“I’m not going to let you get hurt.”
“The Green Berets have our backs,” she said. “You give them info, and they’ll take care of me.”
“Don’t worry,” she said with a grin. “If some thirty-year-old meathead comes rushing in to shoot the bad guys, I’m not going to fall for him.”
She let the words hang in the air for a minute, and he didn’t know what to say. Don’t worry—I’m not going to fall for someone else. Was that really what she meant? Did that mean she’d already fallen for him?
There was a blare from the PA system, and it stung his ears.
“All Lambda recruits report to conference room A. All Lambda recruits report to conference room A.”
“Well,” he said, with a quick exhaled laugh. “That’s bad timing.”
Aubrey grinned, staring at him with those complex eyes. He could look at them forever.
She put a hand behind his neck and pulled him down to her, and before he could realize what was happening, their lips touched.
It was his first kiss, and he didn’t know what to do, but his brain let go and emotions took over. He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her close, concentrating on the texture of her smooth, wet lips, and the smell of her skin, sweet with the lingering smells of the day—soap and toothpaste and fabric softener.
“All Lambda recruits please report to conference room A. All Lambda recruits please report to conference room A.”
She pulled back and grinned. “Time for a meeting, soldier.”
LAURA SAT IN THE THIRD row of folding chairs—close enough to look engaged but not so close as to be particularly noticeable. She planned nearly everything she did now, trying to anticipate the officers’ interpretations of her actions. It was exhausting, but she needed to fit in. This was a golden opportunity.
On the other hand, sometimes she wondered why she tried so hard. Looking around the room, she saw nothing but a bunch of kids. They’d all been drilled about military decorum, but they weren’t soldiers yet, not by a long shot. This meeting was obviously important—there were half a dozen observers—so most everyone sat up straight and did their best to look like they belonged in the army, but Laura wondered how the commanding officers had any faith in this group.
The grizzled sergeant major stood at the front of the room and looked out over the class. “It looks like not everyone made it through training. We started with thirty-four, and we’re down to twenty-six. I’d guess that if we put you through more rigorous training, that number would be cut in half, or even more. But as we don’t have time for more rigorous training, we’ll have to do with what we’ve got.
“You’ve all proven yourselves to be competent, and an asset to the special forces. We’ve been closely watching every aspect of your training, and a team of experts—psychologists, tacticians, doctors, veterans—has been evaluating how best to handle you.”
He paused, watching the faces as though he expected a reaction, but Laura didn’t give him one. She merely stared straight ahead as she’d been taught to, listening carefully, taking mental notes, not wanting to miss a word.
“As we mentioned last week, we’re fighting fire with fire. Some of you will be formed into the exact same kinds of teams that work so well for our terrorist friends. All of you, when you leave here today, will be given a bracelet that indicates you’ve been tested and found healthy. You haven’t been in the outside world for a couple of weeks, but these bracelets are more important than any driver’s license or passport. These bracelets tell the world that you’re clean—that you’re just regular old teenagers.”
There was a hand in the back of the room, and the sergeant major cleared his throat before calling on the boy—Gary, a kid Laura had gotten to know. She knew most of the Lambdas by now. She wished she could recruit a few of them, but that was too much to ask for.
“Aren’t we contagious? Should we really be back in the general population?”
The man turned to the FBI woman, who looked the same as she had a week ago, only with dark circles under her eyes.
“You’ll be under strict adult supervision the entire time, and you will have no contact with other children—other teenagers—who you could infect.”
“What if it mutates again?” Michelle asked.
“We have no idea what the long-term consequences of the virus are,” the woman answered. “All I can say is that we are looking at it from every possible angle. You’ve been out of communication with the outside world but—”
The sergeant major looked tired of being interrupted. “But that’s all a secondary concern at the moment. Right now, we have a job to do. I’m going to make this very clear, so that no one has a false impression. First of all, I’ve witnessed the training of each of you, and I can very clearly state that no one here is Superman. You may be able to do something very impressive, but you’re not invincible. Also, the Green Berets are known as one of the finest fighting organizations on God’s green earth—I’d go so far as to say they’re the finest—but we’re going to take you into combat, and in combat people die. We will not take unnecessary risks with you, but we won’t coddle you, either. If you have any reservations about that, speak now. There’s no dishonor in withdrawal.”
An aide handed him a clipboard, and the sergeant major looked down at the sheet. “I’m going to call out your assignments and point you in the right direction. Wolf, Henson, and Read—come over here and meet with Captain Garrett.” The three of them stood timidly, and then hurried to the waiting Green Beret. They were a team.
“Sola, over here.” Josi stood and walked to a woman at the side of the room. By now Laura could read insignias better, and the woman was from army intelligence. It seemed like a perfect fit for an ability like Josi’s.
“Samuelson,” the sergeant major called.
Laura turned to look at the tall blonde and wished for the hundredth time that she had Nicole’s power. It would make Laura’s plans so much easier. She missed having Alec’s mind-control abilities to cover up her schemes.
“Lambda Samuelson,” he said, “you’re in a different situation, but one I think you’re ideally suited for. Please come up here and meet with Mr. Morgan from the State Department.”
That seemed to make sense. Nicole’s powers wouldn’t be of any use on the battlefield, but she could be perfect in a diplomatic role. Or as a spy.
“Cooper, Parsons, and Hansen.”
Laura sighed inwardly but stood up and smiled. Aubrey Parsons and Jack Cooper had an intriguing pair of skills and Laura had just heard a few whispers about their midnight mission together in Salt Lake, fighting a Lambda who could terrify people with her mind. They seemed like a good team. But they were a pair—a couple, it seemed like—and that would only make it harder for Laura to work with them. She’d always be the third wheel, and that wasn’t good if Laura ever needed to manipulate one of them.
“The three of you come over and meet with Captain Rowley.” Aubrey and Jack moved toward the captain and Laura followed behind.
He led them into a small room with a table and four chairs. After closing the door, he turned to look at them.