Collective Minds

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Chapter 6

Jack’s quarters were very basic. He’d been a soldier since he was an eighteen year old cadet at West Point, so high and tight was all he’d ever known. His bed was made firm enough to bounce a quarter off of, his shelves were organized, and the few pictures on the wall were all perfectly straight and neatly arranged.

Gearing up for a mission was something he’d done a thousand times before. He knew only to take what was absolutely necessary, and not one ounce more. His standard issue, mid-size pack was somewhat full, but easily accommodated the last of his necessities. Among them were a pack of compact disks, several thick folders stacked with paperwork, a box of 9mm ammo, an aluminum canteen, and a semi-automatic Beretta pistol in a leather belt holster. Quickly and meticulously, the focused soldier packed his gear. As he finished, he stopped for a minute and looked at a picture of he and Kat together on top of his dresser. It was taken at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta the year before, with hot air balloons filling the sky in the background. Jack was smiling, and Kat was biting his ear playfully. Marty was in the far background of the snapshot with a beer in his hand, talking to a burly biker.

Briggs snatched the picture, and tossed it in his pack, which was now nearly full. He zipped it, then took off his glasses and set them on the dresser. With one quick motion, he peeled off his shirt and tossed it in a hamper by the door. His pants came next, which he also pitched in the laundry bin. Left only in his boxer briefs, Jack’s chiseled body bore several battle scars and bullet closures. He’d clearly seen his share of action.

As he stepped toward the closet and opened it, the door to his quarters opened at the same time. Kat stood in the doorway, which startled the half naked soldier. “Jesus! Close the door!,” he bellowed.

Kat obliged. Jack pulled a set of perfectly starched army fatigues from the closet, which he draped from a clothes hanger on the front of the door. As he unbuttoned the top, Kat moved forward and spoke with genuine concern in her voice. “You can’t do this, Jack. Let someone else go. We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Jack knew the conversation was coming, and tried to keep his answer upbeat. “Yes, we do actually. We know exactly what’s going to happen if I don’t go. The end of life on earth. It’s a risk I’m willing to take, Kat. I have faith in you, more than you’ll ever know. I’m confident in what you and your team have accomplished. You’ve done all you can, now it’s time for me to do the same. Time to take that leap of faith and go.”

Kat’s face shifted from concern to fear. She looked like she was about to cry. Mustering the strength to tell the truth after the confrontation in the hall, and choked up, Kat opened her heart and poured it out to him. “I love you, Jack. I have faith too, but I’m scared. Of losing you, or never seeing you again.”

“If this works, you should see me right off the bat,” Jack replied sarcastically. Kat got testy, and fired back. “That’s not what I mean and you know it,” she pouted. Briggs finally took a moment, stopped, and embraced her. “I know,” he answered softly. “I love you, Kat. And I’m proud of you. Win or lose, you did things no one else ever could. You’re an amazing woman, in every sense of the word.”

Kat looked at her lover with passion and fire in her eyes. She moved toward him, and put both hands on his chiseled core. Jack cupped her head and kissed her passionately. She rubbed her hands on his midsection, kissing him more aggressively all the while. The hardened soldier bought in, as animal magnetism began to take over for both. Their chests pressed together, locked in an unbreakable embrace, as both tumbled backward onto the bed.

Down the hall in the lab, Kat’s team worked tirelessly prepping for Jack’s jump in the slipstream. Maggie sat at her station, still analyzing the timer that had been sent back, while Xiang typed away on his keyboard frantically. Dave sat at his post writing a letter with a cheap mechanical pencil. His eyes darted back and forth as he proofread, and the look on his face was somber with a sense of humility. Satisfied, he stuffed it in a plain white envelope, sealed it, then labeled the front.

Kat walked into the lab, slightly disheveled, and checked on the status of the preparations. Maggie, still hard at work scanning the timer, anticipated her boss’s inquiry. “Nothing notable except a slight power supply anomaly, which I think came from the EM disturbances in the atmosphere. It’s perfect otherwise,” she reported.

Moving on to Xiang Lo, Kat looked over his shoulder. “Is the slipstream still stable, Xiang?” Her Chinese prodigy finished typing, then swiveled around in his chair. “It is,” he replied. “It’s realigned for the temporal incursion. Jack should go back exactly one year. The alignment calculations didn’t extend the stream any farther than that.”

Last was Dave. He cracked a slight smile as Kat approached him, pushing the letter he’d just finished on his desk to the side slightly as if to conceal it. “The algorithm for a one year jump is complete, Kat,” he reported. “If what Maggie told me is correct, Jack should land right in the middle of the lab.”

Kat was satisfied with the progress her team had made, and their dedication to the mission. She collected the letters they’d all prepared at Jack’s request, and carefully slid them in her back pocket to give him before his jump.

There was a moment of silence as the team soaked in the expedited reality of it all. They’d come so far, so fast, and now the time had finally arrived to throw the dice and try to save the world. It was satisfying, terrifying, and overwhelming all at the same time. Each looked to the other proudly, but with a sense of uncertainty and bewilderment.

Maggie finally broke the silence. “When Jack jumps, will all this...will we still be here? I mean, will reality change? I’ve racked my brain, Kat, but you’re way smarter than I am. I just, I...” She stammered, trying to find the right questions to ask.

Kat smiled, and reassured her longtime friend with a pat on the shoulder. “The only thing I am compared to you is younger, Mags. And the truth is, I don’t know the answer to your question. I wish I did.”

Dave, overhearing the conversation, tried to console both of his female companions. “If we run with the theory we’ve been working with longest, then the answer should be ‘yes’. This time line will stay straight and constant.” His words were somewhat reassuring, but his tone of voice illustrated that he wasn’t certain either. He opened his mouth to continue, but was cut short by a loud, shrieking alarm that began to bellow throughout the base.

All four looked around, then to each other. Xiang was the first to react. “It’s the perimeter alarm!,” he shouted. “The base has been breached. The alien invaders must’ve detected the energy signature from the reflector in our first test!” Spinning back around in his chair, he quickly minimized the workings on his screen and clicked on an icon shaped like a camera. The screen loaded up again, showing the entry to the base near the elevator. Troops scrambled to fortify their positions, taking cover behind sandbags, steel barricades, and cinder block partitions.

Weapons were all being loaded, cocked, and shouldered, as the soldiers prepped for the oncoming fire fight. Maggie watched, horrified, muttering “Oh, god,” under her breath repeatedly.

At the base of the elevator, the troops all stood at the ready. They were all garbed in body armor, combat helmets, and full tactical gear. Every conceivable weapon known to man was somewhere in the mix: M-16’s, two M134 miniguns, a grenade launcher, even a soldier with hissing flamethrower ready to burn. Having seen the futility of human weapons on the broadcast earlier, there was fear in everyone’s eyes. But none of them were going down without a fight, and without giving everything they had in one last desperate attempt to save the world they loved.

The base rumbled, causing everyone to key in on the elevator doors, the only way in or out. The silence was pierced by a thunderous explosion from above, which caused the ceiling to collapse in a shower of fragmented concrete and rubble. Huge chunks of cement and rebar crashed in on the garrison, crushing several soldiers underneath. Seconds after the rubble fell, armored alien invaders began dropping in like rain. The onslaught began, as fire and chaos ensued.

Far from the action, deep below the base, Marty sat in a dimly lit room alone. The war above was barely audible, as the thick walls around him fortified the vault he was cushioned in. He sat calmly on a stool, finalizing the assembly of a thermonuclear warhead on the bench in front of him. It took less than a minute for him to finish, as he plucked the key from his neck, inserted it, and set the timer for two minutes. The digital readout began to cycle backwards, prompting Marty to slide open a drawer. The doomed redneck plucked a bottle of ’Old Grandad’ bourbon from inside, uncorked it, and took a long, well-deserved pull. He wiped his lips, set the bottle on the bench, then pulled his rifle from underneath and chambered a round.

Back in the lab, Kat and her crew were prepping the reflector. The harmonic vibration had reached its peak again, as the device powered up to maximum. Jack bolted in through the door in his tactical gear, with his pack slung on his shoulders. His chest was heaving from being in full sprint, as he transcended down the stairs two at a time, then up the short hop to the reflector platform.

Kat followed him down on the double step, as he positioned himself beneath the reflector. The explosions outside the lab were getting closer, and everyone in the room knew it was now or never. Jack looked to the three person team of scientists at their posts, then to Kat in front of him. Tears streamed down her cheeks, as she plead with him not to go. “I love you, Jack,” she screamed over the reflector noise, “You don’t have to do this! We can find another way!”

Jack looked at her, and took a step forward. “You’re right. We can,” he replied loudly, as he threw a hard right cross that hit her squarely on the chin. Kat fell limp, out cold, right into Jack’s arms, who scooped her up in the threshold and stepped back under the reflector. Maggie yelled profanities that were inaudible over the gunfire, explosions, and reflector resonance, as Jack screamed to her Chinese cohort. “Do it, Xiang! DO IT!”

The doors to the annex exploded in, visible through the window to the lab. A solo, bleeding trooper stepped through, firing wildly with a minigun while screaming a deafening war cry. A green blast struck him, vaporizing him in similar fashion to General Irons. No sooner, an alien stepped over his remains, making its way toward the lab, focused squarely on the Chinese scientist at his station through the glass.

Xiang activated the reflector, which dropped over Jack and Kat. The explosion that was so loud before seemed like a firecracker now, with the chaos and screaming so prevalent in every direction. The two chrononauts were gone, having faded into the sands of time to a better place. The door to the lab opened, as the alien stepped through and readied its weapon.

Dave’s mouth gaped open, as Xiang stared at the fearsome creature. Maggie took a long, deep drag from her smoke, which burned it to the filter. She flicked the smoldering butt at the invader, then stood with her arms out in an iron cross. There was no escape.

Far off in the distance, the desert was eerily calm. A Gila monster trotted across the rocky terrain, chasing a rodent that was scrambling for cover. Small patches of cactus were spread out with spiny beauty and precision. Life seemed untouched, and oblivious to the world being conquered. The landscape was pristine, if only momentarily, as the bright flash and mushroom cloud in the distance changed the tempo of all things living. Mere seconds later, the shock wave hit, burning the area to ash and scattering the remnants in the wind. It was symbolism at its finest.

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