The next day, they escorted me out a door that had originally been off limits and chained shut. I reached the top of the stairs and entered a lobby with several armed soldiers waiting at attention. August stood in front of the doors leading out, wearing a long grey coat against the December chill. He carried a large box under one arm.
“I’ll take her from here,” he said to my escorts.
“Are you sure you don’t want an escort?” blond soldier number 17 asked. Yeah, I’d been counting them since I didn’t have many other ways to amuse myself.
August flashed a smile. “I’m quite certain. Ms. Delaney isn’t going to cause any trouble, are you?”
I just shook my head. “There, you see? Everything’ll be fine. Now, if you don’t mind?”
The soldier shrugged as though to say, “It’s your funeral.” The soldier tapped me on the shoulder. “Go on, you’re in his custody now.”
I wanted to run to him, to run past him and out those doors. I wanted to escape this place, their staring eyes, all of it. But I willed myself to walk slowly, one step at a time until I reached August. He grinned and said, “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Stepping out onto the grounds of the dingy grey hospital, the biting cold and the crisp, clean scent of the winter air startled me. Trees covered the grounds, their leaves long since fallen to the earth, and I was amazed at their naked beauty. My eyes watered, but from overwhelming relief rather than anguish. It was a nice change.
“You’ll want this,” August said, offering a heavy box to me. “Go ahead, open it.”
Inside was a brand new, long, black leather trench coat, nicer than any I had ever owned. It looked like something a cyber-kid would wear, all shiny and tailored. “For me? I can’t accept this.” It must have cost hundreds of dollars…if not more.
“Sure you can, you are on Uncle Sam’s dime now. And besides, it’s nearly Christmas. Consider it an early present from your Uncle.” He seemed quite amused by his joke.
“Holy shit, really? It’s been that long?” I asked. I’d completely lost track of time inside the hospital. There were no decorations or any indication the holiday even existed in the hospital and so it had just slipped my mind.
“I’m afraid so. Though, most people don’t feel like celebrating the holidays this year.”
I pulled the jacket over my hospital issue sweats, amazed at how well it fit me. I wasn’t cold, but damn it looked good.
Just being able to stretch my legs and walk, unimpeded by walls, was a novel twist, and I ate it up. August hurried along beside me until we got to his car, a nice, grey, government-issued sedan.
“Didn’t they have this in black?” I asked.
Rapping the hood, he said, “They did, but I prefer grey.”
The car was made for luxury and I sank into the seat. Tax dollars well spent I suppose. When he slipped in beside me, I was aware that we’d never been alone before. I felt flushed and too warm for the coat. I watched him with sidelong glances as he navigated the car out of the parking lot. What the hell was it with him? I mean, he was good looking, in a bookish way. But whenever I saw him, I felt my knees weaken and my heart flutter. His voice was so rich and velvety I would have just listened to his words caress me all day if I could.
Maybe it’s how you act when you nearly die and the only nice person you see for weeks is a hottie?
My feelings didn’t make any sense. As I thought about it, my face began to burn with guilt and I looked away out the window so he wouldn’t see. Get a grip, I yelled in my mind. Stop acting like some stupid teen in a stupid romance novel. Your life...the whole world just went to shit, and you are making doe eyes at a pretty boy? If I could slap myself without making things worse, I would.
Besides, I still didn’t know what was really going on, or if he was playing me. Hell, maybe he didn’t like me at all and him being nice to me was just a front. Find a broken girl, show her some kindness, and look at me, eating out of his fucking hand. Had the angel made me stupid? Since when was I so...
“I’m sorry Peri,” August said, breaking my chain of thoughts.
The gears shifted so hard in my brain, I was certain I could smell smoke. “What for?”
“You’ve been through a lot and frankly, you’ve not received the best treatment since you woke up. If I could have made things easier on you, I would have, but it was out of my hands.”
I stared at the road, mulling over his words. “Is that why there is all this cloak and dagger BS?”
August’s jaw tightened. “Yeah. There is still a lot I’m not supposed to talk about with you until you are ‘cleared’ for it.”
I started to ask a question until I noticed a road sign zip by.
“Wait, we’re in Virginia?”
“Yes, about a hundred miles from D.C. at this point.”
“How’d I get to Virginia?” I asked, feeling the creeping edge of hysteria in my voice.
“We flew you. Once you were identified, and stabilized, they airlifted you to Fort Thompson. Once you started recovering, they weren’t equipped to deal with you so they flew you to the hospital back there. It’s the closest one where we had the equipment to secure and observe you, as well as specialists that could help you recover. Turns out we didn’t need them.”
“You do realize how fucked up that is, right?” I asked.
He chuckled. “Yeah, I guess that was a hell of an airlift.”
I couldn’t really fathom what he was telling me. It was crazy. I felt like something was missing. We ate up miles of lonely road while I chewed on why it was bothering me. Nothing looked any different out here, it was just trees and road and signs for various roadside amenities. You’d think the human race wasn’t under attack.
Then it hit me. “Hang on a sec. Why was anyone back there? I thought you said that was just recommissioned. What, were they waiting for the attack? How was anyone there at all?”
August didn’t say anything for a moment. He glanced at me but then turned his eyes back to the road. Then a smile pierced whatever cloud was bothering him and he started talking.
“The government has known about Changed for a year now. They’ve been trying to study them and figure out what happened with them, why they were Changed in the first place. When the attacks came, they shuffled their specialists around and set up some emergency field hospitals for recovery and study. They moved pretty damn fast. I guess they’d been preparing in case something turned for the worse for a while now.”
That sounded about right. It would have been the proper paranoid reaction I guessed.
“Have there been more attacks?” I asked, fearing what the answer might be.
“That we know of? A few more, yes. There was one in Brazil that happened in a stadium, during a football match. The entity killed less than sixty, though there were many more deaths when the crowd stampeded to escape. Another one was in a small town in Canada. We think only about twenty people were killed. But the biggest was Birmingham, Alabama. It was in a multiplex connected to a mall and the entity caused the whole thing to collapse while the place was full of people on a Friday night. They are still trying to figure out how many died in the wreckage.”
“Damn.” It was all I could say, all I could think to say. Everything else felt insufficient.
We drove for miles in silence. It seemed so surreal, on this stretch of normal looking road to be having this conversation. I saw a few cars travelling the same stretch of road and I wondered if the people inside felt the same.
I turned back to August and looked at him, really looked at him. He seemed friendly and easy-going, but beneath it all, I could see the tension in his jaw and the stress in the bags under his eyes. This was getting to him too. Knowing that made my desire for him blossom. I wanted to put my hand on his leg, to comfort him, to take away some of his burden.
Augh, where was this coming from? I had to distract myself. I rattled off the first thing that came to my mind, trying to keep the conversation going.
“Why can you get away talking to them like you do?”
“What? To the military?”
“Yeah, you seem to have a big run of the place for a regular guy.”
“Oh, that,” he say with a smirk. “I have friends in big places. And I’m bringing something to the project that they need.”
He frowned, glancing at me a moment before turning back to the road. “I’m not allowed to say. Not yet anyway.”
“Awww, come on August. You just said you have friends in big places. What are they going to do?”
August spared me a look, and then shook his head. “For now, it’s best if I don’t push things too far. Just trust me on this, ok?”
“You’re just trying to be mysterious,” I grumbled.
“If I knew for certain that you were going to join the project and stick with it, I would be more forthcoming. I just think it’s in everyone’s best interest that we don’t get ahead of ourselves.”
“Fine. Whatever. I don’t care,” I lied.
We spent more time in silence driving, maybe an hour. I caught him glancing at me every now and then, and he had the decency to look ashamed for keeping his mouth shut. I didn’t much feel like talking, even though there were so many more questions I wanted to ask. But hell, would he have answered them?
Even annoyed as I was, I could not shake this itch. I was warm all over and kept fidgeting, doing anything not to think of the inappropriate feelings I was experiencing.
We reached the military base by going off the normal road and driving down a lot of dusty back roads. It was deep in the woods, far from any populated area that I had seen or been announced on the road signs. Only a large fence and gate revealed its presence at all.
“Is this a secret base?” I asked as he punched a code into a panel beside the gate. I had the distinct impression we were being watched from the trees.
“Well,” he said, pulling his hand back in the car as the gate rumbled open, “I wouldn’t say ‘secret’ so much as ‘concealed’. We’ve repurposed an old base. We are trying to keep a lid on it for as long as we can.” He drove through the gate. “We don’t know how the entities know what we are up to but in case they are actually observing the media, or this is somehow caused by people, we don’t want to tip our hand just yet.”
On the other side of the gate was a guard shack. Two soldiers in heavy camouflage uniforms with MP written on their helmets came out and stopped August, demanding identification. He smiled and handed one of the men a badge. That guy disappeared inside his shack for several minutes, while the other kept a close eye on us. His rifle was large, long, and very black. It had a large scope and extra handle beneath the barrel. I had a hard time taking my eyes off them. The other soldier returned, handed back the ID and told us to go on.
“Sure seems like a secret base to me,” I muttered.
It took more driving to reach the real base. When we did, it was much as I’d expected to see. Several squat buildings amongst the trees: dormitories. There was a large open area in the middle. Several olive green trucks were parked to one side and a few of those smaller armored people carriers. There were a few people milling around the buildings.
“This is it. Camp Matthews, base of Project Aegis. Welcome to your new home, Peri.”
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Bio: Though born in the United States, I am now living in bonnie Scotland. Been writing most of my life and though I have some non-fiction (gaming) published, I have never had any of my fiction published in any format. I've written a few novels before but never tried sharing them with the world. My interests are primarily fantasy and urban fantasy. I appreciate any feedback, good or bad.