Collective Minds

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Chapter 18

Time began to scroll faster and faster, and the remaining three and half months began to cycle down towards the moment of truth. Ben Franklin stood outside the hanger with Marty and General Irons, motioning to all four corners of the structure. Both soldiers listened attentively as he walked them through the paces of what was to come with the super weapon he had in store.

Nearby a larger more functional foundry had been constructed. It ran night and day, fabricating enough DaVincium for all the projects that were in motion. DaVinci and madame Curie oversaw the process, working tirelessly with the soldiers, many of whom had become very proficient blacksmiths.

Back in the lab, Kat, Einstein, and Dr. Hawking all slaved away in mathematics, slide shows, and power points about the black hole contingency. With each slide that passed there was pause for discussion, followed prominently with calculations on the dry erase board. Kat still looked pessimistic, but knew she was out matched by the brilliance and sincerity of her two cohorts.

The soldiers trained relentlessly with their respective Generals. Hannibal worked the hardest, instructing his troops in the use of the short swords. He demonstrated in slow motion how and where to strike most efficiently, pulling the sword across the throat and gut of a volunteer. His troops had gained a great deal of respect for him and listened attentively to the brilliant warrior. Out in the desert, Geronimo crouched quietly behind a boulder, watching a soldier pass by on the hunt. The Apache legend quietly stepped out, tapped the trooper on the shoulder, then turned his medallion to ‘dead’. The soldier, instead of looking dejected, smiled as three of his teammates popped up in various locations around the two. All had weapons fixed on the surprised General, who’d just been caught for the first time since his arrival. Outside the quarry a few minutes later the ‘dead’ solider emerged, to the rest of his fellow ‘dead’ teammates, all of whom sat frustrated at the months of humiliation they’d suffered at the hands of their leader. The tempo quickly shifted as the last three soldiers waltzed out, still ‘alive’, with Geronimo surrounded and in handcuffs. The troops roared with approval, as the three victors and their leader all pumped their fists humbly.

Back in the forge, a crucible poured molten alloy into a large mold. The vat emptied and moved away on an overhead conveyor. Two troopers in heat suits approached, each holding a wand that resembled a pressure washer, which they doused the casket-sized injection mold with. The super cooled liquid hissed, rapidly cooling and hardening the project inside.

The workers stepped back as the mold mechanically opened. Inside was a perfectly formed helmet, chest plate, set of arms, legs, and shoulder guards. The suit was perfectly machined to have holes at the connecting points, so it could be easily riveted together with DaVincium pins. The result was an impenetrable superconductor that would make the soldier inside a war machine unlike any the world had ever seen.

It was near dusk on a night weeks later, as General Irons supervised a long line of soldiers hoisting a humongous DaVincium conductor. There were two other similar monstrosities that were already in place, this being the third of four, all of which angled slightly over the top of the main hangar. Each of the conductors were huge, over a hundred feet tall, with a large sphere on the top reminiscent of a Van de Graaf generator. As the conductor was positioned into place, several troops secured it to a huge concrete slab that had been poured at the base. Ben Franklin looked on optimistically, thankful to have contributed something to the project.

Thanksgiving Day saw a hugely energetic and talkative chow hall, as every table was riddled with turkey, stuffing, cranberries, mashed potatoes, and all the trimmings. There was even real silverware, plates, and glasses, which was something rare. Everyone talked and dined cheerfully with their respective cliques, while the soldiers all dined with the Generals. Even Khan had lightened up a bit, allowing his troops to socialize, drink beer, and unwind some. The barbarian still ate like he was starving, paying little attention to everyone else.

Jack sat at a small, separate table with Marty, General Irons, and Kat, all of whom conversed quietly. Amidst the jubilant celebration, he stood up and tapped his wine glass loudly three times with his fork. The toast caused the noise to die down to silence, as the Colonel addressed everyone.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” Jack said politely, raising his glass. There was a collective, gracious toast among everyone, with glasses and beer bottles clanging, as Jack continued. “Here we are. A little under three months from what we all know may be the end of everything. We’ve come a long way in a short time. It’s amazing how different we all are, and how easily we were able to cast aside that diversity to work toward a common goal.”

Kat looked to DaVinci and Marie Curie, who sat next to one another. Both smiled.

“To our honored scientists,” Jack continued, as he raised his glass again, “I salute you. Each and every one of you has contributed something unique to the game plan, and has been a crucial link in the chain. We still have a lot of work ahead, but your performance to this point has been nothing less than stellar.”

“HERE, HERE!,” cheered General Irons as he raised a beer. The ruckus in the hall picked up again as everyone saluted the humbled scientists and research team. Dave blushed a little and raised his glass to Kat, locking eyes for a second then quickly looking away. She was flattered.

“To our esteemed Generals,” Jack spoke, “I salute you. Your methods, no matter how unorthodox, have turned out some of the toughest troops I’ve ever seen. The camaraderie among the platoons is second to none and a critical element on the field of battle.” Jack toasted again, as did everyone else.

“And last, but certainly not least,” he said, “The senior advisers seated here with me. What more can I say about them? They’re the glue that holds the pages together in this entire novel. Their ability to adapt on the fly, acquire raw materials and supplies, and problem solve has been nothing short of a miracle. None of us would be here without the hard work and dedication they’ve all put in and...”

Jack paused and his lips curled, frozen in place for a moment like he was about to have a seizure. The expression on his face changed from smiling to confused, as the fluid in his glass began to shimmer from his hands shaking. All at once he dropped it, causing it to shatter when it hit the table. Briggs fell forward and was about to face plant into the glass shards, when Kat jumped to her feet and caught him.

The chow hall got quiet, with low chatter, as Kat helped him to his chair. Jack began to fade in and out of translucency, almost completely at one point, with his entire body phasing this time. The chatter in the hall built as the onlookers watched their leader suffering in a way no one could explain. Colonel Briggs finally solidified and came out of it, but was badly out of breath and sweating profusely.

Einstein and DaVinci stood, trying to grasp what they’d just witnessed, while Marie Curie covered her mouth in shock. Dr. Hawking wheeled over near Kat, also stunned at what he’d seen, trying to logically analyze something that had just broken every law of physics he knew. The soldiers were silent.

Later in the infirmary, Jack sat on the table as a field medic examined him. Kat watched from nearby as General Irons stormed into the room, visibly irate. He ignored her and squared off immediately with Jack. “You’re dismissed, now,” General Irons ordered the medic, who hastily departed.

Irons looked Jack right in the face. “What in the Sam Hell just happened in the chow hall? I want answers, Jack, and I want them right now.”

Kat looked at the General, trying to give an answer that was acceptable. “Truthfully, we’re not sure, we think it has something to do with...”

“I didn’t ask you!,” Irons interrupted angrily. Kat stepped back, blown away at how furious the General was. She’d never seen him like this, and had surely never been yelled at by him in such a manner.

“Take it easy, Jim,” interjected Jack. “I was in on this too. Kat only kept quiet because I ordered her to.”

“Kept quiet about what?,” pried Irons. “Start talking.”

“Kat and myself have been experiencing some after effects of the temporal shift,” Jack explained. “Effects that only seem to have manifested in the two of us. We’re pretty confident it has to do with the fact that we blended with ourselves when we made the initial jump. That’s why it’s not happening to anyone else.”

“After effects?,” said Irons irately. “Is that what you call that little episode at dinner? Good god, is it terminal?”

“I don’t know yet,” answered Kat. “It seems to happen more frequently the closer we get to the attack, when we initially jumped. And the symptoms seem to intensify.” General Irons was furious with her answer, knowing the whole plan could be in jeopardy if either or both of the two lead personnel were to suddenly vanish. “I want you to make time to get to the bottom of this,” ordered the General. “Use whatever resources or personnel you need. I want answers, and I want them yesterday.”

“So do I,” said Jack. “Believe me.”

A few days later all four platoons were lined up at the rifle range behind the hangar. Parked at the end of it was an old, out-of-service armored personnel carrier. On the shooters bench sat a metal job site tool box that was closed.

General Irons and all four of the field Generals stood in waiting, when all five turned their head in unison. Approaching everyone on the double step was a figure in a suit of armor. The DaVincium suit glimmered in the sunlight, shining like a polished sheet of stainless steel. The getup was very sleek, streamlined, and ergonomic to the human form, illustrated by the ease and grace of movement as it came closer. The face shield was attached to the helmet and had only two small eye holes, covered by red iridium lenses. On the left wrist of the suit was a small field generator, with a red button on the side of it.

All the troops looked on as the mysterious visitor finally stopped and addressed them. “Good morning, troops,” Jack spoke through the mask. His voice was hollow and metallic sounding, almost like he was yelling into a coffee can.

Wallace recognized the voice and spoke back apprehensively. “Colonel Briggs?” Jack flipped up his face mask, which swiveled back beneath the underside of his helmet. “Right you are, General Wallace,” he answered. The noble Scot scratched his head, unfamiliar as to why Jack sounded so different behind the mask.

“Beggin’ your pardon, Jack,” bellowed Wallace. “I wasn’t certain it was you, sir. You sounded strange with the plate down over your face.”

“Strange?,” announced General Irons, “You sounded like Darth Vader.” Wallace looked to General Irons, clueless to the character reference. Jack helped lift the fog and explained. “My voice changed because the amplifier in the face shield is made of DaVincium. It absorbs almost all of the distortion that air creates as a medium when using your vocal cords to speak. What comes out is pretty much purified sound.”

Jack turned to face the troops. “But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Gentlemen, this suit represents the future of warfare for us. It’s DaVincium alloy makes it nearly impervious to assault.” Colonel Briggs opened the tool box on the bench and produced a twelve pound sledge hammer, which he handed to Wallace.

“General,” Jack ordered, “I want you to hit me. As hard as you can. Right in the middle of the chest.” Briggs put his face shield down and pointed to his heart. Wallace was hesitant, but remembered the demonstration with the broadsword. Knowing that Jack was always a step ahead, the burly Scot reared back with the tool and heaved an easy blow at the midsection. The hammer struck true, making surprisingly little noise as it collided. Jack didn’t even flinch.

“Come on you sissy!,” taunted Jack, “Hit me harder than a little girl would!” Wallace, a little insulted, reared back again and swung harder. The hammer hit it’s mark again, doing absolutely zero damage. “HARDER!,” Jack ordered, as Wallace, now angry, reared back like a lumberjack and swung with all he had. Again the suit stood fast with no inkling of damage or movement.

The mighty Scot was out of breath as Jack patted him on the back. “Well done,” saluted Briggs. Wallace, still catching his breath, smiled. “Clearly not good enough,” he answered. Jack rummaged through the tool box again, this time producing a grenade. He jogged about fifty feet from the troops, turned, and pulled the pin.

The soldiers in the ranks began to panic, as some of them yelled at Jack to throw it. Others hit the deck and covered, while some stood fast and watched in shock as Jack cupped the explosive in his hands. Seconds later it detonated in a fiery burst, which completely engulfed Briggs momentarily. As the smoke cleared, the unscathed suit walked out of the maelstrom without a scratch.

Jack jogged back to the box again, this time pulling out a pistol gripped pump action twelve gauge. He tossed the weapon to Geronimo, who pumped a shell in the chamber as Jack pointed to his chest. The Apache folded the stock out and clicked it into place, then aimed at his friend and fired in succession until all his shells were spent. Buckshot zinged in all directions noisily, but never penetrated.

“That’s sufficient,” Jack said metallically. “I’m powered up enough.” No one was quite sure what that meant, as the armored soldier positioned himself up range from the old troop transport. The left arm of the suit lifted and took aim, as Jack depressed the red button with his right hand. The field generator hummed for a second, then discharged a long, blue bolt of energy straight down range. The shot struck the vehicle, causing it to explode in fiery extravagance. Pieces of it flew off and landed all around the area, most notably the front axle, which still had the two flaming tires attached.

All the soldiers, including General Irons, stood in awestruck silence and watched the remnants of the rig burn to embers. Jack pulled up his face shield again and explained. “For those of you wondering, that energy discharge was the accumulated kinetic energy of the assaults that I just took. The hammer, the grenade, the shotgun; all of them increased the yield of the discharge I controlled with the field emitter on my wrist. It created a cylindrical containment field, about fifty meters long, that the energy was contained in and directed with. My suit acted as a storage unit in absorbing that energy.”

The soldiers were still dumbfounded, never having seen anything like they’d just witnessed short of the movie theater or the comic shop. Jack kept the tempo rolling. “The foundry should have enough suits fabricated in about forty days for each man to have his own. In the meantime we’ll have to share the ones we have. Essentially, the more hits you take the stronger your firepower becomes.”

Jack looked around at all the gaped open jaws as he concluded. “Are there any questions?”

Every single hand shot up.

The chow hall was abuzz that night, noisier than usual as the troops all talked about the new battle suit. Many mimicked with their hands the explosions and shotgun blasts, as Jack sat privately with General Irons and Kat.

“We’re getting down to the wire, Jim,” Jack said to Irons. “Assuming the alloy conductors work, and the Franklin Cannon can take out the mother ships, we should be able to minimize the invasion force. Our troops on the ground should be well protected against any stragglers that make it through. The problem being that we can’t take out the whole fleet. It leaves the rest of earth vulnerable.”

“I know,” answered General Irons. “Ben told me he’d have the cannon assembled in another week. Xiang and Dave are helping him build it, so the schematics are sound. Hopefully we can run a test of some kind.”

“Even with the cannon operational,” stated Kat, “We can only fire it one shot at a time. There were over two hundred ships in the original attack. Firepower and armor aside, our troops will be outnumbered at the base a thousand to one. We have to take those ships out before they make it into orbit.”

“Distraction is the key,” Jack proposed. “If there’s a threat to the fleet, they’re going to try to neutralize that before launching the invasion force on the rest of the planet. Hopefully our surprise attack will draw them here to Roswell and divert the global assault. No one will even know they arrived if we do our job. With any luck we can sweep it all under the rug. But we have to make our stand here.”

“And we have to strike first, and hard,” said Kat, “Before they realize what happened. The black hole theory should work.”

Should work,” answered Irons. “Assume for a minute it doesn’t. What then?”

“Then we have a contingency plan,” Jack answered, “Which Kat and I already worked out. I started it the day she and I got here from our first jump. We’ll send someone else back with all the intel we’ve gathered here in the last nine months. Back before we retrieved the Generals and the think tank. It should eliminate this reality completely, which will preserve the time line enough to formulate a new plan and try again. If we can’t get it right, we keep jumping back until we do.”

“We’ll have the reflector team standing by,” Kat promised. “We’ve already set it up with Maggie, Xiang, and Dave. We’re ready to go on a moment’s notice if need be.”

General Irons pondered it all a moment, then lowered his voice and leaned in. “Listen to me close, both of you. The warhead you requested is en route to the base as we speak. It should be here first thing in the morning. It’s top secret, under military escort, and black ops all the way.”

Jack knew the intricacies of protected information, and why the secret was so closely guarded. This particular nuclear weapon had enough plutonium in it to destroy the entire continent of Africa. Combined with the DaVincium as an accelerant, what they were dealing with could easily blow the earth into fragments. He’d also heard ramblings from the intelligence community that most of the radioactive material had been bought through black market sources, to avoid drawing attention to the project. Briggs knew good and well that would raise eyebrows and have people talking about something big going down, but it was a moot point. The world was about to come to a screeching halt, and no one would figure it out in time.

“This bomb, it’s components, and keeping people quiet cost just shy of half a trillion dollars,” General Irons reported. “I had to pull every string I had and then some to make it materialize. You best make it count.”

“We will,” Kat promised. General Irons stood up and grabbed his tray. Kat caught him in time, and motioned for him to sit back down. He obliged.

“There’s one more thing,” she said. “I think I figured out what’s happening to Jack and I. I studied blood, tissue, vital signs...everything I could think of. Medically, there’s nothing wrong with us. I went out on a limb, and tried a Geiger counter.”

“And?,” questioned Irons.

“And,” continued Kat, “It registered some kind of radiation I’ve never seen before. Nothing that’s dangerous to others. It was very erratic, with a decay pattern that seemed to be slowly speeding up as time goes forward every day. I think it’s some sort of temporal radiation from our signatures fusing.”

“Fascinating,” said Jack jokingly, “But how do we fix it?”

“I’m not sure we can,” Kat answered. “I think when we get to the point in time in two months when we jumped originally, one of two things is going to happen. We’re either going to split from the bodies we fused with originally, which will fade away completely, or our temporal signatures will completely decay and we’ll die. Completely.”

General Irons still wasn’t convinced of anything. “These are all theories, Kat. For all you know you may have the damn chicken pox. Boy howdy am I sick of dealing in guesswork.”

“It’s the best I can do,” Kat retorted. “We’re dealing in theoretical physics every minute of every day. I hope I’m wrong, and you’re right.”

But she knew she wasn’t.

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