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