OCTOBER 11TH, 2001 HOURS (1901 HOURS MOUNTAIN TIME)
“Hard to believe,” Tom said. “Approximately 465,000 pounds sitting right there. That is, if the hull permits the weight to be registered.”
Colonel Stevens scanned around the robotic mass containment vehicle. What a sturdy, powerful-looking structure, consisting primarily of glass-like steel alloys. For a second or so, he wasn’t staring into the incredibly resilient vehicle, but instead viewing a neonatal incubator, for preterm babies, what with the clear plastic dome covering a metallic rectangular base. But in place of a white blanket and a helpless, small baby on a white sheet, three tiny vehicles, the size of toys in plastic capsules obtained from those familiar twenty-five cent vending machines, rested upon a shiny, metallic surface. All three were yet wrapped in the same three-quarter inch thick hull, the hull never allowing a diminishing of its thickness, even after thirty-one decrease events. Stunning, to say the least. “I know. The subway car is the heaviest, weighing about 418,000 pounds. The Ford Mondeo is only about seventeen thousand pounds, and the Suburban is about thirty thousand pounds.” He gave Tom a curious eye. “And what again have you calculated for the bus’s dimensions and weight?”
“In terms of inches, for your General Tauring, about seven tenths of an inch tall, a half inch wide, and 1.94 inches long, though it could weigh, if the hull allows it, and wherever it is, about 163,000 pounds.”
“Amazing.” Colonel Stevens ducked down and took a closer look at the robotic mass containment vehicle. It was only about two feet wide by three feet long, and the main structure itself, not including the dome, only stood about two and a half feet off the floor. But with its six metal wheels, covered with that newer tough rubber product and supported by special hundred-ton shock absorbers attached to each axel, this thing was ready to take on 465,000 pounds. And fortunately Colonel Jennings’ team supplied it with a front touch screen control, for programming and output. “Very nice,” he said to Colonel Jennings, just approaching. “Your team at its best, producing such a robotic device so quickly. And an alarm will go off, if the hull permits the vehicles’ weights to be measured?”
“Uh, thank you sir. And yes, an alarm will sound. It can handle the weight, but we still want to keep a close eye on it. So an alert was needed.”
Colonel Stevens shook his head. “Again, quite amazing.”
“Amazing because your general has abandoned my theory for the decrease events,” Tom said. “He stubbornly insists we are not changing, but the hull vehicles, and people, wherever they could be, still are.” He pointed at himself and everyone else. “This amazing difference is because we are becoming incredibly lightweight and large, that’s all.”
“Tom, please,” Colonel Stevens said quietly. “We’ve discussed this already.” He glanced over at the display screen on the wall. General Tauring, with Major Ko yet helping, appeared ready to go. “He’s giving a summation of all the decrease events, and their times and hours.” An important question entered his thoughts. He rested his gaze on Colonel Jennings, and took the moment to draw in all her beauty that he could. “So, the highest energy level was reached, with the thirty-first decrease event?”
“Yes, sir. A very intense bright violet. And, as I’ve told you before, we can no longer determine the time from the Suburban, since its digital clock appears as a constant red dot, even under high magnification, the hull permitting, so we had to use Dr. Maplen’s calculations. Since the thirty-first decrease event occurred at eighteen hundred hours, one second our time is now equivalent to 5792.62 seconds in the hull.”
“Unbelievable, to say the least,” Colonel Stevens said. “Have you added up the total amount of time yet?”
“No, sir. General Tauring wanted us to finish building the mass containment vehicle first. And he wanted us to keep working on the PDT, and work with Major Eiken, to determine once and for all if Evan had any previous alien encounters.”
“And what were those outcomes?”
“The PDT…we never could get it to work, and there is just no evidence of Evan, or the others for that matter, having any prior EBE encounters. Absolutely nothing.”
General Tauring suddenly arrived near Colonel Stevens. “Damnit, Stevens. I know Nylander had to take a sick leave for this meeting, but where the hell is Indalo?”
Colonel Stevens looked at his cell phone again. “Nothing, sir. He’s not responding, for some reason. Should the DFRs conduct a search?”
“No. Not yet.” He let out a disgusted sigh. “We’re probably better off without him now anyway. You three come over to the screen. We’re ready to review the decrease events.” He eyed Tom. “Especially you, Dr. Maplen. I need to know when the next one will occur.”
Colonel Stevens began leading them over to the display screen.
“You mean the last one, the final one,” Tom said.
Why Tom? Why did he have to say that now?
General Tauring stopped in his steps and turned back. “I’m in no mood, Dr. Maplen. Just review the tables and give me your answer.”
Fortunately that didn’t get worse.
The general continued walking until he stood near the screen. He removed the remote from his pocket and pointed it at the screen. “This presentation is compliments of Colonel Jennings’ help, and the few times Captain Indalo was able to record the hull vehicles, along with some talented Photoshop users on Jennings’ team.” The huge screen lighted up and two seven-column tables appeared. “As you will note, the top table gives the number of decrease events in accordance with our time zone here at the base. The bottom table, per Dr. Maplen’s suggestion, displays the decrease events in accordance with the Turrone’s time zone, since, as mentioned earlier by Dr. Maplen, these specific times could be more significant, due to the hull’s apparent connection with Evan. I would like all of you to contemplate these tables a moment, and observe any similarities or differences.”
Colonel Stevens eyed the tables astutely. The only difference he could notice, other than the actual different time occurrences of the decrease events, was that for their base, starting on October 5th, the first day had four total decrease events, the second day had three total decrease events, and the third day had two total decrease events. However, for the first, second, and third days in the Turrones’ time zone, three decrease events happened each day. But for the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh day in either time zone, starting on the fourth day, six decrease events occurred, then for the next day seven, then five, and then possibly five on the last day, the seventh day, which, was today. Yet that could only be the case if Tom was correct, and the last decrease event ended it all, later tonight. He shuddered a moment, but forced himself to concentrate on General Tauring’s positive, adamant message about all of this. And then he noticed something else. Since the hull people had last been seen at Warburton, Victoria, on October 8th at about 1610 hours base time, the decrease events had odd time spans – a four hour spread on October 8th, but on October 9th, the first two were at four hours apart, then the next two at three hours apart, and then the last two that day were at four hours apart. On October 10th, all decrease events happened at five hours apart. And on October 11th, today, decrease events happened at six hours apart, except for determining the last one, which was yet to happen. But why did those decrease events happen at three hours apart? “Sir, if I may.”
“Go ahead, Stevens.”
He looked at Colonel Jennings. “The two, three-hour spread of decrease events. Is that after your last nuclear tests took place?”
“Yes, sir. But I’m not exactly sure, since maybe the hull was planning to do this anyway. Yet the decrease event spans did seem to increase after I stopped.”
“Yes, seems to be the case,” General Tauring said in agreement.
Slight motion by the door caught Colonel Stevens left eye. One of the two DFRs was quietly opening the door and allowing Captain Indalo to walk in, with, surprisingly, Hakan, right behind him. General Tauring’s back was to the door so he didn’t see them enter.
“So, Dr. Maplen,” General Tauring said, giving Tom a scrutinizing stare, “after examining the decrease event span, when do you believe the next one will occur?”
“Well, I can only conclude that since the hull is most likely following along Evan’s timeline, in his time zone, then it would have to be five hours from the most recent one, or twenty-three hundred hours base time, since that would be midnight their time. A conclusion of seven days, though not one hundred sixty eight hours, mind you, since this started.”
“Yes, that seven keeps popping up, as in seven people, seven of Indalo’s images, seven--”
Another involuntary shudder shot up through Colonel Stevens. That was Indalo’s voice. He looked at him. Indalo’s bronze skin was tinged dark red, his eyes bulging.
“ExCUSE ME, Captain?” General Tauring turned to see him. Almost the same identical red, bulging-eye look now covered the general’s face too. “Did I just hear a very insubordinate tone from you?”
With each step he took within the large room, drawing closer, Indalo revealed an agitated state; he puffed in and out rough, deliberate breaths. He clenched and relaxed his fists repeatedly, though his arms hung loosely by his sides. “You…you never told us why our so-called EBE friends left us high and dry.”
The DFRs by the door had their weapons prepared for use and watched Indalo with alert eyes.
General Tauring fearlessly took a few steps closer to Indalo. “But I have a feeling you’re going to tell me. “ He eyed Hakan walking closer behind Indalo. Similar to that time after the general’s horrid nightstick strike on Evan, Hakan didn’t have his usual assured stance. “What exactly did you tell him, Dr. Hakan?”
“Not what I told him, but what my brother Neal revealed to us.”
Immediately General Tauring stopped in his steps. His air of confidence deflated. He looked at Indalo again. “Captain, I’ll have you court marshalled, and, or, arrested. This better be worth it. “
A crazed countenance sprung across Indalo’s face. “Oh, it is. Neal channeled with one of those Anunnaki.” Indalo was struggling to diminish his heavy breathing. He swallowed, quite visibly, the click in his throat eerily echoing. “They have a device, that exists in another dimension realm, independent from ours and impervious to changes outside our realm, that keeps track of known universe constants. And…and it shows massive changes between our two dimensions.” He smiled, yet was trembling now along with his other agitated behaviors. “You see, they knew, that our universe was self-destructing. That’s why they left.”
“Nonsense!” General Tauring’s loud voice boomed and echoed within the expansive room. “We have discussed this at length! You, me, your team, Dr. Maplen, Colonel Jennings’ team,” he said, pointing at each of them as he spoke. “What, have you forgotten everything? Yes, I know, Dr. Maplen’s math seems correct, and Cepheid variables, pulsars, and binary stars show no changes, but it’s impossible for the universe to simply vanish.” He whipped around to face Colonel Jennings. “The Big Slurp. An accelerating universe. Tell him again!”
No. It can’t be. Colonel Jennings was trembling. Weakly she stared at Indalo. “The Higgs mass, and top quark, implying our universe is in a metastable state, or false vacuum. So if our--”
“I know, I know!” Captain Indalo burst out. “Our universe could be a false vacuum, within a much larger, stable vacuum.” He kept walking, heading now in her direction. “And if that larger, outer vacuum were to nucleate, or form a bubble of true vacuum in our false vacuum, we would be annihilated. But if it happened millions of light years from here, it would take millions of light years to get here. And if it happened here, when the hull began, we would be gone already. Or that wonderful accelerating, expanding universe theory. Would take billions, to trillions of years for our universe to run out of heat and energy before it would end.” He stopped in his steps and pointed at the general. “But you…you always claimed that our EBE friends are supremely intelligent, and know everything!”
Though it seemed he wanted to scream a response, General Tauring held it in and pointed the remote at the screen. “Captain, let me show you something.” He began clicking forward in his presentation, with some of the still video images Indalo had been able to procure passing by quickly. “The hull. Still three-quarters of an inch in thickness.” He finally landed on an image of Lang within the now very thick hull. “From Jennings’ team. A computer generated image.” Tiny little Lang, now the size of a fly, comparatively speaking, was completely surrounded by the hull so he appeared as though in the center of a small, thick-shelled, clear-plastic egg, his head, arms and legs not even registering any bumps on the hull’s surface at this point. It wasn’t much different than how the hull vehicles appeared. “Lang. Now 0.4 inches tall, yet, according to Dr. Maplen’s theory, he weighs about a thousand pounds.” He stared at Indalo. “It’s been seventy-six hours our time, Captain, since we last heard a peep from them. No emails from Evan. No confirmation of their existence or non-existence from any of Jennings’ communication attempts with the hull. We can only presume they are dead. And yet, this same hull, which you trust with the premonitions it gave you, and which communicated to you, I quote, ‘But it is not Lang, Evan, Akina, Nahas, Kyleigh, Robert, and Alan who should be afraid.’ – so, they should be fine and dandy right now. And yet we have no proof they’re alive?”
“You think they should be dead, with such heights and weights, because you refuse to accept that we are changing, not them. And besides, they may just be on that bus, or on the hull alien’s other dimensional world, for all we know.”
“So why didn’t those damn aliens take these remaining vehicles?” General Tauring pointed at the containment vehicle. “Huh? What’s up with that?” He pointed at Hakan. “And I have serious doubts about your brother’s channeling. There’s no proof!”
Hakan folded his arms over his chest. “You always believed him before, General.”
General Tauring flung his arms out, and ignored Hakan’s response. “And never mind aliens, with your theory, Captain. You’re implying a supreme being, a powerful God.” He started pacing but kept his eyes on Indalo. He finally stopped and stared at him. “Out of the entire universe, of countless inhabited planets with intelligent life, God decides to save only seven, goofy, incompetent misfits from Earth, with one an atheist and another not even sure what religion he’s following?”
“Yeah, well. I don’t know who or what is doing this.” Indalo eyed Major Ko, who was glancing at his watch. Really? Now? Indalo stared back at General Tauring. “Why…why couldn’t you, and your commanders, have checked into this further?” His agitated countenance finally diminishing some, tears began filling his eyes, and then a few streams lined his cheeks. He quickly swiped them away. “How could you have missed this happening?”
General Tauring let out a short, gruff laugh. “Well now, what difference would it have made, Captain? You’re absolutely certain the universe is going to end in a matter of hours, for crying out loud, so how could my announcement have helped any?”
“Because…because we could have spent these last moments with our family and friends. That’s why those aliens left!”
“Oh, sure. We all know EBEs do THAT on a regular basis.” His words flowed thick in sarcasm. “Well, no one was stopping you. You could have contacted family and friends online or through phone calls on your free time.”
“No! I didn’t because you kept reassuring us that this couldn’t be happening!” Indalo stared at Major Ko once more, and then pointed at the major. “There you go again, checking your watch!”
“What? I was just wondering how long the hull vehicles have been in the mass containment device!”
Indalo walked closer to Major Ko, the crazed, tearful look in his eyes intensifying again. “No! I’ve been checking you at every previous meeting, and you’ve done it maybe once each time. But you’ve checked your watch four times since I’ve been here!”
Could that be? Colonel Stevens’ heart rate accelerated much faster. Had he simply not noticed?
“All right. I’ve had enough.” General Tauring motioned for the DFRs to approach. “Get this crazed man out of here. Take him down to the sick room.”
The DFRs didn’t hesitate and soon grasped their hands on Indalo’s upper arms. At first Indalo tried whipping his arms away, but it proved fruitless. He finally settled into allowing them to ease him toward the door.
Loud, rhythmic beeps suddenly bellowed through the air; the robotic mass containment vehicle’s alarm system had sounded. General Tauring flinched, noticeably. The metal under each hull vehicle dented in with a low, metallic clang, and the upper portion of the mass-containment vehicle sunk down. Immediately the advanced shock absorbers produced a mild humming noise, indicating their success at supporting the weight.
Pointing a small device at the bellowing monstrosity, Colonel Jennings made the ear-piercing noise come to an abrupt end.
Tom cautiously inched his way closer to the mass containment vehicle. “Why did the hull suddenly give them weight?”
“I don’t know,” Colonel Stevens answered, intermittently keeping his eyes on Indalo, though replicating Tom’s cautious motion toward the vehicle.
Major Ko stepped closer too, looking at his watch at the same time.
“That’s the fifth time!” Captain Indalo shrieked, his face even more red, and contorted. Seemingly undeterred the DFRs continued to tug him toward the door.
Hakan kept his eye on Indalo, but glanced back at the mass containment vehicle and General Tauring.
“I was just w-wondering th-the time, it occurred.” Stumbling in his speech, Major Ko nevertheless held his stare locked on Indalo.
A dark, sickening feeling filled Colonel Stevens. Instead of continuing to draw closer to the mass containment vehicle, he stopped, and began inching back away from it. Tom and Major Ko copied his unsettling behavior.
“All right, enough, people,” General Tauring said. “We’re losing it here. Settle down.” Though exhibiting a few nervous twitches in his shoulders and neck, the general walked around the mass containment vehicle, carefully inspecting every spot, every angle. Colonel Jennings stepped closer and did the same. “Everything seems fine.”
General Tauring jolted, and looked at Indalo. Hakan was already out the door, but the DFRs were struggling to get Indalo out.
“Those EBEs are supremely intelligent!” Indalo held on to the sides of the door, rage burning in his eyes.
“Airmen, get him out of here!”
They finally did.
General Tauring swallowed, and didn’t even try to hide it. Beneath his crisp, neat uniform, his rib cage moved rapidly, his breathing entering tachypnea. “The hull probably just wanted us…to know it’s still here.” Sweat droplets formed around the general’s forehead. He reached in his pocket, pulled out a white cloth, and dabbed them away. “All right. I say we all head back to our quarters for now and get a good long rest. We need it, after all the hard work we’ve been through.” He glanced around at everyone, paleness and a sense of dread plastered all over his face. “We’ll all meet again, at zero dark thirty. You’re all excused, for now.”
Either Captain Indalo’s erratic behavior had truly sapped the general’s energy, or he was finally realizing Tom was right.
Colonel Stevens exhaled a trembling breath and tried to accept what was yet to come.