Sunday, January 22, 2006

Chapter Two, Part One

It was a dream…or was it?

The mists seemed to swirl endlessly, and it was difficult to tell which way was up. There was no forward or backward, but all directions were the same. It felt as if it were moist, but warm and unusually comfortable. The mist itself seemed to penetrate everything, giving him an odd sense of peace and filling him with light. Each and every individual particle that the mist consisted of radiated its own shining light. Slowly, some of the mist seemed to coalesce into a human-like form, gaining intensity in its brightness until it became near impossible to look at.

Henry was beside himself. Oh, God, not again!

The being became more corporeal and slowly approached Henry. His face was full of kindness and compassion…and a wisdom Henry could only guess at. He, of course, was carrying a wooden box, about the size of a small hope chest. It had a golden "X" carved into the ornate lid. "Here is what you need," the Being said.

"What is it?" Henry asked. AUGH, his mind screamed.

"Inside is the theory of interstellar travel and the plans for the engine."

Surprise, surprise, Henry thought glumly. He wanted to express his outright rage at the situation he was in, but all he could do was follow the script of the dream, like some kind of puppet. "I...I can't take this. I wouldn't know what to do with it anymore. Once upon a time, I dreamed of going into space, leading people into new realms. But now…I don't think I could do it."

"Maybe not, but this is what you had always wanted. You prayed fervently for it when you were young, and now it is here. And it is now your duty to take it. You have been chosen for this mission. You have undergone many trials in your lifetime, all of them subtle, yet perfectly designed for this undertaking. You have been trained for it, and despite your opinion, you can do it. At any rate, that is all irrelevant. It is God's will, and you cannot refute it. The fate of humanity depends on it. Therefore, this is yours." He then handed Henry the wooden box.

Henry gingerly took the box. He should have otherwise been in a state of total ecstasy…but all he could do was feel his stomach turn. The first time he had awakened after this dream, there had been so much anticipation…how many times had he seen this play out now?

He, nonetheless, opened the box to reveal the contents within, as if his actions had been preordained from the beginning of time. Technical documents, drawings, calculations, all seemed so clear to him. It all looked similar to many of the documents he had seen on the internet. Some were different, others were not. He flipped through them as the Being watched him thoughtfully. He had seen that one in his last dream…yep, that was nothing new...wait a minute...

Henry pulled out a paper he did not recognize. As he scanned the document carefully, it was almost as if something hot was just only a few inches from the back of his neck. He could almost make out a name at the bottom of the document...June...Judy...Judy H...

"Remember this," the Being finally said, "if the people sent with you to form a new civilization follow the ways of Earth, who knows what problems will befall you. You may befall the fate Earth is destined for. Your trials will be many, but you and the people who go with you are the last hope for humankind."

In a flash, his attention shifted to a blue entity appearing in the distance. Henry immediately knew what was about to come next. Still…he had this odd feeling he knew what…or who this blue entity was. It seemed to flicker in the iridescent atmosphere, then it seemed to wave its hand in an arcing motion. "Remember God's commandments to you. Love God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as you would yourself. And never forget yourself. Love is the key to everything. Without love, there is no life, or shouldn't be. See for yourself."

I'd rather not, Henry thought with trepidation. But things just would not conform to his wishes. The entity disappeared and seemed to reappear behind Henry–although he couldn't really see the entity anymore, just sense it. The "mist" shifted and swirled–dark tendrils appeared as the scene became even more surreal and otherworldly. And then, the sky was sooty and thick, just barely letting the light of the sun in. Death surrounded him everywhere, as mutated creatures scavenged through the wasteland. Everything seemed to be screaming...screaming in agony...screaming at him...

"Aaaahhh!" Henry screamed as he bolted up in bed, hoping that someone–something–would come and save him from the nightmare. But only darkness greeted him. He fumbled for the light and turned it on, just barely avoiding knocking the lamp to the floor. He looked at his wrist watch, lying on the night stand nearby.

"Three in the god-damned morning!" he growled. "Damn it!" He leaped out of bed and paced, fuming. How many times now? That's the third time he'd had that dream, and every damn time it had been the exact same thing. But this time, something had been different. He stopped, glancing out the window to the darkness beyond. The faint glow of the lamp cast a pale light upon the leaves of the trees only a few yards from the house. The leaves danced in the early morning wind, as if they were ghosts.


"What the hell is going on up there?" his father yelled from downstairs.

Henry leaped, clutching his chest. His heart had already been pounding from the nightmarish vision he had to endure, but the surprise from the booming voice of his father made his heart race even faster. "Nothing," he said, trying to deny everything.

"I heard you scream like the devil was after you. Are you all right?"

Henry sighed. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised his father was now up–that scream had been enough to wake the dead. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just a nightmare."

Silence for a moment. "Do you want to talk about it?"

That was his father, all right. Always seemed quite interested in his dreams for some reason. Henry closed his eyes and sighed. The monsters dimly walked across his inner vision. He shook his head violently. "Maybe that's a good idea," he said with resignation. He grabbed his jeans, put them on and walked down the dark stairway to the living room below. His father was there. The light of the night light cast long shadows across his face. He looks dead, Henry idly thought. He grimaced slightly, wondering why he thought what he just thought.

His father turned and walked into the dining room, turning on the lamp over the table. "Have a seat and I'll make you some tea."

"Thanks," Henry replied, pulling up a chair. He could hear the water run out of the faucet. Henry leaned on his arms and stared at the painting on the other side of the table. It was a painting of a ship, cast in a stormy sea. Henry smirked a little. He had an idea of what those people must be going through. He heard his father put the kettle on the stove. He then walked out. "It'll be a few minutes."

Henry continued to stare at the picture.

His father pulled out a chair and sat just to Henry's left. "So…you want to tell me what happened?"

Henry sighed and drooped his head. "I've had the same dream three nights in a row," he began.

His father nodded thoughtfully. "You know what they say about dreaming the same thing three times in a row..."

"I know. And this dream is way out there." Henry gesticulated with a sweeping motion of his right arm. "A glowing man comes out of a glowing mist, hands me a box filled with technical papers for a starship. Then a second, blue entity appears and shows me a wasteland with mutated creatures in it. And that's where it ends."

"Good God," his father replied, not exactly sure what to make of it.

The two sat in silence for a while. Henry's father lightly tapped his fingers on the dining room table and looked up at the ceiling fan. A slight whistling sound came out of the kitchen, gradually rising in pitch with time.

"There's the kettle," he said, getting up. With a grunt, he dislodged himself from the chair and went into the kitchen. Henry stared at the painting of the ship continually, the clinking of coffee mugs completely outside his perception. Eventually, his father came back out carrying two mugs. Steam lightly rose from the mouths of the mugs. He put one of them in front of Henry, then sat down with his own mug.

"So," his father eventually said, "those dreams have anything to do with you collapsing on your desk yesterday afternoon?"

Henry nodded slowly.

"Thought so," he replied, taking a sip of the tea. "And this is the third night?"

Henry nodded again.

"Mm." He took another sip. "I was wondering why you seemed so incredibly distracted over the past couple days."

"It's a big pain in the ass," Henry grumbled.

"Oh?" His father looked at him with curiosity. "Maybe it's a sign."

"A sign I'm going nuts. I really need to just heed Trumbull's advice–"

"Horseshit," his father bluntly replied. "He's a narrow-minded man who is only interested in making money."

"Well, Pop…that's what we're in business for. To make money."

"Money isn't everything."

But it can make your dreams come true, Henry quickly thought as he recollected his plans in making his dream of traveling in space come true. Not even half a decade ago, he thought he could make it big in the stock market. Perhaps, he thought, if he had millions of dollars, he could fund the research behind such a grand vision: interstellar travel. He had read book after book. He had spent hours doing research on the computer. He had even come to a point where he practically was paying someone to make his stock picks for him. And in the end, he had only ended up several thousand dollars poorer. That was not to say he was still not trying to raise the money for it. Henry believed his father had no idea what kind of effort he had put into pursuing this dream, but instead of saying anything about it, Henry just shrugged.

"You've been investing all your time and money in trying to design a ship, haven't you?"

Surprised by the man's perception, Henry looked over to his father, who was smiling slightly.

"It's no surprise. You spend your free time–and some business time I might add–researching the latest theory in faster-than-light travel. You speculate on the stock market. For what purpose? It's just like adding two and two, you know."

Henry sighed. "Yeah, I've definitely given it thought. I don't know why I'm so obsessed over it. And then these dreams…I'm obviously not supposed to make this pipe dream come true..."

"What makes you say that?"

"I can't raise the cash!" Henry plaintively stated.

"Money isn't everything," his father repeated.

Henry stared at his father, dumbstruck. "What are you suggesting?"

"Nothing. Nothing, but that if God wants you to go on this journey you want so badly, He will make it happen." He took another sip of the tea. "Maybe He's just testing your resolve right now."

Henry shrugged and stared down into the mug filled with the light green liquid. It was not steaming anymore, so he picked up the mug and took a quick swig. The mint and chamomile should ease his nerves enough to get some sleep–what little of it he would be able to get for the rest of the night. "So, what should I do?"

"Just have faith," his father plainly stated. "Only time will tell." He looked over his shoulder to the clock in the kitchen. "Three-thirty," he reported. "Don't you have that trip you're going on tomorrow? I mean…today?"

Henry groaned. He was not entirely thrilled about it. He was going with an old friend of his to see another old friend of his. Sarah was supposed to pick him up at seven–only three and a half hours from now–and she was bringing Derek along. Thinking about it made his stomach twist into knots. "I need to get to sleep," he finally admitted, taking another swig. "On the other hand, maybe I should just sleep in the car."

His father nodded, understanding Henry's dilemma. "Maybe a good idea. Don't know why you're going, though."

"I haven't seen Elizabeth in ages. She just got in from Ohio to visit her family."

"Is Robert with her?"

"Of course. They're inseparable, and they're all good friends of mine."

"Except Derek."

Henry remained silent. Instead, he tried to hold back a frown.

"Sorry." His father took another drink, finishing off the tea. "I, however, need my beauty sleep. You can stay up the rest of the night if you want. Just refrain from screaming, okay?" He grinned at Henry impishly.

"Thanks, Pop." Henry smirked back.

His father got up and walked past Henry, quickly patting him on the back. Henry listened to his quiet footfall, then heard the bedroom door close. He looked down into the half-emptied mug and sighed, silently looking at the reflection on the liquid surface. He was not too keen on traveling with Sarah tomorrow. He did not need that kind of stress right now. Sighing again, he grabbed the mug and finished off the drink. He got up and resolved to get some sleep.

And maybe he would actually sleep soundly for a change.

Chapter One

The Gathering

May 23, 2006

Just another day...

The small, cluttered office was devoid of people, with the exception of Henry, who was currently busy at his computer. The fluorescent lights cast everything in an annoying bluish light. Instead of working, he was currently looking at a web page of some theoretical propulsion device, which could supposedly allow a ship to travel faster than light. Normally, his concentration on his work was strong, but the dream from last night haunted him fiercely. He tapped lazily at the mouse, scrolling through the on-line document. For him, it was just another day spent dreaming. His mind wandered to thinking about all of his efforts: how many months--no, years had he spent on this pipe dream? He tried not to think about it. He tried not to think about all the vain attempts at achieving this 'goal' over the past several years, but his mind would not let it go.

More recently, he had been trying to do the research on his own spare time, and even more recently, during business hours. He essentially owned about a third of the small contracting firm--his father owned the second third; it was doing well, but was beginning to suffer from what the third owner--Geoff Trumbull--called 'delusions of grandeur.' And lately, Henry was honestly thinking about professional psychiatric help. Only yesterday did Henry erase all the files he had on the computer pertaining to faster-than-light research, much to his chagrin. But he had felt it was time to move on and stop dreaming.

And then he had that dream last night.

He had never experienced anything like it before. Henry sighed as he thought about it. Every time he gave up, something came along to prod him along, further into these 'delusions.' And just when he thought he had a hold on his sanity, Fate hit him with its coup de grace. It was almost like the universe was laughing at him.

But something in the back of his mind shouted no—feebly, though. Something wanted him to realize that he should not stop dreaming. Wasn't there a vow he made?

He continued to stare numbly at the monitor, as if drawn into the screen--as if it had some power over him. Or at least, some power over where his eyes were looking. It completely absorbed his attention--so much, in fact, that he was completely oblivious to his father walking in and stopping to look over his shoulder.

"What are you doing?" his father asked Henry.

Henry lurched out of his trance-like state. "Uhh?"

"There's work that needs to be done, you know."

"Yes, Dad, I know that. I'll be done in a few minutes." Henry turned back to the screen.

He leaned a little closer to get a better view of what was going on. "What is this?"

Henry hesitated. He knew his father saw him deleting all his files the other day on this kind of stuff, and now here Henry was again, looking at new files. He didn't tell his father about the dream last night. "Can't tell ya. Top secret," he finally answered, trying to force a smile.

"Uh, huh. Well, don't be too much longer on the computer. The Schmidt's need that foundation plan by the end of today, you know."

"Okay," Henry answered quietly. His father, knowing Henry was not really paying attention, simply shook his head and walked out of the small office.

Henry then proceeded with his distraction. He stopped long enough--apparently thinking of something he needed to do--to flip through the phone book, looking to call one of his friends when the phone rang. Sighing, he closed the phone book and lifted the receiver.

"G&T Enterprises. How may I help you?" he said somewhat dispassionately. Henry quickly reached over and grabbed a pen. "Uh huh..." He found a piece of paper and began writing some information on it. "Uh huh... all right..." His hand quickly controlled the pen. "Very well. I'll have to look into the extra cost, but I'm quite sure we can handle that." He put the pen down and listened some more. "Okay. You too. Good bye." He carefully put the receiver back on the handle. He then leaned back and sighed loudly.

His father walked back in just in time to see the somewhat distressed look on Henry’s face. "What’s the problem now?"

Henry shook his head sadly. "George Carver needs us to complete the plans for his house in two weeks."

"God." The older man leaned against the door jamb and crossed his arms. "I thought he wanted four weeks."

"He did, originally." Henry swiveled around and typed at the computer, minimizing the window with the spaceship technology on it. As it shrank into the corner of the monitor, Henry sighed despondently, closing his eyes and trying to control himself. "Damn it," he quietly cursed.

"Well, looks like a lot of late nights ahead for us," his father said. "I'll let Mr. Trumbull know he needs to get that equipment ordered sooner so we can start construction. Sooner." The man shook his head and walked back out of the office.

Once his father had left, Henry grabbed the pen and angrily tossed it across the room, glowering. He turned back to the computer monitor and fumed over the predicament. Over and over again… always a new obstacle.

Smirking rather ruefully, he maximized the web browser window. Clicking on a different 'favorite', he brought up his stock portfolio. In a flash, the login screen appeared, and Henry typed in the required information. And in a flash, came the news.

"Figures," he quietly said to himself.

His one stock that had been up over forty percent was now only up ten percent from the price he had bought it at. Overall, he saw he was down thirteen percent.

Sighing in resignation, he leaned back in his chair and switched the monitor off in disgust. He looked up at the perforations in the ceiling tile and dazed off... No breaks, no breaks... A billion thoughts of dismay raced through his mind. What the hell is the point? Why do I bother? How long have I been chasing this dream for?

No... not a dream. Trumbull is right. It's just a delusion.

But wasn't there a vow...

Henry looked over at the clock. Four fifty-three. Looking out the window, he bore witness to a beautiful, sunny afternoon. He figured that, maybe, the fresh air would get his mind off of this veritable nightmare, but knowing him, all the atmosphere would do would be to send his mind back into fantasy land. He sighed, shrugged, figured what the hell and got out of his chair to try and salvage the day.