Maggie hit the lights and sirens the second she cleared downtown. Unfortunately, National City drivers had no respect for cops. “Get out of the fucking way!” she shouted, jamming her hand on the horn.
The driver in front of her raised a single finger.
“Oh, I’m ticketing you later.” Maggie mentally noted the license plate then roared around him when a gap opened in the oncoming traffic. Of course, the driver was on his cellphone. She pulled in front of him and picked up speed.
She pressed a pre-programmed number on a disposable phone she’d prayed she’d never have to use. “Pick up. Pick up. Pick up.” Maggie feared her call was too late. She’d been caught up at the bar. She hadn’t made the connection until Darla…
Darla! Maggie dodged EMTs and other cops. The odor of smoke and burned wood and flesh caught in the back of her throat. Covering her mouth with the collar of her NCPD jacket, Maggie rushed into the alien bar.
She slid to a stop. Years as a cop, witnessing the worst that humanity had to offer, didn’t prepare her for the wholesale slaughter inside. Brian lay sprawled over the debris of a broken table. A pair of Astonians lay in a pool of shimmering fluid. A series of large entrance wounds suggested they’d died from gun shot wounds.
A trained observer, Maggie automatically catalogued the details while she searched the remains of the fire and the bodies littering the room.
Darla was behind the bar.
Alive. Barely. “I need an EMT!” Maggie dropped to her knees. Ripped off her jacket, holding it over the hole in Darla’s stomach. “Hang on, babe. You’re going to be OK.”
“No.” A bloodstained hand gripped Maggie’s. “It’s too late. You have to go.”
Go? Maggie shook her head. “I’m staying right here.”
“The men…who attacked.” Darla’s voice faded. The jacket was soaked with blood. More blood pooled beneath Darla. “I…I touched one.” Each breath whistled in Darla’s throat. “Cadmus. Heard Cadmus, and Luthor. They…they hated us all. Aliens.”
Cadmus. The same name Alex had mentioned when Maggie had moved them to the safehouse.
“Have to hurry.” Darla’s voice was an urgent wisp of sound.
“Where’s a fucking EMT?” Maggie shouted. “Hang on, babe. Hang on.” Maggie pleaded, knowing nothing could save Darla now. Her skin was cold against Maggie’s hand.
“Hurry, Mags. Brian…told…safehouse.” Maggie bent her head over Darla as the fingers gripping her hand dropped limply to the floor. Darla’s eyes stared sightlessly through Maggie.
“Oh, babe.” Tears burned Maggie’s eyes even as she stood. Darla was dead. She couldn’t do anything more for her ex. But there was a small chance she could still save Alex and Kara.
Darla’s blood had dried under Maggie’s fingernails and crusted on her hands. The sight pushed Maggie’s control to the breaking point as she listened to the phone ring and go unanswered. Dread coiled in Maggie’s stomach.
She couldn’t be too late. She couldn’t lose Darla and the couple Darla had died to protect. The speedometer inched up. Maggie tried the phone one more time, eyes leaving the road long enough to verify she hit the correct button.
It rang once.
“Yes?” Kara’s soft, hesitant voice filled the car.
“It’s Maggie. You and Alex need to get out! Now!” she ordered. “Cadmus is on the way. They know where you are.”
There was no immediate response.
“Kara!” Maggie would apologize for the frustration and fear behind her shout. If she got the chance. “I’m on my way, but they have a head start. They killed my ex and a bunch of other aliens to find you. Get! Out!”
This time, Maggie got a response. The familiar sound of gunfire. She cursed, trying to coax even more speed from the old, unmarked sedan. “I’m five minutes out. Take the underground exit. I’ll meet you at the egress site!”
Through the rapid-fire percussion of automatic weapons fire, Maggie heard Alex respond. “Got it. Kara! Now!” Then the phone went dead.
Maggie had to trust they’d find a way to escape. Darla had said the house was part of an alien underground network. Those who’d found a safe place, a life, and had resources provided for new refugees or those who could never pass as human. Safehouses. Undocumented jobs. Health care and even education in cities with large alien populations.
Darla had been an active member. She’d told Maggie about the house when she’d admitted she wasn’t human. “I won’t let you down, babe,” Maggie told a phantom Darla. “These Cadmus fuckers aren’t getting Alex and Kara.”
The car fishtailed violently as Maggie took a gravel drive just outside of the small town where she’d hidden Kara and Alex. Rock and dirt spewed from beneath the tires, and Maggie fought the wheel until the car stabilized.
Gravel made for a very uncomfortable drive at high speeds. Maggie’s hands vibrated as the car rattled down the washboard road. The tunnel exited into a rundown barn. When Maggie had spoken to Darla about the location, Darla said no one had used it for years.
Which didn’t explain the trampled grass or the black, military Humvees. The dozen men in black fatigues brandishing weapons.
Or the two figures floating above them in the air.
Kara and Alex.
Maggie cursed. They were out-numbered and out-gunned. Darla’s voice whispered in her ear, “They…they hated us all. Aliens.”
Too fucking bad for Cadmus. They weren’t getting the alien dodging bullets in the air. She slammed on the breaks and jumped from the car before it fully stopped. Maggie pulled her Glock and the backup from her ankle holster. The goons hadn’t seen her. They were too busy shooting at Kara and Alex.
It made it easier to drop two of them easily. Unfortunately, even the thrill of shooting an alien in a barrel didn’t cover the sight of two bodies hitting the ground. Diving behind the open driver-side door, Maggie flinched as slugs slammed into the metal.
“Kara!” Maggie hoped Kara’s hearing was good enough to pick up her voice despite the firefight. “Get in the car! I’ll cover you!” She didn’t wait for an answer. Popping up from her crouch, Maggie emptied the clip in her Glock and smoothly ejected the spent magazine.
She had one extra magazine in the glove compartment – which Maggie hadn’t remembered to grab. Stupid! Stupid mistake! Maggie holstered the gun and stood. She had six rounds in her backup. She’d have to make them count.
Before she could fire, Kara landed on the hood of the car with a bang.
Maggie stopped planning her shots and prayed she could give Kara and Alex enough time to get into the car. They were running out of time. The Humvees were headed in their direction. Maggie fired her last round as Kara slammed the rear passenger door.
The tires tore up grass as Maggie stomped on the gas pedal. “Hang on!” She didn’t spare a glance into the backseat. She focused on getting away. The Humvees were better suited to the terrain, but Maggie had to hope she had better intel on possible escape routes.
Driving back to the main road, Maggie headed for the tiny downtown area. Terrorist organizations rarely wanted to advertise their murderous intent. Less than a mile from their destination, the back window shattered. Kara cried out.
Maggie glanced in the rearview mirror. Green lines fluoresced under Kara’s skin. Blood coated her shirt. Too much blood for someone who’d been shot mere seconds before. Most of it had to be Alex’s blood. Maggie hadn’t noticed the way Alex slumped against Kara.
She dragged her attention back to the road. To getting away. Closer to town, there were other cars. Maggie slowed down even though every instinct screamed for her to go faster. Military vehicles stood out. Maggie’s bland sedan didn’t. She passed a few drivers who couldn’t hit the speed limit, hid between two massive trucks, and then shot into a parking lot and turned off the engine.
The seconds they sat felt like days. But neither Humvee followed them into the lot nor appeared to slow down. Maggie waited until they were out of sight before turning in the seat. “Are you good to move? They’ll figure out we stopped.”
“We have to get the bullets out.” Alex sat up, and Maggie could feel the effort she expended to hide her pain. “They’re poison for Kara.”
Not for you? Maggie wanted to ask. She didn’t. “I’m no surgeon.”
A smile flickered. “I can pass for one in a pinch.” When Kara whimpered, the smile vanished. “Watch for those assholes. I’ll take care of this. Then we go.” Alex rapped out orders with ease.
“You got it, boss.”
She got a snort in response. As Maggie scanned the parking lot, she watched Alex pull a knife from somewhere. “Hey, Kar. We’re gonna get those things out of you first.”
“Burns, Alex.” Kara sounded like a terrified kid, and Maggie wanted to shoot every one of the bastards in black.
“Yeah. But it’ll all be better soon.” Alex was cool and controlled. Until she continued. “Close your eyes. Don’t watch.”
Maggie made the mistake of looking in the mirror as Alex dug into Kara’s shoulder. Kara’s muffled scream ripped through the car. Worse than Kara’s pain and the weirdly-glowing bullet Alex pulled out were the tears streaking Alex’s face. She appeared gutted at having to deliberately hurt Kara.
“Got it.” Alex tossed the bullet into the front seat. “One more and you’ll be as good as new.” Kara didn’t make a sound. Maggie was surprised until she looked into the mirror again. The kid was unconscious. “Toss those fucking things out the window,” Alex told Maggie as a second green-glowing bullet landed in the front seat.
“What about you?” Maggie demanded. “You’re bleeding like a stuck pig.”
Alex shook her head. “Through and through. Didn’t hit anything important. Once we figure shit out, I can stitch it up.”
Maggie grabbed the bullets. “We need a new car. Not wanting to do the thing I told you not to do aside, we’re going to have to take one from here.”
“And go where? Cadmus has found us no matter what we do.” Alex brushed a strand of Kara’s hair away from her face, leaving a trail of blood behind.
“I’ve got a place. One they’ll never connect to us.” Darla had never reclaimed the apartment key she’d given Maggie while they dated. Maggie swallowed the knot in her throat at going there. Being so close to Darla, knowing… “Give me a minute to get us new wheels.”