They walked maybe forty paces, all of it in the dark. Holden stayed close to Jacobs, fearing he might fall off something if he weren’t careful. Their steps produced vast echoes, metal clanking against metal. Many times he wanted to ask where they were heading, but staying upright consumed all of his attention. How was Jacobs finding his way without any illumination?
They turned finally and Jacobs deposited him against a sidewall.
“Stand here,” he said.
“Where are you going?”
“Bringing some light to this conversation.”
He waited. Jacobs made no sound as he wandered off somewhere. Once again, he seemed to be slipping into the night and finding his way without trouble. He only heard something the instant the lights came on.
All at once, the walls became visible. Cinder blocks and thick grey paint, some old conduits and piping running up the walls and across the ceiling. But the real interest was what had been stacked against them. Endless crates, drag green, one on top of the other. Yellow painted letters denoted the contents, telltale alpha numeric which told a grim picture.
“What is this place?”
“The armory,” said Jacobs, standing near the gear box that sat against one wall. “It’s where we came after all this happened, after all the power went down and we had to improvise.”
Jacobs nodded, stepped away from the wall to one of the open crates. He undid the latch and popped it open, revealing a set of small canisters and oblong devices. They sported the same color and lettering as the case, tiny versions of the larger print.
“It’s kind of our thing, preparing for the unlikely and making sure something’s done once it happens.”
Holden looked around at the lights and shook his head. Nothing about this seemed believable right now, not after everything he’d seen up above. They were fluorescent units, the tubes that hummed down at him. He recognized the design from childhood. Those required power, and every public utility in the area had already gone down.
“Where did you get the power?”
Jacobs pulled one of the oblong devices out of the case. The print on the side said MK 85 Frag. “Beg your pardon?”
“The wattage,” Holden said, taking a seat on the nearest case and waving above him. “You must have emergency generators somewhere down here. Where did you get them?”
Jacobs smiled. “All you see here and you focus on the lights? Aren’t you going to ask me where the weapons came from.”
It was Holden’s turn to smile. “Weapons are easy. Even I know that and it’s not even my business. You shop in the right parts of the world, they’ll provide you with enough weapons to outfit a small army for the price of a groundcar. But electrical generators, that takes real clout.”
Jacobs nodded approvingly. “Your quite right about that, but wrong about the rest. Private cells feed this room, running underground. Installed long before the grids were all networked. Real analogue. We have places like it stashed all over the world. Power, supplies…” he put the grenade back in the case and closed it. “And weapons. Everything we might need.”
“For this, Mr. Holden. For the eventuality of the end of the world, as we know it.”
He took several steps closer to Holden, his hands poised at his sides. Holden felt suddenly nervous to be around him. He feared what his explanation for all this might be.
“You’re… some kind of agents, aren’t you?”
“Some kind, yes,” he said calmly. “Officially, we’re part of the ATF. Or at least… we used to be.”
Holden had to search his memory for familiar acronyms. For obvious reasons, his mind was running a little slower than usual.
“Anti-terrorism.” he concluded. “Isn’t that part of Interpol?”
“Close, UNSC,” he said, throwing out a more familiar acronym. “As you may know, ATF is divided into five groups, each one more clandestine and classified than the last. ATF5 was known as Contingencies, for obvious reasons. Their job was to prepare for a wide range of security and defense possibilities. Our group,” he pointed to himself, “was classified ATF6. We were known as Exigencies. Our job was to prepare for when Contingencies failed.”
Holden hung his head and nodded. He was a bit relieved. Part of him suspected these men might be terrorists themselves, or just people who had designs on becoming the biggest force on the block. Somehow, they always seemed to pop up wherever things went bad, men with guns who began making all the rules. He was also relieved that he could understand what was going on here at last.
“So you boys showed up here when things went bad then?”
“No. We were here before it happened. Where Contingencies goes, we generally go as well. They came here tracking the suspected terrorists who did this. We followed and got in place, since there was a high probability that Contingencies wouldn’t catch them in time.”
Holden looked up at him again. “This… could have been stopped?”
“This time, perhaps. But it was judged that sooner or later, someone would get through. The global networks present a very tempting target, Mr. Holden. And there’s no shortage of people who think it would fun to take a run at them.”
Holden shook his head again. “Who?”
Jacobs looked off and shrugged. “Anarchists, terrorists, regressionists… Apocalytpics.”
He said this last word with particular emphasis and was looking back at him when he did. Holden had never heard that name before, not as a proper noun at any rate.
“What do they want?”
“To end the world, plain and simple. Not surprising really. Some people have been counting on the world ending ever since it began. They spend their entire lives waiting for the signs and hoping that judgment will soon come.” He stood back up, began to walk back to the crates again. “Others… others try to move things along by making the signs happen themselves. They don’t feel like waiting for the end of the world to come, so they make sure it comes to them.”
“Some people don’t like to wait, Mr. Holden. Some people can’t stand to think that things won’t happen in their time. You can relate, I’m sure.”
Holden frowned. If he could stand up again, he might like to look Jacobs in the eye. He couldn’t help but feel like he was being accused of something. But there were more important things to discuss at the moment. He was within an inch of having all his questions answered, he couldn’t get distracted now.
“So… what are you going to do?”
“You mean what are we going to do now that the Crash happened?”
Holden was tired of sitting and stretched to peer over the crates that separated them now. He caught sight of the back of Jacobs head. He had opened another, he could tell, and was busy sorting through the contents. A fresh cigarette was hanging from his lips, small clouds of smoke rising above his head.
“Its quite simple, really. We’re going to do our jobs.” He produced an archaic looking weapon from the case, held it up beside his head and cocked it. “We’re going to find the men responsible, and kill them.”
Holden licked his lips, eyes focused on the weapon. Another old automatic, something from the pre-Jump era. For a moment, he had forgotten what Jacobs said. Recalling it meant understanding the implication behind it…
“So… you know who they are.”
Jacobs hummed affirmatively. “Contingencies knew for years before they made their move. It was how they were able to track them to China, why we followed them there and camped out in the countryside for months. Unfortunately, they do the things the old fashioned way, these men. Very analogue. And very well connected. We were just about to close in on their last known whereabouts when our latest intel put them here, in the north-east.”
Holden couldn’t stand any longer and was forced to sit back down on the crate. This coincided with Jacobs approaching footsteps. Slowly, methodically, he rounded the obstruction with the gun held high, the cigarette burning between his lips. Holden might have been afraid if the display weren’t so damn impressive.
“And then what?” he asked.
Jacobs removed the smoke from his lips with his left hand. “That’s where you would come in.”
Jacobs flicked the smoke and hummed again. “Like I said before, men like you helped build the global network, made it what it was. You alone oversaw the most of the developments that made the world a wireless nexus.”
Holden laughed. “You read the business pages.”
“Not so much, but you don’t have to to understand your legacy, Holden. You pushed very hard to make sure things would happen as you and others wanted them to.”
There it was again, that undertone of accusation. Someday, he would have to ask him about that.
“So you want me to rebuild the world once you’re done saving it, is that it?”
“You and one other.”
“Other? What other?”
Jacobs smiled and dropped the spent cigarette on the floor, crushing it with the tip of his boot. “First, I need to know where you stand, Mr. William Holden. If you agree to help us, it will mean leaving the relative safety of this place. It’ll mean arming yourself, most likely. And in the end, you might be called upon to do some things other people would consider… unpleasant.”
Holden looked downward again. He knew what that meant.
“I might have to kill somebody.”
“If pressed, yes,” Jacobs nodded. “Might be someone trying to kill you, might be one of the terrorists themselves. That’s something that needs to be worked out ahead of time.” Jacobs knelt now, holding the weapon between both his hands. He looked ready to present it, to Holden of all people. He went on:
“Since we specialized in dealing with the unknown, we insist that anyone who deals with us know everything they need to in advance. In return, we need to know that if the kill shot presents itself, and we can’t take it for whatever reason, that you will. We need to know that you will be willing to pull the trigger.”
He pulled the gun away a fraction of an inch. “If the answer’s no, then say so now. No one will think any less of you? But if it’s yes, then for your help, I promise that I’ll make every resource we have available to help you find your family. When this is all over?”
Holden felt a new wave of strength take him over. Breath filled his lungs and he felt a fire in his belly.
“When would we leave?”
“Not yet, not until you’re recovered. Plus there’s the matter of the other guy. He needs some prep time too.”
He moved the weapon in Holden’s direction again, presenting it will all the pomp and ceremony he could muster.
“So, Mr. William Holden. What will it be?”
Holden eyed the gun. His hands began to tremble.