Automan and all character names therein are owned by the American Broadcasting Company. All characters are fictional and resemblance to any persons living or dead is coincidental. No copyright infringement is intended.

Fly-By-Night

Written by Sailor Chronos
Based on a screenplay by D.C. Fontana and Richard Fontana.

Chapter 2

The sky exploded with sound as a group of six T-38 Talon jets roared overhead, twisting in perfectly coordinated rolls. The air show's bleachers were crowded with civilian guests and military personnel, all staring up in awe at the demonstration. Applause went up as the jets streaked away.

An announcer's voice boomed over loudspeakers. "Now here comes the Jetstars' Lead Solo, Captain Robert Macy, in a classic reversal maneuver called the Half Cuban Eight." As the aerobatic team circled the field, a single plane detached from the formation and began to trace the path of a figure-eight, interspersed with half-rolls. The announcer continued, "This move allows a pilot to convert speed into altitude and then back into speed, while reversing direction within a small area." When the maneuver was complete, the plane levelled off and re-joined the others as the team flashed by again.

Nearby, two men in casual civilian clothing stood in the aircraft parking lot, watching the show. One of them was lean and wiry, while the other was built more squarely. Nobody was within earshot but they kept their conversation seemingly casual.

"Any trouble with the chopper, Durrell?" the wiry man asked.

"No," replied the other, "but what if they check on that phony license?"

"Then we'll use the other one. Change your appearance too. Don't use the beard, and try a different wig."

Durrell shrugged, accepting the idea.

The Jetstars screamed overhead once more, this time in an Apollo formation, trailing red, white, and blue smoke. The announcer said, "On behalf of the Jetstars, thank you for coming. We hope you enjoyed the show!" There was applause and cheers for a few moments, then the spectators gradually broke up.

A man separated himself from the crowd and moved purposefully over to where Durrell and his companion were standing. He appeared to be in his forties, well-dressed and carrying a briefcase.

"You bring the money?"

"The job's not quite finished, Mr. Carnes," the new arrival said in a heavy Russian accent, looking at neither of them.

"What do you mean, Lubov, 'not finished'?" Durrell asked with annoyance in his voice. "We delivered all the parts."

Lubov explained, "To duplicate the circuits on our own aircraft, we have to know how the box interfaces with the airframe."

Carnes said with barely-controlled ire, "There's no way we can get close enough to the plane to find out."

"You'll find all the necessary security clearances, I.D., and official orders right here," said Lubov calmly as he placed the briefcase on the ground.

"What about our fee?" Carnes pressed him.

"Northstar Aviation has deposited two million dollars in a Swiss bank. When we get the rest of the information, you get the account number." Lubov turned and walked away, blending into a group of people who were leaving the airfield, and then disappeared.

Durrell reached down and picked up the briefcase, and he and Carnes moved off in different directions.


On a movie screen, men's voices were raised in a suspenseful confrontation, followed by a gunshot and a woman's scream. Walter and Roxanne sat beside each other in the darkened theatre, amid a sparse audience.

Roxanne was intent on the movie, not noticing Walter's covert glances at her. Casually he put his arm across the back of her seat, lightly touching her shoulders. She didn't welcome it, but nor did she complain; Walter smiled in contentment.

Back in Walter's basement workshop, the computer had been left running. On the screen were the words:

Re: FAA License Check
Search Complete. STAND BY FOR AUTOMAN...

By the time Walter had gently closed his arm around Roxanne's shoulders, she seemed to have accepted his affection. Unnoticed, Cursor appeared in a pop of light and impishly transformed itself into a huge tub of popcorn planted on Roxanne's lap.

The theatre began to rumble and quiver as if an earthquake was happening.

Roxanne's eyes widened, knowing all too well what was about to occur. "Wally..." she warned in a low voice.

"Oh, no," Walter groaned, covering his eyes with his free hand. This was definitely not a good time.

The air around the seat beside Walter shimmered with blue light, and Automan appeared, sitting casually and smiling in greeting. While his head was that of a very attractive man, his body from the neck down was composed of a blue grid-like starfield which glowed so brightly that it almost eclipsed the light from the movie screen.

"Someone will see you!" Walter hissed at him. "Put on a coat; a trench coat like Jack's!"

The muttering attracted the attention of a middle-aged man who was seated a few chairs over from them in the same row. The man looked over to see Automan's brilliance, and he did a double-take, hardly believing his eyes. Quickly he leaned to his wife. "Mary... Mary!" he whispered.

"What is it, Harry?" she asked, annoyed at the interruption.

"Look at that guy!" He pointed urgently.

Puzzled, Mary leaned forward to look past him. By then however, Automan was wearing casual clothes covered by a trench coat, looking perfectly normal. She glared at her husband. "Watch the movie, Harry."

Harry glanced at Automan again, who smiled genially. Deflating, he obediently turned back to the screen.

"I have some information for you, Walter," said Automan.

Roxanne became agitated. "Wally, what's Automan doing here?"

"I told him to notify me if he came up with anything for Lieutenant Curtis..."

Now Harry leaned over, exasperated. "Hey, you want to talk, go outside."

"I'm sorry," Roxanne said, looking uncomfortable. At that moment she noticed the container in her lap and glared at it. Cursor reformed and darted under her seat.

Automan commented, "According to reviews, it's not a very good picture, anyway."

Fed up, Harry said, "Come on, Mary. We're leaving," and stood.

"Why?" his wife asked, confused.

"Never mind. Come on."

As the couple left the theatre, Mary could be heard grumbling, "You never wanted to take me to this movie, did you?"


Once they had walked back to the theatre's lobby, Walter admonished Automan, "Couldn't you have waited? I finally got a date with Roxanne!"

"You priority-coded the request, Walter," was the matter-of-fact response. "The license was a complete forgery. It's exceptionally well done, but the Federal Aviation Agency has no record of it."

Momentarily forgetting his irritation, Walter went into detective mode. "Has it been used anywhere else?"

"I'm looking into that now."

"What are you talking about?" Roxanne interjected.

"Automan has been checking up on some high tech break-ins..." Walter began.

She cast a glance at the ceiling. "That sounds fascinating; don't let me interrupt," she said sarcastically.

"All the burglaries have two common connections. The specific items or plans stolen were tied to government subcontracts, all of which were for a 'Project Chimera'," Automan continues, heedless of Roxanne's remark.

Walter scowled. "Never heard of it."

"Neither had I."

Surprised, Walter stared at Automan. It was extremely rare that his creation didn't know about something technology-related. "What?" was all he could say.

"I even had a chat with my friend, the Joint Chiefs of Staff computer at the Pentagon. Project Chimera is so top secret that even he doesn't know exactly what it is."

Walter groaned in frustration. "Auto, that brings us back to Line One."

"Not necessarily; he did tell me where it is. The project creator, Dr. Markham, uses the computer at Landmark Air Force Base."

"Then ask that computer," he suggested.

Automan shook his head slightly. "I can't get into it. There's no interface to the civilian world. We'll have to go there."

Walter asked hopefully, "Sometime tomorrow?" He would really rather keep his date with Roxanne than go on what could potentially be a wild goose chase.

"Right now," the hologram insisted.

Of course he would say that. Walter glanced at both Roxanne and Automan, feeling torn apart. "I can't do that. I have a date. I mean, I can't just run off and..."

With a small sigh, Roxanne said, "I don't mind, Wally." She was smiling but the hurt in her eyes was obvious.

"Well, I do," said Walter, now angry. "And what about my car? If I leave it here, it'll be towed away."

She held out one hand. "Give me the keys; I'll take care of your car." This wasn't the first time she'd had to deal with it, and probably wouldn't be the last.

Walter reluctantly pulled the car keys from his pocket and handed them to her, letting his hand mingle with hers for a moment longer than was necessary. "I'm sorry, Roxanne."

She shrugged to hide her disappointment; she knew how much Walter liked working with his holographic partner, so how could she compete with that? "That's all right, Wally... It's not like we were 'involved' or anything." She walked out of the theatre, Walter and Automan following.