Found In Time – Chapter Two
Marine General Dick Stewart, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, sat in the crowded room at the long conference table. For nearly seventy- five years, men and women in this room had made decisions that cost hundreds of thousands of lives— and saved just as many. It had already been a long day, with far too much time debating the same issues that never seemed to get resolved. But it was this last presentation that made his heart lurch and brought him up straight in his seat.
“You’ve got to be kidding, Colonel,” he said, unable to stop from interrupting the leader of the United States Special Operations Command.
“No, General,” Colonel Petty responded, looking him directly in the eyes. “I’m dead serious. I’ve participated in the experiments personally. We have developed a technology that allows us to send troops into the past, and return them safely to current time.”
A murmur of shock and disbelief rose up around the immense oak table. Stewart took in the stunned expressions.
For a moment, the room fell silent. Then questions and shouts flew, and all was mayhem.
“Stop!” Stewart commanded. He waved them all to silence. What the hell! He knew that Petty wasn’t a jokester. And yet…this was almost too outrageous to give credence to. “All support staffers and liaisons, out of the room,” he ordered. “Only the Chiefs stay.”
Within seconds staff had gathered notebooks, laptops and briefcases, and quickly shuffled out of the room, tossing each other puzzled looks. The seven Chiefs remained, sitting anxiously, waiting for Colonel Petty’s next words.
Stewart was aware of the colonel’s impeccable reputation within the armed forces leadership. He wasn’t a man to waste anyone’s time, or take his position lightly. The logical part of Stewart’s mind told him that what he’d just heard couldn’t possibly be true. Another part—the Marine who longed for the perfect weapon that would keep his men from harm and win every battle, changing the game of war forever—told him to listen to the man.
He fixed a steely gaze on Petty and said, “Go on.”
Before Petty could speak, Army General Brooks barked out, “So you’re telling us you’ve got some sort of time machine?”
Air Force General Shields laughed. “Can you also send them into the future, Colonel? I’d like to retire and could use some help with the Powerball numbers.”
Contemptuous laughter filled the room but stopped abruptly when Petty’s expression remained serious. Stewart stood up, took a bottle of water from a beverage tray and threw a few to the men who sat forward and raised an arm. Clearly at this late hour they would prefer beer or something stronger, but there was more work to be done. And the seriousness of Petty’s announcement meant alcohol was definitely not on the agenda. Stewart took a sip of water, looked out the window at the rush hour traffic jamming I-395. Beyond the highway was Arlington National Cemetery, where many of the nation’s heroes lay at rest. How many graves wouldn’t be there today if the U.S. had a weapon that the enemy couldn’t fight? He turned back to the powerful men seated at the table. “I guess it goes without saying, that at various times in history, the atomic bomb, heart transplants, and walking on the moon were thought to be science fiction. It wasn’t until brilliant men and women of imagination, invention and problem solving delivered these breakthroughs that we could take them for granted. Let’s give the Colonel a chance to fill us in. I, for one, don’t want to miss the opportunity to be at the forefront of the next great discovery.” He let his words sink in as he looked around the table at each of his colleagues. “Just look at what we get to fight with these days—smart bombs, stealth fighter jets, drones.” He shook his head and hoped to hell that Petty hadn’t lost his mind. That he had something of substance to tell them.
For the powerful figures seated at the table, protecting the country they had spent their lives defending might have just become an even more complicated endeavor. At the same time, racing through his mind, was the fear that, if these experiments were as Petty promised, there would be unscrupulous types desperate to use this new technology to advance their own personal and political aspirations.
Stewart gave a nod to Petty. “Colonel, if you’ll continue with your briefing?”
“Thank you, General.” Petty took a deep breath as though to order his thoughts. “As I was saying, using innovative technology only recently developed, we’ve sent a small team, a team of six with their equipment, back in time.” He glanced at Shields. “Sorry, General, we’ve not been able to go forward. As proof that our experiment has worked, we sent the team back to West Point and then to Annapolis, in November 1976. Their mission was to infiltrate the living quarters of two of the Joint Chiefs who are here today.”
“And?” Stewart prompted when Petty seemed to hesitate.
“With all due respect, I can inform you that, contrary to Army and Navy academy regulations regarding contraband, the team found that one cadet clearly had a fondness for twelve-year-old scotch and the other for Playboy magazines. The team found these items under their bunks while the cadets were away for Thanksgiving holiday.”
The room erupted in laughter.
“That sounds like the private stash in every upper-level office here at the Pentagon and at the Capitol,” Stewart shouted over them. “Now let’s get down to the details, Colonel.”
Petty pursed his lips, folded his hands on the table in front of him. “I suspected that might be your reaction. So, with your permission, General—I’d like to bring one more person into the room. She heads the team that has been working on this project. She’s waiting just outside the room now. Her name is Doctor Andrea Moretti. She’s a brilliant and fascinating woman. She’s got a pretty extraordinary story to share with us today.”
Stewart gestured impatiently toward the door. Petty immediately stood and left the room, returning in less than a minute with a short, gray-haired woman who looked to be in her nineties. Those around the table exchanged skeptical looks, but Stewart hoped they’d hear the woman out. He trusted that Petty knew what he was doing.
Dr. Moretti chose to stand as she spoke. Although her body appeared rather frail, her gaze was sharp and her voice strong.
“I was born in Italy,” she began. “My mother died when I was only a year old. My father didn’t know how to raise a child and wanted a better life for his daughter. So, he put me on a ship with my older sister and sent us to live with our cousins in New York. I will not waste your time with details or false humility, but only tell you that I excelled in school; they called me a prodigy. I breezed through college, earned my Masters, my PhD, and then was recruited to work for the government at the start of World War II.”
“Madam, we’re a bit too busy to listen to your life story,” Brooks grumbled. He turned to Petty. “ This wasn’t on today’s agenda. Why don’t you just tell us about this so-called technology, so we can get on with our God-damned day!”
Stewart gave an inward sigh. Brooks, the most senior officer in the United States Army, had got where he was by playing politics rather than earning his position through performance. The other Generals and Admiral got along with him, for the most part, but his brash behavior sometimes put the others on offense. Stewart, for one, wasn’t in the mood for his antics today.
“My apologies, Dr. Moretti. General Brooks must have a hot date in Georgetown tonight. Please go on.”
Brooks didn’t look happy with the rebuke, but remained silent.
Andrea Moretti picked up where she’d left off as if nothing unsettling had happened. “Back then, during the war, I was the only woman chosen for my department. But I can say, in all humility, that I was smarter than many of the male scientists I was selected to work with. My peers were tough on me, shunned me—and that made me work even harder. I was determined to prove myself. And I did.”
“When a few of the other scientists tried to take credit for my work, I isolated myself as best I could and continued the research the military had directed me to do—in a private laboratory. After many years, I not only earned the respect of my peers, I was given the opportunity to work on whatever I wanted.” She looked up and around the table with an innocent smile. “I also outlived every one of those men.”
Petty spoke up now. “Andrea and I have been friends for a long time. I hope she doesn’t find this offensive but I honestly thought her better days were behind her. When she came to me with what she’d found, I realized how wrong I’d been.” He shook his head, as if still trying to wrap his mind around her discovery. “It was a meteor, we are sure of that much. Where it came from, or exactly what it is made from, no one has been able to ascertain. It’s being stored in Area 51.”
Moretti held up a hand to bring their attention back to her. “I’ll spare you the technical jargon and the long version of our years of research. What I came up with was just enough material to develop twelve activators. We call them pulse devices. Six of these devices form a ring and are the power behind time travel.”
For a moment, no one said anything.
It was Stewart who broke the silence. “I know a Marine Major who would be perfect for this assignment.”
Brooks cleared his throat to speak. “ That’s funny, Stew. I was just thinking of an Army Officer on my staff who would be a great choice.”
Navy Admiral Horton sat forward. “Hey, you two can fantasize all you want about who leads the charge, but don’t forget we’ve got the Seals and some damn fine high fliers who know how to kick ass, too.”
The others laughed at the ongoing rivalry between the service branches. For now, though, they would learn as much as they could about this new technology, and wait to see what cards the others might deal.
Stewart said, “Let’s give the colonel a chance to finish what he came here to tell us.”
“Absolutely.” General Burns, commander of the National Guard Bureau, leaned into the discussion. “I find this intriguing. What, for instance, would happen if you tried to slide a seventh person into the middle of a trip? It would seem they’d just be cargo.”
Petty shook his head grimly. “ There are plenty of dead guinea pigs buried out in the Nevada desert, General. It’s six at a time, one pulse device for each beating heart. No more, no less.”
Petty went on to recommend the formation of a top-secret, black ops time machine program, using the acronym BOTM. The technology worked, he assured those present in the room, but now they needed real-world testing. In his judgment, highly qualified operatives needed to be rigorously tested, to see how they performed under stress and in reaction to the people and situations they encountered.
“I leave it up to you gentlemen to decide what to do with it. I think it’s imperative that we put this newest technology in the U.S. arsenal. Special Ops teams could be sent back in time on covert missions to do whatever is needed.”
“Thank you, Colonel, for bringing this to us,” Stewart said. “I’d like to excuse you for the time being so the rest of us can discuss this amongst ourselves a bit further.”
“Good work, Colonel,” General Shields added. “And Dr. Moretti, this is amazing news. Thank you.” The others offered similar congratulations and thanks as the colonel accompanied the scientist out of the room. Stewart stood at the end of the table, facing his fellow officers.
“The job just got a bit more interesting, wouldn’t you say, men?” Affirmations circled the table. “ This is an unprecedented historical accomplishment for American ingenuity and for the U.S. Military.” He looked at his colleagues. “ The question, however, is whether it is appropriate to use such a powerful weapon. Do we have the moral right to change the course of history? What would we change? What would we choose to let happen? We have no idea of what the long-term, downstream effects might be.”
From a practical standpoint, they could easily hide the program’s existence and expense within their clandestine planning and operational Department of Defense budgets. At the onset, it seemed to Stewart, the cost would be minimal. But that was irrelevant. Politics within the Armed Forces, and between them and the legislative, judicial, intelligence, and executive branches of government, were complicated enough—furthering the need for secrecy.
Therefore, they might need to keep this new technology to themselves, at least for now. Black Ops—operations that can’t be traced back to those who ordered them—have always been in existence; however, since 9/11 their number had increased exponentially. BOTM, if given the green light, would be the blackest op to date.
They continued to discuss possibilities. They could send teams back in time with the sole goal of protecting the United States. The time travelers could use any and every tool available to them as spies, saboteurs, kidnappers, and terminators. The air in the room felt electric with possibilities.
“I wonder what the global population would be today if World War II had been averted,” Admiral Horton said.
“I was just now considering that myself,” Shields sighed. “I did the math and we’d have roughly five- to ten-million more people on the planet today if we used this technology to eliminate the threats that evolved in Germany and Japan. People think jobs, food, and water are getting tight now. But can you imagine needing to provide for another ten million?”
“I used to tell my brother he should practice instead of procreate. Hell, he’s got seven children for Christ’s sake,” Brooks remarked.
Stewart steered the debate back to issues more important than the Brooks family’s vigor. What about germs? Might a 21st-century team expose people in the past to diseases they’d not yet developed immunities and treatments to fight them? Conversely, could the BOTM operatives accidentally carry something back with them with the potential to infect and wreak havoc on today’s population?
“The spin-off from that topic is biological warfare,” Army General Brooks said matter-of-factly. “We could send a deadly strain back to wherever and whenever we want. Eradicate an enemy before they are even born.”
Admiral Horton straightened up, elbows on the conference table. “That contradicts the very basis of what we are talking about here. We’ve spent hours discussing the unknown ramifications of changing the past, and now you are suggesting we wipe out a continent. Are you talking China, Japan? Maybe stopping Hitler and his entire military before they went ape shit? Where do you start and where would you stop?”
Marine General Turza, spoke up for the first time. “We’re getting ahead of ourselves, gentlemen, way ahead of ourselves.” He gave Stewart a look.
“The Vice Chairman is right,” Stewart said. “Let’s make sure the damn thing works before we start blowing shit up.” Shields gave an impatient groan. “ This is a ground-breaking discovery and those always come with risks. Let’s not talk this thing to death.” He looked across the table at Brooks and then at Stewart. “Can we agree to have no more suggestions of taking out entire countries or societies? Let’s establish the rest of the ground rules and green light a test program. One that will start out soft. Once the real missions begin, the teams will need to carry out surgical strikes, with little notice or collateral damage left in their wake.”
“I agree,” Brooks said. “We’ll assemble teams, test them and the equipment for at least a few months. That will give us more time to plan what we’re actually going to do with this thing once we are sure of its capabilities. In addition to going back and looking at preventing some of our past conflicts, I suggest that we send a team a week back in time and plant listening devices in the Kremlin or Nanjing Palace. Then go and retrieve them. I think Petty said something about the near-past being an issue but I’ll still put those on my list for early tests.”
“Fine,” Stewart said. “I need to ask if everyone is on board with this project. We can’t afford leaks or infighting, gentlemen.”
Unanimously, they agreed to the top-secret program and its charter. They would keep BOTM to themselves and not divulge its existence to any non-essentials. That meant excluding the CIA, the Secretary of Defense, Vice President, and even the President.
Finally, General Stewart brought the discussion to an end. “I suggest we all take the weekend to review everything that has been said in this room today. Then consider specific missions you would like to propose, the pros and cons of the program itself, and the bigger question of changing time’s path. Whatever we choose to do will involve crawling before we walk and then run.”
“And then what?” Shields asked.
“We’ll meet again and again in the Joint Chief ’s conference room until we’ve talked through every possible element of the program. First on the agenda will be mapping out a more detailed charter, establishing ground rules, a chain of command, accountability, contingencies, and staffing. Outside of these meetings, worrying about the possibilities and pitfalls of this newfound capability will cause some of us to lose sleep, while others will embrace the technology and think of the ways in which our lives may be changed for the better by it.”
Stewart had already placed himself firmly in the latter category. He couldn’t remember another time he’d been this excited.
Found In Time is available in paperback and eBook formats and the sequel, The Lost Pulse, is as well by clicking on BOOKS.