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Pyramid Power: Chapter Twelve
Last updated: Friday, April 20, 2007 08:31 EDT
The afternoon was sultry. Yet the new body that had fallen out of the pyramid onto the street outside was cold enough to have come out of a morgue. Condensation began to form on the brass breastplate and the solitary grieve. The helmet radio chattered and the GPS tracker came on.
In the PSA operations control room in Washington, there was a loud cheer.
PSA Director Helen Garnett leaned over the shoulder of one of her assistants, who was studying the information coming onto the screen. “I take it we’ve made contact finally, Jim. Which agent is it?”
Assistant Director of Operations James Horton was leaning over the woman’s other shoulder, studying the same screen. “I think….”
The woman sitting in front of the console provided the answer. “It’s Agent Sternal, ma’am. No question about that. But he’s not responding to our signals.”
“Why not?” demanded Garnett testily. “I thought the man had been properly trained. There’s no excuse for—”
“Uh, he’s dead, ma’am,” said the operative. She pointed at some data in one corner of the screen. “Those are his vitals. Flat as a pancake. Agent Sternal is dead, ma’am.”
Garnett straightened up and stared at Horton. “Dead?” she said, as if it were a word she’d just encountered.
Inside the inner perimeter the medics who still did patrols there might have gotten to the man faster if the PSA had thought to set up a liaison with them. As it was, by the time Agent Sternal was found the corpse was well on its way back to ambient temperature. The man was so well dead that all they could do was load him into a field ambulance and drive out.
The ambulance was met at the outer perimeter by a team of PSA operatives, but not until the paratroopers stopped it first. The PSA vehicle and its four occupants had been forced to remain thirty yards away. Cruz and Mac’s story had got around, and the paratroopers were in no mood to put up with the PSA trying its usual bullying tactics. The lieutenant insisted that the perimeter was under the control of the 101st—and the PSA could damn well wait in line.
For their part, the PSA operatives were insistent that no one except them was to handle the matter of Sternal’s reappearance. No one there, on either side of the controversy, had any doubt that telephone calls and emails were being exchanged like gunfire between offices in Washington, the Pentagon—and the various offices maintained in Chicago by all parties involved.
The two agents still in the PSA van got out, and one of them tapped the agent-in-charge on the shoulder. “GPS says he’s in that vehicle, Senior Agent Moran.”
“Let’s get him, then,” said the agent. “I’ve had enough of this crap.”
The four of them went across to the field-ambulance, where the lieutenant from the 101st was consulting with the EMTs. Senior Agent Moran flashed his ID at the driver. “We’re here for the man you have in the vehicle.”
The driver blinked, and looked at the lieutenant.
For his part, the lieutenant didn’t blink. “The hell you will,” he said pleasantly. “Professor Tremolo will handle this.”
Moran gave the lieutenant’s name plate a quick glance. “Evans, is it? Well then, Lieutenant. Evans, let me explain to you the facts of life.”
“Fuck you,” said the lieutenant, every bit as pleasantly. “The only ‘fact of life’ that matters here today is that we are paratroopers and you are punks. If you give me any shit at all, you’re dogfood.”
Moran gaped at him. “You—you—” He took a shaky breath. “You can’t!”
“Don’t be silly. I told you. We’re paratroopers. That’s what we do. And I guarantee you we’re a lot better at it than you are.”
Evans turned his head slightly. “Sergeant Andersen, if any of these PSA agents makes a threatening move, kill him.”
“Yes, sir,” said the nearby sergeant, stolidly. “Private Henderson, lower your weapon. The lieutenant said if they make a threatening move.” He gave the PSA agents a glance. “Which they won’t.”
A bit reluctantly, the rifle barrel of one of his soldiers came down. Maybe two inches.
Moran was still gaping at Evans. Then, realizing how foolish he looked, snapped his mouth shut.
“I’ll have you cashiered for this,” he hissed. “At the very least.”
Evans shrugged. “Maybe. But I doubt it, and you want to know why?” The lieutenant jerked a thumb at the ambulance. “Because this operation of yours is already coming apart at the seams, that’s why. You Pissants might have gotten away with breaking half the laws on the books, if you hadn’t gotten caught in the act and if your operation had succeeded. But you did and it isn’t. In Washingtonese, do you know what word that translates into?”
Moran stared at him. “What?” he finally asked.
“Wa-ter-gate,” said Evans, drawling out the syllables. “There’s blood in the water, Pissant—and it’s yours, not mine. So guess who the sharks are coming after? They ate a president, once, after snacking on a bunch of flunkies and plumbers. You think they’ll choke on a quarter-ante agency director—much less a penny-ante field agent?”
Moments later, the PSA vehicle departed. The lieutenant turned back to the ambulance driver.
“So what did he die of?”
The medic shrugged. “Hypothermia, maybe,” he said, wiping the sweat off his brow. “The only other thing obviously wrong with him was a broken ankle. But he had frostbite.”
“Examination of the material on the corpse’s sandals revealed fragments of plant material, mostly fairly far gone into decay.” The young forensic scientist spoke calmly, as if he weren’t addressing an audience that included an eagle-winged, lion-bodied individual with the upper body of a naked woman. “However, we have identified the remains of bracken, Pteridium aquilinum, and also cloudberry.”
“Not exactly what you would expect to find in Greece, even mythological Greece,” said Miggy, steepling his fingers.
“No, Professor, it isn’t. The pollen analysis from the mud paints a picture far more congruent with a paleoarctic origin for the material. I have a crew doing composition comparisons with various locales in Northern Europe and Asia, at various historical dates.” He scratched his chin, obviously debating whether to extend comment past what was certain.
“Spit it out,” said Miggy, who, as a career scientist, was an expert at dealing with scientific caution.
“It looks like Scandinavia, Professor. Tenth or eleventh century.”
Miggy Tremelo grunted. “Norse myth. Rachel, get me someone with some expertise. Actually, get three or four. I’ll talk to them on the phone, and see if I can pick out someone I can actually communicate with.”
“Norse. You mean like the Vikings and Thor and Odin and all that stuff?” said McKenna.
“Yes. And I’m afraid I know a lot less about that subject than I do about high energy physics,” admitted Tremelo.
“I know a little about it,” said the paratrooper. “Ma was an Olsen before she married. Danish roots and proud of them. It’s pretty wild stuff. Fenrir wolf and Ragnarok. And Loki. And lots of giants and trolls and snow and ice.”
“Prefect spot for a bunch of Greek hoplites,” snorted Cruz. “Well, at least they’ve got the Doc with them—if they’ll have enough sense to listen to him.”
“And my child,” said Medea.
“And my mother,” said Tina, “and Ella, and Daddy and Emmitt and Ty. We need to get them back. I want them!”
“We’re doing our best, child. And, well, they are the best. They’re the only people who have ever come back alive before.” What Miggy didn’t have the courage to say, was that the means they used last time—the sphinx—wouldn’t work. Without a lot more data about Norse mythology he wasn’t sure what would work, if anything could.
The phone rang. Miggy was relieved.
And then, as he realized what the call meant, a lot less relieved.
He stood up. “I have to go to Washington to testify to a Senate select committee. That woman—Ms. Garnett—has apparently been very busy. I guess it’s going to be a political slugging match, after all. I thought she’d have enough sense to cut her losses and run. I’m going to need some witnesses. Rachel, get me Colonel McNamara on the line. Patch him through to my cell phone, since I’ve a plane to catch. You all stay right here, until I contact you.”
“What about the dragons?” asked Medea, pointing to the parking lot, where the dragons reclined.
“Yeah,” said Cruz. “Fish and Wildlife are getting pretty shrill about taking them back to their reserve. Still, Bitar and Smitar are a major deterrent for those PSA goons. Whether or not they’d be dumb enough to start a physical conflict with us paratroopers, the dragons just plain scare them. I’d like them near at hand.”
Miggy smiled evilly. “I have taken steps. A special guard for them and Throttler is flying up from Vegas. I believe they’re accompanied by several news crews. The dragons will stay exactly where you want them. You are not alone in the belief that Ms Garnett would like them, you, and certainly me, to disappear. In the interests of national security, of course.”
“Of course,” said Cruz. “Actually, I’d better go out and talk to the dragons. They’re not very bright, but they tend to listen to me.”
“For about as long as it sticks in their heads,” said Medea, squeezing his shoulder. “Which is, generally speaking, not very long.”
“You need to pat it them gently with something,” said Cruz. “An oar is good.”
The dragons greeted him with their usual enthusiasm, as if they hadn’t seen him for three months and he was their only possible source of food. Literally, of course. They tried to wrap their coils around him and taste him with their tongues.
“Lay off, let me breathe! The food arrived yet?”
The dragons looked at him with kicked puppy eyes. He was obliged to wallop their heads a few times to reassure them.
“No food, Cruz,” said Smitar, mournfully.
“Poor little us,” said Bitar, accidentally squashing a SUV. “Nobody loves us. Not even the chicks.”
“And I’ve nothing against chicken,” said Smitar. “It’s nicer than goose. Not so many feathers to get stuck in your teeth.”
“If you eat them before barbequeing them, that is,” said Bitar, licking his chops. “They’re nice with fries, I believe.”
“What are fries?” asked Smitar, tasting a piece of SUV bumper.
Bitar thought about it. “It’s tricky. Anything that can’t get out of the way, that you cook in grease.”
“Never was that fond of Greek food. I preferred the flavor of Egyptians. More tender and spicier,” said Smitar. “Anyway, we’re starving.”
Cruz swatted them affectionately. “You can’t believe everything a dragon says. They speak with forked tongue. I know from Arachne that you ate at the truck-stop. And I’ve got to have a word with you about that. You have to stop snacking on people’s cars.”
“Can’t help it,” said Bitar. “I’m craving metal. And the stupid officials here don’t wear armor like they should.”
“It’s a breach of tradition,” agreed Smitar. “It shouldn’t be allowed. Officials need armor. And I must admit I really feel the need for bit of bronze. This chrome lacks flavor.”
Cruz wished like hell he had Liz to ask about the biology of the creatures. Maybe they really did need to eat some metal.
“There is something missing in our lives, Cruz,” said Smitar
Bitar nodded. “Besides grilled chicken. Or goose.”
Smitar coughed awkwardly. “It’s about… you know… Lady dragons.”
Bitar nodded. “You haven’t got a sister, have you, Cruz? You did say your mother could be a bit of an old dragon.”
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