Avalanche – Snippet 41

It was Sera who answered Zach.  “We do not know if we will succeed, Zachary.  But if we fail, if we fall, you are the last hope against the Thulians.  This much, we know for certain.  And we searched long and hard for you, and went through much to find you and bring you to safety.”  She glanced soberly over at John.  “In so doing, we have probably exposed John to his old enemies, those who are behind the Program we brought you out of.  But that is the price we were willing to pay.”

“You’re that important, kiddo. An’ we can’t risk losin’ you. Once this thing is over, everythin’ will be better. But we can’t do what we need to do unless we know that you’re safe.” They spent another hour showing Zach around; most of that was focused on going over a map of the area, routes of escape, other supplies that John had scattered around the valley and beyond it. John had really done his best to set this bolt hole up; when he was younger, thinking about spies and being on the run, disguises and fake identities had all been fun to think about. When it had become a reality for him, he took everything up a notch, leaving as little to chance as he could. Now Zach really was impressed; even if he was forced from the cabin, for some reason, any direction he went he would be able to find enough supplies to see him through as he escaped.

“But the best option for you is to hide, here, or in the forest, then come back when you are certain whoever came here is gone,” Sera pointed out.

“It’s not like you lose comm if you run from the cabin,” Vickie pointed out.  “I can reach you and probably even find you bolt-holes not even Johnny knows about.  Earth magician, remember?  If there’s a cave or even a hole under some roots, I can find it.”

“Or she can make somethin’ for ya that no one will ever find. She’s good like that. That, an’ her extensive tea collection is why we keep ‘er around. Should be a moot point, though; Vic is goin’ to have stuff monitorin’ the area all the time, so it’s unlikely anyone is goin’ to sneak up on you. Wish I had that sort of set up when I first came ‘ere.”

“Oh snap.  Thanks for reminding me, Johnny.  Eyes in the air please, so I can fly them out and plant them.”

“Roger that.” John opened a pouch on his utility belt, picking out a handful of marble-sized spheres. These were smaller versions of Vickie’s spy-eyes; just a motion-sensor, a heat-sensor, a solar panel, and a camera.  He chucked them in the air, where they hovered over his head in a ring for a moment.  Then, one by one, they shot off; they were small enough that within moments, they were out of sight.

“That’s magic, right?”

“Technology fueled by magic.  I’m the only person I know that can do that.  I’m flying them by magic, but I’m planting them in treetops with a good view.  Sticking with pines, that way there’s no chance that they’ll lose the cover.  Once they’re planted, they’ll only come on if the motion or heat-sensor triggers, or I hit them up remotely.  They’ve got nice little ECHO-tech-lasts-forever rechargeable batteries in them and the entire surface is solar-cell.  I’ll test them periodically, and if one goes down, I’ll ship you a replacement.”

True wonder filled Zach’s eyes as he looked off in the distance, where the magic eyes had flown off. John couldn’t help but smile; he was still a kid, after all. Even with all of the hell that Zach he had seen, the world still held mystery and magic for him. Not just in the literal sense, since, well, magic appeared to be real. But that very real potential and possibility that magic represented.

Sera went back inside the cabin.  John sensed that she didn not want to leave just yet.

Communin’ with nature, darlin’? he asked, lightly.

Communing with the man you were, came the somewhat surprising reply.  I know you now.  I did not know you then.

I was very, very different, back then. Not as open. I had to reinvent myself. A lot of that happened here…an’ it was finished when I came to Atlanta.

Everything here, you had to choose carefully.  Some is obvious.  Some is not.  Why a bath instead of a shower?  Surely the tub was harder to transport than some pipe and a shower head.

Easier to just get the water into the tub an’ heat it up with my fires; I’ve never been a great plumber, an’ a standin’ shower was outside of my range back then.

She wandered around the cabin, poking through his old belongings and perusing them. Old books, a lot of them philosophy or poetry; she smiled as she caressed one very well worn copy of a Dylan Thomas collection. There were also periodicals; Soldier of Fortune, security industry and counter-intelligence quarterly reports, standard “Guns & Ammo” type rags. There were a few stacks of research papers; early stuff that seemed to be along the same line of thought as his enhancements, though nowhere near as advanced.  And…a short series of…romance novels?  She picked one up.  The author was Victoria Nagy.  There was a long sigh in her earpiece.  “You must have been one of the twenty-nine people that bought my ‘love among the metas,’ series, JM.”

“There was a bargain bin an’ I had a lot of time on my hands.”

“Well I will give you points for the fact that every one of the seven books involved metas with fire powers, and I did do my research.”

“Strangely enough, it helped me out. A bit.”

But Sera’s attention had moved on.  She peered at the walls, and then, startled, at the floor.  “Why are there holes here?” she asked.  “They are not bullet holes.  And surely they let in drafts.”

“They used to be covered with somethin’. Explosives. There’s a lot of interestin’ things you can cook up when you have time on your hands, an’ have read a bit of chemistry.”

“But…why?” she asked, bewildered.

Zach was outside at that moment, but John still kept his voice low. “I wasn’t goin’ to go back. No matter what. If I couldn’t get away…I was determined to take as many of the murderin’ bastards with me as I could.”

She blinked slowly, her habit when she was thinking, then nodded.  “Yes.  I can see that.  The more you removed from the system, the fewer there would be to take others.  Like Zach.”

“A small, useless gesture, probably. But, if that’s what it came to an’ that’s all that I had left…then I was goin’ to go out with a bang, one way or another.”

“Hey Zach,” Vickie said, in all their ears.  “Go hit the van and find the crate marked ‘Stir Crazy.'”  Then she said, in John’s ear only, “I’m keeping him distracted.”  There was a moment, and then she went on.  “Yeah, that’s the one.  That’s for when the remote entertainment isn’t entertaining you anymore.  I’m guessing those goons never once gave you a chance to fool around with anything that wasn’t on their approved checklist.  So when you are bored, go to the crate and open one of the boxes.  They’re all unmarked, so whatever’s in there will be a surprise.  I won’t swear it will be something you like or want, but it will be something you never got a chance to try.”

“Like what?” Zach asked, cautiously.

“Well, like there’s a couple of musical instruments in there, and you can read all the instruction books and watch vids via your HUD.”

There was a single .45 ACP round sitting by itself on a shelf.  Sera picked it up, and turned in over and over in her hands for a moment.  Then she looked at John, long, and meaningfully.  “I do not believe that Zach will need this, either,” she said, holding it.

He opted to respond through their connection. No, he won’t. When I was rebuildin’, recreatin’ who I was here…there came a point when I didn’t want to go on. It felt like there had been too much; too much loss, too much pain, with only more to come. I got low. After a spell of feeling sorry for myself an’ starin’ at that goddamned bullet, I got pissed off. Figured that the biggest middle finger I could give to the Program was to survive, even if it hurt.

“Little did I know what was in store for my dumb ass…but it’s all been workin’ out so far, darlin’.” He moved closer to her, pulling her into an embrace.  She put the bullet into his hand and cupped her own over it.

“Shall we put an end to that episode, then?” she asked.  In answer, he flared the fire in his hand, and she did the same.  The bullet did not so much melt or explode as vaporize. The fire was hot enough to light up the entire room, despite only being the size of a baseball. The ashes quickly flew away on the currents of air that rushed to feed the mini-conflagration. Just as quickly as it had begun, it was over.