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Tri-Cities Airport, Pasco, East Washington. Where the New Confederacy makes problems go away.

It was a small conference room but it had a window looking directly out onto the airport tarmac and it was private, so it suited Roland's purposes just fine. He had just come in from inspecting the special commuter prop job he had arranged on very short notice. He was inspired by something that Dr. Amanda Trochmann assured him when he first agreed to meet Pharmadigm at Hanford. She had brought all of her company's records of the drug trials, and swore there were no copies. It's definitely in Pharmadigm's interest to keep all of this under limited distribution, she said before she gave her initial presentation, and then proceeded to demonstrate exactly why.

After Amanda was satisfied that all of the Pharmadigm records of the drug trials were secure aboard the plane, including the new ones, Roland told her the police had picked up their five errant test subjects riding in the same car, and he asked her to go ahead on the plane to the Groom Lake facility in Nevada, sometimes called Area 51, where he was confident security was much, much better. I'll meet you there, he said, quite the consummate liar. We're taking the Pharmadigm Five down by an Air Force C-141 and I want to ride with them. What capped it off for Amanda were his promises of ample government reimbursement to the Pharmadigm corporation, which bode well for her own career.

Dr. Trochmann rode with Dr. Robert Lessing, the company geneticist who assisted her, along with medical technicians Kevin Lodge, Sarah Newbolt, and Lorraine Null. A large young orderly named Andrew Fulford had been Pharmadigm "muscle" and a 29 year old R.N. named Kristen Ramsey was also on the plane. Roland figured that eventually Amanda or one of the six other folks would open a sun shade and wonder why they were flying out over the ocean to go to Nevada, but by then it would be much too late. Roland figured the longer his five escapees remained loose, the more ammunition he had to defend the expense of aborting the whole operation in this particular way.

I'm Curt Raplee, the pilot said as he began setting up equipment on a table in the conference room. The plane stood by itself out there now.

Doctor No Name, came the reply. You got family, Captain Raplee?

No Doc. There's just me, and I was fixin' to retire anyway. He fiddled with some knobs. The plane started up and began to taxi forward under remote control. I'm not even curious about who these people are. They don't pay me to be curious, Doctor No Name. There's only one thing I've ever been curious about: Did the check clear?

That's what your people told me. Because I can't stand loose ends. I especially don't like the kind of loose ends that walk around.

After this I'll be a very rich, very distant and a very retired loose end, Doctor No Name, Raplee said in the manner of the banal wicked. There was a price that would buy any man, that would make any man give up his pretensions of morality or principle. Roland had found Raplee's price. The pilot flicked on a small radio transmitter. The tower would not be able to tell he wasn't calling from aboard the plane. He said, Tri-Cities Control this is Air Maui zero one requesting clearance for takeoff, over.

It was a small regional airport and his bird was the only one out there. A deft maneuver on his panel turned the plane and lined it up nicely at the head of the longest of three runways. When the go-ahead came back from the tower Raplee hit a button and the plane began to roll forward. Roland was amused that Amanda hadn't even wondered why it was Air Maui to Nevada.

OK, the on-board computer's got the bubble, from here on out, Doc.

It's amazing what they can get computers to do nowadays, Roland marveled as the plane climbed into the sky. Maybe, someday, all by itself, a computer will even be able to land the damn thing.

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