STRATAGEM Chapter 36

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! This day needed to come to an end. For all Derek cared, he could die right here, right now, satisfied that he’d done all he could.

Except stop Blake from hurting anyone else.

Without thinking, Derek rushed the madman, grabbed his wrist, and fought to pry the knife from his hand. But Blake would not relent. From the look in his eyes, though, he seemed more confused than aggressive.

“Come on, man,” Derek grunted, even as Mom and Sabine got up to help, “Just drop it.”

“Can’t…” A tiny red mark formed under the tip of the blade pressed into his neck. For a split-second, his eyes flashed blue. But then the glow shifted to bright gold and then disappeared. With a sudden surge of strength, Blake shoved Derek.

Derek flew back and landed on the sofa. This was the part when the superhuman strength would take over. Alien-infiltrated-Blake would be virtually unstoppable now.

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STRATAGEM by Joshua Graham

“ARE YOU SURE?” Derek said, staring down to the clearing at the foot of the hill, a void between the surrounding trees in the middle of nowhere. Mom’s claim of an entrance to the safe house down there seemed completely ridiculous. A cool breeze rushed through the branches and the moon took shelter behind the clouds. It served only to obscure that space more.

“I need to check.” Gun ready and pointed, Mom made her way down the hill again. “Find some cover nearby and stay out of sight until I come back.”

“Wait, what?” Derek followed with Paige and Hulk in tow. “You’re not serious?”

Too focused to notice, Mom continued down the path until she stopped at a tree, reached behind it, and made something click. That’s when she noticed them standing behind her. She glanced over to the open panel in the tree trunk. “Good. Doesn’t look like anyone’s actually gotten through.”

“No clue, Mom.”

The ground opened up next to her feet like a miniature nuclear silo. It was the cold breeze blowing into his face that alerted him to his jaw hanging open. “Are you kidding me? This is something out of a sci-fi movie.”

“Says the fiction writer,” Mom said, climbing down the ladder inside the hatch.

“You see? Now that doesn’t make any—”

“Come on, Paige,” she said, gesturing with her hands to come down the ladder with her. “Derek, carry Hulk as you come down next.”

“Carry Hulk?” He looked down to see the chonky beast staring down the entrance, tail whipping about. “How am I supposed to do that?”

“Under your arm, like a football.” Her face vanished.

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STRATAGEM Chapter 29

“HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM,” one of the two armed men in security uniforms said.

Blake complied without resistance.

“If this is your idea of cashing in on a favor,” Sabine said to Blake, putting her hands up and behind her head, “Don’t do me any.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, his voice strangely calm. “Everything will be okay.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Quiet!” the second guard said. He pointed his shotgun toward the path ahead. “Now walk. Not another word.”

They followed a trail through the woods for about seven or eight minutes and came to a wide-open space. From the paved runway and the small tower with a 360-degree panoramic view at the top, Sabine could instantly tell.

“An airfield?”

“Exactly where we’re supposed to be,” Blake whispered. “I’ll do the talking, okay?”

She nodded.

A rude nudge between her shoulder blades alerted her.

“Keep moving,” the guard said, urging her and Blake toward the control tower and adjoining building in the distance.

She remained silent for the rest of the way. Not so bad compared to the stiffness in her shoulders from keeping her hands on her head. Blake seemed to know what he was doing, but it took more to trust him now than when he was guiding a shuttle through atmospheric re-entry and nailing the landing.

After about five minutes, they arrived at the edge of the tarmac, then walked about fifty meters to the control tower entrance. One of the guards opened the door, held it open with his foot, and kept his weapon trained.

“Go,” the other guard said.

Inside, the dark corridor concealed the figure of the person who stepped out of the shadows and into the dimly lit foyer. His grizzled mug and oily hair testified to his hygiene—or lack thereof. Sabine had sensed presence well before he’d come in view.

The man lowered his glasses and peered over its rim at Blake.

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STRATAGEM Chapter 28

BLAKE STRUCK AN ADJACENT PARKED CAR as he pulled out of the carport. He spun the steering wheel, let out a pained grunt.

That was when Sabine saw the blood. “You’ve been hit!”

“It just grazed me,” Blake said and raced out of the parking lot, wheels screeching.

The Camry lurched, throwing her shoulder into the passenger side window.

Another set of gunshots rang out behind them.

A loud metallic pop rapped against the trunk.

Sabine winced and ducked.

Once Blake turned the car onto the open street, he sped off pushing the speedometer past 60 MPH. “Are they following us?”

Sabine looked back.

Nothing but the empty street, overhead lamps casting an amber mist over the entire area. “I don’t see anyone. We’ve got a  decent lead.”

Blake’s window opened. “Pass me my laptop bag?”

“What?” She reached over the put its carrying strap in his free hand, which also held his phone.

Without hesitation, he took it and tossed it and the phone out the window.

“Wait—what are you doing?” Sabine said, turning her head to watch the bag and phone fall flat on the asphalt like roadkill.

He held out his hand. “Phone, electronics?”

She shook her head. “I wasn’t expecting a prison break.”

“Good. Can’t have anything electronic on us. They’ll use it to track us.”

“I can’t believe they’d shoot at us—they’re just base security.”

“Not necessarily.”

Sabine gave him an incredulous look. “Them too?”

“We have to assume they’re like Lucy and Jon.”

“At the very least, they’re under their orders.” Blake turned away from the freeway ramp and drove toward a residential neighborhood.

Sabine pointed back. “You missed the freeway entrance.”

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STRATAGEM Chapter 17


“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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