A number of things bothered him about today. Initially he was to meet Dana Partans to work with her on some aspects of the wing design. They normally met in an online virtual world she'd set up where they used the simulated physics there to test out designs. The meeting with Dana had been cancelled without warning and the testing world was no longer online.
An hour or so later two men in business suits entered his office and asked him to work for the military. They tried to appear friendly, but there was something dangerous about them, as if they didn't really care if he agreed to or not.
Greg had thanked them politely, but told them that he was morally opposed to military work. That he considered it the greatest danger to mankind's survival.
Unruffled, they told him if he did this he'd have more money and resources than he'd ever dreamed of; he'd never have to scratch for funds again. His kids could have the best of everything.
He explained that the only way to end the military threat was for people to stop working for it.
The two men appeared to expect this reply. One handed him a business card and told him to call when he changed his mind. Then they left.
When he changed his mind. Greg felt an unspoken threat in that. He had looked at the card. Who the hell used physical business cards anymore? On it was just a voice address number... nothing else. He'd pulled his handheld from his waist-clip and entered the number into it, wondering why he was bothering. He had no intention of changing his mind.
The tar road ended and the car crunched and bumped along the sandy dirt road. Not long now. Almost home.
The rest of the day's work had been one frustration after another. They had major problems connecting to the net. Everybody blamed the company's servers, but Singe assured them they were fine. He'd checked and rechecked them. Greg knew Singe lived for his computers. If he said they were fine then normally he would believe him. So why couldn't they connect?
Greg had settled for working on just the local office data, but there were problems there too. Some of the work was missing. He'd decided to bring his personal backups in tomorrow.
The car slowed and turned in between the low, wind-stunted trees to his wide, sandy driveway.
There was a car parked there. He guided his car to park beside it, and got out. Nothing was visible inside the car. It was too dark and the house lights didn't do much more than show the path. This irritated him. The kids shouldn't let strangers in. They or the visitors should have called him. Frowning, Greg walked down the sandy path. The night wind blew from behind him toward the sea, muffling the sound of the surf.
His home had been built into high, ancient sand dunes, now anchored by trees and shrubs. Most of the house was underground, dug back into the hill, sheltering it from storms and temperature extremes. Only the front, some of the top, and a little of one side of it was visible. The main entrance was in the top level of the side near the double-storey house front.
Greg opened the door and called, "Kids, I'm home." He noticed Callie's favorite bird book open on the floor and bent to pick it up.
Thunk! A dart was stuck in the door where he'd been standing. It was a tranquilliser dart! And the door was opening. Greg threw all his weight against the door and whoever was on the other side, yanked the dart out, reopened the door, hearing another thunk on the inside as he leapt through, and an angry male voice yell, "Don't just stand there, get him!"
Outside, on the landing a large thuggish guy was trying to get to his feet while reaching out to grab him. Greg stabbed the dart into the thug's hand. The guy shrieked and Greg ran away from him down around the front of the house. He quietly let himself in the door to the playroom, softly closing it and crawling to the back of the room.
He heard footsteps outside run past the door.
Unable to see anything, his hands found the cellar door behind the toy cupboard. Holding his breath, he opened it just enough to slip through. Just as he closed it he heard the angry voice coming down the steps above towards the front rooms. "Search down here. He may have got inside again."
Greg groped his way through the darkness to the storage door at the back. He softly turned the doorknob and opened the door a crack. Dark inside. He breathed relief and slipped inside, gently closing the door behind him. Now he switched on the light.
The flight harnesses were still there! Thank heavens! Greg pulled his harness from the shelf. It was large, almost as tall as himself, but it weighed less than a kilogram. He strapped it onto his back, the wide webbing crossing over his chest and around his waist, another pair of straps ran from the back between his legs to the panel at his belly. It was like a parachute harness with a large, tall, black pack behind, projecting stiffly another head-height above him and down to the backs of his knees, extra loops of cables hanging off his chest, and a box at his belly. That box controlled everything. He pressed a button on it and its top panel lit with information. He nodded and pressed it off again. Now he grabbed a duffel bag, slung it over his head and shoulder, pulled the two kid's harnesses from the shelf, laid them in the bag, and softly zipped it shut.
He stepped to the door and listened. Faint voices were far beyond. It was only a matter of time before they found the cellar and then the storage room. He switched the light off, pulled his handheld from his waist, and pressing it on, used its feeble light to avoid the clutter on his way to the ladder at the back of the storage room. Turning the handheld off and replacing it at his waist, he climbed the ladder in darkness.
He was reluctant to open the cover because it always made a creaking noise and he wouldn't be able to see if there was anyone up there until it was substantially open. Mentally crossing his fingers, he decided on using the element of surprise. Turning the latch, he flung the trapdoor up with a loud brrkkk!. He climbed up quickly into the wind, imagining the thugs trying to work out where the sound came from.
Miraculously, nobody was on the roof and he switched on the box at his belly, unhooked the cables at his chest and put his feet into them -- they were stirrups. Now he stood, facing into the wind, and two great, black wings suddenly unfolded from behind him whoomp!. He jumped up as the wings started to labor and he began furiously pumping the stirrups with his legs, climbing into the wind, higher, higher.
He was amazed that still nobody appeared on the roof, though now he could see them running around outside the house. They felt far too close and he was scared that he was terribly exposed, even though he knew people rarely looked upward. If they did chance to look skyward, he knew was protected by the night. Still, he frantically pumped and pumped, gaining height as rapidly as possible.
When the house was a small toy far below he stopped and let the wings glide and maintain position under their own control. He found he was sweating, shaking, and his teeth were chattering from the sudden exertion and the fear-induced adrenalin.
He pulled his handheld from his waist and placed a call to the police. No signal! That couldn't be -- the signal definitely extended out here. Pressing a button brought up the battery and signal display. It was fully charged, but no signal was detected. Nothing from the cells, or p2p, or satellite. They had probably shut down his house dish and there probably wasn't anybody near enough for p2p, but how do you shut down the cell system?
The assailants searched the bushes around the house, even down to the beach. Greg watched their torches flicking around among the trees and on the beach. After about half an hour they appeared to give up and went to their car. One of them did something at Greg's car then joined his fellows, and they drove away. He was unsure whether any had remained behind in the house, so he decided to follow the car. He needed to find the kids. He would return to the house later. Right now he had to find out where these bastards were going... whether the kids were in the car, or whether they were at the car's destination.
He pumped a few more times with his legs, shifted his weight forward, and angled toward the car, gathering speed. The car's ground-speed exceeded his, but it had to travel around bends and over hills. He flew in a straight line and kept pace like some giant eagle. Greg's heart sank. They weren't heading to the nearest town, but somewhere further down the coast, toward the city. He couldn't afford to lose them.