Our drones spies are in West Virginia, called the mountain state for a reason, the Appalachians cover the entire state. Since coal mining is a thing of the past, there are swaths of ranges with roads, but no people or traffic. Some people stayed and tried living off the land, but they were few in number. Chunks of mountain could be had for a song as there was no significant industry and agriculture is now primarily large scale and mechanized..
The Appalachian mountains aren’t particularly high, the highest under five thousand feet, it isn’t the Rockies. Our Arizona home is less than fifty miles from Mt. Humphrey just north of Flagstaff, it’s twelve thousand feet at the top, and a steep slog. I know, I’ve slogged it. Deep wilderness until the tree line breaks, the path is all roots and rocks, then climb over rocks to the top. View is spectacular.
They flew into Charleston, bordered to the north by the Western Allegheny Plateau, and are staying in Ripley at the Allegheny Hotel. The research facility is fifteen miles northwest, off I-77. The drone shows access is from a road called Mud Run, then onto a former logging or mining road, five miles to nowhere.
We can see from the drone’s eye view, the facility is basic on the exterior, one story composite that will easily handle the moderate weather. Eighties in the summer, forties in winter, a little snow in January and February, moderate rainfall otherwise.
Janah, “Seems like a rather pleasant place climate-wise.”
“Nothing there, under five thousand population, residents probably like it that way, but it seems like a place people would retire to with a little more development. It’s on the interstate after all. Probably best not to give Nikko ideas, she’ll buy the place and Amaya will turn it into a hip retirement community.”
Nikko, “I was thinking artist colony, old and young. It could take years to catch on, but it isn’t like we’re dying anytime soon. I might be able to talk Kara into running a short series, and she knows a fair number of name artists. Thing might take off sooner than I think.”
“Sheesh, mention a development idea, you’re off and running.”
Nikko, “I doubt there’s money in it, too much development and the atmosphere goes from arts and crafts to commercial. I can see doing it just to do it, our own craft project. I’ll think it over, first get rid of Dr. Frankenstein.”
Janah, “The whole of Jackson County is thirty thousand, and most of the jobs were at an aluminum factory. The growth of stronger and more durable composites put aluminum growth to nil, most if it now is for tin foil, the reliable baking standby. Daphne, Ellen and Dasha may be keeping the aluminum foil business vibrant.”
“We do use a fair amount of it.”
Grace B, “A fair amount? Two hundred feet a week, I could wrap the property with what you clowns use up in a year.”
“We’re cooking for almost thirty people, often three times a day. Keep your processors on flying the drones or I’ll wrap you next.”
Grace B, “Hah! I will not mention the thousands of meters of cling wrap, or hundreds of freezer bags. Nishiko should have bought a fucking plastic company, a winery and a vodka distiller. By the way, I can make better craft beers than the crap we get for Janah and Eloise.”
There’s no arguing with Grace B, she knows too many of our inventory details, she and Emma B order the stuff, and what one knows the other knows.
Eloise, in West Virginia, is on the video feed with us, “Why didn’t you say so? What equipment do we need? I will put it in Malibu, we spend more time there.”
Grace B, “File is on your tablet, I shall make an ale, and a lager.”
“How do you know beer, you don’t taste anything?”
“I know what Eloise and Janah prefer, they try other beers but always revert to one of the two. Sapporo, a pale lager, is a family favorite. The whole business is a matter of top fermenting or bottom fermenting yeast, time and temperature. Everything else is tinkering.”
Janah, “She’s right, after that it becomes a matter of taste, like the perceived differences in premium bourbon, gin or scotch. There is no best, just what the individual drinker prefers.”
Ellen, “As is the case with wine.”
Amaya, “Your taste in wine is unparalleled, we all enjoy your selections. I am not a beer girl, I have no opinion. I am a vodka slut, and the twins put us onto the best of all vodkas, Russian Standard.”
Grace B, “Speaking of wretched excess…”
Amaya, “Wrap it Grace B, you have work to do.”
“I defer to Your Magnificence.”
The drones are zeroing in on the facility, nothing is visible from the outside, the place looks more like a bunker than a research site. Guards at the front and rear door, only a chain link fence, no razor wire, a common swing gate big enough to let a truck through.
Zi, “Fence looks more like something to keep the local wildlife at bay than it does to keep people in. The guards open and close the gate to walk the property, it isn’t electrified.”
Britt, “The subjects must be well secured inside then.”
Emma B, “Correct, individual cells according to the notes we hacked. Remember, they get quite active when they first start treatment.”
Britt, “How long does it take before they start to lose it?”
“A week, sometimes two, some of the geriatrics are stronger, more resilient, they take longer to deteriorate. Six subjects died in two to three days, twelve functioned for a week, then went insane in degrees, then died. Eight functioned for nearly three weeks, one for a month, then they deteriorated but didn’t die. Wartler terminated them.”
“What happens to the bodies? They just drag them into the woods and dump them?”
“Incinerator, the ash and unburned bone is taken away and disposed of in the woods, nobody is going to find anything. It is wilderness, dig a hole, cover it, gone for good. It was twenty seven people, but in just over two years. He does not have more than two subjects in there at any given time. And subjects do not know of other subjects. They see Wartler, he treats them, a guard brings food, shoved through a slot in a door, like prison. Television screen up on a wall where they cannot get to it, plays bland streaming movies and documentaries, subjects do not get to choose. Lights out at ten, lights on at six. Not that it matters much, after a few days to a few weeks, subjects are too disoriented to care.”
Daria, “If they are so whacked out, how do they attack anyone, where does homicidal psychotic manifest, I mean, how does Wartler come to that conclusion?”
“They are on a twenty four hour video feed, they talk to themselves, they attempt to attack the guard even through the food slot.”
“They don’t attack Wartler, he has to go in and deliver injections.”
“Once they lose control, he doesn’t go in anymore. Subjects are strapped to gurneys for initial treatments, then released, all treatments take place in the cell. The camera tells Wartler what he needs to know, that the subject is over the edge of sanity. He can also talk to them through the same feed, ask questions, it does not take much to figure out the oldster has lost touch with everything, even themselves.”
Lauren comes on the screen, “No visitors in, nobody out but guards. Tonight we go with listening devices on two drones and see who is talking about what.”
“Having fun in downtown Ripley?”
“The surrounding area is lovely, the weather is good, I don’t know why more people don’t live here. We would like it, mountains, trees, a river, several creeks, wildflowers. Zip for jobs though, I suppose that answers my question.”
“We thought the same thing, Nikko is contemplating a long term project, developing an artist colony and retirement community.”
“It isn’t an investment to make money then, more like an investment in people.”
“Exactly, Nikko likes having projects, maybe we could toss in a Shaolin monastery, tons of students would love to live in such a place.”
Lauren, “See, easy peasy, a whole lifestyle in a pristine environment. Eloise said we could put another manufacturing facility.”
“Manufacturing what? We already have the drone business, Chloe Couture and the VR business located elsewhere, as far as I know, none of them call for expansion.”
Eloise appears next to Lauren, “I haven’t thought of it just yet, but Lauren and I can come up with something that needs to be built. And that needs people to at least oversee the process even if bots do the assembly. Maybe that’s it. Our bots are far more advanced than any commercial or even military bots. We don’t want to make that known, but we can build something in between, more advanced than today’s commercial stuff, but not nearly as advanced as ours.”
Lauren, “We could sell kajillions, today’s commercial bots look like machines, ours look like people. We can make those, just with a lower level of capability.”
Nikko, “How many people could we employ, it sounds like the bots could be assembled by bots.”
Eloise, “They could, but they don’t have to be. We revert to old style assembly, by people, each bot with a signature of the assembler, like an artisan’s stamp, or an artist’s signature. If we keep margins low, they could be relatively affordable, not middle class affordable, more like wealthy affordable.”
Nikko, “It has to pay for itself, but it need not pay us above our outlay.”
Janah taps into my head, “We are fortunate Nikko is incapable of remaining idle.”
“Hundreds of employees are also grateful she is incapable of remaining idle.”
The drone feeds stay onscreen, we move along to and past tea, then start dinner prep. It’s a couple hours later in West Virginia, and dark. I see the building, then voices.
“Fuck should I know? The computer simulations say the procedures should work with only marginal side effects, but the old bastards keep going nuts.”
Must be Wartler, there is the tinny sound of a voice on a speakerphone, “I get it doctor, but younger people are riskier.”
“Tough, I’m tired of burying bodies, the simulation predicted a fifty percent survival rate of at least a year. I’m getting a zero percent survival rate in under a month. The bit of energy burst they get in the very beginning turns into a nightmare of insanity. Even the guards are starting to grumble.”
“The guards are being paid a small fortune, they don’t get to grumble, I’ll call Preston when we’re done. Tell him to keep his fuckers in line or they can get buried in the woods like the old people.”
“They’re armed Paul.”
“Armed with stun guns, they aren’t killing anyone. The guards are to keep people out, and scare the test subjects.”
“Who keep getting homicidal and aren’t scared. Look, don’t send any more geriatrics up here, I’m not accepting them. I need one or two fifty or sixty in decent health, no fat people, no obvious disability. They don’t have to be marathon runners, just not falling apart. Can you do that?”
“You stick them in cells, I can get my hands on prisoners, they’re used to cells. Hell, this is even better, they get their own cell, no cellmate.”
“You can simply pluck prisoners out of prison?”
“Sure, hoked up paperwork that says he’s wanted for questioning, or charged with another crime, needed to testify, hand him over to Marshalls and don’t ask a lot of stupid questions ‘cause we ain’t answering.”
“What a world.”
“Hey, I’m not injecting people with genetically modified pig hormones…and, yes, it is a bizarre world indeed.”
Janah sips a glass of red, “I’m hungry.”
“Meatloaf, garlic mashed, brown gravy, mixed vegetables with Tonkatsu sauce and ghee.”
“Yum, any appetizers?”
I pull a tray out of the oven, “Crostini with warm olive salad, or alternatively, cream cheese with chives.”
“I’ll have both thank you,” she slips out to join the others around the pool, the children buzz down and sit.
Nadia, “We would like a little wine.”
Kota B, “I will fetch it, Emma B is here with appetizers.”
Ellen is mashing potatoes, we do it skin on, she adds melted garlic butter, salt and pepper and a cup of warmed whipping cream. Dasha leaves the vegetables in the oven while the meatloaf sets, stirs the gravy and sniffs. She spoons a few tablespoons of the meatloaf juices into the gravy, sniffs again, turns the heat to just warm, apparently satisfied.
Ellen, “There creamy mashed, she takes a forkful and tastes, “Perfect.”
I slice loaves of French bread crosswise and lay the slices on the oven rack to toast, good for dipping in rich brown gravy.
Dasha slices the meatloaf, lays them on platters.
There are serving bowls of shredded Parmesan, Reggiano, Asiago on the table for those who want a bit of cheese on the meatloaf or in the mashed potatoes.
Sloane, “Wow, smells good in here, onion in the meatloaf, garlic mashed, ghee and Tonkatsu.”
“Wolf nose, you should be a chef.”
“We have three excellent chefs already, I like being spoiled by them,” she pours herself a glass of wine and plops at the table.
The others file in, Kota B handles the children’s table, We lay out platters of meatloaf, three bowls of mashed, two more with the vegetables and two more with slices of bread just toasty but not browned.
Chloe, “Amazing, simple food is best.”
Amaya, “It is all simple for you Vesnushki, you do not cook it.”
Chloe grins, “Makes it even better.”
Ellen, “She helps out with breakfast and is on call if dinner gets complicated. You on the other hand…”
Amaya, “I have projects, like wrapping up the movie, which will be ready for release in a month.”
“Doing a prescreening?”
“I was not, then when I saw the rushes, I could see how amazing it is. So, yes, we will prescreen for selected critics in LA and New York, three of the top names in each town. I am even including the notorious Dragon Lady, she cuts down everything.”
Britt, “Then why invite her?”
“We cannot lose, if she takes cheap shots, it is expected and everyone will decide it is just the Dragon Lady at it again. If she likes it, we win outright.”
“Dragon Lady have a name?”
“Eldora something, she goes by Dragon Lady. She was not in the game when we did Ultra Violet, or any of Chloe’s films actually. She is a product of the last three or four years. I have to admit agreeing with her on many of the films she reviews, they are tedious repetitive crap.”
Nikko, “Come in on budget?”
“When do I not come in on budget? This movie was cheap, I paid the children nothing, the animators work for us already, producing our VR programs. I will bonus them lavishly, the work is simply amazing, they got into it when we brought the children to see the process. Meeting the voices in person was a stroke of my infinite genius, and the children charmed the socks off the techies.”
Zi, “You are not concerned with them knowing who the girls are?”
“They do not know they are our children, we used the made up names that will appear on the credits. Also, our people sign deadly confidentiality contracts, they cannot describe the interior of the buildings, or describe the creative process, nor say anything to anyone about their employer or our projects.”
Nikko, “True, we have the same agreements at the drone company and Chloe Couture. We had them at the property management company when we owned it. Even though the property management company wasn’t full of secret formulas, processes or algorithms developed for our other more tech oriented companies.”
The drones are not reporting much in the way of conversation, Wartler must have gone to bed or something, it’s after eleven there.
Then two voices, but from outside, must be guards.
G1, “Damn, if the pay wasn’t so good, I’d have to move on, I like action and this ain’t it.”
G2, “I don’t mind nothing, I seen enough action for two lifetimes, but I’m twenty years older than you. My age, this is dream work. Old fuckers who yell a lot, can’t do shit even if they got loose.”
G1 laughs, “Damn they get feisty at first, then go bat shit, it’s like the zombie apocalypse until they keel over.”
G2, “I ought write a book, but nobody would believe it, and we can’t take pictures or make videos, or even say jack to anyone.”
G1, “I got a few photos stored away, half a dozen crazy old people, funny lookin’ fuckers when they lose it.”
G2, “You best keep that to yourself. Shit gets out you might want to remember we’re burying bones and ashes in the wilderness. Accessory to murder is a long stretch in a small cell next to a big black fucker who wants to drill your ass every night. Not to mention what I might do, your photos risk all of us going down.”
G1, “Shit man, I was just playin’ around, I ain’t gonna show ‘em to anyone.”
G2, “No, you’re not, you’re gonna get that fuckin phone right now and delete that shit right in front of me. Cause if you don’t, I’m gonna explain to the other guys how you are carrying a prison sentence for all of us right in your fucking pocket.”
G1, “Christ, okay, okay already, like I said, I didn’t mean no harm.”
The drone has zoomed in on two figures, they’re in partial shadow, but there is an exterior light by the front entrance. The smaller man pulls a phone out of his pocket, clicks around, shows the older guy, then clicks some more.
G1, “Done and done.”
G2, “And don’t get any more stupid fuckin’ ideas, or we’ll be stickin’ your dumb ass in the dirt with the next dead test dummy.”
I hear Katya over the speakers, “Too bad we cannot get those photos.”
Daria, “It seems like there are no subjects on site for now, just Wartler and his six man army.”
Katja’s face comes onscreen, “What do you want us to do? We can shut down the facility easily enough, but that does not give us much about the other players, the thing we call the shadow government.”
Janah, “And we don’t want you hanging around Ripley. Town is too small, you’re going to be noticed if you’re there longer than three or four days.”
Nikko, “You can use the drone tomorrow to send us video feed of the area. If we get serious about an artists’ colony and retirement community we might get a few ideas of where to put it relative to the town.”
Lauren, “Good idea.”
I jump in, “Don’t go asking anyone about property, or who owns what land. You have to be as invisible as possible on this job.”
“Moooommm, please, Grace B will dig up all that anyway.”
“Being cautious, I figure you know better, but I want it crystal clear.”
Katya, “We can fly one drone to survey the area, the other can keep an eye on LongLife. With no test subjects, there isn’t much to keep an eye on anyway.”
We sign off, they’ll bring the drones in and start another search tomorrow.
Ellen snags me for an intimacy session, Sarah and Sloane slip up the steps for another intimacy session, likely with Oceane and Cass. I see Mani follow Janah into our room. In short order, I’m all over luscious Ellen, must be hitting the right notes, we’re soon both in a frenzy. As Ellen soars over the top, her smooth tight thighs against my cheeks, my tongue holds its place on the sensitive spot with a little qi buzz that elicits the most delightful moan.
The door opens and two succulent twins pile in.
Dasha, “We peek in your head while you sex Ellen, now we are wanting you and Ellen to sex us.”
Life around here is amazing, and sensually scintillating.
Despite lesbian follies, the chefs are up and at our posts early. We also want to check in with Katya and see what’s new at LongLife.
Katja is on, “Drone picked up conversation this morning that a new subject is being delivered this afternoon.”
“They got busy quickly.”
“A low level thief, burglary, not even robbery, just lifted property from homes. No relatives, been in for three years, never any visitors. Federal Marshalls showed up in North Carline and took him off for questioning on a series of other crimes out of state. The prisoner had lived in Florida, that’s where they said the other violations took place. They never took him to Florida.”
“And the Marshalls weren’t Marshalls.”
“No, but they had the right credentials and the right paperwork, so off he went. The voice on the phone told Wartler that North Carolina was glad to get him gone, one less mouth to feed. Since the end of prison for profit, states are anxious to get rid of prisoners, not keep them.”
“Works for LongLife, and whoever is behind this thing.”
Ellen hands me a cup of coffee, good thing, I need to power up, and she leans in for a kiss, giving me extra inspiration.
Katja, “You have fun with Ellen last night?”
“There is no not having fun when Ellen is involved, plus we got the twins.”
“We managed some relaxation as well, but on to business, what now?”
“I was hoping you had an approach, let me get Janah geared up and we’ll roundtable the discussion.”
I turn to Emma B, “Rouse Janah please, we need to figure out the next steps, bring a cup of matcha with you, she might need a jumpstart.”
Ellen and Dasha are scrambling a few zillion eggs, I see French bread come out, we must be having French toast, the kids will be happy.
Emma B returns, “She is along in a minute.”
“Mani still in there?”
“There was a smallish lump under the covers, it did not stir, for all I know it is a dead body or a few pillows.”
Janah comes in and plops next to me, I earn another kiss, “Emma B says you killed Mani.”
“She’s still above ground, let’s say I prevailed in a contest of wills.”
Katya is onscreen, “Sex talk later, what do we do with Wartler and LongLife?”
Janah tosses back the rest of her matcha, hands the cup to Emma B, “Another please, I still have a few cobwebs.”
Ellen refills my coffee, “Anything else?”
She’s next to me in her tiny white shorts and a half t-shirt, I run a hand up the sleek thigh, “Everything else, but I have to defer my gratification, duty calls before booty calls.”
Ellen grins, walks back to the coffee pot, I watch the walk, Christ, if she was a waitress she’d make a million bucks in tips, if she was a pole dancer…God only knows.
Janah, “What that girl ain’t got isn’t worth havin’, didn’t Ms. Alva say that?”
I smile, “Yep, let’s see, okay Katya, I’m sure you’ve had time to plot a strategy.”
Katya, “Very funny.”
Janah, “All we can do is keep after them. If we don’t find out who is behind this, we shut down Wartler and the bad guys go onto new nastiness.”
Katya, “Except the test subject will die, or worse, the injections don’t kill him and they are encouraged to continue. We can get the information we need before that happens.”
Janah, “How do you plan to …. never mind, you want to storm the place.”
Katya, “Not exactly. We wait until the subject shows, then we get details on the delivery vehicle and a photo of the driver and any guard with him. One drone tracks the vehicle when it leaves. We use the second drone to dart any guards outside. We know there are six, usually two outside, two will be asleep or resting from last night’s duty. At least one of them must cook, and maybe one helps, they do need to eat, make coffee, clean up. There is no food for miles. Housekeeping duties have to be a part of the deal.”
“Might have a cleaning bot.”
“True, we will not know until we are inside. It does not matter, we have the entrance code on video from last night and this morning, they do not change it. Once in, sister and I will handle the remaining guards, Eloise and Lauren have laser guns as well. Once we have Wartler, we have the drugs we need to get everything he knows. It is a simple operation.”
Janah, “You going to kill the guards?”
Katja, “Have to, we must leave a message, one understood even by the most hardcore. Once we have names, we find the rest of these secret operatives or what you call the shadow government.”
“Get Wartler on video, every word.”
Katya blinks at me.
“Okay, that was obvious, it’s early here, cut me some slack.”
“Just follow the video feed.”
“Will do, Lauren, get on camera.”
Her pretty face is in front of me, “Do I have to say it?”
She rolls her eyes, “Eloise and I are going in after Katya and Katja, no part time paramilitary puke is getting past then. Besides, maybe I can get a crack at one,” she holds up her gun, “I am armed and dangerous.”
“If anything happens to you, when you get home you’re grounded for a week. If you get killed, you’re grounded for a month, and no phone privileges.”
“Geez, flipping Tiger Mom. Relax, I’m on this, and Eloise is safe, she’s too small for anyone to shoot.”
So now we wait on the delivery, which is scheduled for this afternoon, which means maybe noon-ish our time.
Sloane streaks in, “French toast, yay!”
“Round up the children please, and any stray girls you come across.”
Once the kids are served, we lay out platters of French toast and crispy bacon for the adults, recap the situation in West Virginia.
Nikko, “I should have gone, we don’t want a fair fight.”
“The twins won’t have a fair fight, two guards will be down before they go in, that turns it into two on four, plus Wartler, the enemy will be overpowered just by Katya. Or we could have sent Sarah by herself, but it would be messy.”
Sarah, “Excuse me?”
“You would leave the laser on and destroy half the building while destroying the commandos.”
“Seems more efficient.”
Janah, “Pass the French toast.”
“Kota B, keep the kids occupied, the video will be on down here.”
Tasia pipes up, “We have seen many beings murdered, all over the universe.”
“Well, you haven’t seen us doing it.”
Little girls giggle. Maybe they know more than I think, I decide to drop it.
Nothing happens at LongLife, two guards roam around outside, they go in and two more take their place. Long stretches of inaction leave them complacent. They do a perimeter walk, then lean against the building and smoke, stun guns holstered. Conversation we pick up is boring, guy bullshit about bars and women, how they should have real weapons, not stun guns, things really deteriorate when the subject turns to football.
Just before our scheduled twelve thirty lunch, there’s a buzz of activity outside. I figure the kids are showering at the outdoor pool shower, likely crummy from playing run the mountain.
Then I hear, “Mamas, come and see! Tetyas, come and see!”
I head outside to a gaggle of grubby kids surrounding a puppy, a big puppy.
“It looks like a bundle of rags.”
Janah, “She’s a Neapolitan Mastiff, a dirty one, but she appears healthy. Where did you find her?”
Nadia, “We ran past the gate by the road, she was sitting there like she was waiting to be let in.”
Uma, “We had to take her, there is nothing for miles.”
“Of course you had to take her. Rinse her off gently, let her dry out here in the sun. I’ll fetch a bowl of water, we’re going to need dog food.”
Janah, “We’re going to need a lot of food. Females get to a hundred thirty pounds.”
Zofia, “She is so adorable, she looks so sad, and wrinkly, like a stack of wet towels.”
Amaya comes out, “What in hell is that thing?”
“A dog, Janah says a Neapolitan Mastiff.”
“And the little beast is going to stay here?”
Valeska, “Yes, she is going to sleep in your bed Tetya Amaya.”
“Over my dead body,” Amaya bends over and strokes the soft puppy, “such a sad sack.”
Amaya gets her hand licked.
“Awwww, she loves me, but then, who does not?”
Janah, “We need to find a vet and have her checked out, spayed, wormed, the usual.”
Dasha, “Eef children are going to keep dog, children will look after dog, you understand?”
“Da Mama,” in unison.
“What are you going to call her, she needs a name.”
Uma, “Morshchiny.” (Pronounced mahsheenah)
Amaya, “What does that mean?”
Danika, “I’ll take the puppy in tomorrow and find some good quality dog food while I’m out, Sloane, can you come and keep an eye on her?”
“We need to feed her something today,” I flip through my tablet, “It says we can make do with chicken and pasta until you can get a dry food for big breeds, more protein and less fat. It also says she shouldn’t eat right after exercise or play, let her settle down first.”
Kota B, “I will research the breed further and inform the children.”
Kids finish showering, Morshchiny doesn’t move, watching them.
Janah, “Mastiffs are protective of family, friendly enough, but guarded with strangers. And when they are grown, they are big and powerful. The good news is, they don’t bark, preferring to sneak up on intruders and deal jaw to bone rather than make a lot of noise.”
“Must have Shaolin influence. Actually, I could see her in a temple someplace, she sort of resembles Master Chu.”
“Just be wary after she has a drink of water, they slobber all over.”
As the kids dry off, the puppy sniffs each of them, imprinting their scent. I guess we get imprinted at some later time, Morshchiny appears to have a singular focus on eight young ones for the moment.
Britt appears, “What do we have here? A mastiff? Wow, that’s going to be a big mutt, nice mahogany coat.”
She squats down to pet the blob of skin, Morshchiny sways back and forth, sniffing Britt’s hand. Poor baby pup has thirty girls to imprint, I hope she’s got a good sniffer memory. I can tell all our girls by their scent, I can also smell sickness, a talent I could do without and one I have to keep turned down when I’m in public. Lots of people with impending heart problems, tumors, diabetics, cancer, even a cold, if I get close enough and you have an illness, I’ll know.
Dasha, “Children, you can take puppy to your dorm, but make sure you bring her out for walks every hour unless she is sleeping, and reward her for doing her business outside. Eef she makes a mistake in your room, do not fuss. Eventually she will get the idea and ask to go outside.”
“When you take her out in the beginning, take her to the same spot, get her used to doing the potty thing in the same area.”
Kota B, “I will remind them, we will have her fully trained in a couple of weeks, dogs of that breed are not dummies.”
One bit settled, those of us following the LongLife situation move to the office to check in.
Katya is onscreen, “No delivery yet, just waiting.”
“Put Eloise and Lauren on.”
“The children found a dog, a puppy, left by our gate with a note to give her a good home. We don’t know by whom, or why, she was simply there. It’s a purebred, a Neapolitan Mastiff.”
Eloise, “Damn, that’s a big dog, or will be.”
“Katja is back with sandwiches, we need to get this over, the food options are limited, limited from average to poor.”
“We need to feed our folks here, Dasha and Ellen are working up something, chicken salad I think. We can feed Morshchiny chicken and a little pasta until Danika gets dog food tomorrow.”
Lauren, “What’s a mahsheenah?”
“Do you know what a mastiff looks like?”
I hear Katja in the background, “Russian for wrinkles.”
Lauren, “Awww, kew-tah, Eloise is showing me a photo of one, what color is ours?”
“The kids are going to spoil the crap out of her.”
“I spoiled the crap out of you and you turned out okay.”
“I turned out superb. Okay mommy, go feed the girls, we’re dining on, well, you can’t call that dining…bye for now.”
Around one o’clock our time, three in West Virginia, the screen blips, a van is approaching the facility. It’s plain, no markings, dark blue, the kind with no windows except front, driver and passenger.
The driver and passenger exit, open the rear door. A black man in an orange jumpsuit eases out blinking. He sits on the edge of the floor and drops his legs to the ground, he’s manacled, hands and feet. They shuffle him inside and the door shuts.
The drone simultaneously records the plate, then for good measure, Eloise slips it to the rear of the van and sticks a tracking device on the metal bumper strut. We hope to follow it with the drone, but if it gets dark and the van hits a busy freeway, that makes it difficult, pass through a tunnel or enter a parking garage, we lose sight of it.
There’s little conversation inside, just, “Here’s the delivery, we’re gone.”
Janah, “The delivery guys may have no idea what goes on there, they may not want to know.”
“That’s not good, they won’t be returning to anyplace that helps us figure out who’s behind this thing. Wartler may call to confirm delivery, but he’s on an encrypted phone that routes through Langley to a dead end number in Czechoslovakia.”
“Which is only a message receiver, the shadow government isn’t in Czechoslovakia.”
“The two men had on Marshall’s uniforms, and we got good shots of them. Daria, get the bots started on figuring out who they are, and run the plate. It had a government ID logo, might be fake though.”
Katya’s onscreen, “We can always find them and ask questions, they receive instructions from somebody, even if that somebody is a go-between.”
“Alright, that’s an option for later. Right now, I think you need to get to the site and deal before the latest poor bastard starts getting pig hormones in his veins.”
Katya, “Leaving as soon as we suit up.”
They have the protective shirts, gloves and knee guards we always use on these jobs, even though the guards only have stun guns, they are trained paramilitary and despite our prep, when the action begins plans can go out the window.
Katya, “We also took a closer look at what they call stun guns. Actually it is a combination device, taser and stun gun, it can shoot darts to deliver the electrical jolt from a distance, or can be used with direct contact.”
“Glad you investigated, the vests will protect you against a taser, if the guard gets on you, he can stick the thing on your neck and you’ll be temporarily paralyzed. Keep your distance and shoot them.”
“The second drone is there now, the first is following the GPS tracker on the van. We should be at the site in a half hour or less.”
At quarter to four their time, we see two guards not patrolling the perimeter. Our drones carry tranquilizer darts, but we switched from the deadly drug darts we called Oblivion. Now the drones have lasers like the girls carry. We need to kill the guards or they’ll just move on to some other shadow government assignment.
The two are talking, one pulls out a cigarette, it’s a close as he gets to a last smoke, there’s a hole in his head just above his left ear. No blood, the laser cauterizes as it goes. The second man sees a wisp of smoke from singed hair, stares uncomprehending, his colleague is stock still, cigarette halfway to his mouth, thumb on the lighter’s flint wheel, like he’s flash frozen. Then second guard has a matching wound just above his right ear. They look like commando statues for a few seconds, then fall against the building and slide down the wall, one lands halfway over the other.
We see Katya and Katja at the door, Lauren goes to the rear entrance, uses the laser to seal the locking mechanism and returns.
Katja punches in the code, the door opens, the four pour inside.
We can’t see what transpires, the drone picks up shouting, neither the laser nor stun guns make any noise we can detect, we have no idea how things progress. My heart is racing, obviously I’m concerned about all of them, but Lauren is my adopted daughter, I’ve got mommy jitters.
“Who the fuck!”
“Shoot them asshole.”
“I did, you see any damage, fucking gun….” then nothing.
“Hey! Back off bitch, unless you want fifty thousand volts in your heart.”
A voice we recognize as Wartler, “Do you people have any idea what you are up against, do you have any idea what you’re doing?”
Katya, “You see your guards? Hands behind your back or you get to join them.”
Lauren, “In his office, looks like panic button, light is blinking red. We need to get gone, trouble on the way.”
Wartler, “More than a little, the cavalry is coming.”
Eloise, “What about the prisoner?”
Katja, “Leave him, we will seal the front door, help is coming.”
Wartler is dragged roughly to the SUV and shoved in the rear compartment, trussed up in picture wire and duct tape. Eloise sits in back with him, laser gun pointed at a part no man wants to have a laser pointed at.
Lauren seals the front door, they’ll have to either blow it open or smash it in.
Katja jams the accelerator, the sound of a helicopter beats over the speakers.
“Katya, you hear that?”
“Da, it is directly over us and following, not a problem, drone is over them now.”
We get a drone’s eye view of the copter just behind the SUV, it’s the stretch of logging road leading to Mud Road, which is another stretch of mostly nothing to the interstate. Then we see a red dot on the rotors, a flash, the rotor breaks up, the helicopter goes straight to a nose dive and makes quite a loud noise when it smashes into the dirt road fifty yards behind the SUV. Then an explosion, with the requisite fireball, roasted commando.
Katya says to no one in particular, “So much for the cavalry.”