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Rocket Man 5

Rocket Man 5 - Chapter 5: Galatea

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Chapter 5: Galatea

The arguments had continued for the last two hours or so, some advocating Terry's immediate removal to an escape proof holding facility, preferably under Cheyenne Mountain. Others seemed to think that he deserved a chance to prove himself by his own actions. Hank Von Werner was not convinced of either course of action, but he had uncovered some interesting information. He typed on the portable keyboard that he carried with him at all times while in the RMF Building. A mug shot photo appeared on the back wall of the crowded conference room. "This, is Rolf Landherr, Political Agitator and once publisher of a small newspaper called "The White Pages." Having the full attention of the room Hank continued, nervously. "He was, as you can see here arrested in 1986 by the Omaha, Nebraska Police Department after an informant had revealed a bomb plot planned by Mr. Landherr and several of his white supremacist compatriots." Hank saw a look of recognition and surprise dawning on Terry's face.

"That's the Janitor from my grade school." Terry said, the bewilderment clear in his voice.
"Yes," Hank went on, "He worked for the School District after leaving his last job at the Heartland Ob/Gyn Center. The fertility clinic at the Heartland Center was visited in 1975 by Terry's parents who had been trying to conceive a child for some years with no success. The next year, after the Grissoms had their long awaited visit from the stork, Rolf went to work for the Omaha Public School District."

Terry sat in stunned silence as the theories abounded about how he could have been surrounded with people to guide him to the path of white nationalism. He answered their questions, mechanically while he realized he had been approached by many people in his life who tried to convince him of his natural superiority to his classmates. He always had argued with such people of course. He had not been raised by his parents (they were his parents) to believe such nonsense. He had been taught that a man was no better than he treated those weaker than himself. He had accepted this as the central tenant of his personal belief system. He thought of what a stupendous happenstance that he had been born on the Fourth of July. And not just in any year, but in 1976 - the Bicentennial year. When ever he told people his birthday they would almost universally comment that he was destined for great things, not at the expense of others as the sleeper agents had tried to convince him, but through the kind of virtues that he had been taught were American ideals. The silly terrorists had made a giant miscalculation. They had clearly believed that hiding him in a family which had already had one very accomplished member would allay suspicion. And aid their arguments to young Terry that he was made of better "stuff" than others around him. He had learned no such lesson. Whatever advantages he had been given were gifts, not demonstrating the superiority of the individual but of his creator. Of course his creator would have been a psychopathic Nazi madman, but that was not really the point. Terry did not believe that it was a coincidence that he was born that day, but Providence. That agency that had bestowed free will on mankind had also allowed him to be raised by a family that gave him a firm moral footing. For a reason. Terry did not have to guess what that reason was.

Silence fell about the room when Terry stood. "I can't promise you that I'm not equipped with some kind of 'Trojan Horse' gene that could be activated by some unknown agent. But that doesn't matter. The reason it doesn't matter is you could build an override into the suit to turn it off at any time you were unsure of my allegiance. At the first sign of treachery, you could bring the suit back home, switch it off and watch me fall like a rock, or fill the suit with nerve gas. The power is all yours. What would be a shame however, would be to let the best work of your enemy go to waste. You have been handed the wildcards from your opponents hand." Terry looked at the faces of the people in this room. He would need to trust these heroes and scientists much more than they would need to trust him. they were not equipped with software "backdoors."
So far the only other people in the room who had been silent were Mystic, the mind reader from New York's Star Force, and the man at the head of the table. He had been introduced as Buchanan "Buck" Johnson, Chairman of the Rocket Man Foundation. Buck had watched and listened quietly, while most of those talking seemed to be addressing him. Respectfully. Whoever this man was the heroes of this room spoke to him with a deference that suggested his approval was the only one that mattered. Terry had no idea how this man had earned the respect of the legends in this room but he was certainly possessed of an air of confidence and authority. The kind of authority that came with years of command. This man appeared to be in his 70's with close trimmed grey hair and piercing blue eyes that would not be out of place on a Marine General. Those blue eyes looked over to Mystic, who nodded, then back to Terry. Then Buck Johnson spoke.

"He's right." He said in a deep, gruff voice, "If he does anything tricky we could deposit him in Lake Michigan, and have a look alike flying around the city in less than an hour, and nobody would be the wiser. But if we don't use him we lose probably the best chance we will ever have to put someone in that armor who could squeeze every last drop of performance out of it."

The reason Buck had not spoken in Terry's presence yet was now as obvious as a lightning strike. Before he had spoken three words, Terry recognized his voice. Buck Johnson was Action Man. Terry stood, transfixed by the image of this man. Until seconds ago Terry would have bet his next months pay that Buck was a Marine General, but there was absolutely no chance that voice could belong to anyone else. He had seen every single one of the nearly seven hundred episodes of the Action Man cartoon show, many of them multiple had made every attempt as a child to set aside the time of day, to no purpose other than to see that show, even if it was a rerun. He had lugged heavy newspapers through deep snow while his classmates slept so he could buy the VHS tapes of all thirty seasons, And again later the DVD's. He never imagined he would meet this living legend in person. He certainly never thought it would be Action Man himself who decided his fate. And decided it was, as since Mr. Johnson had spoken it seemed to be a settled matter for the rest of the people in the room.

Terry had never thought that he would miss the stiff, itchy metaweave costume he had been issued during the testing. This garment was worse, much worse. Not that it was stiff, it was as a matter of fact quite soft. What made him uncomfortable about this garment was that it was so thin. Miraculously thin. Terry was sure that it must have been a triumph of fabric manufacturing to have material that was this thin and still be (mostly) an opaque white. He thought it was like wearing a dress sock as a full body covering. Only now did Terry notice how many of the workers and technicians here in the control room were female. Several of them were clustered about him now discussing how various sub-systems could be hidden in the armor using the contours of his body. The "sock" would be the under layer that would be there to wick perspiration away from his skin while wearing the metal outer layers. He would wear this at all times to be ready to have the armor assembled around it when needed. The thinness of the material also allowed the many sensors to monitor his vital functions. Terry wondered briefly if the embarrassing stretchy catsuit may just be a practical joke being played on him by the team. He had no knowledge of what happened inside this building until recently to inform him as to whether this was in fact a hazing done to the "new guy." It would be best to remain stoic if not dignified, and simply pretend nothing out of the ordinary was happening.

He had been carefully measured with calipers, lasers and good old fashioned measuring tapes. Molds had been taken of his various body parts, to be cast in whatever miraculous substance they intended to use to make the new armor. First, a proof of concept, as Julie had called it, would be made. This would be a full scale working mock up of the super suit with the ability to install all the actual working subsystems. With the notable exception of the nigh indestructible skin layer it would be built from the actual components meant to be used in the final version. When Terry had asked Julie if this mock up had one of the code letter names that she had mentioned on the first day they had met, she answered that it would be "Armor version RM5v.(-1).xxxx." The outer layer would be made of a common alloy of stainless steel, far heavier and much softer than the revolutionary "molecular machine" material of the final product. But the important part was that it would fly. Although he had logged hundreds of flight hours over the years, this time it would be in an actual full scale Rocket Man suit.

He was reminded of the last such one he had worn seventeen years before. Not a working model but a store bought Halloween costume. He had worn that costume to bed and refused to take it off the next day. His parents had been empathetic, but they could not allow him to wear the flimsy plastic suit for the indefinite future. So again the mundane concerns of real life had won another in the long string of victories over childhood that would go unbroken for years to come. It was nearly Halloween and this year he would have the best costume ever. He had not even seen the concept art the designers had been working with. It occurred to terry that he had not really thought of what the new armor would look like. There were the essential, must-have elements of the previous designs. There was a tradition to keep. All of the Rocket Man suits so far were silver. The first a dull stainless steel, but the next three a mirror like chrome. The helmets all had flat, triangular wing like shapes pointing backwards from where the wearer's ears would be. Julie had assured him that the "ear wings" served no useful purpose on any of the versions of the equipment. They were meant to be decorative only. To evoke the image of the roman god Mercury, and convey an impression of speed. Terry wondered if this woman was too practical to include such frivolous things on her design. The eponymous rockets themselves were always in pairs. Worn on the back side by side the pointed cylinders were the other iconic feature all the earlier incarnations had in common. Whenever children pretended to be Rocket Man these were the indispensable elements of even the most impromptu costume. Their absence would guarantee a unending harangue of questions of who the wearer was supposed to be. It would be like claiming to be Brawny Bill without the hat, or, Action Man without the cape.

There had been differences over the years. The basic look of the armor had changed with the style of the times. The first Rocket Man appeared in 1932 wearing an Art Deco sculpture. It had flat surfaces vertically aligned and stacked in slightly decreasing sizes. The streamlined look of the first design was as much of a classic example of the style as the Chrysler Building, or any train with "Zephyr" in the name. The eyes and mouth of the helmet were simply black rectangles of glass.

The second Rocket Man debuted in 1952 with a Space Age/Ray Gun Chic look. The ear wings were exaggerated like the tail fins on cars of the era. The suit had unnecessary ridges running from the waist, over the shoulders, and down the back. The subtle geometric patterns of the first suit were replaced by ornamental flares and curves that were meant to be eye catching and were they ever. The helmet had triangular eyeholes covered in wire mesh screens, and what looked like a speaker grille where the mouth was.

1976 saw the introduction of the third Rocket Man, whose suit was a softening of the ridges, now flatter and almost squared. The impression was that the suit had been sanded down from the previous one. The helmet was crossed horizontally by a black visor which tapered under the ear wings, now smaller and less severe. Terry had wondered if the people who made the TV show Battlestar Galactica had intentionally made the Cylons look like Rocket Man from the neck down. Not exactly but close.

The last Rocket Man armor designed in 1989 was very sleek and ultra modern looking. Terry remembered seeing him the first time and being amazed by the look of the new suit. Gone were all the unnecessary shapes except the ear wings. The visor was a reflective silver surface gently raised above the face of the helmet. It would be hard to imagine anything more smooth than the last suit.

It was clear Julie knew exactly what the outside of the new armor would look like, as she had detailed plans on how much room would be available inside for the many widgets that would make it go. He wondered if this bookish woman would appreciate what the general look of their hero meant to the people of the outside world. She certainly had little contact with them as she was so obsessed with her work. Maybe he was being unfair. She was in a giant rush to get the program rolling again. She also had to balance the need to get him on the job with the care that there was nothing overlooked that would return the project to the drawing board, or worse, the scrap heap. Still the fact that she had no friends outside the super teams made Terry wonder if she knew what civilians thought about it at all. He decided he would ask her about it. Or maybe just suggest she keep the ear wings. Everybody liked the ear wings.

Beautiful. The only word she could think of to describe what she saw was beautiful. Mystic stood looking at the model Julie had made of the new armor. It was a Greek statue with mirrored skin.

"An Adonis" Arcanegel announced.

"Was I thinking out loud again?" Mystic asked.

"You were probably hearing my thoughts, loudly I'm sure." the younger woman added. "Adonis was worshiped as a god of beauty by young women, but he was also a rebirth god."

She really did not need to be a mind reader to see what the golden haired beauty was alluding to. As it so happened she was a mind reader, so she was also very sure the young woman was entirely correct. This was a tribute in sculpture. A mechanical love letter. The woman who designed this armor did so with an undisguised passion. It was worthy of an exhibition in an art gallery. "But that isn't why you avoid him." Mystic said.

"He's a Twinkie." Probably very yummy, but made of artificial ingredients." Arcanegel joked.

Mystic did not challenge whether Arcanegel had an interest in such fare. Being the daughter of a nature spirit, Arcangel was also attuned to the natural world. She may take her mothers place someday as the leader of Unity, the super team from San Francisco. While some young women would leap at a man their mother would disapprove of, she didn't think this was one such woman. It was plain to the older heroine that Arcanegel's protests were made hollow by her own behavior. She really didn't use her mind reading powers as much as people thought. After years of listening to peoples thoughts she had developed an understanding of their facial expressions and body language that was nearly as effective. If she ever did lose her powers she could always move to Atlantic City and clean up at the poker tables. Similarly, she needed no powers to see Julie's motivations.

The platinum skin of the statue before her showed the shape of the man who would be beneath. It more than suggested the strength of that man, it was an offering at his altar. Other than the actual rockets on the back, the classic wings on the the side of the head were the only indication that this was to be meant as a new costume for Rocket Man. The eyes were now two small onyx globes, oblong and crossed vertically by three thin silver bars of wire. The eyes look as if they had been crafted by a Jeweler. The Greek story she had been reminded of had not been Adonis but Pygmalion. Unhappy with real women, he had carved a perfect one from stone and then fell in love with her. Julie had searched the world for the perfect man. Wittingly or not she had done just that. The man she had found represented every desirable quality she had wished for in spades.

Mystic had been here in Chicago as a member of the Young Champions when Julie was born. She was as much as family as she still had. The thought that Julie may eventually the one who would be unwilling to risk Terry's life made her uncomfortable. Julie would have to find a way the same as all the others around here had to balance their personal lives and the necessities of the job. No one could really know Julie and think her serious, professional demeanor indicated a lack of passion, it was proof of the power of it's focus. When Julie had argued against disqualifying Terry from the program it had made her latch on to him even harder. Mystic made a mental note to herself to look up how that story had turned out for Pygmalion.

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Updated 10-08-2015 at 03:22 PM by Zavaraxis

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