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Andrew Roscoe had a face like a trainwreck. It wasn’t that he was particularly unattractive - he was - it was that his ugliness had purely to do with his line of work. Andrew Roscoe had a way of throwing himself heart and soul and fists flying into every aspect of his job. He made Michael feel a bit inadequate.
Michael Cross was the opposite. He was young and good-looking, and he knew he looked as harmless as a mouse beside the older, grizzled, scarred Enforcer. The guy they picked up sure wasn’t taking him seriously until Andrew got on the scene.
Andrew pulled a chair out from the plain metal table and tied the guy to it. Within five minutes, he had the guy’s name, Cole, and the name of the man he worked for, Lennox Carrick. Of course, Andrew didn’t have a hard time time with it because he didn’t have any problem beating the hell out of the guy.
That’s where the information stopped, though. Cole was more afraid of his own employer than he was of Michael and Andrew’s.
“Bummer that the general is so interested in you,” Andrew said to the bound Hunter, slapping a cigarette out of the pack and lighting it. “He’s on his way.”
Michael blanched. “He’s coming here? What if Carrick is nearby?”
Andrew shrugged, dropping into one of the other chairs. “Then we’ll kill him.” He held the pack toward their prisoner. “Want one?” When Cole couldn’t reach out because of the rope and only glared at him, Andrew grinned like a horror movie and tucked the pack away.
They waited in silence for a time, and then Andrew spoke up again. “Listen, he just wants the girl. Lilah.”
“Her?” Cole demanded, incredulous. “This is about one girl?”
“Mr. Chandler enjoyed the company of the mother.”
“So she’s his kid. Carrick isn’t gonna give his kid back for nothing.”
“No, she’s not his kid. He just feels a sense of responsibility to little Hunters in his territory, is all. And we don’t need Carrick to get her back. We need you to get her back for us.”
Cole pursed his lips. “Can’t help you. They already gave her to-” He broke off and shook his head. “I can’t help you.”
Andrew tilted his head. “Gave her to who?”
“Whom,” Cole said.
“Whom, not who.”
Andrew punched him hard in the gut. “Didn’t ask for a grammar lesson.”
Cole gasped, doubling over as far as the ropes would allow. Michael watched this casual cruelty with fascination and a mix of satisfaction and creeping horror. A week on the job, and this was where he was. With the general’s Enforcer, torturing a guy for information.
But the guy and his boss had killed a woman and taken a little girl. And when they looked into it, they found he had been taking a lot of little kids. If Michael could think of a good time for torture…
Braedon Chandler stepped into the room, and for the merest moment, Andrew looked like as happy as the cat that ate the canary. But then another man stepped in after the general. He was of average height and slim build, with silvery blond hair and eyes the pale, icy blue of imagined glaciers. Michael felt unease grip his stomach, felt the unease turn to stress and burn up into his throat though he had never before seen the blond man.
Andrew’s face twisted in anger, but he said nothing. He only stepped back from Cole, giving Braedon room to pull up a chair and sit beside him. The blond man pulled up another chair and sat before Cole, peering into his face, and for a while they were all silent.
And then, Braedon spoke. His voice was low, almost warm. “Andrew, please take Michael outside and stand guard at the door.”
“Sir,” Andrew said carefully.
Andrew made a noise like a bear growling and stalked toward the door, pausing only to give Michael a cold look that said move.
As they stood outside, Michael could hear Braedon’s cool, low, methodical voice though he couldn’t quite make out what he said. Cautiously, he asked, “Who’s the guy he brought with him?”
“He’s an asshole,” Andrew spat, crushing his cigarette beneath his heel.
“I’m sure that’s not his name.”
“I’m sure you don’t mean to be a smartass.”
Michael went silent, staring anywhere but at his companion. Finally, Andrew broke the tense almost-silence, taking pity on the younger Hunter. “Jason Rand. I don’t know much about him except that the general’s got control over him.”
They heard a short, sharp scream from inside, and then Braedon’s voice again, low and constant.
“Is this the sort of thing he does for Mr. Chandler?”
Andrew shrugged. “Doesn’t usually do anything. But… well, Braedon liked Carla.”
Cole screamed again, and this time it went on for a bit longer. Michael shuffled his feet and frowned, opened his mouth to speak, and then suddenly Braedon spoke loud enough for them to hear. “Prometheus?”
Andrew muttered, “Oh, shit.”
Michael blinked, looking at the Enforcer. “What’s Prometheus?”
Hours later, when a big green monster with two heads tried to eat him, Michael regretted asking that question.
He had a hold of the creature beneath both of its jaws, trying to fend it off as yellow-white saliva spattered his face. He barely had time to register disgust before the thing lunged forward with its right head and tried to bite his ear off. He let go and managed a half roll, the head banging into the floor beneath him, and with his free hand somehow found his pistol and shot it in the right head.
Someone kicked the creature off of him and shot its other head. He took the hand up with a grateful, “Thanks.”
Braedon nodded and pulled him up. He had not offered an explanation as they traveled to the Prometheus station, but when the general had been distracted by a call from their operations coordinator, Andrew had said hurriedly, “Used to be a company a couple decades ago. Shady. Braedon took them down but couldn’t kill them off entirely. Now they’re underground and shadier.”
Michael looked to the green two-headed monster and suppressed the urge to shudder.
So much for the first two teams cleaning the station out, he thought. Their guide, Joel DeWitt, said, “I couldn’t even sense it coming. What the hell?”
Braedon put a hand to his ear and snapped, “Caroline, I thought you said everything was cleared out.”
The operations coordinator, Caroline Waite, spoke from the comfort and safety of the communications hub. Her voice was even and untroubled, almost robotic. Michael still hadn’t quite gotten used to the earpieces, and sometimes it seemed like a sci fi movie or a video game and in the smoking ruin of the hallway, the effect was jarringly eerie. “I said that the path was clear to the control room, but that the left wing of the facility still contained monsters. This one must have escaped.”
“The path was not clear to the control room,” Braedon said dryly.
“I apologize, sir.”
Joel repeated, “I couldn’t sense it,” and Michael realized he hadn’t sensed it coming either.
Braedon seemed to hear him for the first time, and his eyes narrowed. “What do you mean you couldn’t sense it?”
Caroline spoke again over the earpieces. “Mr. Chandler, I advise you to leave the facility at once. We cannot be sure of your safety. Mr. Cross, Mr. DeWitt, if you would be so kind as to lead Mr. Chandler out, we will have Miss Jeffries meet you at the-”
“No,” Braedon said, turning on his heel and continuing down the hallway. The emergency lights were dim and orange, casting odd shadows where doors came off their hinges and walls had been knocked through, and within a few steps it was already difficult to see the general. Joel caught up to him in a few short strides and Michael hurried after.
“We cannot be sure what other security measures Prometheus may have put in place,” Caroline said. “Lilah has been recovered and is out of the facility. Leave the rest to Mr. Roscoe.”
“I want to speak to the man in charge.”
“We cannot be certain that Seymour is in the control room, sir, but if he is, he will be brought to you.”
Michael broke in. “Send Miss Jeffries to meet us at the control room.”
“Mr. Cross, you do not give orders,” Caroline said.
“Obey Mr. Cross’s order as if it were mine,” Braedon said coolly.
Caroline’s voice went silent again and Michael ventured a careful, “I believe she is right, sir.”
Braedon did not so much as look back at him, so Michael fell into step behind him. “What are those things?” he asked, hoping for a response to this at least.
“I don’t know,” Braedon answered, his voice just short of a growl. “Something Prometheus made.” He moved cautiously down the hallway, pistol at the ready, pausing now and then to peer around an open door.
Michael couldn’t help but ask more questions, though he knew better. He should be listening. “Why did they take children?”
As if on cue, something skittered in the vents above them. They stopped, looked up, waited, but the sound faded into silence.
“Because a child’s gifts are mallea-” Braedon stopped mid-word as the skittering sounded from the room at their left. He raised a finger to his lips, and took a step backward as Michael looked inside. When he glanced back, Braedon had disappeared.
Joel muttered, “Balls.” Then he motioned to one side of the door and Michael moved as directed. Joel got to the other side of the door and knelt down to pick a chunk of debris from the floor. Then he hurled it hard into the room. Michael could hear it slamming into something hard and metallic, and then they heard the skittering again, from somewhere deep in the room and to the right.
Joel darted into the room, aiming his gun toward the sound, and Michael followed him just in time to see Braedon in the far left corner. When did he get into the room? He stepped away from it.
The second green two-headed monster hurled itself in Joel’s direction. Braedon aimed and fired as Joel did, cutting it off mid-flight and knocking it back. “Do you think we killed its girlfriend?” Joel asked.
Caroline spoke again. “Mr. Roscoe reports that they have nearly cut through the doors. He believes that the control room is a clean room, sir. He cannot sense who or what is inside.”
The general said, “Thank you, Caroline. After you, gentlemen.”
Joel and Michael moved cautiously back out into the hallway, and when they saw the coast was clear, they ushered Braedon out to move between them. Michael wanted to ask how he had disappeared and reappeared like that but he held his tongue. He would ask someone later.
They heard Andrew before they saw him. He knelt in front of a heavy metal door. Sparks flew around him as he cut through it, and three other Hunters clustered around him, keeping watch.
“Someone give me a hand,” Andrew said, getting to his feet to pry the door open. Joel went to help him, and Michael stayed at Braedon’s side. The general drew in a slow breath and let it out again, raising his pistol.
Michael saw it before anyone else. One week on the job and he was the only one to see the barrel of the gun and the small white hand in the glaring fluorescent light of the control room.
He dove into his general, felt a small, hard punch of pure pain in his shoulder, and momentum carried them into the wall. Michael knocked his head and saw black.