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       Tremor, p.17

           Patrick Carman
 
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  Hawk shifted his slight shoulders up then down and refused to make eye contact. He was not a big fan of confrontation in any form. “Just following orders.”

  Faith tried to remember all the things she’d said that Meredith might have heard. But what did it really matter? Meredith was in charge and had been all along. Faith wasn’t as free of her control as she’d hoped.

  “They’ve raised the prison,” Clooger reported, dodging to the left as a shard of metal flopped through the trees like a dead bird. “The entire prison. It appears headed in the general direction of the Western State.”

  “Everyone, listen carefully,” Meredith said. “No going rogue. I mean it. Faith, especially you. This is no time to take matters into your own hands.”

  Faith seethed under the thumb of this woman who wanted to control her. Just you wait, she thought. I’ve got plans of my own whether you like it or not.

  “Dylan, they’re going to let you out eventually. When they do, signal us with three sharp coughs in a row. Sample.”

  The sound rings went dead for two seconds and then Dylan delivered three short coughs.

  “Good,” Meredith continued. “Hawk, as soon as he’s out, start doing recon for an escape plan. Clooger, you and Faith follow but stay low. My guess is they’ll take the prison up to the cloud line where it’s harder to detect, possibly higher than that. Were they wearing protective gear?”

  Faith was at once surprised Meredith wasn’t more shocked that a prison was flying through the air and disappointed in herself for not getting out binoculars for a closer look at the enemies as they passed over. The massive underside of the complex cleared their position, and Clooger took up his own high-power binoculars, training them on the figures darting back and forth over the prison structure.

  “Copy that,” he said. “Full-body suits, helmets. Looks like gloves, too.”

  “Get ready for it to really move,” Meredith said.

  “Oh, it’s really moving; didn’t we mention that?” Faith said sarcastically. She looked at Hawk for a smile among “enlisted personnel” but found that he was gazing up into the sky.

  “Whoa,” he said, and, looking up, Faith watched the prison rise higher in air as if it had hit the bottom of a bungee cord. It was racing higher and higher. Within seconds it was nothing more than a dot in the sky, moving to the east.

  “Are you tracking it, Hawk?” Meredith asked.

  “Yeah, I got it. Hard to miss something that big. No . . . wait. It’s gone!”

  “As I suspected,” Meredith said. “They’re using a hybrid of the State’s virtual-wall system. Hold, take no action until I give the order.”

  The second Meredith said the words Hawk knew exactly what she was talking about. Hawk spoke without pressing his sound ring.

  “It’s a reverse signal. The States won’t know it’s coming.”

  “What are you saying?” Faith had no idea what Hawk was talking about.

  “The technology used for the energy wall around the States has been discovered and reassembled.”

  “Again, no idea what you’re saying. Speak English.”

  Hawk was typing and swiping furiously on his Tablet while he talked. His response was every bit as rapid-fire. “Think of the wall as a virus—these guys captured it, examined it, decoded it. They know how to hide from it.”

  “And they know how to get around it,” Clooger said.

  Meredith had gone quiet as the entire conversation took place outside the sound rings. No one was pressing in. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but for whatever reason she wasn’t giving them orders or asking them questions.

  Faith took her sound ring between her finger and thumb.

  “You need to alert them that this thing is coming,” she said. “Hello? Meredith?!”

  Nothing.

  “Where the hell did she go?” Faith said. “If we lose visual we may never find them again. I’m going.”

  Faith burst up in the air, flying fast and high into the sky, until she heard the voices in her head, first Hawk then Clooger.

  “I have them! I have a signal.”

  “Faith, get back here! Now!”

  Faith stopped a few hundred feet over the tree line, looking back and forth between the ground and a prison that was rapidly getting smaller and smaller in the distance. Another minute and it would be gone entirely.

  “I’ve got Dylan’s sound ring,” Hawk said excitedly. “I’ve got it! As long as they don’t throw him overboard, we have a signal. We’re good.”

  “Faith?” Meredith was back. “If you go you’re on your own. You’ll get no support from us. Understand?”

  Faith hated feeling controlled, shackled to a plan and a person she didn’t like and didn’t trust. She wanted—no, needed—to retaliate for what they’d done to Liz. It was as if the very blood coursing through her veins was filled with a poison and the only antidote was revenge. It would start with Gretchen, then Clara. Those two, that would do it. She didn’t need to kill them all, just those two. Then she’d be okay.

  “Faith,” Meredith said. “I know what you’re doing. You’re thinking about getting even. Your odds are better if you stay with us, I promise.”

  “Prove it,” Faith said.

  They were wasting valuable time, but Faith wasn’t moving one way or the other without some assurances.

  For a moment it was a silent standoff. Clooger stared up at Faith like an angry sergeant. To him she was a soldier disobeying a direct order. He was furious, the dome of his shaved head turning a mottled shade of pink. Hawk snapped his Tablet small and held it in the air, searching for something.

  “I promise you, Faith,” Meredith finally said. “If an opportunity arises to end Gretchen or Clara, I’ll put you on the front line. That’s the best I can offer.”

  Faith didn’t think it was much, but she also had a serious problem. She needed Hawk on this, needed him badly. There was something she needed him to do without telling anyone else. Without that something, she wasn’t ready to go it alone.

  “Understood,” Faith said, slowly lowering toward the trees as the prison turned into a small black dot in the distant sky above. “I just hope we all make it out of this in one piece.”

  “Agreed.”

  When Faith arrived next to Clooger and Hawk, they descended down through the trees and landed next to the HumGee. Clooger took one look at Faith, fast and serious, and after that he wouldn’t look at her again. He was disappointed in her, she could tell. He loved the chain of command, and she’d been breaking it all along. He had no respect for that kind of attitude. I understand, she thought. But it doesn’t change anything. And I’m not sorry.

  “I’m leaving in the next twenty minutes,” Meredith said. “First I’ll make contact with both States, prepare them for what might be coming. It’s delicate; let me handle it. I’ll bring everyone we have, all the single pulses.”

  “Sound rings are all calibrated,” Hawk said. “I can track everyone.”

  “What’s the sight distance for something that size?” Meredith asked.

  Hawk started mumbling, but Faith could hear him.

  “S equals sqrt(2rh+h^2) where s equals line of sight distance, r equals radius of sphere, h equals height viewed from . . . There are some factors here that aren’t perfect, but I think we’re talking about three miles, give or take.”

  “So we can see the prison up to three miles away?” Clooger asked.

  “About that, yeah, assuming there’re no obstructions like clouds or haze. And that’s looking up. You guys can’t go horizontal with the target if they get too high. Way too cold up there even with the bullets.”

  Hawk was referring to one of his other inventions, a piece of equipment that was about to come into play in a big way.

  “That’s why they’re wearing protective temperature gear,” Clooger said.

  “The bullet gear will get you high enough,” Meredith said.

  “And they’ll take you to around a thousand
miles per hour, but I can’t imagine they’re planning to go anywhere near that fast,” Hawk said. He tapped several commands out on his screen. “Then again, they’re speeding up, already past three hundred. Slowing that thing down is going to be a trick. It’s also going to be throwing a path of serious debris. Definitely stay back.”

  “Clooger, you and Faith follow at a distance of two miles,” Meredith said. “You’ll be able to see them, but they won’t be able to see you. They shouldn’t be able to track you that far away with all the garbage trailing, but be prepared in case they can. You may need to run.”

  “I won’t need to run,” Faith said.

  Faith didn’t actually love the idea of killing a bunch of single pulses just because they weren’t on her side, but if she was pushed into it, she would. Her vengeance was focused on Gretchen and Clara like a two-pronged laser beam, and it suddenly struck her that this had not always been the case. Her rage had, for a very long time, been even more narrowly focused on Clara alone. Clara had sent the hammer flying, no one else. That there were now two she hated enough to kill had seeped into her system without warning.

  Meredith didn’t respond to Faith’s bravado. “Hawk, you’re our eyes and ears, our command center. Stay in the HumGee until this is over, keep us connected, look for escape routes, relay information.”

  Hawk didn’t love the idea of staying in the woods alone, especially if this thing went on into the night, but he wasn’t about to complain.

  “I’ll make the call, then we’re on the move,” Meredith said. “We’re a go.”

  Clooger got down on one knee and held Hawk by both shoulders. Hawk’s flop of brown hair was hanging down over half his face, and Clooger pushed it aside. Clooger’s face was as pale as ever, and the scars that marked his many missions stood out in pink lines along his cheeks and forehead. The two new pockmarks Hawk had added blended in just fine.

  “Sorry about shooting you,” Hawk said.

  Clooger smiled. “You get out to pee and that’s it, understood? Otherwise, stay in the HumGee.”

  “Done,” Hawk said.

  Clooger stood but still wouldn’t look at Faith. He crossed to the tail end of the HumGee and opened the swinging door. Inside were the bullet suits, which none of them had expected to use. He pulled them out and started the process of assembling each.

  “How fast does a bullet travel?” Faith asked.

  Clooger had laid a metal cylinder, which was shaped something like the lasso in a rope, on the ground. It was wide enough for Clooger to step inside of.

  “Depending on the weapon, a bullet can go over thirty thousand miles per hour,” Hawk explained. “You won’t be going that fast. How much training have you had in that thing?”

  Clooger scratched his chin, which was rapidly filling with thick stubble. “I don’t know, six flights? Top speed was six hundred.”

  “Let’s hope you don’t have to go any faster than that,” Hawk advised. “You’re one false move from dead. A lot of bad things can happen at that speed. Stay way off the ground.”

  Clooger stepped into the middle of the ring and pulled the Tablet out of his pocket.

  “Let’s get some distance between us,” he said, looking at Faith for the first time in quite a while. “Safer that way.”

  Clooger swiped the screen on his Tablet, which was in its pocket size, and tapped an icon. A few more taps and a shiny gray cone rose around him in the shape of a bullet, stretching in the same way his Tablet would if he snapped it large. The surface was frosted glass, hard as stone; and when it curved in at the top, it made a popping sound, sealing Clooger inside. The tail end provided ventilation, but otherwise Clooger was surrounded by a shield of impenetrable, smoke-colored glass.

  “If you veer out of control, stay in the bullet,” Hawk said. “It’s your best chance.”

  “Thanks, little buddy.”

  A moment later he blasted from the ground like a missile, powering up through the trees and into the open air.

  “You’ll be okay?” Faith asked. She stepped closer, reached out a hand. They were good at holding hands, though it reminded Faith of things she didn’t want to be reminded of. Hawk reached out, touched Faith. He was never one to miss a chance to touch the soft skin of a pretty girl’s hand.

  “I’ll be fine, me and the skunks. No worries. Let’s get Dylan back, you and me.”

  Faith handed Hawk a letter she’d written on an old piece of paper and looked at him more seriously than she ever had before.

  “Do this for me. For both of us. And don’t tell a soul. It’s our secret.”

  “I’m good at keeping secrets,” Hawk said sheepishly.

  “So I’ve noticed.”

  And then she was wrapping herself in a bullet, preparing to leave.

  A few seconds later she was gone and Hawk was alone in the woods.

  No matter what Meredith or Clooger or even Dylan thought about where Faith belonged in the world, she knew her destiny lay elsewhere. They all, in one way or another, wanted to contain her. What they failed to realize was how fundamentally unsound the idea of containing Faith Daniels was. It might be possible after her work was through, but until then they were all fighting a losing battle. Maybe that’s why, as she flew across the open sky at a clip of five hundred miles per hour, she was even bothered by the protective cocoon of the bullet shield around her. She wanted to punch it, kick it, smash it into a million pieces. She could see Clooger up ahead and to the left and found herself fantasizing about turning hard, accelerating, and smashing into him.

  Girl, you’re starting to worry me. Take it easy.

  The bullet was a fantastic invention, dreamed up by Hawk after dissecting the chemistry of a Tablet that snapped from large to small. Whatever that material was, Hawk had figured out how to manufacture it, shape it, bend it to his intellectual will. The brilliance of the material, Hawk knew, lay in three aspects: its strength, its flexibility, and its uncanny ability to go rigid or pliable, depending on the need. The stuff, Hawk had discovered, was full of nano-bots: tiny computer cells that could be programmed and controlled. Once all the information was stored in Hawk’s head, it was only a matter of time before he created something that would make single-person flight at very high speeds both possible and comfortable.

  And boring.

  An hour into the flight, the thrill of flying at eight hundred miles per hour started to wear thin. Faith had already done enough low-level acrobatics to make her feel seasick, turning the bullet by shifting her hips back and forth. She thought about taking out her Tablet and watching a show, but that seemed like a crazy idea, even for a second pulse who could crash and come out just fine. Not having anything else to do, she decided to call Clooger and see if she could patch things up.

  “Hey, Cloog,” she said, pressing her sound ring. The movement of her arm made the bullet slide into a slow, meandering spin. “I’m sorry I haven’t followed every order exactly right. I’m not military like you. Conforming isn’t natural.”

  She got no reply.

  “I’m just saying, it’s not that easy. But I’ll try harder, promise.”

  She couldn’t think of anything else to say; and knowing that Meredith, Dylan, and Hawk were listening, she couldn’t bring herself to stoop any lower.

  When he finally did speak, his voice was softer than she’d expected.

  “Just be careful you don’t get someone killed. Not all of us are as invincible as you are.”

  Clooger’s words stung, but they also rang true. She could take a bullet; most of her friends could not.

  “Understood,” she said.

  “Now that you two have made nice, I’ve got some new recon,” Hawk said. “They’re up to nine hundred miles per hour, which puts the Western State only an hour and sixteen minutes away. Better speed up; you’re two point four miles back, and the gap is widening. Also, they’ve moved indoors. No one is driving that thing from above.”

  The situation was becoming more and more unbelievable. N
ot only were the Quinns moving an entire prison through the air, they were doing it from within the prison itself. And they had what amounted to a small city block moving at nearly a thousand miles per hour.

  If Dylan could have seen the outside of the prison, he’d have discovered a facility stripped to its bones. Like a wall sandblasted of paint, the prison had shed everything that wasn’t part of its core. Every light pole had been sheared off, all the pipes and wires ripped away, any sign of the earth it had sat on gone for good. What remained was a behemoth box of gray concrete and rebar. A foundation of stone, walls of marble and granite, a massive shell of a million pounds on a collision course with a population base of a hundred and fifty million people. At its current speed, it could rip through thirty or more towers in a row and another fifty in collateral damage, toppling a tenth of the supercity in one fatal blow.

  But Dylan didn’t know any of that because Dylan was sitting in his cell, wishing he could come up with a way out. He’d tried to apply his greatest mental strength to the bars, to bend them to his will, but they were monstrously thick. Moving objects from one place to another was one thing, bending solid iron was another. It wasn’t in his catalog of pulse skills.

  He knew the prison was moving; that much he could discern from the way it had felt lifting off the ground and the chatter on the sound rings. He couldn’t say he’d been surprised to discover his mother had been listening to everything they said. But he did take some solace in knowing that she had heard only maybe 10 percent of everything that had been spoken since their departure. She could hear what they said only when someone on the sound ring network pressed in. Everything else was a mystery to her, and that, for some reason, pleased him. What had passed between Andre and him was theirs alone, no one else’s.

  After what felt like hours and hours, the door on the far end of the hallway opened, and a gust of wind blew down the hall. Cell block D was under the foundation of the prison, but it was also part of the foundation. The structure that remained could have been flipped upside down, the once-underground cell blocks moved to the top, and it would have held together. It was all of a piece: a single, massive mold. When the door shut, the air pressure changed, and Dylan’s ears popped. It was not a pleasant feeling.

 
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