The elevator doors at the bottom of the lift were solid steel. They were reinforced, clearly to repel borders if the need arose, with huge rivets and clean welds. There were two lights above, one green and one red, and a small garrison of troops in military fatigues posted to stand watch.
The red light lit up, followed by a loud buzz, causing all the soldiers to take up defensive positions in anticipation. The clicking of rounds chambering and low chatter died down as the elevator inside hit the bottom of the shaft. Slowly the doors slid open, with Jack standing at the front of the Jeep, his hands open and in the air.
“Stand down,” he ordered, “And report to the briefing room on the double.”
The soldiers slung their weapons and scattered, as Kat and Marty stepped out from behind Jack. Marty carried his rifle at the hip, as Kat, prodded at Jack for answers. “What is all this, Jack? Why is the base on alert? What’s happening?” Briggs looked to her, dying to tell, then consoled her calmly. “The answers are coming, I promise,” he answered. “But we need to go.”
All three headed down the hall of the concrete bunker, as the echoes of boots and movement resonated. Marty closed the doors to the elevator, and pulled his dog tags out from under his shirt. Hanging on his chain were several keys, one of which he stuck into a small slot by the doors and turned clockwise. The light above them turned from red to green, as he plucked the key from the slot and followed his comrades.
Moments later the briefing room was filled to capacity. It was a professional setting, with a long table that seated about twenty people. There were pitchers of water and glasses, several telephones, ceiling mikes and cameras, and a large flat screen television at the front of the room. Jack fumbled with the TV remote, as the screen lit up. As he scrolled through the input settings, he turned and faced his cohorts.
Somberly, he addressed them. “What I’m about to show you is going to be hard to see,” he issued. “Please refrain from blurting out or debate. We’ll debrief when it’s over.” He turned back and tuned in a news broadcast from London.
The scene was utter chaos and carnage, with the British city completely destroyed. Fire and smoke enveloped the entire skyline, with Big Ben fragmented into a pile of rubble in the wreckage. A newscaster with a thick English accent narrated the footage, as the shot continued to pan.
“...estimates indicate a total loss of life, with the death toll topping nearly eight million. Scattered bands of refugees managed to escape after the orbiting alien craft fired on the city, but few managed to get to safety before the first wave of ground assault began. England’s defenses were helpless against the onslaught, which managed to cripple all the armed forces in a matter of just a few hours.”
The entire room stood silent as Jack cut to another broadcast from Cairo, in the same condition as the United Kingdom. The news anchor spoke in Arabic, showing grisly scenes of the city burning to the ground. Shot after shot of dead bodies, fire, and chaos littered the screen as the horrified onlookers at the table stared in utter disbelief.
Jack flipped the station again, to what appeared to be a Canadian channel, with a small observatory in the background. Inside, the broadcaster this time spoke with a slightly French accent, with the shot focused on a man in a white lab coat looking through a complicated telescope.
“This astronomer, Dr. Marcus Mancini, has identified over a hundred crafts in orbit. Each measures roughly ten miles in circumference, with unparalleled firepower. This video, shot by doctor Mancini just a few moments ago, shows the blast that decimated what now remains of Rome.”
The shot cut to a huge orbiting spacecraft shaped like a doughnut, with a massive, open center. Hundreds of tiny boomerang-shaped attack crafts buzzed around it. The smaller ships all began to move away, as a mass of huge, swirling power began to build in the middle of the ring. As the energy hit critical mass, it discharged towards the earth, striking in the vicinity of Italy far below. The impact was so powerful the clouds scattered.
Jack began cycling through the channels. Sydney. Tokyo. Mexico City. Paris. All were destroyed. All that remained was death, and fire, and loss. Finally the screen came to America, as a shot from the top of the Empire State building showed the flaming remains of New York. The scene cut to Madison Square Garden, obliterated and burning, then to a newscaster standing outside on the street. Bleeding from a cut on her temple, the red-haired reporter stayed surprisingly composed as she spoke.
“The greater metro area and midtown were flattened by the initial strike from space, with the invasion coming a short time later. This is footage taken from a cell phone camera of a commuter spending the evening in the park with her family.”
The scene cut to a grainy cell phone video, of people running and screaming in Central Park. Dozens of alien invaders marched through and systematically annihilated them. The aliens were large, humanoid beings, with dull gray armor. Their helmet face plates had no mouths, only two eyes that glowed with a murky green light. Each invader had a sizeable cannon on the right hand, which fired a burst of green energy. People that were hit vaporized in a flash of light, instantly reduced to ash on the ground.
Marty, unable to handle it, turned away and puked in the corner, then plead with his friend. “Turn it off Jack,” he muttered. “I’ve seen enough.” Jack obliged, and lifted the remote to shut it all down, when Kat noticed something on the screen.
“Stop, wait Jack,” she implored. “Freeze it. Use the Tevo.” Jack paused the screen and froze the impending slaughter in its tracks. Kat looked closer, studying something in the background, then pointed. “Isolate this portion of the screen, and zoom in.” Jack played with the remote a little more, and enlarged the area in question. The zoom was pixilated, which made it impossible to make anything out, as Kat uttered one last request. “Now clean it up with the tracking,” she asked. Briggs adjusted the picture, which still wasn’t great, but revealing enough to seal the deal.
Kat covered her mouth, as tears began to stream down her cheeks. There on the screen, frozen in time, was her Uncle Louie’s blaze orange ’NRA’ hat. It bore a huge crescent shaped burn, and rested next to two smoldering piles of ash, with the chess tables overturned nearby. She knew her dad well enough to realize he could never have left his brother behind. They were gone. She was alone in the world, for what little time it seemed to have left.
Jack cut the power, and put his arm around her. She cried quietly into his chest, trying to stay composed. He hugged her tightly, and whispered something, then had to let go and face the troops.
The humbled Colonel spoke sternly. “I want this base locked down and air tight. No personnel in or out. No communication or any signals that can be tracked. I want the hard lines cut to the outside, and I want weapons check and the armory online ready to rock in thirty minutes. We all kn...”
A soldier entered the room as Jack laid down the law, and interrupted him, mid-sentence. The trooper carried a small satellite telephone. “Colonel Briggs,” he insisted, “There’s a priority one call for you, sir.”
Jack took the phone and put the call on speaker. The connection was terrible, with static and commotion in the background. A voice managed to cut through, which Jack recognized as his old commanding officer, General Jim Irons.
General Irons wasted no time. “Jack!,” he shouted, “Are you there? Can you hear me?” Jack could sense the desperation in his voice. He knew his superior to be cool as a cucumber under fire, so this was something new. “I’m here, Jim. Go ahead,” Jack fired back. The General stammered, as gunshots rang out in the background behind him. “Turn on your view screen. Tune to the EBS channel. Adjust the frequency to alpha, tango, six, six, Zulu. Hurry!” The gunshots got louder, and more rapid in succession, as Jack turned the screen back on and adjusted the input to the right wavelength.
The screen materialized, and there stood his old friend. General Irons was dirty, and bleeding from his right nostril, in what appeared to be his office. There were pictures on the wall of the General shaking hands with several different presidents, and various commendations and awards.
Irons looked to his webcam, and spoke quickly. “Thank god you’re still alive, Jack. I need some intel from you.” Briggs leaned in and listened, as General Irons turned towards the commotion in the background, then pulled a twelve gauge from under his desk and pumped a shell in the chamber.
“I need to know what you’re working on there at Hangar 18,” insisted the General.
Jack had known Jim for twenty years, and knew his seasoned friend was familiar with the protocols surrounding sensitive information. “It’s classified, General. I need clearance from my superiors at the Pentagon before I can divulge any inform...”
Irons cut Jack off, slamming the butt of his shotgun down, then grabbing a remote control from his desktop. “You mean this pentagon?,” the four star pit bull barked back. A quick click of the remote, and General Irons’ camera cut to the exterior of the Pentagon, which was completely decimated. Aliens marched around the building picking off civilians and soldiers, as the screen quickly cut back to the office.
Jack, humbled, listened again as his friend laid it out. “Listen to me carefully, Colonel. I want to know what you’re working on there, and I want to know right now!” Both men shared a stunned gaze for a moment, until the General finally broke the stalemate. “Look...we’ve been friends a long time, Jack. You know I wouldn’t ask if the fate of the world didn’t literally depend on it. But we’re out of time. I need all the cards on the table.”
Jack pondered briefly, then knew it was time to come clean. “About sixty years ago,” Briggs began, “An alien ship crashed here in the desert in Roswell. It was a small craft, unlike any of the ones that are currently attacking earth. The beings inside died on impact. But they were nothing like the ones blowing away our cities today. They were small, gray, skinny, with black eyes. Like the ones you hear about at the water cooler and in urban legend.”
Irons, a soldier to the core, posed the obvious question. “Did they have any weapons? Anything more advanced than ours?”
Jack shook his head. “The craft they were in was made of some sort of super strong, malleable metal,” he replied. “It was soft to the touch like kevlar, but extremely durable, and designed to streamline so the ship could move at high speeds. We tried to duplicate it, to make weapons or armor, but it was some type of metal or alloy that didn’t exist on earth.”
General Irons looked disappointed as he spoke back. “So that’s it?,” he spited. “That’s all you’ve got after sixty years? Please for the love of god tell me there’s something more. Something we can use.”
“Actually,” Jack answered back, “The armament project was a secondary objective. But it was the only one I thought might be an asset in our current situation.” Irons looked again towards the commotion, which seemed to be getting closer, and turned back to his camera.
“A secondary objective? What was the primary?”
Jack took a deep breath, then laid down his hand. “We didn’t find weapons technology on the ship, but we did find something else,” he answered. “Something we’ve been trying to crack for the better part of five decades. I took over the project eight years ago. It’s code named ’Slipstream’. Heard of it?”
Irons pondered momentarily, then shook his head. “What kind of tech was it, Jack?,” prodded the General. The bewildered Colonel looked at Kat, then back to the screen. “We’re fairly certain that it was designed for temporal displacement, sir.”
General Irons, unclear, shot a fast retort. “English, dammit!,” he spouted. “We’re not all West Point grads like you!” Jack tried to explain the best he could. “Time travel, Jim,” he replied. “We’re close to testing it. The pentagon just refinanced us for another year of research and development.”
Kat glared at Jack, not nearly as confident.
General Irons prodded some more, trying to get something tangible. “What kind of implications are we talking about here?,” he plead. “How soon can we do this? How will it change things?”
Jack knew his expertise was at an end, and it was time to turn it over to someone that could explain it better. He ushered Kat into range of the camera and introduced her. “Jim this is Katherine Westmorland, our team leader. I’m gonna let her talk you through this.”
The general looked at Kat briefly, then cut to the chase. “Mrs. Westmorland, what kind of tactical advantage can this technology give us?”
Kat, a little flustered, spared the formalities and got right to the point. “Truthfully, sir? None that I can think of. Jack was right. The armament project was the best shot at repelling an enemy attack. And that one never got off the ground. It was scrapped a long time ago.”
The general, grasping for straws, inquired some more. “I can think of a dozen different ways time travel could help us. If you can make it work, can’t we go into the future and gather some advanced weaponry? The armor they have is impenetrable. We need a way through that if we’re to have any chance at all. We need...”
Kat cut him off, trying to save time. “We determined a long time ago that travelling to the future isn’t possible, General. The temporal triangle theory is that time, space, and reality are intertwined. Since reality in the future from our present point on the time line hasn’t happened yet, that part of the temporal chain is removed from the equation, thus inhibiting our ability to move there in the temporal slipstream.”
The General, completely lost in the science jargon, tried to make sense of it all, finally muttering a reply. “You mean to tell me,” he spouted, “That if we can get it to work, we can only travel between the past and the present? How does that help?”
Kat shrugged her shoulders and shot the exhausted General a look that said it all. “I’m not sure. And that’s assuming we can even make it work. Jack was being optimistic when he said we were ready for a trial.”
Colonel Briggs, knowing his friend needed some hope to pull through, stepped back in the picture. “We’ve been working on this a long time, Jim. Four of the most brilliant minds on earth reside here at the base, and Kat’s one of them. If anyone can do this, it’s her.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” General Irons replied, beaten down and hopeless. “But in another forty eight hours or so there won’t be an earth left. These things kill without remorse, and don’t take prisoners. It’s clear their only mission is annihilation. I’ll be dead soon, along with everyone else here in DC. We fought the good fight, but our weapons are useless. Nuclear, biological, chemical, EM. We’re throwing stones, Jack.”
Briggs and the rest of the troops watched in anguish as a thunderous crash came from the other end of the broadcast. General Irons shouldered his shotgun and began blasting away. The screen pixilated and froze for a moment, then a bright green flash vaporized the doomed soldier in less than a second. His scream, hollow and metallic sounding, died down then faded away completely. Seconds later, an alien invader came into view and looked directly in the camera. It raised the cannon on its arm, which discharged, causing the screen to frizz then transmit a message that read, ’SIGNAL LOST.’
Kat stood in disbelief, as Jack soaked in the reality of his old friend vanishing. The room went dead silent, as the young Colonel decided his next play. Marty, seeing his friend in dire straits, put his hand on Jack’s shoulder and consoled him. His sympathy seemed to get the wheels turning again, as Briggs picked up the phone receiver on the table and punched the intercom button. The overhead speaker in the base came on, with a quick screech of feedback. “Attention all personnel,” announced Jack. “Report to the lab immediately. This is an alpha level alert. I repeat, this is not a drill. Report to the lab immediately.”