The original Knight Rider cast does not belong to me, obviously. No copyright infringement is intended.
Ella belongs to elfin and she is used with permission.
The idea of the neural link between Michael and Kitt belongs to Gryph and is used with permission.
To kittn: Thanks for beta reading.
To Amy (wherever you are): Thanks for all your help with Chapter 1.
To Tomy: Thank you, thank you, thank you for being with this story every step of the way. I appreciate the alpha read, the beta read, and all the handholding.
After Images is set sometime after elfin’s Soul Survivor, but it incorporates Gryph’s link. I hope I haven’t confused anyone.
The story is PG-13 for some violence.
I woke up thinking of fractals again. Not thinking of them really, but seeing them float and swirl in that point behind my eyes. I get up and stand by the open window, breathing in the dry, unrelenting, breeze. This morning the fractals are blue and purple, glittering, vibrant, and enchanting. It means he was in my head again last night, influencing my dreams. I’ve told him I hate it when he does that, but then, I also hate it when I wake up screaming.
The black semi lumbered down the two-lane highway, past a grove of pine trees. The Northern California forest was creeping in on the curvy road, creating a canopy that framed the vehicle as is rolled underneath the soaring branches. The last light of day was quickly fading and the shadows lengthened in the coming dusk. The truck’s headlights flipped on and lit a path along the lonely road.
Inside the truck, florescent light bounced off of the gleaming surfaces, illuminating everything with its unrelenting blue glow. The truck was outfitted with state of the art equipment in the service area, as well as chairs and a white Formica table in the small office. Parked just inside the ramp, at the rear of the trailer, Kitt remained quiet, surveying the three people who sat in the office. He could sense Michael Knight’s emotions, thanks to a pair of chips that linked them together -- one in his CPU, the other in Michael’s brain. Even though Michael was currently trying to block him, Kitt could still sense his frustration. There were also emotions that Kitt wasn’t used to sensing from Michael. Kitt didn’t quite have enough understanding of human emotions to identify exactly what Michael was feeling, but it was something like trepidation. Michael seemed out of sorts.
//Are you okay?// Kitt asked in a way that was wordless but somehow expressed what he needed to know.
//I’m fine, Kitt,// was Michael’s curt reply.
The neural link didn’t really allow words to be transmitted, but with practice the two partners had learned to decipher the sensations that were evoked, and somehow managed to communicate. It had become less and less alien over time and now they communicated freely, with few misunderstandings.
Michael was sitting in a tan leather swivel chair, turning it back and forth, and drumming his fingers on the table. His eyes wandered around the semi but never settled on any one object for very long.
Kitt studied the other two people in the semi’s office. Devon Miles sat in another chair around the table. He had his reading glasses on, but Kitt had noticed that he hadn’t been turning the pages in the folder resting on the table in front of him. Devon was often a mystery to Kitt. He was very difficult to read and without the help of a neural link, Kitt often felt that he didn’t know Devon as well as the others. As a result, Kitt’s relationship with Devon had always been a little distant, a little professional. Devon got along well with Michael and the semi’s third occupant, Bonnie Barstow.
Kitt didn’t have any trouble relating to Bonnie. Since it was her job to keep all his systems in working order, they spent a lot of time together. She was also more inclined than the men to tell him exactly what she was thinking. But even she was sitting at her computer, sullen and quiet. Every 15 minutes the screen saver would kick in and she would jump to hit the space bar to return to the normal screen.
“Well, this is productive,” Michael said finally, getting up and heading toward Kitt. “Let’s at least split up so we can cover more ground. Kitt and I can go back to the other roadway and we’ll check in with you later.”
“Michael, perhaps it would be best if you just sit tight for a while. We know he was in this area last night and he couldn’t have gotten far on foot,” Devon said without looking up.
“Devon, that’s what we keep saying, and he’s never where we expect him to be. Of course, that’s assuming that this infrared gizmo of Bonnie’s actually works.”
“Considering the number of deer we’ve located, I’d say it’s working.” Her words hung in the air like icicles.
“That’s great. If we were deer hunters that might be handy, but it would be nice to actually find the one person we’re looking for,” Michael shot back.
Bonnie whirled around to face him. “Hey, this was not my idea. I wasn’t the one who suggested that we . . .”
“That’s enough, both of you. Let’s not go down this path again. We’re all frustrated, we’re all tired, there’s no point in jumping down each other’s throats,” Devon said, his voice low, seething in frustration. He had thought that since Bonnie and Michael were dating, they would be less inclined to bicker, but the last few days had been insufferable. He was tired of it all and wished for some peace and serenity.
Bonnie got up and walked back to the small kitchen in the front of the trailer. They could all hear her opening and closing cupboards, clanking cups.
Devon took off his glasses and said angrily. “Fine, Michael, maybe it would be best if you and Kitt head out on your own for a while. Just don’t go too far. He’s probably in the area, somewhere, and we’ll have a better chance of finding him if we remain together.”
“Right, Devon.” Michael didn’t wait to be asked twice. He got in the car and started backing down the ramp before it had actually made contact with the shadows on the road.
Devon set down the papers he had been trying to read and headed into the kitchen. Bonnie had started brewing a pot of coffee and she was pulling cream out of the small refrigerator. She didn’t hear Devon get up, and jumped when she turned and saw him standing in the doorway. She recovered and made her way back to the counter where the coffee machine and her cup were waiting.
“I know this case is disturbing, but . . .”
“Don’t. I’m not in the mood for a pep talk,” she said, staring down into her empty cup.
“That hasn’t stopped me before.” Devon tried to project a confidence he wasn’t feeling. His two younger friends were wearing their emotions on their sleeves and it was up to him to pull them all together. He stood next to her and tipped his head down to try to look her in the eyes. Bonnie continued to stare into her mug. “We agreed to help Agent Nichols. He asked for our assistance, Bonnie, and it wouldn’t be right to walk away and leave him with nowhere else to turn.”
“He has the rest of the FBI.”
“Yes, but they don’t possess our technological resources.”
“Devon, we’re in over our heads with this case. We could be out here for months and still not catch Randall. He could hide out in the woods for years without surfacing, other than to dump his victims on the road for us to find.”
“We may have had some set backs, but this isn’t the first case that has given us difficulties. Someone has to find Randall. Would you prefer it if he weren’t caught?”
“No, of course not. He’s a sadist and I think everyone in California will sleep easier once he’s behind bars, but I don’t understand what we’re doing here. This is the FBI’s case and all we’re doing is getting in the way. Not to mention presenting ourselves as targets. I don’t want to end up wandering along the road babbling and not able to remember my own name. And I certainly don’t want to find you or Michael that way.”
“I think we’re all feeling vulnerable, Bonnie. We just need to pull together and concentrate on apprehending Randall.”
“Right.” She rolled her eyes and fished through the drawer for a spoon.
Devon knew he wasn’t getting anywhere, so he left the kitchen as the coffee finished brewing and Bonnie poured herself a cup. After Devon left, she contemplated the spoon that she had seemed so intent on finding, and then let it clatter against the counter as she set it back down. She opened the carton of cream and slowly added it to the coffee. She didn’t stir it, but instead watched as the cold cream sank and then billowed up again as it was warmed by the coffee. The lighter colored liquid swirled and ballooned as it slowly mixed in and turned the whole cup a light brown. Bonnie picked up the mug and headed back out into the office.
* * *
“Michael, where are we going?” Kitt asked, as they turned off the main highway, onto a smaller dirt road.
“I don’t know.”
Kitt was surprised by the fact that Michael threw up a block to prevent Kitt from sensing what he was feeling.
“Michael, I’ve felt anger before.” Kitt’s voice carried the confusion he was feeling.
“It’s not just anger, Kitt,” Michael said, keeping the block firmly in place and staring out the windshield at Kitt’s headlights.
“Michael, I really don’t understand.”
“And I don’t know how to explain it to you, either.” Michael’s gaze wandered as he searched for the right words. “Maybe I’ve been too cooped up the last few days. It’s difficult, Kitt. I don’t know what I’m feeling, but I know I don’t like it, and I don’t want you feeling it too.”
“We’ve shared negative emotions in the past.”
“I know, it’s just that this is different, somehow. Finding that woman this morning was really, I don’t know … disconcerting, to use a Devon word. She couldn’t even remember her own name. I mean, I spent time in a POW camp in Vietnam, Kitt, and I still can’t imagine what it would take to traumatize me that much. I just don’t want to think about what she must have gone through. I’ve seen a lot Kitt, but I don’t think I’ve ever run across something like this.”
Kitt thought about it and had to agree that this case was unusual in the level of cruelty that was being inflicted on innocent people.
Phil Nichols, an FBI agent and friend of the Foundation’s, had called them a week and a half ago to ask for help with one of his cases. The FBI had been conducting a manhunt for a suspect who had been abducting people in and around the Sierra National Forest. Each of the victims had been found after a few days, wandering along one of the many roads that crisscrossed the park. All of the victims had been tortured. The first to be abducted, a man in his early thirties, just barely came out of it alive and he was facing years of physical therapy. There had been eight victims, covering a wide range of ages and both genders, each suffering in a different way. Aside from being in the park, they didn’t seem to have anything obvious in common.
The FBI had started to suspect that the person responsible was either special operations or CIA, due to some of the torture techniques used on the victims. The suspect was also very adept at wilderness survival – he always seemed to be one step ahead. After much negotiating, the CIA finally got involved and confirmed that they had an agent who had disappeared and possibly gone rogue. He had been behaving erratically in the last few months and the agency had been about to bring him in when he disappeared, and the kidnappings started. His name was Jack Randall.
Agent Nichols had asked for the Foundation’s help because he had worked with Michael and Kitt in the past. They had officially been brought in to provide technical assistance to find the suspect. They were using Kitt’s scanners, and Bonnie had outfitted the semi with an infrared array. She had also brought along a box of motion sensors, listening devices, metal detectors, and cameras to leave out in the woods in hopes of tracking Randall. This morning they thought they had found him. Instead, what they had found was the ninth victim. She had been wandering down the road, hysterical and incoherent. They didn’t know much about what had happened to her other than she had been sexually assaulted, badly beaten, and had several long, fresh cuts on her limbs. Michael had tried to talk to her on the way to the hospital, but she hadn’t been making any sense. By the time they had arrived at the emergency room, she had stopped speaking entirely.
Kitt had rarely seen Michael that shaken before. He threw up blocks around the link and had been brooding in his own silence ever since. Kitt was angry that someone was out there doing these sorts of things, but he wasn’t feeling the same depth of emotion that Michael, and apparently the others, were.
“Michael, I wish I could help. I understand that this whole situation is upsetting, but I just don’t feel it in the same way that you do. I’m trying to understand.”
Michael sighed and lowered his guard just enough to reach through the link and give his partner a quick hug.
Kitt returned the embrace and felt the dim echoes of anger, unease, and a feeling of turbulence.
* * *
Bonnie had gone back to staring at her computer. Devon was still reading over his quarterly reviews and she was glad he wasn’t feeling chatty. She had a program running that was keeping tabs on all of the sensors they had left out in the woods. They had a net of different locating devices placed near the roads in order to find Randall. All of the sensors reported in at different intervals on a radio link. Her display was a map of the area, with the sensors showing up as small circles. There was an insert in the upper left corner of the screen that showed the images being taken from the infrared cameras they had mounted on the top of the semi. Bonnie was idly watching the ghostly, green images of deer, owls, and other warm animals appear and then drift away as they drove through the preserve. The trees were still giving off a slight glow from the heat their bark and leaves had accumulated during the afternoon. As the leaves blew in the light wind, they seemed to whirl and fade, creating hypnotic green patterns on the screen.
One of the sensors in the southwest quadrant turned blue, indicating that it had reported in with a new message. Bonnie clicked on it just as three other sensors lit up, signifying that something was in the area. Bonnie’s hope that it was another deer vanished when four more sensors started reporting in regularly. She was trying to send a command to trigger a camera nearby to take a picture, when one of the first sensors suddenly stopped. She pinged it but got no response. She tried again, just as the sensor closest to it suddenly stopped as well.
“Devon,” Bonnie said, watching with sick fascination, as one by one, the sensors in the southwest corner shut off and went dark. “I think someone’s found our sensors.”
* * *
The temperature had dropped significantly in the mountain woods. Devon and Bonnie could see their breath as they cautiously exited the semi to check out the silent sensors. After first reporting in, none of the sensors in the immediate area had responded to any of Bonnie’s commands. None of the other sensor groups seemed to be having problems, so they decided to check it out. Michael and Kitt were currently on their way back to meet them. Bonnie had made a very thorough sweep of the area with the infrared scanner installed on the semi before they lowered the ramp and surveyed the clearing. There didn’t seem to be anything warm in the area other than a small raccoon or two.
Bonnie had placed the sensors, so she knew where they were located. She had tried to set the eavesdropping devices near clearings and along roads where people could easily travel. This group had been set out near a wide deer trail that emptied into a narrow clearing just off the road. Bonnie was anxious about getting too close to the edge of the clearing. They had the semi’s floodlights illuminating the dark space, but they didn’t penetrate much into the encroaching oak and pine forest. Placing the sensors just outside the edge of the clearing had seemed like a good idea at the time. Now Bonnie was regretting it. When she knelt down to study the first sensor, she realized that she had to work on the edge of a dark, murky boundary between the clearing and the forest. Devon came up behind her with a large flashlight to help her see, but at the edge of the flashlight beam, the world fell away into the lurking shadows.
When she knelt down and picked up the baseball-sized listening device, Bonnie immediately determined what was wrong with it – the built-in radio’s antenna had been snapped off.
“Well, no great mystery here. Someone deliberately sabotaged this. I’m guessing the others will look the same.”
“It’s astonishing that anyone could locate these sensors. They were quite well camouflaged,” Devon said, studying the green gadget. It was just the right size for a moss covered rock and the green paint had blended in well when it was nestled against the remains of a fallen tree.
“Metal detector, maybe,” Bonnie suggested.
“I highly doubt that a man on the run in a national forest would be hauling a metal detector with him.”
Bonnie didn’t want to voice the only other suggestion she had, which was that someone had been watching her when she planted the devices. She picked up the broken piece of equipment and headed toward the location of the next sensor. She hunched down to examine a microphone placed in a patch of tall weeds. As expected, the antenna was missing off this unit too. She scooped it up and was about to move on to the next one when she heard a twig crack. Bonnie jumped as a bird flew up right in front of her. Then she retreated backward into the better-lit clearing and cursed herself for putting the sensors where they would be in shadows at night. She looked around but Devon hadn’t seen her jump, he had wandered back to the center of the clearing to meet Michael and Kitt. Good, she thought. She didn’t want him to see how spooked she was.
The pacing red light of Kitt’s scanner was the only thing Devon saw as Kitt and Michael rode into the clearing. They had been driving without lights and in silent mode in order to better prowl with the other nighttime creatures. Devon hailed them and Kitt brought the car to a stop.
“So what did you find?” Michael asked. He thought Devon looked out of place standing in the middle of the woods wearing a suit and wingtips.
“The sensors have been tampered with.”
“Kitt scan the area,” Michael said.
“I have been, Michael. There’s no one here.”
“There was someone here half an hour ago. That’s when the last sensor reported in,” Devon said.
“He couldn’t have gotten out of Kitt’s scanner range that quickly, especially without a car,” Michael said. “Kitt, any sign of footprints or tire treads?”
Kitt paused as he scanned. “There are some partial boot prints in the clearing, but they could have been made by anyone. There aren’t any tire tracks off the main road other than the semi’s. But, Michael, you should take a look approximately 15 feet to your left.”
Devon swept his flashlight’s beam along the ground until it formed a spotlight around a set of broken antennas that had been arranged to say, ‘HI.’ A chill raced up and down Michael’s back. He hated the feeling that someone was toying with him. He glanced up toward the road and then tried in vain to see into the depths of the forest. According to Kitt, there was no one around. He had to believe that, but he definitely had the creeps.
“Well, it appears that our saboteur would like to make friends,” Devon said dryly.
“Funny, but I don’t feel like playing nice,” Michael replied.
Bonnie joined them with a handful of damaged sensors. She stopped in her tracks when she saw the missing antennas.
“Kitt, get a picture of this and check for fingerprints,” Michael said.
“Great. He’s out in the middle of nowhere and he remembers to wear his gloves before breaking our equipment.” He turned to Bonnie. “Can you repair the sensors?”
“Sure. Since we’ve got the antennas now, it shouldn’t be too hard to rig them up enough to work.”
“Good. The sooner we get those back out here, the better. Kitt and I will keep patrolling the area and see if we can’t find any trace of our friend Randall.”
* * *
Kitt could sense that Michael was more at peace. He was still angry, but the trepidation and confused emotions had been replaced by determination.
“You seem in better spirits,” Kitt said.
“I’m not sure I understand why, Michael. It appears that Randall knows we’re out here and he’s mocking us with the ease in which he found our sensors.”
“I know, pal. It’s just, I like having a real enemy. Yeah, he’s out there and he knows we’re out here too, but he’s playing games with us. That’s usually when they screw up. They take their eyes off the prize and that makes it easier to catch them. He’s going to leave boot prints next time, or he’s going to misjudge how long it takes us to get to his location and he’ll be in scanner range. Just something like that.”
“But Michael, now that he’s aware of our presence, aren’t we all in more danger? We don’t have the element of surprise anymore.”
“True, but I guess I like it better that he’s messing with our sensors, and not innocent people.”
Kitt still wasn’t sure he liked that idea. He didn’t like knowing that any of the people he cared for were in danger. He thought about Ella and was glad she was safely home in Los Angeles. He knew that being with her automatically put her in danger, but at least she wasn’t always in the direct line of fire.
Michael smiled a little and sent a warm hug across the link. He felt the waves of love and concern that Kitt was feeling and he guessed that Kitt was thinking of Ella.
//No fair eavesdropping,// Kitt said.
//I can’t help what comes through the link, buddy.//
Kitt briefly threw up a block and then dropped it again, in mock protest.
“Sorry, I think it’s cute.”
“Waaall, maybe not cute, exactly. It’s just a little infectious, being around someone who’s in love for the first time.”
“I guess I can put up with that, if it gets you out of that horrible mood you were in earlier.”
“I think solving this case will take care of that.”
“Michael, can I ask you a question?”
“Doesn’t it bother you that Bonnie’s out here? I would be very worried if Ella was on a case with us. How do you deal with that?”
Michael smiled wryly. “Well, it’s been a topic of ongoing, uh, discussion, lately. But much as I’d like to know she’s safe, I also want her to be happy, and I don’t think she’d be happy sitting at home knitting. Besides, she’s usually not in as much danger as you and I are, and she has to deal with that. In fact, I don’t envy her and Devon. They spend a lot of time waiting to find out what’s going on. I think I’d have a harder time with that.”
“I didn’t think of it that way.”
“But as far as Ella goes, well, there’s always a desire to keep the people you love safe. But you have to give them the freedom to live their lives. It’s all part of a relationship.”
“Relationships are harder than I imagined they’d be.”
“Tell me about it,” Michael said with a grin.
* * *
“Bonnie, another sensor just went dead,” Devon said from his spot at the computer.
Bonnie had been jury-rigging the broken antennas at her workbench and had let Devon take a turn watching the sensors. She put down her soldering iron and stood over his shoulder to see the display.
“And the other sensors are reporting detections again. It looks like he’s found another group,” Devon continued.
Bonnie maneuvered the mouse so that she could work the display with Devon still sitting in the chair. She called up an infrared camera unit and aimed it at the sensor closest to the one that had just stopped reporting. The moment that sensor missed a transmission, she commanded the camera to take a picture. “Let’s see if we can get this picture downloaded before he finds the camera.”
They waited as the file was transmitted over the radio link. When the indicator flashed that it was finished, Bonnie clicked on the saved file. A green and black image filled the screen and Bonnie felt cold. There was a clear green silhouette of a man kneeling in front of the sensor. Bonnie’s eyes were still glued to the image on the screen when Devon said softly, “Call Michael.”
* * *
“Michael, he’s at the fourth-quadrant sensor group right now,” Bonnie said over the comlink.
“We’re on our way. You guys sit tight.” Michael pressed down on the accelerator. “Let’s see if we can get there before he gets away this time.”
Kitt took over steering the car. They were on rough terrain and even though he had special tires and a suspension that could handle it, they could move faster if Kitt picked the smoothest path. Michael didn’t argue. He wanted to get this guy.
They bumped wildly over roots and down washed-out sections of the dirt road. Kitt had figured it would take them twenty minutes to get to the sensors and Michael was afraid that was going to give Randall too much time to get away. “Kitt, you see anything on long range scans?”
“Not yet Michael, it’s still too soon.”
They turned a sharp corner causing Kitt to fishtail and throw up a spray of dirt. They were coming up over the crest of the hill and Michael was sure they would be able to find him once Kitt could scan the whole valley. “Anything yet, Kitt?”
“No, Michael. My scans of the area indicate there isn’t anyone in the valley.”
Michael slammed his fists down on a clear section of the dash. “Shit. How could he have gotten away so quickly? Scan for vehicles in the area.”
“I’m sorry, Michael, there’s nothing.”
“Okay. Let’s get to those sensors, maybe he left us a clue.”
* * *
Devon went back to watching the display, even though it wasn’t telling him much. He and Bonnie had watched as the other four sensors in the group were shut down. They had managed to get one more image across the link before Randall had disabled the camera. The pictures weren’t all that useful since they didn’t show the details of the man’s face. The cameras had been included mainly to filter out false alarms from deer and other large mammals.
Devon was used to this sort of waiting. Often, they would find some crucial piece of information and then send Michael and Kitt out to actually investigate. There wasn’t much they could do to help. Devon felt guilty, however, knowingly sending them out into danger and just waiting safely behind the lines like some eighteenth-century general.
The phone rang and Devon picked it up immediately. He turned away from the computer and started a lengthy conversation with Phil about the information he had gotten out of the CIA. Devon started giving him the locations where they suspected Randall had been in the last few hours.
Bonnie put her soldering iron back into its coil and set the sensor down on the floor with the others. She had just finished reconnecting the last of the antennas. They weren’t pretty, but at least they’d work. She motioned to Devon and he held a hand over the receiver. “Devon, I’m going to go replant these sensors in the clearing.”
“Be careful,” he said, before continuing his conversation.
“Of course.” Bonnie picked up her flashlight and the box of sensors before leaving through the side door of the trailer.
* * *
After Kitt assured him that there was no one lurking in the woods, Michael got out and examined the sensors. They were placed along a streambed and were hidden well enough that Kitt had to direct Michael to each one. They were all missing antennas.
“Kitt, I’m not seeing how Randall could have found these, unless he was watching us while we were laying them out.”
“It does seem unlikely, Michael. But my scanners weren’t detecting anyone in the area when Bonnie placed the sensors. We checked every site.”
“What if he’s got his own sensors? Maybe motion detectors along the road or something. Maybe he’s spying on us the same way we’re spying on him. Were you looking for anything besides heat signatures?”
“No Michael, but if there were electronics transmitting in the area, I’m sure I would have noticed that.”
“What if it was a low power signal?”
“I still should have detected it, but it’s possible I could have missed something.”
“No, no, Kitt, you’re probably right. Maybe he was just watching us with binoculars or something. The semi’s pretty easy to spot.” Michael stood up and kicked a loose rock along the streambed. This wasn’t getting them anywhere.
“Michael, there’s a message for us in the mud next to the stream.”
Michael shone his flashlight along the water and saw five antennas in a row sticking out of the mud. He walked over to them and knelt down. One of the antennas had been dragged through the dirt to scrawl a hasty-looking message.
say bye bye
“Kitt, any idea what this means?”
“No, Michael.” Kitt could feel Michael’s apprehension over the link.
Michael stood up and slowly scanned the crest of the hill above them. He couldn’t see over the tops of the trees in the other direction. “You’re sure we’re alone here, right?”
“Yes, Michael. There isn’t anyone in the area.”
Michael turned back toward Kitt. He had a very uneasy feeling about all of this, like he was missing something. This guy had been at least one step ahead of them the whole time they’d been out here. His gait went from a walk to a trot as his unease grew. “Kitt, get Devon on the line. I want to make sure they’re okay.”
Michael got to the car and slid into the driver’s seat just as Devon’s face appeared on the video link. He was just hanging up the phone. “Devon, is everything alright there? Where’s Bonnie?”
“Everything’s fine, Michael. She finished the repairs on the sensors and she’s replacing them now.”
“She’s outside? Devon, please go check to make sure she’s okay.”
“Of course, Michael.” The video link remained on just long enough for Michael to see Devon’s face knot up in worry.
Devon grabbed a flashlight off the workbench and headed out into the clearing. It had actually been a good fifteen minutes since Bonnie had left with the equipment and Michael had him a bit worried. Devon’s pulse quickened as he called Bonnie’s name and didn’t get a reply. He scanned the edge of the clearing and felt physically ill when he saw Bonnie’s flashlight lying on the ground with three sensors scattered around it. The box was lying in the grass, upside down. He picked up one of the sensors and then shouted Bonnie’s name as loud as he could. He paused to listen, but there was no response. The forest was dreadfully quiet. He couldn’t hear anything but his own breathing. Devon rushed back to the semi and flipped on the IR camera to look for her. It panned an entire circle but there was nothing.
Devon activated the video link again. “Michael, get back here immediately. She’s gone.”
Kitt felt dread and fear overwhelm the link as Michael roughly threw the car into gear and spun the wheels on the gravel road.
//We’ll find her,// Kitt tried to reassure his partner as he took control of the car, but Michael remained silent. He was staring out through the windshield like he expected to see Bonnie standing by the side of the road in the darkness.
“Kitt, keep scanning the area.” There was an edge to Michael’s voice that Kitt didn’t like. Kitt was worried about Bonnie too, but he was trying not to let Michael’s panic get to him. He concentrated on searching the area and paid special attention for any low power radio transmissions. He didn’t find anything.
They reached the semi and Michael streaked just past it and then braked suddenly as he flung the steering wheel hard to the left, causing the car to skid to a stop. Michael jumped out and ran to the door of the semi. Devon was leaning against the black aluminum of the trailer, next to the door, staring out into the darkness.
“She’s gone, Michael.”
Michael wasn’t sure how to react. “What do you mean, she’s gone? You didn’t hear anything? You must have seen something?” He realized he was shouting.
“She went out to plant the units and that’s the last I heard of anything. I, I was on the phone. You called and I realized she’d been gone a while. When I went to look for her, the sensors were lying in the clearing. There’s no sign of anyone on the IR array.”
//Kitt, can you find her?//
//I’m not detecting any trace of her, Michael. I’m sorry.//
Kitt tried to comfort Michael over the link but Michael brushed him off. He darted for the spot where Bonnie had last been and screamed her name. He paused briefly to listen and then took off running into the woods. He was getting cut by the low hanging branches and couldn’t see where he was going. “Bonnie!”
Michael ignored the voice in his head. He had to find her now or it would be too late. “BONNIE!” He blundered through a set of low shrubs, flung a large branch out of his way, and then tripped against one of the trunks. It ripped a gash along the back of his hand. He was trying to run, but in the dark, it was nearly impossible. Finally he banged his shin against a fallen tree and pitched forward against it. He slammed his fist against the rough bark and slowly lowered himself to a sitting position. He was breathing hard and his voice was hoarse, but he called out her name one more time. There was no response.
* * *
They had no idea where to look and they were all painfully aware that Bonnie had been gone for several hours. Devon had called Agent Nichols and he was on his way with every scrap of information the CIA had coughed up -- which wasn’t much. Michael wished more than anything that they had some idea of where to look. There was nothing to even suggest a course of action and if there was one thing he hated, it was waiting. And he was afraid they were running out of time.
Devon hadn’t said much of anything since Michael returned. He was angry with himself for allowing Bonnie to go out alone. He had thought that Michael and Kitt were the ones in danger, but the real danger had been all too close.
They heard the car pull up outside. Phil Nichols lightly knocked on the semi’s door and looked around as he stepped inside, amazed. He had met Kitt before, on a case involving money laundering, but he had never seen the semi and was mightily impressed. He was about to whistle, when it occurred to him that he was there because they had a friend missing and most likely in a bad place. He caught himself and extended his hand to Devon. “Devon, I’m real sorry about Dr. Barstow. We’ll do everything we can to help you find her. We’ve got an APB out and agents on their way in from the field office.” He leaned over to shake Michael’s hand. Michael sized up the forty-ish FBI agent. He was larger than Michael remembered and there was a good amount of gray in his blond, tightly cropped hair.
Devon looked tired and worn. “Thank you, Phil. We’ll need to know everything you have on Jack Randall. Maybe there’s something in his background that can give us some clue where to look.”
“What I don’t understand is how he got from the site at the stream back down to the semi in the same amount of time it took Kitt and I to get up there -- especially if he didn’t have a vehicle. Is it possible he’s working with someone?” Michael asked.
“Not according to the CIA. He spent most of his time under cover and he rarely worked with a partner. He was more isolated than most, which is why it took them so long to realize they had a problem on their hands. Maybe the isolation and his line of work are what drove him batty,” Phil said.
“I think he’s a little more than batty.” Michael tossed aside a broken antenna he’d been fidgeting with. He took the file Nichols had been carrying and perched himself on Kitt’s hood to look it over.
“This guy’s been everywhere. He served tours in Vietnam, Granada, and Panama. He led tunnel raids against the Viet Cong and was part of a special operations unit in Beirut. He was in the Middle East until recently. Looks like he was given the works on training too. I’m surprised they let you have all this.”
“They’re pretty desperate to bring him in before word gets out that he’s CIA. Kind of a public relations nightmare when the citizens find out what their government is training people to do,” Nichols replied.
“So what tipped them off that it was Randall?” Michael asked.
“One of the victims had an experimental drug in his system. The CIA’s been trying to use it for mind control and manipulation purposes. They think Randall would have had access to it and it’s not well known. And several of his techniques scream CIA.” Phil didn’t want to go into the details; they were pretty gruesome.
“It appears that Randall is very interested in mind games. Any idea why?” Devon asked.
“Who knows? He’s not exactly playing with a full deck,” Phil replied.
“Has the FBI turned up any similarities in the victim’s backgrounds? Are they truly random, or is there some pattern we’re missing?” Devon asked.
“We’ve been going on the assumption that they were all random because, for the most part, they’ve been tourists of all different backgrounds.”
“Maybe he’s looking for something in particular. Maybe he’s somehow luring his victims to the forest.”
“That would be pretty hard to arrange,” Phil said.
“Yeah, but so is being in two places at once without a partner. Kitt, let’s go take another look around.” Michael tossed aside the file and walked down the ramp behind Kitt instead of getting in. He needed to move around. He was restless and wanted to work off some energy.
Phil turned to Devon. “How long has she been gone now?”
Devon rubbed the side of his jaw and looked down at his watch. “Approximately 7 hours.”
“Hopefully we’ll find her soon.”
Devon nodded but didn’t say anything.
* * *
Michael was going through the packet on Randall for the third time. He was sitting in Kitt’s driver’s seat, with his legs stretched out the open door, planted in the long grass. He was frustrated and angry and he didn’t know what else to do. The FBI had started a manhunt at the first light of day. There had to be fifty agents combing the woods around the clearing in predetermined grids. They even had the dogs out, but now it was late afternoon, and with a day of looking, they still hadn’t come up with even the slightest clue. Randall had successfully disappeared. Kitt was parked along the road with several of the FBI agent’s nondescript rental cars. They had been out with the others looking, but Michael felt like it was a waste of time. They were just missing something.
Michael had stopped leafing through the information. There was a picture of Randall standing next to some other man in Saudi Arabia, where he had been stationed in the eighties. It was a black and white picture, but Michael could identify his clothing as desert fatigues. The man in the picture was staring back at him with a broad smile and friendly eyes that were squinting against the sun. He looked completely ordinary. There wasn’t anything malevolent or evil looking in the picture. In fact, he looked somewhat handsome, in a rough-hewn, military sort of way. He had the crew cut and the broad, muscular shoulders of a career soldier. Michael wondered what had happened to make him snap. What had made him want to hide out in the woods, capture people, and engage in pointless torture? Michael sighed; it would be so much easier if they all had ‘criminal’ branded across their foreheads.
Michael stared out at the road ahead of them, willing himself to see through the trees and somehow get an idea of where to look. It all felt so pointless. He tried to keep the haunting images at bay, but he kept going back to the pain he endured while in the POW camp in Vietnam. He couldn’t help thinking that Bonnie was being held under those same conditions and he was losing hope that they would ever find the person he loved. He didn’t want to think about what it would be like to find a broken version of the headstrong, stubborn woman he loved to spar with. And yet, he couldn’t not think about it. Michael’s mouth was dry and he started blinking back tears.
“Michael, maybe we should go back. Then you can get some rest. You didn’t sleep at all last night.”
Michael took a deep breath and scanned the area again. The agents had gotten far enough into the forest that Kitt couldn’t follow them. “No, let’s head up to the stream where we were last night. Maybe he doubled back in that direction.”
Kitt’s voice had brought him back to his senses. Giving up wasn’t an option. They had to keep looking. Bonnie was out there somewhere and she needed them.
“Are you sure, Michael?”
“Yes, Kitt. The FBI has things covered down here and we aren’t helping them much. It’s time to start covering some different ground. She’s out there.”
Michael swung his legs back into the car and they headed down the road again. They turned off onto the dirt road that took them up the side of the hill towards the streambed. The road was pretty in the daylight, when they weren’t hurtling down it at breakneck speed. This time Michael drove. Trying to pick the smoothest route through the rugged terrain gave him something to concentrate on, and he was starting to get his fight back.
They crested the hill and came to a stop at about the same place as the night before. Michael got out and reexamined the scratching next to the streambed. It was still visible in the mud and only one antenna had fallen down overnight. The remaining antennas were in a straight row, underlining the chilling phrase.
“Kitt, he obviously lured us up here to get us away from the semi, but why? All he had to do was wait until we left on our own. Why go through the trouble?”
“Maybe Bonnie and Devon were being too careful. When they saw him tampering with the sensors, they thought they knew where he was. Bonnie probably felt safe going out alone to service the sensors.”
“Yeah.” Michael sighed and shook his head. “I’m assuming there aren’t any prints on the antennas?”
“No, Michael. But what difference does it make? We know it’s Randall.”
“We think it’s Randall. A little proof wouldn’t hurt. Besides, we still can’t be sure he’s working alone. I’d love to know how he got down this mountain faster than we got up it.”
“I can’t answer that, Michael.”
“Kitt, he had to be moving pretty quickly. Any sign of broken branches or boot prints in the mud?”
“Not in my sensor range.”
“This just doesn’t make sense.” Michael took a look around, not even sure what he was searching for. If he could just find something, anything to go on, he’d feel at least a little better. Randall was starting to seem like a phantom, coming and going with the mist.
The shadows were getting longer as dusk approached.
“Kitt, I’m not seeing anything. Lets head back down and see if Devon’s managed to pry anymore information out of the CIA.”
“Maybe the FBI found something in their search.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Michael said without much conviction.
Michael watched the sun set across the valley as they drove back down the side of the hill. It was going to be another long night.
* * *
When Michael and Kitt returned to the semi, Devon had the sensor nets up and running.
“Ah, you’re back. I was just about to get us underway,” he said. “Although, I’m not sure what good it will do. We’ve been back and forth over these roads so many times now.”
“We’ve got to do something, Devon. The only alternative is to sit here. And that’s even more pointless,” Michael said, picking up Randall’s CIA file again.
Devon had the IR cameras on the semi hooked into the computer and had a separate window up to view each side of the truck. He watched carefully as the semi paced up and down the highways.
“Devon, the CIA should have seen that Randall was trouble long ago. There are brutality complaints littering his file. He was reprimanded for actually holding a Vietnamese boy’s hand in a fire during his tunnel days. His unit was also involved in a napalming incident in a remote village that didn’t have any ties to the Viet Cong. There’s stuff like that all over the place. Someone looked the other way.”
“I image that as long as they thought they could control him, they were willing to make use of his ruthlessness.”
Michael put down the file. He was torn between reading more and not wanting to know. It just filled his head with too many distressing thoughts. “Yeah, well, now their trained circus bear is running free.”
Michael wandered over to the computer. “I can keep an eye on the images for a while, Devon. I need something to do.”
“Very well.” Devon got up and went to start brewing a pot of coffee. Michael looked dead tired, but Devon suspected that there was no way he was going to consent to getting some sleep.
Michael found the images to be slightly comforting. It was an entirely different way to look at the world. Everything warm was bright green and everything else just melted into the background. He had to concentrate to figure out what he was seeing because it was completely foreign, but at the same time logical. Somehow the images made sense, if he thought about what they really represented. Slowly his posture slouched and he stared at the screen in a trance.
Michael had been zoning out, when something caught his eye. It was a bright green hot spot, with nothing else around it. It stood out like a beacon. “Kitt, did you see that?”
Devon looked up from his chair. “What was it?”
“I don’t know. Tell the driver to go back a little.”
Devon relayed the message and the trailer slowly backed up. And there it was again. Devon stood over Michael’s shoulder. “That doesn’t look natural, it’s too distinct, too symmetric.”
“That’s what I was thinking. Kitt, what are you picking up?”
“There is a heat source, approximately 50 feet off the road.”
“I’m going to check it out.” Michael grabbed the required flashlight and headed into the forest.
With Kitt directing him, Michael made his way up a sandy embankment and saw a small, ghostly-blue glow in front of him. It was hovering over the top of a slight hill and seemed to flicker and dance.
“I assume we’re alone out here,” he said over the comlink.
Michael approached the apparition cautiously before realizing that it was a butane camping stove. He reached down, turned off the valve, and spotted a strip of white fabric tied to a small branch sticking out of the ground next to the stove. He pulled up the branch and felt his anger rising when he saw what the fabric was holding.
Michael set his jaw and stalked back to Kitt. He threw open the door and stabbed the button to open Kitt’s Micro Analyzer. “Tell, me this isn’t what I think it is.”
After a few seconds, Kitt said, “I’m sorry, Michael. It’s a clipping of Bonnie’s hair. And the fabric is consistent with what she was wearing the night she was kidnapped.”
Michael threw open the door again and banged his fist on Kitt’s hood as he marched back into the semi’s office area. He slammed down the branch onto the table in front of Devon. “You’d better not let me catch him, Devon. Cause, if he’s hurt her, he’s going to pay for it.”
Devon picked up the branch. The white piece of fabric had torn edges, possibly ripped from a sleeve. It was tied in a tight knot around an inch long bundle of hair. Devon pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “We’ll find her, Michael.”
“How, Devon? I’m tired of him beating us. I’m tired of him playing games with us. He left that out there with a stove to guide us to it because he knows what we’re doing. He knows our every move! How the hell are we supposed to get to him! How the hell are we supposed to find her?!”
After his tirade Michael flung himself down on a chair and pounded on the arms as his anger slowly faded. He stared off into the distance, feeling all the worry, exhaustion, and fear converging on him.
* * *
Kitt watched as Michael shifted and the file slipped out of his hand and fell to the floor, spilling its contents in a pile at Michael’s feet. The papers slid and settled until the heavier manila folder had flattened itself on top of the bunch. Kitt was worried. Michael hadn’t slept at all the first night that Bonnie had been gone. He had set out on that same course again after finding the lock of hair. Michael had continued to watch the images from the infrared cameras, looking for anything else that Randall had left for them. After a while he got up and started pacing to keep himself awake. Kitt knew he was exhausted and tried to suggest a break, but Michael wasn’t listening to reason. They had no leads, the FBI hadn’t found anything, and Michael was still struggling to find a way to continue searching. After giving up on the images and going back to Randall’s file, Michael’s head had started to bob and he had finally fallen asleep.
Kitt was also very worried about Bonnie. The odds that she would be found unharmed were extremely slim and it looked more and more like they were just going to have to wait until Randall decided to return her. Kitt wasn’t used to feeling this powerless and he could feel it from Michael as well. They usually had some tact to take when a case got to a stalemate. There was usually some unexplored lead or some person yet to talk to. It was rare that they had to wait at the mercy of the clock. And knowing that it was Bonnie in trouble was making it more difficult on all of them. Kitt’s nature was to analyze a situation objectively, and the results of that analysis in this case were frightening. Bonnie was very important to him.
Michael groaned in his sleep and Kitt opened the neural link a little wider to get a sense of what he was dreaming. Even in sleep, Michael couldn’t get any rest. Kitt could tell he was having nightmares. It was just past dawn and Devon had sent the FBI search party out without them. Michael would probably be angry when he woke up, but it was in his own best interests.
Kitt was surprised when his video link chimed and realized it must be Ella. He quickly made the connection and was relieved to see his girlfriend. He hadn’t had the chance to call her since Bonnie disappeared. He wanted to talk to her, in part to reassure himself that she was okay, but between searching and waiting with Michael, he hadn’t had a chance. He didn’t want to call her with Michael around, knowing that the person Michael loved was missing. It just didn’t seem right.
“You’re up early this morning,” Kitt said.
“I figured it would be the best time to get in touch with you since you didn’t call me the last two nights,” she said with a hint of playful reproach.
“I’m sorry. I should have, but it’s been complicated.”
“Uh-huh,” she said, “too busy gallivanting around on your woodland adventure to call your girlfriend back home.”
Kitt paused before replying. “Ella, Bonnie’s missing. She was taken two nights ago and we can’t find her.”
Ella’s radiant smile fell into a look of concern. She knew the basics of the case and had a pretty good idea what that meant. “My God, Kitt. I don’t know what to say. How are you doing? How’s Michael?”
“I’m all right, but I’m worried about Michael. We’ve exhausted all our leads and Michael has only gotten a few hours of sleep. The FBI has been combing the woods where she was last seen.”
“Kitt, I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do to help?”
Kitt wasn’t capable of crying, but right now he wished he had that ability. He imagined it must provide a certain amount of release. “I don’t think so.” Kitt paused. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet. “I don’t know how Michael is handling this. I don’t know what I would do if you were missing or hurt. I don’t think I’d be able to function properly.”
“The feeling’s mutual. I love you,” Ella said, not knowing what else she could say. “Don’t give up. It’s too soon for that. If I can do anything from here, let me know. And please check in so I know what’s going on.”
Ella and Bonnie had become fast friends when Ella first joined the Foundation. They spent a lot of time together and Ella didn’t want to think about what might have happened to her.
“I love you too, Ella.”
“Please be careful.”
“I will and I’ll call you as soon as we know anything.”
* * *
Since they had missed going out with the FBI’s search party, Michael and Kitt had gone looking on their own. After a fruitless day and night of searching, Michael and Kitt were currently scouring the roads in the northwest section of the park. Michael had at least gotten some sleep during the night, while Kitt drove along the lonely roads. It was now midmorning and they had just reached the main campground when Devon called them.
“Michael, two of Nichols’ men found Bonnie half an hour ago along one of the roads on the south part of the preserve. They took her to Fresno Hospital. I’m sending Kitt the location now.”
“Did they say anything about her condition?”
“No, Michael, I’m afraid not. I’m headed over to the hospital as we speak.”
As much as Michael was relieved that she was found, now he was worried sick about what she must have been through. A part of him was afraid of what he’d find at the hospital. He was afraid it wouldn’t be the woman he loved. He could feel Kitt’s warm presence in the back of his mind, trying to reassure him and keep him calm. Michael wished he had some of his partner’s indelible optimism.
When they arrived at the hospital, Michael jumped out near the emergency room entrance and let Kitt take care of finding a parking spot. He entered through the sliding glass doors and saw Devon standing in the waiting room talking with Agent Nichols. Michael hurried over in time to catch the end of their conversation.
“She was unconscious, but according to my men, she didn’t look too bad. She didn’t have any bruises or broken bones. There was apparently a cut or wound of some kind on her temple, but other than that, they said she looked okay.”
“Where did they find her?” Michael asked.
“She was laying by the side of the main highway,” Devon said, filling him in.
“Has anyone come out to tell you anything yet?”
“No. The doctors are still examining her.”
Michael tried to sit down in a chair to wait, but within a few minutes he got up again and paced around the lobby. Not knowing was excruciating. His mind could come up with endless horrible possibilities and he just couldn’t turn it off. He checked his watch and was frustrated that it had only been 15 minutes since he arrived at the hospital. There wasn’t enough room for him to move. He didn’t want to go too far in case the doctor came out, but he needed to keep walking and he wanted the illusion that he was actually getting somewhere. Finally, he just sank against a square pillar and slowly started bumping his head against it.
Michael was startled when a hand landed gently on his shoulder. He looked up to see Devon at his side. “Let’s try to assume the best, until we hear otherwise.”
Michael looked off in the direction of the large plate glass windows in the lobby. “That’s easier said than done, Devon.”
* * *
They had waited over an hour when one of the emergency room doctors in blue scrubs and a stethoscope approached them. “You’re waiting for information on Ms. Barstow, right?”
They nodded and each introduced themselves. Michael braced himself for the bad news.
“I’m Dr. Marsnick. I’ve been treating your friend.” He shook hands with the group and went on. “Bonnie is very lucky, considering the shape that the other abductees were in when they arrived here. In fact, she’s basically fine. She’s got a nasty bruise on the back of her head where she was knocked unconscious, residual traces of an anesthetic of some kind in her system, and this . . .” He held up an x-ray for them all to see. It was obviously a human head but near the front of the skull there was a very bright, thin, rectangular piece.
“What is that?” Michael asked.
“We don’t know. It seems to be a capsule of some sort. It’s sitting nestled just below her frontal lobe, right above the point where her optic nerves cross. It doesn’t seem to be doing anything at the moment and it isn’t causing her any problems. We found it because she had what looked like a hole drilled in the side of her head. It seems to be healing and there’s no sign of infection. We’ll put her on a course of IV antibiotics just to be sure, but whoever implanted this was at least somewhat skilled in medical techniques.”
“You said it was near her frontal lobe. Was there any brain damage?” Devon asked.
“Remarkably, we don’t think so. We want to keep her overnight so that we can run a full battery of tests just to be sure. We’ve checked her motor skills and reasoning ability, and she seems to be fine. We’ve also sent a blood sample to the lab to determine exactly what kind of anesthetic was used on her.”
“What about removing this implant, whatever it is?” Devon asked.
“I wouldn’t recommend that right away. It would be a good idea to wait for the wound to heal and have an MRI done to be sure there aren’t any complications before going back in. It’s located near both optic nerves, so any surgery would risk possible damage to her eyesight. If there is some small damage that we haven’t caught, it could be exacerbated by a second surgery.”
When no one said anything, Dr. Marsnick went on. “She regained consciousness shortly after she arrived and there isn’t any excess swelling around her brain, beyond what would be expected. If everything progresses well overnight and the tests come back normal, I think it will be safe to send her home tomorrow.”
There was another pause. Michael started to say something, rethought, and then started again. “But there’s nothing else. She wasn’t hurt in any way, other than to have this thing implanted?” he asked softly, trying to keep his voice from shaking.
“No. Other than that and the bruise, there isn’t a scratch on her. Like I said, she’s lucky. I was here when they brought in two of the others.”
“Can we see her?” Michael asked, not wanting to think about the others.
“Yes, she’s been asking for you.”
* * *
Devon was pleasantly surprised to find that Bonnie did seem to be okay. The door to her room was open and when he and Michael entered, they found her sitting up in bed. She looked a little pale and had a bandage on her temple, but nothing like the images that he had been preparing himself for over the last three days. They each gave her a hug and Michael took her hand and sat on the bed next to her. They were in a private room that had a small, west-facing window that let in the late afternoon sunshine.
“How are you feeling?” Michael asked.
“I don’t know.” Her voice was quiet and seemed a little distant. “I don’t remember anything.” She looked up at Devon. “I remember placing the sensors and then waking up here, but nothing in between.”
“Do you remember hearing anything in the woods or getting hit from behind?” Michael prompted.
She shook her head. “Nothing.”
Michael lightly brushed the hair back from her face, careful not to get too close to her bandage. “You’re gonna be okay. You’re safe now.”
“I didn’t even know I was gone. Did they show you the x-rays?”
Devon nodded. Bonnie looked down at her hands. “What did he put in my head?” she asked.
“Maybe Kitt can tell us,” Michael said and then pressed the button on his comlink. “Kitt, can you scan the implant in Bonnie’s head and give us a clue what it is?”
“I’ll do what I can. It’s good to have you back, Bonnie. How are you feeling?”
“Okay, Kitt. Thanks.”
“Michael, I can’t really determine what it does, but it appears to be an electronic circuit board, encapsulated in an inert epoxy. It has what looks like a processor and a small lithium battery, but other than that, I’m afraid I don’t know.”
“Thanks, buddy.” Michael turned back to Bonnie. “I guess I’m not the only one who’s got a chip in my head.”
“At least you know who put it there and why. You may not have liked it, but at least Wilton wasn’t some madman.” Bonnie said, rested her head on Michael’s shoulder.
Devon leaned over and squeezed her hand. “I’m going to go talk to the authorities to see if they’ve found anything else. I’ll be back later to see how you’re doing.”
Bonnie nodded and then put her head down on Michael’s chest to listen to his breathing. The slow in and out was comforting and she was finally starting to calm down. Waking up with no idea where she was had been upsetting enough, but then to find out that she’d been gone for three days with no memory of them at all made her skin crawl. Someone had taken her, drilled a hole in her head, and she had no memory of it.
“I can’t tell you how worried I was,” Michael said in a throaty voice. “How are you doing, really?”
“I think I’m okay. I guess. I don’t know.” This was all too much to digest for now anyway. She closed her eyes and just paid attention to the warmth from Michael’s body.
“Do you not want to talk about this right now?” Michael asked when she didn’t continue.
Michael pulled her tighter. He stayed until she fell asleep and then slowly untangled himself without waking her up. He kissed her lightly on the cheek and then headed out into the hallway to find Devon. He was sitting in one of the orange plastic chairs in the empty waiting room with his briefcase on a low table to his left. He had his reading glasses on and was going over a copy of the police report. He looked up as Michael sat in the chair next to his.
“I don’t like this Devon. Obviously that chip wasn’t put there for her health.”
“Yes, well, hopefully they can remove it as soon as possible. We can have some of the technicians analyze it and determine what it was meant to do.
“She seemed alright, aside from being a little scared and down. I didn’t notice anything that could be brain damage. She seemed to be making sense.”
Devon took off his reading glasses and turned to study Michael. Sensing that the younger man was looking to be convinced, Devon patted his arm, “She’s fine, Michael. A little shaken and we need to figure out what to do about this chip, but all and all, it turned out much better than it could have.”
“I know. I’m just not ready to let my guard down yet.”
Michael and Kitt slowly drove along the road where Bonnie was found the day before. Agent Nichols had given them the exact location and they wanted to look for evidence before going back to the hospital. The forest thinned out in this area of the park, leaving room for small shrubs and waving grass. The area where she was found was clearly marked with police tape and stakes. Kitt pulled along side of it, careful not to disturb any possible tire marks or other tracks.
Michael shut the door and straightened up, watching as the knee-high grass bent over in unison with the wind, feeling the cold breeze blowing through his hair. He wasn’t used to the early morning mountain chill and his jacket wasn’t heavy enough to keep out the damp cold.
“Kitt, I’m guessing you’re already scanning and not picking up anything.”
“Correct, Michael. I’m detecting tire treads from the FBI vehicles, and boot prints from the agents, but nothing that looks suspicious. There is a deer path off to your left, though.”
Michael looked in the direction that Kitt was indicating and then bent down to examine the area that had been cordoned off. The tall grass was matted down and broken where Bonnie had been laying and where the agents had knelt to look for clues. There wasn’t much to go on.
Michael stood up and wandered slowly toward the deer path, keeping an eye out as he went.
//I know, I will.//
The trail was narrow but well worn. It hadn’t rained in over a week so the dirt was hard and dry; they weren’t going to find any boot prints. Michael continued walking. He was alternating between enjoying the peaceful surroundings and feeling vulnerable about the fact that there was someone in these woods who was much better at navigating them than he was. Small ferns, young saplings, and green-leaved bushes dripping with berries covered the area. The path was large enough for a man to travel comfortably, but he would have had to push branches out of the way, making a fair amount of noise. And if he was carrying an unconscious person, the chances of getting through without breaking a lot of branches were pretty slim. Michael did find a few snapped twigs, but there was no way to know if Randall had caused them.
//It would have been nice if he had dropped a glove or something,// Michael said.
Michael turned around to head back. He was walking at a normal pace, thinking about where to go next when he tripped over something hard. Thinking it was just a root, he looked down to see a piece of rough wood, like an old fallen branch. Puzzled, Michael bent down to examine the limb that should have given way when he kicked it. He tried to pick it up, but it was firmly planted in the ground.
//What is this?//
//Michael, I’m too far away to discern between the edges of different organic materials.//
Michael swept his comlink over the branch so that Kitt could get a better look at it. Kitt switched over to the comlink for communication; it was less tiresome for relaying mundane facts. “Michael, I believe it’s a very old 2x4. It’s attached to a group of wooden planks that have been intentionally camouflaged. If you pull up and towards you, you should be able to lift the planks.”
Michael did as he was told and was surprised to see how well the boards were camouflaged. The piece he had tripped over was a handle, weathered to look like a branch or root. The boards had been covered with leaves, grass, and dirt. The leaves had been attached to hang over the side, covering the seams between the planks and the dirt around them. One side had been hinged and the planks were stabilized underneath with what were obviously newer 2x4s.
“Kitt, this looks like an old mine shaft cover. And by the looks of things, someone’s taken the time to brace it and cover it so it wouldn’t be noticeable. Any reason to think the Forest Service would do this?”
“It seems far more likely that the Forest Service would mark it as a hazard for hikers to avoid. There hasn’t been any mining in this area since the turn of the century.”
“This must be how Randall’s getting around. He’s making use of an abandoned mine. Look up anything you can find on mining in the area. Go back as far as possible.”
Michael peered down into the dark hole he had exposed. The edges were supported with more wood that had seen better days. Michael wished he had a flashlight; he couldn’t see much inside the shaft. He debated trying to lower himself in to get a good look around, but decided against it. He wanted more information and better equipment before he took that risk. He slowly lowered the cover into place and made his way back down the deer path to where Kitt was waiting.
“Let’s go see if there’s one of these shafts near where the semi was parked when Bonnie was kidnapped.”
Michael got in the car and they rode to FLAG’s first base camp. Michael was staring out the window, just watching the scenery and feeling good about the fact that they finally had something solid on Randall.
“Michael, Devon’s calling.”
“Yo, Devon. What’s up?”
“Good news, Michael. Bonnie was released from the hospital this morning. The results from the neurological exam came back negative. They didn’t find any evidence of excess pressure on her brain and there weren’t any signs of impairment. We’re on our way back out to the forest.”
“Great. We’ll meet you at the main campground in an hour. There’s something I want to check out first.”
“Will do, Michael.”
The image on the video screen turned gray and Michael started to feel like perhaps the worst was over.
* * *
Michael strolled over to where they had found Bonnie’s flashlight and sensors. He didn’t bother being careful because he was sure they had found everything there was to find on the surface. Kitt followed him into the clearing.
“Okay, see if you can find any evidence of another shaft.”
Kitt was quiet while he made adjustments to his scanning array and started to search.
“Michael, the naturally occurring minerals in the soil here are disrupting my scans, but I believe I’ve located a large pocket of air underground. It could be a cave, but more likely, it’s a mineshaft. It’s 0.17 miles southwest of your current position.”
Michael followed Kitt’s directions and started searching the area for an entrance. It would be easier to find in this section of the forest, because the high pine canopy blocked out the light and prevented underbrush. It still took him fifteen minutes of methodically searching in order to find the set of rough planks.
Michael pulled up the cover and shone his flashlight down the shaft. It looked to be about ten feet to the bottom. “Kitt, can you get back here at all?”
“No, Michael, there are too many trees.”
“Does your grappling hook have enough rope to reach the bottom from the closest point you can get to?”
Kitt maneuvered to get as close to the mineshaft as he could. Michael took the hook and Kitt slowly let out slack, lowering Michael down into the old shaft. When he reached the bottom, he stepped away from the hook and swung his flashlight in a slow arch. He was at the end of a long tunnel. Under his feet was a set of rails that were rusted and covered in dirt. Thick beams, that were showing their age, supported the ceiling of the tunnel. The beams were bent under the stress of holding up the rock and some of them had actually buckled.
Michael took a deep breath and slowly moved forward along the tunnel, eyeing each beam as he passed under it.
//Michael, I don’t think you should go any further. I can’t tell if it’s structurally sound.//
Michael shone his flashlight ahead of him and didn’t see anything other than the tunnel, which curved off into the distance. He treaded back to the entrance to let Kitt pull him up.
They drove off in the direction of the park’s main campground to rendezvous with the semi. Michael was thinking about the mine tunnels when he felt a flash of what seemed like guilt over the link. It was blocked almost immediately.
“Something wrong, buddy?”
Kitt hesitated and then the block slowly dissolved. Michael could feel the heavy weight of self-recrimination resting on Kitt’s side of the connection.
“I’m sorry I let you down, Michael.”
“I don’t understand.” He felt a wave of uncertainty and trepidation. “Kitt, how could you have let me down?”
“I let you both down. You and Bonnie.” Kitt made the electronic version of a sigh. “I scanned this area several times and I didn’t pick up the mine shaft. The mineral deposits in the area blocked my normal scans, but if I had scanned more thoroughly and recalibrated my systems, I might have detected the pockets of air. We could have rescued Bonnie if I had done a better job of scanning the area.”
“Kitt, you couldn’t have known. And you’ve always had a hard time scanning underground.”
“But if I had recalibrated, and spent more time looking for an underground structure, I might have been able to find it.”
“Maybe, but that doesn’t mean that we would have found her, buddy,” Michael said and gently patted the dash. //It’s not your fault.//
“But, Michael, we would have at least known where to look.”
“Sometimes we miss things. It really wasn’t your fault. And we got her back.”
Michael felt another wave of darkness.
“I’m worried about the chip too, Kitt. All we can do is wait. And we can’t change what happened, so let’s get this guy before he does any more harm.”
Michael tried to send reassurance over the link. There was no point in dwelling on what might have been.
* * *
As the ramp closed behind them, sealing them into the cozy trailer, Michael grabbed a bundle off the passenger’s seat and opened Kitt’s door.
Bonnie was sitting in one of the leather office chairs, a white bandage still taped to her temple. Michael tried to keep the flowers hidden behind his back, but was unsuccessful. She smiled weakly when she saw the yellow, purple, and white wildflowers. “Very sweet, but you know you aren’t supposed to pick them, right?”
“That’s what Kitt kept saying, but I cleared it with the FBI. They promised they wouldn’t prosecute.” Michael bent over and kissed her before whispering, “I’m glad you’re back, sweetheart.”
“Thank you.” Bonnie took the flowers and glanced around the room for something to use as a vase.
Devon came out of the kitchen carrying a cup of tea. “Ah, Michael. Did you have any luck this morning?”
“As a matter of fact, I did. Kitt and I found a pair of really old mine shafts – one near the spot where you were found yesterday,” he said, nodding to Bonnie, “and one near where we had the original set of sensors located. Both of the shaft covers have been braced and camouflaged recently and I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Randall’s using the mine tunnels to get around the park. Kitt’s started to research mining in the area, but if you guys could look into it as well, that would help. It’ll give you something to do on the way back.”
“Back, Michael?” Devon asked as he set his mug down on the Formica table and pulled out a chair.
“Yeah. If you could take Bonnie back to Los Angeles, Kitt and I will stay here and keep looking for clues. I’ve already called Ella and she’s more than willing to stay with you,” Michael said, barely glancing in Bonnie’s direction. He hoped that after being abducted, she wouldn’t put up a fight. He wanted her home, out of Randall’s reach.
“I’m not going back,” Bonnie said decisively.
Michael looked down at her, immediately frustrated. “Why not?”
“There’s no reason for me to go home. I can be more help here.”
“Devon, could you excuse us for a minute,” Michael said and motioned for Bonnie to follow him to the front of the semi. She put the flowers down on the table and followed him with a dark look on her face. Michael was trying not to get angry, but they had had this argument several times now. He knew he couldn’t always ask her to stay home, but sometimes it just made sense. And it seemed to him that she was just being stubborn about it.
Michael stood with one arm against the doorway to the kitchen and Bonnie faced him with her arms crossed. “I’m not going back.”
“Four days ago, you wanted nothing to do with being out here. Now you want to stay? Why?”
“I didn’t want us to be out here. I didn’t want any of us working on this case, but since we’re here, I’m not leaving without you guys. Besides, you need my help to monitor the sensors and what if something happens to Kitt?”
“Bonnie, it’s not safe for you to be out here. We don’t know what that chip in your head does and the further away from Randall you are, the safer you’ll be.”
“I don’t want to go home to sit around wondering what’s going on. I’ll just be worried about you. No.”
“But if you’re here, I’ll have to worry about you,” Michael said, trying to turn the tables on her. He dropped his hand from its position against the doorframe and slid it under her hair, to rest it on her shoulder.
“But at least you’ll be here too,” Bonnie paused and dropped her eyes. “I don’t want to be away from you, Michael.”
Michael looked down at her and felt a tenderness stirring in him. He knew that she needed him, but it was rare that she let herself be that open and vulnerable about it. He hated that she was in danger, but she did have a point. At least if she was here, he and Kitt could keep an eye on her. “Are you sure?”
“If, at anytime, you want to go home . . .” Michael started.
“I got it,” Bonnie said, holding her ground.
Bonnie nodded her head and reached up to squeeze his arm before moving past him into the kitchen to look for a vase for the flowers. Michael shook his head and wandered back out into the main part of the trailer, taking a moment to be grateful for the fact that the woman he loved was back, and still able to outmaneuver him in an argument.
* * *
They had spent the rest of the morning researching the history of the park and trying to decide on how to proceed. Kitt and Devon had convinced Michael that it would best to wait until they had detailed maps of the mine before he went traipsing around in a potentially unstable tunnel. Michael wasn’t entirely convinced, but he let himself be talked into it, consoling himself with the fact that he could at least spend some time with Bonnie. She had perked up a bit at having something to do.
Michael, protesting that research wasn’t his strong suit, had staked out a seat and was toying with some of the equipment in the semi. He picked up what looked vaguely like a walky talky and started speaking into it.
“Houston, we have a problem.”
Bonnie looked up and rolled her eyes. “If you’re bored, you could help.”
He waved his hands in front of him, palms up. “Sorry, no computer.”
“Bonnie, the sensors that were brought in earlier need to be tested,” Kitt offered helpfully.
Bonnie swiveled around in her chair. “Good idea. Thanks, Kitt.”
She got up and took the walky talky out of Michael’s grip. “This is a handheld radio. It can communicate with the sensors we placed out in the woods. Those sensors in the corner have had their radio antennas repaired and they need to be tested.” Bonnie picked up the nearest sensor and set it at Michael’s feet. “Just turn the sensor on, set the handheld to test, and press the transmit key. It’ll beep to let you know that it’s sent a radio message. If you get a second beep within 10 seconds, the sensor is functioning. Got it?”
//Thanks a lot, traitor,// Michael said.
Michael could sense what he had decided was Kitt’s laughter. Kitt almost never laughed out loud, but he did project what could best be described as waves of joy that would ripple through their link.
Michael picked up as many of the units as he could carry and set them down in front of his chair. He turned the next one on and pressed the transmit button. He was surprised when he got two beeps in reply, before realizing that the first sensor hadn’t been turned off.
After holding his breath for three days, waiting for word on Bonnie, Michael was finally starting to feel relieved, and it was making him a bit impish. Being mischievous was one of his ways to blow off steam after a case settled down. It made him a little giddy to think that they had averted the horrible endings he had been envisioning. Now he just needed to lighten the mood a bit.
Michael looked to see that neither Bonnie nor Devon had noticed the multiple beeps. When he saw that they both had their heads buried in their work, he got up and grabbed the remaining sensors and brought them back to his makeshift workstation. He set them down and turned them all on. Then he sat back with a smug grin and hit the transmit key again. He was treated to a chorus of beeps in reply. That earned him a stern look from Devon and more rolled eyes from Bonnie. Not quite satisfied with the response, Michael started tapping the transmit key to the rhythm of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. The sensors responded like a group of children singing out of turn and the result was a cacophony of beeping.
“Michael, please,” Devon admonished.
Bonnie got up and snatched the radio out of Michael’s hand, but she was smiling. “Fine, just sit there and don’t touch anything. You’re worse than a child.” She took the radio back to her computer with her.
“What? I was just trying to help,” Michael said while shrugging his shoulders and feigning innocence. He felt Kitt laugh again.
Then Michael was surprised to feel Kitt tense up.
//What is it?// he asked.
“Bonnie,” Kitt said slowly. “You’re transmitting.”
Bonnie looked down at the handheld in surprise. “No, Kitt, I turned the radio off.”
“Not the handheld. You. The chip is transmitting.”
* * *
It took Bonnie a few seconds before she let out the breath she had drawn in. She hadn’t felt anything, but knowing that something was going on, was making her imagine she had a headache. She felt cold and for a minute, couldn’t think of what the appropriate response was. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. This is actually the third time. The first transmission was forty minutes ago. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I just stored the information, but it happened again twenty minutes ago. I moved my array so that this last time, I was able to determine a direction. It’s definitely coming from you.”
Bonnie shook her head, as if to clear the cobwebs. “Let me see it.” She sat down in Kitt’s passenger seat to look at the signal he displayed for her on the video monitor. “Were all three of them at the same frequency?” She asked, looking at the spike sticking up above all the other signals on Kitt’s spectrum analyzer.
“Yes, Bonnie, and each one had a duration of 0.26 seconds.”
Devon came around to the passenger door to peer in at the display. “Is it a standard message format, Kitt?”
“No, Devon. I could try to collect enough data to decipher it, but that will take several hours.”
“You might as well get started,” Devon replied.
Michael watched Bonnie through the windshield. She was staring down at the display and not moving. Devon shot him a look and headed back to his chair in the office section, a discrete distance away. Michael took his place in the driver’s seat.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
It took Bonnie a while to answer. “No.”
Michael tried to gently pull her close, but she sat stiffly with her shoulders square. She didn’t feel like being comforted. She wanted to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible. Now that the chip was actually doing something, the dread she felt in the hospital was returning.
“Kitt, does it look like a homing beacon?” Bonnie asked.
“It’s possible, but I think it’s more complicated than that. There’s definitely digital data riding on the signal. It would appear to be a message, but I’ll need time to analyze it.”
Bonnie got out of the car and stood in front of Kitt, looking around the semi, unsure of what to do next. She shook her head and then ran a hand through her hair. “Maybe I should go back to Los Angeles. He could be using me to track our movements or maybe he’s somehow collecting data on us through this implant.”
“That’s one option.” Michael said. “But if Kitt’s going to figure out what that thing is doing, aren’t you going to need to be here? If it is a homing beacon, it might be a good idea for Kitt and I to hang around in case he decides to follow it. I’d hate for him to show up at your apartment doorstep.”
Bonnie took that in and flopped down in the chair next to Devon’s. She folded her hands in front of her on the Formica table. “The sooner I get this thing out of my head, the happier I’ll be.”
“Bonnie, I have what might be good news. Perhaps you won’t have to have it removed.”
“Why’s that, Kitt?”
“When I scanned it earlier, I noticed a small amount of lithium, consistent with a coin cell battery. If it keeps transmitting, it’s likely that the battery will run out soon.”
“It’ll run out at some point, but I’m not sure I want to wait that long. It could be a year or more.”
“That’s a long time to live with uncertainty,” Devon said. He reached out and put his hand on top of hers in a gesture he hoped was comforting.
“Bonnie, the implant in Michael’s head recharges its battery through kinetic energy as Michael moves. It just requires too much energy otherwise and would have to be replaced periodically - which causes some obvious complications.”
“I’ll say,” Michael said.
“Without a recharging mechanism, an implant that has to generate enough power to transmit probably won’t last a year.”
“I guess that’s something to keep in mind. I’m not relishing the idea of having someone open my head up for a second time. But I think even a month is going to be too long to wait, unless we catch this guy.”
“That would seem to be the most painless solution,” Devon said.
* * *
It had taken Bonnie and Kitt longer than expected to find a map of the tunnels. The mine had changed hands several times in the later 1800s. After the initial gold rush had run dry, several larger mining companies had moved in to extract gold from a quartz vein that ran through the area. That had resulted in a honeycomb of 10 to 40 foot vertical shafts, connected by horizontal tunnels. Devon finally found a map of the different tunnels in an old historical archive. Kitt had downloaded the information and Bonnie had adjusted his scanners to improve his ability to examine the underground shaft structures. Now, he and Michael were back out on the country roads.
“So, buddy, where do we start?”
“I think we should start where Bonnie was taken and work our way back from there. Randall either has a hideout down in the tunnels somewhere or he’s just using them to get to and from some base camp above ground,” Kitt said.
“Right. And my guess would be that the base camp wouldn’t be too far from a tunnel entrance.”
“Michael, I really don’t like the idea of Bonnie having surgery to remove the chip. It’s a risk.”
“I know, neither do I. I just don’t think I could take waiting to see if they messed up the surgery and caused her some permanent problem. But at the same time, I don’t want to always be worried about some new mode clicking in and wreaking havoc with her.”
Michael felt what he assumed was guilt. Kitt’s emotions were sometimes hard to classify because they seemed so different from his own. Kitt often felt things in a more dispassionate way. He obvious felt them, but they seemed a little off or a little flat to Michael.
//I told you, it isn’t your fault.//
//If we had found her sooner, he wouldn’t have been able to implant the chip.//
//Kitt, stop it,// Michael sent the words with what he hoped was a fatherly tone. //You overlooked something. It happens to all of us. You don’t even know if you could have found the mine and even if you could, we still probably wouldn’t have found her in time. Don’t beat yourself up.//
Kitt knew that Michael was right, but a part of him couldn’t help thinking that he had failed. There was a chance that they could have prevented the situation, even if it was only a small chance.
They drove in silence for a few miles.
* * *
Michael grabbed hold of the grappling hook rope and Kitt lowered him down into the mineshaft. Michael clicked on his flashlight and looked around at the dusty support structures. “Kitt, you’re sure this section of tunnel isn’t going to come down on me, right?”
“No, I’m not sure, but it appears to be sound enough for the time being.”
“Well, don’t go driving over it while I’m down here, okay.”
Michael followed the tunnel for several hundred feet before he got a point where the tunnel branched.
“Which way, buddy?”
“Michael the left fork leads back toward the main group of tunnels. The right fork leads off to the north.”
“Left it is.”
After walking several hundred feet, Michael was tired of ducking under cobwebs and looking at nothing but rotting support beams and rock walls. He was beginning to wonder if this was going to be any more fruitful than peppering the forest with sensors. He had a feeling that he could comb these mazes for years and still not find any evidence of Randall.
“Kitt, where am I relative to the other tunnels?”
“You’re about 300 feet from a branch with another shaft. From there its 65 feet to a hub of sorts where 3 different tunnels intersect.”
Michael decided to take a look at the hub to see if there were any clues before calling it quits and trying the other fork. He made his way past the branch, after carefully shining his light down the intersecting tunnel and seeing nothing but more passageway. After that point, the tunnel curved a bit before getting to the hub. As he came around the bend, his flashlight reflected off of something metallic.
“Well, what do we have here?”
The tunnel Michael was in dead ended just after the intersection with the three other tunnels. There was about 10 feet of space after the intersection and before the rock wall. In that little alcove, there were two small sawhorses holding up a wooden plank. On the plank there were all sorts of tools laid out neatly in precise rows. The area behind the makeshift bench had been piled efficiently with boxes and a stack of 2x4s.
“Kitt, get a picture of this,” Michael said before sweeping the comlink in a slow circle in front of the alcove. He went over to one of the boxes and found it was filled with camouflage materials. Obviously Randall hadn’t updated his supply recently because the leaves and grass had all turned brown. “Looks like this is where Randall makes the supports for the shaft covers.” The next box contained battery operated power tools. He picked up a drill and looked for any identifying information, but it was a common brand name for tools and there was nothing unusual about it.
“Kitt, any fingerprints?”
There was a pause while Kitt scanned the complete collection of tools. “Yes, Michael. And they’re Randall’s.”
“Okay, the FBI already believes it’s him, but it never hurts to have hard evidence. Call Agent Nichols and tell him to send a forensics team down here. I’m ready to get out of this place.”
Michael put the drill down on the bench and looked around the hidden work area once more. This was just an outpost, a place where Randall kept the tools for maintaining his hideout. There wasn’t anything in the way of camping or survival gear and this probably wasn’t where he kept his victims. Michael swept the interconnecting tunnels once more with the flashlight and then started the trek back.
* * *
Bonnie stared down at the hardcopy of the signal her implant was transmitting. Kitt had printed it out for her before he and Michael had gone to investigate the mineshafts. She was used to looking at signals this way, but there just wasn’t enough information in the printout to tell her what was going on inside her head. The signal was fairly strong. With a good receiver, it could probably be picked up at least a couple of miles away. The frequency was in the VHF band, which didn’t tell her much, other than it needed to be more or less line of sight. Maybe Randall had a receiver or relay perched on top of one of the neighboring hills. She’d have to tell Michael and Kitt to check that out. Maybe that could lead them to Randall or at least give them another place to start looking.
“You’ve been staring at that printout for an hour now, I don’t think there’s much more to be learned from it,” Devon said gently from his customary chair in the office.
Bonnie set the paper down on the bench next to her. “You’re probably right, but I just don’t know what else to do.”
“Maybe you should try to get some sleep. Your body is still healing.”
“It’s six o’clock, Devon, I’m not tired just yet.”
Devon came over and rested a hand on her shoulder. “You’ve been through a lot the last couple of days, you really should try to get some rest.”
“Devon, I appreciate the concern, but I’m fine.”
He studied her carefully. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” she said with annoyance but then caught herself and smiled at him. “You don’t have to keep asking. I’ll tell you if something’s wrong.” Devon took the cue and went back to his chair. It was hard not to treat both her and Michael like his children. They were family and he didn’t mind the occasional admonishment for being too overbearing.
The tone on the video monitor chimed and Bonnie hit the button to call up the image. Michael had dust on his jacket and a smudge of dirt on his face.
“Been rolling around in the dirt again?” Bonnie asked.
Devon came up behind her to hear what Michael had to say.
“Very funny. I think next time I’ll have you go spelunking in old mine passageways. It’s loads of fun.”
“I’ll pass, thanks. What’s up?” Bonnie asked with a smile.
“I actually found something. We found one of the places where Randall keeps his tools and other toys. Kitt IDed some fingerprints, so we know he was down there. I was thinking that the tunnels are too much ground for me to cover and obviously, Kitt can’t get down there, so maybe we should have the FBI mount another search party. They could start at several of the different shafts and try to converge on the center. Maybe we’d actually get a break in this case.”
“That would be a welcomed relief,” Devon said. “I’ll call Phil and we can get that organized.”
“Great. We’re on our way in so we can brief you on what we found. See you in a few minutes.”
The screen went dark as Kitt cut the link. Devon picked up the phone and called Nichols.
Bonnie wandered over to the service bay where she had dumped a box of motion detectors in Kitt’s absence. She rummaged through the box, figuring that if Randall wasn’t caught in the sweep, at least they could place a few detectors around. She picked up two of the units and was about to start fishing through the box again when it felt like something slammed into her head full force. She dropped the detectors she had been holding and brought both hands up to her temples. Flashes of light started appearing and disappearing behind her eyes. The flashes slowly turned into something more solid, churning through her mind too quickly to process. There were patterns of light and dark jumping around behind her eyes. It made her dizzy almost instantly and she stumbled backward into the wall of the semi.
Devon looked up as he heard the equipment clatter to the floor. “Bonnie, are you alright?” He quickly realized that she wasn’t and moved to help her. “Bonnie?” He eased her down into a sitting position and she put her forehead down on her knees, with her back supported by the aluminum wall. Devon knelt down in front of her. “Bonnie, what’s wrong?”
She couldn’t speak. She tried to open her eyes but it made her nauseous. There was a constant barrage of images superimposed on the view she was actually seeing. She tried to calm herself by concentrating on breathing but the images in her head just kept coming. She squeezed her eyes shut again and pressed both hands over them.
Devon was at a loss. He contemplated calling an ambulance, but in reality there was nothing medical personnel could do. The chip was obviously affecting her and they probably couldn’t do much to stop it. As long as she was breathing okay and seemed to be conscious, he decided to wait it out. He slowly rearranged himself into a sitting position next to Bonnie and took one of her hands in his. He decided that if she couldn’t talk, he’d at least keep talking to her. He didn’t know what to say exactly, but tried to keep a steady stream of supportive words going.
Bonnie listened to the sound of Devon’s voice. She couldn’t make out what he was saying and trying to concentrate on anything was nauseating, but the clipped staccato cadence was reassuring.
The ramp at the tail end of the semi started to lower as Michael and Kitt approached. Michael saw Devon and Bonnie sitting on the floor and felt his throat tighten. Kitt carefully steered them up the ramp and Michael jumped out and knelt down next to Bonnie.
The images stopped.
Bonnie let out a sigh and slumped against Michael, still dizzy and sick to her stomach. She rested her head on Michael’s chest and tried to concentrate on the smell of his leather jacket. Michael was slowly stroking her hair and murmuring something to her.
Michael looked up and met Devon’s concerned gaze. “What happened?” he asked over Bonnie’s head.
“I don’t know, Michael. Everything was fine. Then she dropped the equipment she was working with and stumbled backward. She hasn’t been able to speak since.”
“Her implant is picking up a narrowband RF signal. I’m transmitting an interfering signal at the same frequency,” Kitt said.
“It seems to be working. Keep transmitting, Kitt,” Devon said. He got up and came back with a glass of cold water from the kitchen. It was too hard on his knees to try to kneel again so he handed the glass to Michael and leaned against Kitt, waiting.
Bonnie could hear the voices talking, but she wasn’t paying attention. Her head was throbbing and she was exhausted. It was several more minutes before she felt settled enough to try to say something.
“I’m okay, I think,” she managed in a raspy voice. Her head rang with each word. She decided that moving would be a bad idea.
“What happened?” Michael asked.
She took a minute to breathe deeply and fought back another wave of nausea before replying, “I don’t know. I got a sudden splitting headache and then started seeing … things. Not really seeing them. They were in my head and I could sort of see through them, but it made me sick.”
Michael offered her the water, which she took. The cool glass was soothing in her hand and the water settled her stomach a little.
“Kitt’s blocking a signal that’s being picked up by the chip.”
Bonnie opened her eyes for the first time, lifted her head to get a glimpse of Kitt’s black shell, and said, “Thank you,” in a slow, deliberate voice.
“Do you want to try to lie down?” Michael asked. He didn’t want to rush her, but figured she’d be more comfortable in her bunk.
“No. I don’t want to move.”
“So what was it that you were seeing?” Michael asked.
“I’m not sure. I couldn’t really see anything. It was all flashing by so quickly. I couldn’t focus on anything and trying too hard made me dizzy.”
Bonnie took a few more sips of water. “Okay, I’m not so sure about the moving part, but I think I would like to lie down for a while.”
“Okay, lets see if we can take this slowly,” Michael said. He took the glass of water from her before sliding one arm around her shoulders and the other under her knees. She grabbed onto him tightly when he lifted her. Being hauled up caused the room to pitch and yawl and she squeezed her eyes shut again. Michael carried her to her bunk in the front of the trailer and set her down, pulling back the comforter for her.
“Stay with me,” she said as she lay down and curled up on her side under the blanket.
Michael took off his boots and jacket and lay down next to her. He put one arm around her shoulder and rested the palm of his hand on the back of hers, entwining their fingers. “It’s going to be okay. Just try to get some sleep,” he said to the nape of her neck.
Bonnie’s eyes were already closed and slowly the room stopped spinning.
* * *
Michael stopped to grab a cup of coffee in the kitchen before heading out into the main area of the semi. Devon was sitting at the computer, working on something.
“Kitt, try deciphering the signals with this format. If it doesn’t work, try a group of subtle variations. Change the resolution specified in the header to align it with more current configurations. I believe that would be the most likely variable to change.”
Devon looked up as he heard Michael approaching. “How is she?”
“She’s asleep for the moment. That must have taken a lot out of her because she dropped off almost immediately.”
“Michael, I may have some more information about that chip.”
“Okay, any idea where it came from?” He pulled up a chair and looked at the data Devon had displayed on the computer screen.
Devon looked at Michael out of the corner of his eyes. “I’m afraid it’s mostly likely Foundation technology.”
“What?” Michael asked, clearly surprised.
“Michael, the chip in your head was first conceived and tested around the time that the Foundation was designing KARR. As you know, the Defense Department was highly interested in the KARR project. In fact, part of the reason for KARR’s failure was the influence they wielded. Since they were looking for an urban tank of sorts, they were concerned mostly about it’s survival capabilities. As you know, this lead to the unfortunately elevated importance of self-preservation in KARR’s basic programming. They were also aware of and highly interested in, the chip we were developing to link the driver to the AI. And through the Defense Department, the CIA got involved. For a while they were offering the Foundation contracts to build a version of our chip that could send and receive images at a very high rate of speed.”
“Why were they interested in images?”
Michael’s brow furrowed. He didn’t like the sound of that. “You mean like subliminal messages?”
“In a way, yes.”
“And the Foundation went along with this?”
“At first. The development had come quite a ways before Wilton became uncomfortable with the direction KARR’s testing was taking and the potential uses for this image-based version of the chip. When he first envisioned a link between car and driver, he was planning only for a way to communicate. He wasn’t looking to have either one controlled by the other. At about that time, the extent of the mistake in KARR’s programming was discovered, and Wilton cut all ties with the Defense Department, the military, and the CIA.”
“But they already had the chip?”
“No, but they had enough information from us to build one like it. We had wrestled through the majority of technical problems and they were privy to our findings. It wouldn’t have taken much to have someone else complete the project. Now, as far as the mind control aspect goes, I have no idea what degree of success they achieved. That was definitely not our department.”
“Okay, so if we know about the chip, can we shut it down somehow?”
“Kitt and I have been comparing the signals he’s receiving to the original Foundation format to try to decode the messages. It isn’t exactly the same. There seem to be variations, probably the result of updating the technology. But even if the chip were identical, there wasn’t ever a way to shut it down without getting to the implant directly.”
“Kitt, is there any way you can cause it to overload?”
“Not without generating a lot of heat and possibly causing some of the parts to burst. Given the chip’s location, that could cause blindness or worse, Michael.”
“So how does any of this help us, Devon?”
“The signal itself would need to be transmitted from a point very close to our location, or it would need to be relayed through another transmitter. The antenna, in either case, would most likely be on top of one of the nearby hills, with a clear view of the valley.”
“Alright, lets go knock out that transmitter,” Michael said as he moved toward Kitt.
“I’m sorry, Michael. I need to be close to Bonnie to generate an interfering signal strong enough to prevent the chip from receiving Randall’s signal. If we go looking for the transmitter, Bonnie will start to see the effects of the chip again when we get farther away,” Kitt said.
Michael paused and looked toward the front of the semi where Bonnie was sleeping. He certainly didn’t want to subject her to that again. “Can we take her with us?”
“I’m afraid that won’t work either. If we do find the transmitter, as we get closer and closer to it, its signal will start to overwhelm mine. I can only generate a moderately strong signal at this frequency. Bonnie could possibly boost the power, but it’s still going to be difficult.”
Michael’s shoulders slumped and he tried to consider other options.
“I think we’re going to have to leave it to the FBI for now,” Kitt said.
* * *
Jack Randall was checking the status of his supply depots down in the tunnels. He made the same rounds once a day, every day, to make sure his supplies were where he needed them to be. Someone could surprise him at any moment, at any place. He had to be prepared. He cautiously approached the depot in sector 36. He moved stealthily, without a flashlight, so as not to give away his position. He paused at the corner of the tunnel intersection, listening for anything out of the ordinary. When he was satisfied, he swung around the corner and then started to check each box in turn. His drill was missing. He looked over at the tool bench and saw it lying carelessly on the corner. He peered around the alcove in the darkness, looking for more signs that someone beside himself had been in his tunnels.
* * *
“Michael, Devon, I’ve decoded the message format,” Kitt said from his place in the service bay.
Michael had been slouched in a chair, flipping through the sports section of a newspaper Devon had picked up three days ago. “And?”
“I’ll display some of the images on the semi computer so that you can both see them.”
Michael stood up, rubbing a hand over his tired eyes. The first of the images started loading. As the image appeared, one row at a time, Michael and Devon both tried to make sense of it. It was similar to a black and white picture, except that it was in shades of very dark, murky brown. The image itself didn’t seem to be of anything in particular, or if it was, it was impossible to discern. Devon looked at Michael and shrugged. The next image was similar, except that this time, it seemed to Devon that he could make out a face and possibly a hand. The tone of the picture and knowing where it came from, gave the image an ominous tone.
In the next picture, there was clearly an eye and what looked like a mouth, contorted, but the image itself was fuzzy and ambiguous. “Devon, do you think these are pictures of Randall’s other victims?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. They don’t seem to be very distinct. I would expect that if they were images of the victims, they’d be more graphic.”
“Kitt, can you clear up this picture any?”
“I’ve tried that Michael. There isn’t much more to them than what you’re seeing. The resolution just isn’t there. And after this one, they go back to being geometric shapes.”
Kitt sent the next picture. It seemed to be a set of long, thin ovals lined up next to each other on a dark background.
“I don’t get it Devon. Maybe this is some sort of mind control technique, but I sure don’t understand it. I would have expected something more direct, like the fabled, ‘Drink Coke’ on a single frame of a movie preview.”
“I don’t know, Michael. But Randall seems to deal in fear as much as reality, so perhaps this plays to subconscious worries. Maybe it’s just vague enough to allow the subject to project his or her own fears into the pictures.”
“Well, whatever he’s doing, I don’t like it.”
“I think we can all agree on that, Michael,” Devon said.
* * *
In the endless parade of days, morning was marching passed them again. Agent Nichols had spent several hours with Michael and Devon the night before, formulating a plan to have the FBI sweep the old mine tunnels. He had needed time to get the equipment and enough agents together. They also didn’t want to begin the sweep at night, so it was determined that they would wait for daybreak. Now the chill was coming off the mountains in a morning mist and 32 agents were gathered around with tunnel maps, radios, and climbing gear in hand. They had all been given different assignments and needed to start out in different sectors of the woods. They were getting a final briefing from Phil Nichols before the different groups headed out.
Kitt was parked along side the semi and Michael was leaning against the passenger side door, listening to Nichols brief the other FBI agents. The agents were gathered in a semi circle around him and Michael and Kitt were off to the side. Michael had decided to join one of the teams going down into the tunnels. He glanced at his watch, eager to get moving. He had been fighting off the urge to pace relentlessly and was consciously ignoring the high-strung state of the muscles in his back. He had kicked up several clumps of grass with the tip of his boot while waiting for the end of Phil’s briefing.
“Okay, we wait until everyone is in position before anyone heads down into the shafts. Keep your radios on you at all times and don’t take any unnecessary risks. If a tunnel looks unstable, fall back to a safe location and radio in your position. The idea is to box him in if he’s down there. And remember, we’re going to start converging at some point so use the call signs and don’t get trigger happy down there,” Nichols said. “Unless there are any questions, lets move out.”
The group started to disperse into smaller two and three person teams. Staring out at the agents around him, Michael said, “Keep on eye on things down there, buddy,” and knocked lightly on Kitt’s hood.
Several of the teams got into cars to drive out to their entrance points and a few set off into the forest on foot. Michael made his way over to Phil who was standing with a group of three other agents.
“Michael, this is Agent Lopez, he’s the third member of our group. Agents Collins and Jackson here are going down into a tunnel that converges with ours about 500 feet into the mine.”
Michael shook hands with the three agents and Nichols handed him a radio. They made their way through the forest to a tunnel entrance similar to the one that Michael first tripped over. Once there, Lopez, a quiet but intense man in his forties, sat down with his back against a tree. “It’s going to be a long wait for the other teams to get into position,” he said.
Michael decided to pace instead. He was eager to get this over with. He wasn’t used to having to work within the timetable set by someone else, and while he appreciated the need for a methodical approach to this, he was frustrated that they couldn’t go now.
The radio on Michael’s belt squawked, “Team 3 is in position and ready to go.”
“Copy Team 3,” Nichols replied.
The next half hour was filled with reports from the different teams indicating that they were ready. They were still waiting on two teams that had received assignments a distance up the road and quite a ways into the forest.
After another 15 minutes, Team 11 reported in.
“Copy, Team 11. Team 12, we’re waiting,” Nichols said into the radio with a slight smile.
“Team 12 would like to lodge a protest. We were given the most difficult assignment and we’ve been trying to hike up a pretty steep grade with none of the proper climbing gear.”
Phil laughed. “Oh come on, you’re working for the government. You ought to be used to this.”
“Team 12 is 150 meters from the entrance.”
It was another 10 minutes before all of the teams were in place and set. Michael could feel the anticipation as Nichols called for a final radio check and gave them the signal to enter the tunnels. While waiting, Lopez had tied their rope around a nearby tree so they were ready to go as soon as the order went out. Michael opened the shaft entrance and threw down the rope. Nichols went first, followed by Michael and then Agent Lopez. When they all reached the floor of the tunnel, they flipped on flashlights and surveyed the area. The tunnel dead ended at the shaft entrance and ran straight in the other direction as far as they could see with the flashlights. The supports looked in good shape in this section of the mine. Moving with Nichols in front and Michael and Lopez flanking him slightly behind on each side, they started to move through the dark tunnel.
They had traveled approximately 60 feet into the mine when the radio clicked to life and they received a static-filled report from one of the other teams. “This is Team 7. Our tunnel is caved in. It’s completely blocked, so there’s no way in or out.”
“Head back up to the surface and wait at the main base camp for further instructions. If we need backup, we’ll call you in,” Nichols said.
Soon other teams began reporting in about stashes of equipment similar to the alcove that Michael had found earlier. They were scattered through several of the tunnels.
“It’s obvious that Randall’s down here and he’s got a good strategy for getting around and keeping stuff where he can get to it. He must have been planning this for a while to have set this up so perfectly,” Nichols said.
Michael could feel the tunnel they were in begin to slope down. This tunnel led into the heart of the mine that, according to the map, was a large hollowed out cavern over 50 feet below the surface. They were closing in on a fork with the tunnel to the west.
“Team 1 to Team 4. We’re about to meet up,” Nichols warned.
They could faintly hear Team 4’s radio as it relayed Nichols’ message, indicating that they were within earshot. When they reached the fork, they only had to wait briefly for the other agents to reach their location. The group of five continued along the shaft.
They were moving slowly and cautiously through the mine, checking out little side storage tunnels and alcoves as they went, careful not to let anyone surprise them. They turned every corner as if they were going to find Randall on the other side and it was wearing thin. It was also reminding Michael of his days with special ops in Vietnam. He had worked a little in tunnel operations, but mostly as surface support, guarding the entrances while the other men in his unit were down trying to flush out the Viet Cong. Michael had discovered early on that the Viet Cong tunnels were dug for people a lot smaller than him and he often couldn’t get his shoulders through the openings.
Michael was surprised when a startled sensation came to him over the link. Kitt had been quiet in the background since they had entered the tunnel.
//What is it?//
Michael was surprised again when Kitt chose to activate the comlink. “Michael, I’m picking up an extra set of life signs in the mine shafts. I can’t pinpoint the exact location, but it seems there is one person, alone, deeper in the tunnels than the rest of you. This is the first time I’ve detected him.”
Lopez looked at Michael’s watch in surprise.
“My partner. It’s a long story,” Michael said. He also realized why Kitt chose the comlink. Michael would have had a hard time explaining how he knew Randall was down here, if no one had heard him.
“Sounds like we’ve got company,” Nichols said. He picked up his radio and shook his head briefly before speaking. “All teams, this is Nichols. We have reason to believe the subject is in the mine. Exercise caution.” He turned back to Michael, “I’m going to have to explain that one later.”
“You get used to it,” Michael said, distracted. His eyes tried to burn a hole through the darkness ahead of him. Somewhere out there, Randall was busy in the tunnels. Michael wondered what he was doing and if he knew they were down here as well. A caged animal was usually the most dangerous one. However, if he managed to enter the mine through some path that wasn’t on the map, he could easily get away from them too.
Michael’s senses were heightened in that way that causes shadows to move of their own volition. They were forging ahead at an even slower pace and were coming up on another dark cross-tunnel. Michael shielded his flashlight and looked down at the map to see if it was a full tunnel or one of the many dead ends that littered the mine.
Michael got another sharp jolt over the link. Before he could ask Kitt what was wrong, the radio crackled with Kitt’s voice.
“All agents evacuate the mine immediately through the nearest shaft entrance. Repeat, all agents leave the tunnels immediately.”
Kitt’s voice had lilted up on the last few syllables. Phil Nichols looked at Michael questioningly, but the look on Michael’s face was enough. Nichols raised the radio to his mouth and yelled, “Go. Go. Go!” as he turned and headed back toward the entrance. What started as a slow jog changed into a run as he signaled them all to follow. The flashlights bobbed crazily against the irregularly cut stone walls.
//It’s going to explode,// Kitt said. Michael could feel the waves of fear over the link. He tried to shut them out, needing to keep his own head clear.
They all heard the sharp crack as a group of explosives buried in the heart of the mine detonated, followed by a roar that echoed through the tunnels, accompanied by a shock wave. Agent Lopez lost his footing as the mine shook and Michael stopped to help him get back to his feet. They were still several hundred feet from the entrance. A cloud of silt fell from the roof of the tunnel and powdered the agents’ hair gray. There was another explosion, this time closer and when the resulting boom thundered through the tunnel, it brought with it a billowing cloud of dust, rocks, and other debris. Michael shielded his head and turned away from the direction of the blast. He was knocked over by the force of the onslaught. He stumbled forward, feeling cuts on his hands and neck. The other agents were faltering toward the exit as well. They heard another distant crack. Obviously there were several groups of explosives detonating in different parts of the mine. Randall had it booby-trapped. He must have been waiting for them.
They started trying to run at a faster pace, while avoiding rocks and shielding their eyes from the thick dust that was hanging in the air. They were all coughing and the cloud of debris dimmed their flashlights.
They heard another blast, followed by an ominous rumble.
//The mine is going to collapse!//
Michael was being overwhelmed by Kitt’s feelings of helplessness. He tried to shut them out. He wasn’t helpless. He needed to get himself and the other agents out of the tunnel. He grabbed Lopez and tried to force the whole group to move faster.
After what seemed like an eternity of running, they made it to their entry point, but they had to climb up one at a time. The other agents went first and then Michael forced Nichols to climb up before him. All the while he had his head turned back the way they had come, watching the ceiling anxiously. The shaft was still rumbling, but the supports seemed to be holding. He hoped the other teams were as lucky. Finally he crawled up the rope and sucked in the fresh air. He moved away from the tunnel entrance just to be safe.
Agent Nichols picked up the radio and yelled into it, “All teams check in!”
Several teams had started to report back when they heard cracking and rumbling deep in the forest in the direction of the main shaft.
“Several sections of tunnel just caved in, Michael,” Kitt said over the comlink.
“Are any of my men trapped down there?” Nichols asked.
“I can’t be sure, but I’m not reading any life signs in the mine anymore,” Kitt replied forebodingly.
Nichols had been mentally cataloging the teams that had checked in. “Someone from Teams 5, 8, and 10 give me your status, now!”
“This is Team 5. Roger dislocated his shoulder. We’re at the shaft entrance but he can’t climb the rope. The shaft seems stable but we need some help down here.”
“Teams 4 and 6, make your way over to help them in anyway you can.”
“This is Team 7. We’ve got medical supplies and we’re on our way to help.”
Nichols was comforted. He had forgotten about the team that had gone back to base.
“Anyone without injuries in the neighborhood of Teams 8 or 10, make your way over to them to see why they aren’t responding. Don’t go down into the tunnels without my okay. Any teams with minor injuries, make your way back to base. If there are any other major injuries, report back to me immediately,” Nichols said.
* * *
Bonnie had been laying on the bunk resting. There was still a dull ache hanging out behind her eyes. Even though Kitt was blocking the signal, there was still some tinge of something going on. She could feel it, or at least thought she did.
Bonnie had just decided to get up and stop wallowing in her headache when she heard the first explosion. She threw off the comforter and headed out into the main section of the semi. Devon was already on his feet and looking out the opened back ramp.
“That didn’t sound good,” Bonnie said, coming up behind him. She took a few steps down the ramp and peered out into the trees in the direction of the mine. She turned back to Kitt, who was still parked along side the semi in the grass. Instead of walking all the way down the ramp, she jumped over the side and headed for him. “What was that?”
“There was an explosion in the mine,” Kitt said.
“Michael?” Kitt heard the fear in her question. It was the fear she always lived with. One of these times, Michael would run out of the nine lives he seemed to have and actually get killed on one of their cases.
“He’s fine, Bonnie. But they need to get out of there.”
A second and then third rumble shook the air and Bonnie immediately looked down at Kitt.
“He’s still fine.”
They waited silently, hoping the explosions were over.
There was one more detonation. Bonnie suddenly felt the pain behind her eyes evaporate. “Kitt, the signal must have stopped.” The dull ache in her head disappeared with the rumble of the last explosion.
The mood in the semi was solemn. Phil Nichols had called Devon after coming back from the hospital and now he was sitting in the semi’s office. Three of his men had died in the tunnel cave-ins and a fourth was in critical condition with burns and several broken bones. The FBI had flown in a team that had spent the night trying to rescue survivors, only to find that it was too late.
“The reason I stopped by is that they pulled a body out of the mine a few hours ago. It wasn’t one of my men.” He handed Devon a file with the information they had gathered so far.
Michael left his perch on Kitt’s hood and joined the conversation. “Randall?”
“We don’t know yet. The search and rescue team found the remains near the flash point of the second explosion. The body is pretty well incinerated and there are only a few teeth left in the skull. We’re sending it to Washington, but it’s going to take a few days to determine an identity. But there haven’t been any reports of anyone missing in the area the last few days, so it’s unlikely that it’s a captive of his.”
“It could still be someone who hasn’t been reported yet,” Michael offered. “Besides, there were four explosions, so it’s not likely it was Randall.”
“The explosives guys determined that the bombs were on time delays, rigged to go off in succession. Randall only had to be there to set off the first detonation. He could have made a mistake and gotten himself killed.”
“I’ll feel better about that theory once the body’s been identified,” Michael said.
“I just wanted to keep you guys up to date. The forensics team is scheduled to go down into what’s left of the mines as soon as it’s swept for additional explosives and the supports are reinforced.”
“Thank you for the information, and we’re sorry about the loss of your agents,” Devon said. “We plan on staying in the area until a positive identification has been made, one way or the other.”
“Thanks. We appreciate all your help. Hopefully this case has been resolved,” Nichols said as he left.
Once Nichols had gone, Bonnie said, “Wouldn’t that be nice.”
“Don’t get your hopes up. Randall is military and CIA. I don’t think he accidentally blew himself up. It’s probably a ploy to keep us off his trail long enough for him to regroup,” Michael said.
“Well, at least he did blow up his transmitter,” Bonnie said.
“I think it’s clear that we should continue to monitor the sensors, until they can identify the body,” Devon said.
“I guess I can put these repaired ones back out again,” Bonnie offered.
“Can I help you? I suddenly have this paranoia about you putting out sensors alone in the woods,” Michael said.
“Fine. You can carry them.”
Bonnie picked up the sensors that she had been attempting to replace several nights ago. They had been sitting in a corner of the semi, like forgotten toys since the abduction. She handed a couple of them to Michael and the pair headed down the ramp and into the clearing. Bonnie was taking long strides, intent on the task she was performing. Michael wasn’t really interested in putting out hardware, but since his stride was naturally longer than Bonnie’s, he wasn’t really lagging behind.
Bonnie got to the deer path and started down it a ways. She stopped at another fallen tree and deemed it a good place to put a camera. She knelt down and started to work. Michael sat down on the log and watched her closely. Bonnie felt the heat of his gaze and looked up. “What?”
Michael looked down but didn’t respond. Bonnie stood up, gently took the sensors from Michael and took a seat next to him. “What’s up?”
“I was just thinking that I love you. And that I’m very lucky you’re alive and in one piece. I don’t know what I would have done if you were hurt.”
Bonnie waited a minute before replying. “I know what you mean.”
“You’re happy you’re alive and in one piece, too,” Michael said. It was a bad habit for him to back away after he’d said something emotional.
Bonnie laughed softly. “That too. But no, I often think how lucky I am after you’ve managed to get out of some horrible scrape. It gets hard sometimes.”
Michael put an arm around her and pulled her closer. She tucked her head under his chin and put an arm around his side. “I’m glad you’re okay,” Michael said. “I miss spending time with you. I love Devon and all, but having a chaperone isn’t all that much fun.”
She playfully punched him. “At least you get to escape in Kitt whenever you want to.”
“Switching one chaperone for another isn’t really what I had in mind.”
“What did you have in mind?” she said, raising an eyebrow suggestively.
“I’m not exactly sure, but it was something like this.” He gently lifted her chin and kissed her.
“I guess I can’t argue with that,” she replied and went back for another kiss.
“I think, when this is over, we should both lobby Devon for some time off. I think we deserve a nice weekend away together.”
“Sounds lovely. I’m all for it.” She put her head back down on his chest and he pulled her tighter.
“There was something else I wanted to mention. Assuming, Kitt hasn’t already said something.”
“I don’t think so,” she said, a little puzzled.
“Kitt decoded the message structure for the signals that were being sent to your implant.”
“Really, was it anything interesting?” She sat up straighter and turned to look at him.
“Ah, it didn’t seem particularly meaningful. The signal contained images, but they were fuzzy and you couldn’t really make out anything. Kitt mentioned something else, too. He thinks he might be able to form a link with that implant.”
“You mean, a link like the neural link? Like what you have?”
“Not exactly, but something similar, I guess.”
Bonnie looked down and seemed to be working through something. “But, it’s not an implant that I can control, or interact with, the way you do with yours.”
“No, but he thinks he would be able to send it signals and command it to send them back too. It certainly wouldn’t be the same as the link he and I share, but it is old Foundation technology and it does have some of the same elements.”
Bonnie slid off the log and sat back down on the ground, fiddling with her sensor. Michael was a little surprised.
“Bon, I thought you’d be a little more interested in this. I mean, you have been jealous of the link from the beginning, right?”
Bonnie shook her head and sighed in a way that Michael had come to associate with her. She usually did it when she was trying to pick her words carefully and he had never seen anyone else do it in quite the same way. “Yes, that’s true. I have been jealous that you and Kitt are linked. But I guess it’s a case of being careful what you wish for. Receiving transmissions over this chip hasn’t exactly been pleasant.”
“That’s when you’re getting transmissions from Randall. Maybe Kitt can control the chip so that it’s not such a jarring experience. I think you should at least give it a try.”
“Maybe. Did it seem like that was something Kitt wanted to do?”
“I think so. He was being cautious and noncommittal about it, just like you are,” Michael said, giving her a very direct stare as a means to prod her, “but he wouldn’t have said anything if he wasn’t curious about it.”
“I guess I’ll talk to him.” She was rolling the sensor in between her hands and not looking directly at him.
“Sweetheart, I think you’re going to kick yourself if you let this opportunity get away. That chip is going to run out of juice at some point and I think you should at least see what it’s like before that happens. Granted, I didn’t much care for our link in the beginning, but I’ve grown to love being able to communicate with him that way. It’s given me a much better understanding of him, and our relationship is much closer because of it. I think, how he thinks, would surprise even you.”
Bonnie had clammed up and Michael decided that he had pushed it about as far as he should for now. It was obvious that there was something else she was working through and he had learned that if she wasn’t talking, it was best to wait.
Michael reached down and picked up a pair of sensors. “So where do you want these?”
* * *
Bonnie was back at her station, monitoring sensors. They hadn’t picked up anything except for a few false alarms since the cave-in. The FBI had set up roadblocks in case the body they found wasn’t Randall’s. Bonnie thought it was a waste of time. She couldn’t see him taking the roads out of the park when it was obvious he knew how to move through the forest. She was bored watching the map, so she logged on to check her email. She was pleasantly surprised to see there was a message waiting for her from Ella.
You okay? I was worried sick about you. I’m relieved you’re back. More than relieved. Who the hell would keep me sane if anything happened to you? But seriously, if you need to talk, I’m always here – day or night. You know where to find me.
Bonnie smiled at Ella’s concern. She was glad to have Ella around – for Kitt’s sake and her own.
Hey, when you get guys get back to LA, can we chat about some little additions I was thinking of for Kitt. Nothing major. I thought if you had some time, maybe we could code up a little something. Don’t tell him I’m planning anything though. I’d like it to be a surprise.
We. Bonnie leaned back in her chair and stared at the screen. She had been showing Ella some of the routine maintenance she did on Kitt. It was a good idea for someone besides her to know what Kitt needed to have done on a regular basis. However, that little jealous part of her heart was feeling threatened. If Ella could take care of him, then she wouldn’t be needed anymore. And now Ella wanted to make upgrades. Bonnie shook her head and went back to reading the email.
Anyway, I hope things are going well. I won’t be able to relax until that guy is caught. Be careful. I can’t wait for you guys to get back.
Take care (and take care of Kitt too, please),
Bonnie clicked to reply to the email, but when the editor came up, she just stared at the blank screen. She closed the window and planned to respond to Ella later.
* * *
Michael and Kitt caught up with the semi again a little after nightfall. They had been helping the FBI check out all the marked entrances to the tunnels. The forensics team had been down near the collapsed section of the mine all day and had managed to find several fingerprints and a lot of tools. They still hadn’t found any camping or backpacking equipment. It looked like Randall was either staying in the section that had completely collapsed, or he wasn’t staying in the tunnels regularly at all. Michael and Kitt were surveying the sites around the entrances, looking for burned out campfires or other signs that someone was living in the area. So far, they hadn’t found anything.
Michael parked Kitt along side the large black truck. He got out and took a minute to look up at the stars. He liked being in remote areas where the stars just seemed to pop out of the sky. The sky in Los Angeles was corrupted by a noxious orange glow from all the streetlights and buildings. Even when it was a clear night, the stars were pretty dim.
Michael headed up the ramp and sat on the edge, dangling his feet in the air. Bonnie heard him come in and took a break from her monitoring to come sit next to him.
“So, anything interesting?” she asked.
“Nope. No sign of him at the tunnel entrances and the FBI didn’t run into anyone suspicious at the roadblocks. If he’s not dead, he’s pretty successfully disappeared. Is there any word on the autopsy results?”
“Whoever it was died of massive burns and trauma consistent with an explosion. They don’t have any new information, and they’re still waiting on the DNA testing.”
“Is there any way that Kitt’s scanner range can be boosted again? We can’t get to some of the more remote tunnel entrances, and I’d like to check them out.”
“Not unless he lets me install a large, conspicuous antenna on his roof.”
“But you could do it?”
“No, Michael. That antenna is hideous,” Kitt said from his parking spot next to the semi.
“Come on, Kitt. We’re in the middle of nowhere. Who’s going to see you?” Michael looked at Bonnie but she just smiled and shrugged.
“Michael, it looks like a bad TV antenna from the fifties. I don’t want that thing installed on my roof.”
“It isn’t out of the 50’s, Kitt. It’s a long-range yagi antenna. It’s very practical and it’s the only thing I can think of to boost your range any further,” Bonnie said.
“You wouldn’t want Randall to get away just because you wanted to look your best, would you, buddy?”
“It would be like asking you to wear one of those little caps with the turning propeller, Michael.”
“Ahh, but a beanie wouldn’t help us catch Randall,” Michael said.
There was a long pause. “Michael, if this becomes a permanent addition to my systems, I’ll never forgive you.”
“Kitt, I told you there isn’t enough room in the body panels to route the cable for it anyway. It has to go out the T-tops, which would cause a little problem in the rain. I couldn’t make it permanent at this point if I wanted to,” Bonnie said.
“Fine. But if either one of you laughs,” Kitt warned.
“Come on, Kitt. Would we laugh at you?” Michael asked with a smirk.
* * *
Bonnie had a 15-foot cable snaking behind her as she cautiously jumped down the semi’s back ramp. It would have made more sense to have Kitt drive himself up into the service bay, but she liked the idea of making the installation outside. She didn’t need that much equipment and it was a beautiful night. It was warmer than it had been the last few days and there was a gentle rustling as the leaves moved in the wind. The semi’s floodlights were on and she could see Devon and Michael from where she was working.
Bonnie coiled the cable around her left arm, creating a loop that twisted between her palm and the bottom of her elbow. Once she had the cable under control, she set it on the passenger side floor. The offending antenna was propped up against Kitt’s rear body panel. It was three feet long and had a row of short, stubby cross pieces. It was like an old TV antenna accept that the cross members were much shorter than the length.
Bonnie started to uncoil the cable, but then paused and looked up through the windshield. Devon and Michael were sitting in the brightly lit square of the semi. She looked down at the dash and tried to decide if this was the right time to bring up the issue of the link.
“Bonnie, is there something wrong?”
Bonnie paused and considered that she might not get other chance to talk to Kitt alone in the near future.
“No, Kitt. I was just thinking about something,” she said. “Michael mentioned that you might be able to form some sort of link with the chip in my head.”
“Yes,” Kitt said, evenly.
“But he said that it wouldn’t be like the link that you and he share.”
“No. The implant that was put in Michael’s brain operates more or less under his control and it sends back thoughts, impressions, and emotions, but he can put up blocks to regulate it. The chip in your head sends back images of what you’re seeing. It can also, obviously, receive messages, but it appears to be controlled externally. It isn’t the same as the link between Michael and I, but it would be a link.”
Bonnie thought about that. “Kitt, when you and Michael first discovered that you were linked, I was very jealous of that.”
Bonnie smiled and gently rapped the dashboard with the back of her hand. “Don’t be coy. You know that. I wasn’t very good at hiding it.”
“But Bonnie, at first Michael hated the link and it caused him a lot of pain. Until we figured out how to block the signals, it was very hard on him.”
“I know. But you were able to hear each other’s thoughts and communicate on a level that you couldn’t attain with anyone else. A small part of me couldn’t help feeling like the closer you got to Michael, the further away I was getting.”
“But that isn’t true, Bonnie. I care about you and Michael.”
“I know that, but it was hard to control how I felt. I’m also just insanely curious about the link. I can watch Michael and he’ll get this far away look and I know you two are talking. I just wonder what it feels like and how it works and how you figure out what the other one is saying.”
“It’s not something I can describe, Bonnie.”
“Neither can Michael. I’ve asked him, several times.”
“I’m curious too,” Kitt said. “I know what it’s like to be linked to Michael but it wouldn’t be the same with someone else, even if the implants were identical. I have a better understanding of what it’s like to be human, thanks to Michael. But I think I would understand even more if I had some other data points. Not all people think the same.”
“Well, that’s certainly true.”
“I also think,” Kitt paused because he was a little afraid that Bonnie would take the next comment the wrong way, “that you might see things differently because you’re female.”
“I’m sure I do,” Bonnie said, smiling.
“I would like to have a better understanding of that. But there is one thing that concerns me.”
“What’s that?” Bonnie asked, feeling a little uneasy.
“When you were getting images from Randall, it was obviously painful for you. I don’t know what in the signal was causing pain, so I don’t know if I can prevent it. I don’t want to do anything that’s going to hurt you.”
“I don’t think there’s much we can do about that, other than try it and see what happens,” Bonnie said, trying to sound reassuring. She really hoped that they could find a way around that, because otherwise, it was going to be a short-lived experiment.
“Are you saying that you’d like to try to establish a link?”
“Well, I think we can probably agree that we’re both curious about it. I have to say that I wouldn’t mind trying Kitt, but this affects people other than the two of us.”
“I don’t think Michael minds, Bonnie. He’s been pushing me to talk to you ever since I told him.”
“He’s been encouraging me, too. I just don’t want to disturb something that’s special between the two of you.”
“I don’t think you have to worry, Bonnie. Your implant is only temporary and Michael seems open to the idea. I don’t sense any unease about it from his end of things.”
“Michael isn’t the only other person involved,” Bonnie said, looking down at the cable on the floor.
Kitt was silent for a moment. “Who?”
“Ella. This affects her too.”
“I’m not sure I understand, Bonnie.”
“I don’t think I’d be happy if some other woman was in Michael’s mind. And I’m not sure that Ella would be happy about me being in yours.”
Kitt could see her point. It also made him nervous that maybe his link with Michael was causing problems in Michael and Bonnie’s relationship. “Does it bother you that Michael and I are linked?”
“No, not other than being a little jealous of it sometimes. But it’s not quite the same. You and Michael are partners and friends. It’s just different.”
“I don’t think Ella would mind. You two are friends and she knows I love her.”
“I’m sure she does, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t mind. You said that you were worried about hurting me because of the way the chip works. Well, I’m worried about hurting you by causing problems between you and Ella. I like Ella a lot and I think you two are good for each other. I don’t want to do something that might jeopardize that or come between you. I think if we’re serious about this, then you need to talk to Ella first.” She thought for a minute and smiled, remembering that Kitt was still new at relationships. “And don’t just take her first answer. She might tell you it’s fine, but that might not be how she really feels.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Just trust me on this, okay. You need to really talk to her to find out how she feels; that might take some unraveling. Women can be tricky that way.” Bonnie smiled playfully. “But if you ever tell Michael I said that, I’ll deny it up and down.”
“Bonnie, can I ask you something?”
“Of course,” Bonnie said, watching the bars on the voice modulator and enjoying the red glow they cast.
“Are you jealous of Ella, like you were of Michael at the beginning.”
Bonnie pulled on the coil of cable and thought about how she wanted to answer that. “I guess I wouldn’t call it jealousy, Kitt. I’m just not sure what my place in your life is anymore. Ella is very important to you and I want you to be happy. It’s just that, with Ella learning more and more about your systems,” Bonnie took a deep breath and then decided to plunge forward. “I’m afraid I won’t be needed anymore.”
Kitt was surprised. He would always need Bonnie. She was more than just his technician and he thought she understood that. “Bonnie, the fact that you take care of my systems isn’t the only reason I need you.”
Bonnie leaned forward and rested her cheek against the smooth dash, touched. “Thank you, Kitt.”
* * *
Michael couldn’t help laughing when he got a glimpse of his partner the next morning. Kitt was right; the antenna was hideous. It was attached to the roof by way of a magnetic mount just above the rear windshield. It pointed back and up at an angle. The cable crept out of the passenger side T-top and was secured against the edge of the roof. It followed the window crease back, until it crossed over to the base of the antenna. Kitt was still parked on the grass and his dew-covered antenna was sparkling in the sunlight. Michael was leaning against the semi with his arms folded around his jacket. A grin pulled at the corners of his mouth.
“You promised not to laugh, Michael.”
“Ah, but I didn’t promise not to tease you. It looks lovely, Kitt. Maybe I could sit on your roof and strum it like a harp.”
“Or better, yet, maybe if I put tissue paper over it, I could play it like a comb.”
//How long am I going to have to suffer through this?//
//Until I get bored.//
Kitt was amused by Michael’s shimmering virtual smile.
“We might as well get going,” Michael said. “It’s going to take most of the morning to get out to the first site.”
Michael tossed his jacket carelessly into the back seat and put the car into gear. They headed to the first roadblock to check in with the FBI before heading deeper into the forest. They were driving leisurely while Kitt scanned the area. It was going to take some doing to get to the mine entrance they were headed for. After driving for an hour, they finally reached a forestry road that was little more than two ruts in the dirt. They had to cut their speed to keep from bouncing all over the place.
“Hey, buddy, remind me to talk to Bonnie about your suspension. This is murder.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my suspension, it’s the road.”
Michael smiled and then looked down at the voice modulator, trying to decide how often he could bring up the topic of the link before Kitt got angry about it.
//Whatever it is, go ahead and ask,// Kitt said, sensing that Michael’s mood had changed.
“So, what did you and Bonnie talk about last night?”
“You know what we talked about.”
“She mentioned that I should talk to Ella first.”
Ahh, so that’s what Bonnie had been reluctant to talk about, Michael thought. “That’s a good point. I didn’t even think about that.”
“Do you think Ella would be upset about it, Michael? I have to admit that I didn’t consider that, but now I’m worried that it would bother her. Maybe I shouldn’t even ask.”
“I don’t know, Kitt. She seems like the type of person who doesn’t get hung up on little things, but I guess this could fall outside the ‘little things’ category. You’re going to have to ask her.”
“Do you think that just asking will upset her?”
“No, I don’t think so. As long as you make it clear that it’s up to her. You know her better than I do, but she seems to roll with the punches pretty well. I mean, she is dating an AI in a car,” Michael said with a grin.
“Very funny, Michael,” Kitt said, still a little nervous about the idea.
* * *
Kitt wished he had a way of smiling so that he could show Ella how happy he was to see her, even if it was only over the video link. Michael had gone to check out one of the shafts and Kitt had taken the opportunity to call her. In the past, he had never understood why the women Michael dated seemed to be at his side constantly. Especially since a few weeks later, the relationship would invariably end. But now he was starting to understand. He realized that even going out on assignment for a few days, he missed Ella considerably.
“Hello, Ella,” Kitt said.
“Hi, sweetie. How are you?”
“I’m fine. Except that I miss you.”
“I miss you too. I’ve been keeping busy, though. We had a break-through with the new module last night. I’ll have to tell you about it when you get back.”
“I’m glad things seem to be working out for you at the Foundation. I was afraid you’d be bored or wouldn’t like it.”
“Are you kidding? It’s great to be working on a team again. I liked programming alone, but it’s fun to be up working crazy hours with a roomful of great people. And I’ve got an ulterior motive too,” she said raising her eyebrows.
“Ella, I want to ask you something and I need you to be honest with me.”
“Okay. You sound serious. Is something wrong?”
“No. It’s just that I need to know what you really think, not what you think I want to hear. You know I love you, right?”
“Of course, Kitt.” Ella set her jaw, uneasy about where Kitt was going with this.
“I figured out how to decode the messages that Bonnie was receiving over the implant. It appears that Randall was sending her images. The implant is also programmed to relay the images she’s seeing back to him. I was able to block the transmissions, but I also believe I could interface with the chip. It seems to be possible to form a link with it. It wouldn’t be like the link that Michael and I share; it’s not nearly that complex. But it would allow images to be passed back and forth. I don’t want to do anything that might upset you, Ella, but I would like to try it.”
“Why?” Ella asked, trying not to sound sharp. In one way, she was relieved. From the build up, it sounded like there was something wrong. But she was wary of what Kitt was proposing.
Kitt thought a minute before starting to explain. He wanted Ella to understand and he wasn’t sure he was up to the task of conveying what he felt. “Ella, when I first became aware of who I was and what I was, it was isolating. I was unique in the world and I had so much to learn. I didn’t mind, really. I had a clear purpose and a job to perform, but I had a difficult time understanding the people in my life. The emotions people experienced were baffling, and they so often affected people’s behavior. But as I experienced more and became attached to Michael and the others, I started to understand. When I saw Michael get injured, I felt angry. When I thought I had failed him, I felt guilty. The more we experienced, the more I understood. And then the link was activated, and I realized that I hadn’t even scratched the surface. Michael’s emotions were completely different from mine; they were overwhelmingly strong. I began to realize why he felt compelled to act when he was angry and why he felt the need to rage when there were injustices. I felt his need to cry and his need to laugh. I understood things in a much deeper way, and I think that has made me more human. I think this is simply a long way of saying that I’ve learned so much by being closer to the people in my life. I want to know all I can about what it’s like to be human. And I want to take every opportunity to learn more. Bonnie has always been in my life and she is perfectly willing to answer any question or explain anything she can to me. Yet one of the things I’ve learned through the link is that I often don’t know the proper questions to ask. And many things can’t be explained without being experienced. Actually, being with you has shown me that as well. I never understood romantic love before I started to feel it. But sometimes I think that only knowing Michael’s perspective makes things more difficult. Michael and I are not the same. He’s much more impetuous and far more confident, to name a few things. Yet, the only yardstick I have to measure my emotions by, are his. I think I could learn a lot by having someone else’s experiences as a counter example.”
“And you think this chip in Bonnie’s head could provide that?” Ella asked.
“I don’t know, to be honest. As I said, it’s not the same, so it might not. I would like to find out, but not if it risks hurting our relationship. That is the most important thing, Ella. I would like you to be comfortable with this, but if you’re not, then I won’t proceed. Part of the reason I want to do this is because I think it might help me to better understand our relationship.”
Ella stopped to consider what Kitt was telling her. She was used to the idea that Kitt and Michael shared a connection, but this was new. Ella tried to gauge what she was feeling. She guessed that she might feel a little left out, a little like an outsider in Kitt’s life because they didn’t share that kind of connection. But then, they had an intimacy all their own. “Kitt, are there any risks in attempting this link?”
“It caused Bonnie a lot of pain when Randall sent her images. But other than that, I haven’t found anything that appears to be dangerous to either of us.”
“You should also know that Bonnie’s chip is battery powered and will run down relatively soon. It’s definitely temporary and it would only be active when commanded to be. It isn’t like Michael’s chip, where everything flows back and forth continuously. ”
It was a relief to Ella that it wouldn’t be a permanent situation and wouldn’t be active all the time. That was more of Kitt than she wanted to share. Ella thought through Bonnie and Kitt’s relationship. Bonnie had always seemed like a big sister or sometimes, even a mother to Kitt. She could see Kitt’s point about wanting to have someone other than Michael as a data point. She smiled, thinking that even though they were so close, Michael and Kitt were really nothing alike. And Ella liked Bonnie. Ever since the beginning, Bonnie had been accepting of her relationship with Kitt. Bonnie also knew what it was like, in a way, since she was on the other end of Michael and Kitt’s link.
“I think I’d be okay with that, Kitt,” she said, slowly.
“Are you sure? Bonnie said I should ask more than once.”
At that Ella laughed out loud, feeling a little of the tension ease away. A smile that Kitt thought was utterly beautiful spread across her face. “No, I’m not playing games, Kitt. I will admit that it makes me a little jealous, but I know you love me. And I just can’t see you and Bonnie riding off into the sunset together, leaving me and Michael in the dust.”
“No! Of course not, Ella! I love you. I have no intention of leaving you for Bonnie or anyone else. It isn’t like that,” Kitt spit out, all in a rush, worried that Ella wouldn’t understand.
“Kitt, it’s okay, you don’t have to explain. Michael, Bonnie, and Devon are your family. I know you love me and I love you, too. Very much.”
“Me too,” Kitt said sincerely. He couldn’t believe that he’d found someone who understood him as well as Ella did. What they had was amazing, and Kitt wouldn’t give it up for anything.
* * *
Michael and Kitt got back to the semi well after dark. Bonnie and Devon had spent the day traveling in the area and watching the sensor net. Devon was still trying to get information from the CIA regarding the images that were transmitted to Bonnie and they still didn’t have the results from the autopsy. He was on the phone with some FBI doctor at Quantico trying to get a straight answer about when the results would be available.
Bonnie’s eyes were glazed over from staring at the computer screen. And she was bored out of her mind.
Devon hung up the phone. “Did you find anything, Michael?”
“No. Just three empty mine shafts. That new antenna is really helping though. At least Kitt can get a read on those tunnels without having to get to them.”
“I’m afraid we don’t have any new information here either. Until we have a definitive answer on that body, I don’t know that there’s much more we can accomplish,” Devon said.
“I think you’re right.”
They were all silent for a moment.
“So, Devon, can I take my girlfriend for a drive on this lovely evening?” Michael asked.
Bonnie raised her eyebrows in Michael’s direction.
“I don’t know why you’re asking my permission, Michael.” Devon said with a smile. He knew that was an authority that he didn’t have.
“I hate to steal away your companion. It’s gotten pretty boring out here.”
“I have plenty of voice mails to catch up on and it seems that no matter how often I give Jennifer Knight a status report, she’s always asking for another one. Go. I have plenty to do here.”
“Just be careful, okay. Don’t open the door for strangers.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it, Michael. I know how to get in touch with you if I need to. Have a nice time.”
* * *
Bonnie was staring out the window at the dark shapes of the passing trees and bushes. She was leaning back against the headrest and staring alternately up at the stars and down at the red glow of the dash. Kitt was driving, so he had turned off the headlights to give them a better view of the stars. The T-tops were open and both Bonnie and Michael had put on their jackets.
“Kitt and I found a shallow lake up in the hills to the north. It’s surrounded by a couple of fairly high peaks on one side, so it’s really pretty. Although, I guess we aren’t going to be able to see much at night.”
“Sounds nice,” Bonnie said, lazily. “Do you think we should have left Devon alone?”
“I’m sure he’s fine. We buttoned up the semi and the FBI roadblock is only a few hundred feet from him,” Michael said. “I wonder what he’d say if he knew what we were up to.”
Bonnie rolled her head to the side to look at him with a slight smile. “Actually, he didn’t say much.”
“You told him?” Michael asked. Sometimes he was amazed at what Bonnie and Devon talked about. It made sense since they spent so much time traveling together, but they were a lot closer than he had expected.
“I thought he should at least know what we’re up to. Besides, it would be kind of awkward to keep it from him.”
“So what did he say?” Somehow Michael had the impression that Devon wouldn’t be happy about what they were trying to do.
“He’s a little concerned, but not enough to complain about it. He just wants us to be careful.”
They drove on a little further and turned off the main road. They quickly came up on a clearing in front of a small lake. Michael and Bonnie got out and Bonnie carefully made her way over to the edge of the lake. She knelt down and dipped her outstretched hand, palm down, into the water. The dark ripples danced away.
Bonnie stood back up and slowly turned around, letting her eyes adjust to the darkness. The lake was reflecting the light from a half moon and the mountains in the distance could be seen as black triangles against the starry sky. Michael came up behind her and put his arms around her in an embrace. She turned and kissed him gently on the lips. “It’s really beautiful here.”
“Not as beautiful as you.”
Bonnie shook her head and laughed. “Nice line. Did that work on your last girlfriend?”
“Nope, but my other girlfriend loves it.”
“Right. You should really try to keep us straight, you know,” Bonnie said with a mischievous smile. There was a time when she wouldn’t have even joked about something like that, but over the past few months their relationship had grown more secure. She trusted Michael. She ran her hand down the sleeve of his jacket, barely grazing the leather with her fingertips. She kissed him again, longer this time. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” The couple turned to look at the lake again.
//Very cute, Michael.//
//Oh, will you stop eavesdropping.//
//I can’t help what comes through the link, Michael.//
Bonnie looked up at Michael suspiciously. She noted the far off look in his eyes. “What are you two talking about?”
“Kitt thinks we’re cute.”
Bonnie laughed softly. “Well, I guess there are worse things he could think.”
Kitt really did think that Michael and Bonnie were cute. He was glad that two of the most important people in his life had finally found each other. They had been friends for so long and Kitt thought that Bonnie was dead set against dating Michael, so he was caught off guard when Michael first told him. Of course, they were both caught off guard when Kitt told them that he and Ella were dating. The confused look on Michael’s face was one image he enjoyed keeping in his data banks.
Michael went over to sit on Kitt’s hood. He laid his head back against the windshield and stared up at the stars. It really was a beautiful night and he wouldn’t mind sitting there until morning. Bonnie joined him and closed her eyes.
“Tired?” Michael asked.
“No. In fact I’m a little wired. I’ve been sitting at the computer all day, watching the sensors, so it’s good to get out. I was just enjoying the sound of the water and the rustling of the trees. Not LA kinds of sounds.”
“That’s for sure. Add a few honking horns and you’d have a good start.”
They sat in silence for a while. Michael was watching the hypnotic back and forth of the glowing red light that was Kitt’s scanner. He had vowed that he wouldn’t push them, but he had a feeling neither one of them was going to make the first move. He decided they needed someone to foolishly blunder ahead, and he was the perfect someone. “So, are you two ready to try this?”
“I think so, but it’s cold out here,” Bonnie said.
“Okay.” He slid off the hood and opened the passenger side door for Bonnie before taking his place in the driver’s seat.
//Kitt, I’m going to put up some partial blocks and try to stay out of the way.//
Michael put the blocks in place and felt his partner’s presence in his mind dim a little. He could still tell what Kitt was feeling, but he figured his presence was distant enough to avoid being a distraction.
“You ready?” Michael asked Bonnie.
“Yes.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, anticipating the disorientation that was sure to follow.
Michael took Bonnie’s hand. “Since you couldn’t talk last time, squeeze my hand if it’s too much.”
“Bonnie, I’m going to activate the implant. Then I’m going to poll it to start streaming images. If that doesn’t cause any problems, then I’ll try to start transmitting back to you,” Kitt said.
Kitt transmitted what he thought was the appropriate command to the implant and it came out of sleep mode. He paused to see how Bonnie reacted. When he couldn’t detect anything from her, he sent the command to the chip to start transmitting. He was immediately inundated with images: the lake, the semi, Michael, himself, and other images that didn’t seem to make any sense. He realized that the chip was capable of sending graphical representations of what Bonnie was thinking, since her eyes were closed. Kitt set up a file for the stream to deposit the pictures in. Then he said, “Bonnie, I’m getting images from the chip now.”
“I can’t tell at all, Kitt. I don’t feel anything.”
//How are you doing, buddy?//
//I’m fine Michael but I don’t understand everything that’s coming over the link. Some of the images don’t seem to make sense.//
Michael smiled a little. That wasn’t surprising. Bonnie had never made sense as far as he was concerned. //But you’re feeling okay.//
“Bonnie, I’m going to start transmitting, okay?”
“Go ahead, Kitt.” Bonnie was immediately hit with a tirade of images that flashed behind her eyes too brightly and too quickly. She managed a gasp and her free hand shot up to her temple. Her head was pounding. The images were too bright.
Michael saw Bonnie stiffen and felt Kitt’s anxiety level go up. He tried to send comforting thoughts through the link to Kitt. Bonnie’s hand started shaking and after a few seconds, she squeezed his hand.
“Kitt, stop,” Michael said calmly, and then reached out to touch Kitt briefly over the link.
Kitt stopped the transmissions and waited nervously until Bonnie recovered. The images he was still getting from her were darker and made even less sense, but he got the impression that they went along with pain. Bonnie leaned forward and Michael gently rubbed her neck.
“Are you okay?” Michael asked.
“Yes, just give me a minute.”
“I’m sorry, Bonnie. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“It’s all right, Kitt.” She was speaking haltingly.
After a minute she managed to sit back and open her eyes. “It’s okay. It’s just too much. The images come so fast and if I try to concentrate on anything at all, it feels like the world starts spinning. And the images are so bright and harsh. I can’t even tell what they are.”
“Kitt, is there a way you can slow them down?”
“I can try, Michael.”
“Are you okay to try again?” Michael asked.
Bonnie was rubbing her temples and had her eyes closed again. “I think so, but just wait a minute.”
Michael stared out the windshield at the lake and tried to be patient. Unfortunately, that wasn’t his strong suite, but this was probably going to take some time. He remembered that it had taken him and Kitt awhile to get the hang of it when they had first established the link. He looked down at the dashboard and started running his hand back and forth against the top flat edge of the steering yoke.
“I’m ready to try again, if you are,” Bonnie said, finally.
Kitt set up a routine to space out the images and bring down the total brightness by automatically sending completely black images in between them. He started the transmission again but Bonnie yanked her hand away from Michael after only a few seconds and grabbed her head with both hands. Her face contorted and the images Kitt was getting got much darker this time. He stopped the transmission and she slumped back against the seat. Her eyes were squeezed tightly shut.
//I’m hurting her.//
//It’s okay. She’ll be alright.// Michael could tell that Kitt was getting upset, so he lowered some of the blocks and tried harder to reassure him. He went back to rubbing Bonnie’s neck and she leaned into his hand. He tried to think of something that might help. He wasn’t sure if Bonnie was going to want to try again, but he didn’t really want them to leave it like this either. When he and Kitt had first established the link, it only really hurt when one of them was experiencing strong emotions. This was obviously something different, but maybe if they could both approach it calmly, it might go better.
“Kitt, what images, exactly are you sending?”
“I’m generating graphical representations of what’s running on my processor. This time I alternated those with blank images to cut down on the number of pictures and the overall brightness.”
“Whatever it was, it was worse this time,” Bonnie said.
“Kitt, the images are still going to flash very quickly if you do it that way. Maybe that’s more the problem than the number of them. I’m going to sound like some new age guru or something here, but why don’t you both try to think of something peaceful. Try to concentrate on only one thing so that the pictures aren’t changing much.”
Kitt started getting brighter, seemingly happier, images of the lake and stars from Bonnie. They were still alternating with the other, darker images, but those were gradually going away.
“Are you okay to try this once more, Bon?” Michael asked.
Kitt gave her a little more time, until the lake images were overwhelming the dark, negative ones. Then he set his CPU on a calming, repetitive task and tried to keep from processing other information. He shut down the signals coming from his scanner and sensor arrays. And then he thought about the link with Michael. //I’m going to put up a heavy block so that the link doesn’t need to be processed right now.//
Kitt turned on his transmitter one more time.
Bonnie tensed up when the images started to come in again. This time it wasn’t quite as jarring as it had been the last two times. There was still that dull ache in her head, but it wasn’t like getting hit with a baseball bat. Bonnie was surprised by the images Kitt was sending -- they were fractals. He must have been calculated them on his processor because they were slowly updating. The fractals were darker colors in general and there wasn’t much contrast. She smiled a little. It wasn’t what she had been expecting. She had been thinking of the lake and the mountains and somehow she had been expecting Kitt to do the same, but this made perfect sense. Of course he would retreat to something orderly and mathematical and find that calming. She never would have guessed it, but it was so simple and beautiful.
Kitt was still getting images of the lake, but they were being interrupted by the images of the fractals he was calculating. As Bonnie thought about them, she was sending them back to him.
“How’s everyone doing?” Michael asked.
Bonnie was surprised. For a second she had been so absorbed in the fractals that she forgot where she was. “Fine, I think.” Her voice sounded far away. Michael wanted to ask for more details, but he was afraid to sidetrack them and cause a problem.
Kitt was relieved that most of the unpleasant images were gone. He allowed himself to scan her vitals and was relieved that her heart rate and breathing were returning to normal.
“Kitt, what did you just do?” she asked.
Kitt received an image of a green EKG heart beat trace and realized that he must have sent a picture of the scan, and in thinking about it, she had projected it back to him again.
“I scanned your vital signs, Bonnie.”
She smiled as the image came back again when he said it. They were trading images back and forth in a cryptic conversation that neither one of them completely understood. The fractals returned and continued to traipse through Bonnie’s head, looking real enough to touch, but there was still a hazy, dreamlike quality to the whole experience. She barely noticed the monotonous thudding in her head that was slowly fading. As they sat quietly for a while, trading images, Bonnie started to get more comfortable.
“Kitt, I’m going to try something. It’s probably not a good idea, but I want to try it anyway.”
Kitt got an image of the lake again. Then he saw eyes and understood what was going to happen. Bonnie gradually opened her eyes and Kitt started getting images of what Bonnie was actually seeing, interlaced with the pictures of her thoughts. He was seeing the lake through his own windshield.
The fractals had become opaque. Bonnie could partially see through them, but not entirely. It was like looking through a screen with a sheer painting on it and seeing something moving behind it. It was a little dizzying, but not too bad. She turned her head to look at Michael, but had to stop because the movement made her lose her bearings.
“Bonnie, if you –,” Kitt started but then stopped, completely surprised by what he saw when Bonnie turned her head. “I can see my own voice modulator.”
The images of the segmented red bars rolled back and forth between Bonnie and Kitt. Kitt had never actually seen what it looked like when he spoke before. He knew what it was supposed to look like because he had access to all of his own schematics and design files, but he had never thought to ask anyone to show it to him. Now he was fascinated.
//Kitt, is everything okay?// Michael removed the block to send a message, immediately feeling that Kitt was calmer, almost serene. Most of the fear and worry were gone.
Bonnie started getting images of Michael on top of the voice modulator. Everything was starting to move faster again. It wasn’t too fast, but the pace was definitely increasing as Kitt paid more and more attention to the things going on around them.
//Yes, Michael.// Kitt left the link open and more images of Michael started circulating, but Kitt noticed that they were definitely taking on Bonnie’s point of view. There were images of Michael’s face from slightly below and Kitt realized that that was how Bonnie must see him when they stood close together.
Kitt concentrated on Michael’s presence in the back of his mind, consciously looking at the glowing, amber representation of his partner. Slowly, Bonnie understood that she was seeing Michael as Kitt could see him, though the link. She hadn’t realized just how complicated and beautiful the link between them was.
Michael was slowly letting all the blocks between him and Kitt drop, careful after each one to make sure he wasn’t disturbing them. He had been aware of Kitt’s thoughts and emotions throughout the process, but now he had dropped enough blocks to be able to send pictures too. He sent Kitt an image of Bonnie from where he was sitting.
“Kitt?” Bonnie asked, confused. The image she had just seen was different somehow, it was her, but from the wrong perspective.
“That was Michael. The link we share can handle images as well and we’ve been dropping the blocks.”
Bonnie smiled and tried to think of some picture that would mean ‘hi.’ She thought about giving Michael a hug. It rippled through the two links and made it’s way to all three of them, changing slightly as it passed through each of their minds.
They continued to sit quietly, slowly adding more images to the collection that had developed. The pictures seemed to come and go, dancing around in the space between them, getting tagged with different emotions, and changing, before new pictures caught their attention and caused the older ones to fade away.
After a while, the images Kitt was getting from Bonnie grayed out and became less distinct. The details were blurred and smoothed over. Kitt checked her vitals and realized that she was falling asleep. After sending what he hoped was a warning, he set his processor back to calculating fractals and after several frames, stopped transmitting. He didn’t send the command to stop the chip from transmitting images to him, yet. He watched the pictures he was getting from Bonnie for several more seconds. When he didn’t see anything alarming, he finally closed the link entirely.
Michael was watching Devon’s expressions. He was on the phone and, from what Michael could see, the news wasn’t good. Michael was sitting in the chair opposite Devon’s in the semi’s office. He and Kitt wanted to explore more of the remote mine entrances, but Michael had overslept, and Bonnie was just now reattaching the antenna that she had removed last night.
“Of course. I can’t imagine a more probable scenario either. We’ll get started as soon as possible. Thank you for keeping us informed.” Devon hung up the phone and turned to Michael. “The police got a call on a missing family this morning. They were vacationing just outside the park.”
Michael shook his head. “Shit. So much for the pleasant idea that Randall blew himself to bits in the tunnel.”
“It would appear we’re back to square one,” Devon said. “Any suggestions?”
“No. That’s what’s so frustrating. I just don’t know how to catch this guy. Kitt, what do you think?”
“I don’t know, Michael. I can’t understand why Randall is still in the area around the park. It would seem to be in his best interests to move to a place where he could start again, without the FBI on his tail.”
“That’s a good point. So what’s keeping him here? Why is he sticking around?”
“Perhaps it’s still the mine, Michael,” Devon suggested. “He knows how to stay hidden here and it would be hard to find another place with this kind of strategic advantage.”
“But the tunnels were destroyed. The FBI forensics team had a hell of a time getting down there,” Michael said.
“Maybe those aren’t the tunnels he normally frequents.”
“That’s a good point, Devon. He’s a survivalist. He would have a good chance of staying hidden if he was living in some remote area and only using the tunnels to get to his victims. I guess that means we should continue checking out those remote entrances. Any details on this family?”
“The Martinez’s. The parents and two children were on vacation with another family. This morning all four of them were reported missing and all of their equipment and the car were still at the campsite. The children are 12 and 14, both boys,” Devon said.
“Wonderful,” Bonnie said. She had opened Kitt’s passenger door and was standing on the edge of the floorboard to get the antenna situated on the roof again. “Individuals apparently weren’t enough of a challenge, anymore.”
“Well, regardless, if his pattern holds, we only have a couple of days to locate them,” Devon said.
“And the sooner the better. Bonnie, is Kitt ready to go?”
“All set.” She jumped down as Michael opened the driver’s door and blew her a kiss.
* * *
It was another morning spent driving. Michael and Kitt were well off the beaten path and Kitt was complaining about the effects of the dirt road on his systems. They were still a few miles from the shaft they were trying to reach. Kitt was driving and Michael was staring out the window.
“So, got anything to say about our little experiment last night?” Michael asked.
Kitt was quiet for a moment. “I’m not sure, Michael. It was very interesting, but it’s much more difficult than our link.”
“There are no words or emotions, only pictures. It makes it hard to interpret. I was looking over the images again last night and I don’t understand most of them.”
“Think back to when you and I were first linked. There were a lot of things I didn’t understand and I’m sure the feeling was mutual. Being in your head is different. You don’t think like we do. It’s not a bad thing, of course, it’s just hard to understand at first and I’m sure that works both ways.”
“You’re right, Michael. But I get the impression that Bonnie’s very . . . complicated.”
Michael laughed at that. “No arguments here. But I’m glad you and Bonnie were able to establish a link. I was a little worried for a while there. I didn’t want things to end badly.”
“Me either, Michael. The images her mind generated when she was in pain weren’t very pleasant. They were dark and shadowy. But the images of you from her perspective were different. They had a subtle quality to them that seemed to radiate light. I think an obvious interpretation would be that she loves you very much, Michael.”
“She loves you too, Kitt. And I don’t need a link to know that.”
“I know, Michael. It’s just nice to be able to see that sometimes.”
“That’s one of the things about families, Kitt, they rarely say they love each other enough.”
After a few minutes of silence, Kitt applied the brakes and turned the car to the right, to stop at a stand of pines. “Michael, we’re near the entrance,” he said.
“Your sensors picking up anything?”
“No, Michael. In fact, I think this entrance has collapsed.”
Michael sighed. “This just isn’t efficient, Kitt. I wish we had a better way.”
Michael took control of the car and turned it around to head back the way they came.
* * *
Bonnie strolled out of the semi’s kitchen with two mugs in her hand. One was a mug of coffee, which she kept for herself; the other was tea, which she handed off to Devon on her way back to her spot at the computer.
Devon looked up, surprised. He hadn’t asked her for tea. “Thank you?”
“Don’t get used to it. I was just feeling nice.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Devon said in a deadpan tone.
Bonnie took her place and pulled one leg up and tucked it under the other. She had long ago stopped worrying about being business-like in the semi. It worked best to make things as comfortable as possible. She noticed that Devon hadn’t gone back to his file.
“I hesitate to ask, because really, it’s none of my business, but I am curious. Was Kitt able to link to the implant.”
“Yes,” Bonnie said and turned in her chair to face him. She had fallen asleep while they were still out at the lake and hadn’t really had a chance to talk to Michael or Kitt about the whole experience. The images Kitt had transmitted were still tumbling around in her head, being polished and worked over in her mind.
“What was it like?”
“It was, I don’t know, really. It was strange but beautiful. I couldn’t tell when he was commanding the implant to transmit, but when I was getting images from him, well, it’s hard to describe. He seems to think in ways that you’d expect, but I never really thought about before. I just expected him to be coming from the same angles that a human would come from – a younger person, or child, maybe, but still innately human. But really, he thinks like you might expect an AI to think, in terms of numbers and patterns and logic. He’s completely unique.”
“It sounds like the experiment was a success?”
Bonnie smiled a little. “Yes, but I think I’m glad it’s temporary. Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful experience, but I don’t know how Michael deals with someone always in his thoughts. It’s draining and I think I like my privacy.”
“I’d probably agree with you.”
The phone rang and Devon reached over to pick up the cordless handset. After a brief conversation, he hung up. “They identified the body that was found in the mine explosion.”
“It was a man named Dr. Kurt Simmons. He was with the CIA as well. And it seems his specialty was working with mind controlling drugs.”
Bonnie turned to the computer and logged onto a CIA network. They had been given temporary access in order to download Randall’s file. She didn’t have the ability to look up anyone besides Randall, but she pulled up his file and cross-referenced Simmons. A list of Randall’s special ops team in Vietnam came up. “Devon, they served together in Vietnam, working around the tunnels. It was a small special ops group, and there isn’t a whole lot of data about what they did.”
“Perhaps they weren’t really flushing out tunnels. Perhaps they were working on getting information out of the Viet Cong that were captured.”
“That would make sense,” Bonnie said. “Randall has a background in torture from somewhere and if Simmons was working with mind control drugs, then they’d make a frightening team.”
“It also makes more sense in light of your situation. It seems far more likely that a doctor like Simmons could successfully implant a chip in someone’s brain without causing damage or infection. The question is why? What was their motive?”
“And why did Randall kill Simmons? Or was the explosion really an accident?”
Bonnie spent a few minutes tracking down Simmons on several lists of board-certified physicians. Finally, she found an entry for him and was able to pull up the details of his medical license. “Surprise, surprise, he has a specialty in surgery and he did extensive rotations in neurology.”
“So why would he involve himself with Randall?”
“Maybe he wasn’t a willing participant?” Bonnie suggested.
“Perhaps, but I think I’ll try to contact my sources in the CIA and see if they have any other suggestions.”
“I’ll pass the word on to Michael,” Bonnie said.
* * *
Devon was leafing through a file Agent Nichols had dropped off on Simmons. As soon as the body had been identified, the CIA had been browbeaten into turning over his file as well.
Bonnie was digging through old Foundation archives related to the CIA’s involvement with the implant. She read through the initial proposal that FLAG had submitted regarding neurological implants. Then she moved onto the first design review the team had had with members of the CIA. They had briefed several agents on the progress after six months of work. She scanned through the document and stopped short at a list of attendees. “Devon, take a look at this. Do you remember him?”
Devon peered over her shoulder, noted Simmons’ name on the list, and sighed. “No. But I don’t believe I would have attended a design review for the implant program. Wilton kept that separate and I was busy with the AI half of things.”
“So he knew about our chips. Could this all be a scheme to get at Michael and Kitt?”
“Simmons knew about the implants we were building for the CIA, but I doubt Wilton would have told them about our real reason for being in the business. Besides, he still wouldn’t know that it was successful. It was deemed a failure when it didn’t activate in the early days of Michael and Kitt’s partnership.”
“So what are they up too? This just doesn’t make sense.”
Devon scanned through the rather large file on Simmons until he found a page detailing Simmons’ most recent CIA project, coded Potemkin. That sounded familiar. “Bonnie, is there anything in Randall’s file about a project code named Potemkin?”
Bonnie picked up the other thick file. After a minute of searching, she said, “Yes, it was the last project he was assigned to.”
“Simmons as well. Any chance of finding out what it is?”
“Not likely. If it’s got a code name, it’s probably classified and we aren’t going to get access to anything classified.”
“But the code name, it sounds familiar as well, see what you can find on it.”
After a few minutes of searching, Bonnie had an answer. “It was a Russian naval ship. In 1905 there was a mutiny on board and it sparked a failed pre-Bolshevik revolution.”
“Yes, of course. There was also a black and white film made about it, The Battleship Potemkin. Bonnie, pull up the images that Kitt decoded from the transmissions your implant received.”
The first image was displayed on the computer screen and Devon flipped from one picture to the next. A pair of images caught his eye. “See these two. In the first, the angles are light and slanted up across the image. In the next, they’re dark and slanted the opposite way. The filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein, who directed The Battleship Potemkin was known for using contrasting images from one frame to the next to create a jarring effect. Dark images were juxtaposed with light ones, angles from one scene were opposite in the next, and other similar things.”
“Okay. So Project Potemkin probably has something to do with the chip in my head. We probably could have guessed that.”
“Yes, but remember how the Foundation had nothing to do with creating images for the mind control aspects of the chip? Perhaps that’s what Project Potemkin was meant to do.”
“That would make sense, but why are Randall and Simmons out in a national forest trying them on innocent people? You’d think the CIA would have plenty of people they’d like to test this on.”
“They do.” Bonnie and Devon both turned to see a man standing at the top of the semi’s open ramp, wearing forest camouflage fatigues. “But the brass got squeamish and they shut the project down.” The man had closely cropped blond hair and was carrying a high-powered hunting rifle. “Good to see you again, Dr. Barstow.”
* * *
“Michael, I may have something.”
“What is it, buddy?” They were along yet another Forest Service road. This one could only come within 5 miles of the entrance they were scanning.
“I’m detecting a structure above ground, very close to where the mine entrance should be.”
“What kind of structure?”
“I don’t know. It’s something man-made and it’s fairly small, but it’s at the edge of my range, so I’m afraid I can’t get any further details.”
“Can you scan for heat or life signs?”
“No, it’s too far away.”
Michael thought a minute, but there was no way to get Kitt through the forest and he wanted to know what it was. “Okay, I’m going to go check it out.”
“Michael, the semi has capabilities for longer range scans. Maybe we should wait for backup.”
“What sort of information can they get with the semi?”
“They might be able to get a heat reading from people inside the structure and they’ll be able to give you more details about the size and makeup of the building.”
Michael mulled it over. He didn’t want to waste time waiting for the semi. But if he hiked out to the entrance and it was some old abandoned mining structure, that would be a waste of time, too. In the end, there was a good chance that Murphy’s Law was going to get him anyway, so he decided that hiking was better than waiting.
“Kitt, I’ll just go take a quick peek.”
“You could be walking into a trap, Michael. And I won’t be able to get to you if you need help.”
“I know, Kitt. I’ll be careful. Besides, if Randall really does have that family, then he’s going to have his hands full. He’ll have less time keep an eye out for uninvited guests.”
//I’ll be here if you need anything.//
* * *
They were following a twisting deer path through the woods. Bonnie and Devon were in the lead and Randall was following about ten paces behind, carrying his rifle low against his hip and aimed at their backs.
“I’m sorry we have to take the long way, but you and the FBI forced me into blowing up my tunnels.”
“And killing Simmons,” Bonnie said.
“That was unfortunate, but there are others like him out there. He was expendable. Although he did do a nice job with your implant, don’t you think?”
Bonnie didn’t answer and she didn’t turn around to see the oily smile on his face, it was evident in his voice.
Devon was tempted to probe Randall for more information. He wanted to find out what Randall knew about the Foundation and how much he knew about Michael and Kitt, but he didn’t want to set the man off. They were in the middle of the forest and it was unlikely that Michael and Kitt even knew they were gone. He was trying to inconspicuously break branches and leave footprints in the muddy areas so that they could be tracked. So far Randall hadn’t noticed.
Devon was busy wrestling through their situation and not paying enough attention to the trail in front of him. He hit a root and stumbled forward. Bonnie reached out to grab him but it was too late. He fell to the ground and gashed his knee on a small rock. Bonnie knelt down to help him up.
“Really, Miles, you should be more careful,” Randall said, with a snicker. “You wouldn’t last more than a day out here on your own.”
Bonnie looked at Devon carefully and slowly asked if he was all right.
“Yes, I’m fine.”
She helped him to his feet and he held onto her shoulder until he had assured himself that he could put weight on the knee. The wound was just a deep cut, but it was bleeding and it stung. He had also scrapped up his hands in the fall.
“Sorry, no time for first aid.” Randall took a step toward Bonnie and pointed the rifle at her chest. “Let’s go. Oh, and please don’t waste your time breaking off any more branches, Miles. No one’s going to find us.”
They started down the trail again. Devon was moving slowly, and favoring his injured leg. Bonnie was watching him closely. He had already seemed tired before the fall, and now there were small beads of sweat on his brow and a grimace on his face. She hoped they wouldn’t have to go too much farther. She was worried about Devon not being able to make it.
They traveled along the path for a mile or more before Randall told them to stop and pointed them off into the woods. They were tromping through underbrush until they came to yet another mine entrance. Randall pulled it open. “It’s a 15 foot drop, but luckily for you, I installed a rope.” Randall motioned for Devon to go first and then stood over the hole with this rifle aimed and ready. Devon sat down at the edge of the entrance, gingerly took hold of the rope, and carefully tried to lower himself down into the hole. He got a few feet when he lost his grip and slid the rest of the way down, burning his hands and landing hard on the floor of the tunnel.
“Devon?” Bonnie called down the shaft, clearly worried.
“I’m all right,” Devon said and went through a quick mental check. His elbow was smarting and his hands hurt like hell, but he didn’t think anything was broken. He reached out and steadied himself against the wall as he pulled himself to his feet.
Bonnie took hold of the rope and managed to get most of the way down before dropping to the floor. She took a quick look around for something to use against Randall, but the tunnel was dark and there didn’t seem to be anything handy. Devon was leaning against the wall, his hands were still curled up from slipping down the rope. Bonnie gently pulled his left hand open and frowned at the blood.
Randall expertly climbed down the rope and then pulled a flashlight off of his utility belt. He gestured down the dark passageway and they followed the faint circle of light into the tunnel.
They continued walking for what seemed like an eternity. Devon had slowed down considerably. He was feeling the effects of his fall and the slide down the rope. His hip and knee were both aching and he was extremely thirsty. That, and he cursed the shoes he was wearing - they were not suited for long walks. At least they were down in the relatively flat tunnels. Every so often they came upon a caved in area and had to climb their way over the rocks, but other than that, it was better than the deer path.
Randall caught up to Devon and poked him in the back with the muzzle of his rifle. “This isn’t a leisurely walk through the garden.”
Bonnie turned around, her eyes flashing. She was able to reign in her temper when she saw the gun at Devon’s back. Now was not the time to challenge Randall.
They came to a turn-off and Randall gestured to a short side tunnel. At the end was a crude rope ladder that hung from a support beam running along another entrance trap door. The climb was about 20 feet. Randall grabbed Bonnie’s arm as he started up the ladder. When he had gone a few rungs, he motioned for her to follow and kept the gun pointed at her head. They continued to climb that way, a few rungs at a time, until they were at the top. “Your turn Mr. Miles, but don’t try anything. Remember, Dr. Barstow is still here with me.”
Devon climbed up out of the mine and looked around. They were standing in the middle of a clearing. There was a tiny wooden cabin on one end of it, surrounded by tall Bull pines. There was a water pump off to one side. The cabin was listing, with a hole in the roof and a window with several cracked panes. “I’m sorry the accommodations are probably not what you’re used to,” Randall said.
With Randall and the rifle behind them, they headed toward the shack. They reached the building and turned the corner to go around to the front entrance when Bonnie stopped. Devon followed her stare and realized there was a man tied to a tree a few paces past the cottage. His arms were lashed to the trunk of the tree, raised above his head, which had fallen forward in a slump. There was a large red bloodstain on the front of his shirt where he had obviously been shot.
“Mr. Martinez.” Devon sighed and lowered his gaze. It was sickening to see what Randall had done to him.
“Yes, unfortunately, his family wasn’t cooperating so I needed to convince them I was serious.”
They turned and headed up the single wooden stair to the door of the shack. It practically fell open and they were in a room with little more than a table and chair. There was a camping stove sitting on the table with a pile of butane refills underneath. In the corner there was a stack of canned goods and to the left there were two doors that headed off the main room. Randall led them over to a door in the floor that had a padlocked latch. He pulled it open to reveal a wooden staircase leading down into a damp underground cellar. There wasn’t much light besides what was coming in through a small, dirty window, at ground level. Randall grabbed the flashlight off of his belt again and forced them down the stairs. When they reached the bottom, Randall picked up a roll of duct tape and bound Devon’s hands behind his back, while keeping his eyes on Bonnie. Randall kicked Devon in the back of the knees causing him to pitch forward and fall to his knees. Bonnie made a grab for the gun, but was too slow. Randall grabbed her upper arm and spun her around, slamming her into the stone foundation. He yanked both her arms behind her back.
“No more games like that or you won’t like what I’ll do to you,” he said as he bound her wrists. She could feel his breath on the back of her neck. “You two hang out here. I’m expecting another guest shortly.”
Randall walked up the wooden stairs and let the trapdoor shut behind him. They both heard him replacing the padlock.
“Are you okay?” Bonnie asked. Her eyes were still adjusting to the dark basement. Devon was little more than a shadow, sitting on the floor.
“Yes, he just caught me off guard. And you?” Devon said, drawing himself up and choosing to lean against the roughly cut wall.
“Just bruised,” she replied. She could feel blood on her cheek and shoulder where she had been scraped against the stones.
Devon slowly got to his feet, and they both took a few minutes to explore the cellar, looking for anything useful, or another way out. It was probably 12 feet square and made of stone that was cold and wet. Other than the stairs up to the door, it was empty.
“I wonder what he’s done with the rest of the Martinez family,” Devon said.
“I don’t know. There were two other rooms upstairs, though.”
“I image the guest he’s waiting for is Michael.” Devon cleared his throat, not sure if he should ask, but they needed to get a message to Michael or Kitt. “Is there anyway you can contact Kitt through the implant?”
“No, I can’t activate it, he has to, and they won’t head back to the semi until after dark. That’ll be a few hours yet.” Bonnie picked a spot along the wall and slowly lowered herself to sit cross-legged on the floor. Devon sat down next to her. There was nothing they could do at the moment.
* * *
Michael was making good time. The undergrowth was sparse in this area of the forest so he was able to take a fairly direct route. He had a digital compass on the comlink, but Kitt was providing directions as he went.
“Michael, you’re getting to the point where I won’t be able to direct you. I can’t discern the terrain as well at your current distance.”
“That’s okay, just keep me pointed in the right direction.”
Michael was afraid that after all of this, he was going to find the same thing they’d been finding at all the other sites -- nothing. But they had no other options. And he didn’t really mind the exercise. The terrain wasn’t bad and he liked getting out and working up a sweat.
He continued on, moving at a slow jog of a pace. He had passed several beautiful lookouts over the mountain range. He was headed over a low hill and the altitude kept creeping up slowly. It was warm, but the breeze itself had an icy chill to it. Michael paused to breath it in slowly.
“Which way, buddy?”
“Turn about 20 degrees to your right and continue down the hill. The structure is approximately a mile ahead, in the valley.”
It took Michael 20 minutes to pick a way down the hill and finally spot the little cabin. He crouched behind a rock outcropping and waited several minutes, looking for any signs of life. “Kitt, can you read anything?”
“No, Michael, I’m sorry. There are heat signatures in the vicinity but I don’t know if they’re human or natural hot spots.”
Michael sat quietly for a few more minutes and then sighed. There was no point in hanging around all day. He needed to check things out so that, if need be, they could get to another entrance before nightfall.
Michael stuck to the tree line along the edge of the clearing, moving slowly in a half crouch. He inched his way up to the window on the side of the cabin and cautiously unfolded himself enough to get a peek inside the building. It looked empty so he made his way around to the door and tried the handle. The unlocked door swung open with only a slight push and creaked on its rusty hinges. Michael started up the single stair when he felt the air move behind him. He swung around in time to see the butt of a rifle as it crashed against his temple.
//Michael!// Kitt screamed over the link. He felt the sharp blow to Michael’s head and was bowled over by the aching pain that took up residence behind the point of impact. The throbbing was horrible and it was flooding over the link, completely unblocked. Michael had to be unconscious.
* * *
Devon and Bonnie heard the thud as something fell to the floor. Then they heard Randall’s footsteps and the sound of something being dragged. The padlock was rattled and finally the door opened a little. They watched as Randall lowered Michael through the opening and then shoved him down the stairs. There was another dull thud as Michael hit the ground at the bottom of the staircase and groaned. He landed on his back with his head turned to the left. The door creaked shut again.
Bonnie quickly moved to his side. “Michael, are you okay?” She leaned over his mouth and listened to be sure he was breathing and then looked up at Devon. “I think he’s just unconscious.”
* * *
Kitt was frantically trying to reach Bonnie or Devon. No one was answering his calls, so he had contacted Agent Nichols. Phil was on his way to the semi to check on them, leaving Kitt with nothing to do but wait helplessly. He wished there was some way to get through the God forsaken woods. He was just too big to pick a path, but he knew Michael was in trouble and needed him.
A chime sounded, letting Kitt know that he had an incoming call.
“Kitt, it’s Phil. I went over to the semi, but no one’s there. The truck was buttoned up and I didn’t see any evidence that there was a break in, but they probably would have checked in if they were going somewhere.”
“Yes, at the very least, they would have notified me. I’m afraid there’s a very real possibility that Randall might have them,” Kitt said, struggling to keep his voice calm.
“And we’re still looking for the Martinez family.”
“I believe we may have found Randall’s hiding place. My scans indicated that there was a structure very close to one of the remote mine entrances. Michael went to check it out, but now he’s unconscious and I can’t get within five miles of it.”
“Okay, if you think that’s where they are, we’ll get a team together for a raid. It’s going to take some time, but we’ll get the agents together as fast as we can. I’ll keep you up to date.”
Kitt was frustrated that he couldn’t do anything to help Michael and the pain from Michael’s injuries was maddening. Then he remembered Bonnie’s implant. He latched on to it as a lifeline and opened the channel to command the chip to start sending signals. The first thing he saw was Michael motionless at the bottom of a stairway.
Kitt didn’t get a response over the link and panicked. In desperation he flung open the channel to Bonnie’s implant and hurled a stream of questions her direction.
* * *
Bonnie was sitting next to Michael when a whole host of images ripped through her mind, causing her to let out a strangled yelp. Her eyelids snapped shut, her whole body tensed, and she struggled to hold it together under the onslaught. “Kitt, please stop,” she managed to whisper, hoping it would somehow get translated and sent to him. The steam of invading images continued for several more seconds before stopping. Bonnie slumped forward and tried to concentrate on breathing and not throwing up.
After a few minutes, when she started to get her composure back, fractals started forming in the back of her mind. She braced herself and then saw an image of Michael lying prone on the dirt floor, along with an image of a bright white presence, wrapping it’s tendrils around what appeared to be her. “It’s okay. But please don’t do that again,” she said, having no idea what that would look like to Kitt. Pictures of the FBI agents, the little cabin they were trapped in, and Kitt sitting along a dirt road followed.
The images stopped and Bonnie opened her eyes. She wondered if Kitt was still receiving information from her.
“Kitt?” Devon whispered. Bonnie realized he had moved to sit closer to her at some point while she had been bombarded with the images.
“Yes, I think he knows where we are and is trying to send help.”
“Are you all right?”
“I will be.”
They stopped talking when they heard the sound of Randall’s boots coming toward the door again. It swung open and Randall climbed down the stairs, rifle in hand.
“What do you want with us?” Devon asked.
“A good question. What do I want?” Randall leaned up against the far wall and let the rifle point somewhere between them. “I’d like to perfect this little chip of yours. It would make my job much easier out in the real world. The CIA has been trying forever to perfect mind control techniques, and being the first one to get it right would have a certain glory attached to it. I’d like to be known as the master in my field. I’m sure you can understand that, the Foundation is well stocked with experts in various technologies. I also just really like the art of my work – trying to find that one thing that will drive someone over the edge. It’s challenging.”
“There’s no ‘art’ in what you’re doing,” Bonnie said. Her blood was boiling despite the headache and disorientation. “It’s just sick.”
“Oh, but there is art in what I do. I came up with the pictures that were transmitted to your implant.”
“But it didn’t work,” Bonnie said, gloating a bit.
“Only because I didn’t get enough time before you found a way to block my transmissions. I didn’t appreciate that.”
“And I didn’t appreciate being kidnapped.” Bonnie made a note of the fact that he didn’t seem to know how they had blocked the link. He might not know about Kitt, which would be an advantage to them.
“Oh, but don’t you see the irony. Here I am, out in the woods, perfecting my new tool, and along come the very people who created it in the first place. Who better to try it out on?”
“And what about the others? Why did you torture them?” Devon asked.
“I’m still working on my craft. I have to see what really horrifies people in order to use it against them.” There was a frightening leer on his face. “Just research, really.”
“And how did you know about us and about the chip?” Devon asked.
“Simmons recognized the logo on your trailer. He was making trips to and from his office in Fresno and he took the liberty of pulling some files for me.”
“Is that where you took me, Fresno?” Bonnie asked.
“You didn’t think he did major surgery on you here, did you? It isn’t sterile.” Randall’s voice was annoyingly sarcastic. Bonnie was getting tired of listening to him.
“Where is the rest of the Martinez family?” Devon asked.
“I took them back out into the woods this morning. I was done with them. They were fairly mundane, really. I took them out five miles from here, spun them around, and let them go. It’ll be days before they’re found. I just needed something to get you all in the right frame of mind. Now if only Mr. Knight here would wake up, we could get down to business.”
Randall nudged Michael with the toe of his black boot. Then he grabbed one of Michael’s arms and roughly yanked him over so he was lying face down. Randall unhooked the roll of duct tape from his utility belt and started to bind Michael’s arms behind his back.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have hit him so hard,” Bonnie suggested, caustically. The gun was lying across Randall’s lap, but with her own arms bound, Bonnie didn’t think she could spring quickly enough to get to it.
“He’ll come around, eventually. I’m not in any hurry. I’ve got you all here.”
Randall smiled again and slowly backed up the stairs with the gun trained on them the whole time.
* * *
Kitt was frustrated for many reasons. Not the least of which was the fact that he was trapped in a situation where he couldn’t actively help. It was taking time for Nichols to get his people together and Kitt was just waiting in the forest for them to arrive. He was still monitoring what was going on in the cabin through the link with Bonnie. They didn’t seem to be in any immediate danger, which was cause for relief, but Kitt would be happier when the FBI actually got there.
Kitt touched Michael’s presence. Several times over the last half hour, it had started to look as if Michael was going to come around. He had felt Michael’s presence strengthen and regain its anchor, but each time it had drifted away again. He started to feel this same process occurring again, and this time he tried to reach out to Michael, hoping to provide a helping hand, something to guide him back to consciousness. When he felt Michael drift in his direction, he called out and tried to wrap his white tendrils around the dim, amber presence in the back of Michael’s mind. After a couple of attempts, it started to work.
Michael’s presence grew across the link.
* * *
The first thing Michael was aware of was Kitt. He was obviously very worried and had been putting up with the pain in Michael’s head, which was the second thing that registered. It was radiating in several directions around the back of his skull. Michael carefully sent a few reassuring thoughts out over the link, and then slowly opened his eyes. He found himself staring at a dirt floor.
“Michael, how are you feeling?” Devon asked.
Michael took a minute before responding. When he did, his voice echoed sharply in his head. “Ahh, I don’t know. When I stop feeling every heartbeat, I’ll get back to you.”
Michael rolled slowly onto his side and managed to get himself into a sitting position. It was hard to do with his arms behind his back. “So what’s the story?”
Devon filled him in and when Michael started to regain his composure, he stood and took the nickel tour of the cellar, looking for anything to use against Randall. He eyed the small window but realized there was no way any of them could fit through it.
//The FBI is on their way out to my location, Michael. It’s going to take them a few hours to get to you though.//
//We can sit tight, buddy.//
“So did Randall say anything about what his plans were?” Michael asked.
“Not really,” Devon said.
“Well, if he gives us a little more time on our own, I think we can get our hands untied and at least surprise him the next time he comes down those stairs. I have my Swiss Army knife in my left front pocket and I think I can get to it.”
After a few minutes of straining against the duct tape and twisting his bound wrists around to the front of his body, Michael was able to get the knife. He dropped it on the floor and Devon slid over to try to free him. It took several more minutes before Devon was able to get the blade out. Then they carefully positioned themselves so that Devon could work on cutting through the tape. Devon finished freeing Michael, who then cut the other two loose.
“Okay, I suggest we try to jump him, but we need to lure him down here first. Bonnie, why don’t you knock on the door and tell him that we want to talk, negotiate, or something. He doesn’t know that I’m conscious, so when he comes down to check it out, I’ll knock the gun away and the two of you just try to get him on the ground. Does he have any other weapons?”
“We haven’t seen any, but he’s wearing a utility belt. He probably has a knife at the very least,” Bonnie replied.
Michael picked up the duct tape strips and they each stuck them to their wrists to make it look like they were still bound. Michael laid face down on the floor again. Devon crouched next to him and Bonnie climbed the stairs along the far wall, up to the trap door.
“Hey! Randall!” Bonnie yelled. “Maybe we can make a deal. What’s it worth to you to let us go?” She leaned forward and twisted her arms to the side to pound them against the wooden door without pulling off the duct tape. It was awkward and she had to concentrate not to lose her balance. “Hey. Anybody up there?”
They heard footsteps above, approaching the door. Bonnie backed away from the door slightly, leaned against the wall, and waited for it to swing open.
There was a sharp crack as a rifle fired and two bullets ripped through the wooden door and exploded against the rock floor, a few feet from Michael. They all jumped back in surprise. Bonnie lost her footing and started to fall down the stairs. She managed to catch herself with the railing, but only enough to force herself into a sitting position a few stairs below where she had been. She sat on the step, her heart racing and her mind sorting out what had just happened. Quiet followed the sudden burst of noise.
“The only games we’re playing, are my games,” Randall said coldly.
They listened as the footsteps moved away again. There was light and a cloud of dust streaming through the holes in the door. Bonnie finally started breathing again and climbed down the stairs, not taking her eyes off the point in the floor where the bullets had hit.
* * *
They sat quietly for what seemed like an eternity. None of them had said much after their failed attempt to ambush Randall. They were all shocked at the outcome. They had moved back to the far wall of the cellar, away from the stairs, and were sitting with their backs against the wall. Bonnie was sitting in the middle, her head resting against Michael’s shoulder.
Michael had been keeping Kitt informed, but there really wasn’t much to tell. The agents had arrived at Kitt’s location and had started out into the woods. It would still be a while before they got within striking distance of the cabin.
They could hear Randall moving around in the rooms above them. Then they picked up the distinct pattern of his boots moving towards the cellar again. Bonnie lifted her head and they all looked to the top of the stairs. The door opened and Randall appeared, this time with a gun in each hand. They were semi-automatic pistols and Randall was keeping them both trained in their direction.
“Good to see you’ve run out of energy. I hate it when my subjects start to cause me trouble.” He approached them cautiously, eyes darting back and forth between them. He stopped well out of arms reach and then started pacing back and forth in front of them, like a professor giving a lecture in front of a class.
“You know what intrigues me?” he asked.
“Torture, murder, scaring innocent people?” Michael said in a low, seething tone.
Randall smiled a humorless grin that pulled up the corners of his mouth without touching his eyes. “Besides that. I’m fascinated with how people make decisions.”
Michael had no idea where Randall was going with that, but he didn’t like the potential implications. “Sorry, I’m not seeing the relevance here.”
The semi-smile came back again. “It’s an interesting area of study, don’t you think? In the long run, it could really help my project. People seem to have such a difficult time with decisions and I’m just fascinated with the ways that people torment themselves. Some agonize over making the decision in the first place, upsetting themselves with the different options. Letting each one weigh heavily on their minds. But once the decision is made, they can put it past them and never look back. Others rush into a decision, confident in their ability to make a choice, but then agonize forever about whether or not they made the right move.” Randall stopped pacing and looked directly at Bonnie. “I’m curious, Dr. Barstow, which type are you?”
Bonnie glared back at him and didn’t respond. Randall took a slow step and resumed his pacing, all the while keeping a keen eye on them, waiting for any movements. “It’s okay if you don’t know, or won’t tell me. I think we can run a little experiment to find out.”
Michael definitely didn’t like the sound of that. //Kitt, have them hurry. Something’s about to go down here.//
//Michael, there’s nothing they can do. They’re still over an hour away.//
“You see,” Randall said, “there are three of you here and that’s more than I want to deal with. It’s only a matter of time before you manage to catch me off guard and overpower me. I think the odds would be better if we paired you down a bit.”
Randall stopped dead center between them, looking at Bonnie and aiming the guns at both Michael and Devon. “So, Dr. Barstow, who will it be? Mr. Miles here, or Mr. Knight?”
Bonnie felt the hairs stand up on the back of her neck. She tried to keep the tremor out of her voice when she spoke. “You’ve got to be kidding. I’m not going to make that choice.”
“I’ve been watching you the last few days. And you work so well as a team. It’s a pity to break that up. But I’m afraid it’s necessary.”
“No. You might as well kill me. I’m not going to choose.” The pitch of Bonnie’s voice was rising in fear.
“See, that isn’t going to work. You have the implant so I need you to continue my research. You may have forced me into blowing up my transmitter, but they’re easy to make, and after this little exercise, I’m sure I’ll have some excellent ideas for some new images.”
Bonnie could hear the blood moving through the arteries behind her ears. “No.”
“Understand that ‘no’ is a choice as well. If you don’t make a decision, I’m going to kill them both -- right here, right now.”
Michael shifted, wanting to get into a position where he could spring quickly if he got the chance.
“Don’t make any more moves like that, Knight. I’ll shoot you both,” Randall said out of the corner of his mouth, never taking his eyes off of Bonnie. “Well?”
Bonnie watched in horror as Randall moved his index fingers from on top of the trigger guards to caress the triggers underneath them. “You’re sentencing them to death with that choice. And I’ll make you watch them both die. If you choose one, I’ll take him outside to join Mr. Martinez.”
“I won’t do it.”
“I’ll be a sport and give you a count down. But you have to tell me which one you want to live by the time I get to one. Five.”
Bonnie sat quietly shaking, eyeing the guns in his hands. She didn’t look at either of the men at her side; her eyes were locked on Randall.
Randall pulled the triggers and two shots rang out. Both bullets slammed into the wall above Michael and Devon’s heads and Bonnie screamed. She turned to see bits of rock and grout rain down on them, but neither one was hurt.
“That was a warning shot to prove to you that I’m serious. If you don’t make a choice, you’re killing both of them. Pick which one will live.”
Bonnie couldn’t stop shaking. She clamped down her jaw to keep her teeth from clattering and shook her head, no. She couldn’t betray one of them to save the other.
“Bonnie, I . . .” Devon started in a very soft, flat voice.
“Hush,” Randall snarled. “Or I’ll kill you anyway. If either one of you says anything, or makes a false move, I will kill you. This is Dr. Barstow’s decision.”
Bonnie turned at look at Devon. His steely blue eyes were looking directly into hers. They were filled with resignation. Bonnie shook her head almost imperceptively and tears started streaming down her face. She wrapped both arms around her waist, hugging herself tightly and shook her head ‘no’ again.
“Two.” Randall laughed. “Ahh, so you are the agonizing sort. It seems to me that the decision is an easy one, obvious really. A pity, I hate to kill them both. Which one lives?”
Bonnie dropped her eyes to the ground in front of her. She felt like she couldn’t get enough air into her lungs.
Randall started to squeeze the triggers.
“NO!!” Bonnie screamed. “Michael.”
“What was that?” Randall asked with a sneer.
Bonnie pulled her knees up to her chest and buried her face in her arms. “Michael.”
“A wise choice. I’m sorry Mr. Miles. I’m afraid you’re going to have to come with me.” Randall kept one gun pointed in Michael’s direction and the other on Devon. As he reached down to pull Devon up, Michael made a wild dive for the gun. He managed to knock Randall’s arm aside and fell full force into him. Devon made a grab for the other gun but Randall swung it around and slammed the butt down into Michael’s shoulder, knocking him off balance. Randall wrapped an arm around Devon’s neck in a chokehold, and managed to back up enough to aim the pistol in his free hand at Michael’s head. “Stop,” he hissed.
Randall kept the gun on Michael and backed Devon up to the stairs. He climbed up slowly, wary of another attack. Devon was struggling, trying to twist free, but Randall was too strong. When Randall got to the top and was maneuvering to get both of them out through the trapdoor, Michael flung himself at the stairs and jumped back as Randall fired on him. Randall dragged Devon through the door as Michael rushed toward them. The door slammed down and Randall fired another shot through it. Then Michael heard Randall working the padlock as Michael beat on the door with both fists.
//Kitt, we need help now! Randall’s going to kill Devon!//
//They aren’t close enough, Michael. There’s nothing we can do.// Kitt was overwhelmed by the panic in Michael’s thoughts. It was drowning out his ability to process the situation. Michael was desperate. Kitt had to help, but he was powerless.
//Kitt! We have to do something!!// Michael screamed across the link.
It took Kitt a few seconds before he could break through the log jam of panic and decide on a course of action. He wanted to be there, helping Michael. He needed to be there. Instead, all he could do was radio a message to Nichols that the situation was critical. He was helpless.
Kitt put the car in gear and slammed into the nearest grove of trees. The wood splintered and a smaller tree trunk cracked. He reversed and did it again. Another tree fractured and the bright tan wood of the newly exposed section contrasted the worn, dark, bark. Kitt knew this wasn’t going to get him anywhere but he was frustrated and feeling the same desperate need to do something that Michael was experiencing.
Michael looked wildly around the cellar and then went back to pounding on the wooden door. His fists were bloody and bruised. He banged once more on the door and then slumped in front of it on one of the stairs, defeated. He looked past the railing down to the floor. Bonnie hadn’t moved. Michael could see that she was shaking and her head was still buried in her arms.
They could still hear Randall shuffling Devon across the floor of the cabin. Then the door slammed. They waited in silence for several minutes, neither one of them daring to say a word.
Then they heard the report of two rifle shots. With each blast, Bonnie’s body jerked. She turned her head away from Michael so that her face was hidden behind her hair, and started to cry.
* * *
Michael had slowly climbed back down the stairs and sat a few feet from Bonnie. She had stopped shaking and Michael thought that maybe she was asleep. He had tried to put an arm around her earlier, but she had shrugged it off. He wanted to say something, but he didn’t have a clue what would be helpful. He was in shock, not quite comprehending that Devon was gone. He couldn’t know exactly what she was feeling, but he had some idea, and it wasn’t pretty.
//Michael, Nichols and his men are approaching the cabin.//
//Thanks, Kitt. Tell them to be careful. I don’t know where Randall is.//
Michael tried to listen for any sounds from the rooms upstairs. Nothing. There had been footsteps after the two shots, telling him that Randall was back in the cabin, but he wasn’t moving around much. Michael hoped he wasn’t waiting to ambush the FBI.
Several more minutes of silence passed. It seemed like an eternity and Michael just wanted this whole thing to be over. This case had been a nightmare from the beginning and now he just wanted to get back and pick up the pieces. There was a lump in his throat when he thought of Devon and the look on the older man’s face when he had been taken away. Michael took a deep breath and tried to push it to the back of his mind. He couldn’t afford the grief right now -- it would have to wait until later.
Finally he heard it. There was a shuffling sound on the floorboards above him, followed by a quick burst of running and a volley of gunshots. He heard the pings of ricochets, the high-pitched shattering of bullets breaking out glass, and the thuds as they slammed into the wooden walls. If nothing else, the FBI had Randall out manned and outgunned.
//Kitt, tell them we’re in the basement and he won’t be able to get to us quickly. If they want to, they can try to overwhelm him with force.//
Michael heard the amount of gunfire increase and then he heard Randall trying to work the padlock to the cellar.
//He’s trying to get to us, buddy. He’s distracted. Tell them to go now!//
Michael moved to cover Bonnie when the trapdoor was wrenched up. He saw Randall’s face appear just as there was a splintering sound above and the cabin door gave way. Randall lowered his gun and aimed it at them. Before he could get off a shot, he jerked forward, seemed to pause in midair, and then he tumbled down the stairs. He landed face down, with both legs sprawled to one side, and a bright crimson stain on the back of his flak jacket. Michael eyed him closely as one of the agents cautiously made his way down the stairs, a gun leveled at the man on the floor. When the agent reached the bottom, he kicked Randall’s body with his boot before leaning down to check his pulse. “He’s dead.”
Michael turned back to Bonnie who hadn’t moved throughout the entire thing. He risked putting an arm around her again and this time she didn’t move to push him away. He leaned in, close to the top of her head, and whispered, “It’s over, sweetheart. We can get out of here.”
She shook her head no and leaned against him.
“It’s going to be okay.”
She flinched at his words but didn’t say anything.
“Come on.” He tried to gently coax her into standing. Finally she lifted her head and consented to being helped up. She kept her eyes on the ground and wouldn’t look at Michael directly. Her face was puffy and her eyes were ringed red.
Slowly they made their way over to the stairway, stepped past Randall, and headed up into the cabin. It had been a hailstorm of bullets. There were holes everywhere. The door had splintered and ripped away from its hinges, leaving pieces lying on the floor in the main room. Michael carefully picked a way around them and out into the sunlight.
There were at least 20 agents milling around in the clearing. Michael looked for Nichols and found him talking to a group wearing blue Kevlar vests with white FBI lettering on the back. Nichols saw them and started over, just as Michael looked beyond him to see the tree where Martinez’s body was still tied. Michael swallowed hard when he looked to the left. Devon was tied to a tree next to the one where Martinez was. His arms were bound to the tree above his head, which was slumped forward, his body limp. There were two agents bent over him. Michael swallowed hard and Bonnie looked up as well and gasped in a large, shaky breath.
Nichols broke into a trot. “Hey, he’s okay. He’s just unconscious. Randall hit him in the back of the head. We’ll transport him to Fresno, but his vitals are strong and he’s going to be fine.”
Michael went over and used his knife to cut Devon’s hands free and carefully lowered him to the ground. Michael took off his leather jacket and balled it up to cushion Devon’s head before holding up his comlink so that Kitt could read his vitals. “Nichols is right, Michael. He has a concussion but nothing else.” Kitt felt the waves of Michael’s relief. They mirrored his own.
Bonnie moved toward the two trees. She stopped ten feet away and just stared at Michael and Devon, silently. The two agents had moved over to Martinez. They cut his body down and laid it in the grass. Bonnie watched as they closed the lids over his fixed, glassy eyes.
* * *
Michael had his jacket tossed over this shoulder as he headed out into the Los Angeles sunshine and went to go find Kitt. He felt like taking a nice long drive. Devon was still recuperating from his head injury and they were enjoying a rare lull between cases. Michael headed away from the mansion and over to the garage building, where he assumed he’d find his partner. He came down the walkway and smiled when he saw Kitt’s jet-black form parked exactly where he thought it would be. He quickened his pace before noticing that Kitt wasn’t alone. Ella was sitting in the driver’s seat and Michael could see that she was talking. He veered off and decided a walk would be a better idea.
//It’s okay. You can join us.//
//Are you sure, pal?//
Michael turned back and smiled. He made his way over and then around to the passenger side. When he got in, he immediately realized that it had been a long time since he’d sat in the passenger seat. “Hi, Ella, how are you?”
“I’m good. It’s nice to have you guys back.”
“Is there something wrong, Michael?” Kitt asked. Michael had been craning his neck, looking at the dash and the overhead panels.
“Nope. I just don’t get to sit over here too often. You look totally different from this side of the cabin.”
“Everything is the same, Michael, no matter what side of the cabin you’re on.”
“Yeah, but it’s good to look at things from a different perspective every once in awhile.”
They sat quietly for a minute.
“So how is Devon doing?” Ella asked.
“He’s fine. He’s had a pretty bad headache for the last three days, but other than that I think he’s okay.”
“How’s Bonnie?” she asked quietly.
Michael shrugged slowly. “I don’t know. Not so good. She’s pretty much sequestered herself in her room and won’t talk to anyone.”
“I can’t image how hard it must be for her,” Ella said.
“But it’s not Bonnie’s fault,” Kitt said, defensively.
“Of course not. I don’t think anyone thinks it is, Kitt, except for Bonnie. Devon’s been trying to talk to her since we got back, but she’s feeling pretty bad right now. I think she’s afraid to talk to him,” Michael said. He paused before going on. “I think I’d be feeling pretty terrible right now too, if I was her.”
“It’s one thing to know that something isn’t your fault, it’s another thing to accept it,” Ella said quietly.
“She’ll get over it, eventually,” Michael said, trying to reassure himself as much as Kitt. “Things are just awkward right now and I think she and Devon both have to figure out how to get past this.”
“I just want things to be back to normal, Michael,” Kitt said.
“Me too, buddy. Me too.”
* * *
Bonnie finally decided to leave her suite after three days of hiding out. It was two in the morning, but she was still awake. She figured most everyone else would be asleep, so she decided to go for a walk. She came down the main staircase and couldn’t take her eyes off the door to Devon’s office. She wasn’t sure why, but she really wanted to see the lights on the reflecting pool from his French doors. She figured he’d be asleep in his suite anyway.
Bonnie left all the lights off. She had spent enough time in Devon’s office to know her way around without tripping over anything. She pulled back the curtains on the French doors. The gas lamplights around the reflecting pool were casting shimmering, dancing apparitions in the shallow water.
“Couldn’t sleep?” a soft voice asked from behind her. She was startled out of the trance the pool had held her in, but stopped herself from turning around. She knew who the voice belonged to.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be here,” she said. Bonnie lowered her head and started to walk briskly toward the office door where Devon had just entered. He took a few steps in and reached out a hand to stop her.
“It’s all right. I wanted to talk to you anyway.”
Bonnie swallowed and tried to ignore the sound of the blood rushing behind her ears. Devon left his hand on her arm and noticed that she was looking passed him, out into the hallway.
“You don’t have to feel guilty, Bonnie. I don’t want you to. We were all put in a terrible situation and you did what you had to do.” Devon paused and then lowered his head and continued. “I’ve lived a full life . . .”
“Devon, don’t. I don’t want to hear why it was okay to choose Michael over you -- it wasn’t.” Her voice was shaking and tears started to well up in the corner of her eyes.
“But we’re all still here, alive and well, so in some way, it was the right thing to do. Maybe he was bluffing and wouldn’t have killed us both on the spot, but there’s no way to know that. In the end, the fact that you made such a difficult choice allowed us all to get out safely.”
Devon gently pulled her closer. She accepted the hug, but stood stiffly and didn’t lean into him. “Please don’t agonize over this anymore,” he whispered.
Finally, Devon released her. “Try to get some sleep.” He decided he’d said all he could say for the moment, so he turned and left the office. But he felt a strange hollowness inside -- Bonnie still wouldn’t look him in the eyes.
So he was in my head again, replacing the images that haunt me with his lovely fractals. The images I see are lifeless eyes and a limp body tied by the arms to a tree. They have taken up residence in that place far behind my eyes, where all the images are my own.
They all tell me it wasn’t my fault; I did what I had to do. There are so many reasons and justifications. There are so many ways to be absolved. Even he forgives me, or tells me that he does. I haven’t been able to meet his eyes. I’m afraid that if I look, they’ll be dead and glassy.
I chose to betray one I love. It may have been necessary. It may have been the only way out. But in the end, I did betray him. Maybe someday I’ll be able to forgive myself.
May 20, 2001