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       Tremor, p.5

           Patrick Carman
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  “They’ve got rockets?” Dylan asked.

  “Small ones but, yeah. They have rockets.”

  Meredith was making Faith look like an irrational fool, and everyone knew it. The enemy was holed up in a fortress as secure as Fort Knox. They had firepower, three second pulses, and isolation on their side.

  A few more pieces of paper were pinned around the edges of the whiteboard—aerial views of the location—and then Meredith turned back to the group.

  “Those people Hawk listed earlier, the criminals? Add them all up. What they did doesn’t even come close to what Andre and the rest of the Quinns are capable of. You all know it’s true.”

  “What are they planning to do?” Faith asked. “Why won’t you just tell us?”

  Meredith’s face softened for the first time since she’d entered the room. If Dylan didn’t know better, he’d have said her shoulders had even slumped ever so slightly.

  “I can’t tell you what they’re planning to do,” Meredith said. “Because I don’t know.”

  It was a lie. Of course Meredith knew what Andre was planning, or at least thought she did. But no one in that room, certainly not three reckless teenagers, were ready for the truth.

  “Based on recent events we know they have the resolve to kill in order to get what they want. And with three second pulses in Gretchen and the twins, they have ultimate power. They can destroy without being destroyed. And don’t underestimate Andre. He may not be a second pulse, but he pulls the strings. He’s the ringleader.”

  “What do we really know about him?” Hawk asked.

  Meredith knew Andre better than Dylan, Faith, and Hawk could have imagined.

  “He’s come under the influence of some dangerous ideas,” she said. “He’s been poisoned by these ideas. And I have never known a man who could be so firm in his resolve once his mind is made up. They will do whatever he says, because that’s what Andre Quinn causes people to do. They follow; he leads. And he’s leading them and the rest of us over a cliff into oblivion.”

  “Great,” Faith said.

  “So what’s the plan, then?” Dylan asked, narrowing the conversation to a bull’s-eye. “What are you asking us to do?”

  “Our task right now is to neutralize the twins,” Meredith said coldly, her resolve returning. “That’s the whole job.”

  “You mean kill them,” Faith said. The words felt delicious in her mouth.

  Even with all Faith’s determination, Meredith wondered if this angry girl would have what it took when it came time to execute her enemies.

  “But we have an advantage, and it’s not the one you think it is. Of course they want us to know where they are. They’d love nothing more than to lure us into that prison and finish us off for good. We’re the only things that stand in their way.”

  She had come to a hidden piece of information that had to be said.

  “It’s time,” Clooger said, looking at Meredith as if he wished it wasn’t so but knew that it was.

  “Time for what?” Dylan asked. “What are you two not telling us?”

  Meredith thought of the old song once more, of what it might feel like to have someone who loved her, who would wait for her no matter what. But that was the thinking of a young, naive woman, not a veteran of a long and heartless rebellion. The thought was gone almost as fast as it had arrived.

  She wondered whether she should tell only Dylan the truth, not the whole group. That would have been fair. But for once in her life she was afraid, not of Andre or Gretchen or the twins. She was afraid of losing Dylan’s love and respect. She couldn’t do it alone.

  “You’re not going to like me.”

  “Mom, please. Just get it over with. How bad could it be?”

  She looked him in the eye, because, in the end, she wasn’t going to cower in the face of the only thing she’d ever really been afraid of.

  And then she said it.

  “Andre Quinn, the enemy of all that is good, is your father.”

  Chapter 5

  October Road

  Dylan looked at his mom and Clooger, and then he stood up and walked out of the room without saying a word. All eyes were on Meredith when the door closed behind him.

  “You’ve got some explaining to do,” Faith said, and, looking at Clooger, added, “What else aren’t the adults in the room telling us?”

  “That’s all there is; and whether you like my methods or not, it’s been planned this way for a long, long time. It’s our way in.”

  “She’s right,” Clooger said. It was obvious he felt terrible about having kept the secret from them all, especially Dylan; but he also wasn’t going to let Meredith take all the blame. “I’ve known since long before you and Hawk came into the picture. I could have said something, but I didn’t.”

  “Why the hell not?” Faith asked. She wheeled around, facing Meredith, and seriously thought about putting both of them through a wall. “How come he gets to know and your own son doesn’t?”

  Calm down. These people are on your side, Faith thought. Get a hold of yourself. But her hands were shaking. She was barely keeping it together. “My parents pulled the same bullshit on me. I didn’t know I was part of a rebellion until it was way too late. No one asked me.”

  Hawk was staring at his Tablet, doing whatever it was that he did that almost no one understood. It was his way of coping with confrontation.

  “She’s got a point,” Hawk said without looking up. “If you’re going to have us cleaning up your messes, you should at least be honest with us from the start. We probably would have said yes anyway.”

  Hawk wasn’t exactly in the same boat as Faith or Dylan, but his parents were definitely caught up in the wreckage in their own twisted way. They, like he, were Intels. Their minds had been co-opted by Hotspur Chance himself a long time ago. He’d used them to advance the cause of the States, tapping into their brains as if they were nothing more than two supercomputers with processing power he could use as he needed it. No one ever discovered how Hotspur did this, but there was no doubt that he had figured out a way to use minds other than his own to process the most complex problems he wanted to solve. The trouble was, once he was done with them, they were never the same. All the Intels—hundreds of them in total—eventually turned in on themselves, their minds wandering in some unseen desert, searching for answers they would never find. Sometimes it took a year, other times it took decades; but it always ended in the same wandering madness. Hawk’s parents had entered that phase of their journey, and they weren’t coming back.

  The difference for Hawk and Clara Quinn was that they were second generation, Intels by birth. They enjoyed the power of an evolved mind, but it was completely unknown if or when they, too, would devolve into madness.

  Meredith looked at Clooger, and he knew, for once, he had to rescue her. It might never happen again, but it was happening right then.

  “Sometimes we have withheld information, brought you along slowly. That was our call, and we made it. If you were in the military it wouldn’t be any different. You report to someone; you know some but not all the history; you bring the best you’ve got and hope it’s enough.”

  He ran a hand over his noggin again, which was clearly becoming a habit he would have trouble breaking now that all those dreads were gone.

  “Not a day goes by that Meredith and I don’t wish we had second pulses or wish we were Intels. Good God, are you kidding me? If we could take care of this ourselves, we’d be the happiest people alive. But we can’t, and that’s a tough spot to be in: tough for me, tough for Meredith. We have to send you to do our job for us, because it’s you three who were given the power we don’t have. But make no mistake—ever: you do not have the good judgment to run this show. You don’t get to call the plays. That’s on us. And if you don’t like the calls, there’s the door. You can follow Dylan and make your own damn plan.”

  Faith and Hawk had never heard Clooger talk like this. It came straight out of nowhere, and it had the
effect of shutting them up.

  “You both know Dylan is as good as they come,” Clooger went on. “But you didn’t know him before. You two have only been in his life for what, six months? A year tops? He’s come a long way.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?” Faith asked.

  “He was angry, like you,” Clooger said, staring at Faith with those fiercely independent eyes of his.

  “Angrier,” Meredith added.

  Clooger leaned forward from where he was sitting.

  “Believe it or not, you’ve settled him down,” he said. “Don’t ask me how, but you have. He can handle this now. At the beginning he was way too young. He wouldn’t have understood. Then he figured out what he could do, and he had a hard time controlling it. He was as wild as a hurricane and twice as destructive.”

  Faith thought about how difficult it was for her to control her own outbursts. Wanting to throw a desk through a window was a daily temptation. She was in a relentless internal struggle, holding her power in check.

  “The drifters took Meredith and Dylan in,” Clooger said. “I was top dog. I ran the drifters. It was my call, not hers, not to tell anyone else.”

  “Dylan would have found a way to see his father,” Meredith said, staring at the floor. “And that would have been a disaster.”

  “How so?” Hawk asked, snapping his Tablet to small and cradling it in his palm like a tiny bird.

  “If you spent any real time with Andre Quinn, you’d know Dylan wouldn’t have stood a chance if they’d met before he was ready. Andre is very persuasive.”

  It had defied logic, not telling Dylan; but Faith began to see that in very real and important ways, it had made sense. And like any good secret, the longer one kept it, the harder it became to share it.

  “Let’s carry that forward,” Clooger added. His eyes were still glued to Faith. “What kind of chance would we have—hell, what chance would anyone have—if Dylan was on the other side of this thing. We wouldn’t even have you to count on, because it was Dylan who found you and trained you. We’d be a ragged bunch of single pulses, picked off one by one.”

  Meredith turned to the whiteboard and began writing with a dry-erase pen. “At this stage of the game a balance of power is our most useful weapon. Right now we have that balance, and they know it. They have three second pulses, but we have two—it’s enough to give them pause.”

  “Pause from what?” Hawk asked. “If you expect us to trust you, you’re going to have to start giving us more information.”

  Meredith didn’t answer. She moved away from the board and let the words she’d written speak for themselves.

  Protect the States at all cost. They will soon be under siege.

  “So they want to do what? Destroy the world?” Faith asked. “But it doesn’t make any sense. Why?”

  “That’s a question for which we currently lack an answer,” Meredith responded in a cold, monotone voice. And on this score, even Clooger wasn’t sure if she was telling the whole truth.

  “Then how do you know they even want to destroy anything?” Faith asked.

  “They did plan to kill the president,” Hawk said. “Until Clara Quinn went rogue.”

  He was immediately sorry he’d drawn attention to Clara and what she’d done to Faith’s best friend. Putting that information in front of Faith was like waving a red sheet in front of a rodeo bull.

  “Really?” Faith said, feeling the sting of regret all over again, followed by the expected welling up of hate for Clara Quinn in her chest.

  Meredith took a long breath and felt her fingers grip the pen tighter and tighter. She wanted it to explode in her hand, for the ink to spill down her palm like blood.

  “I know because I was in the desert with Hotspur Chance and the rest, and I’m the only one who can make that claim. Nobody else in this room spent years with Andre and Gretchen. Only me.”

  How Meredith wished she had a second pulse at that moment. She’d wanted it all her life, and it was fine that Dylan had gotten it. But Faith Daniels? It nearly killed her to rely on someone who was, in her view, foolish and ungrateful and unpredictable.

  “This inquisition is over,” Meredith said, glaring down at Faith and Hawk. “We need Dylan, and we need both of you. I’m sorry it had to happen this way, but Dylan is an adult. He’ll get over it. He’ll understand.”

  As if he’d been listening at the door, just waiting for his mom to call him back in, Dylan reappeared. He left the door ajar, stared at Meredith, clenched and unclenched his fists. Meredith and Dylan stared at each other as if each were trying to read the other’s mind.

  “I’m sorry,” Meredith finally said, which were two words no one in the room had ever heard her say. “I should have told you alone, not like this.”

  Dylan flinched, the muscles laced across the backs of his arms tensing. He nodded, almost imperceptibly, because somewhere deep inside himself, in the most secret parts of who he was, he had always known. Now that he’d been told the enemy was his own flesh and blood, he was surprised to find that it hadn’t changed anything. The enemy was still the enemy, and his mom had done precisely what he expected her to do given the circumstances. She was, predictably, protecting him in the only way she knew how. Meredith may not have been the kindest mother around, but she had been right to tell him just then and not a moment sooner.

  His eyes darted to the whiteboard for a split second.

  Protect the States at all cost. They will soon be under siege.

  When Dylan spoke, it was with a sense of finality and of knowing what was coming.

  “What’s the plan?”

  Hawk breathed an audible sigh of relief, and Faith reached out her hand from where she sat on the couch. Dylan reached out and held on to it, and they shared a silent understanding as they looked into each other’s eyes. The pathway to this moment wasn’t what either of them would have asked for, but it didn’t change the fact that finally, after all the training and hiding out, they were about to engage.

  Time to even the score.

  Fifteen minutes later, the core members of the drifters rebellion—Faith, Dylan, Hawk, Meredith, and Clooger—were now in a position to do something they’d been waiting on for far too long.

  They were ready to fight.

  “We’ll be back, count on it,” Dylan said. He was standing alone with his mom in the giant warehouse, thinking about how badly Faith had left things with her parents and how much she had regretted it. Faith’s parents had died before she could reconcile with them; and no matter how angry he got with his own mom, he wasn’t going to let that happen to them. It was selfish in a way, a sort of self-preservation. He wouldn’t risk having regrets for the rest of his life. It wasn’t worth it. Whatever problems there were between him and his mom, he wanted them put to rest, just in case. So he said a little bit more before leaving her standing there in front of the assembled rebellion.

  “You were right not to tell me. I wasn’t ready.”

  “I know,” Meredith said.

  Dylan pulled her close into a hug, something he hadn’t done in years, and she slowly brought her hands up around his shoulders.

  “But I’m ready now,” Dylan said.

  Meredith smiled weakly and forced herself to hold back the tears she would later cry alone, after he was gone. Dylan pulled away and had the distinct sense that she did not want to let go. That, for Dylan, was enough. He knew. In her own unusual way, she had loved him always.

  The small army of single-pulse drifters, including the big Samoan, Semana, were lined up in a row in the center of the warehouse. Behind them, Hawk and Faith and Clooger stood before the vehicle that would carry them to their destination.

  “Where are they going?” Semana asked Meredith as they walked past. All seven of the single-pulse drifters were curious about what was going on, but only Semana had the nerve to ask Meredith outright. Of course she didn’t answer. Instead she walked up to Clooger and kissed him on the lips, touched his face, looked a li
ttle bit confused by the missing beard.

  “You said no more secrets, right?” Meredith said. “This is what no more secrets looks like. Deal with it.”

  “Saw that coming a mile away,” Hawk whispered to Faith.

  “Sure you did.” Faith nudged Hawk on the shoulder, nearly knocking him over. He was still a scrawny guy, even with the protein bars he’d been devouring and the push-ups he’d been doing.

  Clooger pulled Meredith away from the rest of the group. “You’re sure we shouldn’t tell them the rest?”

  “What would be the point? They wouldn’t understand, and it wouldn’t further the mission. They know exactly as much as they need to know. Nothing more, nothing less.”

  Clooger nodded, though there was a part of him that didn’t understand at all. He let it pass, touched her on the cheek, and turned away.

  “Shotgun,” Hawk said, already opening the door of a vehicle that looked an awful lot like a Humvee.

  “We can really get there in six hours?” Dylan asked Hawk as he climbed into the backseat next to Faith.

  “This thing is nuclear. Trust me, we’ll be fine.”

  The windows were down, and Faith jumped a little bit as Meredith came up close and put her hand on the door. The two of them looked at each other, a sort of stare-down, and Dylan touched Faith’s hand on the seat next to him. She liked the way it felt, liked the fact the she was going away with him, away from Meredith.

  “Don’t do anything stupid,” Meredith said. “Stick to the plan, and everything will play out the way we discussed.”

  “I’m just a pawn in this thing,” Faith said, which was exactly the kind of sarcasm that worried Meredith. “Whatever you say.”

  As the modified Humvee pulled forward and the garage door opened slowly, the drifters sent them off with a cheer. Night had arrived outside, but Clooger didn’t turn on the headlights; he just rolled slowly out into the darkness. Glory flew across the warehouse and landed in front of the vehicle so Clooger had to stop. All the drifters were single pulses, but Glory rarely used her telekinetic power in front of others. Of course she walked to Faith’s window, no one else’s. Faith seemed to be the target of all the advice on departure, and she couldn’t decide if this made her feel extra appreciated or really pissed off.

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