Collective Minds

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Chapter 17

The mess hall was dimly lit, with a only a few lights on to keep people safe when passing through. Ben Franklin sat alone, drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. It was early in the morning even by Army standards, and the portly inventor enjoyed the quiet time to himself.

Kat crept in, and approached the solo inhabitant from behind. She grabbed a chair and slid it forward, causing it to screech on the floor. The loud noise caught the Philadelphian by complete surprise, causing him to jump from his seat and turn in terror.

“Good lord!,” he screamed, “You startled me, Kat. Perhaps a little forewarning next time?”

“Sorry,” she offered. “I didn’t realize you were so engrossed with the paper.”

“I read a great deal,” Franklin replied. “It’s truly amazing how diverse the world has become. And yet, with all the advances in medicine and technology, many still starve and die from simple diseases like tuberculosis every day.”

“Poverty is a way of life for a lot of people,” Kat replied.

“And war,” Ben Franklin continued, “Is everywhere. If only the world knew how petty these squabbles are compared to what’s on the horizon. Maybe they could find peace if they had a common interest to unite behind. Salvation is a strong motivator.”

“It is,” answered Kat.

“What brings you out of bed so early?,” asked Franklin.

“Because it makes me healthy, wealthy, and wise,” answered Kat, in a hopefully optimistic tone. Franklin was clueless. “Uh…yeah,” she stammered, “I guess you haven’t penned that one yet.” Ben looked at her, still unable to connect the dots.

“Actually,” she admitted, “I’m here because we need your expertise. Dr. Hawking and Einstein came up with a method of harnessing the stored energy from the wormhole. They tested it last night successfully, and think they can create a weapon powerful enough to destroy the invading ships when they attack in five months.”

“Wouldn’t that be a job better suited for the soldiers?,” asked the inventor. “I’ve been mostly a third wheel thus far. DaVinci and Madame Curie have each other, as do Einstein and Hawking. I merely watch, and listen.”

“That’s not true,” reassured Kat. “You have as much insight as anyone, and you’re the only person that keeps Curie and DaVinci from strangling each other most days. Your smile and attitude is contagious, and people enjoy having you around. You’d be surprised how important that is for morale.”

Ben Franklin smiled, feeling a little better about his place in the ranks. “We need you to help design a series of energy absorbing stations to feed the weapon. They’ll have to be wired in series, and designed to withstand tremendous blasts. We’ll need to monitor the stations, and track the absorption and flow rate once we start taking fire. Your studies in conductivity and electricity were very similar to what we’re dealing with now. We want you to lead the project.”

Franklin perked up, feeling a lot more important. “Very well then,” he answered. “I’ll need to confer with the good doctors, and ultimately with the Generals, too. If we’re to make weapons, we’d be wise to consult the warmongers.”

Kat chuckled at Franklin’s choice of words. “Whatever you need,” she promised. “Ask and you’ll get it.”

Later that afternoon, Jack stood outside on the tarmac watching Khan drill his troops in their daily calisthenics. The soldiers were lined up meticulously in rows of ten, spaced evenly, all wielding the same bladed staff that their leader so dangerously commanded.

The troops moved in unison as the barbarian leader barked one word commands. “STRIKE!,” he shouted, followed by a single simultaneous downward swing from everyone. “BUTT!” The blunt end of the staff came forward, all in perfect synchronization. “SPIN!” All the men whirled a fanning blow, and ended in the same stance. “SWEEP!” The troops again swept the butt of the staff forward, as if to hook an adversary.

Suddenly, and accidentally, one of the soldiers dropped his weapon. It hit the ground with a loud ‘clang’, causing Khan to turn quickly and storm towards the terrified cadet. “STOP!,” yelled the Mongol General, causing every soldier to freeze, motionless. Khan approached the weaponless soldier, who stood straight at attention, knowing that discipline was coming in short order. The growling commander crouched to pick the weapon out of the dirt, prompting the troop to put his arms out as if to catch a football. Khan handed him back his weapon, then slapped the soldier with a series of forehands and backhands in rapid succession. The shots were hard, loud, and brutal.

Jack saw the exchange, somewhat taken aback, as Khan marched back toward the front of the regiment. On his way, he noticed one trooper with glasses that had frozen in place with a leg improperly positioned, which he squarely kicked from beneath him. The unsuspecting soldier upended, flipping painfully to his back, knocking the wind out of him. Gathering himself, the grunt quickly jumped back to his feet and assumed a more stable position.

Khan looked him square in the face. As he did so, he noticed another soldier in the ranks reflecting in the trooper’s glasses that was smiling sarcastically at his teammate’s misfortune. The Mongol barbarian, smooth as silk, drifted backward without turning around, still staring at the soldier that had fallen. Two steps were all it took to get in range of the fool that was laughing, which unfortunately for him were the last two he saw that day.

With lighting tenacity and pinpoint precision, Khan whirled a roundhouse kick that was so fast it was almost surreal to witness. The blow landed straight to the cheek of the soldier that laughed, with a snap so loud it echoed off the outside of the hanger walls. The soldier swayed momentarily, and opened his mouth as if to speak. Three teeth dribbled out in a slurry of blood and saliva, as the loopy smart aleck fell forward in slow motion and face planted. He was motionless as his instructor walked away coldly.

Khan took his place at the head of the platoon, and barked again. “BOW!,” he ordered. Everyone did, perfectly timed. “DISMISSED!,” yelled the General, causing the soldiers to break formation and head to the showers. Two of them stopped at their fallen comrade and scooped him up, carrying him back towards the barracks firefighter style with his arms draped on their shoulders.

As the troops filtered away, Jack approached Khan. “I wonder, General,” he asked, “If you’re being too hard on your troops.” Khan looked insulted, and more than a little agitated as he answered. “You told me my methods were mine to choose. Don’t question me,” he replied. “Ever.”

“They are, and I’m not,” answered Briggs. “I just think that if your men fear you, it’ll be hard to gain their respect.” Khan plucked a long, slender wooden pipe from the inside of his light jacket, and put the stem in his mouth. He pulled a strike anywhere match from his pocket, drug it against the ground, then lit the bowl. “Respect,” he insisted, taking a long drag from his pipe, “Is gained through discipline. Discipline saves lives in battle. There are no second chances in war.” Jack could hardly disagree, as Khan blew a long stream of smoke from his nostrils and walked away.

Back in the lab, Einstein scribbled some mathematics on the dry erase board while Dr. Hawking watched closely. Kat and Jack entered on the double step. Einstein turned to face them, as Hawking’s chair pivoted to do the same. “I got a message you had some important information,” said Jack. “That’s correct,” answered Dr. Hawking, “Several things actually. Please, sit.”

Kat and Briggs took a seat. “We’ve come up with another possible weapon,” Einstein spoke. “One even more powerful than the conversion cannon our philosopher friend is developing.” Jack’s interest was piqued immediately, as the bushy-haired genius continued. “One that we think may be able to decimate the alien fleet before it reaches earth and fires a single shot.”

“Consider,” interjected Hawking, “The most powerful forces in the universe. None of them are man made. As humans, we marvel at our ability to create weapons of mass destruction. But those pale in comparison to the natural forces we see every day.”

Kat was seeing the dots, but couldn’t connect them, as the genius duo continued.

“Consider the power of a volcano, or the gale force of a tornado,” surmised Einstein. “Or of the tides, or a tsunami. They’re all naturally occurring, devastating, and can’t be controlled.”

Jack was bursting at the seams, and finally asked what he and Kat were both pondering. “So you’re saying you want to use a natural force as a weapon?”

“That’s exactly what we’re saying,” answered Hawking. “What if we could create a black hole, and control it?”

“That’s impossible,” Kat retorted immediately.

“Perhaps not,” stated Einstein. “Consider, Kat, how a black hole is formed. The energy and gravity of a collapsing star create a tear in the fabric of the cosmos. The result is a gap between outer space and inner space.”

Both Kat and Jack were listening, but still not speaking the same language. Einstein turned a dry erase board around, and tried to present the argument in terms everybody could comprehend. He uncapped a marker and drew a picture of a cube on the board, as Dr. Hawking narrated.

“Consider space as a three dimensional cube,” he spoke in his robotic monotone. “The six sides represent outer space as we know it in our universe. A black hole spans from one side of the cube to the other, through the middle area. We humans call it inner space, or sub space.” Einstein drew a line through the center of the cube, from top to bottom.

“Okay,” Jack answered, starting to catch on.

“The gravitational forces in the vortex beyond the event horizon are beyond measure,” continued Hawking. “We know that gravity is so intense it actually bends space, time, light, and anything else. Nothing escapes it.”

“If we could open a black hole,” interjected Einstein, “Near enough to the approaching fleet, we could destroy the entire armada before it got close enough to earth to attack.”

“And how, exactly, do you intend to open a black hole?,” questioned Kat. “You just said yourself that it takes the power of a collapsing star. Where do we find that kind of energy?”

“We build it,” answered professor Hawking.

Jack shot the wheeled genius a look of intrigue.

“We build a nuclear device,” answered Einstein. “Stephen and I have calculated the amount of energy needed to open a worm hole. We believe that man can construct a bomb with sufficient yield that, when paired with a proportionate amount of DaVincium, will create an explosion similar to that of a small star collapsing.”

“Jesus,” answered Kat breathlessly. “We’ll need a bomb that’s enormous.”

“Our preliminary calculations were ten thousand megatons,” answered Hawking. “And the wormhole won’t even be very big. Approximately the size of a football arena.” Jack’s jaw dropped, as Kat stared in disbelief.

“But the gravitational forces,” continued Einstein, “Will be the same as one the size of the sun.” Kat could see the pieces of the puzzle, but still couldn’t fully put them together, as she posed more questions. “Even if you could open an anomaly,” she asked, “How would you close it? You risk pulling in the earth, or the moon. An artificial tear in space comes with massive risk.”

“That would definitely ruin our day,” said Jack sarcastically.

“We could close it the same way we opened it,” answered Hawking. “By launching a piece of DaVincium through the event horizon. The gravitational energy inside should cause it to go critical and collapse the portal from the inside out.”

Kat finally understood the physics of it all, and could see a theoretical possibility of success. But theoretics were a dangerous game when considering the destruction of the moon, the earth, or both. “That’s taking a huge of a risk,” she retorted.

“So was bringing all of us here,” countered Einstein. “Yet, here we are.”

“Touche,” smiled Jack to Kat. She shot him the stink eye, knowing he was buying into the game. There was a collective moment of silence, as the dynamics of the plan spun in everyone’s heads.

“Start your calculations,” Jack concluded. “I’m not making any promises. I trust both of you, don’t get me wrong. But ten thousand megatons is gonna to be a tough sell.”

Both the eggheads perked up at the prospect of some mathematics, as Kat fielded another question. “You said you had more than one thing to report. What else are we here for?”

“Yes,” reported Einstein. “We utilized some microcircuitry from the Chinese fellow, and created a much smaller field generator for energy conversion from the DaVincium.” The frizzy-haired Austrian rummaged momentarily in a box near the blackboard, producing a prototype of a field generator the size of black plumbing pipe, about eighteen inches long. He handed it to Jack. “Now your soldiers can hold it in their hand, and utilize it individually.”

Jack examined the weapon, as Dr. Hawking chimed in. “Construct a suit of armor for each soldier. It will protect them from enemy fire, and capacitate the energy at the same time. They can then return fire from the device you’re holding. Your troops will be nearly invincible, Colonel.”

Jack smiled ear-to-ear, knowing that the two smartest guys in history had just earned their weight in gold. “Super soldiers,” he replied. “I’ll get right on it with the guys working the foundry.”

“I’ll work with you on the black hole theory,” said Kat. “We need to fortify the calculations and cover every angle. There’s no room for error considering what’s at stake.” Einstein and Dr. Hawking agreed, as the plan began to come together.

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