STRATAGEM by Joshua Graham PREVIOUS CHAPTER THIRTY   ONE DAY EARLIER THE OVAL OFFICE THE WHITE HOUSE, WASHINGTON DC   FACES. STRANGE AND LIMITED. With only two eyes, smooth skin with some facial hair, human cases looked peculiar, despite their somewhat logical design. Primary sat at the desk considering each of them in the different […]

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STRATAGEM Chapter 29

“HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM,” one of the two armed men in security uniforms said.

Blake complied without resistance.

“If this is your idea of cashing in on a favor,” Sabine said to Blake, putting her hands up and behind her head, “Don’t do me any.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, his voice strangely calm. “Everything will be okay.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Quiet!” the second guard said. He pointed his shotgun toward the path ahead. “Now walk. Not another word.”

They followed a trail through the woods for about seven or eight minutes and came to a wide-open space. From the paved runway and the small tower with a 360-degree panoramic view at the top, Sabine could instantly tell.

“An airfield?”

“Exactly where we’re supposed to be,” Blake whispered. “I’ll do the talking, okay?”

She nodded.

A rude nudge between her shoulder blades alerted her.

“Keep moving,” the guard said, urging her and Blake toward the control tower and adjoining building in the distance.

She remained silent for the rest of the way. Not so bad compared to the stiffness in her shoulders from keeping her hands on her head. Blake seemed to know what he was doing, but it took more to trust him now than when he was guiding a shuttle through atmospheric re-entry and nailing the landing.

After about five minutes, they arrived at the edge of the tarmac, then walked about fifty meters to the control tower entrance. One of the guards opened the door, held it open with his foot, and kept his weapon trained.

“Go,” the other guard said.

Inside, the dark corridor concealed the figure of the person who stepped out of the shadows and into the dimly lit foyer. His grizzled mug and oily hair testified to his hygiene—or lack thereof. Sabine had sensed presence well before he’d come in view.

The man lowered his glasses and peered over its rim at Blake.

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STRATAGEM Chapter 28

BLAKE STRUCK AN ADJACENT PARKED CAR as he pulled out of the carport. He spun the steering wheel, let out a pained grunt.

That was when Sabine saw the blood. “You’ve been hit!”

“It just grazed me,” Blake said and raced out of the parking lot, wheels screeching.

The Camry lurched, throwing her shoulder into the passenger side window.

Another set of gunshots rang out behind them.

A loud metallic pop rapped against the trunk.

Sabine winced and ducked.

Once Blake turned the car onto the open street, he sped off pushing the speedometer past 60 MPH. “Are they following us?”

Sabine looked back.

Nothing but the empty street, overhead lamps casting an amber mist over the entire area. “I don’t see anyone. We’ve got a  decent lead.”

Blake’s window opened. “Pass me my laptop bag?”

“What?” She reached over the put its carrying strap in his free hand, which also held his phone.

Without hesitation, he took it and tossed it and the phone out the window.

“Wait—what are you doing?” Sabine said, turning her head to watch the bag and phone fall flat on the asphalt like roadkill.

He held out his hand. “Phone, electronics?”

She shook her head. “I wasn’t expecting a prison break.”

“Good. Can’t have anything electronic on us. They’ll use it to track us.”

“I can’t believe they’d shoot at us—they’re just base security.”

“Not necessarily.”

Sabine gave him an incredulous look. “Them too?”

“We have to assume they’re like Lucy and Jon.”

“At the very least, they’re under their orders.” Blake turned away from the freeway ramp and drove toward a residential neighborhood.

Sabine pointed back. “You missed the freeway entrance.”

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STRATAGEM Chapter 27


HOW LONG HAD IT BEEN? Connor sat dazed on the edge of his cot. The cell in which he’d been detained felt antisceptic—no discernible scents, not a hint of dust or grim, just white wall, smooth surfaces and white LED lights above him. Nothing remarkable. So why did his head ache as though gripped in a vice, the hollow sound of his breathing bouncing inside his ears?

A painful mental fog.

Somewhere between a dream and a hangover.

Thoughts, memories…of speaking to people over Zoom—jetsam and flotsam floating about his torpedoed mind. He blinked, swallowed, nearly choked on the dry itch.

An empty glass stood on the small table. Felt like days since he’d had anything to drink.

At the edge of his cot…the laptop.

The one from the conference call dreams…or memories?

Memories, yes!

So many conference calls, faint images of which fought their way to the forefront.

Screens with increasing numbers of participants: ICOMM brass, the Secretary of Defense, President Mercer?

A sharp pain pierced Connor’s eyes directly into the center of his skull.

He winced.

Reached for the laptop.

Another agonizing internal blow to the head stopped him.

Gasping, he steadied himself and looked away from the laptop. Somewhere in the recesses of his brain, he understood what was happening. He just couldn’t articulate it.

More images burrowed through the razor wire of his mind. But each time they came close to materializing that same cranial assault forced them away.


The pain backed off, as though startled.

Made no difference, no one around to hear him shout. But it did feel good to get aggressive and fight whatever it was that didn’t want him to remember.

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STRATAGEM Chapter 26

DEREK’S BACK SLAMMED AGAINST THE SEAT. The Accord made a startling leap when Mom downshifted and the tachometer’s needle reached the red zone. Instantly, a flash of high beams flooded through the rear window.

He looked back.

Within the cabin of the car chasing the two people from back at the gas station sat, their features obscured by the dark of night except for the intermittent flicker of blue light from their eyes.

Who are these people? ‘What’ they were was the more appropriate question, but no answer would make sense.


“Hold on,” she kept her eyes on the road.

Paige sat up, rubbed her eyes with one hand while cradling Hulk with the other. “Huh?”

“It’s all right, sweetie,” Mom said. “Make sure you’ve got your seatbelt on.”


The engine of the car behind them roared as it raced right up to the Accord’s rear bumpers.

Mom swung the Accord abruptly to the left.

“Holy—!” Derek nearly choked on his breath.

The black car sped ahead.

Before Derek realized what had happened, Mom had already driven the Accord at full speed back into the lane behind the black car.

She kicked the gas pedal, thrusting the Accord on a diagonal collision course with the black car’s tail.

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