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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Thank the Lucky Stars by Eric Price


I’ve heard it called the final frontier, the sea of tranquility, the great unknown. I call it solitude. Destitute.

I’ve told you in my previous transmissions that I consider myself lucky. When they caught us, they could have killed us. No one would have known. It was a risk we took, Sandra, Max, and myself. And when Adam found us, maybe that was luck too. I don't mean him catching us, of course. But better him than someone else.

I’ve never given you details about what we did or why we did it. By now you’ve probably figured out most of it.

* * * *

Simon flipped off the video recording transmitter (VRT) and rubbed his eyes. He continued to shiver even after his third cup of hot chocolate. He could have drunk plain hot water to warm himself, his taste buds hadn’t reawakened yet, but he needed the calories. The hibernation periods drained him. Now that he had awakened for the final time, he’d need to replenish himself by eating a minimum of 5000 calories a day until he landed on Kapa1 Ceti VI.

The planet appeared as a small pinprick on the viewing screen. The star itself burned on the left edge. Had all the ship’s sensors not told him he had traveled nearly thirty light years, he’d have believed Kapa1 Ceti the Earth’s sun.

He walked away from the viewer and the dim yellow light it cast faded from the walls as it powered down. The walls of the ship reilluminated green as the food generator activated with his proximity.

“Hello, Simon.” The epicene voice hadn’t startled him since his first waking period. The fog of sleep still hung in his mind when he had first heard speaking on a space vessel allegedly occupied by a single passenger. When his heart rate slowed, he had felt completely awakened. Now, on his third waking period, he knew to expect the various components of the ship to strike up conversations, even if he didn't feel mentally revived. “What would you like? Another hot chocolate? Perhaps something to eat?”

“Yes. I’ll have lasagna with extra cheese and three pieces of garlic bread.” With a menu limited only by his own imagination, Simon knew he wanted his favorite childhood meal to start his rejuvenation before arriving on the planet. He decided it when the authorities sentenced him. He needed to connect with the life he had before he knew something was different about himself.

“Preparing one meal of lasagna with extra cheese and three pieces of garlic bread.”

The soft, high-pitched whine of the food generators electric motors created a welcome background noise.

While he waited for his meal, he returned to the VRT to record more of his transmission.

* * * *

We infiltrated the compound by walking through the main entrance. I’m serious. It was as easy as that. Sandra had a friend on the inside who printed us employee badges. And they call themselves the Department of Defense? Really?

Everybody knows about the five floors above ground and the two basement levels. They’re great. Seriously. Even the western side, which had to get rebuilt after that hijacked plane flew into it, looks amazing.

I suppose you know about that. The plane I mean. They couldn’t have erased it from the history books. Too many people remember where they were when it happened. I remember. My second grade teacher got called out of the room and returned with tears in her eyes. I didn’t think anything could soften the heart of that old bitch. What did I know?

But back to the building. We didn’t care about the seven floors everyone knew about. Our interests resided somewhere on the third basement floor. I know what you’re thinking. 'There is no third basement.' Yes, it does have a third basement. I’ve seen it. And it’s where you’ll find all the good stuff. Area 51, Roswell, the Kennedy assassination, Bigfoot, Yeti, you name it. If it exists, and the government doesn’t want you to know about it, the information is stored in the third basement.

So the files I wanted to see. The ones I needed to see. The ones about me. Yeah, they’re three floors down. I didn’t know Sandra and Max had connections too. I should have figured it out, but I didn’t.

Most of the stuff I mentioned, the stuff about aliens and hairy monsters, I don’t believe in any of it. Even after seeing the files. What I can tell you is the government keeps files on all of it. I read a few of the files. They didn’t change my opinion. But I didn’t come to read about them. I came to see if what I had heard had any truthful merit to it. Did I exist because of the Cloverleaf Project? And if so, what involvement did I have with it…or it with me.

* * * *

A high pitched series of beeps alerted Simon to his prepared meal. His tastebuds watered as his olfactory receptors started to revive from slumber. He brought the lasagna back to the work station and placed what looked like a wire hat on his head. Two sharp probes tightened against his temples, almost piercing the skin. Simon preferred the VRT, but to ensure he included every detail of his break-in at the Pentagon, he needed to use the memory extractor (ME).

His wife’s face came into focus on the view screen. Even on the day of this image, the final day she would see him as a free man, she had no idea what he had planned. Should he have told her? Probably not. They would have come for her too. Her ignorance kept her free then, and his completion of this mission will ensure she remains free. Or will it? Can he trust the government to uphold their end of the bargain? For all he knew, they had arrested her the second his shuttle launched.

No. They’d have no reason to arrest her. They knew she had nothing to do with any of it. After hooking her to an ME for three days, she didn't have a single private memory left.

He focused his mind. The image of his wife faded. The long wall of the Pentagon replaced it.

* * * *

Two security guards stepped onto the elevator. Simon cast a glance at Max to make sure he kept his composure. Simon thought he looked nervous, but it was hard to tell. Max always looked nervous. Sandra on the other hand, she could handle anything.

The guards only rode down two  floors. When the elevator stopped on the first basement, Simon, Sandra, and Max exited.

Simon pointed to the left. “If we follow this hall, we’ll come to another series of four elevators. We take one back up to the fourth floor where we’ll find a fifth elevator marked ‘Maintenance Only.’ Our badges should open it. It only goes to the second basement. A secret corridor not accessible any other way. A few top secret offices line the hall, and at the end we’ll find a stairway to the third basement. The one that supposedly doesn’t exist. The offices should all be vacant for the weekend.”

They followed the maze and found themselves on a floor clearly not the size of the entire Pentagon. Most of the small offices contained numerous file cabinets and a small desk. The offices had no labeling announcing their contents.

“Well, let’s split up and see what we can find.”

Simon headed into an office and started browsing through the file cabinets. The first had photos of world leaders meeting with aliens and transcripts of their conversations. He randomly selected one and started reading before tossing it aside to focus on his objective. The next cabinet had photos, transcripts of eyewitness accounts, and hair samples of tall, apelike men. He didn’t even bother reading these before moving on to the next file cabinet.

“Third time’s a charm.”

The first folder had a tab reading Cloverleaf Project. The cover had an image of a four leaf clover. Each leaf had a different word written on it: Strength, Agility, Intelligence, Luck. The first sheet in the folder read:


CLOVERLEAF PROJECT
Overview

In an attempt to create the perfect human, top geneticists from around the world will collaborate to create a genetically superior human. They will combine DNA from human subjects with extraordinary qualities in at least one of the following characteristics: strength, agility, and intelligence. The experiment will also take DNA from individuals with seemingly unnatural luck to answer the questions: Does luck exist? And if so, can it pass through genes?

The first batch will consist of six artificially created zygotes (three male and three female) implanted into female volunteers all deemed unable to conceive naturally. As an added precaution, the test subjects, once mature, will be sterile. This will serve two purposes. First, it will prevent the artificial genes from contaminating the normal human gene pool. Second, many of the geneticists fear if two of our test subjects were to reproduce, it may create an F1 hybrid superhuman.

Tuesday, March 17, 1992

Simon riffled through the pages to find extensive notes on the process, the specific genes isolated, and prenatal care given to the expectant mothers. Finally he found the page he wanted. A list of birth records. Just as he expected, he found his own name, date of birth, and his mother’s name. He read the remainder of the names.

“No.”

He staggered backward and sat in an office chair. It almost rolled out from under him, but he grabbed the arm and secured it. He read the names again.

“No!”

His head spun. Flashes of his life danced before his eyes. Images of his childhood. College. He knew them all. He always had. He couldn’t remember a time without them. He read the names again, first to himself, then aloud.

“Sandra. Max. Julie. Adam. No. No. Not her too.” He read the last name ten times. Fifteen. Twenty. “Not Susan. Not my wife.”

He flipped back to the overview and reread the last paragraph. How they had wanted children. How they had tried. For how many years? Seven? Nine?

Sandra burst into the office.

“I thought I heard you scream.”

He looked at her through eyes glassed over with tears.

Max came to Sandra’s side and she pushed on. “What is it Simon? Did you find what we came for? Are you part of Cloverleaf Project?

Simon couldn’t speak. He reached across the desk and handed the list of births to Sandra.

Sandra took the list, read it, and handed it to Max.

Max read the list and threw it to the ground.

“We’ve got to go. Now.”

The alarm in his voice instantly sobered Simon. “What? Why?” But as he asked, he sprang to his feet.

“I may have blown everything. I told Adam you suspected you had involvement with the Cloverleaf Project.”

“So? You didn’t tell him our plan, did you? You didn’t tell him we planned on breaking in here?”

“No. But I didn’t have to. He just knows things. He always has had a way of just knowing.”

They bolted for the door. Simon jerked it open. A flash of silver and Simon felt the barrel of a gun press against his head. His instincts wanted to snatch the gun in a swift movement. He knew he could, but his eyes focused down the hall at the fifteen other guns pointed at them. A tall, muscular man with dark hair stepped forward.

“I hope you found what you came for, Simon.”

“Adam, listen, this concerns you too.”

A single laugh escaped Adam’s throat. “I know. I’ve seen all the files. They showed them to me when I took the job. Sure, my badge says ‘Pentagon Security,’ but I’ve only had one objective: protect these files from anyone else involved with Cloverleaf Project. We weren’t the only batch of super babies, you know. The project ran for ten years. Eventually someone would learn they may have been a part of it and want in here.”

Adam gestured toward the stairway. “Come along, now, we have a special new punishment lined up to try on you three.”

* * * *


Simon removed the ME and rubbed his temples. He placed his plate, utensils, and napkin back into the food generator.

“Recycling initiated,” said the not-quite-human voice.

The low hum of the engines started again, and he returned to the VRT.

* * * *

So we received our sentence. Sandra, Max, and myself each got sent different directions in space. Three pioneers to the three closest planets potentially habitable by humans. I have no idea how much of this you already know. I didn’t say anything in my previous transmissions. I knew the government would screen them. You’d have never seen them… Or at the least you wouldn’t get them in their entirety. My only hope for you to hear this one is if Julie still works for the department. This is the last message I can send you. I only have one transmission beacon left, and it has to contain information about the planet I land on. If I fail to send it, the government will come for you.

If I calculated correctly, and if the ship’s sensors are accurate, which I’m sure they are—I designed them myself—you should be about 30 years old now. It’s challenging to conceive, even for me, since I’m not much older than that myself. But by traveling nearly the speed of light, my ageing doesn’t progress like yours.

I’ve spent my time between hibernation periods pondering my decisions. Did I do the right thing? Was it worth it? I think I did. And it was. I only learned of your existence the day they sent me into space. By all accounts, you shouldn’t exist. I guess we really were lucky. My only regret is that I’ll never get to meet you.

Love,
Dad

To be continued… April 17


Dedicated to Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015), without whom, modern science fiction would likely not exist.

****


Eric Price lives with his wife and two sons in northwest Iowa. He began publishing in 2008 when he started writing a quarterly column for a local newspaper. Later that same year he published his first work of fiction, a spooky children’s story called Ghost Bed and Ghoul Breakfast. Since then, he has written stories for children, young adults, and adults. Three of his science fiction stories have won honorable mention from the CrossTime Annual Science Fiction Contest. His first YA fantasy novel, Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud, received the Children’s Literary Classics Seal of Approval and the Literary Classics Award for Best First Novel. His second novel, The Squire and the Slave Master, continues the Saga of the Wizards. It is scheduled for an August 4, 2015 release. Find him online at authorericprice.comTwitterFacebook, and Goodreads.