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Angel

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            Captain Ryland Miller signaled to the rest of his crew, indicating that it was safe to proceed. Sam, Nico, Gator, he called, using their telepathic link. Something’s up, this doesn’t feel right. Their lead had come from an anonymous source, informing them of a fellow Ghostwalker held captive in the remote forests of northern Minnesota, near the border of Canada.

            The Ghostwalkers are a group of genetically enhanced soldiers, coming from all areas and backgrounds, engineered by an insane but intelligent scientist, Peter Whitney. He gathered men from every branch of the military, had them tested for psychic abilities, and experimenting on those who passed, strengthening their mental and physical traits in order to make them into super soldiers. They could communicate telepathically with each other, and each soldier had his own unique abilities. On the downside, most of these men could not function on their own around other people, the overload on their brains threatening their lives. With the help of Whitney’s daughter, Lily, who is also a Ghostwalker, Ryland and the rest of his team escaped Dr. Whitney’s control and banded together, watching each other’s backs and continuing to serve their country while learning to control the powers granted to them.

            This mission, though, had Ryland on edge. The report contained no information about the target, not who they were, nor their abilities. To Ryland, it smelled like a trap through and through, but his wife, now Lily Whitney-Miller, whom he loved and trusted with all his heart, had begged him to check things out. If there was the smallest chance that they could save even one person, then that was good enough. Now he had brought his team into the northern Minnesota wilderness with no idea of what they were going to face. His suspicions only rose when they had arrived at the coordinates to find an old military base, recently abandoned. No guards at the gate, no watchmen in the towers, no sign of life anywhere. It wasn’t until they made their way into the compound that they found the bodies.

            “Well,” commented Nicolas Trevane, Ryland’s second in command, “we found the guards. And it looks like a professional hit. Whoever did this came in and finished them off quick. Didn’t bother to clean up, though.” The bodies were strewn all around, left in the dirt where they fell.

            Ryland continued to scan the area for a moment. “They were looking for something and they knew where to find it. The guards were just in the way, they weren’t important.” He signaled for them to move on, towards the rear of the grounds, where the amount of corpses increased significantly. They checked every building, moving swiftly and quietly even though there was no one there to hear them. The back of the compound opened into the forest, and they continued on the dirt road leading out of it, until they could no longer see the buildings behind them.

            “Face it, Ry,” Sam Johnson said, stopping, his expression exasperated, “whatever was so important isn’t here anymore. The buildings and warehouses were all empty and everyone is dead. Let’s get out of here.” The sun was starting to lower, signifying early evening. They had a set time limit, and were running out of time before they would miss their scheduled pick up. “We knew this mission was a bust when we first got it.”

             Ryland stayed quiet, assessing the situation. He turned to Raul “Gator” Fontenot, who was born and bred in the bayous of New Orleans. Ryland trusted Gator’s instincts absolutely. “So what do you think, Gator? Turn back or keep moving forward?”

            After a thoughtful pause, Gator looked his captain. “I think there’s more to this, sir. I say keep moving.”

            “Then, that settles it. We keep going, no more rebuttals from any of you. We came here looking for a Ghostwalker, and we’re not leaving until we find out what happened to him.” Silence was his answer and the men nodded, unwilling to challenge a direct order from their leader. Again, they set off, with Gator in the lead, and the others trailing behind. It went on like this until the sun was just above the trees, and Gator held up his hand for them to halt. He waved Ryland to the front. “What do you think, boss?”

            Slightly hidden by the forestry was a cabin, surprisingly normal looking, completely different from the military complex just a mile or two up the road. The door was broken off the hinges, the windows were dark, and there was no sound coming from within. At once, the unit switched to defense mode, spreading out to check their surroundings for the enemy. Tell me what you guys find, Ryland said to his team, using the link between their minds. He didn’t want to risk anyone overhearing.

            I got nothing, said Nico.

            Same, from Gator.

            We’re all good here, Sam said. Who’s heading inside first?

            I’ll go in first, Ryland replied. Nico, back me up. Gator, go through the back and find a way in. Sam, you keep watch out here. If someone is still alive in there and manages to get past us, stop them.

            Gotcha, cap, came Sam’s reply. Everyone had their orders and it was time to wrap this up. Ryland cautiously stepped up to the porch, noting the pieces of broken door lying on the floor just beyond the threshold and the chaotic mess in the front room. Another ability Ghostwalkers had was being able to “scan” an area using their minds without having to physically see it. They used it to sense opponents and others like them. Ryland felt nothing. There was no feedback whatsoever. He knew that Nico noticed as well.

            He walked into the cabin, gun drawn, eyes adjusting to the dark as the sun continued to set. He slowly took in the front room, his gaze immediately drawn to the trail of blood leading from the middle of the room a hallway leading elsewhere. The blood was smeared as if something was dragged through it. Silently, he crept up to the hallway, knowing Nico was at his back, and stepped through the doorway. The trail of blood ended at the bottom of the stairs at the end of the hall. The body was facedown, multiple bullet wounds staining the white lab coat red. As Ryland got closer, he saw that there were also stab wounds and burns on the body.

            Looks like this guy was tortured. They tortured him in the front room and then dragged him over here. Why? Ryland contemplated.

            He must have been in charge, or at least knew something that the assassins wanted, said Gator.

            Maybe, but it looks like they ransacked the house, Nico replied, looking around at the mess, perhaps there’s a chance they didn’t find what they were looking for.

            That means there’s a chance that it’s still here.

            A noise in the hallway brought Ryland and Nico to attention. They trained their guns in the direction of the sound, which was the wall on the side of the staircase. They heard the noise again, a thump. They moved slowly towards wall, Nico silently summoning their companions from outside and Ryland leaning in for a closer look. His face was nearly against the wall before he noticed a door. It blended in to the rest of the wall, hiding in plain sight. Before he could relay his newfound discovery to his team, the door flew open and a dark figure slammed into Ryland, knocking him back into Nico. Both of them lost their footing and fell to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs, and the figure climbed over them and darted up the stairs. Sam and Gator ran into the hallway and paused only long enough to take in the situation before silently heading up the steps. The steps led to the second floor, which was only a large room, like an attic. Gator and Sam both scanned the room, being able to see clearly in the dark. They moved tentatively, looking this way and that for their captain’s assailant.

            Gator sighed. There’s nothing here. Are you sure you weren’t imagining things, Cap?

            I didn’t imagine someone plowing into me like a truck, Gator. I’m not that old.

            Gator laughed, and started to turn away, when he saw Sam’s gaze flicker upward, his mouth open to shout a warning. He braced himself and felt something heavy land on his back, biting his shoulder and forcing him to the floor. He pushed up on his hands and turned, shaking whatever had attacked him off his back. It landed on the floor with a cry and quickly scurried away to hide inside a small cubby near the corner of the large room. 

            Ryland and Nico rushed up the stairs to join Sam, all of their guns pointing at the corner of the room. Gator remained crouched on the floor, a knife in his hand. He crept closer to the cubby.

            Watch yourself, Gator, Ryland called warily. Lily will have my head if you get eaten or something.

            Gator smiled at the reference to his captain’s stern wife, but quickly snapped his attention back to the matter at hand as he took another step, his knife raised above his head. He heard whimpering and he stopped, peering closely at the figure before him. Guys, come take a look at this.

            The others came forward, stopping as Gator had once they got close enough. All they saw was a long tangled mop of curly black hair.

            What in the world….what is it? Sam asked.

            Not it, Gator corrected, a grin breaking out on his face. Her.

            Her head popped up, and she sniffed around, then proceeded to back against the wall, crying softly. It was a young girl, mid-teens, with brown skin. Gator dropped to one knee and pocketed his knife. “Hey there,” he cooed, “we’re not going to hurt you, little missy. We didn’t know you were up here.” The girl continued to cry and back away, not giving any indication that she understood him. He shot a look at Ryland.

            Ryland knelt down beside him and focused on the girl’s face. Something about it was odd, but he couldn’t tell what. She was facing their direction, but not really looking at them. He went into one of his pockets and pulled out a flashlight, turning it on the girl. The light shined on her face, but she didn’t react at all. Again, Ryland studied her, and revelation dawned. Her eyes were gray and foggy. This girl is blind, he informed his team, making sure to keep telepathic contact as to not frighten the girl more.

            What the hell is a blind girl doing in this place? Nico asked.

            I think I might know, Ryland said. He tried to reach out for the girl’s mind with his, but every time was stopped abruptly. There are powerful shields in her mind.    

            Do you think that she’s—?

            Maybe. It’s the only thing that makes sense right now.

            While, they held their silent conversation, Gator noticed that the girl had grown quiet. She was facing them, her eyes unseeing, her head slightly cocked to one side. He knew she was listening to them, their breathing and their heartbeats. He had read that when one loses one sense, the others become more profound. Suddenly, she lunged straight out in front of her, faster than they could see, and again landing on Gator, and pushing onto his back, clawing at the front of his jacket. Ryland jumped to his feet and reached to pull her off, when she leapt to the side and hurried to the other side of the room. There, she curled into a ball, and paid no more attention to them, instead focused on something in her hands.      

            Ryland helped Gator to his feet, and was surprised when he heard him chuckling. “What’s so funny, soldier?” he demanded. Nico and Sam still had their guns trained on the girl, unsure of what to do. “She could have ripped your face off, and then what would I have told my wife? You got offed by a blind teenager?”

            “Aw, Ry, she’s not dangerous. She’s just hungry. I thought she was trying to claw at my chest, but she wanted the protein bar I keep in my front pocket.” That made him laugh harder. The others relaxed their stances a bit, but kept an eye on her.

            “I guess that makes sense,” Ryland agreed reluctantly. “Who knows how long she’s been here. Those bodies have been there a few days at least.” He stared at her as she noisily munched on the bar.

            “So what do we do, chief?” Sam asked. “Do we take her with us?”

            “I don’t know. I want to check out the basement. She was locked in there this whole time before we got to her.” He turned his head as he sensed movement. She turned around and sniffed the air again, then stood up and took some unsteady steps, hands reaching out blindly in front of her.

            Gator caught her arms. “Hello again, beautiful. I knew you’d be back. They always come back.” She ignored him, pulling her arm from his grip and patting the front of his jacket, intent on finding more food. They heard a low growl coming from her stomach.

            “Alright, alright.” Gator reached into another pocket and handed her the bar he came up with. She took it and sat down at his feet and began to devour it. “You know, little missy, most ladies would be feelin’ me up for something other than a protein bar. My pride is bruised, I hope you understand.” There was no reply. Think she’s deaf as well?

            Doubt it. Nico said. She had to have heard us coming up here. That’s how she got you off guard by hiding in the rafters. She waited until she heard you pass under her. Smart little bugger.

            “Nico, come with me. We’ll scout the basement to see if we can get any information about this place, and then we’ll go. Sam and Gator, you stay with her.”  The two of them went back down the stairs to the basement door where the girl had emerged. It was pitch black, with no light from the moon to aid them. Luckily, all Ghostwalkers shared the enhanced eyesight, and it was no problem for them. They made their way carefully down the wooden steps, taking a moment to adjust their eyes. The basement looked like a dirty, old, jail cell. On the floor near the wall was a dingy mattress, stained and ripped in places. There were chains and leather restraints on the floor at one end of the bed, and there were scratch marks and over the stone wall next to the bed. There were also dried blood stains on the mattress, the wall, and the floor. Filthy rags littered the ground, and the stench of human waste was strong. Ryland noticed used and broken needles in the corner of the room.

            “I think we’re good, Nico.”

            “So she was kept down here? This is disgusting.”

            “Yeah. Something’s telling me she’s the one we were looking for, as well as whoever killed everyone in this compound. They must have come here and interrogated that man before they killed him, but somehow they missed the basement.”

            “So you think she’s a Ghostwalker.” Nico made it a statement.

            “Ghostwalker or not, we can’t leave her here. Now let’s go.” They started back upstairs to the second floor. When they got there, they saw Gator and Sam sitting next to the girl. “Can you tell us your name?” Sam was asking. “Can you say anything?” The girl only whimpered and began to retreat.

Sam sighed and stood up. “It’s like she doesn’t understand English.”

            “She might not,” Ryland conceded. “We found her room in the basement. It looks like she’s been captive here for a while. Who knows how long? Maybe all of her life. I’ve never heard Lily or the other women mention one like her. She may have come along after them, no one knows.”

            Their radios crackled, and through the static they heard the voice of another teammate, Ian McGillicuddy, his Irish brogue unmistakable. “Hey…..where are you guys? You alright? We’re waiting at the checkpoint, over.”

            “Yeah, we’re fine,” Ryland replied. “I need you to bring the van to us. We came across a small problem.”

            “Do I even want to know?”

            “I’ll explain when you get here.”

            “Roger that, Captain,” then the radio shut off.

            Ryland sighed. “Okay, now we’ve got to get her to come back with us in the truck. I’m sure Lily will be able to find out more about her once she’s back home.”

            “That sounds like a no-can-do, Ry,” Gator said, shaking his head. “She won’t let any of us near her.”

            “There won’t be a problem if she’s asleep. Give her the sedative. Ian will be here soon.”

            Now it was Gator’s turn to sigh. He didn’t like the idea of using drugs to subdue her, but he saw no other option of moving her without her suspicions of them making her resistant. He put down his pack and searched until he found what he needed, a small syringe and a bottle of sedatives. They had larger needles for larger, rowdier opponents, but he didn’t think it would take much. He didn’t put anymore drugs than necessary into the syringe, and then proceeded to put the rest away.

            The girl crawled over to him, having heard him rummaging through his bag, perhaps in search of more food. As she came up next to him, Gator moved quickly, sticking the syringe into her neck and removing it just as fast. She moaned, swaying from side to side, before falling over. Gator caught her before she hit the ground, and picked her up.

            “See?” Ryland asked. “Much simpler. Let’s go wait outside.”

            They filed out behind Ryland, Gator with the girl holding up the rear. A few minutes later, a military truck came down the road, picking up dust behind it. It was dirty and beat up, having seen its share of battles and shoot outs, but it still did its job. It pulled up in front of the cabin, and a bronze haired man leaned across the passenger seat and grinned out the window. “Well, what do we have here? You guys rescued a damsel in distress?”

            Ryland climbed up into the front seat and motioned the others to get in the back.

            “Seriously, Ryland, who is that?”

            “We’re not sure, but we’re taking her back to Lily. Maybe she can find out.”

            “Is she the Ghostwalker? She’s a little young.”

            “Possibly, but we don’t know for sure.”

            “But—“

            “Just drive, Ian”

            Ian pinned his captain with a hard look, but didn’t say another word as he started the engine and turned to truck around. They drove back up the road and through the campgrounds without a sound. In the back, Gator and the others jostled around with the movements of the truck. Gator sat with the girl curled up in his arms like a child. Nico was focused on her face, trying to work his way into her mind. He moved carefully, scanning along the surface, looking for the smallest cracks in the walls that he could slip through. After some time, she stirred, making an agitated sound and fidgeting against Gator.

            Back off, Nico, Sam warned. She knows you’re there.

            Nico pulled back, and waited for her to settle down and let the sedative take her back under. I was close that time. Now I know where to look. Carefully, he went back in, picking up where he left off. He blocked out every sound, only concentrating on finding that path that would lead him into her mind. Then, he felt it. The faintest brush of awareness. He didn’t have any time to warn his friends when the girl let out a piercing scream. She struggled in Gator’s arms, still screaming, limbs flailing. Her fist connected with his jaw with a solid crack.

            “Sorry, girlie,” Gator said through gritted teeth, “I’ve taken worse punches. It’ll take a lot more than that to knock me out.”

            The truck braked hard, sliding to a stop. What the hell are you guys doing back there?! Ryland demanded.

            Nico did it, Sam didn’t hesitate to offer in reply.

            The sedative didn’t keep her under, Nico retorted. Not my fault.

            No, it’s just your fault that you were snooping in her head and alerted her to your presence.

            If she was a Ghostwalker, her metabolism would’ve burned off that small amount of drugs Gator gave her in no time.

            I don’t care! Ryland interrupted. Give her a higher dose this time. Just stop that screaming! I don’t want anyone in the area alerted to our presence.

            “In my bag,” Gator said. He managed to wrestle to girl down and pin her to the floor of the truck. She continued to scream, much like a captive animal, fighting Gator’s hold on her in a vain attempt to free herself. Sam rummaged through Gator’s bag until he found what he needed. He took out the larger syringe and filled it with the serum. He waited until the others had restrained her to reached over and pull up the back of her shirt. “Sorry, kid,” he muttered, and stuck the needle into her back. She cried out, an utter sound of defeat that echoed through the forest. As silence fell, Rylan motioned to Ian to resume driving.