Marshal Jason Casey wasn't sure exactly when things had gone south– it was an occupational hazard these days. It went with the territory and you just accepted it as the way of things.
Easy enough to do when you're dealing with known quantities– when its your life on the line, but when it happens so fast– and the one in the line of fire is your wife... It's a completely different story.
Even as he sifted through the reports and tried to figure things out– there was no reason, no pattern only scant information that only seemed to make him worry more.
He felt himself being sucked into the images around him, all but drowning in the flashing lights and swirling sounds.
The Arcology was closed– thousands of shoppers trapped inside... thousands of shoppers, and his wife. Reports were sketchy, but none of them were good. Some one or something had taken over and Jess– his Jess, had been in the middle of it.
The voice snapped him out of the trance he was falling into.
"Yes?" He asked looking up.
It was Matthews, newly assigned to the Seattle Office– still wet behind the ears.
"Sir– they're asking for you."
Case nodded and took a deep breath as he recognized one of the ambulance workers waiting outside the police line. "Tell them I'll be right there," he answered as he headed towards the young ork paramedic.
Matthews looked confused for a few minutes and then nodded, heading back to the center of the police area– and the command post.
"Dwight," Case called as he got close to the line. The paramedic looked up and when he recognized Case, his face fell.
Case closed the distance quickly and then ducked under the tape. "Dwight?"
Dwight could see the hope and fear in Case's eyes. He shook his head slightly and then nodded towards the ambulance and relative safety.
Case clenched his jaw shut and followed him to the ambulance. Once inside he sat down on the stretcher and waited for Dwight to fill him in.
Dwight's expression was one of exasperation and guilt. "I was there– with her," he started hesitantly.
Case nodded encouragingly. He knew better than to press the man, but he needed to know what he was up against– as a Marshal, and as a husband.
"Heart attack– we were on our way out when... they came in– the guards... machines... they... they started shooting... everybody– anybody... "
Case rested a hand on the ork's shoulder as he seemed to get lost in the brutality of the moment. "We were almost at the doors and they started closing... "
Case winced as the medic slammed his fist into the side of the van. "Case... I was leading... I got out... she made me take him.... I... I couldn't... she shoved the gurney through... "
Case tried to keep his breathing steady as Dwight told him what he'd seen, but now he had to know. "Jess... did they?"
Dwight shook his head, his eyes staring back into the nightmare images his mind held. "She got away from them– but... but there were so many of them... so many people... it..." He focused on Case. "Please... Case– I'd never leave her... if I'd known... you... little Bri... I... I...."
"I know Dwight... I know," Case assured him, giving his shoulder a gentle squeeze. He wanted to say more– how he knew what it was like to try and argue with Jess, but he couldn't. All he could see were the images Dwight had give him– chaos... death... and Jess.
Case joined the others at the command post. Lone Star, Knight Errant, Federal Agents, Military personnel milled about as their Chiefs, Captains, Generals, Directors and Commissioners tried to establish a pecking order.
Case would have found it amusing– if things weren't as bad as they seemed. The building had been taken over, no one knew by whom. There had been no demands, no communications of any kind– and there was no place to throw a com-line.
Any communications they received would be when whoever had taken over deemed it appropriate. That did not bode well for them since it meant that they were not in control– and control was one of the first things they needed.
He looked over at the support truck and knew it was going to be a very long night– they were already setting up the industrial sized coffee pots.
"Case,"his partner, O'Hare called.
"What do we have?"
"Nothing new– just a jurisdiction war."
Case tried to keep his expression neutral, but he wasn't fooling anybody.
"Look– I know Jess... She's a smart lady... She knows what to do."
Case bit his lip and nodded. Jess could take care of herself– but this was something beyond their understanding. There were so many things that could be happening inside that building and none of them were good.
"Don't borrow trouble."
Case turned towards the building and shook his head. "I'm not borrowing it... its there... and its not good."
Therese took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It was almost time for the 6:00 AM Newscast. Ethan would be getting up in an hour and heading to school. She hated days like today– but with everything going on at the Arcology...
Her thoughts strayed to Case as she imagined him as he'd probably be right now– either pacing the command post, wired on coffee or getting ready to collapse at work. Her first reaction to the whole thing was one of relief. Jess and her sister had been planning on shopping at the Arcology last night– but fortunately Jess' sister had arrived with a cold and they'd rescheduled.
Sometimes bad luck can be good luck.
She made a mental note to call Case and see if he and Jess could help out with Ethan. If the three of them split the parental duties then Ethan and Bri would be covered and they'd still be able to do their jobs.
She chuckled to herself. ‘Fine group of parents we are... we're all work-a-holics, all with jobs that will probably keep us up long hours on this. Of the three of us– Jess is probably going to be the closest to a normal schedule.'
They were sleeping in shifts now.
With no contact, no idea what was going on– the military had been given jurisdiction. Case had already called Mario– filled him in on the details. He said not to worry, but they both knew there was nothing to do but worry.
Case was supposed to be sleeping– but how could he?
He was too close to this one. He knew it– they all did. But no-one had the heart to tell him to leave. Either that or they valued their lives and pensions.
Morning came with an overcast hue. Some how it was better this way. Case didn't think he could take a bright sunny day after last night. There had still been no word... nothing.
All communications had been jammed. No phones, no Matrix, no... nothing. He ran his hands through his hair and headed towards the support truck. He wasn't doing anybody any good here, and there was no way he was going to be able to sleep– not yet anyway.
He was on his second cup of coffee when his phone blipped. He answered it– not all that surprised to find Therese looking back at him.
Her first words: "You look awful!"
Trust Therese to understate the obvious.
With her greeting out of the way, she started to ask about Ethan and whether Jess could watch out for him.
That was when it really hit: Therese knew they were settling in for a big story– and that...
He sat down hard... his world collapsing in on him.
He couldn't answer– he didn't dare answer... He tried, but the words didn't come... he just sat there breathing hard.
Therese was starting to panic now. "Jason!"
He looked at her image. Tried to focus but he couldn't. "Jess.... "
There was something in his voice– something that told her what he couldn't bear to tell her.
"Oh my God... Jason... "
He looked at her and swallowed. "Call out... heart attack... she never got out...."
Therese bit her lip and then let her breath out slowly. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
Case nodded numbly.
Therese laid on the horn as she tried to get downtown. Case needed her... needed someone to talk to. ‘No,' she told herself-- what he needed was Jess.
Of all the people this could happen to...
She shook her head and hit the horn again. This just wasn't fair.
The closer she got to the Arcology– the worse it got. People were everywhere– blocking the streets, milling about– trying to get as much of a view as they could.
She shook her head. She had never understood people's fascination with disaster. Still– she made her living on it– on telling people what was happening, and the Arcology shutting down was a big story.
The place was completely self-sustaining. The fact that it had its own fusion generators only added to her desire to be as far away from it as possible. Then she remembered Case.
He looked as if everything had been taken from him– and in a way it had. Jess was his world and now she was in the middle of... a crisis.
Crisis... That's what they were referring to it as – "The Arcology Crisis." They already had a logo for it and everything.
She finally gave up on driving and just parked the car. Pedestrians and bikers were the only people who seemed to be moving now. She paused, looking up at the building as it loomed over city scape. It had been lauded as the crowing achievement and now–
She thought about the people trapped inside, and then about Case. If it were possible to have doubted how he felt about Jess...
She thought about how he couldn't even bring himself to tell her what had happened to Jess.
She felt an almost wistful pang of jealousy– she'd never seen this side of Case. If she had...
She forced herself to think about him– about her friend, Jason Casey, about Jess and about Bri... Thoughts of Ethan crept in as well as she realized that he was effected by this too. He loved his ‘evil-step-mom' as he would teasingly call her
She bit back the tears. There was nothing she could do for any of them except be there-- and pray that Jess was all right..
She started pushing her way through, ignoring the protests of people who were still trying to get a glimpse. She saw them– the curious, people who's loved ones were inside... She took a deep breath, trying to steady herself as she remembered shopping with Jess just a few weekends ago.
She nearly lost it then. She remembered how crowded it was when they were shopping– knowing that it would only get worse as the holidays approached. The sheer number of people inside weighed her down.
She was numb by the time she reached the police line. When she made it to the tape, she pulled up short. The officer standing on the other side of the line had a non-nonsense expression on his face.
"I'm sorry ma'am– This is as far as you go."
She looked at him and nodded. "Could you please tell Marshal Casey that Therese Casey is here to see him?"
The man gave her a sharp look. "Aren't you that reporter on..."
"Yes. Yes that's me, please– I need to see Marshal Casey." She didn't mean to be brusque, but the images of Case when she talked to him haunted her. There had to be something she could do– even if it was just to offer him a shoulder– not that he'd take it, no not Jason Casey– not her ex.
"I'm sorry ma'am– but we have our orders."
Therese let her breath out slowly as she tried re remain calm. "I understand that. I'm not here as a news anchor– I'm not here as anything other than a friend."
"Thought you said your name was Casey..."
Therese glared at him. "It is, I'm his ex-wife."
She wanted to shake the man, but if she couldn't move the officer to do more than glare at her, she'd try a different tact. With a resigned shrug, she pulled out her phone and dialed Case once more.
He had his ‘Marshal' face on– an emotionless mask.
Therese smiled at his image. "Jason– I'm at the tape."
There was a slight air of resignation in her voice.
"Be there in a minute."
His answer was even toned– but she could see what it was costing him.
"I'll be here," she assured him.
She gave the officer a ‘see, I told you so,' look and waited.
Therese concentrated on her coffee as Case stared out the window at the Arcology. She could almost read his thoughts as he ran a hand through his hair.
She knew the last thing he wanted or needed were hollow reassurances. They both knew all too well how impossible it was. So instead she tried to focus his attention on things that he could do.
"Have you told Jenny?"
He turned sharply, a shocked look on his face.
She nodded and realized it was the last thing he wanted to do. It was going to be hard enough trying to explain things to Bri.
"I'll talk to her if you want..."
He took a deep breath and shook his head.
"No." After a pause he added, "thanks."
Therese nodded and closed her eyes. She'd always thought his refusals of help were part of a wall he'd erected to keep people out– now she could see it was to keep himself in check.
To let go now– would mean being sent elsewhere and that would kill him.
"What about Bri?"
"Mario's with her."
It was the first time he'd said something with more than one syllable. She smiled slightly– it was progress or sorts.
She took his hand in hers. She could feel him tense, then force himself to relax. He was keeping himself on too tight a leash and they both knew it.
"We'll see each other through this," she told him, softly.
He looked her in the eyes for the first time. "Thanks."
Therese nodded, then looked back at the police line. "I'll drop by– see Bri... let Ethan talk to her."
He nodded, staring down at the table for a moment, then looking up again. "Tell him... not to tell her..."
Therese studied him for a moment. "You know he wouldn't... too much like his father..."
He gave a half chuckle that looked more like a wince than actual amusement. He ran his hand through his hair again and forced himself to sit up. "I should get back."
She nodded. "You need anything– you call."
He looked at her and gave her a slight smile.
"I mean it."
"I know you do Therese– and I appreciate it... I just... " He stopped mid-sentence and stared at the ceiling as he drew a deep breath. "I just...."
Therese nodded, and gave his hand a gentle pat. "I know."
He retreated to his cup of coffee for a moment, then gave her hand a squeeze. "Thanks."
His voice was very quiet and for a moment it looked as if he was going to lose it. Then he put his hands flat on the table and pushed himself up.
"I better get back."
Therese nodded, noticing the difference in his carriage. She felt oddly honored that he'd shared his true feelings with her.
‘Dammit Jess,' she swore to herself. ‘You better get through this...'
She hated to think what would happen to Case if she didn't.
Case looked out the window of the staff bus. The crowd had died down, but police cars and fire trucks lined the street. He was getting used to the flashing lights. He could look at them now– at the building itself.
But he could not look at the corner where the off duty paramedics stood. There was already a small pile of candles and flowers behind them, and every hour or so a paramedic, or Lone Star officer would come and add to the pile.
He knew Jess' picture was there. Ray had brought it. He'd seen them all– Ray, Smiley. All Jess' people, all her friends-- even Saunders had stopped by, leaving a doughnut on the pile.
They were still no closer to an answer, but at least there was word of a team being sent in. It had taken them long enough.
He knew there would be an attempt. With an absence of communications, they had to have some sort of scouting mission. 40 hours after the fact and they still had no idea who or what had taken over– sending people in was inevitable.
Already a news chopper had been shot down for flying too close to the building. It was no good, and they all knew it.
The director had sent him home– but he couldn't. Not yet. Not while there was a chance that someone would open the doors-- that Jess would walk out on her own.
He knew that the longer this dragged on the worse Jess' chances were. But he couldn't leave– leaving would mean giving up... surrendering– facing a future without Jess.
Finally he was escorted to the tape and told to go home. They knew they couldn't keep him away– but they also knew he had to see Bri... to remember that there was more at risk– and more to live for.
O'Hare drove him home.
Case could tell his partner was worried– hell, they all were. Worse– he reminded them all how life could turn on them, turn on their families. Facing him meant facing how easily it could have been their wife, their husband... their life.
O'Hare pulled into the driveway and shut the car off. He said nothing waiting for Case to get up– to move.
He stared at the house for a long time. He stared so long O'Hare was afraid that he'd never snap out of it. Slowly Case unlocked the door and got out. He walked woodenly towards the door which was already opened.
Jenny came out carrying Bri. He stood– afraid to talk, afraid to move. Then Case was lost in his daughter's hug.
Case felt more human after a nap and a shower. He didn't know which was worse– Bri asking about her mommy, or the way everyone skirted around the subject. Jess was inside, things were bad– but...
He looked up at Mrs. Walker, a slight smile on his face. "Do you still have the ritual samples for Jess?"
She nodded, but there was something hesitant in her movement. He eyed her questioningly.
"I have already tried Jason Casey– the building's barriers are not just physical. Believe me, I have tried.."
He tried to remain calm– tried to keep it together, but he found himself on his knees. His friends and family were stunned, but Bri moved without hesitation. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
After all, wasn't that why he was kneeling– so she could reach him?
It felt so wrong. He was standing on the outside, looking in. He stood at ‘vigil corner' as it had been dubbed. He was an outsider– a civilian. The military had learned that his wife was inside and had bared him from the command post.
That was it. Dismissed. If they'd had the authority, he knew they'd have taken his gun and ID as well. The Director tried to soften the blow– but there was no way to soften it. They didn't think he was professional enough to try and work this. They didn't think enough of him to even talk to him– find out what type of man he was.
He was a risk. His ex-wife was a reporter, his current wife was inside the Arcology. He was lucky they hadn't detained him, for his own good.
Now he was just an observer.
He looked up at the building, trying to imagine where Jess was– what she was doing. He had a feeling she was doing better than he was.
"Case– you look like shit. Go home."
Case turned surprised to find Ray and two other medics watching him. He almost told them what they could do with themselves, but Ray held his hands up.
"You aren't doing her any good standing out here like this. Go home– get some sleep. Spend some time with Bri. She needs you too." Ray tilted his head as if it would help him see if he was getting through to Case.
"And what do I tell her?" He asked bitterly.
"You tell her that you love her very much– and that her uncles are here so that if anything happens you'll know right away."
Case looked at them, then back at the building. "What if... what if she makes it to a window... what if..."
Ray close his eyes and shook his head. "Jess is a smart lady– she knows how, and more importantly when to keep her head down."
"Case, you know Jess as well as I do. She's going to be more worried about you and the boggling than she will be about herself. Go home– come back when you're fresh."
He looked at his watch and then finally nodded. It had been 52 hours and 37 minutes and this is what he was reduced to-- waiting, having his friends tell him when to eat– to go home and sleep.
Case drifted restlessly. He'd managed to doze off a few times, but his mind was still at the Arcology.
It was light when he finally managed to fall into a dreamless sleep. He tried to move and found a strange weight next to him. He was startled until he identified it as Bri..
In spite of himself he smiled. She had curled around her mother's pillow, her hair half covering her face as she breathed heavily. She was so much like her mother. Her expression was so trusting, so secure. The possibility of anything wrong happening was so far from her mind.
Case wished he could bottle that feeling. With no communications from inside after... he looked at his watch... 64 hours and 10 minutes, the situation was about as grim as it could be.
Bri smiled at him and then snuggled deeper into the pillow. He was going to get up– go back downtown, but for a few hours– there was nothing more important than watching his daughter sleep.
Case checked in with O'Hare over at the command center. His partner couldn't tell him anything– no surprise there. At least he could let O'Hare that he was there– and still holding on.
The Director interrupted them, letting Case know in no uncertain terms that he was officially on leave and was not to call or talk to anybody working the scene until he had been cleared for duty.
Case nodded. It was probably better this way. He wouldn't know what they were up to– but they wouldn't be checking up on him. He knew time was running out and that if Jess didn't get out soon, she never would. If he was going to do something– it would have to be soon.
He left the enclosed area and drifted towards vigil corner. The pile of flowers and candles had grown. When he arrived, he added a card from Bri and a teddy bear he'd picked up on the way over.
He looked up at the building and back down at the make shift memorial. Time was his enemy now. He could feel it in the wind...
Case scanned the newsfax. It was proving far more informative than anything else. He'd heard about the attempted suicide on the monorail, but he hadn't realized that it was near the station at 3rd and Seneca.
It didn't mean much to him when he first read it, but then he studied the map– the monorail ran under the Arcology. He swore at himself for not thinking about it sooner. He could feel a plan starting when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
He was surprised to see Dwight standing there. He hadn't seen the man since the night it all began. He'd figured it was too painful, but when he looked into the paramedic's eyes he realized it was something more.
"I need you to come with me."
Case looked at him, not sure what to say. He needed time to research his plan– there had to be a way to use the monorail to his advantage. He tried to say no, but there was something in Dwight's expression. Something very serious.
He nodded then followed the medic to his car.
"Where are we going."
"Please– no questions. All will be answered."
Case shook his head but when he noticed the tail he understood. Not only had the powers that be kicked him out off the case– they'd assigned someone to watch him. What did they think– that he was some hot head that would...
Do exactly what he was planning on doing.
He sat back and let Dwight handle the tails– and their destination. Judging by the man's expression– it was something very important.
Case woke with a start. He hadn't meant to fall asleep– but judging by the way he felt– he'd needed it. He was sleeping on an old army cot in what felt someone's basement. As his eyes adjusted to the light he realized that he was indeed in a basement.
"Sorry," Dwight said as he handed Case a glass of water.
Case's eyes narrowed as he realized that the sleep hadn't been voluntary. "Now?"
Dwight nodded. "You're in the underground– a very... private area of the underground. Only my people are welcomed here."
"You're here as my friend."
Case nodded. "And..."
Dwight looked at him, his expression bleak. "It's a lot worse than we thought– a few people... escaped the Arcology. They found their way here."
Case's gaze sharpened. If people had found their way out– then it was possible to find his way in.
Dwight gave him a half hearted smile. "I thought the same thing... It took me a while to find the right people. Hugh and I have been helping out where we can... "
"When do we go?"
"Soon. When Lee-Anne gets back."
Case tilted his head questioningly.
Dwight let out his breath. "Lee-Anne's been... inside."
Case's eyes widened. "That's wonderful."
Dwight looked at him and shook his head. "Case... "
Something in his voice made Case stop dead in his tracks.
"Its really bad... "
Dwight closed his eyes. "Something is really wrong in there. They call it Deus– its an AI... but AI doesn't even come close to explaining it. Its calling the shots and..." He shook his head. "They..."
Case nodded. If a man who thought of bugs as a delicacy couldn't stomach something– ‘really bad' probably didn't even come close to describing it.
Case listened in disbelief as Lee-Anne briefed him and the others. If half of what she said were to be believed– things were so far out of hand that there was no hope for any of them. 341 floors of chaos and death. What she described was completely unfathomable.
December 19th's shutdown wasn't the start– it was just the first visible step in a takeover that had begun months earlier. Once the doors closed the real terror began. Floors had been disassembled, some gassed, hospitals had been turned into experimentation labs– labs had been turned into... God only knows what.
Residents were used in some sort of experiments, others left alone with no idea that anything had happened until they were needed.
From the sound of things, it was only getting worse.
The good news was there was a resistance forming. Some parts were organized– others desperately holding their own. Lee-Anne and her people were doing their best to help the resistance-- forming an underground railroad of sorts to help get people out.
Case wasn't sure he liked that role, but it was at least something.
"We will be working in shifts," Lee-Anne informed them. "Those of you who've been brought in to help, or to look for loved ones– make sure you've been checked out by one of my people."
When the briefing was over, Case waited for a chance to talk to Lee-Anne. He didn't have long to wait.
"Marshal Casey," she greeted him. "Dwight's told me about you– and your wife."
Case nodded. "Thank you– and thank you for including me."
She smiled. "It's a bit interesting working with the law on this one."
He bowed his head. "I'm not the law– not here, not now."
This earned another nod of respect from her. "Good, cause this is war– and you'd do best not to forget that."
He nodded. If he'd had any doubts, the sketches of the opposition's drones and devices told him all he needed to know. Deus was playing for keeps, and he/it was learning exponentially.
Case could feel his heart in his throat. The walls were riddled with bullet holes, and the air was filled with the coppery smell of blood-- some old, some very fresh. He could feel his stomach roll as they moved forward. He had convinced himself that he'd been through the worst of it, and then they hit the surgery wing.
Nothing could have prepared him for that. People– transformed, disfigured, surgeons working on patients strapped to cold steel slabs... the screams, the moans... he thought about the pictures he'd seen in college– the medieval illuminated texts that had shown the tortured souls as seen through a hell mouth, only this was real.
The shadows seemed to swell around them. Drones, survivors, security details– they were everywhere. Case switched his goggles to low-light and immediately regretted it. He saw the victims that lined the hallways-- tortured souls and bodies. He turned away, scanning the hallway for threats. This was the hell mouth– and something told him this was just the beginning.
The thought of Jess in the hands of these butchers was too much. He knew– fully understood what hell was now– and he knew he would rather die than let Jess see this, let alone be its victim.
Part of him wanted to start right here– taking out the demented souls that would do these things to another, but he knew it would have to wait until they were on their way out– if they made it.
He smiled as two of Lee-Anne's people placed a delayed charge and set the timer. Even if they didn't make it out– at least this portion of the nightmare would end.
But it didn't– not really. He knew that these scenes were repeated through out the Arcology. Jess had told him about the medical facilities– how you could live you entire life without leaving the building– or the floor if you wanted. It was a perfect world– shielded from the outside. Only now that shielding was keeping the nightmare in.
They were everywhere– the banded. The chosen of Deus– its eyes and ears and servants. He'd learned to recognize them by their cyber eyes, and he learned to hate them as they made their way to the holding area on the 14th floor.
Most seemed completely indifferent to the pain and suffering they caused– but others seemed to take a perverse delight in the power they possessed. The victims who resisted were dealt with quickly– brutally. Others moved as if in a fog– drugged or terrified it didn't matter.
He knew this had to end, just as he knew that Deus was too strong. It allowed resistance– it used it– learned from it... It was only a matter of time before it canceled that part of its experiments.
He caught the look Lee-Anne gave him and nodded. She'd felt it too. Still– its curiosity offered him the chance he needed. Having seen. what it was doing, he was more than willing to that chance.
Case found the pens somehow more disturbing. People herded into one large room– everything stripped away from them– cloths, hair... everything. They weren't people anymore– not to Deus or its chosen soldiers. They were fodder for its experiments... or future banded themselves. He swallowed hard as he realized just how many people were here– at its mercy.
He also knew there was no way he would find Jess. He found himself hoping that she'd caught a stray bullet when the shooting began– anything was better than this.
They had waited in the eerie half light for what seemed like ages. To be so close to people in need and to not be able to do anything for them. It was frustrating and as time wore on– it wore on all of them.
Case knew that Lee-Anne was watching him and the others. Studying them, even as Deus did. He understood– she had to know how they'd react– whether they were cut out for this. He knew he wasn't– it was taking everything he had not to drop into the middle of the room and start shooting the Banded.
He watched as they strode through the room– pushing people aside, taking others. If someone objected– stood up to them, they were quickly dealt with and the prisoners just huddled closer together.
Finally there was movement down their corridor. He scanned the hallway making sure he knew where all Lee-Anne's people were, that there was nothing closing in behind them. There was no need to worry– it was the resistance.
Case stood watch as the resistance traded off those they'd rescued for the arms and food Lee-Anne had brought with her. The exchange took less than a minute, and then they were heading back with twenty refugees.
By the time they reached the underground, Case was exhausted. Emotionally, physically drained, he flopped to the side of the passageway and watched as the others were led away to safety. Twenty people– and over a hundred-thousand more still inside.
He barely noticed when Dwight slid down the wall and flopped down next to him. He looked over and then shook his head. Lee-Anne was still directing the others and making sure that the refugees were taken care of.
"How does she do it?"
Dwight shook his head. "Because it needs to be done."
Case tried to nod, but was asleep before his muscles could respond. He didn't even notice when Lee-Anne tossed a blanket over him and headed towards the showers.
He didn't know when it started– only that he hadn't been asleep long. He woke with a sense of dread– as if he was one of the ones he'd seen on the tables. He sat up, startled and confused, only to find Lee-Anne watching him from across the hallway.
She handed him a hot steaming cup and nodded down the hall towards the briefing room. He looked at Dwight, laying there dead to the world and then followed her.
"I'm never going to find her, am I?"
Lee-Anne poured herself a cup of the steaming liquid and sat down before she tried to answer his question.
"The odds are no," she answered evenly. "The odds are none of us are going to find what we want– or that we're going to hate what we find– but we have to know. We have to try. The key is to rejoice in the ones we do save."
"I know– and I should be... relieved? Grateful... but..." He turned towards the door. "We have to tell them what's happening."
She looked at him, her eyes blazing. "Don't you think we've tried? The military is willing to trick themselves into believing that they will be able to control the machinery– to use Deus– to use his design...that we're just a bunch of crack pots."
He shook his head in disbelief.
"There has to be some way..."
"There is," she told him. "But no one is willing to do it. No one can believe what is happening– and you've only seen the start of it... there are rooms– whole floors where every human being is hooked into Deus' reality– they call them the zombie rooms. People are hooked in there day and night– until their systems give out– or the banded find some other use for them..."
Case's eyes widened as he realized that Lee-Anne hadn't told him everything before, because she'd known that he wouldn't believe– not until he'd had a taste of it– seen it with his own eyes.
"What do we do now?"
"Rest– reassure the victims... decide what you really want to do here."
He nodded. She was giving him time to think– to draw his own conclusions. She knew he couldn't take much more of this– not right now, but she also knew that the underground needed him– and that he needed her and her people.
That would come later.
"Rest," she urged. "Get some fresh air– we go in again in the morning."
He nodded. There was a lot to think about.
Case wasn't sure anymore which was worse– knowing or not knowing. His imagination had been bad enough– but now... knowing even the smallest portion of what was happening...
He was feeling almost as shell shocked as the refugees they'd found. No, not refugees– survivors. Even that was questionable. He could see the scars forming– even if no-one else could. He knew the look in their eyes and shuddered at the thought of seeing it in his wife's eyes– or finding her hooked into one of those machines– or worse...
He tried to not think about what he'd seen– tried not to think about what could happen, but sitting there waiting to go back in– it was too much. He tried to think about Bri– about their daughter and how she needed him. But he knew that he could never live with himself if he didn't try.
Intellectually he knew he couldn't take much more– but he also knew that he couldn't stop. Not while Jess was still in there. He wished he could become numb about the whole thing– or rejoice in the ones they'd saved... he couldn't. They weren't her– they weren't Jess.
He was almost ready to give up when one of the victims looked up at him. Her expression was not one of relief– but one of haunted determination. He gasped as recognition shown in her eyes – it was... Ange.
At first he didn't recognize her– had she aged that much in just a few days? That more than anything brought home the horror of the situation. He reached out to her and held her. She was a friend of Jess'-- she was the closest he'd been to Jess in five days.
He was surprised when she pulled away suddenly– afraid he'd done something wrong. But she shook her head. She stared past him for a long while before she finally managed to talk.
"They have her."
Her words were so bleak.
He didn't want to know. He had to know, but after those three words– he wasn't sure if he hoped she was still alive– or feared it.
The look on Ange's face didn't help. She looked as if– as if after waking from a nightmare– she was being forced to relive it. He hated himself for doing this to her– but he had to know.
"We... ran out of sports bars... had to get something..."
He listened as she haltingly told him about being captured– about the guards inspecting them. His knuckles whitened as he thought of anybody being treated like... like cattle, especially his wife. They'd sorted them out. Anyone without a data jack had been taken to the ‘detention area' on the third floor. They'd been herded into an elevator and when the elevator stopped, they'd forced half the people, including Ange off the elevator. Jess and the others had been taken further up into the building– into Deus' stronghold.
He couldn't breathe. He couldn't move. He thought he'd prepared himself for any event– but there was no way to prepare for this– he'd seen...
"Case," the voice snapped him out of it as he felt a large hand on his shoulder and a gentle shaking.
He looked up, to see Dwight standing over him with his gear in hand. "We've got a call– one of the rescue teams is trapped two floors from here. We're going in."
He nodded and took a deep breath. The man deserved to know– he was Jess' partner, he was the one who'd brought Case here where he could at least do something other than sit around.
"They have her."
Dwight looked away, letting his breath out slowly. Case closed his eyes for a moment, cursing himself for being so blunt. They young medic blamed himself for Jess' being there... and now...
Case reached out– resting his hand on the ork's forearm. "Dwight– we can get through this. It doesn't mean...."
He couldn't say it. They both knew all too well what it could mean– the zombie rooms– or one of the labs...
They had no real way of knowing how long they'd had Jess– time seemed to move differently inside. Even a few hours could be– a life time.
Dwight nodded. "Lets go."
Case didn't have time to think about where he was going-- what he was getting into, which was probably for the best. He was a soldier now. He moved with the others, following Lee-Anne's signals and watching tensely for any sign of trouble.
The signs were everywhere this time. He could hear the fighting long before they rounded the corner. He tensed as he heard a metallic tapping noise behind them– he turned and opened fire.
He hadn't really believed Lee-Anne when she'd described the spider drones, but there was no doubt in his mind what it was when he saw it. Even as he fired, he could see the shadows of three more closing in on them.
"It's a trap!"
He wasn't sure who called it, but he was fairly certain they were right. He looked at Lee-Anne as she ordered them forward, only to be shot by one of the drones.
Everyone froze as she fell. They were looking to her for guidance and now...
Case saw the spiders moving in as everything came back into focus. He grabbed one of the grenades. "Everyone– around the corner, now!"
He looked at Dwight and nodded towards Lee-Anne as he laid down the cover fire. Dwight slung his weapon around his shoulder and picked Lee-Anne up, carrying her around the corner as Case tossed the grenade and dove for cover behind them.
Around the corner they found a small knot of resistance fighters shooting it out with several guards. He started forward, then noticed one of the refugees moving towards one of the injured resistance fighters. His breath caught. It was Jess, her blue Citywide jump suit was barely recognizable, but her actions were.
In the middle of a fire fight– she was doing what she knew.
He moved then– there was no hesitation. He was fighting for his life– for Jess– for the future and he would not accept failure. The others took up his call as he charged the remaining guards and showed them the same mercy they'd shown their victims.
Lee-Anne was stable... semi conscious, but stable. Dwight had seen to that. Jess had tried to help– but she was losing steam fast.
They were hiding out now. Seraph, the resistance cell leader had gotten them to one of the ‘semi safe' areas, in the elevator shaft, but it was only a matter of time until they were found out.
"We're going to have to get out of here," he stated.
Case agreed. "We're going to have to stick together."
Seraph thought about it for a moment and then nodded. There were too few of them. "I'll scout out the route. If we're not back in two hours– you're on your own."
Case nodded, then watched as Seraph and two of his men started climbing down the access ladder. It was going to be a very long two hours.
He looked over at Jess and gave her an apologetic smile.
She smiled back, but he could see the haunted look in her eyes. Time was definitely running out.
Seraph returned in less than an hour, a tense yet relieved look on his face.
"We've got a clear shot– if we move now."
That was all Case and the others needed. Lee-Anne started to object, to tell them to leave her behind but Case just smiled at her.
"This is why I don't make a good resistance fighter," he told her. "I'm not very good at taking that kind of order."
Jess smiled at that, but he could see the effort behind the smile. She knew all too well the sort of things that could happen between here and safety.
Case held Jess close as she slept. She was curled up in a protective little ball– sleeping the sleep of the exhausted. He rested his chin on the top of her head and finally allowed himself to relax. Finally– he held his happiness in his own hands again.
They had gotten out without getting caught and Lee-Anne and the others were resting. There would be time for counting the losses later; for now Case was happy with what he had.
He gently kissed the top of Jess' head and closed his eyes. For the first time since the nightmare had begun, Marshal Jason Casey slept peacefully.
MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone!
Copyright 2000 - M.T. Decker