“Is this Dr. Julia Mayes?” the voice said.
“Yes, this is Dr. Mayes, and to whom am I speaking?” Why didn’t I just let the phone ring? That’s what voice mail is for. Now I’m trapped.
“This is Dr. Mika Wilkins of the Starbright Project. How are you doing today?”
“Dr. who? The Starbright what?” Julia squinted her eyes as she searched her memory. “I’m sorry, but do I know you?”
There was laughter. “It’s been a long time. We met once when you first signed up with us over fifteen years ago. You and your university receive a Starbright Grant every year.”
Ding! Now she started to remember. “Oh! Let me say that you can be very proud of the work your generous donations help fund. We’re involved in groundbreaking research. Understanding the diversity of life on—”
“Dr. Mayes, we have a code-blue event. Let me remind you that this event and all communications concerning it are classified.”
“I’m sorry. I have no idea what you are talking about,” Julia said.
“Code blue is our highest code. Everyone uses code red. I don’t like code red. It’s such a violent color. Red sounds like danger. I chose code blue as our highest alert because blue is such a soothing, comfortable color. You’ll understand more in a few minutes. You may have forgotten that you and the university are under contract with us on this matter.”
“Uh… yes, well… Maybe we can talk later. I’m sorry. I have to leave to teach my class.”
“A national security officer should be at your door any moment. He’ll escort you to a helicopter.” The laughter was gone. In its place was a firm, polite voice.
“Excuse me? I’m not going anywhere.”
“Yes, you are. The security officer will escort you either to the helicopter or to prison. Personally, I recommend the helicopter.”
There was a knock on her office door, which was already open. The dean of her college, James Sanford, was standing in the doorway with two gentlemen wearing dark gray suits. The closest man reached into his coat pocket. His suit coat drew back, revealing a gun holstered under his left arm. He withdrew his hand and flashed his law-enforcement credentials.
“The Starbright Project? Wait a minute.” Julia’s memory was coming back now. She had forgotten all about it. It was so long ago. “The Starbright Project. That’s a federal government project. Isn’t that about—”
“Yes, that’s what it’s about,” Mika said.
Dean Sanford and the two security officers stepped farther into her office. “Julia, you need to go. I’ll take care of everything for you.”
Julia stood at her desk with her mouth agape, holding the phone loosely to her right ear. The phone line went dead.
The two officers escorted her down the busy sidewalk toward the west parking lot, dodging students racing to their classes. Above her, a helicopter zipped by at tree level. It was dark gray with no distinctive markings. She could almost reach up and touch it. Students stopped and stared in awe.
They came to a parking lot where the helicopter had landed. Its blades were still spinning. As Julia approached, the door slid open and the two officers helped Julia climb inside.
The door clicked shut and locked. Julia was thrown back into the seat as the chopper lifted off the ground.
James was waving goodbye. She waved back. Inside the helicopter with her was a woman dressed in a dark blue suit. She had dirty-blond, shoulder-length hair with bangs touching her eyebrows. Her hair had just a touch of gray.
Outside the dark-tinted window, the parking lot grew smaller. Julia watched the traffic flow coming into and exiting the university. The cars became too small to even look like toys. She leaned away from the window and sat back in the plush leather seat.
The woman sitting with her extended her right hand. “Welcome aboard. I’m Dr. Mika Wilkins, director of the Starbright Project. I’m very pleased that we get to meet again after all these years.”
“Hello,” Julia said. She was in a daze. Some would say in shock.
Mika smiled a broad, energetic smile, the kind a kid makes when he steps out of the car in the parking lot of Disneyland. “Isn’t this exciting!” Her eyes flashed.
Julia smiled back; she couldn’t help it.
The air force pilot banked the helicopter to the right sharply and accelerated to maximum speed as the bird continued to climb to its authorized cruising altitude.
“We should be in New York City in a few hours. We hope you enjoy the flight, Dr. Wilkins. If there’s anything we can do, please let us know,” the pilot said over the comm.
“Thanks. Just get us to New York City safely; that’s all I ask,” Mika said. “And no bumps,” she added quickly.
“Roger that. We’ll do our best.”