3:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 17th—Falling Water, West Virginia
WOLF sat at the workbench with a soldering gun hovering motionless above the circuit board. He closed his eyes and willed mental resources to Scott’s dream prison, hoping to prevent him from piercing anymore memories of the beach two months earlier.
Once his thoughts had calmed, Wolf resumed his work and picked up a remote receiver, soldering it to the circuit board. In a matter of hours, it would be in the hands of Petty Officer Hawkins; one of the SEALs who had helped transport John Temple and Nick Horiatis into their rebellion.
Petty Officer Egermayer would have been more suited for the duty than Hawkins; older, wiser and more experienced. But Egermayer was dead; killed by Combine’s security forces in a sneak attack on Cayman Brac. As Egermayer slept in his watery grave somewhere off the northern coast of Jamaica, his SEAL teammates and the CIA renegades they answered to were in the heat of high treason.
Of course it wasn’t really treason. Caught off guard, maybe—possibly a little blind to the extent of Combine control of the government. But when the bad guys are in charge…okay, yeah, it was treason—they intended to overthrow the current Combine controlled leadership of the United States.
Egermayer wasn’t the first combatant to die in the fight against Combine’s desire to rule, and he likely wouldn’t be the last. But Wolf didn’t get emotional about that sort of thing. Death, pain, fear; it was just data to him. Any emotions that contaminated his thoughts belonged solely to Scott and were nothing but a constant, annoying reminder of their odd relationship—a handicap to overcome.
It had been 57 days, 7 hours, 55 minutes and 10…11…12 seconds since Wolf had commandeered Scott Wolfe’s otherwise disabled body. As he pressed soldering wire to the receiver, he smiled at his improved processing abilities: That’s 82,555 minutes, he thought. Or 4,953,315…16…17 seconds. And it’s 15.71% of the year 2011.
He stopped his work and looked up at the door, hearing movement outside. He couldn’t see who it was, but he knew it was Nick Horiatis. Nick had been constantly trying to sneak up on Wolf since Scott had taken the bullet to his head. Nick, like the others, found it disconcerting that Scott seemed perfectly fine even with an armor piercing ten millimeter round in his brain.
Wolf returned his attention to the circuit board. “What do you need, Nick?”
“I used to have the best hearing in this outfit,” Nick said, stepping into the room.
“Fifteen point seven one percent,” Wolf said before he could stop himself—the bullet in his head wasn’t as benign as he let on and it continued to plague him despite rerouting Scott’s brain signals.
“What?” Nick asked, clearly confused by the odd response.
“Nothing… What do you need?”
Nick walked over and picked up an ohm meter from the bench. “I was wondering if you knew where Hawkins is… the LT hasn’t heard from him in a couple days.”
Wolf finished soldering and sat the iron on the bench before taking the ohm meter from Nick’s hands. “Yes,” he replied as he pressed the tips of the meter to the circuit board. “I do know where he is. And I know what he’s doing.”
“Is that a new talent you’ve picked up? Can you tell me what he’s thinking?”
The circuit test was successful. Wolf sighed as he set the meter down next to the soldering iron. “Yeah. He’s thinking how much easier it would be to get his life back if the bastards from the CIA would stop arguing amongst themselves.”
Nick grinned. “I don’t argue.”
“Yes you do,” Wolf said, setting the device into a small metal box about the size of a lunchbox.
Wolf looked up and smiled as he closed the lid. “Okay. You don’t.”
He tucked the lunchbox device into a small backpack and walked past Nick, turning the light off in the makeshift workshop.
He was halfway to the kitchen when Nick caught up. “Where is he, Scott?”
Wolf sat at the kitchen table and took the top off the sugar bowl. “Why aren’t you sleeping?” he asked, dipping the spoon in the bowl and shoving a heaping scoop of sugar in his mouth.
“I can’t sleep knowing there’s a plan in the works I’m not a part of.” He watched as Wolf scooped another spoonful in his mouth. “Hey. I thought sugar was the devil.”
Wolf chewed then swallowed. “Glucose.”
Nick glared at him as he dipped the spoon in again.
“…for cell growth.”
Nick squinted in confusion.
Wolfe smiled. “Specifically, brain cell growth.”
Petty Officer Whalen poked his head into the kitchen. “Do you two mind? Some of us have watch duty and like to sleep between shifts.”
Nick turned with a scowl, but nodded.
Whalen didn’t leave, instead joining the pair at the table. “As long as I’m up…” He turned and looked first at Nick, then seemed to change his mind and turned to Wolf. “John has skipped his last five physical therapy sessions…I’m worried he’s given up.”
John Temple had barely escaped Langley alive. Had it not been for Nick’s quick thinking, pulling a hardened filling cabinet-safe over on them, the blast would have killed them both—it almost had anyway.
“How much time do his exercises take?”
Whalen leaned backward and draped his arm across the back of the chair. “No more than an hour each day. He could probably get away with thirty minutes even, but he’s sat in that damned room for almost a week now.”
Nick leaned forward, elbows on the table. “How long can he go without them?”
Whalen shrugged. “Who knows. He could have clots behind his knees right now, waiting to sheer off and float to his brain.”
Nick shook his head. “Shit.”
“I’ll talk to him,” Wolf said, rising from his chair.
Nick grabbed his arm. “You better let me do it. He won’t like hearing anything from you right now.”
“Trust me…it’s better if I do it.” Wolf shrugged Nick’s hand away and walked down the long hallway to John’s room. Only John and the SEALs slept on the first floor—the SEALs because of tactical practicality, and John because of his wheelchair.
Wolf could hear Whalen and Nick creeping up behind him as he opened the door without knocking. He went in and closed it, dropping a blanket of pitch black on the room.
“Who’s that?!” John snapped, startled awake.
Wolf found and sat in John’s wheelchair next to his bed. “It’s just me.”
John fumbled for the switch on his bedside light and finally manged to turn it on. “What the hell do you want at—” he picked up his watch from the night stand and tried to focus his eyes on it. “Shit! O’three-thirty? What the fuck, Scott?”
“I was getting ready to go for a run and Whalen mentioned you haven’t been doing your PT.”
“And it couldn’t wait till morning?!”
“I was up and I knew you wouldn’t be busy, so…”
John shook his head and took a deep breath, trying to put his agitation in check. “So you’re going to lecture me now on how I need to keep my strength up?”
Wolf shook his head. “I wouldn’t do that. You’re a smart guy and have been running your own life for a long time now.”
“What then? You want to read me a bed time story?”
“I know how hard this has been,” Wolf said, lowering his voice and leaning forward resting his elbows on his knees. “It was bad enough when you lost use of your legs. To lose the Agency, the old man, your freedom, the analysts…I can’t imagine how hard it must be for you.”
John looked at him, his brow creased with suspicion. “Playing therapist?”
“No, John. I’m trying to say I understand.”
“Thanks, can I go back to sleep now?”
“Sure.” Wolf stood and took his Glock out of the waistband holster. He set it on the table next to John before turning for the door.
“What’s that?” John asked.
“It’s your way out. No one will think less of you. We all know how hard it’s been.”
John stared at the weapon for a second, confusion and anger rippling across his face. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you…if I made your take over of this party that easy.”
“No John…I’m just thinking about you.”
Wolf shook his head, pity filling his eyes. “I know you, John…or at least I used to. I know you hate being a burden, no tactical use to the mission.”
John’s face melted into a mask of anger. “Fuck you. Who the hell do you think you are?”
“I’m a traitor to my country,” he replied gently, his voice calm and his expression sympathetic. “I have no Agency, no boss, no orders from the President or Director of NCS. I have a hundred billion dollars of Combine money and a handful of SEALs who want to get back to their unit.”
“You have? When did they become yours?”
Wolf shrugged. “When shit fell apart.”
John glared at him through slits. “You have some balls mister. There’s plenty of people around here to run this outfit other than you.”
“But that’s not your problem, is it?”
John continued to glare.
Wolf sat back down in the wheelchair. “I mean, seriously, is Nick gonna run things?”
Wolf knew that was a non-starter. Nick was a great operative–maybe one of the best. But he didn’t have the mind for strategic analysis.
“And Marsh? Don’t get me wrong…he’s brilliant. But he’s a hammer…always has been always will be. And not everything in this crisis is a nail.”
John looked away.
Wolf leaned forward again. “I know. It all sucks…it sucks hard. So believe me when I say, everyone will understand.” He nodded discreetly to the gun on the side table.
When John didn’t respond immediately, Wolf got up and left the room, closing the door quietly behind him. Nick grabbed him by the collar and shoved him through the hallway back to the kitchen.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?! That wasn’t a damn pep talk. It sounded like you were giving him permission to kill himself!” Nick rasped in a failed attempt to whisper his displeasure. “You might as well have just handed him a loaded weapon!”
“I did,” Wolf said, his voice level and calm.
Nick spun Wolf around to see his empty holster, then slammed him against the wall. “That’s your plan?! Get him to kill himself?!”
He just stared into Nick’s eyes with no emotion.
Nick released his shirt collar with a shove. “Fuck you.” He turned and stormed toward John’s room, no doubt with the intent of undoing the effects of Wolf’s visit. Wolf looked down the hall as Nick opened the door. Inside, John had pulled himself out of bed and was lying flat of his back on the floor, stretching his knee toward his chin.
“Doesn’t anyone knock?” John asked, his voice full of agitation.
“Sorry…Scott left his piece in here.”
“Leave it. I didn’t have one anyway and I was starting to feel naked. Tell him to find a new one.”
Nick looked down the hallway at Wolf then back to John.
“Close the damn door!” John snapped.
Nick obeyed, closing it quietly before walking back to the kitchen with a sheepish look on his face. When he passed Wolf, he stopped without looking at him. “Okay…you’re in charge.”
Whalen grinned and turned away. “I’m going to bed.”
Wolf patted Nick on the shoulder and left the kitchen.
“Where are you going?” Nick asked.
Wolf stopped in the doorway. “Going for a run… You wanna come?”