Chapter no 48

Quantum Radio

The blast threw Ty into the marine standing behind him. They hit the wall together, and Ty lurched forward, falling face-first onto the floor. Still, he held tight to the quantum radio medallion. He sensed, even in the carnage, that it was the key to saving everyone.

His ears rang.

Vision spotted.

Debris rained from the ceiling.

In front of him, Nora was lying on her back, eyes closed. Unmoving.

Ty lunged forward, crawling toward her, ignoring the pain as debris on the floor dug into his forearms. He could barely hear the booms from the explosions, but he could feel them vibrating through him.

His eyes were locked on Nora. Nothing else. She still hadn’t moved. A piece of the ceiling broke free, crashing down on her left leg.

Ty crawled faster.

His hearing was returning. And the only sound was gunfire. And screams.

His father was army-crawling across the floor as well, toward Ty’s mother. Richter covered her with his body, ensuring the falling debris hit him instead. He turned his face to the side and shouted, voice loud enough to slice through the din.

“Stop! Stop shooting.”

Ty realized Kato was standing by the open door, shooting into the hall with a rifle he had taken from one of the fallen marines. About half of them were down, unmoving.

When he reached Nora, Ty positioned his body over hers, shielding her. He pressed his thumb to her neck, feeling for a heartbeat. Her warm breath

reached his face first. Her eyes cracked open. And she smiled, a weary but happy smile.

“Hold your fire!” Richter yelled, still crouched over Ty’s mother. “You could damage the device. Get back!”

Through the clean room’s broken window, Ty could see a dozen figures in the corridor, dressed in jet-black fatigues, wearing balaclavas over their faces, rifles aimed into the lab.

At Richter’s words, one of the figures—a man near the front—began barking orders:

“Fall back. Prep for evac.”

As the invading troops backed away, Kato stepped out into the hall, crouching, rifle pointed at the troops.

“Put the gun down, Lieutenant,” Richter called to him. Kato eyed him.

“We’re outmatched.” Kato hesitated.

“Lieutenant, if you keep fighting, more people will get hurt,” Richter said. He glanced at the three other marines. “Same goes for you all. It’s over.”

Ty could barely process what he was hearing. They had lost. If these were Covenant soldiers, what would they do to him? And Nora? And Kato and Maria? And his parents?

Kato squatted and placed the rifle on the floor, the center resting on his right foot. Ty imagined that was so that he could propel it upward and into his hands quickly if he had to.

Behind him, Maria had her back to the wall, clutching her knees to her chest, breathing in and out heavily, her eyes wide. She was scared, but she was alive, and Ty was thankful for that.

Beside her, Bishop was stirring. Blood covered his face. His thick glasses were gone, and he was running his hands through the rubble on the floor, blinking, desperately looking for them.

A few feet away, Colonel Travis lay dead, shards of broken glass lodged in his neck.

Nora reached a hand up and gripped Ty’s upper arm. “I’m okay,” she whispered. “Just shaken up. Are you okay?”

He nodded.

The debris had stopped falling, and his father had moved away from his mother to stand at the doorway, as if waiting for someone.

Ty’s mother sat up, rubbing the back of her neck. “Gerhard, what’s going on?” she asked.

Before he could answer, a black-clad figure strode into the hallway, a handgun held at his side. Two others lingered a few feet behind him, rifles pointed at the floor.

“Richter,” the lead figure called. “The device is secure.”

“Hand it over.”

“No. We exit together. Then you take possession. When we’re safe. That is the deal.”

The man paused. “Fine. But we need to hurry. We have incoming.” “Wait for us outside the doors and be ready to move.”

The man hesitated a moment and then turned and walked away, taking the two others with him.

Helen, still sitting on the floor, crab-walked backward away from Richter until her back hit the wall. Ty could see the hurt on her face.

“Traitor,” she spat out.

Richter didn’t meet her gaze. He turned to Ty. “Do you still have it?”

Ty’s mouth felt full of sawdust. He simply stared at his father, hurt overtaking him too.

“Tyson, answer me.” Ty nodded.

Bishop had found his glasses, but they were broken. Still, he put them on, and that seemed to give him the confidence to speak. “Gerhard, what are you doing?”

“Be quiet, Sandy.”

Ty’s mother rose and stepped across the room, stopping between Ty and Richter. “You’ve betrayed us.”

Richter reached over and took one of the rifles from a dead marine. “You have every right to judge me, Helen. I only ask that you wait until you know everything.”

Richter peered around her, at Ty. “You have to go.” That surprised him. “Where?”

“It’s time to turn the page, Tyson.”

Turn the page. The page from Kato’s file. The back.

Ty realized what it was then: a map. Of how to get away.

Richter had used the bleedthrough of the redactions to draw a path that led somewhere, perhaps outside. It was brilliant.

Bishop rose to his feet. “How could you, Gerhard?” “I had no choice, Sandy.”

“Why?” Helen said. Ty thought hurt was overtaking the anger in her voice now.

“The Covenant has known about this place for years,” Richter said. “The building is full of moles. The Covenant would have moved in the moment we decoded the schematic. This was the only way to hold them off.” He nodded to Ty, Nora, Kato, and Maria. “And give them a chance to escape.”

Richter stepped over to Ty and gripped his shoulder. “Go. Now. But hug your mother before you leave.”

There were so many things Ty wanted to ask.

Richter picked up a rifle and glanced at the corridor. “I’ll hold them off as long as I can.”

When Ty didn’t move, his father reached out a hand and propelled him toward his mother. For a moment Ty thought about turning back and hugging him, but Richter was already moving to the door. To Kato, he said, “Take a gun with you, Lieutenant.”

Ty’s mother wrapped him in a tight hug that made his body ache, but he didn’t dare pull away.

“Be careful,” she whispered.

Nora approached them, and Ty’s mother reached an arm out and pulled her in. “You too,” she whispered.

Kato helped Maria to her feet, and together with Ty and Nora, they stepped out into the corridor and jogged toward the door at the other end, away from the Covenant troops. The door had a biometric lock, but the lights were off. It had been disabled. Ty pushed the door open, revealing a dark hallway.

Kato switched on a flashlight that he had scavenged from a marine, then handed another to Ty, and the team stepped across the threshold, into the near darkness. Kato closed the door behind, and Nora whispered, “Where are we going?”

Ty pulled the page from his pocket, unfolded it, and shone his flashlight down. “I think this leads out of here. My father passed it to me in secret.”

“A map,” Nora said. “Of what? The building?”

Kato took the page and studied it. “That and the aqueducts. They connect to a bunch of buildings here in the naval yards and run under DC. They link up with the sewer system and steam tunnels—even underground railroads, the metro, and abandoned trolley tunnels. It’s like a labyrinth under the city. I talked with some of the marines here. They use the tunnels to move troops and material in at night, in secret. I know where the entrance is.”

Beyond the closed door, Ty heard gunfire. It was his father, fighting to give them time to escape. He gripped the quantum radio medallion in his pocket and nodded to Kato. “Okay. Let’s go.”

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