• EK Jonathan

Chapter 8

Settled on a sprawling six hundred acres of flat waterfront southeast of San Francisco sat the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. The property had through the years transferred hands multiple times, from private shipbuilders to government entities to condominium developers. Shortly before the outbreak of the great tribulation, the environmental protection agency deemed the land hazardous after discovering that despite years of concentrated rehabilitation, soil and water samples revealed high counts of radiation. But now, with most major US cities brought to their knees, and with the greater national infrastructure reduced to shambles, environmental protection was at the top of no one’s list of concerns.

Within two days of the initial blackouts in California, a joint force of US Army and Navy troops had burst onto the waterfront, secured the perimeter with a chain link fence and sentry towers, and set up camp. Previously abandoned structures were quickly boarded up or covered in canvas sheets and turned into makeshift command centers, armories, mess halls, and barracks.

Within one month, Hunters Point became the United States’ most important military base on the West Coast, and what troops were left from California to Arkansas were instructed to rendezvous here, regardless of which military or paramilitary division they belonged to. The armed forces, it was assumed, would be better off defending a central location until the fires died down and whatever was left of society could slowly begin to stabilize.

The inevitable result was a frenetic, overcrowded hive buzzing with helicopters and police motorcycles ferrying in personnel and supplies. Tents––both military and civilian––had sprung up in every available space to house the troops and their families. But space had been at a premium, with many non-immediate family members being refused entry at the gates. Violent fights ensued over this and other policies, resulting in the erection of a large roadside sign that explained in no uncertain terms that any attempt at forcible entry would result in a swift, lethal response.

To further protect the base and its occupants, multiple layers of fences and palisades had been erected, along with a half-mile walled-in alley of gates and checkpoints stretching from the entrance to Hunters Point all the way to the exit ramp from Highway 101. Any vehicle attempting entry could only do so here, navigating the checkpoints one at a time before finally being granted entry to the base. Armed soldiers perched atop towers laced in razor wire pinned down the vehicles in their floodlights, the blue beams bathing the cars in an ethereal glow as they underwent meticulous inspection. Slowly they crawled through the security gauntlet. Above them, helicopter rotors hacked at the air, slicing into the black night with their own searchlights. Swirling plumes of dust and smoke moved through the base.

Chad Harkett finally emerged from the armored truck to find himself surrounded by tanks, Humvees, supply trucks, and an assortment of police and SWAT cars. Many bore the unmistakable scars of violence: charred siding, shorn sections of metal and tarpaulin, bullet holes. Fire trucks with long, winding hoses roved constantly around the premises, misting the air with water.

A woman in army fatigues shoved an oiled poncho into Chad’s arms. “Put it on,” she barked. “You’ll be soaked to the bone in no time.”

“What’s with all the water hoses?” Chad asked, slipping into the poncho and slinging his bag over a shoulder. His face was already wet with salty, stale water.

“Helps keep dust and ash out of the air. Also keeps the gasoline situation at bay.”

“Gasoline situation?”

“Lotta these vehicles are leaking oil and gas. One of those drifting embers from the fires hits a puddle and it’s over. Gotta keep it all diluted and running off into the bay.”

“Wonderful. All this gets dumped right into the ocean,” Jay said bitterly from over Chad’s shoulder. No one responded.

“Your barracks are over there, to the south of the camp. You’ll be boarding with other civilians, but you’re expected to live just like the rest of us. Don’t expect any special treatment. Now hit the showers, get some shut eye, and we’ll reconvene here at oh-six-hundred tomorrow morning. Understood?”

The two civilians nodded uneasily and wandered to their tent. There were others inside waiting––some reading books, others chatting or napping. A man wearing a pair of headphones warmed food over an electric stove in the corner. A few glanced up at the newcomers, but no one welcomed them. The expressions on the faces here were all the same: sallow, dark, and hopeless.

The end was near, that much was clear.

***

In spite of yet another sleepless night, Peter didn’t feel tired, nor did he much feel like sleeping. A tremendous weight had been lifted from his shoulders with Angelica’s safe extraction. He could hardly believe, in fact, just how smoothly things had gone. Not only was she safe and sound and reunited with her son, Evan, but she appeared to be doing remarkably well, both physically and emotionally.

After the extraction the night before, Team Bravo had whisked the sister straight to the infirmary, where a small unit of doctors and nurses had been on standby. They had been told to expect a semi-conscious woman with a strong possibility of physical abuse, and so the thin, chatty sister who arrived at their doors walking on her own two feet was something of a surprise. She was neither injured nor visibly traumatized, and while she asked for something to eat and drink, she didn’t show signs of malnourishment. Clearly, she’d been well taken care of.

Satisfied that she was in no pressing danger, the doctors left for the night, though Angelica agreed to stay in the infirmary for a couple of nights to be monitored. A second bed was wheeled into her room at her request, so that she and Evan could spend the night together. It was a teary reunion, and Peter left them alone. It was nearly eight o’clock in the morning when Peter Burton finally slipped back into his apartment and collapsed onto his bed.

He was woken late that afternoon by a knock on his door. It was Charles Garboni. He held a turkey sandwich wrapped in cellophane in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. Peter ate as the two walked to the conference room. Peter was still waking up as he took the first bite of his sandwich.

“So tell me, Charles, was everything from last night real or did I just dream it up?” Peter said, only half joking.

“Not a dream, Pete. We got both of them. Unharmed, too,” Brother Garboni said, grinning widely.

“I can’t believe the chloroform worked. Frankly, it seemed like a long shot. How is he, by the way?” “Conscious and quiet from what I’ve heard. The brothers delivered a meal this afternoon; he’s not eating.”

“I hope they know to be careful.”

“Absolutely. We won’t make the same mistake twice,” Charles said with a stony look.

The two bothers descended the levels of Rig 7 one by one, eventually coming to the outer catwalk which led to the locker rooms where the infiltrator had been hiding. The doors had by now been unlocked and opened, although the brothers were careful not to disturb the contents of the rooms. There would be no official investigation made now that Angelica was safe and her captor locked away, but the overseers were still curious about how this stranger had remained hidden for so long. Whatever details could be gleaned from this event would be carefully documented, compiled, and shared with the branch.

Peter knelt in the room where Angelica had been kept. Apart from a stack of cardboard on the floor, a few dusty sacks, and a storage shelf littered with cans and food wrappers from the cafeteria, the room was bare. The second room offered a little more. Against one wall, a tiered shelf beside a narrow workbench and stool held an assortment of strange items: disassembled light bulbs, small sections of rigid rubber hosing, a handful of lighters, and several bottles of cleaning chemicals.

“We think he pilfered most of this stuff from the kitchen,” Charles said, leaning against the doorframe as Peter pored carefully over the items.

“I’m surprised no one reported any of this missing. There’s a lot here.”

“I doubt anyone would’ve noticed if he was taking things at different times and from different areas. The cleaning supplies could’ve come from anywhere.”

“Looks like he set up his own little chemistry lab,” Peter observed.

“I’m thinking that’s exactly what he did. Clever, using the light bulbs as beakers. I certainly wouldn’t have thought of that. Pretty crazy, this all being under our noses the whole time.”

“Scary to think what he was capable of,” Peter agreed. He felt a chill run up his spine and had to remind himself that it was all over. Or was it? With the man now in captivity, what would happen next?

“Well, I think we’ve learned about all we can from here,” Charles finally said, rubbing his eyes. He’d been on his feet for at least as many hours as Peter had been.

“Now what?” Peter asked, pulling his gaze away from the contents of the shelf long enough to see the exhaustion in the older man’s eyes.

Charles Garboni smiled wanly. “Now we go talk to him.”

***

Joyce Tucker had spent the better part of the last two days in her cabin sprawled out on her bunk, sipping Earl Grey from a thermos and watching medical training videos on her iPad. She’d taken extensive notes. In many ways, she couldn’t help but feel like she was back in medical school, sitting through her professors’ lectures and cramming in late night study sessions to pass her exams. It was odd, to be so far away from that old life while evoking its memories and emotions so vividly. But perhaps even more poignant to her now were the echoes in her head, the words that kept rattling around from the conversation she’d had with Roderick Munoz. Though she’d held her tongue at the time, she couldn’t help feeling slighted at the way he’d described the medical community she’d been a part of for so long.

Now though, having watched so many of the videos from the branch, with their carefully delineated instructions and cautions on medical procedures and health care, she had to admit that this was something entirely different from what she’d studied in school. This was superior. The fact was, as difficult as Roderick’s words had been to stomach back in the cafeteria, even then Joyce had detected kernels of truth.

For one, Roderick’s portrayal of the medical community was accurate: headstrong, arrogant doctors and surgeons had been the norm at West Hill. Even those whose bedside manner exhibited calm, caring demeanors frequently clashed with colleagues behind closed doors. Diagnoses and procedures were topics of hot debate, and it was common for doctors to go for months without talking to each other after some tantrum had been thrown. So much was predicated by the doctors’ reputations that mistakes were rarely owned up to. Errors were instead swept under the rug, their aftermath dumped into the arms of whatever overworked nurse or scrub tech happened to be standing by at the time. Some of those mistakes hurt patients.

And medical school hadn’t been much better. In her four years at the University of Washington, Joyce’s professors had displayed traits similar to the doctors she would later work beside. She recalled only now, though somewhat distantly, how grating their condescending, conceited attitudes had felt at first, but how she’d eventually grown accustomed to it, and even in some subtle ways grown to admire it. After all, they were simply determined to put the lives of patients’ first, weren’t they? Why should they worry about a little thing like stepping on others’ feelings to provide the best possible medical care?

Such behavior had seemed excusable at the time, but Joyce could see now how poisonous that atmosphere had been, and how it had affected her thinking as the years trickled by. The fact was, the longer she worked at West Hill, the more strained her relationship with Alvin and certain others in the congregation had become. At times, she even suspected that Alvin suffered from depression due to their marital stress, but they’d never discussed it. She wondered now how much of that pressure she’d brought home with her after long, grueling shifts at West Hill.

It was only now, viewing the medical training videos on her iPad that she appreciated the contrast between the health care offered in Jehovah’s organization and that of the world. The humility and genuineness conveyed by each of the speakers and doctors was unmistakable. Roderick was right.

Joyce Tucker wondered how many other doctors, physicians, surgeons, and nurses had reached this same revelation; how many of her brothers and sisters had breathed a sigh of relief realizing that now they could attend to their patients without the fear of being belittled by some colleague, or the fear of a scalpel thrown their way by an angry surgeon in an operating room. Joyce guessed it wasn’t a small number.

She took a deep breath, drawing her attention from the gradually lightening morning sky outside her cabin back to the tablet before her and pressed play again.

***

Peter climbed down the grated metal stairways, winding his way down to the bowels of the rig where the diesel generators groaned and hissed––large, grumbling machines that faithfully kept their platform powered on its slow course through the Atlantic. Several steps ahead of him, Charles Garboni led the way. Bands of yellow light raced over the back of his head and shoulders as he passed beneath a trellis of pipes and conduits. The men said nothing; Peter’s mind was still formulating the questions he’d want to ask as soon as they reached their destination, and he figured Charles was doing the same.

The cage had been assembled in a cramped but well-ventilated room adjacent to the generators. A steel door offered some barrier to the incessant mechanical din from the engine room. Their captured intruder sat on the floor of the cage, legs outstretched, ankles crossed. If he was fearful or apprehensive, he certainly didn’t show it. His gaze was black and empty. Looking into his eyes, Peter felt as if he were leaning precariously over a cliff to peer down an endless hole. Next to him on the floor sat a paper plate with a sandwich and a bag of chips. Neither had been touched.

“Not hungry?” Peter said with a glance at the food. The pitch of his voice was higher than he would’ve liked. The man shrugged.

“It’s not poisoned, if that’s what you’re thinking. We have no desire to harm you,” Peter added, trying to be reassuring but feeling little in the way of compassion. The man glanced down at the sandwich, shrugged again, and finally relented, opening it slowly and taking a bite. He chewed thoughtfully as his eyes examined the faces of each man in the room. Rotating pairs of watchmen had been assigned to keep guard. The two now on duty stood at the far wall silently, wary expressions on their faces.

“So, I’ll take it that James isn’t your real name,” Peter said. He pulled up a chair and sat a few feet from the cage. The man said nothing. He finished the sandwich slowly. Peter wondered what it felt like to be a trained professional and be bested by a small team of inexperienced, unarmed men.

“What were you planning on doing with Angelica Parry?” Peter attempted. This seemed to catch the man’s attention. He paused, narrowing his eyes as he peered at his captor.

“If I tell you everything, what happens to me?”

“Same thing that happens if you keep silent. You stay in this box until we figure out what to do with you.”

“Not much incentive to talk, then.”

“It’s your choice.”

“I’d like a phone call.”

“Wouldn’t do you any good. Last we heard, phone lines are down all across the US. No way to get calls in or out of the mainland.”

“Do you know that for yourself, or are you simply relying on the what others have told you?”

“I saw enough when I was on land to know where things were headed. And I’ve seen recent images as well. There’s no reason for me to doubt the reports.”

“You people sure are trusting of your superiors,” the man said with a faint smirk.

“That’s a funny thing for you to say,” Peter shot back. “Wasn’t it exactly that––trust in your employer––which led you on this crazy mission in the first place?”

The man smiled now. “Go on.”

“I may not have all the facts, but I have a theory: you were sent here by Angelica’s ex––Chad Harkett, if I recall the name correctly. You were sent to bring the two of them back to him, but things went wrong.”

“If you know so much, why ask me what I was planning on doing with the woman?”

Peter shrugged. “I wanted to give you a chance to clear the air. And I’m curious: exactly how did you expect to escape from this rig with two captives in tow?”

“It was a work in progress.”

“Well, not anymore. The road ends here.”

“Let me ask you something, then,” the man asked. Peter frowned and nodded.

“Is it really true that none of your men are armed?”

Peter mulled over the question before replying. “Why do you ask?”

“Curious is all. It just seems unbelievable, that you’d risk so much on these waters and then neglect to arm your guards.”

“What about you? Were you armed?”

“When I boarded your ferry back in New Orleans, yes. But I had to get rid of most of my equipment when I boarded the supply boat.”

“So neither of us is armed, then.”

“I can make do without weapons,” the man said, his expression darkening.

“As can we.”

The man paused, his gaze penetrating. “Do you really believe it? That your God is protecting you somehow?”

Peter nodded without hesitation. “Do you think I’d board a fleet of rigs in the middle of the ocean and head to a strange continent if I didn’t have that kind of faith?”

“I’ve seen seemingly normal people do strange things, sane people do crazy things. Faith and stupidity are sometimes two sides of the same coin.”

“Blind faith, maybe. But my faith––our faith––is different. We are acting based on facts and years of observation. The world is in its final stages, I’m afraid. And we fully expect to outlive it. We’re not rolling dice.”

“Time will tell.”

Peter nodded. There was no point in arguing. He doubted now that much more could be gained from a conversation with this criminal.

“How much longer will you keep me here?” the man asked as Peter stood and put away the chair.

“I don’t have an answer for you,” Peter said. “You’ve got us in a predicament. We aren’t about to let you go, but we don’t really want you here, either. Unfortunately, there’s no place for you now. We will treat you as civilly as possible, but we’re not stupid. We won’t be taking any chances. For now, this is your home.”

The man smiled. “Fine. I can respect that.”

Peter tried to ignore the uneasy feeling coursing through his veins. He nodded with a grunt and turned towards the door.

“By the way, Peter, my name is Santiago Pérez,” the man called after him. Peter paused, the hair rising on the back of his neck. The fact that this man knew his name solidified his malaise. He turned.

“But you can call me Thiago.”

***

“What a night, huh?” Mikey Glover said, plopping down onto the sofa beside his nephew, Cary. Comprising Team Foxtrot, the two had been instrumental in the discovery and capture of the rig’s intruder the night before. Though the operation had kept both men up for most of the night, Mikey didn’t feel tired. If anything, he’d found the experience exhilarating. He offered the younger man a small packet of peanuts but was waved away.

“Tina?” Mike asked. Cary nodded slowly, his expression stoic.

“Got into another fight. Soon as I walked in the door. It was like she was waiting for me,” Cary said sourly.

“What’s her deal?” Mikey asked. The couple had been married only two years, but the problems had been many. They’d wed too young, Mikey thought; neither was very experienced or mature. He worried about them often and frequently acted as a confidant.

“Same old stuff. She’s just not adjusting to life here. Sick of the food, sick of the people. Sick of me.”

“The people? Why’s that?” Mikey asked.

“Some issue between her and a couple of other sisters on her work crew. Tina said they’ve been spreading rumors, they say Tina’s lazy and entitled.”

Mikey bit his lip. He was sure Cary had accused his wife of the same thing at least a dozen time in their two years together, and not always behind her back.

“Did she try sorting it out with them, maybe sit down for some coffee and hash it all out?” Mikey suggested.

“Yeah, right. This is Tina we’re talking about,” Cary said, rolling his eyes. “And anyway, that’s just part of the problem. This whole place is getting to her, man. It’s driving her crazy, and I’m the one that has to deal with the aftermath. And it’s not like I can blame her, either. I mean, it’s not like any of us knew we were gonna be stuck out here at sea for months, let alone moving to some continent halfway across the globe. And then we start rationing the food, and now the water!”

Mikey tried to ease the tension with a chuckle but Cary didn’t notice. “Well, it could be a whole lot worse,” Mikey said.

“I don’t see how,” Cary scoffed.

“We could still be back in LA. Fires, blackouts, the sky going dark. Can you imagine the riots, the looting, the crime? We’ve got none of that to worry about here.”

“Yeah, except for the kidnapper we just helped catch.”

“That was an exception, Cary. Overall, don’t you feel pretty safe?”

“Sure, until the overseers come to us about the next criminal hiding out somewhere on this rig. And who knows what else they aren’t telling us? And how can we really trust those reports from the mainland? Things may not be half as bad as we’re led to believe. America’s experienced plenty of disasters––wildfires, terrorist attacks, hurricanes––at worst it’s a few billion in damages, a few months of cleanup, and then things get right back to normal. We’ve been there before.”

Mikey took a deep breath. He knew Cary had been upset for some time now. The seed of discontent had been sown months earlier when preparations for their evacuation had begun, and over time that seed had germinated and sprouted. The discord between he and Tina had only expounded his negativity, and in the wake of his discontent, the rig, the overseers, and the organization had become an easy target for his attacks.

“Well, look at it this way,” Mikey attempted, “we won’t be out here forever.”

“Nope. We get to look forward to living in Africa,” Cary said sarcastically. “Won’t that be just great? Going from the most affluent, advanced country in the world to the poorest, most backwards.”

Mikey forced a laugh, but he knew Cary wasn’t joking.

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