Part Seven: Alliance
The characters in this book are fictitious.
Any similarity to real persons is coincidental and not intended by the author.
2011 – 2016^©^ by Vincent Pet
All Rights Reserved.
No parts of this book may be reproduced without express written permission of the publisher.
(Three years later)
Brad was a lousy golfer, but still, he didn’t expect a chopper to land in the middle of the thirteenth hole to whisk him away from further embarrassing himself.
To Brad’s amazement, a man with big, dark sunglasses and a black, heavy suit nimbly hopped off the vehicle as if he had done it a hundred times before. He scurried headfirst, marching relentlessly forward with a hard-set, determined jaw holding a badge in his hand while pointing it straight at Brad. The man had a deep voice which was easily discernible over the clutter the propellers of the helicopter made.
“FBI! You’re coming with me, pal.”
Brad threw a casual glance at the golf club he held in his two hands and then back at the stranger.
“You’re not much in a position to threaten me,” Brad calmly replied, with an evident hint of sarcasm in his voice. He didn’t like the man’s attitude.
The man smirked, rudely waving his credentials under Brad’s nose as he pulled out a bunch of folded papers from the inside of his jacket with his other hand.
“I have a special warrant for your arrest if you resist me.”
It was meant as a warning, but it sounded very much as if the man was aching to carry through his threat.
Brad snagged the badge from the agent’s stunned fingers. Brad was quick, very quick. He had even thought of enrolling in the boxing program at university, but his heavy schedule had prevented him from pursuing that dream further.
Brad read the fine print on the badge and turned it over, searching for the tiny red, smudgy spot along the left edge, one inch down, one and a half inch across. An untrained eye wouldn’t even notice it. However, if one did happen to stumble across the etching, it would simply appear as a food stain from a careless agent. Satisfied that the badge was legitimate, Brad handed it back to the agent.
“Walter Bonk,” Brad said, addressing him by the name he read on the pass. “To what do I owe the displeasure?”
Bonk blinked irritably as he grabbed his badge back. “You’re trying to be funny?”
“I wouldn’t dream of making fun of the FBI,” Brad replied tongue in cheek. “Furthermore, you don’t strike me as a guy who appreciates the subtleties of irony.”
“Move!” Bonk barked out. Brad wasn’t at all surprised at the disrespect the man displayed. After all, he was a scientist and even if they ultimately all worked for the common good of the homeland, scientists weren’t considered part of the fraternity by the military and civil branches of the government. Scientists were merely tolerated.
However, the opposite was also true. Scientists didn’t have much esteem for those wearing suits and regarded the military personnel as an irritable presence. Except for Ron Height. Ron had been one of those brilliant minds that could fit in just about anywhere. Ron could converse hours with a nuclear physicist or drink with the hardest and coarsest men while belching out military songs at the top of his lungs long after everyone had fallen drunk asleep.
Brad suddenly realized that a small group of curious golfers were approaching. He prized his privacy and dreaded to think that Bonk might make a scene which he would later have to explain to the members of the club. Brad turned back to Bonk. If he must follow that agent, he might as well not waste any time.
“Where are we going and who’s sending for me?”
“Top secret. The only thing that I’m allowed to reveal is that I’ll be bringing you back this afternoon.”
Brad sighed. “Meaning that you don’t know much more than that, right?”
Brad slipped his hand in his pocket, reaching for his phone. “Let me notify my wife first.”
Bonk clasped his arm, impeding Brad from proceeding. “No, you can’t tell anyone. It’s a question of national security.”
Annoyed by the man’s insolence, Brad struggled to remain calm. Nevertheless, he was becoming more intrigued by the unexpected turn of events.
Brad slapped his arm away and Bonk clenched his jaw tighter than it already was.
Brad tried to be reassuring. “You do know who my wife is? Our phones are specifically encrypted for national security purposes.”
“Furthermore,” Brad added as Bonk peered back at him while flexing his arm to take away the sting. “If a former President can’t keep a secret, who can?”
“I know perfectly well who your wife is,” Bonk gruffly replied. “I have my orders. Follow me!”
Brad puffed out his frustration, knowing well that he had no choice in the matter. Bonk’s terse tone also revealed that he wasn’t a fan of his wife.
“I imagine,” Brad shouted as he crouched at Bonk’s side, following him towards the helicopter, “that you’re one of the few that voted for the other guy.”
“You bet!” the man spat out.
Once airborne, it took Brad less than a minute to understand the direction the chopper was taking. It was heading to Groom Lake. Area 51. He had flown that route so many times before.
A bittersweet pang welled up in his chest as he realized that he would soon be seeing the familiar place where he had worked most of his life and where he had realized one of mankind’s greatest dreams, time travel. He had succeeded, but yet, he would never know, would he? Chang revealed that he had apparently accomplished the feat, but that it had turned into a horrendous and unspeakable nightmare.
Brad did not regret his decision to destroy his research, not at all, even if it upset him that humanity was an imperfect species. Certain things in the universe were not meant for man, and somewhere in Brad’s consciousness, he found this unacceptable. There were races that had mastered time travel. There were races that knew how to take advantage of that dimension and Brad was certain that those races would not hesitate one instant from wiping humanity out of existence if it benefited them.
It was this worry that crossed his mind every day. How could anyone be certain that humanity would not be tinkered with and left to a horrible fate? What if today wasn’t real or a precarious candle flame that was waiting to be snuffed out by a simple child’s breath? What if today the Earth was a land of dumb, wild animals without any marked intelligence because a time species far in the future would one day decide to go back to prehistoric Earth and kill the Adam and Eve of all humanity?
Brad shivered. The land raced under his eyes as the helicopter carried him to Area 51 once again. Even after years of idleness and wellbeing, years where he had the time to digest his accomplishments, where humanity was about to establish colonies around other stars, Brad wasn’t able to come to terms with his thoughts or feelings about his life or the world around him.
He could not explain it himself. There was something he feared was missing, something that he feared he would never understand and that would always remain a mystery. It left an undefinable void in his mind. A black hole. He could not prevent fate. No matter how beautiful life seemed around him, he felt like everyone had already died.
Brad glanced with faraway, forlorn eyes at the clear, blue sky.
It was such a sunny day.
Brad felt ridiculous in his loose fitting, golf trousers as he stared at the fully decorated, army clad man facing him.
“May I call you Walsh?”
Brad nodded. The man that stood before him had a no nonsense business attitude. He was the type of man who knew what he wanted at all times. This was not one to hesitate, thought Brad. Indecision was not part of his vocabulary. He was a man of quick and determined action. Right or wrong, this man had to act.
He introduced himself as Barker, the new Operating Chief of Area 51. Brad was still feeling somewhat incredulous that he had returned to Area 51. An hour ago, he was playing a round of golf by himself, trying to improve his swing so he wouldn’t finish last again in Bobby’s annual charity event.
What was happening? Why was he there? Had they finally figured out that he had sabotaged the time project? Was this the start of an interrogation that would have him executed for treason? Like Ron?
Brad glanced around at the measly, ill kept small room where he had been greeted and where in turn he had welcomed many special and bright people.
“I’ll get straight to the point, Walsh. The scientific community hasn’t noticed it yet because it’s still imperceptible, but the temperature of one side of the sun has decreased ever so slightly.”
Brad frowned. “What do you mean by one side of the sun and by ever so slightly? How much surface area are we talking about?”
“About one tenth of the sun as we speak. The temperature has dropped enough to become statistically significant.”
Brad slowly nodded, feeling a rush of adrenalin in his veins as his heartbeat increased. A pang of fear also traversed him as his stomach momentarily churned. For some reason, Ron’s letter, which he never told anyone about, came back to mind. He had all but removed it from his memories since he was fairly certain that the terrible, predicted fate of the world had been pushed to a faraway future. Fairly certain…
Nevertheless, the date Ron wrote at the bottom of the letter was ingrained in his mind. Brad promised himself that on that day he would have a nice scotch in his library in the memory of Height. That day was less than two weeks away.
“It can only mean one thing,” Brad deduced as he turned his focus to the moment at hand. “There’s a giant sun spot forming.”
“Exactly what we think,” Barker agreed. “It will be huge!”
There was a long minute of silence in the room which Brad found bizarre as Barker froze him with a noncommittal stare. It was as if Barker was waiting for him to comment. Brad didn’t sweat. He kept his cool, knowing full well the common interrogation practice the General was employing. Barker was giving him rope to see if he would use it to hang himself. Brad put himself mentally on guard as he became very wary of the man in front of him.
“Walsh…” Barker finally uttered, slapping his knees with his two big hands as Brad refused to bite. The whip-like sound startled Brad as he slightly jumped in his chair.
“General Barker? Is there something specific that you would like to ask me?” Brad asked with a focused tone.
Barker waved his hand, all of a sudden becoming seemingly friendly.
“Just call me Barker, Walsh.”
He smiled. It did not look good on him. It seemed more like a scowl.
“You must be surprised that you’re here, aren’t you Walsh?”
Again, Brad nodded guardedly and was careful with his choice of words.
“Barker, I’m retired from the government and frankly, yes, I am surprised. I never thought that I’d ever be returning to Area 51. It still hasn’t sunk in. As you very well know, once a person leaves service, that person never returns and is encouraged to forget of ever having set foot in here. Again, I ask – why have you summoned me?”
Barker slapped his imposing hands on the table. This time Brad didn’t jump even if the echo made his ears ring. Barker was a very loud man, a man whose presence couldn’t go unnoticed.
“I like you Walsh. You drive straight to the point. Like me. People that have known you told me that you’re like that. You always know what you’re doing. You’re always meticulous and in full control of your projects. That Dr. Walsh, they tell me, he was special. He never left anything to chance.”
He paused, taking a big breath, before proceeding. “That’s why things got done around here when you were the scientific director, Walsh, and that’s why you’re still held in such high esteem. I haven’t even started talking about the rest of your achievements. I mean, those that are public – like the scientific consortium you put together for deep space exploration during President’s Keen final year in office. That too was an incredible and outstanding achievement. Mind boggling if you really think about it. There was only one man that could have accomplished something like that and that was you, Walsh. Quite amazing.”
Brad simply listened. He was a humble man. He didn’t consider that he had done anything special to merit such acclaim. He had theories which he’d been able to confirm through the alien technology left at Roswell. Brad also didn’t like it when people complimented or gratuitously praised him, especially when it came from someone who had an interest in getting closer to him. It was evident that Barker was hunting for something, even if still undefined.
“Which is why,” Barker continued as he centered in on his point, “it was bewildering when your time travel machine was a complete flop. Nothing was salvaged. Nothing at all. Many people found this very hard to accept. Years of hard work went to waste when success seemed imminent. I imagine it was especially difficult for you. You dedicated your whole life to that time machine. It must have been painful to pull the plug.”
Brad’s face remained neutral, revealing not one shred of emotion as his eyes gazed calmly into Barker’s scheming stare.
“I think that I’ve explained myself quite extensively and I don’t believe that there’s anything left to be said anymore about the topic,” Brad replied diplomatically. “There was a special investigative committee which did their job quite well and thoroughly. I’m sure that you have access to their files and conclusions.”
“Yes, I do,” Barker promptly responded. His eyes were shrewd and Brad knew that he was being set up. He needed to tread carefully. Brad knew fully well, even if they were the only two present in that room, that they were being secretly taped, if not listened to at that very moment by highly sophisticated intelligence operatives. “Their conclusions, however, are rather inconclusive. Won’t you say so?”
Brad slightly shrugged his shoulders. “They did their job to the best of their knowledge. Time travel is a complex matter to understand as we unfortunately all found out after years of fruitless research.”
Barker leaned back, his eyes becoming daggers. Brad was certain he was about to counter back with something unexpected. He wasn’t mistaken, but the General’s words still caught him unprepared.
“Walsh, I have a team, albeit a small one, that’s still looking into the theory of time travel,” Barker abruptly revealed to Brad’s apparent astonishment. “And they have discovered… or maybe rediscovered, interesting things.”
After the initial moment of shock passed by, Brad ignored Barker’s last remark which was supposedly meant to make him nervous or peak his curiosity. He shifted uneasily in his chair, not at all content with what Barker had so blatantly confessed to.
“You do know that the Washington Accords signed by every nation on Earth, including the United States, makes this sort of research completely illegal, don’t you?”
Barker calculated stare assessed Brad as he spoke.
“Only if a time ping is sent, Walsh. That is illegal. Nothing in the accord, though, is preventing anyone from carrying theoretical work.”
It was clearly obvious that Brad became further upset as his voice hardened over.
“That is not what the accord intended, Barker. In theory, anyone capable of sending a successful time ping is only hours away from travelling in time. The treaty is extremely clear. There are no loopholes. I should know. I drafted and contributed in finalizing the document.”
Barker waved his right hand as if swatting Brad’s remarks to the side. He replied with a very noticeable, self-conceited swagger. “Treaties are a matter of interpretation, Walsh. You, of all people, should know that. You’re married to a former President. You understand politics better than many of us ever will.”
He paused on purpose before continuing. “Then again, why are you so worked up about it? You weren’t capable of sending a time ping, were you, Walsh? So why should you worry? Why should anyone worry? Your theories are bogus and time travel is beyond mankind’s reach. You said it yourself during the interrogations!”
Despite the wish to keep a cool, objective head, Brad could not contain his ire.
“Time travel is not a trivial argument, Barker. It’s extremely dangerous,” he pitched in an abrasive tone.
“And why is it dangerous?” Barker volleyed back in an equally hard tone. “Do you know the advantages a side can gain over any enemy if they can tamper with time? It’s the ultimate weapon! It doesn’t leave a trace.”
Brad momentarily frowned and didn’t retort. He had no wish to fall into a trap. He had already said more than he intended.
The two men fell silent as they looked at one another, each not giving the other an inch.
“OK, then, have it your way…” Barker finally said, tapping the point of his fingers hard on the table before continuing.
“Walsh, my team is trying to piece together much of the research that you did. I still don’t believe that the time travel files were deleted by pure accident and I do believe that you had a big hand in their destruction, but I’m not here to start another process on the past.”
His eyes hardened over as he continued his analysis.
“I think you’re an intelligent man, Walsh. You are deceptive, though. You act like a very normal man – but, a normal man with a brilliant mind who wishes to pass under the radar. That is an oddity. Usually brilliant scientists are mad, lunatic, recluses or egoistical maniacs. You don’t go out of your way to seek attention or fame even if it has always been within your grasp. You leave your wife in the spotlight and are quite content to play the second fiddle.”
Brad’s interjected a little harshly. “And your point is?”
Barker crossed his fingers over the table as he made one tight fist of his hands. There was a lot of tension in that room, Brad thought, feeling a strange sort of angst overcome him. Where was all this leading to?
“The point is that under your scientific leadership, humanity discovered unparalleled knowledge in a short span of time. It should have taken man another two hundred years to figure what we did in one year. The scientific concepts that came out from the group of scientists that you assembled are astounding. Your leadership was flawless. Not one error. Not one delay. Mars, the planets, the space cities, the stars… just incredible, mind bending triumphs.”
Barker paused for a second.
“So… why did you fail, Walsh? How could you have been so mistaken about time travel?”
Brad pronounced his words with an even tone. “I was mistaken and that’s all there is to it. I have already apologized for spending the tax payer’s money foolishly. Do you want me to apologize again? I will, you know. I do not suffer from vanity and I am man enough to admit my failures.”
Barker sneered. “You should have gone into acting, you know? Ever tried theatre?”
He leaned forward as Brad remained immobile.
“What if you didn’t fail, Walsh? What if you tried, succeeded, and changed the timeline? Perhaps, you personally profited by getting information from the future which you’ve used in our time. Perhaps, you did it by employing a time machine built somewhere else… like in China?”
Brad frowned, finally grasping the point of their encounter.
“Barker, I’ve heard a lot of ridiculous things in my life, but this is preposterous. It’s not even speculation. I would call it loose gossip. I’m surprised that Area 51 has come to this.”
Barker hunched further over the table, loosening up his fingers.
“Then why did Base Commander Height risk a worldwide nuclear war by ordering an Aurora, flown by a Chinese double crossing spy, to destroy a highly sophisticated, secret base that not even the Chinese government was aware of? What was this base used for? How did Height and Chang know about this place? How come Chang bombed a base full of nuclear weapons?”
Brad shook his head. “I’ve never actually given it much thought. Even if my wife is a former President, politics was never a keen interest of mine. I’m a scientist, Barker. I understand little to nothing about politics.”
Barker ignored Brad’s attempt to deviate the argument. “I will enlighten you, then. Maybe my words will even jar your memory. I believe that the Chinese base was also a time base, Walsh. Height was a traitor selling time travel secrets through Chang. The Chinese dissidents constructed a time machine, used it for their purpose, and then sent Chang back in time to fly the Aurora and destroy the evidence, the scene of the crime – their base!”
Brad exhaled with a touch of impatience. “All that you’re telling me is ridiculous. Time travel is impossible. Even the committee arrived at that conclusion.”
Barker’s eyes pierced him coldly. “As you very well know, Walsh, the committee was left grasping at straws. Height revealed nothing. Chang was dead. You were untouchable. What you don’t know, however, is that the investigation has been reopened since new evidence strongly suggest that this hypothesis is no longer improbable. Another time machine could have been built in the secret Chinese base and it could very well have been operative. However, admitting that the Chinese time machine was used, we have no way of knowing what event was altered in time and how that affects our present. We also believe that there’s only one person who had the knowledge to make the Chinese time machine operative, and that was you, Walsh. You are the only one that could make sure that we were always one step behind the Chinese time machine. With you and Height planning and directing the research, vital elements required to bring the project to successful completion at Area 51 could easily have been hidden from the research team, therefore preventing anyone of us from intervening to prevent this treason.”
Brad mulled over his response, but decided not to confront the man at that instant. Yet, he couldn’t help but antagonize his adversary. He still couldn’t believe the foolish attempt to tamper with time once again. He needed to talk with Dora and plan a course of action to stop whatever nonsense they were attempting to do at Area 51.
“Truth is, I’ve been trying to follow your reasoning, but I lost you, Barker. I haven’t understood much of what you just said.”
Barker lost his patience. He slammed his hands on the table. Brad was unfazed.
“Did you build and use another time machine, Walsh?”
Brad pointed out how improbable his question was.
“That implies that I travelled to China. As you very well know, all my days are accounted for while I was employed at Area 51 – from the moment I stepped foot into this complex as a twenty five year old, star struck kid, down to the last year of my retirement. That includes my vacation and free time.”
Barker didn’t hesitate. His reply was ready even before Brad completed his sentence. It was one question after the other as he hammered Brad.
“In this time line there is no doubt that you’re right, but what if in another timeline you did go to China and change an event to favor your agenda? What if Height then sent Chang back to destroy the evidence? What if your goal was to obtain the scientific information that is the basis of all our recent achievements? What about the rogue army led by Ling? What did they want?”
Brad was becoming annoyed and stressed his words. “Admitting that I did go back in time and change an event – how would I know that, if in this timeline, that event never happened?”
“You tell me.”
Brad took a deep, slow breath and slowly rose from his chair.
“Barker, I believe that I don’t have much insight to offer you. Your hypothesis is full of holes. I believe there is a helicopter waiting to bring me back to finish my round of golf?”
Barker remained seated. “Before you leave, Walsh, I need to ask you a couple of more questions. Why did Samat’s brother come to visit you? What did he want?”
Brad was again caught by surprise as he mentally stumbled.
“He… he was passing by and wanted to greet me. That’s all.”
Barker’s face remained composed. “We have photographs of him passing you an envelope at your doorstep. What was in that letter?”
Brad shrugged his shoulders and then reprimanded himself for doing so.
“Samat wrote me a letter concerning Height’s last words.”
That stirred Barker’s curiosity. “What were they?”
Brad’s tone held a touch of arrogance.
“On how much he enjoyed working with me. He wished Dora and me a beautiful life.”
Barker exhaled forcefully, struggling to remain composed as Brad belittled him.
“Do you still have that letter?” Barker gruffly barked out.
“Why wouldn’t you keep a letter from a dying friend, a friend who took the time to write you his last thoughts?”
“Because, a letter like that is too painful to keep.”
There was a pause as the two men glared at each other.
“Anything else in that letter?”
Barker drummed his fingers slowly on the table, reflecting, as the two men momentarily backed away from each other. Barker shifted in his chair as he went back on the attack.
“You do know that Samat went utterly mad?”
“Yes, I know,” Brad replied with true regret. “His brother, Halmut, told me.”
“Samat went around saying that he knew the date the world would end, but that it was a secret. He said the sun would gobble us up. Did Height mention a date in that letter?”
“Why would Height even think of such a thing? First, Ron wasn’t into prophecies. Second, Ron was a very optimistic person. Too bad you didn’t know him. It would have made you a better man.”
Brad glanced down at Barker’s fingers which were pressing against the table top in anger.
“I have a lot of respect for you, Walsh. And my admiration. But, I do not think that you are taking the matter as seriously as you should. I’m quite serious about the new investigation. You’ll certainly be called upon again to revisit certain inconsistencies and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that you’ll face criminal charges if you do not fully cooperate with me. Your wife and her buddies are not in the White House anymore. Think about her. Think about your wonderful family, Walsh.”
“I assure you,” Brad replied firmly with an affable sparkle in his eyes as he completely hid his rage from the general, “that my family is my only concern as we speak.”
Barker nodded cautiously, a little taken aback by Brad’s apparent poise.
“Good. I’m glad to hear that.”
“Is that all?” Brad asked in a flippant voice. “Am I free to go? Or do I have to call a lawyer?”
Barker peered back hard, ignoring his remark. “There is one other thing I need to discuss with you.”
Brad nodded, waiting for Barker to finish his discourse.
“As I said, with all the new discoveries in recent years, our understanding of the universe and the laws of physics have taken an astounding leap forward. By using this knowledge, the small team that I have currently working on the time project has discovered that rudimentary time travel into the past is extremely more dangerous than thought. It creates a magnetic flux which creates an unbalance between the sun and the point of destination of the traveller.”
Barker observed Brad with an intense stare as he talked. “In other words, we think that this magnetic flux can create a coronal mass injection of epic proportions.”
Brad shrugged his shoulders as Barker kept observing him. “That is very interesting. I’m afraid I can’t be much help, though. My equations never predicted that sort of catastrophe.”
Barker shot up from his seat and slammed his fists on the table which vibrated and nearly split in two. That scientist in front of him had completely ruffled him up. His intimidating, blunt, and aggressive tactics had not produced any results and Barker was not used to being so effectively shunted aside.
“Is this why you destroyed your research, Walsh?” he ranted. “You realized, after you sent someone back in time, that you had just created an irregularity which would cause tragic consequences on Earth? Is the slight fluctuation of the sun’s energy output the start of this anomaly? Who did you send back in time, Walsh? How much time do we have until the CME hits? Do you know? How big will it be? Where will it hit? How did Height know? What’s the date, Walsh? What’s the date?”
Barker glared at Brad with his two fists on the table as the two men eyed each other distrustfully. No one said a word.
“I suggest,” Barker said as he finally straightened up, “that you get yourself a team of very good lawyers. Sell your home if you have to because you will be facing a death sentence. This file will move extremely quickly. In the meantime, your passport is being revoked. You’re not allowed to travel outside the country.”
“These took me an arm and a leg to get,” Bobby told Brad as he passed him the precious tickets. By the tone of his friend’s voice, Brad knew that Bobby must have promised many favors in return.
“If word gets out, I could be suspended,” Bobby growled under his breath. “You never asked me a favor in forty years and you had to make up for it all at once!”
Brad wasn’t fully listening to his best friend as he counted the tickets twice. Something was wrong. He spread them out and counted them again. There were six tickets. Not seven.
He turned his worried, wide eyes on Bobby.
“Only six, Bobby? I told you seven! Seven!”
“Hey! Don’t be so testy!” his best friend replied as he slapped him jovially on the shoulders. “Anyway, I’m not going.”
Brad stared numbly at his friend, stunned, before regaining his voice.
“What do you mean you’re not going to Mars, Bobby? But, but… you have to go!”
Bobby gripped Brad by both shoulders this time and shook him.
“Brad, buddy? Are you alright? What’s gotten into you? I haven’t seen you this worked up since that Allan guy tried hitting on Dora! Is he back? I told you to keep a few bodyguards around at all time. Why do you guys have to live so normally? Like everyone else? I simply don’t get it…”
Bobby pointed to the BBQ, leaving Brad staring at the tickets. “Listen, I’ll do the grilling tonight. At least it’ll spare Dora for once. There’s not a fat chance you’ll be grilling, is there?”
Brad wasn’t focused. Bobby noted Brad’s concerned eyes.
“Hey! It’s not as if Dora and the kids will get lost up there. There are only four outposts and the biggest one is as big as our home town! And, Jessica will be with Dora the whole time. She’s already been to Mars and knows her way around. You don’t need to worry about a thing. The tourist resort is quite nice and comfy. The amusement park in low gravity is a blast and the kids will have a fantastic time. The scenery is breathtaking and the terra forming project is quite inspiring with the twenty environmental domes. It just chills my bones thinking that we seeded trees up there and that wild animals are roaming under those tents. Trust me. They’ll all have a great stay.”
Brad’s eyes watered over. “Thanks, Bobby. Thanks for the tickets. It really means a lot to me.”
Bobby shrugged his shoulders. “It’s a nice surprise gift for Sarah’s birthday. It really is. Awful that you can’t go, though. When will they give you back your passport? Can’t believe they’re doing this to you, after all you’ve done for them at Area 51. You’re not in big trouble, are you?”
Brad’s voice nearly choked up. He took a big, lungful of air to steady his emotions as he held in his hands his family’s freedom. He had prayed and his prayers had been miraculously answered. They would live.
“No, no trouble that I can’t solve, Bobby. Tell me, are you doing anything special this Saturday?”
Bobby cleared his throat, looking a little sheepishly at Brad. He rubbed the nape of his neck.
“You promise you won’t tell Jessica?”
Brad shook his baffled head. He knew exactly what was coming.
“OK, I get it, Bobby. You’ll be busy with some gal, but I don’t want to hear who you’re going out with this time… we’re not in high school anymore.”
Bobby laughed and Brad stared back a little confused.
“OK, I’ll tell you, but you must stay mum! Tight-lipped. Get it? Not even to Dora! I’m going to New York on Saturday to buy one of those chunky engagement rings. The girl deserves a really big one after so many years of patience, don’t you think?”
Brad’s jaw dropped. He couldn’t believe that those words were coming out of Bobby’s mouth.
His friend nodded excitedly.
“Yes! I’m going to propose to Jessica the moment she comes back from Mars!”
Brad didn’t realize it until he tasted them, but there were tears streaming down his cheeks as the two men clasped each other in a strong bear hug. They were tears of immense joy. They were tears of desolate desperation.
They were tears for what was to happen to his beloved Earth in a few days’ time.
Dora held the tickets in her hand. They were beautifully designed… and very rare to get. There was a long waiting line to visit Mars and she was still in awe that Brad had been able to obtain them. Usually, he wasn’t very good at keeping secrets, but she had to hand it to him. She never saw it coming.
“You’re sure you don’t want me to drive you to the airport,” Brad asked softly. He had just hugged his kids with all the love and strength he could muster. His face was a wet mess. Dora looked at her adoring husband. She regretted that he couldn’t share this moment with them. Mars had always been a dream for him and it was a cruel fate of destiny that his passport had been revoked.
“Brad, are you sure about this? I mean, we can always give the tickets away. There will be other opportunities. It would be nice to go together as a whole family.”
Brad shook his head quite briskly.
“No. These tickets are special. The kids are the right age for a first time experience and we might not get another chance like this for another five years. And then, I’m very happy that Jessica accepted to go in my place. She deserves it. You two gals haven’t had a vacation together in years.”
Dora smiled tenderly back even if her eyes showed that she was perturbed.
“Brad, I don’t like the fact that you have to go back to Area 51 next week. There’s something fishy going on which I can’t quite put a finger on…”
Brad hastily tried washing away her concerns. “Thursday is a long way off, Dora. I’m not worried one bit about going back there.”
Dora’s apprehensive mind was already jumping ahead. “We’ll talk on Wednesday when I’m back. I’m expecting a few calls to try to sort this out and find out what’s it all about.”
Brad looked directly into his wife’s pupils and held her gaze. Dora’s smile glazed over as she became suddenly aware of her husband’s passionate glare. A glow surfaced in her crystal, blue eyes as the corners of her lips spread up.
“What are you looking at, handsome?”
“At my whole life,” he replied as a knot formed in his throat. He bit the inside of his bottom lip so hard it hurt.
Dora’s perfect face broadened into an easy, wholesome smile as she caressed his jawline with her soft fingertips.
“Don’t do anything silly while I’m away. Especially with Bobby. I’m sure he won’t have any trouble handling two girls by himself if he needs to. Got that?”
For one split second Brad thought about breaking the promise he made to Bobby. He knew that Dora would be ecstatic. He also knew that his wife wouldn’t be able to keep a secret like that hidden from Jessica.
No, thought Brad with a frigid heart. It would be best if Jessica never knew what Bobby had in mind. It would make her life easier afterwards.
Dora placed the tickets in her bag and passed her hand nervously through her hair. She looked up at Brad with her wondrous eyes. He felt her reluctance. She didn’t want to leave.
“Well… I’m set and ready to go! Like my outfit?”
As Brad looked her over, he felt a strange sensation creep up in him, as if he had already lived a moment like that, as if he knew what was about to come next. With his chin firmly clenched, he tried not to tremble in her presence. He wanted to tell her how attractive and sharp she looked, but his throat choked up and he wasn’t able to pronounce one word.
Dora suddenly stopped, with her packed bag in her hand, and looked with a disquieting air at her husband. In one sense, she was thrilled to be going on the trip and was looking forward to the wonderful vacation her husband had offered her.
Yet, as she looked at him standing there, her heart fluttered in fear. He was struggling with his emotions. It was very unlike him – and she was overwhelmed by a sensation she rarely felt before. She was terrified of losing him. Forever. She felt a suffocating sense of loss which she couldn’t quite explain.
“Brad, you don’t look that good,” she said uneasily. “I’m… a little afraid. Are you going to be alright?”
He came up to her and grabbed her around the waist and pulled her quickly into his arms so that she couldn’t see his face.
He hungrily searched her mouth. After a surprised moment of hesitation, she returned back his blistering, passionate kiss as their lips abandoned themselves on the other.
“Wow!” she said somewhat flabbergasted, even if with a suspicious look on her face. “You haven’t kissed me like that in years! Brad, you’re sure you’re fine?”
“Yes,” he managed to reply with a raspy voice as he delicately touched a strand of her silky hair. “I just had a very bad dream last night and it left me a little shaken up. That’s all.”
She chided him. “You were snacking on chips again, weren’t you?”
“Well… you know very well that I can’t resist certain delicacies…”
Dora arched her eyebrow up as her husband’s eyes traced her figure. Her eyes lighted up.
“Don’t think that I’ll forget about that kiss when I come back home… I’ll be wanting a lot more, handsome!”
A few seconds later, Brad was left gazing outside the window as Dora made her way to the SUV. Brad waved as his family waved back at him. His mind was numb as he remained staring at the empty road for what seemed like a very long time. He tore his eyes from the street and glanced up at the sun. There should be a warning, pondered Brad. Shouldn’t there be a sign that the sun was about to explode or would it just occur in a sudden flash?
He turned away from the window and centered his attention on his laptop, searching for sun related news articles. He found an insignificant article in a secondary news site about the curious worldwide, cooling temperatures of the last few days, but no public site or scientific organization had tied the effect with the sun yet. Brad doubted that anyone would until maybe the last few hours, if at that.
Brad drew down the shades around the house and slowly climbed the stairs. He glanced at his watch. Thirty hours remained. He entered his library, and after pouring himself a scotch, sat down in his favorite chair and slowly let his gaze roam freely over his prized collection of books. They were soothing and comforting. The tension in his body slowly ebbed away.
A long time ambition crept into his mind as his eyes touched the titles of his books one by one. He had always wanted to write a book and at that moment regretted that he never found the time to do so. Time. He sighed, turning his attention back to his youth. I could have been a boxer too, he thought closing his eyes, imagining himself in a ring. He caught himself day dreaming and smiled. It was incredible that he never had the time to stop, close his eyes, and fantasize anymore.
He reopened his eyes. In truth, it felt strange to think that he could have been someone else – but I supposedly was, he thought. Chang came from another timeline. In many ways, the thought of this frightened him. Who had that Brad been? What had he done with his life? And Dora? Brad shuddered at that moment, wondering what had ever driven him to research time.
The day passed by slowly as the afternoon and then the evening unfolded. Brad watched from his laptop as the antigravity ship, Mars III, lifted off late in the evening and smoothly made its way towards the stratosphere. It was still an eerie sight watching non-thruster ships gliding up, floating up like a light feather as gravity and friction were annulled. In a few hours, Dora and the children would be on Mars.
Shortly after, the Earth and all its life would be destroyed.
But, where did he go wrong? How did he not see this day come? If the CME event was predestined as scheduled, as Ron had deduced, then why was Chang sent back in time? What good did it do?
Brad huddled up in his chair. He was exhausted. The end of the world was hours away. He should have been doing something worthwhile with his last few hours. He should have been reading a beloved book or reminiscing about wonderful memories. He should have taken a stroll besides a rustling, river stream under the glorious, shining moon and ponder about the immense universe. Like he used to do when he was young. With Bobby back home. After all, the end of the world was something… something that came around only once in a lifetime. Not even. Not for everyone.
Brad started laughing at his own silliness.
I must do something, he told himself, feeling frustrated that he wasn’t capable of finding the one defining thing to do, or the right frame of mind to think of something – that something to give everything meaning. He couldn’t just sit there on his easy chair like that, could he? What sort of ending was that?
Brad let the silence envelope him. The tension in his mind suddenly dissipated, as if a pressure valve had suddenly opened. Truth was, he didn’t feel like doing anything. He just wanted to sleep.
Brad closed his eyes.
When Brad suddenly opened his eyes, he had to blink a few times as the terror in front of him concretized, but even as he was blinking, he was opening his mouth wide to scream. Just that, no sound came out. He couldn’t talk. He couldn’t move. All he could do is stare at it while he lay slouched on his chair. Its eyes were murky brown. Large head, thin body. Similar to the dead aliens at Area 51. However, this one was very much alive.
Yet, even as Brad looked on terrified, he could sense that the alien was not there to harm him. After the first few frantic heartbeats, Brad felt his heart slowly return to a more manageable rhythm. He was able to easily move his fingers, even if the rest of his arm was numb. At that point, he understood that the alien was enforcing some sort of constraint on his body.
Brad didn’t know if the alien was using technology or ESP and decided to form a thought in his mind to communicate with it. He wanted it to know that he wasn’t going to attempt to harm it, even if, in all honesty, Brad felt extremely ridiculous doing so. He was as helpless as a newborn baby, clearly in no position to carry through any sort of threat, let alone a bluff.
To his surprise, the alien spoke even if its facial array did not budge. Brad quickly realized that the alien was speaking directly to his mind with a form of telepathy.
“Brad Walsh. I’ve come to speak with you.”
After the alien uttered those few words, Brad regained full control of his body. He straightened up on his armchair and glanced at the clock on the opposite wall over the study’s door. It was three in the morning.
Brad turned his attention back on the alien. Feeling deep disbelief, he recognized the absurdity of his predicament as the alien seemed to take up the complete space in the middle of his library. He was experiencing an encounter of the third kind. The other possibility, of course, was that none of it was true and that he had become utterly mad.
Brad blinked again, as if that would make things clearer. He noted that the alien was hovering about three inches above the floor which made him feel a little creepy. For lack of words, Brad pointed to the chair at his side.
“Would you like to sit down?” he asked, more for his own comfort than the alien’s need to rest.
To his astonishment, the alien did, even if it didn’t seem to touch the chair it sat on. Force field? Was it a sort of armor? There were so many questions popping into his mind at that instant. For a brief second, he became nostalgic of Ron. If there was one person in the world that would die for an occasion like that, it would be Height. Enthusiastic would have been too bland of a word to describe what Ron would have felt if an alien had suddenly popped up like that in front of his eyes. Brad wasn’t feeling quite the same emotion. His mouth, instead, was dry. He needed a drink.
He looked at the intruder.
“Uhm… a glass of scotch?”
The alien did not object, on the contrary, and Brad found himself pouring a drink for his unique guest. As soon he filled the glass, it floated towards the alien and remained suspended in the air a few inches from its head. Brad was astonished when the level of the liquid inside the glass dipped about an inch. Drinking by absorption? Evaporation of alcohol? Through its skin? There were so many questions.
Brad waited for what seemed a long time, quietly observing the strange apparition enjoying its drink. He had all but forgotten that he held a similar glass in his hand. He took a big gulp, searing his lungs. He drank the liquid too fast and nearly coughed up as his throat became parched.
When the alien did speak, it was more of a reproach than a start of a conversation.
“Humanity is not a time faring race. Your species does not have the ability to slip in and out of time and seamlessly join the time stream. Your race discovered time travel because of an event at Roswell in the twentieth century.”
“That much I knew,” Brad responded before asking the obvious. “Who are you and what do you want?”
Why was it there on the eve, as Brad feared, of Earth’s imminent destruction? Why had it come to see him?
“TAD and SLRY are two enterprises with colossal business ventures in our galaxy. The head offices are in different times, but they commerce through all time periods,” the alien replied, somewhat disjointed, with what seemed an irrelevant subject considering the situation at hand. For a moment, Brad wondered if the alien had truly understood his question or if it simply chose to ignore it.
“Have you ever wondered, Brad Walsh, how the rogue Chinese base was able to send their nuclear bombs into the future and kill the Segmoid species?”
Brad’s mind scrambled to focus on the Segmoids. Another jump in subject. Brad wondered if time faring species could keep a linear discussion. Perhaps, when one had no concept of the past, present, or future, the discourses became as jumpy as the lives they led where everything was forever now.
“No, because that never happened,” retorted Brad as he took a moderate sip from his glass. The alien didn’t seem to want to follow up on the question as it continued with further revelations.
“The Chinese rogue base had the help of an alien from SLRY who was stranded and then rescued from Mars by TAD. He was given a choice. Either work for TAD or be killed. His mission was to give Ling’s team the knowledge to develop the missing link that she needed to send nuclear bombs into the future and destroy SLRY’s assets. The Segmoids represent a top three client for SLRY and without their portfolio, they would be weak and financially compromised throughout the galaxy. Without the Segmoids, SLRY would not have the funds to compete with TAD in the timeline, leaving the door open for TAD to dominate the market.”
Brad didn’t interrupt and bided his time, listening, wondering where the alien was leading him to.
“When aliens attacked the Earth in order to prevent further development on time travel by destroying your current level of technology, you sent your wife back in time to attempt to change your planet’s history. TAD never seriously considered this option. The probability that humanity would be able to travel through time is statistically insignificant since a non-time travel species has never succeeded in doing so.”
It seemed to Brad that the alien, even as it was recounting the story, was still surprised that it actually happened. A touch of pride lifted Brad’s spirit. The human mind was truly amazing.
“In the timeline that you created, however,” continued the alien, “TAD and SLRY learned to cooperate, leading to a trade agreement between the two both parties. Unfortunately, not everyone on the executive board agreed to the treaty. The truce did not last long. The SLRY CEO was ambushed and killed by his own board and replaced by a thirsty tyrant, making the two companies fierce competitors once again. SLRY eventually crushed TAD, winning the war of the markets. Once this was accomplished, the ever greedy CEO of SLRY launched himself into politics where he continued his aggressive nature by engaging in intergalactic time wars. His ultimate goal was to conquer the timeline. He succeeded in annihilating many time faring species to reach his goal. One species, seemingly insignificant –comparable to one of your third world countries – had seen their future and knew that their fate was sealed. They could not do anything to prevent their destruction.”
The alien took another of his invisible sips.
“They were resigned to their fate until, unexpectedly, they intercepted a most peculiar SOS signal. It came from a non-time travelling species and pointed to a rudimentary knowledge of time traveling. This species explicitly expressed to be saved by a time faring species. Their world was about to end. Imagine the euphoria when this third world species discovered an imperfection in the timeline, the pendulum loop that you created. This doomed time travelling species therefore knew that another timeline outside their own hypothetically existed. Their only hope for survival was to travel to the other timeline, this one, and hope that in this other timeline they would not meet the terrible fate that they were destined to meet in their own timeline.”
Brad was fascinated at the reality the alien was drawing up for him. “So you have two species fighting for the right to exist,” muttered Brad. “Humanity and this third world country species, as you call it.”
“Exactly. This species keyed in on the SOS signal that the inhabitants of Earth sent to locate the wormhole before the CME hit. The SOS signal became the localizer of the time stream. Once they knew the exact moment the magnetic flux occurred as well as the intensity of the CME, it became relatively easy to calculate back to the exact moment of the origin of the flux and trace the time capsule’s header. Once they found the moment of origin, they were able to find the fingerprint of the DNA header and individualized the person sent back in time – your wife. The rest was a long process to find you, the inventor, and discover a means of eliminating the event you induced from ever occurring. They did so by sending Chang back through the exact same portal space that your wife’s capsule had travelled through, effectively sealing off the space.”
Brad remained silent for an instant. “In other words, these aliens profited by our ingenuity. They piggy backed on our invention to reach this timeline through Chang. So did it work? Did the aliens save themselves? Is this why the world is ending in a few hours? Did they sacrifice us so they could assure their future? Is this what this is about?”
Brad was appalled at the apparent lack of sensitivity among intelligent life and horrified that such a reality actually existed among the stars.
Humanity is mistaken, Brad thought gloomily. There is nothing for us among the stars. Earth is an oasis and the universe a dry dessert. There are vultures circling over our heads, waiting for our knees to bend, our bodies to topple over, and for our bones to turn to dust. We only have each other. Race, religion, politics… it doesn’t matter. We only have each other.
To Brad, the alien seemed to smile, even if its face remained the same rigid, plastic mask.
“Not only did they save themselves, but since no cooperation was ever signed by TAD and SLRY in this timeline, the existing SLRY CEO reign was never put into question. Furthermore, the being which would have taken his place never became powerful enough to amount to anything significant other than a local, radical political dissenter. However, these third world aliens made very certain that the odds were in their favor by giving Chang the knowledge that humanity required to escape this planet.”
Brad took another sip of his drink.
“I bet,” he replied with an irony which was lost on the alien. He was beyond fear. He was starting to get livid. The universe was like an immense, never ending board of chess that stretched through space and time. He imagined a thousand species of time travellers, fighting against each other, changing, reordering time, fighting one battle after the other to change one small moment of the universe to control a piece of the timeline.
He imagined them checking, rechecking, defending, attacking, redoing, undoing, outwitting the other only to start over again while species like humanity lay clueless in their ignorance and idyllic existence, condemned to live and die on the whims of their raging, endless time wars.
Brad looked at the alien with hard set eyes. “Was it a question of guilt? Is this why that race gave humanity the knowledge to escape Earth? They wanted to appease their conscious by letting us live a little longer on Mars?”
“You are reaching your own conclusions, Brad Walsh. You are not listening. In one weeks’ time,” the alien continued, “humanity will make their first formal contact with an intelligent extra-terrestrial life. It will be this third world race that saved your race and in the process themselves. An alliance will be forged between the two species. The time faring species will protect the timeline of your race. In return humanity’s tactical ingenuity will wipe out over half the species in the galaxy, common enemies of both races. The universe will fear us, Brad Walsh. We will be masters.”
Brad was utterly stunned at this turn of events. His rambling thoughts came screeching to a halt. Fear us? Tyrants? It made his uneasy. He felt queasy. There was an underlying horror to the alien’s words that he did not fully comprehend and left him speechless.
Then another sentiment suddenly bloomed in his mind. It was a wave of relief. It was hope. He loathed admitting it, but as much as he abhorred the idea of humanity wiping out entire, innocent civilizations, he was relieved that the future of his own race was assured. Surely, humanity could never become what this alien was projecting.
Then again, there was no assurance that humanity was safe. On the contrary. Why was the alien in his home? What about the information that he had just gathered from Barker at Area 51? There was a huge sunspot building on the sun. Chang must have been the cause of this phenomenon, right? The world was going to end in a few hours! How could humanity make official first contact? Of course! The alien did not say where this contact would occur. It might be a starship or a floating city, like the one orbiting around Saturn. The alien did not say that Earth would be saved.
Brad wasn’t very much surprised when the alien read his mind and elaborated further.
“You are right. The sun will experience a CME, but it is not Chang’s presence in this timeline which will trigger the event. That event will happen in about three hundred years, enough time for humanity to have spread through one fifth of the galaxy.”
The revelation surprised Brad. If not Chang…who?
“The event that will trigger the CME will originate from Area 51. Barker’s team is trying to bypass the ping principle. They have discovered anti-matter time snippets which they think can be used in the place of pings. They call these ghost pings because they cannot be detected on Earth. They have been sending ghosts pings for weeks and these are the cause of the cool region on the sun’s surface. Unfortunately, the damage done is irreversible. The CME event will happen as soon as an attempt is made to use the time stream. Later today, Area 51 will send an object forward in time, but the event will fail. This failed attempt will create a momentary time corridor with a tremendous amount of trapped energy which has nowhere to go. The energy will tear a fabric in this star system and create a quantum breech between matter and antimatter. One opening will be created at the point of origin, being Area 51. The other end will be attracted to the object having the greatest mass and the strongest gravitational pull within the solar system. This happens to be your sun. Death will be instantaneous. A CME event from an anti-matter time tunnel will interpose two spaces in one tachyon of time.”
Brad held his breath before slowly exhaling. The alien had just revealed another secret of the universe that humanity had only theorized up until then.
“So it exists… a tachyon is not merely a hypothetical particle.”
The alien acknowledged Brad’s assumption.
“Yes, there are particles that move faster than time and the CME event will be caught in such a beam as the two portals are created. The CME will arrive on the Earth one normal second before it even ejects from the sun as collapsible pure energy that cannot escape.”
“In other words…”
“In one instant the world will burn and in the other instant the Earth will collapse into a black hole.”
Brad’s mind was racing ahead. He had to get in contact with Barker to stop the experiment from taking place. What Area 51 was attempting was frightfully bewildering. Idiotic was the only word that came to Brad’s mind at that moment. Time research had been banned for the next one hundred years. It was unpardonable.
Brad focused on his present again, and as he looked at the alien, his confused mind suddenly stopped thinking.
“Why are you telling me all of this?” asked Brad, a little suspicious.
“You asked me who I was,” the alien responded. “I am your ally. I am that insignificant, third world species that saved your species.”
Brad blinked, his mind momentarily paralyzed as he pondered the implications. Then a rush of adrenalin surged through his body. If the alien was truly an ally…
His excitement rebounded through his sudden, vigorous voice.
“You’ve come to tell me this so that I can warn Area 51 and convince them not to go through with their test? Right? You’ve come to save the Earth?”
Brad’s mind was overwhelmed with euphoria and fear. Salvation! He had to move quickly as fear and hope mingled in his veins. He must not fail and yet he was so afraid that he would. The alien knew, though, didn’t it? The alien knew what the outcome would be. Yet, the alien had to play the part… a script?
Brad swallowed and sensed his chest tighten up. At that moment, he doubted everything that came to mind. What was the truth? He realized that he was starting to panic. He needed to slow down his thoughts.
“I’ve got to get on the phone… right away…” Brad mumbled, his thumping heart beating wildly as he glanced again at the clock on the far wall.
Brad looked back at the alien. His mind was not as sharp as it should have been. There were too many intangibles, including the presence of the alien itself. Why now? Why at his home? Why not a year ago? Why didn’t the alien go and warn Area 51 directly?
There were so many questions and no time – no time! – to think and ponder. The end of the world was soon approaching, for him and everyone else on Earth. He asked himself for the umpteenth time: was the alien being sincere?
“Do not doubt of us, Brad Walsh, nor of the importance of what you are about to do.”
The alien uttered his words in a nearly ridiculous thunderous, biblical tone which reminded Brad of those old, religious apocalypse movies that forewarned of terrible consequences for those that did not heed to the messenger’s underscored wisdom. There was clear puzzlement written across Brad’s face.
“What am I about to do?”
“You have a choice to make. You control the pivotal event which will determine the future of both our species and the fate of our galaxy for the next ten thousand years. You need to contact Barker and convince him to delay the event for at least one week, enough time to save the Earth. In one week, when we make first contact and reveal that we are a time faring species, we will explain what would have happened to the Earth if Area 51 completed their test run. I can assure you that after that revelation, all time related research will no longer be pursued by your species ever again.”
“And all of humanity will believe you?” Brad asked with clear doubt tainted in his voice. “On the first day of contact? What makes you so certain that Area 51 will not schedule the event later this week? What you’re telling me are just hypothesis since you can’t really know what will happen if I haven’t done anything yet. The only certainty at this moment, as I sit in this chair, is that the Earth will be destroyed in a few hours and in the process your species too. Correct?”
Brad’s enthusiasm was slowly being replaced by a sense of doom. His hollow eyes grew wider and bleaker as the alien spoke.
“There are only two possibilities, Brad Walsh. If you convince Barker to delay the test, the Earth will be destroyed in three hundred years. The CME event, however, will still occur tomorrow as scheduled since the damage is irreversible, but the gravitational flux between the Earth and the sun is very weak at this moment. The CME will not have a gravitational wormhole to travel through and it will not only miss the Earth, but will eject as a normal energy vector. The Earth will nevertheless be affected as the CME event will leave a cooler sun and trigger an ice age, but with our help, humanity will survive and thrive for the next three hundred years on this planet until the planet is finally stripped of life. If you do not convince Barker, the Earth will be destroyed tomorrow. Our species never make first contact and without our combined support, your colonies will eventually die off and the floating space cities destroyed by other species. Humanity will not live beyond another eight hundred years. And you are correct. Our species will not fare much better either. In about three thousand years, we will be assimilated by other species and become their slaves until the day our race becomes extinct. We either both win or we both lose.”
Brad knew what he needed to do. He realized that he had to put his full trust into that being. He had one more question. A personal one.
“If I succeed, will you promise to help me regain my freedom?”
Brad blinked and the alien was no longer there. He looked at the clock and it was exactly the same moment as when he first opened his eyes.
Had it been a dream? Then he started laughing. And crying.
Brad unknowingly dozed off and when he reopened his eyes, it was six in the morning. He panicked. Brad had to talk to Barker. He looked at his tablet. His family was a few hours away from haven. He dared not hope, but soon, he would find them in his arms again.
Brad Walsh dialed the special number that Barker had given him.
“Barker, you’re right. I’ve travelled to China and changed the timeline to trigger a specific event which will happen later today. I am ready to talk and tell you everything. I will only talk to you, though. Only us two or the deal’s off. If you delay, the United States of America will be destroyed by a CME later this afternoon and China will conquer the world. I can tell you how to stop the imminent destruction of our country and prevent China from setting their flag on Capitol Hill. I’m not bluffing. Come get me. I’m at home.”
It was an extremely breezy morning. The helicopter was having difficulty landing in front of Brad’s home and made two attempts before it finally touched ground. Even as it lifted off, Brad felt the tug of the gusty wind as the pilot struggled to control his vehicle.
“I’ve never seen winds like these,” muttered Bonk, visibly agitated. Brad remained silent. He had been listening to the news during the time it took Barker to fetch him. The phenomenon was startling the scientific community and striking fear in the population as the world tried coping with the incapacitating winds which were starting to pop up everywhere.
There were already thousands of official deaths related to the strange occurrence. A high rise had toppled in Singapore and at last count about a dozen passenger planes had crashed while taking off or attempting to land. In the States, all commercial planes were momentarily being grounded and ships were barred from leaving the harbors. As Brad looked down, he saw a few cars blown off the roads and imagined that soon only emergency vehicles would be permitted to circulate.
Things were about to get much worse. As Brad left home, he heard that the coast of Australia had been hit with a violent, tidal wave that crashed down with sudden fury at least two miles inland. He thought he heard that at least two towns had been eradicated off the face of the Earth and all the inhabitants feared dead.
“It’s the sun…” Bonk whispered as he turned his head towards Brad. “You know, don’t you? That’s why I’m risking my life to bring you to Area 51, isn’t it?”
“Top secret,” Brad answered dryly, returning some of Bonk’s own acrid medicine. As Bonk’s stiff face looked back at him with half petrified eyes, Brad felt ashamed for having snapped at him. The man was searching for hope, for a word of comfort.
“Yes, it is the sun,” Brad replied sombrely, quickly amending his sarcastic tone. “That’s why you’re bringing me to Groom Lake. I’ll try everything I can to stop this.”
Bonk nodded, turning his agitated eyes back outside. Brad glanced at his watch. With the unpredictable winds, the ride was taking longer than expected. He wasn’t going to have much time to convince Barker.
He looked up at the gray, whitish sun and did not blink. By now, everyone must have realized that something was very wrong with the sun and that the winds were a direct result of the sun’s alteration. His thought was interrupted by the chime of his phone. It was Dora. She had tried a live video call, but the sun was causing havoc with the lines. Her text message, instead, got through. They had arrived. There was also a photo of the whole group. Brad smiled.
Then Brad’s heart stood still as he read the last words of her text. Dora was wondering if she should come back to Earth and leave the kids with Jessica. There was a spot available on a returning shuttle lifting off in two hours. She was worried about the sun’s situation.
Brad hurriedly typed back, even knowing that one day the message might compromise him, but it was of vital importance that she received it: CME event. Not related to Chang. Stay put. Do not let any ship lift off from Mars today. Enjoy yourself with the kids. In the meantime, your husband is going to Area 51 to save the world. I will see you later this week. Love, Brad.
It only took a few seconds for Dora to reply. Brad marveled again at the incredible technological leap of the last few years. Whoever would have thought that texting to Mars would be almost instantaneously? Brad couldn’t see Dora’s face, but he imagined the expression on her face as if she was standing in front of him. He read her return message: My God, Brad, you knew???
A pensive smile played across Brad’s lips as he shut off his phone. A tremendous emotive rush of inescapable loss overwhelmed him and he didn’t know from where it originated. I’ve already lived something like this, haven’t I? I’ve already lost once, and even this time, I fear that… time does not like to be tampered with. Somehow, time will try to put itself back on track. Somehow, I will lose again.
Brad should have been ecstatic. He had an opportunity to save humanity. So why was he grieving?
The two men leveled their rigid gazes at each other and did not budge an inch.
Barker finally looked away with disgust and slammed his flat hand over the table under him, making Brad wonder about the resilience of that plain looking, wooden table. It must be nearly a century old if not more, he mused, marveling that not one person had ever considered budgeting a replacement. The table was a survivor. Brad wondered if it would still be there in three hundred years’ time. He hoped so. He hoped people would keep on forgetting to replace it. For all he knew, it might even survive the CME event!
Barker pointed his finger at him with vehemence. He spoke through clenched teeth.
“Granted,” he grudgingly conceded. “You will be placed under house arrest until trial.”
Brad nodded, satisfied. If he had to remain in Area 51 to prevent doomsday, he would, but he much preferred to be home and greet his family when they walked through the door.
“But,” Barker snarled as he chewed off his cigar with one side of his mouth, “you will have to wear a sensor bracelet around your ankle. If you try to escape or mess with it, you will be electrocuted on the spot. No mercy. Even in front of your wife and kids. Is that clear?”
Brad nodded again. The general looked at him suspiciously. It was obvious that he was ruminating on the story that Brad had just told him.
“I have a question. How did you know that we were going to send an object into the future today?”
“China sent a ping into the future…”
Barker could hardly control himself. “So China is ahead of us again! They have constructed a time machine that has eluded us again. Incredible…”
Brad could sense that Barker was not only struggling to keep his anger in check, but was also struggling to understand much of what was said. Brad knew that he had to untangle Barker’s mind quickly. They had less than an hour left and Barker needed to abort the time jump into the future.
“When we first met, you had mostly figured it out. I was a double agent, working alongside Height and Chang to benefit a terrorist organization in China led by Ling. The time project I headed failed because I sabotaged the unit at Area 51.”
“I knew it!”
“The time machine I was really working on was the Chinese model. In the real timeline, I escaped to China and sent Chang twenty years forward in time. My team in China had also invented a means of sending information back to the other timeline by implanting a tiny quantum chip embedded in Chang’s DNA. Coming from the future, Chang had key information about the timeline’s history, including the Aurora jet. He sent back twenty years of history to Ling who interfered with a few key events in time to destabilize America and bring China to the forefront as world leader. Chang then used the Aurora jet to destroy the proof of the time machine in China. Before the Chinese time machine was destroyed, however, Ling sent a ping into the future and saw that the Americans would attempt a time leap today. In order to assure herself that the Americans could never again change the timeline and undo what she had done, she decided to destroy the U.S. She sent an open end atomic bomb to hit Area 51 at exactly the same time you make the jump.”
Barker was fuming. “An open end… if I remember reading your theories correctly…”
Brad had no time for Barker’s speculations.
“An open end only occurs once the time portal is opened. As soon as you open the time portal, Area 51 will be hit by the nuclear bomb, but because a time event is a magnetic flux event, the gravity and mass will exponentially increase the energy released…”
“Meaning…” concluded Barker, “that the nuclear bomb will explode to the umpteenth power…”
Brad nodded. “Enough to destroy the North American continent.”
“And if we don’t go ahead with our plans today and plan it for later this week?” the general asked, already envisioning himself postponing the experiment to another day.
“Since it’s an open end, the nuclear warhead will skip ahead much like a stone on water until a time portal is opened or until the kinetic energy dissipates in one million years or so.”
Barker’s face became white. “In other words, as soon as we or anyone else attempts to travel in time for the next one million years…”
Brad spoke only one word. “Boom.”
“You son of a…”
Brad stood up. “You know where to find me.”
Barker slowly rose from his chair, his eyes glaring.
“What about the sun?” his infuriated voice snarled. “What’s happening out there?”
“That? I have no idea.”
Barker pierced him with his blazing eyes.
“What’s in it for you, traitor? Why have you finally decided to speak?”
Brad kept a straight face. “I haven’t received my share of the money.”
Barker was incredulous and took a step back.
“Money? That’s what this is about, Walsh? Money? I can’t believe this…”
Brad swivelled his jaw. “Would I have sent my whole family to Mars if what I told you wasn’t true? At first, I thought about waiting it out in Australia. I figured that was far enough for us to be safe, but the money didn’t come. Then I started thinking that the world would be in pretty bad shape for a few years after the bomb. So in the end, I decided we ship to Mars and wait and see what happened on Earth. Only trouble is that you took away my passport and now I’m stuck here alone and have to consider my options. You see… I don’t want to die and the only way to continue living is to prevent you from completing your time trial today.”
Barker smiled thinly as he summed up the situation. “I see. You wanted to save your measly life by escaping to Mars and returning later, once China took over the world. So that’s why you’re all of a sudden talking. You didn’t expect to be in the States when our country blew up and four hundred million people died, did you? Without your passport, you can’t go anywhere. It’s not only about the money then, but your miserable neck as well…”
Barker was too livid to continue. He spat on the ground. “Coward!”
Brad knew, at that very moment, that the Earth was saved.
He had succeeded.
The house was in pitch darkness when Bobby arrived.
He had hurried to see Brad as soon as he could free himself from his duties. He had a twelve hour leave, but was expected back at the Pentagon even sooner. They needed him. Things were pretty bad and could only get worse. Nevertheless, he couldn’t leave his best friend to his fate. Not at a moment like that.
Brad wasn’t answering his cell. He wasn’t answering the door either. No one had been able to get in contact with Brad even if the local police reassured him that there were signs of activity inside the home.
Bobby looked over his shoulder to the throng of journalists huddled behind the perimeter set up by the officers that had just let him through. Nearly all wore mittens and hats. It was the middle of August, but it was as cold as any bitter winter day.
Once again, Bobby stared up at the smoldering, gray sun that feebly tried to warm the air. It had become a continuous habit and even if he had done so hundreds of times since last week, he was still horrified and shocked by the spectacle. The sun was a ragged mosaic of off-white to grayish patches containing spotted, yellow blemishes that occasionally flared.
The CME had blown off with tremendous force and scientists were left speculating at how long the healing process of the sun would take, if ever. What was certain was that the Earth was about to plunge into an ice age. England was in the midst of a two day snow storm while most of the Northern hemisphere was struggling to cope with the frigid temperatures.
Bobby took out the extra home key that Brad and Dora had given him and entered, fearing the worse. He knew where to find Brad, upstairs in his study. He called out his name.
He heard voices and approached the door which lay slightly ajar. He slowly pushed it open. He found his friend shrivelled up on his worn out, lazy chair staring at his tablet, listening to the news.
Brad glanced up with his hollowed eyes, a ghost of his former self. Bobby rushed up to him and gripped him strongly on the upper arm, letting out a deep sigh of relief as tears formed in his eyes.
“Brad, you got to get a hold of yourself. The shuttles are cleared to launch again. Radiation is down. Jessica is arriving with the kids tomorrow.”
Brad looked dully his best friend.
“Tomorrow? One week..?”
“Yes, it’s been a week, Brad…”
Bobby glanced down at the tablet Brad was holding in his hands and saw the streaming news clips that had terrified the whole world when the CME reached Mars.
“Brad, you can’t do this to yourself…”
“Dora’s dead because of me, Bobby. It’s my fault.”
Brad’s voice was flat, dead, beyond pain, but not beyond suffering.
“No. You had no way of knowing, Brad. None at all.”
Brad remained silent. His tears flowed freely down his cheeks.
Bobby rose up to his feet. He wanted to tell his best friend how lucky he was to have all his children back. One fourth of all the people on Mars had been killed when the CME struck. It had not even been a direct blow. The world had watched in agony, helpless to assist as the CME flare fired towards Mars. The ships couldn’t lift. They were not equipped to handle that sort of radiation. Dora had been able to save her children, but she had died in a fire assisting others to safety.
“I have to go, Brad. Promise me you’ll be OK. I won’t be able to free myself for the rest of this month, if not longer. Things are pretty bad outside. I don’t know how we’ll manage. Seattle’s practically vanished from the map. Eight feet of snow dropped on the city in two hours and the snow is still pounding the northern west coast. It was so sudden that most people living in low dwelling homes didn’t have the time to move out and seek shelter. Whoever had the idea to jump in their car and escape by road is buried and dead. You can’t even see Interstate 5 anymore. Truth is there is nowhere to run to. The storm’s too brutal. We don’t think we’ll find many survivors and those few that are holed up somewhere might only have a few hours of oxygen left.”
Brad hung his head down as Bobby squeezed his shoulder and stepped aside to leave.
Bobby turned towards Brad. Brad was looking at him straight in the face. He had an eerie light in his eyes.
“Don’t worry, Bobby. We’ll manage. Tomorrow is one week. There will be hope for the world. I promise.”
Bobby nodded, feeling a touch relieved that his friend had mustered some strength to speak, but afraid that Brad was losing his sense of reality.
“Yes,” Bobby replied as he put on a brave smile for Brad’s sake. “One week. Hope for the world.”
Bobby reached the door. He glanced back at Brad who had withdrawn once again into his broken thoughts.
“Brad, you remember now. Your kids need you. Sarah needs you.”
Brad didn’t say a word as his gaze dropped down to his pad once again.
(A few years later)
“Where’s Jess?” Sarah asked her dad.
Startled, Brad looked up into his daughter’s eyes and for a brief second had an uncanny sensation of exhilaration before a sharp pang of pain overtook the moment of euphoria. She was the spitting image of her mother. He had nearly blurted out Dora’s name. The hurt receded and dissipated and was replaced by a glow that warmed his heart.
“She’s at the cemetery visiting mom.” He glanced at his watch. “I’ll be joining her in about an hour.”
Sarah nodded and opened the fridge’s door. Ralphie came hobbling along, his old tail wagging happily as he nudged Sarah’s leg. She kneeled down to hug him tightly, just like she did when she was about his height.
“Oh Ralphie! I’ll miss you too!”
Brad knew what was coming as he saw his daughter reaching in the fridge.
“I only have one bagel left and it’s mine!”
Sarah shot her dad a miffed look. “Come on, dad! Ralphie deserves a treat!”
“You’re on a diet,” Brad growled at the dog.
Ralphie looked at Brad with his big, sorrowful, begging eyes. A minute later, Sarah dropped the hard, toasted bagel at his paws. Ralphie casually looked at Brad and seemed to stick out his tongue before digging his nose into his special treat.
“Bobby’s in town,” Sarah said as she turned to her dad with a stick of artificial cheese in her hand.
Brad clasped his jaw tight and returned to reading the news on his pad.
“Dad… don’t you think you two should make up? It’s been years. This might be a good occasion. You can always pretend that you ran into him by chance.”
Brad knew that he was being illogical and hard headed, but he simply couldn’t bring himself to face Bobby. It would be awkward, as if he was asking for forgiveness, as if he had committed a crime. Yes, he did feel guilt. Yes, there were days when he thought he could have handled the situation better than he did. However, that was a long time ago and what was done was done.
“It won’t work, princess,” he said with a noticeable tightness of tone as he continued reading. He didn’t like to discuss about Bobby. Not with Jessica, not with Sarah. Not even with himself. “Too much time has gone by. We’re virtually strangers.”
There was a pause of silence where all they heard was Ralphie happily licking up the crumbs from the floor. Sarah stared at her dad. Brad glanced up again at her crystal-clear, pondering blue eyes. They were breathless.
Brad couldn’t help it.
“You’re beautiful just like your mom,” he quietly uttered as he choked up.
A tender, affectionate smile spread over Sarah’s face.
“And mom would have approved very much of Jessica. I’m sure that in mom’s heart, Jessica would have been the woman she would have chosen for you if something were to happen to her. Stop feeling guilty, dad. Bobby had his chance and never realized it.”
“Furthermore,” noted Sarah as her voice became deeper, “Jessica really loves you, dad. I can see that you love her just as much. We can all see that. You’re a very lucky guy to have had the love of three women – mom, Jessica, and me, of course!”
Brad’s eyes misted over as he gazed down at Ralphie who lumbered over and decided to lie down at his feet, swishing his tail lazily over and around his ankles. “We’ll talk later, old boy. Go over a few house rules. Man to man. Got that?”
The dog yawned and closed his eyes for his afternoon nap. Brad glanced back at his daughter.
“Maybe you’re right,” he said after a longer moment of reflection. “Maybe, it’s time to bury the hatchet. I’ll talk it over with Jessica first.”
“You promise dad?”
Brad sighed. “I promise I’ll talk to Jessica first and then I’ll see how I feel about it.”
“Stubborn as ever…” she whispered under her breath.
Brad had grown tired of talking about himself.
“And you?” he asked with interest, wondering what his daughter was involved with. “Where are you running off to?”
“You know that I can’t tell you dad,” she said with a wry smile on her lips, shaking her head at him. “Why do you keep insisting? It’s top secret!”
“Hmm. Top secret, eh? Sounds very much like Groom Lake to me! You wouldn’t by chance have run into a certain Walter Bonk? Bring him my regards.”
Sarah didn’t say anything as she leaned down to caress Ralphie. Her two weeks leave were up.
“I wish I could bring you along, Ralphie…”
She bent over and kissed her pet on the nose. Ralphie opened his eyes and licked her face.
“How long will you be away this time?” Brad inquired, already missing her presence as he rose up to meet her.
“Stay out of trouble.”
“Can’t promise you that, dad.”
Brad hugged his daughter with all his love.
Sarah picked up her carry bag. She winked.
“Walter Bonk, eh? No, I don’t know him, but I do know of an Andrew Bonk. Must be his son. He’s rather cute!”
Brad’s jaw dropped. “No, Sarah… you can’t do this to me!”
Sarah laughed and Brad looked into his daughter’s wonderful, teasing eyes.
Her eyes became a touch worried when her dad remained staring at her with deep, melancholic eyes and a half-frozen smile on his lips.
“Dad? You’re OK?”
He nodded. “I just thought of something…”
“You probably were too small to remember that sunny day at the beach with your mom and brothers. You started digging up sea shells, running wildly all over, giggling, bouncing and splashing in and out of the water while I dashed behind you…”
As her gaze tenderly embraced him, Brad could see in her warm, moist eyes that she didn’t remember.
“Dad… you shouldn’t think of such things. That world is long gone. You’ll only hurt yourself more,” she murmured softly as she stood ready to leave.
Brad took a deep breath. “You picked up this brightly colored, blazing red seashell with orange spots and proudly held it in the air and started running towards me…”
Brad’s eyes glazed over as the scene played out in his mind.
“Dad… I really have to go…”
He blinked and his memory suddenly vanished. He turned to his daughter and hugged her once more with all his strength. He didn’t want to let go. For some reason, the image of Dora came into his mind. Fear gripped him – an irrational fear of never seeing her again. A hard knot formed in his throat. Sarah dropped her luggage to the floor and held her dad back just as tight.
“It’s OK,” she whispered gently as he caressed her hair. “Maybe… maybe, one day we’ll have the beaches again. We’ll go back, dad, to that beach and… and maybe, I’ll remember.”
“Yes…” Brad managed to whisper as the emotions overtook him.
Sarah remained a moment longer in his arms, resting her head on her father’s shoulder. It was the warmest and safest place that she knew. “I’ll be back soon. Love you, daddy.”
“Love you too, little princess,” Brad whispered back. “See you in three months.”
Minutes later, Brad made his way to the back porch. It was cold outside, yet not as frigid as the last few weeks. It was a welcomed relief, but soon most of the country would dip down to the usual seventy degrees below zero again.
He was in time to see Sarah’s vehicle hovering over the abandoned rooftops in the distance as she made her way towards the clear domed town which loomed over the horizon. The roads outside the domed towns and cities were mostly abandoned and covered by ice. The few that were still operable were maintained by a few brave souls that lived off nostalgia for a time that seemed a very long time ago, but was less than two decades removed. Brad still kept his two old cars and occasionally started them up to hear the familiar soothing sounds of the engines, but gasoline was becoming rare and expensive.
He bundled up and took a cold fusion heat shovel and pointed it towards the patio deck. The ice melted and he stepped on the porch. He looked over his back yard and his eyes automatically went to the far corner of his garden, there where he once planted his roses.
He sighed. No more flowers. No more trees. No more birds. No more sunshine, but that weak light from the sky which was more of a nuisance than anything else. His eyes drifted to the corner of the porch at the snow and ice covered hump. Memories flooded him. Memories of Dora. Memories of Sarah and the children. Memories of Ralphie jumping into the shallow pool.
He knew that under the tarp lay his old grill, the lawn chairs and other summer items that he had gathered and tied up, waiting for the summer to come again. He would wait in vain. He knew that the Earth would never see another day above zero.
The landscape seemed… so alien. And it was. All the oceans of the Earth had frozen over and yet, deep in those oceans, some life still moved. For some reason, Brad felt extremely proud of this. It was as if he had developed a special bond for all life that had been able to beat the odds. Everything had become precious overnight. Humanity suddenly realized what they lost and sacrificed their days and nights to preserve what little could still be salvaged from mother Earth.
The allies had kept their word. They made first contact and helped humanity survive. Billions had died, but billions more would have died without the technology they brought. Humanity would survive on Earth – at least for another three hundred years, but the common man did not know that.
The aliens also kept their word to Brad. The charges of treason were dropped. He was able to remain in his home thanks in large part to the status he enjoyed and the rare, alien warming skin that a few homes outside the domes were permitted.
Despite this, Brad could not entirely forgive the aliens for failing to reveal what would have happened to Mars when he stopped Barker from carrying out his time trial. They knew. They knew Dora would die. Reasoning it through the alien’s eyes, however, they probably did well.
Brad breathed in a little too forcefully, forgetting that the air was purer and thinner as he felt its coldness burning through his lungs. What would he have done if he knew? He asked himself that question every day. Dora would have lived, the Earth destroyed. He shouldn’t even be contemplating that scenario, should he?
Yet, his mind couldn’t help thinking about it. Mars would have had a few hundred years of colonization, enough for Dora and their children to live their lives. Dora would have made sure that the colonists survived and had meaningful lives too. She would have been their leader and a fine one she would have made.
Brad clenched his teeth. He knew it was unreasonable to agonize over her death, that he was simply torturing himself. The reality was that it would have been an unforgiving, futile life. For the children, it would have been much harsher than the one they had on Earth. For humanity, it would have been the twilight of civilization, the last act of the species. Reason told him this, but his heart refused to accept reason.
Brad felt his fingers going numb despite the heavy protection that covered him. It was unfortunate that he had to leave his once beloved, back yard. He didn’t know when he’d be able to come back out in the open air. Perhaps tomorrow, maybe next week, or most likely in a month’s time.
Brad closed his eyes, knowing full well that in another minute he had to return inside or risk frostbite. He had to go pick up Jessica in the domed town. He heard an odd, throbbing sound high overhead and knew it was an alien ship. He opened his eyes and saw the red plasma burning coldly in its humongous engines. It was ironic that Area 51 had finally become what it was supposed to be all along – a port between aliens and humanity.
It was there, Area 51, where Sarah worked that this new alliance was being forged. Man and this alien race, conquering the galaxy together. Perhaps, Sarah was developing some of the weapons that would one day turn whole planets into battlefields. The thought perturbed Brad.
He felt uneasy imagining whole sentient civilizations disappearing from the face of the universe under humanity’s hammer. For a long moment, Brad reflected on this, but that future was unreal, imaginary, too far away for his human mind to grasp. He could only measure the future by his present and his present was desolate… full of that hollow, crying sound that strong, sweeping winds made. There were no more children running in the fields, no more shorelines and beaches, few wild animals and a few shrubs splattered across the world. That was all.
Brad shivered. He turned around. The lingering sorrow in his heart and mind simply wouldn’t go away. It was like a broken, mellow tune, barely audible, that accompanied him every day.
President John Holloway was both agitated and tired as he sat behind the conference table in front of the three aliens standing before him. He could tell that he was not the only one with frail nerves as his staff was unusually tense and quiet around the table. They were deeply concerned about the latest development that they’d been discussing with the aliens. A few in his staff were ready to give in their resignations if he did not oppose the alien’s request.
“So you’re telling me,” he told the alien ambassador, “that I have to execute an American citizen for something that she will commit?”
The alien knew that he would have to be very patient with this species. Humans changed their minds quite frequently and had a difficult time remaining focused. The alien proceeded not only to sum up the previous day’s discussion, but likewise reveal some of the intricate details of his unique request.
“Sarah Walsh is going to make a break-through discovery this week. She will realize that she has something special in her hands, but she won’t quite know the implication of her equations. She will smuggle her work and bring them home to her father. With his help, and with the help of other colleagues around the world, they will discover the star birth concept. They will be able to heal the sun. Permanently.”
The people before the aliens were visibly upset as they glanced hauntingly at each other. One murmured a few words to the President who simply nodded. There was a fine mist of sweat on his forehead. The strain of his responsibilities was starting to show more and more with the passing months. He had already decided that he would not seek a second term.
“But, this is wonderful news,” he said puzzlingly, his mind scrambling to make sense of why he should kill someone who was about to offer humanity the biggest gift of its existence, even if, he already suspected the answer.
The alien agreed. “For humanity it is wonderful news – the whole timeline changes. Your Earth is restored. The sun is healed. The CME event scheduled in three hundred years never happens. The Segmoids are therefore never born. Without the Segmoids, Area 51 never exists. Your past is therefore not subject to alien interference and your species does quite well and prospers for a very long time. That timeline, however, is not part of our agreement.”
A member of the President’s staff spoke out rather harshly. “Because it’s not good for you, that’s why, isn’t it?”
“Exactly. It’s not good for us. Allies don’t turn on each other, especially when you consider the fact that we saved you from extinction.”
The alien elaborated further. “We are now dependant on your species. We need your species help in the next ten thousand years to survive in this galaxy. Without our alliance we are doomed in every timeline, but this one.”
“What happens to your species in the timeline that is most favorable to us?” asked the President.
“Our home planet will be obliterated by another species in two thousand years,” the alien replied quite candidly.
“I don’t understand,” interjected one of the President’s men. “I don’t mean to be rude and insensitive, but… so what? Can’t you aliens simply escape to the future and the past? You’re time travellers!”
The alien responded with a neutral voice, or so it seemed to President Holloway. Notwithstanding the fact that he was briefed on the subtleties of alien facial and body expressions, he honestly had to admit that he was incapable of discerning most of what he had been taught. The alien might as well have been angry at that moment and he wouldn’t have realized it.
“It is a complex matter. No species is ever born as a time travelling species, but evolves into one due to a combination of factors which depend not only on the molecular structure of the species, but the home planet’s magnetic field, the dark matter streams looping around the home planet, and other factors which at this moment are beyond your comprehension. Suffice to say that time travel is a symbiosis of a species and its environment to produce a state of existence. While it is true that we could survive in different times, without a home planet we will lose the ability to regenerate ourselves. Much like a wireless link, we are constantly renewing our energy by tapping directly into our home world. I will make an analogy. Your species draws energy from your home planet by physically ingesting goods derived from the Earth’s biosphere. If humans don’t have water and food, you will be able to live normally for a few days until you die. Likewise, when a home planet of any time travelling species is lost, a species gradually weakens and starts to become limited. We lose our mobility and therefore our ability to travel through time. This is what you would call cancer in your society. We eventually die after a generation or two, no matter where we are living in the universe.”
The President paused for a few seconds as he absorbed this latest revelation from a species humanity knew little about, but needed to trust to survive.
“I understand your predicament,” President Holloway replied, treading cautiously. “After all, we nearly lost our world by our own hand and we are grateful for your compassion. I realize that it must be terrible to live the present knowing that your home planet could be destroyed by aggressors in the future. I promise you that we will do the utmost to support your race in any way we can, even if I am aware that at this point in time of our evolution, we do not have the resources or the knowledge to assist. Your request, however, is a sensitive mater. We have principles to respect – principles which we must take into consideration because they are part of who we are as a race.”
The President stressed his last few words. He wanted the alien to comprehend that being human also meant upholding certain values.
“For argument’s sake,” he proceeded, “if, and I stress the word if, Sarah is somehow prevented from making her discovery, how will it ensure your survival?”
“Your species will exterminate this enemy in seven hundred years.”
The stunned President’s jaw hardened. “Exterminate? Like kill off a whole species? Genocide?”
“Exactly,” replied the alien with misplaced glee, or so it seemed to the President’s staff.
President Holloway leaned forward as he heard a few gasps from his entourage.
“Don’t misinterpret me,” he stated, not at all at ease by what was unfolding in front of him. “I appreciate your assistance through the hardship that we are facing on Earth. We are grateful and realize that many more billions of people would have perished at best at the start of this sudden ice age and that we wouldn’t even be here today if you hadn’t prevented us from attempting our time experiment…”
The President felt the hair rise on the nape of his neck. He was used to dealing with head of States. He felt terribly inadequate and unsure of himself as he dialogued with aliens.
“But as humans,” he continued, “condemning someone to death for something that the person might do before that person thinks it is morally wrong.”
There were more than a few words of support around the table as hostile stares were directed at the aliens.
“We recognize the emotional profile of your species and respect it,” retorted the alien. “We are allies. We will always be transparent. That is why we told you not only the truth, but as well the best way of eliminating the unfavorable situation from occurring. We know that the choice is a horrendous one and sympathize, but you have our word that everything we do is in the best interest of both species and if we have to sacrifice our needs for your good one day, we will.”
“But we have no way of knowing that, do we?” snapped back the irritated President.
The alien hesitated for a few seconds before replying. The President’s question had caught him by surprise.
“You are right. You have no way of knowing.”
A few people stirred around the table.
Holloway glanced over at his Secretary of State.
“This can become a highly publicized case. I cannot see how we can eliminate Dr. Walsh’s daughter without Dr. Walsh becoming involved. That man has little to lose by going public and stirring a big mess. I know him personally and I have met Sarah. I can assure you that he will do anything for his daughter and that he will do so by using very strong words – like state assassination. People will not only listen to him, but act on his words. He is one of the most credible and famous men in the world. The publicity this case will generate will be politically damaging to the point of being irreversible. Area 51 will be compromised, not to mention that all of us in this room will not only take a huge public opinion fall, but will face criminal charges as well. There will be quite a few of us that will be doing prison terms, John. You can be certain of that.”
President Holloway peered at his Secretary of State with an impassive, stiff face. “I’ll be a condemned man long before standing trial,” he muttered back under his breath. “Of that, you can be certain, Will.”
The alien tried to be reassuring as he interposed. “We will personally deal with Dr. Walsh once we arrive at that point.”
“What do you mean by… personally deal with Dr. Walsh? You don’t know what will happen?” asked a staff member. “You can tell us the fate of your race in two thousand years’ time, but you can’t predict what will happen to one person on Earth one month from now?”
The alien was unfazed. Or so it seemed. “The event involves too many variables. There are too many people to consider and too many hypotheses to clearly understand at this point in time which outcome is the most plausible.”
The angry staff member turned to the President. His eyes were bulging.
“Mr. President, this doesn’t make sense! Does that mean that every time that this alien tells us to do something, we must? They are reshaping our future, Mr. President! They are taking our future away from us!”
The President put up his hand to quiet his frustrated staff member. He looked at the alien squarely in the face even if he felt a queasy revulsion well up in him. In many ways, he wished the aliens would just disappear and leave humanity alone. He mulled over his options.
“What if we decide to leave everything as is? What if we decide that we don’t want to interfere in the natural course of our species?” he asked, intrigued by what sort of actions the aliens would take to ensure their survival. “What will you do?”
The alien promptly answered back.
“We will have to reconsider our treaty and explore our options. One option is to conquer your world and replace your governments. Another option is to genetically interfere with your race and make a hybrid species. We will be the queen and you will become our working drones. Much like your ants. Both of these options lead to our long term survival, albeit not as successful as that of our present alliance. However, we don’t even want to consider these avenues. You are our friends, our allies. We are committed to your growth as a species, because one day we will act as one species. We will be inseparable, like family, like best friends and respected colleagues. We will live in total harmony for a very long time.”
The President turned to his Secretary of State who gazed quietly and thoughtfully back. He then let his eyes wander around the table, observing the grim and shocked faces of his trusted staff. If the alien’s intention was to gather sympathy and understanding, it had failed miserably. The President turned his attention back to the aliens.
“Is there no other way? What if we expel Miss Walsh from Area 51 or reassign her elsewhere?” retorted the President as he contemplated other options which could satisfy the two parties.
The alien’s response left no doubt.
“Time does not like to be tampered with. It’s like a magnet. When an event is modified, it will keep trying to attract that person back to the original destiny. It takes a forceful act or a big energy delta, if you prefer, to make that change impossible to revert back to. In other words, she has to die. It’s the only way to nullify the probability that she might succeed one day.”
The President knew that his staff would soon be disillusioned, but his mind was made up. In the end, it was his decision, as it should be. It was unjust to leave the burden on anyone else’s conscience. He had been elected to take decisions – even the impossible ones. This was one of those moments where the President knew that whatever action he took would have grave consequences not only for those present in that room, but for the human species as well. He was facing a no win situation and when one is confronted by a no win situation, one attempts to limit the damage, heal the wound, and wait to come back stronger on another day – and win.
Holloway took a deep breath and spoke rather quickly – quite uncharacteristic of him. He was a Southern man known for his lazy drawl and good humored disposition. The President kept his focus on the aliens as he uttered his words, ignoring the gasps, mutters and commotion around him.
“We will draw up the papers incriminating Miss Sarah Walsh for treason. As for Dr. Walsh, we will explore our options in due time.”
Holloway felt a strong hand grip him and turned aggressively towards the person shouting at him as his personal bodyguards seized the staff member and wrestled him to the ground. In one abrupt motion, President Holloway rose from his chair and steamed out of the conference room, not looking at anyone in the eyes. Fifteen minutes later, he was in the Presidential Suite, doors bolted, with four security agents guarding the entrance. His personal phone rang. It was the Secretary of State.
“John, it’s William. I’m standing in front of your door. Let me in.”
Minutes later, the two men were sharing a glass of whiskey. Holloway’s hands were still shaking. He couldn’t seem to get a good grasp around his glass and feared it would tumble out of his hand. He placed his other hand underneath it while he took a sip. He had never done so before. He felt suddenly very old.
“I have a country to think about,” the President justified in a thick and heavy voice as his friend listened to the bleak words coming out of his leader. “I don’t want to see more deaths, Will. I’m tired of seeing corpses. I lost my whole family, my parents, my sisters and my wife when those tornadoes hit and blew Atlanta off the Earth. Atlanta. Had you ever been to Atlanta, Will?”
William shook his head.
“Beautiful city. Full of history. I used to go to Piedmont Park with my dad…”
The President grimaced in pain as if he had just been stabbed, but quickly recomposed himself.
“The funny thing is that we weren’t even touched by that CME, Will. Jesus, we weren’t even touched…”
He loosened his tie as he continued to talk while William gazed down into his glass. He didn’t interrupt. He knew that his friend needed that moment to vent his frustrations. The tension of the last few days had been tremendous. Then, if one compounded that strain with the pressing responsibility of making sure that every citizen in the country was warm and had something edible to eat by the end of the day, the pressure became brutally inhumane.
“We are living in an ice age, Will. An ice age. Imagine that. An ice age that you and I know will last for the next three hundred years, but which the general populace think will last a few decades at most. Although, three hundred years might seem like a lot of time to organize ourselves, it really isn’t if you consider that there are still billions of people on Earth. Over ninety-nine percent of the inhabitants will die when the CME hits. How many will we be able to save in the next few hundred years? With the help of the aliens, maybe a few tens of millions at best? Without their help, maybe a million? Maybe two? Not more than that.”
He took a deep breath as he continued. “And what happens if the people find out that the world is going to end one day? Can a secret be kept for three hundred years? I doubt it. Can you see the mayhem as worldwide society falls apart and people panic and quit cooperating with each other? When that happens who will help us maintain order if not the aliens?”
Holloway paused again, staring in the void before droning on.
“We need to find a new Earth and until we do, we need them, Will. We need their protection, their knowledge, and their technology to get as many people as we can off this planet. They know the stars. They know the planets we can colonize. We cannot just go rambling off into space like that, cross our fingers and hope to find livable, unpopulated planets. Furthermore, if it wasn’t for their intervention, we would all be dead at this moment by our own hands – burnt to a crisp, our bodies blowing like hot ashes in a raging hellish ball of fire that even the devil would envy. I don’t like myself for condemning a bright, innocent young woman to death, Will, but I have to do it – for our future. I can’t think of any other way.”
John took another sip from his glass as the silence enveloped them. He felt a little better.
“Do you believe them?” William suddenly asked his friend. “Do you believe that they really care about us?”
Holloway slowly shook his head. “That they care about us, not one bit. That they wish us well as a species? Not entirely. You heard the other options. That they even told us the other options is incredibly callous. It sounded more like a threat than a willingness to share their thoughts out of goodwill. Yet, no matter where the truth is, Will – if we believe them or not – it doesn’t really matter. I don’t have a choice.”
“But if we fix the sun…”
The President turned his heavy lidded eyes into the half reproaching eyes of his Secretary of State.
“Repairing the sun will be our death sentence. Repairing the sun is like pushing a restart button. No CME in three hundred years, therefore no Segmoids. No Segmoids, therefore no TAD or SLRY. No TAD or SLRY means no alien crash at Roswell and therefore no Area 51. No Area 51, therefore no time travel and no CME to start off with. No CME in the other time line means no SOS and therefore no allies, because they’d never become aware of our existence. BUT… no allies means that they have no one to help them in the future and with no one to help them in the future, their species becomes extinct. They need us, Will. They will not let go of us.”
“But there’s your answer!” William exclaimed. “If the sun is healed, the timeline changes and they won’t even know of our existence! We never meet them!”
William’s eyes burned like coal as the President spoke.
“Do you really believe that they won’t try to foil us if we keep Miss Walsh alive? They said that they’ll explore their options. They listed two. I imagine those are the most dramatic, but since they are time travellers, I’m certain that they’ll try again and again until they succeed. Maybe, their next attempt will not be as harmless as the death of one person. Maybe, a whole nation will disappear. Maybe it will be us. Or maybe they will kill everyone on Earth and let Mars live and create that hybrid species that they just told us about. We don’t know, do we? We can’t know. You heard them. We have to trust them. We are allies.”
The President abruptly emptied his glass with one whole swallow. He wasn’t used to drinking so quickly and his eyes watered over as he felt the liquor burning his insides. He shook his head vigorously and grimaced before violently lashing his empty glass across the floor in a gesture of frustration. It banged hard against the far wall, but surprisingly didn’t break.
“I’m so tired, so tired, Will. These are not allies. Not in any sense of the term. I have this strange feeling that they’ve enslaved us without firing one shot. I pray and hope that the day will come when we’ll be able to break this agreement and be free. It might come down to a war. They talked about prosperity for thousands of years. Then what? They know, but they’re not telling us. Perhaps, all our hopes are futile – we will nevertheless die in the end. Perhaps, we defeat them and they’re desperately trying to find combinations that will reverse the outcome. I don’t know. I just know that we don’t know anything about these aliens and there’s no way of finding out if they’re telling us the truth.”
The President gloomily folded his hands together over his knees as he leaned over his chair.
“I’ve lost my battle, Will. I’m leaving the fight for another President. I can’t risk losing our future.”
“She always phones me on the day she’s coming home,” Brad pointed out to Jessica in a concerned voice through his view screen.
“She’s surely running late. Don’t worry about it. Maybe her leave was cancelled.”
“No. She would have told me.”
“She’s not twelve anymore, Brad! Here, this will cheer you up. I bought some tomatoes. Guess where they come from? Hint. Their slogan is, redder than the red planet! Now isn’t that awful? They’re big, though. Really big!”
Brad smiled weakly as Jessica continued talking.
“I’ll phone you in about an hour. I should be through by then. By the way, don’t forget to feed Ralphie. I don’t want to find my new shoes gnawed apart. He might be old, but he’s got good teeth.”
Brad frowned as he thought about his dog.
“Raphie’s been unusually quiet today. I’ve never seen him like this.”
“He’s probably having a bad day,” Jessica countered as she tried to soothe Brad’s anxieties. “He’ll be up and running once Sarah walks through the door. You’ll see.”
For a long moment after he shut the phone, Brad looked numbly ahead of him at the books lining his shelves. It dawned on him that without trees there would be no more paper books published. He was surprised that it had taken him that long to realize it.
Brad glanced at the clock on the far wall. Where was Sarah? Why hadn’t she called? Why had that last email she sent been so suspicious? Sarah wrote to him once a month and they had their own secret way of knowing that the letter was legitimate. She was supposed to finish her email by the word cheers, S., this time. Not, love, Sarah. She could very well have forgotten, but it wasn’t like her to do so.
Brad took another nervous breath. He was going to wait until morning and then start inquiring. He still had a few friends in high places, even if, chances were slim that anyone of them would have the information he sought. He had worked many years at Area 51 and there were deep, underground floors that he was banned from visiting despite his high ranking role. That had always been one of the forces of Area 51. No one was ever supposed to know everything. Brad sighed with anxiety as he passed his hand over his head. Area 51. Again. It was turning into a bad nightmare that just wouldn’t go away.
Brad sighed again with frustration. Something very unusual was happening at that base. He, better than most, knew how vital and fundamental the research performed at Area 51 was for the country. Personally, he had appreciated the time spent on the military base and considered himself fortunate to have played a part in some of the greatest accomplishments in history. He had always been enthusiastic and hopeful of tomorrow… and now, it surprised him that he was starting to become cynical of Area 51 – and of the future.
Perhaps, the problem was that he wasn’t as innocent anymore – or maybe he had slowly grown old and disenchanted with life. Perhaps, that is why he was starting to look at everything that surrounded him with a grain of pessimism. Many of the childhood mysteries he daydreamed about had been solved, but not as he imagined them. His romantic ingenuity had gradually been replaced by an unsympathetic reality. It was a heartless universe, very far removed from how he imagined it in his youth. He had been convinced that when man reached the stars, humanity would find alien societies cooperating with each other for the benefit of all. Instead, humanity might as well have been the only race alive with truly noble intentions. It was a medieval world among the stars – much like the dark ages on Earth.
However, in the end, even without a planet to call home, humanity would survive and learn to stand tall by itself. The fragile species called man with their faults and strengths, compassion and animosity, love and indifference would make their way much like orphans among the stars, never to look back. There would be no one to help them unless there was an invested interest. Brad was not naïve. He knew perfectly well why the alliance had been formed. He was afraid that humanity would have to fight for every inch and bleed with every conquest just to live that extra day.
Yes, humanity would survive, but there was no celebration in Brad’s heart. It was this realization that pained him the most. He should have been ecstatic that humanity was reaching out to the stars to become part of a greater story. Yet, why was it that he dearly wished that aliens didn’t exist, or if they did, that they were so far away that it would be impossible to ever meet? No Area 51 either – just an innocent species called man with all their faults and strengths living in their own little corner of the galaxy, forever wondering if they were alone in the universe.
Yes, he would like that very much. What would he do in a world like that? Brad closed his eyes and imagined himself in an office job, settled in his reality with a nice home, a loving family, and good health. In the end, that is what mattered – to live life at its fullest and help others share your same fortune. Love. Compassion. Understanding. Tolerance. Sharing.
Were these sentiments only human?
Brad opened his eyes. He blinked, surprised, but not startled like that first time. The deep, brown, murky eyes of the alien were only inches away from him.
Brad gazed courageously back. He did not cower. There was no fear in his gaze as he understood the alien’s intention. Brad recognized the universal, murderous light in the assassin’s eyes.
Brad took his last breath. It was deep and rich. He was born human. He pitied the alien.
A fraught Jessica let out a heart-wrenching sob when she shook Brad and he remained hunched in his chair. She shook him harder, refusing to admit that he was dead. She finally hugged him in her arms, pressing him tightly to her chest, desperately sobbing for the only man that had loved her as much as she had loved back.
“How can I possibly escape with your bodyguards at my side?”
Barker’s hard gaze was unapologetic.
“I rarely repeat myself, Walsh, and I never change my mind. Even if it’s your father’s funeral, your request for a few hours of freedom has been denied.”
He motioned to the sentry to lock the door. Just before the door clanked shut, he saw Sarah glare at him as she wiped an angry tear with the back of her hand.
Barker glanced at his watch as he walked away from the Area 51 prison. He had a staff meeting in half an hour. He glanced back at the cell where Sarah Walsh was imprisoned. It was regrettable, but he always knew that her father was hiding critical information from him. Unfortunately, her father bargained well and with the aid of the aliens had escaped trial. Barker would not make the same error twice. Sarah would remain locked behind bars until sentence was pronounced. He expected her to pay the price for her father as well. He always knew, in his mind and heart, that they were both traitors.
He had the proof. She was caught trying to smuggle out sensitive information to bring home to her father. Surely, it was a diabolic plan involving another attack on the homeland. There was not one doubt about it.
President Holloway’s face was as white as a rigid sheet of virgin snow. He remained staring at his friend, William, who had just brought him the news.
“Brad Walsh is dead?”
“Dead,” his Secretary of State confirmed. “Heart attack.”
“Heart attack? That’s quite a coincidence. On the day that his daughter was returning home with the equations?”
The Secretary of State spoke through clenched teeth. “The alien ambassador did imply that the problem would sort itself out, didn’t he? I guess that you can call this a tremendous stroke of luck.”
The President remained still, staring at the void in front of him. William cleared his throat.
“John, I’ve been at your side since we met at college, so don’t take this personally, but I can’t go on. I don’t want to come face to face with another alien in my life. This is not what I had in mind when I became a politician. I wanted to make a positive difference in people’s lives. I cannot make that difference anymore. I am resigning.”
The President was momentarily stunned. “Will… you can’t do that. You’re the only person I truly trust.”
“John, you have no idea what I’m feeling at this moment. Or maybe you do. Let me put it this way. I either quit or I hang myself.”
The President reluctantly nodded. Deep sorrow was etched on his face as he gazed at his friend. There was a hint of wistful regret in his eyes. He recalled the first time he met William – they were both in their young twenties. This was not how he imagined it ending.
“Whoever would have thought? Whoever would have…?”
The President’s voice trailed off, but he quickly regained his composure. With resolve, he rose firmly to his feet, and coming around his desk, extended his arms out towards William. William had served him well.
“Go enjoy your family, Will. I envy you. I’ve got to stay. I have responsibilities.”
William took one last look at the Oval Office. He stepped forward and clasped his friend with affection.
“God bless you, John.”
Sarah closed her eyes tightly and smiled as the belts strapped her to the table.
She finally remembered. The memory had been locked inside her very young mind, but she focused so intently on recuperating it that a few precious details finally surfaced.
It was a very hot, sunny day at the beach. She was hopping and squealing as the pitter-patter of her small feet slapped at the incoming waves. She remembered that squishy feeling of sand squirming under her feet as the water whirled over her ankles and tickled her toes.
She had plucked up a bright, colored sea shell. She turned it towards her father, strong and tall, coming towards her. He was beaming at her as he followed her on her shoreline adventure, warming her little heart more than the sun ever could. She jumped up and down, excited, holding her treasure high in the air, feeling the steady breeze slipping through her fingers as she held it up for her father to see.
She started running towards her dad. He held his arms wide open and she jumped into his embrace. He launched her high into the sunny skies. She laughed as only a young child can – with the pure mirth of an angel in heaven.
“Look daddy! Isn’t it pretty?”
She opened her small hand and waited for her daddy to approve of her find. He took the delicate shell between his fingers and kissed her. He handed it back to her. She was ecstatic, overwhelmed by complete bliss, feeling the curtain of his pure love envelope her.
“I love you, daddy!”
“I love you too, Sarah.”
Sarah’s smile grew wider.
It was such a sunny day.
End of Part 7
Area 51 is a 9 Part Series
Part One: Mission To Mars
Part Two: Revelation
Part Three: Contact
Part Four: Conflict
Part Five: Apocalypse
Part Six: Pendulum
Part Seven: Alliance
Part Eight: Rebirth
Part Nine: Mission To Mars II
Three years have passed and Brad is retired. Humanity is reaching for the stars. No matter how promising life seems, Brad fears that there is a mystery that has escaped him and that could put the world in peril once more. He soon finds himself back at Area 51. Not only will Brad be accused of treason, but he discovers a plot that will have catastrophic consequences. As Brad tries to save his family by escaping to Mars, the unthinkable happens. President Holloway finds himself in a no win situation with the alien ambassador to Earth. When a highly probable breakthrough invention threatens the young alliance between humanity and the time traveling aliens, the President is forced to consider the ambassador's appalling request. The price could very well be the freedom and liberty of the human species - forever.