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Chapter 3

I rode the Metro to school and wondered what was happening to Matt. Over the last several months, he seemed to be going through some sort of transformation making him more cynical, agitated and distant. I had a sinking feeling that our friendship was somehow in jeopardy and didn’t like it at all.

I stared out the window as we approached a stop, picked up a few people, and dipped back underground. The archaic train wove its way through the underpinnings of the Capitol. We learned in school that in its infancy, the Metro was a shining example of modern transportation, but like anything, it got old.

Nowadays, it was just a simple tribute to past greatness like the ancient Roman aqueducts. Those were heralded as a significant achievement for their time, but eventually appropriate only for the history books and as a tourist attraction. I had the sneaking suspicion that the Metro, grand and efficient as she once was, would soon become the aqueduct of its day. Who knows, if our physics teacher from last year was right, maybe she had already crossed that barrier.

Mr. Otto told us that a rumor making its way through his circles had the government testing a new technology set to revolutionize the way in which we get from point A to point B. He loved to talk about beltway gossip and said some friends ‘in the know’ had mentioned that a company out of Utah was pitching the technology to the Defense Department. However, no one, not even his secretive friends, could say what the new technology involved, but many believed that someone had finally completed Crimson James’s unfinished work on wormholes.

Wormholes were all the rage these days, both in physics and the news. Even my dad talked about them and he never cared much for that sort of thing. He didn’t like sensationalism, but got a kick out of the media’s doomsday predictions should they not be found and tamed.

Apparently, the big thinkers of the world – who were these people, anyway – believed that our current source of energy, enriched by and otherwise impotent without its key ingredient, the Benadine Mineral, would expire in fifty years. There was talk about having to go back to petroleum based systems, but no one really wanted to. That process had been abandoned a couple of hundred years ago with the discovery and advent of the Benadine Mineral.

The only reason I remembered any of this is because the story had captivated my imagination and reminded me of those science fiction movies where the world winds up teetering on the edge. If life were like the movies, I thought, then right about now would be a good time for the hero to step up and put our minds at ease.

Anyway, the Benadine Mineral had been found amidst meteorite remains near the Plain of Jars in Laos. The Plain of Jars is this mystical place with thousands of giant stone jars scattered all over. Some people say they were left by ancient alien astronauts who were fifty feet tall. I’m not so sure about that, but you never know.

Within the Benadine Mineral, certain valuable properties for creating a fuel cell were found – we learned about fuel cells in physics last year, so I know how important they are in generating energy. Unfortunately, acquisition of the mineral was limited by the Lao government under the pretense that the Plain of Jars was sacred and ancestral grounds. However, the Vietnamese were the puppeteers of Laos back then and had negotiated a deal with the Chinese. As a result, a sea of worry washed over Washington D.C.

The following year, similar remains were found when a second meteorite crashed into a remote region in north central Mexico and after some political maneuvering, the U.S. was back in business.

Despite the discovery on both sides, the extent to which the newfound technology could be utilized was limited to the extremely small amount of mineral available. After extensive studies, scientists determined the meteorites were asteroidal in nature, hailing from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Not soon after, the first reconnaissance mission involved a joint venture between the U.S. and Japan. However, not to be outdone or left behind, China entered the fray. Location and extraction processes began and in the span of twenty-five years, fuel generation had rapidly evolved.

However, a couple of hundred years later, history repeated itself. Like any natural resource, extraction was limited due to the potential catastrophic effects depleting the asteroid belt would have on the gravitational pull of planets in the solar system. They worried the Earth could be flung into the depths of space or sent zipping into the sun like a fastball from a Red Sox pitcher.

Around thirty years ago, NASA devised a plan and sent out a total of 360 long-range probes in twelve phases. The intent of the probes was to locate the Benadine Mineral even if that meant searching the depths of space. Eighteen months later, the Chinese did the same. The space race was on ... and still is. As the years progressed, and the ticking clock grew louder, faith in science had become a religion. And as I sat there contemplating this, I wondered how this movie would end.

The train jerked as it turned slightly. I couldn’t help but think that this system of interconnected tunnels was somehow trying to tell us something. Its designers, engineers from some three or four-hundred years ago, subconsciously provided us with a rudimentary template for space travel – wormhole travel to be precise. Just as they had found a way to reshape a sublayer of the Earth’s surface, we needed to find a way to cut through the fabric of space. If we didn’t, the Chinese most certainly would, or at least that’s what the news was constantly scaring us with.

Apparently, China’s got some nut job running their country who doesn’t like us too much. I often wondered why our guys in charge don’t send over some of our super spies to take care of business. At least then we wouldn’t have to deal with someone who’s out to rule the world. But then again, what do I know?

The train straightened before dropping me and a group of people at the next stop. It was now time for my second big day in three months … or at least that was the idea.

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