“We’ll just have to start without Billy, though I want him brought directly to my office when he’s found, First Sergeant,” Colonel Peters said. First Sergeant Wilcox curtly confirmed the order in a very military fashion. The briefing room held a palpable tension that almost thickened the air in front of the colonel. He wasn’t accustomed to special operatives ignoring a call to muster. Perhaps it was a mistake including the young man? He’d have to discuss that with the First Sergeant later.
“We’ve been through everyone on the list and have nothing. No leads, no one has seen him, nobody knows anything about where Robert Dante has gone,” Julie said.
“Captain Payne, I may have a new lead for you,” Sergeant Sanchez offered up, not taking her eyes off the laptop screen.
“What have you got, Tinker?” Julie asked. She’d always liked call signs better than regular names, Peters recalled.
“Domenech and Johnson have been working the finance angle. They came across annual payments made to a nursing home for the past two years. They dug a little deeper and found a woman by the name of Lisa, Lisa Dante. She’s listed as a patient at the Mountain Meadow retirement facility,” Sergeant Sanchez reported.
“You have a picture?” Angela asked.
“Yep. They take a portrait shot of their new members the day they arrive and post it on their website.” Sergeant Sanchez tapped a few keys and the image of a smiling elderly woman with short-cropped curly silver hair appeared on the briefing room’s wall-mounted monitor.
“We have our target. Icarus, Guardian Three, suit up in the Pit and let’s go see if sister knows anything about where her brother is right now.” Colonel Peters ordered. Everyone nearly shot out of their seats, anxious to escape the cloying feel of the tension that permeated the briefing room. “I’d like a word, First Sergeant, before you leave.”
Everyone filed out of the room leaving the two old friends alone. Peters rose and closed the door before turning to address his First Sergeant.
“Jack, did I make a mistake with the kid?” he asked, getting directly to the point. He could see tension noticeably leave the shoulders of the man he’d known longer than any other service member still alive. Jack Wilcox lounged back into his chair affecting an air of familiarity they seldom shared anymore.
“He’s a young kid, Simon. What did you expect?” he answered.
“You weren’t this irresponsible at seventeen.”
“I was in boot camp on my seventeenth birthday, and hell yes I was this irresponsible. The Army just didn’t give me a choice. This kid hasn’t had the discipline we’ve had instilled in us put into him yet.”
“I don’t know if we have time for him to learn, Jack. We’re fighting a real battle here, and we’re losing. Dante’s been one step ahead of us this whole time. There’s no telling what he’s out there doing. For all we know he’s got a second tanker full of explosives and another ball park on his target list.”
“Yeah, that scares the hell out of me, honestly.”
“Then scare the hell out of this kid. Or scare the hell into him. I don’t care. We just need him under control.”
“I don’t think scaring him will do the trick, Simon.”
“Then what will?”
“I don’t know yet. I have an idea, but I need to figure something out first.”
“Well figure it out. We’re running out of time.”
The public address system crackled to life with Sergeant Sanchez’s voice. “Colonel Peters please report to Heaven. Guardians have entered the Ether.”
“What do you want me to do?” First Sergeant Wilcox asked popping out of his chair and opening the door.
“Find him. Fast. Get him on board with the program. I don’t care how you do it.” Colonel Peters exited the briefing room and headed to the control room as the two men talked. The first sergeant fell into step with his commanding officer in that practiced motion career military men have as second nature when walking with another man.
“Is that carte blanche?” the first sergeant asked.
“Yes, damn it. Whatever you have to do, do it. Just get him with the program.” He’d spoken more harshly then he intended but the quick nod and expression of indifference on the other man’s face didn’t seem to indicate he’d taken offense. At the next intersection the first sergeant peeled away and headed down a different corridor.
“I’ve got an idea how to find him. I’ll catch up with you in Heaven if I can find him before the operation is completed,” the first Sergeant said, cutting a crisp salute.
“Carry on, First Sergeant,” The colonel said, returning the salute and continuing on to the control room ahead.
The sights and sounds inside Heaven, the operational control room for the project, were just as they should be. The main screen showed a man in pristine white robes, another man in a roman style toga with wings gently flapping, and a woman wearing the same clothes Angela wore. He still couldn’t get used to the idea that the man in the white robes wasn’t a problem, but so far the angels as Angela called them weren’t hindering the operations. The three forms stood in a small bedroom. The hospital bed with its IV took up the majority of the room. A short distance from the hospital bed sat a moderate sized television showing some sort of daytime drama. An oversized chair sat on that same side of the bed but no one sat in the chair. On the hospital bed lay the elderly woman from the picture Sergeant Sanchez had shown in the briefing mere minutes ago.
“Report,” the Colonel ordered.
“Icarus and Three have located the target. She’s alone and I don’t think we’ll get much from her,” Sergeant Sanchez reported.
“That’s affirmative Archangel. Target appears to be in some sort of catatonic state. Maybe advanced Alzheimer’s,” Captain Payne reported.
Suddenly, two figures popped onto the screen standing next to Angela’s avatar. One figure was Billy Ransom, and the other the white-clad woman who called herself Theliel and identified herself as Billy’s angel. Colonel Peters crossed over to Sergeant Sanchez’s workstation and made eye contact with his lead technical analyst. Her fingers began to fly over her keyboard and making selections with her mouse, trying to answer the silent question.
“Glad you could join us, Cherry,” Icarus said. He noted the undisguised dislike that permeated the Captain’s voice. He’d have to speak to her about that. Billy may be undisciplined and disobedient but he was a member of the team.
“He’s not in the Pit Icarus,” he said.
“What do you mean he’s not in the Pit?” Julie’s avatar responded.
“Can you see him too, Guardian Three?” he asked, as the sergeant kept digging into her data.
“Yes Archangel, I can see him. Billy Ransom you are in a lot of trouble, mister,” Angela said.
“That’s exactly what I told him,” the young woman standing next to Billy said.
“How did he get into the Ether, Sergeant? Where is he?” he asked.
“Working on it, sir.” Data flew across her screen as she continued to dig for the answer.
“Not good enough. He’s not in the Pit. Is he even on this base? Is he even on our side anymore?”
“Cherry, where are you? How did you get into the Ether without the Shroud or our gear?” Billy Ransom’s avatar didn’t appear to take any notice of the Colonel’s questions. “Can he hear me?”
“Unknown, sir. I have no data stream on him right now.
Colonel Peters moved to the console and picked up the phone. He dialed three quick numbers. After a very short time someone picked up the other end. “Lieutenant Hanson, this is not a drill. I need Billy Ransom’s presence on this based ascertained. If found he is to be detained and returned to me immediately. If he resists you are authorized to use whatever level of force you deem necessary to control the situation up to and including deadly force if he appears to be trying to escape.”
Guardians of the Herald is a weekly serial published and copyright by The Cavalier, Mark Malcolm. To catch up on the first 45 issues you can either read them for free on the web site or purchase the compilation, Guardians of the Herald Issues 1-45: Angels and Demons for the Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/Guardians-Herald-Issues-1-45-Angels-ebook/dp/B00IJIFXSY.
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