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I sprinted as fast as I could while dodging people in the growing crowd. Imogen shouted something from behind me, but I was too focused on not plowing into anyone to pay attention. The group link was also blowing up, but I ignored it, too.
According to the tracker, Adams had stopped just on the other side of the airlock. The distance between us shrank with each step. The doors wouldn’t close instantly. I still had time. I could make it.
The crowd got thicker and thicker as I approached the airlock. Many people were in pajamas, carrying whatever they could grab in thirty seconds. Frantic parents clung to their wailing children as they tried to get them to the safety of the airlock.
My heart twisted, but it would be far worse for everyone if Adams escaped. I shoved my way through the growing crowd, trying not to injure anyone.
I rounded the corner and finally caught sight of the airlock and the sea of people trying to escape. The heavy door on the Block 20 side was nearly closed. A few people still slipped through, but the gap would be far too narrow by the time I fought my way closer. The outer door had no safety shutoff—to prevent people from holding it open during a true emergency—and it would crush anyone caught between it and the frame.
I scanned the faces beyond the door. Commander Adams stood a few meters back, his pistol held loosely. He scanned each person coming through the airlock, presumably looking for me or Imogen. There were far too many people between us for me to get a clean shot, and I clenched my jaw in frustration.
Adams couldn’t possibly see me in the crowd, but his smirk grew wider and wider as the door closed and I didn’t appear. Just as I considered risking a shot anyway, a little girl’s head jerked into my line of fire. The crowd was too unpredictable. I would never forgive myself if I killed an innocent.
The outer airlock door sealed closed with a loud thunk. The inner door started to close, but immediately halted due to all of the bodies in the way. The feel of the crowd shifted as people shoved and shouted and tried to cram inside the airlock. Those already in the airlock pushed back against the encroaching crowd. A young man threw a punch and then the fight was on.
Someone grabbed my shoulder and I spun, ready to defend myself, but it was only Imogen. The crowd jostled around us, growing by the second. Imogen grabbed my wrist and towed me back the way we’d come.
I let her pull me. There was no way we’d clear the area enough for the inner door to close, not even with the number of weapons we had. And the situation was volatile enough without us adding fuel to the fire.
We’re on our way, Imogen said over the group link.
The others must also be trapped with us. Fantastic.
Adams’s tracker started moving again, away from the airlock and deeper into Block 20. If there was ever a time for the universe to strike someone dead, it would be now.
The tracker kept moving.
The emergency announcement repeated every thirty seconds, but now people emerged from their buildings and looked around instead of immediately running for an airlock. There was no obvious sign of an emergency, but it also didn’t appear to be a drill, so everyone was confused.
A quick check of the net confirmed that messages were flying fast and furious. No one knew what was happening, but rumors ran rampant. Apparently Block 19 had suffered a fire, an explosion, a hull breach, and a terrorist attack—or possibly all of them at once.
Cooler heads were starting to prevail due to the total lack of evidence, but it would take a while before the airlocks were reopened.
I checked in with the team I’d left behind in the courtyard. Adams’s remaining soldiers had escaped, but everyone on my team had survived—so far. Two were down with life-threatening injuries, but some of the others were rushing them to the nearest doctor. I prayed they would both recover. The whole team’s bravery ensured that Imogen and I had survived, and so, as far as I was concerned, they had all earned a very nice bonus.
I told the remaining team to quickly search the casualties for clues about their identities and then clear the area. I didn’t know if the remaining soldiers had made it out of the block before the lockdown, but Adams would absolutely trap his own people if it served his interests. We needed to be careful. I updated both attack groups and told them to watch their backs.
Rather than heading back to the courtyard, Imogen led me closer to the edge of the block. I was happy to follow her lead as I kept an eye on the net. The few people we passed were too busy trying to figure out what was going on to pay any attention to us.
Imogen ducked down an alley and then knocked on a nondescript door. Luka swung it open, and relief briefly crossed his face before he wiped it away. He waved us in and then shut and locked the door behind us.
Valentin still wore his combat armor, but his visor was open. He carefully pulled me into a hug against his chest. “We have to stop meeting like this,” he murmured. “It’s bad for my blood pressure.”
I squeezed him tight, though I doubted he could feel it. “I totally agree.”
Once he let me go, I pulled back and looked around. Unlike our rooms in Block 48, this was just one large space with a few chairs and tables scattered around.
Stella and Ari, both in armor with their visors open, stood next to Eddie, who had declined to wear the Kos armor, preferring the same lightweight, flexible armor that Imogen and I wore. They were all gathered around the largest table, along with a few others who must be from the team the council had sent. Imogen and Luka had silently left us alone and joined the others.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Backup plan,” Valentin said.
I raised an eyebrow. “Whose backup plan? Because I distinctly remember discussing various fallback plans and this wasn’t one of them.”
A grin tugged on the corner of his mouth. “Mine, naturally. I didn’t mention it because I hoped we wouldn’t need it, and if you didn’t know, you couldn’t fuss at me for spending unnecessary money.”
My eyes narrowed. “I dare you to say that again.”
He cupped my jaw as his eyes traced over my face. “I’m so glad you’re okay,” he whispered. “When your message about the armor cut off halfway, I nearly lost my mind.”
I laughed bitterly. “It certainly was an unwelcome surprise for me, too. How did they get past the thermal cameras?”
Valentin straightened reluctantly. “We discussed it on the way over. The current theory is that they came from a different building than the one we were watching. Sawya’s information indicated there was a backup team but not a separate location, so we assumed they would be in the main building. But perhaps they slipped through the cracks or maybe they were staying on the ship.”
“You don’t think they figured out how to defeat the thermal imaging?”
Valentin shook his head. “The best Kos scientists have been working on it for years and haven’t figured it out. It’s not impossible that Adams figured it out in a matter of months, but it’s not very likely.”
“That still doesn’t explain why my spotters didn’t see them.”
“Maybe they took a different path. A lot of the buildings around here are connected internally.”
I grimaced. I hated having so many unknowns. “Maybe.” I let it go and changed the subject. “Do you know how long we’ll be locked in?”
“No. I suppose it depends on how Adams managed to trigger the lockdown in the first place. If a sensor is giving the station authorities bad data, it could be a while until they confirm it’s a glitch. If someone hacked into the system, it could be even longer.”
“How did Adams manage it? The station controls are behind layers and layers of security. My guess is that he had someone purposefully trip a sensor.”
Valentin looked thoughtful. “Any chance Sawya is playing both sides?”
“There’s always a chance,” I said slowly, “but I don’t think so. They want Adams dead. That wasn’t faked. It doesn’t make sense to help the person you want dead.”
Valentin sighed. “I suppose you’re right. Do you think there’s a way out other than the airlocks?”
“I am not hopeful, but if anyone would know, it’ll be Eddie. Let’s see what he thinks.”
Valentin agreed, and we joined the others standing around the table. Ari and Stella looked me over with identical worried expressions.
I waved them off. “I’m not hurt, but Imogen was grazed. Stella, can you take a look at her?”
Imogen rolled her eyes. “It’s barely a scratch.”
She shouldn’t have wasted her breath because Stella already had her first aid kit in hand. “Sit,” she said to Imogen, pointing at a nearby chair. “I can patch you up while you listen.”
Imogen knew a losing battle when she saw one. “Grazed my side,” she said as she sank into a chair facing us.
Stella moved behind her and pulled up the hem of her shirt. “If this is ‘a scratch’ then I’d hate to see what happens when you actually get shot,” Stella said drily.
I glared at Imogen, but she just shrugged. “It didn’t feel that bad.”
I looked around, checking the rest of the group for injuries. “Does anyone else need to be patched up?” When they shook their heads, I blew out a relieved breath. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Same to you, boss,” Eddie said.
I inclined my head. “Do you know a way to get us out of the block without going through the airlock?”
Eddie grimaced. “It might be possible, but from what I can tell, station security tends to quickly crack down on all illegal modifications outside the single digit blocks, so I wouldn’t count on it. I don’t suppose you could ask your friend?”
“That’s maybe not the best idea until we figure out if they’re still on our side.”
Eddie’s eyes widened and he nodded. “Ah, in that case, I’ll keep digging.”
Imogen muttered a curse under her breath. “Adams’s tracker just died. He must’ve found it.”
When I checked the link, the last reported location was more than two minutes ago in Block 7. At the time, Adams seemed to be heading straight across to Block 8, but that may have changed after he found the tracker.
“That’s not the fastest way back to his building,” I said. “Where’s he going?”
“He could be heading for his ship,” Luka said. “It’s not the most direct path, but if I were trying to avoid the blocks around 14, that’s how I would go.”
“You think he’s running?” I asked, dubious.
“Or planning something else,” Valentin said.
That sounded more like Adams. I clenched my fists against the urge to pace. I was trapped in this fucking block until the airlocks opened or we found a way out while Adams waltzed off to do whatever he wanted. “I want everyone searching for a way out.”
They all nodded in agreement and we started reaching out to contacts and scouring the net for information. If there was a way out, we’d find out. We just had to keep looking.
Nearly an hour later, we still hadn’t found anything. The airlocks hadn’t opened, but at least the emergency broadcast had stopped playing. I paced, striving for patience and failing. Adams was escaping, again. I went over the encounter in the courtyard, thinking through all of the things I should’ve done differently.
I paused when an unknown neural link with a local address requested a connection. I had enabled unknown connections in case someone needed to get in touch with me through an intermediary, so I accepted, unsure what to expect.
What, Sawya’s clipped, angry voice demanded, have you done?
It was the angriest I’d ever heard them, and that was never a good thing. I went straight into damage control.
The lockdown happened right after Adams cleared the 19-20 airlock, so blame him. We tracked him into Block 7 before we lost him, but we think he’s heading for his ship. There’s no emergency in Block 19. Can you get us out?
Your little lockdown is the least of my concerns, Sawya growled. There is a fucking Quint armada outside, and they are demanding that we turn you and Valentin over.