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Warp Speed: Chapter Fourteen

       Last updated: Saturday, September 11, 2004 00:41 EDT



    “Sorry about that General,” Tabitha said as she leaned her cane against my bed and saluted him.

    “At ease, Colonel Ames.” The general approached my bed and looked down at me with a stern smile. He offered me his right hand. “It is good to meet you Dr. Clemons. I’m General Bracken.”

    “Hell…unh…cough, grunt…o,” I tried to talk. My throat was very sore for some reason. Tabitha handed me a cup of water with a straw in it. I took a sip.

    “He’s still having trouble speaking sir. He had a tube down his throat and into his lungs for more than a day now. He just got it removed about an hour ago.” Tabitha explained my situation to him. It was the first time I was conscious enough to understand what anybody said, so I listened carefully. The general gist (ha, pardon the pun) of what Tabitha told General Bracken was that I had been stranded in low Earth orbit after my ride was destroyed by terrorists, ingeniously found a way back to Earth, was hailed on and chased by an extremely large and violent tornado, electrocuted, forced to run about eight miles barefoot, my ass was well kicked -- although I had done a good bit of kicking myself -- stabbed, shot twice, fired upon by surface-to-air missiles, ejected from an exploding aircraft during a hundred-kiloton explosion, walked about six miles while bleeding profusely, died, was brought back to life, died again, brought back to life again, died a third time, brought back to life again, operated on, remained unconscious for about a day, and finally slipped out of the hospital in a clandestine fashion. It sounded like a tall tale if I ever heard one.

    If I wasn’t in a hospital, I didn’t understand where I was. This was all very confusing to me. I took another sip of water. I tried to clear my head and gain some recollection of the past day or so. No good.

    “I see,” the general acknowledged. “Dr. Clemons, Colonel Ames here has debriefed me on your adventure of the last few days. Not only is the story amazing, but nobody must ever hear a word of it. The implications alone of the high speeds that were achieved give a completely new meaning to intercontinental ballistic missile and to rapid force deployment. I needn’t even discuss the ramifications of the energy collection devices.” He turned to Tabitha. “Has he seen the news?”

    “Not yet General. Anson has only been awake for an hour or so. I’ll bring him up to speed soon.” Tabitha touched my shoulder and took the cup from me.

    “What … is on the… news?” I whispered and cleared my throat.

    “The news, my dear boy, is telling the world what really happened in Florida the day before yesterday. I will let the colonel debrief you. In the mean time, get better. You did well from what I hear. You would’ve made a good soldier.” He nodded to Tabitha and moved toward the door. The general stumbled slightly and caught his balance on the slightly smaller than usual doorframe.

    “We’ll talk further when we get on the ground,” he said as he departed.

    I looked at Tabitha and then around the room. For the first time since I’d been awake, I realized that we were in an aircraft. Tabitha saw the confusion on my face and stopped me from talking by holding her hand on my lips.

    “We’re on a jet to Edwards. We left about two hours ago. Just sit still and I’ll explain.” Tabitha stroked my hand. “I thought I’d lost you for a while there. You really scared me.” She paused and dried her eyes. Her wounded eye was open now, only slightly bruised and swollen. Her face was still a little scratched and there was a large Band-Aid on her forehead.

    “You were getting delirious for the last twenty minutes or so that you were awake, Anson. You were going on and on about having killed thousands of people. Actually, about four hundred were killed and another twelve hundred wounded. The damage was in the billions of dollars. Nevertheless, we had no way of knowing any of that. Finally, you told me that you didn’t feel good and you didn’t think you would make it. It was about then when you fell flat on your face taking me down with you.

    For a while, I tried to revive you. You were just unconscious at first. Then you quit breathing and I couldn’t find a pulse. I …” She paused again and squeezed my hand harder. “I tried everything to keep you alive. To get your heart beating. You can’t imagine how hard emergency medical techniques are with a fractured wrist. I’d been doing my best at giving you CPR and mouth-to-mouth for two or three minutes when a convoy of National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency teams drove by. Actually, I learned later that there was also a National Security Agency and a Central Intelligence Agency contingent with them. Lucky for you there were two doctors in that convoy! They were part of the disaster relief teams headed to one of the local towns totally destroyed by the explosion and tornadoes.

    “They took over and brought you back. They got you going with the first jolt from the crash cart. Then they hit you with enough adrenaline to jump-start a horse.”

    Tabitha continued to explain the events of the day but she got very emotional at parts. Apparently, I died three different times. But, the emergency medical professionals working on me managed to save me each time. The first time was on the roadside. The second time was in an ambulance on the way to the helivac location. The third was in the helicopter on the way to the hospital. Somehow, I managed to stay awake after the third resuscitation. The doctors say it’s because of the I.V. I had in me and from the three adrenaline shots. Most importantly, Tabitha never once left my side or gave up on me, even though she had a broken wrist, a shot-up leg, cracked ribs, and a bruised and lacerated face. What a woman!

    I was in surgery for several hours during which one of my lungs had to be repaired. The major problem was my loss of blood. One can’t bleed internally that badly for an hour or more and expect to keep walking. Most of the pain I felt was from the broken bones caused by the bullet as it zipped through my chest. The knife wound was superficial and the bullet wound in the shoulder was muscle damage only, though, I’m sure I’ll feel a good bit of pain there for a long time to come. The doctors said I could walk to the bathroom in a couple of days or so if there are no infections. Phooey! I ain’t laying in bed that long. And, I sure as Hell ain’t using a bedpan!

    “I plan on walking off of this airplane on my own two feet,” I told Tabitha. “Where are my clothes?” I rose from the bed. My chest felt like a ton of bricks, but at least I was no longer breathing through water and coughing up blood.

    “Anson, lie back down for now. We’re still a couple of hours from Edwards,” she informed me. “Rest now hard head!”

    Tabitha continued to explain that the news reports were saying that several meteorites hit the area in northern Florida, and, that two of them were rather large. The first one spawned the tornadoes and the second exploded on impact. The large tornado that Tabitha and I had run from turned south and tracked all the way to Fort Walton Beach. It left a path of destruction more than a mile wide in places from ground zero to the Gulf of Mexico. It dissipated miles out to sea but only after sinking four fishing boats and damaging one cruise liner. The National Weather Service did classify the big one as the Finger of God. It took large chunks of Santa Rosa Boulevard out to sea with it.

    The northbound tornado tore a path clean up to Dothan, Alabama before it spun down. It was classified as a four on the Fujita scale. It tracked up highway two thirty-one. There were large miles-long sections where the highway no longer existed. The westbound tornado destroyed a lot of forestland on the Air Force Base and then crossed over to Pensacola. The damn thing tore a path of destruction through to Gulf Shores. The nightclub at the Florida and Alabama line was totally destroyed. Fortunately, this occurred in the middle of the day. The eastbound tornado was classified as a three on the Fujita scale. That one turned southeast and made it all the way to Panama City before it died out. It tried to spin up again further south near Tampa, but it had run out of energy. The devastation from the tornadoes alone caused several billions of dollars worth of damage. Miraculously only twelve people were killed as a result of them. Doppler radar coverage gave ample warning for people to take cover. Way to go National Weather Service!

    The ECC explosion on the other hand, caused tremendously more damage and a serious loss of life. The final death toll was still being determined but it was over four hundred. And I thought I was going to win a Nobel Prize! Hopefully, I won’t be tarred and feathered, drawn and quartered, stoned, imprisoned, bludgeoned, and twenty other horrible things. Perhaps I will at least be allowed a burial in an undisclosed location so that my remains won’t be desecrated.

    Oh yeah, what happened to the Space Shuttle? Well, that is an interesting story. Apparently, the same meteorites that tore through the atmosphere destroyed the Shuttle. Colonel Ames and Dr. Anson Clemons were conducting an EVA when the meteor shower destroyed the Shuttle. They miraculously survived and were rescued by the International Space Station’s CRV. The CRV landed at NASA Dryden yesterday. Dryden is across the runway from Edwards. Unfortunately, they were the only survivors. The two of them were injured during the disaster and are recuperating at the hospital near Edwards. No press has been able to see the two astronauts as of yet, but, the NASA press release states that the two of them are in good condition. Also, doctors say that they may be able to hold a press conference later today. That explains that.

    “Tabitha, why were we the only good guys able to make it to ground zero? I would’ve thought that the Strategic Air Command or the Space Command would have been all over an incoming projectile as destructive as the probe was. And Jim had to have told somebody that the phenomena in Florida was us,” I asked Tabitha rhetorically. I didn’t realize she had an answer.

    “Of course, SAC and Space Command and NASA knew that we caused the ruckus Anson. Jim didn’t have to say a word. Although we traveled way too fast for a telescope or radar to track us, it was obvious when one second we tell Mission Control that we’re going to press a button, then the next second all hell breaks lose. Crisis teams and security protocol teams were dispatched immediately in three helicopters totaling seventeen men and women. All of them were killed by the violent weather and extreme wind shear patterns created by the probe.”

    “That doesn’t explain what happened after the storms settled. I mean, I feel horrible that all those people died,” I coughed a couple of times. Tabitha looked concerned until I showed her my hands, “See no blood. My throat is still just a little scratchy from whatever they had stuck down it. Quacks!”

    “Anson, those quacks saved your life. Three times!”

    “Maybe I’ll have to rethink my opinion. Be patient please, it is hard to change years of bad behavior and beliefs over night. Believe me, I’m far from ungrateful. I like the scratchy throat much better than the alternative.”

    “Well, okay for now. But I don’t want to hear you talking like that around the doctors. It would just be plain rude,” Tabitha scolded me with her best Mama-said-don’t-do-that voice.

    I nodded and asked again, “Okay. So why was there no help from the good guys after the storms?”

    “By the time the weather had settled down enough for aircraft to be sent in, we had managed to stumble along to the back gate at Eglin Air Force Base. Our communication filtered up the food chain much faster than you would believe. An order was sent out to stay out of the area until more was heard from us. Boy we sent a message in a big way didn’t we?”

    “Uh huh.” No words could describe how badly I felt for the people involved in this whole ordeal.

    “I know Anson. I had no brighter ideas of how to save us either. But, we’re here and alive -- and we kept the probe out of the hands of the communists, or terrorists or whoever.”

    “Johnny said the Communists Chinese, remember?” I corrected her.

    “Sure he did. But why should we trust him? How do we know that he wasn’t sending us down a blind alley? It could have been Usama Bin Laden as far as we know.”

    “I thought he was dead?”

    “Are you sure?”

    “Good point.”

    “One problem is that Johnny must have known everything about our program. Hell, he was our secretary and he had somehow managed a clearance. I guarantee that his customers have all of our blueprints, drawings, data sets, and everything else. Do you think they could rebuild an ECC or a warp probe?”

    “I never thought about it. I don’t see why they couldn’t, if they were smart enough. If it’s terrorists who were his customers, I would be more worried that small ECC bombs would be created and used. They just wouldn’t have the bankroll to fund anything as large as a Warp Probe.”

    “That sounds logical, maybe. Remember how bankrolled the terrorists back in ’01 were. Uncle Usama was loaded.” Tabitha reminded me.

    “That’s why I just can’t rule out the terrorist theory. Johnny was too well financed for it to be anything less than a large cell structure or a government. He had superfast fixed wing helicopters, surface to air anti-aircraft missiles, and he did mention that the Chinese were going to steel the probe on orbit. Didn’t Mission Control tell us that the Chinese had a rocket on the pad but it wasn’t ready for launch yet? We need some more intel on that.”

    “That’s right. And he must have had a top-notch crew to get into the Vehicle Assembly Building to plant the bomb on the Shuttle. I think you’re right. It must have been a government or at least an organization as big.”

    “We need to tell somebody this. These people or government could change the balance of power in the world!”

    I was terrified. Much like I had as a kid in the seventies and eighties during the Cold War. Now I was far more terrified by a warp missile than any intercontinental ballistic missile. The worst part is that I had invented the terror. Now I know how Einstein and Oppenheimer must have felt after the Rosenbergs. Or was Einstein already dead by then? For that matter, was Oppie?

    “Relax Anson. After the press conference with the Vice President in New Mexico, we’re flying back with him to D.C. to debrief the Joint Chiefs and the Vice President.”

    “Vice President?” I asked Tabitha. She told me to read the cup in my hand, the one that I had been sipping water from for more than thirty minutes. I did. The logo on the side explained that the cup was from the Office of the Vice President of the United States of America.

    “Air Force Two?” I asked while studying the cup.

    “Bright boy.” Tabitha smiled at me and patted my arm with her good hand. “Buy’em books and send’em to college…” she hinted at the old joke. She kissed my cheek.

    “Give me a break,” I said. “I’ve been mostly dead all day!”



    I only waved and smiled and said that I was fine as they rolled my stretcher by the press core at Edwards. Then I shook the Vice President’s hand as he thanked me for what I’d done for the country. I never got to discuss the state of world affairs with him. He must be a busy man. Tabitha and I did get about thirty minutes with the Joint Chiefs and with some guys from agencies that didn’t exist. They basically told us that they had “top men” working on it. I was beginning to understand how Indiana Jones must’ve felt.

    The general premise was that “black bag” guys and Special Ops could retrieve whatever was lost and discredit anything left behind. Tabitha and I weren’t as confident in that assessment. I tried to make myself clear on that point, but arguing while lying in a gurney isn’t a real power position.

    So, we went home and Tabitha checked me into Huntsville Hospital for a few days of observation. The second morning -- lets see that would be four days after the space-warp – Tabitha and I were eating breakfast in my room when Jim finally got around to seeing me.

    “Jim! What took you so long?” I asked.

    “Hi there slacker. How you doing? Tabitha is he really just goldbrickin’?” Jim replied.

    “Oh absolutely Jim. He is the laziest S.O.B. I ever met,” Tabitha laughed and clutched her ribs.

    “Forget him, how are you feeling?” Jim asked Tabitha.

    “Side hurts when I laugh or sneeze, but I’ll make it.”

    “Jim,” I started, “it worked! Can you believe it? It worked.” Tabitha gave me a dirty look meaning that we weren’t supposed to discuss the space warp outside of a secure area.

    “Cool.” Jim smiled and winked.

    I noticed Jim was looking rather tired and that his clothes looked slept in, peaked around the gills as my dad might have said. So I asked, “Jim, you been out partying or something? You look kind of rough.”

    Jim looked at me with tears in his eyes, “No, Doc. I’ve been here all night. ‘Becca’s not doing so well.”

    “What do you mean?” I asked. Tabitha held my hand and I could tell that she was holding back tears as well.

    “Anson, she’s in the intensive care unit. About five days ago she took a turn for the worse with all of her asthma and allergy symptoms as well as some sort of flu-like thing. She’s been incoherent for the past two days and running very high fevers. Nobody knows what to do here and the doctors don’t have much hope.” Jim’s head sunk and he cried.

    “What!?” I rose from my bed and threw the covers off of me. “She is here?”

    “Anson sit down!” Tabitha started.

    “Tabitha, can it. No way I ain’t going to see her.” I stood up and dressed. About that time a nurse came to collect my tray and give me my dose of daily antibiotics and pain meds. She asked where I was going and I told her that I needed a drink and that the stuff they served in this bar was watered down. She “harrumphed” and exited. I pulled on my pants and a t-shirt that was in my overnight bag. Tabitha had even brought my toothbrush.

    By the time I was dressed, the nurse had returned with a doctor and a much larger nurse - or maybe he was an orderly.

    “Mr. Clemons I suggest that you stay in bed a while longer,” the doctor told me.

    “Sorry Doc, I’m going up to the ICU to see a friend. You can join me if you like.” I told him. The orderly stepped between me and the door to my room.

    “Perhaps you should listen to the doctor,” the orderly said.

    I looked at Jim and Tabitha as I stretched my arms slowly and yawned. I needed to see how strong I felt. I felt fine -- just very sore. I rolled my head around to loosen my neck and then stepped toward the door. The orderly placed a hand on my chest.

    “Sir, you should reconsider.” He smiled.

    “Doctor, I am paying for medical attention and this room, not for imprisonment.” I said as I wrist-locked the orderly’s hand and twisted his hand backward and showed him his own palm. He must not have like the way his palm looked because he collapsed to his knees in either disgust or pain. Probably, pain. I walked past him and let go of his wrist. Jim and Tabitha never said a word. They just followed me.

    “Lead the way, Jim.” I motioned him around me.

    The three of us found the elevators, then up to the ICU. There was some slight resistance until I told a nurse that Tabitha and I were Rebecca’s parents. She didn’t seem to care if I was lying or not and let us through to see her.

    ‘Becca had an I.V. in her and several other machines appeared to be connected to her. I touched her hand and nearly cried.

    “Hang in there, girl,” Tabitha said and hugged up behind me.

    “Jim, what do the doctors say?” I asked.

    “Well, her pathologist thinks she has some sort of weird virus. He asked where all we went on the cruise but nothing seems to add up. I still think she’s never been fully well since the bronchitis after the accident.”

    Jim was right. Although she had been well at times, ‘Becca had never been as sick as much as she had the last two years.

    “Jim, did the doctors say anything about opportunistic infections?” Tabitha asked.

    “That’s exactly what we thought it was,” a voice from behind me said. I nearly jumped out of my skin.

    “Doctor Reese, this is Professor Clemons and Colonel Ames,” Jim introduced us to ‘Becca’s physician.

    “The astronauts?” Reese asked. Tabitha and I just nodded.

    “It’s a pleasure to meet you both.” He shook our hands. “As I was saying, we thought it was just multiple opportunistic bacteria coupled with allergic reactions but not any longer.” He looked at his pad. “We sent several blood samples to Atlanta. The CDC has isolated some new mutated flu-like virus. It is the first time it has ever been reported. CDC is trying to develop a cure but it would help if we knew where she caught it. Its host might have antibodies.”

    “What exactly does flu-like mean?” I asked.

    “Well, it’s a flu virus with something else attached to it. Here’s a print out of the electron microscope image Atlanta emailed me.” He held his pad where we could see it and began explaining what we were looking at.

    “You see this filament shape here – that’s a typical looking influenza filament. But there’s something funny about these glycoprotein spikes that extrude from the filament. On this picture here,” he flipped the page, “zooming in on the spike you can see that there’s a shape instead of a single spike like would be expected. Instead of a spike it’s more the shape of a … I dunno a…”

    “A dumbbell.” I said. I suddenly felt as if the weight of the world rested on my shoulders, again.

    Tabitha, and Jim said in unison, “Holy shit!” Then neither of us said a word for a long moment. Doctor Reese paused to see why we were so amazed.

    “I wish I would have never invented those damn things!” I bit my lower lip in anger.

    “Anson, if they’re really Casimir effect devices can’t we just give them a good jolt?” Jim said hopefully.

    Tabitha looked grim. “Jim, we can’t risk it. What if one of them…” She couldn’t bring herself to say what Jim was now thinking, what we all three were thinking.

    “Exploded!” Jim finished it for her.

    “Okay everybody, just calm down.” I turned to the confused Dr. Reese, “Doc can she be moved safely?”

    “What? Are you serious? Invented what things?” He thought we were all nuts. “She is in ICU. You can’t seriously think she could be moved?”

    “Listen to me doctor and listen very carefully. If the things in this picture you just showed me are what we believe they are, then ‘Becca is contaminated with Top Secret nanoscopic explosives. Don’t ask where they came from. One, and I mean one,” I emphasized by holding up one finger, “of these tiny devices could blow her arm off.” I told him.

    “Whew!” Reese whistled, “There are most likely millions of them in her body!

    “I was afraid of that,” Tabitha said. “More than enough to destroy the whole city.”

    I was beginning to realize the awesome power of the dumbbells and how they might could be used as a weapon of terror. There would be no way to detect a dumbbell or millions of them. And they could be hidden inside the terrorist’s own body until, kablooie!

    “Why haven’t they gone chaotic?” Jim mentioned.

    “Good question Jim, but first things first.” I tried to think of a plan of action. “Doctor she has to be moved to a safer location and we may be able to cure her with your help. Tabitha…” I turned to see if she could get us some help but she was already on her cell phone ordering a helicopter, security containment, and general support.

    “No I don’t care what your orders are! They just changed damnit!” she was ordering into her cell phone.

    “Tabitha, we need to track who has seen these pictures.” I reminded her. She just nodded. Tabitha knows how to do her job so I decided not to micromanage. I switched gears to something I could do to help. “Jim are you parked here?”

    “Yes. Why?” he replied.

    “Let’s get over to the lab and gather some diagnostic equipment, my laptop, and whatever else we can think of that might help. Doctor, please keep her healthy as long as possible.” We left Tabitha to take care of business at the hospital. Jim waved his cell phone at her as we were leaving as if to say, “Call us if you need us. You have the number.” Tabitha gave us the thumbs up and waved us out.

    Down the elevator and out to the parking garage we went. We had to climb about fifteen steps to the level where Jim’s car was. I realized on about the fourth step that one of my lungs was healing from a bullet wound. My chest was on fire, but I pushed on to the car.

    “Are you okay Doc? You look pretty bad.”

    “Fine,” is all I could gasp out. After a few minutes sitting in the passenger side as we made it to the lab I began to feel better.

    “Anson, how is it that you have stitches in your chest and back and Tabitha’s face is all cut up? That is, I mean, if you two were in your spacesuits, how bad was the crash?” Jim was figuring things out even though he had been told by security not to even speculate.

    “Let’s not talk about it right now Jim.” I gave him the nod that now wasn’t the time or place.

    “Okay,” Jim said. “Then what is your take on ‘Becca’s flu.”

    “The answer is obvious I think. The only problem with that obvious answer is that it’s too damn unbelievable.”

    “You mean that you think the dumbbells have been in her since the accident and somehow a flu virus mutated with them?”

    “That’s the only way I can see it. It’s just amazing.” It was amazing. How versatile viruses must be if they can mutate to capture physical objects. Or at that scale, is everything physical or biological the same? In other words, on the nanoscale is there no way to distinguish live from mechanical? If you think about a bacteriophage for example, some of them look just like a nanoscale Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). And what do they do? They land on a cell and inject the occupants of the LEM cabin into it. The occupants go and rewrite the code of that cell to reproduce more bacteriophages and the cycle continues. The cell is just redesigned to manufacture a different product. That’s pretty damn amazing. Is it biological or mechanical? It’s my view that everything in the universe is due to electromagnetic interactions. Just some interactions appear to have been animated.

    “I don’t know, Jim. Let’s just hope we can figure out a way to get those things out of her and neutralized.”

    As we came to the guard shack of our laboratory parking lot, one of Tabitha’s security requirements, we both noticed that there was no guard anywhere to be seen. “Jim, stop the car!”

    “There should be a guard here.” Jim did his best to rubberneck over the windowsill of the two-man shack.

    “I don’t like this.” I began to feel edgy and thoughts of Johnny Cache flooded my mind. I opened Jim’s glove box. “Jim the orbiter didn’t just explode due to some accident,” I began as I chambered a round in Jim’s Glock. I grabbed his other clip and placed it in my pocket.

    For you folks that don’t live in the south I guess I should mention that most everybody has at least one pistol in his or her glove compartment. Those who don’t, well they are carrying theirs on them somewhere. That’s why our crime rate is so much lower than the big “no-gun” cities. There, only the criminals are armed. If you recall history, the “shoot out at the O.K. Corral” was over a no-gun ordinance in the city of Tombstone. In the South we try to keep the playing field as even or better as we can. Therefore, criminals know that if they want to start something in the south that they will be shot back at. Deterrence is a very good crime prevention technique. Hell, it kept the Soviets at bay during the Cold War.

    “Jim, you’re right. The stitches are to fill up the bullet holes left by terrorists. Tabitha is limping on a shot up leg. Johnny Cache shot her. Long story. Do you have any other weapons in the car? I asked.

    Jim smiled and popped the trunk. His karate gear and his tournament bag were in there. He rummaged through the gear and dug out two kamas, two escrima sticks, and one set of nunchukas.

    “Which do you prefer?” he grinned.

    “This will do fine,” I brandished the Glock 19 with the pre-Clinton-Reno era clip. “Sixteen shots ought to do. Besides, I ain’t in any shape to be fighting. I’ll have to keep you covered. Sorry.”

    The front door to the office had been opened effortlessly. Obviously, the guard’s keys came in handy for somebody. We cautiously scoured the entire facility and found no signs of foul play, except that my laptop was missing from the safe, the lab was nearly destroyed, the contents of the offices were strewn about everywhere, and my whiteboard in my office was gone.

    “They even ripped the whiteboard right out of the damn wall.” Jim exclaimed. We grabbed what equipment we thought would still function and loaded the car.

    “I guess they got what they came for,” I told Jim and shrugged my shoulders.

    “What do we do now?” he asked.

    “Call Tabitha and ask her.”

    Jim tried twice and got Tabitha’s voicemail message. “That’s odd,” he said.

    “Well, let’s head back to the hospital and keep trying to reach her on the way.”

    The terrorist effort or war effort, whatever it was, had reached into my everyday life more deeply now. While we were away Johnny’s people must have ransacked the lab. It would have been a big operation. The safe had to weigh a ton. It must have taken a forklift to move it. And it happened fast. Something else was bugging me on a more subconscious level, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around it just yet. Then I thought to look at the alarm system.

    “Jim, check the silent alarm,” I pointed to the hidden panel on the wall where the system’s keypad was hidden.

    Jim slipped back a wall plate and punched in a code on the keypad. The display read today’s date about thirty minutes ago.

    “We just missed’em Anson!”


    “They triggered the alarm just thirty minutes ago!” Jim exclaimed.

    Then my subconscious grabbed hold on whatever it was that was bugging me before. “That means it’s still going on! What if they had come in when Sara or Al were here? Crap! They might go to their homes, Jim.”

    “We gotta help them Doc!” Jim looked frantic.

    “Jim, get Sara and Al on the phone and tell them to get out of their houses now. They can meet us at a public place or someplace safe.” I told him. I couldn’t think of where to send them.

    “Tim’s place?” Jim asked.


    Jim got Sara at her apartment. He told her to leave this second. Don’t change clothes, don’t put on makeup, just go. I hope she listened. We were only five miles from Al’s house so we headed that way while Jim called. There was no answer on the phone. I also tried Tabitha at the hospital again, but had no luck reaching her either.

    We reached Al’s house; there were two vehicles in his driveway that we hadn’t seen before. There was a truck and a van. Jim pulled up in the neighbor’s driveway and we crawled over the fence in Al’s backyard. I barely had the strength to get over the four foot chain link.

    Jim and I hugged the back wall of Al’s house and eased around the chimney to the back door. The back door flung wide open and Al came flying out the door headfirst and he skidded across the patio into a large ceramic plant pot. The little apple tree in the pot had one small apple clinging from its droopy limb. The impact of Al’s head into the pot shook the apple free and it fell on his back. Al was out cold I was pretty sure.

    Behind Al stepped a very large individual. I didn’t have time to make out any details of his face before Jim had sunk the blade of a Kama into his throat and ripped out the guy’s trachea. I rushed in behind Jim as he flew through the door never missing a beat from the Kama strike. There were Kamas swinging and then escrimas. Two more were dead before the gunfire ever started.

    The first gunfire Jim was prepared for and he dropped and took out the assailant’s kneecap with a low side kick. He pulled the man’s wrist downward while kneeing his elbow upward until the man’s arm was in two pieces. I managed to bust off a few rounds into the guy covering Jim’s present attacker. Jim proceeded to break the guy’s neck as I continued the cover fire.

    The van parked out front squealed out of the driveway and laid down some suppressing fire from an automatic weapon. Jim and I dove behind the upstairs stairwell for cover. We waited for a few seconds listening for movement.

    “Jim, are we clear?”

    “Not sure. You ready to cover me.”

    I changed the clip since the slide on the Glock was open, depressed the lever with my thumb and it closed chambering a new round. “Ready now. On three and you stay low. One, two, three!”

    I rolled out into the open and fired two rounds. Jim came out behind me and zipped across the room behind the couch and took cover again. I rolled across the floor behind him. “Ow shit that hurts!” I held my chest.

    “You alright, Doc!”

    “Yeah. Just pulled some stitches I think.”

    “I think we’re clear. Let’s get Al and get the hell out of here.”

    Al was coming to by the time we got out the back door. He was concussed and a bit goofy-headed. If you have ever been concussed, you know that “goofy-headed” is a good way to describe it. We dragged him to Jim’s car and hit the road fast.

    I grabbed Jim’s phone and tried Tabitha again.

    “Jim is that you!” Tabitha answered.

    “Tab its Anson. Listen it is still going on. Jim and I were just in a firefight. You better get some back up and get out of sight fast.” I told her.

    “Anson, I know! Doctor Reese caught one in the neck before I realized what was going on. Don’t worry. We have the situation contained and I think everyone will survive. Are you okay?”

    “Jim and I are fine. Al is banged up pretty badly but he’ll be okay. I think we need to hide everybody’s families. Jim and I will pick up Sara and meet you. Where?”

    “Listen Anson, we’re already on the move. We’ll track Jim’s phone and pick you up. You keep moving and stay safe. See you soon.” Tabitha disconnected.

    We grabbed Sara in record time and before we knew it a helicopter was shadowing us. Then my phone rang.


    “Anson, pull over in the next parking lot,” Tabitha told me.

    I turned to Jim. “It’s Tabitha Jim. Pullover there!” I pointed to a parking lot by a strip mall where a military helicopter was setting down – Tabitha was waving to us from the open doorway. We loaded into the chopper and were gone. Safe again, I thought.

    “Dr. Clemons, you’re bleeding,” Sara pointed at my back.

    “Yeah, I figured I was. It’s just a few loose stitches. Nothing to worry about, I think,” I reassured her.

    Jim spoke to Tabitha through a headset. “Where’s Rebecca?”

    “Don’t worry. She’s been moved in a different chopper. We’ll rendezvous with her in a few minutes.”

    The helicopter pilot landed us at the airstrip on the Redstone Arsenal where we loaded into a C-141 Starlifter evac plane. The closest they are based is in Memphis, Tennessee and Jackson, Mississippi but they fly patterns in Huntsville, often. This one must have been close by when Tabitha put in the call. Come to think of it, I never did figure out how she got us a helicopter so fast either -- I didn’t care. I just wanted to get out of sight fast. As we boarded Tabitha explained to me that our families were being hidden and that her daughter would meet us at the rendezvous point. Neither of us were sure how far the p whoever they are - would go to get what they wanted. Whatever that was. Were they looking for something or did they just want us out of the picture? And, who were they? I still voted for Chinese.

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