Saturday, October 13, 2007
Sarah's Landing-I - Contact by Elena Dorothy Bowman
Sarah's Landing-I - Contact
Book I - Sarah's Landing Series
Romance/Science Fiction/Mystery Series
by Elena Dorothy Bowman
C h a p t e r - 1
Three years is not a long time but when you're trying to erase a memory it can seem forever. Sometimes, while walking across the base, the noise of a machine would startle Joshua. He would stop as if waiting for something. Other times, someone's laughter would bother him, anger him, and cause him to remember the violent churning static, the endless silence. What did happen out there in space? How could the starship disappear so completely? Joshua remembered sitting in that stark white hospital room three years ago listening, waiting throughout the night--pounding the video monitor with his fists, but there were no answers, no human voices. Now, more than ever, reports upset him, especially reports of disappearances. Why, he wondered, did it bother him so much when people, he did not know, mysteriously disappeared just because they happened to be in the right place at the wrong time?
His memories of Earth Star-I were bad enough, but his reassignment was worse. He was told his ear problem, a result of a viral infection, made it impossible for him to remain an astronaut. He could help, he said, training a new crew or being part of a design team for the next mission. After all, could SICOM afford to throw away a trained astro-biologist?
“Use me, damn it,” he demanded. “Let me be a part of all of this.”
The Space Intelligence Command (SICOM) agreed Joshua Morgan's talents were important and useful for the success of future efforts. But the budget cuts had trimmed down their teams, so all he could hope for now was a slot as a floating alternate. He would be used whenever and wherever SICOM had need of him. Joshua reluctantly agreed. So until a permanent slot opened up, Joshua was transferred to the Space Intelligence Alien Investigative Team. His job, as part of Alien Intelligence, was to investigate any unfinished cases of strange incidents that had occurred, and perhaps were still occurring. He closed the book on the last of his present cases. There was nothing to it. The man disappeared because he wanted to. Now Joshua was flying home and back to SICOM after two months of intensive field work in various parts of the world. He sometimes wished all of his cases were this easy, but then he would not have a job.
Back in Houston, life was more pleasurable. His office on the fourth floor of the Administration Building overlooked the entire base. Furnished during the days of prosperity he had many plush comfortable chairs, lush tropical plants and a large mahogany desk. Across the hall from his office, behind heavy glass doors, an environmentally controlled complex protected several highly sophisticated computers. It would be easy, he thought, to correlate two months' fieldwork.
Having entered the case file information into the computers Joshua returned to his office and sat back to wait for results. Old tapes and modern data crystals from other agents had been stacked on his desk, “Bury them or resolve them!” the note attached to the top stack ordered. How lucky can I get? He thought, smiling wryly.
Staring out the window he absentmindedly watched white puffy clouds expand and separate. Sighing he leaned over, inserted the first tape and turned on his recorder. He listened intently to each one of the individuals being interviewed as they related their experiences. They were intelligent and not easily frightened people but strange events had changed their lives. They had been witnesses to unbelievable occurrences. The data crystals weren't anymore definitive, he discovered, when he inserted them into his computer.
Joshua was skeptical yet, he had to admit, they seemed levelheaded and sincere.
He had not heard any of their stories before but here in his comfortable office each one sounded similar. How many of them, he wondered, were missing? Was there a rational explanation? Why had these people vanished?
He spent the entire morning talking to other agents and playing and replaying the voice recordings and data crystals.
“What the hell is going on? Am I crazy? People don't disappear. Humans are tangible, solid entities.” He rubbed one hand against the other. “No. It's not possible. It can't be.”
The tapes have been around for years. He knew everyone had a crack at them and they came up empty-handed. No one really expected him to do anything about them. But the voices on the recordings haunted him…and those on the data crystals were just as compelling.
Information from the computers confirmed his suspicions. There were many similarities. People who did not know each other, who lived in diverse places, were experiencing similar phenomena. Witness after witness repeated the description: “…suddenly there was a brilliant, blinding flash of light!” Some of the stories had been discounted. Missing people were found, or returned on their own. But certain cases could not be so easily resolved. Were they coincidences, or were the implications far more reaching?
Why should these people suddenly vanish? Joshua sat down at his desk and tabulated a long list of names. He could not find one common denominator. The missing people came from all walks of life. The less fortunate were as likely to disappear as executives, and children vanished as often as adults. There was no pattern.
Joshua ran another correlation check through the computers. This time he fed all the data he could find into the memory banks, beginning with SICOM's first reports of unusual events up to and including the information on the data crystals his “buddies” left on his desk.
He did not know what to expect, but learning that many reports were never investigated astounded him--like the Deming, New Mexico case. The Air Force was far more interested in the discovery of extra-terrestrial crash sites with body remains near Roswell, New Mexico than with bizarre disappearances, which the Air Force considered a 'local' problem. Youngs Creek, Indiana, among others, was another report that fell through the cracks. Then there were the missing children cases among others in New England. SICOM believed the local “Feds” should handle them.
Someone else would have dropped the whole thing, but not Joshua. He could not let go. If there was a linkage between people disappearing and his starship, he would find it or die trying. At least that was how he felt about it at the moment. There had to be a link somewhere. But where? How? Something kept nagging at the back of his mind. Joshua had a feeling a trip to Washington, DC. might provide some clue. SICOM did not agree. Joshua argued that every effort had to be made. SICOM said he was wasting everyone's time.
“Maybe,” Joshua said. “But if we don't try, we'll never know. Will we?”
Seventy-two hours is all they'll give me. Now how the hell am I supposed to check everything out in that constricted time? Joshua grumbled as he stared down the rows and rows of storage cabinets deep inside the government archives.
Hours later, the search through the records for all past and present disappearances brought him to the end of the last row and at the final cabinet. Nothing. Not a damn thing to give him any clue as to what had been going on.
Looking about, he saw a small storeroom with several cabinets inside. The area was surrounded by three steel walls and a locked cage. Joshua moved closer to the gate and fingered the lock. He tugged on it gently, it did not move. He tugged on it several more times. No luck.
Picking up a nearby fire extinguisher, he struck the lock until it gave. As he pushed the gate open it fell off the top hinge. He shrugged and entered the room.
It was obvious, even to the casual observer the cabinets had been untouched for decades. Layers of dust had to be more than an inch thick and he left his footprints wherever he walked. As he moved from cabinet to cabinet the locks gave way with a minimum amount of pressure.
Joshua tossed them aside. He searched through the records. Nothing. He could not understand the reasoning for the antiquated security. The last of the 'special' storage cabinets revealed nothing of any particular significance.
Probing through the last of the drawers half-heartedly, Joshua felt his efforts were just an exercise in futility. He flipped through several empty folders with TOP SECRET stamped on them, but thought nothing of it. Totally disgusted, he slammed the drawer shut and turned to leave. Abruptly, he swung around, stared at the last cabinet, yanked open a drawer and pulled out the folders. TOP SECRET was stamped all over them, but they held no contents to consider highly classified, or anything else. Joshua shook each open folder. Nothing fell out. He put them back, patting each one into place.
His fingers brushed up against the edge of the folder. He felt something embedded in the corners. He ran his fingers over the coded file name--EMMF-UT-SLV6-ACC10. “Where the hell did that come from? It wasn't there the first time I looked…but it had to be.” Now he realized what the code meant, why the folders were empty and the reason for the secured area.
Joshua started toward Subterranean Level 6. He had to get into that area now. Utah? He wondered. What the hell are they hiding in Utah?
He entered Level 6 and realized he needed an Access 10 Code. Had one a long time ago, they should have canceled it by now, he thought. Well, there's only one way to be sure. He entered his access code and listened as the old in-place computer asked for his identification. So far so good.
He slipped his identification badge into the slot and waited. The computer acknowledged his access code and allowed him to enter. Guess they never got around to changing the code, he thought. Lady luck is with me this time.
He walked up and down the corridors searching for the specially coded cabinet, leaving a trail of footprints in the dust. Incredibly, there it was, right in front of him --The last cabinet in the farthest reaches of the room. He searched through each drawer. The bottom one seemed to be stuck. He yanked on it with brute force and it gave way. A piece of the folder was caught on the drawer as it came out. He reached in behind it and gingerly felt for the rest of the folder. His hand rested on something smooth and strange. Feeling it with his fingers, he grabbed hold and yanked it out. It was the other part of the folder, but something else was under it.
A sealed packet had fallen underneath the filing cabinet. Joshua struggled with it until he freed it from its niche. It was covered with a heavy coat of wax. Moving away from the cabinets, he searched for a letter opener, knife, file or any other object that would cut through the heavy wax coating on the large package he now held in his hands. The first incision cut through to the cover of the document. He made out the words TOP SECRET. Cutting more of the covering away revealed the rest of the classification…RESTRICTED DATA. Immediately tearing through the waxed covering on the packet, he laid bare his prize, broke the seal on the document and tore it open. He read the title--U.S.S. Eldridge, Incident at Philadelphia Harbor, 1944. What the hell, Joshua wondered, is or was the U.S.S. Eldridge? Joshua spent most of the night reading the one hundred and eleven-year-old documents and wondered. In 1944, the U.S. Navy was experimenting with Einstein's Electro-Magnetic Field Flux Theories-.
According to these documents, they were at least partially successful. Okay, so what has that got to do with anything? First we have the experiment. For fifteen minutes, the ship and crew disappeared, not only from the radar screen but visibly as well, which was exactly what they had hoped for.
--Unexpectedly, the ship and crew disappeared on its own several minutes later. When it reappeared again, there were major disasters. The ship was heavily damaged, and every member of the ship's complement had been affected in one way or another. Some with such severe 'radiation' type burns over their bodies; they were dead within hours. Others disappeared again and never returned. Some faded in and out without control. But the God awful worst of it was the seamen imbedded alive in the ship's structure. After helplessly watching them trying to extricate themselves from the ship, medics mercifully ended their torment.
--Those who appeared unaffected carried the scars of the bizarre incident permanently.
Okay, okay, it's crazy, but that was over a hundred years ago. It's got nothing to do with what's happening now…right? Maybe it does and maybe it doesn't, he thought. In any case, there's got to be more to this. Let's see what deep dark secrets Utah is keeping from us. SICOM is going to have to give me more time…there's no way I'm dropping this now.
Joshua badgered his contact and old friend, Lt. Henry Jacobsen at SICOM. “I'm on to something. I need more time.”
Harry answered, “You're way off base.”
Joshua disagreed. “We won't really know until I check it out. What can a few more days hurt?”
“Okay, but understand, if it is a dead end. It's over.”
“If it isn't, then I have a free hand…right?”
“Okay, Okay,” his exasperated friend reluctantly agreed.
After getting clearance to use an Air Force jet, Joshua, with enough medication in and on him to thwart any adverse effects due to his ear problem, flew to Utah. He landed at a restricted Air Force Base near Green River, Utah. Moments later he was on his way to Moab and a ride down the Colorado River, which cut a path through the 'Mormon' cliffs. So called, because the Mormons used to narrate their history, by playing lights and shadows against the cliffs at night. At the base on both sides of the 'Mormon' cliffs were caves, which were visible only when the river was low. But while the waters of the Colorado were up, the entrances to the caves were hidden from view.
Joshua rode the Colorado several more times wondering what course of action he should take. Getting into the caves might be a problem particularly if they were still 'hot'. He was aware that Uranium was stored at one time in those caves, but did not know to what extent they were used. The information he was after was in one of those caverns, but which one, was his question.
The flat-bottom boat moved around the bend in the river just as a glint of sunlight ricochet off a crystal imbedded in the rocks, and almost blinded him. He raised his hand to shade his eyes and saw the light dancing off the edge of a cave two-thirds of the way up the cliff.
His face broke into a wide grin. “If that isn't an invitation, then I don't know what is.”
Hours later, Joshua walked along the edge of the cliffs overlooking the Colorado River. He could see the cave he was 'invited' to enter and wondered if there was an easier access. Climbing down to the entrance would not be difficult; it was getting back out that worried him.
Moments later, he realized he would not have to climb down. He saw the other opening not one hundred feet away from where he was standing. It was the way the brush moved that caught his eye. When he pushed the brush aside, the opening was blocked by a huge rock.
Joshua laughed. Some invitation, he thought. The 'gods' must have changed their minds. He pushed on the rock, examined it closely, leaned over it to see if he could peer inside, and heard a click when he touched the side walls to balance himself. He felt the rock moving under him and slid off.
With the opening cleared, he entered the cave. Joshua had gone about 500 feet when the beam from his flashlight rested on a computerized steel door barring his way. He tried his access code and identification card and met with the same success he had achieved in Subterranean Level 6 in Washington, DC. The dosimeter he carried with him showed no radiation was present. He heaved a sigh of relief.
The cave was well lit, and just as undisturbed as the archives were. He proceeded along the rows of filing cabinets, leaving a trail of footsteps behind him, until he came face to face with the identical code he had seen in Washington. He broke into the cabinets easily. They were duplicates of what he had discovered in Washington --same type of cabinets, same type of locks.
He pulled the first folder: Abbott, John C. - MIA - Seaman Second Class, U.S.S. Eldridge. The second folder belonged to a Chase, Michael H. - MIA - Chief Petty Officer, U.S.S. Eldridge. He skipped over toward the last of the alphabet. White, Jonathan A. - MIA - Radioman First Class, U.S.S. Eldridge. Then the next to the last, Young, Roland A. - MIA - Electronic Technician First Class, U.S.S. Eldridge.
He pulled the last folder and opened it. Zolo, Paul D. - KIA - Ensign, U.S.S. Eldridge.
He pulled a few other folders; they were all the same. Either the men never returned, or they were killed. The one that disturbed Joshua the most was Zimbalist's file. Zimbalist was married, had a couple of kids, a boy, one, a little girl, two. When the Eldridge returned after its unscheduled disappearance, Zimbalist was one of the unfortunate ones who came back embedded in the ship's structure and was given a lethal injection. He died instantly. There really was nothing anyone could do to extricate him from the steel deck. He had become part of the ship itself. Joshua didn't want to read any more. He felt he was trampling on hallowed ground.
He turned away for a few moments, before returning to the files. Searching through the folders one at a time, he discovered the ship's roster. Of the men who survived, he read, they were medically discharged and sent home after spending several years at the Naval Hospital in Chelsea, Massachusetts.
The Eldridge's crew, what was left of them, came from all around the country --From Indiana to New Mexico, from California to New England. Each dossier's comprehensiveness in its completeness amazed him. He read the list on the roster and pulled the dossiers on the crew of the Eldridge as he did until he came to a name that leaped off the papers at him and stopped him cold --he read it more than once, the name JOSHUA MORGAN.
He was stunned. Once he got over his shock at seeing his own name on the roster, he pulled the file. The name belonged to his great-grandfather. The elder Morgan had been a young lieutenant on the Eldridge in 1944. He was a newlywed and his marriage almost broke up after the incident. But Joshua's great-grandmother, Elizabeth Morgan, God Bless Her, wouldn't let go. She held on, and eventually Elizabeth bore her first child, Joshua's grandfather. His great- grandfather never mentioned the Eldridge, or anyone he ever served with, as far as Joshua remembered.
Elizabeth bore two more sons before her husband's nightly cries of terror became a neighborhood problem. Elizabeth fought to keep her husband with her, but the neighbors complained so much and so often to the authorities, the senior Morgan was sent back to the Naval Hospital. Not long after, Joshua's great-grandfather's nightmarish screams ended.
Most of what happened during the years after the incident was there in his great-grandfather's dossier, along with some of the stories Joshua remembered hearing. How could Naval Intelligence know all that? Even all the personal stuff? How could they have known?
Joshua gently laid the file down. He had forgotten or maybe he never knew his great-grandfather was on the Eldridge. He knew there were stories about the old gent being crazy, but he never knew the real story until now.
“Wish I had known him,” Joshua said wistfully. He picked up his great-grandfather's file again. “Wish I had known you, Sir,” Joshua said softly, then gently replaced the file. I could take it with me, he thought, but he belongs here with his shipmates. There is no point in disturbing their graves now.
Joshua replaced all the folders. He had all the information he could glean from the files.
His notes were all he would walk away with. Hesitating at the door before he left the cave, Joshua turned, stood at attention, and saluted the men of the Eldridge.
Joshua flew back to Houston. The information he came away from Utah with had a few holes in it. The Eldridge happened over a hundred years ago. The more recent events began approximately fifty years later and continued until Earth Star-I disappeared. But what did one have to do with the other? There was nothing connecting any of it.
Lt. Henry Jacobsen, one of Joshua's closest colleagues at SICOM, sitting in Joshua's office, was concerned for his friend. “What now, Joshua?” he asked. “You've gone as far as you can with this. Don't you think you ought to drop it?”
“No Harry, not by a long shot. There's something here. Call it a gut feeling…call it whatever you want, but…”
“C'mon Joshua, gut feeling?”
“Yeah, gut feeling!”
“You keep this up and your gut feeling is going to land you in the psycho ward.”
“Harry, my great-grandfather was on the Eldridge.”
“He didn't disappear, Josh. He died. Remember?”
“I know he died, but how and why he died. When he died, bothers me. No one ever wanted to talk about it.”
“So now you know.”
“For all the good it's going to do me.”
“C'mon Josh, let's go.”
“Didn't I tell you? Marianne has a friend who's…”
“Forget it. I know Marianne's friends.”
“No, No, Josh, this one's different.”
“That's what you said the last time.”
Joshua never stopped reading and re-reading his notes while they talked. Exasperated, Harry slammed his hand down on the papers causing Joshua to jump.
“C'mon, the break will do you good. Wait 'till you see her, she's…”
“I can hardly wait.”
“Leave it right where it is and let's go.”
“Okay, okay.” Joshua finally agreed. Harry didn't remove his hand until Joshua stood up.
Their date, at Miguel's, one of Houston's most exclusive Country Clubs, was a disaster. Jennifer was a talker, pretty, but she never stopped talking. She monopolized the conversation from the beginning.
Joshua shot a look at Harry. Shrugging his shoulders, Harry raised his hands, palms up, in a gesture that said I knew she was going to be like this? Joshua shook his head, smiled, and pretended to be listening intently to Jennifer while his mind was with his great-grandfather, the Eldridge and Earth Star-I.
Returning to the base after taking their dates home, Joshua said, “Let me pick my own dates, will you. Where does Marianne find these women?”
“When was the last time you went out on your own? If Marianne didn't have so many friends, you'd never get out.”
“I've been busy. Are you and Marianne serious?”
“So you needed a break. She is…I'm not.”
“Does she know that?”
“Yeah, she knows. But she still tries.”
“Beats me. She's a nice kid. I hate to hurt her feelings, so when she calls, I say yes.”
“You're only encouraging her.”
“I know. But I don't know how to get out of it.”
“Introduce her to someone else…and I don't mean me.”
“Who? Any suggestions?”
Joshua thought a moment then said. “Brian. Brian seems a likely candidate. He's a quiet, nice guy. They should hit it off.”
“Brian? You know you could be right.”
“Yep, Brian's your man. But if he ever double dates with Jennifer, I don't think he'll survive.” They both laughed.
Harry dropped Joshua off at his quarters. “Stay away from the office, Josh. Stop thinking about that stuff! Get some sleep.”
“See ya, Harry!” Joshua grinned and entered his quarters.