Fiction Relay – Part 51

Keeping one hand on Spence’s back, Blue reached her hand out and felt along the wall, trying not to stumble in the pitch black tunnel. Her fingers touched a cluster of long, dry reedy things that felt like withered roots. And if there were roots, she reasoned, even dry ones, they couldn’t be that far from the surface. But not close enough to punch a hole through and hope for some light.

Fiction Relay — Part 47 (by me)
Fiction Relay — Part 48 (by TRG)
Fiction Relay — Part 49 (by Joanne)
Fiction Relay — Part 50 (by KC)

Links to the entire story: Fiction Relay Homepage. (Or, the Reader’s Digest condensed version on the Fiction Relay Summary page.)

 

Reaching her hand higher, she snapped part of a root off. Flicking her wrist she muttered, “Lumos!” Nothing happened. Fuck Harry Potter. She dropped the root, reached her hand back along the wall, and slid her other hand from Spence’s back to his shoulder, trailing down his arm to interlace their fingers.

“How do you know where we’re going?” she asked Spence.

“Uh, this was the only way out.”

“How do you know it leads out?”

“I don’t. But the hole in the wall appeared right after that old witch-lady threw that light-bomb at it. Right before she disappeared.”

“Oh, good. We’re following a hag-trail.” Blue grimaced and shook her head. “Crazy old voodoo-mama. Throwing light-bombs. Saying you dug out that space we landed in back there, You scoop this here hole outta you mama, boy!’ As if the mountain was your mother. A mountain-mama! What, did she think you were John Denver?”Blue gave a superior huff. “And calling us twins. Eeww! I would soooo not have hot monkey sex with my brother. Bat. shit. crazy. bitch.” She shuddered.

“Hot monkey sex? Mmmm….” She could hear the teasing grin in Spence’s voice, and he gave her hand an affectionate squeeze.

“I’m serious, Spence. Doesn’t it gross you out?”

“Relax, babe. We’re sure as hell not twins, because I’m two years older than you. And there’s no way we’re related because we have two completely different dads, and we do not have the same mom. Megan was eighteen when you were born, and even if she’d had another kid at sixteen, and forgot it like she forgot about you… Sorry,” he added as he felt Blue’s wince in his mind, “but even if she’d forgotten having another kid, either Sam or Ephraim would’ve remembered that. They were all together back then. We’re not related.”

Blue sighed, feeling relieved at his logic. Despite how weird her life had been, and how even more weird it had gotten lately, Spence’s words rang true. She could feel it. They weren’t related. At least not by blood. The ground beneath them rose on an incline. Spencer pulled her to the right as the tunnel began to curve. There were no more roots on the walls. They seemed to be headed deeper into the mountain.

“Plus, you remember your own mom,” she said. Spence didn’t respond. “Right?” she prodded.

“I’m not sure,” he finally answered. His voice sounded distant, sad. “I have memories of her — of my mother… of a mother — but now that I’m trying to remember her the memories don’t seem real. It’s like I’m remembering a story someone told me. I don’t know. I think something happened to me in that secret altar-room of Sanderson’s. Like I was finally seeing the truth about something, but I’m not sure what I’m seeing yet. I haven’t put the puzzle pieces together.”

A dim light shone far ahead. It seemed to be coming from around a corner. As they neared, though, they both suddenly stopped in their tracks. A half-human scream/howl echoed off the tunnel walls. The sound was followed by a crash.

Shit! Spencer whispered in Blue’s mind.

Don’t go into the light, Carol Anne, Blue murmured back mentally, her body trembling. She tugged Spence’s hand to go backward.

Yeah, Spence agreed, refusing to budge. Only problem is — can’t you feel it? That’s the way we have to go.

—–

Megan backed away, wondering if she could make it around the large room and to the door for her escape. She hated leaving Sam and Ephraim, especially in this place that was such a cruel replica of the lab they’d all been tortured in, but Sam was right: she had to get to Samantha. There were too many people too interested in their daughter, and if, as Jose had theorized, Samantha might have the power to beat Sanderson, then she was in danger. Megan and Sam’s daughter was walking around with a target on her back and had only limited time before she would be hunted. Megan couldn’t — wouldn’t — allow that to happen. She stepped over Ephraim’s unconscious form and held her breath. Maybe the thick clouds of smoke would shroud her.

Raj continued his transformation. Megan kept tabs on Melissa, noting that the woman seemed so distracted by Raj that she didn’t notice Megan making her way around the room’s perimeter.

Raj fell to the floor with a thud. He writhed, and a half-human scream discharged from his throat, echoing off the cavern walls in a barking howl. His legs thrashed out so violently that he kicked the stainless steel table free of the bolts that fastened it to the center of the floor. The heavy table skittered as though it were made of tin foil. Megan jumped backward, just before a corner of it lanced a section of wall that was right where Megan’s torso had been. The loud crash muffled her gasp, but she realized the commotion had probably already drawn attention to her position. And the fact that she was trying to escape. She looked up in alarm. Her fears were verified. Melissa was staring straight at her. 

“Oh, no you don’t, Meagan!” Melissa sneered. She side-stepped until she blocked the room’s only exit. Sam growled and lunged at Melissa. Just then Raj finished his transformation. He snarled and got his monster claws under him. Panting, he rose to his full height above the smoke, his jaws pulling into a hideous smile at Sam.

And that’s when Megan saw it. Through the haze, beneath Raj’s feet, in a spot the stainless steel table had once covered, there was a small, square outline in the floor. A trapdoor.

And suddenly Megan knew that beneath it she would find the box that Sanderson so desperately wanted.

—–

Okay, Bossman. It’s The Reclining Gentleman’s turn! 🙂

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Fiction Relay — Part 47

Fiction Relay — Part 43 (by me)

Fiction Relay — Part 44 (by TRG)

Fiction Relay — Part 45 (by Joanne)

Fiction Relay — Part 46 (by KC)

To catch up on the entire story, you can link to the very first post, and all subsequent posts, from the Fiction Relay Homepage. (Or, you can cheat and read the cliff-notes on the Fiction Relay Summary page.)

—–

Raj felt his body follow Melissa’s directives out of the hotel room and down to the car. Earlier, when she’d been asleep, he’d tried to summon food and drink to himself to try to regain strength to his body. But the water had just leaked through rotted holes in his necrotic system, and the piece of bread, once he’d forced it down his unresponsive esophagus, had festered in whatever pools of gastric juices that still lingered in his stomach, causing him violent cramps. And he was powerless to double over in pain, or vomit, or otherwise react. Bitch! This was her fault. He was a prisoner.

Almost. His mind was still free.

Now, she drove them west, He he fumed at his helplessness to avoid her command. He was trapped in his own head, the silence overwhelming. On the plus-side, she wasn’t prattling on about her imaginary prowess and her simpleminded revenge plan. Meagan-this, Meagan-that! He was beyond sick of hearing it. But she could have at least turned on the radio or something. He’d had nothing but strange silence from her for hours now, ever since she’d returned from trying to capture Meagan’s daughter.

Which, he suddenly realized, was right around the time she’d unwrapped that coyote statue from its old-looking bindings.  In fact….

From his  position in the backseat of the car he studied her. Melissa drove, staring at the road, her eyes unblinking. The coyote statue was perched on the dashboard, staring straight ahead, also. Raj didn’t remember Melissa having brought the statue down, though he could have missed it. But right now it was almost as if the coyote was the one directing Melissa.

Something brown and furry zinged across Raj’s singular stretch of focus on the road in front of them. Then something gray and furry. The car slowed, and Raj realized they were following a pack — no, a swarm — of live, snarling coyotes, who were running down the highway.

The mountain. He could see it now, coming into his line of vision. That’s where they were all heading. And even in his weakened state he could feel the energy emanating from it. He wondered…? With Melissa’s focus elsewhere, Raj let himself sink into the depths of his mind. He began to draw energy from the mountain, regaining strength. And power.

—–

“Spence?”

Spencer’s head throbbed like a bitch, which was probably the reason that the cramped room he was in was also blurry. He sat up, pressed a palm to the front of his skull, and looked around for the familiar female voice that had just called him, but he seemed to be alone. He didn’t think he’d been out too long. There was one window, but it was only slightly darker than it had been when the General had caught him taking photos in the secret room, right around sunset. The room that only the General — who obviously was neither the General nor his father — was supposed to know about. At that point the General, or “Sanderson,” or whoever/whatever this entity was, had been livid. Spence had felt the waves of fury radiating off the thing’s body, even as the face of his father grinned back at him. That’s when the sickening pain had hit Spence’s stomach and he’d doubled over before blacking out. Now he wondered why he wasn’t dead. Why hadn’t Sanderson killed him? And where the heck was she?

Unless…!

In a panic, he reached out for Blue. He was relieved to feel her, to find her alive. She was pissed at someone, but not him. Who? And she was confused. She was worried about her bike and about her mother. And, Spence noted with a small sense of amusement, she was reluctantly admitting to herself that she was worried about her father. Maybe she’d called Spence’s name in his head, but it had sounded as though she’d spoken the words aloud, not thought them.

And then his gut dropped in horror as he heard his own voice saying back to her, “Babe, stop worrying about your bike. We’ll come back for it as soon as we can.”

In that moment Spence knew why he hadn’t been killed. That thing — Sanderson — had needed him alive to be able to rummage through his mind and learn enough to get to Blue, and was now using some sort of mental-disguise with her. Spence thought of what he’d learned in that room. His camera was probably toast by now, but he hoped the Sanderson-thing wasn’t techno-savvy enough, and hadn’t read Spence’s mind enough, to know that all of Spence’s photos automatically uploaded to a cloud-server. But why? Why Blue? He flashed on a memory of Sanderson’s secret room and the stone table in the middle that was covered with rusty stains and prayed that wasn’t what Sanderson was thinking.

All of these thoughts flashed through Spence’s head in a fraction of a second, just before he heard his doppelganger say, “Now get your sexy ass over here, you’re too far away from me.” Spence felt the sensation of the other guy running his hand up Blue’s thigh. His horror was instantly charged with a jolt of possessive anger.

“Now there’s my girl,” he heard the person using his voice say.

Wrong, jerkoff, that’s my girl!

He could feel Blue growing weaker and more distant, the longer she was in this thing’s presence. He had to risk exposing to Sanderson the fact that he was conscious. He needed warn her.

It’s a trap Sammy, please be careful, nothing is what it seems, please Sammy, please be careful. 

He thought the words into her head, using her given name to shock her into realizing how serious this was. And he hoped that, for once, she’d listen to him. Blue didn’t respond. He couldn’t feel her anymore. Dread built in him. Please, babe, have some sort of trick up your sleeve to get away!

Interminable minutes ticked by. Spence realized his head felt better, and the room was no longer blurry. Then he notice his skin was tingling, like electric ant-feet crawling all over him.

“What the–?” He stood up and half-danced a couple steps to get away from whatever was causing the sensation, but was unsuccessful. Suddenly found himself outside, next to the blue mountain, and in Blue’s arms.

“Babe!” He crushed his lips to hers, and she responded, seeming as relieved as he felt. “How did you–?” He said against her lips, but she pulled back.

“No time now,” she said. “We’ve got incoming.” She jerked her head behind her, and Spence looked up to see a dark blob swiftly approaching. The blob seemed to be snarling and angry. A deep growl to his left made them both turn their heads. Four huge coyotes were on the ground next to two SUVs. They thrashed out of clothes like the General’s bodyguards usually wore. Spence pulled Blue behind him just as the first of the huge coyotes sprang.

—–

Okay, TRG is up next! 🙂

Fiction Relay — Part 43

Sorry it’s taken me so long to get to this! To catch up on the last few episodes:

Fiction Relay — Part 39 (by me)

Fiction Relay — Part 40 (by TRG)

Fiction Relay — Part 41 (by Joanne)

Fiction Relay — Part 42 (by KC)

To catch up on the entire story, you can link to the very first post, and all subsequent posts, from the Fiction Relay Homepage. (Or, you can cheat and read the cliff-notes on the Fiction Relay Summary page.)

—–

Blue tailed the two black SUVs for over an hour and a half.  Her mom was in one with her dumbass dad. Their annoying cop-friend Ephraim, whom she’d met back in Kentucky, was in the other. Ephraim was with some guy whose name she couldn’t make out. He didn’t seem to have any abilities, though, as far as she could sense, and she couldn’t figure why the guy was with them.

Spence had somehow transferred to her the ability to shield herself from the four huge Native American dudes who were driving the cars, but she still kept a good half-mile back on her bike as they traveled flat, barren terrain deep into the desert. It was obvious where they were headed, though. The blue mountain, Mount Taylor, stuck out like the desert’s own giant, asphyxiated boob. Its energy, which she’d always previously been aware of, had more than doubled in the past day. Since her parents and their “friends” arrived in town.

Earlier, when she’d been bored on the long stretch of I-40, she’d made her bike steer itself — a neat telepathy trick she grudgingly admitted she must have gotten from her father — while she Googled to find what was so special about it. According to Wikipedia:

To the Navajo people, Mount Taylor is Tsoodził, the turquoise mountain, one of the four sacred mountains marking the cardinal directions and the boundaries of the Dinetah, the traditional Navajo homeland. Mount Taylor marks the southern boundary, and is associated with the direction south and the color blue; it is gendered female. In Navajo mythology, First Man created the sacred mountains from soil from the Fourth World, together with sacred matter, as replicas of mountains from that world. He fastened Mount Taylor to the earth with a stone knife. The supernatural beings Black God, Turquoise Boy, and Turquoise Girl are said to reside on the mountain.[6] Mount Taylor is also sacred to the Acoma, Laguna, and Zuni people.

Blah, blah, blah. Turquoise Boy, Turquoise Girl. Shark Boy, Lava Girl. And of course the ancient tribes called it a “female” mountain. Proved she wasn’t the only one who thought it looked like a boob. Blue rolled her eyes and felt Spence chuckle in her mind. He’d checked in with her more than a few times this afternoon, meaning he was more worried than he’d let on before she left. He was almost done with whatever it was he was doing and would meet her out here as soon as he could. Blue knew it would be faster if she just teleported back to get him, but she wasn’t ready to share knowledge of that gift of hers with anyone just yet. Not even Spence. She put her cell phone away and resumed manual control of her bike, blazing into a red-orange sunset.

*****

Sam rolled his shoulders and tried again to see inside the heads of the two brick walls in the front seat of the SUV, to no avail. It was the same with all of these guys, almost as though their lineage was impervious to him. Not good. Also not-good were Ephraim’s visions — blood, Meagan, Raj, the coyote-man, and more blood — which weighed on Sam. He had a bad feeling about how this would go down, but he was determined to get both Meagan and Samantha out of this damn place safely. His family.

They turned north off of the highway, following the access road on the mountain’s west slope. Sam reached his thoughts out, stretching, searching. There had to be a way to avoid the scenario that involved Meagan-and-blood. He picked up on something unexpected. Relief flooded through him to discover their blue-haired teenage tail. Meaning Samantha wasn’t strapped to some lab table, like he’d seen in Sanderson’s twisted mind. But Sam’s relief was quickly followed by a sick feeling in his stomach for the danger his daughter could be headed into. He sent Meagan the image, and her gaze reflected how he felt.

“She’s okay!” Meagan said in her head. “But…!”

“Yeah,” he thought back. “We need to get her out of here.”

She squeezed his hand across the back seat. In her mind she wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed her front against his. He hugged her back, kissing the top of her head.

“Is this how it always is?” he asked. “This parent-thing? The worry…?”

“Yeah,” she replied. “But you get used to it.” Her face softened into a gentle smile and she suddenly seemed to glow from within. Sam caught his breath at her beauty and reaffirmed a private vow to protect her.

Just then the car jerked to a stop. They were near the mouth of a small cave which, according to an information-sign, lead to an old, abandoned section of a uranium mine.  The information-sign was posted on top of a steel barricade with another sign that read: Keep Out! Danger! Unfortunately, Sam thought, the barricade wouldn’t be an obstacle to a teleporter.

“Ready?” one of the brick walls asked Meagan. She nodded. Sam stepped up next to her and took her hand in his.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m going in there with you.”

“But — ?”

“Me too,” Ephraim said, taking her other hand.

Meagan frowned. “I don’t know if I can get myself in, for sure, let alone you guys!”

Sam looked into her brown eyes. “You can do this, Megs.”

“Okay, then.” Jose smiled, joining the end of the line. He clasped Ephraim’s palm.

Without warning, a surge of energy vibrated up from the ground beneath the mountain and pulsed outward, knocking them and their guards to the ground. The mountain began to hum, a deep, low, ominous throb.

“What was that?” Meagan asked, getting to her feet.

“I don’t know,” Jose answered, “but I think we just activated something in the mountain.”

*****

In the middle of his shift at Bad Ass Coffee, in downtown Albuquerque, Dak dropped the order he was about to deliver, turned on his heel, and walked out the door. “Hey!” Tyrone, his boss, called after him. “Where you goin’? Get back here!” Dak paused, growled over his shoulder, and then continued forward, his eyes transfixed on the west. He began to jog, then broke into a run. Suddenly Dak wasn’t there anymore. Tyrone blinked as a large, snarling, gray coyote shot out of a pile of Dak’s clothes. The coyote ran off down the road and was soon a speck in the distance. But there were other specks, too. Tyrone squinted, rubbed his eyes, and squinted again. He grabbed up his binoculars. Dozens — no, hundreds — of coyotes charging west, a vicious gray-brown-black cloud hurtling across the desert. Toward the mountain. Tyrone rubbed at the chill that rippled across his arms. Then he stepped back inside and locked the door.

—–

Okay, not sure, but I think the bossman, TRG, is up next…?

Fiction Relay – Part 16

For those of you not caught up: Part 15, here on Ted’s blog, or try the comprehensive Fiction Relay Summary on TRG’s blog, or the Fiction Relay Home Page (also on TRG’s blog).

——-

Evening breezes undulated the bluegrass and carried with it the earthy scents of late spring mixed with the faint odor of manure from the racing stables a mile down the lane. The long, winding lane. The lane that was lined by towering oak, maple, and elm trees which gave way to an unruly, overgrown understory which, this time of year, was anchored by a riot of orange day lilies that stretched, unchecked, all along the drainage ditches. If one was driving, the effect was of passing between hundred-foot-high walls of green that had been up-lit with rows of fire. The startling, wild beauty made it easy to become distracted.

And lost.

Thousands of meandering roads just like this one snaked and twisted throughout the state. They were all equally confusing to navigate unless you were as intimately familiar with them as your own spit. It was the one thought that had kept Meagan’s fear in-check — mostly — in the time she’d been holed-up here. The thought that made her stomach tighten and quiver with anticipation, however, was the knowledge that he was coming. Tonight.

Tendrils of her long brown hair caught in a draft as she sat on the back stoop of the abandoned distillery that had become her home… for lack of a better word. On the outside it was little more than stones and aged wood set into the side of a hill: a dilapidated old-timer’s still. Copper tanks with lichened patina peeked through a window in a barn that was set farther back into the same hill. But inside the hill, sleek stainless steel appliances, quartz counter-tops, slate flooring, Italian-leather upholstery, and state-of-the-art technology belied the shabby exterior. In the evenings, though, Meagan preferred the creaky old porch swing for a chance to watch the sun set behind the rolling green hills and to commune with the sounds of nature.

“Can I get you a drink?” Ephraim called from inside.

Meagan chuckled. “I’m ahead of you,” she replied, sipping the Buffalo Trace/Sprite Zero in the lowball in her hand. An abundance of good bourbon was one of the perks of Kentucky-living that she’d never been able to fully appreciate in her youth, something she’d remedied in the six months she’d been back. It blunted the edges of her tension and kept the dreams at bay — the nightmares and the other ones. They were unnatural and all-too real. The first kind made her panic and frequently writhe in pain. She’d wake to the sounds of her own shrieks, clutching her body for cuts and bruises she was sure she’d incurred, and terrified that Raj was in the room. The second kind caused her another kind of pain, one that couldn’t be soothed and wouldn’t abate until she saw him again. And that would be tonight.

She was no longer going by Suzi; there was no point to the facade. Shortly after she and Daniel had met-up with Ephraim, the three of them had agreed it was time to go on the offensive, and that it would be best for all of them to split up to cover more ground. Since Raj had proven that he was actively after Meagan, she’d had to go into hiding. Ephraim had pulled strings with some “connections” and had secured her, complete with 24/7 bodyguards, at this base in the heart of the Bluegrass State. It was the last place they hoped either Raj or Melissa would find her. From here, she’d been able revisit the orphanage. Or what remained of it, anyway.  It was now a blackened ruin that was unrecognizable as a place that had once housed dozens of children at at time. A place where she and four other children had been singled out for their “potentials.” A place where friends had turned into mortal enemies.

She noted, though, that at least the cave on the riverbank at the property’s back end was intact.

Ephraim had taken the flash drive and was using the evidence on it to create an airtight case against Raj. He was still holding his full time job with the police department, but when his schedule permitted, he’d been flying down to Florida to work on angles there, including verifying Meagan’s evidence. Ephraim also came to Kentucky frequently to check on Meagan and exchange any information he’d uncovered.

But she hadn’t seen Daniel.

Daniel — she had no idea if he was still going by “Sam” — had tracked a mysterious lead to the Pacific Northwest. She had no idea what it was about, and Ephraim claimed to have no idea either. He said they just had to trust Daniel. Meagan did trust him, both of them, with her life. But she wasn’t sure why they were keeping something from her. She didn’t dwell too long on this doubt, though, since she was keeping a secret of her own.

When she and Daniel had retrieved her duffel-like bag from her apartment, she’d let him and Ephraim think that the only thing of importance about it had been the flash drive inside. What she didn’t tell them was that the bag, itself, was important… in a potentially catastrophic, earth-shattering way. Once she’d been alone, Meagan had taken a knife to the leather bag, slicing it open and removing the fabric lining to reveal the old map that was imprinted on the leather underneath. The map was now folded beneath an innocuous stack of blue jeans and sweaters in the safe house’s closet. So far, thanks to her diligent and ever-present bodyguards, she’d only had a chance to verify that the map began at the entrance to the cave at the back of the orphanage’s property.

A voice called, pulling her from reverie. As she looked away from the setting sun, she saw the silhouette of an approaching male. A baseball cap was pulled down, hiding his eyes, and a royal blue UK t-shirt stretched across his muscular chest. Meagan’s stomach flipped, and as she watched him stride through the yard, she smiled.

——-

* Note to TRG and any of our readers who might not know (as I didn’t, before having lived there): UK, here, refers to the University of Kentucky, not the United Kingdom.  UK apparel is exceedingly common in the Bluegrass State. It is probably visible on fifty percent of the population at any given time. (This is due to the lack of any major, professional sports teams. And maybe also because royal blue looks good on everyone.)

Over to you, Hasty Words….

For War

Part three (of four) of CIA-agent Trig Denton’s story. This time, our writing exercise was the same: character/objective/obstacle (mine was Frank the painter/to find true love/that idiot from corporate), but to write it from the omniscient viewpoint. As before, I asked and was granted permission to continue my character’s story, rather than rewriting it. Enjoy! 🙂

——-

FOR WAR

Get a count, get proof, get out.

The orders sat front-and-center of Agent Trig Denton’s mind as he stood in the belly of the secret, underground manufacturing facility of the Bao-Dong Building in New York. Having obtained evidence that they had developed plans for a small, remote-controlled stealth rocket that ran on a near-perpetual battery—something the U.S. military called a Total-Range-Unceasingly-Energized-Land-Operated-Veiled-Explosive, or TRUE LOVE, the Holy Grail of smart bombs—, he now needed to discover how far they’d taken those plans. Maybe they’d already completed a prototype. His time-window was limited, due to the fact that he’d already sent a virus into the company’s private LAN. It would release in less than three hours, and the building would go into lockdown. He’d be trapped. There was no cell phone reception in this area of the building, and no way for him to call for backup from other CIA operatives. He was entirely on his own.

He’d made his way along the cracked walls of the long underground tunnel and was now ten feet from its intersection with what looked like a wide, empty corridor. The sound of a sniff made him freeze. Footfalls slapped in the distance. Someone was in the corridor, approaching. Trig flattened himself against the wall of the tunnel, his hand poised over the place where his gun was hidden in the fake belly of his painter-disguise.

*****

T’ien Jing strolled down the corridor between the two halves of the underground manufacturing facility. Jing was an unregistered Chinese national who was, therefore, in the U.S. illegally. He had a PhD in mechanical engineering, and also bad allergies that made his nose run. He stopped at the vending machines by the neglected back-exit tunnel. Drip, drip, drip, echoed off the tunnel’s concrete walls. It was the Hudson’s attempt to expand its trickle-invasion through the cracks. A shiver ran down Jing’s spine. He always half-expected a jiaolong, the mythological, alligator-like flood dragon, to slither from that dank, poorly-lit place.

Jing plinked a quarter in the machine. A faint shushing sound came from the tunnel. Jing froze and listened. Nothing. It must have been his imagination. He dropped two more quarters in, and the shushing sound came again. Jing held his breath. Again, nothing.

*****

Trig remained stationary. Every time he tried to go forward, tight against the wall, the coarse fibers of his slightly-better-than-paper coveralls brushed against the concrete. And every time he moved, the other guy seemed to pause. Trig stepped away from the wall and drew out his G26.

*****

Jing’s reason kicked in: when he put the quarter in, he heard the shush. The sound must be coming from the vending machine. He dropped a fourth quarter in the slot and listened. No shush. Oh, well. The long hours they put in at the facility had taken a toll on everyone. Maybe it had been his imagination after all. He selected a bottle of mango-cherry juice. As the machine whined into action the shushing sound came again, this time louder. Jing spun around.

*****

Damn coveralls! Trig dropped to a crouch and took aim.

*****

A low, squat shadow loomed forward into the corridor from the dim light in the tunnel. As Jing watched, the shadow morphed, growing tall, into the shape of a man. Jing’s eyes bulged. The jiaolong had such powers! Ice gripped his heart.

Just then, the bottle of juice fell to the bottom of the vending machine. Thunk! Jing stopped breathing and fell over in a dead faint.

*****

Trig eased into the corridor where Jing’s body lay slumped on its side.

Well, that was easy.

He quickly injected a paralytic into Jing’s neck in case the man came-to, and relieved him of the lanyard containing his ID badge and key-card. Then, after dragging the man’s body around the corner into the tunnel, he made a calculated decision.

Trig was larger than Jing, both in height and girth, but he figured he should still be able to fit into the man’s lab coat. If he got rid of his fake belly, that is. Slipping out of the coveralls, Trig unstrapped layers of padding from around his waist. The lab coat was snug around his chest and fell several inches shy of his knees, but it would do. He tossed the painter’s hat, ripped off the beard and mustache  but kept the brown contacts and the unruly mop of dark hair. His own spiky blonde buzz and grey eyes would draw too much attention. Returning to the corridor, Trig studied his reflection in the vending machine. It was enough not to get him noticed on the streets of New York. Hopefully enough to buy him the few minutes he needed in each half of the facility.

He knew from the blueprints that the chemical engineering lab, where they made the bombs, was to his left, and the aeronautical fabrication center, where they made the rockets, was to his right. He needed evidence from both places. Voices came from the right. Trig headed left.

A nine-foot, blast-proof steel door loomed in front of him. Trig swiped the key-card through the sensor and heard a click. He stepped into a lab. Tables containing vials, tubing, centrifuges, Bunsen burners, colorful liquids, and dark powders lined the far walls. Technicians hunched over various stations, deeply immersed in their work. A humongous steel-walled room took up the center of the lab. Trig recognized it from his Marine days: it was a blast-test room. He slipped on an ear-cam and walked purposefully around, taking in the entire radius, before he strode out the main, steel door, back into the corridor. The preoccupied techs had ignored him.

One down, one to go.

But even after he was done with both rooms, he’d only be halfway there: it wasn’t enough just to get the photographic evidence. He’d have to deliver it, too. And for that to happen, he would have to get out of the facility. Preferably without causing a disturbance.

He headed for the aeronautical fabrication center. The Rocket Room.

——-

Hope you’re enjoying this! Tune in next week for the final installment in Trig’s first adventure. 😉

For Country

Here is the second installment of the story that I posted last week. It was the ensuing assignment for my writers’ group, but this time we were supposed to take our same character-goal-obstacle (in my case: Frank the painter, whose goal is to find true love, after overcoming that idiot from corporate), and write the same story from a third-person viewpoint. I emailed the group’s writing-guru leader, Brenda Moffitt, and begged permission to write a continuation instead, since I’d left my character in-hiding, in the middle of a life-or-death assignment. She graciously agreed, as long as I used third person POV. Without further ado:

——-

FOR COUNTRY

The door closed. Hu Sing’s footsteps faded away down the corridor on his way to a phony errand to meet Han Li. Beneath the chairman’s massive, cherry desk Trig Denton exhaled, but his attention immediately re-focused on the flash drive in the CPU next to him. He uncoiled his taut muscles, automatically adjusting the “Frank Panetti” paunch and paint-splattered coveralls as he stood, and leaned over the monitor.

“Come on, baby. You’re almost there.”

The plans and technology for TRUE LOVE—the Chinese’s modifications for a Total-Range, Unceasingly Energized, Land-Operated, Veiled Explosive—something they’d stolen from the U.S. in Los Alamos, was confined to a set of reasonably-sized .pdfs. The blueprints for the Bao-Dong tower, however, were larger.

The words “Download complete” and “Upload complete” appeared on the screen. A grin curled Trig’s lips. As he’d downloaded the plans and blueprints, he’d also uploaded a virus. He tugged out the flash drive, pocketed it, and turned off the chairman’s computer. Time for phase two.

He exited the room, took the elevator down to the commissary, and pulled out his cell phone. Calling the closed-loop transfer feed devices he’d clipped onto the room’s hidden cameras, he stopped their cycle. The cameras would go back to showing a live feed. Then he ordered a Diet Coke and a tuna sandwich and sat down at one of the café tables. Taking a sip of soda, he plugged the flash drive into his phone. While eating, he uploaded the TRUE LOVE files through his encrypted line, to his New York office, and to Langley. When it finished, he dialed another number.

“Hey, sugar, what are you wearing today?” he cooed into the line.

“Stop it, Agent Denton,” Cheryl’s voice growled. Trig chuckled, picturing the field-agent-liaison’s cheeks turning bright pink beneath her silver-gray curls. “And yes,” she continued, “your files came through. Parrish is looking at them now… oh, wait. He wants to talk to you.”

“Good work, Denton,” Parrish boomed on the line. “Now finish up and get out.”

Trig frowned. It was obvious the Chinese were farther along in the development of this weapon than the CIA had previously thought, and they had two choices. Either they let him see how far he could get right now, or they removed him, analyzed the data, and planned another chance to get somebody else inside. This second alternative is was what Parrish was telling him to do. It would be the safer, more conservative route. But there were two major problems: the virus he’d just sent into the Bao-Dong systems would put the Chinese on high-alert after today, and it would take too long to get the next agent in as deep as Denton already was.

Trig glanced at the business crowd around him, eating their lunches. “I got some hot tickets for tonight’s game,” he said to Parrish, covertly indicating his desire to move forward with the task.

“Negative. Too dangerous.”

“Oh, honey, I’d love to, but I think I’m coming down with something,” Trig said, reminding Parrish about the virus.

There was a pause on the other end. Trig mentally weighed the options, the same ones Parrish would go through: the accomplishment of the smaller task at the expense of the larger one. The safety of the agent, versus the security of the nation. They’d known going in it could come to this. It really wasn’t much of a choice. Trig was more than ready.

“Fine,” Parrish grunted. “Good luck.”

“Thanks, sugar.” Trig disconnected.

He tossed his soda can and sandwich wrapper in the trash and flipped through his phone until he came to the blueprints for the Bao-Dong tower. Navigating to an emergency stairwell in the building’s south corner, he descended four flights until he came to the end at a dimly-lit landing. A large, steel door loomed in front of him. It was marked “Mechanical Room” in both English and Mandarin. According to the plans, the lone, back exit to the weapons facility was hidden in this room. Unfortunately, once past the door, his cell phone wouldn’t get an outside signal. He’d be entirely on his own.

A single, mortise lock stared out at him from the handle. Frowning, Trig picked the pin-tumble mechanism. The handle turned without effort. Trig’s senses were instantly on high-alert.

Something’s wrong. Why isn’t there a scanner? Or a card reader? Or at least a keypad? Unless…?

The door opened into blackness. Loud whirs and ticks clamored through the air. He entered with cautious steps, his right hand on the Frank-belly. Trig had added a pocket at the front of the belly, where he’d concealed his Baby Glock. Not the favorite of his handguns, but the smallest. From his left pocket, Trig whipped out a set of night-vision goggles and affirmed his surroundings. Giant metal tanks squatted in long, neat rows. Several series of parallel pipes snaked up the walls and across the ceiling.

…unless it’s also a real mechanical room, for which a serious, high-tech lock would be too suspicious.

The door shut. Trig was alone in the dark room.

He pulled his phone back out and maneuvered around the perimeter until he reached a section of blank wall, inconspicuous except for the fact the pipes were separated just slightly farther away from each other, before they twisted back together for the adjacent run to the tower’s upper floors. Looking closer at the blank wall, Trig grinned. The nearest pipes twisted around and up, concealing the edges of a door, and in a narrow gap behind the pipes the wall held a palm scanner. Pulling on a pair of pre-imprinted gloves, Trig placed his palm on the pad. In the interview to get the painting job, Frank Panetti had shaken hands with Hu Sing’s superior, a man who had access to Bao-Dong’s inner sanctums. Click. The door opened.

He was in a long, cement tunnel. A strip of lights flickered sporadically along the ceiling. A rivulet of water trickled from a crack in an upper corner, down the wall, and along a lower corner where the wall met the floor. Trig removed his goggles and followed the flow downhill until the tunnel met a larger passageway. He was in the bowels of the manufacturing facility.

——-

Trig’s story continues next week….

For Love

When I lived in Independence, Kentucky, I was part of a fiction writers’ group called the Independence Inklings. We met twice a month, shared and critiqued our WIPs, and did take-home writing exercises. For one, particular exercise, in November 2011, we had to draw from three separate piles: a name, a goal, and an obstacle. Using these three things, we had to write 1,000 words (a pitifully small number for a writer) using first-person POV. I drew “Frank the painter,” “to find true love,” and “that idiot from corporate.”

My mind saw the obvious chic-lit story that hung limply in the air. I cringed and mentally walked away, letting those three things germinate for a few days:

Frank the painter…, whose goal is to find true love…, but he must overcome that idiot from corporate.

The chic-lit fluttered in the breeze, slapping me like an annoying French glove. To get past it, I started focusing on me: What did I like to write? Who I was as a writer?

And it hit me.

The following is what I came up with for that writing exercise:

——-

FOR LOVE

I was in. I knew it the minute he asked me if I spoke Chinese.

“Chinese? Sure, I speak Chinese,” I shrugged. “Learned it in middle school.”

The executive at the head of the sleek conference table remained silent, but he frowned. The shoulders of his thousand dollar suit crunched forward, as though beneath the table his fingers were gripping the padded armrests of his black leather chair. Hu Sing, the one interviewing me, raised his brows and shot a worried glance at his boss.

Nǐ​ de​ jiǎn​lì​ bìng​ méi​yǒu​ gào​su​ nǐ​ shuō​ Zhōng​wén​,” he stated. Your resume does not tell that you speak Chinese.

Of course it doesn’t. It also doesn’t say that I’m highly trained in eight different types of martial arts, that I’m an expert shot with the G26 concealed in my waistband, or that I can hack my way through a 128-bit encrypted firewall in fifteen minutes or less. What it does say is that I’m Frank Panetti, a well-referenced contract painter from Yonkers with a high school education. For the record, my name’s not Frank, and I’m usually clean-shaven. And the excess bulging my shirt over my pants isn’t mine, either, but it sells the look.

I gave Hu Seng a blank stare then shot a brow at the executive, as though waiting for him to speak. Finally I cocked my head to the side.

“That was a joke,” I explained. “The only Chinese I know is chow mein and moo goo gai pan. Is that a problem?”

The executive’s frown twisted into a leer. His shoulders relaxed. He was fine with me as long as I was stupid. Not that I blamed him. The Bao-Dong Corporation in lower Manhattan doubled as a multi-billion dollar cover for a sophisticated, weapons-design facility, and they were hiring me to paint the chairman’s office while he was on vacation. I wouldn’t let someone like me get anywhere near a computer that had access to the entire company’s files.

Hu Sing took the cue from his boss and relaxed as well. “No, that is not a problem.” We hashed out the details. I left.

The following Friday I walked back through the doors, making sure to be five minutes late: just enough to make me an average, American slacker. Hu Sing waited in the lobby. He yelled at me about tardiness. The junior exec’s reputation was riding on this. He’s the one who’d “found” me. I feigned surprise and apologized. Nodding, he led me to the elevators and up to the top floor.

The bad thing about undercover work is that you actually have to do two jobs: your real job and the one you’re pretending to do. Fortunately, I’d spent three summers painting houses while I was at Baylor, and I’d learned all about getting something done right and done quick from my time in the Marines. Unfortunately, the office was huge with lots of tricky corners, and I only had today. Also, Hu Sing stopped by every fucking ten minutes to check on my progress. I had to get rid of this corporate idiot and buy myself some computer time.

While taping, I clipped a closed-loop transfer feed device onto each hidden camera I found. By noon I completed the cut-ins. The next time Hu Sing stopped by—which was in three, two, one, bingo!—I told him I was leaving for an hour to go to lunch. He panicked but had to let me go. I chuckled. You gotta love good old American workforce legislation.

As soon as he left I stood outside the door, pulled out my cell phone, and called the transfer-feed device. It taped the empty room for about thirty seconds then started the loop on the hidden cameras. It would look like the room was empty until I told the loop to stop.

Re-entering the room, I pulled on gloves and rolled up to the computer. Bao-Dong’s systems were on a closed server, accessible only from the company’s sixty-five story building. Any information they wanted to transfer between here and their Shanghai headquarters had to be done via an external device. Until now no one from the outside had been this close to their systems. I controlled my breathing.

The chairman’s passwords were easy to bypass. In seconds I found what I was looking for: Bao-Dong’s in-development plans for a small, remote-controlled stealth rocket that ran on a near-perpetual battery. Something the U.S. military referred to as Total-Range, Unceasingly Energized, Land-Operated, Veiled Explosive. TRUE LOVE. It was the Holy Grail of smart bombs. My lips curled the same way they would if I were about to bite into a seared, rare, twelve-ounce Angus sirloin.

TRUE LOVE’s genesis was one of the Los Alamos breaches back in the nineties. The intent was a surveillance plane operable from any location. At the time we hadn’t perfected the fuel cell. Since then we had, but, reading the plans in front of me, the Chinese had figured it out, too. Also, as we’d feared, they’d adapted the plane to carry a hot payload. From this building, for example, they could direct a precision-hit anywhere in the world.

I downloaded the plans onto a flash drive, simultaneously uploading a virus that would sit dormant for four hours—enough time for me to finish painting and get out. The doorknob clicked. Someone was entering the office!

The files weren’t complete. On a hunch, I grabbed my cell phone, clicked off the monitor, and dove under the desk. Dialing Hu Sing’s number, which he’d given me in the interview, I shot him a text in Mandarin: Meet Han Li in the conference room. Immediately! The text would come up as a private caller, untraceable.

The office door creaked open. A ringtone beeped. He was half in the hall, half in the room.

HánLì​ shì​ shéi?” Hu Sing’s voice asked. Who is Han Li? I had no idea, either.

The door closed. Hu Sing’s footsteps hurried down the hall.

——-

Yes, I’ve left my character in limbo. And I’ve left you hanging. (Bad writer! But I only had 1,000 words to work with…?) Yeah, when I wrote it, I didn’t like being left hanging, either. If you check back next week, I’ll post the next writing exercise, in which I continued Trig Denton’s story. Until then, happy writing, everyone! 🙂