Saturday, July 17, 9:00 a.m.
Helen was sipping coffee, staring out the window of the breakfast nook at the back of Ryan’s house. The room was beautiful, with a lot of natural light, and furnished tastefully in pastels and cream. What a gilded cage. She couldn’t get her mind off the fact that her husband was just downstairs in one of those bare cells. I’d rather be there with him. Ryan’s psychological games were starting to wear.
And the recent revelation that Ryan, himself, was a fortunatus was almost comical. Nothing was what she expected, nothing was what it seemed.
Welsh oozed in and poured himself a coffee. Strike that. There are some things around here that are exactly as they seem. Helen sighed. As usual, Welsh grabbed the remote and flicked on the streaming news. He clicked on a topic and the vidscreen displayed a huge dust cloud marring otherwise perfectly blue skies. Welsh turned the volume up.
“…in Arizona. The weapons testing will continue for at least one more day, and possibly longer. So, if you’re planning a trip, this would be a good time to steer clear of Arizona’s sunny skies. Control is routing traffic around the area. The dust cloud rises a good kilometre….”
Welsh turned off the unit and sat back looking smug. “You picked the right side, princess.”
“You landed right. I don’t think there’s anything we can’t do.”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re bombing thousands of people to death in the middle of the United States, but Ryan makes a phone call and all the world ever hears is the traffic report. Incredible.”
Helen bristled, but tried to keep her face impassive. “I didn’t join this team.”
“Yeah, sure. If it weren’t for you, Ryan would still be twiddling his thumbs at Eastdown. You’ve turned his life into a game of twenty questions.” Helen stayed silent. Welsh thought she didn’t understand and continued: “All he’s gotta do is figure out what questions to ask. Ask the right question and you get your answer.”
“And without me?”
“Oh, he’s clever. I’ve been with the guy for a few years, and I’ve seen him pull some savvy moves, but he’s turned into superman with you around.”
“You killed Dr. Roper, didn’t you?” Abrupt change of subject. A trick she learned from Ryan.
Welsh just looked at her impassively, no concern registering on his face at all. “The situation needed a judgement call. I made it. Roper was going to squeal to the next tabloid that offered him a million dollars. We needed containment.”
“Did you?” Containment?
The telephone rang. Welsh got up to answer it.
“Maybe you shouldn’t be so loyal to a guy who was so interested in selling you out,” he said as he walked across the room. He picked up the receiver. “Hello? Yeah. Sure, yeah. She’s right here, hang on.” Welsh turned to look at Helen. She was seething inside. Judgement call? Finally, she noticed Welsh looking pointedly at her, telephone receiver in his hand. She rose quickly and crossed the room to take the phone.
“Ah, my oracle. I have a little question for you.”
Helen said nothing. She knew she couldn’t tell Ryan to go shove it. She held tight. But do I really have to tell the truth? I only get it right most of the time, not all the time. Maybe she’d have to choose her moments, but three percent was still three percent. She had to be wrong sometime.
“Not feeling co-operative today? Do I need to talk to Mr. Welsh? I’m sure Greg would love a little time out of his cell, even if only to spend it with Mr. Welsh. Mr. Welsh gets so enthusiastic, don’t you think? It’s one of the things I admire about him.”
You are such an asshole. Helen couldn’t see any reason why she should play this game anymore. “What do you want to know?” Three percent. Three percent.
“Good. I have Marcie Noel here with me. I’m trying to decide whether she and her friends are going to be important or not to our success. Can you tell me that? Yes or no.”
Helen’s first impulse was to say ‘no’ but if she did, surely Ms. Noel and her friends would be killed, or worse. She didn’t skip a beat. “Yes, they will be important.” Three percent, three percent.
Lying to a fortunatus is risky. According to Dr. Randall, fortunatus are innately capable of reading subtle facial gestures and body language. It was all part of their ability to come to consensus quickly and easily. In general, a fortunatus can tell if someone’s lying, but Helen was hoping she could get away with it on the phone. What if he can hear it in my voice? Helen held her breath and waited for Ryan’s reaction.
“Fine, I’ll keep them with me.” Great! She made a mental note to fudge the answers only when he couldn’t see her. “We should be back in a few hours. Oh, and Helen, I want to spend some time with you. You’ve been a great help to me, and I want you to know I appreciate it.”
Yuck. Helen resisted responding. She knew that she would ruin what she’d just achieved if she told him what she thought of him. Three percent.
“What do you say to joining me for dinner, Helen? No hanky panky, I assure you.”
“That would be nice.”
“Good.” He sounded surprised, almost relieved. “Good. A few hours, then.”
“Okay, put Mr. Welsh on the phone.”
She handed the telephone to Welsh and went to stand by the window. The Great Dr. Ryan is fallible after all. Maybe Ryan was slipping a little. If the truth were known, since Helen found out about his true heritage, she had decided he was completely insane.
For the benefit of Welsh, Helen sat down at the table and began sipping her coffee as if nothing at all had happened. After he got off the telephone with Ryan, Welsh tried to make small talk with her, but she remained distant. Nothing new there.
Saturday, July 17, 2083. 11:00 a.m.
“….Ladies and gentlemen, please. I recognise your homes are important to you. I know the Outside scares you; and I know most of you don’t believe that any civilized government would kill defenceless people but, ladies and gentlemen, this is what is happening. The bombs could break through to this level in about fifteen minutes, maybe less. I urge you. I beg you, please, join us in Warren 4. Bring all the foodstuffs you can carry. Please. Your children depend on you.”
The last sentence was a bit of a low blow, but Stellan was certain that the majority of his populace was being pigheaded and stupid. They were throwing their lives away. And, for what? For some misplaced faith and a few pretty little caves. Any average sapiens would be running for his life.
“Sir.” Les was looking anxious.
Stellan nodded and shut down the feed, turned away from the comm console, and away from his view of Origin. He picked up his backpack and put it on. It was heavy with food, a change of clothes, and other personal items. No keepsakes. This is a new life. Stellan walked at a fast pace, Les just behind him. They walked from the office and out into his reception area. Stellan didn’t bother to lock the door.
The corridor in this section of Origin was practically empty. They got on the elevator and rode it down to the Promenade. As the doors opened, Stellan could see that some people had heeded his call. Small family groups were walking away from the residential areas toward the tunnel to Warren 4. They joined the relatively small stream of refugees. This street should be full of people. He slowed a little as he walked by some of his favourite restaurants and shops. They were all empty. Origin was such a beautiful place; he couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. He had never planned to leave because, to him, the outside world seemed too chaotic, but if he expected anyone else to leave, he had to go himself. And perhaps it was time for him, for his people, for his race, to strike out and see what the outside world held for them.
Suddenly, the ground shook and the sound of brooding thunder came from above. Zeus is not happy with us. Stellan picked up his pace again. Some of the people around him were clearly panicking as a shower of dust fell down from the ceiling.
“All is well, people. The bombs will not break through for a few minutes. We have time. Walk; don’t run.” His voice boomed around The Promenade, sounding much more confidant than he felt. This, then, is courage. He’d never been so frightened in his life.
Another charge went off and the lights went out. A woman screamed in the darkness. Les lit his torch just as a dozen other torches came on and folks settled a bit but, then, a piece of decorative masonry fell from the Sports Complex with a crash that elicited more screams.
“We’re almost there, people. Keep moving.”
Stellan stopped as he reached the entrance to the tunnel leading to Warren 4. The group of refugees was disappearing down the tunnel. He looked behind him and shook his head in dismay. So few were coming. He glanced up at the walls of the atrium and saw thousands of lights on in the windows of the residential area. Each light was a family and each family was huddling around its only light in fear while an army relentlessly pursued them.
He turned to his aide. “Les, we need to cover our tracks. Do we have time to pull some explosives from the stores?”
“I don’t think so, sir, but I’ll go back if you want.”
There was silence between them as they both considered the issue. People hurried by but were clearly calmed by Stellan’s presence. Many touched him as they passed.
Les finally spoke. “I remember a cache of explosives in the new warren. It was sent over to start the architectural blasting.” His voice betrayed his relief. He clearly didn’t want to go back.
“Great. I’ll wait here. I want you go and find some engineers. Organize them into a team with the aim of completely closing off this tunnel. A full kilometre of collapse rock should slow them down.”
“Sir, you need to come with me.”
“No, Les. I have to close and lock this door and I won’t leave that job to anyone else. I’ll wait until these last stragglers are through, and I’ll seal this door myself. Then, I want the tunnel collapsed behind us.”
“But sir, they’re not likely to come down here for days.”
“Maybe, Les, but I’m not really worried about them following us. Think. What kind of bombs would they use if they realized they’d broken through and their aim was to kill us all? Wouldn’t they be tempted to drop a nuclear bomb?”
“They wouldn’t do that.”
“These are the Americans we’re dealing with. They’re the only people in human history who’ve done it not once, but twice.”
Les was silent.
Stallen continued on: “Let’s put some rock between us and a blast like that. These doors won’t be enough protection if they start to use atomics.”
“I’ll get the engineers organized.”
“Tell them they’re not to start blasting until I’m through, if you don’t mind.”
Les smiled at his boss’ joke. “All right.”
“Also, you need to organize the families into Warren Groups and establish lines of communication.”
“Absolutely.” Like most of his species, Les understood communications.
“And, Les, if anything happens to me, you need to facilitate the election of a new leader. Don’t let the group fracture. Go for a quick consensus. Alva’s nephew is probably your best choice.”
“Nothing is going to happen to you, sir.”
Les paused just for a moment, nodded and then turned away. Stellan watched as his aide ran down the rough tunnel, dodging refugees as he went. He was soon out of sight. Stellan turned back to assess the group coming through. “Please, people. Step up the pace a little. There may only be minutes left to us.”
Alva. She’d been livid at the outcome of the raid at Eastdown. She’d been against the effort in the first place, believing that Stellan’s plan would leave Origin open to attack. Perhaps it had been his initiative that would inevitably see so many of his people die, but surely, if they found us so quickly, Origin was already more vulnerable than anyone thought. Clearly, the outside authorities already knew about Origin and clearly, they were actively looking. It was only a matter of time. At least, this way some of us were saved.
They were down to stragglers. Another great blast shook the cavern and let a shower of dust and more debris fall from above. Stellan hoped that there might be a surge of folks at the last minute, even to swell their numbers by a few hundred. Unfortunately, it looked like people had already made up their minds. A particularly loud blast resonated throughout Origin, and Stellan could hear the sounds of crying children.
Finally, the last person came through. There were no more. Stellan shook his head, but still he waited, hoping. The team of engineers approached, lanterns bobbing, faces grim. The lead engineer spoke to him.
“Sir, you have to leave now. We need to start a blast routine.” Members of his team were already drilling blast holes into the rock.
Stellan nodded and almost turned to go, hopelessly, he took one last look. Then, he looked, again. Urgently, he held up his hand to the men behind him. He saw the light of a torch in the distance. He waited and shone his flashlight into the atrium. Finally, he could make out two small figures approaching, hurrying along the Promenade. They were children: a little girl in a pretty pink dress and a little boy in jeans and a t-shirt. They walked and ran and, intermittently, were slowed by debris. Twice, as the two approached, bombs shook the whole complex. Still, Stellan stood by the door waiting. When they finally arrived, Stellan could see that the girl was likely seven and the boy was likely three. The boy carried a small teddy bear and the girl carried a suitcase. They looked like Pooles. Stellan knelt down to meet them.
“Hello, Dr. Stellan. We decided to come.” The little girl looked at him seriously. Stellan nodded back at her, just as seriously.
“Yes,” said the little boy. “Our mother was afraid and our father wouldn’t leave her.”
“No, I’m sure he wouldn’t,” said Stellan.
“But I wanted to come, and Kevin said he wanted to come with me.”
“Right,” said Stellan.
“Our cousins have come!” Kevin looked happy. “Father says this will be the greatest adventure.”
“But Mum was crying when we left.”
“I’m sure she was.” Stellan brushed the girl’s cheek to comfort her. “You are Pooles, yes?”
“Yes, sir.” The little girl nodded. “I’m Francie and this is Kevin.”
“Hello, Francie,” said Stellan. “Hello, Kevin.” He shook their hands. “Now hang on a second while I close this door, and I’ll walk you both down to join the others.”
“Yes, sir,” they said in unison.
Stellan closed and locked the door himself. Closed and locked the door on the only home he had ever known. Closed the door on about twelve thousand people; friends, families, loved ones. Closed and locked the door on a whole way of life. He could only hope they wouldn’t suffer. He took each little child by the hand. “Go to it,” was all he said to the engineers as he strode down the corridor.
He and the children helped to shepherd the stragglers for a kilometre, down the tunnel toward Warren 4. About half way there, the emergency lights came on and they were able to pick up their pace.
As they arrived at Warren 4, Les nodded to Stellan and spoke into his phone. “All clear,” he said as he shoved the heavy safety door closed. Almost immediately, they felt the tremble of a large blast. Stellan stopped for a moment so the children wouldn’t stumble. He took a moment to look up. He had never seen Warren 4. They were in a large natural cavern, about the size of the Promenade. It would have made a fine warren.
Stellan walked the children over to Harcourt Poole, a man he knew well.
“Grandpa!” The two children squealed. Stellan waited until Harcourt realized that no one was with them. The old man caught Stellan’s eye, shook his head, knelt, and hugged the children close. Stellan turned away.
He found his way back to Les. “How are we doing with organization?”
“We’re splitting up into four family groups, of roughly seven-hundred or so each, and we’re allowing the families to choose representation and establish a hierarchy.”
“Fine. Any reports coming back on supplies?”
“I’m only guessing here, but I think we have enough for one week, maybe ten days.”
“These caverns and tunnels could go on for ever. We’ve got to find out how long it’ll take to get out of here.”
Stellan turned to the crowd that had indeed, now that he looked, split into four groups. “People. Attention, please.” Stellan waited a moment. “Attention. Anyone with extensive knowledge of Warren 4, please see me.”
Almost immediately, a couple of young, lean men approached Stellan.
“Sir? I’m Cain Harvey and this is Luke Poole. We were the ones who found Warren 4 and we did a lot of exploring in these caves.”
Luke piped up: “We never told anyone, but we found a way out a few weeks ago.”
“Can we all get out that way?”
“It’s going to be difficult, sir. There’s a lot of climbing.”
“Well, gentlemen, we can’t go back. We’d better get moving.”
“We’ll need to start through a natural tunnel just to the north east.” Cain pointed the way.
“Fine, we’ll take your lead.” Stellan turned back to the crowd.
“Attention, people. Attention.” His voice was bouncing off the walls as his people stopped to listen. “We need to start moving fairly quickly. Please, organize your groups and prepare to go. Luke Poole and Cain Harvey – raise your hands, boys – will be leading the expedition. We’ll be leaving from the northeast, so Pooles Branch, you’ll go first, please. Tellus Branch, second. Holt Branch, third. Green, last. Please, intersperse good climbers throughout your groups, so they can help the injured, the very old, and the very young. And, folks, grab whatever you can that you think will help. We will not be coming back this way.
People started lifting packs and gathering up children. The ground shook again. The engineers below and the army above were hard at work. Or perhaps that really is Zeus, spurring us on, making sure that we actually go. Stellan turned to Luke and Cain.
“How quickly do you think we’ll be able to get out of here?”
“I’ve never travelled with a group this large, sir, but it would take the two of us a few days.”
“A week, then?”
“More, I’d say. Some of these people are old, sir.”
Les looked at him. “Well, like you say, sir. We’d better get moving.”
Saturday, July 17, 2083. 11:00 a.m.
They had been sitting waiting for hours, feeling the ground shake intermittently, until, eventually, it stopped. They sat some more. The room began to feel uncomfortably hot, and Marcie started to worry about dehydration. Suddenly, the door opened and the bright sunlight blinded her. She squinted, but couldn’t see for the glare. Then, something blocked the sun. She stared at the silhouette of the guard, but the contrast of dark and light made it impossible for her to see his face.
“Get up.” The voice wasn’t kind, but Marcie was getting used to that. They got to their feet. “Get out here and wait by the plane.”
They stepped out, blinking, into the heat of the afternoon, where three other men were waiting for them, guns ready. Marcie didn’t, at first, understand what she was seeing because her eyes were still shy of the light, but as her eyes adjusted, Marcie registered an extensive military compound full of vehicles and personnel. In the distance, she could see a huge cloud of smoke had risen kilometres into the sky. This wasn’t the fabled mushroom cloud of the atomic era, but debris that had blasted into the still air and hadn’t settled. It was a mute, but eloquent, sign that the army was working hard.
She thought about the graceful architecture of the Promenade, of the folk who lived there. She imagined it all in ruins, collapsed under the force of explosions from above. These were peaceful people, almost too much so. They thought they were safe.
A cell telephone rang. The lead guard spoke into it and then hung up. He put the telephone away. “Follow me.”
They were marched a half a kilometre to the RP they had arrived in. Marcie was surprised. What does Ryan want now? The lead guard knocked on the door, then opened it. They were ushered inside.
On the same table where, a few hours before, the military and Ryan had planned their strike, a meal had been prepared and four places set. We always seek out our own. Marcie didn’t know how she was going to play this. She wanted to kill the man and take her time about it – give him a taste of the suffering he had inflicted on so many others – but she caught the look in her mother’s eyes. Pauline saw everything as an opportunity to gain some kind of advantage. Marcie had to try and see this too, but she didn’t know if she could contain her anger.
A chef walked in from the galley. “Dr. Ryan will be with you in a minute. Feel free to freshen up before lunch.” He gestured toward the bathroom and his tone implied that they all needed some ‘freshening up’. He disappeared back to the galley.
Marcie, Pauline, and Robbie looked at each other.
“What? Is Ryan nuts?”
“Maybe, darling, but I think I will go use that bathroom.”
“Me, next,” said Robbie. Marcie sat down hard, feeling a little confused. “What, sugar? Do you honestly believe anyone could stay sane after what he’s done in the last few years? Evil deeds always catch up to one somehow.”
They waited in silence, while each took a turn in the bathroom. When Marcie came out, Pauline and Robbie were standing silently together. She joined them. A few minutes later, a hatch leading to the front of the vehicle opened, and in strode a victorious Ryan. He filled the room with his confidence, and seemed to stand inches taller. He dismissed the guards who left the vehicle immediately.
“Sit, sit. Eat.” He gestured grandly toward the table. They didn’t move. “Fine, but this could be your last good meal for ages. I would be prudent and eat if I were you. You need your strength. And, you’re nothing as a people if you’re not prudent, yes?”
“Don’t you mean ‘we’.”
Ryan paused and flashed Marcie a harsh look. “No, I mean ‘you’. I don’t count myself amongst your number, this pathetic crew we just slaughtered like sheep. They were weak, unwilling to stand up for what they believed in. Unable to save their own. In the end, unable to even to try to save themselves. At the very least, you three were trying to do something. Eat. I’m telling you, you’re not going to be fed like this where you’re going, so eat.”
It was Pauline who sat down first, pretending to be the sheep he thought her, the coward he wanted to see. Marcie weighed it in her head and sat beside her mother. Robbie had much more trouble with his pride, but eventually took a place as well. Ryan, suddenly, flashed the smile of a gracious host.
“Wine anyone?” Though no one responded, Ryan poured a glass of red wine for all, sat down, and raised his glass. “Cheers.” Marcie had that feeling of being in some kind of nightmare, dancing clumsily through these social graces in the face of such devastation.
Just as they were served their salad, the RP lifted off.
“May I ask where we’re going?” Marcie kept her voice as neutral as possible.
“Back to my home, initially, to be followed by Eastdown, to assist in its reconstruction. But after that’s done, I would love to have some subjects with a bit of fury in them, unlike these hundreds of cattle I’ve already tested. They march in, you know. They do what they’re told. I think if I’d told them all to walk off a cliff, they would, just so that they could comply with someone’s will.”
Marcie wasn’t hungry but she saw her mother nodding, as if interested, and eating her salad with gusto. Marcie tried to do the same, but she couldn’t keep her mouth shut.
“Have you destroyed it?”
Ryan fixed her with what was supposed to be a withering gaze, but she didn’t flinch. “We completed our mission.”
“Was anything saved?”
“The complex was completely destroyed.”
“Yes. But that will not stop our work. We are already prepping for an influx of over two thousand of your kind that we have identified working for governments all over the world.”
“Yes, and we’re tracing families as well. The fortunatus like to breed.”
Perhaps to keep Marcie from responding, Pauline spoke: “What have you learned so far about our species, Doctor?”
Ryan seemed pleased to have someone interested in what he could knowledgeably talk about. “Ah, the fortunatus. Well, where would you like me to start? Fortunatus is taller than sapiens, about two inches on average. They tend toward curly hair. Women tend to have a lithe figure and men tend to have broad shoulders. Fortunatus tends toward a gracefulness in every movement that sapiens must work to achieve…”
He launched into a diatribe on the species fortunatus and its general attributes. Pauline was able to keep him talking for hours on his methods and his conclusions. Marcie only half listened. She finished her meal and sat back. The empty plates and left over food was cleared and dessert and coffee served. Finally, more wine was served. Hours dragged by.
Very near the end of the journey, Marcie startled out of a reverie. She looked around the cabin and realized there were no guards here. She thought back. All four guards who had escorted them from the holding cell had left the plane before it took off. There couldn’t be more than two or three up front, plus the chef, and the flight crew. Ryan was assuming that Marcie and Robbie would be shocked and cowed by the magnitude of his crime. Or, he was just baiting them, rubbing their peaceful nature in their faces.
He knew nothing about Marcie, Robbie, and Pauline, but he thought he did. He was, after all, the expert on fortunatus. He thought they were beaten. They had no weapons, no proper clothing. Probably all of their assets were frozen or stolen by the government. They had nowhere to run. Their faces were all over the evening news. Marcie thought hard. I wonder if we can escape. Surprisingly, the answer came back. Yes, we can.
She stood unceremoniously, lifted the almost empty bottle of wine and smashed it over Ryan’s head, sending glass and port everywhere. Ryan slumped in his chair, unconscious from the blow.
“That’s a bit of a mess, dear. Couldn’t you have used a book end instead?”
“I suppose so, Mum.”
“We need to tie him up, sugar. Let’s see what’s in the kitchen.”
The three of them walked forward. The cook was easy to subdue. Pauline riffled through the drawers and found some heavy cord. Robbie gagged and tied both the cook and Ryan up in the main cabin.
“There must be guards,” Robbie said almost to himself.
“Can’t be more than two or three.” Marcie did her own search of the galley and found a couple of large, sharp knives and presented them to Robbie: “Here.” But Robbie shook his head.
“I don’t use them and they’re definitely not for you, sugar. Someone could kill you with this.” He lifted up one of the knives for emphasis. She put the knives back in the galley and followed Robbie to the door leading to the forward cabin.
Robbie listened for a moment, and then, opened it gingerly to have a look forward. He saw another door standing ajar at the end of a thin service corridor, but still blocking the view forward. In this small space, were two washrooms, both vacant, and a storage locker. From the room beyond, they could hear a vidscreen playing what sounded like the streaming news, and men talking. Robbie looked back and gestured for silence. He slipped through the door. Marcie followed and Pauline came after. They moved as silently as possible through the little service corridor to the next door.
Marcie could see the whole of the small cabin outside the cockpit door. Two men were sitting at a table watching a vidscreen and sipping coffee. Since they were wearing street clothes, these were almost certainly bodyguards and not flight crew. Robbie did not pause. He immediately went for the man facing them, leaving the other man to Marcie. Robbie managed to grab his opponent by the hair and slam his forehead down hard onto the table before the man had a chance to really register their presence. Marcie grabbed a fire extinguisher that was secured to the wall and brought it down hard on her adversary, but he was already reacting to Robbie and she only dealt a glancing blow.
Robbie was soon grappling with his target and so was Marcie. In such a small space, Marcie was at a great disadvantage. She was forced into close hand-to-hand combat with a man two inches taller, many pounds heavier, and with an inches longer reach. She hoped she could keep him occupied until Robbie was done. She lost sight of what Robbie was doing as her opponent turned on her and viciously grabbed her by the throat forcing her down onto the deck in the process. She landed hard. The wind was knocked out of her as the man fell on top of her. She was hopelessly pinned to the deck. She attempted to execute a wrestling move – arching her back and using the force of her legs. She didn’t think she could throw him, but maybe she could distract him from choking her long enough for her to catch her breath. It didn’t work. He looked at her with a bitter anger in his eyes, blood oozing down his face from the blow she’d inflicted on him. And there was something else in those eyes, something dark underneath, some kind of basic hatred. He wasn’t going to let her go. She continued to struggle, but she started to hear a rushing in her ears and she knew she was going to pass out when suddenly, the man’s vice grip on her neck relaxed and she was able to start wriggling away. As she did, she saw Pauline hit him hard, probably for the second or third time, with a bookend.
The man’s body was lifted off of her. Marcie sat for a moment, gasping for breath.
“Take it easy, sugar.”
“No…,” she gasped. “We have to keep going.”
Pauline raised an eyebrow. “Just let me know if you need anymore help, dear.” She smirked and stepped back.
Marcie looked up at Robbie and nodded to his unvoiced question. She got to her feet. Robbie grabbed two guns from the guards’ bodies and passed one to Marcie.
Surely, the flight crew had heard the commotion. Marcie wasn’t surprised that the door was locked when Robbie tried it. She stood out of the way while Robbie shot at the lock, hoping to damage it enough to enter. It held. He shrugged and started to shoot at the door hinges, which eventually gave way. The door was still standing, but Robbie could kick it down when they were ready. How much time do we have? Marcie assumed that the flight crew had already called for help.
“Get back into the service corridor and stay low.” Marcie understood immediately. The space was too small for both of them. She followed Robbie’s directions, pulling her mother with her as she went. She heard the slam of the door being kicked open and then a series of shots being fired. After some silence, Marcie peeked into the companionway. She saw Robbie’s massive form in the flight deck hatch throwing a body back onto the companionway.
Marcie stepped forward and checked the pilot who now lay slumped on the floor next to the guard who had almost choked her. He was out cold, but not dead.
“Hang on, sugar.” Robbie was pulling the other pilot out of his chair. “Step back a bit.” Marcie did so and Robbie dragged another man out of the cabin and onto one of the bench chairs at the table. “Let’s get control of this vehicle, and then, we’ll take them aft. Woah. This guy needs to go on a diet.”
They both moved forward. Marcie jumped into the pilot’s chair and Robbie took the co-pilot’s seat. Marcie took a look at the controls. The pilot’s vidscreen was flashing the message: ‘Intruder lockout.’ Puh. Marcie started working on breaking in. The encryption was much easier than she’d expected. She was able to crack the lockout in seconds. She looked at Robbie and smiled. Too easy.
“Okay, it’s yours.” Robbie was the better pilot of the two of them. She gave the controls over to him.
Robbie set the RP into a shallow dive, aware that they weren’t prepared for fancy flying. “Check proximity, sugar.”
Marcie shook her head and started banging the keyboard, calling up the radar system. They were in a non-stream flight plan, a luxury reserved for high up mucky-mucks and politicians. The long-range radar was useless because there was far too much traffic, but Marcie couldn’t see any particular group converging on their location. The short-range radar showed some traffic nothing apparently threatening. “Looks clear.”
“Strange. They should’ve called for help. There ought to be a Wing on our tail.” Robbie looked puzzled.
“Maybe there’d be too many questions to answer. There are laws for moving prisoners and Ryan’s broken all of them, from what I can tell. If we fell into the hands of the authorities, we might be able to get some of the story out. Somebody might believe us. He can’t have that.”
Marcie tapped a few more controls. “Will you look at that? We’ve made it to Ontario already. This baby flies.”
Robbie was distracted. “We need to hide out, sugar. We need a few days to just breath.”
“But they’ll be expecting Ryan at his house within an hour, yes?”
“One sec.” Marcie punched up the original flight plan. “This plane was en route to his home, from what I can tell.”
“Let me see where we are.” Marcie turned the vidscreen toward him and waited while he levelled the plane. “Oh yeah. I have an idea. Take the controls. I’m going to stow everything down.”
Marcie took control of the vehicle as Robbie disappeared aft. She heard some crashes and bumps and looked back occasionally to see Robbie dragging the bodies and Pauline rushing about stowing smaller items. When Robbie came back, he handed her a parachute.
“Put this on.” He sat down and she relinquished control. She shrugged on her parachute and strapped it securely.
“Now, sugar, you see this rip cord here?”
“That’s what you’re going to pull when the time comes. If it doesn’t work, you see this back-up here?” He pointed to the other side of the pack.
“Pull that one. Okay?”
“Yes. And if that one doesn’t work?”
Pauline popped her head in. “Ready.” She was wearing her parachute.
“Okay, strap yourselves in, ladies.” Pauline took the navigator’s chair, and they all strapped in.
As soon as they were secure, Robbie dropped the RP. Marcie’s stomach did a flip-flop, and she did her best to control the urge to scream. As they fell, she started to worry about whether he could maintain control of the vehicle; it was larger and, therefore, much more cumbersome than a PA. But he managed the feat and levelled the plane out at just above the treeline, well below radar range. He executed a sharp banking turn north and increased speed to maximum cruising, while turning on all automatic avoidance systems. The force of the acceleration pushed Marcie back into her chair. This was no average RP. At this speed, most police vehicles would be left far behind. Only military jets would be able to keep up.
“Okay, check proximity again, please.”
Marcie checked the readout and shrugged her shoulders. “Looks clear.”
“Well, sugar. Maybe you’re right. Maybe Ryan’s been bending too many rules. Okay, let me get a new course in.”
“What new course?”
“I’m going to send our friends on a tour of North America.”
“If they have half a brain, they’ll be able to crack it, Robbie.”
“Sure, but body guards and politicians usually don’t have your savvy, sugar. It’ll buy us enough time to get away and confuse anyone trying to find us.”
Robbie sat for a few minutes entering a complex series of instructions into the autonav. He finished, just as an alarm sounded. He took the plane back up to a few thousand feet, checked his location and slowed the vehicle. Then, he stood.
“Come on, ladies. We only have a few minutes before my flight plan kicks in.” They started unstrapping themselves from their seats.
“Do you really expect me to jump out of this plane?”
“Yes, I really do.”
They walked back to the service corridor and to the outside hatch.
“I can’t wait.” Pauline sounded like an exuberant child. Mum, I swear.
“Mum, are you nuts?”
Robbie laughed as he opened the hatch. The wind started to scream in the corridor. Robbie pushed the door securely to one side, turned back and gestured for the women to come forward. Pauline stepped right up and simply walked straight out of the hatch. Marcie could hear her delighted yell as she disappeared. She paused for a second until Robbie gestured her forward. She moved to the hatch and hesitated again. Then, she felt a strong push from behind and was flying. Her yells weren’t ones of delight, but she managed to get control of herself relatively quickly and remember the ripcord. She breathed as much as the rushing air allowed and pulled. The parachute deployed as it should and suddenly Marcie was jerked up into the air. She looked up and saw the canopy open above her and realized she was now drifting with the wind currents.
Now, this is okay. Marcie relaxed and enjoyed the ride, trying, for a moment, to rid her mind of her troubles. She had a fantastic view of a beautiful lake and the surrounding forest, dotted with little cottages. She could see Pauline ahead, flying well and covering much more ground. After a little experimentation, Marcie learned to steer the thing and, though she would come down about a half a kilometre behind her mother, she was at least going in the same direction.
The flight down was over before she knew it. Almost too soon, the trees were rushing up to meet her. Hmmm. So now what? She really didn’t know how to break her fall, but she decided to try a roll and managed, instead, to become completely tangled in the cords. The parachute settled on the ground ahead of her, narrowly missing getting caught in the trees. She came to a rest, slightly more bruised than she already was, and looked up just in time to see Robbie fly past her. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she heard the sound of him laughing. Ha ha. She spent the next few minutes untangling herself. She was soon pulling in her parachute and stuffing it, as best she could, back in her pack. Best not to leave a bright white elephant behind to let them know I’ve been by this way.
Marcie shrugged on her parachute pack and set off at a light jog to catch up with Robbie and Pauline. She ran for ten minutes, but couldn’t find them. So, she started looking for them in earnest, using a grid-like search pattern and calling their names intermittently. Eventually, she came upon another parachute, but no Pauline and no Robbie. She decided to wait there and climbed a tree to get a better view. A few minutes later, they came walking back into the small clearing chatting together.
“Very funny, my dear. Now, come down out of there.” Marcie gave her mother a cheeky smile and climbed down out of the tree.
“We’re lucky, but not that lucky,” said Robbie. “It’s going to be a hike to the cabin.”
“The cabin?” Marcie looked a little quizzical. She couldn’t imagine Robbie owning some property out in the middle of nowhere.
“Yeah, an old family friend has this cottage out here.”
“Is he there?”
“Yeah. She usually doesn’t come up here during the summer. Too many people. She actually likes the seclusion in the winters and comes up here to hibernate.”
“She. Hmph. How far is it?”
Robbie appeared not to notice her discomfort. “I’d say about three hours.”
“So, how are we going to get in once we get there?”
“Aaaah. Patience, young one.”
Marcie stuck out her tongue as he turned away to pack up the other parachute. Moments later, they embarked on the long hike to the cabin through some fairly rough terrain. An hour later, Marcie was thankful for the boots and the fact that the boots fit, but she was getting tired. Robbie was right when he said they needed a couple of days.
They walked for over three hours; covering less and less distance as they hiked because they had to slow for Pauline. Night fell and with it came the mosquitos. Marcie and her mother were being eaten alive, but Robbie seemed not to be bothered. Finally, after being bitten what seemed like a thousand times, Robbie announced that they had made it. Marcie looked up at the winterized cottage sitting on the hill ahead of them. It was beautiful on the outside – chalet style with a high roof and a wall of windows. The place was dark. Robbie walked by the house, down to the gatehouse at the end of the driveway. The women followed.
“This gatehouse is rarely used. I think Auntie May held a party up here once and that was it.”
“Yeah, my mother’s best friend. She’s gotta be, oh, fifty-five if she’s a day.” He smiled at her. Marcie tried to save her pride by ignoring him. Robbie continued, “She wouldn’t care if we used the place. She told my mother to come up anytime in the summer and showed her how to get in. So, if you know the secrets of the cottage, you know about this gatehouse. He walked up to the door and ran his hand down a series of decorative stars and moons. He picked one particular star and gave it a twist, then a shove, and the door to the gatehouse opened.
“You can use a keycard if you want, but that’s the easiest way. And inside….presto! Keycards to the whole place.” He picked up a ring with five keycards on it. He smiled at Marcie. “C’mon, sugar.”
He shut the door behind him and jangled the keycards all the way back up the hill to the main house. They went inside. It was an open concept chalet-style cottage, with a huge fireplace dominating the main room. At the back of the place, Marcie could see a bedroom and a kitchen. There was a loft area over the kitchen, probably another bedroom. The cottage had an abandoned smell but, despite the must, it was tidy. They investigated the kitchen. There was a good store of boxed milk and fruit juices, canned and frozen goods. They wouldn’t exhaust the stores even if they stayed here a week. Robbie set to hauling in firewood and getting the fire going in the hearth and the stove while Marcie dusted the place and put sheets on the beds. Pauline made dinner.
They ate a hearty meal of canned tomatoes, sausages, and whipped potatoes. Pauline found a bottle of wine. They were able to eat sitting around a roaring fire, drinking a nice burgundy, laughing about how their feet hurt. After dinner, though, the mood became more sombre.
“How long do you think we’re going to be able to stay here?” asked Marcie. “They can’t be that far behind us.”
“Well, I managed to program quite a joyride for Ryan. They’ll be busy saving him, so they may not be that interested in finding us until, oh, around now, I expect. Even then, the flight plan will be wiped the moment the vehicle stops. We have time.”
“So, maybe another day?”
“I would say at least two. They won’t know where to begin to look, sugar.”
“Okay, we stay tonight and tomorrow night, but we leave the next morning. Good?”
Marcie went to bed not long after and slept for ten hours straight. Even then, it was really only the smell of the coffee that woke her up.
Jacqui Burke is
a freelance director, writer, and theatrical teacher living in Toronto,
Ontario, Canada. She is currently directing Kidsplay 2012: The Mayan Prediction
opening in June, and The Last Five Years
for TOKL Productions opening in July. She is, also,
Pretender, her first novel,
online at http://thepretender-amarcienoelnovel.blogspot.ca/.
She is preparing for two Shakespeare is Boffo! summer camp
sessions for 2012.
Want to contact me?
skype: Jacquiburkecell, jacqui.burke
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