Near-hurricane force winds battered the Society Islands at the ocean’s surface, but a mile below sea level there was only a hint of the turmoil above. The advanced sensor arrays of the undersea leviathan Unicorn showed waves up to fifty feet high.
Supported by the Council of Five, the Secret Society team had left the previous day from Pacifica Anthozoa, a magnificent city floating on the ocean’s surface. Orchids above Captain Jennifer Hero’s command panel reminded her of the citrus, star fruit, guava, papaya, candlewood, and various nut trees in the floating city’s parks and orchards that she had strolled among only a few days earlier. Jennifer had been sorry to leave the beautiful eco-experiment, an enormous city with a skyscraper two miles high in the center surround by four equally spaced high rises one-mile-high in the center of open farmland.
The Unicorn was carrying fifty members of the SS to their newest laboratory beneath the atoll of Moruroa, about six hundred miles south of the city. The Natural way of life was in danger and she needed to take action.
The door of the compartment opened then shut behind Jennifer’s deputy and sometime lover, Kylie Brown.
“Commander Brown, I want you to own these plans in case something happens to me. You must complete the mission. Do you understand?”
“Humanity’s survival depends on the success of this mission. No matter who finishes it.”
Kylie took a deep breath and set her mouth. “I will do my best, Captain.”
Kylie was new to command, as she had just been promoted to her post as Jennifer’s deputy a few months ago, and for a moment she was seized with misgivings. But Kylie was gifted with practical experience from leading an expeditionary force to Mars to rescue thousands when natural disaster struck Colony Six, back when she served in the Australian Astronaut Corps. She is a natural leader and my best friend, Jennifer thought.
Jennifer’s planned action caused a knot in her abdomen but she held steady, gritting her teeth to hide the pain.
“Will you carry out this mission regardless of what happens?” Jennifer asked.
“Captain”—Kylie’s voice softened— “I understand it’s a one-way trip to the twenty-seventh century. I am committed to this mission.”
Jennifer turned away from her second-in-command, contemplating the ZONAR screen again. Abruptly, she asked, “What do you know of the virus?”
“I know this virus will correct the moral compass in the DNA of the Syndos without harming them. I know what can kill it. I know how to spread it by direct touching, injection or consumption in food or water. I do not know its structure or how to create it. But as second in command, I know who created it—your grandfather.”
She ignored the personal note. “Have you committed the plan to memory?”
“All sixty-seven pages have been memorized over that past three months, Captain.”
“The council meeting is in an hour. I’ve broken us into ten teams, each with four members and a leader. You will lead Team One. I will be on your team as a member and as overall leader, but if something happens to any team member we must put the mission first, do you understand?”
“Each team will have a preferred way to infect the young Syndos, but can adapt as required. Some teams will become teachers, recreational coaches and trainers using direct contact. Cleaners, plumbers, food and water suppliers and janitors will use indirect injection in water and food. Business owners supplying various services will supply the world’s best bottled water.” Jennifer paused and hid her own uncertainty by barking out, “Any questions?”
“When we use the time machine what are the effects on us?”
“Dr. Helenski’s the expert on that one. He thinks trans-time should not affect us in any significant way. Physically, you will feel like you’re still in the thirtieth century. However, you will be in the twenty-seventh century and you will be undercover with twenty-seventh century identification.” Jennifer eyed the firm line of the young woman’s jaw, her glossy brown hair swept off her face in regulation style. “Commander, I do not want you to ask questions in front of the council, so if you have anything else, ask it now.”
“Permission to speak freely, Captain?”
“Why did you recruit me over other qualified members?”
Jennifer looked deeply into Kylie’s brown eyes. “You are my best friend, and for many years I had to lie to you continually. When I finally told you about my undercover job, it was not to recruit you but to lift the burden of guilt from my mind. You immediately wanted to join. Thank you for joining and serving in the SS.”
Kylie smiled. “I love you.”
Jennifer smiled gently and considered her next words. “I think you are the most qualified to lead the team on this mission. I do not believe that you must be a descendent of the original scientists and engineers who created the Syndos to care about the future of the Naturals, and I want to open up the SS to all Naturals. We need a larger organization—and all Naturals have a stake in the outcome.”
“Can you tell me why I was promoted?”
“You were the first to tell me we had a mole in our organization. More importantly, you suggested a way to use the spy to our advantage. That demonstrated leadership, brains and humanity. We—the SS—believe in non-violence, even toward a traitor like Ben Alabaster.”
Kylie shook her head. “Ben Alabaster believes we will all commit mass suicide rather than surrender. And he knows enough to lead the Syndos to us but prevent them from getting too close. We will have time to trans-time everyone to the twenty-seventh century before we trigger the ten-megaton explosion.”
“Noted, Commander. Anything else before we head to that meeting?”
The communication system beeped. “Captain, the nine other team leaders are waiting in the conference room.”
“Coming now,” Jennifer said. “Let’s go.”
“You think we will complete the trans-time mission?”
“I have hope and confidence in this team, Commander.” Jennifer grasped Kylie in a hug, which Kylie returned. “Thank you for your personal friendship all these years. You have been very special friend to me.” The two walked side by side to the conference room.
Idle, nervous chatter came to an abrupt halt as Captain Hero strode into the conference room, Commander Brown following close behind. The seated team leaders stood and offered a brisk salute. Jennifer stood at the head of the table and took a moment to observe the nine other officers assigned as team leaders. She saw worry and fear in their expressions, but most of all she saw their determination. A pang of guilt shot through her before she returned their salutes. “Please be seated. You each have a copy of the mission details in digital format but it cannot be carried with you to the twenty-seventh century, so it is of utmost importance to commit the details to memory. Also, you all have been issued a watch communicator, but be warned, do not ever take it off or it will self-destruct.”
The team leaders blanched, the dangerous nature of their mission weighing on them.
“Is that understood?” Jennifer asked, once more gaining their attention.
The team leaders around her responded in unison, “Yes, sir!”
“It will be your responsibility to convey what is discussed here to your team members and to adhere to the agreed-upon mission parameters.”
“Does that mean we can tell our teams the top secret information regarding the Syndos extinction plan now?” Lieutenant Jones asked.
“Feel free to tell them everything except how I got the information,” Jennifer said.
The team leaders fell into whispers at the mention of the genocide looming over them all. Jennifer turned to Kylie, standing behind her, and gave a terse nod. Again addressing the operatives, she announced, “To assure that we all fully understand our situation and the mission, Commander Brown will begin the briefing.”
“Yes, sir,” Kylie said. She surveyed the team leaders and began calmly. “Our captain has been waiting for this opportunity to deceive the Syndos since the assassination of Nobel Laureate Professor Zexton Ho five years ago. As you know, their enhanced DNA allows them to outperform the average human across many fields: strength, speed, stamina, and reaction time, but not creativity. The Syndos’ DNA is defective because it lacks a moral compass. They think of Naturals as a vestigial species.” Kylie smiled grimly. “In the messages we intercepted, I believe the exact phrase was ‘inferior trash.’”
Kylie continued. “Recently we’ve learned that the Australian Syndos-run government has developed a water-born prion that will exterminate the Natural human race once and for all through widespread sterilization. It is virtually undetectable once diluted into the water supply.”
Jennifer watched the team leaders’ reactions as Kylie reaffirmed their plight. As she suspected, those she had chosen had anticipated bad news, their expressions grim rather than surprised.
Kylie regarded the operative leaders for a moment before she continued. “Our mission is to save the Naturals from extinction. We will use the Trans-Time One invented by the late Zexton Ho, and created by the SS engineers and scientists, to travel back to the twenty-seventh century. Following Professor LeVe’s earlier development, our engineers have replicated his virus V7 that will correct the genetic error present in the first Syndos that prevented them from developing a sense of morality. The introduction of this virus to those early Syndos as young children of the twenty-seventh century will prevent their aggressive behavior against humanity while keeping to the SS non-violent policies established by Zexton Ho. The distribution and absorption of the agent is designed to take place over four years, with multiple stages of infiltration.”
While Kylie used the holographic command interface to illustrate the plan to the team leaders, Jennifer found her thoughts drifting. She already knew the plan. Hell, she’d written most of the mission herself, alongside Zexton—but familiarity wasn’t her distraction. Guilt pulled at her thoughts. Zexton was gone, and this world had given her nothing but scars. The past was to be her redemption, not just to save the future of humanity but perhaps to save her psyche as well.
Jennifer again looked to Kylie standing before the room. She’s strong. She’s commanding. Though new to command, the others will follow her.
“We are approaching the docking port and will arrive in forty-five minutes,” Unicorn’s AI announced, interrupting the meeting.
“Once we arrive, we won’t have much time to activate the device,” Kylie said. “That traitor Alabaster has the Syndos tracking us—they will be on our trail right up to arriving at Moruroa. Only the base’s disruptive armaments are deterring the Syndos from approaching closely enough to stop us. The information I leaked to Alabaster and the Syndos forces is that we are protesting the government through some act of mass martyrdom. They’ve no idea about Trans-Time One or that it is located miles away from the Moruroa hide-out.”
“Good work, Commander,” Jennifer said.
Kylie kept her expression stoic, but pride shone in her eyes as she turned to Jennifer. “Thank you, Captain.”
“Everyone else, return to your teams to fill them in and get ready to disembark. Dismissed!” Jennifer commanded.
The leaders stood and offered salutes to their captain. Jennifer returned her own as the operatives filed out.
* * *
The next hour flew by in a blur. The Syndos repeatedly hailed the Unicorn, promising aggressive military action if they did not surrender immediately. Once the SS arrived at the Moruroa base, the members of SS swiftly disembarked. Within hours, Syndos forces had the atoll completely surrounded. With the storm still raging, the base sensors had a hard time picking out enemy surface vessels from the surges. Klaxons rang out in every hallway.
Taking the vac-tube deep below the base known to Ben Alabaster, ignoring the red alert, the members of SS held steady. Jennifer Hero led them to the center of the trans-time facility, located 5,500 feet from the surface of the ocean and about two miles away from where the atoll’s steep walls reached the plateau. The benthic facility was the crown jewel of her and Zexton’s and the SS team’s years of work. After she punched a code into the security pad, the two large doors released unseen hydraulic locks and opened to reveal the chamber housing the Trans-Time One.
“Quickly now, inside the sub-caps.” Jennifer ushered in awed operatives seeing Zexton’s legacy for the first time. The engineers and scientists who built this prototype knew it well but all was on a need to know basis; the clandestine branch knew very little about this monstrous machine.
Above them, the Syndos released a large disrupter blast; the station shook as the teams moved into their sub-cap chambers.
“Not a direct hit,” Kylie said, eyeing a handheld hologram of the facility. “Captain, the automated defenses intercepted a missile from the north side. Likely a warning shot. The Syndos will start moving into range soon.”
“Agreed. Kylie, make sure everyone is prepared. I’ll start calibration.”
“Yes, sir.” Kylie started toward the assembling teams then stopped.
“Captain,” she said, turning back to Jennifer. “Do you need any assistance with—”
Kylie looked as surprised as Jennifer felt at her own outburst.
“No,” she continued more softly. “It’s important for everyone to stay focused on the mission. I can handle the controls. Thank you for offering.”
“Sir.” With a nod, Kylie left to rally the members of SS.
Guilt pained Jennifer as she sat at the Trans-Time One’s controls.
Hiding the truth from my best friend. Again.
Two more explosions vibrated through the base as the device warmed up with a high-pitched hum. Jennifer’s hands were a blur as she maintained control of the system and brought it to life. Hand in hand she’d designed and built this device, first alongside Zexton and then for last five years with the engineers and scientists. Even with him gone, she could still feel his hands with her as she moved through the familiar system check procedures. Trans-Time One represented to Jennifer the closest thing she and Zexton had to a child. While rigging it to be destroyed pained her, they could not afford for it to fall into Syndos hands. Tom Page had the schematics back at the secret SS base a mile beneath Pacifica Anthozoa, with the mission to develop two-way travel through time. Jennifer wished him luck.
All operations read green as she put in the final activation code. The device in the center of the room emitted a bright pulsating light as it came to life.
“Captain!” Kylie shouted over the Trans-Time One’s pitch. “All teams present and ready!”
“Team Ten sub-cap into position!” Jennifer ordered, motioning toward a small dial in front of the device’s light.
Kylie had Team Ten’s sub-capsule in position. Jennifer maintained control of the temporal field and extended the field to engulf the sub-cap containing the five operatives of Team Ten. The sub-cap disappeared in a flash as Jennifer checked to make sure they were safely held in the field. To her relief, their readings were on target.
Another blast rocked the facility as Jennifer’s holo-interface alerted her to multiple missile locks. The base’s anti-missile weapon system fired automatically to intercept these missiles as the Syndos forces fired underwater assault missiles in vast numbers to seal all the entrances. Jennifer had predicted they would do this to seal the anticipated radiation within the bowels of the atoll’s undersea mountain. Jennifer felt the floor shake more than two miles from a massive depth charge explosion. She thought it likely their systems had read the base’s increased power output required by Trans-Time One and initiated the attack earlier than she’d expected with far more powerful explosions.
“Kylie! We don’t have much longer.”
Without a word, Kylie reprogrammed the robotic system to increase its speed. This robotic system automatically placed the sub-caps into the temporal field platform. Jennifer moved faster and faster to maintain control over each team’s sub-cap in the temporal field, not letting her task be distracted by the bombardment. Seven, Six and Five, Trans-Time One did its job. At last, only Kylie’s team was left. Team One sub-cap assembled and moving into position Kylie signaled, bracing herself for the journey into the past.
“Captain, we’re ready. Set the system on autodrive and let’s go!”
This is the moment that decides my fate. Jennifer’s heart drummed in her chest as she looked at the console. It was already set—the perfect temporal field and the perfect trans-time delay to get them to the twenty-seventh century with the others. She took a deep breath. No time for second thoughts; I made up my mind when I lost Zexton.
“The system’s damaged!” she radioed to Kylie and her team.
“Auto-functions are offline! Team One, I’ll send you back manually. Commander Kylie Brown, assume command!”
Stunned, Kylie could only respond, “Captain Hero…”
“I’m setting up the field now, get ready!”
“Captain, there has to be some way—”
“There’s no time! Activate.”
“Jennifer! —” The light engulfed Commander Brown and her team in their sub-cap.
The console showed Team One safely in their field. Jennifer felt rather than heard the subsonic whomp of a depth-charge missile. The base shook, throwing an instrument panel off the wall. In this present, they were almost out of time.
It will be best if Kylie thinks of me having died under the missile attack instead of running away.
Despite her reasoning, Jennifer struggled to control her heavy breathing as she activated the trans-time delay. Her mind relived the disappearance of each trans-time sub-cap one by one as her friends—and the future of mankind—winked out to the past.
Jennifer took another deep breath to calm herself and began resetting the device. She didn’t have much time. Again, she gave life to the machine using emergency power, the holographic interface going too static for a second as their Moruroa hideout took another direct hit by an ultra-disruptor. She worked faster, ignoring the alarms for the hull breach and the sound of flood doors auto-sealing. In another moment the device was set. Another deep whomp rocked Jennifer from her seat.
“Thanks for the direct hit, assholes,” she muttered. Climbing back to the console, she punched in the code she’d already memorized, making one quick alteration to the temporal formula. The interface display confirmed her change:
DESTINATION TIME POINT 2015
Clearing her eyes, Jennifer activated the device on autodrive and ran to the Robotic insertion platform, entering the last sub-cap. Behind her, a support girder in the chamber broke free and crashed into the doorframe. The large double doors shuddered as tons of water struck them from the other side. The temporal field pulsed and flared before her, as doors behind her whined and creaked from the weight and tremendous pressure.
Another direct hit vibrated through the base, loosening something in the interface console. Sparks stung her face and hands.
Jennifer closed her eyes and held her breath to keep from screaming. For a second she could hear nothing but her thundering heartbeat—suddenly a crash and a roar. She tightened her eyelids and braced. She smelled ozone in the air as she did after a thunder and lightning storm.
Nothing. There was no pain, no noise, and no light. Slowly, she opened her eyes. She could not see her body, only gray blotches and blurred light, but felt as if she was floating, although not in any particular direction. Her thoughts raced. Did it work? Is this the temporal field of trans-time, or is this…if I’m dead, will Zexton be here? The childish thought cleared her brain and she directed her focus to her surroundings.
The light before her eyes winked and twinkled into black specks. The gray blotches changed shape and color then returned to gray streaks of background like a malfunctioning holo-vision. It had been years since she’d seen anything truly mysterious, something new. Fascinated, Jennifer watched the simple beauty of the unknown dance before her. Slowly the shapes and lights faded until she found herself staring into darkness, sighing as the show ended. Yet in the darkness, there was sound. The sub-cap rose from the depth slowly but steadily. It seemed like hours so she collected her thoughts and plans. The sub-cap stopped five meters beneath the gentle rolling waves driven by the trade winds, sunlight illuminating the water through the viewer. She felt grit under her hands, and on her skin, refreshing warmth. Slowly she blinked at the brightness of a blue sky, as clear as the pictures of the centuries before the Syndos. She donned her mask, snorkel and fins, added wrist compass, dive knife. She next secured her survival kit to her buoyancy compensator.
Jennifer exited the sub-cap then gave the command to scuttle it before she left for the surface, activating its preprogrammed self-burial in the deep mud below.
The storm has passed.