“Black C.A.S.T.L.E.” Chapter XXX – The Return

The Feds had finally arrived on the scene in the sub-basement after what felt like hours. Rick and Kacie were happy to be free of the responsibility of watching over Agent Cohen. Kacie was just glad that the whole thing was over, even though she was sure she had at least a few hours worth of debriefing with the Feds to look forward to. After she’d told them about Michael Martin being locked up in the freezer, Wesley West folded up inside the autoclave, and Dennis Mulgrew imprisoned within a biohazard lab that was actually quite safe and sterile, she felt a great weight being lifted off her shoulders. They were the cops’ problems now.

And yet good people had still died on this night. Dr. Black and Dr. Nakatomi were irreplaceable, both as scientific geniuses and as human beings. Kacie had done her best to keep everyone else out of harm’s way, but there was nothing she could have done to protect her benefactors. That fact tore her up inside. Even the death of Malanan, the self-professed “thief, not a killer” seemed like a waste to Kacie. She was glad Rick’s aim had been off, just enough, when he took down Agent Cohen. She didn’t want to see a death laid directly on his record or on his conscience.

So as the Feds took Rick Benes away to get his statement, Kacie felt a sense of helplessness again, an overwhelming guilt mixed with the dread that somehow Rick would be blamed for some small part of the incursion. It didn’t make sense, but then again, nothing else about this night did either.

 

Kacie left the facility for the first time that night with an FBI escort to accompany her back to her circle of friends who were waiting with warm blankets and hot coffee with a little extra something something in it. They stood amidst the chaos that had finally been somewhat organized by the police presence in the aftermath of the explosion; they seemed much better at handling emergency situations after the crises had actually passed.

Kacie greeted everyone with hugs and tears and handshakes and assurances that, yes, she was fine, she promised. But weariness began to lean on her again. The coffee took the edge off of it; the Jameson in the coffee rounded out what was left of that edge. Suddenly, a realization came upon her that had nothing to do with pathogenic organisms or illegal methamphetamines.

“Gemma, can I borrow your phone? I left mine inside somewhere and I really need to make a call.” Kacie found her free hand reaching into her front pocket to confirm that her jewelry was still there: a plain silver pinky ring, and a silver heart pendant with the initials K.L. and J.L. hanging on a silver chain. Gemma handed her her phone without question. Kacie didn’t need a mnemonic to help her remember the number; it had been the same since she was a kid.

After a few protracted rings that made Kacie think her call would go to the old answering machine her parents still used, her mom picked up. Her voice was thick with sleep and confusion.

“Hey mom,” Kacie said. She wrapped her free hand tighter around her coffee mug and tried to keep the emotion out of her voice and the tears out of her eyes. “Yeah, I know it’s late. But I didn’t want you and dad to worry if you turned on the news. There was an…” How could Kacie describe the night’s events? “An incident at work tonight. I’m fine, everything’s fine, I just wanted you to know. I’ll call you tomorrow to explain everything, but I’m fine, I promise. Okay. Okay, yeah, tell dad I love him, too. Love you, mom. Bye.”

Kacie traced her sleeve across her cheeks beneath each eye. She handed the phone back to Gemma. Luckily, she was spared any further awkwardness by the arrival of Rick returning to the group.

“Well,” Kacie started, once everyone had welcomed Rick back and shared their gratitude with him. “Are they gonna lock you up in the asylum, or what?” Rick smiled at that and Kacie felt relief wash over her.

“Nah, not just yet. Though I don’t suppose my tips on zombie epidemic preparedness or my discourse on government corruption and the militarization of the police earned me any favors.”

“You didn’t…”

Rick shrugged. “No, Kace. I didn’t. But I should have!”

Rick spent the next few minutes regaling them with the tale he had told the Feds. The highlights included the fact that he spent at least an hour a week at the range to keep his marksmanship skills sharp should the need arise to put down any threats, undead or otherwise, in the coming apocalypse. And then there was the reveal that Rick actually knew about the sub-basement’s former existence as a fallout shelter, one that connected to a nearby hospital through subterranean tunnels that connected at the door that had resembled a freight elevator. He knew these things and more because, when the apocalyptic shit inevitably hit the fan, as he put it, Rick Benes would be ready.

“For once your doomsday preparation actually saved the day. Nice work, Benes!” Salim offered. Kacie had to agree. Rick knew it. Among all of them, only Rick and Kacie knew what actually went down that night. Well, them and the Feds. Right on cue, they came calling.

“Miss Lin…” It was Agent Johnson who came calling on her. “We’re ready for you.”

With a wave to her friends, Kacie let herself be led away into a waiting interrogation room to tell her full story from beginning to end, and not for the last time.

While she was leaving the scene, a black Town Car was arriving on it. Out stepped Dr. Ritter. His face was awash in colors from the rotating red, blue, orange, and white emergency lights. His mouth hung agape. His hands went to his head. He laced his fingers through each other over the top of his head, and that’s where they stayed. Dr. Ritter was unable to take in the chaotic scene in front of him–the blown-out section of one of the most expensive and advanced research labs in the world, the mystery surrounding it, the very real possibility that some of his own people had been hurt or killed, and the just-as-plausible threat that some wacko had gotten his hands on a weaponized virus. It was all too much to take in let alone believe. 

“Oh shit,” Salim said when he spied the frenzied and confused Dr. Ritter.

“Should we tell him?” Gemma asked.

“What, that terrorists busted up his lab? Or that Kacie Lin is a badass MacGyver McClane type armed with a PhD who just took out all of those fools?”

Gemma laughed in spite of the situation. “No, who’s going to tell him his samples won’t be ready tomorrow after all?” It took a moment, but all of them burst out laughing, relieved that the long nightmare was finally over.

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Image of PPG Place via Derek Jensen(Tysto), Wikimedia Commons
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