Three days ago, Radii Defense Systems laboratory, North of Thompsonville, Virginia.
The Pekingese lay motionless in the stainless steel cage quietly whining from the pain of its latest sutured incision. As usual, no one came to check on it and no one seemingly cared that it was hurting. The sound of a door opening and closing forced the dogs ears to perk up. It gingerly lifted its head and sniffed at a chrome water bowl only centimeters away, licking its lips. Although it was extremely thirsty, the dog lowered its head, reluctant to move out of fear and pain.
The dog flinched as a metal baton suddenly tapped at the box’s door. The sound echoed through the quiet loading area at the back of the Radii facility. He could see two shiny shoes in front of the cage door.
“You still alive in there, puppy?” the security guard, whose handwritten name tag indicated he was called Pete, asked softly.
The dog whimpered a sad reply.
“Well, I’ll be,” Pete said, carefully lifting the cage from the smooth concrete floor, marked in yellow and black stripes. He set the metallic box onto a wooden shipping crate so he could peer into it.
“I don’t know what they do down in that lab, but, it’s sad to see you little guys come out so messed up like this. I suppose you are a lucky one though, ‘cause at least you’re alive...” He paused. “I can’t tell you how many of your four-legged cousins are restin’ out in that there field,” the large man said, pointing out toward some unseen parcel of land. He reached his fingers through the spaces between the metal bands of the cage. His sausage-like digits managed to reach the dog’s head and gave the poor creature a little scratch that it seemed to enjoy. “Are you hungry? I bet you are...look, I know I am not supposed to do this, but, I have a dog at home that could almost be your twin. And for that matter, you really look like you could use a friend.” The man smiled, cautiously looked around, then slid the latch on the cage, carefully easing the door open. He gently scooped the dog up and held it in his bulky arms.
Large round eyes watered as they stared up at the unusually nice man. It was the first time in a long time that the dog had experienced any kindness at all, only the never-ending, cold of the sterile environment of horrors that had become its sad life. It snuggled close to the warm, gentle human.
“Oh, boy, you really haven’t seen much in the way of love have ya? Well, I think we got about a half an hour before the armored truck’s gonna show up to take you down the road to your destination, where ever that is.”
The Pekingese panted.
“Hang on a sec, let me get you some water. Go on and sit, boy!” the guard said with a laugh, setting the dog down on the floor.
The small animal whined, then obediently sat down and stared up at Pete in anticipation of the unknown.
“Here you go,” the man said. He retrieved the water bowl from the cage and placed it before the dog, which stood up on all fours, then lowered its face to begin lapping at the liquid. Pete then fished a beef jerky from his uniform’s breast pocket adorned with a blue and gold metallic shield that said, “Donovan Security” across its top. The guard, using his teeth, tore open the plastic packaging and lay the meat stick next to the dog.
The fluffy tail wagged furiously and the animal happily lowered its head to devour the treat.
“What the hell are you doing, you dumbass hillbilly!?!!” shouted a tall, slender man wearing a white lab coat. He had appeared from nowhere.
The loud voice startled the dog in mid-chew. It released the beef stick and darted between some nearby crates.
“S-s-sorry, sir! I’ll git’em!” replied the stunned security guard.
“You had better grab that damn dog, you fool!” the scientist commanded. “Its transport is pulling up outside to take it to D.C.”
“Yessir!” Pete fearfully replied, then turned and began frantically searching for the Pekingese hiding somewhere in the stacked boxes. “Come here, boy! Come on, where are you? I gotta treat for you,” he sang.
Both men froze as the muffled beeping of a truck in reverse filtered through the loading dock’s roll-up door. It began lifting before the scientist could make it to the shutdown switch on the wall.
“Stop!” the tall engineer yelled. “Shut the freaking door!”
The dog took a whiff of the warm, outdoor air and painfully sprinted toward the space below the now closing metallic door. It streaked through the opening, leaving a few long hairs from its tail trapped between the door and the concrete dock. It launched from the loading platform, landing with a yelp onto the concrete a few feet below, its legs buckling from the pain. The dog rolled to a stop. With the aid of the adrenaline coursing through its veins, it stood, shook itself, and then darted across the dimly lit parking lot, through the slowly closing security gate, and into the Appalachian woods.
Back inside the Radii laboratory’s warehouse, Dr. Lawrence Royal was losing his mind. “Do you have any idea what you have just let loose into those woods, you numbskull?”
“No sir, I thought I had more time before...”
“I don’t’ give a damn what you were doing. Did you not see that big red warning sign on the side of the dog carrier?”
“You’re fired you redneck imbecile. Leave the premises before I have you buried with those dogs out back!” Dr. Royal pointed angrily at the exit. He glared at Pete with murder in his eyes.
The large man could tell the threat was far from idle, so, he quickly left, thinking about getting a drink at the Roadhouse on the way home. The boys were never going to believe he was fired for simply letting some harmless dog loose.
The scientist watched the rotund security guard leave the loading bay then removed his smartphone from his coat pocket. He swiped a finger around its surface and then tapped the device a couple of times. “Vick, it’s Doctor Lawrence,” the man said into the thin, glassy device. He sighed, then closed his eyes before he spoke. “We have a runner...just now...yes...it’s live.”
The nighttime noises of the forest frightened the little dog. It was hungry, thirsty, and its body wracked with pain. The distant roll of thunder cut through the night air, sending the small canine leaping into a metal drain pipe for safety. Frightened, it turned in a circle a couple of times, then curled into a ball as heavy raindrops began to plop down from the sky and drum against the aluminum tube.
“Lost the signal, Doc. It could be the weather. Maybe the rain is attenuating the transmitter’s signal, but I can’t be sure.” Nick said, sliding his chair away from the security terminal’s desk. “Either way it’s gone for now and I can’t locate it.”
“What’s the forecast look like for tonight through tomorrow?”
Nick leaned forward and tapped a few keys on the computer keyboard. The large screen in the center of the wall of flatscreen monitors changed to the moving image of the local weather radar. “100%, nothing but rain. Gonna look like that for the next few days,” he said and pointed at the luminous wall of moving images.
The lanky man ran his fingers through his hair and began pacing. “Doesn’t surprise me at all around here, damn it,” the scientist exclaimed. “Alright, get your people to load up a couple of the SUV’s with tracking equipment and tranquilizers, we’re going to have to do this the old-fashioned way, rain or not.” The engineer shot one more look at Nick. “I’m riding with you.”
“Yessir!” the Radii Defense Systems (RDS) security chief acknowledged and watched his boss leave the room. He glanced around at the cadre of black-uniformed personnel lined up against the rear wall of the room, then stood from his seat, exhaling. “Alright ladies and gents, you heard the man! This is all hands. We got a runner and if you don’t know, it’s live...”
The room rumbled with nervous chatter and whispers. “Did he just say live?”
“Yes, Bohannan, I said, live.”
“Team Two. Leo take Dunham, Del Toro, and Tatum, you guys head down to the lower levels and verify things in the research labs are ready in case of an emergency shutdown. We need to make sure this place gets cleaned if this all heads south. You might as well call your significant others, too. You’re going to be bunked in until we get this damn G.I.Z.M.O. unit back.”
“Sir, yessir!” Leo said with a half-assed salute. He and the other three security agents jogged through the control room doors.
“The rest of you guys are with me. Go ahead and get the trucks loaded,” Nick commanded.
The security chief sat back down and began to turn around in his chair, then stopped. “Bohannan?” he said over his shoulder.
“Yeah, Nick?” the man responded, halfway through the exit door.
“Bo, cut back on the low-level security staged around the facility and take them with us. They don’t have to know what’s going on to look for a damn dog. With the rain falling for the next few days, I don’t imagine anything’s going to be happening around here, anyways, and we can use every eye on the ground that we can get.”
“I agree. I’ll round them up.”
“And Bo? Make sure you grab some real firepower for the trip, too. Just in case.”