Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik
The artificial greenness of the cemetery grass looked out of place surrounded by the hills of arid Southern California. Scott parked the rental and got out.
Headstones and ornate mausoleums were scattered amid the ornamental trees. He walked, browsing the memorials to the dead like a macabre tourist. He noted the veterans, and the children with their tragically short lives, until he found the graves of his parents. Each was marked with a simple brick plaque. Scott searched for a feeling, any feeling that connected him to the people buried below.
He removed his cover and traced the etched names with a fingertip; 'David Van Pelt 1969–1997' and 'Andrea Van Pelt 1972–1997.' Would they have been proud of him?
The dull thump of a closing car door broke him from the dark thoughts. He stood and replaced his cover with precision. A metallic gray Jeep Grand Cherokee had parked behind the rental. He walked toward the two figures waiting beside the vehicle.
"Mr. MacIntyre?" the older man asked.
"You found me," he said, "did you bring the paperwork?"
The man's associate raised an attaché case.
The case was placed on the trunk of Scott's rental and the lawyer extracted a folder. He opened it and handed Scott a pen.
"If you'll sign at the flags," the lawyer said, "we'll have the permits for disinterment and transportation taken care of."
Scott took the pen. "You anticipate any problems?"
"We'll take it in front of a judge to be sure, but I think we'll meet your timetable."
Scott scribbled his name where indicated. He appreciated the personal legal service. As a Marine, he'd been careful to live well within the means of his rank. An ordinary life was what he wanted, what he needed. Along the way, he'd achieved an uneasy acceptance of his wealth and how it had been acquired.
The lawyer checked the paperwork a final time and announced that he was satisfied. His associate handed Scott the key fob to the SUV. They followed him as he inspected the new vehicle. He had custom ordered it and arranged delivery through the law firm.
After a final check of the sedan to make sure he had left nothing behind, the lawyers took the rental's keys and departed. Scott climbed into the Jeep and took a moment to adjust the seat to his liking and refamiliarize himself with the controls. He touched the knob for the large central display and worked his way through the menus to synchronize his phone with the vehicle. A press of the starter button brought the engine purring to life. Scott took a final look back at the graves and pulled away.
He drove north out of San Bernardino after a stop at the hotel to change into casual clothing and pay his bill. His new purchase was proving a comfortable vehicle. He'd considered buying something outrageous, an exotic sports car or an over the top luxury SUV, but that wasn't him. The Grand Cherokee was refined, but wouldn't look out of place on campus or cruising the Texas highways.
Scott had nowhere particular to be until the summer session started at Northwest Texas State University. His route home ran through Colorado, not the most direct route to West Texas, but he wanted to visit a Marine buddy living in Denver.
After four years of the Marine Corps owning his schedule, the freedom to choose his route and schedule would have appealed to him if he didn't have one final stop make.
Dust billowed behind the SUV as the tires crunched along the sandy dirt road north of Barstow. The latitude and longitude of his destination was a blue dot on the GPS, in the middle of an empty beige blob.
He brought the vehicle to a stop and got out. The only landmarks were a few low peaks in the distance. He walked, trying to orient himself as best he could.
Deserts have short memories and he could find nothing that he recognized.
Craig Carson had come to this desolate spot to prepare a grave. He planned the deaths of Scott's family. As horrifying as the murders and subsequent acts were, none of it explained his survival or the abilities that manifested in a confused and scared boy.
He could do things others couldn't and knew things he shouldn't have known.
The Marines had been a way to hide, to escape foster care and establish an independent life for himself. He thought he was an expert on hiding, but hadn't counted on the close quarters Marines lived in and the constant supervision. He adapted.
Combat was what nearly broke him. He could protect himself; spot threats others missed, analyze dozens of outcomes, and react faster than the human eye. He could survive, except you didn't go into battle alone. You went with your brothers. Men you bled and sweated with, shared experiences you'd never share with another. His abilities crippled him and almost cost him his life. He couldn't save them all.
Scott wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. He took an envelope from his pocket, filled it with sand, and sealed it shut. He started back toward the SUV.
He heard the other vehicle long before he saw it. He'd been thinking about the location and the large military reservations nearby. None explained his abilities. There were no government programs, that he could discover, that turned ordinary people into freaks.
He spent years browsing science journals and academic papers. No technology existed to explain him. He read fringe news sources and future-speculative web sites, but there was none more skeptical than the person they would love to have written about.
The approaching truck was a San Bernardino County Sheriff's vehicle. How could it be anything else, Scott thought.
The truck slowed and the deputy rolled down the window. "Break down?"
"No, sir," Scott replied. "Stopped for some fresh air."
"Out here? You're not lost are you?"
"I've got a GPS," Scott said. "You ever see anything weird around these parts? Things you couldn't explain?"
The deputy gave him a look that said he had, and that he was looking at one. "Sir, this is California, it's all weird."
The route through the Mojave was well traveled. Scott set the cruise control. After the third sign proclaiming decreasing mileage to Las Vegas, Scott called the concierge service for his private bankcard.
His code connected him to a pleasant human voice.
"My name is Luanne, Mr. MacIntyre. Would you please repeat the challenge phrase?"
He hadn't used the card or the service in three years and didn't mind answering the security questions.
"Thank you, sir. How may I be of assistance?"
"Luanne, I'm going to be in Las Vegas this evening. I need a room with easy access to Interstate 15. I won't be gambling."
"Oh, I love Vegas. Would you prefer a suite or a house?"
He'd forgotten how personable the service could be.
"It's only for the night, so something convenient."
"I have just the thing. Shall I send the details to your phone?"
"Will there be anything else?"
Why not, he thought.
"Luanne, I'm taking a road trip. Colorado is my next destination. Could you find me a cabin? Somewhere I could relax for a few days. I'm on my own so it doesn't need to be a big place."
"Do you have a location preference?"