“We keep this quiet and among us,” Dwayne said in an authoritative voice. “They’re trying to suppress this information for a reason. They’re going to great lengths to make sure that the general public and even the Constabulary doesn’t know about these...anomalies.”
“Vaja will keep quiet. He’s paranoid enough as it is.” Lindsey’s eyes said much more than her words. Dwayne knew they would need to talk when Vaja was not around.
“I don’t want the fuckin’ government coming down on me when we’re this close to finally getting our home back. I want out of this godforsaken city. Do you think I’m going to ruin my chances of getting the fuck out of here?” Vaja growled. He paced back and forth, two sharp steps, then a quick turn, two sharp steps, then another turn. There wasn’t much room in Lindsey’s small flat.
Lindsey tossed the drive to Dwayne. He tucked it into his jacket and checked his wristlet. “I need to go. Keep this quiet. Lindsey, thanks for this, but you should probably stay out of the network.”
“Agreed. This is getting really...” she shrugged, biting her bottom lip. “What could they do to us? If the SWD found out?”
Running his fingers lightly over the small drive, Dwayne stared at the young woman thoughtfully. “Honestly, I don’t know. And I don’t want to find out either.”
Lindsey sighed, hugging herself.
“Good meeting you, Vaja. Thank you for your work,” Dwayne said, extending his hand to the pacing young man.
Vaja snarled at him dismissively. “I don’t think I like you. You may have gotten us killed.”
“Lindsey, you need to stay out of this. We all do. We’re so close to being free of this goddamn city.”
“So sacrificing the truth for freedom is okay with you?” Lindsey asked pointedly.
Vaja stopped in mid-step. “No.”
“That’s all we’re doing. Finding out the truth.” Lindsey reached out and took her lover’s hand.
“Why? What will you do with it?” Vaja rubbed her fingers, but stared at Dwayne.
“I’m not sure yet,” Dwayne answered honestly. He had searched for the truth because of the woman he loved, but now it was much more than he had ever imagined. Lindsey had wanted to release the information to the news outlets when she had discovered the truth about Maria. He had stopped her. That had been the right choice. But now, Dwayne wasn’t sure where the path of information they were uncovering would lead. There was enough trouble with the quickly-approaching food shortage and the possible evacuation to Section A.
“What do you mean you’re not sure?” Vaja disdainfully regarded Dwayne, his lip slightly curled.
“We don’t have the full story yet. We don’t know exactly what the SWD has done. When we uncover the whole truth, we will decide what our next step will be.” Dwayne would never risk Maria. The timing would have to be perfect if he were to use this information against the SWD. Maybe this was what Commandant Pierce wanted him to do.
“Can we trust you?” Vaja asked, his eyes narrowed.
“You can,” Lindsey assured him. Tears were brimming in her eyes. “He has more at stake than you realize.”
“We’ll talk soon,” Dwayne said, then let himself out. The night was cool and he tugged his collar up around his ears as he walked. He had only a short amount of time before the city went dark.
He wished he could tell Maria what he knew.
She was in more danger than she realized.
It was comforting to be seated in the carrier at her work console once more. Cormier was in torpor in the driver’s seat and the rest of the squad was scattered around the interior of the carrier. Denman was slumped at his station. Maria toyed with the idea of waking him after she spoke with Dwayne. She wanted to discuss Jameson’s condition in further detail, but their mission was so mentally taxing she felt too guilty to rob Denman of any of his downtime.
Her conversation with Chief Defender Omondi had been brief. He had appeared rushed and not interested in discussing Jameson’s condition. Maria had spun the incident with Jameson as a mental breakdown. Omondi had readily accepted this explanation. She supposed Jameson’s recent behavior had given credence to her story. She hated lying, but she was having grave misgivings about their situation. She mollified her guilty feelings over not fully reporting the details of the incident to Omondi because she was telling Dwayne, the Castellan of The Bastion.
Her wristlet chimed and she hastily answered. Dwayne’s face appeared and she noted how much more silver was threaded into his hair. He had aged in the last few months. It was arrogant of her to think it was just because he was worried about her, but it made her feel loved nonetheless.
“Thank God,” Dwayne said, obviously relieved. “Every night I fear you won’t be able to pick up.”
Maria slightly smiled at him. “If I can, I will. You know that.”
“Remember those resources I said I was going to confer with over the recent events out there?”
Her smile faded. Dwayne’s expression was quite grim. “What is it?”
“What we’re calling the Inferi Anomalies are far more dangerous than you think. I have a feeling that Omondi and his squad are actively trying to track them down. You said they were headed to the hydroelectric station, right?”
“Yeah. But why is that significant?”
As Dwayne related the information he had acquired from Lindsey, Maria grew very still. Mind spinning, she swiftly pieced together the data he had uncovered with her own experiences on the field.
“Intelligent, speaking, cannibalistic Scrags…” Maria shook her head. “Unbelievable.”
“It has to be what we’re calling the Inferi Anomalies. A human couldn’t survive out there all this time,” Dwayne answered.
“I agree. There is no way a human could have survived out here. Impossible. It has to be the Anomalies, but the ones that attacked us didn’t show any great intelligence. Cunning, yes. Ryan was obviously hunting us. But they only spoke one word.”
“Hungry, huh?” Dwayne’s frown deepened.
“Yes, and it gets worse.” She told him about Jameson.
“The Anomaly bit him and only him?”
“Yes, and now he’s suffering hunger pains.”
“Maybe the altered virus from the Anomaly infected him? Can that happen?”
“Denman says it’s possible. If we spoke to Dr. Curran, maybe she could determine if it is, but…” Maria sighed. “I don’t trust her. I don’t trust any of them.”
“And you shouldn’t,” Dwayne said guiltily. “Not completely. There’s something I haven’t told you.” In even tones, he told her about Gideon’s death.
“They lied to me and Omondi! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“To keep you focused on your mission. I knew you wanted to be on this mission. I felt that to tell you that the SWD was lying in some regards would affect you adversely.”
“It would have,” Maria admitted, but she was still annoyed. “I wish you would have told me last week.”
“Would it have made a difference?”
Maria shook her head. “It really doesn’t now either. I knew all along that something was wrong. I was lying to myself as much as they were. The question is does the SWD know what the Inferi Anomalies are?”
“Unknown. I assume Omondi hasn’t kept you briefed on what he and his squad are doing?”
“I have my contacts searching for more information. As soon as I know something I will relay that information to you.”
“Thanks, Dwayne. Knowing that you’re working on my behalf makes this…bearable.” She could see the concern in his keen blue eyes and knew that he could see the emotional devastation in her own.
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you.”
He was gone.
Closing her eyes, her thoughts rested on him. He was tenacious and he was a man of his word. He would do everything he could to keep her informed even though her superiors saw fit to keep her and the others in the dark. Her anger against the SWD and Omondi was growing. Jameson’s condition was a sign that not all was well and that they were all in danger.
But if Dwayne was searching for answers, she knew he would find them.
Words from a previous conversation slithered through her mind. He had teased her about how he always found out the truth. The allusion to their beginnings had made her smile. It had taken her a very short time to fall madly in love with him, but she had been keenly aware of the ring on his finger. She had avoided revealing her feelings at all costs even though she saw him every day during physical therapy. They often chatted on their return walk to their rooms. Even though she had been resolute about not emotionally investing her heart in him, she had cherished those long slow walks. One day she had noticed the ring was gone. She had wondered if he had merely forgotten to wear it.
“I’m going to kiss you now. Any objections?” he had said.