From the dawn of broadcasting, nearly one hundred years ago, our world has become saturated with an unseen fog of electromagnetic radiation (EMR): radar, television, satellite communications, GPS, two-way radio and navigation equipment, remote control devices, computer displays, WIFI, smart-phones, Bluetooth, drones and even children's toys. Such EMR is considered safe, when kept below accepted exposure standards.
Yet, some people claim to suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity at levels well below current safety standards. There has been little conclusive evidence that their symptoms are the result of EMR. Nonetheless, some are so severely affected that they have come from across the country to relocate within the National Radio Quiet Zone in West Virginia. The zone comprises about 13,000 square miles around the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Sugar Grove U.S. Naval Radio Station, where all forms of EMR transmission are limited and controlled.
From the 1950’s through the 1970’s, EMR was alleged to have been used by the Soviet Union against the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, creating a variety of disturbing health effects in staff assigned there. In 2016, unseen and unknown devices have been implicated in the loss of hearing and adverse brain health effects in nineteen diplomats assigned to the U.S. embassy in Cuba.
High Ground is set against the backdrop of the development of such EMR technology and energy weapons over the last 30 years since President Ronald Reagan launched the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), dubbed by many "Star Wars." Since then, ground-to-air defensive missiles have been developed and placed into service, most recently in South Korea. In 1985 an American F-15 jet shot down a decommissioned orbiting satellite with a missile. SDI has been curtailed by federal budget cuts, but there seems little doubt some of that research continues today in "black ops" weapons development.
The United States and Russia are on the cusp of deploying high-powered energy weapons in both ground-based and naval applications. Once such weapons are made light and powerful enough, they would most certainly be deployed on conventional military aircraft like the F-15, capable of lifting them high enough to render a lethal preemptive strike to enemy reconnaissance satellites orbiting above the battlefield.
First a thin whistling, then angry buzzing, then waves came like the tide, washing over black iron fence and surging through parlor walls. Searing, unseen swells washed over marble floors, poured down stairs and seeped everywhere but the pantry and kitchen. Esther clutched her diary to her breast in a fetal curl on the kitchen floor, as sounds, sharp as pins, hissed through the walls and rippled down her spine. She gripped her pen and scratched jagged, trembling words onto the page.
Diary, can a place born of evil itself become evil? I have done nothing more to deserve this than to be born here. The others died with their lives in order, their souls at peace. I have no distinction from them, except that I am the last.
Weeks ago, her cats had left and never returned. Insects swarmed the grounds at sundown, but the nighthawks were gone. Only leathery wings came to feed at dusk. The house creaked and moved around her, timbers shuddering against brittle, wintry night. Huddled on the kitchen floor, she could see the dark outlines of the counters and iron stove above her and, higher up, pin pricks of faint stars that rippled through window glass. She drew a ragged breath and eased her grip on the pot cover held over her head until she heard something move across the floor above her.
In the dim light, she shuffled toward the foyer and staircase at the carriage entrance. She steadied herself on the banister and tried to fathom the silence. Someone, or something, drew itself up and stood in the shadows of the balcony above, looking down the curved staircase.
There was no answer, only skeletal tree branches tapping against high windows. Something fluttered and fell at her feet. She retreated, slipped and fell. More fluttering and more impacts on the floor around her. Leather slapped at her and she felt a sharp blow to the top of her head that sent consciousness swirling away to a cold, still blackness.
Pale sunlight roused her, stabbing at swollen eyes. Torn yellow pages pasted with news clippings held in green leather binders were a sea of green around her. They were her notebooks, precious green binders she filled over a lifetime of reading, clipping and pasting. Pain stabbed her ribs as she tried to stand. She clutched the staircase handrail with both hands, heaved herself up and started up the stairs
She hobbled hand-over-hand up the staircase. Toppled stacks of binders blocked passage to the hall. There was no one there. A breeze blew leaves through the doorway of Mother's bedroom and rustled them across the stone floor. She found her elegant oak secretary turned over, its contents dumped out. Amid the clutter were her diary books, writing papers and pens. The checkbook was nowhere to be found, but she would stop payment and let that be that.
One pane was smashed out of the window in Mother's room, near the open sash lock. She closed it and taped a piece of cardboard over the hole. She gathered up the pens, paper and diaries and carried them down to the safety of the tin and copper kitchen.
Esther put water on for tea and warmed herself by the stove. Tea always lifted her chill, loosened the stiffness in her hands and eased the pain behind her eyes. She sipped, gathered her wits and thought of the cats of her childhood. Tabitha, Thomas, Calypso...she remembered each one so well. How they soothed her as a child. How they brought her to a peaceful state when she caressed their ears and silky backs.
The mail slot in the front foyer clanked and letters tapped onto the marble floor. The bank's monthly transfer notice was on top. Esther peeled open the flap of the envelope and pulled out a familiar white letterhead.
Dear Miss Brandt,
Per the provisions of the trust established in your name by the estate of your mother, Mary W. Brandt, we have transferred your monthly payment of ten thousand five hundred fifty dollars to your checking account with this bank, to be used at your personal discretion.
If I may be of further assistance to you, please do not hesitate to call.
Marcus J. Winther
She sat at the kitchen table, steadied her hand and penned instructions to Mr. Winther to draft checks against her modest bills, composed a short list for the grocer and renewed orders for flowers on the family graves at Rosewood Cemetery. Seventy-eight hundred dollars would remain until the next transfer, when she would have Mr. Winther again divide the surplus between a house account, the Public Library, the Humane Society and the Red Cross. Esther sorted her mail into two small piles, the first to read, the second―unopened―to kindle the fire. Today she received another long white envelope with dark raised printing at the corner and placed it into the second pile.
In the distance, the sweet sound of violin drifted in from the music hall. The radio set left playing there made her vaguely uneasy, but it was also a comfort of sorts, filling the lonely corners of the house with classical music and the occasional human voice. A television set had also been there once―but she could not tolerate its presence. She had them haul it away, those awful men laughing to each other as they carried it down the walk. Brandts. It seemed amusing justice to them, somehow.
The envelopes were sealed, stamped and placed in the slot for her mailman Gerry to take the next morning. At the kitchen table, Esther sipped her tea, took up her green and gray Waterman fountain pen and scratched another entry into her diary.
Last night the waves were stronger and I heard Father in the house. There have always been things about this place that frightened me--though I know each stone, each board, as I know my own hands.
What has been my crime? My punishment is clear.
I am condemned to life--
She lifted her pen and cocked her head. From deep within the house she thought she heard her mother's voice.
The door knocker at the carriage entrance cracked twice against its strike plate. A young woman's voice called from the other side of the heavy wooden door. "Hello? Is anybody home?"
The knock sent Esther's heart into her throat. She sat motionless, daring not to breathe.
"It's your neighbor from down the hill. It's Margaret Haart."
Esther rose from the table and moved toward the rose-hued stained-glass panel beside the door. She could make out the milky, blurred form of a woman who appeared to be alone. Esther worked the bolt back from the door and opened it an inch. "You do not look like a Haart," she said. The slender young woman forced a smile from under wind-whipped rust-red hair. She wore a crisp white blouse and a reddish-brown blazer that complemented her coloring. "I'm Robert Haart's daughter."
Esther opened the door wider. "Robert?"
"Robert's daughter," the woman nodded. Esther opened the door wider and smoothed her own wild, snowy hair with one hand. Margaret took a weary breath. "You knew my father."
"I'm sorry to tell you―he―has died."
Esther put one hand to her mouth and ushered the young woman in out of the wind. She stepped around a heap of green binders that spilled over the stairs and led the young woman down a dim, gritty hallway to a library where red leather chairs sat around a pink marble fireplace. There was no fire, but warmth radiated from the stone. Esther offered one of the chairs and sat near her.
"Oh, poor Robert," Esther said. "How did this happen?"
"It was sudden. Quite a shock. In his car two nights ago. A heart attack, they think."
"You and your poor mother, dear. You must be devastated."
Margaret brushed her hair back from her face and it was then Esther saw Robert Haart, Sweet Robert, the bone structure, prominent forehead and sincere green eyes. Margaret looked vacantly into the fireplace and said, "I can't believe it."
Esther nodded. "You are Robert's Meggie? You never came here with him, did you dear?"
"No. We went to Rhode Island a lot as children, my mother was from Newport. Father always went to Maine by himself."
"He treasured his privacy and peace," Esther nodded.
Margaret looked away. "Yes, well, it was my mother's choice that we never come here."
"Why didn't she want to come, dear?"
"Her concerts, fund-raisers, political committees, I guess. The woman never sleeps."
"I always thought Robert would marry a Maine girl. Raise his family here."
"Mother would have divorced him and left him for dead before she'd move to Maine."
"Yet, you are here now. . ."
Margaret smiled weakly. "Yes, well. . ."
"With your own family?"
Margaret's face stiffened. "No. No children. I'm soon-to-be divorced, myself."
Esther put her hand to her mouth again. "My poor dear, you have been through a great deal of pain, haven't you."
"You could say that."
"I am alone as well," Esther nodded.
"You live here by yourself?" Margaret asked, looking around the large, ornate sitting room.
"I've lived here very nearly my whole life, dear."
"Someone must help you care for such a big place, surely."
A puzzled look came over Esther's face. "I suppose I should have someone, but the servants have gone on."
"Died, dear. Each in their own time."
"And there's no one from town to help?"
"You are from away, dear." Esther said. "Father owned the mills and was hard on these people and generations of their kin. I understand how they must feel. Really, I do." Esther folded her hands in her lap. "I am the last living Brandt, you see. Mr. Harris at the market brings my groceries, Mr. Winther tends my financial affairs. I pay them well." Esther thought for a moment and then said, "There was your father, of course. Robert's father worked his whole life for my family. He managed the mill and Robert worked there for a time before he went off to college. He was one of the few young people who came back and always came to visit when he was home."
Margaret nodded, "He told me a so much about it. I've been clearing some of the garden path, between our houses. I hoped you wouldn't mind."
"The garden," Esther said approvingly. "Yes, Robert always wanted me to let him clear the garden."
"You didn't want him to?"
"Oh, that would have been just lovely, dear, but he was always doing so much for me. Fixing the roof, clearing the gutters, putting in the new glass when the children break the windows."
"Break the windows?"
"Well, yes, sometimes. They have little else to do, poor things. They come up here on the first few warm nights of the spring. They call my family names and they throw rocks."
"One never quite gets used to a thing like that."
"The police don't put a stop to it?"
Esther sighed and spoke slowly and patiently. "Willard Twitchell does try, dear. He can't be up here every night."
"You should call every time the little creeps set foot near your property."
"I don't have a phone, dear. Never could tolerate those sorts of things." Esther raised her eyebrows and shrugged quizzically.
"Well I have one in my pocket," Margaret said, "and I'll very likely be awake if they come again--"
"In your pocket? Really? Oh, my."
Margaret looked toward a window that was shrouded by heavy curtains. "I've cleaned Dad's house, weeded the flower beds and cut half the brush from the garden path between our houses. Still, I can't seem to sleep more than two hours at a time. I guess I'm a mess."
Esther nodded. "Oh, do stay the summer, then, dear. Try to relax a bit. The sea air will work wonders. You'll see."
"I also have to decide what to do with the place, now."
"You may grow anything in the gardens you like." Esther pronounced, as though something important had just been decided. "Near the gazebo is a patch of ground where Robert used to plant. And you're always welcome in my house, dear. As Robert was."
Margaret looked at the floor for a moment and seemed at a loss for words. She rose to leave and Esther took her hand, holding it long enough to study her guest's clear green eyes, but also to let skittering, scratching sounds scurry before them down the hallway.
Margaret was jostled from sleep by a sound that slipped away before her mind could grasp it. Soft music from the bedside radio lulled her toward deeper sleep, but a crackle and whine rose again from beneath the music and pricked at her face. She brushed the sensation away, sat up and turned on the light. Bailey, her father's lonesome beagle, slipped out from under the covers to investigate.
She flew out of bed, pulled her leather car coat on over her nightgown, and found the flashlight in her father's bedside drawer. Outside the night sky was blacker than any she had ever seen in Boston. No streetlights, no city haze, absolute black nothingness stretched above, flecked with stars set in the shimmering film of the Milky Way. Bailey probed the shadows as she walked the hillside, flashlight beam at her feet, letting her eyes adjust to the dimness. She headed up the garden path, stopped and listened again for the sound.
Whispers. Whispers slipped through the velvet waterfall of night wind in the tall grass. Soft whispers poured down from the house. Behind her, the yellow patch of light from her bedroom flickered through swaying tree limbs. Esther's house was dark, but for the pale sheen of moonlight against its upper windows. Night air blew under her nightgown, like icy fingers on her legs. She crouched low and gathered the cotton around her knees, watching, waiting.
There were no children. There was no one out here at all.
She turned back and returned to the house. Tight at her heel, Bailey drew a yawn out into a languid stretch that finished with a curious squeak, then followed her inside. From the wall phone in the kitchen she called the Sheriff's office. The Deputy seemed to take respectful note of her last name and tried to assure her that all was well. They would send a car by to have a look. Not to worry.
But she was hopelessly awake. Dead tired and unable to sleep, as she had been since Mother's "friend" the State Senator had called her with the news of her father's death. "Lorraine is too overcome to speak," he told her, as though he had no idea to whom he was speaking.
Bailey remained unsettled and she became aware of a scent on the night air, like rain after a lightning storm. She wrapped herself in a blanket and sat in a wooden Adirondack chair on the front porch where she could see the road and the hulking shadow of the Brandt mansion. Bailey stood at her feet, then hunkered down. The two of them dozed, and she listened and watched until the black night sky slid to deep purple in the east, then to a pale blue dawn.
The garden walk was damp with morning dew when she returned in T-shirt, jeans and one of her father's work shirts. She sat on the steps of the gazebo and tied her hair behind her head, watching as the sun rose from the sea like a drop of liquid fire. A rabbit bolted from the brush and down the path, sending Bailey streaking after it, his ears flying and a wild, excited look on his face. When the chase circled back around she snared the little hound's collar and the rabbit disappeared into the meadow without a sound, without disturbing a blade of grass. In barely another moment, it was as though the little creature had never been.
The Brandt house was a looming presence in the light of dawn, like a macabre doppelganger for a battered house in an Andrew Wyeth painting. Slate grey, foreboding and commanding of the horizon. Still, she wondered how this town could let a frail old woman live unattended and uncared for here. There were services for old people, surely, even here in the country. Even for a Brandt.
The overgrown tiered garden plot had been cut into the hillside just below an old grape arbor. Already a few seedlings had sprung from fall's compost. Three little tomato plants and a cluster of marigold seedlings awaited the warming sun. She began to pull a layer of wet leaves away from the soil and her shovel struck a glass bottle.
Jameson pint. Goddam it.
Margaret held it in her hand a moment and felt an emotional charge swirl within her. No. It's done. She threw the bottle aside and stabbed at the soil. Half the garden had been turned over before the sun rose high into the sky. She pulled off the long-sleeved shirt and stuck the shovel hard into the dirt.
Esther would be up now, surely. Margaret walked up the tangled path toward the house where a dozen more secret gardens hid in tall grass, flanked by wild budding shrubs and unkempt ornamental trees. She would stay for a while, she decided, long enough to clear these paths and sweat out some of the poison of the last few weeks. She had started this, simply enough, to reach the old gazebo, but the project expanded to almost a hundred feet of idyllic path. Cedar grape arbor hung from the back of the main house, leading down to a maze of garden paths, overgrown flower beds and the gate to the Haart cottage. Margaret stopped to pull creeping vine away from choked iron fence, wiped sweat from her brow and trudged on up the hill to the old house.
Heavy iron pipes bolted to the southern face of the house bore thick, gnarled grey vine dotted with small green buds of wisteria. A few tender runners sprang from sunny, protected pockets close to the clapboards. She pressed the button beside the front door and a melodic chime rang deep within the house.
This was a truly immense place, dwarfing even her mother's family manse in Wayland. Three stories at the main house, with wide clapboards and broad slate roof, and a glass-enclosed walkway which led to a two-story great hall rimmed by pairs of tall French doors. A carriage house and a small barn were nestled in the lee of the main buildings. Rippled stained glass windows were at either side of the ornate front door. Rose and white floral inserts in the glass framed gold leaf wrapped around a single commanding black letter, B.
Margaret rang the bell again.
Nothing. She tried the latch and the heavy door eased open an inch.
"Esther. It's Margaret . . ."
There were faint echoes within the bowels of the house, but she could not make them out. She pushed the door further open and stepped into the dim foyer. "Esther?"
A soft scratching noise came from the end of the hall. Dusty framed portraits, a spittoon, vases, tables covered with books were all bathed in pale morning light filtering through dusty curtains. She stepped into the foyer, slipped over something and sent smooth, flat objects sliding along the floor. The air held the sweet rankness of old fabric gone to rot. Her steps echoed in the empty passageway where the hall widened and cool currents of air moved at her feet. She found a door and opened it to total darkness and the smell of still water.
Something coarse, slid between her feet and raced down the hallway, scurrying along the wall, sending her scrambling up the stairway. She turned to bolt from the house, but then thought she heard a woman's voice from the hallway above. "Esther?" She climbed to the landing that formed a balcony overlooking the entrance foyer. Two doors were open to long unused bedrooms and a third was closed, a jumble of dust and leaves across its sill. The corridor beyond extended deeper into the big, dark house. She knocked, waited, then turned the knob, pushed against creaky hinges opening onto inky darkness. She found a light switch along the inside wall . . .
Sweet coolness surrounded them, though the air had begun to carry the stench of day. They tucked limbs and leathery skin away, each clinging to its place in the layer as others returned one-by-one and settled around and over them. The room echoed shadowy pictures that danced, shimmered and faded as the nightly symphony of chirps and clicks reached its finale.
Three hundred pairs of wings flinched tighter when blinding yellow roar exploded into the chamber, drowning out their sweet nesting sounds with obscene cacophony. Those not securely furled, fluttered in agony. Others chattered and swooped in frenzied, banking turns, flying into the face of the hideous thing. Some tucked in mid-air and dove back into the passageways to hide in terror, trapped between morning sky and screaming yellow light. A few rattled and thumped on the floor until their battered wings lifted them airborne, two rows of bucksaw teeth flashing in fright.
The roaring yellow light hissed, spit searing splinters of glass and fell silent.
A swirling frenzy of bats swept against the door as Margaret jerked it closed, some sailing over her head, out into the house. The smell of burning leather sifted down from the horrifying encrusted overhead fixture. The room breathed against her back and drove the beat of her heart into her throat until she found the banister and stumbled down spiral stairs, sliding over the talus of binders, through the front door and out into daylight.
She was on her on hands and knees in the grass, pale and terrified, gagging on the lingering stench, wiping vile grime from her hands when Esther found her. "My dear--" Esther said tenderly, stooping at her side.
Margaret looked up at her in shock. "My God, Esther, the room--upstairs--"
"The closed room," she gasped.
"I was--looking for--you."
"You did not go in?"
"God, Esther--the bats--"
"We must never go in Father's room," Esther scolded. "Never ever, Miss Meg." But Margaret was up and halfway down the walk in a slow, staggering trot, pulling her hands through her hair, tearing off the T-shirt that was now smeared with oily stains. She threw it into the brush, and fled down the garden path, covering herself with her arms when she reached the road and thought for a moment that she saw someone coming the other way, scuffling the shoulder of the road along edge of the black iron fence.
Margaret's shoes, jeans and underwear were in a heap by the front door when she returned dripping from the shower, a bath towel wrapped around her wet hair. Patches of skin were red and sore where she had scoured off greasy filth. Bailey sniffed around the vile mess until she shooed him away. She used a broom handle to push everything into a trash bag, pulled open the door and nearly stepped out onto the porch naked.
"Baldy-bare-assed" her father used to laugh when she was little, as he lifted her from the tub and wrapped her in a soft towel that smelled faintly of flowers. All baldy-bare-assed.
She remembered the flannel shirts in his closet. A few well-worn items remained there, clothes that Mother would have disowned him for wearing at home. Jeans with shiny knees and seats, soft, weathered flannel shirts. She dug deeper, pulled a cluster of hangers into the light and froze.
Something black and frilly made of silk with lace and ribbon hung there, and the faint lingering scent of an awful perfume. She was stunned. It hadn't ever occurred to her before. But why not? Surely, Mother was enough to make any man's testicles shrink up and fall off. No man was good enough for her--for very long. Even at the funeral she seemed to be beginning to reel a new one in. A politician. She had introduced him as the next Lt. Governor of the State of Massachusetts. It was so obvious, the way she moved with him, touched him. She was screwing the guy--or soon would be. With her father not yet cold and in the ground. It was no wonder, really. She could not recall a single moment of tenderness between her parents in more than ten years, and the thought flashed through her mind: could this be why? Had there been some sort of private arrangement between them all this time? An accommodation, Mother would have called it, like they were some sort of libertarian librarians.
She could not bring herself to see it that way. Would not.
God damn it!
She pulled on a flannel shirt and buttoned it enough to cover herself. She thought of all her father's summer vacations and long weekends spent alone in Maine, thought of him in this bed, and the bold little schoolteacher "friend" who had come all the way down to Wayland for his funeral. The woman looked as out of place as a barmaid at a cotillion. Just a simple little country schoolteacher with a taste for married men and Frederick's of Hollywood.
Margaret tossed everything in the trash barrel outside, dressed, dragged her suitcase from under the bed and emptied the dresser drawers where she had put her things two days before. She banged down the stairs in a huff, threw the suitcase into the back of the car and was suddenly overtaken by her tears, first quiet drops that slipped down her face like dew from a flower, then by cold, wrenching waves that racked her body. She looked back through wet eyes to the little house and the mailbox where Bailey sat on the walk, cocking his head.
She had come here to find her father, and suddenly he seemed to find her. She heard his voice in her mind. It doesn't matter what you do or what anyone ever tells me about you, Princess. I want you to understand and remember this: I will always love you. Always and forever.
She reached into the car and pulled a tissue from her purse. The tears stopped. His words filled her mind again. This was all so stupid. Stupid. Stupid. That she should begrudge her father a respite from his withering life with Mother. Robert Haart was not a man who spent summers trolling for girls on Old Orchard Beach. He came back for the peaceful past of his childhood and on a few warm summer nights he received the loving touch of a woman in this house. Why the hell not?
"Shit. Shit, shit, shit!" Margaret wrestled the suitcase out of the car and back upstairs, sat on the far side of the bed to catch her breath and looked out across the quiet fields. Bailey sprang up across her lap and plunked down at her hip. She could imagine her father outside as a boy with Sparky, his first beagle, the one he recalled so vividly all of his life. He was never without a beagle dog from that time on, despite Mother's disgust for them. She could imagine him climbing the trees between the Haart house and the Brandt estate and sitting long afternoons on the hilltop gazebo, looking out to sea. The fields, the trees, the sea, even his dog remained, but Robert Edward Haart was gone forever.
Always and forever, she thought, and the ache nearly stopped her heart. The tears came again, this time from the hot wellspring that had brought them in torrents at the funeral and she let them wash over her. She was alone now, like the old woman in the mansion on Mill Hill, waiting for her time to come―like her own grandmother had. She recalled the morning she had asked about her grandmother again and this time her father had insisted that her mother answer.
Rent checks mailed to a rooming house in Nashua, New Hampshire, forty miles away, with a stipend that went to gin that wiped out all other coherent thought. There was a pained look on Father's face as Mother coldly spoke the words. "Yes, all right. My mother died yesterday. Your grandmother. Really, dear, it's best you didn't know her."
Margaret wiped her eyes and drew a deep, cleansing breath as Bailey stiffened and cocked his head to a sound that had not yet reached her ears.
Still just below Mach One, Lazaro banked steeply--six miles above the Atlantic, fifty miles down range from High Ground Field. Four green lights rose one after another on the transparent canopy display--up-link, down-link, guidance and target acquisition--and the system took the stick with a stiff, precise hand. He took his feet from the rudder pedals and rested his hands on his thighs as the jet nosed over and hurtled landward.
Artificial horizon rolled left, right. Airspeed ticked upward, altimeter slid smoothly down. A jumble of noise crackled up on the Ground frequency. Distance to target closed rapidly. He thought the engines sounded different―laboring almost. Power in the pod had surged a little early, but they had a hard target lock now.
It was twenty . . .
perhaps thirty . . .
before he noticed...
before he reached for . . .
the override . . .
as the grey metal wings shot over dark, stony coastline and stars in the canopy winked out in heavy mist.
Fog below took on a dull shine as the river slithered up out of the darkness and white field lights appeared ahead, hurtling toward him through the murk. The radio fell to hissing silence.
Wait for the call.
Hold on and wait.
Altimeter was still winding in on itself.
No good! This is no good!
The ILS cross-hairs sailed up off his display and sent a bank of orange lights into spasm as he seized the ejection handle and for one long split-second pondered what he was about to do, until he drew his legs in against the seat, jerked the handle and felt a tornado vortex tear through the cockpit and hurl him out into the night.