This blog will contain stories taking place in two universes. In one 'reality', Earth has been hit by a large asteroid that wiped out most of the population. Stories (with the exception of the intro) will follow those spared by the impact as they struggle to survive on the now hostile planet. The other story line involves an invasion by a large alien fleet intent on settling on Earth and ruling over mankind. All stories belong to Mihai Pruna, no republishing without permission.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Escape - Asteroid Story 3

The police cruiser that seemed to tail him for three blocks made Cornelius ‘Core’ Husky sweat in cold shivers, but he kept going straight. It must have been the dark, reflecting windows on his tan colored Hummer – tacky combination, indeed- that got them suspicious, but he never broke the speed limit and obeyed all the stops so they peeled off. Had they stopped him, he would have had a lot of explaining to do. And if that failed, he’d be dead in hours or days.He breathed a sigh of relief, but kept checking his rearview mirror constantly. Once he nearly rear-ended someone’s Miata when the fellow decided to stop when the light turned yellow. He chastised himself and from then on kept his gaze on the road ahead.

This was the first time he’d driven the Hummer since the day he bought it about six months ago. He’d brought it home late at night and it had stayed in his garage ever since. He hoped nobody had seen it, especially that old obnoxious chatterbox Miss Darcy. She’d mentioned a few times to him that she ran into Katie at the supermarket regularly, making sure to emphasize the ‘handsome young man’ that seemed to always accompany her.

Presently, Katie was home expecting a fire department inspector, not her ex husband. He parked behind Katie’s apartment, in a spot facing her porch. That area was for residents only, but Core wasn’t planning on staying long. After a quick check in the mirror, adjusting his visor to hide his features and making sure the chest patch taped on his coveralls was straight, he picked up the toolbox from the passenger front seat and quickly exited the car, leaving the doors unlocked. Core went around the building, forcing himself to walk in a poised, but calm manner. That was hard to do when his insides were quacking and his hands felt numb cold. Remember, you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain…he kept saying. Unless he was really wrong. Unless the dissolution of his group, some left in the dark, like him, some other scientists vanishing with their entire families without a single word of explanation, unless that didn’t mean the world was about to end tonight.

After the second ring, a ‘handsome young man’ opened the door. He looked at him quizzically. Core muttered a greeting, then fire inspection, all the while keeping his head down. But instead of letting him in, the man continued to stand in the doorway, blocking the entrance. It seemed air itself froze for an instant. Core, feeling completely paralyzed, could hear the sounds of the TV coming from the house. Then Katie showed up in the hallway and it was as if his heart restarted with a jolt.

He swiftly brought his toolbox up, pointing it at the man’s chest, and squeezed one of the two buttons on the handle. A dart flew out of the narrow end of the box. Hit, Katie’s boyfriend reeled back in surprise. Core pushed past him, remembering to shut the door behind him.He fired another dart at Katie just as her eyes were opening in recognition. She backed against the wall of the narrow corridor and started to slide down. Core dropped the toolbox and caught her. He took Katie, now unconscious, in his arms and rushed through the apartment. At the patio door, Core gently lowered her on the floor while fumbling with the lock.He kicked the gate of the enclosed porch, opened the Hummer’s door using just one hand and quickly pushed Katie inside, fastening her seatbelt tight to keep her torso in the reclined car seat. Her head was rolled to the side on the headrest, but that didn’t matter since nobody could see inside. He got in the car and stole a look around while starting the engine. It was dark now, and the area appeared deserted. He stole a glance at the dashboard clock.

It was 9:04 PM Pacific. The ‘breaking and entry’ phase of his plan lasted less than five minutes. He had about four hours left. The government had predicted that the asteroid would be at the closest point to Earth at 1:16PM Pacific. Core inferred that to be the time of the actual impact or atmospheric entry. It would take him about an hour to get to the lab, most of it spent on dirt roads. There was a paved access road, through the now deserted checkpoint, but he’d have to drive around the restricted area to get there and that would waste more time. He thought he was cutting it close enough as it was.

As he was pulling out of the parking lot, Core saw flashing lights heading his way. A police car passed the Hummer on the street and went into the parking lot Core had just left. Somebody must’ve seen something. Core stepped on it. Fortunately, the traffic was lighter than usual. The radio was reporting congestion on the interstate, and linking that to, rather derisively to the passage of the asteroid.If only they knew... The Hummer was extremely stable, taking curves at high speed extremely well. Its wide track had something to do with that, but Core supposed it had more to do with how loaded it was. He'll soon find out just how well it would handle off-road.Suddenly, his rearview mirrors exploded with flashing lights, and the air was pierced by the sound of a siren. Sneaky bastards! They were right behind him, a few car lengths away.

He floored it. Only a few miles left until he reached the dirt road. Although acceleration felt rather sluggish, the powerful, military grade engine he'd paid ten extra grand for did its job. He was going over a hundred miles per hour, not even slowing down at curves. The cop car receded in the distance. A beeping noise from the dashboard was now letting him know that the exit was approaching. He glanced at the integrated GPS and at the last moment braked and sharply turned to the right.

The opening in the fence was right in front of him and he went at it full bore, switching his lights off. He knew the dirt road was straight for a few hundred feet, and hoped to lose the cops that way. When he was sure nothing was behind, he stopped and slid a monocular NVG over his right eye, securing it to the brim of his cap. Driving one-eyed would be tough, but not as bad as being completely blind for seconds if caught in the cop’s beams. The landscape came into view in tones of green and white and Core started to negotiate the bumpy track at 40 miles per hour.

Soon the low buildings that made up the research complex appeared in the horizon. As it has for the past months, the place was completely deserted, protected only by a padlocked door, even though it housed billions of dollars worth of equipment. The only thing that had been removed was the self contained nuclear reactor, a submarine unit donated by the Navy. Core reached the loading door of the lab, through which all the bulky equipment had come in, and stopped the car. He allowed himself a few moments to breathe a sigh of relief. Almost there. Then he heard the faint noise of rotor blades. Faint, but increasing in intensity. Quickly, he jumped out of the car and went to the side of the sliding door.

All the months of preparing, of dreaming every possible scenario, every possible shortcut he could take on this fateful night, it was paying off right now. He fished a key out of his pocket and turned it in a small panel. Instantly, the doors started to slide open. Jumping back in the car, he drove in while the doors were still moving. As soon as they reached the end of their track, they reversed their motion and in less than a minute they were completely shut. Then bright lights came on, bathing everything in a harsh white glare. Core sagged in his seat, shaking. Now that his body knew he was safe, the adrenaline rush ended, leaving him completely drained.
That was when the enormity of what he was doing really hit Core. For six months he had been preparing the lab for their escape. He had connected the field generators to a capacitor which could be charged directly from the power grid. He had moved the three so called 'stasis nozzles' to surround the generator itself, leaving just enough room for his Humvee to be parked alongside and thus be in the field. The field....the field on which they had been working for years and which finally worked. Inside it, time slowed down from the sprinting of the hare to the crawl of the tortoise. Leaving a clock inside the field running for a week would make its hands - in reality measured as electrons spinning - advance one tenth of one percent of one picosecond. They had put various animals inside the field, and they had come out alive and apparently unaged and unchanged. And, the best part was, the field did not allow any matter to go through it, and would absorb any force applied to it without reaction. It made a perfect shield against a tsunami, earthquake and even a direct impact from an asteroid. Provided you could keep it running. Because the field ran only as long as it was powered, while eating gigawatts and gigawatts of electricity. It needed prodigious amounts of juice from the power grid, and a nuclear reactor besides that. And its power consumption increased exponentially with time - external time. It was as if the continuum were stretching like a rubber membrane, harder and harder to deform the more you pushed on it.After a week, they had to shut the field off or cause a state-wide blackout.

Core breathed deep, and then again, and again, and then he was able to get out of the car and push the lever that charged the capacitor. It would take five minutes to get enough power to start the generator. It would shut off almost immediately, of course, since the output could not be sustained. After the lab was sealed, all switchboxes had been destroyed. Core had been able to replace some of them, but the influx of power was way below what was needed to power the field for even a second. And the world would go in a deep blackout sometime during the night anyway.But there had been some talk among them. A mere theory, never seriously investigated unless the exponent had had at least two drinks. And Core had picked up on that and had done the math. Sober, using his computer to run a few simulations as well. He was, after all, the manager of the engineering group, had tons of experience and degrees and papers under his belt. And hands-on skills too. He should have been sent to whatever shelter the government had built, like so many of his colleagues had. But of course, they had figured he was a bit too attached to his ex wife.A potentially messy situation, him knowing all about it but refusing to go without her and her not wanting to go with him for whatever reason.

Better leave old Core in the dark, we got plenty of engineers to pick from, thank you very much, have a pleasant demise.So Core had to figure out a way to save himself and Katie without any help. He was pretty sure, that is, about 50%, which was enough under the circumstances, that if the generator and power supply were INSIDE the field, all it would take were a few fractions of a second of power to move them who knows how many years in the future. Hopefully in an era when air was again breathable, water was clean, and there were plants and animals to eat. He had tried to estimate the time, extrapolating from existing data collected when the generator ran with an external power supply, and had come up with error factors that spanned orders of magnitude. But in any case, whenever it stopped, the impact would be history. Forgotten history.

If it all worked in the first place.He had removed the rear seats of the Hummer and crammed the area with car batteries and another capacitor. As the power from the first capacitor would start fading, the one inside the car would pick up the slack for another pulse, hopefully keeping the generator running for another microsecond.That the 'stasis nozzles ' were inside the field didn't make a difference, since they were actually omni directional and while the generator was running, they remained outside of time. In fact, it was speculated that they crossed into another dimension. It had been discovered that the closer the stasis nozzles were, the stronger the time-dilating field. Core's field would be weaker than what he and his colleagues had used for tests, since the nozzles were placed around the generator, but nonetheless, a stasis effect should still be created. Again, his level of confidence was about 50%. There was some crazy math involved in trying to determine what changing each parameter would do to the field, and he had nobody to check his work.

Core hooked up the capacitor in the car to the generator, and then connected it to the batteries. It would be charged by the time it had to go into action and pick up the slack from the other capacitor. That was it. The generator would start when the capacitor was ready. Or not. He sat in the car next to his wife. She was still asleep, breathing slowly. A strand of brown hair had fallen on her forehead, and he pushed it back up.Oh Katie, will you thank me if we make it through? Will you hate me for not letting you die next to your new man, oblivious in your sleep? Will me again?

Loud rapping on the doors, a window breaking, and all of a sudden smoke streaming in the hangar. They had found him...Fortunately he had brought gas masks along. He barely had room for supplies in the hummer, and the gas masks had been an afterthought. He had found them at a garage sale, and for some reason he picked them up and put them in his car on top of guns and K Rations. He quickly slipped one on him, the other one on Katie.Peering through the windshield, he saw flashlight beams cutting through the smoke, bathing the car in milky white light. Then the light started growing in intensity, became a harsh glare, changed colors rapidly crossing the spectrum until it became black, then back towards white, brighter than before, blinding him...

"Cornelius E. Husky, are you are out of your mind?"
He opened his eyes as the gas mask was being forcibly pulled off his face. Katie was staring at him with a mixture of anger, confusion and concern.
"Kidnapping?!? I wouldn't have expected that from you. What the hell has gotten into you? You were laid off, are you doing drugs now? Have you gone insane?"
"Katie, I can explain..." he cut in, realizing the lameness of his cliché as soon as he uttered it.
He added quickly and forcefully.
"I just saved our lives."
"Whatever!" she opened the passenger door and got out of the car.
Core quickly opened his door and descended. He saw Katie standing by the vehicle slowly turning around and taking it all in. All around them, the ground was perfectly flat, almost glossy. The sky was a deep shade of purple, turning to almost black above them, but there seemed to be some radiance coming from the ground that made the day very bright. The only thing breaking the perfectly flat horizon was a pyramidal structure. He found that he couldn't estimate distances, the prism could have been a hundred feet away and human-sized, or a mile away and the size of a skyscraper.

Katie turned to him, and asked in a calm voice betraying the onset of hysteria:
"Where have you taken me?"
Core gathered his wits and quickly walked to the other side of the Hummer. He looked her straight in the eye:
"Remember the asteroid that was supposed to pass by Earth the day I ... I got you? Well, it wasn't going to pass by. It hit. I knew it because they closed down the lab, no reason whatsoever given, most of the personnel disappeared too... In the lab we were working on a stasis field. I set that up to take us to the future. I think it worked....I don't know what year we ended in but..."
Suddenly, she turned away from him and started walking briskly towards the pyramid. He followed...
"Katie, please stop, we don't know what's there...could be dangerous."
She kept her pace. He briefly considered going back to the car for a gun, but he didn't want to leave her alone, not even a second, so he kept following.

As he was following Katie towards the pyramid, Core realized that the field generator next to which he had parked the car had disappeared during their stasis....The structure turned out to be only a hundred yards away and about thirty feet tall. It appeared to emanate from the ground itself, and appeared made from the same smooth material. They stood side by side looking at it.
The pyramid spoke:
"Welcome to my time. I think you have a lot of questions, so let me get the most obvious out of the way. You may want to sit down while I talk."
Right behind them, the ground rose in the stylized shape of a bench. Getting over the shock, now eager to find out more Core sat down. Katie sat next to him.
"The year is six million three hundred forty five thousand, one hundred twenty seven, AD. I am a global intelligence spanning the planet. Humankind has merged with computers and evolved into me. When I say humankind I refer to the few that survived the asteroid impact which I assume you fled. Sometime after I became aware, a date which I cannot pinpoint with reasonable accuracy since my memories contain personal memories and computerized records from before I appeared, I discovered the stasis field, at that time buried deep underground, a consequence of the impact. I reshaped the region to bring it to the surface and built a structure around it which I filled with breathable air. Then I waited for this day."
Core felt Katie's hand grasping his. He felt oddly disjointed. Part of his mind was rejoicing the feel of her hand, while another part, entirely separated, was trying to grasp the concepts the pyramid - no, the planet- had thrown at him. He swallowed hard and managed to formulate his first question:
"Aaaah are there any no offense, any us, left?"
"After the impact, the biosphere never recovered enough to sustain a sizable population. After a few hundred years, technology progressed enough to make interstellar flight possible, albeit at subluminal speeds. A good percentage of the population left towards other stars, trying to establish colonies. Many succeeded. My ancestors kept communication with them for a while, but eventually communication stopped. My messages have never been answered. I don't know if any humans or any of their descendants survive to this day. But we will talk more on that subject later. "
Cornelius imagined galactic empires rising and falling, new worlds, all that happening while he and Katie were cocooned inside their stasis field, frozen in one instant. A song kept playing inside his head: 'In the year 2525/If man is still alive/ If woman can survive/They may find....' He didn't remember the rest of the words.

Katie's voice startled him:
"Have you sent any probes to those planets where people had gone before?"
"Yes, but none came back nor reported to me. I theorize that they malfunctioned. Computers error, mechanical failures, many things can happen during thousands of years in space."
Cornelius asked, puzzled:
" Couldn't they themselves? You said machines became intelligent. A drone with artificial intelligence should be able to repair itself to some extent or at least send a message back to you warning of damages ... or danger."
"I never said machines became intelligent. I said that humans merged with computers. The human mind might be imitated to some extent by a machine, but never in its complexity. The merging process occurred over hundreds of thousands of years, and was more complex than you can imagine. What has resulted, me, is a unique entity. I cannot spawn others like me. I cannot create clones of myself to send around the galaxy. I am barren and alone."

Cornelius clearly sensed the desperation even though the speech coming from the pyramid maintained an even tone. It sent chills down his spine. If something that big can be alone, if a mind spanning a planet fails to grasp the complexities of space travel and fails to find a way to reproduce, which even unicellular organisms had figured out over time....then what hope was there for him and Katie, possibly the last humans in the universe? What was to become of them?

To be continued… the future.


Anonymous said...

Keep posting. I love these stories.

Shaun said...

Fantastic! BUT, you have GOT to continue this story...