OCTOBER 11TH, 82 microseconds before 12:00 AM (82 microseconds before 11:00 PM MOUNTAIN TIME)
“Lang. Wake up, mate.” A hand shoved against Lang’s right shoulder a few times. “I need to see your watch.”
His eyelids heavy, sleepiness yet encompassing him, Lang opened them just a slit. A blurry, indistinct image came into view. His breathing elevated slightly. With each inward breath he took, the herbal, fragrant scent of Kyleigh’s hair lingered, encouraging him to relax and awaken further. He opened his eyes completely. His head was still tilted to the left and he could see Kyleigh yet rested against his left side, her rib cage slowly expanding and contracting against his body. Please, Lord. Just let her be sleeping. He gently released his right hand from around her waist and turned forward. Robert, eyes serious, intense, his arms trembling, sat across from Lang. “You need…to see…my watch? My cell phone too?” Lang wiggled the fingers of his right hand. “My hand…feels fine, not stiff, not tingling.” He smacked his tongue around the inside of his mouth a few times. “Unbelievable. My mouth’s…not even dry.” It felt like he and Kyleigh had only been sleeping several hours. “And we’re obviously still alive.”
Nahas was staggering down the aisle, as someone who just awoke would do, using the seats for support. He arrived and stood next to Kyleigh’s seat.
Lang stared up at him. “Nahas. You all right?”
“Yes, I’m okay. Much better than that extreme fatigue, and myasthenia, or excuse me, muscle weakness, on Titan.”
“Titan?” Lang’s gaze drifted to the right of Nahas. An expansive tan-tinted surface, perfectly flat, with staggered, looping dark brown bands, and a distant, huge shelf crammed with a microwave, books, and eating utensils, filled the view out the bus’s windows. Gone were the methane lakes and rocky horizons. “What the…we’re not on Titan anymore?”
“Yeah. We’re still alive, but we’re not on Titan anymore.” Without warning, Robert dug his fingers in between Lang’s left thigh and Kyleigh’s right knee until he took hold of Lang’s left wrist. He pulled it up and closely eyed Lang’s watch. Robert looked up at Nahas. “Same date. Well, I guess that explains everything.”
His words made no sense. “What are you talking about?” Lang began lifting his watch near his face.
A scream came from the front of the bus.
“Akina! Stay calm.” Nahas staggered off in her direction. “I’ll be right there.”
Lang remembered Evan sat behind him and immediately lunged forward to get up.
But Robert seized Lang’s right shoulder and pushed him back into the seat. “Lang. Look at me.” Robert was breathing hard, his eyes wide, but his trembling now gone. “Felt like you slept for just a couple of hours, right?”
“Yeah…yes, it did. Why are you holding me down?” He struggled some, but Robert pushed him into the seat even more.
Kyleigh was beginning to stir, trying to sit up. Thank you, Lord, that she’s definitely alive.
“Well, you didn’t,” Robert said. “Brace yourself, Lang. We’ve been sleeping…according to our cell phones and your watch, for about four and a half years.”
“What?” He eyed his watch, but his yet lethargic eyes could barely read the date and time.
“Say that again?” Kyleigh said, her voice sleepy. “How many years?”
That voice - that was a low, deep voice, a voice Lang didn’t recognize. He turned to see behind his seat, struggling against Robert’s grip.
Robert shook Lang. “Lang, look at me!” He did, viewing dark eyes even more intense than earlier. “Evan…Evan is no longer a twelve year old boy.”
“What?” This had gone on long enough. Lang thrashed his right forearm up and outwards into Robert’s inner elbow. The force of it pushed Robert sideways into the seat next to the one he had just sat in.
Lang shot up. He turned back and looked at Evan. The image slamming into his brain nearly threw him backwards on top of Robert – Evan, sitting up straighter from just awakening, had the same exact Raider’s jacket, black tee shirt, and blue jeans as before, except now they were all larger - because Evan was so much larger.
Panic emanated from this much taller, older Evan; he was trembling, his breathing fast, labored. “Dad.” His voice was deep, mature. He held out his shaking hands. “What happened to my hands?” He grabbed his mouth, and then his throat. “My voice!” His similar dark brown eyes, though bordered now by an older teenage face, pleaded to Lang. “What happened to me?” He grabbed his face and felt all around it.
Lang leaned over the seat and took hold of Evan’s free, trembling hand, a hand that was even larger than his own. “Son, it’s all right, it’s all right.” This was all happening far too fast. Lang felt his body breaking down; his breathing accelerated, and tremors rattled him uncontrollably. No. Relax! Stay calm, for Evan. He breathed in deeply and forced the shaking to subside slightly. “We apparently slept, for four and a half years. You are…you’re sixteen and a half now.”
“Dad. That’s impossible.” Evan’s deep, baritone voice just made no sense, and his hand’s size just couldn’t be conceivable. “And I’m not hungry, or thirsty still? Or have to use the bathroom? It only seems like I slept for a couple of hours.”
“Same here,” Robert said. “Nahas and I aren’t craving food or water, or need to use the toilet.” He moved closer and looked at Lang. “How ‘bout you?”
Struggling to wade through the dark, horrible sensations overflowing in his mind, Lang finally realized the same. “Yeah. No hunger. No thirst. I definitely don’t have to use the bathroom.”
“Your dad, Nahas, and I felt like we only slept for a couple hours too,” Robert told Evan. “But our cell phones and your Dad’s watch say otherwise. The hull is fooling us, obviously.”
“Yeah, it sure must be.” Evan glanced at each face nearby. “Because none of you guys look older. So, the hull makes me get older, but not you guys? Why?”
Lang shook his head. "Makes no sense. I don't know."
"Messing with us again. But at least we're all okay." Robert then looked in Lang’s face. “Evan’s right. No hair growth yet. Do I look the same?”
Lang glanced all round Robert’s face. “Exactly. Nothing’s changed at all. Not one bit of stubble. And your hair hasn’t grown.”
“It felt like a short nap to me too.” Kyleigh slowly stood up from her seat. She stepped behind the seat’s back until she stood closer to Evan.
Swallowing nervously, his gaze darting all around, Evan released Lang’s hand and gradually brought himself up to his full height.
Alan was beginning to awake in his corner.
“Thank God,” Lang said. “Yes. At least all of us are alive.”
Kyleigh took hold of Evan’s trembling hands. “My, what a handsome young man you are.” She looked up at him and smiled, obviously trying to distract and comfort him.
“How could my clothes…” Evan scanned all around the clothes on his body. “Have grown too?” He gently slipped his hands away from Kyleigh’s grasp and grabbed clumps of his jacket, shirt, jeans. “How did the hull do this?”
“My eyes must be lying.” Alan stood up. “I heard you guys talking. Four and a half years. Asleep. But, Evan.” He stared all around Evan. “He’s as tall as me now!”
Kyleigh eyed them both standing near each other. “It does look that way,” she said quietly, her voice shaky.
Lang noticed their similar heights too. “He’s taller than me, and I’m normally six feet tall.”
“I’m one point nine meters,” Alan said. “That’s six feet three inches tall in American.”
“Wow, Evan.” Lang gave him a broad smile, though inwardly his stomach twisted, his heart raced. “Never thought you’d be taller than me.”
“Evan’s new height isn’t all, mates,” Robert said. “Compared to everything else, looks like we’re about the size of ants now. Brace yourselves when you look out the windows – the hull layer is super thick now and for some damn reason the hull decided to pluck us off Titan and plop us on General Tauring’s desk, right in front of his face and laptop.”
“In front of his face?” Lang asked. “What do you mean?”
Robert pointed toward the front of the bus. “I nearly had a blasted heart attack, waking up, seeing that huge eye and nose out the windshield. Nahas got up next. We stared at the face for a while…and, since he’s resting on his side, it was hard to tell for sure. But we’re rather sure it’s General Tauring. Same intense gray eyes. ”
Kyleigh slowly began making her way down the aisle. “Oh my Lord. I see him!” She ducked down, to get a better view. “He laid his head on his arm, on the desk. He looks the size of a mountain from here. Why is he just staring, not moving?”
“Probably the slower time,” Nahas said. “Much slower time, I’m assuming.”
“This is insane.” Kyleigh continued her hesitant path down the aisle.
Alan walked around Evan and followed Kyleigh.
Evan stared toward the front of the bus. “Holy…what the heck,” he said, each word resonating his deep voice. “I’ll see if I can find out what’s going on.” He slipped his yet trembling hand into his inner jacket’s pocket and pulled out his PSP. “Thank God. It’s still here.”
Lang turned toward the front of the bus and ducked and moved to see better. Like Kyleigh had mentioned, General Tauring’s head was lying on his arm, an arm wrapped in his dark-blue uniform and resembling a mountainous dark blue wedge, with his shoulder at the higher level. His face lay horizontal, with just his right eye visible, along with his nose. Most of the other side of his face was covered by the rest of his arm and other hand. And his laptop, a massive, flat, dark gray structure not far from his arms, seemed to go on forever in either direction, while its LCD screen cast bright light blue, from a simple Windows background, across sections of the desk. Their bus was maybe about one to two real feet away from his face. Didn’t matter. It was still too close, and very disturbing. A weakening, painful sensation entangled within Lang’s core. He looked down at his watch. Now he could see it. Four and a half years ahead brought them right into the beginning of May. “May 2nd, 4:39 PM?” His hands were shaking badly. “How is all this possible?”
“Dad, it’s okay.” Evan had his eyes on Lang’s shaking hands. “I’ll figure this out.”
“Yeah, Lang,” Robert said. “Stay calm.” He took in a deep breath, but let it out in staggered, shaky breaths. “We all need to stay calm, yours truly included.”
Evan rested his PSP on the soft, cushiony headrest of the seat Kyleigh had slept in. Lang placed his left knee on the seat he had slept in and drew closer to Evan.
While Evan was getting to his emails, Lang looked out the windows. The hull allowed a clear view at any sight line less than about forty-five degrees from straight ahead, but at an angle greater than this, he could see the massively thick hull layer. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the hull looks thicker than the width or height of this bus. Maybe eight to ten feet wide, in our dimension.”
“That’s not all,” Robert said, moving to the nearest window. “Look down here.”
Lang moved across the seat to the window and looked at the area below. The air space within the hull, about a foot thick in their dimension from the bus’s outer surface to the hull itself, swept around the bottom of the bus and revealed a shocking view. He could barely believe his eyes. “No way. It’s like the bus is floating ten feet up from the ground.” He started shaking even more. He tensed his arm and leg muscles, trying to prevent the shaking, but barely succeeded. “And this is a wooden desk surface?”
“Seems that way.”
“And why…” He swallowed. “Why did the hull put us here, instead of leaving us on Titan?”
“I don’t know. But we have to remember, nothing really is what we’re sensing.” Robert glanced at General Tauring’s large gray eye and big nose, and then looked out all the windows around the bus. “It just can’t be. We just can’t be in his office.”
“Yeah, but then how do you explain Evan being sixteen and a half? Four and a half years had to pass by, there’s just no way…” Lang stopped himself. He wanted to say more, but worried of Evan’s reaction.
“I don’t know,” Robert said softly, his eyes targeted out the window.
Lang jolted; Evan’s deep voice was going to take time to get used to. He looked up at Evan; same for his huge build.
“I have them,” Evan said. “Dr. Maplen did send me a message. Actually, three messages. And they all say he knows what’s going on.” He glanced at the front of the bus. “We all need to come together and hear this.”
“You hear that people?” Robert hollered. “Get your asses over here!”
But Robert’s inappropriate request actually wasn’t needed. Kyleigh, and everyone else, was already rushing back, though strangely, their pounding feet didn’t shake the bus or move it in the slightest on that thick blanket of air below.
Lang inched himself across his seat until near Evan again.
When she arrived near him, Kyleigh knelt upon the leftover section of Lang’s seat near the window and nestled close to his right side. Her body, like his, trembled, though even more so. Had she felt, or sensed, his gentle kiss, that moment before they fell asleep? Maybe he had been too forward, yet her behavior now didn’t indicate it. Then again, maybe she never even noticed his kiss, or heard his heart-felt words before that wonderful kiss. But none of it mattered. He encircled his right arm around her and held her closer. She didn’t back away, and instead nestled herself even nearer to him.
Gratefulness swelled within his very being; to have someone dear now, when everything known as reality was falling apart in multitudes was truly a blessed gift.
Alan, Nahas and Akina stood or sat nearby. Robert had already sat himself down across from the seat where Kyleigh slept, his body alert to listen.
“This is the last message he sent, dated October 11th, at 2010 hours, four and a half years ago.” Evan’s hands still trembled, holding the PSP.
Quickly Lang glanced around at the others, though trying not to be too obvious. Nahas and Robert were the only two, out of all of them, who didn’t seem to be shaking right now. Maybe they just hid it better. Whatever. Why did the hull even have to do this to them?
After reading silently a moment, Evan continued. “Dr. Maplen says…well…I’ll just read what he wrote. Evan, I am going to come right out and tell you this. According to my mathematical calculations, verified by Colonel Stevens and Colonel Jennings, none of you have ever been decreasing in size.”
“I knew it!” Robert practically jumped up out of his seat to stand up. He pointed at Nahas. “And you did too, didn’t you.”
Nahas blinked several times, and then stared at the floor. “Well, I did.” He looked at Robert. “But I couldn’t figure out how it would be possible. And I don’t see how you could. If none of what we’ve been sensing is an illusion, it implies God.”
“Could it, really?” Lang wondered aloud. Some of that deep darkness of fear and uncertainty crushing him began to lessen.
“Actually,” Evan said, “Dr. Maplen does say that.”
Robert folded his arms across his chest. “Well, keep reading. Let me hear more.” He sat back down.
“The rest of the world, possibly the entire universe, is increasing in size, which explains why an increasing speed of light in the hull never made sense. The speed of light in the rest of the world is decreasing by a patterned, fractional factor at each decrease event. Because all other dimensionless constants and ratios have remained the same, this is why our real world is getting larger. The bottom of this fraction, the denominator, is always 128, whereas the top part, the numerator, decreases by four at each decrease event, and it apparently started at 128 over 128, before any decrease events began. Hence, the very first decrease event was 124 over 128, and then so on. Using this pattern, it appears there will be thirty-two decrease events, until the numerator becomes zero. And then, what happens, we don’t know. But I don’t think it is good, for the real world. I believe God has been saving all of you, for some reason. When I wrote this email, the last decrease event was the thirty-first decrease event. If my theory is correct, there is only one more to go, and I believe it will occur at twenty-three hundred hours, or eleven PM Mountain Time, at this base, on this seventh day.”
Evan stopped reading. He looked around at everyone.
“Well, I’m not sure about the math,” Lang said, “but I get the--”
“I understand it,” Nahas interrupted. “It’s a countdown, to absolutely no speed of light. Or rather, no photon speed, no electromagnetic radiation, in the real world…the real universe. Everything that we know of depends upon this.”
Alan, still shaking, turned around and looked out the window. “No wonder the hull is so thick.”
“I doubt that, Alan,” Robert said. “Remember, everything with the hull is an illusion. Dr. Maplen states all his math with certainty. But the fact is, he can’t prove it without a doubt. Still, though…this is very unnerving.”
But Lang ignored that thought line. He gently took hold of Kyleigh’s free hand and gazed into her eyes. “Could Dr. Maplen be right? Could God really be protecting all of us?”
Her pretty face drew troubled, confused. “I don’t know, Lang. But I really hope so.”
Surprisingly, Robert didn’t say anything else. He only stared at Evan.
“Oh, and there’s something more.” Evan’s hands were thankfully shaking less now. “Dr. Maplen left a PS. It says - I’m not sure why I’m telling you this, and it really doesn’t make much sense, but I would strongly advise all of you, if you haven’t already, to exchange cell phone numbers or social networking information so you can stay in touch. Think of it as a safety net. A precaution.”
“Hmm, interesting,” Nahas said. “Though he’s right, it doesn’t make much sense, what with there being no cell phone towers or Internet if the universe vanishes. But I agree with the safety net idea, especially if the hull allows our phones to work suddenly, and we’re separated. It could come in handy.”
“I agree too,” Lang said. “Just in case.”
“Me also,” Robert said.
In a flurry of activity, everyone began exchanging cell phone numbers and Facebook identities, some remembered already from when Evan helped everyone on his PSP. It wasn’t taking long. Lang felt especially pleased he had Kyleigh’s number, and she had his.
Akina, done with her cell phone, slowly stood up from her seat and walked toward the front of the bus, staring at General Tauring’s face the entire time. “His expression hasn’t changed at all.” Her usual sweet, gentle voice was marred by her shakiness. “Not even one slight bit.”
“Time must be very slow now, Akina, in the real world,” Nahas told her, his gaze following her path. “Dr. Maplen’s message was dated October 11th, the seventh day since the hull captured us. We’re four and a half years into the future, and have gone through thirty-one total decrease events. One second of their time could be thousands of seconds of our time.”
“Oh no.” She drew closer to the bus’s dashboard, her face right near the windshield.
Nahas followed after her. “Akina. What is it?”
“Evan,” she said loud enough. “What time did Dr. Maplen say the next decrease event would occur?”
Evan turned away from helping Alan with exchanging cell phone and Facebook information. “Twenty-three hundred hours military time. Or eleven PM regular time. Why? What’s wrong?”
She turned back to see him. “It says twenty-three hundred on his laptop. Right now.”