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Authors: Robert J. Crane

Family (19 page)

BOOK: Family
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“There she is,” a voice came from the phone, and it caused me to freeze. “Mouthy as ever.”

I looked down, and it took a moment before my mind made the full leap. “Mom?” I asked, truly uncertain.

“None other,” she said, her voice echoing over the speaker. “I heard a rumor that they’re keeping you imprisoned.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m starting to feel really at home here.”

I could almost hear her teeth grind on the other end of the phone, but she didn’t let me have it, surprisingly. Ariadne spoke up. “You wanted to speak with her, here she is.”

“Plainly,” my mother said. “So here’s the thing. I have some blond dead weight that might be of interest to you – not much weight, I’ll grant you, poor skinny thing – and not literally dead, either – yet – but if you want her back, I’ll trade her for Sienna.”

“Your daughter’s not a hostage,” Ariadne said, bristling.

“No, but she is a prisoner,” my mother retorted, “which is why I’m proposing a prisoner exchange. Unless you’d like to argue that she’s been free to come and go as she pleases while you’ve got her set up in the basement of your headquarters, feeding her one meal all day—”

Ariadne reached out and pressed a button to mute the microphone. “How does she know this?” Her face was contorted with rage.

“She was here,” Bastian said. “She could have rigged our internal cameras. Or she could have a spy on the inside.” He turned his gaze to Reed, who was still standing beside the empty chair, and who returned Bastian’s look with a virulent glare.

“Hellloo?” my mother’s voice came. “Is anyone still there? You could save the debate on how I know all this until after I get off the phone. That would be the courteous thing to do.”

Ariadne stabbed down at the button, unmuting the phone. “Yes, we’re here. Just so I understand, you suggest we trade Sienna for Kat?”

“You’re not too bright, are you, Red?” my mother replied. “I bet Erich just loves dealing with that. Yes, that’s what I’m suggesting. Do you think that you could handle so basic a transaction?”

Ariadne chewed on that for a moment. “Where do you want to meet? A public place—”

“Heavens, no,” my mother said cheerfully. “I know where you are. Why don’t we just meet on the lawn outside your headquarters building in three hours.”

“Three hours?” Ariadne said. “Why—”

“Don’t interrupt,” my mother chided her. “Three hours. You can have your M-Squad there if you’d like, but all out where I can see them. If you try and capture me afterward, it’ll end poorly for everyone involved.”

“Are you threatening my people?” Ariadne asked, and I could see the irritation blanketing her.

“Yes. Keep up, will you? We’re making a trade, on your turf, but my terms. So don’t screw it up.” There was a click on the other end of the phone and she was gone, followed by a dial tone.

“Get security on the perimeter,” Ariadne said, and I could tell by the twist of her face she was steaming. “If she comes at us through any direction but the front gate, I want to know about it. Focus on the perimeter, double patrols, whatever you have to do; just don’t…let her slip through.”

“We should abandon the perimeter,” Parks said and I watched as every head in the room swiveled to him. “It’s a waste of resources. We need to protect the vital areas, like the dorms, headquarters and the labs. We only have so much force to go around and if we piss it away watching the fences, it weakens us. There aren’t that many metas that could stop Sierra Nealon; she’s too smart to come at this in a way we’d expect. She’s got something else brewing and we won’t be ready until it’s too late if we spread out.”

“Noted,” Ariadne said, “and no. We will not abandon the perimeter and cloister in the buildings.”

“Why?” Parks asked. “You want her to knock the hell out of our guards?”

“Because she’s not the only threat we’re dealing with!” Ariadne said. “In case you’ve forgotten, we’re still at war with Omega.”

“Whatever Omega throws at us is gonna cut through what we’ve got around the perimeter,” Bastian opined. “The agents we have left wouldn’t stop those vampires for longer than it’d take for them to feed.”

Ariadne rubbed her temples as though in pain, her eyes closed. “There are too many elements at play here, and nothing makes sense. What is Sierra up to? What does she want?”

I blinked as the room fell into silence, and I thought about it. What did my mom want? Me, out of imprisonment? She’d never had a problem confining me to tighter spaces than I was in at the Directorate’s behest. She’d driven cross-country, from Wyoming, at least to get to an Omega facility in Wisconsin, just so she could…what? The only thing I’d seen her do was press a few buttons and—

“Andromeda,” I said, and everyone looked at me. “That’s all she’s ever been interested in.”

“She’s about to give up her hostage to trade for you,” Reed said, and his long hair was loose, partially eclipsing his face, but I could still see the slight incredulity. “I think she might be at least a little interested in what’s happening to you.”

“No, think about it,” I said. “She drove cross-country to let Andromeda out. She didn’t have a clue I’d be in Eagle River. And she seemed shocked that Andromeda was dead when I told her about that, like she couldn’t believe it.”

“Well, she’s definitely dead,” Ariadne said. “She hasn’t so much as twitched since we brought her body back for study. And Doctor Sessions finished the autopsy yesterday, so if for some reason she was alive before without showing signs of it, she’s certainly dead now that she’s…uh…” She flushed, as though she were trying to steer around a delicate matter. “…been embalmed and…whatnot.”

“You mean dissected.” Reed didn’t bother hiding his disgust, though it was a mild rebuke at best.

“I mean studied,” Ariadne said, and flushed again. “The girl was dead. There’s no reason not to learn as much from her as possible. She had powers that were abnormal even for a meta, not to mention being able to touch Sienna—”

I blinked. “Could that be it? Could that be why my mother was interested in her? Some way to tame the power of a succubus? Make us…touchable?”

“It makes more sense than anything else I’ve heard so far,” Ariadne said, a pen up to her lips, chewing on the cap. “We’ll need a guard on Sessions’ lab, then.”

“Then can we please pull off the perimeter and keep an eye on the places that matter?” Parks asked again.

“Yes,” Ariadne said. “Fine. But I want constant communication between the guards. If someone goes silent I want everyone on them within a minute. None of this ridiculousness where we don’t find out until later that we’ve lost a string of agents. Constant. Communication.” She put emphasis between the words. “Got it?”

“Yes,” Eve answered more abruptly than the others. “But you know, we don’t have to let Sierra leave after the trade—”

“No,” Ariadne said.

“Why not?” Eve’s balding head flushed red at her cheeks, the new skin redder than her older, giving her head a blotchy look.

“Because,” Ariadne said as she looked at me, “we’re going to keep our word.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Parks said with a nod, and turned to file out of the office. Bastian followed him, and Eve began to extricate herself by walking around the length of Ariadne’s desk. Clary stood and then turned toward me, looking down on me as though he had an eye on an insect. I watched him, and he jerked toward me as though he were about to hit me, but stopped after only the barest start to the motion. I kept my cool but glared at him, and he smiled in return, and let out a chuckle before walking past me and out the door.

“So am I going back to the confinement cell?” I asked, jarring Ariadne out of her thoughts. She put the pen down and I noted that the end of it had been worn to a nub by her teeth. “Or am I free to wander about the campus?”

“No to the first,” she said, straightening up in her seat, “no to the second. I’ll have you stay here in headquarters, but you can remain up here on the fourth floor while we wait. I’ll have some food brought around since you haven’t eaten.” She picked up her phone and started to dial. “Want anything in particular?”

“Anything but meatloaf,” I replied. She got a curious look on her face, then shook it off.

“How was your stay in the Chateau Directorate?” Reed asked me. He was still standing where he had during the meeting, only a foot away from me.

“The beds were poor, the food was terrible, and they didn’t have turndown service,” I said. “I think I’ll book another getaway next weekend.”

He smiled. “Good to see you’re keeping a perspective on the whole thing. I’m not sure I’d be quite so forgiving if my employer had imprisoned me.”

“What else was I going to do?” I asked. “Weep? Scream? Tear my hair out?”

“Leave?” he suggested. “Strike out on your own? Find something else to do with your life?”

I looked back at him, pondering a reply. “Jury’s still out on all that. Looks like I’ll be going with my mother for a while, anyway.” I fumbled my hands, and reached into my pocket, where I felt the weight of the watch that had supposedly belonged to my father. I pulled it out and tried to slip it on my wrist, but it fell off and I caught it as it did so.

His face got inscrutable, and he looked down. “Nice watch,” he said.

“This?” I raised it up. “Apparently it was my father’s.”

Ariadne hung up the phone. “Your father’s? Where did you get it?”

“My mom left it for me,” I said, “the other night when she snuck on campus.”

“Are you freaking kidding me?” She was on her feet in an instant.

“No,” I said. “It was on my bed when I got back—” My face went blank. “Oh. Wow, do I feel stupid.”

“Give it here,” she said, fingers out and beckoning. I gave it a last look of longing and let it fall into her hand.

“Be careful with it,” I said, “in case it’s real.”

“I’m sure our tech guys will disassemble it with the utmost care,” she said, “since it’s probably laden with bugs. This is how she’s finding out everything—”

“It’s not,” Reed said with a gentle shake of his head. He looked at the watch, still suspended from Ariadne’s fingers, and drew my gaze there as well. “It’s not from her mother. I left it there.”

 

Chapter 19

 

“You?” I asked, and my mouth dropped open. “How…why?”

“You read my note?” He raised an eyebrow at me. “Your father would have wanted you to have it.”

“You…you knew my father?” I stared at him hungrily. “You knew him?”

“I did,” Reed said. “Before he died. He was the one who was responsible for me joining Alpha. He had been with them for years and years.”

“I need a name,” Ariadne said, sitting back down in her chair and sliding to the hutch behind her, where her computer waited.

Reed hesitated. “Jonathan. Jonathan James Traeger.”

She blinked at him for a moment and then turned back to her computer, typing. “Jonathan James Traeger…hmmm…” She squinted and stared at the screen. “He was a handler for the Agency before it was destroyed.” She looked up at me. “I would presume that’s where he met your mother.” She looked to Reed, who nodded. “Previous affiliations…hm…looks like he died in the attack that destroyed the Agency.” She looked at Reed. “That doesn’t really jibe with him working with Alpha.”

“Actually, it does,” Reed said. “He was working for Alpha the entire time, keeping an eye on the Agency. They were concerned the Agency was overstepping its bounds, suppressing metas’ rights – which is something that tends to happen when a government becomes aware of metahuman existence and starts to view them as a threat.”

“Were they?” I asked, genuinely curious. “Was the Agency killing them, on government orders?”

Reed shrugged. “Not really. I mean, they certainly made a few really bad ones disappear into a deep dark hole never to return – not unlike you guys – but I’ve read his…uh…Jon’s reports, and they seem to point to an Agency with an almost pathological desire to avoid that sort of anti-meta trap that other governments have fallen into over the years. He thought it was because the Agency’s upper management wanted to stay on the right side of it, that it wasn’t an accident and that they tried to keep a good reputation among metas.”

Ariadne looked at us, her smoky eyes making it hard to discern what she was thinking. “We’ve tried to do much the same. For metas that are awakened, that are aware of the world and whose parents have told them, there’s a tight-knit underground community. Ruin your reputation and a lot of doors slam shut in your face; burning bridges like that can be a quick way to ensure you have to work five times as hard to get half as much done.” She blinked. “At least that’s the way the Director has always explained it.”

“Whatever the reason,” Reed went on, “Jon kept working with the Agency after his assignment for Alpha was completed.” He turned to me. “It was because he met your mother.”

I stared back at him, trying to process everything. A question popped to mind. “You said he’s the reason you got into Alpha.” Reed suddenly looked deeply uncomfortable. “How old are you?”

He seemed to let out a slight sigh of relief. “Twenty-five.”

I frowned. “But then, when the Agency was destroyed, you would have been like seven—”

A beeping cut us off, the sound of Ariadne’s cell phone going off. She blinked at it then picked it up and held it to her ear. “Yes?” Her eyes widened. “What?” She rolled in her chair backward to the window and looked out. “Son of a…all right.” She pulled the phone from her ear and spun around to me. “Your mom is already here, waiting on the lawn with Kat.”

“That was fast,” Reed said. “She was on campus already when she called?”

“Or close nearby,” Ariadne agreed. She looked to me. “You ready to go with her?”

My jaw tightened. “Not really. But I’m not all that excited to spend the rest of my life in a holding cell, either.”

Ariadne looked down. “Fair point.” She stood. “Let’s get this over with.”

“So that’s it?” I asked as she made her way around the desk. She halted a couple feet from me and stared back as I spoke. “So long and best of luck?”

“This is not the end,” Ariadne said. “But honestly, what do you want me to do? She’s got one of our metas as a hostage, you’re her daughter, and she’s proposing a trade. Either you want to go with her or you don’t. Either way, I need Kat back.”

BOOK: Family
13.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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