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Fond Memories by Kuwanger The sun was shining down on the beach-front property. Some cool Autumn air was blowing in from the water's edge, but that didn't stop Melissa. She was out by the shore, building a sand castle. It was just another peaceful day for her, as she sat in her bikini upon her parents' land. Summer was over and high school was about to begin. These are the fond memories that she remembered. Part 1 Outside of the large glass pane walls, bounding down the steps, came a girl of not quite 18. Her long blonde hair was tied into pigtails. As she entered the building, she heard the loud chatter of a room full of teenagers. It was the first day of her senior year, and Melissa was happy to see many of her friends again. Along the wall was Ark, chatting to Jake as usual. Scanning the room, it seemed Jenna hadn't arrived yet. But other friends were there, and she merrily walked towards the table they were sharing, ready to resume the social life she'd missed in her summer of travel. Calling out greetings before she was within even ten feet of the table, she was directed towards a free seat to place her book bag and jacket. Was it that cold that year already? The jacket wasn't very warm anyways. Meanwhile, Ark was talking to Jake about his travels as well. It seemed almost uncanny how many places they'd both been, even the exact same spot on the map, without bumping into each other. However, it was merely because their parents had both signed up for bundled group travel plans that happened to never run into each other. Ark kept talking about all the food he'd eaten, and Jake simply nodded along, he too remembering all the great and not-so-great food he'd had a chance to eat. They'd both seemingly traveled across the entire globe. Was there a single major city they'd miss? Maybe a few in Asia Minor or in Europe. They were certain they could top any stories Melissa or Jenna could make about their summer vacation. It was only later, during lunch, when they would find out differently. It began with Ark, again, talking about food. As he talked about the spaghetti, he talked about how in Italy it was so much fresher. Jenna and Melissa simply nodded in agreement. Being a bit perplexed, Ark asked them when they'd been to Italy. Jenna and Melissa looked at each other, startled, and mumbled something about summer vacation. With a bit of nudging, Ark was able to get out of them that their parents too had went on the same bundled travel package. They all wondered, Was it really that common? Melissa felt a chill run down her spine, as she bit into a meatball. Part 2 Snow covered the trees outside the window. Jenna had said that she really wanted to give the tree just outside the window a good shake to knock the snow off, but the big oak tree's trunk would not give. Melissa and Jenna would just have to grow content with the seemingly constant snow cover. It was just another thing to have to get used to after moving away from home. There were no good colleges where they lived--used to live. When it came time to decide where to go, both had decided on a college even further north. Jenna really disliked the snow. As she had said to Melissa several times, it was because snow reminded her of the cold. Melissa didn't understand it, but she would always nod her head in agreement, acting as if she did. Turning back to her paper, she looked over at the pile of books near the corner of her desk. She hoped she had enough references. What was the paper about again? Science? History? She looked down at the paper and the title: "Movement of Humans Through a Strong Gravitational Field". Science, it was then. She'd been writing so many papers lately, and assumed that that was why she felt so hazy. Writing some more in the essay, she picked up the second book on the pile and began reading through it a bit. Jenna was still in class, awaiting her professor's acceptance of her paper's title and idea. She was planning on trumping Melissa this time. Simply getting an A- or B+ wouldn't be enough. She had to work harder and come up with better ideas if she wanted to stay ahead in life. What better benchmark than in someone who she knew could challenge her. The professor finished reading over the idea, stroked his white beard a bit, and nodded his approval with words of encouragement. "It's certainly novel. I hope you fully explore this unique subject thoroughly." "Oh I will," said Jenna. She raised up, shook her professor's hand, and gathered her things. "I know you will," he said as he looked at her and smiled. Jenna rushed home to tell Melissa of the good news. Along the way she bumped into Ark and Jake, they too excited about their new surroundings--and the new food. Back at the apartment they shared, Jenna saw Melissa working on a paper and decided not to disturb her. Only when Melissa took a snack break was Jenna ready to unleash her subject. "Good news, the idea for my paper was accepted by our professor," said Jenna. "That's great to hear. I know you've been working hard on it, and you've been rather secretive since you'd heard about our need to have our ideas approved." "Well, I was just a bit worried that someone else would take the idea, but he said it was unique." "So what is it? What's the title of your paper?" asked Melissa. "Why, it's 'Movement of Humans Through a Strong Gravitational Field'." Jenna was smiling in boast. "Mine too," said Melissa. Melissa felt a chill run down her spine, as she listened to Jenna talk all about it. Part 3 Sitting in a lawn chair, Melissa looked out into the yard where her dog Scruffy was playing. He wasn't a full year old yet, but he seemed to have a deep fighting spirit regardless. When he wasn't trying to get belly rubs or snacks from the table, he was playing, often outside. It was little surprise then for him to get a name like Scruffy, when even only a few weeks old he was getting his coat quite dirty. Melissa sipped on a tall glass of lemonade and continued to look at her dog play frisbee with Ark. She couldn't wait for Jake and Jenna to also get there also so they could start the cookout. It was lucky for all of them to be able to get away from their internships long enough to return to their home town. She couldn't believe it when her parents had told her that they'd be gone for the day. Didn't they want to watch the fireworks? Melissa tried to content herself as Scruffy tumbled for the frisbee and did a somersault. College was sure tough. Only one more year of it, and she'd be able to get her dream job. What was her dream job again? Her eyes glazed over for a bit, until she heard the honking of a car. Standing up, she walked towards the front smiling, knowing it must be Jenna or Jake. To her surprise, Jenna was riding with Jake. "I saw her at the airport," said Jake, answering her question. Coming back to the yard, Ark was already starting the barbecue. Melissa's parents owned a gas grill, and Ark had already covered it with hamburgers and hot dogs. Melissa grabbed a cold hot dog and sneaked it to Scruffy, who happily chewed on the cold dessert. Jake and Jenna were making some small talk, laughing at this and that small joke, and Melissa decided to join in. In no time, Ark called out that the food was ready; the group filled their plates and set themselves in the lawn chairs by the yard. Scruffy would often wonder by, his little doggy eyes pleading for some meaty love. While Jake and Melissa were happy to oblige, both Jenna and Ark guarded their plate well, and Scruffy knew better than to jump on them. Once they were all full and began relaxing--suckling on the lemonade Melissa had made had that sort of effect-- Melissa thought back to all the hard word she'd being doing in her internship. With all the exciting things that had happened, she was certain that the gang too had had their own interesting moments. She began by asking Jenna how her internship was going. She talked about this and that encounter and all sorts of situations that Melissa could easily relate. They chit-chatted for a while, and Ark and Jake chimed in with their own experiences. The sky overhead turned slowly to purple, then black; with the fireworks about to start, Melissa realized she had forgotten the name of the place Jenna worked. She, really, had forgotten the name of where Ark and Jake worked too, but knowing she couldn't ask them all, she merely nudged Jenna. "Oh, it must have been a long way to get here. What city was it you worked again?" asked Melissa. "Oh, you know. It's down in Virginia. It's at that nice defense contractor company, who's doing work on new, experimental fighter engines." "Fighter engines? I work on fighter engines, too," chimed in Ark. "Me too," said Jake, his interested peak. "It's also in Virginia. Defense Force Unlimited." "Yes, that's the name," said Jenna. "Oh," said Melissa. She wondered why she had never bumped into Jake or Jenna while at work. A cold chill ran down her spine, as she got up to fetch the fireworks that would be her backyard display. Part 4 Melissa was crying. As she gazed out into the crowd, out towards her cheering parents and kid brother, she felt this was one of the happiest days of her life. She was graduating as valedictorian. All her constant effort had paid off, and she was getting her dream job at DFU. As she gave her speech to the crowd, she heard whistles of encouragement at her words. She made sure to make her speech profound, but not overly wordy. The important thing, she knew, was to make people remember your core ideas, not for the specific words used. She didn't want to lose the crowd by going through a thesaurus and using the most esoteric words available. She remembered how careful she was to practice her speech several times in front of her family to make sure it was just right. When she had finished her speech and walked back into the crowd, her heart glowed with the applause. After the ceremony ended, she was finally able to meet up with her parents. Her father told her that her speech still moved him, even after all those times he'd heard it. Melissa hugged her father, dropping a few tears on the dark blue blazer he always wore. She told him she was so happy and so thankful for the way he'd raised her, and him and her mother equally dished out praise of her hard work and determination. They told her to go and enjoy herself, as she would beginning work soon, and surely she'd want to have fun with her friends for a while. She thanked them again, and hugged them both, telling her brother, "Goodbye squirt," before heading back into the crowd to find her friends. With so many people there, it took a while to find them all, and the noise level was so great by then that they had to leave the auditorium and surrounding area before they could speak at a normal volume. Melissa saw the tear stains on Jenna's face, but the smile on it as well told her that even though it was she who was valedictorian, Jenna was still amazingly happy having graduated so far up in class ranking. Even Ark and Jake had cried, their hand wiped faces not fully removing the clear lines of past tears. They all decided to have a small party at a nearby restaurant. Once there, after finding a table to sit at, Jenna began talking to Melissa. "I'm so happy. I can hardly believe it's true. I've worked so hard for it, and the day has finally come." "I'm happy for you. I'm pretty amazed myself." "Yea, can you believe I was valedictorian? Hell, my parents were still being moved by my speech when I finally was able to reach them. My dad's blue blazer had little tear drops on the front. It was the cutest thing." Melissa paused for a moment, "you were valedictorian?" Jenna looked back, a bit puzzled too. Melissa continued, "And when did your dad start wearing blazers?" "My dad's always worn blazers. He's always wearing a dark blue one. I think it really helps match his gray hair." "I don't remember seeing your dad ever wear a blue blazer." Ark, returning from a short restroom break, picked up on the conversation, "My dad wears a blue blazer. It's hard to find a time when he's not wearing it, except late at night. And I'm telling you, blue blazers and gray hair do not go together." Jake looked up from his drink and simply nodded his head. Melissa looked towards Jake and noticed under his drink was a valedictorian speech. From the way the tear drops were scattered on it, she could tell it had been open when it was cried on. Had Jake been valedictorian? Too? Melissa felt a numbing chill down her spine as she took a drink of her vodka and tried to change the subject to the nice weather they'd been having. Part 5 Melissa looked at the jet fighter in amazement. Rather, she looked at where the jet fighter had been just moments ago. Well, that's not quite right either. The jet fighter was still there, it just couldn't be seen. Melissa was just amazed that it actually worked and was holding. All the years of interning and further years of work as part of the full staff had finally paid off. It wasn't jet engines she'd been working on all these years; it was the development of a cloaking device. She would have hardly believed it possible in high school that humans were anywhere near the technology possible to commit such a feat. Humans. Her mind wondered for a bit, a bit smitten with something she'd only learned a few weeks ago. There was intelligent life other than humans in the universe. As part of a classified program in the field of space combat research, she was one of the few that were privy to the very sensitive information that was at hand. Only a few weeks ago, there was both the sighting, by radio and optical telescopes, of an unidentified flying object. At first, it just seemed like a normal asteroid coming towards us. But after a while, it became clear it was being piloted by an intelligence of some kind. First, it was noticed that the radio signals coming back were changing, but not in a pattern not explainable by any known natural phenomenon. That was enough to get people interested. When the object started changing direction, it became all too clear that it moved under its own power. Melissa didn't really know much more than that. She wondered if there'd been actual communication since then. Considering how fast it was traveling from the last time she'd heard reports, it was probably within the orbit of Mars by now. She also wondered why there hadn't been any news reports. By now, surely an amateur had spotted the strange moving object as well. Until someone made the information public, she was stuck, unable to tell her friends a word about what was going on. It was difficult enough hiding her research on gravitational drives; well, that was easier given they'd probably think she'd lost her marbles. Of course, they'd probably think the same thing about aliens as well. Melissa snapped back to reality as the jet fighter appeared in front of her again. That was it for testing today. She had a meeting to go to, and she didn't want to be late. Maybe they were going to report more on the aliens? All she knew was she couldn't be late. She hung up her clipboard, gave the usual greetings, and left. In the meeting hall, sitting around the table was Ark and Jenna. /That's odd,/ she thought. /I've never run into them before. I thought they worked in other departments, but this is for our department only. I wonder why./ Sitting down towards the left, Melissa was able to easily find a seat as no one else seemed to have arrived yet. Just as she was sitting down, she saw Jake enter. He looked puzzled as well, taking a seat a few off from Melissa, already creeped out with the fact that no one else had arrived yet. In walked in the department director. Melissa stood up at attention, waiting for him to sit down. "Good, you're all here. You can sit," he said. Melissa paused for a few seconds, then slowly sat down. The director sat down and began the meeting. "As you're all aware, a short time ago we confirmed that an unidentified flying object was in fact piloted by an intelligence of some kind. Upon further investigation, it has become clear that this intelligence, whatever it is, has little interest in the human species. However, we believe that so long as there is there is an active human resistance, it will be impossible for them to take over our planet Earth." "As such, from this day forth the United States government has declared a top secret act of war. To prevent any possibility of our system being compromised, cells will be created and a network of machines will be used as intermediaries. Any compromise in one of these machines will be met with swift and lethal force and, if necessary, self-destruction. With these measures in place, we believe that we can keep the majority of the human population oblivious to the war at hand, so that we might fight and eventual stop these aliens." "All of you have been called together, not only for your excellent scholastic abilities or your work on the gravitational drive." They thought amongst themselves, "They worked on the drive too?" The director continued, "No, we've specifically gathered you all together because of your deep understanding of the newest technology that lay before. You have been selected to be the cell for the New York area. If you all choose to accept this position, then this research facility will be dissolved. But do not fret, for all others involved will be well compensated to become detached to remove any possible use for the aliens. So, what say you?" Almost in unison, they all said, "Yes, of course." Melissa didn't even give it a second thought. This was the planet Earth they were talking about! And to be part of an underground cell to protect the people? Whenever the day would come when it could be announced to the people at large, after the threat was removed, what really happened, the acclaim she would have--with her other cell mates--would be simply beyond words. It was not only a duty but a privilege to serve. "Good, good. Welcome to your new life. I wish you the best of luck, though I know that you don't need it." Melissa and the others nodded. It was only a matter of time before the aliens would be defeated. While this research facility would close, others like it would open and design even greater weapons to aid them in their fight. It would only be a matter of time. As Melissa looked at her cell mates, she noticed they all were wearing hospital gowns. Looking down at herself, she noticing that was as well. The director lead them forwards to a part of the building she'd never been. She and the others entered the room, lined with hospital gurneys. Calmly, she removed her hospital gown, laid face first on the gurney farthest on the wall, and waited for the needle to come. And when she felt the needle press into the base of her skull and pierce her spine, she didn't feel her spine anymore.

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