“Block ’em out, Sabine! As many as you can.”
Sabine hobbles alongside Jack.
“My foot hurts!” she cries as her arm slips from Jack’s grip and she falls to the red-carpeted floor.
Jack picks her up. “We’re going to make your foot better, okay? We’ll get you to a doctor. Right now you have to focus. Keep us hidden.”
She nods, showing resolve through her tears.
They traverse a long, decorative hall and stop at a white double door. The doctor knew where the Oval Office was. She attended a meeting there once, with the defense secretary and the head of the NSA. It’s not back-of-the-hand knowledge, but Jack thinks it’s good enough to get them there.
He hears voices behind them, and turns around, startled. “We’ve lost them. Heading your way.”
He’s relieved to know Sabine has them covered. He holds her closer to him.
As soon as he opens the door, bullets rip into the wood. He falls back.
“Have you figured out how to stop bullets yet, Chris?” he asks.
“I’ll let you know,” Chris says.
Maya throws back two men who appear from a side hall behind them.
“Sabine, we need to go that way,” Jack motions with a tilt of his head. “Are we good?”
Sabine nods, her eyes closed. “Okay.”
Carrying Sabine, Jack leads them down the hall, past two Uniformed Division officers with guns drawn, who run briskly in the opposite direction. “West colonnade clear. They’re in the central hall,” one says into his shoulder radio as they pass, oblivious to Jack and the others.
“I am never going to get used to that,” Maya says.
Jack hears footsteps ahead. He scans the area and senses at least a dozen minds. By the feel of them, mostly White House security officers, Uniformed Division. But some Secret Service, too.
Jack worries they’re stretching the clock. If the defense secretary approved a strike, they only have seconds to convince the president to rescind the command before the silo commanders turn their keys.
But they have to get to him first.
“Everybody get ready,” Jack says as they approach French doors at the end of the short colonnade. “Straight through those doors, then left. There’s lots of them. We have to barrel through.”
Before they move, Jack zeros in on the men ahead of them. He finds one likely to fire just around the corner. He extracts the thought of firing out of the man’s mind, and then moves to the next man and does the same. Jack isn’t going to miss his chance like he did with the rocket launcher on the helicopter.
Glass flies into the West Wing as Chris blows the French doors open and they run through. Men poised to fire at them are parted like the Red Sea, pinned face-first against the wall.
Trusting Sabine to block any resistance ahead, Jack rushes through the halls.
“That door!” he orders.
A large door flies off its hinges, smashing into the back wall, revealing the Oval Office.
They stumble into the stately round room, breathing heavily. No one’s there.
“I’ve never been in here,” Maya says.
“Me neither.” Chris echoes, looking up at the domed ceiling.
Jack searches the minds in the surrounding rooms and halls. He finds more fear, more duty: Protect the president. Protect the vice president.
A group of officers storms in through another door. Chris visibly strains as one of the white sofas in the room flies up and knocks them back against the wall.
Jack searches for anyone who knows where the president is. He finds a mind on the other side of the wall. There was a conversation. An argument. The president is compromised. He has the nuclear football.
“But where?” Jack asks.
PEOC—the secret bunker. Jack doesn’t know where that is, but the mind he’s reading does, so he lifts the directions.
“This way,” he says, storming out.
Men come in the hall behind them. Maya stumbles as she sweeps them back. They fall away like blown leaves. More men follow from a different door.
“There’s too many of them!” Maya warns.
“Do what you can,” Jack says.
They move through a doorway, and then through two short passageways, and come to a locked door in a dead-end hallway. The others follow closely behind, Maya tossing officers clear, Chris trapping others behind doors and desks.
“Chris—” Jack says, motioning to the door. Before he can ask, the door pops open, its lock mechanism thumping onto the carpet.
He pulls the door open to find a small elevator. A painting of an old president looms over them on the back wall of the car.
“They’re coming too fast,” Sabine says.
A shot comes from the hall. Then another. They’re trapped in the cul-de-sac. Before Jack has a chance to look, Maya throws the men aside with a pained grunt.
“Chris!” Maya yells. She and Jack pull him into the elevator. Blood on his shoulder spreads quickly across his shirt.
Maya gets on her knees and cradles him. “They got him.”
“That really hurts,” Chris says feebly.
“Oh my god, he’s bleeding so bad,” Maya says. His right side is now covered in blood.
Jack holds Sabine’s head close to his chest so she won’t see the wound.
He looks at the numbers on the control keypad. “I don’t know the code.”
More gunshots sound from down the hall. Bullets ping the metal elevator doors.
The car contorts with a deep groan. A cable pings, sparks pop out above them, and the car drops through the shaft by its own weight.
Chris slumps down. His head lowers. “Thank me later.” Maya holds him up as he begins to fall to one side.
The car lands hard, rocking them off their feet. Jack, through whoever’s thoughts he just lifted, has been here before, for an emergency protocol training. He doesn’t know it intimately, but he knows enough. Of the handful of rooms, the president will probably be in the meeting room to the left, a few paces ahead.
“Stay sharp,” he says.
He locates five minds in the room, two especially alert, ready to die to protect the president. Two are struggling with the rationale behind the president’s decision. One is resolute, determined to see the nuclear strike through. Jack wants to focus on him now, but can’t risk being interrupted or stopped before he’s through. He needs to help his friends disarm the others first, to clear his way.
A gun arm in a black suit swings out a door against the windowed wall of the room. Thanks to Maya, the arm abruptly swings in the other direction and fires at a far wall. She grits her teeth as the man keeps shooting, expending all the bullets in the chamber until he’s only clicking the trigger.
Jack can’t take any chances. He pulls everything he can from the man’s mind, about his oath, his responsibilities, his sense of patriotic duty. He wants to leave him unsure why he’s even in this place.
The effort leaves Jack severely weakened. He’s overused his abilities to get them this far. The others are no better off.
As she pulls Chris out of the elevator, Maya somehow manages to splay the second agent face down on the floor. He struggles against Maya’s gravity to draw his gun. He looks at them as if he doesn’t see anyone. Jack drains his mind. He regrets it instantly. The rash action hits him like wrecking ball. His skull feels pulverized. And he has no time to recover.
“I need help,” he says, suddenly finding himself on his knees. Sabine tries to hold him up and prop him into the room.
“Chris, watch the bunker entrances. There’s two.” Jack points to them. “Nobody gets in.”
“You’re killing me, man,” Chris says, looking colorless and close to passing out as Maya helps him through the short hall. He growls as part of the ceiling falls in front of the elevator door behind them. A wall folds in on the other entrance, pinning the door closed.
Jack turns his attention to the president.