Jack Canon's American Destiny

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Infernal Gates by Michael J. Webb @mjwebbbooks

Chapter 5

After searching his home, verifying his wife and children had packed and taken clothes with them for their vacation to St. Thomas, Ethan had frantically called Quest Airways.

They’d confirmed what he already knew.

Flight 1485, his flight, had crashed shortly after take-off.

No other details were available. The woman he’d spoken with had asked if he had family or friends on the flight. Still in shock, he-d muttered, “Family—”

Now, he sat on the couch in the living room, his eyes glued to the big screen T.V. He knew he’d get more information from CNN than from Quest Airways.

“. . . this is Joan Archdale, live at CNN Center in Atlanta, with a Breaking News Update. Quest Airways Flight 1485, on its way from Charlotte, North Carolina to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, crashed yesterday morning, approximately twenty-five minutes after take-off. Investigators are still—”

The anchorwoman paused. “We’re going now to CNN’s Don Reichert—”

Ethan sat forward as the scene on the TV switched to a middle-aged, balding man dressed in a short-sleeve shirt and Khaki pants.

“This is Don Reichert, reporting live from the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Georgia, approximately twelve miles from the town of Folkston, just north of the Florida state line. Behind me is the blackened, still smoldering, crash site of Quest Airways flight 1485—a huge crater at least forty feet deep and about three times as wide. It’s been a little over twenty-six hours since the A-320 Airbus, carrying one hundred forty-two passengers, and a crew of five, plunged nose-first into North America’s largest swamp. Although the cause of the crash is still unknown, an anonymous source told me that the residue of an explosive material has been found on a rectangular piece of metal tentatively identified as part of the door to the baggage compartment.”

“Does that mean investigators think this might be an act of terrorism?” the Atlanta-based anchorwoman asked.

“My source wasn’t willing to go that far,” Reichert replied. “I can confirm that the FBI has sent one of its top anti-terrorism experts to the crash site to work with the NTSB.”

“Any news about survivors?”

“From what I’ve seen it seems highly doubtful anyone on Flight 1485 made it out alive—”

The scene changed back to the news room in Atlanta.

Ethan hit the mute button.

The words “explosive residue,” “FBI,” and “criminal activity” raced through his mind—a harsh, threatening echo. He remembered, in stark detail, the sounds of the explosions, the terrified screams of his daughter, the panic in his son’s normally inquisitive eyes, the violent shaking of the aircraft, his desperate, unsuccessful efforts to hold on to his wife and calm her, and the last thing he saw before he blacked out—the gaping hole where the exit row had been.

He stood up and paced.

He needed rational, sensible answers—and he needed them now.

But who could he turn to?

The airline had set up a hotline, but they’d only give out limited information. The woman he’d spoken to over the phone recommended he come down to the Charlotte-Douglas airport. That option didn’t interest him. Hundreds of people would be demanding information the airline didn’t have, or wouldn’t release until it felt it was in their best interest to do so.

That could take days, or weeks.

Besides, as soon as the airline discovered who he was, they’d start asking questions he couldn’t answer.

He stopped pacing, stared at the TV, lost in thought.

As the reality of his situation sunk in, he cried out in agony, “Oh, God—not again,” then slumped to his knees.

When Ethan roused himself, it was dark.

He glanced at his watch. Six hours had passed since he’d fallen to the carpet!

He sat up, rested his back against the couch, and looked around the darkened room. The only light was that of the television screen. CNN was still on, but there were no further images being broadcast about the crash.

He hit the mute button, and the sound returned.

Another newscaster, this one a man, was interviewing an astronomer about the possibility of a rogue asteroid hitting the Earth. The anchor’s guest looked to be in his early thirties and had dirty- blond hair and sparkling grey-green eyes. “So, Professor Sharpe, you’re saying that we’re overdue for a strike by a killer asteroid—”

“We in the scientific community have come to realize the danger to humanity from asteroid or comet collisions is comparable to other natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and floods. However, where comet and asteroid collisions are concerned, we talk in terms of frequency of occurrence, rather than fatalities per year.”

“How often do these collisions occur?”

“About every half million years.”

“It’s been that long since the Earth was hit by a large asteroid?”

“Considerably longer. We’re way over due. It’s not a matter of if—but when. There was a near miss just over four thousand years ago, when a very large interloper—what we now believe was a rogue comet—came within fifty thousand miles of the Earth. We have a record of it in ancient Sumerian and Egyptian texts. If that happened today, we’d have less than ten hours notice to prepare for the end of life on Earth as we know it—”

Ethan sighed, stood up, turned on one of the lamps, then used the remote to turn off the TV. He had a lot more to worry about than a rogue comet hitting the Earth.

During his time on the floor an idea had come to him.

He headed for the kitchen and wondered if he could find something to eat.

He also wondered if tomorrow he’d find the answers he desperately needed.

Jeremy Sharpe stared up at the star-studded night sky above New South Wales, Australia. For the hundredth time in the past two weeks he was grateful he’d persevered through myriad difficulties and finished what he’d started nearly eight years previously.

Fourteen days ago he’d been awarded his Ph.D. in Astronomy from Cambridge University. Tonight, he was about to embark upon his first research project, in conjunction with members of the AAO—the Anglo-Australian Observatory. Four hours earlier, he’d finished an interview with CNN and his head was still spinning from the sudden interest in his controversial theory.

He picked up his backpack and headed for the three-story domed building in front of him.

After a prolific letter-writing campaign, coupled with a highly complementary reference letter from his mentor, Dr. Antoine Levy, his request for seven nights use of the UK Schmidt Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory had been granted. Getting time on this particular telescope was no small accomplishment. Only thirty-five nights a year were allotted for visiting astronomers. This was the first time someone whose ink on their degree was still drying had been given twenty-percent of that time.

He opened the door at the first floor entrance, stepped inside.

He glanced around and noticed four pairs of eyes staring at him. Although he’d never met any of them, he knew the four astronomers in the room by reputation.

On his left were Chris Hawthorne, an Australian whose specialty was the origins of life, and Quentin Mallory, the boy wonder from Caltech who had set the astronomical world aflame three years earlier with his radical theories of red dwarf formation. To his right, were Russell Hathaway, who studied globular clusters and carbon stars, and Ian MacGregor, the Scotsman whose mathematical calculations had revolutionized the study of star formation in galaxies and shed new light on the origins of galactic halos.

Chris Hawthorne said, “Well, well, well—if it isn’t Dr. Levy’s star pupil. The Yank who thinks he’s a Brit and who’s come to set us mere mortals straight about the reality of the existence of Nemesis.”

“Don’t mind him,” Quentin interjected. The Cal Tech graduate reached out his hand. “When I first came on board six years ago, Hawk called me the Yank who’d come to set him straight on red dwarfs. He’s got a thing about letting all the ‘newbies’ know he’s the Alpha wolf.”

“Hawk?” Jeremy echoed as he shook Quentin’s hand.

“We gave that nickname to him because he watches the night skies like a hawk, searching for anything that will give him a clue to the origin of the universe,” Ian said, his voice thick with a Scottish brogue.

“Come on, I’ll show you the way to your cubicle,” Russell said.

Jeremy spent the next half hour unloading his backpack and setting up his desk. He only had a week here and he wanted to make every minute count.

By the time he’d finished he still had thirty minutes before his first shift on the telescope began. He intended to use that time to check out the new multi-object, fiber-optic, spectroscopy system before he got started. The new technology replaced the decommissioned FLAIR system that had been in place for the past thirteen years. It would cut down the time he needed for his research from months to days. Although the mathematics for his project had been around for years, the technology to prove his calculations was only just now catching up.

“You really think you’re going to find Nemesis?” Quentin asked, startling him.

Jeremy turned and faced the gangly astronomer. “I’m going to give it my best shot.” He frowned, then added, “Although, to be completely honest, part of me wants to fail.”

Quentin’s eyebrows shot up. “Come again?”

“If I do find Nemesis, it means we Earthlings have a lot more to worry about than global warming, or planetary overpopulation.”

“The other guys think you’re on a fool’s errand using valuable time on what most astronomers think is a wild goose chase—”

Before Jeremy could respond, Chris Hawthorne came around the corner. “Okay, Yank, it’s my responsibility to make certain you don’t mess up our multi-million dollar facility. Follow me and I’ll give you the run-down on how we do things around here.”

Infernal Gates

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Genre – Christian Thriller, Fantasy, Adventure

Rating – PG-13

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Website http://www.michaeljwebbfiction.com/


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