car smoothly to a stop and waiting for his partner to catch up.

Lewis pops the passenger door open nearly as soon as the Vapor has quit moving, and has gotten his breathing back under control by the time Jonas has re-closed the door and dashed back through the museum to the entrance they had come in through.

The two men settle into the Vapor’s bucket ejection seats, and Lewis starts up the onboard navigation systems and integrated MP3 player. On the nav system, he imputs the marshalling base in Indiana where the C-5 will be waiting to take them and the Vapor to Russia to meet up with the members of 4-7 Echo.

Poison’s “Stupid Stoned and Dumb” starts up over the hidden speakers in the cabin.

“You’re not seriously gonna subject me to this shit, are you?” Jonas asks, looking over the man in the driver’s seat plaintitively.


“You’re such a bitch.”

Grunting a reply, Lewis moved his right arm forward, grasping his hand around the Vapor’s control yolk on his side.

Jonas just stared at the gleaming silver jutting out from the seam between Lewis’s black glove and black utilities. No matter how many times he’d seen it, the gleaming bio-prosthetic always caught his attention.

Of course, being his younger brother, Jonas knew Lewis had lost the arm back in the Battle of Neryugn a couple of months back, but, except for short cryptic replies, the older man never talked about it or the unit of convicts that had hauled his ass out of the fire.

Maybe now I’ll find out first-hand, Jonas thinks, itching to be a part of the fighting he was sure the Vapor was destined for.

If he only knew.

© 2009 Brian Kupfer

Thursday, September 17, 2009

SUPPLEMENT #4.5: "Dark Side of the Moonracer"

Jenny saw red when she emerged from her bedroom the next morning to find Rick snoring on the sofa and a half-full glass of flat beer leaving a ring on her cherrywood coffee table.  She was about to kick him awake when an extra shadow falling from the mantle over the fireplace caught her eye.  Standing there, among the picture frames and candlesticks, was a little girl, about two years old by the look of her.  Jenny began to dart across the room, making it halfway there before she stopped short and realized that of course, the child was a statue, bearing unmistakable signs of Rick's hand in its creation.
"I think she came out all right," came Rick's sleep-thickened call from behind her.

"She's beautiful," Jenny whispered, reaching out to touch the perfect pink dress, the perfect matching ribbons at the ends of the perfect pigtails. "Perfect."

Rick started to protest, but stopped as he was struck by how like Jenny the statue's face really was.  It was a child's face, to be sure, but was in every way a tiny Jenny.

"You know," he said, "I think you're right."
Though it was inadvertent on his part, having set out to merely create a little girl such as the one who might have lived in that forsaken room where he'd found the weird metal doll that was now the statue's skeleton, it seemed that what Rick had crafted was a peace-envoy.  Now that Jenny had a child that was part her and part Rick, she was able to admit that her bout of baby frenzy was motivated by nothing so much as sibling rivalry.  With life rapidly returning to normal, Jenny suggested that they go out for breakfast to really get the day off to the right start.

"...and really," she said over her second cup of coffee, unable to stray from the topic for long, "she'll be the one jealous in the end, with a kid that won't make a peep all night or cause any disruption whatsoever, for that matter.  What should we name her, do you think?"

Rick had been phasing in and out of the chatter, but choked on his coffee at that last.  Was she serious about this?  "What do you mean, name it?  What for? It's just a doll."  Jenny glared at him, making him fear for a second that the cease-fire was over.

"Every doll has a name," she said, injecting a full dose of Don't-Talk-To-Me-Like-I'm-Stupid into every word.

"Not every one," he answered as blandly as he could manage.  "The doll on the Island of Misfit Toys didn't have a name.  Now I think of it, none of the toys had names."

"Charlie-in-the-box!" she fired back.

"Yeah, and no one wants a Charlie-in-the-box."

The settling of mugs on saucers was thunderous.

"Fine-Okay, name it-it doesn't have to, whatever you-if you think it's--"


"You first," Jenny ordered.

Rick smiled.  "Name it--her whatever you like."



"How about Ilsa," she volunteered, a trifle too brightly.

He winced and said, "you know Ilsa and Rick were lovers, right?"

"Oh.  Well, Isabella, then.  For Ingrid Bergman's daughter.  How's that?  I think your dad would like it."

"Works for me."


Jenny wailed.  They'd arrived home to find the little plaster girl broken on the hardwood floor.

"Don't worry," Rick said, "I'll fix her."

When he stood Isabella up on his workbench to survey the damage, he found that it wasn't as bad as it had seemed at first.  The sculpting compound he'd used was naturally resistant to cracking, and the only true breakage was at the joints.  At the hips and knees, the cracks went all the way through to the metal bones underneath, as if someone had tried to twist the legs off or make the doll run.  Now there was an idea, Rick thought.  Instead of repairing the wounds in the "flesh," what if he worked with them and made Isabella a little more lifelike, with articulated limbs?  A quick inspection informed him that the skeleton inside would support that concept so, satisfied with the genius of his idea and eager for his wife's anticipated delight, he got to work.

A few hours later, Jenny was all smiles once more, taking delight in sitting Isabella next to her on the sofa, and dancing her around the dining room table.  Rick observed this with amusement, though it was tempered with a twinge of worry over what he felt was truly bizarre behavior for a grown woman.  Eventually, though, it got late, and even a new toy such as Isabella couldn't keep Jenny's eyelids from drooping forever.  While Rick went about locking the doors and turning off the lights, Jenny placed Isabella reverently upon the mantle once more and joined her husband.

Rick woke once in the night and swore aloud when he tripped over the lifelike doll, lying as she was right outside the bedroom door.  He tossed Isabella on the sofa, continued to the bathroom, then went back to bed, vowing to give Jenny a piece of his mind.  If she was going to regress to the age of six while she played with a doll, fine, but she could at least be a responsible six-year-old and put her toys away when she was done.  He briefly contemplated waking her up to share in his crankiness, but ultimately decided he'd get his chance in the morning.

He was wrong.  The guys with guns showed up in the morning.  Strike that.  The big, scary guys who hated Asians and had government-issued authority to use whatever tactics deemed necessary showed up in the morning.  All thoughts of irritation at Jenny were long forgotten as she clung to him, vibrating with the effort of keeping her tears at bay while they were informed that they'd be vacating the premises immediately.  No, not in a day so they could pack their things.  Not in an hour so they could shower and change clothes.  They would vacate the premises immediately.  As the MP was telling them for the last time, no one noticed the sound of a pair of feet not clad in heavy boots marching through the house.

Rick saw no merit to arguing.  He gently but firmly hauled his wife with him out the front door, doing his best to ignore the red dots from laser sights that were dancing on their backs as they went.  When they'd joined their neighbors on the sidewalk, the guns began to lower.  Jenny turned for one last look.

"Isabella!" she screamed.

"Are you crazy?" Rick hissed, but followed Jenny's pointing finger to a shadow moving past the MP standing in the front doorway.  He had no time to marvel at the doll's impossibly outstretched arms or wonder how he'd missed whatever motorized components propelled it forward.

"What the fuck?"

Suddenly the laser lights had a new stage to dance upon.  The soldier who'd shouted started to laugh, then Isabella took a clockwork step forward.  He drew and fired in one seamless motion.  Isabella took another step.  When the magazine was empty, they all stared, soldier and civilian alike at the toddler's corpse, watching as the plaster dust settled upon her, white against the pooling red.

© 2009 Heather Harris

Monday, September 14, 2009

SUPPLEMENT #4: "Pandora's Toybox"

A broken doll doesn't care who threw it away. It makes no difference to it who tossed it out the car window to get soaked by the rain in the gutter.  It's only a toy, and a toy has neither compassion nor contempt for the sad sighs cast in its direction by passersby.  It's only a lifeless thing, and it makes no difference to it whether or not it was loved by its former owner.  A human being is different.  He can love a thing, even if it doesn't love him back. 

Rick walked among the piles of discarded scrap-iron and shrapnel that had replaced the wildflowers and birdhouses of peacetime.  He walked the same streets he'd been walking every day of the twenty-odd years since he'd taken his first steps.  He walked them because, though they'd changed, they were still his streets, and his father's streets, and his grandfather's streets.  His great-grandfather had walked them as an immigrant, and had found them as alien as bird would find the bottom of the ocean. Even back then, he'd sized up the look of things in South Korea and decided it was not where he wanted to build his family.  The ancestor never got used to the sounds and smells of his new home, but he never revealed this to the son his wife would deliver a month after they moved.  His son was born American and raised American, with a good American name, from a good American film, as would his son be, and his son after that.  By the time Richard Blaine Kim III left for his daily walk, leaving behind his own wife in the house that now belonged to him, it was his turn to look around him and wonder how any sane individual would consider raising a child in such a place.

She was crazy, Rick decided.  From their first date, Jin Ae had been in total agreement with him on the topic of having children. Despite the protests of their respective parents, neither of them saw parenthood in their own futures.  "You say that now," his mother would always chide with that look on her face, but he was a sculptor, and just the thought of an unsteady toddler charging through his studio made him shudder and strengthen his resolve anew.  Meanwhile, Jin Ae, who irritated her own parents further by introducing herself as and answering to "Jenny," always said that she could barely keep a carnivorous plant alive, so what was she expected to do with a human baby?  She was saying that right up until the previous week, when her sister had to go and have a baby.  Now, instead of, "what the hell am I gonna do with a baby?  I barely have enough time to clean up after Rick!" it was, "well, I was thinking I don't need that big office.  It might be good for a nursery."

Rick turned it over and over in his head as he walked, and could come up with no answer to the "what am I gonna do about this?" that rang in his ears from every corner of his consciousness.  So lost in thought was he, that walked straight into the NO TRESPASSING sign affixed to a chain-link fence that hadn't been there the day before.  Once he'd recovered and his vision cleared, he stared through the links and wondered what was going on.  There didn't seem to be anything amiss with that side of the neighborhood, yet there it was, barbed-wire-topped and bisecting the subdivision neatly and menacingly. 

"Outstanding," he thought, "because there's not enough going on that makes no goddamn sense."  Determined to find at least one answer that morning, he walked the length of the fence, searching for more signage, or a posted notice perhaps, just anything that would explain the sudden need for such a palisade.  He found no balm for his piqued curiosity, and so it flared ever higher, leading him to a furrow under the fence.  Some big dog must've been caught on the wrong side when they put the thing up and been pretty desperate to get home to leave that kind of crater.   Kneeling down and peering through the space below the fence, Rick supposed he could probably fit through there if he didn't mind getting a little muddy.

"What the hell?  Why not?"

On a normal day, he'd have told himself, "because there's a fucking NO TRESPASSING sign and the big, nasty dudes with the big, nasty guns like to shoot the Smart-Ass Asian Kids Who Think They're Too Good To Follow The Rules."  It was nothing like a normal day.  He shimmied under the fence and figured he'd have seen anyone likely to challenge him.  After walking around for a few minutes, it seemed he'd figured right.  There wasn't a soul to be found.  Other than the lack of inhabitants and a noticeably greater amount of garbage left on the curbs outside every house, there wasn't much to distinguish this part of the neighborhood from the side where Rick lived.  Emboldened by the desolation, Rick decided to check out the inside of one of the vacant houses.  Because it was tract-housing with only a handful of different models, it was easy to find one that looked just like his own.  When he tried the doorknob and, finding it unlocked, entered, he thought this must be how Atreyu felt at the Magic Mirror Gate in the Neverending Story. 

It was clear that until very recently, a family had occupied the house.  All of the furniture had been dismantled, but it was still no work at all for a sculptor's brain to see the parts and imagine the dining room table they had once been, or the sofa, or the crib.  In every corner were planks, poles, and piles of hardware.  With everything sorted as it was, Rick could only surmise that this was the doing of the military, engaging in some last-ditch effort to strip-mine civilian communities for supplies after burning through the existing resources.  He was just about vibrating with anger at the thought when he stopped cold at the door to what had once been a little girl's room. 

The walls were still pink, but the canopy bed was a ruin of hacked plywood and torn linen.  And then there were the toys - the dolls with smashed faces and dismembered teddy bears.  There could be no weaponry created from these carcasses; they were ruined simply because they could be.


Rick sank to his knees.  It wasn't that he disliked children; that wasn't it at all.  That he didn't want to be a father did not also mean he believed in cruelty toward those so young and so small they couldn't even grasp the concept of war.  Seeing a such a happy sanctuary of innocence so defiled was more than he could stand without a few tears.  He sifted through the wreckage, recognizing princesses and fairy queens he'd seen advertised in bright, shiny commercials, but stopped when he came upon an oddity -- something out of place even among abominations.  Its strangeness was twofold.  First of all, it looked more like something one would imagine belonging to a much older child than the one who played with those other toys.  Secondly, it appeared to be completely intact.  Rick had never seen such a thing, a near-perfectly constructed human skeleton done in metal -- stainless steel perhaps -- a tiny one, as if it belonged to a baby, or a young toddler who would soon be old enough to walk.

To be continued...

© 2009 Heather Harris