Chapter 12, Birthday Present
Chapter 12: Birthday Present
After a half a year of training, and seven failed jumps in a row, Thomas was doubting that he would ever get to see New York. There was always something going wrong.
He celebrated his Eleventh birthday on Sunday, with the friends he had made at the park over the summer, as well as with Ralph and his friends; Nan had invited them over for the birthday party. There were balloons and a cake and presents. Nan watched the boys playing in the yard, and had to admit that her Thomas was the most handsome of the group. His body had not hit the awkward growing stages of adolescence. He was still boyish and slim in his features, In a year or two he would fill out, and turn into a striking young man. His blond hair and bright smile charmed all who met him. Nan digressed that it was sad that her sister couldn’t see how fine her boy was turning out.
Thomas returned to the lab on Monday, with no idea of the surprise they had arranged for him. His teacher, Mr. Jackson was acting odd. Usually he would start off straight into his lessons, but today he seemed unprepared. He appeared to be searching his pockets for something, and not finding it.
“Thomas” He announced, “I think I left my glasses in the Prep room, down below, would you run down there and see if they are on the table?” Thomas nodded, and made his way back to the elevator. On the bottom level the hallways were unusually empty, not one white-jacketed technician could be seen. The War room lights were turned off, the room looked empty and dark from the window. As Thomas walked in, he heard a stirring noise, It could have been the cat, Mr. Spitz, but usually the cat was not allowed down at this level. He reached in the darkness to probe for the light switch on the wall, The lights came up abruptly
“Happy Birthday Thomas, Surprise!”
A banner hung from the ceiling, with purple and silver balloons and trailers dangling. Everyone was there, including Nan, who never came to the Lab. It was a perfect surprise. Candles were blown out and the Cake was passed around, Thomas was astounded that everyone knew it was his birthday. Mr. Jackson, entered the room, smiling, and said,
“Did you find my glasses?” Everyone knew. As surprising as the party was, it was not to be the last thrill of the day. Dr Mendel announced that they were going to make a special jump on this day, in celebration of Thomas’s birthday.
“I’ll see you later today Sweetie” Nan said hugging him as she left the party after a half hour. Thomas was left in mystery about what Dr Mendel had mentioned. He couldn’t concentrate on the lessons that resumed, back in the study room. Mr. Jackson could sympathize. As noon approached, Thomas couldn’t wait to go down to the decontamination rooms, to prepare for the jump. The Doctors were all smiles as Thomas passed his examination. He was given his robe which he quickly slipped into, and was escorted down the tube to the Grow room; he could sense that today something was going to be different.
After the doors to the inner chamber closed behind him, and before the lights went down, Dr Mendel instead of Dr Roth, spoke to him from the control room.
“Thomas, in celebration of your birthday, and because we know how much you want the mission to succeed, we changed the schedule for today’s jump. Today you are to do nothing but relax and enjoy the ride we have planed for you.”
The lights in the chamber dimmed, as usual. Total darkness first and then the blue phantom light. It spun like a silent tornado about him. Do nothing, but enjoy the trip, was what the Doctor had ordered.
The glow took on the property of an expanding spiral and got brighter. Soon everything along the chamber walls, were aglow. The very physical nature of the room seemed to change, as it had in past jumps, but this time the atmospheric sensations were different. It was the warmest he could remember, and he was not neck deep in frozen waters. First came the audio sensations, and then came the simulated vision that changed the physical nature of the chamber. The space before him expanded as if he were outdoors, landforms filled out into the infinite distance, as slowly a landscape took form. It was sketchy at first, and then it grew in detail revealing a bright sunny morning, with a view more glorious then anything he had ever imagined.
New York City in all its magnificent detail, materialized before him in the chamber. For the first time he truly felt like a giant, standing sixteen hundred feet tall, towering over the City. He stood knee deep in the heart of New York’s busy harbor. The Statue of Liberty standing a full twelve inches in height on Liberty Island, an arms length away by his feet. Tiny excursion boats were docking and undocking at its’ pier. The city itself stood about eight feet further before him, defying the physics of the room. Thomas took a deep breath; here it stood, the great Metropolis. He could hear the early morning sounds of traffic as if in the distance, as the animated City woke itself up. Sunlight glinted off the tops of the skyscrapers and spires; they were all below his eye level. The air smelled of the sea laced with an under scent of exhaust fumes; standing still in the harbor, he observed as hundreds of tiny cars traversed the many bridges that connected the Islands.
It was like flying, being so high in the air, but his feet were planted in the slightly warm sludge and silt that formed the base of the harbors mouth. He couldn’t help but laugh at the thrill of actually being there. In his earpiece he heard Doctor Roth say,
“Go on in slowly, and have a better look, identify from your studies, all the major landmarks but stay off shore.” He could picture the grin on the Doctors face. OK, Thomas thought here goes.
He waded past the Statue, minding a two-inch ferryboat pushed by the wake caused by the movement of his legs. Bathtub toys! The waters quickly shallowed out with every step he took towards the City. Seagulls like a cloud of white dust, flew low to the water’s surface at his ankles, he could hear their high-pitched cries, calling as they flew.
His heart was beating rapidly as he asked,
“Can I have permission to go on land?” He waited hesitantly for the answer.
“Not this time Thomas, but soon, in good time, all in good time.” The Doctor asked him to describe what he saw.
Breathtaking was the only word that encapsulated the sensation of looking at the perfect miniature city stretched out before him. He could see clearly the large cargo ships at dock along the edge of the river. The largest to him was half an arm in length. The docks crowded with bustling Longshoremen, coffee hutches, and warehouses painted with advertisements that were true to every detail, down to the pealing weathered paint. Behind them ran the East River Drive, pulsing with morning rush hour traffic. Each car like a brightly colored gem turned on their headlights as they rode through the darkened tunnels, none bigger then a ladybug. There were hundreds of cars trucks and busses, and millions of people in the streets.
Lining the edge of the river like a wall stood the taller buildings of the city. At the south most tip stood both Towers of the World Trade Center, the jewel of the skyline. They stood proudly, resurrected from a fate that had not yet happened. Their height, thirteen hundred and sixty eight feet, plus the tall radio antenna only reached his shoulder. They were as yet, the tallest buildings in America. Proud, upright and beautiful, they reflected the light of the rising sun from behind him. He caught his breath as he saw his own reflection in their shinny mirror windows as his shadow fell over the buildings.
He was taller by far than all of the other buildings in the city, standing over sixteen hundred feet tall. The panorama fully encircled him. Off to his right, connected by many bridges: the Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. To his left, the gracefully beautiful long Varizanno span, its tall towers reaching almost up to his knees. Across the span ran a steady flow of traffic to and from Staten Island. He could clearly see everything, even tiny individuals riding motorcycles crossing the bridge.
He wondered if, when he would eventually step on land, whether it would support his weight. This mission only called for him to enter the harbor, explore and report his findings. He would have to discuss his concern at the debriefing conference. He would, after all, be expected to stand on land to intercept the Airlines. Maybe on my next jump, he hoped.
It was hard for him to focus on his mission at the moment. He took a deep breath and looked around.
“Doctor” He said, “May I have permission to walk around the Island?” There was a moment of quiet, a shuffling of papers, and the Doctor came back on,
“Yes Thomas, permission granted, but stay in the river and do be careful where you step, you don’t want to do any damage.” Thomas walked slowly, approaching the first bridge blocking his path, an old railroad bridge, and the first of many, that criss-crossed the East River from Brooklyn. A toy train of incredibly small proportions consisting of twenty cars clattered across the bridge as Thomas approached. The waters had shallowed out significantly. It would be no problem for Thomas to step over the low-lying span. He raised his foot carefully, water pouring off his feet and ankles, He observed his toes thick with river mud, as he lifted his foot over the structure. With hardly any effort he straddled the bridge, again glancing down at it, from a birds eye view, below his legs. A quick thought crossed his mind, and just as quickly disappeared He smiled sheepishly. He lifted his second foot over the bridge, and was now on a sightseeing journey up the East river.
He again caught a glimpse of his reflection in all the glass windows, and a thought occurred to him.
“Doctor, Can the people see me?” He questioned, as he stood there towering above the cities intricate skyline.
“We don’t have that in our game plan” Replied the Doctor,
“If they could see you, they would no doubt panic.” Then he paused a few moments before asking,
“Would you like them to see you Thomas? We can alter the program here easily enough to make you visible.”
Thomas laughed to himself and thought how shy he had been, and now strangely enough, he found himself thinking that he did want the tiny people to see him. He wanted to see how they would react to a towering, mighty giant boy. Taller then their highest buildings and more powerful then anything they had ever seen. He flushed red with the thought and it made him laugh. He remembered all the fuss he had made, But here he was, and everything was so real! It might have been his silly brother Ralph’s influence when he surprised himself by saying,
“Yes Sir, I would like to try that, They should see who is going to save them” He swallowed, “But not right now, I’ll tell you when, If you don’t mind, OK”
“Roger that, Thomas” Came the Doctors voice. Several of the councilors made notes in their journals back at the lab, marking Thomas’s response.
“I’m midway up river now” Reported Thomas, “I’m looking down at the UN building, I’ve already stepped over the Brooklyn Bridge, It was beautiful. There is a small island right in the middle of the river up ahead.” Thomas waded past the familiar structures. He could clearly delineate the Empire State building and the Chrysler Tower. It was harder spotting Madison Square Garden and the Library. Not one of the skyscrapers aside from the Empire State Building reached to the height of his belly button. The canyons of high-rises stretched into the grid of the city, Thomas would really have liked to walk inland, but held back his temptation. His shadow cast darkness down the streets and avenues. He wanted to touch the buildings along the river but again refrained from doing so.
“Watch out as you step over the next bridge” Came the voice from the control room. “There is a Midtown Tunnel ahead, locate it gently with your foot, and step over it, you don’t want to crush it.” Then the Doctor asked,
“How are you doing son?” Thomas, never at a loss for words, replied,
“This is amazing sir, absolutely amazing, thank you.”
The time was now running short, each jump would only be maintained for a total of two to three hours and time was passing quickly. Now the green borough of Queens was on his right, He could make out a tiny Shae Stadium, the size of an inverted open shoe box, There was not enough room, he figured, for him to put his foot in it, that’s how big he was. Further up the Long Island Sound, the handsome bridges that connect Queens with the Bronx stood majestically, the Sound veering off to the right. Thomas circled the upper tip of Manhattan, and to his knowledge he had not done any damage even though the river narrowed out considerably. He carefully straddled every bridge before him.
“That must be the Tri-borough Bridge” He observed, stepping over the complex multi layered structure, heavy traffic moving in both directions. He was now heading back south down the Hudson River past the swank midtown West-side buildings on his left, and the Jersey shore to his right. Central park was like a large green square occupying the center of town, it looked inviting, and he would have loved to step onto its lush green carpet dotted with tiny blue lakes. He continued south back toward the harbor, getting more excited with every step, more piers and big freighters were lining the riverside on both shores. Soon he would choose for the people to see him. The idea excited him as he reached the tall office buildings that arose on the south side of the Harbor back to the World Trade Towers. His heart was now racing.
They would actually see him at his command! He stood at the southern tip of the city, placing him just a few feet from the shore, facing the tall buildings full on. He glanced down at the thousands of people at the Bowery Park at his feet, where he would eventually step onto land. There was a small fountain spitting a jet of water upward, the people were moving about, as if they were going about their business, most enjoying the warm early afternoon sunshine. He noted that all the tall buildings caught his image in their windows, “Wow, look at me! I’m so huge” He thought.
It’s show time, he decided. Spreading his legs, taking a “Superman” like stance, with his hands on his waist, he would present the city with a vivid first view of him, they would never forget.
“OK Doctor, I would like them to see me now, if you can.” Thomas did not hear a response from the lab, but knew they had done something. He knew instinctively that he was going to gradually be made visible.
“Roger that Thomas, any second now, Got it!” He could see everything with the crystal clarity of his young eyes. Now the people would see, everything! In full detail, with weight, mass, height and form. Nothing hidden about him, from his head to his feet, he puffed out his chest; A colossus he was, standing ankle deep in the Harbor. In the park below he watched amused as they stopped, looked up, screamed and scattered like ants. I guess the doctor was right, he thought. He looked down and grinned. Man! Ralph would really appreciate this, he thought. If he were here, he’d probably tear up the place, knowing him. The thought tickled him as he recalled, “I’d pee on everyone!” But that was Ralph.
He just stood still facing the city hardly moving, looking to the left and then to the right to see their reactions. He then dropped his arms to his sides, sirens started to wail. He then took one step forward, raising his foot out of the shallow waters and lowering it slowly, creating a great wave that splashed on the rocky slopes flanking the park. He couldn’t stop grinning now. Just to show them he was alive, and could move as he wanted, he took another threatening step closer, slowly and deliberately, looking down at the terrified people, he raised his foot, as if he was going to step onshore. He knew that if he placed his foot on them, they would be crushed by the hundreds. Once more he was thinking like Ralph. A dark part of him wondered how it would feel. He brushed the thought away. The people let out cries that could be heard, even from the height of his ears. The temptation to step on shore was hard to resist, but he let it pass. He lowered his foot back into the water.
He saw to his dismay, that some people were so overcome with fear of him, that they dove from the windows and rooftops of their buildings. Cars crashed, and some even lost control and drove off the bridges; People fled their blocked cars leaving a tangle of gridlock. The city was indeed in a panic as the Doctor had predicted. Sirens could be heard from all five boroughs, sirens and futile gunshots and the constant but distant sound of screams that somehow excited him, they also scared him at the same time. He did not know why, but he felt he could easily be enticed to do violence, and that was the scary part. He pushed the dark thoughts out of his mind, taking in a deep breath.
With sudden compassion, he now felt bad for those who were getting hurt. “Look at me City,” He commanded in his mind; “I will be here to help you, even though you are afraid of me now. Don’t be afraid”, He thought.
“Can I talk to them?” Thomas asked.
“Negative on that” Came the response. “Not at this time. Why do you ask?”
“I’ll tell you later at the briefing.” Thomas replied.
Thomas gave no thought of his natural condition, and made no attempts to cover himself up before these tiny observers. He stood hesitation free, without any trace of the shyness and self-consciousness that plagued him, when he first began his training. He was proud of himself. He gazed at the intricate miniature city, miraculously standing before him, awesome for him to behold, and realized that he must be as awesome a marvel for the people to look upon, as they were to him. Next time he would come, he would be working to save the city. Nan would be proud of him.
“OK, shows over” He thought as he slowly turned his back on the city, and started walking back slowly, past the Statue of Liberty into the deeper waters of the Harbor, much to the relief of the people looking on.
“I’m ready to go now, Doctor” He said, he didn’t know why, but tears were rolling down his cheeks,
“Thank you Doc.”
“Happy Birthday Thomas” came the reply.
Doctor Mendel was reviewing the notes of the day, in his office that evening when he heard the knocking at his study door.
“Yes” He responded
“Doctor, we’d like to speak with you for a moment if you have the time” Doctor Mendel checked the monitor, and recognized Dr. Perkins and Dr. Burns, Thomas’s psychological advisers. Although they had never formally interviewed Thomas, they were able to analyze his behavioral profile and evaluate his mental health. Dr. Mendel invited them into the study.
The doctors looked at each other, not sure who should talk first. Finally Dr Burns spoke up.
“We came because we were concerned about Thomas’s responses today.” Doctor Mendel pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, and looked at the two men.
“Explain yourselves” He said. He motioned for them to take a seat.
“We like Thomas” Started Dr. Perkins, “But it’s clear that he had never been tested psychologically before you chose him for this assignment.” Dr. Mendel said nothing, as Perkins continued.
“We really have no way to evaluate Thomas’s nature. Of course we trust your judgment, but we feel it would be best to evaluate Thomas’s responses in a real time test situation.” Doctor Burns added,
“When Thomas said he would like to be seen, even after you said it would cause a panic,” Dr Burns paused, gauging the look on Dr. Mendels face, he continued, “That for us sir, sent up a red flag”
“I see” Responded Dr Mendel. “And what does Dr. Leah, his advisor say?”
“We haven’t brought this up with your daughter, we thought we would come to you first, but we will indeed bring our findings to her attention.”
“And what is your suggestion?” Dr Mendel asked coolly.
“We think he should be tested, put him in an unexpected field situation, and kept out of contact, for say, an hour, to an hour and a half. See how he reacts” Dr Mendel stroked his chin in contemplation.
“And how do you expect Thomas would act?”
“That’s what the test would determine” Dr Perkins answered. Doctor Mendel stood up, as did the two advisors,
“I thank you for your concern, and will take up the matter with my associates, afterwards I will address you about your issue, Now gentlemen, I must bid you a good evening” The door clicked closed after they departed, Doctor Mendel thought he knew, and trusted Thomas, but these men had raised a shadow of concern, perhaps there was merit in their suggestion.