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The Star Child - Chapter 1

Chapter One

 

Eli Fortner sat on the front porch, quietly cursing the directions that accompanied the two firewood racks.
 

“Screw this,” she growled to Cruz, who cocked her head as she smiled. Eli balled the paper in a wad. “That stuff is only good for the compost bin. I don't know why in God's name they have to make something so simple as using six bolts so confusing.”


“Do I hear cursing coming from out here, Aunt Eli?” Mitch asked. He sat down on the step beside the aunt he adored and casually tossed a tennis ball for Cruz to chase.


Eli smiled at her seventeen-year-old nephew. “I don't know why I bother reading the directions to these damned things. It's six bolts for goodness sake.”


“Do you want me to finish putting them together for you?”


“Naw, I got this. I just needed to fuss about the confusing directions. How is your schoolwork coming?”


Mitch ran his hand through his thick mop of dark hair. “Not bad, I've got maybe another thirty minutes to finish for the day.”


“Your job is going to be helping me fill these things up when I finally get them together.”


“Not today,” he grinned. “Whit and I are starting on the solar panels today. Evan is coming out after lunch to help. Where is the cute little Love Muffin anyway?” he teased.


“You'd better not let her catch you calling her that or she'll skin your hide,” Eli warned. “She worked in the lab last night, so she's sleeping in over at her place. I'm sure she'll be along soon if y'all have plans today.” Eli grinned at the nickname Mitch had given Whit. It fit her so well and Eli knew that Mitch thought the world of Whit. It was also an unspoken gesture from Mitch that he approved of their relationship. He would have never dreamed of giving Sara, her ex, a nickname, unless it was the bitch or something more derogatory.


“I can't wait to get started,” he said and rubbed his hands together. Cruz had returned with the ball, and he tossed it again.


“Go finish your schoolwork and you can make us some sandwiches for lunch. By the time you finish, it should be okay to call and wake the cute little Love Muffin,” Eli grinned. “I'm going to finish here and load the chainsaw in the Gator, and after lunch, I'll start cutting the downed trees into sections.”


“Don't even worry about stacking them. I'll load the logs onto the Gator and bring them down when we have finished for the day. I'll get Evan to help, and we can catch up to you quickly.”


“Done,” she said and sat the smaller of the two racks on the ground. “This one we will use for the smaller logs in the firepit. I should be able to cut a bunch of the small stuff to fit so we won't have to do any splitting. The fireplace is a whole other story.”


“Let me carry that out for you, and I'll get back to work,” Mitch said, and placed the small rack close to the firepit.


“Thanks, Mitch,” she said when he walked back onto the porch.


“No problem. Turkey sandwiches good for you?”


“Perfect,” Eli answered.


He nodded and disappeared into the cabin.


Eli pulled out the contents of the second box and opened the package with the hardware. “No need for these,” she said and tossed them back in the box. Eli used the ratchet and quickly had the second rack assembled and placed on the southern end of the front porch.


“All set,” she said as she picked up the cardboard boxes and carried them to the compost pile. Eli tore them into smaller strips and tossed them inside. She returned the tools and loaded the chainsaw and supplies into the rear of the Gator.


Eli had parked the Gator by the front steps and was walking toward the cabin when she heard the sound of helicopter rotors. “What the hell?” she said as the sound grew louder. A large black helicopter flew over the cabin and hovered over her open field for several seconds before touching the ground. The side door flew open, and two soldiers approached the cabin.


Mitch stood in the doorway of the cabin; his mouth hung open as he saw the two soldiers approaching. “What the hell?” he said, repeating Eli's question.


“I don't have a clue, Mitch, but it looks like we are about to find out.” Cruz began stalking toward the approaching men, her hackles standing along her spine. Eli saw one of the men reach for his sidearm. “Easy, Cruz, come,” she shouted over the dying noise of the rotors.


Mitch walked down the steps and stood beside her.


“You can stop right there, and take your hand off your weapon,” Eli growled.


The soldiers stopped a few feet away from them and stood at attention. The man that had reached for his weapon was red-faced.


“I'm sorry to disturb you, ma'am, but we have orders to collect Dr. Brewer this morning.”


“Collect her for whom?” Eli asked.


“That's classified information, ma'am, but her presence in Washington is necessary,” he answered. “Her country needs her.”


“You realize she does not live here, correct?” Eli answered. “Her home is next door,” Eli pointed across the stream.


“Yes, ma'am, we apologize for the inconvenience, but we have used this landing spot before. We had no knowledge anyone was living here.”


Eli's phone was vibrating on her hip. She reached down for it and saw Whit was calling. She took a step away from the men and answered the call. She listened for several minutes as Whit brought her up to speed on what was going on. While she was sleeping, she had missed an urgent call from the Pentagon, requesting her assistance. She would need to leave and would be away for several days.


“Pack your bag, and I'll drive over for you. Mitch has made lunch. I'll get him to pack a sandwich for you.” She listened for several more seconds. “Yes, I understand. Be there in a minute.” Eli ended the call and holstered her phone. “I'll drive over and get her,” she told the men.


“I will accompany you,” the officer said.


“No, you won't. You will stay right here,” Eli told him firmly and didn't wait for a reply. “Mitch, pack a couple of sandwiches for Whit and see if these gentlemen would like one as well. I'll be back in a few minutes.” She climbed into the Gator and tore off down the drive.


 

Whit had showered and was drying her hair when she heard the approach of helicopter rotors. She rushed to her computer to find an urgent message flashing. Whit grabbed her cell phone to call Eli as she dressed.


“I am so sorry for this intrusion. I did not see the message that a team was coming for me until I heard the helicopter approaching. I need to go to the Pentagon for a few days.” Whit waited several seconds for Eli to digest the information. “Will you come to get me? Maybe I can explain this better?” She waited for Eli's answer. “I love you, Eli.” She heard Eli end the call.


“Shit.”


Whit was worried about the tone in Eli's voice. She hurried to collect her ready bag and hygiene products as she waited for Eli. Whit never received details other than a team was on the way to retrieve her. She knew that once airborne she would receive a portfolio with information regarding the mission. Whit quickly fed her two cats, Oscar and Walter.


“You guys will have to stay with Eli for a few days.”


She heard Eli's boots on the front porch and ran to meet her at the door. “I'm so sorry this happened so suddenly. It must be something very urgent.” Whit took Eli in her arms and kissed her. “I won't be gone a minute more than necessary.”


“That sonofabitch was going to draw his gun on Cruz,” Eli growled.


“I am so sorry, Eli. I would never dream of scaring you or Cruz in any way. I didn't have time to alert you they were coming.”


“Damned good thing I don't have chickens yet. They'd be so traumatized they wouldn't lay for weeks.” Eli grinned. “In fairness, you did warn me that this could happen. I just didn't expect this.”


“I know, and I'm so sorry. I will talk with whoever threatened Cruz.”


“I don't think that's necessary. I think the soldier received my message loud and clear.”


“I know I don't have to ask, but will you keep an eye on Oscar and Walter?”


“You know I will. Mitch will be disappointed he can't start the project with you, but he'll understand the country needs you, and you'll be back soon.”


“As fast as I can. I'll call you whenever I can, but at least once a day. I have no idea what kind of hornet's nest I'm walking into in Washington.”


“I'll hold the fort down here while you go save the world,” Eli said. “Just come home as soon as you can.”


“You can bet I will.” Whit reached for Eli, and they kissed before walking out the front door.



Mitch, being the gregarious young man that he was, was getting the grand tour of the Blackhawk helicopter when Eli returned with Whit. Mitch was sitting next to the pilot when they pulled up beside the machine.


“Hello again, Dr. Brewer.”


“Welcome back, Roger. We need to discuss your landing protocols on this trip.”


“Yes, Ma'am, but we had strict orders to get back as soon as possible. I truly am sorry for any inconvenience we caused, ma'am,” he tipped his hat to Eli.


“I'll know better what to expect next time,” Eli said and offered him her hand.


“Yes, ma'am,” he said and shook her hand. “We do need to get going, though.”


“Mitch, I think that means you need to get back out here,” Eli called into her nephew.


“This is so cool, Aunt Eli. I put your lunch on the seat,” he told Whit and pointed at the paper plate loaded with sandwiches and chips. “The water is in the cup holder.”


“Thanks, Mitch,” Whit replied as he stepped onto the ground. “We'll get started on the solar panels when I get back.” She stepped forward and hugged him. “Take care of everybody while I'm gone.”


“I will,” he answered and reluctantly let go. “Hurry home. Hey, maybe I can get a ride when you come back.”


Roger chuckled. “We'll see. Maybe we could sneak a quick one in. It will have to be top secret, so we don't get in trouble.”


“Awesome,” Mitch answered.


“Grab Cruz, and let's get out of the way.” Eli hugged Whit. “Call when you can.”


The pilot waited for them to move away from the chopper before engaging the rotors. Eli could see Whit strapped into her seat as the door slid closed. The whirring of the blades blew the grass around them and suddenly lifted from the ground and took flight.


Eli looked at Mitch with tears in her eyes.


“Don't worry. Whit will be back soon.” They watched the helicopter until it was out of sight, and when the sounds disappeared, Mitch asked, “You ready to cut some wood? It looks like I'm all yours for a few days.”


“You better give Evan a call to tell him the solar panel project is on hold a few days. Maybe the two of you can try out some of those fishing spots he's been teasing you about.”


“Maybe, but I don't want to leave you here alone.”


“I'll be fine for a day if you want to go fishing. I promised you'd be having some fun, too, remember.”


“Any time spent with you is fun, Aunt Eli.”


“Come on, you big goof. Let's eat and get to cutting some wood. Are there sandwiches left?”


“Yes, ma'am, the soldiers declined my offer. That Blackhawk sure is a sweet piece of machinery.”


“Hop in. Have you ever considered going into the military? There's lots of machinery to learn to work on there.”


“I thought about it, but that thought didn't last long. I think I'll stick to the private sector. Better pay, fewer hazards. I do have to register for the draft next year though, when I turn eighteen.”


“Man, where has the time gone? I can't believe you're almost eighteen already. It just seems like yesterday I was changing your stinky diapers.”


“You did not,” Mitch cried out.


Eli nodded. “Many times, until your dad finally got the hang of things.” She grinned. “I saw your little pieces parts before you even realized you had them.”


“Okay, time for a subject change. I'm going to call Evan while you start eating. I'll be inside in a few.”


“See you, Cupcake,” she teased, and walked into the cabin. Eli froze when she heard Whit's voice. I'll be home soon. “Not soon enough for me,” she spoke to the empty room.



Whit saw the tears in Eli's eyes as they stepped away from the hug. She does love me. I'll be home soon.


When they settled into their flight pattern, she turned to Roger, sitting across from her.


“Where to today?”


“The Pentagon, ma'am. You need to review this file before we reach there.”


Whit took the file he offered and broke the Top Secret seal on the record. “I hope this doesn't mean I have to kill you when we arrive.”


The soldier that had given her the file smirked. “No, ma'am, I think we're safe.”


Whit returned his smile and immersed herself in the contents of the file. She studied the names and photos included in the portfolio and read each of the bios carefully. She remembered one of the faces from a previous terror attack. He was a ruthless mastermind of a particularly brutal attack in the Mideast who was able to slip through detection and disappear, at least until now. The mere fact he had resurfaced sent a shiver down her spine.


She reopened the record and moved forward to her mission at hand. Whit's challenge was to answer a series of questions regarding the probability of a future act of terrorism potentially aimed at the United States. She was surprised to read that the allegation of a potential threat was from a secret outer space satellite. Whit couldn’t help but wonder if her recent discovery of the dark area, which she had sent data on to NASA, could be related. She doubted a terrorist, even one with a rich vein of financial backing, would have the technology to develop such a plan. She couldn’t ignore the possibility even if it was farfetched. Whit took out the pen provided and started making notes. When the helicopter touched down, Whit closed the file she had been making notes on and stretched her legs as they waited to depart the chopper.


Whit had lost track of time and was amazed at how quickly they arrived at the airport at Langley. The sunlight was bright as she pulled on some shades.


She glanced out the window at a pair of black SUVs waiting for them to arrive. I wonder if they get a massive discount on all the big black SUVs? She couldn't help but grin at the thought.


“I'll get your bag, ma'am.” The young soldier reached above her to collect her bag. “There's a car waiting for us,” he said as he led her to the chopper door.


A door opened on the black vehicle, and Whit climbed inside. She knew a short drive would deliver her to a small operations building where she would meet with a group to discuss the project.


A female agent she recognized as Anita met her at the door and led her to the briefing room. “Can I get you something to eat or drink?”


“I'll take some water. I had a sandwich on the flight in.”


“Yes, ma'am, I'll be right back.”

 

 

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