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Fiction series
Chapter 15 recap
Cindy inspects the saucer that crashed at Fox Island. Lights appear over Smith Field, and National Guardsmen catch a man running on the west side of the airstrip.

Chapter 16

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Photo by Todd Anderson
Illustration by Lara Neel
Summit city lights

Chapter 16

Raymond sat on the edge of his bed. He recalled how excited he'd been when, as a child on Halloween, he saw the flying saucer in his grandfather's backyard on the south side of Fort Wayne.

Raymond's grandfather had built it in secret, fastening together two aluminum sledding discs and taping white blinking Christmas lights to the saucer. He put it near a bush and placed buckets of dry ice nearby, creating wispy "smoke" for the just-landed alien craft.

The thing frightened the child when his grandfather unveiled it just after dusk. Raymond's fear soon turned to giddiness as Grandpa invited trick-or-treaters into his backyard. The younger ones were scared, and some refused to get close enough to recognize it as a prank.

"Just think if it could really fly," Raymond told Grandpa. "We could scare all of Fort Wayne!"

As he got older, Raymond joined in his grandfather's construction projects; it was a welcome respite from the boy's chores on his parents' farm. They assembled bicycles out of spare parts, made skateboards and built a go-kart.

As a teenager, Raymond became a natural at operating radio-controlled cars, boats and planes, sinking a small fortune into the hobby. He entered contests and won trophies. He made Lego structures and Rube Goldberg machines. His successes sat on bookshelves and the dresser in his bedroom; the pieces of his failures cluttered the floor, until his father relinquished a rickety, rotting barn for use as a workshop.

Campus police had obtained Raymond's fingerprints his sophomore year at IPFW after he built a small rocket for an engineering class and launched it from the top of a campus parking garage. It crashed into a guest lecturer's car in the parking lot of the Gates Center, and there were witnesses. Raymond fled but was later arrested.

Raymond said he would pay to have the car's broken windshield fixed. A professor vouched for him. The visiting lecturer – an engineer from ITT – agreed to not press charges. Cindy did get to keep the rocket, first in the event of insurance questions and then as a souvenir.

Raymond got the idea for a homemade flying saucer from studying robotic lawn mowers and self-propelled vacuum cleaners. If they could roll over a floor or a yard, he reasoned, a lightweight version should be able to float in the air if powered by remotely controlled thrusters.

He rounded up materials and harvested parts from his radio-controlled vehicles. He worked nights on the saucers in the barn at his parents' house off U.S. 24. He wanted to be able to fly his fiberglass and aluminum clamshells expertly before going public.

It didn't take long before his saucers were in the air and obeying his electronic commands. Each object flew fairly well as long as it didn't strike anything, like a tree or a telephone line or the wing of a fighter jet.

Raymond hadn't meant to scare anyone at first, but then it seemed like his childhood Halloween all over again. He got hooked on the cat-and-mouse game with investigators, well aware his skill and luck might run out at any time.

Being his own getaway driver added to Raymond's logistical challenges – he often had to run long distances in the dark, carrying a saucer, before he reached his car, hidden away on a side street or a deserted parking lot. He didn't dare try to hunt for the saucer that crashed at Fox Island – the place was swarming with police.

He realized he would have been caught tonight, regardless. He now knew that investigators had been staking out both IPFW and his parents' house, all because his fingerprints had a name and an address. What's more, professors and classmates had recognized the voice of Zach, the Indiana Tech student, on two radio shows and correctly identified its owner as Raymond, the IPFW student, when they called a UFO tipline set up by investigators.

Raymond had spent most of the day at the downtown Allen County Public Library, poring over books on electronics and robotics, ignorant of the manhunt. Nobody in the parking garage spotted the large clamshell in the backseat of his car.

At the library, he daydreamed about his flying saucers earning him entrance to a graduate engineering program at MIT or CalTech. Instead, they put him on a bed in a cell at the Allen County Jail.

It would be tough to get into grad school when he faced terrorism charges.

bfrancisco@jg.net

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