Collective Minds

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Chapter 15

The sun shone brightly that day, and the summer heat was sweltering. William Wallace had all his troops lined up in formation standing at ease, as he paced slowly in front of them. His men were treated respectfully and had a great deal of compassion for their leader, who hardened them with his preaching of toughness, grit, tenacity, and swordsmanship. He insisted they read at least an hour a day to keep their minds as honed as their bodies.

Next to Wallace stood Khan and his men, all of whom were symmetrical, silent, and intimidated. The Mongol General faced them, still as a sheepdog and watchful as a hawk. The slightest flinch from formation or movement in the ranks was grounds for immediate punishment, and Khan’s discipline was vicious, painful, and relentless. His fighting force was a picture of perfection, and as finely tuned a killing machine as the world had ever known. The men feared him, for good reason, and were trained to be equally as merciless as their mentor.

Jack approached Wallace, who greeted him respectfully. “Good day, Colonel Briggs,” the Scot offered politely. “I trust you called us here for a reason?”

“That’s right,” Jack answered, “But I think it’s one you and your men will appreciate.” Colonel Briggs took a pair of sunglasses from his pocket, put them on, then glanced at all the troops from both squads. “Today we’re gonna blow off some steam, gentlemen. You’ve all been working hard, and paid your dues.”

Khan wasn’t into wasting time when so much was hinging on the fight to come. He wasn’t keen on Jack’s lackadaisical attempt at morale, nor did he see it as necessary. But, as a show of discipline to his men, the Mongol barbarian turned and listened to the proposition. Wallace turned as well, curious what Jack had in mind.

“I propose we test everyone’s combat mettle,” said Jack. “A free-for-all, squad versus squad, last man standing wins. No submission holds, joint manipulation, pressure pointing, or fighting dirty. Hands and feet, strikes only, with no shoot fighting. Any man that’s KO’d is out, as is any man that steps out or is forced from the ring.”

Wallace and Khan listened to the rules, then looked to each other. “What’s the prize?,” asked Khan.

“Bragging rights,” replied Jack. Wallace smiled big, while Khan was unimpressed. None the less, the Asian conqueror wouldn’t be defeated, nor would he back down from a fight. Wallace, more lighthearted, turned to his troops and addressed them loudly. “Whaddaya say, gents? Ready to show the Colonel who the toughest troops on the planet are?”

Wallace’s men cheered and hollered, beating their chests and stripping their shirts off. The mighty Scot did the same, as Jack ushered them to a chalk circle the size of a baseball diamond that had been drawn on the asphalt about a hundred meters away. The burly Scot and his soldiers occupied half of it, waiting for Khan and his men to step up.

Khan barked a single order, causing his men to sprint to the fight and position themselves. Their leader followed and took his place at their side, clearing both his nostrils one at a time in preparation.

“Ready,” Jack said, “BEGIN!”

The troops charged at each other, belting out war cries, as fists and feet began to fly. It was clear that quite a few had martial arts experience. Some were street fighters and brawlers, while others flailed clumsily like ogres. Wallace himself fought like an Irish bar room brawler, snapping clean, hard, straight punches that leveled several opponents in short order.

As men began to fall, they were removed from the battle by their teammates. The arena began to slowly clear out, creating more space for troops to square off and fight like professionals. Khan, wise to tactical combat in numbers, remained completely calm as he watched the action unfold around him. Three of Wallace’s troops approached the Mongol mastermind, squaring up in a formation they were sure would overwhelm the solo opponent. As they ran forward in unison, Khan whirled a roundhouse kick so fast it was difficult to see. His foot came across all their chins like dominoes, knocking all three out cold. The unconscious troops landed atop each other in a heap, which captured the attention of Wallace, who had just pummeled another one of Khan’s men nearby.

Each side had suffered about the same amount of casualties, and the numbers were close to even. What started as a hundred men had whittled to twenty, who all fought tenaciously. Their cohorts cheered and screamed, trading insults and trash talk with the other team. Wallace and Khan still remained among the competitors. The Scotsman had taken a few shots, and was breathing heavily, while Khan looked untouched. His hands were folded behind his back calmly as he watched. Occasionally he would come upon an opponent, all of whom he dispatched with ease and minimal effort.

Soon the two leaders were the only two remaining combatants. Wallace was worn but still going strong, as he slugged on a bottle of water tossed by Jack. Khan circled around, still with his hands behind his back, as the brash Scot stepped forward to engage. The troops howled from both sides of the circle, screaming for their respective commanders.

As Wallace closed the gap, he stopped momentarily at something that surprised him. Khan had extended his hand as a show of good sportsmanship. Wallace, being a gentleman himself, offered his own in return for a handshake. In doing so, he let down his guard momentarily. Khan grinned at the foolish mistake, snapping a straight kick that hit his opponent squarely in the jaw. Wallace staggered backward, clutching his cheekbone, with a disgusted look on his face.

Coward,” he spoke under his breath.

Khan squared off, as the angry Wallace charged at him like a rhino. The Mongol was unprepared for such a boorish assault, and was caught off guard momentarily, falling to his back. Wallace mounted him, and rained down hard jabs in succession, bashing Khan for the first time in the entire ordeal. Blood began to trickle from his nostril as Wallace throttled him. The troops went wild.

Showing incredible flexibility and toughness, Khan threw a kick that hit dead center on the back of Wallace’s head, knocking him forward off his mount. The two men, obviously tired, rolled to their feet and lined up to go toe-to-toe.

Wallace threw straight jabs and combinations, some that landed, but more of which were deflected by the seasoned Mongol. Khan, bleeding, remained strikingly patient, knowing he only needed one opportunity to capitalize. The Scottish brawler stepped in again, and went for the gusto with a sloppy haymaker that missed by a mile. His over extension on the follow through was the opening that Khan needed, as he threw a right cross that crushed Wallace on the temple. The Scot crumpled, landing face down on the asphalt. He was conscious, but defenseless. Taking no chances, the Mongol barbarian grabbed his wrecked opponent by the ankle and dragged him out of the ring. His troops went wild, congratulating him and patting his back. Khan didn’t smile, or celebrate. He simply wiped the blood from his cheek and caught his breath.

“Winner!,” Jack announced, holding up the barbarian’s arm. Khan’s troops hoisted him overhead and carried him off toward the barracks, as Jack went to check on Wallace, who was standing on his own. His men were supportive, quietly congratulating the breathless brawler on a great fight. One offered him water, which he guzzled and poured over his head to cool off.

“Well fought, William,” Jack consoled. “Don’t dwell on the defeat. Khan’s as dangerous as they come. You lead your men with class and refinement, and you’re a credit to this operation. Keep your chin up, soldier.”

“There’s no shame in losing if you go down fighting,” Wallace answered. “My father taught me that.” Jack, impressed, patted his friend on the back as the soldiers helped him away.

Later, in the hangar that housed the alien craft, Xiang typed away on a computer while DaVinci positioned a large, glossy, symmetrical green crystal on a steel pedestal with an open center. Suspended directly above the pedestal was an ultraviolet emitter, which was tapered like a ray gun from a science fiction film. The business end was pointed directly at where the prism was positioned, with the resulting energy stream that came out the other side destined to rain down on whatever rested beneath it.

Madame Curie and Kat made their way into the hangar, observing the apparatus and talking among themselves. Curie carried a small cube that was similar in appearance to the raw material the ship was made out of in its dormant form. Xiang stopped typing and observed as the chemist handed the cube to DaVinci.

“This is it?,” the bearded alchemist questioned. “Identical in composition to the fragment we removed from the ship?”

“It is.” replied Curie. “Identical in atomic mass, weight, structure, and density.” DaVinci handed the cube to Xiang Lo, who placed it on the table at his work station next to the original piece of the hull that had been removed. Lo activated an oscilloscope next to both items, and calibrated it, then made contact on the outside of the hull fragment with two probes. The screen of the scope emitted a high frequency sine wave that was constant. Xiang then touched the probes to the cube, and the sine wave stretched out to a much lower frequency.

“The two elements are the same,” he reported, “Other than one being energized and one being neutral.”

“Hopefully that’s about to change,” Kat said optimistically, as she scooped up the cube and moved it into position under the prism. Once she was confident it was ready to roll she turned to DaVinci, who nodded. Both moved away and took a position behind Xiang, who was controlling the emitter.

Leonardo opened the gear locker again and pulled four pair of welding goggles out, distributing them to each person. “You’ll need these,” he warned, “As the photonic separation produces a blinding flash.” Each researcher donned the PPE, and braced themselves. They so desperately needed a win, but all expected a loss on the first try.

Without a word Xiang typed some more, then stopped. The emitter hummed to life, and shot a concentrated beam of light directly downward at the crystal. The prism began to glow as a rainbow of spectrum colors split outward in every direction but down. Straight out the bottom shot a beam of light that was pure white. It was beautiful, and soothing, as it bathed over the cube like a rain spout. Tiny black dots that looked like sunspots danced around the cube, which seemed to drink them in at a slow, steady pace.

Xiang noticed it was beginning to change color. “Something’s happening,” he stated. The hangar began to wreak of ozone, as whatever was transpiring was creating a huge amount of heat. “It’s transmuting,” said Curie excitedly. “The density is changing.”

Kat knew it was now or never, and the time for conservatism was over. “Increase the power output incrementally, Xiang,” she instructed. “One mega joule every five seconds. Give it as much as it’ll take.” Xiang began typing again, causing the emitter to hum louder. The prism reflection intensified, as the cube began spilling off larger sunspots that it absorbed, more rapidly now. Soon it was glowing red hot from the bombardment.

“Enough!,” yelled Davinci.

Xiang heard and obliged, deactivating the emitter. The stream dissipated and the prism became transparent again, smoldering slightly. The cube glowed brightly for a minute, then fizzled out quickly. After it cooled, it was no longer dull and gray. It’s appearance was now a silvery luster, nearly identical to the sample from the hull. But the proof was yet to come.

Kat looked to Leonardo, who approached the cube with a pair of blacksmith tongs. Carefully the alchemist picked up the sample and moved it back to Xiang’s work station, placing it next to the hull fragment. “Remember,” DaVinci reminded everyone, “No promises.”

Xiang probed the hull fragment a second time, allowing everyone to see the sine wave pattern again for reference. He pulled the leads from the piece of the ship, as the moment of truth had come. The Chinese researcher touched the leads to the cube, and the oscilloscope projected a sine wave that was identical. He held the probes longer, to make sure the element was stable and not losing any of the stored energy it’d absorbed. The sine wave stayed constant, never fluctuating a millimeter.

“It worked!” touted madame Curie. Kat was in utter disbelief. Not only had they just fabricated a material that would solve the energy crisis for the entire planet, they’d also taken a huge leap forward in saving it. She and Xiang locked eyes and hugged excitedly. DaVinci was thrilled, and faced Curie with the same sense of awe. The soft spoken chemist had compassion for her Italian teammate, even though she quarreled with his chauvinism. Her enthusiasm broke through her reservation, as she grinned and embraced him tightly.

The next day, Kat, Jack, and General Irons sat in the briefing room. On the table in front of them was the cube, shining like polished steel. Professor Hawking sat catty corner at the other end, talking with Einstein, DaVinci, and Curie. Between the two groups sat Dave, Maggie, and Xiang, having a separate conversation of their own and motioning with their hands as they spoke.

The door to the room opened, causing the chatter to die down. Hannibal, Khan, Geronimo, and Wallace all came in, seating themselves at scattered chairs around the table. “Welcome, gentlemen,” Jack greeted, “And good afternoon.” The four Generals nodded respectfully. “Good afternoon to you, Colonel,” replied Hannibal in return. “I do hope this will be brief. My men are improving, but still require a great deal of training. If we’re to win by force of will alone, I fear we are sadly ill prepared.”

“Ahhh,” smiled Jack, “I’m glad you said that. That’s exactly the reason I’ve brought you here today.”

“My apologies, Colonel,” replied Hannibal. “Proceed.”

“Our research team made a breakthrough that I believe to be a milestone in arming ourselves against the invasion force,” Jack touted. The confident Colonel poked a key on the intercom, and spoke aloud.

“Marty, we’re ready.”

The speaker phone clicked, as all the warriors stirred in their seats some, eagerly anticipating what they were about to see.

The door opened again, and Marty wheeled in a hand truck with eight cinder blocks and a piece of two-inch thick stainless steel. The sheet of metal was three feet long by a foot wide. Major McKenzie erected the blocks in the corner, then groaned as he hefted the heavy steel plate on top of them. It resembled a karate board splitting demonstration when the setup was complete, with the steel resting on top of the blocks about four feet off the floor.

Jack motioned for Wallace to come forward, who stood up and did so. From under the table the Colonel produced a long, shiny broadsword. It was beautiful, elegant, and balanced, composed of the element created in the lab only one day earlier.

“Like it?,” Jack asked, as he handed it to the Scotsman.

Wallace felt the weapon, carefully running his hand up the blade. The edge was a razor, and the balance was perfect. He swung it slowly and precisely, feeling the weight and the harmonics with his body.

“Aye,” answered Wallace, “It’s magnificent.”

“Good,” replied Jack. “Prove it. Cut that steel plate in half.” Colonel Briggs motioned to Marty’s setup in the corner, prompting a baffled look from Wallace, who questioned the order. “Beggin’ your pardon Jack,” the Scot inquired, “This weapon is meant to cut men, not metal. It’d be a pity to destroy such a work of art.”

“Trust me,” Jack reassured. “Do your worst.”

Wallace considered a moment, then whirled the sword once and took a defensive posture in front of the steel. The burly Scot took a fluid swing a the top of the plate, expecting the sword to deflect or shatter. The blade cut through the plate so cleanly that anyone who’d shown up late would’ve sworn it was made of butter. The force of the blow was so mighty that the sword continued into the concrete, wedging itself in the floor. Two halves of the steel plate crashed inward, knocking the cinder blocks down around them, as Wallace jumped backwards in shock to avoid the carnage. His sword wobbled in the cement floor, buried like Excalibur, as the startled warrior stood in amazement.

“Holy GOD!,” he bellowed. “It’s gotta be a trick. No sword can do that!”

The other Generals at the table all stood, observing what was left of Marty’s display. None could believe what they’d just witnessed, and looked to each other in unison.

“They can now,” Jack answered coyly, as he picked up the cube from the table. “Men, I give you DaVincium. The newest, strongest alloy in the world.” The entire room stared at the cube in awe, then to the sword in the floor, as Jack continued. “We’ve only scratched the surface of what it can actually do, but the applications and tests we have in mind are much farther reaching. For now, though, we’ve begun fabricating weapons for all your troops. Dave did a little historical research, and built the weapon we thought each of you preferred.”

Briggs reached under the table again and pulled a pair of short swords, similar to the Roman gladius, which he handed to Hannibal. The mighty warrior tested them in a similar fashion to Wallace, checking the balance and the edge.

“And for you my friend?,” the Colonel stated to Geronimo, producing two oversized tomahawks and handing them over. The Apache fighter took both and tested them, even flipping one to see how it tumbled.

Last was Khan, who locked eyes with Jack. It was he, after all, who the Mongol warrior had nearly cleaved in half. Jack knew what Khan was anticipating, and held no ill will for the gaping scar he now wore on his shoulder. Out came the bladed staff, which Jack had improved the design on. The blade was slightly more broad, and the hook on the opposite end also had a sharp pommel on it for impaling. Jack had opted for a solid, carbon fiber midsection, to lighten the weapon and make it more manageable.

Khan’s eyes lit up as he was handed the frightening tool, which he immediately whirled and spun like a master. The ‘whoosh’ of the blades moving was hypnotic to everyone, as they watched the warriors toting their new armaments.

“These are fine weapons,” Wallace admitted, “But how do we know they’ll penetrate the alien armor?”

“We don’t,” answered Dr. Hawking, who’d been silent. “But this alloy absorbs energy, as your sword did so effectively just moments ago. It absorbed the potential energy of the steel, weakening and destroying it, then did the same to the concrete in the floor. Energy is energy theoretically, so unless the alien armor is identical to this material, it should react in a similar fashion when struck.”

“Why use blades?,” asked Geronimo. “Why not just use bullets?”

General Irons chimed in with the answer this time. “That was the first thing we tried, actually. This alloy actually gets denser as it absorbs energy. We made some bullets and tested them, but they just ricocheted. Not a single one would penetrate. When we recovered all of them, we found that none of them had mushroomed, fragmented, or changed shape. Fast projectiles are useless in this application unless you’re shooting at something soft like organic tissue. We know the aliens are armored, so melee weapons are the best bet.”

“The good news is that your weapon should hold an edge indefinitely,” Jack boasted, “Without any deformation, chipping, or dulling.” Wallace pulled his sword from the floor and dusted the blade off. A quick run down the edge proved Jack’s statement to be true, as his thumb suffered a small, clean cut that bled almost immediately.

“We’ve constructed a working foundry with the help of madame Curie and DaVinci,” Briggs continued, “Which we’ll be running night and day. There should be enough weapons for each of your men to be outfitted inside of ten days.”

Einstein sat up in his chair, posing a question that hadn’t been addressed yet. “What’s the capacity for stored energy in the alloy?,” he asked. “How much can it retain before it goes critical? It can’t be infinite. The ship had a hole in it, no?”

The chatter in the room died down, then, silence.

“That’s a good question,” Kat answered.

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