Authors: Robert Storey
An inner voice of warning made her hesitate.
‘It might be Anakim,’ he said, ‘but the light didn’t turn up when you turned it on last time.’
He was right, it hadn’t, and Sarah was well past caring. She withdrew the Anakim orb from the safety of her coveralls and placed it on the ground between them.
Only able to see the tiniest glow from Jason’s visor, Sarah heard the rustle of clothing, but nothing happened.
‘Are you touching it?’ she said.
‘Then why isn’t it lighting up like before?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Are you doing anything differently?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Try one of the parchments.’ Sarah passed him one of the ancient documents.
He tried a second time and again nothing happened. ‘Perhaps it’s because I’m tired.
‘I don’t think so,’ she said. ‘It should still work, it would just make you even more tired.’
‘Then I’m doing something different.’
Relieved to have something else to occupy her mind, Sarah thought back to when she’d activated the orb before. A thought struck her. ‘Have you got any more of those stones?’
Sarah heard the slap of skin hitting skin.
‘I’m such an idiot,’ he said.
More rustles of clothing followed and then a bright blue glow appeared.
Jason held out the crystalline brick he’d unearthed before they’d been chased by the dreaded light. ‘We don’t need the orb at all. We have this.’
The crystalline stone shimmered in the dark like a magical cerulean pearl, its light bright enough to see by.
Savouring the renewal of sight, Sarah gave Jason a tired smile, but rather than return to thinking about their situation, she took the opportunity to study Trish’s locket.
‘She always wore this,’ Sarah said, holding it under the crystal’s illumination, ‘and I’ve never seen inside it, not in all the years I’ve known her.’
it,’ Jason said. ‘Not wore,
Sarah nodded and clicked back the catch and opened it up. Inside was space for two oval photos. The photo on the left was faded and old. But Sarah recognised the two people framed within it. One was Trish and the other was Sarah herself. It was taken back when they’d first met at uni so they were both a lot younger, fresh-eyed and smiling. Sarah wiped a tear from her eye. The other photo confused her. It was the image of Christ on the cross.
She showed it to Jason. ‘Do you know why she has this in there?’
‘She’s not religious,’ Sarah said. ‘I’ve never seen a cross at her home and she never talks about going to church or anything like that.’
‘Perhaps that’s because she knows how you feel about the Vatican.’
‘With good reason, they helped cover up the Anakim’s existence for millennia. They killed to protect their doctrine, destroyed priceless artefacts, stole ours …’
‘You don’t have to tell me.’
She frowned. ‘I don’t understand. She knows what they stand for, what they’ve done and yet she still carries around their symbol.’
‘Everyone needs faith in something,’ Jason said, ‘some more than others. Does it matter?’
‘It matters to me.’ Sarah felt betrayed by her friend’s secret perversion. It was like there was a whole other side to her she’d never known. She stared at the locket and then realised something was underneath the photo of the Redeemer. She prised the photo out and something clinked to the ground. Sarah picked up a golden cross to hold in the palm of her hand. It glinted under the blue glow of Jason’s rock, but the sight of it served to reinforce the sense that her best friend had not been what she seemed. How many times had she spoken to Trish about the church, of how she loathed its power and influence over history? Until recently Sarah had believed they’d been solely responsible for her mother’s murder, too, although as things turned out they were now no longer the only organisation under suspicion.
She passed the cross to Jason, her thoughts melancholy, but as she placed it in his hand she saw the rent in his glove and the congealed blood beneath. She grasped his wrist to inspect the wound. ‘This is bad.’ She lent forward and looked at his other hand. ‘If you don’t get these seen to they’ll go septic.’
He touched her neck. ‘Your burns need treatment, too.’
‘We’re both right, but without supplies there’s nothing we can do.’
Jason mumbled his agreement, his attention turning back to Trish’s cross. ‘I always thought,’ he said, stroking the metal surface with a finger, ‘if God created us, the universe, everything, he did it so he wouldn’t be alone. It must very lonely to be omnipotent, don’t you think? If I was omnipotent I’d make a universe so complex that it could produce things I couldn’t even imagine.’ He smiled a curious smile and handed it back to her.
Sarah stared at him for a moment and then returned the cross to its home and snapped the locket closed. She held it out to him.
He shook his head. ‘You can give it to her when we find her.’ He stood up and held out his hand. ‘I know you still think otherwise, but she’s alive. I can feel it. I will search for her, and I
Sarah grasped his wrist to be pulled to her feet. ‘How can you be so sure?’
‘I believed in you; now it’s your turn to believe in me.’
Sarah picked up her helmet, pulled on her gloves and re-pocketed the orb and locket. Jason collected his stone and adjusted his visor.
‘You’re going to use it as a torch?’ she said, looking at the glowing rock in his other hand.
‘No,’ he passed it to her, ‘you are. I have my visor.’
She accepted the stone and held it higher to help light the ground ahead. It didn’t produce much of a beam, but it was better than nothing.
‘You can also have this back.’ He held out the pendant to her.
‘I told you, I don’t want it.’
‘Just keep it safe for me.’
Sarah couldn’t be bothered to argue, so fixed the pendant back onto her chain alongside its smaller sibling.
All set, they moved out once more, friendship renewed and situation slightly improved.
All we need now
, Sarah thought,
is divine intervention and we might just last a few more days
. As it was there was little left in the way of hope, for her, anyway. Jason seemed convinced of a miracle, but she knew it would take nothing short of a resurrection to turn things around, and as far as she understood it such things were in short supply, even for believers. She was just pleased to be alive for a few more days, to be able to keep Jason company, and then, when all was said and done, she could rest. The thought was a comforting one. She was tired, bone tired, but most of all she just didn’t want to fear anymore. Sarah linked arms with Jason and they carried on into Sanctuary’s black vaults, searching for the elusive that might never come.
A loud explosion sent a grappling spear and attached nano-cable arcing out across the mile wide chasm. Seconds later the titanium tip bit deep into the ancient Anakim building that had been targeted for impact. Large chunks of masonry fell into the abyss below before a smaller charge ignited, sending three bolts drilling further into the stone façade, securing the anchor in place.
The cable pulled taut and Samson gave the nod to three of his men, who edged out in single file onto the nano- rope’s narrow surface utilising wire tethers and specialised equipment attached to their feet, like some kind of human-powered monorail. Far below the faint glow of orange lava revealed the immense depth of the mighty expanse that blocked the way ahead.
Twenty feet away Riley Orton, in sombre mood and with Locke and Jefferson for company, watched the scene unfold through his Deep Reach helmet’s visor.
‘No regard,’ Locke muttered.
‘Sir?’ Riley looked to his superior.
‘They have no regard for Sanctuary,’ Locke said, ‘none. That’s priceless architecture they’re destroying, it can never be remade.’
With a final shake of the head, Dresden Locke turned and walked away.
‘He’s taking this hard,’ Riley said.
‘He cares as much about Sanctuary as he does about the SED itself,’ Jefferson said, ‘maybe more.’
Riley returned his attention to Samson’s men, who’d made it past halfway, the equipment they pulled behind dragged along using a clever configuration of wheels and pulleys.
As the possibility of crossing the divide and the reality of closing in on Sarah loomed ever closer, Riley’s concern for his one-time lover grew in combination. He knew she had to be found, the orders from on high were unequivocal, but he also knew he couldn’t see her locked away for the rest of her days. The thought of someone with such a passion for life being confined behind bars made his skin crawl. He could imagine what he’d feel if the same happened to him.
There’s no way I could live like that, year after year with no hope of salvation, I’d rather be dead. And if Sarah felt the same way – and I know her well enough to know she would – after failing to escape her prison she’d resort to the only thing that was still in her control, the taking of her own life. I wouldn’t wish such a bleak outlook on my worst enemy. To exist for the sake of living was not life. And yet what can I do to help her? She has nowhere to go. And if she resists, which she will, they’ll kill her to retrieve what she has
When he’d shared such thoughts with Jefferson, the Deep Reach archaeologist had counselled distraction. ‘Try not to think about it,’ he’d said, ‘Sarah has made her bed, there’s nothing you can do, there’s nothing anyone can do to save her now, except maybe Sarah herself.’
Back in the now Riley broached the subject again. ‘I can’t let them take her, Jeff.’
Jefferson put his hand on Riley’s shoulder in a gesture of comfort and shared understanding.
‘When the time comes,’ Riley said, ‘can I count on your help?’
‘Ri, I’ll always back you, you know that, but don’t do anything stupid. These people won’t think twice about taking out anyone in their way, be that Terra Force or Silver. For us, they’re one and the same.’
‘I have to do something.’
‘We’ll figure it out when they get her back to base. In a few years things will have calmed down, she might get parole with good behaviour. She’ll never be allowed back in the SED, but she’ll be alive, and that’s better than the alternative, isn’t it?’
Riley grimaced, Jefferson knew as well as he did that Sarah wouldn’t make it out of the military prison for a third time. And Sarah had said it herself, ‘
They’ll lock me up and chuck away the key this time. Three strikes – I’m out
‘And besides,’ Jefferson said, continuing his ineffective pep talk, ‘they haven’t found her yet; she might make it out of Sanctuary. God knows how, but in the short time I’ve known her, if anyone can find a way, it’s her.’
Riley remained silent, deep in contemplation, while in the distance Samson’s men neared the far side of the enormous chasm.
‘It’s a goddamn witch-hunt,’ Riley said, growing angry. He looked behind at the formidable array of armoured troops on display. ‘She doesn’t stand a chance.’
A distant shout brought his focus back to the chasm. Zooming in with his visor, Riley saw the Anakim building breaking apart, and the three men who’d been sent across screamed as they were consumed by the falling mass that carried them into oblivion.
The cable spanning the colossal void stretched tight, dragged down by the massive weight of the structure that had torn loose on the opposite side.
‘It’s gonna go!’ someone shouted.
Shrieking in protest, the sound of failing metal ended as the cable snapped.
Jefferson knocked Riley sprawling to the floor as the severed cable tore past to decapitate those standing behind.
More screams filled the air and chaos reigned as people ran here and there trying to administer medical assistance to the injured few who’d survived the disaster.
Riley got to his feet and gazed at the carnage before him. Along with those that had lost their heads, some soldiers had been cut clean in two; the grisly sight was not for the faint of heart.
Through the carnage – parting a sea of Special Forces soldiers like Moses himself – strode the tall figure of Ophion Nexus, with Zhang Bai and nine other S.I.L.V.E.R. operatives in close attendance.
Samson cursed his luck. Suppressing an urge to lash out, he instructed the team in charge of the mortar canon to reload another grapple and to secure another cable. Busy with restoring order, he’d failed to see the S.I.L.V.E.R. operatives that had crept up behind him like the cowards they were.
‘What do you want?’ Samson said, in no mood for games.
Zhang’s hand went to the hilt of her sword.
Ophion held out his arm to stay his companion’s intent and raised his visor. ‘It is said you were one of the last people to see Tien Bai alive.’
‘My sister!’ Zhang said, between clenched teeth.
Samson remained cool. ‘I heard there was a collapse at the transmission station.’
Zhang’s eyes narrowed to slits, her blade sliding from its sheath with a sibilant hiss.
Ophion turned his head a fraction in her direction and said something in Chinese, his tone angry.
Samson laughed and in the blink of an eye the point of Zhang’s sword hovered a fraction from his throat, the hand that grasped it shaking with rage.
Samson didn’t flinch. Around them fifty commandos, witnessing the exchange, trained their weapons on the assassins, the sound of mechanical actions being readied producing a muted yet threatening cacophony of noise.
‘I’m ready to die, Nexus,’ Samson said, leaning onto the blade to draw a spot of blood, ‘are you?’
Ophion moved forward to whisper something in Zhang’s ear.
The woman slammed her sword back into its scabbard and let loose with a string of curses aimed at Samson, before stalking away in fury.
‘Do you find it convenient our communications are down?’ Ophion said, after Zhang had gone.
Samson considered the man before him. He didn’t doubt he could kill him if he had to, but he was liable to get injured in the process and he could ill afford such a hindrance if he was to secure the Committee’s precious pendant.