Sunday, November 20, 2011

Catalyst, Collide #3, Sneak Chapter


Fit For Battle
Chapter 1 - Cain


          “Listen, you don’t worry about me. I’m trained for things just like this. I’ve done things just like this. I’m ready. I’ll be fine,” I told Lillian for about the fifth time.
          She hadn’t said anything but her hands were shaking in mine. I knew she was upset about the whole thing. The Lighters had taken Sherry to ‘interrogate’ her, which was just a pretty word for torture. I had volunteered to go into the enforcer's containment unit with Billings to retrieve her, undercover as a recruit for the enforcers program. I was the only one who could and was equipped to do so. I was immune to the Lighter Speak and couldn’t be detected as a Special for some reason. I was unemployed. I was with Billings. It would work. It was a good plan.
          Still, Lillian was freaking.
          “I know. I’m trying really hard here, Cain,” she said, her voice scratchy from fighting tears.
          “I know you are,” I replied and pulled her to me, wrapping my arms around her in an effort to calm her somehow.
          It was morning. We’d been up almost all night planning and plotting, learning. Merrick was sick, absolutely sick with grief. Like a zombie, he just watched from the stairs in an anger cloud. I pulled him aside sometime during the night and tried to talk him out of it; tell him that I’d get her back, no matter what.
          “You know I’ll do everything I can, man. I’ll bring her back.”
          “I know that. I’ve just never felt so helpless in all my existence. If you weren’t here, there’d be no way to get her back. I- none of us could go and make it out alive. Not to say I wouldn’t try but...” He bent over from the stairs where we were sitting and put his head in his hands. “Oh, God, please let nothing happen to her. Please,” he begged to no one in particular.
          “She’ll be ok.”
          He looked up at me sadly.

          “I know what they are doing to her in there, Cain. I know what the purpose of those facilities are. They’re torturing her. God knows all the horrible things they’re doing to her,” he grit out through his teeth, looking like he might throw up. Then, too fast for my eyes to se, his fist went through the plaster of the wall beside us.
          “Don’t, man," I told him. "We need you. You’ll be right there when I bring her out of the building. We need you to finish out the plan. Everybody’s got a purpose.”
          “Bring her back, Cain. Bring her back.”
          “Absolutely.”  
          Lily ran in and jumped into his lap. No one had told her what had happened with Sherry and she kept asking for her.
          “Whewre’s Shawwyy? Whewre’s mommy?”
          “Soon, baby. You’ll see her soon,” he promised and buried his face in her hair.
           Danny had blown a gasket at being told he couldn’t go into the facility at all. Lighters can still sense Specials, all but me for some reason. He was unhappy to say the least. He wanted to leave then - right then, no waiting until morning. He shouted, he cursed and pushed Jeff and Merrick off as they tried to calm him.
          Only Celeste, who was still wrapped up in her own grief for her mother, had been able to reach him and get him to settle down. They eventually huddled together in the corner in a pile of arms, legs and heaving and comforting whispers. Man, it hurt to watch.
          I had never been close to my own family. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters. I didn’t understand the pull, the need to protect and comfort. But I felt it now and it was a fierce thing.
          And Margo. We had to put her in a room. No one could or would deal with her right then. There were too many other things going on. She was silent and waiting. Whether she knew her fate, understood what was happening to her or not, the rest of us did. And it was one I wasn’t ready to deal out.
          Lillian looked up at me with eyes glistening.
          “That’s it.” She wiped her eyes and took a deep meaningful breath. Her eyes were full of decision as she said, “I’m coming with you.”
          “No,” I said and grabbed her upper arms gently. “You most certainly are not.”
          “Yes. I am,” she said firmly and pulled away from my grasp, even as I tried to stop her.
          She walked further into the commons room right up to Billings.
          “I’m coming with you.”
          “Uh...” He looked at me, walking behind her. I’m sure he was trying to decide if the glare was directed at her or him. “I’m not sure about that.”
          “I am. I’m coming. One more person to help in the search, right? We can cover more ground and be in and out faster.”
          “L, no,” I said turning her to me. “Why? Because you’re scared for me? Remember what I told you about not risking yourself? I meant it.”
          “You need me. You may not want to admit it but you do. Woman can be enforcers, can’t they Billings?”
          I turned my glare on him full force and silently dared him to speak.
          “Uh...well,” he stammered and I could tell he wanted to bring her, to use her.
          “Don’t even think about it, Billings,” I growled.
          “What? If you want the truth, we could use her. A pretty thing like her would-”
          “Don’t say another word!” I bellowed.
          “Fine. You asked.”
          “Actually, I don’t think I did.”
          “Hey! I’m right here, you know,” L said clearly annoyed. “Don’t talk about me like I’m not here. Cain.” She turned to me, pulling me from facing Billings. She grabbed my face in her warm long fingers and looked into my eyes. “I lo-” She closed her eyes and licked her lips. I wondered what she was going to say. “You mean a lot to me. A lot. But you are kind of making me crazy right now. This isn’t just about you and me, nothing is anymore. This is Sherry we’re talking about.” She quirked a brow and I wanted to drag her to her room and demand that she explain what she meant by that. Did she really think I still had feelings for Sherry? “She would do what she could for us, we all have to do what we can for her. You can’t make me sit on the sidelines when I know I can help.”
          I leaned closer to her so no one would hear but her.
          “I know what you’re insinuating, but I’m not doing this for some hang-up on Sherry.”
          “I know that.” She looked stricken. “I didn’t mean it like that at all. I meant that I know you care about her, we all do.” She rubbed her temple. “I’m not trying to start a fight with you right now. I know we have things to do, all I’m saying is that it’s not fair and it’s not right to make me stay here when I can be helping and doing some good out there. That’s what Mitchell tried to do.”
          Dang. Girl fought dirty.
          “L, you’re putting me in a bad place here. You see that right? Once again, you’re going to be out there and I’m going to be freaking out over you getting hurt. This isn’t some club we’re going to. This is right in the middle of the Lighters. I don’t want you there. Not because I don’t trust you, but because if anything happened to you, I’d...” I sighed and balled my hands into fists.
          “That’s exactly how I feel about you,” she said with clear inflection. “I want to be with you. I feel safer and better about you when I’m with you. Ok?”
          “No, it’s not ok,” I sighed again, “but I’m not gonna make you stay.”
          She nodded but still didn’t look pleased. She understood where I was coming from. I understood where she was coming from. Neither of us liked it, but there was no budging as we both thought our side was important. I was pleased that she took no joy in winning.
          “Billings, when are we leaving?” I asked, glancing back at him.
          “Fifteen minutes.”
          “Go get dressed,” I told Lillian. “You heard him, fifteen minutes, which means you’ve got twelve to be ready to go.”
          She turned and walked down the hall without looking back at me. I wondered what it meant that I’d never felt this bad about a fight before with any other girl. I really wanted to go to her room and apologize, tell her it was all alright, but that would have to wait for later.
          “Billings? Do we have everything we need?”
          “Yep. You, Lillian and I will go in. Merrick, Jeff and Miguel are riding for the muscle if we need it. Ryan, Danny and Marissa are gonna come and sit tight, just in case, for back-up.”
          “Ok, good.”
          The Keepers went over the regular rules with us: no thinking of home, we need to pretend to be thinking about the job, be anxious about our new placement, wonder who our boss will be. Normal human worry like that so that when they read our thoughts, it wouldn’t be suspicious.
          Then it was time to get the show on the road.
          I saw them at the stairs, all ready to go. I went to Lillian’s room to get her. She was already coming out of her room by the time I got to the hall. Something in me hurt - physically hurt - looking at her. I didn’t want this life for Lillian, not like this.
          I walked right up to her and begged her with my eyes to understand what my mouth couldn’t say. I pulled her to me with a hand on the back of her neck. She didn’t stop me. I thought she might since she was mad but she kissed me back just as eagerly, her small arms gripping me tightly to her. I pulled back first, taking her face in between my hands.
          “None of this is about any feelings for Sherry,” I said firmly.
          “I know that.”
          “You promise?”
          “I promise,” she assured me firmly.              
          “You’re going to give me lots of gray hair, you know that?”
          “I know,” she whispered and smiled sadly.
          “Let’s go.”
          She followed close beside me. I held her hand to the stairs and as we made our way up to the van. Her warm long fingers squeezed mine every few seconds. She was nervous but she needed to come. I let it go and didn’t call her on her shaking.

          We’d talked about it and if we were going to rescue Sherry, we might as well rescue any other prisoners if we could. Billings described the holding cells to us and the layout of the hallways. He said he’d only been present for a couple of interrogations and such, he just sort of avoided that wing, so he didn’t know exactly what went on in them or what we’d find, but he knew it wouldn’t be good.      
          We loaded up the van. Billings, Lillian and I had our concealed stakes in our boots under out pant legs. We would be given a uniform shirt to wear so we couldn’t take any other weapons with us.
          The van ride was long and quiet. Except for the occasional word or tid-bit from Billings if he had forgotten or thought of something we might need to know.
          Merrick and Danny were two of the most sullen and anxious people I’d ever seen, faces of stone and bobbing knees and legs restlessly. Even me, I was worried sick about her. I didn’t want anything to happen to her. When I heard what Margo had said, that they wanted a fragile person to take, one that we’d go after, I wanted to hurl. I didn’t want to think about what she was going through or what they’d done to her.
          One thing the Lighters didn’t count on us having was Billings. We had a way directly inside. We weren’t trying to break-in in the middle of the night, tripping alarms and bumping into guards like they expected us to do.
          No, we were walking right through the front door.

          We pulled up behind the facility where Billings said was an employee’s only section and recruitment office. Lillian and I followed him and we left the rest of them in the van. They were close enough to the door that they could see a commotion or hear the alarm, but stay in the back. The back seats were still removed and there was open space back there.
          “Listen.” I pulled Lillian to a stop. We couldn’t touch after we went through the door and I needed to touch her and make her understand one thing. “You be careful. I mean it. Follow my lead. No hero stuff, got it?”
          “I understand. I’ll stay behind you.”
          “You are...” I started but couldn’t think of how to word it. “You are really important to me. I need you to stay safe, ok?”
          She looked slightly taken back. She bit her lip.
          “Cain,” she breathed my name and it made my heartbeat skip. “I promise I’m not here to prove anything. I just need to be with you, even if it’s in the backdrop. Ok?”
          “Ok.”
          “You don’t do anything crazy either.”
          “Me? Never.”
          She smiled, which was what I was going for. I touched her cheek with my hand and she closed her eyes. I kissed her again quickly and then we dropped our hands to follow Billings like the good little recruits that we were.

          Billings took us through the side door and into a little room with a round middle aged older woman with a smile a mile wide. She was more than delighted with Billings with his two new recruits.
          We filled out miniscule paperwork and she gave us our uniform shirts. We followed her to a small back room and changed into them. It was customary that whoever you brought in to the enforcers was your responsibility. Hence, why Billings said he would be my mentor.
          It was the perfect setup. Lillian and I were to work with him directly for the next two weeks - yeah right - and then we’d be turned loose on our own. So for today, he was to show us the ropes and daily routines. We even had a little green patch on our pocket that indicated we were in training.
          We went through an hour or so of a presentation with a couple other enforcers. They went on and on about rules and such, the mission statement, blah blah blah. Then they took us through the stale doughnut and crappy coffee room.
          The building wasn’t impressive. They had taken over the old Sheriff’s office. It had windowless rooms all along the hall after a couple of administrative rooms. Nothing was distinguished. No signs to point where to go or what each wing or room was for. No plaques on the doors. No colors either. Everything was white floors and walls.
          We passed a few Lighters in the main hall and my body twitched with a need to pull Lillian to me, to keep her far away from them, but instead I stayed directly behind her, guarding her back as she walked next to Billings and we made our way around.
          It was strange to say the least. The Lighters didn’t look at us and we tried not to look at them. To them, we weren’t important. We were humans, less than nothing. What had Piper called us? Vapors.
          It was like they were regular old superiors on any other job. Nobody questioned how they got in the position, you just knew to respect it. It was plain as day compulsion. The Lighters weren’t even wearing uniforms. So how did everyone know to tell the difference between them and the rest of us? The human enforcers were in so deep they didn’t question anything. They were just mindless.
          I followed Billings down to the end of the hall. He informed us that it was a little after 11:00 in the morning. Interrogations were handled right before lunch so we should see them exit once they were done and then we could check the rooms for Sherry and anyone else.    
          “After the interrogations?” I asked, once what he said clicked.
          That did not sit well with me.
          “Yes. I’m sorry. They’ll be too many of them, several people to each room, but only one guy guards this hall at a time when they aren’t conducting business down here. Once they’re done, most of them will leave. We’ll have a better chance at it then.”
          “You mean Sherry is in one of these rooms being interrogated right now, right this second, and we just have to sit out here and wait?” Lillian asked quietly.
          “I don’t like it anymore than you do, but it’s our only chance. We can’t fight a whole mess of them. We have to get Sherry and whoever else out and to the van undetected. It’s going to be hard enough as it is without alerting the Lighters, let alone charging on in there with guns blazing,” Billings answered.
          I hated that he was right.
          We all grabbed some literature from the table and pretended to read and study while we waited for the torture to be over.
          After about thirty five minutes, they started exiting the rooms. There were five from a room on the right. Then another room on the right had a few come out and they had a woman with them. She was panting but didn’t seem to be too bad off from the back, but I hadn’t seen her face. She wasn’t bleeding or anything but her clothes and hair were wet.
          She was blabbing about telling them anything they wanted. I looked at Billings and he shook his head sadly.
          “The ones who crack,” he explained. “The ones that give information are taken directly to Malachi.”
          “And the ones that don’t crack?” I asked, fearing that I didn’t want to know the answer.
          He crossed his arms, watching the hall.
          “They stay,” he sighed, “and repeat everything tomorrow.”  
          “Just what are they doing to them in there?” Lillian asked angrily.
          Her hands were shaking. We’d talked about it before we came in. Her and I didn’t need to touch each other or show a weakness for each other in case everything went bad, they couldn’t use us against one another. We were all supposed to be acquainted but nothing more. And I wanted to hold her so bad right then, because she was scared and furious and it pissed me off that we had to be here in the first place.
          “I don’t think you-” Billings started.
          “Don’t you dare tell me you don’t think I want to know!” She inched forward, crossing her arms and spoke low. “I want to know, that’s why I asked. We need to know what to expect so we’ll be prepared. We can help her faster, especially when we get her in the van if we know what’s wrong with her and what to tell Miguel to do for her.”
          Billings looked thoughtful for a minute with his brow furrowed.
          “Alright. I haven’t been back here much except in the beginning for training. I didn’t like it so I chose to work elsewhere but the few times I was back here they used heat and freezing air. They refused them food and water and sleep.”
          “What do you mean heat and freezing air?”
          “First, they get the room so hot, you can’t think straight. Then they throw ice water on you and turn the air down to freezing cold. You’re body more times than not goes into shock.” Lillian looked sick but nodded for him to go on. I wasn’t much better. I could feel my body shaking. “They don’t let you feed you or let you sleep either. Other than that, except for a bit of slapping around and such, I personally didn’t witness anything else. We always heard crazy stories about the stuff going on down here but...”
          It was hard to get a good breath. I couldn’t think of Sherry in the next room being slapped or anything else. It wasn’t right to just stand out here in the hall and let it happen but, we had to. And it frigging sucked.
          We waited. We were almost about to go check the rooms when another group of them came out of a room on the left. Five Lighters, two enforcers. Instantly, I recognized one of them and put my arm on Lillian’s back to remind her stay calm. I heard Billings utter a low curse under his breath. I heard Lillian take a swift intake of breath but kept quiet.
          It was Daniel. Daniel, the Lighter, who saved us and fought for us. And it was too late to turn around, he was already looking right at us the second he exited the room. His gaze jolted in a double take to us quickly then away. Other than that he didn’t act any different than the others as they filed out of the hall.
          I noticed that no one came out of the room with them, which meant that they must have not have given in. Good for them, whoever they were.
          I held my breath, knowing Daniel was going to rat us out any second, but he just followed the others out of the hall and out into the main part of the building.
          One of the enforcers, a big German looking dude, stopped and took up residence in a big chair on the end and immediately picked up a racing magazine from the table. He crossed his ankles and looked bored.
          About half a minute later, Daniel came back and spoke to the guard. We couldn’t hear them all the way at the other end of the hall, but whatever he said, the guard left quickly with a nod.
          Daniel turned to us and I couldn’t sworn he almost smiled. He walked to us slowly and easily. I looked and saw no cameras or anything around, but Lighters couldn’t be filmed anyway. That would kind of give them away to the enforcers when they didn’t show up on surveillance now wouldn’t it.
          He reached us, stopping a couple feet away and kept his voice low but looked right at Lillian with a look of awe and affection. I tried to remember he was a Lighter and it wasn’t like I should jealous. It wasn’t like he had a chance with her even though he clearly had some feelings for her, though he may not have understood them.
          “What are you three doing here? I never thought I’d see you again.”
          “They have our friend,” Lillian answered quickly. “What are you doing here?”
          She sounded disappointed and I understood why. If Daniel had some kind of revelation, like he told us, why would he be back here hurting people again?
          He winced like her words physically hurt.
          “I’m here because it’s the only place I can be. The only place I can do any good. Your friend?”
          “Sherry.”
          He closed his eyes and shook his head.
          “Your Sherry is a tough one.”
          “What does that mean?” Lillian asked anxiously.
          Billings stepped up.
          “Alright, let’s do this. Daniel, you gonna try to stop us?”
          “You are here to take back your friend,” Daniel said with understanding.
          “And the others if we can.”
          Daniel nodded like he already knew that.
          “You beat me to it. I have been feeding them and releasing a few of them. I can’t save them all or the others will notice. A couple a week, I say they died at night or something. The enforcers believe me, anyway. It's only a matter of time until I get caught. Sherry was going to be my next try, for tonight.”
          “Really?” Lillian asked. “You’re really doing that?”
          “Yes. I told you I wanted to be different and I am.”     
          “Ok, well,” Billings started and stepped forward, “I don’t want to get you in trouble so... What do I need to do? Punch you or something so they think you fought us? We can grab Sherry and go?” Billings asked Daniel hurriedly.
          “No. A punch wouldn’t take me down anyway. I’ll help you. I think they are starting to catch on to me in any case, like I said. It was only a matter of time before I’m found out.”
          “How many captives are here?” Billings asked, back to business and I was grateful for it.
          “This is the only captive wing and there are only two left. Sherry and another woman. They haven’t gotten to the other one yet. She was only brought in this morning. Sherry is in that room, on the left.” Lillian started towards the door quickly but he grabbed her arm to stop her. It irked me a little but I let it go. “I warn you, it’s not pretty. I did all I could, but I couldn’t be with her every second.”
          She nodded and I moved to get in front of her as I grabbed the door knob and unbolted the lock.
          “Nuhuh, I go in first remember? And Lillian, let me handle this, ok? Nothing crazy.”
          She rolled her eyes and smirked a little.
          “I’ll take Billings and we’ll get the other woman,” Daniel said and took position in front of the door opposite us in the hall.
          Then we opened the doors together and we got our first peek of Sherry, soaking wet and shivering, sprawled out awkwardly on the concrete floor laying on her back. Blood was mixing with the water swirling around her, her bloody legs were bent underneath her. Her skin sickly white and blue all over. She had a massive bruise on the side of her face and her nose was bleeding. Daniel wasn’t lying.
          It definitely wasn’t pretty.

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