We prepare to leave that evening. Half of us – myself included – pack the remaining supplies from the colony into the vans: food, medical supplies, weapons. The others search through the colony for any survivors.
Instead, they find Enforcers.
I’m packing one of the vans, with Xander by my side, when I see Gray come from the colony and walk briskly to Carper.
“We found a couple Enforcers deeper in the compound,” I overhear him say to the Commander. “It looks like some of our guards got to them.”
“Alive or dead?” Carper asks.
“Alive, but unconscious. Three of them. Do we finish them off?”
“No. They might hold valuable information - we can question them at Ivan’s colony.” Carper motions to the vans. “Restrain them and bring them with us.”
Gray nods in understanding and heads back to the colony.
“It’s not safe to take them with us,” I comment to Xander as I return to my work.
“Maybe not,” he answers. “But I don’t think anymore people should die today.”
“They’re Enforcers,” I say flatly.
I want to snap back – tell him that they’re murderers, remind him of his mother and all the other people who have suffered because of them. But I stay quiet. At least we can question the surviving Enforcers. Maybe we can manage to learn more about ALPHA from them.
We leave soon after, now with the three Enforcers. Ivan’s men lead the way – they say we’ll arrive before dawn.
As we drive off, I wonder if we’ll even make it that long.
Ivan’s colony is in a mountain range. When we arrive and step out of the vans, I’m amazed by the beauty of it. A row of mountains looms over us, their tips green and lush from the summer sun. I can make out the shape of several buildings on the side of the mountain. The sky begins to brighten; we made it before dawn, just like Ivan told us we would.
We’ve been waiting since, sticking by the trees to avoid being seen if any Redeemer aircrafts happen to fly overhead. Which I doubt they will; this area is too secluded.
As we wait, I can’t help but eye the Enforcers we’ve captured. They’re restrained and heavily guarded, but their presence is enough to make me uneasy.
Finally, Ivan returns. “Let’s go,” he says. “Our leader says you can stay - but she wants to question you immediately.”
Carper nods, and we’re all led to the base of the mountain. We come to a camouflaged entrance. From a distance, I can barely make out the door, but as I get closer I can see it on the mountainside: thick, heavy, and painted the same color as the dirt around us.
“I thought your colony was on the mountain,” Gray says to Ivan.
“The buildings are part of an abandoned Redeemer outpost,” he responds. “The higher-ups live there. The rest of us stay inside the mountain itself.”
Gray shoots a questioning look at Carper, but the man just says, “It doesn’t matter.”
Ivan knocks on the door and gives his name. Moments later the sound of releasing locks comes from the other side, and the door opens. Ivan disappears through it. The rest of the group files in slowly behind him. I eye the entrance hesitantly, imagining darkness and cramped spaces. The miles of rock and dirt that will be above my head.
As if hearing my thoughts, Darren touches my shoulder. “Stay calm,” he reminds me. “Remember, Nat – you’re a solider.”
A soldier. He’s right – I need to get over this. I force myself to move through the entrance.
On the other side is a wide tunnel that branches in several directions. The ceiling and walls are covered in metal chain-link, and dim lights hang from the ceiling.
A group of soldiers are waiting for us. They’re all dressed in matching black pants and gray jackets.
Darren slips through door after me. His eyes sweep across the group, examining the people around us. Our group looks at tour hosts with well-worn suspicion.
The door is sealed when everyone is inside. A string of anxiety threads through my chest as all sunlight disappears from the tunnel.
Ivan clears his throat. “Carper needs to meet with our leader first. The rest of you will be taken to the barracks.” He points to the Enforcers. “They go into a cell.”
Carper shakes his head, looking tired. “I won’t go alone.”
Smart. We have no idea who we can really trust anymore.
“Then take a few others with you.” Ivan shrugs.
“Gray,” Carper says to the young man. He pauses, then says. “Spearse, you too. And Darren.”
I blink in surprise, then go to the Commander’s side. I feel something like pride at being chosen.
Ivan leads the four of us away while the rest of the group are led down another tunnel. I catch Xander’s eye as they leave. He’ll be fine, Nat.
We follow Ivan down a cramped tunnel. The walls are supported by thick beams that reveal stone between their gaps. Eventually the tunnel widens, and we’re led into a larger cavern-like area.
We come to flight of metal stairs descending from the ceiling and spiraling down into a wide, open hole in floor.
“This leads up to the surface,” Ivan explains, mounting the steps.
We begin climbing up the staircase. A steady stream of white light spills through the opening above us. As soon as the light hits my eyes, I feel a heavy weight lifted from my shoulders. The brightness is a huge relief as I arrive at the top.
We’ve climbed into an open space inside one of the Redeemer buildings. The space is full of windows that let in streams of light that bounce off the tiled floor. I can clearly see how this was a Redeemer base. The floor must have been white once, but wear and age has grayed it, creating cracks and grooves.
“This way,” Ivan says. He leads us up a set of wide stairs, to a second floor. The upper part of the building is a single circular room. Rows of windows line the rounded walls.
In the center of the room stands a round table. Pixilated images rise from the surface. I can see the distinct shape of the Crux among them. A single woman stands with her back to us.
Ivan clears his throat. “Commander Carper is here to speak to you, ma’am.”
The woman waves her hand above the map. Pixels disappear under her hand, fading into the table and flickering to dimness. She turns around, and as her face comes into view, my heart stops.
Impossible. My blood turns to ice. Everything fades, leaving only that face.
Ginger hair pulled back in a bun. A pointed chin. Eyes the same shade as mine.