With a snort, he strode past her and headed off in the direction she’d indicated.
Blair grimaced. Easy for him to say. He hadn’t gotten shot during her attempt to free Marcus from the prison Connor had put him in.
Fortunately, the wound hadn’t been as serious as she’d ﬁrst thought. It had probably been a ricochet, and though it had hurt like hell at the time and half paralyzed her leg, it had done a good job of healing in the week and a half since then.
It still wasn’t completely well, though, and too much exertion was bad for it. Barnes probably knew that.
And he obviously didn’t care.
With a sigh, Blair hurried to catch up to him.
The mysterious hump Blair had seen had been reasonably visible from the air. From the ground, with the western sun exaggerating every shadow, it was even more obvious.
It wasn’t a root that had been forced up out of the ground. Instead, it was a root-sized cable.
“Coaxial type,” she commented, pointing to the central core and surrounding shielding where Barnes had sliced through it with his trench knife. “Outer shielding
“Okay,” Barnes said, restlessly turning his knife over and over in his hand. “So?”
“So it was obviously designed to be at least semi- permanent,” Blair said, trying to think it through. “And yet it was buried barely thirty centimeters under the sand.”
“Okay,” Barnes said again. “So?”
“So I’m guessing it was an add-on,” Blair concluded, squinting northwest across the glare of the sunlight reﬂecting off the sand. “Something Skynet laid down after the main lab was set up.” She gestured down. “And the fact that this is a data cable and not a power cable
tells us it was sending information.”
“Maybe it was going over the mountains to San Francisco,” Barnes said. “Can we get out of here now?”
“That’s an awfully long way to string a cable,” Blair pointed out, the annoyance she’d been sitting on ever since leaving Connor’s camp starting to bubble up into anger. Was Barnes really too stupid to see what that could mean? Or was he playing dumb just to irritate her? “Especially when they had a dish array right here that could probably punch a signal anywhere on the planet.”
“Fine,” Barnes growled. “You’re the smart one. What do you think it was?”
“Well, let’s see,” she said, for once making no effort to suppress her sarcasm. “You think maybe Skynet might have set up an outlying satellite base out in the mountains? A backup facility in case—oh, I don’t know—we managed to take out this one?”
“If there’s something out there, what’s it been doing since then?” Barnes shot back. “Didn’t make a peep while we were blowing up San Francisco.” He pointed toward the mountains. “Or maybe there’s a whole bunch of H-Ks heading toward us from the place right now. You see a bunch of H-Ks heading toward us?”
Blair ground her teeth. “Of course not,” she said. “But I still think it’s worth checking out.”
“So write it up,” Barnes growled. “Connor loves getting stuff like that.”
“Or we could just check it out ourselves,” Blair said. “See if there really is something out there before we bother him with it.”
For another moment Barnes glowered at her. Then, reluctantly, he shifted his glower toward the mountains. Whatever the man thought about Blair, he was hound- dog loyal to Connor, and even in his current grouchy state of mind he couldn’t help but see the logic of not
burdening his commander with extra stuff during the man’s recovery. Especially if, as he obviously thought, there turned out to be nothing out there at all. “Fine,” he agreed at last. “A quick check, and then we go.”
“Thanks.” Blair braced herself. “But we’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”
Barnes twisted his head back around to look at her.
“We need to be able to see the loops where the explosion forced the cable to the surface,” Blair explained hurriedly. “I know there are more of them—I saw at least three on our way in. But we’ll need the shadows from an early-morning sun to see them. At night, we’ll lose the trail completely.”
Barnes snorted. “This is ridiculous. It probably just connects to one of the perimeter sensors.”
“Maybe,” Blair conceded. “But we won’t know unless we check it out.” She waved a hand. “Look, it isn’t that big a deal. We take off as soon as the sun is up, follow the cable, turn the Blackhawk’s machineguns loose on whatever’s at the other end, and go home.” She cocked her head slightly. “Caleb would have wanted to make sure.”
The instant the words were out of her mouth she knew she’d crossed the line. But it was too late. Barnes’s expression went rigid, and for that ﬁrst frozen second Blair felt she was staring death squarely in the face.
“Don’t do that,” he said, the utter lack of emotion in his voice more terrifying than any scream or curse he could have snarled at her. “Don’t ever use my brother’s name that way again. Ever.”
“You’re right,” Blair said, her mouth suddenly dry. “I’m sorry.”
For another moment she faced into the bitter iciness of Barnes’s gaze. Then, he exhaled quietly, and the moment had passed.
“I’ll be sleeping on the right-hand side of the chopper,” he said grufﬂy. “Shoot anything that comes near that isn’t me.” Turning, he stalked back toward the distant Blackhawk.
“Right,” Blair called a bit timidly after him. “I’ll take the ﬁrst watch, then?”
Barnes didn’t bother to reply.
Blair gave the new grave a ﬁnal look. Then she set off after him.
She had the ﬁrst watch, all right. And given that it would be her job to wake him up for his turn, chances were very good that she was going to have the only watch.
She sighed. It was shaping up to be a long, lonely, chilly night.