Loki slowly surveyed the area surrounding Sanctuary, just in case more caretakers were lurking around. But since he and the others had defeated the two robots guarding the bunker, all was quiet. And cold. The adrenaline rush from the battle and their victory had worn off, and now all he felt was tired and anxious. Even if there were more caretakers out there, he didn’t think the group could handle them right now.
Sunita locked eyes with him for a moment and smiled. That silent exchange gave him the burst of energy he needed—way better than a cup of coffee.
He missed coffee.
Focus, Loki thought. He turned back to the featureless metal door as Holden reached for the glowing blue hand scanner. Loki tensed and tightened his grip on the laser bazooka he’d claimed from one of the broken caretakers, readying himself for whatever might come charging out at them: another group of caretakers, a starving army of C.H.U.D.s, a swarm of spider-bats. Please don’t be spider-bats.
Holden pressed his palm against the scanner and it flashed green. Loki stepped back reflexively as the door shot up lightning quick, with a thud that echoed deep inside Sanctuary. If the occupants didn’t already know they had visitors, they did now.
He turned to see Holden drop his hand from the doorplate, his expression stunned, wary. Then they both peered into the dark doorway.
“It’s quiet,” Holden said.
Loki just stopped himself from saying it was too quiet, but it was. He’d been so busy trying to prepare for whatever was on the other side of the door, he’d never considered that maybe nothing was waiting for them. Disappointing. Unless . . . What if this was some kind of test, or a trap?
Loki looked up. He imagined the door crashing down on them as they crossed the threshold. He’d played too many video games that delivered cheap deaths to players—the games Rina liked, that forced you to die over and over until you memorized the pattern, mastered tricky timing, or figured out some puzzle to get to the next level.
“I’ll go first,” Holden and Loki said at the same time. They looked at each other and then launched into rock-paper-scissors.
“One, two, three—” Holden showed his fist as Loki presented a flat hand. Paper covered rock.
As Loki stepped forward, someone shoved between him and Holden and entered Sanctuary ahead of them.
“Hey!” Loki said.
Sunita tossed a glance back over her left shoulder, her long hair fanning out, a makeshift ax in each hand. She was a total badass.
“Ladies first,” she said.
Loki’s heart skipped a beat. He went after her, bazooka raised. “We’ll give the all clear if it’s safe,” he called to the others.
Lights came up gradually around him and Sunita as they entered: a soft, warm glow like sunrise on a clear spring morning. The floor sloped gently downward; the corridor stretching ahead was wide enough for two of the M808B Scorpion battle tanks from Halo to drive down side by side. The walls seemed to be made of the same high-tech material as Arcadia’s paved streets.
With a pang, he remembered that that city was dead. Many of the city’s buildings remained, but the life behind them had been snuffed out when Holden had assisted Arcadia in her suicide.
Loki wasn’t as surprised as everyone else that Holden had pulled the plug on Arcadia, as she’d requested. He was a good guy, and he’d been through his fair share of pain. Loki wasn’t angry, either. Arcadia had made her choice, and she’d had a long time to think about it—hundreds of years all alone with nothing but her thoughts and fading memories. Holden’s decision had come from a place of compassion. But Loki did wonder if, at the last moment, Arcadia had had any regrets. If she’d realized she was making a mistake, the way Loki had, at the end. He hoped not.
Now, as he ventured cautiously into Sanctuary, he saw a photograph on the wall showing a construction site: a black man in a tan uniform was posed pushing a shovel into the dirt. His uniform looked military, with epaulets and medals and all that. This guy looked to be a general. He stood beside an odd-looking caretaker, which had a flat wagon hitched to its back.
The robot was different from the ones the teens had encountered. It was smaller, with two eyes instead of one; a hinged jaw; and short legs with wide, flat feet that were more like clawed paddles. It looked like some kind of robodog, but the thought of caretakers with mouths made Loki shudder.
Sunita waited in the center of the circular room in battle position, arms raised with her axes crossed behind her head, peering into the deeper darkness beyond.
Loki stopped beside her. “You should be more careful.”
She snorted. “Says the guy who takes more risks than anyone.”
“It’s just—this isn’t a game....