***A short story I dug out of the archives; Hard Reset is modern riff on Noah’s Arc.***
Journalists jammed the conference room, a wall-to-wall crowd of tweed, denim and khaki writers intermingled with blow-dried, razor-sharp, tailored TV people. Cameramen lined the back and sides, while a gaggle of photographers sat cross-legged at the front, hi-tech cameras resting in their laps.
From the open side door, Sal Raza paused, leaned close to his wife’s ear and cupped a hand over his mouth. “Did you know why journalists sleep longer than lawyers?”
Toni shook her head.
“They lie better.”
His wife of twenty years rolled her eyes and gave him a gentle push in the back. “Smartass. What are you so afraid of?”
“This is a very big thing to me.”
“Go on. They won’t bite.”
“No, but they might sting.” Sal dug a finger under his damp collar and tugged. He resisted the urge to wipe his face, straightened his suit and strode to the lectern like he owned it. Although, considering he owned the hotel and convention center in which it resided, technically he did own it.
The room quieted.
Sal held the lectern in a white-knuckled grip and said, “Good . . .ah, good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I will make a brief statement then take a few questions.” Why am I so nervous? I’ve done a thousand pressers and make high-priced attorneys pee their pants. This should be a cakewalk.
The flashes popped and made his eyes water. “Today I am announcing the greatest undertaking this planet has ever seen. In an effort to populate worlds yet undiscovered, Raza Industries will begin construction on a 450,000-ton spacecraft. Construction will take place in orbit, built by a crew living in our privately-owned space station. The modules of this station have already been lifted into orbit by Raza Industry rocket boosters. The station will be assembled over the coming twenty-four months by a team of contractors, former NASA engineers, and astronauts. After that, we begin work on the ship itself.”
He paused to sip water from a bottle under the lectern’s top shelf. A babble of voices broke out and Sal held up a hand. Would they notice the tremble?
“Further,” he continued, “Raza Industries medical divisions are collecting the DNA of every . . . species . . . on the planet.” A rustle of excitement moved across the room. “With our patented process, Raza can generate living creatures from a tiny sample of their DNA. This has allowed us to consider, for the first time, how mankind might propagate the vast reaches of space and spread throughout the galaxy.” He stopped for a moment; the journalist waited, silent but for the whirr-click of the cameras. “I intend to build the first interstellar voyager, complete with the DNA of the entire planet—or as much as we can reasonably obtain—and set out on a mission of discovery. Human fate should not be at the mercy of one global catastrophe.”
Into the stunned silence of the audience, Sal said, “I will now take questions.”
The room erupted. Sal pointed at random, from journalist to journalist and let the questions fly.
The first reported asked, “Why does Salvador Raza, the eighth richest man in the world, want to build his own space ship?”
“Why not? Next question.”
“What’s the ship’s name?”
“A New Hope.”
“Isn’t that from Star Wars?”
“How long will the construction last?”
“Two years for the station. Fifteen to sixteen years for the ship.”
“What’s it going to cost to build it?”
“What will it cost if we don’t? Next.”
And so on until Sal had had enough. “Last question. Yes, you. With the striped shirt.”
A thin kid, barely out of college, who looked to Sal more like Shaggy from Scooby Doo than a real reporter, stood and asked, “Is it true that early on, before this project began, you told some friends that, uh, that God had spoken to you and told you to build this ship, the same way He instructed Noah to build the ark? And for the same reasons? That God was going to bring down another flood and you were to preserve life on Earth?”
Sal blinked in the harsh light and heat crept up from his neck. “No. That is categorically untrue. I have no idea where you’d get an idea like that.”
“Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.” Sal exited, stage left.
George Grilli snapped the television off and threw the remote into the sofa cushions as hard as he could—it was the only remote he had; he wasn’t stupid enough to break it. The sour milk in his bowl of soggy corn flakes sloshed out, drenching his other hand. George set it on the coffee table with a curse. Dried his fingers on the carpet.
Marco, his black Guess-a-Dog mix, got off the floor and stuck his nose in the bowl and lapped the last of George’s food. The last food he had left in the house.
“You know what, Marco?” George said, “Salvador-Frickin-Raza is building his own private space yacht. I’ll bet he builds it then fires all the people who worked on it. Fires ‘em all and gives ‘em two week’s salary. Two week’s.” He held up two fingers to illustrate, in case Marco was confused about higher math. “That’s it. And you know that’s why she killed herself, right? Sharon.”
Marco ignored him, intent on chasing the last drops of Borden’s finest. The bowl scooted across the table as he nosed it along.
“Mechanical engineer,” George muttered, head down, staring between his feet. Hunched over. Beaten. The white-spotted dog, who’d heard it all before, licked his chops and studied the bowl, waiting for more tasty milk to appear. “Sixteen years at Raza Aerotech. Two week’s severance. It was the last straw.” George snorted, shook his head. Stared at the picture of Sharon in her wedding dress on the coffee table. “You know what I ought to do, Marco?”
George stood and hitched his boxers up. The green plaid ones. His afternoon attire. He headed for the toilet. “What I ought to do, is get hired on there with Raza’s people, wherever they’re building this thing, right?” The last he said louder, in case Marco couldn’t hear his reasoning. He didn’t bother lifting the toilet seat when he unlimbered the tackle and aimed it more or less at the bowl. “Ahhh. Anyway, I get a job there, you know? And I bide my time like a good little Do Bee. I go deep undercover. Do a little of this, a little of that. Then, when the time comes—BAM!—I take out old Sally and his ship of dreams. Serve the bastard right.”
He shook off and padded back to the living room, where the dog had curled up in his spot on the sofa.
“What do you think, Marco? A good idea, or not?”
Marco opened one eye and agreed with a half-hearted woof.
Sal pressed his nose to the tiny window of the shuttle Skywalker and held his breath to keep it from fogging the glass. “There it is!” he squeaked. His throat was so tight, he sounded like a cartoon squirrel.
“Calm down, Sal,” Toni patted his back. “Your heart.”
“It’ll last a while longer,” Sal said without peeling his face away from the sight drifting into view. “I happen to have that from a very good source.”
“Oh, please.” He could hear the smirk in her voice. “Not again.”
Sal mentally shrugged and let it go. The sight of A New Hope, tethered to the space station, left him too excited to fight. The starship gleamed, brilliant white against the contrasting blackness of deep space. Eighteen years in the building, four trillion dollars of expense, with a fully-loaded mass of more than a pocket cruise liner, A New Hope was ready to assume her duty. The hand-picked crew of one hundred scientists, doctors and engineers were aboard. DNA samples, sometimes multiple samples, of millions of plants, animals, insects, birds—all the flora and fauna of Earth, including mosquitos though Sal had argued against it—were carefully labeled, checked, frozen, double-checked, stored and triple-checked in a filing arrangement more complex than that of the Library of Congress.
Final goodbyes had been said.
It was time to go.
“And not a moment too soon,” Sal murmured.
“What was that?”
“Nothing, dearest one.” Sal pushed off and floated back to his seat. Toni was, of all the damnedest things, knitting a sweater. Knitting. In zero-G.
A week after her 75th birthday party, his wife could still make his heart thump with desire and generate a tingle in regions farther south. Sal grinned so wide, he thought his cheeks would split. He looked “up”—at least toward the shuttle’s ceiling—and winked. I told you I’d get it done. Didn’t I? How long ago was that? Twenty, twenty-one years ago?
Sal’s office aboard A New Hope wasn’t nearly as opulent as the one he’d left behind. Functional, but not austere. Wood appointments wherever practical—for who knew when he’d ever see real wood again—furniture fixed to the floor as well as other accommodations for a metal building orbiting the Earth. Until they got under way and were able to spin the ship, they had to tolerate zero-G.
Sal strapped himself into his desk chair and turned on the computer. His reflection in its black screen made him chuckle. With his hair floating around, he looked a little like those pictures of an old Albert Einstein. Would that we had him here!
A knock at the open portal and Sal’s head of security, Gordon Dixon pushed off from the frame and floated to the desk. He hooked his feet in loops so he could stay more or less stationary. Dixon’s hair was clipped to molecule length; he had no problem with Space-Head.
“Sir,” the security officer reported. “We have uncovered all of the engineer’s sabotage. All his devices have been found and neutralized.”
“Good. And Grilli?”
Dixon hesitated. “Still at large. He made it back to Earth before we figured out who was responsible.”
“Well, don’t worry about him. His fate is sealed.”
“Uh, yes, sir.”
“Thank you, Gordon, you may go about your duties.”
The man nodded in a formal, precise, military manner and pushed off for the door. Dixon, like the other crew members, tolerated Sal’s biblical pronouncements and treated him like a loopy uncle. No doubt Dixon would share tight smiles and eye rolls with the other crew members when they thought Sal wasn’t looking.
No matter. The promise of a fresh, unspoiled planet, where the human race could get a universal mulligan, a big, whopping Do-Over—a hard reset, as his techies said—had been an easy sell for the crew. No matter if they thought the owner was a little goofy, if it bought them a ticket to the biggest ride in human history, so be it. Even being put into a medically-induced coma for hundreds of years hadn’t deterred millions of applicants seeking a shot on Raza’s mission. Sal chose who went, and he hoped to God he’d chosen right. Grilli, obviously, had been a mistake.
“Well,” Sal said, “they’ll get a fresh, new planet. Just not the one they think they’re getting. This’ll be the longest round trip to nowhere on record. The floods will come and wash everything clean down below and the human race gets another shot at life on Planet Earth.”
The intercom beeped and Sal pushed a button. “Yes?”
“Mr. Raza,” the ship’s captain said. “All systems nominal. We are go for launch.”
Sal glanced at the clock. “Right on time, Captain. Please . . . how do you astronauts say it? Light this candle.”
“Roger that. We will ignite main thrusters in T-minus ten minutes and counting from . . . mark!”
There were no portals in the office. No portals anywhere, in fact. So Sal closed his eyes and pictured Earth in his mind. “Don’t worry, old girl. We’ll be back soon.”
Ten minutes later, the world went white and A New Hope evaporated in an expanding ball of plasma, eliminating every trace of life aboard the spacecraft. No warning, no mercy, and no second chance.
George Grilli shouldered his pack and stuck out a thumb, but the sleek new Cadillac didn’t slow. Its wash of cold air blew over him and he shivered. Forty miles outside of Memphis, Grilli hiked over the pea gravel and busted bottles alongside a two lane state highway. He had a few bucks—enough for a meal in a fast food joint—the clothes he wore, and the odds and ends he’d taken from Raza’s space station. Nothing else.
He grinned anyway. Threw back his head and laughed aloud. “Who gives a shit!” he yelled at the sky. “I have the best gift of all. Fuck you, Raza!”
Grilli pointed a two-fisted double-bird salute at the overcast clouds. Too bad he couldn’t be near a TV right now. All the news shows had been running up-to-the-instant coverage of Raza’s Boldly Going Where No One’s Gone Before. Unfortunately that meant they were also showing Grilli’s picture every time they ran out of gushing metaphors and hyperbolic adjectives. George Grilli, the known saboteur, the fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench. He laughed again, remembering the sober face of that prick Dixon staring into the newscaster’s lens.
“The suspect, Grilli, is on the run. We have found and dismantled all of the explosive devices he planted, thereby neutralizing the threat to this crew and this ship.”
“No you didn’t, jackass. You only found the one’s I wanted you to find.” As an engineer assigned to metal fabrication and fitting, Grilli could roam the ship at will. He also discovered a way to roll thin sheets of plastic explosive—mixed in the tiny kitchen sink of his locker-sized room on the space station—and sandwich them between certain critical metal plates. And hide them in places where they’d do the most good. Like near the O2 containers. Wiring those special plates to the main ignition breakers had been a real pain in the ass.
“No way they’ll find my little surprises. They’d have to dismantle half the ship to get to the O2 tanks. As soon as Captain Twit toggles the ignition switch . . ..” Grilli cackled and threw his head back. “Kablooie! A New Hype will be blown to shit.”
The wind blew stronger, flapping the tails of Grilli’s coat.
A fat, baseball-sized dollop of rain splattered on his bare head. A dozen more fell around him, sounding more like pistol rounds than raindrops.
Then more came.