Dave charged through the door to the annex, with Xiang and Maggie close behind. All three stood around Kat, who was transfixed on the clock’s digital readout. It read ’9:26 PM’, then cycled to ’9:27 PM’. As the time changed on the clock in her hand, so did the one on the wall in the lab. It, however, cycled from ’9:27 PM’ to ’9:28 PM’ at exactly the same moment.
Xiang saw the time shift, knowing that the two clocks had been synchronized not five minutes earlier. For the first time in as long as anyone could remember, the staunch Asian genius broke character and smiled. “It WORKED!,” he bragged. “The clock traveled through the slipstream instantaneously, and materialized exactly one minute in the past outside of it.”
Dave, a kid in a candy store at this point, had no words as he considered the ramifications of it all with his jaw slightly agape. “So even though it seemed like the present to us,” he asked, “If this clock could talk, or feel, or speak, it’d tell us that time was relevant, and it traveled through it to this point one minute back.”
Kat listened, then answered. “It would,” she clarified. “Einstein was right.”
The tempo of the group changed from awe to celebration as they all hugged and embraced, having just broken the temporal barrier for the first time in human history. The annihilation around the world seemed to dissipate briefly, as all four basked in the moment. Kat, knowing that the fight was only half over, keep the momentum going. “Everyone get back to your stations. Prepare for slipstream rebound. Lets bring it back.”
The three researchers scrambled back through the door, as Kat again synchronized the clock with the one in the lab. Both read the same, as the eager scientist placed the small device on the table again. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a small, microchip-looking device, which was roughly the size of a pencil eraser. The chip had a magnet on the back of it, which Kat stuck securely to the top of the clock in front of her.
She jaunted back to the lab, closing the door behind her, as her friends worked excitedly at their posts. Xiang, more confident now, spoke first. “Slipstream realignment configured, Katherine. Temporal rebound in sixty seconds.”
Dave typed like a madman, doing his duty, then turned to Kat and gave the ‘thumbs up’. Maggie’s job was already done, as the temporal beacon placed on the clock would only bring it back to one location, it’s point of origin under the reflector.
All three watched in eager anticipation as the reflector lowered again, buzzing with harmonics. The thunderous blast shook the room, and everyone watched in disbelief as the clock vanished from the tabletop in the annex at the same moment. Knowing exactly where it was going to be, each person stared at the reflector as it raised. There sat the small device, just as it had moments before.
Kat jumped down the stairs, light on her feet, then up the short hop to the reflector pad. She snatched the clock, and looked at it, then to the one on the wall. Again she smiled, and ran back up to her team. All three stood and gathered around her, checking the display. It read, ’9:30 PM’, exactly the same as the one hanging nearby.
The team members all hugged again, knowing they’d successfully sent something backward in history, then returned it to the present, displacing time in reverse but keeping it constant on the rebound. It was mind boggling, yet drastically simple in the grand scheme of temporal mathematics.
Kat cut the celebration short, and knew she needed to keep the ball rolling. “I want every piece of information on this clock we can gather,” she said. “Radiation readings, functionality, density, mass...whatever you can think of that may have been altered in the slipstream. And I want it all yesterday. We’re on a short leash, and need answers as fast as we can get them. Hop to it, and I’ll talk to Jack. I’m proud of you all, but we’re not out of the woods yet.” Her team snapped to action as their leader headed out the door.
The giddy scientist scrambled down the hall, and came head-on into Jack at the first intersection, who was making a bee line toward the lab. He and Kat gathered themselves, as he checked her for injuries. “Are you alright?,” Jack asked, still looking her over. “I heard explosions from the lab.”
Kat pushed him away, exuberant, then replied, “We did it, Jack! We sent something back in time, then brought it forward to it’s point of origin. Our theories were right, and the slipstream is stable. We can travel wherever, more importantly, whenever, in time we want. Do you realize what that means?”
Jack pondered the input for a minute, then began to ask the questions he needed answers on. “That’s great, Kat,” he responded. “Really exciting news. Outstanding job in the clutch. So when will it be ready for a person to go through?”
Kat’s glee downshifted to disbelief. “Are you kidding me?,” she gasped. “We have no idea what traveling in the slipstream will do to living tissue. All that’s gone so far was a clock, Jack. Hardware. Putting a person through may kill them. We also have no idea what the temporal ramifications of that will be. It’s out of the question.”
Jack tried to be patient. “It’s only a matter of time before those things find us here,’ he implied. “We can’t let them get their hands on this technology. The base is wired for a clean sweep protocol in the event of an imminent attack. We need to take action and be proactive before it comes to that.”
“What’s a clean sweep?,” Kat asked curiously.
Jack took a deep breath, then laid it all out. “Listen,” he spoke, “Certain safeguards had to be put in place to assure that this technology never fell into enemy hands. The ramifications of that could be disastrous. We had no idea what the alien agenda was, or if more would ever come looking for this tech.” He paused, caught his breath a moment, then finished. “There’s a five megaton nuclear warhead under the base. It may not destroy the ship that crashed, but we’re pretty confident it’ll destroy the reflector if the need arises.”
Kat couldn’t believe her ears. She stepped back from her lover, irate. “WHAT!,” she spewed, “Blow it up? Are you kidding? We’ve spent years on this, and finally get it to work, and now you’re talking about destroying it? What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Look, Kat, I love you,” Jack promised. “You know that. But there’s a bigger picture here we need to consider. I have to protect the earth, no matter how I feel about you. If we can use the reflector to...”
Kat cut him off, seething. “No, Jack. Stop. You’ve been lying to me all along. This base, my people...all that’s expendable to you? To just throw away and forget about?”
Jack tried to console her with an embrace, which Kat shoved off immediately. She back peddled, then turned and headed toward to the lab. Jack called to her to stop, but there was nothing he could say or do that was going to sway her.
Back in the lab, the team was busy following Kat’s orders with a thorough analysis of the clock. Dave stood over it with a Geiger counter, which clicked intermittently, while Xiang stood quietly next to him looking to his watch, then to the face of the now infamous timepiece. Maggie studied her screen, which was littered with exploded views of the clock, readings on molecular density, and a theoretical essay by Stephen Hawking on molecular flux during cosmic anomalies. A chain smoker for life, she anxiously puffed away on a cigarette while she worked.
Kat burst back in, visibly irate, which upset the studious tempo of the room. Her cohorts stopped in their tracks, transfixed on her, all knowing something was up.
Later in the annex, the troops all gathered for the meeting of the minds that Jack had called for earlier. One by one they all stepped to the table and dropped folded pieces of paper. Kat and her team followed suit, all dropping ideas folded anonymously. Jack and Marty walked in shortly after.
Colonel Briggs pulled a small waste basket over next to the table, then tore into the stack of folded slips. He unraveled the first one and read it aloud. “Evacuate the base, and send all the people back in time to warn ourselves.” Jack paused, then replied, “Great idea. But what good will that do? We’d still be defenseless. And we still don’t know what’s going to happen when we put a person in that thing. I hope the rest of these are better than that.” A solider near the back of the room hung his head, embarrassed, as Jack crumpled the paper and tossed it in the bin. He opened another one. “Bring forward enough troops to fight,” he read. “Make our stand here.”
Jack paused again. “What part of ‘defenseless’ is hard to understand, gang?” Jack wadded the paper, and tossed it, then reached for another. “Go back in time,” he spoke aloud, “And win every conflict we’ve ever lost with intel from the future. Establish military dominance, and steal all the technology from our subordinate countries. Use that tech to fight.”
The weary warrior was starting to lose his patience, and his cool. “That’s a little better,” he exclaimed angrily, “But still useless. Don’t you boneheads think they’ve tried everything they have at this point? We’re still getting throttled out there. Exterminated!”
Jack read another, then another, then another. He rifled through a half dozen, throwing them all in the trash equally as quickly. Irate, he finally scolded his troops. “This is it?,” he mocked. “This is the best you could come up with? You morons couldn’t think your way out of a phone booth!”
Kat realized that Jack was losing it, and finally spoke out to try and ease the tension. “Calm down, Jack,” she insisted. “They’re scared, all of them. And they’re trained to fight, not to think.” Jack scowled at her and opened his mouth as if to speak, only to be cut off by Maggie, who refused to be stepped on by the arrogance of the guy calling the shots. “If it’s so easy,” she replied sarcastically, “Than what’s yours say, Jack? Surely you, our fearless leader has the answer, eh?”
Jack glared at the stocky Latino with fire in his eyes. “Nothing,” he answered. “I’d rather keep my mouth shut than look stupid.” Maggie took a deep drag off her cig, exhaled hard, then stood to her feet as the scolding began. “Then shut it, and quit ragging on the people that are at least trying to help! You stand there all high and mighty like something special, but you’re just as clueless as the rest of us, you pompous ass! Put that cynicism where the sun don’t shine, Jack. Quit being part of the problem, and start being part of the solution!”
The room got quiet enough to hear a pin drop. A few mouths gaped open, blown away by Maggie’s tenacity. Everyone agreed with her, but no one had stones enough to admit it. Jack himself was stopped dead in his tracks, knowing that he was just made to look like a complete imbecile. Finally, swallowing his pride, he unfolded another few ideas, and tossed them in sequence. Keeping the momentum rolling, he grabbed another one and read it.
This time he stopped, and read it again. Something was different about the expression on his face, as he finally read the suggestion aloud. “Go back in time and retrieve the greatest thinkers and warriors in history. Give them access to our research here at Roswell. Let them help us find a way to fight, and to train our soldiers to win.”
The room, still dead quiet, was frozen in time as Jack scanned everyone’s face to try and figure out who’d written what he was holding. Everyone’s poker face was solemn. Finally, Dave Brody blinked and looked down at his shoes. Jack called his bluff.
“You wrote this, nerd boy?”
Dave looked terrified. He was never brave enough to stand up to Jack, and there was long running turbulence between the two. The chubby geek finally mustered the courage to answer. “You said it yourself, not two hours ago,” Dave replied, pointing to his temple. “The only weapon we have to fight with is this.”
For whatever reason, Jack was intrigued. “Explain this to me,” he beckoned.
Dave got a little bolder, and answered back. “Look what we’ve done in the last two hours, Jack. And there’s only four of us. Imagine what we could do with more great minds. Minds that thought outside the box. Minds that conquered entire civilizations, and cured disease, and made scientific breakthroughs that changed the world.”
Jack began to come around, but still wasn’t all the way bought in. “Go on,” he replied, clearly wanting to hear more.
“We’ve been working on this technology for so long that we’ve thought of everything we can,” Dave touted. “We know it’s incredible, but can’t quite figure it out completely. What about that ship? What about the armament objective that got scratched? What if they could figure out something we couldn’t? Give us something to fight with?”
The weary Colonel still looked hesitant, but couldn’t pull himself away from the conversation. Finally Dave laid it all down, and haphazardly stood up to the bully that had walked on him for years. “Look, Jack, I know you and I’ve never seen eye-to-eye, but this could work. We’ve finally stepped forward on the slipstream theories, and have at least a rudimentary understanding. But that technology is useless now that we’re about to be wiped out. We need more time.”
“Time,” Jack answered, “Is something we don’t have much of, I’m afraid. Cut to the chase, Dave. What’s your play?”
Dave pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket, and opened it. The frumpy nerd laid out his plan aloud.
“Jump back, and get these people,” he stated. “Bring them forward in time to the base, here, a year ago. Collect all the intel we can, and send it with whoever we dispatch on the reconnaissance mission. Let them dig their paws into this project for a while. The best ideas come when the information is fresh and new. None of these people have ever seen this technology before, so they may have new thoughts right out of the chutes. If they do, we can work off those, and maybe run in a different direction.”
The room, still silent, hinged on Dave’s every word. Kat and her cohorts were clearly all deep in thought, pondering the ramifications of it all. Jack began to see a glimmer of light in the darkness, but continued to badger Dave with questions.
“Suppose we do this,” Jack inquired, “And we pull these people out of the time line. Won’t history change? What if the universe unravels, or the earth explodes? And why only go back to a year ago?”
Dave back peddled a little, but stood his ground. “I didn’t say there wouldn’t be risk,” he retorted, “But our theory is that as long as we return them to precisely the time and place they left, the time stream should stay stable.”
Jack still couldn’t wrap his brain all the way around it. “Even if we do that,” he asked, “Won’t history change if these people have an inherent knowledge of the future?” Dave was quick to answer this time, putting his hands up in the ‘whoa’ stance. “One problem at a time, Jack. As far as the earth exploding? That may very well happen. But since we’re about to become extinct anyway, maybe we could take a few of those green-eyed bastards with us.”
Jack cracked a minimal smile, then asked, “And the one year question? Why only a year?” Dave scratched his whiskers for a second. “You can’t keep these people here too long. You risk them learning too much about human history, or getting out, or aging too much. They’ll either know what to do or they won’t. If they do, a year is ample time for defense prep.”
Jack had heard enough. He knew his options were limited, and he was lost in the endless possibilities and paradoxes cycling through his mind. His eyes locked with Dave for a moment, then with Kat. Finally, he turned to his troops. “You men return to your posts,” he ordered, “And you each have a job. I want you to write a letter, to yourself. Something only you would know. Something that, if a time traveller appeared and handed you, and said you wrote a year in the future, that you’d read it and believe him. Everybody understand?” The silence finally broke with murmurs of ‘yes’ and ‘copy that’, as the troops began to funnel out of the room.
As the soldiers left, Jack pulled his dog tag chain from around his neck and moved toward Marty. On the end of it next to his tags was a small key. As he handed it to Marty, he leaned over and whispered something in his ear. Kat, nearby and watching the exchange, clearly heard the words ‘clean sweep’ emanate from her boyfriend’s lips. Marty nodded, then got up and left.
Once everyone was gone, and only Jack and the researchers remained, Briggs approached Dave with his hand out. “Lets have that list,” he demanded. The portly nerd handed it over. Jack read it, and chuckled, then shook his head and looked up at the team. “You can’t be serious, Dave.”
Kat defended the nerdy genius, knowing he and Jack had always been at odds. “This isn’t a bad plan, Jack,” she protested. “Even if it doesn’t work, it still offers tremendous field trials for the slipstream technology.”
The gears were still grinding in Jack’s head. “How are we going to get these people here?,” he prodded. “Do you think they’ll just come voluntarily? What do we say to them? Hi I’m from earth in the future, which is about to be destroyed by aliens. I need your help defeating them. Oh, and by the way, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll vaporize in the slipstream as we move through time.”
The team didn’t answer, perplexed themselves by the question. Xiang, usually very reserved, finally spoke out. “Take them by force,” he replied. “We’ll convince them once they’re here. If they won’t cooperate, we’ll take them back. We can brainwash them, or use hypnosis. Something to preserve the time line.”
Jack couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The plan was outlandish, but he knew that desperate times called for desperate measures. He sighed hesitantly, then addressed the team. “Fine,” he conceded. “This is insane. Gather everything you have for intel. Anything that could’ve helped you a year ago. I’ll do the same. Draft a letter like the troops are, to yourself, with something personal.”
Kat looked to her team, then to Jack, and asked the question on everyone’s mind. “Who are we sending back?” Jack answered with the only possible reply.