I hugged my brother tightly for a short moment. He was such a good protector when he could. When our family was together, there wasn't anything that anyone could do.
Then the lights came on. Stanyard was probably coming down. He always switched the lights on before he came down, so that we could be sure it wasn't an arrest.
I watched his legs drop down through the shaft, his head in a blur. He never used the rungs more than he could help it. He joked that it was for finger prints sake, but I think he was over crediting his security measures.
I looked to him for some happy conversation. He was always as happy as he could be with us. But not this time.
"I've got interesting news, folks."
Ephesus looked back at him, "Looks to be more than interesting by your demeanor... by what should I call you?"
"You can call me Augustine."
Ephesus whistled. "I should have figured you were at the bottom of this. Augustine's got a reputation with us all."
"Right, of course. Now, the news."
Nic coughed in the corner. "Ahem. Is any of this classified against atheists?"
Stanyard shrugged off the comment. "It's for any one who happens to be hiding in this safe house, religious affiliation is of no consideration. We think there's been a leak."
Nic's eyes grew wide, "You think there's been a what?"
Ephesus quipped, "A leak. It's what you call it when stuff flows out of a test tube, Doctor."
Cea was less jocular than either of the young men. "Do you mean we should expect the Peace-Keepers in here in no time?"
Stanyard shook his head. "No. Not in no time. But not in much time, if they come at all. I was afraid of this when I picked you all up. They let Caesar and Philli go, more or less."
Cea was indignant. "We shot up a storm to get to the basement. Several of them are dead now. They did not let us go."
Stanyard looked back, "Obviously you haven't operated in the field much, Caesar. They let you and those guards all go. Peace-keepers and security are cheaper than intelligence. They just bought Augustine's location with the lives of a few soldiers."
Stanyard turned to Nic, Smyrna, and Ephesus. "Your escape sped things up. I don't think they tracked you all around. Your escapes were well executed. But they aroused suspicion. And they are hoping to nab you all as well as me at the same time. They undoubtedly know about Caesar's cellphone, and a host of other things, so this would be a big haul for them. If they catch us."
Smyrna was suspicious himself. "How do we know there has been a leak. Couldn't be some genius counter-plotting counter-intelligence type arrangement?"
"Several of our best sources corroborate the information. It comes from very high up. The top branches of the United want to grab us. Especially because of Nic."
Nic doubted his importance. "Because of me? Are you sure it's not just jealousy of your pizza recipe? Maybe they are literary critics dying to get their hands on a Bible?"
Stanyard turned the tables. "Doctor Nic, you are the singular only prisoner ever to leave Rott. You proceeded to research weaponry, sponsored by the state, and then escape with two Christian compatriots in terrorism from only a year ago. Your sudden series of successes makes them suspect an inside job. This isn't just routine 'Christian-hunting' or protocol. This is political. The fascists figure the libertarians are up to something. They smelled us out."
Stanyard turned his head to address us all. "So this operation must immediately foreclose. I have already initiated my automatic self-destruct sequences upstairs, deleting my digital information en masse. Once that is done I will start smashing the hardware itself, down to the pizza ovens. Everything valuable must get out of here at once, which means you all first."
Smyrna said, "And what about you?"
"I'll go out last. To be sure there is nothing behind. If I leave any trace, they will be on my tail forever. Augustine has to vanish."
Cea's nerves were visibly close to fraying. "The same goes for us, Augustine. I can't ever go back to my real name, nor can any of us. We are all wanted people now, not just for believing in God unconditionally."
Augustine chewed on that for a second. "Well then, welcome to the underground for the rest of your lives."
My voice came out shaky. "I... I am not sure I like that." In a strange way, being Unaccepted and all the paper-work that went with that was an identity for me. At least concrete walls held out the world from coming down against us.
Augustine looked at me. "No more identity cards. No more files to sign and not sign. You will legally not exist. Doesn't it sound like an adventure?" The flare in his eyes caught me. "It's an Unaccepted dream! Freedom from prison, Phil. Because if they ever catch you now, they'll probably kill you."
Nic's voice chuckled out of the shadows. "And if they don't, you'll be left to rot!"