“Alan White, I presume?” An older gentleman asked.
Bearing a grey, silver outlined suit, the man had a plethora of digital medals upon his chest, indicating that he had experienced and overcome many obstacles worthy of respect and praise. His absolute white hair further exemplified the appearance of a sophisticated and cultivated individual, as did his thick, white mustache. Above the medals of achievement that he wore, hung a badge that read: Christopher N. Coppedge MCC Manager, UASA; these of course were acronyms for Mission Control Center Manager, Unified Aeronautics and Space Administration.)
“Yes, sir” a tall, handsome man with pale skin said, as he nodded with affirmation. Alan was a recent college graduate and an enthusiastic young man who had recently received his doctorate degree in aeronautical engineering. As confident as he may have been in college however, he was caught off guard by his new manager. Without a beat, the MCC manager fired back.
“You will from now until I retire or die, refer to me as Mr. Coppedge. You will be in charge of the Zeal Project, supervised, of course. Right this way.” Mr. Coppedge extended his arm toward the doorway as he led. The new recruit followed closely, as they exited down a short corridor. The room came as a surprise to Alan due to its enormous size. Over twenty people filled the room working at various computers. An enormous screen ended out the room boasting calculations and a path line for the ship they were watching over: Dr. Archibald Zeal’s ship.
“Now normally I wouldn’t have put such an inexperienced recruit over such a large mission, but the big wigs up top said you were the best candidate for the position, even over my experienced men.” Mr Coppedge scoffed. “I pray your test scores and high recommendations will translate to a job well done. Your paper entitled, “Hidden Powers of the Cosmos” in particular, caught my attention and brought about a lot of doubt and disbelief, but the theories proposed within it are interesting nonetheless, I suppose.”
“I won’t let you down, Mr. Coppedge.” The now slightly nervous recruit responded. The MCC manager left the room and Alan plopped down in his chair to gather his thoughts. Just as he was settling in, while pretending to stack a few papers, a woman dressed appropriately, but very curvy and attractive to Alan, walked over.
“My name is Megan Dawn, but I usually make the men around here call me Miss Dawn. I am your second in command, if you will. Mr. Coppedge asked if I would debrief you on The Zeal Project.” She said modestly.
Alan responded flirtatiously, “I’m all ears.” Megan rolled her eyes.
“I’m sure you have heard about the Zeal Project. This mission has been operational for the past five hundred and twenty-seven years and is the longest running program our administration has run. The computers and screen you see before you run off of a main computer called, The Atom, which is located below us. It can only be accessed by you and me. The ladder that leads you down to it is situated at the corner of this room. Our primary goal is to make sure the Cryonics Coffin is monitored and remains in good health, as well as making sure the great Archibald Zeal’s vitals are kept at a normal condition.” Megan noticed Alan’s eyes looking her up and down. “Are you listening to me?” She said angrily, but with poise.
“Sweetie, I’ve been following the Zeal Project since I was fourteen years old. I also know how to run each and every computer in here by myself if I had to. A few months ago I was presented with The Atom’s blueprints and I know the machine inside and out. I don’t need one of UASA’s lapdogs telling me how to do my job.” Alan asserted his authority in a disrespectful manner.
It took every ounce of Megan’s strength to not attack her new supervisor, though unbeknownst to her, the universe had a deserving fate for the narcissistic recruit. On July 11, 2636, just three weeks after Alan White had taken the helm of the Zeal Project, a private miscalculation by Alan proved to be disastrous. The Cryonics Coffin was at such a distance, that to monitor its location, a formula was in place that allowed them to send a signal from the Coffin to the Atom every seventeen hours and likewise back. Due to the distance, the formula had to be recalculated every four signal round-trips (every one hundred and thirty-six hours). On Monday, July 11th, Alan miscalculated.
The time was 10:34am and throughout the room an onslaught of tiredness had befell upon each person, including Alan. For the past few weeks, Alan had done an acceptable job of checking and re-checking the recalculations that his crew had made. On this particular morning however, he assumed they were right and passed them over. The new formula was inputted and sent out to the Coffin.
Alan’s computer was the first to show the mistake. Alan at first was confused. Upon closer inspection, he began to panic. He knew that the other workers in his unit, including Megan, would find out soon and he would surely be fired. In a cowardly attempt to save face, Alan waited until everyone went to lunch and crept down into the room where The Atom was housed. He programmed a bug into an area that attached to the power supply with a timer.
At 2:45pm, the bug’s timer was planned to hit zero and shut off the Atom, except before it reached zero, the Atom notified each computer that the ship was in distress. It took a few moments for anyone to notice, but then one of the men spoke up.
“Um, Mr. White, we are experiencing a simfault on the Cryonics Coffin…” the man paused, “Wait…It seems The Atom as a whole has shut off!” Alan, believing he would have to imitate his surprise was in fact, actually surprised.
“What!? How could this have happened?” Alan yelled. Megan stood by in disbelief as she suspected Alan had something to do with it, but could not prove anything substantial. Mr. Coppedge was called in as they desperately tried to revive The Atom, but no avail. Even if they had been able to resuscitate The Atom, the Cryonics Coffin was designed to become self-reliant if it had not received each and every signal. On top of this fact, it would be near impossible to locate after the amount of time it would take to reboot The Atom.
Although no one ever discovered that it was Alan White’s fault, he was still let go from his position and was unable to work for the UASA permanently. As a captain sinks with his ship, so was Alan’s fate; though it was not his decision to do so. As Thomas Carlyle said, “Egotism is the source and summary of all faults and miseries.”
After a few years of debating about the UASA’s MIA Coffin, Mr. Coppedge decided it was in the Unified Government’s best interest to fund a second mission with the same cause. Since technology had vastly grown since Archibald’s time, they calibrated a ship with the same fuel power idea, but used it in a way that caused it to be twice as effective. The core was super-charged by converting five times as many hydrogen atoms into helium atoms, creating a ship that could travel the same distance as the original Cryonics Coffin, but in a fifth of the time. It was miniature nuclear fusion at its finest.
The question still remained: Who would go? No one in that time frame was as inventive or creative as Archibald Zeal had been. Although the second coffin-wielding ship could, in fact, be self-reliant if detached from the newly designed and upgraded Atom Supreme, they would still require someone adventurous enough and lavished in high intelligence to explore and report their findings.
During their search one winter evening, Mr. Coppedge retired to his main office. The office itself looked drab and aged, corresponding to his current demeanor and appearance. He kept all of his lights turned off and pursued his work from the light making its way in through the snow-covered window that sat beside him. His head fell into his hands, caused by the tiredness he wore due to his efforts toward the Atom Supreme project.
The silence was broken by the sound of footsteps nearing his door. The steps came to a halt when they arrived upon the tile piece that shared itself between the hallway and the crack of openness beneath the door. A strange feeling swept the room emanating from the body on the other side of the door. Even more peculiar, Mr. Coppedge noticed his personal atomic clock, sitting atop the corner of his desk, had come to a complete and utter stop. He sat still for a moment and then proceeded to check his watch; it had stopped working as well.
Stillness filled the air as the door creaked open.
“Please come back another time” Mr. Coppedge pleaded, “I’m too tired…”
“Let me help you.” A man said through the messiness of his entangled white beard.
Coppedge sighed and looked up to the older gentlemen; his jaw dropped.
“It couldn’t be…” Coppedge muttered.
“I’m not sure how I got here, my memories are extremely disoriented. It’s as if I can only retain information in short bursts.” Although obviously lost inside of his brain in spurts, the man spoke with a certain wisdom that radiated in every direction.
The matured man lost his balance and fell to the floor. Mr. Coppedge rushed over to the collapsed body. He immediately called for help.
*2 Months later*
“He’s awake, sir! He’s out of his coma!” a man reported excitedly to Mr. Coppedge who in turn, hurried to the hospital the collapsed man had resided at for the past two months. When he arrived, the man was sitting upright in a bed eating. A doctor intercepted before Coppedge could enter the room.
“It seems the anomaly, as your office is calling him, has only about one-third of his internal memory left, or roughly 37 percent. Our best guess is he is having nuerodegeneration due to some variable stemming from amnesia.” The doctor diagnosed.
Coppedge squinted and wrinkled his forehead as he responded, “That’s not the entire reason.” And walked into the room and shut the door behind him for privacy.
“Do you know your name?” he asked the old man.
The bearded man set his fork and butter knife down onto the hospital tray calmly and then chose to respond. “Archibald Zeal…I am, Doctor Archibald Zeal.”
“How are you here right now?” Coppedge’s heart began to speed up.
“I…the ship and I…” Archibald Zeal drifted into his own thoughts for a second. “I taste raspberries. I smell rum.”
Dr. Zeal's eyes had a variation of color glaze over them as he continued to speak, but now more coherently, as if he had had some sort of neural jump start.
“The ship woke me up before we had reached a planet. It began to detract thoughts and memories from my head and sent them into a computerized memory bank on the ship. The ship could sense a problem…I remember looking through the glass out into space and…a strange glow surrounded the ship and I…I could feel it on my bones. We were in a strange cosmos with star formations I did not recognize. Planets appeared closer than they actually were…my vision blurred progressively darker…thicker…I…then I was here; the same place I had launched from, many Earth moons ago…”
Dr. Zeal grabbed Coppedges hand and spoke softer, “This estrangement…this separation I feel inside. I’m not all here…I can feel me sleeping. I can feel electricity. ‘We’re’ too sick to live like this…We know nothing of the power the cosmos hold…”
Archibald’s eyes grew heavy and closed. Coppedge yelled for help, but when the doctor arrived, it was too late, Archibald had passed. So too, had the answers Coppedge lived the rest of his life pondering, eventually driving him insane throughout his last years on Earth.