Hybrids: Chapter 8
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.
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A weekly blog updating on Fridays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!