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Extraction Point!

SF suspense


Travis S. Taylor and Stephanie Osborn




Chapter 1


Ray wasn't quite sure where the music was coming from, but it was loud. The second time he managed to force his head above the murky brown and gray water in the hubcap-deep tire buster of a pothole, he could hear the music pounding even louder than his heart AND the pouring rain–which was saying something. It was a remake of the old Guns 'n' Roses tune Perfect Crime–and from what he could tell, IT ROCKED.

The rain and the music and a chance to catch his breath gave him a quick burst of adrenaline to fight against the force of the two knees in his back, the hand grasping tight at the nape of his neck, and the fist beating into his left ribs. Ray flinched from the repeated jabs of pain pummeling into his side and could feel the adrenaline--and his hold above the water--slipping. So he took a deep gulp of air just before his face was slammed forward into the puddle, his nose bashing hard against the gravelly, broken asphalt at the bottom. The automatic gasp of pain that came next was inevitable. So was the water that filled his mouth.

Instinct engaged, and his body thrashed in wild desperation as he fought to avoid inhaling the filthy water. Despite his best efforts, he began choking, which in turn brought on a cough/gag reflex. Drowning, he realized, triggered bodily responses that were not only hardwired, but damn difficult to overcome.

I'm getting my ass kicked, he thought, verging on panicky despite himself. I've got to do something! Something Goddamned quick!

Using every ounce of willpower he possessed, Ray let his strength go and relaxed so that the man on his back could force him down and therefore be baited into a false sense of dominance–even, maybe, the notion that Ray was dead. Then he gritted his teeth and threw his right elbow up with all the strength he had left.

"Get OFF me!!" he yelled, muddy water gurgling from his lips as his elbow hit something hard–just when he lost his balance with his left hand, causing him to slip full face forward into the murky pothole… again. But the grip around his neck was gone.

Maneuvering both of his hands under himself push-up style, Ray managed to roll his body to the right, forcing his attacker off his back while continuing his roll over and then flipping backwards onto his feet. Ray shook the rain, mud, and blood out of his eyes, hacked slimy water from his windpipe, and made ready for an attack, but soon realized that his elbow had caught the man that he had been fighting square on the nose. The man was standing, briefly stunned and temporarily blinded, with bright red blood mixed with rain pouring profusely down his face. This gave Ray only long enough to catch his breath and scan the area for his handgun. He didn't see it anywhere. Shit. I liked that gun. Ok, hand to hand it's gonna be then, he thought to himself, easing into a shallow horse stance while really wishing he hadn't let the guy get the drop on him and knock his pistol out of his grip earlier.

Just as the thought occurred to him, the man regained his poise and his vision, and rushed at him wildly–at least it seemed wild, at first. So Ray sidestepped and attempted to Judo throw him. But the man countered the move with an Aikido circular motion that flung Ray around a full three hundred and sixty degrees and then downward and forward, sliding belly first and hydroplaning in the several inch deep rainwater. His belly slide splashed a double rooster tail of water out behind him. Ray tucked his right arm under his body--ignoring the pain caused from the street pavement peeling skin from his forearm--and used his momentum in a Judo roll to bring him back up to his feet just in time to be tackled from behind mid-back. I'm not doing too well with this guy, he thought, rueful. Jesus, this son of a bitch is fast.

Ray twisted and squirmed free, tossing the man backward, and barely missed him with a spinning back kick. In a flurry of elbows, backward head butts, punches, and blocks, the two men ended back in the exact same spot they had been a few moments before. Ray was face down in the same pothole struggling for his breath as his would-be assailant ground knees into his lower back and pummeled him from behind. But this time, to Ray's surprise, the man's grip let go sooner–much sooner.

As Ray forced his head up above the water again, he understood why. He could hear the semiautomatic weapon's fire splattering off the alleyway wall in front of them. The rain of bullets was obviously fired overhead as a warning, spraying yellow sparks and shards of brick ubiquitously, but it still startled the man and the break was all Ray needed to throw him forward. At first Ray covered, afraid of friendly fire, but the man he'd already chased for two solid freakin' miles into this alley entrance had bear-crawled his way to the turn in the alley and was getting away.

"Hold your fire," Ray heard someone call over the music and the rain and his pounding chest. With that, he lunged to his feet with all the strength he had left and headed forward in pursuit of the man, lungs burning, dredging endurance he didn't expect from some unknown, heretofore untapped place inside.

"You are NOT going to get away from me, dammit!" He sprinted around the corner in time to see the man climbing a chain link fence crossing the alley. "Shit!"

Over the fence, Ray said determinedly to himself. Ignoring various protesting bodily parts, he scrambled up to the top of the rusty fence and leaned over it, grabbing the other side of the fence with his hands, and then let his body weight flip him feet over head. He splashed down on the other side, already in a full sprint. Come on! Push it!

Ray was gaining on the larger man, but his heart was pounding at least two hundred beats per minute and felt as if it would explode at any instant. If only I hadn't dropped my damn pistol, I'd have him now!

Ray turned the corner and nearly slammed face first into a brick wall, stopping just in time to scratch his right elbow up a little more on the rough brick as he caught himself against the wall. Ow. Really needed THAT. Quickly he scanned around for an exit. There was only one--a primer-coated metal staircase up the side of the building--and the man had a full story and a half head start on him. It was almost as if the man knew the route he was going and had known the staircase would be there.

Shoving his way through the pain and exhaustion, Ray threw himself up the staircase, keeping his pace steady and the man in sight. Twice he saw the man slip on the wet metal steps, and each time Ray made a slight gain on him, his treaded boots proving a better grip on the metal than the man's street shoes. Pushing harder than he thought he could, Ray closed the gap to only half a story behind the man as he went out of sight over the rooftop of the ten story building.

Ray crested the rooftop cautiously and there was the man, sitting on the edge of the rooftop barely a couple of meters away, looking over the edge at the street below and then at his watch–or one of them; for some reason, he was wearing two. Different ones, at that. His pale blond thatch, cut short enough to stand in upright spikes but not short enough to qualify as a buzz cut, wilted a bit in the rain.

"You… you are rather good," the man offered, wiped blood from his aquiline--though now slightly misshapen--nose, gasped for breath, and looked at his watch again with bright blue eyes.

"Listen, I've got backup right behind me. There is no way down and I can keep you busy long enough for 'em to catch you. What d' you say we just sit down, take a breather, and wait on 'em?" Ray panted and smiled at the same time, hoping to stall long enough that he wouldn't have to fight the guy any more before backup arrived.

"I've got a better idea." The man looked at his watch one last time and then leapt over the side of the rooftop, pushing off with his hands as he slipped gracefully from the lip of the ledge. There was a brief flash of white light--Ray assumed it was lightning--that caused him to flinch and cover his eyes for a moment. And the man was gone.

"NO!" Ray rushed to the edge of the building, peered over, and… saw… nothing. "What the hell!?" No blood on the street below, no screaming passersby, no squished and maimed body–nothing.

"Ray! You all right?" a voice from behind him gasped.

Ray stood there, confused--no, flabbergasted--peering over the edge of the building, visually searching every nook, cranny, alley, and pavement all the way down. Nothing. The man had simply vanished like a ghost. No body, no visible escape route, no sign.

The rain continued to wash the red blood from Ray's broken nose and swelling lip down the front of his already stained and ripped shirt and he could still hear the music off in the distance somewhere. He stood in a contemplative calmness, surveying the volume of space off the side of the building, and gasping for air as his heartbeat slowed. How in the. Bloody. Damn. HELL did he get away? This time, is it… nah, can't be.

"Your pistol, Ray." A young man in his late twenties with a blond military haircut and an athlete's build scanned the rooftop as he offered Ray his weapon.

"Huh? Oh, thanks, Jay." Ray took his favorite handgun, checked the magazine and safety, and slipped it in the clip holster on his waistband at his back. When he did, cold water squished from the holster, down his back and into his already soaked underwear, giving him a severe chill. He shivered violently for a second. He was still more than a bit dazed by what had happened moments ago--and the beating he'd taken--oh yeah, and the running.

"Uh, Dr. Brady?"

"What? I know, he got away." Ray panted, still having a hard time talking between breaths.

"Uh, no sir, uh, Ray, you've been shot." Major Sampson pointed to the bloody mess on his left shoulder. The young Army major said it nonchalantly as if he had seen the same situation before.

"Oh, that. It's just a flesh wound," Ray waved his hand in dismissal–right before he collapsed backwards onto the rooftop.

"Man down! Medic!" Sampson called over the radio.


Chapter 2

"Uh huh, right, flesh wound. Orders?" Army Major Jay Sampson looked down at the dark haired physicist--the one degree, among many, that Ray principally associated with himself--in concern. Their medic, Staff Sergeant Ernie Travers, rubbed Ray's bloody nose with smelling salts, once more startling Ray, making his eyes burn and water even worse; but it did wake him up. Boy, did it wake him up. A hot coal shoved up his nostrils wouldn't have felt worse.

Ray tried to raise himself up, but the major and the medic both put hands on his chest, forcing him back down to the rooftop. Ray tried not to blink as the medic held his eyelids open and shone a light at his pupils. But rain continued to fall on his face, forcing him to squint his eyes shut despite his best efforts. He squirmed beneath their hands, trying to get his eyeballs out of the downpour.

"Now hold on, Ray. Let's make sure you're not concussed TOO badly." There was a hint of a Latino lilt in Ernie's voice.

"Whatever," Ray pushed their hands away and pulled himself upright. His head throbbed a little, but he'd been hit in the head before. Hell, he couldn't figure out exactly why he'd passed out anyway. "Sweep the block and see what you can find and, uh, what time is it?"

"Forget it, Ray. You've already missed your flight." Major Sampson laughed.

"Aw shit! The boss ain't gonna like that." Ray rubbed gingerly at the bloody wound on his shoulder, then winced at the pain that lanced down his arm. "Well, get me a charter. I have to get home."

"Right. How about a doctor?"

"Sure, why not? Just as long as he looks at me on the plane." Ray still puzzled over the odd ending to the chase; finally he shook his head and chalked it up as either majorly weird or really well planned. "How did he get off here? Must be a rope or something down there. In all this rain, I just couldn't see it. And… he was leading me rather than me chasing him. Damn. I thought I had him running scared, but he knew exactly what he was doing and where he was going. Shit!" Frustrated, he kicked a pipe protruding from an air conditioning unit.

"Chief Master Sergeant Holmes." Sampson motioned to his men taking station around the building.

"Yes, sir?"

"Sweep this block and this building VERY carefully. Have Chief Olson sweep for fields and get Mr. Donaldson and Specialist Hamilton up here and have them run me a full MASINT analysis. I want to know how that man got off this building. Oh, and get Doc up here too; Dr. Brady's been shot. Among other things."

"On it, sir." The sergeant nodded and set about communicating orders to the group of very specialized soldiers that were assigned to Ray. The team wore no insignia, identification, or rank patches, only solid black battle dress uniforms and light armor vests. Of course they were heavily armed and ready for anything–anything except people jumping off the roofs of buildings and vanishing into thin air. Chief Master Sergeant Holmes had seen some weird shit since he had been assigned to Dr. Brady but he'd never seen a man disappear into thin air before.

"Thrift, call Dime in for an evac to the airport," Holmes spoke into the radio attached to his shoulder harness. Then he turned his attention to Dr. Brady.

"Uh, okay Ray, let's get you down from here."

"Huh? Oh, right, down." Ray shook his head and wiped the rain and the blood from his face again. The rain tickled his swelling nose, forcing him to sneeze. An aerosol spray of blood flew everywhere. "OW!! Shit! That didn't feel good. Woah…" He staggered, and Jay grabbed for his good shoulder.

Ray was woozy for a few seconds after the sneeze, and saw stars. Lots of stars. All different colors of stars. And for the first time he noticed the Empire State Building in the skyline in the distance. He paid it little attention.

* * *

"No, sorry honey, I'm not gonna be home in time tonight. You'll have to give the baby her bath, I guess, and deal with the briefing to the Old Man." Ray talked into his headset; on the other end was his wife back in Kingstowne, Virginia.

"Are you ok?" Samantha asked her husband.

"Uh, well, I'm all right. A little banged up but all right. The doc is stitching me up now and he gave me another tetanus shot even though I told him he gave me one only three weeks ago. I'm gonna change clothes then get outta here and head off to the airport. I'll be into the airport there about 10:06 or so and I'll see you before eleven."


"Oh, yeah, no big deal, just a scratch on my left shoulder."

"You sure?"

"Sam, I'm fine."


"Yes, Sam?"

"Did you catch him?"

"He got away."


"Yeah, sorry. I'll debrief you when I get home. Love you. Bye." Ray tapped his BlackBerry and pulled the specialized bluetooth out of his ear, placing it in his pocket. There, that's done. The lack of distraction now left his mind open to tactile sensation, however. "Shit, Doc! You using a wood screw to put those stitches in?" Ray flinched.

"Sit still, Dr. Brady, and I'll give you another local." The team doctor frowned and went back to his work, mumbling. "He doesn't even know he's been shot, but he complains about my stitching. Hmmph."

"Well, Doc, you know's well's I do that Reagan Brady is never in pain unless there's somebody around to feel it with him. Big drama queen." Jay stepped around the edge of the helicopter and laughed as he lightly patted Ray on the back, making sure to avoid any gunshots, road rash, or similar injuries in the doing. The physician paid the U.S. Army soldier little attention, as always.

"Jay?" Ray merely raised a questioning eyebrow at his teammate. He was too tired and beat up to cuss at the major's jokes. He thought about sticking his tongue out after the "drama queen" remark, but decided that might only prove Jay's point. Jay was really more of a right hand man to Ray--the closest thing he had to a best friend, if men so deep undercover as they were dared HAVE best friends--and oftentimes Ray felt as vulnerable without Jay around as he did without his wife Sam. The three of them had worked together on their "special projects" since the major had been a lieutenant.

* * *

"Nothing there, nothing anywhere, Ray. It's like he plain damn vanished. Sarge and the boys tore that entire city block to bits and didn't find a damn thing." Jay shrugged and took a seat in the evac chopper across from him. The rain had finally moved through the area and the Moon was coming out overhead, shining silver through the breaking clouds. The added light helped him see how haggard Ray really looked, which was pretty haggard. Damn. He ran a record speed marathon AND got beat to hell and back this time. And DIDN'T come out on top. He internalized the sympathetic wince.

"Then how the hell did he get off that rooftop?" Ray frowned and flinched again as Doc put in the final stitch. "Shit! We about through yet, Doc? It's only a nick. I'd like to get us off the ground sometime in the next day or so."

"Not quite, Dr. Brady. By the blue lines on the side of your nose I'd say you've once again broken what I'd just fixed. Hold still, this is gonna hurt… a lot." Ray knew Doc was irked with him because he was calling him "Dr. Brady," not "Ray." Doc grabbed Ray's nose between his fingers and squeezed it and yanked it to the right. Ray's nose crunched and then popped and a slight trickle of red oozed out of his right nostril.

"YEEOOW! SHIT, Doc!" Ray swatted the doctor's hands away and grabbed at his nose. Reflexive tears ran freely down Ray's cheeks, mixing with the blood. Ray blotted at it with his hand until Doc shoved a roll of cotton gauze up his nose. "HEY! Dhad doesd't feel ady bedder!"

"Jesus, Ray, that had to hurt," Jay laughed and turned a little pale at the same time. Had it been the first time he'd seen something like that, he'd probably have lost his lunch–had he eaten any lunch. Or dinner, for that matter. Days like today, meals tended to take a back seat.

* * *

"Leave this splint on there for a week and ice it several times a day for about fifteen minutes at a time. You know the drill by now," Doc said while placing a plastic splint over Ray's nose and taping it down. "Here, use this for the time being." Doc cracked a chemical ice pack against the deck of the chopper and then shook it up, squishing and kneading it a couple of times in his fingers. Ray could feel it getting cold already by the time he took it from the team's sawbones.

But "Doc" John Fields was more than just the team's trauma and first aid guy. He was also a research physician specializing in nasty bugs and chemicals and other extremely hazardous pathogens that could be proliferated as chemical or biological weapons. He'd even become an expert in nuclear weapons biological effects somewhere along the way. But, lately, Ray had done his level best to keep Doc's emergency room skills up to par, at least to hear the physician tell it.

"Ok… NOW can we get in the air?" an impatient Ray asked him.

"I suppose so, but this I.V. stays in until we get you home in one piece. You lost a lot of blood, judging by your shirt, which was bloodied front AND back--"

"The back, too? Oh, that wasn't mine, then. I busted the other guy's nose, too." Ray started to gesture with his elbow, then thought better of it; it was the one Fields had just finished stitching.

"…And we need to get you an MRI in the morning to look at that brain bucket of yours. It IS concussed. The only question that remains is how badly so." Casually Fields injected a strong, broad spectrum antibiotic into the I.V. line, to prevent possible pneumonia and any other nasty pathogens that had managed to enter Ray's body through the numerous injuries.

"So we're evac-ing him all the way?" Jay asked.

"Either that or he waits till tomorrow to go home."

"Not doing that. I wanna get home." Ray nodded, only half listening to Doc's orders. He twirled his right index finger around and nodded at Major Sampson.

"Got it." Jay jumped up and stuck his head out of the chopper. "Sarge, get the men back to the office. I'm gonna see Ray home in the chopper."

"Got it, Major. Any other orders?" Sergeant Holmes asked.

"I'd say we've done enough damage for tonight, Sarge. Just get the team home and be in for debrief tomorrow afternoon."


* * *

"She looks so peaceful when she's sleeping." Ray leaned over the crib to kiss his tiny daughter good night. The sight of her little fuzzy blonde head almost made him forget about the pounding in his own skull, which increased when he leaned over. He patted her chest ever so lightly and smiled as she cooed softly at being disturbed, but didn't wake up. He sighed and held back the tears of despair, unaccustomed tears it was true, but all too near the surface in his battered condition. "You'd never believe she was such a sick little baby."

"Shhh! If you knew how much trouble I had getting her to sleep…" Samantha whispered and elbowed her husband. In the right side, Ray realized thankfully.

"We've gotta face it sometime, Sam," Ray managed to choke out around the swelling lump in his throat, his weariness temporarily breaking down the emotional wall he'd erected against the truth. "Most children with cystic fibrosis don't make it past twenty, twenty-two."

"Not ours," Sam insisted. "We've got the best team in the world. And you know you and Doc Fields are working on that. You'll do it. I know you will."

Ray smiled, feeling his spirits lift at his wife's confidence in him, and eased over the giant Legos and around the plastic Roll-Arounds scattered about on the floor as Sam ushered him out of the nursery. Ray stopped for a moment, staring down at a giant stuffed caterpillar, tempted: The caterpillar was called Alphabet Pal. Each of the caterpillar's feet, when squeezed, said a letter of the alphabet, followed by the letter's sound. If they were squeezed quickly and in the proper order, the caterpillar would crudely enunciate words. Ray and Sam had had a running game for some time to try to make it say curse words and other rude things, but the manufacturers had evidently taken such a notion into consideration, and the caterpillar would only giggle, its cheeks lighting up red, as if in embarrassment. But Ray had recently had a new idea, and wanted to try it out. Doped on pain meds as he was, now seemed as good a time as any. Sam saw the direction of his gaze.

"OH, no. Not tonight, Mr. Gutter Brain. She's only gotten to sleep, you're beat to shit, and we still have things to do. Come on."

Obediently, Ray allowed himself to be ushered out of the room. Samantha eased the door closed and sighed.

"You look tired, Sam."

"Yeah, well, you don't look so hot either, Dr. Brady."

"Yeah, I could use a nap, a cup of coffee, and a GOOD woman," Ray said wryly at his wife, cocking a suggestive eyebrow at her as he raised his wrist and looked at his watch. It was pushing midnight. Raising his arm had been a bad idea, however, as it sent a nasty, tight feeling up the stitches in his shoulder. So was raising his eyebrow, as his nose splint tugged, putting pressure on that broken facial protrusion. He winced, which also hurt his nose. Shit. Can't even flirt with my wife without it hurting like a son of a bitch.

"Not yet," she replied, ignoring him. "Come on. We've got to see the Old Man tomorrow and I want to know what happened in New York."

"It can't wait 'til morning?" So much for flirting.


"You da boss," Ray shrugged.

"Stop saying that," Samantha frowned at her husband.

She led them downstairs to the basement hallway. Sam spun the combination lock on the door a few times and pulled the door open. Quickly she punched in her code number on the security alarm; it beeped twice in a shrill tone and "unarmed" appeared on the display screen.

"Step into my office, sir," she said, while scribbling the date and time in the Opened line of a form on a clipboard hanging by the alarm keypad.

"Like I said, you da boss," Ray goaded her with an affectionate smirk. She stuck her tongue out at him.

The basement of the two story dwelling in one of the newer suburbs of Kingstowne had been converted to a secure office before they ever moved into the house. Sam was the official "leader" of the clandestine government team, one of the deepest, if not the deepest, Homeland Security teams in existence. Although in the field, the team usually followed along behind her husband, the brilliant scientist/operative Dr. Reagan Brady, as swiftly as they could while trying to keep up and cover his ass. Sam was a good leader and knew when to put her foot down and when not to. On the other hand, Ray, despite his intellect and multiple degrees in several different hard sciences, had always been at the mercy of his own wild and free will and he performed best when left mostly to his own recognizance. His own recognizance, however, usually was analogous to something along the lines of a bull in a china shop–on one of the bull's clumsiest and orneriest days. Pamplona, his colleagues declared, had nothing on it. Sometimes, Sam had to lay down a swim lane or two to keep him going in the right direction. They were really broad swim lanes, big enough to drive a barge through, but she did lay down the boundaries every now and then. And, even though the team jumped when Ray told them to do something, they literally defied gravity and flew if Sam gave them an order. There was no doubt in the team as to who was really in charge. As far as the Old Man was concerned, the two of them had carte blanche permission, but "his girl" was the unquestioned head of the team. Sam was indeed "da boss lady."

Things only got more complicated when she and Ray decided to have a child. They knew she would have to work from home or retire. Hell, she wasn't even thirty yet, so retirement was absolutely out of the question. Working from home at least temporarily was the only option, and said work required a top secret/sensitive compartmented information, or TS/SCI, facility. So the Director authorized the Chief of his most effective "hard problems" team the "home office" solution.

Sam sat down at her desk and tapped a few keys on a computer wearing a green label on its side claiming This Computer Is Not Authorized For Classified Material. An infrared webcam image of the baby's crib came into view. She turned up the volume a little until they could hear the baby's light breathing. Both Sam and Ray smiled from the inside out. Light blue eyes met golden hazel ones for a moment, shining happily with love. The baby continued to snore softly, a habit she'd acquired after nearly continuous respiratory infections over the last six months, which had ultimately led to the diagnosis of cystic fibrosis, a systemic genetic disease that caused progressive disability, frequent illnesses, and often, early death. At least Abby's not sick right now, Ray thought. Maybe the diagnosis is wrong, anyway. It's still early in the game.

"Ok?" Ray plopped down in a chair on the opposite side of Sam's desk and tried to get comfortable while not getting so comfortable that the pain meds and the events of the day took their toll on him, forcing him to doze off. Ray fought back a yawn and straightened up in the chair. "Why couldn't this wait until the morning?"

"Hold on for a second." Sam rolled her desk chair over to a two drawer Mosler safe against the wall, spun the combination a few times and then pulled the handle of the lock down with a loud clank. Sam pulled out a laptop red-labeled This Computer Is Authorized For TS/SCI and plugged it into a power cable which was sitting on her desk. She flipped a little magnet over on the front of the safe with the red side out saying that the thing was "open."

"What's this all about, Sam?" Ray watched the baby monitor with more interest, thinking that the little one looked just like her mother. There was no way he could tell that from the low image resolution of the IR camera, but he knew it was true. They both had the same pale blonde hair and light blue eyes, while he had dark brown hair and hazel eyes. She'd gotten Sam's cheekbones, too, Ray supposed; it was hard for him to remember anymore what his own used to look like.

"This." Samantha booted up the computer and tapped a few keys. Ray had to fight trained instincts not to snoop her password as she typed it. "Let's see…" she tapped the touchpad and pad keys again. "Here, look at this." Sam turned the laptop around for Ray to see the screen.

"What's this?" Ray looked at the image on the screen. It looked like a security cam image from inside a laboratory of some sort and the image had been labeled Top Secret/SCI at top and bottom.

"This is a security cam shot from inside… INSIDE… the Y-12 enriched plutonium rod machining facility at Oak Ridge. Recognize anybody?"

There were three men and one woman in the poor quality gray scale image. Ray looked closer at them, then did a double take. He clicked the touchpad pointer on the zoom for a closer view of the faces.

"No shit?"

"That's him, isn't it?" Samantha asked, but judging from the expression on her face, she already knew she was right.

"Yep, that is definitely the guy that jumped off the building tonight." Ray looked closer. "When was this taken?"

"Zoom in on his face a little further," Samantha replied. "Oh, never mind. I already did that and ran the enhancement algorithms on it. Toggle to the next slide."

Ray clicked the slide viewer to move to the next slide. And there was an enhanced image of the man's face–the same face that had sneered at him in the alley in New York. It was a little fuzzy, but there was an obvious black line under his right eye and his hawk-like nose appeared swollen. He looked like he'd recently taken an elbow and maybe even a backward head butt to the face. But his pale blond hair was dry–and spiky, in the modern fashion that had come from anime.

"No way. When was this taken?"

"About five minutes after you called me tonight. How long was that after you lost him?" Samantha leaned back in her chair, subconsciously looking over at the baby monitor screen. Ray did the same. Abby was comfortably cooing in her sleep.

"It couldn't have been an hour at the most. No way he could've had enough time to get from New York to Tennessee on any aircraft I've EVER heard of. And how would he get into the Y-12 facility? I mean, that's where they machine the enriched plutonium and uranium rods for nuclear reactors." Ray pointed at the screen, then ran the fingers of his right hand through his short brown hair. "A twin?"

"With the same black eye you gave his brother? Barring some sort of strange phenomena like the Corsican Brothers, I don't think so."

"Well, that's just it. It's not exactly the same black eye, Sam." Ray gestured at the image. "It looks about a day old, not 'less than an hour' old."

"What?? You sure?!"

"Hell, yeah. Trust me, I got experience, ya know. Either it's a day old, or the son of a bitch heals faster than Wolverine."

Sam studied the image closer. "Hm. You're right, at that. Still, if he can pop from New York to Oak Ridge inside an hour…" Sam hesitated and then said, "Think about his clothing. Is it the same?"

"Uh, I dunno, let me think." Ray closed his eyes and focused on what the man had looked like. Ray had a good recollection of what the knuckles on his right hand looked like up close and personal, but as far as clothing went, he couldn't be sure. Most of the rest of his memory of the conflict consisted of muddy water that stank of diesel, and on the rooftop he'd been too winded, and too intent on delay tactics, to pay attention to such details as clothing. Dark. He remembered he'd been wearing something dark. And loose. But that was it; as much as he could dredge up past the jackhammer in his head. He opened his eyes and studied the image. Dark, with an open overshirt. Hm.

"Maybe? You should ask Jay. He got a look at the man too, right before he gave us the slip. But he'd be bloody. And wet. I mean, it was raining cats and dogs on us."

"He could've dried off and changed clothes. You did." Sam shook her head. "I have no idea how I'm gonna get all the blood out of those clothes. Smears and clots and all kinds of nasty shit. What a mess. At least they're black."

"Yeah, true. On both counts. Sorry."

"I think we need to tell the Old Man that we have a possible anomaly." Sam waved off the apology.

"I was afraid you were gonna say that. Let's see if Jay agrees too before we tell the Old Man that. What kind of anomaly? Santa Claus or Easter Bunny?"

"You're the expert. You tell me." Sam held her hands palms up and shrugged.

"Shit, Sam, my nose is throbbing too hard for me to think straight and I'm worn out and groggy as hell from the pain meds. Let me think on it."

"That's fine, honey. Your subconscious works better than most people's consciousness anyway," she grinned. "We've got until the briefing tomorrow for you to decide that. Besides, I don't think we have enough information yet, but this could be the one we've been looking for, for the last eight years." Samantha seemed excited.

"Well, ok, but, there has to be another explanation. Remember how excited we got over Quebec and you KNOW how that turned out."

"Don't remind me," she replied, scowling.

"Right. You da--"

"And STOP saying that."

* * *

Ray drifted in and out of sleep. Pain meds typically did that to him. He would either be zonked out of his gourd like a zombie, which wasn't very restful sleep. Or he'd be in and out of sleep with fitful dreams, which wasn't very restful sleep. Either way, Ray wasn't getting very restful sleep. Every time he rolled over one way, he bumped his stitched-up arm, which sent a shriek of pain up his shoulder and down his spine. That would make him jump, which, in turn, made the throbbing in his nose increase, which dominoed into a pounding head. Every time he rolled over the other way, the bruising in his ribs slammed into his side, which made him jerk back… which made the throbbing in his nose increase, which dominoed into a pounding head. Never mind the substantial patch of missing hide on his "good" forearm. The scab on it turned into a jelly-like goo if he happened to rest it against Sam's moist bare skin in his sleep. Then, when he pulled away, the jelly went with her and he had an oozing, raw wound again, which felt like somebody had turned a blowtorch on it. He wished Fields had at least slapped some gauze on it. Sleeping on his stomach with a broken nose was flatly out of the question. He sighed, and stretched out on his back.

His mind raced over and over the events of the day. His dream sequence continued to run the interview with the genetics research scientist at Columbia University. The guy had written several papers on some extremely dangerous bio-agents and methods of making them viable weapons by inserting their DNA into airborne viruses. The problem--depending on your point of view--with most of the nasty bugs was that they weren't easily spread like other, more common viruses. A common virus, such as an influenza or a rhinovirus, would have to be the delivery mechanism for the really bad one, for the simple reason that it could be spread more readily and rapidly. This research had been nothing new except for the fact that some of the scientist's more recent work was with viruses that spread quickly but took a long time to incubate. This way the people infected with it wouldn't die off before they had a chance to infect others with it. So when the NSA and the DHS computers got a hit on this guy as well as a very large deposit of money in an offshore account with his name on it, certain people immediately became decidedly interested in the particulars of this fellow's lifestyle. Rather quickly Ray's team at the Department of Homeland Security Directorate of Special Research Projects and Operations, or DSRPO, was alerted and brought into the mix.

The DSRPO, pronounced "dee-surp-o" by the very few people who knew it existed, was put in place by executive order not long after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Only the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Assistant Director of Homeland Security--or ADDHS--over the directorate a.k.a. the "Old Man," the President, Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), the Director of the FBI, and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) were briefed on the existence of the organization.

The executive order gave the DSRPO "full Patriot Act authority" as well as "global initiative" to protect the security of the United States. What that meant was that they could pretty much do whatever the fuck they needed to do, in order to get the job done. That didn't mean they couldn't get in trouble if they crossed the line. It just meant that their line was somewhere way the hell out there with James Bond's. Which fit, considering their job was somewhere way the hell out there with Star Trek. Protecting the country against the consequences of alien or futuristic tinkering wasn't exactly your everyday job anyway.

All members of the Directorate had been, and continued to be, hand picked by the ADDHS, Robert Kruger--the "Old Man"--from civil service and active duty branches of the military. So far no civilian contractor types had found their way in, but that didn't mean it couldn't happen one day; it just made it harder, was all. Since the existence of the organization was way the hell above Top Secret, the active duty military were transferred under the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), while the civil servants were moved to DHS as staff to the Office of the Secretary of Homeland Security. But the Directorate they ended up working for didn't "exist" and the executive order placed heavy penalties and jail time on any breach of security about the organization. There were a LOT of "men in black" jokes in the organization, especially after the movies came out.



Extraction Point! Copyright © 2011. Travis S. Taylor and Stephanie Osborn. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.   





Travis S. Taylor -- "Doc" Taylor to his friends -- has earned his soubriquet the hard way: he has a Doctorate in Optical Science and Engineering, a Master's degree in Physics, a Master's degree in Aerospace Engineering, all from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He also has a Master's degree in Astronomy from the University of Western Sydney, and a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering from Auburn University.

Dr. Taylor has worked on various programs for the Department of Defense and NASA for the past sixteen years. He's currently working on several advanced propulsion concepts, very large space telescopes, space-based beamed energy systems, and next generation space launch concepts.

In his copious spare time, Doc Travis is also a black belt martial artist, a private pilot, a SCUBA diver, races mountain bikes, competed in triathlons, and has been the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of several hard rock bands. He currently lives with his wife Karen, daughter Kalista Jade, son Jase Lucas, two dogs Stevie and Wesker, and his cat Kuro, in north Alabama.

TTB titles:
Extraction Point! with Stephanie Osborn
Human by Choice by with Darrell Bain

Author web site.

Stephanie Osborn is a former payload flight controller, a veteran of over twenty years of working in the civilian space program, as well as various military space defense programs. She has worked on numerous Space Shuttle flights and the International Space Station, and counts the training of astronauts on her resumé. Of those astronauts she trained, one was Kalpana Chawla, a member of the crew lost in the Columbia disaster.

She holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in four sciences: Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics, and she is "fluent" in several more, including Geology and Anatomy. She obtained her various degrees from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.

Stephanie is currently retired from space work. She now happily "passes it forward," teaching math and science via numerous media including radio, podcasting, and public speaking, as well as working with SIGMA, the science fiction think tank, while writing science fiction mysteries based on her knowledge, experience, and travels.

TTB titles:
Burnout: the mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281
Extraction Point! with Travis S. Taylor

Author web site.

Cresperian Series
Human by Choice by Travis S. Taylor and Darrell Bain. Book 1 Cresperian series.
The Y Factor by Darrell Bain and Stephanie Osborn. Book 2 Cresperian series
The Cresperian Alliance by Stephanie Osborn and Darrell Bain. Book 3 Cresperian series.




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