“How big is this place?” Melissa Chance hobbles through the underground bunker Project All American’s operating out of in the middle of Kansas. The place has a sterile feel which makes her skin crawl. A faint smell of lemon fills her nose. Her crutches squeak with every step she takes, as if the sores she’s getting under her arms from them weren’t bad enough. “I feel like this tour’s been going forever and if I’m not mistaken there’s still a lot of space down here.”
Stopping to take a breath, Captain Snow takes a long puff of his cigarette. A look of peace washes over his face as he exhales. “Big. Real big. We’ve got three floors here and this is just the bottom one. There’s two floors above us just as big. This one’s mostly for rest, relaxation, all that good stuff. Temporary dorms, we’re coming up on the kitchen. Don’t get too excited, right now we’ve mostly got basic stuff. If you like peanut butter or pizza rolls you’re in luck. The next floor up has our science wings where they’re working on the project. That’s where you’ll spend tomorrow. Above that we have detention areas and our armory. I think you’ll get a kick out of that. We have some cool stuff, very state of the art.”
A woman with bright pink hair, chewing bubble gum in a cutoff shirt and leather pants, comes strolling toward them. Snow waves her over and introduces her as Delilah. She shakes hands and smiles a lot before rushing down the hall. Both sisters watch her go with shock. Tara leans in close to Snow. “So did she get picked because of the hair? Is pink close enough to red?”
He snorts and has to pull the cigarette away from his face to avoid swallowing it. “Hell no, she got picked because she’s a female cadet with solid potential and whose DNA fit. She didn’t have the hair before, you think she got through basic with that? She showed up here with it, probably figured once we took the effort to bring her here we weren’t going to send her away. She’s right about that too. Things are more relaxed here, so enjoy if you want. Just don’t go that far. I can’t take two of those.”
The dining hall’s ahead and the sisters realize they haven’t eaten since breakfast. Even that was small due to their nerves. There’s not a lot of options but each grabs a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Melissa goes for strawberry while Tara tears into raspberry. The food selection isn’t great but there’s an impressive variety of jelly.
Melissa calls for a break and guides the three of them to a table. Snow disappears for a moment and returns with three bottles of water. Tara downs most of hers in one long gulp.
A tall black man with a fade walks in wearing green basketball shorts and a polo shirt. He slips into the kitchen and returns a minute later with an orange soda. Seeing them across the room, he waves and strides over. “Captain Wolf, good to see you sir. Wasn’t sure when you’d be back.”
A huge grin sits on Wolf’s face. “Just a few hours ago, had to go pick up our newest recruits. How many of the people we gave leave after the last tests are back?”
The man shrugs and pulls up a free chair. “A lot of them. Probably seventy five percent. The rest I’m sure will show up soon. Everyone’s excited. Care to introduce me to the beautiful young ladies you’ve brought us?”
Sighing, Wolf rolls his eyes. “Melissa, Tara, this is Lieutenant Kurt Vickers. He’s great in the field and has more experience than most of our crew but he’s also a huge flirt who I would recommend staying clear of outside of missions.”
Putting his hands over his heart, Vickers drops his jaw in shock. “That stings captain. I consider myself a perfect gentleman.” His face transforms into a grin. “I can assure you ladies I can keep myself under control. When needed. I hope we get to know each other.” He turns back to the captain. “Anyway, gotta go, Sandy’s waiting for me. Don’t want to keep her waiting.”
He stands and waves, leaving them alone in a dining room that seems far too large for three people. Tara’s eyes follow him the entire way out which isn’t lost on her sister. He pauses before walking out the door to flash a final smile. Melissa smirks at her sister but doesn’t bring it up. Instead she turns to the captain. “He seemed nice.”
Wolf shrugs. “He mostly is. I’ll let you in on a secret too. He’s almost definitely on the final team so if you want on, you’d better get used to working with him. He’s got issues but he checks so many boxes and his DNA matches so well that we almost have to pick him. Thinking he’ll be the blue. You girls are some of our final recruits, there’s only one other person for me to bring in. I’ll be flying out to pick them up tomorrow while you two are tested. Once they’re done, we’ll compare the numbers and have the team in a few days.”
Tara’s still staring at the door but manages to turn her attention back to the conversation. “So he mentioned a Sandy, is that the fourth woman you said you’d recruited?”
Nodding, Snow starts to stretch his legs under the table. “She’s good, but not likely to make the final cut. She’ll probably be in the field team. Her DNA’s not a bad fit but not quite as good as Kurt’s and well, the brass wants this team diverse but not too diverse. Good news for you two since they want a woman and that means that spot’s between you two and Delilah.”
The tour continues but they don’t run into many more people. Once in awhile a random person in the halls nods at them or is introduced but Snow explains there’s only about fifteen people on this floor and most are keeping to themselves. That’s something he intends to change once the project gets underway.
The science floors have a few people working but most of the labs they pass are empty. Snow guides them to the main lab where they’ll be reporting tomorrow morning. “There’s nobody to test today so a lot of the science nerds aren’t here. You’ll meet Stan Banks in the morning. He’s the one running the science side of the program. A little odd but as good as you could hope for in a lab.”
A short Asian woman in a lab coat goes running from one lab to another with her brown hair, very long for a military facility, flapping behind her. She freezes when she notices them all staring at her. “Sorry, didn’t realize anyone was down here. Nothing to worry about, just have to get some information to Charlie. Bye.” She’s gone before any of them can respond.
Shaking his head and muttering, Snow leads them back toward the elevators. “That’s Sook. She’s, well, she’s new. I’ve tried to tell her about running through here but she doesn’t stop. We’ve got about ten scientists here. Its too many for the moment but once we start giving people the serum we’ll need them.”
The armory on the next floor’s impressive. The guard, an older man who has his hat over his eyes when they arrive, nods and waves them in without a word. Snow starts shaking his head again. He seems relaxed for a captain but more and more Melissa gets the impression he wants this place to get serious.
More rooms than they can count, full of equipment, are stored down here but they keep walking by them as they head to the far end of the floor. “I’m not a big fan of the save the best for last thing. I want to show you our pride and joy.”
At the end of the floor they come to a set of extremely large doors. A button with a keypad sits on the side and Snow punches in a code. The doors start grinding open. Inside they find themselves on the top level of this room. The hangar’s at least three floors tall and a steep metal staircase seems to be the only way down. Before them sits a massive jet surrounded by all kinds of vehicles ranging from sports cars to jeeps to police cars and ambulances.
Snow doesn’t bother to look at any of it. This is nothing new to him. Instead he watches the faces of his two recruits as their jaws drop. Tara starts to head for the stairs but stops and glances back at Melissa, her eyes running up and down her crutches. Guilt washes over Melissa. She’d love to go down there but those stairs have gaps in them and she’d worry about her crutches getting stuck. She doesn’t want to be the reason her sister misses out. “Go ahead, check it all out. I’ll wait here.”
Tara hesitates. “Are you sure? Melissa nods. Tara grabs her hand and squeezes before taking off down the stairs. She takes them two at a time.
Hesitating, Snow looks to her as her sister goes out of ear shot. “Sorry we don’t have an elevator in here. We should put an entrance in downstairs but this room doesn’t line up well with the rest of the facility and this needs the most security. I’ll be back soon.”
Leaning on the railing above the hangar, Melissa watches her sister and the captain tour the different vehicles and gear. They spend a long time inside the plane. Tara’s practically bouncing when they emerge. A couple of times Snow tries to yell something up about a vehicle they’re standing next to but Melissa puts her hand to her ear and shakes her head. He shrugs and moves on. She can hear what he’s saying, she just has a hard time getting excited from so far away. Pangs of jealousy wash over her. She feels bad feeling that after giving Tara permission but that doesn’t change how she feels.
Tara actually bounces up the stairs and throws her arm around Melissa. “You’re going to love this stuff so much. We have everything. There’s a huge area for gear in the back of the plane so we can get these vehicles anywhere. It’s awesome.”
Heading out of the hangar Melissa looks to Snow. “If you have that plane down there, why didn’t you come get us in it?”
He grins at her. “Landing a stealth military vehicle in a local Louisiana airport isn’t how you stay hidden. We also couldn’t show you everything until you were officially part of the project and you weren’t when we got on that plane. Besides, this thing’s really expensive to fly. Useful, but costs a fortune. We’ll still take private planes for some events. That’s more for missions.”
The rest of the floor doesn’t take long to explore. They have rooms full of guns, explosives, tactical gear, communications equipment. There’s even a room full of nothing but license plates for every state and even a number of other countries. Every new room gets Tara more excited and Melissa has to admit she likes a lot of what she sees. A room full of parachutes fills her with dread though. “Wait, we’re not going to have to use those are we?”
A sly smile spreads over Snow’s face. He removes his sunglasses to look at her with his icy blue eyes. “Well, that depends. That plane back there can’t always land where we need to go. There’s not always time to find the nearest airport and then drive wherever we’re going. We won’t use them on every mission but at some point there’s a good chance you’ll jump out of a plane. Whether you want a parachute on your back’s up to you.”
Tara’s already crouched next to one, examining it. She’s always talked about going sky diving and now it seems she’ll get her chance. Melissa’s always pointed out that she sees no reason to jump out of a perfectly good airplane but she may have to reevaluate her stance.
When they reach the elevator, Snow calls it but doesn’t make a move to get in. “You two go ahead and head back to your room, or explore the rec rooms if you want. I have some work to do so I’ll be going the other way. Probably won’t see you again until we announce the team but good luck with the tests tomorrow. Nothing to worry about, it’s just down to your DNA and either way you’re part of our team.”
Scrunching her face, Melissa realizes she hasn’t asked a question that’s been bugging her. “Captain, if only three of us are going to be on the final team, why did everyone’s DNA need to match? Couldn’t you have had us in for more advanced testing without revealing things and then recruited the rest of the team from the best instead of from those whose DNA was a match?”
Holding the elevator doors open, Snow puts his hand on his chin. “You two ask the best questions. I didn’t make that decision but if I’m being honest, redundancy. There’s no guarantee things go well for everyone we pick. We think this is safe but we can’t know for sure without human tests. We can’t do that without potentially creating enhanced individuals. If there’s an issue, we can easily swap someone out. If someone gets hurt in the line of duty, we can replace them. If you don’t get picked to be in the main group now, you may eventually end up in one of those spots. Be ready. Plus, well, these tests suck. We couldn’t ask people to do them without explaining why. You’ll see tomorrow.” Removing his hand, he turns to walk down the hall as the elevator slams shut.