A small town morning dawned in picturesque Dayton, Tennessee. Its beauty was hard to beat, and Jenny Russell smiled a sleepy grin as she sipped her coffee and watched the wild birds at her feeder. Cardinals were her favorites, but wrens, chickadees, and occasional woodpeckers were also welcome sights as she watched the morning sunrise from her back deck.
Moments like these, when the quiet of the night met the new day, were magical. Each morning brought a promise of hope as the rush of the workday hadn’t fogged the mind with worry or beaten down the body with fatigue. Yes, these still moments caught between night and day were heaven on earth, and ever since she was a little girl, Jenny relished them.
A whiff of lilacs in bloom caused her to lean forward on the railing and breathe deeply. Her grandmother planted a dozen bushes shortly after she and Grandpa Willis moved into this rambling Victorian home in the 1940s. Their scent was indelibly linked to Jenny’s memories of her grandmother, slender and graceful, and her grandfather, wise and mischievous. Willis, who returned safely from the shores of Normandy, swore he and his bride would surround themselves with beauty for the rest of their lives, and the lilacs were among the many beautiful things they enjoyed.
“Margie, my dear, I’ve seen more death and destruction than anyone should witness. We are going to have nothing but the good things in life from now on.”
That desire, and a plum engineering job he landed with the newly-founded Anderson Mechanics plant, took them from the clogged streets of Pittsburgh to small town life in their adopted town of Dayton. Willis, an expert woodcrafter, in addition to being a fine engineer, created a home full of beauty. Door sills weren’t simple wood frames. No, Willis hand carved ornate details into the doorways, and he built exquisite furniture for his beloved wife.
“Willie, you’ve turned our house into a real showplace–a castle.”
“My dear, you’re my queen, and you deserve a castle. Your king is at your service.” With that, Willis bowed to his wife and then swept her into his arms.
Grandma loved telling me that story.
Looking around her, Jenny admired the lovely home her grandparents left her when they passed away two years ago, just six hours apart from each other. So much love could be felt in that grand old home. Memories of boisterous family gatherings and quiet moments alike resounded through those rooms. Jenny always felt at home there, and she was grateful her grandparents gave it to her in their wills.
Dayton had been good to the Russell family. The move her grandparents made there after World War II was an investment in their children and grandchildren. Working at Anderson Mechanics provided a lucrative living for her entire family. Her father and his four brothers followed in their father’s footsteps and worked their way up in the company. It was expected that their children would follow suit and also return home after college to work for the company that sustained not only their family but the entire community.
When her college roommate, Nora, asked her what the draw was to returning to such a small town when the world was full of opportunities, Jenny had replied, “It’s family tradition, for one thing.”
“Well. What exactly do they do at Anderson Mechanics?” Nora wanted to know.
“They make something, Jen. What is it?”
“To be honest, I’m not quite sure, and if I did know, I couldn’t tell you.”
“Look, all I know is that they have government contracts and aren’t allowed to talk about what exactly it is they make. You know, like the factory you told me your cousin works at.”
Nora bit her lip. Jenny had a point. “Yeah, the one that makes some kind of coil that they’re in competition with LTE for. I get it. Trade secrets and all. Sorry if I seemed pushy.”
“Nah, you’re just curious. I am too. I guess I’ll find out after graduation when I start work there too. Dad did say there’s a big new contract coming up, and his boss was asking if I was ready to join the company yet. He told him to let me graduate first.”
Nora laughed. “Three more months, girl. But we’d better get back to studying for this chem midterm or neither one of us will be walking onto that stage graduation night.”
Jenny stretched and rolled her eyes. “Okay, task master…”
They both passed their tests, and they both graduated. That was nearly a year ago. Nora took a job in Chicago, and Jenny returned to her beloved Dayton.
That brought her to this morning. She finished her cup of coffee just as the sunrise turned into daylight. Stretching once and taking a few more deep breaths of the lilacs, she looked at her phone.
I’d better get a move on. Work won’t wait just because it’s a beautiful spring day.
She was running behind and now rushed through her morning routine. Just as she was leaving home, her phone rang.
“Hey, Daddy, good morning! What’s up?”
“Good morning sunshine. Hey, Jenny, do you have a moment to talk? There’s something I’d like to run by you.”
“Sure. I’m on my way to work, but we can talk on the way.”
“Okay, good. What I wanted to ask you about has to do with work, as a matter of fact.”
Jenny tossed her briefcase onto the passenger seat, pausing to give a brief wave to Mrs. Ramsey who lived across the street. She was out walking her Yorkie, a sweet little dog named Poppy. Mrs. Ramsey waved in return and lifted Poppy up, moving her paw up and down to wave back too. Jenny grinned. She’d known the Ramseys since she was a toddler.
Small towns, where everyone is like family, are the place to live.
“Did you hear me, Jen?”
“What? Oh, Daddy, I’m sorry. I got distracted. I’m here now. What was that?”
“I said, ‘This could be a big day for you.’ Are you listening now, Tinkerbelle?”
Jenny laughed. No matter how old she was, her dad would forever call her Tinkerbelle.
“Yes, I’m listening. A big day? For me?”
“I was talking with George Mathews.”
“George Mathews—the president of Anderson Mechanics?”
“The one and only. Anyway, we were talking out on the links. He has a special project in mind. He’s heard you’re bright and a hell of an engineer. He wanted to know if I thought you’d be up for the position.”
“What position are we talking about?”
“He’s beginning a new project, and he’d like you to be on the team. I told him I thought my little Tinkerbelle would be interested.”
Embarrassment washed over Jenny. “Oh, Daddy, please tell me you did not call me Tinkerbelle to George Mathews.”
Silence on the other end of the call gave her her answer.
“Before you get mad at me, George and I have known each other for years. He’s always known I call you Tinkerbelle. Secondly, that nickname gave you this shot at a promotion.”
Still angry, Jenny wasn’t willing to let her dad off the hook that easily.
“Dad, I’m a grown woman—a professional. Please don’t talk about me like I’m five.”
“Jennifer Marie, did you hear what I said? Tinkerbelle got you this chance.”
“What do you mean?”
“The new project is called The Peter Pan Project. He got the idea to bring you onboard because I call you Tinkerbelle.”
Jen bit her lip, debating whether or not to stay mad at her father. Since she didn’t want to give in just yet, she said nothing.
“George said he hadn’t thought of it before, but when I mentioned you he realized you’d be the perfect employee to round out the team. If you want the job. Do you?”
“Well, yeah, I do. I think. What’s it involve?”
“That’s for George to explain. I can’t talk about it. Confidentiality and all.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“George will be expecting you when you get to work.”
“I’m just about there now. Thanks, Daddy. I love you.”
“I love you too. Now go see what this is about.”
Well, today is starting out better than I ever imagined. First an incredible sunrise. Now a promotion? I never knew Dad and George Mathews were friends. Then again, he never talks about work very much.
She pulled her blue sedan into the parking lot. Anderson Mechanics was an imposing complex. It seemed out of place, in fact, in a town like Dayton. The rest of the community was quaint, much like a Norman Rockwell painting. Anderson, however, was massive and state of the art.
To passersby from out of town, the complex might be mistaken for a junior college. Large brick buildings spread over several acres of neatly manicured grounds. On second look, however, the highly guarded security fence surrounding Anderson Mechanics would disprove the college campus notion. No school had twenty-foot fences guarded by armed security forces. Instead, the complex more likely resembled a prison and not a campus.
No one in Dayton gave the security presence much thought. Over the years, Anderson had expanded, building by building. The changes were slow, and the residents in the community took them in stride. A growing complex meant more jobs, and jobs meant a higher standard of living for the people in Dayton. Schools reaped the benefits of the tax base. Support businesses boomed. Residents didn’t question much of anything Anderson Mechanics did since they were not inclined to look a gift horse in the mouth.
That was good, considering employees weren’t allowed to talk about what they worked on behind the guard posts.
Jenny put her lanyard around her neck. From it hung her ID badge and keys to her locker, desk, and office door. To get into the complex, she had to slide her badge through the reader at the front gate and then place her index finger on another box so her fingerprint could be scanned. The guard on duty nodded to her, gave a slight wave with his hand, and released the locked gate to slide open and allow Jenny entrance.
A warm breeze blew as Jenny briskly stepped down the sidewalk lined with carefully cared for flowers. Anderson spared no expense in providing a beautiful workplace for their employees. Granted, inside it was much like any other assembly line or research facility, but the grounds were worthy of a spot in Better Homes and Gardens. That is, if outside cameras were allowed on the property. Still, it certainly made a pleasant sight for its dedicated employees.
I can’t stop and enjoy the view right now. I’m almost late, and it sounds like George Mathews is expecting me.
Arriving at the front door of the administrative building, Jenny punched her code into the box mounted to the right of the door. The distinctive clunk of the lock let her know her code was accepted and she had exactly three seconds to get into the building before the door locked once again.
All employees had to pass through the administration building, regardless of where they worked on the compound. Staff mailboxes were to be checked upon entering and leaving the facility, so entry through one building insured employees routinely checked for messages. More importantly, it streamlined security. In a tightly guarded complex like Anderson, it was important that the movements of all personnel were closely monitored.
Why? Well, all the community knew was that Anderson worked on government contracts. That’s all anyone needed to know. In this patriotic, red, white, and blue stronghold of Americana, the community took pride knowing they contributed to the safety and well-being of the country. In a practical sense, the town’s financial prosperity rested on the blessings brought by having Anderson Mechanics in their area. Steady paychecks and the chance to pursue the American Dream were not taken lightly by the good people of Dayton.
Jenny walked through the spacious lobby and made for the room where mailboxes P-Z were housed. An envelope with the company logo awaited her. She turned it front to back then opened it.
Please come see me when you arrive at work on Monday. I have something I’d like to discuss with you.
A handwritten note from the head honcho. I won’t keep him waiting.
With that, Jenny found the elevator and punched the button for the twelfth floor. The executive offices lay before her as the doors came open.
Dolores, the smartly dressed receptionist greeted her. “Good morning, Ms. Russell. Go ahead and have a seat. I’ll let Mr. Mathews know you’re here.”
After a few moments, George Mathews, tall and athletic with salt-and-pepper hair swept out of his office to meet her.
“It is so good to see you! Please, come into my office.”
With that, he guided her into his office and shut the door.
“Have a seat. Can I get you some coffee?”
“Yes, thank you.” Her nerves were already on edge, so caffeine wasn’t necessary, but she didn’t want to be rude. This was the big boss, after all.
“A young woman after my own heart. You certainly have changed since the Jenny I remember at employee picnics. Gerald is very proud of you.”
“Dad always enjoyed taking us to those events. He’s happy to have all three of us kids working for Anderson. It’s family tradition for a lot of people around here.”
“Yes, it is. Now, Jenny… Can I call you Jenny?”
“You may,” and she couldn’t suppress a chuckle.
“Did I say something funny?”
“Oh, no, I’m sorry, sir. I was just relieved you didn’t call me Tinkerbelle. My father told me that’s what he called me when you were golfing the other day.”
A smile spread across his face. “Oh, yes—that. Don’t worry, I have nicknames for my children that embarrass them, too. I think it’s a cross most of us have to bear growing up. My father called me ‘Spud.’ To this day, I don’t like potatoes because of it.”
A hearty laugh broke the tension Jenny had felt.
“It was actually a good thing Gerald called you by your nickname. It made me realize you may be just who I need for my new project. What has your father told you?”
“Dad didn’t say much of anything. He just said you may have a position to discuss with me. Dad has always prided himself in keeping the company’s private information private.”
“That is true. That’s also one reason Gerald Russell has been my trusted friend for years. He understands the delicate nature of our business.”
“I’m not sure what the position is, but I’m eager to discuss it.”
“I have to say, Jenny, that I took the liberty of looking in your personnel file. Your transcripts from the Georgia Institute of Technology are impressive. Magma cum laude in aerospace engineering. Excellent letters of recommendation.”
“I worked hard to make my family proud.”
“You succeeded. Do you enjoy the field?”
“I ask because it’s important to have a job you find fulfilling. Are you an engineer for your own sake as well as wanting to follow in your father’s footsteps?”
“Why, yes. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been fascinated by math and science. Aerospace was my dream career.”
The spark in her eyes as she talked about her chosen field convinced George Mathews she was sincere.
“I believe you. Your credentials are notable, and it means a great deal that you chose to come back home to Dayton to work for us. With your qualifications, you could have gone anywhere. I value your loyalty to our company and community.”
“I never had a doubt I’d return to work at Anderson. This is home.”
“I’d like you to be a part of a new project we are beginning. It’s one close to my heart. My grandfather, Edward Anderson, started this company years ago in hopes we would reach this point.”
“I’m definitely interested.”
“Someone named Tinkerbelle will surely appreciate this particular project.” A twinkle lit his eye. “I’ve dubbed it ‘The Peter Pan Project.”
A grin spread across Jenny’s face. “I’d like to hear more.”
“Before I tell you more, I need to know if you accept the position. Confidentiality is, of course, vital.”
“Yes, I accept the position.”
“Very well. Peter Pan is intended to take mankind beyond our current limitations. Our goal is to develop a high speed space vehicle. One faster than any ever built on Earth.”
“A space ship?”
“Yes. Beyond what was attempted by previous companies. More than an orbital craft. A manned deep space transportation means. You see, Peter Pan could fly. We want to give mankind the ability to travel farther and faster. I need your help, Tinkerbelle.” He winked.
“I’m flattered. This is the type of project aero scientists dream of being part of. Thank you, Mr. Mathews.”
“Call me George. We are team members now. I’m not just a stuffed suit who sits in the office. I get into the trenches and work on special projects myself. My degree is from MIT. That’s why your dad and I are such good friends. We’ve been team members more than a few times.”
“Wow! I had no idea.”
“Of course not. As you said, Gerald is conscientious about not discussing work. So are Gavin and Jake.”
“Are my brothers on this project?”
“No, they’re working on other jobs. This one is especially important to me. I’m glad you’re onboard.”
“Me too. When do I start?”
“There’s no time like the present. Go to your old work station and gather anything of yours that you want. Meet me in an hour in Sector B.”
“I’ll see you then, Mr. Math—George.”
He walked her to the door and opened it to the reception area. Dolores sat at her desk typing a transcription. She smiled as Jenny passed and gave a quick wave.
I don’t know what kind of raise I’ll get with this position, but I’m about to work on something transformative. Imagine mankind being able to travel at light speed! It’s just like the movies. This is big.
In less than an hour, Jenny was in Sector B. She’d had to ask for directions from the security officer at her old station. Officer Brennan made a quick call to dispatch to make sure he was authorized to give Jenny directions. Sector B wasn’t the typical engineering lab Jenny was accustomed to. This part of the complex was heavily guarded, and no one could enter without special permission. Located five floors beneath Building 6, Jenny was in awe of the magnitude. She walked through what felt like a mile of corridors, escorted by security, before she reached the location where she was to meet George Mathews and the rest of her new team.
No one would ever know this was here. There’s no hint of it above ground. This is like something I’d expect to find underground at NORAD.
No sooner had she arrived at the designated area than George Mathews arrived, precisely one hour after he’d spoken with Jenny In his office.
“What do you think? This is quite the set up, right?”
“Mr. Math—George, yes, it’s very impressive. I had no idea this was here.”
“Few do. Do you want to know a secret?”
“If you don’t mind telling me.”
“Sector B is the reason why Anderson Mechanics exists.”
Her eyes widened.
“It’s true. As a Peter Pan team member, you are about to see why. Before I introduce you to the rest of the team, I want to show you something. Let’s step this way.”
George Mathews led her to a sealed door and slid a key card through the reader. Then he punched in a code and leaned forward for a retinal scan. The door slid open, and in front of them lay an immense room.
Jenny couldn’t believe her eyes.
“Is that what I think it is?”
George smiled. “That it is.”
A large metallic disk was secured in place by scaffolding.
“How is this possible? UFOs don’t exist.”
“Oh, but they do, Jenny. We have had this one since the 1940s when my grandfather first began this company.”
“This is why Anderson Mechanics began?”
“Yes. My grandfather was a leading engineer in his time and a shrewd businessman. He negotiated a government contract to study and advance American technology. What we have learned from this downed ship has led to many modern breakthroughs.”
“The confidential projects my family works on are spin-offs of this ship?”
“They are. For nearly a century we have brought advances to nearly every field with what we’ve learned from this craft.”
“And no one in quiet little Dayton has a clue that a UFO research center exists beneath their feet.”
“Only a handful of us know. My grandfather chose Dayton for the very reason that no one would suspect such an operation in a quaint town such as this. There are good employees here. Honest, hard working Americans who understand ethics and loyalty. It’s the only way to keep a place like this secret.”
Jenny couldn’t take her eyes off the craft. “True” was all she could utter to George Mathews’s explanation.
“Thanks to our community, a lot of good has come from our work.”
Jenny stood dumbfounded. George tapped her on the shoulder.
“Tinkerbelle, would you like to go aboard?”
Hearing her nickname brought her out of her trance.
“I’m sorry. What?”
“Would you like to go aboard?”
Jenny nodded as George led her up the ramp. “You will see some technology that we have been able to replicate. Some we are still trying to unlock. That’s where Peter Pan comes in.”
“You want us to figure out how this craft flies at such high speeds? And then build our own flying saucers?”
“That’s the plan. It’s the last piece of the puzzle my grandfather started out to solve.”
“How did your grandfather even know this existed? I’m surprised the government let anyone know.”
“Well, he was in the right place at the right time. He was working on a dam project out west when the spacecraft crash landed in front of him and a handful of other engineers. It was an isolated area with few witnesses. Only my grandfather’s crew saw it.”
“I’m sure the government didn’t want word getting out.”
“No, it didn’t. For once, the government was smart, though. Instead of trying to shut the witnesses up, it made them part of the research team.”
“And that was the beginning of Anderson Mechanics.”
“Yes. The technology we’ve given the world through our research has been peripheral, though. The goal has always been to build our own fleet of these. This is where we are at today.”
“What happened to the people who were onboard when it crashed?”
“People? I don’t think we’d call what came off that craft ‘people.’ The beings were taken to a military base, and I have no idea what happened to them after that.”
“Oh, yeah, I guess they are being studied like we’re studying their ship.”
“Exactly. Now let’s go on our tour.”
George pointed to the room to their left and took her on a tour of the craft.
“Feel free to examine anything you’d like to. I want you to learn this ship inside and out. I’m counting on you to help us reach our goal.”
“This is a lot to take in. Excuse me if I’m in shock.”
“It’s quite all right. I have grown up knowing about this.” He paused to gesture to the craft. “I’m still in disbelief on some days that all this is real.”
“But it is.”
“And it’s our mission to use this to give mankind the ability to travel through space. Not taking years to send an unmanned craft to Jupiter but sending people there in the blink of an eye.”
“I hope I don’t let you down.”
“You won’t. Now let’s go to the shop where I can introduce you to the rest of the team.”
Jenny’s knees wobbled as she descended the ramp.
This is so much to take in. I can’t believe this has been going on right beneath my sleepy little town. Most people here would laugh if someone told them aliens are real. Our town is actually ground zero for proof they exist.
Jenny’s thoughts were interrupted as George led her to where the real work was done. Her six team members greeted her as she arrived.
“Jenny, meet your team.”
To her surprise, she didn’t have to meet them. She already knew them.
Mark Hanson “introduced” himself. “Welcome aboard, Jenny! I’m the team leader. It’s great to have you join us.”
Jenny extended her hand to shake his. “Yeah, Mark, it’s always good to see you. I’m just a little surprised to see you here.”
Mark chuckled. “Usually it’s Sunday mornings at church. I know this is a little bit of a shock.”
Mark not only led The Peter Pan Project, but up to this moment Jenny knew him as the youth group leader at church and the oldest son of her third grade teacher.
His wasn’t the only familiar face. Scott Filmore, her nephew’s soccer coach, stood before her, as did Debrah Hastings who made high school history with the highest number of points scored in a basketball game. Rob Manning, brother of her insurance agent was there. Linda Mayhew, the pianist at church, and Quinton Ramsey, son of the Ramsey’s across the street, also welcomed her.
“Fancy meeting us here, right?” Rob nudged her with his elbow.
“Yeah, it’s a real surprise. I mean, I knew you worked for Anderson, but I never imagined this.”
“Neither had we before we started here. It’s okay. We’ll show you the ropes. We’ve heard nothing but good things about your engineering skills, and you know we already consider you family.”
“That’s right,” Debrah said. “We are doing this for our country and our community. I think it helps that we already know each other. We are a ready-made team.”
Mark made a sweeping gesture towards the room. “Let’s get started.”
This began the next five years of work for the seven engineer. Each day Jenny joined her friends and neighbors as they unlocked the secrets of intergalactic flight. Each day she drove home to her lovely old home on Orchard Road, and each day she thought about the lives of the people in her beloved hometown. They lived ordinary lives, oblivious to what was going on around them.
“I used to live in oblivion too.”
Each Sunday, she sat in her family’s regular spot as Mark Hanson and his family sat in theirs. They sang hymns accompanied by Linda Mayhew on the piano. Each Tuesday she watched her nephews play soccer, and every Saturday morning Quinton stopped by his mother’s house to care for her lawn. To the outside observer, they were quiet, simple folk without a care in the world.
At work they strained under the enormous pressure to learn all they could from the alien craft. The government expected them to produce results.
Slowly, but surely, the secrets were revealed. Each new advancement the team made led to the next discovery. Once the key to the propulsion system was deciphered, the project moved at, well, warp speed.
“Team, I can’t begin to tell you how pleased I am with you and this project.” George Mathews addressed the engineers flanked by high ranking Defense Department officials.
“It’s been an honor, Mr. Mathews.” Mark Hanson turned to his team. “I can honestly say this wouldn’t have been possible without the skill and dedication of these people right here.”
“We won’t forget your service to this country.” A man with medals covering his chest spoke to the group. “You will be financially rewarded for your efforts.”
George cleared his throat. “There’s another perk you will have.”
“Really?” The team looked at each other then back at George Mathews.
“Isn’t that right, General Hopkins?”
“Yes. Our contractors have completed the prototype of your design. We offer you the opportunity to ride in it on its maiden voyage.”
Enthusiastic shouts erupted. “We’d love to accept your invitation!” Mark Hanson shook the general’s hand. He looked at George. “Are you going to be with us?”
George’s shoulders slumped. “No, I can’t. My doctor would never allow me to. I’ve had two heart attacks already. I want you all to go for me, though.”
The team members silently nodded. They knew how much it must hurt George to not share in this experience.
The general cleared his throat, uncomfortable with the sudden emotion filling the room.
“Very well. We will begin your in-flight training immediately. No, you will not be a part of the flight crew, but as passengers you will need to be trained to adapt to the rigors of the flight.”
“We understand.” Mark checked his team members expressions for agreement.
“Meet us here at 0700. Tell your families you are going to a conference in Baltimore and will be out of touch for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, you will take flight.” George Mathews beamed. “This is what we’ve worked so hard for.”
The next morning, Jenny walked towards her new SUV. Sweet Mrs. Ramsey and Poppy were out for their morning walk.
“Leaving a little early, aren’t you, dear?”
“Yes, I’m going to a conference. Say, don’t worry if you don’t see me for a few weeks. My dad will be stopping by to get my mail and check on the place. Nothing is wrong.”
“Thank you for letting me know. I do worry about you, you know.”
“I know. I’ll see you when I get home.”
The training was rigorous, and eighteen-hour days exhausted Jenny and her team. The adrenaline of being the first people to travel at those speeds overrode their need for sleep, however. The days were a blur, and before they knew it, it was the day of the launch.
Climbing aboard the sleek craft emblazoned with the American flag, their hearts raced. Each passenger meticulously strapped themselves into the seats. Reclining, the voice coming through their headsets told them to relax and close their eyes. The countdown began by a control room commander whose soothing voice calmed their frazzled nerves.
Suddenly, the sensation of being sucked down a drain enveloped them.
“Whoa, boy!” Mark Hanson exclaimed. “I thought there’d be a roar of engines first, even though I knew better.”
The seats automatically rose to the sitting position as the astronauts looked out the panoramic windows. The stars looked like streaks of light, as though from some 1970s science fiction drama.
The craft smoothly glided to a stop.
“Ladies and gentlemen, what you see ahead of you is our solar system. That’s something no human being has ever laid eyes on. I’ve dreamed of this my entire life. Thank you, engineers, for making this possible.” Commander Raymond Kipling made the announcement to the crew.
First Officer Merritt spoke next. “Take this all in. It’s beautiful.”
For the next thirty minutes, they sat in stunned silence. The view was, in fact, beautiful.
Commander Kipling came back on the radio. “I could stay here forever looking at this, but we need to get back to the base. Prepare for reentry.”
In a flicker of time, the craft silently arrived back on Earth. Joy and wonder kept conversation to a minimum. Awaiting them on the ground were physicians who whisked them off to be monitored.
“We’ll keep you under observation for the next twenty-four hours, but your vitals all look excellent.” The chief medical officer scribbled down a few notes on his tablet. “I’ll be back to check on you myself in the morning.”
To everyone’s relief, no one suffered any ill effects from the flight. The military flew them back to Anderson Mechanics via helicopters the next day. There they debriefed George Mathews.
Once the meetings ended, the space travelers made their way to the parking lot where their more pedestrian vehicles awaited.
“Let’s take the morning off. I’ll see you back here at noon.”
“See you then, Mark.”
Jenny didn’t want to rush home. So much was going through her mind. Instead, she drove through the neighborhoods of Dayton, reminiscing about the childhood memories made in this town. Dayton had given her so much. As night fell, she finally made her way to Orchard Road.
Mrs. Ramsey and Poppy sat on their porch. Happy to see her young neighbor return, she smiled and waved to Jenny.
“Oh, it is so good to see you are back home. How was the conference? Did anything interesting happen on your trip?”
Jenny paused then smiled. “The conference was great. No, nothing exciting happened. You know, just a lot of engineering talk.”
“Well, you can’t always expect these things to be out of this world excitement.”
“No, you can’t. And how about you? Did anything exciting happen here while I was gone.”
Mrs. Ramsey patted Poppy who had jumped into her lap.
“Oh, lands no. It was just another day in Dayton.”
With that, Jenny stepped into the home her grandfather built last century during a time when standard air travel was a rarity. As she drifted off to sleep, her mind was a million miles away.
Much closer than a million miles away, a frenzied discussion was taking place.
“I’m afraid our test subjects have discovered our secrets to space travel. They were more intelligent than we suspected.”
“You are correct. If they have discovered the key to our flight technology, it will be no time at all before they can recreate our weaponry.”
“They will pose a danger to the rest of civilization.”
“We have no other options, do we?”
“It’s time to put an end to this experiment. Tomorrow, I will order the decontamination squad to sterilize the region.”