Fragments, p.46
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       Fragments, p.46

           Dan Wells

  Samm’s voice was softer now, no longer aggressive but simple and sad. “I don’t believe in impossible choices.”

  “Then what’s the answer?”

  “I don’t know yet,” he said, “but I know it’s out there. And we have to find it.”

  Kira realized she was crying, and wiped the tears away with the back of her hand. She was still holding a ripped strip of the suit jacket, and waved it feebly. “Give me your arm,” she said. “I still need to wrap it.”

  “Do it nice and slow,” said Calix, and Kira and Samm jerked up, whirling around to find the blond girl standing behind them with a drawn pistol. Her rifle was slung over her back. “Thanks for having such a heated discussion,” she said. “It made it much easier to find you.”

  “I’m out of bullets,” said Kira, shooting a glance at her discarded gun and backpack on the far side of the office room.

  “I have one,” said Samm, “but I’m pretty sure she could shoot us both before I can get to it.”

  “That’s the truest thing you’ve ever said,” said Calix. “How about you pull that gun out nice and slow and kick it over to me.” Samm grabbed his pistol with two loose fingers, nowhere near the trigger, and dropped it on the floor. “That’s right,” said Calix, “over to me.” He kicked it, awkwardly from his slumped position, and she bent down to retrieve it, keeping her semiautomatic trained on them the entire time with her other hand. She made sure Samm’s safety was on, and dropped the gun in a satchel by her waist. “Now, let’s answer a few questions before I take you back to the Preserve. First”—and here her voice wavered slightly—“are you really Partials?”

  “We are,” said Kira, “but that doesn’t make us enemies.”

  “Dr. Vale said you were trying to take away our RM cure.”

  “That’s . . .” Kira looked at Samm, then back at Calix. “We don’t want anyone to die.”

  “But you’re talking about shutting down his lab.”

  “Do you know what the cure is?” asked Samm.

  “It’s an injection,” said Calix.

  “But do you know how he makes it?”

  Calix’s confusion faded, and her face grew grim and determined again. “Why does this matter?”

  “The cure comes from Partials,” said Kira. “He has ten of them in a basement lab, where they’ve been living in induced comas for twelve years.”

  “That’s not true,” said Calix.

  “I’ve seen them,” said Kira.

  “You’re lying.”

  “Dr. Vale created the Partials,” said Samm. “There’s a lot about him you don’t know.”

  “Stand up,” said Calix. “I’ll take you back, and we’ll talk to Dr. Vale, and he can show everyone exactly how wrong you are.”

  “That’s going to be a lot more eye-opening than you think,” said Kira, rising to her feet, when suddenly a gunshot blasted through the building and she dropped to the floor, covering her head. Did she shoot me? Samm? She heard another shot, and a cry of pain, and Calix slumped to the floor. Kira looked up in surprise, then glanced at Samm; he seemed just as confused as she did. Calix was rolling on the floor, clutching her chest in a growing pool of blood. Kira cried out and ran to her. “Calix!”

  Calix groaned through clenched teeth, a snarl of pain and anger. “What did you do?”

  “I didn’t do anything. Who shot you?” She peeled the girl’s hands away from her bloody chest, looking for a bullet hole, and found that the wound was in her hand itself. The excess blood came from a second hole in the girl’s thigh. “You keep pressure on this,” she said, folding the girl’s hands back into her chest. “Samm, I need your help with this leg.”

  “Who shot her?” asked Samm, holding Calix’s shoulders to keep her still.

  “Who do you think?” asked Heron. Kira wheeled around to see her running in from the ruined street. “It was long range and this handgun isn’t as accurate as it could be. Get out of the way so I can finish her off.”

  “We don’t want you to finish her off,” said Kira, throwing herself in front of Heron’s gun. “Where have you been?”

  “I’ve been doing my job,” said Heron. “You’ve seen the spire?”

  “Of course,” said Kira, “and the lab in the basement.”

  “I couldn’t get close enough,” said Heron. “There’s some sort of sedative that works on the link. But I’ve been tracking a man named Vale for the last two days, and I’m reasonably certain he’s part of the Trust. There are also some Partials here, somewhere. Is that building what I think it is?”

  “Do you think it’s a pheromone farm of ten brain-dead Partial coma patients?”

  “Actually no,” said Heron, looking surprised, “that’s . . . I knew it was bad, but that’s . . . surprisingly bad. Either way, I hate being right.” She looked at Calix, still groaning in pain and thrashing on the floor. “Seriously, let me put her out of her misery.”

  “No more killing!” said Samm forcefully, and Kira and Heron both looked at him. He’d muscled past the pain from his wound and stood up. Kira nodded. “Absolutely, no more killing. Help me hold Calix down so I can look at that wound.”

  “Why do you want to save—this human?” asked Heron. She looked at Samm. “I suppose I don’t even have to ask you anymore, though, do I?”

  “She’s a hunter,” said Samm. “She’s not an enemy combatant. They don’t have soldiers—until we showed up, they didn’t even know war still existed. And no one but their leader knew about the Partials in the basement; I won’t punish Calix for something Vale did.”

  Kira felt a surge of emotion in her chest. “Exactly.”

  “Then we won’t kill any of them,” said Heron. “We can slip in at night, when their guard is down, and Samm and I will cover you while you get the prisoners. You’re the only one of us that’s immune to the sedative.”

  Samm spoke before Kira could. “We’ll free them,” he said firmly, “but we’re not leaving—or at least I’m not.”

  “What?” asked Kira and Heron at the same time.

  He looked at Kira. “That’s the answer to the impossible choice. I’m doing what you said: I’m staying with them.”

  “That’s stupid,” said Heron.

  “I can’t sacrifice anyone’s life,” said Samm, “anyone’s freedom, if I’m not willing to sacrifice my own. We’ll free the Partials who have been imprisoned, and the humans can get the pheromone from me.”

  “You . . .” Kira was stunned. She cast about for some way, any way, to argue with him. “You only have a year,” she said. “You can only help them for a year before you expire.”

  “Then you have one year to solve it,” said Samm. “Better get to work.”

  “This is all very heartwarming,” said Heron, “but it’s meaningless. You’re not staying here, Samm.”

  Kira opened her mouth to argue, but stopped when she saw the look on Samm’s face. He must have sensed something over the link. Heron wasn’t disagreeing with him. She was stating a fact.

  “Heron,” Samm said slowly. “What did you do?”

  “What I should have done a month ago,” said Heron, her expression dark and penetrating. “I reported back in.”

  Utter silence fell over the room. Even Calix was quiet, gritting her teeth as she clutched her wounds.

  Kira looked at Samm, but she already knew exactly what he was thinking. His confusion, heavily mixed with anger, burned so brightly on the link Kira could feel it clearly.

  Calix hissed through her teeth, “What report is she talking about?”

  “You called Morgan?” asked Kira. “You betrayed us?”

  “If that’s what you want to call it,” said Heron. “I’ve put up with your emotional self-discovery long enough, and it’s time to stop shut up and get things done. If Dr. Morgan can use your biology to solve expiration, then I’m giving it to her.”

  “When are you going to understand this?” asked Kira. “This is what Samm just said—we can’t pick sides anymore!

  “And he was very impassioned,” said Heron.

  “What did you do?” Samm demanded. “Specifically.”

  “I located a working broadband radio and called back to D Company on the repeaters we had set up,” said Heron. She looked at Kira. “I gave you your chance, and I did everything I could to help you, but the answers you’re looking for aren’t here. I’m done screwing around.”

  “This is a peaceful community,” pleaded Calix. “If you bring a Partial army here, they’ll destroy us.”

  “There it is,” said Samm, looking up. Kira looked at the ceiling, saw nothing, and looked back at Samm to see him tilting his head. He wasn’t looking, he was listening. She frowned and did the same, trying to hear what he’d heard.

  “What is it?” asked Calix.

  “I don’t hear anything,” said Kira, “just a—a droning sound, like a buzz. It’s very faint.”

  “That used to be one of the most recognizable sounds on the planet,” said Heron, “but you haven’t heard one in almost twelve years.”

  “What is it?” Kira demanded.

  “A turbine engine,” said Heron. “On a cargo plane. Morgan’s army is already here.”


  Kira ran for the pile of strips she’d torn up for Samm’s arm. “Sorry, Samm, you’re going to have to wait a little longer for that bandage.”

  “The meds were enough,” he said, through clenched teeth.

  Kira dove back to Calix’s side, pressing a wadded sleeve of the suit coat against her leg wound and wrapping it as quickly as she could with the makeshift bandages.

  “Why bother?” asked Heron. “You don’t even know—”

  “Shut up,” said Kira. She tied the strips firmly, putting as much pressure on the bleeding hole as she dared without turning the bandage into a tourniquet. “How does that feel?”

  “Fine,” said Calix. “How long before I can kick this Partial girl in the ass?”

  Heron raised her eyebrow.

  “Stay here,” said Kira, wrapping another bandage around Calix’s hand. “I have painkillers in my bag—don’t take too many. Someone will be back to find you.”

  “Where are you going?” asked Calix.

  “Out to meet them.” Kira shook her head. “If no one comes, look for antibiotics, and get as strong as you can before trying to cross the wasteland. It isn’t kind to people with leg wounds.”

  “Please,” said Calix. “Please, don’t let them hurt anyone.”

  Kira took the girl’s rifle and ran for the street, Samm and Heron close behind.

  “What are you expecting to accomplish?” asked Heron, catching up to her.

  Kira scanned the sky for any sign of the plane.

  “There,” said Samm, pointing to the east. Kira followed the line of his finger and found it, a small black cross in the pale gray sky. “It looks far away, but it’s moving fast.”

  “Then we run,” said Kira. “Back to the Preserve. There’s no telling what Morgan is going to do with the RM-resistant people she finds there. We need to get as many of them out of there as we can.”

  “Smart way to spend your last few minutes,” said Heron.

  “Who asked you?”

  “I don’t want them dead any more than you do,” said Heron, “though admittedly I don’t necessarily care if they live, either. As far as I know, all Morgan wants is you.”

  “You don’t know what she’s going to do to those people,” said Kira.

  “We should be running the other way,” said Samm. “We can get lost in the ruins and save you, Kira.”

  “I’d like to see you try,” said Heron.

  “We’re not running away,” said Kira. “I ran away when Morgan invaded Long Island, and she started killing hostages to flush me out. I thought I made the right choice, but . . . I’m not letting her do it again.”

  “What are you saying?” Samm asked, but Kira pointed up at the giant plane looming low in the sky.

  “We need to get to the Preserve, now!” She took off, racing through the now-familiar streets that led through the outskirts of the city to the edge of the Preserve, with Samm and Heron right behind her. Kira kept looking up, trying to judge the plane’s speed and distance. We’re not going to make it in time, she thought, it’s coming too fast. She pushed herself, never daring to slow down or deviate from her path. The plane grew larger in the sky, lower to the ground, and soon she could hear it, a low drone that built to a deafening crescendo as Kira finally reached the Preserve. There were guards by the gates, a new posting to keep the intruders out, but they were too preoccupied with the giant airplane roaring toward them to notice Kira and the others. The plane had wide rotors in the wings for a vertical landing, and it swooped down across the fence at the same time Kira pelted through the gate.

  She shouted to get the attention of the interior guards, though she could barely hear her own voice above the sound of the rotors. She grabbed the nearest guard and spun her around, shouting in her ear. “That’s a Partial army—you need to get everybody out of the Preserve and into the ruins now.”

  “We’re—” the guard stammered, looking from Kira to the plane and back again. “Supposed to—”

  “You don’t want to be here when they land,” Kira shouted. “Get everyone you can and hide them in the city!” She let go of the woman’s arm and ran deeper into the Preserve. In the corner of her eye she saw the guard regain her bearings and rush into the nearest building; soon a crowd of people spilled out, terrified children and parents with babes in arms, screaming in terror as they ran for the toxic ruins of Denver.

  Kira and Samm ran toward the plane, shouting at everyone they passed to evacuate. Heron slowed behind them, blocking any retreat they might try to make. Partial soldiers were already piling out of the plane when it landed in the grass, securing a perimeter with ruthless efficiency and then expanding it from cover to cover, each team watching the next. They trained their rifles on Samm and Kira, but they didn’t fire.

  “They’ve linked me,” said Samm. “They know it’s us.”

  “Drop your weapons,” said the soldier at the edge of the landing zone. Kira held her hunting rifle out to the side, not dropping it but showing that her hands weren’t near the trigger.

  “I surrender,” she said. “I’ll come willingly.”

  “Drop your weapons,” the soldier repeated. Wind from the rotors whipped through the air, smothering their words and lashing Kira’s face with dust and her own flailing hair. Kira grimaced in frustration, but dropped the rifle. Samm still wasn’t armed.

  “Don’t hurt the civilians!” Kira shouted.

  “Kira Walker,” said a voice, and Kira looked up to see Dr. Morgan descending from the plane. Her lab coat was gone, replaced by a crisp black business suit. “Nice to see you again.”

  “Do not hurt them,” said Kira. “These people are innocent.”

  “Samm,” said Morgan, stopping in front of them. “It’s not every day I get to meet a rebel soldier from my own command.”

  “You haven’t responded to her,” said Samm.

  “And I don’t intend to,” said Morgan. “You’re a traitor and she’s an enemy combatant; hardly the kind of people to whom I feel beholden to listen.”

  “I don’t want to fight you,” said Kira.

  Morgan smiled. “I wouldn’t either. You took us by surprise last time, but now you have no rebel Partial army to flank us while your friends make a messy rescue attempt. I have all the power here, and I’ll thank you to remember that.”

  “Not all,” said Vale. He approached from the far side of the clearing, a cluster of Partials surrounding him in a way that looked more like an honor guard than a prisoner escort. “I have to say, your soldiers are very obedient.”

  Morgan frowned, and Vale gritted his teeth. Kira wasn’t sure what was happening until she saw the soldiers fidgeting uncomfortably, torn in two directions by the competing authority of two members of the Trust. She looked at Samm and
saw him swaying, a bead of sweat rolling slowly down his brow. She took his hand.

  “You’re stronger than they are,” she whispered. “You don’t have to obey either one of them.” He gripped her fingers tightly, so tightly she felt they were ready to crush under the weight.

  The contest of wills carried on, Vale and Morgan staring each other down, the soldiers wavering in the middle. Kira saw their knuckles turn white as they clutched their rifles desperately, and one reached up to grasp his forehead.

  “Enough!” said Kira. “This isn’t getting anyone anywhere. Dr. Morgan, what do you want?”

  Morgan stared at Vale a moment longer, then looked away and released a shallow breath. Vale did the same, and the alignment of the soldiers didn’t seem to have changed at all; they remained loyal to whoever they were standing closest to. Kira looked at Samm, but read nothing on his face. She felt her heart race, terrified that she’d lost him back to Morgan’s control, but he squeezed her hand.

  She realized, in that moment, that she’d never been more relieved in her life.

  “I am here for my esteemed colleague,” said Morgan. She looked at Vale and smiled. “I’m putting the band back together, Cronus. Enough is enough, it’s time we reversed your expiration date once and for all.”

  “Are you trying to do it with gene mods?” he asked. “You saw what they did to Graeme; what they’ve done to Jerry.” His put his hand on the shoulder of the Partial soldier in front of him. “Our minds can’t take it, and neither can theirs.”

  “We can make them into anything we want,” said Morgan. “We’ve done it before, and we can do it again. They’re the future. Our children. Made in whatever image we’d like.”

  “Gene therapy is not the answer,” said Vale.

  “You would know,” said Morgan. “But I don’t have time to solve your genetic riddles on my own.” She looked at Kira. “That’s why I’ve come for you, and for her. The new model. The one without all those pesky genetic limitations.”

  “I won’t let you take her,” said Samm.

  Morgan started to answer, but Kira cut her off. “I’ll go,” she said quickly.

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