28. WHO Minions

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"Do you think they've seen us?" I asked.

We stood at the bottom of the valley, the ship hidden from view once more.

He shrugged. "I don't know. If they've spotted us, they'll be here soon. Let's find the cave."

We located it quickly enough. Everything looked as I remembered it. Mud and rubble covered the ground of the recess. At its back, a dark opening led deeper into the mountain.

"Do you have the lighter?" I didn't like the solid blackness in there.

"No. Nita had it, I think."

Nita. I took a breath to suppress a shudder and hoped the lighter had blown up into the faces of her murderers.

Farid kneeled down before the opening. "I'll check it out." He went in head first. His feet were the last part of him to disappear.

I looked around, up the valley towards the peak and down where it ended in the precipice, expecting to see soldiers or yellow overalls swarming it. But we were alone.

In fact, I was alone.

I peered into the cave, trying to penetrate the gloom of the slightly ascending tunnel. "Farid?"

Musty, sulphuric air wafted from the opening like last time. And there was no reply.

"Farid?" My shouting rang louder than planned, but the cave swallowed it without even returning an echo.

That would be typical of this goddam place—swallowing him whole.

I still perched at the cave's entrance, listening into the tunnel, but all I heard as the screech of the birds outside and a faint, whining noise behind me.

The whine sounded familiar. I'd heard it before—the screech of electric motors running at high speed, as in a drone.

I threw myself into the recess and pressed my back against its wall. There was no time to creep into the cave.

The part of the sky I saw was pale blue, with a few thin, high clouds. Nothing moved up there.

The whine grew louder.

The cave's entrance loomed right beside my head. A scraping noise came from it, followed by Farid's feet.

I grabbed one of them, trying to stop it. "Stay where you are," I hissed. "They've got a drone. It's somewhere above us."

He stopped moving.

We didn't stand a chance. They had the weapons. They had the technology. They were looking for us.

And we had nothing to fight them with.

Still outside the cave, I ducked behind a boulder, which barely hid my bulk.

The whine intensified, and the drone came into view. It had a filigree spiderweb of struts at its top, carried by flickering propellers. A bulbous body hung under it, watching the ground through polished windows.

It stopped in mid-air, and I held my breath. My heart thumped once, twice, heavy in my chest, and then the drone moved again, gliding uphill. With the third heartbeat, the device had left.

Had it seen us?

The whine abated.

I tugged at Farid's foot. "It has left. For the moment. You can come out now, hurry."

When he emerged from the cave, his clothes and skin were muddy, smeared with red-brown dirt. He eyed the sky.

The drone's noise was but a distant buzzing now.

"The tunnel goes up a bit," he said. "Then it levels out into a small chamber, where it seems to end. There's not enough room to turn in there. We should go in feet first." He gestured towards the ocean. "Let's hide before the drone returns, or the ship comes that far north. You first."

I envisioned myself in the cave, a maggot in its tunnel, in total darkness, with him before me—with him blocking me from the light and the air.

I shook my head. "Don't we fit side by side, so we can both stay close to the entrance?"

"I see what you mean. That might work, let's try. Anyway, you go in first. Then I'll pile some boulders up at the entrance, so we can close the tunnel once we're in there. When I come in, press yourself against the wall. I'll squeeze in beside you. We should fit that way."

Gritting my teeth, I did what he had told me, and soon I was prone in the cave, my feet higher than my head, uncomfortable, and with the walls around me much too close.

He moved stones up to the entrance, starting to close it, closing me off from the world rock by rock. He left an opening large enough for him to squeeze through. Beyond it, I saw the bottom of the valley, its edge where it ended at the cliff, one steep wall at its right side, and the blue water beyond.

And right there, where the south wall of the valley cut off my view of the sea, the nose of a gray ship appeared.

"They're coming," I said.

He uttered something in his language. It sounded like a curse. Then he moved out of my sight.

The ship inched forward. The first of its turrets came into view.

Where was that man?

"Farid?"

He reappeared, carrying a slab of rock. Feet first, he moved in beside me, dragging the stone after him. I pressed myself against the wall to give him space.

Finally, he tilted the slab, moving it into place to close the opening. Only a small gap remained. I kept my eyes on it, trying to ignore the dark and the solid rock closing in on me from all sides like a vicious enemy.

For a moment, we both lay silent, side by side, our arms touching.

His breath was fast.

The remaining gap gave me a view of a stretch of the valley's edge and a patch of ocean beyond it. The ship's prow moved into it from the right.

I slit my eyes to gain focus. There were people in uniform on its decks. There were weapons, too—cannons looking big enough to bomb the island into the ocean. The blue flag at its mast carried a white emblem.

Then it was gone, moved out of my small patch of view.

Settling my head on my arm, I eyed Farid, my eyes slowly getting accustomed to the weak light. 

I felt like that fat, black bug back in the crack where I had been hiding, and I studied the strange creature at my side.

He had his chin on his hands.

I breathed out, trying to relax. A wave of exhaustion washed over me.

But it wasn't time to pass out now. Before the people out there found and killed us, I wanted to know what I was dying for.

"Tell me more," I said.

"About what?"

"About everything. You, Bruna, vampires, U.N. Peacekeepers, and yellow WHO minions."


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