April 18, 2028 (cont.)
Palace of Versailles, France
Departing from the aircraft that had safely landed in the large, gloomy, and abandoned Royal Courtyard of the Palace of Versailles, Ira, Alec, Charlie, and Meryl ran through the rotor wash. They felt the hair on the backs of their necks waving as if under a blow dryer.
“Okay, team, we will be quick, stealthy, and get both presidents the hell out of there before the first sign of danger,” Ira commanded into his headset. “Noble, Oak, stay close but out of sight. Be ready for us.”
“You’ve got it, capt,” Garth replied with an unseen salute.
The aircraft took off with ease. Relearning their piloting skills, Garth and Chris were more confident as they left the rest of the crew to find their way into the large, shimmering palace.
Under the darkening, hazy sky, the heavy clouds had obscured the sun. There was a disconsolate air around them, as if the heavens knew what would happen.
With Meryl’s infinite knowledge of the floor plans, the men on the ground shuffled quickly into the large building and located the queen’s bedchamber and their base for the night.
Once they were settled and ready for action, time itself seemed to slow down. It was painfully leaden. Everyone paced and tapped or twiddled their thumbs as they waited for the morrow.
To try to quicken the dawdling moment, Meryl spoke in to her own headset. “So, how did you acquire your nicknames? I know Ira’s because his surname means Raven, but what about the rest of you?”
Alec spoke first with a proud yet regretful tone, “I won a pie eating contest in college. Never again.”
“During a boy scout camp out, we were doing a scavenger hunt and I kept running into the oak trees,” Chris commented with a chuckle, “I was supposed to wear glasses, but I hated them.”
“I was always called Charlie the Cyan Killer,” Charlie mumbled. “Because I always wrote with a light blue pen, and almost all of my shirts were teal.”
“I kept bragging that I was related to a Viking king, which I am.” Garth sighed over the headset as if recalling the past.
“What about you Meryl? Why Blackbird?” Alec studied her, as did Charlie and Ira.
“Well, my name means Blackbird,” she stated thoughtfully. “I always preferred Blackbird, since my given name is not spelled, M-E-R-Y-L. It’s really M-E-R-L-E. I changed it since I was picked on and called Marley; that sounded closer to the spelling. They thought it funny to be named after a dead ghost or a dog that eventually dies.” A sly grin crossed her face. “Until I punched them.”
“Well, you are just the grim of all being.”
“Would you like to be named after mortifying characters, Pie?” Meryl asked with crossed arms and a cocked eyebrow.
Ira interjected, “Well, considering recent events, those names suit you.”
She immediately turned on Ira. “Hah, I am not the only one who bears haunts of the past, eh Raven?”
He crooked a cheek. “I have no idea what you are talking about, Marley.”
“Quothed the Raven, nevermore.”
Everyone burst into laughter. Once started it was hard to stop; they sat there, glorifying in the carefree moment. However, reality soon dawned on them, and their grins and snickers slowly faded into silence.
Hours had slipped by.
The sky turned from a gloomy grey to pink and purple hues, to a dark blue and black night.
“Do we know what time they are meeting?” Meryl asked aloud. Her lips felt numb and strained from the little discussion that had crossed between her and the five men.
Ira, who remained as motionless as a sentry, peering through the crack in the door that led to the hall, replied stoically, “Nine in the morning.”
Garth’s snarky yet exhausted voice called through the steady static noise, “Is there fresh coffee?”
“Unfortunately, no.” Meryl smirked.
Ira was just about to add to their conversation when an aircraft flew overhead and landed in the Royal Courtyard. “Noble, Oak, is that you?”
“No, we… still stationed… few miles… -way.” There was so much static that it was difficult to understand his comrade.
“Who could that be?” Ira prepared to stand up, but… “Meryl what in God’s name are you doing?”
The woman was already on her feet. She glanced at her team, “I’m going to find out.”
Before anyone could reply, the men watched her pull off the uniform and reveal a long sleeved black shirt with her tattered skintight black jeans that were patched yet frayed.
She drew a dark blue balaclava from her pocket and pulled it over her head, it covered her hair and face.
Only a pair of bright orbs that reflected the dim evening light could be seen now.
“I thought I told you to stay next to me,” Ira scolded.
“And I responded that I cannot make that promise,” She retaliated angrily, “I’ll be right back. I swear.”
The dark soles of her shoes made almost no noise as she dashed out of the room and into the hall, sleek and silent like a cat on the prowl.
“Does she ever listen… to anyone?” Chris inquired after a moment. The static was less than a slight buzzing noise.
“I can still hear you,” Meryl snapped silently in all the men’s ears.
“Oh…” Oak sounded awkward, as if embarrassed. The others chuckled as he defended himself. “Well, do you ever listen?”
“Only on special occasions,” Blackbird replied with an air of cynical indifference.
“Which are very rare,” Ira cut in but he became serious as he asked, “Meryl, what do you see?”
“Who am I, Wonder Woman? I can’t see crap in this darkness. Wait…” She paused as her voice cut out.
Her prolonged silence caused everyone’s heart to race. Hardly breathing, their fear mounted like the darkness that engulfed them.
“Meryl, get out of there,” Ira whispered urgently, he broke out in a cold sweat. His fingers pressed against the earpiece so hard that it hurt his head, but he did not want to miss a word, and he wanted Meryl safely back with him.
“No, trust me,” she muttered under her breath. It was hard to hear anything.
“That is an order!” he demanded quietly.
Her voice was muffled as she whispered, “Shush.”
Ira thought that impossible.
He shook his head, ready to speak again, when Russian voices echoed though Meryl’s receiver.
“It’s the Russian president with his guards.” She exhaled quickly.
Charlie piped up, “Maybe we can tell him we are here?”
The voices faded and Meryl retorted, “Are you mad? If we reveal ourselves now, he will think the U.S. president set him up. He will order his men to shoot him and us.” She released a heavy, audible sigh, “No, we need to stay hidden, at all costs.”
“Now that that is settled, can you please get back here?” Ira ordered through gritted teeth.
“Fine.” she spoke softly, even though her irritation was heard.
Moments later, everyone heard Meryl huff closer. As she entered the room, the men present watched as she clutched a stitch in her side. She backed against the wall closest to the door.
Shaking and chuckling, she explained, “I tripped over those damn steps, caught myself but one of his security guards heard me and came to investigate. He might have thought I was a mouse, though.”
Ira squeezed her shoulder reassuringly, and went back to watching the empty hall. In his mind, he was thankful that Meryl was in sight of him.
After a lengthy stillness he insisted, “Guys get some sleep; you’ll need your energy.”
The men in the room propped themselves against the wall and lay in wait, ready at a moment’s notice to act.
A few hours had passed in the gradual darkness. The only sound now was a gentle snore from Charlie and Alec. Meryl, who had fallen asleep against the wall, shifted uncomfortably and slowly stirred; the dead of night momentarily blinded her.
She felt vulnerable, as if the shadows chided and betrayed her, more so than when she had lived in Vallø Castle.
“You okay?” Ira whispered and broke the sleepy silence.
Recovering from her dim vision, the moon’s light had seeped through the window and she saw him poised in the same position as when she had fallen asleep. He stood as a sculpture, unmoved by his exhaustion.
“I’m fine, Raven.” Meryl rubbed the enervation out of her eyes, and stood up. “Let me take over the watch. You need to sleep.”
“I’m wide awake.” Ira tried to stifle a yawn.
“I am too. Ira please get some sleep?” Meryl pleaded.
“No,” was his firm answer.
Irritated by his refusal, she marched over to him, grabbed the back of his collar, and dragged him to her previously inhabited spot. She pushed him against the wall, a little harder than necessary. He grunted as his back made rough contact with the paneling.
She knelt low, and held his chin so they were eye level. The moon escaped the clouds and the luminance poured light across his face as his glazed green-eyed stare kept contact with hers.
She felt his observation, intent on finding some form of deceit.
“Sleep.” With a warm kiss to his forehead, Meryl fondly tapped his cheek, her hand stroked his jawline as she took over his forcibly relinquished watch. He still felt her soothing touch. The lingering sensation made him feel numb.
Blankly refusing to let sleep claim him, Ira crossed his arms, ignored her gentle contact, and merely watched the minx take her position.
Besides her passionate determination to disobey rules, he had no choice but to admire her strength and willingness.
In the silence, clouds again veiled the moon until it was utter darkness. Ira dozed off as black space wrapped his mind in comfort.
Twittering chirps from the early birds outside soothingly flowed into the occupied bed chamber. The small animals were unperturbed by the disturbance of the world as their morning song stirred Ira.
Unlike the birds’ relaxed sound, he suddenly stood up, ready and alert.
“Morning sleeping beauty.” Alec clapped his shoulder brightly.
“What time is it?” Ira ignored his friend’s rough greeting and wiped the sleep from his eyes; there was an unmistakable sting where the man had hit him.
“Not yet seven,” Meryl spoke up. She still stood in the doorway.
“Has there been any activity?”
Nodding acceptingly, Ira called into his earpiece, “Noble, Oak, you both okay?”
There was no answer for a few minutes. Ira kept calling as panic bubbled inside all four of the palace bound soldiers.
“Raven? What’s wrong?” Garth’s breathless voice filled everyone with relief. Before Garth or Chris could continue, static increased as it picked up another aircraft flying overhead and landing in the courtyard.
It drowned everyone’s voice.
“That must be the American president,” Meryl said as soon as the static dissipated.
“Good. Maybe we won’t have to stay long.” Chris too sounded out of breath, as if he had run a mile, “The craft flew right above us.”
“Quiet,” Charlie hushed everyone quickly.
The entire palace and its inhabitants went silent. After a long moment, they finally heard two voices echo hauntingly throughout the hall.
Ira and Meryl glanced at each other and she nodded to confirm his silent question.
The presidents were alone in the gallery, about to discuss the future of the world.