Chapter 15 - His Father's Anger
Book 1, Part 2 of The Cloud
Leo and his father watched as the black government-issue Gallivant made its way down the long dirt driveway that led to their house.
“That didn’t take long,” his father said in his deep baritone from the front door as he leaned against the framing. Leo’s father was a big man. Standing over six feet tall, he wore a buffalo-flannel button-down shirt with his sleeves rolled up to the elbows, dark-blue denim jeans, and a wide-brimmed Stetson. He was the epitome of the southern cowboy despite the fact that he had never owned any cows. No, Joseph Morrison was a farmer, after a fashion.
“Who is it, dad?” Leo asked.
“United States Space Force, I presume.”
Leo looked at his father and stared mouth agape.
The Space Force, Leo thought to himself shocked.
“Why are they coming here?” he said aloud.
“For our help,” his father replied gesturing to his left.
Leo looked to where the four-story building stood. He and his dad had been working on it together now for the past four years. Inside there were huge structures producing a wide range of fruits and vegetables.
“I knew they would come. I just thought it might have taken them a bit longer,” he heard his father mutter.
The whine of the ion thrusters cut off as the Gallivant set down in front of the ranch house and two very official-looking people climbed out. Leo knew at once who the driver was since he had seen him on the news feeds since he was little, Director Frank Wiess.
He looks more intimidating in person, he thought.
The passenger, however, Leo did not recognize. The woman looked much younger than his father or Director Wiess. She was tall and slender, and had sharp, angular features with raven black hair, wrapped up in a bun. The woman wore a black pantsuit with…
Are those Chucks? Leo thought, surprised, as he looked at her feet. Sure enough, a pair of black and white, high top, Chuck Taylor Converses were peeking out from beneath her pant legs. Definitely, not what I expected from an official government type.
“Hello, Joseph,” Director Wiess called out, not taking a step past the nose of the Gallivant. “It’s been a long time.”
“Frank,” his father returned tersely.
“This is Amelia Zimmer, Director of the UMC: Destiny,” Director Wiess said, introducing the woman. “Can we speak with you for a moment?”
“What do you want?” his dad asked. “What does Space Force want from me now?”
Leo heard the menacing growl that laced his father’s words. It was the first time he had ever heard it and that shocked him more than the arrival of the Director of the USSF itself.
“You are the leading expert in vertical farming, are you not?” the woman broke in.
“Depends on who you ask,” Joseph quipped, still staring at the burly Director.
“The scientific and farming community both agree. You hold the sole patent on multi-level VF structures as well as the formula for chemical, QG-F256,” she continued, missing his sarcasm.
“Look lady, what do you want?” his father said, finally turning his gaze away from Director Wiess to look at the woman instead.
“Joe,” Director Wiess said. “We need your help, man.”
His father sneered at the larger man.
“Why would I help you?” his dad spat.
Leo had never seen his father so venomous towards anyone before. It was a side of his father he had never seen, and it confused and scared him.
Director Wiess moved from his spot and walked up the steps of the porch, stopping in front of his father and placing one of his large hands on his shoulder.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Joe. Kate was a special woman,” Director Wiess said softly, barely loud enough for Leo to hear, though he stood only a few feet away.
“You do NOT have the right to talk about my wife, Frank,” his father shouted into the man’s face, exploding in rage.
Director Wiess did not move an inch or even flinch at the explosion of emotion from Leo’s father. He remained there, steadfast, hand still gripping his father’s shoulder.
“Please Joe, you have to put this animosity in the past. The Migration NEEDS your help incorporating the VF technology on Destiny. This is not for me; this is to ensure the survival of the human species. Please, Joe,” Director Wiess pleaded.
Leo watched as his father squeezed his eyes shut and ground his teeth together, struggling to regain his composure.
“If you agree to help, you and your son will both be guaranteed seats onboard Destiny,” Frank said, finally releasing his father's shoulder and stepping back. “From what I have read, Leo here is well on his way to being more brilliant than his old man.”
Leo looked at his father, wondering what had happened between him and this man. A man that he knew to be a war hero and a visionary for space exploration.
How had he known my mother? he thought. He knew what his mother would have wanted no matter what might have happened in the past.
“Even if we couldn’t go, mom would’ve wanted you to help, us to help,” Leo said aloud, stepping between the two and forcing his father to look at him.
The anger he saw there fled at the mention of his mother from his own lips but was replaced with pain and loss. It swam there, in his father’s bluish-grey eyes, still fresh, even after all the years that had passed.
It had been only him and his father for the past five years since his mother had died in a car accident. When Joseph had noticed that Leo was becoming withdrawn from his friends in school and around their suburban neighborhood, he sold their house in Ohio and had moved them out to North Dakota where they could get a fresh start.
His father had decided to take time off work so that he could spend it with Leo. The first summer they spent fishing in the river and hunting. They had even driven into Montana to go on a camping trip in the Rockies. When the beginning of the school year approached, Leo had begged his dad to homeschool him, and he had agreed.
August that year found his father renewing his research into improving the hydroponic vertical farms and Leo had begun learning under his father’s tutelage.
“I know she would,” Joseph choked out. Then he looked past Leo to the woman in the Chucks, Director Zimmer.
“When do we leave?”
“As soon as you can be packed,” she answered with a sad, hesitant smile.
His dad turned his attention back to Director Wiess as Leo moved out of the way to stand by his side.
“Understand this now, Frank,” his father said forcefully, jabbing the man in the chest with his index finger. “I am doing this for my son. When we are on that blasted ship, hurtling through space, I do not want to see or even speak to you.”
“Don’t worry about that Joe. I’m not going.”
Leo watched as surprise crossed his father’s face for an instant before he turned on his heels and headed into the house.
An hour later, they were loading their things into the storage compartment of the Gallivant.
“I will need to come back out with a crew to grab the equipment from there,” his father said, indicating the four-story building.
“We should have everything that you will need but can acquire more should you need anything else,” Director Zimmer answered.
Leo heard his father grunt as he stowed the last bag and the compartment door slid shut.
They climbed inside after that and saw that another woman sat waiting working furiously on a large holo-tab that sat on her lap. Holographic images sprang up from the device as she moved intricate-looking mechanical diagrams into different spaces on a central diagram that looked like a column. She stopped for a moment, seemed to think of something, and then pressed a button.
“Ion capacitor needs to be moved to section F28 to regulate electrical currents at juncture 2-5-8-1,” the woman said before pressing another button, making the holographic image disappear. She looked up then and smiled. “Hello.”
“This is Christine Becker. She is the lead engineer for Destiny, and you will be working closely with her and her team,” Director Wiess said, introducing the woman as we all settled into our seats.
The ion thrusters whined once more as Gallivant lifted of the ground and Director Wiess turned them around. Leo looked out the window as his home grew further away.
He had come to love the rustic countryside where he had spent the last four years of his life. It was so different from Akron, Ohio where he had been born. Oh, he had loved riding the SkyRail with his mom to the Universe Mall in downtown Akron. They would spend every Saturday morning going to different shops before eating lunch at the food court and then going to see the latest movies. Or, if his father was home, they would go to Cedar Point as a family to ride roller coasters.
Those Saturdays had been the best ones he had of his mother and father, but he and his dad had forged new memories in North Dakota and the Rocky Mountains of Montana, and those memories had helped to heal them both. Now they would get to forge new memories in space. The prospect was exciting and nerve-wracking. He was really going to space.
“We already have the crew quarters being renovated at L.O.S. Once they are completed, that is where you will be sent. Until then you will be quartered at the Casper launch site in Wyoming. We will need you to launch with the first habitat so that you can oversee each section as it is sent up,” he heard Director Zimmer say as the house finally receded out of sight.
“What about Leo?” his dad asked. “What will he be doing while I am working?”
“I could help you, dad,” Leo offered.
His father smiled at him.
“Our Director of Education, Ms. Wilson, and her team are already working on a curriculum for the minor colonist. However, because of his age, I believe he will be one of the first apprentices in the Agriculture Program,” Frank explained. “All colonists will have to undergo special training to condition themselves to life in space, too. So, I think he will be well occupied while you are working.”
“How much does Leo know about vertical farming already?” Amelia asked, cutting in.
“He is quite versed in how to run the equipment and do many of the small repairs,” Leo explained.
“I know how to make the QG-F256 formula too,” Leo interjected.
Director Wiess paused at hearing Leo’s boast and looked at his father.
“Is that true?” he asked in astonishment.
Leo watched his father nod his head reluctantly.
The ride to the airport in Bismarck took just under an hour. When he climbed boarded the small craft, he found that it was already occupied by two girls and two giant men in jeans and black t-shirts that read “Security”. The older girl, about his own age with short brown hair, was just turning off a holovid as the credits began to play. The younger girl, about four years old, noticed them immediately as their group boarded.
“Mommy,” the little girl squealed as she ran over to Christine and jumped into her arms.
“Hello, sweetheart. I hope you have been minding your manners,” Christine said as she hugged her daughter tightly. A long-forgotten ache pulled at Leo’s heart.
“She’s been great, Ms. Becker,” the other girl said coming over to them.
“Yeah! Katie played Princess Maker with me on the VR,” the little girl said happily.
Leo started at the girl’s name before reminding himself that his mother’s name was not uncommon.
“Sounds like fun,” Christine said, smiling. “I want you to meet someone. Girls, this is Leo. Leo this is my daughter Anna, and this is Director Wiess’s granddaughter Katelyn. You will be staying with them at the Casper launch site until we begin sending colonists up to L.O.S.”
“Are you going to the new planet too,” Anna asked, excitedly.
“I think so.”
“Let’s get you buckled in,” Ms. Becker told her daughter as she ushered her daughter back to the group of seats in front of the holo-projector.
“You can call me Katie,” the girl said as the shuttle jet began to get ready for takeoff. “Is Leo short for Leonard?”
“No, it’s just Leo.”
Leo looked over to where his dad was sitting and talking with Director Wiess and the two women. When he noticed Leo looking his way, he smiled encouragingly, but the sadness Leo had seen in his eyes back at their home still lingered.
Leo barely felt the rumbling of the ion thrusters as the shuttle jet lifted into the air but when it was high enough off the ground, it shot forward and the speed pressed him firmly into his seat. A few moments later the sensation receded as his body adjusted to the speed.
Katie unbuckled and walked over to the holo-projector.
“We have ‘Monsters of Mars’ or ‘Flight of the Raven’,” Katie offered, looking at him.
“I want to watch ‘Princess Ayla’,” Anna whined.
“We have watched that one three times already. Why don’t we let our new friend pick?”
“Please?” Anna begged, drawing out the 'e' and making the most adorable puppy dog eyes she could muster.
Leo heard Katie groan before giving in to the little girl’s request and starting the princess vid before sitting back down next to him.
“So, what’s so special about YOUR dad that MY granddad flew out here to personally pick you two up?” Katie asked him bluntly.
“They like his plants.”
“Seriously?” Katie asked, astonished.
Leo pulled out his holo-comm and showed Katie images of their hydroponic vertical farm.
“Wow, that’s cool.”
“I guess,” Leo said, putting the device away. “So, are your parents meeting you in Casper?”
Katie’s expression fell at the question.
“Never mind, you don’t have to tell me.”
“No. It’s okay. My mom will be there when we land but she is not going on the migration. She has been disqualified. My father died before I was born.”
“Surely your grandfather could get her in?”
“He won’t do it.”
The information, he saw, upset his new friend so he changed the subject.
“So, what are you going to be doing onboard Destiny?”
“Granddad said that I would be in the Guardian training program.”
“What’s that?” Leo asked, genuinely curious.
“I’m going to be a professional babysitter,” Katie answered, rolling her eyes.
“That… sounds… inter,” Leo began.
“It sounds boring, I know,” Katie cut him off. “But I think it was the only way he could justify nepotism. I think he felt guilty that he had to disqualify my mom.”
“I am good with little kids though,” she conceded.
They lapsed into silence as Anna giggled delightedly at the villain’s mishaps when trying to catch the Princess.