The high moon illuminated the ragged men who tersely walked the parameter of the newly installed cistern, checking the moss-borne satellite jammers and scrying the far ambit of the forest through the nascent darkness.
Shaded footsteps and the crack of a branch sounded in the short-distance.
A tenebrous form took shape through the veiling foliage.
A young, female runner. Her clothing grey-green, rendering her soma nearly indistinguishable from the surrounding vegetation, save for the moonbeam-catch of her flaxen hair.
The guards lifted their weapons and waited to see if the signal would be given, or if they would open fire.
The itinerant night-runner removed a whistle from her faded jacket-pocket and blew on it gently. A soft, keen note sounded. The guards lowered their weapons.
“Who is it?” One of the gunners called into the darkness.
“Angela. I’ve news for Moreno.”
“She’s in the bunker.”
The woman nodded and walked briskly past the guards to a false outcrop, found the hidden door and slipped within its darkened confines. A stair let down into a narrow pass and from there to a large cavern stacked with food and medical supplies in ratty crates and sunbleached backpacks. In the center of the room sat a withered middle aged woman with a lone streak of gray up the left side of her shoulder-length hair.
“Moreno. I need to speak with you.”
Moreno Carduus turned to the entrant, face crinkling with perplexity, “Where’s Kallen and Elleway?”
Angela shook her head somberly.
Carduus was silent a moment and then cursed softly, her hands going taunt about mud-stained knees.
“Do you have it?”
“Yes. Just one. Kallen had the other samples. I don’t know what became of them.”
Angela slung her pack from her shoulder and removed a small silver case from within. She held it gingerly, as if fearful of undue perturbation. A middle aged man held out his hand for the case. Angela passed the argent case to the man who swiftly departed and then returned her gaze to Moreno.
“How many made it back?”
Angela looked at the floor.
“They came out of nowhere. We had no time to escape. The only reason I did was because of Kallen. They weren’t standard Consortium peacekeepers. They were from Kryos Industries. Armored, but quick. They had drones with them. At least a dozen.”
The runner nodded gravely, “I would have sent a message, per protocol, but my transmitter was lost during the chase.”
Moreno was silent a moment. Her brows furrowing, eyes suspicious and narrow. The two guards who stood near the entrance watched the two women with concern.
“A spy was among us.” Moreno declared firmly. “There’s no other way to explain it.”
“Awfully curious that you’re the only one that made it back. You and no one else. Unscathed. Hardly flustered. Disregarding protocol.”
“You can’t be serious. I told you I lost my transmitter. How could I have sent a message without it being intercepted? I might as well have shot myself in the head.”
Carduus gestured to the two men standing beside the woman. They each grabbed an arm. Hands on their weapons.
“What are you doing? You’ve known me for five years.”
“Five years isn’t a long time, especially when you’re young.”
“I would never betray the cause.”
“Of course you would – given the right incentive. Anyone would.”
“I wouldn’t. I swear.”
“It doesn’t matter. If there indeed was a mole, as seems almost certain, then either they’re back with Kryos or… standing right in front of me.”
Angela looked pleadingly to the guards binding her arms. “Elliot. Gerard. You know me. Please.”
“We have to be sure.” Gerard muttered, his eyes fixed on Carduus.
Moreno looked to Elliot who hesitantly nodded, saying nothing.
“Dump her body in the mire.”
As Angela was dragged screaming from the room, a old man walked up beside Moreno and nervously cleared his throat.
“What is it Baker?”
“Message just came in. Old code.”
Moreno’s face contorted with apprehension, “Vangr.”