Jack is on the outs with his family. The oldest of five he feels he was held up to unreasonable scrutiny. He has spent a few drunken evenings during high school resulting in nothing good. He wasn’t perfect but he did his schoolwork which graded him in the top fifteen percent, meaning little. His immediate family didn’t fare all that well, forever holding him up to his successful relatives.
His grandfather, an affectionately distant supporter, landed a night job, in his youth, as a lone fuse checker for Ohio Edison. On the rare occasion that a big fuse blew with a loud bang, he took it out and put a new one in. No one insisted that he remain awake between pops - his day hustles also did well for him. He retired young with a generous stipend to buy a small motel on Indian Rocks Beach in Florida.
His generally revered uncle was a salesman for Bell Telephone. He sold modems to the military in a cornered market. Jack was always interested in the working of things. His uncle, although he sold high-tech devices, despised tech support and disliked Jack by extension. His sales depended upon his popularity. Corruption in military sales was always a recurring topic of newspaper investigations. Judging by the perks his uncle received, weekends at wifeless resorts, Jack suspected debauchery was supplied for some clients; he wouldn’t provide the reverence his uncle extracted from others around him.
Jack’s maiden great aunt was a CPA and wanted him to work for her. Besides condemning his life to a boring career, he thought at the time, there was a couple of other problems. The first one was that he didn’t trust her; she was very cheap. At a time before fast food places had seats, she visited cheap or family restaurants in varying patterns. She didn’t tip. Her excuse was, if a person allowed themselves to be cheated so easily, then they didn’t need to be paid. The second reason was that a specialed five-year degree was required ending with a difficult Uniform CPA Examination.
She did have some beach units and rented a small one, without air conditioning, to Jack. With everyone waiting for him to show his worth he didn’t find any work on the beach and ended up with a dirty low-wage machine shop job thirty miles away. He enrolled in junior college, thirty-five miles away, but Jack found it taxing, school and work, so filled his homestead with beer cans and his bedroom with hotties He applied at the power company and the phone company and any other substantial employer, of course, but couldn’t get a reply much less an interview. What had happened to those Ohio jobs that the relatives had gotten?
He fell heavily for his last hottie. A brown-eyed beauty who rocked a bikini with tan lines that knocked him senseless when she removed it. This aspiring actress promised he was her first and only love and he was too stricken to see the contradictions. She broke up with him by continuing to date lots of men and Jack found himself surfing his mother’s couch and working a dead-end pizza delivery job using an older English Ford.
It’s hot on Tuesday at noon in June in Florida. The brilliant blue of the sky is usually beginning to dot with cotton clouds, at that time, that may or may not, later in the pms, rain lightning infused torrents on this or that small area. After a slice of store discarded pizza, a shirtless Jack loads himself into his car to stick to the plastic seat cover. He can’t touch the steering wheel yet, it’s too hot, but after repeated short contacts he has adjusted enough to drive so the breeze can cool it. After parking along the public access lane near his recently vacated beach apartment he walks towards the shore, tanned enough to prevent sunburn, and sits on the bench to adjust his shoes before he begins his jog.
Jack notices that someone has forgotten their box. He’s a bit perplexed; he hadn’t seen it when he first sat down. It’s a metal square that he estimates to be nine inches and he assumes it’s hefty but when he turns it over to find the opening he almost launches it into the air because it’s so light. Then it disappears; disappearing into nothing only leaving a dissipating mist and a faint smell of oiled metal.
Jack looks left and right, forward and behind to find a witness but no one had been looking in his direction. Maybe someone had been watching from one of the nearby windows but it was unlikely and soon became a moot point as Jack was changing; moving outside of his comfort zone.
He knew what was happening to him as he sat in the shade of a passing cloud. The ninety percent of his mind that once rested was activating. He knew what was happening to him just like he knew a lot of other new things. Information and capabilities expanded almost beyond his ability to adapt. Then the memories began to fill in at a slower rate
In the end, the universe will collapse into a gigantic black hole only to explode in a big bang to repeat the process. When Jack’s atoms were pulled into the living black hole his material history became known. He was reanimated and spent his promised time in heaven. The new universe tries to be better than the last one and blasts out with an improved plan. Before long, in universal time, errors creep in until the creators lose control. At this time, now, Jack’s galaxy is renegade, anything can happen,
A pretty young brunette tries to catch Jack’s eye by brushing away sand from the vacant side of her large blanket. Sitting quietly while his brain adjusted to the vast amounts of information sparking into it, he watched the girl with regret; he would have liked to spend the next week providing a memorial summer vacation for her, including some loving somewhere besides his mom’s couch. The beach was nice enough, with a blanket, in the warm weather and the surf sounds, licentiously exciting, but the resort owners were aware and shared disruptive patrols.
His time for trivial dalliance was over. War was on the horizon, he knew, he remembered. Within months an unrepentant self-serving politician would attempt to improve his failing ratings by holding firm against a vindictive yet seasoned leader. When all else fails, start a war, declared feckless buffoons from time immemorial into the atomic age. Not a smart man, one who went with the flow that paid him the most, no matter the cost to his constituents, proven to be corrupt, and now aging badly, this incompetent would misunderstand words like preemptive and from his presumed safe shelter, let the bombs fly.
Jack had promised to prevent the war and had received what help could be given him, passed through unimaginable time. The burden settled onto him. There wasn’t time to waste, he would need to start now. His knowledge didn’t come with instructions.
Could he be the prophet of a new religion? Having been to heaven, he knew how to get there. It was simple, really, just be nice to people. In heaven, everyone can see your entire history including your thoughts. If you were vile no one wants anything to do with you and if you were nice you will be surrounded by the same. The life of a new religions’ prophets is not easy and it would take more time than he had to wield enough influence to change anything.
The pretty girl rose from her blanket and plowed through the sugar sand toward him, a bottle of lotion in her hand and a determined smile on her face. She stopped midway when she realized that Jack wasn’t focused on her, looking past her, lost in thought. She returned to lose the lotion before starting a walk along the water’s edge. Jack didn’t notice but put the religious thought aside. He had been given some contacts, a crew, and decided his first action should be to assemble the group
Jack decided to look them up on the internet, if possible. He drove to the beach library, not having a computer, but balked at the door. He wasn’t even wearing flip-flops. A sign announcing that no shirts or shoes would result in no service wasn’t on the door but a matron was standing by, already eyeing him with denial written clearly on her features.
He was dressed well enough to quit his job and he did that on the way home. He wasn’t sorry about the short notice. The working owners are reasonable people but the majority of his coworkers are criminal trash. Not an affinity for pot, mind you, but ‘inside job’ types. Once home he didn’t tell his mother about his employment situation, she was working. He had lost his suit that his grandparents had bought him for graduation, well, the coat anyway, so changed into his one clean set of slacks, a shirt, and leather shoes. All his cash, 124 dollars, was in his wallet. He would call his mother later but now he headed for the city library.
He waited for a computer booth to be vacated and then he first looked for Ned Bates in Florida. He worked at it for over an hour before he got lucky. He found Ned in St. Louis, Missouri. He was in upper management at Alamo trucks. He knew it was the right guy because Ned was well off and a picture of him was displayed with his biography.
Jack called the office number from the library’s desk phone. After explaining to the lady that he needed it she gave it to him, even backing off to provide some privacy. Had he been able to persuade strangers so easily, just yesterday?
“Jack Compas? Is that you? Oh no! When did you get your package?” Jack heard this very quickly after he gave his name to the Alamo operator and asked to speak to Ned Bates.
Jack confirmed his identity and told Ned that he had received his box just this morning.
“Oh no!” wailed Ned. “I got my box yesterday. I was hoping it was a dream. I have a life, Jack! What do you have? I have a good wife Maria and three kids! I have a good job, a great job with a golden parachute. I’m upper management! I can’t take time off to ‘save the world’. That’s crazy!”
“I don’t have anything to lose,” Jack confessed. “Maybe I can do it without you. Either way, I don’t think there is much time.”
“No, no. I’m just whining. You sound too young to have a house. Can you leave? Do you have a car? Do you have enough money to get here? How about coming here and we’ll use my house as headquarters? I have a room for you, Hell, I have several spare rooms. OK?”
Jack agreed to come up there but told Ned he was very short on funds. Ned offered to provide a Southwest ticket that would be waiting for him in the Tampa airport. He thanked the librarian and in less than an hour was parking his car long-term. The flight was first class, direct to the St. Louis Lambert International, and he was ensconced in an Alamo limo on his way to Neds’ home as the sunset.
“Hello,” announced Maria, who opened the door wide for him and then stood aside so he could enter. She could do nothing to hide the worry written on her face. Jack was aware he wasn’t as spiffy as their usual guest but he was neat and clean enough for his satisfaction. She led Jack to a room down the hall on the second floor with its own half bath, turned on the TV, handed him the remote, and told him dinner was in half an hour. She said she would get him, then, while backing out of the door. In just over half an hour Ned knocked. There was no need for a handshake, they knew each other well from ‘heaven’.
Maria and all three kids watched him closely as he took a seat facing a plate of turkey breast, mashed potatoes, and brown gravy beside steamed baby carrots and mushrooms. After Ned took a bite of turkey Jack dug in too, politely.
“I called Becky Nunez and Bao Chong, Becky got her box this morning and I sent her a ticket. She’ll arrive in the morning. Bao wouldn’t take my call. I hope it is because he doesn’t yet have the box and not a compilation of being in China. I’ll call him again tomorrow.”
“How did you find them?” Jack asked.
“I used Alamo security.”
“Is the company OK with that?”
“Not at all. I was screwed the moment I got enlightened. I already put in for an emergency one-month leave. I’m going to do strange things and go strange places. They’ll help me if I become a crack addict, a sex addict, or an alcoholic, but strange? Nope! Senior management does not do strange things!”
“You really think they’ll fire you?” Jack asked. Maria was ashen, the kids hushed, but they all kept eating.
“I don’t think I’ll even last out my leave. I have, maybe, two weeks.”
“I’m so sorry, but it is justified,” Jack ventured.
“I know what your thinking. You think I am upsetting my wife and family with this tale of woe. I imagine I am but I have never lied to them and I won’t start now! I told her and the children everything!”
“You told her that we met tens of billions of years ago and we're just now activated to save the world from a nuclear disaster?” Jack asked and Ned nodded in the affirmative.
Jack couldn’t help himself, he asked Maria about it.
“I think it is very strange,” she said.
“How can you tell I’m legit?” he asked and she shrugged.
“Till death do us part,” she stated although without enthusiasm.
After dinner, while the kids cleared the table with practiced routine, Ned led Jack to a comfortable den adjoining the dining room. They decided to wait until the team was all included before discussing the strategy they would adapt and after just a few sentences Ned excused himself to turn in early, giving Jack the run of the house. Jack just wound his way back to his given room. He tried one of the shelved classics but couldn’t concentrate; the TV droned on for a short time until he turned it off.
Ned knocked at 8 AM and Maria has breakfast waiting, the kids are already off to school.
“We can pick up both Becky Newsom and Bao Chong around 10 AM. Becky is only 18 while Bao won’t leave his wife; he brought her along. Yang Huiping Shi.”
“She kept her surname, her clan name, and didn’t take her husbands’?” Jack asked.
“I guess not. She might have trouble inheriting if Bao dies,” Ned supplies.
“Not my problem,” Jack states and Ned shrugs in the affirmative.
It’s Thursday before Thanksgiving and the airport is full of pretty girls swishing their pleated miniskirts that topped long tanned legs under white cotton crop tops providing pleasing visions. Even with this plethora of competition, Becky is special. Without effort, she turns every head toward her as she walks out from the plane’s ramp. From the sway of her hips to the twinkle of her eyes she is a living advertisement for self-comfort. She likes herself, she likes the effect she has on men and she likes men. She knows, of course, that her life of comfortable pleasures is over and she carries thoughtful sobriety with her as she meets Jack and Ned.
They killed a couple of hours in Wingtips waiting for the Chongs; wings were a bit messy and heavy for the hour but they managed to buy their seats with a trio of BLTs with coffee and a good tip.
They met the resigned-looking Bao at the ramp too; he offered a conservative wave and headed in their direction. His wife Yang, a stout woman with a harsh demeanor, was stomping along behind him with a face full of questions and demands.
They buckled into the minibus that waited for them in select chauffeured parking and had barely left the circle before Yang let loose with a vitriol-infused question aimed at Ned.
“Why are you pulling my husband away from his respected career and his family! He can not explain to his superiors why he had to go to America! His career will suffer; we may even be jailed!’
“Please, Mrs. Chong, none of us want to do this but we have been called up to save the world from nuclear destruction!” Ned wailed.
Frank the driver chortled loudly and swerved on the road as he convulsed with laughter. He did recover quickly.
“Just keep your thoughts to yourself and drive, Frank,” Ned commanded.
“He’s going to blab that information all over,” Jack offered.
“What do you want me to do, kill him?” Ned asked.
“Well, not until he gets us where we’re going,” Becky teased. Still, it shut Frank up while Bao blanched for a second, not sure if that killing would need to happen.
Ned and Maria moved the people into rooms and welcomed them. They agreed to meet in the den this very evening to brainstorm.