Chapter 2: The Houdini Protocol
In a last desperate attempt to stave off total annihilation, we used one last resort to escape with our lives: a secret underground tunnel called Houdini’s path. As the last of us entered into the escape hatch that goes down into the underground base, I myself looked out to ensure that none of the lizard creatures had seen us enter the hidden entryway. As I heard an approaching noise coming from around the bend of the hall we were just in, I quickly closed the door of the escape hatch behind me. I lifted the cover of the control panel on my right and entered a combination that not just activated the locks but also activated the steel mechanism that camouflaged the door from the other side.
I leaned my back on the closed hatch and took a deep breath. I saw Charlie, one of my lieutenants, waiting for me. I nodded and proceeded to run down the length of the tunnel, Charlie trailing behind. We entered a dark, wide open area and saw my entire army - what’s remaining of it - standing to attention. Assisted by the few remaining flashlights held up by the crew, I did a head count and came up with 18. I felt a sudden gust of despair but managed to batten it down. Without saying anything, I went up an elevated platform reserved exactly for the one holds the highest position of command. I pulled out my intercom, surveyed my troops as they gathered around the platform I stand on and waited for them to settle down. I cleared my throat and spoke into the intercom,
“You all know me as Darius Crane. And I, as your Supreme Commander, commend you all for the great courage and the inestimable discipline you have shown in this desperate time. Without those virtues, the entire lot of you may have never come this far. The past few days have been a time of deep strife and intense loss for all of us. Many of you have suffered great losses… your home, your friends, your families. I did too.” I recalled my own family back home in Texas and felt a deep pang of grief overwhelm me, felt it like a fist tightening around my chest. I rallied the reserves of inner strength I never knew I had, took a deep breath, and continued.
“Nonetheless, we are all here today. We’re alive. And today, that is what’s most important. What we have is a last opportunity to save humanity. It might not be much, but it’s the last thing we have. And we’re going to fight these goddamned lizards with everything we got. We're the last hope of humanity, after all”
At this, a renewed
vigor settled on the crew before me. A few cheers erupted. I took that as a cue and continued, “More importantly, we also have this.” I pulled my knife - now besmirched with sticky, dried blood drawn from several of the lizard creatures I killed on the way - and held it up for everyone to see. Some of the faces among the crew lit up in understanding and pulled out their respective blades as well. The rest followed their example.
“Another thing: these foul creatures can’t bear to look at fire. It temporarily blinds them, as many of you have noticed. We can use that to our advantage.”
As I said this, I was reminded of how much we’ve lost, and how that loss could’ve been avoided if we only knew what we know now. I involuntarily chuckled at the absurdity of it all, drawing puzzled looks from the congregation before me.
And right on cue, a man from the back whom I recognized as Creed Dax: a former sergeant who recently fell out of grace due to suspicion of curtailing favor away from Dan Abnett, the man who was Supreme Commander before me until he died from mysterious circumstances, raised his hand and shouted, “That may be just as well, but what good will that do against a massive army of overgrown lizards whose numbers easily overwhelm us. It’s also a certainty that backups are on their way. Eventually, all these vermin will find their way here. I can’t share your bravado, dear commander, if we are just pigs in a pen waiting to be slaughtered.”
A general feeling of unease settled on the crew once again. I waited for the hubbub of distressed murmurs to settle down and said, “Our enemy may have numbers to their advantage, Creed, but lest you forget that the founding fathers of the Unified Earth Government have pooled their efforts and resources to -”
Creed interrupted with a loud, sharp voice, “Don't pretend I know nothing about that, Darius” His voice is redolent of venom when he mentioned my first name “Remember, I was in the same class as you back at the Academy. I didn’t hold the Houdini Protocol in very high regard. It’s too much confined. It’s nothing more than a prison cell when you have your enemies surrounding you from all sides. Truth be told, the funds should have been used to push through with the Rylos Project - ”
Suddenly, a loud booming noise erupted from above our heads. We’ve been discovered! I surveyed my entire crew and except for Creed whose face looked flummoxed, all of them were priming
themselves up for battle. As Supreme Commander, I couldn’t be more proud of my crew standing before me.
Affecting disinterest, I spoke into the intercom again and addressed Creed, “Ah, the Rylos Project, now there’s a venture that deserves to never see the light of day again, unless the whole of humanity has become self-serving enough to deserve their own path to self-destruction. I say good riddance.” I never once looked away from Creed’s eyes as I said this. Creed looked cowed, at least for a moment.
Another explosion from above, louder this time.
I spoke into the intercom again, “I was just about to say, before I was rudely interrupted: our founding fathers came up with the Houdini Protocol. Unbeknownst to many, this base is no mere hiding place. Let me show you.”
I pressed a button on the raised panel on top of the platform, and the whole chamber suddenly lit up, showing the crew that it is, in fact, a large fortress. Visible around us area plethora of control panels as well as benches and chairs. Everybody gasped. A large screen monitor suddenly lit up on one side of the room.
Another explosion, uncomfortably closer this time. I didn’t care. I took a moment to enjoy the moment, to enjoy the look on everybody’s faces, especially Creed’s. I’m smiling. Despite the dire circumstances we’re still in - I’m smiling. I can’t help it.
I pressed another button on the control panel next to me and it grew extensions until what it really is became apparent to the entire crew - a ship’s control panel. Everything I read about the Houdini Protocol right on the day I became Supreme Commander came to the forefront of my memory. I entered another combination and the entire blueprint for the Houdini Protocol flashed on the big screen.
I spoke into the intercom again, “Gents. Ladies. Put down your weapons. We're not going to fight today."
I pressed another button and the whole fortress ship hummed like a bass butterfly.
“Today, we fly.”