Ian and Lila raced from the exhibit hall to try to catch up with Mitchell. He was nowhere to be seen.
“I’d like to know exactly what he meant by three towers,” Lila said thoughtfully as they walked slowly toward their car. As they got closer to it, she saw a white piece of paper underneath the driver side wiper blade. Leaning over, she lifted the wiper blade and pulled the paper from beneath it.
Smoothing the paper flat against the side of the car, she studied a simple hand drawn map in black ink with two lines indicating what appeared to be a road, a dividing line with CA / NV written on either side of it, and three towers off to the side of the road. There was a small compass in the right corner of the paper that indicated the towers were on the north side of the road.
Lila wore a puzzled expression as she tapped the paper a couple of times before turning to Ian. “You know where this is, don’t you?”
“Not really. I mean, I can tell that it’s close to the California-Nevada border, but aside from that…” Ian’s voice trailed off and he shrugged.
“It’s in the Mohave Desert next to the interstate. I see it every time I’m driving to Vegas,” Lila said with conviction.
“You’re sure you can find it?” Ian looked at her skeptically.
“Absolutely. You’ll know it when you see it,” she said confidently.
Clutching the map, Lila hopped in the passenger side and looked up at Ian expectantly. “Let’s go!”
Twilight was falling over the desert when less than three hours later Ian pulled onto the shoulder of northbound I-15.
Lila pointed to the other side of the freeway at the three glowing towers. “There they are,” she said triumphantly.
Ian gave a low whistle. “Nice work. Let me see the map one more time.”
She passed it over to him.
“It fits,” he agreed, and gave the map back to her.
Easing back onto the road, he continued until they reached the exit for the tiny town of Primm situated near the Nevada border. He took the exit and drove across the road to the southbound on-ramp for I-15 where he merged back onto the interstate.
As they closed in on the area near the three towers, Ian pulled as far off the road as possible.
“Lucky there isn’t more traffic,” Lila commented in a low voice.
Ian nodded, all his attention focused on the three towers. “Can you get the binoculars from under the seat?” he asked Lila quietly.
She reached under the seat and grabbed the digital camera binoculars.
Ian reached up to turn off the dome light so that they wouldn’t be illuminated as they opened the car doors. As they exited the car and began walking toward the towers, they heard a voice behind them.
“Fifteen minutes,” Joe said tersely into his satellite phone’s hands-free earpiece. He clicked the off button and put his full focus into driving, slewing across the snow to narrowly miss a huge clump of ice that had fallen off some vehicle’s undercarriage.
Lila dozed, her head hitting against the window with a clunk each time they drove over a bump, which was unfortunately almost all the time. At this final swerve, the side of her head thunked hard against the glass, waking her. “Ouch!” she exclaimed, rubbing her palms across her face. She yawned until her jaw cracked. “How long was I asleep?”
“An hour and half,” Ian replied and turned to look back at her critically, “You look like shit.”
“That’s just what every woman wants to hear,” Lila laughed and returned the perusal. “You’re looking pretty tired yourself. I can’t believe you and Joe haven’t fallen asleep.”
Ian rubbed his eyes. “I’m not sure if Joe has been staying awake. All that swerving makes it hard to tell. I know I’ve been drifting off,”
Joe glanced back at Lila. “Fifteen minutes out from the airport. Get ready.”
“Get ready for what?” Lila mumbled. She scrabbled around in her backpack and pulled out what appeared to be a lipstick container. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” she said shaking her head.
“So you’re gonna do what, put on lipstick?” Joe asked jokingly, glancing in the rear view mirror at the object Lila held.
“No, I’m going to stun anyone who tries to stop me from getting on that plane.”
She pulled off the case top and pressed a button. A jolt of electrical current arced across the top of the gadget.
“Sounds like a giant mosquito,” Ian commented. “Probably feels like one biting you too.”
“Shall we try it out?” Lila asked him challengingly and reached the stun gun toward him.
“Children, children,” Joe said teasingly, but with an undercurrent of tension. “Get your gear together. We’re almost there.”
Lila strapped on her backpack and Ian pulled his bag tightly across his shoulders.
Joe sped up and pulled the wheel hard left to skid into a position paralleling a small plane. Even though the plane was only a car’s width away, Lila had to squint to make out its shape in the near pitch darkness.
The three of them launched from their respective car doors, Joe taking time to nostalgically pat the car on the hood before running to catch up. They raced toward the plane, its engines already running.
A man with an AK-47 stepped around the side. “Please, don’t be in such a hurry,” he said in a thick Russian accent.
Lila grabbed Ian to keep from skidding across the snow and smacking into the man as she came to an abrupt stop. Joe almost created a domino effect by crashing into them.
“Uh, that’s our plane,” Lila said weakly.
“Not anymore,” the man “Charlie,” as she dubbed him, said villainously.
“Oh, yeah?” Lila couldn’t think of anything smart to say and looked to Ian. “Do something,” she muttered.
“What? He has a gun,” Ian replied in a low voice.
Joe pushed past the two of them and appeared to trip directly into Charlie, knocking the man’s AK-47 to the side. “Oops,” Joe said, slamming his elbow into the man’s nose, causing it to spurt blood like a faucet. Charlie dropped his rifle, clamping both hands to his nose, eyes streaming with tears. Joe took advantage of the man’s position to kick him in the head with his heavy boot. The man dropped like a rock.
Ian picked up the AK-47, removed the magazine and then ejected the already chambered round. Throwing the AK-47 as far as he could to the left, he then pitched the magazine and round off into the distance to the right.
“All right then,” Lila said, a little shocked. “Who’s going to fly the plane? I hope that wasn’t the pilot.” She gestured to the man lying on the ground and oozing blood.
“You do realize that Joe and I are pilots,” Ian said as they clambered on board the plane.
“Helicopter pilots. Even I know it’s not the same thing,” Lila said sarcastically.
Lila nearly fell headlong as her foot caught on an object on the floor. A man lay bound and gagged. “I’m assuming this is the pilot?” She asked hand braced above him. The man nodded.
The plane was already taxiing down the runway with Ian and Joe at the controls, when Lila helped the pilot sit up and climb into one of the passenger seats where he could take a moment to regain his composure.
Joe contacted what passed for a control tower and then cut the radio as a series of shouts in Russian could be heard squawking from the headphones. “Can’t hear you!” Joe yelled before pulling off the headset.
“Whew, glad to be in the air,” he said.
“What if they did something to the plane?” Lila asked worriedly.
“Then it will be a short flight,” Ian said mildly.
“Doesn’t anything ever worry you?”
“Not really. If it’s good, it’s good. If not, we’ll deal.”
They arrived safely in Magadan, and caught their onward flights. Almost thirty-six hours later, the taxi pulled up in front of their place and Ian and Lila crawled stiffly out.
“What a journey,” Lila groaned. “I think I need a bath.”
“I think you do too,” Ian agreed.
Lila rolled her eyes, too tired to respond.
As she unlocked the door, she could hear imperious meows emanating from behind it.
“Pearson!” she called out happily, carefully opening the door to keep from squishing him behind it.
Ian and Lila stretched out on the couch, Pearson nestled in beside them purring. Lila idly petted his fur. “I’m glad that the cat sitter left us a pumpkin, that was really nice of her.”
“Very seasonal,” Ian concurred sleepily, his eyes half shut and the reflected light from the candles burning inside the pumpkin dancing across his face.
Lila turned her head to gaze at him. “Happy Halloween.”
“To you too.” He smiled.
Lila snuggled in to enjoy the glow from the pumpkin. “It’s nice to be home.”
“So what do we do?” Joe asked.
Lila shrugged. “We push it back into normal mode. I want to be gone long before this whole thing gets discovered. I mean someone’s gonna show up when there’s no boom. But I also don’t want something really bad to happen because the procedure wasn’t done right. I had a year internship at San Onofre nuclear power plant before they decommissioned it. I know that even though shutdown is automated, there are certain functions that need to be shepherded.”
Lila pointed to a section on the instrument panel. “This area shows the reactor targets: the pressure, temperatures and flow rate.” She tapped another section. “Over here is the manual override, which is basically what we did to stop the self destruct sequence.”
She shook her head. “There’s a whole series of procedures to follow and if it’s an emergency shutdown, at some point you hit this SCRAM button,” she pointed to the button in the middle. “This will shove the control rods into the reactor in four seconds.”
Clicking through the computer menu options, Lila mumbled, “Okay, where’s the ‘return to normal’ sequence in all this.” She raised her head to look over at Ian. “You’ve been awfully quiet.”
“I figure, unless I can add something good to the situation to keep quiet,” Ian said.
“Good policy, “ Lila approved. “Wait, I think… yeah, this is it.” She quickly punched in a set of instructions. “I’m just guessing on most of this, but what else is new.”
For several minutes Lila peered closely at the control panel, watching the reactor target gauge to make sure levels didn’t rise dangerously. She breathed a sigh of relief. “I think it’s done. Yay, us,” she said tiredly, the previous adrenaline rushes leaving her drained and shaky now the crisis seemed to be over.
At that moment they heard the outer door’s deadbolt turn. The three of them froze, their eyes meeting before they frantically looked around the room for a place to take cover. There was nothing, not even a table under which to hide.
“Shit,” Lila mouthed silently.
Joe motioned toward the inner door and punched his hand into his fist indicating they should take out whomever it was before that person could raise the alarm. He moved up to stand next to the side where the door opened, taking up an attack position and resting his hand on the door handle. Ian and Lila hung back, letting Joe take the lead on beating up the unfortunate individual on the other side of the door.
As soon as the door handle started to move downward, Joe yanked the door inward as hard as he could with his left hand, pulling the other person’s head into his right fist. Lila winced as the person went down with a muffled grunt. Joe dragged the body completely across the threshold. “Let’s go,” he said in a low voice.
Ian and Lila followed him out the door, nearly stumbling across the person lying prone on the floor. They rapidly exited the outer door and edged their way beneath the tarp to the other side of the RV, feeling their way carefully to their original entrance point and keeping the flashlight off to avoid giving away their position.
Lila slid down the RV’s cold metal surface to lie flat on the frozen ground, peering out from under the canvas covering. Seeing no one outside, she tugged on Ian’s pant leg to let him know it was safe to exit.
She slid out from under the tarp, followed shortly by Ian and Joe, and they took off in headlong rush to the Lada guided only by the tiny sliver of moonlight illuminating their path.
They reached the Lada in record time, piling in as soon as the doors were unlocked. Joe revved up the engine and they bumped their way down the road.
No one said anything for several minutes as they tried to catch their breath.
Lila leaned her head against the back seat and yawned hugely. “I gotta say, Joe, you give a hell of a tour.”
Joe grinned. “I do, don’t I?”
Ian tapped the door handle. “So where are we headed?”
“Back to the airport. I’ve got a charter plane on standby. Figured we might need a quick pickup.”
“Let’s just hope there’s not a welcoming committee to greet us,” Lila said grimly.