Ryder Airfield, Jet City
May 20, 1960
The Semi-Centennial of Superhumans
“Let’s go over this one last time,” Dr. Brighton announced. Trent wiped the sweat from his forehead, though it wasn’t because of the heat. Jet held his flight helmet at his side, listening intently. “Inside the casing there are four motors, two regulators, two back up regulators and three projector dishes. When the device has fully warmed up, the dishes will be spinning at very high speeds so keep an eye on those RPMs. To achieve a maximum effective radius for what I’m dubbing the “Mind Wave” you will need to stay at about ten kilometers or so. A small deviation from the flight path we agreed upon is acceptable, but try to keep it within specs, please.”
“And again, the clouds won’t be a problem?” Jet asked.
“The wave will theoretically be able to pierce the clouds,” Brighton replied.
“Theoretically,” Jet replied back to him.
“Additional tests will be necessary before we get the calibration spot on, but yes,” said Brighton.
“A wave powerful enough to punch through cloud cover is going to do a number on everyone down here, won’t it?” Jet asked.
“I thought that was the point of all this, Ryder,” Brighton said, the smallest hint of a smile working its way up his face.
“Your jokes were never that funny,” Jet said, frowning.
“Well, boys, I think we’re well past the point of being ready. Aren’t we?” Mayor Trent announced, raising his arms to get the scientists and flight crew cheering.
“Your enthusiasm is refreshing but let’s not lose sight of the goal,” Brighton replied.
“Forget losing sight of it, we’re definitely never going to see it from the ground. Get on up there, Jet!” Trent said, clasping an arm around Jet’s shoulder and moving him forward. The plane’s ground team whooped and hollered while the scientists amicably clapped. Jet turned to Trent, unable to hide his worry.
“Mayor Trent… John,” Jet said, lowering his voice so only Trent could hear. “If this doesn’t work, I want you to know it was worth the try. No matter what happens.”
“Of course, my boy. Now go up there and make us all proud,” Trent said with a hearty slap on the back.
Jet had done hundreds of take offs, but this one felt different. Obviously this was historic. If this worked, there would be no more crime. Anywhere. Beyond that, who knew what was possible? There could be no more war, as beatnik of a thought as that was. No more hunger or homelessness. Whatever dream the brightest minds on Earth could dream was now attainable. But the unspoken reverse was also true. That’s why, if this worked, the technology could never fall into the hands of wicked men; for there was no limit to the nightmares their twisted minds could conjure. Of course, if there were no more wicked men it wouldn’t a problem, would it?
Jet climbed into the cockpit. It smelled like new. The state of the art instrument panel almost sparkled, even in the cold grey light of an overcast morning. Final checks were done. This was it.
“Ryder-1, you’re clear for take off,” Tower said.
“Good copy, Tower,” Jet replied.
“God Speed, Ryder,” Brighton said over the radio.
The plane’s engines roared to life. Down the runway he sped, cutting through the air like a warm knife through butter. Smoothly, elegantly, the plane lifted off the ground and seconds later he was high above the tree line near the forested edges of Jet City where the Cascadian foothills began. Higher and higher he climbed, rain streaking over his canopy.
One hundred meters off the ground. Two hundred. The soaring towers of downtown Jet City came into view. Three hundred meters. Four hundred. Then he could see the almost finished Stillaguamish Canal Project beyond, then Puget Sound before his visibility ended. This was what Jet Ryder lived for. It was a cliché to hear a pilot talk about the air, the sky, flying. But life didn’t make sense on the ground. He felt so small, so insignificant down there. He’d been lucky to be born here in Jet City, where flight was at the center of everything even before it’d gotten the name. Here, at one of the many flight schools, he’d learned to fly before he could drive, hell before he could ride a bike. His father joked that he’d come out the womb wearing an aviator helmet. And scarf to match!
The clouds were up ahead; fat, dark and low. A menacing backdrop for such an auspicious occasion. He almost didn’t notice the white twin engine prop plane with a distinctive green stripe fly up on his right.
“Tower, come in Tower. Is there a West Coast Flight in the air right now?” Jet asked.
“No, sir. Clear skies,” Tower replied. The plane began to lilt toward him. It’s windows were blacked out so Jet couldn’t see inside.
“Well, gentlemen, there’s a DC-3 heading right for me and it’s picking up speed,” Jet said, starting to worry.
“Stay the course. We’ll try hailing it,” Tower replied.
“You’ve got three seconds before it… Shit!” Jet cursed as he dropped his nose to dodge the plane coming in on his left.
A hatch opened on the fuselage of the plane on his right. A long, nasty looking barrel came out of it and starting firing.
“Ryder! What’s happening up there?” Brighton radioed in.
“Tell me you put guns in this thing, Doc!” Jet replied, dodging the incoming fire.
“Don’t be absurd! Get out of there before they ram you out of the sky!” Brighton shouted. A hatch opened on the second plane revealing a similar looking anti-air gun.
Jet expertly maneuvered his plane out of the way of the two’s line of sight, banking hard right so they had to turn to stay aimed in. To his surprise, the planes were able to turn at death defying angles, almost stalling out just to stay in line with him. His dogfighting instinct came back in a hurry. Before he knew it, he was doing barrel rolls, loop de loops, anything to get them off his tail.
“Ryder, can you identify the pilots?” Brighton asked.
Jet looked as best he could but even the cockpit windows had been blacked out on both planes.
“I don’t see any pilots!” Jet shouted. “These damn things might be flying themselves!”
“Damn it! Hang tight, old friend. We’re working on a solution,” Brighton said.
Jet realized very quickly that there was no way he could bring this fight back to the airfield without injuring the ground crew and scientists supporting the mission.
“I’m taking her up,” Jet said.
“Are you crazy?” Brighton asked.
“The Douglas DC-3 has a ceiling of seven kilometers, well below the mission parameters and I can hit twenty easily if I have to. All I gotta do is climb high enough, fast enough, and I can lose them.”
“We’re going to try and get some back up for you but just be careful,” Brighton said. “If they damage and depressurize your fuselage your flight mask won’t have oxygen for long.”
“Better put that in your notes, Doc. More oxygen,” Jet chuckled. He pulled back and down on the yoke, aiming the nose of his plane up at the murky heavens. He climbed faster and faster. Six hundred meters. Seven hundred.
The DC-3s gave chase, firing at him when they could.
Eight hundred. One thousand. Twelve hundred. Fifteen hundred.
The DC-3s kept pace. He could have sworn they were actually speeding up. He pushed the plane to its limit, climbing so fast his face began to numb.
Two thousand meters. Twenty five hundred. Three thousand.
A round grazed his left wing, two more went wide. He kept pushing, higher and faster.
Four thousand meters. Five thousand. Six thousand.
His plane broke through the clouds, the towering heights of a storm system reached high into the sky off to his right. Lightning flashed in its dark core. His pursuers broke through the clouds beneath him, not slowing down.
“Here we go,” Jet said.
Seven thousand meters. Eight thousand. The DC-3s weren’t slowing down. Nine thousand. More rounds flew past him. He had two ideas. One kind of crazy, one very crazy.
“Ryder, we have you at ten kilometers and climbing. Are you okay?” Brighton asked.
“Bogeys still on my tail. These aren’t ordinary planes, Doc. I think I’m going to have to keep climbing.”
“Don’t push it! You’ll hit the stratosphere at this rate and then your problems are only going to compound!” Brighton exclaimed.
“I know what I’m doing,” Jet replied.
“Ryder-1 this is Tower. We have multiple incoming on our position. Strong chance we’re going to lose contact with-”
The radio went dead. Of course. How could he have assumed these two were the only ones in the air? More must be targeting the airfield and they were all sitting ducks! He was so far away, he couldn’t possibly get to them in time without risking the experimental equipment. No. They were right below his position. He had the means to stop this right now. All he had to do was push the button.
“Ryder! We’re under attack! Call the Air Force! Call the National Guard, the American Hero Society! Somebody!” Brighton frantically cried.
Another round grazed his tail. This was it. The end of the line.
“I’ve got another idea. It involves the Scientific Method!” Jet shouted, leveling out his plane and hitting the button.
The machine came to life.
History changed forever.