Kerry checked the time, then she put her pen down on her pad. “Okay folks.” She said. “I have to head out of here. Mark, I’ll see you in about thirty.”
“Gotcha, boss.” Mark replied. “We’re waiting for clearance to pull this rig in. “
“Mark, this is Danny.” Danny said. “We’ll come over there and talk to them. Give me five.”
“Will do. Kerry, I’ve got it.”
“All right. Miami exec off. “ Kerry pulled out her ear buds and stood up, walking around in a circle to shake the cramps out of her body from the tension of dealing with issue after issue for a solid hour. She had a headache from it, and even two cups of tea hadn’t prevented her throat from gaining a painful rasp.
The door cracked open, and Nan stuck her head in. “Ready to go? Sally at the front said no one else showed up for you.”
“Well, good.” Kerry flexed her hands and walked back over to the desk, picking up her jacket and slipping it on. “Maybe they changed their mind, or figured out something else to do, or talked to the Secret Service. Either way, I’m outta here.”
She shut down her laptop. “Is there a Wendys between here and the Pentagon?” She asked. “Love my hotel, but they have seriously deficient continental breakfasts.”
Nan smiled. “Yeah, there is. You sure you don’t want to stop somewhere else? There’s some great restaurants around there.”
“Nah.” Kerry buckled her briefcase and slid the strap over her shoulder. “So little time, so many fubars.” She followed Nan out the door and down the hallway. “I’ve got my fingers crossed hoping I get a call back from APC. They have a manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania.”
“APC.. the rack people?” Nan asked. “Do they need that many new ones for the Pentagon?”
“Well, they need some, but I called them for a couple of UPS’s.” Kerry shouldered the staff door open and held it as Nan went through. “For the Earthstation.”
“Ah, yeah. Right.” Nan pulled her keys from her jacket pocket. “Those poor guys. They were being pounded yesterday. I think they were almost glad they lost power because everyone stopped bugging them for space.”
Kerry slid into the passenger side seat. “Right now, I need to get the pressure off the station on the other coast, so hopefully we can get them some power and get them running again.”
Nan started the SUV and pulled out of the parking lot, pausing at the gate as the security guards waved and the big iron portal slowly slid aside to let them out. The big doors were set into well made concrete and stone walls, that stretched around the facility to an impressive height and came complete with a set of serious looking security guards whose bulk and stance were staunchly professional.
Kerry liked the guards in Miami, but most of them were what Dar called domesticated tabbies, nice men and women, and very competent but they focused on watching the building, and checking for fire alarms, helping the staff out when they locked their keys in their car, and manning the badge issuing equipment.
They weren’t the ILS Police. Most of them were far less intimidating than some of the marketing reps were with their big white teeth and aggressive tactics.
These guys here, on the other hand, looked like they were ready to turn back a platoon of Marines. Kerry was pretty sure she didn’t want to swap them for her uniformed friends down south, but it was nice to have them here, especially given the shifting uncertainties of the situation they were in. “Nice guys?” She asked, as they waved on the way out.
“Oh, absolutely.” Nan said. “In a no neck, space ranger kind of way.” She pulled out of the entry road and onto the main street. “They really take themselves very seriously, if you know what I mean. Most of them are ex military.”
“Mm.” Kerry remembered her time at the Navy base with Dar. “Are they reserve?” She asked. “I have a feeling this situation’s going to end up with us fighting someplace again.”
“Well, I don’t know that much about them.” Nan said.” But I thought I heard someone saying that they had to be completely retired, not in the reserves to be hired. Someone was complaining that it was wasn’t fair, because being a reservist or National Guard is supposed to be a good thing.”
Kerry considered that. She rested her elbow on the armrest and leaned back, watching the buildings flash by. “Boy, I can see both parts of that.” She admitted. “I do think serving your country is an admirable thing, and shouldn’t be a reason to block someone from employment.”
“That’s what that person was saying.” Nan said.
“On the other hand, if my whole security department was reserve and guard, and they all got called up, I’d be a pickle.” Kerry said. “It’s a really tough question,, especially these days. Used to be, if you were guard, the worst thing you’d have to deal with is helping with a flood, or being asked to patrol streets during a riot.”
“Now, it’s not like that.” Kerry said. “Before, employers didn’t really worry about hiring someone who had that commitment, because it wasn’t likely to impact them more than that one weekend a month or whatever. Nowadays, you’ve got a reasonable chance of being sent overseas for six months, a year, who knows?”
“We shouldn’t stop people who want to do it though.” Nan said, with a frown. “That seems selfish, I guess.”
“Business very often is.” Kerry agreed. “It’s all what’s in the company’s best interest.. “ She had to smile, however wryly at this. “Sometimes. But actually I agree, you shouldn’t stop people from serving and it shouldn’t be a bar to employment, so I am going to find out from Mariana why that’s so for this group since it doesn’t apply to anyone else that I know of. “
Nan nodded. “That’s cool.” She said. “My brother’s in the guard. He didn’t have to go the last time, but his boss pretty much told him he’d never promote him to anything really critical because he just couldn’t afford to have to replace him on short notice and it was too much of a hassle.”
Well. Kerry felt very ambivalent. She thought about how she’d feel if someone, say, Mark, had decided to join the guard and what that would mean for them if he had to leave and go overseas. “Well, you know, you have to deal with that all the time in business. I mean, people get sick or they quit and find other jobs.” She commented. “I’m not sure that’s fair of his boss, though.. I have to admit I do see the man’s point.”
“That’s what my brother said, pretty much.” Nan sighed. “He understands, but it still sucks. He really likes being in the Guard, and he has a lot of friends there. But he’s also got a kid on the way, and he also needs to make more money.”
Kerry folded her arms. “What does he do?” She gazed out the window, watching trees flash by that had the first tinges of leaves losing their green color on them.
“Java developer.” Nan said, succinctly. “There’s the Wendys. Sure you want that?”
“Yep.” Kerry could already taste the spicy chicken. “Tell your brother to send me his resume.” She added. “Mariana was saying last week she was desperately looking for more developers for two or three new projects we’re doing.”
Nan slowed, and pulled into the driveway of the fast food restaurant. “Are you serious?”
“Sure.” Kerry reached down and removed her wallet from her briefcase. “Dar once hired an out of work police receptionist with a nose ring off the streets in New York who now runs the data entry department at our largest payment processor in Queens.” She said, straightening up. “What?”
Nan was looking at her as though she’d grown a horn. “Really?”
“Really.” Kerry assured her. “We look for talent everywhere. It’s a bitch trying to keep up with the turnover on a quarter of a million people, you know? So if he’s interested, have him email me his resume. Most of the developers are flexible work space, so they can work from home, or here, or go to one of the local centers.”
Nan studied her for a brief moment, then she smiled. “Um.. you want to get this to go or eat in?” She asked, after a second. “And thanks. That wasn’t my motive in mentioning it, but I’ll tell him. He’s always asking me to get him into ILS, but I never felt comfortable recommending my own family.”
“Drive through’s fine.” Kerry said, opening the wallet and flipping past her driver’s license to her corporate credit cards. She selected one and waited, as Nan pulled the car up to the ordering kiosk. “Spicy chicken sandwich with cheese, sour cream and chive baked potato, and a medium Frostie. Get whatever you want, lunch is on me.”
Nan took the card she held out, then she rolled down the window to place their order.
Kerry had a moment’s peace, then her cell phone range. She put her earphones back in and answered it. “Kerry Stuart.”
“Kerry? This is Michael from APC, we spoke earlier?”
Never had she been so glad to hear from a salesman. “Hi, Michael, you got good news for me?”
“Well, I think I do.” Michael said. “We’ve got two big units, the EPS model, that we’d just finished fitting out for a road show, you know? To show the capabilities? Anyway, they’re truck mounted, with a diesel generator and we can have them over to your Newark location by tonight.”
Kerry did a little nerd dance in her seat. “Michael, that’s awesome. Doesn’t even matter how much it is, just send me the bill.”
“Do you one better.” Michael said, sounding pleased. “We’ll do it for the promotion, since the names all over the truck, but in return give me a shot at providing the racking and power for everything you rebuild.”
“You got it.” Kerry answered instantly. “I’ll tell Mark to start sending you a list of what we’ll need.”
“Great. I’ll get the guys rolling.” Michael said. “I’ll let you go, I know you must be swamped. Call me if you need anything else, okay?”
“Will do. Talk to you later, Michael and thanks again.” Kerry hung up, chortling softly under her breath. “One down, a hundred to go.” She finished dialing in and waited, as the phone connected to the global conferencing system.
They pulled forward to the delivery window. “Guess that was good news?” Nan handed Kerry’s card over to the cashier. “Thanks for lunch, by the way. It beats heat up pizza in the data center.”
Kerry held up her hand. “Miami ops? This is Miami exec.” She said. “Someone please get Newark on the landline or text, tell them we’ll have power generators there around dinnertime.” She listened to the ragged cheers. “Okay, I’m off again. Mark, see you in a few. You inside yet?”
“Just let us in, boss. We’re driving over to the far side.” Mark said. “I can see part of it. Holy crap.”
Kerry considered. “Thanks Mark. Be there shortly.” She closed her phone and turned in her seat. “You know what, we’d better pull over here and munch before we get there.”
Nan nodded, as she handed over Kerry’s bag. “Yeah, it’s probably going to be pretty busy. That’s a good idea.”
“Right.” Kerry waited until Nan pulled the big SUV into a nearby spot, and parked it. She then opened her bag and removed her sandwich, settling her frosty in the cup holder and unwrapping her chicken. “Actually.” She said. “I’ve been around a collapsed building. It’s not some place you want to have a picnic near.”
Nan took a sip of her drink, setting her taco salad down on her lap. “Was that the hospital thing from last year?”
Kerry nodded. She took a bite of her sandwich, enjoying the spicy taste.
“That was scary as hell. I was at project management training in New Mexico that week, but I saw it on the television, and the papers were full of stories about it for days after I got back.” Nan speared her salad with a fork. “You must have been scared in there.”
Kerry chewed thoughtfully, then swallowed. She wiped her lips with a lurid yellow napkin and reached for her frostie. “I sure should have been.” She said. “But I was too freaked out to be scared. I know that sounds bizarre, but I just wasn’t. I was pissed off and wanted out of there, that was for sure.”
“Did you get hurt?”
Kerry nodded. “Dislocated my shoulder.” She swallowed a spoonful of her frostie and went back to her sandwich.
Kerry nodded again, but remained silent as she chewed.
“How in the heck did you climb out that window with a dislocated shoulder?” Nan asked, suddenly, after they’d eaten quietly for a minute.
“Dar put it back in place after it happened.” Kerry explained.
“Good thing she knew how.” The dark haired woman spluttered. “That’s no joke! I’ve seen someone dislocate a shoulder on the football field and they were screaming!”
Kerry chuckled softly. “Her list of talents never ends.” She finished up her sandwich and folded the foil wrapper, putting it neatly inside her back before she removed the baked potato in its container. She’d gotten the top off, and the sour cream applied when her phone rang again.
“Niblets.” Kerry got the mic clipped into place and answered it. “Kerry Stuart.”
Nan glanced at her, eyebrows hiking briefly, then she put the cover on her now empty container and put it away in it’s bag. “I’ll get us moving again.” She said, starting the car and releasing the brake.
Kerry sighed. “Hello Mother, how’s the meetings going? I saw you on TV this morning.” She mixed her potato up and ingested a forkful as they pulled out of the parking lot and back out onto the main street.
“Did you? Ah, well, things are about as expected.” Cynthia Stuart responded. “Everyone is terribly upset, of course. But my committee would really like to speak with you if it can be arranged.”
“Which committee is it?” Kerry asked.
“The intelligence committee.” Her mother replied. “They were very interested in how much more information was available to you yesterday, and I know you were upset when I mentioned it, but really, I cannot take that back now.”
No, she couldn’t. Kerry had to admit.
“I did tell them I would ask you, if you could arrange a little time, to speak with them but could not promise anything.”
Fair enough. “Okay.” Kerry decided. “I’m on my way to the Pentagon now. I have to do a situational analysis there, and see what needs to be done to get everyone back up and running. Once that’s done, I’ll give you a call and we can arrange something.”
“Excellent.” Her mother sounded profoundly relieved. “Are things going well for you today?”
Kerry peered through the windscreen as she spotted the unmistakable bulk of the Pentagon looming in front of them. “So far, yes.” She said. “We found some of our people in New York, and my staff made it up here from Miami safely.”
There was heavy traffic around the entrance to the crash site, backing up onto the roadway. Nan slowed to a stop and they both looked through the trees at the building. “Holy Moses.” Nan breathed. “That looks totally different than it did on CNN.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” Cynthia said. “Perhaps we can have dinner together tonight?”
Kerry’s eyes were fixed on the huge black hole, smoke still drifting from it. “Sure.” She answered absently, her mind trying to sort out the horror. “I’ll call you later. Okay?”
“Excellent. Until later then.” The phone clicked off and Kerry merely closed it and put it on her lap, still peering out the window. “My God.” She closed up the remnants of her lunch and put it into it’s bag, rolling up the opening and putting it down between her boots.
It was shocking. She had a clear, though somewhat dim memory of the building in all it’s imposing, concrete glory and somehow seeing it squatting there in the grass, a black gouge taken out of it seemed completely unreal. “It’s like a bad movie.”
They inched up, towards the police guarding the entrance until they were even with them, tired, harried looking men trying to move cars past with impatient gestures. Nan rolled the window down and visibly braced herself for the argument she was sure was coming.
“Please move along, ladies.” The man said. “C’mon, we have to get emergency people in here.”
Nan took a breath, but Kerry put a hand on her arm, and leaned over. “Hello, officer.” She said, already holding out her badge in her hand. “I’ll make this quick because I know the last thing you need is a stopped car out here.”
The police officer leaned on the door and peered in at her. “Yes?”
“My company handles the IT for the building.” Kerry said, nodding towards the Pentagon. “We want to get things rolling again.”
The officer looked at her ID, glancing over it to look at Kerry. “One of your guys just went in there.”
“Our equipment van.” Kerry nodded. “With generators.”
The officer nodded. “You people don’t waste no time. Go on in, Ms. Stuart. They told us you’d be here.” He stepped back and motioned to the next officer, who dragged aside a barrier blocking the entrance to the big inside parking lot.
“Thanks.” Kerry said, taking back her badge. “Tell your guys to come by our truck later. We’ve got food and coffee there. I bet you could use some.”
The policeman managed a smile. “Thanks.” He said.
Nan rolled the window up and maneuvered the SUV through the opening in the barriers, the wheels bumping up over debris as she edged into the parking area.
“Over there.” Kerry spotted Mark’s truck, with the RV behind it, not far from the company courtesy bus. “That’s our area.” Already there were techs surrounding the spot, in jeans and company polos. They were in the back part of the lot. The front was filled with emergency vehicles and military ones, with a huge cluster of press tents behind the lot and separated by a fence.
Nan parked, and they got out. Kerry stepped away from the SUV and faced the building, her eyes taking in the smoking, gaping gap in disbelief.
She could smell the smoke. Mixed with that was the tinge of fractured concrete, the smell of burning electrical and shot through, with every other breath, a darker hint of decay and ruin. She took a few more steps towards the building, and stood, arms crossed as her eyes slowly scanned the area, seeing wreckage, and people, and exhausted faces.
Anger. Grief. Sadness.
To one side, a huge American flag was draped, as though in defiance. Kerry felt tears sting her eyes as she saw it and knew a moment of solemn kinship with everyone around her.
“Sucks.” Mark came to stand shoulder to shoulder with her.
“Yeah.” Kerry drew in a long breath. “Fifty states, right and left, Yankee and redneck, two billion opinions and twice as many assholes but right now we’re all Americans.” She turned and gave him a brief hug. “Let’s get to work.”
Dar was sideways in her chair again. She had both legs over one arm of her seat, and her head resting on the opposite padded rest. She had her eyes closed and her hands folded over her stomach, the drone of the engines filling her ears.
Her anxiety had faded, buoyed by the knowledge that she’d be landing hours before she’d expected to, and be in a position to immediately jump back into the problems she knew were waiting rather than facing international immigration, a second flight, a cross border drive, and a long haul up into Houston.
Across the aisle from her, Alastair was finally napping himself, and the lights had been lowered in the cabin along with the windowshades producing a dim, peaceful atmosphere and Dar was content to sprawl where she was in a state of half waking, half sleeping.
She’d started out by trying to think ahead to what was going on down on the ground, but the long day and the stress had caught up to her and now she was merely daydreaming, letting her mind run free with thoughts of where she’d wander with Kerry in Europe after world events calmed down.
Where would Kerry really like to go? She’d seemed enthusiastic about the Alps, Dar mused. Would she rather go to one of the ritzy winter resorts? Dar opened her eyes and looked around the inside of the private plane. She reluctantly admitted privately that she wouldn’t mind spending time in someplace nice; she suspected that though Kerry poo poo’d high society trimmings that she wouldn’t argue too hard against an in room marble Jacuzzi or chocolate dipped strawberries before bed either.
But would she rather be in some nice lodge somewhere quiet, where they could go outside and simply sit on a hill and look at the stars, rather than go outside and sit in a café looking at other kinds of stars living the high life?
Maybe they could find a compromise, like their cabin. She loved the comforts of it, and the contrast of that, against the raw, weatherworn dock outside and the proximity of the wildness of the sea. She and Kerry could go out and get as sandy and seaweed ridden as they pleased, and then relax on the couch in the air conditioning with a bowl of microwave popcorn.
Were they wimps? Maybe. Did she care?
Dar let that thought drift for a moment, then pondered the notion that it might work out that they were on vacation during Kerry’s birthday. What would she like to do for that? Dar decided her partner would probably want to do something special, maybe something exciting and new to her for her birthday.
Maybe they could go to Venice. Or Rome. Dar smiled. Or maybe the Greek Isles.
A soft sound made her open her eyes, and she turned her head to see the door opening quietly, to allow the steward to enter. He paused when he saw her somewhat odd position, but then continued moving, shutting the door behind him.
“It looks like we picked up an escort.” The man said, quietly, as he stopped next to Dar’s seat. “I don’t think it anything to worry about. They see to be keeping their distance.”
“Fighters?” Dar asked.
“I guess.” The man agreed. “Not my area of expertise. But the captain’s okay with it.” He continued. “They called him and just told him to keep on course, which is exactly what we want to do.”
Dar smiled. “Yep.” She said. “I’ll be damn glad to be home, even if it’s just for a little while.”
“I can well imagine.” The steward smiled back. “I’m going to go get my passport. I’m sure they’ll want to see it when we land.” He moved past Dar and went into the back of the plane, leaving her to resume studying the woven cloth ceiling.
After a moment, though, she sat up and reached across to the window shade, opening it to peer outside. Off the wing, at a reasonable distance, was a Navy fighter. “Ah. Hornet.” Dar put the shade back down and extended her seat out again.
She wasn’t sure how she felt about the escort. On one hand, she suspected they’d rattled more than one cage and no one was taking chances. On the other hand, she knew damn well there was a good chance whoever had sent the planes up recognized her name.
That was arrogant. Dar acknowledged it with a smile. But it was also true that there were a lot of people who would remember her either for better or for worse. Some now, for a lot worse. Her smile disappeared as she remembered Chuckie and what a mess that had turned out to be.
She wished again, for the nth time, that she could go back and do that all over. She thought maybe her father did too.
Her father. Dar found her thoughts moving to a different track. What would this mean for him? Would the Navy try to get him to come back?
Dar was troubled to realize she honestly didn’t know the answer to that question. She knew her father was very much invested in how he’d spent his life for all those years, and he had friends by the hundreds and probably thousands still in service.
But then there was her mother. After what he went through, Dar had to think that at the very least he had to seriously consider the question if they asked.
And if they did ask, she knew she’d go to the wall to convince him to say no. For her mother, for herself, damned if she was going to lose her family again. She’d get Kerry to help her if she had to.
She picked up the bottle of orange soda on the table and took a swig of it, and checked her watch, wondering what Kerry was up to. She’d probably made it to the Pentagon already, and Dar was sure she’d have plenty to tell her when she called.
Once she got the squeal out of the way.
She felt a faint pressure change against her ears, and let the thoughts go as the steward came back through the cabin, giving her a smile as he passed. “Heading down.”
“We are.” The steward nodded. “Boy, I’ll be glad to get on the ground.” He went to the front of the cabin and started preparing it for landing, bringing up the lights a little and fastening the curtains back.
Dar reached across the aisle and gave her bosses sleeve a tug. “Alastair?”
“Eh?” Alastair blinked and lifted his head. “What? More people need yelling at?”
Dar chuckled. “No. We’re starting down.” She moved her seat upright and reached for her briefcase, digging in it to retrieve her leather ID holder, which had her passport and her company badges in it. She also got her PDA and cellphone out, and set them on the small table next to her seat.
“Ah. We’re there.” Alastair stretched. “Damn, that’s great. But I could definitely use a cup of coffee.” He rubbed his eyes and rummaged around, getting his things together. “This is the tough end of the jet lag. We’ve got a whole damn day to get through now.”
“True.” Dar sighed. “Ah well, there’s always Cuban coffee.”
Alastair eyed her. “I heard about that the last time I was in the office here. What exactly is it?”
Dar settled back in her chair. “Strong espresso coffee, essentially, not that different from Italian but when they make it right, they take a pyrex mixing cup, put a half pound of sugar in it, and a half cup of the coffee then they whip it in to a froth, before the put the rest of the coffee in, mix it, and there you go.”
Her bosses eyebrows knitted. “Are you telling me it’s coffee and sugar one to one? Half and half?”
“And you actually drink that?”
Dar nodded again. “I like it.” She said. “You can also mix hot milk with it, and then it’s café con leche.”
Alastair covered his eyes with one hand. “When was the last time you had your blood pressure checked?”
“One ten over sixty six.” His CIO replied, her eyes twinkling a little.
Dar chuckled. “Stress does more to you than coffee” She said. “Best thing I did for my health in the last couple of years was get an assistant.” She held up a hand as Alastair started to laugh. “Ah ah.. not a joke. Aside from everything else.”
“I told you for years to get an assistant. “Alastair shook his finger at her.
“I couldn’t.” Dar said, swallowing a few times as the air pressure started to increase. “Everyone I even interviewed either drove me crazy, or was out to knife me in the back. Do you know how many of them were brought in by other people inside the company?”
Alastair sighed. “Yeah, I’m glad those days are behind us.” He admitted. “But you’re not going to BS me and tell me the only reason you hired Kerry was her business skills.”
Dar was silent for a few minutes. Then she turned and regarded Alastair. “The only reason I hired her as my assistant was her business skills.” She said. “I wasn’t about to screw either of us over by putting her in a spot she’d end up looking like a jackass in.”
“Really.” Dar said. “Oh, I wont’ say I wouldn’t have brought her in to some other position. I liked her. I knew we were attracted to each other. I knew there wasn’t much else she could do in that piss ant little company she was in.”
“But she had brains, and the guts to stand up to me, and I could tell by how she kept changing her game depending on what I threw at her that she’d be able to step in and handle us at an executive level in ops.” Dar rested her elbows on her chair arms and laced her fingers together. “And I was right.”
“You sure were.” Alastair agreed cheerfully. “She does a damn fine job. If that wasn’t true, your ass would still be back in London on the conference call because I wouldn’t have risked having you in the air with me for this whole time.”
Dar nodded. “Yep.”
“And it was a good opportunity for her. I’m sure she appreciated that.” Her boss went on. “Seems like she has ambition. I’m not surprised she jumped at the offer.”
All very true. Dar acknowledged. “I’m just glad she did.” She rubbed the edge of her thumb against the cool band of her ring. She swallowed again, and leaned over to pull the shade up. The Hornet was no longer visible outside, but the ground was, and she smiled as she recognized the very familiar outlines of the Everglades passing under the wings. “Landing from the west.”
“How can you tell?” Alastair lifted his own shade and peered out. “What in the hell is that?”
“The River of Grass.” Dar said. “The Florida Everglades.” She added. “In reality, one whomping big ass swamp.”
The steward poked his head into the cabin. “We’re about to land. Please stay in your seats until we do, and try to keep your seat belts fastened. It’s not a lot of fun bouncing off the inside walls if we have to stop short.”
Dar obediently clicked her seatbelt in place and tugged it snug. She was already looking forward to feeling the ground hit their tires, and she flipped open her PDA, tapping it open to a new message and scribing it as she heard the landing gear extend, and felt the distinctive motion as the plane moved from a nose down, to a nose up posture for landing.
“Ever wanted to learn to fly, Dar?” Alastair asked, suddenly. “One of these things?”
“No.” Dar shook her head. “I’ll stick to boats, thanks. You?”
“Have my pilots license.”
Dar stopped what she was doing and looked over at her boss, in real surprise. “You do?”
Alastair nodded. “Bunch of fellas and I went in on two of the little single engine putterbouts.” He said. “It’s a nice way to spend a Sunday, when you get tired of golf.” He fastened his seat belt and folded his hands, letting them rest on one knee. “I buzzed the country club last time I flew and scared two ladies right into the lake. I’m living in fear they’ll find out it was me.”
Dar started laughing.
“All those years in the boardroom sure came in handy when the wife came telling me all about it.” Her boss chuckled, glancing out the window as they approached the landing strip. “Well, here we go.”
The plane slowed, it’s wings drifting to one side and the other as the edges slid down to cup the air. Outside the windows, clouds were replaced by buildings and trees, flashing by as they settled down through the atmosphere and lined up with the runway.
A shocking sound made both of them jump, and look, but it was only the Hornets breaking off and roaring past, their engines sounding a brass thunder that rattled the interior of the cabin and made Dar’s ears itch.
“Thanks for stopping by, fellas.” Alastair remarked. “Good to see my tax dollars at work.”
Dar finished her message and hit send, waiting until the wheels of the plane touched down with a thump and a bounce before she activated the PDA’s comm link. Then she picked up her phone and opened it, dialing the first speed dial number on the list.
Home. She could almost feel the humidity and the smell of rain tinged hot air already.
Kerry blinked in the thick dusty air, sucking in breath through a white mask that covered her mouth and nose. In front of her was a door hanging off it’s hinges, and half a wall. Past that was a mass of concrete and metal, fused into unrecognizable lumps with a scattering of cables drooping out of it.
“Shit.” Mark exhaled, directing the beam of his flashlight into the wreckage.
“Well, that’s a total loss.” Kerry concluded. She folded her arms over her chest. “Someone just needs to confirm the inventory list for that room so I can have legal claim it against our insurance.”
“I don’t have nearly enough crap to replace this.” Mark said. “There was at least ten racks of gear in there.”
“It was just a fluke.” Another masked man said on her left side. “You see, this corridors pretty okay.”
Kerry looked around. “I see.” The hallway was broad and mostly silent, only a few ceiling panels and bits of concrete knocked out near where they were, and then nothing but long expanses of carpet and concrete walls further off. “So we were duplicating this on the other side, Danny With a link between them?” She glanced at the man on her left.
“Yes, ma’am.” Danny nodded. His arm was in a sling, but it was encased in a thick compression bandage rather than a cast. He was a fairly short man, with gymnast’s build and thick curly brown hair. “But there’s nothing in it yet. Not even racks.
“Do we have runs in there from the distro closets??” Mark asked. “They were really doing duplex? Not just runs from half to this room and half to that one with a crossover?”
Danny shook his head solemnly. “Runs from each distro to each core room.” He said “Ms. Roberts told em to, and you know whatever Ms. Roberts says…”
“Yes we know.” Kerry and Mark said at the same time. “God bless Dar’s forethought again.” Kerry went on, with a sigh. “All right. Let’s go over to the new room and get a list started.” She turned and waited for Mark to precede her with his flashlight. “I’m not going to be able to count the favors I’m going to have to call in on this one, and we’re nowhere near Manhattan yet.”
“No shit.” Mark shook his head. “I can start having everyone get their spare stuff ready to ship but I heard from the office today they won’t even let Fedex or UPS pick up.”
Kerry thought about that. “Well, how do you make sure all those brown packages aren’t bombs?”
“They want to blow up Fedex trucks?” Mark’s brows knitted.
“Maybe they want to blow up Fedex trucks delivering last minute bouquets to Pro Player Stadium.”
“Oh.” Mark said. “Yeah.”
Yeah. Kerry tried not to think about Dar, flying over the Atlantic in a potentially enticing to terrorist plane since it was coming so close to the US. She was sure the company had chartered the plane from somelace reputable, but after yesterday, anything could happen.
She didn’t want anything to happen. “Just get down, and have a margarita.” She muttered under her breath.
“Ma’am?” Danny leaned towards her. “Did you say something?”
“No, just clearing my throat.” There was no power, and the smell of crushed concrete and burning debris brought back surprisingly strong memories of the hospital collapse. “How’s the roll call doing, Danny?” Kerry asked, to get her mind off that.
“We’re still down three, ma’am.” Danny said. “Ken Burrows, our lead punchdown guy, his assistant Charlie, and Lee Chan, our Wan specialist.” He wiped the dust out of his eyes with his free hand. “They were all in the section that took the hit, we think.”
Kerry involuntarily glanced behind her, at the crushed room. Then she turned her head and looked resolutely ahead, picking her way through the fallen ceiling debris carefully. “And you said five people are in the hospital?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Danny said. “We logged them in yellow, though. The other four we were missing turned up last night. Said they were helping people get out all day and didn’t get a chance to get online.” He explained. “It was really crazy here yesterday.”
They moved through inner hallways, mostly empty, the air still and almost stale. Kerry felt sweat gathering under her shirt and she fought the urge to pull the mask off her face as she followed the group along one wall.
Everyone was pretty quiet. The masks muffled speech and the lack of power and air conditioning let them hear creaks and pops in the walls around them. Kerry felt anxious, and she walked a little faster even though they’d been told several times the building was safe.
Inside, it was hard to picture the destruction she’d faced on the outside of the building. The walls of the structure looked very much like some huge giant had taken a hatchet and whacked the top side of one of the five sections, cutting right through the concrete and exposing inner offices as it collapsed inward.
Chillingly bizarre. At the edge, you could see file cabinets. Chairs. The beige inevitability of computer monitors.
It felt so unreal. Just as it had when she’d been in the hospital collapse, the familiar turned strange and frightening, making her want to get past it, get out, and feel cool, fresh air again. She heard voices ahead, and she looked up and past Mark’s shoulders to see a cluster of men in work clothes ahead at the junction of two hallways.
“Uh oh.” Danny said. “Those are the electrical guys.”
Kerry patted him on his uninjured shoulder and eased past, coming up even with Mark as they approached the crowd. There were men in fatigues mixed in with the workers, she now realized, and several others were in more formal military uniforms. “Damn.”
“What?” Mark whispered. “What’s wrong?”
“Wish Dar was here.”
Mark eyed her wryly. “44 75 68, boss.”
Kerry’s brows knit, as she allowed herself to be briefly distracted. “Hex?” She finally hazarded a guess. “No, not for the reason you’re thinking. She’s just a lot better at relating to the guys in uniforms than I am.”
“Uh huh.” Mark slowed and came to a halt since the crowd was blocking the hallway. “Let’s see what’s up with this now.” He removed his mask. “Driving me nuts.”
Kerry had about enough herself. She eased the mask off and sniffed the air, relieved to smell nothing more ominous than a little dust, this far from the destruction. The rest of the crew did the same, clustering warily behind Kerry and Mark as they eased closer to listen.
“Okay, here’s the plan. Everyone has their clipboard?” One of the men in uniform was saying. “You have your sectors. I need to know the power, status, ability to work in, and damage in every square inch of the four sections not involved in the crash.”
He glanced up as he sensed motion and spotted Kerry and her group standing there. “Excuse me.” He said, in a stern tone. “Who are you people, and what are you doing in here?”
Kerry nudged her way to the front and met his eyes. “We’re from ILS.”
The man looked blank.
“Those are the IT people, chief.” One of the men in fatigues supplied. “The computer guys.”
“Oh.” The officer nodded at them. “Well, none of the computers are working.”
“We know.” Kerry agreed. “That’s what we’re here for. To get them working again.” She stuck her hands in her pockets.
The officer looked at her with interest. “Okay, hang on a second.” He turned to the group. “Move out, gentlemen. I expect you to report back here in four hours.”
The men dispersed, easing around Kerry and her crew and moving down the hallways in groups of three or four. They led the way with flashlights, the beams flickering around the half darkened walls in an odd and disjointed rhythm.
“Now.” The officer faced Kerry. “Sorry, let’s start this again. I’m Billy Chaseten.” He held a hand out, which Kerry gripped firmly. “You said you were from what company now?”
“ILS.’ Kerry said. “My name is Kerry Stuart. My team and I are here to start the process of restoring communications to the facility.” She glanced at his name plate. “Do you know when they’re going to turn the power back on for starters, Captain?”
“Still got people cutting the live lines into the bad section.” The captain said. “They can’t turn the juice on until that’s secure.” He added. “You all the ones who handle the internet, and the phones and all that too?”
“That’s right.” Kerry said. “Our main core space was destroyed. We need to get rolling on replacing it.” She smiled at the captain. He was tall, and had a handsome face under a brown buzz cut. “I know everyone’s scrambling.”
“That we are, and I don’t want to get in your way, ma’am.” The office smiled back at her. “Anything I can do to help you?”
“Well.” Kerry cleard her throat gently. “Actually you can get out of our way. You’re standing in front of the door to our backup core center.”
The man blinked, then he turned, shining his flashlight on the big metal door he’d been leaning against. “Well, shoot. I am.” He moved aside. “Sorry about that.”
“I’ve got the keys.” Danny moved forward, going to the door and fishing a set of thick silver keys from his pocket. “They hadn’t even put the scan locks in yet.”
The soldier sidled over closer to Kerry as Danny sorted amongst the keys. “You folks lose a lot of stuff? I was talking to the security system people and they said they had a ton of rewiring to do.”
“Got it.” Danny unlocked the door and opened the room, pulling the metal portal towards him and back against the wall.
The inside of the room was dimly lit with emergency lighting, and they all shuffled inside, Mark and one of the other local techs shining their flashlights around to illuminate the space.
“Well.” Kerry sighed. “We lost enough equipment to fill this room.” She glanced at the captain, who was still interestedly at her side. “Unfortunately.”
“Ouch.” The captain shook his head. “I heard my CO going on or really, going off about nothing working in the rest of the building. He know you all are here?”
“Probably not.” Kerry admitted. “We.. well, my team came up from Miami with our equipment truck and I .. just got here from Michigan. We didn’t talk to anyone first.”
The captain looked at her strangely.
“We know what to do.” Kerry smiled briefly. “It’s not like someone had to call us to tell us there was a problem.”
“Hey boss?” Mark called over. “This room wasn’t near ready for occupancy. They haven’t run the power, or the environ.”
“Ah.” Kerry removed her hands from her pockets. “Excuse me.” She eased between two of the local techs and went to Mark’s side. His flashlight was shining on a very un-terminated power distribution box and a set of wires hanging from the ceiling. “Oh, boy. Nothing easy here.”
“They were supposed to put that stuff in next week.” Danny agreed glumly. “We didn’t even have storage yet, that’s why we told them to hold delivery of the gear.”
Damn. Kerry exhaled and took a step back, somewhat at a loss. What was that Dar was always telling her? Think out of the box?
Think out of the box. “I think this box just got slammed over our heads.” She muttered. “Danny, can you take me to whoever’s in charge of the building electrical?”
“Uh. Sure.” Danny nodded.
“Mark, start calling in a list of PDU’s and racks to APC.” Kerry said. “Bring what you can in here. Let’s just do what we can to start.”
“Got it, boss.” Mark said. “Okay guys, go get the lanterns, and get the trolleys out and unfolded. Let’s get moving.”
The techs trooped out. Kerry and Danny were the last ones out, and he turned to close the door and lock it behind him. The captain was still standing there, leaning against the wall.
“Ah, hey. Ms. Stuart?” The captain pushed off as she cleared the door. “Heard you say you needed to talk to the building people. Maybe I can help with that? My CO”S got some push.”
Kerry patted his arm. “I’ll take any help I can get. C’mon with us.” She motioned Danny ahead of her and they trooped off down the hallway. “Thanks for the offer, Captain.”
“Call me Billy.” The officer said. “All my friends do.”
“Ma’am?” Danny cleared his throat. “Maybe we could invite the facilities chief to the bus for lunch?” He suggested. “He’s been here all night.” He peeked over at the captain. “Maybe we could all go?”
Kerry chuckled wryly. “Hungry?” She asked. “Sure. I think that’s a great idea. We can meet in the bus if the chief is up for it. You’re invited too, Billy.”
“Sounds good to me.” Billy was more than willing to go along. “Let’s take a shortcut through here..” He indicated a guarded hallway. “I’ll stop and give my CO a heads up. I know for sure he’s very interested in this whole computer thing.”
“Lead on.” Kerry checked her watch. “Jesus.. half past one already?”
“Day’s flying.” Billy said. “Not like yesterday.” He added. “Every minute yesterday lasted an hour.”
They all sobered, as the guards opened the doors on their approach and the entered a cooler, grayer hallway, with metal doors on either side of it. Billy headed for one, his hand on the knob as Kerry’s cell phone rang.
“Hang on.” Kerry unclipped the phone and glanced at the caller ID, stopping and staring at it for a long moment before she hastily opened it. “Dar?”
“Hey, love of my life.”
Kerry felt like she had electrical prickles heating her skin. “You guys go on. I need to take this.” She told Billy and Danny. “I’ll catch up with you.”
“Yes ma’am.” Danny went over to where the captain had paused. “That’s our big boss.” He explained, as they entered the office, and closed the door behind them.
Kerry leaned against the wall. “Where are you?” She was glad the hall was empty. “Are you in the air?”
“Nope.” Dar said. “Just landed in Miami.”
Another surge of pricking across her skin. “Miami?” Kerry squealed. “Are you kidding me? You’re really home?” She said. “What happened to Mexico? They let you land? Did you call Gerry?”
“Long story.” Dar said. “Bottom line is, we just landed at Opa Locka.. I figure we’ve got some explaining to do to the local officials then they should let us out of here.”
“Like I said, long story.” Dar replied, in a wry tone. “I’m just glad to be on the ground.”
Kerry felt unexpected tears stinging her eyes. “I’m glad too.” She said, lowering her voice. “I feel like fifty pounds just came off my shoulders. I was worried about you.”
“Back at you.” Her partner said. “Where are you?”
“Pentagon.” Kerry sniffled and wiped her eyes.
“What do you need me to do?”
Kerry sighed. “Where do I start.” She tried to put her thoughts in order, squirming through the emotion with some difficulty. “Can you lean on Justin and get us gear?” She asked. “I’m trying to deal with facilities here.”
“You got it.” Dar said. “I know what was in that room. I’ll get it out there.”
“The black box thing… that was just a foul up. They were looking for something we didn’t have.” Kerry said. “I sent them to the Tier 1’s.”
“I want to squeeze you so hard your eyeballs pop out.”
Dar started chuckling.
“I’m not kidding.”
“I know. I wish I could have wangled them letting us land in Dulles. Hang in there, hon.” Dar said. “We’re getting surrounded by tin soldiers. I have to go be me. I’ll call you back once I’m getting a café con leche with Alastair and we figure out the next twenty minutes of the plan.”
“Okay.” Kerry relaxed against the wall, smiling whole heartedly. “Love you.”
“Love you too.”
Kerry closed the phone, letting out a long, heartfelt sigh. Then she clipped the phone to her belt, squared her shoulders, and headed for the CO’s office. “Let’s hope my lucky streak hauls it’s ass right on.” She pushed the door open. “But it’s going to be hard as hell to beat that.”
Dar got up and clipped her phone onto her front pocket, stripping off the pullover she’d worn and leaving herself in just a tee shirt. She folded the pullover and tucked it into her briefcase, as Alastair closed his own phone and sighed. “Bea pissed?”
“Relieved, actually.” Alastair pulled his own briefcase over and started to gather his things. “She said at least she knows me landing here means I probably won’t be dancing on some table with a bottle of tequila.”
Dar paused, and glanced over her shoulder. “We could arrange for that if you really wanted to.”
“Ha hah.” Her boss said. “Bea seems to think you’d be a good influence. I don’t think we have any pictures in the archives of you with a flowerpot on your head.”
“I’m sure you don’t.”
Alastair chuckled. “How’s Kerry?” He watched Dar’s face crease into a brief grin. “She doing all right?”
“Yeah.” Dar said. “She’s at the Pentagon. She needs me to take care of some things but we’d better wait to get off this tub.”
“Waiting till then to call the wife, myself.” Her boss said. “I can hang up on Bea and not get in too much trouble.”
The steward came in and went over to the door to the cabin. “Folks, please take your seats until we get the plane fully secured here. They’re going to come inside.”
Dar dropped into her chair, setting her briefcase down by her feet as she tucked her passport and identification into one hand. She looked out the window, not surprised to see several military transports pulling up. “Ah. C’mon.”
“What?” Alastair looked up from rooting out his passport.
“I have too much to do with too few energized brain cells to deal with pissed off officials.” Dar sighed, bracing her foot up against the small desk as the steward opened the door and carefully lowered it with it’s attached stairs. “Alastair, just cut them a check.”
Her boss chuckled and shook his head, then straightened as three men in uniform came into the plane, with machine guns pointed right at them. “Ah.”
“Everyone stay where you are and don’t move.” The first man said, in a firm voice.
Dar took in the tense posture, and the flicking eyes, and had the sense to stay still, just watching as two of the men came down the aisle and the third slammed the steward against the wall. “Don’t’ move, Alastair.” She said. “That’s loaded and he’s jacked enough to pull the trigger.”
The lead soldier swung his muzzle around and pointed it at her, his face obscured behind a gas mask.
Dar met his gaze evenly. “My father taught me not to point at something unless I’m going to shoot it.” She remarked. “Especially civs.”
He stared at her briefly, moving the muzzle of his gun away from her, then he just continued on down the aisle, moving to the back of the plane and kicking open the bathroom door.
The second man, after sweeping the area around them turned and headed for the cockpit. “Get him secured, and come with me.” He instructed the third man. “They said these people are all right.”
The third man hustled the steward out to hands they could see reaching in the door, then he whirled and ducked through the door and headed up to the front of the plane.
“Well.” Alastair folded his hands on his lap. “Ain’t this nice.”
“At least we’re ‘all right’.” Dar got out her PDA and started typing on it. “I was definitely not in the mood to be body slammed.”
“You’re pretty cool in front of a gun.” He commented. “Not that you’re not pretty cool in most situations.”
“I was hoping I was talking to a pro.” His CIO admitted. “They really do know how to do this. Military training is not the oxymoron most people think it is.”
The third man came back down the aisle and passed them without comment. He went to the door and motioned to someone, then he, too, headed for the cockpit.
Heavy steps sounded on the stairs and two men entered, dressed in dark uniforms complete with a gunbelt and mace cans. They approached Alastair and Dar with very no nonsense expressions.
“Hi.” Alastair greeted them. “How’re you doing, fellas?” He held up his passport. “Want to start with this?”
The man in the lead did take the passport, opening it to study the contents while his companion held out his hand to Dar for hers. “Ma’am?”
Dar obliged. She watched him flip through the pages, then noticed behind him that two more soldiers had come in and were standing in the aisle, blocking her view of the front of the plane. They weren’t facing towards her, though, they were facing away.
“You folks say you boarded in England?” The first man asked Alastair.
“That we did.” Alastair agreed. “Little airfield in London. Nice place. Nice folks.”
“Where did you expect to land?” The man asked.
“Mexico City.” Dar answered.
The customs officer turned. “I didn’t ask you.”
Dar merely looked at him, one eyebrow lifting.
“Mexico City.” Alastair spoke up, in a dry tone.
The customs officer turned back to him. “Did you know your pilot asked for a course change?”
“Sure. I told him to.” Alastair leaned on his chair arm. “I didn’t feel like flying into a storm and spending a couple hours losing my lunch.” He added. “So yes, I knew. I asked him to fly south, and go around the storm. For some reason, that wasn’t appreciated.”
“No, it wasn’t.” The man said. “What was your business in Mexico?”
“It’s the closest place I could land to Houston.” Alastair said. “That’s where we actually were going.”
“Houston? You live there?”
“I live there.” Alastair confirmed. “Our corporate offices are there.”
There was a hustle of motion near the front, and Dar got a glimpse of the crew being crowded out the door, surrounded by the soldiers. She got a look at the pilot’s face, and saw utter fear there. “What’s going on there?” She asked, pointing at the door.
“That’s not your concern ma’am.” The other customs officer studied the rest of her ID. “I see you have a Florida driver’s license in here.” He glanced up at her. “Can I ask what that’s for?”
“Driving.” Dar answered. “You need one. It’s the law.”
The officer looked hard at her. “You need a Florida license in Texas? That’s news to me. What about you, Roger?”
“News to me too.” The other officer said. “Can you explain why you have a Florida license if you live in Texas?”
“I don’t live in Texas.” Dar was starting to find the conversation irritating. “I live in Florida. At the address on the license.” She pointed at the passport. “That’s why the passport was issued in Miami, too. Flying to Texas to get one would have been pointless.”
“But you were going to Texas?” The man ignored her sarcasm.
“We were going to Texas because it has a country on it’s border we could fly into.” Dar explained. “And we were trying to get home. But trust me, I’m a lot happier to be in Miami.” She paused. “Where I live. At the address on the license.”
“I’m not, given this conversation.” Alastair said. “I’d rather have played poker with the agents in Laredo.”
The first officer swung around to him. “You may think this is funny, but I can assure you its not.”
“I don’t find it funny at all.” Alastair shot back. “Considering you’ve had our names for four hours and a five second visit to Google would have identified us, and the company we work for, and since we’ve got to now go bust our asses fixing things for the government I’d just appreciate it if you agree we are who the passports say we are and let us get on with it.”
“Alastair, you’re getting grumpy in your old age.” Dar remarked. “C’mon, the only pressing thing we have to deal with is getting the government payroll out and bringing the systems back up for the Pentagon. I’m sure they’ll understand we had to spend time with customs.”
Alastair sighed again. “Bring back the fellas with the guns.”
The customs officer studied Alastairs passport. “Do you have anything to declare?” He asked. “I assume they didn’t get you entry cards.”
“Nope, and nope.” Alastair said. “Didn’t even stop for a bottle of Scotch.”
The second man handed her back her identification. “Ma’am, anything to declare?”
Dar took her passport and tucked it into her briefcase. “No..wait, yes.” She said. “About four hundred bucks worth of stuff I got for friends before the planet crashed in on us.”
The customs agent nodded somberly. “Souvenirs?” He watched Dar nod in response. “Did you bring in any tobacco, alcohol, or prohibited products?”
“Roger?” Another man stuck his head in the door. “We need you guys over here. We may have something with these pilots.”
Roger handed Alastair back his passport. “Welcome home.” He said, briefly. “No one wants to give you a hard time, Mr. McLean. We just have a job to do.”
“I appreciate that.” Alastair said, sincerely. “Its just been a very long day, and it’s only half over. I’m sure yours is too.” He added. “And I realize it’s not our affair, but is there a problem with the fellas who flew us here?”
Roger hesitated, then he shook his head. “I can’t discuss that.” He answered. “They’re being investigated. They may just be allowed to go on their way. They may not.” He motioned his companion to move towards the door. “Have a good day, folks. Watch your step on the way down.”
They rattled down the steps and there was a sound of engines revving outside, then silence.
Alastair looked at Dar, as a gust of hot air blew in the door. “So that’s it?”
Dar got up and went to the door, peering out. The tarmac was now empty, the cars disappearing into the distance where a big hangar was abuzz with military activity. There were no other planes anywhere near them, and they were alone. “Guess so.”
“Lord.” Alastair sighed. He got up out of his seat and came over to where she was standing, poking his head out to look around. “Y’know Dar? I’m not getting much out of today.”
“C’mon.” Dar went to the back of the plane and unlatched their luggage. “Glad they didn’t put this underneath. I’ve lost my chops for breaking into aircraft.”
Her boss came over to claim his rolling bag. “Did you used to do that?” He asked curiously. “I didn’t think you had a larcenous youth, Dar.”
“I didn’t.” Dar followed him down the aisle, pulling her own bag behind her. “Just a wild one. We used to run all over the base getting into things. Personnel carriers. Old airplanes.”
They climbed down out of the airplane, awkwardly dragging the luggage behind them. Ouside, it was a very typical muggy Miami afternoon, and after about ten seconds Dar was direly grateful she’d stripped down to her T.
She paused, something odd niggling at her senses. The airfield was dead quiet, and there was a warm breeze that moved the muggy air and the thick foliage of the trees at the perimeter of the field. It was partly cloudy, and everything seemed normal.
“Hang on.” Dar turned all the way around, then slowly, she tipped her head back and scanned the sky. It wasn’t something odd, she realized, it was something missing. “It’s so quiet.”
Alastair looked at the sky, then at her. “No planes?”
“No planes.” She answered. “The only time before this I remember no planes is when Andrew hit. And it sure as hell wasn’t quiet.”
“Huh.” Alastair shaded his eyes. “Well..”
“Yeah.” Dar turned and started walking. “Where were we?”
“Tanks?” Alastair asked, as they trudged across the steamy tarmac towards the terminal.
“Tanks.” His CIO confirmed. “Ask my father. He loves to tell people how I took out the dining hall with one.”
“Not on purpose.” Dar admitted. “I ordered a car for us.”
“Are those two statements related?” Alastair asked. “We could take a cab, y’know.”
“Only if you’d be amused at me knocking the driver out and taking control of the air conditioning and the radio. I lost my love for sweat and someone elses taste in music years ago.”
“Well, all righty then.”
“Besides, with our cab drivers the car’s cheaper.” Dar opened the door, standing back to let Alastair enter. The inside of the terminal was cool and empty, only a single security guard slouched in a bored posture at the entrance desk. He looked up and studied them, then went back to reading his magazine.
“Ah.” Alastair mumbled. “High security.”
“Guess he figures if the goon squad let us loose we’re safe.” Dar gave the man a brief nod. They passed the desk and exited the front of the small terminal and back out into the muggy sunshine. The drive in front was full of empty cars, military vehicles lined up against the curb and some pulled up randomly. “Must be using the Coast Guard base here.”
“Sure.” Alastair took advantage of a small bench and sat down on it, glancing at his watch. “Hope that car’s fast.” He said. “Or he’ll end up pouring me into the back seat.” He rested his elbows on his knees. “I’m too old for all this crap.”
Dar took a seat on the concrete, leaning against one of the support posts that held up the seventies era concrete overhang that would in a rainstorm almost completely fail in protecting anyone from getting wet. She could smell newly cut grass, and the dusty pavement, and drawing a breath of warm damp air, admitted privately to herself that no matter how uncomfortable it was, it was home.
She’d been in prettier places, with better weather, and nicer scenery but there was something in her that only relaxed, only felt ‘right’ when she was in this air, with these colors and the distinctive tropical sunlight around her.
She wondered if Alastair felt like that too. “Were you born in Houston, Alastair?”
“About an hour north of there.” Alastair replied. “Little place called Coldspring, near Lake Livingston.” He glanced at her. “Why?”
“Just curious.” Dar said. “You ever want to live anywhere else?”
Alastair leaned back and let his arms rest on the bench, extending his legs and crossing them at the ankles. “Y’know, I never did.” He admitted. “When I was younger, I traveled a lot and saw a lot of places. I thought about moving, maybe to Colorado. It’s pretty there.”
“But I’d come back, and look around, and say, well, why move?” He continued. “Every place has it’s peculiar problems. Nothings a paradise. I like Texas. I like the people, I like the attitude. It fits me.”
“That’s how I feel about here.” Dar watched a lizard scamper down the pylon she was leaning against and regard her suspiciously. “I bitch about the traffic and the politics but it’s home.” She glanced at her watch, then she turned and looked at the long, tree lined approach to the terminal. “Here we go.”
Alastair leaned forward and spotted the car approaching. “Well that wasn’t too bad, now was it?”
“No.” Dar got up off the ground. “I wanted to wait until we were rolling before I started yelling at people on the phone.” She studied the big Lincoln Town Car that was rapidly approaching them. “Hope they remembered the YooHoo.”
The driver stopped the car and got out, coming around the front of the car rapidly. “Afternoon, folks.” He said. “I had a little trouble getting past the police barricade, and I don’t think they want me in here so we should make a little haste.” He reached for their bags, popping the trunk with his remote in his other hand.
“Police?” Alastair frowned, handing his bag over. “Place is closed… why do they need police?”
The driver threw his bag in the trunk and grabbed Dar’s. “I guess you haven’t heard what’s been going on here, huh? I was real surprised to get a note to pick up here, tell you that.”
“No, we haven’t..” Dar headed for the now open back door. “We’ve been in the air for nine hours…”
Alastair was getting in the other side as the driver slammed the trunk and trotted for the front seat. “Something going on here in Florida? More terrorist activity?” He got in and joined Dar, as the driver slid behind the wheel and threw the car into gear. “There’s not a problem here, is there?”
“Problem?” The driver turned the car in a tight U, heading back down the approach as six police cars came rolling down the opposite lane. “Lady, they’re arresting people and kicking down doors right and left around town.” He watched intently in the rear view mirror as he drove, turning it so he could see the police cars. “My brother works for Dade County and he just told me the guys who took over those planes lived down here.”
“Here?” Alastair said. “What the hell?” He looked at Dar. “They lived here? I thought they were saying on the news before we left this was from some group outside?”
“Who knows at this point?” The driver said. “Hey, I’m Dave, by the way.” He added. “You gave me an address off Brickell, right?” He looked quickly behind him. “Guess those guys forgot about me.”
“Right” Dar murmured. “This all doesn’t make sense.”
“Nothing’s made sense since yesterday morning.” Dave said. “That cooler in the back’s got the drinks you asked for. They aren’t very cold yet, I had to stop by Publix to get them.” He glanced at them in the rearview. “How’d you folks end up landing here anyway? We heard there were no planes allowed to land. It’s been real dry for us. I sure was glad to get the call. You need to go anyplace else? Want to stop and pick up some java?”
Dar met his eyes in the mirror. “Do we look like we need it?” She asked, wryly.
“Anyone flying for 9 hours needs it.” He neatly sidestepped the question. “You a Starbucks or Versailles kinda lady?”
“Versailles, please.” Dar had to smile. “I promised my boss here a café cubano.”
“You got it.” The driver said. “Sit back and relax, and I’ll get you right there. I figured you were local.”
“Thanks.” Dar did, in fact, sit back in her seat. She opened her PDA and looked up a number. “Might as well get this started.” She was about to dial, when the phone rang. “Dar Roberts.” She answered it, only to have it beep for a second incoming call.
Alastair was already on the phone, waiting for it to be answered. “Does that java come in buckets?” He asked. “I think we’re going to need it.”
Kerry felt a sense of odd déjà vu as she took her bottle of ice tea and settle down in one of the thick leather chairs in the courtesy bus. “Gentlemen, thank you very much for taking time out of your day to talk with me for a minute.”
The facilities chief, an older man with a bristly gray buzz cut and a weathered face dropped into the chair across from her with a tired grunt. “Any excuse to sit down.” He glanced up as one of the bus workers approached him and offered a tray. “What’s that?”
“Roast beef sandwich, sir.” The young woman supplied. “And we have chips and fresh potato salad.”
The chief didn’t hesitate, reaching over to envelope one of the rolls in a large, callused hand. “Hand em over. First thing I had since dark of the clock this am.”
Having supplied herself with spicy chicken, Kerry was content to watch as the military men were served, Danny and two of the other techs already busy at the nearby counter chowing down. She opened her bottle of ice tea and sipped from it, jerking just a bit as her PDA went off. She pulled it out and opened it, unable to repress a smile when she saw the message’s sender.
We’re out of the airport and heading for coffee. Did you know all hell’s breaking loose down here? People getting arrested and all that?
Jet lag sucks.
We are going to the office after this. I’m working on your gear. I got two calls from clients up in New York who complained they were down and told them off. I think I scared Alastair. Some guy from the NSA called me, but hung up before he could tell me what he wanted.
Left a message for Gerry. Maybe he can get me up there tonight.
Kerry’s eyes widened. “Tonight???”
“Ma’am?” The bus attendant was in front of her. “Would you like a sandwich?”
Tonight? Kerry blinked at the tray, completely distracted. “Uh… no.” She held up her tea. “I’m fine thanks. I stopped and had lunch on the way here.” She waited for the server to move away, then looked down again at her PDA.
I need a good night’s sleep with you wrapped around me.
“So now, what’s this all about.” The chief said, wiping his lips with a company logo’d napkin. “You people the computer people?”
Kerry hesitated, then she closed the PDA. “Yes, we’re the computer people.” She fought the urge to go back to Dar’s note. “But we work with a lot more than computers. We handle the systems that let you communicate with the rest of the military infrastructure, and run most of the programs that bring in information and send out things like accounting and payroll.”
The chief chewed his sandwich, studying her with faded blue eyes. “So what you’re saying is you’re important.”
Kerry shook her head. “No. You’re important.” She disagreed. “The people here working their tails off to get things back up and going are important. Our mission here is to help you do that.”
One gray eyebrow cocked. “Good answer.”
The CO, a tall, lanky man with straight, dark hair chuckled softly under his breath. “Ms. Stuart, I’ve been trying to get hold of your management since yesterday.” He said. “You don’t need to sweet talk me into pushing to get you what you need.”
“Well.” Kerry paused. “We had to evacuate our commercial operations center and they took the brunt of that over in Houston. I know they were slammed. I was traveling yesterday here, Dar Roberts, our CIO and our CEO Alastair McLean were in transit back from England.”
“Seems like you were putting together a plan to come help us anyway.” The CO said. “But then, you people always do. I hate computers.” He said. “I wish I could throw the lot of them into the Potomac but at least you make ours work.”
“Most of the time.” Kerry accepted the compliment with a smile. “They’re machines. They break. “ She paused a moment. “So what I need, to bring this conversation to a point – is power in our backup core space.”
“One that ain’t finished yet?” The chief asked.
“Sure.” Kerry replied. “We never do things the easy way.”
“What’s the point of that, Ms. Stuart?” The CO asked.
“Please, call me Kerry.” Kerry said. She stood up and went to the side mounted white board and picked up a marker. “Your systems are laid out like this. “ She quickly sketched in the five sided building, and it’s rings, putting squares in place rooted out of her memory of Dar’s planning sessions. “Each area has a wiring closet, and those closets are connected with a fiber backbone.”
She glanced behind her, finding the military men watching her intently. “Eventually, everything has to come back to one place, so we can take it out of the building. In this case, for this facility, we had two central locations for redundancy.”
“Ah huh.” The chief said. “Remember you all bitching about all that space that took up?” He turned and looked at the CO. “Had to hear that from you for a month.”
“You did.” The CO agreed. “Thought it was a waste of time until I got told I didn’t know my ass from a teakettle and to leave the IT stuff to the IT people.”
Kerry eyed him. “Talked to Dar, huh?”
“Certainly has a smart mouth.” The CO said. “I was about to kick up when she went off talking for about twenty minutes and I have to admit to you I did not understand one single word she said. Might as well have been speaking Turkish.”
“The mouth goes with the rest of her.” Kerry said, in a mild tone. “She’s brilliant. Sometimes she goes on for twenty minutes and I don’t understand a word.”
“Yes, well, I realized that when we went through the plan for the reconstruction of the wing there, and figured out if we hadn’t had a spare, we’d have been in a world of hurt trying to work around that. So all’s good.” The CO said. “But here we are, nothing’s working.”
“Right.” Kerry went back to the diagram. “There is no way we can quickly recover the destroyed room.” She looked over at the chief. “I think you probably realize that.”
The man nodded. “Find all your folks?” He asked, the tone of the conversation suddenly growing quiet, and grim.
“Not all of them.” Kerry said. “We’re still missing a few.”
The chief studied her. “Might have been in there. Your folks were, a lot.”
There was an awkward silence. Kerry folded her arms, gripping the marker in her right hand. “That had occurred to me.” She said. “But I hope that’s not the case. I hope they’re just out of touch and we’ll hear from them today.”
The CO cleared his throat. “So you need power in this new space.” He said. “Chief, can we do that?”
The chief chewed his sandwich thoughtfully as they waited in silence for his answer. Kerry went over to the table and got her ice tea, leaning an elbow on the counter as she gave in and opened her PDA again.
I need a good night’s sleep with you wrapped around me.
“I need that too.” Kerry muttered under her breath. “Maybe I can call Gerry and ask him.”
“How much power you need?” The chief spoke up suddenly.
Kerry glanced over at Danny. “Do you have that handy, or do I need to get it from the master doco server?”
Danny stopped in mid chew. “Uh..”
“Ah hah.” Kerry went over to where her laptop was resting on the counter and unlocked it. She opened a browser and typed in an address, waiting for the page to display over the satellite link before she entered a request. “Hang on.”
She glanced back at the PDA on the counter.
Ientered a request. “Hang on.”
She glanced back at the PDA on the counter.
We’re driving through Little Havana now. There’s a lot people on the street talking. Want some café con leche? Alastair’s trying a croqueta.
“Okay.” Kerry reviewed the list on the screen. “Boy, there was a lot of stuff in there.” She ran the calculations. “Ten racks at sixty amps per rack.” She looked up at the chief. “Six hundred amps. Twenty 30 amp lines.”
The chief stopped chewing and stared at her. “In that little room????”
Kerry nodded wryly. “We also need AC.”
“Son of a bitch!”
“Can we do it, chief?” The CO broke in. “Who the hell cares how much it is? It’s not like we have a budget for it. What does it mean, a bigger cable? C’mon now, you know what’s at stake here. We’re blind without that equipment.”
“You don’t even have equipment for me to plug in there.” The chief turned around and said to him. “I know it aint here, because I heard those IT people talking about it.”
The CO looked over at Kerry. “What’s the story with that?”
Kerry leaned against the counter. “Dar’s working on it.” She said. “It’ll be here. Our racking vendor is already preparing a truck heading here with the framework.”
The chief looked around at her. “We can do it.” He said, surprisingly. “I’ll have power pulled in there by tonight. That do you?”
“Thank you.” Kerry smiled warmly at him. “Yes, that takes a big weight off my shoulders. I wouldn’t want to call in the markers I’m calling in just to get everything here and not be able to use it.”
There was a little silence. The military men subsided into pensive thought, and Kerry took a sip of her ice tea. She took a breath, and from one moment to the next, seeing those tired faces, they changed from a problem she had to solve to human beings she just wanted to help.
She’d never felt a kinship to the military. She’d always regarded that world with a wary respect, not understanding it, or the people who chose to be a part of it. Getting a closer look had never really been in her plans, right up until her partnership with Dar.
Dar had been her window into that world, however unexpected that had been. She still wasn’t sure she understood most of it, but having talked with Ceci, and knowing and loving both her and Andrew, she’d gained at least a sympathy for these people who chose to serve.
“What else can we do?” Kerry asked, gazing at them. “Can we get something, do something for the people here? Do people need help? Access to their systems for emergencies? We’re bringing up an internet hotspot here and if you send your financial people to see me, I can get them into workstations here on the bus, or in our Herndon center.”
The chief leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Can you take back yesterday?”
Kerry put her tea down and went over to where he was sitting, taking a seat on the couch next to him. “I wish I could.” She said. “I think every single person I know would.”
The chief looked at her. “Have you ever wanted to hit someone but you aint’ got a target, young lady?” He said. “I just want to find the people who thought this was a great and noble thing to do and keep hitting them until their guts come out on the floor.”
“We all feel that way.” The CO put a hand on the chief’s shoulder. Billy remained silent, eyes wide, just watching behind them. “We all lost friends. We all have people in the hospital, and families hurting.” He looked at Kerry. “But we have a job to do. We have jobs that only we can do, so we can turn this around.”
Kerry nodded. “We’ll get you back in operation.” She stated. “We’ll get everything fixed. We have the resources and the will to make it happen.”
The bus attendants came back in, with chocolate cupcakes and hot coffee. The scents filled the interior, and the men all looked up, visibly brightening as the women came over.
“I know you’re not part of the military.” The CO addressed Kerry.
“No, I’m not. But my father in law is retired Navy, and my partner grew up on a Navy base down in south Florida.” Kerry replied. “I wont pretend to understand your world, but I dearly love people who were a part of it.’
The CO nodded, after a pause. “Good enough.” He said. “We’ll get you what you need, Kerry. You get us what we need.”
“Hey, boss?” Mark entered, then stopped, and sniffed. “Ooo.. Chocolate.” He looked hopefully at the trays. “Got extra?”
Kerry patted the chief’s knee and stood. “What’s up?”
“ETA six hours for the sat trucks.” Mark said, succinctly.
“Six hours? For the trucks that came from Houston ?” Kerry asked, in disbelief. “What the hell did they do, put afterburners on the pickup trucks?”
“Didn’t ask.” Mark said, through a mouthful of cupcake. “Dar taught me sometimes its better not to ask stuff like that.”
The CO’s eyes swung from one to the other. “What does that get us?”
Mark licked his fingers. “Couple of long ass cables and it gets your critical systems back online in slow motion.” He said. “But it’ll work. I’ve got enough gear in the back of my truck to get rudimentary routing moving as long as we can bring Newark back up.”
“In six hours?” The CO’s eyes lit up. “You’re serious?”
“Sure.” Mark nodded. “They said the power generator trucks would be there by then, didn’t they?”
“They did.” Kerry said. “They sure did.”
“Great. We’ll start cabling up the gear and running the lines in.” Mark said. “I’m gonna need juice though. I can’t run those enterprise switches and routers off my truck battery.”
The chief stood up and latched on to his arm. “C’mon boy.” He said. “I got your power for you. Come with me.”
The CO and Billy got up and started after them. “Let’s see what we can do to help” The CO said. “Billy round up some of those carts of yours.”
“Sure thing.” Billy turned and waved at Kerry. “Thanks, ma’am. For everything.”
“Bwf…” Mark grabbed another cupcake as he was hauled bodily out of the bus. “Later boss!”
“Later.” Kerry went back to the counter and picked up her tea, her eyes flicking to the PDA waiting on the shiny surface. She sat down on the stool nearby and took a cupcake from the tray, studiously unwrapping it as she went back to her message.
She had a lot to do. There were things to arrange, and the conference call to get back to, her mother to call, the government to worry about… but she blocked out a space of time to sit, and have her cupcake, and recover her equilibrium.
Time for a Dar break.