War probability power differential maximum impact
[ fiction - february 04 ]
Ty Pearson left Lubbock two hours before dawn heading north toward Amarillo. Sitting next to him on the leather seat of his company-owned silver BMW was a black leather briefcase containing important items which the government needed. Ty was the only person in his company who could pass the rigorous background checks and the interviews and the screenings to be able to get into the Pantex plant. All those years of walking the line had paid off. When his friends and co-workers were out drinking, bending the law and carrying on, Ty was at home, or at the movies, or at home watching movies, or at the library or the bookstore reading or browsing.
Every now and then, Ty would shift his glance from the road to this black leather briefcase and then back to the road again. As he drove along he thought of his dreams. He thought about the past month he had been out West and about how he loved it so much. The wide stretches of land with nothing to disrupt the eyes as they scanned the surroundings. He didn't have that view back in Atlanta. Everything there was too close. The people were too close. There were too many cars. There was too much movement, distraction, and bustle.
Chorus: Space is the place... space is the place... there's no limit... to the things you can do... space is the place... it's no disgrace... to want to know... how to live... space is the place... space, is the place... space, is the place... outer space... outer space... is a pleasant place... a place that's clear... space is the place...
Ty lifted his sunglasses from his nose and peered down at the briefcase.
Out here a man could stretch a little, he thought as he shifted his gaze back to the road. Out here he could make himself something that he had always wanted to be. This was the land of the rugged individualist he had often heard of yet never seen. This was the land of changing shape at will. Ty wanted to change his shape. He wanted to change his job, which he thought slightly demeaning to his very nature. He wanted to steer his own future the way he wanted and not the way a boss wanted. Though he was embarrassed to say it to his friends back in Atlanta, over the last few weeks out here in the West he had been thinking about a career change for himself, a change that was drastic. At least to them it would be. To Ty it was his dream and you can't take dreams away from a man without destroying him first. He entertained thoughts of opening a dude ranch out here. He yearned to be a cowboy and not a candy salesman.
Chorus: there's no limit... to the things you can do... space is the place...
Ty continued his drive north as the sun rallied out of the east and laid its rays down on the flatness of the Texas panhandle, dry and wind-blown. He looked at the briefcase again ashe sipped on the cold coffee out of the styro foam cup he ad bought at the gas station an hour before. He smiled at himself in the rearview mirror thinking of his dreams and what he could do with the commission from this sale.
It was breezy and the gusts buffeted his car as he tried to keep steady in the lane. This was noeasy feat, though the traffic was light this morning. Small cyclones slid past him on each side of the highway, kicking up dust and brush as they wound their way in the direction on their choice. Fields awaiting wheat lay dormant below the great stretching backs of the irrigation machines, backs arched in the yellow-gray light early light. Bleached skeletons waiting to be pumped full of water, to come to life and to belch their contents upon the land. Ty admired the view and the irrigation. So much life brought to a dead wasteland, he thought, how amazing. Creation - the greatest American trait, he thought.
Chorus: it's no disgrace... to want to know... how to live... space is the place...
As Ty reached the southern outskirts of Amarillo, a city he had never been to before in this, or any lifetime, he pulled off the side of the road in a screeching halt of dust because the sight before him was one of the most spectacular sights he had seen in his 32 years of life.
There on the side of the road in the early dawn light stood a gigantic stone statue of a cowboy - the biggest cowboy that Ty had ever witnessed.
He pulled the keys out of the ignition and slowly, reverently, got out of the car with his briefcase in hand and walked up to this great concrete behemoth.
"Good, galloping God," he said loudly as he went up to the statue. "That's the best damn thing I have ever seen!"
He yelped and let out a wild howl and danced around the statue in the dawn light, kicking up dust with his imitation snakeskin cowboy boots. It was a sign. He realized this and became reverent all of a sudden. He was filled with hope at this blessing. He knelt before one of the giant boots and pressed his lips to the stone, shrinking back shyly from the cold touch it gave his lips. The cowboy smiled down at him underneath his black hair. Bits had flaked off the bell-bottomed jeans, and a large chunk of the red bandanna the cowboy displayed proudly around his great neck had fallen to the ground near the feet. The spurs, still intact, glistened in the sun.
Chorus: space, is the place... space, is the place
Ty uttered a silent prayer, crossed himself and, getting into his car with a slam of the door, waved goodbye to the huge cowboy that greeted him on his arrival to Amarillo. As he sped away, doves darted from a nest in the brim of the hat and flew off to find dew drunk grasshoppers for breakfast.
As for Ty, he had not eaten either, and in the excitement of the cowboy scene, the cold coffee raised the bile in his gut. Luckily, a Shoney's billboard advertising all-you-can eat breakfasts appeared on the horizon as he entered the city limits and the tangle of telephone wire. The faded sun had bleached sides of the souvenir shops and gas stations. The glare off the glass from the passing cars and the store windows he passed, the neon still glowing from remnant night-time --all these images gave him a comforting feeling. As he drove further into town, the sprawl became thicker and a huge Texan flag stretched over the roadway shining its great star down on him.
Chorus: outer space... outer space... is a pleasant place... a place that's clear... space is the place...
Driving past the churches (which he crossed himself at each passing), and the schools proclaiming their young men and women proud with banners of football championships and cheerleading triumphs, Ty felt like he had comeback home to a home he had never had. He turned into the Shoney's parking lot, grabbed his briefcase and went inside for the morning fix.
He smiled and nodded at each of the people he encountered, and they all smiled and nodded back, and he found an empty booth at the back of the restaurant in which to sit. He slid the briefcase alongside his leg where he could feel it rest against him. He whistled a little tune to himself in the booth.
The waitress sauntered over after a few minutes and twanged off the specials - freshly squeezed Florida orange juice squeezed in Florida, eggs any way you like them (if you like eggs), hash browns, bacon, steak made to order, honey ham, ham purée, ham salad, ham juice (his ears perked up and he nodded when she recited this), ham salad (there were two kinds), eggs with ham in them, eggs without ham, ham without eggs, cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, doughnuts with steak, doughnuts with ham - Ty enjoyed the ring her voice as she recited the entire menu, but decided on ordering the all-you-could-eat buffet breakfast bonanza.
Chorus: space is the place... space is the place... there's no limit ... to the things you can do...
Ty ate quickly, but managed to make four trips to the breakfast bar (and even smuggled some coffee into his empty Styrofoam cup). The waitress was impressed with his hearty appetite, said something quaint like "I didn't know such as little man could put away that much food. Where did you put all that?" To which they both laughed. He paid, tipped extravagantly, and left with the black leather briefcase.
Ty was supposed to meet his contact at the center of downtown next to a fire hydrant, which was in front to the post office, which was somewhere in the center of downtown, he had been told the night before at his hotel. He drove around for a while and, not having much luck, pulled into an empty parking lot in front of boarded-up barbershop to take a look at his instructions.
He hadn't opened the briefcase since the night before when he was going over the itinerary in the Motel 8 in Lubbock and had forgotten which street the post office was on. Two government men had come to his hotel room and briefed him on what he had to do to get into Pantex. How he had to hear the password from the waitress, how he had to get a code from the clown. It was all very exciting to Ty. He felt a little like he'd been transplanted into a spy novel. He took out five keys from five different hiding places on his person and unlocked the briefcase. Inside were the instructions, which he read carefully once again.
It all became clear in Ty's mind as he locked the briefcase back up and put the five keys back in their secret places and drove off to meet his connection. He headed straight downtown, and pulled up to a parking space in front of the post office. He looked around, but didn't see his connection, so he grabbed his briefcase and his Styrofoam cup and locked the doors and put foot to pavement.
He rounded the first corner where he saw the fire hydrant, and next to the fire hydrant was a clown holding a handful of balloons.
He went up to the clown and smiled.
The clown frowned under his make-up smile.
"What?" asked the clown.
"Would you like some ham juice?"
The clown's smile now matched his make-up.
"I would love some ham juice. Would you like a balloon?"
Ty nodded and took the balloon and handed the clown the ham juice, which he drank off with a flourish. They exchanged nods once again and each walked in opposite directions.
Ty and his balloon and his briefcase went back to the parked car. When he got in, Ty popped the balloon and out fell apiece of paper. He read it carefully, then stuffed it in his mouth, chewed and swallowed it.
Chorus: space is the place... it's no disgrace... to want to know... how to live... space is the place...
Ty drove out of Amarillo on its eastern side, onto the plains that stretched out broadly for miles around. After about fifteen minutes, he turned left onto Farm Route 2373 and continued north on the yellow-brown flats as the morning sun rose higher and began to bake the land. Every now and then he would look at the briefcase to see if it was still there. He whistled to himself again.
Chorus: space, is the place... space, is the place...
The sky was a pale blue with streaks of tear cloud wisps high and wild up in the cold jets as Ty pulled up to the gate at Pantex. The whole complex was a tangle of wire and concrete with guard towers and the American flag and Texas State flag flew proudly over it all. On the fence was a sign greeting Ty, complete with an American eagle showing its fierce pride. The sign said - US Department of Energy: Pantex Plant... Pursuit of Excellence: Improvement Through Involvement...
Pulling up to the guardhouse Ty flashed his credentials to the soldier wearing dark glasses and a stiff smile and was directed to pull to the public parking area. At the Service Facility Building children were running around on a small plot of lawn, part of a field-trip group to see what their parents made when they worked out on this flat plain. Ty smiled at them, thinking to himself that this was just the type of educational experience the youth needed, and wishing he'd had something along the same lines when he had gone to school.
Ty grabbed his briefcase and went inside to the front desk and greeted the receptionist with a hearty hello and signed the guestbook.
"Oh, Mr. Pearson," she said through a row of gleaming white teeth, "we were expecting you a little later, but if you don't mind, I'll call down and see if I can get you in now."
Ty said he wouldn't mind and went and sat on one of the wide black leather seats supported by chrome legs. He held the briefcase on his lap and listened to the soft twang of country music piped in from somewhere unseen. He tapped his foot and watched the people as they came and went.
Chorus: outer space... outer space...
The receptionist tapped away at the phone, smiling away at Ty as he smiled back and tapped his foot - a very becoming tune.
"Do you know what this song is?" He asked from across the room.
"It is lovely, isn't it?" said the receptionist. "I'm not really sure what it is though. My husband would know. He knows all the songs."
"You're husband sounds like a good man," said Ty.
"Oh, he's a wonderful man. As a matter of fact, he works here. You may see him when you go back inside."
"I'd love to. What's his name."
"Lawrence, but we all call him Law. Excuse me - 'Hello, Pantex. Thank you for calling. How can I transfer your call?' - He used to be an MP in the service. Now he guards the weapons inside."
"Quite a job. Sure beats mine."
"Oh, no," she said disapprovingly, "you have a great job. It's hard to find someone from the outside that can pass our checks. Everyone is glad you came."
"Well, thanks. I never have seen myself that way, though," he paused and looked around. "This iskind of a side gig for me to get enough money so I can go into business for myself."
"Oh, and - Excuse me again. 'Pantex. How may I direct your call? Thank you.' - what type of business would you like to get into?"
"Well, it's kind of embarrassing."
"Oh, c'mon. You can tell me."
"Well, I've always wanted to be a cowboy. I'm thinking of opening up a dude ranch."
She answered another call.
"That's great," she continued when she hung up. "There's a plenty of land around here, or maybe in New Mexico, if you want to do that. It's nothing to be embarrassed about."
"You think so? Well, it's just a kind of little dream of mine right now. I have never been out this way too much. Been mostly on the East Coast, but was transferred a month ago into this market. We did a lot of contract work for some of the government firms out East, but really, I've never had to go through this stringent a process before just to get into a building."
"Yes, it is annoying. But you get used to it."
"I'm sure you do. I think I'm getting used to the West."
She answered another call, nodding and smiling at Ty.
"You can go in now. It was good talking to you."
"Thank you, my pleasure."
"Good luck with the ranch."
She held up a finger as the phone rang and answered another call.
A guard came out of the elevator and smiled and motioned for Ty to come with him. Inside the elevator the country music grew louder. Ty began tapping his foot once again.
"Nice," he said, looking up to the speaker.
"Very," said the guard.
The name on the name-tag was G Hanson, and not L (Law) Whatever.
Ty had hoped he would meet Law, wanting to talk to him about the music he had heard. It was always good to know a few people before as big a move as Ty thought his move would be.
They seemed to be going down into the depths of the earth forever, but the ride was a pleasant one and after several minutes the elevator slowed to a stop. The door opened and the guard motioned for him to step out.
They walked down a long white hall and came to a large steel door. The guard took out his laser key and held it up to the sensor. The door opened and they walked through.
Into another elevator they went and down further into the depths of the earth. They repeated the procedure of the long hall and another elevator once again. Ty's eardrums popped a few times as they went further into the earth.
Chorus: is a pleasant place... a place that's clear... space is the place...
The guard took Ty into a white circular room and left him standing in the middle with his black leather briefcase in hand. The guard nodded and left through one of the panels. When he closed it behind him, Ty could not tell where there was a door and where there wasn't a door. All the paneling looked the same. He heard a buzz from a speaker above.
"Please say the sequence password loudly into the microphone," said the computerized voice. A hole opened in the ceiling and a microphone eased down in front of Ty.
Ty tried to recall the message which had fallen from the balloon that the clown had given him on the street. He had a very good memory and recalled it quickly.
"The Sword is likely - might separate the men from the boys - utmost collision," he said into the microphone.
With that the microphone sped up into the ceiling and Ty stood waiting for a minute wondering if he had said something out of order.
Chorus: space is the place... space is the place...
Off to his left a panel opened and a guard motioned Ty to step through. They walked down another long white hall to a door, which opened automatically. The guard motioned him inside and left.
The room seemed to be a break-room - a long table with newspapers scattered about in the middle, a sink and kitchen off to the back, empty candy machines. Ty sat down and started to read the sports section of a week-old Amarillo paper.
The guard came back a few minutes later and told him to come with him. They walked down the hall again and back into the circular room. Another panel opened and in walked a military manwith quite an array of medals pinned to his chest. Ty straightened. The man gave a broad grin and put out his immense hand.
"Mr. Pearson, glad you came," he said, shaking his hand. "You don't know how much trouble we have to go though to find someone like you that we can bring down here. The background checks, the interviews," he wiped some sweat from his forehead, "it's a hassle and a hell of a lot of money, but I guess it's worth it. Don't you think?"
"Well, I sell a good product, and everyone needs it I guess."
"I'm sure the boys will be mighty happy to see you. Want to see the inside? I don't see much harm in it. Everyone knows what we do down here nowadays anyway."
And with that the military man -Ty had no idea what his rank, though he looked like he was at least a Colonel or General -with that they exited through yet another panel and went into a huge room the size of an airplane hanger.
There was a lot of metal and wire and great support beams in the vast room. Yellow paint stripes ran along the floor as walking guides. Off to the sides, men in white suits --they looked almost like doctors to Ty - were busy working on warheads at immense tables.
"We take them apart now, my boy," said the military man making a broad sweeping gesture with his arm. "No more putting them together nowadays. Pretty soon these people could be out of jobs. It's a shame. I don't know what they will all do then."
"Yes, it is sad," said Ty, suddenly feeling for the plight of these people.
"But you never know. Tomorrow we could start putting them all back together again."
"Oh?" Ty gazed at the warheads.
"Yeah, if those Chinese start getting too big-headed," he poked Ty in the ribs, "we could start rolling them off the line as fast as shit dries in the desert."
"Well, that's comforting."
"Yes, and there are always the Russians."
"Yeah, them too." Ty pondered for a minute as they walked along. "Dangerous world isn't it?"
"Yes, and much worse than you Civs realize."
"I guess so," Ty lapsed into thought about the dangers surrounding them in the world. "But we have you to protect us, sir. Takes a load off my mind, you know."
"I'm here to serve my country - just doing what I'm told and doing it the best I can," the man said, looking into some distant realm.
Ty felt his heart swell inside his chest as this man voiced his patriotism while they continued walking the yellow line.
Off to the side a man was hammering away at a large cone of metal, trying to pry off a rusty bolt that didn't want to budge. He cursed and came down hard with the hammer busting the bolt off. The tip of the capsule fell with a large clang to the hard floor exposing a mess of wire inside the warhead.
"Hey, watch that noise!" said the military man. "Don't want us all to go deaf, do you?!"
"Sorry, sir," the straightened up and saluted. "It won't happen again, sir. Thing just wouldn't budge."
"Understood, son. Keep up the good work, but just watch the noise. I think I'm going deaf down here."
"Yes, sir!" he saluted again.
They continued following the yellow line all the way to the other side of the huge room. The yellow line went under a door to a different room. The military man opened the door and asked Ty to step inside.
There was a large group of men sitting around a huge oval table, sipping cups of coffee and talking disinterestedly. When they noticed Ty had finally come, they all perked up a little.
"Here's our savior, boys," the military man said, slapping Ty on the shoulder. "Now, if you'll show us what you have in the briefcase, we can get down to business."
"Certainly, sir," Ty said. He was a little thrown off by the grand reception, but enjoying every minute of it. He had never experienced anything like it in his line of work in his three short years working for Cosmos Candy Inc. - and even though the government was the biggest contract the company had, Ty never had to go through this much of a security check just to pitch a sale.
He set the case on the table as the men gathered round, produced the five keys and went to unlocking the briefcase. When he opened it, he could tell he had them sold. Their eyes brightened and their mouths watered. There were oohs and aahhs from them as they came closer.
"What is that one?" asked the man to his left, pointing.
"That, my friend, it the Giddy Gum-Drop Garantua. It's one of our top sellers - and chock full of flavor. Lime, orange, cherry, atermelon, grape, and my favorite... mango. Here, try one."
Ty grabbed a sample and passed it to the man. He was like a little child pulling goodies out of the Christmas stocking, greedily tearing at the wrapper and taking a huge bite.
"This here is Choco-Chocolate-Chunk, our best candy bar. It's got chunks of chocolate and brownie in it. Very good."
Ty passed around a few to the awaiting hands.
"Here is a plain chocolate bar - better than Hershey - and here is a toffee bar with caramel and dark chocolate. That's the one that I really like."
He gave that one to the military man who had escorted him inside.
Chorus: there's no limit... to the things you can do... space is the place...
Ty handed out as many samples as he could, he knew he had them hooked, but he wanted to make sure he had the sale. The men were scarfing them down as fast as they could; it seems they had had no candy in their machines for quite some time.
The military man who had escorted him inside took him over to the side and, while chewing on the candy bar Ty had given him, asked him to sit down.
Ty, my boy, I think we have a deal," he said between chews. "It's hard getting people with a clean record likeyours to come in here. Now, you can't tell anyone what you have seen down here, understand. Then, I'm afraid, the deal will have fallen through, and there would be other consequences to deal with," he said, becoming a little grave. "You understand, don't you?"
"Oh, yes sir. My lips are sealed," he said, making a zipping motion across his mouth. "Nobody could beat it out of me. I love this country, sir, and would do nothing to jeopardize it."
"Good, good, my boy. We need more men like you. Ever thought of coming to work for the government?"
"I think I have other plans, sir."
"If you ever reconsider, you know who to call," he said, smiling broadly. "Glad we could help each other."
They shook hands and Ty gave the man some paperwork to fill out and they shook hands again. Ty gave the man another candy bar for good measure and they left the room, followed the yellow line, and Ty was led back into the circular room.
They followed the similar procedure to exit, with Ty reciting the password sequence, and the guard taking him to various halls, and various elevators.
Chorus: it's no disgrace... to want to know... how to live... space is the place... space, is the place... space, is the place... outer space... outer space... is a pleasant place... a place that's clear... space is the place...
Ty said goodbye to the receptionist, and told her to say hello to her husband and she said she would. He said that he might give her a call sometime if he got a ranch in the area, and she said she would love to hear how things turn out for him. He slipped her a Carmel Comet candy bar before leaving and waved goodbye as he left out the door.
In his car, Ty celebrated with a hearty yell at the sale and was in a state of euphoria as he dreamed of the money he would get from this huge commission. He sped out of the Pantex complex, waved at the guard at the gate and headed south to the main highway. He turned west and headed into Amarillo again and then headed south. He wanted to go see the giant cowboy one more time before he had to make the long drive back to the regional office in Pheonix.
As he pulled up the statue loomed before him in the setting sun. Ty grabbed a candy bar out of his briefcase and reverently laid it at the feet of the huge cowboy and once again kissed the toe of his boot. As the cars passes by on the highway, Ty kneeled before the statue and voiced his prayers of thanks.