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STRATAGEM Chapter 17

TWELVE DAYS EARLIER

“AM I UNDER HOUSE ARREST?” Sabine said, glaring at Connor’s little square on her laptop screen. He was the only one present for the Zoom meeting with the Athena crew so far. He seemed distracted, or maybe uncomfortable. Could it be because he’d expressed his feelings for her last night and now felt awkward? For him, it might be even more difficult balancing between personal and professional, especially since the others hadn’t yet joined the meeting.
“I’ll explain to everyone when they join in,” he said, eyes elsewhere on his screen and working his mouse and keyboard. “I’m sorry they handled it like this.”
“Oh you mean the Vanderberg Gestapo? Yeah, that was a bit much.”
“It was out of my hands.”
Lucy and Blake joined in, and within seconds, Jon did as well. They all said hello, but when Jon waved to everyone, no sound came out.
“Jon, hit ‘unmute,” Lucy said.
“—kay…Sorry about that.” Jon shrugged.
Connor started without any introductory words. “All right, kids. First off, I heard about what happened after your medical exams this morning.”
Jon jumped right at it. “Yeah, Connor. What the hell, man?”
“I know, I know. ICOMM decided and contacted the base before telling me. They’re putting us all under quarantine for ten days.”

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STRATAGEM Chapter 16

HOWARD COUNTY, MARYLAND
THE AFTERNOON SUN cast a golden veil over the trees framing the home of Derek’s childhood. The pines and maples had grown so much taller and denser since he left for college. He pulled up into the driveway and shut the engine. Paige and Hulk had fallen asleep. Good. They all could use a few extra minutes of rest.
Derek leaned back in his seat and for the first time today closed his eyes and let the breath seep out of his lungs. His mind could not find the words to describe what had happened since he woke up until now.
A crow perched atop the roof of the house cawed three times. Standing right above the window of Derek’s old room, it cocked its head and stared down at him. The old brick façade and white shutters evoked memories of days he’d sit in his room typing stories on his Windows 7 computer with that little fifteen-inch monitor that took up half his desk to share on MySpace, while Sabine hung out with her “popular-crowd” friends after school. He had always been the nerd. Ironically, she had become the closest thing to a rocket scientist the Storm family had ever produced.

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STRATAGEM Chapter 11

Washington Heights, New York
THE MAN WHO RESEMBLED PAIGE’S FATHER lunged at Derek and started choking him with both hands. The sudden inability to breathe caused Derek to panic. He tried prying the cold fingers off but to no avail.
The crazed man squeezed harder.
Derek flailed about, punching his assailant in the arm, shoulder, wrist…didn’t work. The guys’ arms were fully extended, putting his face out of striking distance.  He swung Derek around, slamming his back against the car’s open door frame. Tiny flecks of light danced about Derek’s eyes and the pain from his spine spread to his neck.

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STRATAGEM Chapter 10

DEAD BODIES SOMETIMES MOVE. But they don’t climb down from an exam table and stand up! Part intrigued/part terrified, Marcus pointed a penlight in Subject Two’s direction.
It didn’t move.
The subject was a male Asian—Jon Kimura. The shadows obscured his features. But it didn’t move from his place by the exam table. Did the body just happen to fall into a standing position?
Marcus heard the sound.

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STRATAGEM Chapter 9

NYPD 33rd Precinct | Washington Heights, New York

“ALL RIGHT STORM, GET YOUR ASS UP.” The uniformed officer walked into the interrogation room, working his bubblegum like a bull chewing cud. He stood about six-foot-five and probably about a hundred pounds larger than Derek, evoking a smaller version of Shaq. Best not share that analogy.
Derek stood and walked out the door with the officer—Robinson, according to his placard. “I’m supposed to get a phone call.”
“Talk to the detective.”
“I did.”
“Not my problem.” Robinson led him out past a maze of desks. Beyond the last row, Paige sat on a bench holding Hulk’s leash. A female officer sat with her but seemed preoccupied with her cell phone.

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