“Belinda, won’t you come in?” President Crittenden closed a folder on the top of his desk and slid it to the side. The desk had a polished metal base with a thick wooden top that had been polished so many times it seemed shinier than the metal supporting it. Belinda walked in and took a seat in a chair nicer than the one Hadley was sitting in down on the first floor. Crittenden waved to eighteen and twelve who were still standing in the open door. “Thank you, Dante. Thank you, Jyff. That will be all. I don’t believe Belinda will be a problem here.”
The door shut behind Belinda and Crittenden got up from behind his desk. He was a bear of a man. Pushing seven feet tall, he had long black hair tied in a pony tail that laid down his back. He also had a beard, similar to the one eighteen, Dante, wore, but it was solid black and only just long enough to cover his neck. He was wearing a pre-Ascension style button down shirt that was unbuttoned to reveal a plain grey t-shirt beneath it. Once he’d made his way out from behind the desk, Belinda also noticed that he was wearing a pair of pants that were ripped off just below the knees. He also had a very chubby looking face, but the rest of his body was that of an average size man. Except for his height, that is.
“Can I get you a drink?” he asked, opening a panel in the wall to reveal a hidden fridge.
“Wow. Same old Spenser,” Belinda laughed, shaking her head. “Sure, I’ll take a soda. How in the name of all things holy did you ever get yourself elected President anyway? I never got a chance to ask.”
“Honestly, I don’t know. People just seem to love me.”
“That’s the way it was back on Hailey too,” Belinda said, taking the bottle of soda Spenser offered her and thanking him. He sank into the seat next to her instead of going back around his insanely ostentatious desk. “So, were you really going to send someone to ‘bring me in’ like Hadley said?”
“Is that what she told you? I’ve always hated that bitch, but she’s never done anything that would justify me firing her.”
“That’s the good old Spenser I remember. Always the politician without even trying. What are you doing here?” Belinda held her arms out to encompass everything in the room with her gesture. “This crap isn’t you.”
“I know, but my being President makes my parents really proud, and I figured I could do some good while I’ve got this power. Notice no one has shut down your delivery business.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Belinda asked, setting her drink down on a small table between their two chairs.
“If my predecessor had still been in office, you would have been shut down the second he learned about your company competing with a branch of the official government. If there was anything he couldn’t stand, it was someone doing things better than the government.”
“And that doesn’t bother you?”
“Of course not.” Spenser took a sip of his soda. “I want to run a government where the work is done by the people who are best at it. Whether it makes us money or not. By the way, how are your parents doing? I haven’t heard anything about Ryker and Evalee in a long time.”
Belinda took a long drink of her soda, trying to compose what she was going to say in her head. She hadn’t seen or hear from her parents in close to a year now, and it couldn’t have made her happier, but she knew Spenser had always tried to help them out as much as he could.
“Honestly, I’m not sure. Last I heard they were living somewhere over by Aberdeen, way up north.”
Spenser nodded, his lips pressed hard against each other like he always did when he was thinking. “You know…” he began, but Belinda cut him off.
“No. Just no. I don’t want to hear it right now.”
“But I just think…”
“They’re your parents…”
“If you tried to…”
“Enough,” Belinda yelled as she slapped her hand on the table between them. “I do not want to hear anything about how I need to try with my parents. Are you forgetting that they’re the ones who abandoned me, not the other way around? I was only eight years old. If it wasn’t for Ky’s parents, I would have died within a month. When you say the word ‘parents’ to me, I think of them, not those two degenerates who donated their DNA to make me.”
Spenser shifted uncomfortably in his seat and cleared his throat. “So, about Gautier.”
“What about it?” Belinda crossed her arms over her chest and slouched back farther into her chair.
“We need to know what you saw there.”
Belinda told him all about the remaining support structure and how it looked like Gautier had been ripped from the top of it as if by an enormous child twisting the piece off the top of a toy.
“So all you saw was the normal supports but with no island? Nothing looked out of place?”
Belinda thought for a moment, twisting the bottle cap from her drink between her fingers as she did so.
“No,” she shook her head. “It looked entirely normal, except for missing its island.”
Spenser nodded before pushing himself from his chair and circling around to the other side of his desk. He pulled open a large drawer and rummaged through it for a second before pulling out something that had been wrapped in a towel. He came back and sat in his chair, placing the object on the table next to their drinks. Belinda looked up at him. Spenser nodded toward the object, signaling that it was okay to remove the towel.
When Belinda did, she saw a metal box about the size of a hardcover book. It had a switch on its face with a green unlit bulb. Picking it up and turning it over, Belinda noticed that it was very light, as if it was empty. There was a spot on the back that was covered in a thin plastic. Under this, she could see some sort of gooey substance. There was also a panel along one edge of the box that had obviously been removed and replaced recently.
“What is this?” she asked, setting it back down on the table.
“We aren’t entirely sure. Our best scientists say that many things like this are what happened to Gautier.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“Belinda, this is a bomb.” Belinda immediately leapt from her chair and started to back away slowly.
“Are you serious? You just handed me a bomb? What if it went off while I was holding it?”
“No, it’s okay.” Spenser waved for her to come back over to her seat. “Our engineers have removed the actual explosive materials from inside it. It’s completely safe now.”
“But who made it? And why would they want to destroy Gautier?”
“That’s what we’re working on figuring out. And we hope that you’ll agree to help us with that.”
Belinda finally made it back to her chair and dropped into it, chugging down the rest of her soda. “Who exactly is this ‘we’ that wants me to help?”
Spenser’s face split into a smile. “Alright, fine. It’s just me. I want you to help us figure out what happened to Gautier.”
“But why me? Don’t you have almost limitless government funding?”
“Sure, but I don’t think a bunch of pencil pushers are really the people we need working on this. Ever since the toxic clouds first showed up on earth, people were so focused on working together just to live to tomorrow that all militaries were dissolved.”
“I know all this. We went to the same school, even if you did graduate almost a decade before I did.”
“Then you know how truly helpless all of us really are. There hasn’t been a need for a formal military, or really anything more forceful than our peace keeping officers who carry nothing more than a club for the most extreme situation they may encounter. It was really only a matter of time until someone did something that would require more than a few kind words to dissolve.” He got up and made his way over to the wall and opened the hidden fridge. This time Spenser reached farther into it, and Belinda could hear glass clinking together. He pulled two brown bottles out and placed them on the table near the bomb, tossing the empty plastic soda bottles behind his desk.
“But now we have an actual problem.” He twisted the cap of both bottles and handed on to Belinda. “We have someone who, for whatever reason, has attacked, destroyed, and killed an entire island. And what really makes me scared is that we have no idea who has done this, or what their reasons are.”
Belinda nodded. “Alright, I’ll help. But I need to be able to talk these things over with Kyden. You know he’s the one who can figure these things out if anyone can.”
“Good. I was going to suggest that anyway. Any chance of him coming here to meet with my scientists and engineers?”
Belinda shook her head.
“Still from the windmill accident?’
“Alright, then you should probably take that with you.” Spenser pointed at the empty bomb casing. “I want someone like Ky to look at it without knowing what it is at first to see what he comes up with.”
“Makes sense to me,” Belinda said, shrugging her shoulders and sliding the device into her bag to take the place where Hadley’s package had previously been. “But I do want something in return for helping you out with this.”
“So long as it’s within reason.”
“I want full government cooperation and permission to install our own zipper lines between the islands.”
Spenser thought for a moment and nodded before he said, “Permission, yes. Cooperation, no. I can’t spare the people it would take to help install them. Also, I have my own stipulation. Permanent lines can only be installed next to the existing basket lines. If you want to have your own ropes wherever you want, you need to continue using the launchers like you have been.”
Now it was Belinda’s turn to think for a moment. She took another sip of her beer, feeling the condensation from the cold bottle run between her fingers. “Sounds good to me,” she said. “I just hope you’re not holding back any information about these things.”
“Belinda,” Spenser said, leaning forward in his chair. “You need to know that when I ask someone to help me, it’s only because I trust them to have all of the information. I don’t believe in keeping people in the dark. Especially when it’s concerning a matter this important.”
“Good. I just wanted to make sure I had all the facts. I should probably get this back to Ky so he can start taking a look at it.”
“By all means,” Spenser said, standing from his chair and leading Belinda to the door of his office. “And please, keep me in the loop with anything Ky figures out.”
Belinda nodded and left the office. She made her way back downstairs and started on the trip to Hailey. When she got back outside, the wind had picked up, and there were far fewer people outside than there had been when Belinda arrived at Fairchance. The sky was beginning to darken, so Belinda fast jogged to the basket system and hooked on. She flew down the lines, going much too fast for the weather in an attempt to get home before the storm really began.
The first drops of rain fell from the sky to splatter on the island decks when Belinda landed on Gattman. With only Varnell between her and Hailey, Belinda decided it was worth the risk to make it home. The sky was now full of dark grey clouds roiling angrily above her like a boiling pot on a stove. As she jogged across Gattman, Belinda saw that she was the only person out of doors. The basket system’s locks had engaged, stopping the movement of the ropes ferrying the baskets between the islands.
Belinda decided to try the launcher from Gattman to Varnell because it was closer than going all the way to the next basket system. She aimed the launcher to where she knew the target post on Varnell was and launched the rope. It whizzed out of the tube, but the wind grabbed the heavy metal head immediately and whipped it to the side, way off course. Belinda waited for the rope to reach its end before yanking on it to engage the winch and heading off to the basket system, arm up to shade her face from the wind as much as possible.
Belinda clipped in and set off with the speed switch set to five. The rain was starting to fall near sideways from the force of the wind, and it stung any exposed skin. She flew through the air and yanked the goggles from her face, letting them drop to dangle against her chest. The lenses were getting coated in rain water, which made it impossible to see through them. She squinted into the distance and saw the shape of the basket ahead of her start to take shape. Belinda slid her speed down to one and let go of the handle with her left hand, instead holding that arm out to the side with her trench coat, trying to catch some wind and slow her down.
Belinda dropped into the basket and ducked down to get out of the path of the rain. Her entire body was completely soaked through. There wasn’t an inch dry. Thankfully her bag had been sewn with a waterproof lining inside the fabric. Knowing she had gone far enough down the line before reaching the basket that she wouldn’t have to deal with another, she popped up and leapt onto the rope, the selector already pushed firmly against the five.
Belinda rocketed off into space, not able to see anything but grey clouds above her, greenish-grey clouds beneath, and rain all around.
A fork of lightning split the sky, the crack and rumble of thunder echoed around her, but the brief moment of light let her see that she was fast approaching Varnell. She waited another few seconds before pressing the button on her handle to kill the motor inside the zipper. Coasting the rest of the way, Belinda dropped onto the island’s deck and her feet immediately shot out from under her, her shoes unable to gain any purchase on the rain slicked surface.
She landed flat on her back, her head striking the edge of the island, and she felt the zipper’s handle slip in her hand, but she managed to hang on to it.
Belinda got back to her feet and trudged across Varnell, completely resigned to being soaked and just trying to keep the rain from getting into her eyes. She got onto the rope over to Hailey and sped across, Halfway across, the zipper hit something and stopped dead where it was. The only reason Belinda was able to hold on to the handles was because she had reduced her speed to two because of the gusts of wind that were hammering her body, pushing her forward.
Looking around, she could see no reason to explain why she had stopped moving. Looking up, Belinda saw the metal block that mounted the baskets to the rope with a few short strands of rope fiber sprouting from it. The basket was nowhere to be seen.
That also meant that Belinda had nothing to stand no while transferring the zipper to the other side of the block.
Without hesitation, Belinda pulled herself up and grabbed the rope above her with her right hand. She popped the zipper open and, while dangling from the rope, snapped it back on the other side of the mounting block before setting off again. Her arms were now on fire from both the exertion of the transfer and battling the extra force of the gusting wind. She managed to flop onto the deck at Hailey only to hear her name being cried through the howling wind.
Looking up from where she was lying in a puddle on her stomach, Belinda saw a shape materialize through the sheets of rain. As they got closer, the person kept calling her name. She tried to yell back, but she was so out of breath from the trips on the zipper that she couldn’t inhale deeply enough for a yell. The person must have seen her lying there, because they suddenly ran over to her. As they dropped to their knees, she realized that it was Faxon looming over her.
“Fucking hell, Bell. Are you okay? We’ve been looking all over for you for almost an hour when news came in about the approaching weather.”
She just nodded her head, trying to take as deep of breaths as she could. Faxon helped pull her to her feet before leading her off to her house. He never liked taking her to his place because Belinda had gotten into a fight with his younger sister years ago that caused his sister to need stitches and a cast for her broken leg.
A particularly vicious gust of wind hurled both Faxon and Belinda to the ground. Faxon struggled back to his feet and half lifted, half carried Belinda behind him.
“Come on,” he yelled over the wind at the top of his lungs, but Belinda could barely hear him over the roar. “We have to get inside now.” Belinda felt another pair of hands grab her right side and lift her up to her feet. Looking over, she saw Elisha standing next to her, smile on her face mostly covered by her long black hair which was plastered to her face from a combination of the wind and rain. The trio set off faster, jogging at an angle into the wind to keep it from pushing it off track, not dissimilar to the way small boats turn into the wake of a larger ship.
When Belinda looked up again, a particularly thick strand of Elisha’s hair whipped across her eyes. She peeled the strands away and saw Kyden standing in the open door to their home, outlined by the light behind him and the only source of any color other than grey that Belinda could see. His lab coat whipped around his ankles.
Kyden stepped out into the rain for a moment to make room as the three of them dove through the door, landing in a heap on the floor just inside. Kyden stepped over them and pulled the door against the wind only to slam it shut, finally sealing them all from the brutal weather outside.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Kyden nearly shrieked at the mass of bodies sprawled on the floor at his feet. “You could have been killed out there.”
Belinda rolled over at his feet so she was looking right up at him. “The new zipper works great.” Kyden groaned and kicked her lightly on the shoulder before helping Belinda to her feet. “But, we seriously need to get some sort of safety harness onto these things.”
“New zipper?” Elisha asked, climbing to her feet unaided.
“Yeah, it’s awesome,” Belinda laughed, peeling off the trench coat. “Don’t have to wait before you can kick on a little speed.”
Faxon threw his hands up in the air while still on his knees, having stopped getting up and said, “Great. That’s just what she needs, something else to make things just a little more dangerous.”
“It’s a bit more than ‘a little,’” Kyden said, backing out of Faxon’s arm reach.
“Is there any way to get Rook and Lana over here?” Belinda asked. Faxon and Kyden both looked at her. Faxon having gotten to his feet, he was in the process of making his way over to Kyden, hands raised in a menacing and strangling manner.
“Were you paying attention to anything out there?” Faxon barked. “There’s no way they’re coming over here in that.”
Just then, there was a pounding on the front door. Belinda nudged it open just enough for the wind to grab it and slam it against the wall outside the house. Iliana stepped inside while Rook wrestled with the door to get it closed again.
“Who’s up for story time?” Belinda asked, patting the lump in her bag against her hip.
The man looked at the footage on his security monitor near the front door before dropping his bag to the floor with a loud clunk and snapping off the power to the monitor and camera. There was no doubt that the storm would be the most ideal cover for his nocturnal activities that he could ever hope for, but there would be no point to what he was trying to accomplish if he were to die in the process.
The man sat on his couch and opened a thick hardback book with a black leather cover that was covered in numerous flowing and swirling red shapes. The edge of the pages had at one time been coated in a miniscule layer of gold leaf. He opened the book to the page marked by the golden ribbon which had been sewn into the top of the book to serve as a permanent bookmark. He continued reading from where he had left off, a story of a invites all of the local nobles to stay in his castle while a particularly virulent plague ravages the city around them.
A door behind the man opened and his assistant entered the room. He was wearing a black outfit with a drab green body harness on. The man had only created one set of the magnetic climbing gloves, so his assistant was forced to use a rope to climb from the islands down to their support structures and back again.
“We’re not doing it tonight?” the assistant asked.
The man closed the book over his finger to mark his place before answering. “No, Breton. We are not. The weather is much too vicious for the kind of precision work we must complete.”
“But then what’s going to happen to the plan?” Breton asked, sitting on a stool in the corner of the room.
“My plan can afford a single night’s delay. As of yet, we are not on a schedule. That will come later. For tonight, just try and get some rest, for we will be assembling more devices tomorrow after converting those we have left alone.”
Breton nodded and rose from his stool be stopped halfway across the room. “Would tonight be a good time, then, to teach me about the explosive composition of the devices?”
Opening his book again, the man said,” Not tonight, Breton. Perhaps in another day or two. I must get enough materials to make another batch in order to instruct you.” Breton nodded and walked into a small room, really nothing more than a large closet, and laid down in bed.
COME BACK JUNE 13th AT NOON FOR CHAPTER 5!