“We were headed back when we saw you jump in.” Ball Buster drapes another blanket around my shivering form. “You’re some sort of crazy, dude.”
“If he doesn’t catch hypothermia, it’ll be a miracle,” Heather calls, coming back in with another load of blankets. “And those clothes are soaked…. You know that I can’t buy stuff in your size from the store, right? That’d bring up all sorts of questions.”
I wave, teeth chattering. “R-r-r-right. D-d-d-d-don’t w-w-wor-r-r-r-ry ab-b-b-b-bout it-t-t-t-t-t-t.” My teeth descend into a rapid set of clicks. I’m trying very hard not to think about how naked I am under the blankets, with Heather in the room.
“The boat,” Sidewinder says, coming up. “It’s one of those fancy Navy Seal boats, right? Like what special ops use for beach landings?”
“Yes,” Heather says. “The inflated frame is what made it rise when Square knocked off the weights. Simple enough to operate, fast, and good in weather. It looks like there’s a flood curtain we can raise, too, so that should make it hard to capsize. But they guzzle up gas. They’re not meant for long sea journeys.” She frowns anxiously at it.
“W-w-w-will th-that-t-t-t get-t-t us to Bering I-i-i-i-i-island?” I ask.
“There’s enough fuel. With good seas, we should make it,” Heather says. “Maybe.”
“Maybe we can …” Ball Buster stops.
We hear the rumble of helicopter blades. Far away, but already getting louder. It’s impossible to see that high in the dark, but we all know what’s coming.
“Wolfe’s back,” Sue observes, rousing himself from his hunched pose. “We need to go.”
“Right,” Ball Buster says, slapping me on the back. “Get nice and dry, Square. We’ll be back around 2 a.m.”
The guys run off.
“Make sure you have blankets under and over you,” Heather tells me. “Use the heater in the boat. You need to stay warm.”
“Right.” I can’t just let this go. “Heather, are you sure you want—”
“Trust me on this. I think you guys don’t … quite get what it’s like to be completely powerless.” She swallows. “I’ve been trying to get off this rock for years. You guys are the first time I’ve had a chance.”
I head back down to the boat and follow her instructions. Before I know it, I’m asleep.
I wake up to someone shaking me. It’s Heather. “Square! Square, get up! Something’s wrong!”
I sit up, groggy. “Heather? … What’s wrong?”
“The guys! They’re not back! It’s nearly 3!”
“Um.” I’m remembering now that I’m still naked under the blankets. “Are you sure?”
“That’s not all. There’ve been lights and shouts and all sorts of things coming from the camp all day. Something’s seriously wrong.”
“I’ll go check it out,” I say, grabbing the samurai sword. “Can you check to see if that military gear is all dry yet?”
The WWII gear is white-ish and warm-ish but not much of either. I wonder how guys fought in this as I inch, shivering and way too visible, towards the compound. Heather was right: the camp’s more full of soldiers than I’ve ever seen it. The towers are dark but fully manned, bristling with machine guns, rocket launchers, sniper rifles. There’s snow trucks driving all around.
And red parkas everywhere.
It looks like a mix of boys and girls, mostly standing around watching the snow trucks, talking. But I’m not sure how they’ll react if they see me. I really didn’t expect this many people around at 3 a.m.
The others are almost definitely being kept in Detention, that hallway with all the cells where I was being held. I know it’s underground thanks to the elevator. But where would the entrance be?
The searchlights are off, but the guards certainly have their night-vision goggles on. They could be looking anywhere. Nothing for it. I set off at a low jog.
I dodge from tower to tower, hiding as close to the frame as I can. My hope is that nobody will be looking at the tower bases. So far it seems to be working—perhaps the towers are mostly focused on the people standing around.
I’m almost at the snowball field when I run into Icepick. It’s a perfect catastrophe.
I jump over the snowbank onto the main road and hear “Oi! You!” I turn, and there’s Icepick. His red parka is covered with snow, and he’s breathing hard, his face flushed.
“I’ve been looking all over the tundra for you, moron!” he says, racing towards me. “We’re gonna settle this. Right here, right now!”
I don’t have time for this bullshit. He’s coming straight at me. He doesn’t see the kick. It slams him right across the chest and sends him flying back, straight into a group of red parkas.
I hear yells. I see blows. I jump over the snowbank and run for the snow cave. The cave still has the tunnel, and after two minutes down it, I find the little side tunnel. The next part of my plan is a gamble, but as quickly as I can, I crawl through the side tunnel.
Again, I’m not sure how long I’m crawling, but when I pop out, I’m right by the clinic. The back entrance. And just outside the door is a nurse, smoking.
Riot or no riot, I guess some people still gotta get their nicotine fix.
I jump over the fence, creep up to him, and hit him with three tai chi blows to the back and midsection. The nurse crumples without even a shout. I grab his ID, and the next second, I’m inside.
I press my fingers against the walls. Maybe it’s the amulet, but it barely takes any focus at all for me to sense the surroundings; it’s almost like having an instant map of the building. Virtually no-one in. No guards at all. Maybe they’re dealing with the fight.
There’s the shaft in the middle I sensed before. Now I can make out it’s an elevator. The clinic is mostly empty, but there’s three guards in the receiving bay just in front of that room, and I’m still bumbling around in my WWII getup. I really don’t want to raise any alarms.
Then again … I consider. The clinic is mostly made of drywall. And the guards aren’t actually in the same room as the elevator. Tentatively, I draw the sword, line it up with the wall, and stab.
It goes through. A bit messier than I intended. The resistance of the wall makes my cut wobble a little, but it goes through. The sword’s not really designed for sawing back and forth, but it’s surprisingly strong, and heck, it’s not like I’m running out of muscle here. Cutting through the drywall is mostly a matter of applying force properly.
I soon have my own custom-made door, letting me straight into the elevator room. I hit the down button, and whip up my sword, readying myself.
The elevator doors open. There’s a guard. Unconscious. He’s slumped against the side wall. His gun is missing. The key from his belt is stuck in the operator’s slot on the elevator control panel.
That’s weird. But again, there’s not really another choice. So I step inside and press the “B” button.
This time, when the doors open, I see Destro, surrounded by the bodies of five guards.
He’s just turning when the doors open, some sort of steel pipe in his hand. But when he sees it’s me, he lowers the pipe. “Oh,” he says. “Hello, Square.”
I try to play it cool, but it’s just too much. “Shit, Destro!”
“I did think that you were not dead,” he says, continuing to rummage through one guard’s gear. “Wolfe had no reason otherwise to arrest your friends. Is Icepick with you?”
“No, I ran into him outside. Again, Destro, what the hell is going on?”
“Well,” he says, sighing. “It seems clear Wolfe is at her breaking point. She arrested all your friends and all Jackhammer’s friends—except Icepick, who must have been out on a run—and I cannot imagine that it will end well. I do not think that. So, I thought I’d come and see if I could help.”
“But … the fuck?” I gesture at the bodies.
He’s starting to strip the uniform off a soldier. “I have not survived a year and a half in this camp by being friendly and stupid,” he says. “I came here and found this place sometime last year.”
“The infiltrator everyone was talking about. And the snow tunnels … you made those?”
“Snow’s amazing, is it not?” He smiles, and I see again the pudgy, excited face from orientation. “It’s most wonderfully suitable for getting around undetected to weak points in facility security. They should have heat imaging or something of that nature. That’s what they should have.” His eyes take a calculating look. “Unless perhaps the snow blocks that. “It’s so fascinating.” He starts to step into the guard’s pants. “Give me a moment, and I will head down with you.”
As he strips off his shirt, I notice for the first time that his flab doesn’t wiggle as much as it should. There’s muscle hidden in that pudgy frame.
“Did you break in here a few days ago?” I ask. “They thought that was me.”
“Ah.” He looks a bit guilty. “Yes. I must apologize for that. I was rather desperate to learn more about this place and was incautious.” He glances at me as he slips into the uniform. “It’s a pity you are so tall, Square, It would be nearly impossible to pass you off as a guard.” He zips up the uniform. It’s just the right size for him.
“What are you: some kind of black ninja?”
He gives me an odd look and laughs. “Let us find you a hospital gown and a stretcher, my friend,” he says, moving past me. “That way, it will look like as though I’m bringing a prisoner down. We mustn’t arouse their suspicions.”
We pass through an additional security checkpoint—I guess those security guards Destro took out were supposed to be the first line of defense—before we’re on a familiar-looking hallway.
“What is this place?” I whisper. I’m lying flat on my back on a stretcher that Destro is casually wheeling down the hall.
“I said I discovered this place. I did not say I explored it,” Destro whispers back. “But I believe this is the Downstairs. They use it for Detention.”
We’re about halfway down the hall when we hear the screaming. Given the soundproofing, I guess someone must have left the door to something open. The screaming doesn’t sound pained, just angry, and as we get closer, we start to hear words.
“—loody everlasting buggering bitch of a—”
There’s a crackling noise and a scream of pain.
“That will do.” Wolfe’s voice cuts in. “This is pointless. If you’re not going to tell me anything, I may as well leave you to insult the walls.”
Some panting. “P-piss off … I ain’t saying nothing to you till I get something to proper sweeten the bargain.”
“There is no sweetening here,” Wolfe says. “You and your compatriots killed a classmate; that’s not something I can offer a lot of leeway with. You will all undergo the procedure and be sent to a designated black site.”
“Rraah!” A thud. I think the walls shake, but it’s hard to tell.
“The glass is quite firm, Mr. Cooper.” A few steps on linoleum. “The rest of you—any observations now that you’ve seen Mr. Cooper?”
“Screw you, dragon lady.” Ball Buster’s voice.
“Yeah, screw you.” It’s Sue.
“Why? Why screw me? I’m trying to get justice for your dead friend. I’m prosecuting the men responsible for his death.… Why the insistence on screwing me?”
“We told you already: we don’t know anything,” Ball Buster says. “If you don’t believe us, then just say that, and we can move on to the next part of this conversation. But I don’t know what else you want us to say.”
“Why would we?” That’s Mouse. “Square was in your prison. We hadn’t seen him since you hauled him off during lunch. And if we broke him out, we wouldn’t have left him for Jackhammer to find.”
“Your other friend was plotting a prison break,” Wolfe says. “Possibly Mr. Dickson knew, possibly he did not, but surely one of you must have helped to sabotage the tracker system to make such an escape possible.”
“Dolphin’s escape plan clearly didn’t involve us. We were nowhere near the Tower,” Mouse says.
“Yeah,” Sue says. “You said he was threatening the pilot to take off. He wouldn’t have been able to bring any of us with him. So why would we help him and risk our asses?”
“Maybe he lied to you,” says Wolfe. “Maybe you’re lying to protect yourselves. One interesting thing, though: I never told you he threatened the pilot.”
“It seems Mr. Cooper wasn’t lying after all,” Wolfe says. “Though I doubt it was from lack of trying. Jonathon, how long until the back-up system is online?”
“Approximately an hour, ma’am.”
This whole time, Destro and I have been creeping along the wall. It curves, ever so slightly, and it’s at this point that we come around just enough to see the scene. Wolfe is standing roughly in the middle of the hallway, peering back and forth between several cells. I can see Mouse and Ball Buster in one, Sue in another. I can’t quite see Jackhammer from this angle, but he must be there. All around Wolfe is a squad of assembled guards and a few staff members, including Jonathon and Grim Goatee.
“Very well. Have the team prepare the copter to scour the island once we get the system up and running. It seems Mr. Dickson is still with us.”
“Ma’am,” Jonathon says, looking over a tablet. “There’s a riot in the camp. The missing student is involved.”
“No, ma’am … the other one. Volpe.”
Wolfe sighs. “Just as well we’ve begun preparations already. Right. Tell the men we’re enacting the De-Escalation Protocol. Sergeant Everett?”
Sergeant Grim Goatee steps forward. “Yes, ma’am?”
“May I borrow your weapon?” she says, turning to look at what must be Jackhammer’s cell. I can still hear him pounding at the glass. “It seems we have one last thing to wrap up.”
I hear Sue say, “No way,” but nothing from Jackhammer’s cell. They must have the intercom muted. The pounds grow faster and more frantic, though, as a smirking Grim Goatee walks up to Wolfe and hands her his assault rifle. It sounds like a trapped animal throwing itself against the glass.
“Thank you, sergeant.” Wolfe hefts the weight of the assault rifle as though she’s used to it. “Captain, could you also relieve the sergeant of his sidearm?”
“What? Hey!” It takes Grim Goatee just a second too long to realize another guard has reached around to unholster his pistol. “Hey, get off, you …!”
Wolfe’s pointing his own assault rifle at him.
“I left you in charge of the cell block,” she says, very distinctly. “One way or another, Dickson got out. Cooper has been tightlipped about how that happened, which suggests it was an inside man who he was hoping would break him out post-interrogation. And guards at the gate reported you leaving with a personnel detention vehicle in the middle of the night.”
Sergeant Grim Goatee swallows. “What are you—”
“You’re bright enough to know what I’m saying. Playing dumb just makes you more obviously guilty.” Wolfe raises the gun to shoulder level, sighting along the barrel. “I’m going to ask this just once. Did someone pay you to do it, or was it a private vendetta?”
There’s a long silence. The other blue-camo guards block either direction in the hallway. He’s got nowhere to run.
Grim Goatee swallows again. “Ma’am, you said it yourself. They’re monsters. Animals. It’s in their genes. He would have killed more and you were just going to let him go with a—”
Three loud bangs.
It’s over, just like that. I can’t quite absorb the fact that Wolfe’s shot him before his body is sliding down the opposite wall. I try to think back: Did his body jerk back? Could you see the blood spurting out the other side? But it happened too fast. I can’t remember anything.
Wolfe hoists the gun over her shoulder. “Private Church,” she says, “if you could see to the body.” She nods to the guards, and the troop march off down the hallway.
“Hm,” Destro murmurs. “It would seem there’s a disadvantage to serving in covert organizations.”
The hallway is nearly empty. “Come on,” I say, moving past him.
Church, the puffy-faced idiot from the store, is hoisting up Sergeant Grim Goatee’s body when I slam him on the skull with a metal bedpan. I’m worried he’s going to put up a fight, but instead, he collapses with barely a whimper.
“Huh,” Ball Buster says, as I step over Church’s body. “Honestly didn’t know if you were going to cut and run or what.”
“I make it a point not to desert friends,” I say, examining the pad. It looks like a biometric scanner of some sort. We might have to just smash the glass open, though that would probably set off the alarm. “Besides, who’d leave someone behind to die in a dump like this?”
“We gonna stand around and jaw, or are we gonna open up the damn doors?” Sue calls from the next cell over.
“Looking at it,” I say. “Destro, are you a locksmith too?”
“That’s not really a lock,” Destro says, looking over my shoulder. “And I’d guess that the biometric scanner tests DNA as well as the handprint. That would be my guess. So they know if it’s a Nephilim trying to break his friends out.”
“Okay,” says Ball Buster, “what are you doing here? In a guard’s uniform?”
Destro smiles. “Sightseeing.”
“If you get a straight answer out of him, let me know,” I say, standing up. My foot bumps against something. I look down and see Grim Goatee’s body.
I wince. “Hang on. Got an idea.”
“Why, what’s the—” Sue stops as the samurai sword flashes in my hand, and I bring it down hard on Grim Goatee’s hand.
I’d sort of hoped it’d come off in one slice, but it’s stubbornly persistent, especially the bone. Mouse and Destro give me some pointers, but it takes me about five or six chops and some sawing around to finally hack the thing off.
“You realize you could have just picked him up and moved him over,” Ball Buster says, as I pick up the blood-soaked half-arm.
I wipe the sweat off my face. “You couldn’t have thought of that before?”
“The fuck you even bring that for, man?” Sue asks. “You basically be a walking knife drawer.”
“Tell you what: next time you can break me out.” I press the bloody hand to the panel. It chimes and pops open. Mouse is next. They point out Sidewinder on the other side (between Jackhammer and Viper), and I let him out.
There’s been a lot of pounding on the glass behind me. I finally turn to look at Jackhammer’s cell. He’s yelling, shouting, gesturing. I can’t hear a damn thing, with the intercom off, but it’s pretty easy to guess what he’s saying.
I look at him, then at the arm in my hand.
Besides, who would leave somebody to die in a dump like this?
“Oh, to hell with it,” I say and walk over.
“C’mon, man. Seriously?” Ball Buster says as I approach the panel. “Jackass tried to kill you.”
“Yeah, and I tried to kill him,” I say. I press the severed hand to the panel and the door slides open. “Get out,” I say as Jackhammer crosses the threshold. “I don’t much care how, but get out.”
Jackhammer points at me. “Don’t order me around, you greasy moth—”
I punch him on the jaw, and he gets knocked back a few steps. “Clinic’s that way.” I point up the hallway. “Better let your friends out first.” I toss the bloodied hand at him.
He cringes while rubbing his jaw. “Screw you, Square,” he says and leaves.
“Are we … not leaving?” Mouse asks.
“Not yet,” I say. “This is probably a much better place to get rid of the implants. They’ve got some actual legit surgery rooms we can use here. And if the system’s down again …” I have a thought. “Destro, you wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with those different outages we’ve been having, would you?”
Everyone looks at Destro, who smiles broadly. “Not that time when it hit the whole camp. I may have created a little … distraction when you all had that fight with Jackhammer.”
“Seriously, what is with you?” Ball Buster asks.
“No time for that,” I say. “We need to take care of this now.”
The other guys exchange glances. It’s pretty obvious they don’t like the thought of getting cut into, but it’s also pretty clear they know we don’t have a choice.
Ball Buster sighs. “Show us where.”
“How do you even know where the implants are, Square?” Sue, who insisted on going first, is strapped to the hospital table.
“Grim Goatee said he took mine out when I woke up. There was a patch over the gap in my chest,” I say, looking over the different tools we found in the cabinet. “Wasn’t too hard to work out. Everyone here has a giant section of their breastbone missing. Where else to put a giant tracking device?”
Sue nods. “Makes sense.”
“According to Doc Schaefer, we’re supposed to have something there anyway, so maybe this will go really easily,” I say. “Maybe. Probably should sterilize these scalpels.… Definitely ought to knock you out or something …”
“None of us knows how to be an anesthesiologist,” Ball Buster says. “We’d be just as likely to kill him as knock him out.”
“Just throw a gag in his mouth,” Mouse suggests.
Sue flinches. “Damn, this is gonna hurt, ain’t it.”
I nod. “Especially given how I’m planning to seal it after I’m done.”
I let a butcher knife flame to life in my hand, just to give him the idea.
“Fuck.” Sue closes his eyes. “At least give me something to bite down on.”
Ball Buster sticks a steel pipe in Sue’s mouth. I nearly tell him to cut out the jokes, but then I see his face and realize he’s deadly serious. With a nod to Sue, I pick up the scalpel—presumably they made the stuff here to work on us—and begin cutting.
Sue gives a sharp intake of breath. Remembering what I’ve seen Doc do, I cut an “x” in his chest, right over his breastbone. Blood pools, dark and thick, under the knife, and I’m just getting that that’s going to make it tricky when Sidewinder wipes it off with a sponge. Leaves things a bit smeared but okay.
Mouse is talking in Sue’s ear. Maybe his Aptitude is doing something. I don’t know. I use the little tongs-like tool to grab the flap of skin and pull it back.
And sure enough, there’s the implant. It’s stained red with blood, but the metal surface is still clear to see—there’s even a little blinking light, which … why would you have that on something no-one would ever see?
I’m a bit surprised. I’d expected it to be deeper. Still, this next bit is going to be tricky. It fits neatly into the bone cavity, but the flesh has grown all around it, fusing it with the muscle. I can’t just rip it out. I’m going to have to cut it free. But I don’t have the faintest idea what all these blood vessels and things are supposed to be for.
Well, it’s a good thing we heal quickly.
I go at it with the scalpel and the forceps, Sidewinder sponging away the blood, me cutting bit by bit of muscle. I’m making a bloody mess of it, I can tell. The flesh is more a mangled collection of loose muscle at this point. Sue’s writhing all over the place. Ball Buster and Destro try to hold him down, but Sue’s pretty strong, even for a Nephilim.
Finally, the last of the muscle gets cut away, and I grab the implant with the forceps and pull it free. I look around. “Um … I need to put this … where?”
“Give it here.” Sidewinder grabs it from me. “Just … stitch him up or something.”
“Do you even know how to stitch, Square?” Ball-Buster asks.
“Not exactly,” I say, pulling the skin back across the messed-up surgery. The flaming scalpel comes to life in my hand, and I look at Destro and Ball Buster. “Get ready. This part is really going to be painful.”
There’s a sizzling like hamburger as I press the blade to the wound, and a horrible smell. Absolutely putrid. The pipe in Sue’s mouth starts to bend from how hard he’s biting down on it. He actually throws Ball Buster off him, and Destro frantically grapples with the free arm.
A few painful moments, though, and it’s done. Sue gets off the bed, an “x” scarred into the middle of his chest. “M-m a…” he pants, “ma … ma … m-mother-f-fucker,” he says.
“I’m next,” Ball Buster announces.
“Oh, you … you gonna … you gonna pass out, white boy.” Sue grins at him. “That … that shit hurts right there.”
“Like I’m going to let you beat me.” Ball Buster starts taking off his uniform. “I’ll bet I don’t even scream.”
“Oh, you have no idea, man.” Sue draws a hand over his face.
“Hey,” Sidewinder says from his position over by the counter. “What do you guys know about GPS trackers?”
“My sister worked for a private security business,” Ball Buster says. “What’s up?”
“I’m not an expert,” Sidewinder says. “But doesn’t this seem a bit big for one?”
I look at it, and I see his point. I don’t know anything about homing devices either, but my phone had a GPS tracker, and this is bigger—or at least deeper—than that. It’s about the size of a tennis ball, and the length of two of them. There’s the blinking light on one end, and bits of reddish goo still clinging to it, but there’s also some strange packet-like things on the side. Or bags.
“Battery power, maybe,” Mouse suggests.
“They make pacemakers the size of a dime these days,” Ball Buster says, stepping closer. “This is something different.”
“C4,” says Destro, who’s glaring intensely. “C4, attached to a remote detonator. That’s a bomb.”
“Oh shit!”Sidewinder nearly drops it, then fumbles it, and almost drops it again. “You kidding me?”
“We’ve been walking around with bombs in our chest this whole time?” Mouse asks, stepping forward.
“No … you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me,” Ball Buster says, going up next to Sidewinder. “C4? Seriously? Doesn’t that seem a bit excessive?”
“Better safe than sorry, I suppose,” says Destro.
Ball Buster looks at the implant a moment longer, then strips off his uniform in record time, climbing up onto the table. “Let’s do this, Square.”
“Right,” I say.
The others don’t take long now that I have the feel for it. Mouse is the hardest—probably because he can’t use his Aptitude on himself. He wriggles around something fierce, despite all we can do. Still, he screams the least of any of them, and he’s the last, so it’s mercifully quick.
We’re pretty messed up when we struggle back out. Of the group, I’m probably the most fit to fight, simply by virtue of not having just undergone surgery. I’m worried about how we’re going to get past the checkpoints, but it looks like Jackhammer and his gang took care of that for us.
When we finally get outside, it’s pandemonium.
A snow truck has been flipped end over end just outside the clinic, smashing through the wire fencing. The blue-camo guards that were inside have spilled out in a heap, unconscious or possibly dead. Even as we’re taking this in, a red parka shape comes flying out of nowhere and crashes into the clinic, scattering the flimsy drywall. He picks himself up, just long enough for us to see who it is—Big Bear—and then leaps back towards the center, eyes glowing red.
The camp’s in an uproar. Half the towers are cracked in half, but it seems almost by accident, as most of the fighting seems to be between the campers. Even as we clamber onto the snow, we see campers getting punched into buildings, into towers, leaping after each other, hurling pieces of wall across the campground. Gunfire chatters over the scene, but if anyone’s being shot, I can’t see it.
“Holy shit,” says Ball Buster.
“Guess some folks are dealing with grudges from the fights,” Sue says.
“We need to go.” Destro’s face is fixed in a tight grimace. “Now.”
We’re halfway across the camp when an explosion rocks the camp. I look back, and I see the dancing flame in the sky again. For the first time I realize what it is.
Something streaks downward from the sky, hitting the ground with a massive BOOM. Fireballs blossom outward. Was that a Templar, landing on the camp? Some sort of Aptitude? Is the camp being bombed?
Shapes fly across the cabin roofs; an APC is flipping end over end. Even on the girls’ side—largely ignored up till now—buildings are crashing apart. In the red glow of the fire, I see shapes rising into the sky, while down below, a feminine figure picks up one of the snowmobiles and throws it at the approaching Humvees. It’s too far to make out, but the gleaming long hair looks familiar.