Despite her elaborate show of power, Major lay lifeless under Valerie’s hands. She searched his eyes, hoping he would return. She needed him. She needed him to tell her what to do next. She needed him to be her father’s voice of reason in his absence. His energy had not faded, but he was not there. Out of desperation, she began chest compressions.
“Griff, call 911. Please!” Tears rolled down her face.
Major’s head jerked with every thrust. His eyes stared into nowhere.
Jack placed his hands over Valerie’s, but she did not stop. She would keep Major’s heart beating even if he could not. Only when Jack wrapped his muscular arms over hers did she let the defeat overtake her.
The confrontation, the blood, the lifeless man who lay in front of her. If she had listened to him, she could have avoided all of this. She saw her mother where Hyka’s father was. She had picked the most impossible of occupations—trusted to save lives, yet incapable. She saved hundreds of people in her career, but when love was involved, she had failed again. She feared this to be the fate of everyone close to her.
Valerie forgot where she was, who she was, and why she was there. Grief poured from her soul into a tiny ball which kept growing into a hollowness in her chest. She wished the emptiness would collapse on itself and swallow her. She was numb to everything around her but the breaking of her heart.
The passing of time was only given away by the growing darkness casting the team into shadows. Valerie’s adrenaline wore off, and the pain of kneeling on the concrete was becoming more apparent. She shifted her body to lay flat on the ground. Jack was next to her, his shirt still wet with her tears. His eyes closed. His right hand rubbed his forehead hard and slow, caked with dried blood from O’Connell’s face.
Valerie stared up at the dark sky that had flashed bright with lightning as she had never experienced before. The failure drained her emotionally and physically. Her eyes were swollen and raw from crying. She wanted to run away. Leave them all. She did not want the responsibility which came with her awakened gene. She did not want to be a DiaZem or bear the impossible expectations of others. She did not want to be the one to stand by and pick up the pieces of destruction left in her wake.
Hyka lay next to her father with her head on his chest. She, like the rest of the group, was silent. No sobs or mournful sighs. She just stared down at his shoes, not even shifting for comfort. Griff sat facing the bloody pile of Specialist O’Connell. Dirt, blood, and sweat were only washed clean by the tears he allowed to fall down his cheeks. He reminded Valerie of the degenerates along the road to Max’s: stripped of their loved ones and desperate for answers. Courtney sat beside him, both staring a thousand miles away at the same nothing.
“I have to keep going, Jack. I just don’t know how,” Valerie whispered. A tear rolled from the corner of her eye and across her temple. Her heart broke for Hyka, and she felt selfish for even breathing the words.
“You and I can go on. We’ll take the girl. Eight more hours. Griff can stay with Hyka and Major. Once we reach Caleb, we will come back for them and regroup.” Jack sounded like he had been rolling the idea around for as long as she had.
O’Connell coughed, sending a ball of clotted blood straight into the air which landed next to his face. Hyka slid to a stance in a fluid motion that conveyed she had been waiting for this exact moment. Griff attempted to head her off, but she had anticipated his interception as well and maneuvered by him with ease. Hyka straddled her prey, and with a quick jerk of her arm, her father’s blade pulled over the young man’s throat. She stayed there, blood pouring over her knees until the flow stopped and Specialist O’Connell’s body lay lifeless. Only then did she stand and walk toward Valerie, stopping short and pointing the bloody blade at her.
“You did this. To both of them. Is this your idea of leading? You haven’t even picked what side you’re on,” Hyka yelled in anger, but she did not cry. “This is not just about you. Stop pulling everyone along if you’re just going to ditch us the first chance you get. We’re here because we believe you’re the one to stop this, but you need to stop straddling the fence. Pick a damn side already. You’re just going to get the rest of us killed.”
Her words felt like poison, and Valerie dared not interrupt. She knew the grieving process all too well. Hyka was the one hurting and needed to place blame and direct her anger. Valerie had no business trying to defend herself. Hyka would not have listened either way.
“You didn’t search him,” Jack said without looking at her. “I told you to search him, Hyka. This was as much your fault as any of us.”
“Hyka,” Major whispered from where he was lying.
She lowered the knife she had pointed at Valerie and stepped back to her father.
“Everything’s alright. I’m fine. Just a little weak,” Major coughed. Griff brought him a bottle of water and helped Hyka prop him up to drink.
“She did it. I can’t believe she did it,” Griff said to himself, wiping a tear away with the back of his hand.
“Give me a little time, I’ll be ready to go,” Major said, sitting more upright. He took another drink, then looked up. “I saw you, Valerie, in my dream, and bits and pieces of events. I saw the other DiaZem. And I saw. . .” He looked at Griff and then at the ground. “We need to keep moving. We’re running out of time.”
Jack patted Valerie hard on her back as he walked over to O’Connell’s body.
“I can’t,” she said, anticipating another request. “I don’t think my ability works the same for regular people.”
“Nope. Not this one. He deserves what he got.” Jack looked back at her and smiled. He looked over at Courtney, who seemed very much out of place. “Got a hand?”
“How did you do that anyway?” Courtney asked, grabbing under one of O’Connell’s shoulders. “Did you know the lightning would work?”
“No, I didn’t, but once I started, the electricity stimulated the stem cells in his brain to repair itself from the inside out.” Feeling better about the situation, Valerie grabbed a bottle of water and cleaned her arms of the blood. “The damage was corrected. Maybe it just took some time for his brain to reboot. I was scared he wouldn’t wake up.”
“Well, you did good, kid,” Jack grunted as he and Courtney pulled the body to the middle of the road.
“If it is no concern to anyone, I am pretty close to home. I have someone I need to check in on. It’s been days. I imagine she’s worried about me,” Courtney said, looking between Jack and Valerie.
“No one will force you to stay. We’re all here to protect that which is dear to us. Yours is not any less important.” Valerie wished Courtney would stay, but would not try to convince her.