Heavy MetalChapter 10
Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people have experienced the power of holding a handgun in the palms of their hands, adrenaline coursing through their veins, a feeling of command and power over any who dare oppose them.
And perhaps as many have experienced the sheer terror of staring down the barrel of one, their knees wobbling, their lives flashing before their eyes, knowing that a bullet lies at the end of that dark tube, one with their names spiritually inscribed upon its lead surface, a bullet prepared and ready, in that very moment, to whisk them off into their eternal afterlives.
Though he knew these weapons aimed at him were carried by Federal law officers who would most likely rather not have to fire them, they nevertheless delivered the full impact of their threats onto Walter Steele.
Walt was much less concerned about the death they might offer, and far more about the impediment they now represented. An injury would put an end to this flight… and that was completely unacceptable.
Before he could think it through, Walt was reacting. He turned and leapt inside the capsule that awaited him, beckoned him to step inside for the journey he’d been waiting for his entire life.
Ignoring his body’s acute complaints and aches, he twisted as rapidly as he could and shut the hatch behind him, cranking down the locking mechanism tight.
Now, even the void of space could not invade his fortress.
“Damn!” cursed the shortly cropped blond agent who reported something into the underside of his wrist.
The dark-skinned Suit waved at the thinner agent, motioning him into the barn, “Go get Mr. Luke before he gets away, Danforth!” Spinning, he leveled his pistol at Betty who rose, albeit with a defiant glare, from her seated position on the porch steps. “Stay right where you are ma’am.”
Nodding, Danforth dashed into the barn and within moments, those outside heard his nasally voice shout, “Come out from behind there with your hands up!”
A muffled, “Shit” soon followed.
Johnson, the larger agent, motioned for Betty to move towards the barn, “I need you to join the others ma’am.” Then he hollered into the yawning mouth of the barn entrance, “I’m having Mrs. Steele come to the barn so you can keep watch over both of ‘em while I see what I can do about this ship before it takes off!”
Agent Johnson watched Betty amble off to the barn as Danforth dragged Dave, handcuffed and quivering in terror, into the sun. “Get on your knees, both of you,” Danforth commanded.
Once he was certain the captives were kept under sufficient vigilance, Johnson turned and strode towards the craft, which sat in the middle of the driveway looking like an imposing giant hourglass.
Reaching the hatch, he holstered his weapon and stretched down to twist, flip, turn, pull on whatever he could get a handle on. His efforts were to no avail however, which ended in his standing and kicking the hatch in disgust.
Pulling his weapon again, he trained it on the portal and shouted, “Come outta there Walt or I’ll blast my way through! I don’t want to have to…”pssssssst…
suddenly emitted from a speaker from inside the barn, causing Danforth to visibly jump. The agent glanced over his shoulder seeking the source of the static.
“Go ahead an’ try it! I dare ya!” blared a crotchety old voice over a crackling airwave. “’Course, if NASA’s done their job right, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t get far anyhow. Ya might succeed in bouncin’ a bullet back atcha though.”
Johnson scowled, turned and marched off into the barn, waving Danforth to stay put watching the captives. Danforth nodded as the larger agent moved for the makeshift mission control panel.
From the middle screen of the three staring back at Johnson from this desk, Walt smiled and waved through the cockpit webcam, chuckling to himself. The right and left screens displayed the exterior of the craft, both trained on the barn and the captives. “I see you,” Walt taunted.
Apparently in no mood for this, Johnson scoured the desk in search of some sort of microphone device, scattering papers and pens as he searched. “There’s a wireless headset on the chair behind you,” Walt assisted.
Furiously shoving the headset over his ears, Johnson growled, “We have the other two Walt and they WILL be arrested. If you try to take off, we WILL shoot your ship so full of holes it won’t even be SEAworthy!”
“Alright, alright,” Walt waved his hands in a gesture to calm things down, “Don’t getcher panties in a bunch. Let’s talk a bit first, shall we? If I’d wanted to launch immediately, I probably already could have. An’ I don’t think yer bullets woulda done much good ta stop me ‘neither.”
Walt may have been bluffing but even he didn’t know if the bullets could cause much damage or not. He supposed it depended on where the projectiles struck.
“So what exactly crawled up yer ass an’ died then?” Walt asked irreverently. “Why’re ya causin’ trouble here?”
Walt acted like nothing had happened earlier to warrant any sort of arrest, but then, if these agents had been here to visit Betty earlier that day, could this have anything at all to do with the stolen fuel incident… or something else entirely?
“Causing trouble?” Johnson said incredulously, “You would accuse US of causing trouble? No, Walter, I do believe it’s trouble we’re here to avert.”
“Whaddaya mean?” Walt asked.
“You have absolutely no idea about the ramifications of what you’re about to do, do you, Walt?” Johnson stated, a bit more diplomatically as he settled into the chair.
“What? Become the first private citizen to take a space flight? Hell, there’s a PRIZE bein’ offered for it! What could be the worst that could happen here?”
Johnson nodded thoughtfully, considering his next words carefully. “You’re not exactly a private citizen Walt.”
“What are you saying?”
“Have you forgotten the documents you signed when you were part of the space program?” Johnson presented some legal forms for the camera.
Walt paused and considered as he adjusted himself in his seat and twiddled with a few dials. “I remember signing some forms. We all did. What’s yer point? As I recall, there was nothin’ in there to say I couldn’t go doin’ nothin’ like this on my own.”
“No, you’re right, they didn’t specify anything against private space flights. That sort of thing was considered impossible in those days,” Johnson confirmed.
“Alright… so what am I guilty of then? What’re THEY guilty of?” Walt motioned towards the captives that Agent Danforth had brought up to stand behind Johnson at gunpoint.
Looking over his shoulder, Johnson took stock of the captives again. “Betty’s not guilty of anything but aiding the two of you. David Luke? We have some investigations yet to determine what HE might be guilty of… but you,” he turned back to the camera. “You are not guilty of anything YET. And that’s what we’re here to discuss with you Mr. Steele.”
“Must be a powerful urge towards discussion to come at us like this,” Walt grumbled.
“It was critical we had a conversation with you before you launched this craft,” Johnson asserted.
“Alright then,” Walt reiterated, “WHAT exactly do you want?”
“Walter Steele,” Johnson stated firmly, “The US government would like to remind you that anything you see or hear, interact with or experience while outside the confines of this planet is expressly the intellectual property of the United States government. We would also like to remind you that you have signed an agreement to keep such events secret to the highest levels.
We will be confiscating any of the footage you appear to be prepared to take while on your journey, and expecting you to maintain the secrecy you agreed to decades ago. The statutes of limitations on these agreements were expressly maintained as to span the entire length of your life.”
“That’s it? That’s all you had to say?” Walt muttered as he flipped some more dials on the control panel.
“Also, given the inherently dangerous nature of such a private space flight as you intend to undergo, the US government would like to further remind you that in the event of accidental death or dismemberment while on any spaceflight, your body shall become the sole property of the United States government, for purposes of any research we may wish to undertake.”
“So I’m not bein’ accused of a crime then?”
“Not yet, Mr. Steele,” Johnson affirmed.
“Why are ya holdin’ Betty then?” Walt growled.
“Because had you left without discussing these matters with us, you would have been presumed in the act of committing a crime. Your friend here,” he thrust a thumb backwards at Dave, “has been ensuring his blog followers around the world that footage of your flights would be published on the web, streamed in real time. Furthermore, upon investigation, we believe Mr. Luke will be charged with a plethora of crimes already, and you could just as equally be prosecuted for aiding and abetting in these crimes.”
“Ah…” Walt showed deeper understanding, “You’re after him for sharin’ secrets as well, I suppose?”
“Yes,” Johnson nodded. “But then, that just depends on exactly what he knows… and what he’s shared.”
“Uungh,” Dave groaned.So… this isn’t about the Bouncer or the stolen fuel at least,
Walt mused, but given time it will be. I’m going to have to get this show on the road before news gets down the wire to these goons.
“Alright, so the kid used some of his knowledge from Area 51 to help me build this thing. So what? Far as we can tell, it’s only using a fraction of what the original ship utilized in terms of technology… nothing we couldn’ta figgered out on our own. Even then, we had ‘ta build this with an experimental design to utilize the properties of what little he knew. It’s nothing like your captured vessel!” Walt insisted.
“We can tell that just by looking at it,” Johnson replied. “Nevertheless, his sharing any secrets from the base, including mere confirmation of the existence of the ship, is a capital offense, one which you are flirting with yourself, Mr. Steele.”
“Well,” Walt returned, “There’s a reason we hadn’t submitted our design to the X-prize yet. An’ so far as I know, the kid ain’t been postin’ any big Government secrets online… have ya Dave?”
“Hell no!” Dave shouted, “I haven’t shared anything I learned from Groom Lake with anyone but Walt! And I know he
hasn’t been spreading it around.”
“Even that, Mr. Luke, has been an admission of a crime.”
“Aw, fuck,” Dave said as he held his cuffed hands to his forehead. “I didn’t learn that much to share really… they kept me away from the main engine drive for some reason.”
“I wonder why,” Danforth snapped. These background discussions filtered through Walt’s receiver faintly but enough to be understood. “Why did you seek to escape the base in the first place then?” Danforth inquired of Dave.
“Because the chemicals they were using there and the fumes from the waste disposal systems were fucking up my health and the President signed a law that said they could just go on doing it without reproach, that’s why!”
“That doesn’t mean you were given the right to share this knowledge,” Danforth stated.
“Yeah well…” Dave stammered.
“So that leads us to our next line of questioning Walt,” Johnson said into the receiver. “How does
your little ship work? Can we be sure you aren’t going to be spilling radioactive waste across the state if you have an accident in flight?”
“Radioactive? Hah! Is that the most imaginative you spooks can get? You don’t honestly believe we could have gotten our hands on enriched uranium do you? ‘Sides, just cuz the Government can’t see beyond their monstrous little nuclear technopet doesn’t mean its citizens are stuck in that same narrow sighted tunnel-vision!” Walt roared.
“Ok, so… how does it operate then? It’s obviously no rocket,” Johnson asserted.
“Another concept your scientists are stuck in the box with. Dave, you wanna give ‘em the lowdown? You understand it better than I do,” Walt referred.
“Uh… aw hell, fine,” Dave stammered. “Simple really… It works on the basis of a physics anomaly that was being studied at the base by a team I’d been assigned to. Apparently when you mono-atomize gold
, you get a substance that actually loses mass when heated and gains mass when cooled, and the ET’s seemed to have a keen understanding of how this could be used to create an anti-gravity effect similar to a sort of super-powerful hot-air balloon. So that’s basically what we’ve built.”
Johnson nodded, holding his hand to his chin in contemplation. “So you built a space-faring balloon?”
Dave continued, “Yeah, basically. And furthermore, it’s not like the properties of mono-atomic gold isn’t known in some scientific circles already, so our using this information to build us a unique ship shouldn’t be any kind of breach of ‘top secret’ information.”
“That will have to be considered by authorities higher than ourselves I think. Whether it was known by private scientists or not would seem irrelevant if you had not known that at the time you took otherwise confidential information and shared it with Walt here.”I’ve REALLY got to get this moving before the shit hits the fan here
, Walt considered. “I hate to interrupt this little pow-wow, but I must ask, why should any of this stop me from launching right now then?” Damned bastards‘ll have any footage I get… good thing they may not be aware of the onboard recording devices. I’ll have to keep those disks secreted away before I return somehow… no doubt they’ll want to search the ship when I get back.
Johnson and Danforth looked at each other and shrugged. Johnson leaned back towards the camera and said, “Go ahead then, Mr. Steele. We’re not really here to stop
you, per se.
Go forth, assured that the United States Government will be here to monitor your journey. However, we WILL be needing to debrief when you get back. Make certain that when you return, you do not try to get away from us. We’ll have our satellites tracking you by then and should be able to find you wherever you land.”
“So go ahead, Walter Steele, just keep in mind, Big Brother WILL be watching,” Johnson assured.
Walt harrumphed and nodded as Betty cried, “Show ‘em whatcha got Walter!”
“Alright then, enough with all the chin-waggin’!” Nodding with a wry smile, Walt flipped a switch on his control panel and the sound of flame igniting within the upper capsule of the Independent wooshed to life, burning louder and louder, roaring forth from the speakers in the barn, echoing inward from the craft outside.
“Do me a favor, spook,” Walt growled, “Put Dave in that seat so we can do the job we trained for.” As his request completed, Walt flipped his dark visor over his face.
The craft began to slowly lift from the gravel driveway, gently and deftly lifting into flight. Four tiny booster rockets, designed to guide the craft’s path in flight, rotated from the top ring of the craft and edged their miniature jets down towards the earth to aid in propelling the Independent straight up towards the sky.
Johnson nodded, his face showing some little awe in witnessing such an unusual craft successfully lifting off into flight as he passed the headset to Dave. Danforth paused Dave long enough to un-cuff the young man, offering a stern head nod towards the seat. “No funny business,” he reminded.
Betty turned to the Agents and snidely quipped, “Do you mind if I go watch my husband finally complete his life’s work?”
“Certainly ma’am,” Danforth said after being momentarily taken aback by her tone. He un-cuffed her and allowed her to walk to the edge of the barn.
She shuffled her way to lean on the barn door. Holding her hand above her eyes to blot out the sun, she gazed up at Walt’s ship as he gained speed floating up into the distance. A tear fell down her cheek as her heart welled with pride.
“Go get ‘em ya old coot!” she croaked under her breath.
Walt immediately regretted not having installed a camera underneath the craft so he could watch his house disappear into miniature obscurity in the desert. From his vantage, the best he could do was gaze out at a fading horizon line, which too, eventually vanished from all cameras.
He had taken off in helicopters many times in his life and the sensation was not dissimilar. There was absolutely nothing jarring or shaking or rocking in the launch, just a gradual lifting sensation of growing speed.
Heat radiated downward from the upper module, but Walt, in his suit, hardly noticed. The temperatures necessary to attain such heights were such that they flirted with melting the ceramic canisters the flames meant to heat, canisters filled with mono-atomic gold.
But the system was efficient and reused the fuel so sparingly, containing the heat so efficiently when it was meant to, that it required only a small fraction of his fuel capacity to reach orbit. The rest would be largely wasted in guidance rockets, the necessity for which was regrettably something they had not been able to find a way around.
Dave and Walt chatted about system functioning and the technical details of the launch as Walt rose higher and higher into the sky.
Before long, Walt began to feel a giddy sense of buoyancy. A rare smile split his face, making him glad to have his reflective visor covering his expression, as his body began to gradually lift against his seat restraints. His breathing started coming easier and it was as if his shoulders had never felt so free, such a weight had been lifted.
Walt wasn’t sure if this release was derived from his exhilaration from finally reaching space, or if it was more a matter of simply escaping gravity. He couldn’t remember feeling so young and free as he felt this very moment.
The sun, now looking more like the giant star it was rather than a gleaming torch, beamed happily down upon his face through the cameras, finally unhindered by atmosphere. Billions of stars surrounded him, each twinkling their heart wrenchingly beautiful welcome, more brilliant than he ever could have imagined. He cursed the screens for being his only portals to view the outside of the craft with the imperfect resolutions they allowed.
Now entering orbit, Walt felt free to adjust the Independent’s angle so that it would run parallel to the surface below. He swiveled the cameras to scan the surface of the earth, what could be seen of it through the brilliant clouds that gathered like swirls of cotton candy across the atmosphere. Already, his newfound orbit was propelling the ship at hundreds of miles per hour. The edge of Africa loomed near on the horizon, its shape familiar and welcoming.
As planned, Walt spent the next few hours circling the world below, continuing to elevate the ship, edging further and further into the depths of space. Within that time, he experienced two breathtaking sunrises, his heart pounding with excitement and glee with each rotation. He’d made it! He’d finally made it into space!
After all systems seemed to check out, and the gradual immersion into space finally achieved, Walt received notice from Dave, his face flickering back into view on Walt’s control panel. “Well, Walt, you made it,” the lad glanced nervously to his left and right sides where he was flanked by the Federal Agents. “Now what?”
“Hmmm...” Walt pondered. No sign of ET’s yet. But I’ll be damned if I give up the search for THEM just cuz these spooks are watchin’
, Walt considered. Still, I need to figure out WHERE to take this baby so I might have a hope of findin’ em.
He panned his camera around to the moon. I could probably make it there an’ back, which would be a hell of an achievement in and of itself, but then I’m a bit lower on fuel than I’d hoped to be. Still, all the nights I’ve gazed up at her surface wishing I could have been a part of one of those missions… And maybe I could somehow test the theory that the thing is somehow artificial.
Scanning the camera back to the surface, he aimed one up at the North Pole and another towards the South. Then again, I’ve always wondered if NASA were hiding something about those locations… given all the rumors of strange things taking place at those sites and the questions raised by Admiral Byrd about the possibility that there could be some sort of gateway there to a hollow interior to the planet. Perhaps I could put some of those crackpot theories to rest.
Panning back to the horizon of the planet he wondered, Or maybe I should just search about in orbit for something. There’s been reports of all sorts of activity in this layer of Earth’s exterior. Maybe I could stumble into something right here.
“Whatever I do here is expressly in the interests of testing the capacities of the ship to explore space,” Walt assured the Agents in the screen, his voice hinting at a verbal eyewink to Dave. “There’s a couple of different tests I’d like to run, but I think I’ll start with…"