Time to check in! How are things going in your small space in the world? How's your mental health? Are you eating okay? Getting any sleep?
We've been doing mostly all right at our house. Earth Day was a good reason to skip on home learning tasks and go outside to check out a local and non-busy park. Being in a park was a great excuse for the kids to run around like animals until they were tired and hungry. (We are lucky enough to have a back yard, but it's not big enough for the kids to get up to full-speed anymore. The yard seems to shrink as they get bigger.)
It was awesome once we got to the park, but the 5-year-old had a pretty heavy reaction about leaving the house. She's been having bad dreams about things she loves getting "disappeared" by "bad guys with a controller remote". In one nightmare her foot was disappeared, in another I was, and in another her favorite sweater was. She's had a couple nightmares where more than one thing gets disappeared. When she did open up to me about them as more than "it was a bad dream", we sat down and talked about what dreams are (the subconscious, ie: not-the-thinking-voice, part of the brain trying to process daily events) and that things she cares about being disappeared in the nightmares probably means her not-the-thinking-voice brain part is trying to figure out how to deal with the big changes since lock-down and distancing started.
But the 5-year-old? She's grieving. She'd just started Kindergarten this past September and was making her own friends, not only playing with the younger siblings of her big sister's friends. She had her own teachers, and was starting to pursue her own interests by discovering her own likes and dislikes independent of sibling and parents. She'd been going to the birthday parties of her friends, from her class, and was forging relationships on her merits and boundaries. That all got disappeared.
She's only 5 right now, so the "before the pandemic" stories really will be only stories to her once she's grown. But right now? Right now she's both happy in our doing fine situation and she's sad, too. The sad she's having is a big sad. And it's okay for her to feel that big sad about this Big Thing, because a lot of things she cared about got disappeared.
I hope you can be kind to others and gentle with yourself this weekend. What's happening right now is a Big Thing, and a lot of things we each cared about got disappeared.
They used maintenance access tunnels to quietly move through the rest of the base between the aviary and the parking bay, sneaking up fourteen floors without being seen thanks to Carl and Mica taking the lead. The way from Point A to Point B was the most confusing route Jerry had ever been subjected to, but they stopped one ladder and two access doors from the parking bay. The wounded kids, Shan and Pinky, sat down to rest against a wall. It had taken almost three hours to get here from the aviary.
The first tricky part of Neah’s plan had been thinking up a distraction. She’d been expecting to have to wait for their nightly feeding to cause the discovery that the kids were missing, but Jerry, Ray, and Nate had given her a faster-acting distraction by hiding the three pass cards. Now they just had to wait for whoever was monitoring to see the hidden cards weren’t moving and go check. The veterans disappearing and being on the loose, just like the three kids they’d been brought here to find, was something Neah expected to be enough of a threat that the alarm would draw most enemy soldiers deeper into the facility and away from the parking bay. The tension of waiting quietly was shattered when an alarm blared through the underground base.
“That was sooner than I expected,” Neah said.
“So now we take the small vehicles and scatter, like I said. It’ll be too hard to track all of them. We can meet again after dark,” Jerry answered.
“We’re stronger together. The two armored personnel carriers are the best option for getting through everything outside, like I said,” Neah argued. This was the one point in the plan they hadn’t been able to agree on.
“You’re stronger alive,” Jerry pointed out.
“So we stay alive by staying together, and we take the two personnel carriers,” she replied, raising her voice so the order was heard by everyone. “Any other arguments?” she asked, staring at Jerry pointedly.
He watched her for a moment before cracking into a grin. “I think I knew your mother.”
“The woman I’m remembering, she liked to order around senior officers too.”
“And?” Neah asked again, holding her hands out with the palms up in a small, uncaring shrug.
“Aeslynn Nevaeh?” he asked. Neah only nodded in reply, impatiently waiting for him to get to whatever point he was making. “I’m alive because she’s bull headed and smarter with tactics than most other people,” he explained.
“And your senior officer?” Neah asked.
“He might have lived if he’d listened to her, too. However, can any of you drive the personnel carriers?” All the kids silently turned questioning eyes to stare at Neah, which was more than enough of a reply to let Jerry know none of them could.
“I can,” Ray and Nate answered in unison, breaking the tension by volunteering.
“Problem solved. We’re taking the carriers.” Neah beamed a smile at Jerry, ending the argument, as she swung the first of the two doors open.
Jerry had the rifle so he went first, ensuring the ladder space was clear. It was empty. He climbed up to the next floor and cracked open the door at the top of the ladder to peer out at the parking bay. The blare of the siren through the open door made him wince. It was designed to be heard inside any vehicle and, standing here without the protection of a closed vehicle, he started wondering if it might be heard outside the hill the facility was under.
The majority of the mercenaries ran for exits going deeper into the facility, slamming and locking doors closed behind them. Jerry watched as the few enemy soldiers left behind began to grudgingly patrol, spending more time staring at the closed doors and adjusting their ear plugs than watching the vehicles they were supposed to be protecting. That was perfect. And it was exactly what Neah had predicted.
The mercenaries in the parking bay drifted closer together; eventually all of them moving out of the line of sight Jerry had on them. Not trusting them to stay out of sight, Jerry signaled down to Neah and everyone came up the ladder in an organized rush. Ray and Nate each went with a group of ten teens to the two armored personnel carriers, using the loud siren to hide any noise they made while sneaking into the carriers. Neah and the rest of the teens went with Jerry toward the old entrance. Only one enemy soldier was unlucky enough to see Neah’s group running to the door’s controls, and she made sure he couldn’t tell anyone.
During the walk, Jerry had noticed all the kids had the same blunted hands and lack of fingernails that Fuggy had. He hadn’t realized it was because they had retractable claws.
Jerry entered the same codes Richard had used. The light on the control panel flashed green and the floor started vibrating from diesel machinery as the thick blast door began to grind open. In a glance over his shoulder, Jerry saw three enemy soldiers yelling into hand held radios as they ran toward the opening door. Then he saw a small cloud of black smoke belch from the exhaust stacks of both carriers behind them. The mercenaries ran into the open lane which became the tunnel road, each one totally focused on Jerry and the few teens with him, all of whom put up their hands up like they were surrendering. Nate severed the one-sided radio calls with the heavily armored front end of the carrier he was driving, and Ray swerved slightly to ensure the one Nate had missed joined the mess under the tires. The siren had been too loud for the mercenaries to hear the carriers until it was too late.
Jerry ran beside the lead carrier as the teens he was with jumped into the back of it. He saw two enemy soldiers running toward them from inside the dark stretch of tunnel beyond the parking bay and put the rifle to his shoulder. Both enemies fell before he could take a shot.
Behind the two mercenaries, in the soft glow of lanterns and dropped flashlights, the worker they’d been standing over was holding a smoking pistol. She’d been keeping it hidden in her toolbox, waiting for the right opportunity.
The blast door was half-way open when Jerry got to the control terminal and started typing in the first code for closing it. The worker dropped her gun into her tool box, slammed the lid, picked up the whole thing and ran over to skid to a stop beside him. She shoved the end of a small pry bar into a seam on the terminal and popped off both keypads before he could finish. After a second of studying the back of the keypads, she jammed a screwdriver between two wire connections. Another, louder siren started going off and she grinned at Jerry as the half-open blast door screamed to a stop. The whole tunnel shook, dust falling from the ceiling, as the heavy door reversed direction and started closing at twice the speed it had been opening.
The small sign Jerry had noticed on the way into the facility caught his attention again. In the beam of a dropped flashlight, he still couldn’t read the words from this distance, but he knew the faded symbol beside the words well enough that he didn’t have to. Slapping his pockets as he hurried back to the lead carrier, he cursed under his breath for remembering right now that he’d forgotten his phone when he’d rushed out of his apartment at two o’clock this morning.
“Karen!” Neah hollered happily. She pulled the worker into the back of the lead carrier as Jerry caught up with its front cab and climbed into the passenger seat.
Nate slammed the throttle into the floor and revved up to the speed he was capable of handling through the twists and turns of the tunnel. It was a speed that made Jerry drop the rifle so he could put on his seatbelt as quickly as possible and then grab firmly onto both of the nearest roll handles. The gap between the two carriers increased and then – surprisingly – held steady. I didn’t know Ray could drive like this, Jerry thought as Nate drifted the carrier around one of the tighter corners and ripped up the sidewalk railing before straightening out and accelerating toward the next turn.
The rest of the workers they’d passed coming into the facility had been killed. Speeding toward the surface, the carriers burst through the quick barriers and attempted blockades the mercenaries had erected in the way. Gunfire echoed in the tunnel and bullets bounced off the backs and sides of the carriers, unable to pierce through the thick armor.
They skidded to a stop at the end of the tunnel beside a control terminal. Jerry had never been so happy to park at a time when he was at risk for being shot at. He jumped out and ran around to the terminal that controlled the ramp door to outside, his hand shaking when he started typing in the code Richard had used. Nate’s driving was amazing, but those speeds were not meant for inside tunnels.
“I think that’s the fastest I’ve ever made the trip in this tunnel,” Karen said. She was grinning as she jogged to the terminal and stopped beside Jerry. “They might not have changed the codes yet,” she added hopefully.
“Let’s find out.” He pressed the final key stroke. The lights flashed red and nothing happened. “Well shit,” he said.
A day late and a dollar short...
I'm thinking of switching blog updates to Saturdays during the COVID-19 self isolation because I'm noticing, with Friday being a school day, I'm teaching now rather than dropping the kids off at school and then having a bit of time before picking them up again. Saturday is still an open morning, though, so I'm giving it a test run this week. My current plan is to go back to posting on Friday mornings once the kids are back in school, but I guess I'll wait and see. If Saturdays work, I might just keep updates for weekends.
I didn't do much (translate: any) writing this week. My 8-year-old's math moved into fractions and...
Okay, backstory time! She was sick and away from school for basically February. Three distinct sets of symptoms, each with its own fever lasting 3-6 days, and each cumulatively worse due to the work her immune system was doing to get rid of the final dregs of the previous. Of the 16 days she could have possibly gone to school during all of February, she made it in for 7. And a couple of those 7 days were half-days because she was just too tired to stay for the whole day.
She went back, feeling better, starting the first week in March, but had missed nearly all of the last two weeks of multiplication and the first two weeks of division. She'd gotten in about a week and a half of catching up, then schools closed, and she basically did the final two weeks of division at home on fast-forward, with only worksheet, as teachers tried to figure out how to handle this new way of distance learning all of their entire classes.
Please remember, my oldest is 8, this is her first year of doing multiplication and division and she'd missed huge chunks of both. She's a smart kid and has a good teacher, so the plan at the beginning of March was for me to help with catch-up at home, and her teacher to keep teaching ahead at school. And then schools closed mid-March. This past week, the Grade 3 Home Learning introduced fractions, which I'm happy to say my 8-year-old understood the just-introduced basics of pretty quick, but she only has about the same foggy idea about multiplication and division.
This long story made short, my useful thinking hours and writing time was better spent drafting up some math worksheets. (With some worksheets for my 5-year-old, because Just Like Big Sister Syndrome can be strong in our house lol.)
The fun positive? Working on fractions means baking! We have so much chocolate cake in our house right now. :D
That's pretty well all that's happening at our house. Hope you're staying safe and well and at home, too. Happy weekend!
Nate kept a lookout as Ray and Jerry hid the cards in one of the cleaned-out resident rooms. To any device tracking the cards, the three visitors would look like they were sitting in here. It was perfect.
Fuggy checked the fridge hopefully to see if maybe someone had started using it again. Just his luck as of late, it was still empty.
The teen led the retired soldiers through the hallways he knew didn’t have working security cameras and were free of anyone reporting to Richard, explaining as he went that Lex had overheard the pretending English professor doling out all the wrong orders after the attack. Putting together a couple of easy assumptions of the attack happening close enough to the sudden change a few months ago from the English teacher they’d had since they were eight was ample information to realize the attempted abduction hadn’t been stopped at all. Lex had gotten to Kaff and Fuggy, getting them to hide with him, but the rest of the kids had been locked up.
Since sneaking away, the three had focused on surveillance to gather as much intel on the mercenaries as they could – which wasn’t a lot, but it was more than what Ray, Jerry, and Nate had to work with – and then they’d started on a way to get the rest of the kids out of lockup. After freeing the other twenty-three teens and moving into the back of the aviary this morning, it had been half a day of trying to figure out where to go next as the time ticked down on being discovered that all the kids were now missing. Then the three veterans had walked past and Fuggy had won the argument to come to get them.
The walk around the facility to get back to the aviary was long and winding, looping through areas that hadn’t been used in what looked like years. They only came across one work crew, a tired pair in coveralls who were complaining loudly about the long working hours while being held at gun point. While Ray, Nate and Fuggy stayed hidden around the corner, Jerry hurried up to the mercenary and demanded a status update on the system being repaired. The mercenary only frowned.
“Look, it’s taken me over an hour to get away from the other two without making them suspicious. Status update, and be quick about it so they don’t catch up and see us talking,” Jerry said. His bluff worked.
“This panel is almost done. We’ll be moving to hallway seven in about half an hour if either of these two can be trusted,” the mercenary answered, glaring a frown toward the workers bowed heads.
“Hmm,” Jerry said. He rubbed a hand over his cheek and shook his head. “That’s not soon enough.”
“Tell me about it,” the mercenary grumbled. He turned to kick at the nearest worker. Jerry grabbed the rifle barrel and used one foot to sweep the mercenary’s feet out from under him. The surprised mercenary fell backwards hard and lost his grip on his gun. His training saved him from hitting the back of his head on the concrete floor, but not from Jerry slamming the butt of the rifle into the side of his head. Twice. The second hit had a full swing behind it and the mercenary’s skull bones cracked. Jerry knelt down and checked for a pulse, nodding to himself and standing up when he didn’t find one.
“Is he dead?” Ray asked, leading Nate and Fuggy to where the workers were ducking, heads protectively covered by arms and hands.
“If not, make sure of it,” Jerry ordered as he got familiar with the rifle. Nate took a knee and quickly questioned the workers, staying low so they were speaking on the same level. They didn’t know anything new to the small group, and on finding out only the three veterans had come – without backup or a plan – they both slouched into staring at the floor.
Ray crouched and did a quick pat-down search of the body. He found two pistols, giving one each to Nate and Fuggy, and three knives plus a handheld radio which he kept for himself. Once the weapons and spare ammo were handed out, Ray pulled the protective vest off the mercenary and gave it to Fuggy to put it on.
“Can they be trusted,” Jerry asked Fuggy. Jerry was pointing at the workers when Fuggy looked up from fastening on the vest.
“Yeah, of course,” Fuggy said as he smoothed the velcros closed. “Carl and Mica have worked here forever.” The two workers blinked, their heads snapping up to stare at Fuggy with disbelieving surprise when he said their names. They leapt to their feet, Mica bouncing on her toes as she hugged the teen.
“Wreck the panel in ways that can’t be fixed,” Jerry ordered the workers. They turned from the quick reunion and, grinning, ripped apart the work they’d delayed doing for as long as they could before sabotaging even more. “Nate, watch our six. Ray, stay in the middle with Carl and Mica. Fuggy, you’re up here on point with me.”
Ray slit the throat of the dead mercenary, ensuring he would stay dead and not surprise anyone later, and then everyone got in line. Fuggy led the group the rest of the way to the back door of the aviary.
Fuggy tapped twice on the door. After a moment in tense silence, he tapped once more. The door unlocked and cracked open to show one golden eye looking out. The small amount of face around the eye reminded Jerry strongly of looking in a mirror forty years ago. Fuggy shoved the door open wider and Kaff’s ears laid flat back against his head as he glared at the strangers in the hallway.
“Neah’s in charge and she agreed with me,” Fuggy whispered before Kaff could say anything. Kaff stepped away from blocking the door when Fuggy gave him the pistol as a peace offering.
The kids had taken over the back of the aviary. From inside the door, Jerry couldn’t see the nets or hallway through the thick trees and tall, flowering plants. A few dim lights, small and battery powered, lit a short path along the wall and showed groups of teens tucked into the foliage.
Ray and Nate stayed with Kaff by the door as Carl, Mica and Jerry followed Fuggy along the path. Carl and Mica sat down with the largest group of kids, exchanging hugs and silent greetings around the group before emptying their pockets of the meal bars and water bottles they’d hidden that morning in their coveralls. (They’d planned to eat it themselves, but the kids were hungrier.) Jerry’s skin prickled under the unblinking stares of the teenagers as they crept toward the small group of kids in charge.
Fuggy leaned close to Jerry, setting a hand on his shoulder. “This is our CO, Neah,” Fuggy whispered, pointing at the nearest girl. His hand stayed on Jerry’s shoulder and pressed down, so Jerry followed Fuggy into a squat and balanced on the balls of his feet. Fuggy saluted so Jerry followed that, too.
Neah’s hands flicked through a set of complicated patterns, her gaze never breaking contact with Jerry’s until she rolled her eyes and glared at Fuggy.
“Sign language?” Fuggy whispered. Each teen in the group looked surprised when Jerry shook his head to the negative. Neah sighed and – using one gesture of the silent language that Jerry did recognize – made the sign for ‘shit’.
Luckily Carl had a notepad and pen. Nate, Jerry, and Ray worked silently on paper with Neah to come up with an escape plan, which was a task made easier due to the planning the kids had already done. Once the tricky details of Neah’s plan were smoothed out by the veterans’ experience and Jerry’s knowledge of the new access codes, everyone agreed there might be a chance of success.
It was a small chance, but still, it was a chance.
For all those people who didn't have anxiety coming into this but do now, or the routine changes and looming virus are heightening their anxiety, I can only offer a virtual hug. Very Large Historical Events do happen, and we have written history of them because people lived through them. I'm certain everyone, everywhere, who lived during a previous Very Large Historical Event felt exactly the same as we do now, in as many individual and personal ways as we do now. Please be safe, please be kind, and I hope you can enjoy your weekend.
“So we start in the rooms down here for people who died in the attack. The places they lived while they were working so they didn’t always have to go in and out of the base,” Nate said. “People usually cache food. Their favorite chocolate bars, better sandwiches or drinks than they can get from a cafeteria, or a pizza. That kind of stuff.”
Ray and Jerry looked at each other and then back to Nate.
“What? You guys think they put mini fridges and microwaves in hotel rooms as decorations?” Nate asked.
“Can you find the resident rooms?” Jerry asked Ray.
“This layout is a lot like –” Ray stopped, interrupting himself. “This facility is a lot like that other underground place I toured often but can’t tell you about without shooting you after.”
“We don’t need to find the rooms,” Nate said. He was staring toward the computer lab’s hallway door behind Ray and Jerry. Nate swallowed hard. Ray and Jerry spun in place to look the same way and froze.
The teen standing in the door to the hallway looked like Ray, but a few inches taller and his face had the defined cheekbones and wide eyes from the lion’s side of the genetics he’d been made from. His skin was a tawny brown, lighter than Ray’s, and the yellow of his irises was a ring of gold around his wide pupils under the string of temporary lighting in the hallway. He rubbed at the worst of the wrinkles in his tee shirt, showing hands that were blunter and thicker than an average person’s, and no fingernails on any of his fingers. The strangest things about him were his lion-like ears, which sat higher on his head than a Human’s and were twitching to different angles as he listened in all directions.
“I followed you since the aviary,” the teen whispered. “Kaff says we shouldn’t trust anyone, but I argued right now we need to trust somebody,” his added with a shrug. His stomach growled loudly and he pressed his palms against his belly, as if his hands could silence the sound. “And there’s that,” he said. He bit his bottom lip the same way Ray used to when he’d been young and uncertain.
Jerry grabbed the front of the teen’s tee shirt and jerked him into the computer lab. He ducked down behind the nearest desks, nearly throwing the kid, to block them from being seen by anyone from across the gym.
“What are you doing exposing yourself like this?” Jerry hissed in a chastising whisper. “Check the hall for the other two,” he ordered Ray.
“We already raided the abandoned rooms for food and water,” the teen said, relaxing once he was sitting. “We grabbed what we could on the first day but the rooms got cleaned out the next day. We ran out of food yesterday and water this morning. We don’t have any weapons, and it looks like Prof and his goons moved in to wait us out.”
Jerry looked up at Ray when the retired General stepped back into the computer lab. “There’s nobody else in the hallway,” Ray confirmed.
“Who’s Kaff?” Jerry asked. He released the teen’s shirt now he was certain the kid would stay sitting. The teen cocked a grin at him.
“Based on what I’m seeing, he’s obviously your clone,” he told Jerry.
“What’s your name?” Ray asked, crouching down nearby and pointing as if gesturing for Nate to join him to look at something from a different angle. Best to keep up appearances in case anyone was passing by. Thankfully nobody had been looking through the gym when the kid had showed up in the computer lab door.
“Fuggy,” the teen answered. “My full name is DeFuuga, but everyone calls me Fuggy.”
“That means Kaff is short for Karloft,” Nate guessed. Fuggy nodded agreement. “So the last missing kid is Alexander. Making him… Alex, I guess?” Nate asked.
“No, just Lex,” Fuggy said. “So, you guys have a plan, resources, and topside reinforcements to get all of us out of here? We really want to get out of here.”
“Well, we have a few ideas to start making a plan. So about a half out of three,” Nate admitted.
“It’s just us, no reinforcements or extra resources. We’ll come up with a plan once we know more,” Jerry said.
“A plan and getting out is enough,” Fuggy said. “I’m really tired of being stuck down here after this past week.”
“Week? We were told it had been three days since the attack?” Nate asked.
“Well yeah, but we were doing academic exams before that and I’m really done with every part of this whole week,” Fuggy admitted.
“That’s three ‘really’s in three sentences,” Nate pointed out.
“Wow. Lex really is your clone,” Fuggy said.
“Where are Lex and Kaff?” Jerry asked, re-centering the conversation. “And where are the other twenty-three kids being held?”
“Everybody’s in the aviary. We looped the holding cell security feeds to show the last forty-eight hours and got everyone to the aviary last night. Shan and Pinky both got shot, but they can still move okay,” Fuggy explained. “We just can’t get any further because Prof changed all the pass codes after his people took over the base. Plus there’s the new check point inside the parking bay that always has someone standing at it.”
“You know the parking bay?” Ray asked.
“Of course,” Fuggy said. “We do most of our training outside,” he explained.
“Richard said you’d never left the secured areas down here,” Nate said.
“And you believed him?” Fuggy asked, shaking his head at Nate.
“Can you get us back to the aviary unseen?” Jerry asked.
“Probably,” Fuggy answered, looking unsure as his stomach growled loudly again.
“We’ll need somewhere to leave the security pass cards, as well. They’re thick enough to have trackers in them,” Ray said.
“Really?” Jerry asked. He pinched the pass card he’d been given between his thumb and finger. Ray smiled at him.
“Technology kept advancing in spite of you retiring,” Ray joked.
“Why not leave the cards here?” Fuggy asked.
“Too easy to look in here and see we’re not with the cards,” Nate said.
“Okay. I think I know a good spot, but it’s opposite the way we have to go to get to the aviary,” Fuggy said.
“Sounds perfect.” Jerry gestured for Fuggy to lead the way.
We made it! March actually ended and now we've all staggered into April with hope in our hearts and sarcasm on our tongues. And, just to confirm, dark humor is still humor. Use what tools you have for coping, friends.
I'm here to report that this week I learned a lot more about Roblox than I wanted to. I'm glad it's keeping my kids busy during their down time, but the constant updates of what each kid is doing – complete with running monologue as if there was a listening audience – is not something I could have anticipated happening prior to the self-isolation efforts going into effect. The pet rock update was pretty darn cute, though.
Otherwise this week has involved a lot of staying home, making and eating cookies, and keeping the home learning going for the kids. I know I'm not in the majority, but I'm liking this new routine. I mean, let's be honest, I'd like it more if there was someone else figuring out what to eat for dinner every day. Overall, though, things in our house are going pretty well. Hope you have a safe and healthy weekend!
“Why would they report in and then disappear?” Nate asked.
“We don’t know,” Richard admitted. “This is the reason we’ve been trying to find them quickly. Our doctors believe one or each of them may be injured and they’ve reverted to an animal instinct of hiding and healing.”
“I think we need to be alone for this, like they were,” Jerry said, studying the gym. “Is that all right?” he asked Richard. The English Professor looked surprised at the question, and then as if he was struggling to find the right answer.
“I suppose that would be… acceptable,” Richard said slowly.
“Can you show us the hallways the eleven used to circle around, first?” Ray asked. “I agree with Jerry. We’ll have a better chance of getting into the right mindset if we’re left on our own. I just want to see the rest of the escape route before we get started,” he added.
“Yes, of course. Right this way,” Richard said with a tight smile, holding out a hand toward the computer lab.
The hallway was a short loop that had the gym and computer lab at its center, with classrooms, supply closets, the mentioned training weapons storage (now just empty racks), and a few offices that all looked dedicated to teaching staff. This part of the facility looked like a mash-up of an office building and a high school, complete with what had been a row of orange lockers outside the computer lab. It wasn’t a long distance to get back to the door where they’d first entered the gym. At least, it wasn’t long right now, walking without being shot at.
“I’ll be cleaning up my office, right where I showed you,” Richard said. “Let me know as soon as you have any ideas and I can tell you if we’ve already tried it or not. There’s no use in having you run the simulation using tested theories.”
“Thank you,” Ray said. He turned away to start looking closer at the steel wall opposite where the one-way mirrors had been. Free weights had been thrown hard enough to make dents. Jerry looked around the computer lab while Nate studied the damaged walls in the hallway by Richard’s office. Richard was fidgeting with his phone, stretching out his departure.
“If you need anything else, or any more information, then –”
“You’ll be in your office, and we can find you easily,” Ray interrupted Richard smoothly with a friendly smile.
“Exactly,” Richard said. He smiled as if he was trying to politely swallow food he knew would give him Ebola. Not able to think up any more excuses to stay, the professor nodded to himself – grinding his teeth as he walked out of the gym. He passed Nate just outside the door as the Detective was coming back into the gym.
“Hey, guys, I was looking at –”
“Come and tell me what you think of this,” Ray said, interrupting Nate and ignoring that Richard turned back to stand in the doorway. Ray picked up one of the free weights under the dents in the wall. “How hard do you think this was thrown?” Ray asked.
“I don’t know… my best guess without forensics, though? Pretty damn hard,” Nate said.
“Let’s loop through the computer lab and the hallway once more. I want to see if we missed anything the first time,” Jerry called. Ray and Nate walked over to where Jerry was waiting beside the row of computers, leaving Richard hovering in the door frame, alone and out of listening range. The English teacher clenched his hands into fists and stiffly walked away toward his office.
“What do you think we might have missed?” Nate asked, genuine confusion in his tone.
“First we talk about what we already know,” Jerry said quietly.
“Security protocols are dead wrong for a start,” Ray answered. He kept his voice at the same volume as Jerry’s. “And these pass cards might as well be hand-written for how real they are.”
Nate’s eyebrows shot up in surprise and he looked at the pass card clipped onto his shirt. “What about that conversation in the hallway? Where the soldier seemed like she was reporting to an English teacher,” Nate said.
“She was reporting to him,” Ray confirmed. “Also, there’s no reason for an English teacher to run through a military simulation. Especially for the five times he said he’d done. Did either of you notice that Richard kept calling the kids ‘Hybrids’ after making a fuss about how much everyone cared about them?”
“Oh yeah, that was about the tenth thing wrong about him, right after a rumpled jacket over pressed pants and shirt,” Jerry said. “Now that we’ve agreed Richard is part of the problem, possibly the leader of it if how everyone with rifles is treating him, we need to find those missing kids before he does. At least we can plan on them being trained past the usual army basics. First thing when you’re cut off in a hostile environment is to find safe cover. Second is to find supplies. Third is to find a viable escape.” Jerry ticked off the points on his fingers as he counted them.
“And when you can’t escape, you do whatever you have to for making sure you don’t get found. Like sabotaging the security systems that keep getting fixed,” Nate said. “You two notice nobody told us when or how we go home?”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s part of anyone’s plan but ours,” Jerry said. “We’re only supposed to find those missing kids like the good soldiers we used to be. Then we’re disposable.”
“You know, after all these years, I still don’t miss black ops,” Ray said. “Don’t get me wrong, you were a good commanding officer, I just like that now I know I get to go home after work.”
“Guys, I never did black ops,” Nate admitted.
“Says the Detective who’s been undercover for two years,” Jerry said. A grin pulled at one side of his mouth.
“Point taken,” Nate agreed, and then sighed heavily as his eyes traced over the uneven line of bullet holes above the computer monitors, and two spotted trails in the carpet leading darkly back into the gym. “So, because this base is occupied by the enemy, we’re committing some major treason if we actually help them locate our missing kids. Also, they’re obviously some kind of mercenary force and will kill us if we don’t play along. What do we do?”
“We find those three kids and they show us where the other twenty-three are being held. I think their abilities plus our experience should be enough to get us all out of here,” Jerry said.
“Except every closed door between here and outside the fence is pass code protected,” Nate said, his shoulders slumping. Ray laughed quietly and Jerry grinned.
“Don’t worry about the codes. I’ve got a good memory for that kind of thing,” Jerry said, Ray nodding agreement.
“So, we have the codes to get in and out, and we can assume everyone but the teenagers are trying to kill us,” Ray said, his face cracking a grin. “Pretend the teenagers are the hostile force and that sounds like a normal spring break at my house.”
Nate laughed. “That sentence makes me glad I never had kids,” he said. “At least, ones I knew about,” he added, sweeping an arm to encompass the computer lab and gym. “Where do you think we should start looking?”
“Their dorms and any of the so-called secured areas will be under guard,” said Ray. “As will any common areas like the mess hall, training rooms, or mess storage and coolers. Anywhere those three could get food or weapons would be watched closely, but being teenagers I’d bet they looked for food first and a place to sleep second.”
“So we just need to figure out where they could get three days’ worth of food and water without being seen,” Jerry noted. “Then we’ll look around for a safe place where they’d be able to sleep.”
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