“Has to be me. Someone else might get it wrong.” – Mordin, Mass Effect 3
Well, this isn’t good, Chris Fox thought as he looked around the room. It was small, roughly the size of the old barracks room he’d shared at West Point. He didn’t have to share this one, but with the double bed, dresser, desk and closet, it didn’t feel any less cramped. What made it feel claustrophobic wasn’t the size, but that he couldn’t get out.
The door was locked electronically from the security desk at the end of the hall. While Gideon Fitzpatrick didn’t call this a cell, it was, and Chris his prisoner. They all were. Bill and Williams were further down the hall, sitting alone in their own rooms. Bill hadn’t said a word after their first meeting with Gideon, but Chris knew his thoughts all the same. They matched his own.
We need to get out of here, now.
Chris needed to get back to the bunker and warn Katie. He needed to keep the bunker’s location safe from these people. If they wanted to get in, they could. No amount of steel doors could stop them if they had a mind to crack it open. The Infected horde that came, attracted by the noise, might slow them down but not for long. Those A-10 jets were damn effective and it seemed Gideon’s Black Dawn had plenty of bombs to load onto them.
Where did he get all this hardware?
It wasn’t hard to guess, but it galled Chris to think the United States would sell a Private Military surplus military jets. The economy and national debt was crippling the country but there was no way they’d stoop that low to get the money. If it wasn’t that, then it was bribes, back room dealings or foreign partners. Chris wasn’t sure he wanted to know. Worrying about it wasn’t going to help his current situation.
He sat down on the desk chair and folded his hands between his knees. Closing his eyes, he hung his head and thought. He thought hard. On his situation. On Katie. On what Gideon said about Kurama. Was any of it true? Had Kurama set off their own Zero Event? If so, then this was an atrocity beyond measure. What could they gain from a complete collapse?
A take over? The Zero Event plan involved removing high ranking generals and government staff to the Super Carrier, the Gerald R Ford. But Gideon also said the Ford was overrun and dead in the water. If Kurama wanted to benefit from this, the Ford had to survive. If everything he said was correct, then something had gone wrong, unless he was missing a piece of the puzzle.
“Think!” he said, pressing his thumbs into his forehead and pushing hard. None of it made any sense to him, tactically. There were no good plans if both Zero Event and the loss of the Ford occurred. That set off a ditch effort that only existed in the barest of outlines. It involved retreating to the arctic circle and researching a cure with the remaining scientists.
Those scientists were on the list. A list that went out to Kurama operatives as VIP targets. He’d received instructions to remove Ashley Gilly’s name from the list weeks ago. He assumed she’d been exposed or perhaps killed but he’d never heard why or how. Those names were meant to be saved, not killed.
Unless the project was purged.
Chris stood up and walked to the door. He was about to bang on it when the door buzzed and opened on its own accord. Standing just outside was Gideon Fitzpatrick and Holden. Gideon was smiling, just like he always was. Holden was not. He was also armed.
“Ah, Christopher, you’re up, good. I was hoping I didn’t interrupt any naps. I’m sure you’re very tired.”
“What do you want?” Chris said through clenched teeth. This man was lying about something. Zero Event. The list. The Ford. Something.
“To talk, of course. Can I offer you a beer? We brew our own here, I’m afraid. Tastes all right and it’s cold.”
“No,” Chris said, glancing to Holden. The other man didn’t move even a facial muscle.
“Fine, fine. May I come in?”
“It’s your jail.”
Gideon shook his head as he stepped inside, smoothing his polo shirt’s front and placing his hands on his hips. “You wound me, Chris. This isn’t a jail at all. It’s for protection, just in case.”
“The Infected get loose.”
“You have a pretty good perimeter out there, and I saw how hard it was to get inside this building.”
Gideon smiled and motioned Holden inside, who stepped in and shut the door. The man smirked at Chris.
“Not the ones outside. The ones inside—”
“That’ll be all, Holden,” Gideon said, shooting an annoyed look at the other man. “There is no need to alarm our guests.”
Chris felt his pulse quicken. “You have Infected inside this building?”
“Behind secure cells. We need them for testing. How else can we find a cure?”
“They’re dangerous! You don’t know the strength they have!”
“I assure you,” Gideon said and withdrew a piece of paper from his pocket, then unfolded it. It was slightly yellowed, torn and stained with old blood. It was contained within a sealed plastic bag. “I very much do. Miss Collins, was she close to you?”
Anger flooded Chris as he stared at the piece of paper. Though it was faint, he could make out handwriting on the other side. Leah’s handwriting was distinctive. He’d know it anywhere.
“You son of a bitch,” he said, nearly spitting the words.
“Calm yourself, my friend. We did everything we could for her. Her passing was peaceful, merciful. If we had the whole list, we might be able to save more people like her.”
Gideon offered him the paper and Chris took it. Flipping it over, he saw that it was Leah’s handwriting without a doubt. The paper was torn though, ruined with blood and water damage. Only a few names were legible. Allan Kirchner was one of them. Ashley Gilly was another, but her name wasn’t crossed out on this list.
“Finish the list for us,” Gideon said with a grin. “Join us. We can rescue the world. Save it. Make it better.”
“How are you going to do that, exactly?” Chris said, still unable to tear his gaze away from the writing. The blood was old and dark. Had she been carrying it when she was injured? Was she bitten? Had she suffered? The last thought was the most painful. The idea of Leah in pain made him feel… insecure, small, powerless. He thought she would be safer away from him, away from the Security Forces. But that wasn’t like her. She needed to be in the action, to wield the power of change. Someone else would get it wrong.
“When I was in Africa during the Tunisian campaign, do you know what happened to me?”
“Not my area,” Chris said, looking up with narrowed eyes.
“Cut off. The marines tried to get to us of course, but the triple-A was too thick. Some Weasels tried to smoke it out but couldn’t without hitting us. Those HARMs aren’t worth a damn when you have more than one radar backup. Eventually they bombed it anyway. Half of my guys were inside that bunker, held captive so their SAMs wouldn’t be targets. Well, they were.
“And you know what I saw in that explosion?”
“Revenge?” Chris said, knowing where this was going.
Gideon smiled at him and shook his head. “No. Myself. I saw what I was doing. What I was causing everywhere I went. God talked to me then, spoke through me so that I might know His words. This country is sick. It needs help. Something horrible was coming and He empowered me to change it. I’ll see this country restored to what it should be. One nation, under God, so help me. Join me and let’s save this world.”
Chris looked the man in the eye and saw that he was not bluffing, not chiding him, not lying. He wasn’t feeding him lines. He was mad. That explosion hadn’t made him see God. It had torn him up and broken him. Chris knew the feeling. He’d seen Leah’s eyes do the same thing. He’d felt his own soul ripped to pieces in Afghanistan.
Gideon held out his hand, smiling. “We can do great things.”
Chris looked down at the paper he held delicately between his fingers. Her letters were so neat, tight and small. Precise and intelligent. Like her. He closed his eyes and tore it to pieces.