Friday, November 21, 2014

Chapter 45

The wire cutters clicked softly – almost without a sound.
“We’re all still here, right?” Private Eckstrom said.  “Looks like you made the right call, Colonel!  The timer is off.  The bomb’s diffused.”
Graham continued to look into Peggy Lee’s eyes.  She looked so small now, like a balloon slowly losing air.  Her shoulders sagged; he thought she might collapse.  Her eyes were resolute, however, as she mouthed the words “I am so very sorry,” and then said to the soldier, “Same wires for the other bomb.”
Private Eckstrom nodded, walked over to the bomb that was attached to the servers, and quickly disarmed it.  “All clear!”
“Good work, soldier,” Graham said as he released Peggy Lee.  “Now, take Ms. Swenson down to Holding Cell B and make sure that she has everything that she needs to be comfortable.  Then meet me in the dining hall for the debriefing.  Afterwards, we will reassign stations and shifts and start the long process of getting this mess cleaned up as quickly as possible.”
Graham left the Brain Room and walked to the dining hall.  Approximately twenty soldiers stood in a group near the waterfall, waiting for him.  When he emerged, the soldiers all cheered.  Charley rushed over to him and shook his hand.  “Good job, Graham.  So we’re safe now, right?”
“Yes, the bombs are diffused.”
“That’s great, sir!  Did you hear that, men, the facilities are secured!”  The soldiers clapped and hollered. 
“You did it,” Charley said, turning back to Graham.  “They got the Battery Station, sure, but that’s small potatoes compared to the Brain Room.  Hell of a job in there, Colonel.  Hey, by the way, here’s your pass card.  I recovered it off of that monster Ian.  Man, he’s a brute, eh?  He was still giving us some trouble down in the holding cell.  But we took care of it.”
“Thanks again for showing up just in the nick of time.  I’m afraid of what would have happened had you not been there.”
“All in a day’s work, right?  I think that I might have scraped some of the skin off of my right hip getting around that corner, but I needed to lose a few pounds anyway – easier than dieting!”
“Yeah, well, like I said, I’m sure glad you got through.”  Graham didn’t feel like laughing or celebrating.  He just had to get through this confab without breaking down.  Then he would have a chance to catch his breath and figure out what it all meant.  “Now, is everyone here?  I’d like to get started.” 
“Looks like a full house, chief.  Private Eckstrom just arrived.  Take it away.”   
Graham stood in front of the small crowd, cleared his throat, and then began to explain what had happened.  He skipped over his plans with Peggy Lee to see the stars and Charley’s seeking out wine for them.  And of course, he skipped the kiss.  He detailed the destruction in the Battery Station and then talked about the fight, emphasizing Charley’s last minute heroics.  He did not know exactly what to say about Peggy Lee.  She had helped save the Brain Room, but she was responsible for the destruction of the Battery Station.  Instead of going into great detail, he simply said that she had a change of heart and had turned against Ian in the end.  
 At the end of the debriefing, Graham announced that almost everything would go back to the normal schedule.  He ordered a replacement shift of soldiers to take over for the soldiers who had been tied up in the Brain Room.  He figured they deserved the rest of the night off.  Then he told them that the boat for the mainland would leave the Platform at the scheduled time the following morning – only now with two prisoners in the place of two honored guests.

Chapter 44

Graham backed away slowly, pulling Peggy Lee back along with him. 
“Where are you running to?” Ian said.  “You like to back yourself into corners, I guess, right?  But this time there’s no way out.”
When Ian was just a few yards away from Graham and Peggy Lee, Charley slipped out from his hiding place and began walking silently towards him.  As he approached, he said, in a calm, restrained tone, “Hey buddy, you looking for a fight?”
Ian spun around.  Before he could utter a word or defend himself, Charley landed a solid blow to his left eye.  Graham sprung from the corner and threw himself at the back of Ian’s knees, knocking the giant to the ground.  Ian fell onto his injured shoulder, twisting and howling with pain.  Then Charley jumped on top of Ian and struck him powerfully on the jaw.  Ian rolled onto his stomach to try to protect himself.  Charley grabbed his one good arm, wrenched it up behind his back, and pinned him to the ground.  Graham held his legs.
“Alright, I got him,” Charley said.
“You can handle him?”
“Then I’ll untie the soldiers, and we can secure him with those straps.”
“Hurry though.  This ox is even stronger than he looks.”
Graham ran over and pulled the gags out of the soldiers’ mouths and untied them.  “You guys are techies, right?  Go figure out how to get those doors open.  Break into the emergency protocol and see what you can do,” Graham ordered.
Peggy Lee sat down on the floor, put her head in her hands, and began to sob.  Graham and Charley bound Ian’s good arm to his feet.  He lay there silently, like a roped calf, spitting blood onto the floor. 
“Peggy Lee, are we in immediate danger from those bombs?” Graham asked.
She shook her head.  Then she said, “We have about half an hour before the back-up detonators are activated.  Then, you will have fifteen more minutes before they go off.”
Charley stepped over to Peggy Lee.  “I need to restrain you as well.  You are under military arrest.”
“Don’t bother her,” Graham replied.  “She’s not going to try anything now.  When we get those doors open we’ll take them both to the holding cells, but there’s no need to bind her hands.”
“If you say so, boss.”
“I say so.”
Within five minutes, the two techie soldiers had managed to get the doors open.  All of the soldiers on the Platform burst into the room ready for a fight. 
“Stand down,” Graham ordered.  “Now, do any of you have explosives experience?  We need to deactivate these bombs.” 
One of the escort soldiers from the boat stepped forward.  “I used to tinker a lot with electronics when I was a kid.  I could probably help.”
“What’s your name again?” Graham asked.
“Private Eckstrom, sir.”
“Anyone else?”
The room was silent.  Then, Peggy Lee stood up and said, “I want to help too.  I know the bombs.  They’re very sophisticated.  You cannot move them because any motion will cause premature detonation.  If you cut the wrong wire or pull any circuit boards, they’ll blow.  You need my help if you’re going to have any chance of disarming those bombs.”
Graham turned and looked hard at her.  “Why would I trust you?”
“Because I helped you stop Ian.”
“Okay, but why did you do that?  Your mission was clearly to destroy the facilities.”
“I changed my mind, okay?  I helped you, not him.  That should be enough.  Let’s just deactivate the bombs, okay?”
“As I see it, I don’t really have much choice.  Okay everyone clear the room, except for Peggy Lee and Private Eckstrom.  Charley, take a couple of soldiers and escort Ian to holding cell A.  The rest of you, get down to the dining hall, where I will debrief you when we’re finished here.”
“You’re staying too?” Charley asked.
Graham nodded as he grabbed a toolbox from one of the soldiers.  “Now go!”
The room emptied quickly.  Graham, Peggy Lee, and Private Eckstrom walked over to the bomb attached to the central console.  Peggy Lee pointed to a green wire and a blue wire, “Cut those two simultaneously.”
“Are you sure?” Graham asked.
“Yes, I studied these bombs for months getting ready for today.”
“What do you think, soldier?” Graham asked.
“Looks plausible to me.  The better question is how sure are you that you can trust this terrorist?  Because if she’s wrong . . . .”
Graham turned and took Peggy Lee by the shoulders.  “Look at me, damn it,” he said.
Her beautiful, blue-gray eyes came immediately into focus on his.  Tears streaked her face and her bottom lip quivered, but her eyes were steady and clear.  He wondered what she saw when she looked at him.  Her eyes seemed to be pleading with him for forgiveness, but he could not be sure.  He wasn’t even sure if she wanted to live or die.  He knew now that she was lost in this deteriorating world – that her convictions had dissolved into nothing.  She had managed to maintain a polished presentation to the outside world, but what lay inside was dark and wrought with confusion.  Something in her sorrowful gaze, however, assured him that she did not want to hurt him.  She nodded just once, and Graham made the call. 
Without taking his eyes off of hers, he ordered the soldier to cut the wires.  If he was wrong and the room exploded, at least the last thing that he would see would be beautiful – strange, frightening, frail, and complicated, but also extremely beautiful.
“Alright, sir, I hope you know what you’re doing,” Private Eckstrom said.
They all took a deep breath.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Chapter 43

            Just then, Peggy Lee stirred behind Graham.  He glanced back and was relieved to see her getting to her feet.
“Oh no you don’t, you little traitor,” Ian roared.  “Stay right where you are!”
            “I will not,” Peggy Lee fired back as she stepped forward.  “You have controlled me enough.  This is all wrong.  We shouldn’t be doing this.  It’s just plain murder.  They’re wrong, too, I know, but blowing this place up is not going to make a bit of difference in the end.  There’s nothing that can be done to make things right.”
            “It’s the principle of thing, Peggy Lee,” Ian said, “you know that.”
            “What principles exist anymore?  Everything’s dying.”  She now stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Graham. 
            “On three, we rush him with all that we’ve got, okay?” Graham said quietly.
            “Okay, I’m ready.”
            “One . . . two . . . .”  He picked up the chair and positioned it in front of his body with the base facing Ian.  “Three!”  He sprinted toward Ian, who immediately jumped into a fighting stance.  Peggy Lee ran towards Ian as well, a few steps behind Graham. 
            Graham tried to jam the chair directly into Ian’s belly.  Ian however proved much quicker than Graham had expected.  The giant pivoted back and to the right like a matador and pushed the chair and Graham off to his side with his still-able arm.  Graham fell headlong onto the floor.  His face and shoulder struck the linoleum hard.  Blood immediately began to pour from his nose.  The chair had flown out of Graham’s grasp, across the room, and caromed off of the wall. 
            Peggy Lee jumped onto Ian and landed one clean blow with the palm of her hand to the back of his head.  Ian, however, easily pulled her off and threw her to ground next to Graham. 
“Are you alright?” Graham asked.
            “Yeah,” she struggled to say.  “He just knocked the wind out of me.”
            Ian was now bouncing side to side like a boxer.  “Do you want some more of me?” he taunted.  “Because there’s plenty more where that came from.  Or would you rather just tie yourselves up right now and avoid any more of these inane confrontations.  I’ve got more important business to attend to.”
            “You have not beaten us yet,” Graham said, wiping the blood from his nose with the sleeve of his shirt.  “My job is to defend these facilities, and defend them I will.”
            He got to his feet, rolled his shoulders and his neck and put his fists up.  “I’m not done fighting you.”
            “Peggy Lee,” Ian called.  “It’s not too late.  I’ll forgive you.  Let’s finish this guy off and get back to work.  We have to blow this place before the soldiers get through that door.  We still have time.  Come on, do it for Dad, if for nothing else.”
            “What?” Graham asked.  “Did he say ‘do it for Dad’?”
“There’s no time to explain,” Peggy Lee answered.  “Just leave it be.  And you, Ian, I will not help you.  You’ve fucked up my life for far too long.”
            “Alright, that really was your last chance.”  Ian then made a fist with his one good hand and started walking toward the two of them.
Just then, Graham saw something behind Ian.  A familiar face was peering out from behind the server racks.  It was Charley – he had finally squeezed through the shaft.  The odds had now shifted; Graham tried to conceal his smile. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Chapter 42

Peggy Lee jumped as though being awakened from a dream.  She quickly stepped over, put her hands next to Graham’s hands on the server rack and starting pushing. 
“All we have to do is keep his arm caught in there until the soldiers--- ”
But Graham was interrupted by Ian’s yelling:  “You bitch, I will kill you too if I have to!”  Then the rack surged forward, and Ian managed to free his arm.  In so doing, though, he lost his balance and fell back on his heels.  Graham and Peggy Lee then drove the rack hard and fast back into its spot.  Ian tripped backwards into the service corridor wall, trying to get away from the rapidly advancing rack. 
“Pin him in there!” Graham yelled.  Peggy Lee sobbed as she pushed against the rack.  Just moments ago, Graham had wanted to hurt her for what she had done to him.  But now, he felt a heart-breaking allegiance to her.  She was trying to save him.  She was fighting on his side.  He wanted to grab her and take her away, to change everything and disappear with her forever.  But he realized in that instant that he would never have her.   
The rack picked up speed as the two of them stumbled forward.  And then it crashed against the wall with a bang, but there was no thud of Ian getting slammed in between the rack and the wall.  He had jumped to the side quickly enough to avoid their advance.  Graham’s plan had worked to a certain extent, but now Ian had sprung his trap and was lumbering through the darkness of the corridor, bloodthirsty and looking for revenge.  He would appear in moments, and then Graham would have to fight him face-to-face.  He hoped that he had done enough damage to Ian’s arm to give him the upper hand.  But he knew that victory over Ian was still a long shot. 
Peggy Lee returned to the corner where she had stood before.  She slumped to the floor and pulled her knees up tight against her chest.
Graham glanced around the room, looking for anything that he could use as a weapon against Ian.  His broken knife would be of little use.  An heavy office chair lay on its side near his feet.  He grabbed it and pulled it upright, thinking that maybe he could heave it at Ian and get lucky.  Or perhaps he could use it as a battering ram.  There was not enough time to untie the two soldiers at the far end of the room, who were struggling to free themselves.  Graham knew that they would never get free in time. 
Just then, Ian emerged from behind the server racks.  Rivulets of blood flowed down his right arm, which hung loose at the side of his body.  His fingers released droplets of blood onto the linoleum floor, forming perfect round dots next to his boot.  His pants were torn at the knee, revealing a large blue bruise that shot halfway down his shin and was punctuated by a deep gash.  Blood had stained the cuff of his pants dark red. 
When their eyes met, Graham recognized Ian’s glare; it was the same hateful look he had been giving Graham all along – only vastly intensified now.  Graham could have sworn that Ian smiled at him – just a hint of a smile, snide, cold, and hard – but then maybe it was a grimace from the pain.  Ian ran his fingers through his hair and spat into the palm of his still fully functioning left hand.   
Graham began to shake.  One of his knees buckled underneath him.  He almost fell, but then he grabbed the back of the chair for support.  “I don’t understand why you are doing this,” he started.
“No, I don’t expect that you would,” Ian replied.  “You and your kind just don’t see what’s happening – what’s already happened.  You don’t see the effect you’re having on the global environment – on the re-balancing of the atmosphere.  You think you have all the answers, but you are in fact the problem.  We, or rather I should say, I am here to save this fucking planet.”  Ian shot Peggy Lee a look over Graham’s right shoulder.  She continued to cower in the corner.
“You, Graham,” Ian continued, “help to perpetuate the existence of vast populations of useless, degenerate, and insatiable humans.  We need to make those people disappear before they can do any more damage to the planet.  Peggy Lee used to understand, but now look at her – indecisive and cowardly – she’s put the whole mission in jeopardy.”   
            “Don’t involve her in this,” Graham said.  “This is just between you and me.”
            Ian was definitely smiling now.  “Alright then, we can talk about Ms. Peggy Lee later.  There are lots of things about her that you may not know, Colonel.  But we’ll save that discussion for another day.”
            Graham nodded.
“That was clever work there with the server racks,” Ian continued as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hairy forearm.  “I underestimated you.”
Just then, they heard loud banging from outside the main doors.
“Don’t worry about that racket out there,” Ian said.  “You and I both know that the outcome in here will have nothing to do with them.  As you said yourself, it’s just you and me now, and I am just getting warmed up.”