Just watched "Arrival" https://nites.tv/movies/arrival/, a movie based on "The Story of Your Life". Really good.
Halfway through, it struck me as tangentially similar to my novel, "The People Who Echoed" (I released it as "Ragnarok" some years ago, but it needed a total revamp, which I'm doing). Now I'm spurred to really give it a big push.
For the hell of it, here's the opening.
Any thoughts/reactions are greatly appreciated.
Westbound Jet, Paris to LA, North Atlantic
Tuesday, 17 August (Present day)
In thirty years of mouthing her 'keep us safe' boarding-prayer, Tegan Mulholland had never got feedback.
So, quite what that sneaky orgasmic buzz was all about, had her puzzled as she shuffled down the aisle toward her seat.
“5B”, she read on the overhead luggage bin.
Her seat at 2B was three ahead. She could see a blond head already seated in 2A at the window.
Probably static electricity when she touched the skin of the plane, she thought, and then immediately second-guessed herself. A jab from static wouldn’t raise gooseflesh on her arms and send a shudder up her spine.
Premonitions aren’t really a thing, she laughed inwardly at the ridiculous thought of it.
Besides, if it was a premonition, what was she going to do? Head back to the terminal?
The guy in 2A looked up and beamed a smile at her. He had twinkling eyes and attractive crow-feet wrinkles that said he laughed a lot.
“Pete,” he extended his hand in greeting.
His voice had a twang. Foreign or Deep South? There were twelve hours in this tin can to find out if she cared to
Orgasm, she mused, stowing her luggage. It was almost laughable how distant and overdue that memory was.
“Looks like a nice empty kite,” Pete remarked as she settled into her seat.
He was a well bronzed Ozzie, maybe forty and in good nick.
As orgasmic premonitions went, perhaps this one wasn’t all bad, she amused herself.
Trouble was, Tegan wasn’t the superstitious type. The prayer ritual was a family tradition from dad. Aged six and in his arms, “Keep us safe,” he’d whispered in her ear, patting the aluminum flask of the Boeing as he ducked out of the sunshine into the fuselage three decades ago.
She’d never omitted to mumble that prayer and caressing the plane’s skin in hopeful gratitude as she stepped aboard countless jets.
Into a clear morning Parisian sky, they streaked.
For three hours, the beverage cart dispensed an endless feast of treats, helping to nibble away at the hours. The flight display said they were better than halfway across the Atlantic with nine more hours to reach Los Angeles when the seatbelt warning light pinged to life.
A moment later, the Captain crackled overhead, advising passengers to return to their seats.
“Darn it!” Tegan grumbled.
Engrossed in her spreadsheet, she’d delayed nature’s call for the past half hour.
She snapped her MacBook lid closed and slid it into the seat pocket in front of her, unclipped her seatbelt, and moved to stand.
The pinched-faced flight attendant patrolling business class came in like a missile.
“There’s a safety warning in place,” she loomed over Tegan, blocking her half stoop into the isle, the veneer of a false smile stretched over a bitter personality looked close to ripping.
Tegan had seen this flight attendant’s hackles rise the moment their eyes and met back at Charles de Gaulle Airport.
“I’ll be just a moment,” Tegan assured sweetly.
“Sorry, ma’am,” she placed a restraining hand on Tegan’s shoulder and had a spiteful edge to her voice.
“Well then…” Tegan inclined her head, “could you bring me a blanket and potty? I really don’t mind going here. It really is that urgent.”
She turned to Pete.
“You don’t mind, if…” Tegan peered to read the attendant’s name badge, “Bertha here lets me go under a blanket? I’m bursting.”
“Awww… naagh wurries,” Pete patted her empty seat enthusiastically and beamed a suntanned smile as broad as his feral Australian accent. “Blanket’s as good as a bush.”
Bertha made herself scarce.
Tegan was back and buckled up before the plane made its first giddy swoop.
“Whoa! That’s a big one!”
“That’s what all the Sheilas say.”
“Yeah, yeah… Thanks for the help with Adolf.”
“Bluddy buncha dickheads on this flight. No sense-a humor, either.”
“Yeah,” she cleated her seatbelt back in place.
The door to get to know her now open, Pete was studying her openly.
Were Cleopatra ever to be recreated, Tegan would be the mold they’d use. Jet black hair to her shoulders, a subtle slant to eyes set atop high cheekbones, and perhaps a hint of Japanese genes in there somewhere made her exotic. Smokey blue eyes betrayed her strong Nordic roots.
She smiled at him, studying her, and returned the compliment.
He’d certainly seen his share of sun. Those mirth-filled eyes were complemented by dimples that pinned creased brackets either side of his widely smiling mouth.
The only downer was the over-developed masseter chew-muscles of his jaw. They hinted at gritted teeth, and gritted teeth were the mark of every steroid gym-jock posing on Muscle Beach at Venice, just down the drag from her Malibu home.
The body beautiful clearly lurking under his linen shirt, completed the picture.
Gotta be a narcissist.
There wasn’t a place for two in a narcissist’s life. She’d found that out more than once.
She smiled genially and opened her laptop. The screen was a forest of numbers in a spreadsheet, and graphs sketching the results.
She’d spied him watching her work for the past hour, sneaking peeks past the book he was reading.
He started watching more openly now, so she decided to give him a show.
Her fingers were nimble and practiced as she tickled the rows of numbers in the spreadsheet. The graph danced a synchronized duet. She paused, nodded to herself, liking what she saw.
Then she spotted an opportunity, and her fingers executed another blur of activity, the graph obeyed. The result looked even better.
“You not still gonna bugger more with those, are y’a? I mean, how long can you torture the poor bluddy things.”
“Until they talk to me,” she smiled.
“What you hoping they’ll say?”
“That I get a Christmas bonus.”
“You all right for a yank. I mean, you a looker… that much is obvious. But you got balls too. I reckoned from the moment I saw you that you must be from the coast. New York or LA—being human-shaped an’ all that.”
“You sure do know how to chat up a girl, Mr. Outback.”
“Aww… you too kind.”
“Originally Maine; L.A. now.”
She went back to her work, and he carried on scoping her.
“You were really gonna take a whizz out here? Under a blanket?”
She laughed, “What do you think?” She looked up from the screen a moment.
He interrogated her eyes for his answer.
“Yep… you’d ‘ve done it,” he concluded. “I like that. Tough lady.”
She smiled at him and returned to the figures.
“Seriously? You not gonna talk to me?”
“I’m talking, aren’t I?”
She looped that persistent stray hair back behind her ear, secretly beginning to enjoy the distraction and his loose, comfortable chatter.
“Yeah… but I kinda like the eye contact. Eyes your color…” he whistled quietly in appreciation, “only ever seen that sorta depth in the Aegean off Greece.”
She nodded and kept pecking at the keys.
“What’s that screen got that I don’t have?”
“A hundred bar.”
She turned her torso to face him chest on, and he matched her pose, a wicked twinkle alive in his eyes.
Perhaps she’d misjudged his physique, she decided. It looked more honestly earned than a weights room. His nose meandered in a way that suggested he was no choirboy. Her dad had been a boxer in his day, and he wore the same badge of honor.
The sun-drenched tan on his hands and forearms protecting from turned back cuffs harked to lots of outdoor expeditions.
He was so unlike the men in her world.
You have no idea how seducing you are, she thought as she gently tipped the screen on her MacBook closed.
His Clive Christian No.1 aftershave hadn’t helped her to resist the heady mood. It had been a good part of the killer aphrodisiac spinning its web from the moment she’d taken her seat hours ago.
Pete smiled, clearly enjoying her appraisal.
A moment later, as if their entangling souls had clicked like magnets, something dropped within her chest. She saw the shock in his eyes too.
He responded in a most quirky manner, almost like a pubescent boy caught peeking through a keyhole. He bulged his eyes and rocked his head in the manner of a Bollywood actress.
“Oh, very attractive, Pete,” she smiled, not knowing how else to cover her mild surprise.
Hmmm… afraid of intimacy, “…and a little worrying.”
His face cracked into an engaging smile that set her heart aflutter.
It wasn’t worrying, it was charming, she decided.
“So, you’ve got a name?” she posed.
“Pete,” he extended his hand again for a shake.
“As if I didn’t just call you that…. A last name.”
“Ahhh, yeah. Crawford.”
“Pete Crawford… Okay. I’m pleased to meet you, Pete Crawford.”
“And you are?”
“Tegan, of course… Mulholland.”
“A pleasure, Ms. Mulholland.” He emphasized the ‘Ms.’ as a question.
“Missss,” Tegan corrected, hissing the clue.
“Miss…” he repeated with a wry smile. “And we’ve got, what…?”
He shrugged his watch unnecessarily from under the turned-back cuff, a comic glint in his eye.
Her eyes fell on the chunky timepiece on his wrist.
“…Only eight more hours to get to know one another.” He saw her notice and presented the watch as if it was a trophy. “Ahhh, this old thing,” he grinned, pantomiming as if she’d asked him about the watch.
“Breitling? Is that what you want me to ask?”
“Awww jeez, no. Breitling? That’s for bluddy poofters. Naagh.”
She took his wrist and examined the hardware.
“Now, that feels good,” he grinned.
“Richard Mill…” she read the maker’s name aloud. “…Automatic Chronograph Diver… are you one? A diver? Should I be impressed?”
“With me, my diving, or the watch?”
“You’re a pain in the ass, you know that, Pete?”
He nodded cryptically and winked with a twinkle in his eye.
They chattered on for an hour and more, Pete successfully diverting Tegan from work every time she retreated to it.
The fasten-your-seatbelt sign had long since extinguished, and passengers were sporadically moving about the plane.
“Honestly, honey. I love you dearly already. But you’re a real distraction, and I have more than a few pennies riding on this pitch.”
She laid her elegant hand with gentle poise on his forearm as she said it and electricity sparked between them.
Yikes! She thought. What was that?!
Below the linen and his skin was real strength. Uncanny strength. Unyielding strength. This was no gym boy.
“A hundred, you say?” Pete had clearly felt it too and was redirecting them both back to the superficial, to her earlier mention of the figures on her screen.
“Bar…? Hundred bar, as in million.”
She nodded again, smiling, pleased that she’d impressed him.
“Dollars? US Dollars?”
“Well, if you’d told me it was a cheap flick, I could have made a call and fixed you up already. We’d already be on our third glass of celebratory Moët by now.”
“You’d have to go to First Class to get Moët,” she retorted, a sting of irony folded into her tone.
But again, she turned in her seat. There was something in his voice that told her he really meant it about the finance.
He’s either nuts or more intriguing than I thought.
“So, you’re sitting here in Business Class telling me you’d pull a hundred bar with one phone call? You don’t honestly think I’ll take you seriously?”
“And are you in First Class doing your hundred-bar sums?” he counter-challenged with an impish smirk. “I don’t think so. So, if I’m a bullshitter because I’m in Business, where does that leave you?”
“Hmmm… but I have a studio paying for my ticket in Business, what’s your excuse?”
“And they don’t reckon you’re worth that hundred-bar to sit upstairs?”
“Well, who’s paying your ticket?”
“Me. That’s why I’m flying cheap. I need to be in California. Business and First Class arrive simultaneously.”
“A practical man…Well, we’ve got a stalemate,” she smiled engagingly, steadily drawn to the man. “Both got big claims and good justifications.”
“I don’t care if you don’t believe me, Sheila. It is what it is.”
If it wasn’t for the accent, it would have sounded rude, but somehow he made it a challenge.
“What’s scary is that I do believe you.”
“Don’t. I’m thoroughly untrustworthy.”
“But, you’re honest.”
“Well…” he paused, pondering that. “When I burn money, I do it properly and not on a few hours of posing.”
His smile made something within her femininity contract.
“So… What do you do? Professionally, I mean.”
“Tell you over dinner.”
“We’re flying with the sun, we’ll only get lunch up here.”
“Yeah… like I said, I’ll tell you over dinner.”
She looped the stray hair behind her ear again, “I don’t think so.”
“I’m a betting ma—”
The plane slammed with a teeth-clashing impact. The fuselage responded with that wrenching crunch along its length that a chiropractor torques out of a spine.
“OOOOOFFF…!” The air got driven out of Tegan. Her knees dodged a slop of Perrier that leaped from the glass on its way to her lips. Just a fraction of it hit the hem of her canary-yellow pencil skirt near her left knee as it went by.
“I hate it when these goddamned planes do that.”
“Nothing t’ worry about, except that thing.” He pointed accusingly at the closed laptop with some of the spilled water on its lid.
Tegan quickly brushed the drops away but left the computer on the open tray table.
PING—the fasten-your-seatbelt sign illuminated again, and a garbled apology about “clear-air turbulence” competed with passengers’ conversations.
“I’m a fatalist,” Tegan shrugged. “The plane breaking up doesn’t worry me. Airsickness does.”
“Jeeezus, you not gonna chunder, are you?” Pete looked genuinely worried and ducked his knee to sidesaddle, away from it, touching hers as it had snuck its way to doing over the last few minutes of conversation.
She pointed to an anti-motion-sickness plaster behind her ear.
“Nope…. I use protection.”
“Awww, God… great. Would’a spoiled this whole date,” his craggy face breaking into a smile, those nested brackets either side of his mouth and the crow’s creases feet framing ice-blue eyes. “You’re a really solid Sheila.”
They were silent a moment, and a strange thought flitted through her head that made her frown slightly; she contemplated what he might look like with a beard. It would be a pity to cover over that much character, she decided. That moment a cold shudder went through her that made her mind leap to the old cliché of someone walking on her grave.
She looked out of the window, down onto the plane of clouds thousands of feet below. It was a downy blanket from horizon to horizon. Only an occasional ball of cotton wool piled out above the planed surface. The tiny shadow of their jet ran over its surface.
“Look at that.”
Pete pointed to the monitor, at the progress of their little plane icon was making across the map on display. Europe was well behind them now, just a sliver to the right of the frame. The American continent was steadily creeping in from the left margin, already occupying one-third of the screen.
“Crossing the coast soon. That’ll be halfway.”
“Delightful,” she agreed. “Since you won’t let me work, any chance you’ll let me catch a few winks?”
She pulled the battleship-grey fleece blanket up to her chin.
“Forget it,” he smiled.
“At least you’re honest.”
Operations H.Q., DARPA (State Dept.),
Tuesday, 17 August
“Confirmation in from Admiral Pinnock, Chief of Joint Operations. Geoscience Australia reporting a seismic event eight minutes ago at five-five…four-nine…zero-three South and One-five-nine…two-six…zero West. They’ve triangulated to our rig.”
The frown that furrowed Daxton Cronner’s forehead creased even deeper, giving his face the appearance of a stratified cliff. The creases of his career and stresses of this project were now permanently etched into his expression. Grey dominated what was left of his hair.
This mission ranked off the charts for confidentiality. Labeled TS/SCI—above Top Secret—it also carried the Sensitive Compartmented Information designation.
Daxton was one of fleetingly few individuals with oversight into all compartments of information as a whole, to know what every department of engineering was doing and how they’d fit together. That oversight knowledge had come to lie far beyond his comfort zone.
TS/SCI meant that, similar to the Manhattan Project that developed the first nuclear bomb, only a handful of scientists and brass knew all of the details and objectives. Those down in the pit, working on the project’s implementation, only knew the part that engaged them. They had no knowledge of the details specifying how it was going to achieve the intended feat that they were monitoring.
As Daxton watched, the feedback was pouring in from the clutch of key individuals in friendly governments who were not on the inside of the TS/SCI confidentiality barrier but had been apprised of possible climatic or tectonic anomalies that might flow from the test.
All they had been told was that the two tests underway in the ocean between Antarctica and Australia might produce limited atmospheric phenomena.
“The white-coats say it’s a-go. All telemetry was on the money,” Lincoln O’Dowd, Project Director assured, sweeping his hand to include all mission control operators hunched at their monitors.
“Seismic anomalies within a five hundred nautical mile radius were expected, sure,” Daxton rebutted. “Just about nobody lives within that zone, and yet big questions are being asked at the diplomatic level.”
“From precisely where?”
“Hobart, obviously. Perth and Sydney…”
“Fifteen hundred nautical miles?” O’Dowd’s hand came up to his face and massaged sudden tension from his jaw. “Okay… That’s a little over spec.”
“A little… Try two thousand miles… Darwin, in the northern territories, took a jolt. Grumbles from Auckland... They’ve all triangulated it and zeroed in on our rig in the Southern Ocean….”
“Fine… but the rest of the telemetry is spot on?”
“That may be but then why th—”
“T-minus sixty seconds,” the audio-prompt piped in from the operations room.
The tension in the air grew palpable.
“I wouldn’t…” Daxton’s voice was an octave high with fear. “I’m strongly advising to abort.”
DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is a U.S. Department of Defense agency responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military.
NASA was underwriting these experiments.
The results from this phase of tests would have implications for humanity’s future.
Codenamed ‘Time Bandit,’ the test firings were, due to technical imperatives, scheduled just ten minutes apart.
‘Time’ had just done its stuff, ‘Bandit’ was now mere moments away from popping.
Together, project Time Bandit would set a new course in interstellar travel. It was the first step to developing an experimental warp-drive engine planned to be NASA’s great leap forward.
The technology would warp the very fabric of spacetime, allowing a craft to cover the imploded distance between two points instantly—exceeding even light speed.
The experiment had two identical phases, different only in magnitude.
The first detonation was a test, a test that had yielded side effects outside of the anticipated envelope.
The second phase was about to trigger. It would be orders of magnitude more violent.