March 20, 1946
Sandia Base, New Mexico
Geoge Stephen Morrison, a decorated officer in the United States Navy, veteran of World War II’s Pacific air war, erstwhile astral contact of Marjorie Cameron Parsons, sat in his office, staring at the wall.
I have a three-year-old son. What am I even doing?
James Douglas Morrison was named after MacArthur, something he was less and less sure the kid would appreciate every day. Middle names were not a weapon, to be wielded by a martinet of a father to destroy a child’s soul…they were to ennoble him to embody his true nature. This was why George Stephen Morrison went by Steve whenever he could.
He supposed there were WAVES who went by their last names, and men named Jack who went by John in some arenas of their lives, so in the grand scheme of things…what was in a name? He figured the kid would choose something prosaic to go by, like Jim. But he didn’t want the kid himself to be prosaic, so he had named him Douglas.
Douglas was an aircraft company, too. Where could that lead, when your dad had flown Hellcats and was currently serving at Sandia? No one outside of a select few knew what Sandia Base was. His PO box was somewhere in Albuquerque. But it was a wonderland like no other, the playground of Tom Swifts with their fingers on the red button. Life and death orbited Sandia Peak.
But the secret heart of Sandia Peak was a father who had fought for a better future for his son, and now risked destroying it. The Trinity withdrew from its Creation, the Little Boy grew up to be a man, fat, angry and bitter. Nations could be leveled in one tick of this generational half-life. The fall of Adam, told again and again each time a man had to choose between the brightest goddamn three-year-old in the country or giving that country the weapons to fight its enemies.
Enemies of his son. Of the freedom his son would use to redeem his generation, the way redemption was a continuous work that we all took part in. But could Jim see that? During the war, and during all wars they’d been able to count, only something like twenty percent of soldiers had been able to fire their weapons at the enemy in anger. Not many could see themselves as Cain and Seth at the same time.
Five to one. One in five. No one here gets out alive…how can I convince my son to stand in my place when this is the world I’ve created with blood, sweat and tears? It was a tough question. Like many questions, it had no answers. He was trying to teach his son the value of having skin in the game of life, what that meant when you were a Man, and here he was hiding in a hollow mountain building city-killing bombs to be dropped from an almost invisible height in the event of a clash of civilizations…while his wife took care of the kids six and a half days a week.
His mind flowed back to the Pacific, to the carrier. They’d been hit by a kamikaze pilot. He’d watched the poor kid descend, his engine dead…oddly reminiscent of the V-1 buzz bomb Europe had been literally terrorized by. A sparrow falling. His only thought had been so markedly unusual, at least from the point of view of the American boy who had found himself in the middle of the ocean in such a situation. “I could have been that boy,” Steve Morrison mused aloud.
But was he not that boy? Was he destroying his country, even as he tried to save it? “I can control Alice or I can be president of the United States. I cannot do both.” He spoke out loud, a sort of apparent madness, in actuality a reaction to seeing what he had seen. Orpheus and other Greek poets might call it an invocation of Teddy Roosevelt, a boy who had learned to be a man in New Mexico back when that meant something. Back when America was defined by Edison and the Wright Brothers, not the crop of com-symps he worked with now. Advance in technology, retreat in society. Was there any end to this madness?
“Or can I?” He mused over this. There had been a wonderful sense of peace even as the carrier burned…a feminine presence that was both nuclear bomb and hearth-flame. The assurance that even though the destroying angel was turning his life upside down right now, all would be restored, by the same force.
At no point during that experience or since had any of his questions been answered. They might never be. He couldn’t run a nuclear lab and take care of a child who was greater in potential than any atom in the same ways, could he? How could he care about reactors when his home was a reactor?
“No one here gets out alive.” Behind a desk, it was a mantra…empty, dull, dead-eyed. In the salt spray and high altitude mix of the Pacific, at the stick of an F6F, it was a call to action. Maybe he could create such a circumstance for his son, without sending him to a war that would leave one survivor in five, at best.
George Morrison picked up a manila folder from his desk and began to flip through it. He was a praying man, but some petitions could not be answered directly. He needed sanctuary, a place to hide. That sanctuary was here, in a report from Frank Malina of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, describing recent test flights of the WAC Corporal missile at White Sands Proving Ground. He needed to go out there and see what the hell was going on…Malina was full of this idea that rockets should primarily be used for scientific purposes. This, plainly, was poppycock of a patently foolish, utopian sort. A man who was consummately aware of theory in many areas and practice in only one (that is, a rocket-launching pinko), could not be expected to appreciate the need for missile systems. He was on the same installation as Wernher Von Braun, for God’s sake. What did he think the war had really been about? Nazis were people too, and that meant different things to different people, based on the way those people saw the world.
But this folder was interesting. Malina had written several letters, carbon-copying Sandia and CalTech and Los Alamos and numerous other places, including a home address (who the hell was at 1003 South Orange Grove Avenue, Pasadena, California? Worth looking into…must be someone important). These letters compared and contrasted in great detail the relative merits of using the WAC Corporal and missiles like it, possibly incorporating German technology derived from the V-2 (it was hedged carefully, but Malina was clearly only interested in the engineering aspects of this problem), to launch one of two things: either nuclear warheads of bigger and bigger sizes, aboard ever-larger rockets; or unmanned satellites, eventually leading to a manned occupation of the Moon. Oddly enough, to support this last proposition, he quoted several science fiction writers, including Heinlein of Pasadena (an old Navy man, familiar to Morrison) and Arthur C Clarke of Britain…as well as Von Braun and even a guy named John Whiteside Parsons. Morrison raised an eyebrow at this last name…a dilettante if there ever was one, from Malina’s telling, who dabbled in lechery, legerdemain and lunacy alike. At least, he hoped it was legerdemain. In any case, the man was obviously someone Frank Malina at least had fond memories of.
Mulling this over, it came to him. The two approaches were not incompatible…he’d read a document Von Braun had submitted to the Naval Research Laboratory the other day, outlining a nuclear-armed space station in the vaguest terms. The idea was clear enough, though. It was just that Von Braun, for all his vaunted expertise, really had as good an idea of what that might look like in practice as Bob Heinlein did right now.
But what if he could both guide his son and the nation at the same time? Jim Morrison was an American citizen, after all. America was a laboratory of challenge still, an Experiment – just in different ways since the Wright Brothers. If the country had a worthwhile challenge to set its mind and heart and muscle to, Jim could take part. George could find ways to more evenly divide his responsibilities between Jim and the United States of America as time went on.
Yes. There was hope after all. He pulled out a fresh sheet of paper or three, lit a pipe, and began typing furiously, in a fugue of sorts. There were yet songs to sing. Experiment and Dream were going to become one. The future was waiting.