Copyright April, 2016 John D. Boyden
Published by John D. Boyden at Shakespir
“The Ladder to Where” series
Shakespir Edition License Notes
This ebook is free and may be given away to other people. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to your favorite ebook retailer to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead in any real or imagined world is purely coincidental. Historical personages, places, and events are referenced, used, and changed as needed for the purposes of the story.
I dedicate my fifth book’s publication to my wife, Melanie, four grown kids, my grandchildren, friends who have provided critiques on my writing, and our newest dog, Butterscotch, who keeps me company throughout my writing, editing, and formatting.
This ebook is the fifth publication by (CVN) Collected Virtual News Publications on Shakespir. Formatting and cover by CVN Studios, both are owned by the author, John D. Boyden. Our beautiful cover page image was created by SUNBIRD on Facebook. A friend of mine named Max, found it. SUNBIRD was asked for permission to use it and gave me permission freely, telling me there was no need to credit them. Their fabulous art certainly merits this thank you to SUNBIRD!
Thank you all for your love and support.
Table of Contents
About the Author
Connect with John D. Boyden
Please download volume one. It is free.In volume one you will discover how Jake’s comfortable life was disrupted, why both Jake and William are on the run and who their enemies are.
Black skies, pouring rain. Wind swirling. William Allison and Jake Granger huddled beside their shot up rental, a sky-blue Renault.
“Damn. Another ambush. Someone’s got our number, Jake.”
“And a hell of lot more than that. I’d be happier if they would just phone.” Jake snarled and he bandaged his own bleeding leg with shaking hands.
“Yeah.They could have phoned. It woudda saved ammo.” William caught an attacker running between carswith two bullets. “Who knew we would be here?”
“Only Center. They got my message yesterday.”
“We’ve got a mole?” William nailed another attacker with a single snap-shot.
“Looks like it.”
“Can we get outta here? This car ain’t gonna run.”
“I hope so.” I made the call. Now we wait and try to survive until help arrives.” Jake slid over to William on his knees and slapped a bandage on a bloody right shoulder. The back side was worse. Jake covered it with a second bandage. They weren’t going down easy. Control would pay. Williamsmiled through the pain and offered Jake a sardonic “Oh gee, ouch” for his efforts to patch the wound. William took a breath, looked around for his next target. At least ten more attackers were out there in the dark.
“Where is the next stop our schedule?
“Some place not on our schedule.”
“Sounds good to me. Where are we headed?”
Then they heard the missile screeching high above them.
With a boom and a thud, Jake hit the floor. It woke him up. “That was too real.” He considered the dream. Was it prescience, déjà vu, or a dream. He wasn’t sure. He settled for dream. It was easier to handle.
The cool floor helped Jake decide it was time to get up.That dream would bother and nag at him for a long time. The reality of theday permitted the two of them to enjoy a second attack free day in their ranch style safe house. Except for the dreams Jake kept having. Every night brought a few more dreams. Dreams were not as bad as the real experiences. He thought the dreams were almost a rest from their recent life among the hunted. Almost.
Jake’s hands shook as he reached for a cigarette. The nicotine calmed him. Whether it really did or not, He didn’t care. He puffed the stick and figured his death would come from other sources. Irrepressible humor sent his mind wandering over dozens of serious and not so serious issues while he smoked.
Their new home included a roomy front living room with cutting edge tech sprawling throughout the room and house. Two desktops rested in front of large monitors and a full wall screen. Jake and William reveled in the firm, yet comfortable, dark blue cloth covered couch which also faced the large screen set on the wall. The redwood end tables and functional lamps all worked well. Their high tech, family style setting was comfortable enough.
Feeling exposed kept them tense. Being observed constantly, did that to a body. Stress and urgency surrounded them. They were stuck in place. Events and disclosures threw them each time a new one came along. It was only a matter of time until one or both of the buddies went off that emotional edge. Fight or Flight. They wanted to do both. They would.
The unknown constantly beckoned, classhing with the known. They had conversations with their own Center director, Jonas, and a shocking interview from another Center claiming it was from fifty years in the future. Ishmael, says he is trying to help them. Other people in that future Center were not shown. Ismael says he’s trying to prevent catastrophe and wants to use Center 2 and two guys buried in the middle of a mountain to do it.
Neither Jake or William talked about mission specifics once they’d found out everything was recorded. It wasn’t too hard. They didn’t know much. Most of their attention was on paperwork. It wasn’t what William wanted to do, but it was all they had.
Each of their two bedrooms were fully stocked with new clothes and bed linens, fresh from one of the Center’s storehouses. Center was dedicated to providing their agents the best supplies and accommodations available. Center expected a lot from their employees and wanted to ensure they felt valued. Jake was a new employee, learning on the job. William, an old hand.
They each had their own bathroom and shower. Jake had the room on the right, down the hall from thekitchen. William, the room on the left, across from Jake’s. The kitchen was large, modern, and had a huge refrigerator/freezer combination. It was still nearly filled with food. Three days of continuous eating didn’t deplete it. Both did their best to constantly graze when they weren’t working on the data analysis. Eating helped block the stress. Besides, both loved eating. William exercised. Jake didn’t.
Jake kept hold of the thought of food to come while he took a shower. As he enjoyed the hot stream of water, he considered the false doors of their abode and the only one he knew worked.
The back door, at the end of the hall, was locked. Was it really was a door? The front door was locked too. No keys were provided. They didn’t know if it was a real door, either. They were told to leave the doors alone. They did use a third inside door tucked neatly next to the built in electric fireplace. Inside that door was a fully stocked laundry room. The electronic brain for the house was on the wall. Jake used the instruction book to adjust the controls of their new home. William ignored the controls, unless Jake had a question. He’d used safe house brains before. The controls were basic to Center safe houses. William had traveled through many safe houses over the past years.
Jake entered the silent kitchen, walked to the computer, booted it up, and printed a few documents. He shut it down, and went back to bed. It was too early for breakfast. He didn’t want to cook, either. He hoped another hour of sleep might help.
The rooms were dark and quiet. All the computer screens black and waiting. The computers off. Jake thought of the their conversation from the day before, as he crawled back in bed and plumped his pillow.
“Poor Jonas“Jake said to William, rubbing his temple.
“That could be said of us too,” wryly commented William. “You got another headache?”
“I do. They come and go. This is the fifth one since we relocated here.”
“You gonna be OK?”
“Probably. What do you think of this future Center craziness?”
“If it isn’t a con, the future is going to try to tell us what to do.”
“Yes, I suppose so. If they tell us how to do it,we’ve entered a brave new world!”
“I hope your brave new world bears no resemblance to Huxley’s version.”
“Oh, it does.” Jake said with a laugh. “The basics are in place.Aldous did write his book back in 1931, even though he set it for more than five hundred years in our future. The world is different than he thought it would be.”
“Yeah, Jake. Different, but not different. Keep in mind, the more things change, the more they stay the same. We do have some of the technology Huxley feared. And we are dealing with it as badly as he expected. Governments are controlling education, and our news choices are screwier as they attempt to evade or exert control over our understanding of the world. The lies, misreads, and constant flow of errors aren’t helping. And don’t forget advertising. Never forget that demon. The insidious conditioning of populations around the world is growing. It is affecting us daily too, even with Center fighting it.”
“Yes, there are plenty of problems to follow. More than any person can comprehend. I have to believe the future offers hope. Our unreachable star is out there. We will have to work to get there. If I’m wrong, well, IF I’m wrong, we just stepped off into the abyss.”
“Another abyss? I thought we were falling into the same old abyss we both know and love,” William chuckled. His eyes hardened. “Every one of our actions is a reaction. Every place we go is dictated by some one else. Hell, every word we say is recorded by these two centers. This has got to change.We have to change the dynamics. We have to take the fight to our foes.”
“True. And we will. Our situation is about to change. There is hope there too, William. I believe it. We’ve gotta hang onto the hope.” He rubbed his face and head with both hands. I’ve gotta hang on to hope! Right now that’s almost all that we have.”
“Yeah. I hate waiting too. We need more than hope. We need action.”
Jake agreed, pointing out, “We do have a little more than hope, with our own thought patterns and mixed perceptions. Fortunately thought patterns aren’t conditioned in this generation, yet. They will be, if things continue in the direction they are moving.That conditioning is the critical one in the dangerous pattern Huxley predicted. I’d say we have about twenty years before government control wins.”
“Ever the optimist, huh. Screw hope. Take the battle to the enemy. That’s my position.” He paused and asked “Do ya think the future will tell us if our future has changed?”
“No bets on that. We’ve already seen how the slightest verbal mentions from the future about our own future affects the probability tree. I don’t think they can tell us what, where, or give specifics. Optimism is my weapon of choice. We may be monitored, but no one has told us what we can or cannot say to each other. Our individual actions are still fluid, depending on the needs we see within any single situation. There are a few countries in the world dictating both words and actions. It is a frightful, almost universal goal of government. It is a temptation for any government. Everything is turned into symbols and political correctness, proper behavior, or a crime when that happens.”
“Ain’t that the truth, Jake. Pessimism is my counter to your Pollyanna attitude. I’m concerned the future will try to tell us what we have to do. And how we have to do it. I refuse to be controlled. Informed and suggested is ok. Controlled is unacceptable. So what’s next?”
“Same old, same old, big buddy. We have to analyze the patterns and the risks while we weigh our understanding of the world’s needs and the future. Our actions depend on our understanding. The results of this study will help determine our next steps. I do wish we had the full picture, though. Maybe we will get more from Ishmael, but I don’t expect it. Whatever he gives us will have to be general.”
Jake returned to expressing his thoughts on Huxley. "We only have to look around our world." He laughed at William's here we go again expression. "Yeah," Jake added, "I've said that more than once. This is an daily battle that has gone on as long as the human race has existed. Our thoughts are influenced by what we see, hear, and the events we experience, -also those we hear about. Our own patterns of thought influence us in ways we don't understand. Yet. Those thoughts aren't controlled by others. They are influenced. Or can be. What we have to do is clear to me. We have to confront our biggest problems, and give each one our best shot. We are not capable of seeing everything and we fail to understand what little we are seeing."
William snorted. “Yeah, nothing new there. How can it get better? The way I see it is we plow forward. We will never see it all. We can’t even figure out where and how we are mostly influenced and manipulated by others. Sometimes it is clear, most of the time, not. We can only use our own understanding of what’s happening to move forward. We always want and need more information. Then it becomes too much to process. I think-”
“And patterns!” Jake interrupted. “We can see more through patterns. It is not a perfect method, mind you, but patterns do help us. It is our data that is the key for the mathematical formula. We may have time to analyze all of that within our current assignment, and we just might figure out one or two ways to deal with some, maybe even, most of those dangerous control behaviors. We just have to refine that key as far as possible. Think of this as a working vacation. After all, we haven’t had to move in a couple of days, or go anywhere. That is the one unexpected luxury we have, after last week. Personally, I’m glad of the rest. And, given our new resources from the future, we should get more notice before the next attack.”
“Should. Uh huh. Right Jake. I’ll believe that when it happens. Until then, I think we use what we have. Ok, little buddy?”
“Ok, big buddy. Let’s get to analyzing.”
“You know I hate that, right?”
“Yup. Guns and bombs are your thing. You’re just a simple man.”
Jake Granger aka Joaquin Jose Maria Granger Aguirre and William “The Tech” Allison were encouraged to think they are mostly safe. Or at least safer. That would change over the next days.
“Sigrid, is your team ready to go after your requested two targets?”
“Yes,” He said glowering. “Our two newly added team members are at minimal efficiency.”
“It doesn’t sound like you are ready. Do you recommend we proceed with an alternate team?”
“No dammit. I want to get those two myself. Have you found them?”
“Very well. You have been approved. We have not located them yet. We do have a recruited asset in place. We finally have that long awaited access to Center. We expect our first significant communication in one week or less.”
“That will be impressive. Congratulations on cracking Center. That should give me another week of training. I will have my team ready for when I have a location to attack.”
“Understood. Are you positioned for an alternate mission?”
“If needed.” Sigrid was cautious. “What do you have in mind?”
“We have six teams for you to coordinate. We are going to take over another opposition group. We are looking at two days prep and one day to complete the mission. The other teams will consolidateand take care of the usual clean up.”
“Sounds doable. Give me the details.”
THE HOME TEAM
Jonas worried as he shut down Center 2. He called for an immediate full staffing. The Center needed all the possible information they could gather, faster than they could gather it. They would double check records and verify what they could from the Center 1 transmissions. What a shock. The Center from the future contacted them. And wanted information.
Jonas believed Center 1 should have the information. He realized all kinds of glitches occurred with any operation, but something still felt wrong about this whole situation. Center 1 should have more information available than they did. What are they not telling us, Jonas intuited there was more than one gap in what they were told. Perhaps we will find out in the next broadcast, he thought. There were a lot of possibilities to discuss. With a lot of people.
Emergency meetings dominated the next twelve hours. Jonas hurried to face to face meetings and held others over video and holograph.Reluctantly he assigned other staff to similar meetings. Summary reports and logs flowed in continually. The analysts were earning their overtime pay reviewing and consolidating data for Center 2. They were inundated with data. Updating everyone was impossible. They could only make the effort. Data would get missed or overlooked. Jonas and his own Center staff could not effectively evaluate everything that came in for themselves. They had to rely on their workers.
Center 1 was busy too. Ishmael aka Mael, aka Mael 442cx watched Jake and William as he closed down the transmission from Center 1 to Center 2 and the link to his key two players. Reception was now passive. Everything those two did would continue to be recorded and studied, and by both centers, he knew. His staff, experienced with the floods of data, would do a good job.
Center 2 would not figure out that Mael kept the monitoring link to their Center open too. He frowned, distracted by one fleeting fear. Were there others watching Jake too? Could they see what was happening? Could they record what the Centers recorded? He shook his head in denial. Impossible, he thought. Still, he did worry about it. What if he was wrong and other links existed? He had to believe Center 2 would detect the links, or that Center 1 would with the additional tools Mael had at his disposal. So far no surprises had surfaced.
“Why did you lie to them, Mael?”
“What choice did I have, Agnes? It is bad enough that they believe we are fifty years in their future. If they knew the truth-” He shrugged, unwilling to finish his thought. “Call the second shift in early. We will need sleep and at least three days to analyze what we have. We have to be certain before we move onto our second step with Center 2. Announcing our plan is going to be tricky. With all that is at stake here, there is no more room for hesitation in this timeline. Or error.”
“Yes, Mael. I understand. But none of our attempts have worked over the past centuries. Why do you think this one will?”
“Because it has to. We’ll test the effects of communications. We have to every time, but we must make this work. I’m certain we have found the right two people who can correct the situation.”
“What if you are wrong? Every probability treecomes back to them.”
“Then our last chance to save Earth is finished. Humans on Earth will be dead. We will cease to exist here, and never know. The rest of humanity, spread among the stars, will be wiped out in only a few short years. This is our last chance. We have to succeed.”
“Why, Mael? We’ve explored this situation for centuries and made dozens of attempts to change our present. What makes this one so different?”
“Simply the fact that we could bumble into one or more of those failed past attempts and create an interactive effect that could speed our end. We’ve made too many attempts. The count shows we’ve killed off Jake and William twelve times. The last time they ceased to even exist. We could not find any record of them. I still don’t understand that one. We were lucky to find them again. I can’t even tell you the total number of missed opportunities, we’ve blown. We have a great record of identifying the perfect moment after we cannot use it.”
“Couldn’t that bumbling help this time?”
“Not according to the probabilities.”
Mael was reviewing the preparations to send a privacy device to Jake when a very unexpected call came in. He listened.
THE HOME TEAM
The sound of light rain pit-patted The SUV as they huddled in silence inside. They were parked at a control safe house preparing for an emergency rescue mission. Over the past several days six Center teams were killed. Center in North America was exposed and short on manpower. Jake and William were drafted at the last minute with a changed assignment.
They fingered their automatic weapons, peering through the dark at each side of the single glowing light above the faded orange metal door in the middle of a long brick building with no windows.
The door light blinked once and went out. They silently exited the vehicle at that expected signal from their inside person. They were prepared to rush the building as soon as the door opened. They edged toward the sides of the single door. The light went on again.
A voice from a distance called to them. Jake’s voice. William recognized it at once. Jake yelled. “Trap, run.”
Day 3 was one of those days. Jake got up. Another bad dream. Two hours of sleep. They were getting downright scary. This one was puzzling too. How was I in two places at once? He thought he had shook it off the strangeness. His mouth tasted horrible. The next several actions showed him he was lying to himself. Again.
He cut himself shaving, shot a blurb of toothpaste past his toothbrush, splashing it on the mirror. He cleaned it up. Things were almost normal.Exiting the bathroom, he tripped over his feet. His shoulder struck the door jamb hard, twisting him into a face slap with the door, before he dive bombed the floor. His head hurt. A fleeting fearful thought of aneurysm jumped out of his head when his head bounced off the floor tiles. The sounds, the thumps of him hitting the wall, then flopping to the floor, caused William to yell,“You all right?”
Cursing and growling to himself, about himself, Jake broke from his patterned routine of self bitching, to yell back,“No, I’m dead.”
Reaching the kitchen, William was already eating.“Bacon is on the stove. Should be crispy enough for you. Fix yourself some eggs and join me.”
Flushed and still growling, Jake did. He was thinking wryly about another day of joy in paradise. But didn’t say it. His mouth was turned down.
William spoke through a mouth full of bacon. “You look angry.”
“Get over it. You’ve lots to do today.”
“More than you know.“Jake gently turned over a slightly burned egg with distaste. Over his shoulder he offered his first brief smile of the morning. “You’re going to be busy too.”
“Yup. You’re analyzing data.”
“On what? Oh. We probably shouldn’t talk about it should we?”
“We have to.We can talk, in general.I want you to add any specific variables the research has missed.”
“Damn. More paperwork. I hate that. You know that you’re ruining my day, again, right?”
“Yup. I know.”
“I wonder what else is going to go wrong.” William shook his head and looked up to the ceiling, as if imploring the Universe to offer a sign. The lights flickered and went off.
William cheered. “Yippee, no data! This is good.”
Emergency lights came on. Jake handed him several papers. “It’s all printed out.” He gave William another brief smile before adding “Not good if it means we’re gonna get attacked.” The normal lights returned.
Center broadcast through the ear plugs: “No disaster. A tech turned off the wrong switch. No signs any attack is pending.”
“No attack. Good news.“I’ll grab my gun anyway.” The sudden thought and action made William feel better.
Breakfast finished, Jake and William sat down on the couch. They wondered aloud to each other what the Centers would come up with after the startling revelations from Center 1 on Day 2. It boggled Jake’s mind that they were in touch with two centers and one was fifty years in the future. He was aware he should be used to the sudden changes by now.There were enough of them. Change was constant, and a bother. The thought brought an image of Winnie the Pooh. Jake went to his computer desk. William stayed on the couch, reading.
They concentrated on their ongoing study of the data from their hard copies. Jake made copious notes in silence. William jotted down a word here and there on his copy. After an hour, William got up, stretched and headed to the kitchen.
Jake saw him head out. He sat up, stretching a little himself. He set his pen down and looked at the summary he was editing.He felt strange. He couldn’t identify or quantify it. Was it hunger? What was it? Bathroom. No, he considered. It does feels like a need, he thought. A basic need. But what? Jake looked at the blank HDTV. His thoughts turned further inward.
William strolled into the TV room munching on a prime rib sandwich. He lovingly carried a fragrant steamingbowl of chili in his other hand. He asked Jake “How are the calculations coming?” There was no response.
The TV room was empty. He shrugged, set the bowl and sandwich down beside his work and turned the HDTV on. He watched the soap opera popularly known as the daily news. Every day more innocents were killed in an increasing variety of bizarre ways. Every week there were new scandals. Business, politics, or a family scandal.Any kind of organization or group of people was vulnerable to disruption. Some days it felt like they were all represented. The news spread doubts, betrayals, truth, lies and misconceptions with equal standing.
What a crazy world, William thought. His head moved in disgust and denial. The news never talked about what was really going on. That thought brought a sense of urgency. He shook it off. No news organization knew about the secret war for the future of the world. Not yet. Center would have their own scattered details on the latest attacks within thirty minutes. The rest of the world saw bits and pieces like an old time strip show, but no one could put the pieces together for a full-on frontal view.It’s probably for the best, he nodded to himself.
When the news moved on to the multiple problems popping up in the sports world, William shut the TV off. William said “no” aloud as he turned it off. Sport is the battle to win, lose, or draw. That is what gets his attention. The individual performances of athletes and teams should be the focus. Not their off field problems. Spare me governance, he said to himself.
William munched on his chili and sandwich in the peaceful silence of the room. After washing up his dishes, William returned to his calculations with more determination than was usual. Moments later he was surprised when Jake asked, “How are your numbers coming?”
“Pretty good. Yours?”
“An hour, maybe three, and I’ll be done.”
“Great!” William laughed to himself as he tossed Jake one of his own lines. “Focus. Get back to work.” Jake was constantly telling him to focus and get to work. He eyed Jake in the moment he said it, noting something seemed different about Jake. He couldn’t quite pin it down. He seemed more solid, more decisive. More together. Had he lost weight? Was his look a little harder than usual? He dismissed his observations as just a weird perception, listening for Jake’s response.
William was disappointed in the short answer, but they both returned to their work.
The queasy strangeness in his head slid through him several times through the day. He called them headaches. They were happening more often this week than he experienced in past years.The dreams seemed eerily real too. Over the years Jake had faced several less intense experiences. They were like this. Never had they reached this level of intensity. He never told anyone. The episodes had passed quickly with no lingering effect, except to his memory. Nothing showed up in annual examinations to pose concern. He couldn’t pin point any reason.
This time it was different. Jake senseda second shift accompanying the pain. A funny, frizzy, internal shift took place. It was like being dizzy, but not. His head did hurt. It was the slight off kilter sensation that bothered him. A doctor might have diagnosed a small stroke or ordered bed rest and more specialized studies. The doctor would have been wrong. This wasn’t disease related, or a medical “incident”. It was a new awareness.
The previously unnoticed fog firmly lodged in a recess within Jake’s brain lifted one, tiny, gauzy layer, causing him to say “Good morning, Mael.” Jake knew a lot more as he said that simple greeting. A golden flow of information threads with strange new data slithered into his brain. More important to him, he knew there was more information still hiding within that recess. Could he hold onto any of it? It was damned useful intel.
[/0137219/AZZ4?] A final set of eyes, not human, watched the unit’s notice appear with disbelief.
Other links reacted to the blip. They were the very first ones cut off. Although previously unnoticed, invisible, never discovered, or unrecorded by either of the Centers. Only one source knew. This source was unknown to all the other feeds. The newly identified and recorded watcher sign-off variations included:
Disconnected – Connected
feed disrupted – feed returned
ERROR – ERROR FIXED
Connection lost. Attempting to re-establish connection – Connection re-established
Notices of a computer glitch came back from the tap-taps flying across computers for the few computer operators who saw the message in real time. Others would read the brief notices when they checked on the daily recordings. This tiny blip in communications lasted only three nano seconds or 1.0000E-9 seconds. An eye would not notice. Computers could and did catch it, if the Operating System allowed it to report. A brief exploration for more data led nowhere. Longer searches would not find enough to help them understand what happened. It was just a glitch. Glitches happened all the time.
Contact was re-established to all the watching computers. They would continue to watch Jake and William working silently on their analysis, with only brief, but general interactions related to the data they were working on. What they saw and recorded was far different from what was happening in real time.
In real time, Jake’s headache returned. The pulsing and pounding scared him. It was bad. He got up holding his head in both hands swaying.
“What’s wrong?” William was immediately at his side and he caught Jake as he fell.Jake sputtered a choking laugh, “I got what I’ll ask for.” Then Jake collapsed. William eased him to the floor with a perplexed “Huh”?
“The silencing device. God this hurts.” Jake tried to get up, but flopped back down into his seat. In moments the pain faded. “All better.” Jake did look better. Clear eyed,William’s intent gaze told him. William was still in the dark about what just happened.
“We can really talk now, William.”
“How do you know that?”
That's a great question. I'm glad you asked. You won't like the answer. The only answer I have is- I know. The silencing device is here.I feel it. I sense it. My mind tells me it is just you, me, and the device. I can't explain it beyond that. How about we treat it as fact, ok?"
“Device? Okay, Jake. I’ll go with you on this one. You know I’d prefer verification. If you’re wrong it could get bad.”
“I’m not wrong. Sadly, I only have the limited comprehension I have. My understanding of all the craziness going on is almost as incomplete as yours. You do a lot better with it than I do.I guess we are both operating on trust.” Jake took a moment to think.“Did you feel like we’ve been watched by too many people?”
“It’s better now. We are still being watched, but there is only one watcher now. He, she, or it is on our side.”
“Is that better? Who the hell is watching us? How the hell do you know this watcher has our back? Jeez, this is going way bizarre. We damn well need a lot of someones on our side, so you’d better be right.”
“Shhh. Our Center watchers will return in a moment. They need to be part of this upcoming conversation. A bunch of other watchers will also see this. They shouldn’t, but – here we go.”
The computers booted up on their own. All the monitors flared to life, including the huge full wall HDTV. William and Jake looked up from their hard copy analysis, hearing everything turn on. They would continue to develop the overview data construction when they found time.
“Here we go again” William blew out a deep breath of irritation. “Always with the interruptions.”
“Of course. That’s how the world works. Our world, anyway.”
“Is our world working? Not very well, in my opinion. The concept is an oxymoron.” William grumped. Jake’s lips curved up, eyes crinkling.
“Good morning, gentlemen. We gave you two a few extra hours while we consulted with Center 2. Now we are ready to proceed.”
William tossed a quick questioning glance at Jake, who winked back, smoothing his face into an impassive mask. He wanted to laugh. The headache finally and completely departed. The fuzziness faded and the revealed insights stayed with him. This new bit of knowledge filled his mind with unexpected ideas and new information. All of the new information was crowding into Jake’s conscious mind demanding attention. He was amazed. His mental state calmly organized the unfamiliar data, like a routine study he’d completed before. He realized their data analysis did offer some additional interesting possibilities on .cloaking too. He noted that idly, then wondered how he knew. He shrugged it off. He knew, that had to be enough.“Hello Mael”
Ishmael’s eyes widened. He refused to allow the shock of hearing his real name cross his face. A guess, he wondered?He schooled his face to show no other reaction beyond a slight smile. Center 1 would have discussions after this contact. Something in the first training?
“Today we discuss next steps. Center 2 is monitoring, as we are. They will only speak to ask additional questions or to respond to any questions you have for them. This meeting is for you two, and it will serve to keep the other Center up to date. Everybody has reviewed the tapes we sent you yesterday. We’ve confirmed that. The Delvin and Arthur saga is being investigated. Do you have any questions about the Control room we presented to you?”
Jake hid his growing anger. He did not like being lied to. A few more salient facts rose to the surface of his mind from that fuzzy layer he felt, recognized, but did not understand. His face did not reflect it in his casual chosen words. “Not at this time, Mael.”
William proffered a slow nod of agreement with Jake.
“Good. Then we can proceed. Center 2 has not found Delvin yet. That does not affect our plan.”
“It never did, did it Mael?” William’s head swiveled to Jake, his mouth open.
Ismael grimaced. He looked stressed. He did not realize he was sweating at that moment or what he was revealing. He would after the replay. “No Jake, it really didn’t, it is important, although – can we discuss that later?”
“Certainly, “ Jake replied, his voice returning to an almost cheerful note. He noticed the bead of sweat. “Proceed with your plan.”
Ishmael’s posture relaxed. He forced his posture to change. He wiped his damp forehead with a pass of his hand. Not a guess then. How much did Jake know? More to the point, how did Jake know? Residual memory? “This is our six point plan at this moment. Each step holds many variables subjecting it to instant transformation to any of the thirty other high probability rankings we have identified within each step.
“First, we need to deal with the opposition groups. I’m afraid you have one or more assignments there.
Second, we need to consolidate and rebuild resources.
Third, we-” A muted voice at Center 1 interrupted Ishmael. He paused, looking off screen. “I’m advised that we should not expand into the third part of the plan.”
Jake interjected. “Agnes is right. The third step should not be mentioned until after we have completed the first two steps. And yes. I know we have an assignment. I know what it is, too. Thank you for the note. We have loads of time to accomplish that.” To further mislead all the extra listeners, he now knew were listening and watching, several were peeking in from, and through, Center 2, he added, “We have a number of paperwork issues to accomplish before we can attempt anything else. Finishing that data analysis is our next step. It will take another week.” Jake suspected Center 1 might have extra watchers too.
Ishmael partially understood. He thought he knew what Jake was saying. He was unsure why Jake was distorting the facts and changing the conversation. It wasn’t true. The timeline was very short, and probabilities suggested it was growing shorter, faster than expected.
William was alarmed. He stood up. Ishmael told him to sit down, and spoke directly to Jake. “Thank you for your consideration and perspicacity, Jake. Please hold those time issue details to yourself.”
They looked into each others eyes, understanding each other more clearly than either expected.
Center 2 director Jonas was more than startled.He scribbled rapid notes. Ishmael hadn’t told him about any assignment for his team. And what the hell was Jake saying. He needed to see Jake immediately. He needed explanations. This was going beyond impossible. He restrained himself. It was hard to sit still. He was angry. He’d been flatly told not to interrupt the conversation for any reason. He listened in disbelief when Ismael told the boys, he “consulted with Center 2.” If that short set of directives was a consultation, it was one-sided. He provided the info requested and was politely requested to watch, but not respond or initiate any interruption, unless asked a question.
“I have to, Mael. We have both already seen the effects of too much information from the future affecting events in our own timeline.”
“Yes, we have.” Mael added, “We’ve seen too much interference. I apologize for Center 1. We are new at this.”
Jake laughed easily, in command. “Not as new as you are pretending. However, that is unimportant. We do have a need here. There may be a solution you can arrange.” Jake received an emergency note from Center 2. He didn’t glanced at it, he already knew what it said. His earphone buzzed. An intervening voice asked if he wanted to activate the ear bud. He did, and mentally sent a message to Center 2 that became a verbal “not now.” He did not wonder how he knew how to do that. He didn’t concern himself with this new intervening voice step. It felt natural.
“What would that be?” Mael asked, thrown off balance again, unaware of the Center 2 interruption. Jake realized he alone controlled the communications. He proceeded to make the request already completed. It had to be requested, didn’t it?
“William and I have to converse and continue our work without being recorded by either one of the Centers. Is that possible?”
“Not being recorded – I didn’t expect – I agree Jake. You continually surprise me.” He thought through what he needed to say. “Yes, I think so. I’ll send you our ideas through a potentially useful device. We will prepare it immediately after we sign off. It should be there momentarily. I guess we are done?”
“Yes we are done for now. Glad you will help. I know you will need several days of continual work to prepare that device. Thank you.” Jake said. “Home Team out.”
“Center 1 out.”
Center 2 flashed on. “Jake? What is happening?”
“Later Jonas. I’ll contact you very soon. Wait for my messages.” Jake was not distracted. He was energized and hyperaware.
“We’re unrecorded again, William. Our visitors are all shut down. I hope I said what was supposed to be said.”
“Supposed to? Hoped? What the hell is going on Jake?” William demanded.
“We are going to have a nice long chat and get out of here, William.”
William sat up straight with wide eyes and growing enthusiasm.
“After we finish the data. I was telling the truth about that step. I only lied about the amount of time it will take.”
William’s eyes dimmed and his posture slumped. Jake laughed.
“Come on.” Jake encouraged. “Let’s finish our analysis. We are closer to finishing it than I knew.My vision of the limited data we have is razor sharp right now. I have never seen patterns this clearly before. I have to use what I know. I have no certainty that this awareness will last long enough to finish. I hope our efforts now will help later on.Trust me. Let’s get to work.”
William went into the kitchen. He sat down at the kitchen table. The papers were already spread out there. He wondered when Jake had done that. He remembered being handed the papers. He sure didn’t spread them out. He grimaced,pulled the papers back together and began going through them from page 1. He focused.
In the living room Jake was looking at the ceiling. He appeared in idle thought. He wasn’t. He was having another earbud sub-vocalized conversation with Mael.
William finished his part of the edit in an hour. He handed the six pages to Jake. “Here is the little I could add to the your dynamics of war and its preparation and execution. All the basic forms of battle were covered. How did you get all those local police actions categorized? That looked really good. I added a small section on individual and small group confrontation. It was not even conceptualized in the rest of the doc.”
“Thanks for your additions to this study. It all helps. The Center gathered the police actions for me. Great data. I’ve filled in several sectors that are completely new to the math part.”
“Now can I get ready to leave?”
Jake grinned. “Yup, and thanks. We can leave in less than three hours. Backpacks only. Don’t worry about additional guns. What you have is enough.” Jake spent an hour on William’s summary, nodding and making notes, adding more symbols to the single page of calculations. Jake carefully stacked the final two hundred and fifty pages that remained of his study summary and began his final review. Later adjustments to the mathematical formulas at the end of the document should give them what was needed.
Two hours later, Jake hollered. “Done!”
William trotted in carrying two backpacks. He tossed the black one to Jake “I had time to pack yours too. Want a steak before we go?”
Two days of preparation gave Sigrid some minimal satisfaction. Tomorrow would be go day. The seven teams of mercenaries were coming together. Team coordination and communication gradually improved from trial to trial. Intel showed through and in the details built within the new fight house. Control had discovered a major enemy battle center. The wealth of weapons, tech, and captured intel might be enough to propel them past both their allies and enemies to final victory.
Sigrid tamped down his own growing enthusiasm and took the teams through their fifteenth trial exercise. They would get it right. No one was with him in the control booth. He schooled his face automatically and watched the teams go through his well-rehearsed attack. Twenty-five minutes later it was debriefing time.
“Good job, everyone. We are very close on coordination. This has gone better than I expected. Now the hard work begins. Stay on your toes. Communicate! The next twelve events will throw unexpected elements at each team. Several will require a coordinated response.”
“The teams smacked shoulders, high fived, chatted excitedly, and shared other expressions of self approval and congratulation. Approval from Sigrid was rare. Sigrid gave them, grudgingly, a few minutes of celebration while he grit his teeth and kept smiling.His eyes remained bleak.
His own personal training module, demanded by his superiors, showed him the power of those so-called kind words that he hated to set free from his mouth. His interpretation was a few properly placed lies made his teams work better. That wasn’t quite the message of the module, but that’s how Sigrid understood it.
He did notice that he wasn’t threatening or killing off team members. That was a good enough outcome.Lesson learned. Don’t waste resources. Use them. He expected that most of the attack teams would die. His data suggested 55%-60%. Predictions showed a far worse report for enemy casualties. That was always the goal. They were only numbers for his attention. His men would never see them. Tomorrow they would find out. Tomorrow people would die.
The building they were attacking was a well protected bunker. Intel identified the typically used entrances and the single exit and sent the data. Sigrid was not satisfied with the data. He doubted there was only one exit. It did not fit the Center profile. He sent a second team who discovered two more hidden and rarely used ones. The teams also reported on the high level of activity within the facility. They found, in addition, a prepped alternate exit in use for training that was missed by Intelligence.
Sigrid’s exploration further showed the new discoveries offered useful entrances for a surprise attack. Monitoring suggested the cautious explorations completed by Control’s best, highly trained, probe team remained unnoticed. Intel monitoring did not even show the results of Sigrid’s efforts of the second probe. He wondered if the new tech they were using in the field was the reason why. In the final analysis, he really didn’t care, as long as the attack was successful.
One worry gnawed at his thoughts. The fear of entrapment scorched his mind, feeling like napalm spreading through his plans. It could all be a ruse. The opportunity seemed too easy. Sigrid pushed his teams through the additional tactical training. The next twelve exercises all dealt with the possibilities of trap after trap. Traps were only good when he set them up. Seeing traps set by others was harder. They must be seen and avoided or used for his own purposes. His teams would be as aware of potential traps after this day was done as Sigrid could make them. His teams would realize what could happen.
THE HOME TEAM
“Where are we going?”
“To our real transportation. It’s at another location. If the transport beam is as traceable as I think it is, we certainly don’t want to alert the bad guys we are out and about. We need to be as inconspicuous as we can be.”
“I ask again, where are we going?” William wanted answers.
“All right. I’ll tell ya. Step by step, big buddy.“William followed Jake to the the small control room at the back of the living room. It was a tight fit for the two of them. “We leave through this hidden panel on the wall.” Jake touched the wall, a login screen appeared. “You remember this kind of exit from our other safe house, I know.”
Jake pressed his thumb to the middle of the screen and and the wall vanished leaving a dimly lit hallway. “We go through here and down a tunnel to a cart, drive thirty miles to the exit, sneak out into a town, pick up our driver and travel to whatever safe house Jonas has for us to leave from.”
“That’s no new trick. Always with the long walks. A cart? I doubt it. Center doesn’t do that. Center loves their tunnels, and making us walk. They aren’t popular with most of the agents, though. Using these tunnel exits commonly means attack is imminent. For me? I hate the trapped feel of them.”
“William.” Jake patiently lifted his eyes to the big man. “They’ve worked so far. Give ‘em a break. Center works harder at protecting their own than any other group I know about.”
“Yeah. I’ll give them that. Wait till you get stuck in a tunnel! You’ll understand then. I’ve been there. I’d still prefer to poof and be where we are going.”
“Do you want Control to be waiting for us?”
“Maybe not.” William’s slight grin suggested maybe so, if he knew they would be. He patted his backpack. The two men entered the tunnel.
William exclaimed when he saw the golf cart. “They did it. We have a ride! That’s new. This I like.” The travel down through the tunnel went smoothly. They stepped outside to a marked path. An hour later, they entered the outskirts of a village and saw a small beat up truck waiting for them, right there at the edge of the town. Jake and William went over to the driver, a short stout man, in his sixties. “ Allo, gentlemen. I am Henri Cordian, your driver.” He spoke with a slight French accent. They ran through the password nonsense and were on their way.
The road was bumpy. The truck lurched and groaned. “Where are we Henri?” asked William.
“We are in Canada.”
“Where are we going Henri?” William amended his question. Jake chuckled, but was interested.
“We are going to the location Center has selected for you. That’s all I know.”
“Where is it Henri?
“You’ll find out-” Henri paused to look down at the mileage meter, “in 541 kilometres.”
“Three hundred and thirty six miles?”
“Perhaps.” Henri said with a vague shrug.
Henri drove. Jake and William exchanged a glance and took a nap. They were awake long before their travel day ended.
When they awoke, Henri told them a food basket was in the back. They could stop and get food whenever the two desired. William perked up.
“How about now?”
Henri slowed down, pulled to the side of the empty road and got out. “Follow me. I’ll show you the basket. It is too big to put inside this little truck.”
There were at least twenty sandwiches, several kinds of chips, a two gallon jug of water, and soft drinks. William grabbed several soft drinks and five sandwiches. He said to Jake, “Grab whatever you want and those two big bags of chips, will ya?”.
Jake rolled his eyes. Dutifully, he snatched up the chips, two sandwiches and a couple sodas. Henri took one Prime Rib sandwich and a soda. They clambered back into the truck and finished the journey.
The journey ended at a Mom-Pop gas station/grocery store on the edge of another small town. It was dark night. The truck pulled up in front, headlights illuminating the ramshackle building. It was closed. Henri turned off the truck and lights, got out and opened the door to his store.
Jake and William wondered where the entrance to their safe house transport might be. Both were used to the inexplicable solutions available in the locations Center selected for use.
“Where do we go Henri?” Jake asked.
“Out the back door. Let me show you where it is.” Henri took them through the back of the store, the living quarters and opened the door. “It was nice to meet you two. Good luck with your mission.”
They left the building. Two steps from the building, colors swiftly changed. It was sudden daylight by the fourth step. Jake said “whoa” seeing the car in front of him. He turned a full 360 degrees taking in all he saw. On the sides and behind him were trees. In front, a palatial estate
“Center likes its surprises.” William noted. “I like this one, too.” There was a light blue 2013 Renault sitting in the driveway. “ I’m wondering if we get to eat and sleep before we get started.
“Not likely. And I don’t think we are in Canada, anymore, William.” The Renault reminded Jake of a recent bad dream.Jake tried to remember the details without success.
“Probably not. Canada would be too close to our departure point.The sudden daylight is a clue, unless we were in some kind of time warp. Best guess? We seem to be in or near a small city. I can hear traffic. Can’t see anything. At least they didn’t stick us with a vintage truck, this time.”
They went over to the car. “I wonder where we are.”
“We’ll find out.
Where the hell are we?” Jake wondered.
“Check for keys. Instructions should be in the trunk or back seat.”
The instructions were in the rear passenger seat. It was a manila folder, bubble wrapped, with Jake’s real first name on it. He wondered why they wrote Joaquin instead of Jake. William took a look too. “Could have been opened. Center gives instructions to put these packages out of sight.”
“You’re right. It might have been. Someone might even want us to know that it was opened.”
“Yeah. It could be an invitation to the house.”
“Not impossible. Should we take up that possible invite?”
“I don’t see any reason not to. Got your gun?”
“Yes, William. I do have my gun. And it’s loaded.”
At the front door, they debated ringing the door bell, but opened the door, and stepped inside without pushing the bell button. The hall was a large foyer, opulent and lined with pictures of men in uniform.
“Look at those,” Jake pointed. “The colors and insignia suggest Ecuador. Family pictures, I’ll bet. Let’s see if we can find the mail. In a place like this it is usually on a salver.”
Their click-clack walking echoed in the hallway. “Over here, Jake.” Jake walked over to William. There were envelopes and a pile of newspapers. El Mercurio from Cuenca, El Comercio from Quito, El Universo from Guayaquil,among several others. The dates were from yesterday.
They turned, hearing footsteps. “The General welcomes you,” the servant said in Spanish, picking up the mail. “Please follow me.“the servant, who was discretely carrying a pistol, strode to a side patio that overlooked a large swimming pool and several gardens. The General asked them if they would join him for breakfast.
“It is a pleasure to meet two of our most famous Center agents,” he said. He nodded to William and Jake. I am General Jesus Antonio Machada Ibarra. “I’ll most likely be dead soon after you leave. Control has blocked roads and delayed my protection force. The word is they will arrive in three hours.” At the startled looks that this calmly delivered message provoked in his listeners, the General smiled. “We’ll get you out in plenty of time. Juan Jose will drive you north to Ipiales in Colombia.”
“Do you want our help?” asked Jake.
“No, but thank you for offering. I expect total destruction, but we shall take a few of Control’s operatives with us. I am too famous to escape, now that they know who is running this Center. Control will begin killing off my family if I do not confront them. They might do that anyway, despite what I’ve done to protect them. Ah well, It’s been a good life.”
William studied the aged military man.He seemed unfazed by his declaration. The firm line of his jaw and steely blaze of his penetrating eyes established a strong vibrant personality. This was a man who got what he wanted. He was dressed like the typical peasant worker on his plantation, although the clothes were cleaner. Simple white pantalones and a blouse.
“There is something you want us to do. You might tell us what it is.”
"Very well." The General sighed. "I was hoping to relax you with breakfast first. I called in a favor. I side tracked your journey to ask you to save my great granddaughter when Control comes for her. They will come for her. She does not know me. She doesn't know that Control seeks her, but is at risk- for other reasons than being my relation. She is a special young lady. Center is going to pick her up in some little New Mexico town called Rimrock."
“I know it well.” Jake said. “When will this take place.”
The General snapped his fingers at his servant who handed him a folder. “Here are the particulars. There is no great hurry. You have a few days.” The General gave the folder into William’s outreached hand.
“The breakfast buffet is behind you. Help yourselves.”
An alarm sounded. The General’s eyes widened. “It is much too early,” he exclaimed. “That is the ten minute warning. My, I must be important for them to fly teams up into the mountain.” He apologized. “I regret our breakfast must be cut short. My time grows shorter than even I had thought. Control is more barbaric than I expected. Please take a filled plate with you and follow Juan Jose. I’ll have my coffee first and then we will see if the first attack can be foiled. My time is near. Juan Jose, are the men ready? “
Of course, my General.”
Good to his word, he lifted his coffee cup, saluted them, and drank.“Good day, gentlemen. I wish you safe travel.” Jake and William saluted him in turn as they drank their coffee.
They exchanged a glance, rose from the table, filled two plates, and followed Juan Jose. He took them to the Renault, introduced a new driver, Marco, waiting behind the wheel, said goodbye, and returned to the main house in a run. They drove west, hearing explosions. The Renault bounced a little on the rough unpaved road as they turned north, a few minutes later, on another path to the border.
“What were those explosions? It hasn’t been ten minutes.”
“The General detonated the Center operation to deny Control the intelligence they seek from this Center.” Jake translated for William’s benefit.
The drive was not long.
“Why Ipiales, Marco?”
Marco spoke in slow English. “It is the fastest, easiest, entrance to Colombia. In normal circumstances, it is very fast. On bad days, it can take three hours. We will get through the border check, much faster today.” He added, “The General has arranged it. He called in a favor. Be warned, it will not be an easy crossing if Control knows you are here.” They joined the line to the border. “The line is longer than usual.” Marco observed. “You might eat your food. The General would be distressed if he knew it went untouched.”
Another glance and a shrug. The agents ate with little appetite.They did finish their plates full of food. While they waited on the queue, they discussed their host, the General.
Their discussion was interrupted by a knock on the window. A soldier, Colombian Major, by the uniform, waited while Marco rolled the window down. The conversation led to an exchange of papers, a nod from the Major, and they were directed into the other lane guarded by soldiers. The single lane of traffic became a fast moving queue for the one vehicle.
Marco took them to the Hotel Metropol. He handed them new passports and hotel registration details. “The Major, you briefly met, will see you get on the jet to the States tomorrow. It will leave from the San Luis airport.”
The hotel was serviceable. Nothing special. The people they met were nice. They ate dinner and went to bed.
The commercial plane took off from Ipiala. For a change, Jake and William were in first class seats. The Center’s plane blew an engine, grounding the crew. This critical mission required staying on schedule, so the Center reluctantly ponied up for two seats on the next plane out. They actually bumped two government officials returning home to Belgium.
The boarding went quickly. Only an hour of airport waiting and they were on their way. Lunch was served. Their flight would be a long one. The final destination was Belgium. Warnings reached Center that Control attacks were planned to take out the Center operations inside of that small country too.
Belgium was considered a major hub for European operations. Time passed. They changed planes in Madrid to continue the overseas flight to Frankfurt.The plane from Spain was newer but had a bad vibe. Something was wrong. Both travelers felt the difference and quietly discussed what might be happening. An older man came toward them and sat down across from them. Jake looked up, irritated to have his conversation interrupted. The older man was holding a pistol. It was General Jesus Antonio Machada Ibarra. The General smiled and told them “Control has wanted you two for a long time.” The General’s expression turned to anger as a rocket blew off the wing of the plane. The airplane exploded. In his head, as he woke up, Jake heard the General say “Control lied to me.”
Jake was upset. The dreams were getting crazier. This was a bad case scenario. Worst case. And far too reasonable. He wondered why the General was in his dream. The man was dead. During breakfast Jake told William about his recent dreams. “Have you recorded them in your journal?”
“You better record them. We can go over all your dreams on the plane. Take it seriously. I do. Something is happening in that weirdly wired brain of yours. The repeated use of rockets in your dreams is one idea we need to find a way to handle in real life. I don’t see any defense. We may need one, so we better come up with one.”
Later in the morning Major Guillermo Natoza picked them up and took them to their flight. Argentina was their destination. He gave them another folder and said “I will be the Ecuadorian contact for the Center, until replaced. A smaller Center operation here should be operational by the end of the week.” He spoke in unaccented, educated English. “Please pass this folder on to Center.”
The flight was a private Center jetliner. Natoza advised them an attempt to sabotage this plane had been caught earlier in the morning. The saboteur was being examined. They were in a relatively safer comfort zone. Jake knew safety is a feeling, not a reality. Everyone was Center staff. He felt safer, but knew he wasn’t.
William passed on the folder prepared by Major Natoza to Maria Espinoza, the stewardess, and one of the operatives he’d known for years. Maria was currently serving as second in command in Argentina.She took the folder and glanced through it. “Jonas called me and asked a favor. He wanted me to contact the two of you and see if you were safe, following the schedule, and-” She coughed lightly, “behaving yourselves.”
“I’ll handle this one, Jake. William chuckled, before calmly ticking the points off with his right hand. First Maria, safety is not part of any of our assignments. We all know that. Second, we’ve been off schedule since we left our last residence. Third, you can tell Jonas, we will get the jobs done, and, if he’s a good boy, he should receive a package from Jake in two days. If it gets delivered on time, of course.”
Maria smiled, lifting her hands in mock surrender. “I’m just doing the favor. I’ll be sure to relay your messages.” She tilted her head and asked. “What’s going on at Center? Everything seems rushed, and Jonas, even in holograph, looks more frazzled than I’ve ever seen him.”
William grinned. “He is. Jake here is doing his best to drive everyone crazy.” Maria laughed,winking at Jake. “I’ve heard that about you. Congratulations, and keep up the good work.”
Their conversation became serious and the three discussed the situation with Control’s increasing level of attacks and the threat to Center. Jake could see that too much information was not being shared. He offered what he could, not mentioning Center 1. William added a few of his stories, listened to a few from Maria, and he and Maria discussed past operations. Maria finally stepped back, as a wave of sadness crossed her face. “Our in-flight movie today is a sobering message. Partial drone videos of the Control attack on the only Center operation we had in Ecuador are available with details not available to the public. I won’t tell you to enjoy it.”
She stepped back, dimmed the lights and they all watched it on the viewing screen.
The General was reported dead. They watched his body fall on the battle field. Therevwas one surprise. The General clearly had called in one more favor from the Ecuadorian Air Force. Three Atlas Cheeters attacked the Control operation from a base near Quito. Their surprise arrival took out two attacking helos and a transport. The attack was more costly than Control expected. A brief voice over gave the particulars at the end. The voice announced “Nothing would or will appear in the news. The flight was recorded as a training mission. The attack on the compound and the General’s death were easily blamed on Colombian terrorists. Sixty terrorists were numbered among the one hundred dead counted.
Later, Jake and William discussed all the dreams Jake recorded the night before and decided they needed alternative plans to Center dictated travel. The discussed possibilities and what they might do.
The flight was uneventful. No attacks. They landed at Buenos Aires international airport. Only one staff member was waiting. That young lady hurried up the stairs as soon as the ladder was in place. “I’m sorry guys. You get to stay on board.” Maria said. This is Ami Contreras. She will be traveling with you. Ami handed Maria a packet. It had Jake’s name on it. “You are almost back on schedule. Get some sleep. You’‘ll be stopping in Venezuela, and Cuba, for fuel.” She handed William the packet. “Be sure to come back to Buenos Aires when you can stay longer.”
The flight was long. The stops went as scheduled. Neither were allowed to leave the plane. William played poker with the bodyguards, winning more often than he lost. Jake discovered Ami was a noted Chess player. He consistently lost, but learned from one of Argentina’s Women Grand Masters. His game improved. He did achieve three draws among his ten losses.He was pretty sure Ami could have won those too. The games provided a delightful distraction.
They landed in Miami without incident. Their safe travel could not last. Sooner or later Control’s kidnap or hit teams would catch up with them. It was only a matter of time. It was always a matter of time.
Now that they were in the States, and not really protected by Center, if they ever were, Jake and William returned to full alert. A good night’s sleep and they would be off to their next assignment. They enjoyed a final dinner with Ami and the bodyguards for a few hours at a good local restaurant. Dinner included the additional Center staff who flew to the US with them. There was an interruption.
The door to the kitchen banged open and six people with automatic weapons burst through yelling “Death to Americans” and“Allahu Akbar” over the flying bullets. The Center group reacted to the yelling and the firing faster than anyone in the room. The unarmed members dove to the floor. Jake, William, and the two bodyguards accompanying Ami, drew their weapons and returned fire. It was over in less than a minute. Armed opposition wasn’t expected. The four defenders only used nine shots. News reports would credit a team of Sheriff’s deputies having dinner in what would be called a “defense of American values.” Credentialed, but little known, Center personnel and willing diners would be interviewed on TV in the next few days.
The six attackers were dead along with eight diners. All of the dead were close to the kitchen. The kitchen staff went unharmed, although several quit over the next several days.
Ami looked over the situation, and calmly took charge. “Give me your guns, boys, she told William and Jake. The cops will need them.“She told them, “I’ll have replacements to you before you leave in the morning.” Then she shooed them out from the restaurant with a “we’ll take care of this.” She was talking on her cell phone before they could get up from the table and leave.
Jake and William huddled in their hotel room after their interrupted dinner and discussed next steps. The latest attack was probably not Control related, but they discussed it, and decided to take it as if it were a Control attack on them. Implications were discussed. Both were in agreement about sharing a mutual surprise that they had escaped yet another attack.
Plans and the few alternatives discussed on the plane were tentatively set up and reviewed once more. They looked over the last two assignments they needed to complete before getting to Rimrock. Neither assignment seemed particularly vital to them. The importance might be revealed later. It was more likely that they would never know why they were priorities. Jake’s algorithm rated both as high priority.
They discussed possibilities and consulted the probabilities, using Jake’s new algorithm. The exploration showed them the travel had shielded them. The weak link was the Center airplane. The probability numbers suggested it was and had been tracked by the opposition. The numbers suggested a fifty percent probability for both possibilities.
Was it the night’s attack, the probabilities of the Center plane being tracked, or other concerns they did not discuss or recognize they needed to consider? A very bad night’s sleep for both men was the result.
In the morning both men stayed uneasy, and hyper-aware of every sound around them. Both looked worn out. They discovered another shock as they questioned each other’s appearance. They’d shared one dream.
The highly visual, detailed dream involved a rejected blue Renault rental they left parked at the hotel. Their dream unfolded, more like a TV show, than the news, they saw the rental explode killing the concierge and several people on the street by the hotel, while demolishing the entrance to the hotel. Both were shaken by the clear details their dream showed them. Their separate shared dream was an exact match in every detail they recounted to each other.
The phone rang and there was a simultaneous knock at the door. William went to the door. Jake picked up the phone. “It’s ok.” Jake told William. “Our replacement guns are knocking,” William opened the door.
After a brief chat with the operative, they had guns and ammo again. The two prepared to leave, armed, and descended to the lobby.
Whether it was the night’s activity or the dream, they both expected some intelligence failure, random discovery, or even a carefully laid trap along the way.
The concierge had a car waiting for them. Jake and William felt a frisson of fear. It was the same light blue 2013 Renault from their dream, rented for their trip to Tampa. William was about to say no, but Jake put his hand on William’s arm to get his attention, as he thanked the concierge, Jake signed the papers with his latest ID, and they left.
“We need to lose this car fast” William told Jake, once they were in the car. “Yes, I agree. But that dream? We need to examine this car first.”
“Yeah, you’re right. If there is a bomb on board, there is a possibility we can defuse it, or move it somewhere less dangerous.”
Jake drove. “According to our dream, we have two hours. Maybe I’m crazy, but I’ll trust that.” They took Interstate 75 over towards Naples and parked in Weston a little less than an hour later.They stopped for breakfast at the first place they saw. Next to the restaurant they examined the car. A few patrons eyeballed them wondering what was going on. There was no bomb they could find. There was a tracker beacon on the right rear wheel.
“Well, well,” said William. “Lookie here. I’ll just disable this and we’ll be on our way.”
“Leave it for now. Let’s have breakfast.We’ll move the device to another car before we leave.”
“That works for me.” They ate, paid out, moved the tracker to the same location on a car parked next to them.
Driving out of the parking lot, a discussion on changing cars was the next task. Jake dropped William off at the nearest rental location and they met in the next city, on the way to Naples, and left the blue Renault sitting alone in covered parking. A neutral green SUV was their new transportation. Two hour and a half hours passed. They arrived in Naples, ate lunch, and continued on to Tampa.
In Tampa, they delivered a sealed folder from the packet Maria gave Jake on the plane. There was one more packet to deliver.On the radio, as they left, they heard that a parking garage in Weston was blown up, and Federal authorities from Homeland Security were investigating. Stinger missiles were suspected. Jake and William looked at each other and kept driving. Louisiana was the next stop. This one would be a long drive, over seven hundred miles. The package was to be delivered the next day. They swapped off driving, ate fast food and kept moving, listening to the news on the radio. They discussed patterns, probabilities, possibilities, and rocket attacks.
“Tell me more about these Patterns, Jake. I get they are important, but I don’t understand how they can help.”
“As a military man, you recognize that tactics have a purpose, right.”
“In battles, attempts are made to disguise tactics or hide them until it is too late for the other side to adjust and defend.”
“Patterns help discern the actual tactics while probabilities tell us the most likely targets or locations for the attack. “Historical attacks like the D Day landing are examples of a successfully disguised attack. The locale was the most probable location, but deception led the Germans to believe the attack would not happen where it did.”
“All that is true.” William admitted.“Yet there are times when attacks come at, or from, the least likely location. Sensible military strategists like those the best. We all want easy wins.”
“That’s where patterns help us. The knowledge of past events, trends and all the whos, whats, and wherefores fold into the probabilities. Once we have those nailed down, it becomes a matter of logistics and materiel. Situations arise where planning fails because the other side has selected an attack or a pathway for attack where no defense is possible.”
In Baton Rouge, the second packet was delivered on time. Their appointment in Rimrock was next. This trip was over a thousand miles. Time was growing short.A rented jet from Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport to Albuquerque helped. Itwas a risk. Control might be looking for any traffic into Albuquerque, public or private. If Control suspected Jake and William were headed back to New Mexico the situation could turn bad.
Once on the plane William asked how patterns can help in situations where no defense is possible.
Jake grinned. “They don’t. Patterns just tell us the probabilities of that happening, and maybe even identifying the where, if we have enough data. The solutions are up to us.”
“Not much help is it?.”
The help is telling us where and sometimes when the attack is going to happen. If we can be reasonably certain, it becomes possible to avoid the attack, find and prepare an effective unexpected defense, or attack them first.”
William looked hard at Jake. “I like that last one.”
“I thought you would.”
“Consult your oracle, Jake. Tell us when the next attack is coming.” William was kidding.
Jake laughed and pulled out his phone. I have the latest algorithm here. It isn’t perfected yet, but let’s see what we get.” Jake entered several keystrokes and his eyes opened wide, his face paled.
Control USA was busy. Expansion was not coming as fast as promised. Their Asian partners were being very careful. So far only a few of the available business properties were usable for Control. Missions were underway in Baton Rouge, Tampa, Miami, and two in Las Cruces and Rimrock, NM. They needed more trained units. Fortunately Control Europe sent them two additional teams to help in New Mexico.
The news would soon be filled with new attacks in the USA. All of them would be blamed on jihadist groups. They were a wonderful scapegoat for Control activities. Jihadists were useful to Control. The Chinese and Russians used them too. As long as they would do what they were tasked. Control loved the terrorism popping up all over the world. It was one of the reasons they worked with the Russians and Chinese. Both countries were assimilating bits of Control tactics and ideology, adapting it to their own use. All with the encouragement of Control. Control was very aware of the ambitions of both countries and knew they had two tigers by the tail.
Pride, ambition, and self conceit were three factors that Control was adept in manipulating. Bribes in cash and technology helped.
THE HOME TEAM
Jake consulted his oracle. The hand held phone wasn’t impressive, but the calculations were. A pale Jake informed William,“There is a eighty-five percent chance that we will be attacked by three stinger missiles outside of Las Cruces New Mexico.”
“Three? You have the exact number and missile type too?” William fought his inner loss of control. “How long before we reach Cruces?”
Jake typed in the last question. “This phone has GPS and a few other Center goodies. About ninety minutes.”
“We have less than ninety minutes before we get attacked? How about potential solutions?”
Jake typed. “Like I said, we can avoid the attack, find and prepare an effective defense, or attack them first. As far as defenses. None, that I-.” He stopped, turning a more sickly white. William heard a gargled “Wait-” and watched Jake grab his head with both hands and go rigid against the back of the passenger plane seat. William turned white and reached for Jake.
Jake came out of it in less than a second. His color was back. He gave William a ferocious warrior glare. The savage grin said he had an answer. “We can defend. And there is a possible attack too. You’ll like that one.”
“My growing abilities. The part of my mind filled with new information, almost a second mind, informs me that I can displace objects and provide both defense and offense simultaneously, maybe, if I’m strong enough.”
“How are you going to do that?
“It is unbelievable,“Jake told him the bare bones of the process, adding, “The conceptualization is perfect. There is no guarantee this attack will happen. It is only probability. Theory is not a guarantee. There is a fifteen percent chance nothing will happen.”.
“Can anything go wrong?”
“Yup, Anything can go wrong. The attack might happen. I might go bonkers. I might be too weak. My plan might fail. My abilities might not work at all.” You name anything than might go wrong and it could happen. Jake was not encouraging. Jake was unnaturally cheerful as he explained what might happen.
“That isn’t cheering me up, little buddy. What do the probabilities say?”
“Ninety percent chance my imagined plan will work”
“That’s a little better. Thanks.”
“We’ll see what happens. Worst case? We are dead. Probably not, though.”
“Cheer me up. What’s the best case.”
“Nothing happens, naturally.”
“No. Dammit. For me. Is there anything for me to do?”
“Not this time. Sit back and enjoy the ride. It might be our last.”
Sigrid’s European coordination of the invasion of the Center Battle facility was a complete disappointment. It wasn’t his fault or any failure by the teams he trained. Control grudgingly admitted Intel had inexplicably blown it.
When the teams arrived, and began the assault, they discovered why entry into the facility was so easy. There were no set traps. The facility was empty. There was no way it could have been a battle Center. Yet Intel had confirmed it was. The were pictures, dammit. He knew it was a troop and equipment location.It was a huge space, granted, but it was clean. It wasn’t before. The pictures proved it.
The Battle Center was an empty building now. The building was being prepared for simple commercial manufacturing. Sigrid’s teams expertly explored the building from top to bottom. All the entrances and exits were exactly what and where his own Intelligence team told him. None of the reported activity, materiel or people were present. It was a vacant building. How could they empty it that fast, he could not imagine.
Top level people were re-examining all the data gathered and trying to figure out what happened. Sigrid didn’t care. He got credit for what turned out to be a final practice, and nothing more, for the teams. He got credit. That was all that mattered. The team’s coordination and smooth reconnaissance pleased him. The exercise went better than expected. He did wonder how the multiple teams might have done in a firefight.
The failure puzzled him too, but was not a concern. Not his concern.After reporting back to Control they told him where Jake was and where he was headed. Control determined the best take down method and sent Sigrid and his team to New Mexico.
North of Las Cruces in the White Sands near Alamogordo, Sigrid had his promised opportunity from Control to take down Jake. It still burned him that every time he got close, Jake escaped.
He wasn’t overly enamored with Control’s plan, but telling Control their plan sucked, from his point of view, wasn’t an option either. Not if he wanted to stay a leader, have a team, or just stay alive. Control was all about top down obedience.
Sigrid recognized what he really wanted was a face to face confrontation. Still, dead was dead. He figured that would have to be enough. He was glad he wasn’t charged with another kidnapping try. Killing Jake was the way to go. It was what Sigrid wanted. It was what he needed to happen. Control confirmed that his nemesis was on board the private flight to Albuquerque and should be overhead in less than
His men were prepared. Their experience made this mission an easy one. It should be a simple matter to shoot down the passenger jet with Stinger rockets. For private planes, even jets, there was no real defense to any unexpected missile strike. His team had used a variety of Stinger missiles. This one was the simplest. These old missiles had been adapted to use newer, more powerful batteries and a few other working adaptions required to keep the weapons functioning.
In a pinch, the Stinger assemblies could even be adapted to use car batteries. The team initially had four FIM-92 A Stinger missiles, generally called the Stinger Basic. This was still overkill to Sigrid’s mind. It was clear Control wanted Jake dead. Redundancy was a good idea, he had to admit. Teams did experiencefailures with the Stinger, even the latest models had their failures. He knew of one team that had the rocket explode upon firing, taking out the team. Other teams had experienced battery pack failures or Battery Coolant Unit problems.
That wasn’t going to happen on his watch. These missiles had been inspected several times and the mechanisms tested. The Stingers were also carefully wrapped to keep the sand from getting into the works. Only one had seemed likely to cause a problem. The rechargeable battery kept failing, despite replacing it, so that one was left behind. Three missiles should be enough. Sigrid would have been happier with the more recent, flexible versions of the Stinger, the more he thought about it, but he got what Control gave. It was up to him, as team leader, to make it work.
This version of the Stinger was among the first ones manufactured. They were over twenty years old. Normal operation used two man teams to handle the 22lb. missile and launch it. The entire unit ran 33.5 lbs. That was fine for his six man team. They had practiced the set up and firing procedures several times.
Right now his winter camouflaged unit was relaxing, waiting, under camouflage tents, all the equipment matched the white sands around them. Sigrid’s research showed there were rare inspections of the White sands, so he didn’t take any chances. He was also cautious about the nearby Army base. They stayed on the National Monument side of the White Sands area. The Sand looked like snow from a distance. So did they.
Once the Plane was nearly over head his team would jump into action. Practice showed they could launch quickly and most likely catch the plane within a couple of miles. They knew the cruising speed and height would be compatible and within the limits of the weapon. Having trackers on their victims throughout their trip through Louisiana helped. The plane had a tracker too. One team of watchers had checked on them periodically on every step of their journey. Sigrid liked the Intel coup. He liked having the advantage.
Sigrid monitored the GPS. It was time. He alerted the men. His teams swiftly sprang into action. They were up and ready to fire in only a few minutes. The rapid efficiency pleased Sigrid. His team told him “ready” as each pair of men loaded, and were set for the strike. Sigrid checked the data, and mentally counted down, watching the clock, finally giving the order. “Fire”.
The three rockets sped skyward.
THE HOME TEAM
Jake had his senses on alert as they approached and passed through Las Cruces. Nothing happened. He turned that part of his mind off with a click. He turned to William. “Looks like our best case scenario worked out. No attack.”
“Yeah right. It’s still a ways to Albuquerque. Stay alert, little buddy. You better keep checking your strange intelligence source.”
Jake drank a bottle of water, got some peanuts. He felt tired. He looked pale. It was like the aftermath of a long distance run. When he finished the peanuts, he tried to reach the second mind, but couldn’t seem to find the connection.
“William I’ve got a problem.” They discussed it. William caught the drift. He suggested sugar. He pulled a couple candy bars out of his back pack and gave them to Jake.
They were nearing White Sands. Jake mentioned it to William as a sight he should see. William grinned. “Hey, little buddy, I’ve been in New Mexico a long time. I’ve been there.”
Jake’s color was better after the candy. He tried to reach for the awareness, once more. “Nope. Not yet.” he told William. As he finished his statement, he froze into the same white faced rigidity from earlier. There was a change. Jake was only partially visible. Cabin lights and electronics popped and buzzed. Lights blew out in the interior cabin. William muttered “Good God, now what?” The plane went into overdrive. William could feel the acceleration as it banked to the right and dove. Moments later there were three explosions.
Sigrid and his team saw the explosions bloom in the distance. His team cheered. “Bundle up everything,” he said. “Let’s get the hell out of here.” Ten minutes later they were moving back to the vehicles. He checked every item into the vehicles, took a quick look for the GPS signal. It was gone. Vaporized in the explosion he suspected. Good confirmation. He made the call on his SAT phone, relayed the details. He was smiling as the two SUVs drove back to Albuquerque. Sigrid silently marked Jake off of his mental bucket list.
THE HOME TEAM
The jet righted itself, slowed down and returned to its flight path like nothing happened. Jake appeared partially phased. William reached over to touch him on the arm, and Jake became solid at his touch. Jake looked different. His face was leaner. His arms thinner. “Jake? Jake?”
“Yes, I’m here big buddy.”
“What the hell happened?”
“A lot more than I expected.” Jake said. “I reached to touch the second mind, couldn’t even find it, and then it took over my body. It was incredible. Everything seemed so easy.” Jake looked around, seeing shattered bits of plastic everywhere, a pair of extra seats across from them had exploded. “Wow. How did I do this.” He looked all around the plane.
“Give with the details. I want details.”
“Ok. I’ll try. I didn’t see what happened on the inside of the jet. So I didn’t expect all of this. I am still sharing that second mind, though. It makes it hard to speak.”
William could hear the difficulty Jake was having.
There were lots of pauses, but Jake managed to push through them.“This is awesome. I don’t know if it will last, though.”
William wanted more.
“Ok Ok. I’ll try to put it in order.”
William listened intently through the pauses.
"It all seemed to happen at the same time." Jake paused, looking into space, as he talked. "Once the mind took over, I saw Sigrid, the missiles, the pilot, the trackers they used, the plane and- the entire Universe was visible in the background. I reached out and mentally shifted the plane, threw a solid blockade in front of the missiles, destroyed the trackers. All of it at the same time." Jake looked around the plane again. "And a lot more too, it looks like." Jake's brow furrowed. William watched as the broken pieces of plastic disappeared.The pieces of plastic and the airplane's electronics were restored. "I also blanked the memories of the crew. They'll remember nothing of this. I did a whole bunch of things I didn't know I could do."
“What about the opposition?”
“I let them be. They think we are dead. We will see them later. Right now, I need a fast nap. We’ll be in Albuquerque in ten minutes. We’ll be early due to shifting. Wake me.”
Jake was gone. He was not just asleep. He was physically gone. William moved his hand through the space Jake had occupied. “Damn. How I am I going to wake you, if I can’t find you?” There was no response. William got up to look around. He saw the stewardess standing by the door to the pilot’s cabin. She looked frozen. She should have seen Jake disappear. She was looking straight at them, but would not recall that any passengers were ever aboard. The invoice would show they flight was picking up passengers, not delivering them.The plane was left to the crew as it flew toward Albuquerque, twenty minutes away.
Inside the Albuquerque airport a team awaited the arrival of the passenger jet. Once announced they dispersed to their assigned points. They knew nothing about other teams. They had their assignment. Their assignment was to kill the passengers on the arriving jet from Baton Rouge. They had pictures of the passengers and crew. It was a surprise when only the crew departed the plane. They would inspect the plane.
THE HOME TEAM
William stood next to Jake. They were somewhere. The light was dim and gray. They could see each other. Energy from some source was streaming into Jake’s body. His face, arms, and belly were filling back out.
“Where the hell are we? What is going on?”
“I’m not sure. I’m feeling stronger than I ever have.I think we are somewhere safe for now.”
“I thought we had a mission in Rimrock for the General.”
“We do. We’ll get there when we are supposed to get there.”
Rimfire International Airport.
RIA was a small town airport with four runways and one carrier, Union Airlines. Rimfire International Airport had boasted it was an International Airport ever since one private plane flew from Mexico to land there in 2013. The tiny city renamed the airport, added the requisite TSA agents and security staff, and began courting visitors. Somehow it worked. Flights from Canada and Mexico came in almost weekly. India and Japan routed through US carriers with Union usually getting the final honors
As the their small jet flew into rural Rimfire. Jean and Mara viewed the mountains and stark desert on descent. The view seemed much like home. This was the first time they would be working together, after years of being friends and rescuing each other from one crazy situation after another more times than they would remember.
Jean and Mara descended the narrow stairs of the Emraer Regional Jet 135, flight 230, from Houston, happy to finally arrive. This meeting was important and the developing story for a freelancer could make international news. It should. Both knew that the story might be silenced or set aside until a certain bureaucracy decided it could be safely published, without compromising the ubiquitous needs of National Security.
Jean alone knew the full value of her discovery.They held on to cautious optimism. Jean hoped for a series. Regardless, they were guaranteed a profitable pay day.The Center invitation guaranteed them money. They didn’t, couldn’t expect what happened.
The less than stellar 44 passenger jet carried a full load from Albuquerque, their previous stop. The jet was scheduled to return to Houston and the George Bush Intercontinental Airport. The bumpy flight in bad weather had sent them bouncing up and down and sliding to the sides during the 42 minute flight. It was clear to both womwn, Union Express flights would be avoided in the
Two passengers exited in Rimfire. The rest of the passengers were headed to connecting flights. There were no pickups scheduled. Their luggage supposedly had been sent ahead by an earlier flight through Albuquerque. Both women were prepared to complain and secretely hoped to go shopping.
The whole terminal building could have fit into nearly any of the Center safe houses. The edifice consisted of one ticket area leading into the security hall, two small bathrooms almost hidden in a nook, across from the single TSA security area. Within their own pre-boarding waiting area, there were no bathrooms. Anyone leaving the area to go to the bathroom had to pass through TSA screening again.
Immediately past that nook, the hallway ended in a general passenger and families waiting room with an outside door and a locked luggage room. Combination electronic key/passwords were used at all of the closed doors. A dogleg to the west of the waiting area a Grab and Go car rental with free coffee, and two cheerful workers waited for visors and staff. Beyond the rentals was a non-allowed zone with three closet sized offices, for the airport workers. Two of those rooms each sported laptop computers and a safe snugly fitted into crowded conditions and sitting for one. The first room on the left in the area held all returned, unclaimed, and lost luggage. The third one, at the end of the corridor,larger.It served as conference room and a place to kick back.
Jean and Mara descended the narrow stairs of the Emraer Regional Jet 135 from Houston in the downpour. Only the two passengers exited in Rimfire. There were no pickups.
Tired and worn out from their exhausting trip from Maui, they struggled down the stairs. The understanding attendant guided them into the TSA area where they were expected. The two ladies there chatted with the new arrivals.
Outside the TSA area other things were happening in the waiting room and elsewhere in the terminal. The three people in the waiting room cheered as the tall, burly guard, Gerome Nadl, gently pushed a cockroach toward the door, instead of stepping on it. The goal, an outside protected glass door, read “Not an Exit, Do Not Enter.“Twelve separate nudges by Gerome’s booted foot reached the door. He entered the code, held the door open, and softly booted the cockroach outside, clicking the door shut.
Shots blasted from the terminal entrance and two invaders dressed in black stormed down the hallway blasting anything and anyone in sight with automatic weapons. The TSA area divided into two separate areas by glass, crackled, spidered, and crashed in. The TSA ladies each grabbed one passenger and pushed a stunned Jean and a wide-eyed Mara to the glass covered floor. The four ladies all stayed on the floor.
Gerome in one smooth motion, whipped out his .45, like a western cowboy, and fired two shots, hitting both invaders in the head. Silence followed the shots. He stood tall, searching the hall for more attackers as he curtly signaled the waiting room people toward the rental corridor. A gasp spun him. He turned toward the three waiting room visitors. He saw the gun clearing her handbag as he was twisting and saw he was too late, as fast as he was moving. Knowing he was going to be hit first, he hoped he could take out the gimlet eyed blonde before he died. He saw the triumph bloom in her face as she fired.
Three shots rang out.
THE HOME TEAM
Jake and William planned to arrive ten minutes before flight 230. They had no memory of the flight to Albuquerque or how they arrived in Rimrock. The only memory that drove them forward was a chat with a General in Ecuador. This was, they thought, their first mission deviating from their assignments from Ishmael, and their second mission since leaving their safe house. The Centers would not be pleased. Their records and their memories would show the same thing. They both expected Jake and William to be following the separate lists of missions provided. Center 1 knew about both lists. Center 2 knew nothing about Center 1 priorities or that Jake had other assignments. Center 1 provided the amazing transport for their Center 1 missions. The disconnect between the two was surprising. Neither group knew about Jake’s third set of priorities. More surprises were coming.
Jake needed to pick up a young lady and keep her safe. This new high priority mission steadily moved up the list on Jake’s probability calculator over the past week until reaching top critical status. Both Centers knew about the planned airport attack in Rimrock. They knew of the importance of one passenger. Center 1 learned from Center 2 and ran their own historical check. The results were not the same. Jake would resolve that dilemma. It wasn’t a dilemma yet. His focus was the pick up. That priority was the only one on his mind. He knew the small airport was going to be attacked. Later he would discover no one told the rescuers. No one told the airport or Center staff there. Communication remained shaky. Those “need to know” classifications did not work like they should. What did?
On the other hand, Center 1 probabilities warned that Jake and William must not be present during the attack, excluding them from all incidental, unnecessary details about the event. Jake did not know what would happen or when he would arrive. He did fell he would arrive when he wass supposed to arrive.
They arrived ten minutes too late for his comfort. Stop lights, heavy rain, slow moving traffic all contributed to the delays. They saw the smoke rising as they sped down the airport entrance, angry and damning everything in sight.
William made a quick call to alert Center2 about their arrival.They were told to wait for backup. They were told to stay away from the airport. Not going to happen. They hurried, parked in the middle of the 10 spaces wide handicapped parking area in front of the terminal, next to a black SUV. They locked and loaded from their rear seat before moving cautiously to explore the SUV.
The SUV was locked. The SUV was empty. They unlocked it with a clever little electronic tool William snatched from one of the support techs and kept in his backpack. The duo divined, from the partially filled gun rack in the back and from the single table with two seats, the attacking force didn’t include more than four people.
They moved toward the entrance, grim and certain they were far too late to affect anything. Waiting for backup was never going to happen. The black SUV worried them. Had there been two opposition vehicles?
The ticket area was vacant. A blood trail led down the hall. William checked behind the ticket desk. No one was hiding. They covered each other as they stepped into the hallway.
The area appeared clear. It felt vacant, empty. The duo knew the opposition was a fast, efficient, killing machine. They could be gone. It was also a consideration that they somehow knew Jake and William were coming. That could mean they were here somewhere, waiting.
Blood covered the floor of the waiting area, and the TSA secured area was blasted to smithereens. They suspected they wouldn’t be meeting their assignment alive. The broken glass was all over the place and reminded Jake of broken car safety glass. The glass was covered with blood. The building was deadly silent.
They held their assault rifles at the ready position and resolutely crunched down the hall. William swept the bathrooms, then both moved through the shattered TSA area. No bodies. In tandem, they returned to the hall and advanced down the Grab and Go corridor. No one was in sight within the vestibule or the rental car desk.
Multiple blood trails converged at the last of three more doors. The door was red with bloody partial hand prints. It was on the right side of the narrow, short space. They hesitated, and Jake opened the door certain of what they would find. Yes, several bodies were piled there.
A harsh voice behind them told them to raise their hands. Jake and William did so. They silently damned themselves for not sweeping the other two rooms first. Now they were captured. One set of hands removed their assault weapons. A voice, further back said “don’t move.” They didn’t budge an inch. They weren’t dead yet. A hopeful sign. Possibilities played in both their minds as they shared a a sideways squint. In the next moment, they were told to keep their “hands high and turn around.” Both men circumspectly followed that command.
They stepped slowly back around and saw the three gun barrels leveled at them. Their captors were not dressed in black. “Gerome!” William exclaimed, recognizing the speaker by sight.
“William, I’ll be damned. I should have known. You two can put your hands down.” Gerome quickly explained to his compatriots who their prisoners were. Everybody relaxed.
The crunching of glass further up the hall, alerted the defenders. The guns were tossed back to Jake and William.
The backup team had arrived ready for action and was assigned clean up duties. They weren’t the happiest of campers. The rest of the group moved down a hidden set of stairs to the nearly finished, newly built, Center station to debrief and provide the after action report to Center.
Sitting around a large table, Gerome made introductions and told his story. After relating the cockroach story he went through shooting the two terrorists and then seeing the third killer.
“I knew I was dead. I couldn’t shoot before she did. He meant the blonde killer in the waiting room. Trixie fired once from behind me taking her out. Thank God. That killer’s single shot flew through my ear. He pointed to the bright red, stained compress, duct taped to his head. Trixie smiled. She was also tape duct bandaged on her thigh, head, and gun arm.
“She nailed the bitch, left handed, and wounded. Damn good shooting.” Gerome nodded respectfully to Trixie who picked up the story from her viewpoint.
“The three opposition killers busted through the terminal door shooting while I was wiping down surfaces. I saw them dressed in black and approaching the entrance before they got there.
I managed to draw and get off one shot, taking down the first SOB, before getting hit. It was total luck,” she admitted. “Then I was down covered in blood. The two left moved fast, down the hall, where Gerome got them. I stumbled up, grabbing my piece and had just reached where I could see Gerome in the hall. I was about to call out when, at the far end, I saw the blonde pulling her gun. I fired mine.”
Jean and Mara sat pale faced, both listening. They were hearing everything for the first time. Amy Warner and Bertha Bigg, the TSA agents, had pushed them to the floor and covered them with their own bodies. The four saw none of it.Neither of the two TSA protectors were allowed weapons. There was nothing they could do beyond what they did, to keep their passengers safe. Fortunately it was enough.
Mara was a trained nurse and assisted in the medical treatment. Jean’s contribution was asking for duct tape, and jury rigging two of the bandages.
They all talked for hours. Dinner was planned since there was no Center commissary yet. There was no rush. Those who could leave would go to dinner, then bring back food to those who were required to stay at the RIF Center.
William continued to stand next to Jake. They were still somewhere. Somewhere else than where they expected to be
The light around them was getting brighter. The gray turned into bright yellow, then white blazing light. They could not see into it. They could see each other without any problem. That was all they could see. The energy streaming into Jake’s body, stopped. His body looked normal except for a green glow extending a few inches from and around his body.
They turned 360 degrees as if the same thought occurred to them both at the same moment. As they turned around their location coalesced into their last safe house location. They were in the TV room, standing beside the couch. The large screen TV came on by itself and they watched themselves drive through driving rain cursing about being late. They saw their arrival to Rimrock International Airport.
They watched as the screen switched from scene to scene.
THE HOME TEAM
Mael was sweating. He was upset and worried.
“We’ve got to contact Jake. Something is happening. The typical routes to Center 2 are not working. This is new. Somethingthat isn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t on the probability list until now. We need that device back. It must have malfunctioned.
“What is the problem?”
“Improbability 224-no details available”
“No details? We haven’t seen that once in the last twelve years. That doesn’t happen any more.”
The printer announced an arrival, at two locations. Ten pages of directions and a document arrived at Center 1 and a four page document by itself at Center 2. The arrivals were expected. The document entitled Pattern Coordination, was signed by Jake and William. Both Centers, still unable to get in contact immediately with Jake or each other, began using the directives in their documents. It was blind trust from desperation. If the information was accurate, it meant survival. If it was a lie, it was an excellently prepared one. It rang true. It made sense to both Centers to follow those instructions.
The device arrived one minute later at Center 1. All eyes went to an astonished Mael.
A team of six lurked in Rimrock. The leader await the go. The command would come in on his newfangled phone. Once received the team would have ten minutes to complete the mission. The time included set up, take down and clean up. The time was tight but possible, without any surprises. Unfortunately surprises were always happening and never part of the plan. Samuel Argwa wondered, not for the first time, why Control micromanaged so many of his team’s take downs. He understood tight timelines and careful planning, but Control never saw the little adjustments that had to be planned on site. When asked, his boss told him. “That’s your job. Just do what we tell you and get it done.”
Those were the rules, he shrugged. messaging his team: “Be ready. word will come anytime now. He knew they were all connected on a hotspot WiFi network, insuring communication for most situational conditions. They had certainly tested the network enough times. Two other identified restaurants were under surveillance.
William sat next to Jake on the couch in their TV room. The TV turned off. They exchanged a what the hell look. The smell of pizza filled the room. They heard steps behind them and a chorus of chuckles. One very familiar voice said “We came to clear up a few details and brought pizza and spaghetti to ease your way. Jake and William turned toward the voices.
Book Two: Eyes on The World
About the Author
John D. Boyden was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA, in 1950. John grew up in rural Nebraska and lives in Southeastern New Mexico with his wife, Melanie, and their dog, Sissy. He attended Grinnell College in Iowa and several other colleges through multiple summer programs and in the years since earning his Masters Degree in Education from the University of Northern Iowa. He taught school in Iowa and New Mexico for many years.
John has completed and actually been paid for several “work for hire” projects including non-fiction, fiction, news, and editing and has received payment as a published poet! The poetic pride has endured far beyond that lovely $5 check.
For more on John, read the Shakespir interview:
My first FREE book, Eyes on the World, is available free on Shakespir.
My very first Published Book effort Eyes on the World is at Amazon.com. This Amazon book edition remains listed at .99 cents:
My second FREE book is the non-fiction Having Fun Reading Aloud at .
My third FREE book is The Announcement:
My fourth FREE book is Boo Bear has a Bad Day: . It is available world-wide through my three distributors.
Connect with John D. Boyden
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Jake found an unexpected, bizarre site on his computer. He called his buddy, a computer friend, to help him understand what was happening on his computer. He didn't know what was about to happen. Jake's comfortable life at home ended. Understanding would take longer. Jake Granger and William "The Tech" Allison both understand the nature of an ever changing world. Or thought they did. Experiencing a series of world rocking truths redirects their lives into danger through a rapidly changing reality coupled with a sobering decrease in the odds of their survival. Old beliefs are red flagged. Old truths are sidelined. Plans spiral out of control. Life is becoming a little too exciting. The pursuit by the opposition will not stop. Escapes get stranger and more difficult to achieve. Finding time to seriously discuss what is happening to them is difficult when privacy is impossible. Every communication and every action is monitored, recorded, and studied. Efforts to kill, capture, or obliterate these two not-so-ordinary guys reach out from every open and hidden corner of their expanding universe. They don't know all the players. They don't understand how any of this has happened. They think they understand, they don't. Answers hide in the past, the present, and in a distant future. Can the one entity who knows the truth communicate the answers needed to anyone else? Can it be done without telling all the watchers? Can it be done without changing the future of a world? Two determined friends, become working colleagues, and deal with what comes at them. They are fighting and hoping. Hoping survival is in their deck of cards. Doubts and more questions mount with each new attack. Is anyone reliable? Safety is an old cherished memory. Did it ever exist? Danger is their new life. Death and disaster are their new reality. Jake and William are both gifted, They do not recognize or understand that they are gifted, or what their gifts may be.