Finding an appropriate vehicle turned out to be more of a challenge than they had anticipated. This was a small town airport. The disappearance happened in the middle of the night. There were a few vehicles available in the vicinity but keys needed to be located for them. They ended up leaving some of the gear in the plane and loading some of the essentials into a minivan and a Honda Civic, the only vehicles that both started easily and for which keys could be found.
Craig drove the Civic, and Andrew accompanied him while Joel drove the van with Jamie riding shotgun. Joel didn't have much experience with a standard transmission vehicle so this decision was simple. Craig's experience with a manual wasn't much better but he managed, after a few jerky starts.
They drove slowly. This was unfamiliar territory and they didn't want to be surprised by anything. The most obvious difference, noticeable almost immediately, was the wildlife. They were in a broad river valley surrounded by mountains, an area that brought tourists year after year to see the abundant natural forests, wildlife, and mountain scenery. Without people, many of the animals had found refuge in and around the buildings around town.
Joel and Jamie had to hush the dogs, riding in the larger minivan with them, several times. Especially Rabble and Karma, who saw it as their duty to keep the group safe from predators. Inside a moving vehicle though, their barks were annoying and only served to attract attention from some of the wildlife. Fortunately, most of the animals wanted nothing to do with the vehicles, but some of the more stubborn ones stood their ground, forcing them to make their way around. So far, none of them seemed inclined to charge or attack them, though all four boys were nervously ready for such an event.
One thing that was noticeable by their absence was the lack of wild dogs around town. Maybe they all left, maybe there hadn't been many to start with, or maybe the other animals had made short work of the weaker domesticated canines. But their absence seemed odd after their experiences back east.
They found a gas station that had familiar pumps. Craig knew he could hook up the portable generator fairly easily. Craig and Andrew together managed to get things working and fill up the tanks on both vehicles while Jamie and Joel, and the dogs, patrolled the area. It turned out to be a non-issue. The noise of the generator kept the animals quite a distance away.
Finally they made it through town and were on the winding two lane highway heading towards the research facility. The plan was to stop for the night at what used to be a small tourist community on a lakeshore. There were several motels and hotels and the boys hoped to find something relatively safe. An old motel seemed likely to offer most of what they needed if they could find one that hadn't been infiltrated by animals or insects. Keys could likely be found easily, a lot of them still used physical keys instead of card-keys, and they wouldn't have to break down the door of the room, Also, if they could manage a second floor room it would be somewhat safer from wildlife.
The biggest concern for Craig at this point was their completely inadequate two wheel drive vehicles if they ran into road trouble or if a bridge was out. Once again though they were lucky. The mountainous terrain meant the bridges were often somewhat higher from the waterways below than bridges seemed to be back home. Maybe it was that fact, or maybe there had been little or no flooding here, but all the bridges were intact. There were several rock falls, and a few rough patches of pavement, likely ruined by frost heaves over the winter, but nothing even the Civic couldn't manage to get through.
The worst challenge as they drew nearer to their destination was the quickly fading sunlight. The sun was going to set behind a mountain within fifteen minutes and Craig estimated that they were at least a half hour from the little resort town at their current speed. He decided to push it a bit faster and Joel behind him followed suit.
After narrowly missing a deer on the dusky highway and needing to make a very hard stop to do so they had to reconsider. They resumed their initial slow pace. As a result they arrived safely but with darkness settling in fast. The choice for a motel to sleep in was made easy. It was too dark to look at more than one. Fortunately it was enough. It was a two story motel of the kind so popular in the 1960's and 70's, with doors opening on the lower floor directly into the parking lot, and a raised walkway all along the motel on the second floor allowing access to the rooms directly above. Most of the first floor rooms had been ruined. Animals, rodents, or insects had found a new home, but a second story room, right in one corner, seemed almost homey. They took the dogs for a short walk, in pairs and with guns in hands, then fed and watered the dogs and themselves. Then they went into the room and settled in for the night.
And realized they were suddenly at loose ends. It was a bit too early for sleep, and they found they were still antsy and nervous anyway. It was too dark to read without wasting flashlight batteries, so there was very little else to do. Nobody had even remembered a deck of cards.
Jamie and Joel both made a few attempts at starting conversation but nothing seemed to flow. All thoughts were on tomorrow, and what they would find. Jamie suggested a few games. Even Truth or Dare was suggested, but the mood wasn't right so this fizzled out pretty quickly. Even though it was still fairly early, they arranged their sleeping bags on top of the dusty beds and eventually, after much worrying and thinking and planning, fell asleep.
An alarm wasn't needed the next morning. All four boys and the three dogs were awake at first light. It wasn't the light that awoke them though. It was the car driving by. Jamie jumped up and scrambled to the window to see the back end of a blue SUV as it disappeared into the distance.
Somebody was here.
Maybe it was Dr. Cornish, or maybe not. But somebody was here.
And the car was headed very clearly in the direction of the research lab. There weren't too many possible destinations past that without driving for many hours.
The boys rose and packed quickly.
The seven of them, four boys and three dogs, stopped walking just below the crest of the hill. At the top of the hill they knew the research lab would be visible, and thus they would be visible from the lab.
They had left the vehicles just off the road about a mile back and had walked the rest of the distance. Having the dogs along proved to be an effective strategy. The seven of them made for a large group and any animals near the road wandered off as soon as they saw them. However, they now had a problem. They didn't want to bring the dogs any further, as they would likely be a hindrance near and in the lab itself. They could tie them up to a tree, but there was a problem. What if they couldn't return to free them? They'd be easy prey for predators. They could tell them to wait, and they would, for a time. Inevitably though they would become bored or impatient and one of them would begin to follow, and of course, once one began walking, so would the other two.
While Craig, Jamie, and Andrew were debating this issue Joel had gone ahead, moving through the trees on the edge of the road, to scout out their destination. He returned a few minutes later.
“There's a driveway off the highway leading to the facility. About a hundred yards or so along that is a fence, looks like it might go all the way around the building. There's a big gate, closed, crossing the road there. The fence probably keeps animals out, so maybe we can leave the dogs on this side of the fence? They still might be seen, but hopefully a few more animals wouldn't attract much notice. Besides, we have a bigger problem anyway.”
“Getting through the gate?” asked Craig.
“No, I don't think so. It was a bit hard to tell, even through the binoculars, but I don't think it's locked at all, just one of those latch thingies that you pull up. But between the fence and the building there's nothing. No trees or bushes or buildings. Just a big empty parking lot. So anybody could see us from the windows while we walk up to the building,” said Joel.
Craig thought. “Well, I guess we don't have much choice. Besides, what are the chances he'll be looking out the window at that moment? Even if he is, who knows, maybe he'll run down to welcome us. We still don't know what kind of a reception we're going to get.”
Andrew joined in the conversation. “I know what you told me yesterday, Craig, and you're right, but still. I'm a bit nervous. What if he's not friendly? We need to be smart about this. We need to make sure we're ready for whatever.”
Craig smiled at his boyfriend, “No, you're right too. We need to be careful. We'll go, but with guns ready and we'll try and be in the open as little as possible. We'll go two at a time, with distance between us, and the other two can cover them from safety, ok? Whoever goes first can hopefully find cover and still be able to see the windows and get a shot that way if necessary. We'll know more when we get up there.”
Andrew nodded. “Yup, sounds good. This is really starting to sound like a movie or something though.” He grinned.
Craig gave a small smile back, but it was forced. “Look, just the thought of shooting at anyone is freaking me out totally here. I know, we need to be careful, but I'm having a lot of trouble with this.”
Andrew just gave his boyfriend a quick hug. No more needed to be said about it.
The group moved through the trees until they were as close as possible to the gate. Craig and Joel talked to the dogs, doing their best to make them understand they needed to wait there, and that they would be back. The dogs probably didn't understand, but who knows? They did obediently stay in the trees though, and the four boys, guns drawn, moved out of the woods and up to the gate.
Joel had been right. The gate wasn't locked. They had it opened and were through and had the gate relatched in seconds. Craig and Andrew waited behind the small building used by the gate security while Jamie and Joel quickly moved to the doors, stopping just behind a large concrete sign about fifteen feet from the building. They kneeled behind it and turned, guns drawn, to watch the windows of the building.
Craig and Andrew began moving, after Jamie and Joel's nod. They all felt strange. All this sneaking around and strategizing was having an effect. One part of them was having fun with it, it seemed like a game, like one of the video games they all had spent so much time playing. Another part was scared, and that was understating it. To still another part though, it felt a bit unreal, detached. Like they weren't really doing this. Like they were characters in one of their video games, not kids wondering if they were about to be shot at. Strange indeed.
Despite all of this, all four boys made it to the door without incident. Joel reached into his pack and pulled out a card key. He took a deep breath and swiped the key through the slot. The LED indicator turned from red to green with a small “beep.”
Joel pulled open the door and they were inside the facility.
They had all worked hard to memorize the floor-plan for the facility. They knew where they were going, so they moved through the inactive security checkpoint, across the lobby, and towards the elevators. The door to the stairwell was beside the elevators. The stairs would be safer, elevators were often noisy. The plan was for Craig and Andrew to make their way to the superposition room, where Craig could hopefully disable the equipment and disrupt the field. He had several possible methods in mind, of which the last one was simply to fire his gun at the main processing unit. The problem with this, of course, was that it was rather final. If there was any reason at all that they would want working equipment afterwards, that would be gone. Simply turning off the controlling computer was a simple and obvious option, but it was extremely well protected and accessing it may turn out to be more difficult than accessing the rest of the equipment. Andrew was to provide cover while he was working on shutting things down.
Jamie and Joel were to make their way to the facility's mechanical room and try and find a way to access the emergency generator. The superposition field itself did not use electricity to exist, however the computer systems used to keep it stable most certainly did. So disrupting the power would be just as effective as turning off the field directly. They hoped that at least one group would succeed. They knew the generator was well protected, and thus only a vague plan had been formed to get access to it. Jamie and Joel would just have to try and figure it out as they went.
They would try and keep things quiet to avoid detection but if either group ran into Dr. Cornish, or whoever else was here, the plan was to try and talk to him first, while ensuring they were protecting themselves, to find out if there was a risk. If Dr. Cornish could help them, well, then everything would certainly go smoother. If not, well, they left that part a bit vague. Probably not the wisest choice but none of the four boys found themselves willing to come up with a firm and clear plan to do what could be ultimately necessary. To shoot another human being.
This was it. This was why they were here. The culmination of all their planning, and their sacrifices, was minutes away.
They moved to the stairway door, bumped fists and started to move apart.
Jamie was a bit of a history buff, especially 19th century conflicts. So it was no surprise when his next thought was a famous rewording of a quote by a German named Graf von Moltke. The famous quote, of course, was this:
No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.