Avalanche – Snippet 31


They were flying relatively low; only about a thousand feet up or so. It was a slightly cool, damp 4 A.M., even this high up. John and Sera were flying over the Florida panhandle, as fast as they could manage. The sun hadn’t yet broken over the horizon, but it would soon; John couldn’t remember what sort of twilight they were in, now, whether it was nautical or civil or whatever. He liked working at night; between having NVGs or his enhanced sight, it was an edge against enemies, most of the time. Twilight would have to do.

John and Sera weren’t flying by wire, with Vickie or Overwatch to guide them. The place they were going to wasn’t on the map, strictly speaking. Not the sort of place you could plug into a GPS, at any rate. It was an old mental hospital situated right on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, on the Florida side. It only had one beat to hell road, unpaved, leading to it, well off of the beaten path that most of the tourists would take to visit the area. John liked the outdoors well enough–he spent enough time in them, with his former occupation and even with what he did now–but he couldn’t see how anyone could enjoy the goddamned swamp. Maybe it was just a prejudice leftover from the “Florida Phase” he did in his Ranger School training; that had been an ungodly amount of time spent with little to no food or sleep, and always, always, in wet clothing. Too many mosquitoes for his liking.

He glanced over at Sera, wiping a little of the condensation from his goggles to get a better look at her. She looked determined; she was pumping her wings hard, going as fast as she could. They could have been at the location in minutes, but they were trying for a more “stealth” approach. A giant comet coming straight for the hospital would have been a dead giveaway for too many people that were interested in them, not to mention whoever else was with Zach. For a brief moment Sera looked over to him, maybe sensing his gaze; she smiled back at him, showing teeth. Even with what was at stake, she was feeling exactly the same thing that he was; relief. They had found what they were looking for. No matter what happened now, they’d do what needed to be done. And I’m not crazy. Well, shit, crazier than usual. Figure that the average Joe would have to be a little bent to get caught up in this war and keep at it the way I have.

John grinned back at Sera. We’re gettin’ close, darlin’. I can feel it. Or at least we better be close. I’m ready to get this hunt over with.

He felt what could only be described as a “mental caress.”  It had become a trademark of sorts between himself and Sera; something that they had developed together, more intimate than anything physical could possibly be, since it wrapped emotion, intention, and so much more up in an instant, with nothing lost in transmission.  The hunt is only the beginning, beloved, she replied.  The visions…fragmented as they were, I sense this will not be easy.

Wouldn’t be any fun if it was easy, now would it? He banked playfully towards her for a moment before straightening out. Either way…wait. We’re there.

There, was supposed to be an old mental hospital, long abandoned.  There did not match anything Vickie had pulled up on it; even satellite views had shown little more than some glimpses of roof under massive, surrounding trees.  They both pulled up and hovered; Sera had dimmed her fires down to nothing and was only a darker shadow in the night, wings beating strongly.  John wished he could dim the fires that were keeping him aloft; he probably looked like some “tacticool” version of Icarus, right then.  If there was anything or anyone looking up right now, he’d be a lovely aerial target for someone looking to get some practice in–

“Darlin’, to hell with it. Let’s just get down there. If there’s goin’ to be any danger, we’ll feel it comin’ an’ react before it hits us. Time isn’t on our side, ‘ere.”

For answer, she folded her wings and dove like a falcon straight for the entrance.  She caught him off-guard, leaving him still hovering while she was a third of the way to the ground.  Try to keep up, he heard.

John grinned, then gritted his teeth as he killed his fires. To hell with stealth. He let himself fall for about forty feet, head down, before he kicked them back on with a loud pop; it didn’t take him more than a second or two to catch up with Sera once he poured the speed on, but he actually was a little bit worried that she’d beat him, for a moment.  She dove at the same rate a falcon would dive; about 180 mph.  Vickie had timed her, too.  It didn’t beat his top flying speed but it was certainly fast enough to outpace a Thulian sphere at combat speeds. They largely didn’t rely on their speed in combat, but their agility and invulnerability.

It took seconds for John and Sera to close the distance and touch down on the ground; Sera, abruptly opening her wings and somehow rotating in midair so that her extended foot touched the ground, exactly as a falcon would land, dropping into a crouch and folding her wings tightly against her back, and manifesting her fire-spear.

John did a front-flip, ending up right-side up instead of head down again, and flared his fires the last hundred or so feet, bracing for the g-forces. The ground was scorched under him before he cut out the fires, kicking up a small cloud of dust. He landed exactly as Sera had, manifesting his fire-claymore. He felt like the goddamned Rocketeer.

“Ready, darlin’?”

“I find it alarming that they have not come to meet us,” she whispered, staring at the closed double-doors. Bland double-doors; they looked like ones you’d see on the entrance of a hospital, a school….

…or maybe a prison?

“The lack of response is…troublin’. I mean, here we are, all dressed up an’ nothin’ or nobody t’meet us. I’d imagine they’d have some sort of surveillance or early warnin’ systems that should’ve let ’em know we’re here.” He thought for a moment. “Let’s knock.” The pair of them walked calmly up the steps on the porch; the entire front of the building was….institutional.  The doors were glass, framed in aluminum.  Cinderblock, but coated with something that made it gleam like ceramic.  Hard to tell what color it was in this light, but it was probably a gray or pale green.  The windows were also aluminum-framed, smallish, identical.  And…barred.  Not a good sign; the more exits, the better, though John supposed that they could just destroy a wall if they needed another way out.

And this was certainly not the faux Antebellum-mansion that the original mental institution had been.  This looked like a government building of the sort that had sprouted in droves in the fifties in Florida, when the space program and more…clandestine…operations had taken root here. Cheap land, few neighbors, and fewer questions.

Except this building didn’t show much age.  Certainly not a half-century worth.

John and Sera pushed their way through the front doors; they weren’t locked, in any case. He still didn’t feel any danger, but something was definitely off. The lights were on, and the ceiling fans were still spinning, but…no one was to be found. The interior was like the outside of the building; cold, newer than it should have been, and…soulless, at the heart of it. This was a reception area, it looked like.  Institutional green walls, ceramic tile this time, linoleum floor, heavy gray metal desk with a closed binder right in the middle of the desktop.  No computer.  Two speakers on the wall behind the desk.  Green plastic chairs like a doctor’s office waiting room, a coffee machine that looked brand new and old at the same time. A carefully cultivated patina of neglect. It hit John all at once. It looked like a TV set, what some art director thought that a loony bin would look like. A finger of ice crept its way along his gut.

“I’d say ‘curiouser an’ curiouser’, but that would suggest I wanna know more ’bout this place. I’m officially creeped out, darlin’. I wanna find Zach an’ get the hell out of…whatever this is.”