Glass crunched underneath the soles General Mauser’s high polished boots. The sound gave him pause and he fought the urge to grind his teeth with each additional step.
Four teenagers… four children managed to move through a heavily fortified military base with so much ease?!
Shards of glass lay scattered about the circular room. Above him, a breach the size of a small adult human punctuated the steel framing of the domed ceiling, the metal bent inward, the glass panes gone. The sound of groaning metal and breaking glass tore at the general’s mind, a dull razor against paper.
How many internal hybrid attacks had Carpenter endured in the last few years? Uncountable. That is the hazard of working with beasts, with monsters. You don’t walk into a minefield and expect not to step on at least one land mine. In the past each monster incident had ended with the escaped hybrids sedated, the threat neutralized and contained. Minimal paperwork required. This time… a handful of soldiers lay in the infirmary and security found three high-ranking officers handcuffed to a pipe underneath a sink.
Children had fought and subdued Mauser’s soldiers, had handcuffed his lead scientist, his head of security, and a captain. Not hybrids but children. There would be a hand-cramping amount of paperwork to fill out in order to explain this mess… Mauser would not subject his hands to that ache, his incompetent subordinates would.
At least no other hybrid managed to escape its bonds, except the four.
Mauser forced himself to stop grinding his teeth. He took in a deep breath and held it for the space of half a minute before exhaling.
None of this was supposed to happen. The hybrids were to be taken from the children, brought back to the base, examined, and contained once more. If it were not for his own son’s blubbering tears and his wife’s insistence that he and the boy have a “man-to-man” conversation, the General would have been at the base last night.
Now the newest, youngest batch of Carpenter hybrids was gone… again. This was not part of the original plan.
“We adapt or die,” the General muttered under his breath. He had spoken these words to himself once before. It had been two weeks after the fall out in New Mexico, after the monsters ripped their way through to his world, his country, and proceeded to tear apart rightful citizens of these United States. He picked up the pieces of tragedy those many years ago and refocused disaster into opportunity.
Glass crunched and scraped as Mauser turned on his heel.
Professor Martin Graves stood in front of a stainless steel worktable polishing a set of surgical instruments, likely to keep his hands busy. He had changed out of his surgical scrubs and into a pair of rumbled suit slacks and a white un-ironed shirt with the sleeves cuffed up past the elbows. Tired and miserable, Graves kept his back to Mauser. That spoke more than words.
Can I trust him? Mauser believed it possible that Graves had helped his son and his son’s monster escape Carpenter. How else could the boy, his friends, and the beasts have ghosted past security? They had certainly made an entrance. From what Mauser understood, it was his lead scientist’s badge after all that allowed the group of teens access to the underground facility.
Then there was First Lieutenant Greg Marshall, leaning against the doorway, rubbing his wrist absently. Another family man, one more devoted than the absent Graves, for sure. The reason why Mauser brought Marshall to Carpenter was the soldier’s values. His commitment to his family. That loyalty made a man strong, made him willing to die for his beliefs and loves. Yet a family man’s priorities centered on his family, sacrifices were not easily made outside that inner circle.
Neither man dared to face Mauser’s disapproving gaze, Graves and Marshall wanting to avoid admonishment for the blundering display of idiocy the previous evening.
Mauser glanced at his wristwatch. Morning. The night had slipped by as quickly as the children and the beasts.
She should be here soon.
As he lowered his arm, Mauser caught the sight of the exam room table. Strange to see the restraints not snapped with great strength or cut by a knife. The undone brass buckle of the two hands span wide belly restraint swayed, nearly brushing the ground. Its casual ease taunted Mauser. Yes, it had been that easy. No extraordinary powers needed.
Both subordinate officers had offered their stories to Mauser. Neither had known their sons would break into the mountain base. Nor did they understand how Grave’s son had burst through the domed ceiling like a superhero and walked away without a broken bone. Stern lectures and a month without television or video games would not be enough to produce hangdog teenage faces and second thoughts. Graves and Marshall would write reports later and their hands would indeed cramp. If nothing, Carpenter was a government, a bureaucracy, right down to the last scrap of paper and drop of ink.
I should have fought harder to keep the families away from these projects. Mauser chided himself for that moment of weakness when all this started.
Mauser believed his men needed their families close. He also wanted to keep the soldiers from rotating to new posts, to protect the integrity of the confidential operation and to hide the project in plain sight. For those reasons he allowed Carpenter to grow around a town, for the civilians and military to merge into a cohesive unit. Mistake number one.
A recent mistake was letting Sergeant Major Scott leave the room. Scott headed the Lightning Squad. With tanks strapped to their backs, each filled with a nerve-twitching amount of hydro-electricity, the team was effective in controlling a hybrid. Scott also had a reputation for getting things done, costs be damned if he preserved a greater amount of lives. Mauser’s kind of soldier.
For what Mauser needed next, Scott is the preferred soldier.
“I’m sending out a team to recapture the escaped monsters,” Mauser said to neither man in particular. Striding to the door, to where Marshall stood, he made to leave.
The air stirred as the other men surfaced from their downcast reverie.
Another thought occurred to the General. “Capture the monsters and bring in the children.”
Glass crunched. How many of the panes did the Graves boy bring down?
“I’ll establish my team immediate—” Marshall started to say before his commanding officer cut him off.
“No,” Mauser said flatly, simply, and louder than necessary. He intended for his voice to roar like thunder, to straighten backs. The General commanded authority and he would have obedience.
Letting the singular word resonate and dig, Mauser continued more quietly. “First Lieutenant, you are needed here in Carpenter. You must maintain order at our facility. Plus, your boy is out there and your judgment will be clouded if you lead.”
That is how you ground someone, Mauser acknowledged proudly.
“But this is… you… ” Marshall started to speak out of turn, to question his superior officer’s, his commander’s orders. Then he remembered himself. With little emotion, Marshall corrected his delivery. “Sir, if not myself then who will be set as squad leader?”
“Sir, if you don’t mind me saying,” Marshall began slowly, choosing his words carefully, not wanting to again question orders or speak ill of an enlisted man so near his own rank.
“I do mind, First Lieutenant,” Mauser said, reaching for the doorknob. “Scott is more qualified for this mission than yourself. End of discussion.”
Mauser cut off the man with a simple gesture. This young military officer was not thinking straight, he’d shortly before seen his son walk out of his life, disobeying parental orders to extricate himself from the military’s affairs. In the wild, if a cub questioned the lion, the lion would eat the impudent pretender. Plus, Mauser was unsure he could trust the father of one of the teens who’d stolen the hybrids. Not at this moment anyway.
Until now, Graves had chosen to continue sanitizing and polishing his surgical tools. Smarter man than Marshall. Maybe Mauser could…
Graves dropped a gleaming scalpel, or perhaps the professor lightly tossed it down. The tool hit with metallic clatter.
“You mean Scott has more experience with hybrids,” Graves said, not turning his gaze to meet Mauser’s own.
Mauser arched a bushy eyebrow, raising it over the rim of his spectacles.
Marshall looked between the military man and the scientist, not understanding, still rubbing his wrist. “Professor Graves, what do you—”
“He’s sending Scott’s team and a team of hybrids to take down the escaped ones.”
Mauser did not flinch or acknowledge this information as factual. Silence was sometimes more powerful than words. Silence could unravel a man’s composure more than a passionate shout. Marshall was a family man. He cared for his son no matter the boy’s transgressions. He was also ten years younger than Graves and that gap was more apparent the closer you stepped to the edge for the man’s love for his child.
Turning the knob, the lock disengaged with an audible click. Pushing the door open, Mauser walked out. He paused when his First Lieutenant spoke out unchecked.
“Our fully grown hybrids are not field tested,” the soldier said, stepping into the threshold of the lab door, “there’s a chance they might rip the escaped subjects apart… and the kids too!”
Mauser chose to ignore the reckless passion in the soldier’s voice, to turn the cheek at the slap. Only now had Marshall validated the General’s decision to involve Scott.
“They will be once this is over,” Mauser said. “If the children are smart, they will turn themselves over to Scott and his team. Besides, from what you both told me, it sounds like the children are more than capable of handling themselves. Let us observe how this plays out… shall we.”
Not a recommendation… an order.
“Let it go, Greg,” Graves interjected softly.
“You’re going along with this, Martin. I know you’re a man of science but… god man, Jon is your boy.”
“We’ve been waiting for this opportunity since Generation One, First Lieutenant,” Mauser said to Marshall when the professor did not answer immediately. “Who knew we’d be so fortunate. Believe me when I say… we want the children back more than their freakish pets.”
Getting Russell a viper would have been safer than one of the monsters, Mauser mused with wry humor.
Clipped to his belt, a handheld radio crackled and a voice called out to Mauser. Mauser answered that he was listening and then waited.
“Sir, we’re escorting the girl inside the facility now. We’ll put her in a holding room until you’re ready to speak with her. Over”
More white noise crackled. Mauser answered with an affirmative and placed the radio back on his belt, the opposite side from his firearm. He did not excuse himself.
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