STRATAGEM Chapter 12
STRATAGEM by Joshua Graham
SEVEN DAYS EARLIER…
Vanderberg Air Force Base
Darkness ebbed, yielding to a hazy luminescence—blue, then white.
Muffled sounds: Voices.
Sabine gasped, drew a deep breath and wheezed. Her heart raced like a car with brakes engaged then suddenly released at max-RPM.
Trying to clear her vision, she blinked rapidly.
The cold surface.
Cold air blowing on her face.
She shuddered, sat up.
Other than the sheet that had just slipped off her bare shoulders, she had no clothes on. She grabbed it before it fell away, and covered herself.
Her vision cleared.
That smell…chemicals, disinfectants.
She was sitting in some kind of medical exam room.
“She’s up,” someone murmured behind her.
Every joint in Sabine’s body ached. She tried to turn around but found her neck and back too stiff.
“Hello?” Her voice rasped, nearly gagged on the dryness.
A warm hand rested on her shoulder.
“Hey, hey. Easy there.” Lucy came around to face her. “You okay?”
“What…? How did—?”
“Here.” Lucy held up a blue hospital gown and helped Sabine put it on. After tying the back, she draped a blanket over her and helped her down from the table.
“Where am I?” Sabine said, the trembling subsiding now that the blood flowed back into her extremities.
“Don’t freak out,” Kimura said.
Sabine looked up.
Jon, Blake, and Lucy stood there in their civilian clothes, their complexions slightly pale but appearing natural otherwise.
“It’s okay, Sabine.” Blake came over. “You’re okay.”
Right away, Sabine relaxed. A comforting warmth filled her and the trembling stopped. Her breath and pulse were returning to normal. “What’s going on? Did we land already?”
“Long story,” Blake said. “But yes, we landed.”
“We all blacked out,” Lucy said.
Jon came forward, incredulity crinkling his brow. “Yeah, and for some reason, they thought we were all dead.”
“Wait, what?” Was he up to another one of his “Kimura pranks”?
No. Blake’s expression remained stoic. Jon wasn’t joking.
“It’s true,” Blake said. “For all intents and purposes, we were dead. The medical examiner said we had already gone into rigor mort—”
“Dead?” Without thinking, Sabine stepped forward and nearly tripped. Lucy caught her and helped her regain her balance. “Sorry, this is so confusing.”
“I know,” Lucy said.
“How long was I out?”
“Not sure,” Blake said, “We’ve been up for about two hours, though. The M.E.got quite a surprise when we woke up.”
“I was the first.” Jon chortled. “You should’ve seen the look on his face. I thought he was going to soil himself.”
Sabine looked around the room.
A wave of nausea coursed through her.
They were having this conversation in an autopsy room.
“Where is he now?”
“The M.E.?” Blake shrugged. “After he gave us all a clean bill of health and said you’d be just fine, he left and said we could all go home.”
Lucy poked Sabine’s arm. “And since you’re awake now, let’s get going. I’m starving!”
“All right, I guess.” Sabine searched the room. “Wait, where’s my—?”
Lucy pointed to a chair where the belongings from her locker had been placed in a large plastic Ziploc bag.
“You can change behind that curtain,” Lucy said, pointing to the back of the room.
“See you outside,” Blake said and left with the other three.
Sabine couldn’t wait to get out of the gown and into her clothes. Odd, just a few minutes ago she had been shivering, and now beads of perspiration formed on her brow. Stranger still that after this whole death-like experience, they were being discharged without any further procedure or examination. Perhaps they’d do that tomorrow after a good night’s rest.
Count your blessings.
Two minutes later, Sabine emerged from the exam room where the rest of the crew met her.
“Just in time for Breakfast,” Jon said. “Anyone want to join me for Starbucks?”
“I’m down for that,” Lucy said.
“You kids knock yourselves out,” Blake said. “This old-timer needs to catch up on his sleep.”
Lucy clicked her tongue at him. “I thought you said you’d sleep when you were dead.”
“Yeah well, my death got interrupted.”
“I’m wiped out,” Sabine said and yawned. “If you guys don’t hear from me in twenty-four hours, give me a wake-up call.”
They all said goodbye and went on their way.
MARCUS CROWLEY sat in his blue Tesla Model X driving at a steady sixty-five miles per hour. With moderate traffic and no delays, the car maintained the same velocity for the past seven miles since entering the freeway.
He never once looked into any of the mirrors, but even if he had he would not have noticed the pulsing blue light encircling his irises. Nor would have noticed that though his foot was not on the gas pedal as the speedometer climbed to 75—90—115…
Marcus Crowley never realized he’d driven the Tesla Model X straight into a concrete pillar, straight to his death.