Collective Minds

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Chapter 7

Maggie worked quietly in the lab. It was late, and she’d been at it for hours. Smoking a cig, with an ashtray full of butts next to her, she typed away on her computer. Her eyes were sleepy and dry as she finished coding some programs. She rubbed her weary peepers and buttoned up, prepared to call it a day. As the exhausted Latino stood and stretched her aging joints, she suddenly stopped. There, in the lab, not ten feet from her, was a ghostly image of Jack holding an unconscious Kat in his arms.

Groggy from a long day, Maggie stood transfixed, thinking it was a hallucination from the blood rushing to her head after stretching too hard. As the two ghostly figures became more and more solidified, and time passed, the Latino scientist knew that it wasn’t a dream at all, but something very real. Jack, finally tangible, spoke to the stupefied woman. “Hi, Mags,” he offered softly, cracking a pseudo-smile.

Maggie, still in awe of the situation, finally came to her senses. She ran to the wall of the lab and slammed a button down, which activated the security alarm. The screeching signal echoed in the base, as Maggie kept her distance, still transfixed on the two intruders. Jack knew it was protocol, and patiently held on to Kat while he waited for the cavalry to arrive.

Down the hall, personnel scrambled. Jack and Kat burst out of their quarters in pajamas, as two armed soldiers rounded the corner. Close behind them were Dave and Xiang, also in their sleeping attire, jogging to keep up.

The soldiers stopped at Jack’s doorway, as did Xiang and Dave. “Colonel Briggs, sir,” addressed the nearest trooper. “Someone tripped the security alarm in the lab.”

“Who’s in there?,” Jack inquired.

“Maggie is!,” Dave blurted out.

The entire group made off toward the lab, as the soldiers both chambered rounds in their rifles on the fly. The tromping of their boots on the floor was the only noise besides the alarm, as everyone else was barefoot.

All six people burst into the lab, and saw Maggie in the corner, staring at the Jack and Kat from the future. The intruders were surrounded, as the soldiers fixed their weapons on them. Jack-from-the-past locked eyes with Jack-from-the-future, trying to formulate a tactical analysis. Finally, Jack-from-the-past asked the obvious.

“Who are you?”

Jack-from-the-future responded the only way he could. “I’m you,” he answered. “Isn’t it obvious?” Both stared at each other. Kat-from-the-past was in the same conundrum, staring at the limp version of herself in Jack’s arms. The wheels were starting to turn in her head, with Dave and Xiang not far behind in their thought processes.

Xiang Lo finally used some deductive logic. “This was a temporal shift,” he implied. Everyone began to see the light, as the impossibility of the situation started to sink in. Dave, stunned, looked to Maggie, then to Kat-from-the-past. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, Jack-from-the-past clutched his sides and doubled over, gasping for breath like he’d been hit in the gut. Everybody stepped away from him, not sure what was happening.

At the same moment, Jack-from-the-future doubled over similarly, dropping Kat to the floor with a loud ‘thud’. Both men were clearly in pain, like they’d been slammed in the stomach by a straight right from a heavyweight fighter. Then, as if by magnetism, the two began to come towards each other. Both resisted, and tried to pull away, but the force drawing them together rendered their efforts futile. As the two finally closed the gap and touched, their bodies became like liquid momentarily, fusing together from two people into one. Future Jack’s fatigues and gear fell to the floor in a heap as his living tissue bonded. It was over in an instant, like two raindrops melding on a windshield.

Jack, singular now, fell to his knees gasping for air. Kat-from-the-past ran to render aid, but suddenly fell victim to the same ripple effect with the doppelganger of herself. The two women gravitated toward each other, then fused into one just like Jack had, with Future Kat’s clothes coming off as her living cells fused. The singular version of Kat fell to her knees the same way as her boyfriend, completely breathless herself.

Everyone in the room stood in awe for a moment, trying to comprehend what they’d just seen. Finally, Kat and Jack stood up, having caught their breath. Kat touched her boyfriend to test his tangibility, then looked at her own hand to check the same thing. She glanced to Dave, and reassured him. “It’s me,” she promised. “It’s Kat. I’m okay.”

Maggie stared at Jack. “What the hell just happened?,” she asked. “Are you okay?”

Jack gathered his thoughts for a moment, then nodded ‘yes’ to his Latino rival. “It’s me, Mags, in the flesh,” he answered. Maggie was still skeptical, but open-minded. Kat finally interjected and began to lay it all out. “Maggie, listen to me,” she instructed. “We jumped here through the slipstream from a year in the future. We had to. There was no other option. I think what just happened to Jack and I might have confirmed one of our temporal theories.”

Kat looked to Dave. “You know which one I’m talking about, don’t you?” The pudgy nerd pondered momentarily, then lit up. “The temporal signature theory,” he deduced. “Of course.”

Jack, unversed in the scientific lingo of time travel, wanted to know what was happening, and why. “What theory is that, exactly?,” asked Briggs. “What just happened to me? How is it that I have all my memories of the future, but I’m dressed like I was a year ago? And why did my clothes and my gear fall off when I...I don’t even know how to explain it. Liquefied?”

Dave chimed in, eager to explore the science of it all. “We hypothesized a few years ago that each person has a temporal signature. It’s unique, like a fingerprint. Our working theory was that if time travel was in fact possible, that moving to a point where that signature already existed might create a field that kept those signatures from interacting to preserve the time stream. Like identically charged ions repelling each other in nature. The quantum dynamics seemed logical.”

Xiang scratched his chin, and countered Dave. “It seems, however,” the Chinese prodigy inquired, “That we had it backwards. The temporal signatures are like oppositely charged particles, that fused on a cellular and molecular level. Fascinating.”

Maggie looked completely astonished. “They must’ve fused pretty cohesively if you have all your memories of what’s gonna happen in the future. That’s incredible.” The Mexican spitfire paused, then chimed back in with the inevitable question. “Speaking of future,” she inquired, “Why did you two come here? What did you mean ‘you had to’, Kat?”

Jack and Kat looked to each other, as the others waited for an answer. “We need to debrief,” said Jack. “There’s a lot to talk about.”

The two time travelers sat in the briefing room with the researchers for the next several hours, going through documents, briefings, diagrams, and technical schematics of every sort. Someone brought in a coffee pot, which brewed non-stop as exhaustion began to set in. Later, in the wee hours of the night, Marty and several soldiers came in and sat at the table. Jack played the news broadcasts of the alien invasion and the decimated cities. Then he played the footage of General Irons being vaporized.

Marty and his troops grilled Jack and Kat for several more hours, until she finally put a stop to it all.

“We need to get some rest,” Kat advised. “We have a lot of ground to cover tomorrow.”

Marty, although exhausted, turned to Jack. “So what’s the plan, Jack? What’d you come up with as a counter offensive?” Jack glanced at Dave. The nerdy researcher got a curious look on his face, as Jack patted Marty on the shoulder. “Tomorrow,” Briggs promised. “Get some rest.” Major McKenzie looked disappointed, but knew Jack would never lead him astray. He and the troops left, leaving only Jack, Kat, and the researchers.

Dave still wanted to know more. “Amazing,” he inquired. “You two fused with your past selves and everything stayed intact; brain function, motor skills, cognitive memory. Imagine the things you could do. You could go back in time to twenty years ago and live over and over again. This could be the key to immortality!”

Maggie pulled the reigns. “Slow down, Dave,” she replied. “We don’t have an inkling of information on what the slipstream did to them, or if there are any adverse effects to the temporal fusion they went through. They’ve only been here six hours.”

Xiang, who’d talked the least but listened the most throughout the night, spoke up finally. “Your plan has something to do with another temporal incursion through the slipstream, doesn’t it Kat?”

Jack couldn’t deny it. “It does,” he answered, “But it’s complex. We’ll go over it tomorrow. Don’t worry, you all play pivotal roles.” The three researchers looked anxious to find out, but also exhausted. All of them headed for the door. Maggie stopped, and hugged Kat, then Jack, who both embraced her warmly and said good night. The door closed behind her.

The two time jumpers were alone for the first time since their arrival. They looked at each other momentarily, as Jack moved to embrace his battle-worn lover. Kat reared back and swung a solid haymaker with her right hand, socking him squarely in the head. The dazed Colonel, who was almost never caught off guard, staggered backwards. Reeling from the shot, and rubbing his temple, Jack remained surprisingly calm. “I was wondering when you were gonna to do that,” he admitted.

Kat was furious, full of vitriol, and ready for a fight. “I would’ve done it hours ago if I didn’t think it would’ve upset these people. Why, Jack? Why did you drag me back here, and put my life at risk? You had no idea what was going to happen when you stepped on that reflector pad, you selfish bastard!”

Angrily, Jack fired back. “I saved your life, Kat! We were dead back there. All of us! Marty must’ve pulled off the clean sweep, since we haven’t seen any sign of unwanted followers popping out of thin air yet.”

Kat was still fuming, and answered again, even more irate. “Yeah, that’s right, hero. No one else came through. Did you find it hard looking at those people tonight knowing you condemned them all to death six hours ago? What if we could’ve saved them?”

“We couldn’t have saved them,” Jack argued. “We barely saved ourselves. What did you wanna do, debate it? We had zero time, Kat. ZERO!”

The weary soldier calmed himself a little, knowing that fatigue was setting in and clouding his mind. He took a deep breath and tried to answer in a more civil tone. “I brought you back because I knew you’d be an asset to our success if we made it, and we did.”

Kat was getting angrier by the second. “So that’s it? You brought me because I’m an asset? So were Xiang, and Marty, and Dave...”

“THAT’S ENOUGH!,” Jack screamed, cutting her off mid-sentence.

Kat got silent, as a single tear rolled down her cheek. She wasn’t used to her partner in crime raising his voice to that extent. It was something new, and something she hadn’t experienced before.

“I made a judgement call,” Jack confessed. “I made it from my gut, and from my heart. Yes, I knew you’d be an asset. That was a good reason, but it wasn’t the reason. I love you, Kat, and I couldn’t lose you. Not like that. Not when I could potentially save you.”

Kat, taken aback at the ‘L’ word coming out of Jack’s mouth in such a tense moment, was lost in a slurry of emotions. She was still heartbroken at the loss of her friends, but knew that her boyfriend was telling the truth. Her heart wanted her to be mad, but her brain knew that angst was only going to be counterproductive.

Jack finally closed the gap and managed to get his arms around her. As he pulled her in, he spoke softly in her ear. “You want to save these people? Now you have a second chance.” The two shared a soft embrace, then headed out the door for some shut eye.

Hours later, Jack and Kat were sitting in the annex of the lab. Both were in fresh clothes, cleaned up, and rested. Jack sat at the table drinking a cup of coffee, deep in thought, while his beautiful counterpart paced nervously. “Where is everybody?,” she asked. “You said eleven hundred, right?” Marty walked through the door a few seconds later, and plopped down next to Briggs. Jack took notice, and posed the same question to his pudgy friend. “Do you know where everyone’s at, Marty? It’s not like Kat’s people to be late.” Marty got back up, walked to the blinds between the annex and the lab, and pulled them up with the drawstring. There, through the glass, were Xiang, Maggie, and Dave, all working feverishly at their stations. “Where do you think?,” answered Marty sarcastically. Kat stared a second, then made her way into the next room.

The lab station for each respective team member was riddled with coffee cups, energy drinks, and microwave food wrappers. Dave’s looked like a homeless camp, and his appearance fit that description quite well. There were food stains on his shirt, it looked like he hadn’t showered in a week, his hair was a mess, and he desperately needed a shave.

“What is this?,” asked Kat. “Don’t tell me you three have been at it all night.”

“You’re damn right,” Dave replied, pointing at the reflector. “If the data you supplied us is accurate, we should have that baby up and running in an hour or so. Amazing how a little inside information speeds things up. Now I see why stock brokers go to jail for insider trading.”

Maggie’s station was only a step above Dave’s, with coffee cups and cigarette packages everywhere. The ashtray beside her looked like she’d smoked three hundred cigs, with butts stacked four inches high. “So,” she inquired, “Since the reflector was destroyed when you two jumped, the slipstream was disrupted between here and there. That means you can’t go back, or anywhere else between then and now. The temporal triangle, eh?”

“That’s right,” answered Kat. “We’re back to square one. But we have a decisive advantage now, and a head start.” Jack, having trickled in behind Kat, looked at the strung out scientists, and offered some much needed relief. “You guys need to unplug for a few minutes. Pour yourself a cup of Joe, and hustle into the annex. We’re about to brief on our plans.” Maggie, Xiang, and Dave all hesitantly threw in the towel, each standing and stretching. One by one they gathered a beverage, and filtered into the next room.

All the researchers sat down at the table in the annex, worn out but attentive. Marty took a seat with them, as did Kat. Jack stood at the head of the table, and pulled a duffel bag from the floor. He plopped it down, unzipped it, and took out the stack of letters from the troops at the base.

“First off,” Briggs instructed to Marty, “I want you to distribute these to all the troops on the base.” Major McKenzie cycled through them, not sure exactly what he was looking at. “What are these?,” he inquired.

“They’re letters from themselves, in the future,” Jack replied. “Since we didn’t know what was going to happen if and when we made it back here, we needed something as proof that we were who we said we were. Something convincing.”

Marty weeded through them, then handed out the ones for Maggie, Xiang, and Dave. All three opened them and read what was inside as Jack proceeded. “They’re also proof,” Jack boasted, “That everyone concurred with the plan we came up with. The vote was unanimous, and no one was forced or coerced.”

Colonel Briggs looked around at the scientists, who all read what they wrote. Dave seemed a little stunned at the content of his letter, prompting Jack to address him. “Convinced?,” he asked. Dave recoiled, and pulled his letter away quickly, clearly not wanting anyone to see what he wrote. He nodded ‘yes’ to Jack as he stuffed the letter back in the envelope, then in his pocket. “Yeah,” the pudgy nerd blurted, flushed in the cheeks.

“We were hard pressed to come up with a solution,” Colonel Briggs continued, “And time wasn’t on our side. Earth was caught off guard, and completely unprepared for what rained down on us. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so here we stand today. Our plan is to use the reflector again, and jump back into history to gather the greatest collective minds and warriors that humanity ever produced. Then to bring them forward in time here to Roswell, give them access to all our research, and let them have a crack at solving the mysteries of the alien tech. Hopefully they can take us in new directions that might give us a chance when the invasion force arrives.”

The research team, now hinging on every word, listened attentively. Dave raised his hand. “Question, Dave?,” asked Jack, calling on his disheveled rival. “Yeah,” replied the grungy nerd, “Who are we planning on bringing forward?”

Jack took the folded piece of paper from his pocket that Dave had provided in the future the day before, and handed it to him. Dave’s eyes lit up as he read it. He couldn’t believe the names on it, but even more incredible to him was the penmanship. “This is my handwriting,” Dave uttered. “You mean this crazy plan was my idea?” Jack nodded ‘yes’, with a slim smile, as Dave continued to read.

“Is it really so far fetched?,” Jack inquired. “I’ll have to admit, I was skeptical myself initially. But the more I thought about it, the more reasonable it sounded. We don’t have time to speculate or fart around trying to formulate another plan. We need to move on this.”

Kat piped in, and got the ball rolling with her team. “Dave can you align the slipstream to get us to the points in history where these people lived? We need to get to them at their intellectual peaks.”

Dave nodded optimistically. “The alien technology that calculates the stream variables is accurate down to the second,” he answered. “I may have to crack a history book, but yes, I can definitely get you there and back.”

Satisfied with Dave’s reply, Kat turned to Maggie. “Mags, can you come up with coordinates to put us right on these people’s front doorsteps?” Maggie took the list from Dave’s hand and looked it over. She too looked completely blown away as she scanned through the names. “Are you serious?,” she asked, pulling a pack of smokes from her pocket. Kat’s eyes answered Maggie’s question, as the stocky Mexican sparked a cig. “The spacial alignment shouldn’t be a problem,” Mags answered. “Since they’re all coming here to the same place, the beacon coordinates will be constant. The destination coordinates will be the only challenge, but I can handle it.”

Kat moved on to Xiang. “Since we’ve never jumped this many times before, I have no idea how much power it’s going to take,” she implied to Lo. “Can you somehow figure out if this many incursions is safe? If we run out of juice halfway through, Jack will be stranded, and whoever we brought forward will be too. We need to be certain that we have sufficient energy for the reflector.” Xiang pondered, and reassured his friend. “The alien power supply is in perpetual motion,” he replied. “It generates and stores power constantly. I think as long as we monitor that and track it’s stability, we should be fine. If it shows any signs of trouble, we can reassess.”

Jack knew that things were lining up. “Wait a second,” asked Dave. “Even if we can get to these people, how are we gonna convince them to come back here?”

Briggs turned. “That’s where you come in, Marty,” he answered. “We had this discussion before Kat and I jumped, and determined that the only way to get them here initially was by force. We’ll make our case to them after that. You’ll need to be standing by with troops to escort them to detaining areas until the entire entourage is here. They’ll be groggy, and disoriented, but I want them to feel safe and welcome. No force unless necessary. And make absolutely certain none of them escape.”

“Roger that, chief,” Marty replied.

“Then let’s get to it, team,” ordered Jack, “On the double. I want that reflector aligned, programmed, and ready to go in seventy two hours. Marty, make whatever accommodations are necessary to house our guests for a year. Kat, you’ll be coming to Washington with me. Pack your bag.”

Kat frowned. “What? No way,” she protested. “I hate politics.”

“Look,” Jack instructed to her, “We’re going need more troops. I want you there when I have to justify why. And there’s two more guests of the base we’ll need to pick up. You’re expertise will be required with both.”

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