Authors: Andrea Domanski
“People actually do this for fun?” Jackie took a swig
of her water then wiped the sweat from her brow. She was obviously not enjoying
They’d begun the arduous eight-mile hike from the village at
dawn. The chief and several members of the council met them out front of the
lodge and escorted them to the trailhead to ensure they left as instructed.
Although Carter had expected to see Bill’s sneering face among them, he’d
apparently chosen to sleep instead, no doubt basking in his victory.
Bidzil was the only kind face in the group. He’d graciously
given Carter and each of his companions a backpack to replace their roller
suitcases, and encouraged them to not lose faith in the tribe. “This decision
was made out of fear, anger, and petty jealousy. It does not reflect the wishes
of the whole tribe.” Although Bidzil spoke the words to Carter, he said them
loud enough to make certain all of the others heard him.
At the trailhead, Bidzil pulled Carter in for a hug and
whispered in his ear, “Be careful, my friend. I believe things are not as they
seem. There is much we still do not understand and I fear that will be our
Those words had been echoing in Carter’s head since they
started their trek. Although the Havasupai tribe didn’t have any special
psychic abilities, Carter had often suspected that Bidzil’s insights were more
than just intuition. He’d long ago learned not to ignore the old man’s advice.
“We’ve got to be missing something,” Carter said, more to
himself than anyone else.
“What makes you say that? Yoda’s comment?” Han had taken to
referring to the tribe’s healer as the enigmatic
wasn’t that much of a stretch.
“Yeah. I’ve never known him to be wrong.”
“As far as I can see,” Jackie said, “there’s a whole bunch
that we’re missing. Right now, we know there have been reports of auras,
violence, and people losing time around the Grand Canyon. The only one of those
we’ve figured out is the violence, assuming it’s related to the
Havasupai/Yavapai feud. But that still doesn’t explain the other reports.”
Carter thought for a moment. “All right, let’s go back to
square one. Before Director Finley called, we were planning to speak to the
park ranger who’s been tracking all this stuff. What was her name again?”
Jackie answered, “Something Christner. Kelly, I think.”
“All right, then,” Carter said. “When we get to the hilltop,
we’ll hitch a ride to the ranger station and start where we planned to before
everything went crazy.”
“Speaking of crazy,” Jackie interjected. “You ready to tell
us what all that was about?”
He was never ready to talk about his past. “It’s a long
“And this is a long hike. So, spill.”
Carter looked to Han for help, but only got a raised eyebrow
“Fine. Technically, I’m no longer a member of the
Havasupai tribe. They shunned me when I was twenty years old. I made a stupid
mistake—trusted the wrong person—and ended up disowned and homeless.”
“Wow.” Han finally spoke. “I knew you didn’t speak to your
father anymore, but I had no idea your whole tribe kicked you out. What’s the
rest of the story?”
“You’re not gonna let this go, are you?”
“Hell, no. Getting you to talk about your past is like
pulling teeth. Now that you’re stuck on this trail with us, if Jackie hadn’t
asked, I would have.”
Carter knew when he was beaten. Besides, his friends had
been thrown into this mess with him and, he guessed, had a right to know. “When
I was a teenager I met a girl—Gina. We fell pretty hard for each other, but it
was … complicated.”
Han smiled. “Ah, young love. It’s always complicated, isn’t
“I guess, but for us it was really problematic. She was
“How very Shakespearian of you.”
Carter couldn’t help but smile at Han’s humor. “We kept it
secret, of course. But the older we got, the more difficult it became. When I
turned twenty, my father announced his plans for my wedding. He’d chosen a
woman that he felt was worthy of the chief’s son. That, obviously, didn’t work
Although both Han and Jackie looked like they were bursting
to interrupt, they stayed silent.
“So, Gina and I made a plan to run away together. We were
going to meet up at the hilltop the next night. I went. She didn’t.”
“Oh, Carter,” Jackie said. “I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah, me too. I waited all night for her. When I finally
came to terms with the fact that she wasn’t going to show, I went back to the
village. That’s when things went from bad to worse. My father was waiting for
me at the trailhead. Turns out that the Yavapai had sent a messenger while I
was gone. He’d told my best friend about my relationship with Gina. Bill, of
course, went straight to my father.”
“Hang on,” Han said. “Bill was your best friend? That turd
from last night?”
“Yep. Believe it or not we were inseparable when we were
kids. Then he found out about Gina and was furious. Obviously, he hasn’t gotten
over it yet.”
“So, Gina’s tribe stopped her from meeting you?” Jackie
“I wish. No. Gina did that all on her own. She’s the one
that sent the messenger.”
There was silence for a moment while they let that piece of
information sink in. Han was the first to speak. “Damn. That’s cold.”
“I’m sure you’ve figured out the rest. Suffice it to say
that last night wasn’t the first time the council asked me to leave.”
“Is that why you joined the Omega Group?” Jackie asked.
“Yeah. Myrine had come to the village a few weeks earlier to
recruit new agents. My father, of course, wanted nothing to do with it and sent
her packing. But when I was kicked out, I had nowhere else to go, so I called
Han raised his arms. “And the rest, as they say, is
“There’s still something I’m not sure about,” Jackie said.
“That guy that shot at us when we got off the jet. Was he Yavapai? Can they shift
“I don’t know. When Gina and I were together the Yavapai
didn’t have that ability, but that was five years ago. Judging by last night’s
attack of the village, I think it’s a safe bet they’ve attained it somehow.”
They walked in silence until Han spun on his heels, a look
of confusion covering his face. “What the—?” Before he could complete the
sentence he collapsed to the ground, a tranquilizer dart protruding from his
“Run, Jackie!” Carter started to shift into his wolf but was
hit in the chest by another dart. The effects were immediate. The world around
him slowed as his vision dimmed. The last thing he saw was Jackie firing her
weapon until another dart hit her in the shoulder. Then the world went dark.
Someone’s licking my face.
Han struggled to open his eyes against the weights that
seemed to be holding them closed. His arms and legs felt like lead when he
tried to move, and a sharp pain cut through his head at the effort.
Another slobbery lick along his jaw brought him closer to
consciousness. One eye opened just as a pair of furry lips started nibbling on
his ear. “Gad!” he screamed as he shuffled away in a crab walk.
“Had a rough night there, son?”
As his surroundings came into focus, Han saw the man that
was speaking to him, but couldn’t quite put words together to answer him.
“You and your girlfriend best be moving along. Not all the
pack mules are as friendly as Betsy, here.”
Han shook his head in an effort to get the synapses firing
Pack mules? Girlfriend?
As though a dam in his brain suddenly
opened, the memories flooded back and he shot to his feet.
Jackie lay sprawled on the trail a few feet away. Carter was
nowhere to be seen.
“Don’t worry. She’s just sleeping it off. You really
shouldn’t drink like that out here.”
“What time is it?” Han could hear the gravelly tone in his
“Almost nine o’clock.”
Han looked down at his leg, but the tranquilizer dart was no
longer there. He knelt beside Jackie and searched her for a dart. Nothing.
Whoever shot them must have collected the evidence.
Jackie groaned as he rolled her to her back. “Take it easy,
girlfriend. You’re going to have a hell of a hangover.” When she opened her
eyes, Han could see that she was feeling the same kind of headache he was.
“We just had a little too much to drink last night. That’s
all.” Han hoped she was thinking straight enough to realize they weren’t alone.
When she locked her gaze on his, he knew she was with him.
As he pulled her to her feet, he saw her gun lying on the
ground. Jackie must have seen it, too. She dropped her backpack on top of it to
hide it from the man’s view and said, “Note to self: No more vodka while
Han turned to the man and shook his hand. “Thanks very much
for waking us up. I hope we haven’t caused you too much trouble.”
“No trouble at all. It’s the most excitement Betsy and I
have had on this trail in years. You guys enjoy the rest of your vacation.” As
the man turned back down the trail, his mule looked over her shoulder at Han
and gave him a snort. “She likes you.”
As soon as they were alone, Han and Jackie tried to piece
together what happened. Jackie said she’d gotten off a shot before getting hit,
but didn’t know if she’d struck anyone.
“Where the hell is Carter?” Han asked. His pack was still
sitting on the side of the trail.
“He went down right before I did. Whoever shot us must have
taken him. But why?” Jackie was getting angrier by the minute.
“You still have the sat phone?”
Jackie grabbed her backpack and reached inside. “Yeah. It’s
“I think it’s time to call in the cavalry.”
Mirissa sat, curled up in her leather seat next to Greco,
with her book on her lap. They’d gone straight to the airport from Savannah
after her mother called to tell them they were needed in Arizona, and she
desperately needed this remaining time on the jet to decompress. So much had
happened in the last two days that her mind had yet to catch up.
She’d kissed Greco and, wow, what a kiss it was. He’d
sacrificed his own life to save a sick child and, when she’d thought he was
dead, the loss had hit her like an avalanche. At that moment, she would have
given anything to have him back. And when he did come back to her, she didn’t want
to waste one minute more before showing him how she felt.
Now, though, she wasn’t sure how to fit this new
relationship into their lives. He was her Guardian and partner in the Omega
Group, and they worked really well together. Would that change? Would
change? How would her parents feel about it?
So far, her mother hadn’t let on that she even knew. She’d
conducted the briefing on the events in Arizona with her usual efficiency and
given everyone their orders for when they landed. She seemed more agitated than
normal, but that was to be expected. A team member was missing, presumably
abducted by an as yet unknown enemy.
The whole team was amped up. If it weren’t for the new
recruits back in Jacksonville needing training and supervision, Mirissa was
sure every Omega Group member would have been on this jet. Orano and Beck
stayed behind with the recruits but joined the briefing via sat phone. Even
Phoenix, still in Africa, was on the call. Their frustration at not being part
of this mission was apparent.
“What are you reading?” Greco interrupted her train of
“What? Oh, um, it’s called
, by S.M.
Freedman. A bunch of people with psychic and telekinetic abilities are trying
to end the world so that they’re the only ones left.”
“Don’t you get enough of that kind of stuff in your real
“I guess so, but it’s different in books. The good guys
always win in novels. And that’s something I definitely don’t get enough of in
Greco gave her a wry grin. “And the hero and heroine always
end up living happily ever after.”
Mirissa gazed into his blue eyes and saw the sincerity
there. “Yeah. I like that part, too.”
“Oh, for God’s sake. The gooey eyes on you two are going to
be the death of me.” Myrick bellowed in his Scottish accent. He gave Greco a
playful punch in the arm and Mirissa a good-hearted wink as he made his way
down the aisle to his seat.
Blushing, Mirissa fixed her attention back on her book,
embarrassed by their public display of affection.
This is going to take some
getting used to.
There was less than an hour left in their flight, so Mirissa
committed herself to enjoying the quiet while it lasted. Her life, of late,
hadn’t included a whole lot of
so she’d learned to immerse
herself in it at every opportunity. The crazy psychics in her book awaited.
The flight attendant chose that moment to come barreling
down the aisle toward the back of the plane. Her eyes were wide with fear and
her usual calm demeanor seemed to have been obliterated.
Mirissa wasn’t the only one who noticed the panic-stricken
woman. Every head on the plane turned as she passed. When she reached Myrine,
she crouched low and whispered a few words. Even from several rows away,
Mirissa could see the change in her mother’s expression. “This can’t be good,”
Mirissa said, more to herself than anyone else.
When Myrine stood, she was in full commander mode. She
instructed the flight attendant to strap in to her seat, then marched toward
the cockpit with Steve, Mirissa’s father, in tow. All eyes were on them as they
spoke with the pilot.
“We have a problem.” Myrine addressed the team. “Our flight
path just changed. Our pilot no longer has control of this aircraft.”
“What?” Greco stood. “How is that possible?”
“It looks like we’ve been hacked.”
Ken interrupted. “What about the manual overrides?”
“No good,” Myrine said. “The hack is to the autopilot
system. We can’t disengage it and we don’t control it. Right now, our course
will have us on the ground about forty miles short of the canyon.”
“What’s out there?” Mirissa asked.
“As far as we can tell, nothing. No roads, no buildings,
Myrick asked the question that Mirissa couldn’t. “Is this
hacker taking us to an early landing, or an early crash?”
Her mother’s gaze took in every member of her team, settling
on Mirissa. “There’s no way to know for sure, but the terrain in that area
doesn’t look conducive to a safe landing.” After a deep breath, she continued.
“Ken, get Julian on the phone. We need his skills on this.”
Julian was the Omega Group’s computer genius. His resume, as
he was so fond of bragging about, included hacks into NASA, the Pentagon, the
Federal Reserve, and each of the large Las Vegas casinos. All of that,
according to him, was done before his seventeenth birthday. His last
hack—unofficially, at least—was what brought him to the attention of CIA
Director Finley. The Central Intelligence Agency has one of the most highly
protected databases in the world, yet Julian cracked it without breaking a
It took Director Finley’s best team over two years to track
him down. When they did, Finley made him an offer he quite literally couldn’t
refuse. Do what he does best to help the Omega Group, or spend the rest of his
life in an ankle monitor with no access to electronics of any kind. Not
surprisingly, he chose the former. What did surprise the Director, however, was
that Julian already knew all about the Omega Group and its agents from a
previous hack he’d done. His first official duty for the group was to revamp
their security protocols to ensure no other genius would ever have the same
What Mirissa found so interesting about his story wasn’t the
guy’s skills, but his lack of mischief. Unlike most hackers, Julian wasn’t
interested in causing mayhem. He would get in and get out of whatever system he
was hacking without causing any problems. He viewed each hack as a challenge to
be met and nothing more. That’s not to say that he didn’t take small trophies
to prove he’d done it. His favorites, including photos taken from the
International Space Station, still adorned his office at their headquarters.
“I’ve got Julian,” Ken said. “He needs some specifics about
“Get him whatever he needs.” Mirissa’s mother stepped aside
to let Ken through to the cockpit. “Asteria, grab the emergency parachutes,
just in case. We may need to make a quick exit.”
Mirissa tried to absorb the situation and get her options
straight in her head.
Options? What options?
For the first time in her life
she felt completely out of control. All of her substantial training, both
before and after joining the Omega Group, amounted to nothing when cruising at
thirty thousand feet in an aircraft being directed by someone else.
“We’re beginning our descent,” the pilot yelled over his
shoulder. “But our airspeed isn’t changing.”
“I guess that answers my earlier question,” Myrick said.
“So, what now?”
“Now, we give Julian a chance to work his magic. If someone
else was able to hack this system then he’ll be able to
it.” Myrine turned to the pilot. “How much time do we have?”
“Thirty minutes until we’re on the ground. Twenty until we
have to make a jump for it.”
Asteria came forward with a stack of parachutes and handed
one to each of them. Greco put his on with ease, then helped Mirissa into hers.
She couldn’t quite get her fingers to work the clasps. Once it was secure, and
he’d double-checked all the straps, Greco held her face up to his. “It’s going
to be fine, Mirissa. We’ve been in worse situations than this before and always
managed to come out on top. We’ve got the smartest guy in the known universe
working on the problem. Besides, do you really think I’d let us go down like
Greco’s calming tone succeeded in settling Mirissa’s nerves.
“Thanks. I needed that.” When he bent down to capture her lips in a soft kiss,
Mirissa felt the anxiety drain from her.
“Oh, not again! If I have to watch you two lovebirds kiss
one more time I’m going to jump without my parachute.” Myrick’s smile belied
his words and this time, it was Mirissa who winked.
Her smile was short-lived, however, when she caught sight of
her father. He looked much like a television show dad who greeted his
daughter’s date at the door holding a baseball bat.
Assuming we don’t all
die in a fiery crash, I’m going to have to deal with that soon.
As the minutes ticked by, the team grew more and more
restless. No one took a seat, choosing instead to congregate around the cockpit
door. Ken had the phone on speaker, so Julian’s frustrated ranting filled the
small space. “Damn it. I can’t get past the hack. I’m trying to go around it,
now. Give me a minute.” The sounds of his fingers furiously tapping away at his
keyboard was all they heard for the next three minutes.
“We’re running out of time, Julian.” Even Ken, normally the
most stoic member of the team, sounded worried.
“I know. I know. I don’t get it. This should be easy, but…”
Although Mirissa had been scared when she first heard the
news that their jet was under someone else’s control, she’d still felt a small
amount of comfort knowing Julian was on the case. He’d never met a hack he
couldn’t best. But now, listening to him try and fail, she came to the
realization that they weren’t going to get out of this.
“I’m sorry, Myrine. This should have worked. Maybe if I had
more time…” Julian’s voice trailed off.
“All right everyone. We’re going to jump. Julian, keep track
of our GPS coordinates through my sat phone and get us transport on the ground.
Steve, walk us through what we need to know.”
Steve took control. His time as a Navy SEAL prepared him
well for most emergencies and he was definitely the most highly trained
skydiver in the group. “We’ll need to get our airspeed down to a maximum of 200
knots, preferably a lot less, before we can even think of jumping.” He turned
to the pilot. “Can you do that?”
“I’ve got control of the flaps, but I don’t think that will
do it. I could try a reverse thrust with the engines, but that’s risky at these
speeds and could cause us to break apart.”
“That’s what we’ll do. We have zero chance jumping at this
speed and the only alternative is way worse than the possibility of breaking
apart.” Steve turned his attention back to the team. “All right, even if we can
get the speed down to safe levels, we’re still going to need a rear exit to
Asteria interrupted. “Why can’t we just go out the side
“Because the wind blast would slam
into the jet and we’d die instantly. Myrick, go down below and find me a rear
exit at the bottom of the plane.” They lifted a hatch in the floor and Myrick
disappeared through it. “This is not going to be a recreational jump, everyone.
When we exit the plane, tuck your chin to your chest and cross your arms. Count
to three, then pull your ripcord. If your chute doesn’t open, pull your
emergency.” He demonstrated to make sure everyone understood.
The pilot chimed in. “We’re passing twenty-four thousand
“We can jump at fifteen thousand, assuming our speed is
Myrick popped his head through the floor hatch. “There’s no
rear loading ramp. We’re going to have to make our own exit. There’s a spot
behind the landing gear that looks workable, but we’re gonna have to blow it
out. We have what we need down there to do the job.”
Steve thought for a moment. “Okay, get everything ready but
don’t blow it until I tell you.”
“Aye-aye, Captain. Greco, get your lovesick arse down here
and help me.” With yet another wink, Myrick was gone with Greco close behind.
“You need to let me depressurize the plane before you blow
that hole, so we’ll have to be almost at jumping altitude,” the pilot
“Got it. Everyone, strap on your gear. Once you’re
ready, go down below. When we’re set to go, I’ll come down. Any questions?” Steve
looked to each person in turn and, when he received nothing but determined
faces, he said, “Let’s do this.”
Once the team was safely down below, Steve focused on the
pilot. “Start the depressurization as soon as you can. We won’t have much time,
so it’ll have to be quick.”
“I don’t know about this.”
“What? What’s wrong?”
“We’re still travelling at over four hundred knots. Using
the reverse thrusters under the best of circumstances is risky, but after you
blow a hole in the fuselage… I don’t think we’ll hold together long enough to
reach safe jumping speed.”
Steve pinched the bridge of his nose as he tried to find a
solution. They had to slow this thing down, now. “Hang on a second.”
Steve lowered himself to the floor, sticking his head
through the hatch. “Mirissa, come back up here. I need your help.”
A moment later, his daughter climbed out of the hatch,
followed, of course, by Greco.
I guess I’m going to have to get used to
“Sweetheart, I need you to use your telekinesis to slow down the
engines a bit before we engage the reverse thrusters. You don’t have to bring
us down the whole way, just get the deceleration started.” He could almost read
her mind as he watched her work through the implications of what he’d just
asked of her. “You can do this, Mirissa.”
Her expression remained unchanged. He had to find a way to
give her the confidence she needed. Greco reached forward and clasped her hand.
“He’s right, you know. You
do this. Think of everything you
accomplished in Savannah. You are so much stronger than you think you are.”