Chapter 52: Hero

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January 3, 2358

Former State of Colorado


Ari and Jace each kept their Stalkers on the minimum speed to allow for greater distance. Though they were all wound tight and eager to get as far from their pursuers as possible, they knew that the Stalkers couldn't go much further without a full charge. If they wanted to make it to where they needed to go, they had to baby the batteries a bit.

It didn't take them long to leave the forest behind them, which added to her discomfort. At least the trees offered valuable cover. Out in the open they were exposed and vulnerable. Keeping to the minimum speed then proved difficult.

Yet, it gave her a moment to glance behind her into the body of the Stalker. A slight grin pulled at her lips when she found Cai and Amaris sitting on the floor with their backs to one another. Cai's eyes were closed as if in sleep and Ari hoped it wasn't just a facade. The way she figured it, if his sleeping energized her from across an ocean, it could only help if he slept while she drove. Last thing they needed was for both of them to crap out at the same time.

Almost an hour later, Jace's voice came through the radio, "Stalker One to Stalker Two, we've just crossed the old boundary. Another thirty minutes and we'll set the Stalkers down. Copy?"

"Copy," Ari replied before radio silence ensued once more.

They wouldn't dare say too much over the coms. Too great a risk that someone was able to latch onto their systems. After seeing what Amaris could do, Ari was kind of surprised that they hadn't been found out already. She wasn't alone in her worry.

Before they had left, Jace had pulled her aside. They barely had to speak, their thoughts were running so tight on the same track. Then he voiced it.

"If a teenager with no prior training can do that..."

"Then there's no telling what has already been done to the Stalkers. For all we know, they could have hooked into the feeds and been listening to everything we've said since we acquired them."

"Exactly," he had sighed. "Be careful, Keir. We're dealing with something far bigger than we originally anticipated. The sooner we get rid of these things, the better."

"Agreed," she'd muttered. Then her eyes had met his again and she sighed. "Radio silence until we land? Then we get to cover while those things charge?"

"Yes." His eyes narrowed on hers. "I mean it, Ari. Take care of yourself. If we get blindsided, you do what you had to in Valor: you get yourself and Cai out of here. Got it?"

Her lips twitched into a small grin. "If there's one thing you never have to worry about, Sergeant, it's my self-preservation instincts."

"I do have to be worried about your hero tendencies," he grumbled. His eyes darted between the two Stalkers before flickering over Eila.

"You wouldn't be here without them," she argued with a weary smile.

"No, you wouldn't be here without mine," Jace remarked with a grin of his own. Then he sighed. "I'll see you when we land."

Ari had nodded before backing up a few steps and turning away.

Rolling her shoulders back to release some of the tension, she glanced back once more at her sleeping passengers. A tender smile pulled at her lips as she saw how relaxed Cai's features were. He looked so innocent like that. Of course, he was innocent. Kept safe and secure all of his life while being pampered and coddled. His mother had done him a disservice in that way, but Ari kind of envied him that. What would it have been like if she had been kept safe and coddled, too?

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