“What’s better than a jet pack?” I asked, exuberantly.
“Oh, it’s a flight machine, but it doesn't burn fuel how you might think. Let me show you.”
James took the shiny, chrome pack off and began pointing out features.
“Most of what this structure does is steer. I designed it to look somewhat like a bullet with a rutter down the middle. On the sides, you have small, sleek wings jutting out. The whole thing straps to your body and locks in front where there are two handles that adjust the whole shebang.”
I scratched the top of my head. “Isn’t that something? ...So what makes it fly?”
“That’s the best part!” As his face lit up. “I built the pack as a way to harness my real discovery. You see how the rounded top of the pack is hollow? That’s where I put the stuff.”
“...What stuff, James? We’re speaking different languages, here.”
“I call it Go Goo”
He smiled and waited for my reaction. All I could do was nod a few times.
“Catchy, isn’t it?” He urged.
“...It’s… not the worst thing I’ve heard,” I mumbled.
“I discovered it while trying to invent a synthetic blood plasma, but while I was messing around with different chemical compounds something fascinating happened. When the extract came in contact with a metallic object, that object would rise straight up in the air, all the way to the ceiling and stick there. I started experimenting with different materials and quantities; only metallic objects would work, but the more Go Goo I put on them, the longer they would stay up.”
“So you’re sticking with the name, then?”
He went on. “I moved the experiments to outside trials. At first, I would put a tiny drop on a tin can; the can would rise 30 to 50 feet, float there for an hour or so, and sink gently back down to the ground. Then, I would glob a whole spoonful of the stuff on there, and it would shoot up like a rocket! It would fly so far up I couldn't see it anymore. If my calculations are correct, it might have even gone past the atmosphere to outer space!”
“Fascinating,” I said through a yawn. It really was fascinating, but I couldn’t help it.
“That’s when I got the idea for the flight pack and feeder system.” He pointed again to the bubble on top of his invention. “See, this thing only lets a tiny amount of Go Goo drop down and touch the aluminum. All you have to do is press this button here on the shoulder strap when you start losing altitude, otherwise, you can stay up all day.”
He went back to his workbench. When he turned around, he was holding something that looked like a crude space helmet.
“And when I’m finished with this oxygen helmet we can really start flying high.”
“Wow, this is great stuff. What’s the longest you been up for?” I asked while trying on a pair of safety goggles.
“Well, uh, I haven’t tested it yet.”
“This is very dangerous stuff, Jack. I must be sure the pack is stable before I go fluttering about. There’s a good chance I’ll end up flat as a pancake.”
“...You’re scared, aren’t ya?” I said with a smirk.
“There’s more to it than that!”
“Ok, twist my arm, I’ll be the guinea pig. Give me the thing and I’ll show you how it’s done.”
I began slinging the contraption over one shoulder.
“Jack, there’s another reason why I’ve been careful with this discovery.”
“...Are people after you?” I said in a serious tone.
“Who? The government? It’s the government, isn’t it?”
I was very pleased to learn that people were after him. It’s one of my go-to explanations.
“Not the government, really. It’s another inventor, but I wouldn’t put it past him to sell something like Go Goo to the military to be weaponized.”
“Yes.” I nodded. “That’s exactly what I’d do.”
“No, Jack! It’s too powerful. We have to learn from the past in order to discover the future.”
It was a little too romantic a notion for my taste, but James seemed like a nice guy. He needed help, and I could think of no one better than myself.
“Alright, I’ll take the case,” I said.
“...Wait, what case?”
“The case of the evil inventor.” I said, in a nagging tone.
“I don’t understand. What are you going to do?”
I rubbed my eyes and sighed. “I’m going to trail your bad inventor and see if he is trailing you. The trailer never expects a trail ...in my experience.”
I had nothing more to base this on, but I had seen a couple movies play out in a similar way. James thought for a moment.
“That could work. If you find out what he’s up to, we can set up diversions.” He paced around, rubbing his chin. “With no one watching, I’ll be free to conduct my experiments.”
“What’s this guy's name, anyway?”
“Zake. Dr. William Zake.”
“Makes sense,” I said, with a snarl. “Bad guys always have names that start with a Z… or an X… or a Y…” I squinted. “Yancy…”
“When can you start?”
“Later tonight. As part of my fee, I’ll need a place to nap. The guest house ought to do just fine.”
“Well, hang on, I’ll have to ask Linda-”
I didn’t have time to listen to the rest of his thought. I needed a nap, after all.
“Is the place furnished?” I said, making my way up the stairs.
“Have Linus bring out some toiletries!”
“How do you know my butler's name?” He said, still standing in his lab.
“Lucky guess!” I shouted from the kitchen.
It was my third night in 1940 and by far the most comfortable. The Ferguson’s guest house was bigger than the place I grew up in. I got up from a well-needed nap and looked up the address of Dr. Zake’s laboratory which he called a “research facility.” Tired of walking everywhere, I helped myself to one of the Ferguson’s cars by gently, but firmly, ramming my shoulder into the door of the garage. Lucky for them the keys were kept on little hooks inside. I wouldn’t want to go wake them, I knew they would be ok with it. I also knew they would be ok with me picking the lock on the front gate and forcing it open. Just like they would surely be ok with me leaving it ajar so as not to have any trouble returning at a late hour of the night.
I was finally on the road, headed toward a stake out. It would be just like old times, back when I was a famous cat burglar.
“How long's it been, now?” I asked myself aloud.
“36… 37 hours,” I replied, happily.
I arrived at the research facility to find a minimal-looking, one-story building tucked away just inside a tree line. There was nothing else around for probably a few miles, and the whole property was lined with a ten-foot high barbed wire fence. It wasn’t all that intimidating, though. The wires weren’t very thick, someone could easily crouch through. There was a large field in front of the place that hadn’t been mowed in a while so the grass was knee high, and there was nothing but a gravel road leading up to the gate. Initially, I wanted to use the cover of darkness to do a little recon, find out what this Zake character might be up to late at night. That strategy doesn’t always work out, but there was a big positive this time, as I surveyed the research facility from the side of the road… the light was on.