The Encounter, Ch. 4 - by Genna East and Mike Friedman
The Story Continues
Welcome to Chapter 4 of the continuing story in response to "The Encounter, a Writing Challenge."
Mike (Mckbirdbks) and I teamed together and have written a fast-paced, six-part story in answer to that challenge. Installments were published weekly, every Sunday.
The music videos accompanying each chapter convey elements of the story. Links to subsequent chapters appear at the end of each installment.
We hope you enjoy the journey.
The link to Chapter 1 follows...
"From the first, he loved Princeton...its lazy beauty, its half-grasped significance, the wild moonlight revel of the rushes."
--- F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise (1920)
For students, visitors and the hopeful outsider looking in, Princeton's main campus provided a revealing tour of humanity's past and present. Beautifully landscaped, tree-lined streets showcased buildings with eclectic architectural styles -- from gargoyles and gothic spires, to sleek metal and glass -- in silent, immovable cadence of a changing world.
Dr. Penelope Teller stood by the windows of her office on the top floor of the Whitney Hall, an ivy covered, four-story building that stood at the north end of the campus. As chair of the Physics & Astrophysical Sciences Department, she had access to the facilities throughout the summer months. Staring at Hank's cryptic text on her mobile phone, the physicist tried to grasp the meaning behind the cipher that glared back from the screen. His message was brief...
I'll be late for our conference at the Whit Lab today. Will be there at 1:00 pm. See you then.
There was no such laboratory at Princeton. The only possible connection had to be her office in the Whitney Building. Nor was any conference scheduled. Even more troubling, he wasn't answering his cell. She fixed an uneasy look on the other recipient of the text who was staring out the window, searching for any sign of their friend's vintage Ford pickup. "I can't make sense out of this. What do you think?" she asked.
Martin Teller ran his fingers through his thinning hair. A few years older than his sister, he was a professor of humanistic studies and tended to lean more toward his instincts. "I dunno, Penny. But I can't shake the feeling it's got something to do with what's goin' on upstairs," he replied, nodding at the sky. "He was secretive in that text -- as though he was paranoid about hiding something from prying eyes. Doesn't sound at all like the Hank Kelly we know."
The Tellers first met Kelly a few years earlier when they each boarded the same university bus, bound for a Global Earth Day Celebration at the Boston Common. A close friendship soon began that bridged the cultural divide between biologist, physicist and humanist in their concern for the environment.
Hearing noises in the hallway, they turned their attention to the door of the room that had been left ajar. The clicking echoes of a dog's paws grew louder as Hank's Brittany spaniel slipped through the opening and scooted over to Penny.
"Noah. Hi, darlin'," she said, petting the base of his neck. She sighed in relief when her friend walked into the office. His companion was a stranger to her. "Hank -- what the hell's going on? And who is this?" she asked of the tall figure.
The alien removed his fishing hat and sunglasses. "Good day to you," he answered, smiling. My name is Ezra."
Closing the door behind them, Hank placed his hand gently on the Jatite's shoulder and said, “This is a friend who probably needs no introduction. I don't think I have to tell you he's from the alien craft."
Martin froze, his limbs seeming to fail him. The words, "Hoooly shit," caught in the back of his throat before escaping into the air.
Ezra stepped closer to Penny. His Lincolnesque frame towered over the petite physicist. "A female. Lovely. I am pleased to make acquaintance with you."
Penny felt as though her feet were rooted in the floor -- not out of fear, but in wonder. She liked the Jatite instantly; the impossible innocence in his gaze, his grace, and a smile that lightened the room. She took his hand in greeting. His pale skin was warm to the touch. "Hello, Ezra, my name is Penny, and this is my brother, Marty," she said, gesturing toward him. "Marty... Martin!"
"Oh...hey, I'm sorry." He leaned forward to grasp the alien's hand with a quick shake, his face flushed, his eyes, round with awe. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
At a loss of what to say or do next, the Tellers turned to Hank for answers to the questions flooding through their minds.
"I'm sorry to spring this on you," he said. But I didn't dare text you about it, or call you. Couldn't risk it. We haven't much time and there's a lot to tell you -- and to show you."
Hank guided them to the conference table. They sat down and listened, open-mouthed, to his story of the alien's arrival at his home on the Kittatinny, and the Jatites' proposal for saving both of their planets. Ezra's long, tapered fingers reached into his pocket to pull out the hologram device. The Tellers watched, enthralled, as the images splayed across the table surface. It was impossible not to envy the Jatite world -- a civilization unremoved from every natural thing -- before it succumbed to global devastation. "We are the last of our kind," he told them.
At Penny' request, Ezra explained how their flight through time and light-speed barriers had been achieved. Using her decades of training in quantum physics and thermodynamics, she processed the alien's rationale that by using exotic matter as a stabilizing factor, it was possible to traverse safely through the mouth of a wormhole without the risk of its collapse. Even more astounding was the ability to close the loop of Bootstrap Paradox, thereby preventing the past from repeating itself. Penny realized with moonstruck clarity, what was previously considered grist for science fiction novels and the imaginative theory of physicists had finally reached the realm of authenticity. The proof of it was sitting across from her, and orbiting the earth aboard a vessel so massive it could span the width of Manhattan.
"Of course," she murmured in astonishment, looking at Hank. "Despite everything we've learned about the universe, we're practically toddlers stumbling around in the dark. But Einstein was close to the answers that were there all along."
"All things exist in relationship," he replied with a knowing smile. "As for Ezra's journey...I can't believe that I'm deciding this very second."
Penny saw the lines of weariness on her friend's face begin to ease and knew the meaning of it. The purpose of their meeting at the Whitney went beyond her confirmation that such a journey was more than possible. Hannaford Kelly needed to say goodbye.
"My God," she half whispered. "You're going with them."
Hank nodded. "It's a chance, Pen, to change things -- and a lot more. You know as well as I, they won't do anything about it until it's too late. Time wears at us...and we're running out of it. We have to do something before climate change and its affect on natural resources reaches the point of no return. After that, human survival instincts will eventually kick in when people realize there's no place left to go and start picnicking on one another."
A look of surprise came over Ezra. "Are you certain, Hannaford?"
Penny shook her head in disbelief. "What about hope for awareness? Martin...tell him..."
"That kind of hope doesn't live here, Sis. Not where it counts."
There was silence for a few moments, interrupted by the sharp, scraping sound of Penny's chair on the tile floor as she pushed herself away from the conference table. She crossed her arms against her chest and walked to the windows on the other side of the room. Hank excused himself and went over to her.
"My sister doesn't mean to be rude," Marty confided to Ezra. "She's carried an unrequited torch for Hank for nearly a year, albeit from a respectful distance. He doesn't know it of course. We humans can't choose the ones we love. And even the brightest of our species can be a little slow when it comes to recognizing matters of the heart." He glanced over at Penny. "The knowledge you can offer her is overwhelming."
Marty knew that his sister would likely want to accompany Hank. She had lost her husband in a car accident several years before, and his own marriage had failed. The three friends were the only family they had left. His eyes moistened with the realization that he was at the precipice of a deep personal loss, and the stirrings of an inner longing to redefine who he was. I'm middle-aged and still an assistant professor, he thought. In this ivied sanctuary of academia, that's the bottom of the pit. He looked into the face of the Jatite, an alien soul who seemed to know his thoughts with a non-linear perception that sensed what lay hidden behind the shadows of words.
"We will be honored for you to journey with us home. There is room for you all, and more," Ezra assured him. "Do not be afraid, Martin. Your freedom rests not in the saying...it is in the doing."
Pulling the wind jacket closer about his torso, the Jatite jolted still as though a sudden pain had seared throughout his body. A whistling trill sounded from the back of his throat. With eyes half closed, he pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead, sensing a hostile energy that was soon to overtake them. He stood up from the table and called out to his friend: "Hannaford...the men of the letters of power. They are coming."
Marty grabbed his mobile, switched it on and checked his news sources. "The military found Ezra's pod," he said tightly. "His movements must have been traced to your house, Hank. Government Intel agencies have created a task force to hunt for you. Photos of you and your pickup are all over the damn media."
"Your ship, Ezra -- how do we reach them?" asked Kelly. They don't know where you are."
"They have known exactly where I am, each of your earth minutes of my presence here," he replied, gesturing to the hologram. "The roof. We must move to the roof. Now, please."
The trio of friends stared at each other, seized of the moment in an unspoken alliance. They realized with certainty the bond that had developed between them was deeper than chance...that destiny had somehow intervened in the architecture of time and linked their futures, inexorably, to an odyssey that was impossible to deny.
With little time to plan, the urgency in the alien's tone pushed them into action. Hank scooped Noah up into his arms as Penny snatched a few things from her desk and tossed them into her tote bag. Marty's eyes darted around the room until he spotted a copy of his favorite author's first novel about a man's search for his place in a tumultuous world on the other side of paradise. He pulled the paperback from the bookcase and stuffed it into one of his pockets.
Hank and Ezra moved quickly to the office door. The Tellers were directly behind them. The Jatite hesitated, then reached down and pressed the handle release to open the door. Standing in the hallway was Army Sergeant Katharine Arness, poised with her gun drawn and aimed squarely at the alien's chest.
To be continued...
Injection (Lisa Gerrard & Hans Zimmer)
The Link to Chapter 5
Written by Genna Eastman and Mike Friedman. All rights reserved.