Page 21 of Beta (Alpha 2)

“Take a minute and catch your breath. I’ll be right back.” Harris dug several small packages from his backpack, things shaped like bricks with wires attached.

“Harris? What are those?”


“Jesus. What is this, Die Hard?” This last was to myself, though, because Harris was already across the road and pressed flat to the wall beside the electronically controlled gates. He peeled something from the back of the bomb and pressed the package to the wall beside the gate, touched a button or switch—I couldn’t make out which from this distance—and then moved in a crouch around the corner and out of sight. After a few minutes, he returned at a sprint and moved into the doorway beside me.

He was breathing deeply, a sheen of sweat on his forehead. “Kyrie, I don’t know what we’re going to find when we go in there. Maybe nothing. Maybe something awful. I don’t know. Just…be prepared for anything. And above all, stay right behind me, no matter what.”

I nodded, unable to speak.

The explosion was a deafening CRUMP, followed by a pattering rain of debris and shouts in Greek. Harris drew his pistol and nodded at me, and then we set out across the street, into the cloud of smoke around the gateway. I tugged my shirt up around my nose and mouth and held it there as we entered the pall of dust and debris, following close behind Harris, who seemed unaffected by the acrid smoke. A shape resolved in the sun-fractured shadows of the smoke. Harris’s pistol made a quiet barking sound, not unlike a firecracker, but much louder than I expected a silenced pistol to be. The shape dropped. Another replaced it, and Harris shot that one, too. Then we were through, and I was stepping on something at once soft and hard, rolling out from under my foot. I felt my stomach lurch and refused to look down, simply adjusted my footing and stayed tight behind Harris. He swiveled from side to side, and his pistol cracked, again and again, and then there was the crackcrackcrack of a machine gun, dust spitting up from the shattered marble tiles near our feet, but the shooter was quickly brought down by Harris.

He was moving with the graceful, predatory economy of a professional warrior, partially crouched, feet silent, body angled, swiveling and pivoting as if his upper half was a gun turret. When he fired his gun, he didn’t stop, didn’t slow, just kept on gliding with serpentine swiftness, the pistol barking and jerking in his hands nonstop.

I felt nothing. All emotions, all senses were switched off, shoved down, and I tried to pretend I was in a movie, that this was all pretend, but I couldn’t. Not totally. I had a gun, too, but I didn’t dare draw it. Couldn’t, wouldn’t, not unless I was ready to shoot and kill, and I knew I wasn’t. Then, before I knew it, we were standing outside the house itself.

Harris exchanged clips in a swift, practiced motion, stopped with his back to the wall, pivoted, and peered up a stairway. I couldn’t have told you what the house we were in looked like, except for an impression of marble floors and white walls and dark beams on the ceiling. Harris kept his back to the far wall as he slithered up the stairwell, peering up and angling to see around corners. His pistol fired, twice, a third time, and I was right behind him, glancing behind me every so often.

As we rounded the corner of the stairs, I saw a shadow moving on the landing beneath us. I tapped Harris on the shoulder, pointed down without speaking. He nodded, in a crouch that spanned three stairs, aimed his pistol downward, and waited. A body wielding a wicked-looking black assault rifle appeared in the doorway, and Harris shot him twice. I looked away after the first shot, and then Harris was tapping me on the knee, and I had to follow him.

A woman’s voice was shouting in Greek, pausing now and then, clearly engaged in an argument over the phone. This was followed by silence and then the sound of an engine roaring, and the whine of helicopter blades powering up. Harris was paused in the doorway of the stairwell, just out of sight, waiting until the helicopter took off. He then jerked his head for me to follow, heading for a door at the end of a short hallway. A man stood outside it, an M-16 held in his hands. He saw Harris, but a moment too late. Harris shoved me to one side and lunged, the M-16 ripping the air, but Harris’s pistol was already cracking, rounds slamming into the guard’s body within the blink of an eye. Harris pushed me out of the way.

I hit the wall hard enough to knock the breath out of me, and I stood gasping as Harris rifled through the dead man’s pockets and came up with a small handcuff key. Harris jerked at it the locked door, cursed, searched the man’s pockets again, and then cursed again before stepping back and kicking the door just to the left of the handle. The frame splintered but held, and he kicked it again. This time, it flung open, and Harris stepped through, pausing to grab the M-16.

I was right behind Harris as soon as the door burst open.

Harris let the assault rifle droop, shock clearly overtaking him. I couldn’t see around him, could only see a bed, a brass footboard, and a foot handcuffed to the railing, a bit of bare leg. I knew that foot. I knew the curl of hair on the toes and the scar on his ankle where he said he’d cut it open rock climbing, and I knew the scrim of fine blond hair on his leg, the scar on his calf from the muffler of a dirt bike.

“Valentine!” I lunged around Harris, but stopped in shock.

He was totally nude, cuffed spread-eagle to the bed, his hair wet and matted to his scalp, blood trickling down his forehead. He was alive, though, eyes wide and crazed, teeth bared in a rictus of madness. He had a massive erection, so engorged his veins stood out throbbing and purple. A pill bottle sat on a side table, as well as a silver pitcher. He was sweating, writhing, spine arching and hips lunging. His wrists and ankles were bloody, rubbed raw from his thrashing against the cuffs.

“What the fuck is wrong with him, Harris?”

“Drugs is my guess. A drug to make him…do what she wanted, when he wouldn’t cooperate.”

“How are we going to get him out of here in this state?” I glanced at Harris, who only shook his head.

“I don’t know. But we have to.” He handed me the key he’d gotten from the dead man. “Uncuff him. Leave the cuffs on his wrists for now, though. I don’t know how crazy the drug’ll make him. I might have to subdue him till it wears off.” He sounded too calm, and I darted a glance into Harris’s eyes. It clearly disturbed him to see Valentine this way.

Roth, who was always in control, always calm and collected. Roth, seemingly the master of his universe, reduced to a naked, crazed beast.