Short Story: Caretaker

He sauntered through the airport terminal in a silk suit. Pristine cuts of tailored, black perfectly accented pressed, white beneath. The polished gloss at his feet matched the mirrored sunglasses wrapped beneath his widow’s peak. Everything about him said high-powered businessman, higher than the countless others around him. For all the cross-traffic and insanity of the terminals knew, he was preparing to board a private jet bound for some exotic destination.

He drew more ire from men than admiration from women, however contained either were in their fleeting glances. Looks enveloped the formal-wear and chrome, attache case in his right hand. Were anyone astute enough to notice, they might have had their suspicions aroused by its finger-print locks. It was difficult to tell, but close-up views of his smart-watch revealed itself for the digital tether to the case and its contents. Were he to separate the two by more than a few feet, every acronym agency in the country would be alerted. In turn, so would the President. From him, every other country in the world would learn the case had been separated from the watch.

But no-one in the airport knew that. Nor did they know the case’s contents. Not even the security guard that approached when he refused a scan. The suit remained as calm as the man inside it, ruffled to produce a bi-fold wallet. It laid atop the x-ray machine, open to “C.I.A.” large enough for only the guard to see it.

The wallet and case were promptly returned. The suit, the case, and their bearer were ushered through without delay. The ire of both men and women rippled outward across the small pond of humans gathered. It was greatest from those forced to remove their shoes, or submit to groping in the name of freedom. It, and they, thinned toward nothing the further he found himself from the check-point.

He boarded his plane as any man might and secured himself in a seat beside a window. No-one aboard was any the wiser. The classified courier and his package were unremarkable. He’d removed his sunglasses and settled against his seat. He didn’t even bother to glanced around. He sensed the half-dozen or plain-clothes agents scattered among the usual passengers as if they glowed. Even he wouldn’t have known of them were it not for the brief-glimpses of faces from Langley or its various satellite offices.

Who could suspect a dozen, field-trained CIA operatives were embedded on a random flight from Chicago to Vegas? Moreover, who would suspect an innocuous courier and an unremarkable brief-case carrying a zero-point energy bomb?

The device inside didn’t even work. Not as intended. And it couldn’t explode. Rather, it powered up, reached critical output, then shut down. In the process, it emitted such a lethal dose of radiation anyone in a twenty mile radius would be flash-cooked from inside-out. They’d learned that in Honduras even before he’d been sent to retrieve the damned thing.

What was more, the bomb could be reused. As long as it remained operational, it would work. With miniaturized, super-conductive components encased in steel and platinum, the only barrier to indefinite operation was the compressed helium it needed replenished every so often.

Getting the bomb had nothing short of a war. Field agents were killed and injured. Caretaker himself had a close call. No-one got away unscathed. Either physically, or emotionally, they were all a little less than they’d been.

Op-lead, call-signed Immortal, breached a rear-door of the massive, abandoned chemical factory in with strike-team Alpha. The armed guards patrolling the interior were taken by surprise in their cat-walk positions. Pinpoint-accurate triplets of gunfire barked, splattered blood across surfaces or sparked off metallic railings. Any attempting to flee were suppressed or killed. Most were dead before the last were entrenched behind the upper-floor’s control-room.

Gunfire was exchanged from corners and the control room’s wide, now-shattered window. Half of Immortal’s team were down before Bravo-lead, Locomotive, could flank as planned. The remainders of the two teams sandwiched the upper-level’s forces, moving in and up to brute force their way to the upper-hand. The upper-levels went quiet moments beneath scents of death and expended gunpowder.

Blood had painted the walls and floors with abstracts and Pollockian drip-strokes. They would soon dry, blending with rusted metal and cracked paint of a long-neglected building. For now, the surface sections were eerily still.

Below, Caretaker was moving along the lower levels with Charlie team. Old cement shifted to peeling, lead-lined walls. The latter were newer, narrower, clearly added after the factories construction. Portuguese and Cyrillic listed directions on the walls, lent credence to the facility’s suspected origins. Windowed halls gave views into massive chambers below. The chambers were mostly empty beyond the reinforced glass, save one at the end of a hall.

Inside, a dozen men and women were cloaked in radiation-proof hazmat gear, oblivious to the strike team hunkered down and watching them at a containment vessel. They began to transfer a phone-sized device into a lead-lined case. For no reason could Caretaker or Charlie allow it to leave the country– indeed, the facility, in anyone’s hands but theirs.

Caretaker led his team to a T-junction beyond the windowed room, followed a stairwell left, down, to the lowest edge of the cube-like rooms they’d passed. Guards stationed every twenty feet fell to quick aim. Caretaker remained on-point, hurrying the team along a short corridor, alcove-to-alcove, headed for the containment room.

Gunfire created a rhythm of punctual bursts from the half of Charlie-team covering the rear-flank. Surplus Soviet gear roared over the high-yapps of the latest, mil-spec SMGs.

The hack on the key-card access was quick; a minor splice of some wires. The three-foot thick containment chamber opened. A Geiger-counter clicked green, allowed the free-half of Charlie-strike to move in on hazmat-suited scientists that immediately surrendered at their ingress. They were ordered to the ground while the package was retrieved. It was placed inside the attache-case.

Since then, Caretaker had been attached to it. From Brazil, to Chicago, and now on to Vegas.

He wasn’t able to sleep the whole flight. He’d never been able to. Planes terrified him. Maybe he’d jumped out of one too many during Ranger school. He bided his time in the most unremarkable way of a book of crosswords. It kept his hands and his mind alternatively occupied when one or the other got ahead or away from him.

Caretaker exited Vegas to an long car-ride in a black, unmarked SUV. It ended at the Groom-Lake facility– colloquially known as Area-51. He had to admit some part of him was all the more eager to take the job for the idea of seeing the fabled base. His job was only concluded after he handed the brief-case and tether-band to an Air-Force General. The shoulders stars spoke less of his importance than the severity of his stiffness. Beside him, the black-suited Groom-Lake CIA liaison and a former director of Langley, escorted the General from the hallway where the exchange was made.

It was almost surreal, what Caretaker saw of the fabled Area-51. It was as normal as any office building, as boring as any administrative floor. The thought accompanied him all the way back to the airport and along his departure for Langley to debrief. Like him, that curious office-look was a facade masking countless depths of Man’s most unimaginable achievements, angelically miraculous or insurmountably devilish.

For Caretaker’s part, he knew at least one evil now resided there. Whatever the intent to its storage, for good or ill, it was out of the hands of known-madmen. Caretaker found solace in his faith that those whom held it might find a way to use it for good, or not at all. In any case, he’d done his part. He relaxed against his window seat and re-opened his crossword book. A lingering thought drifted away with the first of his writing; a wonder if known madmen remained in possession of the bomb.

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