Part 1: Six Strangers
Something out there is drawing six strangers together towards the unknown. Whether it is fate or chance, the lives of these six men and women, boys and girls, are about to undergo a radical change. They will have to ask themselves questions; the answers to these questions they’ve hidden away all their lives. They will have to face their inner demons if they want to survive this; heaven help these six strangers.
Chapter 1: Saul Sinclair
The ringing brought Saul out of a troubled sleep; the nightmares still hadn’t left after two years of counseling. He couldn’t remember the last time he had slept through the night without seeing her beautiful, brown eyes.
Saul sighed and reached for the alarm. The ringing didn’t stop. Saul blinked, rubbed his eyes, and stared at the clock. It was five in the morning. The alarm was set for six.
The ringing continued. At last, Saul realized it was the doorbell. Groaning, he slowly sat up and staggered to his feet, still feeling the effects of the last night. As Saul pulled on an old grey bathrobe, he remembered going out for drinks with the guys, and having five too many.
“Would you knock it off? I’m coming, I’m coming,”
The pounding in his head was certainly not helped by the insistent doorbell. As Saul neared the door, the pounding in his head was joined by a pounding on the door. A stern voice could be heard yelling from the other side.
“Mr. Sinclair? Mr. Saul Sinclair?”
“Alright already! Enough with the knocking! I’m here, what do you want?”
Saul opened the door to find a young army grunt in combat fatigues barking into a comm. unit.
“Yes sir, he’s here, I’ll bring him in momentarily. Yes sir. No sir, he doesn’t. Yes sir. Yes sir.”
The soldier looked up and down the disheveled, obviously hung-over, unshaven, middle-aged man standing in the doorway and grunted in disgust.
“Mr. Sinclair? Mr. Saul Sinclair?”
“Yes, of course! It’s five o’clock in the morning, I’m tired; what do you want?”
“Sir, the President of the United Sta tes of America sent me to retrieve you. He needs you for a special task force. Can you put on something more, decent?”
Saul stared at the grunt, and then laughed.
“Alright, who put you up to this? Jim? Bret? I’ll bet it was Johnny, is he still pissed about the other night? I told him he couldn’t hold his liquor but-“
“Sir, I assure you this is serious. I need you to make yourself presentable; I need to take you to the President in one hour. The helicopter is waiting in the street. ”
It was then that Saul finally registered everything going on around him. Something in his mind clicked, and he instantly sobered up.
“Yes sir. My orders are straight from the chief himself.”
“Give me thirty minutes-“
“Fifteen, we’re already late. Do you have a suit or do you need one?”
Saul closed the door, and his mind began to race. As his body ran to shower, shave, and find a suit, Saul’s mind was trying to piece everything together. Why did the President want him? What task force? Why now?
After fifteen minutes, Saul walked out of his house. He had cleaned up nicely, and after rummaging through the closet for a clean suit, Saul once again resembled a human being. When he had made it to the chopper, another army grunt reached out and pulled him up. As they took off, Saul noticed the lights on in the house next door. They had probably woken up the neighbors, the Clarks.
‘Good’, Saul thought, ‘Bill was always a dick’
The chopper soared over the suburbia and headed towards the city. Four army grunts with blank expressions were sitting across from Saul, paying no attention to him. As they neared their destination, Saul remembered he had left the stove on. A sinking feeling in his stomach told him that it probably wouldn’t matter. Saul suddenly knew he would never see that house again.Chapter 2: Johnson
The first thing Saul saw when the helicopter landed was a middle aged, balding man in a crisp grey suit and thick rimmed glasses. The man extended a rather small hand for a quick handshake and lead Saul towards a large brick building.
“Welcome to Project 53, Mr. Sinclair. I trust your trip was, enjoyable?”
“You could say that. Where are we?”
“That’s classified. Right this way. Oh, and that’s a nice suit.”
As they walked in to the building, Saul couldn’t help but think of every cheesy government conspiracy movie he had seen. He began to laugh as the bald man brought them to an elevator at the end of an empty hall.
“Let me guess, we have to go deep underground to a secret government complex unknown to the public?”
“No, not right now. Right now, we’re just going to the basement.”
The elevator played some light music that Saul had always referred to as ‘Calypso’, and it reminded him of a night in a fancy club a few years back. Saul began to lightly drum his fingers along his pants leg, but the bald man interrupted his thoughts to introduce himself.
“Mr. Sinclair, my name is Johnson. I work directly with the President regarding Project 53.”
“Johnson? Is that your first name or last name?”
“That doesn’t matter. Ah, here we are.”
The elevator opened to reveal a long hallway lit by harsh fluorescent light fixtures every five feet. As they walked down the hall towards the only door, Johnson briefed Saul on what was about to happen.
“You are about to meet the President of the United States. Everything to hear today will be extremely confidential, and as a result you are going to be spending the next few days living on this base. Don’t worry, the accommodations are quite respectable, I myself live here. When you enter, just sit down and wait for him to speak.”
As they got to the door, Johnson checked his watch and said one last thing to Saul.
“Everything is resting on you. You may be mankind’s only hope.”
Chapter 3: Jaiden Long
Johnson led Saul into a small room with a conference table in the middle. He turned to ask Johnson something, but found the door was shut, locked, and Johnson was gone. In the corner of the room, a small, beautiful potted poinsettia drew Saul’s eyes. Rachel had loved poinsettias. Suddenly a voice behind him spoke in a cocky manner that dripped with attitude and broke Saul’s trance.
“How did they trick you into coming to this hellhole?”
Saul quickly turned to find a young, Asian teenager sitting in a chair with his feet up on the table. His hair resembled a multi-colored porcupine, his garish clothing bore the slogan ‘You @#$% my night up Imma @#$% up your day’, and his stylish glasses revealed two dark brown eyes that seemed to dare Saul to comment on his appearance. Saul didn’t waste time.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Saul Sinclair, I was brought here to speak with the President, I-“
The Asian boy laughed, swung his legs off the table and stood up. Saul was surprised to see the boy was just as tall as he was; it was unnerving to stand eye to eye with this teenager.
“Let me guess. ‘Baldy McJohnson’ waltzed up to you, spouted that Star Wars “You’re my only hope” bull, and snatched you from your pretty little home. Am I right?”
Saul just stared.
“Well, Saul, My name is Jaiden. Jaiden Long. Maybe you’ve heard of me?”
The name rang a bell, but the hangover wouldn’t let Saul put two and two together. Saul shook his head.
“I’m the guy who shut down the Pentagon for twenty four hours last month. The stupid ‘computer geniuses’ had no idea what hit them. Then again, they’ve never had to deal with anyone like me.”
“I thought you were in jail?”
“Baldy took me out yesterday; I’ve been waiting here since. Guy creeps me out-”
A door Saul hadn’t noticed before suddenly opened across the room. In walked the President of the United States of America. ‘He’s a lot shorter in person,’ Saul thought.
Chapter 4: The President
The President walked up to the table and motioned for them to sit down. As Saul and Jaiden settled in, the door closed with a bang and both of them jolted upright. The President began to speak.
“I suppose you both must be very confused. Allow me to try to explain what I can. You have both been selected for a top secret government project, labeled Project 53-“
“What happened to the other 52?”
Jaiden’s snide remark was ignored and the President continued.
“For the past five years we have been developing a project in response to the attacks. I know you have each lost loved ones and family, and I hope you will see this as a chance to make things right-“
“Make things right? She is never coming back, how can you make that right?”
After Saul spoke, the President sighed, and rubbed his eyes before continuing.
“I know about you and your wife, and I’m sorry. I lost my wife to the attack as well.”
At this Saul seemed to relax, and the President returned to the topic at hand.
“Five years ago, we discovered the source of the voice. The voice was, is, broadcasting from a point beyond the reach of our farthest satellites. While we do not know where the signal is located, we have pinpointed the exact trajectory of the broadcast. A qualified team with the right tools could follow the trajectory back to the source. Maybe then we can figure out how to stop the next attack.”
The President leaned back in his chair, and let Saul and Jaiden take it all in. At long length, Jaiden spoke.
“So, this is like, a, spaceship? We’re going to ‘boldly go where no man has gone before’ and shi-“
Saul cut him off before he could finish.
The President leaned in, and spoke slowly and softly.
“Because you are the best astronomer we have, and he is the smartest computer hacker in the world. We need both of you to man this ship; no one else can do the job right. Can your country, your world, and your own species, count on you?”
Jaiden was the first to respond, in his usual cocky manner.
“I got nothing better to do, and it’s got to be better than jail. I’m in.”
Saul was more cautious.
“I’m sure you’ve assembled other qualified individuals to take care of the other details?”
“They’re already waiting.”
Saul shook his head, and then laughed.
“It’s not like anything’s waiting for me back home but the mortgage and my lousy job. I’m in.”
The President abruptly stood up, and Saul and Jaiden followed suit.
“Glad to hear it. Follow me; I’ll take you to your quarters to get settled in. You leave tomorrow, so get some rest and get ready; you’ve got a lot ahead of you. Your country is proud of you. The whole world will be praying.”
The President led Saul and Jaiden back to the elevator. When they got to the shiny surface, Saul saw Jaiden stiffen and his face bore an unsettling look of fear. As soon as the doors opened and they walked in, Jaiden relaxed, and returned to his arrogant posing and sneering.
As they began to descend deep into the building, the President drew Saul aside and spoke with him.
“I heard about Mary leaving you. I know the pain of the divorce and the pain of losing her so soon after to the attack must be rough. I’m proud that you are strong enough to honor her memory by accepting this mission. You are a model citizen.”
In the elevator, Saul listened to the ‘Calypso’ music and remembered a night past filled with golden blonde hair, blue eyes, and sweet perfume. Saul remembered the first night he and Rachel had met and danced in that club. How could they have known Mary would find out? Saul drummed his fingers on his pants leg and tried to forget. He had lost Rachel only a year ago, and the pain hadn’t left.
The elevator stopped, and the doors opened to reveal a massive warehouse full of workers and equipment. As Saul and Jaiden stared, the President spoke.
“Gentlemen, welcome to Project 53.”
Chapter 5: D’Artagnan White
A slim, athletic man leaned against a stack of boxes, twirling a silver coin across his fingers. As Saul watched, the man smiled a sly smile and brushed his long black hair out of his eyes. The coin proceeded to disappear from his hand, reappear between his teeth, disappear again, and start twirling across his other hand. Saul could only stare. Something about the man’s deep, blue eyes seemed to draw Saul in and distract from the magic tricks. The President spoke and brought Saul out of his trance.
“Gentlemen, this is your weapons expert, D’Artagnan White.”
D’Artagnan gracefully walked up to the men, bowed, and stood there, silent. Saul was surprised to notice despite D’Artagnan’s handsome features, his muscular arms were covered in scars. Saul turned to the President to ask about them but the President began to speak.
“D’Artagnan is a veteran of the United States Military. Part of an elite covert group that bridged every branch of our forces, he has been in the field working to protect this country for the past 5 years. He spent the last four months of his term as a prisoner of war in a Korean camp. After a heavy firefight, he was the only survivor. He lost his tongue from torture and can’t speak, but he has the knowledge and skills only experience can bring. Frankly, he is the best man we’ve got.”
“He doesn’t look so tough.”
D’Artagnan smiled at Jaiden’s remark. He simply bowed again, and walked away. It was then that Saul and Jaiden noticed the knives strapped along D’Artagnan’s boots, and the short sword strapped between his shoulder blades. Saul was surprised; there was obviously more to this man then parlor tricks and good looks.
After D’Artagnan had walked twenty feet, he spun around faster than Saul’s eyes could register, and a small pointed star buried into the door a centimeter away from Jaiden’s face. A drop of blood began to trail from where the shuriken had nicked Jaiden’s ear. As Jaiden clutched his ear in shock, D’Artagnan brushed his long raven hair out of his eyes and smiled. Clearly this was not anyone to mess with.
The President laughed and walked Saul and Jaiden to find a bandage. As they walked, he spoke.
“D’Artagnan always had quite an attitude; I’d recommend you stay on his good side. That man doesn’t need a blade to kill you.”
Chapter 6: KC Monroe
After Jaiden finished patching up his ear and his bruised ego, the President led them to a large room with several large computers and servers humming. It was chilly from the fans protecting the hardware, and Saul wished he brought his old leather jacket. Then he realized that he probably would never see it again. Saul began to drum his fingers again but his attention was diverted as the President introduced them to a lady in a lab coat.
“Gentleman, allow me to introduce you to your resident Astrophysicist. Miss KC Monroe works for a government sanctioned space program-“
“So she’s like one of those NASA astronauts? That is so, 1990’s.”
By now, the President didn’t even notice Jaiden’s snarky undertone.
“Actually, Ms. Monroe works for a government organization you haven’t even heard of.”
“Let me guess, because it doesn’t exist?”
“No, it’s only been around 5 years and hasn’t had the press NASA had. We brought her in straight out of working with a private corporation and she’s the best in the world. Ms Monroe, this is Saul Sinclair and Jaiden Long, two more crew members.”
She smiled at Jaiden and Saul and shook their hands.
“Pleasure meeting you gentlemen. Excuse me, but there is still a lot of preparation for takeoff tomorrow; I’ll join you and the rest of the crew for dinner and we can talk more then.”
She walked back to a glowing computer monitor, and the President walked Saul and Jaiden out of the cold room. Saul couldn’t shake the feeling that he knew Ms. Monroe from somewhere, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Jaiden turned to the President and asked him a question.
“So when are we going to see this ship thing?”
They turned down a hallway and walked towards large steel double doors. They opened automatically to reveal a room larger than Saul had ever seen in his life, and there was the ship.
Chapter 7: Emmy La’Beau
The ship was long and black. The closest thing Saul could compare to the ship was a skyscraper with rocket boosters. The whole room smelled faintly of oil and grease. As the President walked them towards the ship, Saul noticed something missing.
“Where are the guns, or missiles, or lasers, or something?”
The President stopped walking to answer his question.
“This ship is designed primarily for extra long distance space travel first and foremost. The last attack took out many of our scientists and technicians, so some areas of production had to be scrapped and some given priority. Due to the urgency of this project, the officials working on this project decided that the weapons system was not as important as other aspects of the design. I can assure you that this is the most advanced piece of technology in the world, and it is capable of things man has not even dreamed of. We simply do not have time to put on weapons.”
“So we’re defenseless? We’re just sitting ducks in space”
Jaiden interrupted the president as a cute teenage girl covered in dirt and grease stepped out of a hatch on the bottom of the ship.
“Hello! Didn’t know this gig came with live entertainment! What’s your name dolly?”
The girl wiped off her face with a rag and sauntered over to Jaiden.
“It’s Emmy. And I’m not anyone’s ‘dolly’. You want entertainment buy a TiVo.”
The president stepped between the two teenagers and introduced Emmy.
“This is our mechanic, Emily La’Beau. Her father was our head mechanic, but we lost him to an attack two years back. She took over and knows this ship better than anyone. Ms La’Beau will be accompanying you on the trip to repair and do basic maintenance when necessary. Ms La’Beau, allow me to introduce you to Saul Sinclair and Jaiden Long.”
“Hello boys. Sorry I can’t talk right now, we got two pipes that need sealing, but stick around after dinner and I’ll show you around the works.”
“Stick around and I’ll you show around these works girl,”
Emmy just laughed at Jaiden, brushed her bangs out of her eyes, and walked back to the ship. The President led Saul and Jaiden back out the hallway they came from, and Saul started to talk to him again.
“You were saying something about the weapons and the ship?”
“Oh yes, well, we weren’t going to leave you totally defenseless. We designed a-“
They were interrupted by three bells ringing in succession over the loudspeakers.
“Well gentlemen, dinner is in 30 minutes, I’ll take you to your quarters and allow you to get situated, and then we’ll all meet at dinner to discuss final details for the launch tomorrow. Right this way.”
After a seemingly endless stretch of hallways lit by harsh fluorescent lights, they came to two small rooms with cots and small lavatory facilities. Jaiden was going to say something but the President cut him off.
“These are your rooms, I apologize for the meager accommodations, but it is only for the night. Tomorrow, you get to travel in comfort, I promise. Dinner is in roughly twenty minutes, another bell will ring to alert you at the five minute warning. The cafeteria is right down the hall, you can’t miss it. It was a pleasure meeting you, now I will leave you to your rooms. See you at dinner.”
The President briskly walked off before Saul could ask him more about the ship’s defense systems, so he walked into his room and sat on the cot. It wasn’t the best bed he had ever slept on, but it was certainly more comfortable than the couch he had spent six months on before the divorce. Saul began to drum his fingers lightly on the edge of the bed, and tried to clear his mind. He heard loud, harsh music come from the other room; Jaiden must have turned on his stereo. Although Saul was not big on rock music, he was grateful for the assistance in blocking out memories of his wife. After all, dinner was in twenty minutes. He had to clean up and get ready for what was probably the last dinner he would ever eat on Earth.
Chapter 8: Dinner
Dinner was good. The food was better than Saul had ever tasted. He guessed this was what men like the President ate every day. In an odd way, he was glad this was the last meal he would have on Earth. At least he now knew what food could taste like, and he enjoyed every bite. After everyone had finished eating, the President stood up to speak. Saul sat back in his chair; this felt like it would be a long one.
“Ladies and gentleman. First and foremost, I want to thank you for joining me and your country in this heroic and monumentally important endeavor. I know all of us have made sacrifices and lost loved ones, and these past few years have been extremely hard on everyone. That is why I am proud that you have stepped up, proud that you have chosen to help your country and your people. We will never forget your service to mankind. We will never forget you.”
At this something in Saul’s stomach began to turn. The President continued.
“Tomorrow we give your our hopes, our dreams, our very lives, into your hands. This expedition is the last hope of mankind itself. What you are doing here is not just about America, or even the ones we’ve lost. This is about the survival of our race. We have given you everything you will need to succeed, and all that’s left is to take that one great step for man. The greatest scientists in the world have designed you the most incredible device to pursue your goal, and you are not going this alone. This crew we have assembled is made up of the most brilliant and talented minds in the world, and we at home will be in touch via satellite communication installed into the ship itself. So never feel like you are helpless or on your own. Your country, hell, your world is backing you up. Sleep well tonight; knowing that tomorrow, you embrace your destiny. The fate of the world is in your hands, and there’s no one I’d rather have than you fine men and women. Thank you, and goodnight.”
When the president was finished, everyone stood up and clapped. There was something about the man that just stirred you inside and made you feel like everything was going to be alright. Saul guessed that was why he was president. Saul saw Jaiden chatting with Emmy, and smiled. Some things never change. Over in the corner of the room, Saul noticed Johnson checking his watch. There was no sign of D’Artagnan, but Saul knew he had been there for the speech. Saul liked D’Artagnan, but he was definitely a man to keep your eyes on.
On his way out, Saul bumped into KC Monroe. After apologies, he asked her about what was in store in the morning. She was happy to tell him.
“A quick breakfast and then we’re suiting up.”
“Suiting up for what?”
“We’re going to be traveling in a semi-cryogenic stasis unit until we’ve reached the general area.”
“I thought that stuff was science fiction?”
“It was. The resources we pulled in for this flight are beyond anything you’ve ever seen.”
“So we just get into pods and sleep until we get there or something?”
“Basically, yes. It’s a bit more complicated than that.”
“Is it safe?”
“We’ve tested it on animals and have had a ninety nine percent success rate”
“What’s that other one percent?
“The possibility that you wake up to early and drown in the fluid in the container”
“Good to know”
KC laughed, but it didn’t feel natural.
“Well, I guess we’ll find out tomorrow won’t we?”
“I’ve always had a tendency to learn the hard way”
“Well, I’m going to go get some sleep. I don’t know about you, but I need it”
“Me too. Catch you in the morning.”
They said their goodbyes and went their separate ways. It was getting late, and Saul was very tired. It had been a very long day, and as Saul lied down on his cot, he felt a cold grey feeling start to cover him. It was the same feeling he had when his wife had walked out the door that last time. It was the feeling that things were changing in ways he couldn’t fathom or control, and it scared him. Saul had a long and restless night ahead of him. It was the last night he spent on Earth.