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       Tremor, p.22

           Patrick Carman
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  Meredith’s forces had plenty of weapons of their own, which they carried inside their discarded bullet suits. She was more inclined to heavy artillery of the grenade and cannon varieties, and half her forces shouldered rocket launchers at the sight of incoming forces.

  The battle was on.

  Shots were fired first by Andre’s men, great blasts of fury that rang through the sky and scrambled the coding inside more than one drone. Security forces watching from nearby buildings slung code as fast as they could, trying to bring the drones under control. They were hardwired to attack at the sound of gunfire, and Andre’s men retreated to the prison, where they took shelter in the four gun turrets. One of them didn’t make it out of the open war space before taking fire from a set of two drones. The single pulse turned, faced the oncoming assault, and emptied all six Magnum rounds, strafing fire across the bow of both drones as he spun in a circle. His body armor, in which both teams of single pulses were covered from head to toe, took the brunt. But soon he was surrounded by two more drones. He was out of ammo, and though he’d destroyed some serious machinery in the effort, a spray of bullets finished him off. The man fell toward the earth and was caught by the roof of a building a few hundred feet below.

  Meredith held back, giving orders to Fire! Fire! Fire! She didn’t seem to care that half the effort was resulting in damage to the prison itself, sending shards of metal and debris falling toward the Eastern State. Drones were everywhere, filling the sky with rocket-fueled flames.

  Meredith commanded her small army to surround the prison and fire at will. What resulted was an all-out war around and within the prison itself while Dylan, pestered by Hawk’s voice and a hundred drones doing flybys, fought against the immense weight of the prison he held. The prison lurched fifty feet downward, sending Andre’s army swarming into the sky like hornets. Dylan regained his mental footing, and the giant concrete structure pitched to the right, turning sideways like a badly thrown Frisbee.

  Meredith’s single pulses were falling out of the sky one after the other. Semana was hit dead in the chest with a bazooka-fired rocket; another fighter watched his body armor slice open at the hip as a throwing star ripped through flesh and bone. Skulls were breached by Magnum fire, bodies blown apart by grenades thrown. And Glory, wise old Glory—her chest was struck with a blade, and she tumbled and tumbled and tumbled.

  Meredith hadn’t expected it to be so bloody, so swift and cruel. But there was no calling for a retreat now. It was way too late for that. All her small army could do now was take out as many of Andre’s soldiers as possible, a fight to the bitter end.

  He’s going to be even angrier when he finds out Gretchen is dead, Meredith thought.

  She hated leaving her drifters, but there was no choice. She had to at least try to stop what was coming. Meredith let herself drift down and out of sight, under the line of spires, and made her way around many tall buildings to where she knew she would find Andre. When she came to the tall white spire for which she was looking and glanced up into the sky, she saw that the prison was inching its way downward directly over her head. Like a black cloud bursting with the weight of water, it shed chunks of metal and stone, ripped free by a fight that would not end. It was shockingly close now, less than a hundred feet from the top of the highest buildings.

  Meredith turned toward the spire with a look that might have been described as two parts fierce and one part shell-shocked. A wide hole had been punched in the side of the building, behind which lay a red-carpeted hallway. As she stepped through the broken shards of glass, Meredith felt a wave of sadness, all the memories of struggle and sorrow crashing at once on the open wound of her soul. She’d been strong for such a long time, never flinching, never giving in. Listening to the symphony of violence and regret outside grow quieter with each step, she began to hum the old song once more.

  Clooger and Faith arrived at an abandoned hospital outside Colorado Springs. The chill in the air on the flight had slowed Faith’s breathing, and Clooger had stemmed the bleeding by wrapping his giant-sized hand around her side as they flew. All the doors were sealed tight, so Clooger picked up the nearest boulder he could find, throwing it through a metal door with his mind. The boulder, a good four feet in diameter, bounced down a darkened linoleum floor and came to rest against a hospital gurney. What lay in shadow was surprisingly pristine: a hospital that had been sealed off from the decaying world outside.

  “How’s it going?” Hawk asked, pressing into the sound ring. “I’m not getting anything from the East. It’s gone quiet.”

  Hawk had been watching the signals flaring on his Tablet screen, unable to say for sure what was going on. If he had to guess, it was Armageddon. Whatever was happening, it wasn’t good, and Dylan either wouldn’t or couldn’t answer his calls.

  “There’s a lot of blood loss, but no major organs hit,” Clooger said as he examined Faith, shaking Hawk out of his thoughts. He’d laid her on the gurney, where he could get a good look at her, tearing the blood-soaked shirt from her torso. She wore a pink sports bra, stained red along the rim of elastic. “The wound is nearer the outside edge of her abdomen than I originally thought. I need to stitch her up good and get her a blood transfusion fast.”

  Hawk was happy to hear Clooger’s voice, happier still that Faith had a fighting chance.

  “Find the OR and look for a blood bag and a syringe. We need to convert at least a couple pints.”

  “Hawk, you sure about this?” Clooger asked. He used one hand to press the sound ring, the other to push the gurney down the hall, banging it into a set of swinging doors that led to a darkened wing of the hospital. He was becoming adept at using one hand to work and the other to communicate. It wasn’t so different from being in the field during a war holding on to a two-way radio. A guy got used to it.

  “It’ll work,” Hawk said. “But I need to send you some files. Get on a network and start extracting. I’ll download while you work.”

  Clooger tapped out a few instructions on his Tablet, putting it into satellite search mode. It honed in on a signal as he rummaged around gathering supplies: a puncture, tubing, antibacterial liquid, surgical thread, needle, sponge. When he returned to the gurney, the files he needed were already downloaded and ready. A new icon had appeared on his screen.

  “Do you have what you need to extract?” Hawk asked.

  “Got it.”

  “Sew her up first,” Hawk said. “That’s job one.”

  Clooger splashed the wound with antibacterial liquid, and Faith sucked in a fast, harsh breath of air, her eyes going wide with shock.

  “Oh, hell,” Clooger said, pinching his sound ring. “She’s awake!”

  “That’s probably not a good thing,” Hawk said. “Faith, can you hear me?”

  She nodded and looked into Clooger’s eyes and tried to sit up. Clooger pushed her back down as he watched blood pump out of her body.

  “Stay still, Faith. Really still.”

  “Faith, listen to me,” Hawk said. “We need to stitch you up and get some blood in you. You’re not feeling any pain, I gather?”

  She slowly raised a hand to her ear, pressed the sound ring.

  “Not a thing. I am a little light-headed though. And cold.”

  “Must be a second-pulse thing. Clooger, get sewing. Her body doesn’t know the trouble it’s in. Just stay still, Faith. Moving is only going to make it worse.”

  Clooger went to work, stitching up the wound on the front first, then rolling her gently on her side and doing the same on the back.

  “Dylan?” Faith asked, hoping to hear his voice on the other end. There was only dead air, and she began to sob quietly.

  “Hey, hey—he’s just busy, that’s all,” Clooger said. “Give him a little time. And also, you’re all stitched up. Now you need blood. And I have plenty of that.”

  Clooger slapped his monstrous bicep four or five times, bringing a vein to the surface.

  “We’re ready,” Clooger said. “Run t
he program?”

  Hawk thought he’d perfected the process of changing blood types, but he couldn’t be precisely sure.

  “Yeah, run it. Lay the tube on the Tablet, let the blood flow between. You’ll need to get your arm up in the air.”

  Clooger did as he was told, strapping the tube to his Tablet with four or five wraps of gauze. He pressed the icon and watched as the screen filled with a random assortment of flashing colors: bright green and blue and yellow, bursting like a strobe light. A wave of sound pierced his ears.

  Clooger rose up in the air on the power of his mind. He stabbed the wide vacutainer needle into his vein and felt the blood start pumping out of his body. The tube turned red, filling until it reached the Tablet, then it seemed to back up for a beat before continuing on its path.

  Clooger hovered down, right over Faith, and took the other end of the tube in hand. They didn’t have a lot of time, and they needed to push in a lot of blood fast. He attached an equally wide vacutainer needle to the tubing and stared at Faith.

  “This was where I would have woken you, but since you’re already awake, I can skip the face slapping.”

  “I appreciate that.”

  Clooger smiled down at Faith.

  “You have to let it in. Tell me when you’re ready.”

  Faith had let things in before, but it was a rare event in her life. She’d done it twice with a similar object, only much narrower: the tattoo needles, which provided a sweet, stinging sensation. It was part of what she liked about getting tattoos. She could really feel them. And the sound ring, she’d let that in. Now, as it had been with those procedures, she needed to let down her guard, a mental process that required a surprising amount of focus. It wasn’t easy throwing aside the armor of a second pulse. She had to work at it.

  Clooger waited as Faith’s body relaxed and all the tension drained out of her face like an android cycling down.

  Ten seconds passed, then twenty, then she spoke. “Okay, I’m ready. Stab me with that thing.”

  Clooger plunged the broad needle into Faith’s arm, and she sighed with pleasure. Maybe it was the loss of blood and how light-headed it had made her. Either way, she acted as if she were in a happy dream, smiling as the blood flowed into her.

  “Better be O positive,” Clooger said.

  “If she’s going to reject, it will happen in a few seconds; otherwise let it flow.”

  O positive wasn’t like the A and B types of blood. Anyone could take O positive. But Clooger’s blood was B and Faith’s A. She’d reject his natural blood, and in her weakened state, it would more than likely push her into cardiac arrest. They needed to change Clooger’s blood from B positive to O positive, and that was a serious trick of organic chemistry. Hawk had been experimenting with light and sound and their effects on blood type for months in a lab setting, but never in a high-stakes situation. Faith either had pulled her guard all the way down and let in a poison that would devastate her frail organs, or she was getting the one thing that could save her.

  They waited, neither of them speaking, while blood poured out of Clooger, past the Tablet of flashing, colored lights and its high-pitched squeal, and down into Faith’s arm.

  A minute passed, and still Faith didn’t move. The sound from the Tablet wailed like an ancient fax machine blaring into the operating room, and Clooger wished he could shield his ears.

  She stirred, her fingers moving first, and then her eyes slowly opened.

  “I feel good,” Faith said. “Really good. That’s some class-A juice you got there.”

  Clooger pressed his sound ring with his free hand.

  “Nice job, Hawk. It’s working.”

  Out in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to hear him but the wolves and the skunks, Hawk got pretty excited. He pumped his fist in the open air of the HumGee, yelled a few times, shook his head. Even he was a little surprised it had worked. The process was a lot more delicate than he cared to admit.

  “Congratulations, Cloog,” Hawk said, pressing his sound ring. “You’re a universal donor.”

  Faith and Clooger smiled at each other as the blood kept pouring down the tube. Clooger was feeling a slight tingling in his head, and he allowed himself to enjoy the victory. Faith Daniels, the most important weapon they had next to Dylan, was going to make it.

  His happiness would last only a few seconds, but he’d come to expect this. Every war he’d ever been in was checkered with small miracles, and they were always like doves moving through a dark sky. They were surrounded by violence and destruction, pressed too quickly into memory by the constant surge of war. It was no different there in the operating room of an abandoned hospital in a zeroed city.

  Meredith was back on the sound ring, telling everyone who remained to get ready.

  Something terrible was about to enter the known world.

  Chapter 17

  Now You Must Run

  “Flee if you can. Don’t come back,” Meredith said. “He is coming.”

  Clooger and Faith couldn’t look into each other’s eyes without feeling like cowards. It was just the way they were wired. They weren’t where they were needed the most, not even close. Helplessness enveloped them both, but it didn’t stop Faith from trying to understand.

  “What do you mean? And where’s Dylan? Dylan?!” asked Faith.

  “Go,” Meredith said, her voice quiet and oddly distant. “Run and don’t look back.”

  Meredith wished she could talk to Dylan alone. Actually, she wished a lot of things as she came to a door that sat ajar at the end of a long hallway. She wished she’d never sent Dylan to the prison. She’d hoped Dylan would somehow magically turn Andre in another direction, but she’d been wrong. She wished there wasn’t a prison hovering over the city; but it was there, and her only son’s every effort was focused on keeping it aloft. Andre had made him useless—a fine trick, she had to admit—and her only other second pulse was a thousand miles away. At least her single pulses had put up a hell of a fight; for that she was thankful. They’d decimated Andre’s numbers. It was something.

  But the power of the resistance had been diminished now, and that was assuming Dylan and Faith would get out alive.

  A hard wind of fatigue blew across her mind as she stared at the ornate, beautifully crafted door. She’d come the whole way now—into the Eastern State, up to the top of a looming skyscraper, and down the long hallway to the president’s door. She’d passed by six or seven bodies on her way down the hall, stepping over them or altering her path in order to go around. Her regrets were many, too many to count, as she pressed her fingers against the wood, pushed, and stepped inside.

  The room was large, with couches and tables where many a meeting had been conducted over the years. There were red velvet curtains on the walls and a wide, plateglass window looking out onto the Eastern State. Three more bodies lay scattered on the floor. There must be something worth protecting behind that beautiful door.

  Andre stood before her, his hands clasped behind his back, the same toothy grin on his face as all those years ago. Behind him stood Wade and Clara.

  “It’s been a long time. Too long, I think,” Andre said. “I wish we could be seeing each other under better circumstances.”

  Meredith offered no explanation. “Don’t do it, Andre. You’re wrong about this. Very wrong.”

  Andre’s welcoming smile vanished, anger clouding his face.

  “You might have told me we had a son. You had no right to keep that from me.”

  He looked out the window, where the prison cast a shadow over everything. “He’s remarkable. It took the twins months to learn that. But I knew the moment I saw him he was something special.”

  Wade was more often the target of Andre’s barbs. It was rare for Andre to allude to such things about Clara, mostly because of how sensitive and unpredictable she could be. But now, even as they both stood on the other side of the room watching, he seemed less inclined to hold back anything.

  “You don’
t have to do this,” Meredith said. She was on the verge of tears as Clara, suddenly aware of how dangerous the situation was, thrust her hand up in the air. Meredith flew backward into the solid mass of the door through which she’d entered. Her back hit first, then her head cracked the wood and she fell to the floor.

  “Was that really necessary?” Andre asked.

  “You’re a single, or have you forgotten?” Clara said. “She could throw you through that window if she wanted to.”

  “She would never do that. Never.”

  Meredith was on all fours, shaking her head, coming to.

  “I say we finish her,” Wade said, stepping forward into the middle of the room. “Clara’s right. It’s not worth the risk.”

  Andre may not have been a second pulse, but he still maintained emotional control over both Wade and Clara. All he had to do was look at them in a certain way—You will leave her alone—and they backed off. As far as he knew, neither Wade nor Clara knew Dylan was their half brother. Of course, he was wrong about this. They both knew Meredith wasn’t just anyone. But that was one of the curious facts of his life and that of many other geniuses: Andre used logic when navigating the nuances of relationships, a critical error he had never corrected.

  “If you’re not going to enter the codes, I will,” Clara said.

  She moved toward a Tablet that lay on the main table in the room, but Andre picked it up with his mind and pulled it through the air, where it landed in his outstretched hand.

  “They’re right, you know,” Meredith said. “I could kill you.”

  “But you won’t. It would serve no purpose.” He lifted his chin in the direction of Wade and Clara. “They’ll just do it for me, and what would be the fun in that?”

  The Tablet was red, which meant it was government issue, connected to an array of important documents and codes within the central command of the Eastern State. Andre snapped the Tablet large and tapped in several commands. The curtains on the back wall parted, revealing an iron door that looked as if it belonged at the entrance of a bank vault. He tapped in several more codes, then took three long strides to a body lying on the floor, snapping the Tablet back to small as he went. He turned the man’s head toward the ceiling and used his thumb to force his eyelid open. Placing the screen a few inches from the face, the man’s retina was scanned. He tapped out several more commands, and the door, which to Meredith looked more and more like the entrance to Fort Knox, began to open.

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