One of the soldiers spoke up. The patch on his chest read “Jolley,” but his attitude didn’t seem to match the name. “We’re supposed to go into battle with an untested weapons system?”
“I’m not a weapons system,” Aubrey snapped.
Captain Rowley held up a hand. “This isn’t a battle, it’s a recon mission. In the event that we see a vulnerable target, we’ll move in. And yes, we haven’t had the time to test all of the Lambdas to the extent that we’d like. But this ‘demon’ has thwarted both the Salt Lake SWAT Team and a team from the National Guard. That’s why they called us.”
“Is it that important?” another Green Beret—his chest patch read “Eschler”—asked. “One Lambda hiding in a school?”
“We have initial reports of a more major action taking place tomorrow or the next day. Tonight we’re just testing out a possible strategy. We think Parsons and Cooper here can be a significant asset. But we’ve got to work together if we’re going to make this happen.”
Eschler sneered, as though to make it clear that he had no interest in making any of this work. Jack didn’t blame him. Even though everything about her training and powers pointed that way, he’d somehow managed to miss the fact that Aubrey would be taking the lead—and that she’d be all alone. He felt an enormous weight on his chest; he was the only person who would be in contact with her. He was the one who would decide when she needed help, when it was time to call in the reinforcements and get her out of there.
Worse, he knew that no one could contact her. They couldn’t order her out. She was relying entirely on Jack to make sure that the Green Berets would come when she needed them.
The captain dug into the large plastic shopping bag, from which he pulled a stack of civilian clothes. He handed them out to Jack and Aubrey. “Go change, and then get to work on these maps. I want you to know the floor plan of this high school backward and forward before we take off.” He looked at his watch. “That gives us about an hour.”
Unmarked cars were waiting for the team when the helicopter landed in a large parking lot in the middle of downtown, and no one wasted any time in transferring their gear to the new vehicles. Aubrey and Jack were dropped off a half mile from the school, in a dingy part of the city.
It wasn’t too late—maybe close to eleven—but the lights were out all over Salt Lake. The tall buildings were big black holes that blocked the view of the stars, and the only flickers appeared to come from the occasional candle or flashlight. Had the terrorists knocked out the power grid?
Aubrey followed Jack in silence as they hiked west toward the school. West High was made up of three buildings, but it was the main one—a large, three-story place that had probably been built eighty years before—that had suffered the damage. It had come tumbling down, collapsing on the north end. It looked now like the school was a sinking ship, slanted into torn-up earth. They skirted the building, as they’d been told to do, staying a block south and a block east before creeping up on it and making their way onto the lawn.
“Well,” Aubrey said, spraying her neck and wrists with the perfume and then holding them out for Jack to smell. “Are you ready, Bloodhound?”
The perfume was overpowering so close, and he had to focus on something else to not gag.
“The packaging says it has freesia in it,” she said with a smile. “Do you think I smell like freesia?”
“I have no idea what freesia even is,” Jack answered, and then was hit by a sudden pang of worry. She was going in alone. “I’d hug you, but I don’t want to smell like you. You’ll be harder to track.”
“I’ll be okay.”
Jack nodded. “If you need something—anything—just say the word and I’ll get you out of there.”
The microphone sounded in Jack’s ear. “Cooper, this is Rowley. Everything is set on our end. We have eyes on you. Over.”
“They’re ready,” Jack relayed for Aubrey.
She nodded, taking a deep breath, and then headed across the dark lawn.
AUBREY LIKED THE SMELL OF the perfume. It was one thing she’d never had—one thing she’d never stolen. She and Nicole had raided a Victoria’s Secret once for lotions and body wash, but that was the closest Aubrey had ever come.
She focused on the smell as she walked, not wanting to think about what lay within the school. She was invisible now—she’d “gone dark” as the captain kept referring to it—but that didn’t give her a lot of comfort. She’d been found before when she was invisible. The broken school almost certainly didn’t have any cameras, but she was wearing perfume with the express purpose of being recognizable. She was fairly sure that if she walked through a room of people, no one would notice her, or the smell, but what about when she was gone? Would the scent linger? Was she leaving a trail for others to follow—or, at the very least, a trail that would make people suspicious?
As she reached the school, she could hear voices inside, and smell the pungent smoke of a campfire. She wondered what else had happened in Salt Lake. These people were homeless, but had they been homeless a month before? Were they just normal people trying to survive?
She climbed a pile of rubble and then ducked through a smashed window that seemed to serve as a main entrance.
“Hey, Jack,” she whispered. “I’m going in. You can probably still see me.”
It was weird talking to him, knowing that he couldn’t communicate back. Still, it felt good—like she wasn’t alone.
“I’m in some kind of classroom,” she said. “English, by the looks of it. Lots of books on the floor. Ugh. Great Expectations. I hated that one. I can smell smoke. I should tell them they can burn these.”
She moved through the room, its ceiling slanted at a sharp angle, and out into the hall.
“Man,” she breathed. “What happened to this place? This building is majorly destroyed. I don’t know how anyone would dare to live in here.” She crept down the hall, past a man sitting on a desk. He looked like some kind of guard. A camp lantern sat next to him, illuminating his face and casting long dark shadows down the corridor.
“There’s someone watching the hallway. He must be guarding the entrance—I haven’t seen anything that looks like it could go down into the basement yet. I don’t think he’s a Lambda—too old. Maybe in his thirties? The gun’s a .38 revolver, like that one that Matt’s dad used to have. The way this guy’s holding it makes me wonder if he’s ever used one before. Probably just defending the family.”
A chill went up her back as she said those final words. This was likely a guy who lost his house. Maybe he was guarding against more terrorists, or maybe he was guarding against robbers who wanted to steal their supplies.
No, that sounded too apocalyptic, and the world wasn’t like that. She hadn’t heard much news in the last few weeks, but civilization wasn’t completely falling apart, was it?
“I wish I had your eyes,” Aubrey said to Jack, walking farther down the hall. The lantern lit up most of what surrounded her, but it wasn’t enough light to really see what was in the damaged classrooms to her sides. “I don’t know how many people are here. I can hear snoring. There’s a baby crying.”