The Prometheus Invasion Ch. 01byScribe65©
The telephone rang at 3:08 a.m.
The occupant of the house one mile from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., got up out of his bed and answered the telephone in the kitchen of his house.
Once he answered, the caller hung up.
The occupant of the house hung up the phone, sighed, and went back to bed in the darkness of the house.
Five minutes later, someone knocked at the door.
The man got up out of bed and started to the door. He then went back to put on a bathrobe, since he slept naked.
The man turned on the porch light and opened his front door.
Standing outside the house was a young man dressed in the uniform of the U.S. Air Force. He wore two stripes to indicate that he was a corporal. A nondescript gray sedan was parked in his driveway behind his Cadillac convertible, its engine running and its headlights on.
"Dr. Manville?" said the private.
The corporal greeted a tall 30-year-old man, his dark hair askew. His blue eyes were clouded from the way he was awakened.
"What does the Air Force want at ... quarter after 3 in the morning?"
"This is for you, sir," said the corporal.
The corporal handed Manville an envelope on which the words DR. LANCE MANVILLE and EYES ONLY were printed.
Manville took the envelope and regarded the corporal. "I hope you're not expecting a tip."
"No, sir. Good night, sir." The corporal started to salute, stopped, then turned and left.
Manville stared at the envelope for a moment, then shut off the outside light and went back into his house.
Manville sat at the couch in his living room and opened the envelope. Inside was a letter:
TO: Dr. Lance Manville
FROM: Lt. Gen. R.J. Grover, USAF
SUBJECT: Instructions – TOP SECRET – EYES ONLY
(1) You are instructed to fly immediately to 37o14'06" N 115o48'40" E. A map to your destination will be provided at the airstrip.
(2) You will fly Air Force 55-3937.
(3) Your callsign will be Air Force 3937.
(4) When you reach the assigned coordinates you will tune your transponder to 453.85 MHZ and signal Sage Control. ATC will give you landing instructions.
(5) You will be meeting with myself and a group of civilians regarding a special assignment immediately upon arrival.
Manville sighed and walked toward his bathroom, needing a shower to wake up.
He put on his Air Force-issue olive green flight suit and boots. He grabbed his flight bag, not knowing if he'd need extra equipment once he got to Edwards since he didn't know what he was flying, or how long he'd be at Nellis.
Manville gazed longingly at his coffee pot as he walked through the kitchen on the way to his car port. He didn't have time for coffee, and he suspected he could get some when he got to Nevada, which was going to take only slightly longer than brewing a pot.
Manville opened the passenger door of the Cadillac and threw his flight suit on the seat. He went around to the driver's-side door, got in, started the car, and dropped the top, figuring the drive in the cold night desert air would wake him up.
Air Force 3937 turned out to be a North American F-86 Sabre fighter jet. Manville figured that Grover, just one state over, wanted to see him in one hell of a hurry. The Sabre had neither drop tanks nor rockets mounted on the underside of its wings.
"Where should I put this?" asked Manville, holding up his flight bag.
"I'll put it in the bomb bay, sir," said the private. "As long as you don't open the bomb bay doors, you'll be fine."
"Hope I'm not going into combat with this."
"You didn't give me any rockets."
"I wasn't told to load them, sir."
"You also didn't give me any drop tanks."
"I wasn't told to ..."
"... load them, sir," interrupted Manville.
As he got into the Sabre, Manville noticed an envelope lying on the pilot's seat. He grabbed the envelope, got in, and then opened the envelope. It contained the map to where he was flying, with the location a red dot with a black circle in southern Nevada.
Manville went through the preflight checklist, then hit the starter switch. The whine of the starter gave way to the louder whine of the General Electric J73-GE-3 engine as its 9,250 pound-feet of thrust warmed up.
Manville's flight from California to Nevada was one of the more unusual flights he'd made. He got to the latitude and longitude, but from what he could see he appeared to be flying over nothing. Once he got past the lights of Las Vegas, the sky was as dark as the ground.
Nevertheless, he set the radio to the assigned frequency. "Sage Control, this is Air Force three-niner-three-seven. Sage Control, this is Air Force three-niner-three-seven. Request landing instructions."
Just before he was about to call again, the radio spoke. "Air Force three-niner-three-seven, turn left to three-six-zero and reduce altitude to five-zero-zero."
Manville turned to 360 degrees and dropped to 500 feet. Suddenly, below him the landing strip's lights lit up.
"Air Force three-seven, you are cleared to land."
Manville put the Sabre onto the tarmac at its maximum landing speed of 145 mph, having had seconds of notice of where the runway was. When his plane had nearly stopped, the landing lights went out again.
Ahead of him was two sets of orange beams, coming from the flashlights of a member of the ground crew. The crewman pointed Manville down a taxiway.
Another member of the ground crew directed Manville where to park the Sabre. When the ground crewman crossed his beacons, Manville killed the engine. From driving through the base gates in California to popping the canopy on the Sabre in Nevada had taken a half-hour.
Manville unhooked his air mask from his helmet as the canopy popped upward. Aside from one light coming from one building, the landing strip was completely dark.
Another member of the ground crew wheeled out a ladder on wheels. Manville got out of the Sabre and went down the stairs. A tractor appeared from the darkness to wheel the Sabre into a hangar.
"Dr. Manville?" A sergeant in military police uniform addressed him.
"This way, sir. General Grover is waiting to see you." The sergeant pointed with his hand toward a hangar.
Manville, still wearing his flight suit and carrying his helmet, followed the sergeant into the hangar. He swept his hair back with his free hand in a vain attempt to look presentable. As Manville and the sergeant walked toward the hangar, Manville could hear a twin-engine propeller plane landing on the runway behind them.
Manville and the sergeant walked into the hangar, which had only a few lights on. It was too dark to see what was in the hangar.
"Dr. Manville," said a loud, flat voice.
"General Grover," said Manville.
A short, bald, barrel-chested man wearing a blue Air Force dress uniform stepped into the light. Grover and Manville shook hands.
"You're late," said Grover.
Manville technically was a civilian. "Tied up in traffic. The L.A. freeways are terrible at 3 in the morning."
Grover gave him a look. "Follow me."
The two walked into a conference room filled with several men and cigarette smoke. Judging from the men's level of dishevelment, they had been in the room for quite a while. A film projector was set up on one table, pointing at a white screen on the wall.
"Gentlemen, Dr. Lance Manville, officially of North American Aviation," said Grover. He introduced the others.
"Excuse me a moment," said Grover, leaving the room.
Manville recognized none of the men. "Good to see you all at ... 4 in the morning."
"We've been here since mid-afternoon," said one of the men.
Grover returned to the room, followed by a woman.
"Dr. Dana Lindstrom of Johns Hopkins" was Grover's introduction to the group.
Dana Lindstrom was not who Manville expected to meet. Dr. Lindstrom was a woman with long blonde hair pulled back and bluish-green eyes.
Since Manville was standing closest to her, he put out his hand. Lindstrom shook it.
"I've brought all of you together to try to unravel this mystery we have," said Grover. "And I will tell you, Dr. Manville, Dr. Lindstrom, and remind the rest of you that everything that is discussed in here is top secret. This is a national security matter."
That might explain a meeting near 4 in the morning, Manville thought.
"The rest of you have seen what Dr. Manville is about to see, but I want his opinion of this," said Grover. "Dr. Manville has been involved in our lightweight metals project."
Grover held up a piece of metal that appeared to have been part of an airplane. "Two days ago, this metal washed up on the Florida shore near Homestead Air Force Base."
Manville looked at the metal. "Part of a plane. So?"
"Not quite," said Grover. "Take a look in the left microscope, please, Dr. Manville."
Manville walked over to one of two microscopes on a counter against one wall of the room. He bent down and took a look.
Grover had made an understatement. Manville's identification of the metal was "not quite" right.
"Tell us what you see, Dr. Manville," said Grover.
Manville stood up and turned to the group. "I'm not sure what your backgrounds are, but some of you may know about how airplanes are built. Engine parts are cast metal — they're poured into a mold, whether it's cast iron or, in some cases, aluminum. Plane fuselages are made from sheet metal ... that is, if the planes aren't made from fiberglass or fabric or some other sort of non-metallic material. Sheet metal is just metal that is cast and pressed to form sheets."
Manville saw that most people in the room appeared to not know what he was talking about.
"I'm not an expert on metals. But you look at it in a powerful-enough microscope, say, 50X, you see threads — the metal fibers. In a microscope, it looks somewhat like a chain-link fence. If the gaps in the fibers are too wide, those are weak spots. And if the metal is stressed, failure can occur in those weak spots."
"And what did you see, Dr. Manville?"
Manville paused. "Either this is the most perfect job of casting in the history of metalworking ... or this is a material I've never seen before. It's so dense that you'd have to have ... I don't know, a 2000X microscope or something like that."
He turned to Grover. "Where did this come from?"
"That is what most of this group is trying to figure out. Dr. von Hoffman here is a metallurgist."
A short man with gray hair stood up. "For not being a metallurgist, Dr. Manville has given a serviceable description of metallurgy as it applies to aeronautics. I concur that this is a metal that is unlike any metal that this country is capable of producing. And I would give 10 years of my career to see how this is produced."
"The obvious conclusion one could make is that this is something the Soviets are creating," said Grover. "The Red Chinese are not technologically advanced enough to do something like this. None of our allies are capable of this either."
Grover walked over to the microscope. "But we have reason to believe this is not Soviet work. And not merely because this washed up on the coast of Florida."
He turned to Dr. Lindstrom. "We found something else as part of this. It appears to be organic, but ... Dr. Lindstrom, could you take a look in the right-side microscope?"
Lindstrom walked over to the second microscope and looked in its eyepiece.
"It appears to me to be blood," she said. "Not human. Possibly some other mammal."
"Again, not quite. Sergeant, could you get the lights?"
The lights went off. Grover turned on the film projector. The green screen from the film leader darkened, and then an image showed on the screen.
"That's the blood I saw," said Lindstrom.
"Watch," said Grover.
What appeared to be blood suddenly changed, from a tannish-red color to a deep blue color. What appeared to be blood cells suddenly changed shapes. And then they changed again to a lime green color with still different shapes.
"What is this a film of?" said Lindstrom.
"What you looked at in the microscope. The same organic sample, which was found on another piece of metal similar to what we found at Homestead. It appears to have the ability to change itself."
After several seconds, Lindstrom said, "That's remarkable."
"We have a couple biologists in here who agree with you. This looks like nothing we know on earth. And it appears to be nothing that mankind is capable of doing. Sergeant ..."
The film stopped and the lights came up again. "There's something you need to see in the hangar."
The room's occupants walked into the hangar. A few more lights were turned on.
An irregularly shaped chunk of silvery metal, about 10 feet long and about four feet wide at its widest point, sat on the floor.
"This is the largest piece of what washed up at Homestead," said Grover. "It appears to be the same metal as in our microscope. But there's something else about this. Sergeant ..."
The sound of something being wheeled across a floor echoed in the hangar. It was a spotlight.
"You might want to get away from this light, gentlemen," said the sergeant. "And don't look directly at the light." He pointed the light at the far wall and turned it on. The room was instantly much brighter.
"OK, Sergeant, let's show them," said Grover.
The sergeant pointed the light at the piece of metal. And in the beam of light, the metal disappeared from sight.
Grover produced a pen from his pocket. He threw it where the light shined. The pen clattered on the floor, having gone through the invisible part of the metal.
Other than audible but not verbal reactions, the room was silent until Grover said, "You can turn it off, Sergeant."
The room returned to its previous level of dimness, although it took several moments for the occupants' eyesight to adjust.
Grover pulled another pen out of his coat. He threw it in the same place he had thrown the first pen. The second pen bounced off the wing.
"If the sun was out, and this chunk of metal were sitting outside, it would be invisible to you," said Grover. "This thing materialized out of nowhere when the sun went down. The next morning the sun came up, and by the time we got there it was gone. And then in the evening it reappeared. In fact, high tide went right through it during the day."
Grover put his hands on his hips. "Now you see why we don't think this is a Russian invention. Soviet design may be superior to ours," he said, looking at Manville, "but their technology is not. And as it is, this metal, or whatever it is, violates at least a couple of laws of physics. You might be able to make something invisible from view, but you cannot make it literally disappear ... or part of it disappear ... and then reappear. And it goes without saying that there is no possible way that we could begin to duplicate this."
Grover folded his arms. "Now you see what we're dealing with."
Other than mechanical sounds, the hangar was silent.
"We're bringing in additional analytical equipment this morning. I want you to go over this metal inch by inch. I want you to figure out how this might have been constructed, as well as what kind of flying craft it could be part of. We'll pick this up at ..." and he looked at his watch, "0800. There's a bus outside that will take you to our barracks so you can get a couple hours shut-eye. That's all."
Manville thought about what his contribution to the group could be when his thoughts were interrupted by Grover. "Dr. Manville, Dr. Lindstrom, follow me."
Grover led Manville and Lindstrom back into the smaller room. He closed the door.
"There is one additional piece of information. We think we may know where it came from."
From an attaché case, Grover got out paper.
"Do you like mysteries, Dr. Manville?"
"That depends," said Manville.
"I take it you've heard of the Bermuda Triangle."
"Sure. Miami to Bermuda to Puerto Rico. That's the narrowest geographic definition. Supposedly unexplained shipwrecks and plane crashes."
"There's one additional mystery," said Grover. "Homestead radar has been getting unusual radar contacts for some time at night coming from the east. Last fall, a hurricane hunter plane sighted an island that is not on the map about 400 miles east of Miami. We've sent planes and ships out there since then. None have seen this island.
"The radar says something's there, but only at night, and not every night, and we can't find the island by visual."
Grover gave Manville the latitude and longitude of the island as he handed Manville the map. "It's 231 miles east of Nassau and 154 miles north of San Juan."
Manville looked at the map. "I don't see an island 231 miles east of Nassau."
"Not only isn't there an island, there shouldn't be able to be an island there. That's one of the deeper trenches off our coast."
Manville looked at Lindstrom. "I assume you have something in mind for the two of us."
"I want you and Dr. Lindstrom to try to find this island, and, if you can find the island, get on the island."
"Why us?" asked Lindstrom.
"Your role is to see if you can find the source of that biological sample. That tissue was connected to the metal. We need to find out if they are connected to that island ... if there is an island. Dr. Manville, we need an engineering analysis of that island, if you can find that kind of metal there."
"This sounds like a wild goose chase," said Manville.
"Late last night, I put two and two together," said Grover. "We have metal that disappears in light, and we have an island that apparently isn't visible in daylight. It's thin, but it's the only connection there is at this point. We've sent several planes out there and seen nothing visual. We need to get closer than 1,000 feet in the air."
"Someone must think there's a threat there."
"There is a mystery. Whether a mystery is a threat to national security, we need to find out. Fast."
"And we're the detectives."
"So to speak. Two people are more nimble than an Air Force squadron. And you're expendable."
Lindstrom looked surprised at the word "expendable." Manville did not.
"Are you awake enough to fly some more?" asked Grover.
"I could use some breakfast, but yes, I am," answered Manville.
"I'm sending the two of you to Homestead," said Grover. "We're going to get you a flying boat to make the trip to the island. You can read our additional briefing materials while we get a plane ready for you. Soon as you're ready, you're leaving for Florida."