The floor shuddered beneath their feet as Ana and Frederick darted from the platform toward the stairs. The last of the riders navigated up to the first landing and nudged his mount up the second flight.
Ana glanced back at her father. “I think that’s the last of them.”
Frederick nodded and motioned up to the levels above them. “We’d better hurry before they beat us to the Eye.”
She took the stairs two at a time and threw herself against the wall when she’d reached the top. Frederick was up two seconds after. He aimed his gun at the door and nodded.
Ana kicked it in. It slammed against the inner metallic wall and fell from the frame. She looked back at her father and shrugged.
He shook his head and then sprinted ahead of her, stopping when he reached a junction in the hallway. He peered around the corner and then looked back at her. “Looks the same as this one, all metal and no windows or doors.”
The Eye intruded on Ana’s thoughts. Straight...coded access panel end of current trajectory. The voice held a note of panic.
“Follow me.” Ana trotted past her father. She heard his footfalls behind her. She touched her left temple. “Should be an access panel down here somewhere.”
There was an acrid smell in the air. Smoke...and where there’s smoke, there’s fire, Ana thought. She quickened her pace, running toward the presence of the Eye. It was like a familiar friend...a drug...her drug.
They skittered to a stop at the end of the hall. “Looks like a dead end,” Frederick said. “You sure that thing isn’t leading us down rabbit holes...or worse, right into a trap.” He looked quickly back down the way they’d come. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this...it all seems too--”
Ana shook her head. “No,” She insisted. “She said there was an access panel here.”
The voice whispered in her head. Right.
Ana pressed her hand against a spot on the featureless metallic wall that the Eye had indicated to her. A blue light illuminated her hand followed by a low pop and a hiss of air. The previously smooth wall formed a bubble in its center. The metal rippled away from the center and retreated into vents recessed into the frame.
She looked at her father. “See. An alternate route.” She stepped through and looked up the dimly lit stairs within. “Just like she said.”
Frederick shook his head. “That still doesn’t mean we’re not walking into a trap.”
Ana raced up the stairs, calling back to him. “Don’t worry, the Eye has acknowledged my dominion over it. Once I take possession, nobody will be able to stop us.”
“Don’t get too cocky.”
His words fell on deaf ears. The feeling pulling her forward was one of longing...of knowing that fulfillment lay just ahead. The little voice in her head was replaced by the Eye. At the next junction take the stairs to the left, from there go right. You will be at the armory. I have alerted security to your presence. They will escort you to me.
“Just a little further.” She turned toward her father when she reached the landing. “Now, I don’t want you to be alarmed, but we’re going to head into the armory.”
“And we’ll be met by the local security detail.” She recognized the look on his face, she remembered it from childhood. “I know, I know, but we’ll be so close to the Eye that it won’t matter even if it’s a trap. I’ll be able to control her without any problems.”
“I still don’t like it.” He looked into her eyes. Ana wasn’t sure if he liked what he saw. “But I trust you. If you say you can control it, I believe you.”
Ana smiled. “Good.” She held up her gun. “Probably best we tuck these away. Best not to give the wrong impression.”
Frederick tucked the gun into his waistband. “I have to agree with you on that.” He looked beyond her. “Did she tell you which way next?”
“Stairs to the left.” She touched his shoulder. “Don’t worry, I was made for this.” She took in a deep breath. “I can’t explain it...I just know it.”
“Then I’m right behind you...always.”
She squeezed his shoulder before turning back toward the stairs.
Just as the Eye had told her, the armory was to the right of the next landing. The doorway was already open in anticipation of her arrival.
Her heart raced reflexively as the first of the security detail stepped into view. She stopped suddenly, her father so close she could feel his presence. “What the he--” She heard him say before motioning him to stay quiet.
The man didn’t appear to notice her right away. He seemed to be preoccupied directing others in the room and shouting into a thin silver mouthpiece that arced elegantly out of a brilliant white helmet.
The man was easily seven feet tall and his skin was dark as midnight, blue black. In fact it was difficult for Ana to discern where his dark jumpsuit ended and his skin began. When he at last turned to greet her she could see the confusion in his dark shimmering eyes. It took her a moment to realize he was speaking to her.
She shook her head. “I’m afraid I don’t under--”
The voice spoke to her again. Apologies, Protector. Your native language pathways have been dormant for quite some time...assimilating...standby for neural discharge. A light went on in her mind. The man’s words came to her clearly.
He was shouting now. “...can you hear me? This facility has been breached. Do you understand?”
Ana nodded. She couldn’t help but smile which seemed to irritate the man further. “Take me to the Eye.”
“Negative.” He pointed toward the back of the armory. “I’ve got men engaged with hostiles in the only corridor leading into the chamber of the Eye. There are two men stationed with her inside with strict instructions not to open the door under any circumstances.”
As if to verify the man’s statement, an explosion echoed through the hall and the floor shuddered again.
Her father grabbed her arm. “What in the hell is going on?” He pointed to the guard. “Can you actually understand anything he’s saying?”
Ana placed her palm over her father’s temple and spoke to the Eye. “Channel that neural link through to my father.”
There was no audible response, but she felt the energy, and judging by her father’s reaction he felt it too. He seemed to be about to say something when the guard spoke again.
“Half of my men were killed in the blast. I’m going to throw all we have at them and drive them back down into the facility.” He looked her up and down. “I hope you’re stronger than you look. We sent out a distress signal and this is all they managed to send.”
Her father stepped out from behind Ana. “She’s definitely stronger than she looks. Besides, nobody sent us, we just happened to be in the neighborhood.”
Either the guard didn’t understand the reference, or he wasn’t amused. He motioned toward a row of shelves recessed into the metallic walls. “Take what you need.” He grabbed a thick white object from the shelf that looked to Ana like a giant gauntlet. He slid his hand inside and pulled back on a small knob on the top. A thin blue light emanated from a groove around the tip.”
Frederick didn’t waste any time. He took one of the devices from the shelf and followed the guard’s lead.
The man seemed to be impressed. “That’s it. Just flex your fingers to release the blast.”
Ana grabbed the guard by the arm. “Wait...Commander Ellyian.”
He seemed to be taken aback that she knew his name, unaware the Eye had given it to her when she’d opened the neural language pathway. “How did--”
She shook her head. “Never mind. If I can neutralize the threat out there, can you take me to the Eye.”
“Yes, but I don’t see how you plan on doing that. We’re about to be overrun. They’ve never come at us with so much force before.”
Frederick interrupted. “This has happened before?”
Ellyian nodded. “Yes, but they’ve never managed to breach the facility. Someone has armed them with these explosives.”
“Someone?” Frederick asked.
“I suspect it to be--”
Another explosion rocked the room. Several of Ellyian’s men fell back into the armory. One of them had a long nasty gash running down the length of his right leg. Ellyian rushed to his side.
Ana could see the smoke now and the hazy image of the wild blue-gray men advancing. The power of the Eye felt so close, as though it were right below her fingertips. A thought came to her. They were inside a power generator. Not only a generator, but a storehouse of energy.
She raced toward the hall into the fray. Her father’s screams echoed behind her and then were quickly drowned out by another explosion. Tiny pieces of metallic debris pelted her arms and legs, but she kept running, running past three more of the security detail who stopped firing and looked at her in stunned disbelief as she stopped between them and the rebels just at the other end of the corridor. She could see the bodies of their fallen brethren, smell the blood and smoke in the air.
Anastasie Eloise Bertrand, Sixth of Seven, Binder of the Great Book of Power, and daughter of Frederick, thrust her arms upward and commanded the Eye of Glaxenes to do her bidding.
It complied without hesitation.
Once again the floor beneath their feet shuddered, followed by an electric hum that pulsed all around them. She saw the pathway the power took, routing to the correct switch, and then rerouting when it came across a dead connection...through the circuitry in the ceiling above her and into the capacitor before diverting the pipeline to the storage tanks...the perfect sequence of valves and compressors worked in unison just as the Eye commanded...just as Ana commanded.
A pipe swelled under the immense pressure just below the surface of the floor directly in front of her. Ana took a step backward just as the floor erupted upward sending a huge piece of twisted metal grating into the air and up into the ceiling.
The lights flickered as water rained down from the ceiling in torrents and fell through the opening in the floor like a waterfall.
Ana pulled a fraction of the energy at her disposal from the walls and thrust it toward the water. Writhing bolts of blue lightning propelled hundreds of gallons of charged water toward the rebels sending them retreating back the way they’d come.
She could sense the damaged circuitry on the wall next to the doorway that the last of the rebels had fled through. One of their blasts had disabled the door. Ana probed the Eye and traced out the detailed schematics of the facility within until she’d found the bypass she was looking for.
Ana released the electrically charged water just as the damaged door shuddered and jolted closed with a wrenching grinding noise. She retraced the pipeline, finding the nearest valve, and instructed the Eye to close it.
The water slowed to a trickle.
Ellyian stepped out of the armory, her father beside him. “Commander, Ona, I will take you to the chamber of the Eye now.” He placed his right fist over his chest.
Ana nodded. “Very good. And my name is Ana Eloise, not Ona.”
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