Chapter 20: Rescue
Jerome Parsons had been snatched from the cement floor of the loading dock by an invisible hand. Then everything went black. He had still been conscious. He knew that because he was aware of the blackness, the absolute silence that surrounded him, and the fact that he was being led by someone. Jerome was frightened, but not in the same way he had been frightened by the men who had kidnapped him and his family. He was also worried about his family. He needed to find a way to rescue them.
“I wonder if the invisible men will help me find them,” Jerome wondered aloud in the darkness.
He could hear the sound of his own voice, but it didn’t echo, or sound muffled. His voice sounded dead to his ears, like it didn’t have any place to go. It was disconcerting to a person trained in depending on their senses for their survival. He decided not to try talking again.
It seemed like he had been walking for an eternity when Jerome was urged to sit. He sat, and a moment later the blackness vanished to be replaced by bright lights. It took a moment to figure out the brightness was simply his eyes adjusting after the absolute blackness. He was facing the corner of a brightly lit room. He heard the click of a door opening behind him. He turned in time to see the door close on the back of a man. Jerome slowly turned the chair around to face a table, surveying the room with trepidation.
He recognized the room from television. It seemed like every cops and robbers show had a room like this. A steel table, bolted to the floor. Three metal chairs, two on one side of the table, and the third on the other side. Jerome was sitting in the lone chair. On his left was a mirrored wall. Jerome understood what the mirror was for, too. There would be someone watching him from beyond that two-way mirror. He automatically pulled his sense of self in, much like a turtle retreating into its shell.
“I would sure like to know how you do that,” a conversational voice said behind him, from the corner opposite the mirror.
Jerome’s head snapped around to see a nondescript man, a little over six foot, and about two-hundred pounds. The man was nonchalantly leaning against the wall, his arms crossed, in the same corner Jerome had been facing. The man hadn’t been there a moment ago!
“You’re one of the invisible men!” Jerome blurted.
The man chuckled, saying, “I guess you could say that,” as he walked around the table, and took a seat across from Jerome. “So, how do you do that?” the man asked.
“How do I do what?” Jerome asked, puzzled.
“I can ... um ... I can sense you,” the man explained hesitantly. “Maybe sensing isn’t the right word, but I can usually tell where people are when they’re in the vicinity. A moment ago I could sense you like I would anyone else, but then you disappeared. I could see you sitting there, but other than seeing you, you were invisible. What did you do, mentally I mean?”
Jerome shrugged, his forehead creased in thought, as he reviewed the last few moments in confusion. He shook his head and shrugged, again saying, “I didn’t do anything, I don’t think.”
“It was when you looked at the mirrored glass,” the man prompted. “What did you feel?”
“I think I kind of pulled back,” Jerome replied slowly. “I ... I’ve never liked people watching me when I can’t see them,” he continued hesitantly. “Then, in sniper school, we were taught how to hide. One of my instructors told me that he tried to make himself believe that he wasn’t there so the enemy would believe he wasn’t there. I know it sounds like some of that ‘Woo woo’ bullshit, but that’s what he told me. I tried it, after I began taking live missions. I still didn’t really believe it worked, until one time some rag-heads walked right past me. After that it became second nature, I guess.”
The man nodded thoughtfully, and said, “I remember instructors mentioning something like that, in sniper training.” He grinned suddenly, saying, “I think you took that little exercise beyond what most snipers do. By the way, you can call me Singer,” he said, holding out his hand.
Jerome shook his hand automatically, but asked, “I turn invisible?”
“Yep,” Singer replied. “Well, sort of. I suspect that if I didn’t know that you were there I would have had trouble focusing on you, too.”
“How is that possible?” Jerome asked, confused.
Singer shrugged, saying, “I have my theories, but we can talk about that later. Right now, I need to know what your involvement was with the Soulless and that bomb.”
At that moment, the door opened and another man entered. He was carrying a tray with three large coffees and a dozen donuts. He pushed the door shut with his hip before setting the tray on the table.
“I needed some coffee and thought you two might want some, too. The donuts are mine, but I’ll share if you’re nice.” He grinned, proving the statement a lie. “Why don’t you start your story at when you changed your name to Abdul Jamal Al-Fayed, and why you changed your name? I’m Flan, by the way,” the man introduced himself before sitting in the other chair.
Jerome told his story. He told them about his discharge from the Army, and the lack of jobs when he returned home. He told them about the lack of help from the VA with his nightmares. He explained how, when he was at the end of his rope, a friend had invited him to a meeting at one of the omnipresent mosques in Baltimore.
“Which mosque?” Singer asked. “There can’t be more than two or three.”
Jerome snorted, took a sip of coffee, and said, “There are twenty-eight mosques in Baltimore. That doesn’t include the thirty-one prayer spaces, and four Islamic schools. At last count there are also one-hundred and fourteen Islamic restaurants and fifty-nine Muslim approved markets.”
“That’s a lot more than I thought there were,” Flan said with a low whistle.
“Islam is the fastest growing religion in America!” Jerome said, anger in his voice, but he couldn’t determine the source of the anger. Was it anger at Flan’s incredulity, or at the nation’s subversion? He couldn’t tell.
Flan held up his hands and said, “No offense meant. I was just surprised at the numbers.”
Jerome sighed, and seemed to deflate.
“Yeah, I guess I was, too,” he admitted. “There are even more in the Washington DC area,” he added with a disbelieving shake of his head.
“How do you feel about them, after the last twenty-four hours?” Singer asked curiously.
Jerome rocked back on his chair, thinking about the question, before answering as honestly as he could, “I’m not sure.” At their raised eyebrows, he explained, “My government abandoned me on many different levels. Islam was there for me. I know many Americans view all Muslims as radical fanatics, but most of them aren’t. Some Muslims speak out against the radicals, but the press doesn’t broadcast that because it isn’t news. It also endangers their families. I don’t think their speaking out plays well with the press’ agenda, whatever that is. I got involved with a small group of men about my age in a study group. Some of them turned out to be fanatics. I’ll ... um ... I’ll help you stop them. Most of the people I met aren’t that way. Muslims are like any other population group. There is a small group at each end of the spectrum, and a large group of believers in the middle. The fanatics are at one extreme end of the spectrum. They’re like many Catholics during the Spanish inquisition. At the other end are the Muslims that profess to follow Islam, but really don’t. They’re like Catholics that only go to church on Christmas Eve or Easter Sunday.”
Jerome continued the chronology of his experiences. He was interrupted again when he described his involvement in the rooftop attack.
“That hurt, too,” Singer complained, rubbing his chest in memory of being shot. “How did you spot us? You shouldn’t have been able to, even if you had thermal imaging.”
“I couldn’t actually see you. All I could see were blurry shadows against the lights behind you,” Jerome explained slowly, peering at Singer. “How the hell did you survive that hit? It was dead center!”
“Our armor is a bit of a prototype,” Flan explained dryly. “It didn’t kill him, but it sure rang his bell,” he concluded with a chuckle. “Go on with your story, please.”
Jerome continued, and wasn’t interrupted again until he reached the point of his sitting in the interrogation room.
“One last thing,” Singer said. “Can you do that sniper trick of disappearing on command? I’d like for Flan to see it, and see if he can figure out how you do it. He has more sniper experience than I do,” he explained.
“I can try,” Jerome said hesitantly.
He glanced at the mirrored glass, and pulled in.
“See!” Singer crowed.
“Damn,” Flan muttered. “Can you relax, and then do that one more time? Let me hold your hand while you do it. This could be important!”
Jerome complied, curious about what this was about. Flan closed his eyes, his forehead wrinkled with intense concentration.
Flan sat back in his chair, after Jerome was finished, a thoughtful look on his face.
“Can you tell me what that’s about?” Jerome asked, after a moment of silence.
Flan nodded slowly before saying, “Everyone has an extra sense inside, beyond what everyone accepts as the normal five senses. It’s what makes you antsy when someone’s watching you. When you ‘pull back, ‘ as you describe it, you’re actually shrouding the organ responsible for that extra sense,” Flan concluded.
Singer and Flan looked at each other, and Jerome could swear they were communicating in some way.
Flan nodded, turned to Jerome and said, “You’re telling the truth, as you know it. We’re already looking for the other Soulless and your family. We’ll take you to a holding cell. It’s a little more comfortable than this room. We’ll let you know when we find them.”
“Why do you call them Soulless,” Jerome asked curiously, standing with them.
Singer cocked his head at Jerome, seeming to consider the question, before nodding and saying, “I don’t know if you believe in Demons or not, but they are real. There was a reason for the oddities that you noticed in those men. The men that took you and your family were little better than drones being run by a Demon.”
Jerome’s eyebrows rose in disbelief, and he briefly wondered if these two were playing with a full deck. Much of what they had told him didn’t seem possible.
“Believe it or not,” Flan added, confirming Singer’s explanation. “Fear is their main weapon, but that black mist is deadly, too. We lost that Senate guard tonight, and one of our team in Iraq, to that black mist.”
“Your family is in deadly danger,” Singer continued. “We’ll try to extract them, but there’s no way to guarantee that we’ll be successful. We might already be too late. We’re also trying to kill the Demon. If we can, it might shut down all the Soulless.”
“I would like to help,” Jerome mumbled, just barely audible, looking down at the floor. “I know I can’t, and probably won’t be able to for a long time.”
Flan studied the young man for a moment. He was seeing a man that had faithfully served his country, and then, was betrayed upon his return. He didn’t approve of what Jerome did, but he understood the motivation behind it. He understood the lengths a person would go to protect their family. He couldn’t help feeling compassion.
“Jerome, look at me,” Flan quietly ordered.
Jerome lifted his head and hesitantly met Flan’s hard, but oddly sympathetic eyes.
“Have you been read your Miranda rights?” Flan asked.
Jerome hesitated before shaking his head no. “I guess they forgot,” he mumbled.
Singer snorted and Flan said, “They didn’t forget anything. That was the ... um ... the suggestion of the team leader that brought you in.”
Singer snorted again, coughing at the end. “Suggestion?” he coughed. “That couldn’t have been more of an order than if a gun were held to your head!”
“Yeah,” Flan said, chuckling himself. “I guess it was a little more forceful than a suggestion. Anyway, my point is, we believe everything you have told us. WE, all of us, know you told us the whole truth. You aren’t being arrested. At the same time, we will need your help finding any jihadists you may have met. Are you willing to do that?”
Jerome nodded, his eyes growing wider.
“We are going to hold you: maybe for a couple of days,” Singer continued. “We’ll let you know when we find your...”
Both men cocked their heads as if listening to something.
Abruptly turning, Flan said, “They’ve found them. They’re cornered, but they still have your family. We have a hostage situation! A Response team is inbound. We’ve got to go. Someone will be here soon to take you to a room.”
“We’ll let you know what happens as soon as we can,” Singer added, following Flan’s example.
Jerome numbly watched the door close behind the men. The sound of the door locking seemed thunderous, as if a part of his life had ended. His family was in danger because of him!
They were speeding as quickly as possible through morning DC traffic towards a location in Suitland Park, a Maryland suburb of Washington DC. Flan was driving. Singer was clinging to the arm rest on one side and the door on the other. His armor was deployed from his legs and butt, locking him to the seat’s anchor points.
Flan was the acknowledged better driver, especially in emergency or high-speed situations. That didn’t matter to Singer! Fire fights with live rounds aimed at him? No problem. Grenades going off around him? Piece of cake. Flan driving at breakneck speeds, hurtling towards semi trucks, buildings, and brick walls? Completely terrified him!
“Some Companion pairs are having a problem with anchoring,” Flan said silently, but casually, hoping to distract Singer.
“I heard about that,” Singer replied, trying to sound casual too, and failing miserably. “Gabi can’t anchor, either,” Singer added.
“What?” Flan asked, surprised. “I thought it was only the pairs that chose not to go the permanent route and get armor!”
“Gabi has first generation armor,” Singer replied. “She didn’t see a need to upgrade her armor. Running a restaurant isn’t supposed to be dangerous so she never got around to it. Now she has to wait until Bran gets back from New Mexico to upgrade.”
“I wonder what the armor has to do with anchoring?” Flan mused, after darting between a city bus and another Suburban.
Singer gulped, adrenalin pumping into his blood stream. His thoughts were jumbled as he tried to answer.
Mike, Singer’s Companion, gave a mental sigh before answering for his partner. “Bran and Alexander think it has to do with the increased memory speed and increased capacity of each armor upgrade. They don’t believe the human mind is currently capable of encompassing the totality of a Companion’s awareness and memories. The memory of the armor is buffering the human’s brains,” he added, a trifle smugly.
“I guess that makes sense,” Flan mused, while using his added awareness from anchoring to speed through an intersection safely. “Our current version of armor is much more capable than the early versions.”
“Too fast!” Singer blurted aloud.
Mike reduced the amount of adrenalin and increased the endorphins in Singer’s blood to calm him.
“What do you think about Jerome?” Flan asked in an attempt to distract Singer, as he increased his speed in the thinning traffic.
“Syon and Chi were right in their ‘suggestion’ not to charge him,” Jack, Flan’s Companion, dryly answered.
“Of course they were,” Mike answered for Singer.
Singer sighed before reluctantly sending, “Yeah. I think they’re right, too, but I’m the one that got shot and...”
“HEEEEY!” Singer yelled aloud.
The car soared over a hump in the city street. The engine briefly raced while the car was airborne, before it landed with a jolt, and continued down the street at breakneck speed.
“Slow down, you idiot!” Singer yelled. His armor involuntarily deployed further, portions sinking into the seat back, the door, and the arm rest for a better grip. “We can’t help them if we get killed before we get there!”
Flan grinned, but he didn’t let off the gas.
“Did you notice a difference in our reception of Jerome’s memories after anchoring yourself to Mike?” Flan silently asked.
“Some,” Singer answered brusquely, trying to tightened his seat belt further. “Why?”
“I could tell a big difference,” Flan replied, “Especially when he did his disappearing trick. I think I can do it, too.”
“How does that help us?” Singer asked, familiar with Flan’s mannerisms when he got an idea.
“Did you review Syon’s memories of the battle at the loading dock?” Flan asked.
“Yeah,” Singer brusquely answered, quickly reviewing the memories Syon and Chi had passed to them.
“Look at when the mist took the security guard,” Flan instructed. “It bypassed Jerome, yet snapped up the security guard. I don’t think the mist is that smart, and I don’t think bypassing Jerome was an accident. I don’t think it could sense him.”
“Good theory,” Singer mused thoughtfully. “Testing it would be scary as hell, though.”
Five minutes later they arrived at a police barrier. There was chaos in the police ranks. Every police officer in view had an expression of mixed fear and anger. Flan and Singer barely waited to stop before they erupted from the car.
“What’s happened?” Flan demanded loudly, holding his identification up as he marched forward.
A burly, grizzled, Maryland State Police Sergeant turned to confront them with an angry frown. His face was pale and his mouth was pinched.
“Who the hell are you?” the Sergeant demanded angrily.
His mouth twisted into a bitter sneer when he peered at the identification Fran and Singer were waving.
“FBI,” Singer barked. “The Rapid Response team is on its way. We need to brief them when they get here! These hostages are valuable. Now answer Agent Flannigan!”