Authors: Jeremiah Knight
Tags: #Action & Adventure
“Knew her father better,” Brant said, opening the silent, well-oiled metal door. “I’m her god-father.”
Peter stood there, feeling a little dumb-founded. He thought he’d known Ella longer than any other living person. He now knew that wasn’t the case. Ella had chosen her biodome recipients carefully. Apparently, they were occupied by people who wouldn’t turn her away, regardless of her being accused of crimes against humanity.
How many other ex-boyfriends are waiting for her?
he wondered, and then he waved Jakob toward the garage. They needed to get out of sight before whatever was following them tracked them here. They’d done a good job evading whatever was pursuing them, but he wasn’t about to believe they were safe here. Not for a second.
The inside of the home was Spartan, clear of any kind of normal household detritus. Metal tables, like the one he’d seen on the second floor, were positioned below all the windows. Nothing short of an RPG would reach anyone hiding on the floor, which begged the question, “You planning on being shot at?” Peter motioned to the nearest metal table leaning against the wall.
“Better safe than sorry,” Brant said. “I think you told me that once, when I mentioned we were pacifists and had no weapons.”
Peter looked around the living room where they stood. There were two lounge chairs, a long couch upon which Ella laid, and guns. A lot of guns. Most were shotguns and assault rifles—Brant had an eye for the big stuff—but there were handguns, too. The weapons were arranged in lines, leaning against the metal tables, ready to be snatched up and fired at a moment’s notice. “Looks like you took care of the weapon problem. Did you give up on the pacifism?”
Brant shook his head. “Ain’t much left out there that’s human, and I’ve never had a problem putting an animal down.”
“Like your friend in the front yard?”
“He came around just a week after I visited the gun shop and found all this. Your advice was fortuitous. Don’t think we’d have survived without it. Was a big sonuvabitch. Nasty. Did a real number to the second floor.”
“So not all of it is a façade?” Peter asked.
“Losing the second floor inspired our new look.” He led Peter into the downstairs hallway, where a lone china cabinet sat. “And it seems to be working. I’ve seen a few of them ExoGenetic bastards walk past at night without giving the house a second glance.”
“How do you see them at night?” Peter asked, but then saw the answer to his question in the china cabinet. It was full of random military supplies, including ear buds, throat mics, night vision goggles and grenades—frag and flashbang—along with boxes of ammunition for a variety of weapons. “Hello, Santa Claus.”
Brant opened the glass doors. “I kind of cleaned the place out. Figured no one else would need it.”
Peter reached out, but paused. “You mind?”
“Help yourself,” Brant said. “I imagine you know how to use it all better than me.”
Peter took an M67 fragmentation grenade from a box of four, each round, olive-drab explosive encased in perfectly fitted foam. “What kind of gun store carries frag grenades?”
“We’re in Kentucky farm country,” Brant said with a grin. “Plenty of varmints around need blowing up.”
“Well, thank God for varmints then.” Peter put the grenade back, mentally cataloging the contents of the cabinet. Before closing it, he took a cylindrical sound suppressor for an M16, slipping it into his pocket. “Though all the varmints I’ve seen since leaving the farm have tried to eat me.”
“That rough out there?” Brant closed the cabinet and stepped toward the hall closet.
“You know where I served?” Peter asked.
“The last few days have been worse.” Peter shook his head, replaying some of the things he’d seen and survived. “When I came back from Afghanistan, I struggled with PTSD. Nightmares. Mood swings. I got past it...but I was a trained soldier. I hate to think what this is doing to the kids. It’s a hard world out there.”
Brant gave a slow, thoughtful nod. “Kids are more resilient. More flexible. They’ll adapt better than you or me.” Then he opened the closet, revealing a stack of Kevlar tactical vests with an array of pockets and straps for ammo, grenades, knives and anything else a soldier might want to carry.
“You’re a saint,” Peter said, taking a vest and slipping into it. Once it was secure, he handed a vest to Brant. The man held out his hands and shook his head. “Makes the missus uncomfortable.”
“And the guns don’t?”
“She’s a peculiar woman.”
Misha?” Peter asked. He’d heard all about Brant’s wife, an Iraqi immigrant, which was both exotic and controversial in these parts, but he had yet to meet her. Alia, who had nearly tackled Jakob when they entered the home, seemed to get most of her genes from her mother. Jakob had been immediately smitten. Misha had yet to make an appearance.
Brant glanced up. “Keeps to herself mostly. Since the attack. Minds the bedroom, keeping watch over the fields. I’m sure she’ll be down when she’s feeling ready.” Brant handed the vest back to Peter. “Give this one to your son.”
“Appreciate it,” Peter said, taking the vest. He would come back for supplies once everyone was settled. Speaking of which: “You know where the kids got off to?”
“I think they’re kissing,” Anne said, making both men flinch. She stood behind them, hands on the cabinet’s glass door, looking inside like it contained boxes of candy.
Peter gently lifted Anne’s hands away from the glass. “Don’t even think about it. We’ll get you sorted out later.”
“Not much later, I hope,” she said. “’Cause...”
“Not much later. But let me help you find what works best for you, okay?”
“Something that won’t rip my shoulder off?”
“Exactly,” he said.
“She can handle a gun?” Brant sounded surprised.
“We do what we have to,” Anne said, looking into Brant’s eyes.
The old man gave a slow nod. “S’pose you’re right. But don’t tell Alia that. She’s liable to shoot her foot off.”
Anne huffed a laugh. “Well then, she and Jakob are made for each other.”
“Speaking of which, where is your—” Peter flinched to a stop, nearly saying, ‘brother,’ but managed to force out: “Jakob.”
Anne scrunched her nose. “Where is
Peter rubbed his temples. “Just...where is he?”
“Biodome,” she said. “Making with the kissy.”
Peter glanced at Brant, looking for a reaction at the news that his teenage daughter was currently unaccounted for and in the arms of a slightly older teenage boy. He hadn’t said anything the first time Anne mentioned it, and he showed no reaction now.
“Where’s the biodome?” Peter asked. He knew the way. Had seen the familiar entrance at the back of the kitchen when they first entered the house.
Brant pointed to the kitchen. “Through there.” He took a step toward the stairs to the second floor. “Been away from my post too long. Never can be too careful, right? Better safe than sorry.”
“Too true,” Peter said, offering a smile that he hoped looked genuine. He was glad to see Brant alive, but the man wasn’t well, perhaps suffering from his own PTSD. “Let’s catch up later on.”
Brant paused on the stairs. Turned to Peter. “I’d like that. In the meantime, if you hear me give a stomp on the floor, it means we have company, so keep an ear out and your voices down.”
“Will do,” Peter said, and the man continued on his way and unlocked the heavy metal door at the top of the stairs, stepping through and relocking it from the other side.
Peter looked down at Anne. She was swirling an index finger around her ear.
“He’s a good man,” Peter said.
“He’s off his rocker.”
“I’m serious,” she said. “His wife isn’t upstairs.”
Peter froze in place. “What do you mean?”
“She’s buried in the biodome, feeding the plants.”
He turned toward the kitchen, but didn’t move. “Alia told you?”
“If she knows, she might be a little cuckoo, too, since she’s kissing a boy just a few feet from her mother’s corpse.”
“It might not be her,” Peter said, his voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper.
“If it’s not her,” Anne whispered. “Then we might really be in trouble here.”
Peter and Anne stared at each other. The kid, as usual, made a good point. He opened the closet and motioned to the vests stacked on the floor. “See if you can find one that fits. Then stay with your mother.” He stepped toward the kitchen and stopped in the doorway. “No matter what’s going on, we’re spending the night here. Try not to ruffle any feathers. It would be nice to avoid trouble for at least one night.”
“Good luck with that,” Anne said. She started rummaging through the vests.
Peter still wasn’t sure if he was irked by Anne’s straightforward nature, or appreciative of it. In many ways, she reminded him of some of the men he had served with, but they were hardened CSO soldiers, not twelve year old girls. Not his daughter.
He shook the debate from his head and made his way through the spotless kitchen, eyeing the weapons lined up beneath the window, making a mental list of what was available. He’d left his shotgun in the living room, partly because he now associated the weapon with a slew of bad memories, but mostly because no matter where he went in this house, he was only a few feet away from enough weapons to hold the Alamo indefinitely.
Peter opened the biodome door and was greeted by the hiss of pressurization. He hadn’t heard a generator running, or seen any lights. Things like that would ruin the illusion that the home was dilapidated. But the decontamination chamber was still getting power from something. And that was a good thing. With the front of the second floor wide open, there would be ExoGenetic contamination throughout the house. He wouldn’t be surprised if there were already small plants growing in the second floor carpets. But with the fans whipping the air around him, sucking every fiber, pollen granule and seed from his body, the biodome was safe...ish. The system wasn’t perfect. Seeds could cling inside clothing. Pollen could hide in the treads of boots. Peter shook his body, helping the system do its work, but they’d all entered the home after days of rolling around in the ExoGenetic world.
He should have made us ditch the clothes
, Peter thought.
I should have
. But he’d been distracted. And it was too late now. Jakob and Anne had already been inside the biodome.
The fans cut off, and the second door unlatched. Peter pushed his way into the biodome and quickly said, “Stop!”
Jakob, who was sitting in an old wooden chair beside a raised garden bed, froze in place, a cherry tomato hovering over his open mouth. Alia was seated on the side of the raised bed, looking surprised and nervous. But was she acting like a teenage girl caught with a boy, or was it something more...like the long mound of dirt framed by potato plants in the next bed?
“What’s wrong?” Jakob asked.
Peter thought for a moment, trying to figure out how to communicate his fears to the boy without panicking Alia, who had been eating this food during the months since the front of the home was compromised. “You haven’t washed your hands. Don’t want to contaminate anything, do we?”
Jakob slowly lowered his hand away from his mouth, the silly teenage grin falling in time. He understood, but asked, “Are you for real?”
“Being cautious,” Peter said.
Alia plucked the tomato from Jakob’s hand and popped it in her mouth. Jakob started to object, but she stopped him with, “Dad checked for five miles in every direction. If it’s growing out there, we don’t grow it in here. So if something new shows up, we’ll know the food is contaminated. And yes, before you say anything, I know my mother is buried behind me.”
Jakob looked like he’d been slapped. “Wait, what?” He flinched away when he saw the mound of dirt and understood what it meant.
“I’m sixteen,” Alia said. “Not stupid. Dad says she’s still alive, upstairs. I argued with him once. It’s not a good idea, so don’t try it. Whether he believes it, or is pretending, I think it’s the only thing keeping him sane.”