The Star Meal is a series of short-short stories. Originally, I conceived of short-short stories being less than 500 words, which then grew to 750, 1000 and now 2000+ words. The Star Meal series provides a mechanism for me to extend the length of these stories beyond the length of a short-short story but less than what I consider a conventional short story, (as in my book, Passages to Ruth.)
The name derives from The Star Chamber, a movie (screenplay by Robert Taylor) which portrays a secret organization of judges who covertly overrule the judicial system to, in their opinions, mete out justice, to those who escaped punishment.
Currently, I am planning three Star Meal stories. I began the series with no anticipation of creating a series, rather, the Star Luncheon was to be a stand-alone story. I created some rather imperfect semi-fictional characters and left the reader with a sense of dread for the future of our country. Not being a “dreadful” kind of guy (all the time,) I augmented the Star Luncheon to add a twist of possible hope and salvation at the conclusion. With the help of my friend David I left the story open ended. He suggested there could be a sequel, but I do not believe he anticipated it so soon.
Of course, if you have a lunch and dinner, you should have had a breakfast. What happened to whom before lunch on this eventful day? I truly do not know. I started in the middle of the day, i.e. in medias res, as a short story should. I then wrote this story, the conclusion, and will finish the series with the beginning. Stay tuned. I will think of something, like “It opens at the end.”
If people like this series I could consider patterning the meals after Hobbits and add Elevensies and Supper and Afternoon Tea, who knows? Or perhaps and evening aperitif?
The Star Dinner
Stephen left the two pilots sprawled on their retractable steps, walked back to the hanger and pushed both doors open wide. Reaching to the right, he flipped the light switch, bathing the entire room in glaring fluorescent light. It wasn’t a large hanger, but he had no trouble earlier guiding his own jet inside and turning it around to face the hanger doors to be hidden before the Gulfstream arrived.
“Ready to head back home,” he subvocalized.
“Hold on. You have another assignment today, Stephen,” he heard through his implant. It was more a heard/felt sensation. There was no audible sound as such. The specialized cochlear implant fed electronic pulses directly to his auditory system, just as the nano-electrodes in his voice box and neck transmitted words as if he actually spoke them aloud.
“Roger. I just want to be out of this locale before the clean up crew arrives and sanitizes it.”
“Understood. Go head and take off. More instructions will be relayed within a few minutes.”
Stephen climbed the ladder into the cockpit, donned his helmet and closed the clear canopy. This new stealth Firefly could fly at Mach 5 and land and take off on a dime. Maybe not a dime, but a small country grass airfield such as he was on now. While not totally silent, taking off, it made less noise than a small motorcycle, and was totally silent on landing. It took a lot of planning, but the Organization was able to make the SAAB Scandia company go bust and all but disappear, when in fact they converted it from an automotive/aeronautical company to a clandestine specialty company building highly advanced aircraft, automobiles and medical devices among other… useful high-tech items.
“Head to San Diego. Land at Dominguez Field. There will be a car waiting behind Hanger #1. Your implant will open the hanger and access the car. Use your PA1 access code. Be in San Diego before 4:00 local.”
Stephen heard the small click in his “ear” and knew he was alone, and also knew he would be briefed on his assignment when he needed to know and not before. He taxied out of the hanger, passed the Gulfstream G650 and turned right onto the dark runway. As the jet started to accelerate, the lights of the clean up crew descended the hills behind the small, private, rural runway. They wouldn’t be able to see or hear him at this distance. He hit the “take off” code and his jet sped down the runway and was aloft in seconds.
Once he was at cruising altitude he hit the gas, and again not literally but he did subvocalize his request to his aircraft to increase speed to Mach 5 and avoid any other aircraft. At 80,000 feet there shouldn’t be much traffic, but he felt it was always better to be safe. He also didn’t want any reports of unexplained sightings, or UFO’s. The Firefly’s stealth design would avoid any electronic detection and the integral chameleon skin would change colors and patterns to match his surroundings, reducing the chances of a visual sighting, but again, better to be safe. Stephen settled back and dropped himself into a zen like trance. He didn’t know what was in store for this evening, but he did know an hour in this meditative state, with his metabolism and vital signs slowed, would provide the equivalent of a full night’s sleep, and he may need it.
Sometime later, a quiet alarm on the dashboard started glowing and a gentle humming in his helmet alerted him their descent into Dominguez was a few minutes away. Stephen was instantly alert and a quick glance at the control display assured him he was on course and on time. He relaxed and let the jet check for any interference, or observers, either on the ground or in the air and once it was convinced all was clear it initiated the landing sequence.
After several years as the pilot of this piece of aeronautical art, Stephen still marveled at how it could land silently, like a glider. He could put the Firefly down on a deserted street in any city and no one would hear it. Too bad it wasn’t really invisible, like Wonder Woman’s jet airplane.
The Firefly touched down with no landing lights, no noise and after minimal taxiing was at Hanger #1. He subvocalized his PA1 password and the hanger doors opened quickly, but silently. Powerful electric motors on each wheel urged the jet forward, turned it around inside the hanger, then the doors closed, again, silently. As they did, small LED lights glowed a welcome and Stephen descended the ladder into the softly lighted hanger. He entered the airlock in the back of the hanger. It wasn’t really an airlock but rather kept any stray light from escaping the hanger during night operations. It wasn’t necessary today in bright sunlight, but better to be safe. Following a strict routine is always preferred, except when it is not. If anyone knew a routine was implemented every time by rote, it would be easier to lay a trap.
Just thinking the words was enough to activate the car. The drivers’ door opened, although no interior lights turned on. Stephen entered the car, closed the door. The SAAB 360o electronic viewing system, filled each window, front back and sides with the exact view he would have had if he could look through the glass carbide windows, which of course, he could not. There was an enhanced full color night vision for night driving or should the need occur otherwise.
Stephen drove down off the plateau, passed through the security barrier which was disguised to resemble an old cattle crossing gate, continued along the dirt road until intersecting county highway 85 which led to I-5. He merged with the early commuter traffic and headed toward downtown San Diego.
Stephen “heard” in his ear, “In seven miles turn onto 7th Ave and proceed to the Founder’s Hotel. Park and take the elevator to room 213. Password DPD,” He did so, and in a few minutes found himself in a well-appointed, small suite in the Founder’s Hotel. He stayed at this hotel before, on another assignment, and knew his way around.
On the reception table inside the door was an envelope. It looked like an invitation, so he opened it, reading: “Please be upstairs in the Alexander at 7:30 for dinner. You will not be dining alone. Evening clothes are in the bedroom closet.”
Stephen went through the small sitting room into the bedroom, opened the closet and found a suit hanging with warn but serviceable shoes directly underneath. Other necessities were laid out on the dressing table. None of the clothing looked new but wasn’t so worn to look shabby either. It was exactly the right, unremarkable clothing to attract no notice whatsoever. He decided there was time for a shower and shave before dinner.
He called for the elevator and waited a few seconds before the “ding” announced its arrival. Entering, Stephen selected the restaurant level, and ascended the twenty floors to the dining room. Stepping out into the restaurant reception area he was met by a young man.
“Mr. Hart? Your party is awaiting your arrival. Let me show you to your table,” he said pleasantly, and led Stephen around the busy restaurant to a partially secluded table near a wall of floor to ceiling windows providing a spectacular view of San Diego. The young man pulled out the chair, unfolded the napkin and laid it on Stephen’s lap.
“Wine?” The young man inquired. Indicating two bottles, one on the table next to a partially carafe and the other in a bucket of ice.
“Please,” said Stephen. “The red, if you will.”
“Good choice sir,” he said as he poured a glass of Rue de Something or Other and the left the two alone.
“Stephen,” the woman opposite him said casually. “So wonderful to meet you, at last,” and smiled.
“I am afraid you have me at a disadvantage,” Stephen replied and returned the smile.
“We will get to that, eventually. Don’t be concerned. We will not be overheard as we discuss events. That is, others will hear us talking but will not hear our actual words. They will hear a brother and sister reuniting after a years’ separation, discussing recent events in their lives and the welfare of their dear failing mother.”
Stephen relaxed slightly. He had heard the new implants could perform miracles but had yet to have encountered one. His was to be replaced with the newest model, apparently the one his companion utilized, later this year.
“So, what can I do for you, Miss, or Mrs, or Doctor. What should I call you?”
“I usually respond to Abigail, although that is not really my name, just as Stephen isn’t yours.”
“Fine, Abigail it is. What can I do for you… Abigail?” Stephen asked again.
“It is more of a case if what the Organization, through me, can, and will do, to, and for you, Stephen. You have been an undercover operative for what? Fifteen years now? Don’t bother answering. I know exactly how long. You may have surmised you are one of a very select number of extremely talented… agents within the Organization. You have been an immense help and performed your assignments to perfection, but I am afraid it is time for us to make a change.”
Stephen looked at her curiously, perhaps a little nervously. “A change? For the good I hope,” Stephen said trying to sound relaxed, with his usual level of control.
“Hmmm, no. No, I would not say for the better. I think things will be much worse for you in the near future and perhaps beyond. As you well know our Founding Father’s devised many safeguards to protect our country against threats both external and internal. Oaths are one thing, but actions speak louder than words. One of those safeguards was the implementation of our clandestine Organization. Hamilton did more that create a monetary and banking system. He created us to protect the Constitution and the law of the land and to preserve the country, its ideals and hopes against all attacks, foreign and domestic.”
“Yes. I am aware of that. The Hamiltonians have worked tirelessly to assure we will not fail. The world needs a bright beacon to lead the way, especially in the face of current problems,” Stephen responded.
“Exactly, and it is the duty of each Hamiltonian to step up and step in whenever and wherever their talents can best be utilized. I am glad you realize that. Now I am sure you will understand your next assignment, and why it may not be what you want or expected and will certainly not like. You are coming out of the field, sort of.”
Stephen was still unsure of where this is going. “Sort of?”
“Yes, you are coming out of the underground, out into the light. The spotlight actually.”
“I am sorry. I still don’t understand, “said Stephen, puzzled.
“Well, the Idiot is now in his last year. He will not be elected again. In fact, he will not want to run again. We needed him to set the stage for our next step and he was perfect for that, the dolt. Mike, as you know, recently, very recently actually, developed some medical issues and while he will recover, will not be seeking office again. The people are looking for leadership, they thirst for it. Lacking true leadership, they will follow whatever imbecile comes along promising a better life, and better country and a better world, with no plan and no means to provide it. We have both the plan and the means to execute it.”
A realization began to dawn on Stephen and he was not happy about it. “Wait a minute. You aren’t suggesting…”
“No, no, Stephen. We are not suggesting anything,” responded Abigail, cheerfully and paused. “Just as we groomed the Idiot for his part, you too were molded into the exact instrument we need for our next step.”
“What makes you think I have the jets to pull this off? I am just a jet-jockey, occasional assassin, and all-around tough guy goon.”
“Don’t sell your self short, Dr. Stephen Hart, PHD, Nanotechnology, postDoc Bio-mechanical Nano-Engineering. Like I said, the Organization molded you into what you are and for the past 243 years we have created other Lincoln’s, Kennedy’s and Dr. Stephen Harts before you to do must be done. We guided our country to continue the ideals of our Founding Fathers. Sometimes we were required to “break a few heads,” like you did tonight. We aren’t angels, Stephen, but you knew that. We are cold, hard and are single-purpose-driven. Does that remind you of anyone?”
Stephen knew she was talking about him. Those qualities define him perfectly. He sighed, “Yes you are right. I don’t like it, but it is the obvious next step. I should have anticipated this. Thank you for your confidence.”
“Oh, you know better than that. You will not be alone. Not for a second. When the time is right, you will know the next step, after your election. And had you anticipated this next move we would have failed, and we would have had an alternate…. um, use for you.”
She folded her napkin and placed it on her still empty plate. “Enjoy your dinner. Return home at your leisure as long as you are there before noon tomorrow.” She briefly touched him on the side of the face with a sisterly pat for the benefit of anyone watching their little charade, turned and left.
The waiter returned after Abigail left and poured Stephen another glass of red wine, cleared Abigail’s place, and and asked him if he had decided on an entrée.