by N.A Miller
A Routine NASA Test Flight goes beyond the realm of the unimaginable.
|"You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead - your next stop, the Twilight Zone!"|
The Man out of Time, Space, and Dimension:
It is dusk in the California desert, in which the X-99 sat on the tarmac at the famed Edwards Air Force Base, also known as the Armstrong Flight Center, where all tests of new planes are undertaken for civilian and military use. The year is 2090 A.D, far into the future, and on the tarmac, a large, swept-wing, B-52Y series bomber, designed for war to carry multiple independent nuclear warheads, is the host for the plane that will be attached underneath. A lone man stands here beside it, with a group of other men and women clad in coveralls, and white coats as a young Major oversees the plane being loaded onto the wing of the bomber: The flight of one man, Tom Halston, age thirty-one, rank Major of the United States Air force Test Pilot Corps, into the Twilight Zone.
Major Tom Haldon is a typical pilot, meeting the profile, slender, but not tall, with sandy blond hair, muscular, with a pencil mustache and the gold aviator glasses that hung on the pocket of the new Air Force uniform he wore. It is dark blue, with black trim, that is spartan cut with a high collar. A typical pilot that has served with honor in the United States Military with decorations of war, and has seen every continent, including Antarctica with the research team there. However, with all that, he is a lonely man, with no family now to speak of, and nothing to look forward to when he came home from various duty stations, campaigns on earth, or in the space forces that defended Earth, the Martian Colonies, or even to the outer outposts that guard the outer edge of the system. He is a bachelor, living alone with his, pet, and a loner starting ever since he was young.
He had excelled in school, labeled a geek and a loser, even though he volunteered for ROTC. After high school, he joined the service, joining into OCS and gaining in the ranks quickly until he made it to the astronaut program. He thought he had what he needed, in life, but that attitude was soon to be adjusted with his journey beyond Mach 5 into the time continuum itself.
Right now The Major is part of the Test Pilot Corps on Terra Firma, and as he silently oversees the first flight of the test model that is being loaded onto the wing of the large bomber craft, he does so uneasily. The young Major has a feeling, the first flight jitters, perhaps, as most pilots would have for a new plane flight. This plane is different however, it will be on the verges of Mach 7, that he would fly and only one plane in the last century and a quarter had even come close to flying these breakneck speeds and a record that was going to be broken by this flight: The XB-70.
Still, they had to load the damn thing onto the wing and something about this was not making sense to the Major. It didn't seem to want to mount with the restricting bolt that would hold it on the bomb mount, which had been modified to hold the other test planes, and even though the plane itself had been built around that very mount.
Tom grimaced as he shook his head, and glanced uneasily at the last rays of the sunlight that peeked over the western mountains, then placidly back at the X-99 that sat on the large yellow loading dock that was designed by NASA to load up a plane onto a bomb bracket on the underside of the wing of the B-52. The same bracket that had been used multiple times on multiple missions since the X-5 to X-15 flights, a century and a quarter ago.
“Are ya'll done yet?” He asked tiredly, “It's almost dark.”
“One more thing Major.” A scientist said warily, “We got a problem with the mounting bolt.”
“Someone hit the floodlights!” A voice said, and around the plane, portable lights were set up near the hangar to augment flood lights attached above the hangar door to illuminate the area.
A rattle fell on the cement tarmac a moment later.
“Ah Shit.” A voice said, “Major! Could you give us a hand?”
A young scientist had shouted his question and motioned to the Major who abruptly ran over to his side.
“What can I do you fellers for?” Tom asked with a western Texan drawl.
“Hold that lever just like that until we get the mounting bolt positioned, and then push it inward.” The scientist instructed, as there was another beside him with a controller pushing the button that was raising the X-99 further upward under the wing of the B-52Y.
“Okay, that's it, hit it Major!”
Tom pushed the lever and there was a hollow thunk as the mounting bolt closed on the wing mount holding the sleek craft in its place under the wing.
“Okay, that's got it!” Another scientist shouted, “Lower the cradle.”
The third man touched the control and the cradle that held the small plane under the larger one fell away and the X-99 hung there like a bat on a limb, sleek, dangerous, and the fastest thing ever to fly on planet Earth. The fastest thing ever is to be able to fly in deep space at the orbital station.
“After a few modifications of course.” Tom thought with a warm smile, and he turned to the scientists.
“So she'll be ready to go tomorr-ah?” He asked in the Texan drawl.
“You got it, Major.” The lead scientist said, “The fastest plane this side of the world will ever see out of NASA since the XB-70 that sits at Wright Patterson Air Museum.”
“Good to hear fellars.” Tom replied, and turned as a jeep came quickly rolling up toward him. Inside it was General McAllister, and Colonel Dunkirk, Dr. Donald Bellows rode in the jeep behind the men.
“Ateeen-hut!” Tom called out and everyone stopped to whirl in place as they stood at attention.
The General and Colonel were out of the jeep, as was Dr. Don, as many people called him behind his back, having a close resemblance to a man known as Don Rickles, or “Mr. Warmth” who was a stand-up comedian over seven decades ago. He had bald hair, was short, and was not really warm at all, rather a cold stuffy fish doctor type. Dr. Bellows was just that, a typical doctor who knew his job and took care of the astronauts. The General was tall and willowy, with white hair, clean shaven and beside him, Colonel Dunkirk was dark-haired, clean short stocky, and built like a Navy Seal. He had been in special details before his enlistment into the Test Pilot Corps, flying fighters in many campaigns that the United States had engaged in, which included space battles out for Mars and defense of the Solar System.
“As you were gentleman and ladies.” General McAllister casually replied, waving a hand and turning his head to return the salute of the young Major.
“All systems go Major?”
“Yes General, she'll be ready to fly by tomorrow.” Tom replied, “Weather department says there is weather coming in, that might delay us.”
With that, he pointed to Clarence Jones, a tall scientist who stood nearby. The General eyed him and gruffly nodded.
“I don't know if we should rush it though, my staff has indicated some weather coming in from the west in a day or so. There is a system off the coast of California that is pushing our way through New Los Angeles.” He said and grimaced as the General and Colonel waved a casual hand.
“Tish Tosh.” Colonel Dunkirk said, “We're going to proceed and make history. Don't get any last-minute jitters, not from the science crew, weather, or operations Major...”
Tom grimaced as he nodded.
“Yes sir.” He replied, “As you indicated, it will set a new world record for the year 2090.”
“Yeah and revolutionize defense well into the next century that is only a decade away.” The General laughed nervously and he motioned Tom to follow.
“I'd like to inspect the craft, make sure.”
“Yes sir.” Colonel Dunkirk replied as they moved toward the larger aircraft.
Tom was left with Dr. Bellows.
` “How you feeling there kid?” He asked nasally, “You nervous?”
“A little sir...”
“Don't worry, one more final check at the base before you suit up and make history, that people will read about for the next decade.”
“Yes sir!” Tom replied enthusiastically.
“Don't get too emotional, there are still many factors to be weighed in before you take off tomorrow.” He said, “Like another Psych scan.”
“Ah shit, again sir?”
“Yes again. You know, regs.” Dr. Bellows replied scowling, “When you are through here, we'll go over it again at eighteen hundred.”
“Yes, Doctor Bellows.”
General Wagner and Colonel Dunkirk, with the six scientists, walked toward them and were talking as they were approaching.
“I'm satisfied that everything is alright here.” The General said, “Let's get over to Operations and finalize everything. Carry on and good job Major.”
“Thank you, General.”
Tom glanced at the X-99 that hung there in the dimming light, like a ghoulish Specter in the warm autumn light under the wing of the mother ship that would hold it until... he was dropped... catapulted... and thrust ever forward... possibly into a new and next dimension of space and time.
Here the Major turned abruptly, as he gritted his teeth, an overwhelming surge of adrenaline flowed into his system and it made him stagger a little, holding the nose of the small plane. Here he could feel the cold titanium hull that would protect him from the fires of the heat of earth's atmosphere and the laser fire of space when it was equipped so at the space station if he were deployed into space after he rotated from the test program. Optionally where he could stay if he preferred, because of his high rank. They would boot a lowly Lieutenant to the space force instead of him, despite his name on the roster.
“I don't know what I want to do.” He murmured to no one and turned toward the hangar, where he glanced at his watch.
As the Major started to walk toward Hangar 2 at Edwards, near the tower, however, something made him stop and turn abruptly back to stare at the silhouetted plane that was positioned under the wing of the bomber yet again. The young officer felt something was going wrong and he knew it but he had to fly the mission tomorrow.
“If anything can go wrong, it will. If it can’t go wrong, it will go wrong anyway.”
The major smiled at the quote from the most famous test pilot of the twentieth century, Captain Murphy, and the famed 'Murphy's Law'. There was something about that plane and the way it sat and the whole set of test data that had been fired already in previous flights at slower speeds that just did not sit with the Major.
“I'm about to make history alright, six feet under.” He thought, grimacing as he forced himself to walk toward the hangar nearby. Here he returned a salute from the guards. Tom walked toward the open hangar door, but something kept him near it as he continued to peer at the X-99.
“It must be the first flight jitters.” He thought, “I've got to relax and not let on to Dr. Bellows or I'll end up grounded.”
He forced himself to walk into the hangar a little further and toward the scientists who were finishing up last-minute calculations on the board before them.
A young Lieutenant walked up to him. She is young, blond, blue-eyed, slender, and quite attractive, clad in the familiar blue Air Force uniform.
“Major... Doctor Bellows wants to see you immediately.”
“Ah shit.” Tom muttered, “Here we go. I'm going to be grounded from the flight. Didn't take him long to find out about my uneasiness.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.” He said aloud and turned to walk toward the nearby door into the operations department.
Doctor Bellows looked up at Major Harding when he entered, and narrowed his eyes at him.
“Major...” He hissed as he motioned to a chair.
Tom sat in it and looked up at him.
“What can I do fer ya Doc?” He asked, managing a grin despite his sour mood.
“Just want to complete a few more tests on you before the launch tomorrow.”
“Alrighty,” Tom said, still grinning but that seemed to fade with the seriousness of the good Doctor's serious attitude. “I mean Yes sir.”
“Good.” Bellows chortled and handed him a tablet.
Tom worked on the papers for an hour and afterward, he handed them back to Lieutenant Hill, his dynamic secretary. She was quite attractive and always very warm to him., She took and smiled earnestly at him.
“Welcome... Miss Hill.” He replied as he returned her salute and exited outside.
He glanced at the clock that read '18:30' on the wall. His stomach grumbled and he knew he could not take a break and return to quarters, he would have to get an instant meal from the machine. There was too much to do here. He exited the break room and grabbed an instant soup. He downed it and a sandwich from the machine. Tom grimaced at his sour stomach.
“It's always the first flights that are the hardest.” He thought, “Once I get in the cockpit, everything should be fine.”
Little did the Major know that something extraordinary was about to go on and he would be the first man in the history of the Air Force to complete the impossible task of being the fastest man on the planet. Faster than the XB=70 that had been undertaken in 1967 and was the fastest experimental for the time and placed in the Wright Patterson Museum when it was deemed too costly to make into an active plane;
“Mach five is the goal.” Tom thought, “But I can bet a bottom dollar that bird will go a little faster.”
Major Harding went over the plan in his head many times, over and over, according to the training that was involved. If something broke he had a way of slowing it down to and/or ditch and bailout. He was uneasy at the thought of even bailing out at Mach speeds, but he knew if he didn't either way he might not make it. He shook his head, trying to clear the negative thoughts of his possible death at the hands of a miscalculation.
“They're NASA, they wouldn't make a mistake or miscalculation like that.” He thought as he sat in the break room, focusing on the papers on the table and the manual that he had read over a hundred times in the last eighteen months. He focused on the plan and every contingency that has ever been conceived by NASA engineers.
“And tomorrow mankind will make history.” Tom thought, “So why do I feel like something is going to go wrong?”
He thought of his fiance, Mary Wagner, the general's daughter who had agreed by arrangement to be his wife after this mission. A person whom he had been dating for over three years and with the strictest approval from her father. He wondered if something happen how'd she take it if he were killed during this initial flight?
“I gotta stop thinking about that.” Tom chided himself and he closed his eyes focusing on the plan in his head, and the wedding that would be soon after.
He dozed on the couch in the break room for a few hours and was shaken awake by Clement Dumond, one of the scientists and engineers belonging to NASA.
“Major... MAJOR...!” He said as he shook him Tom opened his eyes as focused on the short gray-haired man, clad in a white lab coat and slacks.
“Yeah, Clem?” Tom asked, as he sat up and groaned as he stretched.
“It's time to get ready.”
Tom glanced at the clock on the wall, and it read '05:30'
Tom gathered up the papers and put them in the briefcase and he took it to the locker room with him. He placed it in his locker and quickly changed into his flight suit. It was smooth black, with many sensors all over it. Sensors that would monitor every vital function of his body. His helmet was streamlined and also black with a haze-covered gray visor.
Tom showered and dried off in fifteen minutes, and slipped on the white undersuit jumper before he slipped on his flight suit. He buttoned, latched, and snapped everything in place, short of a space suit from the Apollo Astronauts or the new space suits they wore when he was in the capsules or various vehicles in space.
When he was done, he closed his locker and sat down on the bench to slip on the boots.
“Okay. Stage one.” Tom thought as he grimaced tightly as peered at the mirror. His suit was thin like a P-suit, but much sturdier like a space suit. It was a new design that could and was created by NASA for the extreme mach speeds that he would encounter.
“Something right out of Buck Rogers.” Tom thought and grinned at the mirror before he grabbed his helmet, and left the locker room.
Applause echoed the hangar when he entered it by all hands. He nodded to the science crew as he passed them and they murmured words of luck to him. He moved silently toward the hangar doors and toward the X-99 that sat poised under the B-52Y bomber. The mother ship would take him up to 40,000 feet, drop him and he would press into the realm of the fantastic: Mach 7 speeds.
Little did he know that he would be engaged in the world of the twilight zone.
Major Harding climbed into the cockpit and closed the hatch behind him, hearing the pressure hiss as it sealed him in. Here he belted himself in the seat and began checking all systems that would be powered up upon takeoff and readied for launch into the unknown. He read the procedure as he clicked the switches necessary while they were on the ground.
“Base to Mother one, cleared for power up and departure to the test range.” A voice said on the radio. Tom felt the engines of the massive bomber powering up and he managed a grimace as he forced himself to relax. He clicked the switch on the cockpit dashboard that would signal his status to the mother ship.
“Okay, here we go. Time to make history.”
“Raven one signals ready.” A voice said over the speaker in his helmet.
In the cockpit, Tom saw the power of the control up, as they were on external power from the umbilical of the bomber. The Major started programming the controls and started his checklist as the massive plane took off. As the bomber circled, he finished up the checklist for flight and settled in for the wildest ride of his life.
“Raven one keyed up and all controls nominal.”
“Roger Raven one. Sit tight, you still have a long way up.” A voice said, and here Tom managed a smile. He placed a picture of his future wife, stuck under one of the edges of the altimeter gauge, and peered at it.
“Mother one is crossing thirty-five thousand feet.”
“When we reach forty-thousand feet we'll prepare for release.” The pilot announced and hit the button flashing a red light on his console.
“Raven one powering up.” Tom announced, “All systems nominal.”
“Engage data recorders at release.” A voice said, and the Major recognized it as Dr. Bellows.
“Pulse stable, heartbeat 77, BP 110 over 80. Nominal brainwave activities.”
“Copy medical.” Another voice said, echoing through Tom's helmet.
“Major Harding, switch on internal power.”
“Internal power on,” Tom replied, as he flipped the switch on the console.
“Hang on Major, here we go.”
The large bomber continued to circle the airfield in the test zone, climbing higher and higher. On board, the X-99 Major Harding held on to his seat as he peered outside the cockpit at the landscape below him and the blue sky with a few clouds that hovered around them. The plane traveled for three hours and at five hundred miles away it turned back toward Edwards.
“Mother one has achieved forty-thousand feet.” A voice said, “Making final preparations for the drop. Activate all systems, Raven.”
“All Systems Go, on internal power.”
“Blood pressure pulse and vital functions ready to go.” Another voice said as Tom began flipping switches on the cockpit control panel. He eyed the ejector arming switch and reached for it. However, something made him pause as his hand hovered over it. Major Harding seemed to sense something was very wrong and dropped his hand into his lap.
“Confirmed all switches and telemetry enabled.” A voice said, “Prepare for drop in 5.”
Tom settled himself in the seat.
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1... Drop!' The clunk of the bolt holding the plane jarred the plane and Tom held the stick as the nose dropped.
“Power on, circuit breakers in.” Tom reported, “Here come the throttles.”
He held the throttle leavers and he pushed it forward as he felt the engine engage. He felt a slight push as the plane began to accelerate. He pushed the throttle leavers forward a little more.
Mach one in sixty seconds.”
He felt the thunk and heard the sonic boom as the plane entered Mach Space, and as it broke the sound barrier. The plane was at full thrust and the Major felt like he was being pushed back into the seat. He eyed the G-meter that read there were approximately 8Gs in force being pushed at his body in the seat.
Mach 2... Mach 3...” Tom said, “Acceleration is normal.”
“Telemetry is good control.” The pilot of the bomber reported, “Chase planes will not be able to catch up when he reaches over Mach 3.”
“Mach 4! she's starting to shimmy a bit.” Tom reported, “Mach 5.”
Here the radio began to crackle as the Major held onto the stick, holding it precisely level as the plane continued to rocked through the sky.
“Ma...c... 6..” Tom said, “Enga...ing fin...l. Boo....”
Tom heard the final engine engage and he felt thrown back into the seat as he peered incredulously at the instruments. The sky seemed to shrink, as the plane catapulted forward at supersonic speeds. His instrumentation indicated everything was okay, but a flash happened in which his plane literally disappeared, the contrail ending at the point of the flash. He had entered a vortex of energy that resembled a tunnel or of a drain pipe. Here Major Harding peered at through the cockpit windows and barely could tell what or where he was by the swirl of color that now surrounded him. . He pulled at the throttle as he eased off the speed of the engine.
“What the hell is going on.” Major Harding thought as he squinted at the sky that seemed to be folding in half like the page of a book. A gray line seemed to be forming as the plane continued to catapult forward. As if something had grabbed it and yanked him along like a rubber band.
“Control...” Tom said, “Do you read? Mach 7 has been achieved but there is a malfunction.”
The radio seemed to crackle as the sky turned into a multicolored tunnel. The plane seemed to bank as it seemed to be tumbling through a drain. A moment later the sky was white and the ground was black as stars seemed to be dark spots in the sky, and the sun was nonexistent around him. Huge signs seemed to appear as if they were mile markers on a highway. He peered at his altimeter which read twenty-thousand feet. Tom peered at the white sky, instead of the blue, and the black ground where it should have been brown.
“Control... Malfunction... power off, no engine power repeat... Malfunction, Do you copy?” He shouted into the mic, as loud static crackled over the speaker. “Throttling back.. to subsonic speed.”
He peered at the strange-looking sky around him that seemed like the negative of a photograph.
“This is damn peculiar.” The Major thought, as he squinted at the strangely colored sky. He throttled back the aircraft to Mach point seven. He held the stick, keeping the aircraft level, and stared at the black ground far below that did not seem to look normal.
Back on the range outside of Edwards, chase planes circled where the plane's contrail ended and there was great alarm when the plane had vanished without a trace. A first guess they thought the plane had vaporized as it reached Mach 6 according to the telemetry.
“Chase one here.” A voice said, “We have no contact with the plane or any sign of a crash here.”
“Copy Chase one.” A voice said, “Fly search pattern Alpha.”
“Rescue Helos are on the way.”
Doctor Bellows peered at the telemetry data in puzzlement. The Major's heart rate was up, as was his blood pressure, despite there being no visible sign of the craft His blood pressure showed 125 over 80 and his heart rate was over 100.
“But there is no sign, where is this data coming from?” Bellows asked himself.
Meanwhile, the plane containing the Major continued to plummet at high speed through the confines of a strange energy corridor. As he peered outside, the sky seemed to be bright white and the ground black as if he was staring at the negative of a picture.
“This is very peculiar.” He said, as he shook his head and turned to peer at the instruments. The compass was spinning round and round out of control and the altitude indicated that he was no more than five hundred feet off the ground, despite what he saw outside. The ground was really far below him and colored black like obsidian glass. All the instruments, including engine power and electrical, seemed to be reading all wrong as if he was being subjected to that strange electrical charge.
He held the stick steady, as he kept the plane level flight.
He heard the engine power down as he felt the power fade. He peered at the fuel gauge and they still read nominal.
“Mayday.” He said instinctively, despite the static that crackled in his headset, “Mayday Raven one has lost power we're losing altitude.”
The plane's speed seems to hold steady at Mach 7 without delay, however, according to his instruments.
“This is weird.” Tom said, “How can I still be at Mach 7 when there is no engine power.”
All he heard at that point was the sound of the wind across the wings as he pushed the stick forward, attempting to keep from what he thought would be a stall in a few seconds if he was not careful.
“I think maybe it's time to eject.” He thought, and he fought to release his restraints. He heard no sound as the plane seemed to be pulled through the conduit of energy around him that swirled brightly with the full spectrum of color.
The Major seemed to feel strange as he peered at the G meter gauge on the cockpit dashboard.
'22Gs' it read and he gasped loudly in wonder.
“That's impossible!” He thought as he tried to move his hand it felt like he was moving in slow motion. Then everything went black around him as he lapsed into unconsciousness.
When he opened his eyes, he found himself lying on the ground as several strange-looking beings stood around him. He peered at them in stunned silence. They wore what appeared to be bunny suits that would be found in manufacturing for chip wafers and clean rooms. They were colored white and their skin seemed to be black. He peered at their eyes which were a faded crystal blue and they were tall and lanky. Tom tried to move only to find that he could not.
“Where the hell am I?” He exclaimed, “Who the hell are you fellas?”
The being turned and he peered at the strange face.
“You are at the end of the known universe and the edge of the differential plane.” That being said, Tom raised his eyebrows in astonishment. The being had not moved his lips at all.
“End of the universe?” He asked, “Did I crash?”
He turned his head and looked around and did not see the plane anywhere around him.
“I must have.” Tom thought as he tried to sit up again but could not. Here the Major turned his head and peered at the strange-looking being that stood beside him. He looked human enough but he wore a clean-room bunny suit that was white and he had dark skin, and faded crystal blue eyes.
“We found you on the ground near the remains of your vehicle.” It said, “You must be from the matter plane of the universe. Things from that world do not work the same as it does in this world. It lost power and does not function on the same principle.”
“What does that mean?” Tom exclaimed and peered at the being in disbelief.
“You have crossed over across the corridor that connects the two planes of the universe. What you know as Matter and Anti-matter.” It said, “You should not be here as the universe is out of balance.”
The being put out a hand and Tom took it as the being helped him to his feet. His skin was cold and clammy which made the pilot grimace at him as he stood.
“Do not worry.” It said, “We can send you back without your vehicle. You need not ask how, but know this, all things are possible.”
Tom grimaced at the being as he stood nearby.
“I don't understand ya'll. How can that be possible?” He asked, “What did I pass through that could be the crossover?”
“It is not for you to know how or why, but you must leave.” It told him, as he waved its hand.
A portal of energy appeared before the Major and the being. Tom peered at it as it radiated only black a white as it swirled before them.
“What is that?” He asked.
“Step through and you will be returned to your world.” It said, “or the universe remains out of balance.”
Tom peered at it disbelievingly, very unsure what he was seeing that seemed almost too Trekish for his tastes.
The being took his hand and led him toward the portal.
“You must never make the transition to this universe again.” It said, “You can make your own existence possibly wink out and never return from the plains of oblivion.”
Tom gasped as he stepped toward it.
“And how you report it to your superiors is completely up to you Major.” The being told him and he glanced at him with an astonished look on his face,
“How did ya'll know I was with the military?” Tom asked then shook his head at the expression on its face. “Never mind.”
Tom stepped through it and he found himself flying in the center of a vortex as the streaks of light stretched and swirled around him. He felt strangely disoriented by the flight, and a moment later he saw a flash of light as he appeared out of the vortex that closed up behind him. He lay on the ground next to the remains of the smoking burning wreckage of his plane unconscious.
When he awoke he was in a hospital bed and as he slowly opened his eyes so that his vision cleared he peered at the familiar faces of Doctor Bellows, The General, and Colonel Dunkirk who stood around him. He peered at his hands that were bandaged and they moved to his face which was partially burned as pain radiated through his body. He then thought of his hallucination that seemed to be sticking with him. He gasped as he tried to sit up, but the pain kept him flat on his back.
“Welcome back Major.” The General's voice boomed as did the Colonel's who both peered at him next to Doctor Bellows.
“Thanks.” Tom replied, “Where the heck am I? How long was I out?”
“It's only been a week or so.” Bellows said, “Don't worry... You just heal.”
“What the hell happened up there Major?”
Tom remained silent as he remembered the words of the strange being on the edge of the universe that said he would have to report, and told him it was up to him how he did so.
“Engine failure happened when the plane reached Mach 7.” Tom said, “We lost all power and the plane seemed to lose altitude really quick when it lost attitude control.”
“Really,” Bellows said, grimacing at him as the Major nodded.
“That's not what telemetry reported.” Bellows said, “We have you reaching Mach 7.66 and there was no indication of engine failure. Your plane vanished and reappeared five hundred miles outside the test range where it crashed. We lost a visual of you and the chase planes saw wreckage after you were picked up. Reports on the black box indicated you ejected.”
“Doctor there was a malfunction.” Tom shot back, “I can stake my reputation on it and I was there. I had no choice but to eject or die when it crashed.”
“That's not what we saw, but you were missing for over two days that might account for something until we found you.”
Tom gasped at the thought.
“Two days!?” He exclaimed, “T-that cannot be or I would remember it!”
He lay back as he peered at his room in stunned silence.
“You get some rest, Major.” Bellows instructed, “We'll talk later...”
Bellows closed the door after clicking off the light and he was alone, but as Tom's eyes got used to the dark, he could see the bunny-suited figure silhouetted in the corner as he lay there. The being nodded as it watched him, and Tom gasped when he saw it. It was himself from the other universe.
Tom Harding knew he had really passed through the dimension of time and space. He had caused an imbalance and had seen something that he shouldn't have. Now, laid up in the hospital, all he could do is watch as the figure approached and he wondered what it had on its mind as he struggled in his bed.