The investigation of a series of mysterious terrorist bombings leads Special Agent Judy Deavers and Eric Johansson into a secret world where myth and reality collide. What they discover is so explosive that it could tear the very fabric of the civilized world apart. The ultimate fate of humanity is in the balance and it is a race against time to stop the last clock from ticking down.
Judy Deavers was still silently swearing as she parked her assigned Bureau car in her reserved slot in the parking garage at the Federal Building in Spokane. The pre-Memorial Day weekend traffic had been terrible! The drivers in this town must ingest large amounts of controlled substances for breakfast. It was the best explanation for the erratic manner in which they drove. As she processed through building security, she glanced at her watch and realized she was now ten minutes late. Fine example to be setting for the staff, she railed silently as she waited for the elevator. Pressed toward the back by the throng of people boarding the elevator, she tapped her foot in irritation as it stopped at every single floor before finally reaching the fifth. As the doors opened, the passengers could see the large shield on the wall surrounded by the words that still thrilled her even today: Federal Bureau of Investigation. She pushed her way through the people to exit the elevator before the doors could close.
She walked down the hallway toward her office. Even in sensible flat shoes on linoleum tile, her steps were nearly silent. The others always said she moved like a cat, and she was aware they thought she did it to sneak up on them. That thought always made her smile since she would never have to stoop that low. She had an unerring sense when someone was just marking time or going through the motions, and those slackers usually exposed themselves quickly. Having a woman as Special Agent in Charge had been unsettling to many of them.
Entering her office, she had no sooner sat down than the intercom buzzed. Her assistant’s voice was far too chipper for this time of morning, to her way of thinking anyway. “What do you need, Mike?” she asked.
“You have a call on line two; none other than the Commandant of the Washington State Police himself. He’s very adamant about speaking with you personally.”
“I wonder what he wants. Thanks, Mike.” Pushing the blinking button on her telephone, she said, “This is Special Agent Judy Deavers. What can we do for the State Police so early in the morning, Commandant?”
“I think we’ve got a case that needs your involvement, Agent Deavers.” These were words Judy Deavers knew cost the Commandant dearly to utter. The State Police tried to avoid federal involvement in their investigations whenever possible. For him to be calling this early in the morning with a request for FBI support could not be good.
The Commandant’s normally affable personality was subdued as he said, “At approximately midnight last night, an isolated private dwelling up in Tumwater Canyon was destroyed by explosion and fire. When our crime scene investigation unit examined the site, they found residue of Semtex. They also found some kind of calling card at the scene.” He paused. “It looks like we may have some kind of radical group.”
Judy sat back in her chair. “Well, that’s a hell of a way to start the day, Commandant. You got a contact number for me to liaise with the local authorities?”
“The crime scene is presently under the control of Captain Mike Holgrin, the area supervisor for the State Police.” The Commandant gave her the captain’s cellular telephone number. “Our CSI unit is still on scene and will remain there until your people arrive and take over.”
“Thanks. Let me make sure I have this straight. A single-family dwelling located in Tumwater Canyon was destroyed by explosion, presently identified as being caused by Semtex. Whoever did it may have left a calling card, which is now being held as evidence by the State Police. Scene is under the supervision of Captain Mike Holgrin, who is reachable via cell phone at the number you provided.” Her flat recitation of the facts masked the fact her mind was racing over what needed to be done next. Thanking the Commandant for his courtesy, she hung up the receiver and pressed her intercom button. “Mike, scramble the troops. I need everyone in the conference room in five minutes.”
As she reached for the door handle, she caught sight of herself in the mirror mounted behind the door. Her slightly-less-than-shoulder length auburn hair would need a trim soon. It was starting to get a shade longer than she preferred and was taking too much time to style in the mornings. Her crisp white shirt gleamed beneath the stylish business suit she wore. No jewelry adorned her throat or fingers, since that might afford a suspect something to grab hold of during a struggle. Her slim build made her seem even taller than her five foot nine inches. At least she didn’t wear high heels while working; no use being even taller! Cutting her reverie short, she opened the door and went to the conference room.
Most of her staff was already seated in the room when she strode to the front. By the time she had reached the head of the table, the rest had found a seat. “We’ve just received a support request from the State Police. There was a bombing of a private dwelling in Tumwater Canyon. The State CSI found traces of Semtex. They also found a calling card, possibly from the group responsible. I want our lab boys there as quick as they can deploy a portable lab, along with some agents to sift through the ashes. Best be prepared to stay on site for however long this takes. I’ll take the Bureau helicopter out there as soon as I get in touch with the on-scene State Police Captain at the site. Once I have an assessment from the ground, I’ll call back here if we need anything else. Questions?” When none appeared, she dispersed the group to get started on their assigned tasks.
Assistant Special Agent in Charge Delroy Robinson followed her back to her office. “You are going out there personally?”
“Yes, Delroy, and that means you’ll be in charge here during my absence.” Watching the barely concealed eagerness on his face, she added, “If this pans out the way I think it might, you may be holding down the fort here for a while. Do a good job and it could be your ticket to your own office.” She placed her hand on his shoulder. “Believe me, if I didn’t think you could handle it, I wouldn’t be going. Now do me a favor, call the jet park and have them prep the helicopter for immediate departure. I’ll be taking Mike with me.” She walked back to her desk and found the scrap of paper with the phone number for Captain Holgrin.
“Holgrin,” said the voice that answered the call.
“Captain Holgrin, this is Special Agent Judy Deavers of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I understand you have something you’d like our help with.” It was a Bureau policy to use words like ‘help’ when in reality, FBI involvement usually meant total control of the case from the moment they set foot on the crime scene.
“Yes, ma’am. Do you know where we’re at?”
Looking at an aeronautical map of the region, she quickly spotted the location of Tumwater Canyon. “Are you at the north end, or the south end of the canyon?”
“Any further north, we’d be up the mountain,” came his reply.
Shaking her head at the reply, she asked, “Is there any place near the scene suitable for landing a helicopter? We’d like to get on scene as soon as possible and it will take a couple hours to get the rest of the team there on the ground.”
“Sure, there’s a wide access road leading up past the lake in front of the lodge. It’s clear of obstructions. There’s almost no wind down here in the canyon today, so that should be fine.”
“Great. We’ll see you soon, Captain.” Once she disconnected from the call, she called out, “Let’s go, Mike!” and hurried for the elevator.
Fortunately, traffic cooperated on the way to the jet park allowing Mike to drive faster than the other cars. He knew no local police officer would pull over a Bureau vehicle traveling within ten miles per hour of the posted limit. His boss never commented on it and he knew her mind was already planning her next steps. When they reached the jet park, he almost had to run to keep up with her as she trotted out to the Bell Ranger, prominently emblazoned with the FBI shield on its doors and the letters ‘FBI’ on the tail boom. After running a quick check of the aircraft’s systems, she started the engines. Once departure clearance was arranged, she quickly lifted the helicopter and, riding the ground effect, headed for the designated departure spot.
* * * *
Twenty minutes later, they were flying up the canyon, a forested region of pines. She banked the helicopter above the fire watchtower and soon saw the smoldering ruin of the mountain retreat. She skimmed over the small lake in front of the site and set down in the small field adjacent to the access road. Quickly completing the post-flight checklist, she turned off the engines and opened the door. As she and her assistant walked around the front of the helicopter, the State Police Captain was approaching them. She spoke first. “Captain Holgrin, I’m Judy Deavers, Special Agent in Charge from the Spokane office. This is Special Agent Michael Masters.”
“Mike Holgrin,” he said as he shook their hands. “Let me fill you in on what we know so far. About midnight last night, a ranger in the Forest Service watchtower spotted the explosion and subsequent fire and called it in. One of my troopers accompanied the fire department to the scene. The building was fully involved by that point. The trooper spotted two anomalies. First, he found a business card stuck in the mailbox. Since yesterday was Sunday, there would have been no mail delivery. It doesn’t make much sense to stick a card in a box out here in the middle of nowhere.” He handed her a small evidence bag containing a single standard-sized business card. On it was Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian drawing and the words ‘Humanity First’ in bold print. “The second anomaly is really odd. The fire department pumped several thousand gallons of water on the fire but there hasn’t been any runoff from the site, nor is the basement big enough to hold it all. Kind of makes me wonder where it all went. Anyway, the lab boys found traces of Semtex, so we called you.” As he finished his briefing, they had reached the edge of the foundation.
While Agent Masters was wandering around the site taking photographs with a digital camera, Captain Holgrin and Agent Deavers moved over to the flagstone stoop and peered down into the soggy ash-filled basement. “You’re right, Captain. There should be a lot of water in here and there’s barely any. Obviously, there has to be some sort of exit for all that water. We won’t find that until we really start to clean this place out.”
She stepped away from the State Police Captain, flipped open her cell phone, and speed dialed a number. “Hi, Ted. This is Judy Deavers. Listen, I’m going to need some help excavating a site up in Tumwater Canyon. I think we’ll need some rollaways, a backhoe or small crane, and some grunts.” She laughed, “Hey, Ted, when have we ever not paid you? These are your tax dollars at work. How soon can you get here? Not before then, huh? Okay, see you tomorrow then.”
“Captain, it’s going to take us some time to go through this site. I don’t suppose there’s a hotel anywhere near here.”
“Closest one is about twenty-five miles or so. And it’s not the greatest.”
She groaned. “Sometimes, I hate this job.” She opened her phone again, dialed yet another number. “Delroy, this is Deavers. We’re going to need a full field setup here, tents, cots, sleeping bags, the works. Figure enough for our lab folks, four agents and a work crew of about six. Check with that National Guard Captain you’ve been seeing and see if she can scrounge us up some support and maybe a helo lift to get it here. Call me back.”
* * * *
Two hours later, a small convoy of Ford Taurus sedans and a large panel van made its way along the access road. Judy Deavers directed Agent Masters to start controlling the area. He directed the sedans to park down by the helicopter and allowed the van to drive up next to the state CSI vehicle. Knowing the CSI guys would brief their FBI counterparts on what they’d found and turn over any and all evidence they’d collected, Special Agent Deavers met with her assembled team. Before they could get much further than the basic orientation to the site, the peaceful afternoon was disturbed by the sound of a large helicopter. Captain Holgrin glanced back over the lake and was surprised to see an old Sikorsky sky crane with a large pallet slung below it. He watched as the sky crane delivered the pallet onto the access road, released the lifting cables and then flew away. He really had to stop himself from smiling as he watched the federal agents in their business suits scrambling over the pallet, unpacking the tents and other necessities for a base camp. He walked back over to his departmental car.
“Go ahead, Night-one,” the dispatcher’s voice replied.
“When Charlie Fredericks gets in this afternoon, tell him that I need him to bring his report, that park ranger, and five twenty piece KFC meals out to the site.”
“Copy that. Report, ranger and five twenty piece KFC meals. Regular or extra crispy?”
He could hear laughing in the background. “Three extra crispy, two regular. And if you think that’s funny, you should see all these Feds in their suits trying to set up tents. Night-one, clear.”
“Dispatch, clear.” There was no mistaking the chuckle in the voice now.
The tent city took shape quite quickly. For all his disdain over the “suits” and the reputed attitude ascribed to the FBI, he was impressed by their immediate response to the arrival of the equipment. By the time Trooper Fredericks arrived on scene with the food and the park ranger, the campsite was well established.
Captain Holgrin brought the report (a certified copy he noted, rather than the original) over to where Special Agent Deavers was standing. “As promised, here’s the report. Trooper Fredericks and the park ranger are standing by in case you have any questions.”
Holgrin, Fredericks and the park ranger joined Deavers at a small camp table and they all ate as she skimmed through the reports. “Fine work, Trooper. Ever thought about a career with the FBI?”
“And give up all this?” Fredericks responded, waving at the scenic wonderland surrounding them. “No, ma’am, I’m happy right where I am.”
Turning to the park ranger, she said, “I’m Special Agent Deavers with the FBI.”
The ranger nervously wiped his hand on his pants before shaking her extended hand. “Good afternoon, ma’am. I’m Chad Thorton. I was on duty last night and called in the initial report.” He handed her a typed report. “I thought it would save time if I wrote this up. I did it last night right after I placed the call, so the events and my observations would still be fresh.”
“Thank you. Before I read this, why don’t you just tell me about it?” Judy asked.
“Well, it was just after midnight. It was a bright, clear night and I was watching an owl ghosting along above the river when there was a bright flash followed by a tremendous boom. I swung my binoculars over and saw the lodge on fire. I contacted dispatch and reported the fire and explosion. About forty minutes later, a State Police car and a fire engine reached the scene.”
She read over the statement as the rest ate in silence. “According to this statement, you saw a dark colored SUV traveling down the road from the lodge about an hour before the explosion. Had you ever seen the vehicle before?”
“Well, that’s hard to say, ma’am. I mean, all those big SUVs look alike to me. All I can say for sure was that it was dark colored. It could have been black, dark blue, or even dark green. It was clean, though. The moonlight reflected off the paint clearly, so it was relatively new and had been waxed. It wasn’t speeding or anything out of the ordinary. I only noticed it because there’s so little traffic out here and that road only goes to that lodge.”
“Know anything about the owners of the lodge? It doesn’t appear anyone was home,” she probed.
“Nothing. I don’t think I ever have seen anyone there. Oh, sometimes there would be smoke from one of the chimneys in the winter, but I never have met any of the owners.” Chad responded, his tone slightly defensive. He blurted, “Did you know this isn’t the first lodge on this site? The original lodge was built back in the early twenties. That one was torn down and this one was built back in the late fifties or early sixties. Real showpiece with a great living room, vaulted ceilings, big deck out front, couple loft bedrooms, fancy kitchen. There was a piece on it in Architectural Digest a few years back.” Handing over a magazine, he added, “I brought a copy with me.” Judy Deavers quickly flipped through the glossy pages showing an exquisitely appointed mountain retreat that would have been equally suited for the slopes of Aspen.
“Agent Deavers, will you need either of us anymore tonight?” Captain Holgrin asked. “The trooper here needs to get on patrol and, frankly, I need to get some sleep. I’ve been on duty for the past thirty-two hours.”
“I thought you were looking a little worn around the edges. No, I think we’ve got this in hand. I’ll be heading back to Spokane in a bit to get some clothes and will be back here tomorrow to oversee the excavation.”
As he stood up to leave, Captain Holgrin asked, “Mind if I stop by? I’m still curious about where all the water went. Plus, I feel like I owe it to Charlie Fredericks to answer that question since he was the first to wonder about it.”
“No problem.” Then she added with a smile, “Always glad to work with anyone who can provide this much chicken at short notice.”
by Christopher W. Wilcox, Sr.
Genre: Science Fiction
EBook formats ISBN: 978-1-59374-435-9
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-1-59374-434-2
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"Æthereal has the classic earmarks of the finest science fiction and fantasy melded into one epic tale" - NovelSpot.Net
"Mr. Wilcox is a talented author who puts you inside the characters head, allowing you to practically pick their brain. His writing is consistent and flows smoothly with twists and turns that mesmerize every page. The plot is thick and the well-developed secondary characters make it a treasure to read. He has penned a fabulous read that hypnotizes the reader and has them begging for more. A fast paced story that you do not want to miss." - Coffee Time Romances
"Mr. Wilcox weaves a wonderful story combining a bit of the X-Files, a smidge of Jurassic Park, a sprinkle of romance and a highly suspenseful story." - LoveRomance.com
"ÆTHEREAL is a great science fiction story to add to your collection. With a world that reminds me of Anne McCaffrey's Pern, brings to life the dragons of myth, and even launches into mentioning Stargate. Christopher Wilcox brings you to the point of wanting to take part in the war to save Earth. Get ready for the greatest adventure of human history with the Æthereal by your side." - Suite Magazine
"The suspense plot was good enough by itself, but throw in dragons and science fiction and you have a multi-layered, fantastic plot. I thought I knew where the book was going, but halfway through, Mr. Wilcox added a whole new dimension to the story. This is definitely a must read for anyone looking for a new twist on dragons." - Fallen Angel Reviews
"Christopher W. Wilcox, Sr., the author of this tale, has created an alternate contemporary reality that rivals many others out there. The detail that is demonstrated in the story shows the care of someone who did extensive research in order to make this tale both believable and enjoyable. It has everything: Hitech science, government espionage, suspense, fantastical creatures, elements of science fiction, bits of a Cinderella story, and even a little bit of romance. I was hooked within the first few pages and it has been a good ride ever since. I highly recommend this book." ~ Reviewed by Rachel Olivier, TCM Reviews
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