Cole had turned into Dee’s chest, and she could feel his little body shaking, Cole trying not to cry in front of these strange people.
Mike said, “From what the boy told me, there was some feature in the sky several weeks ago.”
“So he’s confirmed what Max said.”
“Yeah, and apparently the people who witnessed this event became affected shortly thereafter.”
“Did you see the lights, Cole?”
Cole wouldn’t look at him.
“Did the boy see it?”
“Says he did, but that his parents and sister didn’t.”
“There’s nothing wrong with him,” Dee said. “He’s no threat to anyone.”
Mathias stared at Dee. “We stay intentionally out of the loop here. We don’t monitor the news or even the weather. Tell me exactly what this event was.”
Dee kissed the top of Cole’s head and rubbed his back while she spoke. “A massive aurora visible to all of the lower forty-eight, northern Mexico—”
“And you didn’t see it?”
“It wasn’t like the news was going too crazy over it. No more coverage than a large meteor shower. We had wanted to stay up for it, but it happened so late, Jack and I just didn’t manage to drag ourselves out of bed.”
“But your son saw it.”
Her eyes filled up with tears. “Cole slept at a friend’s house and they set their alarm and woke up at three in the morning and watched it.”
Mathias smiled. “You lied to me.”
“I was afraid you’d—”
“You’ve brought someone who’s affected into our community.”
“My son is not affected.”
“So you say. But Cole has admitted to seeing the lights. Max saw the light around his head yesterday night. How exactly is he not affected?”
“I’m his mother. I know my son. He hasn’t changed at all. He isn’t hostile.”
“You’ll understand, me being responsible for the safety of the sixty-seven souls who live in this field, if I don’t just take your word on that.”
“Then we’ll leave,” she said.
“I wish it were that easy.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know the location of our compound. You’ve had a tour of our security measures. Do you honestly believe I would allow you to go back out into that war zone with this information?”
“You can’t stop us from leaving if we want to.”
“Dee.” Mathias moved forward, eased down onto the bed. Ran his hand along her shinbone until his fingers closed gently around her ankle. “I wrote the constitution we abide by. I invented our civil and criminal codes of law. I am God here.”
He released her leg and glanced over his shoulder at Mike.
Back to Dee.
“I think at this point, it would benefit all concerned for you and I to step outside and have a private conversation.”
“You go to hell.”
He lowered his voice. “Think about your children, Dee.” Whispering now: “If you get upset, it’s only going to make them more afraid.”
Mike’s radio squeaked.
“Mike, come back.”
Mike unclipped the radio from his belt and lifted the receiver to his mouth.
“Can this wait, Bruce? Little tied up at the moment.”
“The sensors are returning multiple echoes.”
“Look, I don’t mean to be critical, since I know this is a new assignment for you, but sometimes a herd of elk or deer will pass through.”
“No, it’s not that.”
“How do you know?”
“We’ve had a current interruption in the razorwire.”
“You’re telling me someone’s cut through?”
“I think so, because now. . .” His voice trailed off.
Mike said, “Bruce, repeat. You broke up.”
“I’m wearing night vision goggles and staring south toward the woods. . .definitely picking up a lot of movement in the trees.”
“I don’t know. They’re crawling along the ground.”
Mathias stood and grabbed the radio from Mike. “Bruce, we’re coming. Put the word out on channel eight and get people into position right now. Just like we’ve drilled. If you get a shot, start taking them out.”
Mathias handed the radio back to Mike and started for the door. “Liz, stand guard outside. If they try to leave, shoot them.”
Dee brought the lit candle over from the dresser and down with her and Cole onto the floor.
“Come on Naomi, I don’t want you near the window.”
Her daughter climbed off the bed, said, “We’re going to be killed if we stay in here.”
Dee crawled over to Naomi’s bed and lifted the mattress.
“Still there?” Naomi whispered.
Dee took the gun and eased the mattress back down. She ejected the magazine—still fully loaded—then coughed to cover the metallic clatter as she popped the magazine home and jacked a round.
“Both of you, get dressed quickly,” she whispered. “Put on every piece of clothing they gave you.” Dee went to the closet and tugged the three black parkas off the hangers, handed Naomi and Cole theirs, slid into hers.
Then she knelt between them, Cole struggling with the laces of the hiking boots they’d given him which were a size too big.
“Take Cole over there and crouch down with him behind the mattress until I come back for you.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“Two minutes tops.”
Dee approached the door, tried to steady the Glock in her hand.
Glanced back at her children hiding behind the bed, could see only a bit of Naomi’s hair.
She spoke through the door, “Liz? You out there?”
Dee slid the Glock into the front pocket of her parka and pulled the door open.
The woman squatted ten feet away, watching the far woods with her back to the door. Dee would have shot her then but she had no faith in her aim.
The woman looked back. “He told you to stay inside.”
“I need to talk to you.”
Liz stood and started back toward the cabin. A machinepistol dangled from a strap around her neck. Her right hand held it trained on Dee. She drew in deep lungfuls of air though it wasn’t sufficient oxygen to fuel the raging pump of her heart.