Planet Earth Protectors, The River's End

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The headlights from the rear quickly reached Ian’s truck and roared to within a few feet of his rear bumper. Ian swerved. The attackers swerved with him. Teplan and Terah swerved to each side of their seats.

“This guy is crazy! Hold on you two!” Ian said though the headrest. “I have to get them off our backs!”

The other truck sped up and inched along side. Suddenly, Ian swerved off the road to the right. The other truck’s tires screeched along the highway as the driver slammed on the brakes and skidded past the exit. Teplan and Terah’s screen bounced as the gravel side road – full of potholes - offered a country feel to the drive. Terah grabbed onto handles strategically placed beside their thighs and closed her eyes. As the truck tires climbed over the rocky, uneven dirt road, the big black truck behind them squealed in reverse to exit the highway and keep up with Ian. Marney hung onto the handle above the passenger-side door with one hand and braced herself on the seat with the other hand.

“What do you think, Ian?” Marney asked without taking her eyes off the road. “They’re a good 200 meters behind us. I say, you shut off the lights and we head across the back side of Old-Man Taylor’s farm up ahead; we can take the dirt track across his backfield to the main line.”

“Good thinking,” Ian said as he turned off his lights. “Where is the track, again? I know it’s a tiny little entrance.”

“It’s actually coming up on the right. Up here, up here on the right — see it? Right there. Right there!” Marney said pointing her finger at the overgrown bushes blocking the small unassuming driveway.

Ian turned the truck off the small country road and, through a very unassuming entrance, slowed the truck by downshifting, taking care not to show his brake lights. He fumbled the truck onto the tiny laneway and disappeared from sight behind a wall of overgrowth. Ian found himself driving along a small, worn, two-tire laneway between the tree line and a field. He downshifted, again, and slowed the truck to the mercy of the gentle undulations in the pathway, until it came to a stop in the grooves of the road. All four sat quietly as the truck nestled into an agreeable position on the uneven ground. Within seconds, engines raced behind them, passing their camouflaged spot.

After about five full minutes, Ian’s voice came through the headrest. “Alright guys. It seems they’re gone. At least for now… So, this is what I think we should do,” Ian said. “At the moment, the safest place for you two to be is somewhere where they would never think you would be. Because of the detour, we are not near an entrance to the highway now… but we are very near Paulton’s field office, where Marney and I were planning to go after we dropped you off,” Ian explained. “What do you two think about going to Paulton’s office with us? Well, not in Paulton’s office, you two would stay in the truck.”

Terah shot Teplan a look of shock that overshadowed his look of enthusiasm.

“I’m just saying this because we are so close to the office anyway,” Ian said. “Plus, we’ll park on the other side of a small forest nearby the office; nobody would even know you’re there. And all you would have to do is sit in the truck and be our lookout.”

Marney shot Ian a look.

“Just look at the screens and watch for anything you see. If you see any signs of movement, tell us on our two-way radio.”

Although Teplan was still not looking at Terah, her piercing stare screamed a two-letter word into his head, starting with ‘n’ and ending with ‘o’ along with her adamant shaking of her head from side to side. Yet, Teplan had already begun responding: “We could do that…” he said meeting her angry eyes as the words left his mouth.

“What!” Terah said. “No. I can’t. Did you not just learn anything from what has just happened to us, Teplan? They almost captured us at the water! Now they are chasing us down, literally, on the street. Let’s just get home and be safe there! Can’t we just let you two handle this, Ian?”

“Yes,” Ian quickly responded, “of course we can, Terah. I totally understand.”

Teplan looked at Terah. “But Terah, that’s the problem; how do we know we’ll be safe at home? What if these guys actually come into my house? What do we do then?”

Terah stared pensively.

“We won’t even have to get out of the truck. We just need to watch the monitors in front of us,” Teplan said egging further confirmation from the front cab. “We’ll park away from Paulton’s office and then they’ll walk the rest of the way. Then they’ll come back and we can go home. That’s it.”

Terah eyeballed Teplan.

“And we’ll lock the back cover so no one will be able to open it,” Ian added sensing more reassurance would be helpful. “The back cover has a large latch-lock and is near impossible to pry open. You will be safe.”

“See! We’ll be safe in here,” Teplan said agreeably.

“So, I don’t really have a choice then, do I?”

“Hey, Terah, I know how you’re feeling,” Marney said. “It’s a scary situation, for sure.”

“It sure is,” Terah confirmed.

“Listen,” Marney went on, “you don’t have to do this. We can bring you home and come back to do it. It’s no problem.”

“If we do this now, it’ll likely help to get them to stop chasing us?” Terah said hesitantly.

“Well, there are no promises, Terah,” Marney said. “But if we do find something, we’ll be in a better position to stop these guys. And, the sooner, the better.”

Teplan looked at Terah. He pursed his lips a bit and gave her one solid nod of his head.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but fine; let’s do it.”

“Great, guys. Let’s get on our way to Paulton’s office then,” Ian said. “My cellular number is programmed into the phone app on the home screen there at the bottom — see it?”

Teplan and Terah both quickly located the phone app. “Got it,” they said in unison. Teplan noticed a bit of excitement in Terah’s voice and he looked over to see her focused on the task-at-hand.

“Good. So, about the cameras outside the truck; they are set to show 360 degrees around the truck.”

The screens illuminated the cockpit as the road outside flashed by, showing no signs of anyone else on the road. Following Marney’s directions, Ian moved the truck through the night. She described the route outlined on the GPS of how to get to Paulton’s office. Marney readily provided a series of ‘lefts up ahead’ and ‘rights up ahead’ while Teplan and Terah monitored Ian’s turns in accordance with her instructions. “His office is up ahead on the left but we’re going to go past it to a little side-road,” Ian said. “I know a spot that’s tucked away, so no one should find us. If someone comes, first of all don’t worry, they can’t get in, but call us and we’ll figure it out.”

A low ditch and wild shrubbery lined the road until an intersection revealed itself. Terah breathed heavier. I wish I were home! I wish I were home! I wish I were home!

“Alright, you guys. We’re a country block away now,” Ian’s voice said through the headrest. “Look at your screens. I’ll send you a satellite image of the property.” Before he finished talking, the image appeared on their screens. The image showed an aerial view of Paulton’s office and the surrounding area of about a two kilometers radius. The topographic view showed the perfect rectangle cut out of the forest that mapped out the property. Both parking lots and the building itself made up the simple outline of Paulton’s office building.

Terah looked at the picture and froze. The eerie stillness of the image gave Terah a stark dose of reality; they were on their way to a desolate property to be left alone in the truck while their current protectors would then go elsewhere. She wondered if something might be lurking in the trees or even if the darkness itself would just swallow them up.

Ian’s voice returned to the headsets. “So, we’re going to park over here,” he said while a point on the image, to the right of the property, illuminated. “It’s a little side road that has a small space to park the truck. It’s at least 50 yards away from Paulton’s office, but Marney and I’ll just cut through the trees. Through the forest’s canopy, you’ll be able to see the light of the office building, and you’ll be able to see a vehicle approaching.”

Teplan studied the aerial image while Terah wrestled with the idea of them being there.

“What if someone comes up to the truck?” Terah asked.

“Well,” Ian said, “if someone comes up to the truck, they won’t be able to see you or even know that anyone could be back there. So, I’m sure they’ll just look up front and leave you guys alone.”

“Can we be heard from outside of the truck?”

“If you’re loud enough, sure. But if you’re talking quietly between the two of you then no, no one could hear you; you’re pretty soundproof in there. Just whatever you do, don’t get out of the truck!”

“No problem!” Terah said quickly.

“So…” Teplan began as he looked at the gadgets around him, “what is it that you actually do for your job, Ian? Mom’s never been too specific about that.”

“Ha! I guess I was waiting for that question,” Ian chuckled as he drove along the empty two-lane highway. “Well, I work for a very special agency. I actually wish there was no need for this very special agency. But, because there is a need, I wish there were a lot more of these agencies!”

No one responded.

Ian continued knowing that Teplan, and likely Terah too, would not be content with his answer so far. “So, what we do, basically, is help protect the planet from harm.”

Again, no response.

“So, we try to stop various forms of pollution that would ultimately kill the planet,” Ian said, finally. “And sometimes I travel all the around the world to do it.”

“Wow!” both Teplan and Terah said before he continued, “This whole time, you’ve done this? Is that why I only see you once in a while?”

“Basically, yeah,” Ian replied. “I was hired when you were about two years-old. Before that, I was working for another environmental organization.”

“Wow. That’s awesome! Do you like it?” Teplan asked.

“Ha-ha,” Ian chuckled again. “I love my job – I love helping the planet. I loathe that it is a necessity. And, I’m not a fan of travel but it comes with the territory. I do get to see a lot of places and help a lot of people though.”

“Are you married?” Terah asked.

Ian glanced at Marney who was staring out the windshield in front of them. “No, I’m not married, yet.”

“Okay, everybody,” Marney injected. “We’re just about here.” She tapped the GPS screen in front of her.

“We’re coming around this corner up here to the entrance of where we’ll be parking,” Marney said matter-of-factly, “but are you both okay going through with this? I don’t want you to do this if you’re too uncomfortable.”

Teplan and Terah looked at each.

“I’m okay with it,” Teplan responded.

After a notable, lengthy pause, Terah also responded: “Yes. I’m okay… After all, what can go wrong, right? And we don’t even have to get out of the truck. And you guys won’t be long and then we can go home, right?”

Right,” Ian confirmed.

“Then, okay.”

“Okay. We’ll be turning left onto a small road in a few minutes,” Marney announced.

On screen, Teplan and Terah followed Marney’s verbal instructions to Ian. The narrow highway in front of them was still, and the trees’ shadows lay long against the road. The ditches on either side made the highway more like a corridor than anything else and seemed to guide the truck towards their destination. Terah pulled her legs up on her chair and wrapped her arms around them as she monitored the screen.

“Okay, let’s look at the satellite picture again,” Ian’s voice said, breaking the silence. “This is the property of government buildings where we believe Mr. Paulton works from.”

The screens in front of Teplan and Terah showed a bird’s-eye view of two independent buildings close to each other. The surrounding area was manicured, but simple, with only a few bushes. The gravel driveway off the highway led directly to the gravel parking lot that was big enough to hold about 30 of Ian’s trucks. To the left of the main building was a driveway that went around back to a second building where, parked, were two inspection trucks. Surrounding the entire property were tall, mature trees that sheltered the property from the highway, almost eliminating it from view.

“Here comes the office up here on our left,” Marney said. “It’s that red brick, two-storey building with the front light on,” she said, pointing across the dashboard. “We’re going to be turning in about 70 yards.”

Teplan and Terah stared at their screens, studying what they could see through the trees.

“Okay, turn up there,” Marney said in a quiet voice. Ian crossed the highway and veered the truck onto a small dirt road that resembled more of a narrow service road than anything else.

“Whose property are we parking on, Ian?” Teplan asked.

“A local farmer… This back road is not part of the Paulton’s office or anything like that. We should be safe here,” he said as the truck gently bounced along the dirt road. Ian then carefully nestled it into a very small clearing amongst the large shrubs about a few hundred feet from the highway.

“Marney and I are going in. You guys stay here. You can see the building ahead of us through the trees. Your screens have a good battery so they won’t run out,” Ian said. “You guys need to be on watch. “If there’s any sign of anything, like if a vehicle pulls up, which is unlikely at this time on a Saturday, then just stay where you are.” Stay here in the truck. We’ll be fine and will be back as soon as we can.”

Teplan and Terah looked at each other reassuringly.

“You guys can use the keyboard and go online if you want but don’t touch anything else. We don’t want to come back and find you have ejected yourselves or something, okay? And so you know, I put a descrambler on the truck, so no one will be able to pick up your signal if you do go online or try to call us.”

“We’ll keep our eyes peeled and contact you if we see anything,” Teplan confirmed.

“Great. Okay guys, we’re going. Marney, ready?”

Ian and Marney got out of the truck cautiously, pretended to have a casual stretch, and looked around through the forest in the early summer-evening sunlight. They then stole their way through the forest with the target in sight. Ian and Marney picked up their pace and powered through the forest as sticks and leaves crackled underfoot. Ian and Marney surveyed the perimeter of the building for signs of life. Through the trees, Ian and Marney surveyed the perimeter of the building for signs of life. The square two-storey building offered a wooden canopy over the front entranceway identifying it as the main entrance. Maroon paint on the old building cracked and peeled in places. Custom-made flowerpots flanked the long wooden steps to the front door. Marney gave Ian the thumbs up and Ian agreed the coast was clear.

A large rectangular window ran halfway along the worn building where the front counter inside could be seen. The parking lot immediately in front of the building met a few low-lying shrubs housed in a wooden planter box that ran the length of the front of the building.

Ian and Marney emerged at the foot of the tree line. “I don’t see any cameras. How about you?” Ian asked, scoping the eaves troughs and roofline.

Back in the truck, Teplan and Terah sat silently glued to their screens, watching Ian and Marney actually approach the building.

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