Issue #63 – Storm Cage
The armed group had stormed the dining room with surprising efficiency, easily applying surprise and obviously superior force of arms to subdue the three security personnel there. Ian counted six stationed at intervals along the walls, including two on the doors to the kitchen and out to the concourse respectively. Three more circulated between the tables, each keeping an eye on their comrades in case some passenger got brave.
It was already clear that they weren’t the disorganized and desperate type the Descendants usually dealt with in hostage takers in Mayfield. He wondered if they had military training and on that note, he noticed that among those not in the dining room were all of the people from the Pentagon. Were they targets or just seen as a threat?
Several people had been caught out in the halls or at their stations in the labs and observation areas, or in their rooms and were slowly being moved to the dining room so they could be watched. Alexis wasn’t among them.
He prayed that was a good sign.
Josh had asked and gotten permission to see to the civilians, making sure their needs were attended to and talking with people to calm them down. For the most part, he was doing a good job, and the people whose panic made Ian fear they would get themselves shot had at least calmed below the point of hysterics.
Forty-five minutes into the siege, the doors to the concourse opened and two men entered. One was a hulk with long, blonde hair and a lantern jaw,. In addition to a sub-machine gun, he had a pistol in a shoulder holster, a knife on his belt, and a telltale bulge of another pistol under his pant leg near the ankle. The other was a man in his thirties, balding and very thin. He was armed only with a machine gun and that looked too heavy for him.
The blond waited for the guards on the door to close the doors behind him before speaking. “As you’ve already been told, you’ve been recruited to the cause of Mother Earth; whether you like it or not. No, if you follow instructions and keep quiet, you’ll all survive this.”
He reached into his shirt pocket and slipped on a pair of glasses with opaque lenses, adjusting a control on the side for a moment before scanning the crowd, apparently with some sort of face recognition software. “At the moment, we’re just looking for someone who knows how to work the ship—ah!” He pointed to Professor Kluge and one of the terrorists among the tables, a woman around Ian’s age with dark hair tied back in a long tail, started toward him.
To this, Kluge gave a sharp laugh that startled Ian with its sheer volume. “What is this? You honestly believe that I will give up the mysteries of the Storm Cage to inferior minds such as yourselves? Preposterous! With your guns und threats, you have already proven yourself infants before the brilliance necessary to operate this grand device!”
“Nikklas,” Professor Demetrius tried to calm his friend. “Perhaps it would be more prudent not to antagonize people who are heavily armed.”
Kluge huffed. “I do not care what toys they’ve paid money for in an attempt to compensate for their lack of wit und ability. The Storm Cage is my creation und whatever foolishness they intend for it would be a waste of its vast potential.”
The woman reached them and trained her weapon on the old man. “Up.” she instructed.
“I will do no such thing.” Kluge folded his arms. Then, evidently deciding that wasn’t dismissive enough, took a sip of the coffee he’d ordered with breakfast.
Again, she gestured with the gun. Ian began shunting air away from the ammunition just in case things came to a head. “I said move!”
The blond giant made his way over now, delivering a stern glare at Kluge and everyone at his table. “Is there a problem here, Karen?”
Kluge cut her off. “The problem is that there are intellectual zwergen aboard my vessel whom I would like to see removed.” He gave the man a solid, defiant look before taking another sip of coffee.
“Do you have any idea where we’re capable of?” demanded Karen. “Lucas, why don’t we just kill him right here?”
The old man’s mouth pressed into a thin lipped smile. “Because you have already indicated that you and yours are too hopelessly stupid to operate the machine. You need me.”
The blond, Lucas, suddenly snatched the pistol out of its holster and pointed it at the next table, aiming directly at an immaculately dressed woman with long, brown hair. “That’s true. But we don’t need everyone else!”
“Whoa!” Ian started to stand, instantly earning the attention and aimed weapons of both Lucas and Karen. He held his hands up. “”Let’s not do something we’ll regret. Everyone’s calm right now, but you kill someone in cold blood, there’s going to be panic, chaos and you’ll have a whole new slate of problems without getting any closer to your goal.”
“Who are you?” Lucas asked, not moving his pistol from where it was poised to put a hole through Ian’s heart.
Ian didn’t bat an eye. “One of the Prof’s students. He taught me everything there is to know about meteorology.”
“Then maybe we can use you instead.” Karen grabbed his collar. It was a firm grip, but she was a woman of small frame and Ian wondered why she thought that would be more intimidating than the gun.
Demetrius started to protest, but Kluge spoke first.
“He knows nothing.” He gave Ian a hard look. “He can hardly even call himself my student.”
Heedless of the weapons, he pushed back from the table. “You have made your point, and brought to mind an important question: if science is the means to uplift humanity; is it just to sacrifice human life in service to it?”
“Just get moving.” Lucas said sharply, gesturing with his gun before nodding to Karen, “Take the student too. Just in case the Professor needs further motivation.”
From several tables away, just look on with disbelief. “Wait! He’s not—”
“It’s alright, Josh.” Ian cut him off. “The people down here need you to take care of things.” The two men nodded to one another before Ian and Kluge were marched out.
The elevator doors let out an anemic ding before trundling open. The deck was originally slated to be a mall and hadn’t been finished before the airship it was on was integrated into the Storm Cage. Its future now was uncertain, and for the time being, it was left as a skeleton; ceramic and aluminum frames, partially covered with drywall and tile with plastic tarps fluttering in the air conditioning.
Weapons at their sides, two Front members stepped out of the elevator and started a slow stroll up the concourse.
One of them, a thin man with long, dirty blonde hair, hefted his machine gun into a ready position. “We’ve got to be careful down here. The motion detectors aren’t active, so we don’t know who might be around or how many.”
His partner, a more athletic young man with close cut black hair and a days’ worth of beard growth on his face, kept his own weapon down in a relaxed posture. “There’s only the two unaccounted for on the passenger manifest. A teacher and a reporter. How much of a problem can they be? They can’t even call for help.”
“Mertama wants to make sure all the lose ends are tied up.” said the first.
“Yeah, well Mertama isn’t the boss. Vargas is. Let’s just do a quick sweep and get back topside as soon as possible.”
The long haired man smirked. “So you’re one of Vargas’s old guys?”
“Not that old. I’ve only been with him for a couple years. He’s got serious vision though, man.” He glared at the noise that came from his partner. “What’re you laughing for?”
He didn’t get an answer, because an aluminum bar hit him in the back of the knees, sending him tumbling to the floor. The blond turned, but was only just in time to catch the end of the bar in the gut, followed by a sharp crack across his wrist that shattered bone. In agony, he dropped his gun.
Stepping back, Alexis planted her makeshift bo staff and went to use it as leverage to kick him in the face, only for her dress to arrest the movement.
The blond took advantage of her difficulty to take a swing of his own, cuffing her in the shoulder and throwing her off balance. He followed through with a punch to the midsection that sent her back, sprawling against the wall.
But Alexis recovered quickly, and when he came to press his advantage, she stepped into his swing and threw her shoulder into his chest and her elbow into his ribs. Breathless, he stumbled back, only to receive a definitive blow from the bar to his temple, which sent him straight to the floor.
The other man was struggling to his feet when she sent a punishing strike with her staff into his ribs that knocked him away from his gun. He landed on his back and within seconds, there was a knee on his chest and a cold, metal bar pressing against his throat.
Alexis leaned on the bar slightly, demonstrating the danger he was in. She tried her best to make her eyes go wild and dangerous and when she spoke, she used the voice she put on as Darkness. “How many of you are there?”
The man tried to struggle, but only managed to dig her knee into him worse. “Twenty-five.” He tried to swallow, creating a strange sensation was the lump tried to move past the bar at his throat. “T-too many for just you to handle.”
“Twenty-two now.” She pointed out. “Much more manageable. How many are guarding the hostages and the halls?” In case he was found, she didn’t want him to know she wanted to get tot he communication tower, so she didn’t ask.
“I don’t know… ten with the hostages, six in the hall?”
“Does that six include you and your friend?” He tried to nod, but the bar prevented him. “Good. And where if your boss set up?” From previous situations, she knew that hostage takers often discussed and implemented their plans away from the ears of the hostages.
“Ob…” it was getting hard to breath now. Spots were forming in his vision. “Observation deck.”
Perfect, Alexis thought to herself. Everything she needed to get to was in the central structure of the Storm Cage, which was the most difficult part to reach. “Thanks.” She finally said, applying another measure of pressure to the man’s throat. “Good night.”
Though he struggled, there wasn’t much he could do. Soon enough, she slipped into unconsciousness.
Letting out a breath, Alexis got off him and check his vitals. Then she went about using the straps from the machine guns to bind both men.
Childress emerged from behind the tarp she’d directed him to when the elevator first arrived, once again amazed at what he saw. “How did you get the drop on them like that?”
“All teachers are taught the Way of the Ninja, Mr. Childress. That’s why no one sees pop quizzes coming.” She checked the label’s on their slacks and cursed. “I just had to dress up this morning.”
Ignoring her complaint, Childress paced a circle around the comatose terrorists. “I guess the unfinished levels aren’t as safe was we thought. What now?”
Alexis shook her head. “The plan remains the same, just a little more complicated. The connections to the center are going to be watched hard. I need another way in.”
“I’ve already been over the schematic.” Childress groaned. “There are no other ways in. The control center is served by it’s own power plant, lifeboat and environmental system: there was no reason for them to add anything more than a simple walk-up between gondolas.” He turned his tablet toward her to show he just that.
“Except structural support.” Alexis said after a moment’s contemplation. She pointed to the multiple struts leading from both the gondolas and the envelopes themselves.
Childress took a look himself. “Those are useless for this. They’re purely structural; no way inside them. So unless you plan to walk down them on the outside while we’re cruising at eighty miles per hour…”
Alexis stood up from the pair of unconscious men and started looking for a place to hide them among the unfinished shopping floorspace. “If it’s the only way to where I need to go, then I’ll find a way to make it work. Just find me a way to get out to one.”
Of course, once she found a way to the exterior of the ship, she needed only to fly across, but she had to keep up the illusion for Childress.
“Well that’s simple… in a way.” he said, highlighting what looked like a series of vertical shafts leading from the top of the gondola, up into the enclosure around the envelope and finally to the top. “The bulk of the actual weather manipulation system and the solar plants are built around the envelopes and there are access tunnels to service them.”
He pointed to a set of doors on the top deck of the gondola. “You just have to reach these doors here and you’ll have your run of the maintenance areas of the ship.”
Alexis looks at the schematic with determination in her eyes. “Perfect. If you can upload that map to my phone? And then I need you to find yourself a safe place to hide.”
“But.” he started to protest, but she shook her head.
“You’ve been a big help, but this is going to be incredibly dangerous, Mr. Childress, and I won’t drag you into it. Just find a safe place, disappear, and pray I can get to the command center before things get worse.”
Vargas looked up at the sound of the lift doors opening and found Mertama standing silhouetted within.
“Lucas and Karen H. have the old man and one of his assistants.” Mertama announced before stepping into the light that bathed the observation deck. “They’re bringing them up. Within the hour, the Storm Cage will be under the total command of the Front.”
“I wouldn’t pop the champagne just yet.” muttered Vargas, refocusing on the screen in front of him.
“Your people missed something. Twenty percent of this crate doesn’t have sensors properly installed. We lost two guests and now three of our own aren’t answering their comms.”
Mertama stepped up to his leader’s side and looked over his shoulder at the wireframe of one of the gondolas. It was showing the last known locations of the three missing members of their group. “Who’s missing?”
Vargas pointed to the icon near what appeared to be a bathroom. “Martin went down here to check out a sensor that went on the fritz.” His finger traced down three decks to an area that was grayed out to represent a lack of sensor coverage. “Then Kyle and Anton went to sweep the offline area for our missing guests here and went missing too.
“Kyle.” Mertama said flatly.
“He was one of the men you originally bought with you went you joined us, wasn’t he?”
“That’s right. And he wasn’t someone to go screwing off in a moment of truth.” Mertama almost growled. “Who are these two missing guests?”
“A teacher from Mayfield and a reporter from New York.” said Vargas.
Mertama scoffed. “My ass. Sounds like a cover to me. Could have been after us, but much more likely, they were after the same thing we were: the ship.
Vargas’s jaw set as he looked at the screen again. “Son of a bitch. How do we take care of it?”
“Leave it to me.” said Mertama. “I’ve been dealing with moles from way back when we were hunting poachers in Kenya. Now that we’re far enough out and our course is laid in, you have a speech to make.”
“Are you sure you don’t need my help?”
Mertama shook his head. “This is why you bought me in. Get up to the communications room and bask in your moment of triumph.”
Swayed by his own desire to do just that, Vargas stood and motioned to the two original Front members taking up the other stations in navigation with him. “Pat. Cole. I want you to be there with me for this. Come on.”
As they left, Mertama took Vargas’s seat and settled in. With a flick of his wrist, he dismissed the wireframe of the ship and replaced it with the main navigation screen, showing the ship’s new course as set by the Front members: two hours from intersecting with the path of Hurricane Julia.
“Fly across the whole Atlantic in a weather machine and you don’t even intend to show off the best tricks?” Mertama chuckled. “Oh, Professor. And I thought you were a man of science.”
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