I awoke the next morning to the smell of coffee brewing downstairs, although for obvious reasons, I wasn’t in the mood to have any. Cassie and Jonah were both already up, but Emerson was apparently still asleep. They were busy discussing something and drinking the coffee from the French press Cassie had brought with her. When they saw me, they greeted me and offered me a cup, but I politely declined.
“We’ve been going over some possible plans,” Jonah informed me. “I think what we need to do is get the General so we can interrogate her. Find out what she’s really been up to this whole time, and if there’s a way to reverse whatever she’s done to you.”
“Oh, is that all?” I said with a sigh.
“It’s too early for sass, kid,” Jonah stated, narrowing his eyes at me.
“Besides, we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve,” Cassie said with a grin.
“Care to share what that might be?” I asked. “I could use some good news.”
“Cass here’s like us,” Jonah stated. “She can generate an invisibility field around her for about twenty minutes at a time.”
“Fifteen, actually,” Cassie corrected him, eliciting a frown from Jonah. “Don’t look at me like that! You’re not quite as spry as you used to be either, you know.”
“Fair enough,” he said. “So we’re thinking that if we can get into the new safehouse and draw enough attention, Cass can sneak in to find the General, knock her out, and extract her. Then we just have to figure out how to get away and we’ll be able to get the information we need.”
“Are you sure they’ll even still be there? If they know we’ve gone rogue, they might’ve already moved somewhere else,” I reasoned.
Jonah held up a phone and said, “I confiscated this from Emerson after we got here. I figured letting him keep it on the ride over would let me know how far I could trust him. It was a bit of a risk, but he didn’t send any info to the organization about what happened or where we were going. And the last message from him was just asking for confirmation about whether Ferris was still making the pickup. If we move fast enough, they won’t have determined the new site to have been compromised and started procedures to get everything to a new one yet.”
We heard the stairs creaking behind us as Emerson came trodding down them, wiping the sleep from his eyes when he saw us congregated in the kitchen. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“Good. You’re awake,” Jonah said. “Grab some coffee. You’re gonna need it. Now, let’s go over the details of the plan…”
The sun had already set by the time I found myself leaning against the side of Cassie’s truck, waiting as she and Jonah double-checked the equipment stowed in the flatbed. After they’d told Emerson and me the finer points of their plan, we piled into the truck and made the journey to the new safehouse, parking several blocks away while we finished our last-minute preparations. Emerson was still in the cab, a laptop propped up on the dashboard, clattering away at the keys as he infiltrated the organization’s security. If he couldn’t disable the alarms, all of this would be for nothing.
“Got it!” he exclaimed excitedly, throwing his arms up in a gesture of success. “I was able to reroute through a secondary firewall to alter the protocols and-”
“Just cut to the chase,” Cassie interrupted.
“Fine,” Emerson sighed. “The alarms are down, but their system should still be showing them as active. We only have a window of about thirty minutes before it refreshes, though, and reboots everything. So, you know, we should get going.”
“Okay. We’re in business,” Jonah said, placing the cover back over the supplies and shutting the flatbed door. “Let’s get going.”
We returned to the truck and Cassie moved us into position a few hundred feet from the safehouse’s entrance. Jonah handed out earpieces so we could keep in touch with one another during the operation, and Cassie started unloading the gear.
“Here,” she said as she handed me some body armor. “Put this on.”
I donned the surprisingly heavy tactical vest while the others did the same. Emerson initially refused to wear one since he would be staying with the vehicle to provide technical support, but Jonah convinced him that if anyone spotted him, he’d want more than the frame of an old pickup to protect him from automatic fire. Jonah strapped several bags around his torso carrying additional ammunition and other supplies we might need, then handed me a pistol.
“Hopefully you won’t have to use these,” he stated. “When we go in, stay by the lift so you can cover our exit. I don’t want you getting involved in the fighting if you don’t have to. If things go south, just get out of there as fast as possible. You and Emerson take the truck and just go. Cass’ll find her own way out. She’s good at that sort of thing.”
“Right,” I acknowledged. “Will do.” I tried to take some deep breaths to calm my nerves down, but it wasn’t having much of an effect.
“You’ll be fine, kid,” Jonah said, giving me an encouraging pat on the shoulder. “There should be plenty of cover near the lift, so you can stay hidden till we leave. I’m gonna draw enough attention to myself that nobody’s gonna go looking for trouble anywhere else.” With that, we headed for the safehouse’s entrance.
“Okay, I’ve got the schematics for the bunker up right now,” I heard Emerson say as his voice crackled over my earpiece. “Once you’re inside, the General’s quarters will be to the left and the War Room to the right. I’m not sure which Cassie should check first.”
“The General only sleeps about four hours a night, so she’ll probably be in the War Room,” Jonah said. “I’d go there first. If you find her, trigger the silent alert to let Emerson know, and I’ll get the party started.”
Cassie, Jonah, and I cleared the area around the lift hatch, and Emerson remotely unlocked it for us so we could get inside. We made our way down to the bunker, and when the doors opened, the corridor was thankfully empty.
“Okay, kid. Find a place to hunker down and keep your eyes open,” Jonah ordered. “Cass, take the hall on the right. Emerson’ll guide you to the War Room. Don’t go invisible till you have you. It might take a few minutes before I’m ready.”
“Got it,” Cassie said and took off down the corridor.
Jonah gave me one last nod and continued down the hall. “Emerson, find me the power station. I’ve got an idea.”
With both of them gone, I was now alone with my rapidly-beating heart, constantly glancing back and forth in search of signs of motion from any direction. I’d found a stack of crates to use as cover, and I only poked my head over them far enough for my eyes to have a clear line of sight. I could hear Emerson’s hurried chatter over the comms as he juggled giving directions to both Cassie and Jonah, tracking their progress from his computer. I held my breath and willed my senses to remain sharp as they reached their destinations.
“Cassie’s made it to the War Room,” Emerson stated. “She just signaled that the General’s there. Go ahead and do whatever it is you’re gonna do, Jonah.”
There was about a minute of unbearably-prolonged silence before my ears were assaulted by an ear-shattering blast. A cacophony of successive explosions followed soon after, and I could hear the bunker roar to life as shouts and a stampede of footfalls filled the corridors.
“That oughta do it,” Jonah said over the comm. “They should be on the move now. I’m gonna circle back and see if I can lead them on a wild goose chase. It’s up to you now, Cass.”
It wasn’t long before I started hearing the echo of gunfire erupt throughout the bunker, and my scanning of the area became more manic. I still hadn’t seen anyone yet, but I couldn’t tell how close the fighting was to my position, so I kept my pistol aimed and ready to fire.
“I got her!” Cassie called out. “Heading back your way now, Max. Jonah, time to stop playing around and get going!”
“Little busy at the moment,” he replied between volleys of shots. “Get her to the lift. Max, help her out once she’s there, and then you two load her into the truck and get out of here!”
“Dammit, Jonah!” Cassie cried. “We’ve still got time! Just get back here pronto!”
I saw someone running towards me down the corridor and prayed it was Cassie. When they turned the corner, I realized to my dismay that it was one of the organization’s guards instead. He was swinging his weapon back and forth, checking down each corridor as he passed for intruders. I remained as quiet as possible, waiting for him to pass. Just as he was about to move on, another figure emerged from the direction the guard had come. It was the General, except she wasn’t walking - she was sliding along the floor on her back, dragged by the still-invisible Cassie. The guard evidently heard them and turned around. Any moment, Cassie and the General would come around the corner and be spotted. I had to do something fast.
“Hey!” I shouted, popping out from behind my hiding place. The guard whirled around as I fired off a shot in his direction. I barely had time to register the fact that I’d missed him by mere inches before he pulled the trigger on his own gun, and the muzzle flashed to life as three or four bullets whizzed right towards me. The first one hit me directly in the chest and sent me stumbling backwards. It knocked the wind out of me, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. The second shot went wide, but the third caught me in the shoulder, and this time, there was a searing hot pain as the bullet cut through flesh.
One more shot passed harmlessly over me as I fell, and when I’d hit the ground, I saw the guard go limp and crumple forward. Cassie rematerialized right behind him and came rushing over to me, clamping her hands over my bullet wound as she cursed under her breath.
“Jonah! Max was shot! You need to get here now!” she demanded. “I can’t carry both him and the General back up to the truck by myself!”
“Get them into the lift,” he replied, sounding winded. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Cassie dragged me into the lift first and propped me up against the side wall. “Here,” she said, producing a piece of cloth from one of her pockets and placing it over the hole in my shoulder. “Try to keep some pressure on this.”
I held it in place as she went back and pulled the General’s unconscious body into the lift behind her. My vision was starting to blur, but I noticed two more guards coming down the corridor and called out, “Look out behind you!”
Without missing a beat, Cassie simultaneously turned and drew the pistol holstered on her hip, squeezed off two perfect shots, and was back to getting the General all the way into the lift before the guards had hit the floor. It was incredibly impressive, and I would’ve told her I thought so, except by this point, I felt like if I so much as opened my mouth again, what little food I’d eaten recently would come back up.
“Almost there,” Jonah notified us over the comm, and I heard more gunfire heading our way. “Emerson, when I tell you to, activate the lift!” The shooting grew closer until finally, I saw Jonah come flying around the corner, sprinting towards us while firing blindly behind himself. “Hit it now!”
The lift’s doors began to close, and the guards chasing Jonah had come into view. Bullets ricocheted off the ground as Jonah leapt forward, sliding into the lift like he was stealing third base. Once the hatch had shut tight, I felt the floor beneath me jolt as we began rising towards the surface.
“How’s he doing?” Jonah asked Cassie as he inspected my injury. He didn’t look so great himself - his nose was bleeding, and part of his beard looked like it had been singed off.
“He got hit in the shoulder. I didn’t see an exit wound, so it must still be in there,” she told him.
“Alright. I’ll have to try to get it out once we’re in the truck. Make sure the General’s been secured. I don’t want to risk it in case that cocktail you gave her wears off before we get back.”
Cassie pulled out some zip ties and wrapped them around the General’s wrists and ankles while Jonah helped me to my feet. When the door opened again, he assisted me in getting to the truck while Cassie dragged the General alongside us.
“Emerson, lock that thing down, now!” Jonah barked. He began furiously pattering away on his keyboard as the General and I were loaded into the backseat of the cab, and Jonah got in behind us. Cassie climbed into the driver’s seat, slammed the door, and started up the ignition. She didn’t even bother trying to back out of where we’d parked - she simply ran the truck through the bushes in front of us and veered back towards the road.
“Um...guys?” Emerson said, “we’ve got a problem.” He turned around and looked nervously through the rear window.
“I see them,” Cassie stated through clenched teeth. Apparently, someone had managed to get to the surface to follow us, and was already in pursuit. She hit the gas and the truck sped up, but I could see in the side view mirror that the SUV trailing us was gaining fast. Cassie cut the wheel hard, taking a sharp right turn, and I slammed into the General’s body. Jonah pulled me back up and quickly fastened the seatbelt around me before doing the same for himself.
“Sorry, kid. Shoulda done that sooner.” He then began rummaging around in a big black duffel bag sitting on his lap. He pulled out a vial of liquid and a needle, saying, “I’m gonna give you something for the pain. Try to hold still.” He got it ready and started looking for a vein in my arm, but I smacked it out of his hand, sending it rolling under the front seat. “Kid, what the hell?”
“Sorry,” I said. “I don’t know what happened.” But I did. When I saw the needle in his hand, a thought had flashed through my head: He’s trying to kill you! “I’ll be fine. It doesn’t hurt that bad.” I lied. It was incredibly painful. And my chest was aching as well.
“Hold on, guys!” Cassie called out, and took another sharp turn before accelerating again. “I can’t seem to shake them!”
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” I muttered.
“I think I already did,” Emerson moaned.
“Cass, do you still have any grenades left on you?” Jonah asked.
“Yeah. All three,” she responded. “I’m kind of in the middle of something, though.” The truck rocked as she faked turning left and then swung us in the other direction.
“Emerson, grab them and hand them to me,” Jonah said. When all he got in return was a whimper, he punched the back of the passenger seat and barked, “Emerson, you dolt! Now!”
Emerson unhooked the grenades from Cassie’s jacket and passed them back to Jonah. He opened his window, pulled the pin on one, leaned out, and tossed it. A few seconds later, there was a loud explosion behind us, followed by screeching tires.
“That rattled them, but they’re still there,” Cassie stated. Jonah repeated the process, and this time, the explosion was accompanied by the sound of metal being crushed. “That did it! They slammed into the barrier! We should be home free, now.”
Jonah let out a sigh of relief, but his face suddenly twisted up in fearful expression. “Kid! Hey, stay with me!”
I could feel his hands grip my arms and heard indistinct shouts all around me, but my senses had faded. All I remember after that was the world going dark, and then, nothingness.