The Origin Society:They
100 pages
English

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100 pages
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Description

Jess and Jace Grisham wake alone on the first day of Spring Break to an unusually quiet house. Rick Grisham is a conspiracy theorist determined to find “proof” that aliens have visited Earth and the government is covering it up. Humans are not alone in the universe.

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Publié par
Date de parution 15 juillet 2019
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781954978027
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0027€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

The Origin Society: They
Written by Billy Dixon
Published May 2019
All rights reserved
Copyright © 2019 by Billy Dixon
Skippy Creek
Imprint of Jan-Carol Publishing, Inc

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, either living or dead is entirely coincidental. All names, characters, and events intertwined in the story are the product of the author’s imagination. This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, in any manner whatsoever without written permission, with the exception of brief quotations within book reviews or articles.

E-ISBN: 978-1-954978-02-7
Library of Congress Control Number: 2019943382
You may contact the publisher:
Jan-Carol Publishing, Inc.

PO Box 701
Johnson City, TN 37605
publisher@jancarolpublishing.com
jancarolpublishing.com


For Allie, with the hope that our dinner conversations about the wonders of the universe continue.


Introduction
If his life had been turned upside down on any other Monday, maybe he wouldn’t have minded so much. After all, Mondays are terrible days to begin with. But the first day of spring break?
If eleven-year-old Jace Grisham had known that he might have seen his father for the last time and the imminent alien invasion would definitely not be the super cool event TV shows made it out to be, he might’ve reacted a little less selfishly.
But he didn’t know those things. Instead, he complained to his twin sister Jess, who certainly wasn’t any more prepared for the end of civilization than he had been. It was bad enough that they had to spend their week off with their dad instead of in the mountains or at the beach with friends—and their father had chosen this spectacularly bad time to pull one of his disappearing acts.
Something was nagging at Jess, however. It felt different this time. Maybe it had to do with the mysterious phone calls in the middle of the night. Maybe it was because their father, who was notorious for going off on wild goose chases to track down the latest UFO rumors, had never before failed to say goodbye with a hug and a kiss.
Maybe it had something to do with the black van that had been parked at the end of the block for days.
Jace and Jess thought their world had been blown apart when their parents divorced and their father was diagnosed with that dreadful disease. Neither was uncomfortable enough yet to mention it to the other, but the gnawing feeling in the pit of their stomachs was a harbinger of things to come.
Maybe they shouldn’t have been upset about the first day of spring break being disrupted, and more worried about ever again living through another normal day instead.
They were coming.

Prologue
September 4, 1964
Sweat dripped from General Matthew Baker’s forehead, despite the downright cold cargo hold on the C-130 Hercules.
The plane, code-named Strong Man, was a brute of vehicle. Four turbine engines powered the beast and lifted whatever load it was carrying inside its 40-foot length of cargo space for up to 1,100 nautical miles. It was capable of hauling vehicles and personnel across oceans or airdropping 42,000 pounds of supplies out its rear hatch.
The cargo hold was virtually empty on this trip. Just General Baker, two pilots (both locked inside the cockpit before the plane was loaded), and a lead-lined, steel reinforced trunk with enough padding inside to safely transport a Fabergé Egg in a horse-drawn buggy across a cobblestone street during a magnitude 8.0 earthquake rode in the cavernous bay. The package inside was secure; of that, the general was certain. Whether being secure was enough to ensure his safety on this inter-continental hop—or not—remained to be seen.
General Baker was one of perhaps ten people on the planet who knew what was in the trunk and comprehended the threat it presented. He shook his head. A four-star general in the United States Army, babysitting a box. Crazy . But one didn’t become a four-star general by questioning orders. Once he’d arrived at the secret research facility on the unchartered island in the Pacific and had seen for himself what they were dealing with, he stopped being angry about being set this task (assigned by the President of the United States himself, no less) and started getting scared.
His four-star counterpart on the plane exactly one mile behind them felt the same way.
They were under strict orders not to discuss what they were transporting under any circumstances. That order did not preclude talking about the mission itself, however. If dedicating 1/20th of the country’s four-star general population to transport these boxes to another facility just outside Washington DC was deemed necessary, then they’d make sure the job got done, and done correctly. The question they asked themselves, though, was why in God’s name would anyone think it was a good idea to bring these things into the country? A deserted, unnamed, uncharted, and largely uninhabited (except for a handful of scientists) island seemed like the second-best place to keep the contents of these two trunks.
The best place, they decided, would be to launch them into space on a collision course with infinity.
General Baker watched the sweat drip off his forehead to pool on the floor between his feet and mentally counted down the minutes until the plane and its top-secret cargo became SEP: Someone Else’s Problem.
He’d read all the news reports, and was even given access to some of the confidential files concerning the outrageous news stories and sightings in Ridgeport. He was pretty sure he remembered hearing about the event on the nightly news back in 1954, but that had been a decade ago; there had been a lot of crazy reports in those days, and the years since. Whatever had happened in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 had brought every nut job looking for attention to the forefront. Yes, the general was fairly certain he remembered hearing about the event—but he sure didn’t believe the reports.
Now, though? Now was something else altogether. He didn’t have to believe. The proof was in the trunk sitting within arm’s reach.
When the trunk shifted slightly starboard, he didn’t think anything of it. When it hopped into the air a couple of inches port side, he blamed it on turbulence. He didn’t feel the plane bouncing, but he was so accustomed to flying in rough skies that he rarely paid attention to the slight bumps anymore.
For reasons he couldn’t explain, his nervousness level ratcheted up several notches with every shift of the cargo.
“Get a grip,” he scolded himself out loud.
To calm his nerves, he fingered the radio transmitter. He triggered the handset and started to speak, but thought better of it. Anything said here would be broadcast and recorded somewhere. He didn’t want his name logged into any report concerning this mess. He hoped his mere presence would be nothing more than a footnote in long-forgotten historical references. Instead, he tried to sit back and think about something—anything—else.
With his eyes closed, General Baker didn’t see the trunk slide another foot closer to the rear of the cargo hold, but he could certainly hear it as metal scraped metal. He tried his best to ignore the noise, and was somewhat successful—until the popping starting. It sounded so much like the popping of an air cell on bubble wrap that he was almost convinced that was exactly what he heard. But there was no bubble wrap anywhere in the cargo hold, and he had witnessed the package being secured and loaded in the trunk. No bubble wrap in there, either.
He opened his eyes warily, looking at the cargo through slits, certain that he did not want to witness what he was about to see.
Slight bulges were forming on the surface of the stainless steel. They formed like bubbles and collapsed back into shape with an audible pop.
“What in the world?” General Baker asked no one in particular.
Giving up on caring about historical references or what anyone listening in might think, General Baker keyed the mike.
“Heavy Lifter, this Strong Man. Over,” he called.
Just under one mile back and unbeknownst to either, closing the distance, Four-Star General Gary Vincent responded. “I’ve got you loud and clear, Strong Man.”
Hearing his counterpart’s strong, steady voice made General Baker feel a little foolish. He was surely letting his imagination run away with him. He was on the verge of making up another reason for breaking the radio silence when the trunk lifted off the floor of the cargo hold, floating unsupported six inches in the air.
Before he could say anything, General Vincent’s clearly panicked voice came across the com. “Sweet Lord, how on Earth…”
Before he could finish the sentence, General Baker heard the clear slamming of steel on steel through the airwaves mere moments after the trunk in front of his own eyes slammed back to the floor. He didn’t have to ask to know that whatever strangeness he was seeing was happening on the second plane as well.
“Do you have any explanation?” he asked, knowing full well no one on the planet was qualified to fully explain what the objects inside the two trunks were capable of doing.
Before General Vincent could respond, several things happened simultaneously.
When the initial crash brought the two objects together ten years ago, an unexplainable connection was established. Each could sense and was drawn to the other, meeting with spectacular violence. Experiments were conducted on the island. One mile was discovered to be the safety buffer. Any closer and the two would leap at each other, destroying anything that stood in their paths. One object seemed aggressive, the other defensive, but there was no denying or explaining the connection. Any further apart than a mile, and a homing beacon of some sort would activate on the second object. It would vibrate so violently that any structure within one hundred yards would crumble. It was theorized the object was absorbing the molecular energy from every item within range for the purpose of launching itself toward the other object. Four scientists lost their lives in gruesome fashion before the optimal one-mile buffer zone was discovered.
Ten years later, the lead plane slipped a little further into the stronger headwinds of a massive cold weather front. In the mere seconds it took for the pilot to adjust the plane’s airspeed, the second plane closed the gap between the two vehicles to slightly inside one mile. The result was spectacularly frightening and catastrophic.
A high-pitched hum, nearly a squeal, emanated from the trunk in General Baker’s plane. It once again rose off the floor and hovered in the air. This time, it did not crash back to the floor. Instead, it started to rotate slowly, gradually increasing speed into a noisy spin. Any nature lover who had ever studied fight or flight amongst animals in the wild recognized the shriek as one part warning and one part fear. General Baker tried to speak, but static filled the airwaves. As the shrill screech intensified, he could only drop the mike and cover his ears, trying in vain to block the unnerving sound.
As the trunk spun faster and faster, the plane lurched from side to side in the sky as if being buffeted by tremendous gusts of wind. The pilots in the locked cockpit, unaware of what was taking place in the cargo hold behind them, were baffled by their increasing lack of control over the aircraft and growing deeply concerned over the piercing sound aft.
Almost impossibly, the shrill cry increased in intensity as the spin rate of the trunk also sped up. The crate was whipping around so fast it was only a blur and had started to glow, bathing the cargo hold in a painfully bright, golden light that seemingly had no source.
General Baker’s eardrums ruptured at the same moment his hand was severed cleanly from his wrist, when he reached up in an attempt to corral the whirling dervish.
As the pain receptors in the general’s body sent shock waves of agony coursing through him from head to toe, the trunk launched forward, slamming into the locked cockpit. The steel beam construction at the front of the craft prevented the trunk from propelling itself into the night sky beyond, but the damage it caused—both to the control center of the plane and to the fragile bodies of the pilots—doomed the continuation of the flight.
Now well inside the one-mile threshold, the trunk inside the second plane reacted with an attraction reserved for the strongest magnets mere inches apart. Instead of crashing forward, however, it pulled the entire plane along at a rate approaching the speed of sound, far faster than any C-130 had ever flown. The trailing second plane began breaking into pieces as it hurtled toward the doomed flight ahead.
Due to its own magnetic force, the Earth’s gravity won in the end. The first plane slammed into the forested ground, thick tree cover cushioning the angled blow just enough that two of the three occupants temporarily survived. One even managed to exit the wreckage.
The passengers of the second plane didn’t last as long. Unable to take the strain, the wings were literally shredded into pieces as the gap between the two vehicles shrank. Instead of drawing closer, however, the plane plummeted into a deep, remote lake, sinking into the murky depths.
In a bit of cosmic fortune, the final resting places of the two planes were exactly one mile apart.






Chapter 1
Spring Break Disrupted
Today
W hen Jess Grisham woke up early on Monday morning, the first official day of her spring break, she sensed immediately that something was off.
A quick glance at her bedside alarm clock showed it was 6:32. That was a bit early for a day off from school, but her body had grown accustomed to getting up at that time. Besides, she wasn’t one to waste a single minute of the day.
She lay still, swallowed in the warmth of the comforter, pulled up over her chin, and snuggled into the softness of the mattress gripping her with gentle fingers. Rays of sunlight filtered through the blinds covering the window across the room. Outside, the chirps of the early birds roosting in the shrubs tweeted and trilled through the silence.
Silence.
That’s what was off. It was never this quiet in the house. Her father Rick, like Jess herself, was an early riser—if he even went to bed to begin with. He was a tireless worker. When excited about a project he was working on, he would stay up until all hours of the night toiling away, and was always up and at it in the mornings long before anyone else. Typically, a TV tuned to a news station would be blaring from both his bedroom and the living room, featuring commentators whose sole purpose seemed to be competing with each other to see who could argue the loudest. More recently, the cacophony of TV blowhards was punctuated by the thump, thump, thump of her father’s cane as he paced down the hall and through the rooms of the house, talking to himself as his mind worked through project entanglements.
Jess had grown accustomed to the cane, but not what it symbolized. One day the disease that had stricken her father would progress, leaving him wheelchair bound. Eventually, the ALS—also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease—would shut his body down completely. It was a cruel and terrible disease with no cure. The outcome was inevitable, but it was always something that was “way out there” in the “one day.”
But with the abnormal quiet of the morning, fear struck Jess with a rush of adrenaline that forced her out of the comfortable bed. With each passing day, the dreaded “one day” inched closer. It wasn’t pleasant to think about, and often she didn’t, but it was a reality that they all lived with.
Jess rushed out of her room and down the hall to her father’s bedroom. It was still hard for her not to think of it as her parents’ room. For the first ten years of her life, that’s how it had been. No one blamed the ALS for the divorce, but it was at the root of it all. Since the diagnosis, her father had become more obsessed with his work than ever. He spent every minute and nearly every dollar chasing down what he referred to as “The Truth,” capital letters audible. He believed in conspiracies and government coverups, and had made it his life’s mission to expose the reality he believed in. At the top of his list was the belief that aliens had—and still were—visiting Earth. With his own time running out, he had become more determined than ever. It was more than their mom could handle. She finally had to pull the plug and get on with her own life.
Jess sighed with relief to find her father’s bed mussed but empty. He’d at least slept there overnight and risen at some point. It wasn’t something she consciously thought about, but the idea of finding him still in bed, unable to get up, floated not deeply enough in the recesses of her subconscious. At least today wasn’t going to be that day.
Still worried, Jess sped back down the hall past her brother’s room to the upstairs living area. All the lights were off, except for one bulb over the kitchen sink. They’d always left that light on as a beacon in the night.
Back in the hallway, she opened the door leading to the basement. She listened intently for sounds of her father tinkering with something at his desk. Nothing. The silence was broken only by the soft snores of her brother, one door down.
To be sure, she descended half the stairs to scan the room.
Empty.
There were a hundred possible explanations. The great majority of them were innocent, nothing to worry about. But something wasn’t sitting right with Jess. She sensed something was wrong. She wouldn’t borrow trouble yet, however.
Back in her room, Jess navigated her phone with expert fingers. She looked through messages first. There were several missed texts from friends that she would deal with later, but nothing from her father. She took the ear buds from her nightstand, plugged them into the phone, and selected music that she hoped would soothe the unsettled feeling that was growing stronger.
Her chore for the day was to clean her room. Bouncing to the music, she started sorting through piles of laundry. She had some time before Jace woke up. Maybe Dad will be back by then .
Two hours later, Jace’s eyes popped open. He groaned as he looked at his own clock, threw a bare arm across his eyes to block out the light glaring through his window, and tried to burrow deeper into covers long ago kicked to the floor.
He’d been up until the wee hours of the morning playing his favorite video game, Operation: Covert Extraction. Jace would have been annoyed to wake up any time before noon, much less at this unfathomable hour.
But he was awake now. Giving up on going back to sleep as a lost cause, he rolled over and glanced through his door, across the hall, and into Jess’ room. He could see her shadow flitting around the room, and hear the muffled sound of music through earbuds turned up too loud.
“Ugh,” he groaned again, flopping his hand blindly along the side of the bed, sweeping the floor for his comforter. Grasping a corner, he pulled it back up and buried his head. How can twins be so different ? he wondered. Jess was always wide awake bright and early. Jace himself thought noon was the best part of morning, because that’s when it ended.
It took him a bit longer than Jess to realize something was off, but for someone always accused of being self-absorbed, Jace was much more observant than given credit for.
It wasn’t unusual for his sister to be bouncing around in her room listening to music while doing chores or homework, but when they were staying with their dad, there was no way he should be able to hear the music. This was a loud house. Except today, it wasn’t.
“Jess!” he called out, his voice still garbled with sleep.
No response.
“HEY! SISTER IN THE OTHER ROOM!” he yelled, much louder this time.
The beat of the music stopped, and Jess’ head popped into view. “Morning, ugly half. What’re you doing up so early?”
Jace ignored the question. “Why’s it so quiet? Where’s Dad?”
Jess crossed the hall and plopped down on the end of his bed. “I was hoping you’d know. Something feels…”
“Wrong,” Jace said, completing the sentence. The same sense of dread was starting to sink in with him. “Have you…”
He trailed off, not wanting to give voice to the thought.
“Yeah, I searched the house,” she said. “No sign of him.”
“Work, you think?” Jace asked.
“Isn’t it always?” Jess responded. “But he never goes without telling us goodbye.”
Jace flashed back to the phone call he’d overheard just two nights before. Their father had seemed very excited, but he was always on the verge of a major breakthrough; Jace didn’t see any reason to think this was different.
Jess had overheard a phone call too, but had completely forgotten about it. She and Jace had slept in the giant king-sized bed in their father’s room two nights ago, because a terrible storm had knocked out the power. The call came on Rick’s cell phone in the middle of the night, disturbing Jess’ sleep, but the severity of the storm was what she remembered the next day.
Sitting up in bed, Jace pulled the cord to raise his shade and squinted out into the bright morning. The neighborhood was picking up steam for the day. Mr. Lancaster, a retired neighbor, was pouring gas into his lawnmower while his wife used a similar plastic can to pour water on some flowers growing around their mailbox. Both paused to wave at a girl delivering newspapers from her bicycle.
“Maybe Patty can solve the mystery and find Dad,” Jace joked, referring to the girl. Patty Parker had been in the news recently for solving mysteries while delivering her papers. Jace cringed and held his breath as the girl had to swerve to the curb to avoid two large, black, panel vans hogging the road.
“If she doesn’t get run over by those creepy looking vans first,” Jess joked.
With an unsettled feeling still gnawing at his gut, Jace untangled himself from his comforter and stood. Jess followed him out of the room, but headed toward the kitchen while Jace started down the steps into the den.
He didn’t think Jess had missed something as obvious as their dad working downstairs, but he wanted to have a look around on his own. He’d spent plenty of time over the years hanging around his dad’s work station while playing nearby with his own toys.
For the longest time, the den had been an unfinished basement, used for storage and not much else. When their mom had finally tired of having to clear Rick’s maps, notebooks, and newspaper articles from every surface of the kitchen and living room just to sit down and eat or watch TV as a family, she insisted he carve out space downstairs.
Reluctantly, Rick had cleaned out a great deal of the accumulated junk, then put down some all-purpose carpeting, brought in a new desk and some book cases, and built a wall that divided his new area from the rest of the basement. The other side was left as a storage space, with one entire wall composed of a long row of old cabinetry that had been pulled out of the kitchen years ago.
The cabinets had been down here since Rick had moved into this very house with his dad decades ago. Jace had never given the cabinets a second thought. They had always been a part of décor. The countertops had been used as a work bench, and the cabinets themselves for storage of tools and old toys. An entire section under the old sink was dedicated to Jace’s Star Wars and Transformers figures, Jess’ Sweet Streets houses, and boxes of Disney movie DVDs. Seemingly out of place on the opposite end of the counter was a mannequin head inside a locked plexiglass case. Perched atop the fake head was a bejeweled crown. Matching earrings dangled from each side, family heirlooms that Jess had often admired and dreamed of wearing but had been strictly forbidden to touch.
Since they had moved out with their mom last year, Jess rarely came down to the den anymore, but Jace still liked to meander down and rifle through the old toys now and again. Occasionally, he would wonder over and steal a glance at whatever his dad was working on. The desk was typically covered with the same papers and articles that had always cluttered up the kitchen table, but today there was a new addition.
A photo album was laying open on top of the piles. Protected by laminated sheets, the pages were not full of pictures, but of newspaper articles. The first headline Jace read immediately captured his attention. He plopped down in the squeaky swivel chair and propped his feet on the desk, pulled the album onto his lap, and started reading, eyes wide. The headline screamed in large, bold type:
Ridgeport U.F.O. Sightings Draw Interest from Washington
Jace had no more than skimmed the first paragraph when Jess yelled to him from upstairs.
“Dad left a note,” she said. “I just found it.”
The worried tone in her voice was the one thing that could pull his attention away from the fascinating article. He sat the album back on the desk, stole one more quick look at the picture accompanying the story, and raced back upstairs.
Jess was in the kitchen, holding a note scribbled on a scrap of paper and a $20 bill in one hand, the Grand Canyon National Park magnet that had attached it to the refrigerator in the other. Her eyes darted across the sloppy handwriting, clearly looking for more than what was there.
“What’s it say?” Jace asked, grabbing the note out of her hands before giving her a chance to answer.
“Read it,” she said.
Jace lowered the note and stared at his twin. “No,” he said sarcastically. “I think I’ll save it to read over breakfast.”
Jess ignored him and stared over his shoulder to read it again.

Hey Js,
Sorry. I hate to run without at least saying bye. Uncle Aaron tracked down what we’ve been searching for, and I had to leave right away before the government gets wind of what we’ve found. This is big. Huge. If I can get there first, it could change the world. Might even be a life saver. Call your mom and have her come pick you up. I left a 20 for you, order a pizza for lunch.
Love, Dad

“That’s it?’ Jace asked incredulously, turning the note over and over, looking for more.
“Mom’s out of the country,” Jess said, her tone worried. “She can’t come get us.”
She reached across the counter and pulled the wireless phone off the stand. “I’m calling him. He has to come back.”
She started dialing the number and Jace hopped up onto the island counter top.
Before she could tap in the last digits, Jess dropped the phone and screamed.

Chapter 2
Through Glass and Pantry
T HERE’S A MAN OUTSIDE THE WINDOW!” Jess yelled, panic filling her voice. She took an involuntary step backwards and pressed herself flat against the cabinets, trying to make herself invisible. She pointed a trembling finger toward the picture window.
If spending a lifetime living with a conspiracy theorist had taught the kids anything, it was to believe the unlikely without a second thought and act on instinct. Jace shifted on the island, following his sister’s finger—but he was a moment too late. All he saw were limbs from an overgrown rhododendron snapping back into place after being disturbed by something large passing through. He didn’t see the person Jess claimed to see, but his eyes were drawn over the bushes, across the yard, and toward the street visible beyond. One of the strange black vans was parked on the corner. It was just a quick glance, and his brain had no more than a millisecond to process what he’d seen, but that was all he needed. Hours and hours of playing Operation: Covert Extraction were about to pay off in a big way.
No people were visible around the van, but the morning sunlight was positioned just right to reveal shadows hiding behind the van out of direct line of sight: human -shaped shadows.
“Jess, we gotta go. We have to get out of the house now ,” he said, trying to keep a calm tone. His sister was shaking at this point, stuttering again about how she’d seen someone at the window.
Playing his game, Jace often daydreamed about being in such a situation, convinced he’d act just as heroically as the characters he directed with a controller. It was easy to be brave when the consequences of something going wrong could be rectified by simply choosing Play Again . He was discovering that the real world didn’t mirror video games, but his heart rate remained under control. Jace moved from window to window in the kitchen and living room, looking out. He still couldn’t see anybody, but he did notice another van, positioned facing in the other direction, down the street.
Jess was still frozen against the counters.
“Wh…wha…what’s going on?” she asked. “Wh…why are soldiers outside our house?”
She hadn’t mentioned before that the man she saw was a soldier, but it made sense. It was all starting to add up, and the sum of the equation was nothing good. Two things their dad had always taught them immediately applied here: never accept anything the government said without looking for the other side of the story, and understand that they would go to any lengths to protect a secret.
Jace quickly connected the dots.
“I think maybe Dad really did find something this time, and we’re about to have visitors determined to keep that from getting out,” he said, grabbing Jess and pulling her by the arm toward the back door.
They didn’t make it.
At that moment, the picture window in the living room exploded inward. A thin stream of smoke curled from the grenade-like device that had been thrown through the glass. The twins heard sounds of broken windows all over the house, and seconds later muffled small explosions sounded as the tear gas canisters released their contents.
Jace shifted directions from the back door off the kitchen toward the hallway across the room that led into the rest of the house. The attack was coming from all directions, which left only one option.
The basement.
The chances seemed slim, but maybe they could find a place to hide and stay out of sight.
Pulling a still frozen Jess with one hand, Jace snagged the strap of his backpack off a kitchen chair with his other and hoisted it over his shoulder. It was all he had time to grab. The room was quickly filling with the acrid smoke from the grenades. He choked back a cough and squinted, locating the basement door. They had seconds before they would be overwhelmed.
Knowing instinctively that in mere moments the gas canisters would be followed by large men with weapons and a clearly defined purpose of detaining anyone inside, Jace raced to the basement door in the hallway.
If they could somehow buy a little time to think, maybe they could figure a way out of this. The odds were long; Jace really needed Jess to snap out of her fear-induced trance and start thinking. Acting without thinking was Jace’s way. Thinking through problems was Jess’ specialty, and this was a problem that would require all of her brain power to solve.
Voices filled the house, coming from all sides. Although mostly garbled and unintelligible to his panicked ears, Jace nevertheless heard “detain everyone,” “no one gets out,” and finally, “GO, GO, GO!”
More windows crashed into shards simultaneously with the unmistakable crack of wood as the front and rear doors were splintered by battering rams.
While Jess screamed in fear and surprise once again, time seemed to slow down even more for Jace. Having a black ops team storm his house was something straight out of Operation: Covert Extraction . He strained to get a glimpse of a soldier in body armor beginning his search of the house as he reached for the doorknob that would lead them to the basement.
Safety wouldn’t be found in that direction, however.
Standing on the top step, waiting with a military-issued rifle pointing right at them, was a man dressed in a black armor-plated jumpsuit, wearing a gas mask.
Without a second’s hesitation or a word of explanation, the soldier clapped a hand over Jess’ mouth and forced both kids down the stairs into the den, quickly but silently closing the hallway door.
“Go,” the man hissed, pointing his high-powered rifle across the room, urging the trio around the den furniture.
“What’s going…” Jace started to ask, but was cut off instantly.
“There’s no time to explain; they’ll find us in seconds,” the newcomer whispered. “It’s vital that you get out of here. This way, now !”
The soldier took the lead, ducking through the door that separated the den from the basement storage area on the other side. Jace was shaken, but complied. Jess was too scared not to follow orders, and did so without hesitation. Not bothering to close the door separating the two rooms, the man reached the old kitchen cabinetry that lined the far wall. At one end, opposite the plexiglass case with the strange mannequin head, a tall cabinet door stood open, its hinges busted from the inside. A pantry in its former life, the space was anything but now. The back panel had been slid aside on a track the kids had never seen before, revealing a dark passage through the exterior basement wall and beyond.
Above them, thumping footsteps moved throughout the upper level of the house. Calls of “ Clear !” rang out as room after room was searched, all parties converging on the one door that couldn’t be accessed from outside. It wasn’t that large a house. They’d be found soon.
The soldier practically shoved Jace and Jess into the pantry and tunnel beyond.
“Where’s Rick? Is he still upstairs?” the man asked worriedly.
The twins looked at each other, waiting on the other to decide whether or not to respond. Despite the military ops team crashing into and searching through their house at that very moment, this man seemed like he was trying to help.
“I can help him,” the soldier said, reading their expressions, “but we’re running out of time. Please tell me.”
Jess was still trying to process everything. Star struck at being in the presence of a real special operative, Jace was hyped up.
“I don’t know. He left sometime last night without a word. We were looking for clues as to where he might be when windows started breaking all over the house.”
Jace saw a brief glimpse of panic on the man’s face.
“Clues? Did Rick leave anything upstairs that might lead to him?”
Jace was ready to answer, but Jess reached out and grabbed his arm to silence him. Although scared silent, her mind was running a thousand miles per hour trying to process everything. A military team had crashed unexpectedly into their house with smoke grenades and serious-looking weapons. This man was dressed like the others and seemed to be part of the team, but also appeared to be trying to help them. She couldn’t be sure they could trust him. She was certain, however, that volunteering too much information could be a bad idea.
“No,” she said, speaking for the first time since the raid began. “We have no idea where he is.”
The soldier looked relieved. He guided the twins deeper into the dark passage.
“Follow it straight, all the way to the end. Get as far away from here as you can, and don’t come back,” the soldier said, unclipping a flashlight from his belt and handing it to Jess. “I’ll buy you as much time as I can, but always assume someone is one step behind and closing fast. Now go.”
Jess snapped the button to turn on the flashlight, shining it deeper into the tunnel, but Jace stopped on a dime and turned back.
“Wait!” he said, sliding out of the pantry back into the basement. The soldier reached out to hold him back, but Jace slipped out of grasp and dashed through the door to his father’s office. He scooped the scrapbook photo album off the desk and ran quickly back to the hidden passage.
The tunnel was damp, cold, dark, and mysterious. Despite living here most of their lives, they’d had no idea it existed until seconds before. Even having that knowledge gave them little in the way of clarification. The tight beam from the military-grade flashlight only illuminated a few feet down the path.
The soldier quickly but carefully slid the hidden panel at the rear of the pantry back into place.
“Wait,” Jace said. “What’s your name? How did you know about this place? Why are you trying to help us?”
The man hardly paused to answer. “No time to tell you everything. I’m an old friend of your grandfather’s. My name is Max. Go all the way to the end, as fast as you can, and find somewhere safe to hide until this blows over. Sorry, there’s no time to explain.”
With that, the panel slid the final inch into place, and the darkness grew deeper around the solitary beam of light in Jess’ hand.
With no other choice, they started forward, deeper into the tunnel. Behind them, they heard the basement door open.
“ Clear !” Max’s voice rang out, as he resumed his role of black ops soldier.

Chapter 3
In the Tunnel
T he flashlight cut a beam of brilliance through the pitch black for the majority of their journey through the tunnel, but the light began to flicker in and out by the time they reached the end. Boxed in, the only way out was back the way they had come—or up. Iron pegs formed a rudimentary ladder from the subterranean passageway into what they assumed was the real world above. Faintly, the escaping twins could hear the sounds of traffic and the hustle and bustle of daily life going on uninterrupted. The world beyond had no reason to feel the fear and desperation of the duo just below their feet.
The tunnel had been perfectly carved through the dirt and rock. The corners separating side walls from floor and ceiling were perfectly square, and the floor itself was some sort of tile. The air was slightly damp and cool, but comfortable. And it was long. Very long. Less than halfway through, the adrenaline that had been fueling Jace began to wear off and the complaining started. Fortunately, he had thought to grab his backpack. Pausing early on to stuff his father’s scrapbook inside, he found two protein bars that became their breakfast.
Meanwhile, Jess was beginning to settle down. Freed from the immediate danger, the wheels of her mind started spinning and she began asking all the who, what, why, and how questions that Jace had no way of answering.
They were fascinated and wanted to carefully examine the newfound passageway, but fear for who might be gaining from behind kept them moving forward as quickly as possible. Jess’ mind continued to race with questions. Who was Max? Who was the team that had crashed into their house? And why? Max had all but confirmed it had to do with their father; his disappearance this very morning couldn’t be a coincidence. But what could he have possibly found? What truth could he have uncovered, or what could he have done to warrant the attack on his house by a special ops team? As exciting as it was for Jace to see that action up close, it was extremely scary. He’d watched enough movies, read enough books, and played enough video games to know that people captured by teams like that often didn’t show up again.
A part of Jace couldn’t help but be excited, however. He’d spent so many nights in the basement playing with his toys while his father worked at the desk nearby. People always underestimated how much Jace paid attention to what was going on around him. His father would pace the floors and talk out loud, thinking he was having a conversation with himself, but Jace took it all in. It didn’t hurt that the conversations were fascinating. What preteen boy wouldn’t be interested in assassination cover-ups, major conspiracies, and best of all, possible proof that aliens had visited Earth and could be walking around among us? Meanwhile, Jace would be in the corner playing with a toy space ship, imagining that what he held in his hands was a replica of a ship parked in a government hanger somewhere, hidden from public view.
Could his father have found proof? He reached around and patted the backpack on his shoulder, confirming the scrapbook was still there. Maybe answers to their questions were hiding inside. Whatever it was had to be monumental.
The foul mood that had built over the course of the journey through the long tunnel lightened when they reached the end and faced the rungs of a makeshift ladder, leading up and hopefully out.
“I’ll go first and check it out,” Jace said, grabbing one iron peg over his head and testing out a lower rung with his foot. Finding it secure, he climbed quickly.
“Be careful, Lys,” Jess said with concern, subconsciously using their father’s nickname for Jace, derived from his middle name.
“I’ve got this, Lexy,” he said, responding with her nickname. “Just help me stay steady.”
Above, three small, perfectly round holes of bright sunlight filtered downward through the otherwise perfect darkness. A dimmer ring of light circled the holes, Jace saw. A man-hole cover ? he thought.
Using all of his strength and endurance to climb, Jace recklessly scaled the peg ladder, not even bothering to test each peg before advancing to the next. Who knew how long this had been here or how sturdy it was?
At the top, he pushed with his free hand against the cover, but couldn’t get it to budge. Balancing carefully with one foot and wedging a knee around the next peg up, he let go with his other hand and used both to push. It was a man-hole cover, a heavy one. With great effort he slid it to the side, allowing a flood of sunlight to cascade into the tunnel.
“Wait here,” he told Jess, and pulled himself upwards into the unknown above and out of sight.
Jess waited impatiently, shifting from one foot to the other, exhibiting the same traits as her dad as she continued asking questions out loud to herself. She was scared and fearful for their future, but the vice grip around her heart was loosening. Jace had clearly long since put the looming danger out of his mind, instead allowing the potential for a great adventure to override the fear.
Seconds later, Jace poked his head back into the hole. “You’re not going to believe this. Come on up.”
Jess started her climb. Her sweaty, shaky hand slipped off the top rung as she reached for the ground above, but Jace was there leaning over the hole to grab her wrist before she could fall, pulling her to safety.
They had emerged in an alley beside a giant dumpster. The beige stucco side of a three-story building was on one side. The other three sides were a white-washed plank fence, corralling the man hole and the dumpster. By squeezing past the giant rusted trash receptacle, they accessed a small gate that latched from the inside.
Confused into silence, they cautiously exited the corral and slowly approached the mouth of the alley, where a steady stream of traffic rushed past down a main road.

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