Category Linkin Park
The Cardinal Condition
Prologue / Chapter 01
Disclaimer: LP is not mine. Never have and never will. So dream in fiction.
“Humanity is a magnificent but fragile achievement. Our species is still more impressive because we are the culmination of an evolutionary epic that was continuously played out in great peril.”
–Edward O. Wilson, The Social
Conquest of Earth (2012)
New York City, 1997
Now is the time.
James looked at the hand severely clasped in his, then to the worried face attached to that limb–his younger brother. His eyes were glossed in unshed tears and he struggled to keep his lips from quivering, his bottom lip bit. James was reminded of their Mother every time he looked at him, the Caucasian side of the family.
The two guards that usually kept watch of them had fled, the static of their radio urgent to his ears and leaving their door unattended. James had waited for an opportunity to arise and this was a herald if he ever heard one. He could remember the last time the alarm had gone off when he was nine, nearly six years ago and just as it was then, he didn’t know why they were ringing now.
Now is the time to act.
He tore his gaze away from his brother, steeling his resolve once he had unlocked the door. The windowless hallways were lit with the blaring of the alarm and the pulses of red scattered on the white walls. The bright florescent lights were shut off, replaced instead were teacup plate sized holes that shone dimly on the ceiling on each side of them. The rows of lights continued on down the hallway and James knew they served as the path towards the exit. But that wasn’t the only way out.
Picturing the map in his head, James navigated their route, knowing at some point he’d have to change it on a whim with whatever circumstance that was presented. Hopefully not by him…
They kept close to the walls, their bare foot slapping against the tiled floor. The blare of the alarm drowned any sound they created, allowing them to move faster without fear of being heard. A hard squeeze on his hand halted further movement. He looked down at his brother whom had his eyes focused towards the stairwell¬ – the one James had planned on running to. “Michael?” he asked, but his response was a quick shake of the head.
Those doors to the stairwell swung open then, three men coming through with assault gear, their guns ready against their shoulders and aiming every which way, searching for a target. James pulled back against the corner, away from sight. He cursed and backtracked, not releasing Michael’s grasp.
The three men had their faces covered with helmets, and their blue-black uniform was not the custom of the guards that hung around the facility. And those guns don’t look to stun.
James slowly worried his lip, knowing that the longer they were running around, the higher the chances of getting caught. Through every turn, they had not met a soul. He wasn’t surprised. Rarely do they see another new face and even the guards that kept security remained stagnant and minimal on this floor. He could name all seven of them, even before he could walk. But these intruders were clearly here on a mission and James was afraid the mission had something to do with them.
A distant scatter of bullets shot through the alarm. Both boys paused and looked back from where they had ran from. It must be the three men from earlier. They ran harder as panic swelled in their stomachs. There was a stairwell that required a security card to access, and with the alarm, James could only assume it would be left open. But even after that…
Shouting ahead ceased his planning. He could not understand the words through the alarm and he didn’t need his brother’s warning to know that they were being intercepted and James could not back-track again, not to those men in blue-black. They had to find another way out.
Sensing his thoughts, Michael squeezed the larger hand in his, waiting for his brother’s attention. He pointed back towards the armed men, “Laser room,” he said, barely audible. James nodded and they headed back to one of the rooms they passed. Unfortunately, this was one of the only few rooms that they knew the key-code to.
Neither boys liked this room and the memories it contained, but knew there was no other choice. The lights did not flare on when they entered, but James knew the layout enough. He looked passed the machines and monitors towards the glass wall that had the ‘Laser’ machine and stretcher beyond it. Even in the darkness he could make out a conical shape of the large needle-like device snaked with wires looming over the stretcher. Empty rolling trays and tables were scattered about, their metallic sparkling even in the pale lighting. Heart-rate monitors were turned off, but he could see the buttons and switches, the tanks and tubes. James turned his eyes away.
He pulled Michael behind one of the tables, closer to the glass wall, hunching down to hide. They were trapped and James felt vulnerable again. His determination was starting to ebb. More shots could be heard, now muffled by the closed door. He looked again at his frazzled younger brother, and he knew that he was recalling being on the stretcher. He also knew that they could not stay here anymore. James needed to come up with a plan and his choices were quickly depleting. He could at-least secure Michael’s safety through their misdemeanor. Someone should have come to retrieve them by now, and James didn’t know how their attempt at escape would be construed. He had no choice.
Michael took a sharp breath then, staring hard at his sibling and brows furrowing. “No,” he croaked. “You know what he said¬–”
“We don’t have a choice, Mike!” James instantly regretted his tone, his features softening as he placed his gaze fondly on the tear-brimmed eyes. “This is the only way I can get us out,” he said more gently, wiping away the fallen tears. He stood and looked determinedly to the door before he could lose any more resolve. Although he knew, he instructed his brother to stay put anyway and released the warm hand.
Michael clenched his fists and pulled his legs to his chest, burying his face to keep from crying. He heard the door open slightly then shut and he was alone. He didn’t much like being alone. And the room provided no comfort for his already shaken body.
Shouts from beyond the door pulled his attention and his head shot up to listen. He held his breath, but it was quiet again. He rose slowly and peered with his eyes to look towards the doorway and another shout came–an order. A slew of bullets were fired, ceased by another shout, followed by a scream. Once more, a volley of bullets went off then stopped just as abruptly. Michael tried to reach out to his brother.
The door opened and he ducked back down to his hiding spot, knees back to his chest. Please be James, please be James, he pleaded. But he heard the multiple footsteps scurrying into the room. “It’s clear, sir,” he heard a baritone voice whisper into what Michael assumed was a radio. Michael could make out the whisper, even through the wailing alarm, and his breathing froze. A steady pair of footsteps entered the room a moment later, one that Michael knows very well. Fear struck him, a trembling he could not suppress.
He heard the retreating of the scurried steps, leaving the one man who slowly and deliberately walked closer to Michael’s spot.
“Michael, I know you’re back there.” Though the tone was meant to soothe, Michael felt a chill run through him instead. “James is hurt, and I need your help.” Michael let out a whimper at the mention of his brother. “I won’t hurt you, come now,” his voice was becoming urgent, “James doesn’t have much time,” he added.
Michael uncoiled himself and stood slowly from behind the desk, but with his height at ten years old, the computer monitor still hid his face–though his presence was known–he was still wary of the man and kept from view. There was always an aura about this older man that caused Michael unease, and James had many times bellowed his own discomfort–to the man’s own face. Michael had kept his opinions to himself though that same feeling remained with him, even now.
“Michael, there’s no time, we have to go or James is going to die!”
Michael’s breath hitched and he moved around from the table, standing in front of the man. The man didn’t hesitate and in a couple of strides he grabbed the boy by the hand. Michael instinctively tried to pull back, but he was caught off-guard and the grip on his arm too strong. Within seconds, the man had a needle injected just below the bend of the elbow. The liquid had already pushed to his blood stream by the time he looked down at his arm, but he could picture the dark amethyst color of the liquid in the dark.
With his grip now clenched around Michael’s forearm, he yanked the needle carelessly and threw it away. He stood and as they hurried to the door, the man spoke into a radio. Michael saw the movement and stared, but through the still roaring alarm, he could not hear. Whatever news he heard, however, seemed to upset him, shutting the radio off before staring down at Michael.
“Do everything I say, behave and you’ll see James again, is that understood?”
The demand in the furious face was enough to understand. He could feel the grip around his wrist tighten and Michael nodded.
“Is that understood?”
Through the alarm, he heard the yell loud and clear.
Michael stared out the domed window, the blizzard outside fierce. Throughout the last three days there was suppose to be the Aurora Australis dancing about in the sky, but with the heavy blizzard, there was no chance at all of seeing anything through all the white. The dome–which can easily fit a helicopter¬–was half glass with a thin copper web woven through the thick material, keeping snow from solidifying. There was also another layer of cover, a ten-inch thick steel that closes over the glass, pulled up only when the snow gets really mean.
During calmer weather, the view would be peaceful with vivid blue skies, endless white extending to the mountains in the far distance. A telescope stood perched on a slight pedestal near the middle of the empty dome. Many times the contraption had amazed Michael with the wonders he finds through the lens. The heavens displayed a vast and moving canvas that Michael peered up to many times. His fascination with the outside world, away from this dome, could only be imagined in his head.
He spent many times here, albeit not alone. There were strict orders that a guard accompany him whenever he ventured away from his sleeping quarters. The rule had been set by his Father those many years ago when he had been brought here. It was the stoic and uncaring white man with a broken nose’s turn. His guards change on a bi-weekly basis, Michael had noted.
His gaze and thoughts focused back on the raving snow hurtling against the glass. He was warned many times that it would take roughly two minutes for him to freeze to death out there. He could feel the chill even in here, but regardless of the light clothing he wore, to see the sun, the stars, the moon, or anything else out on the bleak landscape provided him with calmer thoughts. Blizzards became the static that ruined any hope of that.
Through the howl of the storm, he could faintly hear the blades and rotary engine of a helicopter. On a calm day it was possible to see the landing pad from here, but Michael could barely make out the faint red blinking of the landing pad. He was no expert, but he was quite sure this weather wasn’t safe for flying a helicopter. Must be real urgent.
Feeling the sudden boredom, Michael hugged the jacket tighter around his frame, the sound of the blades suddenly too loud and familiar. Tonight the blizzard disappointed him again. He headed for the elevator, a light mist billowing past his lips at the sigh.
The guard by the elevator door stirred, relief behind his eyes at Michael’s sudden movement for departure. His charge tended to linger for longer, so this sudden change of heart was a blessing. He hated the cold. He followed behind Michael quietly as the elevator opened. The ride down was a quiet affair.
The domed room that they were leaving, a cupola of sorts, was one of the tips that poked out to the outside world, accessible by elevator. Below the ice were floors of labs, residences, and offices. The residents mainly consisted of scientists, many he sees often though they don’t speak to him. They instruct him and ask questions, but nothing personal. It was all for science and Michael felt he was a part of their study. He didn’t blame them as many are judiciously doing science, as far as they’re concerned. Many knew of him, of course, but many questions about him they don’t have answers to. Perhaps it was best kept that way.
He did not feel like observing them work today. The elevator continued lower towards the residences, and even a few levels lower to where he was kept. The doors opened to a large enclosing, another dome with a metal box the size of a one-car garage within the center, the distance to the front door covered in ten easy strides. This whole floor, accessible to a certain few, remained mainly his, isolating him.
Thirteen years ago he had arrived here and for all these years this was all he knew. He could not remember the smell of the air outside, or the kiss of the wind against his cheek, however brief those moments were but he clung to them. After a few years, his health began to decline, if not because of the procedures, then the isolation and lack of stimulation. His Father, he assumed, refitted the whole dome and inserted plants, tended by scientists to remain green and lush. They succeeded only because of the specialized lights that set off a set of different temperatures for their corresponding fauna. All this impressed Michael, for the whole enclosure still remained a comfortable temperature throughout.
There were a few ferns, Cyatheceae Filicopsida; acacia’s Leguminosae; and coconut trees, Cocos Nucifera Palmae; that arched towards the curved roof. There was even a patch of grass that slowly encircled the metal box that held his sleeping quarters. Nothing else occupied the dome. Though he did not outwardly voice it, he knew the doing of all this were the instructions of his Father. That was the extent of his Father’s regard for his well-being.
He had many questions for the man, but seldom any chance to ask them. He had many years to push the anger, hurt and lies away and many more to succumb to a numbness of non-existing. He did not know anything else, after all. He tried, many years ago to ask about the whereabouts of his brother, but he was reprimanded harshly for it and never brought the topic up again. To this day, many things in his life remain a mystery, even to himself.
The low dim of the hidden lights cast shadows among the trees, causing the look of night. Michael did not care to change the settings and instead headed for the door to his quarters. The guard stood by the elevator and left him to his own devices, but a quick order through the small radio in his ear had him stopping Michael again.
He recalled the helicopter he had heard earlier and knew this must be about that. But why include him now? For many years he had seen helicopters land and depart at the pad, but never had he any involvement in their semblance. Michael knew where they were headed before the guard had finished with his call, the guard ushering him back into the elevator.
The trek to his Father’s office remained in silence with the single guard. A few glances from scientists still in their coats passing by, saying naught a word and making quick furtive glances at him when they think it had gone unnoticed. They travelled up to sub-level six, a junction floor. Many of the elevators and stairwells bypassed this floor, and this is generally where the scientists and guards come to relax. They passed by the cafeteria and a gym to another set of elevators. Sometimes Michael would come here to visit the botany lab, and once Michael had entertained eating at one of the tables at the cafeteria, but he could already hear their whispers about the subject before he approached.
He looked pass the glass walls showcasing stacks of books as they walked by. The room wasn’t large, and most of the books were topics in science. But there was a small collection of fiction unrelated to science theories, equations, physics or what have you. The librarian had taken a liking to his oddity. Michael had asked him many questions, idioms, innuendos and certain terminologies. The old man had then decided to teach him how to read, gave him books to read, and questioned him about the ones he returned. Michael enjoyed the row of encyclopedias the most.
Sub-level two served as a checkpoint entry to the facilities below and also his Father’s office. Security up here was always heavy and many of the snowmobiles and snow-cats were parked down here with quick and wide access ramps to sub-level one¬–and then outside. The ramp was wide enough to fit three tanks side by side, but Michael had never noticed anything larger than a snow-cat, the size of a van, pass through.
He gazed now at the glass window that looked out into the hangar that contained the machines. A few men in heavy jackets were tending to one of the snow-cats, probably gearing to head out. Michael can’t imagine the weather to be no better outside than it had been earlier.
Two guards, heavily armed with assault rifles were at either side of the entranceway to the office. They’re black body armor was reinforced Kevlar, stronger than military grade and with higher tensile strength.
Their heads however were clear of a helmet. All the men and some of the women have their heads shaven. Better to keep loose hairs from ‘flying all willy-nilly’ the Colonel of the compound’s militia had said when Michael asked years ago. Though the man was stern, there was a softness and kindness with the way he speaks with Michael. A breadth more emotion than his Father ever portrayed.
Michael was led to his Father’s office, flanked now by two guards. The aforementioned Colonel spoke in angry tones that halted as soon as he entered. There were three other men that stood behind the Colonel and he studied the face of each one carefully as all attention now turned on him. He recognized none of them.
“Ah, Michael, you’re here,” his Father grumbled. Through the years, Michael had noticed the degradation in his Father. At sixty-five, his hair had receded into a silver scarf around his head. His eyes–squinted to the edges–accented his Japanese genes, which were emphasized more by the wrinkles that curved with them. His posture and composure still endured, though he could tell it was not comfortable by the way he walked around his desk. This bravado in front of the Colonel was unnecessary, but perhaps his rigid stature attributes to something else. Michael watched his Father step towards him. “We must relocate once more.”
“Sir,” came the buzz of his radio, but waited for no affirmation, “I feel like we’re running in circles. ”
“I agree.” Came another voice.
He groaned, not letting it heard, his finger floating over the COM button. He felt their frustration. They had lost sight of the chopper fourteen minutes ago and now they were driving blind, literally. The furious weather remained relentless, decreasing visibility and heightening danger. He looked at the tank of the snowmobile¬–at least twenty minutes. He knew they were right, and his lax discipline on his charges showed in their unwarranted outbursts.
The distance between the four snowmobiles stretched a good twenty meters apart from one another, their cover of their direction quite large, but with the onslaught of white, neither can see their neighbor. The blinking radar below the dials of the snowmobile showed each member where they were, a uniform row raking over snowy sheet. But five hundred meters further and they were going to run into uneven and quite possibly dangerous terrain–as if this weather weren’t enough.
The ice this far south–the Ross shelf, he recalled–had many cracks that could trap a snowmobile between its walls easily, the drop to nowhere quite steep. It would not surprise him if more appeared as the shelves were melting. The satellite footages that he had looked at were months ago and many crevasses may manifest in that stretch of time.
“Sir, I see something.” Hahn. “Fifty meters North-east. Red lights.” Landing platform.
He ordered to turn the lights off of the machines and regroup at his position. He could not see the aforementioned lights, therefore that was assurance enough that at his position they could not be seen either. He measured a good hundred meters to their target.
“That’s the landing pad,” came his calm voice to the group. Though they were all on one knee, hunched low together in a circle, he still used his COM. “Hahn and Phi, you guys have your instructions.” Firm nods came his way, even through the blizzard. “Brad and Rob with me. Questions? Put your hand down, Joseph! ”
“Sir, I don’t think there’s enough explosives¬–”
“There’s enough,” he interrupts. “Just enough to get through.”
He waits a moment in case anyone else had doubts. They’ve trusted him this far and he knew when they grew restless.
“What happens to him after?” Robert. This was what he waited for, and the answer was that he didn’t know. A lot of this mission was clouded in mystery and he too felt a little unprepared–mentally. But he told his squad enough of what they needed for assurance. His plan was quite simple, he hoped.
Michael felt the danger before he could hear it.
After the meeting in his Father’s office an hour ago, two of the guards had escorted him down the sub-levels to his living quarters, the ones he had not recognized. They had stood by the elevator door as he walked to his room in the middle of the dome enclosure. He had no real valuables, no personal affects surrounded by emotions or memory. The luggage bag on his bed lay open and empty, what did his Father think he was going to pack? He was staring at the clock by his bedside table–Mickey Mouse, his Father had said. He liked the circle eared mouse when he was ten and read all the books regarding the fictional character, but it wasn’t anything more than a child’s curiosity. He had not touched, or looked at it for many years, until now.
It was while looking at this device that he felt a shift. The door to his room was open and as he stared towards the opening, he heard two silenced shots and two solid thumps. Another few seconds passed, his leg about to lift and walk to the door when he heard the footsteps. He paused to listen. Three sets, and with how light they padded against the floor, they surely did not want their presence known. They were still by the elevator and he had nowhere to hide.
He waited, thinking perhaps it was his Father and the Colonel coming to retrieve him, but they had said ten minutes and it’s only been–he looked at Mickey Mouse–three. When his eyes returned to the doorway, the silencer of a gun was pointed directly at him. Michael recoiled backwards, the back of his knee hitting his bed but he remained standing, staring pass the gun’s chamber and to the helmeted face.
The man was tall, covered head-to-toe in heavy padded black. Slung behind him was an assault gun; on his legs were three rows of attached knives; and a smoothbore holstered to his right hip, his left one empty. Michael tried to make out the eyes behind the reflective visor of his helmet, but no chance. He watched as the man’s right hand left his weapon, touching his neck near his left collarbone, just below the trachea and spoke, “I’ve got him,” came the gentle voice.
Another man entered then. He walked smoothly towards Michael, his attire much the same as the other. He holstered the gun he was swinging in his right hand and seemed to stare hard at him, their bulking figures of armor menacing. He said nothing, looking Michael down and he felt suddenly conscious of his white pants, shirt and shoes. “Lower your gun, Robert, he’s no threat.” The man behind him holstered his weapon as well.
The man in front of him made a quick examination of his sleeping quarters and then removed his helmet. He held it to his hip and allowed Michael, in turn, to see if he was a threat. Of course you are, thought Michael, but there was something else about him. He caused the shift. His hair was cut short to his scalp; a smidge longer on the top but the blonde was an easy color of honey, shining with light perspiration in the bright white room. His thin brows were furrowed, wrinkling lines appearing around his chestnut brown eyes. There was intensity there as their eyes locked. Michael gave first and examined the sharp nose and thin lips set in a frown. He knew too that they were no threat, though the guns would say otherwise. He let out a breath, one the man caught as those thin lips rose slightly at the edge.
“My name is Chester Bennington,” he finally spoke, the silence interrupted. The other man jumped at the outburst of sound, pretending to be preoccupied with looking at the empty white walls. “We are hired men to retrieve you. I cannot explain anything further until we are out of this compound–or continent, for that matter.”
Michael made no response. Chester sounded self-assured of his statement but Michael was skeptical. How are three men going to retrieve him from a heavily fortified facility such as this one?
Chester grunted at the lack of response, but continued on, “It would be in your best interest, and the interest of our employer that you remain unharmed. Having said that, you will come with us–forcibly if necessary.” He clasped his helmet back on, the reflective visor now staring back. He removed his gun and unclipped the magazine, looking at the number of bullets before slamming it back shut. “Move,” he ordered, gesticulating to the door with his gun. Chester followed close behind him as he was herded towards the elevator.
“Do you guys see this? A coconut tree!” a third man, also attired the same, was in the midst of climbing said tree near the edge of the dome. He was halfway up but seemed unable to go higher. It just looked like he was humping it.
“Brad,” came the exasperated voice of one of the men behind him. Brad paused in his struggle on the tree, slid down, and ran to the group. His apology was met with groans from his teammates.
They were almost to the elevator when red siren lights emerged from the top center of the dome, the alarm a faint staccato bouncing within the fold.
“Took them a while,” Brad stated, or was it Robert?
Their pace quickened and Michael stared briefly at the two guards sprawled by the entrance of the elevator. The doors were held open with clamps, but it was the rope hanging from the open roof of the elevator that caught his eye. Chester climbed first, then extended an arm down towards Michael. He looked at the rope and then at the hand. He took the insistent hand and felt the powerful pull of the man above him, caught by surprise. He moved as the other two were also pulled the same way, their process seemed more fluid.
It was dark within the elevator shaft other than small red lights blinking systematically higher. Michael assumed it was for each floor. There was a set of stairs that followed up along the line of lights towards the darkness. He was the second ascending and as he briefly looked at the diminishing square of light from the elevator below, past Brad and Rob, he realized a panic had started to thump in his heart. Perhaps it was the darkness of the elevator shaft, or easily the men who are kidnapping him, but he paused in his climb and stared hard at the dark wall in front of him.
“Let’s go,” the man below insisted. The pause did not go unnoticed by Chester.
Shaken, Michael continued. They did not get far before an elevator door was getting wedged open above them. Cursing, Chester climbed quickly higher and opened a door also, three levels lower. Michael could hear the men, then a storm of lights swooping down towards them. Michael was hauled up quickly, grabbed by his bicep. There was shouting from above them. Michael didn’t get a chance to discern what was being said, suddenly getting dragged by the wrist.
They were on sub-level seven. This level was connected through many ways with sub-level six. The kitchens were down here and storage for many of the rooms above. As most of the things belonging in this room tend to be cooled, the whole floor always remained a few degrees lower. The floor looked empty, only the faint alarm and dancing red lights remained. Michael was not surprised the halls were empty; it was after hours and in an emergency alarm, protocol called for everyone to convene to sub-level two.
He was dragged past the kitchens and further to the other side of the floor. Most of the rooms here were restricted, for their own varied reasons–usually dangerous. They were below the botany labs. Michael hasn’t really seen what research they do other than the fauna that was open to everyone else on sub-level six. Most aren’t in books yet and their names simply unpronounceable.
“We’re losing heat.” Michael heard the faint static emit from the man’s earpiece in front of him. He released the grip on Michael’s wrist and pressed his COM to respond, “They’ve spotted us.” Chester thought for a moment where his two teammates were according to his instructions. “Head to the control tower and disable communications.”
Michael’s head swiveled in the direction of an opening door. Then another. Soon this floor will be swarming with armed men. Chester was staring at him when he turned. Michael was at the verge of telling him of his impending failure; instead he turned to his teammates.
“Brad, open that lock.”
The man already had a handheld machine glued to the finger print reader and numbers flying atop it. Robert had the butt of his assault rifle to his shoulder, finger on the trigger and his stance ready. They were at the end of a hallway, and Michael could only imagine what kind of carnage this situation would become at the intersection the gun’s pointed at.
“Open,” Brad said, a whoosh of air escaping at the opened door at his proclamation. Low mist travelled a few inches from the ground, creeping into the hallway like water. “You’ve got to hand it to ‘em, they like their privacy.”
Chester ordered them inside, Michael’s wrist once more grasped, though not as aggressively.
He had never been below the botany labs and now his curiosity is piqued. The cold in the room was startling, like being in a fridge. The alarm lights did not filter in here and a low dimmed blue light shown above rows and rows of metal shelves instead. There were tubes within ingress’s of shelves and he was curious what lay in them. He tried to read the label but they were merely letters and numbers of cataloguing. Some were misted, fogged and indiscernible. In one of them, Michael could see leaves.
They crossed the room to another metal door, opening easily. This room had a wash-station; aprons, coats and masks hung along the walls and boxed gloves lined the shelves. Sterilizing equipment before entering the room they had just passed, Michael assumed. If so, they may have just contaminated it.
Chester held Michael back and allowed Brad and Robert to lead. They knew the timetable and itinerary at this point, and they took their instructions well at his command. Past the sterilization room was another print reader and the possibility of opposition is possible on the other side.
As soon as Brad had the door open, the rushing sound loud in the alarm, he was scanning the hallway. He motioned the area clear, then Robert took the lead as Michael hurried with their pace, the seriousness of the situation now apparent with his attention no longer divided.
Robert led them to another door that he eased open slowly. Hearing nothing, he opened it fully and scanned the stairs that led up and then down. Michael pondered where they were going. Below were laundry machines and the stairs up led to sub-level three where the generators were–which was a dead end. Michael was pulled there anyway.
As soon as they arrived, Brad was already at the computers. The large generators hummed loudly, vibrating the floor. There was another generator room, much larger than this one that Michael had discovered at sub-level seven. The ones closer to the surface controlled many of the equipment above ground. Then it dawned on him.
The generators shut off and he was led past them. Along the wall were metal stairs that led to an alcove atop one of the generators. They had to crawl on all fours once they reached it and Chester pulled open a small barred window, big enough to crawl through. Inside, they had to remain on all fours still, but the metal below them sounded hallow and felt cold as he crawled.
Chester stopped, taking a moment to listen. In the dimness, he opened another hatch above his head, peaking around to make sure no one was present. He slithered up and Michael followed his lead. The observation dome stood around him. Now they were really trapped.
Robert was instructed to guard the door, moving silently to his position. Brad, unslinging a small knapsack, moved towards the glass dome. Michael watched as the man placed a slab of something grey on its surface. Carefully, he placed a wired device onto the slab, four lit up zeroes on its face.
Chester pressed near his collarbone. “Hahn, status,” he inquired.
“Ready and timed, sir,” came the reply.
“Incoming.” It was Robert this time that came through the radio. Michael looked to his direction, but the man had slipped outside the door. He jumped as a row of bullets was fired. The door flew open as Robert rolled through, a barrage of return fire following him. He peaked his gun through the slit of the door and kept the pressure, keeping them in place. “How much longer?” he asked, impatience in his voice.
“Two minutes,” came Brad’s reply. They converged by the door, taking turns in their harassment. It would be over if they reached the dome as there was nowhere to hide in the big empty space.
Chester kept Michael down near the floor and radioed his other comrade further instructions. Through the loud exchange of gunfire, Michael barely heard it. It was perhaps the longest two minutes he’s ever experienced. In his own knapsack, Chester pulled out a black coat made of a material Michael was unfamiliar with.
“Put that on,” Chester ordered. Michael didn’t question the demand, becoming aware of how often that visored helmet seem to point his way and where they were about to go. “Rob, now.” Robert ceased his firing, opened a pouch by his belt and pulled out a grenade. He unhooked the pin and rolled it passed the door. “Get down.”
Two explosions went off then; first the one past the door and another inside the dome. The sound shook Michael, his hands quickly going to cover his ears. Just as he started to pull his hands away, one more explosion erupted from the outside of the glass dome, a flurry of snow whipping away. Large cracks in the glass snaked from the blast point.
Chester stood and taking Brad’s assault rifle, he ran to the blast. The wind howled through the cracks, showing how thick the glass is–quite easily the length of his forearm. But it wasn’t passable as the copper mesh in the glass held pieces in place. He fired a few rounds, clearing enough to make it passable. He unsheathed a small knife from his boot and sawed at the meshing. He could feel the full force of the cold at the opening he created, the howl insistent. Satisfied, he kicked the rest of the debris, managing enough room for them to crawl through.
He went to retrieve Michael and made quick radio calls to his teammates. Affirmations came back, but Michael was too focused on the cold to notice. As he was dragged passed the glass, some of the copper mesh grazed his cheekbone, creating a gash and he could feel the glass running along the jacket provided for him. He felt the slice, but it was quickly overpowered by the biting wind against his face. The snow was up to his waist when they stepped outside. He was more or less carried. He could hear the thrum of rotary in the distance and knew where they were headed. Behind him, the slew of bullets had not ceased.
The helicopter was clear in front of them now and the doors slid open, a man in the same armored looking suit greeting their leader with a salute. Michael was hesitant boarding the machine that currently swayed against the onslaught of nature. It looked so fragile. There was no chance, however, to argue as he was hauled on and strapped tightly by Chester. The helmet rose to look at his state after he finished the buckle and Michael stared back, his face inches from the visor before Chester turned and went to the cockpit.
They waited a few a moments before the other two figures emerged from the white. They ran towards the chopper, pausing every few moments to let out a volley of bullets behind them.
“Let’s go you two,” Chester ordered in his COM.
The two men jumped onboard quickly, the door of the helicopter not even closed as it ascended turbulent winds. In his shivering state, Michael could not imagine where he was going to be taken.
Weddel Sea, Antarctic Peninsula
He just stared.
Michael tried to keep his eyes averted elsewhere, but in the small space; there was not much to look at. The aircraft they were on was large, an LC-130, but he was confined near the cockpit, watched by his captor.
After they’re escape from the compound, they had flown to the McMurdo station still on the Ross shelf where the large plane had been waiting for them. Unlike its popular cousin C-17, theirs had skis, which Michael thought looked odd. The unmarked plane was thankful warmth from earlier and the change of clothes was offered to him–much warmer ones.
Since their take off, Michael had not uttered a word, and likewise, Chester was just as mute. He simply manhandled Michael to his bidding and now currently sat across staring at him. Two of his men were busy flying the plane, the other two elsewhere within the vehicle.
Michael had many reasons to distrust him, and many more as to why he had readily amalgamated with his plans. He looked again at the man, his helmet on the seat beside him, his stare just as fixed. Michael could feel the heat on his cheeks bloom and hunched his shoulders, hoping the brim of his thick jacket would cover his face as he looked at his new black leather boots. He’s never worn footwear that was quite so heavy.
“No questions?” Chester asked finally. “None at all?” he added.
Michael looked up and could not read the man’s look.
Frustration, perhaps, Michael thought. He was use to being ordered around, he’s accustomed to the silence and the fact that sometimes he just doesn’t want to know what’s going to happen to him next. Social interaction and talking just for the sake of talking does not come by him, no one would engage him. Often times it was worse than he originally imagined. He dropped his gaze again.
The man across from him sighed, stood and left towards the cockpit.
Michael overheard the conversation, closing his eyes to a sudden headache. He thought back to the office, wondering why he was to be relocated again. That was the first time in three months he had seen his Father, although he assumed he was always inside somewhere. Thirteen years and another incident where escape was his priority–or was he being kidnapped? A part of him felt the latter isn’t the case, it would surely explain why he wasn’t frightened.
He thought about his Father, the repercussions this would bring, or would he care? If his Father tried at all…
At this thought, Michael’s whole body shook. He took a deep breath, his eyes wide as a full body pain took over him. He clenched his teeth, the pain immense. His bones felt like they were being electrocuted, vibrating under his skin and burning the muscles. He opened his mouth and screamed.
Somewhere over the South Atlantic
“It’s a tracking device,” Brad held the piece of metal between his fingers, the size of a quarter. “The boundary was reached at sixty degrees longitude of the southern hemisphere. At that point, at it’s breach, the victim will be administered a continuous shock that targets his sensory nerves,” Brad placed the device down with disgust. “Savage, really.”
“You said it’s a tracking device,” Chester looked at the chip and then to the unconscious man next to it. He looked young when he rested there peacefully. Just moments ago he was writhing on the floor, convulsing. Brad was there in time to create a makeshift cot. He held Michael’s hands and torso firm and Robert kept his legs steady, all the while Chester removed his garments. “Thoughts?” he had asked as they fought with the thrashing body.
The two pilots, Joseph and Dave asked what was going on and as they explained the situation, none could form an answer. It was when the convulsing had been so extreme that Michael accidentally head-butted Brad. He cursed, but that allowed him to see the blinking red under the skin between his shoulder blades on his back.
Chester anesthetized the younger man and he made quick work of removing the device along his spinal cord. He shook his head at the memory still very vivid in his mind. “So that means they’d have at least tracked our direction.”
“They might also check out the McMurdo station,” Robert pointed out.
Chester had not thought of that. He didn’t know how well the mechanics there would keep their mouths shut. He had been warned that he will be chased, and they could not deliver their assignment unless the heat of their persecutors was non-existent. He had hoped to lose any tracks by the time they were airborne, but he had not anticipated a possible tracking device.
He looked down again at the soft features of the unconscious man. He was assessing whether he was worth all this trouble. He harrumphed and ordered the two to call him when he wakes. Leaving for the cockpit, he thought of a possible reroute.
He better be worth all this trouble…
to be continued…
Notes: Thanks for reading, and I apologize if you saw any mistakes.