The parking bay was what Ray expected from his times touring other underground facilities. Each one he’d visited before had been clean, brightly lit, nicely painted, and well ventilated. The tunnel and blast door they’d driven through now looked old and much too ‘Hollywood military’ in comparison. The rumble of diesel machinery stopped when the blast door was fully open. A soldier walked to a control terminal inside the parking bay, near the door, and Jerry glanced back to see he was punching in the same two codes Richard had used.
“We might not die after all,” Ray said, nodding at the now familiar setting. Nate was still looking around at the parking bay, his eyes absorbing the layout first and the collection of vehicles second.
“Maybe. I’m still Latino and you’re still black, though. And we haven’t done the simulation yet. I don’t want to get my hopes up,” Nate said with a shrug.
After parking the SUV, Richard led them on foot to the security desk where their pass cards were waiting, and then to the wall of pristine elevator doors. The ones that smoothly opened dropped them down fifteen more floors. The elevator stopped and this time the doors scraped open, jamming with a gap only wide enough for one person at a time to pass through, to reveal the mess Jerry, Ray, and Nate had been waiting to see. A warning alarm droned to life inside the elevator, adding a mosquito pitch buzzing into the white noise of banging, beeping, and cleaning up.
Bullet holes and scorch marks covered the walls. The wall panels meant to cover electrical systems were hanging half open or had been blown off, and the exterior doors of the elevator were buckled backwards (which is why the interior doors had jammed). Ceiling tiles were in pieces or missing, and the overhead lights were destroyed. Strings of caged light bulbs had been hung from one wall to brighten the hallway for safe walking. The floor tiles were chipped and broken, but the floor had been swept so nothing shifted loosely underfoot. Dust, debris, and shrapnel were shoved against the walls in piles, and the piles only had six meters between them at most. Workers were at some of the electrical system panels, their work spaces brightened by free-standing lights and watched over by armed soldiers. The tired workers didn’t look up as the newcomers passed them, but Jerry noticed the soldier’s postures each straightened.
Richard led the small group to a hallway where floor to ceiling windows had once lined an entire side. Kevlar nets had been secured across the openings and the shattered glass swept to the other side of the hall.
Jerry stopped to look through the net and found a high-ceilinged, indoor jungle on the other side. It was dark in there; the only light was from the wire-caged bulbs in the hallway, but he could hear trickling water. Some kind of medium-sized, yellow parrot was hanging on the other side of the net and cleaning its feathers with its beak. Jerry wrapped his fingers around one strand of the net, his hand close to the bird. The yellow parrot barely glanced at his fingers before going back to preening its wing. It ruffled its feathers, chirped calmly as it looked around, and then flew away to land on a low branch of the nearest tree, its bright colors fading to disappear into the shadows. The flapping triggered more birds to fly to different perches, all of them silent or quietly chirping during their short bursts of flight. Regular reflections aligned with the splashing sounds and Jerry could just make out the silhouette of a low fountain.
“Is it night in there right now? Down here is on a different cycle?” Nate asked. He stopped beside Jerry to look in.
“No. Down here runs on the same time as above,” Richard answered. “The damage from the attack affected the power grid so we’re leaving the lights off in all unnecessary areas. We need the electricity elsewhere,” he added.
“Are there only birds in this garden?” Jerry asked.
“Yes,” Richard said. “Well, except for a few fish in the pond. And this is an aviary – a large bird cage – not a garden, Mr. Karloft,” Richard corrected. “Why do you ask?” Richard stepped closer to the net and squinted toward the same shadowy direction Jerry was looking.
“That bench beside the fountain,” he said, tilting his head to point in the direction he was looking. Richard nodded, peering closer. “I was just thinking it looks like a nice spot to drink a beer and pat a dog,” Jerry continued. “But” –he smiled at Richard– “no dogs in there.”
“Ah, yes. I guess it would be a nice spot.” Richard spoke the agreement through a barely contained scoff that twisted his mouth into a frown. He hooked his fingers into the net and forced a smile at Jerry in return. A big, green parrot with a red face and blue on its wings burst out from hanging on the net nearby Richard’s hand, its screeching action scaring the professor into jumping back. The squawked warnings for its entire flight from the net to the trees was deafening among the muted noises of cleaning up and repairs. Other birds startled up into an ear splitting flock that crashed through leaves to circle the garden before settling again into quiet.
“Well, that was loud. Is this were you want us to start that simulation to guess where were our clones might be?” Jerry asked, turning from watching the reflections around the fountain to watch Richard quickly smoothing his jacket.
“No, not here. We’ll start you at the initial point of contact with the enemy forces. Follow me, please.”
As they walked down the next hallway, a soldier told Richard about two of the wall panels repaired the day before being – again – damaged. Richard glanced at the trio he was leading before thanking the soldier. She looked confused at his reply, but nodded and walked back to stand over a pair of workers. Nate glanced between Ray and Jerry before choosing to keep his observation about the strange behavior to himself. Neither of them appeared to notice the odd, short conversation between the Richard and the soldier.
“This is where we’ll start the simulation,” Richard announced. He stopped outside an open door into what used to be a workout gym. The damage in the gym was mainly in the form of tipped and scattered equipment. Only a few bullet holes pocked the walls and there were no scorch marks from small explosions.
Nate went in first, his eyebrows creasing into a frown as he looked around. “Why in here?” he asked.
“This is where the attempt to abduct the Hybrids happened,” Richard said.
“That explains the lack of explosion scorches,” Ray said, following Nate into the room. “Wouldn’t want to damage the merchandise,” he added under his breath.
“We think the attackers believed the Hybrids would be trapped in here,” Richard said, starting to explain. Jerry followed the English teacher into the gym. “Eight of the Hybrids were tranquilized. The other eighteen overpowered the attackers and escaped here” –he pointed at the door they’d all walked through– “and here,” he said, turning to point at a wall of shattered one-way mirrors. The room behind the broken mirrors looked like a high school computer lab. “Of the eighteen who escaped,” Richard continued, “eleven went through this study lab and seven went through the door we just came in. The group of eleven Hybrids acquired training weapons from a store room just in that hallway and then circled back through the adjacent hallways to this door. Security teams were dispatched, arriving from the elevator, and the attackers ended up between the group of eleven Hybrids and the security teams. And, well, you saw the damage between here and the elevator.”
“So if eleven Hybrids were fighting, and the security teams were fighting, where did the seven Hybrids go?” Ray asked.
“Into the nearest office,” Richard said with a heavy sigh. “My office,” he added. “I was lucky; I wasn’t there. They locked the door and forced off one of the office’s air vent covers.”
“So all seven went into the vents?” Jerry asked.
“Yes,” Richard said. “The injured two were among the seven, and they all returned within twenty-four hours of the all-clear. The missing three were part of the group of eleven. They checked in as safely returned, but then… poof,” he said. He held up his fist and popped his fingers open like a little grenade going off.
Wouldn't it be great if I could reasonably do a post about how weird it was to be at home with my whole family, home-schooling the kids, and you read this imaginary post as if it was a strange and abnormal happening? Instead, it's the normal thing around the world right now.
So, I won't dwell. I do want to say that I've read about some great things happening, like working from home becoming an option for so many jobs which hadn't been considered for it before. I have high hopes that, after the scare is past, all of these jobs will continue to have the option of working from home. So many people with limited mobility and amazing skill sets have a lot to contribute, as do a lot of parents with kids too young to stay home alone. The opportunity to work from home and have reliable pay cheques? Where do I sign up??
I've also read about neighbors helping others on their block or in their building by providing grocery deliveries to isolated people. Not self-distanced, but actually sick and isolated so the illness is contained, and neighbors dropping off food and supplies. People can sure be awesome.
At our house, as I'm suddenly trying to figure out how to home-school a kindergartener and a grade 3 kid, I haven't been getting any writing done. Or editing. Or even knitting. I have been taking sewing breaks, however, and even taking the breaks to make up a couple spit-masks for everyone in my house while I think about my stories has been, well, a good break. Please stay safe, stay home, and stay well. Hope you have a great weekend!
Being stuck at home is no reason to run out of reading material.
Grab a free ebook!
Click the images to see more about the books. Click the files below to start downloading. :)
“Our General is, as you say, itchy about it,” Richard said. His tone sounded like he disapproved of the General’s feelings, but the words came out of a blank face.
Richard stopped the SUV facing a hill and climbed out to walk toward a broken-down building foundation. Rusted steel piles stood in short rows like jagged teeth punching out of the sand behind a half-buried speaker box from some old timey drive-thru restaurant. Jerry watched Richard crouch down and push one of the buttons on the speaker box.
“Identification,” a crackling voice demanded.
“Eight-seven-four-alpha-tango-three-two-zero-whisky-charlie-zero. Professor Richard Leech, English,” Richard said.
After a burst of static the speaker silenced. A small, green light flashed twice beside the button he’d pressed. He was back in the SUV and closing the door when a deep rumbling shook the jeep and started loose sand and rocks tumbling down the hill. A ramp hidden at the bottom of the hill dropped inward to reveal an underground tunnel. Richard turned on the SUV’s headlights and put the vehicle in gear.
“I see they still don’t have these lights working,” Richard muttered. His fingers drummed impatiently on the steering wheel, waiting as the tapered top of the door settled as a smooth ramp against the tunnel floor. Jerry could only see far enough in to where a boxy control panel squatted in the center of two lanes.
Richard set the headlights to high-beam and then drove into the darkness. Daylight faded behind them quicker than the speed they were driving accounted for and Nate looked back to see the ramp already lifting. Richard carefully steered around the turns taking them deeper and deeper underground. He wasn’t driving at a pace which could be considered fast – unless snails or tortoises were provided as comparisons – and that made the stretched silence of the trip begin to feel uncomfortably longer than it needed to.
The tunnel road was as wide as a two lane street and high enough for any type of truck to drive through without hitting the ceiling. A utility access sidewalk was sectioned off by a steel railing beside the road, and occasional personnel doors were set into the wall. As they drove deeper, they passed a couple groups where workers who looked like they were fixing wiring behind wall panels near personnel doors were protected by at least one armed soldier. Each worker was safely on the sidewalk, completing their tasks in the glow of lanterns and flashlights. Each soldier nodded at the SUV driving past.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this movie, and the cop died first,” Nate said as the passed the third worker and soldier pair. He squinted out the windshield, trying to see further than what the headlights were showing.
Ray chuckled quietly. “I think only the beautiful, young, smart girl and the handsome, young, tough guy live to the end of those movies. Us old guys sacrifice ourselves or fall behind and get eaten. Jerry might make it out on account of being white, but you and I are basically wearing red shirts with neon targets on them,” Ray said, grinning at Nate.
“I promise you that this tunnel is much brighter when the electricity is working properly,” Richard said, his tone defensive.
“So Richard, seems how we just keep driving really slow, that means you have time to explain why we’re here, right?” Nate asked. “Because you haven’t done that part yet,” he added.
“Yes, of course. My apologies,” Richard said. He shook his head, as if clearing out thoughts about horror movies that start in dark tunnels, and squeezed the steering wheel until the pleather creaked. “Of the twenty-six Hybrids, twenty-three are safe in their secure areas. They are still undergoing physical and psychological checks after the attack. We are very lucky that only two of them were wounded, especially since all of them became involved in defending this facility. In spite of being raised the way you each seem to think they were, I can assure you that we care about these Hybrids very much.”
“I can see you do,” Jerry said. He frowned at the steel and concrete walls of the tunnel.
“Please remember that this is the back-door entrance,” Richard said, his tone trying to sound calm.
“Of course,” Jerry said with a smile. “The three Hybrids that are still missing would be…?” He left the question hanging and gestured at the ex-military personnel in the SUV.
“Hybrids who are still missing, Mister Karloft,” Richard corrected him. “I can see you guessed correctly that the three Hybrids who are still missing are the clones made from each of your samples. We haven’t been able to locate them while the security systems are down. Our General brought you here to run through a simulation. He wants to see how you react to the situation your clones are in.”
“But we’re not going to think or act like they do,” Ray said. “We’re a different age. We have different training and life experiences. Having us pretend to be them is useless.”
“Our technicians estimate four more days before we have full use of the security systems. We’ve already tried everything our staff could think by using the simulation. I’ve gone through it five times myself. We’re likely already out of time, but we need to try and –”
“We’re ‘out of time’ for what?” Nate asked, interrupting. Richard sighed, his face dropping into a look of defeat.
“The animals chosen were picked for how well they work together in a unit and… well… for strengths the military wanted so…”
“These Hybrids are Humans crossed with carnivores, aren’t they?” Jerry asked pointedly.
“Yes. Lions were used.”
“Bred and raised so their human sides are dominant, but three days without feeding is a long time. The current worry is that your rescue teams look like dinner because there isn’t enough security to protect search teams and repair teams, so you’re hoping to use us to narrow the radius. Sound about right?” Jerry asked.
“Fuck me. The cop always dies first in these movies,” Nate muttered.
“You look younger than both of us,” Ray said, falling back on his usual habit of trying to add some humor to the wild situation they were in.
“But I’m Latino, and I’m not pretty or smart enough to be a movie hero,” Nate said. He smirked as he pointed at his face.
“How long does the simulation take and how many times are we expected to run through it?” Jerry asked, ignoring the half-hearted jokes from the back seat.
“It should only take a few hours at most,” Richard replied. “We’re simply hopeful you’ll provide ideas we haven’t thought of. You may need to only go through it two or three times.”
The tunnel ended at a large, steel, blast door. Jerry squinted at a small, faded sign outside the glow of the headlights as they slowed to a stop, but couldn’t make out any details so turned back to watch the occupants of the SUV once they were past it. Richard parked beside a control terminal set up in the middle of the road. Oddly, the terminal looked like a parking ticket printer except that it had a large keypad, a small keypad, and no little slot for the ticket to come out of. Jerry watched as Richard typed in a different code than the one he’d used outside. The terminal beeped once and then Richard typed in a third code on the second keypad.
Diesel machinery grumbled to life somewhere inside the wall of the tunnel and the blast door started to slowly grind sideways. The tunnel continued on the other side, but was brightly lit for the short distance before opening into a large, pristinely maintained parking bay. Jerry glanced back at the small sign and noted the familiar color, but they were too far away to make out if there were any markings or writing. Richard turned off the headlights and drove forward, aiming for the parking spot with the same number painted on the floor as on the tag hanging from the rear view mirror. Everyone in the SUV squinted after so long in the dark.
I've been trying to decide today which of two topics, both important to me, to post about. Sitting down to write this, I guess I'll post about both.
First, I'm pretty sure everyone has noticed we're having a pandemic right now. As COVID-19 fears are whipped into a media-fueled frenzy, I just want to ask that people please stop buying into the panic. Medical and endemic professionals from around the world have provided information and advice about general-use isolation procedures (avoid large gatherings, self-isolate with masks if you have to go out), basic hygiene (seriously, there are people who still struggle with trying not to face-touch and knowing hand washing is important?), and what at-home treatments to use to help avoid getting so sick that you need professional medical treatments (all the same things you use for a flu – rest, DayQuil / NightQuil, Neo Citran, air humidifiers, ibuprofen, etc).
Will avoiding unnecessary contact with other people and washing your hands stop the pandemic and save all of us from getting sick? No, it won't. But it will ensure the virus moves slowly through the population so our medical supplies and resources can support the severe cases requiring intensive treatments.
Turns out the skin on the neck had fat on it that had stoppered the neck hole like a bathtub plug. Shoving it with a wooden spoon popped out the plug. And yes, while on the phone with her, I snagged a few tricks she'd learned over the years for making sure the bird tasted good once it was cooked. That first turkey turned out pretty tasty. And yes, I still use those tricks.
I feel lucky to have had such a friend, and proud to have had such a grandmother. She'll be remembered and missed.
I hope you have a great weekend!
The plane landed smoothly at an unmarked airstrip in the early-afternoon heat. Jerry, Ray, and Nate were directed out and climbed down the rusted stairs slowly, getting a view of the desert around the lone runway and the single road to and from it while they were elevated. Only a dusty, older model pick-up truck and newer military SUV were nearby. The two guys who’d pushed the stairs up to the door waited until everyone getting off the plane was on the ground and then pulled the steps to the side of the runway and left them there. They climbed into the pick-up truck without saying anything and drove off as the plane door thumped closed. Only Jerry, Ray, and Nate had gotten off the plane. They glanced back and saw the wing flaps raise and lower as pre-flight checks were gone through again.
“Welcome to Arizona,” the visibly nervous driver of the SUV called, gesturing to the vehicle doors he’d just opened. “Please, get in.”
Nate started moving forward, saw he was the only one who did, and stepped back to wait beside Ray. The three older men stood in a row to face off with the driver from three meters away.
“Where are we going?” Jerry asked, raising his voice to be heard over the plane’s engine.
The driver smiled tightly between pretty blond hair and a rumpled, tweed jacket. “Please, just get in?” he asked, yelling so he could be heard, and gesturing with both arms. He spoke with the tone of someone at the end of a usually relaxed temper. “I can’t brief you in the open.”
Jerry looked at the two men beside him, both of whom were surveying the wide open and essentially empty space around where they’d been dropped off while Jerry did the talking. Ray’s quick scan finished with watching the plane taxi away, and Nate’s ended when he started profiling the driver. Jerry waited the two seconds for both men to finish their assessments. They shrugged to him because they didn’t see anything worse than the situation they’d been in on the plane, except now they’d be traveling on the ground. In silent agreement for being in this together, Jerry climbed into the front passenger seat of the SUV, Nate sat behind Jerry, and Ray sat behind the driver.
“My name is Richard Leech. I’m an English professor,” the driver said, once all the doors were closed. He turned up the air conditioning and put the SUV into gear, pausing to lean forward slightly and watch the plane take off. “I really have no idea where to even start. Right now, I’m hoping you have questions. I think I’ll be better at giving answers than at explanations.”
“An English professor?” Nate blurted. Jerry agreed with the surprise in Nate’s voice. Based on today’s events, Richard saying he taught English was one of the weirdest things he could have started with.
“Yes. Ivy league education and tenure,” Richard said. “Teaching at those schools wasn’t very interesting, though. It was also very stressful. I moved to smaller schools and then into military academies.”
“You left ivy league for military academies?” Ray asked, bewildered by the choice.
“Fulfillment is important, too,” Richard said, catching Ray’s eye in the rear view mirror.
“Nice to have the choice,” Nate muttered.
“The Arizona facility isn’t an academy. Who are you teaching?” Ray asked
“Until three days ago…” Richard paused and blew out a long breath. He gripped the steering wheel harder. “Your clones. And the twenty-three other clones made at the same time.”
The three passengers in the car stared at the English professor in stunned silence.
“Can… can you repeat that?” Nate asked when he could speak again. “But add in enough back story so it makes sense this time,” he added. Richard sighed and then shrugged and nodded. The gesture looked more like a response to what Richard was thinking than to Nate’s question.
“Twenty-four years ago, thirty soldiers were selected to take part in a cloning program. You three were among them. When asked to provide samples without knowing why, you each agreed. You then signed a non-disclosure agreement about providing samples and – I’m guessing – completely forgot about it until right now.” Richard glanced at everyone else in the SUV, getting nods of agreement from all of them. “The collected samples were used in tests for viability in creating interspecies Hybrids. The program –”
“Wait, ‘interspecies’? So, you mean our DNA got tested for being mixed up with other species? Like… animals or…?” Nate interrupted.
“Not ‘like’ animals, with animals,” Richard corrected. “The program wasn’t successful during the first six years, but the results showed improving promise with each pairing. Nearly eighteen years ago, twenty-nine Hybrids lived through gestation. Twenty-eight of those lived through infancy, and then twenty-six survived through toddlerhood.”
Richard stopped talking as he signaled right and turned off the narrow highway. He drove the SUV toward a security shack. There was a black chain link fence running along beside the highway, and the heavy gate in it was on the road beside the security shack. The fence looked like it kept in a lot more of the same desert as was outside of it. The security shack was the only building around, and it was just an armored, windowed box with one inside corner walled off (probably for a toilet). Richard held up his security pass card against the scanner pad on the side of the shack and the gate started opening automatically. The soldier in the shack waved in a friendly way, not even opening the window, and they continued driving.
Jerry and Ray glanced at each other. Normally visitors were required to show identification and sign in when coming onto any base. Richard noted the glance and smiled at them.
“It’s well known you were coming and we don’t have time for redundant protocol rules. Your security passes are waiting inside,” Richard explained. “Now where was I? Oh, yes, there were twenty-six Hybrids who lived into childhood. All of them are now seventeen years old.”
“You said you were teaching English to these Hybrids up until three days ago. So what happened three days ago?” Jerry asked.
“The facility was attacked,” Richard said. His fingers clenched and loosened on the steering wheel.
“Why?” Nate asked.
“Because these kids are a squad,” Jerry said before Richard could answer. “Bred, born, and raised to be used tactically.”
“Our kids are super soldiers?” Nate blurted the question. He leaned forward between the front seats to stare at Richard.
“Technically they’re not your offspring, so not your kids. They’re your clones. But yes, however, these Hybrids are what someone like you would call super soldiers,” Richard replied.
“Fuck me,” Nate said as he sat back. He shook his head in disbelief.
“So why are we here?” Jerry asked. “We’re not active military. There are squads for this kind of rescue and recovery.”
“Rescue and recovery aren’t needed. The attack failed. None of the Hybrids were taken,” Richard explained. He turned off the road to drive on a dirt track toward a small hill. “You’re here because half the facility’s staff members were killed, and the dead half includes almost everyone on the security teams. Most of the systems are still down, which is why we’re using a back door rather than the main entrance. All of the attackers were, as our General says, neutralized in the first twenty-four hours after the attack. Unfortunately the Hybrids were released from their secure areas, and for the past three days we’ve been finding them throughout the facility and bringing them back to safety.”
“Who’s safety?” Ray asked. The frown he’d gotten when Richard said ‘secure areas’ for seventeen year old kids was still creasing his face.
“Theirs,” Richard replied. His expression was shocked that anyone might think differently. “They’ve been raised in controlled environments, completely underground. Exposure to this violent situation was –”
“Exactly what they were made for,” Jerry interrupted, finishing Richard’s sentence. “Everyone must be itching to get the security footage so they can see how well the project did in its first real combat scenario.”
I'm late! I'm late!
Does it help knowing that I'm running late? Nope, it doesn't... oh well. Lol.
I think things are going pretty well this week. My physiotherapist completely revamped the home exercise routine I have to do as of last Friday and, happily, I can now type again. I even had the ability to do some knitting yesterday! It's been a couple weeks since I've been able to use my hands for knitting, and typing hurt too much for almost a week and a half. Moral of the story: repetitive strain injuries are bad and everyone who uses their hands needs to take stretch breaks. This is advice I didn't listen to and thirty years is a long time to be in pain for something that had been avoidable.
As for being able to type again... no, I wasn't working on anything I'm supposed to be writing. A cool short story with a sorcerer who needs help and a liege with a sentient sword popped into my head and that's what I've spent my two hours of typing time a day on. Except for today. Today I'm blogging. Obviously.
Learnings from this week:
I'm starting to post up a new story today. Cloning and secrets and bad guys, oh my! Chapter 1 is below. :)
Here's the blurb from what I posted on Wattpad: "Twenty-four years ago, thirty soldiers agreed to donate DNA samples for scientific development... and then forgot about it. Three days ago, the facility where the samples had been used to create what some would call super soldiers was attacked. Three of the created Human-Hybrids haven't been recovered. Their donors have been recalled from retirement to help with the search, but the veterans notice something isn't right. And the clock is ticking."
It's been a decent week. Fingers crossed things stay going okay for the weekend and through to next week (high hopes and low expectations). Hope you have a great weekend!
The private jet touched down and the two passengers already on board sat on the floor as ordered. They hid out of sight below the windows and watched three men in suits take up positions around the interior side of the door with guns drawn. Outside, stairs were wheeled up to the side of the jet as soon as the door cracked opened. The next passenger was shoved up and tumbled onto the plane amidst shouted orders and scuffling activity for the latest batch of suited men to get on board before the stairs were gone.
One new man in a suit came on board and went directly to the cockpit. He unlocked the door with a key from his pocket and relocked it the moment he was inside. The new passenger glanced at the other two as he was lifted from the floor and shoved into a seat, his hands secured behind him with plastic ties. A gun held by one of the three who’d covered the door aimed in the general direction of the newcomer’s head; both passengers on the floor could see the safety was still on, but the posture would look intimidating through the windows.
The new guy obviously wasn’t intimidated by the posturing, or remotely interested in being on the plane. He head butted the person trying to click his seatbelt and charged the one with the gun drawn on him. The man with the gun sidestepped and struck with the butt of the pistol, retreating as the new guy – blinking fast and shaking his suddenly aching head – was lifted and dropped back into the seat.
“Ow!” the new guy exclaimed. He could focus again by the time the seatbelt clicked and glared up at the guy who’d hit him. “Fuck you!” he yelled when he realized his leg wouldn’t reach for a kick.
Gunshots sounded outside, near the plane, as the flight crew raced through their take-off requirements around the still-open door. From spying out the nearest window, it looked like the guys in body armor who were retreating into matching SUVs were firing toward a hodge-podge charge of quickly approaching vehicles. The plane started powering down the runway before the door was sealed.
As soon as they were told they could, the two passengers climbed back into their seats. They were just buckling in as the plane lifted off, sitting by side and both facing forward, across the aisle from the newcomer. All three passengers looked like they were in their mid or late fifties, and each had been plucked from their lives to board this plane without yet knowing why. In the window seat was Jerry Karloft, a security guard with a history of military service (of which most of that history was blacked out and filed in places most people didn’t even know existed). Beside him and separated from the newcomer by the aisle was Ray Defuuga, a retired five-star General and one of Jerry’s oldest friends. That left only the new passenger, who neither Jerry nor Ray recognized, and who was now quietly sitting there and sullenly looking around at everyone.
“Detective Nathan Alexander, welcome aboard,” one of the men who had brought him onto the plane said from behind him. The new guy looked startled, then – if possible – even more wary. He tried to look over his shoulder to where the voice was coming from, but was blocked by the large headrest on his seat.
“I go by Nate,” the Detective replied.
“Our instructions stated you could be safely extracted from this airport as long as it looked like an arrest,” the man who’d hit him said while dialing a number into a disposable cell phone. He spoke into the phone, telling whoever he was talking to that Nate was on the plane, and then he pressed the cell to the Detective’s ear.
“Hello?” Nate said, and then listened for nearly a whole minute. “What?” he yelled. “No! You have got to be kidding me! I’ve been on this case for the past two fucking years, you can’t just…!” More noise from the phone interrupted him. “Fuck you!” Nathan yelled and then kicked the arm of man holding the phone, effectively signaling the end of the conversation. He scowled, glaring at everyone he could see except Ray and Jerry.
“So I guess you two got pulled off your cases, too, huh?” Nate asked.
“Let’s call it removed from our most recent circumstances,” Jerry answered.
“Shit,” Nathan said. He tried to use one of his arms and scoffed that he was still restrained. “Hey, you dipshits can untie me now.”
Jerry had been called by his boss at two in the morning because of late-night visitors at the little, non-secret research facility he was head of security for. Turned out the visitors were some of the suited people on the plane with him, bringing a military order he’d hoped to never hear again to immediately go where he was sent; he’d find out later where and maybe why. Now it was later and he still didn’t know where or why. Ray had come from an early-morning breakfast with his wife and kids after a knock on the door of his house and the same order Jerry had gotten. Seeing Jerry, Ray’s old Commanding Officer from his days before climbing into political ranks, had creased his forehead. However, the years of dealing with politicians meant a few wrinkles were Ray’s only physical reaction of surprise to finding Jerry already on the plane.
The man closest to Nate flipped open a knife and the Detective leaned forward to give access to the ties binding his hands. Ray and Jerry both noticed a small trickle of blood behind Nathan’s ear and exchanged a quick frown. Nathan reached up to the spot on his head where he had been hit and pulled his fingers away bloody.
“Stupid, green, junior fucks…” he muttered while looking at his fingers. Ray offered him a napkin that had been handed out with a small packet of cookies an hour ago. Nathan looked at Ray carefully, a spark of recognition burning behind his gaze on seeing the retired General. “Thanks,” Nate said, taking the napkin.
“Don’t mention it,” Ray replied easily.
“I’m Nate,” the Detective said, introducing himself as he held out his right hand.
“Jerry,” Jerry said with a wave.
“I’m Ray.” Ray shook Nate’s hand warmly and the Detective’s shoulders dropped from the tensed position they’d been in since coming on board.
“So, either of you guys know what we’re doing here?” Nate asked, looking around again. His eyes paused on emergency exits and where every person was sitting, flicking quickly to note where emergency equipment was, before returning to gaze at Jerry and Ray with a moderate level of curious assessment.
“Not yet,” Jerry replied. He offered Nate a small smile before glaring at the nearest man who had come on board during the last stop. The younger man shifted uncomfortably and glanced at the closed cockpit door.
“Our only instructions were to collect you three, Mr. Karloft,” said Ronnie, the man who had welcomed Nate and was now the center of Jerry’s attention.
“So where are we being taken to?” Jerry asked. Ronnie opened his mouth, ready to shrug that he didn’t know, and then shrank back from Jerry’s stare, deciding in the moment to change his response and tell the truth when all three passengers were looking at him the same way.
“Arizona,” Ronnnie admitted.
“Ray?” Jerry asked, turning his head to speak to his friend. Ray was already thinking on it.
“The base would’ve called us in directly,” Ray said. His eyebrows drew together in the old familiar way. “There are a few places in the desert that could have us collected like this, but only one in Arizona. It’s a research facility I don’t know much about, only that they could make movies about it. Not the happy kind.”
Ray and Jerry thought on this information for a few moments.
“Excuse me, uh, sirs?” Nate interrupted their thinking, looking uneasy. “I haven’t been military for twenty-two years. I did four years and then I went police force. I’ve been in PDs ever since.”
Ray and Jerry exchanged a glance and a shrug. “I guess we’ll find out more in Arizona,” Ray offered. He shook his head slightly as a warning, glancing meaningfully at the people who’d collected them, when Nate inhaled to ask another question. The three veterans remained silent for the rest of the flight.
A weekly blog updating every Saturday with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and parts of my short stories and novellas for everyone to read for free!