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Pressure

Nashua, New Hampshire

Monday, October 5th, 2015, 3:15 pm

 

 

      While Aaron and Sarah were still in Burbank for the meeting, a CTF van followed Carmen from school.  CTF had always been far more discreet always using regular looking cars to follow.  Carmen was nervous because she knew something was different and that this might be happening because Sarah and Aaron were out of town.  After she got a few miles from the school, the CTF van pulled up beside her.  The passenger in the truck motioned her to pull over.  She panicked and had no idea what to do.  She reached through her pocket and pulled out the emergency signal Sarah had given her. Carmen pushed the button, and it made a chirping noise.  She quickly stuffed it back in her pocket.

      Carmen pulled her car off the road.  She rolled down her window and two men ran up to her car, opened her door, covered her face with a black hood then dragged her, screaming at this point, into the CTF van. They sat her down, and the truck started driving.  She could not see anything.  They handcuffed her hands behind her to the inner wall of the truck. 

      A male voice asked, “Where is the Midas machine?”  Carmen had no idea what he meant.  After a pause, he said again, “Where is the Midas machine?”

      She finally said, “I don't know what you’re talking about.”  This was the truth.  She did not know what the man wanted.

      The man clarified, “The Millers turned half our team into gold.  I don't care what you call the machine they did it with; we call it the Midas machine.”

      Now she realized what he meant.  He was talking about the builders.  He must think it turned things into gold and did not even realize its full potential. Carmen decided to play dumb because any information might give away where the Millers were.

      “So that’s what happened.  That’s why you lied on TV.  There were no shots from the Millers because they had no guns.  How many people know what you’re looking for?  Are you even working for the interests of CTF or just trying to cash in for yourself?”

      Suddenly she was hit in the stomach.  The pain was excruciating.  She tried to be brave but let out a yelp.  She could not breathe.  She felt like she was suffocating under the hood.

      “I do the questioning here and you do the answering.  If you get confused again, I'll make sure you’re given a better lesson!” After a moment, he asked again, “Where is the Midas machine?”

      “I don't know.  This is the first I have ever heard of it.”

      “Where are the Millers?”

      “I don't-” she was cut short by another blow.

      “You don't know!  You don't know!” the voice said in mockery.  “You know and you’re going to tell us . . . if you value your life!”

      “I don’t know!” she screamed.

      “Then why did you call Keith?  We heard the call, it wasn’t social.”

      “It was social; I wanted to see what he thought about it!”

      “Then why do you spend so much time at their house?”

      “Because . . . because I love him.”

      The voice said, “You love him?”

      “Yes!”

      “Why did he cut off the conversation?”

      Her mind was racing.  She did not know what to say.  “He was busy: he couldn't talk.”

      Suddenly a recording of the message was played.  Carmen’s voice said, “Keith, have you seen the news?  CTF is saying that-” then Keith’s voice interrupted and said, “Shh.  This isn’t a safe line, I’ll call you back!”

      She said, “His family is privacy crazed.  They prefer secure phone calls.”

      Then another recording was played.  It was the second phone call.

      “Carmen, that call only had the standard 128-bit encryption, it could be cracked in less than a minute!  Listen, head to our place ASAP: We need to talk, OK?”

      “I’m sorry, Keith . . . I didn’t know.”

      “It’s OK, I only know because of my folks.  Get here soon.  This thing is going to blow up fast.”

      “OK, I’ll be there in 20.”

      Even the maximum encryption had been cracked by CTF.  She was scared.  She felt like she was cornered.  She finally stammered, “Fine, I’ll tell you.  Keith and I met the Millers, but they’re gone now.  They left on a boat.”

      “How long were they with the Hunt family?”

      She couldn’t say the Hunts had hidden them or they could easily be charged as terrorists. She said, “They just visited the Hunts. They didn’t know the Millers were wanted.  All the Millers said was that they were leaving the country by boat.”

      “So they hid the fact that they had seen the Millers?”

      “Yes. I mean, no.  They didn’t think it was important.  They-” She was interrupted by a loud noise.  Her head felt like it had been hit with a pipe. She thought to herself, ‘This is it; they are going to kill me.’  Then as she recovered, she realized the voice and two other male voices were talking in a panic.  She could not make out much of what they were saying.  Then the whole truck shook, and it felt like it rolled onto its side, the side she was handcuffed to.  A body fell on top of her, then pushed off her and towards the front of the truck.  The truck had stopped moving and was on its side.  There were some shots being fired.  After some more shots, she heard the noise of the truck’s back door being opened.  A few more shots were fired.  Suddenly somebody was pulling her hood off.  The light was blinding, and it took some time for her to be able to see. There was a man in all black with a black bulletproof vest holding the hood directly in front of her.  The man put his forefinger to his lips before she could say anything.  He removed the cuffs and motioned for her to get out of the truck.

      As she stepped out, she saw the dead bodies of three CTF agents.  She recognized one as Max Hartwell, who had interviewed her at Aaron and Sarah’s house.  The road they were on was deserted, which was normal for this road.

      There were two big black trucks parked on the side of the road.  The trucks were the same make and model that the army started using in 2010.  The trucks were menacing with their big grills, large wheels, and sleek doors. Unlike an SUV, these trucks could drive in many harsh terrains and use half the gas.  This was no economy model; no expense was spared when it came to protecting the passengers.  The glass and doors were bulletproofed.  The tires were solid rubber and could not be burst.  There was enough horsepower and weight to knock over a CTF van easily. CTF vans were built cheaply and used to hold people and equipment.  Nobody would expect an attack on a CTF van.  It would be like attacking a police station or an army barracks.  Yet, they did it.  They were prepared, while CTF was comfortable with a false sense of security.

      There were a few men and women all in black outfits with no insignia.  They also had bulletproof vests on.  Carmen was led into the closer of the two trucks. As soon as she was inside, the driver drove away.  As they left, there was the sound of a huge explosion.  She turned to see the charred remnants of the CTF van strewn about the road. After a few minutes the second truck was behind them with the rest of the people in black.

      Carmen was not sure if this was actually a good thing.  She supposed they were from Hunt Security, but she saw no proof that they were.  For all she knew these kidnappers would be far more dangerous than CTF.

      Finally, the man who had removed her hood and was sitting beside her said, “We work for Hunt Security and got your signal.  Are you OK?  Let me bandage your head.”

      Carmen wondered why he said he would bandage her head.  Then she felt her hair, where she had felt the pain.  It was wet.  She pulled her hand back and felt sick when she saw it was covered by blood. The man reached in the back and pulled out a first-aid kit.  He quickly got out some gauze and covered the wound.

      He said, “You should be OK, but you may have a concussion.  We’ll let you see our doctor before we move you to the Nashua facility.  Are you in pain anywhere else?”

      Carmen thought for a moment.  She finally replied, “I don’t think so.  They punched me a few times but did no damage.”

      The man smiled and said, “You’re a very lucky girl.  I’m sorry it took so long to get to you.  Can I have the transponder?”

      She hesitated a moment, wondering if he was really who he said he was.  Realizing he wouldn’t have to ask if he was lying, she pulled the transponder out of her pocket and handed it to him.  He fiddled with it, then gave it back to her.  “OK, it’s reset.  Hopefully you won’t need it again.”

      “Thank you.”

      They brought her to the office, which was used as the local dispatch center.  There she was brought to see their nurse, Frances. The doctor was only available through an on-call procedure.

      Frances said, “Hi, how are you feeling?”

      “OK, I guess!”

      “Do you feel unusually tired?”

      Carmen shook her head no and said, “If anything, I’m wide awake from the adrenaline.”

      “Do you feel confused at all?”

      “No.”

      “What day is it?”

      “Monday, October 5th.”

      “Who is the current president?”

      “Bradshaw.”

      “Have you felt nauseous?”

      “Yes . . . but it was from the sight of my own blood.  I can’t stand the sight of blood.  Is that bad?”

      “No, Honey,” said Frances.  Then she took a small pen-sized light and used it to examine Carmen’s eyes. “Follow the light with your eyes.” She moved the light and Carmen’s eyes followed.  “Good. Do you feel weak or tired at all?”

      “No.”

      “Can you walk in a straight line for me?”

      Carmen walked in a straight line. 

      “Well, you seem to be OK.  Are you sure the nausea was from the sight of the blood?”

      “Yes, very sure.”

      “Well, we could do a head CT to be sure, but it sounds like you will be fine. I’ll just check the bandage and you should be all set.”

      After the nurse cleaned and changed the bandage, Carmen left, after thanking Frances one last time.  Her mind suddenly remembered the interrogation and replayed the part where she said she loved Keith.  She wondered, was it true?  Did she really love Keith?  As she thought about it, she realized she did care for him deeply.  Was it the love for a fellow person like the love for a brother or was it a romantic love, she wondered.  She could not decide.  All of these events brought them so much closer.  They spent much more time together.  Even in school, they started eating together.  Why had she not realized this before?  He did seem to like her.  Then she thought to herself, ‘If nobody but my parents could love me as a daughter, can anybody love me as a wife?’  With those thoughts, she returned to the front lobby where the man who took off her mask was waiting to take her to the Nashua facility.

      She finally asked as he drove her, “What’s your name?”

      He smiled and said, “I’m Mark.”

      She smiled back, “Well met, Mark.  Thank you for saving me!”

      He shrugged, “You’re welcome.  It wasn’t that difficult though.  Teams usually have six people, but this one only had three.  Something unusual is going on.  Anyway, once we disoriented them they were easy to pick off.  They didn’t even have bulletproof vests on. As much as I hate them (what they stand for and what they are doing), it still bothers me to know that each of them has a father, a mother, and some have wives and children.  It’s unfortunate that the country has come to this. For all I know, those three thought they were helping the country.”

      Carmen said, “You did the right thing, Mark.  They had no moral compass.  They were beating on a bound girl!  What kind of men can do that?”  After a pause she said, “None.  They weren’t men.  They were cowards.  If you hadn’t killed them they might have killed me and who knows how many others.”

      Mark said, “True, but I do have a moral compass, and I know it’s wrong to kill.”

      Carmen asked, “Even to defend yourself, your ideals, or others?”

      “Listen, I won’t be losing sleep over what happened today, but that doesn’t make it good. What I did was right, but not good.”

      Carmen sighed, “That’s horrible.”

      Mark shrugged, “Like I said, it won’t keep me up at night.  It’s part of the job and you’re proof enough for me that it’s an important job.”

      With that, the conversation ended.  Instead of going through the house, where CTF would catch them going, they drove a few miles away from the house.  Then Mark pulled over and said, “We’re here.”

      “Here? We’re in the middle of nowhere!”

      “Exactly,” he replied.

      “You lost me.”

      “We appear to be in the middle of nowhere, but there is a tunnel down here that leads to the facility.  Nobody but us should know about it because . . . it’s in the middle of nowhere!”

      “Wow, that’s some interesting logic.”

      He led her to a tunnel that looked like a drainage pipe.  As they went deeper inside, they got to an iron gate.  He unlocked the gate and they entered.  A little further and out of sight of the gate, they reached one of the familiar doors with a number/thumb pad.  He entered a code and pressed his thumb. The door unlocked and they went in. They were in a small cement hall like the one that led from the fireplace elevator.  They followed it and arrived at a wider hall that could fit vehicles.  They took a left and followed the wider hall, which led to the parking area of the facility. Mark led her the rest of the way in and then left.

      She found Jared and Michelle talking.  Michelle who had begun having morning sickness asked, “Why do they call it morning sickness if it happens the whole day!”

      Jared replied, “It’s a horrible joke that will be passed down for generations.” Then Jared noticed Carmen enter. “Are you OK?  We heard CTF captured you.”

      Carmen nodded, “Yes, well, they didn’t capture this flag for long!”

      As they continued to talk, Keith arrived and said, “Are you OK?”

      Carmen smiled and gave him a friendly hug, “Yes, I’m OK.”

      Keith said, “This must bite for you to have to spend your last days in the country down here.”

      She shook her head, “Nah, this is where my . . . where my family is, so this is where I belong!  Besides, we fugitives need to stick together.  You best be careful, though.  They de-encrypted both of our phone calls and might interrogate you as well.”

      Keith shrugged, “I doubt it.  They’re not supposed to touch me because of who my parents are.  Plus they would expect, correctly, that any methods of interrogation would be wasted time with me.  Finally, they would have a tough time getting me alone.  What did they ask you?”

      “They asked me about the Millers, Oh . . . I forgot.  They asked me about a Midas machine!  They think the builders are machines that just turn things to gold!  I think they want to cash in.”

      Jared laughed, “I guess it’s not surprising.”

      Michelle asked, “Did you do anything that would reveal our location or-”

      Keith interrupted, “Even if she did, it wouldn’t matter.  The three people who captured her are dead, and they weren’t transmitting through any CTF channels when she was freed.”

      Carmen smiled at his protection of her.  Then she added, “I mostly lied.  They knew we saw you, so I said we saw you before the news and that you had already left on a boat.”

      Michelle made a face, “I get seasick on boats.  Let’s not leave that way; I would like to keep at least half my meals down like I am now!”

      Carmen said, “I think this whole Midas machine thing is a secret.  Out of the three agents, one of them was the one who interrogated us in the house.  I bet they are the three survivors.  Did you see them the morning they attacked you?”

      Michelle and Jared both said, “No.”

      Michelle elaborated, “The only ones we saw we killed.  But if you’re right, there may not be anybody in CTF left who knows what’s going on.”

      Keith said, “Let’s hope so.  I’ve been helping Mr. Lyles with the plans.  He still has a ton of work to do but we may be able to start work as early as next week!”

      Jared said, “That’s great news!”

      They talked some more, and then Keith announced, “I’d better get upstairs and check my e-mail.  I’ll see you guys later.”

      Carmen offered, “Let me walk with you to the elevator.”

      Keith blushed, “Sure.”

      As they walked, Keith said, “Is there anything of yours you need . . . on the outside?”

      Carmen shrugged, “Not really.  I’ll need clothes!  I didn’t really keep many personal things.”

      Keith said, “Kara can probably help you with the clothes.  What about your music files?”

      “They’re no problem.  I backed them up, and most of my other files, onto your parent’s network already.  Most of it I got through sneaker-net using a USB drive.”

      “Cool.”

      “Hey, thanks for what you said in there,” she said to him even though it was unnecessary. Michelle was not attacking her and she knew it, but it was still sweet of Keith to do.

      He blushed again, “You’re welcome.”  When they arrived at the elevator, he returned to his house as Carmen headed back to . . . her family.

Copyright (C) 1998-2001 East Coast Games, Inc. and 2001 - 2006 Forest J. Handford

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