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STRATAGEM Chapter 34

COLD METAL PRESSED INTO HIS TEMPLE. Derek tried to shout, but Blake put him in a chokehold with his left arm with such force it might break his neck if he struggled.

Sabine bolted to her feet. “Blake, no!”

He pointed the gun at her.

Then at Mom, whose eyes remained trained on him like a bird of prey’s.

Right away, he put the muzzle back into Derek’s temple.

“Stop it, Blake!” Sabine said. “That’s my brother…and she’s my mother”

“You sure?” His words came out like sandpaper scraping against concrete. He coughed, then cleared his throat. “They’re not like…like them?”

Derek could barely suck in a breath.

He was going to black out.

Sabine held out her hand. “Give me the gun, Blake. Please.”

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STRATAGEM Chapter 33

THIRTY-THREE

“SOMEONE NEEDS TO TELL ME WHAT’S GOING ON, RIGHT NOW.” Derek only realized he was shouting because of Hulk and Paige’s reaction. “Sorry,” he said to her. “I’m just surprised.”

“Beenie!” Mom ran over to hug Sabine. “What are you doing here?”

Before could say another word, the man behind her gasped and collapsed to the floor. Sabine went over and knelt by him. “Blake!”

Without missing a beat, Mom found the light switch, flipped it on, and went over to check on them. Paige let out a frightened whimper and wrapped her arms around Derek’s leg. Hulk curled around her legs empathetically.

“It’s going to be all right, Paige. You stay here with Hulk, I’m going to be right there helping out.

She nodded, and sat in the chair next to her, stroking Hulk’s back.

“Inside that cabinet,” Mom said, pointing to the kitchenette. “Red duffle bag. Get the first aid kit.”

The man—Blake—started convulsing on the floor. Derek went over and pulled out the red duffle bag. From within, he found a rectangular bag with the First Aid symbol and brought it over to Mom.

“What’s wrong with him?” Mom said.

“He’s been shot,” Sabine answered and pointed to the tourniquet on his arm.

Mom examined it, turned him over on his side. “Looks like the bleeding’s under control.”

Blake’s shivering subsided. The interval between his breaths lengthened and his entire body relaxed.

“Let’s get him onto the sofa,” Mom said, nodding over to the one on the right of the room. Derek and Sabine helped him up and walked him over.

“You okay?” Sabine said to Blake, pulling the dusty white sheet off the sofa.

He tried to answer but only a groan came out as he dropped across the cushions like a tree felled by a lumberjack.

“He needs to rest,” Sabine said straightening up and stepping aside, “it’s been rough.”

Derek went over and gave her a hug. “Sorry,Sis. It’s good to see you and all, but I’m confused as hell.”

Hulk came running over, panting with excitement.

“Hulk!” Sabine knelt down to meet him. “Come here, you little stinker!”

Tail flailing, he bathed her face in kisses and she welcomed it.

“Gross,” Derek said. “All right, I still need an explanation. Mom, Sabine? Who wants to go first?”

“What are you doing here?” Sabine said to Derek, incredulity painted on her face. “And why did you bring Hulk?”

Mom brushed aside a lock of Sabine’s hair and examined her face. “If you’re here, you…and Blake must be in trouble.”

Derek gave the man a once over, then turned to Sabine. “Not judging, but isn’t he a bit old for you?”

“He’s a coworker,” Sabine said. Then to Mom: “I have to assume you’re in trouble too.”

“Hold on,” Derek said. “Am I the only person who didn’t know about this place? What else have you been hiding?” A quick glance to the opposite side of the room revealed little Paige fast asleep on another sofa.

“Who’s the kid?” Sabine said.

“Long story.”

“All right,” Mom said, gesturing for them all to take seats around the table in the kitchenette, at which Derek sat last. She set her gun down on the counter next to the table and spoke. “Before the suspense kills us all, we should tell our stories. Derek, why don’t you begin?”

“But I need to know how—why…all these secrets.”

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STRATAGEM CHAPTER 31

STRATAGEM by Joshua Graham
Chapter 31 | UNDISCLOSED LOCATION

“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 30

STRATAGEM by Joshua Graham PREVIOUS CHAPTER THIRTY   ONE DAY EARLIER THE OVAL OFFICE THE WHITE HOUSE, WASHINGTON DC   FACES. STRANGE AND LIMITED. With only two eyes, smooth skin with some facial hair, human cases looked peculiar, despite their somewhat logical design. Primary sat at the desk considering each of them in the different […]

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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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