The room is dim, too dim to see in detail the small group of people congregated around a central table. Their faces are slightly illuminated by electronic glows emanating from the numerous screens and circuit boards mounted on every wall. This is the control room.
“We can’t do much else in the way of protection, I regret to say.” The first voice, the leader.
“Parnik knows they have the key.” A second voice, the scout. “If she is as ruthless and bent on revenge as we have heard, I fear there is little we can do to help them at all.”
“The Yunchikevs know what they are doing, Nika, I daresay you underrate them quite considerably.” A third voice, the fighter.
The soft light shining on the faces of the three at the table suddenly turns from pale blue to a harsh orange and becomes accompanied by an equally harsh siren which brings them all to attention immediately.
The scout, Nika, runs to one of the wall panels and peers into the display. Her face creases with concern.
“The eyes we have on the house has been blinded. We can’t see them anymore.”
The leader rushes to the screen to look too, relaxed manner becoming at once alert and disturbed.
The fighter is already getting her checking her weapons getting ready to rush out to get more eyes, but the leader stops her.
“They’re on their own now, Genevieve,” the leader says firmly.
“But this is our sign to fight back!” the fighter argues. “We finally know when and where Parnik and her people will be, and we aren’t trying to take her down?”
The leader hushes her, trying not to appear too worried about the situation which had arisen. However, the leader’s voice gives away the doubt everyone in the room was feeling. “I trained with [the Yunchikevs] for more than a decade. I know their abilities, and if there was ever anyone who could fight Parnik off, it is [the Yunchikevs].
There is so much smoke. All around me, the air is thick with it. I can already feel my chest being filled with the stuff, and I cough loudly and uncontrollably. My eyes water, both from my trying to regain my breath and from the smoke that is stinging them ruthlessly. Hadn't I been sleeping not moments before? Had it been the smoke that had woken me, or had it been something else? A scream perhaps? A gunshot? A detonation? Nothing is clear to me in this moment except that I need to get out. Out of this bed, out of this room, out of this house. I need to get out and get far enough away so that I can breathe again. I need to escape this suffocating cloud that has suddenly descended on my home. I cannot shout for help; my throat burns and I cannot draw the breath to soothe it. No one has come to fetch me yet. Where are my parents? Do they know my room is on fire? Do they care that I am slowly choking on billow after billow of smoke?
I stand up from my bed, and even the slight height difference is enough to smother me in an even thicker wave of smoke. I pull the collar of my nightshirt up over my nose, but I still cannot breathe without coughing. I crouch on the floor, suddenly overcome by exhaustion. My head pounds, demanding air. I can't think; I need to get out. I'm crawling, one shaky fist after another, across my nursery floor. The door is open, but the hallway is filled with smoke even thicker and blacker than that coming from my bedroom. If I pause for any longer, I will suffocate. I enter the hall, nearly resting my face against the wooden floorboards in a vain attempt to inhale some pure oxygen. My body is rattled and shaken by even more hacking coughs as I slowly make my way to the front door of the house.
I can see it through the clouds filling the hallway. The front door beckons to me, pale yellow streetlamp light illuminating a small path for me to follow: a path to salvation. I force myself to hold my breath, or what is left of it. I have not breathed properly in what has seemed like years but I know to be only a few minutes.
My vision is beginning to fade. I cannot be sure if it is because of the thickening smoke or my shortness of breath, but I cannot see more than a few inches in front of me, and what small image I do comprehend is ringed in a darkness that seems to be creeping in on the picture with every second I watch it. I vaguely recognize my hands being met by a warm, sticky liquid instead of wooden floorboards, but the fact is soon stripped from my deoxygenated brain, and I keep moving.
I never remembered the hallway being this long when Papa would chase me up and down it. In fact, I never realized how large our house is until now, when I have to maneuver through it in the dark and before I collapse from lack of oxygen. The pessimist inside me urges me to give up, to welcome the warm embrace of the smoke and all it entails. Normally I would give in gladly, but I cannot afford to die today. I did not choose to be set ablaze today, so I will not let it be my end. I push forward, telling the pessimist to stuff it, and finally I have reached the front door. It seems to be unlatched and just barely closed. I don't have time to wonder why the door is open or why I feel the palms of my hands be slowly impaled my wood splinters as I crawl out onto the drastically brighter porch. I still see no one around, but I am safe, at least for the time being. A sneaking suspicion tells me that I probably won't be feeling entirely safe for a very, very long time.
A silence fills the control room. It is not an unpleasant or uncomfortable silence, but one filled with sorrow and guilt. The circumstances that brought this unfortunate meeting to fruition are the reason for the disturbing silence. The trio breathe quietly and think even more so. Finally, after a very long time of no talking, some talking starts, emanating from the mouth of the the leader.
“We did this to them.”
The scout begins to cry, but tries fruitlessly to hold the sounds in.
“Calm yourself, Nika. The only thing that we can do now is honor their memory by remembering them as the fearless people they were.
The next noise came from the fighter, who had up until this very moment been studying one of the numerous monitors lining the walls. “I’m seeing something on the Kev Cam. There’s somebody coming out of the house. A child.”
The other two rush to the screen the fighter is peering at. Sure enough, there is a child that all of the three people in the room are able to see, and none of them can believe their respective eyes.
Finally, the leader: “Scan for detectable genetic identity.”
The fighter presses a series of buttons and a loading bar appears at the bottom of the screen. After a few seconds, a window pops up with the inconclusive results of the scan: Identity unknown. Detected: Trace DNA: Fyodor Yunchikev and Greta Miller Yunchikev.
“It’s possible they had a child we don’t have in our databases,” the fighter, who has now become something of a computer operator as well, says. “That would explain why we didn’t get a positive ID.”
“That’s impossible. Our database feeds from the international census bureau. If they delivered their baby at any hospital in any country, no matter how small or remote, we would know about it. The fact that this small human has no positive identification from our system would mean that they have absolutely no record of ever having existed.”
“Sounds like something Greta and Fyodor would pull,” the scout says, and chuckles, wiping her tears away chastely.
“Not without a reason,” the leader interjected. “The trouble one must go through to do what they did, to raise a child without any history or existence at all, is no easy feat. And then to be able to keep the knowledge of the birth a secret from us as well. There must be a reason.”
“Then we need the child, don’t we?” The fighter stares at the leader and the scout, and then at the leader again. “If Greta and Fyodor went through all that trouble to cover up the existence of this child, there must be some special reason. We should bring the kid in and have a little chat with them. See if they know anything."
"We can't just interrogate that child, Genevieve!" the scout interjects, sounding very concerned. It is common knowledge around the compound that the fighter was not known for her caring and compassionate nature, but her complete lack of understanding for people's feelings still amazes the scout, whose naturally supportive and kind nature is a stark contrast to her co worker's.
The leader intercedes. "You are both correct." Vairea was ever the mediator. "The child needs protection, so must be brought here to the Coalition for their own safety. However, considering the fact that the child's parents have likely just been murdered in cold blood and their house burned to the ground, I am going to order that no one may speak to the child until time has been alotted for them to recover entirely. Such an event as this will have had a very shocking effect on such a young person, so the situation must be handled with the utmost tact and caution. Which means Genevieve will not be allowed to speak to the child while they are recovering." The leader now turns to Nika, whose job description had finally come into effect. "you will find the child, Nika. Keep them safe and bring them back here by any means necessary."
The scout nod solemnly. "Understood, Chief."
A moment later, there are only two in the room.