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.
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“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.
A blog with quick updates about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and where I can vent my short stories weekly for everyone to read for free!