Breed Book 4, Part 24

Twenty-Four

Cris was sweating like a hog. It wasn’t the climate; this was enough like Guatemala to feel homey, but he’d never put his ability through this kind of a workout before. He wasn’t sure where the upper limit of his healing ability was… but he could feel himself edging closer to it. Worse, he could see how the girl holding the guard at gunpoint was getting more anxious, and she was the only thing between the rest of them and an entire base of military personnel.

“Glad to see you’re still in one piece,” he nearly jumped at the words beside his ear. “Sorry,” Rox said, “didn’t mean to startle you.”

“She’s lying,” Anita said. “On the way over she would talk of nothing but.”

“That’s fine,” he said, standing. “But I know who to ask for help bleaching my underpants.”

“Bleach?” Sonya asked. “I’d just let Rui torch them.”

“I’m pretty sure that would just aerosolize-” Anita stopped herself, “nope, not following you down that rabbit hole.”

“I prefer ‘foxhole,’” Cris said. “Because I date foxes. Also, it lets me make jokes about everyone being gay in a foxhole.”

“How’re we doing?” Rox asked.

“Through the most serious. Some of these injuries… these people would have been maimed for life. They were just letting wounds fester. Leaving broken bones to mend unset. I’m livid, even though I’m too weak to properly express it.”

“Good, because our distraction literally flew the coop,” Sonya said.

“Was that literal?” Anita asked. “They flew, yes, but there was no coop.”

“You’re the fake English teacher,” Sonya said, punctuating it with a dismissive shrug.

“What about Mahmoud?” Rox asked.

“Haven’t seem him,” Cris said. “Maybe… he said he was a ‘ghost in the machine,’ right?  What if he uploaded a sliver of his consciousness, and that was what you were talking to,” as they started towards the exit.

Rox stopped. “Guys- guy, and dolls,” Rox started, “anybody try that door?” Barely visible in the wall was a seam.

“I didn’t even notice it before,” Anita said.

“Yeah,” Sonya said, “looks like a draft must have pulled it out, ever so subtly, so it’s noticeable. Can we safely assume that’s your luck working overtime?”

“I usually do,” Rox said. “But to be on the safe side, let me take point.” Rox got her fingernails into the edge of the door and pulled with all of her weight. Slowly, the door started to creak open.

“This is unsettling,” Cris said, his speech coming faster than usual. “Am I the only one unsettled?”

Hanging in the center of the room was Mahmoud. He had an IV hanging from the ceiling, spittle flowing freely from his slack jaw. His eyes were glassy, his entire body limp, dangling from what looked like a straight jacket chained to the ceiling.

“This is really gross,” Sonya said.

“Yeah,” Cris plugged his nose. “They just have him go where he’s hanging…”

“No,” she said, pulling an IV out of a slit in the jacket exposing his arm, “I mean he’s in a medically induced coma, or close to it, but there aren’t any monitors, no way for them to know if the cocktail of drugs they’re keeping him on is depressing his heartrate or keeping him from breathing. This is how you fucking kill people. It’s sick.”

Anita was shaking with rage. “You okay?” Rox asked, gently touching her arm. “This is bringing is bringing it back, isn’t it? What was done to you?”

“I really want to hurt someone. Can we make a quick stop to hurt some people?”

“Our priority needs to be getting these people out of harm’s way- making sure the people who did this can’t keep doing it. That okay?”

“Yeah,” Anita said, taking a deep breath. “That’s the right call. But if we see anyone on our way out, no promises I don’t cripple them.”

“We’ll try not to let that happen. “

“Not a, coma, ‘xactly,” Mahmoud mumbled through bubbles of spit and snot.

“Jesus,” Cris said.

“We’re here to take you home,” Rox said, speaking gently to him.

“You’re not here, at all. You’re just my, fucked-up, brain, fucking with me.”

“Nope.” She pinched his cheek. “We’re your friends. Finally breaking you out of this hellhole.”

A tear slid down his cheek. “No. You’re not. I have had this, this drug-induced hallucination- and this exact fight, more or less, before, and I’m not interested in whatever it is you’re selling- hope or just not wishing for the capacity to kill myself for five minutes.”

“Cris? You got one more detox in you?”

“I think I do. The problem is he ain’t the only technopath in here…” He motioned for her to follow him through a door in the corner. There were rows more of young men and women restrained just like Mahmoud.

“Fuck…” Rox said. “We gonna need a bigger boat?”

“I think we’ll fit, if just,” Sonya said.” Boat may not make it more than fifteen miles before sinking into the ocean, but that should put us squarely in Cuba.” 

“Nita, round up any stragglers. We’re going to need all the help we can get moving these people onto the ship. Sonya, go with her- make sure she doesn’t murder anybody.” She waited until they were out of earshot. “What can I do to help?” “I’m going to try and heal as many of them as I can, but I already feel like I’m going to pass out and piss myself. So stick close; I’m going to need all the luck I can get.”

Breed Book 4, Part 23

Twenty-Three

One of the inmates poked his head out of a hole in a crumbling wall. “Damnit,” Ben muttered, pointing both his hands at the wall, sending shockwaves through the ground. The wall collapsed the rest of the way, trapping the inmate under a pile of rubble.

Ben hadn’t worked this hard since he lived on the reservation with his brother. He wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. “I’m working too hard, here. I look best when I’m glistening, not drowning in my own tropical ball sweat.”

Rui landed beside him and clapped him on the back. “On the one hand, the U.S. Army is shooting at us. On the other, they apparently went to Stormtrooper School of Marskmanship, because they’ve been missing by a country mile.”

“I don’t know, man. If a dude was on fire and flying over my head… I wouldn’t want to shoot him. Because who’s to say shooting him does anything more than piss him off and get him to pay attention to you, specifically.”

“That’s a good point. I just figured they’d got lazy, living on a beach and sipping Mojitos.”

“Dude, Army men don’t sip Mojitos. They chug.”

“Mojitos?”

“It’s green. That’s a manly color.”

“I’m really going to miss this,” Rui leapt back into the air, shooting flames at a fire team that had been trying to flank Ben moving through the tall grass along the hill, “when you inevitably get yourself shot.”

“Right, just because we decided to take a five mid-combat to banter doesn’t mean everyone else is honoring our time-out.” Ben spun, shaking the men off their feet, sending them rolling back down the hill they’d been climbing. One fired a wild shot over his head as he fell. “I kind of get the impression they think we aren’t on their side.”

“We aren’t.”

“Well, yeah, but it’s not like we’re on the other side, either.”

“The terrorists seem to have figured it all out quicker. Or maybe they’re just assuming anyone not explicitly with them is probably explicitly against them. Or maybe it’s just that I tried to set them on fire, and you collapsed a few walls on them.” He paused. “Terrorism suspects? I don’t know, maybe it’s not okay to just take the government’s word for it that they really deserve to be here. I mean… this government isn’t exactly renowned for its honesty.”

“Most of them have been here through more than one presidency,” Ben said, focusing on knocking a wall down to block some fleeing men.

“I’m Brazillian, dude; Drump might be objectively worse, but not by as much as some of you seem to think. The U.S. Government, whoever happens to be President, isn’t exactly a beacon of transparent and guile-free administration. Bipartisan, they get up to some shady shit. I’m not denying crap isn’t bad in Brazil, especially right now, but we don’t have nearly the kind of impact on the world stage, either.”

“That’s fair. And it’s certainly not like there weren’t some questionable detentions out of this camp, some released after a decade without charges.” The walkie on Ben’s belt squelched twice. “That’s our cue to get the hell out of Dodge.”

“Give me your hands.”

“Wait. I had a thought. Can you fly me over the compound?”      

“Like carry you by the hands, like we did to get here?”

“No, I need my hands free.”

“Ugh. By the armpits? Dude, you just got done describing the River of sweat trickling down you.”

“I did not make it nearly as homoerotic as you just did. And it’s just a little pitstank. It won’t kill you. Just make you nonviable with women for a few months- which seems like it will only extend your current streak.”

“All right. Fine. But let’s get it done, now, before I decide to just drop you.”

Rui lifted the both of them off the ground. “If I strain something, I’m drop-kicking you into the Caribbean.”

“I thought it was pronounced cuh-rib-ee-an.”

“If you’re a tourist, maybe.”

“So wait, when you said you were going to kick me in the Caribbean, did you mean into the body of water, or is ‘the Caribbean’ some kind of Brazilian slang I should definitely be made aware of?”

“If you keep this up I’m definitely going to kick you in the Caribbean.”

“Now I want an answer even more,” Ben said.

“Even as the cost of the question goes up.”

Rui swooped them both higher to avoid a bout of gunfire from a pocket of military personnel. Ben extended his shockwaves through his entire body, pushing them out towards the ground, shaking the soldiers and inmates off their feet. He kept going until a thunderbolt crack spread across the building.

“Uff, I’m pooped,” Ben said, his body going limp.

“So long as that’s not literal.”

“I know, if it is you’ll kick me in the Caribbean.” He exhaled. “But that might even be enough to get them to leave us out of the official story, if they can blame all the fuss on a natural disaster. Give them a massive chance to cover their asses.” “Yeah,” Rui said. “Cause the alternative only works if they can spin it so they’re the only thing standing between Karen Q.  Public and the dark, scary Breed threat. Doesn’t work so well when they get their asses handed to them.”

Breed Book 4, Part 22

Twenty-Two

“So what do you know about boats?” Sonya asked, walking along the dock flanked by small military watercraft.

“With any luck I know how to steal one?” Rox said.

“Piracy, then?”

“Sort of. My dad had a habit of losing his keys. And his car was a POS, anyway, so he’d just rub the wires together and… meant I learned to drive at a very young age.”

“And stole his car frequently?”

Rox shrugged. “Why do you ask?”

“Because I know just enough to know that these boats, here, are all short range. Probably GPSed, too, for that matter. They aren’t going to get us to either continent. Probably not even to any of the other islands.”

“You know boats?”

“My dad had a dream of owning a boat. Never happened, but he was enthusiastic about the idea. Some of it rubbed off on me.”

“I guess the important thing is that we make it to Cuban soil. This base gets treated like U.S. soil even though it’s in Cuba, but once we’re officially in Cuba, they U.S. can’t act officially without it being an act of international aggression. And especially insofar as most of these aren’t U.S. citizens, they really can’t claim that recapturing them makes any kind of sense. They aren’t a threat; in fact, they probably would have been hard-pressed to justify imprisoning them in Gitmo in the first-place, but try explaining to the world why you invaded a country to arrest refugees. And the citizens are an even bigger black eye; they were arrested without charge- without even a hint of a crime.”

“Well, these boats should get people to Cuba,” Sonya said. “But what’s the plan here?”

“I’ll walk you through hot-wiring a boat…”

“And then? We bringing the mountain to Mohammed, one handful at a time or- nevermind. Looks like Mohammed’s leading the flock here.” Anita was leading a parade of refugees towards them.

Rox was already beneath the ignition on the boat, slicing open wires. “Should give me just about enough time to make sure I still know how to do…” the boat “there we go.”   

“This is about half,” Anita said, arriving with a rowdy throng.

Half? Jesus,” Rox said.

“The rest are with Cris. He’s healing them as fast as he can; the rest volunteered to stay behind, help the wounded run if it came down to that.”

“Okay, let’s get these boats launched and in the water. As soon as that’s done we can go back up Cris. Do we think we have capacity enough on our boat to haul out the rest?”

“If this was half?” Sonya asked. “Not in open waters, but if we’re setting down on a different beach to figure out next moves, they should get us there.”

“Good,” Anita said. “Then I’m going to scuttle whatever boats we don’t take, make it harder for the Army to pursue.”

“That’s good thinking.”

“No,” Anita shook her head. “I’ve just seen what happens if I don’t. Bright side? You make a really pretty corpse. I’m a little jealous, actually.”

“You’re a really weird fucking lady.”

“That might be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me. That’s kind of fucked up.”

“Ladies,” Rox said, “we got a government to thwart. We can finish the tea party when we’re not trespassing on a military base.”

“I don’t know. Military bases do have the best tea.” “Then grab a handful of bags. We’ll drink it someplace we don’t have to worry about getting shot while we sip.”

Breed Book 4, Part 21

Twenty-One

“Looks like our boys have kicked the hornets nest,” Anita said, pointing to smoke billowing from the other side of the base.

“I suddenly feel self-conscious that I’m playing for the girls team,” Cris said.

“Yeah, well, the power to heal isn’t exactly the kind of splashy, wet-your-pants showstopper we needed over there,” Rox said. “Sonya, do the honors.”

Sonya broke cover and conjured two balls of antimatter cocooned in a small field in each hand, and pressed them against the hinges of a door. She jogged back behind the corner of the building with the others. She counted down on her hand silently, and when she was down to one finger the fields dissipated, and the antimatter reacted explosively with the matter of the door, shredding the hinges.

Rox and Anita took either side of the door, “On three, two, three,” Rox said, and they lifted, and set the door down on the concrete. “How are we doing?”

“I’m not sure I like being treated as an early warning system,” Anita said, “but so far Rui and Ben are getting all the attention. Still, we should be quick.”

Rox led the way inside. “Luck’s holding,” she said. “Guards have all responded to the other end of the compound.”

“Yeah, about your whole ‘luck’ thing,” Sonya said, and Rox followed her down a side corridor, which was filled with cells.

“We’re going to need a bigger boat,” Anita said.

“Great,” Rox muttered. “Perfect. Anita, you and Cris work on getting these people to safety. Sonya, you’re with me.”

“Ahem, point of order, but I think the woman with lock-exploding powers should probably open the cells before leaving us high and dry,” Anita said.

Sonya started skipping down the first hall, sing-songing “Back, back everybody stand back,” as she passed, sticking boomlets to the cell doors as she passed, then the second hall, third, and a fourth.

As she skid to a stop back with the group, Cris said, “Now I’m going to have ‘Pop goes the weasel stuck in my head for-“ the first explosion cut him off, followed by a chain of them. “Nevermind, I’m just going to piss myself like a chihuahua on the Fourth of July.”

Rox and Sonya turned to leave, and it was another ten seconds of explosions before Cris could be heard. “I’m not sure I like all of us splitting up like this.”

“Why, you think we’re in a horror movie?” Anita laughed. “Well, we aren’t, in this timeline. Though believe me, some of the Breed timelines get awfully dark, think Skynet, but bigoted.”

“That’s not comforting. And I more meant that if anyone gets hurt, I can’t help them if there’s an army between us and them.” He opened the first cell door.

“Well, isn’t that shit?” Anita asked. Shrapnel from the lock had hit a small Breed girl in the side, and she was cowering in the corner, trying to hold her blood back in.

“That’s why I’m here,” Cris said, and brushed past her. “Triage the rest, getting healthy people ready to move. Those who need work get a healthy buddy outside their cells, so I can find them.”

“Sure,” Anita said, and nodded.

Cris turned back towards the wounded girl. “Hi. I know it hurts. My name’s Cris, and I can help.” He kneeled down to where she was shivering in a ball. “Hablo Ingles?”

“Si-si-si,” she stuttered out, then yelped “yes” too forcefully. 

“What’s your name?”

“Anna Maria,” she said, her breathing labored.

“Anna Maria, I’m going to need you to move your hand, so I can see the wound.”

“P-p-pressure,” she said.

“I’m going to heal your injury, but to do that, I have to move the metal, or it will just keep cutting you. To do that, you’ll have to move your hands.”

“Will, it, hurt?”

“Yes,” he said tenderly. “But only until it’s done. Then the pain will be gone. Understand?”

She nodded, and moved her hands, then she braced as he pinched the edge of a metal shard poking out of her side. “How old are you?”

She relaxed, for an instant, thinking, before saying, “Twelve-” the word ended in a gasp as he wrenched the metal out of her. Cris placed his hand on her side, and they both felt warmth where the wound and his hand met, until he removed it. “Better,” she said, taking in a rasping breath.     

“Good. You did very well, especially for someone only 12 years old. Join the others. We’re going to try and get you out of here.”

“Safe?”

“We’re going to make you as safe as we can.” Cris helped her to her feet, and guided her outside of the cell. Already a dozen people, mostly children, were gathering near the exit. Anita was a third of the way down the first hall, and every other cell had a healthy person standing outside to tell him about the injured person inside.

“So far she’s the only one with shrapnel wounds. But there’s plenty more that are malnourished, may not be able to walk- and we may need to run before this thing is over.”

“Premonition?” he called.

“Intuition. Heal those you can. The fewer people we have to carry out, the better. Aw, fudge.” Anita turned, drawing her pistol, and fired. A man in black U.S. military gear rounded the corner, catching the round in the chest. “Apparently this one was in the can when the alarms went off.” Cris was already running to her at full speed, and slid into a kneel beside him. Blood was dribbling out of his shirt, which Cris tore from him. He was wearing a vest, now dented, and Cris moved it out of the way. There was a bruise already forming, and a small gash where the pressure of the bullet overwhelmed the strength of the skin. Cris put his hand over the wound and began to heal him. The guard started to reach for his sidearm.

“Ah ah,” Anita said. “Slide your dumb ass to the cells.” He complied, and she took the cuffs off his harness, and secured him to the bars. She took his gun and his radio. She walked to one prisoner, standing nearby. “Could you-” she tilted her head, “nevermind, you can join the others down the hall.” She walked to a teenaged girl, and handed her the radio and gun. “Can you stay here, until it’s time for all of us to go, to make sure he doesn’t try to move or make noise?” The girl nodded. 

Anita walked back over to the guard, staring daggers at all of the escaping prisoners. “My gun’s loaded with rubber bullets. They usually do the trick, so long as you’re not the kind of asshole who aims them at people’s faces. Yours… I’m assuming has live rounds. The girl with your gun, will shoot you, if you misbehave. The dude before would have just shot you on principle. Given your role in an ongoing human rights atrocity, I’m not sure giving the gun to the girl was the right call, but Cris would have been upset if I let you get shot. Repeatedly. About half the mag went into your junk.”

“I’m not thanking a freak like you,” he said.

“Well, I guess that proves he’s not a good one in a bad situation. I’ll level with you. I’ve already seen today happen. Whether you cooperate, whether you scream your fool head off for reinforcements, the results are the same. The only thing that changes is you bleed out, here, alone, with no one to hear your dying words. I’m not sure who Krysten is, or why you’re sorry, but if you die today, she’ll never hear them- certainly not from me. Or, you sit there, keep your mouth shut, you live.”

“I’ve seen your faces.”

“Striking, isn’t it? I’m already on commercial no fly lists. If the Feds ever did catch me, I’d be headed right back here. I’m not shy about my infamy. And while I don’t like you, for everything you’ve done and represent, if I wanted you dead, I’d put a bullet in you. Or maybe go to work on you with that knife in your boot…” she rolled up his pantleg, and removed it from an ankle sheath. It was serrated and gnarled, the kind of knife that wasn’t just meant to cut you, but to rend at the flesh and make healing take longer. “See, I know you’ve fantasized about sticking this in one of these children you guard. Justice would probably be sticking it in your guts and twisting it around.” She threw the knife down the hall. “But there’s a shitload of kids here today, and I’d hate to traumatize the fuck out of them. So I’d consider this a mulligan. Those kids, they’re not the monsters you think they are.” She leaned in close, and when he tried to headbutt her, she moved so he rammed himself into the butt of her gun. “But I am, because I’ve had exactly the same kind of training as you. I’m your fucking boogeyman. You hurt them, and I will find you. And your amateurish fantasies with the knife- I will teach you some things about real monsters.”

“You done?” Cris asked.

“I think we understand each other,” she said.

“Good. Because there’s a lot more work to be done.”

Breed Book 4, Part 20

Twenty

“This feels wrong,” Rui said.

“Like getting an erection off Jessica Rabbit? I know she’s a cartoon, but…” Ben trailed off, staring at the horizon.

“No. Not hot wrong. Like… I know the government thinks of us as traitors, terrorists. But we’re about to seriously start setting fire to an American military base.”

“One that shouldn’t be in Cuba, one that’s in Cuba solely to violate civil rights in ways they couldn’t if it was in U.S. Territory. Besides, this is a rescue mission; if they hadn’t been kidnapping kids, we wouldn’t have to be here. We aren’t the villains, here.”

“Maybe,” Rui said. “But that doesn’t necessarily make us the heroes, either.”

“Meh,” Ben shrugged. “I’m doing what’s right, what feels right in my soul. What my brother would tell me was right, if awful people hadn’t murdered him. That just makes me ‘Ben.’ I can handle being just Ben.”

“I don’t also have to be Ben, do I?”

“Nah. Be Rui. Be somebody else, if that doesn’t feel like a good fit anymore. Just do it while distracting a shitload of American Gestapo, or they’ll throw us all in the Gulag.”

“You’re mixing your- whatever.”

“Besides, I don’t set shit on fire.”

“Yes, you ‘vibrate’ shit.”

“Don’t do that. Don’t belittle my ability. It’s petty.”

“Sorry, man. Just, I can fly, and I have near-microscopic control over my atomic structure. But it’s neat that you can shake stuff. You know, like a baby with a rattle.”

“I asked nice. When this is over, you and me are doing this.”

“Except that I can just turn into a gas, and, while being vibrated might be fun, it kind of loses it’s violence.”

“I hate you sometimes, you know that? Handsome, wealthy, great teeth. And you get a better power.”

“Unrequited love, personality issues. We all got our stuff, man. And vibrating things is far from the wimpiest ability we’ve seen.”

“Thanks?”

“You know what I mean.”

“I do. But since we agree yours is the less subtle ability, you should start off the festivities. And I’ll bring the house down after you pack the seats.”

Rui kicked off the ground, and transmuted his atoms into a gas, and then to a plasma. “Feels good to be back in the air.” Ben flipped him off. “Sorry, wasn’t poking more fun at your, ahem, ability.”

“Something tells me you were always this smarmy, even before you learned you could fly.”

“I prefer to think of it as confidence,” Rui swooped over him, spreading his arms and shooting jets of flame into several buildings in two straight lines.

“It looks like the DeLorean from Back to the Future was here,” Ben yelled.

“Right? I wasn’t even trying for that.” He swooped again, this time gaining altitude, burning a strip strategically along the waterline. He landed noiselessly behind Ben. “That should set off some alarms, and with any luck, the entire base will respond, when they think it’s a terrorist breakout plot.”

“Um,” Ben closed his eyes, “just had a pertinent thought. What if we do too good a job?”

“It’s probably a big ask- and I expect a slap is a more realistic result- but I say we ask for lapdances.”

“Noted. But I mean… there actually are terrorists inside this base. And we may have just created an opening for them to escape.” “Well… fudge. Looks like our mission just got a little extra complicated. Apparently, we’re going to be creating a distraction and making sure no terrorists escape. Because apparently the first terrifying problem just wasn’t fucking dramatic enough.”

Breed Book 4, Part 19

Nineteen

“So this is treason, then?” Cris asked timidly, staring out at the forebodingly black waters.

“I prefer to think of it as Rebellion,” Ben said, settling comfortably into the boat’s cushions.

“Yeah, but only because you want to be in Star Wars,” Rui said. “Dibs on Han Solo.”

“No, screw that. I can’t be Lando- not all people of color are the right color. And I refuse to be your Chewbacca.”

“Fine. I will Lando. But only because I appreciate a good cape.”

“Yeah,” Sonya said, “the whole idea of Rebels is kind of tainted, since confederate apologists romanticize their traitors as ‘Rebels.’”

“Fuck that,” Anita said. “Racists don’t get to ruin Star Wars.”

“Not for lack of trying,” Laren said.

“Yes,” Rox said softly to Cris. “The government is going to see this as treason. We will, if any of us remain off the list, be branded traitors, and terrorists. If caught, they’ll probably try to execute us.”

“That’s heavy,” Cris said.

“I think that’s why we were all trying to do a Star Wars thing,” Sonya said.

“Besides, that all only matters if we get caught,” Laren said. “And I’m here to make sure we don’t get caught. Most military and government computers are on the grid. Not necessarily the internet, but an intranet. Generally speaking, there’s some degree of wireless communication involved with overseas bases, because running cable through the ocean isn’t terribly secure, it’s expensive and can be fidgety as hell. They can’t use that, because the technopaths they’ve captured could also use that; hell, can you imagine a handful of technopaths in captivity taking over the military intranet? So they have to have a back-up, or connection, elsewhere. Not sure which it is, but I know where the fiberoptics go. We can snip them on our way in, which means that the only security footage or otherwise will be in their servers. I’m going to destroy them once the fireworks start.”

“I’m still not sold on bringing along G.I. Jane,” Anita said.

“Well I’m here, risking my freedom along with the rest of you. Because our government has done awful things. And right now, the only way to undo them, is to be a Rebel.”  

Breed Book 4, Part 18

Note: In book 3, the Bureau of Breed Affairs gets split into two agencies, with the outreach and support wing maintaining the traditional name, and a new, ICE-like enforcement division called ABC rising.

Eighteen

“Okay, so the plan,” Rox started, wincing, “such as it is, is to storm a U.S. Military base, one that is off-the-books in most regards, including how many personnel are there and what kinds of weapons they have stockpiled.”

“I might have some suggestions,” Laren said from the doorway.

“How did you-” Ben stopped, as she pulled a small device out of a flowerpot on a central table.

“I bug every room you stay in, because you don’t play well with others and you don’t share. Case in point, I have contacts, in the military, the CIA, and the NSA, all of which provided, even on a tight schedule, invaluable information.”

“And incalculable exposure.” Sonya said. “Even if you trust them today, what happens tomorrow after there’s been a pretty brazen attack on a base right after you asked for classified intel?”

“They have every reason to lie to cover their own asses, far more than to save mine. And I’m not friendly with the kind of people who like the idea of operating quasi black sites like Gitmo. More pressing, I’ve got a better reason to go than just one or two of your friends. Remember last year, when CBP disappeared all those Breed from their detention camps?“

“They took them to Disneyland?” Ben asked.

“I was going to say camping,” Rui said, “but his is better.”

“God,” Cris gasped, “they’re all in Gitmo.”

“Sure, most of them aren’t citizens, but a significant portion are, swept up by ICE and ABC racists and deported for not being able to ‘sufficiently’ prove their citizenship. Them we can drop at the school, the rest, might be better off in a country not currently overseen by a racist, oafish buffoon so preoccupied with being beaten by a black man in virtually every possible regard he can’t be hassled to actually do his fucking job- I mean the actual job, not making up mean nicknames or fomenting white and human supremacist insurrection on Twitter, or whatever the fuck ‘executive time’ means.”

“I kind of want to vote for her,” Anita said.

“Tough shit; I won’t be thirty five by January.”

“I didn’t specify ‘for President.’ I think you’d also make a very fetching dog catcher.”

“Ladies,” Rox said, glaring, “don’t make me separate you.”

“It’s fine,” Laren said. “Our rivalry is now mostly trading petty insults.”

“That and I spike literally everything she eats with laxatives. Some of the things she doesn’t eat, too, like toothpaste, her shampoo; I’m still working out the kinks of getting it into her deodorant.”

“I have no earthly idea if she’s kidding,” Sonya said.

“Haven’t had a problem yet,” Laren said. “But we’ve got more important things. Like freeing a bunch of refugees and citizens unlawfully kidnapped by our government.”

“I’m hoping that comes with some kind of insight, or at least an upgrade to our plan.”

“Yes. I’ve got a ship. It’s our best chance of slipping in, and I know the best path to get past their sensors. And how to get them looking the other way when we arrive.”

Breed Book 4, Part 17

Seventeen

“Thanks for taking my call,” Rox said.

“Well, technically, I’m not,” Ryan said, rolling his electronic chair absent-mindedly. “I’m talking to a telecom, trying to get me to switch my service. You’re talking to, okay, this is kind of genius, but your call is routed to the FBI tip line. Who watches the watchmen’s answering machine? That should buy us a few minutes of privacy. What do you need?”

“Lincoln’s phone. It was used to bounce a signal to me. I need to know where the phone physically is.”

“That’s all? It’s in Cuba.”

“You can’t narrow it down?”

“Nope. I can only tell you that much because I could trace the data packets to a particular cell tower. But I can’t triangulate because there’s literally one tower the phone’s in range of. The surrounding towers were all ripped out, courtesy of the U.S. Government.”

“He’s in Guantanamo.”

“Or the surrounding environs, yeah. I’d heard rumors, on the dark web, about the NSA stashing technopaths that wouldn’t play ball there. The rest they put to work; who better to spy than people who already naturally interact with data the way the NSA has spent year building systems to. But that’s why they removed the towers, to keep them from getting a message out. Of course, I thought it was bullshit, so much so that I didn’t think to check if the area around Gitmo was a dead zone, until right now.”

“Anything else you can tell me about the area, base included?”

“Why do you want to- no, I don’t want to know, nevermind. I’ll put my head together with a few of the other technopaths, see what we can scrounge up. We’ll send everything to your phone, just make sure you’re someplace with a good signal- over someone else’s wi-fi if you can manage it.”

“Got it. How,” she fumbled, because it had been a while since she’d made small-talk with anyone not in the next room, “how are things at home?”

“Everybody’s upset over the cops choking out Greg Lloyd. He was Breed. He was black. He died for being one or both of those things. Mikaela took a group down to Seattle to march in the protests.”

“And you didn’t go?”

“Protests aren’t renowned for their accessibility, or I’d probably be with them.” Ryan said. “I’ve also got lung nodules, so exposure to coronavirus and tear gas isn’t exactly a wise combination. You in-country?”

“Are we in the U.S.? Fuck me, I don’t even remember.”

“Might, if you’re in the U.S.; I’m not so hard up I’d expatriate just to get laid.”

“Not sure I’ll ever be that hard up.”

“Is it the chair?”

“No, it’s because you’re an unkempt dickhead into underage girls.”

“I’d have to take off my shoes to doublecheck, but I don’t think you’re underage. You’ve been on the road a while, now.”

“Oh my god, you’re right. That’s depressing.”

“Now you’re starting to hurt my feelings.”

“Not that you’re flirting with me, but that I was forgetting how old I am.”

“Well, that I can’t help with. We could probably build whole new identities for you and your friends, and make you minors again, if you wanted to come back to the school. But I’m not sure if that’s helping or hurting…”

“Just get me the info. And Ryan? Thanks. I know you’re out on a limb for us.”

“You know me, sucker for a pretty face.”

“Getting skeevy again. You haven’t seen me since I was fourteen.”

“No. I’ve seen you on TV pretty often, actually, and I’ve seen slash erased a lot of security footage of you. And pretty isn’t a statement of intent- nor is it fishing for reciprocation. Just take the compliment.”

“Okay. Take care.”

“Likewise.”

Breed Book 4, Part 16

Sixteen

Rox’s phone rang. It was dark, was all she could tell for sure, too late for civilized people to be calling. Which either meant someone uncivilized was calling, or something was very wrong. “Rox?” the voice on the phone was quieter, tinnier, younger.

“Linc?” she asked, looking at the ID.

“Just borrowing his signal, from whoever’s carrying his phone around,” the voice on the other end said. But he wasn’t speaking; it was a synthetic voice, robotic. “This is Mahmoud.”

“Bull. You died.”

“No,” the voice said, taking on a little of Mahmoud’s timbre as he remembered how to manipulate electronic signals to recreate a human voice. “That’s what they told you, so you wouldn’t look for me. It’s okay. It wouldn’t have been safe for you to. I wouldn’t want you to come, not even now.”

“Tough shit,” she said; “we don’t leave anyone behind.”

“You left me, and Mira, if I recall correctly.”

“That’s not fair. You split off, closed any avenues of pursuit. Mira… she made a choice to go with you. We thought… we hoped you’d meet us later. Christ. I still feel like I’m talking to a ghost.”

“You are. It’s okay. I’m gone. Just a ghost in the machine, now. I didn’t call to blame you. Don’t look for me. Just know that I don’t regret it. You got away. I got you away. Everything after was worth that. I’m so happy to hear your voice, to know you’re safe, to know it worked. Tell the others ‘bye.’” The line disconnected.

“Talking to yourself, boss?” Ben asked, rolling over, then falling off the couch. “Oh, right, we were trying to watch all the Star Wars back to back. Anybody make it?”

“My phone woke me up, so you’re asking the wrong person,” Rox said.

“I was going to,” Rui said, stirring from behind the couch, “but then Rise of Skywalker came on and I took a protest nap. Having that movie as the capper… it’s like eating your brussel sprouts, your broccoli, your liver and onions, your Salisbury steak and finding out your dessert is pickled garlic.”

“What’s wrong with Salisbury steak?” Ben mumbled, half asleep.

“It’s not steak, for one, it’s barely food, for two.”

“It’s breaded armpits, right? Seasoned with farts?” Sonya asked, yawning.

“Great,” Rox said, rolling her eyes, “the entire peanut gallery’s waking up.”    

Human armpits?” Rui asked.

“Is there any other kind?” Anita asked. “Animals arms don’t fall to their sides, hence, no pit.”

“What about monkeys and gorillas?” Ben asked.

“They hunch forward, so no pit.”

“I’m not sure I’m on board the declaration that it’s the crease of the arm that makes it a pit,” Cristobal said.

“My kingdom for a half-bright minion,” Rox muttered.

“Uh-oh, she’s calling us minions again,” Ben said.

“So either we’re in trouble,” Anita said, “or she’s hankering for a Despicable Me marathon again.”

“It means shut up for like thirty seconds. I just got a call.”

“Did it come from inside the house?” Ben asked.

“The next call will come from inside your colon if you do not shut up.”

“I’m pretty sure my colon would survive; your phone, not so much.”

“It was Mahmoud.”

“Ahmadinejad?” Rui asked. “What’s that old so and so been up to?”

“Mohammad.”

“So, and at the risk of this sounding less serious than it is, exactly how many calls from dead people can she get before we start to worry?” Anita asked.

Rox handed her phone over to Rui. “I think we need to reexamine who we think of as dead,” Rox said.

He touched the screen, and saw the call ID. “Linc did just call her.”

“I thought she said it was Mahmoud,” Cris groaned, before falling back into a recliner. “This dream makes no sense.”

“This isn’t a dream,” Rox said. “And if I’m right, we might just have a chance to save both of them.” 

Breed Book 4, Part 15

Well, fudge. I started this not expecting I’d get to the 1/4 of a novel point while protests were still ongoing, an embarrassing failure of imagination, for a writer. Regular readers will notice I’ve struggled the last four years to finish even a first draft of anything; irregular readers will, too, provided they’ve maintained object permanence, and if not, hello for the first time you remember!

I’m going to try and keep going. I’ll admit, the steam went out of the balloon a bit after I got through the dramatic part of the protest. But fuck Yoda, try I will, to keep going. First up is the mirrored side of these first fourteen chapters, what Rox and her outlaws are up to while the rest of the gang protest. After that, we’ll roll into an assassination plot, probably going back to the usual back and forth. Not sure where this goes, honestly, but with luck I’ll ride the train all the way through to the end.

Without luck, I will be hit by a hearse dragging behind it a trailer full of open ladders and extra fragile mirrors, driven by a black cat; fingers crossed, everybody.

Fifteen

Mahmoud got drunk, once, when his ability first started to manifest. He thought he was insane. He could hear the toaster complaining about the brand of bagels they bought, knew the television wasn’t happy with the extension cord it was plugged into. His dad drank, to take the edge off, to take all the crap he dealt with in his day to day and cram it down deep enough he could still be a dad, still provide emotionally for his family. Mahmoud needed that, if only for an afternoon, one single, solitary afternoon where it didn’t feel like his brain was melting, when he didn’t have to be terrorized about the day when his family found out and had him committed. He puked his guts out, so comically his dad laughed at him rather than punish him further. But that afternoon, for the first time in a long time, he couldn’t hear the machines, couldn’t feel their… not exactly thoughts, but noise. Buzzing.

Being in Guantanimo was a lot like that. For one, they had him buried deep, in the ground, with thick concrete walls. This entire wing of the prison had been redesigned with technopaths like him in mind, because if they could get so much as a radio signal, they could communicate with the outside world, and tell them what, exactly, had been done to them. In Mahmoud’s case, an American minor was spirited away without any notification for his family; they believed he died during an attack on an NSA base compiling information on other Breed like him. His friends, too, believed he was gone. Otherwise, he liked to tell himself, at least when the drugs were starting to wear thin and he could think straight, they’d have come for him. It was a white lie he told himself, one that in his worse moments he struggled to believe. He’d known them only a few weeks, and yes, they broke into a government facility together, but they left him behind, to die. Okay, so, more he locked them out and himself in, and told them to go… but sometimes the worst voice in your head is your own.

The other way that Guantanimo was like being a drunk was the cocktail they kept in his IV, a steady drip of meds designed to keep him from thinking straight, so if say a plane flew too close, or a boat with a radio sailed nearby, he couldn’t hijack it. The drugs made his body feel like sludge, which at least made it harder to tell when he went to the bathroom. He didn’t have enough muscle control to hold anything in, so his body just periodically dropped his waste, but the drugs made it harder to know when it ran down his leg. It was a small mercy, the only kind that he got in this place.

Back before they started drugging him, he was on a hunger strike. Periodically, they’d force-feed him, hold him down and sedate him, then keep holding while they shoved a tube down his throat. It was the worst thing that had ever been done to him, and yet, it was better than surrender, better than letting win. Sometime after the drugs they installed a feeding tube in his side. Sure, it was another violation, but it felt gentler, somehow, maybe because it didn’t come with regular intervals of being brutalized by the guards; in fact, they’d beaten him less, since it was installed, because of the paperwork involved if it got infected.

His old life- really, his only life, because existing in this cell sure as hell didn’t qualify- felt like a dream, It was so distant. He remembered the warmth of the sun on his face, the smile of his friends, the tingle of new electronics he was hearing for the first time. Only the last one wasn’t a memory, and it wasn’t new.

He remembered a debate among technopaths at the school, one where they realized midway through that the debate was down to the fact that technopaths pick up on different things, but no two electronics are alike. Small, subtle differences in the soldering, imperfections in the molding and various other tiny introductions of chaos into production meant each was unique. Sure, if you got two from the same production line, on the same day, produced within minutes they might be close, in the same way siblings often bear a strong resemblance to one another. But he recognized this cell phone, even if he remembered hearing electronic chatter that it’s owner was dead.

That didn’t matter. A signal meant he could call out, meant he could tell his friends he was alive, meant… he could say goodbye. It was suicide, breaking into a U.S. base on Cuban soil. He couldn’t ask them to, couldn’t even tell them enough that they could attempt it. So far as they knew, he’d been dead this whole time. He was a ghost already. No point in making his friends ghosts, too. But it was nice, the thought that he could at least tell them what they meant, could hear them, one last time, before finally letting go.