The Cuckoo's Progeny
11: Crew, Meet Your Science Team
CopyrightÂ© 2016 Vincent Berg. All rights reserved.
They’d only been on the road a short time—no more than an hour and a half—when Al called for a stop. They exited the highway pulling up to yet another McDonalds. As everyone parked, Delilah approached the lead car before they got out.
“Are you two okay? You both seem a little ... distressed.”
Al climbed out of the car with a huff, slamming his door. “No, we’re far from fine. The little Princess won’t even tell me how I screwed things up. I’m so frustrated, if we keep driving I’ll do something idiotic. See if you can talk some sense into her, or at least uncover what stupid thing I did. I’m heading for a drink, and probably a long hike before we resume.”
As he stormed off, Delilah motioned for her partner to tail him, as she turned to his sister.
“What’s up, Be? You’ve been in a mood all day. Your brother keeps trying to reach out, but you brush him off at every turn.”
Betty glanced down, frowning, but instead of replying, she stalked away from the restaurant. Delilah hurried to keep up. A short distance away, she slowed again.
“It’s hard to explain,” she whispered, her voice barely audible against the wind. “I don’t understand it myself.” She paused, biting her lip before continuing. “I wanted to see if what everyone was saying about our pair bonding was true, so I decided to conduct a real-life experiment.”
Delilah smiled knowingly, nodding her head. “So your first time was a disappointment? Maybe your expectations were a bit overinflated?”
Betty shook her head vehemently. “No, it was the complete opposite.” She stopped and spun around, opening her arms to the heavens. “It was the most wonderful thing imaginable. I couldn’t ask for a better experience.”
“So what has you in such a tizzy?”
Be held her hands up as they made vague clutching motions. “It’s that he’s my damn brother. If I’m destined to spend my life with him, and I can’t get past this, then what’s ahead for either of us?”
“Wait, let me get this straight. You’ve always idolized Al, you learn you’re not related, and when you finally get together it’s magical, and yet you’re blaming him?”
“As I said, it doesn’t make sense, but I feel trapped. If I’ll never meet anyone else who can compare with him, what will I do? Before it was simple. I just had to kiss a few million frogs and eventually I’d find one close enough to Al for us to be happily married. People settle all the time, don’t they?”
“Tell me, how many frogs have you kissed?” Betty blushed, unable to meet her eyes. “That’s what I thought. Not only can’t you find someone else, but you so want to be with him you can’t spare any time looking for a substitute.”
Betty turned, clutching her. “What am I going to do? If we become a couple, I’ll be miserable. If we don’t, I destroy the person I love.”
Del held her friend tighter than Be held her. “I’ll tell you what you’re going to do: you’re going to talk to your damn brother and iron all this out. However, you need a little distance to calm down and approach it sensibly. This entire ... mission of ours rests squarely on both your shoulders. We can’t afford for you to screw with Al’s mind. With his tendency to run headlong into dangerous situations, you’ll kill one of us, possibly him. Then where will you be?” She paused, glancing skyward before continuing. “We’ll switch cars to give each of you space. You’ll ride with me, while Al rides with Gary. That makes more sense, since it’s hard to provide protection from different vehicles. If we’re separated, we’ll all be more focused on the tasks at hand. But the first thing you’ll do is apologize to your brother, tell him he did nothing to feel guilty about. After that, assure him you’ll discuss it once you’ve figured it out yourself. That’ll buy you some time, put him at ease, and prevent the two of you from strangling each other.”
Betty leaned forward. “Thanks. That’s a decent idea. Now, hopefully you can help me figure out what I want. ‘Cause now, your navigator is adrift with no clue where to go next.”
Once back in their vehicles, Betty took out her phone.
“Avoiding the conversation before we even begin?” Delilah asked as she backed out of their spot.
“No, it occurred to me that our parents are likely worried about us. When we left, they kept calling, but we weren’t in the mood to confront them yet. It got so bad we turned our phones off. I put my own parents on my do-not-contact list. However, it occurs to me now they were trying to warn us about Maleveck’s ambush.”
“Go ahead and call, but if it makes you any crazier than you are now, forget it. You’re already a liability; let’s not make a bad situation worse by intentionally setting it on fire.”
“I think it’ll be okay. At the very least, I should tell them we’re safe. We need to make amends sooner or later, so it’s best not burning our bridges behind us.”
“Ah, in that case, if you’re looking for support, I can’t think of anyone better qualified to convince you not to date your brother than your parents.”
Betty didn’t bother responding, placing her call.
“Hello, Mom? This is Bett—”
Her brows flared as she switched hands. “Hold on, let me at least finish speaking. We’re both fine. We’ve been busy, as I’m sure you can tell. There were way too many disruptions. We turned our phones off to reduce our stress.” She chewed her lip and rolled her eyes. “That would have been good to know.” She leaned forward, drawing in her breath. “Damn, I don’t like the sound of that.” Betty’s face conveyed a range of emotions, but anger wasn’t one of them.
“Thanks. This was important. I shouldn’t need to tell you, but certain groups are after us. No, Mom, we haven’t done anything besides being in the right place to save a couple lives. But everyone’s asking the wrong questions, jumping to conclusions. Please, whatever you do, don’t give these people more ammunition to use against us. I realize you mean well, but you’re liable to get us strung up instead of helping. We’ll explain what we’re facing once we understand it ourselves. For now, we’re trying to remain out of the limelight.” Her mother continued debating the point, but Betty was firm. “No, Mom, it’s not like that. But we’ve got to go, something’s come up.”
As she hung up, her head fell back against the head rest; she closed her eyes and let out a long sign.
“Not an overly productive call?”
“No. Actually it was long overdue. It would have saved us a lot of trouble if we’d called before. Like everything else, whatever we do raises more questions than we can answer.” She took another calming breath before relaying what happened.
“Besides the two reporters’ calls—which is why they kept calling—they were also visited by agents of the National Counterterrorism Center, whoever they are. It sounds like the one article opened a can of worms.”
“I wouldn’t let it worry you too much. I think I’ve heard of them. They’re a multiagency effort, combining the resources of CIA, FBI, DOD, Homeland Security and several other government groups. I’m sure they’re checking to ensure the suggested threat wasn’t justified. Send your mother the link to the paper’s retraction. I’m sure it’ll settle most of the curiosity.”
“I sure hope so. I’m afraid, though, that if people start looking behind the curtain, they’ll discover more things to distrust, rather than less.”
“Well, call your damn brother and keep him in the loop. You can’t keep punishing the boy for your own unhappiness. Despite how you feel about it, he loves you like no one else ever will. You can’t leave him flappin’ in the breeze. Give him whatever information is vital, and keep your tone friendly and civil.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Becky answered, restraining herself from flashing a mocking salute.
“Thanks, Be. It’s a worry but we have a prepared response. I’ve got a link to the rebuttal. I’ll send it to Mom, who can forward it to the police. But we’re drawing way to much attention to ourselves. Uh, pardon me, but I’ve got to go.”
As he ended the call, he turned to Gary. “We don’t have much time. Run that car gaining on us in the passing lane off the road—hopefully without any damage—and then pull into the breakdown lane.”
“If you say so,” he answered pulling into the other lane, not questioning the order.
A large black and white Suburban was barreling up on them, traveling at least twenty miles per hour faster than they were. Gary cut him off. The driver slammed on his breaks, jerking his car to the side to avoid a collision. Gary eased onto the rough debris strewn narrow section of concrete dividing the highway. Though it all, he maintained control the entire time. It was clear he’d had some significant emergency response training.
The vehicle they’d cut off began blaring his horn and flashing his lights. Gary glanced over his shoulder to ensure they weren’t facing a road-rage incident, almost missing a large Cadillac traveling the wrong direction on the Interstate zip by, narrowly missing them both. Their car was struck by gravel kicked up by the larger vehicle.
“Pull back into traffic and let’s get out of here. If we stay, people will involve us in the investigation.”
“Aye aye, chief.”
“Sorry, but I don’t hold that rank in any organization,” Al objected.
“You’re right, my Capitan,” Gary said, smiling cheekily at him.
“I’m not in anyone’s Navy and have zero Naval training.”
“Not according to the marks on your arm, but you never know when it’ll turn up.”
“Just keep driving. I don’t need that kind of grief now.”
“Okay, we’re sitting in front of the Kempsville University Science Quad,” Al said. “What now?”
“Both people we’re looking for are inside the building on the left,” Betty said. “I suspect it houses offices rather than a single department.”
“There are a lot of students here. While we’re still young, we’re old enough we might attract attention. I suggest keeping a low profile,” Gary advised.
“We haven’t done so yet, but you continue to believe it’s possible,” Al said.
“I have faith in me Capitan,” he answered with a chuckle. “You’ve guided us through plenty of narrow shoals so far. I see no sense in questioning your wisdom and experience now.”
Al growled, while the rest joined in the light-hearted humor as they approached the building. Delilah stopped at a marker identifying the Sciences department, taking in the structural landmarks.
“Do you want us to maintain a periphery?” Zita asked. “I can keep you appraised if any trouble develops.”