Ignite, p.14

Ignite, page 14

 

Ignite
 


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  “What?” Lara leaned forward in her chair.

  “Why?” Eduardo looked wary.

  Trina shrugged. “He’s got a plan to use them against her. Expose her as corrupt and get her removed from the director’s post.”

  That increased Eduardo’s frown. “If he buys those formulas, he should make sure they’re destroyed.”

  Lara asked, “Do you know any more about his plan?”

  David sat back down in his place on the sofa. “Mitch appears to be doing the wrong thing for the right reason. No great surprise, really.”

  Grace nodded. “Buying the formulas from Madalyn is an interesting move.”

  Trina relaxed a little. Okay, good. Now everyone’s on the same page. “He said he was pretending to be the leader of a terrorist organization.”

  “Then it’s a sting operation.” David looked gleeful. “Nothing like fighting tyranny with subterfuge—and a healthy dose of the truth. If I could just get to what’s on this chip drive …”

  “David, Tom trusted you with his secrets.” Grace tried not to smile. “Although I must admit, since it’s about Madalyn, I hope it’s something truly awful.”

  Eduardo said, “We’re all part of the Resistance. We should work out our plans together, no?”

  Trina nodded. “I agree we’ll be more effective if we all have the same information. I also overheard him speaking with Victor Martel. He said Martel’s part of the Resistance.”

  David rubbed his palms together as though contemplating evil deeds. “The head of Essential Services? He’s one of us?”

  “Martel’s definitely in the Resistance. Essential Services didn’t plan the food riots, but Mitch and Martel took advantage of what happened to make the point that depending on the government for food wasn’t such a good idea. Remember, Mitch said that the best way to expose Madalyn’s incompetence was to pile problems on top of problems and let her crash and burn.”

  Grace chuckled. “Crash and burn indeed. How will we ever know what’s going on in Mitch’s head?”

  “Why don’t you just ask?” They all turned toward Mitch’s voice as he strode into the room, Jaycee at his heels.

  Lara looked past them. “Where’s Tommy? Why isn’t he with you?”

  Mitch hesitated. “Yeah. About that …”

  “What? What’s happened?”

  “The QM showed up, pretty much on cue, and took Tom to the capital. Tommy arrived after they’d left, and he and Danni followed the convoy to the capital. They sent a message to say they made it to our safe house there.” Lara nodded, and Mitch congratulated himself; the minimalist spin on what had happened sounded pretty good, even to his own ears.

  “Tom insisted he was the only member of the Resistance here, and the QM bought it, for the most part. But …” He paused as though this were the worst thing that had happened that evening. “The QM shut down the diner.”

  Jaycee gasped. “Daddy, why didn’t you tell me?”

  “What does that mean, exactly?” Trina asked. “Will they force you to leave?”

  “I’m not sure. As far as shutting down, you know it’s not the diner itself as much as what else goes on there. If people occasionally come and go, it doesn’t look suspicious when members of the Resistance or people transporting black market goods are among them. But we’ll be watched from now on, and that could affect some of Danni’s business dealings. On the other hand, we live at the diner, so unless they force us out entirely, we should be able to keep working in a limited capacity.”

  Lara spoke up. “I’m afraid Tom going back to confront Madalyn is going to put us in greater jeopardy. We can’t all stay in this bunker forever, either. It’s time to relocate to another quadrant.”

  “The QM will be watching the roads, searching vehicles for members of the Resistance. They had a list of names. Everyone was on it but Eduardo, Jaycee, and me.”

  Eduardo nodded. “If we go, it should be in small groups anyway, no?”

  Mitch reached into his coat pocket. “Yeah. You and Lara could leave first.” He produced an authentic-looking government ID card for Lara and a travel pass. “I had this made for you weeks ago, as soon as we found out you and Tom were alive. Eduardo, you’re safe using your real ID. As far as we know, you’re not on their radar.”

  “What about me, Daddy?”

  “I told you. You’re not going anywhere.”

  “It’s just as dangerous here as anywhere. This isn’t a secret hideout anymore.”

  “No. You’re too young.”

  “Eduardo and Lara need me! Neither of them can handle a gun like I can. You won’t go because you’re afraid. But I’m not. Wes would totally understand. He wanted to go, too. Now it’s my turn. I’m not going to be stuck at the diner my whole life.”

  She buried her face in Lara’s shoulder and sniffled as though trying not to cry. Lara stroked the girl’s unruly, rust-colored hair and gave Mitch a helpless look over her head.

  Mitch shook his head. “You don’t even know where they’re going. They don’t even know where they’re going!”

  “OP-439.” Lara and Eduardo spoke at the same time.

  Eduardo grinned. “We can use my apartment for now. If Tom joins us it might be too crowded, though.”

  “Eventually, we’ll all need to go to the capital, right, Mitch?” Trina’s look left no room for argument, and he threw up his hands.

  “Maybe. Yeah. Looks like it.”

  Jaycee released Lara and turned to her father, no tears in sight. “So, we’ll meet you there really soon! Please, Daddy?”

  Mitch sighed, and the delight on her face told Trina that Jaycee had taken his failure to answer as a yes.

  Chapter 34

  1:09 PM

  Quadrant DC-001

  Back in the car, Kevin slumped against the seat and resolved to leave Mitch’s secret transmitter behind next time he had a meeting with the president. Why had he repeated the wrong thing? He’d sounded like he couldn’t keep his train of thought. At the crucial moment, Mitch’s presence had been so distracting that it had hurt more than it helped. He felt like he’d run a marathon. “I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight.”

  As Madalyn keyed rapidly on her phone, the chipped polish on her right index finger drew his eye. She didn’t look up. “Your suite of rooms on the third floor is ready. They’re right next to your office.”

  “I was thinking I’d go home—to my apartment.”

  “Oh, that won’t be possible. When the security threat is at Elevated or above, the director and the assistant director stay on-site. It’s the best way to assure our safety.”

  “But all my stuff … my clothes—”

  “I had the tailor bring you a complete wardrobe and put everything away in your closet. You can’t possibly need a thing from your old apartment. Pick up your keys from Nicole when we get back.”

  The car had slowed to a crawl. “Driver, can’t you hurry up? I’ve got appointments and things to do.”

  “I’m sorry, Madam Director. Road’s closed up ahead, but I didn’t get any indication of an accident on the GPS.”

  Kevin peered out the tinted windows.

  Madalyn was engrossed in sending a text. “Find another road.”

  “I can’t, ma’am; we’re gridlocked. This is as fast as we can go until we get past whatever’s blocking the intersection.”

  Nearly everyone who still had driving privileges was a government worker; traffic snarls were common in the capital and surrounding quadrants. Madalyn, whose eyes were still glued to her phone, hadn’t noticed what Kevin had seen as he watched the crowds on the sidewalk. The CXD symbol was everywhere—inked on people’s clothing and spray-painted on the walls of buildings.

  They’d been idling in the same spot for five minutes when she looked up again. “Well? What’s the matter?”

  “Looks like there’s a big crowd of people in the intersection.”

  “Honk the horn and make them move! Don’t they know who I am?”
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  The driver leaned on the horn. As if on cue, people spilled off the sidewalk and into traffic, swarming the cars on the road.

  Madalyn shrieked and shrank away from the window as the crowd enveloped the car. Fingers shaking, she dialed 911. “The middle of the road cannot be a Restriction-Free Zone!”

  2:30 PM

  As soon as the car pulled up in front of the OCSD, Madalyn shouted orders to the driver. “Don’t go anywhere! I’ll need to leave again shortly. Stay right here!” She threw open the car door and hurried inside. Kevin went straight for the restroom and dug the tiny transmitter out of his ear.

  The outer door opened with a bang, and he jumped. He lost his grip on the transmitter, and it ricocheted off the edge of the sink. “Shit!” He trapped it under his palm as it bounced toward the drain. He was so intent on what he was doing that he was startled to see a tall, thin man reflected in the mirror beside him.

  “You the new assistant director?”

  Kevin shoved his hand into his pants pocket as he turned around. “Yeah. I mean yes.”

  The other man extended his hand. “I’m Hoyt Garrick, Chief QM.” Kevin dropped the transmitter into his pocket before he shook hands, but his composure was shot.

  Garrick inclined his head toward the door. “There are some things we need to discuss right away. Come with me.”

  “Umm, all right.” Kevin followed him into the lobby.

  “How about we talk in your office?”

  Kevin pushed the Down elevator button out of habit and then hastily punched Up before Garrick noticed.

  As soon as they were safely inside the assistant director’s office, Garrick locked the door, strode over to the computer, and loaded a chip drive. Kevin glanced around for an escape route, but he didn’t even know which of the other doors led to his suite of rooms. This space had only been his for a few hours.

  Garrick folded his arms. “Madalyn has no idea, does she? You’re a Resistance spy.”

  Kevin gulped, and before he had time to respond, Garrick started playback of a video file. Cold fear spread to his fingertips as he watched himself follow Trina and Tommy into her lab. I’m gonna be locked in the secure ward before my first day as assistant director is over.

  But as he and Garrick watched the surveillance tape, worries about his current situation took a back seat. Tommy had stayed behind in the lab to wait for some of Stratford’s files to download, and Kevin had never wondered what happened while they were apart. Now he watched as a security guard entered the lab. He’d been no match for Tommy, who’d knocked him out and dragged him out of sight behind the desk as if it was no big deal.

  “If circumstances were different, I’d want that kid in the QM. But that’s not likely to happen, is it?”

  Kevin didn’t answer.

  Garrick shut off the video. “Look, I won’t say anything to Madalyn. I want you to help me.”

  “Help you how?”

  “Why were you and Trina Jacobs with Tommy Bailey? What does he have to do with Stratford’s death?”

  “Nothing. He and Careen were there to rescue his parents. Trina didn’t have anything to do with it, either. I won’t help you frame her.” Double agent he could handle. But would this make him a triple agent? He wasn’t sure he could keep track of the lies it would take to pull that off.

  “Relax. I’m certain Trina didn’t do it. But what’s Tommy Bailey’s connection to all this? His parents faked their own deaths last July, and now he’s wanted for taking part in the university bombing.”

  “No, they didn’t. Their disappearance was an OCSD plan to silence Tom’s opposition to the Restrictions. After the accident, they were brought here and held down in the secure ward for months. I know because I saw them. So did Trina—and so did Madalyn. Stratford had them moved on the day of the press conference, but Tommy and Careen tracked them down and helped them escape. We all met up at Resistance headquarters. Tom’s a good guy. They’re all good guys.” He glossed over the part about the university bombing. Triple agent or no, he wasn’t helping Garrick build a case against Tommy.

  “So why did Bailey turn himself in to the QM this afternoon?”

  “I don’t know. Can we talk to him without Madalyn?”

  Chapter 35

  3:26 PM

  Quadrant DC-005

  Danni wandered into the kitchen in an oversized sweatshirt and a pair of boxers while Tommy was pouring himself a bowl of cereal. She grabbed an orange out of the fridge and favored him with a sultry grin as she left the room.

  Yesterday, after Atari joined Danni, Tommy had gone downstairs and checked out the gym, but he’d been too tired to be interested in working out. He’d crashed in his room, slept the clock around, and wakened wishing his meals were prepared for him, like at Resistance headquarters.

  He took his cereal into Command Central. Atari was already there, and Tommy shot a sideways glance at him as he settled into the other chair. “Could you show me how to work the surveillance camera thing so I can keep tabs on what’s happening at the OCSD?”

  Atari propped his elbow on the arm of the chair and drummed his fingers against his own cheek as if he were studying Tommy. “Did you seriously—please correct me, because I hope I’m wrong—seriously turn down a literal roll in the hay with Danni?”

  Tommy dropped his head against the back of the chair and closed his eyes. I can’t take three more days of this guy. “You know about that, too, huh?”

  “This is a communications hub. Nothing is secret. Nothing is sacred.”

  “Maybe to you. I disagree.”

  “Oh?”

  “Yeah.” He looked Atari in the eyes. “I love Careen. Turning down Danni was a no-brainer.”

  “Oh, so you listened to your brainer instead of your … gotcha.”

  Change the subject. “So, you handle explosions and fireworks for the Resistance?”

  “Why? You after my job?”

  “No.” He’d had enough of bombs to last him a lifetime. “Just wondered.”

  “I serve a myriad of functions in the organization; that is to say, I wear many hats. My role requires extraordinary technical and people skills, formidable intellect, and, of course, an abundance of charisma. I don’t mind saying that I excel at everything I do for the Resistance.”

  Danni walked past the doorway, and Atari called out, “Don’t I, baby?”

  “Don’t call me that,” she replied without missing a beat.

  Tommy choked his laugh into a cough. “But what exactly do you do?”

  “Okay. I’m not sure I can get it down to words of one syllable for you, so try and keep up. My job in the Resistance is, first and foremost, to create shiny objects to distract Madalyn.”

  Tommy shrugged.

  “But that’s not all. I use my unsurpassed hacking skills to behave like a slowly creeping virus, taking over her world bit by bit. For example, Stratford was totally addicted to his surveillance system, but I’ve been messing with the cameras ever since the day he kicked the bucket. None of their experts have been able to properly diagnose the problem, let alone fix it. Thus, I have trained Madalyn not to rely on it. She doesn’t even use it anymore. I can see her, but she can’t see me. And so we keep tabs on what’s going on over there. Behold.”

  He pecked at one of the keyboards, and Tommy watched closely once he realized Atari wasn’t actually going to explain it to him. Atari pushed back his chair and stood up.

  “Oh, and I blow stuff up. Actually, there was this one time I was hanging upside down under a bridge trying to wire—”

  He left the room, and his voice faded as he wandered down the hall. Puzzled, Tommy waited for him to return and finish the story. He never did.

  Chapter 36

  4:30 PM

  Quadrant DC-001

  A bleating alarm filled the darkness and jerked Careen out of a deep sleep. She groped for the lamp, knocking it over in her haste to turn it on. She swung her legs out of bed and righted the lamp, but its soft glow had barely
penetrated the inky blackness of the windowless room when the overhead sprinklers activated, showering her with cold water.

  There’s a fire! She raced around the bed to the door, heedless of the pain that shot through her body. Her fingers slipped as she tried to grip the unyielding doorknob. Water ran down her face as she pounded on the heavy door, screaming to be heard over the alarm. What if no one comes for me? Will they remember I’m locked in?

  She pushed her wet hair off her face, dropped to her knees and sniffed near the bottom of the door. Smoke. She jumped up and ran into the bathroom, skidding on the marble floor, and grabbed a towel off the rack, the memory of a school fire-safety lesson in mind as she turned on the tub faucet.

  She was lifting the soaked, heavy towel out of the tub when the alarm went silent. She hurried back into the bedroom, so intent on preserving her air supply that she bumped into the guard before she saw him.

  Careen shrieked and clutched the wet towel to her chest, rivulets of water pooling on the carpet around her feet. The door to the hallway stood open; there was no smoke, no fire. She began to shiver uncontrollably.

  She dropped the towel as the guard slipped the hated black hood over her head. He took her by the arm and led her from the room.

  The sound of her chattering teeth filled the space inside the hood. Her bare feet felt the thick carpet in the hallway as she stumbled along beside the guard, tugging at her wet pajama top with her free hand so it wouldn’t cling to her in the wrong places.

  She prayed there really was a fire. If she could just get outside, maybe she could escape. It wouldn’t matter that it was December, and she was already freezing cold.

 
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