“What the hell are you talking about?” Jared asked.
Emerson’s voice came over the radio. “She’s not your daughter. She’s mine.”
“Bullshit,” Jared said, his eyes on his daughter, who looked at him confused.
“What is he talking about, Daddy?”
“Nothing, dear,” Jared said, putting a bit of distance between himself and his daughter, though not wanting to move so far away she fell out of sight. Whoever attacked the camp could still be nearby.
“Don’t believe me?” Emerson asked. “Hold on.”
A moment later, the radio crackled and he could hear crying — Eve’s crying.
“Tell him,” Emerson said, “tell your husband the truth. Is Cassie mine?”
All he could hear was crying on the other end.
“Is she?” Jared asked, swallowing, turning from Cassie and hoping she couldn’t hear him.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
Emerson was back on the radio. “Now, do we have a deal?”
Jared couldn’t believe it.
Eve had to be lying. Had to be.
With a gun against her head, she’d say anything. Yet, at the same time, the tone of her voice — he knew that tone. He’d heard it before when she thought about leaving him, back before Cassie was born. She’d said that things “weren’t working out.” He’d practically begged her not to leave him. To give him another chance, to be the husband he should have been from the beginning. Shortly after that, she found out she was pregnant with Cassie, and they managed to work things out.
But what if her pregnancy was the real reason she’d wanted to leave — because she’d cheated on him, or maybe didn’t really love him?
“Well?” Emerson asked again. “Do we have a deal or should I just kill her now?”
“I don’t know,” Jared said. “I need to think about it.”
“You have thirty minutes. I’ll be calling you back. Decide, or I’ll make your choice for you.”
The radio went dead and Jared stared ahead into the woods, so full of conflicting emotions, he felt paralyzed.
What if Eve was lying? She’d say anything with a gun to her head, wouldn’t she? She’d say anything to spare her child harm.
And that’s where things didn’t make sense. If Cassie was Emerson’s daughter, and he expected to trade for her, why would he drop this bombshell on Jared? Hey, I’ll trade you your innocent best thing that ever happened to you daughter for your lying, cheating wife.
If Eve had cheated, most guys Jared knew would’ve been so pissed, they might just tell Emerson he could keep her.
Yet, Jared couldn’t do that.
Then another thought occurred to him. Perhaps Eve had gone along with the lie hoping he would take off with Cassie. Maybe she counted on him being like most guys and being so pissed that he’d just leave. Maybe this was her way of preserving their safety.
No matter what, he couldn’t see himself just handing over his daughter to some monster.
As he considered his dilemma, he heard footsteps behind him, and saw Cassie staring at him with a hurt look.
She’d heard everything.
“You’re not my Daddy?” she asked.
How could he possibly explain this to a girl who knew nothing about the birds and the bees? She was a wide-eyed innocent, and he wasn’t ready to have this talk, let alone suggest that her mother had been unfaithful, especially when Jared didn’t know the facts.
“I am your father,” he said. “He’s lying.”
“But Mommy said…”
“He’s making Mommy lie, Cassie.”
“I wish I knew.”
* * * *
Eve glared at the bastard who broke her husband’s heart. She’d never wanted to murder someone before.
Now it was all she could think about.
Killing the bastard who not only threatened her family, but also betrayed the Institute and joined this weirdo ass no-tech cult. Worst of all, he’d used her device, the one that was supposed to help the good guys, against the nation, and possibly the world, crippling it.
They were in his office in some underground bunker that looked like it had been in the planning for months, if not years. She wondered how long she’d been working for an evil madman.
Large glass lanterns cast flickering shadows on the wall, which kept making Eve think that someone else was in the room even though they’d been alone since Ali brought her from the cell she’d been kept in the past couple of nights.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked.
“Taking my daughter back or … this?” he said, waving his hands about at the darkness and lack of power.
“Both,” she said.
“The Lantern,” he said, “happened a bit sooner than planned, otherwise I would’ve already arranged to pick up my daughter. But sometimes things don’t go quite as planned.”
“She’s not your daughter,” Eve said, pissed that she’d had to lie to her husband. While Cassie wasn’t Jared’s, she also wasn’t Emerson’s flesh and blood.
“She is the Institute’s property. Therefore, she is mine. Let’s not forget, you were barren before we helped you. You signed a contract. Be glad that you had her for as long as you did. If it’s any consolation, you did a wonderful job raising her.”
“The contract didn’t say anything about you coming and taking her! I was supposed to raise her as my own.”
“So long as you and your husband were able,” Emerson said, echoing one of the provisions she never thought could actually happen. “And now, you are unable.”
She wanted to launch herself across the room and gouge his eyes out. But the gun on his desk, and the two big men outside his door kept her from doing anything too reckless — yet.
She asked, “Why do you even want her?”
“You really haven’t put this all together yet, have you? And here I had been fearing that you’d figured me out months ago.”
“No! None of this makes sense. Why would the director of the Institute be against technology? And why would you want to take Cassie from me? She’s just your average little girl. A sickly one at that.”
“Oh, no, she’s so much more than average, Eve. So much more.”
* * * *
As twilight tinged the horizon in red and violet began to swallow the sky, Jared and Cassie made their way along a path to a hidden auxiliary camp where they could rest, assuming they didn’t need to run off to meet Emerson somewhere. There were also supplies at the other camp, including much needed food, water, and light.
He hoped that whoever had sacked the main camp and killed all his people hadn’t discovered the second one. He wondered if Emerson had been responsible for the attack on the camp. It didn’t make sense, but hell, little did at the moment.
Cassie had been quiet in the twenty five minutes since Emerson’s call, likely lost in her own thoughts, maybe trying to reconcile the fact that her father might not really be her father. The poor kid.
Jared still wasn’t certain what he would do when Emerson called with his ultimatum.
He couldn’t let Emerson kill Eve. Even if she had cheated on him, she must’ve had her reasons. She didn’t deserve to die. But at the same time, he couldn’t hand over his daughter to a monster capable of even making such a demand, let alone striking Eve.
Whether Cassie was biologically Jared’s or not, she was his daughter in every way that mattered. He had rocked her to sleep at night as a crying infant. He had made her boo-boo’s all better. He had read her stories before bed every night. He’d gone to her dance recitals even when Eve was working late. Even if Cassie wasn’t blood, she was still family, no matter what anyone said.
And he wasn’t about to let her go.
As they approached the second camp, hidden just inside a cave system, he readied his 1911 pistol, and looked back to tell Cassie to wait.
As he approached the cave, he saw the signal again. The flashes of light that his wife was headed toward. It flickered twice and then twice again after a moment.
He wondered if the light was Emerson, or if it was legitimate help. Maybe military? He wondered if that’s where Eve was, or if she’d been caught early in her trek before getting anywhere near the signal. If that were the case, perhaps he should head toward it, he wondered.
As he approached the cave’s darkness, he tried to peer through the gloaming and see any sign of movement. His flashlight had died last night and he’d given Eve all the glo-sticks. He would kill for either right now.
As he drew closer to the cave’s mouth, his heart pounded so loud he could hear it.
He whistled the call to his men to alert them to stand down, hoping they hadn't met the same fate as Percy, Ed and Wade. He waited for a response.
He stepped closer to the cave, gun starting to shake in his hands.
The radio crackled to life.
Jared fired off a shot into the darkness, surprised by the radio.
Emerson’s voice crackled loudly, “So, Jared, have you decided whether or not I’m going to kill your wife?”