Authors: Jennifer Rush
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #General, #Love & Romance, #Science & Technology, #Juvenile Fiction / Action & Adventure - General, #Juvenile Fiction / Love & Romance, #Juvenile Fiction / Science & Technology
THE ADDRESS FOR DELTA LAB WAS IN
the middle of Indiana. Sam followed the GPS directions till we were two miles outside the lab’s location and then turned onto a long, winding driveway that circled an abandoned textile factory. He parked behind the building. “Let’s travel on foot from here,” he said.
As Sam, Cas, and Nick went around to the back to load themselves with weapons, I shrugged out of my coat and draped it across the passenger seat so I could slip into a shoulder holster.
Next, I checked the clip in my gun, making sure it was full before sliding it into place at my side. I put my coat on again, leaving it unzipped.
“Ready?” Sam asked around the side of the vehicle.
I tugged my knit hat down low. The air was freezing, and already
my ears were numb. Running would help, at least, and I was looking forward to it. “I’m ready.”
Cas rounded the front of the vehicle, his boots crunching in the snow. “Ready, boss.”
“Ready,” Nick said.
We headed into the woods.
Months ago, I’d barely been able to keep up with Sam when it came to running. Since then, I’d taken the once-optional sport more seriously and tried to run daily. Still, Sam was faster than I was, and he’d already pulled ahead.
I counted my breaths the way he’d taught me. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. It was all about finding a place, a focus point straight ahead. And I’d learned I could go a lot longer and a lot harder than I’d thought I could. My body wouldn’t give out on me after ten minutes, despite my doubts.
We spread out in a V, with Cas and Nick on Sam’s left, me on the right. I was almost keeping pace with Cas. We ran silently, like ghosts. A sense of strength and power poured through me, and my breathing evened out.
When the trees thinned, we slowed and cut through a grove of pines—the only trees in the forest that would afford us some cover this time of year.
A house came into view.
It was a sprawling estate positioned at the top of a hill that overlooked a river. A massive deck hung over the hill, but was empty of everything, including lawn furniture. There were no lights on inside.
“What do you think?” Cas whispered.
“Looks deserted,” I answered.
“Cas and Nick, around front,” Sam said. “Look for their handler. Anna, with me.”
Nick and Cas nodded and disappeared.
“We’re going up the north end,” Sam said to me. “To the basement entrance below the deck.”
According to the blueprint Trev had given us, the lab was in the basement, fifteen feet from the entrance door.
Sam motioned me forward, and we jogged up the hill, ducking beneath the deck. Sam pressed his back against the house’s exterior wall, on the right side of the entrance. I echoed his movements, taking the left side, pulling my gun out as the cold of the brick foundation seeped through my jacket.
Sam inched forward and twisted the metal doorknob. The door opened, the thick weather stripping expanding with a sigh. Sam froze. I counted to ten. Nothing. No one moved on the other side. No alarms went off. No lights clicked on.
We slipped inside and entered into what might have once been a mudroom. Empty hooks dotted the wall across from us. Below them sat a bench. A few logs were stacked on end in a tin bucket near the door. The air smelled faintly of burning wood and ash.
I craned my neck, checking the hallway straight ahead, gun up, ready. A thick steel door stood at the end. A keypad was installed in the wall to the right.
The lab was exactly where the blueprints had said it’d be.
Sam gestured to the rest of the basement, meaning we should finish our check first.
The basement wasn’t large, so it took us only a few minutes to be sure we were alone. Sam was the first to the lab door. I hovered behind him as he inspected the keypad.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to break into this,” he said quietly. “It’s high-tech, more advanced than the system at the farmhouse.”
“So what do we do?”
“We hope Cas and Nick find the handler, and the handler gives us the code.”
I snorted. “Like he’s going to give that up?”
“I can be convincing,” he said without looking at me.
“What, and torture him? You can’t. If the handler is anything at all like my dad—”
“You want your sister, don’t you?” He finally met my eyes. “How else are we going to get inside? Call Riley direct and see if he knows the code?”
“You don’t have to be a jerk.”
“I’m not, I’m just trying to—”
A door clicked open somewhere above us. Clean white light spilled down the stairwell. I tightened my hold on my gun.
“It’s us,” Cas said. “We found the handler.”
I exhaled and followed Sam around to the staircase. Nick was dragging a man down the stairs. Cas led the way. The man nearly stumbled over the last two steps, and Nick had to catch him beneath the arms to steady him.
“Take whatever you want,” the man said, his voice hitching with panic. “My wallet is upstairs. I don’t know how much cash I have, but I have credit cards and—”
“We’re not here for your money,” Sam said.
I stepped around Sam to get a better look at the Delta lab handler. He was nothing like my dad.
He was younger, for one. Thirties, maybe, with a full head of dirty-blond hair and a neatly trimmed goatee. A tie hung loose from around his neck. The first three buttons of his white oxford were undone.
“Open the lab,” Sam said.
The edge of distress on the man’s face disappeared, replaced with curiosity and caution. “You’re him, aren’t you?”
Sam didn’t even blink.
“Sam. And…” The man examined the rest of us. “Cas. Nick. And…” His attention landed on me. “Anna.”
“So we can skip the introductions,” Nick said, giving the man a tug. “Now open the lab.”
“I can’t. You know what they’d do to me if I did?”
Nick kicked the man behind the knee. He wailed and dropped to
the floor. Nick twisted his arms higher, pushing the sockets of his shoulders as far as they would go before dislocating.
“You have any idea what
will do to you if you don’t open that lab?” Nick said.
The man started sobbing. “Please don’t hurt me. I’m just a scientist. I run the logs and the tests. That’s it.”
Nick pushed the man’s arms higher. “Then open the door.”
He cried out. “Okay! Okay! Stop. Please.”
Nick looked up at Sam. Sam nodded and Nick let the man go. He cowered on the floor for several long seconds holding his arms close to his chest.
, I thought,
before Nick or Sam does something worse.
I couldn’t help but see my dad in this man’s place. Even if he worked for the Branch, I wasn’t sure he deserved to be tortured.
Finally, he crawled to his knees, then used the wall for support as he stood up. He shuffled toward the lab, the rest of us trailing behind.
He punched in the code, and the door hissed open.
Nick went in first, gun at the ready. Sam nudged the man inside. Cas and I followed.
The lab was dark. I could only make out the shape of the cells straight ahead, so I tried to focus on all the things Sam had taught me in the last few weeks:
What do you smell? What do you feel? Don’t tense up. Keep your finger near the trigger of the gun, but not on it, not till you’re ready to shoot. Listen to your gut; it’ll always be right.
But even with his advice running through my head, I couldn’t
focus on any of those things as the lab widened before me. It was like I was home again, like Dad was to my right working at his desk, chewed-up straws piled around him. Cas in the cell farthest to the left. His room full of junk. Nick all the way to the right, ignoring me. Trev next to Cas, in his room reading. Sam, at the glass wall, watching.
My throat closed around a lump.
If we found Dani here, what would happen between Sam and me? The thought hit me square in the chest, till I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I’d been so concerned with my past and my family, and saving the one member I might have left, that I’d forgotten to consider what might happen when Sam saw Dani again.
“Turn on the lights,” Nick ordered.
The man went to the control panel and hit a button. The ceiling lights flickered on.
Unlike the lab at our farmhouse, which had only four cells, this one had six. And there were boys in at least two of them. They stood at the front of their rooms, in the same Branch-issued gray cotton pants and white cotton shirts that the boys had worn all those years.
They were just like us.
I scanned the remaining cells, looking for Dani. The other rooms were dark.
“Is there a girl here?” I crossed the lab to the control panel. “Reddish hair? Beaten, maybe. Dani. Is Dani here?”
The man shook his head, eyes wide, hands held up in front of
him. I looked down at the gun still in my hands, the barrel pointed at the man’s chest. I pulled it away.
“I don’t have any Danis here,” he answered.
“But do you have any girls?”
“Um.” He licked his lips. “There’s a—”
A floorboard creaked from somewhere beyond the lab. All four of us froze. Sam gestured to Cas and Nick, then pointed to the left side of the mouth of the hallway. They took their positions and Sam went to the opposite side.
I slid in beside him. Footsteps edged nearer. I closed my eyes, listened. One set of steps. Another. Another. And finally, a fourth. The person at the front of the pack shifted, and I caught the faint sound of metal rattling. A gun. They came forward, one slow, agonizing step at a time. It was the gun that entered the lab first.
Sam grabbed the gun barrel first and pushed up and clocked the person—a man—across the jaw with a left-handed punch. The gun dropped to the floor with a clatter as Sam swung the man around, tossing him into the front wall of the third cell. The thick glass vibrated from the hit, and the boy inside stepped back.
Cas lunged at the next person to enter the lab. A woman, dressed in black combat gear—thick pants, boots tied at her calves, rubber padding on the shoulders and elbows of a thick black jacket, bulletproof vest.
Cas punched her in the face. The woman went straight down, knocked out.
Nick went after the third agent. I went after the fourth.
I threw a knee into the man’s groin, then drove another up into his chin. When I gave him a shove, he slumped to the floor, unconscious. I breathed out, the gun still in my left hand.
A fifth agent dropped me with a swipe of his foot. I landed on my back, and my spine seized. My gun skittered away. The agent grabbed one of my feet and yanked me toward the door. The rough concrete tore the skin on my palms as I struggled to grab hold of something.
The man dragged me into the main part of the basement and tossed me against the wall. I hit the edge of the bench as I came down, knocking it and the tin bucket over. The logs spilled every which way. I snatched one up, swung. The agent ducked. I swung again, grazing the top of his head, and when I came back for another hit, he threw a blow to my gut.
The air rushed out of me. I doubled over. The man tore the log from my hand, raised it over his shoulder as if he meant to hit me with it. I braced myself for the impact as a shot rang out.
A bullet wound appeared in the man’s chest, and when he fell over, I saw Sam standing just a few feet away, lowering his gun.
“Thank you,” I started as the door burst open behind me.
“Go!” Sam yelled, motioning me toward the stairs.
“I’m not leaving you!”
Agents filled the room. I had no gun. No weapon at all.
“Damn it, Anna!” Sam yelled, tossing me his gun as an agent rushed toward him. Sam stomped at an angle with his boot, and the agent’s ankle snapped. He slammed down to one knee, and Sam punched the man in the back of the head. The man pitched forward.
I snatched the gun easily from the air, pointed, shot. Another agent down with a bullet hole in his knee. I sighted a dark-haired man as Cas appeared next to me, shooting two agents with a quick squeeze of the trigger.
I shot until my clip ran empty.
“Sam!” I called. He tossed me a full magazine without question, and I slammed it into place, taking out another agent before he could get close.
Cas turned to me, a grin spread across his face. But it slipped away quickly and he brought his gun up, pointing it right at me as an arm wrapped around my throat and dragged me back. Cas was too distracted to see the dark-haired woman come up behind him. She kicked him in the kidney. His face contorted with pain.
My attacker dragged me around a corner, out another door, and into the frigid December air. I swung backward with my foot, grazing the agent’s calf. I still had my gun, so if I could get away, I might be able to land a good shot.
I tried another kick but slipped in the snow and lost my footing. The agent—a man, judging by the size of his biceps—grabbed my arm and slammed it against a tree, jarring my bones. Another blow.
Then another, and my gun fell to the ground as I lost all feeling in my fingers.
Still holding my arm, the agent brought it down toward his knee, but I twisted, leaned forward, and kicked back with my boot, hitting him in the groin. He shoved me to the ground. The black rubber grip on my gun handle stood out from the white of the snow. I scrambled for it, rolling to my back once it was in my hands. I pointed and shot, and the man went down just as a black boot kicked me. My gun went flying again.