Madison and Lucas entered the main office and walked to the reception desk. There was nobody there, so Madison tapped the bell. A woman poked her head around the corner. “Oh! Hey there! You caught me in the middle of my sandwich. Just a minute, hun.”
Madison waited as the woman wiped her hands and moved to her office chair. “How can I help you?”
“Hi, my name is Madison. I called earlier? I’m supposed to meet Dr. Thornton?”
“Oh! My, oh my, yes! He’s so excited to see you,” the woman said. “I just need you to sign in here. That gentleman with you?”
“Yeah, that’s my dad,” Madison explained. “He just came along for the ride.”
“Well I’ll need you both to sign in, and then I’ll show you to Dr. Thornton’s room.”
Madison and Lucas signed the book and then followed the receptionist down a long hallway. After a few turns they ended up at what looked like a hospital room.
“Dr. Thornton? That nice girl I told you about is here,” the woman said quite loudly. “The reporter, remember?”
“Of course I remember,” came the gruff reply. “Show her in.”
Madison walked to the bed, where the man was sitting up. The bed was almost shaped like a chair. He had been reading and placed the heavy book on his lap. It appeared to be a civil war history book. “Hello, Dr. Thornton. My name is Madison. This is my father Lucas. He’s just along for the ride.”
“Welcome! Welcome!” the old man said. “What do you have there?”
“I brought you some cookies,” she said, handing him the paper plate.
He pulled back the foil and started laughing. “What? What are these?”
“They’re rocket ships,” Madison said.
“Oh!” He continued to laugh and held one of them up to show Lucas. “That look like a rocket ship to you, young man?”
Lucas broke into laughter as well. “Well I guess now that I know that’s what it is, it does,” he said. “Wouldn’t have been my first guess, though!”
Madison looked from one laughing man to the other and then she looked at the cookies. “Oh my God! Gross! You two are the worst! Those are rocket ships! It’s supposed to look like the big fire balls that come out the bottom, like when they take off from the launchpad!”
She tried to snatch the plate back, but the old man held firm. “No way you’re taking my penis cookies back!” he said. “I can’t wait to show the fellas down in the common room!”
Madison flushed with embarrassment, then found a chair and readied her pen and notebook. “When you two finish picking on me and my inadequate baking skills, I’d like to ask the doctor a few questions.”
Lucas put his hands up and backed to the corner. Dr. Thornton took a bite of a cookie and put the plate aside. “I’m sorry, my dear,” he said. “I haven’t laughed like that in ages. The cookies are quite nice. So how can I help you? The girl said you wanted to know about my time at NASA?”
“Yes, sir. I read your Wikipedia page—”
“My what now?” he asked.
“On the internet? There’s an encyclopedia online, and there’s a page in there all about you. Your education, your career, stuff like that.”
“Well I’ll be.” He turned to Lucas, “are you in the Wik…” He turned to Madison with a questioning expression.
“Wikipedia,” she said.
“The Wikipedia?” he asked Lucas.
“No, sir,” Lucas replied. “Just famous people like you are in there.”
The old man nodded. “Fascinating. I didn’t know I was famous. One would think a famous man like me in Wikipedia would have more visitors.”
Madison smiled. “One certainly would. As I was saying, I read your background there. But I had some more specific questions about some things that happened at NASA while you were in charge.”
“I see. Well it’s been a long time, but I’ll see what I can remember,” he replied.
“Great. Specifically, I was wondering about SDI related activities,” she said.
He stared at her a moment. Then he set his unfinished cookie on the plate and leaned forward. “Where did you say you were from?” he asked.
“I’m from Springfield. I’m writing a story for my high school newspaper.”
He scrutinized her, then looked over at Lucas. He studied him a moment, then looked back at Madison.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
“What do you know about that?” he asked.
“About SDI? Well I read up on it. How Reagan started it, and people called it Star Wars, and so on. I know the basics,” she said.
“I meant what do you know about NASA’s SDI related activities?”
“Oh,” Madison replied. “Well not much. I found a line item in the old NASA budget.”
The old man looked at Lucas and then back at Madison. “The budget?”
“Yes, sir,” she said.
He took a deep breath and then exhaled slowly. “Well you’ve put me into a bit of a pickle,” he explained.
“That program was classified. I’m probably breaking some laws just acknowledging its existence. Although if it was in the budget, I guess that cat got out of the bag already. I’m a little confused though, why a girl writing for her school newspaper would be reading NASA budgets.”
“That’s a little hard to explain,” she said. “I’m doing some research and I just stumbled on it. But other than the line item, there wasn’t anything else in the budget explaining what it was about. Please can you tell me, sir? I did drive all this way.”
“And she brought you penis cookies,” Lucas added from the sidelines.
Dr. Thornton laughed. “That she did! Well, I guess there’s no harm now. That was a long, long time ago,” he said.