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Embry made another gagging noise and dumped some more of the food she’d smuggled in into the toilet. She groaned for effect. As far as her guard was aware, she had a massive and violent case of food poisoning. She’d already been in here for fifteen minutes, and she knew he was getting impatient to get back to the fight. Wetting a paper towel at the sink, she blotted her face so as to appear clammy and ill. Then she sank down to her knees and opened the door.
“Private?” she croaked.
He turned, eyes dropping to where she leaned weakly against the doorjamb. “You okay, Ma’am?”
“I’m afraid not. Word to the wise. Next time you’re on leave, avoid Juanita’s Tamale House.”
“Do I need to get a doctor?” he asked, frowning.
“No. It’s just food poisoning. I’ll be fine once it’s all . . . out of my system. You probably don’t wanna wait around for this.”
“I’m to escort you back to the arena.”
Embry dialed up her internal temperature and swayed a little. “Look, I’m gonna be—” She feigned swallowing back vomit. “Be a while. You shouldn’t have to miss the fight because of me. Go watch a round or two and come back for me.”
The private hesitated, looking down the hall at the faint sound of cheers.
Embry dove for the toilet again, dry heaving.
“I’ll come back to check on you in a few minutes,” he said at last.
Not looking at him, Embry waved him away and hunched miserably over the bowl. The door shut quietly behind him.
She kept up the charade for another few minutes, waiting to see if he’d be coming back soon. When he didn’t, she opened the door and peered out into the corridor. Deserted.
Embry’s original plan was to worm her way into the air shaft in the bathroom, but the only access point was a narrow vent in the ceiling that she couldn’t even fit her head through. Her only choice was to attempt the halls and pray to God that everybody was at the fight. She needed to find a computer terminal to try to access the main system and find out where her father was being held. And then she needed schematics to figure out how to get wherever that was. And while you’re at it, why don’t you ask for the cure to cancer and an end to world hunger?
The sound of her careful, soft footsteps seemed to echo off the bunker walls. A litany of curses ran through her brain to the rhythm, and she wished she had Gage at his peak to muffle the noise. But he was otherwise occupied.
She met no one. But rather than ease her anxiety, it only wound her tighter. This recon was on borrowed time. She knew it. Gage knew it. It was only a matter of minutes, half an hour at the most, before someone came looking for her specifically or until somebody who wasn’t interested in fighting stumbled across her.
From somewhere down the hall a door slammed. Heart in her throat, Embry bolted for the nearest door. Locked. Footsteps drew closer as she dove for the next one, silently swearing when she saw the keypad and retina scanner. Fuck. There were two sets of feet, she realized. Frantic, she wedged herself into the profile of a metal girder. She would be hidden if they didn’t look too closely, but if they looked back . . .
Embry didn’t breathe, didn’t blink as the two soldiers moved past her down the hall.
“I can’t believe Mackey’s getting away with this. If the big wigs find out that he brought in a civilian, they’re going to flip.”
“A civilian, hell, have you seen the way Cade Shepherd fights? Twenty bucks says he’s got military experience of some kind.”
Something like that.
“Mackey better hope the general doesn’t get back earlier than planned. He’ll get court martialed for this. And so will everybody else who’s left their post to go to this fight.”
“Don’t get your panties in a wad, Lattimer. You wanna go back?”
“No. I wanna see this as much as anybody else. God knows this post is boring as shit unless you’re on Level 36, and I ain’t got security clearance for that.”
The rest of their conversation faded as they continued down the hall, never looking back.
Embry exhaled softly. Level 36. Security clearance. That sounds like classified paranormal beings to me.
Moving faster now, she found her way to the elevator bank. Of course, it wasn’t that easy. She didn’t have a security badge to activate the damn thing. Her window was closing. She could feel it at the back of her neck like a Hunter in the night. Stalking her.
It was sheer luck that she found the stairwell. By virtue of the fact that there was no key pad or retinal scan or other security measures, Embry was dubious that it would take her anywhere useful, but she needed to get on another level in hopes of finding an unmanned computer terminal. She slipped inside with barely a sound, then stood taking shallow breaths until she was certain no one was in the stairwell with her. Then she headed down. And down. She was thirteen floors up from the mysterious Level 36.
Down. Down. Down. Pausing every few steps to listen for footsteps. Moving again when there were none.
There was no door to Level 36. She went down another level, found the door labeled SL-37, then went back up a flight. It was simply a blank wall. Embry ran her hands over the cinder blocks, searching for some hidden mechanism or any indication of a camouflaged entrance. Her fingers traced only the rough, painted surface of concrete.
She could blow her own access point. Being the daughter of an elemental had its benefits. But that would hardly be subtle, so she retraced her steps back up to Level 35 and tried the door. No additional security measures. No alarms blared as she tugged it open an inch. As with every area she’d seen of the base, this hallway was flooded with light. But she saw no guards stationed.
Her skin prickled. This was too easy. But still, she slipped from the stairwell and made her way down the deserted hall. The fourth door on the right yielded access to a lab. The stainless steel tables were scrubbed clean and gleaming. Assorted equipment lined the walls. Microscopes, refrigerators, a centrifuge. And in the corner, screen dominated by a revolving geometric pattern, was a computer.
With a quick glance back at the door, she tapped a key on the keyboard. The screensaver disappeared, revealing the expected login screen. Now what?
A notebook lay open beside the keyboard. Taking a closer look, Embry could see a series of experiments listed. There were dates, amounts, chemical formulas, and what was probably subject numbers covering the page, but she didn’t understand the shorthand used. She paged through it, looking first in the front and working her way back. And there, taped into the back cover was a list of passwords.
She said a brief prayer of thanks that even government scientists couldn’t remember passwords and typed in the relevant one. A new screen popped up showing some kind of analysis that was 56% complete. She minimized the process and took a quick inventory of the machine and the network. As she’d hoped, this unit was connected to the broader network running through the base. They might pull this off yet. Making one last check of the corridor, she paused to lock the door to the lab and close the blinds on the windows facing the hallway before pulling up a chair and setting to work.
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