Become a Book Nerd
When you’re not reading books, read our newsletter.
“General, ONSET detection shows that the scouts have informed Southwind about the loading dock, and the main regiments are moving around to the northeast.”
I grinned madly. They were falling for it. “If this pattern continues, Operation West Cliffs is a go in T-minus 15 minutes.”
Chance took me by the shoulder and turned me towards him. “I finished it, but you need to have complete trust for me to do what I’m doing next. Close your eyes.”
I was genuinely frightened that he would kill me, that he was not really my brother, that he was a traitor, but my right mind finally overrode my fears. I closed my eyes.
I felt him untying my mask. “What are you doing?” I asked frantically, still not willing to open my eyes.
“Wait for it… wait for it…” The mask came off, but almost immediately, something even more comforting touched my eyes. Something tightened around my head. “Keep ’em closed…” He took my good hand for a moment, then let it go and adjusted the whatever-it-was. “Okay, you can open them.”
I opened my eyes, but I couldn’t feel anything different from my ordinary mask. “What… I don’t understand…”
He took out a mirror and showed me. “You will.”
The new black leather mask was cut in ornate patterns, of beauty that I could not have imagined. But the true function of these holes in the mask were revealed when Chance nonchalantly held my hand, and the Marnolian light markings glowed through them.
He had cut the mask in the same pattern.
“Chance… it’s beautiful!”
“Hey, it’s the least I can do. When they see this mask on the Revenant, they will likely be mystified. Besides, it was bugging me that your light markings were always hidden under that mask of yours whenever I touched you.”
I almost knocked him over to hug him. “Thank you.”
The West Cliffs were chosen as the location for an auxiliary base because of their strategic military importance. The cliff is 10 miles long and faces toward the northeast. At our location, the edge is a 30-foot drop. The smooth wall is mostly unscalable, as the cliff slants slightly outward, just enough to cause a problem to potential climbers. On the bottom of the cliff is a large, grassy plain that extends as far as the eye can see. On top of the cliff, about 100 feet from the edge, is a dense evergreen forest that acts as perfect cover. Compounds in these trees are resistant to fire, so the forest can’t be easily burned.
Our base was built to take advantage of all of that. The ceiling to the actual base is under bedrock, into which we have embedded sensors of all types that feed into a system we call ONSET (the Omniscient Network Surveillance Electronic Technology), so we know exactly who and what is standing above our heads. Anyone with the access code can get into ONSET with their handhelds. The entire complex is bugged with ONSET, and anything suspicious can be monitored in seconds.
So why didn’t we have ONSET at the main base, or any other of the auxiliary bases? Easy. It was too expensive. We used the West Cliffs base as the trial for ONSET because of the strategic importance of knowing where the enemy was, but doing the main base would be difficult because of both the size of the equipment, retrofitting the cabling, and the actual cost of doing so. When ONSET was introduced, we were in the process of building West Cliffs, so it was easier to implement it.
The function of the base was simple: it was our battle base. It’s built to seem like the main base, and it’s built to resist siege tactics. It’s relatively undetectable, except for high-class hackers that would happen to pick up the weakened, scrambled, low frequency of ONSET and be able to decode it, and for underground-penetrating radar, which is expensive and clumsy to move from place to place. They would never be able to find us if they tried. So we would have to find them.
The majority of the forces were on the bottom of the cliff, but the ONSET readings showed that there were still scouts around, so we had our archers peek up from some of the other secret entrances and clean up. The scouts were scattered enough that they didn’t notice their own men falling.
I logged into ONSET and checked on the false door. Sure enough, someone had discovered it. Two wire figures were moving in sync towards someone who had been standing and staring at the door. I was surprised by how perceptive the microphone was. “What’s going on, Commander? How come we aren’t attacking?” I barely recognized the warbled voice as Frost.
“General Dawes, General Corey, ma’am, we were awaiting your approval. We were unsure of whether you wanted to take any specific course of action before we break down the door. We don’t know how many agents could be standing behind it.”
“They think they’re so clever,” Bear insinuated, stroking his beard, “hiding their base under a cliff. You may act when ready.”
I immediately placed a marker on General Frost so I could find her later on ONSET if I needed to. I neglected to do so for Bear, quite on purpose. I ran my fingers over the pair of smooth, cold objects in my pocket, which I had kept with me for a few years.
The corporal signaled for a squadron to help break down the door. I even heard some sho commands being used on it, but to no avail. The door did not budge…
I gave the signal to begin moving, switched to a different screen, and pressed a button, leaving the ONSET audio on. Without warning, the door slid open. I could hear some cursing on the other end. More prominently, though, I could hear Frost shout, “What the ****… It was a ruse?”
Sure enough, what they would have found behind the door was a solid wall of rock.
Bear was even louder. “Curses… they’re above us!”
The archers were just beginning to take their position. They left the overhang open, but lined the edge of the cliff even farther than the spread of the Southwind encampment.
I glanced sideways at Chance, who nodded. It was time.
We walked up to the overhang, every step bringing us closer to the edge, among rows of our comrades. We were together, and together we would stand or fall today.
As we neared the edge, I inhaled slowly and extended my left arm, my falconry glove a perfect perch for Darwin the owl. Fuzzball skittered up Chance’s leg to his shoulder.
Neither side made any motion. Finally, Bear called up to me. “General Revenant. I never thought you’d make it this far.”
I did not respond. I simply put my right hand on the hilt of my saber.
“Nothing? No witty remarks?”
I refused him the pleasure.
He shot a concerned glance to Frost, who began to speak. “Madison, please don’t do this. You know that you can’t win.”
I looked sideways at Chance and smirked. “Oh, we do, don’t we?”
Bear continued in an extremely satiric tone. “Although it is your first time as a commanding officer. I never did expect much. And who is no-name up there? I don’t recognize him!”
I didn’t like their somewhat unfriendly banter, nor their belittling of my brother. “General Cobalt is perhaps even more capable than I am. That’s saying something. We didn’t have to choose to fight you. We have food and water inside this base that will last us 5 years at worst. I doubt you could do the same, nor would you be patient enough. Besides, you are too blind. You have no schematics of the base, nor estimates of our numbers. Only the coordinates, yet you are audacious enough to attack us.”
Frost looked out over her men. “But we have hope. That’s more than you will ever have, Revenant!”
I couldn’t help laughing at that. “Actually, I can do a little better than just hope, you overconfident fools. I have my brother beside me. Plasma and Pulse both thought they could keep that from me, but they’ve failed, just as you are about to.”
“And what threat,” Frost questioned, “does this General Cobalt have to offer? By our calculations, you are outnumbered two to one.”
I knew that was a trick. There was no way they could have calculated that from what they had. But here, I changed the subject of the conversation. “Frost, just what have you done to the real Kendall Cory?”
Bear looked confused. “I’m Kendall Cory!”
“No, you’re not. You are just a convincing fake, aren’t you?”
Frost frowned. “Where are you getting that idea?”
“Because Agent Bear King never survived Operation: Dragonslayer.”
Chance didn’t know what I was talking about, but was uncomfortable hearing about it. He closed his eyes and exhaled.
“There was only one survivor of Plasma’s Operation: Dragonslayer. 6 months later, I killed Robin Adkins, Agent Silver Tiger, who was that survivor, confirmed by these very tags.” I held up a chain with the pair of dog tags identifying the body as Robin. “Frost, you used the unfortunate circumstance to persuade me to join Delta. You alone knew what I felt about Kendall, about Bear. You knew how to leverage that against me. Southwind has been around for a lot longer than you would admit, true? You’ve been a part of it since the beginning. Frost, you were a double agent.”
Frost didn’t know what to say. “I… that’s not true!”
“I can even prove it,” I told her. “You killed the real Agent Whiplash. He never defected to Plasma. The real Agent Whiplash had a mark on his neck from a combat accident. You neglected to replace that mark when you found your look-alikes. You were so dedicated to this little mind game that you played second-in-command to this Joe Schmo here.” I gestured to the fake Bear. “But all this time, I’ve seen through that facade. I’ve played your game. Now you’ll play mine.”
Frost glanced at Bear, annoyed. Finally, she pressed a button on her watch. “Congratulations, Madison. You’ve seen through one of our best technologies.”
The disguise on the man faded away, and instead another unfriendly face took its place. I didn’t recognize it, but I knew it wasn’t Bear.
“Yes, it’s true,” Frost admitted, “that I was never what I seemed. But your time has finally come. You are right where I want you, at last.”
I shivered anxiously, but responded calmly. “So I might be right where you want me… but is General Cobalt where you want him?”
Frost raised an eyebrow. “Actually, to me, it doesn’t really matter where General Cobalt is…”
“Actually, to you, it matters greatly.” I extended my hand to Chance, who took it willingly. His light markings illuminated his face, and I could barely see the glow from my markings shining through my special mask.
We were Marnolians, and we had just revealed so in front of hundreds of Southwind agents. While we had doubts beforehand about doing this, it had more than the desired effect of startling every single agent. The Marnolians had been extinct almost 50 years…
And they had escaped the shadows.
When you’re not reading books, read our newsletter.