Mostly likely, you've never heard of Major Jack McDaniel.
Indeed, he is such a historical footnote, you would be part of a huge
majority if you hadn't. Yet in spite of his anonymity, Major McDaniel is
one of the most important men who has ever lived. This is his
story--more or less.
I myself have only recently become aware of Major McDaniel's
existence. In the short time I've known him, Major McDaniel has
become like a father to me. He taught me about life, about people, about
right and wrong. It is the special nature of our bond that allows me to
talk so about him, though we've only recently met.
Jack, if I may refer to him so, risked everything for what he
believed and in the end, paid the ultimate price. Yet there will be no
medals for bravery, no monuments to his memory and indeed, few of
those that did hear his story believe it actually happened. Jack will be
remembered as many things, an addict, a madman, a fool, but not as a
hero. Hence these words.
No one can say whether humanity will ultimately survive the
events of this narration, but if they don't, it's not Jack's fault. He did
everything he could.
Appropriately enough, it began back on Earth in the latter part of
the twenty-first century, at least that's where Jack enters the story. It was
many weeks later that I first became aware of his existence, but I'm
getting ahead of myself.
I ask you only this. Read the facts for yourself, and make your
own judgments, for the story is not yet over and humanity's future still
hangs by the barest of threads.
Unfortunately, those who have taken responsibility for the future
of mankind, don't necessarily understand what it means to be human.
Between the politicians and the military, it surprises me mankind
has made it even this far.
Major Jack McDaniel was at home when the soldiers arrived. He'd
seen the type before--short hair, clean-shaven, stiff as boards and about
as much fun as a hernia operation. He had learned over the years to deal
with such men, but from where he was standing, they could all use a bit
of humanity and gentle humor.
The encoded disc they presented him was keyed to his personal
computer system and required a retina check before it would reveal its
message. The information contained on the disc was minimal, but it was
enough. "Code orange. Report immediately to the Security Council."
McDaniel's reaction had been almost instantaneous. "There must
be some mistake."
The first of the soldiers, the larger of the two, shook his head. "I'm
afraid not, Major. Your presence has been requested by the general
"But I'm a psychiatrist. I have nothing to do with the combat
"I realize that, Sir. Still, I must insist that you accompany us
"This is very irregular. Look, my wife is out shopping. She'll be
home in a few minutes. Surely this can wait for..."
"I'm sorry, Sir, but that is unacceptable. My orders are quite
specific. If necessary, I'm to bring you in by force. You can contact your
wife from the Pentagon."
McDaniel stared in disbelief, first at the guard, then back to the
code orange on his screen. He leaned forward, pressed the erase button
and walked toward the door.
"Let's get this over with."
The guards flanked him down the hallway, into the lift and outside
to the waiting hovercar. Major Jack McDaniel drew a breath, climbed
into the back seat and turned slowly to the soldier sitting beside him.
"So," he asked, forcing himself to sound casual. "What kind of
emergency so desperately requires a psychiatrist's touch?"
The guard continued to look straight ahead. "I have no idea, Sir.
My instructions were to bring you in. You'll be briefed upon your
McDaniel hadn't really expected an answer. He looked out the
window watching the scenery fly by, slowly at first, then faster as the
car accelerated. Only once did he turn to see if he could catch a glimpse
of his wife returning home.
* * * *
McDaniel had been to the Pentagon before, but it was his first time
appearing before the Security Council. The room was much as he'd seen
it on newscasts, except from his current vantage it looked smaller,
though it was no less intimidating.
He had barely entered when Reginald Terrence, the head of the
council, spoke to him.
"You're going to be traveling to the moon."
"The moon! What the hell for?" In spite of the fact he was
surrounded by superiors, McDaniel couldn't keep the edge from his
"Sit down, Major."
He lowered himself slowly into a seat. He did not, however, relax.
"Listen, if you're sending me away, aren't I entitled to know why?"
The men in the room looked at each other. In spite of his position,
McDaniel was the lowest ranking officer present. Eventually Admiral
"Have you ever heard of the Century Drive?"
"Rumors only. I wasn't certain it existed."
"It does. It exists and has been tested. The results have been
beyond our most enthusiastic expectations."
McDaniel shook his head to clear it. "So we have the ability to
travel faster than the speed of light?"
"Not quite yet. We did a test run several months ago with a single
human subject. He came through the Void with flying colors, but shortly
after, experienced a complete personality alteration. He became taciturn,
aggressive, mistrustful...almost paranoid. He resigned shortly after with
no explanation. He moved to New Amsterdam and subsequently
disappeared. We've been unable to locate him since. You can see why
we need a psychiatrist."
"Yes and no. I can see why you need one, but not why you need
me. I'm not affiliated with combat division and I was never trained for
the mission you describe. I'm certain Intelligence has their own equally
"That solution was discussed, but has not been acted upon for two
reasons. First, there is a leak in the Intelligence sector. If there wasn't,
you wouldn't have heard rumors about the Century Drive in the first
"That's one reason. What's the other?"
"The first man to cross the Void was Lieutenant Commander
McDaniel stood up. "What!"
"I see you remember him, Major."
"Of course I do. We were inseparable at the Academy. But after he
transferred to Intelligence, I've hardly heard a word from him. You
mean to tell me he was the subject for the test run?"
"That is precisely what I mean to tell you."
"I know Brandon. If he doesn't want to be found, you'll never find
"We know that. Which doesn't mean you won't be able to. You
know him as well as anyone alive. He was your partner in psychic
studies. The two of you had an almost uncanny rapport. Your instructor
wrote several papers on it."
"I know. I've read them."
"Then you should understand why you're so necessary to this
mission. Alexander hasn't made many friends since his academy days.
Even back then, he was a loner."
"He didn't like people very much."
"He liked you."
McDaniel nodded. "Okay. I get the picture. I have a few things to
pack. I have to contact my wife..."
"I'm sorry, but there's no time," interrupted Admiral Edison. "We'll
contact your wife for you. The Shuttle for Cape Canaveral leaves at
McDaniel looked at his watch. "But that's less than fifteen minutes
"Quite correct, Major. The shuttle will be departing promptly and
you are going to be on it."
* * * *
The trip from Washington DC to central Florida would have taken
well over an hour on a commercial flight, but it took barely 45 minutes
on the Phantom cruiser. No longer needed as military planes, they were
now used as short distance shuttles for the important few who rated
them. It was the first time he'd ever been on one.
McDaniel found the takeoff particularly alarming, though once
airborne, he was able to relax, until he thought about his upcoming
departure from Earth. He wondered what they would tell his wife when
they finally notified her. He hated that more than anything. He knew
how much she worried.
The Lunar Shuttle was waiting for him and he barely had time to
relieve himself and change into more traditional space-faring clothing,
before he was escorted to the landing pad. Much to his surprise, he was
the sole passenger. Someone wanted Brandon Alexander bad and he
needed to understand why. One thing was certain. They had not told him
Of course, just the fact Brandon had access to much that was
secret would be enough to cause huge concern in the Intelligence sector.
Still McDaniel was relatively certain their confidence in his
abilities was misplaced. Brandon Alexander was not only a genius, but
completely unpredictable. His mind worked intuitively, as well as
logically. Brandon's verbal and math skills were both off the scale and
there wasn't much he couldn't discuss in the realms of science, history,
philosophy, politics, the arts or even sports. Brandon had the kind of
mind that retained everything in neat little packages, waiting only for
the moment he needed something for it to float to the surface. How
could anyone find Brandon Alexander if he didn't want to be found?
The shuttle's liftoff was not nearly as bad as the Phantom's and
soon, Jack tired of looking at the diminishing Earth and worrying about
what would happen when he reached the moon. He tried to sleep and
when that failed, entertained himself by remembering more pleasant
excursions from his past.
Eventually he did doze. When he awakened a short time later, it
took him a few seconds to remember where he was and why. He wished
he could get up and walk around, but it had been years since his low gee
exercises and he wasn't much feeling like reacquainting himself with the
sensation. He hadn't liked it all that much back then.
The only thing to distract him from his boredom was a computer
terminal that offered a wide range of movies and news shows, as well as
a reference library. To kill time, he reread the papers written by Dr. Jim
Hanson, his old psychic studies professor.
Jim had had interesting ideas, but never managed to gain the
support of most of his colleagues, who considered his experiments a
complete waste of resources. Brandon had always enjoyed discussing
those theories with the professor and McDaniel had gotten the distinct
impression he was one of the few believers. In fact, Brandon had
performed a few experiments on his own, some of which were even
stranger than any Hanson had attempted.
The papers brought back all sorts of memories about happier times
and McDaniel had to keep reminding himself a lot of time had passed
and the current situation was completely different. He allowed himself,
however, to get pulled into the research, as he always did when involved
in a project. Thus, he was surprised when an announcement over the
shuttle's intercom interrupted him.
In most commercial cruisers, the intercom system was only barely
audible, but that was not the case here. It was as if the captain, or
whoever was speaking, was in the cabin with him.
"We will be landing at Alondro Space Port in less than an hour. If
you look out the porthole, you should be able to see the Lunar cites,
New Madrid and Da Vinci. New Amsterdam should be visible in about
McDaniel stared out the viewport and considered the surface of the
moon. Its starkness appealed to him, so he continued to watch, setting
his research aside. He must have been on the shuttle for a full day
already, though how that was possible, he didn't know.
He had eaten a couple of meals, such as they were, but it didn't
seem like he'd been aboard that long. Perhaps he'd slept longer than he'd
He thought then about his destination. The most infamous of the
lunar cities, New Amsterdam was something like the old west might
have been. It was the 'golden rule' of civilization all over again. In New
Amsterdam, he who has the gold, makes the rules. It was that way on
Earth too, but it was only obvious if you were watching carefully.
New Amsterdam was a haven of drug dealers, mercenaries,
prostitutes and various other scrapings from the bottom of humanity's
barrel. There weren't many places he would enjoy visiting less, but his
orders had given him no choice. The situation had been declared code
orange and there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it.
"Please fasten your safety net. We will be landing in just a few
Once again, an announcement interrupted McDaniel's thoughts. He
pulled the nylon webbing over his body. In the event of an impact, the
net would evenly distribute his forward momentum, thus keeping bodily
damage to a minimum. With the current security features built into all
new shuttles, many claimed the webbing was obsolete, but Jack
McDaniel didn't hesitate to use it. Things would be dangerous enough
when he reached New Amsterdam.
* * * *
The Alondro Spaceport was similar to every other port. Too many
people, too many shops, too many computer terminals and never enough
time. As he disembarked, McDaniel couldn't help but notice a large
percentage of people were in a hurry. He was about to turn toward
customs when a hand closed around his arm. He turned slowly.
Gripping him firmly was a large, well-muscled man, dressed as a
civilian. McDaniel knew immediately his assailant was a member of the
armed forces. After so many years in the military, it wasn't a difficult
determination to make. He looked at the man and then at his arm.
"Do you mind?"
The man released him. "Dr. McDaniel?"
"I'm Major McDaniel, yes."
"Not here. Dr. McDaniel for now. While in New Amsterdam, you
have no affiliation with the service. We suspect Brandon Alexander
knows we're searching for him and that he has ways of monitoring the
arrival and departure of military personnel. If you will follow me
The large man turned and began to walk. McDaniel hurried to
"But customs is that way."
"You're not going through customs. You're not officially here.
You're a phantom."
"I see. And you are?"
"Special Agent Marcus. I'm here to help you in any way I can. I'm
your guide and your contact for the duration of your stay."
"Okay. Where to?"
"First to your hotel. You can check in, get the lay of the land.
Decide how you want to go about your search."
"I still don't get it. If Intelligence can't find him, what makes them
think that I can?"
"As a phantom you do have certain advantages. Very few people
know of your existence or your presence here. We believe Alexander
still has contacts in the agency and is using them to avoid
"Yes, Sir. It's a clause in every agent's contract. His status can be
reactivated, if necessary to deal with any situation Code Orange or
higher in priority."
They reached a security door and Marcus placed his palm against
the lock. It took the scanner three seconds to recognize his print and
open the door. They continued into the security area.
"So where do you think I should begin?" asked McDaniel.
"If I knew, you wouldn't be necessary."
"That's not very comforting."
"I'm not here to make your life comfortable."
The psychologist turned to look at the man, only now realizing that
Special Agent Marcus might well resent McDaniel's intrusion into his
domain. He hoped it wouldn't become a problem. Neither man spoke for
a long time afterward.
As Jack has to ask himself where the border is between reality and the work of his imagination, Lazarowitz also makes the reader wonder about life and death, the possible and impossible, and the nature of human relationships. As for the latter, the author is an expert in that and the reader can easily identify with the characters. The story is well written and adventurous. Confronting The Void by Steve Lazarowitz starts as a science-fiction adventure with mystery elements, but turns out to be much more than that, a journey to the depth of the human psyche. Well worth reading.
Reviewed by Ilona Hegedus
Lazarowitz combines out of body/after death experiences and travel to the stars in a very interesting and exciting short novel that will hopefully have a future adventure. It's a well done, fast read that only adds to the fine body of work that Lazarowitz has produced.
Reviewed by Barry Hunter
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