Ignite, page 20
A cacophony of sirens joined the alarm; quadrant marshals were closing in fast. “Come on!” He ran up the spiraling ramp, his dad at his heels, until they emerged on the second level of the structure. He led the way to the nearest wall and leaned over the side.
His father whispered, “Just throw it! Get rid of it!”
“Hang on a second.” Tommy balled up the jacket and timed his release so it landed squarely on the top of a delivery truck as it lumbered past, bound away from the safe house. They ran the length of the garage, following the truck’s progress. It paused at a stoplight, and when the light turned green, three patrol cars screeched in to block the intersection in front of the OCSD building. Quadrant marshals leaped from the cars and converged on the driver, guns drawn.
Tommy scouted his route out of the garage and back to the safe house, and once they’d left the shelter of the parking garage, he kept to the shadows as much as possible. He hadn’t felt conspicuous on the long walk over earlier that evening, but in his security guard’s uniform he appeared to belong, whereas Tom, dressed in jeans and white button-down shirt, did not. Tommy noticed him shivering long before they reached the pedestrian walkway over the river. He shrugged off his jacket.
“Here, Dad, take this. I’m not cold.”
Tom zipped it up and put his hands in the pockets. The streets on the other side of the bridge were deserted, but Tommy’s senses were on high alert; empty buildings weren’t always empty. He’d never have guessed from looking at the outside of Atari’s warehouse that it contained a luxurious and high-tech safe house. Who knew which other supposedly abandoned warehouses were actually inhabited? He held back the chain-link fence and helped his dad step through the gap. It took a lot longer to cross the parking lot on foot than in a vehicle, and Tommy breathed a sigh of relief once they’d plunged into the darkness of the unlit parking garage. He groped his way down the ramp, not daring to use the flashlight clipped to his uniform belt until they were well below ground. When he switched it on, the familiar shadows from the construction debris loomed ahead. He dug in his pants pocket and fished out the elevator key.
“Hold it right there.”
They both jumped. Tommy recognized the voice behind him, but his dad did not. Tom whirled around and struck without hesitating, and the sound of his dad’s fist connecting with Atari’s jaw made Tommy wince.
Tommy laid a restraining hand on his dad’s arm and addressed Atari. “Serves you right, sneaking up on people.”
Atari shoved past them and onto the elevator. “I was hardly sneaking. You left me a note, so I knew where you’d gone. You walked right past me in the parking garage. You obviously have no sense of situational awareness.”
His dad was staring at Atari like he’d stepped out of an old movie or something. Atari did take a little getting used-to. “No, we didn’t notice you. Dad, this is Atari. This safe house is his place. He’s one of us.”
Tom stuck out his hand. “Sorry about that.”
Atari ignored it. “Another Bailey? Fantastic.”
Tommy spoke up, hoping to downplay Atari’s rudeness. “What’s with the Godfather suit? Who are you supposed to be today?”
Atari ignored the questions. “Pretty sure Mitch told you to stay put.”
“I couldn’t wait any longer. I saw them taking Dad to the secure ward.”
“You had orders. You shouldn’t have gone out.”
“I’m not going to apologize.”
The doors opened, and Atari addressed Tom as he led the way into the foyer. “Your wife will soon be on her way to OP-439.”
“How do you know?”
“Mitch said she, someone named Eduardo, and Jaycee are heading there together.”
“That’s good. I need to return home as soon as possible, as well.”
“We’ve got a car service that’s discreet and reliable. I’ll put in a call, and they’ll have you there by morning. Meanwhile, we can find you something decent to wear in Wardrobe.”
Tom nodded. “I don’t suppose there’s any reason to linger here when we could be on our way.” He looked at Tommy. “I assume you have some of your own clothes to wear?”
“I’m not leaving.”
“Nonsense! We should face what happens next together, not scattered all over the country.”
“Dad, I’m not going anywhere without Careen.”
“You heard Madalyn say in no uncertain terms—”
“Bull! Madalyn was lying. There’s no way Careen would choose the OCSD over—”
Atari broke in with a smirk. “Over you?”
“Yeah, over me. And over the Resistance, too. There’s no way she’s at the OCSD because she wants to be.”
“Sucks for you, Wunderkind, but your dad’s escape guarantees they’ll be keeping a closer watch on Careen. Your heroics this evening will make it that much harder for us to get to her.”
“Wait—get to Careen? Did you find out where she is?”
“Silly me. In all the excitement, did I forget to mention? I Linked her a few hours ago.”
“What do you mean Tom Bailey’s gone? I was just with him!”
“Bailey’s visitor tag showed him moving about the building into an area that’s off limits. A guard who was on duty at the visitor’s entrance left his post, and we can’t find him. We picked up Bailey’s signal outside, but he’d ditched his tag.”
“Get out!” She watched the guard leave her office and then dialed PeopleCam.
“Run Sheila Roth’s interview with Tom Bailey immediately.”
Then she summoned Kevin and Hoyt Garrick. “We’ve had a serious security breach. Tom Bailey was here, in custody, and now he’s gone.”
The two men glanced at each other before Garrick spoke. “Really? How did that happen?”
“I have no idea. It would appear the security protocols for the OCSD building are insufficient.”
Garrick pulled up a screen on his tablet. “I’m confused. You say he was in custody, but he’s listed on the visitor’s log. Do you want me to send marshals out after an escaped visitor?”
“Technically I suppose he was a visitor, because he came here of his own free will. But his being at liberty could … umm, raise some embarrassing questions. I can’t have him running around in public spouting his anti-OCSD propaganda.”
The group arrived back at the bunker, chilled and muddy. Lara waited her turn to wash up. She was eager to be gone. She’d been unable to do any of her own work where people might observe, but as soon as she got back to OP-439, her part of the project could begin.
Mitch and Eduardo had set up a television. In the close confines of the bunker, it was impossible to ignore its constant feed of information. Grace, now free of mud and grime, joined Trina and Lara as they watched the evening PeopleCam broadcast.
“Tonight we bring you breaking news: an exposé inside the rebel group that calls themselves the Resistance.”
Silence fell in the bunker.
“These people are ruffians and outlaws who have incited unrest among law-abiding citizens. They caused the CSD riots and the food riots, and their smear campaign against the OCSD is well known. Somehow, they even infiltrated PeopleCam. No one can figure out how we were hacked! We didn’t want to show the Resistance’s propaganda videos, but they forced us to do it.
“In the early days of the Restrictions, the self-proclaimed leader of the Resistance, attorney and terrorist Thomas Bailey, pitted himself against Lowell Stratford, criticizing his every effort to secure our country against the threat of terrorism. Though it was always suspected his opposition of Lowell Stratford went much farther than his verbal attacks, no charges were ever filed against him.
“Bailey had supporters who believed him to be pure of heart, but in truth, there is a dark side to the mysterious rebel leader, previously unknown to the pub
“He faked his own death six months ago, in an accident that left his only son maimed for life. Heedless of the consequences of his actions, Bailey and his wife left their son for dead and disappeared, only to continue his terrorist activities from a clandestine location, where he exerted great influence over the actions of impressionable Careen Catecher.
“Bailey, who fears capture, spoke with me earlier today from an undisclosed location. I must warn you, the statements made in this brief interview are quite upsetting. I apologize in advance for the poor audio quality.”
An old photo of Tom flashed on the screen, and tears pooled in Lara’s eyes. Tommy will look just like that in a few years.
“So, Tom, why have you returned from the dead, so to speak?”
“The Resistance has the ability to destroy the OCSD … I want to see our country torn apart.”
“What?” Lara gestured at the television. “There’s no way he said that.”
“That’s absolutely shocking, Tom. Why would your revolutionary group try to take over the United States?”
“It’s in everyone’s best interest to … take responsibility away from individuals. People are not capable of managing their own lives. The Resistance will … hobble and control their every move. Bad decisions are made … teenagers and young adults. The Resistance will … control their … better than the OCSD.”
“That’s not even a decent editing job!” Grace looked like she wanted to climb into the television and claw Sheila Roth’s eyes out.
“One more question, Tom: what do you have to say about Careen Catecher?”
“Careen was never really part of the Resistance. Kids can be idealistic and read into things. She’s not important enough to bother with.”
“Surely no one’s going to be fooled by this.” Grace wrung her hands.
Sheila faced the camera for her wrap-up. “Tom Bailey is a dangerous revolutionary and not to be trusted. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s been working behind the scenes since his disappearance, planning more attacks—possibly even the university bombing. I’m Sheila Roth for PeopleCam News.”
Trina followed Eduardo and Mitch up the stairs and out of the bunker, where she stood in the shadow of the boulders and took a deep breath. Even though they’d just spent hours digging up coffee cans full of money in the fresh air, returning to the damp underground bunker made her desperate to escape back outside, even if it was just for a few minutes. She wrapped the blanket she’d brought with her closer around her shoulders. Eduardo and Mitch had paused a short distance away to wait for Lara and Jaycee.
She was going to miss Lara and Eduardo. With them gone, she’d be stuck in the two-room bunker with Grace and David, who tended to bicker without realizing they were doing it. She was jealous of Mitch’s ability to come and go at will.
“What’s this?” She watched Eduardo accept a device the size of a cellphone with a short antenna from Mitch.
“It’s a bug detector. Sweep every room at the Bailey’s first thing, got it? And don’t stay there if anything seems off. The QM might have it under surveillance.”
“Got it.” Eduardo slipped it in his jacket pocket.
“Kevin is expecting you at the memorial service in OP-441 on Tuesday. He’ll arrange it so you have a chance to speak to the president.” Mitch handed him a loaded bag. “And here—I packed you enough supplies to last you for about a week. Who knows if you’ll be able to find food. It’s mostly MREs and bottled water, but it won’t spoil.”
Eduardo slung it over his shoulder. “Thanks.”
Lara and Jaycee emerged from the bunker, ready to go. Eduardo and Lara were leaving as they’d arrived, with only the clothes on their backs. Jaycee had crammed as many of her things as would fit into her duffel bag.
She dropped it on the ground at her feet and held the rifle in the crook of her arm. Mitch took her by the shoulders and spoke soberly. “Listen to me. Do not take that death benefit money. It’s vital that you stay off the OCSD’s radar. And do not—I mean it—do not let yourself get Linked. You’re the only one of us young enough to be in danger from that. Got it?”
“Yes, Daddy! I got it. Stop worrying!” Their parting hug was brief; she picked up her bag and ran after Eduardo.
Lara started to follow, but Mitch laid a hand on her arm. “Just in case you get stopped or have issues.” He handed her an ID card for Jaycee. Lara glanced at the name.
“You made her my daughter?”
“She could sure as hell pass, looks-wise. It’s a smart move. It should keep anyone from questioning either of your false identities too closely. Take care of my girl.”
Lara laughed. “I’ll do my best to keep up with her.” Then her expression turned sympathetic. “Look, Mitch, I know it’s tough letting her go, but I’ll look after her like she was mine. I promise.”
They embraced, for far longer than seemed necessary to Trina.
“Are you sure you’re okay doing this? What about Tom? Do you think he suspects?”
Trina shrank deeper into the shadows. Whoa! What the heck?
“Tom never suspected before.” She shook him off. “Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing.” She ran to catch up with Eduardo and Jaycee.
There was something going on between Mitch and Lara that no one else had noticed. But what?
“The car will be here in five minutes.” Atari pressed the elevator button. “I’ll walk you out.”
Tom, showered, shaved, and dressed in a suit and heavy wool coat, looked much more like the father Tommy remembered from his childhood. The fading black eye, however, put him firmly in the present. Tom addressed Atari first. “You’ll send word to Mitch that I’m a free man? I don’t want David to jump the gun and release that file on Madalyn. We’ll need it later.”
“I’ve got time to do it now.” He hurried into Command Central.
Tommy crossed his arms on his chest. “Tell Mom I’m fine, and I’ll see her soon.”
“I think she’ll be disappointed that you’ve decided to stay here.” His tone made Tommy feel like a little kid. But he wasn’t buying it. Not this time.
“No, I think she’ll understand. Now that we’ve located Careen, there’s no way I’m leaving here without her.” Why was Careen so unimportant to his father all of a sudden, when just a few days ago, he’d come to the capital to try and get her released? “Dad, I’m willing to fight and sacrifice for Careen. You know, the way Mom has for you.”
“You seem to think my relationship with your mother is out of balance?”
“Mom’s always had your back. How could you let Stratford torture her? I don’t get it. If it had been me and Careen, I’d never—”
“What? Son, you can’t know what you would’ve done. You’re involved in the Resistance, yes, but in a very limited scope. You enjoyed the adrenaline rush when you saved your old man, and now you harbor schoolboy dreams of rescuing the girl. But the fate of our country is hanging in the balance. These next few days are critical, and I can’t be distracted by the search for one young woman when I can take steps to avert a much bigger disaster.”
“Fine. Then I guess it’s a good thing we both know what we have to do.”
Atari returned, and he and Tom stepped onto the elevator. Tommy nodded once in farewell as the doors slid closed.
Tommy waited in the lobby for Atari’s return. The doors slid open, and Atari stepped out. “Package delivered.”
“So where’s Careen? Why did you Link her? Is she all right?”
“Dude, cool your jets. I located her a couple days ago and then lost her again. Looks like they were keeping her at PeopleCam all along.”
“So the protest at PeopleCam … did CXD know she was there?”
“No, but those crazy kids said they stormed the building because they saw her. Pete searched the building for hours that night but no luck. That’s why I never told you.
Atari launched into a dramatic retelling of how he’d tricked Madalyn into putting on a Link. When he was done, Tommy, feeling more pro-Atari than he ever had, offered him a congratulatory fist bump. “Now we’re that much closer to winning.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, overthrowing Madalyn and the OCSD. Living happily ever after. Free at last and all that.”
Atari studied him, serious for once. “There’s no such thing as winning this game.”
“Wes thought we could win.”
“Wes was brought up to believe that winning—or dying—were the only options.”
“Then why are we going through all this? Why does the Resistance even try, if we can’t win?”
“Let me employ a football analogy. It’s not about winning or even about touchdowns. It’s about first downs.”
Tommy sighed. “You don’t have to relate everything to football.”
“I haven’t yet exhausted my knowledge of the game, but have it your way. You and I would prefer to live the way we want and push for a little more breathing room when we need it. We don’t agree with the OCSD, but a lot of people do support the OCSD’s intent. They’re even willing to put up with the OCSD’s methods in exchange for feeling safe.
“We don’t, can’t, and shouldn’t all want the same thing, or behave the same way, or believe the same things. Four hundred million individuals aren’t going to agree on much. We shouldn’t have to pretend like we do.”
“Careen believed we could fix the mess the OCSD had made of things. I didn’t pay close attention or try to understand. I was still recovering from the accident. I cared more about getting back into top physical condition and learning to fight and shoot.”
“Idealogically, Careen was in the infatuation stage.”
Tommy still didn’t want to believe him. “None of the adults ever mentioned failure.”