Excerpt from the Prologue
The flight from New York to Chicago was Nate LaChae's second flight. Eleven years before, when he was sixteen, he won a Navy award at the school science fair and was flown up to Boston. That flight was on a noisy prop-plane. Now he was gliding along at 530 mph over Pennsylvania. He wished he had the seat by the window, but even from the middle seat, he could see the clouds reflecting the setting sun.
He removed his mother's letter from his briefcase and read it again.
841 Eastern Parkway
B'klyn. N.Y. 11213
My dear son,
I frequently, just get in my car and take, what I term, therapeutic drives. I call them therapeutic because they seem to do me - a world-of-good. One of my favorites is driving from Brooklyn to Harlem. I passed the playground in Mt. Morris Park - off Madison Ave. - and went immediately on a nostalgia trip. I saw a little four or five year old boy (you) climbing to the top of the ‘monkey bars', while Mom and I watched and prayed somewhat uncomfortably, until you reached the top. A little boy or little girl might have got gotten into you path, your way, but you would go around them, sometimes over them and would always reach out and make it. Little did I realize then [I had not studied - Child Psychology & Development at that time] that you were setting your pattern for life.
Now my son, Mom and I still watch and pray for you (we never stopped), while you deal with, while you climb those ‘giant monkey bars' of life. I'm keenly aware of many things, huge things, incidents that have got gotten in your way, in your path. I have watched you rise above them all. Gee! Those ‘giant monkey bars' must seem almost insurmountable at times, but ‘you made it' on those bars at Mt. Morris Park, and you were only four or five years of age.
Love you -
Nate idly rotated the gold ring Beatrice had given him, remembering her saying, with her Caribbean accent, "This was supposed to be your birthday gift; but now I don't know if I'll ever see you again."
"Don't worry", he told her, "I'll be back. I'm just going to meet my father's side of my family."
After the stewardess served drinks, Nate's thoughts turned to his best friend. Henry will never have this kind of opportunity, of being plucked out of the ghetto and flown to another city where his father will be waiting for him.
Location: 125th Street, Harlem / New York
"I still don't see why Nate had to leave." Douglas said.
Ernest DuPree looked over the equipment piled on the old desk and said "Your big brother is going through changes he never expected; they tried to take away his soul. He needs time and a place where he can get himself together again. It's not gonna be easy."
Douglas shook his head and picked up a rocket nozzle. "I thought aluminum would melt."
"Yeah", Ernest grinned, "see the inside? That's a graphite coating to stand the heat from the exhaust gases."
Satisfied, Douglas put the nozzle back on the pile, shrugged his shoulders and said, "At least he got to work on the Lunar Module. I never understood why he didn't stay with that company."
"Grumman?" Ernest said as he leaned back in his chair, "I think Nate felt guilty about his son dying at the same time he got the Grumman job. Maybe, he couldn't feel happy at such a sad time in his life. That was before we met and started the MiniLab and Aerospace Innovations, Inc."
"What's going to happen to the A.I.I. now?"
"That's a good question. We were trying to get a contract to use your brother's tracking system to monitor the sway of the World Trade Center's buildings when they're finished."
"Oh, wow! You mean it's that good? I thought it could only detect things like the moon."
"That good?" Ernest laughed, "Nate's tracking system has detected the planet Venus in the daytime. We were trying to get enough money to build three more. Now, I don't know what will happen."
"Can't you go on without him?"
"Not really. That was his project. I'm working on my own stuff. Let me tell you what's really going on, Douglas. Nate's tracking system is like a toy to us. He discovered a way to use a gyroscope to reduce gravity itself. He built a toy car that ran using nothing but two vibrating gyroscopes.
Now, the smartest guy I know lives over in New Jersey. Bob Jones works, part-time, over there at Picatinny Army base. He can get parts the rest of us amateur rocketeers can't get. I interviewed him and wrote an article in Space World magazine when I was an editor. Bob Jones had proven, mathematically, that a gyroscopic engine could be built that would reduce gravity.
When I introduced Bob and Nate they went into an orgy of technical talk about inertia, coriolis forces, centrifugal force and stuff. You should have seen them. I just got out of their way and watched. Bob wrote equations on the board and Nate showed his photos and tests results. At the end of the day, they agreed to publish a report together."
"So, what happened then?"
Ernest sat back in his chair, shook his head, and grunted, "Nobody believed them."
"What about those guys that helped you set up A.I.I.? You said they have PhD's in science."
"That's the worse part. They came, saw Nate's car running, and even saw the gyros. But, they said it must be working on some other principles than what Nate thought."
"Didn't they read the report with Bob Jones equations?"
"They did. And they said it violates Newton's laws."
Ernest rubbed his hands through his Frederick Douglass-styled hair. "You still don't get it, do you? Your brother and I are impossible. We're not here. Nobody in the world believes ghetto black men can possibly do the things we're doing.
"Nate told me the guys that helped you incorporate were all aerospace guys." Douglas said, "I don't see why they wouldn't help you more."
"Oh, our partners", Ernest exaggerated the words. "They invited us to dinners and meetings and even made us honorary board members of one of their aerospace clubs. But, when I asked them for three million dollars they're eyes got big and they balked.
"You really asked them for $3,000,000?"
Ernest laughed, "Yeah, I did. And your brother's eyes got big too. But, that's what's needed to do a meaningful program. Those guys, eventually, told us they wanted us to buy real estate in Harlem for them. They didn't really give a damn about our technical abilities and projects."
And, Douglas, I haven't even mentioned my own projects like exploding bridge-wire technology. I've corresponded with people all over the world and I got more responses outside this country than within it. I'm about ready to work with whoever will help me, I don't care who it is anymore."
Douglas didn't respond.
Ernest stared out of the third floor window, of the dilapidated building in Harlem, cracked his knuckles, and said resolutely, "I mean it."
Location: Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn / New York
Henry loaded more Soul music on the stereo and turned the volume up. Meanwhile his wife, Margie, refilled the glasses with the wine Naomi had brought.
"Your cousin sure is something else." Henry said, "We had some real good times together. Here's to Nate."
They clicked their glasses together.
"Those two fools used to get so drunk", Margie said, "I'd have to drag them up the stairs."
Naomi smiled and took a drag on her cigarette.
"We go way back, you know." Henry continued, "He was always building some science project and asking me to come see it."
"So, tell me", Naomi said, "What's going to happen to the Cervaza Kings now?"
"Shit, I don't know. Frank is dead, and I heard Sonny moved to Louisiana. Me and my cousin Johnny are the only ones left now. Maybe the Juniors will take over one day. Douglas wants to take Nate's place now, but he's too young and he ain't been through enough shit yet."
The music stopped and gloomy silence followed.
"I sure hope Nate comes back."
"Me too." Naomi said, "But, his mother told me a lot of people are looking for him right now. He owed money and the courts want him to pay child support." Naomi shook her head, "It's still hard for me to believe he quit his job at the Port Authority over that."
"Ha!" Henry flipped the records over and restarted the music. "That's because you don't really know your cousin. He ain't gonna let nobody make him do nothing.
I remember when I first met Nate; we were teenagers. I saw a crowd and I went over to see what was going on. This real tough boy name Calhoun was picking on a guy with a bad leg and Nate stepped in and took up for the guy.
Calhoun jumped on Nate and they started going at it. Calhoun was winning and he told Nate to say, 'A cripple ain't shit'. Nate wouldn't say it and they kept on fighting. When I saw Nate wasn't gonna say it, I was scared, but I jumped in and helped him anyway. When we heard the police coming, everybody ran.
After the fight, I asked Nate why he didn't just go ahead and say what Calhoun wanted him to say. Seems like that would have been better than a ass whippin'. And guess what Nate told me."
"He said he wasn't gonna let nobody be his master." Henry laughed, "And would you believe, he got that shit from one of his mother's poems.
So, that's why I know Nate ain't gonna give in to his wife or the courts or anybody else. Not after all the shit he done been through with her and her family. They lucky he ain't hurt nobody."
Naomi looked at her watch, "Hey, I got to get going. Nate's mother just wanted me to tell you not to give any information to anybody that might come around asking questions about Nate."
"She should know we ain't gonna say nothing." Margie said.
"Yeah, she just wanted me to remind you."
Excerpt from Chapter 3
Etta called down the stairs, "Alright you guys, I got sandwiches and french fries on the table." She decided to join them.
Nate related an incident that happened a few weeks before. "Some friends came over and they brought an African student with them. I asked him whether he felt there would ever be an African space program. When he said he didn't think so, I asked him why not. Then I went OFF when he said he felt the White Man had something special in his head that allowed him to invent things and go to the moon!
The reason I was so upset is that I believe the greatness of our race will not be in the USA. It will be in Africa one day. And to hear that African student say what he said just set me off. I got up and said "Anybody that fills a thirty-five story rocket with liquid oxygen and hydrogen can go to the moon." I told him the laws of physics work the same for everybody. Then I told him not to ever think or say what he said again. Even I was surprised at how I went off. But we'll never even try things with the kind of thinking he had. I just want to show that God doesn't play favorites."
While still chewing Bill said, "Hey man, I agree with you 100%."
Then Etta added "That's what we teach our girls that they can be anything if they put their mind to it. What about your kids Nate? Me and Bill were wondering if any of them are interested in science." Bill looked toward Etta with surprise.
"To tell you the truth Etta, I don't know what they like."
Bill said "Hey man, if you don't want to talk about it..."
"No, no. It's alright. I have wondered about the same thing myself. You see, my father was the first black engineering foreman at Standard Oil and my mother was good at chemistry in college. So, I figure maybe that's where I inherited whatever talents I have. I'd like to think that some of it got passed on to the next generation, but I just don't know."
"Oh yeah, I took them to the MiniLab sometimes. And before that, I was building everything at home. I remember when I was building the tracking system and working late at night, sometime one of them would come quietly into the room and scare me. But, I haven't been communicating with them since I left New York, it's better that way."
"I don't know, Nate." Etta said, "I'd have to communicate with my kids no matter what. And it seems like they should know about the things you're doing. Where else are they going to find a role model who builds space engines?"
"I know what you mean. And you notice I haven't talked about my family in New York before."
"Was it because of Beatrice?"
"No, not at all, in fact I met Beatrice after my wife and I broke up. So I don't have any guilt feelings about that. It's just that the breakup was very bad. I loved my family and did the best I could." Nate was staring at the wall now and Bill thought about stopping him, but let him go on.
"My wife didn't think my work was important. She even told me I should have opened a taxi business instead of the MiniLab. At one point I saw how ironic everything was because I got a patent pending on one of the Gamma engines just one month after we broke up for good. After going to court and being told that I couldn't have my family any more I was very angry. So I quit my job, that I'd been on for seven years, and I came to Chicago to be with my father's family."
"So, what about your equipment and notes at the MiniLab?" Bill asked.
"All that stuff was moved to an old abandoned building in Harlem, on 125th street, where me and Ernest lived for a while. I always kept my Gamma notebooks in a safe place. When I came to Chicago, they were the only technical stuff that I brought.
I tried to forget about the Gamma principle because everyone kept saying 'It can't work' and 'it violates Newton's law'. But I knew that my experiments had worked and I believed what I'd told that African student - about God giving ideas to anyone. Besides, I saw the Gamma principle everywhere; even when I looked at ceiling fans rocking back and forth. So, slowly I got started working on the engine again. Then I met a guy in Washington Park..."
Bill finished with, "And the rest is history. - No, I mean will be history."
Etta put her elbow on the table and rested her chin in her hand, "But, why is it taking so long?"
"Tell her what you told me Nate", Bill stammered.
"It's almost over Etta," Nate said, "I finally realized we could keep on improving our designs and getting a little better performance forever. So, I've come up with a better plan," he paused and stood up, "Hang on for just a minute, I brought it in my briefcase."
Etta said, "You two can go on back downstairs; I've got things to do."
Nate showed Bill the step-by-step script he'd written for The Pendulum Test.
Bill read it. "I can't get over the fact that we don't have to actually fly one of the engines to prove that it works".
"That's the cool part Bill. The pendulum test cancels out the effect of gravity and it will show any net thrust that is generated. So, the Gamma engine won't have to lift itself. All that it has to do is deflect the pendulum, and keep it deflected, in one direction."
"Well these four gyro-chambers on the new engine", Bill pointed to a drawing, "should cancel out the lateral translations."
Nate grinned and said, "You're right about that."
"Come on man", Bill said, "what are you grinning about?"
"It's just that I remember when we started working together, you used to tease me about the technical terms I use, like ‘real-time' and all that. And now here you are talking about lateral translations instead of ‘sideways motions'".
Bill laughed. "You're right. I've learned a lot in these past years. You know it's been two years that we've been working down here. I bet nobody would believe that two black men would be this dedicated. I don't think we've missed a single Wednesday or Saturday."
"No, not one. I have to tell you Bill, there was one Saturday morning that I was in a hotel downtown with somebody and I looked at the clock and told her I had to leave. I tried to explain to her that it was something very important that I was working on. Guess what she said."
"She didn't believe you?"
"Not at all", she told me, 'Rush on back to her if you must.'
"Well, you should have known", Bill glanced toward the stairs before continuing, "women ain't never going to think anything is more important than they are."
"And they're right - except on...".
Together they laughed and said "Wednesdays and Saturdays".
Nate took a large drawing from his briefcase and spread it on the workbench.