And the story shifts back to me! Aren’t you excited?
Don’t answer that.
But here I was, getting my ass out of Chicago, headed for, well, I won’t tell you because spoilers. I still had the Brothers Naive with me, slowing me down. But it wasn’t all bad. I was making good time!
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Chapter 18: Wings West
Kendra now knew more than she ever expected to learn about the operation of nuclear submarines, though she couldn’t for the life of her imagine a circumstance where it would be useful. The hour-long tour seemed exhaustive to her, at least. Still, when it came to making a covert pick-up, this was less painful than most.
It was nearly seven before she returned to the safe house, only to be bombarded by questions from Evan and Jamey.
“Whoa, whoa!” she shouted, raising her hands. “You know as much as I do about the package; that is to say, exactly zero. What I do know is we have a shuttle to Butte to catch in,” she paused to consult her implant, “Two hours and ten minutes. Do we have the name of our contact in Big Sky yet?”
Evan yawned. “I haven’t checked yet, sorry.”
“What’s the point of us coming to be your escorts if you insist on making all the contacts yourself?” groused Jamey while Evan fired up the communications relay. “It’s not like I couldn’t be doing more important things than sitting around and waiting for you to return.”
“Not my choice,” countered Kendra. “I usually operate alone; it’s safer. Talbott ordered you here, so I suppose you’re along for the ride.” She shrugged. “I don’t like it much either, but orders are orders.”
“Goodall,” said Evan, apropos of nothing.
“What?” Jamey and Kendra said simultaneously.
“Dom Goodall is our contact.”
“Okay, that makes a little more sense. Do you have a picture? Or a location?”
“Picture, no, location, yes. Terminal A Lounge, fifteen minutes after the shuttle arrives.”
“Standard recognition codes?”
“I hope he’s on time.” She consulted the implant again. “Half an hour, boys. We don’t want to be late to the port.”
Her concern was unnecessary; they arrived in plenty of time, even passing through departure customs in record time, but the shuttle was delayed a half-hour for what was called “extended maintenance”, which Kendra heard as “broken part”.
Once settled in for the short flight, Kendra asked one of the attendants in her section what had been replaced.
“The flux capacitor, I think,” he said before turning to other passengers.
That gave Kendra pause – the flux capacitor was the key component in the propulsion system. If it had failed, well, she’d never actually heard of a capacitor failing during a flight, but it one did, then they’d find out just how well one of these shuttles flew without engines. She rather suspected it would fly in much the same way that bricks didn’t.
The timing was suspicious, but no. She had to put those thoughts out of her head. Yes, to a point professional paranoia was a life-extender, but not everything was about her. Sometimes a coincidence was just a coincidence. Still, the timing bothered her, nagged at her. Surely HLC wouldn’t kill everyone on the flight just to get to her?
These and other pleasant thoughts kept her company for the entire forty-five minute flight. She shook off the mood as unprofessional and counterproductive as they approached their gate. Evan and Jamey were in the upper class seats, pretending to be a couple, so Kendra had to wait until they’d disembarked before she and the rest of her class were allowed to exit, all according to plan of course. She was the courier, after all, and they were the escorts, and while she still planned to be as vigilant as ever, having them to patrol forward wouldn’t hurt.
Kendra exited the gate in the middle of a group of passengers and scanned the area intently. No threats appeared, so she did her best to project the image of a bored traveler. She spotted a sign giving directions to Terminal A and figured that would be a good direction to go. With every nerve tingling despite her best efforts, Kendra made the three-minute walk.
She could see the Lounge ahead, just on this side of the understaffed and underoccupied Customs office. She stopped and waited, the picture of the indecisive woman. Jamey passed by and, in a prison whisper that couldn’t have been heard for more than three or four meters, said, “All clear.”
Kendra rolled her eyes. “Good job, Double-Oh Nothing.” The obscure reference sailed right past him. Still, he’d done his job and she was ready to meet the mysterious Dom; she walked up to the Lounge door and entered.
As befitted a remote port like Butte, the Lounge was nearly empty. A lone attendant stood behind the bar, desultorily cleaning glasses with a rag, and a woman sat in a chair, reading. Kendra approached the bar.
“What can I get you, miss?” asked the barkeep. She couldn’t make out the name on his tag.
“Life is short,” she said.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know that one,” he said, sounding puzzled. “If you tell me what’s in it, I’ll surely try, though. Sounds potent.” He grinned in what he hoped was a winning manner.
Kendra was confused. This wasn’t her contact? She checked the time; maybe a couple minutes early, but not too far off. Realizing he had spoken, she replayed the mental tape.
“Oh, no, how about just a vodka martini? Shaken, not stirred.”
“One martini, coming up.” He stepped away to prepare the drink.
Kendra became aware of a presence to her right. Glancing over and looking down, she saw the woman she had noticed, and dismissed, moments earlier.
“Life is short,” said the woman with a distinct British accent. She was only about a meter and half tall, maybe a little bit more. Straight black hair fell below her shoulders, and the outfit she had chosen highlighted her curves. Kendra could see a twinkle in the gold and brown eyes.
“But the years are long,” responded Kendra automatically, numbed.
“Never assume,” said the woman with a smirk. “Dom is short for Dominique. Don’t worry, I get it all the time. I think that the Director does that intentionally just to have a laugh.”
The barkeep returned with the martini. “All set. That’ll be sixteen dollars.”
She pulled a twenty out. “No change, thanks.” He rewarded her with a brilliant smile, but she had already turned away.
“Do you have your passport?” asked Dom when they sat away from the bar and the door.
“I have the one Director Talbott assigned me if that’s what you mean.”
“That’s the one.” Dom dug around in her bag, pulled an old-fashioned paperback book out. “Swap it with the one in here,” she directed, handing the book to Kendra.
Kendra opened the book and made the swap, handed it back. “Who am I now?”
“Dani Drake. She’s got a ticket on the Fourteen Ten flight to Palmdale.”
“Dani? Dani? Oh, man, Talbott must be punishing me for something. I just wish I knew what!”
Dom laughed. “Ask her for me as well when you get back. I’ve been stuck here in Butte for the past eight months! Now, it’s not a bad town, mind you – but it’s not London by a long shot, not even Kent!”
The two women shared a laugh at their mutual predicament. Then Kendra thought of something.
“What about Evan and Jamey? Do you have new passports for them?”
“The Director didn’t give me any instructions about them,” said Dom. “Do you think they need them?” She glanced at a clock. “It would be tight, but I could probably manage to get back to the shop and work up a pair before the flight.”
Kendra shook her head. “If Talbott didn’t think it necessary, then I won’t worry about it either. Still, that begs the question, what do we do for two hours?”
“I certainly have a few stories I could tell about my time with OutLook. What about you?”
“Oh, one or two, one or two.”
“We can get lunch here. Why practice being uncomfortable? In my experience, we’re in that state far too often. Might as well enjoy what respite we get.”
“I like the way you think.”