“I don’t play their high-techy games,” Staff Sergeant Stephenson said, waving the barrel of the black 9mm in Valerie’s face.
O’Connell came barreling out of the command tent. He gave a visible sigh of relief when he saw Valerie was still standing. He slowed his pace to a brisk walk.
“But I cannot get over the fact I found the precious DiaZem,” Stephenson said, touching his free hand to her cheek. “I’m sure the CDC has a medal for something like this.”
“You won’t get a medal for this,” Major said. Valerie kept her gaze on the gun, but in her peripheral, she saw Major had grabbed Specialist O’Connell by the hair as and held a knife to his throat. The door of the command tent swung open, and three men jogged over to the group. No one seemed concerned about the men approaching, although it was apparent they held positions of authority.
Sweat poured from O’Connell’s face and mixed with silent tears. Major’s jaw was tight, and he didn’t drop his gaze from Stephenson. The staff sergeant’s smile faded and he pushed the barrel hard into the side of Valerie’s head, standing so close to her that his chest touched her face. Her fear was stronger than ever, but she would not give in. She could not. No one else had to die. Heart pounding, she decided to act. Valerie reached out to one of the electric weapons and fired two paces in front of the three men, stopping them in their tracks.
“Stephenson! Drop your weapon! That’s an order, Staff Sergeant, and I won’t say it again!” the tallest of the three threatened.
Stephenson gave Valerie a look of absolute hatred. He lowered the handgun from her face.
“Ma’am, I am Captain Franklin, the officer in charge of this checkpoint. Dr. Jarrett has ordered your safe passage. He runs the CDC facility in Denver.”
“I know who he is,” she said, loathing the mention of his name. She did not need his permission. She hated even more that he knew where she was.
“Sir, she’s a DiaZem,” Stephenson yelled in protest. “The one we’ve been out here screening for the entire time. And we are just going to let them go? The one thing holding up Phase Two shimmies through our checkpoint and points our goddamn weapons at us, fires at us, and we don’t retaliate?”
“Staff Sergeant, I suggest you stand down now, or you’re going to regret what happens next,” Major said without loosening the grip on O’Connell.
Rage filled the staff sergeant’s eyes. He took two long strides toward Major. Major flung the crying young man to the ground and took a fighting stance with his blade in hand. Jack, still lying on the ground nearby, grabbed O’Connell by the ankle and held him down.
Another electrical weapon fired. Stephenson fell.
“Stop!” the captain shouted. Silence fell over the checkpoint except for screams from the man writhing on the ground. Valerie had not fired at him. She looked into the crowd of soldiers. The weapons were all disengaged but one held by a woman who stood raising hers over her head. Valerie noted the blue setting of a stun gun. Not enough electricity to affect the heart, but enough to attack the nerves. Fellow soldiers approached the woman, detained her stun gun, and zip-tied her wrists together.
The captain left the medics to tend to Staff Sergeant Stephenson and walked toward Valerie. Jack stood up between them, maintaining his firm grip on O’Connell
“We mean you no harm,” Captain Franklin offered. “Our orders are to let you pass, however, without the use of your vehicle. We know who you are, Valerie Burton. We know what you are. This little crusade you are on is pointless. Dr. Jarrett has offered an escort to your residence in exchange for your friends. You’d be home by the morning, ma’am. Your husband will also be notified to meet you there. A win-win option for everyone. No more running. You’ll be back with your family.”
Jack looked back over his shoulder at Valerie. She hesitated, but she knew what would happen after she reunited with her family. Lucas would have her captured and brought to the facility anyway. They would use her family as leverage to make her do what they wanted. Phase Two was dependent on her cooperation. Major was getting red in the face, and the captain was getting impatient. She realized they still had not located her son. If they had, they would not have given her the option to walk away.
“We are taking O’Connell.” Valerie walked to the far side of Jack, away from the captain, and pulled the young man from his grasp. “And her. Let her go.”
Valerie waited while the soldiers cut the restraints of the woman’s wrists and let her go. Stephenson was trash. Anyone who would stand up to a man despite the consequence was someone she wanted on her side.
They walked out of the checkpoint. Hyka grabbed O’Connell’s other arm, and they picked up the pace. Major glared at Valerie and waited for the three women to pass before he followed with Griff beside him, keeping his eye on the captain and the recovering staff sergeant. Jack waited until Valerie was out of earshot to point a finger at the captain’s chest. Judging by the two men’s posture, their exchange was not a pleasant one. After he spoke his piece, Jack jogged to catch up with the team.
Valerie released her hold on the young man. He was thin, wiry, and a few inches taller than her. His red hair was too long for military standards, and his skin was bright red from the stress of his situation. He was scared. She felt sorry for him, but she needed answers. He did not belong with those soldiers. He did not belong with the CDC. He belonged with them. His wand knew more about her than she did.
The woman kept pace. Valerie could tell she was a conductor, though she appeared Valerie’s actual age.
“Thank you,” she said, pushing her glasses up her face. She kept her chin high as they walked, unapologetic.
“Thank you,” Valerie answered. “You would have faced a court martial over that, no doubt.”
“I’m not even the military,” the woman laughed. “I am a journalist. I was at the government building, trying to get my paperwork in order so I could be a war-time correspondent. Then the event happened...