Kidnappers from the Future - Chapter 1: Incident at Los Alamos
Los Alamos, New Mexico, is the home of the most famous lab in the world, a place where quiet suburban life exists alongside cutting-edge scientific research in a small foothill community. It is a collection of small colleges, lazy downtown life, and a merciless noontime sun. During World War II, when they housed the historic Manhattan Project, each of the labs contained classified research while their educated populace enjoyed the quiet small-town life.
Known only to a select few was also the city’s relative proximity to a facility even more secretive than the Manhattan Project. A government facility located some odd miles away in the middle of the desert that to outside eyes may have appeared as a few dusty old buildings. But beneath that exterior lay a small city under military supervision that was home to Project Enlightenment, where time travel had been made a reality. Mankind’s greatest scientific achievement, as well as his greatest responsibility.
For a brief time, however, such things would not concern two members of that project.
Dr. Sam Weiss and Special Agent Lou Hessman were walking slowly down the middle of a large quadrangle, before them a massive convention hall with walls of gleaming steel and polished glass, its two-story foyer busy with the gathering crowd entering in through its line of clear glass doors. All around the square other people meandered slowly between one building and another of those bordering it. It was a Friday and the clock tower that loomed over the northeast section of the square was just striking 11:00 a.m. as they continued to walk, with Sam bearing two things about his person: a broad smile and a walking cane.
“Honestly, Lou, I don’t need a nursemaid,” Dr. Weiss amiably objected. “I’ve been on my feet for a couple months now.”
“You’re a key scientist for the project,” Agent Hessman replied, “and still under recovery, or you wouldn’t need that cane.”
“Actually I’m thinking of keeping the cane even after I’m fully recovered,” Dr. Weiss said. “Makes me look rather stylish, don’t you think?”
Even as they talked, Agent Hessman’s eyes never left their duty of darting rapidly through the crowd surging lazily past, assessing every face for a possible threat. It didn’t matter if they looked like an absent-minded intellect or a talkative pair of college students, he took them all in.
“There’s another reason why I had to get out of the lab,” Dr. Weiss said after a couple more steps.
“Phelps,” Hessman replied with a nod.
“The poor boy in a coma all this time, then . . . I wish he could have pulled through.”
“At least the general gave him a nice service. As far as his family will know, Lieutenant David Phelps died in service to his country.”
“They just will never know what that really meant.” Dr. Weiss sighed. “Or what he meant to our team . . . Harris—how is she doing?”
“Still in a coma last I checked,” Agent Hessman replied. “She’s a fighter, but her doctors have no idea when or if she’ll pull through.”
Dr. Weiss replied with silence, focusing on the quad they were walking across and the people passing by with smiles and eager talk. It was a full minute before Agent Hessman snapped them both out of their sorrowful reverie with a question.
“So, this niece of yours we’re supposed to meet,” he prompted.
“Samantha, my brother’s child. Yes, I think you’ll like her. She was just finishing up her PhD when we had the first unfortunate conference.”
“And now she’s attending Time Conference two point oh? That’s another reason why I’m here. If—or when—some terrorist strikes this one, I want to be ready.”
“Lou, surely lightning will not strike twice. It’s been three months since that happened. I’m sure things will be entirely peaceful.”
“And that,” Agent Hessman emphasized, “is yet another reason why I’m here with you. Your naïveté.”
“And that,” Dr. Weiss said, pointing off into the crowd with his cane, “is my niece.”
Agent Hessman glanced up to see the one Dr. Weiss indicated. Just from mention of her doctorate, he’d expected much the stereotypical image of a female lab rat with her hair done up in a bun and square glasses fixed on her nose. What he saw, however, caught him completely off guard.
She walked with a natural poise and grace, bearing a smile that seemed as honest and natural to her as breathing. Long brunette locks spilled out over her shoulders in lazy curls, with no prim glasses to camouflage the beauty of her features or the energetic gleam in her eyes. In place of the anticipated lab coat she wore a long white and pastel blue summer dress that draped just past her knees. In short, she was a statuesque beauty.
When she saw Dr. Weiss her smile broadened and she waved eagerly before quickening her pace to close the distance between them. “Uncle Sam!” she exclaimed, beaming. She took him in a full hug, then released him for a quick appraising look. “You have a cane. Did you injure yourself? What happened?”
“Only the occasional dizzy spell to be cautious of,” Dr. Weiss replied. “It happened three months ago as a result of . . . a certain project that you’re here to join.”
“Oh yes,” she said with a knowing nod. “I read the mission report. You know, I may have a few ideas that can help with the accuracy of the scanners. If we just increase the field density of the emission coil, then we can—”
The nature of the pending discussion snapped Agent Hessman out of his stunned reverie and immediately back to his job.
“If you don’t mind,” he quickly interjected, “could you save the temporal shoptalk for far more secure conditions?”
Dr. Weiss chuckled, and said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Leave us to our common interests and we’ll be at this for hours. Sam, this is my protector and friend, Special Agent Lou Hessman. He’s in charge of security back at the facility. Lou, this is my niece, Samantha Weiss. Doctorate in physics, specializing in the theory of time travel and its consequences, and as brilliant as she is lovely.”
Samantha smiled as she offered a hand. “Lou, how very nice to meet you.”
They both paused as their hands touched, each seeing within the other something special; for Lou that meant a stunning beauty framing the promise of a sharp mind. Though in truth it was only a moment’s pause, not even long enough for Dr. Weiss to notice, to Agent Hessman it seemed like an hour.
“Nice to meet you, Miss . . .”
“Just call me Samantha,” she replied, easing from her own momentary pause of uncertainty back into a ready smile. “Or Sam.”
“Sam? Wait,” Agent Hessman said as he came to the realization. “But that’s . . .”
“I was named after my uncle. Either that or a character on an old sitcom, depending on who you ask.”
Agent Hessman couldn’t help but grin at the reference, which was an act that did get Dr. Weiss’s attention. The smile was brief, but it was there and stood out for the fact that Dr. Weiss had never seen the government agent so much as twitch his upper lip. He said nothing of it, though, just mused to himself before cutting into the conversation.
“Samantha is not what most people would expect of a PhD, and she can talk as readily about how to bait a hook as physics.”
“Something which you taught me to do when you came with me and Dad on those fishing trips when I was a kid.”
“You fish?” Agent Hessman asked.
“No one really fishes on those kinds of trips,” Samantha replied. “It’s really just an excuse for talking shop, which in my dad’s case meant talking chemistry while Uncle Sam talked physics, and me in the middle.”
“I would be forever annoying your father,” Dr. Weiss said with a chuckle, “by pointing out that chemistry is a subcategory of physics.”
“Which it technically is,” Samantha said with a slight giggle herself, “but that didn’t stop Dad from pouting for half the trip, trying to think up a counterargument. But about the cane: How long are you going to be needing it?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that, Sam. I almost don’t need it right now, but I’m thinking of keeping it as a stylish affectation. Think it might get me some more respect when I walk into the conference with this?”
“You are the most respected scientists I know, Uncle. Oh, but aren’t we going to be late for the panel?”
“Sam and I are registered to attend a panel at eleven thirty,” Dr. Weiss said for Agent Hessman’s benefit, “but it’s been so long since I’ve seen my lovely niece that I think we should skip the first panel and go to lunch. My treat. We have a lot to catch up on.”
“Skip the conference?” Samantha asked.
“Just the one panel. We can be back in time for the next one at three. There are a number of lovely little eateries a short way from here that I’m sure Lou’s security sensibilities would approve of.”
“Well, I guess it has been a while,” she agreed. Then, with an eye for Agent Hessman: “What do you think, Lou? Any particular place that you’d recommend?”
For the second time Agent Hessman was brought up short by those perfect eyes being aimed in his direction, but this time he recovered more quickly with an answer that sounded all professional—on the surface, at least.
“There is a little sandwich shop with a back patio secure from direct line of sight from any neighboring buildings, and nothing but an open view of the mesa. It should be secure enough.”
“It sounds perfect,” she said. “Lunch with a view. And good company.”
“You and your uncle should have plenty of privacy to chat.”
“I’m sure we will, Lou. Why don’t you take the lead and show us the way.”
“I would be glad to,” Agent Hessman replied with a courteous nod.
“And I’ll act as chaperone,” Dr. Weiss muttered under his breath with a very slight grin.
“That is,” Agent Hessman continued, “it is my duty to see to your safety as well now since you’ll be joining the project.”
“Either way,” Samantha said, slipping her right arm into Agent Hessman’s left, “I will have two perfect gentlemen to escort me.”
She then slipped her left arm into the crook of Dr. Weiss’s right, putting herself in the middle. It seemed to Dr. Weiss that Lou looked a little uncomfortable at that moment, but he said nothing, only grinned to himself as his niece turned her attention more to his protector than himself.
They would not get very far, however. The peaceful small-town atmosphere was interrupted by a commotion coming from the large conference building ahead of them. People shouting, the sound of gunfire, and through the large glass windows that comprised the front wall of the building’s expansive foyer they could see men in black uniforms with the word security printed across their chests and backs brandishing their guns in a chase through the crowd of suddenly screaming conference attendees.
While Samantha and Dr. Weiss looked on curiously, Agent Hessman went immediately into action. Releasing himself from Samantha, he whipped out a pistol just as three men burst through the screaming crowd and out the front entry for a quick look across the open quad, giving the people sudden cause to scatter.
“Down!” Agent Hessman ordered his two charges.
One of the three strangers guarded their backs, sending off a shot at the nearest approaching security guard. It didn’t sound like any normal shot, however; more like an electrical snap and a high-speed hiss accompanied by a flash of light at the mouth of the pistol’s barrel. The bullet slammed into the chest of the first guard with a bright flash of light that shoved him off his feet and into the next guard behind him.
Meanwhile, the other two had maintained their position, their quick scan of the crowd ending with a direct look in the direction of Agent Hessman and his two charges. One of the men spoke to the other in quick syllables, but not in anything resembling English.
“That sounds like Russian,” Samantha remarked as she and her uncle hit the ground.
The three men had dark features and nondescript jumpsuits, but very distinctive pistols. They wasted no time and started swiftly for the group of three, one of them raising his pistol as its barrel began sparking electrically.
“Hold it right there,” Agent Hessman called out.
Hessman was crouched down on one knee, both hands on his pistol, taking aim. Behind him Samantha and Dr. Weiss crouched low, while from another building across the quad, more men in security uniforms were running over to join the disturbance.
“One more step,” Agent Hessman called out to them, “and the first one’s dead!”
Hessman didn’t wait for that step. He saw the middle man’s finger on the trigger starting to pull back, and fired. He aimed straight for the man’s head, yet his bullet was slightly off. In the flash of the moment his bullet caught the man’s gun hand just off to the side, spoiling his aim just enough so that the next shot that came out of the strange pistol whizzed by Agent Hessman’s ear and instead slammed into a post somewhere behind him with a bright spark of light.
In the next moment, a small army of security personnel came across the quad to join them, filling in behind the three gunmen as well as alongside Agent Hessman. A few words between the three in what sounded like more Russian and they broke off, turning away to head for the side of the nearest building. A second shot from Agent Hessman began a hail of gunfire from the army of security personnel, which chewed up the concrete behind the men as they ducked around the corner, with Hessman breaking into a run after them.
“Secure the quad,” Hessman shouted as he ran, “and get those gunmen!”
Agent Hessman himself was first to round the corner not more than a couple of seconds behind them, alongside him several of the security personnel. He expected to see his quarry still trying to make good their escape, but what he found was . . . nothing. No flapping door to give away an escape route, no overturned garbage can, not so much as a leaf stirred.
To the confused look of the first guard to his side he gave an order: “Search the whole area.”
As security personnel scurried to cordon off the area, Samantha came up with her uncle limping along by her side.
“It appears that I still have some need for this cane,” Dr. Weiss remarked as they approached. “At least when getting up from an unexpected kneeling position.”
“They sounded Russian,” Samantha said. “And those guns of theirs. Lou, who were they?”
“A very good question,” Agent Hessman answered. His gaze, as he talked, was fixed on the ground ahead of him, studying it.
“Well, I guess lightning really does strike twice,” Dr. Weiss remarked. “A good thing they increased security the way you told them to. But what would some Russians be doing around here? What do they want? And how’d they even get in?”
“I have some even better questions,” Agent Hessman absently replied, his gaze still fixed on the ground. “Like, why is there not so much as a single drop of blood around here? As many bullets as were flying out, I’d think at least a few of them would have hit them. Even accounting for body armor . . . but nothing. And now they vanish?”
“I think you have a point,” Dr. Weiss agreed. “But what does it mean?”
“It means,” Agent Hessman said, with a last look down at the empty ground before facing his two companions, “that the conference is on hold. Again. I’m taking the two of you directly back to base. Samantha, you’re headed there anyway; now it’s just a bit sooner than expected. I’ll have your things sent over, but neither of you is leaving my sight until you’re secure.”
“Understood,” she replied, all business now. “Any suspicions?”
One of the security guards came up to them, holding up a clear baggy with some sort of expended bullet casing in it. The design, though, was very unusual.
“From whatever it was they fired, sir,” the security man explained as he handed it off. “Sir, if this is a shell casing, I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
To Agent Hessman’s nod, the man left to go to other duties, leaving him with a puzzle in his hand.
“I may have a few,” Agent Hessman then replied to Samantha. “And I think it’s time to recall Ben and Claire.”
“That’s right,” Dr. Weiss remarked. “He’s been showing her around some of the sights of the modern world. No telling where they are right now, though.”
“I’ve been keeping track,” Agent Hessman blandly replied, “as is my duty. Right now, they should be in New York City.”