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Strathmore replaced his Skypager in his pocket and peered through the darkness toward Node 3.

He reached for Susan’s hand. “Come on.”

But their fingers never touched.

There was a long guttural cry from out of the darkness. A thundering figure loomed‑a Mack truck bearing down with no headlights. An instant later, there was a collision and Strathmore was skidding across the floor.

It was Hale. The pager had given them away.

Susan heard the Berretta fall. For a moment she was planted in place, unsure where to run, what to do. Her instincts told her to escape, but she didn’t have the elevator code. Her heart told her to help Strathmore, but how? As she spun in desperation, she expected to hear the sounds of a life‑and‑death struggle on the floor, but there was nothing. Everything was suddenly silent‑as if Hale had hit the commander and then disappeared back into the night.

Susan waited, straining her eyes into the darkness, hoping Strathmore wasn’t hurt. After what seemed like an eternity, she whispered, “Commander?”

Even as she said it, she realized her mistake. An instant later Hale’s odor welled up behind her. She turned too late. Without warning, she was twisting, gasping for air. She found herself crushed in a familiar headlock, her face against Hale’s chest.

“My balls are killing me.” Hale panted in her ear.

Susan’s knees buckled. The stars in the dome began to spin above her.