Authors: K.M. Ruiz
Keiko opened her mouth to argue, but Ciari interrupted her with “That's all we need to know, Keiko. Leave it be.”
Threnody spared a glance at Jael before saying, “If we want the Strykers to believe what we tell them about the virus, they'll need to hear the reason from an officer.”
“That's why Keiko will be with Jason and Quinton to administer the virus,” Lucas said. He cut off Quinton's protest with a look and a warning touch against the pyrokinetic's mental shields. “I'm sending Threnody and Kerr on a different mission that requires their powers. Aidan will monitor Keiko's progress, and when she returns, I'll teach her the basics of merging.”
“What about them?” Aidan said, pointing at Lucas's sisters.
The permanent smile on Kristen's face was half covered by one hand, which she used to prop up her chin. She was seated next to Samantha, tapping her fingers against the edge of the table. “We're going to the City of Lights.”
“Where is that?” Jason said. “I've been to almost every city that's left in this world. I've never heard of that one.”
“Paris,” Samantha answered in a clipped voice. “We're getting Lucas a sitrep on security at the launch site. No one will question us Sercas being there if humans discover our presence.”
“Is that safe with the amount of Warhounds that will be around? Not to mention the toxicity of the surrounding area.”
“The radiation won't be as high as it was in the past, but it's still intolerable, especially if you're human.” Samantha shrugged. “We need to know what's happening in Paris now that we no longer have people providing us inside information.”
“It's been so long, you'd think the radiation would fade,” Jael said. “But it doesn't. It just gets in your cells and lingers.”
“Sounds like everything's been decided,” Quinton said, turning his back on the room and the space shuttles on the vidscreen that were still launching. “Come get me when it's time to go into the field.”
He left, ignoring Threnody when she called out his name. Sighing in frustration, she shoved away from the conference table, calling over her shoulder to the room at large, “I'll be back.”
Jason's careful, meticulous hack of the security system that spanned the Strykers Syndicate had been limited. Quinton couldn't go far. Threnody found him in a room that held rows of empty research terminals, the people who would have manned them currently reassigned. Quinton didn't immediately look up at her arrival.
“Hey,” Threnody said, putting her back against the door.
“You could have argued,” he said after a moment, letting his hands rest on the edge of a terminal as he glared at her. “You could have done something other than accept everything that comes out of Lucas's mouth.”
“Where would that have gotten us? This is the only course of action. If it means we have to work apart, then we work apart.”
“You don't know if this is the only way.”
“Yes,” Threnody said quietly. “I do.”
She had faith in a child that no one alive had ever met, that no one ever would except through saved encrypted files. Maybe Threnody didn't trust Lucas, but she trusted in his goal, and Quinton couldn't doubt that, because it meant he'd be doubting her. Quinton shook his head and tried to smile, but it came out wrong, crooked. She saw it for what he meant it to be.
“Damn it,” he whispered. “Why can't I ever argue with you?”
Threnody shrugged. “Maybe you should have. I'm the reason why we got sent to the Slums in the first place, remember? Maybe if you reminded me to toe the line growing up, fulfill our contracts without arguing, and do as we were ordered, we wouldn't be here.”
“It wasn't my place to tell you how to do your job, Thren. It was my place to follow where you led.”
Threnody pushed away from the door and went to his side. She adjusted the flak jacket he wore, settling it more evenly on his broad shoulders. Threnody let her hands rest there, thumbs pressed against the bare skin of his neck. She could feel the electric pulse that ran through his body, a thing she knew just as intimately as she knew her own.
“I'm glad,” Threnody said, “that they gave you to me as my partner, Quin. I don't regret that, and I don't regret everything that brought us here to do this. I just hope you won't either.”
Quinton splayed one hand against the back of her head, fingers digging through her loose hair. He leaned down to press his forehead to hers, staring into her eyes. Conviction filled Threnody's voice, the same conviction that had gotten them through countless hellish missions over the years. It was a belief that they could survive anything, that they could survive this, and Quinton wondered what he would do without her by his side, shoring him up.
“I don't regret you,” he said.
She offered up a tired smile, some of the tension leaving her body. They were family, no matter how hard the government tried to beat that belief out of them. A few years shy of thirty, the two of them, and they had survived so much. Psions had long memories, and forgetting anything that happened in their lives was damn near impossible. The neural pathways linking the intricate relationships of memories meant a lifetime could be recalled with crystal clarity. In that lifetime, they would always have each other.
“Come on,” she said, pulling away, eyes clear of everything except determination. “Let's get back to the others.”
When they returned to the conference room, they found only Lucas and Kerr waiting for them. The vidscreen was running the satellite feed, but nothing of interest was happening. It seemed the launch was at a lull. Lucas focused his attention on Quinton once the other man stepped inside.
“I don't like disobedience,” Lucas said.
“You're going to get a lot of it when you free the Strykers,” Quinton said. “If you're hoping to grind us under your heel when this is over, you're not going to like what happens.”
Lucas nodded at the door, ignoring the threat. “Go find Jason. He's with Keiko figuring out the best route for teleportation over the continents.”
Quinton knew a dismissal when he heard one. He still hesitated, wondering if he could get away with remaining in the room. Threnody shook her head. “Go, Quinton. It'll be all right.”
“Watch your back,” Quinton said as he left. The door slid shut behind him.
Threnody eyed Lucas. “What now?”
“Everyone has their orders but you two,” Lucas said. “I'll explain what needs to be done after we leave tomorrow.”
“Why?” Kerr said.
“We need to pick up Novak. You need a hacker and Ciari can't spare one from the Stryker ranks.”
“And you can't spare Jason,” Threnody said. “When we get Novak tomorrow morning, where are you teleporting us? What do you want us to do?”
Lucas smiled, the expression an echo of Nathan's ruthlessness, Nathan's cruelty. “You're going to steal a bomb.”
The streets of London echoed with the voices of rioters demanding entry to the restricted area around the city towers. Bodies were strewn in the street near where military defense holed up, but people still struggled forward over the fallen. Segregation based on the cleanliness of a person's DNA had been the norm for centuries, rarely challenged, and always rigidly enforced. Now the government was applying segregation to an extent never before seen in society, and the people who had slipped through the cracks all their lives were refusing to be forgotten.
Unregistered humans weren't the only ones joining the growing worldwide fray. The military, with its scores of quads sent out to police what was left of the world, were made up of a mix of people. Some soldiers came from families that had barely made it into the Registry when the Fifth Generation Act was enacted. Other soldiers called the streets home. City towers refused to have unclean DNA in their midst, and the soldiers who patrolled those areas refused to work in the streets. The military had become as divided as the rest of society. It wasn't any great shock when it began to break apart and soldiers took opposite sides in the fight.
People held their ground in the streets of surviving cities, waves of protesters hitting against the anchor foundations of sealed city towers. In London, it was no different, and in the early light of morning, its streets were crowded.
Lucas's group teleported out of Toronto when it was full dark, arriving in London when the sun was starting to rise over the distant horizon. The air had a faint bite of cold to it, an early warning of the oncoming change of seasons. Dawn filtered through an overcast sky filled with smoke and pollution as their feet hit the roof of a tenement with a hard smack. Lucas was executing this part of the plan through shortened teleports, needing to conserve his strength for the oncoming fights ahead. The brief rest everyone had managed before scattering across the world was only thatâbrief.
A scan of the tenement proved it was almost empty, the majority of its inhabitants drawn to the riots. Lucas looked out over the city as he sent his mind skimming through the mental grid, tagging the population. People on the streets of London were closer to the foundations of the city towers near the Thames than any other territory. He wondered how long the registered humans would last before security was overwhelmed.
“I really hope they don't burn the city to the ground,” Threnody said as she surveyed the area from behind her helmet. “There's less toxicity around here and there's no room in any of the other cities for this population. The bunkers couldn't handle the overflow.”
“It will stand for now,” Lucas said as he squinted into the dawn. The city tower he once called home was backlit by the rising sun. “Nathan still needs it as a launching point to Paris for his Warhounds. He's not going to risk losing them because of the riots.”
All of them wore specialized skinsuits capable of shielding against radiation, with hard helmets instead of skinmasks coverings their heads. The places they needed to go weren't kind to survivors. Samantha adjusted the strap on her shoulder, the metal carrying case also shielded against radiation. It held extra supplies they couldn't risk getting contaminated, items she would need when they got to Paris.
Kristen wandered to the edge of the roof, crouching down beside the crumbling safety wall. “They're all so angry,” she said, smiling through the words. She turned her head to glance back at her siblings, the sunlight skating over her gleaming dark blue eyes, turning them silver for an instant. “Are we going to keep it?”
“Don't concern yourself with London, Kris. It's not your problem.”
Lucas lifted a hand and gestured at Kristen, telekinetically pulling her back from the ledge. She was deposited back beside Samantha, the older girl looking disdainfully down at her sister.
“I wish you would take her with you,” Samantha said, pointing at Kristen. “I can handle Paris on my own.”
“Perhaps, but Kris will keep you honest.”
Samantha's mouth curled up contemptuously. “Don't trust me?”
They were all three of them Sercas, with complicated blood ties and psi links that bound them together to an impossible degree. Lucas was supposed to one day own their family's Syndicate, and the rest were simply supposed to fall in line and obey. He had learnedâeventuallyâthat blind obedience was never useful.
“I trust you more than you could possibly imagine,” Lucas said, surprising Samantha with that confession. Then he telekinetically yanked her to his side, Samantha's body cutting through the air until she was eye to eye with him, feet centimeters above the ground. “But don't mistake your freedom for something it isn't.”
Samantha stabbed her telepathy into his mind, holding it against his shields, knowing better than to attack any further. That Lucas let her get that far had more to do with his twisted sense of generosity than her skill. Something deep in his mind resonated in her own, and it sparked pain throughout her head.
She closed her eyes for a second or two. “What did you do to me?”
“What had to be done.”
He shoved her away, retracting his telekinesis. Samantha couldn't keep her balance and fell, skidding against the grit and old debris on the rooftop. Her teeth bit through the inside of her cheek at the impact. Swearing, she got to her feet, swallowing blood and saliva.
“If this is what having siblings is like, I think I'm glad I never knew mine,” Kerr said.
Samantha shot him a dirty look. “A field partner is nothing like a family.”
Kerr gave her a pitying look. “Yeah, but I never have to watch my back around them.”
Kristen closed the distance between herself and Samantha, wrapping her arms around the other girl's waist and resting her head on Samantha's shoulder. Kristen only had eyes for Lucas. “It hurts here. Can we stay?”
“No,” Lucas told her. “We can't.”
Samantha extracted herself from Kristen's grip. “She's unstable, Lucas. She's going to make this mission difficult. You really should have left her behind.”
“She'll be all right.” Lucas glanced in the direction of the city towers before saying, “Hold on everyone.”
The next teleport was shorter than the last, taking them to Paris. They arrived on a dilapidated street braced by the gutted remains of buildings survived only by their foundations. Some streets were collapsed into the subways, quarries, and sewers that existed beneath the old city. They could make out a few scraggly trees and bushes nearby, none of which looked healthy.
What they could see of the city around them consisted of hard, discolored dirt in craters that broke up ancient asphalt, and stunted vegetation that crawled over the surrounding ruins. In the distance, a rusted and broken Eiffel Tower clawed for prominence in a sky that was eclipsed by launch platforms built over the dead city. Sunlight was a bit brighter here; they'd lost an hour in that split-second teleport.