Collective Minds

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Chapter 4

The annex of the lab was a reasonably good sized room. Being connected to the main lab, there was a viewing window that faced inward with the blinds drawn on the other side. A round table with five chairs, a small kitchenette, and several couches made the room comfortable. There was a flat screen television that was off, as no one could stomach any more of what was on every channel.

Every soldier from the base was there, roughly twenty of them, along with three civilians dressed in plain clothes with ID badges around their necks. The first of them was a fat, balding, nerdy looking white male with black horn-rimmed glasses. What little hair he had left was messy, and the tee shirt he was wearing had food stains on it in several places. He flipped through a vintage ’Captain America’ comic book amidst the tension in the room, seemingly disconnected from the impending apocalypse unfolding around the world.

The second civilian was a very young Chinese man. He looked to be in his early twenties, with a plain black tee shirt and green cargo pants. The look on his face was all business, as he stared at the soldiers around the room all stirring in anticipation.

Seated at the end of the couch was the last of the three. She was visibly the oldest, in her mid fifties, wearing an army green blouse and blue jeans. Her dark skin and hair made it clear that she was Latino in origin, with streaks of gray in her pulled-back ponytail.

Jack, Marty, and Kat entered the room, causing the chatter to die down. As they walked toward the front to begin, the three civilian scientists perked up, happy to see Kat back in action after her vacation. The balding nerd seemed the most exuberant, standing and hugging her. She smiled, and hugged him back, as the Chinese fellow followed suit and embraced her next. Both sat back down, as the young woman moved to catch up with Jack. As she passed the Latino at the end of the couch, the two smiled at each other like sisters. Kat put her arms out for a hug. Instead of standing, the stocky Mexican plucked a cigarette from her pocket, put it between her lips and lit it, then took a deep drag and exhaled. “You picked a hell of a day to come home,” she declared.

Kat put her arms down, and replied under her breath.

“No kidding, Mags.”

Seconds later, Jack was briefing the assembly, with Marty behind him. Kat joined the entourage, and took her place at his side.

Jack spoke somberly, trying to keep it upbeat and generate some morale. “Okay, everybody listen up. We’re all up to speed on what’s happening globally, and it’s time to buck up. It took these things just under three hours to wipe out all our defenses and most of our population. We may very well have seen our last sunset, and need to brace for the fact that, even if we do survive, the world as we know it will never be the same.”

The troops stirred some, hearing the brutal reality. Marty, the eternal optimist, spoke up. “So what’re you saying, Jack? We’re living on borrowed time? What about our families, and our homes, and our lives?”

Jack considered a moment. “Forget about all that, Marty,” he replied. “If we want to save them, we have to face reality. We’re the last best hope for humanity, for earth, to survive. And our chances are very slim. But I refuse to go down without a fight.”

The troops listened closely, as Marty spoke back to his superior. “That’s great, Jack. Really noble,” he retorted. “But what’re we gonna fight with? General Irons said they used nukes to no avail. We don’t have anything more than the rest of the world, and look what happened to all them.”

“You’re wrong, Marty,” Jack replied, pointing to his temple. “We have this.” The humbled Colonel walked to the Chinese man, still seated on the couch, and tapped the top of his head. “And this.” Then to the Hispanic woman, tapping her noggin in a similar fashion. “And this.” Then finally to the nerd. Jack reached out to tap his head, then stopped short. “That’s all,” he concluded sarcastically.

There was a collective laugh in the room from everyone but the nerd, who turned away a little dejected. The Latino gal put her arm around him, but it was little consolation. Jack had always bullied him, and today was no different. The jock and the chess club geek, forever locked in the battle for dominance.

Colonel Briggs turned and introduced all three scientists. “You all know Dave Brody here, and his partners in crime Xiang Lo and Maggie Ortiz. Three of the smartest people in the world, sitting in one room. That’s an advantage I’d say, and one I have high hopes is going to pay some dividends.”

His optimism started to perk up the troops a little, all still attentive and hinging on every word as Jack kept the momentum rolling. “We have the greatest collective minds in the world, and we’re on the cutting edge of a breakthrough that could change the face of human history. Or, more to suit our purposes, to save it. But we have a long way to go in very short amount of time.”

Briggs turned to Kat. “Can we be ready for a field trial in an hour?,” he asked. Kat was completely astonished. “Are you serious?,” she replied. “We’ve been working on this for six years, and you want to jeopardize all that by going for the gusto now? We have no idea what’s going to happen when we activate that technology.”

“You’re right, Kat,” answered her cohort, “But we know exactly what’s going to happen if we don’t. We have to try. You said it yourself, we’ve been at it for years. It’s time to take the bull by the horns.”

Maggie took a long, deep drag from her cigarette, then exhaled. “We were close to activation some time this year, Jack,” she reported, “Not this second. Rushing this could be an endgame you may not like.”

The solemn Colonel grimaced. “As opposed to being vaporized by those aliens out there, Mags?,” he countered. “I’ll take my chances.” Maggie was used to Jack’s sarcasm and ego, but never let it phase her. She knew he was cornered, running purely on instinct and military conditioning. As bad as she wanted to put him in his place, she bit her lip and stayed quiet.

Jack turned to Kat. “I want you and your team to prep the device. Get it ready for a trial run. Gather all your research and data, and cover every base as far as safety, temporal ramifications, monitoring, or anything else that’s pertinent.”

Marty chimed in again. “Suppose we make it work Jack,” he asked. “What then?”

“Then,” replied Jack, “We put our brains to work and figure out how to use the technology to our advantage. I want at least one suggestion from every person in this room, more if you can think of them. We’ll put them in a box randomly, so there’s no names attached. I’m in the dark as much as anyone, but surely with tech like this at our disposal we can come up with something. And remember...we can only go backward in time, not forward. Be open minded, and think outside the box. We’ll meet back here in an hour.”

The troops began to filter out of the room, then the civilians and Kat, until only Jack and Marty remained. Briggs turned to his old friend. “Seal the base, Marty,” he ordered. “Nothing in or out. Prep for a clean sweep.”

The look changed on Marty’s face, as he knew what came next. He pulled the chain from under his shirt again, rattling the keys and his tags in the process. Both men headed for the door.

A short time later, in the main lab, Kat and her team had assembled and were prepping for the imminent test that Jack had ordered. All three looked nervous, but excited at the same time. They ran through their duties with more pizzazz than usual, seething with enthusiasm.

The lab was full of complicated machinery and computers, all linked to a central platform recessed in the middle of the room. The platform was raised, with a small set of metal catwalk steps leading up to it. Elevated above the platform was a hexagonal box, roughly the size of stand-up tanning booth, suspended by a solid steel piston. The outside of the booth was riddled with wires and advanced looking alien circuitry that had clearly been infused with human technology and power.

The researchers worked tirelessly prepping for the trial, typing and conversing, all the while looking at the temporal reflector like they’d never seen it before. It was an awesome piece of machinery, made of the alien metal Jack bragged to the General about, which glistened and reflected light in such a way that it seemed to bend it.

Kat walked behind the three team members, all sitting at their respective stations above the platform, getting a last look at all the leg work. Confident enough that they’d all done their homework and were ready to rock, she began the primary ignition procedure.

“Xiang, begin the temporal alignment,” she called out from behind him. Her Chinese subordinate followed his orders, and typed quickly. His screen had a three dimensional illustration of the reflector on it, which became animated as he progressed. Energy graphics appeared around the outside of the apparatus, and flowed downward in a straight line, as if bouncing off the platform below it.

Xiang studied the animation for a moment.. “Temporal alignment underway, Katherine,’ he confirmed. “Five minutes to slipstream acquisition.” The Asian prodigy studied his screen, then looked to the platform, which had begun to hum with a low harmonic vibration.

Kat next turned to Dave. “Calculate for a slipstream incursion. Let’s start small. Make it...one minute.” Dave’s face froze in thought momentarily, like he was surprised. Without hesitating, however, he turned back to his terminal and began typing away. His screen was much different than Xiang’s, with complex sine waves, algorithmic calculations scrolling, and multiple readouts that appeared to monitor energy fluctuations. After a short bout of fast commands, a timing bar appeared on his screen and began cycling down, with a notation above it that read, ’Calculating Slipstream Realignment.’

“I’ll have it programmed in a minute, Kat,” he promised.

Maggie, who’d been monitoring the preparation, pulled a GPS from her drawer. She knew what was coming, and waited for the command. Kat approached her, then walked to the blinds between the lab and the annex and drew them. “Right there, Mags,” she spoke, pointing. “On the table.”

The stocky Latino stood from her chair and walked into the other room. She put the GPS on the table and let it acclimate, then picked it back up and returned to her station. Maggie’s screen was the simplest of the three, with a three dimensional picture of the earth, and a text box above it. Studying the coordinates on the GPS for a moment, Maggie transposed them into the search box on her monitor. The globe spun, then the view zoomed in over New Mexico, then down to Roswell. The satellite view magnified to the outside of the base, until the top of the hangar roof was visible, as a red dot appeared on it with a digital notification: ’Coordinates locked.’

Maggie plucked another cig from her pocket and sparked it, taking a deep drag then exhaling hard. “Coordinates are locked,” she confirmed, as a thick cloud of heavy smoke hung over her area.

With all three components of the technology dialed in, Kat knew the time had come to end the speculation and theoretics, and see if the years of research and questions could finally yield results. She was timid, partially out of fear of the temporal ramifications, but mostly from the prospect of failure. The young scientist had always been her own hardest critic, and being wrong was something she struggled with.

Walking behind Maggie’s station, Kat opened a file cabinet drawer and pulled a small digital clock from inside. She looked at the display on the laboratory wall, which read ’9:26 PM’, then carefully set the one in her hand to match it. Slowly, the blonde genius walked down the steps toward the reflector platform, which was humming vibrantly, louder than before. Her steps up to the platform echoed quietly in the room, as her three cohorts watched in eager anticipation. She set the clock on the platform, directly under the reflector, and stepped back. Faster, on the double step, Kat tromped off the platform, then back up toward the team.

The make or break moment had finally arrived, as Kat turned to Xiang. “Activate the reflector,” she commanded. Xiang froze momentarily, transfixed on her, then carried out the order. With a few quick keystrokes, the harmonic vibration of the reflector became louder, almost painful, as it dropped down over the clock. The small booth came to rest on the platform, as the harmonics in the room began to resonate faster and faster. Then, in an instant, there was an ear shattering boom that rattled the entire base.

The reflector silenced, then raised above the platform, revealing that the clock was gone. The sound of the piston hissing while it raised the apparatus was the only noise in the room.

Everyone gathered themselves for a moment. Maggie stood and looked in the other room through the window, and saw that the table was clear, void of anything but empty space. There was a collective moment where the team considered failure of everything they’d worked so hard for, which was broken by Maggie pointing exuberantly and screaming, “LOOK!”

All the team members stood and peered through the glass, trying to get a handle on what they were actually seeing. There, on the table, was the ghostly image of the clock, materializing seemingly out of thin air. Slowly the density became more pronounced, as it finally solidified into natural form. The group of scientists looked to each other in utter disbelief. Never had such a brilliant group of minds felt so infantile, and so meager.

Kat calmly broke the standoff, and went to the other room. Without any hesitation, she picked the device up from the table and looked at it. Her expression was that of a kid who’d just shagged a fly ball at the World Series. She studied the clock, then looked through the glass at the one on the wall of the lab. Then, she grinned ear to ear.

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