Back at the top secret base Major Samantha Roberts had recovered from her ordeal. Upon being debriefed she discovered the top secret project her grandmother had been a part of back in the fifties.
What was even more shocking was discovering her favorite actor, Percy Quill was still alive onboard the ship. Unlike most young women of today, Sam was a classic movie enthusiast and collected Percy Quill memorabilia.
Much of the crew were enlisted men from the fifties but Percy Quill, Griff Richards, Bobby Ziess and Owen Ridder had all chosen to stay on base and not intrude into Jackie's home. The four were briefed with the recent history and introduced to new technologies.
Griff, Bobby and Owen took the news in stride but for Percy whose life was the theater and movies this was horrible news. He was a long dead celebrity and his acting career was no officially over. The opportunity of the life time, to spend a month in orbit turned into the trip from hell and it cost him everything including his stage name.
The four men sat at the table in the cafeteria and picked at their food. They didn't really know what direction their lives were going to take for everything had changed.
Percy stated, "My career is over."
Bobby shoveled in the food, "You're still a pilot. You can fly."
The actor rolled his eyes. It wasn't the answer he wanted.
Griff tried to reassure him, "I hear the entertainment industry is booming. You could get a movie deal. Just have to use another name."
Owen added, "Or do gigs where you pretend to be yourself. I read about something called celebrity impersonation. People who look like famous actors and singers do jobs pretending to be them."
Percy soured, "That's the most idiotic thing I ever heard."
Sam had entered the cafeteria and spotted the trio, she grinned nervously and approached them, "May I sit with you guys?"
Owen noted how much the Sam resembled Bambi, he couldn't help but smile, "Sit down, Major."
"I appreciate it," she took a seat next to Percy. She gazed upon the faces of the men, "I just came from a meeting with Colonel Stockwell. We are retrofitting the Acme with updated equipment and attempting to figure out how the contortion drive engine had activated on its own. We're gonna put in safeguard to prevent that from happening again."
Percy remarked, "Just put that stinking ship back in the bottom of the ocean. Damn thing is a jinx."
Shocked she asked, "You don't like the ship?"
"It ruined me," claimed Percy.
Griff added, "We're still adjusting to being sixty years into the future. Percy was an actor and well…"
"Oh I know he's an actor…I got a box set of all his movies," she informed.
He cocked an eyebrow, "Most of the men on this base have no idea who I am. The only enlisted who know where the men stuck on the ship with me. My career is done."
She suggested, "You could still go into acting, Mr. Quill."
He rolled his eyes, "All my contacts are dead and so am I. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get into the film industry?"
"I can imagine," she replied. "You could join the USO?"
He muttered, "I wouldn't do that during the war and I will not do that now."
She opted to try and cheer the men up, "I'm going to visit my grandmother…Would you guys like to come with me? I think it would do you guys good to get off base for a while."
"She doesn't have enough room in her house for all of us? Does she?" asked Bobby.
"There is a hotel not far from the air school," recalled Sam. "I can get you rooms there. I would like to get the main crew of the Acme back together. We need to discuss future plans."
Percy asked, "Future plans? I get it! We're expendable. Since we're already legally dead…If the ship is going to explode it's better if we are on it."
"I will be on the ship too," informed Sam.
Jackie had taken her family and friends down to the air school so they could see what changes had been made. Fred was discouraged upon finding out the air school was no longer attached to the college and it was now a private club that offered flying lessons. It still served as a wing for CAP and sponsored air racing but the sport was not as popular as it was during its golden years.
He was surprised to find the P-51 mustangs were now considered "vintage war birds" and his racing plane along with Frank's were converted back into war machines with non-firing weapons. The two planes were now part of a living history tour that Jackie and a number of other private pilots would take part in during the season. "World War Two Re-enactor" was a term he never thought he would hear much less see firsthand but the last Great War was now considered ancient history and happened in the first half of the last century. Fred felt even older than before.
The men and woman had to also come to terms that they were out of their jobs. The air school had all the positions full and Jackie only worked part-time.
Daniel's career as a teacher was over. Upon driving by the school he was astonished by the massive buildings, lines of buses and bizarre display of clothing the young were wearing. His parents' house was no longer in existence and was sold after their death to a mall developer. The orchards he grew up in the home he loved were now a parking lot.
Driving one the flight school's buses, Jackie took them all around Glendale past the old housing tracks and even through the cemetery where Frank and Daniel could come to grips with the death of their loved ones. It was a sobering reality for all. With the exception of his own home, there was nothing left for Daniel in Glendale. No one felt like that had truly come home. It was all so different.
Sam had arrived with her the other four from the ship as they came back to the farmhouse. Jackie wondered why she was back so soon but was excited to see Sam brought her friends to see her.
Upon getting out of the small bus Jackie grinned at Sam, "What you doing here so soon?" She then wrapped her arms around her granddaughter.
"We need to talk," replied Sam.
Owen stood arms crossed, "You won't believe this."
She gazed upon her old tail gunner, "What?"
Owen replied, "They want us to be the crew of the ship."
Jackie gapped, "I thought it would be mothballed."
Sam shook her head, "This is the opportunity of a life time…Heck, of a century. There are unidentified object attacking our test flights. This ship can protect us up there and you guys know the ship better than anyone."
"We're not going into space," replied Jackie. "I'm sure the military can find some other suicidal person to do that."
Sam assured, "We know the contortion drive engine enacted on its own. It uses string theory and this is beyond what we can make right now. We are putting in safety measures so it won't happen again. We can control it. And I am going up there, Gram. This is an opportunity of a life time for me too."
"Sam," she cautioned, "I don't want you too. It's too dangerous."
"I can't pass this up," she told her.
Fred looked upon the faces of his family and friends, he added, "Jackie…We might as well do it. None of us belong here…Except you. We didn't spend the last sixty years here like you did. This is like another planet to us."
She looked at their long faces, "You really that uncomfortable here?"
Sadie sucked in breath, "Yeah. This is not our time or our world. We don't belong here."
Jackie gazed upon Daniel, "You wanna go back up?"
He debated, "I don't belong here but I'm leaving you either."
She looked upon her only real possession, her house. She had spent decades alone behind those walls and dreaded the idea of being alone again. She could lose every possession she owned but not lose her family and friends again. Sam was going as well. Jackie was not an old lady in a nursing home. She was aging much slower and would live another life time. The thought of a life time alone was too much for her to bear.
"Then I'm going too," she stated.
Don cautioned, "You're technically ninety-three. You sure you're healthy enough?"
Sam grinned, "She has the body of a thirty year old. She's can come if she wants too."
"Should I sell the house?" wondered Jackie.
Sam laughed, "Where are you gonna live when you are not on the ship? Keep it, Gram. It's free and clear. Just pay taxes and close it up."
"I'll have the air school maintain it when we're gone," she added.
Sam assured her, "This is only beginning, Gram. It's not the end."
Jackie wasn't sure but wherever they go and whatever they do she was not gonna sit it out and stay home alone. She was going with them for better or worse. At least she would have her family and friends with her and that would make it worth any suffering or hardship.
Fred had managed to finish the barbeque pit that he promised to build before Jackie sealed the house up tight. She understood the government would never disclose the projects or discoveries to the general public and knew why…There was too much money to be made. It was all monetary driven; the whole conspiracy was about money. Those who could profit from the technology certainly would.
But she didn't care for she was with her family once more. The mission was basic. The ship would go back into orbit and be used as a weapon's platform to protect the test pilots, the satellite systems and the international space station.
Any testing to the contortion engine would be done in a make shift lab and the ship was never to leave orbit again…On paper anyways. Sam's two friends, Sean and Mitch also got themselves assigned to the ship. After weeks of preparation once more Jackie found herself floating in orbit on the ship.
She looked out over the earth during the daily operations, she couldn't believe she was once again in orbit and it as far as she could tell observing the earth and protecting test planes was now going to be her new life.
Being one of the few pilots to ever fly a "duck" training the young pilots now fell on Jackie's shoulders. Her granddaughter was the head of engineering and in charge of the contortion engine working with Griff Richards.
The crew was doing fine in their new role and though the days were long and tedious without much entertainment and limited contact they were thankful they were still together and would remain so both in orbit and back on land.
A month back orbit had passed and the odd balls of light that were attacking the test planes had disappeared. The ship seemed to have done its job and scared the oddities away.
Sam wanted more than anything to feel like she was part of this very big extended family. But she found having to actually share her grandmother rather intimidating. All her life she had her grandmother to herself and now there was a whole slew of people she never met before that took Jackie's attention away from her.
Sam wanted to have time alone with her grandmother and decided to start a project with one of the ducks; using the contortion technology and string theory she was going attempt to increase speed and maneuverability of the tiny shuttle like craft. This would surely impress her grandmother. A much needed update for the very old vessels.
After working day and night Sam decided it was time to take the little ship for a test run. She asked Jackie to co-pilot with her as they would attempt to do maneuvers outside the vessel.
Jackie had a bad feeling about going outside again but was assured the Acme was safe and there was no chance of the same accident happening twice.
Sam took control of the duck that she named Fledgling and with grandmother sitting shotgun in the confined cabin they left the safety of the Acme for the test run.
Sam grinned, "If I figure it right we should be able to the moon and back in mere hours instead of days."
Jackie sat with her hands cupped and looked over, "If you say so. I really have a bad feeling about this."
"Don't worry, nothing will happen to the Acme," she assured. "I fixed it."
Sam radioed the ship, "Fledgling to Acme. We are ready to start the test run."
Her great-grandfather's voice replied, "Fledgling…You have a go."
Sam grinned, "Roger that." She started the drive she had invented and suddenly there was a flash of light before them. They didn't seem to move.
Jackie asked, "Did it work?"
"Um," she looked over her controls. "I…I…Um…"
Jackie let out a sigh, "Acme, request permission to come back aboard."
She got no answer.
"Acme?" asked Jackie concerned. She wrenched her head around looking for a visual of the ship. She saw nothing. She opened the mic to ground control, "Ground control…Do you read me? This is the Fledgling."
Again she got no answer.
She looked over at Sam, "What the hell happened? You can fix this right?"
"I'm not sure," she looked over the charts and readings. "Um…?"
Jackie casually stated, "You're starting to worry me here."
"I'll figure it out," she assured.
"Before I'm a hundred?" asked she.
Perturbed she replied, "I'm working on it."
Fred looked about the faces of the crew, "What just happened? Where did they go?"
Daniel looked any visual, "I don't see them."
Fred opened a channel, "Ground control, do you have a location of the Fledgling?"
A voice crackled over the receiver, "No, sir…They just disappeared."
"Where did they go?" asked Fred.
"I don't know sir," the voice informed.
As Sam frantically tried to retrace her steps and figure out what went wrong it was obvious to Jackie they were gonna have to land. They could not stay in space for a long period of time. She had pointed the ship in the trajectory of the planet.
"I'm plotting a course for Groom Lake," assured Jackie.
Sam agreed, "Okay, wonder why the radios are down. No flare…What happened?"
"I don't know but I'm telling you that contortion drive engines are not to be played with," scolded Jackie.
"Just head back to Groom Lake," instructed Sam.
As they came in for a landing things were obviously wrong. The facility didn't exist anymore. The whole area looked undeveloped.
"Where is the base?" asked Jackie.
Sam shrugged, "Should be right here."
Jackie once more, "You can fix this, right?"
"I don't know what is wrong yet?" stated Sam.
Jackie and Sam landed the little vessel in the middle of the dry dessert. There was nothing around, no buildings, no signs, nothing. Opting to store the experimental craft, the two push the ship into a small cave they hide the vessel, removed the flight gear and decided to see if they could walk to the nearest town.
After they walked a few hours in the hot sun the pair was relived to find a small town in the middle of the dusty bowl. The pair walked into the local dinner to ask for some water. Wearing green military uniforms, covered in dirt and dust Sam and Jackie certainly did stick out.
The old man behind the bar asked, "What will you two have?"
"Some water," stated Jackie as she looked about the antiquity of the area. She spotted a calendar on the wall. She asked the old man, "Is that calendar right?"
"What'cha talking about?' the old man stated, "I just got that this year."
Sam walked up next to her, glasses of water in her hand, "1916?" She spun around and gazed upon the interior more thoroughly. It was like a picture of an old book. Wooden floors, wooden shelves, and plated wooden chairs. "What month?" asked she.
"It's September," he informed.
A teenage boy came in from the backroom with a broom in hand, "Done sweeping the back, Mr. Parker. Anything else?"
"Around the front, Fred," he instructed.
The boy gazed up at the two women standing in men's clothing gapping at him; he gave a nod, "Excuse me."
Mr. Parker asked, "You two gonna order something other than water?"
"Um…?" Jackie watched the boy start to work. "What's your name?"
He kept working not paying much attention, "Fred Jackson. Excuse me…I have work to do," he walked outside to finish his chore.
Sam's engineering mind scrambled to a logical reason, "Um…the theory must be backwards."
Jackie thumbed towards the young man who just left and whispered, "That's my dad."
"I can fix this," assured Sam.
Jackie's eyes grew wide, "You better!"
Keeping her voice low she instructed, "Whatever you do…Stay away from your father."
"Why?" asked she.
"Because if something happens to him and we are at fault then we could prevent ourselves from being born…It's a called a paradox."
Jackie shook her finger, "You better fix this."
Sam assured, "I can fix this…I think."
Jackie pulled her aside, "How? You said you could only go forward, not backwards."
"Using the speed of light but this is string theory and the laws of physics don't apply here," replied Sam.
Jackie pondered the situation, "So, if we can get back, then we can send everyone back…Home."
"I don't know," stated Sam. "This is new ground. Right now, let's work on getting ourselves back. Okay?"
Jackie nodded, "Okay."
Fred walked back into the store with his friend, Don...Both just teenage boys and trying to make it in the dust bowl. Don held a paper in his hands as he spoke to Fred.
"We should do it," stated Don. "They are willing to pay well."
"We don't know anything about planes, Don," retorted Fred.
Don urged him, "Think about it, Fred. The French Foreign Legion."
"No," he replied.
Jackie whispered, "That's how my father met my mother…In the Legion during the war."
Perturbed his friend asked, "Why not?"
"Mary," he rebutted.
Jackie soured as she spoke softly, "Who the hell is Mary?"
Don patted him on the back, "She's not coming back. Come on, Fred. Time you moved on."
Fred rolled his eyes, "To France?" He was obviously heartbroken over the recent loss.
"French girls are nice," baited Don.
Jackie crossed her arms and shifted her weight, she couldn't believe it was Don who was the adventurer, "What a stick in the mud," she muttered.
Fred huffed, "I am not going all the way to France and get shot at just to meet girls. Forget it!"
"Fine," huffed Don. "I'll go without ya!"
He huffed, "You're gonna get your ass shot off."
Don pleaded, "Then come with me."
"No," he stood firm.
Jackie added to the plea, "I'm sure if you go to France you will never mention Mary again."
Fred looked over at the pair. He wasn't sure what to make of the two, standing in some sort of green uniform, both with short hair. They looked military to him and he wasn't sure if they were men or women.
"You two know anything about the military?" asked he.
Jackie gave a nod, "You'd love it."
Mr. Parker added, "If you're gonna go…Go now before they draft ya, Fred."
Fred asked the strangers, "You two going?"
Jackie and Sam looked at one another; they started to shake their heads.
"Better if we don't," replied Sam.
Fred huffed at Don, "I'm not going either."
"Um…" in a panic Jackie thought fast, "we can join…If you do."
Sam's mouth dropped, she whispered, "I'm not joining the French Foreign Legion. I have to figure out how to fix this."
Jackie whispered back, "Just bait him into it. He is supposed to go."
Sam grinned anxiously, "France…Sounds like fun!"
"I'll think about it," replied Fred. He went back outside with Don in tow. Jackie and Sam followed out of curiosity. The two women stood and watched as Don baited Fred even more.
"Make ya a deal, you hit that crow and we stay but if you miss we both enlist."
Fred retrieved a sling shot from his back pocket of his tattered pants. His clothing dirty and torn and the trousers were too short. He was poor along with most in the region. He placed a small rock in the sling and aimed it for a nearly half dead crow sitting in a bare tree.
Don was just as poorly dressed with tattered dirty shirt and blue dungarees. Both boy just boys stuck in the Midwest with nothing to their name.
Fred took aim and let the rock fly, which missed the half dead crow and broke off a branch with landed on Fred's head. He soured in disgust.
"Damn it," he shook the wood from his body.
As Don rejoiced that he won the bet, Jackie stood in wonderment. How could her father be that bad of a shot? It was a stupid bet and even more ridiculous was the crow which then fell out of the tree. It waddled on the ground before them in some sort of bizarre death throw.
"I hope that's not hereditary," stated Sam.
Jackie shot her a look, "It is! Where do you think we get it from? Ya know; I always thought I would grow old and end up taking care of my father…But this isn't want I had in mind."
Stay tuned for the 4th book coming soon.