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Chapter Eighteen

“We would first like to say that we were proud to be working with you last night as well as would like to have one-on-ones with you after this briefing,” Neo stated, smiling as he folded his legs under him. “With that said, Kingston, you can take over.”

“First off, the man who had arrived with Tango, as seen by your curious faces, is the head of our base. His call sign is Lima and as most of you know, Cat’s father. He jumps between here and Everest base. The two Evolved agents were taken to that base for further questioning.”

“Sorry to interrupt, but are you sure it’s okay to be discussing this here, surrounded by prying ears?” Victor asked, glancing around at the buzzing soldiers.

“Don’t worry, they know better than to listen in,” Axel said with a smirk, pointing to his ear. “We have a frequency circle around us. If they think of coming closer to eavesdrop, they will get a splintering headache and won’t be able to hear a word about what we are discussing.”

“If you say so. Kingston, please continue.” Victor looked sceptical about our situation but like us, wanted to find out more about the agents.

“Like I was saying, the two Evolved agents were taken to Everest base for questioning. So far, they have not spoken a word about their company or what they want to do with the Gifted in their care. What we do know is the prices for Gifted has continued to rise, soaring to unbelievable amounts. To put it into perspective, the lowest bid for a low-class Gifted is $50,000. If any of you were captured and sold with the power you all hold, it’s about $100,000 as a starting bid. The more powerful or rare the Gifted power is, the higher the bids will go.”

“How do the auctioneers know what level we are at and what our gift is? No sane person, even if it’s about us, will not pay such high amounts without knowing at least what we can do,” Fox stated, leaning forward.

“This is when the fun stuff starts,” Neo smirked, rubbing his hands together like a scheming child. “The agents confessed that Evolved has been sending out equipment to auctions and schools that are able to pick up a frequency only Gifted give off. Now, the more powerful the Gifted is, the more complicated the frequency will be as well as being louder. Then to find out what subgroup of Gifted the child is, they shine a special light into their eyes. The colour that is shown declares what group they belong to. This is not linked to the changing of your eye colour when you use your power. This is the hidden colour deep within your eyes. To top it, they can also use that machine to see how powerful the Gifted is with the shininess of that colour.”

“When were these distributed?” I asked, feeling sick to my stomach. How could Neo be excited by talking about these things when it means that a Gifted wanting to live a normal life could be easily called out of a crowd?

“Three weeks after the Pulse disappeared and both the children of Bridgefield and their families were relocated. The unfortunate ones, such as your case Alpha, were living on the streets and were easily rounded up, taken and sold,” Axel explained, disgust clear in his voice.

“What else were you able to get from them?” Echo asked, his face hard, serious. An expression I had only seen when I first came to the base.

“That was our pay grade intel. Anything else is given to the higher-ups. You’re looking at Lima, Tango and their handpicked chosen ones in Everest base,” Taylor answered nonchalantly.

“So that’s all we were allowed to know even though we helped in the capture of the agents?” Victor asked an eyebrow raised as he scoffed. “And we don’t even get paid.”

“All that you were supposed to be told was that the agents were not talking,” Murphy muttered, his scowl deepening as we all glared at him. “It didn’t seem right to keep that information away from you lot when it meant that you were linked directly to the gadgets Evolved has pumped out. Lima has something bigger planned for both our teams and it unnerves me with not knowing what it is.”

“The higher-ups are completely something else,” Kingston sighed out, rubbing a hand down his face. "Not even one of their best ground teams is on the need-to-know list.”

“I think we should just leave things here before we get into a whole revolution against our boss. For now, we still have those one-on-ones to get to. Fox, you’re with me, let’s go,” Taylor said, standing up and stretching before beckoning Fox to follow him. He did so as Neo called for Victor, Axel took Rooi and left Kingston and Murphy behind with Echo and me.

“We are switching things up. Echo, you’re coming with me. I want to hear your thoughts,” Kingston said, clamping a hand onto Echo’s shoulder.

“Wait, that means...” Slowly, I turned my gaze to an unimpressed Murphy. First, I had to deal with no sleep and now this asshole with alone time.

“Come on Echo, I hear there is a lovely spot in a courtyard for us to talk in.” Echo had no time to react as he was dragged away. Murphy sighed, gazing at me.

“We can stay here or go somewhere else,” He grunted. I didn’t really want to move, but we still had other soldiers working around us and that was not the best situation to talk about PTSD in. With a loud sigh, I stood and gestured he follow. He was not happy about that but still followed me.

We walked to the Gifted dorm, coming to a stop in front of mine and Echo’s area. Looking at it with a stranger behind me, our area seemed small, not decorated or messy. You could tell two people slept there, had made it their shared home yet did not show it by stringing photos or placing plants on the window sill.

“Make yourself comfortable,” I said over my shoulder, going to sit in the middle of my bed and grabbing Echo’s pillow to clutch to my chest. His earthy scent was thick on it.

Murphy stood awkwardly in the entryway, eyes studying over the dorm. He coughed, coming to sit on the edge of Echo’s bed, his legs filling the gap between the two beds.

“How does this work?” I asked, squeezing Echo’s pillow to my chest. “You going to try to delve into my wicked dreams or try to work out why you hate me?”

“One, I don’t hate you. Two, these sessions are supposed to help you work out the emotions that are surely haunting your dreams and combat them,” Murphy stated, splaying his fingers over his knees. “How did you sleep last night?”

Staring at him, I worked my jaw. He was sitting slightly forward, his eyes looking at me than the floor. Was he nervous? Shaking my head, I decided that this would be pointless if I wanted to be snarky and bite back. He was here to help even though he did hurt me before.

“Not good. I tried to take your advice and make my mind go blank so I could at least fall asleep. But as soon as my eyes shut, I could hear the screams, the gunshots and see blood. If Echo had not been sleeping next to me, I doubt I would have gotten as much sleep as I did.”

“Thinking of an emotionless space doesn’t always help everyone. In time, you will find your own method of peace. Like, you learn how to tell that your dream isn’t real, that the events you are dreaming about did not even take place. Right now, it’s fresh in your mind and has not been blocked so everything seems real. It won’t always be like that.” Murphy’s shoulders slumped forward as he took a deep breath before opening his mouth again. “My old man suffers from sleep terrors coming from the time he was in the fourth world war. The thing is, he remembers the emotions, not the events that actually took place. Sometimes he will even wake up screaming that a werewolf was after him the same night he and Ma watched one of her supernatural shows. His mind warped it in because it went with the emotions he felt while watching the show.”

As Murphy spoke, his general hard face seemed to melt away when he brought up his parents, about how his dad suffered. Even the stress lines smoothed out to show his actual age. Then there was the small smirk that peeked its way out when he mentioned his dad screaming werewolf. Letting my gaze go from him to the floor, I started to question what this soldier in front of me was really like around his parents and friends.

“The dreams, they seem so real... It scares me to think I have to deal with them as well as the others.”

“I know, you just have to keep in mind that they are linked to how you are feeling, what you relate to that feeling is all you. PTSD, when it comes to war, is expressed in so many ways that just dreaming about the battlefield is a small fraction of what affects a soldier. Scents, objects, sounds, they all could very much trigger a memory, an emotion that can bring that soldier back into the moment of action he or she faced. In time, you will learn to work around it like the rest of us because you now have to deal with it.”

Sighing, I buried my face in Echo’s pillow, trying to absorb all of Murphy’s words. This deep questioning guilt and fear would never leave me but be pushed down deeper if the Gifted team was placed into action again. The thing was, would I feel the same way if those men were the ones aiming their guns at me, knowing where I was, and I killed them? Would I find it easier to do that, to kill someone? Groaning in frustration, I felt helpless at that moment. Questioning everything was not helping me one bit and Murphy was adding to this feeling that he was just being forced to make sure my mentality was still intact.

“Murphy, I don’t get you, I really don’t. You have been so cold to me and now you are opening up to me about this and want me to do the same when we have no link of trust between us. Can I even trust you?” Sitting up straight, I stared at him head-on, clutching the pillow so tightly to myself that I feared it would tear.

“Kingston told me to be patient with you, earn your trust and show you that you can depend on me. What I can say is that when I saw action, I froze. One of my squadmates was shot because I didn’t have the courage to pull the trigger. After that, I have not hesitated. This hard, cold exterior you see is my way of handling the bubbling emotions inside. Only my girl back home has seen both the outside and inside of me and understands. When you join a team, which you have, those people become your brothers and sisters in arms, they will be the people you fall back on, and that includes me even if you don’t like it. So, you can trust me.”

Murphy smiled then, a full one where the tips of his canines showed and the glimmer in his eyes was that of pride and trust. Only then did it click. He was that way to me because I hurt his leader, his brother-in-arms. He was only doing the one thing he knew that would make sure it would not happen again and at that time I was the one known as a threat in that situation.

Sitting back, I let my gaze fall to the floor as Murphy called it a day and stood up to leave. Before doing so, he glanced over his shoulder.

“I’m here to help. When you want to talk, I’ll be waiting and willing to listen.”

Nodding, I fell onto my side, blankets wafting up before fluttering down as I went over our conversation, absorbing everything and anything that had not already been. He was not the big bad wolf that I thought him to be but thinking about it, Kingston was not either once I got to know both of them.

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