70

Lucas was already halfway out the door by the time Madison came to a stop in his driveway. He waved at her, locked up, jogged to her car, and dropped into her passenger seat. “Good morning, kiddo!”

Madison was not prepared for this level of exuberance. She took a long pull from her coffee, which was barely warm. “Good morning,” she said. “You’re awfully chipper.”

“Road trip with my little girl! I’m raring to go!”

“Easy there, cowboy,” Madison said. “I’m not through my first cup of coffee yet. You sound like you already had a whole pot.”

He laughed. “I had a little. So, shall we get this show on the road?”

Madison pulled out and found her way back to the highway. She hooked her phone onto the plastic dash mount so she could follow the directions it spilled out.

“Isn’t there a rule about kids under eighteen using phones in the car?” Lucas asked.

Madison reached up and turned it to face Lucas. “You’re using the phone, not me. Capisce?”

Lucas laughed. “Got it, capo. So what’s the plan? Drive straight through?”

“Pretty much. Except I’m going to need more coffee at some point. And this car probably won’t mind getting a little rest now and then.”

“Sounds good,” Lucas replied. He looked into the back seat. “What’s that?”

Madison glanced back. “Oh, I made him cookies. It was my friend’s idea. Sugar cookies shaped like rocket ships.”

Lucas laughed. “Well that’s awfully nice. So tell me about this guy we’re going to see.”

“Ph.D. from MIT. Washed out of the astronaut program but stayed with NASA doing engineering stuff. Eventually they put him in charge of the place.”

“He was in charge of the whole space agency?” Lucas asked. “That’s impressive. How’d you get him to agree to an interview? You’re just a kid. No offense.”

“He’s really old, Dad,” Madison said. The word “dad” escaped her lips before she could stop it. She stared straight ahead, hoping to let it pass unnoticed. “He’s a lonely old guy in a nursing home who is happy to have any visitor he can get.”

“How’d you find him?”

“My friend Cindy is freaking amazing with computers. She can find anything. I just told her his name and his birthday, and the next thing you know she’s looking at his tax returns or something.”

“Scary,” Lucas said.

“Right? I’m glad she’s on my side.”

“What’s this about, though? I mean, are you still looking into the warehouse thing, or is this something different?”

“If I tell you, you need to promise not to be an asshole about it,” Madison said.

“Yeah, alright. I promise,” Lucas laughed. “That dragon lady is scary as any guy I ever met inside, though. You need to be careful around her. She’d just as soon kill you as talk to you.”

Madison rolled her eyes. “There’s some connection between the company that’s running that warehouse, NASA, and the Strategic Defense Initiative.”

“The what who?” he asked.

“Remember Ronald Reagan?” she asked.

“Of course,” he said.

“Remember Star Wars? Not the movie, but Reagan’s space laser thing?”

“Not really,” he admitted. “I was just a kid. I didn’t pay much attention to that stuff.”

“Well Reagan pushed through this Star Wars program called the Strategic Defense Initiative—SDI. And I’m pretty sure there’s a connection between that and NASA. I’m hoping if I can find out from Dr. Thornton what that connection is, it’ll help me connect the dots back to the warehouse.”

“This is all way too complicated for my little pea brain to handle,” Lucas said. “How’d you end up so smart?”

Madison laughed. “Mom, I guess.”

“Probably. I never finished high school,” Lucas said. “I liked learning, and you know I like reading, but I couldn’t stand being locked up all day.” He laughed to himself. “And then look what happened—government’s gonna lock you up one way or another I guess.”

Madison smiled. “I guess.”

“Studied up and got my GED when I was inside. Not that it matters, but I just wanted to prove to myself I could do it, you know?”

“That’s great, Dad. I’m proud of you for doing that,” she said.

“Ha! You’re proud of me! That’s bass-ackward,” he joked. “I’m the one who’s gotta be proud. You’ll be outta high school soon and off to college. Lucas Johnson’s kid is going to college. Who woulda thunkit?”

“I need more coffee,” Madison sighed.

“There’s a big interchange coming up. I bet if we get off the highway there’ll be a truck stop or something where we can de-coffee and re-coffee. Maybe grab a piece of toast or something,” Lucas suggested.

“Yeah, that sounds good. You’re the navigator, so just let me know what exit to take,” Madison said.

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