The darkness gave way to a crack of light, as Jack’s eyes slowly opened. He was no longer in the lab, instead lying on a bed in the infirmary. Kat was standing over him, stroking his spiky hair, while a heart monitor quietly beeped at his bedside. An I.V. was tethered to his arm, dripping fluids, as he reached for his shoulder. Kat stopped him, not wanting him to touch his injury.
“I think,” Jack said in a dry, croaky voice, “Our Mongol friend might have caught me with that meat cleaver he was packing. My shoulder hurts a little.” Kat knew he was groggy, and tried to reassure him. “You mean you don’t remember?,” she asked.
Jack tried to recall the fight, but couldn’t piece it all together. “I remember running on adrenaline for a while. And something about a naked woman.” Kat, thoroughly confused and a little jealous, filled in the gaps she could. “You made it back with all the objectives, including Khan. But he flayed your shoulder open with the weapon he had, and nearly killed you. It took eighty-one stitches and a titanium splint on your collarbone to put you back together. He missed your carotid artery by less than an inch.”
The recovering Colonel soaked it all in, remembering some as it was all replayed. But he was still far from a hundred percent, and needed more time to recoup. “How’s Khan?,” Jack asked. “Did I hurt him?” Kat chuckled. “Hardly,” she answered jestingly. “The only marks on him are where the tranquilizers hit.” Jack got an embarrassed look on his face, as Kat recanted a little on her sarcasm. “I mean...you did good, Jack. You really...I...” Jack smiled, and held her hand. Kat knew he wasn’t upset. The mission was a success, and the next phase of the plan was nearly upon them.
She spoke softly, but assertively. “The painkillers should wear off soon, and the doctor cleared you for release after that. I don’t want to rush you, Jack, but our visitors are going to wake up soon. We can’t sedate them much longer without health risks. If you’re not up to it, I could brief them.”
Jack shook his head. “No,” he replied, “I’m okay. Sore, but nothing a few beers can’t take care of. This is too important not to get right on the first try. Get me some real clothes, and prep the briefing room.”
“Are you sure?,” Kat asked.
“Positive,” Jack answered. “I’ve rehearsed this speech a thousand times already in my head. Escort our guests there in an hour. Make sure Khan and Geronimo are under guard, but don’t use restraints. We don’t want them to feel like prisoners.”
Kat understood, kissed him softly on the forehead, then exited. After she was clear, Jack clutched his shoulder and winced in pain. It hurt, a lot. But he couldn’t let that slow him down. There was tons to do, and it had to be done right. He was about to make the biggest sales pitch in the history of mankind.
The briefing room was packed to capacity a short while later, with standing room only. Even that was elbow-to-elbow, as every seat at the table was taken. The room was eerily silent, however, as Maggie, Dave, Xiang, and Dr. Hawking sat across from the most prestigious visitors imaginable. All of the historical guests looked confused, several of them frightened, at what was transpiring.
General Irons and Marty sat nearby, themselves entranced. The rest of the seats were filled by troops, except the seat at the head of the table, which was vacant. Geronimo and Khan were seated close by each other, with several armed guards behind them. The troops each had a tranquilizer gun like Jack had used, knowing that the preservation of life was still a priority.
Jack and Kat entered the room, and weaved their way through the troops to the head of the table. He sat, with Kat standing behind him. She had his laptop bag slung on her shoulder, as his was injured, still freshly sutured together. Jack surveyed the room for a moment, which was quiet enough that he could hear people’s hearts beating.
“Hello, and welcome,” he managed to muster. The silence was deafening.
“Okay, then,” he continued, “Glad to hear everyone’s ready to roll. My name is Colonel Jack Briggs. I think we’d all be a little more comfortable if each of us introduced ourselves. Why don’t we begin with you, sir?” Jack motioned to DaVinci.
DaVinci looked around, and flinched a little, recognizing Jack as the guy that shot him the day before. The genius stood and introduced himself with an Italian accent. “Leonardo DaVinci,” he spoke. “Artist, alchemist, and inventor.”
Low chatter filled the room, with audible ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’. DaVinci looked around at the dumbfounded troops, then questioned Jack. “Where are we?,” inquired the bearded genius nervously. Jack smiled again. “Soon, my friend,” Briggs promised. “Sit, please, and listen.” DaVinci politely sat back down, and looked to his left, where sat the fair-skinned woman in the dress. She stood, and spoke timidly, clearly the most frightened of the bunch. “Marie Curie,” she whispered. “Chemist, physicist.”
The room again filled with low chatter as she sat back down, comforted slightly by DaVinci, who held her hand. Jack kept the momentum going, and motioned to the man seated next to madame Curie. It was the soldier in the Trojan armor, who had removed his helmet. He was stone faced, but brave, as he stood and spoke his name. “Hannibal Barca. General.” General Irons stared at Hannibal, knowing he was one of the finest military tacticians in history. The fellow General stared back, and noticed the stars on his shoulder. The two shared a quick nod of mutual respect as Barca sat back down.
“Very good, thank you. Moving along nicely. And you sir?” Next at the table was Ben Franklin, who stood. “My name is Benjamin Franklin, and I’m an inventor, politician, and philanthropist.”
“Indeed you are,” answered Jack.
Next was Einstein, who stood and spoke in a middle European accent. “Albert Einstein. Physicist,” he stated. “What is the meaning of this charade? These people can’t possibly be who they claim.” Einstein, the greatest scientific thinker in history, was ironically clueless.
Dr. Hawking interjected in his monotone, finally getting a chance to address his mentor. “Many of us would say the same of you, sir. But here you are. Surely an esteemed man of science such as yourself can open your mind enough to find the common thread in all this.”
All the time travelers stared at the man in the wheeled chair, never once having seen or heard such a voice emanate from a person. Einstein, too, was baffled. “Forgive me, sir,” he prodded, “But are you a man or a machine?” Dr. Hawking smiled hugely, which seemed to happen easily despite his disease. “A little of both, I suppose,” he answered robotically. “But I too am a man of science. It’s an honor and a privilege to meet you.”
Einstein looked at Hawking, and cracked a smile, as did a few of the other guests, finally breaking the ice a little. “Very good then,” Einstein bellowed, then sat. Seated next to him was Wallace.
The burly Scot stood, and introduced himself in a thick accent.
“I’m William Wallace. Scotsman, and scholar. And my scholarly side doesn’t know whether to soil myself, fight my way out the door, or try to court that fine lass over there.” He pointed to Kat, who blushed candy apple red, then smiled ear to ear.
“The woman is spoken for, I’m afraid,” Jack answered coyly. “As far as soiling yourself? There’s no need for that. We’re all friends. As for fighting? Believe me brother, you’ll get your chance.”
The room tightened a little as Jack mentioned the battle to come. The puzzle was starting to come together a little for all the visitors, but a lot of questions still loomed. Wallace sat down, and looked to his left, where sat Geronimo. The Apache looked uncomfortable among all the soldiers, but stood fearlessly and proudly spoke his name. “Geronimo. Chiricahua Apache.”
The fabled fighter was a man of few words. He sat back down and looked around apprehensively, still shook up by so many troops. Last in the lineup was Khan, who stood quickly without being addressed. “I am Khan. Ruler of the Mongols, and king by my own hand. I serve or bow to no man. I will not be a captive, or a slave. Release me, now, and I’ll spare all your lives.”
Everyone stared. Colonel Briggs tried to soothe the savage barbarian.
“You’re not a slave, or a captive. You’re a guest.” Jack looked to all the other time travelers, trying to make them feel more welcome. “As are you all. You’re all very welcomed, very important guests. And as such, you’re free to leave any time you’d like. But before you make your decision, I’d like to enlighten you all as to why, and how, you’re here.”
Jack motioned to Khan who was still on his feet. “Sit, my friend, please.”
“I’ll stand,” Khan answered defiantly.
“Suit yourself,” retorted the Colonel, who continued with his speech. “First,” addressed Jack, “I’d like to apologize for my methods in getting you all here. I thought it best to lay it all out at one time, and answer any questions for everyone to hear. For that to happen I needed you all together, here in one place, at one time. More specifically, at one particular point in time.”
Einstein stirred some in his chair. He knew what was coming, but clearly still had trouble believing it. Jack motioned to the frizzy-haired professor, continuing. “And, as the good doctor here has already elaborated on, we are in fact in the future as all of you perceive it. Each of you was taken from a specific point in history and brought forward in time for a mission of the utmost urgency. You were all selected because history defined you as the finest collective minds ever. Chemistry, physics, combat strategies, tenacity...all of you are unique, and possess qualities that give you insight beyond average human capacity.”
Einstein raised his hand, prompting Jack to call on him.
“Yes, Dr. Einstein. Question?”
“Exactly how far forward in time have we come?,” asked the brilliant professor. “What year is it?”
Jack answered honestly. “It’s the year 2007.”
The visitors all looked astounded, turning and facing one another in disbelief. Khan looked outraged, and hammered his fist on the table. “Impossible!,” he yelled furiously.
“Man certainly has come a long way,” Einstein answered. “Time travel was nothing but a fantasy a mere forty or fifty years ago.”
William Wallace chimed in, and asked the question that was pressing on everyone’s mind. “You said we were here on a mission,” he questioned, “An urgent one. What mission?”
The room got quiet again. Jack peeled the velcroed remote from the side of the view screen, and prepped the visitors for what they were about to witness.
“This is called a television,” Colonel Briggs said. “It’s a visual aid I’ll use to help answer your questions. It’ll show moving pictures that illustrate a point. There will also be sound. It’s harmless.”
The visitors all settled in, focused intently on the screen. Kat lowered the lights, causing a stir among the guests, some of whom had never seen incandescent light, or even electricity. Hannibal glanced around, but kept his cool.
Jack turned on the TV, and began his dialogue. “About sixty years ago, an alien craft crashed here at Roswell, which the US government recovered and hid here at the airbase.” The screen rolled through old grainy footage of the recovery effort in the fifties, with researchers carrying three small body bags. A panning view showed the craft they were in, crashed in the dirt in the desert. The screen shot cut again to the body bags being zipped shut, giving a quick glimpse of the gray faces and bulging eyes of the legendary extraterrestrials.
“The aliens died in on impact, so we never got a chance to communicate with them,” Jack reported. “But we did recover the majority of their ship, which was intact, except for a small portion that was missing. We assumed that fragment failing was the cause of the crash. How or why it was gone we never knew.”
The screen cut again to the ship, now housed in a hangar, with several fifties-looking scientists studying it with archaic looking scanning devices and probes. It looked totally intact, except for a hole in the top of the hull, roughly the size of an automobile windshield.
“The alien technology in the ship was far advanced to our own,” Jack continued. “The hull was made of some indestructible metal that we couldn’t reproduce or find anywhere on earth. There was also some technology inside that the aliens used for temporal displacement.”
“Ahhh,” interjected Einstein. “The fog begins to clear. This is alien technology that allows you to travel back and forth in time.”
“Right you are, Einstein,” answered Jack. “No pun intended, sir.” The researchers all laughed as Jack continued. “We finally harnessed this technology, after nearly six decades of research.”
Geronimo, still unsure why he was there, spoke up. “I’m a warrior,” he proclaimed, “Not some damn medicine man or shaman. I’m of no help to you here.”
“Nor I,” spoke Hannibal. “These concepts are foreign to me.”
“On the contrary,” spoke Jack. “You’ll both play a pivotal role in why we’re here today.”
The humbled Colonel took a deep breath, and scrolled down to the next frame. It was the Central Park massacre by the alien forces in the near future. The onlookers watched in horror as the people were slaughtered, running and screaming for their lives. Jack paused it, and turned back to the visitors. “A little under one year from now, a different alien force is going to conquer the earth, and kill every man, woman, and child in existence. Humanity will be extinguished. No one will ever know we existed, and our light in the universe will be gone forever.”
Jack unpaused the screen, which cut to the orbital attack on New York. “We were exterminated like insects,” he spoke. “Everything we’d ever worked for was destroyed. Every empire we’d ever conquered or created. Gone.”
Colonel Briggs looked to Khan and Hannibal.
“Every scientific achievement, cure for disease, or technological advancement. Gone.”
He looked to Franklin, Einstein, and Curie.
“Every work of art, or music, or architecture. Gone.”
Briggs looked to DaVinci.
“Every people we fought and died for. Gone.”
Jack looked to Wallace and Geronimo.
“Everything,” Jack said solemnly, “Gone. Erased from existence.”
The room got dead silent. All the onlookers watched as the screen showed scene after scene of total devastation. Jack took advantage of the abject silence. “We brought you here,” he implored, “Because we need your help.”
The video stopped, and the screen retracted into the ceiling. Kat brought the lights back up, as everyone tuned into Jack. “There are aspects of the alien technology we have here at Roswell that may be helpful in creating some sort of counter measures to fight with. We’ve thought of everything we could conceive, but we’re out of ideas. We need minds that can come up with new ones, and move us in different directions. If we do in fact tap into the potential this tech holds, we’ll also need warriors that are able to wield that power.”
The group sat dead silent. Each visitor was deep in thought as Jack carried on.
“The choice is yours,” Briggs offered. “We’ll tackle every obstacle together. With our collective might, we might just have a chance to save the world. But it has to be a team effort. We need you, all of you. The fate of humanity depends on it.”
Jack reached in his bag, and pulled out eight red dog tags with each respective visitor’s name stamped on it. He then produced eight green ones that were identical. He handed both colors out, two tags a piece, to each guest.
“Each of you has 24 hours to consider your answer,” the Colonel stated. “You’re free to move about the base and look at anything you like. There will be a small wooden box here in the conference room on the table. A red tag means you want to leave, a green tag means you stay. There’s no shame in saying ‘no’. Again, the choice is yours. Regardless, you’ll all be returned to exactly the point in time that you left from. No one will ever know you were gone.”
Silence encapsulated the room. General Irons looked to Jack like he hadn’t said enough to sway the decision. Kat smiled nervously, as Maggie lit a cigarette.
Trying to find the right words to part on, Jack could only come up with two.