Chapter Twelve~ Choice
It takes less than a week for us to get really comfortable with our surroundings. Brie and Jared have begun working in the garden that helps provide food for everyone here. I spend a few hours each day doing laundry and Mason trains to help evacuate the camp if the need ever arises. Even though the work is hard, it’s nice to feel useful—like I’m accomplishing something.
Captain Jennings manages to get a safe message to Dr. Ford through his channels. He also was happy to inform us that our party has been moved safely to the Columbus location. I’m glad they were able to convince Jack and Mariette to get out before it was too late. Becky and Nate are safely there with them.
I climb the steps up to the high wall to look for Mason so we can go to lunch together. I don’t get stopped at all at this point. The other soldiers are used to me trekking up here for him. He stands, staring east. I join him and we watch the soldiers leave the safety of the walls and head towards the metallic fog. They’ve been keeping it back so far. I wonder if Dr. Ford has managed to make my energy stronger yet. I remember that the nanobots were able to overpower it if it’s in small doses.
Lost in our own thoughts, we don’t say much as we head to the food tent. Mason squeezes my hand, instantly making me feel better. No matter what happens, at least we’re together.
Baby bear has been spending his days with Brie and Jared at the garden. He seems to enjoy being outside all day, which makes sense. He’s still getting bigger. In fact, only the guys are able to carry him now. Luckily, he’s getting faster on his own. He’s loyal, and stays by Brie or myself whenever possible.
We just finish our lunch when a soldier approaches us. “If you’ll please excuse me, Captain Jennings has requested your presence immediately.”
This isn’t the first time that the Captain has had someone hunt me down, so it’s not as intimidating as it was the first time it happened. Although it does make me worry instantly, these meetings rarely end in good news.
Since we’re all together, the four of us and Baby bear follow the soldier to Captain Jennings’ office. When we arrive, he’s on the phone. He holds up a finger before hanging up and turning to us solemnly.
“We have a problem. I’m sorry to do this to you. For the safety of everyone here, I have no choice.”
Mason and Jared immediately take on a defensive posture. Brie and I roll our eyes at each other behind their backs. It’s not as though something’s going to bust through the door and attack us. I prefer to hear out the Captain before I freak out.
“The infection is spreading closer to us than ever before. Even with our new weapons, we don’t seem to have enough to hold it back.” He looks at me with sympathy in his eyes. “Kat, I have to send you out there. I’m so sorry, but I don’t see any other choice.”
“No!” Mason protests. “It’s too dangerous.”
“We have no choice. This is our last resort. Either Kat is able to push the infection back, or we have to evacuate. With all of the people we have and the citizens who have gone rogue in all of this mayhem, it’s not safe for us to relocate everyone. The chances of all of us making it to the next compound are slim.”
Maybe it’s the fear I see in Brie’s eyes or all of the friends we’ve made here, but I can’t say no. I think of everything done so far and the lives taken by my hands. However inadvertently, this chance to help can be the beginning of my path of redemption. “I’ll do it.” I say quietly, and the look of betrayal on Mason’s face is forever burned in my memory.
“Kat no, please.” He pleads with me.
“Mason, I have to. How can I not?”
Mason stands so abruptly that his chair flips back to the floor with a clatter. He storms out of the room. Understanding cover’s Brie’s features as she grabs Jared’s hand and the two of them head off after Mason. Baby bear lumbers behind them. He stops by the door Brie holds open and looks at me.
“It’s okay, B; go with Brie.” He reluctantly hangs his head and follows Brie out the door.
I turn to the Captain expectantly. Immediately, he is all business, “I’m sending you out with a team I fully trust. They have all been briefed and understand the necessity to be discreet. I’ve fully explained that if you cooperate, it’s solely your decision and they need to treat you with the utmost respect. You will leave within the hour. All of my men will be armed with our new weapons, plus another for backup. My hope is that between you and them, you’ll be able to push the infection back to a safe distance.”
I nod. Going out there doesn’t scare me. Rather, it’s the idea of failing that turns my blood cold. All of these people: dependent on me. I swallow hard, and the trepidation almost closes my throat.
“We should get going, Kat.” The Captain says, rising. I follow him down a few corridors, until he points me into a room. “We’ve got you a field uniform; you’ll find everything you need in there. Get changed quickly. When you’re done you and the team will get moving.”
I change quickly—my mind jumping from the task at hand, to Mason, and back again. I wish I could see him before I go. Just in case.
I open the door. A small part of me deflates when I realize he’s not here. My resolve wavers slightly but not enough to change my decision. I follow the captain through another maze of hallways, each just as generic as the one before it.
We get outside and a group of soldiers stands in a half circle around an armored vehicle. They stand at attention, until Captain Jennings gives the ‘at ease’ order. Now they all turn to me: some hiding their curiosity better than others.
I hear shouting and a commotion at the gate next to us. I turn to see Mason at the same time the captain does. “Let him through!” The captain orders, and the soldiers blocking Mason’s path move quickly out of his way.
Mason runs up to me, short of breath and red faced. I can see the concern in his eyes. “I couldn’t let you go without saying goodbye. They won’t let me go with you.” He wraps his arms around me and buries his face in my hair. “I’m sorry for before. I understand why you’re doing it. I just wish I could make you change your mind.”
“I’m sorry too, Mason. I have to do this though. I promise you, I’ll be back soon.” I say quietly, into his chest.
“I know. Be safe, okay?” He pulls back enough to see my face. “Don’t risk yourself to be the hero, promise?”
“I promise.” We hold onto each other for a few more seconds before we break apart. I can feel the reluctance as Mason releases me. At the captain’s orders, we load into the armored vehicle. The last thing I see as the door shuts is Mason’s face.
It turns out that it is quite annoying and disorienting riding sideways in a vehicle with no windows. Before long, my sense of direction is lost. Even time seems to lapse without any indication of how fast we’re moving or far we’ve gone. Some of the soldiers still eye me curiously; others double check their weapons and equipment. Finally, one of the soldiers stands and addresses all of us.
“We’ll be dropping in a few moments. This is strictly a push back situation. I don’t want to see any heroics. When your primary weapon runs out, you fall back and guard your team with your backup. Kat, here,” he motions, making me feel incredibly self-conscious, “is our priority. Keep her covered, but don’t get too close. If she says fall back, we fall back. Understood?”
They all nod in unison. Before I can react, we screech to a halt. I jolt sideways into the soldier next to me. All of them apparently know how to brace themselves, but nobody gives me any warning. I shift off of the soldier that stops me, mumbling an embarrassed apology.
Bright light filters in when the door opens, and warm moist air fills the space. The soldiers file out the door in a well-practiced formation, the soldier who addressed us keeping a hand on my arm until they’re all outside. “You ready for this?” He asks.
“I think so.” I answer. No use in lying. Besides, the nanobots can’t seem to infect me. This makes it far more dangerous for him and his team than me.
“Alright, it’s now or never.” He goes through the door. I take a deep, calming breath and follow.
This must be as close as they dare to get to the metallic fog. It stands maybe two-hundred yards from us and appears thicker than usual—with a new movement and flow to it that I haven’t seen before. I watch it shrinks back and almost cower as the soldiers unleash their weapons into it. I look at the soldier in charge.
“You need to call them back. They’re just wasting their weapons right now. Let me go first!” I have to yell over the noise around us.
He calls one command and they all fall back around us. I turn back to the commanding soldier. “You need to stay here no matter what, you understand? If anything happens, just wait a bit and you should be able to get to me safely.”
His eyes widen. I have a feeling this goes against his orders, but he doesn’t argue with me. The wall of soldiers parts for me as I walk forward. I see something new in their eyes that replaces the earlier curiosity. I could be wrong, but I think it might be respect.
I venture much closer to the fog than they dare. Wisps of it shoot out closer to me, then retreat—almost as if it recognizes me. With all I learned from Dr. Ford, this wouldn’t surprise me. When the fog is maybe twenty feet away from me I stop and plant my feet. Mustering up all of my pent up energy, I charge the sphere in my hands. I sure hope the doctor told these guys about the aftershock: otherwise, they’re in for a hell of a surprise.
Throwing the sphere as far as possible, I hit the ground immediately and feel the earth move. A blinding flash is seen, even behind my closed lids. When it’s over, I peek out from under my arm and assess the effectiveness of the sphere. What I see amazes me. The fog is gone. So is pretty much everything else: trees and grass still smoldering and charred. I look behind me to find a rare sight—every single soldier staring at me open-mouthed.
The next thing I notice is my energy level. It’s still surprisingly high, considering the amount I used on that last sphere. I think the lightning incident has more of an effect on me than I first thought, although it doesn’t seem to be a bad one.
I turn back to eviscerated land before me. All signs of the infection are gone. I hate that I decimate the landscape, even if it’s necessary to save us. A hand on my shoulder makes me jump.
“I think we’re done here.” The soldier in charge tells me.
I peer off into the distance both ways, and make sure there is no fog to be seen before I agree to return to camp. The ride back is as disorienting as the ride out. At the end of this ride Mason’s embrace is my reward. Brie and Jared surround me also, and Baby bear attaches himself to my leg.
Our reunion is short lived, because it’s only a few moments before the captain ushers us into his office. He seems anxious. Something that warns me this meeting may not bode well for us.
“Kat that was some good work out there. I think you’ve earned the respect of all of the soldiers with you.”
I know that it’s not that simple. “But,” I prompt him.
He frowns. “Well, please don’t take this as an ungrateful statement, but from what Dr. Ford had told me, I anticipated that you would need assistance. Have you gained power?”
Brie jumps in. “There was an incident with lightning, a short time before you found us.”
Mason looks at her sharply. I place a hand on his leg in an effort to calm him. I trust Dr. Ford, and the captain has given us no reason to think he’s untrustworthy, either. “Yeah, since then it’s been easier. I don’t get as drained.”
The captain seems to contemplate this. “It will to be hard, but I’m going to try and find a way to get the good doctor out here. You all have to lay low the day he arrives. I’m sure the General will insist that he’s accompanied by her best men. Once here, they’ll be under my orders, though I don’t think we should take any chances.”
“Then why is it important?” Mason counters. “Why take the risk at all?”
“Because this new information could help us finally beat these things.” The captain throws back at him.
None of us can argue with that. I have to admit it would be nice to work with Dr. Ford again and do what I can to help. I’m getting tired of destroying things; I’d like to help make things better for a change.
“Call him in.” I say when I stand. Although not tired, I’m hungry and these clothes are getting uncomfortable.
“I’ll keep you all posted.” The captain says as he rises and walks us to the door.