The unmarked, battered looking and weather beaten van pulled off of the road. It turned from the main highway leading out of Danville and on to an unmarked muddy track. It bumped down the unpaved road, bouncing up and down on its suspension, the hard jolts rattling the driver and the passengers, throwing them around the van’s utilitarian interior like dice in a cup.
Lieutenant John Tennant instinctively grabbed the dash board as the van hit a particularly deep rut. He heard something bang loudly in the back of the van. “Slow down, Wolinsky,” he said as the van jounced its way over another deep rut, “you’re going to damage something.”
Major Mike Wolinsky momentarily took his eyes off of the dirt track he was driving down to look at his partner. “The equipment is fine,” he said. “It was designed for rough treatment.”
The van hit another deep rut, splashing muddy water over the windshield. “You’ve had the same briefing I have, Major,” replayed Tennant, “the target destabilizes everything in his immediate vicinity just by being in a given location.” The van hit another rut. “The equipment has been designed to compensate for that, but only if it works.”
“Yeah, I know all that, Lieutenant,” said Wolinsky, “but if I slow down in this mud, we’ll get stuck, and as we’re not supposed to be here….” he trailed off. There was a contingency for that, but it wasn’t supposed to be implemented unless there was no other choice.
Tennant was about to answer, but the van rolled through a gap in the trees and came to a stop. The field was strewn with garbage. Wolinsky shut off the engine and the two men got out. They walked around to the side door and pulled it open. The back of the van was full of equipment, cameras, motion detectors, listening devices and particle sniffers, as well as a portable satellite uplink which would allow them to keep a remote eye on the site where everything was being set up. Tennant reached into the pocket on the back of his seat and pulled out a clipboard with a checklist and a diagram of how the equipment was supposed to be deployed. He pulled a piece of equipment out of the back of the van and checked it against the list in his hand and the placement diagram. “C’mon, Wolinsky,” he said. Wolinsky had also reached into the back of the van of the van and pulled out a particle sniffer. “Watch your step. This place has a few surprises.”
It took them several hours to set up the equipment. Despite what Tennant had said to Wolinsky, the equipment had to be properly placed and calibrated in order to function properly. Some of the equipment required an unobstructed line of site in order to function, however, the equipment also had to be concealed, or the target would be spooked and try to bolt. The briefing they had been given said that the target was smart and had a high level of situational awareness. The equipment had all been custom designed for this mission by Kreitech, V Tech Industries and Sycorax. According to the briefing, Kreitech and V Tech Industries were providing communication equipment, particle sniffers and a dampening system. Sycorax was a leading biotech firm based in San Fransokyo. It’s CEO, Liv Amara was engaged in cutting edge genetic engineering research and had heard rumours through various sources of a fourteen year old boy with the unusual ability to alter all outcomes in his immediate vicinity toward negative results. Not wanting to tarnish its ecologically responsible image, Sycorax had approached the the Outfit for assistance and using a series of shell companies, Sycorax and the Outfit had approached Kreitech and V Tech Industries with the specifications for the equipment they had determined they would need and Kreitech and V Tech Industries had built it, not knowing what it was for.
As he finished setting up and calibrating the equipment, Tennant reflected that had he known, Victor Verlizer would have appreciated the irony that kid he was help to catch was the very kid who had single handily destroyed his company the year before just by posting a video to Facebook. Tennant and Wolinsky made a last check of all the equipment. Everything was in place and working properly. Tennant recalled the picture of the kid from the briefing, his name was Milo, Tennant seemed to recall. It was shame, he thought, he seemed from his picture like he was a nice kid, and he was never going to know what hit him.
The weak mid-January sunlight shone through the windows of the Jefferson County Middle School library on Monday afternoon. Milo, Zack, Melissa and Amanda were clustered together in a corner of the library with their heads bent over their school work. From behind a pile of his school books Zack stole a look at Milo and Amanda. The two of them had their heads together conversing quietly over their history project. Milo had caught them off guard waiting for the school bus that morning.
“Morning guys,” Milo had said with a cheerful wave as he had met them at the bus stop at the end of Druid Drive.
“Morning buddy,” Zack had said, still half asleep in the predawn light. “You’re in a good mood this morning,”
“Morning Milo,” said Melissa, “have a good weekend?”
“Oh, hi Melissa,” Milo had said, “yeah, not too bad,” he had said with a characteristic casual shrug. “I went to lunch with Amanda at the Diner Downtown.” Zack and Melissa had looked at each other in slight surprise. “You and Amanda-,” Zack had said.
“-Actually went on a date?” Melissa had finished.
“What?” Milo had said, “no, it was just lunch.”
“So, you just happened to meet at the Diner Downtown?” Melissa had asked.
“No, I picked up at her building,” Milo had replied. Why does everyone think we went on a date? he had asked himself, confused again.
Zack had chuckled. “It’s OK, Milo,” he had said. “Amanda’s loosened up a lot lately, but she’s still kind of a perfectionist-,”
“-And well, you’re you,” Melissa had finished for him. “Don’t get us wrong,” she had continued, “You and Amanda going out to lunch together is kind of surprising, but it’s a nice surprise.”
Zack stole another glance at Milo and Amanda, who were still conversing quietly over their homework and suddenly experienced an unexpected twinge of jealousy. He pushed it aside. He shouldn’t be jealous at Milo. Zack knew full well that Murphy’s Law frequently reduced Milo’s life to utter chaos. If he had been able to spend a Saturday afternoon having a quiet lunch with Amanda, without Murphy’s Law turning everything into a chaotic mess, Zack felt like he didn’t have the right to be jealous of those rare moments when Milo actually got to live something like a normal life. Zack finished his math homework and pulled out his social studies book. His gaze stopped momentarily on Melissa, who was bent over their joint history project, making some notes. As he looked at her, he thought she looks nice today. The weak afternoon sunlight shining through the library window was in her hair, making it glow slightly. Zack stopped himself, wait, he thought, did I just think, “she looks nice, today?” He suddenly remembered his chance encounter with Melissa at the mall in October just before Milo’s birthday. He had had the same thought then, after they had spent the afternoon together shopping for Milo’s birthday presents. He felt himself growing hot and he was glad that his dark complexion meant that nobody could see him blush. She was wearing her usual jacket, tank top and skirt, and yes, thought Zack, she looks nice today. He sat up. Why was he thinking like this? He stole a look over the top of his books at Milo and Amanda. They were still talking quietly about their homework. He looked down at his social studies book, trying to concentrate on the chapter the were supposed to be reading for their next class, but he couldn’t concentrate. Zack sighed. He shut his text book with an unexpectedly loud thump.
Milo, Melissa and Amanda looked up from their school work as one. Milo studied his friend with a concerned look on his face. “Everything OK, Zack?” he asked.
“I-no,” said Zack at last.
“Zack, what is it?” asked Amanda.
Zack shrugged. “Its nothing,” he said. He suddenly felt a bit guilty about lying to Milo, “I just have a headache, is all.” He swept his homework into his bag. “I’ll see you guys later.” He got up and left the library.
As he left the library, Zack thought he could feel Milo’s eyes on him. Milo was very perceptive and could usually tell when he was being lied to. For a second, Zack was tempted to turn around. He wanted to walk right up to Milo and say…..what, exactly? If Zack was thinking what he thought he might be thinking, about Milo’s closest friend, no less, he wasn’t sure what Milo would do. Probably nothing, thought Zack, Milo is usually pretty easy to get along with, but as soon as he thought this, Zack remembered what Milo had told the three of them in Duckburg. Murphy’s Law didn’t just affect him physically, it affected how he perceived his relationships with other people. And you want to get involved with his oldest friend? Zack asked himself, bad idea. Zack remembered again how he had unintentionally insulted Milo in the sewer on the day they had met, while waiting for the school bus at the bus stop at the end of Milo’s street. Zack had never apologized to Milo for that. Well, Milo never asked for one, Zack thought, then thought maybe you should start there, before you start thinking about Melissa. Zack sighed again. But he’s going out with Amanda, thought Zack a little hopefully, as he reached the edge of the school parking lot, he doesn’t think about Melissa like that. As soon as the thought occurred to him, he thought, No, Milo doesn’t think about her like that, but they’ve been friends since they were six. He’s been through a lot with her. His family treats her like she’s one of them. Zack sighed again as he crossed the street where Druid Drive ran into Waterford Road. If you get involved with Melissa and he doesn’t approve, Zack thought as he crossed the street, where does that leave you? He reached the other side of the street and turned right, away from the direction to Milo’s house, which he could see in the distance halfway down the block. Martin’s battered old Range Rover was sitting in the drive way. As he reached the intersection where Oakmont Street met Waterford Road, he reflected that maybe he should just talk to Milo about Melissa, and yet somehow that seemed like the hardest thing in the world to do.