“You’ve been a busy beaver,” observes Agent Waters.
“You’re ‘dam’ right,” Leo answers.
Otto is parked in front of the Quill Foundation helipad. There’s no helicopter this time. What’s parked there is an enormous jet fighter, with an Otto-shaped gap in the back half. There’s no weapons - missile pods, guns, or any other sign of offensive or defensive armament. But the engines are big, and there’s some kind of additional high-tech systems under the wings.
Otto pulls forward to fill the gap. The sound of myriad connection points locking home makes itself heard, a loud pop-pop-popping and then a distinct suction sound, like being inside Tupperwear as it’s sealed.
“First time seeing a combination from inside. What do you think?” Leo asks. He’s grinning, with that unique child-like pride when someone’s opinion of your deed matters more than the deed itself.
“I think you built a jet fighter in three days.” Agent Waters is peering about him, taking in the equipment and process with a practiced eye. “The Pentagon would be very interested.”
Leo rummages through his backpack as he talks. “Jason lent me some of his facilities to mass-produce enough modules for it. We have, uh, kind of a temporary agreement right now. It’s using the standard first-generation module kit, plus Otto’s metastable hydrogen rocket design, and the levitation system Dr. Quill uh, recovered. We’re nowhere near finished, though.” He pulls out a manila folder, and hands it over to Waters for inspection.
The old man smiles, and briefly leafs through it. And you’re letting me examine it of your own free will, before my superiors order me to do so.
The conversation is familiar. It’s been going on for a decade, between man and boy. Waters remembers: You have power too, Leo. People worry about what you’ll do with it.
The next question is obvious. Waters has to ask out of duty, even though he already knows the answer. “Is it armed?”
“It could roll over your foot if you aren’t careful,” Leo replies lightly.
Otto chimes in. “Welcome aboard Newman Air. Preflight checks are complete. We’ll be departing Halcyon City in approximately two minutes. The weather is sunny and clear. Your pilot and DJ will be yours truly. Please keep your seatbelts fastened at all times, 'cause this is our first manned flight.”
Waters raises an eyebrow.
Leo tries to sound reassuring. “Don’t worry. It’s safe. Otto has an independent flight system, and there’s an emergency undock. The Phoenix is still kind of a newborn anyway. It doesn’t even have a real mind yet. Aria’s working on that. Right now, it’s just wings, body, rockets, levitation system, and sensors. There’s a genetic algorithm at the heart of it, and all it does is take wind resistance and fuel expenditure measurements, and outputs wing geometry. The plane transforms itself accordingly. Sort of teaching itself how to be an airplane.”
Waters smiles amiably at that. He’s still a little concerned - not necessarily for his own safety, but what it’ll mean once his superiors learn about this new thing.
Then again, they didn’t seem very keen on that Vector fellow’s story either. Given the choice of Rook Industries, or this young man, who would they prefer be steward of the future?
“And here we go!” Otto announces. The whole frame shakes. The feeling of wheels leaving tarmac is distinct. The docking process plunged the interior of the car into darkness, but the front panel now lights up. It’s relaying video from the front of the craft, along with radar indicators and other avionics. The Quill Compound slowly falls away, and the vehicle starts moving, upwards, and forwards. There’s a subsonic hum, then a roar as engines ignite.
Waters realizes Otto has started playing a song over the sound system. As he recognizes it, he smiles. It’s an oldie for kids like these, but very much appropriate. Well done, lads.
Into the distance, a ribbon of black
Stretched to the point of no turning back
A flight of fancy on a wind swept field
Standing alone my senses reel
A fatal attraction is holding me fast
How can I escape this irresistible grasp?
Can’t keep my eyes from the circling sky
Tongue-tied and twisted
Just an earth-bound misfit, I
author: Bill G.