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       Rebel Heart, p.5

           Lizzy Ford
 
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  Chapter Four

  LANA SMILED AS SHE turned her attention from the conversation to the screens around her. The sector specialists were busy at their workstations while two guards loitered outside the damaged entrance. She sipped from a container of water and turned again to the wall behind the titanium glass, unable to pinpoint how one of the sensitive keypads had made it outside the compound or when.

  She strode to the wall again, quelling the urge to open it. The procedures for accessing the keypads were strict: only those authorized to do so were allowed to, and then only when no one unauthorized was in the room and the door sealed with the alarm activated.

  She rubbed her neck, agitated.

  “You figure out how to deal with the supply issue?” General Greene asked from his position at a small planning table in the corner.

  She was quiet for a moment. “Sir, it’s not been my experience to provide my opinion. I’m not really qualified.”

  “We discussed this already. You’re my advisor. Advise me.”

  “Very well,” she said. “We can access the emerops locations around here with Elise’s security forces. I can unlock them remotely, and you can send her in for supplies. But doing so will leave us vulnerable if something else happens.”

  “I understand. How does the infrastructure look?”

  “In general, we don’t have the people we need to permanently fix the East Coast. We can maintain the systems from here, but almost everyone has fled west.”

  “But the systems are up?” he asked skeptically.

  She gave a tired smile and responded with gentle sarcasm, “I have been working the past few weeks, sir.”

  “How are they downstairs?”

  “Impatient.”

  “Maybe it’s time for Arnie to visit and stay awhile. Will keep him out of our hair.”

  “Yes,” she said emphatically.

  “He still screaming at people up here?”

  She nodded.

  “And the keypad?”

  “On its way.”

  His gaze drifted to the wall of glass. “I’m not convinced this is the only keypad missing from beneath our noses,” he said with a frown. “Take a count this afternoon after the hub’s clear. We’ll seal the vault the best we can.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  He glanced at his watch and rose. He had daily meetings he forbade her from attending. She waited for him to leave then checked her micro, which was still working on decrypting his encoded messages. She’d never seen it take this long. He was using coding more advanced than any she’d ever seen. It was the sign of someone with a secret he couldn’t risk anyone discovering. This was not a personal message to a companion.

  Lana waited until the others in the center left and stood before the titanium-reinforced glass in front of the keypads. She went through the multiple security procedures. At last, the glass slid open. Surrounded by keypads controlling the critical infrastructure nodes for the East Coast, the sensitive keys she needed to inventory were held within a small vault. It slid open, and she gazed at the keys that controlled sensitive military systems.

  And the Horsemen. There were twenty keys in the set, code-named Horsemen, after the biblical Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The keys were located all over the world, except for four of them, which were based here in the command center. The Horsemen controlled and activated space weapons with the capability to destroy a country. She’d never spoken of them to anyone, not since being granted access to a file only a handful of people in the country had access to.

  All four were there. Puzzled, she freed them one by one, studying them. It wasn’t possible for four of them to be there while one was on its way up the mountain. Lana glanced towards the door and sat at a small table nearby. She set one keypad on her micro, waiting for it to read the serial. The results were even more baffling. She tested the second, third, and fourth.

  None of them were the Horsemen! These were lesser keypads to other critical infrastructure functions that someone had swapped out. She rose and crossed to the keypad wall again.

  She began testing them quickly with her micro. After a long hour, she found one of the remaining sixteen Horsemen. In the second hour, she found the other fifteen. All of the weapons controllers had been taken from their positions all over the world and placed here, disguised as lesser systems.

  The reality of what someone had done made her feel sick. There were three people with access to the keypads, and one was sleeping in the barracks from too much drugs. This—combined with General Greene’s encrypted messages—made her instincts stronger.

  Even so, four of the Horsemen—the ones based here—were missing. Lana leaned her elbows on her knees, staring hard at the wall. Four keypads gone with one making its way back to the command center. Where were the other three?

  She rubbed the back of her neck, mentally wired despite her fatigue. Four keys capable of destroying a continent—and winning a war—were taken under their noses. They may have been missing before she arrived; no one took accountability of something no one was supposed to have access to. One of those with access was declared unfit; did he have enough scruples left to steal and hide three more keypads?

  Her eyes strayed to the Horsemen on the table. The quiet voice of her instincts was at a shout. No matter what was going on, she had to protect the keys capable of destroying the world. Lana reached into her bag and pulled out her personal vault. She opened it and stacked the keys in it.

  “Elise to command.”

  Lana jerked, afraid she’d been caught, before she realized Elise was calling over the command center’s channels. She leaned forward and slapped the pad, and Elise’s grim face lit up the central screen. She was heavily armed, sweating, and outside the compound.

  “I’m here, Elise.”

  “Heya,” Elise said, flashing a quick smile. “We need access to the emerops due west. Sending coords.”

  “You’re that far out?” Lana asked in surprise. Her gaze flickered to the screen beneath her fingertips, and she typed the alarm disarm codes.

  “We need a place to hide for a bit.”

  “Why?”

  “Let’s say, this isn’t what we expected.”

  “It’s open. What isn’t what you expected, Elise?” Lana asked impatiently, standing. She made her way to the desk before the central screen and leaned against it.

  “It’s chaos. We left the compound and got ambushed by people we mistook for refugees.” Elise gave a few hand signals to her detail. “You have medical supplies in the depot?”

  “Yes. I’ll arm its perimeter as soon as you’re in.”

  “Thanks. I’ll check in later. Elise out.”

  “Wait, Elise, can’t you tell me what’s going on out there?”

  Elise hesitated then said, “Frankly, I don’t know. We can’t figure out who we’re fighting. I swear I saw PMF fighting alongside us earlier against the guys who attacked us. I gotta go, Lana.”

  Frowning, Lana remained before the screen even as the blond woman disappeared. Both Elise and the Guardian were grim about the world outside the compound, and neither explained exactly why. Elise’s news of the PMF fighting alongside her forces wasn’t something Lana expected to hear. She crossed her arms, considering.

  Just one of the missing keypads was enough to cripple half the country. If well placed, it could wipe out the government. She returned to the communications station.

  “This is command center calling for Colonel Larry Jessup,” she said.

  “Savannah station, Lieutenant Huss. Wait one, ma’am.”

  She returned to her chair, eyes straying to the screen displaying the timeline of the nuke attacks that had plummeted the eastern part of the country into chaos.

  “Oh, God,” she whispered. Lana crossed to the screen and touched it, bringing up details of the attacks. She rifled through the data of each one. The timing on all four attacks was the same to the hundredth of a second.

  “Ma’am?”

  She ign
ored the voice and stepped back, staring.

  “This is Colonel Jessup.”

  “Larry, this is Lana at the command center,” she said, forcing her attention back to the communications center. “What’s the location on my keypad?”

  “Hold one, ma’am.”

  She checked the locator as she waited, seeking out General Greene on the compound. He was touring the perimeter, as he did daily. She sent him a page through his personal net and sat down again.

  “It should have reached you by now,” Larry answered. “No word?”

  “None.”

  “I’ll check their location and contact you. Jessup out.”

  “This an emergency?” General Greene asked, his voice muffled over the communications system.

  “I’ll come to you, sir,” she replied.

  “You got my location.”

  She jogged across the compound to the area of one of the breaches. A charred hole still smoked in the compound’s wall. Three bodies were laid out in a row beside it. She stopped, unfamiliar with the sight of death. General Greene addressed well-armed sentinels. Lana neared, forcing her gaze away from the three bodies as she waited. He broke away before she reached him, instead striding towards her. He gripped her arm to turn her away from the scene and set off at a quick march.

  “They’re using some fancy equipment. We’re doubling the guards. This better be important, Lana. I’ve got stuff to do,” he said, terse.

  “All four are missing. One is on its way back,” she told him. “One we don’t need to worry about.”

  He released her once they were away from the scene. “Why don’t we need to worry about one of the keypads?”

  “Sir, the attacks on the eastern seaboard were caused by one of the keypads. It’s been used.”

  He stopped and faced her, frown deepening. “What’re you saying? That one of ours sold the keypad to the PMF?”

  “I don’t know, sir.” She rushed on, “But it’s the only thing that makes sense. The attacks were too powerful for the capabilities of our enemies alone. Think about it, sir. The timing, the sophistication, the expertise needed to launch such an attack. They used our skills against us. There’s no other—

  “Stop,” he ordered. “I will not believe that even the madman Arnie could have done something like this. You’re talking about high treason at the VP level at least to access those things.”

  “Sir, you asked me to tell you what I think about—”

  “Not this. You think about what I tell you to think about,” he snapped.

  Surprised, she fell silent.

  “Now, focus on locating the other three keypads. Keep me apprised of when the troops bring in the one they found down the mountain. Tear apart the compound if you must. If I hear this nonsense again, I’ll send you outside the walls to deal with this mess personally.”

  “Yes, sir,” she murmured, wilting beneath his fierce glare. “I’m sorry, sir.”

  “You’re a good girl. Stay a good girl,” he said, softening. “I think you need some sleep. Report back tomorrow morning.”

  He turned and strode away. Lana watched him, at a loss at what to think of his reaction. She wasn’t wrong. There was no other logical scenario. She watched General Greene stride towards the command hub.

  As good as he had been to her, she didn’t doubt his threat. And if he chose to expel her, no one there would defend her, just as no one defended crazy Arnie. Arnie’s antics hadn’t started until the second week on the compound. General Greene was the first to recommend his removal, and a voice in her mind whispered that maybe Arnie had figured something out he shouldn’t have, too.

  General Greene hadn’t acted surprised about the missing keypads. Lana glanced at her micro, which still worked on breaking through his messages. She had no proof he’d done anything wrong. And who wouldn’t recommend Arnie’s removal with his increasingly erratic behavior?

  She turned away and started towards the barracks. Maybe she did need sleep.

 
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