17 August 2012

"Price for Flight"

By Curtis C. Chen

The police were the first to get the hovercars.

That surprised a lot of people—most expected the military would seize the technology as soon as Professor Whitlock kicked the bucket. The Pentagon did try to pull some "eminent domain" bullshit, but Whitlock's dual citizenship made things complicated, legally speaking, and in the end it turned out that the United Nations was actually good for something.

The International Court of Justice ruled in favor of Whitlock's will as written, and Vancouver's finest were the first to ride the Lightnings. But they also needed a mechanic.

I was only too happy to relocate to cloudy, rainy British Columbia after several years wandering the Thar Desert in and out of the Professor's employ. Things had gotten a little better after I'd resigned for good, and no longer had to shuttle between India and Pakistan depending on which regime was feeling friendlier toward Westerners and/or women that week. But without Whitlock's funding, I couldn't afford to leave, either. I guess the old bastard did me one last favor when he died.

The cops had already flown the prototype by the time I arrived in Vancouver. The first pilot, a kid named Phillips who looked barely old enough to drink, talked my ear off the afternoon I got there.

"I'm used to helicopters, you know?" he said over a stale sandwich and a cup of weak coffee. "But this thing almost flies itself. I mean, with that helmet and the armbands, I barely even have to move—"

"What kind of armbands?" I asked.

"Oh, they go around the biceps, got some kind of sensors in there and a transdermal-delivery thing—"

"Which pharma? What's the dosage?"

Phillips frowned. "I thought you knew all about this stuff. Didn't you work with the Professor?"

"I quit. A while ago."


I glared at him. "Personal reasons."

Phillips scoffed. "What, did the geezer make a pass at you or something?"

"Does the word 'personal' mean something different in Canadian-ese?"

"Look, we're going to be working together pretty closely," Phillips said. "I'm the senior instructor for all our pilots—"

"Senior?" I hoped my jaw wasn't hanging open too wide. "How old are you?"

He gave me half a smile. "That's a bit of a personal question, isn't it?"

I restrained my urges to both smack him across the face and crush my coffee cup into a gravitational singularity. "I'm just concerned about the vertigo. We had a lot of problems with biofeedback during the experimental phase."

"Old man must have worked out the bugs," Phillips said. "I haven't had any problems with that. Matter of fact, I feel even better after a flight than before I strap in. Refreshed, you know?"

"No," I said. "I don't."

That should have been my first warning. Maybe it was, and I just didn't pay attention. But I should have known all along that it was too good to be true. I should have known that the old fool would start taking shortcuts.

I should have been there to stop him.


Image: A Helicopter Pilot Onboard HMS Westminster by UK Ministry of Defence, March, 2011