“I gotta admit,” Lucas said once they were on the highway home, “I didn’t really follow all that. Did you?”

“I think so,” Madison said.

“What are the pebbles?” he asked.

“It’s a cute name for nuclear missiles.”

“Okay, that’s what I thought. But when I think of a missile, it’s like, on a launcher, or under the wing of a plane or something. What are these pebble missiles attached to?” Lucas asked.

“Nothing, I think. I think they’re just up there floating in space. I mean, think about it. When you are launching a missile, you need something to hold it straight, but as long as these things are pointing down at Earth to begin with, they’ll just keep pointing down forever.”

“They will?” he asked. “How come?”

“That’s how things are in space. They just hang there however you left them. Maybe they have thrusters on them to adjust, like space suits.”

“Huh. Okay, if you say so. So there’s missiles pointing at Russia and China,” he said. “Then why did he say they were over our heads right now? Why would we point missiles at our own country?”

“They’re orbiting,” Madison explained. “So they go around and around and some of the time a given missile is over Russia, and then when that one has passed a different one takes over. I think that was the idea.”

“Wouldn’t that take… like thousands?” he asked.

“It would. From what I read about the Brilliant Pebbles program, it got cancelled because they said it would take too many pebbles to be effective. So it would cost too much and Congress didn’t want to pay for it.”

“It got cancelled?”

“Officially,” Madison said. “But clearly it didn’t.”

“That sounds like a scoop!” Lucas said.

Madison smiled. “So many scoops in this story.”

“Okay, so tie this back to the warehouse for me,” he said.

“I can’t,” Madison said. “I haven’t figured that out yet.”

“Oh, okay. I thought maybe I was being thick,” Lucas confessed. “But you must know something connecting them, otherwise why were we even taking this trip?”

“Well, yeah. It was more of a hunch than anything. I’m hoping that if I dig into this lead, I’ll eventually find the connection back to the warehouse.”

Lucas nodded but did not respond. The two drove in silence awhile.

“So are we good?” he asked.

“I guess,” Madison said. “I still think it’s weird that you think somehow I was choosing to be mad at you. But whatever. I think I’m over the mad anyway. It’s all in the past now. We can just figure out a new thing going forward.”

“I’d like that,” he said.

“Mom, though,” Madison said, staring straight ahead at the highway. “You need to clean that up. I don’t want it to be a fight every time you and I visit each other.”

“Any suggestions?” he asked.

Madison thought as she drove. Lucas waited. A few minute later, she said, “Money. Send her some money. Whatever you can afford, but make it consistent. Like every week.”

“You think that’ll help? I can probably swing like a hundred a week as long as I have this job.”

“Yeah. I think if you do that and you keep it up, she’ll start to believe you’ve turned things around. She still thinks you’re a deadbeat and an addict. She won’t believe anything different unless you prove it.”

“I can’t blame her for that,” he said. “Alright. I’ll do that.”

“It’s about three months to my graduation, so if you have sent her, what… twelve hundred by then? I bet she won’t be a total psycho when she sees you there.”

“Your graduation?” he asked. “Are you saying you’re inviting me to your graduation?”

“Yeah,” Madison said, glancing over at him and smiling. “If you aren’t busy. I think it’d be cool if you came.”

Tears formed in Lucas’s eyes. “Oh wow. I don’t know what to say. Are you sure?”

“Oh geez,” Madison said. “Don’t you start crying. Then I’ll start crying and I am a terrible driver when I cry. You’ll get us both killed. Hold it together old man.”

Lucas laughed. “Yes, ma’am. You get the bossy from your mom, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” she said.

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