Friday, October 13th, 2000
NSA, PR1 facility, somewhere near Clearwater River, Idaho
The moon looked flat and pale, forever scarred by the old, ugly rabbit that kept gawking down at the earthly lethargy with its dull, eerie stare. He did it every time the moon’s face was round and at its fullest. And it sure happened this time.
Brian Splice peeled his gaze from the sky and cursed bitterly. He would have started his first day on the job Monday, nice and clean, if it wasn’t for a bunch of superstitious imbeciles who had called in sick, all because of the full moon. And because it was Friday the 13th. A total lunar eclipse night too. He walked out of the booth with lazy steps and rubbed his hands together, at times blowing in between his fanned-out fingers to bring some warmth to the hollow of his palms. It was unusually cold for mid-October.
The silver curtains of moonlight stretched past the wired fence to the edge of the woods. Then darkness conquered light, opening an endless, hungry mouth as dark as the blackest soul. He shivered. God only knew what happened at night beyond the border of the forest. No, not God. That looked nothing like his territory.
Jesus. What am I thinking? He mused with irritation. All this ‘full moon, Friday the 13th’ business was playing up in his head, that’s what it was. There was nothing wrong with the forest, or with starting a new job today. He had made damn sure he’d be transferred to the most boring, uneventful place a soldier could go. Guarding a top secret NSA facility where nothing ever happened. The buildings were nestled right in the middle of an unbreakable stronghold, about a mile away from the forest, and separated by another three rows of barbed-wired barricades from the outer fence. Unreachable.
The moonlight started growing fainter and the Earth’s shadow began to bite at the moon’s round face. A hungry rat nibbling at a stale slice of cheese.
Brian looked up again. It’s happening.
How creepy to see the moon’s trail become narrow and dim. But even so, it stayed visible and red. As if bleeding inwardly with its own strangely colored blood. A curse following an erratic pattern of its own. Another few minutes and it will be gone.
Yes, it will be gone, he reassured himself.
The strident howling of the sirens made him flinch. He took a few unsteady steps toward the wired barricades and tripped on a rock. The lights turned on all at once and the buildings came to life in the distance, lighting up like a carousel at a carnival. Definitely not a drill. Cold terror swept through him from head to toe. He slid the belt of his rifle off his shoulder and turned the weapon forward with a hasty movement, clasping it hard with both hands until his knuckles turned white.
I’m safe. I’m safe. It’s all happening in the buildings, he chanted silently as he whirled on his heels, completing a full circle. Nothing in sight. I’m safe. I’m safe. It’s all happening in the buildings.
A scratching noise behind the booth made him jump.
“Who’s there?” he croaked, his finger shaking on the trigger. Take a deep breath, Brian. Deep breath. You’re a soldier, not a sissy.
Too bad it had been his father’s idea to send him to the army for the sake of his own political image. Now the overly polished senator risked to lose some of his shine if his son failed his patriotic duty or was demoted for unsatisfactory service.
“Who’s there?” Brian repeated a little more forcefully.
A little silhouette slipped out of the dark and inched its way toward him in silence.
Panic rose to Brian’s temples in pulsing storms. He extended his arms, clenching his weapon and engaged the trigger.
“Hold it right there,” he yelled. “Hold it or I will shoot you. Hands up.”
Two small hands rose in the air unhurriedly and stayed there, not far above a head covered by a fleece of tousled hair. Very light brown or very dark blond, Brian couldn’t quite decide.
The moonlight was slowly coming back. The soldier stretched his neck and squinted, trying to make out the features of the young boy standing in front of him, only a couple of yards away, staring with mild curiosity. Definitely not fear.
A child. Jesus Christ. Brian looked bewildered.
He grabbed his radio from his belt and pressed a button. “This is Private Splice, calling from Gate 14. I have a suspect in custody. Awaiting orders. Over.”
The radio came back to life in an instant. “Splice. This is Captain Huntley. Listen carefully to me. Do not shoot the suspect. I repeat. Do not shoot the suspect under any circumstances. And make sure you don’t touch him. Stay away from him. This is very important. Stay away from the suspect. Do you copy, Splice?”
“Affirmative, sir,” Brian shouted his compliance.
“We’ll be there in a couple of minutes. Over and out,” Captain Huntley announced. Then the radio went dead.
Silence lingered for a moment, only interrupted every now and then by the soft tapping of Brian’s nail as it trembled on the side of the trigger. His gaze scrutinized the boy’s face. It was calm and unreadable.
“What’s your name?” the boy asked, slowly dropping his hands.
A new wave of panic shook Brian from head to toe. “Hands up,” he yelled.
“Nah.” The boy crinkled his nose. “I’m tired. Besides, I’m not gonna wait for them.” He took a few small steps backward.
“Hands up or I’m going to…” Brian started shaking his rifle menacingly.
“You’re going to do what?” The boy raised his palms in the air questioningly. “Hit me in the head? Bash me? Knock me out? Cuz’ you sure can’t shoot me, I heard the guy.”
He started a leisurely walk around Brian, keeping a safe distance, his eyes scanning the soldier up and down with amused interest.
“Okay,” he said suddenly. “I’m going. See you later.”
He turned around and took off with lively steps.
Brian stared at him open-mouthed. “Hey. Hold it right there. Don’t move,” he exclaimed once he came back to his senses.
The boy ignored him and kept going, as if Brian were just a rotten stump.
Rage and disbelief mixed in Brian’s mind, only to make room for his sense of duty. Any second now the Captain would arrive; he had to stop that child.
“Hey, kiddo, I told you not to move.”
He caught up with the boy in a few brisk steps, stuck the tip of his rifle right behind his ear and engaged the trigger once more.
“Just stop, for God’s sake,” he huffed.
“Are you going to shoot me?” the boy asked without turning his head.
Jesus! How long before the team would arrive? One mile to drive from the buildings over bare land was not much, but there were the three wired barricades to go through, each with their own sophisticated locking systems, even more complicated now at times of red alert.
“I’m not going to shoot you, but don’t make me hurt you, kid, because I will if I have to,” Brian warned him through clenched teeth.
The boy shot a side glance at him and suddenly turned around, starting back toward the gate.
“What are you doing?” Brian asked disconcerted.
“Going out,” the boy said. “I just realized the exit is back there.”
Raw fury began to throb through Brian’s temples. He wasn’t going to play games with this kid anymore.
“That’s it,” he said and landed a heavy hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You stop right now or…” His gaze met that of the kid’s for a moment. Eyes that looked like liquid silver in the moonlight. Mercury silver.
“Okay,” the boy said. “I stopped. What’s your name?”
The boy nodded slowly. “Good. I need your help, Brian. Are you going to help me?” He kept staring in the soldier’s eyes, watching as they glazed over.
“Yes, sure,” Brian answered. ‘What can I do for you?”
“For starters, you could open that gate for me.” The boy pointed toward the fence. “You can also let go of me now, okay?”
“Oh, of course.” Brian nodded.
He dropped his hand off the kid’s shoulder and walked back to the booth. A moment later there was a heavy magnetic click.
“Here we are.” He poked his head out. “Just pull the handle, and you’re all set to go.”
Two cars were fast approaching from the nearest barricade. The beams of their headlights wobbled up and down as their wheels bumped over the bare land.
“Thanks.” The boy winked at him. “Gotta go.”
He pushed the gate open just enough to slide his slim body out.
“Do you need something to warm you up? It’s cold out there.” Brian called after him.
The boy hesitated for a moment. “Yeah, that would be good, thanks.” He waited in silence for Brian to bring him his tunic, keeping a wary eye on the approaching cars.
“Take care of yourself, kiddo.” Brian waved, smiling foolishly.
He was already talking to the darkness. The forest had claimed its prize. The kid wasn’t there anymore.
“Splice,” the Captain’s voice boomed from behind, making him flinch. “Where’s the boy?”
The Private turned around in surprise, taking in the massive man who jumped out of the first car before it stopped.
“He just left, sir,” he answered.
Captain Huntley came to an abrupt halt in front of him and stared open-mouthed.
“What did you just say?” he almost whispered.
“He just left, sir,” Brian repeated, looking at his superior a little disconcerted.
“Did you open the gate for him, Splice?” Captain Huntley asked.
He suddenly grabbed Brian’s chin and turned his face toward the moonlight to look into his eyes. Bright and clear.
“Yes, sir, I did. He asked me to,” Brian squeezed the words out of the Captain’s grip.
“Which way did he go?” Huntley continued his interrogation, his gaze still drilling into Brian’s.
The soldier jerked his head toward the woods. “The forest, sir.”
“God dammit,” Huntley spat. He let go of the Private’s chin and stormed away. “Carter. Carrasco. Send all teams to search every inch of the woods with sniffer dogs. Get helicopters. Reinforcements. This is a code red situation. Search the river downstream. And don’t come back until you find MB1, do you hear me?” he rapid-fired the order.
“Yes, sir,” the men chorused their compliance.
He turned his back on them and squeezed out a tortured sigh just as his cell phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the number displayed on the screen.
“Good evening, sir,” he replied with a resigned tone. “We have a situation here.”
“What’s the situation, Huntley?” A sour voice sounded at the other end of the line.
He paused for a moment to swallow hard before answering. “We have an escapee, sir. Our mindbender.”
“Jesus Christ. How did that happen?”
Captain Huntley ran a hand over his day’s worth of stubble. “I don’t know the details just yet, sir, an investigation is underway as we speak. All I can tell you is that he touched a guard from the outer fence, and the guard let him out after that.”
“Are you telling me it took you that long to find out he had escaped the building, Huntley?” The voice broke out angrily.
“No, sir, we arrived at the scene in two minutes tops after the guard told us he had MB1 in custody,” Huntley replied.
“But the scientists said the boy needed at least ten minutes to link. Are you now telling me he linked in less than two minutes?”
“So it seems, sir.” In fact, it must have taken a lot less than two minutes, Huntley thought.
“Is there a chance that the full moon may have heightened his senses?” The voice pressed.
Huntley looked up for a moment. There it was, pale and scarred, eerie. “That I wouldn’t know, sir. I’m a captain, not a scientist. But I can reassure you that we are doing all we can to get him back. He won’t get very far, he’s only fourteen.”
The voice exploded in his ear like a firecracker. “He’s only fourteen and he was able to break out of a high security facility. What sort of guards do you have if your mindbender can link with them in less than two minutes? Don’t you put them through a psychological test before you stationed them?”
Huntley stuttered. “Y-yes, we do, sir. But maybe you’re right. Maybe his senses are heightened by the full moon.”
“Can he read minds too?”
“I think he can, sir, but I doubt he can do it from a distance, if that’s what you mean,” Huntley said. “I don’t think he’ll be able to figure out our strategy. And he’ll most probably try to go downstream. Upstream would be suicide. We’ll get him, don’t you worry.”
“You better do, Huntley, or I’ll have your skin.”
And with that he hung up.
“No you won’t, dammit.” Huntley clenched his cell phone in his hand with rage.
The darkness of the forest had for once been conquered by light. Dozens of flashlights were sparkling in its blanket like dazzling diamonds. Powerful helicopter beams shot down from the sky, dancing their way through the untouched wilderness. Deflowering it.
“Do you think he’ll be all right, sir?” Brian Splice’s voice made him turn around.
Huntley stared at him as if he were insane.
“The boy, I mean,” Brian persisted. “It’s cold out there. But I gave him my tunic. Not much of a loss for me. I hope it’s good enough for him.”
Huntley kept quiet for a moment then nodded slowly. “You know what, Splice? You’re right; your tunic is not much of a loss. It’s just that you gave away your insignia with it, you idiot.” And he walked away without another word.