Can An Engineer Write?

A Short Story




            “Oh, get real, Greg.  You don’t pray for  a basketball game,” said Phil.

            “What’s wrong with praying for your team to do well?  I see it as a perfectly logical reaction to a very stressful experience.”

            “Well, I agree it’s stressful, but c’mon!  Prayer?  Do you really think anyone up there cares?”

            Greg and Phil had been lucky enough to get seats for the playoffs, even though the seats were in a corner and their team, the Wolfhounds, always seemed to be at the other end of the court.

            The Wolfhounds’ forward went up for a shot just as Greg uttered a quick prayer under his breath.

            “Uhhh,” groaned the crowd as the shot bounced off the backboard.

            “See, what did I tell you,” sneered Phil.  “I saw your lips moving—a lot of good that prayer did you.”




            “He was supposed to make that shot!” exclaimed Tobias, brushing some of the clouds away to make sure he hadn’t missed something.  “I was monitoring one of the fan’s prayers.  What gives?”

            “I diverted it to Bosnia,” said Daniel.

            “Why there?” gasped Tobias.  “What about this basketball game?”

            “We’ve got a situation heeeerrrree, Tobias,” growled Daniel.  “A fifteen-foot jumper in a basketball game in America is not very significant at this point---did you hear me correctly?  We’re talking war here if our Lieutenant Steel goes weapons hot within the next ten minutes.”

            As prayer controllers in Heaven, Daniel and Tobias were used to the tensions that built up from time to time in the business of processing the multitude of requests that barraged them continuously.

            Tobias held up an understanding hand and nodded his head while trying to focus the binoculars he had just been given by a clerk in Tools.  “Just a second, Dan; I can’t seem to get the hang of these lenses.”  He fiddled with them a little more.  “Oh!  There!  Aw, now I see what he means…I can get a much better view of the center’s eyes with these.”

            “Tobias!” screeched Daniel, shaking him by the shoulders.  “We’ve got to divert twenty of those prayers in Steelcap Arena to the Balkans.  The heck with your worthless basketball game!”

            Tobias finally looked away from the game and gave his full attention to Daniel.  “First, I’ll have you know, that is not a worthless basketball game.  Now, I thought Saint Peter had this Balkans situation under control already.  What happened?”

            “You got me, friend,” Daniel said exasperatedly.  “All I know is if we don’t do some rearranging here really quick-like, we’re in for some bad headlines tomorrow.”

            “Let me take a look there.”  Tobias walked to the other end of the cloud and peered down into former Yugoslavia.  “Hey, wait a minute, Dan.  What’s a Russian MiG doing flying over Bosnia-Herzegovina?”

            “I don’t know the details, but that’s not only a Russian MiG, it’s a Russian Air Force pilot in the cockpit as well.”

            “You’re trying to tell me that’s a full-blooded Russian in the cockpit?”

            Now do you see what I’m talking about, Toby, my boy?  Care to take a gander down at the USS Abraham Lincoln, which is just sitting off the coast of Bosnia?”

            “Holy mackerel!  That’s an F-18 lifting off the deck, and he’s loaded for bear!”




            “Bravo Victor-seven-seven level at angels one-five,” said Lieutenant Jack Steel, dimming his cockpit instrument lights to preserve his night vision.  “Expect feet dry in two minutes.”

            “Roger, seven-seven, turn to course zero-niner-five, repeat zero-niner-five,” responded the metallic voice of the AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System) aircraft.

            Jack clicked his mike button to acknowledge and scanned the night sky for any signs of aircraft.  Since the UN had just declared the area to be a no-fly zone, whatever was out there would probably not be too friendly.

            “Seven-seven, be advised bogey is at your 11 o’clock, 80 miles out.  Estimated time to intercept, five minutes.”

            Jack always liked the reassuring information given by the AWACS. The aerial radar plane reminded him of some great all-seeing eye, so awesome were its powers of observation.

            Jack had mixed emotions about this flight.  Granted it was exhilarating to be on a real mission at last, but he couldn’t forget the now famous Scott O’Grady either.  O’Grady was the Air Force pilot who had been successfully rescued in Bosnia in the mid-1990s after being shot down and evading capture for six days on the ground.

            “Seven-seven.”  The sudden noise in the earphones jolted Jack from his thoughts.  “This is Combat control—go weapons hot immediately!”




            “Holy shinola!” shrieked Daniel.  “Did you hear that?  He just went weapons hot!  Tobias, we need prayers fast!”

            “Aaargh,” groaned Tobias.  “It’s the fourth quarter and I need all I can get for the Wolfhounds!  They need nine points and there’s only four minutes left in the game.”

            “I thought I already told you.  We’ll have a war on our hands if an American jet shoots down a Russian one.  Forget the basketball game!”

            “Oh, m’gosh,” said Tobias.  “The other team just stole the ball.”  He brought the binoculars to his eyes.  “Yikes!  Looks like Tepera fouled out too.”

            Daniel threw up his hands in exasperation and strode over to his computer terminal.  “Looks like I’ll have to do the grunt work myself,” he muttered.  He opened up the Prayer Source file and began scrolling down the list of names.  “Tobias,” he said calmly, “Would you please take a look at this?  I’m going to need at least 100 megapulses of Grace to retask Jack Steel’s guardian angel.”

            Tobias tore himself away from a crucial free-throw situation and sidled up next to Daniel.  “Why can’t we just get the Russian’s guardian angel to implant a retreat order into his imagination?”

            “Tobias, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times, retasking a guardian angel takes a minimum of 100 megapulses of Grace.  And didn’t you read that new directive that was passed around last week?  Retasking a Communist guardian angel takes at least 150 megs.  We’re going to have a hard enough time finding a 100 megs, let alone 150.”

            “Communist?” asked Tobias.  “I thought they were all gone.”

            “Look.  I just work here.  Now, how many megapulses can you squeeze out of that basketball game you’re watching?”

            “Well, that all depends; what’s the exchange rate for a Lord’s Prayer these days?”

            Daniel opened the Macroeconomics file and clicked on the Exchange button.  He pointed to an entry on the lower half of the screen.  “We’re talking nine megapulses of Grace per Lord’s Prayer…eight for a Hail Mary…six for a Psalm 23…”

            “All right, all right,” said Tobias, holding up his hands, “let me take a reading here.”  He picked up a pistol shaped wand, the prayer-o-meter, dialed in the exchange rates which Daniel had just given him, and pointed it down at the basketball game.  “Great Scott!  I’m only picking up 53 megs for the Wolfhounds and–whoa—can this be right?—only 26 for the opposing team.”

            “Fifty-three and 26…that’s…79!  That’s good for starters.  I can get the rest from those old ladies who are praying right now in Kansas.  All right, Tobias, I’m going to need all those prayers as soon as the Russian gets within missile range of our Lieutenant Steel.”

            “Pleeze, Louise,” begged Tobias, “There’s only a few minutes left—”  He quickly looked through the binoculars at the scoreboard.  “There’s precisely three minutes and 20 seconds left in the game.  I’ll give you everything I’ve got as soon as the game’s up.”

            “Don’t be an idiot, Tobias.  I know you’re a little new at this job, but you have to realize that as soon as the game’s over, your prayer flow drops to nothing.  I’m gonna need those prayers before the game’s over.  Come on!  Which is more important:  World War III or a Wolfhounds’ Victory?”

            Tobias cringed and gritted his teeth at such a direct question.  As a basketball fan himself, Tobias hated to even consider making such a decision.

            “What’s the score down there anyway?”

            “The Wolfhounds are down by two,” said Tobias.  “One measly three-pointer is all they need.”




“Combat Control, seven-seven is feet dry and weapons hot.”  Jack scanned the night sky in front of him.  “No visual contact yet.  Request update on bogey.”

            “Bogey is at your ten o’clock, 50 miles.  We show his FLIR now activated.”

            “Roger that!” yelled Jack, losing his composure momentarily.  “Bogey just showed up on my threat receiver.  Request weapons free!”

            “Hold one minute, seven-seven,” replied the controller in Combat Control.




            “Do you know what ‘weapons free’ means?” shouted Daniel. “It means he’s about ten seconds away from shooting off a missile!” Daniel was frantically running back and forth between his computer terminal and the prayer-o-meter mounted at the edge of the cloud.  “Jumpin’ jelly beans!  This is going to be close!  I’m only getting 18 megapulses out of those old ladies.  Tobias!  Stop watching the game and find me three megs from somewhere!"

            Tobias scrambled over to his own terminal and began scrolling through a list of Emergency Prayer Sources.  If he remembered correctly, there was a certain schoolboy who used to stop by a church about this time every Saturday…

            “I’ve got it!  Daniel, I’ve got it!  Josh Medlin!  He should be making a visit to a church right about now!”

            “Osh-migosh, this is going to be so close,” whined Daniel.  “Tell me a visit to a church is worth three megs—“

            “Cowabunga!”  exclaimed Tobias as he tapped his computer screen.  “It’s worth five!

            “Where is he?”  demanded Daniel, jumping up from his seat and sprinting over to a dish located at the far end of the cloud.

            “Idaho!  The northern tip of Idaho.”

            “Help me out here, guy!  Give me the readouts.”  Daniel pointed the dish toward Idaho and hit the “Receive” button.

            “Right on the money!” sang out Tobias.  “Five megapulses of pure prayer power!”

            Daniel hit a few more buttons, storing the prayer pulses in a capacitor at his feet.  Next he swung the dish so it pointed exactly into the center of Steelcap Arena.

            “All right, we just received 79 megs from the basketball fans—you better hope those old ladies are up to snuff.”

            “Tell me about it,” said Daniel, swinging the dish till it pointed at Kansas.

            “Eighteen megapulses!  We’re over the top!”

            “It’s not over yet,” warned Daniel.  He lunged over to a ray gun and pointed it toward the Balkans.  “Here goes nothing!”




            “Seven-seven, you are go for weapons free.  Repeat, you are go for weapons free.”

            “Copy that, Control, weapons free.”  If there was a quavering in Jack’s voice, it was understandable.  He had never fired at a “live” target before.

            Jack ran down the checklist of launching his “fire-and-forget” missile.  Just as he was about to flip the switch to arm it, something distracted him.  It was exactly at this instant that his guardian angel received 102 megapulses of Grace.  That was all he needed to carry out his task.

            Sidetracked by his guardian angel, Jack thought back to his boyhood on the farm when he first fired a rifle under the watchful eye of his father.  It was a bright spring day and it had just rained.  He remembered how—Holy Cow!  What am I doing!  Jack snapped back to the present and instantly pushed the fire button.

            “Fox one!  Tallyho!”

            The AIM-9 raced out ahead of the F-18 and headed straight for the Russian MiG where it slid harmlessly by the enemy aircraft, lost from sight as its brilliantly white rocket engine flamed out.

            “Control, seven-seven requests another weapons launch!  Negative CEP zero!”

            “Seven-seven, return to base.”

            “Control,” queried Jack, “repeat that last command?  I said the missile launch was negative.”

            “Seven-seven, you heard correctly—return to base immediately.  The diplomats have worked out an agreement down here.  Let’s just say it was fortunate your missile failed.”




            “Sha-zam!” howled Daniel, giving Tobias a high-five.  “We did it!  We stopped World War III!”

            “I just have one question:  I’m not an expert or anything, but how could Lieutenant Steel have launched that missile without arming it?  I thought there would be a lockout or something.”

            “Hey, that’s a hardware problem. Maybe the boys over in Miracles were in on this as well.”

            “Yikes!” yelled Tobias suddenly.  “I almost forgot the game.  Give me that ray gun.”  He grabbed the gun and pointed it down at Steelcap Arena, placing the crosshairs on a certain player who had just made a rebound against the Wolfhounds.




            “Block it, dudes!” screamed Phil.  “Four seconds and it’s all over!”

            The Wolfhounds were ahead by one point and were attempting to stop the opposing team from making their last shot.

            Greg tore his eyes from the action on the court and said a quick prayer.  Half an hour, God…I’ll pray for half an hour tonight if the Wolfhounds win.

            “I know that look,” said Phil.  “lot of good your prayers are gonna do now.”

            Down on the court, the forward on the other team passed the ball to his point guard and he went up for the shot…just then his guardian angel received 120 megapulses of Grace…the point guard instantly thought about the first shot he had ever made in a game…it was in that small gym at Ridgewood Elementary…Oh m’gosh!  What am I doing!  His mind switched back to the game, but it was too late.  He watched as the ball went sailing just to the right of the rim with no time left on the clock.

            “All right!” crooned Phil, giving Greg a vicious bear hug.  “You see, my friend, it’s all about faith, faith in your players.  Your prayers are worthless.

            “Yeah, well, maybe you should ask their point guard about that.”