In this first volume of the exciting sci-fi adventure, Air Force Major Maxwell Sanders regains consciousness in a desert wilderness amid the shattered, smoking ruin of an unknown craft. His memories are hazy and confused, his dreams haunted by people he has never met and places he has never been. Worse, he discovers the year is 1901 and he has somehow been marooned in the past. But as he attempts to make a new life for himself in this strange new home, his actions set in motion a sequence of events that will endanger the entire human race and change the course of history … forever.
Excerpt from The Version Sequence: Di-Version
(c) 2011 Thomas F. Brown, All Rights Reserved.
This material may not be reproduced in any form without the expressed written consent of the author.
June 13, 1978
In the early morning hours of June 13th, the telephone rang, insistent and annoying. Rolling over, I cursed the little red digits on the alarm clock as I reached for the phone. Who the hell could be calling at this hour?
“Hello,” I answered groggily, fumbling the receiver to my ear.
“Major Sanders?” a youthful, earnest voice said in response.
“Yeah, that’s me,” I said, sitting up in bed. The motion woke the black-haired woman sleeping beside me.
“What’s up?” my wife asked, still half asleep. I waved her to be quiet.
“Commander Stawecki wants you here on the double, sir,” the voice said in my ear.
“He is aware, I take it, that I’m on leave until Tuesday?” I told him, annoyed.
“The launch has been moved up, sir. That’s all I know.”
“Damn,” I muttered. My wife looked up at me, frowning. She disapproved of my using bad language. Her parents had given her a strict upbringing, quite unlike my own. I ignored the disapproval. “I’m on my way” I told the earnest voice, and hung up the phone.
“Anything wrong?” she asked, leaning on one elbow.
“Probably not,” I replied as I began unbuttoning my pajama top. “We’re lifting early, that’s all.”
“Well, you be careful. You know how nervous I get every time you go up.”
“Not like I haven’t done it before, right?” I said, tossing my pajama top aside and pulling off the bottoms. After a brief stop in the bathroom, I got dressed as quick as I could.
“I always did like a man in uniform,” she said, smiling, as I straightened my uniform jacket.
“The mailman will be so happy to hear that,” I quipped.
“Oh, you…” she said, and threw a pillow at my head. Dodging the missile, I walked over to the bed, and bent down to kiss her goodbye.
“Kiss the kids goodbye for me,” I told her.
“Jason will be thrilled!” she said, referring to our seven-year-old. “He hates the mushy stuff now.”
“What, from such a gorgeous woman?” I moved towards the bedroom door. “I’ll have to have a talk with that boy. He doesn’t know what he’s missing.”
“You better get going, or Stawecki’s going to have kittens.”
“Now that, I’d actually pay to see,” I said, laughing.
“Shh, you’ll wake the kids,” she warned me. “Now, git!”
“I’m going, I’m going.”
I stopped in the kitchen on my way out the door, and grabbed one of those toaster pastry things from the pantry, along with one of Jason’s single-serve cartons of apple juice from the refrigerator. I hated grabbing breakfast on the run, but there wasn’t time for anything else. Besides, I knew Jason wouldn’t mind.
The car started immediately, and I backed it out of the driveway onto the winding side street that dead-ended four houses from my own. The night was cloudless and warm, as I drove the old Chevy through the streets of Lompoc, then up Route 1, past the airport and into Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Personally, I would have been satisfied living on the base, but my wife would have nothing to do with it. She insisted on a nice civilian home in a nice civilian neighborhood. She had grown up in a little tourist town called Solvag, further east of the Base. I was lucky she allowed me to move this far from her home. It meant that I spent a lot of time away from home – I was in the Air Force, after all, and had to go where duty called. My wife was funny like that, and I often wondered why she married a military man to begin with. Well, I just counted my blessings that she had, and went with the flow.
One of these days, though, it was going to get me in dutch with “Straw”, as the men called Colonel George Stawecki, a powerfully built man who didn’t resemble a “straw” no matter how much you squinted when you looked at him.
The briefing room was big, much too big for the meeting it contained. I sat in the front row with four other men. Standing at the podium in the front of the room was Colonel Stawecki. The rest of the room was empty.
“Major Sanders,” Stawecki said, leaning on the podium, and looking down on his target as I sat down. “So glad you could join us.”
“Yes, sir.” I replied with as much military crispness as I could summon. Anything else would have gotten me in trouble, and even those two words weren’t guaranteed to be safe. The Colonel stared down at me for a long minute before turning his attention back to the matter at hand. He picked up a remote control from the podium, and clicked it at the back of the room.
“If you will get the lights, Fisher,” he ordered the lieutenant on the far end, who jumped up and switched off the room lights. As the lights went out, an image appeared on the projection screen behind the Colonel. It was blurred, obviously magnified far beyond proper limits, and showed a bright rectangular object against a black background.
“This picture was taken an hour ago by a very-high-altitude reconnaissance craft using a special camera. What you are looking at, gentlemen, is an object in Earth orbit. Approximately four hours ago, our Early Warning assets in northern Canada picked it up. There have been no signs of a launch anywhere on the planet within the last forty-eight hours. We don’t know where it came from or how it got there. All we do know is that it was not launched from Earth, and it is artificial. In addition to the distinctive shape you see here in the photograph, the object is broadcasting a radio signal in the ultra high frequency band that repeats every thirty-two seconds. We have not as yet been able to decode that signal, but haven’t ruled out the possibility of a distress call. Are there any questions at this time?”
No one raised their hand, but a low murmur went across the front row, which the Colonel couldn’t help but overhear.
“To answer the question that’s on everyone’s mind… this is not a flying saucer.” The Colonel paused before continuing. “For one thing, the shape is all wrong.” That brought a wave of nervous laughter from the men. “But if you’re asking if these are little green men, well, ladies, that is what we’re going to find out. As we speak, the space shuttle Pegasus is being prepared for launch. As you know, it was already scheduled to go up next Tuesday with a special payload. That mission’s been scrubbed. We’re currently on a shortened countdown right now. There’s a risk in going up like this, but those are our orders. It’s imperative we get there before the Reds do.” The Colonel paused once again, giving each man in the audience The Eyeball, as we called it.
“We don’t know whether this thing is friendly or hostile,” he said. “And I don’t have to remind you that the Pegasus is unarmed. Because of the hazards involved in what may be Earth’s first contact with … aliens … we’ll go with a minimum crew: pilot, copilot, and two mission specialists. The plan is for one man to go extravehicular and examine the … object. The decision to board will be made at that time – if we can, and if it looks safe. Make no mistake: getting back in one piece is our number one priority. I don’t want to see any cowboys up there, fellas. God willing, we’ll all wind up in the history books as the men who made First Contact. Any questions?” More buzzing, but again nobody had a question.
“Good,” the Colonel said. “I’ll be in command of the Pegasus, with Andrews co-piloting. The mission specialists will be Sanders and Greenberg. Fischer and Kowalski, you two are on standby, in case Sanders or Greenberg here fall off a cliff in the next few hours.” More laughter filled the room.
“Dismissed,” the Colonel said. “You three, double-time it to crew prep.” Three “yes sir’s” followed the command, and the room quickly emptied. Just before I went through the exit, though, I looked back and saw the colonel still behind the podium, unmoving. The man looked worried. Straw was a man of iron, and never got upset. So if he was worried…! I shook my head, and let the door close behind me.
I was nervous. The Pegasus had checked out fine, more or less, but this was her maiden flight. I had every expectation that the original Tuesday launch would have been delayed as the ground crew found and fixed one minor glitch after another. But now, to have even less time to prepare for the ascent seemed to invite disaster. It wasn’t my call, however. The bird was already on the pad, fueled and ready to go with a shortened countdown. A couple of glitches had been found in one of the primary systems, but the decision came down to go with the backup. The problem wasn’t considered critical, but still, I felt it was a bad idea to go up in an untested bird that was the least bit wonky. I kept my mouth shut, though. Those thoughts, and others like them, ran through my mind as I lay on my back and waited for lift-off. At least Straw and Drew had something to keep them busy. Curley (Greenberg’s nickname, due to his receding hairline) and I, on the other hand, had nothing to do while we waited but imagine all the things that could go wrong.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, the main engines ignited, and mankind chucked another high-tech spear into the heavens. As always, it was one hell of a ride!
Many orbits later, Pegasus approached the unidentified object.
“Vandenberg, Pegasus,” the Colonel said into the radio. “We have acquired target designated ‘Alpha’, one zero fiver downrange and closing.”
“Pegasus, Vandenberg. Roger that. I’m reading a slight plane shift after your last burn. Can you confirm?”
“Affirmative, Vandenberg. Compensating now.”
“Copy,” the voice from Vandenberg said.
In the forward windows, the alien object grew larger as the two craft converged.
“Vandenberg, Pegasus. We are preparing to fire thrusters for final approach.”
“Roger, Pegasus. You are go for thruster firing.”
The Colonel toggled a couple of switches in front of him, and a muted rushing sound filled the cockpit. “Initiating burn.”
Andrews, in the co-pilot seat, watched his instruments, and counted down the seconds to thruster shut-off. “Five…four…three…two…Burn complete.” The switches were flipped back to their original positions.
“Reading burn complete,” the Colonel echoed into the sudden silence. “Vandenberg, Pegasus. We are at station keeping.” He turned back to where his two mission specialists sat.
“Max, start the video. Curley, get him started, then you grab the still camera.”
I unstrapped myself from the seat, and floated up and back to the storage compartment holding the two cameras. I handed Greenberg the still camera, and a white plastic board with a color test pattern on it. I kept the bulky video camera for myself, plugged one end of a thick cable into the back, and attached the other end to the appropriate wall socket.
“Video is active,” I said, turning the device on. “Stand by for test pattern.”
“Roger that,” came the reply from the ground. I aimed the camera at the plastic board Greenberg now held up.
“Pegasus, we confirm receipt of test pattern. Looks good on the big screen, Max. Now let’s see some Martians.”
“Copy,” I replied, grinning. Moving to a window, I aimed the lens at the alien spacecraft.
“Ah, we’re not getting much detail, Max. The picture’s getting washed out by the glare. Can you give us a verbal description?”
“Roger that,” I replied, keeping the camera aimed out the window. “I am seeing a large rectangular shape, somewhat the same proportions as a brick. The surface is a highly reflective white – it’s very hard to discern the edges. The sunlit areas are washed out in the glare, and the shaded portions blend in too well with space. No details are visible on its surface. It appears to be continuous and unbroken, with no windows, doors, or decorations of any kind.”
At another window, Greenberg was busy taking his own pictures with the still camera.
“Pegasus,” the voice from Earth said. “Is there any indication that you have been noticed?”
“That’s a negative,” the Commander said. “The object appears to be ignoring us. It’s simply drifting about out there, tumbling slowly about the short axis. As Max said, it’s difficult to see due to the reflective surface, but there doesn’t appear to be any attitude control mechanism anywhere.”
“Pegasus, please confirm: does it appear to be terrestrial in origin?”
“I would say no,” the Commander said. “The object does not resemble any terrestrial space craft, probe, or satellite I have ever seen.”
“Pegasus, Vandenberg. We are recommending Andromeda Protocol, do you concur?”
We exchanged worried glances. That particular protocol had been named after a science fiction movie about a space disease loosed on Earth by a returning probe. One by one we all nodded. The Protocol called for an extended quarantine of ship and crew to protect not only the United States, but the entire planet from possible infection.
“Honey, looks like I’ll be late for dinner,” I muttered. The Commander gave me a dirty look in response.
“Vandenberg, Pegasus concurs.” The Commander said. He paused for a moment, before turning to me. “OK, Max, you’re up. Time to go EVA.”
“Have you thought of what you’d say?” Greenberg asked me with a grin.
“I don’t know,” I said, not finding the prospect very amusing. “How about ‘don’t shoot’?”
“Better think of something historical, Max,” Andrews said, looking back at me. “From now on, every school kid in the world will have to memorize it for class.”
“How about ‘klatuu barada nikto’,” Greenberg suggested.
“Real cute, Curley,” I replied, as I moved to where we kept the EVA suit. I felt my heart pounding as I did so. Only part of that was excitement – and who wouldn’t be excited at the prospect of meeting aliens? No, a lot of it was nervousness as well. It didn’t help to know that, in the rush to get here to meet those aliens, they only had time to supply one EVA suit.
I’d be on my own out there!
“Pegasus, Sanders. I’m within a few feet of the object. It’s as hard to see close up as it was from inside the shuttle.”
“Sanders, just be careful, and follow Contact Protocol.” It was Straw on the line.
“Copy.” I was encased in a spacesuit customized for space walks. That made it extremely bulky, and I felt like the Michelin Man on those TV commercials. I was able to move around by means of a compressed air gun in my right hand. Snaking behind me was a tether connecting me to the shuttle’s open cargo bay, just in case something went wrong with the air gun. I hoped it wouldn’t be necessary. Slowly, I worked my way around the alien object, looking for anything we might have missed from inside the Shuttle. So far, however, this was a wasted trip. The only area of the object we hadn’t been able to see was the far end of the brick shape, and that’s where I was headed now.
“Almost there,” I said into the radio. “Braking.” I pulled the trigger on the air gun, and let the t-shaped device slow me down.
“Watch your gun’s oh-two, Max,” the Commander said.
“Copy that. Oh-two count is still above fifty percent. I can always use the tether to pull myself back.”
“Nevertheless, don’t go below twenty,” the Commander ordered.
“Copy,” I replied. I floated past the far end of the object, and turned around.
“I’ve got something here,” I said immediately.
“Go ahead, Max,” the Commander said.
“There’s a dimple of some kind in the surface, about an inch in diameter. It’s colored differently from everything else – a bright blue.”
“Is there a symbol, or perhaps a label of some kind?”
“Max, say again. I repeat, please say again.”
“There are no other markings or decorations of any kind on this end of the object. Just the dimple.” Then, without thinking, I ran a forefinger over the surface, and into the dimple. I pushed my finger into the little depression, and it yielded slightly, with a rubbery feel, this in spite of the weightlessness that should have stolen all leverage. The response was immediate. A large area of the hull to the right of the dimple lit with an eerie blue-green light.
“Something just happened here,” I said over the radio, snatching my hand back. Silently, I berated myself for being so careless.
“Can you be more specific, Max?” the Commander asked. I reminded myself that they couldn’t see this side of the object from where they were.
“Yeah, it looks like a spotlight came on back here. Aquamarine, turquoise, something like that. Anyway, it just lit up, but I don’t see any source. Maybe it’s coming from the inside.”
“Does the hull look transparent in any way to you, Max?”
“No. I can’t see through it – no shadows or anything, just this light. It almost looks like the surface itself is lighting up, though, not just passing on illumination from inside.”
“Suggest you change your angle of view, Max. Maybe what you’re seeing is an artifact of some sort – something in the surface reflecting the light. Move a little, and see if it changes.”
“Roger that.” I replied, moving the air gun into position. I was too close to the hull, however, to move the way I wanted, so I tried to twist my body around. In the process, I forgot how far behind me the backpack extended, and in the middle of the turn, a portion of it touched the mysterious oval. The result was immediate. Before I could say or do anything, the luminous area grabbed me like the hand of a giant, and pulled me inside.
Continue the adventure in The Version Sequence, a six-volume science fiction series by Thomas F. Brown, now available from Amazon in the US, UK, France, Spain, Italy and Germany for the Kindle family of eBook readers.