Red Line: The Future Part 16

A week later Melissa’s laying on a cold metal bed in only a hospital gown. She’s in a private room on the second level of the facility, alone except for her sister sitting in a chair across the room. She’s still mad at Tara but she’s apologized enough that she agreed to let her be here today. She knows Wyatt and Kurt are in rooms on the same floor so she isn’t completely alone but right now she doesn’t feel close to either of them. She’s annoyed with Wyatt and mad at Kurt. He’s tried to apologize and she’ll forgive him eventually but eventually hasn’t come yet.

Her knee’s circled with a marker as a reminder to the scientists to watch how it responds. They considered doing her surgery before the serum’s administered but after going back and forth for days the scientists agreed to try it this way. They want to see how her body responds without it. They can always go in and do the surgery later but the biggest reason to do it is to strengthen the surrounding area and to avoid deterioration of the knee later. If the formula works like they hope those might not be concerns for her.

At three o’clock on the dot when the procedure’s set to begin Stan walks in. Sook and two other scientists she doesn’t recognize flank him. She’s up first with Kurt set to go at four and Wyatt last at five. The actual procedure’s quick. They inject her with the two parts of the serum simultaneously and then monitor her vitals closely for the next hour. When it really starts to take effect she’ll probably lose consciousness but that should only last a few hours. When she wakes up she should already start to feel the changes, though some changes may take a few days to start showing up.

Sook takes one syringe and Stan has another. He smiles at her and promises to make this quick. Tara walks to the side of the bed and grabs for her hand but she isn’t sure she wants that right now. She’s still mad. Tara uses both her hands to get a good grip though. “Hey, not now. You can be mad at me again when you wake up. Right now I’m your sister and I’m here for you.”

She slowly nods and holds her sister’s hand. One of the needles is positioned directly over her heart. It won’t be puncturing the heart since that would kill her but they’re putting it into the sack surrounding it. They want to get it into her blood stream fast and that’s the best way they’ve found. This has to be immediate or the risk goes way up. The other needle goes into her arm and she’s much less afraid of that one but it still makes her cringe. Both needles are huge. She’s always hated needles.

She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes, not wanting to see the needles coming. Seconds before they go in Tara squeezes her hand a little tighter. She loves her for being there but right now she hates her a little for giving it away. The pain in her chest is strong but it doesn’t last long. The needles are removed and Stan starts examining her chest to make sure they didn’t puncture anything that’s going to be an issue. There’s pain but she thinks it’s okay.

Squeezing her hand tighter, Tara gets close to her face. “How do you feel? Are you okay?”

“I feel okay I guess, that hurt but I’m alright.” A few minutes pass as they sit there. The scientists step back, monitoring her charts. Every so often one of them will smile at her and tell her everything looks good. “I’m starting to get sleepy.”

Most of the group ignores it but Sook smiles at her. “Don’t worry about that, it’s normal. Go to sleep if you want. You’ll wake up in a few hours feeling amazing.”

Taking them up on her offer, Melissa smiles at her sister and slowly closes her eyes. She decides to count down from ten to see how long she lasts. She never even makes it to nine.

Part 15

Part 17

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Red Line: The Future Part 15

Is Tara leaving? Melissa sees her sister and Kurt walk out and starts to worry. She’s been trying to get her attention for ten minutes. Wyatt pulled her aside the moment they got here and he won’t stop talking. He seems nice enough, he’s clearly intelligent and he likes to talk. Mostly he just wants to talk about himself though. His education, his military background, his family, his ex. It got old after five minutes and they’ve been going at it for nearly thirty.

She could tell him off, flat out say she’s not interested and tell him to get lost. He hasn’t been that aggressive though. Persistent but not overly pushy. She also can’t forget that they’re teammates now. She needs to build a rapport with him or her life’s going to be a lot more difficult. When she can get a word in edge wise, she’s told him how all the people she’s dated are smaller, with long hair, smooth faces, long legs. That couldn’t be more different from the short, short haired, bearded, muscle bound man before her. The only way she could be more clear is if she told him exactly why he’s not her type and she can’t do that. He nods and goes right back to talking about how great he is.

Now she’s alone. With Tara’s help she could have found a way out of this. An excuse why they had to leave, something. Now the only way she can think to end this is to be blunt and she really doesn’t want to do that.

Sandy’s still here and she walks around the table and pulls a chair up between them. She sits in it backwards, getting close to the pair and looking between them. “What’s up folks? Having fun?”

Wyatt’s not amused. He stares her down for a moment before saying, “Ya, we’re having a great time. Just chatting with my new teammate here, getting to know each other. I’m sure we can chat later too.”

“Great, you want another drink? Neither of you’ve had a refill yet.”

Looking into her empty cup, Melissa’s excited to see she managed to finish one glass of tequila. She should have a lime, or some salt, but she made due with just the tequila. She’s never had it before. Her and some girlfriends snuck a few wine coolers a couple of times when their parents weren’t around but she’s never had hard liquor. She doesn’t like the taste or how it makes her feel. She wants to feel like she’s keeping up though. She doesn’t want Sandy to think she can’t handle herself and leave. “Sure, I’ll take a little more. Can I try something else?”

“Sure, what do you want? Kurt left the tequila and the whiskey.”

“Whiskey please.” Sandy pours her a half paper cup of the brown liquid. She holds it up to her face and smells. That’s almost enough to make her gag on its own. She tips the glass back and takes a small sip. She wants to spit it out. Should have stuck with the tequila. Instead she swallows and smiles.

“That’s not really meant to be sipped. Kurt took the good stuff. You do you though.” Sandy turns to Wyatt sitting next to them silently, looking for an opportunity to inject himself back into their conversation. “Did you want some more man? You haven’t had much to drink.”

He shakes his head. “I don’t drink much, more for me to work off tomorrow. I mainly only had the one cup to be polite since we were all getting to know each other.”

“I think you’ve only gotten to know Melissa, I think it’s my turn now.”

She turns back to Melissa and starts asking her about how she’s liking the place. Small talk but it doesn’t stop. Minutes pass and Wyatt’s smile starts to slip. He looks back and forth between the two women but they’re speaking so quickly he can’t say anything. Sandy looks back to him. “Did you want anything else to drink?”

He finally has an opportunity but everything he’s wanted to say for the last few minutes is gone. All he can do is shake his head and say, “No, I think I’m good. I’m actually going to go. Tell your brother thanks for the drinks though. I’ll see all of you around.” Standing up, he almost jogs out of the cafeteria, his hands on his hips.

They watch the man go, a smile forming between them. The door swings behind Wyatt and they stare at it for a minute. When she’s sure the man’s gone, Melissa stands up and hugs Sandy “Thank you so much, I didn’t want to get into it with him when we have to be on a team but he wouldn’t take the hint.”

“He didn’t want to take the hint. Guys like that don’t quit. I’d be careful about being alone with him. I think he’s harmless when others are around and he might be harmless alone but…” The sentence hangs but Melissa knows exactly what she means.

“I’ll watch it.”

“Good. Any reason you weren’t into him though? I mean, he’s a good looking dude. Objectively I mean. Not my type, but good looking.”

Melissa shrugs. “Not my type either I guess.”

“What is your type? More like my brother?”

Her face scrunches. “Ewww, weird thing to say. No, not him either. I don’t really want to go into it too much though. Probably best we leave that alone. Where did my sister go?”

Snorting, Sandy leans in, her eyes narrowing at the change of subject. “She went off with my brother. Apparently he is your sister’s type. Don’t worry, he’s harmless. She’s pretty drunk so he’ll stop before anything gets serious.”

Seeing them leave together wasn’t enough for her to believe it. She can’t remember the last time Tara was into someone. Kurt’s a good looking guy but he has to be in his thirties at least. She’s never noticed Tara being into older guys. The last guy she dated was actually a year younger than her but that was probably three years ago. “Thanks for your help then, I appreciate it.”

“Seriously though, what’s your type? Maybe I can set you up with someone. Me and Kurt were some of the first people they brought in here. I know pretty much everyone.”

“Thanks, but that’s probably not a good idea. I don’t plan to date while I’m here.”

“Oh, so you’re…” Sandy stops herself mid sentence. She almost asked a question she isn’t allowed to ask. Melissa freezes, feeling less safe than she did with Wyatt. This is dangerous. Should she deny it? One false report and suddenly they can look into her. Will they talk to people back home? Seeing Melissa’s eyes going wide, Sandy reaches out and places a hand on her arm. “Hey, it’s okay, just breathe. You don’t have anything to worry about. I don’t know what you’re referring to. No clue. For the record though, if what you’re saying is what I think you’re saying, keeping in mind I have no idea what I think you’re saying, you’re not the only one.”

Melissa sits there blinking at Sandy. Did she just admit what she thinks she admitted? That was an incredibly bold admission if so. It calms her though. “Really?”

“Ya, since I was a kid. No worries, you’re among friends. You don’t have to worry. Kurt knows about me and won’t turn me in. Does your sister know about you?”

Slowly she nods her head. Tara’s known for years. Ever since the time she caught her best friend and Melissa locked in a room together and neither could come up with a good excuse. That’s the only reason Tara had to talk her into joining the military. She didn’t have any other prospects after high school. College sounded exciting but between the cost and her sister’s trouble she wanted to find her own path. Until now it hasn’t been an issue. Maybe tonight isn’t an issue either but she can’t help but wonder how long it’s going to be before another night like this comes up. Next time the person on the other end might not be so cool. She has to be more careful.

A smile slowly returns to her face. It feels good to know she isn’t alone. Sandy’s the first person she’s met in the military going through something like she is. Sandy reaches out and takes her hand. “Maybe I’m crazy, but you don’t want to go back and hang out in my room do you? Maybe watch a movie or something? I just picked up The Birdcage. Supposed to be funny. Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, good stuff.”

Shaking her head, she takes her hand back. “That’s probably a really bad idea.”

“Probably, but it sounds fun. Maybe not tonight but if you change your mind, come hang out sometime. I’ll keep the movie around.”

Sandy stands and gestures for Melissa to come with her. They walk toward Melissa’s room. “You really don’t need to walk me back, I can handle myself.”

“I’m sure you can, but I promised your sister I’d make sure you got back.”

When they get to her room, she wants to invite the woman inside. Maybe they could watch a movie after all, or do something else. She can’t do it though, too much risk. She smiles and says goodnight.

Turning the key to her door, she opens it to find the lights on. Tara’s on her bed, topless, sitting astride Kurt. He’s still got his clothes on but she can’t imagine that will last long, or at least it wouldn’t have if she didn’t walk in. “Really! On my bed!”

Jumping, Tara hits her head hard on the top bunk above her. She screams and grabs for her head with one arm, using her other arm to cover her chest. Kurt looks sheepish, slowly waving at the two women standing in the doorway.

Sandy falls against the wall, laughing hysterically. Tara and Melissa are both bright red. Tara’s using her free hand to search for a shirt and finally finds a dirty one of Melissa’s which she slips on. Sandy manages to breathe long enough to say, “Why would you possibly come back here? You have a private room.”

That seems to confuse Kurt and he has to really think about it. “I guess I didn’t think about it. To be fair, we’re both really drunk.”

Part 14

Part 16

Red Line: The Future Part 14

The cafeteria’s still pitch black when Tara shows up, practically dragging her sister after her. She’d have no problem throwing her over her shoulder and carrying her if she thought it’d get them here faster. With dinner over for several hours there’s normally no need to keep the lights on this late. Anyone wanting a snack can turn them back on but with a fantastic recreation room on the same floor the cafeteria isn’t a hangout spot. That makes it perfect for a group looking for a little privacy.

The sparkling black material of her dress catches the light and stands out. That was the goal. She can’t remember the last time she wore a dress. When Melissa saw her changing into it her eyes went wide and she started laughing. She was even surprised Tara brought a dress to the base but she tries to be prepared. Tonight she wants to look good.

Melissa changed as well, not wanting to show up to hang out in her dress uniform. She went a little more casual though. A nice red blouse that compliments her hair and a pair of black jean shorts. She spent more time fixing her hair after taking it out of the bun she kept it in for the presentation than she did worrying about her outfit.

Unsure what to do while they wait, Tara pulls a chair out at the nearest table to help her sister. Melissa shoots her a dirty look but takes the chair. A long day seems to have taken its toll on her. She’s willing to accept some help, even if she doesn’t like doing so. “I can’t believe you’ve been giving me the cold shoulder for a week because you didn’t want to be on the team.”

Pulling a chair out for herself, Tara starts to sit backwards before deciding the only way she’ll manage that is if she pulls her dress up around her hips and gives everyone a show. Even she’s not that bad around people. Instead she corrects the chair and sits down, crossing her legs for modesty. Looking down, she grimaces at the couple of small nicks from having to shave her legs in record time. They’ve stopped bleeding at least. “I do want to be on the team, or at least the field team. I want to back you up. I wanted you to get it more though. You only got hurt because you joined the army. That’s on me and if this can help you then I want you to get it.”

Leaning in for a hug, they’re still holding each other when they hear the door open. Turning they see Wyatt’s the next to arrive. He spent the entire time they sat next to each other at the announcement chatting her up and trying to flirt but she told him he wasn’t her type. He seemed disappointed but it didn’t last long.

Wyatt didn’t change it seems, he only removed his heavy military jacket to reveal a basic cotton shirt. He was invited to bring a guest but seems to be alone. When he sees the sisters he smiles and jogs across the room. His smile’s primarily focused on Melissa which almost makes Tara snort. If he’s not her type then he’s most definitely not her sister’s.

“Evening ladies, nice to see you again. I wanted to congratulate you Red but I didn’t get a chance before everyone took off back there. It’s Melissa, right?”

Extending a hand to the man, Melissa nods and smiles back. “It is. I’d stand but you know, it hurts.” They both chuckle at that. “Congratulations to you too. You must be excited. I’m sure your family will be proud.”

He puts a leg up on a chair, stretching out in a way which makes Tara feel embarrassed for him. “Oh ya, it’s great. My old man’s going to be crazy excited when we go public. He served in Vietnam and the whole reason I joined the military was him. What are we drinking?”

The doors fly open, banging against the wall with a clang. With a giant grin and several bottles in his arms Kurt walks in. Sandy’s right behind, waving at the sisters as they cross the room. “I’m here folks and I’m glad to say I have brought the drinks. We can get the party started.” His hair’s unkempt and Sandy’s looks to be the same. She keeps it short, likely because of how few options military hair standards provide. A few strands standing up seem out of place though and she wonders what they were doing and if whatever it is explains their being the last ones here when this was their idea.

They settle in, Kurt choosing to sit backwards the way Tara wanted to. He grabs the last chair at the table, leaving Sandy without a place to sit. She grabs a chair from the next table over but not before giving Kurt a light smack across the head. “You couldn’t grab me a chair? Really? Such a gentleman.”

“I try. You can get your own chair. Consider it practice for taking care of yourself on the field team.” His eyes run over the group but she notices them pause to run over her legs. He catches her noticing and looks away quickly but she smiles, not minding. She’s not sure Sandy would be okay with it though.

“Okay,” Sandy says with a snort, pushing him to inch over and make room for her chair. She’s dressed casually in a pair of shorts and a tank top. “I guess we can get this party started at least. Anyone have cups?”

There’s none around but Tara knows where they’re kept in the back. She jumps up to run to the pantry, pulling her dress down as she goes. It’s really not that short, it reaches her knees. She’s not used to exposing even that much though and the air on her legs is both nice and uncomfortable.

Choosing between actual glasses which they’ll have to wash after drinking or a set of mini paper cups takes a moment but the little cups make sense. From what she saw Kurt brought whiskey, rum and two different bottles of tequila. These can approximate shot glasses which seems perfect.

Tossing them to Kurt as she returns, he looks them over and then gives her a look with one eyebrow up. “These work, though I think you may seriously underestimate how much I can put away.”

Pouring cups for everyone, Melissa turns to Wyatt. “You didn’t bring anyone with you?”

Coughing and not meeting her eye he still has a smile across his face. “I uh, don’t really know anyone here yet. Haven’t had the time to get to know many people. I want to though. Need to make some friends. Hopefully good ones.” He inches his chair slightly closer to Melissa.

Cringing at the display, Tara turns to Kurt and Sandy. “So when did you two meet?” The second she asks she regrets it. She doesn’t want to think about the two of them. She shouldn’t think about either of them.

Exchanging a look, they laugh and Sandy punches Kurt’s arm. “Twenty eight years ago.”

Kurt puts his hands on his hips and shakes his head. “No, it was twenty seven and change. You are not twenty eight yet.”

“I’m close enough.” She downs her shot and pours another. Tara’s trying to keep up so she downs another shot of tequila.

Looking at Melissa, she seems to be nursing the first shot she took. She takes a sip of it and makes an awful face. Is this the first time she’s drunk alcohol? They’ve never talked about it before. They’ve always been close but she never brought Melissa along to parties. Bringing your little sister isn’t cool. Some of her friends must have taken her to a party though, right? “So wait, you two have known each other your entire life? How’s that work?”

Pulling a flask from the pocket of his shorts, Kurt pours a brown liquid into three cups. He slides one in front of each of the women. He looks over to Wyatt and Melissa but they seem locked in conversation and both still have plenty of their first drinks. “That’s usually how it works when someone’s your sister.”

“Half sister.” Sandy slams her cup and Kurt’s right behind her.

“Wait, so you’re brother and sister? You have different names.” Tara’s staring back and forth between the pair in surprise. After a moment she notices her cup’s still sitting there full. She sniffs it and realizes it’s strong.

“That’s from my private stash, really good stuff. If you like whiskey you’ll like it.” Tara takes a moment to breathe in before pounding the cup. The burn hits her hard and she starts coughing, covering her mouth. Kurt starts to laugh. “You’ll be alright, cough it out if you need to. Ya, that’s my little sister. Half sister, hence the names. There’s a few sets of siblings here. Makes sense I guess with the tests being based on DNA. Why’d you think we were something else?”

“I don’t know, the captain was talking about you being a ladies man and then you were running off to hang out with her.”

Sandy slaps the table. “Shoot, don’t give him too much credit. He thinks he’s smooth but he spends almost all his time hanging out with me. He’s all bark.”

Shaking his head, Kurt looks to Tara. “Ignore her. She thinks I’m a joke but that’s because she’s never seen my A game. Not the stuff you break out in front of your sister.”

“Oh, you have an A game huh?”

“Hell yes I have an A game.”

“Prove it.” Sandy sits there staring at her brother, cocking her head slightly to the side, grinning with her entire face.

“What the hell do you mean prove it?”

“There’s a pretty girl sitting right here next to you. Let’s see your A game.”

Looking at the ground, Kurt takes his flask back out of his pocket and takes a big sip. “That would be inappropriate. We work together and I’m going to be on a team with her sister. Besides, where’s your A game? You could bring it yourself.”

Looking to Melissa, she’s inched a little further from Wyatt. He doesn’t seem to be giving her a hard time but he’s persistent and doesn’t seem to be getting Melissa’s hints that she isn’t interested. “I think Wyatt’s a little fascinated by my sister.”

Grinning at Sandy, Kurt says, “I wasn’t talking about Wyatt. Not exactly my sister’s type.”

Several punches reign on Kurt’s arm. Sandy stares him down, wide eyes with her lips pursed. “I think you’ve had enough to drink tonight. Maybe enough for this week.”

Picking up on what Kurt meant, Tara decides to change the subject. “If you want to show off your A game, that’s okay. I mean, I can be an impartial jury if you want. See what you have. I’m not going to go easy on you though.”

Sandy’s demeanor changes back to a positive one, laughing and clapping her hands. “You have to now, you have permission. Let’s see this so called A game.”

Looking for a way out and finding none, Kurt sighs. “Alright, you ladies asked for it. Fair warning.” Turning his chair to face Tara’s, he scooches closer to her until their faces are only a foot apart. Running his hand through his hair, he smiles and already she can feel herself wanting to lean toward him. He has a great smile. His eyes are a beautiful light blue and when he smiles his eyes follow suit. “Girl, I can’t help but notice that you’ve been noticing me. I don’t like to make assumptions but I do need to let you know, I think you’re absolutely beautiful. Are you here with anyone tonight?”

Staring into his eyes, it takes Tara a moment to realize a response is expected. “Uh, no, just my sister.”

“Well that’s a real shame. You deserve someone to appreciate how amazing you are. I don’t think I could be more impressed. Smart, tough, able to handle basic training like a pro, and then to be this absolutely beautiful. Any man who gets the chance to be your man is the luckiest one on earth.”

Sandy rolls her eyes and snorts at this but Tara’s lost in his eyes. He reaches out and takes her hand. His hands are tender and clasp hers gently but they have a roughness to them. She tries to regain her composure and straighten her back. “That’s a very nice thing to say.”

“Nice doesn’t begin to describe the things I want to say to you. I know you probably aren’t looking for anything serious right now. I know this is an important moment in your life. If you could carve a little corner of your time out for me though, I’d be eternally grateful for every moment you grant me.”

The stare’s what really drives it home. Looking into his eyes, every word seems sincere. Her lips stammer and she tries to find words but nothing’s coming. Keeping her eyes open and breathing’s all she can manage.

A slow clap emerges from the side. They turn to find Sandy making the noise. “Bravo, I have to give it up, that was A game.” Managing to move her head, she sees Wyatt and Melissa are both watching as well. Melissa makes an exaggerated fanning motion which Tara promises herself she’ll get her for.

Climbing out of his chair, his face twists into a grin. “Maybe next time you’ll know not to doubt me. You’ve seen the ladies I hang out with. I can bring it when I need to bring it.”

Stupid. She’s so stupid. She said she was okay with it but that felt so real. She wanted it to be real. He’s way too old for her. She knows that. He’s charming though, and she loves blue eyes. They’re her favorite feature. Her dad would hate him but she doesn’t care. She wants this man.

Looking back at her, Kurt sits back down but moves his chair back a little. “So I assume you give me a passing grade.”

“Ya, uh, ya, that was pretty A grade. I knew you were proving something but it was hard to remember. Well done.” She still can’t look him in the eye.

“Hey.” He takes her hand again and Sandy looks away. “Look at me.” She tries to do so but she’s still not meeting his eyes. “For the record, I wasn’t lying. That’s the secret of bringing the A game, you need to put the truth in it. You’re awesome. I probably shouldn’t get involved with someone in the unit but you’re pretty great and I’d like us to be friends. Why don’t we be friends? No game, I don’t think you need game. Just two people getting to know each other.”

She gives his hand a little squeeze as her heart pounds. “I think I’d like that.”

“Awesome. You want to get out of here then? Go somewhere and get to know each other?”

Everything in her wants to say yes. From her head to her toes and everywhere in between. She hopes somewhere is his room even if that’s not the message she’s getting. Then she sees her sister still being talked up by Wyatt. She keeps looking over at Tara, going big eyed and searching for assistance. How long’s that been going on? Why didn’t she see it earlier? “I’d really like to but I came with my sister and I think she might need a hand.”

Sandy pops her head between them, almost giving Tara a heart attack. “I got her. Least I can do after being a jerk. Go, get to know each other.” She stops to make air quotes. “I’ll make sure she’s alright.”

Standing up, Kurt puts a finger in his sister’s face. “Be good.”

“I will be. Get out of here before I have other ideas.”

Still holding her hand, Kurt pulls Tara to his feet. The alcohol goes straight to her head. Her feet feel weak but his hands steady her. She hasn’t noticed how tall he is until now. He’s easily got a half foot on her and she’s five seven. Leading the way out of the room with a hand on her back, she follows his lead, eager to see what secrets tonight still holds.

Part 13

Part 15

Red Line: The Future Part 13

The next few days are awkward between Melissa and Tara. Melissa’s fairly certain Tara knows she didn’t make the team and is upset about it. Every time she brings it up though Tara tells her everything’s fine and there’s nothing to worry about.

Everyone in the bunker’s on edge. Captain Snow’s back but nobody’s seen much of him as he’s locked in meetings with several of the scientists along with some of his superiors. Word is they’ll have the final team soon and the new normal is finding other members of the unit staring you down in the halls, trying to figure out if you might have beaten them out. When an announcement goes out that they’ll be meeting after dinner tonight in the mission control center on floor one, one of the only places on base that wasn’t shown on their tour, it comes as a relief. People can breath again.

They eat dinner together every night but tonight Tara makes an excuse about not feeling well and leaves after only a few bites. Kurt and Sandy joined them for dinner so Melissa doesn’t feel she can follow. Instead she finishes her meal, trying to make conversation as they debate who will be on the final team. When she finishes Melissa says goodbye, promising she’ll look for them in the meeting.

Returning to her room, she finds Tara’s clothes messily tossed on her bed but there’s no sign of her. She apparently changed into her uniform for the presentation and Melissa decides to do the same. The big wigs are here and she wants to make sure she’s not under dressed. It’s a challenge with her injury but that will just make it more impressive. As she slips the outfit on, she stares at the walls of the small room they’ve been sharing. Apparently once the program’s under way they’ll be set up with apartments. That can’t come soon enough, this room’s starting to make her claustrophobic.

Final checks of the recreation room and the cafeteria in case Tara changed her mind on food don’t turn up any sign of her so Melissa decides to head to their meeting. On the way she finds most of the others are in uniform as well so she’s confident she made the right call.

There’s only one section of the first floor they weren’t taken to on their first day here. Down a long hall directly to the right of the elevator she finds a set of double doors which are sitting open. Inside is a command center filled with desks with computers stacked on them. Television screens line the walls. Each desk has a telephone as well. The room’s well lit and a small stage sits at the front.

Tara’s sitting in the front row in the seat all the way down her row. Someone’s already sitting in the seat next to her so Melissa slips into the row behind her and goes all the way down. “You couldn’t save me a seat?”

Shrugging, Tara won’t look at her. “Sorry, someone sat down. There’s plenty of other seats.”

The man sitting next to Tara, tall with a buzz cut and a goatee turns to face them. Melissa’s seen him around the base but they’ve never spoken. “Sorry about that, if you like I’ll be glad to move.”

She considers taking him up on it. She wants to talk to her sister and can’t do it with this man so close that he can hear everything she says. She doesn’t want to make a bad first impression though so she shakes her head. “Thanks but that’s okay. You got there first. I’m good here.” Turning to Tara, she gives her a wide eyed look for a moment. “We really need to have a talk later.” Tara nods but doesn’t say anything and she still won’t look at her.

People continue filing in. Delilah slams herself into the seat next to her. She dyed her pink hair back to blonde after the captain let her know that if she didn’t there was zero chance of her making either the main team or the field team. She’s still been happy and upbeat every time they’ve seen her but right now she’ll barely nod when Melissa says, “Hello”. The women know they’re all competing with each other for one spot. Kurt and Sandy nod at her across the room but there’s no other seats nearby so they settle into what they can find.

Once everyone’s in their seats the program’s pilot Jay enters the room and calls everyone to attention. They all stand and salute as Captain Snow, Stan Banks, a man she doesn’t know and the woman who was sitting with the captain at their basic graduation file into the room. A podium with a microphone sits at the center of the stage and Captain Banks stands behind it. The other three fill three rusted looking folding chairs which have been set up. Snow salutes back and asks them all to be seated.

Looking over the group, Snow waits until everyone’s settled. “As I’m sure you all know, we’ve spent the last three days going over every detail of your results and we have picked who will be our Red, White, and Blue. I want to start by saying these positions have very little to do with anything but your DNA. That’s the most important part of Project All American. They’re who we think have the best odds to accept the formula and get the most out of it. Questions of qualification weren’t a major factor because you’re all qualified. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t. The field team has a little more to do with your records but they’re also based on who we think will work best together and work best with the core team. The rest of you all have strong futures in the program. A few of you I’ll be speaking with specifically about those futures in the next day or two.”

The room’s so quiet that the sound of a chair leaning back causes half the room to turn. A short Asian man Melissa hasn’t met looks mortified. “Sorry everyone.”

Snow clears his throat and everyone’s attention returns to him. “Let’s start with the core group, that’s what you’re all excited for. First the Red. I’m excited to announce that our Red will be Melissa Chance. Please join us on stage Melissa.”

Her first look is at her sister. She expects to see Tara upset, possibly even angry with her. Instead her sister has a giant smile on her face. For the first time in days she’s looking at her with joy. She reaches between their rows and squeezes her hand for a moment but then motions for her to get up there.

Getting to your feet and getting crutches under your arms is hard work when an entire room’s watching you. By the time she reaches the stairs she can feel the sweat pooling on her forehead. The three stairs are even more difficult but Snow steps out from behind the podium to offer his hand. There aren’t any other seats so she stands there on one leg with her crutches.

Returning to the podium, Snow can’t help but grin at her. “This young lady’s tough as nails and I think she’s going to make us all proud. Now onto our White. Another excellent candidate and someone I’ll be proud to have on our team. I’d like to give it up for Wyatt Williams.”

The man sitting next to Tara practically jumps to his feet, clapping his own hands as he walks to the stage. He jumps over the stairs before offering a salute to Snow which is returned after some hesitation. Melissa would have loved to do the same but without anything to lean on her crutches make that tough. Wyatt takes a spot directly to Melissa’s left and gives her a big smile.

With that display of enthusiasm over, Snow returns to the podium. “Finally we have to announce our blue. This man is a born leader and someone I think will serve us well. He will be the leader of the core team in the field. Please welcome the final member of our squad, Lieutenant Kurt Vickers.”

Kurt gets to his feat slowly, a smile on his face but other than that he doesn’t let out any signs of emotion. He leans down to hug Sandy briefly before climbing to the stage and offering a salute of his own.

The air goes out of the room as the rest of the crowd realizes they haven’t made the team. There’s still hope for one of the spots on the field team though so no one’s completely dejected. Snow asks for a round of applause which is given without enthusiasm. “Now it’s time to meet our field team. We ultimately decided on a five person unit. As I announce these there’s no need to come to the stage but please stand at your seats. First up, we have Sandy Mitchell. Please stand Sandy.” She does so with a triumphant look on her face. Kurt gives her a small nod. “Next we have Bruce Locke. Congratulations Bruce, please stand up. Try not to make as much noise this time.” The man who earlier got the room’s attention leaning his chair back stands, his face completely red.

Each name that’s announced brings the crowd down a little more. Smiles shrink as many of them realize they aren’t going to make it. The one exception seems to be Tara who still has one of the biggest smiles Melissa’s ever seen on her face. She doesn’t seem at all concerned about making the team.

“Our next recruit to make the team is one of the luckiest men I’ve ever met and this team can sure use some luck. Diego Rodriguez. Please stand Diego.” Another recruit Melissa hasn’t yet met stands, a tall, thick looking Latino man with a shaved head. He has a thick mustache and a scar on his left cheek. “We’re down to our final two. Next up is Kenneth Marks. Please stand Kenneth.” This time the man to stand up is white with slightly shaggy hair. He looks young. Almost too young to be here. His hair’s the longest in the room. It’s actually strange how long it is. Melissa has a hard time believing he could get away with that on an army base except for this one. How long has he been here?

Snow waits a long time to continue, looking over the crowd, seemingly taking joy in making them wait for it. “This is the last spot and I know you all want it. I’m afraid only one can have it though and it’s someone I look forward to working with. One of the most respected soldiers I know. I’m proud to have him as our field team’s leader. Everyone give it up for Sergeant Bill Nowak.” One of the oldest of the group, probably in his thirties, stands. He’s wearing glasses and doesn’t look like a fearsome soldier. He carries himself with confidence though. It’s hard not to notice that the group trends young. Kurt’s definitely a little older and Nowak seems to be as well but other than that nobody seems likely to be over thirty.

With all five standing, Snow again asks for a round of applause. A lot of smiles in the crowd are gone but others seem to have a new lightness about them. Trying to make this team’s been stressful and for better or worse at least they have their answer.

Dismissing the crowd, Snow guides them to shake hands with the assembled officials as the crowd files out. Wyatt shakes Melissa’s hand as well and Kurt offers a hug. “Great job girl, going to be great working together.” Melissa thanks him but feels weird doing so. What did she do to deserve this?

Weaving through the crowd, Tara makes her way to the stage and quickly leaps up the stairs. She grabs her sister and squeezes her as hard as she safely can. “I’m so proud of you. You’re going to do awesome at this.” Melissa wants to talk to her about why she’s okay with this. She’s someone who craves action. Joining the military was her idea in the first place. There’s no way she can be okay with sitting back at base, is there?

Before she can answer, Snow walks up and puts a hand on each sister’s shoulder. “Hello Chance sisters, just the people I wanted to speak with. Congratulations on making the team Melissa. You’re going to be great.” He turns to Tara and his smile seems to diminish. “You’re however the person I want to speak with right now. I’m sure you were hoping to make one of the teams. Your skill set is ideally suited for the field.”

Tara puts a hand up. “Actually sir, I’m pretty okay with it. I wanted Melissa to make it if one of us did and I had a feeling only one of us would. I was actually kind of worried you’d choose me instead.”

Melissa’s jaw drops. Was that why she was avoiding her? Snow smiles at her and shakes his head a little. “You’re a good sister Ms. Chance. I’m a little surprised to hear it but that’s not all I wanted to say. You were actually our third favorite candidate, behind only Melissa and Kurt. There was some fighting to make you the Blue. At the end of the day though, the brass only wanted one woman on the team. I’m sorry about that, you deserved it but that isn’t always enough.”

“You don’t have to explain sir. I get it. Good to know I was close.”

“Very close. That’s not the only thing though. When you didn’t make the main team, I wanted to put you in the field team. I was overruled though, precisely because you were next in line to be on the core team. They wanted you available as a backup or a possible fourth person if the first three go well. The brass aren’t willing to risk you in the field. You still have a bright future here though. In time you’ll either be added to the core team, or the field team. I want you to know that. You’ll just need some patience. I need you to stay ready. Can you do that?”

Tara’s grin’s even bigger now. “Absolutely sir, I’ll be ready when you need me. Until then, I’ll try to help around here, maybe learn some new skills. I’m going to find a way to be useful.”

“I believe you will.” With that, they salute each other and Captain Snow makes his way into the crowd to start talking to others who didn’t make it. Tara offers to help Melissa back to their room but before Melissa can refuse they’re interrupted.

Pulling her and Wyatt aside, Kurt puts a hand on each of their shoulders. “Why don’t we get a drink and start getting to know each other? If we’re going to be a team, we need to build trust.”

With her eyes closing for a moment, Tara’s smile cracks. “That’s cool, I’ll catch up with you all later.”

Shaking his head, Kurt takes a hand and puts it on her shoulder instead. “No way big Chance. You’re coming along too. I’ll invite Sandy. You should bring someone too if you want Wyatt. We’ll all drink and get to know each other.” Melissa starts to explain they’re not twenty one yet and Tara gives her a look like she’s going to murder her. Kurt just laughs. “You’re old enough to be one of the leads of a major military initiative, you’re old enough to have a few drinks.” Having cut back on her medicine over the last few days, Melissa agrees. They all decide to meet in the cafeteria in an hour. Tara practically rushes out the door toward their room, looking back with her hands on her hips every twenty feet or so when Melissa can’t keep up with her pace.

Part 12

Part 14

Red Line: The Future Part 12

Snow wasn’t lying about the tests sucking. Both sisters spend the next day being poked and prodded by needles. Blood’s drawn, bone marrow’s taken, they’re put through a spinal tap. The scientists spend a lot of time focused on Melissa’s knee. She hears one of them in the next room wondering aloud how their serum might effect it. Would it heal? Would it prevent further degeneration so they don’t even need to repair the ACL? They have theories but no hard answers.

The spinal tap’s the worst. They’re doing tests on pain levels so they decide to do it without anesthetic. The rest of the day Melissa feels like she’s going to puke. The tests don’t stop though. They want to put her on a treadmill and run a stress test but that’s not possible with her leg so they instead take her vitals. She finds it odd that they even want to, that has nothing to do with DNA. Any questions are dismissed by the scientists. All they’ll tell her is that DNA isn’t the only thing they need to know.

They’re kept in separate rooms so she doesn’t have her sister to lean on. She catches a few glimpses of Tara as they’re shuffled about but there’s no chance to say anything. When they catch each others’ eye Tara tries to give her a reassuring smile but she can tell from the second Tara takes to meet her gaze that she’s in just as much pain.

After a long day of poking and prodding Melissa’s laying on a table in a hospital gown feeling exposed and tired. How much longer can this go on? They’ve left her alone for at least the last half hour and she hopes soon they’ll allow her to go back to her room and relax. Pushing herself up on her elbows, she realizes Sook’s sitting in the corner of the room. When did she come in? The woman keeps glancing at her, though she’s trying to look like she’s locked into a computer. Melissa’s suddenly conscious of how little she’s wearing. “Did you need something?”

Sook practically jumps out of her seat. “Oh, no, just running some of your numbers. Want to make sure everything we’ve found is correct. We may need to take a few more blood samples.”

Groaning, Melissa wants to bang her head into a wall. “Are you at least almost done? I don’t mean to be rude, I know you’re all working hard but I’m in a lot of pain. My knee’s bothering me too, I had to go off all my medicine for this.”

Standing and crossing the room, Sook smiles at her. “We’re getting there. I probably shouldn’t tell you this but if everything checks out, your numbers are awesome. Stan’s concerned because they can’t put you through our standard stress test but I think there’s a really good chance you end up on this team. He’s coming around.”

She’s not sure what to say. Her mouth hangs open and she knows her mother would say something about catching flies. She likes to say things that hurt her feelings. Melissa never expected to be chosen, she figured Tara would get in. She’s always been the strong one. Not the best with people but she’s tough. She’s always had to be the cheerful one, she helps her sister connect and helps people get around the rough edges. “What about Tara?”

Sook walks away, going back to her computer. “I can’t go into details about another person’s medical results. She did good though, not as good as you but good. They’ll consider her but from what I’ve been told they aren’t putting more than one girl on the team. The captain’s okay with it but the higher ups want a token representative and that’s about it. Unless Stan loses his mind about the leg they’ll pick you over her.”

The door flies open and Stan Banks rushes in, his arms full of papers. He doesn’t say anything to Melissa, heading straight to Sook. “We have what we need. I’m calling a meeting now, if we’re going to get our way we need to push this through as soon as possible.”

Looking at him with wide eyes, Sook coughs and gestures toward Melissa. “We’ll figure it out but I don’t know if now’s the time to talk about it.”

Stan looks at her but doesn’t seem concerned. “Oh, hello Ms. Chance. You have nothing to worry about. You’re on our list. Get ready to be crazy strong.” He winks at her before turning back to Sook, thrusting his folders at her. “I’m calling the meeting today. This is going to be a blood bath but let’s be the most prepared in the room. Study these numbers until you know them backwards and forwards.”

Sook shakes her head. “Sir, Captain Snow won’t even be back with the last recruit until tonight.”

“I’ve studied their preliminary results, they’re not going to make it. We move tonight.”

He storms out of the room. Sook looks at Melissa apologetically. “I guess you can go. Sorry for making you wait.” With that she rushes out of the room, juggling the giant stack of folders.

Getting dressed on her own is a challenge. She wore shorts today to keep her knee free but getting them over the knee’s a challenge. It takes awhile but once she’s dressed Melissa exits the room to look for any sign of her sister. She’s nowhere to be found.

Part 11

Part 13

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

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