New to Quest Five?
The stories are best enjoyed when read in order beginning with May 1, 2009.

Welcome To Quest Five
Allison Beaumont is having trouble finding a job after college until one day the wealthy and powerful Joseph Candle offers her a job at his rather unusual corporation, where mistakes can lead to bare bottomed spankings. Adopting the alias of Virginia West, she joins four highly skilled colleagues, racing around the globe in search of mysterious treasures, but wherever she goes, trouble is sure to follow.
Note: Some stories contain scenes of a sexual nature, corporal punishment, non-consensual corporal punishment, and strong language which some reader's may find offensive. If you feel this material might be inappropriate for you please move on to another blog by clicking the next blog link at the top of the page.

May 15, 2010

Endings & Beginnings

Thank you to everyone who read Quest Five and a special thank you to all those who left comments, whether occasionally or consistently. Now that the final chapter has been posted the question looms as to where to go from here. The story is left with an open end in hopes that I will someday return to the Quest Five universe and continue Allison’s story from her rather odd and precarious end. Before that continuation though, I have a few plans, including a clean up of the original Quest Five story to be offered as a free ebook download whenever it is completed. Don’t hold your breath though because I’m not yet ready to start work on that project. I’ll let you know when I start and keep you updated from there.

Most of you are probably already aware of my new blog, Imagine the Stories. Since January a new short story has been posted each Friday and in some way or other each one has been in part inspired by the accompanying spanking related picture(s). To date I’ve done my best to keep each story unique and entertaining while touching on the wide realm of fantasies related to the wonderful world of adult spanking. If you have not stopped by already, pop in and have a read. I’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, or just general praise (because praise is so much nicer than criticism), but I’ll take the lumps from constructive criticism too if that’s what you have to give. Seriously, I appreciate each and every comment so long as it is not spam.

I promised to share updates on the projects I’m currently working on and I had hoped to have completed my current project by now, but it has taken on a larger life than I originally anticipated. Just because I like to talk about what I’m working on (not to mention my cruel, sadistic nature) I’ll whet your appetite with a few details which may or may not change during the course of completing the project.

My working title is The Spanking Days of Summer. I like the title, it reflects the story quite nicely and it is something of a double entendre. The story is centered on a young woman dealing with some major changes in her life; Things like living with her Aunt and Uncle on a ranch, preparing to attend college, making new friends, dating bad boys (well just one really, but he’s bad enough for plurality), oh and for the first time in her young life she has to deal with real boundaries and discipline. It’s a real shame and I mean that in the reddest sense of the word.

Anyway, this is the project I’ve been consumed with lately and it’s being a lot of fun. The main character shows off a lot of those characteristics many of you have mentioned you appreciate in a spankee; intelligence, whit, and strength of character (ie. there might be a victim, but it’s rarely if ever her). All in all, I’m very happy with the progress and I’ll keep plugging away until it’s completed. I’ll keep you updated, but hopefully the next time I post about it, will be to tell you it’s done and ready to be downloaded.

The Spanking Days of Summer is going to be the first story I don’t give away. I know this is going to be disappointing to some, but a lot of work goes into writing these stories. The Spanking Days of Summer is shaping up into a novella length story and I think you’ll find the quality of the story and characters to be well worth the cost. Of course I will continue to produce plenty of free material for everyone to enjoy and hope that the quality of my work will be all the sales pitch my work needs.

April 30, 2010

Losing Control: Epilogue

The mind has a way of wandering once it is free of the physical world. I had failed and succeeded all at the same time in my quest. Had I known everything from the beginning things might have turned out differently, but as the water swept me away my only true regret was not being able to spare my nephew the fate we were both condemned to suffer. The pain in my chest subsided as if the wound had healed and my lungs stopped aching for air.

An image floated before my eyes, misty and unclear. I recognized Tom Clark, lying in a bed. Wires ran from his body to machines and a slow, steady beep filled the silence. Kyra sat next to him, holding his hand while tears slipped down her cheeks. I tried to reach out to her, but there was more than distance between us. Tom's eyes fluttered open and a sense of serenity washed over me. At least he would be alright, they would be alright. She loved him as he had always loved her and as I loved him as well.

The image faded into black and I opened my eyes once more. Turning my head in the darkness I watched as a glimmer of light grew from the staff still gripped in my hand. I was engulfed in a kaleidescope of color, falling still, but the water was gone, replaced by wisps of swirling wind. There were voices everywhere, whispering and shouting, laughing and crying, loving and hating. I gasped for breath and reached out for help, but there was only the blur of spinning, flickering lights and the rush of cold wind. It was but a second of eternity before it was over and I came crashing down onto solid ground.

The flickering colors of light all turned orange. Sparks of flamed kissed the night sky and logs of burning wood crackled in the heat. The warmth lured me closer, washing away the cold of a winter's night that had settled on my skin. I breathed air once more and watched as the frosty bits of my breath floated away, passed the flame of fire. Bright stars above, winked at me.

Through the crackle of flame, a girl's finger pointed at me and her voice screamed, "Witch! Witch!"

I rose up on my knees thinking to calm the terrified child, only to realize we were not alone. In the darkness I saw their faces like masks at a masquerade. White eyes in the black of night, stared at me. Men's eyes, greedy eyes, lustful eyes, all of them surrounded me. It was only then I realized I was naked.

"Arrest her," A man said and hands grabbed my shoulders from behind.

I pulled away. Every reflex told me to run and so I tried. I nearly made it to me feet, but before I could gain any traction hands were grabbing once more. The fire laughed at my futile attempt at escape. A proud little girl smirked at me. My head rocked with the blow of a blunt object and everything swirled away to emptiness.

The world continued to spin when I opened my eyes once again. Warmth had abandoned me and my skin prickled beneath rough material. I pushed myself upward from proneness and wished the world to remain steady and still. It was a nice, but futile thought. Unwisely, I shook my head to clear it.

"It's best to lie still for a bit," A kind woman said, gently pushing me back down.

"Where am I?" I asked.

"Jail, my dear," The woman replied.

"What happened?" I asked.

"They found you in the woods," She said. "Dancing naked by a fire or so I hear."

"I wasn't dancing," I said.

She smiled and said, "But you were naked?"

Ruefully, I nodded and said, "Unfortunately. I don't know how I got there, here."

"The Proctor's daughter, no doubt," She said.

"Who?" I asked.

"It doesn't matter," She said, sitting down beside me. "My name is Hester."

I hesitated a moment, considering the unfamiliarity of my situation and the choice of names I could give. In the end it was instinct rather than planning which ruled my decision. I said, "Virginia," and offered her my hand in friendship.

She grasped my hand and said, "I don't recall seeing you around before."

"That's because I haven't been here before," I said.

"A new arrival? It's a pity this is what we've become," She said, turning away from me and staring at the heavy, wood door beyond the bars. "We used to have such a nice town, welcoming any and all. I'm sorry you've been pulled into all this."

"I don't understand," I said. "What's happening here?"

"They'll come for our confessions in the morning," She said.

"Confessions? What are we accused of?" I asked.

"We're witches my dear," She said.

I blinked. I said, "That's preposterous."

"Of course it is, but there is no going back now," She said.

"But I'm not a witch," I said.

"Nor am I," She said, "but when the inquisitor comes in the morning I will confess, as should you."

"I won't confess," I said. "I'm not a witch."

"You can give your confession freely or they will beat it out of you," She said. "Either way, you will confess. It's best to save yourself what pain you can."

"How can you say that?" I asked.

"If you confess quickly, they are more likely to be merciful and merely hang you, but if you resist," She said, laying a sympathetic hand on my shoulder, "they will burn you at the stake."

"This can't be happening," I said.

Hester laughed without humor and said, "Welcome to Salem."

April 28, 2010

Losing Control: Terrible Choices

Our journey ended in the middle of the Peruvian rain forest. At first glance, it was nothing more than a clearing at the foot of a cliff, but a closer inspection revealed much more. An unusual reddish tint glittered in the soil of the area and the foliage at its borders was dead or dying. The air felt heavier than normal even for the humid region we were in. Overhead the sky was clear and blue, but in the distance I could see the gathering of storm clouds.

"Are you ready?" Alex Kemp asked, standing beside me.

"For what?" I asked, my gaze flickering to him for a moment before returning to the cave's entrance in the side of the cliff. It looked more like a window than a doorway. If the cave was indeed a portal to other dimensions, realities, then the appearance seemed somehow appropriate, perhaps even significant. The more I stared at it the more I felt like I was standing in the shadow of death.

"Destiny," Joe Candle said, walking up from behind us.

"I don't believe in destiny," I said, despite the whispers to the contrary inside my head.

Dr. Michaels joined us, looking at the opening in the cliff and said, "If you did, there wouldn't be any point in being here."

"How will we know if she succeeds?" Brian asked from a few feet away.

Next to him, Olivia said, "We'll live through the day."

"If that were the goal wouldn't we be better off just about any place else?" Brian said.

"Don't worry," Gina said slipping a pack onto her back, "If she fails, there won't be a tomorrow for anyone, no matter where they are."

Olivia said, "At least here we have a chance to help."

I stepped forward to the entrance and laid my hand on the rock surrounding it. A tingle not unlike and electric shock, jolted through my body. I looked inside, but could see nothing more than darkness beyond the entrance. A cold shiver washed over me, my hands began to sweat and every impulse in my body screamed to run in the opposite direction. I took a deep breath and braced myself to enter the domain of the mystical and unknown.

"So this is where it all began," I said.

Dr. Michaels joined me at the entrance and said, "Circles always end where they begin."

"You could have told me everything from the start," I said.

He laughed and said, "You wouldn't have listened."

I nodded in agreement, remembering how little I had liked him the first time we had met. It was never that I thought he was a bad person, just that he seemed to be hiding something and now, it was obvious he had been. There was a lesson to be learned in the fact and I was finally paying attention to notice. My instincts were mostly right and ignoring them was always a mistake, perhaps even the mistake I was supposed to fix. Somewhere deep inside the cave before us that mistake remained a possibility, but I also wondered if the mistake was already made and the events ahead were now more of an unavoidable consequence.

"Probably not," I said, embracing my instincts. "I'm curious about something."

He raised a single eyebrow and waited for me to continue. I said, "When you were taken in Mexico, was it by Joe or Joey?"

"Joe," Dr. Michaels said, "it was time for me to come in before things got to complicated with Joey."

"So how did the plane end up with Joey's people?" I asked.

"Jack stole it," Dr. Michaels said.

I nodded. It made sense, but I was still reeling from the idea I had been working with people who I would typically label as bad. Obviously Jack was very much aware of Joey's plans, but I wondered if any of the others new the whole story. Tom never gave any indication if he did and the fact they would risk killing him, seemed to indicate he was not exactly on board with them, but it could also mean he decided to switch sides midstream as well. Kyra was a complicated case too. With her computer skill and curiosity, it seemed unlikely Joey could keep much from her. On the other hand, Joey kept her busy with a lot of projects which might have been an easy way to keep her from looking to closely at the various things that did not always add up. All it really told me was there was no one in either camp I could rely on for help. Everyone had an agenda.

Joining us at the entrance, Brian said, "The Incas had a legend about the origins of life which said the first man and woman, rose up out of the water and climbed out into the world through a window. This place makes me wonder if it was more than legend."

Dr. Michaels nodded and said, "There are many unexplained mysteries in the world. Inside this cave we may find some explanations."

"Or just more mystery," I said.

Joe joined us at the cave's entrance and, taking the first step inside, said, "We should hurry."

I paused for a moment, drinking in the sights and sounds of the outside world. The chirping of birds in trees and the rustle of wind through the leaves seemed to beckon me to leave the cave behind. Thunder echoed against the cliff and lightning crackled through the sky. Rain drops clattered against the red soil forming puddles eerily reminiscent of blood. It felt like a memory long forgotten and dismissed as nothing more than a dream. I shuddered with cold fear gripping my soul and turned my back on the world, stepping into the darkness. It was time to face the demons.

Without a backward glance, Joe led the way through the winding, narrow tunnels of the cave. We were forced to crawl on hands and knees in near total darkness, descending ever deeper into the cave. The smell of wet dirt and stale air left little wonder as to why the ancient cultures of region thought of caves as a doorway to the underworld and afterlife. It took little imagination to reinforce the idea of death hanging over you like a mist in the air. I tried to focus my attention on moving, but my thoughts kept wandering to the unanswered questions swirling in my head.

Part of me hoped Joe was a liar, hoped he would prove to be everything I once thought him to be. If that was the reality, then we would exit the tunnels and find ourselves alone. There would be no more need for charades and the truth of his intentions would soon be revealed to me. It would involve me and no one else and no matter what would happen, I could live with the results.

The rest of me knew better. The charades were already over and the final confrontation was upon me. Joey, the man I had known as my employer, as Joseph Candle, as my grandfather, would be there at the end of the tunnels and he would not be alone. My nephew would be present at the very least, if not his parents and mine as well. Joey would be holding all the cards and no matter what I chose to do, there would be a sacrifice to be made and some of them would be more than I could bear.

We emerged from the tunnels into a large cavern decorated with stalagmites and stalactites. In the middle of the cavern a small pool of water was surrounded by a rim of what appeared to be granite. It seemed completely unnatural and out of place. The air moved as if circulated by fans and scent of mold and mud tickled at my nose. To the right of the pool, a small ledge hung over it and standing on the ledge, Joey smiled down at me.

"You're just in time," Joey said.

"Don't do it," Joe said, putting himself between Joey and me.

"Auntie!" My nephew cried from near the water and began to run toward me, until Jack stopped him by placing his gun on Geoff's chest.

I took a step toward Jack, glaring anger into him like knives from my soul. I said, "I should have killed you when I had the chance."

"Yeah, but you didn't," Jack said smiling. "Better luck next time."

"Since you made it in time, I'll give you the choice Allison," Joey said, as Mark and a couple of nameless goons disarmed Joe and his companions. "Will it be you or your nephew who opens the portal?"

Reluctantly, I tore my eyes from Jack and turned my attention to Joey. "Why?" I asked.

"Because the portal must be opened and the key will die. I wish there was another way, but there is not. So, I leave the choice in your hands, provided you will make it," Joey said.

"But why must the portal be opened?" I asked.

Joey sighed and started to motion to Jack. I said, "If I'm going to die here, I think I deserve to know why."

Joey paused in his movements and turned back to me. He said, "Because if it isn't opened, everything will end on December 21, 2012."

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

Joe stepped forward and said, "You're wrong Joey. Nothing will end unless the portal is opened here today."

I looked between the two men. They stood nearly identical in pose and just as firm in their convictions. Neither had bothered to tell me the whole story, but I was long passed the point of being angry over secrets and lies. They were reflections of each other, sure enough. Two different men, but with the same methods and stubbornness. It was only then I understood the situation before me and the mistake I was dangerously close to making. I could trust neither man and that meant I could only trust myself.

I left myself the clue I needed to find the right path. The portal would be opened no matter what I did. My responsibility was to close it. My heart ached in my chest with the realization and I finally understood why I would make the wrong decision in the first place. I looked away from Joe and Joey to my nephew. Frightened tears wet his cheeks just as sad ones glistened in my eyes. I cleared my throat and opened my mouth, prepared to make the unthinkable choice.

My eyes flickered closed as I searched for strength. The cave faded away, replaced by a grassy cliff high above the ocean. It was the place of my recent strange dreams and suddenly I knew it was more memory than dream.

My grandmother laughed and said, "You still don't understand."

"What?" I asked as the sky began to rain.

"I've always been true to what I am, but you," She said, shaking her head, "you betrayed everyone."

"No," I said.

"Denial does not change the truth," She said, watching my every move. "You cannot change what you are."

"Fortunately, I don't need to," I said and my eyes snapped open bringing the cave back into focus.

"I acted against my nature," I said aloud, although more to myself than those around me.

"What?" Joe asked, turning to me.

I laughed. It was all so simple when things made sense like they should. My mistake was not in trusting men I did not trust. It was in following a course of action I knew to be wrong because I thought it was the only choice. This time I would make a new choice and things would be different. It was a chance, but when a chance is all you have, it is what you take.

"The portal won't be opened," I said, walking toward Jack.

Jack said, "One more step and he dies."

"Go ahead," I said continuing to walk toward him. "If you kill him then you need me to open that portal and that won't be happening."

Jack knew I was right. It was written in his eyes as he stared at me. He was also afraid of me. The gun in his hand trembled a touch as he swung it away from Geoff and pointed it straight at me. I smiled and ran straight at him. The sound of the gunshot echoed in the cavern causing pebbles to fall from the walls and ceiling, like rain. I blinked through the pain of the bullet ripping through me and kept going toward Jack, colliding with him and taking us both tumbling to the ground.

"Run Geoff!" I shouted, struggling with Jack for control of his gun.

Geoff stood paralyzed for a moment. It was too much to ask of him to understand the dangerous situation surrounding him. He looked around the cavern and then headed toward the exit as fast as his little legs could carry him. I turned my full focus on Jack and hoped someone in Joe's group would be smart enough to help Geoff get out of the cave. Jack found my wound with his free hand and dug his fingers in, making me scream in pain. The anger pulsed through my veins giving me strength I never knew I had. I rammed his gun hand against the rock floor over and over until he released the gun, yelping in his own pain. I grabbed the gun and rolled away from him. He pushed himself up off the floor and turned to pursue me, but I was ready. I pulled the trigger dropping him to the ground for the last time.

"Bring him here," Joey commanded.

I spun around to see Mark climbing the step like rocks leading to the ledge where Joey waited. Mark was carrying Geoff in his arms with Joe running after him. I was too far away to get a good shot with all the stalactites and stalagmites in the way. A few feet away from me, Joey's other goons were struggling with Alex, Olivia, Gina, and Gene. Joe was Geoff's only chance unless I could somehow get to them in time. I pushed myself off the floor, ignoring the searing pain in my chest and ran for the ledge, dodging through the stalagmites like safety cones.

By the time I reached the ledge, Joe and Joey were rolling on the ground wrestling with each other. Mark stood on the edge, holding Geoff over the water. I leveled the gun at Mark and stepped closer to him. Shooting him was out of the question so long as he held onto my nephew, but I wanted to be sure he knew if my nephew was dropped, he would die.

"Stay back," Mark said.

"This is going to end one of two ways," I said, standing my ground. "Either you put my nephew down on the ground and we all walk out of here or you drop him in the water and I put a bullet in your brain. It's your choice."

"She'll do it," Olivia said, coming to stand next to me. "Trust me, I know."

Mark shook his head and said, "I'm dead either way."

"No!" I said as Mark released his hold on Geoff, dropping him into the water below. I ran toward the edge, knocking Mark off the edge and knelt over the water. The surface splashed black water into the air, swallowing Mark into its depths. Geoff had already disappeared.

The ground began to shake and stalactites fell from the ceiling crashing down around me and splashing into the water below. The water's surface bubbled and human shapes began to emerge, covered in black, oil like ooze. Behind me, Joey began to laugh the maniacal laugh of an insane man. I forced myself to my feet and stepped back to jump in the water after my nephew before it was too late.

"Wait," Olivia said.

I turned toward her and she offered me the staff, complete with jewel mounted in its headpiece. For a moment I could not figure out why she was offering it to me. Memory returned though amidst the panic and I remembered the only way to close the portal was with the staff. I had failed at keeping it closed, but there was a chance I had made a difference and if I closed the portal as well it would be the best I could do with what I was given. I grabbed the staff and dove off the ledge, slicing through the boiling surface below.

It felt like falling. The black forms that had been trying to pass through the surface fell through the water with me. My ears echoed with their cries of pain, sorrow, and disappointment. I turned and twisted and tried to control my direction and speed without success. Geoff was nowhere to be seen and at the rate I was falling through the water, I would never reach the surface in time for a new breath anyway. I closed my eyes and surrendered to the current.

April 25, 2010

Losing Control: Tug-O-War

The earth trembled beneath me. I listened as the crowd's jubilance turned to fear. My hands rose to my face and tore aside the white cloth covering my eyes. Dark clouds closed in on the sky above and a man standing before me, fell to his knees. The crowd ran.

"Forgive us," The man on his knees said to the sky.

I climbed to my feet and walked the short distance between us, laying my hand on his shoulder. He looked into my eyes, tears streaming down his cheeks. I tightened my hand against his muscles and said, "There is nothing to forgive."

"Oh, but there is," My grandmother said, appearing on the grass before me. Her voice was unmistakable, but her appearance had changed from that of a child to a young woman my own age. I should have been surprised, but I was calm as if I had expected her.

"Is he responsible for your treachery?" I asked, stepping sideways from him and eying her with caution.

She laughed and said, "You still don't understand."

"What?" I asked as the sky began to rain.

"I've always been true to what I am, but you," She said, shaking her head, "you betrayed everyone."

"No," I said.

"Denial does not change the truth," She said, watching my every move. "You cannot change what you are."

"Fortunately, I don't need to," I said and ran for the edge of the cliff.

She said, "If you ever hope to repair what you have done, there is no other choice. You must accept your role."

I leapt into the air and fell toward the rocky beach below. Lightning stuck the water and thunder rolled through my ears. A wind swept beneath me and hurled me in a new direction. Light and sound overwhelmed my senses, but I knew I was still falling. I braced myself for the sudden end I knew to be coming.

"Easy there," Brian said, holding me in his arms.

The nausea of falling drifted away, replaced with a pounding headache and the glint of light reflecting off white walls. I wanted to relax into his arms, but suspicions clouded everything. Too many people I trusted were proving to be undeserving. I pulled away from him and looked into his concerned eyes, hoping to glimpse an honest soul within him.

"What happened?" I asked.

"Your office was raided and they decided to take me with them. I've been couped up in here without seeing anyone until you arrived a few hours ago," Brian said.

"You haven't seen anyone?" I asked, skeptical of the idea.

"A couple guards, but no one I recognize," He said.

I pushed myself up off the cheap bed making it squeak as its springs pushed back. The room felt small, square in shape with a setup like any prison cell in the civilized world. The ceiling contained florescent lighting, protected behind metal cages. No windows to the outside world and nothing to indicate where were or even what time or day it was. The door was solid, white and lacking even the markings of where a knob should have been. Escaping would be difficult at best, but I doubted things would come to that. They wanted me and not to keep me locked up in a room.

"At the same time as the office was raided, a team hit my brother's house. They took him, his wife and my nephew," I said, bringing Brian up to speed, if he did not already know those facts to begin with.

"And you," He said, as if I had neglected to mention my own capture.

I shook my head and said, "No, I went after them. I got them out, but not myself."

"So you know where we are?" Brian asked.

"Probably not far from where my brother was being held," I said.

The echo of a lock being turned proceeded our cell door swinging open into the room. It was much darker outside the cell, leaving the forms in shadows and hard to discern from the darkness. A pair of faces emerged into the light and though I should have been surprised, I was not. Olivia smiled at me and her father, Dr. Michaels, seemed happy as well, without the obvious grin on his face. I stood facing them from the center of the cell and kept my peripheral vision aware of Brian. He gasped at the sight of our visitors.

"Are you alright?" Dr. Michaels asked, looking at me.

"I've been better," I said and Olivia said, "You'll live."

I said, "No thanks to you."

She laughed and said, "I guess that makes us even, but it was not me trying to kill you."

"No doubt you delegated the chore," I said. "By the way, how is it you aren't dead?"

Olivia said, "Did you ever to think to check the ammunition you were using? Those were my guns and I don't make a habit of killing people, unlike your friends."

"Play nice girls or do I need to break out my paddle?" Dr. Michaels said.

"Why don't you get to the point then?" I said, resting a hand on my hip.

Olivia said, "Okay. You're an idiot."

Dr. Michaels turned to his daughter with a warning scowl decorating his face. She laughed at him and said, "What? She wanted to get to the point and that's pretty much it."

"You'll have to excuse my daughter," Dr. Michaels said, turning back to me, "she's still a little embarrassed about underestimating you in the jungle."

"I know the feeling," I said. "I can't say I suspected a thing with you or Jack."

"Jack?" Dr. Michaels said. "What are you talking about?"

"Obviously you are both working with our shadow loving friend," I said.

Olivia laughed again. I was tempted to attempt to slap her, but the reality was, I would not get within a foot before someone would stop me. I settled on a frown and a disgusted shake of my head to make my feelings clear. Dr. Michaels continued to look confused which was disconcerting, considering the situation. If Jack was not working with them, then who was he working for?

Olivia said, "Jack Barker works for Joey. He always has and he always will. They're two of a kind you know, killers."

"Wait," Dr. Michaels said, looking between his daughter and me, "You think we kidnapped your family?"

"You're saying you didn't?" I said, glaring at him. "Then tell me, how did I end up here with you, if you weren't involved?"

Olivia said, "Mostly dumb luck."

Before I could voice my irritation, Dr. Michaels said, "Joey arranged for your family to be taken, not us. We assumed this meant he felt his control over you was slipping which we saw as something of a victory around here, but we wish no harm on you or your family. Once we learned where they were being held we made plans to rescue them. It appears Joey set you up in a rather elaborate trap in order to leverage your cooperation against the lives of your family."

Olivia said, "I'm betting he didn't expect you to actually escape."

Dr. Michaels nodded and said, "You wouldn't have, but we were in position when you and Mr. Clark showed up. We decided to wait rather than involve ourselves in your plans and possibly make the situation worse. When you flipped the jeep, we moved in and rescued you before Joey's teams could get to you."

"And my family?" I asked.

"Unfortunately, you took them out of Joey's hands only to put them right back in them," Dr. Michaels said.

Olivia said, "Like I mentioned before, you're an idiot."

"Why should I believe you?" I asked.

"Would it help if I drew you a picture?" Olivia asked.

"It might," I said, glaring at her.

"Perhaps I can provide some illumination," A man said from the shadows outside the room.

Olivia turned toward the voice and said, "She's not ready."

He replied, "It no longer matters. We're out of time."

Dr. Michaels offered a smile to the curiosity brimming in my eyes and said, "Try to keep an open mind."

The man in the shadows stepped forward into the light of the room. I stared at his familiar face and wondered what games were being played at my expense. Dr. Michaels and Olivia exited the room leaving Brian and I alone with the man. He was unmistakably Joseph Candle, but there was a difference as well, a greater depth to the wrinkles on his face and something about his eyes. I knew this man, but I did not know him at all.

"We haven't been properly introduced," He said, extending his hand to me. "My name is Joe Candle and you are my granddaughter."

The sound of his voice reverberated in my ears. It was different, softer, than the man I worked for and richer too. I had intuitively known he was similar and yet the same as Joseph Candle on our first encounter, but on that occasion I had not glimpsed his face at all. I had only felt his eyes on me and the cruelty with which he chose to attempt to elicit information from me. Anger still boiled in my veins over that meeting, but I knew it would serve no useful purpose for the moment. I pushed it aside and concentrated on the questions I needed answered.

Ignoring his extended hand, I asked, "Are you twins?"

He dropped his hand, looked me in the eye, and said, "No, more like reflections of each other."

"The same, but different," I said.

He flashed a smile and said, "Yes, my right is his wrong and vice versa."

"Why should I trust you?" I asked.

"I never suggested you should," He said. "Do you trust him?"

"No," I replied.

"That is encouraging at least," He said, nodding his head.

"You suggested you could explain things," I said.

"I can," He said, looking at Brian for a moment. "Matters are complicated though and time is short. I will attempt to be brief."

"I'm listening," I said.

He said, "My story began many years ago in the depths of a South American cave."

"And there was an earthquake," I said. "I've heard this before."

"Of course," He said. "During the quake, your grandmother fell into black pool of water. I tried to pull her out, but it was like something had grabbed hold of her. My eyes drifted toward the surface of the water, looking for solutions I suppose, but what I found was a set of hands identical to my own, reaching out of the water and wrapping themselves around my neck. At first I thought I was imagining things, but when my reflection crawled out of the water and dropped a rock on my head, I realized things were much more serious."

"Your reflection crawled out of the water and attacked you?" Brian asked, making no attempt to hide the disbelief he felt.

"Yes," Joe Candle said, "As incredible as it sounds, the story is true. He left me to die in that cave and if not for my old friend, Alex, I would have died that day as your grandmother did."

"Are you sure she died?" I asked.

"I dragged her body from the water myself and carried her all the way out of that cave," He said.

"I'm confused," I said.

He nodded and said, "Not surprising. The girl you see, the one who talks to you and claims to be your grandmother, she is nothing more than her reflection. Unlike my reflection though, she never made it out of the water. She remains trapped in a realm between worlds."

"How do you know this?" I asked, suspicious of his motives if not his veracity and sanity.

He said, "Because you told me."

I blinked. I said, "I think I would remember that."

"It is the past for me," He said, "but it is your future still."

"You're insane," I said, trying hard not to think too much on the old woman I met in my own travels.

"Perhaps," he said, sighing, "but if I am, then the world is as well."

"You said we were short on time," I said. "Why?"

"The pool in the cave is some sort of rift between dimensions. I would explain it better, but I've never quite grasped the intricacies of how it works," He said. "It operates on a schedule and the time is nearly upon us when it can be opened again."

"Can be?" I asked.

"It will be," He said.

"How can you be certain?" I asked.

"Because Joey has the key," He said.

"So you expect me to stop him?" I asked.

He shook his head, "It is too late for that. You have to close the rift."

"How?" I asked.

"I've collected everything you need," He said. "All that remains is for us to get you to the cave and you to do what you must."

"My nephew is the key, right?" I said and he nodded. I said, "And I am also a key."

He sighed and said, "Correct."

"How do I know this isn't just a trick to get me to open this thing then?" I asked.

"Because you already knew all of this from the messages you've sent yourself," He said.

"This should be impossible," I said.

He laughed, and said, "I stopped believing in impossible when my reflection nearly killed me."

"Why does Joey want to open the rift anyway?" I asked, remember the dreams where the question kept arising. The difference between then was supposed to be the why, and if so, I needed to know what that was.

He said, "He wants to finish what you started."

"What I started?" I asked.

Joe nodded and said, "You made a mistake and everything that has happened has been a result of that mistake."

"I don't understand how something I haven't even done yet can be causing problems now," I said.

"If I close this rift will it correct the mistake?" I asked.

He shrugged and said, "I don't know."

"Then how do I know closing the rift is what I'm supposed to do?" I asked.

"You have to trust yourself and your instincts," He said. "We are trapped in a chain of events only you can stop because you started them."

"Is this why you tried to kill me?" I asked.

He said, "I never tried to kill you."

"What about in Utah?" Brian asked and I nodded.

"It's true, I sent Olivia and Gina to feel you out. I wanted to know if you were my granddaughter or just another decoy being used by Joey," He said.

"And a helicopter full of armed goons," I said.

"Those were not my people. I underestimated Joey, he used his own people to attack the training camp and that combined with the presence of my real spies was enough to make you trust him more than me," Joe said.

"And in the Philippines? The torpedo, the hotel, on the road, you had nothing to do with any of that?" I asked.

"We made use of Joey's diversions, but Alex was not trying to kill you. He only wanted to make certain the crystal did not fall into Joey's hands," He said.

"That didn't work out quite right and then you decided to steal it and nearly threw me off the 32nd floor," I said.

"Olivia was trying to take you with her, not kill you," He said.

"You make it all sound so innocent, but I lived it and I was in fear for my life," I said.

"I can only offer as proof the fact you remain alive and we are standing here talking," He said.

"Right and last time we met, you stripped me naked, hung me from a chain and beat me," I said. "That doesn't sound very innocent to me."

He said, "True, I might have made a mistake then, but you had information I needed and you had just been involved in the death of one my men. I couldn't trust you and quite simply, a good spanking had a better chance of making you take a hard look at yourself and your surrounding than anything I could do or say."

"How can I believe you?" I asked.

"You have to decide what you want to do for yourself. No one else can tell you. If you want to go to the cave and stop Joey we need to leave soon, otherwise you are free to go," He said, stepping aside from the doorway, leaving me a clear path out.

I looked at Brian and he shrugged. There were no answers in the room, only more questions. The man of the shadows made sense in an odd sort of way and there was something about him, making him infinitely more likable than the Joseph Candle I knew. I wanted to believe him, wanted him to be the man truly related to me, to my mother, but a tiny voice in the back of my head warned, it was entirely possible, trusting him could be the mistake I was trying so hard to correct.

"There really isn't a choice," I said. "Let's go find this cave."

April 22, 2010

Losing Control: Tearful Ends

"As the Gods have abandoned us, so shall we abandon them."

I fell to my knees, wincing at the impact. The cool wetness of uncut grass brushed against my skin. Water droplets tickled my face in the breeze and my hair bounced against my shoulders and back. The sun felt warm on my face, but my body shuddered with cold and the sense of being watched by unseen eyes. Angry voices surrounded me, but I remained calm.

The snap of a whip in the air perked my ears and senses to attention. I choked back a scream, breathing through the burning kiss of the whip against my naked flesh. The crowd laughed, mocking me and the pain. My hands fought against their bindings and my eyes shot wide, with tears tugging at the corners. There was nothing to be seen but bright white.

"Who will save you now?" He asked and the ground began to tremble.

"It's time," Tom said, shaking me awake.

I blinked bringing the dash of our SUV into focus. Tom checked his gun and slipped it back in its holster under his arm. I grabbed my own and confirmed the safety was off and the ammo was of non-lethal variety. It had taken some arguing, but Joe had eventually surrendered to my demands on the subject. There were too many unanswered questions to go in shooting with lethal intentions, not to mention the risk to the hostages we were supposed to be rescuing.

"Are you sure?" I asked, studying the view outside the windshield.

Tom pointed to the plane on the airstrip and said, "The plane is in position. They'll be moving the hostages next. If we want to intercept them, now is the time."

I took a deep breath, feeling the adrenalin pumping through my veins. Tom looked at me, his face masking all emotion. If he felt any of the uncertainty or fear that was building inside me, he kept it well hidden. I stared at the building we believed to be holding the hostages and nodded. "Okay," I said.

"Once we start there is no turning back," Tom said.

"You think I'm wrong?" I asked.

Tom shook his head and said, "No, but even if we are right about everything, they still have us insanely outnumbered."

"You're saying we can't win," I said.

"I'm saying our only chance is surprise and if you have any doubts that might cause you to hesitate, then we don't have any chance at all," Tom said.

"I'm not trained for this," I said and Tom replied, "No you're not."

"But," I said looking Tom in the eye, "that's my family in there and if someone is wanting to know what I'm capable of, they're about to find out."

"Trust your instincts, trust me, and I swear I'll get you and them out of this," Tom said.

The conviction in his eyes made promises he could not say aloud. I said, "Tom—

"Don't," Tom said, laying a finger over my trembling lips. "Save it for when it's over."

I nodded and said, "Let's go."

He turned the ignition and slipped the transmission into drive. The engine roared to life and the tires kicked up dry dirt into a cloud surrounding us as we sped toward the chain link fence. I stared straight ahead at our target and not even the clank of metal against the windshield or the sound of gunfire could bring my eyes to blink closed. In the breath of a moment we were sliding to a stop in front of the building.

I kicked my door open and slipped out with my gun drawn and aimed straight ahead. With Tom right behind me, I pushed the front door open and marched inside, eyes scanning the interior for any signs of trouble or the people we were rescuing. Two guards stood staring blankly at us from a side hallway and before they could do anything more than blink I squeezed my trigger twice, dropping them both. We headed for the hallway.

The echo of military style boots alerted me to the presence of guards rushing toward the blind corner in front of us. I took aim just ahead of the corner and squeezed at the first sight of a shadow. The guard fell to the floor his unused gun slipping from his hand and sliding across the floor. From the footsteps I knew at least one more guard was waiting ahead for us. Surprise being our only advantage I pushed my pace to a run until just before the corner, where I dropped to the floor in a slide with my gun aimed for the corridor I could not see. As soon as the shapes registered in my eyes I squeezed off two more rounds, each hitting their targets with impressive accuracy that could only be luck.

Tom pulled me back to my feet with a single strong arm all the while watching both corridors. To my questioning eyebrows, he pointed toward a door with a magnetic lock. We moved to opposite side of the door and Tom inspected the lock and door, looking for a weakness to exploit. He pulled a grenade from his vest and I held my hand signalling him to wait.

"There could be someone on the other side," I said in a whisper.

Tom asked, "Do you have a better idea?"

"Yeah," I said, "knock and tell them we're ready."

He raised an eyebrow and shrugged, putting the grenade back. Two quick knocks on the door and he said, "We're ready for them."

Almost instantly the lock whirred and the door started to open. Tom gave it some help with the bottom of his boot and we charged inside. In the time it took me to get through the door, Tom had taken down three of the guards in the room leaving only one for me. The last guard had his gun raised as I squeezed the trigger and dropped him to the floor. It took another second before I realized my brother and his family were huddled on the floor against the far wall, staring at me with half open mouths.

Steve climbed to his feet and said, "What the hell is going on Allison?"

"Explanations later," Tom said, checking over his shoulder before giving Steve his attention. "Have you seen any one else being held here?"

"Who the hell are you?" Steve asked.

I said, "Steve, not now. Have you seen anyone else?"

"No," Steve said, "Now will you tell me what is going on?"

"Not here," I said, waving my nephew and Jenny to come over to me, "We need to get out of here and we don't have a lot of time. Stay close."

Tom and I turned toward the door as they moved to join us. A shot rang out and Tom coughed. I aimed at the doorway to find two guns pointed straighted at me. I blinked to focus on the owner and looked to Tom. His gun slipped from his hand, bouncing on the floor as he dropped to his knees, gasping for breath. A single hole through his vest told the story. Anger boiled in my veins even as tears stung at my eyes.

"Drop it V," Jack said, stepping through the doorway with Mark at his side.

I kept my gun trained on Jack's head and took a step back. Seeing the two men together had my head spinning, but I forced the questions into the background and focused on finding a way out. Jack knew me well enough to read the resistance in my eyes. He and Mark stepped from the shadows into the light and made it clear, I might be able to take one of them, but I would never get them both. Beside me, Tom slumped to the floor.

"Put it down," Jack said.

"This is my family Jack," I said, keeping my aim on him.

He said, "I know and if you cooperate, no one else needs to get hurt."

"Why?" I asked, trying to keep my eyes off of Tom and focused on Jack.

Mark said, "Put the gun down and we'll talk."

A door on the far end of the room opened and three more guards entered the room with guns pointed at me and my family. It was a hopeless situation. With no choice, I loosened my grip on the gun and leaned down to lay it on the floor at my feet. Halfway down, my eye caught Tom's. There was pain in them, but determination as well, he winked and indicated the other side of the room with the guards. I nodded once and left my gun on the floor. I lifted my hands in surrender and stood up straight.

"Is Gene with you too or did he just find out about you?" I asked, staring Jack in the eye.

Jack shook his head and said, "It's complicated, but you already know that. Step back."

I took a single step backward. The sound of a pin dropping next to Tom turned everyone's attention. I did not wait for the results, I charged Jack, grabbing his gun arm and kneeing him in the groin with all the force I could muster. Jack bellowed, but held tight to the gun. The other side of the room exploded into fire and light. I slammed the top of my head into Jack's nose, sending him stumbling backward, his gun waving useless in the air. Letting go of him I spun around, kicking him hard in the chest and sending him into the wall, before he crashed to floor. The three guards on the other side of the room were laying on the floor moaning and bleeding and Mark was steadying himself against the wall, raising his gun to aim at me. Tom shot him and rolled to the side on the floor, taking aim at Jack. I dived to the floor for my own gun and making it harder for Jack to get a bead on me. Tom and I shot him at the same time, dropping Jack in a limp puddle on the floor.

"Real bullets," Tom said in a raspy voice, looking at me as I crawled the short distance between us.

"I was wrong," I said, reaching out to him. "I'm sorry."

"You have to go," He said, grabbing my hand.

My eyes grew wide, glossed with tears and I said, "I'm not leaving you."

He smiled, the half cocky smile I had fallen in love with and said, "It's not your fault, kid. Take care of your family. I'll buy you as much time as I can. Now go."

Tom turned away from me and dragged himself along the floor toward the nearest door. Outside the sound of pounding boots echoed against the walls. Steve, Jenny and Geoff were huddled together, confused and scared. I pushed myself to my feet, blinking back tears and setting my jaw.

"Steve, help me," I said, grabbing Tom's arm and trying to pull him to his feet. Steve blinked at me and I said, "Now!"

Steve shook off whatever was holding him back and Tom said, "Allison—

"I'm not leaving you," I said, and Tom shook his head realizing I was not going to change my mind.

Steve ran to the other side of Tom and lifted him up off the floor to a standing position. Tom leaned against him heavily, leaving me free to move and I did. Stepping through the doorway with my gun at the ready, I led the way out. Guards were definitely coming but fortunately none were in sight yet. We headed for the exit as fast as we could with Steve half carrying, half dragging Tom.

I emptied my gun on a group of guards waiting for us at the end of the hall. One of them got off a wild shot that splintered wallboard next to my head, but I barely took note. Without missing a step, I ejected the empty clip and let it clatter on the floor while I slapped in a fresh one. As a group, we burst out of the building into the daylight.

The SUV was still running and waiting for us with the passenger door wide open. A shadow to my right caught my attention and I turned with my gun, squeezing the trigger before I was even certain anything was there. A guard dropped to the ground and another behind him started shooting wildly. A bullet sparked against the cement at my feet and another shattered the window in the open car door. I squeezed the trigger again and the shooting stopped.

"Get in," I said, helping Steve get Tom into the passenger seat. Jenny lifted Geoff into the backseat and climbed in after him. Steve fastened Tom into the seat and I made my way around to the driver's seat with bullets bouncing all around me as a group of guards ran toward us from the airstrip. As soon as Steve climbed in the back I floored the accelerator and turned the wheel to head us out the same way we had came in. I hit the auto call button on my phone attached to the dash and waited for Kyra to answer.

Steve said, "I want to know what the hell is going on Allison."

"Hang on," I said, spotting a military style jeep just before it slammed into the side of us. I fought the sideways slant and kept the SUV on course.

"I was beginning to worry," Kyra said, her voice breaking up over the speaker.

"We ran into some trouble," I said.

Tom grit his teeth through obvious pain as the SUV bounced on the uneven road. The bullet had passed straight through his vest and penetrated dangerously close to his heart. He kept his hand pressed against the wound, but there was very little blood. I did not need to be a doctor to know that was a very bad sign. I pushed aside the panic threatening to overwhelm me and focused on driving.

More military style jeeps joined the chase nearly surrounding us and making maneuvering more difficult by the second. They were definitely not going to let us get away easy and though I had known it from the start, I was beginning to worry I had not thought the plan through enough. Tom was not supposed to get hurt, nobody was supposed to get hurt, but for some reason the rules had changed.

I drove as erratically as I could manage without losing control. The jeeps swerved from side to side, breaking only at the last moment as I turned into their paths forcing them to stay behind us. Gun fire bounced along the road beside us, but they seemed more interested in capturing us than killing us. If either Geoff or I were some place else I have a feeling they would have just blown the SUV to pieces. Accelerating hard, I rammed us through a blockade, admiring the splintering lumber as it washed over the windshield.

Kyra said, “Allison, they’re cutting you off with jeeps from all directions.”

“Are you on the ground yet?” I asked.

“Almost, but you’ll never get through to the rendezvous,” Kyra replied.

I studied the satellite image on the small screen of my phone. The road blocks were obvious enough and Kyra was right, the only way to the rendezvous was through them. Monstrous as the SUV was, it could not possibly tank its way through. I was going to have to make a hole. I glanced at Tom and hoped he had enough fight left in him.

“You still with me?” I asked, grabbing his arm.

“Always,” He said, struggling with the effort to simply look in my direction.

“Kyra get the jet on the ground and as soon as the SUV is aboard, take off,” I ordered.

“But you can’t possibly get to it,” Kyra said in protest.

“I don’t have time to argue. Trust me, please,” I said.

“Alright. We’re moving in for final approach now,” Kyra said.

“Tom, you’re going to have to drive,” I said.

He stared at me for a moment and as our eyes locked I had no doubt he knew what I was planning. I braced for the argument to come, but Tom just gave me a half smile and said, "Thought you'd never ask."

I ejected the clip from my gun and slapped a fresh one into the hilt, knowing I would need every advantage. Grabbing the door handle with a steadiness I did not feel , I yanked and kicked the door open against the wind. I hit the breaks, turning the wheel at the same time so the closest jeep in pursuit slammed into the open door and ripped it from its hinges.

“What the hell are you doing?” Steve said, grabbing the back of my seat and pulling himself forward.

“What I have to. I’m sorry I got your family pulled into this, but I swear Tom and Kyra will get you home,” I said.

“What are you talking about?” Steve asked.

“Wish I had time to explain,” I said. “Kyra, when I took this job, Joe said if anything ever happened to me he'd make sure my family was taken care of, I expect you to hold him to it."

“Allison? What are you doing?” Kyra asked.

“Sorry, we're out of time,” I said.

Before I could change my mind or someone talked me out of it, I did what I had to do. I engaged the cruise control and made sure Tom had the wheel. With my gun in my hand I leaned out the side and gauged the distance to the jeep. Taking a deep breath, I jumped from the SUV, leaving the fate of my family in Tom's hands. In his condition it was a chance, but Tom Clark has a stubborn streak almost as strong as my own. He would get them to safety if it was the last thing he ever did and I hoped it was not.

Flying through the air I shot three of the four men in the jeep and then managed to twist my body around so that when the jeep hit me I slid on my butt on its hood until my back slammed into the windshield, cracking the glass. I allowed the momentum to carry me, flipping me over the windshield and landing in the backseat behind a stunned driver. He never had a chance.

I shoved him out of the jeep and took his place behind the wheel. Steve's pale and stunned face stared at me through the back side window of the SUV as I accelerated passed them. I forced a grim smile, figuring it would probably be the last time we ever exchanged looks. Tom was in the driver’s seat and looking better for having a purpose and goal. I pushed the jeep faster and sped out in front of them. My hand grabbed the automatic rifle from the lap of the unconscious man next to me. I aimed it over the cracked windshield and started firing as soon as the blockade was in sight.

They shot back at first but once they realized I was not slowing down, the men scrambled, desperate to get clear. It was only seconds before I hit the mass of vehicles and when I did the grinding crunch of metal was like fingernails on a chalkboard. I kept the accelerator married to the floor, but the damage from the collision was too much. I lost control of the jeep and it flipped into the air, turning the world upside down.

The SUV went by in what seemed like slow motion. I waited for the flashes of my life to flutter before my eyes or the ground to smash my skull into a million pieces. To my surprise neither happened. Upside down, the jeep crashed into the ground, but somehow the frame protected me from being crushed into oblivion. In the distance, I watched the SUV drive up the rear ramp of the waiting jet. The jet raised its ramp and sped off down the open stretch of road. I breathed a sigh of relief watching it lift off, carrying the people I cared about out of harm's way. My eyes fluttered closed, but the nearby crunch of broken glass under boots reminded me I was far from safe or alone.

April 19, 2010

Losing Control: Too Many Questions

I could hear the crash of tidal waters against a rocky shore. The faint scent of salt and seaweed tickled at my nose and the wind left droplets of ocean spray on my bare skin. My wrists were bound by smooth metal bracelets, dangling in front of me. Covering my eyes, a strip of white cloth revealed only the brightness of daylight. The sun felt warm on my back, but the murmur of unfriendly voices sent a shiver down my spine. A single man's voice rose above all the others and silence fell upon the others.

He said, "As the Gods have abandoned us, so shall we abandon them."

The crowd cheered. A rough hand touched the center of my naked back and shoved me forward. I stumbled and fell to my knees, unable to catch myself with bound hands. The crowd laughed. I focused on the sound of rolling waves and smiled, calmed by the essence of nature. The rough hand grasped my shoulder, fingertips pressing deep into the bare flesh.

"Allison," Tom said and I shuddered.

Groaning, I pushed my head up from my desktop and blinked away the remnants of the unsettling dream. Tom removed his hand from my shoulder and took a step back, giving me room to stretch and yawn. A quick glance at the clock told me I had been asleep for the better part of two hours. I nodded at Tom's concerned expression and unspoken question.

"We just picked up two of the cellphones in the same location," Tom said.

I looked through the glass barriers to see Kyra working away at the conference table and asked, "The computers are back?"

"Kyra got her system up about 15 minutes ago," He said.

I stood up and started to walk out to the main room. Tom grabbed my arm, stopping me in my tracks. I asked, "Something else?"

He said, "I'm sorry."

"For what?" I asked.

"Letting you down. I promised I would keep your family safe and I failed," He said.

"This wasn't your fault," I said, laying a supportive hand on his shoulder. "I don't blame you at all."

He nodded and together we walked out into the main room, joining Kyra at the conference table. She glanced up from the screens to acknowledge our presence, but continued with her work without pause. Across the room, Mom and Dad were sitting together on the floor, Mom resting her head on Dad's shoulder and he with his cheek resting on the top of her head. I spend so much time in conflict with them on silly issues, I rarely notice the tenderness and love that should be so obvious. I envied them the connection and, looking at Tom, wondered if I ever might find the same for myself.

"A third, just joined our first two," Kyra said nodding at the computer screen where three red dots blinked on top of a map. "I'll have a satellite in position in just a few moments and we can verify if the location is a likely base or just a rendezvous point."

I raised and eyebrow and in response Tom said, "It's not unusual to use a rendezvous point when a team has been split up, before returning to a primary location. The idea is to verify that no one is tracking or following them before they re-establish connection with their whole."

"I guess it makes sense if you are paranoid," I said.

Kyra glanced up at me with a slight smirk and said, "Is it still paranoia if they really are after you? I mean, we are tracking these people."

"How long before we know?" I asked, ignoring Kyra's comments.

"The satellite is coming into position now," She said. "It will take me about five minutes to gather the data I need to begin an evaluation. From there, it really depends on what I find, but no more than a couple of hours."

"Let me know when you have something," I said and retreated back to my office with Tom following.

I sat down in my chair and Tom resumed his place on the corner of my desk. My thoughts were with Kyra and the data on her screen, but I knew standing over her shoulder was not going to help get things done faster. In truth, it would slow Kyra down and probably annoy her to boot. There was a time that might have been reason enough for me to stay. These days, I am realizing how lucky I am to have friends with the skills to help.

"What you thinking?" Tom said, after a moment of silence.

I looked up at him and wondered why he was there. He did not have to follow me around, offer support or help or anything and yet there he was, trying to find ways to help. Ordinarily, the question would have never occurred to me, but that was before I met myself on the top of mountain, before I learned the people who should care about me the most had spent a lifetime lying to me. Was it innocent concern in his eyes or was it something else, darker, more dangerous?

"Nothing," I said and he replied, "I've known you long enough to know that isn't the truth."

I sighed and said, "I'm thinking nothing is what it seems to be."

"What do you mean?" Tom asked.

"You once admitted to me, you had questions about what we do here. Have you ever considered that what we've been doing may not be as important as why we've been doing it?" I said.

"I've asked the question of why, if that's what you mean," Tom said.

I said, "Not exactly, we were chasing down pieces of a puzzle because they were necessary for something larger, something more important, but why did Mr. Candle ever even care?"

"Not for nothing, but he is your grandfather and obviously this stuff involves you, possibly endangers your future. I'd say he has a vested interest," Tom said.

"That would make sense if you didn't know the rest of the story," I said. "If family really mattered to him so much, then why did he abandon his children in the wake of their mother's death?"

"Maybe it took him a while to realize what mattered to him or maybe there is a part of the story you still don't know. I don't think you can fairly judge him without asking some of those tough questions," Tom said.

"So I'm supposed to pretend all the lies, the abandonment, that none of it matters?" I asked, looking up into Tom's eyes. He stared back answering with the silent conviction I was beginning to adore. I said, "He's had every opportunity to tell his side of things and he chose misdirection and silence instead. Maybe he has his reasons, but I'm done waiting to find out what they are."

Tom nodded with a sympathetic smile and said, "I understand and I'm with you, for whatever you need. All I'm saying is even with everything we've learned in the last few days, I'm pretty sure we still don't know everything we should."

I said, "And I agree. I'm just pretty sure he knows more than we do and he's withholding it for some reason."

"Maybe he has a good reason," Tom said.

"Or maybe we're working for the villain in all of this," I said.

"After everything that has happened, do you really believe that?" Tom asked, his eyes clearly saying he did not.

"That's just it," I said, crossing my arms in front of me, "After everything I've been through, I've learned to trust my instincts and my instincts are telling me not to trust Joseph Candle."

"So these people are resorting to kidnapping and theft because the ends justify the means? I'm sorry I've never bought that argument," Tom said.

"Really?" I said, shaking my head. "We've killed people in our presumption that what we are doing is right."

"Only when we had to," Tom said, "and it's not like these others haven't killed as well."

I pulled out my gun and ejected the cartridge, tossing it into Tom's hands. He stared at the tips of the bullets and then looked at me with raised eyebrows. He asked, "Where did you get this?"

I said, "From our deadly adversaries."

"These are part of a confidential development project for the U.S. government," Tom said.

"I know. Joe showed them to me the day he hired me, but our adversaries have been using them," I said. "While we have bullets that can incapacitate, just a few floors below us, we are running around using the real thing and potentially killing people. Our adversaries are apparently going to the trouble of stealing these bullets so that they can avoid doing the same. If that doesn't sound a bit odd to you, then I don't know what would."

"What about Bad Land?" Tom asked. "They used real bullets there."

"Somebody used real bullets there," I said.

"What are you suggesting?" Tom asked.

"Olivia was there for me, no doubt about it and probably Gina too, but we have no evidence to suggest the men who raided the camp were related to them at all. In fact, one of them nearly killed Gina," I said.

"If they had these," Tom said holding the clip up, "Then it was just a show, most likely."

"Or," I said, staring into his eyes, "Those men were sent by Joe to make sure I was convinced he was the good guy."

"We can't prove that," Tom said.

I nodded and said, "No, but we can't disprove it either and right now, I'm not willing to ignore possibilities just because they sound a little far fetched. We're in the middle of something very big and for whatever reasons, everyone who knows exactly what that is, doesn't want us in on it. That makes me not trust anyone."

The phone on my desk rang and I answered via speaker. Kyra said, "I've got something."

Tom and I made our way out to the main room and stood behind Kyra. She had several images up on the various screens. Tom was nodding, no doubt already forming tactical plans in his head. To me it was all a little overwhelming and difficult to find meaning. Kyra turned from the screens and looked up at me with a faint smile on her lips. She was proud of her work.

"What are we looking at?" I asked.

"Satellite and infrared images. This is more than a rendezvous point," Kyra said turning back to the screens and clicking on something to bring it up larger before us. "Recognize that?"

It was obviously an airplane of some sort and then it hit me what she had to be suggesting. I asked, "The plane they used to get Dr. Michaels?"

"Bingo," Kyra said. "There is a good chance Jack and Gene are somewhere inside this compound."

Tom reached over Kyra's shoulder and pointed to another image. He said, "This looks like a training area."

Kyra tapped a couple of keys and the image was replaced by a series of images. She said, "I pulled up a time lapse and you're right. You can see the people here and here."

"Then we're looking at their main headquarters?" I asked.

"Not likely," Kyra said, "but there is a good chance they're holding your nephew here as well as Jack, Gene, and Brian."

"What makes you say that?" Tom asked.

Kyra clicked on another image, making it larger and said, "This here is clearly, holding cells. There were two people in them on my first pass but, you can see here, another one joins and here, three more. Based on the numbers alone, it's a good chance this the place."

Tom nodded and said, "This temporary most likely, now that they know we'll be looking."

Kyra said, "Yeah, I bet they'll be gone in 24 to 48 hours. The plane is obviously available and if they black out our coverage, we won't have a clue where to look next."

"Then we have to move fast," I said.

Tom nodded and said, "The only problem is we are severely out numbered."

"We need an element of surprise," I said.

Tom and Kyra turned to look at me, eyebrows raised. Kyra asked, "What are you thinking?"

"Get the jet prepped for take off," I said, looking at the screens and specifically at the map.

"They'll see us coming long before we get in range," Kyra said.

I nodded, "Yes, but that's the idea."

"Get them to move the hostages," Tom said, looking at me with a little more respect.

"You and I need to get down there and fast," I said looking at Tom.

"What about me?" Kyra asked.

"You're the diversion and our way out," Tom said and I nodded.

April 16, 2010

Losing Control: Tense Relations

Quondam tower looked to be in the middle of a war zone. Police and emergency vehicles surrounded the building and blocked most of the streets off, only allowing a few vehicles through like mine. Shattered glass from most of the floors, covered the concrete walkways and the once beautiful gardens were nothing more than mud and footprints. Mom and Dad followed me through the disaster and inside the building.

Cathy sat off to the side on a plastic chair while medics cleaned cuts on her legs and arms. She was giving a statement to a police office, kneeling beside her, but managed to interrupt everything to greet us.

"The elevators are still down, Ma'am," She said as if she felt she needed to apologize. "You'll have to take the stairs."

I nodded and asked, "Are you alright?"

She feigned a smile and replied, "Of course, nothing a shower and a good night's rest won't cure."

I walked to the stairwell door and ushered my parents inside wondering how long it would be before Mom started complaining. She surprised me and kept quiet until we were about twenty floors up. Dad hushed her though, probably sensing I was not in a mood to be bothered by trivialities or perhaps it was because neither was he. I was grateful regardless.

At the twenty-ninth floor, we encountered security guards and they radioed up that we were coming. Tom met us at the top with a grim expression to mirror my own. I stepped out on the top floor followed closely by my parents. The security door into Q5 was little more than shredded metal. I tried not to think too long on how that had happened. Kyra stood at the remains of the central conference table surrounded by smoking equipment and flashing displays.

"What happened?" I asked, coming to a stop near the middle of the open room.

"Kemp," Kyra said with obvious disgust, "led a team in here. They fought their way up from the lobby and took out all the security systems along with most of our processing power. They knocked Tom and I out and when we came back around, Brian, the staff and all Gene's notes were gone."

"I thought we revamped security after the last breach?" I said looking at Tom.

"We did," Kyra said, "They had inside help, disabled half our systems with explosives before we even knew anything was happening."

"Do we know who?" I asked.

Tom said, "No, and most of the evidence has likely been destroyed."

I nodded frowning and said, "Before this happened, were there any alerts about Mark coming back into the country?"

Tom shook his head, "Nothing."

"That means he came in through an unmonitored route. How many are local to California?" I asked.

Tom shrugged.

"Find out," I said.

"Without the computer systems we're blind," Kyra said.

I sighed and said, "Believe it or not, the world still functioned in a time before computers and the internet and satellites. Get a map and a phone and start running down the possibilities."

"Even if we figure out where he came in, how does that help us?" Tom asked.

"It gives us a direction," I said. "We already know they're well connected in Central and South America. The place in Chile was convenient for them, but it wasn't their base. Guatemala, Belize, Southern Mexico, and Ecuador have to all be within easy range of their operational headquarters."

Tom said, "I get it, but knowing Mark's point of entry won't narrow down the possibilities."

"I never said it would," I said. "Finding his point of entry will lead us to a person and that person may well know information we need to know."

"There is another way," Kyra said.

"I'm all ears," I said.

"The plane in Mexico, the one they took Gene on," Kyra said.

"What about it?" I asked.

"It had a limited range and combined with the regions they blacked out from coverage, I think we can establish a search parameter based on that data and from there I can narrow it down as soon as we get satellite coverage back up," Kyra said.

"How long?" I asked.

"Twelve hours, maybe ten if I call in a few favors," She said.

"Call them in, and in the meantime we don't stop searching," I said, looking between the only two remaining members of my team.

"It won't matter," Mr. Candle said, walking into the room behind me. "In half that time, they will have relocated."

I turned around to find he and my parents staring coldly at each other. "What do you suggest then?" I asked.

"It's been a long time," Mr. Candle said, looking at Mom.

"Nowhere near long enough," She said.

"I take it you've told her," Mr. Candle said.

"I did, but I think she had already put it together for herself," Mom said.

"No thanks to either of you," I said. "If there are any more dark family secrets, it would be nice if you'd tell me now, instead of letting me stumble face first into them."

"Family?" Tom asked, with a raised eyebrow and Kyra mouthed the same.

"Miss Beaumont is my granddaughter," Mr. Candle said.

"Now that, I actually believe," Kyra said.

I turned toward her with a questioning eyebrow of my own. She shrugged and said, "You're both as stubborn as a thirsty mule."

Dad said, "I've been working on that."

Tom said, "Obviously without much success."

Dad nodded and I shook my head. "My nephew has been kidnapped folks," I said. "Let's see what we can do about correcting that situation."

"Don't forget your brother and his wife," Mom said and Kyra added, "Or Gene, Jack, and Brian."

"Allison is right," Tom said, "Her nephew is exactly the catalyst for everything. If we get him then their plans are foiled and no one else will have any value to them."

"Not to be pessimistic, but doesn't that mean they might use them as leverage if they lose her nephew?" Kyra asked.

"They might try, but a lot more is at stake than a few lives," Tom said.

"Easy to say, when it's not your son's life," Mom said.

"Arguing gets us nowhere," I said. "We will do what we can to free everyone they are holding, but as long as they hold Geoff everyone is in danger. He has to be the priority."

"I disagree," Mr. Candle said turning his focus to me, "We must locate this cave and seal it off so no one can ever enter it. If we are successful then it is likely all the prisoners will be released unharmed."

"Based on what?" I asked.

"Logic," Mr. Candle replied.

"Forgive me if I don't hold my breath for our adversaries to act logically," I said.

"There is no call to be rude, Miss Beaumont. Our goal should be to stop the event from occurring not racing against the clock to rescue individuals we may or may not be able to locate in time," Mr. Candle said.

"We don't know where that cave is and our ability to find it before they do is not guaranteed, especially with out lack of equipment and people," I said gesturing at the room around us. "The only way to stop them for certain is to ensure my nephew and I are unable to get anywhere near that cave."

"And if you go on some half-cocked rescue and get yourself captured, they'll be holding all the cards," Mr. Candle said.

I said, "It's not your call."

"Like hell it isn't," He said.

I said, "I'm in charge of this team at the moment and without me, you don't have a hope of finding the cave in the first place. So you can either fire me or do this my way. It's up to you, but I'm not leaving my nephew with those people regardless of your decision."

"You fire her, you might as well fire me too," Tom said, stepping up next to me and Kyra said, "Make it the same for me."

Joseph Candle frowned at the three of us, clearly disappointed in his inability to sway our decisions. Mom and Dad were looking at me with something akin to respect for about the first time in my life. I bet the pride was beaming off my face, but there was no time to stand around basking in the glow. We had plans to make and locations to find.

"Fine," Mr. Candle said. "But don't say I didn't try to warn you."

I took a step closer to him, anger getting the best of me for a moment and said, "You're pitiful warning is way too little, way too late. The entire time I've been here you have lied, manipulated and hid behind cryptic clues. It's laughable to think you really want to help me now."

"You have no right to judge me," Mr. Candle said, snapping his finger and glowering at me.

Mom stepped between us and said, "She has every right. This entire thing is your fault. You run from every responsibility you've ever had and blame all your troubles on other people who didn't measure up to your impossible standards. Guess what? You don't measure up and if anything good has come out of this, it's that she knows that for herself and I'll bet somewhere underneath that shell you hide behind, you know it too."

"Say what you want, but we both know you are the one who ran," Mr. Candle said. "Maybe it was too much responsibility for someone your age, but we all have to grow up sometime. It's too bad you never have."

He turned and started walking away. Mom moved as if to go after him, but Dad held her back. I was seething myself, but I knew arguing with Joseph Candle was not going to solve any of my problems. I laid a hand on Mom's shoulder and offered her a smile of sympathy before turning my attention back to Tom and Kyra.

"We need to find them," I said.

"I'm open to suggestions," Kyra said.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket, handing it to her and said, "I downloaded the data from the cellphones of some of the men who attacked us at my brother's house. They're probably up and moving by now. If you can find a way to track them we might just get lucky."