Last time on ACE ARCHER: In amongst her grandmother’s belongings, Caryn Alexander found a strange device that had been sealed away… a device of obvious extraterrestrial nature, and her first clue to whatever happened to Ace Archer!
Ace Archer had seen this particular episode of Friends twenty-nine times. It was The One With Ross’ Inappropriate Song, which apparently was a song about buttocks.
When Ace was alive, people didn’t sing songs about people’s buttocks. It was crass.
He reached across his body to the remote. It was a big awkward plastic thing, nothing like the science he used to use. It was connected to the wall by a thick cord, controlled the television, adjusted the bed and had a button to call for the nurse. There was a volume dial on the side, and a sub-par speaker that was the only way he could hear the television. He didn’t even had a damned roommate, why couldn’t he just use the television speaker?
He pushed hard against the raised plastic button and the television with the annoying man-child singing about derrieres shut off.
Ace’s side hurt. He had a recurring pseudocyst left over from the pancreatic surgery that had saved his life five years ago. Now he was diabetic, which combined with his advanced age, weak heart and bitter crankiness meant that he was constantly in pain, wired to too many monitors, and severely unhappy.
He picked up the free newspaper that the hospital dropped off every morning with what they called his breakfast. It was some sort of color monstrosity that spent most of its pages dumbing down issues or exploring the scandalous lives of entertainment figures. There was only a science section every Tuesday, and that was mostly filled by articles on health.
No one cared about astronomy any more, and it was all their fault.
Ace hadn’t even imagined he’d live to see the twenty-first century, but here he was, and the world was more isolated than when he first rocketed into space with Anne, Chip and Prospero, eighty years ago.
Ace recalled that first flight, imaginary ripples of flashback (or maybe it was his pain meds kicking in) taking him back.
He had first met Professor William Prospero when he was doing the barnstorming circuit back in 1934. Apparently something he had said to the scientist about the “sky not being the limit” had stuck with the man. Two years later, when Prospero had needed a pilot to test his prototype outer space ship, he had come to Allen “Ace” Archer.
At first, Ace was skeptical.
“You’re joshing with me, right, Prof?” he asked, self-consciously running his left hand through the wavy blonde hair that no amount of flying ever seemed to muss. “An outer space plane? Sounds like some kind of bushwah right out of Unbelievable Tales!”
Professor Prospero laughed. “You read too many of those pulps, my boy. It’ll do you some good to see real science at work.” Prospero’s accent was European, but of no particular nationality that Ace could determine. “I’ve named the vessel the Tempest, but I assure you it will be a smooth journey.”
Ace Archer was about to decline the eager (but obviously cracker) scientist, when a beautiful woman walked up behind him. She had long legs, enticingly shrouded in a long beige skirt, while blonde hair even lighter than Ace’s slinked past an almost porcelain face to rest on her shoulders. The shoulders were bare, left exposed by the modern back bodice she wore. Ace found himself praying to a god he didn’t really believe in for her to turn around and show her back, even if only for a moment.
The woman smiled, amused at his gape.
“Ah, Ace,” Prospero said, “this is my niece, Miss Anne Stevens. She’s been staying with me ever since her mother–God rest her soul–passed away. Anne, this is Mister Ace Archer.”
Ace bowed his head respectfully and hoped his mouth had stopped hanging open like a busted cargo door.
“Mister Archer,” Anne said, her voice a thousand layers of chocolate-on-velvet.
“Miss Stevens,” Ace said, making the herculean effort not to stammer.
“I was just telling Ace about my outer space plane,” Prospero explained to his niece. “I was hoping that Ace would pilot the Tempest on its virgin flight.”
A moment of hopeful eagerness crossed Anne Stevens’ face in a smile Ace had never seen the equal of. He knew in that moment that he would be behind the stick when Prospero’s outer space plane took off for the first time.
“If it’s got wings, Prof,” Ace said in his best aw-shucks humility, “I’m your man.”
What Ace didn’t know was that Professor Prospero was keeping secrets. Unable to secure government funding for his space plane and laughed out of every bank he brought his blueprints and proposal to, he had finally gotten the money required for construction from a local racketeer, George “The Falcon” Falcone. When Prospero had failed to make regular payments, Falcone had gotten the idea he would get satisfaction from Prospero’s niece instead.
It all came to a head that balmy summer night in 1936.
Ace was in the hangar, making a final check on the Tempest’s systems. Anne was sitting in a deck chair nearby, her head buried in one of her mystery novels. Only Prospero was in the house when Falcone rapped at the oaken front door.
Prospero opened the small square barred window in the center of the door and saw the Falcon’s semi-friendly leer greeting him.
“You!” Prospero gasped.
“Evening, Prof,” the Falcon smiled. “I was in the neighborhood, thought I’d drop in on my business partner. Wanna open the door, Prof?”
A glower crossed Prospero’s face like a wine stain across a white carpet. It faded quickly, however, when the Falcon’s hand absently patted his pinstripe jacket just over the heart, revealing the contour of a pistol threat. Prospero fumbled with the lock and opened the door.
“Yer a mensch, Prof,” Falcone said.
“I… I told you I won’t have your money until after the test flight,” Prospero said, still occupying the doorway. The Falcon pressed a hand to Prospero’s shoulder and pushed him back like a door.
“Well, Prof,” the Falcon leered, running one thin finger along his tight Valentino mustache, “that’s exactly what I came here to talk to ya about. Is your niece around?”
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.