Red Line: The Future Part 11

“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.

Part 10

Part 12

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Red Line: The Future Part 10

The drive to the base doesn’t take long. Pulling up to an office building just outside of Salina they find a sign proclaiming the Salina Herald is made here. Snow can barely keep a straight face as they pass it. “You’re going to get a kick out of that. This is our cover out here. We’re running a newspaper. Don’t worry, you won’t have to do any writing or anything. That’s all handled somewhere else. We’ll give you a list of what you did each week, just remember it in case someone in town asks. This is a monthly publication so even that won’t be common but it could come up. Buy some clothes that look like a reporter or photographer or something would wear ‘em.”

Jay gets their doors but doesn’t respond to their thanks. Being led inside, they find a large seemingly abandoned building. Desks are everywhere and on each one are pictures of people they don’t yet know. Tara notices Melissa’s desk has a picture of their family that the project people somehow got. “Won’t anyone notice we’re not actually doing any work out here? There’s nobody here.”

“Not really, no. It’s a small town and we’re on the outskirts. The building’s closed up well and we’ll have a security guard at the front once we really get going. Nobody’s getting back here unless we want them to.”

Leading them into the editor’s office which has P. Snow written on the glass, he closes the doors and lowers the blinds behind them. She makes a note to find out what the P stands for later.

Walking to the desk, Snow lifts the receiver of the phone and enters a series of numbers. When he hangs up the wall behind the desk slides away, revealing a door. He then has to enter a pin to open it. “High tech I know. We have some resources around here.”

Stepping through the door, they find themselves in an elevator with three options. Choosing the bottom floor, they slowly creak downward. When the elevator finally comes to a stop with a lurch, the doors open and they step into a giant cavern. The walls are metal and lined with wiring.

Snow leads them to a hall and then a room at the end of the hall which reveals a pair of bunk beds and a chest of drawers. “Temporary accommodations until we can work something long term out. Figured you deserve some input into where you’re going to live. I’m guessing you can figure out who’s getting the bottom bunk.

Tara’s carrying both of their bags and she tosses them onto the bed. Melissa starts to complain about being careful but she ignores her. “When do we get started?”

“Not until tomorrow with the testing. We have to calibrate everything for you ladies. For now though, I’ll give you a little while to rest up. Your sister’s stubborn and won’t say it but she’s hurting. Once you’re ready I’ll have someone give you the tour and introduce you to the rest of the team. Most of them are already here.” He starts to walk out of the room but as he’s about to close it he turns around and gives a giant grin. “This is going to be fun.”

Part 9

Part 11

Red Line: The Future Part 9

The car that comes to pick them up is a nondescript blue sedan with Louisiana plates. The driver dresses a lot like Captain Snow in a black suit with black glasses. He’s a man of few words. He doesn’t bother to introduce himself, only asking if they have everything they need. Once they’re situated in the car he speeds down the back roads near their house like he’s on the freeway. The sisters exchange nervous glances, though their nerves aren’t entirely due to his driving. A week ago they knew where their lives were going. Now they don’t even know where they’re being taken.

Reaching the nearest airport, Melissa’s mouth falls open. The plane before them’s a tiny private one and not at all what she expected. Tara flew back and forth from her single year of college but Melissa’s never been on a plane. She’s nervous about any plane but all the stories she’s heard about turbulence in small aircraft leave her shaking.

The stairs leading inside are narrow and there isn’t room for her crutches. At first she declines offers of help from her sister and the driver but realizing there’s no other choice she relents with a grunt. She wraps her arm around Tara’s shoulder and uses the support to slowly hop up.

Inside they find themselves in a small tube with red carpeting. There’s only four seats and Captain Snow’s sitting in one with a glass of wine. “Glad your trip went well ladies.” Noticing Melissa needing help up, he jumps up to offer a hand. “Sorry about the accommodations, this is the plane we had in the area though.” Tara and Melissa try to salute but he waves them off. “In our group we don’t hang on all the procedures, you can give that a rest if you want. Remember it for when the big wigs show up but day to day there’s no need. You ladies want a drink? I brought some excellent champagne for the flight. It’s going to be a couple hours.”

Looking at each other nervously, the sisters shake their heads. “Neither of us is old enough sir.”

Snow slaps his knee. “Shit, I know that. We’re not in a restaurant though and I don’t care. I’m not going to get you drunk or anything but these little planes can have a bit of a kick and a drink to take the edge off doesn’t hurt.”

Pointing out Melissa’s medicine can’t be mixed with alcohol, the sisters still decline. Tara wants a glass but she’ll feel guilty having one when her sister can’t. The driver of the car climbs into the plane and closes the door behind him. Once everything’s sealed he disappears into the cockpit. “Is he coming with us?” Melissa’s still standing and pointing at the cockpit.

Finishing his drink, Snow starts to pour another. “We kind of need him unless one of you knows how to fly a plane. Our little organization still has a pretty bare bones staff outside of the science nerds. Jay’s a master of many disciplines, not much of a people person but useful.”

Taking seats next to each other, the sisters clutch each other’s hands until their knuckles turn white during takeoff. Tara’s ears pop and suddenly hearing feels wrong. She experienced the same the last time she flew so she knows it isn’t abnormal but it feels worse than last time. When they level out the turbulence dies down but the plane never feels entirely stable. She really wishes she took Snow up on that drink.

When he feels the plane’s calm enough Snow gets up and stumbles to the back of the cabin where a briefcase sits. He opens it and pulls a few folders out. When he returns he hands one to each of them. Removing his sunglasses, he slips on a pair of reading glasses which Melissa finds hilarious. She can’t stop apologizing as he glares at her. “Ladies, we have a lot of paperwork to sign before you can enter our base or even know where it is. You’re basically agreeing that you’ll complete your term, that you understand how confidential this all is. Fairly standard stuff but we need it on paper.”

Skimming the fine print doesn’t provide any revelations so both of them scratch their name out again and again. When they’re done they look up to find Snow has already changed back into his sunglasses. The reading glasses are nowhere in sight yet he never stood up.

“Welcome to Project All American ladies. That’s our name if you were wondering. You get more details now. The All American Formula is something our government’s been working on since the forties. We’ve tried it many times but never felt it was ready for human testing. Too many risks. We think they’re all ironed out but only certain people’s genetics are compatible. When we arrive you’ll both go in for some much more in depth testing. We’ll announce our choices for the main team in a few days.” Melissa raises a hand. “You’re not in school Ms. Chance. If you have something to say, go ahead.”

“Sorry sir, I just wanted to ask how the team’s going to be chosen.”

“That’s an excellent question, no need to be sorry. It’s going to be based primarily on degree of compatibility. There’s a decent chance all twenty five of you can take it but the closer the fit, the better the odds are that there won’t be any negative side effects. We don’t expect any but we want to be cautious.”

“Can you give us more details about what this will do?” Tara listens to her sisters question and feels pride. She’s remembering to ask everything Tara would otherwise ask. Melissa needs this more so she’ll let her lead the way.

“I can give you some. Your muscles will strengthen to an extraordinary degree. That’s almost certain which means you won’t get tired. You’re going to be incredibly strong, incredibly fast. Probably run over a hundred miles an hour. Lift hundreds if not thousands of pounds. You’ll be nearly invulnerable. Your skin will be so strong bullets, guns, even explosions won’t be a threat. Except your eyes, they don’t seem effected for some reason. Your hearing, smell, sight, all that will improve. You’ll be able to jump really high and really far. That’s a start. Other effects can vary a lot by person but it’s going to do a lot.”

The sisters sit there with their jaws resting on their chests. The more specifics they hear, the more this sounds both exciting and terrifying. Melissa seems frozen so Tara decides to take over for now. “Where are we going anyway?”

“You’ll like this. We’re actually based in the middle of Kansas of all places. Non descript little place. Our job once we have the program running will be to handle major national security issues. Being based in the middle of the country makes us uniquely situated to respond to any location. Well, except Alaska or Hawaii but who’s going to have issues there?”

“Doesn’t a lot of stuff happen on the coasts? We haven’t had a lot of emergencies in Louisiana over the years.”

“A lot does but nowhere near all. Besides, which coast would we pick? If something happens on the opposite one we’d take forever to get there. This isn’t perfect but it’s the best choice we decided. When we arrive I’ll show you to our base of operations.”

The rest of the flight’s non eventful. Snow drinks wine and offers stories about his past, most of which he leaves crucial details out of. The sisters both read the books they’ve brought with them for awhile but they eventually abandon them. At one point they’re reduced to playing tic tac toe to pass the time. They’re all relieved when after nearly five hours Jay pokes his head out and announces they’re getting ready to descend.

The landing’s almost as terrifying as the flying but soon they’re thankful to be on the ground. Tara helps her sister slowly descend the plane’s stairs. A non descript car almost identical to the one they took in Louisiana’s waiting for them. The only difference she notices is the plates are now for Kansas.

Part 8

Part 10

Red Line: The Future Part 8

Not having an address handy, Snow tells them to follow him. It’s only about a twenty minute drive to the restaurant. The roads around the base are fairly bumpy and badly in need of resurfacing though and every time they hit a bump Melissa cringes. Their dad tries to stay slow to avoid causing more pain than necessary. She’s still on a fair amount of pain medication but she didn’t want to go too heavy today for fear of messing something up during their ceremony.

Pulling into the parking lot behind Snow’s silver sports car, they find he wasn’t kidding when he said this place was small. The sign for Agda’s is tiny and tucked between those for a law office and a travel agency. The entrance is behind the building and you have to walk along a narrow cement path to get there. Melissa’s crutches have a hard time with the path but she refuses her family’s offers of help. Even Frank, free from his game which their mother insisted he leave in the car tonight, offers to help. It takes some time but they make it to the door and enter a dimly lit restaurant with beautiful candles on every table providing most of the light.

There’s only ten tables in the restaurant and two of them on one end of the room are filled. Snow whispers something to the woman who comes to seat them and they’re shown to the opposite end. Something changes hands between them as they’re seated. Menus are dropped off and as they study them their dad’s eyes about pop out of his head. There’s nothing here under thirty dollars outside of a tiny kid’s menu in the corner. Sweat starts to pour down the man’s head.

A waiter brings a basket of bread and offers drinks. Snow orders a couple of bottles of wine for the table before realizing half of them aren’t old enough to drink. He still asks they bring the bottles. “They carry Crawford cabernet, new brand but some of the best you can find.” Melissa wants a lemonade and Tara takes a glass of water. Cola works for Frank and the waiter disappears to gather their drinks. He returns with the water in what looks like a wine bottle. He leaves what’s left of it behind and pours glass bottles of the other drinks into glasses.

Snow waves him over. “I’m ready to order, can everyone else manage?” Uncomfortable glances are shared but he doesn’t pause. “I’m going to have the combination platter. Everything they make here’s so good that I want all of it. How does that sound to the rest of you? Six combinations?”

Everyone else’s jaws drop. That’s seventy dollars each. Frank looks at it and shakes his head. “Can I get the burger off the kids menu?”

Technically Frank’s a year too old for the kids menu but the waiter isn’t carding. He nods and writes it down. Snow looks to the rest of the group. “Five combinations then? That work for everyone?” Nobody else objects and the order goes in.

The bread’s heavenly. Soft and luscious with a crunchy exterior. A beautiful lemon and olive oil blend to dip it in takes Tara’s breath away. This has to be the best bread she’s ever eaten. She’s glad she won’t be stationed here much longer. Now that she knows how close this is she’d be in here all the time. She’d weight two hundred pounds before long.

They run out of bread but the waiter soon replaces the empty basket with a fresh one. Around the time they finish a second loaf Snow leans in. “Alright, so I understand you ladies want to know more about our program. Understand what I’m going to tell you tonight is classified. It was already classified, but this is super classified. If that’s not okay, say something now and we’ll finish our meals and call it a night.”

Everyone at the table stares at each other and then they all stare at Frank. He puts his hands up. “What, I can keep a secret. I won’t say anything.”

Snow makes a finger gun at him. “Alright young man, I’m taking you at your word. I informed the girls that we have a program we want to put together. We’re creating a team of three people. We’re tentatively planning on calling it team Red, White and Blue. I’m sure you can guess which one Melissa here’ll be if we pick her.”

Almost instinctively Melissa brushes her hair from her face. “That’s cool but I can’t be much good on a team with a messed up knee.”

“You’re right about that but if you join us, we’re going to get a fantastic surgeon to fix that knee of yours. I’m sure Georgia will get you a good surgeon too but we have access to some of the best. You’ll learn more about our organization if you join but we’re top secret to say the least. We need about twenty people. Three will be the crew, about five will be field support and the other dozen will fill out our base. No matter what we’ll figure something out for you to do.”

Tara’s been listening with a look of confusion on her face. “That sounds interesting and all but why us? We had good numbers in training but we weren’t at the top of our group or anything.”

Looking back and forth between Mr. and Mrs. Chance, Snow gets a big grin on his face. “I love your daughter, she’s crazy smart.” Returning his attention to Tara, he leans toward her. “I’ll be honest. Your numbers helped but had very little to do with picking you. You both signed up for this program so we were able to go in and run some tests on your DNA. To make these three leaders of the group work, we need people compatible with the enhancement formula and preliminary tests suggest you both are. Plus, again, being honest, there’s a lot of pressure from up high to have a woman on the team. We didn’t get a ton of female volunteers and even less who looked like they’d be compatible. We have four and all four are being invited. If I didn’t think you could handle this though, I’d have left you out.”

Their food arrives and they all settle back as massive plates of meat are placed before them. They each have tomato braised sausage, chicken with a dill tzatziki sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, steak skewers and lamb chops. Tara has no idea how she’ll get through it. Their dad doesn’t seem concerned as he immediately digs in.

Conversation takes a back seat as they focus on their food. Soon their dad decides he has to ask a question with a mouth full of food. “You mentioned something about a formula. Enhancement or something? What’s that about?”

Snow’s shoulders drop as he has to put his fork down. He finishes chewing his bite of lamb before continuing. “That’s something I can only talk so much about. In short though, it’s going to provide powers. Some of the same ones that the vigilantes back in the day had. Theoretically it’ll make someone strong, fast, provide high endurance. There’s a few other potential things in there too. It has to be a fit though. If you get there and aren’t down for it by the way, that’s not an issue. You can still turn it down. Once you agree to be part of the program though, you can’t back out until your service term is up. You can choose to be in our field crew instead of taking the enhancement but not to leave. Too much risk. It’s your call ladies but I need an answer tonight.”

They finish their meal and Snow offers dessert. Everyone’s far too full except for Frank who wants a piece of chocolate cake. The giant piece they set in front of him feels like it could feed a family and their mom steals a bite. He gives her a dirty look but doesn’t object.

Once he pays the check in cash Snow turns to the group. “This is where we say goodbye one way or the other. The only thing left is to decide if we’re saying goodbye for now or for good. That’s entirely up to you ladies but I need to know.”

They look at each other and Tara tries to read her sister’s face. Melissa’s looking at her with wide eyes and a hint of a smile. Her face is twisted oddly though. She considers the danger but also considers what this could mean for her sister. The best surgeons give her the best chance to get back to top form. Snow said something about the formula possibly helping her knee too. Her sister’s only here because she wanted to join the military and didn’t want to do it alone. “I’ll do it if my sister will.”

Melissa’s hint of a smile turns into a full on grin. “I’m totally in if you are.”

Slapping his hands together, Snow offers each of the girls a hand shake and then shakes everyone else at the table’s hand. “Glad to hear this dinner wasn’t for nothing. That’s fantastic ladies. I can’t wait to get you in the program and get to work.”

Unsure where they go from there, Tara interrupts the celebration. “What do we do next?”

“You are always straight to the point. We need more of that in our crew. Everyone’s gonna love you. Probably not at first, but they’ll get there. You go home with your family in the morning and enjoy your leave. It’s probably going to be at least six months before you get another. From there, you obviously won’t be reporting to Georgia. I’ll take care of the paperwork. I’ll send a car for you a week from Tuesday. They’ll take you to the nearest airport and get you where you’re going. I’m not at liberty to let you know where that is yet but you’ll find out soon enough.”

With a final salute Snow excuses himself, promising to see them in a little over a week.

Part 7

Part 9

Red Line: The Future Part 7

Marching through their graduation ceremony leaves Tara feeling guilty. She’s standing next to her sister who hobbles with all her strength to keep up with the group. Melissa fights through every step with all the energy she can manage. The grimace of pain that crosses her face every time they turn hurts to see but she stays quiet. They can’t do the surgery until her swelling goes down and injections haven’t cleared it up yet. Her leg’s in a temporary cast but it’s bulky and hard to keep out of her way.

Their parents are in the stands cheering their heads off. Dad stopped to buy them each a disposable camera and they’re clicking away like crazy. Frank’s less excited. He’s sitting there playing his Game Boy, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else. His camera’s on the bench next to him, forgotten. In the past their mom would always tell him to put his game away but it keeps him occupied so they’ve started to allow it. When she called last week he wouldn’t stop talking about some new game with monsters he just bought. She tried to follow along but it all sounded confusing.

It’s a brisk fall day so the marching at least helps keep her warm. Once they’re standing in place for the main portion of the ceremony, the chill starts creeping in. Melissa’s directly to her right and she’s been given permission to help her if needed but when she briefly leans in to make sure she’s okay, the glare she receives makes sure she won’t ask again. Despite the pain Melissa wants to do this alone.

A few minutes into the ceremony, Melissa nudges her and nods her head to the far corner of the stands. There’s Captain Snow, sitting with a woman who may have been at the track the first day they met. Both are watching them directly which makes Tara squirm but she keeps her attention on the ceremony.

Everything goes to plan except for the strong winds which make their flag bearers’ lives difficult. Feeling her cap move slightly on her head she worries it might fly away. She’s even more worried that Melissa’s might take off. She can’t grab at it or go after it. Adjusting her own slightly, she keeps marching.

After the ceremony ends without any hats taking off they’re able to meet their family in a reception hall for dinner. They hug them and tell them they’re proud but their parents and brother look tired. They’ve been driving back and forth most days since Melissa’s injury and they’re clearly glad that’s about to be over. Their mom’s idea about a hotel were quickly overridden by dad saying it would cost too much. The drive isn’t so bad now and then but two hours every day hasn’t been easy. Dad did agree to a hotel for tonight since the girls start their leave the next morning and there’s no reason to drive home tonight only to return that early.

Rushing to her mother, Tara pulls her into a hug. The short woman with glasses and a pixie cut hugs her tight. The hair still looks wrong on her. She saw it in a movie and loved it but she’s had long hair most of her life. She’s wearing a smart dress which looks meant for a woman twenty years younger. Their dad’s wearing a pair of his good jeans and a button up shirt. To celebrate his daughters’ accomplishment he’s wearing a small flag pin over his shirt pocket. He goes to Melissa to try and help her but she waves him off. “I’m fine dad, really. I’m getting used to the crutches.”

Tara goes up to Frank and gives him a hug. He absent mindedly removes one hand from his game long enough to at least pretend to return the gesture before getting caught back up in it. When they’re all together at a table they start discussing dinner options. There’s a little diner down the road they ate at when their parents dropped them off and their dad loves the idea of getting a celebratory meal there. The food was just okay but the prices blew him away. Everyone seems fine with it except Frank who expresses no opinion at all.

A throat clears behind them and Tara turns to see Captain Snow standing behind her. She starts to jump to her feet to salute and Melissa fumbles for her crutches but the man waves them off. “At ease soldiers. Were you starting to think I forgot about ya today?”

Their parents both look to Tara to introduce them. “Not at all sir. Mom, dad, this is Captain Snow. Captain, these are our parents Zachariah and Alice.”

The two both stand to shake the man’s hands. They sit back down but the captain stands there staring at the girls, waiting for an acknowledgment. This goes on to the point of discomfort before Tara realizes he’s waiting on them. “Oh, please join us sir.”

With no chairs left at the table, Tara starts to get up to offer him her seat. He waves her down though and grabs a chair from the closest table. He turns it around and sits backward. Turning to their dad he says, “Mr. Chance, I’ve been talking to your daughters about a unique opportunity to serve their country. How much have they told you about it.”

Turning between his daughters, he’s unable to catch either of their eyes. “Honestly sir, nothing at all. Is this something they’d be doing after arriving in Georgia?”

Snow glances at Tara, smirking as he shakes his head slightly. “Actually sir, this is something they’d be doing instead of going to Georgia. It’s a unique program that both of them would be excellent fits for. I can’t say a lot more than that but they’d be working with me directly and helping our country’s security in a big way.”

Their dad looks at Tara with his eyes wide. “That sounds pretty excellent. Is this something you girls are interested in?”

How to answer that question? Tara’s given it a lot of thought and discussed it with Melissa but they haven’t come up with an answer yet. She looks at the ground. “We’ve talked about it, but we’re really not sure. We don’t know as much as we’d like to.”

Slapping the table, Snow gains the attention of everyone sitting there. “I understand that for sure. I’d like to say more but I can only go so far. Maybe if we go somewhere a little more private.” He makes a show of looking from side to side. “Were you folks planning on grabbing dinner?” Their nods and mumbled replies bring a smile to his face. “Perfect. Why don’t you all join me as my guests? I know a fantastic little Greek place in town that has the best saganaki you’ll ever eat. Stuff’s magical. If you’re more meat and potato people they have that too. It’s my treat.”

Mr. Chance looks down at his wife sitting beside him and tries to keep smiling but it looks fake at this point. “I appreciate the offer but we don’t need any charity. We can pay for our own meals.”

Snow jumps to his feet and puts a hand on their dad’s shoulder. “Sir, I would never want to insult you but you’d be doing me a huge favor by coming. This isn’t charity. I’m offering because I want your daughters to do something for me. There’s nothing wrong with getting a meal for that. Besides, I can write the whole thing off. For all your daughters are going to do for our country, one way or the other, Uncle Sam can certainly buy you a good steak. It’d be a lot more, well, private there.” He again exaggerates his looking from side to side before returning his gaze to the family.

With no further objections, they decide to join the man for dinner. They pile into their parents’ too small car for the trip. The front seat’s the only place that has enough room for Melissa’s cast so their mother climbs in the back with her other children. Frank’s shoved into the middle but he doesn’t seem to mind. Nothing except his game seems to matter.

Part 6

Part 8

Red Line: The Future Part 6

The doctors inform her the only way she’ll be walking at their graduation is on crutches. X-Rays confirm what she was afraid of. The snapping sound she heard was her ACL tearing. Thankfully they’re already starting on a treatment plan. Tara never leaves her side. She’s the one who has to call their parents who promise they’ll be there as soon as they can be. They just have to wait until Frank gets off school. She tells them there’s no hurry, Melissa’s on a lot of pain killers and probably won’t even know they’re there. Their mother insists that it isn’t negotiable and starts asking for nearby hotel recommendations. Tara doesn’t know what to tell her, she hasn’t been staying in hotels.

During her brief bouts of consciousness Melissa insists her sister should go back to the barracks and get some rest but she won’t have it. She sits there reading an old entertainment magazine and passing the time. Melissa’s snoring away when a knock at the door grabs Tara’s attention. A middle aged man in a black suit and black sunglasses stands in the opening. His wavy silver hair and huge silver mustache look older than the rest of him. A smile sits on his face but the glasses do a great job hiding any other emotion. “Evening ma’am, I’m here to see Melissa Chance. That her laying in the bed?”

Nodding tentatively, Tara prepares for the worst. Did the sergeant overstep in saying Melissa passed her test? If so she’ll need to wake her now. She’s not going to be the one to break the news. Even with a bad leg she might decide to tackle her. “How can I help you tonight sir? I’m her sister.”

He claps his hands together and moves forward to offer a handshake. His grip’s strong but not so much that it’s uncomfortable. “Great to meet you. I’m Captain Snow. I actually wanted to speak with you too so it’s great you’re here.”

His mood puts Tara at ease. She smiles at him and crosses her legs. “Snow huh? That what’s going on with the mustache?”

Turning solemn immediately, Snow pulls his hand back. “That’s not the kind of comment you make to a superior officer. What’s your problem?”

Mortified, Tara tries to apologize but then the smile creeps back onto his face and he bursts out laughing. “Not bad, not bad at all. Not the most original joke if I’m being honest but I like that you’re not too hung up on all that stuff. That’s what we need. Anyway, I’m here to talk to your sister about an opportunity I think she’d be perfect for. I actually want to talk to you about it as well so we can knock it all out at once. Do you mind if we wake her?”

Explaining she’s under fairly heavy sedation, Tara feels uncomfortable doing so but Snow keeps pushing. “Listen, I don’t make a lot of trips out here and I need to talk to her about this before I leave. She’ll be alright, I’ve seen her charts. There’s nothing that heavy in her system.” Tara’s concerned that he has that kind of access but steps aside.

Moving to her side, Snow starts to shake Melissa’s shoulder lightly. Her face tightens and she looks desperate to stay asleep. Finally her eyes start to twitch and they stay open, focused on Snow’s face. “I know you, you were at the track earlier.”

Removing his hand, the man smiles down at her. “Guilty as charged, nice memory you have there. That’s part of why I want you. I have an opportunity for both of you, one I think you’re both uniquely suited for. It will be dangerous but you’d get the chance to serve your country in a way that would be absolutely essential. How does that sound?”

The sisters exchange a look before Tara stands and moves closer to the man. “Excuse me if I’m mistaken, but we just signed up for the military. We can’t quit now.”

He shrugs. “Actually you can, but it’d be a dishonorable discharge and we don’t want that. No, this will be legitimate. We’re technically a branch of the military so you’d still be soldiers. We’d get it all taken care of, though it’d all be sealed. The next steps won’t be that different from what you have planned. You’ll come with me instead of going to Georgia but that’s all. You even still get your leave, though I need your answer before that.”

Trying to sit up in bed, Melissa gestures for a hand. Tara moves to her side and stuffs a pillow behind her back for support. She looks at the man with confusion. “Accept what? You haven’t told us anything about this project.”

He points at her before shoving his hands in his pockets. “Perceptive. That’s part of what we see in you. You both pick up on the little stuff. Before we go any further, I need you both to understand that what I’m about to tell you is highly classified. Any disclosure of it will at minimum result in a dishonorable discharge and may result in federal charges. Is that okay with both of you? If not I can walk away right now.”

Tara looks to Melissa but she just shrugs. She turns back to the man, studying his face for any sign of what they should do. His glasses are still hiding too much for her to make anything out. Tara says, “I don’t have a problem with classified and you’ve got me curious. Let’s hear your pitch.” Melissa nods in agreement.

The man starts pacing as he talks. “It’s a good one. I think you’ll both find it highly interesting. Let me start by saying that I can’t go into all the details. You can ask questions but if I’m not saying it and it seems obvious you can probably assume I can’t say. You can still ask but if I don’t answer, it’s not an insult. Do we understand each other?” The two sisters nod and he continues. “I work for a classified branch of the military that deals with very big threats to our nation. Only the high end stuff. We’re not going to be deployed in a general fight or sent to some random country. Our targets are specific, people we know are guilty but for whatever reason can’t get another way.”

Melissa’s touching her nose and staring down at her lips but this gets her attention. “Wait, targets? We’re not going to go murdering a bunch of people are we?”

“I can confirm we’re not Ms. Chance. Some people may get hurt from time to time but our goal is to bring people in alive and get information from them. That’s a job I think you’ll both be great at if needed, but not the job I have in mind for at least one of you.”

None of this is enough. He’s not explaining anything. Tara wants to throw a pillow at him but his rank stops her. “Can you give us anything beyond that?”

Rocking back on his heels he says, “Oh my yes, that was just a start. I’m not that locked down I assure you. We have highly specific targets and try to bring them in so we can learn more about them. As a result we’ve been developing some highly useful but potentially highly dangerous chemicals. The one we’re dealing with now’s remarkable. Do you both remember when you enlisted you agreed to potentially be part of a special project?”

Closing her eyes again, it looks like Melissa’s asleep until she speaks. “We never got a phone call on that.”

“Not exactly how we work I’m afraid. We ran your tests though and we were highly interested in both of you. We’ve been studying, doing background checks, that’s why we were at the track today. We were trying to get all the information we could about a pair of girls who might be the next members of our team.”

“How big’s the team.” Tara closes in on the man, not so much that it’s uncomfortable but enough to show she’s not passive.

“We’ve got around twenty agents at any one time. They’re mostly field agents but they need to have some sort of other skill as well. Something that makes them unique and necessary. You two have a few great traits but until recently you didn’t have enough to qualify for our group. That’s changed because of our new project.”

They pause, waiting for him to continue. Tara says, “What changed and makes us special? What’s this project?”

It’s not Tara’s place to speak for Melissa but she can hardly be angry when she has so many drugs coursing through her. Snow seems to be tired of standing and makes his way into the chair she vacated. “That’s one of the parts I can’t talk too much about. Not until you’re officially on board. It’s a sort of enhancement though which we think will be very effective. Do you both remember that DNA test that was ordered last month?”

Melissa’s arm shoots straight up in the air. “I remember. They said it was standard for all new recruits.”

Laughing, he wipes his forehead. “That level of testing isn’t close to standard but we needed it to see if you’re a fit. You see, for this to succeed we need a strong genetic match to the formula. You both possess that. There’s no guarantee and we’re recruiting a good ten candidates for three slots. If you’re not ultimately chosen after some additional tests, you’d stay within our group and work in our office and likely in the field. You might say we have a backup plan for you.”

Almost snorting at that, Tara walks toward him and leans against a wall. “So to be clear, you want to recruit us to take some serum you have which will enhance us somehow. You can’t tell us more until we’re officially in. If we aren’t picked or it doesn’t work, we’ll join your normal crew.”

“Right to the point again. Our scientists have mixed opinions on the likelihood of your success but I believe in you. I think you’re at minimum going to be an amazing field agent if you’re not chosen for the experiment.”

Melissa starts to tear up. She can’t help it, the medicine’s starting to wear off and she’s been fighting this all day. Even before she got hurt she wanted to cry. Now it feels like she could flood the room. “I can’t imagine you have a use for me with my leg.” She turns her head toward Tara. “You should take it if you want sis.”

The idea of being separated from her family completely like she was during her one year of college fills Tara with dread. She dropped out for a reason and while it’s not what she told her family it wasn’t the classes. She needs Melissa with her if she’s going to do this.

Snow pulls himself up by the chair’s arm rests and walks to her bed. He rests a hand on her shoulder. “Your consideration is beautiful young lady but we want you for sure. We have some tests and procedures which might make you effective for now while that leg heals. Our serum might even help with that. You can be a huge asset to us. Have the surgeons decided on their plan of attack yet? Do they want to do a repair or try to heal without it?”

Overwhelmed from all that’s happened today, Melissa can’t recall any plans. Her sister saves her. “They’re leaning toward a repair. She’s a soldier. There’s a good chance if they don’t go in and fix it she’ll have to wear a knee brace the rest of her life. Hard physical work’s out of the question. Her career’s over if we don’t do it.”

Squeezing her shoulder, Snow takes off his glasses for the first time revealing a pair of striking ice blue eyes. There’s a small scar under the left one. When he smiles his lips don’t move much but his eyes transform before her. “That’s the right move. If you’re going to join us that’s definitely what we’d need. It’ll take time but I do hope you’re chosen for the experiment. Either way, I’d like for you to seriously consider my offer.”

“Where would we be based out of and when do you need to know?” Tara takes the chance to grab her chair back.

“I can’t really reveal the first part I’m afraid. Matters of national security and all that. It’s not any further from home than your original assignment in Georgia though. As for graduation, you have that in five days. I’d need to know then. I’ll attend, not just to get an answer but because I like celebrating new recruits. I’ll check in with you then and you can answer me.” He slips his glasses back on and starts heading for the door. Melissa’s already starting to drift off again. “One last thing. With your sister’s leg there, some people in the agency are going to be nervous about us bringing her in. If she comes, I need you to come too. If she doesn’t want in we can still consider you but not the other way around. Sorry.” With a final nod of his head, he exits the room, leaving the door open behind him.

Part 5

Part 7

Red Line: The Future Part 5

A two mile run’s the only thing standing between the sisters and graduation. As they line up and are each handed a number, Tara tries to pump herself up. She’s number 15 while Melissa’s number 58. Slapping herself in the face to get her blood flowing, Tara won’t stop jogging in place, her short brown hair twisting around her head. The smile on her face is huge, the biggest she’s had since arriving here. Melissa does some light stretching but goes about her preparation in her own way. Glancing at her sister, who she’s convinced is out of her mind, she can’t help but smile at seeing her in her element.

The sergeant calls the squad to the race track’s starting blocks and they line up in formation. Before they can start, Tara pulls her sister into a tight embrace. “I love you, you have this.”

She releases and gives herself a final slap across the face, causing the sergeant to shake his head. “If you need that to get excited at this point fifteen, you have way bigger issues than motivation.” Tara nods but doesn’t say a word.

Just before taking her stance Melissa notices a group of men and one woman in the nearby bleachers watching over them. All are wearing dark suits and sunglasses. They look completely out of place on the hard metal seats. She knows it’s crazy but she feels their eyes on her.

“Go!” With one word the sergeant releases them and they’re pushing forward. Tara and Melissa fall into step beside each other, setting a pace they know they can maintain. Months of practice have made the pace they need muscle memory. They have a few minutes of leeway but they don’t want to tire out when they’re halfway through. Sweat slowly starts to drip down Melissa’s face. The wind’s whipping them and she’s thankful her bright red hair’s tied up in a bun.

Out of the twenty five soldiers running the sisters make sure to stay in the front half. They talked beforehand about how they wanted to beat at least half the men so nobody would question whether they belong. Women have a lower target but that’s not good enough for either of them. The men behind them notice as they’ve noticed every time a woman has beaten them throughout training. At first they were met by snide remarks but over time their fellow recruits slowly grew to respect these women who never make excuses and are always ready to give their all.

Each mile’s four laps around the track. Every time they pass the starting line Melissa feels the glares of the group gathered in the crowd. Their eyes seem to follow her. Entering the final lap, Tara nods at her sister, their agreed upon signal to pick up their pace.

No longer worried about staying together, Tara starts to pull ahead. Her longer legs provide an advantage. Her lead’s small but it grows larger every few steps until there’s at least the length of a car between them. Two of the men running with them get between them and suddenly Melissa can only see hints of her sister’s hair every few seconds.

Nearing the third turn, the two men seem to be locked to each other. They glance back and forth grinning, clearly both wanting to beat the other. The one on the right knocks his shoulder into the other man with a laugh, trying to get under his skin. The man stumbles and starts to lose his footing but manages to maintain it. His smile’s gone and his face starts to go red. His feet pound the pavement as he moves to catch his partner. When he does his shoulder catches the other man this time but he hits far harder than he was hit. The original instigator’s speed makes it impossible for him to stop and he goes tumbling to the ground right in front of Melissa.

She tries to dodge out of the way but there’s no time. At the last second she tries to jump but the man’s knees are in the air and one catches her left foot, twisting her body. She covers her face with her hands to avoid breaking it. Her arms hit first and she skids across the asphalt. Her knee bounces and as it does she hears something snap. Pain shoots through her leg like lightning and a scream goes out. The soldier who tripped her, a man she thinks is named Andrews, looks on in horror from his knees but with a barely audible apology he climbs to his feet and resumes his run.

Tara’s already nearing the final turn when she hears Melissa scream but she glances back to see her sister laying on the ground grabbing at her leg. Panic overtakes her and she turns to run back, barely managing to avoid being bowled over by the other recruits. When she reaches her sister she leans down and goes to touch her but Melissa shoots her a look through the pain. “Don’t touch me. If you touch me I’ll be disqualified and you might be too. Finish up. I’ll see you at the finish line.”

She wants to protest, Melissa’s flaming locks came loose when she fell and the blood coming from her scraped up arms is even redder. Her sister’s right though and they’ve worked so hard. “Do you think you’re okay? Can you get up?”

Melissa looks away from her sister, trying to twist her head so she can see her knee. “I’m not okay but I don’t know if I can stand. I’ll find out. Get going.” Tara’s hand hovers over her sister’s head and she wants to touch her, to provide support and let her know she’s here for her. Instead she stands and turns away, running toward the finish line. She’s shaking.

Pulling herself to a sitting position, Melissa tries to climb to her feet. The pain increases the second she puts pressure on her foot and she collapses back to the concrete. Looking toward the stands, she sees the men and women there are standing and pointing her way. What are they looking at? Why is she so interesting? A couple of fellow soldiers who were on the sidelines are starting to jog across the grass in the center of the track. She waves them off but they keep coming.

A few soldiers are still passing her, telling her there’s likely still time to finish. She wanted to finish before the men’s deadline but now she’ll just be glad to finish at all. Trying again to get to her feet, this time she’s careful not to put any weight on her left leg. Using her hands and her right leg she turns herself into a tripod. She considers running along on three limbs but not only does she not want to give the other soldiers a show, she’s not sure regulations would allow that. Instead she pushes herself onto her one good leg. The momentum from her movement almost sends her crashing backwards to the ground but she uses her arms to steady herself and she’s able to balance on one leg.

Looking to the end of the track, it seems like an awful long way. Tara’s finished and with her run completed, she’s sprinting across the grass to reach her. She beats the other soldiers who are moving at their own pace. “You sure about this sis? If you fall and land on that leg wrong you could make it a lot worse.”

Staring her sister in the eye, she nods, her lips curling. “I have this. There’s isn’t that long to go. How long do I have left?”

Looking at their father’s watch which she always wears, Tara looks concerned. “Just over three minutes. If you go fast you might make it.” She doesn’t look like she believes it.

The wind picks up again and almost knocks her to the ground. How can she go fast without risking a fall? “Can you block the wind? I don’t want to get knocked over.”

Putting a finger in her mouth and holding it in the air, Tara shakes her head. “It’s coming from all over. I might make it worse by blocking it. I can do better though.” She moves in front of Melissa and holds her arms out. “I’ll stay in front of you. Get moving fast so if you fall, you’ll fall forward. I’ll catch you if I need to. You’ll be disqualified so try not to fall but at least you won’t get hurt worse.”

Biting her lip to stifle the pain, Tara nods. Seeing only two more soldiers behind her on the track, she decides it’s time to get moving. She takes her first tentative hop and manages not to go sprawling back on the pavement. Tara’s eyes go wide but she doesn’t say anything. Taking two steps back, she keeps the same distance between them.

The next hop has more confidence. Then there’s another, and another. Soon she has a pace down and Tara’s spotting her. She actually has to speed up a little. They’re not going that fast, but fast enough to be difficult if you’re running backwards.

Trying to turn the final corner Melissa lands strangely and has to use her arms to steady herself. A few adjustments though and she’s facing the finish line. “How long?”

Looking down at her watch, Tara’s eyes go wide. “Mel, you have a minute. We have to go hard or you’re not going to make it.”

Centering herself, Melissa closes her eyes, takes a deep breath and gets ready. Opening her eyes, she ducks slightly and throws her weight forward. She lands and immediately does so again. She wobbles but launches herself back into the air. Tara’s running backwards at this point. “You’ve got this, I won’t let you fall.” The finish line’s so close. Three or four more hops. The others who took the test are all gathered around their sergeant, cheering and waving their fists in the air. The sergeant looks solemn, his eyes glancing between his watch and Melissa. She hops again and realizes one big hop will do it. Every second counts so she uses her arms to gain extra momentum and throws herself forward.

There’s so much force that she can’t get her good foot under her. Her toes dig in but her heel won’t cooperate and she starts to fall forward. She considers trying to save herself with her bad leg but knowing it won’t support her, she instead tries to shift her weight away from it as much as she can.

Tara’s eyes go wide as she sees her sister start to fall. She doesn’t want her effort to be for nothing but if she lands wrong she could be seriously hurt. Shuffling forward, she manages to get an arm under each of Melissa’s shoulders and hold her up on her toe. She pushes her back onto her foot and hugs her tight, taking on most of her weight so she won’t have to support herself. There’s a long silence before Tara says, “You did so good. You’ll pass next time, I am so proud of you.”

Burying her head in her sister’s shoulder, Melissa finally lets herself feel the pain. Her injured leg’s pounding and she knows something’s seriously wrong. She was so close. Who knows when she’ll be able to test again? She needed this bad so she could be a full soldier while recovering. So she could stay with Tara. Now they’ll make her stay here to recuperate and send Tara to Georgia without her. Can she do this alone? She’s missed her family terribly since getting here but she always had one shoulder to lean on. Now she’s going to be alone. Without a unit of her own friends will be hard to come by. She’s going to be so truly alone.

The gathered crowd goes silent, all staring in disbelief at what they just witnessed. The sergeant steps forward toward the girls. Tara frees one of her arms, still using the other to support her sister, so they can salute. He returns it. “That was one hell of a display Chance. I’ve been dong this a long time and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. You should be proud.”

Holding her salute, Melissa tries to fight back tears. She’s made a point never to let him see her cry through ten weeks of training and she’s not ready to give that up now. “Thank you sir, I look forward to my next chance to take the test. I’ll make sure I’m ready. How’s Andrews?”

Smiling for the first time Melissa can remember, the Sergeant makes a point to look at the man who tripped her. He’s standing behind a couple other men, afraid to show his face. “He’s just fine, though before graduation I’m going to make sure he regrets that display of his out there. Getting another soldier hurt because he wants to mess around is unacceptable. I don’t know what you’re talking about with taking the test again though. Your head crossed the plane before your sister caught you. Combine that with your numbers in the other tests and I’m fairly certain that means you get to graduate. Congratulations.”

Everyone exchanges looks, trying to make sure he’s serious. When there’s no retraction, the crowd break out in applause. Melissa desperately wants to tackle her sister but with her knee the most they can manage is a strong squeeze and to smile through the pain. “That’s amazing. I promise I won’t let you down.”

Shaking his head, the sergeant starts to walk away. He turns his head after a moment with a little of his smile still showing. “I know you won’t. Anyone capable of what you just did will be a credit to their unit. Let’s get that knee of yours checked out now. I want you walking across the stage at graduation.”

Part 4

Part 6

Red Line: The Future Part 4

The night before the last step in their training the sisters gather in the rec center. Melissa’s playing pinball while Tara sits in a nearby chair, her face stuck in a book of military strategy.

“Stupid ball.” Melissa tries to shake the machine to avoid losing her final ball but she doesn’t bump it hard enough. The machine starts to flash her final score. “I was so close to the high score.”

Looking up from her book, Tara smirks at her sister. “I don’t think the ball’s the problem.”

Sticking her tongue out, Melissa walks up and stands in the light Tara’s reading by. “If you think it’s so easy, why don’t you try?”

Tara laughs and returns to her book, ignoring the shadow blocking her light. “I don’t have time for pinball Melissa.” Turning the page, she gets a slight grin on her face. “Besides, if you could come close we both know I’d destroy that score.”

Melissa’s jaw drops and she grabs Tara’s hand, pulling her to her feet. “If you want to act big, you’re going to need to prove it. Get up.”

Fighting to free her hand, Tara laughs and sets her book down. “Alright, maybe one game. Then I need to get back to studying.”

Moving to the machine, Tara’s hands slowly find the flipper buttons. She tests them to make sure both are responsive. Melissa inserts a few quarters and they’re under way. The ball bounces back and forth and Tara manages to avoid losing it for several minutes. The score goes higher and the lights flash. Melissa’s constantly leaning in, her eyes wide. She tries to nudge the table at one point to avoid a scratch. Tara takes her eyes away just long enough to give her a stern look. “Nobody likes a back seat player. This is my game.”

Rolling her eyes, Melissa says, “Yes mom.”

The narrowing of Tara’s eyes is immediate. She’d likely chase her sister down and tackle her if it weren’t for the game.

Tara blows past her sister’s score and then the game’s high score in no time. She keeps going and before she runs out of balls she’s doubled the record. Melissa has a goofy grin as she watches. “The other soldiers are going to hate you. Nobody’s touching this score.”

Shaking her head, Tara walks back to her book. “They already do, so who really cares?”

“That’s not true.” Melissa walks up behind her sister and wraps her arms around her neck, lightly hugging her from behind. She rests her cheek on Tara’s shoulder. “You’re just kind of stand offish.”

Tara grabs Melissa’s hands, pulling herself free. “I’m not stand offish, I just don’t waste time making everyone around me comfortable.” She plops back into her seat, immediately pouring herself into her book.

Grabbing a chair to pull up next to her, Melissa sits backwards, resting her arms on the back. “I get that but maybe you could make a little more effort? People like you when they get to know you. They just need a chance to get that far.”

With her face fully back in her book, Tara ignores her. Melissa wants to push further but she knows where this is leading and doesn’t want a huge fight. Instead she walks up behind her sister and hugs her. “For what it’s worth, I love you no matter what.”

Reaching behind her, Tara pats her sister on the hand a few times. “I know. That’s all I really need.”

Part 3

Part 5

Red Line: The Future Part 3

No call ever comes about the special project though thankfully no call comes from the soldier either. Soon they’re being pushed into boot camp. Long days of pushing every muscle in their bodies to their limits turn to long nights in the nearly empty women’s barracks. The facility’s huge but there’s very few women enlisting in their unit. They’re nearly fifty miles from home and Melissa has rarely been further. Tara only was during her brief college try. They spend a lot of time talking about their parents and their little brother Frank. Melissa feels terribly homesick despite having her sister at her side and tries to call home as often as she can. The phones on base are always busy though and the long distance fees add up so fast that even their mother asks them to limit the calls.

The few other girls in boot camp try to make friends but Tara tends to scare them away at every opportunity. Melissa tries winning them back and she makes headway with a few but then Tara comes along and she’s back to square one. One of the girls pulls her aside. “Look, I don’t want to be mean, but your sister’s crazy. I was waiting for the shower when she got out this morning and she yelled at me for standing around and wasting time. What does my time have to do with her? You need to talk to her.”

She ignores the advice. Her sister comes before making friends. On a personal level their lives are difficult but training’s great. As they near the end of basic they’re excited to go home for a few weeks before transferring to their permanent base in Georgia. Their dad’s excited for them to be gone long enough that he can take over their rooms. All that’s left is to pass the graduation test. The first few tests are easy. After knocking them out without issue Melissa swears she sees her drill sergeant smile. It might be her imagination.

Part 2

Part 4

Red Line: The Future Part 2

When the Chance sisters’ father comes home that night he finds his wife bawling on the couch as her two daughters try to console her. The look he directs at his daughters is icy, his eyes narrow and his eyebrows rise. “What did you do to upset your mother?”

Melissa smiles and tries to look confident. “We went and signed up for the military dad. Mom doesn’t like it.”

Tara cringes, expecting an explosion. Their dad grins instead. “Wait, you’re telling me my daughters have decided to serve their country?” Both girls give slight nods. He runs over to his wife. “What are you crying about? This is a cause for celebration. Our daughters are going to be heroes.”

Their mom looks up, her eyes wide. “How can you be excited at a time like this? Our girls are going to end up dead.”

“Oh please, we haven’t had a shooting war in almost ten years. They’ll get good training and be safe.” He lowers his voice. “Not to mention we’re going to have two less mouths to feed around here and two more rooms available. I know you’ve been wanting a knitting room.”

He tried to be quiet but Melissa picked up every word. She cringes. Their dad’s never been that interested in his kids but using their being gone as his attempt to cheer their mom up is bad even for him. “Mom, I promise we’ll do what we can to stay safe. This is a good job and a chance to do something with our lives. Don’t you want that? We might even be picked for a special project.”

Their dad shoots up and walks over to his youngest daughter. “What sort of project?”

“They didn’t give us a lot of details but there’s some special project they want us for. Maybe. We’ll get a call if we’re picked. It seemed like a big deal.”

Glancing down at himself, their dad looks surprised. “This calls for a celebration. Let me get out of these overalls and into a decent pair of jeans. We’re going out to celebrate. Somewhere decent. You can even get a steak if you want.”

As he rushes upstairs Tara rolls her eyes. He’s seemingly forgotten all about his wife who’s still bawling away. She walks upstairs grudgingly. It could be worse. Tonight she’s definitely having steak.

Part 1

Part 3