He announced it in a shaking voice in the classroom, two hours before sunset: four volunteers needed to ferry explosives across the gate to the other Earth. They would not be returning, but they would likely save humanity. The other gate cities were being advised to do the same.
Four people per gate.
Thirty-six gates in the world.
One hundred forty-four people.
Less than would die tonight in Chicago alone from demons. But it still hurt. He said so to Harper when they both were back in his tiny office.
“People are more likely to sympathize with other people of similar social standing,” she said.
Bryan glared at her.
“I just mean it’s normal,” she said, looking abashed.
There was no containment to watch that night. They didn’t have enough agents to contain at the gate. They were falling back on old tactics – chasing down the demons as calls came in. Wei relayed that the public was demanding why the gate wasn’t being contained and civilians were dying again. The old regular problems. It was like they were regressing, except that they had a plan. A hideous plan.
Andrade came in halfway through the night, while Bryan was trying to work out over email the logistics of getting enough explosives to produce a crater in Chicago. She knocked softly on the open door to announce herself, and Bryan looked up to see her aeon burning bright and tantalizing.
“Checking in with Possessed Central,” she said.
“The report is we’re screwed,” Bryan growled.
“What a coincidence. I have the same to report in my department.” She smiled weakly at him, but he couldn’t smile back.
“We just don’t have the numbers,” he said. “We’ve now got nineteen agents including trainees stretched over the whole city.” He nearly winced at the number. Nineteen agents, and he was expecting at least four of them to volunteer for suicide.
She practically read his mind. “Would it help to have some Spotters on the gate mission? I know you left them out of the announcement for a reason, but a few of them would be willing to help.”
“That’s not feasible. Whoever goes through the gate could be possessed on arrival or even on the way through.” He shrugged. “It’s why I’m not a candidate.”
“That’s the only reason you’re not sending yourself, isn’t it?”
He deflected his eyes to the laptop to avoid looking at her. “I’m not good for anything but pushing paper these days.”
She sat on the desk, leaning over to put her hand on his. “I know this has been hard on you.”
He risked a glance at her and this time saw her beyond the aeon. She was bedraggled, her hair in a tangled bun and circles under her eyes.
“It’s been hard on all of us,” he said.
She gazed into his eyes, her own deeply sad and tired, but still glowing with that life and sympathy. “We’ve all aged a decade or two in the past few days, haven’t we?”
“You wear it better than me, though.” He realized what he had just said and felt his cheeks grow hot.
Surprisingly enough, her face flushed too, she took her hand back, and instead of prodding him she changed the subject. “Do you think the mission will really work?”
He wondered, and said “I don’t know. I don’t even know if we’ll get enough volunteers.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” she said. “These are Possesseds, after all.”
First Anna Molotch came in at 7 AM, then Missy Moreno at 7:20. Bryan was surprised when Mouse – Robbie, Bryan told himself, his name is Robbie – showed up at 8:30 saying he would be the third. He thanked each of them and shook their hands awkwardly and told them to take the next night off. They all said they would think about that. Each volunteer took a bit more out of him, as if they were demons scooping out a hollow in him bit by bit.
Right before 11 he was in the halls, heading to a meeting dealing with the procurement of the explosives. He didn’t have to be in on it, but sleep would do him no favors and he needed a distraction. He just hoped he wouldn’t be asked anything. His guards were napping, all of them assuming the Eternal was enough like a demon to not fully operate in the daylight.
Which had caused him to wonder: what would happen in the daylight at 8 AM when the Eternals all came through? On the other side of the planet they would have darkness to march in, but here in the US would they collapse in the street before the synagogue doors and pile up? Or were they wrong and the Eternal could pounce on Bryan in full daylight?
He had decided it didn’t matter, and people other than him needed to sleep. He took his chances and ordered naps.
So he jumped when he heard his name shouted, and spun with adrenaline pumping. But it was only Cam catching up to him.
“Christ,” Bryan told him. “I thought you were the Eternal.”
“What, calling your name before attacking?” Cam said. “That only happens in the movies, man.”
“Have you been this jumpy all night?”
“No, I’ve generally been too tired to be jumpy. I was just…thinking of things. Speaking of which, shouldn’t you be in bed?”
Cam shifted from one foot to the other. He didn’t answer right away. “Well, see, I’ve been thinking too. Thinking really hard. About how things have just been totally hopeless lately, and then you hatched this plan, and it seems like it might work, you know…”
Bryan knew what was coming, and wanted to say something to stop it, but he didn’t know what. So he only watched Cam and waited.
“And I think,” Cam went on, “I think I want to volunteer.”
“No,” Bryan said.
Cam gave a nervous smile. “What?”
“Did you already get four volunteers?”
“Then…is the project scrapped?”
“Well then say something other than no!”
“I’m not sending you.”
Cam smiled again, but this time in irritation. “So you’re saying I’m not qualified. That it?”
“You’re qualified.” Bryan was aware that he had let this conversation go off the rails. He didn’t want to fight with Cam yet again. Not over this.
“You think I’m gonna chicken out?”
Bryan shook his head. “I’d never think that.”
“Then why?” Cam was shouting now. “Why not me?”
Bryan’s voice was barely above a whisper. “I don’t want you to go.”
“That’s it? Man, I don’t want to go. I don’t want anybody to go. But you can’t tell me I can’t.”
“Cam, you won’t be coming back.”
“I know that.” He threw his hands up, and sighed heavily. “Don’t think I haven’t thought about that. But my family’s here. My mom and my sis, they’re both just an hour outside of city limits. And we’ve got five nights. I gotta do something.”
“You can do something else.”
“Like what? Capturing demons like everything’s normal? Quitting the Office and passing the days getting drunk off my ass? You don’t even have the four yet. Who’ll do it if I won’t?”
I will. Me. It should be me. Bryan turned away from him as if he would leave. But he just stood there.
“I’m going, Bryan,” Cam’s voice came to him, and when Bryan didn’t answer he walked away.
When they asked Bryan in the meeting whether he had four volunteers, he said yes.