Hey hey, it’s back to the future time again!
Wasn’t that a movie or something?
The way Adam wrote up this middle section, he bounced between my story and Cass’s story, chapter to chapter, so I’m going to keep posting multiple chapters as long as I can get away with it.
You ever work with someone who thought they knew it all but didn’t?
I have. Hell, I’ve been that person! But Jamey was another level!
And Cass? She was feeling more herself, and started taking charge of her situation as best she could, which is to say pretty damn well!
Adam’s running another Rafflecopter; you can win a $50 Restaurant.com gift card! Entering is simple, start by clicking the button!
Chapter 12: Check Your Seat for All Personal Possessions
The APV bypassed the first of the Mississippi islands.
“Cat Island,” said Jamey. “It’s not inhabited, rarely visited, and seriously swampy.”
“So why not stop here?” asked Kendra, now sitting across from him. Evan had decided that he might be better off not seeing the water and had switched places with her. “It sounds perfect. We don’t want to meet up with anyone, do we?”
“No, but there has to be some traffic to and fro, or we’ll be too conspicuous,” he answered. “We’ll land on the south coast of Ship Island and hike across. I just hope…” His voice trailed off.
“Hope what?” she prompted.
“Well, Ship is home to a historic site – Fort Massachusetts. It’s an abandoned installation from the First Civil War. Lots of tourists come to see it, which is good for us. Three more people won’t be noticed. On the other hand, there is a minimal security presence on the island, keep them from chipping off pieces of the stonework and what have you. They might be marginally more alert.”
“Then we’ll just have to be more careful,” answered Kendra. “We can discuss it once we see the arrangements.” She thought for a long moment. “You said that there’s a fishing boat stashed here?”
“Two,” corrected Jamey. Evan didn’t say anything, but she could sense his awareness.
“Why use them?”
“That’s the plan!” declared Evan.
“Agent, if you want to survive in this business, one of the first things you have to learn is to take advantage of opportunities,” said Kendra coldly.
“Well, duh!” snapped back Evan.
She shook her head. “You’re missing the chance here, boys. If this place has people wandering around – tourists, right?”
Jamey nodded and she continued. “So why not just slip in with them? They have transportation, somehow. Wouldn’t that be easier than trying to find a hidden boat, get it running and motor to shore?”
No answer from Evan; Jamey said, “That does make sense. Hold on, this is the tough bit.”
Landing on the south shore of Ship Island was tricky. Waves from the Gulf pounded the land, concealing the contours of the coast. Neither Kendra nor Evan had any experience reading the radar return, which showed, to them, just so much clutter; nor could Jamey take his attention from the approach to interpret. The old but still-active GPS system was only useful for the visible features; underwater obstacles remained hidden. Thus it ended up they made their landing, early in the summer evening, by dead reckoning and occasional compass fixes, much as rumrunners had done two centuries earlier.
“Land! Oh, thank you!” Evan scrambled over Kendra and out. Kendra followed more sedately, and finally, after a brief pause at the controls, Jamey.
“What about the APV?” asked Kendra. “Won’t the rangers get interested if they find it abandoned here?”
“They would,” replied Jamey. “But they won’t.”
“Huh?” was Kendra’s comment.
“I triggered the autopilot. Set to return to HQ. These babies aren’t cheap; if I lost this, Talbott would take it out my hide, and out of my paycheck, for the next ten years!” Sure enough, the little APV closed the canopy and backed into the surf, where it was quickly concealed by the still-churning waves.
“Problem solved,” said Jamey with pride.
“Almost,” corrected Kendra.
“Almost? It’s perfect!” insisted Jamey. “We’re here, nobody spotted us, and the APV is gone! What else could you want?”
“Our instructions?” parroted Jamey.
“In the APV.”
“What’s the plan, genius?”
“Remote!” Jamey seized on the word.
“Remote,” was Kendra’s dubious reply. “And getting more remote every second. Explain. Quickly.”
“This,” said Evan by way of explanation, pulling a small device from an inside pocket. “The APV has an autodrive feature, which Jamey engaged, but by pressing this button,” he demonstrated, “You can summon it to your location. Handy, yes?”
“Lucky, more like,” grudgingly admitted Kendra. “A little too clever there, Jamey. Maybe you ought to fill me in on your plans before you execute them? Seeing as how I’m the senior agent?”
Chapter 13: Chinese Ideogram for Trouble
“Mac, I want to find a terminal.”
After her workout, Cass had showered and changed. She emerged from the locker room to find Mac awaiting her.
“Oh sure Cass, what do you want to do, find some vids or maybe some music, or just check the news or what, we have all sorts of terminals all over the place so I’m sure we can find one we can use.”
“I need to check my messages, do some more digging. I have to find out what’s been going on with HLC.”
Mac’s usually sunny face fell. “That might be more difficult, guests aren’t supposed to have access to outside networks, it’s not my choice it’s the policy and I don’t have anything to do with it so please don’t hate me!”
“Mac,” she wheedled, “I need to do this, and I need your help to do it. I can’t live my life wondering who’s going to come after me next, and I can’t hide forever either.”
“You did say you’re adept at this sort of thing, didn’t you?”
“Oh yes! That’s my field, IT, I’m really really good at it, so good that my handle is Ghost, that’s what they call me, because nobody ever sees me when I’m sneaking in and out of networks, I haven’t been caught yet!”
“Perfect! Then it shouldn’t be any problem for you to help me get into the HLC computers, should it?”
“Do you know what sort of servers they run and what their encryption is, because it’ll really help if you know that but if you don’t I can figure it out or get the information somewhere else, boy this is going to be fun!”
“First, I have to get my messages. Where can we do that?” Full circle.
“There are terminals all over but if we’re going to do this on the down low then we need one that doesn’t have a lot of foot traffic and I think I know just the place come on follow me!”
They ended up in a classroom on the second floor above ground.
“Don’t worry, nobody’ll come in here until tomorrow, all the classes are done for the day, I already checked.”
Cass didn’t really hear; she was already accessing her mail account.
“Oh, damn, Lisa, you brilliant maniac!” she exclaimed.
“What is it, is there something wrong, who’s Lisa?”
“Lisa’s an old friend, she’s trying to help me out, and I asked her for a favor. This is what she said,” answered Cass, who then read the message aloud.
“Cass,” it began. “Don’t know what you did, but all hell’s broken loose here. Your lab is locked down. Security is questioning everyone who works there, and everyone who knows you. They already talked to me, I think I threw them off, but don’t reply to this. You know how to reach me.”
“She sounds like she’s in trouble.” Mac was subdued.
“The timestamp is yesterday afternoon. Mac, I need a phone.”
“What about the terminal, you asked for a terminal not a phone!”
“Mac! Lisa’s my friend; I asked for a favor, and she might be in trouble! I have to call her and find out how she is!”
Mac considered this. “I suppose I can figure something out, after all it’s just a phone call, what could possibly go wrong?”
“No video, and we can only maintain the connection for a minute, so you’d better be quick, no long chats, I’ll be listening as well, and don’t tell her where you are!”
“Yes, mother,” answered Cass. She punched in Lisa’s code, trying to remember her husband’s name. They didn’t share a surname, so she couldn’t just say “Hello Mr. Mantchev!”; she remembered that much. Keith? Karl?
It rang twice before a man’s voice answered. “Hello.”
Ah! She remembered the name. “Kevin?”
“Who’s calling? Your screen isn’t on.” The voice was a little bit off. Something about it wasn’t matching her memories. She hadn’t talked to him often, but she did know his voice, and this wasn’t quite –
“Is Lisa around?” she asked.
She should be; it was getting on to dinner, and one thing Cass knew was that Lisa made a point of being home every night in time to sit down with her husband.
“She’s not available. Can I take a message, tell her who called?” And that was wrong too. Kevin knew her, just like she knew him.
Mac was making “hurry up” gestures, and Cass had to agree. Something wasn’t right. “I’ll try back later,” she said, and disconnected.
“Too bad she wasn’t home but I’m glad you listened and didn’t say -”
“Mac, something’s happened to her. I’ve got to talk to Kendra.”
Mac looked dubious. “We might have to talk to the Director.”
“You’re scared of her, not me. Lead on.”
They had been granted an audience almost immediately. Cass wasn’t sure whether to be honored or suspicious, but she decided to roll with it while she could.
“What do you mean, impossible? Don’t you have all sorts of super-spy things, implants, subdermal transmitters, all that? Hell, can’t I just pick up a phone and call? What if you have to get hold of them?”
“Dr. Foster-Briggs, it’s not that simple. Our agents are trained to operate with complete autonomy; any contact between them and the Complex here must be initiated by the agent. It’s a security measure, you see.”
“I don’t. Pretend I’m stupid and explain it to me.”
Director Talbott looked like a teacher faced with a recalcitrant five-year-old. “Kendra is undercover. She -” She checked the time. “She should be infiltrating the New Confederacy about now. If she’s talking with a border official, trying to pass as a simple tourist, what do you think would happen if a piece of highly-controlled technology should happen to take that moment to activate?”
Cass didn’t like that idea. “That’s a fair point. Surely, though, she – or one of the other two – will be checking in at some point. Can I talk to her then?”
Talbott shook her head. “The next communication I expect from them is when they reach Palmdale, and that only to confirm they’ve met the next pair of agents. I won’t have a chance to get a message to Kendra before she is passed to the next link in the chain.”
“Then tell them to have Kendra call in!” Cass exclaimed, exasperated.
“That won’t work either.”
“Stop telling me what you can’t – or won’t – do for me and tell me what you will!” shouted Cass.
“I will confine you to your quarters if you don’t control yourself!” barked Talbott. Mac, already standing well in the background, shrank even further away. The Talbott Temper was legendary; she didn’t want to be anywhere near when it finally blew.
Cass blasted back. “You might run this, what did you call it, the Complex? Let’s get one thing clear: I don’t work for you! If you try to confine me, I’ll leave, and if you try to stop me, we’ll see how many of your agents I can put into the hospital before they take me down!”
Mac edged towards the door.
“I could take you out myself without breaking a sweat, and as long as you’re in the Complex you will do what I say!”
“Try me, Talbott, try me! I had a great warmup earlier today with your pet martial artist and I would love to see what I could do to your sorry ass!” She began to make the rocking movements of the ginga.
Mac’s hand found the exit control. Too late.
“McAllister! Get over here and put this uppity bitch in her place!”
Mac took a step forward and stopped. “No, ma’am.” She looked surprised at the words as they left her mouth.
“What did you just say, Agent?” Talbott’s voice could have cut through durasteel.
“No. I won’t. It’s not right, and it’s not fair to Cass, or Kendra.” Mac braced for the onslaught.
Talbott looked from one woman to the other, shocked. Then she inhaled, released, sat back behind her desk, and – laughed?
“I suppose we’ll just have to do something else, won’t we? Oh, sit down, Doctor. You too Mac.” As they took wary steps towards chairs, Talbott continued. “If you can inspire that sort of loyalty in a person you’ve only known a few days, well, perhaps I’d better rethink my position. A skill like that is worth preserving, or at least removing from an adversarial position.”
“You’ll contact Kendra?” said Cass, hardly believing what she was hearing, but unwilling to let the opportunity slide.
“No, but not because I won’t; I can’t. But I think I might have another option for you.”