Showdown at the Cape
by Mike Wilson
It was the kind of hot, steamy day that only Central Florida could
produce. An afternoon thundershower had just passed by, more bluff than
substance. The tiny amount of rain had mostly stayed in the air.
McDelvern felt like he was walking through flavorless soup that day.
Senator McDelvern despised NASA. To his seasoned mind they were
nothing more than a PR flack agency for the defense industry, and since
national defense was already a high priority, were unnecessary. He was
there with one aide, checking up on operations at the launch complex
and the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building.
"Sir, you don't intend to walk all the way to the VAB from here,"
said the aide, named Joe Jenkins.
"If it would save the taxpayers of this country, I might. But never
fear, Jenkins. I'm going to try and shag us a ride. We won't get past
those guards with this rental anyway."
The 72-year old senator, still in good shape from regular workouts,
carried a proportional frame six feet tall. He still stood erect, and
walked swiftly. His aide Jenkins, was shorter and more husky. Jenkins
did not smoke, but still winded easily. The two walked over to the edge
of launch complex 43, and got back into their rental to head to a
nearby administration building. Cameras and eyes followed their
Inside the administration building, there was consternation.
"I thought they were intruders, until I recognized who that was,"
said a security guard, pointing at an image on a computer screen. The
head NASA administrator, Daniel Gerard, gawked at the photo.
"That is Senator McDelvern! What is he doing here? It figures, the
old SOB is hunting for flaws anywhere he can," spat out Daniel in a
rush. Concerned aides looked at each other, not knowing which to answer
Daniel did not wait for a response, but rather got out his cell and
initiated damage control.
"Hi, Dowd? Time to earn your pay today. We have a Senator snooping
around out there. Yeah, he is heading in our direction. Admin building.
Grab one or two PR types and get over here, ASAP."
His next call was to security.
"Did you see them arrive? You did call? Who?" Then a harried man
rushed into the room with an urgent message, now delivered too late.
Daniel ended the call, and turned to the flustered young man.
"They wouldn't let me in, sir. Forgot my badge. But Security figured
it was legit, since it is an expensive rental vehicle. It is some kind
of congressional rep."
"Come here, Maier. Look at this monitor. Who do you think that is?"
The young man looked at the monitor, and the frozen image of the two
gentlemen getting into the sedan. "Um, is he a congressman, sir?"
"Look and learn, Maier. That is Senator McDelvern, only NASA's
biggest opponent in Congress. He is here snooping around. I have to go
meet him. They are almost to the door now. Are those PR guys here yet?"
Two PR people rushed in to the main admin office area. Daniel
"Good deal. Someone get us some bottles of water to take down. It is
hot out there."
The PR reps, a younger gal and guy, looked about uncomfortably. The
guy then said unexpectedly, "Yes it is, sir. Like High Noon."
Administrator Daniel looked at him; "High Noon?"
"Yeah, you know, that western, with Gary Cooper, etc.?"
"Oh yeah, yeah, right. Appropriate, too. "
An aide rushed up with several bottles of water.
"Good job. Let's go face our accuser, I mean, Senator, shall we? Try
and treat him with respect, people."
Daniel turned on his heels, and led them to the stairwell, down a
floor to the lobby entrance. Senator McDelvern and Jenkins were waiting.
"Good afternoon, Administrator Gerard. Good to see you again!" The
Senator approached, extending a hand.
"Hello, Senator. To what do we owe the honor of your visit today?"
McDelvern squinted at Gerald in the afternoon sunlight streaming
through the lobby windows.
"You know already, I think. Just doing some fact-finding before the
Aerospace hearings next week."
"Well, we have nothing to hide, Senator. Never have, as a matter of
fact. Gerard silently added, And you know it, you SOB.
"I am sure you don't, Sir. However, if you would be so kind, me and
my aide here would like to see the inside of the VAB building, for
"Are you aware, Sir, that we are in the middle stages of processing
an Orion test article? We are mating a full stack, and then we will be
fueling. It is a rather tense time over there right now."
No one has the time to coddle a senator, not on our
"I will be out of the way as much as possible. I merely wish to
observe how the additional appropriations you received are being
utilized," intoned McDelvern gently.
Gerard sighed. He turned to the PR pair, and said, "Very well. Would
you please accompany the Senator in a staff car over to the VAB? Show
him anything he wishes."
Sen. McDelvern cleared his throat. "I had hoped that you would be
accompanying me, Daniel. I would like to speak with you, and the
privacy of a NASA staff car is as good a place as any. Better, in
fact." He looked at Daniel with a pleased expression.
What does he have up his sleeve? wondered Daniel.
"All right then. We'll take one of the SUV's, that way we can all
fit." Daniel walked over to the receptionist's desk, and had her obtain
some keys. Then they all trooped out over shimmering concrete, to a
white Ford Escape. Once inside, Daniel cranked up the AC, to everyone's
Once the vehicle was under way, the Senator spoke up.
"Very nice of you to take the time, Daniel. I really appreciate
"So what are you really up to here, Senator? I haven't seen you set
foot here since our little tete-a-tete a few years back,"
"Oh yes, that. I had forgotten. Well, no hard feelings. But no, I,
or rather we, are considering some radical steps to get the budget in
line,' said McDelvern.
Daniel felt himself grow cold inside. Not more cuts, surely?
"What exactly do you mean, sir?"
"Well, we may have to make some more reductions, and pretty severe
ones. But let's wait until we get to the VAB."
Daniel had it with this overstuffed, pompous throwback. He pulled
the Ford over to the side of the road, and turned off the engine. Then
he got out of the vehicle, strode down the road a ways, and stopped.
The two PR flacks got out and half-trotted over to him. "Sir? What
Daniel did not say anything, just paced back and forth. The
assistants looked at each other, raising their hands.
Senator McDelvern and his aide finally got out of the vehicle. They
walked slowly up the road. Everyone was perspiring in the heat.
"What's the idea, Gerard? Going to show us something here?" said
"Look around you, Senator," said Daniel, sweeping his arm in an arc,
taking in launch towers, buildings, antennae, and in the distance, the
massive VAB. A huge tractor-crawler sat outside.
"Yes, and your point is?"
"This was built over the course of many years, with regular
commitments of federal money. This took thousands of man-hours of work,
by three generations of engineers and technicians."
"I've heard these arguments, Daniel," said the Senator, using his
first name to calm him.
"Have you? Have you thought about the astronauts who gave their
lives, to advance the sum total of human knowledge and endeavor? Have
you thought about how many people your shortsightedness has put out of
work? All you greedy bastards think about is the bottom line, the next
"Be careful there, Daniel. I have been trying to be civil. Now you
know as well as I do that NASA is nothing more than a big PR stunt by
the combined military services of this country to justify
out-of-control military spending."
The Senator and the Administrator stared at each other on that hot,
shimmering road. The two PR aides stood, shifting uncomfortably from
foot to foot, looking at the Senator's aide. The two groups faced each
other. McDelvern's aide Jenkins finally spoke.
"Look, Mr. Gerard, might we just go to the VAB and have a look? Then
we can get out of your hair."
The Senator turned and gave him a dark look, and then turned back to
face Daniel. "Well, he does have a point. Shall we get on with it?"
"Not until you tell me what you are up to. I want to know how bad
you want to cut us," said Daniel.
Silence. The Senator and Daniel glared at each other. The air
shimmered, waterlogged heat weighing down on all of them, but the sun
lowered a little and a breeze kicked up.
Maybe I won't pass out quite yet, until I can tell this asshole
what I think of him. Daniel thought to himself.
"All right then. I am going to propose that we close down NASA
entirely. The whole lock, stock, and barrel. The military services can
do their own launches, and the rest can be done by NOAA and so forth.
The PR space junkets can be ended, and this Orion money-burner can be
Daniel was working his mouth, and finally found some words. "No way
in hell. You can't do that."
"Oh, can't I? Just watch me, buster," replied McDelvern.
The shimmers looked like heat coming off of the pavement, but
several of them surrounded the Senator. Suddenly, his eyes shut, and he
Administrator Daniel and the others soon recovered their wits enough
to wonder what was going on with him.
"Senator? You OK?" said Daniel, trying to muster sympathy for this
person who wanted to shut them all down.
"Sir? Sir?" said the PR people, hovering around him. Jenkins wiped
his brow, and then started to reach for the Senator. He felt a shock,
and drew his arm back rapidly.
"Senator? Senator?" yelled Daniel. He turned to look at the aides.
They looked back at him, questioning. Feeling helpless, Daniel pulled
out his phone, wanting to call some medics, or dial 911.
Right then the Senator relaxed, opened his eyes, and let out a sigh.
Then, he groaned, sat down heavily on the pavement, and crossed his
legs. He took some ragged breaths.
Daniel kneeled by him, and so did Jenkins. They each took and arm.
"I'm ok, don't worry about it," said the Senator, waving them off.
"But I think we should get back."
Jenkins looked puzzled. "Get back, sir? What about the VAB?"
"What about it?" said the Senator, looking sharply at Jenkins. Then
he leveled a gaze at Daniel with a strange gleam in his eyes.
"Well, I guess we might as well get back in the Ford then. I can
crank up the AC," said Daniel, for want of anything better. He led the
way back to the vehicle. They all clambered in, silently.
The shimmers on the road disappeared into the general vapors on the
air, and the atmosphere returned to normal on the access road.
As the Ford whined its way back to the Admin building in the heat,
Daniel broke the silence.
"Senator? Are you okay? What gives?"
"Yes, I am fine, Daniel. Let me just say that I have been shown the
error of my ways, never mind how. I changed my mind. I'm going to table
any bills to eliminate NASA. In fact, I may suggest an increase in
"That is welcome news, of course. I hope you won't say you were
under duress. I did not intend to threaten you, I was merely upset, as
you can understand..." said Daniel.
"You did stop the vehicle and confront us, Gerard," said Jenkins.
His eyes were smoldering.
"Easy, Jenkins. Maybe you don't understand what happened to me. I'm
not sure I do. But I was... gone for a while."
"We could see that, Sir. I don't profess to understand what
happened, but I did not mean to physically threaten you or anything,"
"I know, I know. Tell me, Gerard, have you actually read any science
"Well, no, not since I was in high school. Why do you ask?"
"I was wondering what you would think If I told you that something
that was not from around here had me in a tight grip, and showed me a
world destroyed. A world that will be destroyed, unless we continue to
develop our space-faring capacity for the foreseeable future."
Daniel turned his head from looking at the road, and stared at the
Senator, wondering if heat stroke had affected the man.
"Don't worry about it, Gerard. Just be glad. Your agency will stay
in business for a long time, at least if I have anything to say about
"So why the change in heart, exactly?" said Administrator Gerard,
still in disbelief.
"I didn't realize you would have an Extraterrestrial on your side.
Hell, I'm just an old Senator. I can't compete with a master debater
from the center of the galaxy." Then he went silent and remained so for
the rest of the ride. Jenkins had to guide him to their rental sedan,
arm in arm. When they finally left, Administrator Daniel Gerard and his
office workers watched them go through the windows of the admin
Daniel said to no one in particular, "Well, he did go rigid, and
shut his eyes."
"And there was a lot of shimmering around him. Some of it was
colorful," said one of the PR people.
"Really? Well, you never know. Perhaps we did get helped by
something or other. OK, then. Back to work." Daniel turned and headed
up the stairwell, to the second floor, his office and a pile of
paperwork. Everyone else dispersed. But Daniel had to struggle to get
any real work done that day, since he kept replaying the events on the
access road in his mind over and over. He had seen something,
but he just could not remember what.
The next morning, the networks were abuzz with the news of this
budget-cutting senator who had had such a major change of heart,
seemingly overnight. He was proposing a major increase in funding for
NASA today. Some were accusing Administrator Gerard of some kind of
strong-arm tactics or bribery, but those voices soon died down--or out.
© 2013 Mike Wilson
Bio: Mike Wilson has been writing poetry and short fiction
2003. He has been published in various journals online (including
multiple appearances in Aphelion, most recently Escape
to New Jersey,
May 2012 and New
Weapons, February 2013) and in print. His latest story was
due to appear in the 2013
spring edition of Tales of the Talisman. He also has two self-published
anthologies, Mirror Worlds and Future Property. Both are available on
Amazon. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa, USA. For more by and about Mike,
visit Radical Readings,
Mike Wilson's Twitter Page,
Describer One helium page,
Galactic Library discussion group. A collection of Mike's essays,
poems, and stories From
My Backyard to the Edge of the Galaxy is available from Lulu.com in
paperback form (also available as a download).
E-mail: Mike Wilson
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