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Author's Chapter Notes:
This chapter is dedicated to the late, great Michael Crichton.
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It had all started when an Aeroflot jetliner was hijacked by Chechin terrorists while en route from Moscow to Las Vegas, Nevada, via Anchorage, Alaska. The plane had been traversing Canadian airspace when they struck. And the terrorist leader had just ordered the pilot to fly to a certain set of coordinates, in Mexico, when the plane suddenly began to nose-dive. Straight toward Mount Rainier, Washington!

There were no survivors.

The FBI and the NTSB ultimately told the press that the crash had been caused by some high-flying bird of prey (like a falcon or a golden eagle) being inadvertently sucked into one of the jetliner's turbofan engines. But, in reality, something else had been responsible! Something that had been found by army engineers from Fort Lewis, Washington, while aiding local National Guard units with body-recovery at the crash site.

In shape, it was a perfectly round sphere about the size of an Olympic shot-put. Yet, it was as light as a feather. And, though it initially appeared to be made of stainless steel, its surface actually rippled whenever touched. Like water on a sheet of mirrored glass!

Naturally, the sphere was transferred to Area 51, with the utmost speed and discretion, for further examination. Unfortunately, the outer shell of the sphere proved more impervious to X-rays than any sheet of lead. So, an industrial-strength laser had been brought in to slice off a piece of that strange material for spectroscopic analysis. But, the sphere not only absorbed the laser beam. It also fired it back. Right at the Air Force technician handling the laser beam projector's controls!

It instantly shrank him to six inches in height.

Consequently, the sphere was ordered transferred to DARPA headquarters in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, someone at the Pentagon became a little _too_ paranoid about the lay-over time at Wright-Patterson. Someone who could never have anticipated that the guest of honor at a certain bachelor party, in Dayton, Ohio, made his living as a mail sorter.

And that was the reason Steve Hughes was now en route to Dover High School in Tuscarawas County, Ohio.

"Dogpound to Retriever," announced a voice over his cellular headset: "Dogpound to Retriever. Do you copy? Over."

Steve turned on the wi-fi-compatible scrambler before responding.

"Retriever to Dogpound. Copy you, loud and clear. Over."

"Dogpound to Retriever. We have the requested info on that majorette line. It's made up of two seniors and six juniors. Captain Danielle C------. Co-captain Olivia B----. First Lieutenant Amy H----------. Feature twirler Anna C-------. And cadets Katherine M-----, Alison M-----, Kathleen L-----, and Megan C--. Collectively known as 'the Silver Cyclones.' Over."

"Heh!" replied Steve (temporarily breaking commo protocol): "Sounds more like the name of an aerobatic jet squadron!"

"Roger that," acknowledged the other voice (with an understanding chuckle): "Dogpound; over and out."

It was precisely at this point that Steve's rental car passed by a sign reading:


Half an hour later, he pulled into the parking lot of the local Motel Six and registered for a room.

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