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Authors: Glenn Michaels

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Genie and Engineer 1: The Engineer Wizard

BOOK: Genie and Engineer 1: The Engineer Wizard
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THE ENGINEER WIZARD

 

 

By

Glenn Michaels

 

Raconteur House

44 Brooke Ct. Manchester, TN 37355

 

Copyright © 2015 Glenn Michaels

All Rights Reserved.

Cover Illustration by Honor Raconteur

 

Printed in the USA through Createspace.

 

This is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and
all characters with the exception of some well-known historical and public
figures, are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed
as real. Where real-life, historical or public figures appear, the situations,
incidents, and dialogues concerning those person are fiction and are not
intended to depict actual events or to change the fictional nature of the
work.  In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is
entirely coincidental.

 

If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be
aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and
destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has
received any payment for this “stripped book.”

 

 

“The Rules of War: The laws that make it illegal to hit below
the toes.”
 ―
Leo Rosten
(1908-1997)

 

“A visitor from Mars could easily pick out the civilized
nations. They have the best implements of war.”

Herbert V. Prochnow
(1897-1998)

 

“The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in
the universe is that it has never tried to contact us.”
― Calvin and Hobbes (
Bill Watterson
)

Dedication

First, to my wife, Jane, for her silent
and
vocal
support (whichever was appropriate at the right moment). Her help and
assistance with suggestions, brain storming sessions and even lending a hand
with the book edits was instrumental in many ways. In addition, to my children
Alisha, Jarrett and Chris who helped in lots of ways as well. (Ah, Dad, are you
really
sure this book is such a good idea?) And also to my parents,
Glenn and Evelyn, for tolerating a geek in the family who, practically from the
cradle, loved all things science fiction. I am forever in their debt for their
love and support.

For many others unspecified, I thank them for their
encouragement and assistance. And a special thanks too to each and every
reader, for giving this book a chance.

 

Glenn Michaels

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

 

Caution: This book should be read within easy reach of the Internet,
in order for the reader to check science-fiction quotes as well as technical,
geographical, historical, and name references.

Contents
SECTION I
THE WISH
ONE

 

Edwards Air Force Base, CA

California State Route 58

December

Saturday, 11:47 p.m. PST

 

T
he
howl of a fierce wind. A driven snow. And a bitter, biting cold. Pitch
blackness along a deserted section of
four-lane highway. Other than the snowfall, nothing stirred in the area,
neither on the road nor in the desert sand amid the sagebrush.

From the east, a set of headlights approached, the diluted
beams thrusting weakly through the dull-gray clouds of swirling snowflakes to
dimly reveal the ice-encrusted roadway. Wiper blades flashed back and forth
across the windshield in a frenzied effort to keep the blowing snow at bay.

Inside the cramped interior of the aging Toyota, a scowling,
bald-headed, heavyset man wearing black-framed glasses leaned forward, peering
intently over the steering wheel. With a grimace, he edged his foot still
further off the gas pedal, slowing the vehicle to barely more than a crawl.

“‘Captain’s log, stardate 1672.9. On the planet’s surface,
temperatures are beginning to drop, our landing party there in growing
jeopardy,’” the driver groused, quoting Captain Kirk from an original
Star
Trek
episode.

Rubbing his tired eyes, the man strained to make out the details
of the road ahead in the blackness of the storm. Then he squirmed gently in his
seat, trying in vain to ease the weariness of bone and muscle that encompassed
and beset him.

Normally a very busy thoroughfare, SR 58 carried the east
and westbound traffic between Barstow and Bakersfield. However, on this
particularly stormy night, there wasn’t another car or truck in sight in either
direction. Nothing except the snow and his lone vehicle moved on the roadway.

“This has got to be the worst storm in Southern California’s
history!” the man muttered, but he stayed focused on keeping the Corolla on the
asphalt.

Needing a distraction to help keep him awake and alert, he
momentarily reached down to turn on the radio. But then, out of the corner of
one eye and through an unexpected break in the gusting snow, he caught sight of
a blinking light up ahead. He jerked up in disbelief. In the next instant, the
light was gone, swallowed up in the blizzard. From the very brief glimpse he
had, it appeared that the light was not on the roadway itself but off to the
north somewhat.

“But I’ve already passed the California City turnoff,” he
mumbled with a puzzled scowl. “There’s nothing over there but sand and sagebrush!”

Then the curtains of snow broke a second time, giving him a
much better view of the flashing light. The source was obviously a set of
hazard lights, possibly on a truck or another large vehicle of some sort. And
as best as he could judge, it was a good twenty yards off the road and into the
desert. Moreover, at his current speed, he would pass it by in only a few more
seconds.

 Then without warning, directly in his path, a dark
silhouette materialized out of the storm! The figure standing in the middle of
his lane was desperately and wildly waving its arms! The driver’s alarmed
reaction was instinctive, slamming on the brakes, causing the tires to lose
their precarious grip on the road. The car swerved crazily for a moment,
throwing its occupant into a surging panic as he fought to regain control.
Slinging the wheel back and forth and with frantic use of the brake pedal, he
barely managed to recover, after which he swung the car around the shadowy
figure and into the other lane. For a moment, his foot reached for the
accelerator....

...But he instead planted it firmly back on the brake,
slowing the car to a slithering stop.

I am so tired
, the man thought to himself.
I
worked seventy hours last week and eighty hours this week, seventeen of them
just today! I really don’t want to get involved in someone else’s problems
right now! I need a break!

But if I don’t stop and try to help, this person might be
stranded out here for hours! They might even die of exposure! I just couldn’t
live with that
.

As he reached for the door handle, there was a tap on the
window. Startled, he instead gently rolled it down. The wind immediately and
violently shoveled freezing air and churning snowflakes through the opening,
sending an icy shiver down his spine.

The stranded stranger standing next to the car was revealed
as a taller and older man, his wrinkled face dotted with snowflakes. He was
wearing gunmetal-framed glasses and a black Navy cap with ear muffs, brandishing
a red nose and a set of twinkling brown eyes. He was positively beaming at the
driver through the open frame of the window.

“Mister, I can’t tell you how glad I am that you stopped!” the
tall fellow shouted over the howl of the wind. “My car is off the road, and I guess
I got myself good and stuck.” He seemed to be practically gushing with relief.

The driver of the Corolla smiled unenthusiastically,
reassured that this stranger seemed to be whole and unscathed, but also a
little uncomfortable to be face-to-face with someone in so desolate a location
in the middle of the night in a blinding blizzard. But on the other hand, this
fellow seemed friendly enough and obviously needed help.

So
, the driver thought,
forget how tired you are
!
Help the man, Obi-wan, you’re his only hope
!

“What happened?” he shouted over the wailing wind.

The guy standing at the window swayed for a moment from a
particularly violent gust, and then he frowned in irritation at the question.
“Road’s as slick as a skating rink, and my tires are worth zilch on ice or
snow. I spun out, and now my SUV is buried axle-deep in the sand.”

The driver grimaced in sympathy. “I’m afraid I don’t have
anything to pull you out with. But I could drive you into Mojave,” he offered
obligingly.

The man with the Navy cap laughed, obviously relieved. “I’ll
take the ride, thank you. I just need a few things from my SUV. Do you mind?”

“No, not at all” was the gracious answer, but inwardly, the
Toyota driver had mixed emotions. On the one hand, he was helping a fellow in
need, but on the other, this was an added complication to his drive home. Hopefully,
this little mission of mercy wouldn’t take too long, and also hopefully, the
tall stranger wouldn’t have too much that he wanted to take with him.

“Just be a minute!” the chap yelled as he turned and scurried
for his vehicle.

The heavyset driver rolled up the window, wearily opened his
door, and emerged from the Corolla. As he went, he grabbed his windbreaker,
struggling to quickly pull on the meager material against the gale.

“This blasted windbreaker is almost as good as mosquito
netting is against a fully charged phaser bank!” he muttered, clutching the
thin jacket tightly about himself. He watched the black shadow of the tall man
pick its way across the snow toward his large SUV, though in the dark, the make
and model couldn’t be made out properly. Its front bumper was pointing out into
the desert, a sagebrush framed in the dim headlights. The rear wheels appeared
to be deeply mired in the soft sand.

“‘Your Taun Taun will freeze before you reach the first
marker,’” the motorist whispered as he shivered, quoting from
Star Wars: The
Empire Strikes Back
.

True to his word, in short order, the SUV owner dug out two
black duffel bags from the back seat of his vehicle, turned all his lights off,
and locked the doors. Moving slowly, the driver of the Corolla reached back
into his car and pulled the trunk release lever. Then, sluggishly, as though he
were dragging a huge heavy weight, he carefully made his way along the icy
asphalt toward the rear of his vehicle and pulled the trunk lid up against yet
another blast of wind. There he waited for the stranger’s luggage. With rasping
breath, the taller man made his way back to the highway and heaved the two bags
inside. With the baggage secured and the trunk lid closed, the two men scampered
into the car and out of the tempest. The driver absent-mindedly turned the heat
up before putting the car in gear again and accelerating back up to a cautious
speed on the snow-covered freeway.

Patiently, the man behind the wheel endured the other fellow’s
appraising look in the illumination from the car’s instrument panel, knowing
that his passenger wouldn’t be impressed by what the dim light revealed. The
driver himself well understood that he wasn’t what most people would consider a
sterling example of manhood. Five-foot-nine inches tall, almost 250 pounds,
bald, wearing large horn-rimmed glasses and worn, rumpled clothing, he would be
everyone’s last choice as a male modeling contestant. And to add insult to
injury, with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, his health wasn’t in any
better shape than his wardrobe.

The stranded man took off his cap and then a glove, offering
his hand to the driver. “Name’s Michaels. Glenn Michaels.”

The Toyota owner carefully shook the hand without taking his
eyes off the road. “Nice to meet you. I’m Paul Armstead.”

“How far is it to Mojave from here?” Michaels asked, a big
smile highlighting the laugh lines on his face.

Paul gave him a weak smile in return before answering, “About
five miles—say, ten minutes.”

The passenger frowned briefly and looked out the window and
up at the sky. “When it snowed like this back home, there wouldn’t be a loaf of
white bread—”

Paul chuckled in instant mirth. “Or a gallon of whole milk.”

“—on a grocery shelf for a hundred miles,” Michaels finished
with a huge grin.

“It’s the same way here,” Paul admitted with a smile.

Michaels waved a slow hand at the scenery. “Won’t be light
for hours yet. A couple of hours after that before I can get back here with a
tow truck. Do you know of any decent places to stay in Mojave?”

“Nothing four-star,” Paul replied with a regretful shrug. “A
Best Western, a couple of cut-rate places, and two or three fleabags.”

“The Best Western will do nicely, thank you,” the other man
responded cheerfully. “I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help.
I have one of those silly smartphones,” he said, whipping a small rectangular object
out of his shirt pocket. “But I can’t seem to get a signal. Probably too far
from a tower.”

Paul gave a small nod in understanding but dared not to take
his eyes off the road. “First trip to California?” he asked politely, secretly hopeful
that the other man would soon run out of small talk.

The stranger shook his head briskly. “Naw, I’ve been here a
couple of times before. I’m from Tennessee myself. Yes, sir, it sure is lucky
you came along,” Michaels repeated gratefully. “I really do appreciate your
stopping to help.”

“Well, it really isn’t much,” Paul half-heartedly pointed
out in his typically modest fashion. “I’m headed that way anyway. I’m just
sorry I couldn’t help you pull your vehicle out of the ditch.”

“That’s okay,” Michaels responded a bit too sharply. “I
haven’t been real happy with that car anyway. Spends a lot of time in the shop.
Sorry piece of junk.”

Michaels unhappily brushed some of the snow from the arms of
his jacket and leaned back in his seat before taking an even more serious look
at Paul.

“If you don’t mind my saying so, you look a little familiar
to me,” he asserted.

Paul raised an eyebrow. “Funny, but I was just thinking the
same thing about you.”

“Ever been to Middle Tennessee? The Grand Ole Opry, Lookout
Mountain, the Country Music Hall of Fame, Rock City—any of that sound
familiar?”

“No, I’m afraid not,” Paul replied with an emotionless
shrug.

“Ah, but I bet you’ve heard of Lynchburg,” the other man
suggested with a half-smile.

Paul blinked and pursed his lips. “Yes, something about a
distillery. Jack something or other. Is that in Tennessee?”

Michaels chuckled. “It never fails. Nashville, Chattanooga,
with populations in the hundreds of thousands. Nobody knows those. But
Lynchburg, with 6,300 souls in all of Moore County—everybody’s heard of
Lynchburg.”

They rode in silence for a minute while Michaels studied the
road ahead. “Say, are you on a trip?”

Paul shook his head, adding a small negative grunt. “No,
just coming home from work. Edwards Air Force Base.”

Out of the corner of Paul’s eye, he could see that Michaels was
impressed and that the other man’s estimate of Paul had gone up a couple of notches.
“Really? You work there? Are you a scientist?” Michaels asked as his eyebrows
rose appreciatively.

“An engineer, not a scientist,” Paul responded, gently amending
the other man’s guess.

“That sounds like interesting work,” Michaels observed with
a note of approval. “I used to do some engineering, but that was a long time
ago. You like that sort of work?”

Paul stoically sighed. “I wish I could.”

This time, Michaels cocked his head to one side in surprise.
“Problems?”

“Yeah. I’m working on a project that the Air Force wants
finished before Christmas. Too much work to do and too little time,” Paul wearily
complained.

Michaels grunted. “Sounds familiar. My sympathies. Is that
why you’re going home at midnight on a Saturday in a storm like this?”

Again, Paul unenthusiastically shrugged. “Yeah. It’s a job,
and it puts food on the table. I just wish they would be more reasonable about
the schedule.”

“Got a family?” Michaels asked, changing the subject.

Paul smiled again, though it was still halfhearted. “A stepson.
And an ex-wife.”

“Oh. What happened?” Michaels pried shamelessly.

“Well, my ex-wife, Marie, divorced me four years ago and
married another man. She said I was boring her to death. And my stepson,
Douglas, is quite frankly a loser. He got mixed up with a gang and drugs.” Paul
reached down to adjust the fan heater to a lower setting. “His legal fees took
half my life savings, and my ex-wife got the other half at the property
settlement.”

BOOK: Genie and Engineer 1: The Engineer Wizard
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