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 The Only Thing That Counts

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: The Only Thing That Counts   Wed Oct 18, 2017 4:29 pm

Chapter 16 - Captured

            Spasms of searing pain wracked his skull as he came to. His head swam as he opened his eyes. Ignoring the vice-like compression ache in his head, Steve focused about him. He was sitting in a small featureless room. When he tried to move he felt the bite of metal sinking into his wrists and he realised his hands were handcuffed behind the chair. The door swung open and the colonel’s steely faced accomplice stepped in.

“So Mr James, it is my job to find out what you are doing here. Would you like to tell me?” he droned in a dry, monotone voice.

            Steve stared, trying to gather his thoughts. What would he say? What would it matter? Before words even came to mind the lieutenant lunged at him and his fist thumped into Steve’s stomach. It struck like a pile driver, forcing the air out of his lungs and shaking his body with severe pain. Steve, utterly winded, wheezed for breath. With rattling gasps he had scarcely filled his lungs when the menacing cold voice repeated, “What are you doing here? What were you planning to do?”

            Steve’s mind raced. He tensed his stomach muscles as much as he could, “Looking around...” he began and then sensing a movement above him, swivelled his head just enough to avoid the full impact of a hand held leather cudgel. The glancing blow stung sharply on the side of his head and a red welt was already forming as he struggled to raise his head. Steve wanted to talk, wanted to say anything but his mind wavered on the brink of consciousness. Like waking from a deep sleep, his vision slowly cleared and the hurt stormed his senses.

He looked again at his tormentor, expecting another vicious bashing,

‘Lord...’ he thought, ‘make it end.’

            Lieutenant Shelley watched him recover and slapped the cudgel into the other gloved hand for effect. He began his intimidating routine again.

“I think I’ve established that I’m serious Mr James. Save yourself any more discomfort,” he said robotically, “Tell me, what you’re doing here?” he looked almost bored, disinterested in the answer.”

“Trying to stop you...” Steve grimaced, fear welling, and he cringed within for the next violent strike.

Shelley sneered at him, for the first time altering his expression. “I know that. What I want to know is how?”

            Steve’s mind minced. He couldn’t think clearly. What was the question? How? He didn’t know how. He just knew he had to stop it. Was it going to end here? His eyes were closed. Maybe he could go to sleep? A rough hand grasped his chin and shook him to coherence.

“How?” the lieutenant snarled.

“I don’t know.”

Steve should have seen it coming, an arcing whack across the back of the head, close to his first injury. Blackness overtook him. It was a welcome release…

 

            He felt soft hands and a cool moist cloth bathing his face. Amidst the thumping ache in his head, the nausea and the dancing images, he heard a soft concerned voice.

“Are you okay?”

Where had he heard that voice before? Where was he? He tried to open his eyes but groaned at the effort to activate his muscles. His eyes teared with the pain as he forced them open. The hazy, blurred shapes cleared gradually with each wet blink. The face that appeared out of the shadows appeared sympathetic, caring.

            It was Kelly. And he remembered. He remembered where he was. He remembered what she had done. He struggled to push her away but his body wasn’t cooperating yet.

“Take it easy. You got a nasty crack to the head,” she cooed. Her hand stroked his face, cooling the bruise near the left ear, and he was suddenly incensed that she could be so duplicitous. Looking around he determined that he was in some sort of cell.

“What are you doing here?” Steve barely managed to croak.

“I could ask the same of you, but you need to rest and give yourself time to recover.” Then, as if to try to bolster his opinion of her, she informed him, “I got them to remove the cuffs. Why don’t you lie back and rest a bit?”

Steve ignored her suggestion and tried to raise himself up, weakly collapsing at the effort. “You’re working for them aren’t you?”

“What if I am? What’s wrong with that?” she looked steadily at him unfazed. He was stunned for a moment before hissing in a husky voice, “They kill people. They’re murderers.”

“How can you say that? This whole project is designed to advance the cause of mankind. It’s the first step to alleviate a crowded planet.”

“I saw the bodies. They’ve even tried to kill me.”

            Kelly looked at him and seemed to recognise where he was coming from.

“Well I heard they had a terrorist incident, but that’s been crushed, down here. The Colonel told me there may still be some of the terrorist group on the surface causing trouble.” She gazed at him and didn’t add that the Colonel had told her he was implicated.

“Do you believe that?” Steve, wavering, had now successfully elevated himself and was supported by his elbows. “The people running this place are evil. They killed the people who tried to stop them. Look what they have done to me, how can you believe them?”

She hesitated, then almost smiled, “They think you might be in with the terrorists.”

“What!” Steve looked incredulous, “You know enough of me by now to know that’s rubbish. I run a plant centre. That’s how I got involved in this place. But now your Colonel and General Guy Roberts are running their own criminal agenda.”

“Don’t say that. General Roberts would never do anything against the law he...”

            Just then footsteps approached loudly. The door whined harshly and the Colonel stepped into the cell. The shadowy muscled form of Shelly was near the door.

“How quaint, I hope you’re not consorting with the enemy Miss Roberts. I’m sure he’ll tell you anything to distract suspicion from himself.”

Steve wondered how much he had heard. He was just trying to make sense of the Colonel’s reference to Kelly... ‘Miss Roberts’, when she spoke.

“You may have misjudged him Colonel Klein. His involvement seems purely incidental to the requirements of the program.”

            The Colonel shook his head, “He broke into a US base, and not for the first time. What we have here is a repeat offender.” He had a snide, self-satisfied expression on his face.

“So Colonel, what did you do with all the bodies?” Steve felt anger quaver his voice.

“It was an unfortunate situation Mr James. We had to dispose of all the bodies and sanitise the place before we could use it again; most unpleasant.”

“What about the survivors?” Steve fired aggressively suddenly tormented about Malcolm’s plight. Instead of ignoring the comment Klein’s demeanour became surprised, then fiery and hostile. “What survivors?” he pressed. Then easing off he continued, “Tell me what you know. They may be of some assistance... help us get to the bottom of this.”

Steve felt strangely pleased at the hope he had for Malcolm. Klein’s response had suddenly created a glimmer of hope in his mind.

            “I just thought there would be survivors,” returned Steve flippantly. But the Colonel was not to be deflected easily and strode angrily to his bedside grasping Steve’s collars and lifting him threateningly as he constricted the collar of his shirt around his neck.

“Tell me what you know.”

Steve gasped still weak, unable to defend himself or resist the assault.

“Colonel!” cried Kelly trying to intervene by grabbing his arms. “He’s still weak and injured. My father would never allow this.”

Steve started blacking out and Kelly struggled more vigorously, attempting to tear Klein’s grip away from his throat.

“Where is my father, Colonel? You promised to tell me,” she demanded.

“Safe, I already told you,” was his blunt reply as he shoved Steve’s near limp body back on the bed.

“I can’t believe he would be away from here willingly. I insist you take me to him.”

Colonel Klein looked piercingly at her and laughed harshly. “Ha, you insist?” He suddenly flung a backhander across her face sending her sprawling. And then he backed out of the cell and slammed the door. “I think you will continue to serve our purposes Miss Roberts,” he growled, emphasising the ‘our’. “Meanwhile you can stay with your new friend while we will tidy up some loose ends at the surface.”

            Blood dripped from Kelly’s lip as she recovered from the blow. Gaining a sitting position on the single bunk bed, her face suddenly looked distraught as realisation overwhelmed her that she had been used.

“You need them you know!” she shouted as he left. “If you understood the program properly you would understand that without the help of Steve and his friends the base won’t survive.” The Colonel stopped. He turned and approached the cell door malevolently.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, since the incident you have no one to look after the bio systems. That’s what Steve and Jodie and Jimmy do for a living. You need them.”

            Steve, becoming more clear-headed, couldn’t believe his ears. Not only were they captive, Kelly was now embroiling his best friends.”

“No!” he moaned, “They don’t know anything.” But Klein ignored him.

“Why thank you,” he said derisively. “I see what you mean. Maybe we’ll give you some company.” He turned and called to his lieutenant as he went toward the soldier waiting at the end of the corridor. “Shelley, we still have some work to do.” They disappeared around the corner.

            Steve seethed, battling to raise himself up on his elbows. “What do you think you’re doing, Miss Wilkerson?” he growled sarcastically. “You betray me, you report on my movements to a criminal like Klein, and now you implicate Jodie and Jimmy.” The ferocity of his voice and the scowl on his face tore at Kelly’s composure. Her eyes glistened with tears as she struggled to say something.

“I’m so sorry. I’ve been so stupid. If you’re right about the Colonel, my father might be dead. There’s no way he had anything to do with any killings.”

            Steve found it hard not to respond to her distress. Her grief gave him a tightness in the throat, but he still challenged her. “I think I understand why you may have believed the Colonel for your father’s sake, but why did you implicate Jodie and Jimmy? Wasn’t it bad enough that Pete was killed?”

A teardrop ran down Kelly’s cheek. “I had to. When I heard him say ‘tie up some loose ends’, I realised what he was going to do. It’s a term the agency uses. I knew he was going to kill them.”

“What are you talking about?” he raised his sagging aching body a little further.

“You don’t understand do you?” she was gaining control of her emotions and wiped her eyes. “Just sit and listen and I’ll explain.

I’m agency...”

            Steve looked a little uncomprehending as she put her face near his, “I’m CIA.” She continued insistently. “You’ve obviously gathered that my father is General Roberts?” Steve nodded in assent, feeling irritated by her condescending tone, “Well a few weeks ago my father missed his regular connection with me so I tried to contact him. I made enquiries through my contacts in the CIA and next thing I know I get an email from Colonel Klein. He tells me that they have had a problem with the program and my father was unavailable at present.”

            Kelly got up, wobbled unsteadily and then groped down low for a handhold and sat on the bed next to him. She suddenly felt very weary.

“How did you take that?” asked Steve.

“Well, it wasn’t unusual for Dad to be unavailable. What was unusual was that he didn’t tell me. He usually warned me beforehand. But the Colonel said that they needed me to do some intelligence work for them and he had put a request in. Because of the highly secret nature of the base, my boss was given the impression by Klein that it was just some trivial leg work. The Colonel then told me that it was ideal that I come since I had some knowledge of the program, through my father. He said that it was important secret work which I had some training for, and I could catch up with my dad when we’d finished. He told me they had a serious breach of security.”

“So this was your first assignment?” Steve was imagining her excitement, something which may have dulled her judgement.

“Yes, my first real assignment, and I know what you’re thinking.” She sounded a little contrite. She bowed her head low. “I should have checked it out, I should have got some back up and I should have been a bit suspicious. I see that now, but then I jumped at the chance.”

            Steve knew he should be a little more understanding, but struggled. “Hindsight’s a wonderful thing... but not much use in changing what’s happened.” He took a corner of the sheet and dabbed the blood off her swelling lip.

“Thanks.” Kelly raised misty eyes in appreciation and growing affection for the sandy haired scientist.

            Steve sat up swinging his legs alongside hers. Groggy and a little uncomfortable he continued to avoid her intent look. “I think I would have done some things differently too, considering where we are now.” He then turned and studied her with growing clarity and interest in her role.  “So what did he want you to do?”

“I thought you knew. Basically he wanted me to find out what you knew about the base ... see if you were involved in the plot and even gain your trust.”

“So you reported on my movements?” then a little harsher, “You spied on me.”

“Yes.” She looked a little shamefaced.

Then it suddenly crystallised in Steve’s mind. With a glare he unloaded the niggling detail about Kelly that had been bothering him. 

“So that’s how you knew my home number?” Kelly nodded. “And you told them I went to the police?”

“Yes, I told them everything.”

 “Everything? How did that make you feel?” His volatile reaction made him recoil. He winced and felt the lump on the back of his head as a headache began to gain momentum.

 “Well, I felt okay until I got to know you, and then I felt awful.” She placed her arms around his neck and tried to smile. “I guess I worked out you were really a decent guy.” He warmed at her proximity, but eased her hands off him when a chilling thought invaded his mind. He desperately wanted to lower his aching head.

“You didn’t hear my name,” he said half to himself as pieces of the puzzle seemed to shuffle into place.

 “You must hate me,” she dropped her eyes.

He looked thoughtful, “No, I don’t. I guess you didn’t know.” Steve didn’t know what else to say.

            The hush of the air conditioning was all that could be heard as they both brooded silently.

She pulled back and leaned back against the wall as the reality of their situation hit her and she voiced her angst.

“What are we going to do?” Getting up she walked unsteadily to the cell door and rattled it, establishing that it was locked.

“I don’t know. Pray?” Steve looked up at Kelly. She turned and ascertained by his expression that he wasn’t being flippant. They didn’t say much for quite a while, Kelly fretting over what could have happened to her father and Steve refreshing his acquaintance with his Heavenly Father.

            Her concerns eventually got to her.

“Does it work?” She looked doubtfully at him.

“Does what work?”

“Prayer.”

He wondered whether she knew of his private petitions, and he wondered how he should answer. He certainly was no authority. Then he remembered his discussion on the subject with Malcolm.

“Let me ask you a question. When you asked your parents for something, when you were little, did they always give it to you?”

Kelly tilted her head pensively. “No, they mainly did what was good for me.”

“I believe, probably more every day,” Steve added deliberately, “that God is able to do anything, but only does what is ultimately right.”

“Ultimately right, what does that mean?” she asked sceptically.

“I guess it’s like a perfect parent. My problem is that what I think is right doesn’t always match up with what God does, or allows to be done. I mean ... He’s not my servant... I should be His.”

“So... no guarantees.”

Steve stared unresponsively at the floor for a brief moment before replying. “Strangely, there is—when I used to ask my Dad about things I didn’t get from God he would quote; ‘Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’  I think it comes back to trust."

 

            Kelly and Steve had plenty of time to talk. It was because nothing seemed to be happening. They felt helpless, trapped, like birds in a cage; so they talked. They talked about their aspirations. How General Roberts’ vision of setting up a lunar community was not that different from Steve’s early dreams for producing food for the masses. They talked about faith and their different experiences of church. Kelly said she felt ‘warmth’ at his church. Steve shared his recent focus on his own faith and how he’d heard of someone’s favourite verse—he didn’t elaborate—: ‘… the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.’

            Their conversation went to the lunar base and what the plants were meant to do for the artificial biosphere. Steve went through his involvement and how Paul’s messages had triggered a revolt. Then he explained how he had witnessed the aftermath of the way the dissenters were violently quashed.

            It was a bombshell to Kelly when Steve related information he received from Paul. He explained that Paul believed they were producing the virus to attack civilian populations, predominantly people groups antagonistic to the United States. Maybe it was their way of ending long term conflicts.

            Then they speculated as to what they could do. Without putting it into words, they both seemed aware that any plan they had may have fatal consequences. And so their ideas were bizarre and wild, but none seemed workable; especially since they were locked up. Two things seemed obvious; they needed to escape, and they needed more information before they could destroy the virus.

            At the sound of footsteps both pretended to be snoozing, Steve was sitting in a corner and Kelly lay on the metal framed bed. Two soldiers and a big, grizzled looking sergeant were standing at the barred entry.

“Get up, you’re movin’,” he growled.

“Where to?” Steve asked as he wobbled unsteadily and Kelly walked a little stiffly to the opened cell door.

“You’ll see,” he replied gruffly. “It seems you’re going to have company.” His face contorted by a forced smile. “Now follow him.” He indicated toward the private holding his MP5 sub machine gun, almost ceremonially, in front of him. “Get movin’,” he ordered, and they set off with the other private and the belligerent sergeant close behind.

            They were marched to the enlisted men’s quarters and put in separate rooms.

The sergeant referred to them as ‘secure quarters’, explaining that they were more appropriate for keeping ‘guests’. Inside were four bunks and a small bathroom. A brief examination revealed that there was no other exit and the door he had come in was locked.

            He’d just decided that it would be best to get some sleep on one of the bunks when there was a thud on the wall.

“Steve, are you there?” was the muted cry from beyond the wall.

He pressed close to the wall and called back, “Yeah, I’m here.”

“I was afraid they might take you away once we were separated. Are you all right?” continued Kelly’s distant, detached voice.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” His head throbbed and a wave of fatigue and queasiness washed over him as he pushed himself to finish what he was saying. “You may have convinced them they need me,” then to himself, “I can’t see why else I’m still alive.” A wave of nausea overwhelmed him and lurching quickly, he staggered into the bathroom just in time to empty his stomach.

“Hello… Steve… you all right… Do you want to talk?” her concern was apparent.

            Steve couldn’t think how to express his exhaustion. His aching body numbed his mind. His eyes glazed as he stared at the wall. It had been over eight hours since he’d surfaced in the subterranean base. He needed to tell Kelly that he had to have a sleep.

“Steve?” was her plaintive query when he hadn’t answered.

 “Yeah, sorry...” he called back. “I think we should try and get some sleep. We don’t know what’s ahead... And we’ll need to be alert if we have to fight our way out of this.”

“Okay.” was her hushed reply.

            For some time Steve couldn’t make his beaten, weary body comfortable. Once asleep his mind again travelled the bizarre road of the subconscious. Several times he woke up shivering, sweat soaked, not remembering dreams that frightened him.

 

He was running late for the train. It was pulling into the station and he still had to run down the hill, across the bridge and onto the platform. Someone was waiting for him. He looked... she was getting on the train... it was Jodie! Somehow Steve wrenched his mind to twist the dream...

He was on the platform... the platform was deeper. It was going underground... the platform was moving. Suddenly the part of the platform that he was on shifted sideways and back, like part of a major earthquake, but it was eerily silent. Jodie was on the other part and stepped on the train... he ran... he jumped the growing gap... but the train was leaving without him. He ran alongside the train and forced his way into the carriage. Inside people were sitting, crowded together. Jodie was nowhere to be seen...
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