I exchanged brief hugs with Jeremiah and Kalyna once they emerged from the other side of the security barrier. They had a large travel bag, a laptop carrier, and two silver cases with them. I didn’t ask how they got the cases into the country.
“Like the new hairdo,” Jeremiah laughed, looking at my extensions.
“I assume we’ll need a car,” I said, rolling my eyes at his remark. “Rentals are this way.” I had been at the airport for about four hours at that point, plenty of time to learn the relatively small layout. The two followed me to rentals, and Kalyna got us a mini-SUV.
“Where to?” she asked once we were situated in the vehicle.
“Public library,” Jeremiah said. He opened the map the rental car agent had given us and pointed it out to Kalyna. “It’s down south of the historic district. Here, on Bull Street.”
Kalyna glanced at the map and nodded. She navigated us to I-95 and then down to I-16, going east. Approaching in the daylight and knowing Ruel was captive in there made the city feel different, almost sinister.
“What if this doesn’t work? Clearly it’s a trap,” I said.
“But a trap for who?” Jeremiah said. “I think it’s a trap for me.”
“Why would you come then?” I asked him harshly. He turned around to look at me in the back seat.
“You asked me to,” he said. “Plus, it’s Ruel, bloodlines and all,” he added with a chuckle.
“You don’t have to do this,” I told him. “Kalyna and I can do it without you.”
“No, you’ll need me as the bait to create a distraction. It’s the only way in.”
“So, what exactly is the plan?” I asked.
“I’ll show you in the library,” Jeremiah said. He faced forward again and turned on the radio. As he tuned away from the commercial on the channel it was dialed to, he casually said, “Oh, the war’s over.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said.
“Just trying to keep the morale up!” he laughed.
Kalyna laughed, too. A country song about lost love and a pick-up truck flowed from the speakers. I looked out the window at the passing suburbs. The sooner we were out of this country, the better.
While squatting in the back of the mini-SUV, Jeremiah opened up the second silver case and assembled a gun and silencer. He handed it to Kalyna. I already had the first stashed in my pants even though my plan was to not kill anyone. I was done killing people.
“Okay, and you both have an extra magazine?” he asked.
“Yes,” we both said.
He was going in through the front door without any weapons. Kalyna and I were entering from beneath to find Ruel, who we assumed was in the interrogation room. I would bring Ruel back to the car, and Kalyna would meet Jeremiah in the archives room to destroy the files and footage they had of all four of us. I’d pick them up, and we would all drive off into the sunset, or something like that. In the back of my mind, I was assuming none of us were making it out of there.
“Remember the deal,” Jeremiah said to us. I shook my head.
“No, we’re not leaving you,” I said.
“You have to,” he said.
“Oh, shut up,” Kalyna said to him. “I’ve saved you too many times to leave you now.”
I looked away while they shared a moment.
Jeremiah climbed up to backseat with us, and we all looked at each and took a deep breath.
“It always seems to be Go Time in Savannah,” I said. Jeremiah smiled and patted my leg.
“Let’s go,” Kalyna said. She and I opened the car doors and got out. Jeremiah was to follow in two minutes.
Kalyna and I walked casually along the sidewalk. Our guns were tucked under our shirts, and my makeshift hair and hat disguise was on my head. I planned to ditch it once we were inside, but this at least would give away less warning of our approach on their surveillance cameras. We didn’t speak. The only reason to speak would be to make us look more natural, like two friends out for a stroll. But they could instantly analyze our lip movements and know what we were saying, which meant our speech would be entirely frivolous, and neither of us could handle that right now while our spouses were at risk of death. Ruel was my spouse. That was weird and partially untrue. It was only the paperwork, which wasn’t real paperwork to begin with.
I became annoyed with myself for even thinking about this when there were more pressing matters at hand, but I couldn’t turn on my adrenaline. My mind was battling with itself whether to go over to the other side or not. I did not want to kill anyone, but what if I had to in order to save Ruel or Kalyna? Did that make it okay? I couldn’t decide. If I gave part of myself over, then both parts would fail to accomplish anything. It was all or nothing. I looked at Kalyna. Her sleek frame moved easily, and her smooth, structured face was poised for battle. She looked like it was a battle she would win, too. That gave me hope. If Kalyna thought we were getting out of here alive and intact, then maybe we would. What if she was relying on me, though? Surely she was. She knew how I could kill without pause or error. Not like this though, not right now. I wasn’t in that mode. What if I let her down? What if she died because I couldn’t shoot someone dead? How would Jeremiah react? My next thought worried me the most. I thought that he would never know. I wouldn’t tell him that my inaction caused her death or Ruel’s death if it came to that. He wouldn’t be there. He couldn’t prove anything.
“We’re here,” Kalyna said. She stopped walking directly in front of a cellar door belonging to a house that was not the one I went into the night before. I felt guilty at the sound of her voice. She was still alive and I was imagining lying to her widower about her death. They deserved better.
“Ready?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she said, and leaned over to pull it open. It was unlocked, and no one was waiting inside with a gun. We hadn’t expected any company here, though. This was not the real entrance. We had several underground tunnels to navigate through before we got there. All the basements in the Historic District were connected with a set of tunnels, but not all the homeowners were aware of this.
I followed closely behind Kalyna. We had both memorized the route, but she deemed herself less valuable than me. It was strange to silently move through other people’s basements. Some of them were full of clutter, others seemed forgotten or undiscovered, and lay in dust, littered with ancient items. Sherman never burned Savannah on his march to the sea, and the remains of centuries before lie undisturbed beneath the daily life of some current residents.
Kalyna and I worked each transition doorway open, the less used the basement, the easier it was to pass through. Some of them were boarded shut. After futile attempts at prying one stubborn, boarded entry, I ended up kicking in the wood at its weakest point. The tunnels for the most part did not run in an obvious area of the basement. It was a testament to some residents for their exploratory pursuits in finding the entry points. Why they bothered to board them up though, I wasn’t sure. Unless they were using a steel reinforced wall, it seemed a bit pointless in keeping out the riff raff like us.
Then there it was. The steel wall Jeremiah promised we would find. Only it wasn’t a wall, it was a door. This was the entry point. Kalyna looked at her phone and nodded to me. This meant that Jeremiah had checked in and that the cameras were on a feed loop, so we wouldn’t be visible.
Kalyna placed the descrambler by the lock, and I turned the lock’s dial to match the numbers it called up. Kalyna still had fingerprints, so she planned to touch as little as possible. The door unlocked and we armed ourselves. Maybe the whole unit wasn’t heading down to greet us, but whoever was keeping watch on the other side of the door certainly was aware it was about it to open. Kalyna aimed her gun at the door. I mouthed, “One, two, three!” to her and kicked it open. She fired a silent shot at the waiting guard, killing him instantly. We stepped over his body and scanned the area. I motioned that it was all clear to Kalyna. She nodded.
We moved silently through the anti-organization’s underground chambers. The walls were all developed, and it felt like a poorly lit office building interior, a stark contrast to the uneven earth and unfinished rooms of the previous basements. This hallway would lead us to the center of Lafayette Square. If we continued on the diagonal, we would reach the house that Ruel and I had gone to last night. The house Jeremiah was in right now. The torture room, however, was located under the square.
I watched Kalyna’s body recoil slightly before another guard was dead in front of us. Apparently, I wouldn’t have to kill anyone after all. I wanted to tell her just to disable them, but it was a weird thing to discuss down here. We crept further into the hallway. After about twenty feet, a door appeared on our left accompanied by an overwhelming and unmistakable odor.
“Do you smell that?” I whispered to Kalyna.
“Blood,” she whispered.
I pointed to the door and began to count.
“One.” I grabbed the handle. “Two.” I ripped open the door. Kalyna’s gun was instantly next to my head, aimed into the room. She didn’t fire and began to inch inside. Her eyes were fierce and alert. I had never seen her quite like this.
I followed her in after casting a glance down both directions of the hallway. The room was pitch black and it took my eyes about five seconds to adjust with the dim light creeping in from the hall. I saw the puddle of blood first, then followed it up to stainless steel chair legs. Finally, Ruel’s legs jumped into view. I quickly scanned the rest of the room for guards, cameras, or traps. I saw nothing.
“I think we’re clear,” I whispered to Kalyna and then said, “Ruel?”
“Are there any traps?” I asked.
“Where is he?” Ruel asked. His voice was hoarse and quiet.
“Safe,” I lied. “He’s safe.”
“No traps,” he said.
I walked over to him to find he was completely naked, covered in wet and dry blood.
“Is this all your blood?” I asked him as I tried to figure out how he was bound to the chair.
“Yes,” he said.
“How are you tied up? I can’t find it.” I said. It appeared there was nothing keeping him on the chair.
“I’m not. Can’t stand.” He nodded towards his legs. I couldn’t see much of his injuries with all the blood, so I lightly felt them. There were gashes at different points on his quads, calves, heels, and tibialis anterior muscle right where his foot met his leg.
“Come here,” I said to Kalyna. She did and I pointed to his legs. “Thoughts?”
“I can’t see in this light,” she said, then asked Ruel, “Have you tried to stand?”
“Yes, and crawl,” Ruel said.
“We’ll have to carry him,” I said.
“Okay, what else should we know, Ruel?” Kalyna asked him.
“My abs are sliced. Light cuts all over. My left cheekbone was hit hard,” he said. It was obvious he was in prolonged pain.
“Come on,” I said, and moved to his other side and put his arm around my shoulder.
“Wait, we should just shift him from the chair to a sitting position on our arms. Like how they catch people in cheerleading stunts,” Kalyna said. She grabbed her right arm with her left hand and moved them under Ruel’s legs. “Here, take my left arm.”
I followed her example and grabbed her left arm to form a rectangle. Ruel scooted to the edge of the chair, put his arms around our necks and asked, “Ready?”
“Yeah,” we said, and he moved his weight onto us. We stood together, lifting Ruel’s body with ours. He let out a muted whimper of pain that made my heart ache. Why would they hurt him so badly? Just to piss me off?
This carrying method made walking much easier, and we were at the doorway in moments. I wasn’t sure if we needed a code to indicate we saw someone and were dropping Ruel to pull our gun on the person.
“Ruel, can you shoot?” I asked.
“In the back of my pants,” I told him. His hand felt down my back to the gun and he gave it a tug. It slid out, silencer attached. He put his arm back around my neck. Kalyna was scanning the hallway.
“We should go now,” Kalyna said, and led the way out the door. Ruel had to duck down as we went.
“Is there a shorter route?” I asked in a hushed voice.
“We could go up through one of the houses.” Kalyna replied.
We could decide that once on the other side of the steel door. I thought as we headed quickly towards the way we came. We stepped over the dead guards and thankfully did not run into anyone else on the way. I wasn’t certain Ruel could actually shoot in his state. We slid through the doorway and set Ruel down. Kalyna closed the door behind us and spun the lock. I crouched next to Ruel on the ground and lightly kissed his lips.
“You’re going to be fine,” I told him.
“Emma,” he said. It was barely audible. Then his body tensed and he said, “Behind you.”
I reached for my gun as I turned to face whatever was approaching us, but my hand only grabbed air. Ruel’s arm thrust out next to me, gun in hand with his trigger finger poised to pull. His wrist dripped blood onto the floor. I looked at his target. She was a tiny old woman who had slowly tried to put up her hands in surrender.
“Who is that?” she said in a shaky, cracked voice.
“Who are you?” Kalyna demanded of the old woman.
“Bethany Montgomery,” she said calmly. “But most people call me Betsy.”
“We need to use your bathtub” Kalyna said. She was aiming her gun at the woman as well. I looked to our left and behind us to make sure we weren’t being flanked. It was clear.
“Should I check the house?” I asked.
Kalyna shook her head. “I will. Stay with him.”
She marched the old woman back towards the house entrance and they disappeared behind a tall oak hutch. I heard them walking up a wooden stairwell, the open and close of a door and then silence.
“There are clothes in the car,” I told Ruel. “She will stitch you up. You’re going to be fine.”
“Where is he?” he asked me again.
“Covering our tracks,” I said.
“No.” Ruel exhaled. “No, no, no.”
I shushed him and put my arm around his frame, smearing his blood all over my skin and shirtsleeve in the process. We sat in silence until Kalyna returned with the woman.
“It’s clean. There’s a bathroom on the first floor. Come on, let’s move him,” she said to me. We picked Ruel back up and carried him around the hutch and up the stairs. He trained the gun on tiny Betsy just in case. Anyone could be in the anti-organization, plus she lived right next to the underground entrance. Surely she’d wondered about this steel door before today. Kalyna guided us to the bathroom and we set Ruel directly into the clawfoot tub.
“He’s going to need treatment starting now,” she told me. “You’re going to have to meet him at the rendezvous point instead of me.”
“What about her?” I nodded towards Betsy who stood in the doorway.
“Tie her up where I can see her,” Kalyna said.
“She could help?” I suggested.
“There’s no time to find that out. Tie her up and go. You have less than fifteen minutes to get there.” Kalyna’s face indicated that was a final order. I pulled the gun out of Ruel’s weak grip and wiped his blood off it on my shirt. I asked Betsy where there was rope and she led me to the kitchen and opened the cabinet under the sink, producing a thin rope. It would work. I found a suitable chair at the breakfast table, sat her down in it, and apologized to her as I tied her up. Then I carried her and the chair back to the bathroom and placed her inside.
“Check her eyes for video contacts,” I told Kalyna. She nodded, handed me the descrambler, and turned on the water in the bathtub. I turned to Ruel and said, “I love you.”
He nodded and forced a miniscule smile, and I turned to go collect Jeremiah.
I retraced our steps all the way back to the torture room. The door was ajar, just how we left it. It appeared no one had been down here, but I scanned the room just in case and closed the door as I left. The hallway’s dim lighting hardly affected my vision, and I walked quickly and silently towards the archives room.
As I approached an intersection with another hall, there was a noise. I froze in place and controlled my breathing and heart rate. No movement followed. I was about to start walking again when I saw the red laser on my chest. I jumped to my right quickly and waited for the laser aim to follow me. It did not. Maybe it was just a sensor. I steadied my gun. There wasn’t enough time to wait. I was almost to the archives room according the blueprints Jeremiah had showed us on his laptop at the library. I slid up the right side of the wall towards the junction with the other hall and paused briefly at the corner before leaping across it while turning to face the source of the laser. I fired and someone fell to the ground. They were too far away for me to make out details. I wanted to feel guilty, but I didn’t. I told myself to keep moving.
I turned a corner and knew the archives room was ten feet away. So was a figure. Was it Jeremiah? I squinted to make him out, but I couldn’t tell. The person didn’t aim any weapons at me even though my gun was pointed at him. That was a good sign.
“It’s me,” Jeremiah said, and walked towards me. I didn’t lower my gun until I had a clear visual of him. He had a bloodied face as though he’d been punched a few times. I pulled out the descrambler and put it on the archive room door. He spun the lock to match the descrambler’s numbers.
“Why are you here? Is that his blood?” he asked me as he opened the door.
“She had to stay with him. He’s not in good shape,” I said and followed him in the room.
“Everyone out now!” Jeremiah said with command to the room. I held my gun up to show we meant business. Nothing happened. I looked in the room to find only the equipment. There was no one in sight.
“What’s going on?” I asked Jeremiah.
“Shh,” he said. We held our breath and listened. There was a faint beep being repeated. “Can you hear it?”
“Hardly,” I whispered.
“You shouldn’t be able to,” he said. “It’s the failsafe alarm. They put it in a frequency most human ears can’t detect and then implant frequency-specific hearing devices in the members who work here.”
“Failsafe, as in…?” I said.
“As in we’ll be blown up if we’re still in the building when the beeps become one solid tone,” Jeremiah said simply.
“Good plan,” I said dryly. “So, what is actually going to happen?”
Jeremiah turned to face me. He just told me we were going to die, so I couldn’t imagine what else would be so serious he had to make eye contact for it. I thought about Ruel’s broken body bleeding out into the tub. How could I have left him there dying to come save Jeremiah? I felt tears forming. Jeremiah cupped his hand on the right side of my face. His hand felt like Ruel’s. I remembered how it had looked like Ruel’s when he’d handed me the water months ago in his living room. Through all the surgeries, their hands were still the same. Identical twins. Jeremiah moved his left hand to my chest and pulled down the collar of my shirt. I felt my lips part and my heart rate increase. His fingers felt against my skin and gripped onto the mjölnir pendant. He yanked it hard and the connector between the clasp and the chain broke in the back. The chain slid off of me and hung from his clenched fist.
“They’ll be tracking this by now,” he said and tossed it outside the room. He shut the door with his foot, all the while not moving his right hand from my face.
“Now what?” I whispered.
“Emma,” he said and leaned down to rest his forehead on mine. I didn’t move. My heart was racing. His thumb stroked my cheekbone lightly back and forth.
“What if we’re caught?” I said. I wasn’t sure who I meant would catch us, the anti-organization, or Ruel and Kalyna.
“We won’t be,” he said. “I was programmed to protect you.”
“So, you’re comforting me before letting me die?” I asked.
He pulled away from me with a grin on his face.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “We’re escaping through here. Did you think we were meeting in the archives room to destroy video footage?”
I stared at him bewildered.
“Nope!” he exclaimed. “Who do you think designed this whole place? No direction but up from here.”
“We should get back to steel door,” I said.
“The failsafe engages a time release magnetic lock on that door. It’s not budging any time soon unless you have C4 on you, but I’m certain that you do not. The best method will be through there.” He pointed to the ceiling. I looked up to see nothing but the ceiling.
“Secret passageway!” he said. “Come on, I’ll give you a leg up.”
I shook my head and laughed. “What if someone’s waiting on the other side?”
“What part of secret passageway don’t you understand? I designed it, only I know about it. That’s it. Now you know, too,” he said. “Come on.”
I put my gun back in my pants and placed my foot into Jeremiah’s waiting hands. I pushed off his shoulders and balanced myself with my knee against his chest. I couldn’t tell where the door itself was, so I just pressed the ceiling. The sound of hydraulics and the opening of what had appeared to be a solid ceiling caused me to jump a bit and lose my balance. Jeremiah caught me midair and laughed.
“Note to self: Emma is afraid of moving ceilings,” he said, and thrust me upwards. I felt with my hands for the top of the ceiling base and gripped on. He gave me a final push and I climbed into the passageway. I moved aside so he could jump up. He climbed in with me. The ceiling in the passageway was too low to walk upright. Jeremiah began to crawl on his hands and knees in the direction of a thin stream of light in the distance. I followed closely behind him.
Finally, we reached the light, which was sunshine coming in from a fake sewer manhole. Jeremiah waited for me and took my gun from my pants. He went up first, the metal manhole scraping against the asphalt. He quickly ducked down as a car drove over us.
“That’s tricky,” he said.
“How long do we have before this place blows up?” I asked.
“Not long now.”
He went up slowly again and no cars were coming this time. I followed him up. The late afternoon sun glared down on us. Heat waves rose from the asphalt. Jeremiah quickly replaced the manhole once I was through. He grabbed my hand and we started to run.
When we reached the mini-SUV, Kalyna was already inside and the engine running. We climbed quickly into the backseat and she peeled off.
“It’s going to blow,” Jeremiah told her. She maneuvered the car away from headquarters and picked up speed. The far seat was down, and Ruel’s head rested on a pillow that I assumed was from Betsy’s house. His body stretched out from there into the trunk area. His legs were elevated. He was cleaned and covered in cloth towel bandages to stop the bleeding. I moved over to him, and Jeremiah climbed into the front passenger seat. Ruel’s eyes were unfocused. I placed my hand on his right cheek. He reached up and held onto it lightly.
“Stay with me,” I said to him. He squeezed my hand.
“Yes, we need the plane ready now. It’s a Code Four,” Jeremiah said into his phone. There was a pause before he replied, “Kiev.”
The ground began to tremble and I looked out the rear window to see the dust cloud forming from the collapse of the headquarters’ underground area. I hoped we could make it to the airport before the FAA grounded all flights.
“How can I help?” I asked Kalyna as she prepared a needle on the charter plane to Ukraine. Apparently, they kept an advanced medic kit on the plane, just in case.
“Just keep him calm,” she told me. “What he really needs is blood.”
Jeremiah put his hand on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “Excuse me,” he said, and maneuvered around me and the fold-down bed Ruel was on. He started speaking to Kalyna in Ukrainian. I knelt next to Ruel’s pallid face.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hi,” he murmured.
“I’ve been thinking about that cabin all day.”
“Warm fire, snow outside. The sound of puffins from the window.”
“Why not?” I smiled. “It’s the national bird.”
“Why not,” he said distantly.
I stroked his hair absentmindedly and looked up at Jeremiah. He had taken off his shirt and Kalyna was rubbing alcohol over the inside of his arm. She found his vein and jabbed the needle into him. She attached it to a tube and the two of them walked together over to Ruel’s bed.
“You’re fine,” Kalyna said as I moved to stand up and get out of their way. “Just keep him calm.”
Jeremiah sat on the ground across from me and smiled reassuringly. Kalyna busily prepared another needle for Ruel and repeated the process before connecting the two in a direct blood transfusion. Jeremiah took my hand in his and we sat there at 35,000 feet waiting for the blood to take effect on Ruel.