Collective Minds

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Chapter 20

Twelve days passed in the blink of an eye. Every researcher, scientist, General, and soldier on the base were packed inside the main hangar, elbow to elbow, with tension so thick it was stymieing. All that had transpired had led to this moment, and everyone knew what was on the line.

Every soldier was armored, with their face shields up and respective weapons in hand. The Generals moved through the ranks talking with the troops encouragingly and patting them on the backs. Jack, General Irons, and Marty entered, all armored as well, and made their way to a stage set up at the front of the assembly. As they tromped up the steps the noise in the room died down.

Jack faced the troops and absorbed it all for a moment. General Irons was afraid he may freeze again, until Jack, ready for war, spoke.

“Roosevelt said that Pearl Harbor was a day that would live in infamy,” he began. “He was right. Today, however, is something else. Something so much more. And though we walk thorough the valley of the shadow of death, we shall fear no evil. Why?”

Jack paused. The room was silent.

“Because,” he yelled, his voice building in intensity, “WE ARE THE SHADOW OF DEATH!!”

The troops roared, raising their arms and hoisting their weapons in a frenzy. Even the scientists and research teams cheered, adding to the adrenaline. Wallace ran along the front of the garrison hoisting his sword and screaming, while Hannibal held high a single of his two blades. Geronimo whooped a loud war cry, his face slathered with war paint. Khan looked around, still composed, and cracked a rare smile at the enthusiasm.

Jack let the troops raise hell for a moment, then held his hand up. The noise died down again. “Today,” he continued, “We face an enemy no one has ever seen before. They’re tough, no two ways about it. They have technology that dwarfs ours, and have probably been using it for generations longer than humans have even existed. But they also have an Achilles heel: overconfidence. Faith in their technological supremacy. And they have no idea what we’ve laid for them with the help of our esteemed colleagues.” Jack motioned to the researchers and science teams. The troops erupted again, knowing the contributions the eggheads had made. Everyone that was part of the think tank smiled hugely at their salutation, as tears welled in eyes of Marie Curie. The noise carried on for a moment then died down again.

“And last but certainly not least, let us not forget our mighty Generals, who’ve made this collection of soldiers the finest the earth has ever produced.” Jack motioned to the four Generals, and the hangar erupted in commotion and jubilation. Weapons clanged, chests were beat, and war cries echoed, until Jack motioned once more for silence.

Before he could speak, Marty stepped forward and interrupted.

“And let’s not forget Colonel Briggs, who made all this insanity a reality. The man with the plan to save the world.” The pudgy redneck patted his friend on the back, as the troops went crazier yet, knowing that Colonel Briggs was the bravest of them all. Celebration and respect resonated in the walls of the building loud enough to be heard from miles away.

“You turd,” whispered Jack to Marty with a smile. “You know I hate that.” Marty grinned and hugged his comrade, as the noise died down again.

“If this is in fact our final hour, then we take as many of those bastards with us as we can,” Jack issued. “Make no mistake: they take no prisoners. AND NEITHER WILL WE!”

The troops went nuts again, banging shoulders with each other and getting fired up.

“If we do win the day,” Jack continued, “The fight is far from done. We’ll strive to persevere and make sure that the earth is safe now and always from anyone or anything that tries to take it from us. Fight hard, troops, and remember what it took to get here. The sacrifices you all made etch your place in history as the finest soldiers that ever put on the uniform. Report to your Generals, and god be with us all.”

The soldiers began to filter out by regiment, as General Irons leaned in behind Jack and whispered to him. “You always could get em’ fired up, Jack. Nice job.”

Jack watched the troops, hoping and praying his speech had done the trick. The soldiers were in for the fight of their lives, literally, and for the lives of every man, woman, and child on the planet.

Maggie, Dave, and Xiang all sat at their respective stations, manning the reflector. It looked the same as it always did, with the exception of four large conduits that fed under the platform where the power supply rested.

Dr. Hawking and Einstein watched carefully the monitor that was broadcasting the floating nuclear weapon in space. There was no sign yet of the alien fleet, as the bomb drifted aimlessly in the barren vacuum.

Dave fidgeted in his seat some, visibly nervous. Maggie, smoking as usual, scolded him. “Sit still. You’re driving me insane,” she hammered. Dave looked like he was sorry, but clearly couldn’t calm down. “I’m nervous,” he said, “Okay Maggie? Why don’t we get to wear armor? What happens if those things get in here?”

Kat tried to keep her team in check, knowing they were all bound up tight as a slip knot. “There wasn’t enough time with the last minute preparations,” she confirmed, “But we do have these.”

From under her vacant station, Kat produced five manhole-sized shields composed of DaVincium, handing one to each researcher and Einstein. Dave perked up, examining the implement, and noticed there were two handles on the back. There was also a small field generator towards the top.

“They’re not the full meal deal,” Kat stated, “But they’ll repel enemy fire if the lab is breached. They’ll discharge just like the suits if they get energized.” Dave stood up and slung his shield proudly, ducking behind it to test it out. He moved it a little, as if to test the balance, then reared back slowly as if to throw it like a discus.

Maggie chuckled. “I’d think twice about throwing that away, Captain America,” she joked. Everyone in the room laughed out loud, as Dave blushed slightly. He knew better, but the allure of fighting like a superhero, even if just for a moment, was too good to pass up.

In the underground bunker that housed the conduction cannon, Ben Franklin sat with madame Curie and DaVinci. The fabled Italian alchemist quietly read a bible, while Franklin coached Curie on the specifics of the weapon.

“This large button here is the trigger. Any time the conductors outside are hit, the power is routed through the conduits into the alien power supply upstairs in the lab.”

“Fascinating,” said madame Curie. “You built this?”

“Yes, mostly,” said Franklin. “But let me finish. If something should happen to me you’ll need to man the controls in my place.” Curie apologized, as Ben carried on. “The energy from the power supply is then re-routed to the cannon, through separate conduits. The weapon is programmed to automatically target the source of the blast, and return an identical yield. A most lethal weapon indeed.”

Curie caught on quickly. “How will we charge it initially?”

“We used electricity,” Franklin answered. “Enough to light up the largest city on earth for a week. It should be quite a spectacle to witness the first discharge, assuming it works the way it’s supposed to. We were never able to test it.”

DaVinci looked up from his book. “You’ve never tested it?,” he asked nervously.

“Well, no,” answered Ben. “But Einstein and Dr. Hawking tested it in the lab on a smaller scale and it worked perfectly.” DaVinci looked skeptical. “Wonderful,” he replied, as he put down his bible. “I think I’ll keep this handy.” The bearded Italian reached behind his seat and produced a shield like the ones Kat had handed out in the lab. Madame Curie, constantly at odds with DaVinci’s skepticism, spoke under breath.

Pessimistic oaf.

Near the front of the main hangar, Wallace and Geronimo knelt in front of their respective platoons. Both had war paint slathered on their face. The Apache General’s was more archaic, like the Indians of the old west, while Wallace’s markings were more symmetrical and denotative of his clan.

The fearsome Scot pulled his face shield down, which was also painted on the front. There were sharp teeth around where the mouth should be, and black, sullen circles around the eyes.

Geronimo laughed at the Halloween look of the covering. “Don’t over do it,” he managed to muster over his entertained laughter. Wallace spoke back metallically through his vocalizer. “My father always told me if you could scare your opponent enough to soil his trousers, it gave you three extra seconds to dispatch him.” The soldiers all laughed aloud, as Geronimo patted his Scottish brother on the backside.

Inside the hangar, just on the other side of the doors, stood Khan. He paced slowly in front of his troops, who were all at attention, as he puffed his pipe softly. Heavy smoke rolled out the corner of his mouth.

“Stand at ease, soldiers,” he ordered. “Relax.”

The soldiers settled comfortably into a less restrictive formation, and listened attentively as their smoking leader talked.

“Fear not on this day,” spoke Khan. “You’ve all earned your place by my side. I know many of you despise and fear me. This is good, you should. For I am a warrior. The greatest ever conceived. If you are to be warriors as well, then you must understand what it takes to achieve that title. Pain, suffering, discipline, tolerance. These are the things that make a warrior great. Each life you take, each spirit that you extinguish, they all make you stronger. Strength is what allows us to survive, and carry on to fight another day. When we get old, and that strength leaves us, we die. But we die as we lived...as great warriors. Warriors of legend.” The troops listened closely, marveling at the wisdom of their leader. The smell of the smoke from his pipe was calming, and his words made sense of the brutality and intensity he’d instilled in them all.

In the bowels of the base, Jack, Marty, and General Irons sat in the vault. The clean sweep warhead sat on the bench, not yet active, as the three soldiers passed around a fifth of ’Elijah Craig’ bourbon. The make of the liquor was another example of reality shifting slightly, but it didn’t matter. Smooth whiskey was smooth whiskey, as all three friends each took a slight nip to calm their nerves.

“You boys ready to whip some alien ass today?,” asked General Irons. Jack and Marty both nodded, not having seen nearly the combat time of their elder. “Good,” said Irons, “Because the minute those green-eyed bastards are gone we’re gonna finish this bottle, along with the one in my sock drawer. Got it?”

Both Briggs and Marty agreed, all sharing a quick embrace. Jack left the room and headed back toward the surface. Once he was clear General Irons took another long, slow pull of the booze. Marty was a little surprised. “Careful, Jim,” insisted Major McKenzie. “Don’t hit the sauce too hard. We still have a battle to win.”

The General corked the bottle, wiped his lips, and set the container back on the table. “Cut me some slack, Major” answered Irons, “I’m old, and need the extra help. And just so you know, I’ve polished off more bourbon in my life than you’ve ever lied about.” Both soldiers laughed as the General walked out the door. Marty took his position and waited.

Back in the lab, the team was still silent, hinging on word from Einstein who was fixated on the bomb floating in space. Dave tried to say something to Kat.. His cheeks were flushed and his palms were sweaty, like he was terrified. Just as he opened his mouth, a quiet alarm beeped on the monitor watching the nuke.

“The fleet is coming into range,” reported Dr. Hawking. Kat moved down to the screen, and leaned in behind Einstein and the feeble professor. The fearsome armada closed in on earth in tight formation, stacked three tall and ten wide, in a perfectly straight line.

“Now, Albert,” prompted Hawking. “Activate the bomb.”

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