This story may or may not appear in the same universe as Forgotten Sins. It is a near future sci-fi story.
Major Frances Doneski exited the elevator. He was nervous and having shared an elevator with several giggling young women hadn’t helped. It also hadn’t helped that he knew only rudimentary phrases in French. The girls had been a continual riot of noise ever since they had boarded twenty floors below. Since he was the only man on the elevator and giggles punctuated their rapid French, he started obsessing on whether they were talking about him. His already tense nerves couldn’t take much more. His inner voice reminded him that they weren’t aware of him—he was thirty years too old to even be casually noticed anymore. The doubts still nagged him.
He exited the elevator ten levels earlier than planned when the door had quietly opened for more onboarding passengers. He planned on grabbing another elevator to finish the ride or find some stairs.
This was only the second time he had been in one of the gigantic city towers. Standing more than a mile tall and almost a half mile wide at the base, each tower housed more than a quarter of a million people. He imagined the floor moving back and forth as the tower swayed in the night sky. Again he knew better. These towers barely gave indication of the weather outside except in the most severe winds.
He had exited at one of the major fanfares, an indoor circular park with large windows opened to let the night breeze blow through even though the floor was more than 2,000 feet off the ground. The building continued upward in the distance on eight huge pillars surrounding the park, if supports a hundred feet wide could be called pillars. The open narrow windows were hundreds of feet high, taking up the entire space between the pillars. The windows allowed the night sky to shine through and gave the impression of being in a large open cathedral.
The elevator swooshed off behind him. The building was so large that it required multi-story elevators so that it could service four floors at a time, all part of the grand design to reduce the time needed to move around the building. To his left was a small train that ran the perimeter of the park, yet another convenience for faster transportation. Even at this height, the building was nearly a third of a mile across as the outside slowly sloped inward as it reached into the distant sky.
He still had an hour before his scheduled meeting. Moving to a nearby stone bench under large tropical trees, he sat down and allowed his vertigo to pass. He hated elevators. Chiding himself under his breath, he mumbled, “You’re plenty safe. A tsunami couldn’t hurt this building.” The original city tower had been erected in Japan around the mid 21st century, a design so successful that it had been imitated at least once in nearly every other major city of the world which could support the base of the tower. Because of the buildings origins, one of its primary benefits was its ability to withstand both tsunamis and earthquakes.
Sitting with his eyes closed helped. The irony was that he was an excellent pilot and yet heights terrified him. The difference was being in the cockpit where he felt in control. He didn’t fear flying. What scared him was the knowledge that he was up high in a structure. He had often wondered if maybe some childhood trauma hadn’t been responsible for this strange twist of fear, but he could never recall any such event. Nor had he ever talked about his phobia with any of the Air Force shrinks. His fear didn’t really hinder him. It never bothered him as long as he was within a few levels of ground level or in a plane. He considered it just a strange quirk of who he was.
He reflected on his orders to help remain calm as he waited for the next elevator going up. Pulling out his phone he and read through the orders once more. “Report in three days to the UN offices on the 290th floor of the LeGrande Tower in Paris at 1400 GMT.” It also gave the usual warnings about this being a vital secret, of top security, and how severe legal punishments would incur if any of the information contained within escaped. But outside of setting the date, the orders any further instructions or details that he could betray. Not that the threat mattered, even minor orders came with such warnings.
Reading through them one more time revealed nothing new. Why him and why here? He was a highly decorated war pilot. He had flown drones during the last Euro-Asian war and earned one of the highest kill rates when compared to the times he had been shot down. He even had real time experience flying warplanes before drones became commonplace. That latter was more due to his age. He hadn’t enlisted until he was twenty-nine, the new Air Force regulations admitting older enlistees. Through connections, he had been allowed to become a fighter pilot despite his age. Not that he didn’t have any prior experience, he had gained the real-time experience flying during his youth flying warplanes at stunt shows. Though no one flew warplanes on missions anymore, he had enlisted just as the changeover to drones was beginning to take place in mass and warplanes were being phased out. He had earned his wings, even if at the time he was one of the oldest Lieutenants with wings in the Air Force.
Now at fifty-seven years of age, he was a major and been stuck in a desk job for the last four years at the airbase in Houston. He was retired as far as he was concerned, only serving out the last three years until mandatory retirement took place. He had made friends, met two different presidents, been awarded more awards than he could recall, and was now looking forward to a restful retirement once his final three years were up all so he could collect his full pension.
Then these orders had arrived and they reeked of something big. His commanding officer had thought it a joke at first, left the room briefly to get some confirmation, then came back saying only that the orders were legitimate and that Major Doneski better make haste packing since his flight was leaving soon. With no specification for how long he might be gone, he had packed for two weeks.
Arriving in Paris twenty-four hours later, he had checked into a civilian motel nearby. After a brief nap, he had boarded a helicopter to fly him up the first 260 floors. The super tower dwarfed the similarly shaped Eiffel Tower. From certain angles in Paris, both could be seen together. From just the right angle, the Eiffel Tower looked like a toy in front of a skyscraper.
The tower had initially been built outside of Paris, but its sudden importance to the capital’s economy had caused Paris to expand and grow around it in ten short years.
The LeGrande was truly a city in and of itself even though it was just outside of Paris. It had its own police force, two power plants, its own water treatment facilities, everything. And that was why he was not alone on the elevator. The place he was going didn’t have anything top secret about it, nothing remotely military. It was quite possible outside of those guarding the UN floor, he wouldn’t see another military individual. This was by design, of course, it was a civilian building and no one wanted it mistaken as a military target.
His cell node activated. Clicking his tongue to notify the node that he wanted to take the call, he mutely mouthed, “Answer Call,” then, “Hello?” The node vibrated. It was the next generation of handless cell phone. They were now so small that they were the size of a small microchip and so commonplace that it could be inserted behind the ear on the bone by any teenager who was also skilled at piercing an ear. The vibrations were keyed to him and radiated out on the bone so that the sounds converged in his eardrum, letting him hear the voice of the speaker with crystal clarity.
“Dad, have you arrived yet?”
“Yes dear,” he said to his daughter. “A few hours ago. Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
“Couldn’t sleep. Got a rather big exam tomorrow and it has me rather wound up. Also worried about you.”
“Don’t worry, I’m OK. Absolutely nothing to worry about. The meeting is about to take place. Tell you all about it when I am done.” No one paid attention to the warnings on orders like he had received. It was like the ‘Do Not Remove Tag’ on a mattress. It was there for decoration most of the time but present just in case someone ever needed it for legal protection. Had his mission been truly secret, more measures would have been taken. Anyway, secret missions were given to the young and skilled, not to the old and soon-to-be-retired majors. Maybe if he was a colonel. Majors don’t get secret missions at this time in their career. And outside of him going to Paris, the orders hadn’t contained any other information.
“Did you call for any reason in particular?”
“I was just worried. There are recent reports of a passenger plane that approached too close to the K-Barrier and was destroyed, no survivors. They said it was over Brussels, but I still had to be sure it wasn’t you,” she said.
He grimaced. It had been over three years since any non-drone had approached the K-Barrier and been destroyed. No passenger plane should have gotten anywhere near it. Drones were destroyed all the time, at least several a year as they were tested against the Barrier. “How many people were lost?”
“It was a small liner. They say less than 40.”
“Not good, but at least it wasn’t a major flight.”
“Yeah. Listen Dad, will you call me once you’re out of the meeting?”
“Sure thing. Or I will call you in the morning, your time. How’s that? After your test and all. Then I will give you the full briefing disclosure of my ultra-secret mission.”
“Great.” He could hear the happiness in her voice. “I also want to hear all about Paris. Love you, Dad.”
“Love you too.” He silently clicked his tongue again and silently vocalized, “End Call.” The cell node could pick up silent vocalization when the conversation needed to be hushed, but the nodes were still unable to perform the transfer of voice inflection and emotions silently, so most conversations were conducted in the normal speaking voice and only terminated or initiated silently.
After walking around the manicured park for another 30 minutes, he decided it was time to board an elevator and continue once again toward the meeting.
As he exited the elevator, two MPs with sky blue armbands met him. They were UN troops, the collective borrowed army of more than 70 nations. From their foundation uniforms, he identified that one was from the U.S. and the other was from Brazuka, a relatively new country formed after the Venezuelan Civil War that had plagued South America for more than a decade.
“Major Frances Doneski?” the taller of the two asked.
“Yes,” he responded.
“Follow us, if you would, Sir.”
He followed them through two glass doors with the symbolic United Nations globe frosted on them. As they opened the door the globe split in two. He mused, thinking back to how a reporter had compared similar doors in Prague to how the UN had seemed responsible for dividing the world several times over the past few decades with every issue it got involved with. Yet as the door closed, the frosted globe once more became whole, and Doneski could only think of how world always came back together. Whether world peace was regained with the help of or in spite of the UN would always be a source of contention.
They led him through several offices to a back room with a large conference table at one end. Seated behind it were three stern-looking men and one woman with an equally serious expression. The room looked more like an interrogation room than an interview room. Immediately uneasy, he walked past the two guards who motioned him into the room, the taller one holding the door for open him. As soon as he entered, they quietly closed the door behind him. At least he didn’t hear the click of the door locking, he thought.
Toward the middle of the group at the one of the men was in a dark blue pin-striped suit. He had been looking at the Major unblinkingly since he entered and waited until the MP’s were definitely gone before he started speak, “Ah, Major. Let me start by saying thank you for making it on such notice.”
“No problem at all,” Doneski replied, the leeriness in his voice evident. The blue-suited man’s perfect American English help calm him only a little.
The man smiled. “Please, don’t be afraid. This is a harmless meeting. Please, take a seat.” Doneski looked over and saw a small table facing the conference table, a silver chair with leather padding pulled up the desk. Sitting down in the chair, the table seemed to offer a cover and shield for him, lessening the tense nature of the room. In front of him was a dull copper pitcher and a single glass. Assuming it was for him, he filled the glass with some water and took a small sip, waiting on them to continue the conversation.
It was the woman who spoke first in a thick accent, possibly German. “You have a very distinguished career, Major. I must commend you.”
“Thank you, ma’am. Before we continue, could introductions be made?” he asked.
“Sorry, for now, some secrecy is needed. Should this interview go well, you may learn of our identities, but for now, we need to keep some secrets. We are sanctioned by the UN and your own leaders know of who we are, so again, don’t be fearful. Nothing bad is going to happen to you regardless of this interview. If you are the man we are looking for, great. If not, you go home and retire in three years as if this never happened. We have a specific mission in mind that needs doing. One that will help serve all of mankind. But we first need to make sure you are the right man for the job. As important as this mission is, there are many in the world who are opposed.”
Major Doneski nodded his head. “I understand. I am at your service.” He thought to himself that he might need to be worried he had told his daughter he had come to Paris. Sometimes those ‘do not remove tags’ were there for a reason.
The man in the blue suit spoke next, “Major, please tell us a little about yourself. What we are interested in is primarily your military experience, the flight part of it.”
“Well, not much to tell I am afraid. My mother was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force as was my grandfather. After my grandfather retired, he continued to fly the jets of his era at major events and shows as a stunt pilot. He eventually started his own company. As I grew up, that is the trade I learned. I had no intention of joining up in my youth, but as I grew older the desire to fly the newer planes got the better of me. I joined up about the time drone fighters completely replaced traditional warplanes. I helped in a lot of the war games while the drones were perfected, and eventually I became a drone pilot.”
“Do you still fly jets, really fly them, not by remote?” the woman asked.
“Yes, I do, not as often as I used to, but I do manage to a couple of times a month for recreation. Fuel and maintenance are prohibitively expensive. Drone flying has absolutely no comparison to the speed you feel when in real flight. Even though my grandfather has passed, it has become the family business now so I still have access to the older planes.”
“Do you still perform stunts?” the third man asked.
“No. My old body can’t take the G’s like it used to.”
That seemed to disturb them some. They want me to real-time fly something, probably something experimental. And it will require some speed by the way they’re acting.
The man on the women’s left leaned over and whispered something in her ear. She wrote something on a notepad in front of her and handed it over to the other two men. They both nodded. She then asked, “What do you know about the K-Barrier?”
Doneski blinked, somewhat stunned at the direction of the question. “Have you figured out a way past it at long last?” he asked, excitement in his voice. As soon as he had said it, he regretted blurting out such an obviously stupid question.
“Please answer the question. What do you know about the K-Barrier?” she continued.
Taking a moment to collect his thoughts, he slowly started, “Well, on November 3rd, 2031, several nuclear detonations occurred in the outer limit of our atmosphere. Simultaneously, all orbiting satellites were destroyed. Only one of the space stations was manned at the time, so only twenty were killed. However, life here on Earth was totally disrupted when most information networks went down and the net was overloaded without the use of satellites to direct traffic. Several wars nearly broke out as blame was cast, many countries accusing the U.S. or China since they were the only countries with missile platforms in space capable of such devastation. No one was ever found to be responsible for the total destruction of all manmade orbiting devices.”
“Speculation ranges from an act of God, to secret government agencies trying to hide their activities, to the presence of aliens. To this day, we don’t know the why of it,” he concluded.
The woman smiled for the first time, or least her serious look softened some. “You left out something. What is the K-Barrier itself?”
“It is a barrier at about 80 kilometers above Earth’s surface. After November 3rd, any ship approaching that height has been completely destroyed. We aren’t even sure how they are destroyed. Sensor data never records anything except the ship exploding. Visual records never show anything either. It is as if the ship hits an invisible barrier and large parts of the vessel disintegrate from the impact.”
“Yes Major, that is about it. However, something has changed,” she said.
The woman looked to her colleagues and seeing their approval she continued. “Did you hear about the passenger plane that was destroyed yesterday?” Soon as she asked, all four of them seemed to get uncomfortable and looked up at him momentarily as if he was responsible.
“Yes, actually quite recently. I believe they were said to have approached too close to the Barrier.”
“That is what we reported, but truth is they were only flying at 30 thousand meters. We have been keeping it a secret because we think we know what has changed in the equation.”
“Are you saying you know more about the K-Barrier than has been released to the public?” Doneski asked, not at all surprised.
“Yes, at least we think we do. A few final questions before we get to the heart of the matter.”
Seeing him paying attention and eagerly waiting, she asked, “Do you know how many people have directly lost their lives to the K-Barrier, excluding the recent incident?”
“I have always been told it was less than one thousand. Twenty the day it appeared, but several airlines had planes collide with the Barrier the first few day before its limitations were fully understood, then several wackos who just knew that they were special enough that if they went themselves, they would be OK. After the first month or so, there has only been the occasional reports of someone piloting a personal rocket up there in the belief that if it is God or aliens then they will be spared. After the first month, we just send drones, and not so many after the first few years.”
“Correct. Next question - you ever kill anyone?” v This one threw him. He wasn’t sure how to respond at first, the tone in her voice was slightly hostile. “You mean while in the cockpit?” Obviously, they knew he had several confirmed kills while piloting drones.
“Yes,” she said flatly.v “Yes, I have. Not very many, mind you—and they were all military targets. Naturally, I don’t approve of taking life, even of enemy soldiers, but I feel my actions were justified and proper.”
“Appropriate answer for a soldier, I suppose,” she huffed.
That is odd. Is that not the answer she was looking for? he asked himself.
“How about in real time flying? Have you ever had to fight for your life and found it necessary to kill in those circumstances?” Her gruff German voice was still completely serious. Her studious stare told him that his next words were important, that his words would help this panel make their decision.
Uneasy once again with the direction of the conversation, he replied, “That is a matter of record. I have been in nine real-time dogfights and recorded 32 kills.” Are they wondering about how I feel about killing? Is that what they are looking for, a killer?
Realizing that she had let her personal feelings through, she regained her strict composure and unemotionally asked, “Your latest health report shows you to be in perfect health for a man of your age. That correct?”
“Final question, can you still take high G’s? Can you withstand a 5 G turn or acceleration? You said earlier that was why you no longer did stunt flying.”
“Again, yes, ma’am. I can take the G’s, I just feel sore and bruised afterward for several days.”
“Good.” She paused only long enough to look at her other three companions. With each of them nodding an assent, she continued on, “On authority of your President, you are to pack enough civilian garb and supplies for one month and make all necessary communications in the next 24 hours to explain your absence of an undetermined length without revealing anything of the nature of our conversation here or of your suspicions as to why you have been given this assignment. At that time you will surrender all your data transmission possessions to the MPs guarding you. They will then take you to your destination where you will receive further orders. If you have not objections, you are dismissed.”
As he got up to leave, one of the men who hadn’t spoken yet said, “Major, we all wish you luck. If you’re successful you will make history, literally, and the world will owe you a great debt.”
“God it’s cold,” Doneski said to his one constant traveling companion since he had left Paris. “So this is New Hope Base?”
“Yes, it is. But this is only the surface, it gets warmer as we go underground,” his companion added.
The trip had been uneventful in and of itself, not accounting for the unusual modes of transportation or the scenery. He had met up with his traveling companion while still inside the LeGrande. A Dr. Mallory Truelove, Mal for short. He was from India, spoke perfect American English, and held three Ph.D.’s. He had described them to Doneski but then had to shorten them so that the Major could better understand. Doneski came away with the idea that two of the Ph.D.’s were in different branches of high-energy physics and the third was in mathematics without fully understanding any of them were.
Mal had guided him to the public subways and from there they had gone to a harbor to board a small British merchant ship bound for Brazil. During the middle of the night while still in port, they left the ship and boarded an unmarked submarine. Below deck, it seemed to be a relatively modern sub. The crew all spoke English and Spanish but wore no identifying insignias. Doneski started to ask which country or organization they served at one point, but Mal had told him not to bother. It would be answered all in good time.
Mal had been all stiff and formal until the journey on the sub. He was of average build and appearance for a man from India and before the sub trip had been dressed in an expensive business suit with perfectly polished black shoes. Once on the sub, he had relaxed, both in dress (jeans and a T-shirt) and in manner.
Taking a seat across from Doneski who was reading a week old copy of USA Today that someone had left behind, Mal smiled earnestly and looked at the major. “OK, now is the time to start asking your questions. Or rather, getting some of your answers.”
Setting down the paper and taking a deep breath, Doneski couldn’t help but feel relieved. Mal had been mostly uncommunicative before now, but something about the man made it hard not to like him. “Uh, yeah. Big question first - why the secrecy?”
Mal grinned even larger. “Too broad of a question. The answer is because what we are doing is secret. The trip to Argentina wasn’t really all that secret Those that are against this plan know what we are doing and know where you are going, but are objecting in a formal manner. The secrecy is really to keep the rest of the world and your average citizen ignorant of what is going on.”
“I don’t follow - what’s going on?”
“Why - we are trying to bring down the K-Barrier. And of course, don’t you agree it is in our best interest to keep those responsible in the dark as to what we are attempting”
“Yeah, I suppose. So, do you know who is responsible?” Doneski asked.
“We have a strong theory at this time. But aliens keeping us in a bottle is still a possibility.” He said this with a small chuckle. Doneski wasn’t sure if the man was serious or joking. Doneski had always assumed that the K-Barrier was ultimately government related. There would be no reason for aliens to keep them bottled up on Earth—none that he could credibly entertain anyway.
Though it was fun to fantasize about the possibilities. There had been several fiction books and movies on why they might, but in the end, the major had to go with who his gut told him was responsible: some government with dominance in space.
Or some strange energy field that had taken up position around the earth, a result from the nuclear bombs that had gone off that fateful day. Truth was, it was like religion—believe what you want because it didn’t matter much on this side of it. As far as he knew there was no proof indicating what lay on the other side. Everyone had their own belief. At least having a belief about the K-Barrier didn’t kill people like religions often did. Unless of course, the hand of God was responsible for the Barrier. He had seen a recent poll showing that most Americans believed it was there by divine force.
“And that theory is?” he asked prodding.
“You’re ahead of yourself. We think we know who is responsible and how to break through it. But what I, we rather, really want of you is that you put together the pieces. We have an experimental craft we think can penetrate the Barrier. However, for reasons we believe important, the decision to pilot the craft must be reached by you instead of by us ordering you to do so. Yes, I am being somewhat evasive, but please bear with me on this. I will answer your questions, but only to steer you closer to the answer.”
“Once you know the whole story, the decision to help will be yours, completely voluntary. It is our belief that if you come to the same conclusions on your own, you will be most likely to help out. If we explain it to you, you might back out.”
“Well, what should my next question be then, if I am to get the run around for now?” He didn’t say it with any disgust or annoyance, and so Mal didn’t take any offense.
“Hmm, your next question should be, ‘Where am I going and what is that strange place?’”
“OK, that is a good question,” Doneski prompted.
“Glad you asked. Great start I might add,” Mal said, sitting up straighter now ready to further explain. “We are heading to Antarctica. In the year 2037, eight countries got together behind closed doors, pooling their technology and research talents, with the single goal of eliminating the Barrier. At the time, suspicion was strong that the Chinese were responsible. Since then, they have also been invited to the table on the matter. In an effort to figure it out, the best and the brightest minds were invited to an underground laboratory in Antarctica.”
“Now that laboratory is a fully functional city about a mile below ground powered by geothermal energy. Right now the population is about 2,000, mostly consisting of scientists and their families. How it has remained a secret for so long from the public I don’t have the slightest clue, because many have already come and gone before I started working here about twelve years ago. The surface base was established first, though its presence violated multiple international treaties. At that time only the founding countries of the U.S. and the U.K. knew of its existence. Then it was renamed to New Hope Base and they started drilling deeper and deeper with plans to make it a self-sufficient city. By then, other countries knew the base was here, but due to its small size as seen from the air, it was only a political issue and not much more.”
“This is hard to believe. A whole city underground.”
“Yet you believe in the Barrier, yes?” Mal asked.
“Yes, I do.”
“Do you discount that a government might be behind it?”
“Not at all. In fact, that is what I believe. I don’t doubt you, just saying this is a lot to take in. This is the kind of base I would expect from those responsible for the Barrier. But I guess it all makes sense. If we are to bring the Barrier down, similar feats have to be achieved by our side.”
“Exactly, and you’re right in more ways than one. Emulation may well be what saves us in the end. Well, that is where are going. I will let this sink in for the remainder of the trip. I want you to see your plane next before I tell you much more.”
Doneski nodded. At least now he knew there was an aircraft involved, not that he had much doubt before. But Mal had said “your plane.” They wanted him to pilot it, not just test it out and help with the bugs. And that meant that he might be risking his life. For why would he need a plane unless it was to take it up. And why take it up if not going all the way to the Barrier?
So they had talked on other topics for the rest of their journey. Mal was a big American football fan and with the season well underway they had a lot to discuss. During the several days of travel on the sub, they relived recent games interspersed with games of chess which Mal didn’t lose once. The Barrier wasn’t mentioned again.
Standing before the plane after having looked it over carefully, Doneski was disappointed. It looked like an overgrown drone, a hybrid from the fighters he had flown real time and the modern drones he was used to seeing, only slightly modernized. The only aspect setting it apart from a large drone was the bright silvery sheen of its skin. The lack of enthusiasm must have been evident on his face because Mal said, “Expecting more?”
“Yes. You said you would tell me more once I saw the plane. Just how will this break the Barrier, much less get me past it? Is the barrier a high-intensity laser and this hull is suppose to protect me?”
“Through superior technology. I told you my fields of research, one of them being in high-energy physics. That doctorate deals specifically with acceleration of matter to near the speed of light and how that affects what we know about the universe?”
“You used to work with one of the super colliders?” Doneski asked.
“Yes. Well, here’s another piece of the puzzle for you. We know how the K-Barrier destroys everything that approaches it. We have known this for several years actually. Approaching ships have been thoroughly destroyed by tiny pieces of matter accelerated to previously unattainable speeds. We believe the tiny particles to be graphite nanotubes, fifty times smaller than the smallest bacteria and it is these tubes which are being accelerated. With millions of them being accelerated, this acts like a shotgun blast, completely pulverizing the target. Since almost all of the kinetic energy is used up from the collision, there is no ballistic record of the shot. The nanotubes are converted back to basic carbon compounds in the process from the heat.”
“Like the legendary icy bullet which melts inside its target, except this one is shot by a rail gun?” Doneski asked.
“Precisely. Because of the speeds involved, it was years before we detected it.”
“So this ship can protect against such an attack? That hardly seems possible.”
“Actually, nothing could survive that kind of attack, nothing we currently know of anyway. But once we detected it, as chief researcher, it fell into my lap to investigate further. Whole leaps of technology have since been gained in the last twelve years since I have been here as a result of that one discovery. As I said on the sub, we are currently in emulation mode, learning what we can by observing the enemy.”
“So if this ship can’t protect me, what can it do?” Doneski asked?
“The impossible. Let’s just say that this ship allows you to avoid getting shot at in a most unique fashion.”
Major Doneski sat there in silence for several minutes. He really didn’t know what to ask next. He climbed into the cockpit and noted that the ship had a full armament system installed. Adding to what Mal had just told him, he speculated and then asked, “This ship, is it armed with similar guns?”
“Yep, not only that, the ship is propelled by a similar technology. But due to its mass, it only allows for a top speed of about Mach 7 at high altitudes.”
“Wow, fast as any drone. Do you have some way to protect me during turns?”
“Nope, but hopefully you won’t ever need to make sharp turns at speed. Also, the plane only allows for those speeds above the Barrier. We needed to know about your endurance to G’s because of the gun’s recoil. Each time the guns are fired the plane slows dramatically, by several G’s in fact.”
“Wow.” He could only imagine the forces necessary to create the need for him to withstand a several G’s of negative acceleration. “That’s a lot of firepower. Have you have taken this above the Barrier yet?”
“Not yet. It has been flown several times and we know from the wind tunnels that it flies properly and within specifications.”
Again silence as he pondered. Mal seemed to be holding true to the decision to let him figure it out for himself. “Am I to fight in this then, take on those responsible?”
“OK Mal, you still got me stumped. Once again I need help. What is my next question?”
“Well, you could always ask me about the other technologies we have gained over the last ten years.”
“OK. What other breakthroughs have you made, Dr. Mal?”
“The most impossible. Those particles I told you about, well they weren’t exactly traveling near one C, C being the speed of light. In a sense, they were traveling faster.”
“OK. I may not hold a degree in physics, but I have had more than enough schooling to know that nothing can exceed that speed, or even reach it for that matter.”
“As I said, in a sense. By strict math, they don’t ever reach C. However, under various conditions and in various scenarios, they can be made to appear as if they do. It is still all relative, but in practical effect that is exactly what happens. Those particles have been accelerated beyond the limit of what we thought possible.”
“Wow. And you can do this yourself?” Doneski asked.
“Yes, we can. That is how the engine of your ship is built. Once we had the preliminary data, we didn’t believe it. Skeptical, because it was impossible. One of the first rules of science is that if something is ever once proved wrong, go back to the drawing board—don’t ignore the evidence. Well, it wasn’t exactly proved wrong. It was all there in the theories once we accounted for the variables, we just had to figure out what they were and how it was all done.”
“It took over a hundred of the best minds in the world tackling this subject for more than eight years. It even put us years closer to a grand unification theory. About four years ago, one of my best understudies had a breakthrough, a truly novel approach to figuring the math. To be blunt, he accidentally noticed a similarity of various random equations to the problem, used them in a novel way to run the numbers, which resulted in a whole new approach for looking at the harmonics developed from gravitational theory. If this all weren’t so secret it would have been hailed as one of the greatest mathematical breakthroughs of the last hundred years. Just to give you an example of just how advanced this is, imagine if the ancient Romans had unlocked the secrets of the combustion engine and flight during in their time. This is way beyond us. But what we had seen and observed allowed for us to discover and figure it out. Sometimes just knowing something is possible makes the difference.”
“OK, I can see how that is big. What else does this knowledge give you besides super deadly guns?”
“Oh, not much,” Mal said nonchalantly. “Just time travel.” He downplayed it so much that Doneski almost missed it.
“You are kidding.” He said slowly, demanding that Mal agree to it.
“Not at all. We can’t send matter back in time, but we found we could send messages back via energy capsules.”
“Way beyond me now.”
“Well, I will try and press on, so hopefully you can understand. I think you will be able to keep up OK if you ignore the technical stuff and accept time travel as reality. We could accelerate matter faster than C, but it didn’t go backward in time as some supposed. Equations of relativity have always worked in certain ways to allow the possibility of this. But as I said, the matter never actually accelerates that fast, only appears to. Relativistic still. However, under controlled conditions, if we forced a pulse of light to go faster, it went back in time.”
“This is where the big shock came in.” Mal was really enjoying the explanation as if teaching and explaining how things worked was what he lived for. “If we completely encapsulated a small piece of matter in energy, and shot them together, guess what?”
Major Doneski saw the look of excitement in Mal’s eyes, so hesitantly said, “Your bullet went back in time?”
“Exactly. And now you also have the ship—a time-traveling ship, so to speak.”
“You know, I am beginning to think you’re teasing me,” Doneski warily said.
Laughing, “I know what you mean, I can scarcely believe it myself. I gave you a very simplified version of what happens, what I told you is technically incorrect, but hopefully, you can better understand what I just explained. This ship can shoot back in time, under certain guidelines. It can even travel back in time.”
“And those are?”
“OK, try and keep up with me on this one, for this part is important and it's vital you understand. First, it can’t go forward in time, it can only go backward, and then we can retrieve it. Second, it can only go where it has been before, essentially, this ship will only go to the times that it has visited. It has never journeyed to the past to see the pyramids being built or see the death of Christ, so it never will. It can’t. However, if we know it was sent back to a certain time, then it can go back there because it has already done so. But we can only send it to that time once because it was only there once. You follow?”
“Uh, not sure. No.”
“Basically, we don’t believe it possible to change the past, and that is why the ship can only go to certain times. Changing history can’t be done. This has been theorized for decades—how if time travel were ever possible via whatever means, be it the high gravitational force of a superstring or through a doughnut-shaped black hole,” seeing a blank stare, he pressed on, not bothering to go back and explain his examples. “Well anyway, the thought is that no matter what you do, you can’t change the past even if you visit it and try.”
“Ah, the grandfather paradox,” the major said, keeping up a little. “Where even if you could go back in time, you could never do anything which would keep you from going back in time in the first place—like killing your grandfather before your father was born, making it impossible for you to be born. Because if you did, then you create the paradox that you couldn’t go back in time because you were never born in the first place, and therefore no one killed your grandfather, and so on.”
“Exactly right. All experiments show this to be exactly the case. That we can only send matter back that we know has already been sent back helps confirm this. Now you have the unfortunate truth of the matter, you know all the pieces of the puzzle that we know. I’ll leave you alone to consider, because when the truth of what we are suggesting dawns upon you, you won’t like it. But remember this, our goal is to get out of the threat of the K-Barrier by eliminating the threat, the sooner the better.” With that, he nodded once more and left.
As he was leaving, Major Doneski said loud enough to carry across the room, “But how? You said the past can’t be changed. How can I eliminate something if I can’t go back and do it?” But he got no answer.
That night as Doneski sat in a near-empty cafeteria finishing his supper, still deep in thought. One possibility had occurred to him, but one he didn’t think was possible. Finishing his meal, he went back to his room to study the flight manual once more. They called the plane the Silver Bullet. An odd name if the mirror-like metallic finish of the plane wasn’t taken into consideration. Given that the plane’s purpose was to destroy the enigmatic K-Barrier that had been haunting mankind for the last several decades like some kind of movie monster, add to that the plane’s silver sheen, the name seemed appropriate.
His thoughts were consumed with the possibility of time travel and how it might relate to the situation. Later when he found Mal going over some paperwork in his lab with the door wide open, Major Doneski knocked on the wall just outside the door.
Looking up, Mal saw the training manual in the Major’s hands, “Studying up I see. That’s good. It’s awful late though, shouldn’t you be resting up? Tomorrow we will let you take her out for some high altitude test flights.”
“Great. I’ve been thinking. And I’m curious, why the silver design?”
Mal only replied with, “Why do you think it’s silver?”
The way that Mal asked the question told Doneski that his thinking was close to the answer. Getting this validation, he didn’t feel foolish when he answered. “I think it’s because you not only figured out the how of what is destroying everything above the K-Barrier but that you have already spotted it, and not only that, the Silver Bullet is a replica.”
“You are correct, we actually spotted it over fifteen years ago, but you are thinking of something else, aren’t you.” For the first time since Doneski had met Mal, he saw the man’s demeanor change to complete seriousness. It was almost scary having the doctor stare at him so intently. This could only mean one thing, his wild suspicion was correct.
“If what I am thinking is at all true, you got the wrong man. I won’t do it.”
Mal looked down and placed the paper he was holding gently on the desk. Standing up with both hands on his desk, he looked down for a while before looking up. “Major, let us be clear. What do you think is going on here? I said I wanted you to reason it out, but I want you to go further still.”
“The Silver Bullet out there isn’t a replica, you believe it to be the actual ship responsible for destroying all the satellites and planes of the K-Barrier.”
“We certainly hope so, we so dearly do.”
“But why, that means all of you, those put in charge of getting rid of the K-Barrier are responsible for creating it in the first place. You guys are responsible for murdering hundreds of people and asking me to be the executioner. Not only will I not help but I am seriously trying to think of ways to stop you.”
“Major - please sit down.” After a brief staring match, they had both seated themselves and Mal started talking very slowly, a definitive resolute stance in his voice.
“The K-Barrier has been argued as the greatest plague against mankind. But I have begun to think different. It did set us back decades, but at the same time we have had to learn whole new technologies to adapt and rely on life without satellites. It has only set us back decades if we get rid of it in the near future. If we don’t get rid of it for centuries or don’t discover the cause, then how far has it set us back? It must be destroyed. Do you not agree? Every year more and more people die, and if we don’t know the cause, then we don’t know that we won’t someday find out too late the real reason it is there.”
“But not at the cost you are asking. It’s not just murder, it’s a bizarre sort of premeditated murder,” Doneski replied.
“Why? Those people are already dead. True, whoever goes back in the Silver Bullet will be responsible for killing them, but they have already died anyway. We have argued long and hard about this for many feel as you, almost all started off feeling as you do now. Truth is, if it is not us who is responsible, then we are no further along to answering the question. We have at our disposal the means to get rid of the K-Barrier in the next few days. We fulfill the requirements of the past, placing ourselves as the ones responsible, then we can stop it immediately. As said, we can’t change the past, but we still control the future. If we do, then the K-Barrier is gone even as we speak. But until we go back and account for all those deaths, then we don’t really know if we were to blame, now do we? Let me ask you this, what if we are right, but we wait fifty years to try this. Then how many more lives are lost because we did nothing?”
“You’re taking innocent civilian lives. I mean, I understand the concept of what you are saying, crazy as this all is. I do understand. At the same time, you are asking me to commit murder on a large scale.”
“It is for the sake of mankind, and again, this is what it keeps coming back to, those people are dead no matter what we do. We know exactly how and when they died. If a man is drowning, does it really matter if we toss a hair dryer into the water? If he is dead anyway, can it be argued we really killed him?” He held up his hand to ward off any objection, “Weak correlation, but it is the best I can do. This is time travel we are talking about. We are dealing with an impossibility of cause and effect. We know the effect. We know the effect to be definite, we are just determining that we will be the cause so we can understand it and prevent more deaths.”
“And what if you’re wrong?”
“Then what has really changed? If we are wrong then we start over looking for new solutions. However, know this, your first mission flight will be to fly into orbit. Time travel of this scale won’t work in the Earth’s atmosphere. So you will be taking a grave risk in that if we are wrong about the cause of the Barrier, you will be dead before the ship ever goes back in time.”
“So my first duty is to decide whether or not I believe in this lunacy enough to sacrifice my life.”
“Yes. But you do, don’t you?” Mal asked.
“If you can prove the part about time travel, then I suppose yes I do,” Doneski reluctantly agreed.
“Well, that is a tough one to prove, but doable. Though we can’t change the past, miracles are possible and this is the best proof available.”
“It is one of the other paradoxes of time travel. Originally I believe a ‘miracle’ was a term from computer programming where variables appear with no source. Your records show you play the guitar, that correct?”
“You ever written any truly great and memorable songs?” Mal asked?
“No, I’ve tried. Wrote a few catchy tunes, that’s it.”
“What if you came back in time and said to yourself ‘Here - this is the greatest song ever written. But in three years time, you must come back in time and give this song to yourself, so you have it.’ So you take this great song of yours and become famous. Now, did you write this great song?”
“No, it was given to me.”
“Then, if you didn’t write it, where did it come from?”
“Er, I gave it to myself.” Doneski paused and contemplated his answer. “But . . . OK, I think I see where you’re going. No one ever wrote the song.”
“Exactly, that is a miracle. One of the paradoxes of time travel. It came from nowhere, so logically shouldn’t be able to exist, but because of the inflexibility of time, any time you go back in time, you’re taking back information that didn’t exist until the time you arrived, and that information is all newly created at that point. It is the miracle. I use the song as an example to illustrate a point, but merely going back in time creates miracles because of the butterfly effect—whatever you do affects everything from that point forward, including your possible decision to go back in time.”
“In the strictest sense, matter and energy are just types of information. When they go back, information is added which wasn’t there before. That was one of the arguments against time travel being impossible. This whole K-Barrier could be nothing more than some horrendous miracle and we are just completing the cycle by fulfilling our roles. Heck, the whole ability to travel in time came from observing the Silver Bullet going back in time. It could be entirely possible that we wouldn’t have figure out what we now know for centuries, if ever, if it weren’t for those observations of the other Silver Bullet.”
“What if I go back? Once I am there I can always choose to alter history. When you save the world, your suppose to be a hero, not a slaughterer of innocents.”
“That is a possibility, but we really don’t know how that will work. All attempts we have made to change the past have failed. Problem is, we have no idea how to test this possibility reliably. We have tried several tests and scenarios, but they all come back negative. Somehow, someway, events happen as laid out. If not by you, then we fear you may be destroyed in the process by whatever is responsible for the Barrier because we were mistaken. Or we send someone else back who will complete the task. But know this, every day we delay, if we are correct, others will die and mankind is still hobbled. Do you want to wait until we find another pilot we can trust? One reason you were chosen is that your personality profile shows you would eventually agree to this task.”
“If you decide not to fire, assuming you make it through the barrier and the entire ship can actually travel through time, then this is how it will go. You will have your target locked and at that precise moment if you don’t fire, the target will still be destroyed. And at that point, because it was not you, that means that the K-Barrier will go on for years if not centuries to come.”
“Yes, there is a small chance you could change the future, because as said, we are already dealing with several aspects of physics which were impossible mere years ago. We don’t come close to fully understanding the ramifications of you deciding not to fire. But this is the crux, are you willing to risk the attempt to change the future versus allowing the K-Barrier continue to limit mankind, possibly forever. All for the lives of a few people? As a soldier, you have had to deal with the concept of tolerable civilian risk in military actions before.”
Two days later after several test flights, he sat with officials from the nations involved in this mission. He had asked to address them all at the start. “What you have asked of me is in some ways deplorable, but I understand the need. I find the whole idea of killing innocent civilians evil, especially when they are not an imminent threat in and of themselves, but I understand the purpose of your request. I understand that at this point, it is a request—a request to go back in time and kill hundreds of people for the sole purpose of benefitting the greater whole of mankind. If I do this, then I am responsible, and once I take responsibility for this crime, the world can continue on. As such, I will harden my heart and be your assassin. So with this, I ask you pray for my soul and that God may find my actions necessary, and that should He decide I am to be condemned, that He might find some small mercy for me. Having said this, what are my orders?”
United States Air Force General Adam Kennedy gravely said, “Though we will probably never see judgment on this side of life, we all share in your guilt for what we now initiate. Your first task will be to shoot down the passenger jet Flight 42199 which was lost with all aboard one week ago. Should that prove successful, we will move on to the next target and work backward.”