Test Pilot, Part One
Written by shadar :: [Saturday, 25 March 2023 21:25] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 25 March 2023 22:06]
Test Pilot, Part One
Original: January 2021
Revised: March 2023
A story loosely inspired by a visit back in 2019 with an old friend who lives in the Mohave and who used to work as an aeronautical engineer at nearby Edwards AFB. That and a scene with Clint Eastwood (set in his garage) near the beginning of the movie Space Cowboys.
Chuck MacDill sat at his workbench in his garage, staring at his treacherous shaking hand. Six months ago he’d been the Commander of the Research Flight School at Edwards Air Force Base, and one of the most storied test and combat pilots the military had ever known. He’d shot down MIGS in Iraq and he’d tested dozens of dangerous research aircraft, he’d even been to the edge of space in rocket planes, and lately he’d trained new generations of test pilots. He’d gotten drunk with Chuck Yeager when the old man visited the Flight Test Hangar, and they’d talked about flying the way a couple of legends could.
But that was in the past. Now he sat alone in a brand-new house on a brand-new cul-de-sac of a brand-new neighborhood in the Mohave desert east of Palmdale, California. Close enough to hear the roar from Edwards at times, the sonic booms even more frequently as someone was up there pushing the envelope. He was only a short drive in the opposite direction from the amazing factories that were always developing fantastic research aircraft, albeit with great secrecy.
But that was no longer part of his life. After nearly 30 years of service, the military had forced him to retire and the FAA had rescinded his pilot’s license due to illness, which made him feel old despite still being in his late 50’s. All because his body had betrayed him as he fell ill with an early onset of Parkinson’s Disease. He now lived alone except for the old friends from Edwards who would stop by to share stories with him. Stories about the work they were doing and the planes they were testing. Stories that left him feeling even more alone than ever after they left.
He picked up the Glock .45 on the bench, and racked it to load a round into the chamber. It was the perfect round for what he had in mind.
He’d already drafted a Tweet to the local police telling them how and why and when, and had left the side door of the garage unlocked. That way they’d find his body before the desert heat made it too horrible of a task to clean up. It would be simple and fast. Now all he had to do was send the Tweet and pull the trigger.
To his own surprise, he wasn’t afraid. He wanted relief and escape from his disease. He no longer fit into the world he’d helped create. He was just a sick old man.
He’d faced death without fear so many times in his career, but knowing this was the last time brought a strange sense of peace. This was a far better way to go than giving himself up to the greater horror of slowly succumbing to Parkinson’s, living out his last years in a nursing home, bereft of all of his faculties except his mind, with some stranger wiping his ass and spooning applesauce into his mouth, probably with the same hand. He was not going out of this world as a helpless baby. He was going to exit with pride. As a man. As a legend. There would be remembrances and plaques and News stories, not to mention special ceremonies at Edwards that only the pilots he’d flown with would fully appreciate. Just the way it should be.
He raised the Glock and placed the barrel against his temple, practicing angling it to ensure the heavy .45ACP round would do its job efficiently. Like everything else in his life, he’d done his research. He had the right tool. He knew exactly how to use it.
He’d been at this exact point three times before, but each time had turned back to deal with something left undone. But that was all behind him now. His list was empty. This was the actual moment. He moved his finger to the trigger as his other hand moved toward the Send button on Twitter — only to be interrupted by a very loud roar and squeal of tires and overheated brakes.
It wasn’t an aircraft, which he would always walk outside to look up at, but something far more mundane — a huge cement truck delivering more tons of concrete to the last house on his street that was under construction. But it sounded as if it was traveling way too fast!
Instinct kicked in as he dropped the Glock on the bench to rush out the door just in time to see the huge truck roll past him. Turning, he watched in horror as it headed straight toward a group of children playing in front of the house next to the construction site. He turned back to shout at the driver, only to see him looking terrified as he pounded on brakes that had obviously failed, grinding the transmission as he futilely tried to stop the huge truck whose throttle had apparently stuck in wide-open. He dumped his air-brakes, but he was still moving with no safe path ahead. No matter which way he turned, there were children in the street. Children so used to the sounds of construction and aircraft that they continued to play, trusting their parents and other adults to keep them safe.
Yet there were no parents watching them now.
Chuck started to run after the truck, hoping to find a way to save the day as he had so many times in his career, but his wobbly legs failed him as he stumbled and fell face-first on his neighbor’s grass. Looking up helplessly at the truck, he could clearly see the unfolding horror, but he lacked the power to stop it. He truly had become — useless.
And that’s when someone ran past him in a blast of air that smashed his face back down into the soft grass. When he lifted his head, he saw the impossible — the huge truck was rising into the air, its wheels still spinning as the engine roared at full throttle.
The terrified driver fell out his open door just as the children finally turned to stare at their doom. They screamed as one as the massively heavy truck flew low over their heads, floating weightlessly, wheels spinning, exhaust belching smoke, rear tires on fire.
Chuck had seen every machine fly that could, and more than a few that shouldn’t have, but that definitely didn’t include cement trucks. Standing there with his jaw hanging open, his mind caught up with his eyes as he realized that a blonde girl was hanging beneath the truck, her arms uplifted as she somehow threw the truck out into the empty desert where it crashed in a cloud of sand and cement dust. She hovered impossibly in mid-air for a brief moment, looking blurry and indistinct, before racing back past him, long hair streaming behind her. Another blast of air slammed into him as a line of sand and dust in her wake disappeared into the garage of the house next to his.
It had all happened in seconds, but his brain still worked like a test pilot’s. After a crisis he could recall everything that happened in detail, things he hadn’t had time to actually comprehend while they were happening, but were imprinted on his brain. Its what had always made his debriefs with the engineers so useful to their research after a crash.
Looking around now, he quickly realized that no one else had seen what he had. The children were gone, having all run into their houses with their backs to the truck and heads down. A few long moments passed while he struggled back to his feet to stand alone in the street with the terrified and befuddled driver, who was crying and praying as he kneeled with his forehead against the pavement.
Then parents began rushing out of those same houses, their lucky children following cautiously behind. Soon after that, the police came, and then the paramedics, but there was no one to arrest or to treat, other than the driver, who was blubbering like a baby now, his hands and arms covered in minor scratches and bruises from hitting the pavement. He was sobbing about a miracle from God as he knelt down to hug one of the children he’d very nearly killed.
Chuck heard him telling the cops that his throttle had stuck open and had overpowered his brakes. He said he’d tried to steer away from the kids, but there was no safe place to go, and then the next thing he knew, he was lying in the street, and his truck was out there in the desert, upside down, a hundred yards past any house. He had no idea how it got there.
The cops went around looking for witnesses. When they talked to Chuck, he wasn’t ready to share anything about the vanishing girl with blonde hair. His hands were shaking with Parkinson tremors and his eyes were twitching as he told them that he’d fallen face-first in the grass. He’d long ago found that claiming to see impossible things that you couldn’t explain was a good way to kill any credibility you might have.
The cops finally left after a couple of hours of taking photos and making notes, measuring this and recording that, but without learning anything. It was a complete mystery how the cement truck had gotten out into the desert without leaving any tracks and without hitting anything.
But despite his silence, Chuck realized that he could see everything in his mind’s eye. His hands might shake and his body was getting as stiff as an old bear, but his mind and his eyes were as sharp now as they’d been when he’d first began flying fighters for the Air Force. His test pilot’s disciplined mind had taken it all in, and in slow motion. But like in other tense and accelerated situations with crashing aircraft, it took his mind a while to decipher the images that now flooded his thoughts.
He now had a clear picture of what had happened — and he had a big dilemma. He knew without any doubt that the girl had saved the kids — by lifting and tossing the cement truck into the desert. Which was obviously impossible, not to mention ridiculous to try to tell anyone.
Strangely, the girl had blurred as she briefly blinked in an out of view, but while lifting that truck she’d been clearly visible. He’d clearly seen the way thick muscles had bunched across her shoulders as she’d hoisted the hugely-laden truck into the air. He saw with photographic sharpness the way her long legs had flexed with astounding muscularity as she leaped upward with the huge truck to fly it over and past the houses before tossing it out into the desert. He’d then followed her slipstream as she ran back to her house, barely visible except for the dust in her wake.
He knew precisely what had happened, and how — but it was all improbable. He’d long ago given up on believing anything was impossible.
He’d seen the so-called impossible before. Aircraft doing things they weren’t designed to do and which the engineers said they couldn’t do. His job as a test pilot had been to record and recount his observations in enough detail to satisfy any engineer. His sober and accurate recording of phenomena had never failed him. Today was no different.
The question now was to decide what to do about what he alone seemed to know.
But first things first. Turning, he walked slowly back into his garage, feeling strangely calm as he unloaded his Glock with shaking hands and put it back into his gun safe.
He had a mission again. At the very last moment he’d found himself valuable again. He knew things no one else did. The trick now was to figure out what to do with that knowledge.
He reminded himself that he’d solved many seemingly unsolvable mysteries with the aircraft he was testing. This girl was just another kind of flying phenomena, one he’d never imagined was even possible, but he was determined to figure out too.
Chuck started his investigation the usual way — by heading straight toward the source of the anomaly. He walked down his driveway and along a short section of curving sidewalk to walk up to his neighbor’s front door and press the doorbell. Twice.
A short, Black woman in a housecoat came to the door.
“Hi, I’m Chuck MacDill, your next door neighbor.”
“Well, hello Mr. Chuck. I was hoping to meet you soon. I’m Glenda Meyer. We’ve just finished unpacking the last box and are finally moved in. Come on in.” She opened the door wide. “Hope my girls haven’t been getting in trouble already. Didn’t expect so much excitement in this quiet neighborhood.”
He remained on the doorstep, not trusting his legs on the steps. “No, nothing I would truly call trouble. But a mystery for sure. I was wondering, who lives here with you, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Just me and my daughters. Well, technically they’re my foster daughters — I work for Social Services — but they’re my responsibility to raise until things get fixed at their homes or they find some family member to live with or maybe just grow up. Every kid is different.”
“Is one of them blonde?”
“That would be Freya. She’s a bit odd. Gonna be a handful, that one. Men like her WAY too much. But she’s got this hard-core amnesia. Don’t remember where she was raised, didn’t even know her own name or age or nothing when she came to me, but she’s sure got some funny ways of doing things. Probably the amnesia. She just came to me last month.”
“What do you know of her parents, if I might ask?”
“That’s technically none of your business, Mr. Chuck, but there’s nothing to tell. Nobody has any idea, least of all her. She was picked up by the cops over in Vegas, wandering the streets. They figured she was hooking, given the ways she looks and dresses, but I don’t think she were. Doc gave her a quick checkover and said she was maybe the healthiest girl he’d ever examined. Said she’s just confused. Lost her memories. Doc thinks they’ll come back, but no idea when.”
“What else did the Vegas cops learn about her?”
“Zero, and they got all kinds of cameras over there, especially near the Strip. Those cameras caught her walking out of a dead-end alleyway that she didn’t walk into, but lost her seconds later when most of them cameras conked out. Probably from the flash.”
“An explosion? Fire?”
“Cops said no. Leastwise nothing was damaged and there weren’t no residue or anything burned. Just a big blue flash and then she walked out of the alleyway.”
“And nobody thought that was odd?”
“Oh, hell yes. Everybody. She was wandering down the street wearing nothing but a tiny red skirt and acting as if she’d never even seen cars before, drivers swerving to keep from hitting her, with several colliding while trying. Cops came and got her before she got hurt, but nobody found nothing else. Just a very confused teenage girl.”
“Walking nude down the street?”
“Half nude, but she didn’t act like she even noticed. My theory is the flash wiped her brain, whatevers it was, but Docs can’t say nothing for sure. She don’t have no memories of nothing before she found herself in that alleyway. Even though we’re out here in the California Mohave and all, I work with the Nevada Child Services, who are overloaded, so they sent her here and I got the job. Mainly ‘cause I’m out here and not in the city. I gave her the name Freya given she looks Nordic enough to deserve it.”
“Freya was a goddess, Mrs. Meyer.”
“Oh, I ain’t no missus. Just Glenda. Never been married. And she ain’t no goddess despite maybe looking like someone them Vikings could have worshipped. Figure my task in life is to keep some girls who got a raw deal in life with, you know, a roof over their heads and some quality adult influence and out of trouble until they’re old enough to do that on their own. Mostly to keep girls like her away from men who’d abuse them, and she was ripe for that. Some of the girls who come to me already know men way too well in one way, and not nearly enough in any good way. Fostered nearly twenty daughters that way so far. Most of ‘em still call me Mother. Most of ‘em gone on to good, decent lives.”
“Then Mother Meyer it is,” Chuck grinned crookedly. “Any chance I can talk to Freya for a moment? I saw something go down with that crashed truck, and I think she might have seen something too.”
“She didn’t say nothin’ to me about that, but sure, I’ll send her over when she’s done with her homework. Probably in a hour or so.”
“Schools not in session, Ms. Meyer.”
“It is here. Every day. These girls have already missed too much of it. Gotta catch ‘em up. Studies come first. I will say this, Freya is the smartest girl I ever taught. Remembers everything she reads or hears, details and all. I think she’s got one of them photographic memories. Which is a hoot given she’s also got near total amnesia about her past.”
“Ok, I’d appreciate that. I’ll be in my garage. Door’s open. You are welcome to come with her.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I got a good feel about you, Chuck. Knows a good man when I sees one.” She glanced at his shaking hands. “Is it Parkinson’s?”
Chuck stared back at her, saying nothing. He didn’t know her well enough to be talking about his curse.
She shrugged as she gave him a knowing smile. “No matter if you don’t want to talk now. But seen it before. My older brother has it. Bad. Keeps saying he wished he’d killed himself when he still could. So yeah, I know about that Parkinson’s bitch.”
Chuck turned and walked back down the sidewalk, trying to make his legs work well enough to get home without stopping for a rest or falling on his face again. He was impressed as hell with Glenda Meyer and her perceptions. Everything she’d said. She couldn’t know that he’d been seconds away from doing what her brother hadn’t, but somehow he knew she did. Had she seen it in his eyes? The resignation. The light gone.
She clearly wasn’t an educated woman, but he figured she had a big heart and likely saw through most people to find where their heart was at, and that’s what troubled kids sometimes need the most. Understanding. The love of a mother, even if just a court-appointed one.
He quickly straightened up his garage a little more, which was already pretty neat. He rolled up the plastic sheeting he’d laid out. He hadn’t wanted the cops to come and have a mess when they hauled off his body. Just roll what was left of him up in the plastic and be done with it.
He had a corner of the garage set up as his office, just as he’d done in his last two houses. Not that he needed a garage office now. Just a long habit. He’d had the run of the whole house since his wife died last year.
The kitchen had always been Sarah’s place while the garage had been his. It was just the way they’d created their own spaces and he saw no reason to change that now. He still had the same old leather couch and oak table and Persian rug on the floor, along with some good Acoustic Research speakers from the early 70’s and some pre-digital stereo electronics which had originally belonged to his father. Most importantly, he also had his father’s collection of vinyl that was worth far more now than when he’d bought it.
That and models of every airplane he’d ever flown. There were a lot of them, on shelves and hanging from the ceiling. The most dramatic was the X-15. He’d flown five missions in that rocket plane.
One of his docs said the anhydrous ammonia fuel the X-15 used might have been the trigger for his Parkinson’s. Nasty stuff. He’d always gotten some serious whiffs of it when he flew those missions. But it had been incredible to fly 4000 mph at 350,000 feet altitude. He’d even earned an astronaut badge on one flight. Back before computers ran everything. Back when a pilot actually flew into space with his own hand on the stick, depending on his skill and guts and good engineering. Well, mostly good.
He started doing the math regarding what he’d apparently seen Freya do, presuming it actually had been her. First was to establish a norm, and thanks to Google he found that the very strongest female powerlifters could lift 300 pounds over their head. A healthy woman without training could maybe do 70. His brief clear view of her when she was lifting the truck said she was tremendously defined, but not as bulky and muscular as some of the powerlifters he’d Googled on his computer.
He looked up the numbers on that concrete truck and learned that they usually loaded them to the Federal maximum — 80,000 pounds. Yet the truck hadn’t even looked heavy in her hands, never mind that she’d leaped into the air with it to fly it out into the desert before tossing it.
Crazy stuff. He briefly wondered if he’d imagined all of it?
He ran a Google search matching hallucinations and Parkinsons in the medical databases, only to find what he already knew — hallucinations weren’t one of the symptoms. And besides, hallucinations don’t throw trucks out into the desert without tracks leading that way. He was convinced that what he’d seen had really happened. But he didn’t have a clue how or why.
He put on some coffee as he waited for Freya to arrive — assuming she was even going to. Clearly she’d seen him watching her given she’d run past him. Twice.
After that hour came and went, and she didn’t show, he told himself she likely wouldn’t come at all. Girls like her had ways to avoid men they didn’t want to talk to. All she had to do was to tell Glenda that he’d been a bit overly interested in her or even worse a bit handy and he’d never see her again. He had no doubt Glenda was a lioness when it came to protecting her girls. And she seemed to think Freya needed some extra protection.
But a girl that strong or that fast wouldn’t need any of that. She could obviously take care of herself in any situation. Which made him wonder why she was in foster care in the first place? It didn’t add up except maybe for the mysterious amnesia.
All he knew for sure was that he was dealing with someone who was clearly superhuman.
That thought made him shiver. Superhuman. So easy to say the word, but so difficult to believe. Even worse, he knew very little about the folklore of such beings, which until today he wouldn’t have believed even existed outside a comic book. Hardware and aircraft were his thing. Metal and engines and electronics and hard-core engineering. This was a girl. Flesh and blood.
Or seemingly anyway.
On the other hand, what did he have to lose by trying? He’d been ready to pull that trigger when the truck careened down their cul-de-sac. If anything, she’d just extended his life. Gave him purpose, least until the Parkinson’s got worse.
Another hour went by as he was lost in thoughts and speculations. Googling this and that, including Supergirl. That didn’t help. It was all a confusing mess, and he wasn’t nearly ready to believe in aliens from another star. No way.
By now a couple of hours had passed, and he was convinced she wasn’t going to show. He started to close up the garage when his neighbor,Ted, suddenly walked in.
“So, how’d they get rid of that wreckage?” Ted asked. “Would have taken a truck wrecker and a heavy haul flat bed. But I didn’t hear or see a thing.”
“It’s right out there in the desert, Ted. Barely a hundred yards behind your house.”
“No it isn’t. Just a big hole in the sand where it used to be. I just walked out there to check. No tracks leading to or from it. Something made it go away and it wasn’t a wrecker or a flatbed. Something that could fly had to remove it.”
“They don’t make heavy lift helicopters that can lift 80,000 pounds, Ted. And if so, it would have been incredibly loud and probably would have covered the neighborhood with sand and dust from the rotor blast.”
“Yeah, that’s what I figured too. Had to be a UFO then. Common enough around here in the high desert. But why on our little street?”
Chuck looked at him like he was insane. “A UFO that big? In the middle of the day? With everyone watching? But no one saw anything?”
“I know, I know, least of all me, damn it. My house is the closest. I thought we were going to die when it flew low over my roof, engine roaring.”
“Then it can’t be UFOs, now could it? You of all people would know if you saw one.”
“No shit…” Ted said, nodding.
Ted had been telling anyone who would listen that ETs flying around in UFOs were behind everything strange that happened on Earth. That the aliens secretly ran the world. That they lived among us, disguised as ordinary people. He’d quizzed Chuck many times in the past about what he’d seen as a test pilot, way up there at the edge of space.
It was all crazy talk in Chuck’s opinion. Not that he hadn’t seen things — every professional pilot had — but he’d always assumed there was an explanation for everything in the natural world without bringing aliens into the story. But now, for the first time, he was facing something that had no ordinary answer. That girl had really saved those kids and now she’d somehow cleaned up her mess as silently and secretly as she’d created it. The entire neighborhood was buzzing, yet nobody had seen the cement truck flying off into the distance?
Chuck listened to Ted rambling on with his cockamamy theories about how UFO’s worked, talking about stealth this or invisible that. He put up with it as long as he could, which wasn’t very long, and then told Ted that he had to go inside to take a nap.
Ted apologized, knowing about Chuck’s Parkinson’s and all, and thankfully left.
Relieved, Chuck closed the overhead garage door and then locked the man door. Obviously, Freya wasn’t coming — it had been over three hours now. He was glancing back across the garage while reaching for the light switch when he was startled to see a blonde girl standing over by his record collection on the far side of the huge garage. She was looking over his stuff while holding one of his white coffee cups with both hands. When she saw him staring at her, she tilted her head as she looked curiously back at him.
Chuck blinked, not understanding how had she gotten in without his seeing her? Or Ted for that matter.
He quickly decided this couldn’t be Freya. This girl was slender and shapely and fit, but certainly not as muscular as the girl he saw in his mind’s eye. Cute and young, but he’d seen 18 year olds who looked younger than her. What she was was a real stunner, especially given her midriff was bared and wore a sweater that was too small for her. And who wore a sweater in the Mohave in desert heat anyway?
Dressed in a hip-hugging red miniskirt and that thin, white sweater that was closed by a single button, she had thick, golden blonde hair with a wavy curl that hung halfway down her back.
If this was Freya, then he understood why Glenda had said “men like her way too much”. She gave off a powerful “girl becoming a woman” vibe that some low-lifes would definitely try to exploit, especially if she was walking the streets of Las Vegas.
“Why does all this stuff look so old?” she asked innocently, her voice smooth and low with a touch of a Latino accent that reminded him of Shakira, the singer. “Clean and in perfect condition, but still old.”
Her accent and phrasing was definitely LA, as was her eclectic, sexy style of dress.
“Because it is old,” Chuck replied, walking back across the garage on unsteady legs. “My father bought it way in the early 70’s, but it still sounds right to me, including those old albums.”
“I’m Freya. Glenda said you wanted to talk to me. So talk.”
She had an assertiveness that made her sound older than she looked.
He didn’t answer at first, and instead picked up an old Doors album to see how she’d react to music she’d likely never heard before, given how old it was.
“Listen to this. It’s called ‘People are Strange’ and is from way back in the year 1967.”
He put the album on the turntable and turned up the amp, and Jim Morrison’s vocals soon began pouring like honey from speakers that had been made for this kind of music. He turned it up very loud.
“People are strange.
When you're a stranger
Faces look ugly
When you're alone
Women seem wicked
When you're unwanted
Streets are uneven
When you're down
When you're strange
Faces come out of the rain
When you're strange
No one remembers your name
When you're strange”
Freya swayed slightly as she listened all the way through the song, eyes closed as she focused on the lyrics, her miniskirt dancing provocatively as she moved her hips, totally lost in the music.
When the song was over, she looked at him with bright blue eyes. “That was for me, right?”
Chuck nodded. “Maybe this one too.” He moved the tonearm to another groove.
“Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house, we're born
Into this world, we're thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out on loan
Riders on the storm.”
Listening intently with her eyes closed, she astounded him by floating off the floor. Chuck’s jaw fell as he gawked down at her bare feet, astounded by the absolute impossibility of her effortless levitation. His heart began to race. There was no doubt now that this was the girl who’d tossed the concrete truck into the desert, somehow minus all those muscles.
She was lost in the music, eyes closed as she air danced until the long Doors song finished.
“So, I’m strange and maybe a little dangerous, right?” she asked in her beautiful voice, still floating.
“Ah… you… you’re floating…!” Chuck gasped, his hair nearly standing on end. The ultimate dream of every pilot — unassisted flight.
She looked down at her toes and quickly dropped back to the concrete. “Oh, sorry about that. I get lost too easily in music.”
“Sorry? Hell, whatever you were just doing, flying, levitating, whatever, you used it to save a lot of kids today.” He glanced down at her feet again as he saw them rise off the floor again when she smiled. “You… you can just float — like that — any time you want?”
“Even when I don’t. Happens whenever I forget to stay grounded.”
“Jesus! Who else knows? Glenda?”
“No way. She thinks I’m weird enough as it is. I have to lock my bedroom door because I float when I’m sleeping. That would totally freak her out.”
“Unconscious and effortless levitation. Very interesting. But what I don’t get is why no one else saw you toss that truck into the desert.”
“Because people can’t see me if I don’t want them to. Except for you. Now that’s a mystery.”
“Maybe not so much. The Flight Surgeons say my visual flicker-fusion rate is off the chart. Saved my life more than once. I bet dogs can see you all the time. They also have a fast flicker-fusion.”
“Yeah, they always can,” she nodded. “But I thought my cloaking would always work on people. I’ve been practicing it on Glenda. Works great with her. I can vibrate right past her and she doesn’t see me.”
“Cloaking? Like in Star Trek?”
“More like a blurring effect on people’s visual cortex. Or maybe on the optical nerve. Just guesses. All I really know is that it works, and how to use it.”
“Along with your incredible strength and the flying thing. You know, while holding 40 ton trucks over your head? How?”
She shook her head, sighing. “No idea. Didn’t know I could do it either until I had to today. I guess I just know how to do special things if I don’t think about it too much. It’s like a reflex. Those kids needed saving, so I saved them.”
“Funny that your cloaking or whatever is sensitive to the speed at which a person’s mind can perceive images.”
“I guess. Do other humans have fast eyes like you?”
He smiled. “Humans, huh.”
“What should I call you instead? Homo Sapiens? Terrans?”
“No, human is fine. Just odd to hear you say it, realizing you aren’t. But to your question, extremely rapid flicker-fusion rate is a mental thing, not an eye thing per se. And its extremely rare.”
He astounded himself as he found he was kind of taking all this is stride. First Contact with an alien species. But then, he’d been trained to be analytical. To observe things that others might miss.
She slowly nodded.
“Just so you know, Chuck, I checked you out after you talked to Glenda. One of the pilots up at Edwards thinks you’re some kind of legend. So I combed through everything he knew about you, which was a lot. He glorifies you and some other Chuck named Yeager. Says someone wrote a whole book about him. Probably will about you too.”
“I just fly airplanes, same as all the other pilots at Edwards. Used to, anyway.”
“It wasn’t your flying that impressed him. It was the way you ran the Squadron and the Test School. The way you made everyone better. The bond you formed with all the pilots.”
Chuck couldn’t help but blush. Having this teenage girl talking about him this way was unnerving. Like she really knew him the way only his pilots would have known him.
“Enough about me. What you did out there was superhuman. As in, comic book science.”
“So what did you actually see?”
He snorted softly. “You, lifting 40 tons of concrete truck, with muscles that seemed to come out of nowhere. Not just lifting it, but jumping into the air with it, and then tossing the entire truck out into the desert. Now I’m told that you’ve cleaned up even that mess. Truck is gone. Nobody saw you do that either, yet everyone is running around the cul-de-sac freaking out about the crash.”
“Likely you would have seen me if you’d been outside.”
“So… was that truck heavy? For you, I mean?”
She shook her head, blonde locks flying. “I didn’t really notice at the time. Just had to do it. I’m stronger than I look.”
Chuck laughed. “Well that’s the biggest understatement ever. Sort of like saying a nuke is bigger than a firecracker. But what I’m really concerned about is the amnesia that Glenda mentioned.”
“Me too,” she said sharply, suddenly looking angrily. “Very frustrating. Someone slapped a high-level temporal mind wipe on me. All my memories before the moment I found myself in that alleyway in Las Vegas are gone. Zapped. Maybe forever.”
“Temporal mind wipe? Sounds like something you already knew about.”
She looked a little scared now. “I… I guess. Those words formed in my head just now, and they probably sound as weird to me as to you. I can’t connect them to anything. No context. My mind’s a useless blob of gray shit with disconnected words and images popping up now and again. Images that can’t possibly be of Earth.”
“My guess is that those little leaks from behind the veil are telling you something. Over time, you might be able to piece some things together.”
She sighed. “Maybe… I hope.”
“So,” Chuck continued, “what’s your guess about who and how this happened to you? Or who you are?”
She shrugged. “Not a clue. The harder I try to remember things, the further away they seem to get. But what I do know about Vegas is that the cops were talking about a blue flash and their cameras didn’t show me going into the blind alleyway I came out of after the flash. My guess is that I was sent here somehow, via some kind of dimensional transport or Boom Tube or whatever.”
“Something I found on the Net. Clearly a product of a human’s wild imagination, but maybe my people have something like it that teleports people.”
“That’s your guess? Teleportation? That’s a pretty big leap. What do you actually remember about arriving?”
“Zip. First thing I remember was this cop tackling me and jerking me away from the path of a truck. My guess is that the touch of his skin to mine brought my consciousness and memories or what was left of them back to the surface.”
Chuck thought about that for a long moment as he remembered Glenda saying she’d been half nude at the time.
“You know, Freya, as pilots, we sometimes rely on guesses to figure a new situation out, and it often saves our lives, but our guesses are generally really good given they’re based on long experience and learning. Maybe your guesses are still connected to your memories too.”
“Now that’s the most encouraging thought I’ve heard for a while,” she said cheerfully, grinning in such a way that Chuck’s heart melted, cute dimples forming in her cheeks. “I’m beginning to like you, Chuck.”
“Yeah, seems like we share something. Maybe an old test pilot and an inter-dimensional traveler require similar mental attitudes and temperaments. Preparation. Whatever.”
“You aren’t that old. And inter-dimensional traveler? You might be getting ahead of yourself there.”
“I have a good imagination. And you brought it up.”
“Guess we won’t know for sure what we have in common until I get a good read on you.”
Chuck looked puzzled. “A good read?”
She smirked. “You’ll like it. Being read. Don’t know why I know how to do that either, but I do. That’s how I know all about you.”
“Reading? You mean someone’s mind?”
“Yup. Works with men anyway, but only when they are 100% distracted, body and soul. Kind of opens a portal or something.”
Chuck shook his head. “Don’t understand. How can a man be that distracted?”
“It’s called an orgasm.”
Chuck’s jaw fell, his mouth opening and close a few times. He had no idea what to say to that.
“But given I found I can use my various abilities in an expert way, muscle-memory or whatever it’s called, I suppose it’s not so impossible that I can do other things too. That is, once I figure out what I can basically do, usually just by instinct or accident. But I must have had a lot of training and practice. Somewhere. Like my discovering I can burn things with my eyes. That was super messy.”
“You’re really starting to sound like a Kryptonian.”
“Except they’re just a figment of someone else’s imagination, Chuck. But if I’m outed in public, that might be a way to play it. I’ve already got the skirt in any case. Just need a stretchy blue top with an “S” on it.”
“And we already know you’re super strong and you can fly. What about getting hurt?”
“Don’t think I can be. I can’t cut my skin with a razor blade, it just snaps off, and putting my hand on a red-hot stove didn’t hurt even a little. Just felt hot, even when I left it there until my whole hand was glowing. But my skin feels normal, doesn’t it?”
She reached out to take his hand in hers, and an electric shock shot through his body, making his damaged nerves shake wildly while filling him with a weird sense of tingling excitement, especially as she leaned closer, tilting her head as if she was going to kiss him. He sucked in a lung full of air as whatever was going on filled him with desires he hadn’t felt for years. A needful surge so powerful that he forced himself to quickly pull his hand free of hers.
“You don’t want me to read you?” she asked.
“You’re a teenage girl and I’m almost fifty. So no.” His face was red now. “And given how you apparently do your reading.”
“I may or may not be. A teenager. I mean. Social Services put me into foster care just to be safe, given I was pretty brainless at first and based on how I looked. Trying to protect me. But I need to get out of that now without raising too many eyebrows. Glenda is great, but she’s not going to be able to help me any further. Strangely, all I can think about is all those god-damned nukes you have here on Earth. Don’t know why they stick in my head.”
“Well, one good thing,” Chuck smiled. “If you need a costume, that red skirt of yours is a damn good start. Assuming you do decide to play the Kryptonian angle. That would avoid a lot of cognitive dissonance.”
She smiled. “Funny thing is, that’s the only bit of indestructible clothing I own, and it can become invisible like I can. I was wearing just that when I woke up in that alleyway, which is probably why the cops acted so weird. All I really know is that it feels really good, normal even, to walk around wearing just the skirt, so maybe that’s all I wore back home. Wherever the hell that is.”
“You really don’t care without nudity? Modesty or whatever?”
She shook her head. “Mostly I just feel restricted and hemmed in when I wear other clothing. Even this sweater feels confining. I’m not exactly ugly without it so I don’t know why people care so much.”
Chuck laughed. “No, I imagine you aren’t. But for my sake, please keep wearing it.”
“It would really bother you if I took it off?”
“I’m not sure bother is the right word. But it would be inappropriate. And very distracting, not to mention suggestive. All things that might get in the way. Could get me in trouble, too.”
“What if you couldn’t see me?” She turned her back and unbuttoned her sweater, peeling it off to toss it on the couch.
Chuck was about to protest as he stared at her nude back, and then she completely disappeared. No blurring this time as she just blinked out into total invisibility.
He heard her sigh. “Now this is more comfortable.”
“I could see you better when you were outside. You got blurry, but I could still tell that you were a blonde girl.”
“I wasn’t trying hard enough then,” she said, her voice seeming coming out of nowhere. “I’m vibrating a lot faster now.”
Chuck could hear the edge of a faint buzzing now, and the air in the room seemed to be electric. A few seconds later, she grew visible again, still standing with her back to him over by his work bench. He tried not to stare.
“You know, Freya. I noticed when I mentioned nukes earlier, your eyes flashed and you looked angry for a moment. Emotional reaction?”
“Biggly. I can’t understand why you humans have such horrific things,” she said as she turned to face him, making no attempt to cover herself now.
Chuck was very aware that her boobs sat nearly perfectly round and high and widely spaced on her chest. So perfect they didn’t look real. He quickly tore his eyes from her.
“You can look at me. Doesn’t bother me. Shouldn’t bother you. Nobody else can see us in here.”
She was so flawlessly perfect that she looked more like a work of art than a living and breathing girl. He was entranced with the way her boobs moved slightly up and down with her breathing.
“As far as the nukes go,” she continued, “you’ll just destroy yourselves eventually. Every species who has made them has poisoned their planet that…” She paused, looking puzzled. "I don’t know how I suddenly knew that, but I do and it makes me mad. And sad.”
“Did you learn about nukes and their history after coming here?”
She started to shake her head and then shrugged as she cursed. “Naturally, my fucking blank brain strikes again. All I know for sure is that they destroy civilizations, which is terrifying. And based on what I’ve read here, you have lots of them.”
“That’s progress. It means you must have had well-developed feelings about nukes before arriving. Were you maybe sent here to do something about them?” he asked, hopefully.
“I don’t know,” she said, looking angry now. “There are so many damn things that seem just beyond my ability to recall. I can kind of feel the emotions of some earlier thoughts, but I can’t see them in my mind.”
“Yet your words and accent and gestures and everything are an absolutely normal for a girl from LA. Have you thought of challenging yourself with various bits of information or situations to determine which ones you respond emotionally to? Maybe we could make a knowledge map out of that or something. Figure out where the gaps are and where they aren’t and what triggers what thoughts.”
“That would be great. Can you help me?”
“Ah, yeah, sure. But first, tell me what you’d do if you got access to nuclear weapons?”
“Simple. I’d throw them at escape velocity toward your star. Gravity would pull them in eventually. Might take years, but you don’t have powerful enough rockets to go after them and turn them around, so they’d be gone for good.”
Chuck just stared at her for a long moment. “You have the power to do that?”
“That’s where that cement truck is heading right now. It had all kinds of mangled steel on the bottom where I gripped it, and that would yield fingerprints along with a lot of forensics knowledge about my strength, finger size, physical dynamics. I don’t want to be on anyone’s radar screen.”
“That sounds like more training to me.” And then it hit him. “Wait a minute… during the three hours before you came to my garage, you know, after I talked to Glenda, you did a background investigation on me AND you launched that truck toward the sun?!”
“Learning about you was the fun part. Based on what Glenda told me about you being a test pilot over at Edwards, I just flew up there, found a likely looking bar near the base, one with military jets painted on the windows, and found a man in a flight suit who had Test Pilot School badges. I browsed around a bit in his head in the women’s restroom.”
“Huh? What’s any of that got to do with the women’s restroom?”
“You know, the orgasm thing? Think of me sitting on the counter with my legs spread while I wander through his memories while he thinks he’s just having sex.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa…” Chuck said loudly, eyes wide, trying NOT to imagine that. “You did what?!”
“Human men are so easy. Doesn’t take but a flash of this skirt and maybe a boob in their face and some willingness and they forget about everything else. That test pilot was the easiest of all.”
He stared silently at her for a long moment, frowning. “Ok. Now I understand why Glenda is worried about you.”
“Glenda doesn’t know anything about any of that.”
“Yeah, maybe not, but she sees inside a person. Saw through me right away. I bet she’s knows more about you than you think.”
“All the more reason for me to get out of there. I mean, how can there be anything wrong with sex if I can learn the things a man knows? See his thoughts and the images in his head. Absorb his knowledge and make it mine. Very useful.”
“So… how do you know how to do that, Freya? You can’t even remember your real name?”
“I… I don’t know. I just do. Instinctual, I guess.”
“Once again, it smacks of your having a lot of training,” he said slowly as he really started to worry now. She clearly was not the lost and lonely girl who needed guidance and help like Glenda thought. “Can you at least tell me how it works?”
She shook her head slightly as she suddenly started to feel a bit modest. She crossed her arms over her chest.
“All I know is that men’s minds are easy to sift through while they’re lost in passion. It distracts them enough so that this door opens in their mind which I know how to enter and explore. The skill is keeping them from finishing until I poke around a bit, but I seem to have that skill as well. I plant phrases or names or pictures into their brain, even concepts, and then read what memories that produces. In this pilot’s case, just saying your name was all it took to open the flood gates.”
“And that’s how you learn?” Chuck gasped.
“You know a faster way?”
“But what about the pilot? Is he Ok?” He tried not to think about the fact that she was likely super-strong everywhere.
“Oh, yeah. More than Ok. Now he’s got another wild tale to tell his buddies — and he was already full of them.” She winked. “Although it’s unlikely he’ll tell them that he was thinking about you the entire time we were making it. That would just be weird.”
Chuck sat down hard in his chair, trying to make sense of it all.
“You talk like a mid-twenties girl from LA. Yet you claim to have popped into our existence down in Vegas a month ago, arriving out of thin air apparently. And pretending to be jailbait to boot. But clearly, you’ve had intensive training for this mission even if you can’t remember it. You’re clearly older than you look.”
She gave him another silent shrug. “Wish I felt that confident. I’m just doing what comes naturally as I try to figure myself out. I have no clue how I know any of what I know.”
Chuck’s thoughts drifted back to that pilots’ dive bar that he knew so well — Annie’s. He was no stranger to the way hot-shot test pilots steadied their jangling nerves by drinking and carousing. Married or not, and not was the norm, they drew a type of woman who loved hearing stories about flying supersonic at the edge of space — and they loved the men who lived those incredible stories. A pilot’s day at the office was infinitely more interesting than some guy who actually worked in one. Bold, fast-living women who who liked risk and excitement and loved good sex and were old enough to know exactly what they wanted. And didn’t want. While he hadn’t played that game himself, he’d long accepted that there were worse ways to steady one’s nerves.
What he couldn’t get past was feeling protective about Freya’s supposedly tender age and blank memories.
“Sex is both a physical and an emotional experience for we humans, Freya, and while it can be very romantic and the source of much closeness, we don’t use it to read people’s minds or plant thoughts to stimulate or change their thinking… or whatever you did. Not to mention the seduction required. That’s exploitive.”
She shrugged. “Yet you are a sex-obsessed society. That was one of the first things I noticed, which says it likely wasn’t true back home, wherever that is. Also you human men think I’m attractive, which seems weird to me because I feel very ordinary. But maybe I was trained to exploit that. It just amazes me how fast human men can go from a first hello and a handshake to full-on sex with but a flip of my skirt and an encouraging smile. But it’s a great way to gain tactical intel.”
“Tactical intel…?” Chuck mused. “Ok, now I’m beginning to think you’re some kind of military agent. I’m impressed as hell that you checked out my background so quickly. Just wish you hadn’t told me how.”
“I only know what Bud knew about you. Which was a lot.”
“Bud? As in Bud Johnson? Shit. I should have guessed. He was at Edwards when I still ran the test pilot school, and was famous for always leaving with the hottest chick from whatever bar we were hanging out in.”
“Yeah, I could tell he was that type, which is why I sat in his lap.”
“And he just took that in stride?”
“No. He took me to the women’s restroom. Or maybe I led him. It was confusing because I stopped thinking and just did what my body wanted.”
“Sounds like what your training told you to do.”
“Who knows,” she shrugged again as she glanced up at the clock on the wall. “What I do know is that I need to get back home before Glenda comes looking for me. We need to talk more later. Oh, if Glenda asks how our talk went, tell her I never came over. Less she knows about our conversation the better. She’s very protective.”
And with that, she faded to a blur while floating over to the door, where she vanished completely as the door seemed to open and close on its own. It wasn't until she was gone that he realized she'd left her sweater behind. Likely she'd reappear in her bedroom where she would claim to have been the whole time. Not off gaining "tactical intel" in Annie's bar or out in space tossing cement trucks into the sun or having her long talk with him after listening to the Doors — while topless.
Like most teenage girls, her life was far more adventurous than her parents or guardians knew.
He couldn’t help but laugh out loud as he held her sweater, still feeling her warmth in the soft wool, along with a lovely flowery scent. He didn't doubt for a moment that she'd deliberately left it with him. She was clearly working him too.
Because she needed his help?
Most of all, he was astounded how his day had started and was now ending. This was NOT how his last day on Earth was supposed to have ended.
Instead, all he could think about now were new beginnings.