Emergence- Chapter One
“I’ve broken through the pass codes and I’m initiating the virus,” Jennifer whispered. She sat hunched in her chair, focused on the screen, her fingers stabbed at the keys. “There, it’s running. I hope you coded this thing right, Andrew, or we’re screwed.”
She shifted in her seat. The compact fall of her skin covered wings pressed tight to her spine and pulled where she sat upon them. One of their flexible struts dug in so she slid them out from under her.
Her heartbeat thudded in her ears and she glanced over her shoulder in the dim room, past the aisles of computer terminals, at the door leading to the hall.
“I’m almost in too, Jen.” Her husband murmured, drawing her attention back from the door. She could barely make out his dark clad form across the room. The clatter of his fingers against the keys pounded in her head.
She took a deep breath and tried to relax. She hadn’t been back to the Facility since she went through the change and her wings grew six years ago.
And I wish I wasn’t now.
Jennifer looked back at her screen. Everything moved along fine, at least on the surface.
“Just relax, Jen. I do know how to do my job.” Her husband chuckled. “Ok. I’m in.”
His sudden hiss drew her attention.
“Oh my God…”
Andrew slammed disks into the computer, switching them out as fast as they filled. She glanced back at her own terminal. The virus she’d uploaded had reached the halfway point. Certain that it would continue on without her, she rose. Her wingtips brushed the back of her knees through her leggings as she slipped around the close packed computer stations to see what had caused his exclamation.
“How bad is it?” She leaned against the back of his chair.
“According to this file, they’re preparing enclosures for those of us who’ve changed. The numbers of people infected are rising. The first building complex is ready for occupation. The bastards. Look at this.”
He pressed a few more keys, then pointed to the screen. “They have Gabriel slated to run it.”
“Gabriel…” Jennifer drew in an unsteady breath and scanned the document. The thought of Gabriel having control over anyone she knew… It doesn’t matter if he’s one of us, he’s insane. “We need to get these disks out to Marcus. There’s no way our people in the Facility know about this, or we would have gotten word about it in the last relay.”
“Maybe he didn’t want Marcus concerned. Could this be why they put such a rush on this job?”
“No.” She ran her hand down the soft suede of his folded wing membrane, comforted by the contact. “Nickolas just completed the change.”
“So, they’re going to go ahead with the mule project after all? That still doesn’t explain the rush.”
“Something happened during Nickolas’ change. I don’t know what went wrong, but whatever happened caught Gabriel’s interest. Marcus needed us to delete his son’s file.”
“Ah, got it. That’s why you needed a broad spectrum wipe.” He said as he reached for another disk. “So, do you think Marcus will move Nickolas and his brother out to the valley now? If Gabriel gets his hands on him…” He shook his head. “God, Nickolas is just a teenager.”
Jennifer shivered at the thought. “Marcus doesn’t see how. Nothing has changed. Nickolas and Christoff still have too much surveillance on them.”
A beep echoed from her computer. She squeezed Andrew’s shoulder, then moved back over to check her work. “The virus just finished. I guess you did do your job right.”
She smiled at his snort and got her computer shut down. “Are you almost done yet?”
“This is the last disk.”
Jennifer slipped over to the door and cracked it open to look out on a deserted hallway, blinking in the light. She felt Andrew’s body heat press into her back; his lips touched her ear, his whisper tickled across.
“No words outside of this room.”
Fear jolted her, and a vision took shape behind her mind’s eye. The sudden knowledge that Gabriel was here, at the Facility tonight when he shouldn’t be, slammed into her. As the only other uninhibited Valkyrie present on the grounds he could sense their telepathy. Damn it, why couldn’t her clairvoyance have shown her this sooner? This was a piece of information she could have used, instead of all the numerous warnings of her death the last several months. At least this vision passed swiftly.
She turned her head to meet her husband’s eyes over her shoulder. “No, An…”
His growl reverberated through her, and she swallowed the rest of her sentence. Andrew’s gaze reinforced his order of silence. She turned back to look out at the hallway blindly.
I should have told them. I should have told them about my visions. She sucked in a wavering breath. Andrew reached around her and pushed the door wider. His body moved with the lethal grace of a Hunter around her. He snagged her hand and pulled her in his wake.
She moved on autopilot as she assimilated the information her vision brought. But if I had told them Marcus would have pulled the plug on the mission. And the files I wiped tonight were crucial. My visions were clear enough recently to know that this was the only way to succeed. I would never have convinced him of that.
They reached an intersection and paused while Andrew determined if their exit route remained clear.
*We’re almost there, Jen. This is the last hallway. We take a left and the door to the outside is at the end. Then we meet Marcus in the woods on the other side of the compound. *
Jennifer closed her eyes in dismay. She took a deep breath and grabbed his shoulder, stopping him before he could move on. The surprise in his eyes faded to a questioning look as she stared into them. Her hand trembled as she brushed a lock of hair away from his forehead. Then she rose up on tiptoe to kiss him. *I love you Andrew. Now, let’s go.*
*Are you ok, Jen?*
Her gaze slid away from his too perceptive one, and she shrugged reluctantly. *I have a bad feeling.*
He tensed under her hand. *You’re the Seer, I’m just the Hunter. Do you have anything more substantial to help us?*
It was too late. Nothing she knew would make a difference. She had received the warning too late, even avoiding their telepathy probably wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. Jennifer shook her head, but Andrew caught her chin. He searched her face.
The strength of his gaze held her pinned and stripped the truth from her. His eyes hardened and she shivered at the wildness that rose behind the facade. She understood it came from the need to protect her, but she had never reconciled herself to the violence that forever lurked just under their skin after fledging. She exhaled in relief when he turned back to the corner and glanced around it before taking her hand. They walked down the hall together.
Anxiety colored her perception causing this last hall to stretch forever. She’d always hated this place. From the moment she started working there. Then when it became known that people were changing into something else, something that didn’t seem quite human, she’d tried to leave but it had been too late. Andrew had become infected.
They’d made it out alive, barely. Others hadn’t been as fortunate. But it looked like she’d come full circle.
The bleak atmosphere of the Facility still gave her nightmares and she had hoped to never step foot in it again. The desolate blank walls of a hospital were more inviting.
She slowed her shallow breath. A faint touch had brushed the edge of her mind. She swept her power out in a quick probe. The time for being careful had passed. Gabriel either knew they were here, or not. *Andrew can you sense anything?* She felt the quick burst of power that he sent out.
*No I…* His fluid movements held the barest hint of a jolt as he strained to detect what she sensed. *Wait.*
Jennifer stumbled as Andrew shoved her behind him. She looked up in time to see the door closest to them open and a guard step out. The surprised look on the grounded’s face didn’t last long. The man started to draw his gun and shout, but Andrew grabbed him by the throat and smashed his head into the door jamb, then yanked the limp body in front of them as a shield. Shots rang out. Thankfully the man wore a Kevlar vest, so the bullets didn’t go through into Andrew.
*There’s too many of them Jennifer, run!*
Andrew slung the body into the room, tripping the others, and wrenched the door shut. He jerked a knife out of his boot and slammed it into the crack of the door to wedge it. He grabbed her hand, propelling her in front of him. She ran down the hall, focused on the exit. The sudden blaring of the Facility’s alarms lashed through her. Her enhanced senses screamed in protest, and her knees buckled from the pain as the lights and sirens assaulted her. *Andrew?*
*I’m fine. Just keep going. I’m right behind you.*
Her breath hitched in her throat as her fear and relief fought. She crashed into the door at the end of the hall and burst through into the night. Outside, her relief dwindled as the compound lights came up like solar flares, illuminating the stark reality of their situation. Before her stood an avenue of trees with a walkway running under the intertwined branches. Another walkway followed the perimeter of the building. The booted stamp of a large contingent of guards echoed off it. And a dark, ominously winged shape that followed in their wake.
*Andrew, we need to clear the trees before we can take off.* Jennifer screamed mentally. *I think I saw Gabriel back there.*
Andrew’s calm voice bored into her head. *Keep going down this avenue. There’s a cleared perimeter at the end of it. The woods are on the other side of that fence.*
Breath rasping in her lungs, she pushed herself harder to clear the gauntlet of trees, Andrew’s protective presence a wall at her back. Spreading her wings, she launched into the sky. She needed to make it across the cleared ground and get over that fence. Almost immediately, gunshots rang out from below and she heard Andrew grunt.
Looking back, she saw him hit the ground in a sprawl. “Andrew!”
A last, faint thought reached her, *Jen… love.*
Then he was gone.
She hovered in shock, the sound of more gunfire lost with the roaring in her head. Searing pain lanced through her as the bullets struck, causing her wings to give out. She fell twenty feet to the ground.
“Andrew! No…” She sobbed, her fingers raking at the gravel in an effort to pull her body around. She tried to crawl to him, but her injuries held her captive. Fire ate at her and she felt her blood pump out of her with every beat of her heart. The crunch of Gabriel’s footsteps penetrated her grief and pain. Twisting her head, she caught sight of the insane Valkyrie’s beautiful, expressionless face. He stood over Andrew for a moment before bending down to check for a pulse. Gabriel shook his head and looked up at the unfledged Facility guards, who stood with their guns drawn at the edge of the trees. Then he searched through her husband’s vest and pulled out the disks. He rose, and walked over to where she lay.
“Hello, Jennifer. So, you turned out to be a Seer. I must say, that is a bit of a surprise.” He shook his head. “You shouldn’t have come back. But rabid dogs usually return home. Marcus should have listened.”
“We’re not the rabid ones; you are,” she rasped. “Just because we don’t want to live our lives doped up…” She coughed, and blood droplets splattered Gabriel’s boots.
“Well, it hardly matters now.” A gentle smile touched the corners of his lips and he held up the disks. “Fortunately, you didn’t accomplish what you came for.”
Gabriel stared at her for a moment, an inscrutable look on his face before he asked, “Who let you in, Jennifer? You had to have inside help.” He crouched and brushed the blood from her lips with his thumb. “Tell me, and I’ll get you to the medics.”
“Never.” She spit in his face.
His eyes turned hard and cold, he wiped the bloody spittle, streaking his face into a ghastly mask. “Fine, bleed to death.” Rising, he shook his blond hair over his shoulder. “It’s not like I don’t know who did it anyway. I will get proof in due course. At least you can act as bait. We both know Marcus won’t want to leave you behind.” Turning on his heel, he gestured to the guards and they melted into the trees.
A sob escaping, Jennifer pressed her face into the gravel.
The echo of the alarms still reverberated through the dark woods. Marcus picked up the pace, a vise around his heart, and he pushed his Flight to slip faster through the bushes. They’ll make it. They’ll be ok. Jen would have sensed something... When they reached the edge of the wild land, and the fence to the Facility, he motioned his Hunters to a stop. They crouched down and peered through the greenery. The vise squeezed tighter and he moaned, “No.”
Jennifer and Andrew lay sprawled, broken and bleeding on the ground like unwanted toys. Marcus silenced the rumble that rose around him with a gesture. He reached out with his mind, already knowing what he would find; hoping he was wrong.
The lance of power took him by surprise. Jennifer’s mind latched onto his with surprising strength, sparking hope. But then the contact wavered in and out. *Marcus, go, while you have the chance. Escape.*
He clenched his teeth from the pain he could feel flood through the link. *Hold on, Jen. We’ll come and get you. Take you home.*
*No. I’m just bait. He knows you’re close, and he’s counting on you to show yourselves trying to save me. Please don’t risk anyone. I’m not going to make it.* She coughed and the contact faded, then strengthened again. She turned her head toward them and Marcus could see the blood on her face. The tension emanating from the rest of his Flight soared. Marcus placed his hand on the arm of his Second to hold the Hunter back. Jennifer coughed again before she continued, *we succeeded, Marcus. We destroyed the old network. But… Andrew found something else. *
A convulsion ripped through her body, and this time Marcus found himself held back by restraining hands. He pulled against them halfheartedly. Tears filled his eyes. *Jennifer?*
*I don’t have much longer,* she sent weakly. Extending her wings, she tried to flap them, but they sank to the ground. *Andrew had the disks, Marcus… but Gabriel found them. I don’t know the details… worse, worse than anything imagined. Be careful.* The link faded and he held his breath, willing strength down it to support her. She coughed again and he could see more blood trickle down her cheek to mingle with her tears. *Robin and Jessica. You have to watch out for them, Marcus. Please… promise me. Promise me you’ll take care of them when their time comes. They will both change. I have Seen it.*
Bowing his head under the weight of his grief, he replied, *you know I will. We all will. I’ll move them to Aurora tomorrow.* The fear that shot through the link when he said that surprised Marcus.
*No! Don’t. They need to stay where they are. Please.* Her connection faded in and out again as she weakened. *Jessica, she’s special, different. Watch out for her.* Helplessly, he watched her body twist, the movement exposing the pool of blood that had seeped out onto the rocks around her. *Marcus, I’m sorry. Tell them I’m sorry and that I love them.* Heaving a breath, she lay still.
Then there was only silence.