Sandoval sat down on the hard cot and stared toward the opposite wall.
He wasn't entirely sure how he felt. Resigned, definitely. He knew he'd been living on borrowed time from the moment his motivational imperative had begun to break down, and the sense of that had only increased after that farce of a trial the ANA had put him through last year, when he'd come to them with information that would be useful; information that he hadn't been able to get out any other way. Turned out he hadn't been able to get it out at all.
So when the subtle, hidden war had ended with both the Taelons and the Jaridians being invited - quite firmly - to leave Earth, he hadn't been all that surprised to find himself condemned to death for crimes against humanity. He'd been too visible, and had played his role too well, for the new allied government of Earth to permit him to go free.
Never mind the fact that if I hadn't played my role as well as I did, Zo'or would have long since killed me, he reflected, with surprisingly little bitterness.
Leaning back against the wall, Sandoval closed his eyes. If he were to be honest, he had only one regret - that he'd never had a chance to meet his son.
Abruptly, a sound from above him caught his attention. Looking up, Sandoval saw only the ceiling, but he'd definitely heard something. Listening carefully, he caught it again - a metallic scraping sound, almost as though something was moving through the airduct. Ridiculous, of course; this was the lowest level of the Pentagon - not even mice could get past the layers and layers of security surrounding this floor and the cells. Yet... there it was again.
What is that?
A moment later, a loud clanging sound reached his ears, and Sandoval stood up, staring at the ceiling in confusion.
"What was that?" one of the guards - Anderson, Sandoval thought his name was - outside the cellblock demanded, obviously having heard it as well.
"Water pipes, probably - they're old and have a tendency to make noises whenever one of the top brass use the men's room," the other guard - Jacobs - replied, but Sandoval wasn't paying them much attention.
His CVI had remained remarkably stable - one of the reasons he'd been able to do as much as he had - and he'd never had it removed. The government, in the person of Hubble Urick, hadn't removed it either. As a result, he'd been able to hear what the guards - the only other people down here - had not; a voice whispering, "Damn, damn, damn..." over and over.
Somehow, someone had done the impossible and gotten into the airduct.
Sandoval sat back down on the cot, doing his best to ensure that nothing seemed unusual to the guards, and concentrated on listening.
"Sorry, dropped one of the boxes," the voice - which, although distorted by the airduct, sounded vaguely familiar - said. There was a pause - Communicating with someone outside? Sandoval wondered - and then the voice added, "Yeah, yeah, I'll be careful. Just hold up your part, kid."
What is going on? Has Tate made arrangements for-- No, don't be ridiculous, Ron. Tate's only interest is in saving his own skin. He'd quite happily throw you to the wolves if it was to his own advantage, and you know it. In all probability, whatever was going on had nothing to do with him...
Come on, Ron, who are you kidding? There's no one else in this area! Tate could easily have decided that he owes you one...
Then he heard the voice whisper hoarsely, "Got it - starting now."
Starting what, I wonder? Sandoval thought, before another quiet noise began - a faint, metallic squeaking. Glancing around his cell - it sounded as though it was right there in the room with him - his eyes fell on the large vent on the far wall, just under the security camera. One of the screws - the one in the top left-hand corner - was turning slowly.
Before he managed to overcome his surprise at that, he heard the sound of someone approaching the cellblock from the corridor outside. Both guards saluted, and Sandoval - giving a worried glance at the vent - turned his attention to what was going on outside. If someone was trying to break him out, the last thing they needed right now was official attention.
"Major," Anderson said respectfully, and Sandoval almost groaned as he saw Liam Kincaid, in full dress uniform, standing at the entrance to the cellblock. If there was one thing that he could guarantee, it was that Kincaid would interfere with whatever was going on. "What can we do for you?"
"I'm here to see Agent Sandoval," Kincaid declared.
There was a slight pause, and then Jacobs said, his tone apologetic, "I'm afraid we have orders that you're not to see or speak with the prisoner, Major Kincaid."
Sandoval blinked in surprise. That made no sense whatsoever. Logically speaking, Kincaid was the perfect person to ask the questions he was sure Hubble had prepared for him to answer before his execution.
"From whom?" Kincaid demanded.
"Secretary of State Palmer, sir."
From what little Sandoval could see of Kincaid's face, it appeared the man was irritated. "And did Ms. Palmer explain why?"
"No, sir - but those are her orders."
Kincaid's expression tightened. "I have orders from President Urick stating that I am to question Agent Sandoval," he declared. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that the orders of the President - our Commander-in-Chief, might I remind you - override those of the Secretary of State."
"I'm sorry, Major, but I'm going to have to verify those orders before we can let you in," Anderson said.
Kincaid waved one hand. "Go ahead." Then, as the guard opened his global, Kincaid looked in, and his eyes met Sandoval's. It was only for a moment before Kincaid's attention returned to the guards, but it was long enough for Sandoval to see a combination of determination and smouldering rage in his former subordinate's eyes. Rage that - strangely enough - didn't appear to be directed at him.
Puzzling as he was over what he'd just seen, Sandoval almost missed the slight 'clink' as the upper left-hand screw from the airduct vent fell to the floor of the cell, and then the resumption of the squeaking as the upper right-hand screw began turning.
This was... not good. If Kincaid came in and saw what was going on...
"Yes, sir, Mr. President," Anderson said clearly. "Major Kincaid is here and has stated that he wishes to see Agent Sandoval."
"So what is the problem?" Sandoval heard Hubble Urick demand.
"Our orders from Secretary Palmer state that Major Kincaid is to be allowed no contact with the prisoner, sir."
"Let me speak to Major Kincaid," Urick ordered.
"Yes, sir," the guard replied, and passed the global to Kincaid. "Here you go, Major."
"Do you have any idea why Renee would do something like this?"
"No, sir," Kincaid replied, and Sandoval stiffened slightly on the cot.
He'd worked closely - and not so closely - with Kincaid for three years, and had learned how to tell when the man was lying; and right now, Kincaid was lying through his teeth. He knew exactly why Renee Palmer had left orders to not allow him contact with Sandoval.
So why is he lying? And for that matter, why did Palmer give those orders?
Kincaid handed the global back to Anderson with the familiar smirk that Sandoval had come to dislike intensely, the smirk that said he was getting his own way and smug about it.
"Secretary Palmer is not authorized to give any such orders concerning the prisoner," Urick said. "Major Kincaid is there on my orders, to deal with a matter of national security. You are to give him immediate access to the prisoner."
"Yes, sir, Mr. President," came the response. Anderson shut his global, and turned back to Kincaid. "Sorry, sir, but we did have to verify."
"That's quite all right," Kincaid said calmly. "I'd have done the same thing in your position. Now, if you would..." He gestured to the door into the cellblock.
"Of course, sir," Anderson said, even as Sandoval heard another 'clink' - the second screw landing on the floor. Neither of the lower two screws started moving, however, and it was clear that whoever was in the airduct was holding on to the vent to prevent it from opening.
Jacobs unlocked the door, and Kincaid stepped in, followed by Anderson, who removed the keys from his belt and walked over to Sandoval's cell. Kincaid stood calmly in the hallway as Anderson unlocked the grille in the door of the cell.
"Major," Sandoval said, studying the younger man.
"Sandoval," Kincaid replied, as Anderson finished unlocking the grille and pulled it to one side, leaving an opening in the cell door large enough for a tray to fit through.
"I'll leave you here, Major," Anderson said. "When you're finished, just let us know and we'll let you out." Kincaid nodded, and stepped aside to let Anderson pass him on the way back to the hall.
Then, as Sandoval watched, Kincaid's eyes flicked around the cell, pausing on the airduct vent long enough to notice the missing screws. He shifted on the cot, ready for Kincaid to alert the guards that something was going on, and was surprised when the major said nothing.
Maybe he didn't notice? Though that seems hard to believe - Kincaid is not unobservant.
"I presume you have some questions for me," Sandoval continued evenly. If Kincaid hadn't noticed the missing screws, he wasn't going to draw attention to them.
"Hubble Urick gave me a list," Kincaid said calmly. "A long list."
"I'm not surprised," Sandoval commented, letting a touch of sourness enter his tone as he leaned back.
Kincaid looked at him for a moment, the expression on his face strangely speculative, and then glanced back toward where Anderson and Jacobs were standing just inside the cellblock door - they hadn't closed it yet. "Yeah, he has a lot of questions for you," Kincaid said, turning back to face him. He shrugged, as if to say, 'You know how it is,' and Sandoval couldn't help but notice that his hands were loosely fisted. "So, you ready?"
That was an... odd question to ask, Sandoval thought - and then stiffened involuntarily as he heard a 'clunk' from the airduct. "Of course, Major," he said rapidly, hoping that it would distract Kincaid.
"Good." Rather than taking his global out of his pocket, however, Kincaid raised his hands to shoulder height. "Now!"
Several things happened all at once.
The vent landed on the floor of the cell as it was pushed from the other side.
The security camera sent up a flurry of sparks as it sizzled and died.
The two guards spun around and started toward the cell.
Kincaid's hands lit up, as though he was holding an active light in each.
A man - whom Sandoval recognized as Kincaid's hacker friend, Augur - stuck his head out of the airduct and beckoned to Sandoval. "Come on!"
And Kincaid opened his hands, revealing the brilliant, spiralling energy of active shaqarava in his palms, and fired a blast at the two guards, knocking them off their feet.
Sandoval jerked to his feet. "What the--"
"Go!" Kincaid snapped, hurrying over to where the guards were starting, groggily, to sit up. He punched Anderson in the chin, and chopped the side of his hand into Jacobs' neck, knocking them both unconscious. "There - that should hold them for a while."
"What's going on?" Sandoval demanded, as Kincaid bent down and pulled the set of keys out of Anderson's pocket.
"What does it look like?" the hacker demanded from the airduct. "We're breaking you out. Now come on!" He beckoned to Sandoval again. "Liam, move it! We've got to get out before Renee finds out you're down here."
"I'm moving, I'm moving!" Kincaid said. He stood up and moved to the door of Sandoval's cell, flipping through the keys as he did so. "Come on, Sandoval, hurry up! As Augur pointed out, we don't really have that much time."
Sandoval hesitated another moment, and then shrugged and started pushing the cot over to the opposite wall - it would be much easier to climb onto it and then into the airduct than rely on Augur to pull him up.
"Keys, keys, keys..." Kincaid muttered, as he continued to flip through the ring. A moment later, he made a soft, triumphant sound as he stuck one of the keys in the lock of the cell door and turned it. "Victory!" he exclaimed softly, opening the door.
"Great. Fantastic. Come on, help Sandoval with the cot and let's move, kid!" Augur said impatiently.
Kincaid rolled his eyes and joined Sandoval in pushing the cot over so that it was just under the airduct. Then Sandoval climbed up and into the duct, and Kincaid followed, giving the cot a kick that sent it crashing back against the other wall of the cell as he did so.
"It's too early to get giddy, kid, we're not out of here yet!" Augur snapped.
"Just follow the map, Augur," Kincaid groused back, waving his hand. "And this time, try not to drop any boxes!"
The duct was cramped, and they had to crawl along single-file - first Augur, who had apparently left both chalkmarks and ropes to scale up along their escape route, which was the same one he had taken on the way in, then Sandoval, and Kincaid followed at the rear. It took them almost half an hour of crawling, interspersed with the occasional climb, to reach the duct leading into the parking lot where Kincaid had apparently left their escape vehicle.
"Okay, I'll go get the van - the two of you wait here," Kincaid ordered, lifting the vent grille into the duct and slipping out.
Sandoval sat against the wall of the airduct, moving his head in an effort to reduce the stiffness in his neck. Glancing over at Augur, he saw the hacker frowning as he tapped on a global. "Thank you," he said quietly.
Augur looked up. "Don't thank me. This wasn't exactly my idea." He met Sandoval's eyes. "Quite frankly, Sandoval, if it were up to me, you'd still be in there. I happen to think you were getting exactly what you deserve. If you want to thank anyone, thank Liam. He's the one who risked everything to save you - again."
"I intend to," Sandoval replied calmly, even as he remembered the sight of Kincaid firing his shaqarava at the guards. Who - what - exactly was Kincaid? Had Da'an known what Kincaid was? Was that why he'd chosen the major as his Protector? "However, you helped as well." He shrugged.
Augur shook his head. "I helped because Liam asked me to. No other reason. As I said, thank him." He then turned his attention back to the global.
They waited in silence for another two minutes, and then a dark brown van stopped right by the vent, and Kincaid poked his head out the driver's side window. "Come on, hurry up!" he called. "I think Hubble asked Renee about her order - I just saw her drive in like she was being chased by the Furies!"
"Great," Augur muttered, as he and Sandoval climbed out of the duct and into the back of the van. "What now?"
"Well, thanks to your tricks with the camera," Kincaid started, as Augur gestured for Sandoval to lie down on the floorboards, "she won't be able to tell that you were involved."
Augur picked up a blanket and threw it over Sandoval, hissing at him to stay still.
Grimacing, Sandoval obeyed, but he continued to listen to the conversation going on over his head as Kincaid started the van back up.
"What about you? The guards saw you - and they saw you use your shaqarava. Not to mention the fact that Renee will undoubtedly know that you were involved the moment she hears that Sandoval's escaped."
"I couldn't let them kill him," Kincaid said quietly. "You know that."
"Yes, but what I'm saying is that Renee knows you feel that way too. She'll start looking for you, Liam. You know she wants Sandoval dead. What are you going to do?"
There was a long pause.
"Liam? You have thought this through, right?" Augur demanded.
"Yes, I've thought it through. And yes, I do know what I'm doing."
There was another pause, shorter this time, and then Kincaid sighed. "Mother... had a cabin no one else knows about. She got it under an assumed name several years ago. She had the keys on her when... Anyway, I've been keeping the place up. Sandoval and I should be safe there until the search dies down."
"Still, sounds risky. Do you want me to set you up with new identities?"
"It's already taken care of."
"Wait a minute - I thought you weren't involving Street!"
"I didn't." Sandoval heard a creak from the driver's seat, and assumed that Kincaid had shifted his weight. "I handled it myself.
"Listen, we're coming up to the guardpost. Why don't you slip into the back with Sandoval?"
"Right. Good thing there's another blanket," Augur continued, and Sandoval lifted the edge of the blanket covering him just enough to see the hacker lie down on the other side of the van. "Gahh... couldn't you have chosen one that didn't smell of mold?"
"Shut up, Augur!" Kincaid hissed, and then eased the van to a stop.
"Hello, Major," came another voice - presumably that of the guard. "Signing out already?"
"Afraid so," Kincaid replied easily.
"Well, hope to see you back soon. Go ahead."
The van started moving again, but Sandoval remained lying down until, about five minutes later, Kincaid said, "Okay, we're clear."
Pushing the blanket off at last, Sandoval sat up and glanced around. The only windows - and the only seats - were up front, so he couldn't see where they were, and he didn't want to ask.
Augur, however, wasn't so reticent. "Where are we?"
"The place where I'm dropping you off, and Sandoval and I are exchanging the van for something a bit more inconspicuous. After all, the guard at the parking lot will undoubtedly tell Renee about the van, and I have my doubts that she'll believe the story about my car being in the shop."
"No, I don't think she will," Augur agreed, as he opened the side door and slipped out. Sandoval followed him, and blinked as he realized that they were in the middle of a used car lot.
Kincaid joined them, pulling off his uniform jacket as he did so, and handed Sandoval a set of keys. "Our new ride is that burgundy sedan over there," the major said, pointing at a car three slots down. "It's already packed with everything we'll need for an extended trip..." He flushed slightly. "I hope you don't mind, but I took the liberty of getting some stuff from your place."
Sandoval shook his head. "Quite the contrary, Major. Thank you." Then, understanding that Kincaid wanted a minute or two alone with his friend, he walked over to the sedan - but he kept his attention focused on the other two men. It was far enough away that an ordinary person wouldn't be able to hear them if they spoke quietly, but he would, thanks to his CVI; though he busied himself with unlocking the doors and checking the luggage, just in case they thought to look.
Augur sighed. "Listen, kid, you take good care of yourself."
"I will, Augur, I promise."
"You'd better." He paused, and then added, "Listen, Liam, what if Renee figures it out? I mean, she is quite a competent hacker herself, and I doubt that an assumed name would fool her for long."
Kincaid shook his head. "I don't think we need to worry, Augur. Remember, we never told her who my mother was - only my fathers."
"Yeah, but what if she talked to Doors? He would've been only too happy to tell her, especially if he thought it would give you trouble."
"No. Another thing you need to remember - she just wanted to forget completely about it," Kincaid said.
"Much good that's going to do her now, with you having broken Sandoval out. Which reminds me... the guards weren't the only ones to see your shaqarava, Liam. Sandoval did too, and he's going to want an explanation."
"Then I'll tell him."
Augur hesitated for a long moment, and then sighed again. "It's up to you, I guess. Just remember - if you need any help, any help at all, let me know, okay? Lili wasn't the only one who promised your mother to take care of you no matter what."
"Thanks, Augur," Kincaid said softly. "I'll remember that. And I'll keep in touch."
"Make sure you do. Now you'd better go, before Renee starts an air search for that van."
Kincaid nodded soberly, and then turned and jogged over to where Sandoval was standing. "Let's go. I'll drive."
"Of course." Sandoval handed him the keys, and got in on the passenger side. The windows were shaded, which would make it harder for anyone to see them clearly - just the thing, considering they were now on the run. "Where are we going?"
"Ireland," Kincaid replied, as he started to back the car up. "By way of Houston."