Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Deep in the bowels of the Top Secret Experimental Vehicle Development Center, sat the most technically advanced aircraft ever developed by General Motors. As the ship rested solidly on its landing skids, I meticulously guided the ion-vapor polisher a few thousands of an inch above painted graphite composite skin. My fellow detailer, Clement, was polishing the chrome and mahogany trim inside the cockpit. “I don’t know why I bother,” he complained to no one in particular. “You know the military is gonna gut the entire ship once they get their hands on it.”

“What makes you think the customer is the military,” I asked?

“Com’on, who else can afford to spend 130 billion dollars for a one passenger ship? Hell, a thousand man deep-space battlecruiser doesn’t cost that much.”

“Well, I was kinda hopin’ this ship was for some trillionaire playboy,” I replied as I admired the 40 foot long aerodynamic beauty. “A primo ship like this should be used for recreation, not war.”

Clement stepped out of the cockpit and studied the sales sticker glued to the windshield. “Look at the options,” he remarked. “This ship has a tracking system with 5040 cascading global positioning locators, each with its own quantum homing sensor. The propulsion system is a 3.2 terawatt warp engine with microburst capability. There’s an inertial braking system that can stop the aircraft in less than a nanosecond. The cockpit canopy has a heads-up night vision photonic display. It even has a multiphase cloaking device. Think about it. Why would a civilian need an instrumentation package this advanced? There’s no doubt in my mind. This ship is definitely a prototype for a military fighter. I’ll bet they plan to use it to take back Mars. President Moore was an idiot for letting those ungrateful bastards secede without a fight.”

“You’re nuts, Clement,” I countered. “For God’s sake, this ship is a convertible. It can’t even leave Earth’s atmosphere. How’s it gonna reach Mars? Have you even noticed that it’s painted red? Who paints a fighter red?”

Undaunted, he continued arguing his point. “Mars is red too you know. You’d never see this baby while it was parked on the ground.” He motioned me to the rear of the aircraft and opened the cargo hatch. “Have you seen the hold? It has a station-to-station subspace tunnel array. It would be perfect for remotely loading munitions during an extended sortie. After the pilot fires all his antimatter torpedoes, he can re-supply the ship in-flight using the tunnel.”

“That tunnel only has a range of 15,000 miles,” I pointed out in vein. “That alone shoots down your Mars theory?”

“Just the opposite, Einstein,” he replied sarcastically. “Space Force has a supply station on Phobos. Fifteen thousand miles can cover every square mile of Mars. I’ll bet you a case of beer the customer is Special Forces.”

“I’ll take that bet,” I said enthusiastically. “Look, they’re supposed to be here in thirty minutes to inspect the ship. We’ll find out then. In the meantime, we need to finish up.” Clement and I quickly completed detailing the aircraft, then ducked behind some shipping crates and watched the hanger door.

A few minutes later, the door whisked open, and a plump elderly man with a broad face and a full white beard stepped into the hangar. When he saw his new “sleigh” his droll little mouth drew up like a bow. His eyes…how they twinkled! And, I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

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