General Irons and Jack stood in wait near the guard shack. Colonel Briggs peered through a pair of binoculars down the highway, scanning the horizon he’d once so vigilantly watched for Kat on. Over the crest of the hill appeared a tractor trailer, tailed by a single black hummer.
As the caravan got closer Jack was surprised to see the cargo container on the back was an ordinary produce van, with pictures of broccoli, peppers, and iceberg lettuce neatly printed the entire length of the rig. The cargo doors were latched with a single padlock. Hardly a security system worthy of the single largest nuclear weapon in the history of mankind, but a brilliant plan to keep from arousing any suspicion.
The tractor came to a halt, the air brakes hissed, and the hummer rolled to a stop behind it. The front two doors of the smaller vehicle opened, as mercenaries with machine guns and scruffy looking beards emerged. They were wearing body armor, extra magazines, black glasses, and military clothing. Neither spoke a word or cracked an expression.
The semi driver got out, and was much neater in appearance. He was wearing a spandex polo, had a muscular build, and was clean cut. The only identifying marker that signified he was military was the dog tag chain hanging around his neck, visible inside his shirt. He took off his glasses and approached Jack.
“Colonel Briggs?,” he asked.
“ID, please, sir.”
Jack pulled his ID from his back pocket and presented it to the soldier, who studied it momentarily then handed it back. The truck driver motioned to the troops beside the hummer, who moved toward the back of the semi. Jack and Irons walked around back, watching as the mercs unlocked the cargo doors and opened them.
Inside were two more soldiers. One was armed with an M134 minigun, the other with an RPG and six extra rockets on his back. The firepower was impressive, as the two hopped out and made their way behind the hummer. They stowed their gear in the rear compartment, then got in the back seat. The other soldiers got in the front, as the driver of the semi handed the keys for the rig to General Irons, then climbed into the back seat of the hummer. Sixty seconds later it was over the hill and gone.
Jack looked inside the container at the bomb. It was like nothing he’d ever seen before. There were nukes wired in symmetrical succession on both sides of the weapon, twenty per side, forty in all. They resembled the one that had been used in the desert, but were each significantly larger by about four fold. There was a trough between them where the DaVincium would rest, and a rollover lid that would contain the precious cargo.
“That’s a big boom stick,” Jack joked to his friend.
“Let’s get it inside,” Irons prompted. “We need to lock it down.”
The barracks hangar doors opened moments later, and the cots inside had been moved to accommodate a tractor-trailer combo. General Irons slowly motioned the truck into position as the backup alarm blared, then gave the signal to stop. The tires locked up and the air brakes hissed, then the rig shut down. Jack jumped out of the driver’s side door and made his way to Kat, Irons, Dave, Xiang, and Maggie, all of whom were waiting.
General Irons opened the cargo doors and gave the researchers their first look at the bomb. It was an awesome sight to behold, notable in their expressionless faces as they stared. Jack interrupted their stupor. “Don’t stare too long, gang,” he ordered. “We need to load the DaVincium into the reservoir and program this for remote detonation.”
Jack turned to Maggie. “Did you calculate the coordinates in the alien flight path for maximum yield, Mags?”
“Yeah,” answered Maggie, “But we’re not even sure if this is gonna work. I’m certain the bomb will blow, but I’m still not sold on a black hole opening. If it does, I hope to hell we can close it.”
Jack turned his attention to Dave. “How bout you, geek? Did you figure out how long of a trigger delay we’ll need for this to detonate at the right time?”
Dave was usually pretty intolerant of Jack harassing him, but today was different. The bomb was a thing of beauty, power, and utter devastation. The nerdy genius had read enough comic books to know that this was on a scale all it’s own, and he was lost in the bliss of what it was capable of.
“If we get it to stay where Maggie puts it,” Dave answered hypnotically, “It’ll only be about a thousand miles on the other side of the moon. The signal should only take a few minutes to get there.”
Maggie again got a concerned look on her face. “I hope that’s far enough,” she plead. “The earth won’t be quite the same without a moon.”
Kat interjected, having done the math numerous times with Einstein and Hawking. “The wormhole we open will be small,” she confirmed. “About the size of an NFL football stadium. The gravitational force won’t span far enough beyond the event horizon to even get close to the moon initially.”
“Initially?,” questioned Jack.
“If we can’t close it,” answered Kat, “It may expand over time. If it does, we can start worrying about the moon then. Assuming the aliens haven’t blown us to atoms.”
“By the way,” asked Maggie, “How exactly are we planning on getting this from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’?” Jack looked to General Irons, who glanced at his watch. Outside the hangar the noise of jet engines sounded like they were getting closer and lower, as Irons shook his head, disappointed. “Always late, them fly boys are,” he said in his southern twang. “They were supposed to get here the same time as the rig.”
The entire crew stepped outside the doors just in time to see a gigantic jumbo jet landing on the runway, with a space shuttle mounted on the back. The tires of the monstrosity of a plane squealed as they touched down, with the flaps and air brakes deploying, slowing it to taxiing speed.
Roughly a week later Jack and General Irons sat in the briefing room with papers scattered all over the table in front of them. The General chomped on a cigar that was nearly burnt to his lips, while Jack had a half empty beer sitting on a coaster nearby.
“So we’ve covered every base,” touted General Irons. “We’re down to the nitty gritty now. Finalizing the last minute details and acquiring the last of what we need. Speaking of that, did you see the latest request put in by Hannibal?”
Irons pushed a document in front of Jack, who looked at it carefully, then smiled shallowly. “Urine. A thousand gallons of urine. You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Irons shook his head, and pushed another doc for Jack to read. The second document coordinated with the first one, as the puzzle began to come together for the West Point grad. “Sheesh,” laughed Jack. “That’s really a clever tactic.”
The two laughed it up for a moment as General Irons took the last drag off his cigar, then extinguished the butt in an empty beer bottle. It hissed as it hit the last swallow of brew in the bottom, as Irons swirled it a little to make sure it was out.
“So to summarize,” Jack stated, “The troops are ready to fight. The scientists are finalizing all their schemes. The bomb is being set as we speak. Our contingency plan is set, and the reflector is programmed for immediate evac. The clean sweep protocol is active, and on standby. All we really have left to do is confirm the bad guys are still on their way here, on the same flight plan. We sent Mags to the observatory in Canada that made the initial discovery during the original attack. She should be calling any minute with a report.”
“Well done,” confirmed General Irons, who paused momentarily. “Listen, Jack, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you. You’ve been like a son to me for as long as I’ve known you.” Briggs was a little humbled, knowing their friendship had always been a very professional one. It was rare for someone so decorated to show some humanity or compassion, which caught the Colonel off guard.
“If this doesn’t work out,” continued Irons, “And one or both of us take the old dirt nap, I want you to know that I’m proud of you, and your career, and what you’ve sacrificed for this nation and this planet. You’re a damn fine soldier and a good man.”
Colonel Briggs sat at a standstill on how to respond. He felt the same way about his oldest friend, and wanted so desperately to tell him. But words like that didn’t come easy to such a staunch soldier, as he fumbled with a reply. Just as he opened his mouth to speak the phone rang. Both heads turned as Jack answered on speaker phone.
“Mags,” he answered. “What’s the good word?”
Maggie was frantic on the other end of the line. “Jack!,” she bellowed, “We’ve got a serious problem! Turn on the view screen to the live feed. I jacked my laptop into the radio telescope here at the observatory. Hurry!”
Jack rummaged through the mess on the table, then fumbled with the remote. The TV dropped from the ceiling, and the screen flashed to life. A few seconds later the picture clarified, revealing the alien fleet coming into focus. Jack and Irons watched carefully, taking in the reality of it all, as both their stomachs dropped.
“I talked to the astronomer here,” continued Mags, “And we calculated the distance to earth based on the magnification of the telescope. The fleet is only thirteen days out!”
Jack and General Irons looked to each other in shock. “That can’t be right,” Jack answered. “That’s like a month ahead of schedule!” There was some scuffling on the other end of the line as the astronomer, Dr. Marcus Mancini, jumped into the conversation.
“This is the most remarkable discovery in human history!,” elated the stargazer. “Mrs. Ortiz has been very vague about all this. Can you...”
There was scuffling again on the other end of the line, as the look on Jack’s face began to get serious. The gears were turning a mile a minute in his head as Maggie spoke again. “There’s more, Jack. The good news is that we estimated about two hundred ships in the first attack. We have a birds eye view of the whole armada, and there’s only about a hundred this time.”
“What?,” questioned the General, “I don’t understand. How is all this possible?”
“I’m not certain,” Maggie answered, “But I think it has something to do with the temporal shift in reality when you and Kat jumped back initially.” General Irons was still in the dark. “Shift?,” he asked. “Explain that.”
“It’s complicated, but think of reality like a carbon copy,” Maggie explained. “Whenever you alter it, the writing gets a little fuzzier. Not everything is exactly the same the second time around. Whenever you move through the slipstream, you look at a carbon copy of what reality once was. But some things, little things, are different or altered.”
Both the soldiers partially understood, but knew there was no time for debate. Dr. Mancini bellowed in from the background behind Maggie again trying to make sense of it all. “Slipstream? Jump?,” he pried. “What are you people talking about!” There was a loud scuffle on the line followed by profanity and loud yelling from Mags, as the Canadian astronomer silenced.
“We need to jump start the counteroffensive,” Jack ordered. “Mags get back to the base, ASAP. Leave your laptop with the feed from the telescope so we have eyes in the sky. Jim, get on the horn to that shuttle. Tell those astronauts to turn and burn after they drop their cargo.” General Irons pulled his cell phone from his pocket and headed for the door, dialing on the fly.
“Dr. Mancini,” bellowed Jack, “Are you still there?”
“Yes,” answered the astronomer, “I’m listening.”
“Sir, this information is extremely classified,” issued Jack, “And cannot be shared with anyone. Do you understand?”
“Imagine what we could learn from them,” Mancini gushed. “The gravity of this discovery has yet to be understood. It’s...”
“DO YOU UNDERSTAND!,” yelled Jack.
The line went silent, as the astronomer was still lost in all that was transpiring. Jack tried to be sympathetic, without spilling too much. “They’re not here to make peace,” he added, “And we can’t risk a global panic. We have a plan, which you just played your part in. Find a safe haven far from populated areas and lock yourself in with food, supplies, ammunition, and anyone you care about. Time is short, doctor. Now, one last time. DO. YOU. UNDERSTAND?”
There was a short pause on the line as the scientist finally digested the reality of the situation. “Yes,” he muttered, to Jack’s relief, prompting the Colonel to end the call. As soon as the line clicked dead he jumped out of his seat and stormed out the door.
Down the hall in a small utility room near the lab, Ben Franklin sat at a makeshift work station with Xiang. The pudgy Philadelphian punched away at the keyboard of a laptop computer, having quickly become proficient with the device. On the screen of the display was the huge DaVincium cannon, which had been erected underground in a separate area of the base. There was a massive field emitter on it, capable of focusing a blast nearly five hundred miles. Huge power cables fed into both machines, as Franklin worked on final preparations of the magnificent weapon.
Jack burst through the doors in a frenzy, startling both researchers. “I need a report on the cannon,” he demanded. “Is it ready?”
Ben Franklin smiled, confident in the strides he and Xiang Lo had made in finishing up. “It’s ready to deploy to the surface and test, Colonel. We need to see what the capacity is in order to...”
“Forget the test run,” Jack countered. “If it were charged right now, today, could it fire?”
Franklin paused a minute and looked to Xiang, then back to Jack. “Yes,” he answered, “I believe so. In fact, Mr. Lo here installed a sensor on the firing controls that tracks the point of origin of any incoming energy. It should fire back exactly to that position. It’s foolproof really, and fascinating. I think...”
“Fabulous,” interrupted Jack again. “Have it prepped in five minutes. Don’t deploy it to the surface. We’ll fire from the bunker.” Ben Franklin, typically very polite and reserved, was flabbergasted.
“Five minutes!,’ Franklin protested, “Have you gone mad, Jack? We’ve nearly a month and a half before the attack.”
“Something changed,” stated Jack. “The invasion force is ahead of schedule and will be here at the end of next week. Deploy the weapon, charge it, and keep your finger on the trigger.”
“And the test fire?,” asked Xiang.
“Don’t,” said Jack. “If they’re close enough to track that, our surprise attack is compromised. I trust you two implicitly. It’s either going to work or it isn’t. Get to it.”
Jack hustled out of the room, leaving Xiang and Franklin in a flurry of activity. Both leaned over the computer and looked at the cannon, hopeful they’d done their homework well enough. Ben typed away as Xiang sat down at his own station and began working.
Nearby in the lab, Dr. Hawking, Einstein, Kat, and Dave all huddled around a computer monitor watching the live feed of the space shuttle setting the bomb. The moon was barely visible in the distance, with the crest of the earth in the background over the top of it. A long robotic arm carefully positioned the massive nuke into space, then released it. The weapon floated weightlessly with nearly zero motion, as the cargo arm began to retract back into the ship.
Jack again broke through the doors, seeing the last phase of the operation winding down on the screen.
“How’d it go?,” he asked.
“Smooth as silk,” Kat answered. “Hopefully the bad guys will be oblivious to it, like the rest of our satellites. We plan on powering it up at the last minute to avoid detection.”
“Speaking of last minute,” Jack said, sarcastically clearing his throat, “There’s been a change in plan. Maggie reported that the fleet is ahead of schedule. They’ll be here at the end of next week instead of the end of next month.”
“WHAT!,” yelled Kat. “You can’t be serious!”
“I’m dead serious,” Jack confirmed. “The base is on red alert as of now.”
Dave considered a minute and looked perplexed. “How are we supposed to know when to pull the pin on that bomb if we can’t even see it, Jack?” Colonel Briggs was a step ahead of him. “We have the live feed from the radio telescope in Canada. We can watch everything we need to see from here once we link up to Maggie’s laptop remotely. It’ll be as easy as watching the NFL on Sunday Morning.”
Einstein mostly understood, but had one question. “What’s an N-F-L?,” he asked Kat. “Nevermind,” she answered hectically. “It’s not important.”
Dr. Hawking spun is his chair to face Jack. “We still haven’t set in place a plan to close the wormhole if we manage to open one. We can’t leave it unchecked.” Jack was a step ahead of the wheeled genius as well, already having a plan in motion. “We considered that,” Briggs answered. “Depending on the expansion rate of the hole, we’ve come up with two feasible means of delivering enough DaVincium to collapse it from inside.”
“Which are?,” asked Einstein.
“We have a standard ICBM outfitted with the alloy, on standby to launch when we’re ready,” Jack reported. “Delivery time is approximately three days.”
Einstein stroked his mustache, looking to Hawking then back to Jack. “And what if it needs to be closed faster than that?,” he asked.
“Xiang and Franklin devised a delivery system using the Franklin Cannon,” Jack boasted. “They think if they charge it with sonic vibration as energy, it should just discharge as loud noise. Using the sound waves as a means of propulsion, they retrofitted a DaVincium rocket that fits over the end of the weapon, that, when launched, should travel at about fifty times the speed of sound. ETA should be about thirty seconds if that plan works.”
“Theoretically,” said Einstein. “What if it doesn’t?”
“One problem at a time, Albert,” spoke professor Hawking.
The entire room was skeptical, but time had run out. There was no going backward at this point, only the plan. Silence gripped them all, causing Colonel Briggs to finally break the stalemate. “So stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen,” he said, quoting one of his favorite films. “Time is precious at this point. Finish what needs to be finished. The clock is ticking.”