October 7th – 7:06 pm
(26 minutes before the building explosion)
"We have a problem, Doctor Falcon."
"What's the matter, Agent Watson? Where is Eric Loupe?"
Greg Watson paced the office in front of his broken window. He tilted his head, pinning the cellphone between his face and his shoulder. "We kept Loupe in the basement of a gang house. We set it up as a kidnapping and paid with drugs to keep everything off the radar but someone rescued him. We lost Patience Ubysh, and the teenaged girl we captured… she escaped. I'll have to detonate the building to remove evidence."
He paused and waited. Watson's heart raced at the sound of the breathing on the other end of the phone. After a moment, Falcon said, "Do you remember Andrea Monroe and her younger sister, Krys?"
The agent swallowed back a sudden flood of emotions. "Doctor Falcon, that isn't fair. In fact, that was just plain out of line. Sir. Krys and Anne act like they don't even know me anymore."
"August 23rd, 2011. It's time you knew the truth. Your screw up cost Andrea her life in Colorado. Twelve hours later, in Virginia, Krys was exposed to radiation – no thanks to you. I raised those girls. Andrea's ability was paramount to this mission. Now she's gone forever and I'm stuck with a cloned fake to appease Krys, whose ability is also crucial. You've done so well after that day. I didn't expect such a catastrophic failure on your part to happen again."
"Doctor, please. Krys hasn't spoken to me since then." He received no reply. The agent tensed up but bit back his anger then said, "Karla was able to teleport, levitate objects, create a temporal aura to stop bullets, and she could apparently control shadows. The CIA was no match for her."
"Interesting. Did you document this with video footage?"
"I did," said Watson. "I've just finished converting everything to digital format. I'm nearly finished uploading the file to you."
"Very good. I knew a girl named Karla with an ability. Blonde, young and intelligent, correct?"
"Yes, Doctor Falcon. I saw the picture from her FBI file. She apparently doesn't age."
"That's what she claimed when I met her decades ago. She was assigned by her superiors to work with Jon Parker and myself. That was the mission where I learned what my destiny would become although I didn't know it at the time. That's the job where I learned about people with esoteric abilities. Who'd have thought it would change my life and give me purpose? That purpose is the very reason you're here today, helping me. This is bigger than the both of us."
"Incidentally, how did Krys Monroe survive?"
Falcon's chuckle clipped over the line briefly from poor reception, then he said, "Agent Watson, there's something you really need to know: she didn't. She died from radiation poisoning on August 27th. I've cloned her and transferred most of her memories and, while doing so, learned a great deal about the hippocampus. Apparently, she remembered a lot after the transfer of memories, but not her feelings for you. She didn't even remember Andrea was her sister. She thinks Anne is her girlfriend. I couldn't even clone Anne, though. She was killed in Denver because of your stupidity; I never got her DNA for the cloning process, that's why the girl in my home doesn't have Andrea's ability. Sadly, I had to make a 'fake Anne,' because one of the things Krys did remember was how important Andrea is to her. Now you understand why Krys won't talk to you and why the cloned Andrea has permanent amnesia. I never got ahold of her brain, so the real Anne's memories are just as lost as her ability..." He trailed off as if regretting the topic then sighed. "That's a conversation for another time; do not tell Krys she's a clone. It's complicated. I'm keeping you in South Africa until you can find out where Patience Ubysh has gone. You've lost her and the boy. Reflect on your failure – this is your second strike. Let's not have anymore, Gregory." Falcon disconnected the call from his end, leaving the agent to stand in front of the broken window in silence.
Watson panted softly, as though having just sprinted several blocks. He focused on his breathing so as not to let his emotions control him. "Fucking lied to me since 2011 about my girlfriend being alive. That bastard is going to die, so help me God." He took out his wallet and fished out a photograph of him with Krys Monroe that was tucked away behind his license. "God, I was so much slimmer back then." His eyes stared at the pretty girl standing adjacent to him, barely drinking age with a fantastic smile.
The government operative shuffled back to his desk, flung his cellphone across the desktop, and dropped into his chair. Putting the photo back into its hiding spot, he opened a drawer on the lower left side of the desk then pulled out a file marked, 'August 2011 quakes.' He read through the faux report, a mishmash of incredible truth and thoughtless disinformation; only he knew what parts of the file to believe. Watson ran his thumb over the document and sighed. "If he got his hands on this kind of power… who knows what he'd do with it."
The agent put the file back into the drawer, nudged it shut with his foot then leaned back in the chair. His mind wondered, returning to the afternoon of the twenty-third, about three miles below Virginia…
August 23rd, 2011, 12:34 pm (over 12 years ago)
"What if we're seen?" Krys asked, clouding her bashful tone with a nervous chuckle.
Greg ran his fingers back through her chestnut hair and smiled. He used his other hand to draw her up from the supply crate, where the two had been kissing. "We're eighteen thousand feet below the surface. No one on my team knows Aris Falcon. Our relationship won't get back to him. Why are you so pressed about him, anyhow?"
Krys Monroe placed her right palm on his cheek. "Agent Gregory Watson, you of all people know that he adopted me when I was very young. You sound like Anne, always thinking about things that don't matter. Don't you find this dig and the discovery exciting? Or are you so one-track-minded that sex takes precedence over a historical adventure?"
"I've seen the Kola 'superdeep' bore hole," said Watson, "It lived up to its name: bore." He shifted his weight, released her then took her hand into his own. "Do you think your boss is still upset that I had those strange artifacts stolen from me yesterday?"
"The Parker twins are very clever thieves," Krys told him. "Doctor Falcon said that those artifacts are paramount to the discovery at both sites. He knows the twins are amazing and you had little chance of keeping the artifacts from them. Stop dwelling on it."
Greg eyed her for a moment. "If those two fancy paperweights are so important, then why did we move forward in Colorado and here?"
"We have to try, right? I can't wait to get topside so I can find out if my sister was successful. And to answer your question, yes he's still upset with you. He said those two artifacts are beyond crucial to the whole procedure. But it's too late now. They were stolen from you and we just have to keep our chins up and move forward with dignity."
He nodded thoughtfully, rubbed his chin with one hand then reached for her forearm. Greg moved to her side and they began walking down the tunnel together. The agent wondered to himself if Falcon would reduce the ancillary pay then shook off the thought. "So, Krys, bring me up to speed... we've found a natural pocket in the crust. Why did Falcon send us down here anyhow?"
Monroe stopped walking and turned to him. "Are you serious? Didn't you read the briefing details?"
"The CIA didn't send me anything; they're not exactly tuned in on this. I understand that the military was urged to dig down here – something about building an underground bunker or base but the project isn't fully finished, assumedly because secret bases were never the goal of boring down here. Also, Falcon didn't send me anything. What am I missing, Krys?"
She stared at him for a moment in the dim illumination cast by the LED flood lamps throughout the tunnel. "For a moment, I thought you were joking… that's odd. Greg, we're here because one of Falcon's excavation teams found evidence and the remains of an archaic, technically advanced civilization. Right here, below Mechanicsville, Virginia. There's another finding that's beneath Colorado, about two miles under Denver. That's where my sister is." Krys looked down, bit her lower lip, and then added, "I've not heard from her in hours. I don't know if you heard the news yet…"
"Yeah," he replied with a firm nod. "There was an earthquake, a little above a 'five' on the Richter scale. Happened last night right before midnight, Denver local time. But there have been plenty of earthquakes. Cheer up, Krys." He put his fingers beneath her chin and lifted her head so that her eyes met his. "These natural pockets in the crust have supposedly been around for nine thousand years, isn't that what you said when we were topside? If they haven't collapsed after nine millennia, a medium quake isn't going to kill your sister."
"She could have been injured." Krys sighed and looked down again. "She's fine, I'm sure you're right. It's not like we can get reception down here so brooding came naturally. I'm sorry. I'd honestly put it out of my mind before we came down, now I'm dwelling again. I keep thinking I might miss 'that phone call' you know?"
Hoping to change her mood, he changed the topic. "So, where's this great find? And, incidentally, I had a question about the two artifacts I lost: How do they fit into all this?"
Krys offered a somewhat weak smile then tugged on his hand. "Follow me; I'll show you." She continued to lead him down the tunnel. They walked for about ten minutes, adding another mile to the over-all journey. The smoothly-bored rock began to open up into a large cavernous section. A soft twinkle of lights could be seen in the distance. Large air ducts and pumping equipment lined the ceiling of the tunnel.
"It's impossible to see anything," he mused then withdrew a flashlight. He shined it downwards at an angle, where the bored tunnel ended on a granite slope. Track marks from the boring machine led them down the shallow hill until they came across the large train-like machine parked in silence.
The ground evened out. Greg blinked. "Where's the archeological team?"
"At the center," she told him with a smile. "Just wait until you see what we've found."
The couple continued down the slope until the bottom of the cavern evened out. The ground felt different beneath his feet. He pointed his flashlight down then blinked. "That's not rock or dirt," he whispered. Greg lifted his flashlight up and his jaw dropped. "Oh my God."
The chirp of a cellphone pulled Greg from his reverie. He rubbed his forehead then reached for the phone and put it to his ear. "Watson."
"Agent, I'm glad you're well. Eric was extracted by the man I sent in; you did an excellent job delivering Karla Howard as well... very unexpected, very appreciated."
"I injected her with a radioisotope" He glanced down at his computer screen then said, "Her position is showing on the tracking program. I have a hunch she'll lead us to Patience..."
The voice's tone changed, expressing his delight. "Outstanding! You're impressively ahead of the game. Well done for a mortal, well done indeed. Have you spoken to Falcon?"
"He believed the story," said Watson. He glanced at the clock on his cellphone then wrote, 'S' called 718pm on his palm. "He doesn't suspect anything. You know, I was just recalling the day we met. Seems like forever ago."
The voice on the phone replied with a relaxed chuckle. "Yes, well… Falcon found another. In fact, he found the Holy Grail of all discoveries. I can't talk about it right now but you may need to rekindle your relationship with Krys Monroe to help us get closer to finding out what's going on."
"Krys Monroe has apparently died," said Greg in a cold tone. "Falcon tried to 'duplicate' her; he told me a little while ago. Part of his manipulation and control technique designed to keep me emotionally attached to him. Apparently, the lowlife bastard didn't even get the clone right. She's not interested in me anymore, or any man for that matter. That option is closed. There'll have to be another way."
"Pitty. I recognized your fondness for her – my deepest sympathies, Gregory."
"I appreciate it but... let's not speak of her. She's not the girl with whom I fell in love."
"Fair enough, agent. Lay low for a while. Fake your death; protocol zero. If you remember what we found when you arrived that afternoon… that's just a precursor of things to come in the very near future."
"The building is set to automatically detonate in a few more minutes. Incidentally how the hell did you know what was going to happen down there? You tried to stop us that day and if they had listened to you, everyone would be fine. But you didn't try hard enough, that's for sure – you just threw your hands up and left to save your own ass. Next thing we know, she was sick and contaminated. Then! When we got to the elevator, you somehow disappeared as soon as the lift opened. I was pissed; I never asked how you got out of that dig site. I've never asked how you were able to avoid danger and how you got out of there without harm."
The voice replied with a chuckle. "No thanks to you letting the artifacts slip through your fingers, agent. And don't forget, you were down in the center of that mess during the flash yet you didn't wind up with the sickness that killed her. So I could ask things of you in the same accusing tone. But to answer your question, Gregory, I was lucky and I was quick. The only one of the team to get out. I don't hold you accountable, though. The Parker twins are world renowned thieves for a reason. You shouldn't have kept those artifacts in your briefcase, though. Seriously. You thought because you handcuffed the briefcase handle to your wrist that it would be safe? That was an amateur mistake."
"Okay, okay. That's enough. I lost my girlfriend and her sister because of my stupidity – I didn't know what I was dealing with. Anyway. I'll lay low." Greg stood up, with his cellphone in his right hand, and headed for the elevator. The conversation became laced with static briefly on the ride down but resumed its call clarity once he stepped into the lobby.
The man on the other end of the line cleared his throat then added, "What happened below Colorado and Virginia that day… that may turn out to be nothing compared to what's ahead; this upcoming discovery may not be something we can contain. I hope you haven't forgotten that I saved your life and I hope you stay focused on what's at stake here…" The man on the phone continued talking but his voice trailed off as Watson walked out the front door, with his mind beginning to wonder. He slid into his car, started it and drove away from the building. His thoughts continued to race; he relaxed, once again recalling the afternoon actions of August 23rd, 2011 – it seemed like ages ago…
August 23rd, 2011
Watson placed his hand against the ancient wall, tracing his fingers over the embellishments and artistic carvings made before conceivable recorded history. "This is unreal." He glanced over his shoulder at Krys. Behind her, a team of people appeared to be busy throughout the decorated chamber. Greg blinked then walked away from the wall and approached one of the workers. "Excuse me, I'm sorry to bother you but… what are you doing?"
The worker glanced over his shoulder at the agent and offered a thin smile. "I'm determining the history before this complex was evacuated." He returned his attention to a boxy object jutting from the far wall and put his hands over the flat front panel.
"Not to seem rude but it looks like you're just contaminating this place with your fingerprints and…"
Krys approached Greg and whispered into his ear, "He can do his job with his hands. It's difficult to explain right now. Just trust us." She then turned to the other man and told him, "The CIA agent wasn't supposed to see this sort of stuff. I'd told you to hold some sort of tools or use a faux scanner glove contraption…" She turned back to Greg and shrugged. "I suppose the secret is out."
Watson eyed his girlfriend. "What… secret?"
She smiled. "You'll figure it out by the time we leave here at this point. Anyway, come here. They're about to pull out the core; we'll be able to understand how ancient technology was powered. This is exciting – follow me." She gave a tug on his shirt.
At the center of the large subterranean cavern, an enormous stone-like pillar extended from the floor to the ceiling. It was the width of a building but many times taller than any building he'd ever seen. Krys took hold of a handle on the side and pulled hard. A door swung ajar on massive hinges and she guided Greg to follow. At the center of the pillar-shaped chamber, two men argued with one another. She lifted her hand to her boyfriend and gestured for him to wait then she approached the two scientists.
"What are you two doing?" Krys demanded in a firm tone that Greg had never heard her use before.
"Miss Monroe," said the one on the left, "We cannot go forward with this. Not without the artifact. No one will listen to me. Without that artifact, we may trigger another earthquake, like the one that happened last night beneath Denver. I came down here to unearth this and, just like the rest of you, I'm excited about this. But until we know more about the Colorado site and why they experienced an earthquake, we shouldn't move forward with unearthing the core." He pointed to a hollow section in a stone object at the center of the structure. "THIS is where the artifact fits. The artifact your boyfriend lost. If not having it is what caused the Colorado quake, then we're foolish to repeat their mistake."
Krys fidgeted for a moment then sighed. She turned to the other scientist and said, "What are your thoughts?"
"Miss Monroe," said the second man, standing on the right side of the object. "We don't know if that egress is supposed to be for that artifact. I think we should move forward."
The first man clenched his hands into fists. "Kingston, you moron, an 'egress' is an exit. You can't even understand the vocabulary you use, how can anyone expect you to comprehend what you're getting yourself into, here?!"
Krys frowned then folded her arms. "What is the perceivable risk factor?"
The man on the left said, "A similar earthquake or worse. If this bozo," he pointed to Kingston, "wishes to continue at his own risk, then I say we evacuate the site and let him work with a volunteer staff in order to reduce the possibility of casualties. Furthermore, if the CIA agent, here, dies then the US Government will get involved. He should leave, just in case there's an event similar to the quake in Colorado."
Krys pondered for a moment then glanced at the scientist on the right. "Finish your job. Ask the rest of the team for volunteers to stay." She cut her gaze back to the man on the left. "Mister Steven Milford, I'm on a strict time table. I want you to take Agent Watson back to camp. Just in case there is any trouble, I'll be right behind you so we can report back to Doctor Falcon."
Milford ground his teeth together. "I wouldn't even be here if someone informed me your boyfriend lost the artifacts; no, I didn't find out until I was already down here working. We shouldn't be down here without those damn things. Everyone here is impulsive and foolish." He walked away from the object at the center and approached the CIA agent. "I'm Steven. Follow me. Now." He stormed out of the chamber with Greg Watson in tow. At the doorway, he called back to Krys, "Miss Monroe, you should come with us."
"I will at the first sign of trouble," she replied in a reassuring voice.
Steven waved for Watson to follow and the two men headed out of the complex.
Again, the banal voice drew Watson from his flashback. "I expect a little more respect, especially after I not only predicted what would happen, but I kept you alive. I'm sorry your little girlfriend didn't listen, but that wasn't my fault. I'm frustrated that she didn't tell me you'd had the artifacts stolen from you before proceeding to the dig site. She waited until we were standing there, with no turning back, and you can't imagine how angry I felt – her impetuousness nearly cost me my life. Now she's dead with an imposter in her place. The fact she recovered the power core was unbelievable, though. If it wasn't for the military building a base down there, we never would have found those two underground towns in the first place.
Greg ground his teeth together in a stew of emotional turmoil. "Really? That's new to me. I was told that Falcon made rich friends with more clout than they deserve...and those men funded the dig and convinced the government to build those bases as a resupply point to conduct research on the nearby dig site."
"Yes, I'm not sure which family was behind that one, but it's one of those British money changer houses."
"So," Greg took a deep breath, trying to repress the anger and resentment bubbling up in his chest. "You knew about Anne and Krys being clones but didn't tell me after all this time? You knew Krys, the real Krys died? And I suppose you know Anne is some sort of a fake, too?"
"You are so clueless. You impress me with your sharp planning regarding Karla Howard, then in the same breath show me you can't even read the signs on the wall... The clone of Andrea is a genetically aged botch attempt at cloning Krys. The first attempt had synaptic errors – the memories didn't transfer properly, she has diabetes, and they both have amplified Genetic Sexual Attraction towards one another because they're BOTH clones of Krys Monroe; they're the same damn girl. Now drop this topic, it's toxic." There was a brief pause, then, "Look, I'm getting a call on the other line. Do yourself a favor, Agent Watson… don't let Falcon's team near this 'other discovery.' Do what it takes to stop him. Don't you remember how it happened? It'll be ten times worse. Stay safe; goodbye." The call disconnected.
Watson rubbed his chin then placed his hands back on the steering wheel again. He stared at the road for a moment then flinched; the building across the street exploded. A charred office desk shattered on the nearby sidewalk. Plaster and burning bits of paper rained down over the car. He reached for his cell phone then slammed it over the gear shift, shattering the casing but not the screen. He hammered it against the dashboard then lifted it up and threw it hard on the passenger-side floor. He clenched his hand into a fist then punched the upholstered roof liner, breaking the mirror in his sun visor. "YOU COULD HAVE FUCKING TOLD ME AGES AGO!" he shouted then pounded his fist on the steering wheel three times. Greg took a deep breath to calm himself, counted softly then took another breath. "Yeah," he said aloud in a soft tone, "I do remember how it happened."
(August 23rd 2011)
The rumbling tunnel put both men on the ground. Watson rolled onto his stomach then got to his hands and knees. "Steven!" The agent glanced around in the tunnel, unable to see through the dust and debris. "Steven Milford! Where are you?"
A voice called out from nearby. "Agent Watson! We have to evacuate! They're pulling out the core without that artifact! We're looking at a potential catastrophic overload! We have to hurry!"
"I'm not going anywhere without Krys! I have to go back for her! Can you make it to the lift?"
"Agent, if you die, the CIA will investigate this dig! We can't allow that! You saw that bright flash. If it weren't for the lack of heat, I'd have thought a small nuke went off down here! You have to leave immediately!"
"Not without Krys!"
Steven got to his feet and braced himself on Watson's shoulders. The men's gaze met in the tunnel lighting that ran along the side with the power cables mounted to the rock wall. "Listen, agent, there's something you don't realize and I don't have time to explain it in depth till later… there are Deep Underground Military Bases, one of them is very close to this location. They'll be using our tunnel up to evacuate. We have to be out of here before them. Hurry!" He took Watson's forearm and guided the agent back to the lift.
Steven hurried across the platform and reached for the lift controls, Watson stepped back off and said, "I'm going back for her. You can't stop me unless you plan to shoot me. Doesn't help you if you're worried about the CIA getting involved on an official level. I won't be long."
Steven brought his palm to his forehead. "Are you serious?" He clenched his left hand into a fist then shouted, "Hurry up!"
Watson drew out a flashlight, turned about and sprinted back down the tunnel. The shaking continued, causing a large chunk of the ceiling to drop into his path. He dashed around it; the beam of his flashlight illuminated the dust that filled the immediate area.
Despite what Steven said about a lack of heat two minutes ago, the cavern did feel much hotter than earlier. A large boulder dropped from above. It slammed into the Air Force tunneling vehicle. The bore machine keeled over onto its side, venting steam from beneath. Greg held up his free hand to shield his face from the blast of heat. He moved around the train-sized vehicle and down the slope back towards the center of the dig site. "KRYS!"
He stumbled to the ground. The flashlight rolled across the bedrock. The fisheye Cree LED bulb created a brief kaleidoscope effect on the narrow walls of the underground structures. Greg crawled after it, feeling hot water on his hands. He splashed through it, picked up his flashlight then got back to his feet. "KRYS!" he shouted again, headed back towards the center of the excavation site.
"Greg?!" The feminine voice caused Agent Watson's heart to skip a figurative beat.
"Krys! Where are you?" All at once, the rumbling stopped. The silence was brief, concluded by the off-rhythm drumming of rocks that fell from the ceiling and struck the ground. It sounded like someone using a sledgehammer on concrete; some strikes louder than others. He found her with the flashlight and hurried towards her. "Just like Denver; hell of an earthquake. Let's get topside. God, I hope Richmond didn't fall into a hole. I've never felt one this powerful before!"
"It's worse here because it originated from where I just came. I doubt Richmond felt much; I wonder if DC even felt anything at all."
He replied with a dubious glare, unseen from behind his flashlight. "If you say so. C'mon, let's hurry back to the lift and…" he paused then pointed the light at a strange object she had tucked beneath her left arm. "What is that?"
"What we came for," she said. "Let's just hurry before…" Another tremor began. The ground shook, the walls and structures surrounding them began to sway wildly. More rocks fell from above, pelting them like hale. "Move!"
"Not without you, c'mon!" he said.
She shoved the artifact into his hands then said, "You're faster! Hurry to the lift, I'll be right behind you! Go as fast as you can, this piece is important!"
Greg held the artifact like a football, with the flashlight extended outwards in his left hand. He hurried back towards the slope, which led to the exit tunnel. The ground rippled like a pond during a rainstorm. He heard a sound in the distance that reminded him of thunder; another chunk of rock slammed into the ground not far from where he ran. Greg saw the tunneling machine on its side up ahead. "Almost there, hurry Krys!"
He made a dash for the slope, ascended it quickly then hurried through the tunnel. A flash of light, emanating from way back at the dig site, illuminated everything. His shadow stretched out before him in the blink of an eye then disappeared. He continued towards the lift. A wave of heat passed over him from behind. Greg came to a halt and glanced over his shoulder but Krys was nowhere to be found. "KRYS! Where are you?" No reply.
The deafening roar of the quake continued for ten more seconds then, all at once, ceased. Up ahead, Steven saw Greg's flashlight beam and said, "Hurry up!"
Without replying, Greg doubled back. He made it back to where the tunnel sloped downwards into the bottom of the cavern and saw Krys heading towards him. He passed her the artifact and said, "C'mon, baby. We have to hurry. That was the first aftershock and we may have more. Let's move." He jogged with her, through the tunnel towards the lift.
"Greg, that was really bad," she panted as they ran together back to the lift. "I'm pretty sure DC felt that one."
"I'm sure Baltimore felt that one, hon! Just move! We're almost there."
They ran side by side. "You think they felt it down as far as Myrtle Beach?"
Greg put his free hand on the small of her back as they hurried. He kept the flashlight pointed forward. "It's possible! The ground is less dense on the east coast. I see the lift lights! Almost there!" They ran side by side with Krys Monroe cradling the ancient object in her arms tightly. Together, they stepped onto the lift platform then dropped to their knees, panting almost in unison.
Krys doubled over and abruptly threw up as it began to ascend the shaft. She placed the artifact to the side then rolled onto her back to catch her breath. "Everyone else is dead."
Steven blinked. "What? How?"
Greg moved besides her, on his knees, and looked her over. "Krys, your clothes are ripped at the seams."
"There was a chain reaction once I pulled the core," she explained. "The first quake was caused by removing the core from the pillar. Everyone started bracing the equipment and trying to study readings… I took the core and hurried here. After I gave it to you, Greg, there was an eruption that came from the center of the dig. It was… contained inside the structure from which the core came, that pillar shaped thing, but the shockwave threw me to the ground hard. I must have torn my shirt or something. I think there may have been a nuclear reaction underground."
"What do you mean? Beneath us?"
"The core," she explained, "was installed in a pedestal that was connected to some sort of underground pipe system we don't yet understand. Preliminary tests suggest that this tube runs north, maybe forty miles north of Richmond; south as far as Petersburg, and straight up and down. I'm not sure of its function but the actual blast occurred beneath the pillar that housed the core. Maybe half a mile beneath our feet." Then, all at once, she said, "I don't feel well. Does everyone have their emergency first aid kit?"
Steven and Greg looked at one another then back at Krys. Greg told her, "I have it right here." He fished it out of his pocket.
"Just to be safe, let's take the potassium iodide pill in our kits. I don't have a Geiger counter and I don't want to assume anything." She fished out her first aid kit, a small pack with a zipper on it, and withdrew a paper pouch with pills in it. She ripped off the top then used backwash to swallow down two white pills. "Better safe than sorry."
Steven ran his fingers back through his hair, swallowed his own pills and said, "We need to check in when we get topside. There will be a shuttle waiting that will take us to Joint Base Langley-Eustis. It's about forty minutes east, but we'll be taking a Leer Jet, so… it won't be long."
Greg pocketed his flashlight, his first aid kit, and then ran his hands over his face. "What if the FAA grounded any flights from taking off?"
"This is a military transport. They won't be grounded." Steven turned back to Krys and asked, "Are you okay?"
She lifted her left pant leg then frowned at the blood that darkened her pants from the inside out. "The shockwave threw me down. Other than bloody knees, I'll be fine. I just feel queasy because everything happened so quickly." She doubled over and threw up again then began coughing. The lift jolted from another tremor. No one spoke.
Finally, Greg broke the silence. "What did you take?"
She sighed, spit onto the platform and offered a moue of disgust. "Blah. Anyway, I took some sort of power core. Or… well, that's the best way I can describe it. A lot of energy flowed through what looked like a fuse. We found a way to bring the pedestal up, we removed the core and then… the shaking clued us in. I reinstalled it but the shaking continued and the core remained dark. So I pulled it back out and, suddenly, one of the scientists told me to take it topside… quickly. So I started running with it. The rest is history."
"Right." Greg frowned with a shake of his head. "I found you running through the dig site. All those strange building-like structures. It was like a city. An underground city."
Steven sat down and folded his arms. "You're not far off with your précis."
Greg blinked. "My what?"
"Your compendium." Steven watched Greg's expression, sighed pointedly, then added, "Your summation. Your summery, synopsis; the theorized conclusion that you came to, Agent Watson…"
Krys offered a weak smile and said, "Hon, Steven is very verbose."
The CIA operative cut his eyes to the left then rolled them to the right. "You too? Pardon my dislike for fancy words; I hated crossword puzzles and scrabble as a kid. I don't really care for big, fancy words now, either."
Steven grinned. "When she says verbose, she means prolix. Voluble. Loquacious, you know? Garrulous, even!"
Krys rubbed her mouth with the back of her sleeve. "Milford, stop. I'm glad we all survived, too, but you have a weird way of showing relief."
Steven shook his head then turned to Greg again. "Wordy. She said I'm very wordy. And, Krys, you're right. My relief is, for lack of a better word, palpable."
Greg nodded. "Right. Yeah, you're wordy. Don't be a DIC…tionary. Simple as that. Nobody likes a dictionary." He saw the other man about to say something then interrupted him. "A thesaurus. I get it, don't correct me. I was trying to make a joke. How much longer until we're at the top of the lift?"
Krys shrugged. Steven glanced at his wrist watch then said, "Not long." He cut his gaze to Krys and said, "You look really pale. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm just sick to my stomach. It'll pass." She ran her fingers back through her hair then paused. She brought her hands in front of her face then blinked, eyes wide. "Oh Christ."
Having seen her run her fingers through her hair, Steven tilted his head, looking at her closely. "Is your hair falling out?"
"No, it's not that," she said then cleared her throat. "I just… I feel loopy. Maybe because we're going up while the shaft is shaking. I feel really heavy and loopy and have a headache."
Steven crawled towards her, careful not to put his hand in the vomit. He cupped her face and lifted her chin. Greg opened his mouth to protest but Steven quickly said, "Back off, man, I'm a certified CBRNe field medic." He put his thumbs at the corner of her eyes and pulled down over the sinus area, then he used a thumb to open her mouth. Next, he ran his fingers through her hair and examined his hands.
Steven moved around behind her and lifted the back of her shirt. He waved Greg over and pointed out what appeared to be a sunburn. While holding her shirt up with one hand, he used his other hand to edge her bra strap up an inch and said, "Notice the tan line where it looks like a fresh sunburn on her back?" He put the backside of her shirt back down then lifted her hair, displaying a burn mark on the nape of her neck. "This is serious."
Krys said, "The back of my neck and shoulders itch."
"I'd say so," Steven told her. "You have radiation burns, probably from that shockwave that knocked you over when you were running."
"Why didn't that happen to me?" asked Greg. "I was running towards her around that time."
Steven kept his attention on Krys but directed his answer to the CIA agent. "You were either back in the tunnel leading to the lift when she experienced that brief shockwave, or you were behind one of the structures when it happened. Those building-like objects down there are lined and insulated with lead and some sort of metal alloy. It would have shielded you during the flash." He moved back around in front of Krys again then ran his fingers through her hair a second time. Steven examined his hands then showed her and Greg.
Greg swallowed the sensation of fear growing in his heart. "Is that her hair on your hand?"
"I'm afraid so. Just a few strands now… but it will probably get worse in a little while. Krys, the military is going to want to debrief you but you're in need of medical treatment. I can call Doctor Falcon for you when we reach the surface."
"I'll call him," she said. "I'll let them take me to whatever hospital they want. After my treatment, I plan on booking a flight back to California, even if the hospital doesn't want me to go anywhere. So… I don't want you boys being surprised if I vanish suddenly. Hopefully, by now, Aris has information on Andrea's mission in Colorado."
"Andrea?" asked Steven.
Watson reached for his girlfriend's hand and interlaced his fingers with hers. "It's her older sister. They're really close."
Krys turned her head and spit on the platform. "Sorry… the only thing I hate more than the taste of puke is the taste of blood. I guess I should have followed my other passion – it would have been less dangerous."
Steven looked her over then tilted his head. "And what is this other passion?" He reached over and dabbed his finger into the spit then held his finger up in the light with a frown.
"Well," she started with a faint chuckle, "You've seen this side of me. Coming down to secret underground digs, three and a half miles below ground. But there's a part of me that's always wanted to run my own nightclub. Silly huh?" She cut her eyes back at Steven and tilted her head. "What did you find?"
He looked up from the red liquid on the tip of his index finger. "You cough up blood earlier today for any reason?"
Steven leaned back then moved over to the side of the lift again and propped himself up against the bulkhead. "You may not have very long if you don't receive substantial treatment, including blood transfusions, antibiotics, KI03 and serious medical attention. You're looking at the possibility of CRS." He saw Greg's look of concern off to the side and turned to face him directly. "Agent, she may be struggling with acute radiation tox; how are you feeling?"
"Fine," said Watson. He brought her hand to his chest so she'd be able to feel her boyfriend's heartbeat. He licked his lips and added, "If that's what she's suffering from… how serious is it?"
"I'm feeling a little better," Krys said. "Just tired."
Steven reached over and thumbed the blood from her lips then wiped it away on his pants. "If she's having these kinds of symptoms this soon then… it's potentially very serious."
Krys turned her head away and spit out the slight buildup of blood in her mouth. "My employer is both a doctor and one of the most renowned geneticists in this country." She smiled weakly. "If anyone can fix this… it's him. I'll go to a local hospital for initial treatment then I'll book a flight home." She gave Greg's hand a gentle squeeze. "I need you to cover this up so that the hospital doesn't report anything to the police."
"That's for gunshot wounds," said Steven. He frowned then shook his head. "Nevermind, you're probably right. They'd report a radiation victim because that's serious." He nodded to Greg. "She's right. You're going to have to use your clout and pull as a CIA agent to demand the hospital treats her without making a fuss."
Greg nodded and closed his eyes. "Consider it done. I'll pull the 'Classified National Security' card." He picked up the power core and looked at the object for a moment then closed his eyes again. "All I can say is… Falcon better be able to help her. All this fuss for a little trinket."