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  “How long does it usually take?” Birdie inquired.

  “Depends on how we die, and how many times it’s happened before. Could be anywhere between a few hours and several days.”

  “Apparently, the more you die,” Brian added, “The faster your body knows what to do to regenerate itself.”

  “That seems… strange,” Birdie commented. “You’d think it’d be just the opposite.”

  “Around here, you’ll find a lot of things don’t really follow the scientific laws you were raised to understand,” Kale glanced at her, just as they reached a set of navy blue lockers. She pulled up on the handle before pulling one of the locker doors open. “Lucky for you, I plan ahead,” she told her as she pulled out a neatly folded pile of clothing. “Your uniform. Go and get changed. Can’t have you running around enforcing laws in hospital scrubs. When you’re ready, meet me across the hall. I’ll get you your access card and weapon. You,” she looked to Brian, “Can come with me, if you want. We could use a hand around here, unless you wanna go underground until this all blows over.”

  “Why is everyone going underground, by the way?” Birdie asked.

  “Media,” Kale raised her brows. “As soon as they catch wind of the crash, they’ll be swarming the area with helicopters. People go under because this place needs to be kept a secret.”

  “Won’t the obvious civilization give it away?” she furrowed her brows in confusion.

  “Once the people are safely locked down,” she replied as she walked over to a computer panel, “Everything else goes under, too.” With a few clicks on the keypad, a hologram-like screen popped up showing the island at street view. “This green light here,” she pointed beside the screen, “Means lock-down is complete. That means clean-up should be starting right about…” Moments after she said it, Birdie watched as the coffee shop she’d been in the morning started to lower into the ground, then several of the buildings around it. “Now.”

  “You’ve gotta be… kidding me,” she watched in awe. The gears in the foundation she thought were mere decoration, were actually functional. “How deep does all this underground stuff go?”

  “We’ve got a support system that goes all the way to the Atlantic Ocean floor,” she replied. “But as far as the evac tunnels, a few hundred feet down, spanning a little over half our section of the island.”

  “I didn’t know that,” Brian shook his head.

  “It’s where First Gens started out,” she explained. “Before they realized the negative side-effects of forcing people to live underground. Proprietor scientists and architects decided there was a better way and devised the plans to build this place. But the Defectors actually get the credit for sealing the deal with the CIA. They figured the deserting issue would be resolved if they gave us a little leeway.”

  “I take it that didn’t work out very well,” Birdie replied.

  “I understand why people left, initially,” Kale shook her head. “But once we were treated more humanely, given more than just what we needed, the Defectors became less of a crusade for better treatment, and more of a group of runaways constantly looking to stir up trouble.”

  “I’d say killing a plane filled with military personnel that can’t regenerate, is a little more than stirring up trouble,” Birdie stated.

  * * *

  “Why don’t I get a uniform?” Brian asked as the three of them started a patrol on the far east side of the island with one other agent. He’d never actually gotten to see his sister working, before. It was one thing he’d always wished he could do. But asking if he could do a ride-along with his big sister while she was on duty… well, it seemed like a silly thing to ask. Now, however, as he walked alongside another agent that was patrolling with them, he saw how Birdie carried herself when in uniform.

  Most of their lives, before coming to the island, Birdie seemed to try and hide within herself. That showed in her stature. Being tall, she’d made a point even as a child to try and shrink. But in uniform, she stood tall and professionally, as if her height was part of the ensemble. She seemed graceful and secure and as if she’d left everything she normally carried on her shoulders, back in a precinct locker.

  “Because you’re not an Observer,” Kale replied, smirking though he couldn’t see her face.

  “Isn’t there an acting-agent uniform?” he asked.


  “There should be an acting-agent uniform.”

  “I’ll bring it up the the boss,” Kale replied, glancing over at Birdie, who was now smiling out of his sight as well.

  “You just want Agent Kale to see what a great ass you have,” Birdie said just loud enough for him to hear.

  “Shut up!” he quietly shouted back, and Birdie laughed.

  “Defectors at three o’clock,” the officer to the right of Brian told them. Birdie was suddenly alert, as well as Brian.

  Kale looked in that direction, spotting the handful of people he was telling them about, walking through the thick area of trees. “Julian, back-track and cut them off. Brian, go with him. Stay behind and cover him. Farran, you’re with me. We’ll get behind them. Anyone who can get a shot off, take it. Watch your backs.”

  Birdie shared a long glance with Brian, worried, even though she knew he’d be okay. They couldn’t be killed… right? She gave him a quick nod, then turned to follow Kale. This part of the island was like the woods back in Virginia, where Birdie and Brian had gone on their one single hiking trip together. The trees were enough to keep from seeing beyond the expanse, but sparse enough to run through without giving yourself a concussion by smacking into one.

  The split-up team didn’t take long to surround the intruding Proprietors. “Hold it!” Birdie called out. Kale gave her a shocked face for a fraction of a second, before taking aim on the alerted Defectors and firing. Two went down. Two took off running toward where Brian and Julian were likely closing in. One stayed to fire back.

  Birdie took aim and hit the taller man, and he fell back hitting the ground with a thud, and went still.

  “What was that, Farran?” Kale shouted as they took off after the two runaways.

  “What do you mean?”

  “This isn’t the mainland police! You don’t have to identify yourself. Not when it’s Defectors!”

  “I didn’t know…”

  “Well, now you do,” she took aim in front of her, firing and hitting one of the remaining Defectors who fell forward and stumbled mid-run. The last one started firing ahead of him, and the agents heard one last shot before they watched him fall. Kale spoke into the comm on her shoulder, “Julian. Location?” There was no answer. “Agent Julian,” she said again.

  A shiver ran down Birdie’s spine, and she took off in the direction they were facing. “Brian?” she shouted as she ran.

  “Agent Julian’s been shot!” Brian called out as he came into view. He was crouched down beside Julian’s body.

  “I’m fine,” Julian insisted. “Just my leg.”

  Kane reached them and crouched down to examine the wound herself. “Still bleeding,” she observed. “You should get to sickbay or you’ll bleed out before it regenerates. I can’t afford to be another man out, right now.”

  “Right,” Julian breathed bravely through the pain.

  Kale spoke into her shoulder comm again, “This is Agent Kale. We need a med unit in Grid A, sector…” she glanced around for a moment, “Sector eighteen.” She looked over at Birdie, “It’s been a while since I was on patrol on this side of the island.”

  “Med unit three responding,” came a voice over the comm. “How many, Agent Kale?”

  “Five intruders, down. They need to be taken to detention. One Observer wounded and in need of immediate medical response.”

  “Roger that. Sending a bus and a med unit. Five minutes, Agent Kale.”

  Brian quickly slipped off his leather belt and started to tie it around Julian’s thigh. “It’s bleeding a lot. Five minutes could be too late if regeneration
doesn’t kick in any time soon.”

  “What could slow it down like that?” Birdie asked.

  “I’m not sure,” Kale replied, shaking her head as she assessed her wounded agent. “I’ve never seen this before, except…” her sentence tapered off as her eyes grew momentarily distant. She blinked, shaking her head as if to clear it. “I’ve never seen this before,” she said, pushing up and moving to survey the area.

  Birdie furrowed her brows in thought, then looked up at Brian. He was looking at the back of Kale’s head with some sort of suspicion, then met Birdie’s eyes and realized they were thinking along the same lines.

  * * *

  “Sitrep!” Kale shouted over the noise, as they approached the subterranean walkway leading to the medical center. Two officers fell into stride alongside her, Brian and Birdie following quickly, but staying out of the way. The walkway was kind of dark, and it smelled stale.

  “Twenty-three Defectors in custody, Agent Kale,” one of the agents reported. “Nineteen in detention. Four in interrogation. Apprehended weapons are in O.S.”

  “What about us?” she asked as they continued to walk.

  “Three agents are in the sickbay regeneration unit. Four more are wounded and receiving treatment. Regeneration doesn’t seem to have started for any of them.”

  “Anyone?” Kale slowed her steps and looked over at the reporting agent for the first time since they’d started talking.

  “Not for anyone shot, Agent Kale.”

  “Agent Kale!” an older man, salt and pepper hair, waved from sickbay’s hatch, urgently.

  Kale glanced to the agents around her. “Keep me posted on interrogations,” she told them. “Dismissed.”

  They turned and filed out, passing Brian and Birdie, and allowed them to catch up to her as Kale stopped in front of the older man. “Aaron, how’s Agent Julian?” she asked. The doctor was tall, Birdie observed. Taller than her, but not quite as tall as Brian. Brian was like a giant, and she’d periodically jokingly pick on him about it, only because she was insecure about her own height. Birdie had been six feet tall since the seventh grade. Brian had shot up and surpassed her by the time he was twenty. Then all of the, “Do you play basketball?” questions skipped over her, and landed on his six foot four self. Brian wasn’t very athletic, though. He was competitive as all hell, and would never back down from a challenge.

  The doctor was cute, Birdie noted. He filled out his lab coat well, and it was obvious that he took good care of himself, unlike some of the doctors she’d known in her past life.

  “There’s no change,” he told Agent Kale. “I’ve stabilized his leg for the meantime, but he requires surgery. There’s a bullet lodged in the muscle right at the femoral nerve.”

  “Could that be stopping regeneration?” Kale tilted her head in confusion.

  “I don’t see how,” the doctor replied. “Too tell you the truth, I don’t know what’s going on, here. I’ve got two other agents who aren’t regenerating, either.”

  “Could the Defectors have released something into the air?”

  “I don’t think so. One agent healed up just fine. He was impaled in the abdomen by metal piping, after a fall. They brought him in for the blood loss. He’s doing just fine.”

  “So this has something to do with the bullets,” Birdie surmised. The doctor looked over at her.

  Kale glanced back at Birdie and Brian as if just remembering they were there. “Aaron, this is our newest agent, Amber Farran.”

  “Birdie,” she corrected, holding her hand out.

  “And this is Dr. Aaron Foster,” Kale introduced.

  “Nice to meet you,” Birdie shook his hand once he grabbed it, unable to hold back a little smile when his eyes met hers.

  “Likewise,” he returned the smile. “And I suspect you may be right. About the bullets, I mean,” he gently pulled his hand away and grabbed hold of the chart under his arm. “I think it’d be a good idea to get a team together to give the intruders’ weapons a closer examination. In the meantime, I need someone to sign off on Agent Julian’s medical treatment.”

  “Can’t he do that?” Kale asked.

  “If he were conscious,” Foster replied. “Blood loss and all. He’s got you listed as a medical proxy.”

  “Really?” she rose a surprised brow.

  “They don’t ever think they’ll need that to be known,” Foster told her, “With this place not usually needing too much use. But clearly he respects you enough to know you’ll make a responsible decision should the event arise that he needed one to be made.”

  Kale nodded, swallowing as she let that absorb. “Okay,” she said as she straightened. “What do I need to do?”

  “Just sign here,” he told her. She took the pen and signed the line he’d pointed out. “Thank you.”

  “You’ll keep me updated on his condition?” she asked. “And the others, as well,” she added as an afterthought.

  “Of course, Jeri,” he gave a small smile. “Should I contact your home number, or get on the comm?”

  Kale seemed caught off guard at the use of her first name. Not many people called her by that. Not anymore. “I’ll probably not be home any time soon. But you can comm in and ask if I’m available. Then feel free to call my home,” she told him. “Thank you, Aaron.” He nodded and turned to quickly make his way back inside.

  Kale stood there and watched him walk away until the doors hissed closed. And when she still stood there watching nothing, Birdie stepped up beside her. “Kale?” Some strange twinge of jealousy tingled in Birdie’s stomach, just at the fact that Kale and the doctor were on a first name basis. She quickly shoved that aside, though. Something was bothering the agent.

  Kale shook her head slightly, and looked to her. “We need to get over to O.S,” she turned and started back up the walkway.

  “What’s O.S.?” Birdie asked as she and Brian followed her.

  “Ordnance Storage,” she supplied. “It’s where we keep any recovered weapons, and replacements if we should ever need them. It’s not a large facility, but it’s all we normally need.”

  “Pardon me for bringing this up,” Brian said, “But if my math is correct, there are like four agents not out of commission right now. Aren’t you kinda freaking out at all? Because I feel like someone should be freaking out right now…”

  “Mr. Farran, I am aware of the current situation,” Kale replied without breaking stride or looking at him. “I can tell you that I am trying to process our options, and that I am finding it difficult to calculate how it would be possible with the meager amount of agents at my disposal. But ‘freaking out’, as you so eloquently put it, would be the opposite of help for our current situation.”

  They took an access door off the side of sickbay, and stepped through into an even smaller walkway. Lights flickered on as they walked, and Birdie tried her best to not even allow herself to think about the confining space they were in. If she let herself think about it, she’d start to panic.

  “So uh… Mind if I ask what you did before you came here?” she asked Kale as a distraction.

  “Like a job?” Kale asked, glancing at her momentarily, before looking forward on their path. “Well, as soon as I graduated, I joined the Navy,” she told them. “I was a Navy brat. Both my parents served. Well, Dad was a Marine. I felt like I had to. Like a family right of passage thing. I served four years. Thought I’d end up at NCIS, but the Secret Service snagged me. Something about my service record and testing scores making me a perfect candidate.”

  “Secret Service over Naval Criminal Investigation?” Birdie asked. “I’d have picked the one where I didn’t have to wear a suit,” she smirked.

  “Secret Service sounded more dangerous,” Birdie replied. “Also, less incompetent.” She immediately shook her head at the choice of wording. “Not… not that NCIS is incompetent. I meant that Secret Service was more ‘all business’, and I needed that. I couldn’t tolerate people who weren’t there to work.”
br />   “I understand,” Birdie nodded, though Kale wasn’t looking at her. “I spent a lot of days wondering how some guys made it into the DEA.”

  “Oh yeah,” Kale glanced at her again, before stopping at another hatch door. “I almost forgot you were with them before you were a beat cop.” She pulled open the hatch and looked at them both again before heading inside. “Most of our agents were beat cops in their former lives. Not that they usually need any more experience to work on the island.” She let the others in and closed the hatch behind them. “But it’s difficult sometimes, being one of the few who takes things seriously.”

  “Sounds like my last job,” Birdie smirked.

  “Sounds like why I work alone,” Brian chimed in.

  Kale made a small sound that might’ve been a laugh. “Alright, this is it,” she said as they walked through a set of double doors. Birdie and Brian took a look around. It wasn’t exactly small, as it’d been described to them. But it definitely wasn’t very complex, either. It looked like a super-sized storage unit; rows and rows of metal shelving, filled with storage containers. In front of it all was a small table that was covered in papers and looking very much like a work area. The chair, however, was empty. Kale seemed to have been expecting someone there. “Of course,” she mumbled to herself.

  “This looks like something out of a science fiction show I used to watch,” Brian commented as he looked around. “The place where they stored all the files of information and evidence on conspiracies they were covering up.”

  “Oh, I know what show you mean! It does!” Birdie agreed, then looked to Agent Kale to see if she understood. But the agent’s face was expressionless and unamused, glaring a bit at her. The smile dropped from Birdie’s face. “Sorry.”

  Kale turned toward her comm. “I need a weapon’s expert in O.S,” she spoke. “Anyone who can be spared. Preferably Maverick,” she added.

  A moment passed in silence, and then a scratchy voice sounded over the speaker, “I hear you finally want a piece of ol’ Mav.” Laughter could be heard on the other end. Kale swiped a hand down her face. “What can I do you for, Agent Kale?”

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