When Aedan awoke, it was to a pounding headache and a light that felt far too bright. There were black spots in his vision, and what he could see was blurry, but he managed to make out the vague shapes of other men scattered around the room before the nausea won and he lurched sideways, his stomach emptying itself on the floor.
Head spinning, he sat up, rubbing his eyes to try to ease the blurriness.
“Wondered if you’d be able to keep anything down,” Said Wraith’s voice. “Hunter’s the only one who managed.”
“What happened?” Aedan asked, voice hoarse. “I remember clearing the house, then – nothing.”
"The house was a trap. Once we cleared it, knockout gas filled the room, and everything went black," Wraith answered.
“And what happened outside?”
“Sniper. Tranq darts. That’s all we could really piece together. It was really blurry,” Hunter said.
“How long was I out?”
“Nobody knows how long it’s been,” Blackburn said. “You woke up two days after me, and I woke up first. God knows how long I was out. Beard started growing a bit, must have been a day or so.”
"Any ideas on how to get out of here?" Aedan asked.
“Well, we only just started being able to see normally,” Wraith supplied. “All we know is the door is a no-go. No windows, no other points of issue.”
"What do we do, Kronos?" Hunter asked.
"I'm thinking," he said, trying to figure out a way out. He looked up through his slowly clearing vision. “Shadow, you’re lighter. Climb up and check the grate? It’s worth a shot.”
Shadow nodded, climbing onto Aedan’s back to get a closer look at the ventilation shaft. “No good,” he said. “The grate is welded on.” Aedan let out a sigh and started letting Shadow down, but Shadow stopped him. “Wait, hold on, there’s something behind it.”
There was a pause as Shadow poked a finger through the gaps in the grate, poking at the surface behind it.
“It’s a bunch of little nozzles,” he muttered. “Like a shower or-” Shadow stopped short. “Fuck,” he swore loudly. “Fuck, this isn’t good.”
“What do you mean?” Aedan asked as Shadow hopped back to the floor.
“That isn’t an air vent,” he said. “It’s a gas diffuser.”
“Fuck,” Blade answered.
“I don’t get it,” Blackburn said with a frown. “What do you mean, diffuser?”
“This is a gas chamber,” Blade said. “They can pump any drug they want in here. That door over there – it’s the real deal, the kind of shit they use on airlocks in spaceships. That diffuser is the only way oxygen is getting in this room. But they can regulate what does and doesn’t come in.”
“What kind of stuff can they do with that?” Aedan asked.
“What can’t they?” Blade muttered. “They can gas us, Nazi-style, but they won’t. They’ve been through too much trouble to get us here alive, they’ve already had plenty of opportunity to kill us. So whatever they do, it won’t be deadly. They can make us go blind, or numb, or deaf, with the right drugs. Hallucinations, sensory overload, anything.”
“Can we stop it?” Wraith demanded.
Blade frowned. “We might be able to,” he muttered. “Shadow, get over here, shirt off.”
Shadow blinked. “Why?”
“I gotta write something down.”
“So you need my shirt?”
“No, I need your shirt for something else. Get over here, already. Time isn’t something we’ve got plenty of.”
Shadow rolled his eyes, pulling off his shirt and sitting with his back to his brother, who dipped a finger in the dust on the ground and began writing on Shadow’s back. “Volume of the room?”
“Abut six by five on the floor, estimated height of two point five meters. Volume is approximately seventy five meters cubed,” Shadow calculated.
“That’s pretty big. Impractical.”
“It would extend the effects of the onset of the drugs,” Shadow muttered. “But it does give us more time.”
“If we stuff the vent, we have a week, maybe more, before we pass out. That might soak up the gas.”
“But if we stuff the vent, they can just counter the valve and suck the oxygen out instead, until we have to undo it.”
“Is it worth the risk?”
“I don’t know.”
Aedan sighed. “What are you two nerds talking about?” he asked.
Blade sighed. “If we use a shirt or something to plug up the vent, we can stem the flow of any gas they pump in here. But that would also keep oxygen from coming in. We’d protect ourselves from whatever they try, but we’d run the risk of suffocating ourselves as well.”
"What do we do?" Wraith said.
"I don't know," Aedan sighed. "But between torture and death, I say we've all got people to go home to. I don’t know why, but we’re useful for something. That means they won’t kill us, at least until we tell them what they want. So we keep our mouths shut."
"Son of a bitch!" Wraith yelped, hand flying up to his neck.
"The bastards took my ring," he muttered. "Fuck, Mel's gonna kill me."
"That's what you think of now? We could die and you're upset about your ring?" Blackburn asked.
"Just occurred to me," Wraith defended. "It's my fucking wedding ring. Forgive me for thinking of my wife at a time like this."
"Wraith, Blackburn, calm down. It won’t help our situation if we're at each other's throats," Aedan said.
Wraith took a deep breath. "Right," he said. "Sorry."
"It's fine. Let's just focus on our situation," Blackburn said.
"I don't know what we can do but wait," Blade sighed. "What do you think they want?”
“Maybe ransom,” Aedan offered.
“These people clearly have plenty of weapons and money, if they could mount something like this. Speaking of which, what was wrong with our intel? Everything should have gone smoothly, but they knew we were coming.”
Aedan let out the snarl that had built in the back of his throat. “I’m getting real fucking tired of this traitor bullshit,” he growled. “I swear to God, if I ever find out who the hell the mole is, I’ll make him wish I’d just killed him.”
Wraith blinked. “What traitor bullshit?” He asked.
"The last few ops we were on, someone tipped the enemy off that we were coming. We know it's a traitor because only we know when and where we strike," Aedan explained.
Wraith went pale. "A traitor?" He asked. "And nobody has told Overlord yet?"
"We don't want to be put on standby while we search for the traitor."
“So you’d rather have this happen?”
“Rosie doesn’t trust Overlord,” Hunter said quietly.
Blackburn swallowed. “Hey, Kronos, I know you don’t want to hear this, but has it not occurred to you that it might be her? I mean, the traitor would want to keep this away from Overlord. And you have to admit she’s… weird.”
"She's not weird. She's misunderstood. Trust me, I know her," he said firmly.
"How well?" Wraith said.
Shadow swallowed. “Not as well as we know her,” he said. “And we don’t know her very well either. I don’t think it’s her – it doesn’t seem to be her style. But then again, it doesn’t seem to be any of our styles, and we know it’s one of us. There’s as much chance for it to be her as there is for anybody else. And she’s the only one that doesn’t trust Overlord. And, come on, she grew up in a Leninist camp. God knows what kind of brainwashing she went through in there.”
"Stop talking about the woman I love like that," Aedan spat.
The team froze for a second.
“Hey, Boss, you mean that?” Wraith asked.
"Would I say it if I didn't mean it?"
“I mean, you wouldn’t – what – Kronos, this is serious.”
“I’m being perfectly serious.”
“No, I mean – oh, for fuck’s sake, Kronos, this is why we aren’t supposed to have women in operations in the first place! Hell, you’re dealing with the chance that she could be a fucking traitor, and you’re willing to let even a possibility slide just because you’re dating this chick?”
"Shut the fuck up, Wraith. That’s an order,” Aedan snapped.
“No, I am not going to shut up!” Wraith growled. “I’m going to talk some fucking sense into you before you get us all killed!”
"She is not a traitor."
“By not acknowledging that possibility, you’re running a huge risk. If it were anybody else, you would do it.” Wraith sighed. “Look, I’m happy for you two. I am, really. You both deserve a chance at… whatever you’ve got going on together. But you can’t afford to risk losing this whole team just because of her.”
“If it were Melanie, would you do it?” Kronos demanded. “Would you run the risk of her getting sent to Levenworth, or worse, if she were in special forces?”
“I wouldn’t want to,” Wraith said. “But I wouldn’t have a choice.”
"Bullshit. You'd do the same as me. Hannah is not the traitor. She is just misunderstood. You just haven't… You haven’t seen her. Not like that.”
“Well, then, let’s make it real simple, boss,” Wraith said sharply. “You tell me what’s so misunderstood about our resident mystery, or you tell me who the traitor really is, or I swear, when we get out of here, the first thing I’m going to do is tell Overlord all of this.”
“She grew up in a fucking prison camp. The people who she calls family are the ones who murdered her parents and kidnapped her, then performed illegal experiments on her and used her as a torture subject. So yeah, pretty fucking misunderstood. Next time you judge someone, jackass, think it through.”
Wraith shook his head. “Calm down, Kronos,” he said. “All I meant was maybe you don’t know her as well as you think. And considering she’s the only one that isn’t here with us…”
“That’s assuming she’s not already dead,” Blade said hollowly.
Aedan growled, ignoring the comment.
“Okay, talking about the whole traitor issue is well and good,” Blackburn said, “But it isn’t going to do us any good so long as we don’t know how to get out of here. Because as far as I can see, we have no food, no water, no escape, and we’re in a fucking gas chamber. And considering these lights, I don’t think we’re going to get much sleep, either.”
"So what are we going to do?" Hunter asked.
“We’re going to rest,” Aedan said. “And we’re going to save our strength for when we need it. And we’re going to stick together. There may be people out there looking for us, but it’s up to us to get out of here. We owe it to our folks to come home.” He sighed, laying down on the concrete floor with a sigh. “Might as well try to sleep anyway,” he said. “Nothing else to do.”