The Quandary 902

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Chapter 17

I rise late in the morning. Exercise, although my arm still aches and the remaining inhibits my range of movement. Shower, dress, eat, and wait. It’s a simple routine that I adhere to. The waiting part is by far the worst, but Evander’s welcoming gift makes time creep by at a slightly less abysmal rate. Even if the words do come to me slowly, I prefer to occupy myself with something other than my circular thoughts.

When no one comes to fetch me I take a gamble and exit my room unsupervised. Either everyone was too preoccupied with tending to Naomi and prepping the gear for today’s battle to appoint someone to stand guard, or I have finally earned enough trust to be granted some leniency. I’m about to mount the first set of stairs to climb my way out of the 1888 building when a familiar dark face pops up a few flights above me. I suppose that answers that question.

“Eve!” says Ayana. “I was coming to get you. It’s almost time to move out.” With that she scurries away towards the stairwell exit and I hear the metal clank as it slams shut.

Ayana leads me through a set of metal double doors and down a few corridors until we arrive at the rectangular conference room I passed out in only a few days ago. When I enter from the back of the room I look around to spot Naomi, but she isn’t among the few faces I see gathered there. Beckett is standing by the far wall, on which a projection of the maps I had made annotations on is displayed. He observes me with a distrustful eye, not allowing even my slightest movement to escape his scrutiny. At one point I think I see his fingers clench against the stack of documents before he catches my watchful expression and forcibly relaxes his shoulders. Evander and two men I have yet to meet are there. I recognize one of them as the lanky blond boy from last night. The other is larger, sturdy. He has an uninviting expression, completely at odds with the dopey appearance of the smaller boy at his side. The boy stretches his long, gangly arms, his companion glares at him when the limb intersects with his personal space. I clear my throat and the two snap to attention. The man eyes me with distaste, the boy beams widely for a moment before looking me up and down and nervously glancing away.

“Gentleman. I’m A—” I choke a bit when I realize that I was predisposed to introduce myself as Alpha 902. Apparently some habits are hard to break. “Eve,” I correct myself. Almost on command, Sydney snorts sardonically. I know it bothers him that I’ve adopted his moniker— he meant it to be an insult, after all— and what better way to drive the man insane by acting like I absolutely relish in it. I smile to drive the point home, and the two men jolt back in a simultaneous nervous twitch. The younger of the two attempts to cover it up by adjusting his sleeve, but all of us understand the jerky movement for what it was. I have to resist the urge to run my tongue over my teeth in search of fangs. Then I’m stuck trying to avoid following the line of thought that suggests how useful pointed teeth would be for tearing flesh. I wonder if anyone has ever thought of that.

It’s Beckett who breaks the silence in a curt undertone. “This is your driver, Elijah,” he says, gesturing to the blond boy who breaks out in another wide smile, waving. Beckett glares at the boy, who drops his hand sheepishly, “and our ammunitions manager Weston. They’ll be taking you down to meet the rest of the team. Ayana will head there to collect her rifle. Your squad will be in communication the entire time using these,” he passes me a small black earpiece “radio transmitters. All of them have been coordinated to the correct channel. We won’t have any contact with you from base, except from the van, which you’ll be leaving behind until rendezvous, correct?” I nod and he continues, “Right. The military band shouldn’t be able to pick up the transmission—”

“Unless they’re scanning for it,” I interrupt.

He grits his teeth in annoyance. “Unless they’re scanning for it. That’s why we had an engineer in the Mountain come up with this.” He picks a small black box off the table. There are a few colored wires sticking out here and there, and a singular silver switch that sticks out the top. “It scrambles radio transmission. Only two modes; off and on. Switch it on while you and your team are camped out waiting for the ambush, switch it off when the fighting begins so you have communication. That way they can’t pick it up until its too late.” He hands me the box and I grunt, taking it in my good hand. I use the small plastic clip to affix it to my belt. I await his instructions, but seeing as he appears to have nothing else to say I turn to the driver and munitions manager and make an “after you” motion towards the exit. They leave with a hastily drawn salute to Beckett, Ayana trailing a few feet behind.

Beckett barely regards me. His brow draws in an expression of puzzlement, as if scanning my face for recognition before his eyes widen and he turns abruptly, trailing out of the room without another word.

Tragically, this leaves Sydney and I alone.

He strides next to me, his arms crossed, his face the perfect picture of distain. “Don’t smile at the men,” he reprimands me. “You look like a predator when you smile. It makes them nervous.”

“I’m a person. People smile,” I say, molding my face into a wolfish grin.

“That first point is debatable,” he replies, his mouth fixed in a thin, serious line. He makes moves towards the door before he turns back. “Demons can smile, too. It doesn’t make them any less malicious— if anything it makes them more cunning for it.”

The hair on my neck raises and the skin on my arms mottles into goose bumps. Sydney knows it’s an act. The doctor knows. Evander knows. How many people find out before I’m strung out to die, executed by a hysterical lynch mob acting on fear and hatred? My heart speeds its pace, as always beating with the steady sound of a drum.

Survive, survive, survive.

But even as that concern for my survival flows throughout my body with the pumping of blood, a determined calm settles over me. I know the lengths I will go to in order to ensure my survival. Do they?

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