DECON

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President-elect Henry Jackson, Hunky, and six Secret Service agents gathered in the main control bay of DECON, which was surrounded by four levels of prison cells, including the one where the entirely unrecognizable body of the Vice-President still lay. It was the largest cavity inside Yellow Mountain, Nebraska.

Two of the Secret Service agents had initially preceded the Vice-President and President-elect by elevator into the DECON complex. Two had accompanied the leaders, and after that two more had come down as reserve. President Gerald Ford had separated from Jackson after the incident at Mt. Rushmore and flew over to Caspar, Wyoming to remotely manage the war in Barbuda.

The bulk of Yellow Mountain blocked any direct radio transmissions between the agents and the larger team that waited in the summit parking lot but DECON had promised to arrange for communications and at first the agents had been satisfied with the results. But now the link had been severed and Special Agent Ted Hickey, the leader of the detachment inside the mountain, demanded the DECON leadership explain why.

Ed Conley, the man in charge of DECON when the Vice-President was not actually present and handling the reins, said, “I took DECON to Protocol Yellow when the Vice-President was killed. No messages get in or out after the initial message that we are actually at Protocol Yellow. Only the President can move us back to Protocol White and he is flying over from Casper right now.”

“I want to get the hell out of here,” Jackson said.

“Unfortunately, sir,” Conley replied, “the elevators are locked on their tracks as part of Protocol Yellow.”

“Then we’ll take the goddamn stairs!” the President-elect said. “The reporter goes with.” A nod from Ted Hickey confirmed this plan was a Go. By a quick hand-sign Hickey indicated that two special agents would stay behind and they understood it was to ensure the integrity of the crime scene.

Hunky spied her Plug sitting on a console in the main bay. “I want my Plug back before we go.” The President-elect nodded, and one of Hickey’s special agents retrieved it for her.

When DECON went to Protocol Yellow guards on every level of the mountain took the safeties off their weapons and began to patrol their assigned routes within the complex, but the doors were not locked. Some of these squads encountered the four Secret Service agents climbing the stair well with their charges, but they did not detain them.

“Jerry Ford,” Hunky said with disgust as she climbed the stairs with the President-elect and the agents. It was quite a climb. Yellow spinning lights turned the stairwell into a disco. “Nobody voted for his ass, and nobody voted for Roland either. Ford’s probably coming here because he’s got his own sex video hanging over his head.”

“Two days until the Inauguration,” Jackson said, stopping for a rest on a stair landing between floors. “That’ll give him forty-eight hours to comb the DECON records, remove whatever it was Roland had on him. Frankly, I don’t blame him at all.”

Ted Hickey caught the eye of the President-elect. “This isn’t America. This isn’t who we are.”

“I agree one hundred percent. So tell me your mission statement, Special Agent Hickey.”

“The law specifies a list of people that the Secret Service is required to protect,” he said. “Anyone can opt out of that protection except the President, the Vice-President, the President-elect, and the Vice-President-elect. I’ll try to accommodate your wishes, but by law I’m in charge until we get out of here.”

“Agreed.”

Five minutes after they left, Ed Conley asked for a report on the progress of the stair-climbers. “Last report has them spotted on level 31,” a subordinate replied.

“Go to Protocol Red. Use this when you call it away.” And Conley handed the subordinate a sheet of paper from a notebook.

“Yes sir!” He punched the complex-wide intercom. “SECURITY ALERT, PROTOCOL RED. REASON FOR SECURITY ALERT, ESCAPED PRISONER. TARGET IS A WHITE FEMALE NAMED SOPHIE KRAUSE. DETAIN ALL ACCOMPANYING SUSPECTS. DEADLY FORCE AUTHORIZED IN THE EVENT OF RESISTANCE.”

“What the hell is Protocol Red?” demanded one of the two agents Hickey had posted behind in the command center.

“It means DECON slams down tight and no one can move after two minutes. After two minutes everyone should be at their posts but there are always laggards so for the next eight minutes after that only the DECON Internal Police can move, individually and in squads, taking names and questioning tardy personnel. If their excuses are halfway valid they will personally escort them to their units, if their excuses are lame…” Conley shrugged. “Vee haff vays.”

The other Secret Service agent pointed a 9mm at Conley. “Rescind the order authorizing deadly force. The President-elect and four agents are with her. In fact, you and everyone involved with that announcement just committed a felony offense, threatening the life of the President-elect”

Ed Conley said in a loud voice, “I don’t like the way this Secret Service agent is pointing his gun at me. I can’t focus on my job.”

From the upper levels of the cell bank all around, DECON guards with semi-automatic rifles poured fire into the two Secret Agents. It was massive overkill, but the tone of Conley’s voice seemed to suggest he really didn’t like being threatened.

“Now that,” Ed Conley said, “is closer to what I call a felony offense.”

In the stairwell the rotating yellow lights ceased and rotating red lights spun up, and Agent Hickey’s party heard the alert with the part about deadly force. He and his agents chambered a round. Hickey said, “They know exactly where we are, and if we keep climbing up these stairs, we’re going to run into company. So we need to do make a detour.”

Hunky tried a door leading to level 28 but it was locked. Hickey swiped a badge and it clicked open. He ordered one of his agents to join him on point, and the other two on rear-guard, with the President-elect and Hunky between them, and they all left the stairwell.

“So where do we go?” Jackson asked.

“My girl is coming,” Hunky said, “and she’s homing on my Plug. I’m talking to her right now.”

“Your girl?”

“Del. Ever heard of her?”

“There’s been whispers.”

“Well she says she’s coming, so we just need to find another stairwell and go down as far as we can go, then straight out. My people are squirting a layout of this place to me now. I can see it in my head.”

“How can they have a layout?” Jackson asked.

“We know every corner of this mountain,” she said, “the number of times our people have been taken here for a short spell.”

“I accept your plan, Hunky,” Agent Hickey said. “Just tell us where to go. And boys, girls, no one stops us no matter what, got that?”

As Ed Conley indicated, for two minutes after Protocol Red was called away the Big Board was lit up with a flurry of activity as the DECON personnel moved to their assigned stations. The activity dropped abruptly at the two minute mark and for the next eight minutes the Big Board showed a reduced set of activity as the internal security forces squared everything away.

The movement of Hickey’s team was masked by this. But at the eight minute mark they descended one level down a partially painted stairwell that was empty of personnel and looked to be little used. Still, the swipe of the badge to open the door at the bottom of the stairs registered on the Big Board.

“What’s that movement?” Conley wanted to know. The duty officer quickly put up a visual of the space that Hickey’s team and his guests were entering from the stairwell. And as they passed under the security camera and out of view Conley got one good look at Hickey, who held up the Vice-President’s badge and stuck his tongue out. He was incensed. “Go to Protocol Blue! Now! Shut it all up tight!”

The red lighting shifted over to all blue, everywhere. Now even the Vice-President’s badge was no good. None of the doors in the entire complex would work at all unless Ed Conley personally authorized it from where he was, on a case by case basis. He pointed at a section of the Big Board where a force of seven security men were now trapped in a section of corridor. He said, “Get ahold of these fellows and tell them to drop two levels and work their way east. Release the doors in front of them in such a way that they run smack into where the Secret Service team is trapped. No one else moves.”

Conley was good as his word. When Hickey tried to get out of the office space they had crossed, the door wouldn’t respond. He tossed Roland’s now useless badge away. “Any ideas?”

A hissing black shaft about a foot long penetrated a nearby wall and carved out something in the rough shape of a door, which then fell forward flat to the deck. The hissing stopped and the black shaft retracted into what the President-elect knew must be the Golden Gift, so familiar from the Scroll of Lael but now physically present, held in the hand of an attractive red-haired young woman wearing a gray and red tunic, textured black tights, and black boots.

“Del!” said Hunky with a big grin. “Just in the nick of time, as usual. Gentlemen, meet Del. She’s a two-legged Tough Women Attack Team, all by her lonesome.”

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