Authors: Diana Pharaoh Francis
“A good question,” he said. “I have been wondering the same.”
“Maybe they had some sort of map,” Lauren suggested.
It was the simplest explanation, which made it also the most likely explanation. If true, it meant that the kids might not be in danger. At least, not from starving or getting lost. Though why the two had split from the three was a question that gnawed at me. If they had a map, they could have stuck together; they
have stuck together. Still, they’d been alive when we’d crossed their trail. Maybe there had been two maps.
But why? Why give the teens the means to come down into the mines at all?
Foreboding washed through me. Something here was way off-kilter. Danger prickled over my skin. I wanted nothing more than to run, and not just because of my claustrophobia. I might have bolted if Lauren hadn’t sniffed and wiped at the corners of her eyes. That left me with no choice.
I cast a worried look at Leo, and he nodded. He’d sink himself deeper into the metal to give us what warning might be had. I wasn’t entirely sure what that would entail. Neither of my brothers were ever particularly clear on what the metal had to tell them or how. But I’d never once won a game of hide-and-seek with them. They always knew exactly where to look for me. They always just smiled and went cryptic, saying the earth talked to them.
We continued our slow march. Our path began to lead downward. I couldn’t tell what direction otherwise. I was sure we were well below Downtown, but I didn’t think we’d reached the level of the Bottoms. Other than that, we might have been heading east deeper under the mountains for all I knew. The idea made me shudder.
One of these days, I was really going to have to figure out how to get over my claustrophobia. Without going to a dreamer.
Just the possibility sent chills rushing through me, and my mind slammed it down with an instant
Dreamers go into minds and can do everything from erase memories to implant new personalities, as well as heal psychological issues like phobias. I’d never trusted them—even though I’d become friends with one in the course of finding my kidnapped almost-brother-in-law. Much as I liked Cass, I had no plans to let her back in.
I caught myself. That wasn’t entirely true. At some point, I was going to have to let a dreamer into my head. Cass had discovered someone had tampered with my mind. Other than Cass saying it had been a long time since the damage had been done, I had no idea what they’d done or when. Just thinking about it sent my blood pressure thundering through my head and twisted my stomach inside out.
What had been done to me? What had I lost? Who had done it and why? When? So many questions, and no answers except what might still lie in my brain. I didn’t know if Cass could repair it. I definitely wasn’t ready for her to try. I wasn’t sure when I would be. I couldn’t put it off forever. It had something to do with my mother’s murder and father’s disappearance. I was absolutely sure. Nothing else made sense.
the time, I told myself firmly, as we came to yet another trip wire. I needed to stay focused.
We all unclipped again and stepped through. Before we could reattach ourselves, shots rang down the tunnel to us. I couldn’t tell from which direction.
Instantly, Maggie and Dalton took up defensive positions. “Lights off,” Dalton whispered. Leo pushed me up against the wall. He bent and switched off both our toe lamps, then shielded me with his body. I tried to push him off, but he’d braced his hands on either side of me.
“Stop it,” he muttered against my ear. “Can’t you see I’m working?”
I did as told, but made a face in the darkness. Ever since my dad had married Mel, my stepbrothers had treated me like I was glass. They were obnoxiously protective, to the point I’d considered moving to Timbuktu just so I didn’t get the ninth degree every time I went to the grocery store. After my dad disappeared and I’d gone wild, I’d driven them nuts with all the crazy chances I took. But at least now they let me have my life. That had something to do with how paranoid-careful I was about keeping my head down and my nose clean. Hence me not wanting to hang out and chat after the whole finding-Josh episode. I’d kept a lot of details to myself, and once Leo knew Josh had used me for a punching bag, I was pretty sure I was headed for a Spanish Inquisition–style interrogation about the whole episode. Despite the situation, I couldn’t help the smile that quirked the corners of my mouth. Wait until Leo found out Price was coming to dinner. That would pop his cork with a vengeance.
“We’ve got about a half mile before I sense people. There’s an empty cavern a ways up on the left. It gets us close and we can figure out a plan from there.” He spoke quietly, barely more than a whisper.
With his bat ears, Dalton had no trouble hearing.
“Where did the gunshots come from?”
“Hard to say. There’s a lot of metal up ahead. It would take me a while to find a single gun, and I don’t know that I’d find the right one.”
“Fall in behind me,” Dalton said, not wasting words. “I’ll check for traps. Everybody clip on,” he ordered.
I reached out to grip the rope, but didn’t attach myself. Leo went ahead of Maggie. Lauren came behind me.
We’d gone a little ways when the sounds of thumping and grinding started rolling down through the tunnel. It was soft at first, like a snoring dragon, then grew louder. A glow penetrated the stygian darkness ahead.
Just as predicted, Leo led us into a cavern room on the left side. Light erupted as we entered. I’ll admit I jumped and grabbed for my gun. But the lights were automatic.
Boxes and various equipment filled the metal shelves lining the walls. A little alcove contained a kitchenette with a small counter, a stove and oven, a microwave, a sink, a fridge, and a small table. Next to it was a door. I looked inside. Within was a large bathroom, complete with urinals, stalls, and gang showers, the kind I remembered from high school. Blue lockers lined the far wall.
It was a pretty typical mining setup. A lot of employees worked long shifts, spending their nights down close to their jobs. They’d work seven days on and seven off. Somewhere close by would be dormitory rooms or, more likely, several larger rooms with stacked bunk beds, as well as an actual cafeteria. This kitchenette was set up for times when the cafeteria wasn’t available to employees, or when they might not want to use it.
“What do we do now?” Lauren asked. She looked at me. “Trevor, he’s—?”
Her fears for his safety were palpable. Sweat slicked her forehead, and her chest rose quickly.
“He’s alive,” I said. His trace looped around my wrist told me he was probably sleeping. His emotions had gone soft edged and quiet.
“You’re still going to find him?” she asked. Pleaded, really, as if she were holding me to a promise no matter what. Maybe she thought I changed my mind after hearing gunshots.
I nodded. “We will.”
I wasn’t going to come this far without something to show for it. And Lauren’s desperation touched me. Unlike the surgeon’s wife, she clearly loved her nephew. I hoped when we got him back, he’d find a way to straighten out.
“Why aren’t the tunnel lights coming on automatically?” Maggie asked. She was looking out the way we’d come. Two of her cohort were guarding the entrance. She looked at Dalton. “These lights came on. Clearly this part of the mine is in use. That means there should have been sensors to turn up the lights when we came through, or they should already have been on.”
I disliked the woman, but I couldn’t argue with her logic. That sense of something being off banged in my skull. It was beginning to feel like a trap. But how? And why?
I looked at Lauren. She was looking at me sadly, her faced lined with guilt. “He threatened to kill him,” she said. “All of them, if I didn’t bring you down here. He said you’d come for the kids. You have a soft spot for them.”
My mouth opened. Words stuttered on my tongue and dissolved into silence. I’d trusted her; trusted her very real worry and loss. In that moment, I hated her. I felt betrayed. Reason tried to remind me that her nephew was being held hostage, that I’d have done worse to get back my own flesh and blood. But the truth was that I wouldn’t have. I’d kill myself to get them back, but I wouldn’t sacrifice innocent people.
I’d thought she wasn’t corrupt. Turns out she was just as bad as all the rest of Diamond City’s cops.
“We have to get out of here,” Dalton said, reaching out to grab my arm.
Like I needed dragging. I was more than ready to go.
“No. You can’t. They
kill Trevor.” Lauren’s voice hardened. She’d backed up so that her back was to the shelves. Her gun pointed straight at me. It looked like a cannon. Funny how big a gun suddenly gets when it’s pointed at your chest. In her other hand, she held small black block. She activated it, and I felt magic pulsing off.
“I only need her,” she said. “The rest of you can go.”
Nobody moved, which left dealing with the situation sensibly up to me. I forced myself to draw breath, never tearing my eyes away from the gaping barrel of the gun.
“Go,” I said. “Get out now. I expect to be rescued.”
“I’m not leaving you, Riley,” Leo started, but I chopped a hand in the air to cut him off.
“Yes, you are. Because everybody else is lost without you. Keep your senses peeled. I’ll make sure you can find me.”
“Fucking hell,” Dalton swore. “This—” He broke off. “Fuck.”
“Damned right,” I said. “You’re running out of time. Get out.”
I guess I was convincing. One by one they slipped away until only Dalton and Leo were left.
Leo grabbed my hand in his hard grip. “Don’t get dead.”
“I don’t plan to,” I said, fear coiling through me. I breathed slowly, trying to focus. I felt like crying when he disappeared out into the tunnel. I should have given him some last words to tell my family and Patti. And Price.
Then only Dalton was left. He hesitated off to my left. I could tell he was thinking about attacking Lauren.
“I’d rather you didn’t risk it,” I said. “She’s very motivated.”
“So am I,” he snarled. Fury crisped the edges of his words.
“All the same, she’s pointing the gun at
.” I hesitated. “Gregg Touray and Clay Price will help. Get them.”
Whether he worked for them or not, he had to know the names, and know the power behind them. Those two would bring an army. Touray would do it just to keep me from falling into enemy hands. I
Whoever wanted me wasn’t going to kill me. The danger was that they’d haul me off and make me disappear. I was already halfway doing their job by nulling my trace, but my captors would make sure that continued. They could hide me next door to Price, and he’d never know. Leo’s talent would only find me if he was in the near vicinity.
That said, I wasn’t helpless, by any stretch of the imagination. I’d broken out of captivity before, I could do it again. I made myself look away from the barrel of the gun, up into Lauren’s face. I wanted to punch her. Her mouth tightened, reading my expression.
“Get lost, Dalton,” I said. “Try to do better about finding me this time, will you?”
“As you wish, Princess.”
With that, the bastard slipped out, leaving me alone with Lauren.
“He’ll send someone for us.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. He has Trevor and his friends. He called me, told me that I could have them all back if I brought you down here. He said you’d trace them. All I had to do was ask. He never said who he was and the call couldn’t be traced.”
“And if you didn’t do what he asked?”
“He’d kill all of them. Send them back to me in little pieces.” Her mouth twisted and set. “I couldn’t say no.”
“Sure you could.”
She shook her head hard. “No.”
“You can, however, sacrifice me. Have you thought about what they might want? What they plan to do to me?”
She swallowed convulsively. “I have.”
“And you’re okay with that?” I knew I wasn’t talking her out of anything. I also wasn’t trying to make a run for it. I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to give me the chance. She was a cop, after all, and she knew how to stay focused on her mission. She also knew how to use a gun.
“It’s better than the alternative,” she said after a moment, her voice rough. “I’m all Trevor has. I
“Maybe it’s better. Maybe not.” I smiled. “You trust these people to keep their word? That’s a little naïve, don’t you think? Chances are better than good that they’ll kill you and Trevor and his friends.”
“I don’t have any choice.”
“Are you trying to convince me or yourself?”
“What would you have done in my place? Let him die?”
“I’d have rescued him, without trading an innocent life,” I said.
“I haven’t the means.”
“You didn’t try,” I retorted.
I fell silent at that point. I was angry, but less at her now than myself. I’d trusted her blindly and walked into the trap like a lemming. I’d never thought it could be a setup. She’d been genuinely worried. After all, her nephew had been kidnapped for real. There was no reason to suspect her.
Except that I knew for a fact that people were out to get me. Dalton and his crew were a daily reminder, but I’d been acting like one of those hear-no-evil, see-no-evil monkeys, covering my ears and eyes and blundering around like a fool. Or more accurately, I’d stuck my head in the sand like an ostrich, with my ass waving in the air for anybody to come shoot at. Surviving what I had, had made me cocky.
Basically, I’d chosen to screw myself because I was too busy acting like nothing had changed and I could go on with my life, business as usual. I’d pretty much asked to be suckered into a trap. Should I be surprised that someone accepted the invitation?
The minutes ticked past. I didn’t hear any sounds of fighting, so hopefully everybody else had made it somewhere reasonably safe.
I never heard the footsteps of my new captors. One minute they weren’t there, the next they were. I’d almost have said they travelled in, but travelling was rare enough I doubted it. Touray was a traveller, and only one of a handful I knew about. The others were likewise high up in their Tyet organizations. Probably because that particular talent gave them a massive edge up on their competition. They could be two places almost at the same time. They could go into locked rooms and take things, or put them in. Only good null walls or binding circles could stop them.