Sunday, July 29, 2012

Flightpath Issue 1

Beginnings, Part 1; 1981-JAN-01:

In a small darkened room, the ringing of a telephone is a blaring alarm clock. A man sits bolt upright, gasping. He can only be seen in shadow, as there is hardly any light coming in through the window. The digital alarm clock shows the number 3 followed by a colon and the numbers 4 and 9.

The phone sounds again, and the figure of a man shakes his head to clear it, glances at the clock, and reaches over and picks up the receiver. The phone is on a bedside table beside the clock.

The phone receiver is held for a moment in the man’s lap, before being brought to his ear.

There is a close-up of his shadowed lips, as he speaks. “Hello?”

An excited voice on the other end of the line can be heard, speaking loudly and firmly; a voice of command.

“Schmidt? Schmidt, is that you? Answer me, Schmidt!”

He wipes at his face with a hand, trying to clear the fog from his head and the sleep-crystals from his eyes.

“Uh-huh,” he says, and then tries for something more intelligent. “Is this…?”

“Schmidt, this is Turner; Colonel Turner. Now listen up, Schmidt. Are you listening?”

“Um…yes, Colonel.” He licks his lips, arches his back and grimaces in pain, rubbing at his lower spine through his striped pajamas. “What is this about?” He turns his head to look at the clock again. “And at this hour…” He trails off, his voice kept low, as he sits there, upright in his bed in the dark.

“Schmidt, did you see the news? You do know what day it is, don’t you? Why, you’re not in bed, are you, Doc?”

“It’s New Year’s Eve, Colonel, or at least it was. Why…what’s going on? Is it the end of the world?”

“No! But it is the answer to your prayers!”

He sat up a little straighter, still listening.

“About two hours ago, it struck midnight in Calgary. And then they struck, as well. The Cloak Gang decided to light up Calgary like a frackin’ Christmas tree.”

“Uh…the which?” He fumbled on the bedside table with one hand and located his glasses. He flicked his wrist to open them up, and put them on his face, muttering an “ow” as he first poked himself in one eye with the arm of the glasses.

“The Cloak Gang; you know! Run by the Hooded Cloak, with his minions the mini-cloaks. I guess he busted out of prison last night and two new powered freaks joined him. They call themselves Dead Edna and the something-Spider…I can’t remember. But that isn’t the important part! The important part as far as you are concerned, is that the PM is choked about this. And he has issued notice to me to tell you that your project has been green-lighted and…”

“What!?! That’s great!” He spoke a little too loud as he cut off Colonel Turner, and a form that lay prone on the bed next to him stirred.

“Yeah, congratulations, Doc. Now listen, here’s the catch; our PM wants this thing up and running ASAP. If you cannot convince him that this project is feasible, and fast, he’ll cut it and go another direction.”

“Wait…how am I supposed to do that? I’ve been working on this for 5 years, and it has been a huge task to try to translate the notes and gibberish I was left with into something that will even possibly work, nevermi…”

“Yeah, yeah; stow it, Doc. Look, I know how far you have gotten. So does the PM. Point is, the powers-that-be figure they need something, something to show the people of Canada that they won’t be pushed around by these so-called super-villains anymore. So, like it or not, you’ve got three weeks. Sorry Schmidt, that’s all I could get you.”

“Shi…” He bit back the curse, as the body beside him stirred once again. “Okay, okay. Um…dammit! I’ll have to push past the protocols and move to stage-C immediately, then. Let’s see, I’ll need to prep the lab, hire a couple of psych doctors, and then I’ll need to go over the papers with…”

“Whoa…look, I’ll let you get to it. Just remember, when the final switch gets pulled, I and the PM will both be there to see your success. So…Doc? Don’t blow it.”
And with that, the line went dead.

The hand holding the phone went into his lap, phone receiver still clenched in his fist.
A bit more stirring beside him, and then a hand came out of the covers and rested lightly on his arm. “Arden? Who was that?’ asked a feminine voice in a calm and polite tone from the darkness.

“We’ve been green-lighted,” he said back to her. His own voice sounded distant to him; part shock, part nerves, and part lost in his own thoughts. “And we’ve only got three weeks to make it work, or they pull the plug.”

With a rustle and a flourish of covers, the woman swung her legs over the opposite side of the bed and sat up, bent and grabbed a robe off the chair next to the bed, and within 5 seconds of the word ‘plug’ exciting his mouth she was standing in the dark room, tightening the robe’s belt around herself, and moving towards the closed bedroom door.

“I’ll make you some coffee,” she said.

“I’ll need you to phone the rest of the team, as well, and tell them to haul arse down to the center.”

She stopped, facing the door. “Of course,” she said. “For what time should they…”

“I want them assembled for 8:00 AM,” he said. “And tell them to pack some spare clothes, most of them will be spending long nights in the center for the next few weeks. I doubt you and I will be back home at all in that time.”

“Yes, Arden,” she said simply, still standing there facing the door. “Shall I go now, then?”

“Not yet,” he said. He reached over and turned on a light, the lamp on the bedside table. It illuminated the face of a middle-aged Caucasian male, short brown hair with mainly grey at the temples, piercing blue eyes; handsome, if a bit on the thin side.

“Seeing as how we won’t be home much, and seeing as how I have finally been green-lighted, this seems as good a time as any to celebrate.” He patted the bed beside him lightly, the quick smile that slashed across his face brief but not unkind. “Come here, my little chopstick. You can give me ten minutes of your time, and then you can hurry off to get the rest of those things completed.”

She turned away from the door and faced the man on the bed. The light from the lamp did not quite reach her. “Of course, Arden,” she said calmly. Her chin went downward towards her chest, her upper body leaned slightly forward, and she held this pose for several seconds before beginning to remove her robe as she walked slowly towards him.

Beginnings, Part 2; 1981-JAN-20, 0830 hrs:

An empty hallway of an apartment building, dimly lit; a pair of tan pants and brown shoes approach a door and stop in front of it. The small brass sign on the door says 407. A brown-gloved hand reaches out and knocks, two quick raps.

Within moments a deadbolt rattles on the inside of the door, and it begins to creak open. The gloved hand reaches out and pushes it violently inward. That same gloved hand reaches in and grabs a hold of the blonde hair of the woman inside; blue eyes with crow’s feet at the outer edges, she still looks vivacious even in her early forties. Right now, she just looks scared.

That gloved hand pulls her out into the hallway by her hair. She staggers forward, right into the second gloved hand, this one balled into a fist that catches her full in the face. She makes a “woof”ing sound as she slams into the apartment corridor wall with her back. A second balled fist catches her in the stomach, doubling her over, as she slumps to one knee and retches momentarily.

The blonde woman is wearing a black t-shirt and grey athletic shorts, and has a white towel around her shoulders still; any sweat that was glistening on her skin when she first opened the door, is now rapidly disappearing in the cool hallway air. Blood trickling out of her left nostril, her lower lip split, she looks up. “Who…are you…” she gets out. She looks up, past the brown shoes, past the tan pants, past the brown suede jacket zipped up tight, to find a balaclava ski mask where there should have been a face, only the squinting brown eyes of the male exposed.

The male’s right hand reaches into the jacket pocket, while the left hand again grabs at the woman’s shoulder-length blonde hair.  He pulls her toward him even as he withdraws the switchblade knife and pops it open. Once; it plunges into her side. There is a soft gasp, and then the woman’s mouth makes an “o” shape. The blade comes out, sticky-wet and red. Twice; again, the blade plunges in, this time the hand holding it hurtling towards her at shoulder height, and the blade goes deep into her right shoulder. She hangs limp after that, only held up by the handful of hair caught up in the brown glove. Gasping for air between gritted teeth – it is all happening so quick, she has not even had time to scream yet. She does not notice when the bloody towel slips off her shoulders and tumbles to the floor. When the blade comes out of her this time, the glove of her assailant is visibly stained red. Thrice; once more the blade goes in, this time into the woman’s back, the assailant adding a bit of a twist before withdrawing it again.

The knife drops to the floor. The brown shoes begin to walk steadily away from the door of apartment 407, dragging the limply-struggling and bloody body of the woman behind them by the hair. Fifteen blood-smeared feet away, the top of a flight of stairs; she finally finds the strength within her to scream, as the man hurls her body down them, she crashing and rolling and coming to a stop on the landing with a flat thud against the wall.

The man calmly walks down the stairs, stepping over her and continuing on his way down.

In apartment 407, a boy with longish blonde hair rushes to the wide-open door from within; he leans against the door frame, his forgotten album cover to Michael Jackson’s ‘Off The Wall’ record still clutched in one hand. “Mother?” he calls out, then again, “Mother!?” this time more frantically.


Beginnings, Part 3; 1981-JAN-04, 1915 hrs:

“The doctors, they tell me that I am a good man. They say that all good men are flawed, and I need to accept that.”

The room is dark, but for the light of a television set flickering, tuned in to some news broadcast but with the volume knob turned down too low to hear anything.

“The problem is, I know all that; I know that good men have flaws. See, the problem I have with my doctors, is that I don’t think they see the severity of my flaws.”

There is a scraping noise. The speaker would have recognized it for what it is, even if he had not caused it; wooden chair leg squeaking on a floor as it slid slightly. Not knowing what had made a certain sound, could get a person killed.

“The doctors want to constantly tell me that I am making good progress. They love to flatter me. Sycophants. Ha! I betcha they’d be surprised to know that I know that word. But you guys would have known. You guys knew me for who I was. I never had to hide that I was book-smart, that I was more intelligent than people gave me credit for. No matter who I was, you always had my back.”

There is silence for a few moments. Perhaps for a space of thirty seconds?

“They tell me I should give you guys up. That I should let you go. That I need to…to move on; to ‘walk away’, as it were. Ha! They don’t see the humour in that, not like you guys do…like you guys would have.”

Another creak, and then a lamp is turned on. Two thick and strong black hands hold delicately onto a picture frame; the photo is a typical one, of six men in army fatigues with their arms around each other.

The voice continues. “Now, my doctors want to send me to see some other doctors. Some ‘specialists’, they call ‘em. I see the way their eyes shift when they say that to me. I think the government wants me again, boys. And…hell, that worries me. After all that has happened…after the way I…I failed you all…”

A lone tear strikes the picture frame. One of the hands moves upwards to wipe at a face, then returns to the photo.

“They say I’m a good man. I believe it. I do. I believe I am a good man. But, those faults they talk to me about…I think they spend too much time talking about the ones that are obvious, and forget about the ones that are down deep. The ones you boys would have understood. The other ones, the surface faults, well…they’re obvious.”

The photo is moved from off the man’s lap and put onto a small table beside him. Now we see the whole picture, where once we beheld only a small amount of the truth. A large and muscular black man sits on a small wooden chair. He wears an army jacket over a black t-shirt. His blue jeans are cut off at mid-thigh, and white stretchy material is covering the stumps that are the end of his legs, truncated at around the knee level. A pair of metal crutches lay on the floor near him, beside two prosthetic legs.

“I know I am a good man. But, once, I believed that I had what it took to make a difference; now, I’m not quite so sure anymore. So, is ‘being good’ enough to compensate for everything I’ve lost, for everything I’ve done?”

The television set continues to play its unheard message, and as the man on the chair stops speaking aloud, all is silent.

Beginnings, Part 4; 1981-JAN-04, 0735 hrs:

Three people, two men and a lady, hurry down the white corridor. When they reach the door, they pause first to grab their white lab coats from the hooks on the wall and shrug into them before opening the door and hurrying in.

“…and so if we increase the levels exponentially, we could inverse the thrust modulation to a number that…”

“Saunders, you’re full of crap,” snapped the brunette woman as they continued into the room. “You’re dealing with things the like of which you have no real knowledge of. Let’s leave this technology to the true professionals, the geniuses like this Dr. Demelt obviously was, and just concentrate on our own parts, okay?”

“Yeah, but...” whined the short pudgy man in the thick glasses.

“Tom, are you still here?’ asked the tall and thin male of the group.

They were in a large room, metal walls, most of which were adorned in giant computer banks. Several tables were set up with personal computers and chemical apparatus. The ceiling was fifty feet from the floor. High up one wall was a glass window, looking out from the observation deck.

“Dr. Chalmers. I sure am, sir. I’m just finishing up in here.” The speaker was a man in a light grey uniform, matching pants and shirt, leaning on a push broom, short brown hair, clean shaven.

Mr. Chalmers, Tom, as I keep telling you; or just Steve. I’m a ways away from being a doctor, yet.” Steven Chalmers gave Tom Landers a smile.

“Is he in here alone?” This came from Saunders.

“Dr. and Mrs. Schmidt are on the Observation Deck with a few others, and Mr. Phelps is in the computer room over there…” Tom trailed off as he pointed to a slightly open door way across the vast room.

“Well, I hope somebody is watching the janitorial staff. Our research here is of the most vital imp…”

The brunette woman cut him off. “Tom is trusted here, Saunders, and he is watched. You know that, so why don’t you just keep off his back, okay? He’s just doing his job.”

The overweight Saunders began to get more than a little red in the face. ”Look here, Daphne, don’t get your panties in a knot. You think just because you wear a skirt that you can go all pre-menstrual on everyone here, and I won’t put…”

Steven Chalmers held up both palms toward Saunders. “Melvin, that was out of line,” he said firmly.

“Oh, I’ll show him ‘out of line’,” muttered the brunette ominously. She hiked up the top of her long black skirt with both hands and then balled them into fists in front of her. “I’ll make his nose out of line with the rest of his face!”

“Lesbian bitch!” snarled Melvin Saunders.

Chalmers put one hand firmly on the front of her shoulder. “Heldorf…” he said warningly.

“Ha!” said Daphne Heldorf, right over top of Steven’s warning. “Lesbian?! I’ve had…several…boyfriends, and every one of them has been a gentleman, something YOU know nothing about! And every single one of them had more manliness in their pinky finger than you…than you’ll ever have.”

Tom Landers sighed gently, picked up his broom and began to move towards the door the three had entered through just moments before.

“Oh, go….” Saunders was red-faced and seemingly at a momentary loss for words. “Go squat in the woods somewhere!” he finally snapped, and walked away from the other two.

As Tom Landers opened the door, he took one last look back across the room, far across the vast room, to where a small raised platform over by one wall held a vaguely humanoid shape draped by a large red tarp.

“I could have taken him, you know,” said Daphne Heldorf, glaring at the back of Melvin Saunders.

“Oh, no doubt about that,” murmured Steven Chalmers.

“Go have another doughnut, Saunders!” she impulsively yelled towards the retreating form of the pudgy scientist.

“You should at least TRY to treat the Doctor better, Daphne,” said Chalmers. He suddenly realized his hand was still pressed against her shoulder, and let it drop. “He and Dr. Abrahams are relied on a lot by Dr. Schmidt; it wouldn’t do to have them view you as a liability because you cannot play nice with others.” He looked around for Tom, but the janitor had already departed. Several more of their colleagues were struggling into lab coats as they too entered the massive room.

Daphne Heldorf sighed loudly, in frustration, then shook her head gently and sighed again, softer this time. “I shouldn’t have lost my temper. I’m sorry, Steven, that was wrong of me.” She sighed again, her mouth scrunched up in the corner in a frumpy half-snarl of defeat. “Technically, I should probably apologize to him, too.”

Steven Chalmers met her eyes and then quickly looked away. “Just…just take it easy, Daphne, that’s all.” With a quick glance at his watch, “It’s almost 7:45, I’ve got to ready my data,” and Chalmers was gone.

“Yeah, I’ve got some notes to re-do…” sighed the brunette. She smoothed down the front of her skirt where she had hiked at it before. She glared darkly at where Saunders was waiting for the elevator to take him up to the Observation Level as Chalmers moved away. “One of these days you’ll get yours, Saunders; maybe I won’t be the one, but somebody will snap on you,” she murmured under her breath.


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