Strange Times_FinalThe weather was horrible for what they were about to attempt: sixty-nine degrees, low wind, not a cloud in the sky. Without the haze of low clouds, the night had a transparency that made covert operations tricky.

Turk held his REBEL in a neutral position as he peered through bushes at the house across the street. The residence wasn’t special—just a mass-produced one-story with fake shutters and all the accoutrements of mediocrity. The sort of place that was popular thirty years prior, before the Great War, before the flesh-eating alien occupation—before it all got seriously fucked.

Silhouettes of Deprogrammers moved with dispassionate malice across the window. Prevailing theory held a suspect would be most comfortable in his home and more likely to slip. Once the Deprogrammers assessed the nature of the nonconformity, they offered the suspect a chance to redeem himself by consenting to be Reset.

The diagnostic “conversation” could take hours or minutes, depending on the suspect and his or her family. Given Alex’s connection to Wells, it was likely to go on for a long time. She had killed two Deprogrammers; they didn’t take kindly to that.

Justice was not going to be served to this kid. It wasn’t even on the menu.

Inside, the mother and father surrounded Alex. The family was probably a well-meaning bunch, but at the very least Alex’s mother had sensed the true danger of the situation and had reached out. Turk wasn’t sure if he could count on her for more assistance. The treatment of sympathizers was as bad as for the accused.

All he hoped for was that not everyone inside was against them. Going in as two guys against two Deprogrammers and their guards left them outnumbered, but Turk had retrieved with fewer. It wasn’t pretty, but it was doable.

“Are we ready?” Christian squinted into his scope, appearing to take aim at someone in the family. His father.

Christian’s jaw tightened and he closed his eyes, breathing slowly like he had to master the urge to pull the trigger. Finally, he lowered his weapon.

Turk gave a grim smile when Christian turned his attention on him. “The question is, are you ready?”

Battles between Subversives and Deprogrammers were intense. Even Turk, whose broad shoulders made it difficult for them to hide behind the tree together, was nervous. The family had called in several Deprogrammers, believing their son, Christian, who was considered Unredeemed and was now a Subversive, would make an attempt to save his brother.

“No choice. I have to be ready.” Christian bore three dark lines above his right eyebrow—the mark of the sodomite. He had probably been in the same situation that Alex now found himself in. Even Turk had been there once. A long time ago.

Turk worried about the extraction. He wished Christian had more training, that he’d had time. Even that Christian wasn’t coming off of the loss of his girlfriend. People under that kind of pressure could get desperate and make regrettable choices.

But Christian was all he had for backup. Nils was going to stay in the tank to catch Alex. If worse came to worst, Nils would drive off and leave them. Not pretty, but that was the gig. Unfortunately, the tank was more important than any of them and had to be preserved at all costs.

Movement from the window attracted Turk’s attention. A shadowed hand swung down open-handed. Turk flinched in empathy. Though physical violence was against the rules for Deprogrammers, they considered being roughed up part of the process. No one had ever enforced the violence rule, so no one abided by it.

Christian leveled his gun, eyes glittering. “I can’t let them hurt him. We’ve gotta go in. Now.”

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