“So, where’s the plane?” I ask Eve as we exit the building.
“Oh, um,” she says, looking in every direction with confusion. “I’m not sure. I must have gotten turned around during the whole battle for your life thing.”
“Whole lotta use you are.” I nudge her with my shoulder. “If he’s got the thing up and running, it can’t be too hard for us to find it. It’s got to be somewhere on the water.”
“We didn’t land on water,” Eve says.
“What?” I ask. “It’s a seaplane. It doesn’t have wheels or anything.”
“No, um… You know I’m not really sure. I guess I was so focused on what was going on with you I hadn’t even thought about it. We landed the plane on a dirt road off the highway.”
“Okay. Where did Maxine get off to? She had that cool four wheeler, maybe she could take us back out to where we trashed the car.”
“Oh, that’s a good idea,” Eve agrees. “She had parked it right here, though, so it looks like she might have already left.”
“I’m getting a really bad feeling about this.” I frown. “You don’t think Bruno and Maxine would have left without us, do you?”
“No,” Eve says firmly. “They need us, don’t they?”
“That’s what they keep telling us.”
The sound of sirens echoes faintly through the woods. “SPs,” Eve says in a whisper.
“Didn’t Bruno say we had an hour?”
“It might have been wishful thinking.”
“They’re getting louder.” I grab her hand. “We’ve gotta make a run for it!”
I drag her toward the water, keeping along the tree line in case we need to duck in quickly upon the impending arrival of SP forces.
“Where are we going, Cyrus?” Eve asks.
“Anywhere but here.” We dart into the trees at the edge of camp. We can’t move very fast so close to the water. The entire area here is littered with downed branches and prickles and everything else a runner has nightmares about, but we have to keep moving forward.
“They’re going to find us,” Eve whispers as she straddles a fallen log in the attempt to climb over it.
“Not if I can help it. Come on!” I shout. I find an opening in the forest and follow it away from the water line. There’s no sign of Bruno on the lake, so we might as well work out another hiding place while putting some distance between us and them.
Eve follows closely behind.
Thirty feet from the beach, the trees open up on a paved road.
“Crap,” I whisper to Eve. “Wrong way.” And I adjust our direction. The only path available to us runs parallel to the road. I don’t dare risk crossing anything paved while the SPs are in the area. Too easy to be spotted from above. If we leave the tree cover, we’re screwed.
To be fair, we’re already pretty screwed.
We continue forward, our path under the trees gradually narrows, as does the line of trees between us and the road. If anyone happened to drive by, we’d definitely be spotted.
We take a left, hazarding the tree cover will thicken if we head in deeper. At least it will get us further from the road. The sirens are so loud now they’re certain to be driving past at any moment. I’d guess we’re only moments away from them releasing a giant drone swarm. Or maybe something worse?
Off in the distance, I make out the green and white building I saw when Bruno first brought me here. That means we’re on the outskirts of the camp. It also means the tree cover isn’t going to continue on for very long, considering the majority of the Ashburnham State Forest is not very forest-like. I take a left down a dirt road. There’s still enough tree cover here we shouldn’t be spotted from the sky. Tree cover won’t be enough for long. There’s not much can save us from being spotted by the drones, outside of getting back into the lab.
“The lab!” I shout in an excited whisper.
“What?” Eve asks in confusion.
I pull her into the trees at what I consider a safe distance from the trodden path and we hide behind a large oak. I can see where the forest ends not too far in the distance.
“The lab,” I repeat.
“Right, you said that,” Eve says in a hushed tone. “What about it?”
“Don’t you remember? Bruno said if you’re in the woods, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be hanging out directly below it. That means we’re probably right underneath it right now.”
“That’s all fine and good, Cyrus, but what does it mean for us?”
“It means all we have to do is get up there,” I say pointing skyward.
“But what do we do after we get into the lab? We can’t really wait this whole thing out, can we?”
“I didn’t say we were going to go into the lab.”
“What are you talking about, Cy?”
“We could climb up on top of it.”
“You mean, like, on the roof?”
“Yeah, why not?”
“Because of the satellites for one.”
“Yeah, I had thought about that too. Maybe there’s a way around them.”
“I don’t know. Camouflage? Isn’t that how this whole base works in the first place?”
“Yeah, but this is some high tech stuff. I don’t think you could fashion one of their camo devices from sticks and dirt.”
“Maybe sticks and dirt is exactly what we need.”
“Could you maybe get a little less cryptic and tell me your idea? We’re working on a tight timetable here.”
“Old school camouflage. Think about it. We cover ourselves in dirt and junk and then make our way to the top. If we’re dark enough, maybe they’ll think we’re smudges on the lens or something.”
“That still doesn’t explain what you’re planning on doing after we get up there.”
“Look, right now all we’ve got is to get out of the way of the drones. This could work, right?”
“I don’t know, Cyrus, don’t you think—“
“You got any better ideas?” I argue.
“Great.” I smile. “Then you work on the camouflage. I’m going to see what I can do about getting us up top. They’ve got to have some sort of fire escape or something, don’t they?”
“Doubt it.” Eve scratches around on the ground for dirt. “The ground also seems a little too dry for mud.”
“You better find something,” I argue. “Otherwise we’ll have to use our own fluids to make the ground wet.”
“Right, get to work. I’m going to see what I can do about finding a way up.”
I look up toward what I’m guessing is the bottom of the building. You really can’t tell. For real, it looks like the sky would normally look. The tree tops are even swaying in the wind. I wonder how they do that. The Geek probably knows.
I make my way to the nearest tree trunk to see what I can do about scaling it. A simple look tells me I don’t stand a chance trying to wrap my arms around it to shimmy up. It’s far too wide. These trees are all too wide to try any climbing. None of them even have a single low-hanging branch.
I pace around the tree looking for anything I can use. Of course, getting up there won’t necessarily help us. What if we end up pressed against the bottom side of the building. Or on top of a tree which isn’t anywhere near an invisible building. How would we even know where the building is if we can’t see it?
“Cyrus!” Eve says in a hushed yell. I hurry to her side.
“Any luck with the water?” I whisper as I near.
“You’re never going to believe this,” she says with a smile. Once I get to her side, I see what she’s talking about. A large reservoir is hiding among the trees, leading off for hundreds of feet into the distance. It perfectly reflects the area around it because of how clear it is, making it almost invisible.
“Cool, you think you can make mud now?”
“Yeah, no problem, but the water’s not the interesting part.” Her smile grows bigger.
“Yeah,” she repeats. She points to the trunk of the tree on the edge of the water. Looking closely, I see water trickling down its side and into the pond.
“That’s weird,” I reply. “Is it rain or something?”
“It’s not raining, Cy.”
“Right, but couldn’t it be, you know, rain from earlier dripping down the tree or something?”
“Really?” she says, giving me an exasperated look.
“Okay, so what’s going on then?”
“This is only a guess, mind you, but I think this reservoir here is a water management system, a way to deal with all the water which comes down during a rainstorm to keep it from pooling on top of the building. In other words, rain hits the roof of the lab and then is collected somehow and is guttered down through these very realistic looking fake trees.”
“Cool,” I say. “But I thought you said it wasn’t raining.”
“So, then, why is there still water coming out of the tree right now?”
“I don’t know, maybe because it tries to ration the water it lets out to remain inconspicuous, or—“ she pauses midsentence.
“Or what, Eve?”
“Let’s say if it’s the other option, you might be getting your wish of pee-mud after all.”
“Yeah, it’s very possible that in order to recycle the water through the building, they might be putting it into the pond here. I don’t know. All I know is we have water and a guarantee the lab’s overhead.”
“Cool. Only leaves us with one question.”
“Right, how to get on top of the building. I think I have the answer to that too.”
“Come on, then. We don’t have time for this.”
“Rub your hand across the bark of the tree.”
“Okay,” I say hesitantly before doing what she requests. Although they’re completely invisible, the tree is covered in a series of deep grooves which appear to continue all along the base of the trunk, up toward the top. “Is this where the water is coming out?”
“Yeah, I think so. I’m also pretty sure it’s intended to be used as a ladder.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Because none of the other leaking trees have such deep grooves. Besides, it looks perfect for climbing, doesn’t it?”
“Awesome.” I smile. “So, you think this will get us to the top?”
“It will get us off the ground at the very least,” she answers. “Now come on and help me make up some mud. The sirens have stopped, which probably means they’re unloading the drones as we speak. We’re down to minutes before this area is completely flooded with them.”
I run to Eve’s side and immediately begin digging into the water to pull up whatever dirt I can find from the bottom. Handfuls upon handfuls of stinky sloppy gunk are tossed in a pile behind us. I’m out of breath from trying to dig so fast.
A series of beeps sounds from way too close to us, causing us both to stop our task and stare at each other dumbly.
After a brief pause of terror, we jump into action, picking up huge slabs of the gross muck and slathering it onto each other. The woods are terribly silent, not the sound of a single bird or insect or anything. That can only mean one thing. The swarm will be here any second.
“That’s going to have to be good enough,” I whisper to Eve. She nods her head in agreement and spins on her heel to face the tree trunk we intend to climb. As fast as a monkey she makes her way up the tall oak. I’m right behind her. As my feet leave the ground I hear the unmistakable buzzing of the swarm as it makes its way through the forest, seeking out each and every crevice it can find to ensure no stone is left unturned.
I’d have to guess this tree’s been searched before, even with the few signs we found which led us to believe something is up. I hope their seek-and-destroy programming is currently limited to finding humans instead of odd tree sap patterns.
I hit my head against the bottom of Eve’s shoes, causing me to look up. She’s doing something with the air directly above her head.
“What are you doing? If the bee stings you, we’ll deal with it later.”
“It’s not bees,” Eve whispers back in agitation. “There’s something blocking our way. I felt it move when I bashed my head into it so I’m checking to see if there’s some sort of latch or something I can use to open it up.”
“We don’t have time to go about this in a dainty manner,” I say louder than I know I should. “If it had any give at all, let’s bust this sucker open and get through. Those drones are going to be here at any second.”
I look to see if I can spot any sign of our impending capture as I hear a loud metallic clanking from above. Eve is thrusting her entire body at the seemingly empty space above her, bashing her head against whatever is keeping us from safety in a much harder way than I would consider safe.
Looking into the distance, I catch a few glimmers of light blinking through the trees. Probably the light reflecting off the swarm. We don’t have time. I look back up at Eve and see an oddly shaped knot on the tree next to where Eve is currently giving herself a concussion.
“Eve,” I whisper, barely loud enough for myself to hear. She continues her self-injury oblivious to my call. “Eve!” I whisper louder. She still doesn’t hear me. “EVE!” I shout, damning the consequences if the swarm were to hear.
She stops and looks down at me, her eyes not quite making contact with mine.
“Look at the tree. There’s a knot. Is it something?”
She swings her head around and looks at the area I’m pointing to. Her hand comes up limply and smacks against the rounded wart of wood. A faint whirring noise sounds above us.
“What now?” Eve asks, apparently unaware of the noise I heard.
“I think it’s open. Try it.”
“Do I have to?” she groans, sounding as though one more hit to the head could cause her to faint.
“Try it with your hand first. Reach up.”
She lamely lifts her hand above her head and it goes past the point she had expected. Slowly she pulls herself up the rest of the way and I watch as she disappears into thin air. I scramble to follow, watching below as the swarm floods the area.
Go to Chapter Nineteen