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The Möbius Sequence

Mobius Sequence

Chapter 1

Wednesday, June 7
Angel's Landing
Zion National Park, Utah

Acrophobia be damned.

Mallory Lowe knew the notorious knife-ridge was all that separated her from the safe haven of the valley and the summit of Angel's Landing. And every destination had a path. Any analytic geometry student could easily graph her journey on the X-Y plane, beginning with her morning coffee at the hotel to the exact point where she now stood. The curve would be gentle at first, slight slope and then rise sharply, correlating flawlessly with her increasing heartrate.

The text she had received two days earlier provided the incentive she needed to again attempt one of the most intimidating hikes in any national park. She recalled it verbatim:

Mallory, I'll be hiking Angel's Landing on Wednesday. I understand you're in the area. How about reminiscing old times with a view? I know you'll succeed this time.

Tom Haley

Tom, what a treat that would be. She felt her pulse quicken as she gazed upon the knife-ridge, bisecting the sheer twelve hundred foot cliffs plummeting off each side. Any miscalculation would guarantee sure death. She took little time to consider that point. Firmly clutching the safety chain hanging between pipes embedded into the sandstone, she allowed her impetuous nature to dissolve as she drifted into a meditative state. Her mathematical mind swiftly calculated the hyperbolic equation describing the chain's curve, a series of graceful catenaries blazing in the sun.

It was now or never.

One foot over the other, she inched along, her New Balance sneakers securely gripping the cross-bedded rock. The equation kept repeating itself, recalculating in her head as she slid her hand along each section of chain—arc length...curvature...tangential angle...arc length—her thoughts a million miles away from the drop-offs on each side. After thirty feet, the ridge widened enough to grant a small sense of security. She released her grip, bent over and kissed the chain. She was relieved. The strong, euphoric mood coursing through her body wouldn't last forever—yet, at this moment, nothing could silence it.

She pulled a water bottle from her pack, drew a long, wet drink and continued up the trail punctuated by a few gnarled pinyon pines rooted in rocky crevices. A light breeze blew across her face. Arriving at the summit, she saw daredevil chipmunks beg for handouts from lounging hikers. A fat lizard scurried across her path disappearing over the edge.

Taking a deep breath, she mopped the sweat off her brow. Overhead, the hot midday sun polished the surrounding canyon walls with brilliant hues of crimson and chocolate, a far cry from the rounded promontories of the Wichita Mountains rising above the plains of Oklahoma. On rare occasions she would escape her family's struggling cotton farm and explore those rocky crags, imagining what life could be away from the hard times her family endured. Zion, like other remarkable places, was an awe-inspiring, one-of-a-kind seductive magnificence, a place where hardship never reared its ugly head.

Relaxed, watching the Virgin River meander down the Zion Valley far below, she noticed a man wearing a wide-brim hat walking her way. The familiarity of his lopsided gait and lean build made her smile. He approached with the eagerness of a long-lost friend.

"Tom, it really is you," she said, wrapping him in a hug.

"Mallory, after all this time, I—" he fumbled to complete the sentence.

"When was it, six, seven years? You tried to coax me across the knife-ridge. I froze, couldn't budge."

"I never doubted you'd finally conquer it. Congratulations."

"Your text was a surprise. It challenged me and you know I never turn down a challenge."

She saw the trace of a smile.

"You still at UNLV?"

"Still living at Mountain Springs, retired four years ago." He took off his hat and combed his hand through his thinning gray hair. "It's good to see you, Mallory." He sat down on a sandstone pedestal. "I called friends in the math department at CU. They had your vacation itinerary and were gracious enough to share it with me. Timing was perfect, so I sent you the text."

"But why not meet in town. We could have a drink or two?" She slid next to him, curious as hell.

"I kinda like it up here. It's like, you know...a sanctuary."

"Tom, what's going on?" She stared at his troubled gray eyes. "Something's on your mind. For an engineer, you don't hide it well."

"...Katie and I not seeing eye to eye, you know the difficulty we've had communicating." He frowned. "She won't return my calls. I'm concerned."

The words caused a wave of emotion. Katie was Tom's daughter, her close friend. When was the last time they talked? She was in Switzerland, one of her many stops rambling through Europe after her Peace Corps stint? What else had she mentioned? She had a boyfriend, a Turk, might even move to Turkey, live the ex-pat life. True love, didn't she say?

"I talked to her a few weeks ago," Mallory said. "When did you last hear from her?"

"I've been calling forever. She won't answer. Something's wrong, I just know it. It's my fault—"

"Tom, what are you talking about?"

"She'll be killed if the dam is blown up. For God's sake—any day now!" He threw up his hands.

"Killed, what do you mean? What dam?"

He stood up quickly, his eyes darting along the summit from one hiker to the next as if he was looking for someone, somebody. He turned, faced Mallory. "I didn't know at first what was going on. I learned too much—way too much."

"What's this all about, Tom, in English, please?"

"If they find me, they'll—" He fidgeted, started pacing, his uneven gait guiding him in a circle. He removed his bandana, swiping at his face with a jittery hand.

Mallory got to her feet. Twelve hundred feet in the air on a narrow isthmus of rock wasn't the place for this conversation. "Listen, why don't we head on down and talk about it out of the hot sun. I'll give her a call. My cell phone is in the car."

Tom wasn't listening, bouncing back and forth like a pinball. "I begged her to leave. I'd get her myself, but they're after me. I need to disappear until this is over, but the dam—"

Mallory was startled by his lack of control.

"I pleaded with her to come home, told her I'd make things right. Mallory, you're the only one she'll listen to."

"We'll get ahold of her, I promise. She'll answer my call." Crap, this isn't good—way... up... here.

He reached into his back pocket, searching. "Damn, I must have left it at home. It's a photograph of—"

The whine of a motor broke the conversation. Steadily it grew louder, the raucous sound of rotor blades. Mallory flicked her head to the south, glimpsing an object reflecting the strong rays of the late morning sun. The helicopter drew closer, the low-pitched thwap-thwap rising in decibels. She was well aware of park regulations that banned aircraft from operating within its boundaries. The helicopter swooped lower into the depth of the canyon. The air echoed in a deafening roar, the rock beneath her feet vibrated. She turned and stared at Tom. His face said it all—a look of absolute terror.

The blue and white chopper displayed no identifying markings. It hovered level with Angel's Landing, not more than one hundred feet out. The other hikers took notice, clustering away from the uproar. She tried to make sense of what was happening. Slowly, it climbed over the summit, barely five feet above the rim. Backing away from the extreme rotor draft, she covered her ears. The helicopter maneuvered closer, the skids swinging back and forth above the rock.

"No way!" Tom yelled, turning to run, stumbling on the uneven surface. The helicopter swung his way; the right skid slammed him in the back, knocking him within inches of the edge.

Mallory stood helpless; the chopper swerved back and forth, the tail rotor keeping her at bay. She was pinned, couldn't move. Teetering a couple of feet from the edge, her heart thumped wildly. She glanced at Tom, the skid bearing down on him, but the jaggedness of the rock kept him from being crushed. Tom rolled, pushing himself up. The helicopter powered forward, catching him square. He let out a scream and slumped over the steel skid. Suddenly, the chopper lifted and floated over the cliff, Tom held on for dear life.

Mallory watched in fear. The door of the helicopter opened, a man moved out of shadow, his face dull, displaying no sign of emotion. He held a rifle by the barrel, jabbing at Tom's head. Tom held tight. She could see his face, a face so pained it made her weep.

"Please, Tom—" Mallory cried out. "Hang on!"

The man hammered the rifle butt into Tom's fingers, mashing skin and bone.

Agony and unimaginable fear clouded his face. "Find Katie! Tell her I love her," he cried, falling into the blue nothingness.

Horrified screams echoed down the valley. Mallory clasped her hands over her mouth. Her thoughts froze, her mind paralyzed. My God, what had she just witnessed? She stared out where Tom had vanished. Her eyes swept back to the helicopter, its incessant rotors churning an aggressive tenor. It pivoted ninety degrees.

The rifle pointed at her.

In a split second, she dove behind the sandstone pedestal just as the weapon ripped, bullets mowing over the rock, chips flying every direction. She remained down, knowing full well if the helicopter flew over her position, she wouldn't have a chance. She heard it retreat. Something must have spooked it. She stood up cautiously and watched it swoop over the western cliffs and into the vast wilderness of Zion.

© Lee Lindauer