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Warp Speed: Chapter Twelve

       Last updated: Saturday, August 28, 2004 22:40 EDT



    “Anson, let me do the talking,” Tabitha warned as we approached the guard shack. I nodded to her.

    “You got it, Colonel!”

    The guard looked to be between twenty and twenty and a half somewhere. That is, if he was a day over eighteen. Tabitha postured herself with her best voice of command that she had learned in officer’s school. Looking back on the scene, I realize that we must have been quite a sight to see. Both of us were sweaty, wet, muddy, and in our white Spandex long johns - but none of that phased Tabitha a bit.

    “Airman! I am Colonel Tabitha Ames and this is Dr. Anson Clemons.” Tabitha showed off our astronaut wings and her dog tags. “We are survivors of a Shuttle crash and it is important that we see your commanding officer immediately.”

    The airman must have recognized her. He snapped to and saluted her. Tabitha returned the salute. “It is an honor to meet you, Colonel ma’am. I’ve been a long-time fan of yours. I always wanted to be an astronaut. That is why I am in the Air Force so I can pay my way through school and-”

    “That’s great soldier and I would love to hear it some other time, but we’re in an extreme hurry. Where is your C.O.?”

    “Well Colonel, other than that truck that just came through I’ve been the only person on this side of the base all day. We’ll have to use the radio. Follow me.” He led us to the small truck parked behind the guard shack. He made a call to his superiors and handed Tabitha the radio.

    “Who am I speaking with?” Tabitha asked.

    “This is Sergeant James of base military police - who is this?”

    “Sergeant, my name is Colonel Tabitha Ames it is very important that you listen to me carefully. I and one other occupant of the Space Shuttle are the only survivors of a crash that took place about three miles from this gate. There are security-sensitive elements in the crash site. More importantly, one of the classified components at the crash site has gone critical. That device will, I repeat, will explode in about twenty minutes or so unless we return and stop it. The explosion will have a total destruct radius larger than the atomic explosion at Hiroshima. Do you understand?”

    There was a pause on the other end of the radio for a moment. The airman looked at me as though what Tabitha had just said scared him out of his mind. It well should have. I was scared shitless!

    “Uh, ma’am is this for real? Jason is this some sort of gag?”

    “Sergeant, I assure you that this is no gag. If we don’t take action right now, there will be serious consequences!” She pretty much screamed that last bit at the microphone.

    The Airman took the microphone from Tabitha.

    “Excuse me, Colonel,” he said. “Sergeant, this is Airman Jason. This is real, Sarge! It really is Colonel Ames - I recognize her from television. Her and this other fellow just walked up out of the woods still in their astronaut gear. They both look like they’ve had a really bad day.”

    “Alright, Jason. Put the Colonel back on.” Airman Jason handed Tabitha the mic.

    “What do you need, Colonel?”

    “First you need to start a civil defense evacuation of the area. A ten-mile radius from here at least. Do that now. Second, get us a helicopter or something that can land in a tight spot here five seconds ago. Also, hold a second…” She turned to me. “What do we need Anson?”

    “Uh, a set of jumper cables and about five car batteries. How about some clothes and shoes. I wear a size ten and a half. Oh, and some duct tape. You can never have too much duct tape.”

    “Good idea. I wear a women’s nine. Did you copy that Sergeant?”

    “Copy that, Colonel. It will be there in five minutes or less.”

    I had expected him to ask about the car batteries and stuff but he didn’t. He just followed orders and didn’t waste time. Good soldier.

    “Colonel, you guys look thirsty. I have some sodas in a cooler in the shack there if you want them and there’s a water cooler back there, too.” Airman Jason said. I could tell Airman Jason wasn’t from the South. The thing about there being “sodas” instead of “cocolas” in the cooler was a dead giveaway.

    “Airman, I want you to get in your truck and drive south at least ten miles before you stop,” Tabitha ordered him.

    “Sorry, ma’am. From the sound of it you two will need some help carrying all those car batteries. I’m going with you. Besides, my Aunt Rosie lives about five miles from where you are talking about. If I can help, I plan to. ”

    “Airman!-” Tabitha started in on him. I interrupted her.

    “Tabitha, he’s right. We need the help. I don’t want anybody else involved either, but he signed on to help protect the country. This is his job.”

    Tabitha scowled at me and stormed over to the truck. She didn’t say a word. She rummaged through the cooler for a soft drink. I followed her.

    “What?” I asked her. I did something wrong. I could tell.

    “Anson, I love you, but never, and I mean never, contradict me when I’m giving orders to subordinate soldiers.”

    “Tabitha I love you too – more than anything in the world. But, I’m not a soldier and I don’t have to follow orders here. We aren’t on the Shuttle anymore. And although I will admit that you are better suited to be in charge here, if you do something wrong or if I disagree with you I should be able to tell you. Shouldn’t I?”

    “Next time do it in private!”

    “Yes ma’am, Colonel.”

    “Don’t Colonel me, civilian,” she tossed right back at me. She was still obviously sore at me, but not as much. After all, I had invented the warp drive.

    “Listen,” I began. “You’re right and I’m right. I don’t want to involve anyone else either. Hell, if there was a way that I could do this myself and put you in that truck with Airman Jason I would do it.” Tabitha halted me there.

    “The hell you would!”

    “Well, I’d try. Maybe between Airman Jason and me we could hogtie you and throw you in the back of that truck.”

    “There would be a helluva fight,” she said. Then she smiled. That was good. I didn’t want Tabitha mad at me. We had enough on our minds.

    We grabbed a coke each and started drinking them. I managed to get out of Airman Jason that he was from Ohio somewhere and his Aunt Rosie was retired and living here in Florida.

    Tabitha and I both needed the caffeine and sugar rush. Of course, neither of us needed to be dehydrated and that is just what the caffeine will do to you. We chased the cokes by filling them with water from the water cooler in the guard shack.

    About three minutes had passed since the radio conversation. I looked at my watch. There were only about seventeen minutes left. Whoever was coming had better hurry.

    “If they don’t show within ten minutes, all three of us are getting in that truck and heading south,” I told Tabitha and Jason.

    Then a jet silently passed into view from behind a small hill. A few seconds later we could hear it. It came straight for the clearing at the guard shack.

    “That’s a Harrier Jump Jet,” Tabitha exclaimed.

    “Doesn’t look like any helicopter I have ever seen,” I replied.

    “Yeah, I like Harriers. The VTOL capability makes them very useful like a helicopter, but still as effective as a fighter jet. Just check out how it lands in as small a space as a chopper can.” Tabitha watched in approval of the pilot’s skill.

    The jet landed in a small clearing and two men crawled down from it. One of them was carrying a small duffle bag. The pilot confronted Tabitha.

    “You Colonel Ames?”

    “That’s right, Captain. I thought I asked for a helicopter.”

    “Sorry ma’am. All the helicopters were ordered out when the tornadoes came through. There are none within twenty minutes of here. This Jump Jet came in just after the storms. We were fortunate to get it. It is a real mess out there.” He pointed to the southeast.

    The other man handed me a flight suit, a pair of socks, and a pair of combat boots. Then he handed the duffle bag to Tabitha, after he saluted her of course. Tabitha looked around and then stepped behind the truck.

    “Gentlemen, please look the other way. Anson, get dressed quick.”

    I was still trying to tie my boots when Tabitha stepped out from behind the truck.

    “Captain, I’ll take your gear. Dr. Clemons will take the Lieutenant’s. Move it!” The two of them moved it.

    “Sorry, Airman. I guess you won’t get to go with us after all.” I shook his hand.

    “Good luck sir and ma’am,” he said.

    “You three men get in that truck and drive south. That is an order! Where are the batteries?” Tabitha asked.

    “Sorry, ma’am. No time to find them. But, we did get a small generator fully fueled and the jumper cables. They are in the back seat,” the lieutenant said.

    “Anson, will that work?”

    “Yeah, it should. We will probably have to reset the circuit breaker on it every time we fry a board though. Hope we have enough time.” At least I thought it should work. There were no physical reasons why it shouldn’t.

    Tabitha saluted the three men and we were off. I climbed into the backseat and Tabitha climbed into the pilot’s seat. She cycled the canopy as she brought the engines on line.

    “Have you ever flown one of these things before?” I prayed that the answer was yes.

    “Never. How hard can it be?” She laughed. “Relax, I have over a thousand hours in these things,” she informed me as we lifted vertically and then started horizontally. “Oh and hold on,” she said as we cleared the treetops and then she slammed me back into my seat with maximum forward thrust. Then we were on our way back to the crash site or should I say ground zero. Tabitha flew due east until she hit the tornado’s track. Then she banked and followed the track north until it turned ninety degrees back west.

    “The crash was right at the bend in the track,” I told her over the headsets.

    “I know.” She brought the plane in facing west up the track and descended.

    I saw something flicker in my peripheral vision. To the north, just beyond the creek there was something shiny. It looked like a small clearing. Maybe there was a house with a tin roof there. It could have been a fire watchtower. Once we were below the treeline I could no longer see it.

    Tabitha brought us down quickly with a bit of a thump!

    “Come on, we have about thirteen minutes,” she announced. The canopy cycled up. Tabitha was on the ground looking back up at me. I worked the small generator out from between my legs and handed it over to her. I grabbed the cables and jumped to the ground. It was a longer drop than I had expected. I nearly did a faceplant in the sand. I caught myself and rolled. I stood up brushing myself off. Tabitha just giggled a little but said nothing.

    We both threw our gear down by the plane and each took a side of the generator. Tabitha set a fast pace up the slight hill to the edge of the clearing where the probe was. I could hear no humming or buzzing. That worried me. The calculations we did for the DARPA program showed that the dumbells go critical just as the frequency or the sound shifts too high for human ears to detect.

    We popped into the clearing and there were already four men hard at work dismantling the probe. All of them wearing military gear and clothing and were armed to the gills. The ECC had stopped buzzing because there were large Van der Graaf generators sitting all around it. They were plugged into a battery supply. The strong static electric field must have frozen the Clemons dumbells motion keeping them from going further critical. They still weren’t drained or destroyed I assumed. Tabitha and I assumed that help had arrived that we were unaware of. We stepped closer to the probe and the leader of the four men turned toward us with his pistol in his hand.

    Johnny Cache (my handyman and secretary not the singer) was there by the probe pointing a handgun at Tabitha and me. I looked at Tabitha. She looked back at me with the same confused look.

    “Hello, Dr. Clemons,” he said. “I didn’t expect that you would come back. You have bigger balls than I thought.” Two of the men finished disconnecting the warp field coil housing and lifted the subsection of the cylinder. They rolled it over a network of cabling and cargo straps that they had laid out on the ground. The shiny object I had seen in the clearing just north of the creek must have been a helicopter because it was now hovering over us. A set of cables lowered and the three men other than Johnny Cache connected it to the lowering cables. Johnny talked into his left wrist telling the helicopter to take it up.

    “Johnny, what the hell are you doing here?” I asked him.

    “I’m earning a living. I wish you hadn’t come back, because I kind of like you. But now you will have to die here.” He seemed sincerely apologetic.

    “What are you doing with the probe components?” asked Tabitha.

    “Well, Colonel, I’m selling them to the Chinese. They were going to pick up the whole thing in orbit once the Shuttle was destroyed, but somehow you two managed to bring it back to Earth. Now I’ll have to figure out a way to deliver it to them. Of course, it will cost them more. The talk of a meteor crashing in Florida - buzzing all over the news - gave me the idea that this could be the probe. My hunch paid off. Fortunately, I was only an hour or so away by fast helicopter.”

    “Hunh?” I shook my head. “I don’t get it.” I also wondered where the good guys were. If Johnny could figure it out, why didn’t Space Command?

    “He blew up the shuttle.” Tabitha pointed at Johnny.

    “How could he have done that?” I asked nobody in particular. I was trying to decide how I was going to get that gun away from him. Keep him talking, I thought. Somewhere in the conversation, we could find a distraction. Bob had never taught me how to dodge bullets. I always hoped he would someday. I guess I would just have to wing it, if I got the chance.

    Johnny’s buddies, employees, or whatever the other three guys were didn’t seem to be paying us any attention. They had moved on to removing parts of ECC number two.

    “She’s right, Dr. Clemons. Security at the Vehicle Assembly Building isn’t so tight these days. I placed the explosives in the Shuttle over two weeks ago using your security badge. It wasn’t easy to get that from you. You should sleep more. Of course the plan was for the shuttle to explode once you two had assembled the probe and gone back onboard the Shuttle.”

    “How did the bomb know when to explode? That’s impossible,” I said, still trying to keep him talking. Tabitha tried to edge slowly sideways toward him.

    “Hold still, Colonel or I’ll shoot you now,” he said calmly. “Planting the explosive and setting it to start the timer after a seven-minute gee loading was easy. Just a simple accelerometer and some simple timing circuitry, nothing fancy required. Your unplanned EVA delayed the flight plan by nearly four hours, hence you were still in the middle of the EVA when the timer set off the explosives.”

    “Johnny, why are you doing this? The Chinese could shift the balance of global power using this technology. What about your family? Do you want them to grow up communists?” Tabitha said. Johnny laughed at her.

    “Screw ‘em all! I’m going to live the rest of my life on a beach surrounded by naked women. I’ve been waiting for one more big score, and this is it, baby! Who cares about the politics of the rest of the world? Let ’em get their own island.” He touched his ear as if someone was talking to him. He held up his left wrist and said, “Okay, move out!” The three men left for the north clearing. Each of them carrying probe components. Johnny shot the battery pack powering the Van der Graaf generators. It spewed acid on the ground as the generators wound down. The Clemons dumbells started whining loudly and at about the pitch of a referee’s whistle. I could see occasional flashes of light coming from the interior of the damaged, ECC number one. I guessed that we had about six minutes, maybe less.

    Johnny looked at the generator that we had brought up the hill. He fired a couple rounds into it. Fuel drained from the tank. I guess we should have been glad that it didn’t explode. I looked to my left at Tabitha. She seemed calm. I shifted my weight so that my right leg was slightly in back. I knew if I made a move it would have to be like a sprinter out of the starting blocks and I wanted my strongest leg in back to push off with.

    “I can’t have you flying off and telling anybody about this can I. It was nice meeting you two.” He turned and raised the pistol toward Tabitha. I rushed him. I was one step further away from him than I needed to be. He fired a shot just as my right hand slammed into his right wrist. I gripped his wrist tightly and yanked his arm forward under my left armpit. Then I completed the move with a Jackie Chan style arm crawl. I quickly grabbed his arm with my left hand just above the elbow on the nerve center and pressure point there, and pulled him further toward me. I held his hand tightly under my left armpit as I let go of his wrist with my right hand, and then proceeded to karate chop (knife hand strike) Johnny Cache on the right side of his neck. His hand went limp from the blow to the neck and the gun fell to the ground. With my right hand, I pushed up on his chin and tried to sweep his feet with my right leg. The intent was to throw him to the ground, but Johnny Cache was obviously a pro and was having none of that.

    Johnny grabbed my flight suit by the right shoulder and rolled his weight backward. He threw his legs out from under him as he twisted to his left. We both hit the ground hard staring each other eye to eye and on our sides. The next few seconds were a flurry of grabs, counter grabs, attempted leg wraps, and punches. Each of us was trying to get an advantage over the other as we grappled and rolled on the sand. I was able to get his left hand barred for a split second, which allowed me to get a punch into the side of his head and roll on top. Johnny rolled his head minimizing the damage. He must have allowed me to bar his left hand as a ruse, because I felt a searing pain on my right side. Then I saw a shiny glint from the corner of my eye -- Johnny Cache had a knife!

    I lunged as hard as I could forward and over his head. Judo-rolling to my feet, I faced Johnny, ready for his attack. He got to his feet a little slower and more cautiously. He smiled insanely as if he were enjoying this.

    “Not bad Doc. At least I’ll have some fun out of killing you, after all!” he said.

    I felt my right side with my left hand. I was bleeding but not bad. The wound was a slice not a puncture. It was nothing fifty or so stitches, some antibiotic ointment, and a few bandages wouldn’t fix. I readied myself for a knife attack. Although Bob had never taught me how to dodge bullets, he had taught me seventeen different ways to defend against a knife. Ten of them are very painful to the attacker. The other seven are passive. I planned to use one of the painful techniques.

    Johnny and I circled each other cautiously. This allowed me to survey the area. Tabitha was on the ground motionless. I thought she was still breathing, but it was hard to tell. Johnny’s crew had already disappeared from the clearing and were on the way to their helicopter. It was just Johnny Cache and me.

    Johnny held the knife hilt forward in his right hand. The blade pointed back toward his elbow. Obviously, Johnny had some military self-defense training in his life. I was guessing Special Forces. He shifted to a left side forward fighting stance with his fists high and his elbows out Muay Thai kickboxing style. I always loved to fight people using this style’s fighting stance. The high elbows leaves the ribs wide open for a roundhouse kick. Of course, real Muay Thai fighters train from childhood getting kicked in the ribs. Their ribs are broken many times throughout their lives. As they are repeatedly broken, they get calcified and harder. Johnny looked American. I didn’t believe he was a real Muay Thai fighter.

    Johnny and I made several feints at each other attempting to bait the other into a bad move. Like I said, Johnny was a real pro. I decided that it was now or never. I kicked him low at the knee with my right leg. He picked up his knee and let his calf take the blow. Without setting my kick down I rechambered it and side kicked him just below the belly button. He moved backwards from the force of the kick so I kept coming at him. I sat down the side kick into a spin side kick followed by an inner crescent kick that was aimed for the hand with the knife in it.

    I missed the knife! As I sat the kick down I knew that I had better get out of the way. Johnny lunged toward me with a left jab then a spin backfist, which was really a spin knife jab. I backed up as best I could. The knife blade whizzed by my face two inches in front of my eyes. Had I been two or three inches closer, the knife would’ve buried hilt deep into my temple and that would’ve been that.

    The reality of the knife strike shook me slightly. I backed off a bit more and composed myself. I tested the waters with a couple of very quick jabs and knee high front kicks. Johnny slapped them away with ease and sliced at me a time or two. I picked up my left foot to feint a kick. Johnny didn’t buy it. But when I faked a punch with my right I could have sold him swampland in the Everglades to go with it. He stepped in to slice at me thinking that I was going to commit to the right punch. I was trying an old tournament trick - called a dash punch - that I had used successfully a thousand times. I pulled back the punch and slipped to the left. Then, I hammer fisted his right wrist with my left hand as hard as I could and the knife fell free. I followed by rotating my body into a front stance to get the full force of my body weight into a right palm heel strike to the bridge of his nose. Grabbing the back of his hair with both hands, I yanked him forward slamming his chest into my right knee and then threw him past me to the right as I stepped through and turned back to a right side fighting stance. I kicked the knife as far away from us as I could.

    Johnny rolled to his feet. I could see he was pulling something from his left boot so I didn’t give him time to finish standing. I tackled him, expecting a full fifteen-yard penalty for clipping. The only whistle that blew was the constant screeching of the soon to explode ECC.

    The thing was getting so close to exploding now that the randomly collapsing electromagnetic fields were creating shock waves in the air around the device. The shockwaves in turn were causing luminescence all around the ECC. Micro supernova explosions were taking place every second.

    Johnny and I rolled into the ECC as I was grabbing for his hand. We had all four hands on the small handgun and were kneeing each other and I attempted to head but him twice with very little success. His nose was bleeding profusely where I had just broken it with the palm heel strike; I didn’t care for getting his blood all over me, but, it couldn’t be helped. We rolled back and forth and the gun went off twice. I managed somehow to roll on top of him and force his hand against the ECC into the region where the sonoluminescence was occurring.

    I was lucky. One of the microscopic supernova explosions sparked just inside his hand. It looked as if someone had set off a firecracker underneath his skin and the gun fell into the gaping hole in the ECC. We rolled up staring each other down. Johnny shook his bloody hand and snarled at me.

    “That’s gotta’ hurt, Johnny,” I taunted him. Then I saw motion out of the corner of my left eye. Johnny made a dash for the motion and I followed.

    Tabitha had been playing ‘possum. She bear crawled as fast as I had ever seen her move for the first gun that Johnny had dropped. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it. Johnny stomped on her hand with his left foot and kicked her hard in the chest with his right. Tabitha’s ribs were bruised already and were probably broken now from Johnny’s kick. I was on top of Johnny before he could kick at her twice. He would pay for that!

    He turned to me as he swept the gun away from Tabitha with his right foot and turned the momentum of the sweeping motion into a left-leg spinning side kick. I blocked the kick with my stomach. Had I been wearing a mouthpiece I could have spat it on him. I heaved out twice as I backed up, blocking at his follow-up punches. He got me good on the side of the head with one of them and I saw stars for a second.

    “Turtle up!” Bob would have yelled at me. Therefore, I did. If you are ever being attacked too quickly to defend against, cover up as best you can and take it. Try to get inside to cut off the full force of the attack. Bruce Lee was always fond of saying that there are three regions of fighting. One is within a few inches where you’re grappling with your opponent. The second is at kicking and boxing range from your opponent. Everybody trains for these two distances. The third distance is in between one and two where most people don’t know how to attack. This is why Bruce Lee developed the famous Six-Inch Punch.

    I realized that I had to get inside region three if I was going to survive. So, I turtled up and crowded him. This cut off his kicks. He countered by throwing hook punches to my ribs and head. I bobbed and weaved, and ducked and covered until I could catch my breath. The spin sidekick to the stomach had taken some of my wind. With all of the astronaut training over the past six months, I hadn’t done as many abdominal exercises as I usually do, so my stomach wasn’t as hard as it should have been.

    Most fights don’t last long because they are typically antisymmetric – the better fighter usually whups the lesser one quickly – but Johnny and I were very evenly matched, except that I had already had a pretty rough day. I was getting tired and something had to give. So, I shoved Johnny back and pushed him harder by following with a thrust front kick, stomping him in the bladder thus pushing him as far away from me as I could manage. His knees buckled for an instant but I needed to recover for that instant and couldn’t continue to press.

    “This has been fun, Doc,” he said, as he wiped blood from his nose with his sleeve. He held up his wrist. “Will one of you guys get over here and shoot this bastard for me!” he yelled into it.

    “What’s the matter, Johnny? Can’t beat an old man by yourself?” I taunted him while trying not to give away that I was very tired.

    Johnny moved around to keep himself between the handgun and Tabitha who was trying to stand, obviously in serious pain. I saw a flicker of motion through the trees at the edge of the clearing and knew I didn’t have much time before Johnny’s backup would be drawing a bead on me. I circled counterclockwise toward Tabitha, trying to keep Johnny between me and his crew.

    “Enough of this!” I screamed at Johnny as I rushed him with a left leg jump bicycle roundhouse kick that caught Johnny square on the jaw turning his head.

    “You are going down, Johnny fucking Cache!” I was enraged. Left leg outer crescent kick, right leg round house, spin left outer crescent kick, right leg tornado roundhouse kick, backfist, reverse punch, “Kia!” I yelled.

    Johnny dodged and parried, and slipped and blocked. He was on the defensive. I had to keep pressing while the adrenaline was flowing because I knew that when I came down from this rush I would be physically wasted.

    I had to use the adrenaline. I had to get angry! He blew up the Shuttle and killed all those people! Our friends! He shot Tabitha! I blocked every punch Johnny attempted and I managed to slip by each kick.

    Forget that “Luke never succumb to the Dark Side crap,” if someone is trying to kill you, get angry, get pissed, get evil. Do whatever you have to do in order to stay alive. You can get philosophical about it afterwards, if you survive that is. The Dark Side was coursing through me like water through a sieve. Son-of-a-bitch, HE WAS GOING DOWN!

    I followed an uppercut with a jab. Johnny ducked the jab so I turned it over into a hook punch and caught him right on the jaw. His eyes rolled white for a split second, which was all I needed. I jumped and switched feet in the air bringing my back leg into a roundhouse kick that landed in his left ribcage solid enough to break bricks. He heaved. I heard a crack! Then I heard several whizzing sounds whip past me followed by cracks. I realized the cracks were from a rifle.

    Johnny punched at me with his right, so I slipped left and caught his wrist with my right hand and pushed through his elbow with my left palm heel. His elbow snapped into two pieces like a stick. Skin, pulled muscles, and torn cartilage were all that held his ulna and radius forearm bones to his upper arm bone. Johnny let out a scream.

    Then a searing hot pain ripped through my right shoulder. I had been shot.



    Then a searing hot pain ripped through my right shoulder. I had been shot. I grabbed Johnny by the hair and pulled his body to mine, his back to my chest. Bullets slammed into Johnny forcing us to the ground. One of the bullets pierced his neck and entered my chest just below and to the left of my right nipple and we fell to the ground, Johnny twitching slightly and bleeding profusely on top of me.

    I could hear return fire and some scrambling around me, but the firefight lasted only a few seconds. I wheezed and coughed a few times as if I had to clear my throat of mucous drainage from a bad sinus infection. I turned my head toward the probe and could see the pulses of light getting much more frequent and the screeching sound was so high it was almost inaudibleand the flashes of light were ranging in color from white hot to near blue. It was actually quite beautiful, in a deadly kind of way.

    We had to get out of there soon I knew, but at the moment nothing mattered. I was simply observing everything around me. I was dazed. Seconds passed and a helicopter shadowed the sun briefly. I could see sparks flying from the tail and the fixed wing portion of it. As each shot was fired I could hear Tabitha cursing violently. Then Johnny rolled off me to my left.

    Tabitha’s silhouette was above me. She helped me up. It was all I could do to rise to my feet. I coughed several violent coughs. I covered my mouth and when I looked back down at my hand it was covered with blood. Johnny jerked twice and rolled over. Tabitha reacted instantly and emptied the rest of the clip into his head.

    “That’s for Ray,” she pulled the trigger. “That’s for Terrence,” she fired the weapon again. “And that’s for Tracy and Malcom you piece of shit!” She fired the last four rounds into his face, or what was left of it. She screamed curses at him and then kicked him in the side and then screamed at him again. Then she turned her attention to me as she nonchalantly tossed the empty pistol to the ground.

    Tabitha unzipped my flight suit and pulled it down to my waist. I was still dazed, nearly catatonic, and my chest was a wet blood-soaked deep red. Tabitha looked at both my chest and my back then she unzipped her flight suit.

    I noticed that in the clothes that Tabitha had been given there must have been a t-shirt. Why didn’t I get a t-shirt I thought? My mind could only seem to focus on unimportant and trivial things. Then she took off her t-shirt and was standing topless in front of me and I tried to focus on that. She ripped the shirt into two halves and rolled one of the halves into a tight wad. She poked her finger into the half of the t-shirt she had rolled up and then into the hole in my chest. The pain snapped me out of my catatonia for just a second or two.

    “Ouch! Shit, that hurts,” I cursed.

    “Hold still, damnit. You’re bleeding like a stuck pig and I think one of your lungs is punctured,” She told me, and placed my hand on the bandage causing a squishing sound and my hand to feel even wetter than when I coughed. “Hold this and press down hard.”

    She scrambled over to the now defunct generator and rummaged around for the duct tape. She wiggled and pulled her flight suit back over her shoulders, her breasts jiggling lightly in the sunlight as she zipped it most of the way up. I’ll always remember that sight for the rest of my life, but at the time in my weakened state I was nearly numb to it, nearly.

    Tabitha made a cross of duct tape over the makeshift bandage, then stepped behind me.

    “Eyow shit! That hurts,” I cursed in a loud gurgling whisper and cursed again as she repeated the process to the exit wound on my back, the pain bringing me a little closer to normal consciousness.

    “Hold your arms up.”

    I did. She wrapped the duct tape over the bandages and around my torso several times. Then she wrapped my right shoulder with it. When she was done with my shoulder she taped the knife wound across my right oblique abdominal muscles together. Then she wrapped several times around her right thigh where Johnny had shot her earlier.

    “Sorry I couldn’t stop him earlier, Tabitha. But aren’t you glad I asked for the duct tape? I told you that you could never have too much of it.” I gurgled again and looked at her leg.

    “Stow it! We have to get out of here now!” Colonel Ames ordered.

    We helped each other down the hill and to the Jump Jet. Once we fell flat on our faces and I was thrown into some sort of wheezing frenzy. I gurgled a few times and felt like I was going to drown. Tabitha dragged me to my feet and forced me to keep moving.

    “You better not die on me you son of a bitch! You still owe me a wedding.” She was trying to keep my adrenaline flowing.

    “Yeah, well you…cough cough wheeze… owe me a honeymoon!”

    “You make it out of this alive and you’ll get it. Whatever you want, hot shot!” She laughed. I tried to.

    “Well maybe I have something to live for after all!” I said faintly.

    After what seemed like fifty miles and three years, we finally covered the hundred yards or so to the airplane. We scrambled in it as best we could, which wasn’t very good. Tabitha fired up the engines and we were gone.

    “We have to find that helicopter Tabitha!” I wheezed and coughed blood from my mouth and nose.

    “I’m already on it. Radar shows nothing,” she responded. “Maybe I hit it when I shot at it. I don’t know? Look on the ground.”

    For the first time I paid attention to the area around the crash site. There were three other tornado tracks in the area. All of them stretched radially outward from the probe. One track about a quarter of a mile wide stretched southeastward, one was due east, and the third zig zagged to the north and a little northeast. Something flashed from the northeast track.

    “There, northeast, Tabitha!”

    Alarms sounded in the cockpit of the jet. I knew that couldn’t be good. I was slammed into my seat hard.

    “Hold on Anson!” Tabitha banked the jet sideways and fired the jets full throttle pushing us into a down and outward dive. “Aaarrrgghh!” she grunted as we pulled straight up. The g-forces were more than I could handle in my condition. I started to tunnel out. I tried squeezing my abs and thigh muscles. I even tried grunting. It didn’t help.

    The stinger missile that had been fired at us from the downed helicopter zipped by the canopy not twenty feet away. Tabitha pulled us over and straight back down hard toward the ground. The missile exploded behind us. My head slammed into the left wall of the canopy. The blow brought me too more than it dazed me.

    “Forget them, Tabitha! They’re stranded and will go with the probe! Get out of range before they can shoot at us again.” I screamed.

    “I’m trying, Anson!”

    “We have to get away from the probe!” I reminded her.

    “I’m trying, Anson!

    She pulled the jet nose up and climbed then angled it over some. I was being pushed hard into my seat by the aircraft’s acceleration. I could see the ground beneath us in the rearview mirror mounted in front and to the left of Tabitha. Then the mirror turned white with light.

    We couldn’t have been more than three miles along the surface from ground zero. Maybe we were five or six miles above it. One thing for certain is that we were too damn close.

    “We’re too close, Tabitha, move!”

    “Hold on, Anson! If I tell you to eject, you eject!” She continued forcing the jet upward as hard as it would go.

    At max velocity the Harrier pushes Mach one. The blast wave approached us hard at about Mach three. Tabitha pulled off some magical flying that allowed us to surf the edge of the shock wave for a split second. Then the aircraft tumbled tail over nose and was thrown into a spin that ripped the wings right off.

    “Eject Anson! Eject, Eject, Eject!” she screamed as the canopy flew off the aircraft. I ejected. I felt something hit me. Hard!

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