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By Roger Marshall Cathy Newman
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Roger Marshall with Cathy Newman
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"Stop him! Stop that — that ... mutant!!!"
The Military Police gave chase, but Harland had a good head start. He weaved through the pedestrian traffic in the basement labyrinth of the Pentagon, banging into some, though avoiding most. Soon he slammed into a three-star general that turned, gaping in affront, to find out what peon had the gall to assault him. Harland's survival instincts were at full throttle with the fight-or-flight control fixed firmly on flight. With avian reasoning instincts, he knew the way to freedom was up, so he headed for the nearest stairs. Edging by the general, respectfully, the MPs broke into a sprint trying desperately to capture Harland.
"Subject is heading for the stairs to the first floor and will most likely try to make a break for the nearest door.... Cover all exits," the lead MP said into his microphone without breaking stride. "Subject is a mutant bird man wearing a major's uniform. He is considered highly dangerous and wanted for murdering a nurse. Approach with weapons drawn, using all caution."
Klaxons blared overhead warning all personnel to evacuate the hallways and close themselves into locked offices. Following Pentagon protocol, people began in orderly fashion to proceed to designated emergency areas, clearing the way for the military police to enter. With their weapons drawn, they entered and moved quickly through the halls. After 9/11, the military brass realized that the Pentagon was vulnerable, so they instituted emergency procedures to deal with every contingency they could imagine.
Harland's devolution allowed him to almost fly up the stairs. With his mind focused on going up, he headed towards the roof of the inner ring of the Pentagon instead of towards the exits at ground level. There he hid in a restroom as MPs pounded past on their way to covering all the exits. The Pentagon is a huge place where even someone who has worked there for many years can get lost if he or she wanders out of his or her routine path. Harland, however, had spent many long, lonely years in the basement working at a dead end job, and had taken to exploring the different levels and rings during his breaks to add some interest to his days. Although there were many areas his clearance would not allow him to enter, he had managed to find many nooks and crannies, not to mention places that were continuously under construction where a quiet man could hide, unnoticed. He made use of the information he had gathered to dart from one hiding place to another as he slowly made his way towards his goal.
It was true that Harland now had many features of a hawk from taking enhancement pills to correct his vision. Most of the feathers that now covered his body were covered by his uniform. There were many majors in the building. He was not the only person in the building who had taken the pills and who had experienced the devolution track of taking on the characteristics of birds. In the confusion, many clueless people were stopped and held at gun point until it was ascertained that they were not Major Harland Parker.
A tedious office by office, ring by ring, level by level search was begun by the MPs with the investigated areas sealed off so Harland could not slip behind them to escape. All the exits were blocked by fully armed MPs. Slowly; the noose was drawing tighter, leaving Harland fewer choices of places to hide and the MPs fewer places left to search.
Harland decided that it was time to make a break for it and head for the final set of stairs that would take him to the roof. He cautiously opened the door and peeked around it. About 30 yards down the hall, a squad of MPs headed away from him. Harland decided to give them a few more seconds to get around the bend in the corridor. However, as he tried to quietly ease the door shut again, his talons were not able to maintain a firm grip on the smooth doorknob, like a human's hand can easily do. The doorknob slipped from his grasp and clicked loudly. Harland held his breath, not daring to move, hoping the MPs were too far away to hear the noise, and listened for the sound of their boots moving away.
Harland's luck had just run out. One of the MPs had turned around — about to say something — and he not only heard the sound of the door, but also saw a slight movement out of the corner of his eye. He signaled for the other MPs, making them freeze in their tracks. Putting a finger to his lips, the alert MP motioned down the hallway to the closed supply room door. Checking their drawn weapons, they began a swift turn, nearly in unison, but they were too late.
Harland, with the extraordinary hearing and response time of a startled bird, had heard the footsteps stop and nearly flew out of the trap of the supply closet and was halfway up the stairs across from it before the MPs could complete their turn. Though their orders were to capture Harland and bring him in, one of the MPs thought the flash of Harland's extra long talons was the barrel of a gun, and began firing. Trusting the lead of the first shooter all the MPs brought their weapons to bear and opened fire.
Harland was part way up the stairs when the barrage of fire started. With the maneuverability of a bird he dodged back and forth as he leapt up the remaining steps and was out of sight of the MPs as he headed for the roof. Because he had moved to the inner rings to escape capture early, he was far from the perimeter of the building as he exited onto the roof. He started across what looked like the length of a few football fields to get to the edge, each step taking him closer to freedom.
The MPs pounded up the steps after him, stopping at the top to regroup. Their assumption was that Harland would aim towards another downward stairwell, following on the idea they had that he would eventually dash for an exit door on the first floor. With all the heating and air conditioning units, communication equipment, and security apparatus on the roof, it was hard to tell which direction Harland had gone. Not only was their vision blocked, but it was noisy on the roof and they could not hear Harland's light footsteps.
Running flat out with large leaps between steps, Harland felt encumbered and he shed his jacket and tied his shirt around his waist. He kicked off the shoes he had bought in increasingly larger sizes as his foot talons grew. Regardless of the bigger size, they now felt too inhibiting. If he had the time to stop, he would have gotten rid of his pants, too, but he knew there was no time to waste. He had heard the MPs reach the roof, and though puzzled at why they weren't following him, he was glad for the lead this afforded him.
Reaching the edge of the building, Harland found a high ledge and climbed out onto it. As he scrambled up, discovering that climbing was not an easy skill for him, one of the MPs spotted his movement.
"He's over there!" the MP shouted, abandoning any pretense of stealth. "He's on the ledge and it looks like he plans to jump."
"No one could jump from that height and live," scoffed another MP as they all hustled in and out between the obstructions on the roof.
"Halt! Stay where you are or we'll shoot!" shouted the MPs closest to Harland.
Harland shot a quick glance back and stood upright.
"We promise you won't get hurt if you come down now," reasoned the MP, now about 50 meters away and slowly closing in. Harland ignored him, along with the others. Centering himself and calling up all his avian instincts, he raised his arms.
"He's going to jump ..."
Bending his legs, Harland leapt into the air, causing the MPs to immediately fire. If Harland had actually gone airborne, maybe a shot would have connected. Though Harland had internalized his bird persona, his body had not lost its humanoid form. While his chest muscles had deepened and feathers had grown, his wings were still not developed. He had arms and flapped them as much as he could, but still he plummeted towards the ground.
The MPs rushed to the ledge and climbed gingerly up it with all their weighty gear on. Shooting down at Harland was an exercise in futility and most watched in gaping horror, knowingly shaking their heads wisely, anticipating Harland's tragic and gruesome death.
Harland hit the ground, but there was no loud splat, no guts bursting out in all directions. Harland's bones had hollowed like a bird's and he was extremely light in the air currents of the downward trajectory. And, though he didn't have full wings yet, he did have his feathers free to provide some drag, slowing his descent as he fell, thanks to his foresight in removing some of his clothes. Stunned for a second, Harland lay motionless, while the MPs above nodded to each other at the proof of their certainty that no one could sustain that fall. Then, Harland got up, gave himself a little shake and ran off, putting his shirt back on as he went, leaving a host of surprised faces in his wake.
* * *
"I've got him on picture phone," Erin Blaine called out, wearily, brushing her straggly hair out of her eyes. Brad Cho, another analyst in Homeland Security, and Jamie Whiteman, the Deputy Director of HSA, abandoned their own tasks to gather around her as she spoke to Zack McHenry — thousands of miles away in Argentina — where he was monitoring the start-up attempt by Rita Perez to genetically reverse the course of devolution.
Homeland Security had quickly claimed jurisdiction in the hunt for Harland Parker after he successfully eluded the Pentagon security the day before. With egg on their faces, the Pentagon personnel gladly washed their hands of the whole mess and tried to fade into the background out of public scrutiny. The more covert their operations, the more effective they would be in the long run to round up dissident mutants and put them in containment centers.
"Hola, buenos dias," Zack said brightly, munching on a fat strip of bacon, "Que pasa?" The food at the huge spread owned by Rita's parents, Ronaldo and Eva Perez, was as outstanding as the wine their vineyards produced. Normally quite taciturn, Zack couldn't help being a bit mellowed on his current assignment.
"There's no time to waste, Zack, so get serious!" Jamie barked, impatiently sweeping empty coffee cups out of her way. It had been a long night of expanding the search for Harland. First checking the usual places — like his home and friends — the search quickly encompassed all of Washington, D.C. and Annapolis, soon spreading out to cover the whole Eastern Seaboard. All transportation on airplanes, trains, buses, and boats was being monitored, but so far all the leads that had come in turned out to be false.
"Harland Parker, one of the original band of terrorists, has turned savage and violently attacked and killed a nurse at the Pentagon," Jamie told him, tersely. "We have been considering the possibility that he might try to join his fellow conspirators at the Patagonia Estates where you are in Argentina. Have you had any sightings of him?"
Snapping to attention, Zack was all business as he answered, "No. There are no sightings down here."
Needing to put in his two cents, Brad piped up. "Has anyone been acting strange? Maybe he has been in contact with Rita, Sandra, or Nate and you don't know it."
Affronted, Zack put on his most forbidding face. "I think I know what is going on in my own backyard. Rita is focused on getting the new complex set up so she can really get going with her research. When he is not watching the stock market, Nate has only eyes for Sandra and visa-versa. They are so lovey-dovey it makes me want to puke." He looked scornful, while purposely suppressing all thoughts of how luscious Rita looked and how he could barely keep his own eyes off of her.
"Well, okay," Jamie said, giving Brad an annoyed look as she resumed control. "Be on the lookout for any contact from him. Brief the security detail you brought with you, and monitor all the ways he could use to enter the country."
"Yes, Ma'am, I'll get right on it," Zack replied, and the transmission ended.
"At least that base is covered," Erin announced as she looked at the empty coffee cups scattered across the floor. Deciding it was not her job to pick them up; she headed for the coffee machine, only to discover that it would be her job to fill it again for the hundredth time since the siege began.
"I've got to get to a meeting," Jamie declared, straightening up her navy designer suit that had begun to hang loosely. There was nothing like coffee and a non-stop crisis to work off those extra pounds. How was Erin always able to look so polished and so crisp, like she had just walked out of a spa, while she felt like she had just driven 48 hours without a break? "Keep up the search and let me know the second you hear anything." She headed out the door without a backwards glance.
* * *
Trying to appear like anyone else out for a stroll in Theodore Roosevelt Island Park on the Potomac River, Harland proceeded cautiously to the rendezvous he had arranged with his 10-year-old son, Sterling. Fortunately for Harland, Sterling had been staying with a friend and was not home when the HSA forces raided it. Uncannily, since Sterling had also been taking the enhancement pills along with his father and had been mutating along the same path, few actual words were required for communication between them. Harland was able to give Sterling instructions on how and where to meet him without actually saying much.
It was impossible for Harland not to notice the many mutants on the island. Though he had been taking the pills longer than anyone else, it was evident that other people were also transforming quickly, following the course of various animals. Like he had done at the Pentagon, many were gradually shedding their clothes — some out of comfort — but many because traditional human clothing no longer fit their changing shapes.
The volume of mutants seemed disproportionate to the percentage in the general public, but then maybe he had a heightened awareness because of his own status. How he blended in was crucial to his continued freedom. Then again, maybe the mutants were gathering together purposely on the island. It was reassuring to him to see how well he fit in with the others. Whatever the reason for the amount of mutants on the island, Harland did not have the time or inclination to pursue the matter further. By nature, he enjoyed solitude, so as he developed more hawk-like characteristics it felt even more natural to play a lone hand, except for when his son was concerned. He had a fierce instinct to protect his only child.
"Dad, over here," Sterling hissed. Enjoying the thrill of evading capture, Sterling had hidden himself in a section of dense bushes. Forgetting the game, he launched himself at Harland.
"Son, I am so glad you made it here," Harland said, briefly hugging him. "We have to look like everybody else, though, and not draw attention to ourselves, so no more hiding, okay?"
Giving a sharp, birdlike nod of his feathered head, Sterling acknowledged what Harland had said. Then they began to casually stroll along, quietly discussing their plans. The immediate plan was to walk the island paths, acting like the other tourists. When the park closed at dusk, they made their way towards the footbridge to the west side of the Potomac where Harland had parked the car he had boosted, a skill he had managed to acquire during his youth in the auto shop class in high school. However, it became increasingly apparent that Roosevelt Island had not been overlooked in the search plans for Harland.
"Dad, look," Sterling said, excitedly, pointing to a couple of armed men who were approaching everyone on the island with a concentration on people with avian characteristics. Without wasting time on words, Harland grabbed Sterling, ducking into nearby brush. Deciding there was no time to lose, Harland headed through the woods to the footbridge.
Excerpted from Terror Unleashed by Roger Marshall Cathy Newman Copyright © 2011 by Roger Marshall with Cathy Newman. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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