Collective Minds

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Chapter 12

The mess hall was usually one of the most relaxed places on the base, where troops ate and conversed openly about everything from family to politics. But the energy and enthusiasm that afternoon was electric enough to make hair stand on end. The troops all discussed the events of the morning briefing, all the while staring at several of the guests that ate in their midst.

Near the corner of the room sat Hannibal and Khan, both eating various types of food on trays filled to capacity. Hannibal, refined and proper, ate politely with utensils and a napkin. Khan, across the table from him, wolfed his food like a starving lion. Stains on his lips and his clothes caused Hannibal to stare, as he’d never seen such savagery before.

“You need not eat like such a barbarian,” he assured Khan. “If their intention was to starve us, we wouldn’t be so well fed.” Khan stopped, mid bite of a barbecued beef rib, and laughed out loud. “HA!,” he proclaimed. “I was taught to take each bite as if it was your last. Ruling leaves little time for such petty things as meals.”

Hannibal was repulsed. “It’s difficult to rule,” he implied, “If you choke to death, savage.” Khan put his rib bone down and looked insulted. Slowly, his chair slid back, making the tell-tale screech on the floor. He stood, slowly, and stared down the Carthaginian General aggressively.

“I’ve killed men for lesser insults than that,” Khan replied. “You will be of little use to these people if I tear your tongue from your throat.” Hannibal slid his chair back, which also screeched loudly on the floor. Slowly and fearlessly he stood, locking eyes with the sloven barbarian. The mess hall noise died down, as all heads turned to the confrontation.

“You spoke of last meals,” Hannibal replied quietly. “Threaten me again, and this will indeed be yours.”

The two warriors stood nose-to-nose, mere inches from each other, as the tension mounted. Abruptly, and loudly, a third visitor noisily dropped his metal tray on the table next to them, disrupting the stalemate. Both men turned their head to see Wallace, casually standing between them at the end of the table, munching on a hard boiled egg.

Wallace seemed indifferent. But history knew better, as he was one of the greatest negotiators of his time. “So you two are plannin’ on killin’ each other here today? Here and now, in front of all these people?,” inquired the Scotsman. His mouth was full as he spoke.

Neither Khan nor Hannibal gave a reply to the witty middleman, but instead focused intently on each other.

“No?,” asked Wallace. “Surely it was for something important.” The mighty Scot took a plastic fork from his platter and handed it to Khan, then a spoon, which he handed to Hannibal. “Here,” he offered politely. “You’ll need weapons.”

Khan looked at the useless implement, as did his opponent. Then both looked to Wallace, whose building chuckle erupted into laughter. Khan began to smile and do the same, as Hannibal saw the pointlessness of the argument and smiled too. With a hard pat on the back to both, Wallace sat down and the three began to converse, as the tempo in the chow hall returned to normal.

Several tables away sat madame Curie, Ben Franklin, DaVinci, and Jack. Curie, witnessing the ordeal, spoke the word ‘savages’ under her breath. DaVinci, who had taken an immediate affinity to her, retorted with conviction. “Savages, perhaps,” he implied, “But great warriors. The finest in history. They shaped the world we live in. All were feared, respected, and highly revered.”

Ben Franklin commended DaVinci. “As were you, master DaVinci. Respected for your brilliance, and feared for it. Your work and legacy inspired future generations, including myself.”

DaVinci looked humbled, as he lifted a piece of green gelatin on his fork and watched it shimmer, completely entranced. Jack smiled, and offered some advice. “Try it. It’s good,” he promised. The famed alchemist ate the green blob, bewildered by its texture, but seemingly impressed by the flavor.

“Where are the others?,” asked Franklin. “The man in the wheeled chair, and the one called Einstein. And what of your lady friend?”

“They’re all in the lab,” answered Jack. “All but Geronimo. He decided he needed some air.”

Outside the base, sitting on a concrete partition near the guard shack sat Geronimo. The mighty Apache stared out over the desert, seemingly happy to see it. It was late afternoon, and hot outside, as the red bandanna on his head kept the sweat and hair out of his eyes.

Marty sat nearby in the shack with a single trooper, watching the legendary warrior carefully. “He’s a slippery one, that Geronimo,” Marty mentioned. “He got away from the Army more times than they could count. Jack insisted we keep an eye on him, but not let him know we were watching.” The weary redneck lowered his binoculars and turned. “So try to be discreet, got it?”

His cohort stepped out of the shack, then around the corner where he took a seat in the shade. He leaned his M-16 against the wall, and watched. Marty peered through his binos again, and panicked. Geronimo was gone, having seemingly pulled one of his legendary disappearing acts.

“Get back to the hangar and get us a Jeep, on the double!,” Marty yelled as he ran out the door. There was no reply. A quick look around the corner revealed the trooper laying face down in the sand, with a small wound on his temple. His gun was gone.

Marty turned to step back in the shack, and came face-to-face with Geronimo. The cunning Indian had the M-16 pointed right between his eyes, causing the stunned soldier to put his hands up.

“This is an interesting rifle,” Geronimo boasted, as he peered down the sight. “I’ve never seen one that holds so many bullets.” Marty tried to keep his cool, even though he was scared to death. “You’d be surprised at some of the guns we have nowadays,” he replied, his voice trembling a little. “Why don’t you hand me that one, and I’ll take you down to the armory for a tour. I think you’ll be impressed.”

Geronimo smiled antagonistically. “You mean like you are right now, white man?,” he replied. Marty nodded nervously, as Geronimo slowly lowered the weapon and handed it over. The portly southerner clicked on the safety and breathed a sigh of relief.

Meanwhile, in the lab, Kat, Dr. Hawking, and Einstein all stood at the base of the reflector platform, examining the technology carefully. “So,” exclaimed Einstein, “This technology can actually transcend time?”

“That’s right,” replied Kat. “These panels actually bend space and time around whoever or whatever we choose to send.”

“Fascinating,” complimented Einstein. “It must take an enormous amount of energy to do that. What do you use to power the machine?”

Dr. Hawking spun to Kat, having already asked that question himself. She stepped around the corner of the reflector chamber, and pushed a button, prompting a laptop computer to slide out and open. Kat typed on it for a moment, until a loud ‘click’ signaled some movement in the apparatus. The entire platform shifted sideways, until the reflector was clear. From underneath, a second platform raised up through the opening, with an alien device on it about the size of a foot locker. The apparatus was metal, and rectangular, but had a spherical indentation in the middle. Inside the indent was a tiny, swirling black hole, contained in some type of green energy field.

Doctor Hawking’s face lit up magically. For the second time in two days, he witnessed a miracle. Even the brilliant physicist was at a loss for words, only managing to robotically muster three.

“It can’t be.”

Kat smiled, and nodded. “It is,” she replied. “A miniature black hole. It’s perpetual motion, basically, constantly generating and storing enormous amounts of power. Enough to light the entire world for decades.”

“And it’s contained, safely, in this green field around it?,” prodded professor Hawking.

“We call it an anti-field, actually,” Kat answered. “We considered that it had to be anti-matter. But not knowing too much about the dynamics of black holes, we also considered that it had to be anti-space and time as well.”

“Incredible,” concluded Einstein. “And this powers the time device?”

“It does,” Kat answered. “It was intrinsically hard wired to the alien ship and powered the entire craft. The metal on the hull of the ship absorbed energy like a sponge. We guessed that it transferred the energy into this wormhole for storage, and the aliens used it as they needed. It eliminated the need for fuel of any kind. The anomaly itself was power beyond belief, and the metal on the ship was the proverbial icing on the cake.”

Professor Hawking chimed in again. “What if the field were to breach?,” he inquired. “This black hole could easily destroy the earth.”

“I know,” agreed Kat, “And we pondered that question too. Our conclusion was that the aliens trusted enough in the field’s integrity to fly around the universe with it. If it was good enough for them, clearly they knew more than we did. There was a lot about this technology we didn’t grasp, but we couldn’t just throw it away or risk it falling into the wrong hands. So we guarded it, took the opportunity to study it, and monitored the field’s stability every single day.”

“Famous last words,” joked Dr. Hawking, as the three continued their analysis.

Later that night, as the hustle and bustle had finally died down, Jack sat alone in the lab annex drinking a beer. He quietly took a swig, then held the cool bottle against his aching shoulder. The lights in the lab through the glass were completely out, except for a small green safety light over the alarm button on the wall. Jack stared into the lab, almost hypnotically, as Kat quietly walked in beside him and took a seat. Both stared through the glass, and sat in silence for a moment.

“Couldn’t sleep either?,” Kat asked softly. Jack shook his head, and took another drink.

“Do you think we did the right thing, Jack, bringing them here?,” Kat asked. “I mean, what’s next? What if none of them want to stay?”

“Then,” Jack replied, “We come up with another plan. I figure we have all th...” Jack stopped, mid sentence, and got a strange look on his face. He dropped his beer, which shattered on the floor, and began to shake with visibly intense tremors. He could only muster a few words, as if he was having a stroke. “What’s…happening...Kat?,” he stammered. She wasn’t sure how to answer, but jumped to her feet trying to comfort her boyfriend and calm him. Jack held his hand up, and looked at it. All at once, it began to fade into translucency, in and out of solid form. Kat had no concept of what she was looking at, and got panicky.

Her first instinct was to sound the alarm, but no sooner did she realize that, and it was all over. Jack began breathing normally, his hand was back to normal, and his confusion seemed to clear. Both people sat momentarily, frantic and shook up.

“Are you okay, Jack?,” Kat inquired.

Jack was still reeling, but seemed mostly recovered. “I can’t explain it, Kat. I had…visions of some kind. Memories, or flashbacks. They were intense, and paralyzing, and I couldn’t control them. It was like a dream, only I was awake.”

Kat pondered a moment, then recalled the conversation she had with Jack in the car on the way back from Washington about the strange dreams she’d been having. She knew she’d felt different since the jump back, but couldn’t figure out why. It was still a puzzle, but what had just happened in front of her was another piece.

“Oh god,” she spouted. “This has to be some sort of side effect of the reflector. We have to tell the others.” Jack cautioned her with his hands in the ‘whoa’ motion, shaking his head simultaneously. “No,” he replied. “We can’t. It’ll compromise everything, and their decision making process. I’m fine, Kat. Really. We’ll keep an eye on it. If the others start showing symptoms, you can worry then. You and I are the only two thus far.”

Kat wasn’t one that liked to keep secrets, especially ones this important, but she knew that she and Jack were the only two so far that had shown any adverse effects. She also realized that they were the only two that had melded with themselves, which she suspected had something to do with it.

“Okay,” she agreed, “But if anything else happens, anything at all, you tell me. I’ll do the same for you. We need to figure out what’s causing this, got it?” Jack nodded. Kat hugged him and held his head to her chest, looking concerned.

The next morning the briefing room was again filled to capacity, as the entire base was eagerly anticipating the outcome of the visitor’s decisions. All eight esteemed guests sat at the table with solid poker faces, not giving away a thing. Each was aware of what was hinging on the next few minutes, and knew the gravity of the other power players choices.

Jack entered the room, carrying a green wooden ammo box, with a slot cut in the top the size of a dog tag. There was a four digit combination lock on the side of the box, which Jack cranked to the right sequence and removed after placing the crate on the tabletop. “Good morning,” he greeted. “I trust everyone was comfortable and made it through the night without any issues?”

All the guests gave a nod of approval, as Jack continued. “Before we see what this box holds for answers, I want to acknowledge what a privilege it was to have met such esteem...”

General Irons interrupted him, not wanting to dwindle. “Cut the crap, Jack. We all feel that way having spent the night with these fine folks. Open that damn box and get on with it.”

Jack was a little embarrassed, having tried his best to be diplomatic throughout the whole ordeal. But he knew the General was just saying what everyone else was thinking, and it wasn’t personal.

“Fine,” he conceded, “But remember, all of you, that there’s no shame in saying ‘no’. It was a lot to ask.”

Jack flipped the hasp up, which creaked as it slapped on the top of the box. He peered inside the box and got a look of complete astonishment on his face. The tension in the room was stifling, as everyone pondered what that meant. Briggs looked to the visitors, then to Kat, as he threw the contents on the table like a bucket of water.

Eight green dog tags spread out over the table top. The room was still quiet, as all the troops and guests pondered the ramifications of what laid in front of them. Jack, again at a loss for words, had to be bailed out once again by his old mentor.

“Welcome to the team, everyone,” General Irons said to all eight guests. The room erupted into cheers and jubilation, as everyone, researchers and soldiers alike, gathered around the esteemed guests. Thanks, pats on the back, handshakes, and hugs all ensued, as the guests for the first time actually smiled and seemed happy. Even Khan and Hannibal, the two coldest of the bunch, found the heart to stand and embrace with their cohorts. It was a shining moment in human history, all confined to a single room, that no one but present company would ever know of.

Jack allowed the celebration to carry on for a few minutes, to re-instill some morale in the soldiers and the guests. Finally, knowing there was work to be done, he called the meeting back to order.

“Okay! Everybody simmer down and take your seats,” he yelled. The troops and guests all settled back to their chairs, as Jack continued the briefing and laid out the plan. “I’m thrilled that you all made the right choice, but there’s a lot of work to be done yet. I took the liberty of formulating a plan last night on the off chance you all decided to stay. I haven’t told anybody yet, but since we’re all here, we might as well lay it out.”

The entire group listened attentively.

“Professor Hawking,” Jack began, “I want you and Einstein to work on the alien power supply. See if you can enhance it in some way to do more than power the reflector.” Einstein grinned, and looked to his new partner in crime. “I was hoping you’d say that,” touted Hawking.

“The opportunity we hold there needs to be looked into,” Jack continued. “Be careful, though. Assuming we’re successful in our counter offensive, we’ll need that power to get you all home.” Einstein and Dr. Hawking understood.

“DaVinci, Curie, and Franklin. I want you three to work on that alien ship. Figure out the secrets that armor holds, and try to find some way to duplicate it.” The three all looked to each other, then to Jack, and nodded.

“General Irons, I need two hundred men. Fifty for each of our new field Generals,” Jack said, as he motioned to Khan, Geronimo, Hannibal, and Wallace. “You four come up with a list of things you need to train your soldiers. Anything and everything a small regiment of troops require to be self-sufficient. Your training methods are yours to decide.” The four warriors don’t flinch, all pondering their training necessities.

“Marty,” Jack ordered, “I want you to redesign this base for more troops. I also want some ideas for defensive capabilities. We’re not a research center anymore, we’re a war machine.”

Marty thought a moment, then turned to General Irons. “I’ll need some help from you, sir.”

“Name it,” answered General Irons, “And you’ll get it.”

Jack finished with the ultimatum to Kat and her crew. “Kat, I want you and your people to oversee the research effort on all fronts. I want daily progress reports, breakthrough information, and risk assessment. Anything pertinent.”

Kat was on it, as was her team. The wheels began turning immediately in their heads, as they looked to both research teams and pondered their assignments.

“Make no mistake,” Jack urged, “That we’re in it to win it at this point. We’re all going to have to work together to pull this off. We have some definite advantages, but our backs are to the wall and we know very little about what we’re up against, except that they’re ruthless, determined, and very, VERY tough. God help us all.”

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