Ignite, page 18
The only decent smile at a burial was a sad one, so she did her best not to appear too pleased by his attention. “Seamus, I’d, well …” She glanced at her father, who was staring at her like he was watching her walk the edge of a cliff blindfolded. “I’d like to, but no. I’m sorry. I can’t.”
“Good-bye.” She touched his jacket sleeve, wondering what might have happened between them if she weren’t leaving for OP-439 right away. She returned to her father’s side, and Seamus left the cemetery without looking back.
“What was that all about?”
“Nothing, Daddy. He’s just a boy.”
She could tell he wanted to ask more questions, but instead he turned his attention to the funeral director who had come to stand at his elbow. “Go ahead. Let him down and fill it in.”
“Are you sure, Mitch? We can wait till after you’ve gone.”
“No, I’d rather you did it now.”
Mitch stooped and picked up a clump of the freshly turned earth, and Jaycee did the same. They stood poised at the edge of the grave until the whirring of the winch ceased. He tossed the dirt into the hole; again, she copied his movements.
The ritual complete, Mitch threaded his way through the generations of departed members of the Carraway clan. Jaycee trailed behind, pausing to read names and dates. She felt much less connected to the family that lay here under the ground than she did to the members of the Resistance. Mitch stopped by one of the oldest graves and waited for her to catch up. “We gotta change into work clothes before we come back.”
“Back? To do what?”
“To dig, of course.”
“But Daddy, I’m leaving this afternoon, remember? Eduardo and Lara are waiting for me.”
“Not so fast you’re not. I need your help.”
“That’s not fair! You said—”
Someone cleared his throat behind them.
She whirled around and recognized one of the pallbearers.
“Is there a family gathering afterward?”
“No.” Mitch spoke abruptly, and Jaycee couldn’t tell if the anger in his voice was directed at her or the interloper.
“I’m sorry to intrude, but I came to the funeral partly because I wanted to meet Wes’s family. I’m Henry Nelson.” The marshal extended his hand. When neither of them made a move to shake it, he hesitated for a moment and then exclaimed, “Look, I don’t know how much you know about what’s going on …”
Mitch raised his eyebrows.
“My post commander’s not doing a thing to bring Wes’s killer to justice. He’s too worried it’ll look bad to acknowledge there was a terrorist cell in OP-439. Careen Catecher is getting off scot-free, with a cushy new job at the OCSD to boot. But I don’t think she acted alone when she blew up the student center.
“I was Wes’s closest friend in the marshals. I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t do my utmost to arrest Tommy Bailey myself.”
“I have an exclusive for you.”
Sheila Roth, who was having her makeup done for the evening broadcast, caught Madalyn’s eye in the mirror and smiled. “Madam Director! What a lovely surprise.” She glanced around. “Pete’s not here right now. Naturally, I’d include him if he were, but since he’s not …” She stood up and took Madalyn’s arm, leading her away from the hair and makeup staff.
Madalyn pulled a chip drive from her handbag. “Do you happen to remember Tom Bailey?”
“Killed in a car accident last summer; the wife died, too. Left a son …” Sheila’s eyes lit up as recognition dawned. “Tommy Bailey. Why didn’t I make that connection myself? I must be slipping.”
Madalyn lowered her voice. “You’ll never guess who’s back from the grave. And you get the exclusive on the story.” She handed her the chip drive and a sealed envelope. “Here’s your list of questions and answers. Pick a producer who can help you—one who will keep his mouth shut. This is going to have a huge impact in the fight against the Resistance. Can I count on you to take on more assignments like this in the future?”
Madalyn smiled to herself as she took the elevator up to the top floor. Sheila had salivated at the thought of breaking such a huge story.
Outside one of the small soundstages, she summoned Careen’s security guard.
“Bring her here.”
He nodded and disappeared down the hall. She let herself in, powered up one spotlight, and waited in the darkness until the guard returned with Careen and steered her into the center of the room.
She was snarly-haired and doe-eyed after spending twenty-four hours huddled on the floor in a broom closet, but she stood with her chin lifted. So her spirit wasn’t broken yet? Madalyn felt a thrill of triumph run through her body. She was finally going to snuff out the hope that fed the girl’s inner strength.
She walked up to the edge of the circle of light. “Careen, you’ve achieved true celebrity status. The death threats you’ve been receiving were obviously real. We had to take emergency measures and keep you sequestered overnight. For your safety. I hope you weren’t too uncomfortable.” She paused for effect. “Tom Bailey was here.”
Madalyn’s anger flared as the girl’s eyes darted about, obviously hoping to see him. “He is?”
“He was. He and his son organized that lynch mob that broke in looking for you. But you don’t have to worry about them anymore. They’re in custody.”
Careen dropped her gaze to the floor.
“You’re safe now, of course. But they were here to kill you. Listen to what Tom Bailey said during his interrogation.”
She held out a digital recorder and pushed Play. Tom’s voice came through loud and clear. “It’s ridiculous to assume Careen was ever important to the Resistance. Kids can be idealistic and read into things. The Resistance has the power to destroy … her. She’s a liability that needs to be eliminated.”
The girl’s shoulders began to shake.
Madalyn turned off the recording. “I’ve been telling you all along, Careen; the Resistance never cared about you. Now that you’ve ceased to be useful to them, they’ll stop at nothing to eliminate you. The safest place for you is here. You’ll have plenty to eat and you’ll live long enough to wear all the pretty clothes in your closet as long as you remain under my protection. If you want that protection, you must demonstrate your unwavering loyalty to the OCSD. Do you understand?”
She nodded, her expression passive.
“Go back to your room to get dressed properly. You have an appointment in an hour.”
Careen held back her tears until she was in the shower. The Resistance was the closest thing to family I’ve ever had. I cared about them more than I cared about myself. I sacrificed myself for nothing. Even Tommy’s turned against me. How could I be so stupid? She looked down at her battered body and a fresh wave of sobs broke over her. I did everything I could do. I’m done resisting. Done fighting for people who are trying to hurt me. I’ve been alone for most of my life. It’s no different now.
Three hours before, Atari had breezed into Command Central, startling Tommy away from what he’d been reading.
He’d grabbed the game controller and let his avatar fire round after round into the air in what Tommy assumed was some sort of celebration.
“How am I going to guess?”
“I’ll give you a hint.”
“I considered several options before I decided what centaurs must do with their arms when they run.”
“What the hell kind of a hint is that?”
Atari let out an annoying cackle. “Too subtle for you, apparently, no-brain … er.”
“I don’t know. You figured out a way to pierce the shield without activating the Link?”
“No. How would you infer something like that from centa
If he doesn’t want to tell me, fine. Disappearing in the middle of conversations was high up on Tommy’s list of Annoying Things Atari Does.
Tommy needed a break from watching the monitors in Command Central. His dad had met with Madalyn earlier in the day, but without audio, it looked just like another another boring meeting to him. Then his dad’s guards had locked him back in his room and taken their posts outside the door. Tommy headed downstairs to the gym, ran three miles on the indoor track, and hit the weight room. Then he grabbed a snack, took a shower, and figured he’d check the surveillance feed one more time before he took a nap.
His dad’s room was empty.
He rolled back the footage. Fifteen minutes before, the guards had entered, woken Tom from a nap, and hustled him out of the room. Tommy recognized the tall, thin man who’d met them in the hall as Hoyt Garrick, the Chief QM. Garrick led the way as the guards guided Tommy’s dad to the elevator. Tommy found them on another camera and watched with growing horror as Garrick unlocked the door to the secure ward and the guards forced his dad inside.
That settles it. He’d come up with an emergency evacuation plan, just in case something like this happened. Atari hadn’t returned, which meant he couldn’t stop Tommy from leaving the safe house. He rolled his chair over to another computer and clicked on the open tabs until he found the map of the capital quadrant that was marked with tiny red dots, indicating the locations of the sensors and scanners. There were so many it would be impossible to travel more than a block in any direction without passing one and showing up on someone else’s security cam feed.
He studied the grid of streets and the bridges over the river that separated him from the heart of the capital. It would help if he knew exactly where he was. He hadn’t seen a single window anywhere in the safe house, but maybe there was another way to get a fix on his position. He headed for the stairwell and climbed flight after flight until he emerged on the roof. He opened the door slowly and stepped out into a solarium with a tinted-glass roof. The well-lit buildings of the capital were visible in the distance, and he watched the streetlights wink on in the gathering dusk. He took his time visualizing a route to the OCSD along some of the main roads he’d seen on the map.
He pounded back down the stairs to Wardrobe and found Atari’s security guard disguise. He was surprised how much the short, brown wig alone transformed his appearance. Next he tried on the jacket and grinned because he didn’t need Atari’s padded undershirt to fill it out properly. The uniform pants were a little short, but since they were worn tucked into heavy boots, it wouldn’t matter. He rummaged around until he found a pair in his size and tugged them on, thankful he wouldn’t have to limp around in ones that were too small.
The false teeth were another matter. He took the bridge to the kitchen and dunked it in boiling water a couple times before he considered putting it in his mouth. He worked it into place; it reminded him of the retainer he’d worn in high school after his braces had come off. His parents would’ve freaked if his post-braces teeth had turned out as crooked as the ones he now wore.
He grabbed the elevator key and ID badge Atari had tossed on the dressing table and compared the man in the mirror to the one in the photo. If no one looked too closely, he could pass for Logan Daniels.
Hoyt Garrick swiped his ID card through the reader at the entrance to the secure ward. As the guards shoved Tom through the door, Garrick held up a hand to block their way. “I’ve got it from here.” He pulled the door closed behind him and took Tom by the arm, steering him down the hall. He could feel the other man trembling.
“You should know I’m not a fan of the OCSD’s scare tactics.”
Garrick chuckled. “Yeah, well, there aren’t too many places in this building where we can meet privately. I want to talk to you. Stratford saw you as a threat.”
“The feeling was mutual.”
“He wasn’t afraid of many people. What’s your theory on who killed him?”
Tom shook his head. “Stratford had Lara and me moved from the building a few hours before he died. Everything I know about the assassination I learned secondhand.”
Garrick opened the door to one of the rooms. Kevin rose to greet him. Garrick saw a look pass between them, and Tom relaxed even before Garrick released his grasp. Tom pulled his arm free of Garrick’s grasp and addressed Kevin.
“I hardly recognized you in that suit.”
“I know, right?” Kevin broke into a grin. “You look just the same. Except for that black eye.”
Garrick cleared his throat. “Madalyn’s insisted we keep looking for the rest of the Resistance down in the BG quadrants. Unless one of you has something you’d like to share …”
“Absolutely not. I didn’t—” Tom looked at Kevin. “Well, neither of us risked coming back here to give information on our supposed allies.”
“I’m merely saying that perhaps the Resistance, as a whole, isn’t worth trying to bargain with any longer. It might be more prudent to—”
Kevin coughed violently and excused himself, almost running out the door. Garrick stared after him. He was back in seconds.
“Sorry.” He cleared his throat. “Tom, you know Trina and I believe Stratford wasn’t Madalyn’s original target. So that would mean she was either trying to off Garrick or she was planning to assassinate the president.”
“Did Madalyn want to kill you, Chief Garrick?”
Garrick laughed. “If she did, she’s going to be sorry she missed her chance.”
Mitch checked the road behind him several times on the trip back from the cemetery to the diner. The last thing he needed was that marshal from Wes’s old post snooping around.
Jaycee sat silently in the passenger seat. How many excuses could he come up with to keep her from leaving? Once she was on her own, he knew she’d try to claim Wes’s death benefit and insurance money; then she’d have to explain why her name didn’t show up in any of the government’s databases. As far as the government knew, she’d never been born. She’d never registered for school or an Essential Services account. There were going to be all kinds of questions she wouldn’t know how to answer. Eventually, those questions would lead back here, to him. He’d already had too many run-ins with the QM for his liking.
He parked behind the diner, and Jaycee was out of the truck before he cut the engine.
“Work clothes!” he shouted after her as she ran up the back porch steps. She slammed the door in response. He decided not to follow right away. Maybe it would help to give her some space.
Everyone holed up in the bunker was getting antsy, but it couldn’t be helped. It was good that Eduardo and Lara were leaving; he, Trina, Grace, and David could work on their part of the plan for a while longer before they’d need to be on hand for the big finale in the capital.
Jaycee, dressed for the outdoors and carrying her rifle and a worn army surplus duffel bag, stormed past him without a word and headed up the path that led to the bunker. “At least wait for me! Jeez,” he muttered to himself as he headed inside to change out of his funeral suit.
He was halfway up the stairs to his room when the bell on the diner’s front door jingled. He hurried back down, expecting to see Wes’s buddy Nelson; instead, a squad of eight unfamiliar marshals swarmed into the dining room.
“We have orders to search the premises for contraband and fugitives.”
“Yeah, yeah. Go ahead. You missed a few dishes the last time you guys were here.” Mitch sank onto a stool at the counter to wait it out.
Careen followed Madalyn down the hall to a conference room, where Madalyn gestured her toward a chair and then pushed an intercom
The door opened and a thin man in a wide-lapelled pinstriped suit and fedora stepped into the room. He looked like he’d arrived via time machine, and Careen couldn’t help staring. No one dresses like that. Why in the world is he staring at me? The man paused in the doorway, swept off his fedora, and raked back his dark hair before he entered the room.
“Mr. Atari, I need you to install another Link.”
“Very good.” He laid his hat on the table and opened the leather briefcase that completed his vintage ensemble, pulled out a tablet, and pecked away at the keyboard. “What is the recipient’s name?”
Madalyn nodded at her, and Careen dutifully recited her name.
Mr. Atari kept his gaze down. “Hold out your left arm, please.” As he pushed up her sleeve, his long fingers reminded her of a spider’s legs, and the thought made her shudder. She closed her eyes.
She remembered the bracelet with green agate stones and the lock and key charms. For a moment, it was Tommy’s gentle touch against the inside of her wrist. But when she opened her eyes, it wasn’t Lara’s bracelet she was wearing. A tiny light on the red plastic band was centered over the pulse point on the inside of her wrist. It flashed in time with her heartbeat. Then it bit her.
Mitch stormed into the bunker, out of breath, making everyone jump. He fixed his gaze on Jaycee.
“I’m not changing my mind, Daddy.” Jaycee’s defiant look softened. “But I’m glad I don’t have to leave without saying goodbye.”
“I know. Me, too.” He opened his arms and she stepped into his hug. “I would’ve been here sooner, but more marshals came and searched the place again. I moved the truck to the foot of the hill, so you wouldn’t have to go all the way back to the diner. It’ll be safer that way, in case the QM decides to double back tonight.”