Books

I wrote this “book” over a two week period starting on October 15th 2013 and ending on the 30th. It is presented her mostly in its raw form, and I have edits to do and things to add/remove. I don’t know if it would even be worth the effort, but I will finish it while I work on a few other ideas. It is more than likely nothing but a base outline of a very bad story too? I guess I will find out eventually.

The Flyswatter and the Moon             A Science Fiction Short Story by M.E. Douge

 

When I was very young, three to be exact, I distinctly remember my brother Randy sitting me down in front of the old black and white TV. “Sit down and watch this, this is important!” he said, and I have never forgotten those words, or the ones I heard next from the wondrous box of my childhood.  “This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The imaginations of a generation took root in those few moments on the moon, mine included. — M.E. Douge

Chapter One

The calls were at all hours of the international clock, Russia to U.S., U.S. to Britain, and China to Russia. All concerning the troubling news of what an Australian astronomer had discovered mere minutes before. From Washington DC to Beijing all levels of the government were being awakened to something they could only read about in antique Arthur C. Clarke novels, a celestial object, rather large, is headed straight for Earth.

Professor Anne Kelly already knew what the object was, and more about it that most, from the Sydney Institute of Astronomy, she was researching near earth asteroid (nea) 2012da14 for the few months since she had been assigned to the new North Ryde Premises. It was her fifth assignment and she got to pick it or Hawaii.  She never suspected that she would be the one to make this kind of discovery, but the powers that be have scheduled an unmanned rover type experiment for 2012da14. She was tasked with all of the research data.

Discovered in February of 2012 by astronomers at the La Sagra Sky Survey program in southern Spain. Anne made sure they were brought on board with full data. This was no time to withhold information hoping for that next Nobel. She felt solutions were the only hope at this time, few feasible, but an answer must be found. Complications already are setting in. Anne’s director at The North Ryde Premises has always been less than keen on Anne’s work, brilliant and concise it very rarely could be faulted. But the Director was the epitome of an alpha male, narcissistic and stiff as the starch on a priest’s collar. He walked sternly and quickly to Anne’s station, a cubicle stacked with long readouts and barely enough room for her chair. “Are you out of your fucking mind!?” Director Peter Quince said with a hushed “inside” voice, trapping her in her cubicle.  His voice was guttural, spittle forming at the corners, face turning to curious rouge. He knew he should have tried to get her out of the station that very first week. “You are fired! Dismissed! Get the hell off these premises! You have five minutes and security has been called to escort you out! Forcibly if necessary!” “What kind of nut job are you? Do you realize that because of your stupidity, and lack of experience here, you have told the leaders of the free world that an asteroid is going to hit us?” “More than that! The big one!?” Anne tried to stand up for herself and show him the data, checked three times, but he wouldn’t have it. She could not even get a word in before two uniformed police officers arrived to escort her from the building. She could grab only her purse before leaving and they checked that too, makeup, cell phone, glasses.

A world away from down under, there was a cabin in the woods. A morning fire was heating up the kitchen and the main room. A few old acquaintances sat drinking coffee in comfortable camping attire. They had been there for a week.  Outside a crisp fall morning was breaking free to the warmth of the late morning sun. Sentries seen and unseen were scattered about, in what was almost nothing more than a million dollar training exercise four times a year. The artificial trees were getting harder to spot as they were before, thank Hollywood for that. Two of the largest superpower leaders sat across from each other and shared general chit chat and gossip concerning everything from the Middle East to Miley Cyrus. It was just a distraction, to give them more time to think about the huge problem newly at hand. The two superpowers had no time to put together a proper plan for this specific scenario. “Eight days, we need more information now. Start there on your side and I will mine.” President Bowman said “I suggest we find this Professor Anne Kelly, she may have something we can use.” As the Russian President left Camp David, he only missed the Ambassador to China by moments. An almost exact conversation took place, sans the Miley Cyrus reference.

Chapter Two

It was a few minutes after five a.m., and Marcus was just leaving for his early meeting. He did this most every day, a support group that had helped him kick some very addictive habits. It was still dark at that time and walking in his neighborhood could be a bit dangerous, but over the years he has yet to see anything too out of the usual. An occasional drunk some younger kids coming home after a night out. The walk of shame for a few as well as the occasional worker hustling to an early shift.

Unemployed for the better part of two years and struggling to re-find the next step in life. He was retaining his hope and faith, for himself and his wife Lori. He held onto the feeling that things would get better somehow, his personal life was okay, inside, he had learned so much in the last few years about the human condition, how his life’s experiences fit into it, that his coping mechanisms blossomed. Lori finally got back the man she married, found again beneath the scars of life that had changed his psyche. After 20 years together, they had formed a bond again thought lost so few years ago. Serenity, understanding and the beautiful task of simply loving unconditionally was alive and well, and now comforting beyond words. They could not have children, but held all the empathy and compassion for those that did. They decided that a cat would be nice to have and when a beautiful cat adopted them shortly after losing two longtime feline family members. Smart and photogenic, Hobbes soon became their child to them, and spoiled. Marcus noted that he was acting weird that morning, well…weirder than normal.

NASA scientists were being brought back to work, Pentagon analysts and civilian workers were ordered back to work, workers wondering what this all meant. A Government was shutdown happening right at the moment and the default in its 11th hour.

Politicians leaking this to the media has spawned rapture induced riots in over a dozen cities and people in rural areas were gathering on farmlands to witness what to some was the second coming of Jesus or Moses or Muhammad. The situation room at the White House was filled within four hours.

In a gallery waiting area sat a dozen bedraggled looking Generals, Scientists, and Public Relations experts with various states of complexions, holding stacks of data, tablets and laptops all askew on their laps, a hurried unkempt look struck most. The President and his team of Secret Service, The Vice President, National Security Advisers, and the Secretary of State en route from the Middle East, due within the next few hours. This scenario was going on in every Government across the world. A mandatory emergency United Nations Assembly had been called. Time was of the essence and the leak protection aspects of this information had lasted roughly four hours. It was out and the world knew, Eight Days…

Marcus was continually looking for work; he lost his driver’s license from a DUI a few years back and facing the daunting task of picking up his life at 47 years old. Long term addictions to alcohol and drugs, he found jobs in the restaurant industry for years before drinking his way completely out of the business. Now cleaned up and looking for the next opportunity to ensure a better future. Facing his own ideas of what is wrong with the world, and having nothing but time at the moment, he thought too much about stuff. He was just a cook, unemployed, what did he know anyhow. He was a kind and giving soul to most of those he met. But because of him being an introvert, he looked for every way to catch few breaks a week in hikes to the backwoods of the North Cascades.

Marcus had been camping and hiking this area his entire life and there were a few spooky places that he had heard of over the years. They were myths and folklore because he hadn’t seen them through his many travels through every trail-less acre he could find for over thirty years. Lori had no problem staying home alone and taking care of the cleaning. It was so much easier with Marcus gone. He was sure most spouses felt the same.

The digging had gone on for two days; Marcus had scraped up a job digging a sewer line for a local plumbing company. It was tough work, but he was a digger and finished well ahead of time. He was counting the money he would need for his weekend, as well as feeding his small family. It would be tight to the pennies and nickels, but it was going to work. A blessing occurred when the plumbing foreman paid him a small bonus for finishing ahead of time. In a few hours he would be off to something he had looked forward to for a long time, “at least a week” he thought.

Chapter Three

A swarm of Federal agents from just about very law enforcement agency surrounded the North Ryde Astronomy premises in Australia. Professor Quince saw a few acronyms that even he had never seen before. A late Australian sun had not only made his pasty completion worse, but the sudden onset of  heavy sweat and fatigue hit the heavy set alcoholic. “What can I help you with gentleman? He managed to crackle, in a somewhat helium-esque voice. “We need all of your files and hard drives, thank you for your service.” The tone and mannerisms of the investigators left him speechless, and the exposed. “Concealed” guns zipped his lip even tighter, overwhelmed; he was passed out on the floor in about thirty seconds, if that. Reaching into his pockets an agent retrieved the astronomers ID, pill bottle and phone; The agent took note of the high dose of anxiety medicine. Agent Bennett from the NSA had taken point on this because he had seniority, and connections the others didn’t have. No rouge agent, he used every part of every team member he could, no matter what their acronyms are. “This work was signed off to a Professor Anne Kelly?” Spouted Bennett. Take the fainter and get him checked out and find out what he knows about Kelly and her work. But start on finding her now, call the infantry in on this, you all know what this means. He had picked up a slight Australian accent in his nine months stationed in Perth.

Marcus had briefly heard the story of the asteroid but thought it was just another fly by, dramatized by the mainstream media.  He had a four day weekend and he was going to do a solo hike to in an old hiking area. Heck! If the world ends (wink, wink), he thought what a better place to be than invited to a very special Native American ceremony celebrating the land we all live on after his hike. But in his lifetime Marcus had heard the end of the world for years. Of course he did not stay long enough to hear the international outcry and validation from the science communities.

He wanted and needed a break, and to find some serenity on the reservation. Away from civilization away from cell phones and honking horns, that turned him constantly irritated and ready to get away. He purposely parked about ten miles from the reservation. Emptying the car of valuables and the coil wire, he wanted to walk in and clear as much societal bullshit as he could before he got there. Taking his time, he was in no hurry. If he recalled correctly there was a train bridge near the river that he enjoyed the last time he was here. It had been a number of years since he had been here and it looked as though the trailhead had grown over just enough to hide its location. Ferns and devils club quickly growing to help hide the path, Marcus wondrous of how the mountains reclaimed so much so fast.

Being alone in the woods was where Marcus felt really at home. Abundance to do just about anything and the freedom to commune with nature in peace. Marcus took the time to examine the back country of the reservation, connecting to his primal senses, and ancient connections. Oh he was a guru in his own mind he laughed to himself. He came across a small boxed valley, no larger than a double wide trailer, but completely enclosed. It made him think it was a cave of some kind in the distant past, the top mostly open to the elements. This is exactly the type of place that Marcus looks for in his hiking trips. A copy of the J.K. Hodges book on Pacific Northwest mining in the late 1800’s had brought him to numerous finds. Old townships long forgotten, mines and their stories of unfortunate mining accidents, and the struggle for life for some in the 19th century. But he was far from the map markings and the terrain seems somewhat older, with a certain indefinable aura. Stopping on a knoll looking out over one of the most beautiful shallow valleys he has seen in his many years he took a small break and sat cross legged in the fresh sweet grass that was just coming up to his knees. The dew shining their jewels of light in the morning sun, the valley view was being painted well in his mind.

 

The recent deep defunding of NASA had left the U.S. with very few options toward resolving this death knell approaching. Everything was either in the process of being scrubbed or underfunded, Space was closed.

NATO and other coalitions of nations have convened via phone, web and messengers of all kinds. If anyone had some kind of secret weapon or technology, they were being called out with threats of war, even genuine groveling. The NSA and Cheyenne Mountain teams were finding no credible scenario for survival. More information was needed. Who had the power to do anything about it if the U.S. can’t? Panic spread like locusts, and human nature was in full view.

Chapter Four

Anne was struggling with her emotions at the moment. She thought she was some sort of demon, chosen to tell the whole world that it is coming to an end in just days. That there was nothing we as mankind can do about it. Measuring 6.3 miles around, (nes) 2012da14 had been photographed and followed for the last few years. Its orbit was stable and posed no risk to Earth or its satellites. What Professor Kelly had observed was a shot in a trillion or two. A midsized group of rogue micro meteoroids from some undetected meteoroid storm had impacted the asteroid. Veiled in vapor plumes coming from the far side of the rock it was almost undetectable. Using ESA’s recent flyby data, and following it for over a month a more complete picture emerged and 2012da14 was now locked into Earths orbital path, collision imminent.

Her decision and its findings caused a lot of problems around the world. Not following her training she tweeted about it with her family back in Colorado. It was picked up and spread like hot syrup on pancakes, it was definitely out. She moved the small box of trinkets from her desk that they unceremoniously tossed behind her, breaking a few. Concentration eluded her and she curled up on her couch armed with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and her snuggly blanket. Her body seemed to relax a bit for a while, and then the real horror set deep into her psyche. She jumped, almost startled. At that very moment she felt like she completely dissolved, and to call it some kind of meltdown would be laughable at best. She had most of the relevant research copied onto her SD card on her phone. But what the hell is that going to matter! Sitting down on her apartment’s pillowed window benches, that surrounded the modern design of her leased flat. She cried and cried why did she have to find out first? What kind of Supreme Creator could pull this grotesque emotional soul exploding fallout on someone, anyone!

She screamed as the “locked” door opened with what seemed like a key. Two very well dressed men stepped into her apartment about that time. Badges ready and no explanation of what the hell was going on. “I could have had a gun! You fools! Anne shouted as she curled up deeper into the corner. Agent Andrews of ASIS, Australian version of the FBI simply said “We know you don’t have a weapon, and ours are bigger anyhow.” She was handcuffed politely and rushed unceremoniously to the middle of three black cars waiting outside. Nothing was said by the agents as they scooted her into the car. Other agents were seen scrambling into Anne’s apartment with white boxes as she pulled away. Terrified and speechless, they began to ask her who she was and where she worked. “Nowhere at the moment! She replied with an angry snarl. Nothing more was said on the ride.

The black government car pulled into a secret airport hangar, a Boeing 757 was already warmed up. Anne noticed that there were others she recognized for the science industry. Also a few dozen soldiers in Australian uniforms and what looked to be some serious government agents in suits. There were a few people that didn’t fit in, and their presence was somehow troubling but comforting at the same time. This one had been modified to refill in mid air and Anne soon found out it was a very opulent jet. She was never truly scared, she knew what she knew, and that could save lives and possibly this planet. Where did they keep the damn Ben and Jerry’s? She thought as she crinkled her face.

Marcus had been on his hike to commune with the balance that is nature. He greatly associated it with a higher power in his life. Tomorrow he would meet up with Jonathan Grey Feather, someone he had been studying with for over twenty years.  Not really friends but a level of trust that is found so rarely today. Honor of the man, and nothing more. Jonathan had shared the stories of his people with him and Lori the legends of the warriors, the plight of the white man on their lands. The Ancient verbal history of the spiritual lands. The relics that still lie in the sands of time. And the legends of the sky people our creators. Those are the stories that brought goose bumps. When he spoke of them an aura of absolute beauty surrounded him like a very bright snowflake corona, truly a halaait. As he arrived in the morning he was blessed and smudged with sage. He was reborn again that night, the campfire spoke to him of his own direction in life and he was new again and ready again to breathe with wholeness. To most this sounded silly for a white guy with a troubled past find himself cleansed in this manor, but it has worked for him and it felt right. He dreamed grateful dreams.

The next morning he began to climb the mountain, it was his last day and he knew that it would be a year or more until he could return.

The trail began as a dried up creek bed with some rather large rocks. His ankles were not too happy for the first few miles, but the terrain quickly turned to grand Cedar and Douglas fir halls over age old roads and railroad tracks. It had been many years since they kept up the almost invisible trails at the road’s ends. Knowing the way by heart from the many trips to his favorite place. Grateful for all of our maker’s wonders, He trudged on.  The spirituality he felt in the woods for Marcus always seemed to give him some sort of sixth or seventh sense so to speak. The land looked new again even after many trips to the area, he could see the balance in it all anew. A sense that at first, had him thinking of some sort of cataracts. Deciding to take a try at the ridge across the lake of where very few travel, he was off, trails not necessary.

Chapter Five

The plane had all the amenities that you would find for the super rich, champagne, meals, and a first class crew. Anne was hurried into a window seat and beside her a heavy set, bearded and terrified man of about forty was pressed into the one beside her. Sweating profusely and seemingly afraid to make eye contact with anyone he clutched his battered circa 1973 briefcase. Anne tried to introduce herself and the man simply nodded a few times in a hurry towards her, sweat flying from his forehead never making eye contact with her. This was going to be a “trip” she thought as she looked around at the eclectic assortment of I.Q.s…  Professors, and scientists she could only hope of working with, let alone meeting filled the seats. Tired and missing her ice cream she tried to get a nap before all of this…whatever it is started unraveling. Uneasy exhausted sleep set in quickly, She was soon awakened by both a tone over the intercom, and her seatmate’s increasingly powerful body odor. The next voice she heard made her heart skip a beat and found her struggling to recognize it. It turned out to be the Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Alcott. “My sincere apologies” he started out, no more than six feet in front of Anne. “We find ourselves in a most unfortunate position, on 12 October, a near earth object (nes) 2012da14, one which had already passed safely passed the orbit of the Earth. Encountered a micro meteoroid storm in quadrant SQ4 altering the trajectory of 2012da14 towards; from our best estimates directly back at us.”

“2012da14 has a mass of 6.3 miles in circumference and is mostly a rocky mass with the I.Q.s we have on this plane, I don’t think I need say anything more.” Anne was not too shocked about the news… it was her find after all. Abbott continued “We are joining an international team from all corners of the globe at Cheyenne Mountain in the U.S. to try to find a viable solution. The information is out there and panic is just beginning to leak into the public. It’s going to be a long flight so button up and get those giant heads working!”  The sweaty and pale gentleman next to her began to noticeably relax. “I’m sorry? Landon is the name, extending a hand to her; Anne simply smiled and ignored the sweaty gesture. Turning back to the window she was soon fast asleep, passed out was more the word.

That magical “sense” never left him as he scrambled through blueberry bushes, devils club with painful spikes at least five inches long, and leaves as big as a coffee table. The forest floor was as comfortable as some of the best carpet, the recent rain and constant moisture at this altitude helped. Scrub alder was doing its best to erase man’s foolish wounds. Older firs and cedars had fallen years ago, and in their sacrifice he found the trail as easy to see as a sidewalk in Times Square. He had a flashback just then as he rounded a very large cedar stump, easily twenty five feet around. It had three other trees growing from it covered in Spanish moss, from almost head to toe. He had a picture at home somewhere of this tree, and then a memory hit him. He had left markers all those years ago, no not the last time or the one before that but when he first visited this place. He used to hate it, it was a type of prison to him at one time. He spent his time wandering the area and beyond, looking for a way out. Of course he was always found, there was a freaking Native American deity running the place. Legend had it he has been doing this for something like 800 years. Marcus never asked him anything about that when they spoke. Like most people Marcus was selfish and self centered, and was always worried about himself when they met up for lunch at the noodle shack. Why does he always pick the noodle shack to meet up with me? Marcus pondered. But that was many years ago and Marcus was forever grateful for his “second” father. Not really knowing his birth father. Gray Feather was aware of the boy’s feelings, and was grateful himself. For never having married, very few people come into one’s life that genuinely move you and bring pride to your living history.

Anne was brought to a cheap hotel in some o – dark thirty hour and told to get some sleep. Guards were placed by each door and all Internet and wireless was being blocked. One thing about these asses is they tell you straight up that you are screwed she thought.

One thing about the people she noticed is that they had no concern with data that she and others had. She had seen Pigpen carry his now stained briefcase and some copy paper boxes into his room. Checking the door and looking for obvious cameras, she stealthily did her best quick strip and into the shower. No Shampoo! Argh! Very warm water quickly took the angst away. What the hell has happened to her life in the last eleven and a half hours? There was a jumpsuit on her bunk when she was finished and that just about made her lose it completely. What did they expect her to do? Go get the damn rock? Sleep came in snippets and it must have been a solid two hours and twenty three minutes before she was awakened and told to board the plane. The emotional nightmares of the knowledge she carried had changed her. She felt split in two, the succubus of mankind itself, and a victim of giving a shit.

They had apparently landed in Guam or Midway by the lack of anything around them, that explains the choice of lodgings, she laughed to herself again. I guess when you know that the world is going to end, inhibitions fall by the wayside. Like your best friend at eight years old that you pushed right into the ditch while riding bikes just to win the race. A number of the gentlemen dressed in suits gathered everyone together at the board table onboard the plane. Of course it was opulent it belonged to the Prime Minister, and there was no press on board leaving room for the smartest minds that could be gathered in a matter of hours. One of the suits began to speak “Your mission, sadly to say, is to find some sort of way to destroy or move a giant asteroid headed for Earth.” A monotone voice, used to giving orders of great sacrifice broke a bit with those word actually being spoken. Bennett was a tough old lifer this was giving him retirement thoughts if we all make it through he thought. A glance a little longer skyward than normal escaped him as well as genuine sigh of responsibility. The lines of rank and discipline coming back by the time he took two steps. He still had a job, get to work he thought.

Chapter Six

Intrigued by the thought of even finding just one of his rock and twig markers, Marcus took about a half an hour to get his bearings.

They would be by old Horseshoe Bend, just to the Northeast. But he used to follow a decent trail to get there, and it had all but been obliterated by the saw grass, ferns, overgrowth and scrub alder that had taken over with great abandon in the last twenty years. Never daunted by the lack of trails, Marcus triangulated a rough spot that looked familiar as a possible starting point. And with walking staff in hand began clearing the saw grass and nettles. In doing so he created a line of sight to make sure he was on course. If he remembered right, “and that would be a stretch after all those years of killing brain cells.” It would be about two miles to the ridge looking over his favorite fishing spot when he was younger. Years ago Jonathan had told him that there was great event there. But so long that even he; Gray Feather could no longer remember the story. He also said to look for crystals in the clay line of the river. Smiling, he said they sell like hotcakes to the tourists coming from an old man like me. Ha! Marcus laughed and the endearment grew.

He emerged from the grass and shrubs to an open field of a landslide of mud and grass. Not in the recent past, grass has grown over it many seasons, and alongside the river a decent trail familiar to some old memory. Marcus remembered that the rock that he spent so many summer days by; Fishing in the perfect pool was very much a trek farther on. He paused and hydrated up and ate a granola bar.

He had forgotten that it had been in his pack for over a year. But it was somewhat edible and with enough water he scraped it down.

The trailhead he recalled was right, that part of it next to the river was untouched. A gentle trail that was a road one hundred and twenty four years ago. It brought back some great times and even awe to the fact that change sometimes, is so slow that we can reflect on the past. Many logs have come down over the winters and climbing them was a small test for him and his determination. Soon the trail/road ended in a mash of huge trunks, gravel and mud. “North still” he said grabbing his lightweight jacket and tightening his boots. Walking stick in hand he climbed the mini mountain of Mother Earths destruction, and found a small runoff stream and followed it north.

The men in the suits were serious as different passengers cried at different times; Emotions must be kept on some sort of dermal keypad. These guys were the closest thing she had ever seen to a Terminator. Bennett moved to the head of the table, laptop and a stack of manila folders in front of him. Studying them in silence for a good ten minutes. “Dr. Anne Kelly PhD in Astrophysics?” he asked; looking around at the women seated at the table.

Anne then noticed the even more menacing man at the rear of the plane. Sweating buckets more than Anne’s seat mate Landon, it was a gooey mess that was Professor Peter Quince. Useless weight on this or any other plane in the thoughts that Anne had. After a rather vertical lift off the plane leveled off and the plane’s crew of military officers began making the passengers comfortable as best they could. Why would they bring a half melted gummy bear like Quince in on this?

Startled that her name was called out first, she collected herself and answered “present.” “Dr Kelly, you were the one to discover this through your research into (nes) 2012da14?” “Yes – Sir” “Just call me Bennett” he interrupted, “please go on.” Anne continued “I was working at the North Ryde complex in Australia, working on a paper about NEA’s 2012da14 for my research after a recent flyby of Earth. I was studying the debris field and their composition as it related to ejection. Starting last week my instruments started picking up large numbers of targets, including large pieces of the asteroid itself.  Most of the ejected material is following its original path to the Sun. But early data on the trajectory of 2012da14 shows it is clearly headed back here.”  Her old boss at North Ryde stood up at that moment and shook his head, “You’re wrong!  “Your data is wrong, your science is wrong!” “How in God’s creation does a massive asteroid change course?”  The standing up from the board table irritated Bennett to no end, the screaming was strike two. Bennett reached into his stack of manila folders, a thick one Anne noticed.  All of a sudden she busted out laughing, she just had the revelation that the man blathering about a lot of belligerence. Looked exactly like Baron Vladimir Harkonnen from the movie Dune.  Bennett, seeing the conflict and humor asked Quince to sit down and continue to listen,

Not a large man, but when Bennett gave orders, few seldom ignored them. From the large manila folder, ‘it turned out to be an envelope’ the agent took out a stack of photos, taken yesterday, or this morning depending on where you were from.  It was a current picture of (nes) 2014da14; it was actually twelve pictures that created an image. Large debris was seen floating around with smaller debris seemingly following the original trajectory of the rock. Bennett continued “The most recent tracking of it does show that it is on a numerically perfect trajectory to impact the Earth in Seven days 6.24 hours. We will be landing near Cheyenne Mountain within the next few hours. Get some rest, we will have to check in with the Air Force Space Command’s 721st mission support group, and then meet with Lt. General Johansen of NORAD.” Anne found herself emotionally and physically weak. Sleep came to her within moments in her “cabin” no more than a carpeted and comfortable jail cell, gold toilet seat included she thought.

Chapter Seven

The color on the hill in front of him was different, not something natural he thought as he climbed up the four hundred feet practically straight up. Surrounded by Bear dens and blackberry bushes he got to what he thought the strange color was. It turned out to be a group of Skunkweed growing up from what he could tell was a sulfur or copper runoff. The metals in the water changing the Skunkweed color a neon type yellow. He also saw a group of Chanterelles around them. He loved Chanterelles but the water source made the decision for him quickly. Talk about trippin on mushrooms’ he mused to himself.  He found himself following dear and bear trails. They are everywhere and if you follow one too long you will get lost. It is one of the stories that Jonathan had told him around a campfire years ago. That dear and bear and wolves especially create trails that have no end, that turn men in circles. They make them through terrain that makes a great noise alerting every animal to the danger. That is why they are called the spirits of the forest.  When Marcus “escaped” all of those years ago from the camp he followed a lot of those trails. And as nature would have it, they did lead back very close to the camp. Thinking back to a childhood memory, Jonathan was sitting on the logjam waiting for him as he clumsily broke twigs, trying to make it across the river at the end of the lake. With long pipe in hand and sitting cross legged, he asked Marcus in an almost ethereal voice”When will you ask for help?” Tired and emotional Marcus was out of breath, he was too tired to fight his real feelings and let it out. He has no recollection of what he said or how long he spoke. But he does remember the end. That he screamed and cried and begged for help at least a half dozen times, before he collapsed on the logs a dozen feet from Jonathan.

Jonathan did not move, he continued to smoke his long pipe and watch the lake in the distance. Marcus… after many minutes raised his head and asked “What do I do?” With that Jonathan slowly rose up from his cross legged position as if he levitated. Then gingerly walked across the log jam, and held out his hand to help Marcus up. “We have work to do!” he said as he pulled up the youngster.

You need a shower and some rest, the lessons we have to learn is never in a hurry, just as long as it is.

The entrance to the complex, a nuclear fortress made to resist a thirty megaton explosion. Was filled with enough cars that it brought back visions of the L.A. Freeway at rush hour to Anne. She was taken to a waiting area and thoroughly inspected, medical and all. Violation at its finest and she could feel the personal trauma. When she was fifteen she had to go through a similar experience at the local hospital. Made to feel like a pariah by everyone including her peers, the bastards got off scot free. She on the other hand has paid the price again and again for years… even now. NORAD-North American Aerospace Defense Command, had everything at their disposal. After being lead through giant doors, countless hallways, and a row of regular elevators, she stepped off one into what had to have been the largest room she had ever seen, underground that is. Airman Lovelight-Goforth escorted her down a few flights of metal stairs. It looked like a warp core reactor from the new Star Trek film with that guy Pine. After a few minutes the “warp core” opened up to reveal a very large elevator. “Oh, good you made it” Airman Lovelight-Goforth said as other escorts brought the others from Anne’s group down the stairs. She made a mental note that Baron Quince was not among them. As they stepped into the “elevator” They were instructed that this is a pressurized unit and their ears may pop many times along the way. “We are going a great distance down, but you will be ok.” Just then the doors closed and almost immediately Anne’s ears popped and continued to, almost to a painful degree. She stepped out into a hall and immediately prodded left; there was a circular structure that she was apparently walking around. After going about three hundred feet, she and the other members were shown the door to a lecture hall.

She was stunned, practically every scientist was there, Hawking stood out first in the left corner. My God she thought everyone who was anyone was there. Timothy John (Tim) Berners Lee – creator of the World Wide Web, Richard Dawkins, Persi Diaconis even Gordon Moore the founder of Intel, Roger Penrose and too many more to count. The one person in the room that she immediately gravitated to was probably the most important person in this room on this subject. Allan Sandage, the world’s greatest living observational astronomer and a good friend if he remembered her. They were all slowly finding their places in the lecture hall. Allan had to sit very near the front if he was to hear this. He hadn’t told anyone he was going very deaf and relying on reading lips more and more.

Anne sat two seats away from Dr Sandage his groupies squatting and almost fighting over the seats. Agent Bennett was in the background as the Secretary of Defense Chuck Nagel stepped to the lectern. “Gentlemen, and ladies, I must first apologize for the hasty and somewhat uncomfortable means by which you have arrived here today.” On 09-September at approximately 19:30 hours an asteroid well known to our scientists was bombarded with micro and macro meteoroids. In doing so the asteroid (nes) 1012da14 has altered course. That being one that directs it right into Earth’s path.

“People!” He continued, we brought you here to try to find a solution… Earth as we know it has just over six days.” “I have made at your disposal every military and experimental knowledge base we have. These agents behind me will be your point people. I have complete confidence that a solution will be found in time, but if not, may God have mercy on our souls.”

After hearing it said out loud by someone else Anne felt a little relieved that she didn’t have to be some dragon lady antichrist that got to tell the word we were doomed. She let it out of the bag but Uncle Sam just did that for her. Agent Bennett made a bee line for her when the formalities were finished “Anne? Anne  Kelly?” “Yes!” She replied startled that he remembered her name. “You were the first to see this in your findings right?” “Yes” she said proudly “And the first to leak it out to the world too huh?” Bennett continued. Anne wasn’t sure if she was in some very serious trouble or being asked to help. “I would like to see your phone if I could?” ”You see there are seven gigs of information missing from your lab. We already know you have it, we searched your phone when you were talking with Mouse? I believe it was?” Furious but really apathetic at the time she handed him her phone.“SD Card still in it?” Bennett asked. She nodded silently like a child being lectured for doing something bad.

Bennett had her follow him with a half dozen other – guests up some stairs. Landon, or Pigpen, as she had begun to call him was one of them. Still in military style overalls and her Nikes they were soon seated in a rather impressive “tech” room with all the screens and gadgets one could ask for.

Chapter Eight

“Kelly!” Bennett spouted out first “We need to know everything on your SD card” skipping the Google phone across the backlit table.

“I don’t have the time to undo your encryption or data hideouts.” Anne started taking apart the heavy protective case, breaking it in the process. That will cost me another seventy-five bucks she thought. Removing the SD card she was pointed towards a work station on the far side of the room. It took her a second to find the right slot for the card, there must have been twenty. While she worked away at putting her data in order she had to walk a fine line between layman understanding, and brilliant insights from the professionals. While she was doing that, Bennett had the others in the group break into small groups or work solo on their particular expertise. It turns out Landon cleaned up ok for a large man, and after being taken straight from the gym in the middle of a workout things made a lot more sense. Besides he got the workstation right next to her and she soon found out that he is, or was, depending on if the University President knew where he was, the head of the Astronomy Department at Stanford. Oh! He has issues…Anne silently thought to herself as she got back to work.

His pace up the mountain was slow and steady, always looking and listening to that part of the forest that the average hiker would easily miss. He was in the backwoods anyways and very few if any have gone this way, at least not in a few decades by the looks of things. He was thinking his old hiking friend Vickie Wallace and her dog Alyse would love this. To the East he could see a large cliff of rocks that had columnar jointing, huge pieces of granite and other materials sticking practically straight up. He would make a small camp there when he got there, but that was still a ways. The fall flowers and beautiful changes in nature could add time to that very easily, but that’s why he was there. He had an easy time crossing some streams that were not nearly as gorged as when he was here before, the melt having been over for a few months now. Something right then stopped him. It was a severe case of déjà vu, he knelt down and tried to recall the millisecond of memory or intuition it had just placed in his head.

He lost it the sense swept away like a whiff of smoke carried by the wind. A bit shaken he continued on his journey. He was beginning to think that this was one last vision quest type adventure. He was getting older, and his life was nothing but hand to mouth. He was terribly lucky to find a woman like Lori so many years ago. Twenty years, twenty years and he hasn’t found a way to break it yet? Now that was an accomplishment he could be proud of. But the same could be said for her going through a war of sorts for that long. Earning every medal and accommodation more than once. They made it through, but only with the generous help from an aging mother and her social security check. Checking the Sun for how much longer he had, he hurried a bit faster towards the standing cliffs. It was perfect in every way, a small patch of level grass fed by a small stream that pooled as it ran down the mountainside. Firewood was just yards away and the view of the shallow valley was priceless. An eight point Buck decided to wander close by as he was setting up his tarp. Magical, simply magical… As he slept that night he had dreams of talks with Jonathan but it wasn’t him really, he seemed even older if possible and white as a spirit. Jonathan spoke of the ancient times and how he was now in very sacred and ancient land. He was safe from all the woodland beings and close to a very old part of the Earth.

Bennett was on Anne’s ass to finish up her work; nobody had anything near a solution on any of the other groups. Science fiction was tossed about like it was reality. Sadly the reality was we were just not that good, or nearly as ready to deal with anything like that. We were the proverbial china shop waiting for the bull and not being able to do anything about it. Anne’s data was dissected into the different groups. An early examination by many discovered a second larger object. The computations say it may be a fragment of Comet ISON a comet that recently flew into and out of the Sun’s gravity, a grand affair for astronomers everywhere. If it was a portion of ISON then the gravitational slingshot it had to have gone through would have brought it up to incredible speeds. The slingshot effect is something that NASA and other space agencies use quite frequently to boost spacecraft and save valuable fuel. But ISON was, and is still being studied at great length, how did they not see this coming? Over the next few hours the Academics, Scientists, and Military Personnel bickered in groups ranging from a couple here to a group of about twenty over there. “What do we have for spacecraft?” Pigpen asked Bennett. “We have nothing that would get us there on time, and neither do the Russians, China, Japanese, or Jamaicans.” He finished with a smirk. The groups that had broken off into different situation type rooms this caused Anne amused thoughts of the human condition. She must be losing it, this being so surreal. The world was going to end in a hellish apocalypse described many times or so a thousand ways. In expensive Hollywood movies, drugstore paperbacks, and Discovery Channel’s many episodes of life after man. Her thoughts went to her brother; he must have a dozen or so comic books on the subject. Deeply Autistic, but loving the pictures mostly, she remembers reading them to him before bedtime. His contagious smile lighting up her heart when the good guy won the day.” Dr. Kelly!” It was Pigpen calling out to her from their “situation” room. “We have a few new views and numbers on ISON and 2012da14 they may hold an answer for us!” “Where did the 2014da14 data originate from?” she asked in a manner that said she knew the answer already. “I don’t know?” Landon replied trying to handle all of the papers in his hand while catching up with Anne as she hurried to her workstation. In one of those comics she used to read to her brother there was something that went something like this, yeah, she thought! She had just been recruited into some sort of Justice League. She laughed out loud. Pigpen just looking at her confused through his thick glasses.

Chapter Nine

The morning rain was more of a mist…It was the kind that gets water into every single crack of your clothes – and body. During the night, with the strange dreams, he felt that he had been somewhere very far away, but right where he was. He was in an exceptionally good mood, and since this being his “vision quest” (He always had to laugh a little when he said that because of the horribly made movie by the same name). He felt good enough to climb the fearsome rock face behind him. He had been there before, but not this close the stories he heard of guys dying while trying was enough to deter him from ever trying it before. He had enough gear with him to try it at least, if there was any trouble he would simply back down, No problem. As he was walking around the base of the vertical jutting cliff he was looking for a climb line. He saw he could get a good twenty feet up without even trying too hard, the stones created a series of steps. It would be a hard start after that because of a massive overhang… perfectly rectangular he saw. The climb line after that looked pretty good, great in fact. Marcus started his MSR flyweight stove and made his breakfast of oatmeal. He tossed in some late blackberries that the bears had not found yet or were saving for later after the lowlands were picked clean. He thought about the best plan of action if he were to do this. Oh my God! Lori would be so freaking pissed at him if something happened. If he didn’t die from it she would kill him but the climb still had him tough. Turning his head and glancing at the spot again. He did the thing that guys learn in football and the military, that thing isn’t so big, I can take it! Yeehaw! He had to repeat that a few more times as he was getting his gear ready. Yeah, he may do it but just like anyone else he was scared shitless. The fear really did mean Fuck Everything and Run. Marcus sat cross legged in the moist morning grass, directly in front of the climb; the rope had already been rigged up as far as he could go at the moment. He meditated and cleared his head, he prayed to his maker for safe travels this day and always. He prayed for his wife Lori that she always has the light of love shine on her.  He did this daily at home but for some reason it worked so much better in these surroundings. He felt great, heading towards the rope, doing a last minute gear check. As he saw earlier the first twenty feet or so looked fairly easy, but he still was a cautious climber. There were years of loose dirt and small rocks in the corners, dusty handholds and short weak vines could mean his downfall. He was going to be late but Lori would understand, Marcus completely forgetting any news.

Anne poured through the latest data; different people were assigned to her situation room as they all now called them. She almost felt like she had a little orgasm when Allan Sandage took over Landon’s area and began talking to her. It crossed her mind that a few minutes have gone by and that “little O” may have been bigger than it seemed. “I’m sorry, could you begin again?” she felt terribly embarrassed to ask this. “Are you ok?” Sandage asked with a curious look on his face and a slight tilt of his head. “Oh yes I will be fine, you just caught me off guard. I was a million miles… actually 187 miles away” Anne said. “Home? Yeah it’s hard to keep focused sometimes, this would be a big one!” “Allan Sandage” he said as he extended his old and wrinkled hand. “Yes, I am very honored to meet you again, My name is Anne Kelly and your work is legendary.” “Bah! I just kept at it like a crazed fool! If you do something long enough you will by odds alone. Find something nobody knew about!… You said again?” as if he didn’t know if he heard that right. “Yes! We spent a summer in Arizona about ten years ago” she said obviously sympathetic to his age. “I’m sorry dear my memory isn’t the same as it was. Well times a wasting, I am on this team let’s look at what we have so far. So I can get home to a decent meal … horrible commissary.” Landon was still on the team and she welcomed that, he treated her like some sort of teacher. He being the smartest one in the class having to show off every little thing first to impress her. He was her teacher’s pet, funny she thought. Bennett walked quickly into the room “Anything yet?” “No we have just received all of the data” Sandage told him “Hurry it up…I’m sorry the Russians are pressing the nuke angle!” “That won’t work sir!” Anne cried out. “2012da14 is made up of a plutonium/magnesium ore! They would do little if anything and could even ignite it to some degree!”

Bennett knew that a nuke option had never worked in the simulations… never. Space was not like that, it didn’t work that way.

Landon raised his hand; Bennett gave him a look like really’ “What do you got geek squad?” Anne laughed a little and looked down smiling. “Well I have been studying the data from all the sources, the Solar Dynamics Laboratory had some data that they had not gotten to yet because of the government shutdown.” It was ISON but it wasn’t, ISON had ejected a large portion… probably another mass that had collided with it long ago.”  “Those ejecta followed a different trajectory, one that brought it on a collision course with 2012da14. From Dr. Kelly’s information that ejecta was composed of almost pure gold.” Weight! Anne thought, and a lot of it. “We are trying to calculate the weight ratio now” Landon chimed in. Smart guy, she thought.

Chapter Ten

The first twenty feet would be easy he said to himself as he turned on his go pro camera, ha! It just reminded him how out of shape he was but he had gotten to the top of the easy part. He was now at the overhang that made him really re-think this folly; it was not as inviting as it looked on the ground. It was about nine feet out and pure granite. It was as square as if it were cut by the Master Masons of the Pharaohs. Looking for a way to defeat the obstacle, he saw that on his left that the rock face extended about halfway to the front of the overhang. A few juts in the rock and some foliage made him think he could get a hook on something. Moving over ever so slowly, a little up and a little down he was able to make it near enough to the corner to tap a spike and carbiner, he hooked up and took a rest, hydrating up.

He was making good time; he wanted to enjoy it though. His thought was at first to swing away from the corner and somehow get a handhold on the face of the overhang. But after being there a while he realized he could simply go up the left side to the top, some one hundred feet up. Sure, it wasn’t the face, but it was just as vertical and he had plenty of equipment. Already the views were amazing, little ecosystems had begun on each of the little square pilings. Colorful little lizards, Western Skinks, stuck their tongues out at him as the scurried away under some moss. The North side was also mossier; he would have to watch for that, moss destroys rock and makes it brittle. If it gets worse he will work his way to the face. Making sure to vocally say a prayer and wishing his wife well while he was looking over an absolutely beautiful fall valley. He started to climb, he loved this. It was in his soul, he felt he became one with the rock and the wind and defied gravity itself.

The moss was mostly a nuisance but he made his way up. He moved to the face about halfway up because of the rock condition and a route that seemed to open up. It looked almost like a miniature inset grooved ledge that had been carved into the rock. Like some disturbingly curved smile going up to its left ear.  Taking the line that was afforded to him by the rock itself he was brought to the other side. This is where he got his second wave of a déjà vu type of feeling, but this one was quick to pass and he just stopped. At this point he was having second thoughts about proceeding. He was about a quarter of the way up to, not the top, but a small field set into its face, almost impossible to get to from the top. He took a long break and ate some lunch on one of nature’s perfectly made tables.  It was about seven by nine and almost perfectly flat, he was amazed by the geologic forces that must have had to occur for the rock to be jutting almost perfectly straight up. The sandwich and juice helped clear his head a bit and he was soon on a vertical path again.

Bennett was visually agitated as he spoke on the phone. You could see him through the glass walls that were everywhere. Now we know why it costs the government so much money to get things done. He came back into the room with a look of desperation on his face. “The Russians are preparing to go with a nuclear plan” he said, as if he were telling someone they had cancer.

Anne just blurted out some unintelligible guttural sound and the others in the room simply hung their heads and fell silent. The nuclear option was one that has been debated time and time again. Since the first time someone brought up the notion of something coming at the Earth. From aliens to asteroids, nuke-em had been the mantra since the fifties. But as we learned more and more about space, and effects and affects of actions therein. We were not too sure that the nuke-em strategy would be wise, or even work at all. Looking again at all the data and images, especially Dr. Kelly’s and seeing the composition and satellite readouts Allan was beside himself. As he took his head in his hands and said very calmly “Agent Bennett, we have a fox in the henhouse” as he sighed.  Bennett, looked up at him at that point and just gave him a look, he was way too tired to play word games now. Normally a pretty level headed guy he was getting pissed, and scared. Anne’s spectrographic data and research indicated that 2012da14 is made up of an, until now unknown type of radioactive material. In levels which would surely make it very pure. It also has a large pockets of a material we know much of Magnesium. Via the data again it looks pretty pure. “I am aware of what the rock is made of doctor, what is your point?” Bennett said with a little too much crisp in it for Allan to appreciate. He was an old man, he didn’t need to be there, fuck these guys, he thought. “Whether the Russians succeed in moving that thing or not, we have the whole gigantic bomb problem to work out.” He continued “The thing is made of materials that we make our biggest bombs with, but it is carrying a massive amount more of it than we have ever even found on Earth!” “Let’s try to blow it up!?…Duh wonder what’s gonna happen? I don’t know Beavis what do you think?” Anne and Landon chuckled at the professor’s use of humor, especially the Beavis reference. The humor escaped Bennett, but what Dr. Allan Sandage had said did not, and he left the room in a hurry. Anne was hungry, as well as the rest of her clique. It was hard to tell what time it was so far underground and she could already feel her body clock getting messed up. Asking around she found out that there was a better commissary a little farther away, normally reserved for the officers. But this emergency had changed everything, probably for good.

Chapter Eleven

The President was not happy; screaming in the Oval Office about the idiot Russians and the damn Chinese. The Russians want to blow everything up and the Chinese think this is some sort of game and want more information before making up their minds. The NATO nations were working closely together on this, but there was too little time really to arrive at a workable solution. The Space shuttle retirement could not have come at a worse time and all of the other rockets used for the ISS needed weeks to get ready. “What about the X37B?” asked President Bowman, months left in his second term. So he was familiar with Washington DC and its workings. X37B was a very secretive, until recently, space program ran by the Air force that used a robotic version of the space shuttle. Smaller in size, it was able to stay up for months collecting data and whatnot. “The X37b was underfunded in your last budget; it is in pieces being studied at Groom Lake testing facility.” “Area 51!?” the president quizzically looked at his Chief of Staff. “Yes sir.”

“Well what answers have those brainfarts over at NORAD come up with?” The Presidents skin was getting thinner by the moment and he apologized to Ben Brandt his trusted Chief of Staff. Honestly he was the only reason Bowman could even do his job. “They are furious at the Russian solution and say that it may cause more harm than good.” “Nothing nuclear is ever good” The President said under his breath a bit. The Townes team think they can get a laser on it, but it would take too long to do enough to change the trajectory.” “What else?” He was pressing Ben for something, anything to reach for a little hope with; Ben didn’t have any to give. The mere size alone got his educated brain going over the effects of something like that impacting the Earth, over and over again. “It appears to be an end game scenario at this time Charles.” The president knew that when Ben used his first name it was the truth. Two men in charge of protecting a nation and its people and finding nothing more to do than wait and hope. “Call the Russians” he said as if he had decided to sell his soul to the devil.

As he inched and crept his way up the mountain he came to another one of those perfect tables. Not as square as the last but still beautifully covered in a soft moss. The weather was turning foggy at this elevation and he figured he was a good one hundred feet or so from where he started. Making sure to change the batteries in his camera this morning he took it off of his headgear. He took pictures of the views that were especially appealing to him. While he was putting the camera back together the back piece fell, and not wanting to lose it over the side gave his foot a quick flip. It worked! the clear plastic piece flew behind him into a corner of the ledge.

Reaching for it, his hand caught a very warm draft of air. It was coming through a small crack in the rock that was about four inches wide and twenty feet high. He looked at it from all angles and it was just a crack. Taking the walking stick off of his pack Marcus prodded its depth… not much a foot or so here and there. But in doing so could not deny the hot airflow coming from it.  If nothing else it was a great seam to get to the top of the next steppe where he could free hand it and save his dwindling gear. As he chalked up his hands and found a foothold he was simply in awe of the warmth. Everything else around him caused his breath to show and dew to reside on all of its favorite places. The clouds were low and he was at their level, it couldn’t be a thermal, he had felt enough of those over the years.

As he climbed he almost did a double check on his handholds. making sure he was not grabbing some kind of volcanic lava rock, he kidded with himself. About half way up the fifty or so foot climb it hit him, it felt like a dryer vent. But not any dryer vent it was one that smelled like his previous neighbors when she was drying clothes in the summer. Bella, yeah that was it! It was Bella’s dryer smell, thinking he forgot to ever ask her how she got things to smell so nice. A little farther up he saw that there was a gap opening up in his crease. If he could wedge himself in there a bit he would take a quick break, at least he would be out of the mist. Muscles tight and straining and at times making him wonder if at his age they would give out altogether, he climbed upward.

“We have no alien ships or technology! For the last time stop asking me!” it was a general statement made to a large group of tired and anxiety riddled scientists and others. Anne could sympathize, she was going through bouts of it too. But since she first pounded out her original work she made herself at peace with it all. Besides inside she felt was still that demon of some kind that brought this wrath onto her beautiful planet. Landon came rushing in obviously from just using the facilities. Because he was still adjusting his jumpsuit and holding a few wet paper towels in his hand. “I think I got it!” he said with a childlike excitement. “The ISS!” he blurted looking around to the faces in the room, everyone must know what he was thinking?

 

A bit flustered, he clumsily pulled out a huge white board on wheels from a far wall. “We have looked into that, it won’t work! It doesn’t have the means nor the mass to do anything to it!” Dr. Sandage said. Landon started furiously sketching something that would make him lose in any Pictionary game he ever played. Eventually he got what looked like the Earth and a few squiggly lines, “Is that a rainbow?” Anne had to ask as he swept the pens across the top of the board. “Landon! Landon my boy, I can see what you are trying to put forward. But the ISS has minimal fuel left and as of twenty minutes ago is now completely empty!” Sandage reported. The ISS was evacuated this morning, there had already been a Soyuz Capsule up there changing out a new rotation of teams. They were trying to get them all to fit into the tiny capsule, all six of them. It was either going to be a disaster or a miracle. But none of the current astronauts felt they wished to die in space. If there was a chance to see their family again they would take the chance. The Russian government gave them the Ok to try it. Knowing that their very expensive spacecraft would probably fall too fast, and crash and burn. Even so, it was a humanitarian side of that government seldom seen by the West. “We got squat! might as well join the Russians in throwing nukes at it!” Anne was tired of coming up with nothing, she had to feel there was something that could be done. In Washington DC, there was already a call in progress that was sending those very wheels in motion.

Across the country and world for that matter, it wasn’t what one would think the end of the world would look like. Large riots in some of the bigger cities, looting and such for food. But on the whole it seemed mankind was still waiting for the inevitable. Many thought the big space rock would just not hit us, others believed in their religious deity saving the day. Then there were some that were so disgusted in what man had become that they welcomed our annihilation. Most everything was going along in a somewhat orderly manner, you know, for it being the end of the world and all.  Wall Street had taken a devastating hit though, it may never come back! Oh goody!

Chapter Twelve

The gap in the crack of a massive monolithic type rock was just above, it really looked a little bigger as he got closer. He was going to have to take a better look at how to get up into it. He decided he was going to have to do a little swing move from one arm. If that didn’t work he was going to have some explaining to do to Lori… from the hospital. Taking his time to line himself up and mentally go through the motions needed to do this, he looked up one last time and did a double take. He stopped and tried to crane his head back as far as he could to look into the opening. What he saw was a feather he thought, but not any feather it looked like a Ravens feather

Underneath the feather he saw a small stack of stones. It had to be a message or place marker used by people of the First Nations, as a type of road map and travel guide of sorts amongst other things. He couldn’t see the whole thing so he had no idea the meaning of it. He decided to be very careful when he “flipped” up to the rock’s gash as not to disturb it if he could help it. After a few more moments of concentration on his upcoming action he went for it. Surprisingly enough did a spectacular job of doing so landing just where he wanted, with no damage to the marker. It was gloomy and a bit dark; taking out his flashlight to see it better the only word he could think of for what he saw next was thunderstruck.

With the blessings of NATO, and most of the United Nations it was determined that our only best hope was to use the nuclear option. Washington begrudgingly joined in with Russia in determining which warheads would be used, and which were the most viable. It was a bit comical to the teams doing this because each side found that there were no real secrets left. We knew of all of theirs and them ours. After a bit of uneasy laughter from both sides they got to work, China was abstaining, citing faulty Western science.  “When do I go on?” President Bowman asked Ben, “You have about two hours to read up on the copy and make any changes” “Are you ready for this sir?” Ben asked the leader of the free world. “I don’t know? Right now it is just a speech addressing the nation. If it ever hits me what is really going on I may very seriously lose it!” At first Ben didn’t like the thought of him “losing it.” Then he remembered just then that this was a man like any other. The fact that he could lose it made him happy for the human aspect of this President he served. As the countries finished up their defensive plan for Earth, Japan, Israel, Pakistan, India, and even Iran sent word that they would like to be a part of it too. Iran stating that it would be too unacceptable that the capitalist infidels should be the only ones working to save Allah’s world. Brinkmanship in the face of certain death. Typical of the regime, but every bit helps, right? A few hours later a somewhat shaken looking President stepped up to a podium set up on the steps of the capital. Some in the crowd have been waiting for a few days, others just arriving to hear this historic speech. Carried on every TV station and radio and through the national alert system. He cleared his throat, held back his emotions and began what very well could be his last address to this wonderful nation, and world. As the camera light turned on and he stared into the waiting eyes of the world he threw up a little in his throat, grabbed the glass of water and began.

“My fellow Americans… Citizens of the world, it is with grave news that I speak to you this afternoon. Roughly four days ago earth’s scientists studying Near Earth Objects, meteoroids and asteroids, discovered that one which had just passed safely by us. Had altered course and now poses a serious threat to Earth. Scientists from all corners of the globe have been working around the clock to come up with a solution. Today I believe the best one of them has been found. A coordinated strike using nuclear warheads from around the world will be launched in roughly three hours. Data is still being aligned with the team of countries, and the effect of it will not be known until sometime tomorrow.” “Now” he took an extended pause and looked down at the podium for an eternity as far as air time was concerned. “Now my fellow citizens…nothing like this has ever been attempted” he said with almost a sound of defeat in the quiver of his voice. “We have no guarantee that this will work, but it is our only. Last. Best hope. Please know that I will be praying for the safety of all of you in the coming hours. Please hold your families a little closer and pray to whatever God you believe in. This is not a drill, this is not a cautious warning. This IS our last stand being made here today… May it be made with peace towards your fellow man, for all of our fates are now one in the same.”

His heart was pounding, Marcus had never seen or felt anything like this. It was a marker for sure, but it looked like it was hundreds of years old by the dust and dried plant debris. He was in a cave that was no more than a crack in the huge stone he had just climbed. It was about three feet wide and he could almost stand up in it so it was almost six feet high. It was also about seven to eight feet deep tapering inwards towards the rear. The crack continued to travel up the back of the cave and there was still heat coming in from it.

 

Excited was not the word for it, amazed was the best he could come up with. Because the wonder he found of the cave was not the hot air, or the old trail marker but the colors! Everywhere around the cave from floor to ceiling point there were paintings and pictographs. Cave paintings of the most vivid colors, one over the other, he saw the symbol for water in bright indigo blue, brilliant red ochre’s, yellows and greens. He flipped his flashlight around into the lantern position and he scoured the walls. It looked as if it were graffiti of sorts written many times over. Some painted over or smudged out to make room for some other pictograph, or painted the same over and over again that the original was badly mangled. He did see a few paintings that made his heart again skip another beat. It was a pair of simple white handprints, not together, like you would find at the local police department lineup wall, but separate and of different individuals. In all of the stories he heard from Jonathan about the ancient times he remembered this symbol, it was truly ancient. It was told to him that the earliest walker on Earth had used the practice of the hand on the cave wall as the first type of land deed? Or more apprpriately, Thanks I was here.  Marcus also recalled that the First Nations People stopped using that symbol some fourteen-thousand years ago. Yes, the stories Jonathan told were a stretch at times and he knew that. But by being here in this place they seemed to all come into truth. He had little reason to doubt anything old Grey Feather told him again. His excitement had caused him to lose all track of time and the sun was fading fast to the West, hiding a bit sooner these days behind the Olympics. He would stay until early morning and get down and out of here before Lori got too worried about him. Taking out his camera he began to document the site. Maybe he won’t have to worry about rent next month after all he thought. Marcus could do just about anything and his creative side was off the charts, but that didn’t mean he could get and hold a job doing anything. Always struggling to make ends meet, his wife Lori being the wonder that has kept him going so long. She was definitely his world and he would do anything for her. Over the years she had done much too much for him he believed. Maybe with these

pictures he could do something nice for her? He didn’t know if they were worth anything or too Sacred to share. He was tired, time to sleep. With the warm air entering the cave Marcus simply propped up his pack against the right side wall. He leaned back against it tossing his jacket over him, he was out within minutes. Overwhelmed by the day and too full of dreams to focus on just one aspect of it.

Chapter Thirteen

The primary launch codes were given. A few of the countries that would have liked to have been involved could not be. Their antiquated technology and /or their respective locations on the Earth at the time of launch were cited. Amazingly the masses of humans around the world gathered in town squares, and city centers and parks. They held vigils and prayer services as the launches took place. Over three hundred various types of rockets bounded skyward, few of them actually seen by the people on the ground. But the sound of them took over the twilight sky and a thunder never heard had permeated every molecule available for sound to travel. And in it the deep hum of our last, best hope had been delivered to the skies. In God we trust is written on the one dollar bill, how appropriate it sounded right now.

“Well it’s out of our hands now” the President said as he sat down on the white settee in the oval office with a fresh Johnny Walker Red on the rocks. Not a real drinking man, he had had a few lately. “Why don’t you go home to Molly? Ben?” “Molly and that dog of yours, whats was its name?” “Go-Go” Ben replied as his thoughts went to his wife, they had been in constant contact throughout and she knew everything that he did. But they needed to be together, this job had stolen so much precious time from her. He was in the Middle East with Bowman when her Grandmother passed away, he felt devastated that he couldn’t be with her then. It was two months before he got home even then. “Sounds like a plan sir” he answered, moving to the door and removing the professional business façade as he quickly exited the building. He got to be a mere man again with his wife and dog and cat Enid, what a better way to experience the end of the world, he mused to himself out of nervous energy.

Anne had been in the command center watching the huge screens that wrapped the room. Air force officers were rushing about reading displays off of clear plastic screens. Marking them here and there and yelling out numbers to others back and forth. Coordinates and times, speeds, and course corrections. A modern day Hannibal charge she thought, terrified that she knew the outcome of this circus even before it happened. God she hoped she was wrong. For the first time in her life wished she was stupid and others were right. But, with some of the world’s most brilliant minds behind her. She was left with a growing icy coldness spreading over her chest.

The missiles chosen were done so for their chances of success. A few of the best prospects were launched first. Their payloads were large enough to hopefully cause a change in its path. The rest were launched as a group from ground and submarine based launch sites. But just as Anne had feared the math didn’t add up. The larger ones had run out of speed too quickly to safely move it on time. Their warheads also would not do what people thought they would in space. The larger group of smaller missiles fared even worse. Unable to be corrected after the initial launch and no orbital equipment. They became giant useless floating dildos as soon as their fuel ran out, which they did far earlier than the scenarios showed. “What does that screen show?” she said as she turned to a Captain Manginelli by the name on his tag. Hesitant for a moment to speak of such things but realizing the uselessness of secrets at this time. He said “That is the whole scenario… white ones indicate strike group alpha, and the blue represents strike group beta.” “If you ask me they should have used a call with Omega in it somewhere” he added. She smiled, knowing that he was more right than wrong. Their last, best hope had gone fizzle pretty damn quick she thought. Back in the situation room they had spent the better part of 46 hours together Anne, Landon, and Sandage quietly looked at one another, no words were spoken, there were none left to be said, quiet goodbyes made only through their eyes.

Marcus slept deeply, the climb had really worn him out. In that sleep he dreamed the craziest sequence of dreams he had ever had. You name it, Old First Nation songs went through his head, he drowned, and he was at the White House. It was all crazy and he was even laughing in his sleep. His wife Lori told him that he did that every now and then and he didn’t know whether to believe her. Sometime during the night he rolled off his pack to the right.

He woke up to the sound of rock breaking and himself falling at the exact same time, he was falling! Some kind of light around him, the ceiling is caving in! Ouch! Crash! He slashed into a shallow pool. Upon awakening it takes people a second to really wake up, after more than a few confused moments of what the hell just happened? He got the picture. He had fallen backwards through a thin part of the back of the “cave” A few feet maybe four into a cavern. Which had a shallow pool of water about a foot deep at its bottom. But he saw light? And he still could, it was coming from the other side of the cavern. A bright green, it moved in the water to the ripples he had caused by his fall. He righted himself into a deep squat and waited for something else to happen. After what seemed to him like an hour (four minutes) he moved and found he was not going to be attacked. Freaked out beyond belief, he had no word for it, which was odd for Marcus.

 

He could see that the walls were covered with a glossy melting like substance. That looked like someone had taken Tapioca pudding and whipped it to a hard peak. Then mashed it down into some relative of the Michelin Man. There were trillions of small crystals that made up the floor of the cavern. It was too dark to see them well, but they were so small they did not hurt to sit or touch them. Then he noticed that the walls had a few, not too many, cave paintings as well. This just spooked Marcus to no end, he definitely found something. For it to be in the middle of the night after a day like today didn’t help his nerves very much at all. He found his footing and found that he could reach his pack. He found his headlamp because he couldn’t quite reach his flashlight/lantern that was still in the middle of the cave floor.

It was pink! When he switched on the LED headlamp the cavern glistened, the small crystals that were the floor were a beautiful rose colored pink, the Tapioca Michelin Man walls were more Pepto Bismol with cherries in it. And the water was blue, like someone had added just the perfect amount of food coloring to it to take a picture. “Pictures!” Marcus blurted and reached onto the new… ledge? Marcus searched for his camera, he had to jump a bit but he got it from the far side of his pack. Blinded by total excitement he began taking pictures, some with flash and others without. For one of his pictures he wanted to re-create the view he had seen when he first fell in. Turning off his headlamp after making sure his camera was set properly, he sat in the water legs ahead of him in a V.

As he did, the thought of the light he saw when he fell entered his mind and he sat there in the blue water wondering about it. He was still tired, but functioning now on nervous energy and adrenaline. As if in a trance he sat there the water was as warm as a bath tub, that must have been where all the heat was coming from. He knew it was water, and pretty fresh when he fell in and tasted it. A bit of a dusty aftertaste but he was the one that fell in, it wasn’t the waters fault. As he sat in the now calm water the cavern began to brighten he thought? Or was it just his eyes playing tricks on him? From the far side of the cavern the thing he thought was a glowing green rock or something began to grow, it was coming towards him.

Chapter Fourteen

News channels around the world were following the missiles. The only story, other than the reports of violence and looting here and there. Smaller countries were changing hands as if in a poker game but at this point few if any really cared. There was yesterday’s story of the crashed Soyuz Capsule, but all appearing to survive.

Some had displays up showing the projectiles and their path to saving humanity. From the religious set up that CBN had pulled together out of a handful of truths. To the ever watching CNN who had hijacked a military feed to get the scoop on everyone else, everyone was watching. Anne and her team sans Bennett; who seemed to have disappeared sometime when the Russians were talking with Washington. Watching with the rest of the world as the really bad news came across the TV from a know-nothing talking Barbie head. “It appears that most of the missiles will not hit the intended target except for possibly two of them. They are still on track to destroy it.” Destroy it!? Anne thought what kind of Cosmetology School did these people go to? The best we can hope for is to knock it off course. “Well” said Sandage, “at least no matter what happens we won’t have as many of those dang blasted nukes around to mess up the mix!” Anne and Landon looked at each other and had to laugh out loud, as if that was a big concern now. The two missiles did hit 2012da14; they struck on the heavy end of the peanut shaped asteroid. A giant explosion shook space around it and after all was said and done, there it was travelling the same interstate towards Earth. Immediate data indicated that we had slowed it down a bit though. It looks as though we had gained an extra eighteen to twenty four hours. But the data that followed was not nearly as well received.

The temperature of the asteroid was rising, and fast. “I think we just lit the Roman candle aimed right up our ass” Anne said in her best Wanda Sykes impersonation. It might have been taken as something crude to say, but the truth of the matter was that she was right. She would go home to her family if there were enough time. But this could possibly be the best place to ride out the initial blow… who knew she was such a sadist.

“The President soon came on all channels again to announce the by now, well known news. “We have failed to avert this disaster; our best efforts have fallen short. Our fate is in God’s hands now, may he have mercy on our souls.” he said before slowly turning away from the podium to his Secret Service agents. As if he was being taken away to the gallows. There was unrest in many of the larger cities still, but, as if out of some defense to humanity itself. Most were going to go out as the good people they were, not letting go of the good no matter how bad things got. To Lori, who was watching this all unfold on TV alone all she could do was think about Marcus, and his not knowing any of this. What a welcome home he is going to get “huh Hobbes?” she said to their kitty. She had made all of the calls to family and friends, all of them hoping that the data was off and it would just do a fly by. But knowing in her gut because she trusted it that this was really it… How sad she thought, for such a juvenile species.

As he started to do some kind of crab crawl backwards, away from the green…whatever.  He realized he didn’t want to make too sudden of a move. It might just reel back and eat him whole like some sort of cave whale. He decided to sit very still and watch, for whatever it was. If it wanted to do him harm it had plenty of chances to do it before now. As he waited for his fate to befall him… actually he was too scared to move at that point. He looked down into the water and saw a bright green floating bit and then a few more. There were billions of them… that was the light he saw when he fell through? Some kind of organism that uses bioluminescence but what were they? They were as small as krill and as bright as small LED. They flowed around him in the shallow water. His fall must have scared them to the other side, which he saw to be very much deeper. Maybe that’s where the heat was coming from? He guessed. As he sat there in the water and took flashless pictures of his new little buddies. He noticed that daylight was beginning to enter through his not so delicate remodeling. The light “bugs” started to recoil from the light, and he had the sensation that he was being bitten by some of them. Yeah he was! Ouch the little bastard! Jumping out of the water and making it to the ledge in one shot. He wiped furiously at his legs and forearms, the most exposed of his skin. But they were everywhere! And he soon started stripping off his clothes to check his whole body for anything like leaches and such. He took extra measures to check his sensitive areas. Reaching into his pack he found his first aid kit and the ointments in there. Marcus then began squeezing out most of the ketchup type tubes of ointment on himself. He had a change of socks and underwear but the rest of his clothes were going to have to go on wet… great. Good news; his coat was still dry having snagged on his pack well before he fell through the wall. Taking inventory of everything he brought in and a good inventory of what the hell had just happened to him. He was ready to get the fuck out of there. The bites that he felt lessened quickly leaving only thousands of small welts in their place, white welts, I hope that doesn’t mean poison, he queried himself. As he got ready for the descent he took some time to make a plan from what he remembered from yesterday. But after all that had happened since, that was a long time ago to him in a certain sense.

Chapter Fifteen

 

Lori was sitting petting the cat looking out the window, Marcus would be home soon she thought. She was thinking about their life together and all of the bucket list things that she and Marcus had written down. They had managed to scratch off just a few. Money never being their forte, most things were still on it. Of course there was Hawaii and Disneyland, and the Grand Canyon again. There was Washington DC so they could finally see the nation’s capital, and all of the Dakota’s, so that Lori could see long forgotten relatives. Marcus had Europe down there, when she asked him where in Europe he always said Europe, Europe. This to him meant all of it. And she remembered him saying he wanted to meet the Dalai Lama. Marcus saw him on a PBS special and thought he was a real cool dude. She and Marcus could not have kids and without money there was no way to adopt. He often joked with her that he should knock up one of her friends, but it wasn’t as funny a joke as he thought it was. Lori held hope still though, something deep down and primal said that this was not the end. But her educated mind said otherwise. Where was Marcus?

“ It’s really harder on the way down!” Kept going through his head as he slowly back tracked his route a bit. It was the voice of Big Will, Will Harrison. He was the guy that while growing up was always the guy to point out why something wouldn’t work or how something should. He was a really nice guy, went to church and all. But when he told you the truth, his timing really sucked. It was his voice from their Explorer Scout Jamboree; he was just ahead on a rope and rock climb going down to a stream. Marcus could still see just that big smile and round face as if disembodied and laying just on the ground. “It’s really harder on the way down!” Thanks Big Will, I will remember that! He thought. A few feet farther down and while moving left to the center pillar he heard the words again… as Marcus’s grip slipped away and there was nothing else to reach for.

It looked just like his body just got hit by a defibrillator… he was falling backwards. He vividly remembers thinking “I’m gonna die! Lori’s gonna kill me!” But before he could get more than that thought out of his brain cells something shook him out of it. He was floating down… not like on a cloud or anything, but just not falling as fast as he should to incur some kind of injury that would send him to St Peter…Or a surgeon to St. Bart’s. He landed with a thud, bouncing off of the rock face a few times and it still hurt like hell. What the fuck just happened?

Picking himself up and adjusting his pack he noticed that his pick had punctured his leg, it was more of a graze but it stung like hell. He checked his cell phone 9:30 a.m.? “Shit I am going to get in trouble, I was supposed to leave at six p.m.…Yesterday!” he said out loud. Still no service but what did he expect he was well out of service areas. As he began the roughly five mile hike to his car he started to feel different. Like in a haze he was trying to get his mind focused on what the…just happened there? Was this some kind of poison he was feeling? He had to get home.

The old saying goes if you want to hike in Western Washington there are plenty of places to do so, they are just all uphill.

Marcus was at his car a lot sooner than he thought he should be. The time didn’t add up, he hadn’t had enough thoughts to have moved that far. You see Marcus was one of those whom meditated when he walked and contemplated the world… etcetera. The only thoughts that had gone on in his head were how the hell he didn’t crash and burn back there? really nothing more! And that fact alone scared him even more than his anxiety riddled mind could hold at the moment. He fell to his knees, eyes wide open, looking for anything to make this last day just be gone. He began to cry something bad was happening, he could feel it now.

The world was a silent one on that morning, Three days remaining until impact. Violence was still scattered, but miniscule in comparison to the compassion that mankind showed in its last hours.

Nations simply asked their citizens to pray and mourn, families were gathered from all corners, and the word enemy seemed to slip away from our common language for a while. It was visible to those with even a modest telescope a quick glance at a dot in the sky. Slowly… it appeared the world shut down like in a countdown. Man had found its kind.

In Hopi mythology they have the story of a Blue Star Saquasohuh a kachina or oracle of sorts. It is supposed to mark the ninth and final sign before the “day of purification”; the destruction of the Earth itself. It was all too appropriate that the name of the rock was 2012. We foolishly thought we had escaped that kind of prediction.           Nations opened their borders and those with grieved alongside those without. The Smithsonian sent the entire digital contents that it had to date into space… aimed at the moon so maybe one day some random life form could know our story. Our story… it all seems so trivial now in a way. We struggled so hard to be different when we were all just kids on a playground. Oh we were a savage species indeed; destroying that which we did not understand all the while believing in unseen things we didn’t understand either. Mankind was a chemistry set gone awry with a built in kill switch… a brain.

Inside his trusty Subaru Outback that had 334,000 miles on it, and it showed. Marcus fumbled through his gear until he found his keys. He was spent, he just slammed himself into the seatback and tried to focus… Shit! he couldn’t drive like this. His head started to clear a bit and he found the right key for the ignition. Yeah it took him a second like he was a drunk about twenty minutes away from a DUI, a feeling Marcus knew intimately. It wouldn’t start, what the? He tried again and it was about the time that he was getting angry that he remembered the coil wire. A trick he learned a long time ago from a hiking buddy named Frank Sepp. Slamming his head back again he had to get out and get into his pack all the way in the back. He was just feeling better and didn’t want to move that far.

Opening the door he found that he felt better than expected, he retrieved the coil wire and put it back on. Falling fatigued beyond the norm into the driver’s seat, he pulled his legs in and tried again, good old Betsy. He let her warm up herself and him. He wasn’t cold on the outside but it felt like his nerves were causing him the shivers, he was wondering again about poisons. After about twenty minutes he took off… noting the time 10:40am. That didn’t add up in his head, but he had to use all of his abilities to focus on driving at the moment. The thought of going to the Hospital first for stitches; because it was on his way home. Had to be quickly squashed to the side, so that he didn’t drive over the edge of a winding forest road.

Making it to pavement he turned west to catch I-5. Feeling a bit better it wasn’t soon before he saw signs that things weren’t right in the world. Twenty miles down the road he saw a fuel tanker that had crashed into? The woods? Still in flames Marcus rushed over to check the driver. A .44automag still pointed at what used to be the right side of his head, Marcus jumped down and puked. He hadn’t eaten much, that made it hurt… he returned to his car and checked his phone. No service… he should start to get something soon he thought. A few more miles down the road he found a few shops and corner stores. He was going to report the tanker but they were all closed, one of them had its front window broken out. “What the hell?” Marcus said out loud in his best redneck voice. The coming miles made him speed up. Worried about Lori what he was seeing around him in small towns and roads along the way looked like war zone or some kind of invasion. Fires burned in a dozen places and wherever you looked cars were abandoned where they stood. Marcus noted more than one that took the trucker’s way out. He sped home “forty-five minutes honey” he said out loud. He began to feel the destruction and death and he cried. Driving at nearly 90 in an old Subaru he kept uttering “Have to get to Lori.”

Chapter Sixteen

Lori was fine at home in the burbs with the cat. She had a full pantry and more than a few survivalist neighbors. They got the biggest woodies of their lives when they got a chance to set up a pseudo military compound. She knew most of their wives and being this close to Joint Base Lewis McChord what do you expect. The guys were mostly paper pushers who have put in a tour or two a long time ago. They were really big pussycats but even pussycats know how to use their claws Lori thought. They had four block parameters set up and are even using old man Bruce’s Ham radio shack as an HQ. Bruce was always yelling at them about federal laws and bandwidths. Oh Yeah she felt very safe, A fire burning in the fireplace and a growing angst at Marcus for not being home yet. Hobbes was in Marcus’s spot on the couch she instructed her furry child “yeah… don’t let him have it when he gets home! Good boy!” She continued to look out the window for him as she drank her coffee with hazelnut creamer. “C’mon honey I am so worried about you” She whispered aloud.

Those very same words were going through Marcus’s head as he sped dangerously down what was now akin to a demolition derby. As he took his off ramp it got extremely worse. Blocked in he had to back up to the main freeway, but was able to get off two exits down after pushing a few smaller cars out of the way. It was better after he got away from the arterials, he would take the back roads from there on. There were hundreds of fires from what he could see. He would turn on the radio but it has not worked since that road trip of ’04. He checked his phone again and still no service. Now that was it! He was beyond freaking out he was in the middle of a semi large city! He would have to come up with a word for this feeling later on. He had to get to Lori. As he turned a corner near his house he had to slam on the brakes. A few trucks had been parked to block the road and a few garbage cans were set up in front of them, a sign reading “road closed” stretched between them. A few guys with uniforms on and rifles started to approach him, weapons ready. “Oh! Hi Marcus!” Marcus let out a huge sigh, it was his neighbor directly across the street from him Mike Turner. He was a flight engineer at the base but Marcus had never seen him in any kind of uniform before. “What’s going on here? Have you seen Lori?” “Oh she’s fine at home waiting for you probably… give me a second to move my truck. It’s been a real war zone since the news” Mike continued. “What news?” Mike just raised his head and said ”Get home to Lori, this is time for your loved ones. Take care! Bye!” with that Mike moved his truck and let Marcus enter his own neighborhood. It looked like the picture of calm, kids playing, dads grilling up burgers and dogs and the sun a welcome visitor for this time of year. What the fuck is going on here? He must have lost his freaking mind somewhere, or that fall was really messing with him. Lori didn’t see him pull into the driveway, she was feeding Hobbes and giving him treats. As he stepped through the door she rushed to him and hugged him, no she was crushing him starting to cry. “Are you ok?” “Would someone tell me what the fuck is going on!?” he begged. Anne started to take her hands away from around him, not all the way and rested them on his waist. She was as dumbstruck as she had ever been. Looking up at him she realized that he must not know anything that has happened over the last four days or so because of his hike. But wouldn’t he have found out on the way home? “I got so terrified when I saw all of the destruction, I gunned it home to you as fast as I could” he said just then, as if reading her thoughts. “How’s Hobbes? Is he ok?” she laughed a small belly laugh, yeah this is her husband. “Oh he is fine!” she replied, I think he is being a lump in the bed right now.” “Honey!” she finally said to him “Sit down” she gave him an order and he knew that voice. It wasn’t a mad order just something he had to do. She had no idea what or how she was going to tell him the news, she didn’t even think it would be her doing it. Marcus was always the one on top of all of the recent events and news. He knew the most amazing facts about just about anything. Yet didn’t know when TMI had set in during conversations with friends.    Marcus sat there looking at her for the few seconds her thoughts were floating around in her head. “Marcus? Do you remember right before you left? When you made the joke about the asteroid?” “Yeah” he said ever so slowly. “Well it was no joking matter Marcus… the thing is headed right for us.” “What?” he said as if there had to be a mistake. He looked at her and without words she reassured him that it was all true. “When?” “In about three days or so” Lori replied. “They have it running live on a few channels, mostly just a loop, everyone else is at their homes with their loved ones.”  Lori said this almost as if she was proud that people would want to do that at the end. The Internet was down as were most of the cell phone towers. The local TV station was running the National Anthem from the sixties that you would see at the end of the night before signing off, they had it looped and playing for a day now. CNN was still live and showing pictures of 2012da14, Mecca and St Peters Square. He found out all about 2012da14, the missile attempts and the timeline until impact. He found out why the web was down, too many institutions trying to save their assets and information all at the same time. Cisco routers were reportedly melting and starting fires, servers were burning up too. Marcus was catching up with Lori about everything else while watching the updates. He sat back on the couch and being more than overwhelmed closed his eyes and instantly slept.

Chapter Seventeen

Anne and the others at NORAD had decided to go home after all. the base was being mostly evacuated and there was nobody to do half of the things necessary to run the place… placed on a skeleton crew so to say. They were taken to their respective homes around the country. Landon returned to his Mom and Dad in California. Dressed in his military jumpsuit gear still, he felt like the soldier returning home a hero of sorts but losing the war. They were proud of their son, surprised at his gumption, but proud. They could go to church together as a family now and that made his Mother feel whole and at peace.

Dr. Sandage was dropped off at his Connecticut home after a flight on a Gulfstream G-5 a nicer one that was taking a few of the higher ranking officer’s home as well. Not a drinker he was not about to begin again now, but seeing the Majors and Generals down their whiskey gave him a craving he hadn’t had this bad in thirty years. He opened the door to his modest cottage on an acre of land, oh, he lamented for his gardens. There was nobody home to welcome him except his cat Bastette, Marci his neighbor had kept her promise to feed and watch after her, oh she and Gary. He was going to miss them, her southern charm and his endless fishing tales.    He sat in his ancient high back chair, cracked and scratched at by Bastette and petted her going over his life and its fullness.

After a certain point in life one loses fear of death, death becomes the trivial. Life itself becomes a point of stubbornness and not wanting to give up on whatever you are doing at the time. He lit a fire in the fireplace and sat around and looked at the clutter of his life. He closed his eyes and thought of the wonderful times he and his late wife Sally had had. “See you soon Pookie, see you soon…”

As Anne pulled into the driveway of her family home she had a rush of emotions. She had not been back in almost ten years since her parent’s funeral. Her older brother still lived there and he was a real piece of work living off of the system. She didn’t think he was depressed or nuts like he told the state she just thought he should give up the drugs. Her sister Jessica lived about a mile away and Anne and she were close. Jessica took care of their little brother Barney. His real name was Thomas but somehow over the years he became Barney. His Autism was a full time job for her and her husband Matt.

The Airman driving the black SUV pulled up behind Jessica’s minivan. Anne could see everyone about fifty feet ahead hugging and shaking hands. Jessica must have just arrived as well… Anne looked down at herself and laughed out loud.”Everything ok Ma’am?” the airman asked. “Oh yeah, I always like to see family looking like G.I. Jane.” She was referring to the jumpsuit with a few coffee stains that she was so graciously given by Uncle Sam or Uncle Nick Dundee. He was in his dress uniform because he too was going home, about two hours away, but he understood her meaning. She stepped out of the car on the other side from the family Jessica’s minivan blocked them from seeing her at first. As she rounded the corner of the minivan a huge scream, something that sounded more like something was being killed than pure delight lept from Barneys vocal chords. “Annie!!” Yes he was the only one on Earth allowed to call her that, she despised the name since grade school. He ran his run over to her and put out hug arms. Normally having an extreme aversion to being touched or held, Jessica, Anne and now sometimes Matt were the only exceptions. Anne knelt down and hugged him because he was terrified of leaving the ground. He hugged her with almost straight arms but a hug is a hug and his were the best kind. Jessica and Matt came over to greet her, her older brother Bart stood off to the side. “Hey Bart” she mustered “Hey” he mustered back. They weren’t real words, just sounds, but it was the most each has made to each other in years. Yep bad blood, but that’s another story all together. They spent the evening catching up and talking about Mom and Dad, Barney glued to Annie’s side. Bart and Anne were cordial to each other but maybe shared three sentences and one of those was “please pass the gravy.” Anne was glad she came home now and saw her family, yes even Bart. There was so much more she wanted to share and let them know, but the day had been long and the food too good. In these last days sleep took her too soon.

Chapter Eighteen

Lori had let Marcus sleep. Even in the weird position he was in she was afraid to wake him. By his snoring he was really tired and she knew he didn’t think well when he was tired. She laughed and wondered if tired had anything to do with it. She had made some pasta and began walking over to him when he woke up; he looked like a train wreck. “Why don’t you take a shower before dinner and we can see if that gash needs stitches?” He had all but forgotten the cut on his leg from his climbing axe. He was glad that he didn’t get any blood on the couch… it all struck him then… everything…It wasn’t some Hollywood megahit story it was real! He wondered to himself as he stripped and got into the shower if anyone had called Hollywood for a solution to this? There had to be at least a dozen movies and books on this subject over the last few years alone! As he climbed in the shower he noticed the welts… the bug bites! They were everywhere and still had little white tops on them. Eww these might kill him, was his first thought as he directed his attention to the cut on his thigh. As if the cut and bites didn’t sting enough. There were the usual scratches aches and bruises that come with what he loved to do. Lori had seen him many times come home with his legs and arms looking like he got into a fight with a gang of blackberry bushes and lost.

“Ouch, Ouch, Ouch!”  Was his mantra as he finished up the supposedly soothing shower. The cut on his leg didn’t look too bad after it was cleaned up, he would have Lori look at it. They had some butterfly bandages here somewhere.  Lori had made some goop… don’t take that wrong it was just a dish they throw together when they really don’t want to cook. As she came into the bedroom Marcus was grabbing a shirt to put on when she noticed the welts. “what the hell is that?” she asked immediately going up to inspect his bare back. “What is that? Poison Ivy?” “It’s some kind of bite I think?” “You think!?” she asked. “In all of the news I forgot to tell you about my hike and my news as well. But it doesn’t seem like a big thing now. Over dinner he told her the whole story…well almost the whole story, the falling slowly bit he changed into – got down. He didn’t know if she was aware that her lower jaw had dropped and stayed there for quite some time. So he made the motion to her, she closed it, but a moment or two later it went back to its hanging position. “I have a bunch of pictures on my camera!” he said excitedly and went to get it, already done with his food. Turning on the camera he was disappointed that he would have to charge it first to download the pictures from it. He had to start up his computer as well.

Knowing this was going to take a while he told Lori that he was going to go for a run to clear his head. He had not fully felt like himself so far today and a run usually did him some good. Running may take some of these toxins or whatever it was out of his system. Besides… Lori’s goop was pure carbs.

Bowman was sitting in a small situation room deep in the bowels of the White House. He was there with the Secretary of Defense a few aides and his dog Opie. They were watching a few displays of trajectories, failed nuke orbits and whatnot.”Where’s it going to hit?…Stanton?” he had to turn to see the aides nameplate. “The latest numbers put it off the west coast of Africa sir.” “And how long do we have til we’re dead son?” “About a half hour after impact sir… and hour if we’re lucky” Petty Officer Stanton replied. “Oh goody! Opie and I can watch an extra episode of the Simpsons! Wouldn’t you like that boy?” the President rattled off obviously losing a bit of his faculties in some way. The SecDef looked at him and wondered what took him so long, good man, good President.

They were just finishing up another bottle of Johnny Walker Red waiting for the world to end. It seemed sad to see them this way P.O. Stanton thought. Mankind could have done much better than they have so far.

Lori applied two medium butterfly bandages to the cut on his leg, then covered the whole thing with a big adhesive patch.“Are you sure you want to go for a run with this?” She asked knowing the answer already. “Yeah! I have to clear my head and get this funk out of my system.” Lacing up his battered running shoes he started off on his normal route. But nothing about it felt normal, the neighborhood had been transformed into some kind of compound and “Oh Shit! Is that a howitzer?” Sure enough someone had sandbagged a howitzer smack dab into the middle of a traffic circle. It was twilight and it looked as if there was a old fashioned brown out. Add a few rolls of razor wire and a Duisenberg or two, and you would have a perfect set for a scene from any number of WWII era movies. It was eerie to see it all this way and know that in a few short days it would all be gone… completely wiped out of the universe. There was also something else going on that was eerie, his chest, no his face, everything on his body felt, felt… furry? He looked down and no, there was no hair there. But the contact with the wind he was having didn’t feel like it was hitting his skin, but rather some kind of….fur. He started running faster to try to shake it off. But that’s when IT happened. He started to take longer and longer strides and soon found himself airborne…. Not flying not running. It completely freaked him out and made him stop any motion at all. Now, coming down slowly to the ground. He reminded himself again that he had to come up with a word for this feeling of being beyond freaked out and overwhelmed. “What just happened?” he said out loud as if someone was right there and going to tell him, with perfect logic the answer. So he did next what any guy in America would do he jumped forward like Superman, hands ahead and a full facial waiting to happen…and it did!

“That freakin hurt!” he said aloud again to his new invisible buddy. Then it came to him, he was brilliant! He had to take three steps first, like Superman yeah that’s the ticket! Picking himself off the ground for a second time in five minutes and checking the road rash on his heels of his palms. He started to return home, he still had that fuzzy feeling when he ran, but he soon got used to it.

Chapter Nineteen

 

Marcus was about three blocks from home and passing his fourth neighborhood guard. This one for the second time, when his gash started to really hurt. He pictured his front door and thought that he would like to be able to fly home. And so he did!… he came off the ground with a step or two and began to rise up over the houses head tilted slightly forward. He felt a pressure from parts of his body that would be the control surface if he were a plane. He landed in front of his house in just a few moments and landed like he was placed down by the Jolly Green Giant, not too easy… it hurt his knees a bit. He turned to go inside and tell Lori what had happened but he was afraid it would break whatever spell he was under. He wanted to do it again! That 12 year old boy never left Marcus, and that’s what made Lori adore him so much.

He tried to do it again and nothing happened, noooo! He thought it can’t be over so soon. He took off jogging again, going over in his mind what he did to trigger it. The Superman approach was definitely out, Lori is going to think I like hurting myself. It occurred to him then that he pictured his home and wanted to fly there. In a second he had sorted through a dozen places he could picture, and none of them were where he wanted to go. They could be burning, people around, or just about anything. He decided on his childhood home, his Father long since passed. His Mother living with his brother in a house his brother built for her. But the old house was still there and he pictured it and imagined flying there. Within seconds he was airborne again and moments later his knees once again took the brunt of his landing. “Ouch” he said again out loud this time in front of his childhood home. There were a few older folks on the front porch looking down at him when he landed, they didn’t say a word or even bat an eye. “Time to go in dear!” Was all that the elderly woman said to her husband as he continued to stare at Marcus. The old man followed her inside without his eyes ever leaving Marcus’s. It was getting very dark for there were few if any streetlights working in this part of town. He “flew” home using the same method as he did the first time and his knees were screaming for ice by the third landing. Even though he felt a “furry” feeling he was anything but warm when he hit the winds.

At NORAD Bennett was watching it all as well, seeing just what the President was seeing. He was disgusted at the whole nuke mess with the operation he was in charge of organizing. “They didn’t even allow us time to come up with a viable plan, we may have come up with something!” He was speaking to one of the Officers still on duty. He was listening but pretty much ignoring him focusing on his work even in times like these. Bennett didn’t mind losing, he just hated not being given a fair chance to play. “What was up with those Chinese?” he asked the Lieutenant who just sat quietly still shrugging his shoulders. Bennett knew he was just talking to himself but he didn’t care. “What was their game? If nobody is here then who cares who has the biggest pile of sticks left over.” He just didn’t get it, any of it. So he retired himself to this hobbit hole to watch the last greatest show on Earth.

As he rose from grabbing both knees with his hands Marcus got it. His head started spinning and a million little pieces of thoughts came to him in one gigantic…What if? Lori did not see him come home she was using the bathroom. He bounded in the door out of breath and grabbing his thighs. “Fly!”… gasp “Fly!”… gasp Marcus said to her. She looked at him with her usual “Are you being funny or really losing it this time?” look. Stopping just long enough to get enough air to say the three words he was trying to. He stammered once again “I can fly!” Lori had her answer… he had actually lost it for real. “Clothes! I need my ski suit! and gloves! Go! Go!” He ordered her… He ordered her? What the hell was this about? She thought. But when he talks like that he means it. Not in a menacing way but an important way. She went to the closet, being a Virgo she knew where everything in the entire house was and probably had a list of it too.  Marcus ran into the bedroom and put on some heavy socks. It was a chilly night Marcus was not thinking about the surface temperature but the ones up a few feet. “Oh, if this works!” he said to nobody; except Hobbes who looked at him with his ever curious gaze.

“Here it is” she said as she placed it on the bed next to him. “Marcus I’m worried about you! I know none of this is easy to accept. But I am afraid your head got broke somehow honey?” She said in almost like she was talking to a child. As he pulled on the suit and looked around for his heavy boots he said “c’mon!” and pulled her with him down the stairs and out the front door. “I don’t know?… so don’t ask just watch!” He started a slow jog and pictured his neighbor’s house at the end of the block. Like clockwork he was flying at what seemed to him an easy pace, but to Lori it was at a different speed altogether. Jaw agape, and trying to actually take mental snapshots. Marcus landed down the street and ran up to her hugging her and screaming about how great it was.  Lori didn’t know what to think really, she just sat on the wet lawn head in hands, trying to accept what her eyes just told her. Marcus was right beside her making sure she was ok “Honey?” he said. “It will all be ok!” in that reassuring voice she needed to hear.

Chapter Twenty

For the next hour or so Marcus took his plan into the backyard. Picturing different parts of town at first and different towns next, his flying worked. But he must have left before they gave him the magic long johns. He had some on, but he was still too cold. He tried hopping in his car and trying it, but he got nada. As he was sitting there looking at his laughing Buddha bobble doll on his dash, the thought came to him.

Returning to the house he found Lori awake. She was lying down on the sofa with a towel over her forehead like she did when she had a migraine. He found the roll of commercial size plastic wrap that he got from the local restaurant supply store. He had no idea why anyone would buy that home use stuff. Taking it all into the bathroom he stripped down to his skivvies. Then began wrapping himself up like he was either a very modern Egyptian, or too cheap to afford a spa treatment. He wrapped it carefully, wanting to get double layers and cover sensitive areas the most. When he “flew” he not only felt the fuzzy but he also felt a just a tiny bit of pressure from the welts. He knew early on they had to be a part of this. “OK!” he said as he looked at himself in the mirror “plastic man!” He pulled on his remaining undergarments and ski suit and as he walked outside to try it again, he saw her. Lori just laying there sleeping… what he wouldn’t do for her… A look of determination crossed his face and he headed back out to the garage. He grabbed his helmet and bike gloves and laced on his heavier biker boots. It was hard for him to move around very easy and some of the wrappings were cutting into his skin. But something changed in him when he looked down at his wife. Finding a sharpie he scribbled down a note on a few pieces of paper towels. Honey…I love you more than you know, I will be back as soon as I can, I have to try. Bunches and lots – Goofy.

He put it on the counter in the kitchen and scooped up his boy Hobbes and said “You are the man of the house for now bud!” Marcus scratched his head gave him a few treats, and closed the door softly behind him. Outside he scraped up every ounce of guts and courage he could muster. Checked his zippers and began to run as best as he could. Closing his eyes he pictured the one place… the first place he had to go… The White House, Washington D.C…. Lori was gonna be pissed.

 

Chapter Twenty One

 

He still felt the fuzziness under the plastic wrap. The pressure from the welts a little greater, but he was going there. He had wrapped his hiking compass just under one layer of wrap and checked his direction. “Yep!” it said he was going right there, East South East.

He also noticed that he could speed up and slow down a bit if he thought about it. He was freezing still but was determined to get there hell or frost bite. Noticing it got a bit warmer when he put his hands out in front of him, creating an air pocket of sorts he did this off and on, but his arms got tired of it and soon he just gave up. He started out at ten pm from Western Washington he arrived two hours later at Three a.m. Eastern.

Marcus had no idea what to expect or who or what might be there when he landed. He soon found out in his trials that he could save his knees from being rocked every time. He just thought about going down a bit more gently.

There were people camped out all over the place and a barricade keeping people from getting too close to the grounds. Armed guards were everywhere, great! I get to get shot! Marcus thought. Closer to the White House itself though he noticed that the guards were in dress uniforms, and standing right next to the doors. They didn’t have their combat gear on and were noticeably more relaxed. I guess having the entire Army in front of you probably did that for them, it would work for me! He thought to himself. Being in a dark green ski suit with helmet and biker boots he was hard to see from the ground, even for these trained professionals. He decided to ditch the helmet on an antenna on the roof. Then he would lower down slowly In front of the blonde dude, by the glass doors in the back of the White House. He always dreamed to see D.C. and it was on Lori’s and he’s wish list… scratch one of us off of that he noted.

Knowing full well what this was going to look like. Marcus prepared himself to be shot, beaten, tazered and any other gruesome thing one has done to them… when they violate federal laws in front of the guys there to enforce them. He also thought that it was going to look like some scene from an Austin Powers movie. “A guy in a green ski suit shows up and says take me to your leader!” rimshot… He got above the guy and lowered himself down. Making just enough noise as not to alarm the guy too much. “I’m not an enemy” he began saying again and again as Marcus’s blonde buddy and his friend took him down and hogtied him. Both were looking at each other with huge ass eyes because they saw the same thing… this dude just flew down here! “I need to see the President. I think I can help!” Marcus said it twice because he didn’t remember saying it the first time, he was blacking out. These guys were good.

“He what!?” President Bowman screamed across the room at a pitch that sounded a little too high for a world leader. “He flew down from the sky and said he had to see you!” Said his right hand protector Agent Witte, assigned to him from the Secret Service when he first began to campaign. “What do you mean he flew down?” Bowman asked as if this was some kind of trick question to see if he was capable of performing his duties. He knew he had snapped somewhere, so he was really just questioning himself at that point. “He flew down slowly, like drifted down and our men subdued him immediately.” “He said he needed to see you and that he was not an enemy” Agent Witte continued. “Then he started muttering something about being a cook or something before he blacked out.” “He blacked out?” Bowman quizzed. “Yeah… our guys are on edge as it is and this guy just dropped like a sack when he was taken down.” “Where is he now?” the President asked. “He’s in a detention room in the basement sir.” “Oh! Sir? He was wrapped in plastic wrap! Freaking nutcase if you ask me.” “But he flew down?” the President repeated in somewhat of a question to Agent Witte as his guard left the room. “President  ha!” Bowman said to himself still tipsy from a long bout of Johnny Walker Red. He felt so defeated at that point, he had for the last few days. He was crumbling inside and out and couldn’t stop it. “Flew in?” he said as he laid his head against the back of his chair… “Plastic wrap?” ha!

Marcus came to a few minutes after being brought into a small room with a bench in it. It had a shower stall on the other side of a tile wall, and he was forcibly and carefully stripped down. “Compass!” one agent said to the other as they removed the piece of plastic with a pair of scissors. He could see that he was not getting his clothes back. Scissors were these kids’ favorite toy and everything is being cut away from him. They jumped back when they saw the welts “possible biologic!” One barked as they left the room and closed him in. Standing naked it was cold in there too…

He took the opportunity to try to yell through the reinforced glass window at them. But they were busy doing something else; they were running around taking off their clothes. Ah! They think I am toxic or something. It crossed his mind then that maybe he was… he didn’t know? He had welts all over his body that he believed to be bites of some kind, but he didn’t know if he was going to die from them. “It’s just some bug bites!” he managed to say in a voice loud enough that he thought they could hear. They didn’t, and he sat on the bench then he decided to take a hot shower. It was more like a warm one but it would have to do.

Chapter Twenty Two

Lori woke up with a raging headache, something that was happening all to frequent lately for her liking. She called out for Marcus then headed to the kitchen to start some coffee and look for some aspirin. She had started the coffee, first things first she thought. As she turned to look for the aspirin she noticed the paper towel note. “What the?” she read it, and again as her head pounded like she had been on a bender last night. She sat down with the note at the kitchen table. She just stared at it forgetting the aspirin she needed for the moment.

As she waited for the coffee to finish she snapped out of it long enough to grab the aspirin and take a few. Wishing that they would work instantly but knowing they won’t. She poured herself some coffee and sat down again with her head in her hands… she couldn’t cry she was all tear’d out. Her head was pounding her husband was gone, and losing his mind she thought, deserting her at the end of the world. Jumping up on her lap Hobbes gave her an almost eerie all too knowing a look and a tear did start to fall from her eye.

She sat there for the longest time petting Hobbes going over the events of the last day in her mind, it hurt. She remembered that before he went for his run Marcus was going to show her some cool pictures from his hike. Checking his gear it was all ready to go. It took her a minute to find the right place to view the pictures. She looked at the thumbnails of different video and picture files, there were a hundred of them at least. She clicked on the first file, a movie, and just like the Virgo she was. Decided to go through every single one from the beginning, to figure out what had happened to her husband.

The water didn’t last long and Marcus was now there wet and cold. Standing naked in front of a fogged up security window. He heard a click and the sound of a fan coming on, a few seconds later the door opened. Just enough to toss a towel and a robe onto the bench and the door closed. He took the hint; he dried himself off and put on the robe a very nice one he noted. He then proceeded to adeptly draw a happy face on the steam on the window.

The door opened again and he stepped out to find the two agents or whoever. They were in white jumpsuits with hoods, facial masks and gloves. They swabbed at his arm with a couple of Q-tip things and put them in test tubes. Also a couple of pieces what looked like scotch tape, torn quickly away and placed into a plastic container. They showed him the door back into the holding cell. He waited only about fifteen minutes when the door opened again. and he heard “Mr. Downs, this way please.” He was led out of the booking room? Then led down a long ugly green hall to an open metal door. “Inside!” Was all that was said and he stepped through… it was an atypical interrogation room. Table in the middle, two chairs and a large mirrored window on one side … same ugly green.

Behind the open door but out of sight came an order “sit down!” Captain Dean Kenny, 25 year veteran of the Capital Police Force and the current holder of the on-call phone barked at him.  Marcus sat down and began to speak; he was interrupted before he made a sound.

“Don’t say a word, here’s the deal” he said through his handlebar moustache. “You are going to walk out of here in that nice white robe they provided. You are then going to go home or wherever you came from. Ok?” It was not a suggestion. He continued “I don’t know what kind of whack job you are, or why you are here, but there are just too few hours left for me to have to deal with a lunatic punk at the end of the world!” “Get the hell outta here! Now!” He yelled. Marcus just looked at him with a patient look on his face. Unfazed by being yelled at like that… he was a cook! What Captain Kenny did was considered casual banter in the restaurant industry. “Are you done?” Marcus calmly asked him. Captain Kenny was getting even more frustrated that the guy just didn’t get it. Marcus was taking up more of his time, swung the chair forcibly up to the table. Its back towards Marcus, he sat backwards in it, looked at Marcus and said “What?!” Marcus fired back with his own rambling rant “I’m not nuts! I found out I could fly yesterday! I don’t want my wife to die! I thought I could help! I NEED a Spacesuit!” Capt. Kenny sat there for a few seconds and said “Tell that to me again…slowly.” Marcus spent the next five minutes giving a rundown of what had happened and his idea. Staccato speech out of nerves … he was just now hearing this out loud not just in his head. “It’s cold up there! And I don’t know if I have any other abilities or be able to breathe up there?” “What the FUCK have you got to lose!?” Marcus pounded the table as hard as he could a few times, then realized that this is not a good place for that. “You can fly huh?” a disbelieving grin came over Kenny’s face. Looking up at Marcus from the hunched over position he was seated in. “O” was about all Kenny got from his lips next before a crackle and pop of an ancient intercom system overrode everything. They heard “He’s right, what the fuck do we have to lose! Let him prove it! And if he can give him everything he needs.” Marcus did not recognize the voice through the radio, Captain Kenny did, it was President Bowman.

Chapter Twenty Three

Lori at first was looking at the same pictures Marcus always took. She had finished up her first cup of coffee and fed the cat, showered and changed. She went back to the laptop with her second cup. Headache subsiding a bit Lori found the place she left off. Yeah more streams, bushes crashing into camera (that same exact sequence of the leaves hitting the camera was in every one of his hiking folders she swore). Climbing video? Oh she was upset with him because she told him to take it easy. Then some weird dark pictures; Ok it was a…a cave? “Wow! Look at that!” She said to herself as the close-ups of the trail markers and pictographs started to be revealed one after another. She had to look a couple of times at the first pictures of the dark cavern he fell into. She knew he fell into one… but this! This was beautiful! She saw the colors in the flash pictures and the blue water. She saw the whisps of gas and glowing orbs? So much had happened over the last few days she doesn’t remember him talking about the orbs but he could have? She thought. When she saw the pictures of the paintings and pictographs she got excited. They both shared a curiosity with the ancient and one of Marcus’s favorite shows was Ancient Aliens. A show about mankind’s possibly forgotten or misplaced history. Some of it was a hoot Marcus thought but it brought up some good points.  She remembered he had a few coffee table type books with some cave paintings in them. But…It was funny? For the life of her she couldn’t remember where they were? She finished looking at the pictures and began looking for where she thought the books should be. She wished she could get a hold of Jonathan, he would know something for sure. But who knew anything anymore in this dying world, she sighed.

Almost as soon as the intercom crackled off the door opened. In walked two huge guys. Agents Witte and Sanchez “We got this from here Dean” Sanchez said; as if it needed to be said at all. As Captain Kenny left Sanchez made sure to let him know that Deans wife and kids were in his prayers. Dean nodded “as well my friend.” and he was gone.

Agent Witte grabbed Marcus by the arm and half pulled him up and said “let’s go!” they only went about thirty feet to a couple of double doors and they were outside. “Here ya go! Fly away!” The burly agent said to Marcus dripping with sarcasm and looking like he was gonna get hurt if Marcus couldn’t produce. Marcus was still cold but pictured the outbuilding… about one hundred yards away and began to start jogging. ”Hold on there!” Sanchez piped out. “Fly…?” “This is just the way it works!” Marcus replied in some sorry to disappoint you tone of voice. It’s Five a.m. and dressed in just a robe he started it again and off he went… fuzzy feeling at all, to the outbuilding. To Marcus he felt and thought he just floated over there. But just as Lori witnessed; Agents Witte and Sanchez with their jaws around their waistline saw him move much faster.

As Marcus reversed the process Agent Witte was already on his earpiece. He was talking to the President affirming the little fuck could fly! President Bowman then told Witte “That little “Fuck” as you call him may be the biggest “Fuck” in history!” Witte laughed, it was all meant in good humor and he knew that somehow some part of his friend the President, had come back. Witte turned to Marcus with a shit eating grin on his face, Sanchez was smiling as well “What do you need son? sky’s the limit!” They all laughed at the unintended but perfectly appropriate pun.

The President was already calling in some Military advisors and the heads of many of the Nation’s top agencies. Also quite a number of them which very few knew about as well. “My plan just needs a spacesuit” Marcus said calmly. Sanchez relayed the message to someone on the other end of his…hand? “Can I get some clothes?” Marcus then asked the still mystified and stunned agents.

Why do you have to be so fussy Miss Luci? Crischill (Crissy) Norton, asked her almost three month old daughter Lucillia. Luci was in her car seat and her Mom was looking for her car keys and cigarettes. Crissy had just received a call at oh god thirty from her boyfriend’s brother Jake. His commander had called them all in and she was the only tech that answered their call. This particular team had communications abilities that were let’s just say… off the grid. “Baker said now!” Jake yelled into the phone as he hung it up, saying it loud enough for Colonel Josh Baker to hear that he got ahold of her. “Jake?” Baker barked, “She’ll be in sir!” he barked back, thinking that she better. His brother just got in from NORAD and they are staying at his place for the “End.” The Vice President himself had called Colonel Baker and gave him the orders. The President had to have deniability about this group, commonly known as a “Black Op.” The Vice President did not, nor did he even care at this point. “Give this guy all that ya got! and let’s see if the bastard can do it?”

“You there, stop! Strip down!” Agent Witte ordered some poor office type worker or aide or whatever he was. He walked right up and over the guy and stared at him. The guy was about the same size as Marcus, with a terrifying and man card shredding shriek he fell to a fetal position and started removing his clothes. “I think I’ll go commando on this one guys!” Marcus said feeling horrible for the scared man child giving up his…Ralph Lauren suit. “Good taste!” Marcus said to him he pulled on the guys pants and threw him the robe he was wearing. Sanchez said “Benning!” to Agent Witte as he motioned at Marcus with his head. “We have to get you to Fort Benning kid!” Witte said as he stood up from kneeling with the guys shoes in his hands. Marcus just looked at the shoes and shook his head “14 ½!” Daniel Witte tossed the shoes back down to the guy. “Sorry about all this” he said. Sanchez; “We have a fast mover ready at Dulles now.” Marcus chimed in and said “I think I can make it there faster on my own guys.” “I just need to know what the place looks like that I am going to and the general direction… this flying thing seems to do most of the work.” Looking down at the poorly fitting designer suit he added “I’m gonna be cold.”

Sanchez snapped his fingers and started off towards the nearest office. Finding a computer he entered a pass code or something and Googled Ft. Benning – Columbus Georgia. Marcus was a little surprised at how well his large mitts deftly worked the keyboard. He brought up a few images before he stopped on one and said “Right there kid!” and pointed to a building that he had zoomed in on. Witte took off his coat and handing it to Marcus said “It isn’t much kid but it may help a bit?” Marcus grabbed the coat gratefully and started for the exit they just came in from. Almost running he hit the bar on the door, and before he hit the few steps a mere three feet away he was in the air…freezing!

Chapter Twenty Four

Colonel Baker was in charge of a small, elite and very new kind of military unit. Still very much in the experimental stages but thought about for decades. Technology and engineering had finally caught up with imagination, and so it would also seem… Hollywood. The United States spends more on “defense” than all other countries combined. Forever preparing for some war scenario or another. This is one of their answers. S.O.A.P. – Solo Orbital Armament Platform. There were only a dozen of them made and half of them were constantly in the shop. Costing billions to produce each, they were on the cut side of spending. But since there was a current government shutdown going on (a huge partisan spat in the capital), they had not yet been formally re-assigned. They were not a typical unit coming from different branches and agencies. But that was all in the guise and it made them disappear on paper. Baker would be home with his wife and kids if he hadn’t heard exactly what the Vice President said. He wasn’t here out of duty or honor anymore. What he heard in that call was that there was a chance! Dammit! He did not hold in his beliefs that whoever was in charge would not give us one last chance! He was fearful for his children and wife… he wanted to keep fighting. If there was a chance any kind at all, he would go to any length he could. He had to get it together… half the team is here and he was waiting on this guy to “Fly” in.

He had briefed the ones that were there and watched their reaction. Their jaws dropped at the same time when he told them the story… and the plan. Major Jake Manginelli; Just “Jake” to everyone, was one of the squad’s lead officers. Bored he glanced out of the glass room attached to the top of the hangar at the big doors. “What   the frack?” What he just saw was a guy in a business suit with no shoes on, and what appeared like a cape. He landed in front of the hangar then crumpled to the ground immediately. “Sir? I think he’s here?” he said in a poltergeist movie tone. A few of the team already on the hangar deck ran over to the motionless figure. No, he was moving; he was just shivering in the fetal position not able to move much. “Medic!” one of them yelled into the medic’s ear who was coming up right behind him. The medic, a Woman Doctor really looked right at the guy and said “present” in a monotone voice. Marcus had never been this cold… they rushed him onto a stretcher and into one of the back rooms of the hangar used for quarters.

Jessica just went right into her sister’s childhood room, left untouched since she went off to college. She knew Mom and Dad didn’t touch it out of respect toward her. But she didn’t know if it was creepy or nice that Bart hadn’t done anything with it. It took Anne a moment to gather herself, where she was, who was yelling at her, about what. “That air guy needs you downstairs NOW!” “Wha?” Anne got out. “That guy that dropped you off is at the front door, he says he needs to see you NOW!” Jessica didn’t talk to her sister like that. Anne grabbed the blanket and wrapped it around her while she hurried past her sister. At the bottom of the stairs the door was open. Barney was flying around in his Superman cape in front of the Airman, standing at parade rest in the doorway. “Ma’am I have orders from Bennett that you must return to NORAD immediately.” The Airman reported as soon as he caught sight of her coming down the stairs. “What the hell for?” she quizzed in her best “I haven’t had my coffee yet!” snarl of womanhood.

“I just know what I just told you ma’am” the Airman was too polite. “Well you can tell Agent Bennett that I will be in on Wednesday!” This was Sunday morning… impact was due Monday evening. “He did say something else I guess?” “What” The Airman looked confused a bit at the ground by his shoes looking for the words that Bennett used “Oh! That’s it! He said there was a chance, and a plan.” In that moment Anne had to make the split second choice of whether she was going to give up or try harder. “Ma’am?” the Airman was looking for an answer. Anne turned to see her little sister and little brother there, and their courage, that’s all it took. “Give me five” Anne replied in an authoritative voice. She ran upstairs to change into some real clothes this time. When she came down the stairs she stood for a second looking at them. “I have to go… I have to try!” she said as she hugged them. Jessica was proud of her sister for not giving up; her sister felt the same about her. “Bye Barney! Bye Mouse!” and she was off in the Black SUV speeding away. After she got about a quarter of the way down the road Barney said “Bye Annie!” As he watched the truck until it was out of sight.

The squad had tossed him into a hot shower and proceeded to strip him down. He felt very violated in a sense that twice in the last eight hours a group of men…and a woman! Oh dear! have stripped him down. The men saw the welts and reflexively backed away from Marcus. The woman… the Doctor knelt down to look at them. “We just got the labs… nothing harmful.” The men noticeably relaxed. Holding out her hand in a womanly fashion, she said”Captain Kyra Ripley, M.D.” Marcus reached for her hand embarrassed for his nudity. “Nice to meet you Doctor Ripley” and shook it while still shivering up a storm. A dark red complexion on his face as well. “Don’t worry… I’ve seen it all!” she said as she took his pulse. She stood up after a moment saying “He’s all yours! He’ll be fine, just keep him warm” and the Amazonian beauty was gone. Jake had sized him up when they threw him into the shower. Jake had already retrieved some BDU’s for him and some clean underwear. As Marcus was shivering and getting himself dressed Colonel Baker walked in. “What’s in your head? How is this gonna work?” Baker had to know these things first. He was a full off plan it out and plan it four times more type of leader, he did not make mistakes. “I have a plan too” Baker added “If what you say you can do? you can do, this might just work.” Baker wasn’t one to smile at work but something inside told him to be optimistic.

Chapter Twenty Five

As Baker was leading him out of the door Jake showed up and told Marcus to come with him. There was little time and a lot Jake had to teach him. He was led into an open service elevator on the far side of the hangar. And down they went, Marcus just rolling with it and waiting to see the cool stuff. It was just a boiler room! Marcus was more than kind of disappointed but in the far side of the room. Past the steaming pipes and sounds of fans was a playground Marcus could really get into. Ha! He thought at the irony of how he just phrased that.  In the open expanse that must have held a huge old furnace or something was a lab, and something else… doors? “Ok just get me into a suit and get me up to the ground!” Marcus said eager to get this over with. His brilliant plan was scaring him more and more and his fear body putting up a heck of a fight. “Not so fast!” Jake said. Like Marcus had just insulted his entire family and his dog as well. “You are going to be in MY suit, it’s the only one tall enough for you.” “But you are not my size and we have to do some adjusting.” He said those things very calmly and instructive then burst around and blurted. “You think this is easy? That all I have to do is shoot bad guys? You have to know a shitload of things to use this suit!” Marcus felt that Jake was offended that someone would just step in and try to do his job! Deep down Jake felt sorry for Marcus and wanted to go himself to save the skinny old man. “What are you yelling about now?” came a girl’s voice from the end of the boiler entrance.

Crissy Norton was standing there with an unlit cigarette hanging out of her mouth and a kid in a car carrier kiltered to one side of her body as she looked in on the two. Dressed in lace up stiletto heels and pink leggings, a lavender tutu, and a ripped black t-shirt, the girl with the jet black hair was still in her white bathrobe. “Hey Crissy… glad you could make it!” was said with enough sarcasm to induce a scowl from her. Holy crap, cosply anyone? Shot through Marcus’s head.

She set baby Luci in her carrier beside the couch checked her binky and turned. “You fucker! You couldn’t get coffee going yet?” “We just got here! I haven’t had time yet!” Jake said knowing that he should get it started so that she could get her work done. Marcus noting that Jake’s last name was Italian so the yelling wasn’t misunderstood. The baby far enough away, Crissy bit at the filter of her cigarette, pulled it out and placed half of it back into the tube before lighting it. Tossing the other half of the filter onto the floor, with the other dozen or so dust bunnies of cotton. “Have they met yet?” she asked Jake. “Not yet, we just got here and haven’t had the time.” Clicking on the coffee maker he motioned for Marcus to come with him.

He walked up to a futuristic looking doorway of some kind and reached inside his shirt for his tags. Taking one out and holding against a red pad and using a retina display at the same time. Marcus heard a tone and a series of clicks and hisses. The door opened and inside was S.O.A.P. IV; Marcus was going back to that Hollywood connection thing again because this was out of this world.

“His window is really shrinking fast!” Bennett said to President Bowman from NORAD. Dr. Kelly was on her way but had not arrived yet. Bennett was doing some heavy thinking about gravity and pull. His astrophysics scores in college were less than average at best, because he never took it.

“He’s at Benning with Baker, check in with him” Bowman said as he hung up. Bennett was reaching for his cell phone when Anne showed up. “What’s the plan?” she said as she put down her purse and coat. “The plan is a flying man” he said flatly. Anne was crushed… what kind of crap was this! “Watch this!” Bennett said as he watched her face turn red. It was a few second video from the front of the S.O.A.P. hangar at Benning. It showed Marcus coming down to the ground and crumpling. Anne looking unfazed replied “So someone fell out of the sky?” And this! Bennett added sharply as he clicked the mouse again. It was another short clip of the same guy. Was he homeless? She was thinking. “This was taken at the White House a half hour earlier.” It showed the homeless looking guy start to jog and…Fly off? Anne’s jaw was hanging open it seems to be a human condition, this hanging of jaws.

“He is getting into a spacesuit and going to fly up there and save us!” Bennett said as if he were reciting a fairy tale to a small child with that syrupy goo of fake sincerity. “Where did he come from? Why only now?” The second of Anne’s questions more of a cry. “He is a cook from Seattle; named Marcus Downs; wife Lori.” He then rattled off Marcus’s rap sheet going back to when he was five. He was suspected of burning down the garage of a home across the street from his, up to his DUI just a few years earlier. “He’s nobody! What the fuck?” Bennett said frustrated. Anne was going back over the video a few more times thinking it was a trick… nope she thought. Same homeless dude. “He is going to be “in flight” by 1700 hours. We need to get some numbers together or this guy might just speed up our demise.” “Let’s get to work!” It was an order and one that for some reason was more than happy to comply with. A frozen close up image of Marcus still on the big screen. She looked up and inside said humbly ‘May the meek inherit the Earth… save us homeless dude…’

Chapter Twenty Six

“Robert Downey Jr. Much?” Marcus laughed as he saw the humongous suit. “Really?” he looked at Jake who had heard it all before and had his reply down. “The Solo Orbital Armament Platform …Mark Four is based on a design that mankind has been improving on since the Middle Ages.” This must be in the brochure Marcus thought. Jake continued the tough sell “The concept of this suit has been in the design mode for over sixty years. Inspired by warfare operations and previous orbital experience. The S.O.A.P. unit is by far the most advanced military vehicle in history.” “That only can be used in orbit! and they scrubbed the shuttles!” Crissy gleefully chimed in, almost elated at the moronic irony of the military industrial complex. “This unit has more technology than the space shuttle!” Jake bit back defensively. “So does my Dell dude!” she piped. Jake knew when to stop turning her up, unless he wanted to hear it for the rest of the day. He would let his brother deal with that one. “And it comes with the best panties!” she added as she was opening a control cover on the right thigh of the suit. “Oh yeah, that may be a problem?” Jake looked like he had something else to say but didn’t know how. “I’ll make him a set!” Crissy eagerly said. “You just go ahead and do that.” Jake replied as he turned to Marcus who was still looking at the suit. Wondering what the hell they were getting at? “She’s gonna have to take a scan of your junk sir.” “Huh?” Marcus looked like he didn’t know what junk meant, but he was just kind of shocked. “She is going” Jake started to repeat himself when Marcus cut him off “I know what that means! But why?”

“The S.O.A.P. unit is fully recycling sir, able to operate for up to fourteen days by itself. Your waste is part of that system.” ”Fourteen days but only forty minutes of fuel time!” Crissy added. Then asked “Are you gay? Or Bi?” “What? No!” Marcus sniped back.”Crissy!” Jake cut her off forcibly. “I was just gonna say that it makes it a bit easier!” she almost whimpered. “Enough!” Jake ended it there. He continued to show Marcus the different tools and their locations Marcus realized then that this really was a war suit. Weapons and gear was laid out on the table in front of them Jake removing most of it. He showed Marcus the grappling tether and poppers that he was going to have available at least.

As she went back to the other side of the lab to get the 3-D scanner warmed up, Marcus turned to Jake and asked him what the deal is with her? Turns out she was one of those geniuses that was not even twenty-one yet. Who… as Jake tells it… has repaired or improved and in some instances, completely redesigned the fancy plans that they sent with the units that didn’t work. “These work because of her and her alone” Jake said with a sigh, like it was a curse that came with the job. Marcus smiled at him and said “I just love family” as a jab at Jake who cracked a smile then and continued to open up the suit cavity.  Baker arrived just about then “We have a deadline. 16:30 airborne. Anything after that and the Earth’s gravity will have too much pull. How are we doing here?” “On schedule sir!” Manginelli answered sharply. Colonel Joshua Baker spent the longest time right then just checking Marcus out without saying a word. Then cocked his head… smiled and said “Carry on men, carry on” as he turned and left through a cloud of steam.

 

Lori found the books finally underneath a large clipboard that Marcus uses to sketch on in his den. She looked through them with her third cup of coffee of the day; she found a few that matched up with his pictures. The petroglyphs, pictographs and cave paintings in the book were from all over the world and of varying ages. The Lascaux Cave Paintings from France were the centerpiece of course. But as she was trying to match up more than just the water glyph and hand glyph that were common, she couldn’t find much more that matched. Checking Marcus’s office for anything else on it she found a few more books on Native American and Indigenous American peoples. The first she picked up was from a Dr. Victoria Lien PhD in Indigenous Cultures/ Anthropology/Anthrobiology from the University of Washington – Native American Folk Stories and Legends. It had a bunch of glossy pages in the middle that could be seen from the side. Pictures! So Lori opened it up to them first.

She saw the first one she recognized with a caption underneath of it. Ancient Ruins in West Central Idaho – along the Snake River. The story of beings that came from the Stars and a Galactic War was recorded by Native Americans and is over 30,000 years old. The ones inside the cavern matched them almost perfectly. While the ones in the rock break cave were much later, and matched up more with the known Pacific Northwest mythos and symbolism. She really wished she could talk to Marcus or use the internet. She could get ahold of Jonathan maybe and get some more answers. But she knew deep down whatever her goofy old husband found was older than dirt, and it scared the living daylights out of her. Scooping up Hobbes from the floor she said to the polydactyl cat. “Your daddy wouldn’t go if he didn’t think he could do something.” She paused on that and gave it some thought and realized she was right. Why not believe in him even more now, it’s worked for years. She may die, but at least she could die proud that he at least tried. “I love you honey” she said aloud as she looked up and closed her eyes.

Four hangars over in darkened quarters a red light came on and began flashing. Commander Ron Gronning rolled over in his bunk and stared at the light unblinking. “What?” was all he said with a curious and defeated breath. Rolling back over and then back again to see if it was still on? “Shit!” He knew what that meant, that he had to get his ass in gear to prepare a flight. But what kind of flight? And why today? Can’t we all just die in peace? He began to dress and put on his boots. Mumbling under his breath that he didn’t deserve to be kept prisoner by the government at the end of the world. He had put in his time and he trained enough guys; wasn’t that enough? Then he remembered something he always told his trainees… that he would be doing this for the rest of his life…every day, practicing, learning and growing. Just so that he can do it all again the next day. “Gron?” he heard the familiar voice of his old friend Baker. “Yeah!” he answered.

Poking his head into the room Baker just smiled and said “We got a plan! Get Vinnie warmed up! 1600!” The Commander just nodded and waited for his head to catch up with his body. The blackout curtains throwing a bright beam onto the floor in front of him. He looked up at the door where Baker had been and whispered under his breath a bit “A plan?”  “Vinnie” was the nickname for VEMAC a Lockheed C-130H – Hercules. With enough wiring and power plants to be in the same neighborhood as a small city. The guys got tired of acronyms and decided to just name it… it was the test platform for the suit. It’s a good thing the Commander could do this in his sleep. He wasn’t quite sure if he was going to wake up. In no hurry he strolled toward the tarmac with an easy gait. Baker was soon on the phone with J.B.L.M. “General Moyer please…Now!”

Chapter Twenty Seven

The numbers were coming in from a variety of sources; a number of satellites were destroyed in the big rush to launch. Some satellites hit directly, others by the floating dildos the missiles became after their fuel ran out. Unarmed they were going to be a bit of a problem to clean up if there is an Earth for them to fall to.

Anne was doing her best with the incomplete data, trying to find the most probable success scenario. As in where to push this rock? “We are really going to get one tiny pin of chance to pop this balloon” she said to Bennett. Bennett was waiting for a Colonel Baker to link up with him via the Military’s heavily encrypted version of Skype. “I know! Why do you think I brought you back?”  “Because I’m cute and you were lonely” Anne tried kidding with Agent Bennett. Does he ever smile? She thought to herself as she got back to work, shrugging off the rejection. They were almost alone in one of the many command centers the mountain had. It was a medium sized one used for Ops missions that were sometimes known and sometimes unknown. This particular one was being used solely for Afghanistan for years. So it was being emptied out when the news came about 2012da14. There was one other person in there. A Lieutenant was watching the screens that were on. Silently just going about his job as if nothing were amiss. “Do you know anything about this system?” Anne asked him pointing to the one she was working on. After a moment Lieutenant Finn Saxegaard realized he was being talked to. “Yes ma’am, I know everything about that system. What would you like it to do? Maybe the Macarena?” Anne was relieved that not everyone had lost their humor. “I need it to link up with that satellite sv74 there” she said pointing to a visual display of the satellites in orbit. “That’s not ours ma’am” he told her in a matter of fact snip. “Who’s’ is it?” Anne queried. “It’s Russian and it’s one of their newer ones.” “Does that mean that we can’t get into it?” “Not at all we can get into it in a heartbeat!” he replied happily. “Do you read Russian?” Anne saw his point immediately. Bennett still waiting with a land line stuck to his ear spoke up “I do…fluently.”

At the uppermost tip of a trail near Mt. Baker, Washington. An old and weathered gentleman with long gray hair sat by a small fire. The rain was steady and he sat cross legged on a few boughs of cedar. Around him sat objects from his past and the past’s past.

An arrowhead, a few stones with various symbologies, feathers; and an opened calfskin pouch containing various stones and crystals. Metal objects, beads and wampum were there as well. The old man had set them around him before he began his meditation and prayers. Deep into meditation and chanting words of a language all but lost to the winds. He was unfazed by the rain and the wind and the cold of the afternoon. He came to pray until the event occurred. His way of being with his Mother and Father and all those who ever were… while the world was dying. In his meditation he saw the ending in great detail and it troubled him heavily. He also saw a current friend and an Ancient One standing side by side in the Sun. His meditation was broken at that time and he opened his eyes slowly. The rain was stopping and the Sun was coming out in all of its warmth. These were good signs Jonathan thought to himself as he looked into the sky and to the Sun. “Yei one… You have given me honor” he said to the sky using the name he gave Marcus so many years ago. A smile cracked across his wrinkled mouth, but you would have to look very hard to see it.

Chapter Twenty Eight

“I’m going to need to get you naked!” Crissy said to Marcus as Jake was briefing him on the suit. Marcus just made some kind of sound, not even a word really. Jake said “She just says stuff like that for the shock value.” “I have to make your panties!” she said in a voice that was just this side of a whine. “She does.” Jake told him. She had use the 3-D scanner to make a CAD of his “junk” as they were calling it.

Technically it was from L-3 to mid-thigh but his genital areas had to be included for the catheters. As Crissy was sharing this valuable information Marcus just heard the word catheters. “Catheters? as in more than one!?” “They didn’t tell you?” Crissy said almost too pleased to be the one to get to do so. “Yeah! After I make your underwear (she had noticed his dislike of her using the word panties) there will be one going in both ends! Along with the two in your arms!” she WAS happy to be the one telling him. Her grin made her look strikingly too much like the Joker in Batman. Jake then slapped Marcus on the shoulder and said “Welcome to black ops! Gonna have to give you a call!” Jake didn’t mean a phone call but rather a call sign. Marcus knew that and was afraid to say anything else at the moment, in fear of being called Fruit Loops or T-Bone. She had him step inside the four foot high cubicle for a Keeblers Elf. It just looked like a laminated wooden box with no top and a entrance door. He stood on the glass plate that was the base. It had positions for his feet and he stepped into them knowingly. “You’re gonna have to take the ring off!” Crissy said as she stepped a few feet to the right in front of a control panel. “Nope. I can’t do it!” Marcus said intoning there was no option no matter what.

 

This was his basic white gold wedding band. What it meant to him encompassed way more than a piece of circular metal. Lori was his everything, really everything to him. This was the piece of her that he could actually hold onto in times of trouble, or thoughts of her. “Nope” he said again as the thoughts ran through his mind. “Well then hold it way above your head, ok?” “I can do that” Marcus replied flatly. “Now drop your boxers and toss them outside the box. Don’t worry! I can’t see anything from here cause I am too short.” Marcus took off his boxers and tossed them close to the unit. “This is going to take a minute or two.” The unit clicked on and Marcus saw green and red lines criss-cross his lower torso and legs. “Don’t move a muscle!” She said over the hum of the machine She left and went to tend to her little girl. With no day care and this being then end of the world and all she just brought her in with her. The machine stopped and a few beeps came from the control panel. Crissy yelled at him that he could get dressed now. As he was buttoning his shirt she walked up to the control panel and hit a few buttons. Then looked at Marcus like she was putting the two images together in her head, eww he shuddered. He then asked her for something to write with and a few envelopes if she could find any.

Baker was at the communications desk in the glass room atop the hangar. He was being linked in with a guy named Agent Bennett from an agency that Baker had already forgotten the acronym of. It was coming from NORAD and both sides have been briefed up to a certain point. Jon was at the computer trying to find a solid link. Technically Jon worked for the FCC, another invisible paper man that was on the squad from the get go. A Pro communications specialist and radio guy. His last name still unknown to everyone including Baker.

“I think I have it sir?” he said as he moved away from the computer to let the Colonel sit down. It was Bennett and the link would be solid for another eight hours Jon informed him. And like always he disappeared without notice.  Baker and Bennett traded gratuities and information for the next twenty minutes. Bennett introduced Anne to the Colonel and informing him on her role as a defacto Mission Control. Baker liked to plan everything and these two just put a few wrenches into his plans. But they were right he thought and his gut and heart told him that this was part of the big deal too. He would go along. “Jon!” he cried and Jon was already right beside him “Yeah?” “Keep this open and get me if something comes up.” Nothing more was said the men were professionals.

Chapter Twenty Nine

“What it basically is, is a jumpsuit that fills up…””I got this!” Jake started before Crissy jumped in. “It’s a carbyne-graphene suit, etched with seamless integrated circuits, micro mass spectrometers, and nano cone structures” she spouted. Marcus was seeing why she was here a lot more now. “It uses interfacial materials met at the atomic scale, in this case nano diamonds in the exoskeleton that act as optical switches connecting the two. All encased in a Carbyne-G armored shell” “That’s enough!” Dr. Ripley shut her down as she walked into the lab. The tall woman didn’t need to say it twice. “Do you realize how much protocol you have just breached with that little pitch?”

Crissy cowered a bit into the corner and addressed the Doctor in her childlike voice that irritated the crap out of Marcus. “I have his underwear here for you. Captain.” “Good! Baker sent me down here to hurry you all along. You know how he is on plans.” That meant now to Jake and Crissy and they went into full speed. Doing system checks and adjustments as the Doc attached the all too intrusive undergarment. In doing so she accidently punctured one of his welts a bit and some fluid came out. She swabbed it up without thinking about it and placed the swab on the examination tray. “What is it made of?” Marcus asked her before she went into the worst part of the procedure. “Mostly riboflavin really” She said looking up at him. “Vitamin B-2?” she added seeing the searching look on his face. She gave her lab coat to him before he stepped out from behind the screen. He handed her two envelopes and told her what to do… she understood.

He then walked embarrassingly over to Jake who was standing by what looked like a short trash can. “Step in here” he was instructed. He put one foot into the leg of a rolled down wet suit kind of thing, then the next foot.     Over the next ten minutes they stretched and pulled the suit over every crevice of Marcus’s body. There was no way that Jake could fit into this was there? Marcus then had the various catheters and tubes checked. Two were in the crotch region for the obvious reasons. Also one in each arm which would be hooked up as well. Left arm; outgoing: blood chemistry, cell count, stress levels, adrenaline levels. Right arm; incoming: a series of nutrients and drug delivery venues. They were in the bottom center of each forearm and Marcus winced only a bit now. He was “walked” over to the huge nine foot alter ego. That was sitting there looking like some kind of futuristic iron maiden.

As he stood there and looked at it, it hit him he was wrong. It was no Downey Jr., it looked to him then like the predator sans dreadlocks -with full body armor! Jake had gone over all of the gear that he had on him and it was impressive. Most would be turned off as not to kill someone, most likely himself. Marcus took a deep breath and stepped into the suit… stepped into the suit…. was helped into the suit. It rolled a bit and Marcus just shot Jake a look of fear. “It’s got wheels! Cool huh?” like it was something he just ‘forgot’ to tell him. Marcus looked at him again and gulped.

Lori had just made a snack for herself, lunch wasn’t quite going to cut it when she heard the sirens. It was two M.P. Humvees from the base. She had seen them a million times before but they were pulling up to her house. One on her lawn! Oh! One M.P. got out from each passenger seat and jogged toward the door. She was already on the way there to yell at them about her yard! “Mrs. Lori Downs? Wife of a Marcus Downs?” They blurted before she could get one angry word out. That took her off her heels for a moment, and with a blank look on her face “Yes!?” she answered. “We have orders to take you to the base; It’s about your husband.” “He’s fine ma’am” the other one said before she could ask. “Come with us immediately ma’am there’s no time now for talkin!” he said again obviously a southern kid. She turned and grabbed her coat from the hook by the door.   Looking for Hobbes she found him out by the Humvees with a quick glance. “Doors open bud… Mom will be home as soon as she can.” She said to the cat as he was by then busy licking himself and running away as the M.P. ran towards the vehicle’s door. Lori just sat in the backseat staring at the rear of the front one trying to figure out what this was all about. Marcus had nothing to do with the military… he was just a cook! Off they sped through wreckage and other debris once they left the neighborhood. The M.P.’s admiring the Howitzer on the way out.

 

CNN had never stopped doing something. Whatever they could squish onto the air about the asteroid, the violence, the fires, they would put it up. The problem was connectivity and that was sparse at best.

Outside the gates of Ft. Benning was a small crew covering some church protesting in front of a chain link fence. They blamed the military for everything and even picketed funerals of soldiers. They were not live but they were close enough to Atlanta, CNN’s headquarters that they were being uploaded straight from the truck to the tower. In the far background three figures crossed the runway very slowly. Noticing the size of one the ever diligent cameraman quickly zoomed in on them then back out and onto the protest once more. The cameraman took note of it but quickly filed it away. They had an American flag and were about ready to light it, a staple at protests right? The cameraman continued filming the desecration.

Commander Gronning was in ‘Vinnie’ or V.E.M.A.C, Vehicular Electronic Monitoring Advanced Control, or a lab that flew. The ‘Pilots’ as they were called dropped out of a dough hook looking thingy. It was built into special bomb bay doors. They use their jets for a few minutes and then punched the glide button. A wing suit and specially designed high altitude chutes were designed for the possibility of an orbital entrance.

This made it handy for testing the suits in atmosphere, but never tested from space. For the fact that they haven’t gone up into orbit yet; and that the Government does not want to test a few billion dollar suits ‘testing’ a theory. That being that the pilots could even survive reentry, let alone their precious and now defunct suits. Not his gig but it was a good way to make some cash at the end of a great career. He had been looking forward to his retirement. All he had to do was to fly this rig a few times a month, if that. He had trained countless men to follow the instrument panel and check their gauges often, fly right was his motto. Going over the planes big book checklist and warming up the beast for his final flight. He was bummed…he loved to fly.

Coming up onto the planes rear cargo doors were three figures. He recognized Jake at once with his freakish red hair holding a ‘lid’ with Baker and someone in a ‘can’ his lingo for the suit. “Get him hooked up!” Baker snapped at Jake as soon as they hit the planes deck. Jake knew Baker was more bark than bite but he never wanted to see it challenged. He was a good leader and an honest one, a combination Jake found little of so far in his career. Jake led Marcus up to some kind of docking station and rolled him into it then locked him down; connecting up a lead. Looking at Marcus in his suit made him feel small. Not on the outside but on the inside, just for a moment. Baker and Gronning were in the cockpit going over the plans as the cargo doors closed on Vinnie. Marcus was not cold but he was not warm either, it was his nerves. In the last twenty or so hours he had become and done things he never thought possible for him. Not the flying part; that was really one of the easiest things to accept.

But the doing part of what he just pulled had hit him. The look must have been plain as day on his face Jake looked up at him from a tablet hooked up to the suit. “You don’t look so good” he said plainly. “We haven’t even tested this idea yet!” Marcus’s nerves were getting to him “What’s that?” he questioned right after that feeling something weird in the suit. “It’s the suit inflating. It will take about three minutes and let me know if it binds or feels folded somewhere?” “Ok?” he responded as he felt this suit fill up around him. It felt like he was being submersed in gel. A very comfortable and somewhat erotic feeling gel.”What is it filling up with?” Marcus asked Jake as if it were some kind of secret. “Nothing!” Jake looked for the surprised look. Wait for it….there! He saw Marcus trying to figure it out. “That’s the interfacial material! Feels cool huh?” “Yeah” Marcus said with a sound that was lecherous even for his taste. “You know what you are feeling?” “Unuh?” he drooled out. “That’s the inside of your body! That is one side of the suit interfacing with your skin. Making your skin not skin anymore, sort of.” Marcus looked horrified, but realized Jake was fine so he should be…right? “At least you didn’t have to get one of these!” Jake turned and lifted up the back of his non-regulation length Viking fire red hair exposing the back of his neck. “Whoa?” Marcus muttered while still feeling the strangeness of the suit filling. “This isn’t my first rodeo… you’ll be ok Chef… you’ll be ok…” Jake said as he turned to tend to the ‘lid.’

Chapter Thirty

“They didn’t build these for comfort did they?” Lori finally broke her silence. They were coming into the base and had just run over, into and around a few car lots worth of debris. Rough ride would be an understatement. Now inside the gates the M.P.s drove faster on the cleared roads. But it was right up to a large black three story glass building only a few hundred yards into the base. “This way ma’am” they ordered. Damn she hated to be called that. She wasn’t that old, was she? And what was with the parking on the lawn business? Did they train that? She was escorted inside and immediately up some stairs to the third floor. Inside a computer room that looked like those fancy ones on TV shows like NCIS and such was a short white haired woman

“Mrs. Downs?” she inquired as she turned. “I’m General Moyer…Just call me Darla.” Lori was motioned to sit at the chair the General was standing by. Not in uniform at the time it was hard for Lori to take in at first. Here is this little old lady in her early sixties Lori thought, and she’s a General? Wasn’t there a height requirement? “It appears your husband is up to something” she said in a manner that a principle would talk to a parent about their child. Lori was hearing and seeing a little General clearer now. She motioned for someone to flip a switch and the monitors came on in front of her. One was that damn feed from a satellite following the infernal rock. One was a map of the world but just outlines like those in airports that track flights. The big one in front of her was of an airport runway looking out of a cockpit. Lori looked at the little woman and asked “What has this got to do with my husband?” “That airplane picture is from Ft Benning Georgia. Your husband is going to be on that plane!” Darla could tell by the scared woman’s reaction she had no clue. She grabbed Lori’s hand and sat down next to her and said “Here’s what I know dear.” Over the next half hour both were crying over lousy husbands and good men; and a half box of tissue for them each. Darla just looked at her and finished with. “At least someone isn’t willing to give up! you should be proud. I am not one to have faith in men. But something tells me I may just be wrong this time.” They waited forever for the Captain to remember they were there and turn around the camera. Giggling a bit at themselves staring at a blank runway on TV. Darla brought Lori some coffee and she had hot chocolate with little marshmallows. “Best thing on TV in years!” the General filled in. They laughed.

The old white haired man had gathered his things and come down from the hills. Jumping into a brand new beautiful Forest Green Jaguar; and tossing his belongings on the passenger seat. He had a long drive ahead of him but he had to do it, the visions were strong. Finding the key at last, he started the engine and proceeded to do his best Jeff Gordon impression. Down gravel roads and through war zone like conditions the old man raced. The rain had not begun again, another good sign thought Jonathan as he tapped the display. After a few pecks it blasted some Journey into the speakers. It seemed all to appropriate to him…Don’t Stop Believing! This was good as well. On the display a red light came on… he laughed “120 is not too fast!” he instructed the car over the music.

 

On the back of Jakes neck was a disc about two inches around implanted just underneath the skin. It was connected to his spinal cord and had a tiny blinking red light. “This is my plug” Jake said in a voice that was as depressing as he had heard him so far. Sounding like it was a bane from the Scarlet Letter he went on “It hooks up my eyes and ears and head even to S.O.A.P.” “It looks cool as hell but painful” Marcus said sympathetically. “Oh it doesn’t hurt…But it’s messing with my head I think?” Jake continued not wanting to sound like he had too big of a weakness. “Can they take it out?” “Not without the chance of damage” he replied defeated; “That’s why the video won’t work when you are up there.” He continued “It goes through my eyes and records what I am seeing. When you are up we will be eyes blind on you.” “Does that hurt us much?” Marcus asked and then saw the eye roll Jake was giving him.

Colonel Baker and Commander Gronning came back at that time to check on Marcus’s status. Jake reported him to be ready and excused himself. “How do you feel sir?” Baker asked Marcus. Marcus a good ten years older than Baker didn’t like to be called sir, especially from someone in a uniform. “I’m getting used to the feeling of the thing still but I’m ok! ….. But hey! We haven’t even tested this thing out?” “This is the test!” Baker said checking his watch “What the fuck do we have to lose? …Oh I’ll be back in a minute! I have someone that needs to talk to you.” He jogged off towards the cockpit. “What do ya think?” it was Commander Gronning looking up at him. “I’m fine” Marcus lied to him; “Sure you are! Fucked up, insecure, neurotic and emotional. Yeah! You’re FINE alright.” Gronning continued “You won’t have the neural interface that they do, so I will be in charge of your HUD display.” Marcus nodded understanding everything so far surprised him a bit. “I will be putting up all of the basics on the bottom. Keep checking them to make sure you are on course. The waypoint will be marked with a triangle. Make sure to keep the triangle together ok? Ya know what I’m sayin?” Gronning finished. Marcus nodded and sucked up some more of that courage thing that he kept on hearing about.

“I have trained a lot of guys. I know if they can fly or not. I believe that you can do this if you don’t give up!”

Commander Gronning was being personal there with him and that made Marcus feel a little better inside. The plan was to take Marcus up to high ceiling; open the cargo doors; point him in the right direction; and let him fly to the uninvited guest. Use the suits thrusters to move the rock and fly home.   Easy thought Colonel Baker… What was I thinking? His next thought. 1600 hours perfect! He grabbed the camera that was pointing out the window on a holder. He looked at it and checked that they had a connection using the plane’s communication hub. Checking in with NORAD and JBLM to make sure everyone was ready. He got the Roger from all of the teams then he started to bring it back into the cargo bay. “You can always call me!” Gronning said to Marcus as he headed back to the cockpit.

Chapter Thirty One

In Atlanta one of the few remaining workers at CNN was Director of the News Department Gene McCarl. His family was out of the state visiting relatives; he was simply caught as one of the last guys on duty. He being a vet he was not about giving up his post. Gene was scanning the uploads from the last few hours. Trying to put something on the Network that was different. Most of the content was simply silent video clips or all too repeated stories. There were few if any real reporters out there; and they were covering stories that were in areas hardest to connect to. It was in a loop of some nuts at a base somewhere when a huge close up. A Giant zipped past his eyes and back so fast he had to roll it back. That was different… after watching film and video for years; he seldom if ever questioned what he saw while reviewing footage. He looked at it about four times before trying to clean it up a bit and to clip it out completely.

“What do we have here?” he said aloud to himself. He cleaned it up and zoomed in on the head of the giant robot. Not caring a bit, and losing his marbles to the reality of the day. He threw a headline under it and put it in the Counter. When it came up a few minutes later on the Cable News Network; all that was there was a really good picture of Marcus’s head coming out of a robot. The headline read – Is there Hope? As the only positive thing on air it spread throughout the scattered connections and different areas over the bits of internet still available. Within the next few hours it was appearing on every screen and radio story around the globe. – Is there Hope?

At Joint Base Lewis McChord  Lori and Darla saw a freeze frame of Marcus on one of the monitors. Millisecond later the camera started shaking on the larger one in the middle. Lori recognized him immediately and General Moyer recognized the base. Her having been stationed there for over twenty years, long ago, “Oh God! They have eyes there!” the General piped out as she stood up and had to walk over and press a button. “Baker? They got a peek at your costume!” she said over a mic that was nowhere to be seen. “Baker’s face was immediately on the big screen and he looked at the lens kind of giggling and said “Who cares?” He was right she thought. All those years of training really didn’t mean that much now. The jiggling image reminded Lori of Marcus’s little videos.

In a moment it began to stabilize on the curious face of her husband. He was in what looked like a scuba suit and inside something else. She could only see the top of the S.O.A.P. unit on the screen. She heard him ask. “What’s this?” to someone. Lori then said “Hi Honey!” to the invisible microphone in the room. Marcus’s face lit up in surprise and then tears of joy; and a smile that looked like it hurt in that get up. “Hi Honey” he said almost like a child in trouble. He looked at Jake who was now holding a tablet with a live feed of Lori. Then to Baker saying Thank You without words. “I have to try this honey. You know how I love to surprise you!” he said lovingly. “Why did you just leave?” she asked, tears starting to well up. “I didn’t want to wake you!” “I’m scared honey” she said. “I am too, but I have to try” Marcus and Lori felt that they would not see each other again in those moments. There was nothing but an ominous gut feeling that told them that. Call it love, call it intuition, something inside of them both just didn’t feel right. “I love you Bunches! Give Hobbes rubs for me…and tell him I’ll be home soon.” That last line was for her and she knew he was being strong for her… and for everyone else. “Ditto” she said and blew a kiss at the camera before the other end started shaking again and the screen went wider. Leaving her to hear and see the whole picture of what her husband had gotten himself into. “Holy crap!” Were the words that escaped her lips just then. The General just said “You got that right sister!” as she sipped on her cocoa.

About that time a scraped and dented brand new green Jaguar; pulled up to one of the streets blocked off by the neighborhood watch. Taking the old guy driving up fast as some sort of threat, Jim Wilson. Major-General Retired, held up his old M-1 carbine.  “Halt! Who goes there?” the old soldier requested.   He saw an old guy in the car then and wasn’t as scared. But the guy was pounding on his door which didn’t make him feel any easier. The dented door of the Jaguar burst open just then to allow someone four inches wide to escape. Looking up at the grizzled vet Jonathan just said “I need to get to the Downs’!” Jim didn’t quite hear him “huh?” he muttered. “The Downs’!” Jonathan tried to yell again.

Old Jim’s ears were playing tricks with him and he thought about what the guy said for a good solid minute. He swore the guy said he wanted to get down? There were no dances tonight! Jonathan waiting for a response was thinking he may have broken the old guy.  “Marcus and Lori Down’s! I know where they live! You are just blocking the road!” Jonathan’s patience had worn half thin his voice louder. Well poor old Jim didn’t know who he was talking about; but the guy didn’t look like too much trouble. “I don’t know em. Let me move Jeff’s truck!”

It took the old vet a good five minutes to back the truck up about ten feet. Jonathan was waving at him as he sped through the opening. “Whoa! Howitzer!” escaped his lips as he took the first turn past the road block. He pulled up to the familiar little house; he could tell nobody was home as soon as he crawled through to the passenger side and got out.

Hobbes was right there at his feet like always. Jonathan reaching down and patting his head asked the cat with the seven toed paws where his Mom and Dad were? “Excuse me? came a woman’s voice over Jonathans shoulder. It was Lori’s next door neighbor Laura. “Are you looking for Marcus?” she asked recognizing him a little before walking over closer. “Jonathan, Right?” He was a Dinner guest at least once a month at their house.

“Yes, and you are?” he said with a silkiness that only age and experience could give. “Laura, Laura Ridderbusch” she said as she stuck out her hand. Jonathan took it ever so daintily in his hand, “The pleasure is mine Miss Laura.” “They took Lori away about two hours ago” she continued. “She was upset about Marcus leaving Saturday night.”

They were neighbors and friends and Laura was one of those people Lori could talk about anything under the Sun with. When Marcus disappeared Laura saw her friend the next day taking out the recycling, asking her what was wrong. “Who are they? Laura?” he quizzed her wondering why she would think he knew. “Oh! The M.P.s from the base; they must have taken her to the base?!” she said embarrassed that she forgot to mention that part. “Thank You!” smiled the old man, then grabbing his driver’s side door and spending a minute pulling it all the way open. Taking a minute to get it closed as well before he sped off. He was glad to see that Wilson guy hadn’t moved the truck back by the time he got back to the checkpoint. Off he sped, a bigger smile crept onto his lips. But you would still have to look pretty hard to see it.

Chapter Thirty Two

The giant Hercules aircraft began to roll down the runway. Lori was looking on as some big redheaded guy was holding up a helmet and talking to her husband. There was sound but all you could hear were the plane’s engines. General Moyer and Lori were having a very civilian ladies afternoon, Lori felt like she had known this woman for years. While waiting for Baker to get his shit together they chit chatted about life, the end, and Lori’s husband. Moyer liked him from what she heard but not exactly tough enough for this old bird she thought.

Jake was explaining to Marcus what he would see and what it meant. Since he couldn’t tie into the suit through the neural interface; they were going to have to use remote command to operate a lot of the displays. He then slid on a headset and began talking to Marcus. “Check, check?” the speakers and mic apparently built into the condom suit. “I still need to know where I am going?” Marcus informed him again. “They have a lady at NORAD that is going to provide waypoints to operations command.” Jake was trying to go through a daylong checklist in just a few hours. Crissy has made all of the adjustments for size and compatibility at the main lab. But that still didn’t take away a huge job from the “Pilot.” “Sorry Chef… just got a lot to do still” Jake said as he stopped and looked up at the skinny old guy in his suit again.

“I don’t get much feelings anymore, but I’ve felt all day. In a part of me something I haven’t ever felt before I don’t think?”Jake opened up to Chef’ surprising himself. “Fear maybe?”Marcus questioned.

“No, I know fear real well Chef, this is just the opposite…but I don’t know which opposite?” Marcus was just about to say something when Baker broke in on the com from the cockpit. “Check, check?” Baker knew they could hear him and he just continued “fifteen boys.” Marcus and Jake just nodded at each other knowing they had to get busy with the lid. As Jake climbed up the stepladder to hook it up Marcus kept the previous conversation going. “Maybe its faith?” he said face to face with the red haired warrior, “Maybe its faith?” he said again as the helmet came over his head and hissed closed. Jake was mulling this over in his head when Baker broke in again. “Jake? Gron and I are going to head straight to Bermuda after this either way it goes, are you in?” “Hell yeah!” Jake said excitedly. “Chef! I hope to have a few days leave there! We believe this is gonna work. But if it doesn’t let me say thank you for giving us a fighting chance!”

“I didn’t do anything when you think about it really?” Marcus chimed in plainly. Thinking about something he wrote down recently he continued. “I am not here to save the world; I am here to save something else.” “I don’t know if I am just the messenger or what. But I couldn’t fly three days ago of that I am sure. So I think you owe your thanks to something or someone else. Whoever or whatever that may be.”

Baker was in the cockpit agreeing with the guy, Gronning nodding his head as well. Everyone on the linkups from JBLM to NORAD and Vinnie was surprised and jolted a bit. The next voice to come on the com was a familiar one. “Your leave is approved gentlemen; let’s hope its long like the Colonel asked.” It was President Bowman.

In a sub surface level of the White House President Bowman was watching everything as well. Agents Witte and Sanchez were there too. In the corner sat a technician wearing beautiful Gucci shoes with no socks and a nice bathrobe.

Sanchez had brought in an early dinner for them all from the only place to get Thai food in town, Thai Tom’s. The owner Jackris always charging Sanchez extra tax! Because he knew the big man was with the Government. They had seen and heard everything since Lori and Marcus did their couple thing. Agent Witte hiding a few wet ducts from the others when they did.

In the other Washington the guard at the gate looked really horrified to see such a nice car in this condition pull up. The old man asked about the M.P.s and assuming Jonathan was some kind of Lawyer; pointed him at the building a few hundred yards into the base. Jonathan was wondering why so many people were acting normal as if they had a more than a day to live. So many things were still working right.

The guard called ahead and a uniformed girl was at the door when he pulled up. Jonathan inquired to… Specialist Valentine about Lori. Who, after turning around to a duty desk and asking another uniform took Jonathan upstairs. Three flights? The old man thought to himself. He could hike uphill and down no problem but his knees hated stairs with a passion. “Wait here” she said as they went through the third floor doors. She disappeared into a room, then back out and into another and another. The third door must have been the prize winner. She motioned for him to come from a hundred feet down the hall.

As he popped into the room Lori cried “Jonathan!” and jumped up to hug her old friend. General Moyer must have approved because she straightened herself up and patted her hair. Introductions were made, and flirtations begun. Lori was filling him in that he was right on time. “On time for what?” Jonathan asked more than curious. She didn’t have time to explain at the moment, she just pointed at the large screen and said “Well for starters that’s Marcus.” Yei one and the Water Bearers” Jonathan said as he looked over to his left at the two women. Getting the double take from both of them at the same time as he expected.

Chapter Thirty Three

“I can’t see anything Jake!” he said after a few minutes in the lid. Jake tapped his pockets and found what he was looking for. “Sorry Chef forgot the contacts.” “Contacts?” Marcus replied like what was next? Body paint and a beer helmet?

Grabbing one of the tablets he was working with Jake made a few swipes on the screen; and the triple visor moved up layer by layer. Marcus could see now, Jake was on the step stool again opening up a small contact case. “Crissy made these for you at the last second. We almost forgot” he said as if he knew he just averted a fatal mistake. “Since you don’t have the neural you will have to use these.” He said as he popped one onto the end of his finger. “They are made with nano prisms that are aligned to a certain wavelength.” He said like everything about all of this was perfectly clear to Marcus by now.”Huh?” Marcus muttered. “People with different sets or pairs could see different things on the same display.” It still didn’t make sense to Marcus but he wouldn’t be able to see without them he was told. It must have looked pretty funny on the screen, this big guy trying to poke at the eyes of a giant robot.  Having never worn contacts Marcus complained for more than the standard amount of time that he couldn’t see. Jake grabbed a few tissues and patted his eyes for him. “Thanks…Hey! What is your call sign? If you are going to call me Chef then I need to know what to call you?” Marcus looked at him curiously. “They call me Thor” Jake said flatly… continuing “He had an anger issue also.” Jake swiped at the screen again and down came the visors; colorful full lit displays were everywhere. “Check check?” “Got it!” Marcus piped back.

Jake had done too many tours too few years and he was one of; if not the best war machine Uncle Sam had ever built. But his humanity was the stronger of his wolves, and his past…and present haunted him.

“Marcus? Marcus? Can you hear me?” it was a strange woman’s voice, “My name is Anne… Anne Kelly.” “Give us a minute Miss Kelly, yeah we can hear you.” Baker interrupted. They were running behind schedule by three minutes and he couldn’t have that. He looked over to the Commander, who had taken a pair of ten-speed handlebars and zip tied them onto the yoke when he first taken over the plane. Baker gave him the sign to speed this thing up and then the sign for what the hell is that? As he pointed to the handlebars? “Old Friend!” Gronning just said…. “Old friend.”  Baker took it at face value and contacted NORAD and Miss Kelly again to start this final launch up.

The redheaded guy was moving the camera again to show the back of the plane. Lori’s heart was pounding out of her chest. Too many emotions all at once and she started to cry again. Jonathan just wrapped an old but comforting arm around her. The General looking on, holding back her own tears.

“There there Mama Bear” he said to her in his pet name for her. She has heard him call other women that so she knew some of his tricks. “I think he is with old friends” he continued still trying to recall one of the oldest legends. “How does it go?” asked Darla curious about the story. “It is hard to remember legends after one has become one himself” he said. General Darla Moyer looked at him and countered “You just forgot and you are too embarrassed to admit it huh?” Gray Feather just looked over his shoulder at her “Yup!” Lori laughed at that and they went back to looking at the display.

At the White House the three men had moved to a different room, to accommodate the larger audience that was growing every few minutes at that time. The President drank Johnny Walker Red and Agents Witte and Sanchez coffee, there were beers and even popcorn at one time. The President was noting the ones that were going too far. Then it dawned on him that if this works he too may be out of a job. He did order a massive nuclear launch after all, didn’t he.

“You ready to walk?” Jake asked him as he grabbed a lever. He couldn’t see Marcus’s face through the shielding but heard him through the headset. “Ready!” Marcus said wondering if he should have taken a little more time. Jake put on a large coat and then a backpack with a mask attached to it. He then grabbed a belt with a carbiner attached. He threw the lever and the platform it was on lowered the three inches it was above the deck. Feeling and hearing clicks in the suit stop after a moment.

“Wheels are up! You are Go for walk!” ‘Thor’ said. Marcus tried to take a step and the suit moved amazingly easy. It was the balancing in the gel feeling that he had to watch. He walked in a little circle with four steps; that’s about all that the deck would allow anyways. “This is so cool!” Marcus said in his suit. “Gentlemen! We have a mission?”  It was the Colonel, ever watching the time.

Marcus tried to point himself at Jake so it would look like he was talking to him. “Jake! Have you got that feeling inside figured out?” “Nope” came a downer response. “Well since your call is the name of a Norse God maybe that’s what you are feeling?”A somewhat confused Jake replied “Thor?” “I dunno? I’m just saying that may be where you should look for the answer to your question?” Marcus said. “I’ll have to think on that!” Jake responded. “You just do that” Marcus finished. By that time they were at the rear cargo doors of the aircraft. Jake tapped the lid and motioned to Marcus that he was going to go to the front of the aircraft. He latched up his belt to a long cable going down the cargo bay and walked away. Jake just said “Thank You Chef” under his breath but audible to Marcus.

In Atlanta Gene McCarl was almost busy. The questions coming in about the mystery robot man were getting through. He just didn’t have any answers to give to anyone except location. He was using the news service’s brand new facial recognition software. But it was taking forever to find a head in a robot stack, so to speak. The strange thing to him was that there were three figures and faces. None of them turned up on anything! and that was odd. McCarl was still trying to get a response from anyone he could get in contact with in the Government. While he was on a land line to Benning for the hundredth time he noticed something that made him hang up and look. The military feed that someone had hacked into days ago before up and leaving… was moving! It had been following the asteroid from the same angle and position for the days now. Why was it changing now? Gene was getting excited to watch the camera on the satellite move ever so slowly to a new position, he was such a videofile.

Anne had to make sure that she and Lieutenant Saxegaard got this right. They were moving the satellite very slowly through almost undetectable thruster firings. She didn’t know what to do but she knew where she needed it. “Saxegaard was good” she was thinking to herself while the Lieutenant was thinking more along the line of “what the hell does this do again?” Anne shot out “Right there Lieutenant!” He gave her a look of pure relief and removed his now shaking hands from the controls.

 

Chapter Thirty Four

The huge rear cargo door began to move. Marcus was about two feet from the sloping metal slab and he began to feel fuzzy again. He could feel pressure beneath his skin that wasn’t skin anymore. The President’s voice began coming over the speakers in his helmet. “Marcus Downs you are embarking on…” Marcus broke in interrupting the President of the United States. “Mr. President. I am sure that you have some nice things to say, and they are all important and stuff.” “But we are just Men and if you want to continue just go ahead. But I would rather talk to my wife right now because I have to get going.” Marcus finished in a matter of fact manner.

Bowman was struck at first because he was interrupted but soon realized this was his second term and Marcus was right. Who was he kidding? Witte and Sanchez just started cracking up laughing at the situation as was half the staff that had found the room. “I’m here honey.” Lori’s voice came through a little weakly. She could still see him standing by the now fully opened doors of the aircraft on the monitor. “Honey?” he said “what is it dear?” Lori responded. “I’m going to miss you more.” He said “You don’t get that one Goofy” “Ok, but I wanted you to know that I didn’t mean to run away at a time like this.” “You didn’t” said Lori “I don’t know why all of this is happening honey?” Marcus replied in a scared voice. “Maybe it’s so everything else can still happen?” Lori said.

Gronning quietly interrupted “Sorry you two, but it’s time.” He said solemnly. “I love you bunches and lots!” Marcus said trying to emotionally snap back. “Ditto honey… I love you lots and bunches.” Lori’s face fell into her hands and she lost it. Jonathan and Darla knew they could do nothing but let her.

“Mr. Downs? This is Anne Kelly again at NORAD.” “Hello Miss Kelly” “Anne”- “Marcus.” Now that they had been introduced it was time to go. “Ok Marcus I am going to be sending coordinates to the plane. Commander Gronning is going to be relaying them to you ok?”

He already knew that but he didn’t know their methods. She continued “The suit has a display that you will follow. It has a direction to fly to and distance; I am going to be sending those.” “I will be pointing a laser at the places you will have to go to” Gronning broke in. “You will be able to see the laser and a few images that we have picked out!”  Marcus was thinking he was slow or something for not figuring out something that simple. But he was in a complicated suit and never thought the Government would ever do something lacking in a certain level of complication. “You have your first waypoint loaded Marcus.” “Got it” affirmed Marcus .

“Jake?” Marcus yelled like he was calling for someone in a room. “Yeah?” Jakes voice crackled more than the rest. “Will it work?” Jake shot back immediately “Sure it will Chef!” Baker broke in with a countdown from. Seven – Six. “How do you know it will work Jake?”- One. “I think it’s faith!” Jake said to him right before he stepped.

Marcus didn’t think twice, he knew he couldn’t. He stepped a few steps and there he went…upwards ! Commander Gronning and Colonel Baker decided to stay up then and watch the show for the time being. Bermuda could wait for now.

Chapter Thirty Five

He felt as different as he had ever felt before. He was warm for one, but the fuzziness and pressure were at levels that made him worry. His suit was working as far as he knew and before he realized it he was breaking through the Earth’s atmosphere. He didn’t actually know that, the suit was telling him that and the fuzzies were as well. It almost felt like the “fur” was continuing to grow around him. How could he have gotten so far so fast? He was thinking when the suit started talking again “Marcus! You are arriving already! Slow down!” It was Anne’s frantic voice. He was trying to believe her when he slowed around the target that was on the display. Looking at the image and the object he said “Step one complete!” At NORAD Anne was looking around in disbelief. Lieutenant Saxegaard handed her a piece of paper with some numbers on it. She looked down at it and gasped…A lot of numbers on it. “Do you have the number two location on board Commander?”

“Just getting it to the suit now ma’am” He replied. Snickering about the number two reference a bit.

He was awe struck at the Universe in front of him. He was able to see the Milky Way and the giant gas clouds that he could never see while at home. It made him feel like their entire expanse was in his grasp.

He came to understand so much about his place in it all while floating there for those moments. The picture changed in his display just then and brought him back to his task. “Got it there pilot?” it was Gronning again. “Yes sir, but I don’t know a direction yet?”

Gronning checked and everything was good on his side. “You’re sure you don’t see it?” Marcus was going through everything he was taught in the few hours before suiting up. All of it in his mind, and he was coming up blank. “I don’t have it yet sir.” Marcus started checking all of the displays and panicking a bit, his breathing getting noticeably faster over the mic. Nobody could figure it out and that was a problem.

“Stand by pilot.” Gronning came back a second later. Like he was going anywhere Marcus thought. Five minutes had gone by and Marcus observed he wasn’t really moving. Everything around him was moving a bit here and there and he could see that. But he stayed in one place like he was stuck there almost. He expected to be floating around at least and seeing more sights; but that was not the case. He was just getting ready to ask for Lori again to say sorry about it not working. A voice then came back over the suit’s speakers.

“Hey Chef!” It was Crissy, with her irritating voice toned down into something he could bear. “What number do you see on the very bottom on the left side?” “There are no numbers down there!” Marcus said like she should know. “Ok I think I know what it is, just a second.” “Do you?” asked Bennett right after that.

Bennett being the communications guy on this looked down at the monitor in front of him.   Crissy had texted that for the second laser director and also the waypoint marker; were from an obscure wavelength file. One that she did not have time to program into the display for the contacts he had on.  She simply converted the files to one of the wavelengths he could see, and promptly sent them up to Vinnie. Baker was wondering what the hell she was doing on the com but already really knew. Damn he disliked and loved that little Imp at the same time. Gronning switched to the new file and sent it along.  “Got it now pilot?” the Commander queried but got no response for too long. “I got it now” Marcus said not wanting them to know he was getting pretty severely ill.

It took him a second to do his thing because he felt like his stomach was kicking him. He defied physics once more and was soon at his second waypoint. “Step two complete!” It was an old Soviet Union rocket piece of unknown function that had been floating up there for almost fifty years. The display was working as it should and he went through another location of unknown space junk. “Step three complete!” It was time for his big waypoint where he got to meet the destroyer of Man.

Lori had been watching all of this along with Jonathan and Darla. She could speak to him if she liked but was too emotional to do any good to him. He was her everything too, and she was watching him slip away from her little by little. Jonathan saw and felt this too, but he did not share her dark feelings and hopelessness. “Lori, he is with friends remember?”

“I don’t know that! I don’t know” she almost angrily screamed at her dear friend. “I know you don’t dear. But if there is anything in your heart that still feels like there is light shining in it, you will know.” She tried to remember the way that Marcus would tell her not to make her Universe a Uniworse. To never give up, even though you don’t think you couldn’t go further. She tried and tried in those few moments but nothing broke through. She looked back at the screens in front of her and felt un-whole for the first time since they met.

McCarl in Atlanta had stopped watching the asteroid feed since it stopped moving. He was too preoccupied with the other news that just came over via his fancy software. It seemed that robot had a name and that it was married too. McCarl started reading the fact sheet from the service they used to scrub everyone, it wasn’t pretty. So McCarl just typed the guys name on the most commonly used picture going around… his cleaned up one. He then… for the first time in his career made a small recording and tossed it on an empty track. Five words was all he said. Marcus Downs cook from Seattle. Tossing the piece on the counter he was curious if anyone was going to see this crap.

Chapter Thirty Six

Marcus could see why they were doing this. 2012da14 was on the other side of the planet. With the information he had given them; they must have assumed it worked off of a line of sight principle. Instead of possibly sending him through the Earth to get there, he was just going around. He may have been able to fly anywhere and have powers too. But that would take too much time to figure out.

He was thinking that Lori laying there asleep sparked this mission, so it was all because of her that he was here. Anne had told him to hold on again while she got some numbers. He was good with that because this time he had a view of the Earth and even the Moon in the same field of vision. How cool is that he thought like a kid.

He was so small out there without the bonds of Earth but he did not feel small inside. It was not because he was doing some great feat or work of wonder. It was not because his ego had now exploded with self centeredness. He searched his mind for a word he could not find at the time. But no, he was not small inside. As he looked around as much as he could he thought “All of this could fit into a corner of my insides with room to grow.”

Anne was worried about the temperature of the rock since its materials were triggered by the warheads. “What is that suit made of?” she asked Bennett, who looked at her like how the hell was he supposed to know. “Well the telescope I was using for spectrographic purposes went down about five p.m. yesterday. So I have no idea if I am just sending someone into a furnace!” She snipped. She was frustrated, tired and emotional. Feeling all the work being done, all of it… was coming from her.

It was just not reality and she soon came back to common sense. “I need to know what that suit can withstand! And I need a way to take the temp of that flying bitch!” She rattled off to anyone that would listen, mean mugging everyone in the room.

Marcus didn’t know what was taking so long so he said “Lori?” Lori heard him clearly and she had to swallow hard just to answer, “I’m here honey.” “It’s so beautiful up here!” “I bet it is” she said softly. “I wish I could have hugged you one more time.” “I know me too.” “You tell Hobbes to be good ok.” “Ok I will.”

As they were speaking there was not a sound coming from anyone. Not at the White House or JBLM or NORAD silence was the rule. As a group of people around the country wiped their eyes a bit and understood the sacrifice being made by these two. “I’m sorry I should have tried harder to make you happy” Marcus said. “Oh honey!” She broke down over the connection a bit “I have not been unhappy since you came into my life!” Lori was able to get out through the tears. “I didn’t mean to get the last job out there” He said.

Lori realized the conversation was almost over, he was trying to make her laugh she thought. “Ok lady I love you bubye!” He then said to her, with a pet term he pulled from a cartoon year ago. “Bubye!” Lori replied in a false happy voice. “Hey guys! We have work to do! I have a wife to get home to!” Marcus said louder than normal to get their attention.

Lieutenant Saxegaard and Dr. Kelly were deep in the bowels of NORAD trying to garner any bit of information they could. Anne’s nerves were unraveling quickly under the pressures and she was just about to go snap nuts. Baker had informed them of what the S.O.A.P. IV was made of. But neither Baker nor anyone else on the team knew what the high temperature maximums were for CarbyneG.  Crissy was frantically searching through her assortment of secret Government databases. They were usually concerned with low end maximums she thought.

President Bowman was pretty sloshed by this time; he kept droning on with the old “we’ll never make it!” attitude. Agents Witte and Sanchez were then wondering if they should just slip the Prez a Mickey. To put him down for the time being…Seriously pondering this for a few moments both busted out laughing again.

NORAD had been able to contact the ESA- European Space Agency; and get the codes to one of their orbiting telescopes. They needed the thermal spectrographs that most these days carried. Having no problem communicating with the telescope the team in the mountain quickly punched in the coordinates.

It was just going to take forever to get it moved. The thrusters were almost out of fuel and this thing was made to move one way only…slow. The last temperature they had was in the twelve hundred degrees Fahrenheit range. A Linear acetylenic carbon metamaterial CarbyneG was five times as strong as diamond. But they did not have any available temperature scale to work with. It may be great in the icy coldness of space; but could turn around and melt at warmer ones. Anne was just standing there with her arms crossed. In the middle of a mountain and standing around some of the world’s highest technology. If she could not get what she needed here then they had no choice.

“Marcus?” Dr. Kelly said into the com. “Yes?” he answered having just waited four minutes. To him it seemed like five hours. “We don’t have anything that can help us here. “She said with a solemn voice. “Well ma’am I didn’t come up here to not finish this gig! Have you got the coordinates?” he came back.

“We have had them the whole time…but we didn’t want to send you into a nuclear inferno.” Dr. Kelly told him. “I really don’t think that matters now Anne. Listen… I’m a chef and I am used to working with hot things. Just get me close enough for me to get to it and we will see what happens from there ok?”

Baker hearing this squirmed in his seat on the plane a bit. Commander Gronning knowing his friends weaknesses started laughing at his old friend. “Sending now” said Anne as she pushed a computer key; feeling like she was the one who was ending the world with her keystroke.

Gronning looked at Baker with a hopeful look and one of terror all in the same. When he pressed his button he felt very much the same way Dr. Kelly did. A moment later over the link up around the country they heard. “Got it!”

Chapter Thirty Seven

Marcus looked at the image they sent up, but it wasn’t an image. It was the live feed of the asteroid, the demon.

In his display a red line extended in front of him. He was still feeling sick to his stomach. He tasted the iron in his blood, because he had been clenching his teeth too hard and bit his cheek. He was warm though he thought and after a moment his nerves were done doing their dance. It was too quiet in his head at that time. For a second he thought he was dying and racing through a tunnel. The furry feeling was almost receding into him this time when the motion of movement began. The pressure under his skin was more than he ever felt before. The welts were hurting again almost as painfully as when he was bitten. Then a kind of blackness came over his vision and the light began to fade into a gray. All of this lasted only moments. But in that time, that big space inside seemed to get much smaller.

They had heard “Got it!” from him almost ten minutes earlier. All of his previous waypoints took a mere minute or less to get to. Yes those numbers on the pieces of paper were that fast if they were accurate at all; with his flight time they had to be. They all waited, nobody chimed in not even the President none wanted to be the one to call this. They also didn’t want to spook him…

 

In Atlanta a bedraggled McCarl was waking up from one of his two hundred naps that week. Still sitting with feet up on an editing console, he was sore and tired. As he took his feet off of the table his eye caught something. Not remembering which monitor his eye was going by at the time. Sleepily he checked them again.

He had been seeing things for days now on the monitors. Some were real, some were not, so he wasn’t really excited when he saw the robot dude on hacked military feed. “Oh look at the little… man!” he said out loud and then “Little man!” and then with a shout “Little Man!!!” as he jumped up and down repeating himself again and again. Pointing at the picture to absolutely nobody like his team had just won the Super Bowl. He franticly switched the military feed onto the network live.

The teams saw it too at the same time… a little man. Lieutenant Saxegaard at NORAD was struggling to remember how to zoom in the satellite, once he got into that system again. For the longest time all you could hear in the room were the people breathing, Anne noticed. Every team was able to see him now; as well as a good number of people on the ground that still had connectivity.

From Brazil to Finland and South Africa to Detroit, a very large number of people on the planet saw this… little man. There was a calm inside they came to find. A reason to believe again, of a future now not wasted, but gained.

Marcus, believing that he was dying at that time had no idea he had stopped. “Marcus?! Marcus?!” he heard the voice faintly; becoming stronger as it repeating itself. It was Anne’s and she had a pretty voice Marcus thought just then. His consciousness was crawling out of a long hole, twisting and turning and trying to come fully to. The hole began to be a little brighter up ahead, and then a little more. “Marcus!? Marcus!? Dr. Kelly was just about to give up for a minute, When a cough came across the speakers in each teams location.

Lori breathing for the first time in minutes launched back in her chair and almost tipped backwards. As his vision came back to him he was still hearing the Doctors voice and wanted to reply but temporarily could not.

Ahead of him the only thing he saw was a burning landscape a few miles ahead moving towards him. It wasn’t moving fast but the human body has a reaction to falling that will make most people panic. Marcus was most people because it took him about two whole seconds. He was flailing and screaming in his head before he realized where he was and began… just began, to calm down. On the feed sent out now through CNN around the world Marcus would be seen, zoomed in on finally; at just the very end of this. It appeared to all like he was just getting his balance…something perfectly normal on Earth.

On speakers in each team’s respective locations, they all heard it. They had heard it a hundred times in movies and cartoons and for some others in real life. It was the scream of someone falling to their death for a few seconds laced with profanity and screaming and panting. Cringing at it all it lasted but a few seconds and was over.

Heavily breathing Marcus came over the speakers “Hey! I am falling here!” A chorus of cheers was heard through the speakers in his suit. “I’m falling here!” he repeated again.

From both Washington’s to a Mountainside in Colorado to a Plane in the air over Jacksonville FL and a hangar in Georgia people cheered. They got there at least…there was still one, last, best hope. We would not go silently into that good night…

Marcus was not so hopeful because what he saw was a mountain range ahead of him. It was his now not so proverbial job to move them. He just saw the end of his life coming without accomplishing a thing. He repeated “Guy’s! I’m Falling!” Anne snapped out of it first and pressed a key. “Marcus we hear you! Congratulations!” she said. “I am coming up on this thing kinda fast doc!” Ahead of him was eerie, he was slowly falling but he wasn’t. He was stable and IT was moving, but his mind was still having a hard time with it. The brain has 100 billion neurons and it was taking time for his to calm down. “It’s burning…” Marcus said seeing a white lava looking type of glow ahead of him, in spots on the asteroids surface.

Through the now zoomed in views that the now skilled enough Lieutenant had provided, Anne could see the glow. But much to her delight it was not a nuclear reaction. It appeared to her that the magnesium deposits had ignited and began to eat up the rock. There were some apparent pieces that had come loose from the normally solid body. “Marcus, that looks like the magnesium burning there?” Anne called back to him. “So!… It’s burning! Are we still a go?” He was getting close enough to feel the temperature change in the suit a bit; it was getting a little warmer.  Anne looked around the room and addressed them “Anything on this CarbyneG?” Blank and silent faces looked up at her.

Chapter Thirty Nine

Gronning was in the cockpit with his feet up on the handlebars, the plane was on autopilot. Baker was going through the flying lab’s data. To try to find out more on this stuff he was in charge of. Gronning was waiting for the final waypoint coordinate for the laser. The direction in which Marcus would have to try to push it. But it would come when it came and he was still tired.

Jake came into the cockpit “What’s taking so long?” He had been in the cargo hold and was not linked up since midway through the third waypoint. Baker barked “What’s it made of!?” Not to Jake but to the universe really. Jake just asked “What is what made of?  Sir? “The S.O.A.P unit!” “CarbyneG sir…you know that?…” Baker realized what was happening and looked at Jake at that point and said very calmly and slowly “What is its high temp range?” Jake thought about that for a second and answered him in the same calm and slow voice “Fifteen hundred degrees have been tested, they did it on me. Upper end unknown they are still testing it?” “Thank You” Baker responded in the same calm demeanor. Gronning hearing all of this asked

“If you Dr. Phil’s are done, then can we get on with this?” adjusting himself in his seat a bit. Baker relayed the message to Cheyenne Mountain.

Dr. Kelly didn’t know if the white lava looking spots were magnesium. She just remembered back a few days to when Sandage was going off on a tirade about what the thing was made of. She had no idea what temperature magnesium burned at. She just remembered the stories of her brother throwing fireworks into the pond. And that he could do it because magnesium burns underwater. That and it’s an important supplement in diets was all she knew about it. She had plenty of reference material on that end of things on her computer, but it wasn’t here.

Not seeing Dr. Bennett move after getting the information from Colonel Baker, Bennett asked her if everything was Ok. “Doctor?” he said “What is…” was all that she could get out of her mouth before Bennett answered her question for her. “450 to 5600 degrees fahrenheit Doctor.” Anne felt better but not great, there was just too much fluctuation in ranges for her. Looking at the data again she had to pick out a cold spot quickly.

Marcus didn’t know if they were cut off or if they were just waiting, but something had to happen fast. His body was doing some weird things in the suit and the temperature was higher still. “Chef? Chef? Copy Chef?”

It was the voice the Norse deity and made Marcus miss him already. “I hear ya Thor!” Marcus said excitedly. Those who had not heard Jake on the com were wondering who this guy was. “We gotta get you moving bud!” he said with a controlled rush to the words. “I am good with that copy!” Jake was muttering under his breath that this was no time for Chef to try to use the lingo. “This is going to be like calling a dance Chef! Ok?” They both knew what that meant because that was one area they trained in a few minutes back at Benning. Others on different teams were looking around their rooms looking for someone who looked like they knew what that meant. Marcus would call a number one through four correlating to the four thrusters on the back of the suit. One for upper left, through four for lower right, plus the word fire for stop using a front thruster. Jake – Thor’ would then use the X-Box controller that Crissy had rigged up long ago to scoot him through space. The Government’s designed control interface was antiquated before it was drawn up she said, citing that gamers know. “You have the lead sir!” Jake said in his best southern drawl, which was syrupy and just… bad.

Anne was horrified… She had no answers, and no place to put him safe that she knew of. She knew the direction in which to push the asteroid, she had that since the beginning. But she didn’t know if it was a burning lake of magnesium or a colder piece of the radioactive stuff. She remembered the first time she saw him she thought he was homeless guy. Now that thought seemed incredibly ridiculous to her…To her now, he was not the homeless one she thought in that second…we were. The voices starting the “dance” brought her back to her work.

“One-one-one-two-two-three-three-four” Marcus was saying to the red headed pilot. He was moving for the first time and the sensation was wonderful. The gel that he felt like he was floating in moved around him and that felt better than not moving. “Now this is space!” he said to the curious ears of those that were listening.

Dr. Kelly had made up her mind that the only thing to do was to send up the waypoint, and see what happened. Every bit of information had been gone over. There was simply no more time to think about the humanity of sending someone to their death; while said person was trying to save humanity. She sent the coordinates and the previous feeling she had was this time different. Anne wasn’t pressing the key on mankind this time… just a little man.

Commander Gronning looked at the new coordinates that just came in. He was punching them up into the into the S.O.A.P unit. Jake was in the back seeing the numbers coming and going from a readout in the lab. It was just a bunch of numbers to him, but he could see the red line forming in the display in his mind’s eye. He was waiting for his new friend to start the dance again. Marcus got the coordinates in his display and taking his time to get his bearings now that he was moving replied “Got it!”

Chapter Forty

The hacked feed still entrancing people around the world was still showing the little man; but he was moving out of the frame! Anne shot back at Saxegaard “Follow him follow him!” The Lieutenant did his best but Marcus was soon out of the frame. “Two-two-fire!” Marcus said to Jake and then “I’m going to change that word to stop!” Jake replied “I don’t blame you! I think I am killing you every time I hit the button.” Marcus chuckled at that a bit and continued the dance “one-two-four-three.”

 

“Can’t we get him back?” Anne asked the Lieutenant that was finding it harder this time around. “Trying Doc!” Saxegaard said as he was trying to catch sight of Marcus.

McCarl in Atlanta screamed at the screen in front of him “You’re fired!” Then they all caught sight of him, the Lieutenant had done it.

But he was going to the other side of the asteroid and there was no way he was going to be in the picture long. Anne seeing this just sat immediately, she wouldn’t ever know where she sent him. So the world once again was looking just at the bringer of death. But now they had a close up of the burning celestial demon.

Over the next ten minutes or so Marcus and Jake performed this routine. Jake was watching the fuel readout as not to burn up too much of the fuel before getting there. Marcus was looking out to the place where the waypoint marker was hitting the asteroid “Stop-Stop.” Down below was a spotty landscape with dots of the different metals. The reddish spots were the cold ones and the whitish ones the hot, it looked like a huge Lite Bright set to him. “You ok Chef?” came Jake after a few moments. “Yeah” I’m great” Marcus lied to him “It looks like I am going in on a cold spot!” he said in false enthusiasm. It really wasn’t a lie, it was a cold spot but it was very near a hot one by no more than ten feet. Hearing this Anne felt relieved and Lori felt a little better if you can call it that. “How much room we got?” Jake asked, “Well…a couple hundred feet… let’s dance!” Marcus said knowing if he stopped just doing it he would think about it too much and not get it done.

It was amazing if you were anywhere around a TV or monitor or any other type of screen around the world. Billions of people were staring at a live picture of their doom, and were seemingly completely content in doing so.

“Four-two-two-one-stop-stop…I think I got it from here Thor!” Marcus replied as he floated closer. Feeling the heat build once more in the suit but able to bear it. The suit was working overtime to keep him cool but it was working well because he felt it getting cooler. A bit like the AC was kicking on a touch. Remembering his training from a few hours earlier he readied the grappling round, one of the sharp things Jake couldn’t take off. It was a tether that shot out of his chest, he just had to make sure it was targeted correctly… especially now. “Chef can you hook up?” “Getting ready here” Marcus came back not wanting to make it sound like he was having doubts about all of this. He checked his display “Here I go!” a few moments later they all heard “tether!”

To Marcus it felt like he was the shootee not the shooter. The small chamber on his chest opened up; out shot a large, wickedly pointed piece of metal with a ribbon attached to it. Marcus watched the thing scoot across the expanse between him and the rock.

He wasn’t aware that it had hit and made contact until the tether started getting taut. It was reeling him in slowly and he could see that he had hit the target area. The white of the tether a bright contrast to the asteroid. “Hooked up, being brought in” he then reported.

Anne was listening with her heart a bit lighter, because so far so good. She was busy checking the most recent data making sure there was still time. Before Earth and her mighty gravity, began to speed this up too much.

Lori at JBLM could not listen any longer, in her heart she felt like he already was too far gone. Too far from this world was hers; the expanse tearing their tether to a single thread. She was inconsolable and Darla led her from the communication room to her office. “If you need to… you can listen here. Just press this and we will connect you” she said to Lori as she instructed her on the Cisco phone. Getting her a blanket and some aspirin the General hurriedly walked back to the com room. Lori just sat in the darkened room wailing off and on and wondering why her end of the world was so much harder to take.

Chapter Forty One

 

As Marcus was slowly approaching the rock the suit kicked in again and the AC feeling came back. I have to thank that little girl he was thinking. In his counter on the tether readout was -25-20-15…   He was holding out his arms and stuck his feet out too the best that he could. Contact! “Houston we now have contact!” he said after checking that he could touch the rock without melting. “Now let’s get this moved!” Chef rattled off to Thor who was smiling from ear to ear. Every team linked up to the audio was smiling and cheering a bit, but still anxious to see if they could do this now. The President could not believe that he got there, his mood brightened noticeably.

“How much fuel do we got Thor?” Marcus questioned, “11.6 pounds” Jake came back.

Anne was waiting for that number and started doing the math. She knew they were in the right place and the right angle… but would there be enough thrust to move it? Having had all the specs for the suit sent from Vinnie, she knew that they had a chance. In space it does not take as much to move a mountain but it is still no easy task.

Anne came on the com “Marcus how are you doing?” “I’d rather not talk about it now Doc no time for therapy!” He replied, afraid to go that deep in his head since this started. “We should have had twelve pounds left?” she informed both Jake and Marcus. “Are we a Go ma’am?” questioned Jakes voice.

Anne looked around the room again at the men in the room both looking at her with the same question on their faces.  “Yes we are a go” she said and her stomach jumped up did the back flip and came to rest somewhere in her throat.

“Did ya get that Jake?” Marcus called out to him wanting to get this done and over with. Marcus knew that this was do or die time. If he didn’t do it he would die, if he did do it he would probably die as well. This was the first time that death had really come into his head. “Yeah Chef! Just give the word and I’ll punch it!”

Marcus was warming up again and there were parts of his suit that were not getting the AC now as much as before. He was still going over that whole death thing in his head when the motion of the asteroid gave him a view of the Earth. That was all he needed, because in that great big beach ball ahead of him all he could see was Lori’s face.

Jake was feeling the nerves, he’d just found a friend and that didn’t come easy for him.

With twelve pounds of fuel they could push the asteroid for almost twenty minutes. With 11.6 they could only produce thrust for about 16.5 minutes. Anne was doing the math again and again trying to come up with the answer. The math didn’t work Marcus would just be pushing it to another impact area, but she fell silent.

She had been working with a certain amount of preciseness that she was familiar with. Now it was all shoot from the hip and for once in her life Anne felt ok with not knowing. She let it all go, and to Anne that feeling was amazing.

Not knowing was what was going through Marcus’s mind in those few seconds; but he too felt ok with it. Bracing himself against the mountain he was able to get into a good position. “Ok Jake…Punch it!” With that Jake pressed the controller button that Crissy had assigned to all rear thrusters. Thud! Marcus was slapped flat against the asteroid his legs and arms shooting spread eagle almost immediately. The thrusters were going full blast and Marcus’s face was a few inches away from it. Great! He thought just then, he is now a Garfield window plush in space… On the military feed hacked by CNN everyone saw the screen light up a bit behind the asteroid.

“Chef? How ya doin?” Jake asked after about ten seconds. Marcus really didn’t know and had a hard time hearing him. The thrusters never having being tested in space were a lot louder at full thrust, and he was trying to bear the sound… and heat. “I am still here!” he said loudly into the mic, the booming sound of Marcus and the thrusters making every group jump. “Ok Chef we have 15 minutes left ok?” “OK!” Marcus came back to him, his head pounding at the noise.

Dr. Kelly was monitoring the asteroid’s position with the only piece of equipment she had at her disposal. A newer Soviet satellite sv74, that they had taken control of just hours earlier. She couldn’t tell yet if it was making a difference it had only been a few minutes so far.

Lori had come back to the communications room at that time. She looked like hell from the crying and head holding but she had to come back. Jonathan told her “He’s doing it Mama Bear” he said it matter of factly while never taking his eyes off of the screen. She just sat next to him and put her head on his shoulder, not looking at the monitor or even that direction. “I can’t watch” she said burying her head a little deeper.

“It’s moving!” Anne said after ten long minutes of holding breaths. On the satellite readouts though, she was having a hard time figuring out just how much. The numbers were readable but the Cyrillic script was making it difficult to decipher. “Bennett? I am going to need you here.”  Bennett, who had been sitting like the boss of a car lot most of the time, began helping like he was bored of the show. “What does it say here?”Anne pointed, “And here?” Bennett quickly relayed the information, smiling.

Marcus didn’t know if he was going to make it at that point, permanent hearing loss was going to happen he knew. But would he be completely deaf? He scoffed a bit after looking at the rock again that his face was only a few inches away from. His hands were on the asteroid but the torso of the suit was really pushing it. Marcus just had to keep from rolling, it was not difficult but his hands were getting hot. He had a lot of experience with hot items; lifting one away when it was not needed to cool. “How ya holding up! Chef?” Jake checked in with Marcus but did not get a response. Remembering the noise level he said it again in practically a scream. “How ya doin Chef?” Marcus heard him that time; he was just changing hands to cool the other when he came back on “I’m!”

Chapter Forty Two

Bang!… is all everyone on each team heard. Marcus had started to say something and was instantly cut off. The teams could not dissect what had happened. “Chef! Chef! Chef!” Jake was screaming into the mic milliseconds after the noise. Chef! Chef! Chef! Rang over the com for the next thirty seconds. Looking down at his uplink display Commander Gronning saw that the suit had gone offline, and showing it immediately to Colonel Baker. “Offline! Offline Thor!” Baker squawked into the com.

Gronning worked franticly to get it back. Jake stopped screaming knowing Chef couldn’t hear him offline. Not knowing what had happened but fearing the worse Baker pinged “Contact lost, I repeat contact lost.”

Nobody knew what happened and they were waiting for Marcus to reply. The teams around the country started to panic checking everything they could, software, hardware it was all coming up fine. Then Jonathan of all people saw it first “Hey! Hey!” he said pointing to the screen with a wagging finger, Even Lori looking up at that time.

Lori and everyone on Earth watching saw was spectacular. The colors on the Asteroid began to change. a gossamer strand of a bright green began encircling the mountain in space. Before it was lost behind a gray haze, the entire rock was wrapped in bright green. “Chef! Chef!” Jake said into the com if only for his own reasons. The entire asteroid disappearing in just moments. A gray dust cloud expanding in space exponentially.

“Get me a bigger picture! Lieutenant!” Anne was screaming at him, not knowing she was doing so. Saxegaard zoomed out to a gigantic dust cloud that was getting bigger quick. The asteroid could not be seen. After a few more minutes of zooming out repeatedly, the feed satellite was lost to the cloud as well. Dr. Kelly was just as perplexed as anyone else, did it go nuclear? Was it still coming? Is Marcus alive?

 

Lori was on the floor in the fetal position repeating the word “no” over and over. “Why God why?” escaping her lips every few seconds too. Every team was devastated; the shock on their faces evident.

Anne tried to get more information from any satellite out there. But knowing the answer already… That the cloud would not let her.

President Bowman came on the com then, almost sober. “This is Bowman! Everyone that can hear my voice is now under government orders of silence… don’t make us hurt you!” the still slurring Bowman spat out. Agents Witte and Sanchez were fast at cutting him off at the plug. Gronning was punching in the coordinates to Bermuda.  He turned to Baker and kicked his feet up again “I guess we will just have to wait huh?”

Baker was white faced and silent he looked at his watch… one a.m. seventeen hours… Jake was busying himself with billions of dollars worth of damage to the plane and equipment. Mankind would have to wait for the answer to the question of its fate.

Chapter Forty Three

Mankind waited impatiently for its demise those last hours. Fear had found its home in many. Humanity waited until it could not wait any longer…but then it did. The minutes and then hours crawled past the time of impact. The impatient wait turned to hope; the angst to elation.

The Sun shone brightly upon the blue marble by the Moon that Tuesday. Mankind uncommonly aware of its profound blessings. By that afternoon it was confirmed there was no sign of it in the nearer satellites or telescopes. With their manifest destiny in hand, mankind tread lightly into the undiscovered country that is the future.

The President had pronounced a time of celebration and gratitude that evening as well as a time of reflection and rebuilding. The wounds to civilization repairable, it was with great but troubling ease that it resumed normal activities. The world had managed to survive because of mankind… now that was a first. The breaking of a thousand walls had occurred and few dared begin repeating their design.

Citing National Security all of the teams that were on the com were sworn to secrecy, reminded by the Presidents rant to hurt them. They were scheduled for their debriefings and given subpoenas.

Three G.I.s that already knew that they would be the last to get their subpoenas. They were happily enjoying some leave in the Bermudian sun. One was having a bit less.

Dr. Anne Kelly went back to her brothers for some amends and some more family time. She found out people change, her Brother among them long ago. Maybe she has as well, she was in no hurry to try to figure it out.

Jonathan never left Lori’s side, scooping her up and taking her home. Then setting her on the couch; she did not speak or move much. He fed Hobbes who was curiously looking for something.

A dear friend and a good man he waited there with her for the end. When it did not come he returned to his car and retrieved the items from the campfire.

Lori found the strength to get up at one time and could not find him in the house. She found him in the backyard that evening. He had lit a small fire in the fire pit and the items set on the ground around him.   He had been there for hours meditating with chants and silence. She did not disturb him for she knew his ways. She went back to the couch and found more tears for her husband. Hobbes had curled up on the couch with her before she moved and returned as soon as she did.

Captain Ripley arrived in D.C. early on Wednesday morning. She was dressed in civilian clothing and had done her makeup. But she was showing a slightly worried look. Using as much of her security clearance that she could, she got close.

She was stopped by two large men in suits and earpieces as she tried to skirt a security checkpoint. “Badge!?”  the larger man asked, more a command than a question. She just held up her hands like saying I don’t know? Trying to use her charm a bit, but it didn’t work. Agent Witte questioned “What’s your business here?” also not really a question. “I have a message I have to deliver to the President personally, National Security!” Agent Sanchez almost laughed at that thinking she could try to be a little more original.

Agent Witte swiped her I.D. card into the system on a tablet thinking this Captain is about to be a private. A window on the computer came up to indicate she needed to perform a palm scan. That was when Agent Witte looked down in the corner of the window below it that he could still see.

“C’mon!” he said to Kyra and Sanchez at the same time leading them down a hallway. “Hey! genius the brigs the other way!” said Sanchez. Agent Witte just stopped and spun on his heel and handed Sanchez the tablet. “Corner… Genius” he replied face blank. Captain Ripley stopped more the curious and a bit worried saying “If the President does not get this guys he’s going to be really pissed! He already said he would hurt me!”

Those words snapped both their necks and she could have sworn she heard a pop. Looking up from the tablet Sanchez smiled at Kyra and lead off down the hallway with the words “And Heerree we go!” Witte followed behind, almost as happy.

“What is it?” Bowman asked the agents as they both came in with smiles on their faces and a tall woman in tow. “Captain Ripley here to see you sir” agent Witte reported. The Presidents face was white in an instant remembering the names on the subpoenas he had just signed yesterday. Before he could get out a word of argument as to why she shouldn’t be there Ripley piped in. “I have a message from Chef” she said as she held out the envelope. Agents Witte and Sanchez were immediately feeling like they were kicked in their guts, recognizing the name and now positive of her involvement. She moved forward and handed it to the even whiter faced man.

Bowman cautiously took it and looked at the writing on the gray envelope, ‘If I don’t make it back-Prez.’

It read in a hasty printed script. “He gave them to me when he was suiting up” she informed him.

Opening up the envelope he saw some very colorful Hello Kitty paper that apparently was bubble gum scented as well. On it Read.

Mr. President

 

If you are reading this then something must have worked right but I didn’t make it back. I just wanted to thank you for letting me go, it was a crazy idea. I have a wife and cat at home near Seattle and if I could ask something, could I ask that they be taken care of. I couldn’t always make the rent and she is going to need some help making it for a while. That would be appreciated.

Oh and by the way I didn’t do this to save THE world. I did it to save MY world. Love really does keep the universe going now doesn’t it?

Marcus Downs

The man was weeping by the time he was done, stabbing at some tissues and blowing his nose. Dr. Ripley was saddened by the look alone. He placed it out for them all to read “Nothing classified” he said as he slumped back in his chair. “You said them?” Bowman questioned her and continued “You said he gave them to you?” Kyra was a few sentences into it she stopped and said “Yes, one for his wife too.”

“Where is it?” “Sir, you can’t she…” Bowman cut her off “I don’t want to read it silly girl I want to deliver it!” sitting up in his chair. “I gave it to my brother Jack yesterday morning” she said adding “It’s on a Harley going like a bat outta hell across country to her!” “Get out a national APB” Bowman barked at Agent Sanchez. “To all law enforcement personnel from the President of the United States” Bowman continued “Get the Fuck out of this guys way!” he finished.

Ripley was glad he didn’t want to deliver it now, this wasn’t politics. Agents Witte and Sanchez eagerly got busy taking down the Captains information on her brother “Happy Jack” and his Harley.

Lori was still in the throes of grief that week, but beginning to function. Jonathan was still a guest and consoler; he cooked for her and tried to get her to eat. He was as much a Father figure as anyone in her life, but he wasn’t Marcus. They dined when she could eat and he meditated for hours each morning and evening.  The General came over a few times to check on her and that was genuine. But so was her interest in Jonathan which was obvious. Hobbes never left her side which was nice because he was such a Daddy’s boy most of the time.

It was during one of the visits by the General, while the older couple was enjoying a conversation in the back yard. That Lori remembered Marcus’s pictures of his hike and the cave. “Jonathan? Marcus had a bunch of pictures and video he took on his last hike.” Gray Feather knew that Marcus had left him to go hiking just before he left. “Yei one and the Water Bearers” he said motioning for her to lead him to them. “How does it go? Have you remembered yet ya old coot?” General Moyer said to him, with a little rub because she could. “I have been trying to meditate and remember the story but it has not come” he answered and continued into the house. “Maybe the pictures will help you remember Jonathan?” Lori said sounding the best she had since Sunday.

When the Marcus’s computer warmed up and she once again remembered how to get to them she brought them up in a slide show. Gray Feather was not impressed until the shots of the cave and cavern lit up the display. He was stunned that Marcus had found anything like this. There before him were pictographs and paintings that were, like Lori had found out. Both believed newer in the cave, and ancient in the cavern. Nudging Lori to get out of the seat he sat down and began to pause each one. Just saying “Yei one” every so often.

Chapter Forty Four

There was a knock on the door and Lori went to answer it. She saw the same M.P. that picked her up the other night. “Yes?” “Mrs. Marcus Downs?” That shook her and made her mad because he knew who she was, and it hurt to hear his whole name right now. “You know who I am!” she spat a bit at him “Sorry Ma’am” the southern boy said as he looked down. Looking up he said “I have a message for the General?” “Come in please?” she said as he just stood there. Clearing his throat, Lori took that as he can’t come in. So she said “I’ll get the General” “Thank You Ma’am.” Lori scooted back to Marcus’s den and a moment later Darla stepped out, a little miffed to be bugged on her off time. Returning the salute to the M.P. she said “What!?” “General Ma’am I have a message from the President for your ears only.” “Ok, you got me, spit it out soldier” looking up at him like this better be good. “Message is; there is a message from Chef en route! Ma’am” Darla’s face could not have grown brighter, downright giddy even, as she dismissed the M.P.

On a beach somewhere in the Bahamas Jake kicked at the hot sand as he was walking down a beautiful beach. The Colonel was flying home on an airline flight as soon as they heard the news about it succeeding; needing to get back to his wife and children. Jake was thinking about the week he just had and he and Marcus’s conversation.  his part of the big picture. He saw a reflection ahead of him and almost laughed. It was the Commanders bald head shining, as he played volleyball with some Bahamian girls.

Anne had made good with her brother and they were making gains on repairing their family. Jessica and Barney spent a lot of time there. Anne wished she could talk she was not good at secrets. Have they not found that out about her yet? They shared the time together with dinners and rest, lots of rest. It seemed the repairs going on around the world included people too and not just stuff.

A Harley screamed past the troopers, they clocked it at a little over a hundred. Looking at each other the Colorado State Troopers just continued drinking their coffee. Harleys were off limits nationwide.

Looking over the pictures Jonathan was entranced, he ‘felt’ the pictures it seemed to Lori. Great emotional swings in his eyes and his body. Which she had never seen him do before. General Moyer walked in with a beaming look on her face and said “Lori dear I have something to tell you.” “Yes” Lori replied happy to have remembered the pictures still. “I will just tell you what I just heard ok?” “Ok?” Lori now replied worried.

“There is a message from Marcus en route.” Lori stood there shocked… Jonathan hearing that stopped what he was doing even. “Where is it?” “That is all I know” Darla said sadly. Lori was numb:”When will it get here?” “That’s all I know now honey I’m sorry” she said again deflating.

That Thursday night the General cooked for them all. Jonathan told some of the ancient stories he could remember. Lori ate and went to sleep, still numb.

Agent Bennett had long since left Cheyenne Mountain and NORAD behind him. Leaving everyone there alone to do their jobs. Lieutenant Saxegaard just returned to duty after being questioned for activity on a Soviet System. Laughing he simply held up his subpoena and cited National Security.

He was sitting at his normal station monitoring high altitude flights, both Military and Civilian for most of the Pacific Ocean and West Coast of the U.S… The dust cloud had started to enter orbit near the Earth and the particles were beginning to interfere with his station. He did notice that there were two HF (high flyers) near American Samoa something that was out of place. He dutifully noted in his log as an anomaly.

Near the village of Fagaitua on American Samoa villagers were going down to the shores in droves. Between their village and the Village of Faleasao on Ta’u Island something was seen in the night sky. Most were just looking at the shooting stars, their bright green streaks filling the sky at times.

Professional Photographer Brandi Lynn was there on a photo shoot for a high end fashion magazine. Not wanting to miss this she set up her cameras and began taking video and stills. Catching a large meteor in her frames decided to follow it… to… right where she was! Taking her camera away from her eyes, she saw that it was not coming at her. But near to her and followed it to an almost atomic splashdown in the waters between the two islands. Within minutes it was on Instagram and Facebook or would be when the fluctuating internet signals returned.

The next morning there was a knock on her door, answering she saw a man in a suit. “Agent Bennett ma’am.”

Chapter Forty Five

Friday morning Lori slept in again, not wanting to get out of bed. She knew there was something else that Marcus had to say to her but she would have to wait. It was being delivered through bike messenger? Gray Feather was still staying in the guest room not wanting to leave Lori. But since he heard the General bring up Yei one, he was curious too.

He cooked breakfast for the two of them and sat her down in front of it, aromatherapy if anything. She picked at the toast and drank her hazelnut creamed coffee. Jonathan retreating to the backyard for another round of meditation, it was his saving grace as well.

Outside of Spokane Washington a Shovelhead Harley was gassing up at a local shell station. Two local police officers were checking out the long haired biker, this simply wasn’t his kind of town. Keying in his license plate number into their computers they soon turned ghost white and continued to drink their coffee.

On the Island of Ta’u they were picking up from the large waves created by the now meteorite. The waves were all over American Samoa and the impact recorded on seismographs, this was not the only one. The uneventful meteorite strikes have been recorded en masse all over the globe. And the eventful, Rio almost being hit directly, to suburban homes across the Midwest. But not all were filmed and uploaded to You Tube that was 41,000 gigapixels.

The U.S. Government‘s computers are that good and this one stood out for some very secretive reason. It was known that the Chinese were pursuing the meteorites for their possible nuclear materials.

President Bowman thrilled that their wish was granted. Large pieces of the mountain had come to rest amidst some of their top missile sites and their industrial military complexes.  The island was soon the port of call for ships of all shapes and sizes from at least four Government’s Navies and Coast Guards. Their arrival overwhelmed the locals by their speed and numbers.

 

General Moyer was in her office when the call came in that afternoon… it was Bennett. She scooted out the door with her purse in her hand. The other Officers in her office were not surprised at her speed, but the smiles she had been wearing these last few days. She jumped in her private car and sped off the base, a few M.P.s in tow for a moment before realizing the car’s owner.

Jonathan had brought Lori outside to the surprisingly warm fall day. Thinking the Sun would do her good, and it would get her out of the house at least. Sitting at a small bench with a colorful large umbrella they talked. Lori was opening up just a bit and Jonathan did not want to pry too soon. To Jonathan pain was fine, as long as you don’t make yourself suffer. Talking a bit about Marcus until the tears came then changing subjects and bringing up the Seahawks. Their year was good this one.

Up the street they heard a roar of a motor that shook the ground a little bit. Whoever it was; wasn’t in a hurry and the bikes motor steadily got closer. Jonathan and Lori stopped talking because they couldn’t really hear themselves at that time. A blue Harley Shovelhead chopper pulled up at the little white gate that was always open. A road dirty leathered guy swings off slowly and strides up to the door. Seeing Lori and Jonathan sitting there a moment later he changes direction and takes off his helmet.

“Lori Downs?” he asked her in a dusty voice. Lori standing up and walking towards him answered in a hopeful voice “Yes… That’s me.”  The man reached into his jacket at that time and pulled out a Ziploc bag and opened it, inside was a letter. Holding out the letter to Lori she took it with shaking hands and tearing up eyes. Then the man with the dusty voice looked at her with all too knowing eyes said “Thank You.” Then gave her a hug and rode away. Jonathan came up to her and took her back into the house; her crying continuing.

Sitting there in her living room and looking at Hobbes in Marcus’s spot licking himself. She opened up the Letter marked with her name and address in Marcus’s hand. She began to laugh at first because of the paper and how it fit his humor so well. It simply read.

Honey

I’ll be back!!

If there is any way I can come back I will. I know that I can see your love wherever you are, I will find you.

Love Forever

Goofy

Lori began to cry and to laugh and she knew that he would try like Houdini to scare the crap out of her and come back. “Oh” she let out after a laugh and it was just like Marcus to make a joke out of something. But that’s what she loved about him and she would never lose that, she was sure. Jonathan taking the letter from her hands after being offered. “Ah…He’s a nutbag.” He said straight faced and dry. Lori then turned to Jonathan and hugged him, and began crying again.

 

General Moyer was speeding down the street by the traffic circle where a Howitzer stood earlier in the week. She had to slow down a bit as to not hit a motorcycle. She pulled up to the little house with the always open gate and rushed inside not bothering to knock. She turned into the living room and saw the two laughing a little and hugging. “I got news!” she said and just continued “You young lady better get your act together! Because we gotta get you on a plane to Hawaii. They found him and they are flying you there now! There’s a chopper on the way here now!” Jonathan caught Lori as she fainted… Handing the letter to the General.

Chapter Forty Six

On an Australian military C130 a badly burned and partially exposed body of Marcus Downs stuck out of the S.O.A.P. IV. Meteors don’t have two burning wings on them, Bennett thought.

The suit had deployed the wings but the parachute must have burned up sometime on re-entry. Half the ‘lid’ and his whole left arm armor were missing a chunk and the suit was shredded beneath that. Agent Bennett stood by and watched as the medics were trying to open it up and get to the patient, he had very faint signs. How the hell could he have survived? going through his head. Commander Gronning, Colonel Baker, Crissy and Jake were already in the air en-route to Hawaii to assist with the suit that wasn’t supposed to be.

Jake was smiling from ear to ear and in a great mood which irritated the hell out of Crissy. But she was happy to know the reason, Chef came home…

Lori was resting comfortably on board the plane having come to and told to rest. It was a very nice jet that the helicopter had placed them by. Jonathan noticed that they all wore an Australian military type of outfit. General Moyer and He chatting away the time realizing they were at the same protest in the sixties. He as a protester and she as a soldier, but they were at the age where that didn’t matter. Time had healed old wounds; friends shared a lifetime about a lifetime ago.

The C130 was arriving in Pearl Harbor. Major Lynne Bray M.D.  had just come on duty. She got the call and hurried to the tarmac only to be stopped by two men in dark suits and sunglasses. Agents Witte and Sanchez were given time to assist on this at The President’s request. They were not going to let just anyone get close to Marcus without screening them. Understanding that she just got a bump in pay; and security clearance as soon as they stopped her, she was happy to comply. She checked out and was waiting for the giant aircraft to finish taxiing to a stop.

Knowing there was already a team on board she took point as soon as she could. Witte and Sanchez looked on at Marcus in the huge suit still and turned away. His burned and damaged condition a little more than they could take. Using a forklift and service elevator they were able to bring him onto the first floor, he wouldn’t fit in any room or anywhere else. Using a service area as a makeshift triage center the area confined and equipment brought in. Dr. Bray went to work trying to save this blown up… robot man?

Lori’s plane was brought into the base itself which was not unusual for jets of this designation, just rare. She and the two lovebirds arrived at the hospital and were told that he was in surgery. Lori screaming to suit her up, she just about took out two male nurses that were in her way.

The radiation unit came in and found a nominal reading as Dr. Bray attended to parts of the patient that they could get to. Once the radiation check was completed and they got an intravenous drip going. His signs were checked constantly, very faint, in and out. But being as stable as she could make him, she walked into the waiting area. “Mrs. Downs?” she said looking at the civilian woman in the room. “I’m Dr. Bray…Marcus’s doctor.” Lori’s stomach fell and kept falling until she heard the words “He’s as stable as I can make him.” Lori’s beaming face rose up to the doctors and she started crying and hugging the startled Major. “He’s alive!!?” Dr. Bray not knowing the whole story just stood there and smiled for her. “But…” Lori’s heart sank with that three letter destroyer of aspirations. “We have to talk.” With that she and Lori spoke for the next thirty minutes about what she was going to see. Lori didn’t care about the burns or looks; she just wanted her husband back in her arms. She wanted her world…

Before Lori could get in to see Marcus the team from Ft. Benning arrived. Dr. Bray told her that this had to be done immediately. She understood completely and shooed the doctor away to work just happy with the news still. Jonathan and the General were almost as happy as she was about Marcus’s condition…Alive.

 

Jake and Crissy having just arrived were ungraciously scrubbed and gloved by four of Dr. Bray’s nurses. Looking at the equipment they brought in Lynn could do nothing but sigh, it was needed.

Jake was nervous and Crissy was eager, a little too much for Jake. They were hurried down a corridor into a service area that looked at the moment a lot like the lab. Their equipment had been wrapped the best that the team could do with plastic. At that Agents Witte and Sanchez welled up as they saw it being rolled past them. Stopping Jake for a moment before he went in Witte said “Take care of Chef for us will ya!?” in his whiskey voice. Jake just nodded, noting the guy was his size too.

It was almost too much for Jake to stomach when he walked in. The smells and the sounds, and the sight of Marcus were overwhelming. Even though he had witnessed the ravages of war many times, this was different, this was Chef.

Walking up to the suit that Crissy was already at, he looked down and was afraid for the first time in a long time. Like being shocked his face changed and he got to work. Crissy looking up and saying “This isn’t gonna be easy!” Jake just nodded and went to the toolbox wrapped in plastic.

Chapter Forty Seven

Lori was elated and they talked about the mission and wondered at Marcus’s letter and his chutzpah. She wondered aloud “Maybe Marcus was too busy looking for something outside of himself that he forgot what he already had inside?” Jonathan replied “Many the man gets lost in that land.”

Dr. Bray’s nurse came in and filled them in. That it appeared to her that the cutting of the suit is going to take some time. Nurse Knouse hurried back to assist the doctor wondering if the cutting out would do more harm to the patient.

Jake and Crissy had been cutting away at the suit for the last two hours…they had gotten eight inches cut. They determined that they needed to cut away sixteen, for a chance to pull off the chest cover. Once that was removed he could be slid out of the top of it. There was no suit in too many places, Jake paying close attention to his work as not to look up at Marcus’s head and face. Crissy was unusually silent during this, maybe finding it more than she thought it would be. Dr. Bray looked on at the plasma torch that they were using and cringed at the thought. But apparently the suit under the ‘suit’ would protect him quite a bit…at least they thought it would. A few hours later as the doctor was looking on Jake called out to her “Doc! We are almost there gonna pop this can in a minute or two get ready.” She got her team together and prepared to go in.

“Ok Chef, gonna get you out of here in three, two, one” he said as he could hear the suit crack. With a few more minutes of cutting he heard the entire unit lose structure and break under the stress “Crack!” He reached for the cooler side of the piece and lifted, it was stuck but it moved a bit. Jake wedged his fingers under the armor and curled them around an edge. Pulling it up it did not come, so he climbed on the table and stood over the chest piece legs wide. He reached in and curled his fingers once again and began to pull up face contorting into that of a power lifter. Now Crissy has seen Jake lift a lot of things over the years and this was by far his hardest challenge. With another crack and a few pulled ligaments Jake was holding the chest piece in front of himself.

Rushing in and rushing them out right then was Dr. Bray and her team, they got busy extracting the patient. Asking if the material could be cut she was informed to use tin snips. Jake was rushed from the room and as they did so he turned and looked again at his friend, burns and all. Nurse Knouse saw that his glove had been torn and he was bleeding pretty good and bandaged him up. The extraction took forty-five minutes and then he was rushed into surgery. Lori was told the news and she remained hopeful in the waiting room, patiently waiting for updates.

Twelve hours later an exhausted and frayed woman came in, they almost didn’t recognize Dr. Bray. “Mrs. Downs…He is out of surgery and stable…but he is in a coma.” “When can I see him?” Lori asked eagerly. “In a few hours, but remember what I told you about his condition. I have to get a nap in.” The Doctor said sleepily walking out of the room and down the hall.

A few hours later Lori was led to a scrubbing station and instructed what to do, she had to be sterile as possible.

She finished and was escorted by Nurse Knouse to the room reminding. “Remember not to touch anything but his right hand. I am sorry about the facial bandages.” Lori walked into the room and headed to Marcus like she was floating, looking down at his right hand she took his lightly in hers. “I love you goofy” she said softly in his ear and remained by his side holding onto what she could. His coma remaining for five months and she by his side the whole time. Jonathan returned home with the General to look after Hobbes and the house.

Chapter Forty Eight

The doctors and nurses that cared for Marcus were afraid to discuss his recovery in front of Lori. It was not for the fear of being the bearer of bad news but just the opposite. Marcus was healing at a rate they could not measure. Still in a coma but receiving treatment for his wounds, the doctors and nurses knew something else had to be happening. Lori saw Nurse Knouse one time and asked her what was going on. The attention Marcus got and the looks towards her were easy tells in Lori’s eyes. Heather, as Lori would learn to call her told her of Marcus’s dramatic and astounding recovery and the reason for concern by some. Heather asked her if it would be ok for her to try a light Reiki session with her husband, just to touch base with what is happening. She informed her of the practice and use of the hands. “The word is made of two Japanese words – Rei which means “God’s Wisdom or the Higher Power” and Ki which is “life force energy.” Nurse Knouse knowing that by doing this she is accepting some of Marcus’s pain if he is suffering. But being a Reiki Master she was comfortable enough to try. Lori seeing no harm but all good in this agreed to it. It would be a few hours before her work was done, and that she needed time to ready herself.

That evening in April Nurse Knouse performed the session with Lori watching from a nearby chair. She had brought in a few candles and dimmed the room and began at his feet. As she was doing this Lori just watched amazed more like it that a modern medical professional would know how and use homeopathic medicine. Heather slightly winced and then more pain in her face was showing, not stopping she continued. Lori swore she could see gossamer strands of neon green flowing between them, but shook her head and cited fatigue.

After about a half an hour Heather stopped and opened her eyes slowly. She looked over at Lori with the most amazing expression on her face “He is not in pain. He is in perfect harmony inside. Thank you so much!” with the amazing expression on her face still. “Why thank me?” Lori asked, Heather looked at her took her hands in hers and answered “There has been no time in my life that I have been so moved. Your husband’s Ki is the strongest by thousands that I have ever felt, it is a lifetime blessing for me.” They hugged and Heather left the dimmed room. Lori looked down at Marcus and taking his hand again and asked “When will you come back all the way?”

Chapter Forty Nine

Four days later Dr. Bray came into Marcus’s room, Lori was asleep on the couch they brought in for her. Checking his vitals and the usual routine she looked at the EEG readout and stopped. She looked again and began pressing call over and over. The nurses started coming in and checking everything out as well, Mr. Marcus was out of his coma and coming to. Waking Lori up in the process Heather just said” I think someone in here is gonna want to see you?” Lori looked around confused? She was helped up and brought to Marcus’s side “He should be waking up soon she added softly.” Lori held his hand and began to tear up looking at him lying there, still scarred from the burns but healing. Marcus’s hand squeezed hers then again, she looked down at him. His eyes opened…

“Hi honey?” He said extremely hoarsely and then “I love you bunches…where is Hobbes? I had a heck of a dream last night.” She looked down at him with big saucers for eyes and replied “I love you too honey, Hobbes is fine…You said dreams?” “Not really dreams, I’ve been awake for a few minutes… I was just trying to find something funny to say!” Lori burst out crying not laughing because her world was home.

After a few more weeks she got to take him home to Hobbes and Jonathan. He would still be healing for quite some time Dr. Bray told them.

In the coming months he met General Moyer as she and Jonathan continued their relationship. Promising a job for Marcus as soon as he was well enough to work. Agents Witte and Sanchez stopped by with his helmet and the President when he campaigned for the next guy. Marcus was really glad to see them all foregoing the bear hugs to a later date. And thanking the President again for letting him go. The President inviting him over to his Personal home any time he chose and said “Nonsense Marcus…I couldn’t have stopped you anyways.”

He would often catch people staring just a little too long at him. His looks changed enough by the ordeal, that they soon lost interest. McCarl and CNN got a visit from an IT guy one day. With help from the U.S. Government and a few others, it was all greatly disavowed.

One day Lori noticed an SUV pull up to their little house and out stepped a Mother and Child. As they walked up to the gate that was never shut Lori started to the front door. Not afraid but curious that they had the wrong house she leaned out the door “can I help you?” “Yes, I’m looking for Marcus Downs?” “And what business do you have with him?” Lori was now piqued “I’d rather not say” replied the woman. That snapped her a bit and she retorted “Well if his WIFE can’t hear it” “Lori!?” “Are you Lori!?” she was cut off which would have made it worse.

But Lori remembers faces and she had never met this woman whoever she was. “Yes that’s my name?”  “I’m Anne, Dr. Anne Kelly!” Lori remembered the name well “Oh I’m so sorry come in, come in, you are more than welcome in our home!” Once inside “Marcus is out back in his chair writing. This way please” “Oh?” Anne sounded curious. “Oh it’s not what you think…How old is your boy?” Anne “He isn’t mine this is my brother Barney.” Hi Barney!” Lori said to him and looked knowingly into Anne’s eyes.

They went out back and Marcus was there standing by the firepit looking a million miles away. “Marcus there is someone here I think you should meet?” Lori told her husband. Turning around he looked at her and said “Annie! Good to finally meet you!” Marcus said to the puzzled doctor who was trying to figure out how he, “The Feds” Marcus spared her the task, they had all been debriefed and inquisited. Marcus citing no memory except that a piece of the asteroid blew up striking him. “I am sorry to come by. I know we shouldn’t be having contact like they said.” Anne then continued “I hope you don’t mind, but I brought my little brother to meet the real Superman!” Marcus would never accept being called Superman, but looking down into Barney’s eyes a knowing and humble Marcus played the part for a short time. No he couldn’t fly or anything like that anymore. But being a hero to a little kid like this didn’t take too much did it, he thought. They played and ran around the yard the best they could, both of them. They all had dinner together and shared stories of many things Anne and Australia, Marcus at the White House. As they were leaving that night Barney held up his hug arms to Marcus, unable to lift him still because of his wounds Marcus just bent down and did his best. Barney handed him his cape and told Annie, “I have to leave it here, he lost his!” they all laughed that laugh that’s right before a cry, and parted ways.

Chapter Fifty

Marcus to this day has not seen Jake or anyone from Ft. Benning. The word he could get where they were stationed overseas somewhere on a mission that’s all he could be told.

One night a shortly before Jonathan went home the three of them were out back talking about all that had happened. Bringing up the story of the cave again, Jonathan said “Yei one and the Water Bears.” “Yeah, I haven’t heard that from you again until just now” Lori said adding “Have you come up with the story in your meditation yet?” “It has not come to me in my meditation” Jonathan said deflated “It came to me in a book of yours, but I was waiting to see if Yei one was ready to hear it?” “I’m all better now” Marcus lied, but he did feel much stronger. “Well I better get the book because my memory is shot, but I think this was our friends work here.” He returned and brought a book with him by Dr. Victoria Lien PhD in Anthropology/Anthrobiology from the University of Washington – Native American Folk Stories and Legends. He sat and chanted for a few moments, and in a voice that Marcus remembered from his childhood he read.

The Skin of the Earth

Before the time of living things, the Earth was ruled by the Horned Fire Demons. They were the darkness and fire and they allowed no living thing on Earth.

The Water Bearers were to bring light to Earth and the two sides battled for Billions of years.

The Horned Fire Demons were losing, so they brought in all of the darkness they could. To destroy the Water Bearers but they could not be destroyed. The Horned Fire Demons concocted a plan to trap the Water Bearers. They told the Water Bearers that they could have half of the Earth.

Being pleased with that the Water Bearers came down to the fire and brimstone and lava. It was an ambush! The Water Bearers were trapped by the Horned Fire Demons below their flames and brimstone. There the Water Bearers ceased fighting and grew. Making water beneath the Horned Water Demons. For Billions of years more they grew underneath the surface.

Until a drop of water made its way to the surface amid the Horned Fire Demons. The drop reflected the Sun Creator and brought light to the Earth. More growth and water were made. For millions of years they continued to make the water, letting it flow from their imprisoned hold. Slowly the Water Bearers continued… creating the land and the lakes and the rivers and the oceans the land and it’s peoples.

The water bringing the light and warmth from the Sun Creator. Life was in its waters and the wind was born. The Water Bearers still grow even today keeping the Horned Fire Demons far from the light. The Horned Fire Demons succumbing to their unintended share beneath – The skin of the Earth

It is here that I would say THE END…But is it ever… really?

This Book is dedicated to my late Father Thomas B. Douge and my mother Virginia E. Douge

  1. E. Douge

Message from the Author:

This book is my fist work. It was started and completed in the last two weeks of October of 2013.

If you missed the story it was trying to tell that’s fine. It tells more than one story to me and that’s all that really matters. I hope you enjoyed reading it.