Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chapter 3 Destination Unknown

Destination Unknown

As we rode out of town and hopped on the interstate it was difficult for me to keep track with which direction we were heading due to the blacked out windows and after spending what seemed like hours in the SUV it even became difficult to keep track of the amount of time that had passed. ( my watch and all personal belongings had been left behind in my locker at the refitted warehouse.) And, just when I began to feel like I was about fall asleep our vehicle slowed and made a sharp turn off the paved road. Seeing that no one else in the SUV reacted to the sudden change I realized that this dirt road must be a familiar trek for the team.

Familiar or not, the lack of pavement and the cheap suspension meant I was getting bounced all over the place! It seemed that any hope of a nap had been left back on the interstate. After about ten minutes my ears started to pick up the sound of large turbine engines revving up. Within a minute or two the sound of the turbines was so loud we could not even hear our selfs think. I really wished I had told someone where I was going!

Just as I thought the bouncing and noise could get no worse they both stopped. The SUV had crested one last bump and then rolled to a very smooth stop. At the same moment the sounds of the unseen turbines seemed to be cut off and blocked out by something....just as I readied my mouth to ask a question the general looked my way and said you had better hold on! This is where it gets a little tricky! And with those words I felt the SUV lurch back and then I could feel us moving much faster than before. It was at the same moment that I realiezed that we were on a plane that the plan lifted off. Turning back seemed a little hopeless now!

The general unfastened his seat belt and speaking as if we were old friends said You are not planning on spending the whole flight in the cargo hold are you? Come on and join us for some lunch. And just like a That the General, coach Jones and Chrissy exited the SUV and made their way to the front of the cargo hold. Sensing that I had not just followed suit Chrissy turned and stared back at the SUV looking like a mother waiting for her child to catch up. It was at this point that I decided to play one of those cards dealt to me. I stayed in the SUV and did not move. Chrissy, obviously irritated turned back to the SUV with a huff and started after me. As she opened my door I half expected to be ripped from my seat and made to partake in lunch. Instead, to my surprise, Chrissy looked me in the eyes and simply said, scoot over! And with that she climbed in and slid up on the seat next to me. Before I could say a word she began to talk. Look Johnny, I know that this, this whirlwind of events must be hard for you to understand. Heck, it is hard for me to keep it all straight. But let me tell you what I can...maybe then we can go and eat. I just sat silent and nodded my head.

First, as you already know, I am Major Chrissy Snow. I work for a Special ops decision of the US military. The man you know as coach Bubba Jones is actually Sargeant Major Bradford Jones the Third. He is a carrer soldier who also is part of our special ops team. it was obvious at this point that Chrissy could see the confusion on my face because she held up her hand and began to explain. The Bubba Jones you knew back in high school is the same man. He is what we call a recruitment officer or maybe better a talent scout. He was placed at you school to specifically test you! Believe me, he was very surprised and impressed by your surveillance set up that got him removed from the school. After that, he came back in out of the field and became or top trainer of new recruits. And finally there is the General. The General has served since he was eighteen years old. He has lead men into battle, run black ops, and served as chief of staff to three presidents. He is now a shadow. A shadow is a person who no longer exists. I do not know why this happened to him but suffice it to say something huge had to have happened for him to have to disappear totally.

As she spoke my mind reeled to try and place each bit of information into its own specialized compartment for easy retrieval later. The news on the General was placed on my mental list to follow up on later. The piece of information that could not yet be filled was the information about Coach Jones.

What do you mean that Coach Jones was placed at my school to test me? He was a teacher in a public school! How the heck could he have been there for 4 years testing me?

Look Johnny, do you remember taking that aptitude test in 8th grade?

Yeah...the one that said I would make a good counselor or teacher? Those results did not even match me or any of my interests. I tossed that piece of misinformation in to the closest trash can!what does it have to do with anything.

Well. That piece of information was actually doctored before you saw it. The actual results showed that you were of the scale in an area that you later tagged as intellectual logistics and what we simply call counter intelligence. The military had never seen a score like yours before or sense. As a matter of fact, the reason Jones was placed your school was to see if you were for real.

What? Was all that could come. Out of my mouth. I am sure that I once again had stupid painted all over my face.

It is regally very simple Johnny. What you showed on that test was impossible! Your score placed you above our departments top CI computer. So...either you were for real.either way you had to be checked out. So we sent in Jones.

Normally, Jones would have spent four years tormenting you and putting you through daily tests meant to verify and grow your talents and at the end of those four years, you would have been recruited to join our team if all panned out. However, your plan forced Jones to be removed and we no longer felt safe sending in another recruiter because we could not chance tipping of you or our competitors. So you were allowed to progress on your own.

That was ten years ago! I said. Surely if you wanted me so bad you could have contacted me sometime in the last ten years.

Chrissy paused and then started again. You see, with the advances in computers, technology and the fall of Russia the need for your talents seemed unnecessary. But then, then something happened. Recent events over the last month have made the need for you specific talents necessary again. Before you ask. I can not tell you more than that. But let me just say. There is not anyone else with your level of skill....that is what all of the explorer contests were meant to find. The best of the best of the problem solvers. You are the only one who made it this far. All of the others failed.

That is all I can tell you. If you want to know more we need to go and talk to the General. And with that she opened the door and slid out. this time I followed her out. Together we headed towards the front cabin to meet the General and Jones for some lunch.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Chapter 2

As we walked out of the warehouse style building into the streets of my hometown I was in a daze. I was trying to figure out what had just happened? Who where these people and how and why was coach Jones involved? I thought back to how I had even ended up here today.

It started as an invitation that was extended to me after my participation in an explorers competition. The explorers were a group of security professionals who worked in the area of intellectual logistics. Problem solvers. We were a unique group of individuals who studied the human intellect in order to establish patterns of criminal movement before it happened. We also liked to use our intellect to solve problems and this is where the competitions came in. Each year one group would host the competition and would set up a set of bizarre life sized puzzles/obstacle coarses that would challenge teams both physically and mentally. At this years competition I had managed to walk away with my 5th straight individual win after setting the course record in every event. It was when I was packing to go home that I was approached by one of the heads from a rival company who told me about this very exclusive competition that was coming to my town later that year and that if I really wanted to challenge my skills that I should check it out.

So I did. And over the last week I had been one of 24 competitors who was being put through our paces by Coach Bubba Jones. It seems that after his exit from his high school career he too entered the security field. His current position was to carry out the daily events in this traveling side show of mental and physical torment.

This competition was very different from any other I had been a part of. First, the 24 of us had been brought in ath the same time on the first day ...but from that moment on I never saw any of the rest of the others until today. Each event was based on individual performance and I never heard how any one else had done. And, with each day of events came a new round of mental ridicule from Coach Jones. He made it very clear that he had a personal score to settle with me and that it would be settled here and now! Then...then today happened?

As we walked out of the building we were greeted by several black explorer style vehicles with the blacked out windows. The general and Chrissy climbed right in the one of the vehicles without ant hesitation. Coach Jones smacked into the back of me when I pulled up short refusing to get in.

Wheezard! What the h double l are you doing? Screamed coach. I stood there for a second and then opened my mouth to spill out my refusal to go any farther when Chrissy re-emerged from the SUV and took my hand.

Look Mr. Wizard...back there you asked me to trust you and I did.... Completely! I put my very life into your hands. Now I am asking you to return the favor and trust me. Can you do that Johnny? Can you?

With that I felt her squeeze my hand as I allowed myself to be pulled into the waiting SUV.

As the SUV pulled away from the curb I could feel my heart racing. I had no idea where we were heading or what kind of trouble I had just gotten myself into. But I was pretty sure of one thing. It was to late to back out now.

So, playing the hand that had been dealt to me, I sat back and waited...waited for whatever would happen next. I did not have to wait long.

Mr. Wizard...johnathan Victor Wizard son of Elliot and Martha Wizard, owner and soul employee of Wizard I listened to the General read from a folder in his brief case I found that I had started to speak with out regard to my current situation and before I was able to stop myself I quite a nasty tone...I know perfectly well who I am and where I came from! It is you and your band of apes that I have no idea about! So if you want to give out some information how about spilling the beans on your Paleolithic think tank!

If it were possible to sucker punch a man with words then I had just done so. The General closed the file that was in his hands and placed it back into his brief case. Mr. wizard, it would seem that not everything about you is listed in that file. I had no idea you were such an impatient little man. But very well, we will get back to your file in a moment. What is it you would like to know?

And with those words the ball was in my court and the General sat smugly in his seat waiting my response. One thing about being in the field of intellectual logistics is that you learn very quickly to separate the dross from the gold. I knew that the likely hood of getting any real information from the general was very remote. Seeing that he was a field general told me that someone else was actually pulling the strings. But this meant the general could be manipulated. Who ever he worked for had robbed him of his true I treated him as the man he once was I could gain much more....the old attracting flies with honey.

General, I meant no disrespect! It has been a very long week with quite a surprise ending! So please forgive my abrupt rudeness?

With just those few words I could sense the general body language change. He was warming to me.

I f I could ask general who are you and where are we going? I only actually believed I would get on of these answers but it was a starting place.

The general answered. I am General Swartz. You have Met my two colleagues, Major Evans, and Sargent Jones. As to where we are going...I am not at liberty to say at this time. I assure you this Mr. Wizard...all of your questions will be answered shortly. And with that he turned to look out the window and not another word was spoken as we rode through the streets of downtown head to destination unknown.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Wizard Is In!

As we stood below the tangle of unimaginable obstacles that hung over our heads my mind raced back to the play ground of my third grade elementary school. There I was with all of the other kids lined up against the wall as Tommy "The Rhino" Horn and  Alice "The Antelope" Gazelle stood before us ready to forever proclaim our worth as individuals as they picked sides for the daily kick ball game. But this year would be different! 

As they started to call out names I stood as straight as I could to make sure that Rhino and Antelope could clearly see how much I had grown over the summer. Rhino looked down the line and called out "Mac". Mac was Michael Macpherson his best friend. Well that was only natural. You have to expect a guy to pick his best friend. 

Raising to the balls of my feet as I locked eyes with the Antelope she looked right at me and called out ..."Angel!" Angel? Oh yeah, Angel was the new girl who could kick a ball so hard that you would die if it hit you! That is why she had to change schools...again, that made sense....

Now it was my turn for sure! But Rhino and Antelope managed to overlook me every time! They picked their friends, they picked their enemies,  and they even picked the kids that had notes from their parents saying that they could not participate in gym class before they even gave me a second look. Of course, at this point there was no one else to pick. And yet, Rhino and Gazelle still found away to lower my status  even more...

"You can take the wheezard!" ,said Rhino.

"Oh no you don't", said Gazelle, "I was stuck with him last time and he lost us the game! He is all yours!"

"Look", said Rhino, "We will let you have two  extra kicks if you take him. We will even spot you two runs!"

"No way!", said Gazelle. "He is all yours! After all it is your turn to pick!"

With that, the whole team let out a load moan and Rhino waved me over with these words of advice..." listen wheezard, you had better not mess this up if you know what is good for you!" and with that my fate at school was sealed. I had just become Johnny "Wheezard" Wizard the last one picked for everything!

"WHEEZARD! Wake up Wheezard!" came a distinctly sarcastic cry from an equally nasty person. It seems that my day dream of the past had caused me to lose focus on the current Bubba Jones. 

Wheezard you are as worthless today as you have always been. I have no idea who or why you were picked for this training but if it is up to me you will be out of here today! Now move it!
 And with that I began my ascent into the suspended maze of dangling obstacles.

The exercise, in therory, was quiet simple. My partner and myself had to simply progress from point A to the exit at point B.  The problem was three fold. First, our entrance to this maze was located in the sub-basement while our exit was located four stories above. Second, between the entrance and the exit there was a jungle of obstacles which had to be negotiated quickly and accurately our you would plumett back to the entrance which meant instant failure. Finally, I was not alone! Part of this challenge was meant to challenge your ability to wok with a partner. Unfortunately, just like the playground, I had been picked last! So,my partner was a very petite, mouse of a girl who had just informed me that she was terrified  of heights. This was all part of coaches plan.

Coach Bubba Jones and I had a past to say the least. Jones had actually been the football coach and a teacher at my high school. He was very old school and had away of separating the real men from the sissys! Every year it was always the same and no matter who we complained to nothing was ever done. Unfortunately for him I was not one who would put up with his bullying forever. With the use of a little technology and a knowledge of his neanderthal mentality i was able to make a convincing case to the school board. In the end, he left our school for a new job and that was the end of my troubles.  Or so I had hoped.

Ok Chrissy...right? It is Chrissy? This little mouse of a girl just stood there saying nothing. Her eyes were focused upward watching the team who had gone before us. As I turned to match her gaze I heard a gasp from Chrissy and felt her grasp my arm with a death grip as the air was filled with the sound of screams and crashing bodies! It appears that the team who had been ahead of us had just made a mis-step and found out the cruel nature of this test...and gravity! With their fall came a siren that meant all action was stopped while the medics came and cleaned up the mess. The members of the team would have to be taken out on stretchers which explains why failing this test was an instant exit from the program. My problem grew with every second it took for the medics to clear the course because Chrissy was getting more and more irrational with every passing moment. Her color had drained and her breathing had become stressed. It was taking all of her energy just to keep herself from passing out!

I had to act fast. Not only did I not want to give Coach the satisfaction of exiting me from this program but I also had a very serious desire to walk away at the end of the day! In order to do this I needed to change the odds by eliminating as much of this problem as possible. I could not change the course or Newton's law of gravity so that left only one variable. Chrissy! I had to somehow change our situation. This course was based on balance. I actually had been through this same kind of course on an individual basis and found them fun and excilirating. The climbing, jumping, balancing and clinging from each obstacle as I raced my way up had always reminded me of free climbing at rock jumping back in my college days when I would hang out at Cumberland Falls. The difference today was that Chrissy and I were tethered together. So if one went down....we both would be leaving on stretchers!

Chrissy! Look at me! I need you to focus on me....we can do this but I need you to trust me. Can you do that....can you trust me? Chrissy looked at me. She looked hard into my eyes saying nothing..only looking. Then she slowly knodded her head as tears began to flow from her eyes. Ok Chrissy, they are going to sound the horn for our restart in just a view minutes. I am going to blindfold you when they do. Then I want you to climb onto my back like a piggy back ride. When you do I am going to lash your hands together so there will be no chance for you to fall. Do you understand?

Chrissy looked at me and asked only one thing. Can you do this?

Yeah, yeah I can! Was all I said. And with that she squeezed my hand and nodded one more time!

If a second of time and eternity can both occupy the same moment then this was it. I knew there would never be enough to ever be ready for what I was about to do but at the same time I could not wait any longer to get it over. I am sure that Chrissy felt the same way!

Just as I began to feel Chrissy's breathing slow and her death grip on my Arm release the horn sounded and Coaches voice boomed over the PA system....Let's move it Wheezamrd! Time is a ticking....and don't worry...there are still plenty of beds over at the hospital for you and little Miss Mousey!

And with that the chamber was sealed and our test had begun.

You ready? I asked Chrissy. To my surprise she opened her mouth and answered me.

No! But I am not going o give that creep the pleasure of seeing me suffer and fail! Let' do this! And with that she handed me a strip of cloth that she had ripped from the bottom of her shirt for me to use as a blind fold and turned around for me to tie it around her head.

Make it tight....I do not want to see anything.

After securing the blind fold I stooped down and she placed her hands over my back and around my neck. I used my belt to lash her wrists securely so that they would not come apart even if she relaxed her grip...which I seriously doubted. As I stood up she wrapped her legs around my waist securing her self like a well fitted backpack. Now the rest was up to me.

The first ten feet were a give me. The course started with a short stairway that led to a platform. From here I had two choices. I could launch myself about three feet to a level gang plank suspended in the middle or jump about three feet to the right to a gang plank the was hanging at an incline. My mind told me to jump to the level gang plank but my gut began to argue. As I focused for a minute I tried to look several obstacles a head. From the level gang plank in the middle it looked like I would have a series of easy obstacles to go through after the initial jump. From the the slanted gang plank I was not able to see any other obstacles. What bothered me was the very thought of something looking easy. This was the type of course that easy was not part of! So I ignored logic and jumped to the left.

As I landed hard on the platform I felt the air go out of Chrissy. In all of my internalizing of the problem I had forgot to inform her that we were going to jump. After a profuse apology and a promise to warn her of all my moves she assured me it was okay and to just do what needed to be done. So with that I stood up right and began to once again survey the course. As I walked to th high end of the slanted gang plank we were now about twenty-five feet off the ground. Looking down at the center gang plank I could see that it was actually set as a see-saw. If we had mad that jump we would already be back on the ground.

As I turned to look for the next obstacle I again was faced with two choices. The first was a series of hanging swings and the other was an inclined series of balance beams. Both ended at a centeral platform about twenty-five feet above my head. This was the serious stuff. It would get us half way through the course and would also get us to the height that would definetly earn us a hospital bed...or worse...if we fell. I knew that which ever I choose that the obstacles were not really what the seemed. There was some type of trick or trap...which ever you wanted to call it... But this was we're the last group fell. Again I found myself wishing I could remove something from the equation so that I could gain an advantage.

As I stood there trying to decided Chrissy said, just go up Wizard. Just get us out of this nightmare.

That was it! Chrissy had given me the answer...just go up. The obstacles were not part of the equation they were just a distraction! As I ran this thought through my mind I started to turn and look...not at the obstacles but rather at the shaft we were in. It appeared to be an old freight shaft that had been converted for use as an obstacle course. This meant that at one time there were elevator cables and cable shafts located intone side walls. With this knowledge I turned my attention to the wall next to the plank we were on. my relief...was a cable shaft right in the center of the wall. Unfortunately, the cables had been striped out. So the easy thought of climbing up the cables was out. However, the shaft was dry which meant I could preform a wedge climb just like back at the falls and take all of the obstacles out of the equation.

After informing Chrissy of the new plan I readied myself and got ready to move to the shaft. In order to get there I would need to cross about eight feet of open space. Acing not been born with wings this meant I would have to move the platform closer to the shaft. In order to do this I was going to have to break the center supports to the platform we were currently on and swing it to the shaft. Hopefully, exiting the falling platform into the shat before gravity took over. Holding onto the right support I began to rock the platform. It took several old lunges to get it moving but soon it was swinging like a backyard hammock. The real trick was to get the left supports to break before the right supports gave way. The only way i could figure to do this was that when the platform reached it's left side apex I kicked at the cable connection as hard as I could. After about a dozen tries the cable finally broke free sending the platform hurtling to the left it what was sure to be it's last arced swing before falling down the shaft. As it swung Back across the shaft I readied myself for a hasty exit.

The platform slammed into the wall much harder and louder than I had anticipated. Fortunately, I had lined us up correctly and was able to get a secure hand and foot wedge into the smaller cable shaft as the platform smashed into the wall. To my surprise the platform made one last graceful swing back out to the center of the haft where it seemed to hang in a frozen state for a second or two before the right cables broke and it plummeted down the shaft with a deafening crash.

Wasting no time I began my ascent up the shaft. Considering the fact that I was carrying a blind folded girl on my back the sixty foot ascent to to exit level went very smoothly. To my surprise, as we reached the exit level Coach Jones and some guy in a military uniform were there to greet us with a hand out.

General, I told you he w the one you were looking for. Said coach jones as he was removing the belt and blind fold from Chrissy.

The man in the uniform turned to Chrissy and asked, what do you think Major? Can we use him?

As I stood there with a look of stupid all over my face Chrissy turned to the General and said,
No one has ever beat the course as a tandem General. And Mr. Wizard did it in record time with out killing himself or me! Yes,I believe he is exactly what the team needs.

And with that the four of us turned and left the building.and yes, I still had stupid all over my face because I had no idea what was going on!