Penelope Xing had slowed, then stopped completely, allowing the river of bodies heading towards the Pentagon parking lot to flow around her like a rock in the middle of a stream. After all the hours driving and thinking, after all of the platitudes and outrage expressed at the Lincoln Memorial in word and song, she found herself faced, not with speeches, music or the black and white typeset of a history text, but with men in uniform, armed with rifles. In the face of raw government power, she suddenly felt every bit as small and insignificant as the government wanted her to feel. Frightened and despairing at her vanity of being part of history — of making history — Penelope Xing was suddenly acutely homesick, wishing she were back in her fifth floor room at Fu Loin’s looking forward to Saturday night and Y.T., Jr. coming by later to hold her and, in the morning, to take her away to somewhere, anywhere to be free for a few precious hours on a Sunday afternoon.
“You look lost.”
The voice from right beside her literally made Penelope Xing jump and step back.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” the young, clean-cut man oozed in a southern-country-hillbilly accent that Penelope Xing could not place geographically. “I feel a bit out of place, myself. I just came over to see what was going on. Pretty crazy, huh?”
Penelope Xing suddenly felt put at ease at the natural charm of the stranger.
“My name is Bill,” the stranger held out his hand.
“Penelope.” She extended her hand and felt Bill’s grip slowly, erotically embrace her hand, squeezing like a blood pressure cuff, in what was certainly the most sensual handshake she had ever felt.
“I’m a Senior over at Georgetown. Majoring in Foreign Service,” Bill said, lingering in their handshake, well beyond the norm for strangers or family. “I just came down to see this Moratorium thing first hand and I noticed you looking a bit confused or overwhelmed and thought maybe I could help out.”
“Uh, er, thanks?” Penelope Xing mumbled.
“It’s okay. Don’t worry. I mean, I work for Senator Fulbright — or I mean I did over the summer.”
Bill smiled and gazed dreamily down into Penelope Xing’s eyes. Slowly, very slowly he released her hand from his embrace.
Penelope Xing melted and smiled back.
Y.T., Sr. stood on the Pentagon roof scanning the crowd that had spilled over the Fourteenth Street Bridge and onto the Pentagon grounds through a pair of binoculars. Frik and Frak had joined him to silently watch the events, images of which surely would be filling the network news broadcasts that evening and newspapers the next morning.
He smiled as he saw the protesters confront the MPs with flowers, planting them in the muzzles of their rifles. He was amused by the group splintered off from the main crowd meditating and chanting to exorcise the evils out of the Pentagon. Little did they know, he mused. His binoculars were drawn to a lone female who seemed to have been left behind by the mob of protesters who had marched intently on towards the steps of the Pentagon guarded by soldiers and U.S. Marshals six stories below. He recognized the pretty, young woman from his son’s hospital room after the motorcycle accident. She had spent days there knitting and reading aloud, left at night then returned in the morning. He knew who she was. Fu Loin had briefed Y.T, Sr. thoroughly on Penelope Xing.
His eye was suddenly drawn to a clean cut young man making a bee-line across the grounds towards the banks of portable johns, who, like a predator, spying the easy pickings of a vulnerable prey separated from the herd, quickly turned his focus and suddenly veered away from his path to the johns towards Penelope Xing. He watched the young man slow and stalk his way to her side, then press himself on the young woman. He watched Penelope Xing let down her guard and succumb to the charms that were evident even to Y.T., Sr. six stories above. He watched until his attention was drawn to a growing ripple of activity near the Pentagon steps. Soldiers and Marshals seemed to be slowly stirring and preparing for some kind of activity.
Y.T., Sr. turned to the ex-Navy Commander, pointed towards Penelope Xing, and made his intentions clear. Moments later, Frik and Frak headed downstairs and outside towards Penelope Xing and Bill.
Scanning the crowd and the increasing activity on the Pentagon steps, Y.T., Sr. missed Marty Keegan and Mark quickly making their way through the crowd to the portable johns with a duffel bag filled with explosives. They dropped the duffel bag on the floor of an empty john in the middle of the rows and began running away from the Pentagon and the johns as fast as they could to meet Bill and Diana in the cream-colored Cadillac De Ville convertible for their getaway.
Their sudden movement caught Y.T., Sr.’s eye. He followed them for a hundred yards, then caught sight of Frik and Frak parting the sea of protesters with their mere bearing and demeanor, as they headed directly for Penelope Xing and Bill. A burst of activity back on the Pentagon steps drew his attention again, as a line of soldiers, waded into the crowd of protesters, using their rifles as clubs to break up the protest. In their wake, U.S. Marshals began arresting protesters who stood their ground, whether intentionally or inadvertently after being dazed by a rifle butt to the head.
As soldiers engaged citizens, a bomb blast from the middle of the rows of portable johns rocked the grounds and shifted the battle between the protesters and soldiers into high gear. Panicked protesters stampeded away from the Pentagon steps. Soldiers gave chase and seemed to hurry their efforts to get as many licks in on the protesters while they had the chance, before they had retreated completely.
Penelope Xing and Bill, only a few hundred yards away from the portable johns were thrown to the ground before Frik and Frak got to them. Panicked, Bill quickly got to his feet and fled the scene leaving Penelope Xing on the ground, shaking her head to clear her thoughts and comprehend what had just happened. In truth, she had, indeed, become, not just part of history, but had changed the history of the country by saving the life of a future president of the United States, who would have been in the blast zone, had he continued to follow nature’s urges until spying Penelope Xing.
“That depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”
~William Jefferson Clinton
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Finally! After pinballing endlessly — recklessly across the North American continent, The Bus found its way into the nation’s capitol. As Murph crossed the Potomac River and began to snake aimlessly around the entrails of avenues and streets in Washington D.C., Penelope Xing was at once overwhelmed with the bold and enormous monuments erected to the familiar icons of the history of the United States of America and the endless Acropolis-like buildings that seemed to have sprouted up everywhere as citadels for civil servants too numerous to contemplate. The initial effect of the Olympian government presence was exactly as intended: to belittle the being of this common citizen and to trivialize her cares. And yet, as they drove on and on and on, with Murph narrating incoherently like a hallucinating amateur tour guide — which, in fact, he was — she was struck by the obsession with white sandstone, white marble, and, evidently, endless buckets of white paint. They passed the White House and then the Capitol Building for what seemed like the fifth or sixth time, and a smile cracked on Penelope Xing’s face that reflected a crack she perceived in the facade of an empire’s vanity as she began to appreciate how the practitioners of the second oldest profession endeavored to separate and cleanse themselves from the first oldest profession by proclaiming their virtue in the color chosen for their architecture, as if the purity of a bride could be guaranteed by an ornate, white wedding gown.
Suddenly, Penelope Xing felt a fellowship — if not, indeed, a kinship — with the legislators and office holders who would prostitute themselves, their principles and their beliefs so nakedly for their own material and political gain. Time and again, she had seen in her studies history lay bare the manipulations, machinations and, ultimately, the failings of the ruling classes of all colors, creeds and geographies. She felt oddly at home there on the opposite side of the country, three thousand miles from where she had spent her entire life. She no longer felt so small and so insignificant. She looked forward to Friday’s protest with heightened anticipation, ready to embrace the opportunity — finally! — to live, to breath, to be a part of history.
“The only difference between Las Vegas and Washington, D.C. is that at least Vegas has the decency to admit the town is full of hookers and crooks.”
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“Damn it. It’s the radar. No-no-no. Switch the radar–,” Vasili Ivanovich urged into his microphone as he interpreted the stream of data on the screen of his console in the Lunar Excursion Module support trailer at Cape Kennedy.
Beside him sat Y.T., Sr, and Arthur Needleman silently watching an unexpected twist in the dramatic events of a Sunday afternoon in July. Behind them sat Frik and Frak, watching the video feeds intently. The LEM support trailer was filled with consoles and the hushed, intense chatter of technicians and engineers monitoring telemetry feeds from two hundred thirty-eight thousand miles away and updating Gene Kranz’s White Team on their assessments of system performance and mission success or failure.
“The twelve oh-one and twelve oh-two errors are okay,” Vasili Ivanovich advised the chain of command at the Houston Mission Control Center. “It’s okay. It is okay. No problem. No problem. Just task prioritizing.”
The LEM was descending from six thousand feet above the surface of the moon when guidance and navigation alarms went off distracting Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Vasili Ivanovich repeatedly advised the guidance team that the situation was okay.
When he saw from the data on his console that Neil Armstrong had taken manual control of the LEM to avoid boulders strewn about the originally plotted landing site, Vasili Ivanovich looked up at the video monitor as the clinical dialog of two astronauts — sounding so damn much like Frik and Frak in the Learjet cockpit — floated dreamily through his consciousness.
“Contact light!” said Buzz Aldrin
“Shutdown,” said Neil Armstrong.
“Okay, engine stop. ACA – out of detent.”
“Out of detent. Auto”
“Mode control – both auto. Descent engine command override off. Engine arm – off. 413 is in.”
“We copy you down, Eagle,” acknowledged CAPCOM from Houston.
“Engine arm is off,” Neil Armstrong confirmed to Buzz Aldrin. He then responded to CAPCOM, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
Vasili Ivanovich sat in stunned silence, staring at his console. They made it, he thought. Then before the full realization hit him, the crowded trailer erupted as technicians and engineers leaped up, cheering and hugging one another. Without realizing it, Vasili Ivanovich was on his feet cheering, too. To his right he saw Arthur Needleman and wrapped his arms around the man who had set this entire adventure in motion for him with a sales call they made on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory years and years ago and lifted him up off his feet. When their embrace broke, Vasili Ivanovich turned left and saw Y.T., Sr., still staring at the video monitor. He hesitated, then grabbed the man who had saved him from a life of quiet desperation in a Washington D.C. radio repair shop after World War II in a bear hug.
“Spacibo, spacibo, spacibo,” the Russian whispered into Y.T., Sr.’s ear.
The ex-Navy Commander smiled That Smile! hearing his former VF-51 squadron mate announce he had “caught the wire” on the surface of the moon. The ex-Colonel, who himself had made history in a B-29 over Nagasaki, teared up witnessing a fellow Air Force pilot make a very different — and a very much better kind of history in outer space.
For Erp Industries, Inc., the mission was only half over. The five men stayed at the console in the LEM support trailer the entire night, watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the surface of the moon a few hours later, then, the next day monitoring their blast off from the surface of the moon to rejoin Command Module Pilot Michael Collins for the return trip to earth. Once the LEM ascent stage was released to lunar orbit, Vasili Ivanovich, shut down his console and they finally left the Kennedy Space Center. Their celebration Monday night ended with driving their rental car out on the beach where Y.T., Sr., Vasili Ivanovich and Arthur Needleman toasted the success of Apollo 11 with vodka and howled at the moon — around which the Erp Industries, Inc. black boxes that Vasili Ivanovich had dreamed up and created continued to orbit.
Y.T., Sr. walked off alone down the deserted beach and tried to imagine the “magnificent desolation” Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong had witnessed first hand.
Far out to sea, lightning from passing storms arced across the horizon.
“Pilots take no special joy in walking. Pilots like flying.”
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