“Listen up, men. One last question,” Sergeant Gritte glowered at the soldiers lined up before him. “It’ll tell us what we need to know. Make sure you think long and hard about your answer.”
“Yes, Sergeant!” Nine voices replied in unison.
“Men..,” Sergeant Gritte swallowed a heavy sigh so they wouldn’t see his embarrassment. It was a ridiculous question that he grew tired of asking seven squads ago. He resented the battery of fake questions preceding the one real question most of all. His superiors decided to validate the time wasted by wasting even more. “…What is your favorite number?”
“42, Sergeant!” a single voice shouted while the rest of the soldiers gave the Sergeant a puzzled look.
“Sonofa..,” Sergeant Gritte flipped through the sheets on his clipboard. “42.. 42…,” His eyes shot wide for a moment before he caught himself and reigned in his surprise. He looked up at the group and nodded.
“Good job all of you. Dismissed.” The soldiers seemed confused, but followed orders. They relaxed and moved toward the door but the Sergeant Gritte spoke up. “Not so fast, Gates,” The Sergeant placed a heavy hand on the soldier that shouted an answer. “You’ve been reassigned. Follow me.” Sergeant Gritte exited through another door with soldier Gates following close behind.
“What’s your stance on aliens?” the Sergeant asked as he led Gates out of the building into the sunshine.
“Sarge?” Gates asked. The Sergeant stopped walking and faced Gates. The greying Sergeant took a quick glance around them; the pair stood on a blacktop between buildings with no one else around.
“You’ve just been recruited to a top-secret detail. Assume everything I ask you is a serious question unless I say otherwise. Is that clear, soldier?” Gates nodded.
The Sergeant resumed walking and repeated his question.
“Where do you stand on aliens?”
“I think they’re out there. Otherwise, it’s just too much empty space.” As Gates finished his answer, the Sergeant led him into the newest building on the base. It wasn’t much more than an empty warehouse, but it only took a couple of weeks to build. Gates was surprised to find an active cluster of labcoats gathered in the center. around electrical equipment and large speakers.
“Three months ago, S.E.T.I. found a signal. Not just unexplained space noise; an actual, deliberate message.” Gates’ eyes widened, but the Sergeant shook his head.
“I’m not cleared to know the specifics but we got instructions on how to talk back. We’ve been communicating for a while and now we can meet them.”
“How did I get picked?” Gates asked.
“You’re on the list,” The Sergeant handed over his clipboard. Gates looked down at the first page and saw a numbered list with a brief description under each. He searched for his favorite number and found it on the third page.
“#42 – La Calavera (the skull). Calaveras are the physically strongest Unique Soul. Base level Calaveras can split an Earth with little effort.”
“Wait. You’re saying my favorite number means I’m the strongest man on Earth?” Gates laughed. “I’ve met pickle jars stronger than me.” The Sergeant shrugged.
“I’m not saying anything. I’m just following orders using the list they gave me.”
“You got that list from aliens? What does it mean?” Again, the Sergeant shook his head. He stepped closer and dropped his voice to a whisper.
“Not aliens. Humans… from an alternate universe. After we established contact they shared their knowledge about the multiverse.” He tapped the clipboard in Gates’ hands. “Apparently, this list is the key to everything.”
“So when’s the meet planned? Are you still looking for the other numbers on the list?” Gates asked as the Sergeant started walking toward the center of the warehouse.
“42!” Sergeant Gritte gestured at the crowd and shouted Gates’ number. Then, he turned back to Gates while walking. “That’s why we’re here. They wouldn’t meet us until we found a Unique Soul, that’s you.” The reached the center of the warehouse and Gates noted that it was even livelier than when they first walked in. White labcoats buzzed from machine to computer and back again. Suddenly they all turned to focus on one spot in the middle. Gates followed their lead and stared intently at nothing.
A black speck appeared hovering in the air; in an instant, it blossomed to a giant black portal and two women walked out. A tall pale woman with dark hair in a white suit, and a shorter pale woman in black.”My name is Dana Sharp. You’re wasting your time looking for aliens. If you want the secrets of the universe, you first have to learn the game.”