Heroes are the people who walk forward when they should run in the opposite direction. I never thought of myself as one, then someone reminded me that most heroes don’t.
— Frederick Rose, c. 5237 PD
5 Novem, 5249 PD
The corridors up on level twelve were dark as he stepped out of the lift, dark and cold enough that his breath steamed in the air.
Must not be enough traffic up here to warrant heating the hallways very much. It was warmer than the vacuum outside the station’s shell, but just enough that no one was going to freeze to death walking from one end of the station to the other—though it wouldn’t be a comfortable walk. The chill probably cuts down on people deciding to be up here. That would work in someone’s favor, if they’re doing things up here that they’d rather not explain.
Of course, no one with Chinasia Corp would worry too much about what a scientist was doing to a bunch of psychics. After all, Corp propaganda told them that psychics were dangerous, a menace to be controlled or eliminated entirely.
At least the corridors were carpeted, which muted the sound of his boots on the deck. There was no surveillance equipment that he could see along the hall as he walked slowly along the long, circular hall that spiraled out from the central lifts out toward the station’s hull, where it was sure to be colder.
I’m sure the labs and cells up here are probably heated.
He hoped they were.
Now how do I figure out where she is, if she’s up here at all? There was no form of directory. The walls were completely unmarked, smooth, gunmetal-dark walls studded with locked hatches every so often. The hallways were dim, lit by sickly yellow lights every seven meters and the hatch controls next to each door. Brendan swallowed, looking around. Maybe I should have gone back to quarters and poked around some computer systems.
It was too late for that, now, though. He was up here.
No turning back. I guess there’s really only one way to do this, shy of checking every room and hoping no one’s around to raise an alarm.
His eyes slid closed as he stood dead-center between two pools of light and sucked in a breath of frigid air. Loosening his grip on the mental shields Lindsay had helped him build over their time together, he opened himself to the psychic impressions in his environment rather than shielding himself from them as he’d been taught on E-557.
A dearth of voices and emotions hit him with enough force that he staggered. Breathe. Breathe. Bile rose in his throat and he swallowed it back, shuddering and putting one hand against the wall to steady himself. Pull yourself together and focus, Brendan. Focus. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to narrow the range of his impressions to this section of the station, to this deck. It was easier said than done, and the effort left him sweating and shaking, leaning against the wall as if it was the only thing keeping him upright.
It wasn’t just the effort, of course. The wave of suffering that crashed over him was enough to fell someone twice his size with half his ability. He took a few more deep breaths before he opened his eyes and tried to straighten up. The corridor swam in front of him for a moment before his vision normalized.
Oh god, Lin. I never realized how bad it had to be. I’m so bloody sorry.
Breathing through his nose, he kept narrowing his focus as much as he dared as he began to walk slowly down the corridor. There were only two things he needed to focus on—finding America Farragut and not getting caught in the process. The only problem was that he wasn’t sure what America would feel like.
If I focus down on someone who feels like Lindsay and Rachel, I might be able to pinpoint America. It was a long shot, but it was the only shot he had. Jaw set grimly, he kept walking, keeping his focus as narrow as he dared.
Damn, everyone down here is in so much pain. It was impossible to ignore the ambient suffering on this deck. Were they all psychics down here?
He kept track of maintenance hatches as he walked. Those would be useful in case he had to make a quick getaway—and useful if he couldn’t get America safely to one of the utility lifts that were hopefully still operational.
“I should have thought this plan through better,” he muttered to himself.
Something clattered against the metal deck in a side hallway. Brendan froze, heart suddenly hammering at twice normal speed.
Shit. What was that?
Whoever had knocked something over, he couldn’t sense them now.
What does that mean? Was it no one? Or have they somehow managed to create people like Aidan Church—someone a psychic can’t sense? All the literature he’d ever read—and there wasn’t much of it—said that people like that were born, they weren’t made, couldn’t be made.
What if the theories on that were wrong?
Stop thinking, Cho, and get your mind on the job you’re trying to do. He put his hand on the pocket where he’d hidden Alana’s gun and edged toward the corridor. It was dark in that access passageway. The lights had apparently been shut down in there, possibly to conserve station resources.
Something pale bobbed into view, sickly and eerie, reflecting the yellow light from the main hallway. It was a face, the eyes dark and sunken shadows over hollow cheeks framed by ragged dark hair.
“You shouldn’t be here,” the girl whispered, edging forward toward the light, hugging her arms around her body. The jumpsuit she wore was dark—a soldier’s threadbare cast-off—and hung loose from frail limbs, pooled around her sandaled feet. She crept closer to Brendan, lifting her face to meet his startled gaze.
The girl took a little breath and stopped a few feet from him, blinking rapidly for a moment.
“Who are you?” Brendan asked. She looks like a ghost. A psychic, then? Someone they’re experimenting on?
“It doesn’t matter,” she whispered, fumbling around for the pockets of her jumpsuit. Brendan went tense, fingers closing around his weapon. The girl looked up at him and smiled weakly. “It’s okay, I want to help you. I know why you’ve come.”
Who the hell is she? How does she know why I’m here? Brendan’s mouth went dry. Did I screw something up somewhere and announce my presence like I was banging on a gong or something?
She fumbled a key-card out of a pocket and held it out to him with a trembling hand. “You’ll need this to get in, to get her out.” She wet her lips. “They’ll think I did it, and that’s the way it should be.”
What the hell? “I don’t understand.” Who is she? Why is she helping me? How the hell does she know I’m here for America Farragut?
The girl shook her head slightly. “Without the Colony, we have no hope, and without the Guard, there is no safety for people like us. She helped me realize that. But if she doesn’t get away, all our hope will die. You’re here to take her away, take her someplace safe. It doesn’t matter how I know. I just know.” She grasped his wrist.
Brendan jerked back as what felt like electricity shot through his arm, leaving it numb. “Holy—what did you just—?”
She winced, drawing back. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I can’t—I didn’t—” She stooped to pick up the keycard she’d dropped. “Just take it, please, and get her out of here. The rest of us don’t matter if America isn’t freed.” She bit her lip. “They have no idea what they’ve done. What they’ll do to us all.”
What is she babbling about? There was a hint of madness in the girl’s eyes, but it was a quiet madness, a desperate madness. Her sanity had begun to slip away by inches, slowly shredded by the things she’d seen, realizations she’d come to. She was unraveling bit by bit.
Tentatively, the girl took his hand again and pressed the keycard into it. There was no jolt this time. Her jaw trembled a little. “Please. Do it for all of us, even the ones that might not make it.”
Their eyes met and Brendan went cold.
Strapped to a rack, the girl screamed, head thrown back. A surgeon came at her with a scalpel, uncaring. Then, the world exploded, fire and shards of metal flying in every direction—
He pulled back. She recoiled, looking away, her dark hair veiling her face in a jagged line.
“Cullings,” Brendan breathed. “You know they’re coming. They’ve already started.”
“Yes,” the girl whispered. “They’re coming. We…all of us here…saw them coming. Some deny it. I tried to. I—I found I couldn’t anymore.” She licked her lips. “Your intelligence people are good. It might have been too late, if you’d waited another day.”
“What’s going to happen?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered. “I don’t know, but I know you’re here just in time.” She pointed down the corridor he stood in. “In another thirty meters, you’ll find a door with a red light above it. The card will open that door and you’ll find her there. If you come back here, you’ll find a lift. It’s not supposed to work, but it does. We made sure of it so you could get out.” Her throat convulsed as she swallowed. “Just get her out of here and don’t think about anything else. None of us here matter if you can’t escape, with her or without her.”
What in the name of everything sacred and profane is going on here?
She went rigid, face growing paler. “Oh ancestors,” she whispered. “You have to hurry. I’ll delay anyone who comes down here for as long as I can, but you have to hurry. You can’t let Zaki catch you. If he catches you, he’ll kill you and then we’ll have no hope left!” She pushed past him into the corridor, starting to hurry in the direction he’d come from.
“Wait!” Brendan hissed at her.
She turned for a brief moment, looking at him.
“Who are you?” he whispered. “And why are you helping me?”
The girl gave him a tiny, weak smile. “It’s something I have to do, Kaito, and me alone. You’re the only hope we have.”
“Keep your heads down. Down!” Marshal Rose’s braid whipped around like a lash as she looked toward the slender girl with a scarred face cradling an infant in her unbroken arm. “How did you save all of them? Why?”
The girl licked her lips. “It was something I had to do, ma’am. Would Kaito be proud of me?”
The girl winced. “I think you call him Commander Cho.”
He shook his head, struggling to clear it. The girl was gone. He blinked back tears that stung, wondering—wondering at what he’d just seen, wondering at the girl. Who was she?
What did I just see? He pressed his knuckles against his eyes, setting his jaw.
I’m overwrought and imagining things. He looked at the key card she’d pressed into his hand for a long moment. Don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth, Brendan. You’ve got a job to do, take all the help you can get. Who knows, maybe she’s someone who works for us, someone who got caught.
Even as he jogged down the corridor, looking for the door she’d mentioned, the questions nagged at him.
Was this all a trap?
That certainly unsettled his stomach. It was all he could do to keep himself from puking his dinner up right then and there.
Then a wave of hate and pain hit him and he lost all control of himself and doubled over, retching. He fell into the wall, stomach roiling and cramping, throat convulsing violently. Tears stung his eyes as he fought for control, breathing heavily in ragged gasps between heaves and looking around for the source of the suffering.
The door was within arm’s reach, and the source of the suffering lay within.
Target acquired, he thought, then doubled over again. He started to wrestle his mental shields back into place, every metaphorical inch a battle.
Finally, he slumped against the wall, breathing hard and trying to master himself. At least his stomach was completely empty now.
Brendan turned and stared at the door as his stomach calmed. His fingers clenched around the edges of the key-card.
Promises made, promises kept.
He ran the key through the slot and prayed.