He grabbed my hand and we ran for the elevator. He swiped the card, and punched in his code. But instead of a green light, a red light and a beep sounded. He tried twice more with the same results.
“They pulled the clearance. Where are the stairs?” He turned to me. “They have to have stairs in the event of a fire.”
“There should be two sets, east and west. We’re on the north side. South is where the opening under the garage is.”
He turned and ran in the general direction where the stairs should be. We turned down more than one hallway until we finally found the door to the stairs. He pushed through the door so hard, it slammed open, crashing against the wall inside. I followed behind him, pulling off the goggles, mask as I ran. I didn’t have time to take the suit off, so I just pulled my arms free, tying the sleeves around my waist to keep from tripping over them. Darian did the same, revealing a jumpsuit under the clean suit. We had barely gone up a flight when I heard steps below us. I paused to look over the railing to see a group of CGP officers coming up after us. They must have entered only a story or two below where we did. I looked to Darian, who saw it too. His lips set into a grim line. He simply nodded upwards, and took off at a run.
There were only a few stories between us and the roof, but my thighs were burning before we were even halfway there. The officers were catching up to us. They were going to catch us. And it was going to be my fault.
“Go on. I can’t make it. Just go. Hopefully I’ll give you more time.” I said, gasping.
“Don’t be stupid.” He reached back and grabbed my hand again, hauling me after him. “I’m going to need a second pair of hands.”
“I’m running out of steam, Darian,” I snapped back at him.
“Then stop talking. We’ll make it.” He continued to tug me after him.
I stumbled along with him. My throat was raw from my breath sawing through it, sweat drenching me beneath the clean suit. The minimal sleep and food I had gotten in the last two days was catching up to me. I could have wept with joy when we came around the last flight and saw the double doors that lead to the roof. We crashed into them only to find them locked. I cried out in frustration as I yanked on it.
“Look out.” Darian tugged me behind him as he pointed the gun at the lock on the door. The shot echoed loudly in the close space, making my ears ring. It had worked though. There was a hole where the lock had been a moment before. He pushed out on to the roof, slamming the door behind us. He was looking around for something to secure the door behind us. A piece of rebar was beneath the tower that the satellite was attached to. I snatched it up and ran for him, skidding in the gravel that lined the roof. He slid it through the handles on the doors, pulling a roll of duct tape from a pocket inside his jumpsuit. He went to work wrapping it around the bar and handles, tearing it off with his teeth a moment before the officers hit the door.
“Why do you have tape with you? What else are you carrying?” I looked him up and down as we made our way to the tower.
“I had time to plan for this. I didn’t think it would be today, or in this way. But still. I have several pockets and compartments sewn into the inside of the suit.” He started climbing up the ladder to the platform just below the satellite. There was a maintenance console there. I followed him up, keeping an eye on the door where the officers were trying to break through. “The tape was in case I needed to secure someone. Like Marianne. Didn’t have time though.”
He pulled out the small laptop that he had used earlier, and plugged it into the console. I was watching the door from the edge of the platform behind him, listening to him type. The pounding in my ears making me slightly dizzy. Sirens were screaming below us. There were helicopters in the air towards the edge of the city where we had come in. Several were moving in our direction. There was a large dust cloud rising up from the same direction. The kind that rises when a large group of vehicles are driving over an unpaved area. A large bang and crash brought my attention back to the door.”
“Darian,” I called to him.
“Just a second. Almost there.” The banging getting louder, frantic. He grabbed my arm, pulling me close. “Okay, it’s all set up to broadcast. I need you to look into this tiny camera at the top here and give a 30 second summary of what has happened. Then hit enter. I’m going to try to hold the door until you finish.”
“Why me?” I grabbed for him as he headed for the ladder.
“Because, Astra,” he pulled my hands from his arm. “Besides the fact that you’re the patrician daughter of the lead scientist that started all of this, you’re also the result of it. You’ve witnessed more of it. You can do this.”
He didn’t wait for an answer as he climbed down, leaving me standing there. He shouted something up at me from the door. But I couldn’t hear him over the clamor. I felt like all the blood had rushed from my limbs to my head. I walked numbly to the console. Swallowing once, twice against the thick, dryness that coated my tongue and raw throat. Staring wide eyed at the tiny camera, I hit record.
“My name is Astra Vaylen, and I should not exist. I am the daughter of Marianne and Nicholas Vaylen and Tama Sweetwater…” I know I rambled on for a time. More than the 30 seconds that Darian had requested of me. But I wouldn’t be able to tell you what I said. I blanked out, doing my best to not pass out from the panic rising in my chest.
I hit finished, hit enter, and watched a bar turn green, indicating success. Just as it finished, a shot rang out. The computer in front of me shattered. I ducked down, covering my head. The shouting from below bringing me back to reality. Looking out over the edge of the platform, I saw Darian on his knees, hands behind his head. He was surrounded by four officers, the ones that had followed us up the stairs. They were shouting at me to come down, or they’d shoot me next. A helicopter was circling overhead. I was halfway down the ladder when I heard my mother’s voice shouting from the stairwell, drawing a groan from me.
“Stop! Do not shoot!” She came storming through the door just as I stepped off the ladder. A smear of blood on the side of her head. Two more officers with her.
“You didn’t hit her hard enough.” I said to Darian, where he knelt in the gravel.
“I’ll remember for next time.” Despite the circumstances, he smiled, laughter in his eyes.
My mother didn’t find it as funny. She closed the distance between us in a heartbeat, cracking the back of her hand across my face. My head jerked back, the taste of blood filling my mouth.
“Take her to the basement, put her in a cell.” Her gray eyes were practically sparking from her fury. She turned on her heel as an officer grabbed me, yanking my arms behind me to be cuffed. She stopped next to Darian, touching the blood on her head, sneering at the smear on her fingers. “Him too.”
She had just reached the door when shots started ringing out. Two of the officers fell dead. One had been holding me still and drug me down with him. Darian scrambled for me, throwing himself over me. The helicopter that had been circling above us was landing on the other side of the roof where a landing pad was located. Wind ripped at my hair, the motor drowning out most of what was happening. I couldn’t see anything from where I lay, beneath Darian. There were gunshots, shouting. It lasted only a few moments before the chaos subsided.
Darian was hauled off me and I was yanked to my feet. My hands released from the cuffs a second later. I looked around in confusion. My mother was gone, but five of the CGP officers lay dead around us. The three people who were responsible were going around checking them for pulses, removing their weapons. The newcomers wearing green fatigues, helmets, carrying assault rifles.
“All clear!” the one closest to the door shouted back after carefully clearing the inside. The early morning sun shining off the thin layer of sweat that coated his dark skin.
Of course, my mother had saved herself.
Running steps crunching through the gravel brought my head back around. Hands grasped my face, lips pressed to mine. It took me a second to catch up. Everything had happened so fast I wasn’t able to keep up. I looked up into green eyes, staring down at me with worry heavy in them.
“Kagan?” Confusion making my voice harsher than I intended. “What are you doing here?”
“He insisted we come back for you once we met my people just outside the walls.” Laura was walking up to us. She had changed from the CGP uniform she had on earlier to a military one, assault rifle included. “He bargained his testimony for you.”
“I couldn’t leave you here.” His voice pleading.
“I told you not to come back!” I snapped.
“Come on,” Laura was turning back to the helicopter. “We’re to get you out.”
“I can’t leave while there are still people locked below.” I pulled away from Kagan, looking towards Darian.
“Astra, wait,” Kagan started, but Laura cut him off.
“We’re already working on it,” was all Laura said. She reached back for my hand, pulling me along. “We don’t have time right now. We need to leave before more of them come up here.”
I looked back to see Darian staying back, watching as I was dragged to the helipad. No one had said anything to him, or tried to usher him along. They were going to leave him to the mercies of the CGP. Which there would be none. I pulled my hand back, heading back for him. Everyone stopped to look back at me. I grabbed his hand and pulled him along to follow them. I could see the no on Laura’s face before she even opened her mouth. Kagan was already reaching for me. I could see on his face that he was prepared to throw me over his shoulder if he needed to.
“He goes or I don’t.” I came to a full stop, stepping away from them.
“If we take him, they will say that he is our hostage.” Laura said.
“If he stays, they’ll kill him.” I gestured to the bodies around us.
“Why would they do that?” Laura asked, a frown creasing her brow.
“You don’t know, do you?” Darian asked. Laura looked to him, waiting. “Makes sense since it just happened. We broadcast files I stole from Marianne, along with a video from Astra about what they’re doing.”
Laura watched him for a minute, contemplating what to do with him. She turned to one of the military people that had come with her. He just shrugged at her silent question. I nudged Darian, wanting him to speak up more. He and Laura knew each other. It baffled me that she would be okay with leaving him behind. Maybe she thought he would be okay here being a patrician son. He just shrugged at me. Whatever happened, he was just going to accept it.
“Fine,” Laura announced with a sigh. “Now let’s hurry.”
Kagan stepped in again, grabbing my hand to pull me along, and I reached back for Darian’s. We were rushed to where the helicopter waited for us. Approaching it, Laura shouted for us to stay low while we climbed in. The pilot had stayed behind, waiting for us. Once we were seated with our headsets in place, Laura climbed into the front with the pilot. Kagan sat next to me, and a soldier on the other side of him. Across from them was the other two soldiers and Darian, who was in the middle. He looked awkward and uncomfortable caught between the two. I couldn’t help but smile at the discomfort on his face. A second later we were lifting off.
I watched the building fall beneath us, my stomach doing flips at the sight. Of all the possible outcomes for today’s endeavors, this is not one that I had even considered. I hadn’t even begun to let myself hope that we could make it out. I was so certain that I was going to end up in a cell with the other Borderland women who had been stolen. Or cut up on a slab so my mother can try to figure out what went wrong with me. But this, escaping again was something I hadn’t let myself hope for. Even now, on our way out, it felt surreal.
We were about 15 feet off the ground when I stopped watching the ground slip away from us. I turned to look at Kagan. As grateful as I was to be leaving this place, I was furious at him for putting himself at risk for me. I opened my mouth to lay into him, but stopped when something sharp struck me in the back of my shoulder. A loud pop, and a burning sensation spreading through my back followed a second later. His green eyes were searching mine, echoing the confusion in my own. I looked back to the ground where I saw my mother with several officers with her. They were firing at us. The soldier across from me was returning fire.
Blood was roaring through my head and I couldn’t hear anything over it. I touched my chest, and brought my blood coated hand up. Darian was shouting something, out of his seat and grabbing onto me. Pulling, he was pulling on me. I had started to slump over, nearly falling out of the aircraft. I looked down as I was dragged back inside and watched as blood was oozing out of a small hole in my chest. The cold of the metal floor pressed into my back. I was looking up at Darian, panic filled his blue eyes as he pressed the heel of his hand against my wound. I had been so wrong about him. For the longest time, he was the embodiment of everything I hated about my country. The entitlement, imbalance of human rights, the lack of choice, but also the cruelty. He had always seemed cruel to me. Now I knew it was a facade to hide the truth. The truth that he hated it as much as I did. The truth that he was trying to do something about all the wrong, to make it better, unlike me. I just ran away. Darkness was bleeding into my vision, and all I could think about was how I had wronged him.
“I’m sorry,” I tried to say, touching his face. My fingers leaving a red smear behind.
He was saying something to me, I couldn’t hear it, could barely focus on him anymore. I was so tired. The cold of the floor had crept into every part of me. The pain from him pressing on my wound felt so far away. I was so far away. I could feel myself slipping down into the encroaching darkness. It was quiet, and soothing. Everything had faded away, like falling asleep.