“I know another way in,” Galahad said. “Station a guard here in case they try to escape, then the rest of you follow me.”

If Julilla was offended at Galahad taking charge, she didn’t show it. She frowned at Cassie, who was using a torn shirt to try and stop the bleeding from a gouge in her thigh. “Hurry, before it stiffens up.”

“You really should lie down for a few minutes. Just until the bleeding stops.”

“When we’re this close? No way.” Julilla met Galahad’s eyes. “What are we waiting for?”

Galahad led the ragged group toward one of the office towers, slowing his pace to Julilla’s limp while he explained about the network of tunnels and how he had rigged a few doors.

“How did you gain access?” Julilla asked.

He cast a hesitant look in Cassie’s direction before answering. “I needed medical treatment when I arrived. A lot of the Obits were ex-Kevorks and I got in good with them.”

By now Jason had caught up. “But why did Banquo say—”

“Severing ties with the alliance was the only way I could make sure they didn’t find me out. Banquo said he was one of your best actors, and he told you what we agreed he would.”

“We didn’t suspect a thing,” Jason admitted.

“So what’s in the bunker?” Amy said, looking remarkably tidy for just having fought a battle.

“Just what we thought,” Galahad told her. “Sort of.”

Julilla had been leaning on Cassie for support, but now she pushed her away so she could walk on her own. “You mean there really is a cure and it’s not all bullshit?”

Galahad gave a jerk of his shoulders. “I have no idea what they’re doing in there. But it is grownups and there’s some big secret that I couldn’t get anyone to tell me.”

Cassie edged her way to Galahad’s side and slipped her hand into his. She thought her heart would burst when he smiled at her and observed that she hadn’t been saying much.

What could she say that wouldn’t sound stupid? That a Telo cure was nothing compared to seeing him again? That she had never been so happy as in this moment, with him by her side, even though friends and allies lay dead on the office park lawn?

They arrived at the office tower and someone took a swing at the glass doors, which Galahad hadn’t found a safe way to prop open. Suddenly Doc burst into their midst, his hands and lab coat stained with blood. “What’s the matter?” Cassie asked.

Doc shook his head, but before Cassie could ask again, the doors shattered.

Whooping and shouting, the troops surged into the building. “Come on,” Cassie said, pulling Doc along by his sleeve.

They charged across the lobby and into the stairwell. At the bottom, Galahad was nearly crushed as he fumbled to open the door into the tunnel. No sooner had he got it open, when they were met with a staccato of gunfire. Galahad and a few others drew their guns and killed the Obit guards, and then the crowd rushed forward, the few who had lights running ahead and holding them aloft. In a mob they reached another set of doors and Galahad pushed his way to the front to open them. This time they were prepared for resistance on the other side, but found themselves instead in a still and pristine reception area. The room was unguarded, so they broke the glass door on the other side and stormed through a series of narrow hallways that terminated in a heavy steel door.

This time Galahad couldn’t get through the frantic, howling mob. Fueled by adrenaline and desperate hope, they pounded on the door and walls with clubs and the butts of their rifles. Someone got the idea to shoot the lock and a few people tried to move out of the line of ricocheting bits of metal as Neal fired his city-issue Glock over and over. A Thespian got to work shooting at the hinges until finally with a screaming wrench of metal, the door moved in its frame. The crowd shoved against it as it fell and trampled over it in a rush, only to stop, startled into stunned immobility.

The lab was clean and orderly, bright with electric lights and the flash of images on computer screens. But more startling than the autoclaves and test tubes, the hum of fluorescent bulbs and the beep of monitors, were the men—actual grown men—who stood lined up in front of a table to meet them.

For a long moment, no one moved or spoke. Then Doc pushed his way to the front of the crowd and one of the men stepped forward to meet him.

“Hello, Johnny. Nice to see you again.”

Doc stared. “Hi, Dr. Fielding.”

The man’s smile was strained and didn’t extend past the tight curve of his lips. “Please call me Frank. I’m sure your father would’ve wanted it that way.” He cast a nervous glance at the crowd. “Welcome to our lab.”

Neal shoved his way forward. “Fuck your welcome. I want to know where my brother is.”

Frank exchanged a guilty glance with one of his colleagues. “I’m afraid I don’t know you or your brother, and—”

“Liar!” Julilla said. “You used him for his brain hormones, like you did all the others.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. You children are delusional.”

“Bullshit. You’re a bunch of killers.”

Frank turned to Doc, as if their prior connection might hold some weight. “There are things happening here you can’t possibly understand, son.”

“I’m not your son. And quit lying. We know you bring children here and kill them.”

“It’s for a worthy cause,” said another scientist.

“Do they know it’s a worthy cause before you murder them?”

Frank ran a trembling hand through his hair. “Look, kids.” His eyes scanned the group, challenging them to see reason. “We’re close to finding a cure. We’ve got the materials, we’ve got the supplies—” he indicated the lab with a sweep of his arm. “But what we don’t have is time. What we’re doing is distasteful, but the future of humanity is at stake.”

Angry murmurs rose from the crowd and another researcher stepped forward. “Who do you think will find the cure if all the trained scientists are dead?”

“At least they died with their principles,” Doc said.

Frank turned on Doc with an ugly light in his eyes. “What kind of morality makes a man like your father choose a needless death when he has a boy to raise? What kind of ethics say it’s better to go to the Telo pits when one has the skills and knowledge to save the human race?” When Doc didn’t answer, he turned back to the group. “We were going to share the cure with you once we had it. Please believe it was never our intent to hoard—”

“So there really isn’t a cure?” Julilla said in disbelief.

“Not yet,” Frank said, his voice softening. “But we’ll keep doing research until we have it or until the hormone treatments stop working and we die. We’re completely dedicated.”

“Wait a minute,” Neal said. “There isn’t a cure and you want more hormone. So does that mean…?”

Frank threw up his hands. “We’ve tried other methods. We agonized over this course of action.”

With a scream of rage, Neal drew a semiautomatic. In the chaos of shouts and gunfire that erupted around her, Cassie heard someone call on them to stop firing while others shouted that they should kill all the bastards. Behind her, the crowd tried to move and as she felt herself pushed forward, Cassie slipped in a spreading pool of blood and pitched forward under trampling feet.


1 comment:

Alice Audrey said...

The scientist had me going for a bit with his argument about Doc's father being selfish. Then when it turned out they really are farming the kids....

Good writing.