On a planet called Heaven, Captain Albright crash lands and meets his future wife.
|"On A Planet Called Heaven"|
Cyril Wayne Thornton
Captain, USAF - retired
Sprawled out on the living room floor, seven-year-old God Albright looked at pictures of his ancestors in a photo album while his mother, Gamma, fixed breakfast.
“Breakfast is served,” announced Gamma – a smile on her face for using that expression, usually reserved for more formal affairs.
God sprang to his feet and charged toward the breakfast table. God’s father, Papagee Albright, hurried into the room, had a quick cup of coffee, kissed Gamma goodbye, and went to work at the science department of the Atomic Energy Commission annex on Little Para.
She looked down at the scars she bore from the microbes that had once invaded her skin tissue, pock marks and blemishes on her hands and arms. Was it worth it? Of course it was, else I would have never met Papagee. We were infected together, almost died, and then came the rains. Is there an invisible protector some place in the universe?
God, usually in a happy-go-lucky mood, but this morning Gamma noticed his face, serious, with no smiles. He squinted his eyes and scratched his head.
“Do you want more orange juice?” she asked.
“When will I die?” God asked his mother.
Gamma looked at her son and saw his father again, always asking questions, searching for answers, and saying the unexpected.
"Son, the chances are long and strong that you and I will not die.”
While eating cereal, he glanced up at his mom, and in a calm manner he asked, "Why do we fear death?” He asked it in a relaxed tone of voice, similar to “Would you pass the butter?”
When Gamma heard the word death mentioned, she cringed and thought of her parents and one of her brothers who died before the people of her planet evolved. She said, "Fear has never been evolved out of our thought processes.”
Gamma watched her son eat his morning meal in a business-like manner. He will be a good worker someday, she felt. He will be a scientist like his father.
[A few years earlier Papagee had fought for the Northern Army in a civil war on Planet Heaven.]
Chapter 1 ' Captain Papagee Albright
'Shoot the clouds!' the Air Force flight leader screamed through the intercom.
Papagee launched all 16 of his missiles into the area where he saw the bandits disappear into the clouds. Two enemy planes fell and a rebel jet flew away from the battle.
His leader did a victory roll and said, "A heck of a deal. Good going, Motor Scooter.'
Papagee smiled, but felt helpless. Out of missiles, he could no longer defend himself.
'Return to base, Papagee. ' Major Barns and I will cover your flanks.'
'Copy that, squad leader,' said Captain Papagee Albright, mentally exhausted from his three hours of hide and seek combat against the rebel force of M-29 jets.
He took off his helmet and wiped the sweat from his short black hair, removed his oxygen mask, and stretched out his long legs for a smooth ride home. Now I get three days off, drinking Margaritas and relaxing by the pool, he thought when he turned his plane toward home.
About an hour away from his airfield, the hum of the engines caused Papagee to become drowsy. His eyelids drooped and he pushed them up with his fingers, but they closed again. Unable to stay awake, he pressed the autopilot button and said, "Just a few minutes of shut eye, that's all I need." He closed his eyes and fell asleep.
He dreamed of a pleasant time in his life, a time when he ran across the green soybean fields and sucked in plenty of oxygen, and felt coolness, as if he drank a cold glass of water, a time when he played with his dog, Teddy. He saw himself as a young boy laugh at the dinner table with his father. He saw his father try to stay serious and then bust tears out of his eyes in laughter after Papagee said something funny, or because his father loved him so much.
Then he dreamed of sad things. He felt lonely for his father, and he regretted that he had killed those two enemy pilots. Born and raised in the farmlands of Heaven, he had been neighbors of the rebels in the Southlands. Now a soldier in the Northern army, Papagee was obligated to fight those he had loved when he was a child. Tears fell from his eyes while he slept.
"Papagee! ... Bandit at two o'clock," came the screech from his intercom speaker. He flinched and woke-up. Then he grabbed the controls and pushed hard to port and back to starboard in an effort to zigzag his plane.
A missile ripped through the fuselage near his seat, burned his neck hairs, roared through the cockpit, and tore off the right wing. "Mayday, Mayday. Foxtrot grid 4D," he broadcasted on the emergency frequency.
Papagee's jet plane lost altitude, went into a suicide roll, and plunged toward the ground.
He tried several solutions, some worked and some didn't: pin the controls, reverse engines, hit the ejection button, lose the fuel tanks, crack the hatch, recline the captain chair. Crash! Grab the radio and run to safety.
Papagee ran about a hundred feet away from the wreckage and collapsed. Able to run, he thought he had escaped injury. Then he looked down and saw a bone sticking out of the skin of his forearm. 'Not much blood, and no pain' he said to himself. In mild shock, and as if in a trance, he stood up and managed to move toward cover in an effort to hide from the enemy.
Under a shade tree, safe from an airborne strafe, he examined himself for other injuries. He felt some mild pain in his midsection, and then glanced at his uninjured arm and said, 'Matching scars.' He had suffered a compound fracture in that arm during a previous crash landing. 'Maybe I should find a safer profession,' he mumbled to himself.
When he came out of shock the blood started oozing out of his arm. He listened for enemy jet engines, but heard none and returned to the open field.
A rescue helicopter hovered over him and extended a rope ladder. With a broken arm and a few bruised ribs Papagee managed to hang onto the lifeline but he couldn't climb it. A young airman saw that he was injured and hurried down the ladder to give him a hand. When they got near the top of the ladder the crew on board hoisted them both to safety. With tears in his eyes Papagee managed to point his middle finger at the crash site, and say, "Close but no cigar, Mr. Death." The crew laughed and took off toward their base camp.
A corpsman splinted the wound and applied a pressure bandage to stop the bleeding and line up the bones in preparation for a cast. They landed and escorted him to an ambulance on the flight line, but Papagee objected, 'Not yet. I want to go to HQ first. After that I'll go to the hospital.'
At the debriefing, the commanding officer hustled over to Papagee, shook his hand, and said, 'Thirty combat missions, three crash landings, and two more kills today will get you a cluster on your silver star and a desk job.'
'Sir, I don't want to be a desk jockey.'
'The Atomic Energy Commission wants you to play for their intermural baseball team. And ' they will send you back to college to be a scientist for them.'
'I'll do it,' said Papagee, a tall, slender, athlete who could rob a hitter with his long stretch toward an incoming ball.
When he reported for duty at his new job, the athletic director explained to Papagee that during baseball season they would practice eight hours a day every day except on game days. There would be no college during that time.
During the off seasons, five months out of the year, he could attend college to get a science degree in bio-chemical diseases.
After ten years of part-time college, Papagee, a junior scientist now, looked through binoculars and hoped to see signs of life on the other side of the river.
Vegetation didn't grow there, and none of the usual scavengers could be seen. Stray dogs and hungry cats didn't pick through the rubble of the ancient war zone.
A thick gray snake came out of the river and raced toward an empty building in the dead zone. It jumped around, curled up, and died. Part of its body melted. Papagee scanned the area and searched for clues, but found none. 'Invisible enemy,' he mumbled.
His best friend, 'Spider Joe' Jacobs, replied, 'Invisible to the naked eye, but when I went across the river and took soil samples, I saw it through a microscope, a lot of red specks that blister your skin." He then added, 'Someday we'll have to live over there. We're running out of room on this side of the river.'
Papagee nodded in agreement. He wanted to move to a new place, but he couldn't find an available apartment on the overcrowded island.
Papagee whispered to his friend, 'I'm looking for a family-size apartment.'
Spider Joe replied, 'A family-size apartment? You're not married. Have you been seeing someone lately?'
'Nah, I'm just dreaming about having a family someday.'
'Sure you are. Now who is she? Tell your best friend what you've been up to lately.'
'I'm not attracted to anyone yet, but I haven't given up hope. I'll know her when I see her. I'm just trying to find a place in case things work out.'
'Have you checked for apartments on the net?'
'Yeah, a few times ... I'm headed there now to check it again.'
Papagee returned to his office and opened the live feed view of his island. He saw thousands of rectangular five-story apartment buildings, none flagged for sale or rent, a military base, and a few skyscrapers on the northern part of the island. Colleges and athletic fields speckled the mid-section. On the southern end, farms and forests furnished food and oxygen.
He switched to the view of the wasteland, the dead land that covered the rest
of his planet. Empty skyscrapers and houses with dirt lawns dotted the dusty land, with no signs of life, not even vegetation.
When he clicked to turn off the live feed, a video splashed on his monitor.
'Hello, friends and neighbors. Are you feeling depressed, lonely, even on a crowded street, and gasping for air? We here at 'Homes for Less' are selling living spaces in our new five-story apartment buildings, the most efficient construction for crowded areas. Come see us at the edge of Stenchal Swamp, across the street from the city garbage dump. Visit us in the next few hours, and receive a free canister of air, our gift to you for making the trip.'
Spider Joe, a wiry little man with red hair and a quick tempter, peeked into Papagee's office, saw the splash ad, and laughed. 'Is that crazy or what?' he asked.
The map to the new apartments was still on the monitor. Papagee hit the copy key on his computer and commented, 'I wonder how bad it stinks at those new apartments near the city dump.'
Spider Joe looked down at a few scars on his hands and forearms caused by the microbes that burned him while he had taken soil samples across the river. 'Microbes or stench from garbage dumps, that's our new choice of where to live in the future?'
'I'm going there and check it out. How bad could it be?' Papagee asked his friend.
'If you're set on going, I'll go with you,' Spider Joe replied.
Papagee grabbed the print-out of the map, and they both headed for the transporter box in the foyer of their building.
The closest transporter box near the apartments was listed as the museum near the swamp. 'We can transport to the fossil museum and walk from there,' Papagee said.
'What I do for my best friend,' Spider Joe said and then laughed.
They entered the transport box, keyed-in the coordinates, and hit the engage button. They were at the museum in a matter of seconds.
Papagee read his map and said, 'It looks like about an hour's walk from here. Have you heard any good jokes lately?'
'Our screwed-up planet is a joke,' Spider Joe replied, and then began to
rattle his views on the subject.
''Computer geeks' is how we got in the fix. They didn't give a shit about people. They worshiped their hard drives and software programs. Then a few of them sold their programs to some crazy scientists. The rest is history.'
Papagee knew the history of his planet, but he loved to listen to his best friend rant about it and vent his spleen with such enthusiasm.
'Well, duh? What happened next, my friend?' They were just killing time and enjoying each other's company.
'A blasted doomsday war is what happened next. They created their bombs and plugged them into a video game. Then they weren't satisfied with simulations, so they exploded their bombs, to prove they would work, and turned our 57 million square mile planet into a wasteland.'
'Why did this island survive?' Papagee asked.
'It wasn't an island to start with. It was a hundred mile wide and five hundred mile long chunk of land that fell into the ocean. Well, it didn't fall; it just separated from the mainland. A seismic split in the planet's crust is what it was called.'
'Lucky us?' Papagee asked.
'Yeah, the bomb blasts didn't get us, and the microbes can't swim. So here we sit on the remnant of an advanced society with over fifty colleges, several research facilities, and part of a first-class military.'
'Professor Jacobs, why are we overcrowded?' Papagee smiled and asked, just to prompt Spider Joe to continue.
'Because the people were born to boogie,' his friend replied.
Their chatting stopped when they arrived at the new apartments. The stench of the nearby garbage dump and the smell from polluted waters in the swamp overwhelmed them. Papagee vomited, and Spider Joe held his nose while they reversed directions and hurried back to the museum teleport box.
Back at their office they were greeted by their boss, Commander Crow.
'No deal?' Crow asked them about their trip.
They nodded and frowned.
Commander Crow said, 'Spider Joe, I need you to make another trip across the river. The lab needs more soil samples. Double up on your protective clothing. This time they want you to go about a hundred feet farther into the wasteland for your samples.'