Authors: Kailin Gow
ack gets us clear of the facility, continuing on our original course. He flies that way for hours, putting ground between us and the site of our last battle. Eventually, he must feel safe, because he flicks a few switches before turning to me and gesturing to the controls.
“Take over, Celes. I want to talk to Dr. Florence.”
“Take over?” I say. “I don’t know how to fly a helicopter.”
“Just keep the controls steady,” Jack says, clambering out of his seat.
I take his place, even though I’m not sure that this is such a good idea. As the controls fit into my hands though, I realize that I
know what to do. Memory floods back into me, and I remember flying myself in the future, piloting everything from small transport copters to full attack ones. Anything that would let me get to where my presidential duties needed me.
So I hold the controls steady, which is probably just as well, because a second later, Jack has a grip on Dr. Florence’s shirt, holding him half out of the door of the helicopter.
“What are you doing?” the scientist complains.
“I’m finding out the truth.” Jack says it perfectly calmly, like threatening to drop someone out of a helicopter is perfectly normal for him. “Now talk. What was that place. What’s your connection to Wilson Hammond? Why did he suddenly show up?”
“Please,” Dr. Florence says, sounding terrified, “I’ll tell you anything you want to know, just pull me back in.”
Jack hauls him back inside. “Talk.”
“Please, I’m just a researcher. That’s what that place was. An R&D space for Hammond Industries.”
“So you did the research that came up with his heat resistant materials?” I ask.
“More than that.” Dr. Florence suddenly looks pretty nervous, even considering that he’s just been held out of a helicopter. “Much more.”
Sce=a helic “Like what?” Jack demands. “And who were those people chasing after you? They looked pretty weird, but they didn’t have any abilities that I could see.”
“Abilities? You mean like burning?” Dr. Florence shakes his head. “No, they aren’t the ones who can do that.”
“Then who were they?” Jack repeats.
“They’re Hammond’s people. I guess I am too. Or I was. I was his chief researcher. We did the materials research you’re talking about. We worked from a specimen with those abilities to create exactly what we needed.”
“A specimen?” I ask from the front of the chopper. “You’re talking about someone like me and Jack? Someone from the future?”
“No,” Dr. Florence says, and his eyes widen in surprise as he says it. “You two… you’re from the future? How is that possible?”
“Never mind that,” Jack says, looking slightly annoyed. Have I done the wrong thing by mentioning the future? Maybe I have. After all the point of an interrogation is to get information out of the other person, not to tell them more.
“You mentioned specimens,” Jack continues. “Were these specimens people?”
Dr. Florence hesitates, and I see Jack start to move again. “Yes,” Florence says. “They were people. People who suffered brain seizures. We were trying to find a treatment for them, but also to learn more about the way the brain works. We learn more about the way the body works when there is something going wrong, you know.”
“Tell us about what you did,” I say. “How did these people become ‘specimens’?”
“We called them our experiments,” Hammond says. “We were trying experimental treatments. Things we thought might help. Hammond wanted to test new drugs on them. When the solar event happened though, something changed in them. They were able to absorb the sun’s energy and use it in ways that were just… incredible. Ordinarily, we had them come in for a day at a time for testing, but then Hammond wanted to round them up. Keep them there by force.”
“Why did he want to do that?” I ask.
“He said something about wanting to test these ‘new ones’ against the ‘ones from the future’. No one knew what he was talking about, but by then, with everything that happened… most of us didn’t dare to do anything other than what we were told.”
“So ho S e="Calibriw did you survive unscathed?” Jack asked.
“The lab is built to withstand just about anything,” Dr. Florence explained. “It was designed with the possibility of dangerous tests from the start.”
“Or as a shelter,” I suggest.
“He had us add the new materials to it as we came up with them,” Dr. Florence added.
“So,” Jack says, “if you were working so closely with Hammond, why were his people after you?”
“Because after our test subjects changed, I didn’t want to do the things to them that he demanded. I signed up to try to help people, not to lock them away and test them to destruction. The man’s insane. Inhuman.”
“Maybe he isn’t human,” Jack mutters. I find myself thinking of the way Hammond was before the apocalypse, and I think I agree with him.
“What exactly did he want you to do?” I ask.
“He provided a serum that he said would neutralize the more dangerous aspects of the test subjects, returning them to normal, but it was clear from my preliminary tests that the dosages he stipulated would kill them. Yet he insisted that they should be given the full doses.”
“He wanted to kill them?” I say.
“Why would he do that?” Jack demands. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Dr. Florence shrugs. “He said that he didn’t want their ‘condition’ to spread. He said that they were dangerous. Yet he didn’t even consider other options.”
“What kind of other options?” I ask.
“These people are still human,” Dr. Florence says. “Still thinking, feeling beings. Yes, their condition makes them angry and powerful, but surely that just means that we have to find a way to manage it? We don’t kill people when they can’t control their actions. It isn’t right.”
I nod and happen to look out at the horizon, where ahead, the desert is starting to open out. Something catches my eye.
“Jack? Come on up here.”
Jack nods. “I’ll be right there. Dr. Florence, if what you say is true, you m Ss tman">ight be exactly what we’re looking for. You’d better hope you aren’t lying.”
“I’m not,” Dr. Florence assures him.
Jack comes up to join me. “What can you see?”
I nod out to where a large rock formation is rising from the floor of the desert. It consists of spurs of rock, surrounding a central, flat topped hill almost big enough to call a mountain. There’s no sign of damage on it from the fire. There
however, the gleam of metal somewhere below. “I know Locations all look different, but that certainly looks odd enough to me.”
Jack smiles, and some of the tension leaves his eyes. “For a non-Fader, you’ve got a good eye. That’s Location Thirteen. Those rock spurs hide a way into natural caverns. The central one has ancient ice at its heart, providing natural cooling. Come on, let’s head down.”
He takes the controls from me gently and gets ready to bring the chopper down, yet as he does, I look out of the window again. There’s a black speck on the horizon. The same black speck that was there before.
“What is it?” Jack asks.
I point and he turns our helicopter to get a better look. Jack gasps.
“It’s Hammond’s chopper. He’s followed us.”
“But how?” I ask. I look at the dials and instruments of our helicopter. Sure enough, there’s radar spinning in the center. “Shouldn’t we have picked him up?”
Jack shakes his head. “Helicopters have a pretty small profile anyway, and if his is using stealth technology… why didn’t we spot this, Celes?”
The truth is that we
spot him, back at the lab. It’s just that his helicopter was far enough away not to seem like anything important. It was only seeing it again that made it seem significant. Like so many other things, it’s only now that it’s too late that it makes sense.
“I guess we weren’t expecting him to follow us,” I say. That’s true too. Wilson Hammond was quick to attack us back at his lab. He even sent in his two thugs to finish the job. So it would have made more sense for him to come after us with all guns blazing than to simply shadow us from a distance.
Except that it’s obvious now what his plan was. Panic us. Make us run.
Keep < face="Cal>us running until we led him straight to Location Thirteen. Which we have. Or at least, which we’ll have led him to if we let him know that it’s here.
“We have to lose him, Jack,” I say. “We have to keep going and pretend that this place has nothing to do with us, then we have to leave him behind and double back.”
“That will be hard if Hammond has radar too,” Jack says. And he will. An attack helicopter like that
to have it. “Unless…”
“Yes?” I say.
“I think I see a way that might work. Strap yourself in, Celes, and tell the doctor to do the same.”
I go back and give Dr. Florence Jack’s instructions. The scientist looks a little worried, though apparently the thought of Wilson Hammond catching up to him scares him more. He straps himself in. I strap myself in beside Jack, waiting to see what he’ll do.
For a while, he doesn’t do anything, just heading deeper into the desert, out over more rocky outcrops, stands of cacti, even lusher patches with woodland and water running through them. It’s only when we’re well clear of Location Thirteen that he dives. He plunges the helicopter behind an outcrop, using the shadow of it as a natural block on Hammond’s instruments. He takes it in a tight turn around the other side, staying low to the ground.
Still, the black helicopter is there. It’s closer now, obviously worried by the sudden maneuvers, but we haven’t lost it yet. Instead, it slots in behind us as Jack races along the desert floor, kicking up dust with the rotor blades as we pass.
“It isn’t working,” he says. “But we
to lose them. If they get to Location Thirteen, they’ll find every Fader who survived the apocalypse. We can’t allow that. Whatever it takes, we have to protect the others.”
“Then let’s find out what this helicopter can do,” I suggest.
“Are you saying we should outrun them?”
“I’m saying we should
them. Are attack helicopters made for long distance work?”
Jack shakes his head. “But when they realize what we’re doing, they might shoot us down.”
“Then we’ll just have to make ourselves into a harder target to catch,” I suggest.
Jack nods. “I can do that.”
He flips a switch, and the helicopter roars forward.
old on tight!” Jack calls out, before pushing the speed of our helicopter up to its maximum. I’d thought that this wouldn’t be able to go too fast, since it’s designed for long range transport, but apparently, it has some good pace too. The ground below us blurs past. And I can see the ground, because Jack plunges us towards it.
“Jack-” I start to say, but he shakes his head.
“The only way we’ll lose them is if we make them dodge. Trust me, Celes. I know what I’m doing. Now look back and see if you can spot them. If they aren’t following us, then I could be giving them a straight shot down at our rotor blades.”
That sounds bad. I glance back, trying to spot Hammond’s helicopter and make sure that it isn’t doing exactly that. For a moment, I can’t see it, and I start to worry that maybe it’s doing exactly what Jack just said. I look up trying to see it above us, can’t see it there either, then glance back again.
It’s right there behind us, closer now than it was. Worse, I can see the mini-guns on its outside rotating, spitting fire as bullets fly from them. With the noise of our rotor blades, I can’t hear their roar, but I find myself bracing for the impact of the bullets. Only when Jack pulls us sharply sideways do I breathe a sigh of relief.
He keeps us dodging, flying dangerously low now, heading for rocky outcrops and skimming the tops of cacti as we fly past. He ducks us into a ravine, Hammond’s helicopter following us down into it with another burst of firepower. There’s less room to dodge here. There’s less room for Jack to do anything except concentrate on navigating the ravine’s twists and turns without crashing.
I realize then that’s probably Jack’s plan. He keeps our helicopter low, almost skimming the ravine’s floor and jerking it around the tightest of corners with the kind of ease someone might get from flying them plenty of times before. Yet with Jack, that isn’t how he’s managing it. He’s picked the one environment for this chase where he
his short term visions of the future will give him an advantage. Wilson Hammond’s helicopter has to risk crashing at every turn to keep up, and if he loses sight of us once, we’ll be away while his radar is still blocked by the walls of the canyon. It’s a clever move. Exactly the kind of move only Jac Vbehind us,k would make.
Yet somehow, Hammond’s attack chopper
keeping up. Maybe it’s because, no matter how fast our helicopter is, it isn’t designed for flat out speed. Though it does seem to have one or two extra tricks. A warning light flashes in the cockpit, alarms sounding. I look back to see a flaming streak that can only be a missile heading towards us. Yet a second later, it explodes as Jack presses a button on our helicopter’s controls.