QUOTE


"A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another; and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the dominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, an aristocracy, or a majority of the existing generation; in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by a natural tendency to one over the body." - John Stuart Mill, "On Liberty"

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Off The Edge: Part II

by


It was an unusually warm December night, and series of long, mournful sounds
reverberated through the small city of Blackwood, Virginia as the church
bells announced the arrival of midnight. A few pigeons flew startled up into
the air, leaving behind the scraps of garbage they had been picking off the
ground. After perching in the fire escape above for several seconds, they
glided back into the ally to continue the business of staying alive. In the
clear skies above, the moon shone on the wings of bats soaring silently
through the air, looking for insects to eat. In the buildings and houses
lining the streets, the city's residents lay sound asleep, relaxing in their
beds after the last day's work. It looked like any other normal night, a
peaceful time to rest with nothing out of the ordinary.

However, on this particular night, nothing could be farther from the truth.
On the outskirts of town, near the edge that separated the suburbs from the
forests and slopes of the Appalachian Mountains, was a fenced in cluster of
buildings. To the casual observer, it looked like it may be a camp, or maybe
a park, or even a local government building. But upon closer inspection, the
observer would notice several unsettling characteristics that set it apart
from similar structures. First of all, the barbed wire on the top of the
chain-link fence was tilted towards the buildings, meaning it was there to
keep people in, not out. Also, the dogs pacing along the fence were not the
friendly, Frisbee-catching golden retrievers you might find in a park, but
vicious looking Dobermans. And finally, the uniformed men standing guard in
the security station near the gate carried unusually large guns.
The large sign outside the gate said, in big black letters, "Blackwood
Academy" and in smaller letters below, "Juvenile Correction Facility." This
was not a camp, and it certainly wasn't a park. This was where the young men
and women deemed dangerous by the powers that be were sent to be reformed
into good, productive citizens. The boys and girls inside were not happy.
But tonight, neither were the adults.

+++++++

"Alright, what happened?" a worried looking man in a blue guard uniform
demanded. He spread a map of the city and the surrounding countryside out on
the table.
"We don't really know at this point," another guard said, staring at the
floor. "We think they may have picked the lock, but we can't find the tool
they used. And god only knows how they made it out of the grounds."
The first guard took a deep breath. "So, we're positive they're not still
inside, hiding somewhere?"
"Yeah, we found blood on the barbed wire of the fence on the western side.
My guess is they're probably somewhere in the city."
The first guard looked pale. "Shit, the boss isn't going to like this at
all..." he drummed his fingers on the table, thinking.
"Alright," he said finally, looking resolute. "I want a security detail sent
into the city immediately. And call the police, see if we can get their help
this time. Bring them in, but try to keep it as quiet as possible. And
whatever you do, don't let the media get ahold of this. The last thing we
need now is another inspection."
The second guard racked his shotgun and started for the door. Then he
stopped abruptly. He turned toward the first guard with a scared look.
"What about Scott?"
The first guard looked momentarily shaken, then stood up looking determined.
" I'll tell him, and if this doesn't work out I'll take full responsibility.
Now go, and good luck."
The second guard looked at him admirably, then headed back towards the door.
But before he could get there, it swung open. He took a sharp breath, and
backed up to the table, standing at attention.

A tall man had just entered the room and calmly looked around. Although he
was unarmed and wearing a suit instead of a guard uniform, the guards
reacted as thought he were carrying the worlds most deadly weapon. He was
Mr. Scott, the director of the facility, and was feared by the guards almost
as much as the prisoners. He turned towards the guard standing over the map
and gave him a horrible false smile that sent chills down the guard's spine.
"Well?" he asked in a smooth, soft voice. "I assume the situation is under
control?"
The guard tried to sound as professional as possible. Despite Mr. Scott's
calm facade, he knew he was enraged at the lapse in security. "Well, not yet
sir. But we have a promising lead, see we found some blood on the Western
fence which means they've probably headed for the city. We've got security
men ready to go, and we were about to notify the police-"
"No." Mr. Scott interrupted, his smooth demeanor vanishing almost instantly.
"No police. We handle this ourselves. I don't want anybody to know about
this that doesn't have to, it may give them an excuse for inspection."
He turned to the second guard. "Leave immediately. I want them back by
tomorrow morning, then we'll make an example of them in front of the rest.
Now hurry." The guard looked relieved, and rushed out of the room. A moment
later, the sound of multiple car engines could be heard moving through the
gate.

Scott turned back towards the first guard. "Alright captain, what
information do you have on them?"
The guard hurriedly opened a file on the computer, glad that the director
hadn't held him responsible.
"Two of them got out, I don't think any others were trying. A girl, Jessica
Williams, age 15, and her brother Andrew, age 13. They were brought here
together last year."
Mr. Scott glanced over the file, his face expressionless.
"They haven't finished being processed here; if someone found them then they
might tell about us. We can't risk an inspection, captain. I want them found
immediately."
The guard nodded and left the room. Mr. Scott stayed for another minute,
looking at the file.
He had no doubt that the kids would be caught. And when he finished with
them they would never escape again, even if they could. He smiled, and gazed
out the window at the dark, quiet city, where he knew that they were hiding.

++++++

The pigeons scattered, deserting their meals once again as two dark figures
ran down the ally, their footsteps echoing off the walls. Reaching the end
of the passage, they stopped, looking around wildly. Finally, one of them
jumped up and pulled herself over the rail onto the fire escape. The one
still on the ground tried, and failed.
"Jesse, help! I can't get over!"
She looked back down the ally, and could hear voices coming. She reached out
her hand and pulled her brother up onto the platform. Then panting, they
both ran up the stairs. They went up along the face of the building, and
Jesse had a sinking feeling in her stomach that there was no way out but the
roof. Then finally, she saw a door with a lighted sign above saying, "Fourth
Floor Exit, Emergency Only." At the moment, she couldn’t think of a
situation that more qualified as an emergency. Shoving the door open, she
ran inside towing her brother along by the hand.

Immediately, lights began flashing and a loud chirping sound blasted from a
speaker. Shit, she thought, the door was wired! She ran back through the
door, but saw a white van parked at the end of the ally. It opened, and four
armed men in uniforms jumped out and ran towards her, yelling.
She darted back inside the building, and she and her brother ran down the
hallway. The fourth floor was a winding maze of hallways and empty offices,
and she desperately hoped they might lose their pursuers somewhere, and buy
some time to get out.
But suddenly, she heard them from behind. The sound of boots and deep voices
were coming from somewhere close. Her attempt to evade the men had failed.
Jesse felt panic rising inside her, and for a moment she felt the empty
feeling of despair. There was no way out.
Then she felt something different, her brother was tugging at her shirt.
"Andy what is it?" she whispered. He pointed towards an unlocked door that
said "Stairway C," and she felt a glimmer of hope return. He wrenched open
the door and they dashed through, just as the men rounded the corner. Jesse
had one last glimpse of their leader swearing as she locked the door from
inside and they started down, taking the stair three at a time. Finally they
reached the bottom, and ran into a dim parking garage. Normally, nobody
would go to a place like this at night. There were more muggers and drug
dealers in places like this than anywhere else in the city. But to Jesse and
Andy, it looked like the most beautiful room in the world. A cool breeze of
night air was blowing through the rows of columns and the few cars left,
guiding them towards the outside, and freedom.

They had just made it through the garage entrance as lights shone out of the
darkness and a voice yelled "YOU! Stop where you are, get down on the
ground!"
Jesse froze. There had been more men in the van, lying in wait on the street
outside. She heard Andy yell just as two of them jumped out of the shadows
and grabbed her and her brother. Once they were pinned to the ground, on of
them pulled out a pair of handcuffs.
"Thought you could escape, eh? When the boss is done with you won't even
remember the meaning of the word..."
Jesse tried desperately to think of something, but nothing came. She had
failed to protect her brother, and now they were going back. All the work,
all her careful planning was wasted just like that.

All of the sudden, she heard a scream. Thinking it was her brother in pain,
she started to think of what to say to comfort him when she realized the
scream had come from the guard. Confused, she lifted her head from the
pavement and looked around. The guard that had been holding her brother was
lying on the ground, and there was a knife in his back. Blood was oozing out
of the hole, and his shirt was turning red. The other guard jumped off her
and reached for his gun. But before he could pull it out, there was a blast
of painfully loud popping noises and the guard's body shook as he was
knocked back against the wall, his shirt full of bloody holes. The man
driving the van hit the gas, and was trying to turn around and get away when
more pops came, this time accompanied by brilliant flashes of light. The
van's tires exploded, and the driver had time for one panicked shout as it
flipped over on its side and smashed into a streetlight.

Unable to believe what she was seeing, Jesse slowly sat up and grabbed her
brother's hand. He pointed with one shaking finger at the corner of the
building. There was a person walking swiftly out of the shadows, with a
wicked looking submachinegun in his hand. When he got close enough for the
streetlights to illuminate his face, she saw he was young, not much older
than her. He had a patched, worn-out backpack and equally battered clothes.
He was dirty, tired, and disheveled, but the look on his face was one of
cold determination as he stared at the bloody scene in front of him.
Jesse and Andy stared at him in shock, and when he looked at them he looked
concerned.
"I'm Joe Murphy. I don't know who you are, but I'm guessing you're no friend
of the authorities. More of them will be here soon, come with me quick!"

TO BE CONTINUED

Joe held out his hand and helped them to their feet. He didn't know who they
were or where they came from, but they seemed to be in the same situation
he'd been in three months ago when he escaped from his hometown and he
couldn't resist giving them some assistance. Apparently they hadn't been
desensitized to killing yet, seeing as they were both trembling and
speechless as they looked around at the devastation in the street. Joe sized
them up quickly. There was a pale, black haired girl about as old as he was,
and a younger boy who was gripping her hand and looking absolutely
terrified.

Joe glanced around again. "We've got to go, they'll be coming any minute
now."
They still didn't move.
Joe was getting nervous. He didn't know how widespread the search had been;
there could still be more men around.
"Look, I know this looks bad. But I swear, I'm on your side. We can worry
about who to trust later, right now we've got to move. You're in danger."
The girl seemed to wake up upon hearing this, and raised her head.
"Who are you?" she asked in small voice.
Joe was getting impatient. "I'll explain later. LET'S GO!"
Pulling them both behind, he kicked open the door and scanned the inside.
Jackpot. He let go of her hand and started picking up guns. He grabbed a
scoped AR-15, two Glock 9mm pistols, and a bandolier of magazines. He
stuffed on of the pistols into his pants, handed the rifle to the girl, then
tossed the other pistol to the boy. They both looked stunned, as if he'd
just handed them poisonous snakes, but they seemed to be out of the shocked
trance from a minute ago.
Joe reloaded his MP5, and looked both of them in the eyes.
"I really hope you don't have to use those, but if you stay here they'll use
them on you. Follow me." He turned and ran down an ally. At first they
hesitated, but after a second or two he heard their footsteps echoing down
the street behind him.
Note to self, he thought, teach the new kids how to walk quietly.

They ran through the dark city streets, deserted except for the occasional
stoner lying on the curb. Joe could hear the sirens stop, and the some
yelling. He assumed the local police had found his latest crime scene, but
he was confident he hadn't left any evidence. He had been traveling south
for nearly three months, and it hadn't been an easy trip. The police hadn't
just let him go, they'd dogged him halfway down the Eastern seaboard as he
traveled by train, car, and many times on foot. He'd had to a great deal
more fighting since he'd blasted his way out of his town, and was getting
quite good at it.
But here, things were different. He wasn't solo anymore, he had company now,
and until they learned to defend themselves he felt responsible for their
safety. Living on the run was not for anyone, and he knew from their
reactions to the violence back at the van that they wouldn't last a second
out here on they're own.

He stopped at a small park on the outskirts of town, and ducked down behind
a bush. He gestured for them to do the same, and when they were both
crouched beside him he pointed off towards the East, towards a deserted
development on the waterfront of the river winding it's way around the city.
"That," he said, pointing at a dilapidated, abandoned old three-story
townhouse with boarded up windows and a roof covered in birdshit, "Is where
we're going."
They both looked at him strangely, but he chose to ignore it. Poking his
head out from under the bush, he quickly looked around for anybody who might
see him. When Joe was certain that the coast was clear, he darted across the
street and flattened himself against the wall, looking around the dim, dirty
street again. This kind of paranoia probably seemed excessive to people not
in Joe's situation, like the two kids standing alongside him, but Joe had
learned the hard way that enemies can reveal themselves anywhere, at
anytime. He wasn't sure how many muggers had met their grisly deaths before
that lesson had been pounded into his head, but he was guessing it was a
lot.

He crept around to the back of the building, where there were a few old
docks that looked like they hadn't seen a boat in decades. Getting down on
his hands and knees, he crawled under the dock and pushed some reeds aside,
to reveal a small hole in the foundation just big enough to climb through.
He lowered his body into the hole, then looked at them expectantly. They
were both looking at him like he was insane, but he grinned and held out his
hand.
"Sorry, the revolving door broke down. Come on, it's perfectly safe."
Hesitantly, the girl laid the gun on the ground and ducked under the docks.
Joe held her hand as he helped her into the hole, and she seemed to relax a
little. Then, as though remembering the situation, she snatched the gun up
again and gave Joe a suspicious look.
She spoke for the first time. "Ok, we're in your hideout thing but I still
don't trust you. I'm not putting this down, and if you do anything to my
brother I'll blow your head off. Now help him down."
So they were related, Joe thought. Interesting. He was pretty sure she
wasn't capable of shooting him, but he'd been wrong before.
"Don't worry, I'm not gonna hurt you. Do you think I'd have given you a gun
if I was?"
She seemed to take comfort in this, but she didn't lower the gun until her
brother was safely inside. Joe reached through and shoved the reeds back
into place, making the doorway all but invisible.

He waved his arm around the room and bowed. "Welcome to my home, it's not a
Hilton but it's better than nothing, and it's even got its own water
supply." He smiled and pointed at the basement floor, which was flooded with
at least three inches of water. He had set up a series of stepping stones to
get to the stairs, and had improvised a water system that siphoned it to the
upper floors, and ran it through a filter he'd jury-rigged out of stuff at
the aquarium section of the local pet store. Joe was proud of it, but his
guests didn't seem all that impressed.
He lead them to the stairs, hopping across the stones and pulling open the
door. It came off it's hinges in his hand, and he shrugged and threw it into
the water where it floated like a weird sort of raft. He led them upstairs
to the first floor. It was dark, but he lit a few candles and illuminated a
sofa, some dirty ripped chairs, and a large table. The table was covered
with all sorts of criminal devices, from ammunition and scavenged gun
accessories, to ordinary tools and unfinished electrical devices. He heard
the boy gasp, and smiled.
"Don't worry, I told you I was on your side and I meant it. You're safe
here." He thought for a moment. "There are four floors, but we can't use the
basement. That leaves three, so each of us can have our own floor. Unless
you two want to stay together?"
The boy looked frantically at his sister, wide-eyed. She turned to Joe and
nodded.
"Ok then, that's settled. There's mattresses up there to sleep on, and I
think I have some extra blankets..."
The girl cut him off. "Hold on, before we stay in your...house...I want to
know who you are. You said your name was Joe Murphy, but that doesn't tell
me whether or not I can trust you. And I swore to keep Andy safe; I'm not
gambling our lives on a guy who just killed two people."
Joe was noticeably impressed at her dedication to her brother, who was
apparently named Andy. He smiled.
"Makes sense, I'd want to know the same if I were you. I don't know if you
read the news, but they've sort of been interested in me lately..." He
grabbed a bundle of crumpled newspapers from the table, and held them out.

Her eyes widened. The headlines screamed things like "Psychotic Teen Kills
Ten!" and "Young Vigilante Torches Town!" She dropped the papers and raised
the gun. Her brother's jaw dropped.
"I heard about you! They didn't give us access to the news back in the
academy, but I heard rumors...why the fuck should I trust you? You're a
killer!"
Joe's smile faltered. "Yes, I am a killer." He said in a tired voice. "But I
only killed when they tried to kill me." He put the gun down on the table,
and raised his hands.
"I know you don't want to, but I'm afraid at the moment you have to trust
me. You see, at the moment the streets are filling with people carrying
bigger guns than you who want to kill you. I'm the only one who can protect
you now, and I may need to trust you too."
The girl faltered, and lowered the gun a little. "Why?"
Joe looked at her seriously. "You said something about 'the academy,' you
don't mean the Blackwood Academy about a mile and a half from here, do you?"
She nodded.
Joe's face broke into a wide grin. "Excellent! See, that's why I stopped in
this town, it's why I'm still here. I'm planning to break inside the
facility to spring the other kids inside. And I'm going to need your help,
if you're willing."
She lowered the gun all the way.
"I promise you, I never killed anybody who didn't try to kill me first. If
we work together on this we all benefit, and we can help out some other
people too. What do you say? Will you trust me?" he held out his hand.
A moment passed, and then slowly she seemed to make up her mind. With a "for
better or worse" kind of look, she reached out and shook his hand. Joe gave
an approving smile.
"Cool. Now we should all go to sleep, it's been quite a day. Tomorrow, I
need you to give tell me everything you can about Blackwood Academy. Now
sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite. Seriously, you might want to shake
out the mattress or something, they love it here." He laughed a little, and
swore he saw her smile for the first time.

That night, nobody got much sleep. Joe lay awake marveling at his good luck
and thinking of everything he would need to know for the raid to go
smoothly. Jesse lay awake wondering if she'd made the right decision, torn
between the danger to her and her brother, and her desperate desire for
revenge against the place they had just escaped from and everything it stood
for. And Andy lay awake; wondering whether had made a good choice to work
with a terrorist.
If any of them knew how this would end, they might have made a different
decision. But they didn't.

+++++++

Mr. Scott paced around the table in the guard station. The map was still
there, but now there was a large red tack stuck into the location where the
attack had taken place, and a line running from it, back to the X marking
the building where they were now.
He looked up at the group of guards standing there, looking both nervous and
tired after chasing the escaped prisoners on a futile hunt through the city.
Four of them were the ones who had pursued them into the building, and they
were contemplating how lucky they were not to have stayed in the van. The
captain was also there, along with two of the men in charge of security
within the complex. They were all looking apprehensively at the director,
wondering what his reaction would be.
He stopped pacing. "So, what exactly happened? I'm getting a lot of reports
here, I want a clear answer."
One of the guards spoke up. "We were chasing them out of the building,
towards the ambush outside, see, and they went in the stairwell and locked
it from the inside. By the time we got it open and made it to the street,
the two guys at the bottom were dead, and," his voice choked, and he
swallowed. "The van was overturned, the guns were gone, and the driver was
unconscious. There were cops everywhere, I don't-" Mr. Scott held up his
hand.
"Are you trying to tell me that two unarmed teenagers killed your men and
destroyed then van?"
The guard shook his head.
"Well then who did? You talked to the police, what did they say? Was it some
kind of gang thing, were they stray bullets? I need information."
The captain cleared his throat. "The police don't know, but they said
whoever did it knew what he was doing."
Scott nodded solemnly. Then after a moment, he turned towards one of his
internal security men. "Were there any cameras?"
The guard nodded. "There was a digital security camera on a store across the
street, captured the whole thing. The police don't have access yet, they're
still trying to get a warrant."
Mr. Scott pointed at one of their computers. "You said it's digital, it's
probably a Webcam type thing. I want you to hack into the store's computer
and get me that footage."
The guard stared. "Sir, I can do that, but it's completely illegal..."
"I don't care. Do it."
The guard hesitated, then sat down in the chair and started typing
frantically.

Mr. Scott turned back towards the guards.
"Let me explain something here: we are not here to enforce the laws. I don't
want to here anybody else bitching about something being 'illegal.' My last
squad of guards were always bitching. Bitching about the cameras we put in
the showers, bitching about beating the brats who tried to escape, bitching
about using snitches, bitching about drugging the leaders of escape
movements. All the time, moan moan moan. Let me say it again: we are not
here to enforce the laws. What we are here to do is make them enforce the
laws. I fired the last guards and had to blackmail their families to keep
them quiet. Does that shock you? It shouldn't! I hired you because I know
you understand this. Now you just have to defend that idea, however you
can." His voice softened.

"I know how you feel, you look at those sobbing, weak little kids out there
and you feel sorry for them. But you've got to resist that. Those kids out
there will be the next politicians, the next CEO's, and most importantly the
next role models for their kids. And they've strayed from our path. We're
not the bad guys, we're helping the world. You must understand that we are
the last line of defense for today's society. If we let a bunch of
undisciplined delinquents take over for us after we die, our world will
collapse. It's up to us to protect them from themselves, and protect the
future from them. I know it sometimes feels wrong, but I swear to you it's
for their own good. They are the bacterium that threatens to grow, multiply,
and destabilize our way of life that's lasted for generations. You have to
abandon your morals, your ethics, everything you believe about what's good
and bad. You have to control them by any means necessary, and if they can't
be controlled then you remove them from the picture. It's harsh, but
abandoning our principals is the only way to protect them."
The guards were silent, absorbing what he had just said. He smiled. "I'm
counting on you to protect our great country's future, you should be proud."
A few of the guards grinned, others still looked uncertain. One of them
timidly raised his hand.
"What do you mean, remove them from the picture.?"
Mr. Scott looked him in the eyes.
"I think you know what I mean. I know it sounds cruel, but it's for the
greater good."
The guard took a deep breath, and nodded. He didn't make eye contact.

The man the computer slapped his hand down triumphantly. "Got it!"
Scott darted to the computer. The screen showed a blurry image of a man
shooting an automatic weapon, and two of his guards falling. A moment later,
he saw him run away with the two escaped prisoners behind him.
"Focus it" he snapped. The man nodded and clicked a few buttons. The image
got sharper and clearer.
"Zoom in on his face."
The guard complied and soon the shooter's face filled the screen.
Mr. Scott felt the air rush out of his lungs. He recognized the boy
immediately; he'd seen him on every newspaper and post office bulletin board
for the past three months.
The guard stared. "It can't be...Is that...?"
Scott gritted his teeth. "It's him alright. Delete this video. I don't want
a single trace left."
The guard gasped. "But sir, he's on the loose! We have to get this to the
police!"
Mr. Scott glared at him. "Listen to me, listen to me. If they suspect any
connection between our prisoners and him, they'll search us. They'll inspect
us. You know what will happen then? The human rights people will flood in,
the cops will shut us down, and everything we've worked so hard to create
will be destroyed just like that. We cannot let that happen. The number one
priority is to control the youth, if they all get switched to some baby camp
where they're coddled and helped, they'll just slip back to what they used
to be. Those human rights people mean well, I know they do, but they have no
sense of the big picture! Whether they like it or not, they need to be
protected from themselves."
The guard took a deep breath, and hit a button. The film disappeared, never
to return.
The guards looked at each other, trying to wrap their minds around what had
just happened. Mr. Scott had just let a terrorist remain on the loose to
protect his establishment. It sounded so wrong when they thought of it that
way, but the more they thought about it, the more it made sense in a cold,
Machiavellian way. Brainwashing was Scott's specialty, and the longer they
contemplated this, the more they agreed with it. Of course the future was
most important. Those people in the terrorist's way were already good
citizens, there were plenty of them; what mattered were the kids who would
one day take their place. How could they have ever thought differently?

Mr. Scott smiled inwardly. He knew he was good at his job, and he would need
the guards as obedient as possible. He understood that there was trouble
ahead, now that the boy who had made the FBI's most wanted list was involved
in his business.

TO BE CONTINUED

Joe sat in one of the dirty, overstuffed chairs eating some stale cereal
listening to Jesse describe their escape. Every once in a while, he'd write
something down on a piece of paper, or make a mark on the map of the Academy
he had flattened out on the table. Apparently, they had picked the lock on
their room door using a paper clip, then used the service exit to get out of
the building and onto the grounds. Once they were out there, there were
still the dogs and the guards to worry about.
"What did you do about the dogs?" Joe asked worriedly. He'd never had to
deal with vicious guard dogs and he didn't really want to.
Jesse smiled a little. "We saved up some of the meat they give us in the
cafeteria, and threw it off to the side hoping they'd go for that instead."
Joe raised his eyebrows. "Did it work?"
"No, it only distracted them for a few seconds and then we had to run for
it. But we managed to get over the fence before they caught up to us."
Joe nodded and bit his lip. "That's pretty impressive that you were able to
do that. Now, how well do you remember their security layout? Could you show
me on the map?"
Jesse nodded, and made some marks on the map indicating the positions of the
guards and watchtowers.
Joe frowned. This would be harder than he had initially thought. "
"I guess the director isn't taking any chances; this place has better
security than some military bases."
She nodded again. "Yeah, Mr. Scott made it clear: nobody goes in, and nobody
gets out without his permission."
"Who's Mr. Scott?"
She looked at him sharply, as thought he should have known this.
"He's the director. Now let me make one thing clear: you do whatever you
have to get us in, and get the others out. But if you kill him before I do,
I'll kill you."
Joe was taken aback.
"Jesse, I haven't exactly known you for very long but I can tell you're no
killer. What's so special about this guy? He's probably just some stupid
beurocrat, I hate them too but do you really want to kill him?"
She answered him without blinking. "Yes."
"Why?"
"If you knew him you'd understand. He's not just another lame counselor,
he's evil. There's no other word for it."
Joe looked doubtful. "Look, I can understand if you hate him but I think
evil may be a little strong..."
"We tried to escape once before. He put us in solitary confinement for three
weeks and had Andy drugged so badly that when we were finally released he
didn't recognize me." She stared into his eyes, and immediately understood
that she was serious.
He looked down. "I'm sorry, I didn't know..."
She seemed to relax a bit. "It's alright, it's not like we're the only ones
he ever did that stuff too. But I mean it, he's mine." Joe nodded.

Suddenly they both heard a creak from upstairs, and Joe instinctively
reached for his gun. But it was just Andy, coming down the stairs and
yawning. Jesse looked at Joe strangely, and he blushed and put the gun back
down. You've really got to stop being so damn paranoid, he told himself.
You've got company now.
He tossed Andy the cereal box. "Dig in, it's on the house."

+++++++

The door to Mr. Scott's office burst open and a guard rushed in.
"Sir, we've got em'."
Scott stood up quickly. "What do you mean?'
The guard looked extremely excited. "We got a tip sir, somebody saw them!
They found their hiding place and everything!"
Mr. Scott looked at him expectantly. "Well, where are they?"
"In an abandoned house down by the river. All three of them are there!"
Scott grabbed the phone. "Captain, I want you to take as many men as you can
spare and head down there immediately. Don't worry about stealth, nobody's
lived down there for years. I want Murphy dead, but make sure the others are
kept alive. Understand? We don't want parents to come around asking
questions. And no police. Good luck."
He hung up the phone triumphantly. It looked like this ordeal might be over
before it started.

+++++++

Joe was in the middle of giving Andy and Jesse a quick tutorial in the use
of of guns. Jesse looked excited, but Andy still seemed a little nervous as
a held the rifle in his hands.
"Ok, that's set on full auto now, but if you push that little switch down it
goes to single fire. That's more accurate, but slower. Below that's the
safety, always keep that on unless you're going to use it."
Andy practiced switching the gun from auto to semi, then put it down and
picked up the pistol.
"I think I like this one better. It's a lot lighter."
Joe smiled, and nodded in agreement. "Yeah, that's a Glock. It's a good gun,
just make sure you've pulled the slide back before you start fighting."
Andy tested the weight in his hand for a moment, then stuck it into his
pants. He looked at Joe timidly. "Is this safe?"
"Just make sure you've got the safety on. Now for the MP5, I..." he stopped
slowly. Jesse looked at him quizzically, then she heard it too. This part of
town had been deserted for years, but they distinctly heard the sounds of
cars coming down the street.

Joe rushed to the boarded up window, and stuck his eye up to a crack. It was
small, but he could see enough. His worst fears were confirmed.
There were two vans pulling up to the side of the street. The letters on the
sides said "Blackwood Academy security unit."
He turned around, pale. "They found us! I have no idea how, but they're
here."
Andy stared, and Jesse dashed to the window to see for herself. "But
how...you said we were hidden..."
"I know what I said," Joe yelled. "I don't know how they found us, but we've
got to get out of here NOW!"
Moving around the room as though he was on caffeine, he threw some clips and
the tools form the table into his backpack and put it on. Then he threw
Jesse his MP5 and picked up the rifle.
Andy looked shocked. "We're not actually going to...fight them are we?"
"Not if we can get out in time." Jesse said harshly. Joe looked at her in
surprise.
"Now hold on, I'm a wanted terrorist and I've got to leave. But they're not
going to kill you; you don't have to do this."
Jesse cocked the gun and shook her head. "I'm not going back there, and
neither is my brother. I'll die if I have to."
Joe didn't like that idea at all, but he was running out of time to argue.
The van doors were opening now and blue uniformed men were pouring our, all
of them holding guns. he could hear them running up to the house, and heard
orders being shouted. He turned back to Jesse desperately.
"Look, this is insane. Don't be a hero, just get out while you still can!"
She shook her head again. "No. I'm staying, and we're going to help you
break the others out.'
Joe tried to protest, but the sound of fists pounding on the door
interrupted him. There was nothing more he could do. He switched the gun to
full auto, and headed towards the basement.

He had just reached the basement door when he heard a sound that made his
heart nearly stop: a boot splashing in water. He drew his hand away from the
doorknob as if he'd been burned. Somehow, although it didn't seem possible,
they'd found the secret entrance under the dock.
Joe turned around, and looked at them grimly. "They've got every entrance on
the ground floor covered, I have no idea how. There may be another way,
follow me." He grabbed something of the table, and ran up the stairs. Clouds
of dust erupted into the air every time one of them took a step, and Joe
prayed for the stairs not to collapse under the weight of the three of them.

Joe had just reached the second floor when the front door splintered and
fell, and six men burst into the room. Jesse screamed, and Andy pulled her
around the wall at the top of the stairs just as the guards opened fire. The
booming sounds of six .45's being fired simultaneously rattled the house,
and their lasers could be seen clearly in the clouds of dust. The doorjamb
at the top of the stairs splintered, Joe had time to let loose one burst
from the AR-15 before he ran down the hallway, with Jesse and Andy right
behind him. He heard one of the men scream, and then it was drowned out by
the sound of the basement door falling in as the second team rushed in to
reinforce their comrades. Joe made it to the second staircase as the guards
reached the first, and he had one glimpse of a shadows and a flash of blue
at the end of the hallway as he opened up with the rifle. This time he was
sure he hit one of them, and as the strobelike muzzle flashes lit the dim
corridor he saw the man crumple to the ground. Then he ran up the stairway
to the third floor where Jesse and Andy were waiting and slammed the door.

Andy was trembling and clutching Jesse's hand, who looked like she, despite
her interest in the guns, was still not used to the idea of killing. Joe
grabbed a table and turned it on it's side, up against the door. He knew it
wouldn't hold, but it might block the bullets for now.
He looked at both of them. "Everyone ok?" He knew that none of them,
including himself, were even close to ok, but he asked it anyway. Jesse
nodded slowly, and tightened her grip on the gun.
Joe held up the thing he'd grabbed off the table, a pipe filled with
homemade explosive. He stood on a chair, and used the butt of his gun to
punch a hole in the soft, cracked ceiling. It broke easily, and a few
spiders crawled out along with another cloud of dust. He shielded his eyes,
then pulled out a lighter and held it to the fuse. Relieved that the flame
hadn't ignited the dust, he waited until the fuse was sparking, then threw
the bomb into the hole in the ceiling. Then, yelling "Get down!" he dove to
the floor, and they both did the same.
After a moment, there was a deafening boom and the ceiling disintegrated as
flames scorched the old, rotten wood and shrapnel shredded the old, shingled
roof. As the smoke and dust cleared, looked up and could see a blue sky and
a faint ray of sunlight coming through the hole in the roof.
He sat up, and as Jesse and Andy did the same he looked over them quickly,
checking for injuries. They were covered with white dust, but otherwise
fine. Joe turned towards the door, but didn't hear the guards. He wasn't
sure if they were still there, or if he just couldn't hear properly after
the explosion. Guessing it was the latter; he jumped up and hoisted himself
through the hole and onto the roof, holding out his hand to help them up.
Once they were all on the roof, he heard the door and the table get knocked
aside as the men ran into the room, guns drawn. The sound seemed to come
from very far away, but he knew what it meant. He stuck the muzzle of the
rifle into the hole, and fired three shots inside. He didn't hit anybody,
the dust made that nearly impossible, but the guards ducked to take cover
giving him time to escape. Shouldering his rifle quickly, he started to run.

The buildings alongside the river were townhouses, so they were all
connected. As they ran along the rooftops, occasionally jumping the low
brick walls separating the roofs of different houses, Joe could hear the
vans' engines over the ringing in his ears. He turned to look behind him,
making sure Andy and Jesse were still there, and saw, to his horror, that
the guards were climbing out of the hole. The first one out looked around,
then pointed at Joe and shouted. Joe raised the AR-15 and pulled the
trigger. Nothing happened. He was out of ammo. For a moment they all stood
there, Joe holding the gun, the guard halfway out of the hole. Then the
guard grinned, raised his pistol, and pointed it at Joe's head. The last
time he'd been in this situation the cop had forgotten to reload his gun,
but Joe knew that no stroke of luck like that would save him this time. He
squeezed his eyes shut just as the man's finger hit the trigger.
All at once there was a burst of gunshots, but they were not coming form the
guard's direction. Joe opened his eyes in time to see the guard's limp body
fall back down into the hole, and expression of shock on his face. Joe
turned and saw Jesse holding the smoking MP5, looking horrified with herself
at what had just happened. Joe knew that this was the time to act, and after
making a mental note to thank her later, he slung the rifle over his
shoulder. Then grabbing both their hands, he ran to the edge of the building
and jumped over the side. They fell for several seconds, and then plunged
into the river.

+++++++

The guards standing inside the room gasped in horror as the body of one of
their friends fell through the hole and landed on the floor, blood spurting
from the holes in his chest. One of them, the captain, rushed forward to
take a pulse, but before he ever touched the man's wrist he knew it was too
late. He picked up an old, moldy blanket crumpled up near the wall and
gently lay it over his body, covering his face.
The captain stood up, and looked at his men grimly. "How many casualties
were there?"
One of the guards looked at the captain without meeting his eye. "Three. Two
on the stairs, and him."
The captain stood on the chair, and pulled out a small mirror on a stick.
Holding it out of the hole, he looked at the reflection and turned it a full
360 degrees. There were no signs of the kids, so he stuck his head out and
looked around. Apart from the drops of blood and a few empty shell casings
rolling around, there was nothing. He swore, and stepped back down into the
room.
"You, call HQ, they'll want to know about this. You four, get outside and
secure the area. The rest of you, get downstairs and get the bodies back
into the van. Let's do this quick, somebody might have heard the shots."
One of the guards spoke up. "We're not calling the cops?"
The captain hesitated, then answered quietly. "No cops. You heard Scott, he
wants to keep this quiet." He hated himself for saying it, but he reminded
himself that this was the time to do his job, not let his emotions get the
better of him.
The men all marched downstairs to comply with his orders. The captain stayed
momentarily, looking down at the body on the floor.
"We'll get him," he told the body. "We'll get him, and when we do I'll make
him wish he'd never been born. You hear me? We'll get all of them!"

TO BE CONTINUED

As Joe hit the water it felt like hitting a concrete floor. The freezing
river filled his nose and ears, and he choked and spit as he fought against
the weight of his backpack and rifle, trying desperately to get to the
surface. The moment his head burst out of the water he reflexively took a
gasping breath, and his lungs filled painfully with air. He treaded water
for a moment, and looked around. Jesse and Andy, both with lighter guns, had
made it up before him and seemed to be breathing fine.
"You...ok?" He asked, panting with the effort of staying afloat. They both
nodded, and he started swimming towards the other shore.
After a few seconds that seemed like hours, his hands felt sand underneath
them, and he crawled up onto the mud on the banks of the river. As soon as
he made it to the dry grass, he collapsed onto the ground and lay there for
a full minute, with both of them beside him.
Andy raised his head and looked at Joe. "We just...shot at...cops...fell off
a...building...Jesus!"
Joe nodded sympathetically. "Yeah, it sort of takes some getting used to..."
Slowly he staggered to his feet and looked back at the other shore. There
were guards walking around the dock, but none of them seemed to see them
standing on the other side of the river. Joe noticed one of them shining a
flashlight under the dock where the secret entrance was concealed. The
question of how the hell they had found out about it was still racing around
in his head, but he reminded himself that the most important thing to do
right now was get away. He turned his gun upside down to drain the water
inside, then the three of them ran into the woody suburbs at the end of the
beach.

They ran for a while, albeit not very fast. The weight of the guns and the
fatigue of having just escaped from a shootout and swimming across a river
made it very difficult to maintain speed for long periods of time, and water
breaks became increasingly frequent as they headed towards wherever Joe was
leading them.
Jesse was wondering about that. As she leaned against a tree and Joe passed
a bottle of water around for what seemed like the hundredth time, she asked
him
"Where exactly are we going?"
Joe raised his eyebrows. "Where do you think? We're going to Blackwood
Academy and camp out nearby. We're doing the plan tonight."
Jesse stared. "Tonight? But every guard working there is looking for us,
they're on high alert!"
Joe smiled. "Of course, that's the idea. All their men will be out here
looking for us, and the last thing they expect us to do is go back there. As
far as they know, we're running as far away from this town as humanly
possible."
Jesse thought about this for a moment, and eventually nodded. It made sense,
in a risky sort of way.
Joe finished off the bottle of water and stuck the empty plastic container
into his pack. Jesse looked at him strangely.
He laughed. "I know from experience that junk can really come in handy."

It was another two hours before they made it to the woods around the
Academy, and it had not been an easy time. Joe had done this kind of thing
before, evading enemies in a suburban environment, but he still felt uneasy
every time they were forced to run across a street or move through someone's
backyard. The minute he entered the trees, with the houses behind him, he
breathed a sigh of relief.
"Ok, we'd better stop here. Any closer and we'll risk getting seen. First
let's al make sure that the guns are in perfect working order, and I'll get
a still going to get some water."
He slapped another magazine into the AR-15, and then finished the weapons
lesson that had been interrupted by Scott's men that morning. Once he was
confident that they were both able to cock, change firing modes, and reload,
he started working on the water problem. He had seen something about this in
a military survival guide before he'd gone underground, and it had saved his
life many times while on the run. Pulling an empty plastic bag from his
pack, he began stuffing it with as many leaves as he could find. The idea
was to use sunlight to extract water from the leaves, and with three of them
and only a few hours of sunlight left, he would need as much vegetation as
possible.
Once the bag was completely filled, he put a rock inside to keep it from
blowing away and tied the bag shut. Then, after placing it on a sunny spot
in a clearing, he went back into their camp to wait.
"Ok," Joe said, “Here’s the sitch: we attack the place at 11:00. They guards
will still be there, but most people will be asleep so there will be less of
a chance of getting interrupted. I'll take out the dogs with the rifle from
a distance, then once we're sure no one noticed we go in by the Western
fence. Jesse, judging from what you told me about security I think there's a
blind spot behind the pine trees there, so we can climb over there. Once
we're inside, we bust open the barracks and sneak them out in groups of ten.
Once they're out of the fence, we scatter into the woods and meet by the
water tower over there." He pointed off towards the large, bulbous structure
in the distance.
"Then we lead them out of the area, and then everybody goes where the
please. Sound OK to you?"
Andy looked skeptical, but Jesse seemed resolute and nodded.
"Alright, cool. Now lets get some rest, you're going to need it tonight.
Trust me."

20 minutes later, they were all lying on a patch of dry grass next to the
still. They were visible from the air, but Joe didn't think that this Mr.
Scott had a helicopter. He told himself to relax, but after spending three
months on the run it was a hard thing to do. He was used to sleeping on the
ground and was feeling quite comfortable. He was wondering how his guests
were doing, but a minute later he heard a loud, deep scraping sound and had
just snatched up his gun when he realized it was just Andy snoring. Jesse
looked at him, and for a moment his face turned hot as he realized how
stupid he must look, clutching a machine gun after hearing a kid snoring. He
slowly put the rifle back down and muttered something. Damn it Joe, he
thought, the first girl you've met in three months who hasn't sold you out
to the police and you act like a fucking idiot.
But when he looked back at her, she was laughing.
He blushed. "Sorry about that, you know...reflexes and all..."
"It's alright, it's alright. If you're the one protecting my brother I
suppose that's a good thing."
Joe grinned and put his hands behind his head. "Yeah, I guess...Well,
whatever. Better get some sleep..."
Silently cursing his inability to talk to girls, he closed his eyes and
tried to fall asleep.
A minute later Jesse spoke again. "Why did you run away?"
Joe's grin died, and he opened his eyes slowly.
She looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry, I was just curious...I mean, we're sort
of depending on you but I don't know anything about you except what the
newspapers said..."
He sighed, and closed his eyes again. "Yeah, I guess you have a right to
know." He paused, unsure of how to phrase it. "I tried to commit suicide and
it didn't work." Jesse gasped and covered her mouth, but didn't say anything
as he continued.
"After that it was like, I dunno, like nothing else mattered. I felt weird,
like full of energy or something, like a light had just gone on in my head
and I realized that all the stuff they told me was so important was just
crap."
She was listening, wide-eyed. "What did you do?"
"I left. I just walked out of the building, and a few teachers tried to stop
me and I hit them. It's hard to explain, you don't really know what it's
like until it happens to you. I just saw all this crap going on all around
me, and I wanted to fix it. Then they called the cops, and-" He choked a
little. "And I killed them. I killed them but I swear I didn't want to, they
were coming to kill me and I was just doing what I had to." He looked at her
worriedly, as if she might start hating him any moment.
But she looked sad, not angry. "God, that's horrible...I'm sorry..."
Joe sighed again. “Nah, it's ok."
Another minute passed, then he asked her something that had been bugging him
for a while.
"Why did you get sent to that place anyway?"
Apparently it hadn't been as bad as massacring police officers, because she
smiled and the awkward feeling seemed to disappear.
"Oh, that. Yeah, I hacked into the school's website and fucked it up.
Changed grades, crashed stuff, that kind of thing. It was this whole big
scandal in my school, and nobody knew who it was until my parents caught me
on night."
Joe was amazed. "They sent you to a prison camp for changing grades?"
She laughed a little. "Yeah, they were assholes."
"And your brother?"
"He defended me. Told my parents that I didn't mean to do anything wrong. It
was obvious that I did, but I guess it's the thought that counts. But
anyway, they thought he was involved and sent us both out here, and the rest
is history."
Joe gave a low whistle. "Wow. That, uh, totally sucks."
Jesse looked at him and smiled. "Well, not all of it."
Joe looked puzzled for a moment, and then the significance of what she had
said and the look she had just given him hit him like a tsunami. He kicked
himself inwardly for not realizing it earlier, it had been so damn obvious.
She likes me, he realized.
He gave her what he assumed was a convincing smile. "Hold that thought, I've
got to take a piss..."
He got up and walked into the woods, just out of sight of their camp.
Joe didn't need to pee, he needed to think. The idea of a girl liking him as
anything more than a steady supply of homework answers was so alien to him
he had no idea how to react. Back at school, although the girls hadn't shown
him the open hostility of the other boys, they had pretty much refused to
acknowledge his existence. He had been fine with that, being invisible had
been a valuable survival skill. But a part of him had always regretted his
loveless lifestyle. He had learned to repress it, but now he could feel it
again, creeping back from the bottom of his brain.
Joe knew he couldn't deny the fact that he was attracted to her, he was used
to that happening. But never in his life had a girl ever implied that she
felt the same way.
All the sudden he realized the implications of this. That very night they
were going to mount an insanely dangerous raid on a high security facility,
and he had known from the beginning that there was always a chance not all
of them would make it out alive. But being in love with one of his comrades
changed everything. He would be less likely to take risks, might make
mistakes, and if, God forbid, something happened to her, what would he do
then? He knew there was no way he could take care of Andy on his own,
especially if they were both filled with grief and despair.
"Ahh, what the hell am I gonna do?" He leaned against a tree and knocked his
head against the trunk. After a few minutes, he made up his mind. He would
keep burying his feelings, something he had gotten very good at, and not
tell her until after they finished with the mission. That way he could avoid
the distraction of romance when things got dangerous, and he'd have
something to look forward to when this mess was over.
Confident that he'd made a good choice, he started back towards the camp.
He'd been gone for a while, and Jesse might think he had some kind of
bladder problem.
Pretending to not have noticed what she'd said, he lay back down and fell
asleep.

+++++++

The captain of the guard sat in his office chair, his head in his hands. Mr.
Scott was standing off to the side, his head bowed respectfully.
"Three men." The captain said hoarsely. "Three men are dead. What the hell
are we going to do?"
Several of the other guards were in the office as well, many of them feeling
the same way.
Mr. Scott straightened up and strode into the center of the room.
"Those men died for a purpose. We continue doing what we were doing before:
guarding our facility and looking for the escaped kids. Right now that's all
that matters."
The captain looked up. Mr. Scott continued in a soft voice.
"Now you understand what I said before. Do you want young men and women like
that to be the next presidents? This is what we're up against. I know it's
hard, but we cannot let the police get involved or they'll ruin everything
we've worked so hard to build." he put his hand on the guard's shoulder and
bent down next to him, so that their faces were inches apart.
"I'm counting on you. You're the best captain I've ever had. You're loyal to
me, you're loyal to your men, and you understand what needs to be done. I
know you can do this."
He stood up. "The street outside the house was covered, and there were no
signs of them at the corners. The only way they could have gotten out was
the river. I want you to patrol both shores, look for footprints, broken
bushes, anything. They'll be trying to escape, you've got to stop them
before they do."
He looked back at the captain. "That's an order."
The captain nodded, and stood up. Turning to his men, he started snapping
orders and they rushed outside to their cars.
Mr. Scott stood at the window with his hands clasped behind his back,
watching the procession of vans drive down the gravel road and through the
open gate. As they disappeared into the dull orange glow of the setting sun,
he turned away and started walking back towards his office. He'd sleep here
tonight, he thought. When the children were brought back in custody, he
wanted to be there to see it.

+++++++

It was 10:25 when Joe woke up. He lay there for a moment, half asleep, still
absorbed in the dream he had just had, when he remembered the situation he
was in and his eyes snapped open. He turned towards Jesse and Andy, who were
both still asleep. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, trying to shed the groggy
feeling still clinging to his head. He stretched, and looked around. It was
fully dark now, and a few stars could be seen struggling to shine through
the light radiating form the city skyline. He looked at the distant ridge of
buildings, covered in tiny lights like a billion sparkling fireflies. The
night was cold, and he rubbed his arms and legs to get the blood flowing.
Joe had gotten used to it, but it still amazed him how peaceful the night
could feel, even at times like these. He loved the dark, and he always had.
Nobody could see him, and nobody could humiliate him or try to hurt him.
While other kids were afraid of it, he had always thought of the dark as a
sanctuary, a safe place no matter where you were.
Maybe I'm part vampire, he thought, and laughed. The sound was muffled in
the trees. He sat there for another minute, then decided to wake the others.

He turned back towards their sleeping forms, and gently shook their
shoulders. Andy was startled, but calmed down a second later and began
rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands. Jesse slowly opened her eyes,
then looked at Joe and took a deep breath.
Joe looked at her solemnly. "It's time."

TO BE CONTINUED

Joe, Jesse, and Andy crouched behind a row of bushes on the edge of the
woods. A mere 1000 yards away was the barbed wire fence of Blackwood
Academy, and Joe could see the windows lit in the guard station, and the
dark, imposing bulk of the main building and the barracks wings like giant
sleeping animals. Every once in a while he'd hear a hoarse growl and saw the
lean, dark shape of a security dog run silently across the grass inside.
There was a watchtower on top of the main building, and the long beam of a
spotlight flitted over the grounds like the gaze of some evil eye. Joe was
disturbingly reminded of the old movies he'd seen about Nazi POW camps.

He turned, and looked at them levelly. "This is it. Once we start there's no
turning back. If anyone wants to back out, this is your last chance."
But the two of them looked determined, and nobody backed out.
"Ok," Joe said, "I'll take care of the dogs. Wait here, I'll be back in a
minute or two." He jerked back the charging handle of the AR-15 and swung it
off his shoulder where it had hung in its sling on the way here.
He got down on his belly, holding the gun out in front, and started crawling
towards a low, woody hill. He stayed low so that the bushes would hide him
from view, and tried to make as little noise as possible. Before they had
set off into the woods they had all taken a drink from the still, and so the
empty water bottle was still in his backpack. He was glad he'd kept it, he
knew he would need it soon.
The cold mud felt slimy and gritty against his stomach and face, and every
once in a while he'd feel a sharp twig poke him in an exposed piece of skin.
But he resisted the urge to yelp or cry, and continued squirming through the
mud and rot all around him.
Joe got to the top of the hill, and flattened himself against a mercifully
dry area of dirt, and pulled out the bottle. He also revealed a dirty, spare
T shirt and a roll of duct tape. The first time he'd used the tape it had
been to attach ammo magazines to each other, but now he had a more creative
use. He opened the bottle and began stuffing the shirt inside, poking his
finger in to make sure that every square centimeter of the bottle was
filled. Then he stuck the mouth of the bottle over the muzzle of the rifle,
and started to secure it with tape.
The tape tearing sounded incredibly loud, and he winced and flattened
himself back into the dirt. Joe waited for a moment, but heard nothing from
the guards, no surprised shouts or gunshots. Finally, confident that he
hadn't been heard, he continued passing the roll of tape around and around
the barrel until his improvised suppressor was firmly attached to the gun.
He would have preferred steel wool, but improvisation was nothing new to
him. He threw the tape back into the pack, switched the gun to semi-auto,
flipped open the lens caps of the 10x scope and brought his eye up to the
rubber cup.

Immediately the building jumped up close to him, and he looked at the scene
below through an illuminated red crosshairs. He lifted his eye away for a
moment and looked for the dogs. One of them was sniffing around the drainage
ditch behind the main building. Joe made an evil grin and he lowered his
face back into the scope. Steadying the end of the barrel on a notch in a
rock, he began adjusting his aim. The tiny red cross whizzed around the
blissfully ignorant dog's head, getting closer and closer until it was right
between his ears. Joe exhaled slowly, and squeezed the trigger. There was no
bang, just a muffled pop and some shreds of plastic and cloth burst out of
the bottom of the bottle as a .223 bullet punctured through the layers of
shirt and flew into the night toward its target.
The darkness made it hard to see anything, but Joe swore he could make out a
small cloud as pieces of the dog's brain whizzed into the air in all
directions. The dog never even had time to bark, it just slumped over into
the ditch where nobody, even the guards in the watchtower, could see it.
Perfect.
Joe took his eye away again and scanned for another dog. He had counted four
in all, and he could see two of them pacing menacingly along the northern
fence. He repeated the process; pushing his eye into the scope, lining up
the sight, and squeezing the trigger. Two more soft pops, two more rounds
flew off through the cold night air, and two more Dobermans collapsed
lifelessly into the grass.
Joe tore his gaze away from the scope and looked around. He couldn't see
what he hoped was the last dog, and for a few terrifying seconds he thought
he had blown it. Unless all the dogs were dead there was no way he was going
in there, rescue of no fucking rescue.
But finally he saw it, off in the shadows next to the barracks. He brought
the scope up to his eye, and positioned the cross right over the
unsuspecting dog's heart. But as he pulled the trigger, the dog saw a rabbit
off in the distance and broke into a run. The bullet streaked through the
air, but did not hit the intended target. Instead it hit the stomach, and
the before the dog died it had time to let out a loud whimpering cry.
Joe's heart skipped a beat. There was no way the guards could not have heard
that.
And sure enough, Joe could see the bobbing flashlights of two men heading
toward the dog's body. Joe looked at them through the scope. They didn't
seem worried; they were probably used to the dogs getting hurt or upset. But
he knew that if they saw the body and the bullet hole in its belly, they'd
call security and everything would be over. Joe thought fast, and then made
his decision. It was very risky, but he knew he had no choice.
He swung the rifle around, and the landscape flew by in the narrow view of
the scope. Once he got a glimpse of the flashlights in the crosshairs, he
adjusted the rifle back and forth until the man in the rear's chest was
right behind the cross. Joe gritted his teeth. Part of him wanted to do
this, but another part screamed no. Shooting SWAT teams in the woods that
were surrounding you was one thing, but this, this was another. These men
were completely unsuspecting, and Joe wondered for a moment if they were
even armed.
But he remembered the mission, and shoved his emotions down like he had so
many times before. This wasn't the time for honor. It was time to kill.
He squeezed the trigger, and the man's chest exploded and he fell, dead
before he hit the ground. The other man whirled around, but before he had
time to yell he was down too. Their flashlights bounced into the grass, and
their beams of light illuminated only dirt.
The flashlights! The air rushed out of Joe's lungs. How could he have been
so stupid? The guard's dark blue uniforms concealed their bodies from the
others, but the flashlights were still lit. He cursed himself and swung the
scope up to the watchtower. Sure enough, the man was leaning out over the
edge and manipulating the spotlight towards the unmoving beams in the grass.
Joe spun the rifle around in a spiral, until the red X was directly over the
guard's head. He would only have one shot at this, just one. he squeezed the
trigger one more time, and he saw a faint mist of red spray out into the
tower before the man slumped to the floor with half his skull completely
gone.
Joe waited tensely for the longest 30 seconds of his life, but it seemed,
impossible as it sounded to him, that nobody had heard the man fall. Joe
breathed a sigh of relief and drew his eye away from the scope. He flipped
the lens caps down, and cut the tape with his knife. The suppressor had done
it's duty, but the hole had gotten bigger and he knew it wouldn't work
again. Besides, if he had to use the rifle inside the complex, noise would
be the least of his worries.
he threw the bottle off to the side, then slung the gun over his shoulder
and started down the hill.

When he got to the bottom, Jesse and Andy were waiting impatiently. Jesse
was looking worried
"Did you get the dogs?"
Joe's voice sounded very tired. "Yeah, I got them..." He didn't mention the
three men, and he never wanted to bring it up again.
"Come on, let's do this." He took the rifle down, and started crawling
through the bushes towards the Western fence.

As soon as they had all made it to the fence, with the pine trees obscuring
the line of sight between them and the guard station, he decided to rest for
a moment. It had been a terrifying experience, darting across the open field
from each patch of tall grass to another, knowing that if they were seen
they would be completely exposed. It was still cold, but Joe found himself
wiping sweat from his forehead, from both exertion and fear.
He peered through the wire grid of the fence and looked around. There didn't
seem to be any guards patrolling the grounds; perhaps he'd been right about
them all being out to look for the three of them.
He turned to Jesse and Andy. "I'm going over first. If they see me, run.
Don't try to do anything heroic, just run."
Andy nodded quickly. A little annoyingly quickly, Joe thought. But Jesse
didn't move.
Joe looked at her. "Jesse, I'm serious. Do not stay here for me."
After a minute, she nodded but didn't look him in the eye. Finally, taking a
deep breath, Joe started to climb. The fence was meant to keep prisoners in,
so getting inside wasn't that difficult. Joe scaled the chain link fence,
and grabbed the farthest strand of barbed wire in a smooth section, and
swung himself over. Jesse started up the fence, but Joe held out his hand
and waited for a moment. Nothing happened, and she continued over. After
several seconds, she swung over and landed on the grass beside Joe. Andy was
last, and he seemed very reluctant. But he too was over in a moment, and the
three of them were now inside the grounds.
There was no going back now, Joe thought.

There was more cover inside the fence, in the form of equipment sheds,
tractors, and trees. But although the running was physically easier, Joe
felt more scared than he had in year. He wasn't on the run anymore, he was
actually going inside enemy territory. Once they reached the wall of the
barracks unseen, he breathed another sigh of relief.
Flattening himself against the wall at the corner, he poked his head around
and looked for guards. There were none, but he could hear loud voices from
the brightly lit windows of the guard station and what sounded like
laughing. Apparently the men left here were quite happy about not being sent
out to scour the river. Joe heard the faint sound of glasses clinking, and
the fuzzy cheering of a football game on TV.
He slunk along the wall to the first window, and peered inside. The window
was frosted and covered with some kind of steel mesh, but he could make out
the faint shapes of rows upon row of bunk beds. This was where they kept the
kids.
Joe quickly looked at the lock on the outside, then pulled out a file from
his pocket and started to work. Jesse and Andy kept watch as he scraped away
at the latch. The lock wasn't the best quality, which was probably because
the inmates had no access to it anyway. But Joe did, and soon the file broke
through to the other side and the latch fell to the ground. Joe looked for
alarms, but couldn't find any. Apparently putting alarms on all the windows
was too expensive even for a control freak like Mr. Scott.
He grasped the bottom of the window and pulled it upward, straining against
the pain that held it in place but finally it began to move, and soon there
was an opening big enough to squeeze through. There was movement from
inside, and soon a group of bewildered looking boys wearing plain white
uniforms were standing by the window. At first they seemed scared, but then
one of them seemed to recognize Andy.
"Andy? Andy Williams? Is that really you?"
Andy pushed forward to the windowsill. "Tom! Yeah, it's me! We're going to
get you all out of here, don't worry." He heaved himself up onto the ledge
and squirmed through the hole headfirst. Once he was inside, he looked
around the room, then back at his friend.
Tom looked dazed. "Andy? Christ, we thought you were dead!"
Andy made a little smile and shook Tom's hand energetically, but as Joe slid
through the window he saw a strange look on Andy's face, like a twinge of
regret. He must really miss this guy, Joe thought.
As Jesse came in behind him, he scanned the barracks quickly. It was all one
room, long and narrow, with over 100 steel bunk beds. Apparently this was
the boy's wing, because all the groggy, confused-looking people sitting up
and looking at him were male. This worried Joe, because if they wanted to
get to the girl's section they'd have to go through the main building, and
he didn't know what kind of security they had. But it was a risk he was
willing to take, when the time came.

Suddenly, one of the boys gasped and pointed at Joe. "Hey! It's that kid,
you know the one everybody was talking about, is it you? Joe Murphy?"
Joe smiled and waved. "Yeah, it's me. And I'm on your side, don't worry."
The prisoners showed mixed reactions of excitement and anxiety. He supposed
the idea of working with a known terrorist disturbed them, Joe thought, even
if they are desperate to escape.
"Ok," he said, quietly, but loud enough for everyone to hear. "Andy, stay
here and keep watch. Jesse and I will go bust the girls out, and once
everybody’s free head for the Western fence in groups of fifteen. I would
have liked ten, but there's a lot more of you than I expected. Get behind
the pine trees, that way they can't see you when you climb. Once you're out,
split up and run as fast as you can for the water tower off to the North.
Stay hidden there until we all arrive, then Jesse, Andy and I will help you
get out of the area. Got it?"
Many of them nodded, but some still looked confused.
"Good. Jesse, let's go. I need your help getting into the girl's room."
One of the boys giggled, and Joe rolled his eyes. He and Jesse walked over
to the end of the room, where a thick, steel door with a tiny glass window
was set into the wall. Joe opened his backpack and pulled out the duct tape.
He tore off a small section and stuck it to the glass, then grabbed a
scratchy white blanket off one of the beds. Bunching it up and putting it
against the tape, he hit the glass with all his strength. The glass didn't
break, or even crack, and Joe felt a burst of pain in his knuckle. Way to go
master criminal, he told himself.
He ran back to the window, and reached through. Grabbing the heavy metal
latch out of the cold, wet grass, he raced back to the door. This time, he
held the steel bar and smashed it into the blanket. This time it worked,
with the cloth muffling the sound and the tape keeping loud shards of glass
from falling to the floor. He pulled the tape off, and threw it aside, the
shining crystal-like pieces glittering in the glow from the windows. He
peered through the hole looking for guards or cameras, but he saw neither.
Joe stuck his arm through the hole, trying to be as careful as possible but
still scratching himself a few times on the edges. Finally, he grasped the
lock and flicked it open. He swung the door open, and he and Jesse crept
into the hallway.

The hall reminded him a bit of his old school, with its austere tile floor
and annoying motivational posters. He looked at Jesse expectantly, and she
pointed towards a door about 30 feet down. Joe was about to start walking,
but Jesse grabbed the back of his shirt in mid-step. There was a camera
mounted up near the ceiling, pointing directly across the hall. Joe made
some mental calculations, and thought there may be a blind spot in the low
area where the wall me the floor. It was risky, but he had no choice.
Joe got down on his stomach and started to move against the wall, using the
same slithering motion he had used while getting to his sniper spot. The
terrain was better, but not by much. This close to the ground, every breath
he took sent tumbleweeds of dust and hair shooting into his mouth. He
resisted the urge to cough, in fear of microphones, but it wasn't easy.
After several difficult feet of crawling, he made to what he correctly
assumed was safe. He stood up, with Jesse behind him, and looked through the
door. The girls' wing looked pretty much the same as the boys', and he
unlocked the door and stepped tentatively inside. The door creaked more than
before, and many of them woke up immediately. Judging from their whispers,
Joe figured he was just as famous among the girls as he was with the boys.
He looked at Jesse.
"They're your friends, maybe you should handle this..."
She nodded in agreement and stepped into the center of the room. Several
girls looked very surprised, and Joe realized they must have believed her
dead as well.
"Ok people," she announced in a hushed voice, “This is Joe Murphy, you all
know him, and he's one of the good guys. We're going to get you all out of
here, here’s the plan-"
But they never heard what the plan was. All at once, lights started flashing
and an earsplitting siren rattled the glass in the windows. One of the older
girls jumped out of bed, looking panicked.
"It's the master alarm! Something must have set it off when you were getting
in!" Joe went pale. It all made sense now, their entrance had been far too
easy. The electronic security was all inside the building, designed just for
situations like this.
Joe dropped the AR-15 off his shoulder and cocked it, and he saw Jesse do
the same. "DON'T JUST STAND THERE, FOLLOW ME! RUN!" He and Jesse ran out
into the hallway, a crowd of terrified-looking girls behind them.

++++++

Mr. Scott jerked his head off the desk where he'd fallen asleep. Alarms were
echoing throughout the guard station, and he could see lights flashing and
hear his men scrambling into action downstairs. He rubbed his head to wake
himself up, and spun his chair around to see the bank of TV monitors on the
shelf behind him. It was probably nothing, but he had to be sure. Perhaps
the other prisoners, after hearing of his failure to apprehend the Williams
children, had been inspired to mount some half-assed escape attempt. He
groaned, but what he saw on the screen stopped him almost instantly.
He recognized the figure leading the crowd of white-coated girls down the
hallway like a parade of angry ghosts. He recognized him very well, as he
had seen him on a security monitor once before. Impossibly, it was him. The
teen terrorist who had single handedly dispatched four of their best men.
And Scott recognized the girl running alongside him too. It was Jessica
Williams, the girl who had escaped with her brother mere days before. The
girl half his men were currently out scouring the river for. He couldn't
imagine why, but they had come back.
His heart began beating fast, and he tried to calm himself. He grabbed a
microphone that was linked directly to the watchtower, and held down the
button to speak. He started to relax. If by some chance they managed to make
it outside the building and passed the dogs, his guard in the tower could
open fire with the sniper rifle until they realized it was hopeless and
surrendered. Mr. Scott grinned in delight. Once the world found out how he,
he, had caught the infamous Joseph Murphy, he and his program would have all
the credibility he would ever need.
He spoke into the mic. "Lieutenant, they're trying to escape. As soon as the
exit the building deliver the ultimatum and open fire. Over."
There was no response.
"Lieutenant? Prepare to fire on the escapees. Over!"
Still nothing.
"Lieutenant! Acknowledge!"
But still, no reply came. Feeling that feeling of anxiety rising in his
chest again, he peered his head out of his window slowly. He could see no
movement in the tower, and the spotlight was pointing blindly out into the
distance, completely still.
Mr. Scott felt his heart beat faster. Keeping his eyes on the door, he
rolled his chair back to his desk and opened the bottom drawer. He reached
inside, groping around until his hand grasped the smooth, cold steel of a
.38 Special. He pulled it out, and broke it open. Confirming that all six
chambers were full, he snapped the cylinder back into place and slipped it
into his pocket. Then, taking a speedloader out of the same drawer and
putting it in his other pocket, he stood up and headed for the stairs. This
mess had gone far enough. Tonight, he was going to end it.

TO BE CONTINUED

Joe ran through the hallway, disregarding the cameras as he sped back to the
boys' wing. Jesse was beside him holding the MP5 at her shoulder, and he
yanked the charging handle of the AR-15 as he ran. He could hear shouts, and
footsteps on concrete and tile. He knew they were coming, and he also knew
his only hope was to get everyone, including himself, in the same room. The
barracks were built like prisons, with reinforced steel walls and barred
windows. He believed it would be enough to keep the guards out until he
could think of another plan. The only problem was thinking of the plan
itself.
Joe heard one of the girls behind him scream, and he whirled around just in
time to see the dark, menacing shapes of a squad of guards burst through the
door at the end of the hall. There were four, and they were armed to the
teeth. One of them shouted and pointed, and another racked a shotgun. The
cold, mechanical scratching sent a panic into Joe's heart. He knew that they
wouldn't bother to arrest him, he was holding a weapon and they had no
choice. If he had been in their position, Joe knew he'd have to do the same.
But he also knew that at the moment there was only one thing he could do,
the thing he did best.
He raised the gun. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jesse do the same as
he flicked the switch to full auto. For a moment everyone seemed frozen, as
if waiting patiently for what was going to happen next. A fraction of a
second later, all hell broke loose.
"EVERYBODY GET DOWN!" Joe roared, and over a chorus of panicked screams the
girls flattened themselves against the floor and walls, clearing a path
through the corridor like Moses and the Red Sea. The moment the last one was
out of the way, Joe and Jesse squeezed the triggers.
Two blinding flowers of light flashed in the dim hallway, and the bangs and
whines of the shots and ricocheting bullets battered Joe's eardrums almost
as much as the pipe bomb. Two flickering streaks of light tore into the
crowd of guards, and in the strobe effect of the muzzle flashes they seemed
to fall in slow motion, frame by frame. Burning hot shell casings from
Jesse's weapons stung Joe's face and arms leaving angry red welts, but in
the overwhelming adrenaline rush of battle he didn't even notice. His face
was contorted in a berserk scream, and he held the trigger in a death grip
for several seconds after the magazine had run out. Jesse and Joe stood
there panting, trying to regain control after survival instincts had taken
over.
Finally, Joe's rational brain took over and he looked around the hallway.
The thick, choking clouds of smoke made it even darker, but he could see
four motionless shapes on the ground and knew the guards were dead. He raced
over to their bodies, trying to avoid the horrified stares of the girls
still up against the wall, and knelt down next to them. he grabbed each of
their sidearms, and held them in one arm. One of them had a submachinegun,
and he handed it to one of the girls nearby who looked at it with the same
expression he'd seen on Jesse and Andy's faces the night he'd met them in
the ally. At once his frenzied brain remembered, Andy was still with the
boys! And all he had was one little pistol. Praying that he wasn't too late,
he grabbed the shotgun and a pouch of shells and started moving at a dead
run up the hallway.
He threw open the door and burst through, trying to look scary while holding
awkwardly holding all the weapons. But there was no one there but Andy and
the boys.
He dropped the rifle on a bed and slammed the door, then rammed a bed up
against it to hold it shut. Then he stuffed the pouch into his pocket, and
racked the shotgun. It was a good one, a Mossberg 500 12 gauge, and it would
do well for the job he had yet to do. He threw the pistols down on the bed
too, and gestured for anyone who wanted to to pick them up. At first nobody
moved, and then they all heard more shouts and footsteps from outside. At
the same time, the steel door vibrated, making a dull metallic thud as a
fist pounded on it form outside. Mr. Scott's men had the wing completely
surrounded.
Slowly, a few of the braver boys and girls stepped forward to the bed,
picking up the guns and looking a little less scared. Some of them had been
sent here for firearms abuse or ownership, and they helped the others cock
their individual weapons. Soon, the small group of armed teens stood behind
Joe, Jesse, and Andy and waited for the plan. Joe thought for a moment.
Thinking under pressure had begun to come naturally to him from months of
behind on the run, but this was a difficult problem. After a moment, he
spoke, trying to sound confident.
"Ok, they're surrounding the wing. We know that. We need to get to the
Western fence, and to do that we need to break through their, uh, blockade.
What I think we should do is..." he thought for a moment more, then
continued. "We should cause a distraction at the door to draw them all
inside, then go through the windows. We'll still need to fight, but it won't
be as bad and by the time the rest of the guards get here we'll be at the
fence already. I have one pipe bomb left, and we can use it to blow a hole
in the fence so you can all get out quicker. After that, we follow the plan
and meet at the water tower. Got it?" The armed boys and girls looked at
him, scared but resolute. "Ok, let's do this."
Straining his arms, he flipped a tall bunk bed over on its side and shoved
it up close to the door. "Andy and I will stay here and hold them off, and
if we stay behind this bed they won't know how many of us there are. Jesse,
you lead them to the fence. Here, take this." He pulled the pipe bomb and a
lighter out of his pack, and handed it to Jesse.
"The fuse is seven seconds, try to be at least 20 feet away or under cover;
it makes a lot of shrapnel."
Jesse looked like she might protest, but then nodded silently.
"All right, let's go."

He ushered Andy to his side, and they both ducked behind the bed and stuck
their weapons around the edge. Joe gave the OK sign with his fingers, and he
saw Jesse and the prisoners start squeezing out through the window. As soon
as a few of them were outside and lying flat in the grass for concealment,
Joe reached out for the door handle, and in one quick, fluid motion he tore
it open and jumped back behind the bed. Immediately, a storm of gunfire
erupted from the hallway, and the mattress was torn to pieces. The bullets
went through the first bunk easily, but Mr. Scott's obsession with fitting
as many kids in as possible came back to bite him in the ass, and the pistol
ammo and buckshot couldn't penetrate three consecutive mattresses. Joe
whipped the barrel out around the edge and pulled the trigger. The gun let
out a low, earsplitting boom and his hands were rattled and shaken. He
ducked behind the bed and racked the gun, then poked out and fired again. He
heard a scream, and more guards ran in to reinforce the ones in the hall.
Joe's plan was working. He turned quickly and saw that most of the boys and
girls were through. A few more and that would be it. Just a few more minutes
was all he needed...
He fired again, and the same boom shook the walls and he heard another guard
scream. He didn't know how many he'd hit because of the smoke and irregular
lighting, but he guessed it was quite a few. At point-blank range, the
shotgun was devastating. Again and again he fired, the clouds of lead
ripping through uniforms, body armor, and flesh. Limbs went flying through
the air, faces caved in, but with Joe concealed behind the bed the men could
do nothing to stop him. All they could do was call more men to aid them, and
Joe just took them down too. One of them threw a flashbang, but as the
blinding light and deafening explosion seared through his ears, eyes, and
brain he didn't stop firing for a second. That same primeval rage he'd felt
in the hallway was consuming him again, and it was doubtful that an elephant
stampede could have stopped him. Over and over, he emptied his weapon into
the mass of guards in the doorway. Every time they tried to take cover
behind the wall, he'd just blow the section of the wall away and take them
down with it. His hands shook and he was hyperventilating as he reloaded the
Mossberg each time, then sprang back around the bed like a rabid animal.
This was much different from his battle in the woods of his hometown, where
his despair gave had released his inhibitions completely. This was much
different. The first girl he had ever really loved was outside waiting, and
as long as he held off the men she would be safe. He had a reason to live,
something to fight for the first time in years. All the pent up rage that
had been pushed down from years of being repressed and abused came pouring
out in a bloody flood of adrenaline and lead. The guards were falling like
leaves in the fall, and even after he knew they were all gone he still
emptied his shotgun into their corpses one last time.
Panting and dripping with sweat, choking on the dust clouds hovering over
his head, he leaned back against the bed and closed his eyes, trying to calm
himself. It was a full minute before he felt rational enough to speak, and
the first thing he did was check on Andy. What he saw both shocked and
saddened him. Andy was still crouched behind the bed with his Glock out in
both hands. He hadn't fired a single shot.
Normally Joe would have been annoyed that his friend hadn't helped cover
him, but he didn't really care this time. The battle had been almost a
personal experience for him, an epiphany for him and him alone that had
released everything he'd pent up over the years. Andy wouldn't understand,
and Joe understood and accepted that. He slowly got to his feet and walked
over to the window, his breathing returning to normal.
But as he put his hand on the window frame and started to pull himself up,
he heard a sound behind him. He had heard it a million times before, but
somehow his brain didn't seem to recognize it at first. It was the sound of
a pistol being cocked.
He slowly turned around, hand on the trigger of the shotgun, trying to
imagine how any of the guards could have survived that, when he saw
something that sent a shockwave through his heart, yet seemed to make
perfect sense.
It wasn't a guard. Andy had a grim expression on his face, and was holding
the gun out and pointing it at Joe's head.

+++++++

Mr. Scott stood against the brick wall of the guard station, the cold
moisture on the grass soaking into his feet and giving him chills. But the
water wasn't the only thing making him feel uncomfortable. He had taken
cover behind the building as his men rushed out to surround the building.
One of them had gone up to check on the guard tower, and when he came back
down looking sick Scott knew his worst fears were confirmed. The watchtower
guard was dead, with half his brain painting the walls a dark, rich red. The
man still had his gun, which meant he hadn't been shot from close range.
That suggested a disturbing possibility: a sniper. Although Mr. Scott
doubted that after his men ran across the grounds unharmed, he had still
elected to stay under cover until his men finished the job.
All at once the night burst into a cacophony of bangs and explosions as the
battle in the doorway began. Joe was emptying his gun into the guards in a
berserk rage, but Mr. Scott didn't know. All he could see and hear were
bright flashes of light from the windows and booms that vibrated all through
his body. He waited, tense, for a few minutes until finally the shooting
stopped. He grinned. His men were good, and now he had the terrorist down.
This night was starting to look up.
He raised a radio to his mouth and held down the button.
"Captain, what's the word? Is the target dead?"
No answer, just static.
"Captain, what is your situation?"
But still, the microphone was silent.
Mr. Scott felt that feeling of panic rising in his chest. This was the same
thing that had happened with the watchtower. No, that's not possible, he
thought. That was one man. Your whole garrison was in there. They must just
be having technical problems, or may their radio got hit.
He slowly started walking along the wall, until he reached the window on the
side of the hallway. He leaned his head forward, then stopped. It was
probably just paranoia, but better safe than sorry. He pulled the small
revolver from his pocket and held it in both hands. Taking a deep breath, he
looked through the window.
The sight he saw made him want to vomit. The bodies of his entire guard
squad were lying on the floor in varying states of mutilation. Some had
limbs missing, some had faces blown away, and others had hundreds of small
hole peppering their bodies and leaking blood. The dark blue uniforms were
now a deep red, colored so completely that they looked as if they'd been
dyed. He whipped the gun out in front of him, waving it back and forth. But
there was nobody there.
"This is impossible!" His brain screamed to itself as he drew back from the
window, the blood draining from his face.
Then a flicker of movement caught his eye off to the west, and he turned.
Several black silhouettes were darting along the fence, and as they cleared
the shadow of the pine trees he saw that they were dressed in white.
The blood rushed back to his face almost immediately. He knew what was going
on in an instant. His prisoners were escaping!
He snarled and started to run towards the fence. They had tricked him,
killed his guards, but god damn it they were not going to destroy his
institution. He clenched his fist around the polished handle of the gun and
moved stealthily into the West.

He got to a tractor in the middle of the field and crouched behind it, his
heart pounding in his ears. He saw the kids gather around a spot on the
fence, with the girl who had escaped in the middle. There was no sign of the
Murphy boy, and Mr. Scott assumed he had stayed behind as a diversion. He
didn't know where Joe was now, but he knew one thing: he had to take out the
leader. Cut of the head and the body dies. He lined up the sights of the .38
and focused his eye on Jesse.
Almost immediately she jumped back, and the rest of the children followed
her. Scott wondered what was going on, then a flash of light seared through
his eyes and his eardrums felt on the verge of popping as the shockwave from
the pipe bomb hit him in the face. He fell over on his back, which saved his
life as a rain of shrapnel pelted the tractor, sending chips of paint
flying.
Once the noise passed him by he sprang back into his crouched position and
looked. Through the haze of smoke, he saw the crowd of prisoners running
through a section of the fence that had been blasted away. The girl was
standing at the edge, waving them through and looking back at the building.
Rage filled Mr. Scott's heart. This little brat simply stood there
destroying his only hope for the future of modern society, and had the gall
to act like she was helping people. He gritted his teeth, and disregarding
the danger he jumped out from behind the tractor and pointed the gun.

++++++++

Joe looked at Andy with a expression of sadness. It all made sense to him
now, Andy's reluctance to fight, the look he had given his friend Tom, his
distrust.
Andy, on the other hand, looked like a mixture of arrogance and fear. He
lined up the sights at Joe's head and tried to smile.
"Put your gun down, Joe! Now!"
Joe calmly laid the shotgun on the ground but kept looking Andy directly in
the eye.
He took a deep breath. "Andy, there's nothing I can do to stop you and you
know it. But first I just want to know why."
Andy seemed taken aback, but answered him. "Because I'm not going to work
with a terrorist. I don't like what they did to us, but you've done worse!
I'm not like you Joe, and I never will be. Now put your hands on your head!"
Joe didn't move. "Why are you doing this for them? Why would you suddenly
betray your friends right now? This isn't like you, and I know that for a
fact."
Andy smiled for real this time, but he still looked scared. "Just now? You
idiot, I was against you all along. It was me who called them and told them
how to find the secret entrance to the hideout. It was me who triggered the
master alarm while you were off saving the girls. And now it's me who will
capture the most infamous terrorist in the country! There's no way they can
send me back here now, I just saved all their asses!"
Joe nodded. "Yes, and if I was your parent I would be very proud. But I'm
not, and I see a big problem with your plan."
Andy frowned. "Yeah? And what is that?"
"Jesse. She helped me. Are you going to let them send your own sister back
to this hell just so you can save your own ass?" He said it very calmly, but
Andy could sense the anger underneath this facade.
"She shouldn't have helped you! And I never should have defended her when
she got busted for hacking! I never did anything!"
Joe lowered his head, but still stared into Andy's eyes. "Nothing except
caring about nobody but yourself. Whatever you say now, you did defend her.
You're a good person and you care about your family, that much is obvious.
There's no reason why we should be here, so why don't you put your gun down
and forget about this."
Andy glared. "I don't think so."
Joe looked at him seriously. "Andy, you and I both know you're not capable
of shooting me right here. So why don't you just stop pretending you can?
I'm not mad at you, you did what you thought was best and even though I
disagree, young men who are willing to stand up for their opinions are a
rarity these days. So either shoot me, or drop the gun."
A moment passed, and Andy looked uncertain. For a moment he considered
putting away the gun, but then the image of Jesse shooting the guard on the
rooftop flashed into his mine. Joe was a monster, and he would rather his
sister be sent back the Blackwood Academy then turn into a terrorist like
him. His face hardened, and he strengthened his grip on the gun. "No."
Joe looked genuinely sad. "I'm sorry you had to come to this Andy. You're
not a bad person, I'm sure of that." He turned around and walked towards the
window, ignoring Andy completely. Struggled with himself for a moment. He
knew he couldn't shoot Joe, he had meant to capture him only. All the
bravado and pride drained from his mind as he watched Joe calmly slide out
of the window, and once the terrorist was out of sight he sank to his knees
and began crying with shame.

+++++++

Joe ran across the grounds towards the hole in the wall, a bitter feeling of
despair in his heart. He had trusted Andy, protected him, and counted him as
a friend and comrade. He had no doubt in his mind that the boy did care
about Jesse deep inside, but he had let fear get the better of him. How had
it come to this? He knew they had won, but he felt a sinking feeling as he
saw the outline of the crowd of prisoners. He knew he would have to tell
Jesse, and he wasn't looking forward to it.
All at once he saw the boys and girls run back, and he knew that the bomb
had been lit. Stepping behind an equipment shed, he waited for the blast
with his fingers in his ears.
It came a moment later, and once he felt final breeze of the shockwave pass
his hiding place, he stepped out and started to run again.
But then he stopped. The blast had illuminated something he hadn't noticed
before in the dark. There was a person jumping out from behind a tractor, as
dark as a shadow. He was dressed in black but his silvery hair shone in the
moonlight. He didn't need the memory of Jesse's description to realize that
it was Mr. Scott, the director who Jesse had sworn to kill. But when he
looked back at the hole in the fence, he saw that Jesse wasn't shooting.
With a surge of panic, he realized that she hadn't noticed Scott creeping up
at all.
He raced forward, waving his arms and screaming. But she couldn't hear him,
she just kept helping the kids through the fence, blissfully ignorant of the
danger approaching.
He kept running. "JESSE! BEHIND YOU LOOK OUT!" He roared, and saw the glint
of a gun in Mr. Scott's hand. he remembered the other Glock in his backpack,
but by the time he reached it it would be too late. He kept running and
screaming, and finally Jesse saw him. She whirled around to face the man
approaching, and started swinging the MP5 off her shoulder.
"NO! HE'S GOT A GUN JUST RUN!"
He saw Mr. Scott raise the pistol, and three flashes split the night. The
illuminated scene he saw in the split second of light burned itself into
Joe's memory for the rest of his life. Three shots hit Jesse square in the
chest, and she had time to open her mouth slightly in surprise before
falling to the ground.
"NOOOOO!" Joe let out a animal scream and charged forward at Mr. Scott. But
the director saw him coming, and Joe was tearing the Glock from his backpack
Scott had time to fire blindly in Joe's direction and run for the parking
lot. He took cover behind his car, and started to reload.
Joe yanked the slide back and stood there firing at the car. The thought of
taking cover never even occurred to him as he pulled the trigger again and
again, sending bullets thudding harmlessly into the doors and windows of the
vehicle. Mr. Scott finished reloading, and shot in Joe's direction over the
roof of the car. But the barrel, built for concealment, was much to short to
be accurate at that range. He held the gun in one hand as Joe's hail of
bullets pounded his car, and ducked behind. He fumbled in his pocket for the
keys, then shoved it into the keyhole and jumped inside.
Joe heard the engine start and saw the main gate open by remote control, and
he tried to reload while shaking with rage and fear. But it was futile; Mr.
Scott's car started moving into the nearly deserted lot. Joe finally slammed
another clip into the handle, but by the time it was cocked and ready to
fire the car was already at the gate, speeding down the street.
Joe fired at the car out of pure frustration, then tore himself away from
the spot and ran back to Jesse lying motionless in the grass. But he knew
she was dead before he even checked her pulse.
He knelt there for a moment, feeling completely numb. Then an old, familiar
feeling rose up from deep inside his brain. It was the feeling that let him
leave his school in the morning, and had let him take out an entire SWAT
team in the woods. It was the overwhelming, all-consuming feeling of having
nothing, no reason to follow orders, no reason to fight, no reason to even
live. But it wasn’t like before, when it had given him strength. This was
different, like being pulled quickly into icy water, until his entire being
was consumed. It hit him like a punch to the face, and he started shaking as
he sat there crying, holding her cold hand. I loved her, he thought. I
actually loved her and I never even got to say so. He looked up and could
just barely see the faint points of light from Mr. Scott's car disappearing
into the distance, but he didn't feeling angry. Instead, he felt empty. It
didn't matter if it was Mr. Scott or not, she was dead because of one simple
reason: she didn't fit into this new world of conformity and obedience. They
had both fought together, but it was her who had paid the price. Joe thought
about his school, Officer Barnard, the SWAT team, the guards, Andy's dark
secret, and finally the man who sat in the car speeding off to safety. They
weren't isolated people just screwing him over. They were all connected, all
one system, like a great spider web that just caught it's latest victim who
had dared to step out of line.
"I had nobody," he said to Jesse's body. ''Nobody. But then you came along,
now there's nothing..." He started crying again, and squeezed his eyes shut
and the grief wracked his brain.
Then he felt a hand on his shoulder, and an unfamiliar voice spoke. "Not
nobody."
He looked up, and through the blurry clouds of his tears he saw a girl
standing next to him. She was dressed in white and had a rifle over her
shoulder. She was one of the girls that he had led through the hallway.
Joe stood up, and movement caught his eye. More people in white were
appearing out of the woods like ghosts, and several were carrying guns. He
recognized them as the ones who had armed themselves in the boy's wing
before the battle, but there were more than just them. Once they all had
revealed themselves, they stood in a circle around Joe, looking at him
expectantly. Joe counted fifteen in all.
The girl with the rifle spoke up again. "We're ready to fight, all of us.
We're willing to join you, if you want us too..."
Joe straightened up, and finally understood what they meant. As if a light
had gone on in his head, he saw his path laid out in front up him before his
eyes. He would avenge Jesse, and then with their help he would take down the
ones responsible for what had been done to all of them. He stuck the gun
into his pants, and led them back into the forest.
Together, they would make the world pay.

+++++++

Andy stood over his sister's body, and her shirt was now wet with tears as
well as blood. Grief and anger consumed his brain, and in that moment he
knew Joe had been wrong. Right here, right now, and at any time from now
until forever, he was perfectly capable of killing. And that was exactly
what he planned to do. He would find that terrorist son of a bitch, and
plant a bullet right into his foul brain. He had dragged her into this, now
he would get what was coming to him.
He cocked the pistol, and stuck it into his pocket. He knew the danger and
the difficulty of the journey that lay ahead of him, but he was ready.
Joe Murphy was going to die, and he was going to do it.
He walked out of the gate and disappeared into the distance.

THE END

Written by:
13 September 2006





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