I lay in the middle of our room. Beside me, Nicole counted out her thirtieth sit-up.
A guttural groan ground out below us. It climbed through the layers of earth and stone, clutching for the surface. Vibrations shivered through the walls.
It emerged, its bellow echoed between the bare concrete walls of our cell. I sprang to my feet and braced myself in the center of the room, ready to avoid falling debris. The others, fear clear on their faces, stood by my side.
The earthquake struck with a vengeance. The entire room shook. It started slowly, but the intensity built rapidly.
The floor rolled beneath our feet. The concrete rippled and slammed one of the beds into the wall. Shards of wood rained down across the cell.
Heavy boots pounded past our door. They gave no thought to us, caged like animals. People screamed, but we remained silent. I concentrated on maintaining my footing as terror raced through me and adrenaline saturated my body.
A light bulb crashed to the floor, it shattered and sprayed glass everywhere. A chunk of concrete fell from the ceiling. I dove away, barely escaping in time. Dust tumbled around us.
Nicole moved on the edge of my vision. She ducked, swept Mouse’s enormous textbook from the ground, and sent it flying at the camera, mounted high on the wall, in one smooth movement. She didn’t even stagger when a particularly large tremor shook the room. The book connected perfectly. The camera hung by a single wire, the lens faced the wall.
It was time to put her escape plan into action.
The bed closest to the door crumbled as more concrete fell. A slab smashed and shards ricocheted over us. I turned and covered my face with my arms, but a piece glanced off my forehead. Others landed harmlessly, if not painlessly, across my body.
The pounding slowed, but my heart continued to race.
“Michaela!” Nicole screeched, as soon as the shaking diminished enough to move safely. “Kayla! Please, please wake up!”
It took barely a moment to click; she yelled for the benefit of the guards.
Briana and Mouse followed her lead. They cried and shouted and screamed.
Nicole pushed me to a spot by one of the collapsed beds. I arranged myself in a heap while the others piled fractured wood over my legs.
They heard us. The order to take our places didn’t come, only a screech of static before the door opened.
I kept still and silent as I peered out from beneath lowered lashes. The others waited on either side of the door, backs pressed against the cracked wall.
The guards saw me immediately. Forgetting protocol, they stepped straight over the threshold. It took only a fraction of a moment for them to realize they’d been tricked, but that’s all we needed.
Mouse forced the first guard’s gun high and Nicole delivered a sharp blow to the side of his neck. Mouse finished him with a hard knee below the ribcage. He buckled and dropped to the floor. The girls moved onto the men behind him.
They could do nothing but wait for their turn. The men’s weapons were too big and the doorway too narrow. If they had tried to shoot us, they’d have hit the guards in front of them.
Briana retrieved the fallen man’s gun. I surged to my feet; splinters fell from the creases of my clothes.
We easily overpowered the five men. They hadn’t sent many guards; whether they were otherwise occupied in the aftermath of the quake or they’d underestimated us, I didn’t know, but it didn’t matter. One would have assumed, seeing as they'd made us, they’d have a better understanding of our capabilities, especially after their experimentation.
We secured the unconscious men's hands behind their backs using their own flexi-cuffs and stripped them of their weapons; there was a small arsenal. Three carried assault rifles, which the others took. I tucked a folding knife into my pocket and a Beretta handgun into the back of my pants.
I picked up another handgun from the guard closest to the door and tested the weight in my hand to re-familiarize myself with it. Nicole and Mouse removed the radios from the two that carried them and plugged the receivers into their own ears.
Last, we removed their watches. We synched them and we were done.
“Ready?” Nicole stood by the door, gun raised.
I took a deep breath. It was now or never.
“Five minutes, no more. We have to be out of here ASAP,” Nicole said.
I took note of the time and followed her into the corridor.
Nicole took the lead running. I followed directly behind her, with Mouse and Briana behind me. She led us in the direction of the weapons and ammunition room on the other side of the complex. It had been a long time since we’d been free to explore, but things hadn’t changed much.
Outside the screams continued, punctured by gunfire. What was going on? A loud rumble sounded. Something crashed, the impact echoed through the entire building.
We only ran into one other person en route, a single guard. He didn’t hesitate to surrender when faced by the barrels of our guns. Briana bound his hands and attached him to the nearest door handle before we continued toward the armory.
Seeing so few people put me on edge. It was like waiting for someone to leap out and surprise us.
The armory was easy enough to find—it had always been in a room behind the supply store. Guy, the guard on duty in the cage, smiled when we entered. He wasn’t at all intimidated by the guns pointing in his direction, nor did he appear shaken by the quake.
Guy was older than us, perhaps in his late thirties or early forties. He’d been here for my whole life. Not many of the old staff remained from before our confinement, but Guy was one of them.
Even though he still worked in the laboratories, he wasn’t allowed any contact with us. It had something to do with the staff developing relationships and compassion. The scientists didn’t want anyone there to comfort us; we were supposed to be completely reliant on our team mates and ourselves, not anyone else.
He lifted his arms above his head and walked to the door.
“I was wondering when you were going to make a break for it.”