You'd had a lot of things on your mind that Friday afternoon: the upcoming test in your American History class; the decision about whether to take the job with Mark Taylor's company; that silly, stupid, soul-sucking argument with Dana. You'd been restless and fidgety from lunch onward, and couldn't keep your mind on the afternoon periods, or on much of anything. Thoughts of your low grades had segued into thoughts of your low social standing in the high school—damn Dana for carelessly mentioning her plans for hanging out after school with Shawn Gregory—and thence into resentment at your lack of a set of wheels of your own; which had naturally segued back to your father's implacable decision that you had to get a job or get your grades up before he'd help you buy that used pickup you'd found in the want ads; and so on in a very unmerry-go-round of baulked desires and unmet expectations. So when your best friend, Caleb, had suggested a quick hike in the state park after school, you'd only grunted, but gone along with the idea. Geographically, at least, it represented distance from all the things that were troubling you that day.
It had been warm and sunny, though cooler than it should have been for the end of September, as you and Caleb had labored up the trail. You'd come to a clearing before either of you had bothered to say anything meaningful, and even when Caleb spoke it hadn't sounded like the start of anything significant: "Freaking Cussler."
You'd merely chucked a loose rock into a bush in reply. Caleb also had Cussler for History, and the old sourpuss was a constant subject of discussion and recrimination between you. "I suppose there's nothing to do but buckle down and try to study for the mid-term," he'd continued.
"What's the point," you'd brusquely replied, not liking the turn toward a subject you didn't really want to face. "It's just going to be a lot of curve balls. I think she enjoys flunking people."
"Dana's talking about getting a study group together." You'd felt the hairs on the back of your neck rise, but Caleb had just chattered on. "A big group would be a bad idea. We should make it just the three of us."
"Dana can go hang." In the emptiness of the ensuing silence you'd glanced over and seen Caleb regarding you levelly. "What?" you'd said in a challenging tone.
He'd sighed. "You've no sense of subtlety. You wanna get Dana away from Gregory, at least for a little while, there's your chance." His voice had risen as you'd wheeled angrily away. "Or, you know, you could just ask her out. She's not out of your league, you know."
You'd ionized the air with a profanity as you stalked off. Caleb had this maddening way of telling people what to do, even when he thought it was for their own good. Besides, what did he know of how Dana set you quivering? No, she wasn't a goddess, but she was slim and dark-haired and effortlessly sexy; and that, when combined with your long-standing friendship—and, yes, her obvious availability—left her pulling your heart all the more strongly. But to actually say anything to her, to take a chance on a declaration? The idea could only leave you faint.
Caleb had left you with your thoughts for only a few minutes before following you, so you'd pressed on up the trail, not stopping until you'd reached the top of a ridge, from which you'd found the northern vista suddenly opening up. Down below you could see the barracks and hangers and Quonset huts of Fort Suffolk.
That had stopped you short. Out of the frying pan ... and all that.
You wondered if Mark Taylor was down there someplace. Your next-door neighbor was a good guy—young and smart and friendly—and if he had only had the good sense to come to you with the idea of taking a job at the company he worked for, instead of mentioning it to your father, everything would be much happier. But no, he'd mentioned to your dad, and your dad had thought it such a good idea that he'd practically ordered you to put in an application, which had turned what should have been an opportunity into a pissing contest. Take the job or raise your grades, he'd said.
And so Caleb, when he caught up to you, had found you clenching your fists. He'd taken one look and given a short laugh. "Well, I guess that's another idea for getting a good grade."
"What do you mean," you'd replied, momentarily baffled out of your anger.
He'd tilted his chin down at the base. "You remember how worked up Cussler got about them opening that place." Indeed she had—no self-respecting left-wing radical could help getting ticked off at the idea of a military installation—no matter how small—opening up so close to town and so close to a nature preserve. "Go down and do some vandalism. Maybe she'd give us extra credit."
He'd meant it as a joke, but in the fever of the moment it seemed like an excellent suggestion. Dirt and dislodged rocks were soon clattering along in front of you as you slid heedlessly down the steep slope. You hadn't needed to look back to know that Caleb was following; you could hear him sliding behind you, and could feel the rocks he dislodged smacking you in the back of your legs.
At the bottom you'd come to a stop at the chain-link fence that separated the base from the park. It was more of a marker than a barrier, really, and you quickly clambered up it. "Dude, what are you doing?" Caleb had called in a shocked voice.
"Let's go snooping." From the top you'd looked back down at him. "Screw vandalism. Maybe we can find something scandalous. Like you said, wouldn't that get us in good with Cussler?"
In fact, you'd had no real plans or expectations to find anything. (It's doubtful you'd have even recognized anything extraordinary even if you'd spotted it.) Dimly, even then, you'd known it wasn't really about snooping or impressing someone whose good opinion you really didn't care for. This was about getting into trouble, about sabotaging the plans your father and Taylor had set in motion. This was about striking a blow for yourself, even if it was a self-destructive one.
"What the—! No, get down from there before someone sees you!" Caleb had reached up to grasp your leg, but you leaped over to land on the other side. With a muttered oath, he'd followed you over as you wandered over to a nearby building.
It was a low-built thing, but very long, and looked much bigger now that you were up close to it. You had to jump and grasp a sill in order to peer in through a dirty window. Then you'd pushed it up and pulled yourself through.
It was dark inside, but when your vision adjusted you'd seen you were in a room filled with a lot of junk: old desks and filing cabinets and tables, mostly. You'd softly opened a door and looked out. The main building was itself even more cluttered with crap, like discarded machinery.
"Ugh, is this where our tax money goes?" You'd jumped a little, because you'd not heard Caleb come up behind you.
"Get a job and then you can complain about taxes," you'd growled. To your dismay, you'd realized you sounded just like your father. "Start pushing some of that crap onto the floor," you'd ordered Caleb, to cover up your embarrassment. "Let's make a mess."
"No. Let's get out of here."
"If you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem." That sounded like Cussler. Sourly, you'd tipped over a heavy table, sending a lot of spare parts skittering across the floor.
"This isn't cool," Caleb had said, grabbing at you.
In a spasm of fury you'd pushed him away. "Why don't you just piss off, then?" You'd felt yourself breathing heavily, and shown him your teeth.
Caleb had blinked and frowned and shook his head. Then he turned and walked back the way you'd come.
"That's right, just run off," you'd shouted after him, and then attacked another table with a fury that left you shaking. Let him go back to his house, and to the school, and to Dana. That was probably what' he'd had in mind all along. He liked her too, and you were suddenly seized by the irrational conviction that his object had been to piss you off and get you out of the way, so that he could make a play for her. Two more tables went flying, and you'd kicked blindly at the detritus.
And then you'd caught sight of something very interesting.
Two large glass jars were standing on yet another table in the midst of the clutter. They were both filled with something blue. Not just a dull blue, but an iridescent blue that shimmered and glowed in the dim light. Entranced, you'd drawn closer to gaze at the stuff. Light played on their surfaces, even down under their surfaces. Some kind of chemicals. Wickedly, you'd grinned at the thought of making a really big mess.
Without quite knowing what you were doing, you'd picked up one of the jars—it was almost as big as your torso—to set it on the floor so you could pull out the stopper.
But then it had slipped from your hands and fallen to the floor. You'd just had time to think a very bad word to yourself, and then everything got very bright and very hot before it got very dark ...
[Based upon original material by Nptox18.]