"I don't see her," Donovan scanned the crowded area, crammed with survivors. Some wounded, many merely dazed. He became aware he was speaking to empty air; Tyler seemed to have evaporated from where he'd stood a second ago. After another moment's scrutiny Donovan spotted a trio of people gathered near some damaged communications equipment. Tyler stood in front of a well-built woman with long dark hair, her face obscured as his hands framed it, their foreheads nearly touching. It was difficult to see which one was doing the talking, and who the woman was.
The answer came when the pair broke apart, and Tyler brought her back to where Mike stood.
"Donovan! I never thought I'd be so glad to see you!"
He was ambushed by her impulsive, powerful hug. "Angie?" She'd come a long way from the scraggly-headed scarecrow he'd last seen over a year ago. Then in spite of the circumstances, the smirk rose by reflex. "Thanks, I think."
She'd already turned away from him and back to Tyler. "I did the lockdown," she insisted, "I hit the button, but it happened so fast, like nobody saw it coming, how come we didn't see it coming?"
Tyler shook his head. "New tech, nobody knew."
Her veneer of calm wavered a bit. "Where's Reno?," Angie begged, and continued to explain as if an explanation were necessary. "When he signaled for lockdown I hit the button and I ran like hell, like I was supposed to, downstairs and out the underground door and into the back brush, I wanted to turn back and see who else got out, but I didn't. I ran and ran and finally found some other people and we came here. Where's everyone else?"
Donovan gulped, but Tyler spoke clearly. "Gone."
Mike looked away as Angie shuddered and Tyler once again took her face between his hands, but hard this time. "They're gone, Angel. You did it right, everyone did it right, but the lizards went in too fast."
"No," Angie tried to pull away. "If we did everything right, where's Reno, where's Chris?"
Tyler didn't answer right away. They'd found the burnt remains of Reno's body, and the other security guards, but no trace of Farber. Which meant one of two things: he'd gotten away, or had been captured.
Donovan spoke up, "Farber got away, looks like. No trace of him, so he must have gotten away."
"Or they took him alive," Angie countered. "I don't want to think about that… yeah, I think he got away too." The last part was said with more hope than certainty.
Before she could continue Tyler told Angie in chill voice, "Reno's dead. He and most of the others caught the first wave."
"No-no-no!" Angie yanked up and down on Tyler's jacket, but didn't seem to know what to do next.
"Let's find a corner or something," Tyler muttered. Not waiting for a suggestion, he grabbed Angie's hand and dragged her back in the direction he and Donovan had come from. They'd passed some sort of shitty little storage room on the way in, nothing much in it but space without people. By the time they got inside and Donovan hit the light switch and shoved the door closed behind them Angie was in control of herself again. The year or so since Liberation was time enough for most of the scars to heal and for the hard places to soften up a little, so Mike was a little surprised to see her shaking off the shock already. Or maybe it just hadn't hit her yet… like it hadn't hit the others milling around in the outer rooms. He sat quietly on an empty crate in a corner, trying to give Tyler and Angie at least an illusion of a little privacy. Then he realized he didn't have to bother… they were as good at making their own privacy as they ever were.
The knot in Tyler's gut had been obvious for the past two days as he and his old nemesis and ally had fallen back into the running and dodging that had become familiar to them long before the Visitors first arrived. The running and dodging was familiar, sure, but this time the stakes were much higher. Though he was as restrained as usual, the relief when he saw Angie across that roomful of refugees hit him like a wave. He kept hold of her hand as they sat on the concrete floor, telling himself it was to reassure her.
"S'okay, Angel, you're okay," he repeated to her like a mantra, reassuring himself as much as her. "Can you remember what happened?"
"I was feeding Max," Angie recounted in a steadying voice, "and I heard the lockdown alarm. But it just didn't register, you know? Then there was this buzzing, and then Reno was on the intercom because he could tell I hadn't hit the switch yet, 'Goddammit lockdown baby!' he yelled…" Here she paused half smiled at Tyler, "you know how he always called me 'baby' like you'd get jealous or something…"
"Yeah, a real wiseass," Tyler nodded, with a pained smile of his own that was masking things Donovan didn't even want to know about, much less see. Suddenly Angie erupted in panic and jerked her hand out of Tyler's grip.
"Max, my God I didn't look for Max!" and she almost broke down.
Max was the orange tiger tomcat that Elias had managed, on Tyler's behalf, to score for Angie; it was a combination wedding present and the housewarming gift she swore she needed to convince her that the war was over. To "warm" the house that was a custom-designed armed compound. It had done the trick, and Angie doted on the cat as if it were a good luck charm, the essence of what made the place a home. Tyler referred to Max with a variety of joking euphemisms, but Angie loved that "striped lizard bait" so much he made a serious effort to treat it decently. Thank God, Max had sense enough not to mistake decency for affection. For a cat, he had some smarts, and Tyler could respect that. At the moment, though, the missing Max threatened to unravel Angie in a way that other recent events had failed to do.
"Settle down," Tyler urged, "that beat up old rat chaser has been through worse than a lizard air raid, I bet he's already fighting 'em for the best vermin."
"You think maybe?" she asked, eyes wide.
"I know definitely. Max has it made in the shade compared to us, he's gonna find what he needs by instinct. You and Gooder and me, we gotta figure out what the Lizards are planning."
Angie was sitting next to him, leaning forward on her drawn up knees. She nodded, and mused, "Wonder where they're based now? The Mother ship is locked up tight. Somebody would've seen a new one in orbit. There had to be some who adapted to the salt content in the atmosphere and all… maybe they were laying low, working on an antidote or something." She looked up at Mike and Tyler. "Maybe Boston, or whatever they're calling it now. It's the only place they totally blew away and rebuilt from scratch… who knows what got left behind nobody knew about?"
Donovan was taken aback. It was a strange thing to be regrouping and reaching for strategy so quickly. Living a real life had been replacing survival for a while now, and the change this time was violently abrupt, none of the subtle advance of the first invasion. For himself and Tyler, the last invasion and the war that followed was a new version of an old game. By contrast, Angie's transformation had been brutally rapid. He'd figured that by now she'd probably have fallen back into Normal with a vengeance, determined never to return to the hell she'd passed through. But there she was in front of him, dirty and bruised and, except for the panic over her cat, grimly composed. She was shifting gears faster than he'd expected would be possible.
She caught him staring. "I'm okay," she told him, refusing to be subtle. "Just a little shook up."
Mike masked his embarrassment by jerking a thumb toward her as he observed to Tyler, "Real badass, must be the company she keeps."
"I was badass before you met me," she advised.
Mike rose to peer out the door before answering. "Nice to see some things haven't changed. Way you said hello, you had me worrying you might get all warm and fuzzy with me." When he looked back, Angie's head was down, and she said something only Tyler could hear.
"If you've got ideas, speak up," Donovan told her. When she lifted her head, her expression was bitter.
"I said, 'I don't know if I can do this again'." She eyed Mike sharply and cut off whatever he was about to say. "Don't pretend you don't have that in your head too. You're not that good a liar. And you," she directed at Tyler, who had stood and pulled her to her feet, "you know that I know." The edge disappeared, replaced by weary resolve. "Not doing is not an option." She dropped her head back, staring at something beyond the ceiling, and heaved a sigh. "Who knew there'd be so many 'other sides' to get to."
Tyler opened the door and led the way out into the crowded room. "Maybe someone out here knows which way we go to look for the new one. Angel, see if you can find any of my old clients… if they survived long enough to get here, they're sure to be satisfied customers. Gooder and me, we'll work the crowd for general intel. We'll meet up back at the storage room in half an hour."
Ham Tyler's consulting company New World Security Systems had been better than a guaranteed moneymaker since the Liberation. It had provided a useful client base of people well-connected in some of the more familiar of Tyler's previous endeavors. Because you never know when things can turn on a dime and come charging back at you.
Tyler extended his left hand so Angie check her high-end timepiece against his own. He'd had them both custom made in Switzerland (where else?), multi-function, shock proof in every sense of the word, and 100% stone-cold accurate. Checking they were in synch was more of a ritual than a necessity.
Ritual complete, Angie gave a nod of satisfaction. "Okay. Now you mention it, I think I saw that paranoid Jackie Bowdoin cowering in a corner somewhere…" One of Ham's first clients, Bowdoin was a low-rent porno prince with a very high rent bankroll. He was convinced that the Liberation would lead to a cultural-moral cleansing that had him in its cross-hairs and was determined to defend his empire in every way possible. Sleazy he was, but useful he was as well. He'd be sure to have had his sweaty hand on the pulse of a potential Visitor revival. She took off in search of him.
Tyler picked a small group of intensely conversing survivors out of the crowd, and started walking. "C'mon, let's troll for some new rebel talent. Pay's low, but the benefits are a plus."
Mike laughed darkly in agreement. "Yeah that's a bonus… survival. There's another thing that never changes."