C. A. E. Jones
Copyright 2005 C. A. E. Jones.
The sun had just gone down behind the trees up the hill and to the west of the house. He had been working late, and she had been napping after a day of errands. Their daughter was with her mother's parents, and their teenaged son was predictably quiet.
"You feel like getting something to eat?" he asked.
"That would be nice." She suddenly reached for the remote and turned up the volume on the TV.
"What is it?" He then stopped and listened to what the reporter was saying.
"There isn't much information available at this time. All that we're sure of is that someone--probably from inside the state--managed to get inside and onto a supplies helicopter. No statement has been released concerning the identity or the whereabouts of the two infiltrators, and their motives remain unclear…"
"No stereotypes. There's going to be some crap flying around over this." She opened her mouth to respond when there came a knocking on the door. They exchanged looks and he got up and walked to the front door in the opposite corner of the room. He calmly opened the door to the sound of distant insects of the spring night. Standing in the darkness outside the door was a man dressed in a suspiciously professional-looking black suit, holding something shiny in his left hand. His face seemed a bit grim and weary, but otherwise normal. His hair was dark and nondescript in the shadow.
"Is this the home of a boy around fourteen by the name of Royce?"
"Maybe." The man raised his left hand, revealing the letters on the badge.
"I am Michael Williams, FBI. When is the last time you saw Royce?"
"I haven't seen him out of his room since around seven-thirty this morning." He looked back at his wife, who looked quite worried. "You should probably come in." Agent Williams stepped up onto the threshold and into the room, the man of the house shutting the door behind him.
"Have a seat."
"No thank you," Williams replied, taking a look down the hall on the other end of the wall. "So you don't know if Royce is here or not?"
The husband stepped past the TV and the agent and to the entrance of the hallway.
"Royce!" His call was met with silence. He walked a little down the hall and stopped at the first door big enough to be intended for a room. He knocked on the door loudly, though not forcefully. "Royce!"
When silence persisted, he stepped back toward the living room.
"Would you like me to go in?"
"That won't be necessary," Williams answered, "But if you require the reassurance…"
"Where is he?" the husband said.
"We feel there is enough evidence to speculate that he left on a supplies helicopter heading for ground forces on the border of…"
"So he's the one that got a twenty-second blurb on the evening news."
"It would seem that way. It is too early to know for sure, but we did intercept a message from a payphone in this city's mall that seems to have been made by him. Code was used, but we believe he intended on doing something involving a supplies drop-off. It seems that he didn't know what his plan was after that. We reviewed security footage and questioned a few people and we are certain it was Royce that made the call. He also purchased an assortment of electronics before the call that could have been used to…"
"Fix a cassette-player," the husband interrupted. "He doesn't seem the type that would run off to the mall at random. But as far as I can tell…"
"He told the cashier his name," Williams continued, "do you have a recent photo of him?"
"Somewhere. Do you have pictures from the cameras?" Williams put away his FBI badge and quickly drew from the pocket of his jacket a small photograph. It was a shot from above and behind of a person that could have been anywhere from fourteen to twenty carrying a bag of some kind. He switched to another picture of the same boy, only from the front, turning into a food court. His eyes could not be seen through the sunglasses that he wore, but the rest of his face and his not-that-impressive build were enough to identify him.
"And he wore shades. How long was he planning this?"
"He seemed to know what to do up to this point," Williams said, putting away the photos, "He made a call to another boy named Uasho from a payphone in the mall. The conversation suggests that his only intention was to do something. What that something is could have been hidden, or he might not have known."
"Uasho? Was this call made to… I forget where… somewhere near the middle of the state?"
"Yes," Williams answered.
"I don't think he's had contact with Uasho since before the idea of the war came about," the husband explained, "They know each other from a summer program at the capital…"
"Which is close to the base from which the helicopter left," Williams finished.
"Do you know where they are now?" the wife asked from the couch.
"The helicopter left around six hours ago," Williams replied, "It doesn't seem likely that they've made any stops yet. The pilot has been instructed to land east of the border near a mountain base. I can't say anymore about the location."
"Ok," the husband said. His face showed that he had grabbed a line of thought. "So how did they get into the base in the first place? I'd imagine that the real crewmembers look nothing like them."
"They were heavily disguised," Williams explained, "They took a path that was the most technologically based; they used scanned ID cards and passed through a computerized retina scan. Most of the veteran security people were out, so no one recognized the trick."
"So that's where the stuff from the mall comes in. Ok, so when did the real guys show up? Were they that late?"
"The imposters managed to get the pilot to request clearance a few minutes early," Williams answered, "The real crewmen arrived when the helicopter was less than a mile from the base, but by the time the security check had taken place, the aircraft was far enough out that calling it back would have wasted resources."
"So they're going to arrest the boys and send the helicopter ahead with guys from the mountain base?"
"Presumably." There was a period of silence.
"Did you see any evidence that Royce would attempt any such feat, or what he might do upon succeeding?" Williams asked.
"He's not the most outgoing person in the world," the husband answered, "And he knows a bit about physics and electrodynamics. I know that he could do this, but I never would have guessed that he actually would. He has sort of an idealistic view of the way things should be… I know he didn't like the idea of a war."
"All I know is that the two of them are friends. I have no idea what went on up there."
"And you, ma'am?" Williams said, looking toward the wife.
"I don't know anything that he hasn't said," she answered. She looked rather resigned. "He was always pretty quiet…"
"Do you mind if we search his room?" The husband smirked.
"We haven't eaten yet tonight…" Williams pulled a one hundred dollar bill from his jacket pocket. The husband looked over to his wife.
"Honey, can you get the skewer?"
"Man, are you serious?"
"All we know is that he disappeared during the time that it happened," she cut in.
"Yeah," the husband continued, "and that he went to the mall and got some materials to confuse the scanners, made a call about it to someone near the base in code, and all with enough time to take a bus to the base before the helicopter took off."
"All on pocket change." He laughed slightly, but kept the grim look on his face. "At least he hasn't bombed anyone yet."
"They said he didn't know what he was going to do once he got over there," the father continued, "Though that is a little hard to believe."
"Well, he must have known the conversation would be watched if they were talking in code."
"Right. But it wouldn't surprise me either way."
"Yeah, let's go to a war zone. It'll be fun just to get there."
"It sure took a lot of work if it was just a fieldtrip," the wife said. The waiter approached and they were silent as their drinks were placed before them. After a couple of thank-yous, the conversation continued.
"They didn't announce that they were ready until that morning," the father said, "It didn't seem like it was all that hard for him to get the equipment ready and get over there. He was ready and gone by lunchtime. Where Daderah over here is lucky if he gets a break at noon."
"Hey, at least I'm working. It's the bosses decision."
"Oh, and what are you implying, Dahd?" the father replied.
"That your son works harder than you in half the time?"
"Oh, you did not just go there!"
"Let's see you get on a military helicopter undetected in five hours," Daderah said.
"Just give me a map."
"Without any materials beforehand."
"Bring it on. He had to get it from somewhere."
"Your husband just complemented you. You should probably thank him." Daderah began to laugh, the mother only smiling.
"They haven't told us where they are," she said.
"They probably won't," the father replied, "They'll be held as enemy combatants. I can't believe he would do something that… stupid."
"Hey, he had to get it from somewhere," Daderah added. He laughed some more.
"Excuse me." The laughing stopped. The tables around them had been empty, but looking around, they caught sight of a clean-shaven man in a T-shirt and jeans sitting casually at the booth across from them.
"Yes?" the father answered.
"I couldn't help but notice that you seem to be the parents of Royce," the man said.
"All except for Daderah here," the father answered, trying to remain as casual as possible.
"My name is John Smith," the man said, "I was just wondering what else you've been told about the situation."
"Something tells me you've heard most of it," the father replied coolly, "He went to the mall, got some supplies, called an ally, and snuck into the base. That's about it."
"And Mr. Daderah…" John said, taking a calculating glance at the red-haired man beside Royce's father.
"All I know is what they've been telling me here," Daderah said.
"What is your last name?"
"Who wants to know?"
"I would like to know," John said with a cold authority to his voice. Daderah shot a glance at Royce's father, then looked back to John with a serious face.
"I am Daderah Kiudak, and I don't want any trouble."
"And we don't want to give it to you," John said with a faint smile. He leaned back into the booth as the waiter returned with a tray full of food. As the wife handled arranging the food, the waiter still delivering, Daderah turned to the father.
"I don't think they're going to tell you where they are for a long time," he said quietly. The father nodded as the waiter stepped away, the meal now set before them. The father's eyes glanced briefly toward John Smith, then the group began eating in silence.
… A long, uneasy silence. It was several minutes before John got up to leave. A few quiet "Finally!"s were shared, but a quick peak through the openings in the decorative wall showed a very similar-looking figure moving around on the other side.
After an annoying time of watching through the cracks, Royce's father looked over to the booth where John had sat. He shot a glance down the aisle to gauge security, then reached over to the booth. As Daderah was about to speak, Royce's father's hand went into the space between the seat and back cushions, coming out with a small, clothes-tag type device.
"The wonders of microchips," he said, gazing at the device in his hand.
"How can you tell it's not just a tag or something?" his wife asked.
"The antenna coming out of the battery is a pretty good giveaway," he answered.
"They're going to an awful lot of trouble over this," Daderah observed, "I mean, sure it's a big deal, but… man, what happened since last night?"
"We probably won't find out unless they contact us," the father said gravely. He looked over at his wife and observed the unchanging status of her plate. "So are we done?" She nodded.
"Just let me finish this," Daderah said, quickly working at what remained on his plate.
"It looks like we can expect some rain this evening as that cold front moves in. Things might get a little intense, but tomorrow should be sunny with a high in the mid seventies and lows in the fifties. Saturday should be pretty clear with highs in the mid seventies, and Sunday we'll be heating up to the low eighties as we move into the new week." The voice finally changed to the main anchorperson.
"They're missing but authorities say that efforts at finding them won't affect the forces stationed in the mountains. The two imposter soldiers that sneaked onto a drop-off helicopter earlier this week have disappeared, bailing over an undisclosed location in the mountains. Officials say that the search for the two has been handed off to the Central Intelligence Agency. The reason? They claim it is national security. We will keep you updated as this story develops. An interesting turn of events in Athens today, a new record set for…"
"Short and dramatic. Just a taste of fear."
"I'm surprised they aren't blaring it with trumpets and banners," the father agreed, "Maybe they're just hiding the fact that the decision to mobilize isn't going over well with the people."
"… This just in, apparently there are reports of nuclear weapons mysteriously disappearing from facilities around the country. Sources say that they can't tell us much, but it has been confirmed that the majority, if not all of the nations nuclear reserves, has been neutralized by an unknown force. Our sources claim that there is no evidence to support that these weapons have been stolen; it seems that they have simply disappeared."
"And now we get a good three minute story to keep people on their toes," The father said, pushing down on the gas as the light finally turned green.
"How could the entire nuclear arsenal just vanish over night?" Daderah wondered aloud.
"And on the same night that Royce and Uasho vanished," the father added.
"But how could they have any connection to it?"
"That's the question, isn't it? Maybe has something to do with that little gift Mr. Smith left for us?"
"… Something seriously messed up is going on here." Daderah said, gazing out the window in confusion.
"And judging by those clouds, it's just getting started."
"Yeah… it's going to get messy tonight." The vehicle came to a stop and Daderah opened his door.
"Watch out for those spy-chips," the father called after him.
"Don't worry," Daderah answered, getting out and moving toward where his truck was parked, "Just keep your eyes open." He got into the driver's seat and the two vehicles both roared to life. Daderah's truck pulled forward and ahead down the road, Royce's father following close behind. As the lanes split, the vehicles came up side by side, each making a push toward getting ahead.
Finally, there came a turn in the path that Daderah took alone, pulling to the right down a quieter stretch of highway and away from Royce's father. He drove on, finally turning left onto a quiet street and decreasing his speed. The first few drops of rain fell like tiny clouds of mist onto his windshield as he pulled into his driveway. He was hardly out of the truck when the rain began to come down as a mild sprinkling. He headed around the truck and along the front of the house, coming to the small concrete porch. He stepped under the overhang as the rain began to intensify. He took a seat in the wooden swing that hung on the edge of the porch, his back to his truck, and listened silently to the rain. Somewhere to the west, there was a rumble of thunder. The wind gave a sudden push and the rain grew in strength.
The dark clouds were fading into existence above the house, their foggy shade drifting downward with the rain and making all things obscure on the earth. A bolt of lightning flashed to Daderah's right, followed about two seconds later by a clap of thunder. He exhaled slowly, relaxing a bit. The rain was coming down harder now, the wind throwing out a gust that sent it into Daderah's back and scalp. The eastern horizon was clearer than the rest, but it too was succumbing to the mist. The rain was now at its climax.
Daderah began to nod off when he caught sight of something dark moving a way in front of him. IT was beyond the edge of his property, in a yard just within sight. He leaned forward and saw that it was a person, waving an arm. After a moment, it occurred to him that the person was waving for his attention. He raised a hand and signaled that he had seen, but made no other gesture of recognition. The figure came closer, still beyond the edge of the land. It was still too far to make out clearly, but it looked to be a man. The face was impossible to see through the rain.
"… Left unseen… walked to the foot… someone… lost track…"
The wind and the rain were far too strong for the man's words to come through clearly. They finally stopped and Daderah gave a resigned nod. He maintained his relaxed, inconspicuous position as the man began to retreat. A dark car drove quietly by, the clouds darker than ever. As the car drew far past Daderah's house, there was a flash of lightning in front of him and to the right, perhaps just across the street. It was accompanied with an instantaneous clap of thunder that was remarkably close. It seemed to ring in two directions, one higher in pitch than the other. The darkness set in as the flash faded, the car and the figure gone. The sun was nearly gone in the west, the sky completely black.
"Authorities are confident that they have discovered the identities of the two teenagers that infiltrated a military supplies helicopter earlier this week. Though the names and homes of the two have not yet been released to the press, we are told that they were plotting something. It is unclear what their intentions were, but it is known beyond a shadow of a doubt that they did plan to get onto a supplies helicopter disguised as soldiers. Still no luck in finding the two, but officials are confident that they can't hide for very long."
"That's a load of crap," Daderah said, holding the voltage tester near the floor and slowly scanning up toward the ceiling.
"What is?" the father asked, tightening a screw on a receptacle cover in another wall. The room was the size of a small bedroom, the floor nothing but concrete and the walls fresh.
"That they think they can find them," Daderah answered, moving further along his wall with the voltage reader.
"What makes you say that?" Daderah continued moving along the wall, glancing in all of the corners of the new room.
"There isn't any power to this room yet, right?" he asked, keeping the reader moving.
"Supposedly." Daderah began scanning the wall that Royce's father was working on, glancing nervously at the single window in the room. He examined the frame of the window closely and moved on past it.
"What's up?" the father asked.
"Something fishy," Daderah answered. Royce's father took the reader and ran it around the outlet he had just finished installing and handed it back to Daderah. Daderah continued moving along the wall where the closet sat without a door.
"You think they're…"
"Yep," he cut in, "It would not surprise me if they are." He checked the closet thoroughly, spending an entire minute in silence. Royce's father stepped toward the closet. Daderah turned to face him.
"Last night," he said, keeping his voice barely loud enough to hear, "During the storm, I saw this… figure in the neighbors' yard. He started waving to me and tried to say some stuff over the rain."
"About?" the father asked, keeping his voice quiet as well.
"Something about "Left unseen" and losing track of them. I think… I think they've lost them. Like they got in some vehicle and they can't figure out how it left." Royce's father suddenly reached for a bag beside the wall. He bent over and pulled out a large sheet of paper. He held it up, revealing it to be a blueprint of some kind. He indicated a spot near an edge of the page, a rectangular space with some markings on the edges. In the center of the top side of the rectangle was a smaller rectangle, and beside it was an empty space before the rest of the map picked up with a corridor of some kind.
"Is that…" Royce's father nodded.
"The walls went up before we got here," he said softly, "There's nothing between it and the hall."
"But I thought we already hit that room," Daderah said, his voice suddenly louder.
"You're thinking the house across the street," Royce's father responded, pulling another item from the bag and setting the blueprint down. He stood straight, holding a tool that could easily have passed for a trowel. He stepped into the closet and faced the wall opposite the window in the room outside. He carefully placed the blade of the tool at the base of the wall, leaning over it. Daderah stood back near the opposite wall, a hand near his face. Suddenly, Royce's father shoved the tool into the wall, throwing his weight forward at the same time.
The wall gave way, splitting near the corners and sending chunks of sheetrock into the darkness beyond. A large portion of the wall fell into a dark space, hitting a wall a meter or so from it and sliding away. Below, there was a scurry of footsteps. Looking down, Royce's father caught sight of a figure disappearing under the closet.
"Man…" Daderah said, shaking his head.
"It's time for a chase scene," the father said, "Grab the flashlight and get down there." Not waiting for Daderah's response, he jumped into the opening, landing about three meters below on the remains of the wall. He looked into the darkness in time to notice a disturbance in the shadows ahead, in the direction of the window, away from the house. He stepped under the closet as Daderah jumped after him, a flashlight in hand. He turned and aimed the flashlight into the darkness. Extending beneath the closet was a rectangular tunnel that went for several meters, well beyond the bounds of the house they were beneath. At the end of the tunnel, there seemed to be a door, beginning to slide shut. Royce's father darted down the tunnel without heed of what might have been underfoot. Daderah followed, quickly catching up. They were over two-thirds of the way to the doorway when the door was shut.
"They can't lock it that fast!" Royce's father declared, rushing into the door and forcing it open. Daderah was beside him with the flashlight.
There were no traces of movement in the room beyond. It was a dark and dank room with various cobwebs stroan about. It was relatively large, a few cabinets sitting on the wall to the left of the door. There was a set of footprints in the dust that sat heavy on the stone floor, leading away from a set of stairs that disappeared into the darkness.
"He got away," Daderah breathed.
"I wouldn't be so sure," Royce's father said, scanning the room closely, "Those are my footprints. This is the basement of the house across the street; I was down here yesterday morning. And if I remember correctly…" He stepped into the room, careful not to disturb the dust too much. "… There was a chest sitting by this wall where this door is." Daderah stepped in and extended the flashlight to an angle that illuminated the wall beside the door.
"Do you see anything?"
"It's sitting on a table beside the door," Royce's father answered, "Lifted in a way that keeps every spec of dust in line."
"So where's our spy?"
"If he isn't lurking in the shadows," the father answered, "Then he's long gone." He pulled a cellular phone from his pocket and quickly pushed a series of buttons. He put the phone to his ear as the sound of a voice rumbled electronically in the dark room.
"Hey, are you on the side of the house facing the street?" He paused, and then finished, "Take a good look out the window." There was another pause, and finally, "Ok, just checking for something. I'll be up in a minute." He deactivated the phone and put it back in his pocket.
"You gunna pay for that wall?" Daderah asked.
"Self defense, man." Daderah laughed as they turned and headed back into the tunnel, letting the door slide shut behind them.
He flinched, the dart flying past him to land on the other side of the lawnmower.
"It'd be nice if we had something faster," he said, climbing onto the seat of the mower and leaning back to dodge another dart.
"How many of those you have, Sula?" the father asked.
"Three," the blond-haired girl answered, a third dart sailing toward him and narrowly missing his face.
"Be more random," he said, "And hold it as straight as you can so it'll go faster." The eight-year-old girl hurried around the lawnmower and began collecting the darts.
"The grass isn't even that tall," she observed as she picked up the second projectile.
"I wasn't planning on mowing it," the father admitted. He jumped up and did a back flip off of the mower, landing behind it as one of Sula's darts flew past him.
"You catch on pretty quick," he said, "but not quick enough." He jumped out of the way of the next dart and picked up the first. He sent it flying back at the girl with his hand as she dove to the ground to collect the third. By the time she had prepared for the next shot, he had picked up the other dart and rushed toward her, sending a hand for her wrist as he pressed the dart against her neck.
"Much to learn, we still have," he said, dropping the dart and heading toward the backdoor of the house. He stopped, turning in time to avoid another dart, and walked back to the lawnmower. He began pushing it out of the way, Sula continuing to fire darts that continued to miss.
"I'm expecting them," he called back, "They don't work that well when they're expected." He came back toward the front of the house, leaving Sula in the back yard. She threw the dart gun into a shaded spot near the house and sighed as she gazed into the sky.