Ignite, p.8

Ignite, page 8

 

Ignite
 


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  He retreated into the kitchen, which was spotless except for one dirty frying pan on the range. Mitch waited until he heard them in the dining room and then picked it up and threw it into the sink. It landed with a resounding crash just as Grace appeared in the doorway. She cried out in alarm, and he unleashed his anger on the elderly couple.

  “What? What are you looking at?”

  She looked shaken by his outburst, but her voice was gentle. “Mitch, you have to give yourself time to grieve. No one blames you for being out of sorts. Have you decided what to do about the funeral?”

  David cleared his throat as Grace pressed on.

  “Your emotions are going to be all over the place. There’s no right or wrong way to feel. But remember, what happened to Wes was an accident. It was nobody’s fault.”

  “Wes and Tommy screwed up, and Careen made things even worse.”

  “Blaming any of those dear children won’t change what happened.”

  “I’ll blame whoever I damn well please. Get out and leave me alone.”

  4:05 PM

  Quadrant DC-001

  The looping video stopped, and Careen’s ears rang in the silence, which seemed almost as loud as the screaming and the gunfire.

  She was too exhausted to open her eyes or try to raise her head. Footsteps approached, and she braced herself for more brutal treatment, but the touch on her arm was gentle.

  Whoever it was helped her sit up. She looked into the face of a young woman in a QM uniform, who regarded her with concern. “I brought you some water.”

  The marshal grasped her arm, and Careen winced as she got to her feet; pain shot through her arms and legs as her blood began to circulate more freely. Trembling with fear and fatigue, she didn’t resist as the marshal guided her out of the circle of light to a table flanked by two folding chairs. She slumped into a seat, strength sapped by that short walk across the room. The marshal held a cup of water for her to sip, draped a blanket over her shoulders, and sat across from her.

  “Careen, Madam Director is very disappointed that you haven’t held up your end of the bargain.”

  The marshal’s voice was unexpectedly kind, and Careen’s lip began to tremble. She looked down at her bandaged hands lying in her lap. She still didn’t know how badly they’d been hurt in the explosion. Why had she survived? “You’re going to kill me eventually, so why don’t you get it over with? It’s not like anyone will ever find out what really happened to me.”

  “We’ve been ordered not to kill you. The OCSD directed us to keep you here and question you for as long as it takes. This isn’t going to end unless you end it by telling us what we want to know.

  “You have the opportunity to help yourself! Why do you keep lying to us? We’re going to eliminate the Resistance one way or another, so you might as well tell us where to find them. If you don’t help us, you’ll face harsher punishment for your own crimes.”

  A tear slipped from Careen’s eye and she let it fall. “But … then everything I’ve worked for—all the things I believe in, the sacrifices we’ve already made—will be for nothing.”

  The young marshal shook her head. “The elite squads that are on their way to the BG quadrants have orders to enter and search every building. It’s not the best option, because lots of innocent people could be hurt or killed. If you tell us where to find the Resistance, we can do the job efficiently, with little or no collateral damage. Help us. If the Resistance continues its activities unchecked, many innocent people will suffer. I know you don’t want that.”

  More tears fell with tiny plops onto the bandages. “I can’t. I won’t. Do whatever.” She looked away. Resistance makes me free. This is the only way I can keep fighting. It’s my choice.

  The marshal leaned forward and spoke just above a whisper. “Listen. I’m trying to help you. You don’t seem to understand that we’ve been taking it easy on you so far. You say, ‘do whatever,’ but there are guys on the interrogation team who are hoping I’ll fail so they can have a try at whatevering the information out of you.”

  The marshal’s eyes locked on hers for a long moment. She pulled a small, amber bottle from her pocket and set it on the table between them.

  Careen stared at the bottle. She’d never taken Phase Two, but she knew how it affected Tommy and Lara. If she doses me, I won’t be able to control what I say. What can I tell her that won’t destroy the entire Resistance?

  The interrogator touched the dropper with her index finger. “Do we need to use this?”

  She shook her head. “I didn’t realize.”

  “Didn’t realize what?”

  “I didn’t realize what it would mean to be a part of the Resistance. I didn’t know the power my words could have. The CSD riots and the food riots were my fault.”

  “Everyone in the Resistance is guilty of treason. You didn’t act alone.”

  “If I tell you where to look, promise me they won’t be hurt.”

  “Of course, Careen. I promise. Where will we find them?”

  “At a boardinghouse near a diner. In BG … 098.”

  “Good, Careen. That’s very good. Who will be there? Tell me names.”

  Bile rose in her throat, and she willed herself not to vomit. Give her names they already know. “Trina Jacobs. Tom Bailey. Lara Bailey. David Honerlaw. Grace Hughes … and,” she drew a sobbing breath, “Tommy Bailey.”

  The interrogator pulled out her phone. Careen watched her key in a number. Strange that I’m not more upset. I’m just sleepy. Really sleepy. The black snow clouded her vision and closed over her.

  Chapter 19

  4:10 PM

  Quadrant BG-098

  As soon as Grace and David were out the door, Tom hurried into the room and spoke to Jaycee. “We need to evacuate to someplace safer. Will you help us?”

  “Daddy doesn’t want to leave his land. We should just go to the bunker.”

  “Bunker? Mitch has a bunker?”

  “Well, yeah. Doesn’t everybody?”

  Eduardo nodded. “Why doesn’t that surprise me?”

  “Well, it’s not just his. It’s our family’s, and it’s been there forever—at least since the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

  Lara broke in. “Where is it?”

  “Over on the other side of the ridge. Takes about an hour to get there.”

  “Is there room for all of us?”

  She glanced around. “Yeah. No problem.”

  “Then it’s settled. Pack up everything you brought with you. Meet back here as soon as possible.” Tom laid a hand on Jaycee’s shoulder. “We’ll count on you to get us there.”

  Lara and Trina headed to their rooms. David and Grace came back, and Tom drew David aside. Jaycee cocked an ear to listen.

  “Can you hang onto something for me?”

  “Of course.”

  Tom handed him a chip drive. “Keep it safe. We might need it in a few days.”

  David pocketed it, and he and Grace followed Tom upstairs, leaving Jaycee alone with Eduardo.

  “Thank you for bringing Tommy back. Now that Wes is dead,” she said, swallowing hard to clear the lump in her throat, “I … we need him.” She hurried from the room before her tears began again. She checked upstairs in the boardinghouse and dashed out to the target range, but there was no sign of Tommy. She headed back to the diner to pack a change of clothes and found him seated at her desk reading one of Careen’s notebooks. “What are you doing?” She slipped into the room and closed the door.

  “I dunno.” He looked down at the scribbled handwriting on the page. “She liked writing on paper, not on a computer or tablet.”

  “Use the present tense when you talk about her, for crying out loud! She’s not the one who’s dead. Why are you wasting time mooning over her notebook? Everyone’s evacuating to our bunker before the QM comes back.” She slapped his shoulder to get his full attention. “Let’s get out of here right now. You broke into the OCSD once. You can do it again. Take me with you to rescue
Careen.”

  Tommy looked up at her, and she saw none of the energy or sense of humor that had made him so appealing—and so different from the brooding men in her family. He sighed. “Your dad totally flipped out. Don’t you think we ought to steer clear of each other for a while?”

  “So you’re hiding in my room? Great plan.”

  “I wanted to take a look at some of these books. Careen cares,” he said, pausing for emphasis, “so much more about this stuff than I did. Now I get it. I could be arrested for being part of the Resistance; how can I be sure I’m doing the right thing unless I know more about …”

  He examined each book before he separated them into two stacks. As he worked, he spied the bracelet with the lock and key that had been his mother’s, marking the place in one of the books. He’d given it to Careen on the day they’d fled the OCSD. Now, he let the green stones slip through his fingers before he put it in his pocket.

  Jaycee’s redheaded temper flared. “Listen, if I have to make the decisions for both of us, then we’re doing what I want for a change. Forget about the books and let’s go to the capital.” She ran out of the room and returned with his packed duffel bag and his gun. With a sigh of resignation, he crammed Careen’s notes and a couple of books into the bag and shoved the gun in the back of his waistband.

  She grabbed her rifle off its pegs on the wall, stuffed boxes of shells into the pocket of her hoodie, and dragged him out of the room.

  She led the way as they hurried downstairs and rounded the corner into the diner’s main room, heading for Wes’s black pickup in the parking lot, but stopped short when she heard Trina’s pleading voice.

  “Mitch, come with us.”

  “You go. I’ve got to stay and protect what’s mine.”

  “I’d think you’d be concerned about protecting your daughter. She’s coming with us. But fine—stay here if this is what’s most important to you.” Trina hurried out of the kitchen and paused, startled, at the sight of them. There was an awkward pause before she recovered her poise.

  “Oh good! You’re here. Let’s go meet the others.” As Trina shepherded them out the back door, Jaycee caught Tommy’s eye, trying to make sure he understood she hadn’t changed her mind about leaving.

  Chapter 20

  5:07 PM

  Everyone but Mitch departed from the boardinghouse, each carrying a few extra items of clothing they’d claimed from Mitch’s wardrobe during their weeks at Resistance headquarters. Jaycee, who’d never been in charge of anything before, led the way up the wooded path to the ridge while Tommy brought up the rear. They passed the rock where he and Careen had talked and looked up at the stars a week ago, and he half expected to see her sitting there. Under the pretense of tying his shoelace, he lingered long enough that he didn’t notice his parents had fallen behind the rest of the group until he heard his mother exclaim, “Tom, no! You can’t!”

  Tommy strained to see in the fading daylight. His parents stood alone on the trail; his mother was gripping his dad’s arm with both hands.

  “Lara, I’ve got to try. Maybe I can convince Madalyn to work out some kind of compromise that will satisfy both the OCSD and the Resistance. While I’m there, I’ll do my best to convince her to release Careen.”

  “But what if she won’t listen? What if she arrests you? You’ve been accused of terrorist activities, too!”

  Tommy’s stomach clenched with dread as he ran toward them.

  “This way, maybe you and Tommy won’t have to hide forever. I couldn’t stand it if they locked you up again, sweetheart. I’m sorry.” She leaned her forehead against his chest, and he stroked her curly hair. “Trust me.”

  Her laugh was choked with tears. “I always do.”

  Jaycee came scrambling back down the hill. “What’s the matter? We’re not even halfway there yet, and it’s getting dark.” Eduardo and Trina were close behind her, and Grace and David hovered farther up the trail.

  Tom addressed the group. “I’m turning myself in to the QM.”

  “Are you crazy?” Eduardo said. “Do you know what we went through trying to rescue you the last time?”

  “I’m perfectly sane. This has gone on long enough. I don’t want any of us forced to live in hiding.” Tom put one arm around Lara’s waist and the other on Tommy’s shoulder.

  David and Grace stumbled into the circle that had formed around the Baileys, and David harrumphed. “What if they don’t let you come back?”

  “David, you have the files. If I don’t make contact with you by Saturday, make sure it all goes public.”

  “That’s too long. Plenty of time for Madalyn to lock you up someplace where we’ll never find you—or worse.”

  “Dad, let me come with you.”

  His father’s grip tightened on Tommy’s shoulder. “Absolutely not. You’re a wanted fugitive!”

  “So are you!”

  “There’s nothing to be gained by—”

  “You need backup!”

  “—putting you at risk. I’ll return. I promise. It won’t be like last time. This is a summit, not an abduction.”

  Tom kissed Lara on the forehead and pulled her and Tommy close. He released them abruptly, and headed down the path without looking back.

  Tommy took a few steps after his dad and stopped, watching until he disappeared into the shadows. “Seriously? Someone has to go with him.”

  Jaycee gripped his arm with the same fervor his mom had shown when she pleaded with his dad. “We need to get everyone else to safety.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Once they’re all in the bunker, we’ll sneak out and go after him.”

  Tommy hesitated a moment, and when he nodded, Jaycee dashed back to the head of the group. His mother was waiting for him farther up the path. He took her arm and together they followed the others, but inside he was seething, sure his dad was only making things worse.

  He marveled at the way Jaycee kept everyone moving, staying in the cover of the pine trees as they worked their way to the top of the ridge. Once they’d crossed to the other side, she turned on a flashlight before she left the trail and started downhill through the underbrush. Everyone followed her, slipping and skidding on the leaves and pine needles until they could brace themselves against an outcropping of limestone that nestled against the side of the hill. When they’d skirted the rocks to reach the valley floor, she slipped between two boulders, where a metal door was set into thick concrete. She punched a series of numbers into the keypad on the door, and it clicked open.

  Inside, it was chilly and damp, as if they’d entered a cave. The party moved single file to descend a short flight of stairs illuminated by dim emergency bulbs, and emerged into a room large enough to accommodate them all comfortably. Jaycee turned on the lights. Shelves stocked with canned goods, MREs, and bottled water rose against the walls, and camping supplies were piled on and around several pieces of mismatched furniture. Eduardo inspected the computer set up on a desk against the wall.

  David stood in the center of the room, hands on hips, as he surveyed their surroundings. “There was a bomb shelter in our neighborhood when I was a teenager. Never used for its intended purpose, of course, but I seem to recall hearing of romantic liaisons that took place …” He stopped and glanced around. Jaycee had a confused look on her face. Grace shook her head in exasperation. Tommy laughed out loud for the first time since he’d returned to BG-098.

  “But indeed, that could have been exaggeration.” David hastily changed the subject. “So, how thick are these walls, Jaycee?”

  Tommy looked at each of them in turn. Trina. Grace. David. Eduardo. Jaycee. His mom. He wasn’t willing to put any of them in more danger. Jaycee would be mad enough to shoot him once she realized he was gone, but he’d deal with that next time he saw her. If he hurried, he might be able to catch up to his dad and convince him to change his mind. He made sure no one was watching, set his duffel bag on the floor, and slipped back up the stairs.

  Chapter 21

 
; 5:15 PM

  Quadrant BG-098

  Mitch watched everyone head up the path through the trees and then ran to the barn to secure the Resistance’s records and contraband communications equipment. There hadn’t been any QM dispatched out this way today, but it was prudent to stay a couple steps ahead of the law. He tugged at the rough wooden shelf unit that stood beside his office door until it concealed the entrance and then sank several screws to attach it to the wall. He swept away the drag marks on the floor and scattered some straw that had collected in an unused stall. As an added deterrent, he moved his truck so close to the shelves that even Jaycee, thin as she was, would have trouble squeezing between them.

  He headed back into the diner and poured a mug of coffee just to have something to do with his hands. He was adding sugar and cream when the ancient pay phone on the wall rang twice and then was still.

  Perfect timing. Mitch carried his coffee onto the front porch. The sight of Wes’s black pickup in the parking lot gave him a momentary jolt, and he glanced around, half expecting to see his brother. You stupid kid. Why didn’t you listen to me? If you were here right now, I’d . . . His eyes stung, and he blinked the unexpected tears away. If you were here, I swear I’d hug you.

  He leaned against the porch railing and took a sip. It was late for coffee, but he probably wasn’t going to sleep again tonight anyway. Soon he heard the hum of approaching vehicles and tossed the rest of his coffee into the bushes as four Jeeps turned into the parking lot, their headlights slicing through the darkness. He looked out over the group as they approached. The marshals who’d had breakfast at the diner were back with reinforcements from the local post.

  “I haven’t seen a dinner rush like this in years.”

  Paul McComas stepped forward and cleared his throat. Paul had been his most trusted ally since the fourth grade, when Mitch had made a bomb out of a matchbox and gunpowder and blown up their teacher’s desk during recess. Paul had witnessed the whole thing but didn’t rat him out. Instead, he’d provided Mitch with an alibi. The crime had been the stuff of schoolyard legend. To this day, it remained unsolved. “Mitch, we’re all real sorry about Wes. And we hate to do this while you’re mourning your brother, but we got orders to search your place for fugitives.”

 
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