“First off, you should know that things aren’t quite the way they looked when you first stepped out. Truth is, they’re worse…”
Holden held his breath and waited.
“The city center was supposed to act as a rallying point, emergency generators, supplies, medicine – a rallying point for police and emergency services to gather, hand out food and water and make sure people didn’t turn on each other. Every major city has got one, or at least that was the idea back when the authorities planned it… way back when.”
Holden felt the anxiety growing in him. He began to rock back and forth impatiently.
“A few days back, that was exactly what happened there. Police units and medical personnel were there, doing what they could. But when they realized things were way worse than what they’d prepared for…”
He stopped. His voice seemed to catch in his throat. Holden suspected they now shared the same dry lump, the one that was making it impossibly hard to speak the truth.
Swallowing hard, Holden completed his thought for him.
“There’s no one there is there?”
Jacobs sighed. “I’m afraid not. We were in a spot to watch the place a few days ago. Some personnel showed up, they realized they were alone and no one else was coming, and they left. They couldn’t get transmissions to their bases, no orders or supplies from anyone. The mobs quickly closed in, and they were forced to run.”
Holden released his pent up breath. His eyes grew damp at the corners.
“They left what they had, some old gas-powered generators, fuel cans for cooking. Those who showed up got into it with other people who wanted these things. They fought, things got ugly, and some pretty big fires erupted. The flames burnt themselves out a day or two ago, or so we heard. Now, there’s nothing left there but embers and burnt out husks of buildings.”
Holden nodded and swallowed a terribly dry lump. He felt totally deflated, as if someone had hit him in the chest with an impact hammer. Strange that there could be anything worse than the feeling of impending death, but he had found it. He had thought he’d known what losing all hope felt like, but apparently he hadn’t. Not before tonight. It was one thing to think he would die before he could find Marta and the kids. But knowing instead that there was no way he could reach them…
Jacobs stood. “I’ll give you a minute. I thought you should know the truth.”
Holden sucked air and felt his eyes grow warmer. He wanted to yell expletives. He wanted to tell Jacobs to go to hell for telling him. He wanted to stand up and tear someone’s head off. But he could barely catch his breath now. Every inhalation was forced, coming back out in a series of low gaps punctuated by flowing tears.
All he could think about was Marta, Jana and Robert, trapped somewhere. It was all he could do not to think that they were already dead. With everything going to hell and no way to defend themselves, how were they to prevent the worst from happening? They had only tried to kill him, but if the crazies got a hold of his family. They would surely kill Robert, but keep Marta and Jana alive to…
He couldn’t think of that. They had to be alive. Somehow, somewhere, they had to be held up, with some measure of supplies to keep them going. They had to! He began rocking back and forth, telling himself this over and over.
“They’re alive… They’re alive… They’re alive…”
“Will somebody shut him up?” It was the man carrying the carbine saying this. He gave the weapon a light shake and slapped the muzzle, like a warning. Holden stopped talking but kept on rocking back and forth. His side was beginning to ache from the expenditure and he could feel the bandages bunching up tight, but he barely noticed. Only the thought of Marta and the kids being somewhere safe concerned him now.
Jacobs saw what he was doing and ran back to his side. Placing one hand on his shoulder and the other on his thigh, he tried to gently lay him flat again.
“Easy there, fella. You’re not out of the woods yet.”
Holden tried to resist, but the pain grew too great and he had to submit.
“You’re still dealing with some serious internal scarring. You push yourself, you might open something up and bleed internally. We’re already short on plasma and I don’t want to have to go back in.”
“I have to find them! I have to find them!”
“Right. But, you can’t expect to find them if you’re dead now, can you? Lie back.”
Holden groaned and slowly obliged. His tears began to fade, the deflated feeling giving way to something worse. His body trembled with it, with the cold ache of bitter hate. He would make them pay, he thought. The scumbags who had did this to him, the bastards who threatened his wife and children. Even the men who claimed to be helping him now. Anyone and everyone who stood in his way. They would all suffer for this!
* * *
Slowly, Jacobs hobbled back over to the fire. His companions looked just the slightest bit annoyed with him, and for good reason. They were losing precious time, time which could be spent tracking down the targets. Instead, he was using it to break the news to their guest, which was only compounded by the fact that he would then need time to digest it.
He looked down at Kurzweil, whose eyes were now the same color and intensity as the flames. He tried reaching to him first, see if he could buy them some more.
“Just a little while longer, and we’ve got him.”
Kurzweil sighed. His reply was long in coming, which worried Jacobs.
“Once he realizes there’s no making it on his own, we’re sure to have his assistance.”
“And if he checks out instead, then what?”
It was Molya asking this, the gun poised in his hands irritably. Standing there inert didn’t seem to be agreeing with him. He seemed much more interested in using it on somebody. Anybody.
“He’ll pull through. Worse comes to worse, we can promise to return the favor.”
“That’s not what we’re here for,” Kurzweil said, quiet but emphatically. “Besides, I’d say he’s taking it pretty badly, wouldn’t you?”
Jacobs looked over at Holden, who was still sobbing on the floor. No, he was handling this in a less than heroic fashion. Perhaps he’d been too hasty in opening with what seemed like a perfectly honest gesture. Years of turning suspects had ingrained that in him, the knowledge that an opening dose of truth would pay big dividends in time. Of course it sufficed when dealing with the quasi-fanatical and criminally-minded, those who committed to a path and had doubts about where it would take them. But no provisions were ever made in their training for doomsday scenarios though.
“Just give him a little longer. I’ll get his cooperation.”
“You’re sure of that?”
Jacobs nodded to Kurzweil, looked back to Molya. “Why don’t you go check the perimeter, make sure it’s secure.”
Molya snorted, but obliged. Raising the carbine, he slowly set his boots to walking across the cold platform and headed for the stairs up to street level.
“One other thing,” whispered Kurzweil. “You need to broach the little matter of his identity… his true identity.”
“I know,” Jacobs replied.
Instinctively, his finger went to his eyelid. As he pulled the lower half down, the logo around his retina twinkled in the reflected light of the fire. Once in a while, the unit itched, doubly so whenever anything reminded him of its existence. That was the way it was with foreign objects though. No amount of time or advancement in the field could convince the body that they belonged there, as an extension of one’s natural being.
Kurzweil went back to staring into the embers, ending their conversation and leaving him alone to do what he had to. He looked back over at Holden.
A few more minutes, he gauged. Give him a few more minutes to wallow in hopeless self-pity, then offer him a choice. Already, he had made a mess of the man’s mind. Who was to say how he would react next? He could continue with the straightforward approach, setting him up with some hard realities and trusting him to make the right choice.
On the other hand, a helpful lie might be more in tune with what they needed. Once he let him know that they knew about him, and more importantly, what he could do for them. He was flying blind now; bound to a moment in which only what was expedient seemed to matter anymore. Such was life, it seemed, ever since it all went down…