Zero Hour – Bella Forrest

Nathan’s words hung ominously in the air. But somehow, I couldn’t fully comprehend their meaning. Someone betrayed us from within. All of my blood seemed to be flowing toward the ground. I felt lightheaded and confused. Betrayal? That couldn’t be right. Edgewood was a safe place. It was a community of like-minded people who were fighting for the same just cause. And Nathan was in charge. He was vetting people upon their arrival. Even Team Hood had been run through the wringer before any of us were allowed in. How could anyone have gotten past Nathan? It seemed impossible. I turned to look at Jace, to determine whether he was feeling the same cold shock that I was. But his face was set and steely as he stared at Nathan. “My sister,” Jace started with a strong and steady voice.

“Nathan, my sister was in Edgewood.” Nathan’s pained gaze met Jace’s, but he remained silent, and Jace continued. “I thought Edgewood was safe,” he said. Nathan didn’t look away. His stare appeared to be coming from far away, from deep inside his head, like he was having a hard time listening to Jace over the roar of his own thoughts. “So did I,” Nathan finally replied. Then he put his head back down in his hands. Jace and I stood in the doorway for a moment longer. As determined and confident as I had felt just moments before when I had rushed to Nathan and demanded to know what was happening, now I felt adrift and vulnerable. Our safety net had been ripped out from under us.

And Nathan’s demeanor wasn’t helping things. He seemed so stricken that I felt the urge to move forward and place my hand on his shoulder to comfort him. But at the same time, I wanted him to stand up, crack his knuckles, and take up his leadership role. Nathan wasn’t supposed to react to bad news like this. He was in charge here. We needed him to tell us what to do next and what the plan was. It was shocking to see him so despondent and unsure, and it reminded me of a ship at sea being tossed around in turbulent waters with no one at the helm. Suddenly, Jace turned and exited the room without another word, his steps long and purposeful as he left. I cast one more glance at Nathan, whose head was still hanging in his hands, and then turned to follow Jace out. Jace and I walked silently back into the main cabin of the airship.

I knew he was deep in his own thoughts at the moment, and I didn’t have any comforting words for him right now. As afraid and horrified by the update as I was, I had most of my friends with me on the ship, and the woman I presumed was my mother was also with us. I was terrified for our friends and Little John team members, but Jace’s whole life had been back in Edgewood. And someone, maybe even someone that we knew and had spoken to before, had taken steps to try to destroy that. I wordlessly followed Jace’s lead as he walked, determined to be there for him. Jace headed directly to the airship’s controls and Alexy. “Where is Brightbirch?” he demanded when he approached her. “How long will this take?” Alexy turned her eyes toward Jace, then looked back to the inky night sky outside the windshield. “North of Edgewood,” she replied tensely. “I can’t give an estimate just yet.

” “Have you been there before?” Jace asked. Alexy simply shook her head no. Jace fell silent again. His jaw was clenched and his fists were balled at his sides. It looked like he was ready to explode out of his skin with anger and anxiety. We had no idea who could’ve been behind the betrayal. We didn’t know who had been lost and who had been saved yet, with the exception of Corona. With Nathan stewing in his cabin, all we knew was that we were headed to another Little John base: Brightbirch. Nelson was working on the new flight coordinates nearby. She glanced over her shoulder at me, and we briefly made eye contact.

Something about my expression must’ve relayed the gravity of the situation to her because her brow furrowed and worry set in on her face. How long was Nathan going to keep the rest of the team in the dark? How long before everyone would need to know that someone in Edgewood had betrayed us all? The question was quickly answered for me. A hush fell over the main cabin as everyone turned to face Nathan, who was now approaching the front of the ship. It was obvious that he was preparing to share information with the entire team. “Change of plans,” he stated simply. His face still bore the burdened look that Jace and I had seen in the back cabin. It made him look so much older. “We’re not going back to Edgewood due to security concerns. We’ll be meeting Edgewood members at another base. They’re on their way via airship now,” Nathan said, his voice monotone.

And then, without another word, he turned and walked back to his cabin. Security concerns? Wasn’t this a little more serious than that? Jace’s stunned expression validated my feelings. How could Nathan act like this now, when we needed him most? And why were we even meeting at another Little John base if there was a traitor in our midst? Wouldn’t that endanger an entirely new base? Jace stepped away, and I let him go alone. There was nothing that anyone could’ve said at that moment to take away any of his fear or pain, and I didn’t want to crowd him while he processed his thoughts. Jackie walked up to me with a puzzled expression. “Did Nathan say anything to you and Jace about these new plans?” she asked. Ant and Abe walked up to join us with similarly perplexed looks. I looked around at the three of them and felt a strange sort of hurt. What if any of them had stayed behind in Edgewood? Would they have been part of the lucky band of survivors? Or would they have been lost to us? I was also uncomfortable with the position that Nathan had put me in. This wasn’t my news to share with the team, and I didn’t know how to do it.

Besides, I really didn’t know much more than they did. But I knew they deserved to know what had happened, whether or not Nathan was willing to go into the details. “Edgewood is gone. We were betrayed,” I said. Jackie’s eyes went wide in response. “Betrayed?” she repeated incredulously. “By who?” “If Nathan knows then he’s not telling yet,” I replied. But I felt confident that Nathan didn’t know. If he knew then he would’ve been planning our next steps already. In the absence of any real answers, all he could do was guess at what to do next.

Brightbirch felt like part of that guessing game. “Wait, wait, wait,” Abe started. “What do you mean it’s gone?” I shook my head. “Nathan said it’s gone and a lot of people were lost,” I replied. That was honestly all I knew. And I was still feeling as if I had gotten out of the destruction too easily. Juno, whoever she truly was, was on board, and Hope was safe, and . Henry. The realization made my blood run cold. Henry had been back on base in Edgewood at the time of the attack.

What if he had been lost? I had never been closer to finding Hope, and I couldn’t imagine losing Henry right before possibly bringing our daughter home. Suddenly my heart was racing and my palms were sweaty. I had brought Henry with us to keep him safe. What if I had doomed him instead? Henry was my oldest friend, and things had just started to get better between us. Was it all for naught? “I think we’re all missing the big question here. Which is why are we going to meet up at another Little John base if we have a mole among us?!” Ant asked. No one responded to Ant. Obviously we all agreed with his reasoning, and only Nathan could give us an answer. There was a hushed conversation happening among the tech and flight teams behind us, and I noticed that Sy was speaking to the entire group at once. Suddenly he stopped speaking and the team seemed to break up, half of them going back to their duties and half of them walking away as if to take a break.

Nelson was part of the second group. She walked up to us with her lips in a taut line and her jaw set. “Guessing you guys have already heard about Edgewood,” she said when she reached us. “Nathan gave Sy orders to tell the tech team.” “Did he elaborate on why we’re rendezvousing right now when we should probably all be running for the hills?” Ant asked in an exasperated tone. “No, but our fuel reserves are low. So I’m willing to bet that played a big part in his logic,” Nelson replied. I hadn’t considered that possibility, but it did make sense. We couldn’t exactly land at any old gas station to fill up the airship. Especially not after a prolonged air battle with the government and infiltration of the Helping Hands compound.

And not when so many of our most advanced and experienced teams were all on board together . “Wait,” I said. “What if this whole mission was just a ruse to get all of the combat teams out of Edgewood? What if the mole needed us to leave so that the government wouldn’t have to put up with much fight back in Edgewood?” Nelson’s eyes narrowed in thought. “But that doesn’t make much sense. Why attack Edgewood if you’re not going to be able to take out any of the mission teams?” “And Nathan,” Jackie added. “He’s a pretty big part of the picture. If the mole had wanted to do the most damage, you’d think they’d want Nathan taken out with the rest of Edgewood.” “Yeah, but Corona was there,” Abe replied. “And she’s not exactly a small target herself.” It was true that Edgewood had been primed for an attack and completely vulnerable, but they were right.

Why attack when so many team members and Nathan weren’t on base? What was the mole’s reasoning there? “We’ll know more once we can talk to Corona and the other Edgewood survivors,” Nelson said. Edgewood survivors. The phrase made me uncomfortable because of its obvious inference: Edgewood casualties. I looked toward the back of the airship and saw Jace standing silently beside Kory’s draped figure. We had already lost enough of our team. “Flight and tech teams, back to your stations! Everyone else needs to prepare for descent,” Sy shouted out in his deep, authoritative voice. “Good luck,” Jackie said to Nelson. Nelson nodded and then walked back to the front of the airship. The rest of us walked over to the rows of seats and sat down to strap ourselves in. I saved a seat beside me for Jace.

I looked back to see him let go of Kory’s hand and then begin to walk toward me, and my heart broke for him all over again. His handsome face was etched with a pain and worry that I knew I wouldn’t be able to relieve him of. Nothing would lighten his anxieties until we were actually on the ground and could see Rhea and Denver and Alf. If they had made it. He sat beside me without saying anything, and I held my silence too. But then his large, warm hand found mine and our fingers intertwined. And although he still wasn’t speaking, that action spoke more than any words ever could. Even in the midst of his pain and suffering he still wanted to be there to comfort me and be comforted by my presence. My heart swelled with love and sympathy for him. As the pressure in the cabin began to change, signifying that our altitude was dropping, I looked back once more to see Juno on her stretcher.

I still wasn’t one hundred percent sure who she was. And I was worried about bringing her into Brightbirch with all of the confusion and fear that was following us from Edgewood. But whatever happened, I was happy to have brought her with us and away from the evil grasp of Helping Hands. My mother or not, I was glad that she was with us and safe. For now.

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