Collective Minds

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Chapter 24

The briefing room was quiet the next morning, as the celebration had clearly gone on well into the night. Wallace, Geronimo, Hannibal, and Khan all sat on one side of the table. Einstein, madame Curie, Ben Franklin, and DaVinci all sat on the other, waiting for the debriefing to begin.

Wallace looked like he was still drunk, and hadn’t showered, as Khan puffed on his pipe. Hannibal spoke quietly with Geronimo, both of whom had bruises on their heads from heavy combat. No one was quite sure what was coming next, as the mission had been completed and was a resounding success.

Franklin pulled a watch from his breast pocket, clicked it open, then shut it again. He plopped the device back in it’s hiding place, looking perplexed. “Eleven sharp,” he questioned, “That’s what Colonel Briggs said, correct?” Ben looked to DaVinci for reassurance, who simply shrugged his shoulders. “Jack is seldom late,” added madame Curie. “Perhaps someone should go and confirm that all is well.”

“I’ll go,” offered Wallace, as he stood. The burly Scot swayed for a moment looking like he was still tipsy from drink. But it was clearly something else, as the Scotsman fell against the wall, with a drowsy look on his face. He slid down the concrete and landed on his butt, sitting upright for a moment then slumping over on his side.

The occupants all looked at him trying to deduce what had happened, as Hannibal began to get the same sleepy look in his eyes. He tumbled over backwards in his chair, out like a light, landing only a few feet from his Scottish friend.

Geronimo and Khan knew something was up, as the rest of the occupants stood from the table. The Apache ran for the door and tried to open it, but it was locked, barred from the outside. Seconds later he began to fade as well, and fell to floor. Khan was next, trying desperately to hold himself upright against the table, then collapsing on top of it.

The scientists were the last to fade, as Ben Franklin fell asleep upright in his chair. His head slumped back and his eyes rolled to white, as the portly inventor began snoring like a lumberjack. Einstein realized what was happening, looking to the ceiling vent, which was blowing the streamers on it at full blast. Madame Curie begin to succumb as well, as DaVinci tried to cushion her fall. He too was almost unconscious as he laid her gently on the cement, trying to calm her fear. “I love you,” he managed to whisper in his last breath to her, knowing that it translated to ‘good bye’.

Einstein was the last man standing, but only momentarily. He went down to one knee knowing he only had seconds left. The bushy haired genius reached to his inside pocket and pulled a small DaVincium capsule out which resembled a multivitamin. He carefully cracked it to check the inside contents. There was a small piece of paper rolled up with his handwriting on it, which he quickly encapsulated again and swallowed in one loud gulp. His eyes rolled, and the drugged genius hit the floor.

The group laid there for a few moments, breathing in enough sleeping gas to keep them under for hours. The streamers on the vent in the ceiling came to rest as the bolt on the outside of the door clicked. It opened, and in stepped a soldier in a gas mask that covered his entire face. He surveyed the room, making sure all the guests were in dreamland, then produced an air toximeter from his pocket. After studying it for a moment, Jack removed his mask and put it on the table, pocketing the gauge at the same time. He activated the speaker phone on the keypad and spoke into it.

“We’re clear. Prepare for evac.”

Troops flooded the room with field stretchers and began hauling out the sedated heroes. Kat came through the door and watched the operation in motion, trying to comfort Jack, who appeared worried. He looked her straight in the eyes, knowing that, even though the world had been saved, sending people back in time that had been there a year may very well alter things beyond recognition. The endgame was a question mark, and Jack knew that once everyone went through the reflector there was no telling what would happen.

“You’re sure about this?,” he asked. “We can’t afford mistakes, Kat.”

“We’ve got the eight best neurosurgeons in the world down the hall, Jack,” she answered. “They pioneered the cortical reconstruction surgery that everyone’s getting. It’s been done hundreds of times with a near perfect success rate. They can erase a day, a month, a year, or a lifetime of memories depending on how much brain tissue they opt to manipulate. It’s non-invasive, done with a scope and a laser that’s inserted through the nostril. There’s no incisions, or sutures, or scarring. It’s top shelf, and state of the art.”

Kat was confident in what she was saying. “Plus,” she added, “We’ve been using hypnotic suggestion at night three times a week in all their quarters. The brain is very malleable coming in and out of REM sleep. They use it for psychotherapy all the time to help people forget things that are traumatic, or to quit smoking, or abusing drugs. We’ve done our homework. Trust in that, Jack.”

Briggs still wasn’t totally bought in, but smiled and pretended he was. His game face was still good enough to convince Kat when he needed to, and he knew that this part of the plan was a throw of the dice from the start. The Colonel left it to fate and crossed his fingers.

After a long afternoon of brain surgery, all the honored guests were sent home through the slipstream, one at a time. Jack escorted each and every one, making sure they arrived safe and comfortable, and would wake up somewhere that was familiar. The reflector was programmed to put them all back twenty four hours after they’d been abducted, so as not to take any chances of the temporal blending that Jack and Kat had fallen victim to.

Each time he stepped out of the reflector for the next jump he became a little more confident that the plan was working. Reality seemed to stay constant, and the universe didn’t unravel.

As Jack returned from the last jump he stepped out to a waiting Kat. The two hugged, knowing it was over, then shared a soft kiss. Jack, for the first time in ages, looked like he could finally breathe easy and let his guard down.

Dave flipped through a history book at his station, trying to find any obvious changes that stood out in regards to the people that had come and gone. He thumbed through the pages and seemed content, then stopped abruptly, marking a page with his finger and flipping backwards. He studied the earlier page, then the page he fingered, then the latter again. “Holy Christ,” he said surprised, “Look at this.”

Kat and Jack walked up from the platform and stood behind him. Xiang and Maggie leaned in as well, eager and a little nervous, as Dr. Hawking, who’d also watched the return jumps, wheeled forward to see. “What, Dave?,” asked Kat. “What is it?” Dave flipped to the page with his finger mark toward the back, which had an antique photo of Marie Curie posted next to the periodic table.

“Yeah, so?,” asked Jack.

The balding nerd flipped the stack of pages to the front of the book, where there was a picture of the Mona Lisa. The face, however, had changed from what it once was, and was a dead ringer for Curie. The clothes and the background were a perfect match in the masterpiece, but the face was clearly that of the fabled chemist that DaVinci had fallen so hard for. Dave flipped back and forth between the two pictures, and it was undeniable.

The whole entourage was taken aback for a moment, then all smiled at the sweetness and sincerity of it. “Did you find anything else, Dave?,” asked Kat. “No, not yet,” he answered. “But I’m sure I will. If it’s contained to little snippets like this I think we’ll all be okay.”

“It’s a shame they couldn’t stay,” said Dr. Hawking. “Imagine what they could’ve taught us.” Jack patted the wheeled genius on the back. “They taught us plenty. And we still have a lot more to learn. Will you stay with us here, Dr. Hawking?”

The wheeled genius rolled backwards and paused a moment. “I wish I could, Jack. You’ve all been like family to me, and you’ve answered so many questions. This was the pinnacle of my life and the crown jewel in my achievements. Not everyone can boast that they saved the world and worked side by side with Einstein.”

The crew listened, sad at the revelation, as professor Hawking carried on.

“I’ll gladly be an adviser, and come back and visit. But I’ve been away from my family, and my friends, and my students for far too long. I’m happy to have saved the world, but moving forward my job is now to teach it. I have a much broader understanding, and even though what happened here will always be classified, I can build on what I know and pass it to others. Imagine the possibilities.”

The entire team surrounded the humble professor, knowing that his wisdom and brilliance were eclipsed only by his compassion. Dr. Hawking was truly one of the greatest collective minds in history, with a heart to match. Each member of the team hugged him and gave thanks, as he blushed and smiled at the affection.

A few days later in the briefing room, Jack, Kat, and General Irons all sat looking at a laptop computer. Jack cycled through images of the mother ships in orbit, and the explosions, and pictures of the blasts from the Franklin Cannon shooting into the sky from miles away.

“It’s been less than a week since the attack, Jim, and people all over the world are posting this crap,” Jack stated. “It’s all over the internet and the papers. How do we cover this up?” General Irons smoked his cigar patiently, and explained. “This was inevitable, Jack. The only other person besides the immediate personnel at the base that knew anything was Dr. Mancini. He’s been debriefed and given a lucrative position at NASA, so he’s handled.”

“And the rest of the world?,” Jack asked.

Irons took another drag off his stogie, and exhaled. “The army has people for that,” he answered. “Thousands of em’. They get into chat rooms, and the tabloids, with tidbits of classified information that makes them ‘experts’. Then they pass the word that it was all an elaborate hoax and let the internet nerds and conspiracy theorists do the rest. It’ll fade over time without credible evidence. Thank god those alien bastards didn’t want to leave their dead and their tech behind, and tried to make a run for it. We killed two birds with one stone.”

Jack and Kat smiled, wondering what other urban legends had inklings of truth to them. Briggs turned to his old friend confidently. “I guess you got it all figur...” Before he could finish, the Colonel lurched in his chair like he’d been hit in the head with a crow bar, so hard that he fell over backwards and began convulsing on the floor. Kat panicked and scooted back to help him. As she leaned over and touched him, her arm began to fade into translucency.

“It’s happening,” she gasped to Irons.

The General slammed the speaker phone with his fist and screamed for help. The sound of boots clomping in the hall approached in the distance, as the stunned veteran watched helplessly.

Jack laid in bed in the infirmary, fading in and out of reality. No one knew how to treat him, or what was happening, as they watched their leader and friend in his last moments. Even Kat, who was laying in the bed next to him experiencing the same symptoms, had no idea what was coming.

“I’m not gonna make it, Kat,” he said breathlessly, reaching for her. “I love you.” The three magic words were the last he ever spoke, as he disappeared completely and didn’t return. His voice echoed into infinity as he faded, prompting Kat to sob in hysterics.

The fading researcher wasn’t far behind, phasing in and out at longer increments herself. Maggie stood by, tears streaming down both cheeks, as Xiang tried to comfort her. Dave was crying too, but trying to hide it and stay strong.

“You saved the world, Kat,” Maggie assured her. “You saved us all.” Kat tried to hold her friend’s hand, but didn’t have the density. “I loved you like a sister, Mags. You did as much as anyone,” she responded. Maggie cried harder, reaching for her ghostly friend in vain.

Dave pulled the crumpled letter he’d written to himself in the future from his pocket, and unfolded it. He held it over Kat’s face for her to read as tears streamed from his eyes. She squinted to read it.

Dear Dave: I’m very much in love with Kat. Always have been. But I know I’ll never be half the man Jack is. Sincerely--Dave Brody.

Kat smiled softly. She’d always known, and loved Dave like the nerdy brother she’d never had. Dave knew it, and lived with it, but had always longed for that to change. He tried to touch her cheek, but his hand passed straight through. Kat would have to settle for a kiss on his fingertip that he touched to her lips. No sooner, she was gone. Maggie sobbed, louder, as all three said farewell to their comrade.

Weeks later it was pouring rain at Arlington Cemetery. There were only a handful of people around the two caskets as the downpour pelted them. Maggie, Xiang, and Dave all huddled together as a priest read from the bible. General Irons stood in his dress uniform, stern, yet sad. He’d lost a man he loved like a son, and the greatest soldier he’d ever known.

The ceremony concluded, cuing the General to call cadence to the seven soldiers standing at attention with rifles slung. The troops turned, and took aim to the heavens.

Fire!,” yelled the General.

Seven shots rang out.

Fire!”

Seven more came in succession.

Fire!”

The last seven made twenty one. The General called cadence again, and the troops slung their weapons and stood in salute. Maggie cried openly as the rain poured down, while General Irons folded the flags that covered the caskets. A thunder clap exploded overhead, then lightning fanned out over the horizon.

Briefly, just for a moment as the lightning burned, Dave saw what appeared to be two ghosts under a huge oak tree draped over the graveyard nearby. He wiped his glasses as the flash dissipated, trying to get a better look, but the figures were gone.

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