The Dipsomaniac Inventor

by Howard Faxon

Caution: This contains strong sexual content, including Fiction, Science Fiction, Humor, .

Desc: : When I get drunk I get belligerent. A belligerent drunk inventor. Add a little super-science, a little dilithium and stir furiously. Then stand back. It's a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde retelling. There's a little Star Trek universe crossover

Concept admittedly stolen. (A vacuum cleaner singing "Saint James Infirmary" was in it.)

Hi! I'm Jim, a six-foot-six long drink of water with a shock of sandy blonde hair and medium blue eyes. When I turn sideways I disappear. Thin, you know? I've got big hands and feet. I can't play an instrument but the keyboard loves me. I have a stone ranch-style house just outside Cincinnati Ohio. I make a buck or two and have fun with programming.

Besides that I'm an inventor. A strange inventor, mind you, but an inventor. You see, when I'm sitting around the house cleaning, reading, cooking, whatever I'm a pretty normal kind of guy. However, let me get a snoot full and something switches on. Part of me knows enough physics, chemistry, electronics, biochemistry and engineering to be reeeealy dangerous.

A few years ago I was looking around my incredibly filthy place and realized that I hated housework. That was at about the third beer. After the eighth everything kind of turned off. I woke up to the sound of an old Electrolux canister vacuum tootling its way around the place cleaning anything that didn't move. A big box on the top of it had a camera, some circuit boards and an articulated arm with a claw on the end. The whole shebang had a big 12-volt battery on the back. Damn. I had a maid. It wasn't much to look at in the T&A department, but what the hell ... That was the beginning. The first time my big brother woke up.

Last year I got stinking drunk thinking that I really needed a boost to the bank account—something that would pay and pay, but had no idea where to go. Two bottles of tequila later I woke up with NO HANGOVER and a little fanny pack quietly humming away perched on my belly. I tried to pick it up but two spots on my belly hurt and tugged. The thing blinked a red light and buzzed at me. I thought for a minute. No hangover. Machine hooked to me. Fanny pack dialysis unit! After a while it gave me a green light and a light 'ping' noise while I felt something pull out of my belly. I picked it up and looked down. Two little marks on either side of my belly button were all that showed where it bit me. Hmm. This could be lucrative as hell, but medical trials were notoriously time consuming. I looked over the papers that had accumulated on my kitchen table while inhaling my first coffee of the day. I found a few letters from the DOD talking about approval trials and another discussing a six million dollar right-to-manufacture with a 50 dollar per unit payout. Another sheet gave me the specs that were sent to Uncle Sugar's procurement department. Hmm. Five year expected life, less than two thousand bucks to produce and support over five years with a filter module replaced weekly. Not bad, Jim2! Not bad!

Within a month the bank account was very healthy indeed. Within six months the DOD trials had undercut the FDA's approval process and Sandoval wanted in on the action. No problem! I asked for twice what Uncle Sugar paid and they cashed out without a qualm. Damn. I undersold myself.

I found out that the thing was good for renal failure, diabetic maintenance, heavy metal and organic toxin filtering and some cases of poisoning, such as methanol and ethanol. No wonder they were salivating to get manufacturing rights.

I'm bored. I tried getting a date or two, but when you've got to pin your ears back to walk in a wind storm and it looks like you suckled on the ugly stick as a kid you're kinda outa luck. I wasn't about to try a Japanese sex bot. Not only on the principle of the thing, but they just lay there, like a wife with a wedding ring and a hysterectomy. Fuck it. I went on a monumental tear.

I woke up some weeks later (I must have kept drinking, using the dialysis unit to detox occasionally.) someplace completely different. I was in what looked like a huge tube with a bed, table and recliner. It was nicely finished with gorgeous iridescent tiger-eye maple wood paneling and all, but it was a tube. I looked out an oval window and saw an airport. Now what the fuck? I got up, hit the bathroom for the morning necessaries and un-dogged the hatch where it said 'exit'. The ramp dropped and I climbed down to the concourse. When I turned around I saw the damnedest thing I'd ever seen. It was the fuselage of a jet with no wings or tail section—just little swept —back winglets with little pods on the ends. It wasn't on wheels, either. It was sitting on faired pods that looked like they had been engineered for low wind drag. I walked around the thing. It had "Jim's Ride" painted under the captain's window with "X-56577-CITX" written underneath. Shit, it was a beautiful thing as a static display but I couldn't figure out how it would move anywhere.

I climbed up the stairs, closed and dogged the hatch. To my right was the door to the cockpit. I turned the handle and slowly opened the door.

Holy shit. It looked like a Christmas tree had thrown up all over the walls and front console. Instead of the familiar two-handed yoke between the pilot's legs there were two armrests with a joystick on one and a centered slider on the other, backed up with a dial. In the captain's (left) chair was a thick folder. I picked it up and walked back to the recliner where I sat and began to read.

"Hi, Jim.

We now own most of a Cessna Citation X that started out with a crushed tail section and collapsed landing gear. The insurance paid off all but a million on the jet after a containerized cargo module fell on it and we picked it up for a million two. It has the fully upgraded Citation avionics package. The airframe has been strengthened and signed off on. Four fixed landing pods were attached to the strengthened frame, along with the raked winglets.

The pods on the winglets produce vertical or lateral thrust on demand from the captain's console. The fuselage has been shortened and most of the luggage compartment now contains nitrogen for atmosphere as well as oxygen and hydrogen fuel dewars. The hydraulics and controls have been removed that would control the wing and tail surfaces. The normal fuel and engine gauges, alerts and controls have been removed and replaced with minimal controls that monitor and control an electric generator driven by an Oxy-Hydrogen engine that charges a bank of batteries. The water is recovered for personal use. Everything runs on 48 volts DC but the TV, stove and microwave. There is a catalytic H2O cracking facility in the rear stowage to use when fuel is needed. There are two banks of hydrogen fuel cells to use in an emergency. The manuals are in a cabinet near the recliner. You'll find that you already know them and a quick review will bring everything to you. You need to take flight school and get certified for VFR (visual flight rating), IFR (instrument flight rating), how to plot and file a flight plan, how to use the radios properly, tower protocol and general aircraft behavior.

The performance of our little toy is pretty formidable. I quit pushing when I lifted straight up at 4.2 G. Since it isn't held up by wings mach quenching can't hurt it now. Once it gets above about mach 7 you start to get surface heating, but not much. In upper atmosphere it's been to mach 27. Yes, it's been in orbit. We could make a lot of money as an earth-to-orbit lifter, but a lot of things would have to be strapped down! I almost lost the booze! I had to install a pump and one way valve on the shower drain too. It was quite a little mess.

It took about eight mil to bring it to spec.

The fuel tanks are full and last about seven months at load by my calculation. There's an apartment just off the field with our name on it and a little runabout is parked near the 'tail'. All the info on the apartment and training is on the front seat of the car.

Later.

Jim2"

The rest was receipts and accounting. He'd sold the house! I shrugged. What the hell—I wasn't attached to much there but my clothes and computer --it was fastened to the table in front of me and my clothes were hung up in the closet.

Well. I'd better get fed and start reading! I was bored before. Hell, I sure wasn't now! I headed for the airport restaurant and tucked into dinner then talked to the pretty lady that scheduled classes. I was already paid up and scheduled—I just needed to get my hands on my copy of the schedule and textbook requirements.

Two weeks later I was flying. I could read a weather map and was getting a handle on flight plans, restricted air space, flight levels and tower chatter. I was having trouble with runways and taxiways but I'd get better. Everything that I tried felt natural. Everything was where I expected it to be on the console. My lips twitched a little when the instructor went over GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight), fuel loading, runway length and takeoff temperature behavior as 'my ride' ignored all that. I would solo next week. I needed a bunch of hours before I could take IFR classes.

Once I got my ticket I took a six-month lease on a Cessna Skyhawk that had just had its annual inspection. I checked my account balance and grabbed my passport, then packed an over-nighter. It was time to fly.

I flew all over hell—I touched down and toured every city in the US worth touching (OK, in my opinion, all right?) and got used to most of the airports. I didn't have the range to hit Hawaii but I did spend some time in Alaska. I kept scrupulous notes in my flight log as to my air hours. I went back to Cincinnati every few months to top off the dewars using land-line power. The day-to-day power demands were met by the umbilical near my plane's tie-down--I just had to worry about boil-off from the dewars. I had the black water tank flushed and the water tank flushed every month.

I spent the winter in South Texas and Florida. The money kept rolling in so I ignored the little stuff and kept tooling around, dropping off a case of mini-dialysis units to children's hospitals here and there as I went. I got 'em at cost so it wasn't so much to me. I found out that they were in great demand at burn centers so I worked out a deal with Sandoval to give bunches away to burn units for tax write-offs and public service. I understand that they got a lot of mileage out of that little project.

That spring I took IFR training. I kept comparing what I learned to what I saw in the Citation's cockpit. I was getting more comfortable with the whole idea. I kept the (Plane? Vessel? Ship?) ship's galley and bar well stocked and lived there at least part of the week. I had cable TV, satellite phone and a nice stereo. I wiped down the wood interior with lemon oil once a week and kept it smelling wonderful. The vacuum that came with the thing was a little terror and would damned near tear the carpeting off the floor.

The day I picked up my IFR ticket the nice lady that scheduled the class asked about the thing at the hangar that I was living in.

"Want a quick tour?"

"Sure!"

With my ticket safely in hand I drove her over to my ride. She watched me curiously as I un-docked the power umbilical and removed the tie-downs. I unlocked the hatch and pulled down the gangway.

"After you, lady."

She smiled as she climbed the stairs. I closed and dogged the hatch which activated the gangway lift.

"Come on forward—I'll give you a show."

I unlocked the cockpit door and motioned her into the co-pilot's seat.

"Do you have a ticket?"

"Yes, for twin engine, IFR."

"Well, this is the cockpit from a Cessna Citation X that's had a little work done to it. Now for the show."

I flipped on the power mains, brought up the instrumentation and called the tower.

"Cincinnati tower, VTOL X56577CITX at bunkerage requesting a quick hop up to angels 750 and back down."

"Say again VTOL. Did you mean angels 7?"

"No, tower. Orbit capable VTOL X56577CITX requesting a bounce to angels 750 and back down."

"Uh, scanning traffic. At your discretion VTOL."

I heard in the background "Holy shit! Did you hear that? Get the hi-res recorders running. I gotta get a snap of this!"

I looked over at my passenger. "You all belted in and ready?" She nodded curiously. I tapped a button on the side of my left armrest to engage the controls. A green light on the arm lit. We lifted at 3G. I kept us geographically centered with the system-integrated GPS. We came to rest at 750,000 feet and held station. I smiled big as I kept hearing "holy crap! Holy crap!" out of my earphones.

I looked over at my lady and watched her gasp and turn her head around. It was dead silent in the ship. She looked at me in wonder and said "It's like being in a balloon, but I've never heard of a balloon 140 miles up!"

I smiled back and said "Welcome to the world's first reactionless aircraft, "Jim's Ride". Like it?

"Oh, yeah! We're just hanging here?"

"Yup. I could go back to the cabin and sleep all night. The GPS-integrated nav will keep us on station with no problem and I've got fuel for months."

The radio was getting frantic I figured we'd better get back down so I eased the controls back to zero, keeping the G force at just below 1G to give us some 'down', watching my elevation so that we wouldn't crater. The Distance Above Ground Level display was keeping nicely in sync with the radar. I brought us down almost into the footprints we came from. I was damned proud of myself. I keyed the mike. "Tower control, this is VTOL X56577CITX closing out my flight plan. We're back at bunkerage."

"Acknowledged, VTOL. Welcome back."

I pressed the left arm button again and the green control light went out, then I powered down the flight board. I turned to her and said "Better than sex." She nodded her head with a grin "Yup".

"Want the rest of the tour?"

"Sure!"

I showed her around, from the bed, dresser and closet to the galley and fridge, then on to the lounge with recliners and table. She flopped down, as did I, and she looked at me silently as if waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"Well?"

"Are you from Earth?" I had to laugh. "Yup. Born and raised. This isn't 'Star Trek', and there isn't any Spock. I guess I'm Scotty, though. " I waved an arm around. "This was a good, working Citation X until an inter-modal shipping container landed on the rear end and crushed it flat. The insurance paid up most of the value and I picked it up for a song, comparatively. I pumped a bunch of cash into it, and added a few touches of my own."

"I should hope to shout!"

I looked her over. She was pretty, curvy, well dressed and had flushed cheeks. Let's see where this could go...

"Got your passport?" She frowned a second, then looked through her purse. She shook it at the ceiling in success. "Great. How about dinner in Paris, breakfast in Rome, lunch in Tokyo, dinner in Hawaii and breakfast in San Francisco?"

She goggled at me a minute and smiled a bit. "Mr. Kenner, are you propositioning me?"

I smiled back. "Yes Ma'am. What's your name?"

"I accept. Sue Carpenter." I rose and gently brushed her lips with mine. We were off to a good start.

I handed her back into the co-pilot's seat, buckled myself in and powered up the flight deck. I brought up the GPS coordinates for Orly field, brought up a schematic of their flight lines and picked a destination point.

I keyed the mike.

"Cincinnati tower, VTOL X56577CITX requesting flight plan via suborbital bounce to Orly field, Paris France."

"VTOL wait one, confirming clearance with NORAD. Wait one. Confirmed. Window opens in 5 minutes. Good flight, VTOL."

"Thank you tower, VTOL out."

We putzed about, explaining a few of the instruments to her while the clock ticked down. At 4:40 after clearance was confirmed I activated the manual control and lifted us at 2.5G to 400,000 feet AGL and translated to the proper GPS point, where we proceeded to descend. We were met by 2 jet fighters who attempted to divert us to a military field. I simply accelerated down at 3Gs right through them. When the plane was surrounded by armed police pointing automatic rifles at us I keyed the tower.

"Orly tower, this is international VTOL X56577CITX on ground after suborbital hop from Cincinnatti, as per flight plan. Please confirm."

"What? What is this? What flight plan? We received no notification of any international flight from Ohio and what is this noise about a suborbital hoop? This is Charles De Gaulle Memorial Airport!"

"Sigh. "Get with the picture, guys. I filed the flight plan over 45 minutes ago."

"WHAT?"

Sigh. "Okay guys. I guess you've just been decertified as an international suborbital flight destination until you get it together. VTOLX56577CITX now filing flight plan for suborbital insertion and descent targeting Zurich, Flughafen Zurich-Kloten, first available flight line space. Please advise European Union Space Command."

Dead silence.

"Hello, tower?"

"VTOL, you are not making this up?

"Tower, if you've got glasses, take a look down at your flight line. See the jet with no wings? That's me."

"Impossible."

"Wanna watch?" This was getting to be fun.

"You, you, you foolish man. Stop trying to play jokes at an international air port."

"Orly tower, you're about to get an exercise in reality. Confirm my flight plan, tower."

"Flight plan confirmed, VTOL, for all the good it will do you." I was hearing background snickers from the other pilots over the tower frequency.

"Orly tower, flight VTOL X56577CITX initiating flight plan on my mark. 3-2-1-mark."

As I hit 'mark' I smoothly pulled the controller, lifting us at a steady 2.5G to 250,000 feet, where we translated to Swiss airspace and came down at the first available flight line opening.

I keyed the mike. "Flughafen field, VTOL X56577CITX landed on flight line."

The bloody Swiss are unflappable. "Welcome to Switzerland, VTOL."

I shut the flight board down with a grin. "Sorry about Paris. Will Zurich do?" She was laughing so hard she was crying and hiccupping. After she calmed down we debarked and closed up the hatch. Jim2 had put a car alarm on the thing and I activated it with my key fob <chirp><chirp>. We headed for immigration, passports in hand. We got a wave through from a bemused Swiss official and headed for a bank branch in the airport to exchange greenbacks for Euros. I asked the cabbie to take us to a nice restaurant that would let us in dressed as we were. He looked back at us, cocked an eyebrow and headed off.

We had a nice time at a French/German fusion bistro. I forbore drinking any wine but I encouraged Sue to try what the wait staff suggested.

"Hotel or back on the ship?" She smiled at me. "We already have a nice bed. Let's check it out."

Good enough for me. We headed back to the airport. I arranged for a power umbilical while she picked out a few things at a boutique. I de-activated the alarm and got us inside, where she laid one on me. "Jim, this has been the most fantastic day I've ever had, and tweaking the idiots at Orly was the shit."

She turned to the bathroom with her bags from the boutique while I brushed my teeth at the galley sink. I got down to my shorts, turned down the lights and got into bed, making space for her. She came out of the bathroom in a translucent green negligee and a smile. She climbed in--we smootched and caressed each other for a while, then fell asleep in each other's arms. We weren't going to even attempt to follow the local clock since we'd be back in Cincinnati within 48 hours.

Upon waking we hugged and kissed a bit, then rose and made our ablutions. We proceeded into the terminal where we had croissants and scrambled eggs for breakfast and took care of business. I arranged payment for the berthing and filed a VTOL flight plan for Rome in 30 minutes. EUSC gave their OK and Rome tower was notified. We landed in a four-point-touchdown at Roma Fumicino and drew a few curious looks, but not much will startle a Roman. They think themselves as 'cosmopolitan' and it carries over into almost everything but politics. We made it through customs with just our pockets and her purse and headed for the taxi line. Again, we asked for a nice restaurant that understood English. We had a beautiful egg-based dish with basil, tomato and olives with fresh crusty bread and sweet butter. I had lemon water while she had a light wine. We shopped a bit. Of course, she wanted to buy us both some nice clothes. I got two of the best suits I'd ever seen and a long buttery-soft tan leather coat while she bought four dresses, shoes and a purse. I bought her an emerald necklace and a wide citrine choker so that she would have at least one piece of jewelry that would match each dress. I had no idea what the names meant but the suits were very nice and the bill would have bought a small house in Hollywood. She seemed happy enough, though. I arranged to have the tailored suits sent back to Cincinnati. I picked up some wine, soft and hard cheese, fresh-picked tomatoes, top-grade olive oil and fresh bread for the galley before we headed back to the airport. I filed a flight plan for Haneda international airport just South East of Tokyo and paid my rent.

45 minutes later we landed in Tokyo. I mentioned to Sue that I could get used to this. She agreed wholeheartedly. Tokyo tower had obviously been briefed by Zurich and Rome.

"Haneda international, this is VTOL X56577CITX on the ground in flight line berth 27. Please be advised and close out our flight plan."

"VTOL welcome to Tokyo."

At the customs house we drew a few questions, but didn't have any real problems. I formalized our ground rental agreement and we proceeded to the taxi line.

"Dumplings suit you?"

"Sure!" I called out "Driver, a nice dumpling house that doesn't mind English speakers, please"

That guy tore out of there like his ass was on fire. He did take us to a nice place though. Dumplings (Dim Sum) are more of a Chinese dish, but the cuisine had crossed over successfully. We had a good time, paid up and walked about for a bit. We bought a pair of dark blue silk dressing gowns with white cranes stitched on them. We had some street vendor food then took a cabbie back to the airport. I filed a flight plan for Hawaii, paid my bunkerage and we were off. Hilo international got us down on the ground. We then island-hopped to Lihue airport on Kawai, near the North end of the chain. There we ate a magnificent dinner and sat on the beach watching the waves roll in.

"You know, if those idiot French had fired on us they would have gone right through the skin. A jet's skin is thin--aerodynamic, not bulletproof."

I looked at her seriously. "I know. I've been thinking about it and once we're back home I'll ask a close friend of mine to have a look into the problem."

She looked up at me a moment, then snuggled down into my chest as if Daddy had said everything would be all right, so there. She trusted me and that was the end of that story. I swallowed around the big lump in my throat and put my arms around her. It felt nice to be responsible for someone. After a bit we returned to the ship and snuggled in for the night.

In the morning (our morning—it was quite early yet local time—it was dark.) I filed a flight plan for San Francisco, had NORAD notified and waited for our window. We went up like a frightened bird and came down without a sound. I cleared our flight plan with a very surprised San Fran tower. We took a taxi chopper down to the wharf and market district where we had a great breakfast—I pigged out on fresh seafood while she picked around. We shopped a bit, not buying much. We were more than a bit jaded, I think. I called for a copter to pick us up and take us back to San Fran international. I filed a flight plan, giving myself a bit of time before activation. I programmed the course into the autopilot, waited for the scheduled time and hit the button. 35 minutes later we were on the ground without me touching a thing. A chime went off indicating the end of the autopilot's program. I announced our arrival to Cincinnati tower and shut it all down. Sigh. We were back, safe and in one piece! Sue reached over and took my hand with a grin.

"That was fun! What next?"

"Next I'm gonna rent some lab space and get my friend busy on defense and offense. I felt more than a little naked with the machine guns on the ground, not to mention those French jet fighters swarming us. I want your phone number and I'll give you mine, but it might be a week or more before I see you again. When we're in the lab time sort of—gets away from us. Okay?"

She shrugged. "Okay." She shook her finger at me. "Just don't forget about me buster, or I'll come looking for you." She smiled.

"Don't worry—you're the first person in many years that I've gotten at all close to and I like it. I like you and get the feeling that I'll be waking up next to you for a long time..."

We de-planed and parted with a kiss back at the main building.

Within a few days I had arranged to rent a lab in a local university's physics building basement--we'd done this before so no eyebrows were raised. I sat down in the recliner I'd asked to be delivered and started hitting on bourbon and coke, looking over the schematics of the ship as I went. After four drinks I got more than a little sloppy and passed out.

I woke up. I didn't have a hangover but I felt--disconnected. That was the feeling that I got when I had been out a while. Uh-oh. Sue would be pissed. Goggle-eyed I looked around. I was back in my ride sleeping in the recliner with a couple thick folders in front of me. I groaned, got a drink of water, hit the jakes and started in.

"Hey, Jim.

You gave me a nice one this time! Using low-level high-frequency energy pulses quantum physics allows for a field to propagate that is equivalent to the inverse of a quantum spread and the tunnel effect--it strengthens the outer skin of the shell to a remarkable degree that gets tougher as you get closer to the surface--but only if it's metallic. It refuses to bend, shear, stretch or compress. There are transducers epoxied to the inside of the hull every half meter and you'll see a new console panel where the reverse thrust controller used to be. That energizes it. I suggest that you use it in all extra-atmospheric or high-speed events as it allows for sea level cabin pressure rather than the compromise the manufacturer used of 2100 foot. You may notice that all of the windows have been slightly metallized to allow the effect to strengthen them as well. I dare say that an air-to-air missile would be shrugged off now, not to mention any paltry machine gun fire to say nothing of a suicidal goose.

Transducers have also been mounted along the airframe and out into the winglets allowing for much more enthusiastic maneuvering--well past the point of human endurance, I'm afraid.

Now, as to offense. I've taken this in two directions. You may notice a small bump under the skin at the back of our neck. It's a passive re-radiator that also shows heartbeat, BP and body temperature. The ship will ping your location at random times and if you haven't made arrangements previously (instructions in the other folder) it will come find you and land within five feet of your location. If you're in a building or a bunker it will turn on the skin field and simply land next to your location at high speed--six gravities at current setting If that doesn't do it the first time, the ship will pick up and do it again, and again. It should crush through any normal structure. A retrieval unit based on a bomb defusing robot will then approach you and attempt to bring you within the craft. If we are disabled, injured, drugged or dead the second portion of the offensive programming will activate.

You will notice a new pod on each winglet. Within each pod is a launcher containing 40 pencil missiles with miniaturized drives with extremely dense tips and overloaded drive generators. This was a fun project. I've never engineered anything to withstand 250G before. The skin effect greatly aided in maintaining structural integrity at such accelleration. A high density capacitor should power each missile for roughly 12 minutes after which a bursting charge will cause them to self destruct. The ship will proceed to geostationary orbit and bombard the locale from which we were held until it is destroyed. This same missile launch system has been integrated into an air-to-air and air-to-ground target acquisition and fire control system based on a military Heads Up Display unit that utilizes a lexan panel just inside the captain's windscreen.

In the event that we are disabled, injured or drugged arrangements have been made to land directly at a hospital at Basel Switzerland and we will be cared for.

The retrieval unit also employs a skin field and has a smaller missile pod. It won't take shit from anyone. For 'hard' targets it has tungsten nose-cones. For 'soft' targets it has soft copper nosecones filled with mercury which should vaporize and explode violently under the compression factors involved. Don't worry about mercury poisoning if we get caught in a blast. The first thing the retriever does is to apply a portable dialysis unit to our belly and strap it down.

I had a couple thoughts about micro-gee operations and have made some adjustments. You will notice a panel labeled micro-gee where the fuel pump controls were. Upon activation of the subsystem square panels will open about the craft and a large low-noise fan residing in the cargo bay will begin operating to keep the air moving. Eating in front of the intake near each recliner should capture any food particles. Within the cargo bay is a CO2 scrubber and carbon filter in-line with the air circulation system. A miniaturized air quality lab whose design was admittedly stolen from NASA is integrated into a valving system on the dewars to maintain gaseous partial pressures. Work has been done on the radar system to support the distances involved in supra-orbital work activation of the microgee subsystem modifies the radar power profile. Please do not try to go to Mars yet! The navigation system is too closely coupled to Earth's GPS satellites to easily re-work things. I wouldn't try Luna, either. Geostationary is fine.

If you get in trouble and feel threatened when outside the ship, tap the key fob 1-2, 1-2, 1-2 and stay calm.

Have fun--

Jim2"

Tungsten penetrator rockets? Let's see, 1G is 9.807 M/s/s times 250 gives--my God--2451.75 meters per second squared. A mile is 1609 meters. Yeah, it would hit any damned jet we would come across. The poor bastards wouldn't have anything like time enough to eject. And geosync orbit to a ground target? Integrate that into 35,768 KM. I get 171 seconds and a bit, at about 419 Kilometers per second. I don't think anything would hit the ground except for highly energetic plasma--unless--oh shit--yes. He shielded the pencil missiles too. Now this was overkill. I wonder if they'd penetrate the crust? Umm, yeah. Just one would bring up compressed lava. I really didn't want to try this one. Relativistic rockets. With a bigger battery they would reach a tau factor of .99998 after 40 hours. Oh. My. Fucking. God. These things were fire and forget too--a range officer's nightmare. I'd have to use the 'soft' target heads against anything but a planetary body or a shielded target.

I examined the micro-gee controls. I could boost the oxygen percentage if desired. Nice. The shield controls were obvious and easily understood. The metalized glass feature sort of obliviated the NOAA bird-strike rating if we could now take the equivalent of an artillery shell and shrug it off.

No, noooo we couldn't. The shock would turn us into red peanut butter applied evenly across the console. We could NOT take a hit by an energetic kinetic mass. We also needed a point defense against incoming rounds--something like an AEGIS electric cannon. I wondered if the pusher field could be focused against a small mass, say a ball bearing in a barrel? I'd have to bring it up with Joe2. But first, I had to make nice with Sue! Chocolates? Flowers? Good bourbon? I'd have to throw myself on her mercy and see what remained.

I got out my phone and, with trepidation, made the call.

"Hi, Sue? I just made it back to the land of the living."

silence. "Who is this?"

"Aww, Sue--don't be that way! I told you that I disappeared for a while when in the lab! Besides, I've got the answer! You wouldn't believe what I've got now. Can I tempt you to dinner at Brennan's in New Orleans tonight? I know you've got a nice dress to wear."

"Well, Okay. I guess you didn't snub me, but I'll have to see it to believe it."

"Great! May I pick you up? When and where?"

"It's 10:30 now, how about 4:30 I meet you at your tiedown."

"It's a date. I'll shave and get prettied up and see you then."

My new gray silk suit still fit fairly well--I must not have been abusing myself too badly while working. I called in a 6:00 PM reservation at Brennans, ordered Sue a dozen cream-colored roses and checked over our account balances.

We took a hit for the tungsten but the dialysis machine revenue was constantly feeding our accounts. We had over 16 million in liquid assets. It was past time to put it to work for us. I made notes concerning adding a dual-clamp belly payload carrier and an articulated arm for orbital work. With Sue as a technical specialist we could go into the business of orbital cargo work for very little expense. We could charge 100,000 dollars per pound and still get all the work we could handle.

I'm sure Jim2 would appreciate the work.

I met Sue at the door and handed her the roses. Naaw, I didn't just slap them into her hand-- I laid them across my palms and bent over them while watching her face. She raised her palms and I lowered the flowers from my palms into hers. It was sweet. We found a vase for them and sat down to talk.

"The ship is now defended and can shoot down anything in the air. We can still be shot at and killed by transferred kinetic energy as in an auto accident but simple bullets or explosive rockets will never harm my ride."

I showed her the letter from Jim2 and gave her my impression as to what the missiles could do. Her eyes got wide, just as mine did.

"Holy crap."

"Yup. they're more of a last ditch resort rather than a go-to weapon. It's a final solution if I ever heard of one. I'm going to send a précis of this to every government that might think about getting their hands on this vessel or kidnapping me tomorrow morning. If you'll notice, the conditions for being away from the ship must be met before exiting. The conditions may not be altered afterwards as I could be in anyone's hands."

"Jim, who's Jim2?"

I took a deep breath. "You're the only person other than me that will know about this. You must keep this close to your vest. When I was 5 or 6 I was supposedly some sort of uber genius. When I was 7 I was in the back seat of our family sedan when we got hit by a bank robber's escape car. He was doing 95 or more and blew through a stop light. Mom and Dad died right there. I was beat to hell, but I survived. They say I didn't move for months and came back as me--Jim, regular Jim. When I get drunk, Jim2 comes forward and fixes things. He's kind of my big brother, in a twisted sort of fashion. He likes to solve problems but refuses to get involved with people. Jim2 is still too hurt. Me, not so much." I smiled at her, carefully watching her face. She blinked and slowly reached out to hold me. We were all right again.

I filed a conventional flight plan for New Orleans international airport and we went angels up. Once down I stealth-lifted and cruised across lake Ponchartrain at about two feet AGL. Once I butted up against the dock I backed up six inches, set the altitude to six inches and engaged the autopilot in station-keeping mode. It wouldn't budge if it got hit with the Queen Mary. I escorted my date down the dock to the restaurant proper where I called for my reservation. I suppose we cut quite an entrance, but if you've got it, flaunt it. We strutted into the dining room like we owned the place. We had a nice table overlooking the lake and the dock--and my ride. The dinner was impeccable and we finished it off with the house signature dish--Bananas Foster. I hope Jim2 was experiencing this somehow, along with me. It seemed as if my life was coming together--good food, exquisite company and relative immunity from the cares of the world.

When we finished our meal I paid and tipped well. We strolled down the dock to be confronted by Louisiana parks and waterways officer in a speedboat.

"Sir, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ticket you. Your vessel has no license sticker."

"That's because it's an aircraft, officer."

Silence. "You're bullshitin' me, son."

"Officer, I swear on my mother's grave. Want me to prove it?"

I don't know where the hell I got this mischievous streak from, but I was going to pull an Orly. We climbed in, sealed the hatch, strapped into the cockpit, powered up the board, called in a flight plan to Cincinnati and vertically lifted at 2G to angels 70, leaving a thoroughly confused parks and waterways officer behind us.

We spent the night together back at my home port, spooned together most comfortably.

In the morning she had to work, so it was off to her apartment for a quick wash and change of clothes. I topped off the dewars and checked to see if we still held a lease on the university lab. Jim2 had extended it so we were good to go. I wrote up a précis of the problem with the offensive armament and a request for ideas on how to make us a cargo lifter while maintaining the skin effect for defense. It would be nice to have a little mach 2 or 3 ballistic repeating cannon that would acquire a group of targets and address them fast enough to intercept incoming fire with something the size of a BB or so. I was getting tired of bourbon so I switched to screwdrivers. Things got fuzzy, things got warm, and then things got dark.


Whoo. Here we go again. I've been kissing the gutter again. Where the fuck am I? I'm lying down. Check. Beeping machinery. Check. I turned my head. Call button pinned to the pillow. Check. How the hell did I get in a frickin' hospital??

I hit the call button. In a couple of minutes a nurse scurried in, quickly examining me for evidence of life.

"You're awake!"

"I think it's a prerequisite for hitting the call button, yes."

"You've been unconscious for over 72 hours. When they brought you in you were hardly breathing. We were concerned that you wouldn't wake up."

"Where am I?"

"Basel, Switzerland."

"Would there happen to be any news of a horrible building fire or earthquake during the last week?"

"Why, yes! There is a large cinder mound and lava flow where Ashkelon used to be in Israel! Why?"

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