Authors: Kailin Gow
“Chaff countermeasures,” he explains, pulling the helicopter into a screeching climb as ahead of us, the canyon’s end wall looms large. For a moment, all I can see is the bright blue of the sky, while the sheer force of gravity presses me hard back into my seat until I can barely breathe.
He levels out, and Hammond’s helicopter is still behind us. A little further back, but still behind us. Jack pushes the pace still further, skimming through a gap between two rock formations that barely looks big enough for our helicopter. He forces the chase on, drawing it out, obviously trying to test the fuel capacity of the helicopter behind us.
Then suddenly, I spot another canyon. One that seems almost to cut a river in half. No, it’s two rivers, pouring into it so that dual waterfalls flow and foam down into the canyon valley below. I point to it. “There, Jack.”
Jack nods, plunging us down towards it, heading for the waterfalls. For a moment, I think that he’s misjudged it. That it’s too much even for reflexes with his extra warning. For that moment, all I can see is the spray of the water, the mist from the waterfalls rising around us, their roar even louder than our helicopter.
Then Jack jerks his controls sideways, pulls on them again, and we’re stationary. I try to make sense of it, looking around while beside me, Jack balances the helicopters controls in a constant dance with the air around us. Ahead, I can see a falling sheet of water, rainbows running through it as the light strikes it, while beside us, there is only rock.
He’s pulled the helicopter in behind the waterfall.
it. He’s controlling it there, beneath a natural overhang he couldn’t have seen coming down. Only someone with his talents could possibly have done this, and even then, it’s a feat of flying that’s kind of hard to believe. Maybe that’s the point though, because I see something large and dark flash by beyond the wall of water. Even Hammond, it seems, can’t believe that we could possibly be here.
Time passes. How much, I’m not sure, because things are too tense in the cockpit of the helicopter to risk checking. Jack is making constant small adjustments to the helicopter, holding it there beneath the overhang, but how long can he keep that up for? Worse, what if Hammond spots us? In a space like this, we’d be trapped. How long do we dare wait?
Eventually, Jack eases the helicopt [ tht strier forward, out of the shelter of the waterfall. It gives me a good view of the valley beyond. It’s beautiful. Where the rest of the land around us is parched and dry, the combination of these two small rivers has made this canyon lush and green. It’s tree filled and wet, a lost oasis of greenery in the middle of otherwise empty lands.
Jack takes the helicopter up to the level of the canyon lip, obviously looking around for Wilson Hammond’s attack chopper. There’s no sign of it. Obviously, it has either headed off in search of us elsewhere, or it ran out of fuel for the chase. Even so, we stay low, trying to keep from being easily identifiable on radar.
That makes the journey back to Location Thirteen slow going. Especially when it starts to get darker. Jack has to take the helicopter up further when that happens, just to keep us from crashing. He flies on the instruments then, using them to plot our course heading and keeping us moving until I can see a strange, slightly eerie green light in the distance.
“The Faders will have coated some of the rock floor near the base with luminous paint,” Jack explains. “It’s not enough to let someone pick out Location Thirteen if they don’t know roughly where it is, but once they do, it can lead them in.”
Jack focusses on it, taking us towards it. There really isn’t much of a glow there. I guess that if I didn’t know what it was, I’d think that it was something natural. Strange, but natural. Jack brings our helicopter directly over it, bringing us down slowly. I wonder if people inside Location Thirteen know that we’re there? They must, mustn’t they? I can’t imagine Faders who don’t want to know when people are getting too close to their bases.
Jack’s touch down is perfect. I barely feel it. In the dark, working purely by the helicopter’s dials and readouts, that’s pretty impressive. Not as impressive as hiding us beneath a waterfall, maybe, but still impressive. The rotors whir to a halt, and I jump out of the helicopter, looking around. Thanks to my abilities, I don’t have a problem with the dark.
I reach back into the helicopter, grabbing some of the bags from inside. Dr. Florence is still there, looking around and apparently not seeing much. I grab a flashlight and throw it to him. Jack is busy grabbing branches from the closest tree, pulling out camouflage netting from within the helicopter and pulling it over it.
He steps inside, helping me to unload bags. No one has come out from Location Thirteen. Either they don’t know we’re here, or they’re simply waiting for us to come in. Maybe they don’t feel like sending out a welcoming committee to help with the bags. Talking of which, Jack throws a couple of bags at Dr. Florence, who catches them inexpertly. I think he’s just trying to spread the load, but then I realize that it’s a move that leaves Jack’s hands free.
He takes Dr. Florence by the arm. “There isn’t enough time for me to run all the tests on you that I’d like to,hat I’ۀe to,h Jack says, “but you’d better believe that until I’m certain about exactly who you are, I’ll be watching you.”
Dr. Florence nods. “I understand.”
I don’t say anything. I know Jack likes to be careful. Besides, if his instincts are telling him that we
to be that careful, then maybe I should listen to them.
We set off walking through the dark, down to what appears at first to be nothing more than a natural fissure in the rock. We step through one at a time. It’s colder inside, and it gets colder still as we make our way along what turns out to be a passageway heading deep into the rock. That passageway twists and turns before finally stopping dead at a heavy steel door. There’s a surprisingly old fashioned looking key hole in it.
“I hope you have a key,” I say to Jack.
“Every Fader has the key,” Jack assures me, and puts his finger in the key hole. I realize then that it must be one of the fancy biometric locks the Faders love so much. “The key hole is just in case someone wanders in by accident. They just think it’s an old storage room, or a mine, or something. They don’t see the level of technology that’s here.”
The door grinds back slowly, revealing a brightly lit corridor beyond, with a trio of elevators lined up on one side. Jack pushes a button to call the middle one. Throughout all this, Dr. Florence is staring at everything like he can’t quite believe it.
“What is all this? Another research facility? Those materials on the walls… I thought you weren’t anything to do with Hammond?”
“We aren’t,” I assure him. “Trust me, once you’ve met more Faders, you’ll understand.”
Jack nods as the elevator doors open, pushing Dr. Florence inside. “If you’re lucky, you might even get to remember what you learn. Welcome to Location Thirteen, Doctor.”
I step into the elevator beside Jack and Dr. Florence. The doors slide shut without a sound, its bright lights completely at odds with the entrance to the Location. Jack pushes another button on the elevator controls, and slowly, smoothly, we start to move down into the depths of Location Thirteen.
he door to the elevator slides open as it comes to a halt, revealing a large, open room with screens flashing up data around the edges. It looks so much like the blank room in Location Six that I first saw so long ago. It’s a high-tech, efficient kind of place, so different from the farmhouse of Location Four, or the manor house of Location Two.
There are people seated all around the room, including a clutch of men seated in front of one of the panels on the walls, obviously monitoring things on the outside. Jack starts to make his way over, pulling Dr. Florence with him. The scientist looks more than a little reluctant to move any further into one of the Underground’s Locations, but Jack doesn’t exactly give him a choice.
The men Jack goes over to are all obviously Faders, dressed in dark suits and with that slight edge of wariness to their movements that I’ve learned to recognize around them. Plus we’re in a Location, so what else would they be? There are five of them, all in their twenties and early thirties. One looks round as Jack approaches, leaping up to give him a guy hug.
“Jack! It’s great to see you, mate!” His accent is broad Australian, and so are those of the other four as one by one they stand to welcome Jack. All of them look to be in good shape, and I don’t mean that just in terms of how athletic they look. They’re all free from any signs of sun damage or any other injuries from the apocalypse. I guess they’ve been pretty lucky.
They’re all friendly enough, inviting us to come and sit with them, yet I don’t know any of them. In fact there aren’t any familiar faces in the room. Not even the one face I was really hoping to see. Grayson isn’t here. At least, he isn’t in this room. But if he heard we were coming, surely he would have been here?
I don’t have much time to think about that though, because Jack is busy introducing us all.
“Celes, these are the guys from Location Nine, out near Melbourne. They only just survived to make it here when their Location was destroyed.”
“Completely burned,” one of them says, moving forward to greet me. He’s in his mid-twenties, with short blond hair and sparkling blue eyes. There’s something about him that makes it easy to imagine him surfing off an Australian beach. “The whole Location is gone.”
“It sounds like the five of you must have seen quite a bit,” Jack says.
The other man, who seems to be the leader of the Australians there, nods. “The ride over was fun. Jim-o had to repair the chopper in the middle of the desert. What about you? Where were you when it happened?”
Jack looks over at me, and I can guess what he’s thinking. We can’t tell them about our real mission, from the future. Even if he trusts these men, it would still cause too many complications for it to be a good idea.
“We were in a shelter,” he says instead. He puts an arm around me. “Guys, this is Celestra Caine.”
The blond haired guy holds out a hand for me to shake. “Nice to meet you, Celestra. I’m Niall. That’s Joseph, Vincent, Jim, and Ray.”
They greet me with a mixture of open friendliness and obvious curiosity. “How did you hook up with Jack?” Vincent asks me.
It’s another question where I can’t give them the whole truth. “Jack was assigned to protect me, but after that things kind of spiraled out of control a little. We’re working together these days. Tell me more about Location Nine.”
“There’s not a lot to tell,” Niall says. “It was a nice place outside the city. Good sheep country. We reckon we probably caught the first of the solar flares and the fires. Well, it’s dry enough for bush fires at the best of times, but this was worse.”
“How bad was it?” I ask. I know it’s not an easy subject to talk about, but we need to know if we’re going to understand the scale of the destruction Wilson Hammond has brought to the world. We need to know what kind of support is going to be out there when it comes to rebuilding. There’s another reason I want to know, too. I didn’t see the destruction, locked up in Wilson Hammond’s shelter. I don’t know what it was like for people caught out in it.
People like Grayson. People like my Faded family, out there somewhere with no memory of me.
“There were thirty of us at Location Nine,” Niall says. He looks around at the others. “These guys are what’s left.”
I can feel a leaden sensation in my stomach just hearing that. “I’m sorry.”
Niall shrugged. “Don’t be. We made it. That’s what’s important. If it weren’t for some of the stuff Dr. Cook gave us to add to our place, we’d all be dead.” He nods to Jack. “We’re lucky to be working for him. At least he was prepared for this.”
“Do you know where he is?” Jack asks. “Celestra and I have been looking for him, and for some of the other Faders.”
“He should be here somewhere,” Niall says, and in that moment, panels at the other side of the room slide back to reveal Sebastian Cook. He ctiae.<’s still well dressed, but he looks a little leaner than he did before, and a lot more tired. It looks like the apocalypse has really taken it out of Jack’s father.
“Jack! I heard that you were here, but I wanted to see it with my own eyes.” He rushes forward, enfolding Jack in a hug. Just for the briefest of moments, Jack looks like he has tears in his eyes. I guess that no one else spots that though.
Jack pulls back, obviously remembering the formality they maintain while they’re working. He holds out a hand. “Dr. Cook. It’s good to see that you’re well.”
Sebastian just pulls him into another hug. “There’s no need for formalities now, Son. I thought I’d lost you. Everyone here knows that you’re my son.”
Actually, things are more complicated than that, thanks to the mechanics of time travel. Jack is Sebastian’s son, but at the same time, he is a clone of himself from the future. I guess none of that makes Sebastian love his son any less.
“I’m glad you’re all right, Dad,” Jack says when they pull back. His expression grows a little more serious. “Celes and I were kept in a shelter, hidden from the outside. Can you fill us in on the details of everything that has happened in the last few days?”
“There’s a lot to tell, Jack,” Sebastian says. “A lot of it, we don’t even know yet, because the details haven’t come in. We’ve taken every signal we can get hold of, grabbed reports from stragglers and tried to piece things together as best we can, but still, the picture is pretty incomplete at the moment.”