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Off The Edge: Part III

by


The sun was high over the small town of Sycamore, New Hampshire. But the
bright, cheery light that would normally have been shining down on the
town's residents was being filtered through dense clouds of smoke into a
depressing shade of grey. The hellish glow of the city burning stood out in
sharp contrast to the ever-darkening sky as the quiet, peaceful little world
that Police Chief Frank Ward had worked so hard to build tore itself to
pieces under the flood of chaos. He had one chance to end it, just one.
As the two figures materialized out of the darkness of the woods, he lowered
his hand as a signal to his men. What sounded like a thousand explosions
crackled and flashed all around him like some demonic fireworks display, and
he got one last glimpse into Officer Barnard's eyes as the man was torn
apart under the hail of bullets. And it had all been for nothing, the kid
had got away, vanishing into thin air like a vengeful spirit. Barnard's body
was spurting blood, there was screaming...

Ward's body convulsed and he sat up straight, a hoarse yell escaping his
lips as his bloodshot eyes whirled around wildly. His heart was pounding so
loud he half expected it to wake his infant son, but his frantic breaths
were getting slower and calmer. He looked around again, confirming that he
was still in his own bedroom, in his own house, with his own family. He
could hear the sounds of construction workers rebuilding outside, and the
familiar noise comforted him.
His wife slowly opened her eyes, and reached out a hand to flick on the lamp
sitting at the bedside table. Sitting up and putting a hand on his shoulder
gently, she looked at him sympathetically.
"Bad dreams again, dear?"
Ward rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying not to look her in the
eye.
"It's nothing, just a nightmare..."
She didn't look convinced. "Frank, I know what you were thinking, and it's
ok."
He wiped some sweat from his forehead and turned to her, looking slightly
ashamed.
"I just can't help it, it's been nearly six months since it happened but I
still can't get it out of my head...Every time I close my eyes I see him
lying there, covered in blood..."
He swallowed, and took another breath.
"And it was all for nothing, he got away. He died for nothing, I killed him
for nothing, they all hate me for it, I know they do, I can see it in their
eyes every time I leave the house, I can hardly blame them..."
His wife touched his arm gently. "Frank, you did what you had to do. Maybe
some people don't understand that, but you know I do. I don't think any less
of you, and you know I never will. Now, you've gone through therapy for
this, and the doc said you've just got to get over it. You still have a
life, Barnard would have wanted you to move on."
He attempted a smile, and failed.
"I know, but if the kid had just disappeared underground I could...but now
everyone's talking about the Blackwood incident and if I hadn't fucked it
up, maybe all those men would still be alive..."
His wife opened her mouth to respond, but could fine no answer for this.
Tears were forming in Ward's eyes, and she saw the same tortured expression
she'd seen on him so many times before.
He continued talking, more to himself than to her. "I'm going to resign. I
should have as soon as it was over, but I've just been putting it off. I
failed them, and they know it. The crime rate is the same, but the number of
911 calls is down to almost nothing. People don't trust us anymore. And they
shouldn't."
His wife looked him in the eye with a stern expression on her face.
"NO. Absolutely not. I don't care if they call you, they still need you.
You've got a baby in the other room that needs you, and I need you. You are
NOT going to resign, and that's final!"
He looked away. "I don't have a choice. You know that."
She still didn't give up. "Ok, how about this. Stay for another month, and
if it's still bad then go ahead. But you just woke up, you just had another
dream, and you're in no condition to make a huge career decision right now."
He looked a little reluctant, but she persisted. "Just one month, that's all
I'm asking."
He hesitated, then slowly nodded.
She lay back down, and after a few moments he could hear her snores. But he
didn't fall asleep for the rest of the night.
If he had known what would happen to his life, his town, and human
civilization as we know it within the next month, he would have made his
decision differently. But he had no idea, and continues lying there in bed,
visions of Barnard’s body flashing before his eyes, as the world hurtled
towards it's own destruction.

+++++++

The security officer walked along the cement path, whistling and
occasionally attempting to swat mosquitoes out of the air with his baton. It
was a peaceful night, and the hanging high over St. Paul's hospital in
Pennsylvania was shining bright. Crickets were chirping in the bushes, and
bats were swooping and wheeling around overhead. He smiled, then continues
whistling as he followed his assigned path around the Southern wing of the
building, where the long-term residents lived in quarantine. The windows
were sealed with long strips of rubber, and he could hear rumbling as the
air being filtered through the bacterial and viral filters was pumped
through the turbines on the roof. Except for the turbines humming and the
occasional car whizzing by, it was quiet. Just the way he liked it.

Suddenly, he stopped. He had heard something in the bushes, a faint
rustling, like some small animal was running through. Which was probably
what it was, he though to himself. But then he heard it again, the distinct
sound of branches moving. And it was much bigger than a squirrel or a
chipmunk. There were no deer in this part of the city, and stray pets were
rare, so he figured it was probably human. Still, he wasn't scared. Sighing,
he turned on his heel and walked over to the manicured pine bushes lining
the sides of the path.
"Ok, come on out. I know you're in there, you damn kids TP'd this place last
week, did you really think you were going to get away with it again? Get out
of here before I call your parents."
The rustling started again, and he grinned. The cleaning crew would be very
grateful to him, now that they would no longer have to scrape toilet paper
off the elegant statues in the parking lot.
A dark figure emerged from a bush about twenty feet away, and raised it's
hands. He could by the size and proportion that it was definitely a kid,
probably teenage.
He grinned broadly again, and shined his light in the kid's direction. It
was a boy, he guessed about fourteen, wearing a dirty, mottled shirt and
pants that he had imagined had once been white. The boy's face was
expressionless, but he thought he saw the hint of a smile.
"All right, game over kid. You're out passed curfew, not a good idea. You
never know who could be creeping around here at night..." He barely had time
to laugh proudly before someone grabbed him from behind and held a knife to
his throat. His eyes widened, and he thought for a split second about
reaching for his gun, but he dismissed the idea instantly. He had lost. He
was about to yell at the kid to run, run away and get help, when he saw the
boy calmly walk over to him and give a smug grin.
"Couldn't agree more, officer." He reached down and pulled the Beretta 9mm
out of his holster, and shove it into his pants.
The person holding the knife spoke, but he couldn't see his face.
"Right then officer, why don't you tell us which window is room 392? You do
that and maybe you'll survive to see the sun again."
The guard's lip was quivering, and he made a little choking noise. The
mysterious attacker spoke again, sounding impatient.
"There are plenty of guards to use, you're quite expendable. So don't be a
hero, just point to the window. I'm not going to ask you again." He pressed
the knife into his throat, and the guard whimpered in pain and fear.
"One...two...three...ok then, it's your choice-"
"No! Wait!" He choked back tears and slowly raised his hand. Gesturing
towards the building, he extended a shaking finger and pointed it towards a
second story window.
"That's 392. But it's dangerous, totally quarantined, don't know why you'd
want to go in there..."
The boy laughed, and the sound chilled him to the bone. "That's really none
of your business, but I can assure you we know what we're doing. Thank you
for your help officer, just keep quiet and we all live through this."
He pulled the knife away, but before the guard could consider running two
more kids rose up from behind the bushes. They didn't bother with knives,
both of them were carrying guns. He got to his knees and clasped his hands
behind his head as the two of them stood guard, looking at him arrogantly.
More of them were appearing now, some of them carrying guns of all shapes
and sizes, others with duffle bags full of equipment, all wearing the same
dirty white uniforms. He counted fourteen in all. Finally, he could see the
one who had threatened him, standing there overseeing the operation. He was
dressed differently, wearing a ragged camouflage jacket and carrying a
pistol in a shoulder holster.
The guard's throat tightened. This was no TPing. These people meant
business.

The leader and two others walked over to one of the bags and pulled out
several floppy rubber things attached to small silver cylinders. He had been
around too many epidemiologists and hospital cleaning crews to not recognize
them as gas masks. He saw them strapping on the masks and putting on rubber
gloves before a girl jabbed the barrel of an AR-15 automatic rifle into his
temple and he turned away.
Behind him, he could hear someone cutting the rubber insulation around the
window frame, and all of the boys and girls not wearing masks stepped back
to behind the bushes. They were in his line of sight now, and he could see
that they all looked both apprehensive and excited.
There was a loud scraping sound as the window that had not been opened in
years was slowly and meticulously raised. There was grunting, and he assumed
it was not easy. For a moment he hoped it would not work, but he realized,
with a sinking feeling, that it was a stupid hope. They had gas masks and
rifles, with that kind of planning and dedication they were not going to let
a stiff window foil their plan, whatever it was.
He raised his head, trying to muster his courage enough to speak. "Excuse
me, I'd like to move farther back..."
The girl with the rifle looked at him sharply. "What'd you say?"
He took a deep breath and continued. "That room had a patient with a very
contagious and rare infection. I heard some news reporters talking about it
earlier. If you're going to hold me hostage, you need to make sure I'm
safe."
At first the girl seemed thunderstruck, then her expression turned to one of
amusement. "Fine, move back. But if you try to run, I'll kill you."
He slowly got to his feet and walked into the bushes, where the other kids
were waiting. Turning back towards the building, he saw the three boys in
masks slide into the window headfirst, carrying a small metal briefcase.

A few minutes passed, and he prayed for a car to pass, or for someone to
look out a window. But it was midnight on a Tuesday, and nobody was going to
be out. He realized he was on his own, and tried to concentrate on keeping
himself alive. He didn't even consider trying to run.
Finally, he heard muffled noises from inside the window and a masked face
came into view. He slid out over the sill, and when his hands touched the
ground he rolled out and got to his feet. The leader was next, and he was
carrying the briefcase. He too stood up on the grass beside the first, and
waited for the third one to emerge.
As soon as he was out, the three of them grabbed the window and pulled it
down all at once, straining with exertion. Inch by inch, the window
stubbornly scraped down until it was closed. Then he reached into his pocket
and pulled out a roll of duct tape. One of the others picked up the rubber
sealant strips off the ground and fitted them back around the edges of the
window as the leader carefully placed the briefcase on the ground and tore
off a strip of tape. He stretched it over the rubber, and rubbed it into
place. He repeated this with the others until the whole window was sealed.
He put the tape back into his pocket, and nodded at one of the others. He
walked forward, and pulled a grey metal jar out of a duffle bag, and pressed
a button on the top. Immediately, a fine spray of mist shot out and formed a
cloud around the window. Then he turned to the three boys wearing masks and
sprayed them up and down, until their clothes were damp and the gas formed a
blurry haze all around the area.
The guard sniffed the air, and the smell stung his nostrils. He knew exactly
what it was, he'd guarded a hospital too long to have not been able to
recognize it. It was decontamination fluid, used to sterilize clean rooms or
secure sites exposed to hazmats. There was only one explanation for this,
and he knew what it was.

He whirled around, momentarily forgetting the danger, and looked desperately
at his captors.
"No, please you can't..."
But they didn't listen, and the girl with the rifle stuck the barrel into
his face. "Shut up, or I'll kill you. Understand? Shut up."
He looked around frantically, but still nobody was there to help him. The
three boys were taking off the gas masks now, and after spraying them with
the cleaning fluid they tossed them back into the bags and zipped them shut.
The leader faced the crowd, and raised the briefcase over his head looking
triumphant.
The kids around him stayed quiet, but the guard had the feeling that if they
weren't in a situation requiring stealth they would have erupted into
applause and cheering. The excitement was evident on all their faces, even
though nobody made a sound.
He lowered the case and handed it to one of the boys, who held it like it
was made out of glass. Placing it in a padded backpack, he gently slung it
over his shoulder and stepped back into the group.
The leader looked around at all of them, with an expression of admiration
and pride on his face.
"I know this really isn't the place, but I can't help but feel that the
occasion calls for some recognition. You see, tonight the tables have
turned. In the last few minutes, the system that had beaten us into
submission all our lives has taken the place that we have been trying to
escape for generations. Now, they are at our mercy. It doesn't matter how
many tanks they have, or how many soldiers they can deploy, or how many
bombs they can drop. Right here, right now, we are at the top. For the rest
of history, this night will be remembered as the moment that the tide
turned, and we came out of the shadows to build a better world out of the
ashes of the old one. The story will be passed on, and your great great
great grandchildren will hear about the day that we stood up to the rulers
of the world as we know it as equals, not slaves." he raised his fist.
"Tonight, everything changes!"
The people around him made subdued grins, but the guard could almost feel
the energy pulsing through them. He absorbed the speech, and the full
realization of what was happening hit him like a bomb. But the girl with the
gun was still watching him suspiciously, and he didn't move.
The boy who had sprayed the gas reached into another bag, and pulled out
another metal canister, a smaller one this time. Walking over to the wall,
he pushed the button down with his finger, and a jet of red spray burst out
and stained the concrete blocks. The guard knew from graffiti-fighting
experience that it was spray paint.
The boy meticulously moved the can around, making bright red lines on the
wall. When he was finished, he stepped away to reveal a dripping red
triangle. To the guard, although he had no idea what it meant, it seemed
unspeakably terrifying.
As soon as the boy nodded in approval, the group turned and started to walk
away. They picked up the bags and weapons, and moved across the street and
into the woods as quietly as ghosts. Within seconds, everyone but the leader
was gone. He walked over to the guard, and looked him in the eye, smiling
sadly.
The guard's fear for his own life was disappearing fast, replaced by fear
for literally everything else.
"You can't do this. Someone will stop you, it won't work, there's no way..."
The boy continued looking into his eyes. "You're not planning to tell anyone
about this, are you?"
The guard tried to look brave. "Fuck yeah, I am!"
The boy gave him an almost admiring look, and pulled out a gun. The guard's
mouth went dry.
"I'm really sorry about this then, but I swear it's for your own good. At
least it will be quick." Before the guard could protest, he raised the gun
and shot him in the forehead.
The guard's body stood balanced for a moment, then started swaying undre
it's own weight. A second later, it tilted slowly then fell over backwards.

+++++++

Joe holstered the gun, and pushed the guard's body under a bush. The shot
had echoed, and it wouldn't be long before someone came to investigate. He
darted across the street and into the woods, where the rest of his comrades
were waiting.
He regretted having to kill the guards, but he had been honest about it
being for his own good. Men like that had no place in the new world they
would build, and he had spared the man the torture of dying slowly with the
rest of his kind.
He pointed North, and they started running through the woods like they had
done for nearly three months. Soon, the police would be here, then the
military, once they realized what had happened.
But Joe knew it didn't matter. They could send the entire US Army for all he
cared, he now had in the shiny metal briefcase, a sample of P-44, one of the
newest and most deadly viruses in the world and there was nothing anybody
could do to stop them now.

TO BE CONTINUED

Chief Ward sat in his office, absently writing something on a scrap of paper
while not really knowing what it was. His office was the kind of place that
would have made anybody who didn't find it comfortingly familiar feel sleepy
as soon as they walked inside. It was a plain, windowless block, with a grey
metal desk with grey metal filing cabinets and a grey, dirty computer. The
plain brown mat underneath his chair was dented from feeling the weight of
the same chair for twenty long years. Faded newspaper clippings of
successful arrests and other past glories hung on the wall next to the
generic pictures of family members, almost unrecognizable under layers of
dust. The steady thumping hum of the radiator filled the background, like
the breathing of some giant oppressive creature that had just swallowed him
whole. Everything was dull and depressing, and it expressed how he felt with
startling accuracy.
It had been eight days since his wife had convinced him not to leave, and
Ward was starting ot regret his decision. He could feel people accusing him
even in the station, and every time he walked past the framed picture of
Officer Barnard, wreathed with flowers and kept spotless by the rest of the
force, he felt guilt and shame like a knife in his heart. And every time he
walked in on his men, the whispering would abruptly stop. The station, which
had been his home and family for twenty years now felt like some hostile
alien planet, and only in his soothingly austere office could he escape the
rest of the world.

All at once, a noise interrupted his daydreams and he dropped the pen on the
desk, the noise seemingly muffled by the overwhelming dreariness. He cocked
his head towards the thick oak door that protected him from his former
friends, and heard muffled speech. That was nothing new, but something about
this was different. He'd known these men for years, and he could tell almost
exactly how they felt without even looking at them. And they sounded scared.
Slowly, he pressed down on the handles of his chair and painfully lifted his
body to its feet. He cracked his back, then reluctantly stepped towards the
door. They were probably talking about me again, he thought. Maybe I'm
getting fired, that would be nice. But he wasn't sure, and he was still
chief. It was still his job to know what people in his town were scared of.
He took a deep breath and wrenched the door open, stepping into the room
trying to look as confident as possible. He could immediately tell that they
weren't talking about him, but this wasn't much of a comfort. Eight of his
fellow officers were clustered around a TV like it was a football coach, and
when one of them looked at him his face was pale.
"Chief, you'd better come see this..."
Ward stepped forward and tried to get a good view, a sinking feeling growing
in his stomach. Whatever this was, it couldn't be good.
He still couldn't see, and the men were acting like wasn't even there as he
tried to squeeze in. Had he really lost that much respect? Apparently so, as
it took a full ten seconds for him to shift his men aside enough to fit both
himself and his slight beer gut into the circle. But when he finally got a
glimpse of the TV, he almost wished he hadn't.

The a reporter from CNN was talking anxiously, highlighted by a backdrop of
rubber-suited workers spraying sterilizing liquid and a sea of flashing red
police lights.
"I'm standing here outside the St. Paul's hospital in Pennsylvania, where a
shocking and terrifying robbery has taken place. Reports have indicated that
late last night a group of terrorists calling themselves the Red Delta
actually broke into a quarantined ward, murdered a guard, and obtained a
sample of the newly discovered P-44 virus form a patient who was being
treated for it. The patient, who asked for his name not to be revealed,
claims that three young men wearing protective gear invaded his room last
night and took a sample of his saliva against his will, although he was
otherwise unharmed."
She paused to catch her breath, then continued in a more subdued tone.
"Although it is too early for any conclusions, it is believed that one of
the individuals masterminding the operation was none other than the infamous
Joseph Murphy, the sixteen year old terrorist responsible for arson in
Sycamore, New Hampshire, and more recently the Blackwood incident in which
many security personnel were killed..."
Ward stood back up, and now all the men were staring at him as though they'd
just suddenly noticed his existence. He barely even noticed. He would have
expected to feel horrified, but instead a sensation of numbness was taking
over his body, and he turned away from the TV and just gazed off into space.
He looked almost braindead, but in fact his mind was buzzing with panicked
thoughts.
So Murphy had survived. And now he had his own terrorist organization, and a
sample of an incredibly deadly virus to boot. This just kept getting better
and better. From what he'd experienced six months ago, the Murphy boy was
resourceful and intelligent, a force to be reckoned with. Ward had no doubt
that he would find a way to grow, and even weaponize the virus. He knew now
that his failure would now be known to the entire world. His wife would be
plagued by reporters, and his child would grow up with the stigma of being
related to him. It was as if every last hope he'd had for reviving his
career and regaining his respect had swirled down into the toilet to be lost
in the murky depths beyond.
And strangely, it was exactly that feeling that gave him strength. He didn't
know it, but the feeling he was experiencing at the moment was the exact
same that Joe had felt on several occasions. It was the empty, total,
apathetic sensation of having absolutely nothing to lose. His devastated
career and the subtle hostility of his men were trivial now, this matter
concerned the whole world. And it may even be more personal than that, he
thought, as a sudden, disturbing though occurred to him.
Joe had turned around in Blackwood, he thought. That had been in Virginia.
Next he had been sighed in Pennsylvania. That meant he was moving north, in
fact, he was probably in New York or even Massachusetts by now. If he
planned to release the virus, it may be near his town.
"But why?" he muttered to himself, as a couple of rookies standing nearby
looked at him uncertainly, like he was some kind of loon. "Why would he be
moving North? What strategic value does anything up here have? This town's
the only significant thing to him, but why would he come up here? He's
already destroyed us once, why again?"
He went into his office and closed the door, shutting himself off from
reality as effectively as if he'd stepped through some kind of wormhole. He
toppled into his chair, and the springs and levers groaned and shifted under
his weight. He kneaded his face with his hands until it was as red as a
sunburn.
He knew he had to act. He knew now that his wife had been right; he was
still the chief, and his people still needed him. There was a kid out there
with a deadly biological weapon and a grudge against his town, and if he
expected anyone to survive he had to take action before it was too late.
But he also knew he couldn't do it alone, and at the moment there was only
one person he could think of who could, or more importantly, would, help him
understand what he was up against. He picked up the ancient, dusty old phone
covered in black fingerprints and dirt, and dialed a number that he hadn't
called in six months.

+++++++

The Catskill mountain range in southern New York were still mostly brown in
the aftermath of winter, but here and there a tinge of green was beginning
to show on the long, steep ridges lining the countryside like waves, as
April brought its warm weather and wealth of vegetation. High up in the tops
of the ridges where only serious hikers would venture, snow was beginning to
melt and the streams running down the rugged mountainside were swelling and
growing icy cold. Waterfalls that had been frozen into motionless statues
were moving in full fury again, and the sound of their triumphant roaring
echoed off the rocks and could be heard from miles away. Frogs were
tentatively creeping out of their holes, and bears were stirring in their
dens after a the long, silent sleep of hibernation. Up in the sky the birds
were returning, and a vast V of geese soared through the crisp clear air
like a squadron of fighter jets. They arrived in this wild, untamed region
of the land, free from human interference, and decided it would be a good
spot to eat.
One by one they swooped down into a clearing, their wings blowing shimmering
waves in the long, swaying grass around them. They all lowered their heads
in one smooth, fluid motion and began to eat. To them, this was paradise. A
safe clearing, with all the food they could eat and the promise of months of
warm weather ahead after an exhausting journey across the country.
All at once, their illusion of utopia was shattered by the sound of a
ringing pop bouncing around the rocks, and in their heads. They exploded of
the ground in a panic, individual birds invisible in the chaotic tornado of
wings and wind. But as the ascended into the sky like a great black cloud,
one was left behind. He lay on the ground dead, feathers matted with blood,
as a teenage boy with a smoking pistol stepped out of the bud-laden bushes
and gave a joyous whoop.
Andy Williams ran up to the dead goose, and grabbed it by the neck. His
heart thumping with joy at both the weight of the bird, and his luck at
killing it with nothing but a Glock 9mm handgun.
He shoved the gun back into the bag around his shoulder, and slung the goose
over his shoulder. The bullet hole left a slimy spot of dark blood on his
shirt, but he didn't care. For once, he could eat properly without having to
risk revealing himself to the world by buying or stealing.
"Surviving in the wilderness," he said to himself. "Maybe I did learn
something from that terrorist piece of shit!"
But he immediately regretted it, the thought of Joe Murphy and why he was
out here now killed his happy mood almost instantly, and as he slipped back
into the dark, vengeful thoughts he had been having nonstop for the last
three months the forest seemed to reflect this by blocking out steadily more
sunlight as he penetrated farther into the dense woods, where his makeshift
campsite lay.

It had been a torturous three months. He had been following Joe's band of
guerillas ever since they had escaped from Blackwood Academy in the middle
of the night, after he had led Andy's sister into his crazed plans that had
eventually resulted in her death. He had stood there over Jesse's body, and
gotten a quick look at Joe vanishing into the woods. At the time, the
frustration of not being able to do anything to stop him felt like a rabid
animal trapped inside Andy's stomach, tearing off pieces of his heart from
within and eating them alive. He had trailed Joe's crew for days after in an
almost blind rage, until he gradually calmed down and accepted an important
face: if he wanted to kill Joe, he'd have to be patient. Observe his enemy,
and not reveal himself. Stay quiet, learning as much about him as possible,
until he had found a weakness and the right opportunity to exploit it.
It disgusted him to use tactics like that, and sometimes he almost felt like
a terrorist himself. But he reminded himself every time that this was war,
and they weren't going to fight while riding white horses on a shining field
of honor. Their battle would be fought in the shadows, and if one of them
died it would be when he least expected it. All Andy could do now was try
and make sure that that person was Joe.

Then one day, everything changed. He'd just come out of a 40-mile trek
across a steep, hilly region of backcountry in the pouring rain, and had had
nothing to eat in days. He had been starving, and the importance of
maintaining stealth seemed insignificant next to finding some food. He'd
tried to make himself look as presentable as possible after living the woods
for nearly three months, and casually walked into a convenient store to get
some snacks. But what he'd found instead was a newspaper.
The headline had said "Homegrown Terrorist Steals Deadly Virus" and had a
picture of Joe and the hospital. He had paid for the food and the paper, but
even after his hunger had faded a painful feeling in his stomach still
remained.
His enemy was now the world's enemy, and he was the only on in a position to
stop him. It had given him strength and kept him strong, the feeling that he
was fighting not only for himself and his sister, but for the society of his
entire country. If he hadn't been starving on that day, he never would have
found out. The tantalizing concept that maybe God himself was guiding him to
his goal made him feel strong, and had kept him going even at times when all
his hope had seemed lost.

He lay in a sitting position against a dead tree stump, long since turned
white after the weather had stripped it of it's bark and unstoppable armies
of insects had checkered it's surface with the zigzagging shapes of
abandoned tunnels. He had erected a crude shelter out of a large pine bough
leaning off a tree, its joint bristling with splinters. The orange glowing
coals of a dying fire cast tiny shadows on the dirt in the darkness of the
woods, and radiated warmth onto his face as he prepared his dinner. His bag
lay at his side, and the handle of the gun could be seen sticking out the
top. he stabbed a sharpened stick through the goose, and began ripping its
feathers out. He was not particularly experienced at this, and the goose
ended up a bit mangled, but still edible.
Leaning the stick over the fire, he began slowly turning it over and over,
blowing the coals until a small, wavering flame snaked its way up from under
the sticks and began tickling the goose's skin, leaving darkened scorch
marks on it's back and legs.
As the goose slowly cooked, Andy picked up the newspaper again. He had read
it many times, and the paper itself was dirty and wrinkled, plastered with
rips and dirty fingerprints. He knew exactly what it said, about how Joe's
Red Delta network had successfully raided the hospital and obtained the
P-44, how it was speculated that he was heading up north towards his old
hometown he had once destroyed.

But he wasn't looking at the article. What his attention was focused on this
time was the picture. Not the obligatory picture of the hospital, but of the
picture of Joe himself. He knew what the boy looked like, he'd spent several
days in his company, but something about this dark, tattered photo never
lost its significance in Andy's mind. It had been taken when Joe was still
at school, before he had run away, before all the death. The picture had
burned itself into his mind the moment he had seen it in the store. Joe was
sitting in school, at his desk, looking up at the cameraman like he hadn't
been expected the picture to be taken, his face utterly expressionless.
There were other kids in the background, laughing and talking amongst
themselves, blissfully unaware that in that same year their classmate would
become the enemy.
Andy stared deep into the pixilated eyes like he had many times before, and
the same thought immediately took over his brain. Why had he done it? He had
listened to Joe himself talk about how the government was controlling all
their lives in it's ravenous hunger for power, but he had never really
believed him. He looked at him, sitting there glancing at the camera in the
town that he would later be burning surrounded by townspeople he would later
be killing, and Andy wondered, what was he thinking?

+++++++

Two miles up ahead, in a small valley between two long ridges covered in
tall pine trees, a spider web of thin streams of water snaked down the
mountainside, fueled by the melting snow. Every once in a while, as they ran
frantically over the smooth white rock, two of them would converge into a
bigger stream, then that would converge into another, and grow even larger.
Finally, at the bottom of the valley, they all meshed together to create a
roaring current that wore through the rock and emptied into a large pond in
a clearing. Frogs shot under the surface beneath a roof of lily pads, flies
hummed through the air, and Joe strode through the campsite inspecting his
troops.

There were sixteen in all, Joe himself and the fifteen escaped prisoners
from Blackwood Academy. They were still wearing the plain white uniforms,
but the previously bright cloth was now so smeared with dirt and grass that
it actually made very effective camouflage. The few pieces of clothing they
had been able to steal or scavenge had been fashioned into bags and holsters
to carry food, equipment, weapons, and of course, the all-important
briefcase.
Joe smiled and walked over to the black duffle bag, the girl with the AR-15
standing guard over it. She whirled around as he approached, pine needles
flying into the air like a tornado.
He smiled. "Relax Clara, it's me. I want to check our progress."
She lowered her gun, and nodded. She then bent over, and slowly and
carefully unzipped the bag. The metal surface gleamed, looking surprisingly
benign in the sunlight. Joe took a breath, and unlocked the case. Pulling
the cover up, his eye caught a glint of light from inside, like something
made of glass.
Once the case was fully opened, he widened his eyes and made a low whistle.
Even though he knew perfectly well what was inside, it never ceased to amaze
him.
Inside, resting in a block of foam they had cut specifically for this
purpose, was a battery-powered heating device, several spare canisters of
agar, and one long, glass test tube glimmering like some sinister finger.
Inside the tube was what looked like clear water, but they all knew it
wasn't so.
Joe looked up at Clara. "Any estimates on when it will be ready?"
She shrugged at him. "I dunno, you designed the thing. I guess any day now."
He smiled approvingly and snapped the case shut, taking care to lock it as
he did. He stood up, and saluted. Clara did the same, and resumed her watch
over the bag.
Joe walked away with his hands in his pockets, towards the pond where
several stills were floating on the surface like otherworldly bubbles,
silently providing them with drinkable water. They would need it for the
last leg of the journey to Sycamore.
Joe turned towards the jagged horizon of the Northeast, where they were
headed. They had never sat down and decided to go there, it had just been an
unspoken agreement. They had all seen Jesse die, and they all unofficially
agreed. Joe had lost the most, he got to decide where the virus was
released. And it felt right to him, doing this back there. It didn't really
matter, with a strain like the P-44 they could release it anywhere and it
would spread just the same. But to Joe it felt right, that the place where
it all started should be the place where it ended.

All at once, a faint, echoing bang reverberated off the solid rock walls of
valley, and Joe saw a flock of birds take off into the air like some kind of
distant cloud. He recognized the sound immediately as the report of a
pistol.
Everywhere around him, heads sprang up and people jumped to their feet,
waving all manner of guns around like the shooter was inches away instead of
miles. He held up his hands to get them to calm down, then waved for the
people sprawled out on messy mats of dead pine needles to go back to sleep.
A boy with a shotgun clenched in his white knuckles tiptoed up to him,
making almost no noise on the soft floor of needles.
"What is is?" he whispered. "Did they find us?"
Joe tried to smile confidently, and dearly hoped he succeeded. "Alex, dude,
calm down. It's probably just a hunter. They come up here a lot."
Alex still didn't look calm, but he relaxed his grip on the gun enough for a
hint of red to slide back into his pale hands.
Joe looked at him reassuringly. "I swear, it's just a hunter. You're not in
any danger. Go back to, well, whatever is was that you were doing."
Alex looked like his mind was more at ease and walked back to the fire he'd
been trying to get lit.

Joe looked towards the South, where the two ridges on the side of the valley
stretched out into the distance like the sides of a giant half pipe. The sun
was getting lower, and he shielded his eyes wit his arm.
What he had told Alex was only slightly true. It was indeed a hunter, but
they weren't hunting deer or turkeys. The mysterious shooter was hunting
him, Joe knew deep in his gut who it was.
He sighed regretfully and sat down to start absentmindedly cleaning his gun.
He knew Andy had to follow whatever path he chose, just like he himself did.
But he had a strong, almost certain feeling inside, that sooner or later,
before the end of this, their paths would cross. He only hoped that it would
end better than it had begun.

TO BE CONTINUED

The sun was going down over the forest just across the New Hampshire border.
The great glowing orb cast an eerie red glow over the tops of the trees,
giving the rolling hills of pines the appearance of a flickering sea of
flame. This illusion of inferno had consumed the upper layers of the trees,
but down below in the dark underworld of the forest floor it was still as
black as if the night had already come. Insects were starting to come up
from the ground, crawling and oozing from their hiding places in the dirt as
the gathering dark called them into the world. Grubs, worms, and spiders
slowly revealed themselves as the birds and mammals holed themselves up in
their dens and the small creatures who never saw the light of day took over
the Earth for their designated time.
But they weren't the only ones on the move. As a lone spider crept its way
across the dirt like a skeletal hand, a shoe plummeted from the heavens and
crushed its brittle body into slime. More feet followed, but the spider
could no longer see.
Joe ran through the forest, silent except for the thumping of shoes on the
dirt and rocks and the heavy breathing of his soldiers from behind. They
moved through the woods as effortlessly as a herd of deer. Pushing branches
out of the way and occasionally taking swigs from bags filled with water,
the Red Delta guerillas pushed on in their inexorable trek to Sycamore.
Joe passed a gap in the trees and saw the bottom of the sun just begin to
touch the top of the ridge, the macabre orange light dull enough to look at
with the naked eye. Then it was gone as fast as it had come, whisked away
into the dark as he once more descended into the murky blackness of the
trees.
He saw the spider just after he stepped on it, and for a moment a thought
crossed his mind. We're just like them, he thought. The big ones rule the
day, but when the sun goes down we come out for our time to shine.
But Joe buried the idea deep down, as he reminded himself that when this was
over the world would be theirs for all time, regardless of the unblinking
eye of the sun.

They reached a stream, running hard and fast with the nervous energy of the
melting snow. Joe didn't even pause to think of a plan, he just ran into
thin air, savoring that one perfect moment as he sailed through the air,
untouched by even the Earth itself, before he fell from the sky and hit the
other side, his feet squishing dents in the softening mud. He kept on
running, and he heard the whooshes and thuds of the others running and
jumping, to land behind him on the bank. He never even considered looking
back, they were too close to look back. He was so close now to reaching his
target, the place where it started and the place where it would end. Nothing
as trivial as a stream could slow him down now.

He got another fleeting look at the weakening sun, now a mere half circle
buried on the windswept mountaintop. Soon it would be gone, and the harsh
flaming orange would be replaced by soft, silver moonlight. The night seemed
to give him some kind of mysterious energy, and even though he was running
harder and farther than he had in years he didn't feel any fatigue at all.
Instead, a feeling of almost machinelike stamina coursed through him like
some kind of powerful drug injected straight into his veins. He was almost
there, the town couldn't be more than ten miles up ahead, and he could smell
the impending victory like a seductive perfume, leading him on greater
things.
The sun was the old world, and it was fading fast. Soon the night would
arrive, the time for those beaten into the dirt by the powers that be to
rise into the world. And when the sun rose again, it would shine down on a
new era.

+++++++

Chief Ward walked down the hallway of Sycamore High School, his footsteps
bouncing off along the walls of the hallway that seemed to stretch out into
the infinite. He could see a blurry image of himself looking up at him from
the polished tile floor, interrupted by the periodic glare of the harsh
fluorescent lights looking down on him almost in disapproval. It was after
hours, and all the students had gone home until tomorrow, if there was to be
one after all. It was almost completely silent, and, he though to himself in
slight shame, a bit creepy. The faces on motivational posters leered down on
him, and the air currents of his body sent little tufts of dust and lint
sliding along the floor like tumbleweeds. The dull orange light from the
setting sun radiated from the windows, illuminating sections of the wall
like fire and giving Ward a strange feeling of Hell.

He reached an intersection, and paused. If he wanted to get the updated
records of Joe Murphy as well as a psychological profile, he should go left
down to the main office and the guidance counselor. They would be helpful,
or course, and provide him with whatever information they could. But
something in him whispered that they didn't have all the information he
needed, and in all probability would shun him the same as the rest of the
townspeople. But there was somebody here that he knew wouldn't do so, and he
turned to the right and started down another seemingly endless corridor,
with the hellish light piercing his eyes, paper and pencils lying on the
floor like the shadows of students who had carried them not long ago.
He looked at each room number, until he reached 301. Moving hesitantly
closer to the door that lay ajar, he rapped his knuckles on the polished
wood three times. After a moment, there was a scuffing noise from inside,
and an unseen hand pulled the door inward. Ward smiled faintly and walked
inside.
"Hello John, do you mind if I have a word with you? I called earlier, I
think..."
Mr. Franklin smiled broadly, and ushered him into the room.
"Of course, I remember. Please, have a seat Chief."
Ward smiled again, more genuinely this time. The fugitive's former science
teacher had not show him the usual hostility, that could only be a good
thing.
He pulled out one of the annoyingly uncomfortable desk chairs, and pulled it
over to the large table in the front of the room. The low chair strained his
back and neck, but he was glad to rest his feet. Mr. John Franklin tenderly
lowered himself into his swivel chair, and turned to face the Chief.
"Well? I'm going to assume you're not here to ask me about the weather.
What's up?"
Ward looked him in the eye. "I think you know."
Franklin lowered his eyes somberly, his calm smile evaporating.
The police chief continued looking at the old man, and spoke again. "I know
you've probably been bursting to scream 'I told you so' ever since it
happened, and apparently you had every right too. We should have listened to
you; you were the only one who really understood him. But I'm not going to
make the same mistake twice; I wanted to talk to you about him."
Mr. Franklin raised his eyebrow quizzically. "I only know what he let me
know, Chief. I don't know how I can help you.'
Ward persisted. "John, I have a feeling that the shit's going to hit the fan
pretty soon and I want to be ready. I need literally everything I can get."
Franklin hesitated for a moment, and then nodded slowly. He took a deep
breath and folded his hands on the desk.
"The first thing you have understand is that Joe didn't just get up and
decide to leave because he had a bad day. There was no divorce among his
parents, there was no family tragedy like the textbook case of teen runaway.
It was the little things. Little nagging problems and annoyances that on
their own would have made him do no more than frown. But they added up.
Every day he had to deal with this, getting pushed around by stronger kids,
and admittedly, us. It's not the first time something like this had
happened, you need look no further than Columbine High to understand that.
Most of the time when life gets this bad for a student, they go into severe
depression. Many times they commit suicide.
"The second thing you have to understand was that he was an extremely
unusual young man. In addition to being remarkably intelligent, he had a
knack for understanding the big picture. He probably saw this as not just
his problem, but a problem for the whole world. He wanted to get out, but
after his first suicide went wrong instead of just trying again he uses a
different approach. Do you see what this means?"
Ward was listening raptly, absorbing this. It would take time to figure out
what it meant and how to use it, but he nodded anxiously for him to
continue.
"It shows that even in his darkest hour, he used his mind instead of his
heart. He saw that he had nothing left to lose, and believed himself to be
free. So he left, and the more you tried to catch him the more confirmed his
beliefs became, at least in his mind.
"Then in Blackwood, everything changed. The third thing you need to know is
that the world of the nation's youth is not an innocent utopia. Most of them
make it through ok, I try to help them as much as I can, but there are
always some who just aren't happy with it. Blackwood Academy, as you know,
was a place filled with boys and girls who felt that way. They were all
capable of fighting back, but they never did. Joe was that catalyst that set
off the explosion. This threat has been growing under our noses for hundreds
of years, but unfortunately the people at the top turned a blind eye. The
Academy was a storage tank for the outcasts of a generation, children who,
like your fugitive, considered themselves liberated by having nothing to
lose."
Ward was still listening attentively, but felt a little confused. "That's a
lot of good info John, you're a very perceptive man. But how am I supposed
to use it to get the bastard?"
Franklin looked startled for a moment, then gave him a somewhat
condescending look. "Think about it. This whole time he's been driven by the
despair of having nothing. It gives him strength. So what must you do?"
Ward finally understood. "Give him something to lose. Use the things he
cares about against him."
Mr. Franklin smiled softly, but Ward's enlightened excitement started to
fade. "Wait, how exactly do I do that? He's already showed he doesn't give a
damn about his parents. What else has he got?"
The old teacher slowly closed his eyes. "I have no idea. You're the Chief of
Police, isn't that your job?"
Frank Ward sighed, then started to get up. "Thanks John, it's been a big
help but I should get back to the station; I need time to think about this."
Franklin took a deep wavering breath, and at that moment he seemed
indescribably old, like someone whose soul had been battered by seeing more
sorrow and misery than the rest of the world combined.
"There is no time."
"What?"
He raised his eyes, and looked sadly into the Chief's face. "You still don't
understand what you're dealing with. This isn't some crazy band of kids
blowing things up and making people sick."
His chair squeaked as he turned it and gazed off through the window into the
setting sun.
"The paradigm is about to shift, a new age is coming. The Murphy boy isn't
just a boy, he's karma, he's everything wrong we've done in the past coming
back to make our world pay. I saw the threat growing inside him from the
first day we met, and I only regret that I was too late to help him. I could
have, but I didn't, and I hate myself every day. We created him, now he's
going to be our destruction. Almost sounds poetic, doesn't it?
"They call themselves Red Delta. Do you know what that means Mr. Ward? In
scientific equation the delta symbol stands for a variable's change. And
that of course is what this is all about. Changing the world."
Ward stood there, looking at this frail old man predicting the end of the
world. Coming from anybody else in any other situation, it would have
sounded ridiculous. But at the moment, it chilled him to the bone.
"Are you a religious man, Mr. Ward? If you are then you should have a vague
idea of what's now upon us. Hellfire and damnation, whatever it's called.
That's what we're up against."
Ward sighed steadily, trying to gather his thoughts. "I didn't know you
believed in that sort of thing, John."
Franklin breathed a tiny laugh. "No, no. I'm a scientist, not a theologian.
And I believe that there is nothing mystical about this, any more than the
extinction of the dinosaurs. I can only hope that it isn't like that."

Ward nodded curtly, and turned towards the door. As he stepped across the
threshold, he turned back for a moment. Mr. Franklin was still sitting
there, gazing out the window. The logical part of his mind was gaining its
influence again, and he started to think about it rationally again.
Bullshit, he thought. It's not the end of the world, it's a terrorist
attack. It's dangerous, and people may die, but we've had terror attacks
before and we've always recovered. The old man's no prophet, he's just a
teacher.
He strode down the infinite hallway more confidently this time, trying to
form a battle plan. He would need more information about the members of
Murphy's group. Real information, not, some philosophical crap about
Armageddon. Cold, hard facts that could be used. And this time, he knew
where to get them. He knew who he needed to call, and kicked himself for not
thinking of it earlier.

He stopped, and the clouds of cobwebs and dust swirled around his feet for a
moment before settling onto the ground. He reached into his pocket and
whipped out a cell phone. Flipping it open, he dialed the number that he had
had to call once before, when giving interviews just after the Blackwood
incident.
The dial tone buzzed in his ear, then stopped.
"Hello?" he asked, trying to sound confident.
There was a pause, and then he spoke again.
"Yeah, it's me. Frank Ward, I remember we spoke earlier about the whole
Blackwood fiasco...yeah, I know...but listen, I'm sure you know why I'm
calling, you've probably heard it on the news...yeah, it's true,
unfortunately...and look, I could really use your help up here. You know a
lot more about the kids than we do, and your advice could really be
helpful...yes, I know it's late, but we don't know when he may arrive...yes,
of course we'll arrange a flight. It's not too far; you should be here in an
hour or two...oh what's that? Only an hour? Excellent! We'll meet you at the
station...yes, thank you very much, it's very appreciated, good bye..."
He snapped the phone shut triumphantly, and slipped it back into his pocket.
The man would be hear tonight, and then they'd have some real leads to go
on.
Ward was breathing normally again. With his help, and the extra SWAT teams
that that the state and the ATF were providing, Joe didn't stand a chance.
He was going to solve this, and his honor and reputation would be safe. The
idea of redeeming himself in the eyes of his town filled him with nervous
energy, and as he shoved the main door open and strode outside he felt and
urge to get out there and do something. Maybe, he thought, this would turn
out all right.

+++++++

Nearly fifty miles away, Mr. Scott stood in the living room of his sister's
apartment. He had been living there for the past three months, after his
quarters at Blackwood Academy had been riddled with bullet holes and overrun
with forensic officers. He hated it, being cooped up in here while the
battle he had sworn to finish raged on without him. But now it looked like
he finally had a chance to get back in the game.
He hung up the phone, seconds after Chief Ward had gone. Gliding across the
room, he threw on his black jacket and pulled open the door. The helicopter
would be waiting at the local police station, and he wanted to get there as
soon as possible. His sister would wonder where he had gone, but he didn't
care. This was a personal score he had to settle. The brats that had
destroyed his career and his only hope of preserving the society he loved so
dearly were not all gone. The girl was dead, yes, but there were bigger fish
out there now. Joseph Murphy had to die, and he swore to himself it would be
tonight.

+++++++

In the empty, bare school, silent except for the janitors humming to
themselves as they made their rounds thought the hallways and classrooms,
Mr. Franklin still sat there staring at the tiny spot of orange light
peeking over the tops of the trees in a last gasp of glory before it was
overcome by the coming darkness.
A tear ran down the lines and wrinkles of his weary face, but he still
remained motionless.
He thought of the quiet, intelligent boy who had shown genuine interest in
his class the knowledge he had to offer. How he had stuttered awkwardly when
he was paired with the prettier girls during labs, how he had always seemed
enthusiastic when truly learning about the world.
And now he would be the end, the darkness and plague that were circling
overhead waiting, were being brought by that innocent freshman.
Franklin closed his eyes and lowered his head.
"What happened to you?" he whispered to himself "What pushed you over the
edge? How did I fail?"
He looked back at the orange shimmer on the horizon, and felt instead of
fear, a deep, overpowering sadness.
"This is it," he thought. "Tonight it all changes."
In one last glorious flash of flamelike light, the sun disappeared behind
the land, and darkness fell over the town.

TO BE CONTINUED

In the middle of the New Hampshire countryside, that looked from the sky
like a sea of inky blackness from the lack of human development, lay a small
sea of light. Like a million fireflies that had just descended from the
heavens and gathered together, the pinpoint spots of glow from the streets,
windows, and cars of Sycamore twinkled and shifted, flashing on and off into
space like a Morse code signal that would never be read. Normally at this
time of night the lights would be thin and scattered, but tonight was not a
normal night and the town was flashing like a Christmas tree.

Joe shifted his head, and the illuminated town whizzed by through the small
circle of the binoculars' lenses. It reminded him uncomfortably of his
ethical dilemma while sniping security personnel back at Blackwood. But now,
as he lay flat under the bush at the top of the hill, pine needles poking at
his elbows and stomach, he didn't think he would care if he had to do it
again. This was it, he told himself. This is the night where we finish
everything we started.
He swept his gaze over the Southern border of the town once again, his eyes
pushed firmly into the twin sockets of the binoculars. What he saw both
amused and saddened him.
The townspeople had obviously known he was coming. From the looks of it, the
entire area had been locked down and put under martial law. There were thick
bands of flashing red and blue lights at every intersection, indicating
police roadblocks and checkpoints. Long thin beams of spotlights swished
through the air, scouring the surrounding hills from a distance. Every once
in a while one would pass over Joe's hiding place, giving him the most
unsettling feeling of being naked under a microscope. But he reminded
himself that he was well concealed under the bush and trees, whose
newly-budding leaves offered him complete protection from all angles. The
only thing he needed to worry about was thermal cameras like the one he'd
been tracked with by helicopter when he'd first run away. The thought deeply
worried him, sending a shiver down his spine that he knew had nothing to do
with the dew on the grass. With the entire Red Delta crowded behind him,
there was no way they could be mistaken for hunters.
But as he searched the starry sky he saw no helicopters or planes, only the
full moon staring down unblinkingly like some great unholy eye. He knew
there were still satellites glaring down at the Earth from out of reach, but
due to the police's apparent lack of offensive action he assumed that they
had not been located yet.

He lowered the binoculars from his face, and ducked his head further back
into the bush. Twisting around, he looked at the boys and girls clustered
around him on the ground. The all looked either scared or determined, or
both, and he gave them a comforting smile. He pushed his hands again the
trunk of a nearby shrub, and slid down the hill on his back, mud slipping
and oozing under him. Once he was back in the middle of the group, he turned
to Clara.
"You got it?"
She nodded resolutely and patted the bag that held the metal briefcase. Even
though it was contained, the all were looking at it nervously, as if it
might jump out at any moment and attack them. Joe gave a thumbs-up and
raised himself into a squat, his feet sliding in the mud several times until
he was able to maintain his balance.
"Ok, here's the plan. We move around the outskirts until we're here," he
drew a diamond shape into the mud that vaguely looked like the town. Then,
he scratched an X into the West corner.
"This is the train station. From what I've read the P-44 is very resilient,
it's hard to kill and it lasts a long time. We release it here, and even if
they manage to kill most of it some will get on the trains over the next few
days and spread all over the country. We just need to get it in a place
there where it can be safe and grow. I think our best bet is the tunnel,
here." He drew another X, right next to the first. "That tunnel is old, and
starting to crack and fall apart. Even if they find out and clean it, there
will probably be some left in the cracks in the walls. Also, even if that
doesn't work the wind blowing through the tunnel will force it out into the
air and spread it farther than a normal breeze outside. Does that sound
alright?"
He looked around questioningly at their scared faces, but nobody disagreed.
"Remember; we get in, we let it go, then we get the hell out. It'll be
guarded, so there's going to be fighting. Just so you all know that. If you
want to back out, now's your chance."
He scanned their faces again, but still no one said a word.
"Right then, let’s do this."
He stood up, still hunched over beneath the low branches of the trees, and
pulled out his pistol. After racking the slide, he stuck it back into the
holster but left the strap off, so he could reach it at a moment's notice.
As he turned towards the Northwest, he heard a sudden cacophony of clicks
and scratching behind him. He turned around hurriedly, and saw them all
cocking and charging their weapons at the same time. He grinned, and some of
them weakly smiled back. Then he turned back into the woods, and started
off.

But he had only gotten a few feet when he suddenly threw himself onto the
wet, slimy ground before he even realized why. It was like for a moment his
instincts had taken over and the logical part of his brain still had to
catch up. But a half a second later, he understood.
Like the rumbling voice from some beast of his darkest nightmares, a low
thumping filled the air. It vibrated everything from the branches of the
trees to the ribs in Joe's gut, and some wet leaves fluttered down from the
treetops that they had been prematurely blown from. He could see the
helicopter in his mind before he could see it with his eyes, and his body
shook like it hadn't done in months.
The other kids were also taking cover beneath whatever they could find, but
they were not filled with the same penetrating terror as Joe. he knew why.
They hadn't been there, the second day of his escape, cowering under a tree
while the hellish beast from the sky circled overhead like a buzzard,
tracking his every move and just waiting for him to die. It's infrared
camera had seen him, and nothing he could do, no hiding place he could find,
no camouflage he could invent, had helped him. It had been a stroke of luck
that had saved him, he knew it wouldn't happen again.
Joe clutched the ground, feeling the dirt shaking as the helicopter swooped
overhead. They'll see us, he thought desperately, they'll see us and it will
all be over, just like that...
But the helicopter didn't stop, didn't hover over the trees or circle around
like a bird of prey. It didn't deviate from its course at all, and Joe saw
the piercing spotlight beams emanating from the cockpit sweep over him
without paying him any notice. The low, reverberating hum gradually quieted,
like the fade-out at the end of a song with heavy drums.
Joe dared to raise his head slightly off the ground, mud and twigs clinging
to his hair, and he just barely saw the glistening, flashing monstrosity
pass over the tree line towards the town. He breathed normally again. It had
been a transport, that's all; they hadn't been out to look for them.
He painfully raised himself into a standing position, the broken branches
scraping his arms and head. Once he was back on his feet, he felt his chest
to check that the gun was still there, took several deep breaths to calm
himself back down again, and looked at his comrades.
They were all standing already, looking at him strangely. Joe didn't care;
he'd been looked at like that before more times than he could count. He just
gave them a blank look.
"What?”
They were silent, and didn't press the topic. He nodded slightly and
continued through the woods, shoving low-hanging branches out of his way as
they pushed on through the undergrowth towards the train station.

+++++++

Chief Ward pressed his hand onto his head, to hold the blue police hat in
place as the winds swirled around him like a small yet vicious tornado.
Squinting his eyes against the xenon spotlights burning into his brain, he
watched as the State Police helicopter hovered in the air, slowly
maneuvering into position over the landing pad like a giant clumsy animal.
Finally, it's left landing skid touched down onto the asphalt on the roof of
the police station and the rest of the vehicle settled onto the ground.
Ward walked forward, bending over subconsciously as though the rotors could
lop off his head if he stood too tall. This wasn't easy as the long,
sweeping blades still swung overhead, sending gusts of wind blasting into
his torso and making his open jacket flutter like a flag.
The door on the left side of the cabin popped open, then slid out to the
side. The light difference between the helicopter's cabin and the darkness
of the night made it hard to see clearly, but Ward could tell that a tall
figure dressed in a black coat was standing up in the doorframe. The figure
climbed down onto the launch pad, slammed the door firmly shut behind him.
He walked over to Ward, who knew who it was before the copter had even
landed.
The Chief extended his hand. "Mr. Scott, thank you so much for coming out
here on such short notice!" he had to shout loudly to be heard over the
raging wind of the rotor blades, slowing but not yet still.
Mr. Scott took his hand and gave a half-hearted shake. His silvery hair
seemed to glow in the light of the many security stations and flashlights
around the building, and Ward realized he had never know that the man was
that old.
Scott let go of his hand, and stared levelly into the Chief's eyes.
"It had better be good, I wouldn't want to be here when they arrive."
That was completely false, the only place the former director would rather
be than here was right in front of Joe, with his hands around his neck. But
he had no intention of letting Ward know this, or that he planned to kill
the boy whether this small-town Chief liked it or not.
Ward laughed. "No need to worry, we've got more security than Area fuckin'
51 right now. All we need from you in some info on the other kids that are
working with him, most of the files were-"
"Destroyed by gunfire at my facility. Yes, I know that Mr. Ward, as I was
nearly killed along with them."
Ward seemed momentarily taken aback, but seemed to calm down a moment later.
"Yes, yes, of course, I know and I'm very sorry...but for both tactical and
legal purposes we needed you here, we'll do our best to make your stay as
short and comfortable as possible."
Scott nodded wordlessly, then strode to the edge of the building with his
hands clasped behind his back. Ward followed him, but stayed a few feet
back. He didn't like heights and the roof had no railing.
Mr. Scott gazed out at the town, and the streets below. "Quite impressive."
Ward smiled, but inside he didn't feel that proud. The state had donated
nearly every SWAT team available, and what few National Guard troopers and
vehicles hadn't been sent to Iraq were now deployed to Sycamore. Overnight,
his peaceful little suburban town had been turned into a veritable fortress,
and although he felt it was best for keeping the terrorists out, he felt
slightly guilty. He had been forced to turn this town into a police state,
with himself holding absolute power of everything within it's borders.
Looking out at the scene in front of him, it looked rather disturbing.

The town was lit up like a beacon, with searchlights mounted on the tops of
every building sweeping the streets and walls. Citizens huddled in their
homes, those who had chosen not to evacuate now under strict orders not
leave their homes until the authorities had given the OK. The deep, robotic
clump of the black masses of soldiers marching through the streets, moving
as one, the black and white blur of their urban camouflage suits gliding
over the concrete as hundreds of boots stomped mercilessly into the pavement
over and over again.
Every once in a while, over the incessant clomping of the infantry, came the
cold, high whine and screech, like fingernails on a blackboard, of a tank's
treads squeaking as it slugged its way down suburban roads that normally
would have been traveled by tricycles. Their headlights blazed out into the
night, peering coldly into the houses of civilians as if demanding to see
what was going on inside.
The intersections, usually congested with mini vans and SUVs filled with
squealing kids on their way to soccer practice, were now blocked off by the
massive green bulks of humvees, looming over the discarded toys and cheerful
chalk drawings like a heard of dark beasts from the nightmares of the
children who had drawn them. Ward turned his eyes toward the east, near the
downtown area. There, faint screams echoed through the alleys as protestors
and vandals, as well as those out after curfew, were tackled by armored SWAT
units and thrown into unmarked vans. Flames were flickering into the sky as
a few scattered houses were Molotoved by angry residents.
Deep inside, Ward could hardly blame them. His town looked like a scene from
1984.
All at once he heard more yelling, and whipped his head around towards the
park. The sight that met his eyes was made even more painful by his
inability to do anything about it at the moment.
The large, fenced-in field that was usually reserved for families to let
their dogs roam around off the leash, had been filled with prisoners who had
been caught outside after curfew. They huddled together inside, wrapping
themselves in blankets and sitting with their backs up against the fence.
The hulking shadows of guards patrolling around the outside of the fence
could bee seen all the way from the roof of the station, and yellow circles
of light moved over the prisoners crowded inside as the spotlights set up in
temporary watchtowers glared down at them, as though already accusing them
of some heinous crime. Ward was too far to be sure, but most of the people
clustered within looked very young.
He squeezed his eyes shut as if hoping to block it out, but when he opened
them again this nightmare version of his town was still there, the
military-controlled streets glowing like rivers of hellish light between the
looming islands of darkness made by the buildings.
He lowered his eyes to the floor in front of him, and said a prayer under
his breath. Mr. Scott must have heard, because he looked at him curiously as
though wondering what was wrong.
Ward turned to him sympathetically. "I hate seeing Sycamore like this,
Scott. I can barely stand it. Even when Murphy burned it at least we had our
freedom, now it's almost like everything worth defending is gone."
Mr. Scott appeared completely unmoved by this, and kept looking at him with
the same quizzical expression. "But it's what needs to be done, of course."
Ward turned away, looking sadly back out at his town.
"I hope so; I really, really hope so."
Then without a word, he turned away from the edge and headed for the door
that led down into the station. Mr. Scott stood there looking at the town
for a moment, then he too turned and disappeared through the door.

+++++++

Joe peered out from around the tree he had flattened himself against.
Looking around quickly, he then ducked back around the trunk and tiptoed a
few feet into the woods, taking extra care not to step onto the many twigs
and empty cans littering the ground. Once he was safely behind the line of
shrubs, he addressed his people squatting in a dirty depression between two
clusters of pine trees.
"Ok, the situation is this: there are lightly armed guards patrolling the
edge of the railyard every hundred feet. They'll be easy to take out, but
they're just for warning. From what I could see, there's a machine gun nest
in the alley between the fuel house and the main station building. The
tunnel is about one hundred feet down the tracks, but because of the fences
the only way to get there is to pass the gun. Do you understand what this
means?"
Several of them shook their heads, looking even more worried than before.
Joe sighed grimly. "It means we have to take out the guards and the nest,
and do it without being seen by the others."
This was greeted with many gasps and hushed protests. One or two of them
looked ready to back out at this point, but they gradually calmed themselves
and after a minute, looked determined again.
Joe was silent for a moment, and many of them recognized that he was in the
middle of deep thought and tried to be as quiet as possible. But after a few
minutes of rolling his eyes skyward and muttering to himself, he spoke.
"Ok, here's what we're going to do. We're going to take out the guards
silently, then instead of going all the way down the tracks, we get across
fast, then move along the side of the building where they can't see. Once we
get to the corner of the alley, we get them with silenced weapons before at
point blank range. That way they won't even have time to aim the machine
gun. The hard part is getting across the tracks. After that, we're cool."
>From several reactions, this didn't sound remotely cool.
He quietly clapped his hands together. "Right then, let's go. Those with
knives or melee weapons, front and center."
He stood up, and reached into his pocket. Fishing around inside, he finally
felt the smooth, hard surface of a knife handle. It was a long, sharp
hunting knife that he'd stolen on the day of his escape while sneaking
though a construction site, and during his long period of life on the run it
had saved his life more times than he could count. He pulled it out of his
improvised cloth sheath, and held it tightly in his fist. Looking around, he
saw three of them do the same. Two others pulled out wicked-looking clubs
made from heave sticks and pieces of metal. The boys and girls with firearms
were attaching crude silencers to their muzzles, mostly made of crumpled
cloth and tape. When he looked around at them once more and saw them all
ready, he gestured with his hand towards the railyard and they started
creeping through to the end of the woods.
The railyard was big, a great, sprawling plain of gravel crisscrossed with
the thick metal bars of train tracks. Although it was only about seventy
feet across, it seemed to stretch out to the left and right for infinity,
until it vanished into the night. A few lights were on in the station,
casting sharp yellow squares of light onto the yard, and Joe and he team
were careful not to step into them.
Fortunately, there was cover. Every few feet there would be some piece of
machinery; signs, lights, and large metal devices used to direct trains that
looked like they had been around since the Industrial Revolution. They were
hulking, oddly- shaped, and orange colored with rust, but provided adequate
protection from the eyes and bullets of the three men at the gun.
They waited in the murky black shadow of a low concrete wall, broken in half
with the spindly red twists of rebar poking out of the top at weird angles.
Joe scanned the yard, until a small movement caught his eye off to the
right. He squinted into the dark, holding up his hand to block out the
distracting light from the station and could just barely see the figure of a
guard, walking along the middle track. Even at this distance, Joe could tell
it would not be the usual police patrol. This man was decked out in full
combat gear, with a helmet, goggles, tactical vest and everything. With a
start, Joe realized that the National Guard had probably been brought in.
Looking off to the left, he could suddenly see another guard, in the same
war outfit. Studying their paths and extrapolating them along the ground,
Joe realized that they would pass directly in front of the wall. They had to
act, and they had to act fast. He made a motion towards the others behind
him, and they all got up into crouched position, motionless but ready to
spring into action at a second's notice.
The guards moved closer. Joe knew that their only chance was to kill them
both at once, if one died first the other might yell. He adjusted his grip
on the knife and waited, not even breathing.
The two men kept coming closer, now he could clearly see them, their combat
gear giving them the appearance of bizarre medieval knights.
Joe held his breath until he couldn't stand it any more, and dared to let
out a tiny breath.
The first guard stopped.
Joe felt a surge of panic, and the idea of everything going wrong pulsed
through his nerves like poison. But a moment later, he heard a click and a
small flame, blindingly bright in the darkness, sprang into the guard's
hand. Joe breathed in relief; the man had just stopped to light a cigarette.
For a few seconds the tiny butane flame lit up the man's face, and Joe could
clearly see the features of the man he would be killing in a moment. Then
the light flicked out, leaving the weak orange glow of a cigarette in its
place, and the guard started to walk again. They got closer and closer,
converging on the wall, until Joe could hear the crunching of their boots as
gravel scraped its way out form under their feet. Still, he gestured to his
comrades to stay down.
Now the guards were mere feet away, their polished black helmets shining in
the darkness. But still, Joe stayed in place. The boys and girls around him
were getting scared, and as they sat there silently in the dark watching the
men move inexorably towards their hiding place their nerves seared with pain
and adrenaline. At last, the two men stopped, directly on the other side of
the low wall, and nodded to each other.
"You got a light?"
"Yeah, here you go..."
He never finished giving the man the lighter. At that moment, Joe cast his
raised hand down and sprang up and around the wall, all the stored energy in
his muscles and nerves shooting out at once like a spring, or a bomb. He
grabbed the first guard around the neck, and drove his fist into the man's
Adam's apple. He gave a muffled grunt, and his arms swung around into the
air in a desperate attempt to shake Joe off. But it was too late. Through
the darkness and the savage animal instincts clouding his brain, he could
faintly see the other guard struggling under the grip of Alex and two
others, but he concentrated on his own job. Holding the knife blade up in
his right hand, he swung his fist around the man's neck, and the shiny metal
wedge, razor-sharp from six months of being filed on rocks, flashed once in
the moonlight. Then it disappeared into the folds of the man's vest and
shirt as the momentum of Joe's arm drove it into his throat. The blade sunk
in deep, and he didn't even have time to cry out before it stopped at the
hilt, buried in the flesh of his neck. As his lifeless body slumped to the
ground, a thin squirt of blood spilling out of his neck, Joe caught him by
the arms before he could make noise by hitting the gravel. Pulling the knife
out, he quickly wiped it on his shirt. It was soaked in blood, and left a
dark stain on the cloth. Joe breathed deeply and looked up, the adrenaline
fading enough for him to regain control of his brain.
But as he looked up, he realized the others hadn't been so lucky. Alex had
tore the guard's helmet off and aimed his club for his bald skull, but the
man had shifted at the last minute. Joe saw, with a sinking heart, the heavy
metal head swing through the air sa if in slow motion, and could see what
was going to happen before it did.
The club missed, and struck the man in the shoulder. There was a faint
sound, like a crack and a pop, and he realized that the man's arm had been
dislocated. Even the force of one of the boys wrapping his arm around his
throat couldn't silence this. The man took a short, crackling breath, then
let out a hoarse yell of pain. Alex's body reflexively sprung into gear,
raising the club up again and striking the man square on the head. There was
a resounding crack, and the guard's skull split. Blood poured out, spraying
Alex and the two others with him. The man fell silent, but it was too late.
"Hey! Hey YOU! What the fuck's going on!?!?" Joe whirled around, just as the
bright eye of a spotlight flew across the stone and steel of the railyard
floor and fixed itself onto Joe. His reflection on the wall was immediately
cast into sharp clarity, and his blood ran cold. He could hear shouts from
both his people and the men at the machinegun nest, and all at once there
was a loud sound like a clack and a sliding scratch. Joe knew instantly from
experience that it was the sound of the machinegun, a .50 Browning, being
racked. He whipped his head around while simultaneously yanking the Glock
out of his shoulder holster, until he faced his crew.
"Head for the building wall, go-NO! NOT THE TUNNEL THEY'LL SEE!"
Alex and the two other boys who had killed the guard had taken off down the
tracks in the direction of the tunnel. Joe didn't know if they meant to, or
if they had just panicked. But it looked like he would never find out. As
the spotlight turned the three of them into speeding black silhouettes,
gravel spraying into the air as they ran, Joe heard a noise that battered
his eardrums and shook his brain inside his skull. It was the sound of the
machinegun opening fire.
Once as a kid, Joe had tried setting off a string of firecrackers in a large
metal pot, and the noise had almost deafened him. But this was a hundred
times worse. The echoing bangs shook the windows of the station, and Joe
felt the gravel bouncing with the vibration around his feet. He got once
last look at Alex and his two friends, a horrific image that seared itself
into his memory for the rest of his life. They were still running, not even
looking where they were going, as a thin flickering beam of light sprayed
out of the darkness and knocked all three of them off their feet at once.
The bullets tore through their clothes and flesh with the same level of
ease, and their limp bodies shook and jerked as they were knocked around in
midair by the horizontal hailstones of lead filling their bodies, and the
air around them. When they finally hit the ground, they were already in
pieces, a fine red mist covering the tracks and the gravel like paint from a
spray can. If Joe's instincts had been any less developed, he would have
just stood there in horror and been cut to pieces. But fortunately, being on
the run for half a year had given him better reflexes than most, and while
his mind was still paralyzed with shock his body was already running,
kicking gravel everywhere like a cloud of rock as he dashed across the
railyard, jumping over the thick metal tracks whenever he encountered them.
This seemed to mobilize the others, and they ran behind him like a panicked
heard of deer beset by vicious lions. By now the gunners had seen them, and
as they swung the smoking barrel of the Browning around they still held the
trigger, and as the boys and girls of the Red Delta followed Joe to the wall
bullets thudded into the ground around them, and gravel was blasted into the
air. Joe saw two others go down, but he didn't have time to recognize them.
All hell had just broken loose at the train station, and the only thing that
mattered now was staying alive.

TO BE CONTINUED

As the endless lines of soldiers paraded around the square, moving in
perfect step and rounding the corners like some swarm of hellish black
caterpillars, Chief Ward paced around the Ops center, a windowless office
buried deep in the bowels of the police station. The room was buzzing with
activity, as every piece of equipment was being manned, every map being
filled with red tacks, and every folding card table surrounded by small
crowds of either young, enthusiastic officers or silent, moody National
Guard commanders. Every once in a while the heavy oak door with the tiny,
wire-reinforced window would swing open into the room, occasionally smacking
a trooper in the face, as someone rushed in with field reports or new
developments. To Ward, it seemed like some sort of strange beehive; all the
talking and shouted orders gradually morphed into a sort of muddled buzz
that faded to the background, and after several minutes of attempting
valiantly to keep track of everything going on he eventually just tuned it
out.

He stopped by a Hi-Res monitor on a table, wedging the bulk of his gut in
between two anxious-looking rookies to get a clear view. The camera that the
monitor was connected to was currently in a socket fixed to the underbelly
of one of the many helicopters circling the town overhead like great,
fantastic wasps. It showed a bird's eye image of downtown Sycamore, with the
same rivers of light running through the streets like a flood of military
strength. But aside from that, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. No
explosions, no terrorist army charging over the hillside, and no crowds of
people dying of disease in the streets. Ward sighed, rubbing the fatigue out
of his eyes and squeezing out from between the rookies. He turned towards
the large table that had been dragged out of a dusty closet and folded out
at the last minute. There was a map of the town spread out, with bright
color-coded tacks stuck into represent roadblocks, command posts, and places
likely to be attacked. There were several officers bent over it talking
excitedly, and two military officers stood nearby looking like anybody who
shook their hand or offered them coffee would have their throat ripped out.
Ward nodded slightly in a gesture of greeting, and after they made no
response he rolled his eyes and looked over the map.
He lowered his voice, talking more to himself than the group of police.
"Damn military, I hate having them in my town."
One of the officers, a Sergeant, looked at him sympathetically. "Yeah, I
know how you feel. You're techniquely in command here, but they don't
respect you at all."
Ward was about to point out the disturbing level of irony of this statement
when an excited yell came from the corner of the room. He turned quickly and
saw the young radio operator, wearing almost comically large headphones and
turning dials quickly.
"Sir, its them! They're here, at the train station! Our outpost there
reports gunfire and everything!"
Ward immediately straightened up and whirled around to face the room. He
felt his adrenaline gland shift into high gear; finally he could stop
waiting around. It was time to do something.
"All right everybody, calm down! Now I want all of you to monitor the area
as closely as possible. Helicopters, CCTVs, even satellites if possible. You
with the radio, call every squad and platoon in the area and tell them to
get down to the station as fast as humanly possible. And you two," he turned
to the silent Commanders, "Get your men and meet me outside, and call a
transport over here now. We're going down there, send everything you've got.
But incase it's just a diversion, I want the guys patrolling around the
edges to carry on. And I want a two biocontainment units down there as well.
Right people, let's MOVE!"
The room erupted with energy. The volume rose dramatically, and the men who
seemed to be randomly milling around picked up the pace of whatever it was
they were doing. Well, Ward though, here we go. The bees of the hive have
spotted an a enemy.

He turned on his heel and swept through the door into the narrow white
hallway that led to the stairs. The station was absolutely packed, and he
had to constantly dodge other people moving in and out of the room. At one
point a long case that presumably held a sniper rifle hit him square in the
kneecap, and as he limped up the stairs wincing in pain he could vaguely
hear the man's frantic apologies echoing up the concrete shaft leading to
the ground floor. After a moment, he shoved the stairway door open and
stepped into the main room.
It was full of people, from secretaries incessantly typing on their out of
date computers, to SWAT teams painstakingly assembling and loading their
weapons. As he walked into their line of sight, the team immediately
straightened up and stood at attention.
Ward grabbed a Kevlar vest from a rack that had been rolled out into the
room, and began strapping it on.
"Right men, this is it. They're down at the train station and they have the
virus. My guess is they're trying to get it out here and on a train, from
what I heard downstairs they're out in full force. We have to stop them, but
exercise extreme caution. If you see the container with the virus, do not
shoot. Do this quickly and by the book. Do you understand? You cannot fail
this time. It's not some bank robbery or hijacker demanding money, this is
about the fate of the world. I know it sounds melodramatic and corny, but
it's the truth. You got that? Do it perfectly."
They all nodded, looking badly sobered. Ward checked the clip of his
police-issue Beretta 9mm, then slid it back into his leather shoulder
holster. He pushed aside the Kevlar vests hanging from the rack, groping
around on the other side until he felt cold metal. Straining under the
effort, he slowly pulled at the object until it tipped off the shelf and
fell through the vests and into his arms. Bending over backwards, he walked
forward into up to an other table set up in the room. Finding a spot not
covered with half-finished weapons or ammunition, he slammed the crate down
and the bang reverberated through the building. The secretaries jumped and
looked around, then resumed typing.
"Thanks for your help with that, guys."
The SWAT team members looked away, their faces reddening, but he ignored
them. Snapping open the two clasps, he swung open the lid to reveal a tangle
of rubber straps and pieces of dusty glass. He pulled on out, and hanging
there from his hand it looked like some sort of black dead jelly fish. He
blew on it, and a cloud of just swirled into the air.
"Gas masks. Never thought we'd have to use them in a town like this, but
here we are. Everybody take one, and let's get going. We've wasted enough
time already."
In less than a minute, the crate was empty and the SWAT team was marching
out the door. Ward followed them, clipping the straps of the mask around his
belt so that he could grab it at a moment's notice. Once he was outside, the
team stopped and assembled on the curb. It was getting colder now, but Ward
hardly noticed as he flagged down the giant, rumbling APC that was crawling
down the street like some great angry beetle, its .50 caliber antennae
waving in the air. It roared its way up to the sidewalk and stopped, a
metallic screech splitting the night as the latch was wrenched open and the
thick, armored door swung out. The SWAT team jogged in unison up to the back
and climbed in, their heads bent over as the collapsed down onto the thin,
Spartan benches. One of them reached out a camouflaged arms and grabbed the
inner handle of the door, yanking it towards him until it slammed into the
doorframe with a booming sound that gave the Chief a momentary headache.
Then the engine started rumbling again like a small earthquake and the
vehicle started down the street, with several police cars flashing their
lights in its wake. Ward waved one over, and quickly pulled open the door
and jumped inside before the car had even stopped moving. Slamming the door
shut, he felt the vehicle lurch under his feet as the convoy started up
again, the bright yellow paint of the biocontainment van filling his rear
view mirror.
All over the town, radios and police scanners were buzzing with the news.
Soldiers were turning and running through the streets, vehicle doors were
being slammed, and the myriad points of light shifting through the streets
like fireflies were now swept off in this new direction, like a great
migration of insects. In the skies above, the helicopters wheeled around and
swept off, buzzing over the heads of the running men below like a flock of
deadly birds.
The entire town was mobilized, all of them converging on the train station
where Ward knew, after six months of waiting, six months of being scorned
and ostracized, six months of waking up at night sweating and screaming, six
months of paranoia and misery, it would finally end.

+++++++

Joe slammed up against the cinderblock wall of the train station, the wind
knocked out him for a moment. Then the others followed, each hitting the
wall with a bang. The air was full of screams, smoke, and gunshots, but he
knew that as long as they stayed against the wall they were out of the
machinegunner's line of fire. But he also knew that if they stayed there,
they would be sitting ducks as soon as reinforcements arrived. He could
already heard them, sirens wailing like a thousand banshees as an unseen
army descended on the station. If Joe wanted to reach the tunnel before they
police did, they had to fight now.
He flinched as another burst of earsplitting pops pulsed out of the tunnel,
and he could see the bright tip of the flickering flame of the muzzle flash
from just around the corner, spraying fire out into the darkness of the
railyard. The bodies of the Alex and the two other boys were lying in red
dripping heaps that no longer even remotely resembled human beings, and now
two other lumps of flesh and blood were sprawled out over the tracks, two
members who had failed to make it to the wall in time. Panic was rising in
Joe's chest as he clung to the wall like a baby to its mother. There were
only eleven of them left.
The Browning let out another burst, then fell silent. Joe waited for a
second, a heavy ringing vibrating inside his skull. Then, faintly, over the
panicked, hyperventilating breaths of the survivors up against the wall, he
heard an unmistakable sound. The clump of a box hitting the ground, some
rattling, like a vengeful spirit shaking its chains in anger. Joe recognized
it immediately.
"They're reloading! Lets go!"
But they didn't move. The deaths seemed to have shattered whatever illusion
of safety they had maintained since the escape from Blackwood, and nobody
did anything. Joe frantically turned back towards the corner, where he could
hear men grunting as they shifted ammo boxes and belts. He turned back to
them, gazing pleadingly into their eyes.
"Come on we have to do this NOW!"
But still nobody moved. Joe was getting desperate. The gunners seemed
unwilling to go around the corner with them all waiting there armed, but any
moment now they'd finish reloading the machine gun and it wouldn't matter.
Joe heard the sirens that had been in the distance a second ago getting
closer, as well as the hum of a helicopter that sent chills down his spine.
"What are you waiting for?"
But still, not one of his crew moved a muscle. Then a sound hit his ears
that he recognized, and sent a spurt of panic into his brain. The same
sliding clack they had heard before Alex and the others had died, that same
cold, mechanical sound of the gun being locked and charged.
Joe reacted before he even had time to think about what he was doing. The
only message his brain had time to deliver was that he had come too far and
lost too much to sit here against the wall crying, waiting for the police to
show up. He punched his hand under the muddy, wet flap of his jacket and
grabbed the handle of the Glock in a death grip. Then he whirled around a
full 360 degrees, and in one fluid motion drew the gun, snatched another
pistol out of the limp, shaking hand of a girl nearby, and spun around the
corner.

It seemed to happen in slow-motion for Joe, as his jacket blew out behind
him as he swept around the corner of the building and raised both guns into
the air. The crew seemed to stand still for a moment, paralyzed more of
surprise than fear, and that was all the time Joe needed. The man who seemed
to be in charge of feeding ammunition into the smoking hole in the barrel of
the machinegun gave one last little "oh" of confusion, then Joe squeezed
both triggers at once and everything turned to chaos.
Contrary to what the movies might have implied, double-wielding really had
no benefit except sending more bullets in a direction at the same time. It
decreases accuracy and control, and wastes and astronomical amount of
ammunition. But in this cramped little alley, with the gun crew right in
front of him, it was exactly what Joe needed.
The loader's unstrapped helmet was knocked off, landing behind him and
bouncing once, with loud clack that could barely be heard. Then the next
round hit in roughly the same place, and a circular cloud of bloody mist and
puffed out of his forehead. The back of his head was a different story, and
a explosive torrent of red slime and sharp bone fragments sprayed out of his
skull and hit the man behind him directly in the face. Whatever self-control
he had had drilled into his head since basic training went out the window,
and as he stood there covered in the blood and brain matter of his former
comrade, his eyes lids shot up and he opened his mouth to scream, but never
got the chance. Two more bullets caught him simultaneously in both the mouth
and the chest, and as his ribcage explodeds splattering blood over
everything, including Joe, his lower jaw was ripped off and spun away into
the darkness, spraying blood onto the walls as if flew through the air.
Joe tightened his grip on the triggers, then released it. Tighten, release.
Tighten, release. Over and over again, barely even knowing where his rounds
were going. He was screaming too, not from pain or fear but from pure,
berserk rage. The only time he'd felt this way before was back at Blackwood,
when he'd single-handedly taken out a whole platoon of guards with a
shotgun. His hands jumped and jerked around at every angle as the recoil
sent them bouncing in his palms, and he didn't stop even when the burning
hot shells that were being ejected from the gun in his left hand flew up
into his face again and again, leaving cuts and burns on his cheek.
The main gunner dove for the trigger of the machinegun, but he was too late.
Joe leapt forward, until he was beside the steaming hot barrel, safe from
its line of fire as he emptied the last few rounds in his clips into the
man's torso, until his limp form lay sprawled out on the ground, the grainy
white dust from the sandbag wall that had been ruptured by Joe's random
shots pouring out onto his arms and legs. Smoke was coming from his chest,
and his clothes were peppered with dripping red holes.

Joe hyperventilated for a full seven seconds longer, standing there with his
arms still raised, guns still gripped tightly, and the triggers still
depressed. Then, once he'd gotten control of himself again, he turned around
on his heel and strode back around the corner. The others, especially some
of the younger ones, squealed at the sight of him, spattered with blood and
sweat, bits of flesh still clinging to his shirt. But he ignored them.
"Thanks for your help."
Several of them looked at the ground, blushing. He wiped some blood off his
jacket, then tossed the empty, smoking pistol covered in blood back to the
boy.
"Here's your gun back, thanks."

All at once, the sirens seemed incredibly close. Rumbling sounds also
vibrated menacingly in the background. He could even hear voices, orders
being shouted in harsh voices and boots clapping on the sidewalk. With a
surge of panic, he realized that they were just on the other side of the
building.
"Come on, we've got to go now!" he turned towards the tunnel and started to
run, but stopped. As he turned around, gravel crunching as is shifted under
his feet, he saw that once again, nobody had moved.
"COME ON! We can make it if we go fast-"
Clara looked at him nervously. "No Joe, we can't."
Immediately he could see why. The hum had gotten clearer, turning into the
thump thump thump he knew so well. In an instant the shimmering semicircle
of the rotors slid out from over the building, and a blindingly bright light
blazed over the wall shining directly down at them, blazing through his
eyelids and making him throw his arm up over his forehead to shield himself.
The helicopter tilted and slowed to a stop over the railyard, gravel
vibrating and bouncing on the ground as the winds blew down onto them,
sending a cloud of dust and fallen leaves spinning into the air like a
whirlwind. To Joe, the helicopter looked less like a mechanical vehicle and
more like some mystical alien craft, a glimmering, glowing circle blurred by
the blazing spotlight on its belly. A shining, flying beast, manifesting all
his deepest fears.
But he did not run, he instead gritted his teeth. "Not this time, NOT THIS
TIME!" He leapt back into the group and wrenched an AR-15 from the trembling
arms of a young boy. Jerking the charging handle back with a white-knuckled
fist, he drove it into his shoulder and ran into the middle of the tracks,
nearly tripping on the rusty metal rails. Waving his free arm into the air,
he screamed at the pilot that he knew couldn't possibly hear him.
"Come on! Over here! I'm OVER HERE!"
The copter slowly turned, until he could see the lighted door of the cockpit
open, framed by the dark bulk of the fuselage. There was a silhouette in the
doorway, a dark shape highlighted against the shining square of pure light.
The deep, blasting roar of the blades seemed to cloud his thoughts and fill
his brain with darkness, but he could think clearly enough to aim.
He raised the gun to his shoulder just as the man in the doorway did the
same, and for a moment the light shone the other way and they both looked
straight into each others eyes. Then, they opened fire.
Another light emanated from the copter, this one the flashing, erratic flame
of a muzzle instead of the steady glow of the spotlights, and the gravel
around Joe's feet flew up in bursts like tiny volcanoes as the rifle rounds
thundered into the Earth.
Joe was firing too, and as he sidestepped across the gravel to avoid the
shots, the rifle was shaking and vibrating in his hands. Shells flickered in
and out of the light as they flew out of the gun and bounced into the rocks,
and the barrel of his gun lit up in bursts. Both he and the helicopter were
moving in a circle around each other like a tamer and a lion, and as the
gravel shot around his feet there were also rounds hitting the helicopter,
and small holes were opening in the sheet metal skin of the fuselage sending
shards of steel flying out into the air.
The gunner had a very important weakness: he was in the air while Joe was on
the ground. Joe was steady as he walked along the tracks, but the copter was
bucking and shifting around in the wind. It was exponentially harder to aim
while hanging out the open door of a flying machine caught in the whirlwind
of its own rotors, blowing up from the ground a mere twenty feet below.
Joe's shots were hitting the helicopter every time, but Joe himself had not
been hit once.
And slowly, very slowly but surely, the massive machine began to weaken.
Smoke was starting to seep out of holes in its engine, and a harsh scraping
was coming from the rotors, like teeth grinding but a hundred times worse.
Suddenly, he felt a feeling that was like having a pickaxe driven into his
left shoulder, and an invisible fist knocked him off his feet and sent him
falling onto his back, lying into the gravel. He let out a scream, and as he
turned his head he saw the unmistakable sight of blood oozing out of a hole
in his skin.
He couldn't believe it, but there was no other possible explanation: he had
been shot. The part of his brain not throbbing in paroxysms of pain thought
this was rather strange, after spending half a year on the run and fighting
government agents in countless battles, he had been shot now, right when he
was about to do what he'd wanted to do for months.
He was still screaming, and his mind was consuming itself with pain. But he
retained enough of his rationality to squeeze the trigger one last time,
swaying the rifle around over his head in the general direction of that
nightmarish white light. He didn't really expect to accomplish anything, he
just wanted to die shooting.
"This is it," he thought. "Here I go."
And then, Joe hit the blades themselves.
It started small, just a zing sound and a piece of black material flying far
off into the night. But the damage had been done. The rotors, thrown out
their carefully calibrated balance by this sudden loss of weight, began
wobbling and spinning out of their set pattern around the fuselage. Bit by
bit, the machine tore itself to pieces like a shark in a school of fish.

+++++++

Inside, out of Joe's line of sight, the pilot glanced up suddenly at the
many red lights that had suddenly lit up all over the dashboard like a face
full of evil red eyes. The room started to shake uncontrollably, and he
could barely even see the dials and displays of the control panel. They had
combined into a great blur, flying around before his eyes and that sent
panic into his chest. He had time to make out the ground coming ever so
close to the glass, then there was a bright light and the last thought he
had was that he had most certainly arrived in Hell.

+++++++

Joe had his eyes squeezed shut from the pain of the bullet, but it still
didn't block out the fireball that blossomed from the ruptured fuel tank
like some sort of twisted flower. He moaned as the staggeringly intense wave
of heat seared over him like boiling water, and he smelled his hairs
singeing. The thumping hum of the rotors had disappeared, replaced now by a
dull roar as the remaining fuel burned bright from the holes in the tank
like the flame of a gas grill. Joe started breathing in ragged, shaky
breaths, until his head was clear enough to open his eyes and register what
was going on around him. The entire railyard was lit up now from the flames,
the gravel, the tracks, and the building saturated in an flickering orange
glow. Black shadows danced on the walls like restless spirits, and Joe saw
out of the blur of pain, the outlines of people running towards him. For a
wild, terrifying moment he thought they were police, but then he realized
that they were his people, coming to see if he was ok.
Clara was leading them, with a look of concern on her face. She knelt down
next to him and pulled out a knife, then stuck it into his shirt to cut off
a long strip. The ripping sound could barely be heard over the blaze of the
helicopter's wreckage, but he could tell that the flames were dying, and the
roar was getting quieter.
Or maybe I'm just dying, he thought suddenly. Joe looked back at the wound.
The entire area, more than a full square foot, was sopping wet with blood.
Another pulse of pain throbbed through his body, and he winced again. He
realized he had lost lots of blood, and the flow wasn't going to stop
anytime soon.
Clara handed him the improvised bandage, but instead of tying it on he just
crumpled it up in his hand, and held it tight against his shoulder. Mere
seconds later, it too was soaking and red.
Clara was looking at him miserably. "Joe, I...I'm sorry, I should have
helped you...we were all cowards...I don't know-"
Joe raised his fingers as high as he could, and she fell silent. The others
were crowded around him now, forming a circle. All of them looked both
scared and ashamed.
He smiled weakly, then let out a hoarse cough. "It's alright, it's
alright..."
Clara shook her head. "No, we should have shot at them..."
Joe felt the pain again and grit his teeth for a moment. "You couldn't kill
them. You don't have what it takes to shoot a person."
A tear rolled down her face. “I’m so sorry..."
He stopped her again, then looked her straight in the eyes. "No. That's
nothing...nothing to be ashamed of."
He clutched the bandage tighter, and took another deep breath. Then he
turned his eyes skyward, and gazed up into the stars.
"Six months ago I couldn't do it either, maybe that was better, I don't
know..." he coughed again, and breathed sharply as another sharp pain
coursed through his shoulder. He lowered his eyes back down to the Earth,
and looked at a young boy solemnly.
"I'm going to die, too much blood...Jason, it's time..."
The boy looked confused at first, then upset.
"No, Joe come one man-"
"No, give it to me now."
Jason hesitated for a second, and then slid the duffle bag off his back.
Unzipping it, he reached his hands inside and withdrew the briefcase. The
polished metal surface reflected the flames from the helicopter as if to
truly convey to them all how deadly it was.
Joe took a groaning breath, and painfully pulled himself into a sitting
position. He released his grip on the bandage, and the hole flowed red once
more. He dropped the wet cloth, and it left flowerlike red stains on the
gravel. Then he grasped both the clasps with his shaking fingers, and with
the utmost care lifted the lid off the case.
The test tube too glowed in the menacing light of the fire, and as he
gripped it lightly between two bloody fingers and lifted it out of the foam,
it felt much heavier than it should.
The weight of the world, he thought. Literally
He looked at them all one last time. "I've got to do this, you must
understand."
Clara nodded. "We'll hold them off until you get to the tunnel." This time
nobody looked as though they might back out.
Joe smiled sadly, then struggled to stand. Clara and Jason reached down to
help him, and seconds later he was balancing uncertainly on his feet, like a
building that was about to fall down but hadn't decided which direction to
fall it.

A moment later, Joe heard the sound of breaking glass and gunfire from the
station, and more orders were being yelled across the street. Joe turned
towards the tunnel, and started to run. The others did the same, but in the
opposite direction. As he ran, every step sending cruel spears of pain
through his body, he heard shouts and screams behind him, but he didn't look
back. Then automatic fire began popping from what seemed like every
direction due to the echo, and as the final battle that would decide how
this ended began to play out, Joe ran ceaselessly towards the end of the
world.

TO BE CONCLUDED

Clara took one last look at Joe, slowly receding into the distance towards
the tunnel with his back turned, the shimmering bonfire of the helicopter
lighting him up orange as he faded away. Then she turned back to the small
crowd of boys and girls in front of her, and straightened up, trying to look
as confident and authoritative as possible. She dreaded the idea of having
to give some kind of pep talk or inspirational speech, but when she stared
into the eyes her friends she saw fear, but no doubt about what they were
about to do. Cocking her rifle and flipping the switch to full auto, she
held it beside her head in one hand and addressed them solemnly.
"Well, there's really no way to put this lightly, so I’m just going to say
it plainly. The building is being surrounded by police and military. Once
Joe gets to the tunnel it won't matter anymore, so we just need to hold them
off to give him enough time to make it."
One young girl looked at her, looking scared. "What about us? What do we do
when he releases the virus?"
Clara faltered for a moment, then tried once more to look confident, failing
miserably. "We can probably get out here before it reaches the building.
Don't worry, we'll be long gone by the time it gets out."
But deep in her heart, she knew she was only fooling herself. That tiny part
of her heart gnawed at her for several seconds, until she finally relented.
"Ok, I'm going to be honest. Not all of us are going to make it. You need to
understand that." She stared at them with a sad but determined look,
expecting them to turn and run for the woods. And she didn't blame them, she
had half considered it herself, although of course she would never tell
anyone.
But nobody ran. Nobody threw their gun down and surrendered, nobody flipped
her off and headed for the trees. They still just stood there, holding their
guns, with the same cold, resolute expressions they'd had before.
Jason stepped forward, shoving another clip into his bloody pistol.
"No way. It may sound cheesy to say, but we started this and we are going to
end it. Right here."
He turned and stood beside Clara, and together they faced the others. At
that moment, there was a shout and a string of loud pops coming from the
other side of the station.
She looked at Jason for a minute, until he nodded.
At almost the exact same time, they both raised their guns and started to
run towards the station, side by side. Their backs were lit up by the
flames, and to some of the others they seemed to look less like humans and
more like some sort of angry fire spirits. For a moment nobody moved, and
the two were almost at the wall when a boy of about 15 started moving. He
jogged at first, his MP5 bouncing up and down in his arms after each
crunching step, then sped up until he too was running at a breakneck pace
towards the wall.
As if he was the first small rock that starts the avalanche, the others
started to run as well. First just a few, then more and more until began to
shift in the direction of the wall. The small group of young men and women
stretched, extending outward like a single organism, until all of them were
at a dead run. They surged across the railyard, tripping on tracks then
getting right back up again, waving their weapons in the air as they swept
towards the wall like a tidal wave. All the anger that they had been forced
to pent up at Blackwood, or even before that in school, all the frustration
of being forced into submission like insects for their entire life, all the
shame of not helping Joe when he needed them most, and all the sorrow and
rage from all the personal suffering that each of them had, the little
tragedies that they had never spoken about to anyone before but they all
knew about, all the small things that had added up since the day they were
born, the arrests, the abuse, the humiliation, the injustices that all came
down to the people across the wall came pouring out as the charged as one
towards the black bulk of the station. None of them said a word, but each
and every one of them were telling more than they ever had before. Jason
screamed, then once again his action spread through the running crowd,
gathering strength like a snowball rolling down a hill, growing louder and
louder until it became less of a yell and more of a mass guttural roar, that
echoed through the night until it drowned out even the rumble of the tanks
and the shots from the military's rifles.
Families cowering in their basements clutching their children, or huddling
in the makeshift prison camp, heard it loud and clear blaring in through
their walls and windows and into their ears, to a place in each of them
where no police squad or surveillance camera could ever reach. Some were
scared by it, and tightened their grip on their families, but others looked
up, feeling like for the first time in their life there was someone out
there who cared. A few teens stood up, cocking their heads in the direction
of the train station to better hear, and were promptly shoved back to the
ground by police, who looked both angry and scared. But even when they were
lying on the ground, nightstick bruises on their chests and handcuffs
tightening on their wrists, they could still hear as it reverberated out
into the night.

As the roaring wave of boys and girls reached the low concrete platform at
the edge of the railyard, Clara just barely noticed a dark, moving shape in
the alley, lit up against the flashing lights of police cars. She raised the
rifle, but it was too late. The man screamed, pointing a thick, gloved
finger down the dark passage. She clenched the trigger in her hand, and five
rounds shot down the alley and pierced the soldier's chest. The bangs were
amplified by the cinderblock walls, and her ears screamed with silent pain
as she watched the man collapse over backwards onto the ground. His helmet
made a hollow thunk when it connected with the pavement, but it was
impossible to hear over the shouting and shooting.
Clara waved for Jason. "Get over here! They're coming down the alley!”
He ran over, gripping the Glock with two white-knuckled hands. Jason dashed
across the alley, and took up a position on the other corner as Clara ducked
behind the wall and swung the barrel of the rifle around the sharp edge and
into the dark, tunnel-like path. The National Guard infantry were regrouping
on the other side, preparing to charge through and storm the railyard before
their enemy had a chance to prepare. The sound of twenty guns being cocked,
racked, loaded and charged reached Clara's still ringing ears, and she
tightened her grip on the gun. All she could see at the other end was a blur
of colored light and movement, with the occasional silhouette of a person
running across before she or Jason could take a shot. Even if she could have
she wouldn't; she knew they posed no serious threat. The main force was
still coming, and she wanted all her remaining ammunition and strength
available for holding them back.
And sure enough, they came. At first, it was just another flash of darkness
flitting across the hazy pool of light at the end of the street. But then
more came, and they didn't move this time. Rounding the corner, slowly and
robotically, was the vast dark mass of a crowd of people. For a moment she
didn't recognize them, they looked more like tall black squares all moving
as one, like some sort of vehicle. But then her brain kicked into gear, and
her blood went ice cold as she realized that the front row of men was
carrying bulletproof shields.
The methodical, menacing clomp of boots stamping on anything in their way
filled the air, and as the helicopter let out another belch of flame that
lit up the alley, Clara could see the empty, merciless eyes of gas masks
through the glass of the shields. The reflection of the ruined copter gave
the shields the appearance of being made of pure flame, and the sinister,
identical faces looming behind them sent a surge of paralyzing fear into her
heart, and for a moment she subconsciously considered running. How could
anybody win against this, this robotic thing coming down the alley?
But then Jason squeezed the trigger, and her reverie of terror was
shattered. She let out a scream, more form anger than fear, and gripped the
rifle's trigger and held it down with all of her finger's strength.
The AR-15 exploded into action, and fire spouted out of the muzzle and flew
through the hellish half-light of the alley like a beacon. The fiery shield
vibrated, shaking and bouncing as the bullets knocked them around leaving
spiderweb dents in their shining clear surfaces. The sightless, masked eyes
flashed like strobelights as the alleyway went from dark to light over and
over as Jason and Clara squeezed their weapons and fired again and again at
the advancing troops.
But as strong as their adrenaline and anger were, the specialized glass of
the shields was stronger. The bullets were not doing anything more than
slightly slow down the men being shot at, and they continued marching in
step as the pistol and rifle rounds bounced off and ricocheted into the
cinderblocks with a sound like a ping, and then a high pitched whine.

All of the sudden, Clara, Jason, and the troops in the alley were almost
knocked off their feet as a massive explosion erupted from the wall. A giant
hole, at least eight feet across, had just burst out of what had previously
been a smooth, flat surface on the side of the train station. It was about
thirty feet over from the gap where the shooting was taking place, but Jason
still felt pieces of rock sting his face, winced and shielded his eyes and
mouth as a thundering wave of heat and sound blasted him backwards, where he
extended a foot behind him to steady himself.
Smoke and dust were everywhere, hanging in clouds over the edge of the
railyard as other members of Joe's army ran back form the wall where they
had been waiting, screaming as they stared at the bodies of two of their
comrades who had been taking cover against that particular section of the
wall. Their bodies were now everywhere, and on everyone.
Then, Clara saw something that sent the heavy feeling of despair back into
her stomach. There were lasers coming from the hole, bright red lines now
visible in the thick dust cloud. They waved back and forth through the
white, choking mist as if seeking out the unseen enemy with minds of their
own. Then bright white lights flowered from the end of the laser lines as
the ones holding the guns fired.
Clara screamed into the dust at the boys and girls she couldn't see, but
knew were there.
"The alley was a diversion! Group over here now!"
And the last word had barely left her mouth when the angry red lines,
alerted by the sound of her voice, swung through the cloud and began waving
around her. She threw herself to the ground just as the troops opened fire,
and she could feel the tiny shockwave of bullets flitting just over her
head. After a moment, they stopped and began firing in a different
direction, as though assuming she had moved.
Then she felt something else: a hand on her shoulder. She whipped her hear
around, still lying flat on the gravel, and saw Jason. He was bleeding
heavily from the stomach, but the expression on his face was something more
than pain.
"Go get the rest, hold them back at the hole. I'll take care of the ones in
the alley."
She looked at him incredulously, her face smeared with dirt and ash. "Jason,
what the fuck-"
He was crying now, his face contorted with emotion. "I can't get out with
this hole in my stomach, just them all them all thank you and tell Joe I’m
sorry."
She felt her jaw quivering, and a drop that was not blood slid down her
cheek. "You can't! Just-"
He pointed the gun at her. "GO! NOW!"
The he rolled out of the way, and in a second he was out of sight, vanished
into the cloud. Clara yelled his name one last time and groped around in the
dust, coughing and crying at the same time. But he was gone, and she never
saw him again.

+++++++

Jason slid on his stomach, yelping in pain as gravel scraped the bullet
wound in his gut and sent a feeling like electric shock through his body. He
had the gun out in front of him, and was clumsily reloading it with hands
shaking in pain. There was blood and sweat on his face, and they mingled
together and dripped into his eyes, stinging him. But he had no time to wipe
them out, he only had time to get to the alley and do what he knew he had to
do. Finally, his grasping hand hit the wall, and he began sliding around on
the ground, following the rough, hard surface that he could only feel.
Then, just as he had hoped, his fingers curled around the corner and he knew
he'd reached the gap. He slid a hand into his pocket and drew a long utility
knife he'd stolen months ago, and grasped it in the hand not holding the
gun. He could hear them; boots smashing into the pavement mere inches in
front of him, their owners not knowing he was there. But it confirmed what
he needed to know: the line of shields had passed him by. Their sides were
vulnerable, and that was where he would strike.
There was a scream, and gunshots began popping from what seemed like
everywhere. It sounded like Clara had started her last stand at the breach
point, or, and the though made his heart flutter with panic, the men in
front of him had already reached the others. His strength was draining, he
could feel the hot pain spreading and sensation of fatigue was slowly
consuming him. If he had to attack, he had to do it now.
For a second, he just lay there catching his breath and gathering what
little energy he had left. Then, clenching his jaw in pain and gripping the
ground with his free fingers, he painstakingly brought himself into a squat.
Then he willed his legs to move, and little by little he began to rise.

One of the men marching through the alley, his peripheral vision blinded at
first by the lenses of the masks, noticed movement to the left. He turned
raising his submachinegun, and saw a young boy standing there. He barely had
time to signal the others when he notice the gun. Then everything happened
at once.

Jason threw himself onto the soldiers with one last burst of energy coming
from sheer rage. He jammed the muzzle of the gun into the man's forehead and
pulled the trigger, and the inside of the lenses turned red as a thick spray
of blood shot out the back of his helmet and painted the man next to him.
All at once, the troops spun around, turning their heads so that they could
see properly through the thick lenses of the gas masks. The heavy filter
cylinders bounced up and down like perverse elephant trunks as their
identical heads whirled around, and twenty arms were raised into the air and
twenty lasers threw tiny red dots onto Jason's torso, barely visible in the
red splashes of the blood. But Jason did not surrender, instead he spun
around, his dying body bouncing of armored men all around him as he slashed
with the knife, sometimes hitting air, and other times slicing cloth, skin,
or flesh. He was being shot; little eruptions of blood and shreds of cloth
flew up on his arms and chest, but still hi focused his mind on waving his
arms and twitching his index finger over and over again. He could barely
see, pain was taking over his mind. He just stood there, trapped in this
dark, hot, bloody hellhole, lashing out at the dark forms looming out of the
mist. All his eyes could register were the flashing lights of muzzle flashes
and dark blurs of people. He was fueled by the same feeling that had driven
Joe to start all this, he had nothing to lose now. His brain was vaguely
aware that he was dying, but as his body was torn to dripping pieces his
mind still sent the signal pulsing into whatever of his physical being was
left. Pull the trigger, pull the trigger, pull, pull, pull...over and over
until all he knew was darkness, and finally fell down onto the bodies
carpeting the floor of the bloodstained alley, and died.

+++++++

Clara ducked behind the rough, chipped edge of the hole, the glowing ends of
red-hot rebar sticking out in front of her. Yet another volley of bullets
smashed into the wall, crumbling more of her hiding place into dust.
Breathing for a moment, she spun out around the wall and slammed the trigger
into the grip, the vibrations rattling her to the core as more of her shots
flew out into the murky grey room inside the station. In the mere second
that she had before the government agents inside fired back, she could dimly
make out the blurry bulk of an ATM machine, and what looked like a row of
chairs. There were people moving behind the chairs, armored, black-helmeted
men shining their lasers through the hole out into the railyard, their
muzzle flashes a muted grey in the thick cloud.
Se coughed again, dust stinging her throat and getting her eyes. Then she
fired again, and heard the sound of more shots as the other remaining
members of the Red Delta blasted away at anything that moved.
But deep inside, she knew it was hopeless. She knew it, and she was sure
Jason knew it. They had never intended to win. She was firing not because
she expected it to accomplish anything, but out of anger. Jason had died so
that she could be here shooting, and god damn it she would shoot until her
fingers bled from holding down the trigger.
Over and over, jump out, fire, retreat. Jump, fire, retreat. She felt a
bullet graze her arm, and breathed sharply as the blood squirted into her
face. But she kept on shooting, every man she killed replaced by five more.
She glanced towards the tunnel, knowing it was hopeless in the dust cloud,
but still strained her bloody eyes to get a glimpse of Joe. She thought it
must have been enough time to get to the tunnel by now, but she would not
stop.
She turned to the others grouped around her, her teeth clenched in rage and
pain.
"Go! Go for the woods, he must have made it."
Some tried to protest, and nobody moved.
She pointed her rifle at them, glaring as if they were the enemy. "I'm not
fucking around, GO!"
They still hesitated, but when she punched another magazine into the gun and
wrenched back the charging handle, they started to move away. An older girl
gave her a pleading look, but she raised the gun to her shoulder and gave
her a murderous look. The girl choked back tears, then turned around and ran
after the others.
Clara looked one last time at them, this crowd of dirty, scared kids who had
given her a reason to live. They had escaped together, traveled together,
and fought together, but now at the end they could not die together, just
like she and Jason. The unfairness of it made her cry again, tears leaving
trails in the white dirt and blood on her face.
Then she turned back to the black crowd of masked soldiers hunched over as
they ran across the room towards the hole, and jumped out of her cover for
the last time and pulled the trigger. She just held it there, a blank look
on her face as the fire, death, and chaos all around her finally
disappeared.
As the troops jumped out through the hole and filled the edge of the
railyard, occasionally taking shots as the retreating boys and girls heading
for the trees, they didn't acknowledge her body lying there, or the
expression of peace on her face that she hadn't worn for years.

+++++++

Joe staggered into the mouth of the tunnel, like the maw of some great beast
waiting to swallow him whole. The darkness immediately engulfed him, the
only light coming from the flames outside, a semicircle of illumination
floating in a sea of inky blackness.
Then his eyes slowly began to adjust, and he could faintly make out the twin
parallel lines of a railroad track stretching out into the blackness, and
the pale grid of mortar between the bricks of the curved wall. There was a
faint, constant breeze blowing through like the beast's foul breath,
ruffling his hair and giving off a low whistle. Perfect, he thought. He
continued running, down the tunnel until he was at least fifty feet into the
blackness.
Another spike of pain drove through his body, and he reflexively slapped a
hand to his shoulder and felt sickly, warm blood flowing between his fingers
and down his arm. His jacket was wet all around the hole, and dull waves of
pain pulsed through him with every throb of his heart. He looked down at his
free hand. The test tube was still there, clutched firmly but carefully in
his fist. It now felt unbelievably heavy.
"So this is how it ends," he thought. "Half a year ago I was throwing a
backpack at an annoying teacher, now I'm holding the end of the world in my
hand. Funny how time flies."
He raised his arm painfully, so that the tube was in front of his face. It
really hadn't been that long, but at that moment, standing there alone in
this bubble of darkness and silence, he felt hundreds of years old.
Everything in his life had been leading up to this, this was his end, his
epiphany, his purpose for being put on the Earth by God or whatever was out
there. His life, his decisions, his revolution, all came down to this.
He raised the tube even higher, until it hung in his weakening arm over his
head. He took a breath, a prepared to smash it on the hard rock floor. An
image of Jesse, smiling at him that night in the woods, and then lying there
dead on the Blackwood grounds. He closed his eyes, trying to block it out
and concentrate on the memories of her still alive, then mustered the
strength in his arm
"Hey, hey YOU! Hold it right there!"
He jerked his head around, annoyed at having his only real happy memories
interrupted. Still, knowing that he was going to die anyway, he felt
completely unafraid.
There was a man standing about thirty feet from him, highlighted against the
light of the entryway. Joe couldn't see much of him because of the dark, but
he could tell the man was slightly taller than he was, and a little fat.
There was the floppy webbing of a gas mask hanging from his belt, and he was
pointing a gun at Joe.
"Trying to get away, are you? I don't think so. Put your hands on your head
and-oh my god!"
He had noticed the test tube gleaming in Joe's hand. He didn't need an
explanation to know what was in it. He stepped back a little, and Joe could
tell that his face was turning pale as he realized that he didn't have time
to put on his mask. Lowering the gun slightly, he raised a hand in a gesture
of caution.
"Please, I know what that is, you don't have to do it..."
Joe gave him an expression that was more sad than angry, and stared straight
into his eyes.
"Yes, I do. And even if I didn't, I still would. And if you shoot me, it
will break."
The man hesitated for a moment, then reluctantly seemed to understand that
it was true. He dropped his arm to his side, and holstered the gun.
He looked at Joe pleadingly. "Why? Why are you doing this? If you're angry
at something, there are other ways, we could help you..."
Joe sneered. "I used to think so to. But all you people respect is violence,
it's the only thing you know."
The man took a deep breath, then spoke again in a trembling voice. "Look, we
don't have to be enemies. My name's Frank, Frank Ward, I'm the Chief of
Police here. I have a lot of power, I can make things happen if you want
them too..."
Joe interrupted in a harsh voice. "Don't use that negotiator bullshit on me,
I've come too far to back out now! Get the hell out of here if you want to
survive to see the morning!"
Ward was breathing quickly now. "Please don't do this, I swear I can help,
if you have demands I can get you what you want..."
Joe felt the anger rising up inside him like magma in a volcano. "You can
get me what I want, huh? Is that true? Well why don't you give me Jesse back
huh? I suppose you've heard about her, right? It's somewhere in your stupid
casefiles?"
Ward nodded, looking terrified. He remembered what the teacher had said,
give him something to lose. "Yes, I heard about her, that was really sad, I
know how much you cared about her..."
The anger rising in him reached the top, and he exploded. "I loved her, you
piece of shit! And I never even got to tell her! We never kissed, we never
fucked, we never went to the fucking Prom! She's dead and I never even got a
chance to tell her! You can never bring that back, never! Because your
people killed her!"
Ward was shaking his head frantically. "Joe, please, I had nothing to do
with that, that was all the way in Blackwood, you know that..."
Joe's rage subsided slightly, but he was still panting and gritting his
teeth. "It makes no fucking difference. You're all the same, all you
fascists with your stupid prison camps and guns and laws, it's all just one
big system, and she didn't like that! And she paid the fucking price!"
"No, Joe, her death was an accident, a stray bullet hit her. The men would
never have just killed her like that."
Joe fell silent, stunned. How was this possible? How could they not have
known? But he could hear the answer creeping up into his brain, and the
anger began to rise again.
"IT WASN'T A FUCKING ACCIDENT! THAT FUCKING SCOTT SHOT HER! I SAW IT
MYSELF!" his heart was racing now, the idea that the whole world thought her
death was an accident, that Mr. Scott was just an innocent bystander, was
just too much to bear.
Ward looked at him silently for a moment, as if trying to figure out from
Joe's face whether this was true. Then he spoke again, and there was a hint
of condescension behind the fear.
"Joe, we all know that's not true, Mr. Scott's a good man who's was just
doing what he thought was best, he would never do that. You can't possible
believe that's what happened..."
Joe was shaking with rage now, his teeth clenched so hard they hurt. "A good
man? Are you fucking kidding me? He shot her without any warning, he just
snuck up on her and fucking blew her away!"

Ward was about to reply, when a sound from behind caught his attention. It
sounded like a footstep, and he whirled around with his hand on the barrel
of his gun. There was a man standing there in the entryway, dressed in
black, his hair shining in the eerie light of the flames. The backdrop of
fire gave him a subtlety sinister appearance, and Joe recognized him, but it
took his brain several seconds to register that fact that he was here.
Ward let go of the gun and glared at him, looking astonished and angry.
"Scott, what the hell are you doing here? I told you to stay at the
station-"
Mr. Scott stuck a hand under his jacket.
"I'm sorry, Chief."
Then, giving an expression of true regret, he pulled out the Berretta and
shot Ward in the head.
Joe stood there in shock as the Chief's body teetered over backwards, then
dropped flat onto the rock floor, sending a dull thud down the tunnel that
was almost drowned out by the lingering echo of the gunshot.
Joe's brain finally caught up with his eyes, and immediately he lost it. The
anger that had been rising since he had first encountered the Chief boiled
over in a way like never before. He had no gun, he had left it back at the
helicopter after running our of ammunition, and with the tube still clasped
in his hand he charged at the dark shape of the man standing against the
shimmering wall of flame, screaming words that he wasn't even aware he was
screaming.
"YOU! You fucking piece of shit, I’m not running anymore! I’ll kill you!
I'LL KILL YOU!"
But Mr. Scott did not run away, instead he calmly raised the gun, but this
time he did not have the expression of regret and sorrow. This time, his
face was cold and merciless, with the hint of a sneer on his mouth. Lining
up the sights with the running shape of Joe, he pulled the trigger twice.
At point-blank range, the two rounds thudded into his chest. The first one
knocked his upper body backwards, sending him flying off his feet. The
second one punched him just below the other, knocking him backwards. He
wobbled around for a moment, a looking shocked and unbelieving, then fell
into a sitting position, then finally sprawled out on his back.

+++++++

Mr. Scott glanced over him for a second, and then a look of fear came into
his face. Quickly, he ran over to Joe and put his gun a few feet from his
limp hand. To anyone observing, it looked like Joe and Ward had shot each
other. Confident that he had covered his tracks, he looked around for a way
to escape. For a moment he considered going back through the train station,
but he remembered that he was not supposed to be there. Besides, there was
still fighting out there as the last remaining terrorists ere hunted down
among the woods and railyard equipment. That left only one other way, which
was probably safer. Glancing down the tunnel, into the dark, black oblivion,
he gathered his courage and started to run, following the tracks into the
dark.
Thank god that was over, he thought. He didn't want to kill the Chief, but
he couldn't risk his killing of the Williams girl get out. It could ruin him
forever, and the program he loved so much.
He shook his head. This whole thing had been such and ordeal. That Murphy
boy had really fucked up everything, he thought to himself. Some people are
just bad.

+++++++

Joe lay there, staring through blurred eyes at the dim ceiling of the
tunnel. He could feel it getting harder to breath as his lung slowly filled
with blood, and dull pain was seeping through his body, sharpened more and
more with every pump of his heart.
But what was killing him right now wasn't the bullets, it was despair. Not
the kind he had felt in the bathroom, or in the woods, the kind that had
given him strength and the euphoria of having nothing to lose. No, this was
different. This was the kind he'd felt the morning he'd decided to commit
suicide, and one other time. It had been three months ago, at Blackwood,
while he'd knelt down beside Jesse's body watching Mr. Scott's car recede
into the distance. It was the feeling of losing everything, but being able
to do nothing. He didn't feel like had the strength to turn his head, but he
didn't want to anyway. He knew that Mr. Scott was escaping, and he didn't
need or want to see it.
He started to cry, not from the pain. He had got away. He had killed Jesse,
and he not paid for it in any way. And now everyone would think he was some
poor innocent bystander, and nobody would ever know.
He cried harder, his sobs echoing down the tunnel as though he hoped the
soft sounds could catch the man running through it. Why? He thought. Why?
How did this work? What was this supposed to show? The murderer had got away
and Jesse, the girl who had done nothing wrong, was dead. It made no sense,
and the injustice, the unfairness, and the agonizing inability to do
anything sent waves of pain through him in a way no bullet wound ever could.
He thought of Jesse again, that night in the woods she'd implied that he was
the one good thing in her miserable life.
"I'm sorry," he croaked into the darkness. "I'm sorry, I did everything I
could..."
He raised his fist a few inches, as far as he could, and let it drop.
Nothing happened. He was too weak, the test tube didn't even crack. All it
did was make a high "ting" that barely even echoed.
Joe let out a sob of despair, then closed his tear-filled eyes and prepared
to die. And at that moment, something happened that made him stop.

There was another person standing in the entrance to the tunnel, someone
shorter and thinner than the previous two. He, like Ward and Scott, looked
like merely a human-shaped black mass against a background of fire, but Joe
knew immediately who it was.
Andy stepped into the tunnel, the beam of a flashlight sweeping over the
scene in front of him. It paused over the body of Ward, then continued down
until it rested its gaze on Joe's face, nearly unrecognizable from the
blood, dirt, and tears.
There was a series of gunshots in the distance, and Andy involuntarily
flinched for a moment. Then he stepped inside, walking forward until he was
standing over Joe.
Joe looked up at him, he wasn't surprised at all. He had failed Jesse again,
now Andy would make sure that he paid.
Andy knelt down beside him. "Joe?"
Joe choked on blood, then forced the words out of his mouth. "Andy, it's
you..."
Andy took a breath, then pulled out a pistol from his pack. Joe recognized
it as the one he'd given him the first night they'd met.
"I'm going to kill you now."
Joe managed a slight nod, then coughed and some blood dribbled out the
corner of his mouth. "Yes...I know...but, first...you," he hacked up more
blood, but then willed himself to continue.
"You...need to know...please..."
Andy looked at him with a mixture of suspicion, anger, and sorrow. "What? I
don't need to know anything. You got my sister killed, now you shot this
poor Chief here. You don't deserve to live!"
Joe's jaw trembled, and more blood dripped out. "You're right...I
don't...but you need to...know..."
"What do I need to know? Make it quick!"
Joe mustered his remaining strength, enough to say a few more words. "I
didn't kill...Chief...Mr. Scott..."
Andy drew a sharp breath, and his eyes widened. His voice turned stern.
"What did you say? What does Scott have to do with this?"
Joe felt his energy fading, and forced himself back to reality. "He
shot...Chief...he's here...down the tunnel...I swear."
Andy's head whipped up, and his eyes focused on the blackness before him, as
if he could see the man getting farther and farther away. Then he turned
back to Joe.
"I'm going to trust you on this, just because I know you can't escape. Now
tell me, when did he leave?"
Joe nodded. "Bout...five minutes...ago...running. You...won't catch..."
Andy looked horrified, and started frantically to get to his feet, the gun
still in his hand. But Joe shook his head, sending a few drops of blood
flying.
"No...he's gone to...far...Andy...they all think...Jesse...was an accident."
Andy's eyes shot back to Joe.
"No, that's impossible! We all saw him, all of us! We saw her die!"
Joe nodded again. "Andy...listen..."
Andy was silent for a moment, the same look Joe knew so well was in his
face, the look of him trying to seem tough, but the scared little kid inside
was peeking through. Then, suddenly, they could both hear it off in the
distance. It was muffled, like it was coming through trees, but it was an
unmistakable series of sounds: a shout, the bang of a gunshot, then a high,
despairing scream.
Andy looked stunned. "They're killing them! They're killing the kids who
went with you! They're just..."
Joe looked at him grimly. "Just like Jesse...yeah..."
Andy knelt there for a moment, a tortured look on his face, his eyes going
from the door, to Joe, then to the blackness of the tunnel. Outside, another
yell, bang scream.
Then he looked at the shining glass tube in Joe's hand.
"Is that..."
Joe nodded. "Yes...It is...Andy... you know...what to do."
Andy started trembling, and looked back desperately at the entrance. Shout,
bang, scream. Then again.
"Andy...they're dying...please..."
Andy trembled for a moment more.
Shout, bang scream.
Then, slowly, a new expression took over his face, one that Joe had never
seen before. It wasn't some fake expression of toughness, it wasn't scared.
It was hard to describe, a look of sadness, but also of wisdom, a kind of
twisted enlightenment like he’d just learned a terrible truth. Joe had seen
it on some very old people before, but never on Andy.
“There’s nothing good left out there, is there?”
Joe’s bloody face cracked into a weak smile.
“There never…really was.”
The young boy grabbed the tube from the Joe's hand and stood up, looking at
the fiery, bloody scene outside like he was staring at a window to hell. The
he looked back at Joe, as another girl or boy met their death. He looked for
a moment in the direction of the children being slaughtered by agents of the
government, then at the darkness where his sister's killer was getting away
free, then back at the dying boy on the ground in front of him.
Giving him one last look of misery and disillusionment, he then turned his
eyes to the small object in his hand. Just like Joe had minutes ago, he felt
very, very old.
Then he raised the test tube over his head, and smashed it on the ground.

As a small splash of liquid and a puff of gas escaped with a small, low
hiss, he sat down beside Joe on the ground and breathed deeply.
Joe gathered his strength one very last time, and turned his head towards
Andy. Gagging back blood, he forced out just a few more words that he knew
he needed to say. He wanted to tell him so much more, but he knew that these
would do.
"Andy...I'm sorry...I'm so sorry..."
Then with one last sigh, like he'd just thrown down some unspeakably heavy
weight, he turned his head towards the ceiling, as though trying to look at
something more than the bloody chaos and misery of the world around him, he
closed his eyes and died.
His last thought was that finally, after six months of running, he had truly
escaped.

THE END

+++++++

EPILOGUE

It was still mostly dark, a few faint fingers of pale sunlight grasping over
the tops of the hills, painting the clouds a dull yellow on the horizon. The
town looked like a dense chain of islands floating in a thick grey river of
mist. But the town had been foggy before, and it had never been like this.
The grey substance flowing through the air between buildings was not mist,
and the townspeople knew this.
Men wearing gas masks were running through the streets, officers in armored
cars going door to door throughout the neighborhood handing out small air
filters to the still-sheltering civilians. All throughout the town, the
military still marched through the streets, and the unstoppable behemoths of
tanks still rumbled down alleys and lawns, like roaring black mountains
moving in the mist.
But despite these precautions and the continuing occupation, a great sense
of relief had fallen over the people of Sycamore, New Hampshire. Like some
terrifying black cloud that had been swirling over their heads for so long
had just blown over to be replaced by sunlight, the fear and panic of the
previous night was all but gone. The mist was not water, but dust.

At once, the thin white coating on the flat surface was broken as the door
of the high school was cracked open from inside. Cautiously, like a small
rodent wary of hawks, Mr. Franklin peered his head out through the crack and
scanned the street.
There was a man coming down the sidewalk, looking like a ghost in the
clouds. But after a moment, the old teacher could see that it was the
captain of the National Guard division in charge of securing his corner of
the town.
Franklin waved him down, and slowly pushed the door open and stepped
outside. As he walked across the street, his steps muffled by the dust,
there was a distinct trail of footprints left behind. He walked over to the
captain, looking slightly nervous.
“Is it alright to be out here?”
The captain chuckled. “Of course it is, this is just dust. The virus is
gone, we just don’t want civilians breathing this shit in yet.”
Mr. Franklin nodded, and stood next to him on the curb.
“So, what happened?”
The captain turned to him looking proud.
“We blew it up. Got the biocontainment crew to stick enough C-4 in the
tunnel to take out a building, and any trace of the virus is buried way down
with no nutrients. The heat killed most of it though.”
Franklin began to take a deep breath, then remembered the dust and breathed
shallowly again.
“So, it’s all over?”
“Yep, we finished it. Pity about the collateral damage though…”
Mr. Franklin snapped his head around. “What?”
The captain looked taken aback. “Well, yeah. Unfortunately some guys got
caught in the blast. There was this one kid in there, bout’ thirteen
according to the crews, got a bad breath of the virus. The chief too, only I
think he got shot. And a guy, what was his name again? Scott, I think. Yeah,
Mr. Scott. A real shame, he was just trying to get away. And the terrorist
kid of course, I don’t exactly mourn him.”
Franklin looked down at the ground and spoke softly. “I do.”
The captain wrinkled his forehead. “Why? Oh yeah, right, you were his
teacher or something. Sorry about that, must be hard to have known him.”
The teacher nodded solemnly, his hands clasped in front of him.
“Yes, it is. I just wish he could have told us why he did it…”
The captain let out a small laugh. “Why? What do you mean? We know why
already, because he was a crazy son of a bitch. Enough said.”
Franklin turned back and looked at him incredulously.
“Don’t you think that maybe there were more reasons than that?”
“No. He was nuts, everybody knows that. Don’t try to justify him-“
“I’m not justifying it, I just think that maybe if we want understand it
maybe we should-“
The captain gave him a pitying look. “I don’t want to understand him, I just
wanted to stop him. And we did. End of story. Gotta go now, there’s more
houses to patrol. Take this though, it may come in handy.”
He handed him one of the air filters, then started down the street towards
the downtown area.
Franklin still just stood there, staring at his back. Then something caught
his eye.
There was a kid standing on the side walk outside a convenient store, just
standing there, like he was watching the scene outside.
The National Guard captain picked up the pace, running up to the kid and
grabbing his arm.
“Hey, what the hell are you doing here? Curfew’s still in effect for minors,
get inside you little brat, before I haul you ass down the station! Go on,
get moving!”
He shoved him in the back, and the kid stumbled and fell to the sidewalk,
gripping his knee.
“Come on, get inside! I won’t say it again, now move!”
Slowly, as though trying to maintain as much dignity as he could, the kid
got to his feet, giving the captain a teary glare. Then he turned back
towards the school, heading towards the row of houses that lay beyond.
He was silent in the dust, and Franklin saw him coming before he could hear
him. As the kid passed him, he was wearing a humiliated, angry face that he
recognized immediately. The kid walked past, not moving anything but his
legs until he reached the old, frail teacher standing outside.
He looked him in the eye, and saw something deep behind the kid’s eyes. In
that moment, he saw the emotions that scared him from both their fury and
their familiarity. And Mr. Franklin felt himself, almost unintentionally,
making a small nod.
Then it was gone, and the kid continued to walk down the street, his
shouldered hunched as though carrying a heavy weight, his eyes now fixed on
the ground.
The captain shouted from down the street.
“Come on, get your ass moving!” he watched the kid for a few seconds more,
as if to make sure he was heading for the houses, then turned away and
vanished into the dust.
Mr. Franklin stood there for a moment, feelings of both exasperation and
hopelessness filling his heart. He took one last look at the kid who he had
never before seen, yet felt that at the moment he understood more than
anyone, and then turned back to the captain’s shadow fading in the cloud.
He rolled his eyes and shook his head, then walked out of the shadow of the
school and into the magnificent sunrise.

Written by:
13 September 2006





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