Energy and Matter: Part 17 (Conclusion)

17.

What You Thought You Knew

The pickup rolled to a stop outside the ten-mile squared shipping yard. Twenty-foot high chain-link topped by razor-wire fenced the seemingly endless compound. Railroad tracks ran through it at one side, various entrances about it here and there. There was clearly more within the place than the Hunter warehouse. No doubt it made good cover given all the trucks, fork lifts, and other heavy-machinery moving about.

Leagues of stacked shipping containers, parking lots, and gravel or cracked asphalt separated the yard into sectors. The girls’ target was far ahead, at the compound’s rear. For the sake of stealth, the pair were dropped near a closed, side-fence. The spot was hidden from highway and access-road views by trees and dense foliage; from the interior compound and its warehouses by forty-foot tall stacks of shipping crates.

They would have to sneak in, walk the rest of the way. Darkness was on their side. Hailey’s Seer instincts were turned to eleven; they’d make it to the building at least, beyond that was anyone’s guess.

A foreign tension emanated from Yaz as she let the girls out. The fence-line was just ahead, past a bit of brush spackled with gravel. Hailey tested her radio, double-checked her P-90, then started for the fence. She knelt and turned to see Yaz’s hand grip Elise’s.

“Come back,” Yaz ordered. Elise nodded.

Hailey watched their lips lock, and suddenly recognized the foreign tension for what it was. The couple parted; Elise moved for Hailey’s side and knelt. The truck crunched gravel and dirt, pulled away with its headlights off. Elise produced a pair of bolt cutters, began snipping her way up the fence.

“How long’s that been going on?” Hailey whispered. Elise remained silent, focused. “Okay, then. Ignore me.”

Elise didn’t bother. She wasn’t about to be baited. Not now. She pried the fence apart, gestured Hailey through, and followed in a crouch. Patchy grass turned to gravel along row of shipping containers. They stealthed forward; distant semis hissed and reported near an idling locomotive that embraced the still night. Around it and elsewhere, a fleet of hundred-foot cranes groaned and whined, lifting cargo on or off trucks, train-cars, or crate-stacks. Flood-lit warehouses fell further into darkness nearer the yard’s rear where a lone warehouse sat, seemingly vacant.

Hailey and Elise knew better. However they’d done it, the Hunters had secured themselves a warehouse to hole up in; planned to use it to exact pain on any Seer or person in the way of them. Elise’s fury boiled. She was ready to turn the tides, take the fight to the Hunters. It was revenge more than anything. The last images of her dying mother fueled her. She was determined to show the Hunters something to fear.

Elise stealthed to the edge of the first break in the crates, stayed Hailey. The crates’ cover had hidden them from the various bodies and vehicles for over a quarter-mile. Now, they would be exposed for a short distance between it and the buildings ahead. It was a short time, but enough to blow the element of surprise if they were seen.

Elise waited, watching the empty lot before them. A few hundred yards past it, a crane was moving laterally forward, its operator just barely visible in the box far-above. She waited until she was certain no-one was coming, and started for a building’s far side a hundred-yards forward. Hailey followed on her heels. A line of concrete barriers meant to act as over-sized wheel-stops, nearly concealed themselves to the building. They vaulted up, onto a walkway, scampered along it.

They moved as shadows in a darkness deeper than a mere, absence of light. The rear-edge of the warehouse broke for another, flood-lit set of grounds between it and the next. A lone security guard smoked outside a door at it the building’s far-edge. He pulled his coat closed, huddled into it, and inhaled deep. Elise was about to risk it. They were wasting time. She made a start. Hailey’s hand stopped her.

The guard inhaled deep again, then flicked the lit cigarette away and blew out a smoke plume. He swiveled toward the pair, still hidden in cover, and followed through for the door. He disappeared into the building and Elise breathed. She stilled a shaking hand; that would’ve been a mistake. She was too driven, too impatient. She did her best to emulate Yaz’s expertise, and started forward again.

Hailey rushed after her for the next warehouse, slipped past its edge, and entered into its dark side for the next edge. They found themselves at it and peering into another, expansive parking lot, flood-lit by poles about its middle and sides. The building itself was darkened, empty. Beyond it in the distance, the darkness prevailed, but the pair were focused on another warehouse at its side, between it and a vast, flat darkness.

It was there. They could see it clearly now. Only moments and steps remained, separating them from their quarry. The Hunter warehouse was dim, still. Hailey sensed movement in the upper shadows. She closed her eyes, activated the Link, and spied snipers posted at the building’s roof-corners. Hailey tapped Elise’s shoulder, pointed to the nearest corner in the distance. Elise’s eyes homed in, squinted; small movements caught her attention.

“Sweeping the compound.”

“Your call,” Hailey said.

Elise watched the nearest sniper’s rifle oscillate along its bipod. She judged the distance between warehouses, counted the seconds between one side of his sweep and the other. Then, with a hand, she repeated the count. Her third finger went up; Hailey sprinted across the parking-lot. Her lugs burned with fury, terror. The dark-side of the warehouse, came into reach. She vaulted, dove.

She turned back to see Elise still waiting, counting. Seconds passed in nail-biting agony. Elise suddenly bolted, running like a creature possessed. She might’ve broken an Olympic record, Hailey couldn’t be sure. Like her, she vaulted and dove from light into the cover of darkness.

A single breath, and Elise was up, moving. The darkness pervaded even beyond the edge of warehouse’s rear. The shadows led them along the building’s broad-side, all but bridging the gap between they and the Hunter’s warehouse. Now, they could see the snipers unaided. They were perched like sentry guns atop the steel and concrete structure. The nearest one reached his visual arc, started back with an eerily autonomous motion.

Elise waited, counting. Then, in a breath, she bolted across the bright, open ground. Hailey watched, heart erratic. The sniper’s barrel swiveled. Elise crossed his blind-spot, beneath the building’s edge. Hailey swallowed adrenaline, suppressing a squeak. Elise’s P-90 rose at the corner. Her head gestured Hailey. She waited, counted. In a burst of sprinting madness she raced for Elise’s side. It was over fast. Not fast enough, Hailey felt, and they weren’t even inside yet.

She kept quiet, let Elise pass for the double doors. Inside, an oscillating camera pivoted between a view of both doors and the far end of the hall. Elise held up a finger, waited, then slipped in with Hailey pressed against her. They found themselves in a long, darkened corridor, doors spaced one side with the other wall empty.

“You’re up,” Elise whispered.

Hailey activated the Link: the layout was identical to Yaz’s blueprints. They’d entered from the rear, near a few offices usually reserved for company admins or foremen. A definite stir of energy took their place instead; cold, electronic. Here and there around the ground and upper floors were other signatures; some animate, others not.

“Server room,” Hailey whispered, timing her way right to bypass the camera. She hesitated at a door, “Someone’s inside.”

“Distract them.”

Hailey stepped inside, cut left along seven-foot high data servers glowing with various LEDs over a constant whir of fans and micro-machinery. Elise went right, complimenting her. Hailey emerged into view of a man at a computer terminal. He was suddenly on his feet, a weapon drawn.

“What’re you doing here? Who are you?” Hailey gave a crooked smile. He grit his teeth, “Drop your weapon. Hands behind your head.”

“You first,” Hailey retorted.

Elise struck. Her arms went ‘round his throat. Her wrists locked; muscles jolted sideways. His neck cracked! His body went limp. Elise let it collapse. Hailey was stunned. Elise ignored it, keying up his active computer to sift for intel.

“Watch the door!” Elise ordered in a hush.

Yaz had instructed her to search for any drives containing usage logs or large data repositories in hopes that any important information would be grouped together. Whether it be information on the Hunters’ internal organization, their leaders’ whereabouts, or something more, could only be ascertained once the caches were accessed. Unfortunately, not knowing where the intel was meant taking the drives at all was at the risk of finding nothing. Still, it was worth trying.

Elise located a few, specific drives with large caches, mentally noted them. The very real possibility of walking away with nothing was too much for her to bear. It would weigh her down, forge more room for mistakes. She blocked it out to locate the drives, rushed along the racks, began pulling them out here and there. The SSDs were small, enough that a few fit comfortably in a pocket. She grabbed the few she sought, returned to Hailey’s side.

They headed for the door, Hailey stopped short.

“What?”

Hailey’s eyes were closed, Link active, “Two guards just took a post out the back door.”

Elise’s heart ran hurtles. “Any other way out?”

Hailey eyed the place with an eagle-eye view, via the Link, “Through the front. But there’s people between here and there. A lot of ‘em.”

Elise knelt beside Hailey, “Yaz, we need you at the rear door. Sixty seconds.”

“No dice, kid,” Bryce radioed. “Gotta’ truck moving in. Troop carrier or something. Old style. Taking up position at the rear of the building. Can’t risk lighting the place up.”

Elise huffed, “Then be ready to move on the front entrance. Radio when you’re in position.”

“Copy.”

Hailey gave her a derisive look, “You can’t seriously think we’ll get out that way.”

Elise released the safety on her P-90. “We will. No arguments.”

Elise stepped out. Hailey sensed the same catastrophic dread she’d felt before. If her instincts were worth anything, this was how it would happen. She hurried after Elise, stopped her at the corner of the corridor.

“Wait. Just wait.”

“Are you crazy? We can’t sit here arguing!”

Hailey’s face hardened, “Elise, I know you’re angry with me, but this is the wrong way. We need to–”

Footsteps sounded from the mouth of the corner passage. Hailey saw two men approaching via the Link. They stopped just around the corner. Hailey put a finger to her lips, pointed at the corner, then flashed two fingers. The pair merely stood, either unaware of them or awaiting something specific. It only took a moment for Hailey to sense the latter. The troop carrier outside was empty. Bodies were now piling up around the doors behind her.

Hailey relayed the situation: somehow, they’d been discovered.

They readied their weapons. A quick pivot littered the two guards with rounds. An alarm screamed along the corridors. The doors burst open, something loud exploded, flashed like lightning. Masked Hunters filed in, firing. The pair dove for the corner, recovered, began sprinting for the front of the building. They passed from the corridor into the open storage floor.

Another flash of lightning. A deafening crack. A shock-wave. Elise stumbled mid-step, fell. Hailey tripped on her, fell too. She scrambled up. Her sight faded, in and out. Masked, black figures charged, encircled them, weapons rose. Someone ripped the P-90 from Hailey’s hands, forced her onto her stomach with a boot in her back. Elise’s gun was man-handled from her grip. She was forced down alongside Hailey.

Their vision returned to a section of Hunters that separated, allowing someone through. Elise and Hailey blinked away pain as faint footsteps returning. The figure before them mouthed a command, and the girls were forced to their knees, guns trained on them. The figure focused; a woman in fatigues, face slacked and scarred from age and war.

She clicked her tongue, “I am disappointed. All that power, and they send two children.”

“You’ll die for this, bitch,” Elise spit through her teeth.

The woman took a knee in front of Elise, “Young ladies should learn to hold their tongue.” She hit Elise’s face with an iron-fist, splitting her lip. “That was for my men.” She straightened, focused on Hailey, “Oh do we have plans for you, little one.”

“Go to hell,” Hailey hissed.

The woman laughed. “Us or them. The devil you know, or…” Hailey’s face went blank. “Come now, did you really think we were the only ones looking for you?” Hailey’s jaw clenched. A corner of her mouth twitched. The woman stepped back away again.

“What’re you on about?” Elise growled.

She laughed again, “You could never stop us all. And without us eliminating the competition, well, you’d only have more of us to fight.”

Hailey’s worst fears seemed confirmed, but Elise’s hate bubbled over. “You ordered my parents killed. For that, you will die.”

“Is that what you’re doing here?” She asked, back-stepping. “Seeking revenge? Are you prepared to die for it?”

Elise forced herself to her feet, “If I have to.”

The woman’s mouth curled vilely, her hand clutched a pistol at her side. “Prove it.”

In a flash, she drew, fired a single round into Elise’s gut. Blood spattered the floor. Flecks hit Hailey’s face. Elise clutched her navel, hands crimson. She fell to her face, bleeding out.

The woman sneered at her men, “Take the other and put her under. V will want to be here.”

Time slowed around Hailey. She wasn’t sure what was happening. Her body acted on impulse, instinct. She found herself forcing away the hands holding her in place. A burst of furious energy erupted. A shock-wave seemed to emit from her– did emit from her. Bodies were thrown through the air. They flew, smashed distant walls, windows, ceilings, rag-dolls. The lights went out, shattered by bodies and debris. The warehouse plunged into darkness. Hailey blinked, full-tilt charged. The woman was down before the bodies landed.

Hailey’s hands maneuvered her around, slammed her head against concrete. The woman’s dazed eyes filled with terror.

Hailey didn’t stop; the woman’s head hit concrete. Again. And again. Blood sopped. Brain oozed. Her body went limp, her skull a fleshy pulp of bone-dust and fluid. Hailey rebounded, pistol in hand. Her eyes shut, Link active. Bodies were falling about the room, lifeless, broken, or injured. Before they could react, a masked face met a bullet. Then another. The pistol barked incessantly, clicked empty.

Hailey whirled, found two men rising. Phantom hands lifted and slammed them at the ceiling, then the floor, like rag dolls. Elise’s weapon slid from one, crossed the floor to Hailey’s hand. She growled, spraying the last of the living men with ammunition. The P-90 went quiet, barrel smoking. She stood amid the roomful of carnage as the double-wide rolling door exploded inward.

Time resumed its normal pace. Bryce skidded to a stop behind her. Hailey lowered her gun. Yaz and Jenna piled out. Hailey snapped back to reality, helped lift Elise.

“SWAT incoming,” Jenna said, lifting Elise.

They piled into the truck’s rear. Yaz stabbed a needle into Elise’s arm, flooded her veins with something, then felt for a pulse. The truck jolted to and fro. Rubber burned to smoke as the truck whipped ‘round and rocketed for a road, any road. Hailey kept pressure on Elise’s wound, felt her grief welling. It was the same, pure grief Valerie had spoken of; fresher, more powerful. A geyser of energy poured from her, flooding the vehicle, submerging Elise’s body.

Yaz moved to inject Elise. Hailey shouted, “Stop!”

The others hesitated, Yaz fought, on-edge, “I am not letting her die.”

Hailey put her hands over Elise’s wound, “Neither am I.”

A sudden flash blinded Yaz. Jenna’s Link activated. The mere force knocked them back. Hailey began to glow. Currents of energy pulsed within her like arcs of lightning. Both in and out of the Link, Hailey’s currents pulsed golden, enveloping her. Her form dissolved, impossible to discern through the blinding light. A series of arcs formed between Elise’s wound and Hailey’s hands.

Light flowed from Hailey’s hands into Elise. She was suddenly conscious, delirious. She muttered nonsensically, writhed. Hailey slumped forward, only vaguely aware of willing herself to stay conscious, to continue manipulating the energy. Her mind and body were reacting on impulse, instinct. She felt energy surge around her, flood the truck. One hand extended upward, spraying energy as if springing a leak. Its flow suddenly reversed direction. The leak became a vacuum, sucked unseen energy into a golden stream that formed near her hand. It fueled the pulsing, surged and roiled within her, then flowed out and into Elise.

Hailey’s glow apexed in a second flash. The truck was blinded. When the women’s vision returned, it had died completely. Jenna and Yaz blinked, frozen; Elise’s wound was gone, her body stilled, as if sleeping peacefully. Hailey collapsed over her, unconscious.

18.

Hungry Again

Elise awoke with a start; she was in bed. Yaz jerked awake in a chair beside her. Elise’s hands roamed for the gut wound but found nothing. She moved to sit upright, Yaz forced her down.

“Easy,” she said softly. “We aren’t sure how complete the healing is.”

“Yaz? What the hell? I thought… Didn’t I–”

“Hailey,” Yaz said gently. Elise squinted. “You remember I told you some Seers have powers? Powers they don’t know about?” Elise nodded. “Hailey’s a healer. No-one knew until now.”

Elise looked around the room, still confused. “So, she could’ve saved my parents?”

Yaz winced, “She didn’t know she could do it until she saw you dying.” Elise’s face softened. Yaz held her hand, “Valerie told me that Seers like Hailey only discover their power when someone they deeply love is hurt. Hailey saved your life because she loves you, Elise. You can’t blame her for not saving your parents. When it mattered, she saved you.

Elise’s face sank to shame. Yaz wouldn’t allow it, she pulled her over, kissed and hugged her. Elise sank in to her.

Hailey awoke with a throbbing migraine to find Elise sitting at her bedside. From her disheveled clothes, she’d been there a few days. “Elise!? You’re alright?”

Elise eased upward, “Hey. Yeah. Thanks to you.”

Hailey rubbernecked her room, “What about the others? Is everyone else–”

“They’re fine. You’ve been out a few days now. Whatever you did drained you good.”

She rubbed her head, “I feel like I was out drinking… for a week.” Elise smiled. Hailey caught it. “Good to see that.”

The smile wavered, then faded. “Hailey, I’ve been a colossal bitch. You’re my friend. That means something to me. After what you did, I owe you. The least I can do is… say I’m sorry for how I’ve acted.”

Hailey inched upward, “I’m sorry too. Especially about your parents. I wish I could’ve done something to–”

“I’m alive, Hailey. That’s enough. It wasn’t your fault they were killed. It was a bad place. A bad time. I knew it before too, I just… couldn’t accept it.” She stood from her chair, “But I’ve got Yaz now. I wouldn’t if it weren’t for you. And I’ve got you. Besides, there’s bigger fish.”

Hailey gave her a knowing look, “The Hunters.”

“There’s a lot more than we realized,” she affirmed with a nod.

“Then she wasn’t lying.” Hailey said, managing to stand. She swayed, Elise caught her. “Thanks… It isn’t over yet, is it?”

“Jenna’s recovered a lot off the drives,” she said reassuringly.

“So, it wasn’t a wash?”

“No, but there’ll be time for that later. I was thinking breakfast now.”

Hailey managed a smile, felt her stomach rumble. She moved to the door, swayed again, Elise spotted her.

Whatever the woman had meant, and whatever was on the drives, only time would tell. The future was uncertain in many ways, but in a few that counted, it wasn’t. The bunker and its people were safe; for the moment, if nothing else. The fight wasn’t over, yet, and there were doubts it ever could be, Hailey sensed a lull. Enough of one, anyhow. If she was lucky, and trusting her instincts had taught her anything, the lull might allow them to better settle into their new lives.

She understood better now what Valerie had meant bout wanting to stay. Cautioning her against being stubborn was never contingent on if she’d earn it or not, nor even if she want it. Rather, it was to keep her mind open to the newfound loyalty that would arise within her. Most of all, Hailey wasn’t about to leave Elise, and Elise wouldn’t leave Yaz. For the foreseeable future, they’d be staying right where they were.

Regardless of what came, or when, Hailey would stand beside the others to meet it head on. Seer or not, she’d fight to her last breath to end the Hunters, whoever they were. Whether working with, or for, someone else made no difference. They’d find a way to end the conflict someday.

For now, breakfast sounded just fine to Hailey.

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