The elevator was screaming down the shaft fast as a freight train to Hades. He jammed the detonator into the C4, and set it to blow on impact, and prayed like hell that the creature stayed with him. He had to watch, see the speed with which he was plummeting to the final level. He couldn't remember anything from Sunday school except a single prayer, and he suddenly knew the fear of death.
The river was a wide flat vista. Deceptively smooth and glossy, upstream from the confluence, the water was as clear as it ever got. The cicadas' hum rose and fell, providing a serenade to his solitude; the papery rustle of the leaves around him was its counterpoint. Cy lay propped in the tall cottonwood tree staring up into the cerulean sky. Long wands of clouds scraped the upper atmosphere, and were bisected by a jet contrail. It scribed a pathway across the sky, appearing to crawl through the sky like a snail trail. He knew it was moving at near lightning speeds, the F4's from the nearby Air Force base could travel past the sound barrier.
A small voice from below interrupted his reverie.
"Mom says you'd better come back in time for dinner tonight, or she's going to skin you."
"Fine, I'll be there. Go away, Gwen."
Gwen stuck her tongue out at him, and that was the cue. They always played this game. Cy rocketed out of the tree and flew after her. She had no chance, despite her head start-- Cyril Baines was older and faster. He caught up to her, threw his arm around her and brought her down as easily as a cheetah takes a tiny antelope.
He started to tickle her mercilessly, until she screamed with laughter. Releasing his victim with an air of magnanimity, he rolled up onto his feet and stood over her.
"Didn't I tell you to go away?" He said with a quick grin.
Gwen didn't mind that he tortured her, because in his own way he always protected her and Gretchen from the kids in the neighborhood who said they were weird. She was proud of Cy, and the three of them formed a united front against the world, even to their parents. Gwen frowned.
" I heard Mom say Dad will be here tomorrow."
Cyril leaned over and pulled her to her feet, then turned to walk back to Grandmas' farmhouse. He didn't reply to Gwen, what was there to say to her? She didn't know how it was, did she?
The elevator shaft was long, really fucking long. He crawled up the cable foot by foot; glad for the strength and fitness for which he had worked so hard. The sweat poured off him, and the adrenaline and endorphins blasted through him, causing him to feel no pain. The fear of what they had gotten involved in, the danger of this assignment was almost overwhelming. Baines was worried about Jedburg though; he was struggling to keep up. He admired the little guy; he had insisted in providing the back up that Zunoski had demanded. Baines wondered about Zunoski, and why Shepard had requested him to help with the computer. Jedburg would have been a better choice for that. It annoyed him, it wasn't jealousy exactly but why hadn't he overridden the request and taken Zunoski, he was in charge, wasn't he? He heard Jedburg's radio go off. It was Shepard. "Jedburg! Jedburg, how's it going?"
Jedburg replied with a typical smart-ass comment, "I haven't been so scared since the IRS knocked on my door!"
Baines laughed to himself and continued the climb up the cable, nearly there. It was hot; Jedburg hadn't been kidding about the temperature. At the bottom of the elevator car the tiny breeze that had been stirring was now completely cut off.
He called on the radio to update them on his progress; pretty soon it the transmission would be blocked.
"Shepard, I've reached the bottom of the elevator, I'm going to set some charges, and I'm going to blow this hatch. Your man Jedburg looks like he's more at home with his computers." Baines couldn't resist throwing that in, Zunoski should have been here with him, not the little guy; he was useless to the mission.
The barracks were quiet pandemonium, as the men went over their training assignments. Baines had gotten his first choice in training, E.O.D. He was elated. He was one step closer to achieving his goal of being invited to join McShanes' team. He mused about Oscar McShane as he packed to travel to Redstone. He still had a tremendous crush on McShane, but he idolized him more. McShane gave him the confidence and self-respect he had been lacking for most of his short adult life. He wasn't looking forward to Alabama, it was almost as foreign as South Carolina had been to his northern-bred sensibilities, but even less civilized. The objective was all though and he was primed for it. He'd survived boot camp and Victory Forge, hadn't he?
They were all hanging around sickbay; Zunoski was at his yoga Tai-chi crap again. Baines didn't begrudge it to him, though. He said that's how he stayed flexible and calm. Baines grinned at the memory of just how flexible Zunoski had proven on their last leave. Mancini was joking again, but the whining tone was grating on all of their nerves. "So that's all they got for 50 bucks? Is this going to hurt?"
The doctor was not falling for Mancini's addict act, she dryly asked him to roll up his sleeve, and he complied with her order. "I didn't get much sleep last night, Doc; do you think you could juice it up with a little something, please?"
Baines frowned at that, it wasn't a good sign that Mancini was already moaning. He knew Aviel was reliable in a tight spot, but when there was down time, he tended to get too loosy-goosy.
Zunoski recognized the pensive expression on Baines' face, as he stood in line behind Mancini. Zunoski had gone right after McShane, and was just waiting for Baines to finish.
"I could teach you how to energize yourself, Mancini. But you're like the rest of society, you want some drug or some machine to solve your problems for you." He didn't think very highly of the place that they found themselves in; he was here because they were a team.
Zunoski focused his attention on Baines as he walked toward Dr. Meyers. He was smooth, very smooth, and the charming boy scout look with the disarming grin got Baines what he wanted nearly every time. He listened with half an ear to Mancinis' usual lame retort.
"You know, its called progress, Zunoski, you know and maybe one day..." Mancini continued to grumble until Colonel McShane cut the grousing with a curt order.
"Just do it and get dressed!"
"Your turn," Dr. Meyers said to Baines as he approached her.
"Hi. What's your name?" Baines grinned at the Doctor. He already knew about her and this place from their initial briefing, but she was far more attractive in person than her ID Badge photo made her out to be.
Dr. Meyers gave his come-on a sardonic grin, as she reached for his arm. "Lisa." The skin felt silky, and the arm was rock solid muscle underneath. He was warm, despite the chill of being 800 meters under ground in a short sleeve T-shirt.
Her returned her smile, "Hi, Lisa. I was wondering if you could take a look at my knee." She slid the needle in, injecting him with the vaccine and he laughed a little to cover the sting. "I screwed it up in a parachute drop over Panama." He gave her a hopeful look, and he knew she'd got the message he was really sending.
"I don't have time right now. You're done."
Baines nodded, and turned to follow his teammates, but a quick look over his shoulder caught her looking after him with an appraising eye.
The last semester of pre-law, and all of his classmates had already signed on for graduate courses, or accepted clerking positions in local law firms before going onto grad school. The bitter taste in the back of his throat was the product of 4 years wasted on a degree he had no intention of using; law had been a choice made to spite his father. The acid flavor of familial discord couldn't be washed away with the boilermakers he'd been slugging down all afternoon. The pain of first love gone wrong had never dissipated either, since its demise was directly his fathers' responsibility. He'd casually dated all the right women on campus to build his rep at school. He liked girls, they were soft and warm, and occasionally funny. Baines came to this bar to avoid women though, but he also knew this was no place to pick up men. The old neighborhoods weren't inhabited by the steel-armed working class of the last century; but they were straight, nonetheless.
It had been torture, hiding his proclivities amid locker room shenanigans and basketball practice. But all of that was coming to an end. An average guy, who was too short for professional basketball, had no interest in practicing law, and no prospects. He had no intention of running home to mama, either; as much as he might like that, it was not an option with his Dad living there again.
Baines was too busy indulging in a moment of self-recrimination and gut wrenching pity to notice when the barstool next to him became occupied. The bartender interrupted his reverie, "Hey, kid- you wanna 'nother one?"
"Yeah, great." He slid a couple of bucks across the countertop, but it was shoved back, "nah, s'already been paid."
Baines looked up in surprise, and the bartender motioned to the man leaning into the bar next to him.
"You looked like you could use some cheering up there, buddy."
The tall man grinned and took a long swig from his beer, re-clenching the slim cigar in the side of his mouth. It wasn't currently lit, but it had been at one time. It looked like a prop more than a smoke.
Baines openly studied the older man. He was a little taller, with chiseled good looks, and an air of command around him. He wore his hair short in a fashion, which almost certainly meant military.
"Uh, thanks for the beer, appreciate it. Baines." He stuck his hand out with a tiny shy smile. This guy was at least a good ten years older than him and Baines let his imagination run wild for a moment, before he reigned it back in tight.
"Sure, anytime. McShane." McShane took his hand and gripped it tightly, and looked the child in the face for the first time. The eyes were shadowed in the dark of the bar and there was an uncertain look on his face. He released Baines' hand and went back to his beer.
"So, Baines, what line of work are you in?" He asked casually, already knowing the answer from the look of the boy.
"Chicago State, pre-law. Mostly basketball though." Baines paused and added, "but at loose ends, when the season is over."
"What position do you play?"
"Mostly the bench this season- I twisted a knee in practice in September, and they discovered they had other, better rear guards. Besides, it's not like I need the exposure, since I'm not planning on going pro."
"Huh. Too bad, I've seen the Cougars play, they're pretty good."
"Thanks, we have a great team."
"I like to hear that. Teamwork is important, in fact I think it's paramount."
"Yeah. So, why is teamwork so important to you?"
"Army, Special Forces."
"I thought you were military. What's Special Forces, what do they do?"
"Some undercover operations, small force insertions. We get loaned out sometimes when they need precise, discretionary firepower. I can't really say too much more."
"That sounds exciting. I thought the Army was foot soldiers and tanks and stuff like that."
"We're the most well trained fighting force in the world, we can go any where, do anything. We don't glam it up, like the Air Force, but they're a bunch of pansies, anyway."
Baines drifted off a bit as he caught fire with imagined be-weaponed expeditions through the distant jungles of exotic lands.
"Hey, Baines, you still with me?" McShane snapped his fingers in front of his companion. Baines gave him a startled look.
"Oh, yeah, Sorry." Baines gave a little laugh; it was nearly a giggle. God, Baines did you just *giggle* in front of this guy? He looked embarrassed, and a faint flush spread over his face.
McShane watched Baines writhe in some private chagrin, he was such an open book that his turmoil was evident. He could conjecture what the cause was, but he would prefer to find out from Baines himself. "Look, I have to go, but I can tell this conversation isn't done. Are you in town for the holidays?
"Yep. Not going home. I'll be here. I'm working over the break, anyway. Baggage handlers get combat pay at O'Hare during the holidays." He grinned at his own lame joke.
"Why don't you call me on Sunday, and we'll talk some more?" McShane pulled a card out of an inner pocket from his jacket. Baines took it gingerly; McShane smiled when the boy plucked the card out of his fingers as if it would bite him like a snake.
"I'd like that, thanks. I'm free Sunday evening."
"Great, I'll see you Sunday then. Call me." McShane shoved the barstool back and left after once again firmly shaking Baines hand.
Baines looked at the crisp white card, "Lt. Colonel Oscar J. McShane" and a single local phone number. It was too weird, him appearing right at that moment in this bar. Baines drained the last of the beer from his glass, and made his way out into the dreary cold Chicago dusk.
They were searching the corridors and storerooms on Level 13. How did Casserly expect the three teams of only too human participants to find, much less defeat that thing? Baines was shaking, it was chilly in the facility, but the goose bumps on his back weren't caused by the room temperature. His Irish blood was working over time, and he had a very bad feeling about this whole fucking mess. It had been wrong from the start.
Shepard stopped in front of him, and put an arm out to keep Baines from getting any closer. "Don't think the contractors left this here." He knelt down in front of it, and called Jedburg on the radio.
"Jedburg, we found something, the exterior of it appears to be nonporous, looks as if it's made of some kind of alloy."
"You mean like a canister?" Jedburg demanded querulously. It was hard to keep hearing these reports and not lose his cool.
"Yes, but it appears to be organic."
Baines heard a shuffling noise behind him and aimed the cocked and loaded rifle in the direction of the noise. Zunoski appeared out from the shadow, grinning at Baines' obvious discomfiture. He looked totally freaked out.
"Chill out, Baines. What'd you guys find?"
"I don't know *what* the hell it is." Baines looked at it again.
Zunoski looked at the object in question quipped, "Well, we know what it's been eating!"
That was it, Baines was infuriated and that smart remark just pushed him over the edge. Zunoski hadn't seen that thing in action; he had no idea what the fuck he was talking about.
Fury made Baines less effective, or else his heart wasn't in it, since Zunoski almost instantly had him against the wall, arm across his throat to subdue him. They had played games like this, but this was the real thing.
"Hey, It was a stupid joke in bad taste." They were nearly nose to nose, Zunoski on the balls of his feet to get to eye level with Baines. He softened his voice, and added a measure of rare sincerity; he knew Baines was still stinging from his encounter with that thing in sickbay. "I'm sorry." He released Baines, and stepped back from him, but it appeared that Baines wasn't going to accept the apology. His face was set in a hostile glare.
Shepard and Casserly were simultaneously yelling at them to knock it off and straighten up, like they were teenage boys rough housing in the living room; it was humiliating. Baines hadn't lost his cool in a long time. He thought he'd gotten used to Zunoski's off the wall remarks, but this one hurt.
Shepard ordered them to 'Go on, move it!" as they reluctantly separated. Baines turned and walked away in the opposite direction. He was more pissed at Zunoski at this moment, than he was afraid of the creature.
The middle school gymnasium had been turned into a discotheque-like dance floor, and the PA was blaring out bad dance music from 3 years ago, but they didn't care. It was the first freshman dance of the year, and the excitement was contagious. Cy hadn't the courage to invite a date to the dance. He had moved in from out of town about the same time as Jerry. It gave them common ground from the first, but there was more to it. School had already started, and the small town cliques were well formed. Cy already knew this was a short assignment for his dad, and he wasn't about to get too wrapped up in the social whirl, but he didn't want to be left out completely, either. Jerry had politely turned down a few potential dates, since he knew Cy wouldn't go alone.
Jerry was everything that Cy wanted to be. He made friends easily, moved in and out of circles he wasn't part of, and made sure there were no boundaries for him, or his friends. Jerry was worldly, athletic, and funny; Cy felt like leaving the book stack behind and joining him on the field or where ever it was he had gotten that way. Jerry was a thousand-watt light shining down on him. He was grateful for the attention, and thrived on it. He wasn't sure what Jerry found interesting about him, but he didn't much want to dwell on that. Jerry had taken to calling him Baines said it suited him better them Cyril did. "Cyril is a wussy name, Baines."
The dance started the way all school dances started, a corny address by the principal, and the girls clinging to one side of the room, the boys clinging to the other. Eventually things got moving, and the designated dance floor was about a third full.
Jerry spied a likely pair of victims across the room, and he made eye contact with one of the girls and an agreement was made in a split second.
"C'Mon Baines, I see someone, we should go ask them to dance.'
"We're both going to dance with her?" Cy squeaked; he hated it when his voice did that.
Jerry smiled indulgently at him, "No, silly there's two of them. Nothing kinky. Not right now, anyway."
Baines smiled at the joke; nodded his wordless assent.
Jerry deftly peeled the two girls off the wall, and arranged the pairs in a single transaction. The first dance was a little awkward, but after a couple, Baines managed to feel more comfortable. He kept an eye on Jerry, and tried to emulate him as much as possible. The girl got brave after an hour or so, and ditched Baines to move onto other conquests.
He found himself back on the wall, content to hang out and watch Jerry.
It was almost the end of the dance; the teachers had let the lights lower for a soft, slow dance. The paired students huddled and hung off each other on the dance floor, and Jerry came and sat down on the bleachers next to him. "Hey, let's get out of here for a minute."
"Anything is better than watching Jones hump on Diana to "Evergreen."
Jerry laughed at that, "Probably so, Baines."
They slipped out the main door of the gym, through the front entrance, and started down the sidewalk. The chaperones stayed close to the front door, the cold winter night wasn't conducive to patrolling the entire school grounds.
They laughed and joked about the dance, the girls and the moves the students had been making on each other. It was a heady night, and Baines didn't want it to end.
Jerry pulled out a pack of contraband cigarettes, and lit one up. They shared it, since they were going to be missed sooner than later. Baines still feared authority, and Jerry scoffed at that gently. "S'alright Baines. What are they going to do, slap my hands?" But he made sure he would be the one caught with the illicit items if they were captured.
"Jerry, why don't you come and spend the night at my house? Dad is gone, and the twins are spending the weekend with my cousins. We can have some privacy for a change." At age 6, Gwendolyn and Gretchen were an annoyance. He loved them and knew how precious they really were, but some days he just wished them *gone*.
"That sounds great, I got the new Super Tramp album, I'll bring it over and we can listen to it. You have a nicer stereo than I do."
"Groovy, Jer. Just groovy." Baines laughed, and his hot breath made a plume in the crisp frozen air. "But I'm freezing, let's go back."
Jerry took the last puff of the cigarette and they ran back to the entrance.
Cy's mom was already at the door waiting to pick the boys up. It was good to see Cyril making friends, at last. He'd always been a very solitary child, preferring his reading to the casual sandlot pick up game or other amusements.
They climbed into the running car, and as they drove to Jerry's, plans were made that Rosalind would wait while he picked up his things.
The house was fairly new. The children's bedrooms were at the opposite end of the house from the master bedroom; it afforded the parents some privacy. It allowed the children the same courtesy, but with a few caveats- any unreasonable amount of noise would be dealt with summarily, although that was mainly when his dad was home.
They turned the stereo on and Cy pounced on Jerry as soon as the music started. Jerry was lying on his back and Cy was straddling his stomach and had Jerry's hands held over his head on the pillow.
"So, Baines. Can I take it you had an ulterior motive in inviting me over here tonight?"
"You can take it that way if you want." Cy leaned down and kissed Jerry, he tasted like cigarettes and school punch. "I like the way the cigarettes make your mouth taste. Bitter."
Jerry grinned and arched his shoulders and back up a little so that Cry's ass slid toward his suddenly hard cock. The feel of Jerry rubbing against him gave Cy an illicit thrill, and he ground them together a little harder. Jerry closed his eyes as he let Baines take the lead this time.
Cyril had just leaned back down into another kiss when the bedroom door opened unexpectedly. Wendell Baines stood there, deep dark thunderclouds of fury gathering as he took in the scenario.
"Jerry, I think you had better go home right now, and I don't think you're welcome back. Ever. Again."
Baines and Zunoski had finished setting up the perimeter and the remaining personnel had gathered for another fun filled conference.
Dr. Julie Casserly was thinking more out loud than addressing the assemblage. "We've been overlooking something, we have to find out what it wants."
"Listen, I saw what it did to Mancini and Lisa, I think its pretty clear what it wants." Baines was now the ranking officer in a squad of two. The Thing had completely taken over in his mind; it occupied all of his thoughts, with the exception of the vision of the three people he'd seen horribly eviscerated.
Shepard had already had a run in with the creature; he was the most familiar with it of all of them. "It's collecting information. It already knows the location of every crucial point in Nexus."
"Why would it want to get us shut down?" Jedburg realized every thing the creature had done so far was to achieve a specific goal.
Shepard replied, "It needs to acclimatize. Time to find its strength."
"It wants to get out, right?" Zunoski posed the question to Shepard, the leading authority in the room.
Casserly replied to Zunoski, "We have to presume it wants to do that, yes."
"We have to contact surface control so they can override it." Shepard stated the course of action, daring them to disagree.
"We're sealed in, Shepard." Baines stated the obvious.
Zunoski posed another obvious question; some one had to do it. "Why can't we use the walkie-talkies?"
"There is a body of iron ore between us, and the surface; radio waves won't pass through that." Jedburg knew that very mass was the reason this site had been selected for the new Nexus facility.
"Yeah, you're right. That's why we have to find our own way through." Shepard saw a way-get a person with a radio above the iron mass, and make contact with ground control, and warn them. They needed to know what was being contained in the lowest levels of Nexus.
"We have to climb all the way up there?" Zunoski sounded more than faintly dubious.
Jedburg had the facts and figures. "The elevator is five hundred meters above us. You'll have to blow your way through the bottom hatch…." That meant Baines was the only choice.
"…And climb through the top, and get the hell up to the surface." Shepard finished Jedburg's statement.
"That's another three hundred meters." Baines looked around the table, in disbelief; he had just been commandeered for a hell of a climb. He supposed it was better than sitting around waiting for it to eat them alive. Or getting flushed down the proverbial radioactive toilet the Nexus Facility was going to become in very short order. Baines was only too happy to oblige, he was aching to get out there and dispose of that creature, and he thought he had exactly what it took.
"Plus that shaft isn't air-conditioned, its probably 120 degrees in there." Baines stared at Jedburg in disbelief, this just got better and better.
"All right." Did Zunoski just agree to this for him?
Shepard spoke to Zunoski. "I'm going to need your help."
"But Baines can't go alone, he needs back up." Zunoski was going to go with Shepard?
It was dark, and the three teens were clothed in black, they had even gone so far as to wear ski masks to cut down on the moons' glare on their lily-white faces. It was an unseasonably warm winter night, and that meant they were sweating in their gear, but it was worth the discomfort. They had a mission of mischief to accomplish. They were trying hard not to giggle and laugh; they had planned this for the last month.
The centerpiece for the assault was a half-pound chunk of pure sodium. It hadn't been that difficult to obtain, after all, his dad had a Ph.D. in Chemistry. The technical journals and magazines around the house contained all the information necessary for the idea to germinate and spring to life. Baines made sure that Wendell Baines had no idea of his own interest in the subject. No, feigning disinterest and poor performance in school, that was his way of fighting back in the guerrilla war that life at home had become in the last two years.
Baines had modeled the expedition after "Force 10 From Navarone"; he had a secret crush on Harrison Ford, and after "Star Wars" had come out-- who didn't? Everyone in the scout troop imagined himself as Han Solo, wanted to have the guts to swagger their way through their small lives. They had a need to make a splash, and Baines had just the way to make that happen.
The school principal was the perfect target. Students and faculty alike disliked him; he was a mean, bitter man with delusions of power near to god-hood in the school district. His daughter, Leigh Ann was suffering through high school because of it, which was as bad or worse than being the preacher's kid. She had the heart of a conspirator, though. Baines hadn't had to work very hard to charm her into leaving the main gate unlocked. Leigh Ann, along with virtually every girl in school was drooling for this green-eyed charmer, and she made her intentions toward him well known.
Baines smiled, the gate was open as promised; they slipped into the yard, and ran crouched low along the fence line to the back of the house.
"Shhhh, be quiet, there's still a light on in the back."
"Baines, are we going to do this or what?" Hayes was impatient; he wanted the payoff, thought Baines was taking too many precautions.
"Yes, we're going to do this, but we aren't going to get caught doing it. Or do you want to spent the rest of your school life in Junior Jail, Hayes?"
Hayes shook his head and they reconnoitered the yard for a good escape route. Baines had been swimming with Leigh Ann once or twice, but then he hadn't had an opportunity to canvas the layout, nor the need to do so.
Perfect. There was a small structure in the far back corner of the yard, a toolbox, or something. They could use it to haul ass over the fence, rather than running all the way past the house and out the front gate. The yard that backed up to this part of the fence was unfenced otherwise, no dog.
"Wait! Jonesy, did you remember to lock the front gate?" His job as leader was to make sure no loose ends existed.
Jones giggled, "yes, Mon Capitaine. Zee gate ees locked."
Baines gave him snort. "Yeah you'll make the French Foreign Legion with that crappy accent, Jonesy. You have the Item?"
"Eyee have zee iteme, vould you like eet?"
"No, Jonesy, give it to Hayes."
They positioned themselves far enough back that they had immediate access to the projected escape route, and close enough so the star pitcher of the Viking's 4-A Championship baseball team would have an easy lob.
Baines felt like he was about to explode. He had been itching for the last week with the joy of planning, and he couldn't believe it was about to all come together. He looked up to the second story, and Leigh Ann was waiting at her bedroom window for the fireworks to start. Baines waved to her and then gave the order. "Ready? OK. Hayes, do it."
Hayes removed the soft metallic chunk from its wax paper wrapper, and carefully heaved it over the wrought iron fence and lawn furniture, directly into the center of the pool, and they all took off running like mad.
The force of the sodium reacting with the fresh chlorine shock caused most of the water in the pool to go up with the explosion. It was a beautiful sight, and Baines paused at the top of the fence, last one over. God, that was fabulous. He laughed like a maniac as they ran like hell; losing ski masks and the other evidence in the trashcans set out along the road for early morning pick up.
Baines checked the rappelling gear again, and the satchel of C4 he was never without. Zunoski laughed at him; "You're packing enough C4 there to blow the World Trade Center."
Baines retorted with a breathy catch in his throat. It was good to be doing something constructive, but he'd still rather it was Zunoski going with him. "I was a Boy Scout, Zunoski. I like to be prepared." He grinned at his last remaining teammate, as he turned to the empty elevator shaft.
"Watch your ass, Lieutenant." Zunoski was uncharacteristically subdued in his warning. You never said goodbye before a sortie. Baines accepted the gesture for its true nature; and replied in kind. "See ya later, buddy."
The elevator shaft door closed, and Baines turned to his so-called back up, and shook his gear. "This is secure?" He smiled with amusement at his companion, who was so far out of his element, he expected Jedburg to start gasping for air any second now.
Jedburg snapped back at Baines, he knew he was not prepared for this, but extraordinary events required extraordinary efforts. "Yes!"
Baines really smiled at Jedburg. It was really something that he would go through with this. He would be glad for Jedburgs' company, though. "You sure you want to do this?"
"Well, somebody's got to do it!"
Baines accepted that, "All right." Still smiling, he began the lengthy climb to the elevator car some five hundred meters above them.
The quarry was a magnet for them; its siren call sang forth, maybe because it was a cool place to hide out from the summer sun, partly because it was well marked Stay Out. Seventeen year old boys rarely thought that signs like that were intended to mean *them*. It was a limestone quarry; the hills for fifty miles around the city were tunneled on many levels for stone and gravel. Most of the buildings around here for the last century had been constructed of their gray products.
This mine was still active, though. During the week, the trucks rumbled in and out of the entrance and at the end of the day, dusty tired men filed out of the dark portal, hard hats in hand. Baines, Jonesy and Hayes often found themselves kicking around the place on a lazy Sunday afternoon. This particular Sunday though, they had a mission-they were going to go as far in as possible. They each brought a flashlight, and a canteen, and by some habit, Baines picked up a rope on the way out of the garage. The walk to the quarry was no more than twenty minutes. None had a car yet, and to ask to borrow one from the parents would have involved explanations and promises none of them were willing to divulge, or make. They laughed and shoved and insulted one another along the way. It was a brilliant golden day, and the Boys of Bedlam were out for an adventure.
They easily hopped over the low fence and loped across the parking lot to the main entrance. It was beckoning to them, and the three of them sallied forth into the dark.
And dark it was; the little beams of the hand held flashlights were swallowed by the black gloom. They were of no use, except to identify the obstacles as they stumble into them. All traces of the exterior light were cut off as the corner was turned, and the trio was swallowed whole, like Jonah in the whale. Whale guts would have been more interesting; this was the absolute, complete, total, lack of any visible light whatsoever. There was no possible way that their pupils could have expanded enough to give them any sight at all.
Baines felt the hand steal into his from the right; he squeezed it tightly but said nothing. He himself grasped the hand to his left. This was so different from their other escapades; it had left them subdued and quiet. They spent some undetermined time walking through the main level of the mine. The original plan was to find a ramp or a way down to the lower level, if there was one, but the oppressive feel of the somber rock over their heads had them rethinking that idea. Baines spoke, in a hushed tone of voice, there was no chance there was anyone or anything to hear him but Hayes and Jonesy, but the atmosphere gave him cause to practice a solemn reverence.
"Uh, guys? Think we should go back?"
"Shit Baines, do we just turn around? We haven't found a wall or anything."
"I don't see a choice Jonesy. Other than staying put until tomorrow to be found when they turn the lights on. Don't think I want to explain to *my dad* just where I spent the night, how about you?"
Hayes spoke up. "Yeah. Let's just stop for a minute." They stopped. "OK; now everyone let go, and do a one-eighty." They unclasped their hands, and turned around in place slowly. None of them needed instruction to once again take up arms, and slowly walk back the way they came.
Only sort of the way they came in, though. It was only an approximation, they didn't quite realize it until suddenly Jonesy slipped down into The Hole, and Baines and Hayes were yanked off their feet as Jonesy slid down the graveled embankment.
"Shit, Oh god, Baines, don't let go!" Jonesy was scrabbling ineffectually in the scree until Baines took control. "Jonesy! Stop it! Hold still for goddsakes! You're just making it worse!" They were all panting in the dust raised in the still air by Jonesey's exertions.
Baines took a deep breath. "OK, Hayes, stand up. Use both hands, and pull me back Jonesy climb up slowly, don't shake anymore gravel loose."
In the scheme of things, Jonesy hadn't slipped very far down the slope, but after he was on Terra Firma, Hayes picked up a handful of gravel and hurled it down into the hole. The sound of the tiny rocks hitting water at the bottom of a very deep hole scared the shit out of all of them. They had no idea if that was two inches or twenty feet of water. The entire mountainous region contained springs that had yet to have their depths plumbed or mapped.
The speed of their return to the living world of bright light far out stripped their leisurely trip in. The little flashlights they had eschewed as useless on the way in were now in full use scanning the ground in front of them. The final corner was turned, and the dim light of the entrance blinded them.
The golden, brilliant sun now seemed foreign and strange. Time had seemed to change, Baines expected their journey into night to have lasted much longer than it did, and it was disconcerting. They had been inside barely an hour, but Baines was perfectly through with the quarry forever.
The sweat was stinging his eyes, and the longer hair was hanging in bedraggled strands over his face. Baines wanted Zunoskis' sweatband. He wanted his hair boot-camp long again.
He took a brief breather and then reached out and swung from the bottom of the elevator over the chasm of the shaft. He looked down once to ascertain Jedburgs' relative position, then placed the lump of C4 over the latch, and inserted the detonator. It was easy work, if you didn't loose your nerve.
He swung back to the cable, and radioed out an update. "Shepard, I'm ready to blow the hatch." He shoved the mike into the catchall, and yelled down-shaft. "Jedburg move your ass, I'm blowing this thing!"
Baines curled into a fetal position, protecting his face and the satchel with the rest of the C4 next to his stomach, and prayed like hell that the shrapnel would be minor. The C4 detonated and the sound reverberated palpably around him.
The smoke cleared, and a coughing Baines surveyed the open hatch. A short scream, and then another long continuous scream. He turned to look back down the shaft in time to see Jedburg flailing as he fell story, after story. The dim light prevented him from watching the entire descent, but it didn't stop the screaming, only the end of the shaft did that. Baines shook his head, and climbed his way into the elevator car. Fuck, it was even hotter in here.
Frantic and tired, he felt horrible for Jedburg. The little guy had taken on a mission bigger than he was, and hadn't flinched from his fear. Baines admired him for it, but why hadn't his climbing rig held? He must have unclipped it. Shit.
Thumbing the radio, he yelled in frustration "Shepard! Jedburg must have slipped."
"Say again." The radio crackled back, the interference made Shepards' voice nearly unrecognizable. Baines leaned his head back onto the wall, and closed his eyes briefly. The heat, the exertion of the climb and the emotion of losing some one under his command, however briefly, had him panting into the mike.
"Jedburg fell, he's dead. The hatch must have hit him."
Shepard clicked back unemotionally, "where exactly are you?"
"I'm in the elevator. This gear is too heavy to hump another three hundred meters. I'm leaving it here."
Baines lurched up out of his corner haven, and dropped the knapsack with the C4 and detonators, and the rifle. Straddling the open floor hatch, he reached up and removed the upper grate, and tossed it aside.
Caution whispered his name in the back of his mind; he checked the clip in his service pistol, and then cocked it so there was a bullet in the chamber. He holstered the gun leaving the snap off, and then hauled himself through to the top of the elevator.
McShanes' team had been detached to the 3rd Ranger Battalion for Operation Just Cause, the invasion of Panama. Team Black's mission objective: to secure the military airbase, Rio Hato. The other two teams were sent to the civilian airport, and Noriega's beach house. Intelligence had reported he was in residence there. Baines couldn't help it; he was excited. He glanced over at Zunoski, thinking he'd better keep his New Age philosophy under his hat, along with his decidedly non-military haircut to avoid pissing off the Rangers. Baines was the newest member to McShanes' team; he replaced another Lieutenant that had been killed. They had trained together, but this was their first live mission as a team. Mancini got on Baines' nerves; the man had a whining act-- which the Colonel ignored. Baines was only just now starting to learn what was the real whining and what was play-acting. The three of them were a cohesive unit and Baines was the outsider, but only for the moment. He'd found the joy of belonging, and had become addicted to the feeling; he would be part of this team. He adjusted the straps on his gear again and checked the pack strapped to his chest. Baines was the ordnance officer for the team, he had requested that specialty based on his antics as a teen with his scout troop buddies.
McShane was across the aisle in the plane. Mancini next to him, Zunoski seated next to Baines facing the Colonel and Sergeant. McShane smiled on his newest protégé, Baines had come so far since he'd met him in Chicago as a confused college student. He loved his team, he had hand picked each one of them for certain qualities, and they had balance as a group. Baines was fussing again.
"Baines, the gear is set, leave it. Take a clue from Zunoski."
Baines looked up at him with that round-eyed look. "Zunoski, look at him. He's relaxed, not expending nervous energy. You, my young friend, are almost broadcasting it. You'll do fine."
"Thank you Colonel, but with all due respect, Zunoski isn't about to jump out of a perfectly good airplane with ten pounds of explosives strapped to his chest." Baines replied a little sourly.
McShane laughed, "No, he isn't is he? Take a deep breath, Baines, and relax. Everything you've ever learned is about to come together in a way that will shake you to your core."
The rest of the ride to the drop zone was made in silence, each man reviewing their briefing for the scenario that was about to play out.
The cargo plane started its descent over the Caribbean. The brilliant moon shone down on the sea, the night sky turning it black with glittering silver troughs. The doors were slid open, and the noise level went up several decibels. The wind buffeted them about as they stood up. The men filed to the door two at a time, then flew down into the dark. Somehow, Mancini managed to knock himself nearly silly before exiting the aircraft. Baines saw it happen, resolved to stay close to him, until he saw McShane grab Mancinis' hand to steady him, and hold on to it as they jumped out into the night.
Freefall was, as close as he would ever get to flying. It was an incredible rush; it made the pit of his stomach curl around itself, and his heart race with the adrenaline. He looked around him, he knew innately where his team members were, could pick them out in the flock of falling bodies. McShane held onto Mancini, and Zunoski was to his immediate left. He checked his altimeter, almost time.
He reached his target altitude, and yanked the ripcord for his chute. It deployed, and he was jerked upward then started to drift downward more slowly; but that was a deceptive feeling. He knew the tactical parachute still allowed for a high rate of descent.
Rio Hato was below them, and the anti aircraft guns were just now beginning to crump out shells. The AC-130 Spectre gunships out at sea began to return fire, their superior targeting systems reaching more of their targets than their Panamanian counterparts.
Baines reached the LZ, and managed to wrench his knee on impact. He rolled into a ball to protect his deadly cargo as he fell on landing. He wiggled the knee some as he quickly removed the parachute harness. McShane found him, as he was attempting to stand. He pulled Baines to his feet and wrapped an arm around his waist to steady him.
"You all right boy?" He was concerned; although eleven hundred of them had been airlifted in from the States, only a few certified EOD's were certified parachutists as well. They had a critical part to play, and it was his job to see that Baines met his objective.
"Yeah, just twisted the knee a little on landing. It's ah, not broken." He had his arm around McShanes' shoulder as he tested it out, and put his weight on it. "Yeah it'll be fine, let's go."
The four lost their separate identities as the airbase was secured amid smoke and din from the big guns. Baines' injury disappeared from his mind for a time, as he moved from building to building, using small amounts of C4 to blow locked doors they had no time to deal with conventionally. The airbase was secured, and The Spectres ceased firing as the guns of Rio Hato were captured and fell silent. The task had been accomplished in less then two hours, and a perimeter defense employed in the same amount of time. The transport aircraft started landing with the troops, supplies and equipment necessary to capture Noriega and subdue his mountain troops. The operation had gone smooth as silk, but the Rangers had lost five of their own.
McShane and Mancini caught up with Baines and Zunoski outside the control tower. The local Panamanian troops had started to test the defense perimeter with guns and small artillery. Teams were being detailed to go out into the jungle brush to deal with them and to comb the countryside. It meant a door-to-door search of homes and businesses. Cameras and film were issued to every single man-the condition of the homes and property were to be well documented so no claims of abuse and or damage could be leveled against any part of the American Armed Forces.
Baines pushed off the wall and further wrenched his already injured knee, then fell into Zunoski's waiting arms.
"I told him, Colonel McShane, but of course he won't listen to me."
"Baines, get to the infirmary, now. That's an Order, Lieutenant." He added as it looked like Baines was about to protest.
Baines ripped off a cocky salute, and added, "Sir, Yes Sir!" with only a tiny hint of sarcasm. He knew he was out of the game, hell, Zunoski had nearly carried him for the last hour.
"Zunoski, get him to the infirmary, and see that he gets cared for in good order."
"Begging your pardon, Colonel, but I have to make a stop and lose the munitions first."
"Can you make it there and back?" McShane looked closely at Baines; his sweat-drenched face appeared waxy, and more pale than usual. "OK, Baines. Let's go. He grabbed Baines' arm and wrapped it around his neck to provide support. He knew better than to ask him to relinquish his burden of C4, the regs were specific about to whom and how he could dispose of his lethal burden.
The wardroom where they'd been shoved to keep them out of the way was getting a little stuffy, but it had nothing to do with the air. They had been pulled back from the brink by an alarm, and now they were getting little to no information at all about what was happening, except for the canned warning the computer was broadcasting over the PA.
"Fucking civilians, I hate working with civilians-- asshole scientists are the worst." McShane went to the A/V feed, and started to yell into it. "What's this about evacuation?"
The quiet one named Jedburg replied. "Colonel McShane, you and your men can stand down, we've postponed telemetry."
He snapped off the communications panel and started to remove the uncomfortable enviro-suit. "Not happy, boys."
"I don't trust that sack of shit, Colonel." Mancini looked at the rest of the team. Baines looked at him; he knew that McShane had a low tolerance level for bullshit and had even warned Summerfield about that on their arrival at the Nexus Facility.
Zunoski replied, "For once, you're right, Mancini. I checked out Summerfield's aura, he's a sick man."
They all shared a look-each of them knew that Zunoski was weird, but rarely wrong. They were in trouble; they just didn't know how much trouble yet.
The arthroscopic surgery to repair the torn ligaments in his knee had gone well, and he waited in the VA ward for the physical therapist to make his first visit. The ward was pretty quiet; most of the vets that were mobile had gone to the lounge with their visitors. Baines was glad for the quiet, the Demerol had made him sleepy, and he was feeling pretty sorry for himself. It would be a long time, if ever, before he made another parachute drop. The days of free falling were over for him, and that meant he'd never do that HALO jump he'd been planning on doing someday.
A soft pat on his arm startled him out of the nap he'd drifted into. He opened his eyes to see McShane looking him over.
"Baines, you look like hell. Here, sit up." McShane helped him into a sitting position, and started to comb his hair.
"McShane, what's going on?"
"You got visitors, boy. You need to look lively here for minute then you can go back to La-La Land."
"Visitors?" His voice cracked and fizzled, the painkillers made it hard to control his normal speaking voice.
"Yeah, your family, and oh yeah, General Adams from PERSCOM, too."
"Yep. You awake yet?"
"Yeah, need some water."
McShane poured ice water into the little plastic cup and made sure Baines had it firm in his grip before letting go. He sipped it for a moment, then handed it back to the Colonel as he let his head drop back onto the pillows.
"They picked a helluva time to visit, don't you think?"
"You're a hard man to pin down, Baines, they had to catch while you were drugged up and incapacitated. That's the Army for you. Besides, General Adams happened to be here in the city. Quite an honor."
Baines opened his eyes, and looked at McShane. "Did you say my family was here?"
"Your mother and sisters are waiting outside."
Baines looked down and away from McShane. "But not my father."
McShane pursed his lips and shook his head, "I'm sorry, Baines."
"Probably just as well, Colonel, I would hate to have a screaming match with him in front of General Adams on such an auspicious occasion." Baines smiled at McShane. "Really it's OK, Oscar, don't worry about it."
"I always worry about it-but that's my prerogative." McShane squeezed Baines shoulder; "I'll bring them in."
Baines scrubbed his eyes with his hands, and ran them through the hair McShane had so carefully combed, wishing he'd had the foresight to get a haircut. McShane led the small troop through the ward to Baines' bedside.
The General made his speech about the gratitude of the American people, and on behalf of the president etc., as he handed Baines the small box covered in dark violet colored leather, and shook his other hand. Gretchen snapped a picture at that moment, and now Baines understood the hair combing routine, McShane had seen the camera bag. Baines held the box gingerly and looked at it, as he listened to the general.
"Go on, Lieutenant. Open it." Baines looked up at the assembly at his bedside. The General smiled, and urged him again to open it.
The Purple Heart. It shouldn't mean much, hell if you got a scratch you got one, but somehow that didn't matter at this very minute. It was something for which he had worked very hard; the symbol of gratitude bestowed upon him for his part in the taking of Rio Hato. He wiped his eyes again, and smiled a solemn, grim smile, and reached out to shake the General's hand in earnest.
"Thank you, Sir. I honestly appreciate this; it means a lot to me. Thank you."
"You deserve it, son. Now, I'll leave you to the tender mercies of your family and commanding officer. Take care, Lieutenant." Baines saluted from his bed as well as possible, and the General returned his desultory gesture, and left.
Their retreat from the creature had left them jammed in a dead end corridor, with it still in hot pursuit. Baines had shot a gas canister at it to no effect. Zunoski had been struck, as had Shepard, but Shepard must have been hit with the less force. He was alert while Zunoski was still mostly out of it. The door in front of them was jammed shut and the computer had it locked down tight
Jedburg gave them an alternative. "There's an emergency maintenance hatch next to the air shaft on four thirty. This thing assures me it can be opened manually." Baines was taking no chances; they had to keep moving and preferably away from the creature. "Come on!"
Mancini had his arm around Zunoski to help support him on the run down the corridor to the mentioned emergency hatch. Mancini started to stumble about half way, so Baines took over that duty.
The ever-helpful computer advised them that the radioactive decontamination procedure would begin in four hours.
They passed an area that had claw marks on the equipment, and Baines pointed it out. "It's been here recently."
Shepard looked at the damage, and decided which way the hatch was. "C'mon this way." They crawled into the horizontal ventilation shaft, and half dragged Zunoski. Casserly radioed back to Jedburg. "We're in the shaft."
Jedburg thought he was going to be helpful. "It's still a way off."
"Shit, it's still alive?" Mancini sounded credulous at the news.
"You're closer to the emergency door than it is. Four hundred and fifty meters in front of you." Jedburg thought that it would be helpful to give them a running commentary on the position of the creature according to the sensor points activated by it.
Baines kept them moving. "Come on!" He did not want to have another run in with that thing ever.
They arrived at their destination; Casserly gave their position to Jedburg. "We're at the hatch."
"Whatever this thing is, it's closing in, fast." Another helpful comment from the peanut gallery.
Shepard took the radio from Casserly, and inquired. "What's the access code?"
Jedburg read the code as it scrolled on the screen in front of him. Casserly had control of the radio as Shepard keyed in the number given to him. Casserly advised Jedburg forcefully "It's not accepting."
Summerfield chose this moment to break in. "Let me check it." A short pause. "The code is correct."
Mancini's attention was riveted on the space behind them. "I can hear it!"
This was a bad place to be. They were trapped with an injured man, and no room to fight back if necessary. "We should go to the corridor, we are trapped in here!" Baines tried to take charge but chaos was in full reign.
"Zunoski is slowing us down and...." Mancini started the whining crap again, and Baines wasn't going to put up with it; he told him so. "I'm in charge now!"
"Stop killing yourselves!" Baines and Mancini both looked at her with some surprise, it wasn't them-it was the creature.
Shepard hadn't given up on the hatchway though; he was still on the radio with Jedburg. "What's the prefix? I remember there being more numbers."
Jedburg had more helpful information. "This thing doesn't look like it's stopping."
In a fit of fury, desperation or brilliant inspiration, Shepard knocked the keypad panel off of the hatch and began to hot-wire the son of a bitch.
Baines thought Shepard had lost his fucking mind, and was going to lose his own right next to him. He didn't understand what Shepard hoped to accomplish, thought he'd just sabotaged their last ditch effort to escape. He lunged toward Shepard yelling at him. "We trusted you, you son of a bitch!"
In the meantime, Summerfield was working on Jedburg. "Do you think it's wise of us to help open this door?"
Jedburg pretended he didn't understand, but he keyed his mike open so Summerfield's conversation was broadcast to the team trapped in the airshaft. "What are you talking about? "
"If we're containing something, it's extremely dangerous. Don't you think it's better that we keep it safely contained?"
Baines heard the comment by Summerfield and added his own remark "Asshole."
Jedburgs' attention returned to the screen. "Something's come up on the monitor; that thing is in the airshaft with you."
Even Casserly was ready to give up on the hatch idea, and go with Baines' suggestion. "Come on, guys, take us back." Baines was taking no chances he started to hustle Mancini and Zunoski back in other direction, but Shepard continued to fixate on the hatch wiring.
Baines yelled at him "What are you waiting for?" Suddenly the hatch opened with a pop, and Baines crowed as if the victory was his own. "YES!" Mancini pushed it up and open and then crawled through, pulling up people as fast as Baines shoved them up. "GO, GO, GO!" Baines was last; he hauled his legs up, and slammed the hatch back down, praying that it automatically locked on closing.
The creature was right there. It started to strike the hatch repeatedly, denting it more and more.
No one bothered to stick around and see what happened. They were moving down the horizontal ventilation shaft, turning right and left until they finally dead-ended at a chute. It was a fourty five-degree angle, and it was a blind end. Baines looked down with some dismay. "Shit."
Casserly didn't care; she was going to keep moving. "Lower me down! Come on, we've only got three hours!" Baines picked her up and shoved her down the slide, and yelled as she slid down the chute. "What's down there? I can't see!"
The chute had ended on a short corridor that opened onto one of the vertical air-shafts that ran the entire height of the facility. They started to climb out onto the ladder and down toward the fan blades slowly rotating below them.
It was August, and it was hot. Cy and Carrie had just spent morning at the community swim club. They had a swim meet in a few weeks, and the coach was riding them hard with twice daily practices. The afternoon was theirs, until four PM anyway, when they would ride their bikes back to the pool.
The road that passed in front of the house now had a bridge that spanned the newly built freeway seventy five meters below. It was the most interesting thing that had happened since they had moved here, and Cy loved poking around the equipment and machinery. Carrie went him on these expeditions. She and Cy were of an age, and they were inseparable. Carrie was an only child living with her father and she loved Cy's mom; Rosalind always had room for one more at the Baines house. They would walk for hours up and down the road, it was nearly complete so they could imagine it was an air strip, rocket launch pad, the last road left after the destruction of humanity, anything. It was theirs to decide.
The bridge, though, that was the best part. It had fascinated him endlessly during its construction. It was still closed to traffic until the intersection was completed, and was the perfect place to ride their bikes. The twins had the training wheels taken off their first bicycles and the four of them would have bicycle circuses on the closed roadway.
Today it was too hot. The ice cream man had come by, and he and Carrie had each gotten the red white and blue bomb-pops. It turned their mouths a horrible color when they were done, but it was the favorite this year. They laid in the shade created by the bridge to eat their treats, imaging they were homeless waifs who had just been given the equivalent of Thanksgiving and Christmas together in the blessing of the icy treats.
Carrie was still giving Cy a hard time about his summer vacation. "Cyril Baines, I can't believe that on the Centennial of these United States of America, your family went to Canada for vacation!
Cy was monumentally embarrassed by the fiasco. His father had a conference to attend in Montreal, and he was going to be gone for three weeks in July. His mother had made the arrangements to go on the long weekend, and it just didn't click that this *might* be a great weekend to stay in the States. So, as a matter of course, his young life had been totally ruined by the whim of an adult. He didn't blame his mother, how could he? No, Dad was the one to take the brunt of this-if he hadn't gone to the millionth conference this year, they would never have had to make the choice, right?
The treats were done, and restlessly Cy got to his feet. "Let's go, walk around some, Carrie." She licked the last of the ice off the wooden stick, and stuck out her purple tongue at Cy. He gave her a narrow eyed look, until he realized she was teasing him, and that would have to be answered for. He leaned over and started to tickle her, but he suddenly realized he wanted to kiss her instead. Cy gave her a quick kiss on the mouth, then jumped up and raced to the top of the bridge, before she could retaliate.
"Cyril, what makes you think you'll get away with that?"
"Because, Carrie, you won't follow me up here." He had climbed up onto the flat surface where the decorative railing would be attached.
"Cy, get down! I was just kidding. Really"
"No. I'm not coming down 'til I get to the other side. It's easy Carrie, you could do this." Cyril started to walk across the bridge, concentrating on one foot in front of the other. It was only scary for some one to watch, he thought. It's nearly eighteen inches wide. Not like I was on a tight rope, or anything.
"Thanks, but no. I'm not watching this. This does not impress me. Please, Cy get down."
He got about half way across the length of the bridge before he took pity on Carrie. He turned easily and jumped down next to her. She had walked next to him the whole way, in awe of his fearless attack on the heights. She shook her head as he landed next to her.
"Nuts, Cy. You are nuts."
He took a fake bow, "Thank you! I try harder." Carrie laughed nervously at his weak joke.
"I swear, I'll kill you if you do that to me again."
"I'm sorry Carrie, really. It's not that bad."
Baines and Zunoski entered the back of the control room where Summerfield and Jedburg were sorting through some equipment. Zunoski stood by the door, near Jedburg, ready to hold him back if he should interfere with Baines' intended course of action.
Baines strode across the room, "Summerfield, I got something for you." Anger and grief fueled the right cross to the jaw; he'd just watched Mancini get sliced and then go out in a blaze with that thing. This asshole wanted to keep them locked in there with it? Summerfield fell from the blow and Baines pounced on him, grabbing his shirt and shaking him against the concrete floor, ready to strike him again at the slightest provocation. "Not 'wise to open the door'? I lost two friends in there!"
Zunoski was afraid that Baines might actually kill Summerfield, and McShane wasn't there to protect Baines from his temper any more. "Baines, that's enough." He said it quietly, but firmly.
Summerfield was shaking with fury that this punk-ass soldier dared to lay hands on him, Dr. Alex Summerfield. "Jedburg, put this man under arrest!" He bellowed, as Baines backed off slightly at Zunoskis' request. "You animal!"
The radio crackled to life, and Shepard called out. "Baines. Baines? I need you to put out a perimeter." Shepard obviously didn't think they were through with this *thing*, despite seeing it fall down the ventilation shaft in flames.
Baines didn't take his eyes off Summerfield as he replied. "Can do, I just stopped here to give my last 'respects' to the doctor."
Summerfields' retort was nasty. "Its General Shepard now, eh Baines? Haven't you vanquished the beast?"
"Maybe you should hold your sarcasm for later, 'Doctor', I'll be back."
The computer issued another warning: "Radioactive flush in three hours and counting. Thank you for your observance."
Baines backed away from Summerfield until he was out of arms reach then turned to leave the room. Zunoski covered him until he was out the door; then spoke a warning to Jedburg before following Baines. "Time to take sides, man."
"So, Cy, was it exciting, how's your knee, how do you feel?" The twins descended on him, and he hugged them both.
"Fine, fine, I feel *great*. I'm drugged to the eyeballs after surgery, and the commander of PERSCOM gives me the Purple Heart, how do you think I feel?"
McShane took his leave from Baines' visit with his family. "I'll leave you to it, Baines. We'll come and check on you this evening. Congratulations, Lieutenant. Mrs. Baines." He gave Mrs. Baines slight bow and left.
"Your father wanted to come, but he couldn't get away."
Baines gave his mother a steady look. "Sure, Mom. I suppose it would take a posthumous Medal of Honor to drag him to *my* graveside."
Rosalind Baines looked in horror at her oldest. "Cyril Baines, don't even joke about something like that! Your father loves you, he just has a hard time showing it."
"Mom, please. Don't cover up for him, I've known since I was fourteen what his opinion of me is."
"He's just disappointed, and…"
"Mother, disappointed is for when the grocery store is out of your favorite beer. Call it what it is."
"I'm sorry, Cy. I love you."
"I love you too, Mom."
Baines knelt down to test the trip line attached to the detonator. He stood up and looked down at his gear. "I was out of line back there, Zunoski."
Zunoski was prepared for Baines' usual shamefaced reaction to losing his temper. "Don't worry about it, Baines."
"This is going to do it." Baines sounded certain about his wire traps across key doorways.
"Dream on." Zunoski wasn't so sure this was going to stop it, if it was out there still.
"No, I know that if I can get close enough to it with enough C4, I can blow this thing to shit, Zunoski." Baines claimed insistently.
"Yeah, but who'd want to get that close?" Zunoski knew it was a rhetorical question, he knew Baines had a taste for getting himself into and out of dangerous situations.
Baines checked the detonator again, ever the professional. He took a deep breath, and changed the subject quietly. "Did you tell Summerfield where we were putting the explosives?"
Zunoski looked at Baines, not quite comprehending where he was going with this. "Yeah."
Baines gave Zunoski a straight look with no mirth in his eyes at all. "Too bad."
Cyril knew there was something very, very wrong. His mom had been crying when he got home from school, and she had continued to weep on and off all evening until it was time for bed. "But Daddy's not home yet, Mom. Can't I stay up?'
She sat on the bed to kiss him good night. "No, sweetheart, please just do as I ask, don't give me any trouble tonight, OK?"
Cy patted the rounded curve of his mothers' belly, and he suddenly started adding things up in his facile mind. "Is it OK, Mom? The baby, I mean." Rosalind had always told Cyril the truth, and this was the hardest truth he would hear for a long time to come. The tears started to run down her face, and she leaned over as best she could to hug him. Cyril wrapped his arms around her neck, and pushed his face into her long dark curls. "No, it's not OK, Cy. The baby got sick too."
He asked in a tiny voice, "got sick inside of you?"
"Yes, sweetheart, the baby got sick."
"How did it get sick?"
"It might be the same thing you had a few weeks ago."
"The doctor thinks it might be the measles."
Cyril snuggled under the covers. "I got better, the baby will get better." It was the only empirical evidence he had. One got sick, then got better, and it meant staying home and having your mother fuss over you.
Rosalind looked down at him, and said nothing but kissed him on the forehead. She turned the lamp off and left his room.
Cyril stayed awake until he heard his father come home late. He crawled out of his room, like they did on 'Rat Patrol' and down the hall he went where he could over hear the conversation.
"They can't hear a heart beat, Wendell. They want to run some more tests tomorrow, but the doctor thinks the baby might already be dead."
Cyril knew what dead was. Mice had invaded the pantry, and his dad had set traps out for them. One morning he found a broken tiny body in the trap, the bait uneaten. He was furious with his dad for setting the trap. He took the cigar box his uncle had given him and dumped out all the treasures stored forthwith. The tiny corpse was reverently laid to rest with a scrap of velvet from his mothers sewing box. He'd dug a hole behind the garden and placed the box in it and covered it up.
Something was missing. He thought back to the episodes of 'The Big Valley', and 'Bonanza' and realized he needed to have a speech.
He went to his room and spent hours with a Big Chief tablet and pencil, crafting the words he would speak. The eulogy done, he had then gathered a few of the neighbor kids, and with utter solemnity, held the Funeral for a Mouse.
Cyril crawled back into his bed, and cried. He didn't want to have a funeral, how would they get the baby out to bury it? He was horribly afraid it meant his mother would have to be buried too.
Baines checked the clip, cocked the pistol, and jammed it in its holster. Snowball's chance in hell that it would help, but it made him feel better. He pulled himself up, and swung up to the top of the elevator. He looked up, only 300 more meters to go. A tiny breeze was more evident on this side of the car, as he pulled himself up the cable.
He passed a horizontal airshaft and climbed a bit further. Suddenly the creature peered into the elevator shaft, it had clawed open the doors on that level.
It was close, and Baines was shaking with fear. It was between him and the elevator car; it was too far up to the next level of elevator doors. He suddenly knew why Jedburg had fallen. This thing knew what they were doing, and was purposely stalking them to prevent them from reaching the surface and the outside world.
Baines pulled out his pistol, leveled it off and fired a few shots directly at the single eye in its forehead. It pulled back just a moment, enough to give Baines a chance to pull the mike out and yell into it.
"Shepard! Shepard!" Baines fumbled the radio in his fear and haste to reach someone -- any one, right now. It fell and landed on the top of the elevator car, Shepard yelled back.
"Baines, can you hear me?"
The creature was very annoyed with Baines. It took a swipe at him with its long arm, and snagged Baines by the leg. The force of the blow yanked him off the cable and down onto the top of the elevator car. Fuck, it was the same goddammed knee. He scrambled, really a contained fall, back into the interior of the car-he had left the high caliber rifle down there. He pulled his leg around, aimed the gun up through the hatch, and fired at the creature.
It must not have been expecting that, it fell from its perch on the elevator door, or maybe it was infuriated and jumped. It landed on the top of the elevator car. The mass and velocity of the creature was too much for the abused cable; it snapped suddenly. The car lurched once then began freefall down the shaft.
The creature on top of the car looked down into the hatch at Baines. His mind was completely blank. They said your life flashed before your eyes when you died; maybe his time wasn't up yet.
Fuck yeah, Baines. You're in freefall in an elevator car and that thing is six feet away from you. You are fucking toast. Jesus. If the fall doesn't get you, the sudden stop at the end will. He didn't even bother to laugh at his own macabre joke.
He crawled round to watch his eventual fate rush up to meet him, but it was too dim. He looked up at the creature again, and realized he still had nearly two pounds of C4 and three detonators left. He carefully reached over and armed the detonator for impact, and then went back to looking out the bottom hatch. He was going to go, there was nothing he could do about it, but he could sure as hell take that thing with him this time for sure. He took out his pistol, and checked the chamber. He had two left. He might not make it to the bottom.
Zunoski was finally released from the VA in Houston. They had spent half a year reconstructing his bowels out of bits and pieces. He was as whole as he would ever be again, physically or emotionally. He was completely at a loss, since the injury gave him an honorable discharge. He may have had an interest in the matters of higher spirituality, but he now realized how empty his life was without Baines, Mancini and McShane.
The Purple Heart was small comfort. He had drifted into the army, and only McShane had kept him there. Leon Zunoski had been young and had no plans for the future that had suddenly descended on him.
He caught a cab to Arlington. He knew the quadrant, row, and marker numbers he was looking for by memory. He walked slowly through the straight rows of white headstones, each a reminder of a life cut short by a duty to the service of his country. Some were famous, most were not, and only their bereft families remembered well the faces and names of those who were laid to rest here. Many were only a name on slab; the heroic deeds performed now lost in the misty depths of history.
Standing in front of the newly erected tombstone, Zunoski vowed his friend would stay in his heart and memory as long as he lived.
Lt. Cyril Baines
March 15, 1964 - February 15, 1991
"His toils are past his work is done,
He fought the fight, the victory won."
Fandom: XtroII "The Second Encounter"
Category/Rated: Slash, M
Year/Length: 2000/ ~13,021 words
Pairing: Baines/OMC, Baines/Zunoski
Spoilers: Yep, the whole thing. It might even make more sense than the movie did, but I suspect not.
Disclaimer: This one's mine, I breathed a whole life into the child. New Line Cinema, Inc. and North American Pictures didn't even bother to give him a first name. They can have Shepard and Casserly back, though.
Warning: Uhm, well underage sex, only slightly more than implied, but it's integral to the plot(?). And it's only one tiny part-- you can skip over it you need to. You'll see it coming.
Summary: The Life and Times of Lt. 'Cyril' Baines
Author's Notes: My deepest thanks to Staff Sergeant Martinez and Jimbo, who provided me with invaluable assistance (even if unwittingly). this was my first NLC story and the first of any that was released into the wild.
Beta: Many, many hugs and kisses to Sue and Ursula, who beta'd and provided warm encouragement.