The Willow Society

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Chapter 67

Chapter 67

Lou rolled her eyes and Taylor felt himself shake with relief. William's little arm wrapped tight around him, his friends all here and inexplicably safe. With Helen making jokes, somehow it was like a perfect moment. Until it shattered. To Taylor's shock, Tate came in the anteroom, a gun held loosely at his side. His face was focused and grim.

“We have to move!” Tate ordered.

“Tate?“ asked Taylor, tremulously. He blinked several times, ideas whirled around his mind. Has Tate been here the whole time? Did he betray us? What IS he doing here, now? And Myth? And Helen? “What the hell is going on?“ He asked, unable to control himself.

“No time.“ Tate said. “Now. We have to move.“ His other hand held a two-way radio. He waved it at them. “I pulled this off one of those guards. They'll know you've escaped soon.” He waved at everyone to follow him. Taylor disentangled William, gently, the boy was crying and trying to hold on tight. He leaned down and said, “We need to move fast and quiet, Wills, got it?” William nodded solemnly. Taylor wrapped his hand around the smaller boy's, pulled him onward after the others.

The group meandered through a hallway which only looked vaguely familiar. He held tight to William's hand but the further they ran the more his mind raced. They had everything they had come for: William, the wiper; and possibly without Behrstable and his cronies at TwinStar being the wiser, yet. But Taylor knew the mission wasn't done. They had talked about what else they had needed to do, made vague plans about how to achieve it, but none of them had really thought they'd be able to do it. He clutched William, tried to feel strong and powerful, hoping it would overcome the reality of being just a fourteen year old boy. That he could achieve what needed to be done.

The words Behrstable had said to him were rolled around in his mind. Behrstable had mentioned others. And there was still the Mayor. And more wipers, not to mention the implants. How can we convince anyone the truth of what TwinStar is up to? Will we even be given the chance? Can we be sure we aren't being played? As long as the wiper tech was out there, it was a crap shoot and Taylor knew it. Besides, TwinStar may not have known about all of them before, Behrstable had seemed to think Taylor was associated with a government agency, but they would now and they would come after all of them with a vengeance. After their families too, at a time when it was least expected. When they were most vulnerable. Taylor shivered as he ran.

“What's wrong, Taz?" William piped when Taylor stopped suddenly. Up ahead, Winston stopped and turned. Called the others to hold up, to wait for Taylor. He came trotting back to Taylor with the others right behind. Tate had been pulling up the rear and was on Taylor's other side. Taylor noticed something had changed in the teacher. He was somber now and focused, he radiated danger in a way Taylor would never have believed Tate could.

“T! What's wrong, old man?“ Winston asked.

“We have to HURRY!“ Tate stressed.

Lou just arched an eyebrow, questioningly. She saw something in his face, she must have, she could do that sometimes. He nodded at her and she nodded back.

“I can't go. I have to stay,“ Taylor said, surprised at how confident his voice sounded, how easy it was to say those words. Despite the upheaval rollicking around inside of him, his stomach was queasy and sick; he knew he was going to do this, regardless of what his friends said or thought. Maybe that was what Lou had recognized. She of all of them knew what it meant to do what you had to do.

“You CAN'T stay here, Taylor!“ Izzy said. “They will kill you!“ Taylor wanted desperately to believe there was something else in her voice aside from caring for a friend, some call to him, desperate longing, even need. Things she couldn't, wouldn't spell out just then, something she had only now, under adverse strain, ultimately realized. He wanted her to feel that for him, terribly. And he wanted to hear those things in her voice. His face must have said too much, because Izzy snapped closed her mouth, looking very confused. She took a small step backwards, her hands halfway up to a stop gesture.

“Taylor...“ she began, but Taylor shook his head.

“I have to do this.“ He said, hoping he sounded brave, choosing to believe his courage had been what she would have dismissed. “Don't you see? We can't just let them get away with all this! And even if we do make it out of here without them catching us, do you honestly think they'll just let us be? They will hunt us down! We'll never see it coming! I sat in the room with Behrstable and listened to him tell me exactly that! Worse, they could be anybody, send anybody, anytime, anywhere! We'd never be safe! With their wiper tech, we'd be sitting ducks and you all know it! And now they know us all! They didn't know us all before! Behrstable thought the government was backing me! You can believe they will come after my family and yours! Like they took William! We... I mean I have to do something. I have to stay and see if I can stop him, them. We'll never, I mean, I'll never get a chance like this again. They won't let us. We'll never be able to crack this building this way again! Besides, they'll just disappear, start up again somewhere else, somewhere we don't know about, and they'll be ready for us, if we ever do figure them out again.“ Taylor managed to get all those words out almost in one breath. Each word rolled right after the heels of the previous. He had been afraid to stop, afraid to be stopped and lose the potency of his message.

As he spoke he saw the words sink in. Tate began to nod along with him halfway through, clearly he saw things the same way. Even grinning Helen looked somber, torn through her smile. They know I'm right.

“I'm staying too. “ Lou declared. “I don't have anything to lose and you'll need me, Taylor.“ She said the last to Taylor directly. He was floored. He also wanted to argue, but something in the set of her jaw told him not to. And she was right. I do need her. Still, Taylor opened his mouth to argue anyway, but Lou shook her head in the negative.

Izzy looked at Lou, mouth agape, her face shocked. “No! You guys no! They will kill you! Don't you understand? We must get out of here! Tell Go to the police! The CIA! The NSA! Somebody! Isabel and Sue-Ann will help us! I know they can! Maybe we could even get...“ Words failed her or maybe she had been about to suggest her sister, Katherine, and now doubted herself. Taylor's wondering was cut off.

“I'm staying too.“ Winston announced. “You guys would get lost without me.“ He grinned and some of the anxiety washed away from Taylor. He suspected there was no point in arguing. They would staying whether he wanted them to or not. The set of Lou's jaw, the jaunty stance Winston had assumed told Taylor as much.

“I'm staying!“ Myth said. But she shook when she said it, whether from nerves or excitement, it was impossible to tell. Helen looked down at her and said, without any sort of grin, very seriously. “I don't think so, dear. You and the little boy here are going to hot foot it right out of this building, now, with Izzy and tubby over there. There will be no arguing about it. Got me?“

By the end of her speech she was glaring daggers at Tate, who may have heard something else behind Helen's words, because he nodded, solemnly. Myth looked ready to argue, but the faces of everyone were against her. Tate moved past Taylor, “Listen, whatever happens, you guys can do this. Don't worry, I'll make sure these two get out of here safely. And Taylor. I'm proud of you.“ It was a backhanded compliment for Taylor, but it did feel good, somewhat. More, it was comforting to know he would make sure Izzy, Myth, Helen, and William got safely away. If anyone can get them out now, it's Tate. This Tate was not a man who failed.

“Fine! C'mon, kid.“ Myth said sullenly to William. "So much for being a hero,“ She mumbled to herself.

William walked over to Myth, at Taylor's urging. “William. Stay with Myth and Izzy, OK? Don't do anything stupid! Follow Mr. Tate, OK? Be brave, and tell Mom and Dad I love them.“ William sniffled, like he was trying to hold back a crying spell. But he nodded. When he put his hand inside Myth's he looked at what she was holding and said, “What's that?“

“It's a wiper, kiddo. We'll use it on the bad guys, zap!, if they get in our way! Bang!“ she flourished the thing at the air in front of her at an imaginary guard. William giggled, then sniffled. “Like the Imperius Curse in Harry Potter!”

“Cool!“ he said.

Izzy looked ready to argue again. She chewed her lip and bounced on her feet. But she pushed back whatever she was going to say, and nodded to herself decisively. She fixed Taylor with a serious, stern look. “I hope you know what you're doing. Try not to get killed.“ She gave Lou a look which said even more, more than Taylor could understand, but she didn't bother saying anything. She turned and started running down the hallway, behind Tate with Myth. William trailed Myth. Izzy's hand clutched a Taser, held it before her threateningly, so her knuckles were white. She turned a corner and was gone.

Will I ever see the again? Will I be me or an automaton? There was no surety. Turning back to face the others, he realized Helen was still there. He blinked at her, opened his mouth and said,

“Um, Helen? You need run if you're gonna catch up!“ Taylor said.

“Run? Dear, are you nuts? I haven't run anywhere since 1972. And don't think I'm starting now. You kids need a sensible adult around or you'll never make it out of here alive.“ Helen said amiably. She didn't seem nervous at all. Maybe she finally lost it? He had never really had much dealing with her over the past months since he had come to New York City, so he couldn't quite gauge how he should react. Lou took Helen quite seriously. Why?

“But Helen... you can't!” Lou said.

“I mean, Helen... we might have to fight and run and...“ Taylor added.

“Oh and you think you're a fighter, then, dear? And old Helen isn't? I've lost more fights than you've had years on this green Earth, boy.“ Helen said looking down her nose at him. “And I'm not done yet.“ She shook her shoulders decisively. “Now. Let' do the kids say it these days? Let's do this.

But she looked around as if confused about exactly where to go.

“Fine.“ Taylor said, resigned, realizing the old bat wasn't going to budge no matter what he said, and they had wasted enough time already. “Winston can you get us back to the control room? We should start there.“ Taylor finished.

“Why there?“ Lou asked.

“We can see all of the inside of the building from there, right? Maybe we can figure out where we'll find Behrstable and maybe where he stores the equipment, the wipers and implants. But mostly because I should be able to access their networks from there and I think we can lock them out of their own shit from here.“ He said it more confidently than he felt. Really he just didn't have any idea how to proceed now that the brave choice had been made.

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