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       Tremor, p.14

           Patrick Carman
 
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  “There’s no way Dylan has switched sides,” Clara said as they walked away from the warden’s office. “It’s cool we have him locked up and all, but he’s not with us. He’s with her.”

  “Yeah, well, Meredith is tricky. Doesn’t matter. Gretchen and Andre aren’t buying it anyway. They’re smarter than that.”

  “I’m not talking about Meredith. God, you’re dense sometimes.”

  “Who, then?” Wade asked. He hated the way his sister was always making him feel inferior. So what if she got the smart gene out of the twin arrangement?

  “Look, brother, I love you,” Clara said. “But you have to stop crushing on Faith Daniels. It’s pointless. She’s in love with Dylan, always has been.”

  “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Besides, I’m not crushing on anyone. I’m focused on the plan, like you should be.”

  Clara stopped walking, which had the desired effect of getting Wade to stop, too. She didn’t say anything.

  “What?” Wade asked.

  And that was when Clara had set off the first bomb.

  “I know she’s out there, Wade. I saw both of you, together. And you know what was really difficult to watch? How hard you’re falling for this girl and how little she cares. From my vantage point overhead, it was obvious. She’s not into you; she’s into Dylan. He told me as much.”

  Wade didn’t see the point in lying any longer. His sister knew. She’d stayed out there and seen them together. And yet he had come to hate it when she cornered him. What he really wanted to do, right at that moment, was punch her in the face.

  He stepped in close.

  “Stay out of my business.”

  Clara wasn’t one to back down, especially when she had the upper hand. She had the annoying habit of smirking when she had someone where she wanted them, and this she did as she moved even closer, their faces nearly touching. “Our enemy is in the woods, watching our every move, waiting for us to make a mistake. I think that’s everyone’s business whether you like it or not.”

  Wade took one step back, at once furious and helpless.

  “Did you tell anyone else?” he asked.

  “No. Didn’t figure you’d want me to. But it’s pretty damn risky. How many more are out there?”

  “Just her, that’s it.”

  “You sure about that?”

  Wade wasn’t precisely sure about anything anymore, including how Faith felt about him.

  “You remember that hairy son of a bitch, Clooger? He’s out there,” Clara said. “And so is your little Wire Code buddy, Hawk.”

  “No way.”

  Clara took out her Tablet, snapped it to its largest size, and cycled through a selection of photographs. She’d been doing plenty of recon of her own in the woods outside the prison and had taken the pictures to prove it. There were a series of photos from above of Wade and Clara, others of two figures standing by what appeared to be a giant boulder. She’d flown high above where any radar could detect her movement and used the digital hyperzoom feature on her Tablet. The resulting images were grainy, but there was no mistaking the big guy with the bald head or the kid standing next to him.

  “That’s not Clooger,” Wade said, as if it mattered.

  “Oh, it’s him all right. He’s lost the dreads and the beard, but it’s definitely him. And there’s no doubt the pip-squeak is Hawk. That head of hair is unmistakable.”

  Wade was livid. Not only had Faith lied to him big-time, Clara had come to him with information he should have found on his own.

  “She lied to you about this,” Clara said, snapping the Tablet back to its pocket size. “What makes you think she wouldn’t lie about Dylan?”

  Wade didn’t want to believe it.

  “She’s using you, so let’s use her back.”

  Wade wasn’t completely convinced, but he wanted the ammo in case everything Clara was saying panned out. If Faith really was using him and the whole thing was a setup, he wanted to turn the tables.

  “What are you thinking?” he asked.

  And then she lit the fuse on the second bomb in her plan.

  “No one uses us, least of all a single pulse who has no idea what she’s doing. Tell her when we’re leaving and where Gretchen is going. Then tell her Gretchen’s weakness.”

  Wade didn’t quite understand at first and then he did.

  “You want Gretchen dead?”

  Clara feigned surprise.

  “Whatever gave you that idea?”

  “She’s our mother. That’s a little much, don’t you think?”

  Clara rolled her eyes, but she could tell: her brother was taking the bait.

  “Faith couldn’t kill Gretchen in her wildest dreams. She’s a single, Wade. It won’t take much for Gretchen to finish her off. All I’m saying is, maybe she can get in a shot or two before our dear old mom puts her in her grave.”

  “Sometimes I think this is all a little too much fun for you.”

  “Do whatever you want. Just don’t forget: when this thing is done, Gretchen will be one more step up the power ranking. You and me? Our situation only changes if we make it happen.”

  Wade thought about everything Clara had said as she moved past him, leaving him standing alone in the corridor outside the warden’s office. Women angered him—his sister, his mother, and the girl with whom he thought he’d been in love. They were all of them in their own way trying to control him. They were like a long chain linked together and wrapped around his neck, synching tighter and tighter. He expected the deceit and gamesmanship from his sister and Gretchen, but Faith? She’d totally lied to him. She wasn’t alone; she was with that Neanderthal, Clooger, and that tiny jerk of a kid, Hawk. What did she see in these people? They were nothing compared to him. Nothing! And Dylan Gilmore? What a joke. Mostly he was hurt that Faith was using him. Wade Quinn hated feeling betrayed by someone he liked, which was why he liked basically no one.

  “Someone’s gonna pay,” Wade said. “And it’s not going to be me.”

  Clara, thinking only of her own endgame and how she’d gotten exactly what she wanted in the transaction, smiled. “That’s the spirit.”

  “What’s the deal, Officer John McClane?” Hawk asked. He was lying down on his stomach, binoculars in hand, watching as the single pulses started cleaning up the disaster zone in the field. “I thought we weren’t intervening?”

  “Who’s John McClane?” Faith had no idea who Hawk was referring to as she noticed the sun dip below the tree line on the far side of the prison. A couple more hours until dark, then she’d have to sneak away and meet up with Wade again.

  “Chrome-dome action hero?” Hawk said, pulling his head away from the binoculars and looking at Faith as if she had failed to pass the easiest pop culture quiz ever. “Die Hard movies with Bruce Willis. There were nine sequels. Come on, that character was a legend.”

  Faith registered no clue and no interest.

  “It’s on the retro station. And while you’re there, check out Avatar. Good stuff.”

  “You’re a weird kid, Hawk,” Clooger said. “But I like you anyway.”

  “I can’t tell you how much that means to me. But seriously, why’d you do it?”

  “Because sometimes you have to choose between two lousy options and in doing so change your mind.”

  Hawk turned this over in his mind. “So you’re saying the rules are the rules until someone breaks the rules, and then those rules become the rules.”

  Clooger slowly ran the formula through his head and nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. But it doesn’t apply to you. Or Faith. Only me.”

  Faith found the conversation exhausting and not terribly entertaining, and decided to take a short nap in the HumGee. She hadn’t slept nearly enough and felt it was her best shot at catching up.

  Two hours later, the sun down and a chill in the air, Faith talked to the guys.

  “Mind if I go for a walk? I’ll be careful, and I won’t go far.”

  Clooger
looked up from his Tablet, which held a digital copy of Moby-Dick he’d been slowly plowing through for weeks, and eyed her warily.

  “I’ll go with you,” he said.

  “No way you guys are leaving me here alone,” Hawk said. He didn’t look up from his Tablet. “Let’s all go.”

  “Really, you guys, I’d rather go alone. I need space to think.”

  “Plenty of room over there,” Clooger said, pointing to a grassy section about ten feet away from the camouflaged HumGee. “We promise not to talk to you.”

  Hawk was deeply embedded in whatever he was doing on his Tablet, some hugely complicated problem well on its way to being solved, Faith imagined.

  “Look, you guys, I enjoy hanging out and all, but a girl needs a little breathing room.”

  “What about the skunks?” Clooger asked. “And the potential search parties?”

  “Yeah,” Hawk asked without looking up. “What about it?”

  Faith couldn’t tell them about Wade. No way, not yet. It crossed her mind that this didn’t make her much of a team player, but teams had never been her strong suit. She was more comfortable going it alone.

  “You guys should be worried about genetically altered wolves, not me. I don’t even know why you’re sitting out here. They could be just past our field of vision, waiting to drag one of us away.”

  This got Hawk’s attention, and he finally looked up. “I’m the smallest one. They’ll take me for sure.”

  Hawk crawled a few feet toward the HumGee, lifted the cover, and disappeared underneath. Faith and Clooger heard the door open and shut.

  “We should all get inside for the night,” Clooger said. His head was cold, too, and inside the HumGee was warm. “It’s the safest place.”

  “I don’t need safe; I’m fine. And what if they make a break for it in the middle of the night? Then what? We wake up and the place is deserted, Dylan gone right along with them?”

  Clooger had thought of this possibility plenty of times, but it wasn’t something for which they hadn’t built in contingencies.

  “Hawk can track the sound rings. We’re not going to lose Dylan.”

  “Do whatever you want,” Faith said. “I’m going for a walk and taking a pee in the woods, and I’d rather not have company.”

  Clooger knew Faith well enough to wonder if she had bigger plans than she was saying. He ran through the options in his head: she wanted to sneak in and see Dylan, she thought she could get in close and figure something out on her own, she hoped to find Clara alone and fight her to the death. All bad ideas capable of blowing their cover and getting them killed.

  “Promise me you won’t do anything stupid,” Clooger said.

  “I won’t do anything stupid. I promise.”

  She deemed her behavior risky, not brainless, and therefore didn’t categorize her answer as a lie, strictly speaking.

  “If I call, you answer,” Clooger ordered.

  “Deal,” Faith agreed, something she knew she couldn’t possibly adhere to if a call came in while she was locked in a conversation with Wade.

  Clooger stood up and yawned, long and loud as if he was overdue for a bear-sized hibernation. Faith smiled—Thank you, I needed this—and turned to go. A few seconds later Clooger was sprawled out across the long, wide seat of the HumGee, staring at the ceiling. The far back end of the rig was where Faith would sleep, and Hawk was up front. Clooger closed his eyes, just to rest them for a moment, until Hawk leaned over the front seat and held out his Tablet.

  “Wanna play Asteroids?”

  Hawk had thought the training event earlier in the day had been a lot like the classic video arcade game.

  “Is that what you’ve been ‘working’ on?” Clooger asked without opening his eyes.

  “Yeah, well, can’t work all the time. Fries the circuits.”

  “Uh-huh.”

  Hawk could tell he was on his own with Asteroids. He’d been feeling the pressure of everything, the isolation of the woods, and video games at least took his mind off his worries, which were numerous. He’d calculated the amount of power it had taken to lift all those train cars and move them so precisely. It was a lot. If Andre and the Quinns were planning something really terrible, he wasn’t sure Faith and Dylan would be enough firepower to stop them. He worried about his parents and, more accurately, his own fragile psyche. He had come to realize that all Intels were subject to the strong possibility of going insane. It might happen when he was fifteen, it might not happen until he was forty; but it was going to happen. It was an unpleasant thought, like death and disease, and it was shared by Andre and Clara. They both knew, too. It was only a matter of time with Intels.

  He went back to his game, listening to the sound of Clooger’s snoring. The big guy was louder when he was on his back, and the inside of the HumGee was like a cave where a big sound only got bigger.

  “If a bear snores in the woods and no one is there to hear it, is there really any sound?” Hawk asked himself, willing his mind to tune out the racket.

  The trouble with emulators that ran retro games on Tablets was that they weren’t native. They covered the Tablet operating system like the skin on an orange, sealing it off until the game was shut down. Of course Hawk knew this, but stress in the field could have a debilitating effect on even the smartest people in the world. He didn’t care or didn’t think of it or didn’t think it mattered for ten or fifteen minutes.

  Which was why he didn’t see the alert happening in the operating system under the Asteroids game. A pulse had been detected; someone was flying in close.

  By the time Hawk closed the game, Wade had already landed and Clooger was still snoring.

  Chapter 11

  Sasquatch

  Dylan had his first important piece of information, and he felt it was now worth the risk to try to make contact with his team. He was alone, locked in his cell, sitting on the floor. He’d hunched over, as if sleeping, and held his finger and thumb to his ear. He hoped someone in the woods would hear him whisper and whatever surveillance the prison had would not.

  His head bowed as low as it would go, arms folded across his knees, Dylan spoke.

  “Gretchen’s second-pulse weakness,” he said, then stopped at the sound of distant footsteps coming toward him. “It’s water—her weakness is water.”

  He had deduced this remarkably important piece of information from the scene that had played out in the field outside, and he felt convinced he was right. As the steps grew near, Hawk’s voice filled his head.

  “How do you know? Hey, buddy, you there?”

  Hawk didn’t get a reply and assumed correctly that Dylan was in mixed company. He tried Faith: “Faith, are you hearing this?”

  Faith had also heard Dylan’s voice deep inside her head, but she was standing in the woods with Wade Quinn. There was no way she could answer, but a tingle of excitement ran up her spine at the idea of knowing how to breach Gretchen’s second pulse. She smiled unexpectedly, thinking about pulling Gretchen into a tank of water and watching her melt like the Wicked Witch of the West. Wade smiled back and quickened his pace toward her in the dark. Regardless of whether she had betrayed him, he couldn’t have been happier to see her smiling at his return to the woods.

  Hawk, on the other hand, wasn’t too cheerful about what he was seeing in the HumGee. Clooger was in a deep sleep. Hawk thought about waking him but knew it would take some work. When Clooger slept, he really slept. The news about Gretchen was important, but it wasn’t time sensitive, not really. He could let the gentle giant grab a little rest while the getting was good.

  Hawk looked at his GPS positioning system and found Faith—the sound rings were wired up, even if her Tablet GPS was off-limits.

  She’s pretty far down the mountain.

  He rummaged around inside a duffel bag they’d gotten from a mega sporting-goods store back in Valencia. He’d been interested in the fishing gear at that store, especially the expensive fly-fishing stuff, but it was all virtu
ally useless where they were going. What they’d needed at the time, or at least he had needed, was protection. So they’d filled the duffel bag with an array of hunting knives, boxes of shells, and two shotguns.

  The sawed-off shotgun was Clooger’s weapon of choice because, as he had explained, it threw a very wide net. A normal shotgun blasted a cloud of buckshot that widened as it went. Sawing off the end of the gun made the blast zone even bigger.

  “You might not kill what you’re shooting,” he’d explained. “But if you’re at close range, you’ll probably hit whatever you’re aiming at. And that will give you enough time to get the hell out of whatever mess you’ve gotten yourself into without killing someone in the process.”

  Clooger had sawed off the ends of the guns and given Hawk about ten minutes of shooting lessons inside the store, where they’d aimed directly into the open expanse of the golf section. Hawk’s first shot had knocked him clean off his feet and left his shoulder throbbing. Most of the buckshot had hit the ceiling, falling like hail into the store. It had also been loud enough to make Hawk’s ears ring for an hour afterward. Clooger hadn’t put an end to the lesson until Hawk heard the sound of tiny metal balls pinging off five irons, drivers, and putters. His aim wasn’t much to write home about, but at least he was firing at eye level.

  “It’s earsplitting, so don’t fire unless you have to.”

  “That won’t be a problem,” Hawk had said. They’d grabbed a bunch of hunting knives and called it good on weaponry.

  Hawk filled his pockets with shotgun shells, loaded the barrel, and slammed it shut with a clang. He took two of the hunting knives, which were held in leather sheaths he could attach to his belt, one on each side. One more look over the seat at Clooger, who had, expectedly, slept through all the activity.

  Hawk exited the HumGee and put on both buck knives, one on each side of his waist, and held the sawed-off shotgun in his right hand. He’d recently been streaming old Rambo movies on his Tablet and gotten just a little bit obsessed with the idea of going out into the wild and shooting at stuff. Maybe it was some pent-up aggression. He’d been feeling uptight about not having a second pulse, a first pulse, a girlfriend, a big brother, or parents who could actually pay attention to what he was saying. More and more he was bothered by the fact that he was not only the smallest guy in the room, he was also the weakest. Couldn’t the universe have fated him to have a pulse instead of brains to burn? He often fell asleep thinking of all the mayhem he would cause if he could pick up cars and buses and slam them into each other.

 
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