Episode 5: Launch
Hector moved to the edge of the chain-link fence and forced himself to stop pacing. He checked his watch. Beside him, Jack slid a pair of aviator sunglasses back over his ears and rubbed his temples. Time was running out, and the sinking feeling of failure churned in each agent's stomach. The afternoon sun stood above them, waiting for the spacecraft on the launch pad to lift off. Nothing had gone as anticipated. Another mission had failed. Hector started pacing again.
"You don't know that they got to it," said Jack. "We don't even know if this is why they came."
Hector spun on his heel. "That's the problem. We don't know anything."
Jack nodded, turning his gaze back to the launch pad. He lifted a pair of binoculars and analyzed the area surrounding the rocket. Nothing unusual. Scratching his head, he put the binoculars down. "Maybe we should go."
"No. We're staying. There's still a chance we can stop them."
Hector's communicator clicked. It was headquarters. He sighed heavily and answered, "Yes?"
"Any sign of trouble?" Jessica's voice came through.
"None," said Hector, his voiced laced with frustration.
"Same here. If they got to the rocket we're not going to know until the engines light up."
"There's got to be something we can do. Can we postpone the launch? An anonymous call? Some kind of tip? Anything?"
Jessica sighed. "Level 1 interaction is still the call—limited engagement. There has been no indication of a significant breach. I'm sorry."
Hector knew the rulebook better than most. Phase travel operations forced the Union to operate with the utmost consideration for past events. Unless a serious breach forced them to alter history, they had to just stand by and watch. He ground his teeth together. "That's it, then?"
"Let's go home. There's nothing else we can do," said Jack. "We'll get them next time. Let it go."
"They just assassinated a president! Who knows what they've done here? Or what they're about to do! Let it go? They're re-writing history and we're standing here with our hands tied!"
"What else are we gonna do? What else can we do?"
Hector put his face inches away from Jack's. "They've got my sister."
"Hey-" The communicator activated again. This time it was General Taylor. "I need you two back here right away. We just detected two molecular transfers. They've left Florida."
"We're just going to give up?"
"There's nothing more we can do at this point. It's too late."
"Lives are at stake, General. How can we just leave?"
"Right now we don't have a choice. We just received some important information I want you to see. If we're going to get the jump on the XLS we have to be ready, which means we have to stop reacting. We'll save more lives if we understand what their objectives are before they act."
Hector grit his teeth, seething, but finally acknowledged the message and terminated the call. He turned a pair of smoldering eyes on Jack, who squinted and cocked an eyebrow as he processed Hector's uncharacteristic outburst.
Hector started to move, but before he could, Jack's arm snapped out to refrain him. Jack nodded back toward the launch pad. A low rumble, like an earthquake, emanated from the rocket like ripples along a pond. White smoke billowed up from engines as the spacecraft came to life. Slowly at first, but quickly gaining speed, the spacecraft hurtled upward, propelled by the incredible power of the rocket. It burned a trail through the afternoon sky, disappearing into the blue horizon and leaving only an ashen exhaust trail behind.
A long moment passed before Jack put his hands on his hips and turned to Hector. "I'm not sure whether I should be relieved or terrified." He gazed back up to where the smoke vanished. "If they didn't blow it up, then what did they do to it?"
Stay tuned for the next exciting installment...
(For illustrations by Nathan Scheck, please visit www.timeslingers.com)